HC Deb 04 May 1989 vol 152 cc361-71 3.31 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

May I ask a question about some meetings next week? Will the Leader of the House tell us what the business will be for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 8 MAY—Timetable motion on the Dock Work Bill.

Motion to take note of EC document on smoking in public places. Details will be given in the Official Report.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at Seven o'clock.

TUESDAY 9 MAY—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY to MAY—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

At the end on Wednesday, motion relating to the personal equity plan regulations.

THURSDAY 11 MAY—There will be a debate on a Government motion to approve the White Paper "Working for Patients" (Cm. 555).

FRIDAY 12 MAY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 15 MAY—Until Seven o'clock, private Members' motions.

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at Seven o'clock.

[Debate on Monday 8 May:

Relevant European Community Document
4225/89 plus Corrigendum Smoking in public places

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee—HC15-xvii (1988–89) para 3.]

Mr. Dobson

I start by registering the Opposition's deepest objections to the guillotine motion on the Dock Work Bill. The Bill was produced with no warning to anyone, on the same day that the White Paper on the dock work scheme was printed. It was rushed into the House and now, apparently, it is to be rushed to a guillotine. The Leader of the House introduced a record number of guillotine motions in the previous parliamentary Session and it looks as though he is trying to break his own record.

I go on from that to welcome the debate in Government time on the future of the National Health Service, for which we have been asking for a long time. But when shall we have a Government statement and a debate on the report on care in the community, because there is a clear relationship between proposals for caring for people in the community and any changes in the NHS?

In addition, when are we likely to have the long-promised debate on the Government's proposal to substitute student loans for student grants?

Finally, let me go back to a request that I made a week or two ago for a debate on the growing public concern over Government and public bodies' spending on publicity and advertising. In particular, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the chairman of the Tory party to come to the House to tell us when the Tory party will pay back to the water rate payers of the Thames water authority area the money that they paid to put an advertisement in the Conservative document advertising 10 years of this dishonest Government?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman asked me five questions about the business for next week. He first, as I would expect him to do, registered his disagreement with the proposal for a timetable motion on the Dock Work Bill, but he has to recognise that his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said during the Second Reading debate, The Bill involves just one proposal".—[Official Report, 17 April 1989; vol. 151, c. 62.] I recognise that it is a proposal which the Opposition are committed to resist by all means at their disposal, but in view of this I think it sensible, at a relatively early stage in the Committee, to seek to draw up a timetable for future debate. I shall be tabling the motion later today and I can tell the House that it will allow a very generous amount of time for consideration of the Bill both in Committee and when it returns to the Floor of the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for thanking me for arranging the debate on the Health Service next week, which will take place on a Government motion. He referred again to the Griffiths report but, as I said last week, we have recently had a debate on this issue. I do not rule out the possibility of a further debate but I do not think it would be sensible to have another debate in the near future as the Government have not yet reached final conclusions on its proposals on this matter.

With regard to student loans, again, I have told the hon. Gentleman that the best time for a debate will be when the current discussions with the financial institutions have been concluded, and that is not yet.

With regard to the last point, I know that the hon. Gentleman has been trying quite hard to stir up a certain amount of interest in this matter of money spent on publicity but, as he well knows, these matters are covered by very strict rules and I reject entirely the view that the Government do not stick strictly to the rules that have been agreed.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 348?

[That this House deplores the animal suffering caused by the uncontrolled growth in the dog population, resulting in the destruction of an estimated 1,000 dogs in the United Kingdom every day; seeks to promote responsible dog ownership and to reduce the number of unwanted and abandoned stray dogs; is concerned about the cost in social and financial terms of environmental pollution and of accidents caused by dogs, and of attacks on livestock by dogs; supports the establishment of a nationwide dog warden service dedicated to the protection and control of dogs; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to implement a national dog registration scheme as it is empowered to do under Clause 37 of the Local Government Act 1988.]

It has been signed by 233 hon. Members from all parts of the House and refers to the dog registration scheme. I remind my right hon. Friend that this is national pet week. We have a reputation for being animal lovers in this country and yet 1,000 healthy dogs are destroyed every day in the United Kingdom. I wonder, therefore, whether my right hon. Friend could find time next week to debate this important issue.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the concern, but the Government have made it clear that they do not consider that a registration scheme would do anything to assist dog welfare or control. I have to tell my hon. Friend that there are no plans to implement section 37. I recognise his concern about a debate, but I cannot promise him one in the immediate future.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Leader of the House has, on a number of occasions when defending the introduction of guillotine motions, referred to the precedent set by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) when he guillotined five Bills in one day. Does the right hon. Gentleman see some future Government of a different hue using as a precedent the guillotining of the Dock Work Bill after only 25 hours of debate in Committee, or are they so drunk on the anniversary spirit that they believe that this Government will go on for ever and ever?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman, if he was present yesterday and listened to the speech by his hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), will know that she indicated that she would prefer guillotines to be brought in earlier even than I bring them in.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Can the Leader of the House take early action to stop next week's business being frustrated or unduly delayed by filibusters from silly busters? Can he also give an assurance that next week he will not seek on Friday, as he did last Friday, to restrict the discussion of important Euro-measures to one and a half hours on the one day when there is plenty of time for discussing them? Will he bear in mind the Prime Minister's important words about the need to give more time to these Euro-measures and not to restrict the time unduly?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend raises a number of points but I must deal first with the debate yesterday. I would have thought that that had done more to stop it happening again than anything else. While it was an achievement to speak for four hours, it was an even greater achievement to be quite so boring for that length of time.

As my hon. Friend knows, I am not happy about the way in which the House deals with European legislation, and that view is held by many other people. I am having discussions to find out how the House would like the scrutiny of European legislation to be improved. I hope that it will not be too long before we have helpful suggestions from many people, including the Chairman of the Procedure Committee and the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee—both of which Committees are examining that issue.

As to last Friday's motion, I do not consider that we slipped anything through. It seems to me that we tabled that motion in the proper fashion. The House approved it, which I think is excellent.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Reverting to the subject of the Dock Work Bill, can the Leader of the House cite any precedent outside an emergency or an emergency powers Bill when a guillotine was introduced within three weeks of publication of the Bill itself? Are not the Government's action adding insult to injury? What kind of response does the right hon. Gentleman expect from the dock workers of this country?

Mr. Wakeham

I believe that the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who is sitting just to the hon. Gentleman's left, when he was Leader of the House, introduced a guillotine after the Second Reading of one Bill, so I do not think that my action is unprecedented.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging right hon. and hon. Members having ideas about European legislation and how the House should deal with it to extend their thinking to the Procedure Committee, which at this moment is trying to find ways in which it can assist right hon. and hon. Members and the House generally to give greater consideration to European matters?

Mr. Wakeham

Provided that that is not an invitation to right hon. and hon. Members who would like to take all European legislation out to the North sea and sink it., I agree to my hon. Friend's request. The restrictions are such that we cannot find a great deal more time to debate European legislation, but we can find a way of using the existing time more effectively.

Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)

This morning, the Prime Minister said on early morning TV that over the past 10 years the Government have improved the quality of people's lives. Can the House have an early debate on precisely that point? The Prime Minister can then explain how the quality of life has improved for those people who sleep each night in cardboard boxes because they are homeless. She can also explain to the House how the unemployed in my constituency and in other parts of the country are much better off under the present Government. She can explain how people's lives have been improved by cuts in social security benefits. She can explain how the Government have destroyed the nation's stability. The worst crime of all is that they have destroyed the stability of the nation. The Prime Minister should come to the House and explain those matters, so that we may challenge her and give the opposite view—rather than the right hon. Lady going on some nonsensical TV programme in the early morning.

Mr. Wakeham

I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the views that he expresses in the House. However, if he will examine the business for virtually the whole of next week, he will find that every one of the measures proposed by the Government is about improving the quality of life. I refer to the Finance Bill, and to our proposals for the National Health Service and for improving the efficiency of the docks. They are all about improving the quality of life, so I reject the hon. Gentleman's assertions.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a White Paper on changes in structure plans has still not been presented? Does he agree that there must be a debate before the Government introduce legislation on that subject? If so, when will that debate take place?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the importance of that subject and acknowledge that my hon. Friend has addressed me about it on more than one occasion. I wish that I could be more forthcoming. I cannot promise a debate early in the future, but I shall certainly bear his point in mind.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 638, signed by 136 hon. Members, which deals with the de-recognition of trade union rights by Midland bank.

[That this House condemns the Midland Bank for unilaterally withdrawing bargaining and representative rights from the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union and regards this as a denial of civil liberties and the rights of the employees concerned in that they are unable to be represented by the union of their choice; and calls upon the Midland Bank, as a so-called listening bank, to listen to its employees and to reverse this unwarranted, controversial decision forthwith and to return to the non-confrontational, co-operative industrial relations which it previously enjoyed with the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that people should have a right to join a trade union of their choice, that there should be a right to recognition for that union, and that the listening bank is not listening to its employees? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to make an early statement?

Mr. Wakeham

I certainly cannot promise that and, from the mutterings that I hear from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, I do not think that he is very much in the mood. It is entirely for employers to decide which union, if any, they wish to recognise for collective bargaining purposes. I see nothing wrong with that at all.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Does my right hon. Friend share the concern of many Devonians and other people in the west country, in particular that of my constituents, about the outflow of untreated raw sewage into the sea? Does he agree that the subject merits early debate before the privatisation of the water companies? Will he give urgent consideration to having such a debate as soon as possible?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate. I recognise that it is an important subject. However, a great many of the provisions in the Water Bill are designed, in the main, to improve the quality of our water.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on manufacturing? Will he tell his Front Bench colleagues to stop pretending that a trade deficit in manufacturing, which it is forecast will amount to between £18 billion and £20 billion by the end of the year, is not serious? It is very serious and it matters to this country. When the oil runs out, how on earth shall we earn our living without a decent manufacturing base?

Mr. Wakeham

I should have thought that the hon. Lady, with her usual ingenuity, would be able to make some of those points in the debates next week on the Finance Bill, but that is not a matter for me. Her view of the trade deficit is perhaps a bit one-sided. I do not think that she recognises, for instance, that three quarters of the trade deficit arises from investment in productive equipment and from improving the manufacturing facilities of our country. That is something which was not achieved under the last Labour Government.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the one area in which the last 10 years of Conservative Government have been a conspicuous failure—the failure to do anything about the indescribably filthy approach to this place in the underpass under Bridge street? It has gone on for years. At a time when the tourist industry is beginning to get into full gear, once again tourists are faced with what looks like a Third world country's pathetic attempt to clean up the approaches to the centre of democracy. Will he do something about it, please?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend's analysis that there is too much litter about. I am not sure whether my responsibilities for organising next week's business quite fit into dealing with that matter, but I shall make inquiries and find out whether I have any responsibilities for it.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Since the right hon. Gentleman seems so eager to cite precedents to defend his action over the guillotine, could I ask him to respond to the invitation that I have given to him on many previous occasions—I am sure that he must clinch the matter now, in view of what he has previously said—to hold a debate so that the House can see exactly what is the contrast between the measures that we introduced, for which I was responsible, and the right hon. Gentleman's far more frequent guillotines? Many more guillotines have been introduced by him than were introduced by any previous Government. Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that it is particularly offensive to impose a guillotine on the dock labour scheme, since the Government completely refused to hold any negotiations whatsoever with the unions concerned before the Bill was introduced?

Mr. Wakeham

The right hon. Gentleman is a formidable debater, but it seems to me that he will need all his skills if he is to develop the case that he developed earlier this week, that a lame duck Labour Government, of which he was a member, had a greater moral right to insist on getting their measures through Parliament than that of a Government who have achieved three decisive popular victories in a row. The right hon. Gentleman's theory, that the less support one has the more Bills one should be able to guillotine, is certainly a novel interpretation of the constitution.

What is more—I have some more news for the right hon. Gentleman—he will be on very shaky ground indeed if he presumes in the debate that he is urging me to hold to teach business management to me. He is the only Leader of the House since the war to have lost a guillotine motion. We all remember his guillotine days in 1976, when he could not get one of his Bills through, even with a guillotine.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Now that the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Society of Apothecaries and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all have had their say about the Lord Chancellor's proposals for the reform of legal services, which I personally support, when will the House of Commons have a chance?

Mr. Wakeham

We had a debate late at night on the Lord Chancellor's salary order. Apart from my own, I thought that my hon. Friend made the only other sensible speech.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Is the Leader of the House aware that this year we are celebrating a vitally important anniversary—the year of photography? What initiatives do the Government plan this year? If they have no suggestions, will the right hon. Gentleman consider allowing still photography in this place? If we are to have television, it seems ludicrous to allow television and not still photography, particularly when there are very fine and brilliant photo-journalists in Britain. Led by The Independent and followed by others, there is very sympathetic treatment of photography in newspapers. Will the Leader of the House produce some suggestions, not necessarily today but perhaps next week?

Mr. Wakeham

The first thing I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is certainly giving the photographers of the world plenty of practice in taking good family snaps at the moment. I agree that his point is a serious one. The Select Committee considering the televising of our proceedings is examining these matters and it would be quite wrong for me to give my views as to how that Select Committee should reach its conclusions in its report, which it hopes to do very soon. However, the hon. Gentleman has raised a serious point which we shall have to consider carefully.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

I very much support the recent application by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) for a debate on the past 10 years under my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Such a debate would give us the opportunity to explain to the nation how in those 10 years we have given power to parents, trade union members and council tenants. We have attracted inward investment and changed people's attitudes so that young people now want to run their own businesses. We could also explain how people now want to own shares in the company in which they work, and how difficult we find it to help people when they have the handicap of a Labour-controlled council.

Mr. Wakeham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), although I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman sees it in quite the same way. However, I do not see a way of finding time for a special debate on the points he raises, although a number of them could well be made in the business already set down for next week.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

I urge the Leader of the House to think again about arranging that debate on the past 10 years. Perhaps it would give the Opposition the opportunity to raise questions about the increasing public squalor of hospitals being closed, homes not being built, public cleaning not being properly financed, unemployment having doubled, inflation rising rapidly, at twice the rate of our industrial competitors, homelessness having gone through the roof and many other issues. Will the right hon. Gentleman think again, as we would welcome a debate on the past 10 years?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that there is popular support for such a debate. We all have our own statistics to quote on such occasions, but I am not moved. I cannot find time to arrange such a debate next week.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my hon. Friend look at early-day motion 767?

[That this House strongly deplores the proposed all out strike of London Underground staff from 8th May with the severe inconvenience and suffering it will cause for the London public and the economy of London; and urges all concerned to think again and to continue to try to resolve their problems round the negotiating table, remembering that no problem is too large to be insoluble by responsible and fair negotiations.]

It tackles the serious matter of the proposed Underground strike for next Monday, which will cause huge damage to the economy of London and huge inconvenience and suffering to Londoners. Can we have an early debate or a statement, whether or not the strike takes place?

Mr. Wakeham

I certainly welcome the motion and I regret that there may be industrial action, rather than negotiation. Of course, the resolution of the dispute is a matter for the board and management, but I hope that the unions will take into consideration the many millions of people who have to use the Underground and think again before taking industrial action.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Would next week be a good time for a debate on the quality of life in Whitehall? On a minor matter, can the Leader of the House explain how an Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office can appear on the BBC and talk about disallowed private notice questions, when the rest of us certainly cannot? Can he explain why it is that so mighty a personage as Mr. Bernard Ingham now refuses to meet the Institution of Professional Civil Servants.. which wants some kind of code of ethics? Can he tell us whether we can assume that it is now all right for a private secretary to the Prime Minister to authorise the improper disclosure of Law Officers' letters?

Mr. Wakeham

I have nothing further to add on the bulk of the hon. Gentleman's questions, except to say that I cannot arrange a debate on them next week.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

On the subject of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), does my right hon. Friend recall that the right hon. Gentleman was only able to impose his will—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions must be about a debate next week.

Mr. Leigh

We have a guillotine debate next week, Mr. Speaker. I was simply recalling that the right hon. Gentleman could impose his will on England simply because of his majority in Scotland. Does that not drive a coach and horses through the argument that English Members such as myself should not be allowed to vote on Scottish matters? Those who live by the unitary guillotine should die by it.

Mr. Wakeham

I am most reluctant to bring forward guillotine motions at any time because it is better that debates are settled by negotiation. However, they have to be brought forward by all Governments, and a unitary Parliament means that every hon. Member can vote on them equally.

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

Will the Leader of the House consider a debate next week on the intolerable situation in Cleveland, arid elsewhere, where there are delays of up to eight months before Department of Social Security leaflets reach voluntary sector outlets, from which people can learn what benefits are available? I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question about that two months ago and I would appreciate it if he did not advise that I write to the relevant Minister or ask a private notice question because I have obtained no information from those sources, short of being told that citizens advice bureaux have a special relationship and can obtain the information in a couple of days. Other organisations, such as housing trusts and agencies for the disabled, need that information so that people who need benefits can obtain them. This intolerable situation should be dealt with quickly.

Mr. Wakeham

I promise the hon. Lady that I shall look into the matter as soon as I leave the Chamber.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Notwithstanding the remarks of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), who has been noticeable by his absence from the Dock Work Bill Committee, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that Conservative members of the Committee welcome next week's timetable motion? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) spoke for two hours on Tuesday morning and was interrupted by the Chairman 10 times to be brought back to order, that the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) was brought back to order nine times in five minutes by the Chairman for tedious interruptions and that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby admitted that the Opposition were merely trying to delay the Bill? The timetable motion is long overdue.

Mr. Wakeham

I excuse the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) because he must have found it a novel experience, when speaking in Committee, to have a large audience, rather than appearing on Sky Television.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Will the right hon. Gentleman again turn his mind to the question of a debate on the Government's 10-year record? Will he take into account the fact that I have just taken to Downing street a delegation of people from all over the country—not just from the poor cities of the north—and that one member of that delegation carried with her a loaf of day-old bread? She bought it from a shop in Manchester which was selling it cheaply because people in that area cannot afford to buy fresh bread. Should Parliament not take such cases on board after 10 years of Thatcherism?

Mr. Wakeham

As the hon. Gentleman knows, he can quote a particular case and I cannot look into the details of it at the Dispatch Box. He also knows that the standard of living of all sections of the community has risen substantially under this Government.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

Will my hon. Friend take on board the advice of the right hon. Member for Blaenau, Gwent (Mr. Foot) that all is fair in love, war and parliamentary procedure? Will my right hon. Friend have mercy on Conservative members of the Committee considering the Dock Work Bill and not be diverted from his intention to guillotine the Bill which will abolish a monstrous system?

Mr. Wakeham

I believe that the time has come to deal with the Bill in an orderly fashion and that that would be to the benefit of the House. I do not think that, secretly, the Opposition disagree with me quite as much as they say.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House tear himself away from the Conservative party's celebrations of 10 years of Thatcherism and consider the problems of the victims of Thatcherism and the organisations that are trying to help them, such as the citizens advice bureaux? Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 710 about the citizens advice bureaux' golden jubilee?

[That this House notes that it is 50 years since the foundation of the Citizens Advice Bureau Service throughout the United Kingdom; and takes the opportunity of its Golden Jubilee to congratulate and thank all workers past and present, voluntary and paid, Management Committee members and professional supporters who have given help throughout the years, to ensure that citizens have access to independent, free, impartial information and advice on a confidential basis, in order that they will not suffer through ignorance of their rights and responsibilities.]

Does he know that the citizens advice bureau in Bradford celebrates its golden jubilee in September but that it is now on the brink of collapse because of cuts in its funding and uncertainty about future funding? Does the Leader of the House realise that its staff are working in intolerable conditions and that clients have to wait an average of two hours to be seen? As more and more Government Departments are urging the victims of Thatcherism to consult the citizens advice bureaux, it seems high time that the Government provided some funds to enable the CABs to carry out the help that the Government are making their victims seek from such organisations?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not look upon the hon. Gentleman as the most objective observer of the scene, but the Government congratulate the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux on its 50 years' service in providing information and advice to the public. I am sure that the whole House will wish to associate itself with that early-day motion.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the question that was asked earlier about access to this House, and may we have an early debate on that and related aspects? My right hon. Friend will be aware that in the 10 years of this Government, conditions and other aspects relating to hon. Members' activities have improved dramatically and out of all recognition. However, one problem still remains. Many of us are required to use the tube from Heathrow to Westminster and during the summer months we sometimes have to stand most of the way, often with heavy luggage—[Interruption.] I know that some colleagues may not give a favourable response to this, but my right hon. Friend will recollect that when I first became a Member of the House I had to wear a spinal jacket. Indeed, I still have problems with my spine as a result of my flying accident, and because of that I and other hon. Members in similar positions find such journeys difficult. Will some consideration be given to that aspect of our problems?

Mr. Wakeham

I certainly recognise the concern expressed by my hon. Friend. However, I do not see an early opportunity for a debate on the subject that he has raised, important though it is. I should have thought that my hon. Friend could find an opportunity of raising that matter, perhaps on the Adjournment of the House, which would seem more appropriate.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Does it not smack of the "Iron Handbag" to have a sittings motion moved on the first day of Committee on the Dock Work Bill, which will also now have a guillotine motion moved on Monday, after only a few hours' debate? As the Government clearly do not want any amendments to be made to that Bill, thus leaving the Opposition to make all the running and allowing Conservative Members to sit in the Committee doing their constituency work and taking no part in the Committee proceedings, would it not have been more honest to consider that Bill on the Floor of the House? Are not the Government making a mockery of the Committee stages of Bills by allowing that to happen upstairs on the Committee Corridor? As we are talking about procedure, when are we to have a debate on private Bill procedure, a report on which we debated a few weeks ago?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise a debate on the second subject in the near future. We had a good and interesting debate, with divided views from hon. Members of all parties and a pause to consider those views is the right thing.

I do not know how the hon. Gentleman conducted himself when he was in the late-lamented, or the not-lamented Greater London council—

Mr. Banks


Mr. Wakeham

—or whether he was a Member of the House under a Labour Government, but it does not seem a particularly strange idea that the Government should bring forward a Bill and be keen on having it enacted without too much amendment. That seems a perfectly normal sort of proceeding for a Government. It is the Opposition's job to propose amendments to Bills. That is perfectly reasonable, and I do not see what the hon. Gentleman is complaining about. The question is whether we are allowing enough time for the process to be dealt with decently and reasonably, and we think that we are.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

Notwithstanding my right hon. Friend's reply earlier concerning the prospect of a London tube strike commencing Monday, will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make an early statement to the House about how he intends to tackle the increased congestion that such a prolonged Underground strike might cause? Some proposals could include the lifting of parking restrictions on motorists, ensuring that busways are kept open, and seeing that there is extra space for commuting road coaches to be parked off street. If this is a prolonged stoppage, such measures will probably be found necessary.

Mr. Wakeham

If there is a need for a statement, my right hon. Friend will come to the House and make one. However, as I said in my earlier reply, the negotiations are between the management and the union. It is not for my right hon. Friend to make statements about those matters. The matters raised by my hon. Friend are important, and appropriate statements will be made if that is the best way of proceeding.

Mr. Tam Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It arises out of a question.

Mr. Speaker

No, we will have the statement first.