HC Deb 07 November 1989 vol 159 cc963-7 12.38 am
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement about the rearranged business for tomorrow. It will be as follows:

WEDNESDAY 8 NOVEMBER—Timetable motion on the Local Government and Housing Bill and the Employment Bill, followed by completion of consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government and Housing Bill and consideration of Lords amendments to the Employment Bill.

The rest of the week's business will be as already announced.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Is the Leader of the House aware that his statement is totally unacceptable to the Opposition? I do not believe that the Leader of the House, who left his previous high office in a shambles after the Government reorganisation—[interruption] I do not mean that the right hon. and learned Gentleman left the Foreign Office in a shambles. I mean that the reorganisation of the Government was a shambles and that his removal from his previous office was a shambles, not his conduct of foreign affairs. Could he, however, have envisaged the business shambles for which he was about to become responsible?

The Bill has been before the House for 10 months—since February of this year. We are still considering it because the Government have tabled more than 600 amendments at this late stage in the proceedings. There has been no Opposition filibuster—neither in Committee nor in another place, where Opposition amendments were accepted by the Government. This state of affairs exists solely because Ministers have tabled more than 600 amendments and in effect are trying to enact a replay of the Committee stage on the Floor of the House.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has already created a record during his short tenure of office as Leader of the House. In a few short weeks he has already had to move four guillotine motions. It is an unenviable record for him to have to defend. Not only is the Prime Minister's conduct of government demeaning government in Britain, but the conduct of the Government's business in this House is demeaning the reputation of Parliament.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Seldom can anyone have heard a more war-weary and less convincing presentation of a case than the one that the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has just given. The Bill has been considered for a total of 210 hours. The amendments that were under consideration both yesterday and today were, as to 90 per cent. or more of them, technical and capable of very expeditious consideration. The crucial point is that yesterday 317 amendments were disposed of entirely as foreseen through the usual channels, whereas today, for some unexplained and unacceptable reason, there has been no comparable progress. In the face of that, it was absolutely right that the Government should take this step.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I thank the Leader of the House for giving notice that he proposed to make a business statement. As a distinguished lawyer, I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman must have considerable reservations about the fact that many of the amendments were introduced at a very late stage in the other place and were not sufficiently scrutinised through lack of time. They are now being scrutinised here without adequate time for debate. Does not the Leader of the House hanker after the days when the Conservative party believed in lightening the legislative load?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The central point is that well over 300 amendments were dealt with yesterday in perfectly good order. Had there been comparable progress today, there would have been no problem; but there has not been comparable progress today.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Has the Leader of the House considered the implications of his business statement on the discussion of Scottish business? There are important amendments to the Bill that affect Scotland and will receive inadequate consideration because of the guillotine motion. A further guillotine motion is poised over the Scottish education legislation next Monday. We are entitled to ask whether the Government are prepared to allow any discussion of Scottish business in this Chamber.

Has not the Leader of the House something of a brass neck to come to the House and announce the curtailment of the discussion of Scottish business when there is not one Scottish Conservative Member in the Chamber to hear him—[interruption]—with the sole exception of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)—and occasionally we are not quite sure whether he is with us?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has some difficulty in espying my hon. Friend at this time of night, but he is here, alert and watchful as ever. The Government will ensure that the interests of Scotland arc well and effectively looked after.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Instead of introducing the guillotine motion tomorrow, would it not be a better idea for the Leader of the House to call upon the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement about the ambulance crews and the introduction of the Army—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I do not see how this relates to the statement by the Leader of the House.

Mr. Skinner

Whenever a business statement is made, it is right and proper for hon. Members on either side to call for other statements instead of the statement that he has made. That is the practice in the House.

The Leader of the House should call upon the Secretary of State for Health to make a further statement about the ambulance crews and the Army being brought in, in view of the continuing controversy. It has now been revealed that the negotiations on the trade union side—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. These matters do not arise out of the statement.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I call Mr. Cryer.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does the Leader of the House accept that since he has been Leader of the House he has made more business statements after midnight than before midnight? Does he further accept that we condemn such trampling on parliamentary rights? Will he ensure that tomorrow the Secretary of State for Education and Science makes a statement to the House on capital expenditure on schools which is—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman just heard me say that questions must be related to the statement and not to other matters.

Mr. Cryer

It is related. Before this change of business is implemented tomorrow, I want a statement from the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Children in my constituency of Bradford, South are being sent home because of the lousy Tory council in Bradford not spending enough money on schools. The children in my constituency deserve better than that from this rotten Government.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Even the hon. Gentleman is surely subject to the rule of courtesy that I want does not get.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware that if there are to be restrictions on debate when there is no question of filibustering—[Interruption.] The Conservative Members who are shouting were not present during the debate. Is the Leader of the House aware that if such restriction of parliamentary rights and privileges continues Back Benchers will fight it with every conceivable parliamentary device to ensure that our voices are heard? After the Leader of the House announced the procedural motion tonight was one illustration of that.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

If the hon. Gentleman reflects upon the swift progress that was made yesterday and the non-progress that was made tonight, he will see that there is no foundation for his threat.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Before I ask a question of the Leader of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will you say whether Conservative Members' claim that there has been a filibuster—if that is their accusation—is a criticism of whoever was in the Chair at the time?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Chair will judge whether any speeches or statements in the House are in or out of order.

Mr. Banks

I remind the Leader of the House that, when I congratulated him on becoming Leader of the House, I said that in his new position he would find life far more convivial than he did when travelling around the world with the Prime Minister, being feted and drinking gin and tonics. He sees exactly how interesting the times in which he lives are when he proposes guillotine motions.

I advise the Leader of the House that 650 amendments are far too many for hon. Members seriously to consider in the constricted timespan that he is now to give us. Why could not hon. Members be allowed to continue discussing the amendments in a measured way through the night and into the next day? We are quite prepared to do so. What is the right hon. and learned Gentleman afraid of? Can he not muster his troops to put forward a reasonable argument on the Government's amendments?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman knows that our troops are mustered and ready to uphold the Government in all these matters. There is no realistic prospect of measured consideration of the kind that the hon. Gentleman talks about. There was measured, sensible consideration on the previous day. There has not been any this evening.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Is the Leader of the House aware that I have now completely lost faith in him? Last Thursday, I suggested that he should watch the Government Chief Whip. He has now joined in the right hon. Gentleman's activities. Is it any wonder that the opinion polls are in our favour? People can see the mess that the Government are in. I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should go to No. 10 tomorrow and resign.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The whole House will want to reflect upon the hon. Gentleman's gentle ruminations, but the Government will continue to prevail upon the support of the people of this country.

Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)

Will the Leader of the House explain how on earth the House will be able to give adequate attention to Lords amendment No. 277 to the Local Government and Housing Bill, which deals with housing action trusts?

The Minister for Housing and Planning, the hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), went to Sunderland on Monday to discuss housing action trusts, and then issued a press release which appears to claim that he has caved in to a Labour council on that matter. Other local authorities threatened with housing action trusts will want to know what the amendment is about, what its implications are for them, and exactly what deal the Minister has struck with my local authority. How are hon. Members to debate that matter in the pathetic amount of time that the Government have allocated, if that amendment is ever reached?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

A great deal of time could have been devoted to it tonight had there not been so much time spent on dilatory matters. As it is, we shall have to see how much time is available tomorrow.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

As the Leader of the House is not prepared to go along with any other suggestions, and as he referred more than once to Monday's proceedings, saying that he was happy with the progress that was made, will he guarantee that he will provide similar time tomorrow as was available on Monday so that all the issues may be debated?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The House will have to recognise that it is a question to which a large amount of time has been devoted today, including the extended discussions that we are having at this late hour. One must take full account of that.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Why is the Employment Bill being caught up in this procedural mess? It is a hideous Bill, but in terms of procedure, it went readily through Committee, readily through the Lords and readily through the rest of its proceedings in this House. There have been no previous problems with it, but it is now being curtailed because of the procedures affecting other measures. We are not being given a proper chance to look at the Lords amendments to the Employment Bill.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It has not been caught up in any kind of procedural mess whatsoever. It is important—and recognised by hon. Members of all parties to be important—that we should try to preserve the rest of this week's business, including the debate fixed for Thursday on parliamentary pensions. I am anxious to achieve that, as well as this.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The Leader of the House has started 8 November with an unscheduled statement to the House. He has announced that the House is to have a substantial additional workload during the coming day, or tomorrow, or whatever it is. Does he anticipate that either he or any other Minister will want to make any other statements on any other difficulties that the Government may stumble into during the next 12 hours or so in tomorrow's business, or today's business, or whatever it is?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Let us see how we get on with tomorrow's business when it comes.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

The Leader of the House has made several suggestions about a filibuster tonight and has referred to yesterday's business and to today's business. I suggest two things. First, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not looked at what yesterday's business was and why it went through. The contentious items were, in fact, on today's business. Secondly, I refer to the fact that yesterday, through the usual channels, the voting pattern was decided, yet there have not been any consultations through the usual channels today on that. If there had been, we could have told the Leader of the House when we would vote.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman should know that there has been consultation through the usual channels and that the original layout of business in the two days provided was in accordance with matters discussed through the usual channels, and it is that which has not been fulfilled.

Forward to