§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received a report of the events last night, which meant that consideration of the Children Bill was not completed because of the activities of hon. Members from mining areas, as Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have admitted? It is an important measure which has been supported by both sides of the Committee. It represents thousands of hours of work by responsible children's organisations. It now appears that it will be lost because of the activities of certain Opposition Members.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If I clear up the matter, the hon. Member may not need to raise his point of order.
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand that there was some delay last night in the completion of the Children Bill. I am not aware and it has not yet been reported to me that anything out of order took place.
§ Mr. Skinner
It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) did not stay to hear the debate last night. If he had, he would have heard an honest-to-goodness debate about the Government forcing pre-school playgroups to pay for licensing and inspection. Several Tory, Labour and Liberal Members—no mining Member of Parliament whatever—took part in the debate. There were 400 Government amendments. The Government's troops, including the hon. Gentleman, went home to bed with the result that the Children Bill was lost because the Government spokesmen pulled up the stumps.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have read about the proceedings, so I do not need to be told about them. As far as I am aware, nothing out of order took place.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm, because it is not clearly understood outside the House, that any measure before the House must pass through all its stages, with amendments passed by both Houses, before it becomes law and that any Bill that does not do so by the time that Parliament prorogues falls? Are you aware that, as a result of what happened last night, there is a real danger that this Bill could suffer that fate? The Bill has had all-party support and its implementation is anxiously awaited by many caring organisations. Do you agree that if that were to happen it would not only be deplorable but would inflict great damage on the reputation of Parliament, which I know that you are anxious to guard?
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Unlike anyone else, you, Sir, have the privilege of reading what happened. The way in which Hansard is published means that anyone who hears this exchange will not have read what happened. It is important that we are allowed to put the record straight. It is not good enough for part-time Tory Members—[Interruption]—who are so dedicated to the legislation that they sneak off home as soon as the three-liner is concluded to attack the Opposition when the Government's incompetence in drafting their legislation led to 400 amendments which had to be dealt with in 12 hours, or at the rate of 40 per hour, or one every two minutes. As we stayed to discuss them, we do not accept the hon. Gentleman's criticism.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. These are not matters of order, although they may be matters of disagreement across the House.[Interruption.] Order. I have already said that what the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) has said is absolutely right, in procedural terms. What happened last night was in order, although it may have been unfortunate.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
I was here at 1.50 am, and raised the matter with Mr. Deputy Speaker at the time. What happened last night was that a Division was forced by the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh), in which no hon. Member voted with the Noes. It was clear that the intention was to force Divisions on numerous later amendments on which there is no disagreement, to keep the House here throughout today, if necessary, and lose today's business.
The hon. Member for Monk lands, West (Mr. Clarke) said last night:when other reasonable hon. Members representing mining areas feel it necessary to demonstrate as they have done …"."As they have done": the Opposition Front-Bench spokeman admitted that that was what was going on. The Opposition, having reached an agreement with the Government on a Bill that is not contentious—for there is general agreement that child abuse must be dealt with as quickly as possible—welshed on that agreement. They cannot control a small minority of mavericks. Is it not time that the House ruled on whether Divisions should take place when there is no disagreement and no hon. Member votes with the Noes, merely to obstruct a Bill for other purposes?
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know how rare it is for a Back Bencher to persuade the Government to accept an amendment. 876 After many hours of debate with hon. Members on both sides of the House, I was able to do so, and the amendment was passed unopposed on Report. Now we see that it is about to be lost. In such circumstances, is it in order for hon. Members on both sides of the House to approach the Leader of the House to seek a guillotine on the business as soon as possible?
§ Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)
You know, Mr. Speaker, they are a mardy lot over there—and they are being really deceitful this afternoon. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, that word is not parliamentary. Will he please withdraw it?
§ Mr. Haynes
In your interests and no one else's, Mr. Speaker, I will withdraw it.
We could have got that Bill last night. Both sides of the House wanted it, but the Government Chief Whip came to the Chair and said, "I am going to move the closure," so the Government did it. They all wanted to go to bed, that was the trouble.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. One feature is, I think, central to the whole discussion. The Children Bill commands widespread support throughout the House. It is a good Bill, widely commended, and last night—I was here and the shadow Leader of the House was not—the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman left us in no doubt about his anxiety to see it passed. [Interruption.]
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
As is not unusual, the usual channels had made arrangements for the Bill to be discussed, and the expectation—settled and firm on both sides—was that it would be finished by a reasonable hour. That progress, however, was not made. As one of my hon. Friends has pointed out, a Division took place in which no Opposition Member voted, and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman expressed his regret that progress had been impeded for the reasons already given. In those circumstances, there was no prospect of progress being made along the lines previously foreshadowed. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Whip therefore prudently said, "Let us draw stumps tonight and see whether we can make a better attempt at it on a future occasion."
The proof of the pudding may be, to a significant extent, in the eating of today's business. Let us see whether we can make sensible headway with that, as foreshadowed through the usual channels. Then we may be able to return to the other matter coolly, and fulfil what the people of this country expect—the enactment of the Children Bill, containing many Government amendments in response to the debate that has taken place.