HC Deb 27 March 1990 vol 170 cc237-9

5.9 pm

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 statement about the rearrangement of business for tomorrow, Wednesday, 28 March.

The business for tomorrow will now be as follows: Timetable motion on the Social Security Bill, followed by progress on remaining stages of the Social Security Bill. Proceedings on the Bill will be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 3 April.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

As even the Prime Minister recognised that the electors of Mid-Staffordshire were sending her a message, why have the Government deliberately delayed the keeper of that message for more than one and a half hours by putting on three statements today? Has not the graceless, churlish behaviour of the recently defeated Tory candidate in the by-election been matched by the Government's business managers this afternoon?

Is the Leader of the House aware that we deplore his abrupt announcement of a guillotine on the Social Security Bill tomorrow? Is it not outrageous, when the Government only last night tabled four new clauses and 37 amendments to this legislation—clauses and amendments which the House has never seen before—that they are now effectively pre-empting time in the debate and preventing my hon. Friends from moving Labour's amendments? Are they not simply doing this to prevent yet more embarrassing defections and votes against by their own supporters?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to make allegations of deliberate delay by the Government. We are continuing our calm conduct of Government business in making statements today, the first two of which have been welcomed by the House. The third had to be made now; it could not be made tomorrow because it relates to tomorrow's business.

In due course, the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal), who was elected in the by-election last week, will commence her brief stay in the House.

The timetable motion is designed to give rather more time than would have been available under the arrangements made through the usual channels. The amendments and new clauses tabled for discussion tomorrow are for the most part proposals produced in response to discussion in Committee. The time available will be entirely appropriate for their consideration.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

If the accusation made by the shadow Leader of the House should be valid, would that not be something that the House ought to take into account when it comes to consider whether to renew the televising of this place? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the timetable motion that he has announced will be greatly welcomed by Government Members?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the welcome in the last part of his intervention. I make no comment on his first observation.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Does the Leader of the House not recognise that timetable motions at every opportunity are increasingly taking liberties with the House in general and individual Members in particular? Tomorrow's proposal not only carves out Opposition parties from being able to do their proper job on Report but is no doubt intended to carve out members of his own party who tried to amend the National Health Service and Community Care Bill last week and gave the Government a substantial shock. Will he agree that that has produced a response of even more autocratic behaviour by an ever more autocratic Government?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman has to try his best, but there is no foundation whatsoever for that interpretation. The Committee proceedings on this Bill proceeded in a normal, orderly fashion. They included consideration of no more than four new clauses. However, on Report the House is now required to deal with some 20 new clauses tabled at a very late stage by the Opposition against the background of a threat by Opposition Members to run the proceedings for 23 hours through the night. We are making a proposal to handle in an orderly fashion proposals that the House will need to consider and will be able to consider.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many of us consider that the timetable motion on the Social Security Bill is a sensible way of proceeding? Is he aware, further, that most of us believe that the remarks by the shadow Leader of the House were entirely synthetic, when we recall the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) standing at the Dispatch Box when in government and moving five separate guillotine motions? Does he recall that, when I took my seat after a by-election victory under the last Labour Government, I was forced to wait until 6 o'clock in the evening?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful for the support offered by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)

Will the Leader of the House admit that one of the major reasons for the decision to guillotine the business tomorrow is to avoid discussion of new clause 8, which is supported by Opposition Members and also by many Government Members? The new clause would provide compensation for British nuclear test veterans suffering from various cancers and for their dependants. Is it not the case that the Government, having filibustered that Bill out as a private Member's Bill earlier this month, are now having to resort to a guillotine motion to find other ways to prevent this from being debated and voted on, because they dare not risk even five minutes' discussion on the measure, so weak is their disgraceful position on the whole question?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is no foundation for that claim. The time that will be available for discussion of this Bill under the timetable motion will exceed that previously agreed through the usual channels. If the time is used sensibly, time will be devoted to the hon. Member's new clause as well as to other matters under consideration.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen the reports in today's Daily Mirror and Morning Star in which the Labour party announced that an all-night sitting on the Social Security Bill was to take place tomorrow? Will he not accept, therefore, that these are bogus and synthetic objections to a very sensible proposal?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I entirely agree.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

How can the Leader of the House justify a guillotine on the Social Security Bill when so many hon. Members want to explain to the Government how doubling the capital allowance on the poll tax without altering the taper will still leave people on tiny incomes qualifying for the tiniest of rebates? Will it not make it more difficult for the Secretary of State for Scotland to contribute to the debate to explain why reshuffling £4 million from his own budget can somehow be presented as a triumph over the Prime Minister?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That would not arise in the course of this debate, in any event. I repeat that the time likely to be available for discussion under the timetable motion will exceed that agreed through the usual channels. That cannot be unreasonable.

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