HC Deb 14 December 1993 vol 234 cc843-92

9.—(1) References in this Order to proceedings on consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of, recommittal. (2) No debate shall be permitted on any Motion to recommit either Bill to which this Order applies (whether as a whole or otherwise), and the Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.

Before discussing the two Bills and the reason for proposing the motion, I should first describe, simply and clearly, what it provides for, since there was some doubt about that last night—although I accept that those who expressed that doubt had not then had the opportunity to study the motion.

For each Bill, the motion provides for six hours of debate, divided between three hours on Second Reading and three hours for remaining stages. Overall, therefore, each Bill has broadly the equivalent of a full normal parliamentary day.

Additionally, although this is not in the motion, we have separately provided time for the money resolution required for the SSP Bill—last night—and for the Ways and Means resolution required for the contributions Bill, which is down for discussion on Wednesday evening. That has the effect both of avoiding procedural confusion after Second Reading and of providing additional time for discussion of matters arising from the two Bills.

Although I of course accept that the context is one that the Opposition do not like, to put it mildly, we sought to ease the problems that the House would otherwise have faced in relation to amendments by means of a motion—somewhat unexpectedly debated, but, I am happy to say, agreed to without dissent, on Friday—to allow the tabling of amendments to either or both in advance of Second Reading.

The content and the purpose of the two Bills will be dealt with more fully by my right hon. Friends when they speak on Second Reading. I shall therefore confine myself to a brief outline.

The principal purpose of the contributions Bill is contained in clause 1, which increases national insurance contributions payable by employees by 1 per cent. from April 1994. That proposal was originally made in the Budget presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) in March; but clearly the revenue involved, about £1.9 billion, is an important ingredient in the more recent Budget judgment of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). It ensures for the forthcoming year the financial soundness of the national insurance fund, from which all state retirement pensions and many other benefits are paid.

This is overwhelmingly the main point of the Bill. The other two clauses, apart from commencement provisions and the like, are simply designed to establish with greater certainty two points which already represent the general understanding and which have not been challenged—yet some doubt about them has arisen.

Clause 2 establishes that certainty in respect of the allocations made to the NHS from the national insurance fund—nothing new about those allocations—and clause 3 establishes with certainty that, just as payments towards personal pensions are not allowed as a deduction by employees from their income on which class 1 contributions are calculated, they are not allowed either as a deduction by the self-employed from the profits on which class 4 contributions are calculated. In both cases, these provisions do no more than establish more firmly what has always been intended and understood.

The second Bill is the Statutory Sick Pay Bill. Here, the main purpose is to implement one of the key expenditure proposals of the Budget—the abolition of the arrangements under which 80 per cent. of the cost of statutory sick pay is reimbursed to employers. This is part of a package, the other elements of which do not require legislation but will be implemented in other ways.

The package will include a major reduction in employers' national insurance contributions, will extend and improve the 100 per cent. reimbursement arrangements for small employers after a period, and will bring about overall a net reduction of about £100 million in the costs of British industry, even after allowing for the SSP changes.

No employee's entitlement is in any way reduced. Indeed, as a result of another element in the package, the abolition of the lower rate of SSP in April 1995, about 50,000 less well paid people will gain increased entitlements to SSP. From April 1995, they will receive it at the higher rate, which will then be the only rate.

The Bill also contains one other provision of limited but beneficial effect; it extends statutory sick pay entitlement to women who work past the age of 60, the age at which their entitlement currently ceases. It will now be available to them until they are 65, thus bringing about a modest but useful extension of equal treatment and, indeed, entailing additional spending of about £10 million.

Against that background, let me make five key points to the House. First, the two Bills represent two important elements in my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget, involving on the one hand significant amounts of revenue and, on the other, significant amounts of expenditure. They are therefore important elements in a policy—which is overwhelmingly supported, I think, by Conservative Members, if not by the Opposition—to improve public finances and to ensure that the recovery now taking place continues and is sustained. The Bills need now to be put in place in a sensible and orderly way.

Secondly, the Bills are not long and complicated. Although related to wider and more complex changes, some of which I touched on, essentially they are directed to two clear and straightforward, although not uncontroversial, propositions. The first is that employees' contributions should go up by 1 per cent.; the second is that 80 per cent. refunds of SSP should be ended.

As I have observed once or twice before, there has already been much opportunity to debate those propositions. Taking account of two Budget debates and a Queen's Speech debate, which covered the contributions Bill, the contributions proposals could have been debated for a total of 15 days. I accept that less time has been available to debate SSP, but we have just had a substantial Budget debate, which was extended by one day at the request of the Opposition specifically to embrace the fact that public expenditure was involved. The SSP proposal is a public expenditure proposal in the Budget, for which the debate was extended by a day.

Thirdly, the two Bills are tied closely together. It would plainly not be sensible to try to carry out the rest of the annual uprating of national insurance contributions in April with a large element of it legally unsettled. Equally plainly, it would not be sensible to make the SSP change without at the same time making the national insurance changes that go with it. They need to be dealt with alongside each other.

Fourthly, I accept that it is not impossible for such changes to be carried out at times other than April, but it is overwhelmingly for the convenience of business to make them, along with all the other changes in payroll systems and the like that occur at this time, at the beginning of the financial year in April.

Fifthly, and crucially, to achieve that, and to make those necessary changes in a way that does not cause unnecessary cost and inconvenience to industry, the House needs to carry the Bills before the forthcoming recess. I can perhaps best show that by working back from the intended date of implementation—6 April.

To meet that date, the Department of Social Security, the Contributions Agency and other parts of the DSS need to issue the necessary contributions tables and other instructions to some 1.2 million employers in February. Affirmative orders must be laid beforehand in early February, with proper time for consideration by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and by both Houses. There will be several further opportunities for debate on the detail of the measures.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

When was a similar Bill last guillotined in this way?

Mr. Newton

The nearest comparison that I can make is with the Community Charges (General Reduction) Bill two or three years ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "Before Second Reading?"] Yes, before Second Reading; I think that is right.

In another respect, we face entirely new circumstances this year. It is the first unified Budget for a considerable time. [Interruption.] The unification of the Budget has been widely supported on both sides of the House. It took place on 30 November and included expenditure proposals alongside tax proposals, which require primary legislation but which do not have the same special procedures that tax legislation requires. That has therefore made it necessary to act in the way that I am seeking to persuade the House to accept.

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

On what previous occasions at this stage of the parliamentary Session—only four weeks into it—have two important Bills of such magnitude been subjected to a guillotine motion? It is common to guillotine Bills at the back end of a Session, but not at this stage. On what previous occasion has such a guillotine motion been proposed?

Mr. Newton

I had just completed my argument to answer that question. The sort of question that the hon. Gentleman has just asked me might make more sense if we were talking about an education Bill or others that I can think of, but it is not relevant to today's circumstances.

The two proposals are an integral part of the Budget announced on 30 November, with which a range of measures was needed to ensure that the proposals could be carried through coherently by 6 April. I am stating the procedures required of the House of Commons and the other place to enable that process to be carried out in a way that allows British industry to implement the proposals in a sensible and convenient way.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)

Does the Leader of the House anticipate that it will become an annual event for measures arising from the Budget that have to be passed by April? If not, what does he intend to do in future years?

Mr. Newton

I shall give the hon. Gentleman an entirely serious reply, as I have sought to do with previous questions. As I have said on a number of occasions—not least when occasionally responding to my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, as well as to questions from other parts of the House—in the wake of our experience with the unified Budget procedures this year, we shall need to consider whether there are further lessons to be drawn.

Some of those lessons could not have become apparent until we had undergone that experience. It may well be that the problem that could arise in relation to expenditure proposals flowing from the Budget, and in the time scale that we are talking about, could require further thinking. That additional consideration would not necessarily be on the same long established lines for dealing with tax proposals, such as the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968, but could require further thought on how such matters could be most appropriately handled.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Is it not true that, as a result of moving things too quickly, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—God bless him—has had to admit to a £1 billion error which, had he been more careful and examined the expenditure in more detail, could have been uncovered? Will not a similar error be made now if we do not look at the Bill properly?

Mr. Newton

First, I imagine that the hon. Gentleman, who assiduously attends our proceedings, will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about the story on which the hon. Gentleman's question was based. Secondly, I do not accept that there is a parallel with the proceedings on which I am encouraging the House to embark.

A range of affirmative and negative orders—I am concentrating on the affirmative ones—will need to be laid in early February, allowing proper time for consideration by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and a proper opportunity for debate by both Houses. We shall seek to provide that. Before that process, which must start in early February, the other place must deal with the two Bills after Parliament resumes in mid-January. If people think fairly and objectively about that, they will see that there is a need for the House to proceed with the measures this week, which is the reason for the motion.

From recollection, I believe that it has been customary to conclude such speeches with what is sometimes called knockabout, with references to the number of guillotines moved by one's predecessors of different political persuasions. I could make a number of such references, but I think that the case that I have made is clear and compelling and will command the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I am content to rest my case on that, and to commend the motion to the House.

4.19 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

Today's debate is a classic example of the warning contained in "Erskine May" about guillotining motions. They are a potential risk to democracy because they are capable of being used in such a way as to upset the balance, generally so carefully preserved, between the claims of business"— that is, the business of this place— and the rights of debate.

During the 20 years since I was elected to the House, I cannot recall a better example of the relevance of that warning. We are discussing the guillotining of two Bills that will affect every member of the British work force and every British company. One Bill will penalise all members of the British work force because it will increae the tax take from their salaries, while the other Bill will penalise—or so it would appear—all British companies because it will increase their costs and the bureaucracy that they face.

We are having a debate on a guillotine motion because the Government do not want to talk about the issues; they simply want to use their parliamentary majority to get them out of the way.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that only today I had a letter from the PMT bus company in Stoke-on-Trent clearly stating that, as a result of the Government's proposals, it is likely that there will be an increase in bus fares? Surely we should have the opportunity to scrutinise the Bills properly, rather than pushing each through in one day.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is precisely the purpose of scrutiny of legislation that such points should emerge from people outside this place. Parliament exists to scrutinise legislation; that is why we are here. In particular, this place exists and our greatest duties—for hon. Members on both sides of the House—stem directly from the need to scrutinise the tax raising and expenditure of Government. It is extraordinary that any Government should suggest curtailing scrutiny in the way that is proposed today. Not only are we asked to guillotine two Bills in one day, but each will have only one day's debate in this place.

The first of the Bills raises national insurance contributions for every working person by 1 per cent. That will raise £2 billion—two thousand million pounds—every penny out of the pay packets of the British work force. It actually raises £300 million a year more than a penny increase in income tax would have raised. No one could argue that those are not substantial sums or that they are not of considerable importance.

The second Bill—the Statutory Sick Pay Bill—transfers the administration of SSP from the Government to private industry. That transfer will mean savings for the Government of £750 million—again, a substantial sum. The Government claim that employers will be fully compensated for that transfer by the cuts being made elsewhere in national insurance contributions. That is part of the Government's case for curtailing debate.

Frankly, the House should doubt whether that is the case—as does British business, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) identified. I shall come a little later to the reasons why that doubt is considerable—reasons based on the proposals being put before the House, rather than simply on the straightforward presumption that a Government who are behaving in such a hole-in-the-corner way are a Government with something to hide, as appears to be the case.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Is not it one of the ironies of such an extraordinary piece of arrogant behaviour that the Government have succeeded in highlighting the very facts that they would rather the electorate did not know about?

Mrs. Beckett

I am indebted to my hon. Friend. She is entirely right. Speaking as someone who, in common with others in the Chamber, has spent some five years trying to get the public to take an interest in social security matters, often of immense importance to them, I certainly take the view that, if it had not been for the Government's incompetence as well as their disregard of the proceedings of the House, people would be much less aware of what is going on.

Usually, when we have debates because the Government have chosen to guillotine our proceedings, the Lord President spends much time claiming that time is being wasted in Committee and that great discussion has already been undertaken. He sought to claim credit today for his forbearance but, of course, he cannot make that claim today because we have not had a minute of debate on this legislation. Last week, he fell back on the claim that, with regard to the Social Security (Contributions) Bill, the increase was announced in the Budget a year ago, so there was no need to debate the detail.

That, in itself, is a dubious claim. First, the Bill contains somewhat minor and technical provisions with regard to the health service and personal pensions, to which the Lord President drew attention, but those clauses are there because preceeding legislation is either wrong or unclear. We scrutinise legislation so that, irrespective of what the Government intend, they can get the legislation right.

Secondly, as anyone who is suffering from the ministrations of the Child Support Agency can tell the Government, the devil is often in the detail. All hon. Members approve of the idea that people should contribute towards the upkeep of their children; very few people approve of the way that it is being done. That again, I repeat, is what this place is for, irrespective of the party that hon. Members represent.

Ms Walley

We are now having to sort out many issues simply because the Government have failed to get legislation right in the first place. My right hon. Friend has just mentioned specific legislation. Will she also bear in mind the way in which the Government have completely failed properly to scrutinise the European directive on the transfer of undertakings? Shall we not end up in exactly the same position with the legislation that we are about to scrutinise simply because the Government are not prepared to get it right and are not prepared to bring it to the House for proper scrutiny?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is again entirely right.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

Does not the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) underline the need for the House to spend time scrutinising European legislation rather than debating humdrum bits of legislation that have the broad support of the House? Was not the European directive on the transfer of undertakings brought forward under the previous Labour Government? If we had a system for the proper scrutiny of draft European legislation, would not we be able to deal with the problem raised by the hon. Lady? Do not we need to spend more time scrutinising the vast quantity of European legislation and less time talking up bogus divisions between the two sides of the House in order to conceal the ever-encroaching nature of the EC?

Mrs. Beckett

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He can be assured that his words will go clown in history, at least on the Opposition Benches, and he can expect to have frequently quoted back at him, and frequently quoted back at his right hon. and hon. Friends, his words about humdrum legislation, which merely affects every member of the British work force and takes money out of their pay packets. That was a most revealing observation. The hon. Gentleman has clearly betrayed the fact that an increasing number of Conservative Members have no idea that this place is for the scrutiny of legislation of all kinds.

This place exists not only for us to have an opportunity to ask our questions and to probe; as my hon. Friend has made clear, it is for those outside this place who will be affected by the legislation, those members of the British work force and every British company that will be affected by the Statutory Sick Pay Bill. It exists so that they can scrutinise the legislation, ask their questions and perhaps, if they are extraordinarily lucky, even have them answered. It is not only our freedoms that are being curtailed by this procedure; their right as citizens to know that Parliament has examined legislation which will so seriously affect them is also being curtailed.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

A few minutes ago, the right hon. Lady called the Child Support Agency in her aid. She was right to think that many Conservative Members are just as worried as she is about some of the ways in which the policy has turned into reality. Does she accept that the legislation to set up the Child Support Agency was not guillotined, which demonstrates that a guillotine does not necessarily prevent scrutiny? Even without a guillotine, we do not necessarily get it right.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but I am not sure that it will work out in the way that he intended. Certainly, even with the scrutiny that is available, Parliament sometimes overlooks things or fails to get sufficient straight answers from the Government. How much worse, therefore, is it likely to be when we are allowed such a minuscule amount of time?

Furthermore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman intends to stay for the rest of this part of the debate. I assure him that I shall be able to point out to him something that Parliament has already missed in the proposals.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

If the matter is so strikingly in need of scrutiny, can the right hon. Lady enlighten us as to why the Leader of the Opposition made no mention of it in his response to the Budget and gave it no scrutiny?

Mrs. Beckett

It is essential in the reply to a Budget speech to deal with the broad sweep of the debate. My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned some of these issues.

Mr. Clappison

Did he mention statutory sick pay?

Mrs. Beckett

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question. If he would like to stay to hear a little more of my speech, he will find out one of the difficulties that lie behind the statutory sick pay proposal and one of the reasons why the guillotine motion is before the House today.

The Lord President justified the guillotine on the Social Security (Contributions) Bill by advancing the notion that, as the proposal has been around for a year, there was no need to scrutinise it. That is the complete opposite of the position on statutory sick pay. That proposal has been around only since 30 November. No one has had time to scrutinise it. What is more, as I have already said, the way in which it was described was seriously misleading. The Government have claimed that there is nothing untoward or almost nothing unusual about their method of proceeding.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)


Mrs. Beckett

Humdrum, as my hon. Friend says.

There is only one precedent that we have been able to discover—the Lord President also identified it—of a Bill being guillotined before it had even received Second Reading. That precedent is instructive. The precedent is the Community Charges (General Reduction) Act 1991. It has similarities with the Bill that we are debating today in that the Government clearly were not anxious to spend much time debating the issue. The Bill dealt with the most embarrassing policy, up to now, that the Government have pursued in their years in office—the policy of the poll tax. The Government wanted to spend as little time as possible dwelling on the impact of the poll tax. That is the similarity with the guillotine that we are discussing. That is where the similarity ends.

The Act followed hot on the heels of a Budget in which the Conservative party increased VAT to 17.5 per cent. It was, in fact, the counterbalance to the cut in poll tax of £140, paid for by an increase to 17.5 per cent. in VAT. The Budget statement in which VAT was increased was made on 19 March. The Bill was produced on 26 March and debated in one day. We opposed the guillotining of that Bill because we thought that it was not the right way in which to dispose of such vast sums of money. We were right to recognise the dangers of that precedent. At least that Bill was the means whereby the Chancellor put back into people's pockets the money that he had taken out a few days before in the Budget.

There is no such excuse for the provisions that we are discussing today. They are a straightforward increase in deductions from people's take-home pay made in direct contravention of what was promised by the Conservative party and the Prime Minister before the general election campaign.

Let me remind the Lord President that one reason why the Social Security (Contributions) Bill is before us is that a change of this magnitude in the Government's tax-raising powers requires primary legislation. I have no doubt whatever that if the change did not require primary legislation, the Government would scuttle the matter through in whatever hole and corner way they could find. The remark of the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) that some of the legislation is humdrum confirms that view. The Government cannot get out of presenting the legislation to the House, but they have chosen to allow it to be debated as briefly as possible, allowing the princely total of less than six hours' debate for all stages of the Bill before it goes to another place.

I shall now deal with statutory sick pay. The Lord President's argument on the Statutory Sick Pay falls on the fact that we have known about it for less than two weeks. When the Government curtailed the previous arrangement on statutory sick pay of 100 per cent. reimbursement by reducing it to 80 per cent., the Lord President said: It is entirely proper that we should come to the House with primary legislation to effect that change …that is the…legislation that we are debating."—[Official Report, 28 November, 1990; Vol. 181, c. 917.] The right hon. Gentleman drew attention to the fact that the change was so significant that it had to be scrutinised properly. But that was a less sweeping step than the one in the Bill: it simply reduced the reimbursement from 100 to 80 per cent.

At the time, we were suspicious of the Government's further intentions and in debate we drew attention to that concern. Anxiety about the Government's intentions runs through the history of statutory sick pay. When it was introduced, the Government said that it would apply for periods of only six weeks and that it would be wrong to go further because of the danger of putting burdens on British business. Within a year they had gone further by increasing the period over which it applied from six weeks to six months.

That, too, was a less sweeping change than the one in the Bill. Not only was that legislation referred to by the Leader of the House in the way that I described but, despite being of lesser purport, it was discussed for more than 50 hours in the Chamber and in Committee.

On 1 March, the permanent secretary to the Department appeared before the Public Accounts Committee. There was again some suspicion about the Government's motive. No doubt some Conservative Members will think that it was unworthy. The permanent secretary was asked whether the Government had any plans to go ahead with further reductions and further burdens on British business. He replied: No, there are no plans by Ministers at the moment to do that. Obviously, that is something they keep under review. He was further pressed by the Committee and said: What you expect or what you do not expect is something you must deduce. We keep it under review. In line with a recent television programme, he should have said, "You might think that; I could not possibly comment."

The Government claim that the change is of no importance because there will be no losers. That is their basic argument about curtailing the debate and, plainly, it has been swallowed by some of their Back Benchers. They say that, because there will be no losers, the Bill can go ahead without full scrutiny.

Plainly, that argument is not accepted by the Institute of Directors, which is normally a friend of the Government. At the weekend, the institute suggested that the proposals would have a damaging effect on British business. It is not accepted by the Confederation of British Industry which, in the short time available, has written to hon. Members expressing concern about the principle of the changes which, it says, poses fundamental questions about who should bear the cost of social security provision". The CBI note says that it hopes that those questions will be explored—in the debates that the Government are now curtailing. It also says that, because of the overall Budget package and the Chancellor's reassurance, it does not necessarily wish to oppose the Bill, although it seeks various assurances from the Government.

I wonder whether the CBI is right about being reassured. Of course, this is exactly the kind of issue that it is right and proper to explore in Committee. That is the purpose of a Committee, but it appears that, at least in some respects, the Chancellor may have been economical with the truth in his reassurance in the Budget speech to which the CBI refers. The Government say that large companies will be compensated for the change by the reduction in national insurance contributions that will occur in other ways.

Later in the Budget speech, the Chancellor said: for well managed companies with low sickness rates, there will be a net reduction in the cost of employing people. Other companies will have a much sharper incentive to improve their management of sick leave and to take a greater interest in the health of their own employees. If there is no cost to business, where does that incentive, never mind a "sharper incentive", come from? The whole point, for the Government, is that there will be a cost unless companies themselves take other steps, which are not identified. Judging from the CBI survey of the management of sick leave, produced a little while ago, no such policies have been identified by anyone. Given the Government's track record, the fact that they cannot give us any breakdown of where the balance of the proposals for financial compensation in the Bill lies—to what extent the cut will compensate for statutory sick pay and to what extent it will contribute, as the Government suggested, to job creation schemes—raises doubts. The Government's imprecision gives us real concern.

What about small companies? The Chancellor continued his Budget speech by saying: the current special exemptions"— for small companies— will be extended. At present, those with national insurance bills of less than £16,000 a year are fully reimbursed after the first six weeks of each…claim. I propose to increase that threshold to £20,000, to bring more companies into the scheme, and to provide full reimbursement after only four weeks. Two thirds of all employers will therefore continue to get help."—[Official Report, 30 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 926.] That undoubtedly created the impression that there would be no cost to small companies—indeed, that they might benefit. Unfortunately, it appears that that is not true.

The Chancellor mentioned improvements that he said he was making, but in preparing for today's debate our inquiries have elicited the information that there will be increased costs for small companies. At present, 80 per cent. of the costs of small companies are reimbursed for the first six weeks, and after that they receive 100 per cent. of their costs. The time limit is being lowered to four weeks, but until four weeks have passed small companies will get nothing. I repeat: they will get not one penny—not one halfpenny—of compensation for the first four weeks. Only then will they receive 100 per cent. compensation. No doubt it is merely an unfortunate coincidence that, as all the surveys confirm, the vast majority of periods of sick leave are shorter than four weeks.

There is no reference to those facts in the Bill or in the notes on clauses. They emerged only during our inquiries in preparation for the debate. With only six hours available for all stages of the Bill, the facts might not have emerged at all during the debates. I assume that hon. Members would have concentrated their scrutiny of the legislation on what they thought were the difficult points, not on aspects that the Chancellor's words had led them to assume would not raise any problems.

We now know that there will be a cost—probably a substantial cost—for small businesses, and that it will be enshrined in regulations, which, as everyone in the House knows, cannot be amended. Yet hon. Members on both sides of the House would not have drawn that implication from the Chancellor's words. That not only highlights the need for scrutiny of legislation but shows us all why the guillotine motion is before us.

Tory Back Benchers are fond of posing as the champions of srnall business. There have been references in the press today—clearly, the result of briefings by Conservative Members—about the reassurance given to disgruntled Tory Back Benchers. Now we know what they were disgruntled about; they were being conned into voting for the Government, assuming that small businesses would be compensated. Now they know what is happening, and they can decide whether to vote for it.

Ms Walley

While my right hon. Friend has been speaking, has she noticed that some Conservative Members, especially the hon. Member for Come Valley (Mr. Riddick), seem not to have known the facts? Can the Government have kept the information away from their Back Benchers?

Mrs. Beckett

Judging by the expressions on the laces opposite, I believe that my hon. Friend is right, and that the information was kept from Conservative Members. That demonstrates, more perfectly than any words of mine could, why scrutiny of legislation is required in this place, why that is the purpose for which the House exists and the dangers to which hon. Members lay themselves open by behaving in such a cavalier fashion towards the House.

The proposal to guillotine the Bills in such a manner is shoddy and disreputable. During the debates on the Queen's Speech we referred to the insolence of office that shines through everything that the Government do. The problem both in the House and in the country is that the Administration believe that they can do anything that they like, and they do not even want to be bothered to come to the House to defend it. It is clear that deceit, incompetence and cowardice are the hallmarks of the Government.

4.45 pm
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

I was not surprised to hear the speech by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett); such speeches are de rigueur for a debate on a timetable motion. I welcome the proposal to allocate time on the two Bills. Indeed, I believe that that should be a standard procedure for all legislation and I am sorry that that aspect of the Jopling proposals seems to have been lost in the mists of time. Hon. Members on both sides of the House sometimes refer to the importance of freedom of speech in this place, but after a few years here I have come to the conclusion that much of that is a facade. In reality, debate has to be curtailed if minds are to be concentrated. One of the features of timetabled debates is a better quality of discussion; more succinct arguments are addressed to particular amendments and to the particular concerns of the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Derby, South did herself a disservice—not to mention causing offence to my hon. Friends and myself—by suggesting that Conservative Members were not aware of the absence of any help for the first four weeks. I am perfectly well aware of that and it is mentioned in much of the documentation that we have been sent by various organisations. It is indeed one of the matters that needs to be raised in the debate.

I remind myself that we are considering timetables for two Bills—the Social Security (Contributions) Bill as well as the Statutory Sick Pay Bill. We have heard the sham anger from the Labour party, which before the general election planned to remove the upper earnings limit altogether. That would have meant a massive increase in national insurance contributions. The Labour party derides restraints on the time allowed for debate, yet if it had had its way many such issues would not even come before the House, because Labour would have handed the powers over to the European Community and the House would not have had the power to debate them.

The anger is a sham, coming from the party that has handed social policy-making to a commission, an outside body. That body is now—believe it or not—coming up with one or two sensible ideas, such as questioning the universality of child benefit. I wonder whether that idea will quickly be buried deep in the holes of Walworth road.

Mr. Enright

Does the hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that, because one pursues a certain European policy, the House cannot debate such matters? If so, he fundamentally misunderstands how the Community works—and, indeed, how the House works.

Mr. Paice

Outside the Chamber the hon. Gentleman and I are hon. Friends and he knows from our lengthy discussions that there is a difference between debate and constructive debate. We can debate European measures until the cows come home, but we cannot necessarily amend them. If the Labour party had signed up to the social chapter, as it was pledged to do, legislation relating to many issues would be agreed by majority voting in the Council of Ministers. We could debate their decisions for as long as we liked, but, after such scrutiny, we would have no power to change them. That very point was stressed by the right hon. Member for Derby, South.

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the Single European Act or the social chapter has been more damaging to the concept of subsidiarity?

Mr. Paice

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the social chapter has not even come into existence—

Mr. Rooney

Yes, it has. The hon. Gentleman does not even know that.

Mr. Paice

It is highly questionable to argue that subsidiarity is damaging the country. The hon. Gentleman failed to mention that the Labour party did all that it possibly could to obstruct the progress of the concept of subsidiarity by obstructing the passage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill—the Maastricht Bill—through the House. If the Labour party had had its way, subsidiarity would not be an option, because of its obstruction of the Maastricht Bill.

The debate relates to the time allocated to two important, but small Bills. Those Bills will be considered after the House has had six days of debate on the Budget and, in the case of the social security contributions, five days of debate on the March Budget, when the I per cent, increase in national insurance contributions was proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont).

Mr. lain Duncan Smith (Chingford)

Does my hon. Friend recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security came to the House the day after the Chancellor's Budget speech to announce the full details and implementation of the changes relating to social security? That was an opportunity for every hon. Member to take apart the proposals.

Mr. Paice

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A statement offers another opportunity to hon. Members to question a Minister on whatever issue.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that he is not aware of the difference between the questions put after a statement and the examination of a Bill?

Mr. Paice

Of course I am well aware of that difference, but a statement offers a further opportunity to hon. Members to understand exactly what is proposed. That information helps hon. Members to form their arguments on a particular matters. The ability to obtain information also counters the point made by the right hon. Member for Derby, South, who suggested that Conservative Members are unaware of the full implications of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill. That is utter nonsense.

The timetable motion allocates a full day for the consideration of each of the Bills. In addition, today's debate offers another three hours in which hon. Members can, as is the tradition, speak about the Bill's contents.

Mr. Dewar

That is wrong.

Mr. Paice

That is the tradition behind timetable motions.

We are talking about one Bill with three substantive clauses and another with two substantive clauses. Both relate largely to a matter of principle.

The right hon. Member for Derby, South was right to draw attention to the implications for small businesses of the proposed changes in the Statutory Sick Pay Bill relating to the first four weeks during which an employee is ill. No doubt we will have ample opportunity to table amendments to that proposal and I am sure that it will be discussed many times.

The Social Security (Contributions) Bill concerns a matter of principle. Hon. Members are either for or against the 1 per cent. rise in national insurance contributions. There is no need to provide a great deal of time for hon. Members to table amendments to that Bill.

Given the size of the two Bills, I believe that two full days of debate offer ample time to hon. Members to make short, succinct contributions that get to grips with the issues. That is the way in which all debates should be handled. I strongly support the motion.

4.53 pm
Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North)

I have been a Member of the House for just over three years and the one thing that I have learnt rapidly is that it behoves every hon. Member to read the representations that he or she receives, because they enlighten us about the implications of legislation.

I have received 57 letters from those running small businesses and 16 from those running large businesses in my constituency—yes, there are still 16 large businesses left there. Those people have explained the true implications of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill not only for their businesses but for their employees. Just today I received letters recording even more concern from the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors—organisations not noted for their donations to the Labour party.

The Leader of the House said that the Department of Social Security and its internal organisation had to get documents out in February. I wonder what happened—obviously it was before my time—when national insurance contributions were increased in previous March Budgets. Those contributions stood at 6 per cent. in 1979 and had increased to 9 per cent. before the current proposals. How was it possible for a change to be made in a March Budget and then introduced by 1 April without the aid of a guillotine motion? Now, with four months to play with, the Government have introduced such a guillotine.

Mr. Newton

I specifically acknowledged in my speech that it is not impossible to do things at other times of the year. Announcements about national insurance contributions that were made in March were not implemented in April, because it was not practicable to do so, and were normally implemented in October. Over the years, the business community found it extremely inconvenient to make national insurance changes and all that went with them twice a year.

Mr. Rooney

I accept that explanation from the Leader of the House, but no doubt others will challenge it. [Laughter.] I am glad that hon. Members find that funny.

The Government have made great play in recent times of the need to deregulate businesses. They have not, however, introduced much legislation to that effect. This week, however, we will debate the Statutory Sick Pay Bill for a maximum of six hours. But that Bill raises vital questions about exemption days and qualifying days. Following the decision last week, I wonder whether Sunday will become a qualifying day. What about the possible need for self-certification?

All those matters are relevant to the implementation of the legislation, but they are not mentioned in it. No doubt at some time in the future loads and loads of regulations governing that legislation will be tabled—as they will concerning the Child Support Agency—but it will not be possible to amend them. By then the damage will have been done and the costs incurred and people will have suffered.

The Statutory Sick Pay Bill represents a further betrayal of the promises made to employers when statutory sick pay was introduced and made the responsibility of management. Businesses were then told that 100 per cent. of the costs would be reimbursed and no one would lose out. I am reminded of the promises made in 1982 to local government when housing benefit management was transferred from the Department of Social Security to local authorities. Those promises came to nothing and council tax payers have had to bear the burden of tens of millions of pounds of lost revenue.

When the amount of sick pay rebate was reduced from 100 per cent. to 80 per cent., with a corresponding reduction in employers' national insurance contributions, that reduction was not extended to local authorities. In other words, local authorities have suffered a 20 per cent. cut in the amount reimbursed to them and it has not been offset by a reduction in their national insurance contributions. Will local authorities be similarly excluded from the terms of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill? If so, we should be told of the consequences for council tax payers, who will be expected to carry an additional financial burden. That is another issue that is worthy of scrutiny and amendment.

Two years ago we discussed a similarly so-called short Bill of two or three clauses. We were told that the House need not waste any time on it. It effectively gave people bribes to opt out of the state earnings-related pension scheme—SERPS—into personal pension plans. In the past week we have seen stories of hundreds of thousands of people whose cases are being investigated because they are being ripped off by shady insurance salesmen, and their personal pensions for the future are in question. That is the danger of chasing something through the House in a short space of time when dealing with major implications for people's personal future, security and welfare.

Much has been made of the fact that the Bills were mentioned in the Queen's speech and in the Budget statement. It is worth drawing attention to two points to do with the Budget speech, which was one of the shortest in many years even though it embraced the annual public expenditure statement. Only as the days have gone by have we started to see what was really in the Budget documents and not in the Chancellor's speech. Not least, we now find that not all pensioners will get the full amount. If they are on a reduced pension, they get reduced compensation for their VAT.

It has still not been admitted anywhere that, as well as reducing the job seeker's allowance from 12 to six months, the Government have abolished the dependant's allowance, which was previously payable with unemployment benefit. That has not been mentioned in the House. It has not been spoken about by any Minister. I suspect that it has not been admitted to the Government Back Benches. One has to get down into the paperwork to find that information.

The implications of the Bill are horrendous, covering as they do some 26 million people in work in hundreds of thousands of companies. Their prosperity, viability and profitability are at risk. With that there is a risk of higher unemployment. The Bills are so serious as to deserve much more than six hours of debate. I think that this is a stupid guillotine. It is totally unnecessary and should therefore be opposed.

5.1 pm

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this short debate. I shall say at once that I support the measure. I believe that the guillotine is perfectly acceptable and that, important though they are, the issues that arise out of the debate are perfectly capable of being debated within the time span allowed and being given proper scrutiny. The Bill has implications for health—it makes a major contribution to health—and the competitiveness of industry. Those points have not been dwelt on at all by the Opposition, who seem to show little interest in them.

On statutory sick pay, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) was at her most high-minded when she opened the debate, talking about a measure that had major implications for British workers and businesses. One thing that I have learnt in this place is to be very suspicious of politicians when they are being excessively high-minded. In the case of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill it is instructive to look at the history of the matter and consider what may be the real reasons and motives that lie behind the sudden outburst of interest in the matter among Labour Members.

The proposal first came before the House in the Budget statement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor, who clearly announced what the Government's intention was going to be in respect of statutory sick pay. As I said to the hon. Member for Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), although the Leader of the Opposition mentioned many other things in his response to the Budget debate, he did not see fit to mention at all the change in statutory sick pay, which had been announced by my right hon. and learned Friend.

The matter came before the House again the following day, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security made his statement and went into more detail. The hon. Member for Garscadden, on behalf of the Opposition, responded on that occasion. It is right that he raised the question of statutory sick pay in his response to my right hon. Friend. It was inevitable that he would do so, because it was the subject that he was covering. I think that the hon. Gentleman will not take it amiss from me if I say that, in my experience of him, he is a stickler for detail. He is certainly assiduous in his attention to detail. There are times when he may regret going into as much detail as he does. In future, perhaps because of certain things that have happened here, we may have somewhat less detail from him. He took up the question of statutory sick pay with my right hon. Friend, but made no mention of a point made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South about small businesses.

The hon. Gentleman did not pick up that point, although it was clear in the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of state, who explained what his proposals were going to be with the offsetting change in national insurance contributions and the protection that is being given to small businesses. Although the hon. Gentleman responded, he did not even query what the effect would be on small businesses let alone take up the point of the right hon. Member for Derby, South—so much for the hon. Gentleman's sudden concern for the fate of small business men.

If the hon. Gentleman would like the answer to the question that was posed by the right hon. Member for Derby, South, it is quite wrong to say that there is no compensation for small business men. They enjoy the national insurance contribution reduction in the same way as all other business men do. In addition, they get the protection of having 100 per cent. of the statutory sick pay rebated to them after four weeks of sickness. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) says, "After four weeks," but if he knows about this, he will know that the present limit is six weeks and that it has been reduced to four weeks and is being made at 100 per cent. rather than at the rate of 80 per cent.

Mr. Jenkin

Is it not rather extraordinary that the shadow Leader of the House should make a great revelation about a particular aspect of the small business relief as though she had stumbled on it by accident hidden in some dark recess? If she were to look at the Library brief on the Statutory Sick Pay Bill, she will find that it is there, under the heading "New Small Employers' Relief".

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

When was it published?

Mr. Jenkin

Obviously it was published in time for this debate. It would have been published in time for the debate on Second Reading and the Committee stage.

Is it not extraordinary that the official Opposition should need to make such bogus points about the measure?

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend is right. There have been no secret documents or secret inquiries made. If Opposition Members had an interest in the matter and took the time and trouble to study and listen carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security said on 1 December, they would have seen that the proposals were clearly set out there. Nothing new has come out since. The proposals were there. The difference is that Opposition Members—Labour and Liberal Democrats—were not interested at that stage in small businesses. They did not even have the interest to express any view about small businesses in their response to that debate.

The story gets worse from there on, because after that debate we had days of debate on the Budget—a specially extended debate. Shadow spokesmen on health made no mention of the matter, although it has major implications for health. A shadow spokesman on employment made no mention of statutory sick pay. In fact, no other Members on the Opposition Front Bench mentioned it, apart from the hon. Members for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and for Peckham (Ms Harman), who made the most passing remark about the cost being passed on to employers, without taking any account of the offset in national insurance contributions. That was clearly an omission. I shall leave hon. Members to judge whether it was an intentional or negligent omission in each case.

Opposition Front Bench Members were hardly being egged on by a tremendous outburst of interest and enthusiasm from their hon. Friends on the Back Benches, because so far as I can see—in my humble research into the matter—there were 34 speeches from Opposition Members in that long debate. Only two of those speeches mentioned statutory sick pay. They did not take up the point that was made today by the right hon. Member for Derby, South. Yet all the proposals were known. They were all there.

If Opposition Members had not been in the Chamber to hear the announcements in the Budget speech or my right hon. Friend's statement, they could have looked it up in Hansard. It was all there, yet there was no interest and[...]o inquiries were made. I am driven to the conclusion that there is something strange going on with the Opposition. Why is there such a sudden outburst of enthusiasm for this Bill? What is the real reason for the sudden launching of guerrilla warfare? It is not for me to speculate on that.

Mr. Denham

I have been listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman. On a number of occasions, he has suggested that the arrangements that would apply to small businesses as a result of the Budget statement and the uprating statement made by the Secretary of State for Social Security were perfectly clear. I have a copy of the Library briefing on the social security uprating statement and I cannot find anywhere in it anything which says that small employers will have to foot 100 per cent. of the bill for the first four weeks. Why is the hon. Gentleman so confident that that should have been crystal clear to the House?

Mr. Clappison

I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to the second half of column 1037. If he applies his mind to it, he will see that it sets out the matter clearly.

Part of my reason for taking part in the debate was so that I could strongly endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) about the timetabling of Bills and the scrutiny of legislation. In my short experience, I have taken part in the deliberations on a long Bill, with a number of clauses. My experience of the debates on the Education Bill led me to the conclusion that the quality of debate and of scrutiny are much improved by timetabling so that there can be constructive and intelligent debate without the Opposition trying to delay and procrastinate, using base parliamentary tactics to obstruct the passage of Bills.

I see the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) laugh. I think he knows all too well what I am getting at. My experience also led me to the conclusion that the Opposition's motives for what they were doing were often different from what they claimed.

Mr. Enright

Does the hon. Gentleman also recall that Conservative Members, in what was a long-sitting Committee considering the Education Bill, refused to speak and give us the benefit, or otherwise, of their thoughts? That was a great shame, because it meant that we had to examine the Bill from the Conservative angle as well as from our own.

Mr. Clappison

I enjoyed the company of the hon. Gentleman on that Committee. I think that he will remember that I made my own contributions to the debate, but I found it difficult to speak for as long and to as little effect as the hon. Gentleman.

The Bill deals with important issues such as improving the health of the work force, improving managements' administration of sick time and improving efficiency. I remind the Opposition that we have the second worst rate of absenteeism in the European Community. It is an important and straightforward Bill, which will create incentives to encourage management to manage more efficiently and to deal with sick time, while at the same time compensating business.

Those are important points, but they can be dealt with in short order. As to the point made by the Opposition about small businesses, any small business man would greet that with the hollowest of laughs, given the massive programme of regulation to which the Opposition are prepared to sign up in the name of socialism under the socialist programme for the European parliamentary elections.

5.12 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) has got it all wrong if he thinks that the issue that we are debating, particularly when we are debating it under a guillotine, has anything to do with the merits or demerits of timetabling. I am happy to engage in discussions about timetabling, although that is difficult—much more difficult for an Opposition Member than a Government Member, but the hon. Gentleman may not always be sitting on the Government Benches. The House must deal with timetabling properly, but the Leader of the House does not make it any easier to deal objectively with timetabling when he treats us in this way.

We are faced with the most draconian guillotine that I have ever seen since I came to the House in 1983. As I said in the short debate on the money resolution last night, those on the Government Front Bench have to be careful about the precedents they set, because precedents can be used by anybody and everybody. If the House slips into a process of guillotining Bills before Second Reading, that will be another big step down the wrong slippery slope towards getting the procedures of the House and the rules and conventions disrupted. That may encourage others to emulate the Government's example, but it would not be sensible for the democratic process of the House.

I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice), who said that the Bill has only five clauses. I do not know where he was last year, but let me draw his attention to the fact that the Maastricht Bill had only five or six clauses. He said that there are one or two important issues of principle here, and so there are. However, £1,900 million-worth of expenditure is involved. The Bills were published only a few days ago, and are scant on the detail of some of the secondary enabling legislation. I agree that there are only five clauses, and that must be taken into account when we consider how many hours to allocate to them.

This is the most draconian timetable that I have come across, and I was caught by that. I gave the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East an example. In good faith, I tabled a reasoned amendment against Second Reading —the House will know that, because it is on the Order Paper—of the Social Security Bill on Thursday. Were that amendment to be selected by the Chair—that is at the discretion of the Chair—the 15 minutes on the vote would be taken off the total time available for the Bill.

That puts constraints on hon. Members who have a bona fide interest in trying to argue a case for a constructive and positive Second Reading amendment. If the amendment were selected, I would have to decide whether a vote on it would be the best use of the time of the House. That is a difficult position in which to put hon. Members when they are debating such important issues.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Is not one of the Government's dilemmas the fact that the Opposition's Whips Office is often unable to deliver its agreements made through the usual channels? The Whips go around saying, "We're not voting on this, brother," but hon. Gentlemen such as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) force Divisions, taking up 20 minutes every time they do so.

I was in the engineering union, and I would tell the hon. Member for Bolsover, had he been sitting in his place now —we are not being televised live, so he is not here—that he does not pull his weight. He has a free ride. He never serves on Committees, while we are upstairs doing the work. If the Labour party cannot control its members, we shall continue to have problems.

Mrs. Dunwoody

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth followed the habit of the House and informed my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover that he intended to attack him in the Chamber?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

That is not a matter for the Chair, but the hon. Lady is right: that is the convention.

Mr. Kirkwood

I know the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), and I suspect that he can look after himself. That intervention, helpful or otherwise, should not have been addressed to me. I have already offered to act as bookie's runner between the two Front Benches. For a small fee, I am anybody's. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] We all have a price. The sooner that the two Front-Bench teams get their act together, the happier we shall all be. If that happens before Christmas, nobody will be happier than me.

My experience of the past 10 years has shown me that guillotine debates get further and further away from the purpose on which they are supposed to be focused—looking at the details of the timetabling motion. I should be interested—I bet any money that he does not—if the Leader of the House could explain why he thinks it necessary to put in some of the verbiage in the guillotine motion.

Paragraph 1(5) says: No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which proceedings in Committee or on consideration of the Bill are taken. I will give the Leader of the House a £5 note for every time that has happened in the past 10 years. Paragraph 7 deals with supplemental orders, and paragraph 8, on saving, means that the debate can end sooner than is set out in the guillotine motion. As for paragraph 9, it would be fascinating to know what figment of the parliamentary draftsman's fantastic imagination made him think that it was necessary to have that paragraph in the motion. Those paragraphs are extraneous, irrelevant and totally unnecessary.

Why do we allow Ministers to table timetable motions that no one inside the House understands, let alone anyone outside the House? I spent the morning with the Clerks —and very helpful they were too—but how many other hon. Members spend time with the Clerks? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) is an honourable exception.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Member knows that I have huge respect for him. He will realise that these things are drafted by incredibly clever parliamentary draftsmen, and it would probably be better if I sought advice before answering the hon. Gentleman's question. It is not unknown for hon. Members to cause difficulties in the procedure on timetable business—for example, by moving other debateable motions that consume the time available. They then complain that a Bill has not been debated. We are trying to ensure that the hon. Gentleman is able to make the constructive comments that he always does.

Mr. Kirkwood

That is a monstrous attack on the hon. Member for Garscadden. I am sure that he would not do anything of the kind.

Mr. Newton

It is not the hon. Member for Garscadden that I have in mind. Wild horses would not force me to say who it is.

Mr. Kirkwood

Anyone who looks at the guillotine motion, and asks the Clerks what it is all about, will see that, in paragraphs 4 and 5, the Leader of the House has taken sensible powers because he knows that absent friends could create difficulties.

I am not saying that guillotine motions do not have to contain certain necessary elements. Paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 make some sense in relation to the Government's position, but all the other rubbish is completely phantasmagorical nonsense and should not be there. May I return the compliment and say that the Leader of the House is a man for whom I have enormous respect, and I know that he is not given to this kind of thing.

If the Government are to resort to guillotine motions in future, there should be a sensible Standing Order that sets out the elements that a proper guillotine motion could and should contain. The motion would then come before the House as a numbered Standing Order. Everyone would then know exactly what the Government were trying to do by the motion.

I bet my bottom dollar that no more than three or four hon. Members in the Chamber could give a passable explanation of the detail of the contents of today's motion.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The hon. Member is missing the point. The Government's decision to put down a guillotine is not to make things clear to the House or the electorate. Their express purpose is to hide what they are trying to do. The hon. Gentleman's criticisms of the wording is to miss the whole import of the Government's reasoning.

Mr. Kirkwood

I stand suitably chastened. I was trying to explain from the House's point of view; I was not trying to make party political capital. The hon. Lady is right: some chicanery is going on to cover the Government's embarrassment. It does not make sense for the House to discuss motions that are unintelligible to everyone, including experts.

The Leader of the House's point about the 6 April deadline is vitiated, because everyone knows that the Government need to give proper notice. That deadline has always been the point at which administrative changes should take effect. Why did he not start last spring to contrive a parliamentary framework in which we could have a more sensible debate on this matter? He has got himself boxed in and has had to bring forward this legislation, which is of limited but important scope, in short order. He did not make a strong point when he claimed that it has been known for months that we needed to do this. He should have brought forward legislation about the national insurance contribution changes earlier.

The Statutory Sick Pay Bill is a very important piece of legislation, particularly in the financial effects that it will have on small businesses. I talk to small business men more than I do to the larger organisations that represent industry, and they have told me that they feel that, over the past five years or so, the Government have let them down.

They were given commitments and undertakings when the old national insurance contributory benefit of sick pay, which used to be paid at the 100 per cent. rate, was changed. They were assured that there would be no difficulties with the changes, and that they could rely on the Government's word that they would not lose.

That amount has now been reduced, particularly in respect of small businesses, and those businesses now face financial difficulties. A business that employs eight to 10 men and has employees off sick for two or three weeks, especially if two or three of them are off at the same time, will have no cover, and will have difficulties with its cash flow.

The Bill is not only about the adverse financial effects but will strike at the root of the relationship that small businesses should have with the Government of the day. Small business men feel that they have been let down. Most of the representations that I have received refer more to that relationship than to the cash flow and other implications of statutory sick pay.

Small businesses have lost confidence that they will be treated reasonably and fairly by the Government, because of the changes and the way that they have been made.

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People will say more about this when he winds up, but the point that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire has made about small businesses—whatever representations may have been made to him—needs to be studied more carefully.

I have a table of the position of small firms with five employees, with an average sickness record, earning £90, £130, £190, £250 and £340. In each and every case, on average sickness records, those firms will be better off. Set against what they may have to find for the odd few weeks in particular sickness cases, there will be reductions for their employees' weekly national insurance contributions, week in and week out, for 52 weeks.

Mr. Kirkwood

That will come out in the wash. Those initial assessments may have been made on a false prospectus. Small business men have told me that they are worried about the losses they will incur, but they are more worried about the way they are being treated. That is something that the Government should attend to. If confidence in the partnership between small businesses and the Government is not maintained, it bodes ill for the future of our country.

The changes that have been introduced to statutory sick pay for small businesses are very difficult, if not impossible, to determine. It is not possible to work out the detailed effects of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill from its content, because of its enabling nature and because it increases the power of Ministers to table legislation.

The House must be resistant, strong and robust in objecting to Ministers' coming to the House day after day, week after week, to ask for more powers. In many instances, negative resolutions are involved: hon. Members must pray against the orders involved, and sometimes even that does not enable us to debate them. Indeed, securing debates has become increasingly difficult recently. That is bad for the democratic process, and I believe that people outside are already becoming disillusioned with the way in which we do our business.

As I have explained, I consider guillotine motions such as this unintelligible and inexplicable, and I believe that the Leader of the House has produced little justification for them in his rationale. Although such motions can be justified in certain circumstances, I consider this one completely unjustifiable. The House should reject it.

5.30 pm
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood). As with most Liberal Democrats, butter would not melt in his mouth. At one point he cracked a little joke, saying that for a small fee he was anybody's; the joke would have had a greater ring of truth had the hon. Gentleman said that he was anybody's —that he would do and say anything—for a constituent's vote. As we know, the Liberal Democrats are happy to say one thing on one doorstep, and the opposite on the next. But you will be pleased to learn, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I shall say no more about the Liberal Democrats this evening.

Today's guillotine motion has an interesting backdrop —the first unified Budget. We should also bear in mind the fact that one of the Bills that we are discussing is very much part of the Government's overall economic policy. The motion has supposedly led to the suspension of cross-party co-operation in Parliament—the end of the so-called usual channels. I consider that something of a smokescreen: to some extent, I must take the blame for the ending of that cross-party co-operation.

Last Tuesday, I unveiled the incompetence of the Opposition by remarking, on a point of order, that they could have tabled an amendment to the Government's Budget motion, which would have allowed them to vote on the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel. Why did they not do that? Were they incompetent, or were they happy with the Chancellor's compensation package?

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)


Mr. Riddick

That may be true. However, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who is seated on the Opposition Front Bench, gave the Government a helpful steer before the Budget had even been announced: he told us that 50p a week on pensions would do the trick. That was very good of him, and the Chancellor offered exactly that—but only in the first year; the compensation will become more generous in the second year. At the end of the process, single pensioners will be £1 a week better off than they would otherwise have been, and pensioner couples will be £1.40 a week better off.

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West)


Mr. Riddick

I am coming to the point; I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me.

In fact, the Opposition should be happy with the compensation package. Why, then, are they ending cross-party co-operation? They tell us that it is because of the guillotine motion, but I want to expose the real reason. I believe that we must return to the "incompetence" argument. As I have said, the Opposition could have tabled an amendment to the Government's Budget motion on Tuesday, whose wording was the same as motions tabled by a Labour Government in 1977 and 1988—and, indeed, motions tabled by the Conservative Government throughout the 1980s. Lord Jenkins actually tabled such an amendment in 1983. The truth is that this time the Opposition simply got it wrong.

We also know that there has been an unholy row in the parliamentary Labour party, between the shadow Treasury team and the shadow Leader of the House, between the shadow Leader of the House and the Whips, and in the shadow Cabinet generally. Labour Members have tried to blame the Prime Minister for their own incompetence: I was able to expose that in my point of order last week.

Over the past few days, we have read a good deal in the press about how the Opposition will refuse to co-operate with the Government through the "usual channels". They say that that is because of the guillotine motion, but, as I have said, they are merely trying to cover up their own incompetence of last week. Moreover, there is a growing disenchantment on the Labour Back Benches with the performance of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) as Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying a little too wide of the subject, which is the guillotine motion. I should be grateful if he would confine his remarks to it.

Mr. Riddick

I thought that you might pull me up at some stage, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was intending to apologise to Labour Members—and, indeed, Conservative Members—who may be inconvenienced by the fact that the usual channels are no longer working properly.

I believe that the guillotine motion could prove very helpful to Opposition Members. As we know, they do not have a very good voting record, and I think it will be beneficial for them to know when votes will take place: they will be able to ensure that they are in the House. Campaign Information Ltd. recently conducted a survey of hon. Members' voting records; it found that Conservative Members voted in 75 per cent. of all Divisions, while Labour Members voted in 55 per cent. and Liberal Democrats in 62 per cent.—the record of the Liberal Democrats was slightly better than that of Labour.

As I pointed out today at Prime Minister's Question Time, the vast majority of Members of Parliament among the top 200 voters were Conservatives; only six were Labour Members. Modesty forbids me to make a big deal about the fact that I was in the top 100, coming 84th in the league table.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that I shall not have to intervene again to remind the hon. Gentleman that the House is debating the guillotine motion. He must confine his remarks to that.

Mr. Riddick

I am grateful to you for making that clear, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point is that the guillotine motion will not merely help Conservative Members; it may help Opposition Members even more. It is they who seem to find difficulty in coming to the House to vote. I was going to congratulate the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on coming first in the Division league table, but he is not present. Perhaps one reason why he can spend so much time voting in the House is that he never spends any time sitting on Committees.

Mr. Dickens

He has not done so for years.

Mr. Riddick

Not since 1988, I believe. The hon. Gentleman is very embarrassed about it, but as he is not present to defend himself, I shall not say much more.

We have two short, simple Bills in front of us. The national insurance changes were announced in March, and we had a long debate on the Budget speech at that time. We have had another lengthy debate on the recent unified Budget for about five or six days, during which the Statutory Sick Pay Bill could have been raised at any time.

I do not want to see national insurance contributions increased at all. I do not want to see any taxes increased or see any tax allowances reduced, but we have a problem with the public sector borrowing requirement deficit. That is one crucial difference between Conservative and Labour Members—we do not like to increase taxation or national insurance contributions and Labour Members do.

Every Labour Government, from the first one in the early 1920s, have increased the basic rate of income tax. As Conservatives, we do not like increasing taxation or national insurance contributions, but, at the same time, we recognise that we must have sound public finance, and that is what the Social Security (Contributions) Bill is all about.

We have a PSBR deficit of some £50 billion. the Chancellor was skilful in his Budget, as he managed to increase revenue—the Social Security (Contributions) Bill was part of that process—and at the same time reduce public spending in a number of areas without harming the key services of health and education. The only message that I would like to get over to the Chancellor is that, now that we have a tighter fiscal situation, we need a looser monetary framework. I hope that we will achieve that in the near future, by a reduction in interest rates.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) intervened during the speech of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) and made reference to me.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Was my hon. Friend referring to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)? It is important that we know to whom he is referring as he makes his way through his speech.

Mr. Riddick

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I was referring to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North who intervened during the speech of the right hon. Member for Derby, South, and accused me of not understanding what was in the Bill in relation to small businesses having to pay sick pay for the first four weeks. The Chancellor made it crystal clear that the increased contributions that both large and small employers will have to make towards statutory sick pay will be more than offset by the reduction in employers' national insurance contributions. The figures suggest that small businesses will be net gainers under that process.

The Government should be encouraging all companies, especially small companies, to improve the sickness record of their own employees. The Bill will provide an additional incentive to businesses to ensure that the health and fitness of employees is maintained. That is an important principle, which I entirely support. The Statutory Sick Pay Bill will also mean that administration of sick pay should be simplified. The other benefit, to which I have already referred, is that small businesses should face a smaller burden as a result of the Bill, not a larger burden, as the right hon. Member for Derby, South said.

We have heard an awful lot of synthetic rage from Opposition Members, who say that they do not like the guillotine and that it is an outrage. They are deeply embarrassed by their own conduct, because they have made so little impact in the House for some time, and because they failed to table an amendment about VAT on fuel in the past week. That is why Labour Members have decided to cut off relations with the Government.

I do not expect that it will last long, because the Opposition will not be able to carry their own troops, judging from their poor voting record. That is the background to the debate, and that is why I am happy to support my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Lobby tonight.

5.45 pm
Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

It has often been my responsibility to follow the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick). I feel some sympathy for him on this occasion, because he obviously found himself without a prepared speech, but was nevertheless required to occupy an amount of time in the debate. It would be wrong to describe his remarks as anything resembling a speech. It was the familiar mumbo-jumbo and rhetoric that we often hear from Back-Bench Conservative Members who are instructed by their Whips to occupy time and speak in the Chamber.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

That is not so on the Labour Benches.

Mr. Hutton

As my hon. Friend says, Opposition Members do not find themselves in that situation.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley failed to address some of the substantive arguments that are relevant to the debate. The guillotine motion is an abuse of the majority power of the Conservative party. As I said to the Leader of the House, when a parliamentary Session has only just begun, it is unprecedented for the Government to use their power to steamroller an allocation of time order through the House.

We are only four weeks into the parliamentary Session, and some of the proposed changes will have a significant effect on millions of people and on millions of small and large businesses. It is entirely appropriate under those circumstances for the House to spend more time discussing the proposals than the Government are seemingly prepared to tolerate.

An allocation of time order leads to bad law-making, because it denies hon. Members the chance to explore the wider aspects of Bills. References have been made to occasions on which an allocation of time order has been imposed, and its consequences have been spelt out.

I think especially of the recent legislation on the poll tax, which was an expensive fiasco that damaged the tax base, affected millions of people, and continues to do so, as there is some £2 billion unpaid poll tax still outstanding. That is the result of incompetence and poor management of business in the House, yet we are about to witness a further example of such mismanagement. We have also had time to reflect on the Criminal Justice Act 1991—another result of bad law-making.

The guillotine motion should be rejected also because it brings the House into some disrepute. We are elected as Members of the House of Commons to scrutinise legislation, especially legislation of tax-bearing dimension. The total money dealt with by these two Bills combined will run into billions of pounds—the money of ordinary taxpayers and small businesses.

I have been interested in the comments of Conservative Members about the effect of the Bill on small businesses. I do not believe that they have understood the full implications of the Bill in that area, and I hope that the debate will bring some of them out.

We cannot justify passing legislation in such a cack-handed and slipshod fashion to our constituents. Both Bills require further and more detailed scrutiny. It is not a legitimate argument for Conservative Members to say that there are few clauses in either Bill. That misses the point.

It is clear that, with the Statutory Sick Pay Bill, a host of complex regulations will be introduced by statutory instruments between now and the end of April. Those regulations will require detailed scrutiny as well, but as hon. Members know, we have limited and diminishing opportunities to subject those instruments to the fullest scrutiny.

The argument that we need spend only a short time on these Bills because they are short stems from a complete misunderstanding of the legislative process. If we need any reminder of that, hon. Members might reflect on the equally short Maastricht Bill which, rightly and properly, occupied many months on the Floor of the House.

The truth is that there is little constitutional propriety about presenting such a motion to the House at this time in the parliamentary Session. I asked the Leader of the House whether he could find a previous occasion when such an order had been presented. He failed to provide any illustration of such a motion, because there is none. That lack of information from the Leader of the House provides confirmation, if any is needed, of the inappropriate nature of this order.

As is often the case in our proceedings here, the reality is quite different. We are spending such a short time on the Bills because of their nature. Both are deeply unpopular. If the full implications of both were properly understood outside the House, they would have a damaging impact on the Government's already abysmal opinion poll rating. If the Budget is so popular, why are we not being allowed more time to discuss these Bills, which, as hon. Members on both sides have recognised, are central to the Chancellor's Budget strategy?

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

May I illustrate a point to strengthen the case? Like me, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have received a great deal of correspondence and been involved in contact with fathers concerned about the activities of the Child Support Agency. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the detail of the activities of that agency was decided by order on the last day of the parliamentary Session, when hardly any Members of Parliament were present? These things should be debated and discussed and should be open for public debate. We get into a mess by passing measures quickly.

Mr. Hutton

Not for the first time, I agree with the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). He has made a telling point, and I hope that the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who is on the Treasury Bench, has heard some of his comments. There is no doubt that that is a further illustration of some of the mistakes that we are making in our approach to law-making.

I believe that the real purpose of the guillotine motion is to silence debate, not to encourage it. The Government hope that, by doing that, they will ensure as few people as possible outside the House will understand and appreciate the damage they are doing to small businesses and ordinary taxpayers.

As I have said, the Bills are central to the Government's Budget strategy. The leader of the House confirmed that. The national insurance contributions Bill will hike up direct taxes. I wonder how many people who voted Conservative at the general election fully appreciated that they would be asked to pay an extra 1 per cent. on their national insurance contributions.

In that context, we must remember that the hike in the contributions in the form proposed by the Government is a regressive way of raising some extra revenue they need to cover the hole in the Government's public borrowing.

Mr. Duncan

Will the hon. Gentleman admit that the requirement for the national insurance fund to balance, at least in part, is a long-established principle? Will he admit that that fund has no borrowing ability, and that therefore the Government have a duty to introduce the measures in the Bill?

Mr. Hutton

I do not accept any of the hon. Gentleman's points. He is trying to camouflage the real scale of the Government's financial incompetence by giving the national insurance hike a bogus rationality. None of his arguments stands up to close scrutiny.

The Government are in a deep hole on public spending, and they are using the national insurance contributions hike to close that down. As I have said, it is a regressive way to close that gap in the Government's public sector borrowing. It will particularly affect those on low incomes, and will result in an increase of £3.20 a week in national insurance contributions for all taxpayers.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) drew attention to the fact that the increase will be regressive. It will raise £300 million more than a penny rise in income tax, precisely because national insurance contributions bite at a lower earnings level than income tax. If we look at the Bill in that context, it is clear that the guillotine motion has been introduced because of the Government's broken election promises.

The Statutory Sick Pay Bill reflects the other central strategy in the Government's Budget. In the national insurance Bill we have seen a hike in direct taxes—something that the Government said they would never do. The Bill is a further attack on the sick and disabled in our community. It is clear that it will have an adverse impact on small employers.

It is interesting to note that, when the Government last changed the rules on statutory sick pay in 1991, they did so with little or no consultation with the business community. When the National Audit Office looked into the effects of the last round of changes, it identified the fact that the Government were conducting an independent assessment of the impact of those changes.

That independently commissioned report has not yet been published. It would be interesting to know whether the Minister is prepared to let us know its findings. Opposition Members do not believe the Government's argument that the changes to statutory sick pay will have no impact on small employers. We believe that they will have a substantial and damaging impact.

The guillotine motion should be resisted, precisely because of the points to which the hon. Member for Northampton, North drew attention, and because it brings the House into disrepute. At this stage in the parliamentary cycle, there is no justification for this motion. It damages our credibility as effective law makers, and we should reject it.

Mr. Garnier

Given the line that the hon. Gentleman is taking, does he agree that the conduct of his colleagues during the final stages of the Railways Bill, when they blocked the Lobbies and so on, also brought the House into disrepute, and that those in glasshouses should not throw stones?

Mr. Hutton

I believe that on that occasion Opposition Members used tactics which were perfectly legitimate for a loyal Opposition, and I stick to that assessment. There was nothing improper or in breach of the Standing Orders of the House in the behaviour of Opposition Members on that occasion. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point. I am trying to finish my remarks, but I am finding it difficult because of the interventions.

This motion is unacceptable; hon. Members who care about the reputation of the House as a law-making institution should think carefully before supporting it.

5.57 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I must congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the way in which he has pursued this measure. He has selected a constitutional innovation which was introduced by the Government under the present premiership—to guillotine Bills before we have even had Second Reading. It is an extraordinary development. It is to be deeply deplored and it is odious because it reduces the House to nothing.

I came here, having been elected by the citizens of Aldridge-Brownhills, with the thought that, when they had cause to be anxious about something, I might be able to contribute to the process of debate—the detailed scrutiny of legislation where appropriate. I do not know why my right hon. Friend has chosen to guillotine a Bill before Second Reading and before we have heard where, in the detail of the Bill, the argument may lie. That develops in Committee.

A great former Home Secretary, the Luther of Mole Valley, now Lord Baker, was confronted with a real menace when he introduced his famous appendum to British constitutional history. If the House recalls, the nation was assaulted by ravaging dogs on every street corner that threatened our welfare, life and liberty, and emergency action was required. The Luther of Mole Valley did not hesitate. The Churchill of our Front Bench required action this day. At the behest of the popular newspapers, the House scampered along, citing something that was not so—that the danger was so great that the House should consider all stages. He allowed some 11 or 12 hours to discuss that important measure.

When the motion is passed, as I have no doubt it will be, it will be the fifth time that the Government have used this constitutional innovation. It is outrageous. The purpose of the House, and its lifestream, is to consider legislation. I remind some of my hon. Friends that Second Reading is about principle. We may agree on the principle of, for instance, driving to Birmingham. Most of us would assume that we may argue about whether to take the M1 and M6 or the M40 and M6, but when I find that we go via Cornwall and Wales and end up in Dublin, having gone via Edinburgh, I may want to move an amendment suggesting that it would be more practical, expedient and economical to go down the M1 and M40. Those are legitimate reasons.

I object greatly to the Bills. The Statutory Sick Pay Bill introduces a massive change of principle and will have great consequences for many small businesses which, with their backs against the wall, see no sign of recovery. Their staff will be taxed and they will have to fund sick pay for the first four weeks. I have a view on that.

However, this constitutional outrage of always insisting on guillotines has become an instrument of the Executive. Will the House reflect on the figures, which I have gone through before? Between 1945 and 1975, 30 Bills were guillotined. That is an average of one a year, if it is worth while averaging such things.

Under the Labour Administration, there were five guillotines in an afternoon. I thought that that was wrong and I still think that it is wrong. I listened to Michael Foot, whose fundamental argument was that, because Labour had no majority, it was appropriate to impose a guillotine motion. I always found that argument to be fatuous. If a Government have not carried the sentiments of the country with them, they have no right to impose a guillotine motion. In any event, Labour introduced some 14 guillotine motions—the House will understand that I cite those figures from memory—but a transformation came in 1979. I believe that the fault lies in the Whips Office rather than at the heart of Government, but it has become a habit. The guillotine has been introduced as an instrument of the Executive to bludgeon through legislation.

With a majority of 100 in the second of her two Parliaments and a majority of 40 in her first, it took Mrs. Thatcher—or her business managers—58 guillotines to push through her business. That is an average of five a year. We now have a nation at peace with itself, no less, and the Prime Minister's business managers require 18 guillotine motions in three years, thus increasing the average. That means that the Executive need not trouble itself overly with the House of Commons. I remind my hon. Friends of the difference between examining principle and examining detail, which are fundamental duties of the House.

I watched Mrs. Thatcher's premiership come to an end. The poll tax was driven through with guillotine motions in this place, including on the Lords amendments. Had Mrs. Thatcher's Government listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), we might have been able to overcome the principle. We might have been able to make the Bill work. But no, no—off with our heads. We were told that Parliament had had enough time on it. The matter so destabilised public opinion, and, eventually, the views of my friends and colleagues in the Tea Room, that Mrs. Thatcher's premiership came to an end.

It is important that the House discharge; its constitutional responsibilities, because we are not just an agent of Executive wish and whim. I may have overstated the case about my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley with his Dangerous Dogs Bill, but I have seen it before. On the football spectators legislation, the House was bludgeoned to create an Act of Parliament, no less, with all the nonsense associated with that. It hung cm the say-so of a third party—a judge outside the House. Although the House was cranked up to push the legislation through, ultimately the measure was snuffed out, not particularly by the wish of the House but by the judge's decision.

Finally, I wish to utter a note of caution. One of the major flags of the present Session is to be a deregulation Bill. We shall deregulate Acts of Parliament—matters that have been considered by the House—in a way that some of us will find deeply distasteful. I never wish to give, nor do I wish to see my fellow countrymen give, into the hands of any Minister of the Crown the ability to decide what is legislation and what is not. That is our business, transacted on behalf of the people of this country and our constituents. We may soon have handed over that opportunity because we have over-legislated and legislated too casually.

The record of the 15 years in which I have been a Member has become worse and worse. I beg the House to reject the concept that the guillotine motion is the instrument of Executive whim. The latest fantasy, whether it is a Dangerous Dogs Bill or a Football Spectators Bill, must not be driven through the House merely on the nod, in a truncated sitting, the duration of which can be added up in minutes. Small businesses and people whom I represent will be condemned in six hours to funding sick pay in a major change of principle and policy. That is worth proper scrutiny of the Bill's detail.

Ultimately, this country's check and balance are no longer here. They are in our courts and are called judicial review. We must stir ourselves up, remember who we are and what this House is. We wish all our Governments well because our prosperity, well-being and fate are in their hands, but that does not mean that we should abdicate our responsibilities and accept such absurdities. We have time to look at the matter properly.

6.6 pm

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)

It is disconcerting to sit through such a debate hoping to do some damage to the Government and then hear far more damage done to their reputation by a Conservative Member. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has spoken with great conviction, not just on this issue but on abuses, spanning many years, of the ability of the House to scrutinise legislation properly. As a much newer Member, I find that there are lessons in what he has to say to this and any Government about how to handle our affairs.

I have listened with interest to the debate, but my mind has been dominated by a picture that flashed into it early in the proceedings. It was a picture of the office of the Leader of the House on the morning of 1 December, just as the champagne bubbles were finally beginning to pop after what was regarded as a successful Budget, which had not yet begun to come apart. It was the first unified Budget, which had been in preparation for 18 months, in which the machinery of government, the responsibilities of civil servants and the timetable of their work had all been changed.

The Leader of the House is asking us to believe that he was in his office on that morning when a civil servant put his head round the door and said, "Minister, we have suddenly realised that, to implement the Budget, you must guillotine the two key Bills before Christmas." I am sorry but I do not believe that, after 18 months' preparation for a unified Budget, it was not until the day after the Chancellor's speech that someone discovered that it would be difficult to get the Budget through the House in time for April.

I do not believe that the problem was not anticipated well before the Budget. I asked the Leader of the House earlier whether this would be an annual occurrence, but I shall have to look at the Official Report and read his answer, because I did not understand a word of it. He said neither yes nor no—he would have to look at it. All those problems, however, must have been anticipated in the planning stages of the first unified Budget.

No one could believe that, with the great weight of legal advice and procedural advice available to the Government, possible difficulties with implementing Budget legislation in time for April were not anticipated. The Government must have known that this problem might arise, and they consciously chose to approach the legislation in this draconian fashion, leaving hon. Members with far too little time to discuss the problems and issues properly.

It is interesting to note how, after the first euphoric 24 hours, the Budget has begun to unravel. I remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer claiming to be receiving support from business interests: from the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors, the CBI and the National Farmers Union—the very organisations that have written to hon. Members in the past 24 hours opposing the guillotine and the measure that we are debating.

Some Conservative Members tried to have some fun at our expense earlier, asking why Front-Bench Opposition spokesmen did not raise these issues during the Budget debate. Why, those Members asked, did they not seize on them and highlight them? The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) informed me that the impact on small businesses, which will have to pay 100 per cent. of statutory sick pay for the first four weeks, was perfectly clear from the statement made to the House on the uprating of benefits by the Secretary of State for Social Security. The hon. Gentleman referred me to column 1037. That column contains nothing relevant, but I assume that he meant 1038. There, the Secretary of State told the House: From April next year, I propose to abolish reimbursement of statutory sick pay except to small employers … So far, we have been reimbursing 100 per cent. of statutory sick pay for absences of longer than six weeks. I shall start giving 100 per cent. help after four weeks." —[Official Report, 1 December 1993; Vol. 233, c. 1038.] So that was it—nothing about employers beginning to have to make contributions in the first four weeks, when they pay only 20 per cent. now.

It is therefore surprising that business lobbies, most of the press and many Opposition Members did not realise that the right hon. Gentleman's weasel words would hammer small employers with charges that they do not pay at the moment? Of course it is not surprising. Conservative Members who pray in aid this statement in defence of the Government are being outrageous. Having studied the Secretary of State's words, I have no doubt that, should he lose his current job, he would have no difficulty in securing another—selling personal pension plans to members of occupational pension schemes. That is what I think of the degree of integrity exhibited by his statement. It was simply more evidence that every attempt has been made to obscure from the House and from the people outside it what the Government have in mind.

I have no doubt that the way in which the legislation would be taken through the House was planned well before hon. Members had had a chance to hear the Budget statement. These are serious matters, and not only for the small businesses that will be badly hit. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) talked about the average costs to small businesses, but that is not the point. If a business employs only five people and two of them are ill for a long time, that is not an average cost. It is a devastating cost—one that the business will not be able to meet.

Vital though they are, small businesses will not be the only ones affected. Millions of people who are looking for work will be equally affected. By coincidence, I received a letter in today's post from a constituent, a former shipyard worker aged 58 who cannot find employment. He suffers from a heart condition, but not badly enough to qualify for invalidity benefit under the current rules, let alone for incapacity benefit under the rules to be introduced in a year's time. His prospects of finding work are bad enough at the moment; what are his chances of getting a job when every employer who will ever interview him will look at his health record and decide that he is going to become, at some point, a 100 per cent. cost to the wages bill?

Three million other people are looking for work, and such employers will obviously take on those who have not been ill recently. The legislation will mean that thousands of people who are capable of work but who are not in perfect health will fall into the limbo between invalidity benefit and work: they cannot get work because they have poor health, but they cannot get benefits because they are not judged sick enough to be unable to work. Yet the Government want to push this measure through in six hours.

A Conservative description of the Bill was that it was a mundane measure. Will it be a mundane measure for my 58-year-old constituent, who has had enough doors slammed in his face without this one being slammed in it, too?

Our insurance salesman, the Secretary of State for Social Security, spoke touchingly to the House in his benefits statement. Describing the impact of the legislation on employers, he said: those who respond to the incentive to improve staff health will benefit even more."—[Official Report, 1 December 1993; Vol. 233, c. 1038.] What a wonderful image that conjures up. One thinks of employers, in response to the new legislation, deciding to expand their occupational health service—perhaps installing a gym, like the one in the House, to keep members of staff fit. One imagines them screening all their employees to make sure that they never get sick, thereby reducing their sick pay bills. The House can believe that if it chooses, but it is not how employers will see the measure. It will not be an incentive to improving the health of their staff. Over time, they will merely begin screening out those whose health poses a danger of an increased pay bill.

For smaller businesses to which staff sickness can represent a crippling cost, the legislation will mean being caught both ways. They will not want to turn people away or to get rid of staff who have been unfortunate enough to be ill, but when they are looking at their balance sheets and deciding between that and bankruptcy, some will decide to shed staff. The Government are pushing such companies into this position in a matter of six hours. That is an abuse of Parliament. I have been here only a short time, but I cannot believe that that is a way to run the country.

6.18 pm
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

I listened closely to the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and before that to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). Like the latter, I have a lasting faith in the paramount importance of parliamentary procedure, of Parliament itself and of the manner in which we scrutinise legislation. I suggest that my hon. Friend's impassioned pleas, although well directed in general, were misdirected in the context of the measures that we are debating today.

I have watched the proceedings of the House for well over 20 years. As a young teenager, spurred on by politics and wanting to be in this Chamber, I became interested in how the House of Commons works.

When I was between school and university, I watched the debate on the guillotine on the proposal to nationalise the shipbuilding industry. That guillotine caused absolute uproar and the then Opposition fought tooth and nail against the then Labour Government. I recall the battles in Committee led by my right hon. Friends the Members for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and for Bridgwater (Mr. King). The Conservative Opposition kept the Labour Government on a knife edge. The then Opposition fought against that guillotine for good reason. It was a good reason not only because they believed in what they were doing but because what they were doing, they were doing well. I shall explain why that distinguishes their behaviour from that of today's Opposition.

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

Was that guillotine motion before or after the Bill's Second Reading?

Mr. Duncan

I readily admit that it was after the Bill's Second Reading, but that measure was different from the one that we are discussing today. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that the nature of the Opposition and their failure properly to scrutinise legislation whenever they have the chance irks him more than the guillotine motion.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

My hon. Friend is wrong.

Mr. Marlow


Mr. Duncan

I should be happy to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, but I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow).

Mr. Marlow

We do not live in a perfect world. We should all know about every detail of legislation before we debate it but, as my hon. Friend knows, in reality, about 2 per cent. of us know what is happening at any one time. If a Bill is given a Second Reading before the guillotine motion, at least there is a tiny chance that an element of the House of Commons will know what is being put before it. If a Bill is guillotined before Second Reading, what chance does the legislature have of scrutinising it properly?

Mr. Duncan

Before my hon. Friend goes pop, may I say that most of what we are considering is a continuation of existing legislation rather than—as with the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977—completely new legislation.

We have witnessed synthetic rage from the Opposition —it is a cover-up on the part of the Labour party to disguise its problems. The Leader of the Opposition is at war not with us but with his own Whips. For evidence of that one need look no further than at the Opposition's attendance today to see that fewer than 30 Opposition Members were present to hear the speech of their deputy leader. There are now fewer than six of them present.

Mr. Enright

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that fact, because, when my right hon. Friend the deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the House were making their speeches, there were twice as many Opposition Members as Conservative Members—I know that because I deliberately counted them. There are more Conservative Members than Opposition Members, so the percentage of Opposition Members present was huge compared to that of Conservative Members.

Mr. Duncan

There are moments when I will readily defer to a former schoolteacher, but counting the hon. Members now present suggests that the hon. Gentleman is heavily outnumbered.

I would rather have a good Opposition on whom the Government could more readily sharpen their blade. The arguments against the guillotine are not matched by the Labour party's efforts while in opposition. If all Labour Members were here more often and they had challenged the very life of the Government by their energy and procedural skill and had shown due diligence in their scrutiny of legislation in the past, they might have begun to have a case against the timetable motion—but they did not do that.

I have been a member of two Standing Committees in the past year—those on the Finance Bill and the Railways Bill. I marvelled at the poor manner in which Opposition Members scrutinised the Finance Bill. I was appalled, as many were, by the fact that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) rarely even turned up for discussions on the Railways Bill. The Opposition's poor record of scrutiny constitutes no basis for challenging today's timetable motion.

The two Bills that we are discussing are each only two pages long. The Social Security (Contributions) Bill was announced in March and we have not heard much from the Opposition since then. Indeed, their silence in the intervening months has been deafening. In terms of its significance, the Bill ranks with many a clause in any Finance Bill, but it happens to require primary legislation. The principles behind it are long established and have been debated in the House many times before.

As for the national insurance fund, as Nye Bevan said in 1946, "There ain't no fund." As we all know, the national insurance fund is a pay-as-you go fund and contributions should, wherever possible, reflect the cost of the benefits being paid from it. The fund does not have borrowing powers; in order to make up any deficit, it requires a Treasury grant. The insurance fund should be paid by those who are in work, not by all taxpayers.

That principle is lost on the Opposition, as is evidenced by their wish to abolish the upper earnings limit for contributions. When the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) makes his wind-up speech, will he tell us why such a proposal to abolish the upper earnings limit is acceptable when it makes nonsense of the contributory principle, because it will not lead to any corresponding increase in benefit for those who are asked to contribute more to the fund? The Bill is a straightforward adjustment to a well-established system and is being timetabled with full justification.

The other two-page Bill is the Statutory Sick Pay Bill, which is also straightforward. It involves a rebalancing of the obligations and entitlements between small and large employers. Large employers will lose their right to recover 80 per cent. of statutory sick pay. They can afford to do so because they can generally insure themselves against such an occurrence. Smaller employers—and, because of the Bill, many more of them—ill be able to secure full reimbursement and for a greater amount.

Much of the system was set up by the Statutory Sick Pay Act 1991, about which a House of Commons Library brief stated: The Bill made rapid progress through the Commons with the Second Reading, Committee and Third Reading taking place on the Floor of the House". The views on the rapid passage of that Bill do not match the outrage that we have heard about the Statutory Sick Pay Bill.

I share many of the opinions of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, but I believe that it is perfectly legitimate for the two short, straightforward Bills to be guillotined.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

Does my hon. Friend accept that, of the two measures, one received five days in the House and the other six days in the course of this year's two Budgets? Does that not make the case for a guillotine before Second Reading so much stronger?

Mr. Duncan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments.

The apparent rage of the Opposition is entirely false. As this week's figures clearly show, their attendance rate is hopeless. Their attention to detail is lamentable and their discipline appears to be non-existent. The day that they apply themselves properly to their parliamentary duty will be the day that I join them in the Lobby to oppose such a guillotine motion.

6.27 pm
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) is not noted for his humility. He may be a clever person—I am in no position to judge—but I predict that he will not have a popular career in the House if he makes speeches of such arrogance and self-righteousness.

I shall put in short order the Opposition's reasons for objecting to the guillotine motion. The facts of the motion are brutal enough so there is no need for me to use extravagant language. First, we object because of the lack of consultation before the motion was tabled. There has been much talk about the breakdown in the usual channels. In a real and important sense, the usual channels broke down the day the guillotine motion appeared on the Order Paper. No attempt was made by the Department of Social Security—certainly as far as I know—to discuss or consult about the Bill's passage.

I make that point—and if I had the high standards of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton, it might be thought that I was confessing a sin—because I do not think that, while I have been shadow Secretary of State for Social Security, anyone could say that I have taken an unreasonable attitude to the business of the House.

The Minister of State will remember when the House considered the 1992 Social Security Bill. I do not make any petty party political point, but that legislation was urgently needed because the national insurance fund was 20 per cent. short of the funds required to meet its obligations, and on the statute book there was a rather optimistic Government provision to stop any subvention by the Treasury to the fund. When I was approached about the Bill I took the view that it was not a contentious matter as we all wanted to ensure that money was available to pay out the various benefits and pensions. I readily agreed to taking all the stages on the Floor of the House in one day. I do not think that anyone can accuse the Opposition of always looking for trench warfare.

I especially regret what has happened in this case. When the Leader of the House spoke last Friday, in an unscheduled but useful debate, he said: Despite what was said earlier, there is nothing particularly unusual about the motion, although I accept that the situation more usually arises when there has been agreement in the usual channels to deal with such things rapidly. That is not the background in this case."—[Official Report, 10 December 1993; Vol. 234, c. 645.] If we are talking of declarations of war, it is reasonable to ask the Minister to explain why that is not the background in this case. Why was there no attempt to reach agreement on how we might properly and decently deal with the business? It would not necessarily have been difficult to reach agreement. I cannot predict what course the negotiations might have followed, but I take severe exception to the fact that no approach was made and there was no attempt to reach agreement.

Perhaps it is because I am now reaching the veteran stage, but I have a certain amount of sympathy with those who want agreed timetables for Bills. However, timetables imply agreement, and there is a great difference between a timetable and a guillotine motion. If there had been an attempt to timetable by agreement, such an accommodation might have been possible—but unfortunately that is not what happened. Instead, we were faced with a lack of consultation and the unusual appearance, in form at least, of a guillotine motion before Second Reading. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) also made that point.

I am well aware that all Government business managers can be driven to introduce guillotines. I did my little bit in contributing to the driving process in my earlier days in this place. I accept that, if there is an open-ended Committee stage, with ingenious and long-winded Members filling column after column of Hansard, it may reach a point where the Government, to preserve their business or even to protect the House, must introduce a guillotine motion. However, that is very different from doing so at this stage of a Bill.

I can speak only for myself, and I took the view that there had been no attempt to reach agreement. The appearance on the Order Paper of an unusual, severe and restrictive guillotine motion means government by diktat and government by fiat—something about which we were both entitled and had a duty to protest.

Mr. Garnier

For present purposes, I fully accept that the Opposition feel that the timetable motion is a constitutional abomination. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the conduct of his party during proceedings on the Railways Bill? Is not there something a little hollow about his hon. Friends' objections to the timetable motion on these Bills when during the proceedings on the Railways Bill Labour Back Benchers, aided and abetted by senior Members of the Opposition Whips Office, obstructed the Lobbies, locked the lavatories and inhibited the work of the Serjeant at Arms in clearing the Lobbies? In addition, the Opposition's Tellers miscounted the votes. Do I have the facts right or wrong?

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Gentleman's account of that incident is highly coloured. I certainly do not recognise the details that he described. In any case, there is no parallel between what happens under the pressure of a specific circumstance when a vote is called and the buttressing of an unfortunate constitutional precedent, which has been rightly criticised by Conservative Members. The view that we take of the one does not exculpate those responsible for the other. What we are now discussing is of much greater significance.

My second point is that the timetable motion is not only unusual but unreasonable. We are being allowed only six hours of debate. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) made the point that every time we vote, whether on Second Reading or during the truncated Committee stage, a quarter of an hour will be taken out of the six-hour allocation. That is a thoroughly unreasonable proposition. The Leader of the House will remember the last time that we considered a statutory sick pay Bill in 1990. He opened the debate on that Bill, which was a direct parallel of the current Bill. In fact, it had three clauses, but in effect it had only one, whose purpose was to reduce the rebate from 107 per cent.—7 per cent. was for administrative expenses—to 80 per cent. The Hansard of that debate shows that we had a whole day for Second Reading because the Bill was considered to deal with a major issue. Indeed, the Front Bench speeches took one hour and 53 minutes. More than half the total time being allowed for Second Reading of the current Bill was spent on the two opening speeches on that Bill. Of that one hour and 53 minutes, the right hon. Gentleman felt it necessary to take one hour and 14 minutes.

I am not criticising the Leader of the House, who is not noted for being unnecessarily long-winded. The reason why he took one hour and 14 minutes on such a radical Bill, reducing the rebate from 100 to 80 per cent. as opposed to total abolition, was that he had to deal with an enormous number of interruptions from Conservative Members. The hon. Members for Surrey, North-West (Sir M. Grylls), for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman)—she is in her place—for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) and for Newark (Mr. Alexander) all expressed fundamental concern about the impact that the Bill would have in their constituencies. There was no doubt in their minds that it was a matter that had to be probed and examined in great detail and with genuine concern.

Indeed, the hon. Member for Lancaster made a good point with which I was unfamiliar, but which I suspect may arise again, about the impact of changes in the SSP scheme on agriculture. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's lengthy and complicated opening speech was dictated in part by the anxieties expressed in every part of the House.

Against that experience it is dangerous to suggest that the current Bill should go through the House with just three hours for Second Reading and three hours for Committee stage. That is especially so given that that is being done at a time in the parliamentary Session when one would not expect it to be necessary. I recognise that the Minister of State may say that the real villain of the piece is the unified Budget, that we are near the start of the new financial year and so on, but I do not think that that is any justification. We have a duty to do the job properly. The general argument needs to be stressed because I concede that this is a narrow and technical measure.

Mr. Marlow

Under normal procedure, a Bill has a Second Reading, which generates a debate in the country. That might lead to people suggesting amendments. After this week, after the guillotine and after the Bill has passed through its stages, if there is a debate in the country on what occasion might the House be able to amend the Bill?

Mr. Dewar

There may be some minor opportunity if the other place takes an interest in the measure. We had a substantial debate, lasting some hours, on Lords amendments to the previous statutory sick pay legislation. But it is very odd if we have to rely on the other place to create a rather limited and restricted opportunity to consider the consequences of what we do in the way that I have suggested. Apart from technical scrutiny—apart from the traditional role—we should be answering, reflecting, examining and analysing public concerns. That is an important point.

For the purposes of this debate, I am prepared to concede that the Government may have good answers to existing concerns, but the important point is how widespread those concerns are and how many of them are felt by organisations that would usually take the Government's word for it without question or argument. It may not be surprising that, for example, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has written to hon. Members expressing a great deal of anxiety, but, as hon. Members will be aware if they have been following their mail, the Federation of Small Businesses has specifically urged Members of Parliament to impose this restrictive procedure—the guillotine motion that we are considering.

The Forum of Private Business, which I seldom find myself quoting on anything, has expressed its concern and says: Current proposals if implemented are likely to become the principal cause of a significant number of insolvencies. That fear may be unfounded, but we shall in any case have mighty little opportunity to deal with it and, if the Minister is successful, to remove it, in the course of the six hours allocated to us. I can go on and mention the CBI and the Institute of Directors. All those organisations have expressed their concern about what is being done. It is an important matter and is clearly seen as such outside.

The idea of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) that this was humdrum legislation—

Mr. Duncan

I did not say that.

Mr. Dewar

It must have been one of the hon. Gentleman's clones. What has happened on the Conservative Benches in the past year or two has been like an outbreak of garden gnomes in a residential suburb. One Conservative Member managed the thought that this was humdrum legislation and his mind was on higher things. All I can say is that it is clear that the mind of British industry, employers and employees, is firmly centred on these proposals and there are concerns.

After all, the Social Security (Contributions) Bill raises £1.9 billion for the Chancellor—about £300 million more than would be raised by putting 1p on the standard rate of income tax. Conservative Members may say that the breaking of election promises is somewhat devalued now as a cause for concern and anger, but it is worth reminding the House that that is exactly what this proposition amounts to.

In addition, the Statutory Sick Pay Bill transfers £750 billion as a burden on to British industry at a time when we are trying to keep it competitive. The Minister says, "Oh no, it is offset by reductions in employers' contributions. There is no need to worry." I want to look at the small print, but I shall have little opportunity to do so because—a point that I stress—the Bill does not deal with offsetting, so it is impossible to table amendments dealing with it.

The Minister says, "Oh, don't worry about that, there will be orders." Those orders will be debated in one and a half hours and cannot be amended, yet this is an essential part of a package that we are expected to accept as a whole. There is another question. If this is to be a neutral package, why are we putting through all these administrative changes to achieve neutrality? That brings us to the argument that was effectively dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham)—I almost said Portsmouth, which I am sure would have been an unkind cut—about the impact on the employability of those with a sickness record.

Part of the defence is that this is a package, but that takes us on to the job seeker's allowance and incapacity benefit—into what seems to be a challenge to, or at least an undermining of, the contributory principle, because young people will be asked to pay more of the contributions bill but will receive less because of the other measures that the Government are introducing.

Those are major issues and major public concerns, yet there is to be no consultation and what I can fairly and properly describe as a vindictive timetable is being imposed, giving no real opportunity to reflect that anger or to probe the consequences, many of which are hidden in the Bill.

Take for example, the interesting change in the retirement age in the Statutory Sick Pay Bill, which is now defined as 65, which means that women between the ages of 60 and 65 will, presumably, be able to have statutory sick pay and draw their retirement pension. In case I am open to misinterpretation, I make it clear that I am not opposed to that, but it is important that we consider the knock-on effect and consequences of that.

Anyone who has considered the complicated litigation to which invalidity benefit has given rise, such as the case of Mrs. Rose Graham—I see the Minister flinch and I can well understand why—will realise that genuine complications may arise from a decision with which we shall have to live until 2020 but which will not be probed here or, as I understand it, in any other forum, at least in the House, and that is unfortunate.

I would welcome a constructive debate, but we shall not have that as a result of what has been given to us at the moment. I never wanted the Bills to have a long-drawn-out Committee stage. I would have been happy to talk turkey on that with the Government, but I object to the proceedings being guillotined as though I had been a bad boy, a recidivist with a record, before Second Reading is even reached.

This is a petty, damaging, corner-cutting measure. It is bad for the Opposition, but it is also bad for the Government and bad for Parliament. I recognise that this could be represented as just a spat, just a disagreement between the usual channels—friction at the interface between the Front Benches. But the dispute goes further than that. We are setting unfortunate precedents for the future health of our parliamentary system.

One or two people have said to me, "Why bother? The Government will do it anyway. They will bulldoze the Bills through the House and there is nothing that you can do about it." But it is not the job of a parliamentary Opposition to shrug resignedly and say, "So be it." We are right to protest. I recognise that the Government have the votes and—with one or two honourable exceptions—I have no doubt that their supporters will secure them a majority in the Lobby tonight.

In spite of that—this may be the eternal optimist in me —I feel that there should be, and perhaps will be, some right hon. and hon. Members who, when they go home tonight, will look back at the lack of justification, need or special circumstance in terms of a threat to the good government of the House or the preservation of the Government's business. Those hon. Members may well want to question whether, if they have been through the Government Lobby, they have done a good night's work.

6.48 pm
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

I start on a friendly and, I hope, conciliatory note by saying to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), sitting as he is beside the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), that, in my six and a half years dealing with social security, my dealings with him or his predecessor have always been friendly and reasonable in the extreme.

I am not familiar with the workings of the usual channels, but I am convinced that if we are to put the legislation on the statute book in good time for those outside the House who have to deal with its consequences and do it in an orderly and proper manner, time is of the essence.

I can understand the passion with which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) spoke. We have had similar exchanges on previous occasions. I understand that he has a fundamental philosophical objection to the use of timetable motions to put legislation through the House according to a particular timetable. I hope that I can persuade him, not least because he expressed concern for small businesses in his constituency, that it is essential that we get the legislation on to the statute book as soon as possible.

Mr. Enright

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Scott

If the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment to finish the sentence, I shall give way. However, because of the time limit, I shall not give way frequently.

I hope that I can convince my hon. Friend that it is in the interests of precisely the small businesses for which he speaks, which are so close to his heart, to put the legislation on to the statute book as soon as possible.

Mr. Enright

Can the Minister explain to me—because I do not understand—why it would cause considerable administrative difficulties to come in for two or three days next week? It does not seem to me that two or three days matter very much.

Mr. Scott

That is not what we are discussing today. That matter could have been raised by the Opposition on other occasions. I seem to recall that it was raised by some hon. Members below the Gangway, but we are now working against the fact that the House will rise at the end of this week. We have to get the legislation through, not least in the interests of businesses—especially small businesses—which will have to deal with the consequences of what we intend to do.

Mr. Marlow

It has been said that this place is becoming something of a mockery and that our laws are made either by barter in Brussels or by guillotine in this House. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said that he is a reasonable man. He said that he will agree a proper process to get the Bill through quickly. Can I suggest to my right hon. Friend that, in the interests of the reputation of the House and the Government, he takes the hon. Gentleman at his word and has a discussion with him? If the hon. Gentleman is pulling the wool over my right hon. Friend's eyes, let the public as a whole know. Give it a try.

Mr. Scott

We are too late for that approach. It certainly would not be for me to make that approach to the hon. Gentleman. I believe that it is right to get on with the business of translating into law the Bills to which the timetable motion applies so that businesses know where they are and will be able to implement properly the arrangements from next April.

Of course I am aware that there is anxiety among employers about the changes to statutory sick pay. I remind hon. Members and in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that, when we were designing the pattern of provision in the Statutory Sick Pay Bill, we paid particular attention to the needs of small businesses. Full recompense will be given through reductions to national insurance contributions which will be made by order in due course.

That will more than compensate industry as a whole for the impact of the changes to SSP. The extent of the compensation will be in excess of £100 million a year of extra support for businesses. The arrangements have tilted that extra help specifically in the direction of small businesses to help them at a time when the economy is coming out of recession and embarking on what I believe will be a sustained recovery.

So employers will not be out of pocket. They will be in pocket under the statutory sick pay proposals and the proposal to introduce offsetting arrangements to reduce employers' national insurance contributions. All that will come into effect by next April. The Statutory Sick Pay Bill also contains other measures, some of which were mentioned in the debate. The hon. Member for Garscadden said that the Bill will extend the SSP scheme to working women over the age of 60. Obviously, we shall have to look at some of the details of that provision. However, I am sure that it will be widely welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It will enable us to comply with the equal treatment directive and it will be another step along the road of equality.

I wish to expand a little on the remarks that I made about small firms. The Budget as a whole was a considerable help to small businesses. The new arrangements for auditing, some of the arrangements for capital gains and, outside the impact of the Budget, the Government's efforts towards deregulation and lifting the burdens from businesses, especially small businesses, are some of the notable achievements of this Administration.

Let us look at the effect on small firms of the SSP legislation, if it reaches the statute book in its present form. A small firm—one with less than £20,000 of national insurance contributions—with five employees and an average sickness rate would gain an annual cost saving of £140 if the average earnings of the five employees were £90 a week, of £244 if the average earnings were £130 a week and of some £400 if the average earnings were £190 a week. We have deliberately sought to tilt in the direction of smaller businesses the help that will be available to offset the impact of the changes.

Anyone who has studied sickness absence rates in Britain knows that there is a great deal of scope for improvement if employers can be encouraged to seek such improvement. The interaction of the SSP provisions and the reductions in national insurance contribution will give employers that encouragement. The Audit Commission has done work in the London boroughs, which had a high level of absenteeism due to sickness. It found that most boroughs could make management much more directly responsible for managing absence by giving senior management clear responsibilities and commitments.

The boroughs provided appropriate information and trained their managers to give more attention to staff welfare. As a result of those measures alone the average level of sickness absence fell from 17 days to 11.5 days a year. The average level of absence among manual workers was fewer than 15 days and absence among office staff also fell. Some .11 million a year was saved. That has been reflected in other parts of our economy, including manufacturing industry. I have no doubt that, if people are given the right incentive, we have a clear possibility of vastly improving the sickness absence record of employees in Britain.

We need to have the Bill on the statute book by February. The legislation needs to receive Royal Assent well before it takes effect in April 1994. We must allow time for other measures such as the national insurance contributions re-rating order and the proposed enhancements to the statutory sick pay small employers' relief provisions to be introduced and debated in the House and in another place. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security aims to leave plenty of time to deal with secondary legislation in the new year.

Mrs. Beckett

The Minister is explaining the information that is available to the House. I understand from the Public Accounts Committee report that a review has recently been carried out on the impact on businesses of the reduction in reimbursement from 100 per cent. to 80 per cent. That review was completed in the summer. It has not been published. I have inquired why it has not been published and I have been told that it is in the hands of Ministers. As the Minister has made it clear that he is anxious that there should be proper debate, will he put the review in the Library before the debate tomorrow?

Mr. Scott

I cannot do that. The review will be published in the near future. I do not know the precise arrangements, but the document is in the pipeline for publication. Although I have not read it, I am advised that none of the findings support the arguments that have been made across the Floor of the House. I will have a look at the matter, but I do not think that we shall have it ready for the debate tomorrow. Perhaps before the secondary legislation is debated in the new year it might be possible to make such arrangements so that the House can at least be better informed.

We need secondary legislation to be debated so that we can fully bring the policy into effect. We must also allow the Contributions Agency to advise all employers of the changes that will affect them. Employers must be told by the end of February, if orderly introduction of the new arrangements is to take place and they are to make changes to their payrolls and administrative arrangements.

I hope that I have convinced the House that the urgency of putting the SSP provisions on to the statute book is well proven.

Following the passage of the Bills, affirmative instruments will be required. The re-rating order, statutory sick pay regulations for small employers' relief and the main social security uprating order and a number of associated instruments will be necessary.

I shall work backwards from 6 April, which is the date by which both Bills plus affirmative orders for contribution re-rating and benefits uprating and consequental regulations need to be law. My right hon. Friend adopted that procedure, but, in order to assist the House, I shall do so in slightly more detail.

By mid-March we must lay consequential regulations to allow 21 days before the effective date of 6 April. Earlier in March the Lords will debate the affirmative orders. That means that we shall have to deal with them in February and must have the usual breaks between consideration in the two Houses.

It is essential for the Bill to pass all its stages in the House before we rise this weekend and hon. Members should be quite clear about the consequences if the motion fails. Depending on progress, the Department of Social Security will have to issue to employers in February some 1.2 million sets of new contribution tables with on the cover the endorsement, "Subject to parliamentary approval".

That will create a great deal of uncertainty for business and will generate many inquiries because employers will telephone the Contributions Agency to see when they can rely on the rates being certain. That would cause confusion, especially to small employers, who depend on advice from the Contributions Agency. The implications would be serious.

The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) asked about personal pensions. That issue is not directly related to the matter being considered today, but it is causing some concern. We are satisfied that the programme of action that was announced by the Securities and Investments Board is the appropriate way to tackle the concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman. People should be assured that there is no need for current personal pension investors to take any precipitate action. Those who have questions about personal pensions should get in touch with their pension provider.

The Government expect remedies to be put in place for all investors who have been disadvantaged as a result of poor advice, and we are convinced that personal pensions are an excellent way of saving for income in retirement.

I shall now deal with other aspects of the legislation that will pass in due course. The legislation makes provision for national health service allocations. We have been advised that it is necessary to include new legislation about that so as to rectify the situation and to put beyond doubt the legal provisions on the calculation of the amount of national insurance that is passed to the national health service. That does not affect overall expenditure on the NHS, nor does it affect in any way entitlement to health service treatment. The Bill also includes provision affecting class 4 contributions and personal pensions. As the House knows, such pensions have been available for rather more than five years.

Few hon. Members are in any doubt about the reason for the debate. It has nothing to do with ensuring proper debate of the measures covered by the timetable motion. Effectively, each measure has one operative clause and the provision of six hours for each of the two Bills is ample. The debate has more to do with the Opposition's need to cover their incompetence in the Budget debate and, in particular, their sin of omission about VAT on fuel. The Opposition's enthusiasm was demonstrated by the fact that when the debate opened there were but 12 Opposition Members in the House. It may be—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of them, pursuant to Standing Order No. 81.

The House divided Ayes 307, Noes 266.

Division No. 31] [7.04 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Aitken, Jonathan Day, Stephen
Alexander, Richard Deva, Nirj Joseph
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Dickens, Geoffrey
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Dicks, Terry
Amess, David Dorrell, Stephen
Ancram, Michael Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Arbuthnot, James Dover, Den
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Duncan, Alan
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Duncan-Smith, Iain
Ashby, David Dunn, Bob
Aspinwall, Jack Durant, Sir Anthony
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dykes, Hugh
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Eggar, Tim
Baldry, Tony Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bates, Michael Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Batiste, Spencer Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bellingham, Henry Evennett, David
Bendall, Vivian Faber, David
Beresford, Sir Paul Fabricant, Michael
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Booth, Hartley Fishburn, Dudley
Boswell, Tim Forman, Nigel
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bowden, Andrew Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bowis, John Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Brandreth, Gyles French, Douglas
Brazier, Julian Fry, Peter
Bright, Graham Gale, Roger
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gallie, Phil
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Gardiner, Sir George
Browning, Mrs. Angela Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Garnier, Edward
Budgen, Nicholas Gill, Christopher
Burns, Simon Gillan, Cheryl
Burt, Alistair Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Butcher, John Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Butler, Peter Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Butterfill, John Gorst, John
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Carrington, Matthew Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Carttiss, Michael Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Cash, William Grylls, Sir Michael
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Churchill, Mr Hague, William
Clappison, James Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Hanley, Jeremy
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hannam, Sir John
Coe, Sebastian Hargreaves, Andrew
Colvin, Michael Harris, David
Congdon, David Haselhurst, Alan
Conway, Derek Hawkins, Nick
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hawksley, Warren
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hayes, Jerry
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Heald, Oliver
Cormack, Patrick Hendry, Charles
Couchman, James Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Cran, James Hicks, Robert
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Ottaway, Richard
Horam, John Page, Richard
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Paice, James
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Patnick, Irvine
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Patten, Rt Hon John
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Pawsey, James
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Pickles, Eric
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hunter, Andrew Porter, David (Waveney)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Jack, Michael Powell, William(Corby)
Jenkin, Bernard Rathbone, Tim
Jessel, Toby Redwood, Rt Hon John
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Richards, Rod
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Riddick, Graham
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Robathan, Andrew
Key, Robert Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Kilfedder, Sir James Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
King, Rt Hon Tom Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Kirkhope, Timothy Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Knapman, Roger Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Sackville, Tom
Knox, Sir David Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shaw, David (Dover)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Legg, Barry Shersby, Michael
Leigh, Edward Sims, Roger
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lidington, David Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Soames, Nicholas
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Spencer, Sir Derek
Lord, Michael Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Luff, Peter Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spink, Dr Robert
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spring, Richard
MacKay, Andrew Sproat, Iain
Maclean, David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
McLoughlin, Patrick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Steen, Anthony
Madel, David Stephen, Michael
Maitland, Lady Olga Stern, Michael
Major, Rt Hon John Stewart, Allan
Malone, Gerald Streeter, Gary
Mans, Keith Sumberg, David
Marland, Paul Sweeney, Walter
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Sykes, John
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mates, Michael Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Temple-Morris, Peter
Mellor, Rt Hon David Thomason, Roy
Merchant, Piers Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Milligan, Stephen Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mills, Iain Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Townsend, Cyrill D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Moate, Sir Roger Tracey, Richard
Monro, Sir Hector Tredinnick, David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Trend, Michael
Moss, Malcolm Trotter, Neville
Needham, Richard Twinn, Dr Ian
Nelson, Anthony Vaughan, Sir Gerald
Neubert, Sir Michael Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Walden, George
Nicholls, Patrick Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Waller, Gary
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Ward, John
Norris, Steve Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Waterson, Nigel
Oppenheim, Phillip Watts, John
Wells, Bowen Wolfson, Mark
Whitney, Ray Wood, Timothy
Whittingdale, John Yeo, Tim
Wiggin, Sir Jerry Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Wilshire, David Mr David Lightbown and
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton) Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Abbott, Ms Diane Dobson, Frank
Adams, Mrs Irene Donohoe, Brian H.
Ainger, Nick Dowd, Jim
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Dunnachie, Jimmy
Allen, Graham Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Eagle, Ms Angela
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Eastham, Ken
Armstrong, Hilary Enright, Derek
Ashton, Joe Etherington, Bill
Austin-Walker, John Evans, John (St Helens N)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Barnes, Harry Fatchett, Derek
Barron, Kevin Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Battle, John Fisher, Mark
Bayley, Hugh Flynn, Paul
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Foulkes, George
Bell, Stuart Fraser, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Fyfe, Maria
Bennett, Andrew F. Gapes, Mike
Benton, Joe Garrett, John
Berry, Dr. Roger George, Bruce
Betts, Clive Gerrard, Neil
Blair, Tony Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Blunkett, David Godman, Dr Norman A.
Boateng, Paul Godsiff, Roger
Boyes, Roland Golding, Mrs Llin
Bradley, Keith Gould, Bryan
Bray, Dr Jeremy Graham, Thomas
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Burden, Richard Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Byers, Stephen Grocott, Bruce
Caborn, Richard Gunnell, John
Callaghan, Jim Hain, Peter
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hall, Mike
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hanson, David
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hardy, Peter
Canavan, Dennis Harman, Ms Harriet
Cann, Jamie Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Chisholm, Malcolm Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clapham, Michael Hinchliffe, David
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hoey, Kate
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Home Robertson, John
Clelland, David Hood, Jimmy
Coffey, Ann Hoon, Geoffrey
Cohen, Harry Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Connarty, Michael Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hoyle, Doug
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Corston, Ms Jean Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cousins, Jim Hutton, John
Cryer, Bob Illsley, Eric
Cummings, John Ingram, Adam
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Janner, Greville
Darling, Alistair Johnston, Sir Russell
Davidson, Ian Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Denham, John Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Dewar, Donald Jowell, Tessa
Dixon, Don Keen, Alan
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S) Purchase, Ken
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Quin, Ms Joyce
Khabra, Piara S. Radice, Giles
Kilfoyle, Peter Randall, Stuart
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Raynsford, Nick
Kirkwood, Archy Redmond, Martin
Leighton, Ron Reid, Dr John
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Rendel, David
Lewis, Terry Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Litherland, Robert Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Livingstone, Ken Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Rogers, Allan
Loyden, Eddie Rooker, Jeff
Lynne, Ms Liz Rooney, Terry
McAllion, John Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McAvoy, Thomas Rowlands, Ted
McCartney, Ian Ruddock, Joan
Macdonald, Calum Salmond, Alex
McFall, John Sedgemore, Brian
McGrady, Eddie Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McKelvey, William Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mackinlay, Andrew Short, Clare
McLeish, Henry Simpson, Alan
McNamara, Kevin Skinner, Dennis
McWilliam, John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Madden, Max Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Maddock, Mrs Diana Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Mahon, Alice Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mandelson, Peter Snape, Peter
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Soley, Clive
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Spearing, Nigel
Martlew, Eric Spellar, John
Maxton, John Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Meacher, Michael Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Michael, Alun Steinberg, Gerry
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Stevenson, George
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Stott, Roger
Milburn, Alan Strang, Dr. Gavin
Miller, Andrew Straw, Jack
Moonie, Dr Lewis Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morgan, Rhodri Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Morley, Elliot Tipping, Paddy
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Turner, Dennis
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Tyler, Paul
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Mowlam, Marjorie Wallace, James
Mudie, George Walley, Joan
Mullin, Chris Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Murphy, Paul Wareing, Robert N
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Watson, Mike
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Welsh, Andrew
O'Hara, Edward Wicks, Malcolm
Olner, William Wigley, Dafydd
O'Neill, Martin Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Parry, Robert Wilson, Brian
Patchett, Terry Winnick, David
Pendry, Tom Wise, Audrey
Pickthall, Colin Worthington, Tony
Pike, Peter L. Wray, Jimmy
Pope, Greg Wright, Dr Tony
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Tellers for the Noes:
Prescott, John Mr. Alan Meale and
Primarolo, Dawn Mr. Gordon McMaster.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Statutory Sick Pay Bill and the Social Security (Contributions) Bill: Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading: Statutory Sick Pay Bill 1.—(1) The proceedings on Second Reading, in Committee and on consideration and Third Reading of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill shall be completed at the sitting on 15th December. (2) The proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement, and the proceedings in Committee and on consideration and Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion six hours after the commencement of proceedings on Second Reading. (3) When the Bill has been read a second time it shall, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any question being put and the Speaker shall forthwith leave the chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given. (4) On the conclusion of the proceedings in Committee the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question and, if he reports the Bill with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put. (5) No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which proceedings in Committee or on consideration of the Bill are taken. Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading: Social Security

Back to