HC Deb 03 November 1993 vol 231 cc485-9 1.19 am
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

With permission, I should like to make a short business statement. The business for tomorrow will now be:

  • Motions on Members' pensions
  • Motions relating to statutory instruments on sports grounds and sporting events
  • Motions on parliamentary Questions
  • Proceedings on the following consolidation Bills:
The Crofters (Scotland) Bill [Lords], the Scottish Land Court Bill [Lords], the Health Service Commissioners Bill [Lords], the Probation Service Bill [Lords], the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords], the Pension Schemes (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] and the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [Lords];

followed by a motion relating to financial assistance to Opposition parties. The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Could he answer two simple questions? First, he has courteously come tonight with a statement about tomorrow's business. Why could he not have come at seven o'clock with a statement about the business earlier this evening? Secondly, will he tell the House, so that there is no doubt, what will be the procedure if the Lords sustain their opposition to the Railways Bill when they receive our report tomorrow? What is the constitutional position?

Mr. Newton

On the first question, it will be within the hon. Gentleman's recollection, because he was here, that there was criticism from some quarters of my intervention at seven o'clock on the ground that, even as a brief point of order, it took time out of a guillotined debate. Some of that criticism was perhaps subsequently deployed for other reasons, but at any rate that criticism was made.

If I had made a statement, which would have been followed by extensive questioning, that would certainly have damaged a guillotined debate and would have been a legitimate cause for complaint among those involved with the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. As for the hon. Gentleman's second question, it is for others to give advice on the rest of the matters that he raised.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

In thanking my right hon. Friend for an interesting and entertaining evening, may I ask whether he agrees that it does not bestow any great dignity on the House if certain Members, from whatever party, sabotage democratic procedures in such a way that the—

Madam Speaker

Order. We are dealing with a business statement. We are discussing tomorrow's business, not making long statements about what has gone on, which I deplore as much as anyone in the House. If the hon. Gentleman has a question about tomorrow's business, I will hear it. But that is all that I will hear.

Mr. Hayes

I am most grateful for that, Madam Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend agree with Madam Speaker that it would be quite wrong for any Further sabotage to take place tomorrow?

Mr. Newton

I can hardly decline to agree with Madam Speaker. More to the point, I should like to make the point in response to my hon. Friend—it is relevant to the business statement—that one of the reasons for the statement was our inability to get through business that was properly laid for today, because of tactics in the Division Lobbies which exceeded anything that I have seen in 20 years in the House.

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

I had not intended to respond to the business statement, because I did not want to detain the House at this hour. However, it should be put on the record that it is because the Government sought to stampede their business through the House earlier tonight that they will have to come back tomorrow with business which, if they had proceeded reasonably through proper discussion and agreement, we could have dealt with tonight. It serves the Government right.

Mr. Newton

If the right hon. Lady thinks that that kind of point justifies the blocking tactics that we saw in the Division Lobby today, this is a very sorry day for this place.

Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the disgraceful behaviour of Opposition Members, the filibustering and the delays in the Lobby showed the real negation of democracy tonight?

Mr. Newton

I agree that were those tactics to be seen again, that would raise real questions about the commitment of those on the Opposition Front Bench to democratic procedures in the House.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will not tomorrow's business be rather crowded, as there are already many orders set out in the Remaining Orders of the Day and Notices of Motions on the Order Paper? Instead of having to come to the House to make repeated business statements, would it not be better for the Government to recognise that they have put themselves in a hole through their insistence on regarding Parliament as a legislative sausage machine and extend the business into next week so that we can have a proper timetable for debate on issues such as unemployment, the difficulties of manufacturing industry and the difficulties facing people on low incomes? We could very usefully spend next week debating a host of subjects if we did not have this pressure behind us all the time.

Mr. Newton

If there is any pressure on tomorrow's business of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman objects, the fault lies with the tactics that were used by the Opposition tonight.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

If there are any messages from the other place tomorrow, at what stage in our proceedings with they be taken? Will they be taken before or after the debate on the motion on pay for Opposition parties?

Mr. Newton

I obviously cannot predict the timing without knowing the timing of progress in another place. However, I anticipate that the timing would be such that the debate on the motion to which my hon. Friend referred would be after the consideration of Lords messages.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The Leader of the House must stop whining about the proceedings earlier this evening and address the points at issue. Why is it not possible to make a business statement after guillotined business, as opposed to making points of order during guillotined business?

Mr. Newton

Because, as I said at the time, the obvious need for the House to consider the message from the Lords in our view—and I make no apology for that—made it right to give the House notice of the intention to discuss those messages at the earliest possible moment, and that is what I did.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the appalling scenes that we witnessed earlier this evening, including deliberate attempts to undermine the authority of the Chair, owed a great deal to the Labour party's embarrassment over the fact that it did not have enough hon. Members in the House to achieve a decent vote in the Division Lobby? Labour played for time to allow Labour Members to return. What conversations will my right hon. Friend have through the usual channels to ensure that the Labour party has the courtesy to have adequate numbers of hon. Members here in good time for the debates tomorrow?

Mr. Newton

I have no doubt that there will be some discussions about that matter and others through the usual channels. At least, I hope that there will be such discussions. In view of the terms used by my hon. Friend, the worst thing about tonight is that there is no sign that those on the Opposition Front Bench even have the grace to be embarrassed about it.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the motions relating to football spectators are the motions that we should have debated this evening, and that those motions were on the Order Paper as a result of a request from the official Opposition? Bearing in mind the fact that that business was lost today as a result of the Labour party's disgraceful behaviour, why are we to debate it tomorrow? Why not just drop it?

Mr. Newton

That business was placed on the Order Paper properly. While I have every sympathy with and share the irritation expressed by my hon. Friend, it is proper that business that is placed on the Order Paper properly, as this busines was, should be discussed properly —if the Opposition allow that to happen tomorrow.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South)

In responding to my right hon. Friend's business statement 48 hours ago, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) said that it was a "constitutional outrage". Is not the true constitutional outrage the antics of the Labour party, which has lost both the argument and the votes tonight?

Mr. Newton


Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Given that we are debating so many fascinating and interesting matters tomorrow, would it be possible to squeeze in an extra debate on the tactics that were adopted this evening, and give the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) the opportunity to repudiate Labour Whips who lied about the figures in the Division Lobby in an attempt to get divisions declared void?

Mr. Newton

I shall bear that request in mind, although it might cause some difficulty if I were to make a supplementary business statement immediately.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

May I add my support to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)? Tomorrow's business is full, and perhaps it might be appropriate to drop the debate on money for the Opposition parties. Perhaps it might also be made clear that the use of books to block the Serjeant at Arms from coming through the door is singularly inappropriate parliamentary action.

Mr. Newton

It was the episode with the books, which I had heard about, that led me to say earlier that, while every hon. Member has seen ups and downs, to put it mildly, over a long period—in my case, 20 years—I have never seen tactics like that adopted, whether in this or any other cause.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Would it not be easier to handle business in the House if we met a little more often? When we come back to debate the Queen's Speech, we shall have been away for 14 out of 17 weeks. Since the election of the present Prime Minister, the House has not been sitting for 40 per cent. of those weeks. That is why some of us thought that the vote tonight was disgraceful.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has expressed those views in various other ways before. I can only say that they do not appear to be shared by the large number of hon. Members who clearly wish to see progress on the Jopling report.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

When we debate the financing of Opposition parties, will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is time to debate the appalling behaviour of the Labour party, and will he ensure that there is time to debate the lack of discipline in it, in the context of a complete absence of leadership? Will he also ensure that there is time tomorrow to ask the question, "When will the Buddha speak?"

Mr. Newton

I shall do my best to ensure that there is time available to debate those matters, but it will depend, once again, on the Opposition, being prepared to behave in a reasonably orderly fashion.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Is it not the case that the incompetence and clumsiness of those on the Government Front Bench makes an elephant look like a dainty ballet dancer?

Mr. Newton

There is nothing in the behaviour of those on the Government Front Bench that leads to, or justifies, the blocking of Division Lobbies with books so as to prevent proper procedures in the House.

Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)

On the subject of the behaviour of the Government Front Bench, will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that if the Government get into similar problems over time tomorrow, the Government Whips will be restrained from physically assaulting hon. Members?

Mr. Newton

That is a serious allegation. I have no doubt that if the Hon. Gentleman wishes to persist with it, Madam Speaker will cause it to be looked at.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. That is enough. We have to move on to the petition.

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