HC Deb 26 July 1999 vol 336 cc24-30 3.41 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)

I beg to move, That, at this day's sitting, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords shall have been received. I shall speak only briefly as the House has a great deal of important business before it this afternoon. This procedural motion is designed to aid the smooth progress of business. If approved, it allows you, Madam Speaker, not to adjourn the House this evening until any messages from the Lords have been received.

The order was first laid last Friday, at which time hon. Members objected to it and a large number of other measures. I make no complaint about that: those involved would simply say that they were exercising their rights. However, as we all know, rights entail responsibilities, and there is a responsibility on the Government to pursue and protect their own legislation.

I think that there is also a responsibility to try to achieve the timetable laid out in last Thursday's business statement. It was made clear then that the House would be asked to consider any Lords' messages received prior to the recess. Moreover, any legitimate concerns could have been raised during the three and a half hours that the House spent debating business issues that day. None were raised. It is perfectly reasonable to expect the House to consider messages from the Lords in the final two days before the recess. That is a long-standing practice, and precedents have been set.

I hope that we will now quickly move on to discuss the real issues affecting our constituents. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) referred to the "hooligan" element in the House last week, and it may be that this is just another example of such an outbreak. However, if there are any real concerns, I anticipate that they will be addressed quickly.

3.43 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I am grateful to the Minister for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. It is all too rare that we have a chance to deliberate, in a calm and reflective manner, on motions that are all too often rejected or described as "merely procedural". I object to the term "merely procedural" because much of what we do in this place depends on an understanding of our procedures and on a fair and proper interpretation of them.

I am equally grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for pointing out that, on Friday, a certain number of matters, including this important procedural motion, were objected to. As always, I was here on Friday, and I counted 39 private Members' Bills to which the Government objected. I shall not detail them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on.''] Since my hon. Friends want me to do so, those Bills included the Cancer Care Bill, the Fuel Safety Bill, the Poverty and Social Exclusion (National Strategy) Bill, and the Concessionary Television Licences for Pensioners Bill—all killed by the Government on Friday, along with many others.

After those 39 private Members' Bills had been killed by the Government on Friday, as the Parliamentary Secretary acknowledged, I took the opportunity to object to this measure, and I shall explain why. I was interested to know why the Government should consider it necessary to move such a motion on a Friday afternoon. I have no objection to that. As you know, Madam Speaker, I am habitually in the Chamber on a Friday, for which hon. Members are grateful, and I appreciate that. However, I was puzzled by the fact that on a Friday afternoon, at the very end of business, after they had killed the 39 private Members' Bills, the Government seemed to want to slip this motion through quietly.

The motion contains some potentially disturbing elements. As we heard in the remarks introducing the debate which may gather momentum as we get into it—right hon. and hon. Members will see its importance as I skip my way through the salient points—the motion states with seductive simplicity that you, Madam Speaker, shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords shall have been received. That strikes me as a procedural blank cheque.

If one glances down the Order Paper, one sees that the Government are anxious to limit debate on other important matters. The Employment Relations Bill is allocated up to three hours. A very important matter, motion No. 8—the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, no less—is allocated only one hour. The debate of such important matters as the appointment of my hon. Friend is restricted, yet the present motion contains the rather sinister element that the House shall not adjourn until any Message from the Lords shall have been received. In other words, the Government apparently expect us to sit here and twiddle our thumbs, on the off-chance that a message may be received from another place. I am not sure whether that is a reasonable request at this stage of our proceedings—that is for the House to judge. However, it requires just a little thought to decide whether it is reasonable for us to prolong today's sitting, when there is a further sitting of the House tomorrow.

Although there is to be an important debate tomorrow on public expenditure—I fully accept that—I should have thought that our procedures contained sufficient leeway and flexibility for the Government to have stated that should the messages from the Lords not be received during today's sitting, it would be reasonable for us to deal with them tomorrow.

Is it not dangerous to expect us to receive a message from another place and deal with it instantly, without any possibility of consideration, when instead we could receive the message during today's sitting, ponder it overnight, deliberate and consult, and return in a proper and deliberative way to deal with the matter during tomorrow's sitting? Although the debate tomorrow is important, it is difficult to imagine that there would be no scope in tomorrow's business to allow the matter to be considered in a more deliberative manner.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he accept that the truncated consideration of the Employment Relations Bill, in particular its peculiar treatment relative to the earlier motion, will be greeted with some alarm in my constituency, not least by Mr. James Naylor, a prominent business man and member of the London regional council of the Confederation of British Industry, who told me only last week of his grave concerns about the present contents of the Bill, and of the importance of every opportunity for it to be revised? Will not Mr. Naylor regard it as extraordinary that the Government intend to handle business in such a bizarre fashion?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who typically goes to the heart of the matter incisively and analytically. People outside will be rather puzzled when they see that a measure as important as the Employment Relations Bill is being cut off in its prime, and we are being denied proper debate. The Bill affects many businesses—the employers and the employed—yet we are apparently expected to take a leisurely and open-ended approach to whatever messages might be received from another place.

I do not know what those messages may or may not contain. I wonder whether the Government know. I suppose that they must have some idea, but they are not telling us at present. The Minister did not give us that information in his introductory remarks. He was Delphic—if I may put it that way—and opaque on the subject. We are expected to accept, as a matter of trust, that the Government must get through their business, which is apparent from the jack-booted approach that the Government take to most things these days, not least the rest of the business on the Order Paper.

The Minister had the gall to ask, as a matter of convenience to the Government, for a blank cheque in order to ensure that when messages come from another place they can be dealt with in a peremptory fashion, without the time—that is the implication—to consider them properly. I do not know whether it is within your purview, Madam Speaker, to contemplate suspending the sitting of the House when those messages arrive so that we may give them some thought. That might be one possibility if the Government continue to insist that the messages be dealt with today.

The Government might concede that point at the conclusion of this debate, which I am happy to see may continue until any hour. We can deliberate this matter at length—I am grateful for that—but the other matters of legislative importance later on the Order Paper are time limited. We therefore have the bizarre situation whereby we can, happily, debate this procedural matter about the timing of business in the House—which I regard as important—at any length, but we cannot debate substantive legislative matters at any length.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

My right hon. Friend heard the earlier reference to the "hooligans". Does he not agree that he has amply demonstrated that, far from residing on the Opposition Back Benches, those hooligans are on the Government Front Bench? That is evident from the way in which the Government are treating the House and its procedures.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend is right. The callous and cavalier slaughter of 39 private Members' Bills in the House last Friday could also be described as a hooligan act—and I am happy to do so.

Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that one private Member's Bill enjoyed the Minister's support—

Madam Speaker

Order. We will leave last Friday's private Members' Bills to last Friday. Let us deal with the motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Forth

Indeed, Madam Speaker. I have tried to illustrate that this apparently simple procedural motion raises many questions. However, my main question is: why do the Government think it is so important to deal with this matter today when the House will sit again tomorrow, when we will hardly be pressed in terms of the business on the Order Paper? I am sure that there will be scope to return to this matter then. If this motion had been worded differently and had said that any messages received from another place today could be dealt with properly tomorrow, which would give hon. Members the chance to consider them, it would have been extremely acceptable.

I find it difficult to accept—I am reluctant to do so unless the Minister provides a further explanation—the fact that the Government have issued an instruction. They have said, "Trust us; we know what we are doing and we must get our business through"—the Government Whip is helpfully nodding, which confirms what is in the Government's mind. That attitude is not extraordinary but absolutely typical of the Government; it is the kind of attitude that we have come to expect from them.

Before I consent to this measure, I want the Government to answer one point. This motion is not only debatable but—as I think you will confirm, Madam Speaker—a matter upon which the House could vote if it so desired. Before we contemplate whether we will divide the House, I hope that the Minister will have the courtesy to tell us his thoughts on why it is so important to ram through this business today, in the way that the motion outlines, rather than allowing the House to return to it tomorrow when we will not have the same time constraints. We could then deal with it on that basis. That is my simple, modest request.

I am grateful for the Minister's courtesy in coming to the House to explain the motion, which these days is quite unusual, but I should like further explanation of why he wants to deal with that business today, rather than tomorrow. I shall then want to consider whether the matter is one that should divide the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 318, Noes 12.

Division No. 272] [3.55 pm
Ainger, Nick Blears, Ms Hazel
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Boateng, Paul
Alexander, Douglas Borrow, David
Allan, Richard Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Allen, Graham Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Bradshaw, Ben
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Brake, Tom
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Brand, Dr Peter
Ashton, Joe Breed, Colin
Austin, John Brinton, Mrs Helen
Banks, Tony Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Barnes, Harry Browne, Desmond
Barron, Kevin Buck, Ms Karen
Battle, John Burden, Richard
Beard, Nigel Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Begg, Miss Anne Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Bennett, Andrew F Campbell-Savours, Dale
Benton, Joe Cann, Jamie
Berry, Roger Caplin, Ivor
Betts, Clive Casale, Roger
Blackman, Liz Caton, Martin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Harvey, Nick
Chaytor, David Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Chidgey, David Healey, John
Chisholm, Malcolm Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Clapham, Michael Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hepburn, Stephen
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Heppell, John
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hill Keith
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hoey, Kate
Clwyd, Ann Home Robertson, John
Coaker, Vernon Hood, Jimmy
Coffey, Ms Ann Hope, Phil
Cohen, Harry Hopkins, Kelvin
Coleman, Iain Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Connarty, Michael Howells, Dr Kim
Corbett, Robin Hoyle, Lindsay
Cotter, Brian Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cousins, Jim Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cox, Tom Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Cranston, Ross Humble, Mrs Joan
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hurst, Alan
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Iddon, Dr Brian
Cummings, John Illsley, Eric
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dalyell, Tam Jamieson, David
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Jenkins, Brian
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dobbin, Jim Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Donohoe, Brian H Keeble, Ms Sally
Doran, Frank Keetch, Paul
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David Kelly, Ms Ruth
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kemp, Fraser
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Khabra, Piara S
Efford, Clive Kidney, David
Ellman, Mrs Louise Kilfoyle, Peter
Etherington, Bill Kirkwood, Archy
Fearn, Ronnie Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Reid, Rt Hon Frank Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Fisher, Mark Lepper, David
Fitzpatrick, Jim Leslie, Christopher
Flint, Caroline Levitt, Tom
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Foster, Don (Bath) Linton, Martin
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Livingstone, Ken
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Galloway, George Lock, David
Gerrard, Neil Love, Andrew
Gibson, Dr Ian McAllion, John
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McAvoy, Thomas
Godman, Dr Norman A McCafferty, Ms Chris
Godsiff, Roger McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McDonagh Siobhain
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Macdonald Calum
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Grogan, John McFall, John
Gunnell, John McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hain, Peter McIsaac, Shona
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Mackinlay, Andrew
Hancock, Mike McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony Powell, Sir Raymond
Mactaggart, Fiona Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
McWalter, Tony Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
McWilliam, John Prosser, Gwyn
Mahon, Mrs Alice Purchase, Ken
Mallaber, Judy Quinn, Lawrie
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Rammell, Bill
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Rapson, Syd
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Raynsford, Nick
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Martlew, Eric Rendel, David
Maxton, John Roche, Mrs Barbara
Meale, Alan Rooker, Jeff
Merron, Gillian Rooney, Terry
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Rowlands, Ted
Miller, Andrew Roy, Frank
Mitchell, Austin Ruddock, Joan
Moffatt, Laura Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Moran, Ms Margaret Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Ryan, Ms Joan
Morley, Elliot Salter, Martin
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Sanders, Adrian
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Sarwar, Mohammad
Mullin, Chris Savidge, Malcolm
Naysmith, Dr Doug Sawford, Phil
Oaten, Mark Sedgemore, Brian
O'Brien, Bill (Normtanton) Sheerman, Barry
O'Hara, Eddie Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Olner, Bill Singh, Marsha
Organ, Mrs Diana Skinner, Dennis
Palmer, Dr Nick Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Pendry, Tom Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Perham, Ms Linda Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Pickthall, Colin Soley, Clive
Plaskitt James Squire, Ms Rachel
Pollard, Kerry Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Pond, Chris Steinberg, Gerry
Pope, Greg Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Pound, Stephen Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr Howard Ward, Ms Claire
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Wareing, Robert N
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Watts, David
Stringer, Graham Webb, Steve
Stuart, Ms Gisela White, Brian
Stunell, Andrew Whitehead, Dr Alan
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wicks, Malcolm
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Temple-Morris, Peter Winnick, David
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Wise, Audrey
Timms, Stephen Woolas, Phil
Tipping, Paddy Worthington, Tony
Todd, Mark Wray, James
Touhig, Don Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Wyatt, Derek
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Tellers for the Ayes:
Tyler, Paul Mr. David Hanson and
Vis, Dr Rudi Mr. David Clelland.
Beggs, Roy Shepherd, Richard
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Swayne, Desmond
Forsythe, Clifford Taylor, Sir Teddy
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Wardle, Charles
Hunter, Andrew
Luff, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Maclean, Rt Hon David Mr. Eric Forth and
St Aubyn, Nick Mr. Graham Brady.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That, at this day's sitting, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords shall have been received.