Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This morning, outside this House, the Secretary State for Education and Science announced his first decision to nationalise schools and bring them into central control. The announcement concerned two schools--one in Tameside and the other in Skegness. Although the policy has flopped, and most of the very few schools that sought to opt out of the current arrangements and into central control are to be found in Conservative areas, this policy was announced by the Government as a flagship policy. Can you, Mr. Speaker, say whether you have received from the Secretary of State for Education and Science any indication that he is willing to make a statement to this House, as we have requested? If not, is it not a gross abuse of the House that the Secretary of State is unwilling to make a statement about a policy that has failed ; although he claimed that it was crucial to the Government's approach?
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : I am not known for being hesitant in bearing good news to this House. The news this morning was very good indeed, in that these are the first two grant-maintained schools. If I am expected to make a statement every time I announce that a school is becoming grant-maintained, I will be monopolising the time of the House, because this policy will be very successful.
Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of these schools, though not in my constituency, is in a neighbouring constituency. Is it fair that this decision was made without consulting the Members concerned?
Mr. Kenneth Baker : When it comes to school reorganisations or amalgamations, the procedure is that the individuals are informed, as they and the governors and heads of the schools were this morning. We have followed the procedures.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are very pleased indeed with the announcement this morning about those two schools, and we look forward very much to an announcement about St. James's Church of England school in Bolton.
Mr. Straw : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely the legitimate interest of Members on both sides of the House in the decisions of the Secretary of the State indicates the need for a statement. What we now know is that the Secretary of State, instead of doing what would be sensible and rational--make one announcement of all his decisions for 1989- -is trying to drip-feed these decisions out-- [Interrupion.] Oh, yes, he is trying to drip-feed these decisions out to suggest that a policy that has flopped is
Column 998some kind of success. Can we have an undertaking from the Secretary of State that when these decisions are being made he will announce them to this House?
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that eight or nine days ago I raised a point of order about the fact that I had placed in the Table Office a question to the Foreign Secretary. I asked for information about the movements of the Foreign Secretary in relation to the Manx Government. That question was transferred, for some reason best known to other people, to the Home Office. The Minister said to me that when he had the answer he would let me know. Well, I have had the answer from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, telling me that the Home Secretary has met people. That is very interesting, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the question I asked.
Since this is the correct day to table questions to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, I have today retabled the question, with slightly altered wording in order to get it through the machinery. Will you, Mr. Speaker, kindly take it upon yourself to see that, this time, I get an answer from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as to the activities of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs?
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde) : Further to the earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State said very clearly to this House a few moments ago that Members of Parliament from the Tameside area had been informed of his decision concerning Audenshaw school. As one of those Members--I speak for my right hon. Friend also--I have to say that we were not so informed by the Secretary of State.
Mr. Graham Riddick
Mrs. Audrey Wise
Mr. Neil Thorne
Mr. Ken Eastham, supported by Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Robert Litherland, Mr. Doug Hoyle, Mr. James Lamond, Mr. Jim Callaghan, Mr. Ernie Ross, Mr. Eric S. Heffer, Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe and Mr. George Howarth, presented a Bill to give shareholders and trade unions the right to block company donations to political parties : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 24 February and to be printed. [Bill 82].
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish age discrimination in employment.
The aim of my Bill is to abolish age discrimination in employment. I hope that it will assist those who are in if not the evening then the late afternoon of life to find jobs. An information note issued by Hay MSL Management Consultants in November 1987 showed that, where an age was specified, 88.5 per cent. of advertisements showed an upper limit of 40 whereas only 2.5 per cent. advertised for candidates aged 46 or over. A recent report in The Sunday Times showed that over half the advertisements carried an age specification and not one carried an age requirement for the over-50s.
The Sunday Mail has run a long campaign about age discrimination, and it is a salutary thought that, at the last general election, the average age of Members of Parliament was 49. It is worth pondering the fact that a large number of Members of Parliament would never get the opportunity to be interviewed for a position here were they to seek employment in the normal market place. I am glad to be able to present the Bill from the Conservative Benches, because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister practises, as always, what she preaches and she has started Sir Leon Brittan, at the age of 49, on a second career in Europe. We look forward tomorrow to learning that William Hague has been elected in his place in the Richmond, Yorks constituency.
In The Guardian on Saturday 4 February, a typical advertisement placed by a leading industrial company advertised for an industrialist journalist in Runcorn. It stated :
"If you are an experienced professional journalist with industrial experience and are aged 25-40, this challenging opportunity will appeal to you."
To fit in leaving school, having taken A-levels, training as a journalist and obtaining industrial experience by the age of 25, one would have to move with great speed. A recent survey by the Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services found that 56 per cent. of employers admit that they tend to recruit from the under-40 age group. What employers are really saying is that they want an 18-year-old with 30 years' experience.
There has been a steady decline in the economic activity of the over-55s. The sharpest drop has been among men aged 60 to 64, where employment fell from 83 per cent. to 54 per cent. between 1971 and 1985. There are some good reasons for this decline such as improved occupational pension schemes, with provsion for early retirement. Above all, until recently, it was seen as an act of social and moral generosity to give up one's job and retire early so as to create a vacancy for a young person or even a school leaver.
All that has changed rapidly. Because of the succeess of the Government's economic and industrial policies, unemployment is falling fast. The overtime in manufacturing industry last month, at 14.8 million hours per week, was the highest since January 1980. An even greater problem facing the nation is the decline in the birth rate after the boom of the 1960s. In the 1980s there were 4.7 million 17 to 21-year-olds. By 1995-96, that figure will fall by 3.4 million, a drop of 1.3 million, bringing that age group down from 8.4 per cent. to 5.4 per
Column 1000cent. of the total population. In its evidence to the Employment Select Committee, the CBI forecast that the percentage of men and women within 10 years of retirement, who made up 28.7 per cent. of the work force in 1987, will rise to 31.2 per cent. by 1995. According to the rules of the House, a private Member's Bill may not amend taxation, but I must express the hope that, in his Budget, the Chancellor will honour our long-standing pledge to abolish the earnings limit for pensioners. About £85 million in lost revenue, to allow pensioners to earn, and to keep their pension, would remove a long-running sore affecting those among the nation's "grey power" who have the energy and the inclination to continue to work. This measure, coupled with raising the level at which people commence paying national insurance contributions from £43 to £55 a week, would not only be a natural adjunct to my Bill but, remarkably, would leave the Treasury £5 million better off.
Grey power is the force of the future. For far too long the country has lacked an understanding of the rich, untapped reservoir in the over-40s. Older employees are often grateful for job opportunities. They bring stability, experience, loyalty and dedication. What they do not bring are baby problems, boyfriend problems or girlfriend problems. Very often, they are halfway through their mortgage repayments, so financial pressures do not make them conscious of the next pay rise. They act as a stabilising influence and have highly defined ideas and ideals about customer service, customer satisfaction, employee loyalty and a conscientious approach to all their duties. In London, we have all had experience of the shop assistant who is too busy varnishing her nails or telling her chum who she danced with last night to find time to serve paying customers. We have all experienced the surly, monosyllabic young man who greets all customers with, "Yeah, what yer want?".
This Bill is Parliament's answer to Phyllosan. It will prevent age discrimination in employment and ensure that all employees and job applicants are only as old as they feel and not as old as they are made to feel--and feel unwanted at that. Like Phyllosan, the Bill will "fortify the over-40s". It will free the over-40s, the over-50s and the over-60s to continue to work for their benefit and for the benefit of our nation.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Barry Field, Mr. Irvine Patnick, Mr. David Davis, Mr. Anthony Coombs, Mr. Tony Favell, and Mrs. Maureen Hicks.
Mr. Barry Field accordingly presented a Bill to abolish age discrimination in employment : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 17 March and to be printed. [Bill 81.]
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I have an important point of order to raise on this Bill because, clearly, a large number of hon. Members have a vested interest in it. I would like your ruling that people in the 40, 50, 60 and 70 age range--because of that vested interest and the direct pecuniary interest raised by the Bill--will not be prevented from voting on it, since that would give it no chance at all.
That the Report [21 February] of the Business Committee be now considered.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]
Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in its resolution, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee) and agreed to.
Following is the report of the Business Committee :
(1) the order in which proceedings on consideration are taken shall be as shown in the Table set out below ;
(2) on the allotted day given under the Order [13th February] to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading each part of the proceedings shall, subject to the provisions of that Order, be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the second column of the Table set out below.
Official Secrets Bill
The first new clause to be debated is new clause No. 1, with which it will be convenient to take amendment No. 9.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just read out "Bill, as amended". Is there an amended reprinted version of the Bill, because nothing is available in the Vote Office?
Mr. Rooker : Therefore, the Bill we are considering is not "as amended". A version of the Official Secrets Bill, which has been passed by the Committee of this House, is not available for hon. Members to consider on Report. That is a consequence of the guillotine. If a Bill is not available--it does not matter whether the alteration is one word, one paragraph, or one clause--you have no right, Mr. Speaker, to put to the House that we carry on with these proceedings today.
Mr. Rooker : Where is ours? There is nothing available for hon. Members. You, Mr. Speaker, are a Member. There is nothing available for hon. Members. Are we expected to debate and vote on a Bill which is not actually before us? We would not allow that in local government or anywhere else. There is no urgency. The Bill does not have to be debated today. We have no right to pass legislation that is not before the House. You cannot ask us to rely on a copy that the Clerk has on the Table. Are we supposed to queue up in rota and pass it around the House?
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This matter was never before the Business Committee. The only question discussed at that Business Committee was the timetable for the proceedings on the remaining stages of the Bill. The question whether the Bill, as amended, would be available for hon. Members was not raised. In fairness, that matter was not raised by the Opposition or by the Government. The assumption was, of course, that the Bill would be available to hon. Members.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand it, the Business Committee report, which the House has accepted on the nod, as it were, does not contain any reference to the alteration. You mentioned, Mr. Speaker, the Business Committee report, but there is no reference in that report to the alteration to the Bill. Therefore, even using the two
Column 1003documents--the unaltered Bill and the Business Committee report--would not provide hon. Members with the necessary documentation. I should have thought that it would be a breach of Standing Orders for you, Mr. Speaker, to submit to the House the Bill, as amended, when clearly it is not available as amended. It may appear a relatively small matter, but there is an important principle. We deal with important legislation. When legislation passes through the House, it applies to every citizen. Surely we must set standards of conduct which are above every possible criticism. Omitting a word can be extremely serious, and the House should accept the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to adjourn until printed copies are available for every hon. Member.
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am conscious that in your intitial response you said that you had been informed that there had been only one word altered in the Bill. I want to submit to you the importance of that. It would be intolerable were a situation to arise where you had to judge whether the difference between the Bill presented to Committee and the Bill coming out of Committee were a significant one. With respect, it is neither for you, Mr. Speaker, nor for anyone else to decide whether an amendment is important. It is for the House to work on the assumption that all amendments have some significance and, therefore, that the Bill will have been changed substantially by any amendment, which I believe is comparatively true in this case.
We are suffering the problem of having not a guillotine, but an absurdly rushed one. Last week we had two consecutive days of discussion under the guillotine and we have moved on to Report and Third Reading within a week of the Committee stage being completed. That is an affront to the House and it makes the whole operation appear to be demonstrably as shabby and second -rate as it will be if the Government persist in going on with it under the circumstances. I note that the Leader of the House is here and I hope that he will listen--
Mr. Hattersley : I wonder whether the Home Secretary could draw the Leader of the House's attention to the fact that we are discussing matters directly relevant to him. The Leader of the House should know that the House is now put in an intolerable position. If we pursue this issue of principle and procedure we shall cut into the time allowed for the Bill to be debated on Report. If the Leader of the House appreciates the importance of the discussion that will now take place it is possible for him to assure us that at 10 o'clock or at some other time he will add on however long this procedure discussion takes, so that we do not lose any of the extremely limited time we have for Report and Third Reading.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen : (Wolverhampton, South-West) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are legislating for a generation ; we are not legislating for the next five years. The question is whether the Bill will have the authority and legitimacy that will be necessary if prosecutions are to succeed in front of juries. Any juryman who saw our proceedings now would not feel the proper sense of respect and authority that the law-making process
Column 1004should have. Nothing will be damaged if we delay consideration of the Bill for another week or fortnight. I suggest that those who wish to protect our proceedings and wish to give proper delay and solemnity to the consideration of the Bill will be helping the Government and future Governments to secure that authority which, currently, the Bill lacks.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Even if this were a relatively minor piece of proposed legislation, I would argue, in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), that the principle remains the same. You should also bear in mind, Mr. Speaker, that this is an extremely controversial Bill and you are aware that it has been much contested. That is all the more reason why the documents that we have before us on Report should be accurate.
I hope that I can secure the Home Secretary's attention, as the Government have made much about the rule of law, but I submit that the rule of Parliament is also important and relevant. We are expected to debate on Report a controversial Bill which, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said, is likely to stay on the statute book for many years to come. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr has already explained to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Bill is defective. Therefore, it would be wrong to proceed on Report to discuss it, especially as there is no urgency for it, for all the reasons that you know, Mr. Speaker. In those circumstances I hope that you will agree to reflect on the matter, as it would be wrong for us to proceed on this basis.
Mr. Speaker : It might be helpful to know that. It is not infrequent, when a Bill has been amended by a change of word, as in this case, for the whole Bill not to be reprinted. It might be for the convenience of the House if I say that the change in Committee was made to clause 2(2)(a) on page 2 when
"prejudices the capability of"
was changed to
"damages the capability of"
Mr. Skinner : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In relation to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), Standing Order No. 69 refers to the report of a Bill from Committee to the whole House and states :
"At the close of the proceedings of a committee of the whole House on a bill, the chairman shall report the bill forthwith to the House, and when amendments shall have been made thereto, a day shall be appointed for taking the bill as amended into consideration". That has not occurred. The Government have been exceedingly sloppy about this affair and they have been caught out by the Opposition. As you know only too well, Mr. Speaker, it is not your job to support the Executive when they have made mistakes. They have obviously made an error, and in view of that I believe that the motion that I originally put, namely that the debate stand adjourned until further notice, should apply.
Column 10054 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Now that the House knows the scale of the single word to which we refer, it is clear that it is not a minor matter, but a matter on which there was considerable discussion in Committee. The Government sought to claim that they were making a big concession by agreeing to the alteration of that word. Having made that big concession with which they were seeking to curry favour, for them to come before the House without having bothered to change the Bill is an important issue. The only proper way for the matter to be dealt with is for the debate to be adjourned.
The Leader of the House has been present, but has not said anything. As the person responsible for the situation, he should ask for the House to be adjourned. As everyone has said, it is perfectly possible for the Bill to be discussed next week or the week after without any damage to the discussion. It would inconvenience only the Government, and the Government have inconvenienced us by producing a defective Bill. I appeal to the Leader of the House to get you out of the scrape, Mr. Speaker, as these are points of order for you, by admitting the folly of the Government and agreeing to withdraw the Bill until another day.
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you say who is responsible for ensuring that that amendment is made to the Bill before the House considers the amended Bill on Report? Am I right in believing that, far from its being the responsibility of the Government, it is the responsibility of the authorities of the House and that Opposition Members who are saying that the Bill should not proceed today are attacking the authorities of the House, and the matter has nothing whatever to do with the Government?
Mr. Speaker : The authorities of the House have carried out the normal practice. As I have already stated, when very minor amendments have been made to a Bill it has not been the practice for the entire Bill to be reprinted.
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that you said inadvertently that it was a minor amendment, and that on reflection you would agree that it is a significant matter. It is not the case of an "and" or "if" being missed out in an earlier drafting and then reinserted. The amendment goes to the core of the Bill.
We had a major debate, and it is still in contention that the word "damage" is insufficient and should be prefaced by the word "seriously". Far from its being minor, it is a significant amendment. We all understand how the error has occurred, but whether it is the responsibility of the Government or the authorities of the House, the ultimate responsiblity must lie with the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House faces the clear fact that the Bill is now not in order. It is not "as amended". Were this normal legislation, there would be agreement on both sides of the House not to push the point in a pedantic way, but the Bill is deeply offensive to many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. Having discussed an important issue on which the full procedures of the House have not been fulfilled, and having faced a guillotine motion on a constitutional Bill of great significance, surely
Column 1006the House is within its rights in demanding that the Bill is not proceeded with today and is brought back at another time.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You explained to the House most helpfully that the Bill as originally presented has been amended by the change of one word on page 2-- [Interruption.] --it would be more courteous and helpful to the House if the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) allowed me to complete my sentence. Therefore, since the Bill was published and since Second Reading, the Bill has been altered by one word. As I understand it, you, Mr. Speaker, outlined the normal practice on occasions when such a minor alteration is made. It has nothing to do with the substance of the alteration, but involves the number of words that are altered. One word has been altered and it is the normal custom of the House to continue with proceedings on the Bill without reprinting it. I believe that we should continue the normal procedures of the House and get on with considering the Bill. There are important issues to be discussed and I believe that we should not delay any longer.
Mr. Speaker : The Leader of the House is correct. Perhaps I should correct what I said about its being a minor amendment. I am not concerned with the importance of the word, which I accept is a major issue. The amendment is minor in that it alters only one word. We passed the timetable motion a few moments ago and we are now in timetable time. It would be wise if the House were to get on with the debate.
Mr. Hattersley : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will notice that, apart from the Leader of the House, not one right hon. or hon. Member who has spoken has not expressed concern about the situation. I reflect my own concern about biting into the time allowed by the guillotine. Might I suggest that it is a House of Commons matter. Right hon. and hon Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern, and the way to resolve it is for you, Mr. Speaker, to accept the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) so that the House can decide whether it wishes to proceed and then we can get on with the timetable and the other issues.
Mr. Speaker : I am not able to accept a dilatory motion at that stage. I quote the motion passed by the House on 13 February : "No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of proceedings on the Bill should be made on an allotted day, except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith."
I am not empowered to accept the dilatory motion. The House is in some difficulty. Technically, the Bill should have been reprinted, but, as I have already said, when amendments of a minor kind, in terms of the number of words, have been made in the past, it has always been the practice not to have the Bill reprinted.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that there is a question whether there is a Bill that has been amended for the House to debate. If the Bill has not been printed, it is at least arguable, in the light of the Standing Order that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) read out, that we are not in a position to debate the Bill. We were advised that such a Bill would appear before us, but it has also been said that the amendment is minor in terms of the number of words, but it is a major issue in that there is no debate on Report if that amendment has not been passed. As that amendment is the sole change that has been made, the Bill should have passed straight to another place. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that it is not a Bill that we can debate today.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that all those who had spoken were opposed to the Bill proceeding. That is simply because the rest of us were quite satisfied to proceed, so we did not bother speaking.