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Mr. Skinner : It is just a possibility. My hon. Friend, however, knows the way in which the machinery works. There is no doubt in my mind-- it has been confirmed now--that the Government are behind all the confusion. I think that we must lay it at their door.
Mr. Cohen : On the question of drafting, does my hon. Friend agree that the reason why the Minister has this horrible job this morning is that the Department of the Environment realises that it has made a great mess of it and it has given the woman the worst job, as is always the case in this life? Does my hon. Friend agree that perhaps the Secretary of State for the Environment had a role in this matter, because, after all, he was responsible for the Housing Bill? The Secretary of State is reported to have said, when that Bill was before the House, that he thought that it was a wonderful Bill because he had drafted it himself. However, because it was such a mess, it had 400 to 500 amendments made to it before it passed through Committee. Could it be that he had a hand in drafting the Bill?
Mr. Skinner : There are many ways of looking at it, but I think that there are two main ones. The Bill was drafted with him hanging over it and the fag ash dropped on the wording. That is how we got the wrong wording. It was obliterated by the fag ash. The other alternative was that he was out one day in the park picking up litter. The Prime Minister was at his side and he had a bag. They were putting litter into the bag in St. James's park and, as he
Column 1188was rummaging through the bag, because his fag had dropped into it, he pulled out a bit of paper--it was the Bill. That is where it came from. I tend to think that it was probably the first proposition. However, despite all the hilarity that might be caused, a Government-sponsored Bill was presented to the House calling upon us to repeal the Clean Air Act, but, when we came here today we were told, "We did not mean that ; we only wanted to amend it." I have been discussing this matter with some of my hon. Friends, and we believe that it would be worthwhile considering voting against the amendments. That would not be on the basis of whether they are good or bad, but it would be a way in which we could register our disapproval at the way in which the Bill has been dealt with. If we do not do that, the history books will record that we took part in it and, in all the confusion that reigned, it will be recorded that we connived and allowed the Bill to go through when we all know that it would be better if the Bill were presented in its proper form on another day.
I believe that no one who has spoken or intervened would not give a fair wind to the general idea that is contained within the Bill if it came back to us properly drawn up, either next Friday or the Friday after. There are several more weeks to go before the end of this Session. It would still have time to go through its procedures--in the sleepy den in the other place--that is if it can get rid of the football passes Bill--and then become law. If we allow the Bill to go through without registering disapproval of the amendments, we shall have been a party to the same kind of connivance into which the Government have entered with the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter).
Mr. Cryer : Does my hon. Friend agree that Parliament ought not to have double standards--one for the Government and one for Back Benchers? If we accept this precedent without objecting or voting, should we not try the same trick on Monday? The Government's standard would surely not apply to Opposition Back Benchers. If we wanted to amend the Dock Work Bill on Monday, we would not be allowed to table amendments then. If there is to be consistency, right hon. and hon. Members should reject the Government's shabby manoeuvre.
Mr. Anderson : My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) puts his finger on an important point. If, contrary to our inclinations, we give way and are not true to our role, perhaps the Government will give way on Monday and accept a similar amendment not to repeal but to amend the Dock Work Bill.
Mr. Skinner : From time to time I have been involved in negotiations with others in the House, but it is a bit of a tall order to ask me to make it my job between now and Monday to negotiate with the Government about repealing the dock labour scheme. On Monday, it will be our job to attempt that through the Authority of the Chair. The Chair should be warned that some right hon. and hon. Members may try that procedure.
It is not a bad idea to alert those of my hon. Friends who are sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union, and who are more closely allied with the issue, of what happened today and that a new system has developed. They should be informed that, contrary to the
Column 1189practice of the past 18 years, one can now change the title of a Bill, and that instead of repealing legislation, one can amend it. We should alert our colleagues.
Mr. Skinner : There is no question that we should raise points of order. We shall call upon the Chair to accept amendments to the Dock Work Bill when it is debated on Monday. If we did that, the Bill could be modified to include all non-scheme ports, which would ensure that everyone enjoyed the same conditions of work in ports throughout Britain. As there has been no industrial trouble at the ports over many years, the chances are that there would be relative--I say relative--industrial peace throughout the industry. In that way, we would serve a very useful purpose.
The more that I think about it, the more I am convinced that this change of procedure can provide us with great opportunities in future. I am beginning to think about all the Bills that are to come before the House, and in particular--
Mr. Skinner : When considering whether I agree to repeal or amend a Bill, I can only do so on the basis of whether that is right for the Bill before the House and whether it is correct parliamentary practice. I cannot look at it in any other way. I must ask myself, "Is it right for those acting on behalf of the Government to take such action?" We all know that the Government are behind the Bill, otherwise they would have denied it. In the new parliamentary straits in which we find ourselves, it is right to consider whether this new procedure would be appropriately adopted not only on Monday but on many other occasions.
Shortly we may have before us what is known as the other private Member's Bill procedure. I want to know whether under that Bill it will be possible, once the Bill has passed through all its other stages, to amend or repeal the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill and the Associated British Ports (Hull) Bill. Mr. Deputy Speaker knows something about that subject because he comes under the general auspices of Chairman of Ways and Means. Perhaps he can give an answer off the top of his head. However, in view of what happened this morning, he may have to study the books. I shall not develop that point but will throw it in as a sprat to catch a mackerel on another day.
Mr. Cohen : Could not the same procedure be used for the Dock Work Bill as is being used today? Instead of repealing the dock labour scheme, it could be amended by enhancing trade union rights and increasing pay.
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend is getting pretty excited at the prospect that I hold out. Those right hon. and hon. Members who have served the House for the past 18 years have never seen such a procedure used before. Some of us study "Erskine May" but obviously we have missed some bits. However, I have since discovered that on the last occasion that the procedure was used it involved a
Column 1190non-controversial measure and did not involve totally changing that Bill. The last time that the verbal amendment procedure was used the measure concerned was, by comparason with the Bill before the House, of a comparatively minor nature. However, the amendments now before the House would turn the Bill upside down. A wide procedural gate has been opened, and those of us who take account of parliamentary procedures will exploit it in future.
Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East) : My hon. Friend refers to the problems of dealing with a private Member's Bill that is basically a Government Bill in disguise. Shortly we shall be debating a similar private Member's Bill concerning weights and measures that also appears to be a Government Bill in disguise. When we come to consider the amendments to that Bill, can we be sure--
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point, and her remarks are not really out of order when one considers them against the background of the Government-sponsored Control of Smoke Pollution Bill, which my hon. Friend knows has changed. She arrives at the House this morning primarily to debate weights and measures and suddenly finds herself embroiled in a constitutional wrangle or crisis. Naturally she asks herself whether the same arguments apply to the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill. I can give my hon. Friend another piece of news. I have heard that the Government told the Conservative Member responsible for the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill to bobby off. [ Hon. Members-- : "Never."] I know that I am not supposed to speak to that Bill, but I mention in passing that we first find ourselves debating a completely different Bill, and then encounter, in respect of the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill, another example of chicanery. The Conservative Member who was to speak to that Bill entered the Chamber, looking active and as though he was ready to progress it, but after a few minutes the word came through the grapevine of this gentleman's club--
In this other bit of chicanery, the hon. Gentleman has been told to go away because the Government are happy to see this happen. I do not think any of the amendments will be discussed, and no doubt I shall be proved right.
Mr. Anderson : I know that my hon. Friend is always very understanding of Conservative Members. Having criticised the hon. Gentleman who withdrew his Weights and Measures Bill, will he pay tribute to the other side of the coin--the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), who must have been subjected to the same Government pressure but who has stood his ground? That, surely, is tremendously to his credit. Despite all the blandishments, the possible preferment, the greasy pole, the knighthoods-- whatever he may have been offered--the hon. Gentleman is determined to bring forward his Bill.
Mr. Cryer : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has been suggested several times that the Weights and Measures Bill has been withdrawn. So far that is only a rumour, but I wonder whether as a matter of courtesy to you--and hence to the House--the promoter has given formal notice of withdrawal? I raise the question as one who has taken the trouble to put down several amendments in the expectation of debating them. What action can you take, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if the Bill's Second Reading is not moved and the promoter has simply drifted off in contempt of the House?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I have received no formal notification. We may be indulging in speculation and feeding on rumour. We had better wait until we reach the relevant Bill and discover whether the promoter is here to move his motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) wanted me to compliment the hon. Member for Basingstoke on having stood his ground. I think that my hon. Friend should look beyond today. The hon. Member for Basingstoke is sat patiently with this Government Bill in his hand--well, a different Bill from the one that he had the other Friday--and I think that there is a possibility that he will be made a Whip. I have seen this happen before on a Friday. I have seen Conservative Members talk out a Bill and be promoted. I could name a few. They come into the Chamber late and talk Bills out ; the next minute they are in the Whips' Office. Whether that is a promotion is neither here nor there. Hon. Members may finish up bringing in the snooker cue once a month with a message from the Queen. Is that a better job? It is certainly better paid, but I would regard it as something of a hack's job. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Basingstoke is really after that sort of promotion, but no doubt he will get his due reward.
Mr. Cohen : I take my hon. Friend's point. The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) will, however, have to compete with the hon. Gentleman who should have moved the Second Reading of the Weights and Measures Bill. Perhaps he has drifted off because, like the Prime Minister, he did not know that a "large white" meant a loaf of bread. Surely that is why the Weights and Measures Bill should be considered--to ensure that a "large white" is a proper loaf of bread, not chalk, for instance.
Mr. Skinner : I do not know about the Prime Minister and the large white, but I know that when she used to serve in Alderman Roberts's shop in Grantham she was so keen on making a profit that she used to cut up the dolly mixtures to make sure that they were not over weight. Once someone gets down to that sort of thing we know that they are into making money. [ Hon. Members :-- She has been cutting ever since."] She certainly had a lot of practice then. People would come in for 2 oz of dolly mixtures and she would put them on the scales and if they were a bit over weight she would cut them in half.
When I went to Grantham I said to an old fellow there, "Do you remember her?" He said, "Oh aye, we all knew about Snobby Roberts." Of course, we are all fashioned in
Column 1192our childhood ; we are all products of our environment. If someone has spent her time behind a shop counter slicing the bacon so thin that people can see through it and cutting dolly mixtures in half, is it any wonder that when she becomes Prime Minister she is prepared to cut services? Is it any wonder that the NHS is under attack? Mind you, she is not cutting the money at Downing Street. It is costing more than £5 million a year to keep it going--more than for Buckingham Palace. That is why the Queen gets so upset. But I shall leave that subject altogether, Mr. Deputy Speaker ; I am more concerned about the constitutional propriety of changing "repeal" to "amend".
Mr. Ray Powell : My hon. Friend mentioned that the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) might be looking for promotion to the Whips' Office, and might be walking in with his billiard cue. He also mentioned the amount of time that the hon. Gentleman had spent on the Bill.
Earlier this week we heard about the amount of time that had been spent on other Bills--hours and hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), for instance, had spent 162 hours considering the Electricity Bill. How much time was spent on this Bill? Was it two minutes, one minute, three and a half minutes? That is how much time the hon. Member for Basingstoke, who is expecting a promotion to either the House of Lords or the Whips' Office, has spent on it.
Mr. Skinner : That is the kernel of the argument. My hon. Friends and I expected a proper explanation after Mr. Speaker had told us what had happened. We raised points of order because we could not believe what we were hearing--that two "verbal" amendments were to be discussed on Third Reading.
That is so unusual that I was wondering whether the Mace would have to be removed. I was not sure of the exact procedure, and wondered whether the Serjeant at Arms--or perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown)--would have to come and take the Mace away. [H on. Members : -- "Or Heseltine."] The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) would really be more appropriate, because he waved the Mace around his head. I thought that that might happen, because it happens when a Bill goes into Committee. It was an interesting little parliamentary scene for the connoisseur. I thought that because the Mace had not been taken away we were not in Committee and then I thought, "What cheek. The Government are amending a Bill that has never been debated in the House of Commons."
The hon. Member for Basingstoke who has promoted the Bill on behalf of the Government--we all know that that is what this is all about--was expected to explain, amid all the confusion, why suddenly a Bill to repeal the Clean Air Act is now a Bill to amend it. That can mean that it might improve it, whereas in the context of the ports Bill "repeal" means to destruct and to destroy. It was only to be expected that a full and proper explanation would be given, especially since there has not been discussion on this before. Well, we did not get much of an explanation
Column 1193was not prepared to put her foot in it. If somebody is to start making charges, the Minister does not want it on her doorstep. It would be better in Ridley's backyard rather than in hers-- [H on. Members :-- "What about planning permission?"] That is the position that we are in and it is a tidy old mess.
Mr. Ray Powell : My hon. Friend mentioned the Minister and perhaps he will recall that I was in full flight in my comments on the amendments but because I thought that the Minister would make a statement to solve our problems, I stopped-- [Interruption.] Obviously, the Minister would not have been able to do that in a point of order or an intervention. I stopped halfway through my speech. I still have my speech with me and there is at least one hour's contribution left. Although I gave way to the Minister, she did not resolve the problem or get us out of this dilemma and that is typical of the way in which the Government act towards Opposition Members--
Mr. Powell : However, what is coming out now is something even worse because we know that some of our hon. Friends have prepared for the next debate but have now found that that Bill is to be withdrawn because yet again the Government have decided-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Skinner : I was waiting to hear what the Minister would say in explanation and in answer to the many points that have been put forward. I knew that my hon. Friend had not dealt with everything because I remembered my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) asking him whether he had read the document on pollution control. It was a fairly weighty tomb-- no, tome. [Laughter.] Well, perhaps it should have been a tomb as well--a tomb to put the Government in.
I wondered why my hon. Friend was not speaking at length, or at least to some extent, about the document. I thought that my hon. Friend was anxious to hear the Minister explain the predicament caused by the Government which has landed on the shoulders of the hon. Member for Basingstoke. He is carrying the can. We have been able to remove part of that weight from his shoulders. It is true that he is acting in good old party fashion, but why should he carry all the blame? I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore had cut short his speech so that the Minister could rise to explain what had happened. However, she played it craftily--[ Hon. Members :-- "Oh, aye."] She said I want to reserve my comments for the Third Reading debate. She was cleverly trying to escape from explaining why the Government were pushing through a Bill via a Back Bencher, which is totally opposite to the Bill that went through the initial proceedings. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore bring his remarks to a close, but he did not get the answer that he expected.
Mrs. Dunwoody : Was it not worse than my hon. Friend has made out? The Minister said something revealing when she said, "If we are allowed to proceed without any further discussion to the Third Reading, I will make my remarks." What is happening with this Bill is what has happened with so many other Bills. Bills that look as if they are private Members' Bills are introduced, the Government having decided that they want them to go ahead. If we had not debated the amendments--as we are doing--then, and only then, would we have heard the Government's attitude.
Mr. Anderson : And worse, had we fallen for the stratagem of the Government and allowed the amendments through at this stage, surely the Government would have argued on Third Reading that there was a fait accompli and said, "After all, you agreed it." Is that not indicative of the serpentine way in which the Government are trying to move?
In passing, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and my Welsh hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) on playing the House of Commons role in this matter--
Mr. Skinner : I liked my hon. Friend's description, "the serpentine way". Perhaps he was trying to say that the Government are lower than a snake's belly. At least, I thought that that was roughly what he was trying to say, but I know that he is a lawyer and that they do things differently.
Before we go any further I want to put on record the fact that this is no longer a private member's day. That has been established beyond peradventure this morning--
Mr. Skinner : We thought that we were here to deal with private Members' business, but we have found out that this is really a Government Bill which has been shovelled towards a Back Bencher. Indeed, it was drawn up wrongly in the process. We also know that another private Member's Bill has been taken off the Order Paper--that is, if the Library authorities are correct.
I do not want anybody, especially the press, to suggest for one moment that there has been an attempt to scupper a prized private Members' day. What we have been doing this morning, and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, is stopping the Government in their tracks. Nobody should have any doubt any longer that this Friday is about private Members' business.
This has been one of the most obnoxious pieces of chicanery and conspiracy from the Government since they have been in power. Not content with having Monday to Thursday for getting through their own business, the Government have decided to use Friday as well. Let nobody say any different because we are not discussing Bills that were drawn out in the top six in the private Members' ballot. We are discussing Bills that have been slipped through with Government connivance. We should have no fears or worries about spoiling a private Member's
Column 1195day because this week the Government have collared Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and now Friday for their own business. The Prime Minister decides to go green. She wants a little green Bill to go through and she leaves it in the hands of the Secretary of State for the Environment. He produces a Bill that is upside down, so he passes it to a Tory Back Bencher. Then the Government do not have the guts to explain why confusion reigns.
Mr. Ray Powell : I owe my hon. Friend an apology. Earlier he suggested that this could have been arranged by the Whips' office. I have been a Whip. I was brought up in chapel, so I said that I did not suspect that the Whips on either side, or the usual channels, could be involved. That is why I made that comment, but I withdraw it and apologise, because my hon. Friend has proved beyond doubt that the Government and the Government Whips must have been involved in the process.
Mr. Skinner : The truth is that the Government Whips operate differently. My hon. Friend is a member of what I would call a loose federation in the Labour Whips' Office. When one is in the Government Whips' Office, however, one is a Minister and part of the collective responsibility, unless one is the Secretary of State for Wales. Then one does one's own thing. If one is a Government Whip, one has to toe the line. What happens is that one of those Whips comes along and says, "Pass the Bill down the line." There is always a pair of waiting hands in the gully or at third slip.
Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend makes a serious point about the Government taking all the business of the House to themselves and not giving any of it to Back Benchers. To refer to my hon. Friend's earlier analogy, would he describe the Prime Minister as having given up cutting the dolly mixtures? She now wants all the dolly mixtures in the parliamentary timetable for herself. To elaborate on that analogy, does my hon. Friend agree that it does not extend to the liquorice? Instead of cutting everything, she has given a lot to the wealthy. It does not apply to the all-sorts. The wealthy have got more from this Government.
Mr. Skinner : I just cannot see the Prime Minister in the role of "Hello, Dolly." She does not conjure up that image for me. I have said before that she does not conjure up for me, either, the image of being one of the greens--in an anorak and wellies and carrying a bowl of rice.
It is just as well that we sussed this out. It has been good for Parliament. We do not change a great deal here. Dramatic changes take place outside Parliament. Most Opposition Members believe that, but we have to use Parliament as a sounding board and for passing legislation when dramatic changes are effective. Since we are here, however, we have got to do a job.
This morning--albeit it is a small beginning--we have been able to explain quite vividly that Parliament is being hijacked. What is worse, the private Member's Bill day is being hijacked. People talk about filibustering. That never occurs here. We hear about hon. Members debating a private Member's Bill and preventing other hon. Members from getting their Bills through. That is not what has
Column 1196happened today. The Government had plans to get their own little Bill through, even though it came from a Department that got four other Government Bills wrong.
In the last few years the Department of the Environment has introduced Bills that had to be drastically changed. On at least two or three occasions it had to go to the law courts to get them changed as a result of action taken outside this place. On other occasions, the same Department had to introduce retrospective legislation to put right previous legislation. This is another example. On this occasion it said, "There won't be many there on Friday. We will slip it through on Back Benchers' day." That is what the game is all about.
Mr. Cryer : Does my hon. Friend recall that in her brief remarks the Minister claimed that local authorities had been consulted about the Bill? She said that there had been wide consultation. She claimed that hon. Members would have been involved in consultations with the local authorities in their constituencies. Is it not outrageous that, after the huge panoply of consultation that the Minister claimed had taken place, the Government should have produced a shoddy Bill such as this instead of adopting the proper procedure--a public Bill in Government time?
Mr. Skinner : We always hear about consultation. I find it rather strange that next Thursday we are to discuss procedure on some other Bills. Why are we to do that? Because over the years people have discovered that there is an inherent weakness in the way in which those Bills are proceeded with in the House in that the Government have gradually invaded what used to be private Bills. Those private Bills, which were generally of a very minor nature, have suddenly become much more political, and it has become so bad that next Thursday we are to debate changing the procedure for private Bills because the Government have allowed and have even encouraged the private Bill procedure to have a more overt political tone.
Mrs. Dunwoody : Does my hon. Friend agree that, certainly in transport Bills, the Government are using the private Bill procedure as an alternative means of getting planning permission? They are pushing through the House major Bills which are taking the place of normal planning procedure. They are getting them on the statute book to bring about what they could not achieve by using the agreed procedures.
Mr. Skinner : I must answer that because, although you have to guide us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a few of us were here this morning and we witnessed a parliamentary scene of confusion that we have not witnessed in all the years that we have been here and Mr. Speaker used words--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Let me disabuse the hon. Gentleman. I assure him that I have been here in spirit since 9.30 this morning, I have heard almost every word that has been said, and the Chair is indivisible in these matters.
Column 1197accept one person's point of view on any particular issue. From the explanations given by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore and others, it is pretty clear that there has been a conspiracy by the Government, on the Bill.
You have to sit in the Chair on many Fridays, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You also sit there from Mondays to Thursdays, and you expect a different argument on Fridays. But today it is the same argument. It is a Government Bill which has been produced by the Government and parcelled off to a Tory Back Bencher who has to take the flak. We are discussing specifically whether the amendments to replace "repeal" with "amend" are acceptable, and to reach a conclusion on that we have to find out why the word "repeal" was used in the first place. We have to find out where the murky trail began. We have discovered that it did not begin at Basingstoke. We found that it began in Downing street, in the Cabinet, and in the Department of the Environment. That is where the trail led us, and once we had discovered that we had every right to consider the amendments against the background of Government interference in a private Member's day. We have no alternative. We are now engaged in a battle against the Government and that is not normal practice on a Friday. Although I find it hard to take my Opposition hat off on any day, most of us try to consider Fridays in a different light. That is what we are doing here today and Opposition Members are fully apprised.
Ms. Quin : Is it not the case that by introducing amendments at this late stage the Government are avoiding the consultation that they should be having with the many interested parties? Is it not also the case that, by introducing a Bill in this way, they are avoiding consultations which would be of great value to both sides of the House?
Mr. Skinner : A properly drawn up Bill dealing with the environment including these measures, would be supported. Such a Bill should be drawn up after proper consultation with local authorities--not the type of consultation that the dockers have had--and with hon. Members. In this age, more and more people are concerned about the environment and everyone knows that we cannot patch the hole in the ozone layer by using some sort of Tebbit-like entrepreneur. We cannot clean up the environment by allowing market forces to proliferate. Imagine saying to somebody, "We've a hole in the ozone layer and we are leaving it to an entrepreneur on an enterprise allowance to patch it up." It is nonsense.
We all know that if the environment is to be cleaned up, it has to be done by collective action. Once we start talking about collective action, we are talking about society, and that is a word that the Prime Minister does not like. Only people who are prepared to back philosophically collective action can sort out the problems surrounding the amendments. It cannot be done by the operation of market forces. I can see the twinkle in the eyes of many of my hon. Friends now that we have moved into this territory.
Mr. Ray Powell : We should be considering what the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) will say about all the comments that have been made on this issue. What part has he played in the conspiracy? When he walked down Whitehall to obtain his instructions, was he told, "You will be all right because we will not reach the second or third Bill on the Order Paper"? If that is the case, all the
Column 1198preparation for the debates on the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill and the Sunday Trading (Reform) Bill will be wasted. By the time the hon. Member for Basingstoke gives the House his explanation there will be no time left.
All that is engendered by a Government conspiracy against us and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, it is taking place on a private Member's day. It will affect Bills other than those on the Order Paper today. Some hon. Members have sat up all night preparing for the introduction of a Bill under the ten minute rule. They have now found out that if the Government want something, they conspire to ensure that an hon. Member will obtain it for them, but when they do not want something they are prepared to stop private Members' Bills. That is what we should be looking at.
Mr. Skinner : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is worth saying that later today the Elimination of Poverty in Retirement Bill will be moved. I offer a challenge now to the Government : when the Bill is moved at 2.30 pm, do not object to it. If they believe in looking after old-age pensioners by giving them proper aid and assistance, they should not object to the Bill. If they can destroy a private Member's day by bringing forward their own considerations, they should not stop Bills of that nature. Hon. Members have queued up to obtain an opportunity to introduce a Bill under the ten-minute rule. Why were verbal amendments moved? Why did the amendments arrive only this morning? As the Bill passed its previous stages several Fridays ago--you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may have been in the Chair when that happened--why was it not revealed that the Bill had been given the wrong title? Three or four weeks is a long time for legislation. The Government could have said, "Do you know what we have done? We have given the Bill the wrong title. Instead of giving it a title to amend the Clean Air Act, we have given it a title to repeal it." 12.45 pm
Three or four weeks have elapsed, yet nothing has happened, which means that the mistake was not spotted by civil servants. Let us assume that civil servants knew and that, rather like "Yes, Minister", Sir Humphrey or his equivalent said, "Hallo, hallo, hallo, look at this lot. The Bill will repeal the Clean Air Act instead of amending it. I said that it should be amended before I told you to find an hon. Member who would introduce it." Let us assume that Sir Humphrey or his counterpart said to the Secretary of State for the Environment, "Here is a good Bill. It has a green image and will be like a glow-worm in Downing Street. It will show that the Prime Minister means business."
I think that I know what went wrong in those four weeks. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) hinted at the answer at 9.40 am. I think that the Government were aware of the mistake but hoped that it would escape attention, as it did on the first occasion. They thought, "We have made a mess of this and we will probably place the Chair in a predicament", which was the case when Mr. Speaker had to make a statement about the new 18-year development. They thought that they would slide the Bill through and get on to the next one.
Mr. Skinner : Normally, we see civil servants shuffling papers back and forth to the Minister. I have been here all morning, but I have not seen any paper going back and forth. Labour Members have asked many questions and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich raised several constitutional matters. One would have thought that if what we were saying was untrue a little bit of paper would have come from the Box.