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Dock Work Bill (Allocation of Time)

3.31 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill :--

Committee 1. The proceedings on the Bill in the Standing Committee to which the Bill is allocated shall be brought to a conclusion at or before 1 p.m. on 18th May 1989, and the Standing Committee shall report the Bill to the House, on or before that day. Report and Third Reading 2.--(1) The proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in one allotted day and shall be brought to a conclusion at midnight on that day ; and for the purposes of Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee) this Order shall be taken to allot to the proceedings on consideration such part of that day as the Resolution of the Business Committee may determine.

(2) The Business Committee shall report to the House its Resolutions as to the proceedings on consideration of the Bill, and as to the allocation of time between those proceedings and proceedings on Third Reading, not later than the third day on which the House sits after the day on which the Chairman of the Standing Committee reports the Bill to the House.

(3) The Resolutions in any report made under Standing Order No. 80 may be varied by a further Report so made, whether or not within the time specified in sub-paragraph (2) above, and whether or not the Resolutions have been agreed to by the House.

(4) The Resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in the order in which proceedings on consideration of the Bill are taken.

Procedure in Standing Committee 3.--(1) At a sitting of the Standing Committee at which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion under a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee the Chairman shall not adjourn the Committee under any Order relating to the sittings of the Committee until the proceedings have been brought to a conclusion.

(2) No Motion shall be made in the Standing Committee relating to the sitting of the Committee except by a member of the Government, and the Chairman shall permit a brief explanatory statement from the Member who makes, and from a Member who opposes, the Motion, and shall then put the Question thereon.

4. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which Clauses, Schedules, new Clauses and new Schedules are taken in the Standing Committee but the Resolutions of the Business Sub-Committee may include alterations in that order.

Conclusions of proceedings in Committee 5. On the conclusion of the proceedings in any Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question. Dilatory Motions 6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, proceedings on the Bill shall be made in the Standing Committee or on an allotted day except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith. Extra time on allotted days 7.--(1) On an allotted day paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for two hours after Ten o'clock.

(2) Any period during which proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to the said period of two hours.

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(3) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings upon that Motion shall be added to the said period of two hours. Private business 8. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of those proceedings.

Conclusion of proceedings 9.--(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or the Business Sub-Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)--

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair ;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including, in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill) ;

(c) the Question on any amendment or Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment is moved or Motion is made by a member of the Government ;

(d) and other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded ;

and on a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(3) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock--

(a) that Motion shall stand over until the conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time ;

(b) the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.

(4) If the allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.

Supplemental orders 10.--(1) The proceedings on any Motion made in the House by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.

(2) If on an allotted day on which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee the

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House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

Saving 11. Nothing in this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee shall--

(a) prevent any proceedings to which the Order or Resolution applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by the Order or Resolution ; or

(b) prevent any business (whether on the Bill or not) from being proceeded with on any day after the completion of all such proceedings on the Bill as are to be taken on that day.

Reccommittal 12.--(1) References in this Order to proceedings on consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings, at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of, reccommittal.

(2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to recommit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.

Interpretation 13. In this Order--

"allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day or is set down for consideration on that day ;

"the Bill" means the Dock Work Bill ;

"Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee ; "Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.

The House will be familiar with the simple aim of the Dock Work Bill--to bring the national dock labour scheme to an end quickly, but in an orderly fashion and with continued special provision for dock workers' severance. There are many arguments in favour of abolishing the scheme--including the desirability of ending restrictive practices and reducing the burden that they impose on the taxpayer--but the most potent, in my view, is that the scheme will ensure a better future for the ports industry in this country, and a better future for those working within the industry.

I recognise, of course, that the Labour party does not agree with that view, and that even if I possessed the persuasive powers of Socrates I should probably still not succeed in diverting its members from their chosen path. The merits of the measure, however, are not the central issue in this debate. We are concerned this afternoon with whether or not to establish a timetable for the consideration of the Bill in Committee and when it returns to the Floor of the House.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Will the Leader of the House answer a question to which I have been trying to find an answer ever since the White Paper was published? All parliamentary questions and all correspondence with the Secretary of State for Employment made it clear that the Government had no plans to abolish the national dock labour scheme in this Parliament. Why have they suddenly changed their mind?

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Mr. Wakeham : I do not think that that statement is correct. I remember answering many questions from this Dispatch Box, and I have no doubt that I consulted my right hon. Friend before we said that we had no plans "at present" to abolish the scheme. We then made a statement and proceeded from that date. I do not think that we completely ruled out such action at any time. The Bill was brought in in a perfectly proper fashion.

The arguments for a sensible timetable are compelling. The Labour party is on record as being committed to resisting the Bill by all means at its disposal. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said so on Second Reading, and his hon. Friends have said as much in Committee. We do not have to look far to see what those means will be. What action they are or are not taking outside Parliament is not a matter for this motion, but inside Parliament the Official Opposition's hand was revealed during the first sitting of the Committee, when the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said :

"It may sound naughty and public opinion may be a little shocked, but all we can do is delay the legislation."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A, 25 April 1989 ; c. 24.]

The hon. Gentleman has certainly commenced his attempt to do so. During one of his two-hour speeches, I noticed that he was brought to order no fewer than 10 times by the Chairman as he sought to widen the debate to include the reasons why he had not turned up to a previous sitting, the education of members of the Committee, his inability to spell the word "chasuble", television crews' visits to Rotterdam, dock workers' dinners, and component assembly work. He spoke about almost everything except the amendments in question. It is as well for the hon. Member that he obeyed, for a few seconds at least, the Chairman's injunction to

"return to the amendments -- or else."

His hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) did not do quite so well. He was brought to order by the Chair for tedious repetition a mere nine times in one of his speeches. The philosophy behind these tactics was expressed in typically disarming fashion by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. He said,

"We are saying, Hang on a minute, mate. Don't rush it.' " and

"We shall be in power shortly."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A, 2 May 1989 ; c. 137-150.]

My colleagues and I on this side of the House are unwilling to wait so long to make progress with the Bill. I think that the best way forward to enable the Bill to be discussed in a sensible and balanced manner is thus to pass a timetable motion at this stage of the Committee proceedings. The Committee has now sat for 29 hours. My motion today would allow it to sit for at least another 30. For what the Opposition have repeatedly referred to as a one-clause Bill, that is a very generous amount of time. In addition, there will be a full day until midnight for the remaining stages.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West) : Is there any precedent for the imposition of the guillotine after 29 hours, except for the consideration of Bills by a Committee of the whole House?

Mr. Wakeham : There were certainly guillotines immediately after Second Readings of the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill. They were introduced by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can argue his case later. The right

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hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent has said on a number of occasions in this House that there is always a first time for everything.

Mr. Meacher : And that is now.

Mr. Wakeham : This is a one-clause Bill. The timetable motion will allow plenty of time to debate it.

In the debate last week on the timetable motion for the Self-Governing Schools etc., (Scotland) Bill, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) accused me of celebrating the 200th anniversary of the French revolution by dressing up as Madame Defarge and guillotining everything in sight. However, he has an inaccurate sense of historical analogy. I am surprised that the hon. Member did not know that the relevant anniversary is the 150th birthday of Bradshaw's railway timetable, first published in 1839. It is this difference between the guillotine and the timetable which the Opposition do not or pretend not to understand.

The guillotine, as operated by their right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent during his version of the Terror, was designed to cut short debate in its prime. My timetable motions, introduced for the most part at an earlier stage, aim to ensure satisfactory scrutiny of the whole Bill. In deciding whether to move such motions, I have in mind the views of the Procedure Committee report in the last Parliament : that the introduction of a timetable motion too late in the Committee stage can lead to inadequate consideration of a Bill's later clauses. In the debate on procedure last November, I said that, while I preferred to proceed on the basis of agreement wherever possible, and this in the majority of cases, I shared the desire of the Committee to move towards timetable motions, where they are necessary, at a time which allows for properly apportioned consideration.

In the timetable motion debate the other night, I was glad to receive support for this concept from the Social and Liberal Democratic party, in a thoughtful speech by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). My approach, therefore, is based on a considered timetable for, rather than guillotining of, debate : George Bradshaw rather than Madame Defarge.

The Dock Work Bill is undoubtedly controversial, and I regret that this controversy makes it difficult to reach informal agreement with the Opposition on the Bill's progress. Judging by the reports of the Committee stage that I have read, the Opposition have not exactly been short of time in which to make their points, and, indeed, have been spinning things out for as long as possible.

I hope that the motion that I am moving this afternoon will, by establishing a definite though distant time for debate to finish, concentrate minds and ensure proper scrutiny of this worthwhile and beneficial measure. I commend the motion to the House.

3.40 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : I do not want to get into lengthy disputes with the Leader of the House about historical analogies, but it might be worth putting on record the fact that we shall not be able to celebrate the anniversary of the guillotine for another three years, because I believe that it came into operation in 1792. If everyone were given their credit, the guillotine would not be so called because, using an anachronistic method of putting things out to tender, after M. Guillotine had

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proposed the idea, the revolutionary French put it out to tender and the guillotine was built by a German called Schmidt. Perhaps we should be discussing a Schmidt motion today, but I shall not do that, because it will confuse those who do not understand.

This is the 11th guillotine motion that has been moved by the Leader of the House since he was replaced as Government Chief Whip and given the job of upholding the rights and privileges of the House. Each time that he speaks on guillotine motions he gives different justifications, which boil down to a restatement of Wakeham's law--"When debate becomes embarrassing to the Government, I use our majority of 100 to stifle it." That is what he intends to do with this Bill.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson : Certainly not at the moment.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Give way.

Mr. Dobson : I said that I will not give way at the moment. I will do so in a minute or two.

The rush to curtail debate on the Dock Work Bill is all of a piece with its sudden and unheralded appearance on the parliamentary agenda. In January this year, the Prime Minister confirmed that she did not propose to abolish the dock labour scheme. The

Under-Secretary of State for Employment said that the Government had "no plans to change or abolish it."--[ Official Report, 14 March 1989 ; Vol. 149, c. 276.]

On 20 March, when pressed to abolish the scheme by the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), the Secretary of State referred him to the Prime Minister's answer in January.

Out of the blue, on 6 April the Secretary of State announced that the dock labour scheme was to be abolished. In an attempt to justify this peculiar timing, he talked of

"an emerging consensus that the scheme should go."--[ Official Report, 6 April 1989 ; Vol. 150, c. 345.]

It was a strange emerging consensus, because unless the Secretary of State was lying on 20 March--I am sure that he was not--until that date the consensus appeared to exclude him and the Prime Minister. Few things in nature have a life cycle as short as this rather peculiar emerging consensus. The only example of which I can think is the emergence of a blowfly from a decaying carcase, which takes from two to three weeks depending on how warm things are getting, which is significant in itself.

Everyone knows that the Bill was introduced in the hope that it would provoke a strike, which the Government believed would make the Labour party unpopular and, at the same time, make it possible for the Government to blame someone else for the worsening trade figures. That is why it was rushed forward. If the Secretary of State wishes to dispute what I am saying, I challenge him to make public every document and record of discussions between Ministers, civil servants, port employers and shippers over the past six months. If he fails to do so, it will be because he knows that the publication of that evidence will incriminate him.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Perhaps my hon. Friend should also ask that the menus of the lunches between the port employers and Conservative Members be

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placed on record. They were large and expensive lunches. On this occasion, the port employers must have felt that they had invested their money most wisely.

Mr. Dobson : It seems quite possible that they made what they considered to be a wise investment, although there are other investments that would be wiser.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's arguments about a dock strike, which were also put forward by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) in Committee. Can he explain to the House why he believes that a national dock strike, which would lead to imports being held up until the end of the strike and then flooding in, but which would, at the same time, damage our long-term export potential, would help the balance of payments? How can he believe that to be good economics? Perhaps this is the economics of the Socialist madhouse, but it is not the economics of the real world.

Mr. Dobson : Nothing the dockers do could do as much harm to Britain's balance of trade and balance of payments as the combined efforts of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister. However, any interruption through industrial action would mean that the Government would be able to cast further doubts--I say "further doubts" deliberately--on the accuracy of the trade figures, which the Government are already calling into question now that they have become an embarrassment.

The announcement was geared to the Vale of Glamorgan by-election. Barry, the biggest town in the constituency, is a scheme port and from the word go, the Tories made every effort to turn the dock labour scheme into an issue on the door-step. The Tory candidate tried repeatedly to breathe life into this artificial issue. If any Conservative Members doubt that, they should read the Western Mail for 8 April, which said that the issue had enabled the Tory candidate to bring an end to the phoney way and start the campaign. At early Labour press conferences, each newly arrived Tory newspaper reporter could be relied on to raise the issue. But look what happened : the people of the Vale saw through the Tory contrivance, and the swing to Labour was the biggest since even before the dock labour scheme was introduced, which was a long time ago.

The reasons the Government give for abolishing the scheme do not bear close scrutiny, which is why they want to curtail the debate. They assert that some scheme ports have lost passengers and cargo. Some have, but that has little or nothing to do with the dock labour scheme. Most of the difference results from technological changes, shifting patterns of trade and the introduction of bulk carriers and containerisation. There are other reasons apart from technological changes in the docks. Most of the passengers who once sailed in and out of Liverpool and Southampton now fly in and out of Heathrow and Gatwick. Some goods that used to go by sea are now air freighted. Who would have believed, 25 years ago, that the economics of flying would eventually have permitted the air freighting of such a common cargo as potatoes?

There has also been a shift in the direction of our trade towards Europe, so that ports in the south-east have tended to do well--whether new, non- scheme ports such as

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Felixstowe, old, non-scheme ports such as Dover or previously small, old scheme ports such as Ipswich. The increase in traffic since 1982 in the non-scheme ports has been matched by that in the scheme ports. Major investment is planned or under way in such scheme ports as Immingham, Southampton, Bristol, King's Lynn, Goole, Hull, Ayr, Swansea, Newport and Tilbury. Most of the investment required has been made by opponents of the dock labour scheme who, unlike the Government, have not been taken in by their own propaganda. Their actions have cast doubt on their assertions that the scheme ports cannot compete with non-scheme ports.

The Government's arguments in the House have themselves been contradictory. The Secretary of State for Employment talked about the scheme providing "jobs for life". In the same speech he said : "Jobs have gone and long lines of workers have volunteered to leave the industry altogether."--[ Official Report, 17 April 1989 ; Vol. 151, c. 43-44.]

Both those statements cannot be right, and most people realise that the second assertion is much nearer the truth than the first. What of the remaining scheme dockers--those whose main fear is a loss of reasonable job security and a return to casual working instead of regular guaranteed work? By its very nature, demand for dock work can fluctuate from day to day. The Government want the dock workers to bear the brunt of that fluctuation, and some of the Government's supporters think that dock workers should get paid only when they are loading or unloading ships. Why should dock workers be different from anyone else? Soldiers are not paid only when there is a war, or MPs only when they are voting. Parliamentary correspondents do not get paid only when they are sitting in the Press Gallery ; if they did, many of them would have their money stopped at this moment. Industrial correspondents are paid even when there are no disputes and when their newspaper contains no stories of disputes. Both the Government and the employers say that they do not intend to reintroduce casual working in the scheme ports. If the employers mean what they say, they should negotiate with the Transport and General Workers Union to reach a binding agreement not to introduce casual working. If the Government mean what they say, they should pass a law to guarantee just that. To provide statutory backing for regular working would make no difference if the port employers are telling the truth ; such legislation would come into operation only if it turned out that the employers had been lying. The Secretary of State should show some confidence in the good faith of his friends, the port employers.

The port employers are, indeed, the good friends of the Tory party and, to be fair, the Tories have been good friends to the port employers. That is only in accordance with the Tory maxim that a friend who gives £100,000 to party funds is a friend indeed.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how friendly the Labour party is with the Transport and General Workers Union--the union that supports the dockers? How much has the TGWU given the Labour party to oppose the measure?

Mr. Dobson : As everybody knows, the TGWU gives substantial sums to sustain the Labour party. It is worth remembering that the union is there to represent the dockers, not to tell them what to do. We should remember

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the basic democratic arrangements in the trade unions--different from the rather undemocratic arrangements surrounding some of the port employers. The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, which is part of P and O--the owners of the Herald of Free Enterprise, who have still to be prosecuted--in effect bought planning permission from the Tory party for further development at Felixstowe. To get the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill through the House, the Prime Minister stayed up half the night and the Government sacrificed a whole day of Government business.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow) : They had a champagne party.

Mr. Dobson : As my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) says, they had a champagne party to help sustain the weaker brethren through the long watches of the night. Similar Tory help has been given to Associated British Ports, to help it to promote some if its Bills. At the time, some of my colleagues asked whether there was no end to this dubious Government's dubious help for the port employers. The answer appears to be no. The Bill is unique ; it quite reverses the usual role of an Employment Minister. Previous holders of the post have seen it as their job to promote good industrial relations and to keep disputes to a minimum, and have introduced measures which they believed, rightly or wrongly, would achieve that.

The Dock Work Bill is different. It is intended to do quite the reverse--to provoke an industrial dispute. If not, why was there no consultation? Take the proposed reform of the legal profession. In response to threatened industrial action, the judges got their consultation period extended. That happened after a long debate in the House of Lords, where they really do have jobs for life. In his discussions about the future of the National Health Service, the Secretary of State for Health has occasionally behaved as though he thought he was dealing with dockers rather than doctors but it seems that his recent personal and party experiences in Vale of Glamorgan have weakened his resolve.

Now it is only the scheme workers who are being treated like the loyal workers at GCHQ and told without warning that their rights are being taken away. This Bill has been introduced not in the interests of the country or even in the interests of the ports industry--it has certainly not been introduced in the interests of the port workers--but in what the Government wrongly believe will be the short-term interest of the Tory party. It is seen by it as a piece of news management, not something which affects the lives of dock workers and their families.

The timing of this guillotine was intended as another piece of news management, but it has gone wrong. Today was originally to have been devoted to a debate on the Finance Bill. That was changed. This guillotine debate was planned so that it would coincide with the tube strike which the Government believed would occur today, so, at one and the same time, industrial strife would have been the topic both in and out of Parliament. Alas for the Government, in Burns' immortal words

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men

Gang aft a-gley."

No doubt with unintended irony, London Regional Transport has upset the Government's timing of the debate by using the Government's own industrial relation laws to stop a tube strike starting today. Things are getting bad. Even Bernard Ingham appears to be losing his grip.

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If Ministers and the Leader of the House challenge what I say, will the Leader of the House explain why this guillotine motion was suddenly brought forward and why it became more important than the Finance Bill, and the debate later this week on the future of the National Health Service? From experience, we have come to know that everything that now takes place in this House is geared to news management to maximise what the Government believe will be political benefits for the Tory party.

The Government should abandon this guillotine and withdraw the Bill. If they are really interested in the future of the ports industry, they should bring employers and employees together to work out a future for the docks industry that enables it to modernise and expand and, at the same time, meet the legitimate wishes of dock workers for secure and regular work. All hon. Members have relatively secure and regular work. We should not wish to reduce the working conditions of others who are worse off than ourselves, as a bit of party political spite and news management. That is why Opposition Members oppose the guillotine today.

3.57 pm

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