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Hinchliffe, David

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Lofthouse, Geoffrey

Mahon, Mrs Alice

Meale, Alan

Nellist, Dave

Pike, Peter L.

Skinner, Dennis

Spearing, Nigel

Vaz, Keith

Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)

Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)

Wray, Jimmy

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Harry Barnes and

Mr. Eric Illsley.

Question accordingly agreed to.

12 midnight

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I beg to move, That further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned.

With permission I shall couple that with a short statement about changes in the business announced for this week :

Thursday-- 26 October----Timetable motion on the Companies Bill [Lords] and Children Bill [Lords].

Followed by completion of remaining stages of the Companies Bill [Lords].

Friday-- 27 October----Ways and means resolution relating to the Football Spectators Bill [Lords].

Followed by completion of remaining stages of the Children Bill [Lords].

That should provide for the House time to consider the Bills that are now before it, which I have identified, comparable in scale to the time visualised in the arrangements made through the usual channels and will ensure that the business is handled expeditiously in the remainder of the week.

Mr. Cryer : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House has used the opportunity of moving the adjournment of the debate to make a business statement. Surely it would be the proper procedure to have questions on the business statement, as is the usual case, to disentangle the business statement from the justification for moving the adjournment of the present Bill. The Leader of the House did not actually move the adjournment of the debate. Therefore, I believe that we should be given the opportunity to ask business questions about the guillotine motions.

Madam Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman knows, and I should remind the House, that the motion is debatable.

Mr. Skinner : In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) I want to object as this is the first time that I have heard a Leader of the House move the adjournment of a debate and, at the same time, indicate a change in the business by introducing a guillotine.

I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is new to the job, that he has not been around a great deal and that he has a lot of trouble with the Prime Minister. He should explain, however, where in "Erskine May" this practice is allowed. I note that the Clerk is having a word with Madam Deputy Speaker and I suppose that he is trying to square it for the Leader of the House.

This is an indication of the way in which the Government have got their business into a shambles [Interruption.]

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Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I must hear the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Mr. Skinner : Here we have a Government with a 150 majority--

Hon. Members : At the next election.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order.

Mr. Skinner : If I can just correct the lager louts who have come straight from the Bar--mind you, it is not only lager.

The Government have a majority over the Labour party of approximately 150 hon. Members. I do not count the rag, tag and bobtails. I just subtract the number of Labour Members from the number of Conservatives because tonight, for example, the Liberals--or whatever they call themselves--have not been voting with us ; they have been voting with the Government. That means that the Government majority has been even greater than 150. So the Government have a majority of 150 over the Labour party, but in the Lobbies, on the last two or three votes, the Government have been able to muster only 120- odd hon. Members--and that includes my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) who, on occasions, goes into the Tory Lobby to try to confuse them--at least, that is what he tells me.

We have a Government with a massive majority but at the fag end of a Session they cannot get 150 hon. Members into the Lobby to get their business through. It is not the job of a Labour Opposition to get more than 20 or 30 hon. Members in our Lobby. It is the job of the Labour Opposition to make sure that we occupy Government time, especially when the Government are up against the wall at the end of a parliamentary Session. It is indicative of this state of affairs that the Leader of the House had had to come to the House to introduce two guillotine motions at five past 12 in the morning for two Bills, each of which has several hundred amendments. There is something wrong with a Government who have two Bills--with 400 amendments on one, and about 800 on the other--who do not know whether they are on this earth or Fullers. That shows not only that the Government are in a shambles, but that the Cabinet are beginning to lose their grip on the House--

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to contemplate the fact that in another place the Government have introduced more than 400 amendments to the Local Government and Housing Bill which at some time will no doubt have to come back to this House.

Mr. Skinner : What can you expect? On the one hand, the Prime Minister is gallivanting around the world. She does not know what is happening in this place. She just flits in, has a photo opportunity outside, and is then off to Japan and Kuala Lumpur. She is falling out with the Commonwealth, and the Front Bench are getting the business cocked up. What does the hon. Gentleman expect? I am not surprised that the Government are in this shambles, but I should like to know what will happen when she comes back. I should like to be a fly on the wall at the Cabinet meeting tomorrow morning when she says, "What the hell's going on? I've been holding things up out there in Kuala Lumpur against 48 other Ministers, but this lot have been allowing 20-odd Labour members to run

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rings round the Government and keep the House sitting until the middle of the night, losing Bills left right and centre."

Mr. Campbell-Savours : The Prime Minister has sacked the Leader of the House once.

Mr. Skinner : Yes, she did sack him--and she took his house off him and gave it to the Foreign Secretary, a man with some kids ; then the Leader of the House complained because he wanted a mansion, so she kicked the Chancellor of the Exchequer out of his house--he has kids--and put in a man without any kids. The Government really have got themselves into a mess in the past few months.

So I am pleased that Labour is 26 points ahead in the polls. All this disarray started when I became chairman of the Labour party. We were six points behind in the polls when I took over the chairmanship at the back end of 1988 and by the time I have finished we are 26 points in front. Some people are suggesting that I should carry on, but I do not believe in patronage. I believe in the system of elections. I have done my stint and am happy to look at the Government Front Bench--incidentally, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is now here. He had the job of selling water privatisation and the poll tax. According to all the communique s from Bernard Ingham--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman makes amusing speeches, but I am sure that he will keep to the terms of the motion before us.

Mr. Skinner : I am trying to say that the Government have lost their way. They had the reshuffle to try to present a different image, so they shifted the right hon. Gentleman to the Department of Trade and Industry. He could not sell water privatisation and the poll tax, and now he has to sell £20 billion worth of goods abroad. That shows the disarray in the Cabinet.

Yesterday, the Chancellor spoke, and about two Cabinet Ministers turned up to hear him. Is it any wonder that Members were saying in the Lobbies tonight that they would not stop here to carry the Companies Bill through? If Ministers, they said, did not turn up for major debates, why should they turn up and vote for them in the Lobbies? That shows that the Government are now at the tether end. I hope that we shall have the opportunity to vote against the guillotine tomorrow, to show that we are going to fight the Government to the bitter end. I hope, too, that the Government will have the sense to pull off the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill-- [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that that is not part of the motion, to which I refer him.

Mr. Skinner : The Leader of the House made a business statement, and if I had asked him a question--as opposed to taking part in this debate--I would have told him that now that he is changing the business for Thursday and Friday I could legitimately ask him to get rid of that so-called private Bill. It is a political Bill which will allow 15 million tonnes of coal to be imported to Britain at a time when we have a £20 billion balance of payments problem.

It is legitimate to say this in this debate because it is partly a business motion. The private Bill should be

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withdrawn. It is just conceivable--although I cannot guarantee it--that if the Bill is withdrawn, we might get to the end of the parliamentary Session with less fuss and bother. If 15 million tonnes of coal are to be brought here through these ports, they will add to the massive balance of payments problem.

I suggest that, in these last few weeks of the Session, the Leader of the House consult Back Benchers, as the last Leader of the House did. He met us in July in the Leader's room. We had a nice little discussion about the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. It is important that other hon. Members know that. The Government decided to take the Bill off in July, using various methods of getting rid of it. It is legitimate to suggest that the new Leader of the House get rid of it altogether. Why should there be a carry-over motion for the Bill? It was flawed. Not only did the Chairman--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I have called the hon. Gentleman to order now on more than one occasion. He knows our procedures. I refer him to our Standing Orders--to Standing Order No. 33, to be precise, which lays down that he can debate only what is in the motion before us. The hon. Gentleman is a clever parliamentarian, and I hope that he will now return to the motion.

Mr. Skinner : As I said earlier, that would have applied had the Leader of the House only moved the adjournment of the debate. But he did not. He came here with a hybrid motion which included a business statement and a motion to adjourn proceedings on the Companies Bill. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the authorities in the House, heard it all. It was a remarkable proposition--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. Certainly the procedure on the two Bills to which the Leader of the House referred are open for debate.

Mr. Skinner : Of course they are. When the Leader of the House makes a business statement, anyone can stand up and, if called by the Speaker, ask why certain other matters should not be dealt with in the statement. It is legitimate for any hon. Member to raise any subject he or she likes. I am saying that, in view of the two guillotines that are being proposed, the Leader of the House should follow the example of his predecessor--the present Secretary of State for Energy--and consider the proposition that we should get rid of that Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill so that we can proceed.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I have referred the hon. Gentleman to our Standing Orders. I refer him to Standing Order No. 33, which is very germane to this debate. He can of course refer to the business that the Leader of the House has referred to, which are the two Bills, the Companies Bill and the Children Bill.

12.15 am

Mr. Skinner : As a matter of fact, the Children Bill, although it has been referred to, was not a matter for us. I came in here last night and listened to a very good debate on that Bill. About 10 hon. Members on both sides of the House took part. There were several of my hon. Friends who had served on the Standing Committee, and two or three Tories joined in. One or two Tories made comments on points of order today, but they had gone to bed, so they did not know what had happened.

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A lot of Opposition Members are quite happy with the Children Bill and how it is being dealt with. We do not believe in guillotines and would much prefer it if it were dealt with properly, but nobody should assume that we can lump the Children Bill and the Companies Bill together. The Companies Bill is all about fraud and how to tighten up on it.

I said earlier that we ought to be discussing the fraud involving Ferranti. Now that we are to have a guillotine on the debate on the Companies Bill, it is conceivable that some of my hon. Friends will not have an opportunity to talk about the massive fraud that has taken place. We shall not be able to talk about that company of which Edward du Cann was a non-executive director.

Mr. Cryer : Tell us what happened.

Mr. Skinner : He ran away. Just before a certain housing company went to the wall, Edward du Cann decided to pack in as a non-executive director saying, "I think there is summat smelly here. I've been taking the money all this time, but now it looks as if it is going down the pan, I am getting out of the way."

If debates on the Companies Bill were not guillotined, it would be a good idea for hon. Members to talk about that issue. Why can non-executive directors leave firms in a hurry like that and leave someone else holding the baby, because that is roughly what happened?

I do not think that we shall be able to discuss the Ferranti issue properly if there is a guillotine. Ferranti got into bed with this company called ISC and a fellow called James Guerin. He was a funny sort of fellow. They could not find him for a while. It is known that, by and large, Ferranti gets its money from the British taxpayer because it has large defence contracts. The auditors' inspection of the books could have been debated in the debate on the Companies Bill if there had not been a guillotine. The auditors obviously did not know what they were doing. The Companies Bill is designed to get auditors to look at these things properly.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : What happened?

Mr. Skinner : With Ferranti, the auditors examined the company and said, "Oh, it's all right. You can join forces with ISC. They are clean." It turned out that ISC was guilty of about a £200 million fraud. Imagine if it had been someone on social security. There are people in Britain who are locked up in gaol because they have been found guilty of a minor social security fraud, yet somehow the fraud squad has not got round to dealing properly with this matter. If there is a guillotine, it will be difficult to deal with issues concerning fraud in the City and elsewhere. That is why I think that some of my hon. Friends may want to speak in this short debate--they may want to reveal some of the details before the guillotine falls tomorrow.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : What about clause 72?

Mr. Skinner : Indeed. There is just a chance that, under the guillotine, debate on clause 72 will not be reached. The chopper will fall.

The Government have run out of steam and the Cabinet is in total disarray. At the end of the Session the Government have piled up 400 amendments to the Children Bill and 800 amendments to the Companies Bill. They have lost their way. They cannot keep their troops

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here at night. They were down to 120 hon. Members at 12 o'clock and that is the sign of a Government in retreat. I am pleased about that, but people outside the House should know. For those reasons I hope that--

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Has my hon. Friend seen clause 67 which deals with investigations into insider dealing? The debate may be curtailed on that matter.

Mr. Skinner : We may not be able to deal with that so perhaps we should mention it now. Is that clause about Alan Walters? The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that he is the man doing the insider dealing at No. 10. The Chancellor has a connecting door to No. 10, but he cannot get in because Alan Walters has locked it. We should be able to discuss such matters, but we will probably not be able to because of the guillotine motion.

We will not be able to deal with Guinness. However, to be fair, the Guinness issue is now before the courts and is what we call in Latin, sub judice. Therefore, I will not discuss it now. However, as I have said, we will not be able to discuss Alan Walters, his position on the EMS and his role in the conflict between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I do not know who will go first, the Prime Minister or the Chancellor. I know that many of my hon. Friends do not agree with my view, but I have money on the fact that the Prime Minister will not lead the Tory party in the next general election. Some people laughed at me when I said that on the radio 12 months ago. However, as a result of the problems with Alan Walters, the insider-dealing man, more people think it is a decent bet. They are asking me to lay off some of my money so that they can get a slice of it. It is a toss up who will go first.

There are people within the Establishment who would like an extended debate on the Companies Bill. Those people are now saying that it is time for the Prime Minister to go. We have only to read some of the posh newspapers to see that. They are suggesting that the Prime Minister is at the tether end of her term of office. My guess is that the Prime Minister might suffer a diplomatic illness during the next parliamentary Session and that will be the end of it. If that happens, in will come the Leader of the House. He will not be moving guillotine motions then because he will be hoping that somebody else will do that for him. However, there is another bloke in the running, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). We cannot rule out the possibility of a ballot in November. Traditionally, the Tory party can have a ballot in November but we do not get a vote.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman once again that he must make his comments germane to the motion before us. He is straying far from that now.

Mr. Skinner : I was trying to say that if more Tory Members had turned up tonight, including the right hon. Member for Henley, the Leader of the House would not have been placed in this predicament. Many Cabinet Ministers have left the sinking ship as have many of the junior Ministers who usually turn up. In any other part of the parliamentary year the Division bells are rung, the Whips get on the telephone and all the junior Ministers and Cabinet Ministers turn up. They have not turned up

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tonight because they think that it is the beginning of the end. If all those people had turned up, the Leader of the House would not have had to move the guillotine motion because there would have been no need for it.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : I do not understand why.

Mr. Skinner : There would have been 250 or 300 Tory Members in the Lobby and some Opposition Members--not me--may have felt a little cowed by the massive majorities piling up against us. My hon. Friend knows that when we came into the Chamber after the Division we heard that the Government had started with 190 and that it had come down to 183. In the next Division it came down to 160. That makes us feel buoyed and confident because we know that we are on a winning streak. The Government got into such a sorry state that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) bailed them out in a Division by voting with them. The Liberals or whatever they call themselves also voted with them. When we see that, it becomes clear that the Leader of the House has got a telephone call from somebody who said to him, "Hey up, Geoff, we are losing our troops. There is a gang of Labour MPs, one of whom has voted with us, causing trouble. They are acting like an Opposition." The Leader of the House is brought in and has to cobble together a guillotine motion on the Companies Bill and the Children Bill in order to get them through. The Government started the Session last October and have a massive majority of about three or four to one in the House of Lords--when they can get the Lords to work. Some of them turn up and pick up £100 a day tax free straight away. Even with that massive majority the Government cannot organise their business. The ship is beginning to sink. When I reflect upon events in the House yesterday and especially those of today, I begin to understand the opinion polls. I can understand why Labour has 48 or 49 per cent. and the Conservatives are down to 36 or 37 per cent.

That is easy to understand when we remember that the Government are taking on the ambulance crews. That is wicked and shows that the Government are losing their touch. They should pay those people the kind of money they deserve. In our society top company directors have had 26 per cent. increases in the last 12 months, but the ambulance crews are being offered only 6.5 per cent.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is about to bring his remarks to a conclusion.

Mr. Skinner : The reason for the Government losing their touch is an amalgam of all those things. They are losing their MPs in the middle of the night and are unable to hold them. When the Conservatives are down to 120 hon. Members at 12 o'clock it means trouble. Everybody knows that, and that is why the Leader of the House is here. He is not here because of any filibuster. I have not heard any filibuster. We have been voting legitimately on matters pertaining to the Bill.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that the 999 service is working tonight because it looks as if we might have two casualties in the House.

Mr. Skinner : I do not know whether to continue. I can understand the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr.

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Thompson) dropping off to sleep. He got sacked in the big shuffle. He probably thought, "Why should I bother?" and went to sleep. He could have stayed away altogether.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend in mid flow. Does he agree that hon. Members in all parts of the House who served diligently on the Standing Committee on the Children Bill- -hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) and I--were concerned when we heard from the Leader of the House that the Bill is to be guillotined? Does he accept that the Bill is a consensus matter and that Members from all parties sought negotiations and amendments to make sure that it went through? Does he also agree that people outside who have been waiting for many years for that legislation will be deeply offended at the decision to guillotine this important measure?

Mr. Skinner : Only today Tory Members were weeping about how we did not make as much progress as they wanted to last night, when my hon. Friends were complaining about the licensing and inspection charges on pre- school playgroups, and we had some healthy debates. It is strange that the Government will now introduce a guillotine to stop my hon. Friends from speaking about these matters.

We can regard this little episode of the Leader of the House being dragged here as healthy for us. The Government have lost their troops. The Cabinet do not know which way to turn. The monetarist philosophy is in ruins. The Government are intervening at every possible stage. The Labour party is much more confident. The rag, tag and bobtail party does not matter any more. I think that we shall look back on this night, when the Government caved in at the tail end of the Session, as indicative of a Government on their last legs. I look forward to the end of them.

12.30 am

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : I have some brief questions for my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House. We all welcome the motion because it is clear that hon. Members are far too tired, after a busy day, to consider this important Bill. It would be an outrage if people were not to hear about the important work that we are doing on the Companies Bill.

Does the motion moved by my right hon. and learned Friend mean that we shall stop now, or does it mean that we shall stop talking about the Companies Bill, and go on to talk about the merchant shipping order? It would be an outrage if we followed the second route. The order overturns a proposal that, last year, both the Minister in charge and his Parliamentary Private Secretary said was vital for the future of British shipping. Surely we will not stop debating the Companies Bill as a result of the closure motion, and then have to talk about the order.

Secondly, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will be aware that if we are to do our job properly we need to have parliamentary papers. Through the good offices of Mr. Speaker, and nobody else, we got an assurance that papers would be provided in the Vote Office, outlining the judgment of the European court. Hon. Members who have it will see that unfortunately--probably because of the speed with which it was produced--a page is missing. That page could be provided if the debate were delayed. The page shows that the

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document did not reach the Treasury solicitors until 18 October, which happens by chance to be the day after it was presented to the House of Commons, and it was printed in the Order Paper that these items were available in the Treasury Solicitor's office. That is unusual.

The third reason why we should not hurry with this order is that, as my right hon. and learned Friend, with his long experience of the EEC will be aware, if we vote for this order, which will allow foreign ships to be British ships as from now, it will apply only to Britain. This order does not apply to other countries. When we have all this work to do, and people want to hear about the work that we are doing, it would be an outrage to rush through, at great speed and at a late hour when no one will hear, something that will apply only to us.

The treaty of Rome, of which I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend is well aware, says that all countries should be treated equally. Why the blazes, at half past 12 at night, we have to debate this, I do not know. Sadly, we deal with controversial, horrible, nasty and undemocratic matters about which people do not hear at 1, 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning.

I support the motion, but I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will say that we are too tired to do important work and that it is an outrage that the debate should take place at this hour. Surely my right hon. and learned Friend will be the great democrat and protector of liberty that I know he is. I trust that he will say that we can defer for a few days something that will overturn and wreck a measure which only last year was recognised by Ministers and Back Benchers as crucial and vital if we were to support British fishermen. Let us not be dirty to our fishermen at 12.30 am. Let us stand firm by democracy. Let us for once have a real debate on a vital issue in prime time.

Mr. Cryer : I cannot recall an announcement by a Leader of the House that sought, in effect, to move progress and, at the same time, to announce a business statement. Such a move shows the contempt that the Government have for the House. Why were not the rights of hon. Members protected by an announcement being made on the screens throughout the House that a business statement was to be made? It is a convention of the House that when a business statement is made and changes are to be announced Members have right of access to the Chamber so that they can ask questions about the statement. It is a long hallowed tradition that Members should be given the opportunity to raise pressing issues that concern them that they believe should take priority over the changes to business that the Leader of the House has made. No opportunity has been given to those hon. Members who are working in their offices to come to the Chamber to express their points of view. I would judge that the annunciator operators have merely been presented with an announcement that there is to be a debate on the adjournment of progress on the Companies Bill. That means that the traditional position of Back Benchers has been deliberately undermined by the Government not announcing a business statement.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I invite my hon. Friend to clarify his language. He has referred to a tradition, and a tradition in this place is often regarded by those outside as unnecessary and a delaying tactic. Is it not a good democratic practice that when a business statement

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