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Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle) : Incitement to murder is still a criminal offence in Britain as I understand it. Therefore, will my right hon. and learned Friend make it possible for the Home Secretary to make a statement as to why certain leaders of the Moslem community have remained immune from prosecution under that law and allow the House to express the view that I am sure will be supported by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides, that such incitements to murder have no place in a multi-religious, multicultural and multiracial free society?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The whole House will readily agree with my hon. Friend that incitement to murder should not be tolerated in any society, and certainly not in our own. However, for action of the kind that my hon. Friend has in mind to be taken, a decision has to be made, not by the Home Secretary or any other Minister, but by the prosecuting authorities, who are, no doubt, considering the matter.


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Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Further to the reply that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), will he be more specific about when a debate could be held on the innocence of the Guildford Four and the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings, on the methods that the police used to obtain confessional evidence on which the convictions were made, why that information was not made available to defence lawyers or anybody else during the past 15 years, and the practice of the police investigating the police when malpractice appears? We should also discuss the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974, bearing in mind that my constituent Paul Hill has just been released after serving 15 years for a crime that he did not commit and that he was the first person to be accused under that Act. Does the Leader of the House agree that a debate on these matters is urgent and important in view of the miscarriages of justice that have taken place?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not able to offer any conclusion about a proposal for a Government debate of that kind. It is clearly a matter that could be considered by the official Opposition as a topic for debate if they so wish. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of the Home Secretary.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Leader of the House press the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement next week on the Department's response to the Silberston report on the multi-fibre arrangement? The Government do not seem to be sufficiently seized of the serious nature of this report, which affects the clothing and textile industry which employs almost 500, 000 people. In Bradford that industry employs about 14,000 people in wool and textile mills. The phasing out of the multi-fibre arrangement, which has been suggested by Professor Silberston, would put their jobs in jeopardy. The report suggests the loss of about 33, 000 jobs and it is causing a good deal of concern among workers who have been most helpful and co-operative for many years in the development of the industry. I hope that the Leader of the House will press the Department for a statement so that we can ask questions about it.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Member understands that Professor Silberston's report on the implications of the multi-fibre arrangement for the United Kingdom economy represents the professor's own view. That does not mean that it is not helpful to the Government and others when they are considering this issue. However, I cannot undertake to find Government time for consideration of the report before the House prorogues. I have little doubt that there will be a chance to consider it once we return.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is the Leader of the House aware that when he had to come to the House to change Government business last night, after midnight, some people said--hon. Members on both sides of the House but particularly Opposition Members--that he had been left holding the baby because of the Whips' inability to keep the troops in? As the right hon. and learned Gentleman probably now knows, the Government have to have 100 people in the Chamber to close a debate. The Leader of the House had to come and pick up the pieces.


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One of the bones of contention in that debate, apart from the legislation itself, which is in a tidy old mess, is that the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill is scheduled for consideration next week. It is on--

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is the business for next week

Mr. Skinner : It is on next week, on Wednesday, after 7 o'clock.

Mr. Speaker : But I do not think it was announced

Mr. Skinner : Sometimes this place is in a hubbub and I know that you cannot hear everything, Mr. Speaker. I know that you turn a deaf ear to some of the words and expletives that are used as well--[ Hon. Members-- : "From the Tory Benches".] If the present Leader of the House had done what the last one did and had had consultations with interested parties about this flawed Bill which had as its chairman an adviser to the British Chemical Engineering Contractors Association, which had some connection with the promoters of--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Yes, but it is indeed set down for business next week and that is the time to make these comments.

Mr. Skinner : But, I mean, the lad is new and I am trying to put him in the picture and explain why the Bill ought to be taken off. If the Government want the Bill they should start it again next year. If the Leader of the House does that he will make a more promising start and he might not get dragged out of bed after midnight.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The Chairman of Ways and Means, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has identified the Bill to which he referred for discussion in opposed private business at 7 o'clock next week. During the discussions I have learnt quite a lot about this interesting piece of legislation and I have no doubt I shall learn more next Wednesday, possibly even from the hon. Gentleman. He has not enlightened me greatly in his discussion of last night's proceedings because despite his lurid expectations, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Whip had a well- manned majority in the House. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Sir Geoffrey Howe.


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Companies Bill [Lords] and Children Bill [Lords] (Allocation of Time)

4.46 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) rose--

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I beg to move--

Hon. Members : On a point of order.

Mr. Speaker : What is the point of order?

Mr. Madden : Earlier this afternoon the Home Secretary was invited to apologise for the gross miscarriage of justice experienced by the Guildford Four. Mr. Speaker, you will have heard that he gave what must have been the most graceless apology for what is clearly a serious miscarriage of justice. At the time, justified protests were made. My point of order is that the Guildford Four are in the process of submitting claims for compensation for the miscarriage of justice that they have suffered, and the view that was expressed this afternoon on their conviction may influence the amount of compensation awarded.

Mr. Speaker : Yes, but that is not a matter for the Chair or for order in the House. I said at the time, and I took the points of order at the time because they arose immediately out of the answer to that question, that it is a matter not for me but for the Government.

Mrs. Mahon : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier this afternoon the Home Secretary informed my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that I had given my unreserved support to the so-called women's safety charter. He was referring to a press report in which I make it quite clear that I do not give that charter unreserved support. I accuse Ministers of using the charter to obscure their failure to tackle the root causes of violence against women. It is important that Ministers of such high rank do not misrepresent matters.

Mr. Speaker : Again that is not a matter for me.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : We have already started on the timetable debate.

Mr. Devlin : This is an important matter.

Mr. Speaker : Very well.

Mr. Devlin : May I refer you to column 871 of yesterday's Hansard Mr. Speaker in which the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) referred in a point of order to part-time Tory Members, following a point of order that I raised at 4.45 pm. Can you advise me, Mr. Speaker, as a relatively junior Member of the House--in fact a very junior Member-- whether it is in order for one hon. Member to refer to another as a part- time


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Member when the hon. Member who did the calling has a worse voting record and was referring to an occasion when he too was absent?

Mr. Speaker : We must never attribute any dishonourable actions to each other in this House, but being called a part-time Member does not quite come within that category and it is not an issue in this debate, which has already started.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to upset a new Member of Parliament. My comment may have caused him embarrassment in his constituency, but I must point out to him that what was said in the course of heated debate was not meant to cause him any personal harm or embarrassment. In his particular case, I withdraw my comment.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Companies Bill [Lords] and the Children Bill [Lords] : --

Report and Third Reading

Companies Bill-- [Lords] 1.--(1) The proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading of the Companies Bill [Lords] shall be completed in one allotted day and shall be brought to a conclusion at the Times shown in the following Table :--

Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings

New clauses, new Schedules and amendments 9.50pm

relating to Parts I to IV of the Bill.

New clauses, new Schedules and amendments 11.00pm

relating to Part V of the Bill.

New clauses, new Schedules and amendments Midnight

relating to Parts VI and VII of the Bill.

Remaining new Clauses and amendments and 1.00am

Third Reading.

Children Bill [Lords]

2. The proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading of the Children Bill [Lords] shall be completed in one allotted day and shall be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of adjourned proceedings on consideration.

Dilatory Motions 3. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of proceedings on either Bill shall be moved except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

Order of proceedings 4. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which proceedings on Consideration of either Bill are taken.

Extra time on allotted days 5. Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on both Bills.

Conclusion of proceedings

Companies Bill [Lords] -- 6.--(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings on the Companies Bill [Lords] which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, 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) ;


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(c) the Question that all new Clauses standing in the name of, or moved by, a member of the Government and all new Schedules standing in the name of a member of the Government be added to the Bill ; (

(d) the Question that all remaining amendments standing in the name of, or moved by, a member of the Government be made to the Bill ; (

(e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.

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

Children Bill [Lords] -- 7.--(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings on the Children Bill [Lords] which are to be brought to a conclusion at the time appointed by this Order and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, 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 that all new Clauses and new Schedules standing in the name of a member of the Government be added to the Bill ; (

(d) the Question that all remaining amendments standing in the name of a member of the Government be made to the Bill ;

(e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.

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

Supplemental orders 8.--(1) The proceedings on any Motion moved by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order 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 the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the time at which proceedings on either Bill are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

Saving 9. Nothing in this Order--

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

(b) prevents any business (whether on the Bill in question or not) from being proceeded with after the completion of all such proceedings on that Bill.

Re-committal 10. No debate shall be permitted on any Motion to re-commit either 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 11. In this Order "allotted day", in relation to the Companies Bill [Lords] or the Children Bill [Lords] means any day on which that 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 House does not need me to remind it that it is fundamental to the way in which the House operates that the elected Government are entitled, on reasonable terms, to look to the House for the passage of their business. That does not mean that we do not have a responsibility to listen to the points made by hon. Members of all parties. In the case of these two Bills, we have been listening with great


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care, and that has been reflected in many amendments designed to improve and clarify the two measures. We also have a responsibility to respect the right of hon. Members of all parties, including, of course, the official Opposition, to debate and challenge the Government's legislation.

In the case of the Companies Bill and the Children Bill, it cannot be argued that the Opposition, or indeed the whole House, have not been given that chance. We have almost completed consideration of both measures and it would be most unwelcome to many outside the House if the Government were to allow the Bills to be put at risk at this late stage, when they have been successfully piloted to this stage with the agreement of the House at each stage.

At about this time last year, the House agreed to a somewhat similar approach by my predecessor, when a timetable was put on the last stages of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill and the Housing (Scotland) Bill to ensure that those important measures would be allowed to complete their passage. My motion today is in no sense unprecedented and it is even more justified in light of the way in which progress on these Bills has been delayed.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Leader of the House tell us how many amendments there were to the Bills that he has just cited as precedents? Were there more than the 1,000 Government amendments on the Companies Bill or the 400 amendments on the Children Bill? Surely it is the weight of Government amendments that has caused the difficulties. The Government have not provided adequate time for scrutinising the many, often complicated, amendments to two complicated Bills.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : That is not the substance of the matter. In the case of the Children Bill, the overwhelming majority of the amendments were tabled, as my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State pointed out in the course of the debate earlier this week, in response to representations made by organisations outside the House and by the Opposition. During the period when the matter was proceeding normally, amendments were considered and disposed of by the hundred and dozens were dealt with each hour. That was no obstacle to progress and was a sensible way to handle matters in response to the wishes of the House. It is a matter of particular regret that we have been unable to make the good progress that was not merely expected but actually being achieved on the Children Bill.

The Children Bill is the most comprehensive and far-reaching reform of this branch of the law ever introduced. It meets a long-felt need for a comprehensive and integrated statutory framework to ensure the welfare of children. The establishment of a new statutory scheme to protect children in emergencies is particularly important and it was introduced in response to the Cleveland and other tragedies involving child abuse. Nobody doubts that and it has been made clear by Opposition speakers that, although there are disagreements on points of detail, the Bill commands wide support in the House. That was made apparent in Committee, when my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, a man who is not always given to high exhilaration, described his time in Committee as a "happy experience" and hon. Members will know that that cannot be said of all Committees. In 16 Committee sittings which considered 439 amendments, the Committee


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divided only seven times. Many amendments made were designed to ensure that the Bill continued to command an overwhelming measure of cross-party support.

When the Bill returned to the Floor of the House on Monday, the House was content to consider 290 amendments in eight and a half hours with only one Division. In the first 23 minutes, we completed consideration of the first 53 clauses and in that time only two Opposition Members spoke. Until that point, proceedings on the Bill had been characterised by a mass of common sense.

The question is why it was then thought necessary to divide at the first opportunity on Tuesday night--a Division in which 183 hon. Members voted in favour and none against. The House knows why that Division took place and the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) was kind enough to put it on record for the House. The Division was obviously not related to opposition to the clause because the hon. Member for Monklands, West said :

"The Front Benches have endeavoured to co-operate to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book."--[ Official Report, 24 October 1989 ; Vol. 158, c. 806.]

He went on to explain that other hon. Members representing mining areas felt it necessary to demonstrate because of their feelings that they had a grievance. It was not related to the Children Bill which, as he said, every hon. Member, including the Opposition Front Bench, supported.

The hon. Member for Monklands, West was kind enough to observe that I was a "reasonable man" and I am content to accept that description for the purposes of this presentation. However, I could not easily sustain that reputation if I were to tell the public and the organisations that have devoted thousands of hours to working for and improving this measure that the Bill was to be lost as a result of a grievance quite unrelated to this necessary and widely expected Bill.

We have already spent 12 hours this week on Report, as well as five and a half hours on Second Reading debate and 39 hours in Committee. It would be a tragedy for the Bill to be lost at this stage after so much hard work and, above all, after such a welcome measure of co-operation.

Mr. Madden : As an hon. Member who was here on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and was, with other hon. Members, eagerly awaiting the passage of the Children Bill, which we widely support, may I ask the Leader of the House to explain why, at 1.30 am, it was the Minister of State who moved the adjournment of consideration of the Bill, which was then debated for half an hour? There was a Division at 1.55 am in which 110 Conservative Members voted to adjourn the business while 22 hon. Members--all Labour-- voted against adjourning the business. We were perfectly happy, as we made clear several times, to stay here all night and through the next morning to ensure that the Bill was carried. The protests of the Leader of the House ring extremely hollow. This is the most cosmetic controversy that the House has known for a considerable time.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman is not quite so simple as he sounds. He knows the background to those events perfectly well. The whole House, in line with the agreements and understandings made through the usual channels, was expecting to proceed to a conclusion on the matter that night. The hon. Member for Monklands, West


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was as startled and dismayed as every other hon. Member by what happened. It was wholly sensible, and made more sensible by the events the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has described, to move to next business at that stage so that we could get to the stage that we have now reached.

The Companies Bill, as the House knows, is aimed primarily at creating an up-to-date framework of company law within which enterprise can flourish and it also provides the necessary safeguards for investors and creditors. It contains provisions to implement European Community directives on consolidated accounts and the regulation of orders, both of which have to be implemented by the end of this calendar year, and it also includes certain reforms to ease the statutory requirements on companies. The Bill also contains a number of other less important but significant provisions. In this case, some of the provisions are undeniably politically controversial, in contrast to those in the Children Bill. Others, as always with companies legislation, are technical. Even so, good steady progress was made in Committee, when about 600 amendments were considered over 15 sessions. Four hundred amendments were accepted by the Government, the level of debate was generally constructive and there was no evidence of what might be called obstructive tactics. In other words, the Bill was duly and carefully considered, sensible amendments were made and it came back to us for those changes to be confirmed. Sadly, last night we moved into a wholly different story. Until 9 pm we had had three lively but well- contested debates on the areas of prime political controversy in the Bill. That was entirely as expected and reflected the interest of hon. Members on both sides in such matters as political donations. What followed was less edifying and, in some respects, rather strange. Only three of the remaining groups of amendments were considered during the next two hours simply because Divisions were forced by Opposition Members on each and every amendment as it came before the House.

That those Divisions were scarcely motivated by any consideration of the substance or merit of the amendments was demonstrated not just by the lack of any debate, but by the nature of some of those which attracted such unexplained opposition. That conduct was extremely strange, especially as two of the amendments, nos. 13 and 14, on which Opposition Members forced Divisions were tabled to fulfil pledges specifically given to the Opposition in Committee. I commend to the House the view that that underlies the conclusion that the Opposition Front Bench has now entirely lost control of its ability to co-operate in managing the business of the House. It is difficult to see more convincing evidence of that than that provided by the Divisions on those amendments.

In the face of those circumstances, the motion will allow more time for consideration of the remaining amendments than was in prospect under earlier arrangements that Opposition Members failed to deliver.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend give the Labour deputy Chief Whip the opportunity to explain why he voted against an amendment which merely replaced the word "part" with "section"?


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Sir Geoffrey Howe : It is for the hon. Gentleman to explain that remarkable proposition. There will be ample time for further explanation to be forthcoming as the timetable motion has been carefully drafted to allow sufficient time for the Opposition to make their points--even points as important as the difference between "part" and "section"--provided that they do so with a normal degree of reason and restraint. There is the opportunity to spend additional time on the Companies Bill if we finish this debate in less than three hours.

I am sure that many hon. Members would agree that the time would be better spent on further consideration of the Bill than on debating the merits of this unarguably sensible and necessary measure. The amount of time available will increase for every minute that can be shaved off the debate on the motion. If the Opposition are truly interested in debating the Companies Bill, they will save their powder for later. I urge them to do so and I commend the motion to the House.

5.2 pm


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