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The speech we have just heard is nothing more than a confession of failure and an acknowledgement that the Government have totally mismanaged their business. The Government have an overall majority of almost 100 and they have a majority of almost 150 over Labour. Now they are reduced, however, to having to introduce more guillotines in one Session than at any time in the history of parliamentary Government.
What a sad spectacle the Leader of the House presents today. When he took up his present job he told a BBC audience :
"I think the Government as a whole needs the support of somebody of my experience, particularly when we are facing a new round of problems on the home front".
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was putting himself over as a sort of philosopher king in Hush Puppies. Later briefings to newspapers suggested that, relieved of the pressing demands of the Foreign Office, he would abandon his usual abrasive image and would be able to stand back from the day-to-day hurly-burly to take a strategic overview and to steer the SS Thatcher to calmer waters by his characteristic delicate touch on the tiller. What went wrong? What happened to the long view? What has happened to all that wisdom and experience? As soon as we have a few votes late at night and a few demoralised Tory Back Benchers refuse to stay up to do their duty, blind panic sets in.
Last night, as we awaited the chimes at midnight, the deputy Prime Minister shuffled into the Chamber--or so I am told, as I was in the Tea Room at the time--
I thought that we would all be better off in bed apart from those enthusiastic people who wanted to discuss the Bill. The deputy Prime Minister, however, shuffled into the Chamber to announce that the Government would guillotine the Children Bill and the Companies Bill. Such was their panic that the Government business managers could not even find time to follow the convention of this
Column 1079place by warning the Opposition that they intended to change the business. To be fair, the Leader of the House apologised for that in business questions today. I thank him, and accept his apology. I am not sure what will happen now the Prime Minister has got home. If she complains that she has come back to a legislative shambles, I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should tell her not to pick on him as that shambles only imitates the shambles in Kuala Lumpur and the general shambles in Nos. 10 and 11 Downing street. It is unfair to blame the new Leader of the House for much of this. He inherited this fine mess from his predecessor and from the Government Chief Whip, who appears to be absent at the moment. The Leader of the House must be rather daunted as he gradually discovers just how badly the Government business has been managed since the election. In case his colleagues have not entirely come clean, I shall spell out the facts.
The Government have an overall majority of almost 100. After the 1987 general election, the first Session of Parliament stretched from June 1987 until November 1988, a total of 218 sitting days--the fourth longest this century. With that majority and all that time, the Government got through just 49 Government Bills. The average for the first Session of a Parliament is 70, and the record is 104. For the Government even to achieve that measly total of 49 meant that they had to guillotine six Bills--one more than in any Session in this century.
The Government preach efficiency and improved output to everyone else, but, this year, their productivity has been even worse. This Session is likely to last for about 175 days, yet the number of Government Bills is likely to total just 37 and that will be the lowest number of Bills passed in an ordinary Session in an ordinary year since the second world war.--[ Hon. Members-- : "Hear, hear."] The shirkers on the Conservative Benches are cheering their own incapacity. To make things absolutely clear, those 37 Bills include four consolidation measures which usually go through on the nod. I say usually, as there is one in the House of Lords at the moment.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman might like to swap a quotation from Hamlet with a quotation from Tacitus, who prudently said that his society, whereas it formerly suffered from crimes, had come to suffer from laws. That is why the Government believe in less law and not more.
Mr. Dobson : I am sure that everyone will recognise that the Government is led by a sub-Tacitus. She believes that we do not have a society. We certainly have more crime, but, apparently, in response to that we shall have fewer laws.
The Leader of the House should get things sorted out because, until fairly recently, Mr. Bernard Ingham and people from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor's office were constantly briefing the press--people who are not easily misled--about the massive load of legislation that they were pushing through. That was done in an effort to convince Tory Members that they should turn up at night and vote occasionally.
Column 1080passed reverberate through our deliberations with such dynamism, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the number of statutory instruments which the Government are pouring out has increased year by year? This is the Government who threatened to take legislation off our backs. They are simply using the Chamber to hand over power to Ministers so that they can oppress us even more.
Mr. Dobson : What my hon. Friend says is certainly true. He has had rather more experience of this than most hon. Members, because he chairs two Committees on Statutory Instruments. Indeed, my hon. Friend is, rightly, so concerned about this problem that he has been involved in organising an international conference so that hon. Members from this House can meet people from other legislatures to see what we can do about improving our scrutiny of statutory instruments. That should be a good development. I only hope that we learn a little from other members of the Commonwealth at the conference with which my hon. Friend is involved, even if we cannot learn in Kuala Lumpur.
The Government have already used a guillotine on six Bills. Even before today, they had repeated the record total. However, they now propose to guillotine two more Bills, setting a new record of eight guillotined Bills in one Session. The Prime Minister sometimes says, "Winston did this ; Winston did that," so I have been checking what Winston did. In this one Session of Parliament, the Government will have used guillotines on more Bills than the Churchill and Eden Governments used in total, in the period of their combined Prime Ministerships. Turning to a slightly more up-to- date Tory Government, the Heath Government used a total of only five guillotines in four years.
So what about the guillotines that are proposed today? One applies to the Children Bill, which, as the Leader of the House pointed out, has all-party support for most but not all of its provisions. Probably the most important point that I can make about the Children Bill is that, on Tuesday night, after the Division to which the Leader of the House referred, we had a debate from just before 11 pm to 1.18 am on proposals covering the registration and regulation of day care facilities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) said, that matter is central to the protection of children. That was a serious and well-argued debate in which hon. Members of all parties participated, at the end of which the Minister did not criticise what any hon. Member had said--nor did he suggest that any hon. Member had wasted time.
There was then a vote, in which other Opposition parties, apart from the Labour party, joined Labour Members to try to put that important new clause on the statute book. The Government--as they are entitled to do--voted it down. However, as soon as the Division on that important matter was over-- at the end of that careful and well argued debate--the Minister of State jumped up and said that he wanted the House to adjourn, and used the Government's majority to push through the adjournment. The Government adjourned their own business.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : I served on the Standing Committee on the Children Bill and spoke at 2 o'clock this morning to pay tribute to the work of the Minster of State, Department of Health. I pointed out that
Column 1081hon. Members of all parties wished to proceed with the Bill in a spirit of all-party agreement because it is very much a consensus Bill.
Early on Tuesday morning, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and I pressed the Minister to continue with the debate in that sitting. We said that we did not feel it appropriate that the sitting should be adjourned, and were happy to stay on to complete our consideration of the outstanding matters in the Bill, such as those relating to grandparents' rights and wardship. We did so because we felt that those issues were important and we wanted to retain the consensus felt about the Bill. We did not want our consideration of it to end in this squalid way.
Mr. Dobson : I believe that the Minister of State intends to reply to this debate, so perhaps he will explain his activities. However, I should explain that adjourning our consideration then means that 232 new clauses and amendments remain to be dealt with. Since that point, the Government have not approached the Opposition to ask us to agree to any informal timetable so that we can get the remaining parts of this important Bill through the House. Instead, they have insisted on this guillotine motion which, at most, provides 180 minutes to debate those 232 new clauses and amendments. That works out at about 46 seconds for each provision. The Government's actions are treating the Children Bill with contempt. I am not suggesting that the Minister of State who has been pursuing the Bill through Committee is party to all this, because I suspect that he is embarrassed by it. I turn now to the Companies Bill. When the Bill was first presented, it was put before the House as the sort of measure that could be commended on Second Reading--as I recall, it had its Second Reading late at night--and as a worthwhile measure that should be passed and made company law. However, since then, over 1,000 amendments have been tabled, mainly by the Government. About 250 of them remain to be considered, of which all but four are Government amendments, for which the Government's guillotine provides about four and a half hours. According to my calculations, that works out at about 64 seconds per amendment, which is marginally better than the Government are providing for the remaining amendments to the Children Bill. However, that does not provide much time for us to scrutinise carefully the important aspects of a Bill that covers exployees' rights, mergers and the technicalities of company accounts. God knows, nearly all the fraud in the City takes place because the present legislation was not carefully enough drafted or scrutinised. We should ensure that the stuff we are considering now is up to the task. Those are the restrictions that the guillotine motion will impose. It is symbolic that more time will be provided for the completion of the Companies Bill than for the completion of the Children Bill.
Most of the Government's problems spring from their arrogance. They are arrogant not only abroad but at home. They have certainly displayed arrogance over their legislative programme. Generally speaking--I exclude the Children Bill from this description--the genesis of the Government's legislative programme goes something like this. They come up with some half -baked idea from a Right-wing think tank. The idea gets a standing ovation at the Tory party conference. It is then brought back from Blackpool or Brighton and goes to Whitehall, where some
Column 1082hapless parliamentary draftsman is expected to turn lunacy into workable law. A Bill is produced. It is inevitably full of contradictions and riddled with inconsistencies and is incapable of reflecting what happens in the real world. Comments are then made about it by practical people in the real world and points are raised in Committee by my assiduous hon. Friends, and even by some Conservative Members. At that point, Ministers realise that they need to amend the Bill--
Mr. Dobson : I am told by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who has spent rather more time on this subject than I have, that the Insolvency Bill suffered from the same shortcomings and, as we know, the Financial Services Bill needed massive corrections at this stage. If the Bill did not need correcting--if it had no shortcomings--why were 1,000 amendments tabled? Hundreds were produced in Committee--
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : One of that series of amendments was designed to deal with the crookedness of the City and the casino economy. As my hon. Friend knows only too well, because his constituency is close to the City, crookedness in the City is growing rapidly. Every time the Government introduce such a Bill, they have to amend it substantially. This latest Bill is an attempt to keep the legislation in line with the present crookedness of Lloyd's and others. Hence the tabling of several, if not scores of, Government amendments. A number of things are happening at Lloyd's--money is being lost by so-called "names" and there are prospective losses. The Government are trying to tighten things up because some of the accountants whom the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) represents have not been doing their jobs properly. Ferranti is a good example.
Mr. Dobson : I quite agree. As ever, my hon. Friend puts it in a nutshell. These shoddily drafted Bills are brought before the House, and then hundreds of amendments are produced in Committee and on Report, here and in the House of Lords. As I have said, more than a thousand were tabled to the Companies Bill.
For some reason that I cannot understand, the Government purport to be surprised--and they certainly panic--when hon. Members insist on doing their job properly and on scrutinising the legislation. Some amendments are politically contentious, others are not. For instance, I assume that Conservative Members want to catch the fraudsters--we certainly do--so it would be as well if the technicalities of the Bill permitted them to be caught, prosecuted and gaoled on the basis of proper evidence, not of confessions.
Some amendments are not politically contentious but are produced in response to points made by the Opposition, and we welcome that. The Minister responsible for the Children Bill has responded to many points made by outside organisations and hon. Members in the Committee to try to improve the Bill. However, the fact that he has produced amendments does not guarantee that they will achieve what they are intended to achieve. All of them need to be examined carefully to ensure that they are soundly worded.
Column 1083This applies with equal or even greater force to Bills such as the Children Bill, the aspirations behind which we all support. All hon. Members want the time and opportunity to do this part of the job that we were elected to do. The Government have failed to provide the time, partly because no conceivable amount of time can compensate for the sloppy drafting and the multitude of amendments made in Committee and in the House--in some cases only a matter of hours before they are to be debated.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : When will the hon. Gentleman come to the real reason for the guillotine, which has nothing to do with the merits of the Companies Bill or the Children Bill and everything to do with those who are supposed to be in charge of the Opposition losing control of their wild boys over the issue of coal? I sat up a great many hours last night waiting to get on with the Bill and saw the 10 o'clock business motion opposed by the Opposition when we wanted to get on with discussion of the real issues.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : We had a serious debate yesterday on business contributions to the Conservative party. The Conservative Members all stood up blocking our new clause and wasting time, but our case was first class and we were doing our job as an Opposition-- [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) will listen to me, because I am responsible to the Chair, not to him.
The new clause would have done a first-class job on behalf of a community that is crying out for it. The Government have told the trade unions to hold ballots on raising money for a political levy to give to the Labour party, but when we suggested that companies should consult shareholders with a ballot on whether they wanted the business to contribute to Conservative party funds they turned down the idea. Conservative Members went into the Lobby and voted against it. They were filibustering nearly all night and they should be ashamed of themselves.
Mr. Dobson : In his usual mild-mannered and persuasive way, my hon. Friend has put his finger on the Government's double standards where contributions to the Labour party by trade unions are concerned. Trade unions must set up a separate fund and conduct ballots of all their members, and if they decide to set up such a fund
Column 1084and ask their members to make contributions every one of them can opt out. Last night the Tories stuck by their position, as ever, that there should not be a ballot, a separate fund or opting out for companies.
As the point made by hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) shows, there are other double standards. We put forward a new clause ; Conservative Members can speak against it at considerable length and then vote against it. Such debates are legitimate, as are such votes, but when we want to debate and vote on amendments that the Government table they do not want us to. Apparently we are breaking their rules. The rule of this arrogant Government is, "We tell everyone what to do, including the House." But as a distinguished former Cabinet colleague of the Leader of the House told me yesterday, the Government have forgotten one iron rule : in the part of the Session coming up to July, the Government have the Commons over a barrel ; in the spill-over period, the Commons have the Government over a barrel. So the Government would be wise to run their business so as not to expose themselves as badly as they have done on this occasion by their incompetence.
The Minister for Health (Mr. David Mellor) rose--
These guillotines will make matters worse. They will prevent the House from doing justice to either of these important Bills. Forty-six seconds per new clause or amendment for the Children Bill cannot be right. Tonight we shall vote, not against the Children Bill, but against the guillotine that imposes those 46 seconds. 5.28 pm
Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst) : I rise to support the motion, but with somewhat mixed feelings. One of those feelings is relief that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House has stepped in to save the Children Bill, progress on which was being followed anxiously by many organisations. There seemed to be a real danger that the Bill could be wrecked by a handful of hon. Members who may claim to represent the interests of the miners but are clearly not concerned with the interests of children in this country. My other feeling is one of sadness. In 15 years in the House I cannot recall a Bill for which a timetable motion was less appropriate. The Bill is the product of years of inquiries, White Papers, campaigns and representations by people and organisations. It was given detailed scrutiny in both Houses in a non-partisan atmosphere. That we should have been expected to complete the final stages of such an important Bill in the small hours of the morning merely because the Opposition insisted on inserting into our business a debate on the economy was regrettable. That we are now obliged to complete the Bill as the second business on a Friday and subject to a timetable is to be deplored.
I know the frustrations of being in opposition. I sat on the Opposition Benches for five years. Happily, in our system we do not engage in fisticuffs or worse, and even the use of strong language is somewhat circumscribed. I can therefore well understand why some people feel that they want to demonstrate their annoyance and, sometimes, their sense of outrage at some of the things that the Government of the day are doing.
Column 1085To use parliamentary procedural tactics to delay and upset Government business is perfectly legitimate. When we were in opposition we did that individually and collectively, but such tactics need to be employed with discretion. It is one thing for the Opposition to use all the available means to impede a measure which is clearly contrary to their political philosophy, but it is quite another to do so in respect of legislation which is not subject to party political differences and is supported in all parts of the country. There can be no better example of that than the Children Bill.
We should have been able to finish consideration of the Bill on Tuesday night. Some Opposition Members would no doubt argue that we could have done so. The evidence that I heard and saw suggested that we could well have spent a long and unproductive night and possibly part of the morning. We saw that pattern beginning to emerge last night. I do not suggest that Oppossition Front Bench Members or their colleagues with an interest in the Bill would have been party to any such tactics, but we all know that a small number of hon. Members can frustrate progress.
We also know that agreements and understandings, however well meant, do not always work. The shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), made the plea that nobody had approached him to come to some understanding about how the Bill should be handled. However, I am afraid that we have learned that such understandings are worthless. We have seen that the Opposition simply cannot control their Members. In the circumstances, the Government's business managers had no alternative but to introduce a timetable motion. Its term allow three hours, which should be adequate to consider the amendments. Despite all the statistics expounded by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that many of the amendments are purely technical and that many of them meet points made in Committee.
Mr. Dobson : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that many of the amendments are technical. Does he agree that there is considerable evidence that many of them are technically faulty and incorrect and need to be improved if the Bill is to work properly? I am rather fortified in my view about that by a former Tory Cabinet Minister who is now a Member of the House of Lords. He sought me out and told me how much he agreed with what I had said during a debate on a previous guillotine motion when I talked about this very aspect.
The three hours proposed in the motion will give us more time to discuss the Bill than the time allowed in the original understanding between the two sides. I have no great complaint about the three hours, but it is unfortunate--to put it no higher--that we shall have to discuss these matters tomorrow under some pressure of time. That is a sad end to the proceedings on the Children Bill which up to now had shown Parliament at its best. It is a turn of events which discredits the Labour party--a matter which does not distress me particularly--but it also discredits the House, which distresses me considerably.
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Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) because I know how hard he has worked on the Children Bill for many years. He was right when he said that its history goes back several years through a variety of law commissions and reviews of the law. It also had the impetus of the Cleveland child abuse crisis. I do not agree with the views that he expressed in the latter part of his speech because they contradict some of his earlier statements when he said that the guillotine had been used by previous Governments.
The tactics that we have seen this week were used in the past by the Conservatives. When the deputy Leader of the House referred to the Churchill-Eden era, he reminded me of my first visit to the House of Commons. I was in the Strangers' Gallery and listened to Sydney Silverman advancing an argument during a debate on a guillotine motion not dissimilar to that advanced by the hon. Member for Chislehurst. He said that there are times when the guillotine is appropriate and times when it is not.
Without wishing to incur the wrath of Conservative Members I can say that I think that the guillotine was appropriate in 1976 when we had to push the shipbuilding and dockyard nationalisation schemes through. We had to do that because of the tactics used by the Conservative Opposition at that time. They did everything that they could legitimately and within parliamentary means to prevent a Labour Government with a mandate putting on the statute book two vital elements of their legislative programme. The guillotine was used at that time by the then Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). In 1968 he and Enoch Powell frustrated the will of a Labour Government about the reform of the House of Lords and they used parliamentary tactics to do that. We all know that the guillotine goes back to the time when Irish Members frustrated the business of the House to such an extent that it had to be used to make progress. The Children Bill was at the heart of the speech by the hon. Member for Chislehurst. That Bill reflects what the Lord Chancellor said, that the upbringing of children is the fundamental responsibility of parents. The object of the Bill is to establish rights for children and parents and to look at the erosion of parental rights. It looks at the means by which we can protect children such as Doreen Mason, about whom the hon. Member for Chislehurst spoke, and Kimberley Carlile, about whom I have spoken in the past.
We all know that children are at risk in society, and that we must protect them while not intruding in family life as we understand it. That is the balance that we sought to strike in Committee. The Bill was non-political and the Minister of State and the Solicitor-General took us through it on a non-political basis. My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) took us through it carefully. We had long discussions and amendments proposed by Back Benchers were considered by the Government and by civil servants. After careful consideration we came up with a Bill which we hope, with foresight rather than hindsight, will protect children and will do so without unnecessary intrusions. In Committee we saw the abolition of the place of safety order which was used extensively in Cleveland and we created an emergency
Column 1087protection order and child assessment orders for the protection of children. We had legitimate debate on all those matters.
The shenanigans on Tuesday evening which prevented us from moving forward were in a sense a parliamentary occasion. I have often looked upon my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) as being rather like Blu"cher at the battle of Waterloo. They plough in from the side, change the nature of our business, make their point and then go across and shake the hand of the Duke of Wellington and a great victory has been won. We are all more aware today of the Associated Ports (No. 2) Bill than we were two days ago.
I gave a commitment to the National Union of Mineworkers in Durham that I would support them in their efforts to prevent a coal terminal coming to Middlesbrough. I did that as part of the strategy to have proper planning for all our energy requirements and to keep the Durham coal field, with its 10,000 miners, going. Therefore, I was not particularly enamoured of any technique on the Floor of the House to try to prevent the Children Bill going through.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) said, at 1.30 in the morning we were prepared to stay here throughout the night. In the six years that I have been in Parliament, there have been many occasions when the Opposition have taken the Government through the night, through to 1.30 the following day, and the Government have lost the business of the House for that day. We had assurances from those who were wishing to make a point on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill that they would not prevent the Children Bill from reaching its remaining stages by the close of business.
The Government had their quorum in place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Madden) said, there were aye votes of 101 and 102 at 1.30 in the morning. The Opposition were prepared to go through the night, and if we had done so the Children Bill would have gone through its remaining stages in this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East made that proposition to the Minister, but other decisions had been made, and the Government moved the adjournment of the House. Until tonight, when the Leader of the House referred to discussions with the usual channels, I had thought that there had been discussions through the usual channels and that we could reach a reasonable agreement on the remaining stages of the Bill that would have allowed us the proper amount of time to discuss it.
Mr. Mellor : As the hon. Gentleman knows, I hold him in great respect generally, and particularly on the issue of children. He has had the grace to acknowledge that a group of Members with no great interest in the Children Bill took action because they wanted to make a point. Does the hon. Gentleman really think that it would be in the right spirit of the debate on the Bill that had otherwise proceeded so sensibly that we should have to run the gauntlet of people ready to have a Division on matters of no substance in order to make a point? In those circumstances, is it not better to get back to a framework of discipline, within which we can take a common-sense approach to the Bill?
Mr. Bell : I understand the point that the Minister is making, because there is no doubt that we would have had a disruptive evening, with votes on a variety of amendments. However, our view is that it was up to the House of Commons to force a passage through such obstacles and to discuss the amendments as best we could. All the Opposition Members who had served on the Committee were in their place. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), who had tabled new clause 10 dealing with the rights of grandparents, was there, as were those who supported him. I agree with the Minister that we would have had to run the gauntlet, but we were prepared to be here and to have that discussion over and above what was happening on the sidelines, with Blu"cher coming in from the wings.
As the hon. Member for Chislehurst and my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) have said, we are now left with 46 seconds for each amendment. Many of them are technical amendments, but we have lost control over the remaining stages of the Children Bill, and we shall not be able to cover those final amendments in the way that we would have done if we had had a proper Report stage. If we had a proper debate, we could pick up, even at this late stage, the rucks in the texture, as Lord Denning once described parliamentary evasion or lack of clarity. In the final stages of the Bill, we have lost the opportunity to exercise foresight, rather than hindsight.
The guillotine represents the power of the Executive over the Legislature and the Opposition must submit to that power because we do not have a majority. However that power should be used sparingly and wisely. It ought not to be used simply because the quorum of Conservative Members who had to be in the Palace of Westminster for the duration of the business wanted to get home early. The time of 1.30 in the morning may seem late to members of the public, but hon. Members on both sides of the House know that it is not late in parliamentary terms. The power to guillotine was used unwisely on this occasion. I can only hope that, in the final stages of the Bill, the other place will look carefully at the amendments that we have not been able to go through properly so that when the Bill reaches the statute book and is used to protect children and parents in the best possible way it will be as good as if it had left the House of Commons without being guillotined.
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) : I am particularly angry at the guillotine motion because, along with others who are here tonight, I served on the Standing Committee on the Children Bill and both sides of the Committee played a constructive part in bringing forward progressive helpful and long-overdue legislation. I am angry about the way in which the Government have tried to deflect responsibility for the shambles that has occurred in their business management. They have had plenty of opportunities to allow time for the Bill to be properly considered at a sensible time of day rather than in the middle of the night. Now we have just 46 seconds for each amendment. I am worried about that because a number of important amendments have still to be discussed. I accept that many of the amendments are technical, so there will possibly be no debate on them and they will be nodded through. However, a number deal with detailed concerns. For
Column 1089example, new clause 10 deals with grandparents. Like many other hon. Members, I have constituents who are grandparents and who feel deeply aggrieved at the way in which the law affects them and their relationship with their grandchildren. The granddaughter of a woman who lives near to me has recently been adopted, and the grandmother no longer has contact with the child whom she raised for the first six years of the child's life. I feel strongly about that and I know that both the child and the grandmother also do. This is a deeply emotional issue for many people. Many other hon. Members have similar cases, and some that are even more heart rending.
I am concerned about the rights of children in care, which are affected by a number of amendments that remain to be discussed. I have experience in social work and I have seen how children get into care and how our treatment of those children negates basic human rights. I am particularly concerned about care-leavers because, as a result of the way in which the Government have changed the rules in social security, vast numbers of young people are left vulnerable to exploitation when they leave care. I hope to raise this issue when we debate tomorrow two of the amendments that I have tabled. However, I suspect that they will be dealt with only briefly. Only yesterday I was talking to a probation officer who told me of the way in which the Government's changes in social security legislation, which have changed single payments to a loan, have resulted in one client, a young girl who had left care, going out as a prostitute to get some furniture for her flat. That is happening directly as a result of the Government's policy.
I respect the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), who made an important contribution to the Bill. However, he seems to see the legislation in narrow terms. He sees it as being the answer to problems, but wider issues, many related to the Government's policies, should be addressed.
I know that there is concern about the exclusion orders, or ouster orders. I have experience of social security work, and I mentioned this case in Committee at some length. I had to remove a girl whose sister had made allegations about sexual interference by the mother's boyfriend. It was an awful experience. I had to take police officers to surround the house, get hold of the 12-year-old girl who had just come out of hospital after having her appendix removed, and take her into care. The law is wrong in such cases. The person who should be removed is the perpetrator of the abuse, not the child who was the victim. We have to do someting about that, and we cannot do it on the nod. It is criminal to allow only 46 seconds to discuss such serious issues and I am appalled at what democracy has come down to.
Mr. Vaz : My hon. Friend will recall that, a week ago, in discussions with the Minister of State, hon. Members on both sides of the House said that they were concerned that we would not get the full two days that we were promised to discuss the provisions of the Bill. Clearly, we shall not get those days. I can see only one Tory Back Bench Member who served on the Standing Committee here this afternoon, although others have issued press statements about this matter. If they were honest, they would tell the House that they had originally asked for more time to discuss this measure.
Column 1090at the Department of Health the week before last when the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) criticised the way in which the Government were arranging the business and causing the Children Bill to be considered in the early hours of the morning. The hon. Lady opposed that because she considered it to be unsatisfactory.
Mr. Sims : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, it having been arranged originally that we should have two full days to debate the Bill, his right hon. and hon. Friends then insisted that there should be a full day's debate on the economy. That was why the Government had to make the arrangement that they did.
Mr. Hinchliffe : I shall deal with that argument in a few minutes. There is a clear connection between what happens to the economy of our society and what happens to children in that society. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chislehurst fails to recognise that connection.
It has been alleged that time has been wasted during our consideration of the Bill. When the Minister replies, I challenge him to produce one example of time wasting in Committee. I attended virtually every sitting when the Bill was being considered in Committee and I do not recall an irrelevant speech being made from either side of the Committee. The debate which took place on the Floor of the House the other night on day care, for example, was extremely interesting. Some valuable comments were made by hon. Members who had not hitherto been involved in the Bill. I read the report of the debate in Hansard and I could not find one area of it that was not directly relevant to the issues that were before us.
Mr. Mellor : Although the hon. Gentleman and I have disagreed about certain parts of the Bill, and although we can always argue about how long it should take to formulate a point, I am not criticising him or any of his hon. Friends who served in Committee for advancing their arguments. Our consideration of the Bill in Committee remains for me one of the more pleasurable experiences of my time in this place. If the hon. Gentleman is being fair, and I know that he wants to be, he must explain why it was that at the beginning of the second day of our consideration of the Bill on Report an entirely uncontroversial amendment was made the subject of a Division. The Division was called by two hon. Members who had played no previous part in our consideration of the Bill. It was clear, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) has conceded today, and as the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) conceded on Tuesday night, that that was part of a tactic that would have continued and would have had the effect of souring the atmosphere. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) cannot delude us about that. However sincere he and his hon. Friends who were members of the Committee which considered the Bill may be, others were determined to make a monkey of the business of the House, and that is a fact.
Mr. Hinchliffe : I am happy to tackle head-on the issue of the private Bill to which the Minister has referred obliquely. There is a direct connection between the implications of that Bill and the welfare of children. I shall come to that. The Minister is seeking to dodge the reality that the Government have their priorities wrong. Bearing in mind the time that they have had and the issues that we have debated--many of them have been far less serious
Column 1091than those raised by the Children Bill-- there has been sufficient time for the Bill to be considered fully at a normal time of day. It is the Government, not the Opposition, who have their priorities wrong.
The hon. Member for Chislehurst referred to the debate on the economy which took place yesterday. It is not the Opposition's fault that there is a slight problem with the balance of trade. It is not our fault that there is a trade deficit, that inflation is increasing and that interest rates are going through the roof. Equally, it is not our fault that people are having to go on council house waiting lists because they cannot meet mortgage repayments. All these factors have a direct bearing on children. There are families in my constituency who will become homeless because their houses are being repossessed because they cannot afford the huge repayments which are the result of increased interest rates. If Conservative Members-- [Interruption.] It seems that some hon. Members wish me to name names. If they wish to see some of the details, I shall be happy to supply them. I shall certainly do so if the people concerned are prepared to have their names put forward. I shall be quite happy to take Conservative Members to see these people. I do not make up these stories. Some of us have surgeries every week--in some instances, several times a week--and we meet the people. We are aware of the day-to-day realities in our constituencies as a result of the Government's actions. There is a direct connection between the economy and the welfare of children, and it angers my hon. Friends and me that that is not recognised by the Government.
Mr. Mellor : I took the hon. Gentleman's word that he wanted seriously to explore the matters which lie behind the Children Bill. I put the argument to him again. How can he explain the decision taken at the beginning of the second day of consideration of the Bill on Report by two of his hon. Friends, who had hitherto taken no part in the consideration of the Bill, to call a Division on a purely technical amendment? Does he not know as well as I do that it was common currency and discussion around the House that his two hon. Friends intended to call Divisions throughout the night if we had gone on with our consideration of the Bill? That was the truth of the matter.
Mr. Hinchliffe : To be fair, following the Minister's previous intervention I said that I would deal with that matter. It is something about which I feel strongly. I happen to understand and sympathise with the actions of my hon. Friends the Members for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North, who called the Division to which the Minister has referred, was not fully aware of the issues raised by the clause. When he was made aware of them, he did not vote against the clause, and nor did anyone else. No one wished to see that clause defeated. My hon. Friends and I continued to support it. There would have been Divisions only on issues that were contested, and there were a number of those. There are serious issues which separate the two sides of the House.
Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West) : Perhaps my hon. Friend will care to put to the Minister that the debate which we were due to have on the evening of Tuesday following the Division to which he has referred was on new clause 10, which concerned grandparents.
Column 1092There would have been no rogue vote on that new clause. Hon. Members had come to the Chamber ready to debate the new clause. We were no later reaching it than we expected earlier. It was clear, however, that the Government would not be able to keep their troops in the House. The Government were concerned and they brought the consideration of the Bill to an end. There would have been no rogue votes. The debate on grandparents would have taken place whatever the circumstances and whatever the attitude of my hon. Friends to any other measure.
Mr. Hinchliffe : My hon. Friend is correct. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North, who called what has been described as the rogue vote, is a grandfather. I know that he feels deeply about the issues that we were to debate and the surrounding issues. I have no doubt that he would have contributed to the debate, as he did to the debate on day care.
The central issue is that the Children Bill deals with the needs of the most disadvantaged in our society. Unfortunately, the Government are attaching less priority to it than to numerous other measures that are designed further to advantage the advantaged. Privatisation measures are designed to allow those who have plenty to have even more. That is the kernel of the debate. Under this Government Bills which deal with human need, such as the Children Bill, take second place to Bills which deal with human greed.
I shall give an example. We learnt today that next Wednesday we are to be faced with a squalid little measure, the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. Can anyone explain why that private Bill is being given prime time?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot go into those matters now. Those issues are not referred to in the motion before the House. The hon. Gentleman must confine his remarks to that motion.
Mr. Hinchliffe : With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I accept your ruling. As one who has been a Member of this place for only two years, I find it strange that we have to sit up for half the night, as we did on Tuesday, to discuss disadvantaged children, the care of children and child abuse because, we are told, there is no other Government time when time can be made available for a squalid private Bill which involves the interests of certain hon. Members. Hon. Members have been on freebies to South Africa --
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what I said a few minutes ago, that he must confine his remarks to the motion before us. The matters to which he referred are set down for debate next week, and I think that we had better wait for next week to discuss them.
Mr. Skinner : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that the House is discussing the effects of our proceedings last night and the fact that the Government are now in a complete shambles, but I want the Government spokesman to tell us when the Government will make a statement about the resignation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which has just been announced on the tapes. Why is it that in the middle of a debate, which has been brought about because of the
Column 1093shambles within the Government, there is no spokesperson available to tell us about the dramatic resignation of the Chancellor? Why is not the Prime Minister in the Chamber to tell the House why that has happened? Has the Chancellor been driven out by Sir Alan Walters? Who will succeed the Chancellor? Those are very important questions. I know that the debate is important and that my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) is doing a fair splash job on the question of the guillotine, but the resignation of the Chancellor is a most important matter. Obviously there has been a dramatic confrontation between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor during the past few hours, which has reached its untimely conclusion with the resignation of the Chancellor. Why is there no one on the Government Front Bench ready to explain what has happened? They have a duty to explain to this House why the Chancellor has resigned.