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Mr. Cryer : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would have been necessary for us to sit all through the night to provide the time for debate that was originally agreed--the second of two days? It was only the intervention of an important economic debate, which we initiated and which appears even more important now in the light of present circumstances, that produced a debate on the Children Bill after 10 o'clock, which by virtue of two Divisions meant 10.30 pm. In effect, the Government curtailed debate shortly after the second day of consideration had begun. If we had started at the usual time of half-past 4 or 5 o'clock, that action would have been equivalent to the Government curtailing the debate at, say, 7 or 7.30, which is patently absurd.
Mr. Vaz : My hon. Friend is right. We were prepared to discuss this important measure. Many hon. Members had decided to drive into Westminster that evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) told me that he did so because he wanted to raise a number of points. It was no secret that our deliberations were to start at 10 o'clock and go on until 2 o'clock in the morning.
I was surprised when the Minister of State rose in his place and moved that the House should adjourn. I do not think that he wanted to do that. Judging by his handling of the Bill, I believe that he would have liked to proceed. It was not a matter of the hon. Gentleman wanting to get back home. I have lived in Richmond, which adjoins Putney. It takes about 20 minutes to get to Richmond, and I am sure that it takes the hon. Gentleman a similar time to return to his constituency. I believe that he would have liked to continue the discussion, but he is not responsible. He is not yet Leader of the House, although he may be by the end of my speech, so he is not responsible for the way in which the business of the House is managed. The Opposition do not hold him responsible for what happened.
The Opposition were prepared to continue the debate because of the amendments that had been tabled. The House should know about the contribution of the voluntary sector to the passage of the Children Bill. We want it to reach the statute book. I wish that the Minister had accepted my amendment rather than proceeded with the child assessment order, but I accept the decision of the House. As one who has practised law, I feel that it is vital to codify child care law and that, instead of the piecemeal law which has existed for more than a century, there should be one definitive statute to which we and parents can go to find out what the law is. We have a legal duty and a moral responsibility to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book. We were prepared to sit throughout Tuesday night, into the early hours of Wednesday morning, through lunchtime and into the afternoon to ensure that the Bill was saved. The voluntary sector believed that that was necessary.
As Ministers know, ever since the Lord Chancellor introduced the Bill in the other place, voluntary
Column 1106organisations have been writing to him, his officials and members of the Committee about the operation of child care law.
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : I appreciate what my hon. Friend says about the Minister's co-operation on the whole Bill. Were any reasons given to my hon. Friend or other members of the Committee as to why the Government wanted to pull stumps at that time in the morning, when the Opposition had offered to debate the whole Bill? The 400-odd Government amendments and other issues which we wanted to raise could have been given a full, open debate. Instead, the Government are trying through the guillotine motion to curtail discussions on certain items on which most of us would like to contribute if there is time.
Mr. Vaz : My hon. Friend was here. I paid tribute to him for his work on the grandparent amendments. The Minister of State gave no reason why the debate had to be adjourned. In his intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, he said that he did not feel that it was proper for the debate on the Children Bill to proceed while many Divisions were being forced on largely technical amendments. The hon. Gentleman may not have felt that that was an appropriate way to proceed, but the way in which the Government are proceeding now is much worse. What a squalid way to end this landmark piece of legislation. What an appalling way to treat such an important statute. This is not the proper way to proceed on a measure on which there is consensus and to which many people have been waiting many years to contribute.
Before every Committee sitting we met representatives of the voluntary sector, including the Family Rights Group, the Children's Legal Centre, the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering and the British Association of Social Workers. The Minister and his officials made a great effort and took much time to ensure that they had the support of the Association of Directors of Social Services and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children before introducing the new clause on the child assessment order. I vividly remember the Minister coming before the Committee in the middle of a sitting with a piece of paper and stating that at last the war between the ADSS and the NSPCC about the idea of a child assessment order was over and they were happy with it. Those organisations- -two of the most powerful agencies dealing with child work--wrote to us saying that a compromise had been reached. Because of that news, the sitting was adjourned.
Groups such as the well-respected Family Rights Group, which is located in Islington, and the Children's Legal Centre, which had prepared an enormous amount of work through briefing materials and amendments, need to be carried with us. If they know, as the country now knows, that the Government wish to proceed on this historic measure in this squalid way, they will be bitterly disappointed that, after all the concessions and co- operation achieved in the past, this is how it ends.
Column 1107The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) has joined us. I do not know whether during his absence he has issued another press release. During my speech, he made some comments from a sedentary position.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I always enjoy interrupting his speeches. He has said that this is a squalid way to conduct matters. If a guillotine were not imposed on the Bill now, would not the legislation fall at the end of the Session? When I was here last night, the hon. Gentleman said that he was prepared for this important legislation to be carried over into the new Session. He knows as well as I know that many voluntary bodies which have been briefing him and me during the Bill's passage in Committee have been anxious to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book and is implemented as soon as possible. It is a sad turnaround that the Labour party is prepared to sell this Bill down the river in pursuit of narrow mining interests.
Mr. Vaz : That is the ultimate cheek, coming from the hon. Member for Stockton, South who was not present during the second, late sitting on the Children Bill. The hon. Member told me that he stayed for the Division on child registration fees and then went home because he did not believe that there was anything of importance left to discuss, despite the fact that we have all these amendments to consider. It is a cheek to come to this House, having issued a press release which received a lot of coverage in The Times criticising the Labour Opposition for what they had done.
I am sorry if this is beginning to sound like a mutual admiration society-- I assure the House that it will last only for the duration of the Children Bill--but I must again commend the Minister, who was brave enough to repudiate the words of the hon. Member for Stockton, South and issue a denial that any Opposition member of the Committee was responsible for the delay.
Mr. Devlin : It is clear from Hansard that, during that evening's proceedings, an agreement that had been reached was broken. It had not been intended that there would be any further Divisions that evening. That was accepted on both sides of the House. Then a group of Labour Members came to the House, forced a Division in which no Labour Member voted, and subsequently claimed that they had not spoken and had had nothing to do with it. Yet it was quite clear from the atmosphere in the House at the time that that group of hon. Members intended to continue to force Divisions on matters which, until that time, had not been in any way controversial.
Mr. Vaz : The hon. Member for Stockton, South must have bionic sight as he talks about the mood of the House at 1.30 am on Wednesday, when he was not even here but in bed at the Barbican, or wherever his flat is. He could not possibly know the mood of the House. It is no wonder that his colleagues refer to him as the Peter Bruinvels of the current Session. He is not able to be present for the debate but apparently he has no need to take part to judge the mood. What an extraordinary person he must be-- although he is away from the House he knows its mood and what agreements have been reached.
Column 1108Yes, there was an agreement that this issue should be dealt with by 2 am this morning, but because of the passionate debates which had occurred earlier, and because the debate on registration charges went on a little longer than anticipated, the debates proceeded more slowly than had been intended.
The hon. Member cited the support of the voluntary sector. Of course the voluntary sector wants the Bill to become law. Of course we want it on the statute book. If the hon. Gentleman had been here at the start of my speech he would have known what I said--that we want the Bill to become law as soon as possible. If the hon. Member for Stockton, South has read the Bill- -perhaps that is what he is doing now--he will know that the date for its implementation is 1 April 1991, so it will make no difference if it is introduced in the new Session. Members have come to the House to confuse the public by talking about the new Session as though it were 100 years away. As far as I know, prorogation is between 15 and 22 November, which is only a week. If the Government believe that the Bill needs to be considered carefully, it is important that we should take time to ensure that we discuss the amendments in detail.
Mr. Devlin : If the Bill is not passed by the end of this Session, it falls and has to start through all its parliamentary stages once again. As the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) knows, because he is a lawyer, there could be a carry-over motion. The hon. Member for Leicester, East has been studying my activities with great care, and has just said that he thought I might be reading the Bill. During many hours in Committee I have had ample opportunity to study the Bill, its provisions and all the amendments, including my own amendment which the hon. Gentleman supported.
On Tuesday the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), the Front Bench spokesman for the Labour party, said :
"That said, however--I say this especially in the presence of the Leader of the House, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is, of course, a reasonable man-- when other reasonable hon. Members representing mining areas feel it necessary to demonstrate, as they have done, because they genuinely feel that they have a grievance about Associated British Ports--"
which is exactly what the hon. Member for Leicester, East has just said. Then the hon. Member--
Mr. Devlin : I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Leicester, East has been watching my actions with great care. I should like to direct him to the next sentence which states that "the Front Benches have endeavoured to co-operate to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book. That remains our position. I hope, of course, that time will be found in which to continue the Bill's remaining stages. I repeat that our position is that we shall not seek to oppose the Bill. We want to see it on the statute book".--[ Official Report, 24 October 1989 ; Vol. 158, c. 806.] :
Column 1109Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), who is not able to be present in the House this evening due to pressing constituency business--he has had to attend a funeral--and who was not aware that this issue would be debated this afternoon. The first we knew about it was at 2 am today, when we were here to take part in discussions on the Companies Bill, and I was here to present a petition on the problem of gipsy encampments near my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West is therefore not able to be here to answer.
Mr. Madden : Despite the bluff and bluster that we have heard from Conservative Members throughout the debate on the guillotine motion, there were hon. Members present during the early hours of Wednesday morning who were willing, able and would have been pleased to complete all the remaining stages of the Children Bill and who would have given it their blessing on its way to the other place. The other fact that Conservative Members seem to wish to avoid is that, after just two hours of Committee debate, the Minister moved an adjournment motion which the Government carried, despite the fact that 22 Labour Members voted against it, demonstrating their willingness to complete all stages of this important Bill, which we have supported throughout.
Mr. Vaz : I greatly respect my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), who assisted me when I first came into the House when we were on the Immigration Bill Committee together. He has great knowledge of these issues, and he is right. Opposition Members wished to proceed with the debate. I and other hon. Members went into the Division Lobby to ensure that the House did not adjourn. I was happy to stay late last night because I had a petition to present and therefore had to be here.
The hon. Member for Stockton, South talked about the wishes of the voluntary sector. I believe that the voluntary sector wants us to get this Bill right and to take a great deal of time debating and analysing the amendments which have been put forward, quite properly, by the Minister. The voluntary sector believes that it will be a long time before Parliament will find the time and political will to debate these issues again, because we have waited until the very end of this Government's term of office to consider legislation covering children. It is a sign of the fact that it is not given a high priority. If it were, we should have been discussing it in 1979, rather than at this stage.
A Labour Government will clearly be elected at the next general election and will wish to ensure that time is made available, but I am worried that there will be so many other pieces of legislation that we shall have to implement that the children issue and the area of social policy concerning children may not come back again. I assure the Minister that when we come back to new clause 13 the new Labour Government will amend that provision fairly swiftly. The voluntary sector wants to ensure that the Bill is a good Bill and that all the technical difficulties have been sorted out. A short delay at the final stage would not go amiss. As the hon. Member for Stockton, South knows, the Minister of State was in negotiation with Labour Members and others in Committee. His officials had emergency meetings with the Association of Directors of
Column 1110Social Services and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children last Thursday evening to get through the provision on the child assessment order. Had we waited another week, the period of seven days for child assessment orders might have come down to three days as a result of the negotiations taking place. A short delay might well have been in order.
The hon. Member for Stockton, South says that the House will have to introduce a carry-over motion. I do not know what a carry-over motion is, but I accept that the hon. Gentleman has read the necessary documents. I am sure that the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), could come to some arrangement to enable us to agree a carry-over motion so that the Bill could be dealt with after the new Session begins.
We must bear in mind our long wait for the Bill and the fact that it will not even come into effect until 1 April 1991, because many of its provisions need to be the subject of scrutiny by local authorities and many of the provisions concerning legal proceedings and the amendments introduced by the Solicitor-General require rules of court. It is not possible to implement the Children Bill unless the rules of court have been sorted out.
The hon. Member for Stockton, South, as a lawyer, will remember that those points were raised in Committee when we discussed the need to have the Government's proposals brought before the Committee so that we could discuss issues such as the time necessary for the local authority to serve a notice on parents. We had a discussion on time limits. When I pressed the Minister in Committee on why he had suggested a period of 72 hours as the necessary time for a parent to challenge an emergency protection order, he said that he had to come to some decision on time. He had decided on 72 hours because it was a reasonable time and he believed that it gave parents a reasonable chance to challenge the order that was to be made. He then went on to promise me and the other members of the Committee that rules of court would be made. That shows that there is plenty of time to decide on the necessary rules of court and plenty of time in which to conduct negotiations on the most appropriate time available.
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) : It is important to clear up this matter. As I understand it, there is no way in which there could be a carry -over motion. There is no question of the Bill being able to go into the next Session. If we do not get it now, we shall not get it at all. I think that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, can confirm that no carry-over motion is possible. Either we get the Bill this Session, or it is lost.
Madam Deputy Speaker : That is the case. I refer the House to the proposal for suspending or resuming Bills. Proposals have been made for provision either by statute or by Standing Orders for the suspension of public Bills from one Session to another or for resuming proceeding upon such Bills, notwithstanding a Prorogation. There is no mechanism by which there can be a carry-over motion for a public Bill. It is up to the Government to get their Bill through during this Session.
Column 1111by the hon. Member for Stockton, South. It is so reminiscent of Peter Bruinvels in Leicester that the information given was clearly not necessarily correct.
Mr. Madden : I am grateful for the advice that you gave the House, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you also confirm that there was no impediment to the Bill completing its Report stage and Third Reading during the early hours of Wednesday morning?
Mr. Vaz : I am grateful for the facts that you have given, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the Clerk for researching the point. In view of that, I urge the Government to look at the business of the House until 15 November. We now know when the Queen's Speech will be, so we can decide on our priorities. If the Children Bill is a priority, as I believe it is, it is necesary to remove some of the other pieces of legislation proposed for the next three weeks. I suggest the Football Spectators Bill, for example. I was a member of the Committee on that Bill and I believe that if the Minister spoke to his hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and suggested that the Bill should wait until the new Session, when we have the Taylor report, the Children Bill could be debated for the whole of Friday, which would give us sufficient time.
It is important that we hear the Minister's response. However, I want to mention one point that will be discussed tomorrow because, unfortunately, I shall not be able to be in the House tomorrow afternoon to make the point then. We need a discussion on wardship. The Minister of State has said often that he accepts the advice given by the NSPCC. Its advice at present is that clause 84 should be amended and that the Government should delay the implementation of the wardship provisions. The Opposition, the NSPCC and other voluntary organisations do not believe that wardship should be curtailed. I urge the Minister to consider that point.
This is a squalid way to end a Bill of such importance, but there is a way out. I accept the guidance that you have given, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I ask the Government and the Minister, in all honesty, to find the extra time that we need next week to discuss the Children Bill. It is a very important piece of legislation and it is unlikely that we shall return to consider this area of law for many decades to come.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) in his opening speech this afternoon described the situation as a shambles. Subsequent events perhaps have rather dwarfed this debate and given it an element of anticlimax, but they do not alter the fact that we are discussing the chaotic position of the Government's legislation. I would wager that what the Prime Minister said at Kuala Lumpur
Column 1112was a model of diplomacy compared with what she said to her Leader of the House and her Chief Whip when she returned to London yesterday.
I recall an item in, of all newspapers, one much liked by Conservative Members-- The Sun --which said five years ago : "Come home, Maggie. Rarely can any bunch of Government Ministers have presented such a spectacle of bungling, pathetic incompetence as was unveiled at Westminster yesterday.
At the centre of this comedy of errors--or, more accurately, tragedy of errors--was the hapless Sir Geoffrey Howe Has someone stolen his political judgment, or his political instincts?"
Although that was written five years ago, it could have been rerun this morning and it would have been absolutely relevant.
But what happened last night at midnight? The Leader of the House recovered his diplomatic touch. He crept in here when he thought that no one would notice and at a stroke destroyed the links and the channels between the Opposition and the Government. He abandoned them unilaterally and arbitrarily. He came with a statement about which he had not warned us and he introduced not one but two guillotines about which he had not told us. All that was done without warning and without discussion. His actions were arbitrary and unilateral--exactly the same as those that he pursued at GCHQ when he tore up existing agreements.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman skulked in here and launched on the House his double-bladed guillotine. His timing was superlative. We are in the final two weeks of the Session and the date for the one state opening of Parliament has been set. This is the time that the Government most need the co-operation of the Opposition, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman managed to destroy it. If we now echoed what he did to us last night, the Government would already be dismantling the arrangements for the State opening of Parliament.
The Prime Minister must dread going away--that is even more apposite in view of today's events. I have a cartoon with me from the Sunday Express which appeared five years ago at the same time as the quote that I read from The Sun . It shows two monks carrying candles in some vaults peering into a barrel and saying :
"You can't hide here for long, Sir Geoffrey. She'll get you sooner or later now she's back".
She got him just before midnight last night and we are now debating the consequences. At least we should give the man credit. He has beeen in the job for three months and he is already in the record books. In this one Session of Parliament eight guillotines have been introduced. Today, when we complained about lack of time, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had the impudence to suggest that we should guillotine the two guillotines by not taking the full three hours to debate the motion.
I do not blame the Minister for Health. I have been impressed by the good will he has engendered on our Benches. The biggest obstacle to both Bills has been the Government, not the Opposition. The problem is not just the number of amendments tabled, but their sheer complexity and intricacy. The Children Bill attracted 38 pages of amendments and the Companies Bill 99 pages. The Government then complain that we wasted 15 minutes on what they considered an unnecessary vote.
By the time we finished at 11.26 pm on Monday, we had dealt with 293 amendments and new clauses to the
Column 1113Children Bill--288 of which had been tabled by the Government. The following night, however, at 1.30 am, well before any agreed deadline, the Minister moved the adjournment of the debate. We voted against that and a study of the vote shows that only 110 Tory Members voted, among whom there were only 19 Ministers or Whips. The debate was adjourned because the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip panicked. They were afraid that they would not be able to muster 100 Tory Members to vote and, despite our willingness to continue, they ended the debate. The sole excuse that they could offer was that we had dared to have one vote--there were not attendant speeches--which took up 15 minutes on an item which the Government considered did not warrant a vote. That is a measure of the indictment against us. Mr. Devlin rose --
The Government have also complained about the Companies Bill, but who came here with a statement that lasted an hour and a quarter before we started our deliberations on that Bill? We did not do that--they did. Who tabled 300 amendments on the day of the debate? Not us. The Government should not pretend that the Opposition are responsible for the chaos, as they made the Bill up as they went along. On the last day of our deliberations in Committee, the Minister tabled 15 new clauses. In effect, those new clauses represented a new Financial Services Bill, but the Opposition were not given time to debate them. The Companies Bill is such a masterpiece of the draftsman's art that the Government have moved 1, 100 amendments altogether --400 in the Lords, 400 in Committee and 300 yesterday. Now 700 of those amendments must go back to the Lords, so we shall start the process all over again. It is the Government, not the Opposition, who have sabotaged the Bill. They have drowned it in amendments.
I accept that much of the responsibility rests with the Chief Whip and perhaps with Ministers rather than with the Leader of the House. When the Prime Minister appointed the right hon. and learned Gentleman, she might have felt that she now had a winning team in charge of Government business. I am afraid that she must have a poor memory. What a Session the next one promises to be if the right hon. and learned Gentleman remains in post.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's credentials are exciting and, five years ago, they were noted by the newspapers. The Daily Telegraph, no great supporter of us, ran the headline :
"Howe centre of Tory disarray"
The Guardian carried the headline :
"The disaster zone around Geoffrey Howe".
The Sun noted :
"Fury as Howe slips up again".
The Daily Mirror ran the headline, "Howe blunder", the Sunday Mirror spoke of a "Whitehall farce" and the main headline in The Times read, "Embarrassed Howe". My favourite headline is one that appeared on the front page of the Daily Mirror. It showed a photograph of the right hon. and learned Gentleman as though standing on his head and the headline ran :
"Dear Sir Geoffrey Have you ever had one of those weeks when nothing goes right?"
Column 1114That takes us back to where we started when I quoted from The Sun. The Daily Mirror should rerun that headline tomorrow as it is every bit as relevant today as it was five years ago.
We do not yet know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be doing in the next Session, but let us remember that the man who helped to create this mess is the man who sank the economy in one Budget. He is the man who bungled the GCHQ sackings so badly that he gave the Government the worst three days of headlines that they have ever had--until, I suspect, the three days that are about to come. This is the man who will be in charge of the business of the House--we think--for the next 12 months. It promises to be an exciting year for me.
Last night, the right hon. and learned Gentleman demonstrated his fine touch. I look forward to the new Session, assuming that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not in charge of a nuclear power station in the Outer Hebrides.
The Minister for Health (Mr. David Mellor) : If a week is a long time in politics, I have found that three hours is equally long. I appreciate that some of the interest in this debate may have dissipated during its course. I congratulate all of those who, notwithstanding the eruptions around them, nevertheless sought to keep their eye on the ball. I shall seek to follow in that noble tradition, although I shall not criticise the House if, on this occasion, hon. Members find other matters more compelling than my oratory to talk about. I shall do my best to play out elegantly the time remaining in the debate.
We agree about a lot of things this evening, not least that it is important that the Children Bill should go on the statute book. Far too much work has been done on the Bill for it to be lost. I am grateful that the co- operation across the Chamber on this Bill has been recognised. Such recognition is always the first thing to go out of the window when things get tough. There has been genuine co-operation on the Bill. I have no complaint against the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) or the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), who have worked extremely hard on the Bill. They were supported by an able team in Committee. I believe that the Bill, as it emerged from Committee, is stronger for the careful consideration it was given during 17 sittings.
I believe, however, that there was something missing from the speech of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). He did not recognise the new factor that entered into our discussions at 10.30 pm on Tuesday. We had arranged for the Children Bill to pass into law. However, an unnecessary Division was called by two hon. Members. Whatever other involvements they have in this House--and both are active hon. Members-- neither had been active in our deliberations on the Children Bill. They were plainly activated by a grievance other than any objections to the inoffensive technical amendment under consideration. Both the hon. Members for Monklands, West and for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) candidly acknowledged that the dispute was about the Associated British Ports Bill and said that it was likely that several Divisions would be called--not because of any objections to what was being proposed by the Government, but simply to advance that grievance.
Column 1115That is a parliamentary tactic for which there are precedents. However, one parliamentary tactic may be met by another kind of parliamentary tactic and the tactic now being deployed is that of confining the debate. It is being done for three reasons. Once we move from the necessary battle lines that have to be drawn in the artificial huff and puff that has characterised the past three hours--fun though it has been for all kinds of reasons--I imagine that we can agree about those three things.
First, the Bill is necessary. It has been a good thing that, in the course of a busy Session, it has proved possible to find the time for a Bill that could easily have been squeezed out by other more contentious measures. As the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) eloquently said, we will not have the chance to return to this issue for quite some time, and we cannot afford to lose the Bill. It must become law.
Secondly, we have to acknowledge the price that has had to be paid. First, there is the care and skill that the parliamentary draftsmen have brought to bear on the legislation. Secondly, as changes have been made in deference to the wishes of the House, the Bill needs to be further considered in the Lords. It is therefore necessary that the Bill is delivered to the other place in good time to allow that consideration to take place. It cannot be left hanging around any more than can the Companies Bill.
Thirdly--this point is highly relevant--there was an arrangement through the usual channels that the Bill must be completed, notwithstanding the amount of time that had been eaten into as a result of the emergency motion on the economy on Tuesday. Perhaps Friday should have been chosen for that debate, but there we are, it happened on Tuesday. Indeed, we know that the Bill's passage could have been completed already if common sense had prevailed among hon. Members throughout the House.
Notwithstanding the fact that it has been necessary to curtail our debate on the Bill, we still have three hours of debate tomorrow. That is actually more than the time that it was originally envisaged that the Bill would take to complete once the last contentious piece of business had been disposed of. There would also have been plenty of time for the Companies Bill to be further considered tonight if it had not been for the point that was argued at length in the House yesterday evening, which in itself was not contentious.
It has been suggested that there was some doubt about whether it would have been possible for us to complete our progress on the Children Bill. There was also some doubt about whether the Government could move as they did. Any doubt that might have existed about whether progress was possible must surely have been washed away by what happened in the House last night when some of the following exchanges took place-- [Interruption.]
"in the case of a company incorporated after the commencement of that Part, the last day of the month in which the anniversary of its incorporation falls."
A deeply radical and searching amendment of the utmost controversy was tabled in which it was suggested that the
Column 1116word "Part" should be removed and the word "Section" be inserted. One might have assumed that that would pass relatively unnoticed, but no. It caused a Division that took 20 minutes of parliamentary time. Then, lo and behold, if we move on to clause 4(2), we find that it states :
"Schedule 4 to the Companies Act 1985 is amended in accordance with Schedule 1."
Again, a deeply damaging amendment was tabled by the Government that would have added the words "to this Act" to the end of that sentence, yet notwithstanding the relative inoffensiveness of those words a Division was forced.
It was perfectly obvious that, whatever else was motivating hon. Members last night, it was not a deep concern about improving the Companies Bill. That was made abundantly clear by the fact that the Tellers for those Divisions were not the official Opposition Tellers, but were from the group concerned about the Associated British Ports Bill.
There are many precedents for guillotines in the House. Indeed, on one famous occasion the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) managed to bring five guillotines to the House in one evening. When pressed about that in a debate last year, he said :
"Those five guillotines were introduced on 20 July. That is quite late in the Session. If we had not had the guillotine motions, all those five measures would have been destroyed. There is not the slightest doubt about that."--[ Official Report, 22 February 1988 ; Vol. 128, c. 39.]
From that impeccable parliamentary source has come the reason for tonight's guillotine.
Question put :--
The House divided : Ayes 195, Noes 98.
Division No. 354] [7.46 pm
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Buck, Sir Antony
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Fishburn, John Dudley
Fookes, Dame Janet
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Fox, Sir Marcus
Glyn, Dr Alan
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)