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Column 1006reason for the motion has nothing to do with the amount of time that has already elapsed in our discussion of these Bills; it is simply to ensure that the Government wrap up their business-- whether or not there has been proper discussion of it--in time for the state opening of Parliament and the Queen's Speech. That is the driving force behind the motion and everybody knows it.
The Leader of the House will not be disappointed in at least one hope that he expressed as he will not get any foaming blood-red speeches from me about the need for the House to sit day and night to discuss legislation. In the almost 20 years that I have been a Member I have never thought it sensible to sit through the night. I do not believe that the overwhelming majority of our people think that that is sensible. Frankly, they think that it is barmy and I share their view. Although it is not possible to do so on this occasion, I hope that the Leader of the House will give practical effect to what he said about seriously considering a reform of our procedures. I assure him that he will have my support if he does so.
The Leader of the House has made some play, as he did in the early hours of this morning, about the difference in the rate of progress on the Local Government and Housing Bill between Monday and Tuesday. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has already pointed out that there were significant differences in the issues before the House on those days. At about 1 am today I gave a rather whimsical smile when the Leader of the House remonstrated with us all and said that on Monday we had managed to get through 300 amendments, as though there had to be some daily quota of amendments of which we should dispose.
It appeared that, because we had not got through another 300 on Tuesday, our behaviour was outrageous and that was an end to the matter.
Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that the introduction of the community charge and the circumstances in which it will be introduced, which we debated at great length on Monday, is not a significant issue between the parties?
Dr. Cunningham : Of course not. Its more accurate name, however, is the poll tax--certainly that is how it is known outside the House and outside the Conservative party. If any Conservative Members believe that their constituents talk about something called the community charge they are deluding themselves. The poll tax is one of the most controversial issues in contemporary politics, but some of the aspects of the Local Government and Housing Bill which were before the House yesterday are also controversial.
I remind the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) that 20 groups of amendments--not 20 amendments--remain to be considered on that Bill. That means that 10 groups must be discussed per hour given the timetable laid down by the Leader of the House, which is equivalent to six minutes per group. In total there are about 150 amendments still to be considered. I remind the Leader of the House that, in the main, those amendments are not Opposition ones. It was the Government who came back from the House of Lords with more than 600 amendments to their own legislation. For the Leader of the House to try to convey the impression that, somehow, all this extra parliamentary time is the fault of the Opposition is grossly misleading. We are talking about Government
Column 1007legislation that has been amended 600 times by Ministers, but we are expected simply to acquiesce to those changes. Apparently we are expected to speed the passage of the Bill. Whatever else the duties and responsibilities of the Opposition are, they are not to secure Government legislation--quite the reverse. The Leader of the House was on shaky ground when he advanced that argument.
The reason why we have had two timetable motions from the right hon. and learned Gentleman in four weeks and four timetables on four different Bills is that he has inherited a business timetable that is in a shambles. The Government's business programme has run--
Mr. David Hunt indicated dissent.
Dr. Cunningham : Well he would be wise not to make sedentary interventions or I might just take advantage of him and respond. The Government's business programme is in difficulties because large numbers of important amendments have been made against the Government's wishes in the other place. I recognise and admit that we worked hard for and supported some of those amendments, and, therefore, some of them are welcome. However, it is also because the Government brought much of this legislation to the House in such a badly prepared state that it has been necessary over and over again, at every stage of proceedings, for Ministers, in Committee, the other place, and on the Floor of this House, to seek to change, correct and improve their own legislation.
Slowly but surely, the timetable of Government legislation has run into greater and greater difficulties. That is due to incompetent business management by Ministers as much as, if not more than, the Opposition or deliberate delaying tactics in this House. There has been no sign of any attempt to filibuster any of the legislation. That is why, until now, no timetable has been imposed on it. Therefore, from whichever angle we look at this matter, the Government's irresponsibility and incompetence have led us to this position today.
We have had 50 local government Bills during the Government's term of office. The one before us today is the fiftieth. Even after 50 attempts to get things right, the Government have come along at the 11th hour with more changes and corrections. They are in such a mess over local government policy because they have no underlying, cohesive principles about it. Therefore, they will never get it right and are unlikely to get much, if any, support from the Opposition on local government legislation.
As the House knows, I have, inevitably, had less to do with the second Bill affected by the timetable proposal : the Employment Bill. The Secretary of State for Employment, who is present, will know better than I what the major points of opposition to the Bill have been. It has not been thought necessary to curtail discussion on that Bill, which has been strongly opposed at various stages, but has nevertheless progressed. However, now, suddenly and
Column 1008abruptly, discussion of it is being curtailed simply for the convenience of the Government's legislative timetable, and no other legitimate reason.
If the positions of Government and Opposition were reversed--as certainly they soon will be--and nothing about parliamentary procedure had changed in the interim, Ministers and shadow Ministers would almost be making reverse speeches. An irony of this system is that it goes on and on. The next Government, a Labour Government, will almost certainly find it necessary, because of the arcane procedures of the House, to insist on timetable motions at some time. There is no point in disguising that. It is in the interests of all hon. Members, the Government and certainly our constituents, that we get together to do something about it. Sooner or later, people who, with the advent of television, will have more opportunity than ever before, thank goodness, to scrutinise the affairs of the House, will say that the system has been brought into disrepute.
I have no reservations about opposing the motion on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, I hope that the new Leader of the House will look at the matter, his own position and difficulties, learn some of the lessons and seek to reform our procedures. 4.14 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) refreshingly frankly said that if the roles were reversed the same speeches would have been made. There is something of a ritual about these debates--
Although there has always and rightly been some outrage about guillotine motions, I notice that in a speech on such a motion in 1988--on the Education Reform Bill--the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), said that about 20 years ago debates on timetable motions lasted a full day, the House was packed for them and relationships between the usual channels were strained to breaking point. It is a sign of the times that now, when guillotine motions come along, they produce an almost empty House. The ritual speeches of outrage are made, but the usual channels appear reasonably fluid.
Be that as it may, important issues are at stake. For a change, the Leader of the House did not cite the precedent of the occasion when the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) guillotined five Bills in one day--no doubt that will come up at some stage in the debate. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman responded to my intervention by saying that precedents have developed. Today we are setting a precedent. The right hon. and learned Gentleman could not cite a previous occasion of a timetable motion being introduced on a Bill such as the Employment Bill on which there has been no time wasting or filibustering. I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Bill and spoke on Report and I know that the debates were constructive and, on the whole, good.
Column 1009The timetable motion has been brought in merely because of the deadline of the end of the Session and it will be used as a precedent for similar motions. Thus are the rights of Back Benchers and of the House eroded.
The motion provides that after certain Questions are put Mr. Speaker will take all the remaining Lords amendments together and ask the House whether it agrees with them. It is breathtaking to ask hon. Members to agree with everything when they might want to disagree with some amendments and agree with others. We will be asked to agree to them on the nod, with no attempt having been made to separate them.
I also note that the Question on the appointment of a quorum and the membership of a committee to draw up reasons why the House might disagree with a Lords amendment will be put forthwith. Nothing is said about an amendment to that motion being taken forthwith. These committees are usually devised by Front Benchers from both sides without consulting other parties. It is interesting to speculate on what might happen if my right hon. and hon. Friends and I or a member of the other minority parties tabled an amendment to change the composition of the committee. It appears that there is nothing to stop a lengthy debate on such an amendment. I should be grateful if the Leader of the House would confirm that.
Many of the amendments were tabled at a very late stage in the other place. I understand that the other place resumed business on the Local Government and Housing Bill on Monday 9 October. On 6 October, 192 new Government amendments had been tabled, one of them 17 pages long. Included in the batch were amendments to the poll tax legislation. Many of their Lordships complained bitterly about the lack of time that they had been given in which to consider important Government amendments.
Not only were amendments introduced on the Employment Bill to deal with the winding up of many of the industrial training boards, but the Bill's long title had to be changed to enable the Government to do that. So another Bill was tacked on at a late stage in the other place ; it has been brought here ; and it is now being nodded through in only three hours. Far from having the normal proceeding of three Readings plus Committee and Report in the House and a similar process in the other place, we are being asked to pass this important employment measure with the minimum of discussion in the House and in another place.
The measure deals with the winding up of industrial training boards and will involve consequences, not least about pensions, for the staff of the training boards. It does not enhance the reputation of parliamentary democracy when legislation can be dealt with in such a shorthand and off- hand manner. We are dealing with an unusual case because we are not being asked to deal with legislation that has been considered at great length in another place. There, it was virtually passed on the nod without close examination and we are being asked to do the same.
One of the most contentious points in the Local Government and Housing Bill relates to staircasing, and in that context the Government have tabled an amendment to disagree with the amendment tabled in another place. Some of today's newspapers have reported that the Government intend to respond to the Lords amendment with a package of measures. That is important, and if the House is asked to disagree with the Lords amendment on the basis of such a package I hope that in the remaining
Column 1010two hours of the debate the Minister or the Secretary of State will put the package on the record. I hope that we do not find that time has run out before we hear about that.
The amendments are tantamount to tacking a new Bill on to the Employment Bill and we should view that with some concern. Increasingly as Bills go through this House or the other place, some issue arises for which it is convenient to use the legislation that is going through. The result is that the nature of the legislation changes because of the addition of clauses. Insufficient time is then allowed when it comes back to the House for detailed scrutiny. Perhaps we can look at some ways in which such situations can be avoided. I should like to suggest a simple solution, although it is fundamentally different from our constitution. It is that the House should be relieved of all Scottish legislation through that legislation being referred to a Scottish Parliament. That would provide much more time for consideration of other measures in this Parliament.
Secondly, as the hon. Member for Copeland has suggested, perhaps we should start to look at proper timetabling from an early stage. There could be a legislative committee to do that. I understand the objections to it, not least the advantage that the Opposition could be said to be giving away because they could not exert pressure of time on the Government. However, given the way that the Government have acted, that does not amount to much of a weapon.
Thirdly, the Government could put their own house in order and not overload the legislative programme. We were always led to believe that the Conservative party came to power committed to reducing the burden of legislation and to rolling back the state. However, year after year more and more legislation seems to tumble out. We have passed legislation that allows Ministers to make orders and other secondary legislation. That must make life difficult for the ordinary citizen, not to mention accountants and lawyers, although in the case of lawyers it possibly also makes life profitable. That does not enhance our reputation. As I have said, it puts more burdens on the citizen who has to try to keep up. If the Government wish to avoid that they should calculate at the beginning of each Session how much legislation they wish to bring forward.
It is a matter of profound regret that we are being asked to railroad legislation. Again, that damages parliamentary democracy. Before the 1983 general election Lord Pym said that a large majority often carried some large problems. It has caused a profound problem for parliamentary democracy because with their large majority the Government think that they can do what they like. When it appears that there might be some procedural inconvenience they bring forward a timetable motion and use their large majority to pass whatever they like. These things do not promote the idea or concept of parliamentary democracy. For those reasons, we shall have no hesitation in voting against the timetable motion. I hope that, in another Session, we can arrange our procedures in such a way that legislation is not passed on the hoof as it is now.
Column 1011opportunities that they should have. Being a generous sort of person, I have in mind the Tory Opposition that we shall have after the next general election. I would imagine that when the Tories are in opposition, as they will be, they will not be in favour of the kind of reform advocated by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace).
It is often argued that the anger on the Opposition side over a guillotine motion is artificial and does not amount to anything. I assure the House that there was nothing artificial about our anger last night. It was genuine, because we believed that we were debating Lords amendments and our own amendments to an important Bill. No Tory Member could surely deny the importance of the substantive matters that were either being debated, or would have been debated had we been allowed to do so. Instead, at 11.30, the Government decided that enough was enough.
Nobody has seriously suggested that there was any filibustering. I spent 10 minutes speaking about ring fencing and related housing matters. I have looked at what my hon. Friends have said, and all their speeches were brief and relevant. What is interesting is that not one Tory Back Bencher considered it appropriate to speak, even on these matters of substance such as ring fencing and the way in which council tenants will be faced with even more substantial rent increases on top of those of the past few years.
We were dealing with the housing crisis and the plight of people who cannot afford a mortgage and so are denied adequate accommodation because over the past 10 years, local authorities in the main have not been able to build. Are these matters that can be considered minor or trivial? Are they not matters that should concern not only the Opposition but the House as a whole?
What I find surprising is a factor that came up again in Question Time today--the lack of seriousness with which Tory Members regard the homeless. [Interruption.] Some Tory Members are having a laugh, but what is funny about being homeless? What is amusing about the continuous vigil, taking place opposite Downing street, organised on behalf of the homeless by Shelter? What is amusing about so many of our fellow citizens having to spend time, often with children, in bed-and-breakfast hostels? Is it amusing that many will be spending Christmas in such accommodation? Should we dismiss that and say that it is of no great interest?
What is the House of Commons for if it is not willing to debate such serious matters as the plight of our fellow citizens, whether that is caused by lack of housing or lack of employment? Many people are denied adequate housing because they cannot now, and are not ever likely to be able to, afford a mortgage. These are serious issues, and that is why we believe that it is necessary to debate the other aspects of the Bill on planning, grants, repairs of council dwellings and houses in multiple occupation. We could not debate these issues last night, and we shall not be able to debate them at any length or at all today because of the timetable motion.
To us, if not to Tory Members, these are matters of great interest. We are not hypocrites. If we say to our constituents, when we respond to letters and to those who come to our surgeries, that these matters concern us, we mean it. When we say it during an election, we mean it.
Column 1012When we say that we shall raise certain issues if we are fortunate enough to be elected to the House of Commons, we mean it. If we did not mean it, there would be no reason and no justification for electing Labour party candidates to this place. We are genuine over these matters. Conservative Members may disagree with us as much as they like, but let them not deny our genuine commitment to housing, employment and other social and economic issues.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said from the Opposition Front Bench--I would not disagree with him for one moment--all Governments try to ensure that guillotine motions are carried. It would be kindergarten politics to pretend that when a Labour Government are in office they never try to carry guillotine motions. It would be wrong to say that a Labour Government would not try to do so in future. All Governments introduce and implement such motions, and they have done so for the past 100 years or so. I would not try to pretend otherwise. If I did, it would be easy enough to go to the Library and find the appropriate copies of Hansard . We are arguing that guillotine motions should not be introduced in the way which the Government have adopted. The Government have an ample majority, but they should be more reluctant to act as they are acting. They should show respect for the Opposition's wish to discuss issues.
There is undoubtedly a difference, even if Conservative Members are not willing to concede it now, between a Government with a majority of five or even fewer be it Labour or Tory, and a Government with a majority of 100 or more. There is a feeling outside this place that this is a Government who have a strong authoritarian approach. It is considered that they are led by a Prime Minister who does not show much respect for democracy. Moreover, it is considered that the Prime Minister does not show much respect for her Cabinet colleagues. It is unfortunate that the Government are displaying those same attitudes when dealing with the House. They are riding roughshod over our rights and privileges.
I do not mess around with procedure, and last night was the first time that I used the "I spy strangers" device. I did so to ensure that the Government's supporters would remain in this place for another 15 minutes. I do not pretend otherwise. I had no wish that the motion should be carried. The Minister appears to be shocked. He should be shocked when he is confronted with genuine issues. I do not know what the Minister is muttering, but I make no apology for moving such a motion last night for the reasons I have stated.
I give a warning which follows the concern that I voiced last night to the Leader of the House. If a Government are to show such a dictatorial attitude to the House and show contempt for it, there are ways for Opposition Members--if not those on the Front Bench, certainly those on the Back Benches--to make life extremely difficult for the Government. We all know that Tory Back Benchers are eager to be home at 10 pm, 10.30 pm or midnight at the latest.
Column 1013I feel certain that many Tory Back Benchers, unlike many of my constituents, have adequate accommodation. They are not the sort of people for whom the vigil outside Downing street is being organised. Many Tories on the Treasury Front Bench and on the Back Benches have more than one home.
If the Government are to adopt a dictatorial attitude, Opposition Back Benchers will then find ways and means of making life difficult for the Government. The new Session will begin shortly, and my hon. Friends and I are determined, notwithstanding that the Government have an ample majority, to find ways, as far as we are able, to ensure that important issues are debated at reasonable length. We shall not filibuster. We shall engage in proper debate, as we did last night. If the Government seek to deny us the opportunity to do so, we shall find ways and means. It takes only 25 Members--30 at the most--continually to make life extremely difficult for the Government.
The Leader of the House is not here, but I hope that the Minister will ask him to make that point very clear to all Ministers. We will not be fooled around with or treated with contempt, day in and day out. We have our rights. We were elected to voice our concerns about housing, employment and many other issues and we shall find every opportunity to do so.
Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking) : The kindest comment that I can make on the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is that he failed to deliver it with a straight face, and I can understand why. It is evident from the number of Opposition Members wishing to speak that they intend to prove the rule that speeches expand to fill the time available for their completion. I see no reason why I should not give them a hand in doing so. There is no reason why this debate should be a one-way process, and I very much hope that some of my hon. Friends will also intervene and put the other side of the coin.
It is clear from what the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said that he does not consider it to be any part of the Opposition's duty to help the Government get their legislation, and I would have been amazed had he said anything different. However, I am not sure whether he endorses the shrill threats of the hon. Member for Walsall, North to do everything possible to bring the proceedings of Parliament to a standstill. I do not think that that would raise the public's opinion of those on the Opposition Back Benches.
Dr. Cunningham : I thank the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene so early in his speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) did not threaten to bring the proceedings of Parliament to a standstill. He said that this place works by consent, and that if the consensus breaks down, it is easy for a small group of hon. Members to make life very difficult for Ministers. The chairman of the 1922 Committee knows that, because of his long experience in the House. I refer him to my constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) who, as Conservative Chief Whip, often did that very successfully during the period of the last Labour Government.
Column 1014do not know whether, ultimately, it did any good for those who set out to keep the House up all night. I first came to the House in 1964, when the Committee stage of the Finance Bill was still taken on the Floor of the House. As I left the House for a shave and a wash at 7 am, following one all-night sitting, I was greeted by one of my colleagues who said, "Well done, you will be glad to know that two of their side had heart attacks during the night." I did not think that that was the way to conduct parliamentary business.
If the hon. Member for Walsall, North reflects on that, I do not think that he will think it to be a good way to conduct parliamentary business. It is street hooliganism on a parliamentary level--but, of course, the hon. Gentleman is a street hooligan on a parliamentary level. I hope that he is not typical of the new, enlightened and ambitious Opposition leadership. Perhaps the same ritual and synthetic speeches that we hear on such occasions from Opposition Back Benches will be repeated again today
Mr. Winnick : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We are told by the Chair that parliamentary language should be observed. I resent being described as a parliamentary street hooligan ; I am nothing of the sort. I make no apology, and neither would my hon. Friends, for doing my job. I am not sure that the term "street hooligan" should be used or even whether it is in order. Perhaps you could guide us on that matter.
Mr. Onslow : I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I prefer not to be provoked into using such language--but if I am, I will. The Opposition, having filibustered, have been caught out. Having sought to burn up time in a way that has had a predictable result, they are now complaining because their whiskers are being singed. There is nothing strange or new about that. As I do not wish to prolong the proceedings, I shall not make a long speech, and I shall not give way to the hon. Member for wherever it is again. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will assure us that we have not had so many amendments to consider because of a defect in the draftsmanship of the Government's legislation. As an educated man, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will remember the quotation from Gilbert and Sullivan, which says : "I'm the parliamentary draftsman,
I draft the country's laws.
And of half its litigation,
I'm undoubtedly the cause."
That quotation goes back a bit, but I am not sure that things have changed. I do not wish to be unfair to the parliamentary draftsmen, but I wish to be assured that there are enough of them to discharge their duty to present legislation to the House in a form which does not require amendment. I hope that the House can be reassured on that matter by the Minister when he replies to the debate. It is an important issue for all right hon. and hon. Members. It is a great waste of our time to have to go over legislation because it has not been brought before us in a good enough form.
Column 1015Opposition Members may be surprised, but I believe that we are more likely to move towards the timetabling of Bills in Committee than many of them believe. I was not a member of the Select Committee on Procedure that recommended that there should be a Committee timetable for many Bills. Therefore, I cannot claim to have gone through all the arguments which brought its members to that conclusion, and I shall not comment on the Government response to the arguments that were then presented.
However, the House should consider the likely effect of televising the proceedings of Standing Committees. I believe we will soon come to a point where it will no longer be accepted as the role of Government Back Benchers to sit quiet, while Opposition Back Benchers spin out time, however familiar with that we may have become. Government Back Benchers have also been elected to speak. The hon. Member for Walsall, North does not seem to understand that. We shall enter into the debate. We have a precedent for doing that in the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill. A number of my colleagues from south of the border were fortunate enough to be invited to serve on the Committee stage of that Bill. They felt that they might as well enter into the debate and they did. I am glad to say that they trounced the Opposition thoroughly. I heard that in Scotland, so it must be true. That will not be the only occasion when that happens.
The Opposition should understand that the cherished right to burn up time in Committee will not be theirs for ever. That will be a great disappointment for many Opposition Members whom I see on the Back Benches. We are about to enter a different dimension, and I think that it will be a better one.
The proposition that we have to endure a battering from the arguments, or non-arguments, of Opposition Back Benchers in Committee before a guillotine can be obtained seems likely to go by the board. In 10 years' time it will be an accepted part of proceedings in the House to ration and allocate time sensibly and to keep speeches short, and I do not suppose that we will get many more debates like this. It will be good riddance to synthetic rubbish.
I was looking forward to a thorough debate on some of the Lords amendments. There are 33 amendments that we have not yet had a chance to debate in the House, and we oppose 23 of them. That is a considerable number. The amendments are concerned with issues which greatly divide the two sides of the House. For example, there are fundamental differences on questions of deregulating health and safety and exploiting young women and young people, and I do not agree with the definition of equality given by the Leader of the House. I am not impressed when a former Foreign Secretary tries to instruct me on equal rights. We have different opinions about that. I wanted the House to be able to discuss further the underlying emotion that has been expressed constantly by
Column 1016the Government--the job-at-any-cost mentality. People should not have to settle for jobs regardless of pay, terms and conditions. We need to discuss the health and safety at work provisions for young people in some detail. A longer debate would have given us an opportunity to air that thoroughly and to let the nation know some of the shocking statistics for young people at work.
Young people are often inexperienced, and they are not fully mature. They receive lower wages than adults. However, the Government are repealing protection for young workers in the Employment Bill. It would end the maximum 48-hour week for young people in factories, abolish compulsory breaks and remove the limit on overtime. As a result of those changes, approximately two thirds of the 900,000 young people concerned will no longer be protected by legislation, despite the undisputed evidence that people under 25 have a greater chance of being injured at work.
The House could usefully spend time debating these amendments if we had a chance. We oppose many of them, but it is important to discuss them.
I particularly wanted to discuss our amendment to clause 9, as it would extend help to where it is needed--to many parents on incomes below the Department of Employment's estimate of a full-time employee's earnings for the first month of that financial year. I wanted a long debate on that because I hoped that I could change Conservative Members' minds. I know that that is difficult, because Conservative Members have closed minds, but one lives in hope and it is always worth having a go.
If we intend to be serious about training people to re-enter the labour market, and to make full use of their talents and abilities, it would have been useful to give that amendment an airing. We have a dearth of trained workers and if we are to respond, it is important to go into the details and to look at the evidence that suggests what a badly trained work force we have. A debate on our amendment would have given us that opportunity.
The Government have made a mess of both these Bills--although one is more disgraceful than the other. Because of the drafting of the Bill and the large number of amendments, we will not be able to discuss vital issues.
I do not want a large number of people to be forced into employment training, as it is a dreadful scheme. It is just over one year old and it was hyped up by the Government as a massive investment to train today's unemployed. I have had evidence in my surgeries of some of the distress the scheme has caused.
The evidence to date shows all too clearly that the employment training scheme has failed to achieve any of its objectives. We could appropriately have discussed that failure had we dealt with a lengthy amendment relating to training. We all know of the scheme's miserable failure to recruit the numbers predicted by the Government, and to provide adequate work experience placements. My hon. Friends and I had hoped to discuss all that in detail. I feel that we have a particular duty to debate the failure of the ET scheme to meet the needs of the unemployed, but clearly no such debate will be possible before the end of the current Session.
The Government probably slotted in the timetable motion on the Employment Bill with that on the Local Government and Housing Bill to lose us a major opportunity to discuss their disastrous training record. We
Column 1017should have liked to debate the implications for the single market in 1992, particularly those relating to manufacturing industry. I also wanted to discuss the new clause dealing with the transfer of assets and staff to the industrial training boards, which has been touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott). The Lords new clause on the ITBs is simply another Bill tacked on to this one. It is disgusting ; but, if we are lucky enough to catch the eye of the Chair, we may have five minutes at the most in which to discuss it.
Many other important issues need to be brought into the glare of publicity, in the interests of democracy--not least the extra powers that yet another Tory Minister has given himself. In employment and training, as in so many other contexts, we are seeing a worrying centralisation of power. The guillotining of two such important Bills is outrageous. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is right : the Government are holding the House and the rights of its Members in contempt, and I wish to add my disgust to that of other Opposition Members.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : I wonder why the Opposition tried to delay discussion of the amendments yesterday. The Opposition, along with the House of Lords, have made a tremendously good job of looking after their friends throughout the country. Having lived in Yorkshire for many years, and having been involved in local government through liaison between my association and councillors there, I have had an opportunity to study the twin tracking and double tracking that went on there. The Lords amendments to the Local Government and Housing Bill, which this House has accepted, were clearly designed to ensure that those who currently earn large salaries while supposedly working for one authority can continue to work in another, as elected members. I find it rather upsetting that we allowed that concession.
I was amazed to hear what was said on Radio 4 by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) : I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber. He described as "minor" the work done by party officials who earned their living in a separate authority. The hon. Gentleman must know a good deal about that, having worked as a lecturer in Barnsley while working effectively full time as a council leader. He knows how the system works. He knows that Derek Hatton, that great militant who was employed for many years as a local government officer, did not attend to his duties--indeed, he hardly knew where his desk was--in the authority that was supposed to be employing him. While being paid by ratepayers in one area, he was engaged full-time in Militant activities in another.
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : The hon. Gentleman mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), who worked as a lecturer for my authority in Barnsley. As a member of the education committee, I was virtually one of his employers. What the hon. Gentleman evidently does not know is that his contract contained a minimum contact time and an arrangement for any money that he earned as a councillor to be paid back to the authority. My hon. Friend was not paid twice.
[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has produced no figures in regard to the pay-back arrangement, nor has he mentioned the number of contact hours for which his hon. Friend was contracted to work. If Opposition Members want to get on to names and personalities, there is a long list of them. If they want to play that game, we shall be happy to do so. We need only take the example of any Yorkshire council, particularly when there were both county and district councils. John Cornwall and Clive Betts are two interesting names from Sheffield district council and South Yorkshire county council. The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay), speaking as the employer of his hon. Friend the Member for Brightside, has just told us how these things are done : the jobs are in the gift of local authority members, who are able to appoint people and then write contracts allowing them to do all sorts of things.
Well over 50 per cent. of Labour members of South Yorkshire county council were also employed either by other local authorities or in nationalised industries : that is a fact. I remember that the Labour leader of the Kirklees authority was supposedly a plasterer working for Leeds city council. Although he did not do a day's plastering in seven years, he retained his salary.
Mr. Soley : The hon. Gentleman is indulging in a smear campaign. If he made some of those comments outside the House, he could be taken to court on a libel charge. Let me ask him to respect the fact that people outside the House cannot answer : they cannot come in here and put forward a defence. To say that someone was "supposedly" a plasterer implies that he was deceiving people deliberately, and drawing money from his deceit. That is a serious allegation. I also ask the hon. Gentleman to consider what some of his Conservative colleagues in local authorities have said. There is the case, in south London, of a Conservative council leader who offered a job to a Labour councillor because of the possibility that he would lose his job under this legislation. To his credit, that Conservative councillor recognised that what was afoot was a nasty attempt to get Labour councillors out when they were doing ordinary jobs for ordinary people in a perfectly legal and proper way.
Mr. Bruce : I was challenged to name names ; now the hon. Gentleman takes me to task for having done so. I was also challenged to cite more examples. Examples are manifest. It is some years since I was in a position to observe such occurrences, but when they were going on I was not a Member of Parliament, and I spoke to the press outside the House.