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Column 624They are the experts at grubbing for votes by saying anything that they think the listener wants to hear. I suspect that the Liberal Democrats themselves would recoil in horror at the thought of presenting an alternative Budget. The last thing that any Liberal wants to do is categorically to state what his party believes in and will stick by, however tough the going gets.
Let us take the issue of VAT on fuel. We all know that in 1991 it was official Liberal Democrat policy to impose VAT on fuel. That is clear in the party's documents. Yet now, because the Liberal Democrats saw the initial reaction before the compensation scheme was announced, they have run away and tried to disown that policy. Imagine the conflicts, the arguments and the dilemmas that the Liberal Democrats would face if they had the opportunity to have an alternative Budget considered by a future House of Commons. It would not work.
The hon. Member for Brent, East has given us a useful opportunity to debate --
Mr. Burns : The hon. Gentleman says that we gave him the opportunity. On this particular morning, it was the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) who gave us the opportunity by seeking prematurely to end the debate on business and industry initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson). However, I shall not argue the semantics of the matter.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Brent, East for giving us the opportunity to indulge in this intellectual exercise and this canter around the course. I fear that he is in a small minority in supporting the motion. However attractive it might be to an Opposition party now, there is a possibility--albeit a slim one--that at some point in the future we will conceivably have a Labour Government, and no Government would want to be saddled with this nightmare proposal.
Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth) : We have before us a set of procedures which are wholly unworkable and highly unrealistic. The proposals enunciated by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) are probably intellectually interesting enough, but they have wide implications for an entire area of the economy which I suppose that he has not thought about.
It is my understanding that political parties set out before elections their manifestos which contain commitments to the country on the economy, the manufacturing base, fiscal policy, monetary policy, trade policy and all other areas of economic activity. The hon. Member for Brent, East made out that the Budget is an occasion once a year when we decide how to cut or increase taxes. But the Budget has a structure based on the fiscal, monetary, trade and economic policy of the Government.
If the hon. Member for Brent, East assumes that a Budget is merely a matter of increasing or reducing taxes, I am glad that he would never be Chancellor of the Exchequer in any future Labour Government. The country has always been given choices ; those choices are set out in our manifestos and policies. In the past 14 years, the Conservative Government have done many things that have widened the base of share ownership, wealth
Column 625ownership and property ownership in our country. All those changes have been made as a result of successive Conservative victories. They have come through the various Budgets which have fine-tuned the economy and achieved the successes that we have seen so far. The hon. Member for Brent, East talks about open government. Open government is, indeed, important. It can be seen as something which ought to be a part of our democratic process. The Conservative Government are wholly committed to open government. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has gone out of his way, through our citizens charter and other initiatives, to make sure that open government is a matter of great importance in our policies. If the proposals of the hon. Member for Brent, East were accepted, many of the measures that any Government, whether Conservative or Labour, could put into effect would be cancelled and stultified at the outset, right here in the House. We would end up with a hotch-potch, a compromise, and an indistinguishable morass of policies which would have been traded and bartered across the Floor of the Chamber. There would be no politics, let alone policy, in the running of the Government.
Today, our economic performance is one of the best of any member state of the European Community. Would it have been possible, under the proposals of the hon. Member for Brent, East, to bring inflation down to 1.4 per cent.-- the lowest in the EC and G7 countries and the lowest in Britain since 1959? Would it have been possible to bring industry's interest bill down by £12.5 billion since 1990 by reducing interest rates? Would it have been possible to reduce unemployment since January by 137,000? Would it have been possible for industry to increase productivity by 5 per cent. in the last quarter? Those improvements can be engendered only by the Government creating the right framework and a stable economic environment. That is done by the Government and the Chancellor of the day, unilaterally, but through consensus and discussion. It cannot be done by bartering across the Floor of the House of Commons on different aspects of policy.
Would it have been possible under the hon. Gentleman's proposals to reduce corporation tax since 1978 from 52 to 33 per cent. and yet to see our revenue from corporation tax increase from £4 billion in 1978 to £21 billion in 1990? I wonder whether it would have been possible for the United Kingdom to be the largest receiver of overseas investment in the past five years. I estimate that overseas investment totals £149 million, of which £80 million was portfolio investment. Would it have been possible to attract such investment under the hon. Gentleman's proposals for hotch-potch Budgets? Would it have been possible for Britain to attract 44 per cent. of all inward investment into the EC if we had had the mish-mash of policies, compromises and bartering that the hon. Gentleman has proposed? Would it have been possible for us to save 240,000 jobs in Britain through foreign investment, if the hon. Member for Brent, East had been allowed his proposition?
The hon. Gentleman's proposal has wide ramifications for our trade, inward investment and macro-economic policies and implications for our fiscal and monetary policies. If we had agreed to it, could Britain have been among those countries with the largest amount of foreign investment? I understand that last year we earned £26 billion from such investments. Surely the Opposition
Column 626were well known for enforcing exchange controls and for their protectionist policies. Could that type of policy have been discussed alongside our policies in the House and been mitigated and alleviated by the procedures that the hon. Gentleman suggests?
Is it not a fact that our overseas investments in many parts of the world-- I understand that they amount to $80 billion in the United States-- including south Asia, the Pacific rim and the far east are earning money for this country, bringing in investment and protecting jobs? Could British companies have won contracts in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia? Could they have set up joint ventures in India, under the Prime Minister's Indo- British initiative, thereby encouraging a flow of inward and outward investment? Would all that have been possible, given the hon. Gentleman's proposal? It would not.
It would have been wholly impossible to run this country in the way that it has been run for many hundreds of years, and it would have been impossible for political parties to function sensibly. The proposal would simply create intellectual chaos. Does that not show that the Opposition have no real alternatives to the successes that Conservative Governments have engendered during the past 14 years and that the proposal has been suggested as a way of wearing some of our clothes?
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Dorrell) : I am bound to say that when I was brought in to respond to this debate at relatively short notice, I found the terms of the motion somewhat surprising. The first element to attract my attention was that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). It seemed an odd proposition that we should approve a motion which states that, when dealing with future Budgets, the House
"would no longer vote for or against the Budget".
That proposition begs two questions. First, what would be the role of the House in the context of the Budget and, secondly, what would be the consequences of whatever action the House might take if it were not being invited to vote for or against ? That seems an interesting constitutional doctrine which, as a Treasury Minister, might make my life quite comfortable. However, as a Member of Parliament and a citizen of this country, I find the idea deeply offensive.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford very properly speculated on the attitude of Lord Healey or Lord Barnett to the idea that, between 1974 and 1979, they should have presented a few ideas to the House, but that other ideas would also have been invited ; they would merely have adopted the guise of advocates for their ideas, as there would have been ample opportunity for anyone else to come up with others that might directly contradict them. I doubt whether they would have embraced that proposition with warmth, or considered it an idea to be pursued.
Mr. Burns : I wonder whether my hon. Friend thinks that Lord Healey, who is renowned for his very forthright views, might think that anyone who supported such a motion was out of their "tiny Chinese minds".
Column 627someone suggesting alternative proposals of which he did not desperately approve. If he were still a Member of this House he might even have used that phrase about the views expressed by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). If my memory serves me right, Lord Healey first used it when talking about his reception at a national executive committee meeting of the Labour party, so if it was not specifically a description of the hon. Member for Brent, East, it at least described many of his friends in the Labour party. I do not remember whether the hon. Member for Brent, East was a member of the NEC at the time, but I am certain that the people at whom Lord Healey's remark was directed were people of whom the hon. Member would approve.
As I said during my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford, the motion contains one kernel of an idea with which I have a sneaking sympathy. If accepted, it would put the onus on the official Opposition to come to a Budget debate with some ideas--even one idea would be an advance on what we heard last week--and they would have to show how they would have preferred budgetary policy to develop.
I can understand the frustration of the hon. Member for Brent, East about the fact that the Opposition Front Bench did not see fit to set out an alternative economic strategy to the House last week. Indeed, they did not see fit to set out any clear ideas on fiscal, monetary and trading policy, or on any other aspect of economic policy. The Opposition expect the House and the country to take seriously a party that presents itself as the low- tax option. No doubt, there are plenty of arguments that the Labour party might use in a Budget debate, but the proposition which the Opposition would come to the House and go to the country on the basis that they would levy less tax and be sterner disciplinarians of the public finances than the Government defies common sense. Also, that is not a proposition which the hon. Member for Brent, East would support.
I think that I detect in the motion an attempt by the hon. Member for Brent, East to wheedle out of his hon. Friends some ideas about how they think that the economy should be run. If that is his endeavour, I wish him well. Honest debate would indeed be served if the Opposition could be persuaded to tell the country just one detail of what they would do if they had the opportunity to present economic proposals and packages to the House.
The hon. Member for Brent, East suggests that, as part of this process to encourage honest and informed debate on practical measures, the official Opposition should have access to Treasury officials when preparing their ideas to present to the House. That suggestion could create serious problems in terms of constitutional doctrine, the use of Treasury officials' time and so forth. However, I have an
Column 628even more fundamental difficulty with the idea, because in the Budget debate last week we did not hear any concepts of what the Opposition think that they would do.
The implication of the motion is that the void that currently occupies the part of Labour party thinking that should be filled by economic policy would be filled by Treasury officials. Although there are good officials in the Treasury, that would not lead to good economic policy. It is not my understanding of how political choice operates or of the purpose of debate in the House or of elections. It is not the job of Treasury officials to fill the policy void of politicians who do not know, or cannot agree on, what they want to do. It is the job of Treasury officials to assist and support in the execution of policies espoused by elected politicians.
Until we have clear evidence that the Opposition have a package of proposals and ideas about how they think that the economy should be managed, there is no job for Treasury officials to do, because it is for politicians to set out the parameters within which they want officials to work. The implication of the motion is that when politicians have failed to produce even the sketchiest of parameters, somehow it is for Treasury officials miraculously to fill that void. That is an unattractive proposition.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) put forward the most rigorous objection to the idea that the House can pick and choose between various options presented to it in the Budget. It is that although the tax expenditure balance is an important part of total economic policy, it is by no means all of it. Indeed, it is probably much less than half, if one wanted to measure it, of total economic policy.
The Government pursue an economic strategy based on a clear idea that our task is to deliver fiscal and monetary discipline and a stable background against which a free economy can work, and to provide a legal and social framework that reinforces a free market economy. We do that because we think that it is the most effective way to generate wealth and improve living standards, which is the basis on which we presented the Budget on 30 November and on which we shall continue to present Budgets and ask the House to support them. Question put and negatived.
That, at the sitting on Tuesday 14th December, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to Fisheries not later than three hours after their commencement, and those proceedings may be entered upon or continued after the expiration of the time for opposed business.-- [Mr. Newton.]
That European Community Document No. 9662/93 relating to guide prices for fishery products 1994 shall not stand referred to European Standing Committee A.-- [Mr. Newton.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in respect of the Social Security (Contributions) Bill and the Statutory Sick Pay Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bills have been read a second time.-- [Mr. Newton.]
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : I did not anticipate speaking on this motion or having an opportunity to do so. However, it is worth asking the House to delay proceedings for just a few minutes. The Leader of the House, whose reputation for being a reasonable man has withstood the test of time--though it has been damaged in the past few days --will understand that this is an unusual motion. It relates directly to the equally unusual business next week and the way in which the House is to deal with significant and important measures. What the motion does in short order is not just telescope but almost reverse the normal procedure for dealing with Bills.
All hon. Members will be familiar with the fact that Bills receive a Second Reading and normally then go to Committee, occasionally on the Floor of the House but usually upstairs. Only once the House has given Bills a Second Reading are we in a position to put down various amendments.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Is there not also normally a gap between Second Reading and Committee stage so that hon. Members have an opportunity to table amendments before the Committee stage starts? The motion would wipe out that opportunity.
Mr. Dewar : The tabloid cliche is "indecent haste", which is a mark of Government procedures. We are being invited not to wait to see whether the House will give Second Reading approval to the Social Security (Contributions) Bill and the Statutory Sick Pay Bill. We are being invited to table amendments in anticipation of that approval. The reason is simple. The timetable motion to steam roller those measures through is so brutal that it will be impossible, other than by means of manuscript amendments handed in at the end of Second Reading, to table any amendments, new clauses or new schedules. Therefore, special arrangements are being made to enable that to be done before Second Reading.
I must confess that I find it extraordinary. I genuinely do not understand the necessity for such an odd procedure. I do not know why the House is being invited to push through two Bills of considerable significance in terms of their impact on ordinary people. The Government will no doubt argue that the Bills are narrow and technical in their drafting and I concede that they are, to a limited extent, but they raise considerable matters of principle about what the Government are doing and how they want to run our affairs. It is--I use the word advisedly--monstrous that we should be asked to approve this motion today and bulldoze the Bills through all their stages in two days.
We do not know the details because I have not seen a guillotine motion yet. As far as I know, until yesterday, when the position changed, there had been no consultation on the matter between myself and my opposite number and I was given no indication that the measure was being
Column 630contemplated. It is an abuse of process and I find it offensive that we should be put in this position. It is all the more puzzling because there was no evidence this morning of urgency in the Government's management of our affairs ; we discovered that they could not even keep a quorum for a debate that was no doubt important to the hon. Member whose name had been drawn in the ballot and who raised the subject of business and industry.
I must make it clear that I shall not advise my hon. Friends to oppose this procedural motion, because, although it is unacceptable from the point of view of public policy and parliamentary procedure, I want the limited opportunity that the timetable motion may give me and my hon. Friends to put down motions. I do not wish to put you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in a position of having to accept manuscript amendments in a flurry and scurry around the Clerk's Table after Second Reading, assuming that the House grants those measures a Second Reading. I am therefore mindful to advise my hon. Friends to nod the motion through. However, I am right to protest about it because it is central to a flawed parliamentary strategy that cannot be justified.
May I explain why we take that view? I said that the Government would argue that the measures are narrow and technical. However, they are important. I was interested to notice that Ministers referred to the 1 per cent. increase in national insurance contributions as an increase in taxation. As the Leader of the House will know, the Chancellor is taking some £2 billion from the people of this country, which is over £300 million more than he would get by putting 1p on the standard rate of income tax.
The measure is of considerable substance and represents a significant contribution to the massive hike in taxation contained in the recent Budget proposals. The measure also has a wider social significance. The motion paves the way to force through a package. I do not want to debate that subject at length, as I would be testing your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I shall mention the importance of the motion.
The Government are not only taking a substantial sum in increased taxation through the Social Security (Contributions) Bill that they wish to expedite with today's motion, but are taking more money by changing the unemployment benefit provisions and cutting the entitlement period from 12 to six months with the new job-seeker's allowance. The Bill is part of an important thrust of social policy which is arguably--I am not arrogant enough to say that there is no other side to the argument--challenging and undermining the contributory principle.
The Leader of the House was a sympathetic and well-respected Secretary of State for Social Security. There is no Minister better able to appreciate the implications and importance of what is being proposed. Therefore, I deplore the fact that the motion has been tabled as part of the steam- rollering exercise to which the Leader of the House has given his name.
The Statutory Sick Pay Bill has been dealt with in the same way. It is an important technical measure as it alters a system that is important to industry. At present, if an employee is ill, the employer can reclaim 80 per cent. of the statutory sick pay from the state. Some £750 million is to be transferred to larger firms that are being asked to shoulder that burden. This morning on breakfast television--I am sure that the Leader of the House was loyally watching--the Prime Minister, in some part of Brussels,
Column 631said that he could not accept the Delors package because it would make our industry less competitive. He said that we should fight unemployment by cutting industrial costs and competing effectively in the marketplace.
The measure is being railroaded through in one day--it may be less, as the Social Security (Contributions) Bill may win the lion's share of the timetable motion, which we have not seen. However, if we assume that the measure is to be railroaded through in one day, industry will face a massive £750 million additional impost created by the Government in a hole and corner way. At the very same time, the Government are breaching the primacy of cutting industrial costs in the interests of allowing us to trade successfully in the free market of the European Union. At the very least, the issues are controversial, and should be allowed substantial debate, but we are being gagged.
The motion, which is part of the gagging process, should be challenged, not just in the name of decent parliamentary scrutiny and the parliamentary process, but in the interests of the many people outside the House with an interest in the legislation who have had no opportunity to lobby, influence opinion or state their view. Those people do not belong to unrepresentative groups. I know from private conversations of the deep dismay in organisations that are normally seen as loyal to the Government's general approach, such as the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry. They will have views on suddenly having to shoulder a bill of several hundred millions of pounds.
I appreciate that there is to be a package to offset employers' contributions, but it is not clear to me and to many other people exactly how that is to work and whether it will provide an adequate trade-off. We are discussing highly technical and complex issues. If I, as a Front-Bench spokesman, am having to run hard to try to catch up with the issues involved on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report--which have been rolled into one next week--people outside will definitely find it difficult to ensure that they are not diddled by the arithmetic of such a complex change. It is nonsense to put people in that position.
We must also consider the interests of those who have lost benefit due to the changes involved in the new incapacity benefit. They may be thinking about moving into the labour market but wonder whether the measure provides them with a disincentive to work. Sadly, the provision may also provide an incentive for employers to look at employees' health records less sympathetically and to terminate employment before they face the risk of a claim for unfair dismissal.
The issues are all major, and we should have had a decent amount of time to consider them. There should also have been time for consultation, and to draw into the parliamentary process the public and vested interests--in the best sense of the phrase. That is an important factor of the democratic system, and it does us no credit if the issues are telescoped for reasons that I genuinely do not understand.
Next week, we shall debate the subjects, not at length, but for longer than today. It is not true that there is nothing that we can do but vote "Yea" or "Nay". Both Bills have a Northern Ireland dimension. The Statutory Sick Pay Bill preserves the small employers' exemption, but, as I
Column 632understand it, as many as 85 per cent. of employees will not fall within the exemption category. I welcome the presence of the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who will have a greater understanding of the subject. My understanding of the calculations carried out by the Library is that only 15 per cent. of the work force will fall within the category and 85 per cent. will not receive payment. The motion paves the way for an unsatisfactory measure. I recognise that there is always a difference of approach between Opposition and Government--that is the law of the jungle and, certainly, of Parliament. On occasions, we clash richly about the organisation of business, and there is a certain amount of posturing. However, that is not true of our approach today--we are not posturing. We regard the measures as important and of genuine public interest. When I was a young Back Bencher a long time ago, I had something of a reputation as a menace on Committees. I enjoyed them, and it used to be said that my idea of heaven was a Scottish Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that never ended, so perhaps I am prejudiced. Now I am older and cynical, and realise that one should not be starry-eyed about parliamentary procedures. However, I still believe that scrutiny is important and forms part of the parliamentary process that lies at the heart of our democracy. We should probe, test and look at the detail of the measures. On this occasion, we have been unnecessarily prevented from doing so. There should be a driving, self-evident and pressing reason for using such a procedure.
The argument does not even arise. At best, it seems that it has been done for the convenience of the Government. Some of my hon. Friends, with whom I have some sympathy, think that it has been done out of a sense of pique. There have been recent problems and troubles--the unified Budget procedure has not perhaps worked as smoothly as the Government had hoped. Now, the Budget is unravelling before our eyes. I am not one for trying to speculate about the Government's motives, but I am entitled to pass judgment on the results of their actions and must conclude that there has not been any real attempt to explain why the Bills have been treated in such a way.
Perhaps I am exceeding my authority, as I have not discussed it with the deputy Chief Whip, but had the Bills gone into Committee in the normal way, they would not have been artificially elongated and the Leader of the House should be reassured that the rules of order would have made any sort of filibustering in Committee difficult. There are points of importance that we wanted to discuss and specific amendments that we wanted to table. If we had had time to do that on a considered basis, we would have had time to involve others in the process. It would have been more sensible, knowing that there would not have been an abuse in Committee, to allow time for full consideration and it would have been much better to allow us to do so, rather than end up in--perhaps jiggery pokery is an offensive parliamentary term--let us say the unnatural procedures which the motions represent.
On Monday and Tuesday, I shall be scribbling out my new clauses to a Bill that has not even appeared on Second Reading. I sometimes wonder about the logicality of the parliamentary procedure--it has grown like Topsy over the years and centuries--but there is a certain logic to the Second Reading. It provides time for consideration. The Committee stage provides further time for consideration and the Report stage is for a final look at what the Government have been doing. The Report stage
Column 633also gives the Government a chance to change their mind and consider suggestions that have been made--perhaps a rarer event than the Opposition would like. It is being absolutely squashing in a way that cannot be defended.
Although I shall not advise my hon. Friends to oppose the motions--I do not want to have to rely on the goodwill of the Chair to accept manuscript amendments--and shall advise them to let the unusual procedure take place, it must not be thought that that is in any way an approval of what is happening and we shall take the opportunity next week to stress in the Lobbies our strong disapproval of what the Government are doing.
I realise that I cannot ask the Deputy Speaker for a ruling, but, under such unusual procedure, I presume that the starring arrangements do not strictly apply. It is a matter of some importance to some of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches. Normally, I would have to table the amendments on Monday. We must clarify that if they were tabled on Tuesday they would have to be starred. I recognise, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it may be a matter for Madam Speaker to consider whether amendments that are tabled on Tuesday--in the extraordinary circumstances of the procedure being followed --would be sympathetically viewed and that the normal starring arrangements would not be enforced.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : I wish in no way to pre- empt the decision, which will not be for me to make, but whether starred amendments are accepted or not is always at the discretion of the Chair.
I gave the pledge that I would not unnaturally elongate events, especially because it is an unplanned outing caused by a nod from the Government Whips because they could not raise a quorum to keep the normal business going. I shall be debating next week whether such action is in the best interests of Parliament. I do not think that it is and I am not aware of the pressing necessity to justify the Government not allowing one or two Second Readings --not on successive days--and the normal Committee stage to be dispatched in a businesslike manner under the normal procedures.
It further undermines public confidence in the way in which Parliament conducts its work and certainly does not encourage good relations that inevitably make the place run. It is a shame, a bad day and it deprives us of the opportunity to consider matters of real importance. I recognise that the Leader of the House cannot think again because he has unwisely committed himself to this course, but I hope that over the weekend he may, at least, worry whether he was right and justified.
In the ordinary course of events, the Government use Friday mornings and afternoons to table convenient business resolutions to the effect that there should be a vote by 10 o'clock on that business, and that is understood and accepted. The motion today goes further than anything I can recall and compresses the procedure on two Bills to
Column 634such an extent that it denies, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, proper scrutiny of the legislation.
I draw the attention of the House to what the Bills will do. I always look at the financial effects of a Bill and, as many hon. Members know, I sometimes raise questions on money resolutions that are authorised by Parliament. The Bills mentioned in the motion do not have inconsiderable effects. We have spent much more time debating Bills with much fewer and smaller financial implications. The Bill on social security contributions will increase contributions to the insurance fund by £1.9 billion in a full year, and the Government want to get it through on the nod. When local authorities treat expenditure and revenue in such a cavalier fashion, the Government say that they are irresponsible. They must bear some portion of such criticism themselves.
The Bill also authorises payments of £5.5 billion--a huge sum of money. In the past, Parliaments have fallen into disrepute because they have passed money resolutions on the nod in far too casual a way. Criticisms were made, and some of us tried to stop that procedure.
Some of us try to raise issues on money resolutions. Ministers are now prepared with defensive briefs on money resolutions in case I am in the Chamber, as I generally am. That may be inconvenient, but Parliament is here to ensure that Ministers are inconvenienced and that they have to explain the issues. People sit in the Galleries and think that this is a rowdy place. I take the view that if Parliament is rowdy, a Minister has to be up to the job and has to be able to present his case. It is true that it is easier to get legislation through a meek, quiet assembly of people. Parliament is rowdy because the clash of opinions comes out in the open.
Many other assemblies, such as the French Assembly and the United Nations Assembly, do not have clashes of opinion. The proceedings there are ordered and dull because all the clashes take place in committee rooms beforehand. In the conduct of human affairs, there are bound to be disagreements. In other organisations and institutions, matters are arranged so that everything looks neat and tidy. Parliament is not neat and tidy. It involves angry scenes and exchanges, and Ministers have to be well prepared if they are to put their case effectively.
Shortening the arrangements for the two Bills will remove even background scrutiny and will prevent us from examining them in detail, as we want to do. Our right to table amendments will be limited. The Statutory Sick Pay Bill will reduce public expenditure by £695 million in 1994-95. The figure for the following year will be more than £700 million, and the figure for the year after will be £750 million. The abolition of the recovery of statutory sick pay, under clause 1, will cost employers about £695 million. Should we not debate such costs to employers in some detail and for a reasonable time rather than simply rushing the legislation through because it is convenient for the Government? The position is entirely unsatisfactory.
The guillotine motion will compress the timetable to such a degree that we shall have difficulty in tabling amendments. The Leader of the House knows that I take a particular interest in statutory instruments because I am the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Clause 4 of each Bill will remove the provision for affirmative resolutions for the statutory
Column 635instruments involved and will put them under the negative procedure. There may be a perfectly good reason for that, which would ordinarily be brought out on Second Reading.
Our procedures on Second Reading are often not a monologue, but a dialogue. Hon. Members frequently give way to Ministers so that they can offer explanations. In the ordinary course of events, we should have an explanation of why the Government seek to remove what I regard as an important safeguard in delegated legislation. We shall not have that chance. The motion removes the normal procedure by which amendments are tabled after Second Reading. Under the normal procedure, we could make a better judgment about whether the Minister had made a good case for an important change.
Many hon. Members do not take too much trouble over delegated legislation and the vast majority of the population do not know what it is about. In fact, everyone is affected by delegated powers and everything is covered by delegated legislation. The Under-Secretary of State for Technology, who took part in the proceedings on the Transport and Works Bill, is in the Chamber and he will remember that we discussed delegated legislation in some detail. Delegated powers cover people from birth to death.
The House has given virtually untrammelled powers to Ministers over the years to the extent that they can now individually change legislation, sometimes through instruments that do not require further parliamentary procedures. That is outrageous. I accept that delegated powers may be necessary because details of Acts sometimes need to be carried out swiftly. In this case, we shall not be given an explanation, so we shall not know whether the fairly important changes under clause 4 of each Bill are justified.
We shall have to table amendments beforehand to retain the affirmative procedure, although that may not be entirely justified ; we do not know. Inevitably, many amendments will be tabled, but our discussions will be affected by the guillotine. We do not know the details of the timing because they have not yet been made available to Parliament. We may not have adequate time to discuss all the amendments. I am not talking about tabling 150 or so amendments simply to delay the issue ; this is not the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. Incidentally, both Bills mentioned in the motion are longer than the Maastricht Bill. We should remember the number of amendments tabled on that Bill, and we should realise that the length of a Bill is no indication of its importance. The argument that these are two small, technical, four-clause Bills is not necessarily a justification for the compressed procedure.
Secondly, there is no question but that the Government have been in office a long time and have grown arrogant and insular. They regard Parliament as a legislative sausage machine that is used for their convenience. Maastricht gave them a shock, because the Prime Minister went off and made an arrangement, and when he came back he found dissension. By and large--
Column 636way of illustration. When we are debating a motion that rips up the usual parliamentary procedures and deliberately deprives Members of the opportunity of tabling amendments, I think that it is relevant to show the arrogance of the Government who are doing that and the fact that they have had a recent shock over their arrogant attitudes. Unfortunately, the Government have been slipping back into their old pre- Maastricht ways in tabling the motion, because it is convenient for them to do that.
The Government determine the recesses and, as the Leader of the House knows, they have been asked questions about their length and time. In the week leading up to Christmas eve, the Government could have put in an extra two or three days to enable us to consider the Bills. No doubt an extra two or three days would be regarded with mixed feelings by various Members, but I tabled a genuine amendment that we should continue the Session until 23 December. If the amendment had been agreed to, I would have been here, as would several of my hon. Friends, arguing the case.
The Leader of the House cannot say that the motion is necessary because we do not have enough days for the business because the Government determine the parliamentary timetable and the agenda. They could have timetabled an extra two or three days if, as no doubt the Leader of the House will claim, there is a need to get the legislation through for various administrative reasons. If they are being discussed and proposed for administrative reasons, it suggests that the administration is not very good and that the Government are having to bypass the usual parliamentary procedures and use a short cut to get the Bill passed because they had not planned far enough ahead. That seems a pretty shoddy way of dealing with Parliament. As the Leader of the House knows full well, the torrent of legislation that the Government have produced is an indication of the degree of contempt that the Government have for Parliament. For example, last year they produced a record number of statutory instruments--3,500. The Government must overhaul their attitude towards Parliament and undertake a review of their procedures to ensure that that does not happen again.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, the Opposition are always in something of a dilemma, because we want the opportunity--even though it is one with which we do not agree, because it is presented in such limited and absolute terms by the Government--to table amendments. Voting against the motion would deprive us of that opportunity, which would be cutting off our nose to spite our face.
Although we are opposed to the motion, we must take what little opportunity the Government have proffered. It is like dealing with Bills. Sometimes we hate, oppose and detest legislation that the Government propose. That has been the case with most of the legislation over the past 14 years. What are the Opposition to do? Are we to maintain complete, untrammelled and unqualified opposition, or are we to say that we hate the Bill and the legislation but will try to table minor improvements where we can? By and large, that is the way in which the Opposition work.
I do not think that we shall persuade the Government--they have cloth ears when it comes to these things--so we shall just have to use the machinery provided to table amendments as best we can. I must say to the Leader of the House that the position remains extremely unsatisfactory.
Column 637What has been done is an abuse of the House. The Leader of the House will no doubt say, "The Labour Government tabled three guillotine motions in a day--
Mr. Cryer : Five, then. We certainly used guillotines and, at that time, I endorsed the procedure. But I have changed my mind, and that is not unreasonable because after 14 years a Government can grow too arrogant and too confident of their powers.
We should be chary of the use of guillotines. I hope that we shall also be chary of them after the next general election, when Labour is in power. I say that because, as we all know, it is possible to distinguish between amendments that are meant to improve legislation and safeguard those affected by it and amendments that are tabled simply to spin out a debate.
There are two ways in which the Opposition can deal with proceedings on a Bill. Either they can talk for so long that they force concessions from a Government who want to get their legislation through--that worked fairly satisfactorily in respect of the Transport and Works Act--or they can reach a tacit understanding with the Government about the Committee stage and the way in which amendments are dealt with. They can say, "We will allow the Bill through if we get an extra day on it on the Floor of the House." We all know that such negotiation takes place. We have to judge which approach will best serve the interests of those whom we represent. The motion before us in effect rules that out and prevents us from making such a judgment. We are to be given only very limited scope.
The Government have enjoyed enormous majorities since 1979. Their present majority of 17 is the smallest that they have had since they came to power. We would have given our right arm for such a majority between 1974 and 1979, when we governed with a majority of one until John Stonehouse disappeared, after which we had no majority at all and governed on a minority. Yet, despite their majority, the Government insist on imposing guillotine after guillotine. It is fair to say that the Labour Government were in a somewhat different position from the present Government, who have enjoyed an enormous advantage. [Interruption.] The deputy Chief Whip says, "We are in a mess." He is right : they are in a mess. The hon. Gentleman's comment, uttered sotto voce as he sits on the Treasury Bench in what should be his mute position of inner silence, is correct.