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Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington) : I shall endeavour to be very brief. In the interests of allowing the debate to proceed rapidly, I do not intend to give way.
I listened carefully to the rather entertaining speech of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). At least one rather interesting and serious point lay behind much of his rhetoric : the House faces a choice between an approach to the management of our business that rests principally on the usual channels--parliamentary management by party duopoly, which is why the Liberals and nationalists have cause to complain from time to time--or greater control over the allocation of parliamentary time.
I think that, rationally, the Speaker should make more of such decisions. That would be an alternative approach. In other mature democracies, especially the United States, more responsibility for the allocation of time is given to the occupant of the chair. I am not advocating that solution, but there are other ways of proceeding, and perhaps in future the House will conclude that it is necessary to look more widely.
The debate is a bit like Hamlet without the Prince. The evil genius of the situation, whereby civilised conduct has apparently broken down between the two main parties, is the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), who is not in his place tonight but who has much more influence on such matters than even the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), dignified though she may be by the technical title of deputy Leader of the Opposition.
I had much sympathy for the speech of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who spoke much good sense about the timetabling of Government legislation and about the need fairly swiftly to adopt many of the solutions proposed in what is described as the Jopling package. I therefore hope that Ministers will consider that argument carefully to see whether that package can be implemented in agreement with the Opposition.
As the House knows, I took, part in yesterday's debate on the air passenger duty, which has some relevance to
Column 797what we are discussing. I was happy to support the Government, and I briefly explained why. I wanted to make a five-minute speech yesterday--that is what I had intended--but on checking the record I discovered that it lasted 13 minutes. The reason for that is germane to this debate, because, in what I had intended to be a five-minute speech, I felt it necessary and polite to take five interventions from Labour Members, which lengthened the speech from five minutes. That is but one example of the way in which Opposition Members were doing an operation.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Forman : I said that I would not give way, because I want to make progress.
Opposition Members are perfectly entitled to do such an operation, but it is important that the House, the country and anybody listening to the debate realise that Conservative Back Benchers took a disciplined approach to yesterday's debate. I believe that only three Conservative Back Benchers spoke. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster General made two excellent speeches--one in opening the debate, in which he provided much essential information, and the second in winding up, in which he sought, with difficulty and against the clock, to answer some of the points that had been made. I make no criticism of the way in which Ministers performed their duties.
In general terms, it would be much better for the House to timetable its important legislation almost as a matter of course. That would have been sensible for this enormous Finance Bill, to whose length many hon. Members have referred. The arrangements proposed in the motion are, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, very generous. After all, it proposes 16 days and 32 sittings and, with well ordered debates, it should be perfectly possible to give all important aspects of the Bill serious consideration.
I would go further than that. I would support timetabling all Government Bills and it would make good sense to do so at an early stage of a Bill's passage. That would be better than the alternative suggested by the deputy Leader of the Opposition, when she said rather disingenuously that it is better to have waffle, filibuster and endless debate on minor points for hours and days--I have been involved in many such discussions--and to introduce a timetable later. It defies the purpose of a sensible timetable to introduce it later, because time is lost before it is introduced.
It would be much better for the quality of legislation, which concerns interests outside the House, and for the reputation of the House, if we timetabled all Government Bills, as has been proposed many times by Procedure Committees and others. If there is not sufficient political will in the House to do so, let us get back to sensible, grown-up working of the usual channels and see whether we can find ways, even at this late stage, of enabling the House to function more effectively. I hope that experience of recent events will contribute to a return to common sense, and that Opposition Members will grow up.
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Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith) : The Government have staggered on for quite a few months advancing vacuous arguments and offering feeble excuses, but they have reached new heights of feebleness and vacuity in relation to the two subjects that are relevant to this debate--justifying their tax position and this motion.
The Lord President advanced a series of arguments, if I can use that word, for the motion. His first was that the Labour party is deliberately obstructing the passage of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) dealt adequately with that. We want a vote on the extension of VAT before 1 April, so there is no way in which we shall obstruct the Bill beyond that point. That is perfectly clear to the Government, so they have not a shred of evidence that we intend to obstruct the Bill.
The Lord President went on to deal with the length of speeches last night, and complained about one hon. Member who spoke for 50 minutes. Many Opposition Members spoke for 10 or 15 minutes--I spoke for 10--and my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) was singled out for criticism, but he had good reason to speak for 50 minutes, given the serious concerns of his constituents about the air passenger tax.
There is nothing unusual about hon. Members speaking for 50 minutes. Indeed, I wanted to speak in last Friday's debate on the Bank of England (Amendment) Bill, but was prevented from doing so by two Conservative Back Benchers, who spoke for more than an hour each. I did not make a point of order and say that deliberate filibusters were preventing me from speaking. We know that such things happen all the time, and many Conservative Members have good reasons for making long speeches.
That has long been respected in the House. I am told that, if we go back into history, we shall find that Members used to speak for longer than they do now. It is cant and hypocrisy for the Lord President to complain about one Member speaking for 50 minutes, when most of us were much briefer.
The next reason that the Lord President "advanced" was that it was wholly unreasonable for a debate to go beyond 10 pm. It takes some gall for the right hon. Gentleman to say that, given all the timetables he imposed on Maastricht, when debates went beyond 10 pm and 4 am, and when some even went beyond 10 am the next day. Everybody knows that the Government have timetabled many debates in the House to go beyond 10 o'clock.
It would seem perfectly reasonable for the Opposition to expect the debate to go beyond 10 pm when the usual three days for the Committee stage of the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House had been deliberately reduced to two by the Government. It was perfectly reasonable for the Opposition to expect a debate until 10 pm on the air passenger tax, and a debate thereafter on the insurance premium tax.
The final "argument" of the Lord President was that he is proposing the guillotine to protect the rights of poor, slighted Back Benchers. This was the most vacuous and feeble of his arguments, because what he is really saying is that he wants to allow time mainly for his own Back Benchers to discuss the insurance premium tax, the freezing of allowances and mortgage tax relief.
The motion allows Conservative and Labour Back Benchers and Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen and Ministers two hours to discuss those three matters. How
Column 799can the right hon. Gentleman possibly expect anyone to take seriously his argument that he is trying to protect the rights of Back Benchers? Everyone knows the reason for that guillotine. The fundamental reason is--as we realise if we also consider the previous two guillotines--that the Government do not want to discuss tax. It is not surprising that the Government do not want to discuss tax, because whenever they do so they come out with a series of vacuous arguments and feeble excuses. The Government do not want the people of the country to be reminded by the Opposition that they lied at the general election. They do not want people to be reminded that we are debating in the Finance Bill the biggest tax hike in British tax history.
That is a cause of considerable embarrassment to the Government, so the less time that is spent in the House debating those matters, the happier the Government are. They can troop round the television studios, as they have done for the past two weeks, presenting their feeble excuses when the Opposition are not there to point them out, but they do not want to come to the House and present the series of feeble excuses that they have been using during the past two weeks. There are various versions of those excuses. I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer started them off, by presenting the idea that somehow those tax increases are the result of economic circumstances--some unfortunate accident that came on the Government, beyond their control. That is so obviously fallacious that it does not even require a reply.
The Prime Minister's excuse is that he did not know what the economic situation was at the time of the election ; he could not possibly know that he was going to have that big Budget deficit. Yet The Sunday Times made it absolutely clear on Sunday that, if he did not know, he should have known because many experts told him before the 1992 election.
The Chief Secretary prefers to use what one might call the law that, at any time, a Conservative Government will tax less than a Labour Government. That is the type of mantra that the Chief Secretary has propagated. Yet that proposition is unprovable, mainly because it fails to take account of the economic situation at any one time, but also because it fails to take account of the fact that the Labour party would tax in a fairer way, and would change the balance of taxation.
As to the state of the economy, two thirds of the deficit is the result of unemployment--that is what the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says--so the main reason for the high taxes imposed by the Government is the mess to which they have reduced the economy.
The next person in the Treasury Front-Bench team is the Financial Secretary, who, when I saw him interviewed on television, had given up any hope of trying to justify the tax position of the Government. Instead, he resorted to the argument, "Yes, people have to pay more taxation under the Government, but people's incomes have increased a lot since 1979, more than under Labour."
The simple reply to that is that the average increase in income between 1964 and 1979, a period when we had 11 years out of 15 of Labour government, was 10 per cent. greater than the average increase in income during the past 15 years. The other factor is that the income increases have been very uneven and unfair during the past 15 years. The Government's arguments therefore amount to nothing.
Column 800The final argument is one that all the Tory Back Benchers in chorus parrot at every Question Time : "But look at the rest of Europe. We are doing so much better than them, so all the Opposition's claims about economic incompetence cannot possibly be true." However, the snapshot view that they are suddenly trying to impose on us is one that they normally reject, for good reasons. It is impossible to consider an economic situation as a snapshot ; it has to be considered throughout a period.
Let us take as an example a fairly reasonable period, from 1989--to be fair to the Government--when things were a bit better, to--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman was going to relate this to the guillotine motion. May I gently remind him that we are dealing with the guillotine motion ?
Mr. Chisholm : I am sorry about that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was pointing out that the Government did not want to have to bring their excuses to the House, in debate, where we would have the chance to shoot down their arguments and expose their flaws. However, I will not pursue that route any further. Perhaps, when we debate the substance of the Bill later, I will be able to develop that argument.
It is not surprising that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury does not want to have the television cameras in the House. He does not want the people of the country to hear the arguments and the debate that is taking place here, especially about taxation. As he is unable to remove the television cameras from the House, he wants to remove the debate from the House.
Apart from the fundamental desire to curtail debate in the House, the other reason that has been clearly stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South and others is that the Government do not want to have another debate and another vote on VAT. An amendment has been tabled by the Labour party, asking for a year's delay, and that could be renewable a year later. That position should be put to the vote, so that the people of the country realise that all the claims and all the false concern of the Conservative party about VAT amount to nothing, and that it is hiding behind the smokescreen and the illusion of the compensation package. I criticised and, I hope, exposed that package on Second Reading last week.
I will therefore vote against the guillotine motion, because it is an attempt by the Government to take control of the Bill, when it should be in the control of the House as a whole.
Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I refer to you the headline in tonight's Evening Standard :
"For God's sake give London the money : MPs plead for special status",
which purports to be a representation of the report of the Select Committee on the Environment, published this morning, on standard spending assessments. There is no truth whatever in the story, and I am greatly concerned that my Committee's report should be misrepresented by a newspaper in that way. I wonder, therefore, whether I could ask you to rule whether the story in question should be further investigated by the House to find out how it is possible to take action to deal with such gross distortions.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I regret to tell the hon. Gentleman that that is not a matter for the Chair.
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Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North) : This motion for a timetable motion has inevitably attracted a wider debate and entertained the House a great deal. However, I shall return to the core of our consideration, which is a timetable motion about the Budget, and which, because it is about the Budget, is of some sensitivity for the House.
I was encouraged, when listening to the debate, by the growing acceptance of the wider issue of some automatic--albeit
liberal--timetable arrangements for most of the legislation which comes before us. The debate revealed an interesting difference of opinion between those who prefer control of the timetabling arrangements to remain in the hands of the usual channels and people who are more radical, such as the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and myself, who believe that this should be an opportunity for the control of the timetabling arrangements to rest with a Committee of the House or with some organisation other than the usual channels.
I hope that, out of the reservations and unhappiness about timetabling which were expressed in the debate, those wider considerations are there for a more fruitful use at some future time.
I shall also reply to the remarks of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire about the generally unsatisfactory state of our current affairs, which is characterised by the withdrawal of the usual facilities provided by the usual channels. Those delicate issues--those masonic mysteries--cannot easily be revealed to a wider public. That was shown this afternoon when, for a horrible moment, it looked as though the prospects of an agreed re-run of the debate about value added tax on fuel might be sensibly and reasonably canvassed before Madam Speaker herself. Quickly, the parties concerned adopted the posture of open disagreement, openly arrived at.
That is the unhappy situation in which we find ourselves and it is one in which there can be no prospect of a return to civilised conduct in this place, not for the sake of the convenience of hon. Members--not that that is a consideration to be disparaged--but for the full and effective operation of the House, for the drawing of a ba lance between Government and Opposition, between Front Bencher and Back Bencher and between the consideration of private Members' Bills and other legislation. All of that is part of the seamless robe that constitutes the usual channels and all of which, for one reason or another, has now fallen in desuetude. I shall say nothing about the factors that have given rise to this situation or, rather, I am not inclined to offer remedies but I should like to think I am speaking for many hon. Members who earnestly hope that something like street politics and rough common sense will break out.
Some believe that there are other motives behind the present situation. I agree that we mostly think of procedural disagreements having procedural change as an objective, but I accept at once that that has not always been the case. When the Labour Government were in office in 1950, the Conservative party engaged in the most vigorous harrying procedural tactics over the tabling of prayers. Folklore has it that it was material in securing the early demise of that Government. Certainly, that Government lasted no more than 18 months or so and their subsequent
Column 802defeat ushered in 13 glorious years of Conservative rule. However, I have no wish to raise the temperature or perhaps even falsify the accounts of today's situation.
Some people believe that the use of procedural devices can secure political ends, but I very much doubt it. If we go through this rigmarole until after the Euro-elections, Conservative morale may not crack--heaven knows, we can generate enough difficulties of our own without any assistance from the Opposition's strategists--but Parliament will suffer, our procedures will suffer, the quality of our legislation will suffer, and above all, our reputation will suffer and such suffering cannot easily be redeemed.
Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) : I reacted with astonishment to the disgraceful and reprehensible performance by the Leader of the House in moving to guillotine the Bill last night barely five hours into the Committee stage. As has been said many times, the Bill is not the usual Budget Bill because of its great length and the fact that it covers the first unified Budget. We have not considered such a Bill before. In such circumstances, I should have thought that we would want to ensure that we had the maximum opportunity to scrutinise this complex, technical and very long Bill.
The feeble attempts to justify what I regard as a constitutional outrage and a gross affront to Parliament are even less convincing today than they were at 10 pm yesterday. The guillotine motion is an attempt by the Government to run away from another vote on value added tax. It is worth remembering that "Erskine May" deals specifically with the allocation of time motion, describing it as "the most drastic method of curtailing debate known to procedure" which
"may be regarded as the extreme limit to which procedure goes in affirming the rights of the majority at the expense of the minorities of the House".
Yet all the legislation that we have discussed this Session has been guillotined--we seem to have a guillotine a week. There have been more guillotined debates on the Floor of the House than there have been debates on the content of legislation--that is the state to which the Leader of the House has brought us. "Erskine May" also states that guillotine motions are
"capable of being used in such a way as to upset the balance between the claims of business and the rights of debate." I believe that the Leader of the House's action in seeking to curtail debate after a mere five hours in Committee upsets that balance.
No one doubts that Finance Bills are crucial. They are central to any Government's political and economic programme and are therefore of the greatest political significance. They are at the very heart of the parliamentary battle between Government and Opposition. A Government who failed to get the Finance Bill through the House could not hope to survive without calling a general election. Likewise, only the House has a voice in determining what levies should be placed on the people. It is our duty to do that job.
It was the attempts by unelected Members in another place to disrupt and delay a Government with a popular mandate by denying them their Finance Bill at the turn of the century which led directly to the special arrangements that now operate in this place for the scrutiny of such
Column 803legislation. Neither the House of Lords nor the Sovereign can have any influence in these matters, which infinitely increases the duties imposed on us to do a proper job as we alone can scrutinise and amend the Bill. That makes the guillotining of a Finance Bill an especially unwelcome event and one which should not be undertaken merely for the greater comfort of the Government's business managers but only as a last resort in dire circumstances. I do not believe that the Leader of the House was in dire circumstances when he acted as he did last night.
The Government cannot argue that their precipitate rush to the guillotine procedure has any validity. To resort to a guillotine motion so quickly is, therefore, unforgivable and it is a complete abuse of the rights of Parliament, which should not be given away easily. In the sudden and disgraceful interruption of last night's proceedings, the Leader of the House quoted three examples of the guillotine being applied to Finance Bills, two under Labour Governments and one under a Conservative Government. The first was in 1967, the second in 1975 and the third in the election year of 1992 when, admittedly, the election was already upon us so it could be argued that there were special circumstances. In other words, the Conservative party had to legislate quickly for their irresponsible pre -election bribe which subsequently knocked the economy off course in time for it to feature in their election campaign which, I seem to recall, it did.
Let us take a closer look at the two Labour precedents claimed by the Leader of the House as justification for his action. In 1968, the Finance Bill had already been discussed in Standing Committee for no fewer than 62 hours prior to the guillotine motion being moved. That Bill contained 56 clauses whereas this Bill contains 244. At that time, Finance Bills were certainly shorter, so in considering the fact that there had been 62 hours of debate in Standing Committee before the guillotine was imposed it is necessary to bear in mind that the average time spent debating Finance Bills in the period 1951 to 1964 was 64 hours--only two hours short of the time already spent in consideration of that Bill. On this occasion, we had spent only five hours considering a much longer Bill in Committee prior to the guillotine motion being moved.
Even so, in 1968 the then Conservative Opposition were so outraged by the guillotine that the then hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds accused the Leader of the House, Lord Peart, of acting like a drawing room storm trooper. The attempt to guillotine the longest Finance Bill in history, which introduces the largest post-war tax hike, after only five hours in Committee and after consideration of only one of its 244 clauses and 23 schedules resembles a blitzkrieg rather than the antics of one paltry storm trooper. The shadow Leader of the House at that time, Edward du Cann, called the guillotine "shocking", "shameful", "deplorable" and "intolerable". He said :
"It raises a larger amount of taxation than any other Finance Bill."--[ Official Report, 21 May 1968 ; Vol. 765, c. 438.] That is also the case in this Bill. He went on to say that the guillotining of a Finance Bill was
"a situation which we would never have countenanced We would not betray the trust which people put in the elected representatives of the majority party"--[ Official Report, 21 May 1968 ; Vol. 765, c. 439.]
Perhaps he would not, but he is a Tory of the old school--his successors in the present discreditable Cabinet have, it seems, no such qualms. There is no betrayal of the
Column 804electorate that the Conservative party will not countenance to save their own skins and to close sensible discussion of their appalling Budget betrayals.
The only other precedent for guillotining a Finance Bill, on 4 March 1975, offers even less comfort to the Leader of the House in his vain attempts to defend his indefensible actions of last night. When the guillotine was moved, that Bill had already been considered in Standing Committee for 160 hours, not five hours, and was being deliberately filibustered by the respectable Lord Howe and the Conservative Opposition in an attempt to destroy a proposal to implement the capital transfer tax.
Hon. Members may recall that the capital transfer tax would have raised revenue from those who were already well off and would have affected a small minority of well-off people. Decidedly, it did not affect all taxpayers like the Government's current tax proposals. There was another difference between that tax proposal and the proposals that we were attempting to scrutinise in the Bill. The Labour Government signalled their intention to introduce the capital transfer tax in their 1974 election manifesto and subsequently obtained a mandate from the electorate to do so. In the current case, the Government were elected by conning the people and by claiming that they would cut taxes, not increase them. Nowhere in their manifesto did it say that there would be 12 new tax increases, three completely new taxes and the application of VAT to fuel and power. Indeed, in the election campaign the Prime Minister explicitly rejected all suggestions that he would do that. Tonight's circumstances are therefore different from those which prevailed in 1975.
We attempted to scrutinise the Bill, albeit for five hours only before we were so rudely interrupted last night, because it contained huge tax increases worth £12 a week for the average family. In 1975, the Conservative party deliberately filibustered for 160 hours to destroy a tax on the rich of which the electorate has been told and had approved. How can the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in his speech to the Thatcherite Conservative "Way Forward" group earlier in the month, deplore
"the new British disease, the self-destructive sickness of national cynicism"
when his own Government treat Parliament and the electorate with such contempt? Instead of launching juvenile McCarthyite witch hunts about the new enemy within in an early bid for the succession, he should look to his own Government's behaviour for an explanation of the cynicism now abroad towards politicians. I can easily understand why people viewing the Government's disgraceful behaviour and their contempt for the public are turning to cynicism, which threatens our democratic institutions. Those cynical people have been made so by the disgraceful actions of a discredited Government.
We know the real reason behind the guillotine : it is a hidden agenda to prevent further discussion of VAT. The Government have been exposed as deceiving the public about their tax plans at the general election and as not being the party of low taxation. They are now running away from debates in Parliament on tax and closing down our opportunities to debate. That is why they imposed the guillotine. It has been a cynical and disgraceful effort.
Mr. Macdonald : Will my hon. Friend give way?
Ms Eagle : I am just finishing. The motion sets a precedent which the Government may live to regret and Labour Members will oppose it for the reasons that I have set out.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : My hon. Friends will know of my concern about the incessant use of the guillotine. That concern has been long-stated and I have tried to argue in most such debates--six in recent years--that it seems increasingly to have become an instrument of executive Government to control and manage the House. That is a matter of concern for us all because I recognise that, in the course of my life, it has not only been one-party government. Governments have alternated from side to side across the House. I see no reason why that bold tradition of the British people called democracy will not continue.
The arguments adduced by Conservative Members some 60 times since I have been in the House will, no doubt, be used against me at some later time should the Opposition become the Government.
It was not just the issue of the guillotine that I wanted to address. The motion touches on something to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) and the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) also referred--the withdrawal of the usual channels. It was not a seamless garment. At times I have thought of it more as a shroud under which we concealed and buried the vitality of the House. Reasonable people across the House may think that it is so intolerable that we cannot reach arrangements, that whatever the Executive bring forward is better than having no discussion or co-operation.
Any Member of the House can bring proceedings to a halt. We know that. I tried to advocate it during the passage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. One could have objected to almost every non-debatable motion and brought the business to an end. Wisdom, in the form of my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North, advised me that I may alienate the House and that by frustrating the purposes of House I was not serving my own argument well. In that lies the resolution of such matters, to which the Opposition must address themselves. Do they really want to drive the Government into taking measures that I shall find loathsome, which many hon. Members will find distasteful, and which will so control the debates of the House as to affect the function which we serve? It is tolerance that makes the House work. We are 651 people with passions and beliefs. Why else did we enter into politics? We have an understanding of what we want for our country. If there is no co-operation in the management of business, we shall break the thing that is the only legitimate expression of the wishes and passions of our people, however poor that expression may be in the eyes of the people of country.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is more used to being abused by me. I would like to kick him and I do kick him because this is such a comprehensive motion. Should we give up to the Executive, through the Committee of Selection, the absolute determination of how we manage the House of Commons and the future legislation of this country? That must be wrong and it was not our purpose.
Column 806I would like to take issue with the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire on one point. There is a notion that runs around the Benches of the House--it is not one that I share and not one for which I can find a constitutional basis--that the Government must have their business. I have never heard of such a constitutional notion. It never arose in the House before. The only thing that the Government should have is the finance. With that, they can manage the country. That does not mean that I came here to support every jot of nonsense or every original idea and fantasy of a temporary member of the Executive who flitted through the House and perhaps took a job merely as an item on his curriculum vitae for a City position. I want and expect, as do the electorate of Aldridge- Brownhills and of the west midlands, hon. Members to look cautiously at every ambitious engagement of a Minister of the Crown. That is our function. I understand the anger of the Opposition Front-Bench Members at the motions tabled before Christmas. I hope that I expressed the views of many Conservatives about the way in which that business was conducted. Without tolerance and without understanding of the purpose of the House, the feud between Opposition Front-Bench Members and the Government will break that purpose.
Let us have a cheer for what we are. Let us really get together. I cannot believe that it serves the interests of Labour Front-Bench Members--I accept that it is not for me to judge those interests--to conduct matters in this way. The Opposition's attitude was clearly set out by the deputy leader of the Labour party when she was asked what she wanted and what was the point at which we could engage or re-engage in proper business. There was no answer ; there is no answer from Opposition Front-Bench Members at the moment. Is it a great political engagement? Is this the means by which they believe that they can bring down the Government? I tell Labour Front- Bench Members this. There is a resolution among Conservative Members which will not permit the Government to be brought down in that way. The Government will be brought down, if they are ever brought down, by the British people voting in an election ; that is the way in which it will be done.
I hope that Opposition Front-Bench Members will consider what they are doing in their attempt to break the Government. They will break the House of Commons and they will see, introduced and supported by Conservative Members, measures that cannot be in the interest of themselves, of the Government or of the country at large.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : If, as a result of the present impasse, the interregnum and the breaking of the usual channels, there is a revolution in this place, and if we then take a fundamental look at the way in which we act on behalf of our constituents, I for one will say that that is a good day's work. Having switched off co-operation, there must be a legitimate reason to switch it back on. The Government must take that point on board. I am not party to the discussions, so I do not want to go down the highways and byways, but I have described the political reality. Some of my constituents have said to me in the past couple of weeks, "Haven't you been opposing for the past 15 years, Jeff?" I say, "Yes, within the rules and procedures, archaic though they are, understood by few outside and not understood by everyone in the House."
Column 807I have come to the conclusion that our ability to scrutinise and to do a decent day's work on legislation on behalf of our constituents has diminished over the years.
I have been in Committee, both as a Front Bencher and as a Back Bencher, to do a serious job. Sometimes the Opposition have known the date by which they wanted to finish. It may have been part of the game plan to create a logjam later in the summer on matters totally unrelated to the legislation with which we were dealing. We wasted hour after hour. We missed debates on many key points ; I do not deny that. We were forced into those circumstances because of the culture of this place, which is passed from one generation to another. No one says, "Stop. Why are we doing things in this way. Why do we have these Standing Orders? Is this the best way in which to promote and to scrutinise legislation?" We have never said, "Let us stop and have a look." If the interregnum provides that opportunity, it will be a good day's work.
The motion shows how quick the Government are to respond in the traditional way. If on the day set aside for Report there happens to be a delay in starting--an emergency debate, for example--there is injury time. However, there is no attempt to table a manuscript amendment to give us injury time of an hour and a half today, although time was legitimately taken up on the privilege motion. What on earth was the House of Commons doing spending an hour and a half from 3.30 pm debating the archaic rule that the Chairman of a Standing Committee does not have the right to turf out someone who should not be in the Committee? Why did not the Leader of the House say, "Here is the new model Standing Order to stop that nonsense ever again taking up time on the Floor of the House"? That would be sensible, but nobody seems to follow through those issues. We are offered no injury time today even with the privilege motion. The Government could not have known about the privilege motion last night, but they could have made provision for injury time.
The Government's business was known about. There were to be three key debates on insurance, on the freezing of tax allowances--creating 400,000 more low-paid taxpayers--and on mortgage tax relief. I did not come to speak on the guillotine motion ; I have not sought over the years to speak on such motions. There are good and bad reasons for guillotines. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) did an admirable job demolishing the Government's case on the 1975 Finance Bill. That Finance Bill did not follow a Budget and it is wrong to use it as an example in the generality of arguments about why this guillotine has had to be introduced. It was not an ordinary Finance Bill. The Budget followed it and there was then a Finance (No. 2) Bill to put into legislation the Chancellor's Budget resolutions and the Ways and Means resolutions.
We are offered three hours to debate the guillotine. This House follows Parkinson's law ; if there is time available, it will be filled. The Opposition and the Government have sometimes sought for the convenience of everyone--the business--to say, "This does not need to go until 10 pm ; it can be wrapped up earlier." The Whips say, "We can't have that. We have sent them away until 10 pm. They will not be back here to vote." It is beyond belief that we do not have the flexibility in our own procedures to come to a conclusion earlier on an issue. I make no complaint. The Leader of the House knows that the full three hours will be taken on a guillotine motion.
Mr. Newton : The previous guillotine that I moved applied to the Non -Domestic Rating Bill. The full three hours was not taken and, what is more, the Opposition could not fill the time for which the guillotine provided.
Mr. Rooker : That is a point of criticism. We are at fault if we do not fill all three hours. Yet I and my hon. Friends will be criticised if we take the full three hours to complain about the chopping down of debate. We shall be told that we have deprived ourselves of the opportunity to discuss the issues.
I did not originally come here to speak on the guillotine debate. I came because I wanted to make a brief speech on clause 72 and on the amendments. The clause concerns personal allowances and I wanted to make the point, at greater length than was possible on Second Reading, that the Government are creating 615 extra low-paid taxpayers in every constituency. That is the reality. I wanted to make that point at some length.
As I said on Second Reading, 13 Conservative Members have majorities of under 600 and there are 24 with majorities of under 1, 200. They have a vested interest in knowing about clause 72. The new taxpayers will make the connection between the rows over the Budget, the rows over the withdrawal of co-operation in running the House and the fact that they are paying tax for the first time. The new taxpayers will be low-paid people because clause 72 will apply only to people earning between £60 and £70 a week. I shall be deprived of the opportunity to develop that point at length because of the guillotine motion.
There are three issues for debate. If we had an hour on each and then a vote--we would need to push the matter to a vote to register our protests effectively--we should have a total of three and three quarter hours. There will be two votes at the end of this debate because we shall also vote on the amendment which proposes that we should be able to debate the Bill until midnight. If that is carried, we shall have the extra two hours. I hope that we shall vote for that.
If I had had the opportunity to do so, I would have referred in complimentary terms to the Leader of the House. Perhaps we should not keep these files, but I dug out some debates from 1977 on the Finance Bill. There were some excellent speeches by the right hon. Gentleman about the need to raise income tax allowances and thresholds to protect people who were on the margin of paying tax. In those days he was an ally of mine and of my hon. Friend who is now the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise), and he had some valuable things to say. Time has passed since then, and as the Government have now seen fit to renege on raising tax allowances two Budgets running, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman deserved to be reminded of that time. The motion will also deprive us of the opportunity to discuss not only the extra tax on the low paid but the reduction in tax relief for the millions of people with mortgages. We shall not reach that debate. Those people will get less tax relief and will have to pay more for their mortgages, but Parliament will not have debated the issue, because of the guillotine motion, which gives no opportunity for hon. Members on either side of the House to deploy the case for or against.
Moreover, the motion gives no opportunity for those of us who argue, as I do, in favour of raising thresholds, to explain where the money might come from. When we argue for what is in effect a tax decrease, it behoves us to