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Business of the House

11 am

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor): With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement about the business for next week.

On Tuesday 10 June, there will now be the completion of consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Education (Schools) Bill. The business previously announced for that day will be taken the following week. The business for the remainder of next week will be as previously announced.

Mr. Alastair Goodlad (Eddisbury): I thank the Leader of the House for the statement and express my sympathy to her for being forced to come down to the House this morning to make it.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that, last night, the Government sought to ram through in haste an important piece of legislation, which will have a significant effect on the future of this country and many of its children? Does she accept that their attempts to do so were badly planned, badly managed and badly executed; that they cast aside the spirit of the Jopling reforms as though they did not exist, and sought to frogmarch their Lobby fodder and their legislation through the House late on a Thursday evening? Does she accept that they failed, and that the House, with short speeches, without filibustering, debated the legislation--or the Opposition did, while the Lobby fodder glumly watched, silently drawing their emoluments and perquisites?

Does the right hon. Lady accept that she must be the only person in the House who was surprised? It was always an improper and impractical proposition to try to complete that complicated Committee stage in one day, and an arrogant nonsense to believe that proper, well-thought-out, well-considered legislation could have been the result of such hurried scrutiny.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that, yet again, after abolishing the twice-weekly Prime Minister's Question Time, contrary to the unanimous recommendations of the Procedure Committee, and after guillotining the Committee stage of the referendums Bill before it had even started, leaving wide areas undebated by the House, the Government have demonstrated their characteristic contempt for the House--another display of Government arrogance accompanied by inefficiency and incompetence?

Does the right hon. Lady accept that business management is completely out of hand and that she, as Leader of the House, together with those unelected political appointees running the Government, whose puppet she is, and whose contempt for Parliament is equalled only by their ignorance of its workings, will need to learn from this experience?

Mrs. Taylor: This week, I have been called a puppet by the right hon. Gentleman, and a bully boy, which I am not sure about, by one of his right hon. Friends. The Opposition should get their line straight and be a bit more consistent.

The right hon. Gentleman offered his sympathies for the fact that I have been forced to be at the Dispatch Box this morning. I think that some of us would have been

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prepared to be here all night and this morning; the reason we are not is that we got a better offer. If the Opposition come to us and offer to complete the Bill by next Tuesday evening, which they did, that is fine as far as the Government are concerned, because we believe that it is right that this important legislation is passed.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it wasthe Opposition who voted against suspension of the10 o'clock rule and therefore I think that it was the Opposition who were not keen on continuing the debate last night. The one point on which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman is that this is an important Bill. As was said last night, it will help thousands of children throughout Britain. It is important, therefore, that the Government press ahead with this legislation.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): While it is fascinating to watch the small ranks of Tory Members defending privilege in our society, will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that the spectacle will be over by 10 o'clock on Tuesday evening, in the spirit of the Jopling reforms, so that we may conclude consideration of that important piece of legislation by then?

Mrs. Taylor: We have had an assurance that that will be the case; that was the basis on which agreement was reached in the early hours of this morning.

Mr. Goodlad: On a point of fact, Madam Speaker, it was the Government who approached us in the early hours of this morning, not the reverse.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): However the result came about, Liberal Democrat Members welcome the business statement. It is a practical and sensible way to proceed, and the more often the House can avoid sitting into the middle of the night for any purpose, the better.

Mrs. Taylor: I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman says.

There are two ways in which we can operate under the present rules of the House. One is to reach voluntary, sensible and practical agreements such as the hon. Gentleman suggests. At other times, if that is impossible--if there is no co-operation--the Government must resort to such measures as the guillotine, as was done in the case of the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill, which we discussed this week.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is it not worth putting on the record the fact that, last night, contrary to the ideas that have been floated by the Opposition Chief Whip and shadow Leader of the House, the Labour Government did not take the Bill into a Standing Committee, although they could have done? The Bill could have been upstairs for two days, two nights--who knows?--and could have been completed, but it was decided to debate it on the Floor of the House and give everyone a chance.

As the Bill could have been guillotined and was not, all this talk about bullying and pushing it through in an unconstitutional manner is uncalled for.

Late last night, contrary to the views of the shadow Leader of the House, who, incidentally, was not voting at the end for some obscure reason, he managed to get a

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voting threshold of about 29 at a quarter to 2 or thereabouts--not 164, the number entitled to vote in the Conservative leadership election, but 29. He should be satisfied with what has taken place. Next time, if it is left to me and I am asked my advice, the Bill will go upstairs, or it will be guillotined, and then the right hon. Gentleman might have something to squeal about.

Mrs. Taylor: My hon. Friend is right to point out the choices that were presented to us. He is also right to point out that there was not a great deal of interest and that the number of Opposition Members who were voting late on was as low as 29. The Bill could have been guillotined. We could have had a combined guillotine motion on Tuesday on the Education (Schools) Bill and the referendums Bill, but we decided to allow the Opposition to make representations. They could not reach agreement before, and we are happy, as long as the Bill makes progress on Tuesday, which it will.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Following the helpful intervention by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), does the right hon. Lady accept that this is evidence yet again of a combination of arrogance and misjudgment of the type to which we have had to become rather used, even at this early stage of this Parliament? The Bill should have been taken in Committee in the usual way, so that it would have received proper scrutiny.

I say to the Leader of the House, because she recently gave us a lecture on the need for proper legislative scrutiny, that, if she had been in the Chamber last night, she would have seen the spectacle of her Back Benchers making no contribution to the scrutiny of the Bill, and her colleagues, the Minister for School Standards and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), making the most derisory, inadequate responses to the very important questions that were raised by my right hon. and hon. Friends during the debate.

Will the right hon. Lady learn a lesson and try to ensure that future Bills are given proper scrutiny, mainly in Committee upstairs, and learn from the fact that she has had to come back today to give the House a further opportunity properly to scrutinise the Bill?

Mrs. Taylor: The only arrogance and misjudgment that I saw last night was when the right hon. Gentleman chose to address the House for about 30 minutes when everyone else was wrapped up and going home, because they realised that a deal had been done and they did not find the right hon. Gentleman's speech interesting enough to detain them.

Last night, we also saw Ministers making mincemeat of Opposition spokesmen, who were here to defend privilege and who were unable to explain why, when in

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government, they had not adopted the measures with respect to siblings that they were advocating last night. The Conservative party clearly showed that it has no regard for the problems being faced in schools, where thousands of young children are being taught in classes of more than 30.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Will the right hon. Lady reconsider what she has said about the time that will be available for debate next week? I know that she believes that she has a deal with our Whips. I wanted to speak in some of last night's debates, but was not called, because each time, before I had a chance to make a speech about my constituents' concerns about class sizes--the right hon. Lady keeps mentioning them--the closure was moved.

We need more time to discuss the matter. Would it be in order to table amendments that would include in the Bill a guarantee of reduced class sizes? Despite what the BBC said this morning, to the effect that the Bill is about reducing class sizes, it appears to be almost out of order to discuss reducing class sizes in debates on the Bill, because not a word in it would in fact reduce them.

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