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Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he accept that the truncated consideration of the Employment Relations Bill, in particular its peculiar treatment relative to the earlier motion, will be greeted with some alarm in my constituency, not least by Mr. James Naylor, a prominent business man and member of the London regional council of the Confederation of British Industry, who told me only last week of his grave concerns about the present contents of the Bill, and of the importance of every opportunity for

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it to be revised? Will not Mr. Naylor regard it as extraordinary that the Government intend to handle business in such a bizarre fashion?

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who typically goes to the heart of the matter incisively and analytically. People outside will be rather puzzled when they see that a measure as important as the Employment Relations Bill is being cut off in its prime, and we are being denied proper debate. The Bill affects many businesses--the employers and the employed--yet we are apparently expected to take a leisurely and open-ended approach to whatever messages might be received from another place.

I do not know what those messages may or may not contain. I wonder whether the Government know. I suppose that they must have some idea, but they are not telling us at present. The Minister did not give us that information in his introductory remarks. He was Delphic--if I may put it that way--and opaque on the subject. We are expected to accept, as a matter of trust, that the Government must get through their business, which is apparent from the jack-booted approach that the Government take to most things these days, not least the rest of the business on the Order Paper.

The Minister had the gall to ask, as a matter of convenience to the Government, for a blank cheque in order to ensure that when messages come from another place they can be dealt with in a peremptory fashion, without the time--that is the implication--to consider them properly. I do not know whether it is within your purview, Madam Speaker, to contemplate suspending the sitting of the House when those messages arrive so that we may give them some thought. That might be one possibility if the Government continue to insist that the messages be dealt with today.

The Government might concede that point at the conclusion of this debate, which I am happy to see may continue until any hour. We can deliberate this matter at length--I am grateful for that--but the other matters of legislative importance later on the Order Paper are time limited. We therefore have the bizarre situation whereby we can, happily, debate this procedural matter about the timing of business in the House--which I regard as important--at any length, but we cannot debate substantive legislative matters at any length.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): My right hon. Friend heard the earlier reference to the "hooligans". Does he not agree that he has amply demonstrated that, far from residing on the Opposition Back Benches, those hooligans are on the Government Front Bench? That is evident from the way in which the Government are treating the House and its procedures.

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is right. The callous and cavalier slaughter of 39 private Members' Bills in the House last Friday could also be described as a hooligan act--and I am happy to do so.

Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that one private Member's Bill enjoyed the Minister's support--

Madam Speaker: Order. We will leave last Friday's private Members' Bills to last Friday. Let us deal with the motion on the Order Paper.

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Mr. Forth: Indeed, Madam Speaker. I have tried to illustrate that this apparently simple procedural motion raises many questions. However, my main question is: why do the Government think it is so important to deal with this matter today when the House will sit again tomorrow, when we will hardly be pressed in terms of the business on the Order Paper? I am sure that there will be scope to return to this matter then. If this motion had been worded differently and had said that any messages received from another place today could be dealt with properly tomorrow, which would give hon. Members the chance to consider them, it would have been extremely acceptable.

I find it difficult to accept--I am reluctant to do so unless the Minister provides a further explanation--the fact that the Government have issued an instruction. They have said, "Trust us; we know what we are doing and we must get our business through"--the Government Whip is helpfully nodding, which confirms what is in the Government's mind. That attitude is not extraordinary but absolutely typical of the Government; it is the kind of attitude that we have come to expect from them.

Before I consent to this measure, I want the Government to answer one point. This motion is not only debatable but--as I think you will confirm, Madam Speaker--a matter upon which the House could vote if it so desired. Before we contemplate whether we will divide the House, I hope that the Minister will have the courtesy to tell us his thoughts on why it is so important to ram through this business today, in the way that the motion outlines, rather than allowing the House to return to it tomorrow when we will not have the same time constraints. We could then deal with it on that basis. That is my simple, modest request.

I am grateful for the Minister's courtesy in coming to the House to explain the motion, which these days is quite unusual, but I should like further explanation of why he wants to deal with that business today, rather than tomorrow. I shall then want to consider whether the matter is one that should divide the House.

Question put:--

The House divided: Ayes 318, Noes 12.

Division No. 272
[3.55 pm


Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe
Austin, John
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Battle, John
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Boateng, Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brake, Tom
Brand, Dr Peter
Breed, Colin
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Chidgey, David
Chisholm, Malcolm
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Connarty, Michael
Corbett, Robin
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Etherington, Bill
Fearn, Ronnie
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Galloway, George
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Grogan, John
Gunnell, John
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hancock, Mike
Harvey, Nick
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Kate
Home Robertson, John
Hood, Jimmy
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keetch, Paul
Kelly, Ms Ruth
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
Kirkwood, Archy
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Linton, Martin
Livingstone, Ken
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAllion, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Mullin, Chris
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
Organ, Mrs Diana
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Rendel, David
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooker, Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Soley, Clive
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul
Vis, Dr Rudi
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Webb, Steve
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. David Hanson and
Mr. David Clelland.


Beggs, Roy
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Forsythe, Clifford
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Luff, Peter
Maclean, Rt Hon David
St Aubyn, Nick
Shepherd, Richard
Swayne, Desmond
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Wardle, Charles

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. Graham Brady.

Question accordingly agreed to.

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