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Commons Chamber

Volume 22: debated on Tuesday 20 April 1982

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 20 April 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Hugh Small And Norma Small (Marriage Enabling) Bill Lords

John Francis Dare And Gillian Loder Dare (Marriage Enabling) Bill Lords

Read a Second time and committed.

Greater London Council (General Powers) (No 2) Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday.

Oral Answers To Questions

Education And Science

Village Schools

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many small village schools have been permitted to close in the last 12 months.

Seventy-nine, in the period 1 March 1981 to 28 February 1982.

Is that not a disturbingly large number? Will the Secretary of State make it clear that he does not want his programme of dealing with falling rolls to involve the wholesale closure of village schools? Remembering the position of Northumberland, where viable schools such as Beadnell, Embleton and Craster are threatened, will he make it clear that the Government recognise the community and educational importance of village schools?

Yes, Sir, emphatically. My colleagues and I take the most intense care to take all social, as well as educational and financial, factors into account when making decisions. But the House must recognise that the pace of the fall in school populations, particularly at the primary phase, has accelerated sharply in recent years.

Will my right hon. Friend pay particular attention to the proposals affecting truly rural village schools? In view of the vast number of village schools that have been closed in Staffordshire, will he look with special care at the proposals that come from that county?

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "Yes". Certainly in Staffordshire, but no more in connection with Staffordshire than with anywhere else, my colleagues and I thoroughly recognise the social and community factors involved in these decisions.

Does the Secretary of State recall that at the time of the general election he made great play of the fact that small schools should remain open? Is he aware that because of Government cutbacks authorities such as Derbyshire county council are now experiencing difficulties in providing the necessary finance to keep such schools open? Will the Secretary of State ensure that the village school at Wessington in my constituency is kept open and that Derbyshire county council is provided with sufficient funds to keep it open?

I cannot comment on individual proposals, but areas, particularly counties, where there is sparsity of population receive extra money from the taxpayer just because of such factors as rural schools. Besides, the educational interests of children can suffer severely if the schools become too small.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is a hero in Bolton by Bowland, a village in my constituency, whose primary school he has just saved from closure? Is he further aware that there must be at least 100 other villages in the country prepared to bestow on him a similar honour if only he would make his Bolton by Bowland decision the rule rather than the exception?

Hereford And Worcester (Selective State High School)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to decide on the section 12 application submitted by the Hereford and Worcester local education authority for the establishment of a selective State high school.

The authority has yet to submit to my right hon. Friend its observations on the statutory objections. The proposals were only published by the authority on 29 January 1982.

In view of the widespread doubts about the wisdom of spending money on this experiment at a time when educational expenditure is being severely curtailed in the counties, and in view of the anxieties about the effects on other schools, will my hon. Friend, when replying to the representations, take the trouble to point out that the reorganisation in Worcester was made necessary by the decision of the grammar school to go independent, that, therefore, the attempt is to cater for those children, and that it is unlikely to have effects on efficiently run schools in other parts of the county?

It is difficult to comment on a section 12 notice when all the information has not arrived at the Department. At the moment the authority is preparing its reply to objections in the area. Once those objections come to us, and once we receive the authority's reply, we shall have to make the decision. I am sure that if my hon. Friend wishes to bring a delegation to see me—not that there are so many vacancies in my diary these days on section 12 notices—I shall be delighted to see him and the other objectors.

Does the Minister realise that the extraordinary proposal from the Conservative leadership in the county is opposed by every teacher organisation, by councillors in two parties and independents and by the majority of organisations consulted?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is a libertarian. He must know that individuals who decide to do certain things contrary to current enlightened opinion may at times be right.

As the proposed superschool, which, as has been said, has been condemned by all the main teaching associations, will cream off pupils from schools in and around Worcester and also discriminate in favour of those who can afford to travel to school, how can the Minister say that it will not harm State schools in the vicinity?

I did not think that I had said that. I must listen to myself more carefully in future. We shall comment further on the proposal when it comes before us, but it is merely for the replacement of a girls' grammar school and a boys' grammar school in Worcester by a mixed grammar school.

When my hon. Friend considers the application from the county education authority, will he satisfy himself that there is full equivalence of opportunity for gifted pupils from all areas of the county?

I shall carefully note the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd). I am concerned, as I am sure all hon. Members are, that able, average and least able children are all taught to the maximum of their ability.

Local Education Authorities

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to improve the efficiency of local education authorities.

No, Sir. This is an important area, but not one where further legislation would be helpful.

Is my right hon. Friend aware—I believe that he is—that industrialists throughout the country have sweated blood to improve productivity, even at the expense of having to make painful decisions to cut labour and overheads, yet local education authorities, including my own in Northamptonshire, which is Labour-controlled with Liberal support, have recently increased massively the number of people that they employ in the education service, thus increasing industry's overheads? Is that not monstrous? Will my right hon. Friend get together with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to introduce, in a short measure, ways to overcome that terrible unfairness?

We are conscious of the difficulties caused by large rate increases. Our proposal to ban supplementary rates will be some protection for ratepayers. If Northamptonshire's spending increases beyond the level of its grant-related expenditure it will incur financial penalties.

Does the Minister accept that there are people, certainly on the Conservative Benches, who believe that efficiency means cutting education to the bone, so that all our people are hampered in their education, at whatever level? Will he also accept that we on the Labour Benches believe that it is necessary to provide more money for education and to ensure that it is used—especially by Tory authorities which are overenthusiastic to cut—if we are to benefit the children under our care?

My hon. Friends are just as keen as any other group in the House, if not more so, to achieve effective education, but effective education cannot be measured simply by money spent.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in recent years schools have had devolved on them a great many administrative functions formerly undertaken centrally by local education authorities and have been given facilities to undertake the functions? Therefore, does he also agree that the swelling of central bureaucracy is not as justified as others have suggested?

If educational effectiveness cannot be measured in terms of money spent, is it not even more the case that it cannot be measured in terms of money cut? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), showed that less than 2 per cent. of all education expenditure was on administration and that the service is not overburdened with administrators? Indeed, in some respects it is administratively underserviced. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that if efficiency means anything in education it means adequacy of provision? How efficient does he think the 99 education authorities are which Her Majesty's Inspectorate in its most recent report describes as not making adequate provision in essential areas in their schools?

As the hon. Gentleman is willing to accept the general posture that-I advanced, I am willing to accept the corollary that he produced in the first part of his question. As for the administrative burdens of local education authorities, it is true that falling rolls and an increased attempt to take out surplus places and perhaps to remove ineffective teachers involves overheads.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the educational effectiveness of LEAs may improve if more time and resources were devoted to what used to be called the three Rs instead of to peripheral subjects?

I cannot but agree that more emphasis in some places on basic skills, provided that it resulted in effective teaching, would be welcome.

Microcomputers

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied with the progress being made with the microcomputer installation programme in secondary schools in the Greater London area.

Yes, Sir. One hundred secondary schools in the Greater London area have obtained a microcomputer under the Department of Industry's micros in schools scheme, supplementing the substantial provision made by the local education authorities.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a remarkable figure in an imaginative and exciting programme? Is he still confident, as was said when the programme began, that the London boroughs that were ahead of the field in their installation programme before the scheme was launched are still not being penalised because they had a number of computers already installed in their schools?

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he wants. All secondary schools are now eligible for assistance under the Department of Industry's scheme, whether or not they have already bought a microcomputer.

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that there should be an input into the microcomputers for handicapped children? Is he aware that the microcomputer is a great chance to help them to overcome their handicaps? Is he prepared to give extra resources to that end?

Without a commitment on resources, I shall certainly look into the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Youth Training Scheme

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied that education establishments in Birmingham will have the resources to meet the off-the-job training aspects of the youth training scheme.

My right hon. Friend is satisfied that the Manpower Services Commission has sufficient resources to fund off-the-job provision and that the education system nationally is able and willing to provide. It is for individual local education authorities, along with the Manpower Services Commission, to plan their response at local level.

Does the Minister accept that many grand-sounding schemes have been heralded in the House by his right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Employment, and that it is now essential that the schemes, which will go some way towards assisting people in areas of urban deprivation, such as Birmingham, are supported far more vigorously than the way in which the Minister has outlined?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government's initiative on, for instance, the new youth training scheme will be of enormous advantage to youngsters. I remind him that there will be a considerable inflow of funds from the MSC into, for instance, further education to support the YTS. That should reassure him.

New Training Initiative

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received from local education authorities as to their responsibilities under the new training initiative; whether he is considering sending them a circular; and if he will make a statement.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the implications for the further education sector of the proposed new training scheme for 16-year-old school leavers.

My right hon. Friend has had only a very few representations from individual local education authorities on this subject. In the White Paper "A New Training Initiative" the responsibilities of colleges of further education and their maintaining authorities are set out, and my right hon. Friend will be glad to respond to any specific needs for further guidance.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the new training initiative is to be successful in its early years, local education authorities must have a special responsibility for retraining and redeploying teachers to help in full-time vocational courses and for the use of surplus educational premises for training opportunities?

Yes, that is absolutely right. There is no objection to MSC courses being held in school premises and, indeed, using teachers from the school, but l believe that that would have to be done in conjunction with a further education institution.

How will the Minister ensure that genuinely appropriate courses will be provided in further education, rather than, as is quite likely, merely cosmetic changes to existing provision, to take advantage of the Government funds that are available?

This is an important matter. In the YOP there have been cases where there has been a breakdown in this respect. That must not happen again. The MSC is planning to introduce a group, on which education services will be well represented, to examine the content of the education courses that are funded through the MSC. I am sure that that will be satisfactory.

Is the Minister aware that if the new training initiative is to be more than just a cosmetic exercise, there will need to be a great deal of planning, involving local authorities and, in particular, technical colleges? What discussions have taken place with local authorities about the financial implications in this connection?

Discussions have been going on almost non-stop for a considerable time. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, for example, there has been an interesting experiment in 12 selected LEAs, where the education content has been planned, and we shall know the results next month. I understand that they will be of great help.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the use that his Department might encourage local authorities to make of the last year at school for training children who are not academically inclined?

There is another question on this matter. Nevertheless, it is a matter that is under consideration.

Is the Minister aware that the whole education service is appalled at the complacency of his Department about the youth training scheme? Is he aware that the whole 16 to 19 years age group has a chaotic range of courses, examinations, curricula and income support? Does he agree that there is urgent need for a comprehensive education and training scheme with full education maintenance allowances?

The Department is certainly not complacent. We recognise this as a major challenge, which is of major importance to our youngsters. I would add that tidiness is not necessarily an advantage.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a traditional antithesis between so-called education and training, that both sides—industry and education—have viewed one another with mutual suspicion, and that therefore there might be a case for a circular which reaffirms the commitment of education to industry and also shows education how best it can devise courses that are appropriately geared to local industry?

I always listen to my hon. Friend's views with great respect. This Government, like previous Governments, have always accepted that training in general should be the responsibility of industry. However, I agree that in the long run the division between training and education, in education terms, is artificial and will gradually break down.

As the new training scheme has an element of compulsion, because of the financially punitive elements it contains, will the Minister tell us a little more about the group which is now to scrutinise the project? What remit will it have? Will the new training schemes be approved only if the Department of Education and Science is satisfied with their education elements, and if not, why not? Who are the members of the group?

The sort of compulsion that the hon. Gentleman is talking about is one that very few people would resist. It consists merely of paying people. So it is not compulsion in any terms. In answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I suggest that he tables a question specifically on that matter.

Secondary Education

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to announce his decision on future secondary education provision in the Exhall, Ash Green and Keresley areas.

My right hon. Friend has informed the LEA that he is minded to approve these proposals subject to a modification of the implementation date. The authority has been consulted on this modification in accordance with the provision of the Education Act 1980, and my right hon. Friend will announce his decision shortly.

I thank the Minister, but he will appreciate that, in the form that he gave it, his reply is not very meaningful? If I accept what he has said in the form that he said it, will he reassure himself that if the proposals are to go through, even in a slightly modified form, some of the building inadequacies will be examined? There were serious inadequacies. Will at least the best possible be done to remedy some of the building deficiencies, if for no other reason than that the scheme is not at all acceptable to the people living in the area?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is a difficult scheme. It was a long time in the Department, going backwards and forwards between the local authority and ourselves. The hon. Gentleman led a delegation, as I well know, to discuss, first, whether it should be implemented, and, secondly, on which date it should come into force. We are still in touch with the local authority, and hope that the final decision will be made very shortly.

Universities

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has given any consideration to the implications of a change in the length of the present university first degree course.

My right hon. Friend is always prepared to consider any initiatives that might increase the cost-effectiveness of higher education.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but does not he agree that, with the introduction of modern teaching practices, the trend should be towards shorter degree courses rather than longer? In this context, will he also resist any weakening of A-level academic standards?

My hon. Friend is probably aware that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) put this forward as one of her 13 points in 1969, when she called for an experiment with two-year courses. As long as we remember that there are some courses, such as enhanced engineering courses, that might be better if they are longer, I agree with my hon. Friend.

Will the Minister bear in mind in considering such alternatives that, if anything, degree courses need lengthening, not shortening? Those of us with experience in the university world realise that the intensity of many modern methods of teaching that have been introduced in higher education have meant that the real gap in student education is that they do not have enough time to think, although that is what universities are all about—thinking and learning.

I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree, from his experience, as I do from my experience, that great difference is possible in this area. There are some courses where it would be interesting to experiment with shorter, more intensive courses.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is obviously a case for people going beyond the level of schooling without necessarily having to go to the full extent of a four-year university honours degree? Does he further agree that there is a case now for reviving the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when she was Secretary of State for Education and Science, of the diploma of higher education, because higher education has got into a trough, particularly in the context of finding a suitable role in the longer term for colleges of higher education?

I agree with my hon. Friend. In general, the Department and, I am sure, the UGC, would welcome proposals for experiments in this area.

Does the Minister agree that, whatever the length of the initial course, the system of student support is of considerable importance? Given the Secretary of State's continual flirtations with the question of loans, will he say whether it is true that the Secretary of State said on "World at One" today that students who cannot live on the grant will have to find more part-time work? If that is true, will he say what effect he thinks that will have on levels of scholarship and on the passing of degrees, and, secondly, what part-time work he has in mind?

When the hon. Gentleman studies the transcript, he will see that he has not got the point quite right.

Education Standards

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on how he intends to see that the educational needs of the bottom 40 per cent. of school pupils in achievement are adequately met.

There is a strong case for a greater practical slant in the curriculum for all pupils, especially in the last two years of compulsory education, and the less academically proficient pupils are not necessarily best served by a diluted form of the traditional curriculum. While I am not yet ready to declare what particular measures might be most helpful, I am treating this as a matter of high priority.

I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend accords high priority to this important area of educational provision, but is he prepared to consider sympathetically the idea of having a sort of certificate of satisfactory educational performance for pupils who leave school, especially those who do not have the opportunity to take either CSE or GCE examinations?

Yes. I shall certainly consider such an idea sympathetically, although I cannot make a commitment without exploring all the implications.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the efficacy of any system of education is decided by the degree to which it meets the needs of all its pupils? Does he agree that the educational implications of post-war secondary education for all have never been worked out properly?

If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to agree that we do not have a perfect educational system in terms of providing what each individual needs, I do so. I am not sure of the implications of his question. Perhaps he will write to me about it.

School Meals

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are the latest figures available for the numbers (a) taking school meals and (b) receiving free meals; and how these compare with those for 1979.

In October 1981 the daily meals take-up in maintained schools in England was approximately 3·5 million, including 0·9 million provided free. This total figure represented about 49 per cent of pupils present. The comparable figure for 1979 was 64 per cent. For both years, the free meal take-up was about 12 per cent.

Does the Minister accept that the running down of the school meals service has serious implications for the general health of the school population? Will he seriously consider doing something to reverse that trend?

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the free meal take-up by those who cannot afford to pay for their meals remains at 12 per cent. However, even before the 1980 Act, the school meals service was built on the assumption that the major part of a child's needs would be provided at home. There is still more than £300 million included in the rate support grant for the purpose, and whether the money is spent on food or education, it should go where the real priority is.

Textbooks (Parental Vetting)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to give parents the right to vet textbooks used in schools for the teaching of sensitive matters, such as sex education.

The Education (School Information) Regulations, which come into effect this year, will require schools to give parents information about the way in which sex education is provided in schools. We have made it clear that there should be the closest consultation and cooperation between parents and schools on this matter

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a vital moral issue in the presentation of literature within schools, and will he assure the House that he will exercise vigilance in such matters, especially about sex education? Does he agree that his Department has a moral responsibility for curricula in schools?

I believe that the Department has a moral responsibility. Last year, through pressure, we ruled that some books that were available in libraries and in general should be used by teachers only. I can quote from one book, which stated:

"Incest is not particularly uncommon, especially between sisters and brothers, when it can be a loving sexual relationship."
It would seem that we should exercise that discretion, because the same book talks about bestiality, without any condemnation of it whatsoever.

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about the need for consultation. Will he assure the House that parents will have the right to withdraw their children from such lessons if they see fit?

Consideration was given during the passage of the 1980 Bill to whether parents should have the right to withdraw their children from sex education classes, as with religious education. It was decided, both by this House and another place, that such a decision should not be made, because sex education is not compulsory in schools.

I know that the Inner London Education Authority has ruled that parents may withdraw their children from schools that provide sex education with which they do not agree. This week a parent from another authority wrote to me enclosing a letter from a headmaster on the subject. Where parents disagree with the way in which sex education is taught in schools, the headmasters should certainly allow withdrawal from that class.

Universities

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received about the reductions envisaged in university places in future years.

My right hon. Friend has received representations from Members of both Houses and a wide range of other bodies and individuals.

I thank the Minister for that reply, because there must have been much correspondence on the subject. Is the Minister aware that he will be reducing the number of university entrants in 1982–83 to 72,000? In 1980–81 the figure was 76,900, which means that there has been a large reduction in one year. Is he aware that the 18-yearold population will be at a peak of 924,000? Is what the Minister is doing good or bad for Britain?

I am well aware of the figures that the hon. Gentleman gives. The overriding needs of the national economy impose them on us.

How many representations has the Under-Secretary of State received from universities where redundancy proposals have been rejected by the university senates or councils? What will the Government's action be in those circumstances?

There is no role for direct Government intervention in those circumstances or in any circumstances of management problems in universities.

Is the Minister aware that when the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts visited Stirling and Aston universities it appeared that circumstances could arise early in 1984 in which those universities, and no doubt others, might have to declare themselves bankrupt and go into liquidation? If that eventuality arose, is the Minister really saying that the Government would have no view about it?

If the UGC took the view that the university could do nothing to avoid bankruptcy, it would wish to take action. However, if the UGC's view was that the university could have taken practical action but did not, the problem would be more difficult.

Comprehensive Education

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had about the development of a comprehensive system of education and training for the 16 to 19-years-old age groups.

The Government are committed to extending education opportunities for the 16 to 19 age group and to the proposals for training in the White Paper, "A New Training Initiative". To this end, Ministers and officials have had numerous discussions with the local education authority associations, the MSC and others.

Does the Minister agree that it is very important that the Department of Education and Science, rather than the Department of Employment, should take a lead in these discussions? Is is not vital that the Minister recognises that, unless the problem of the 16 to 19-yearold is examined comprehensively, we shall be in danger of creating another form of education apartheid for 16 to 19-year-olds, just as we did after the Second World War for 11-year-olds?

The Labour Party publication "Learning for Life" has an authoritarian approach which the Conservative Party and the country would reject.

Can there really be an effective approach to education and training while two separate Departments of State are involved?

It has been the decision of this and previous Governments that the Department of Employment should be the main agent for training. I reassure my hon. Friend by saying that discussions between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Employment are constant.

Is the Minister aware that there are still many 16 to 19-year-old students who would benefit from a traditional sixth form education or from a sixth form college, but who cannot do so either because of there own or their parents' poverty? Is it not high time that we gave an adequate grant to encourage them to stay on?

I did not hear the hon. Gentleman's question very well, but I believe that he asked about provision for staying on. I can give him two reassurances. First, about 10 per cent. more of our youngsters are staying on in full-time education. There are 25 per cent. more staying on in further education, for which the Government have made financial provision. We welcome that development very much.

Burnham Report

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to receive the report of the Burnham committee on teachers' pay.

The pay claim for school teachers in England and Wales has now been referred to arbitration. The hearing is expected to take place in the week beginning 17 May, and the arbitral body's recommendations are expected to be sent direct to my right hon. Friend quite shortly thereafter.

If the arbitration award is 6 per cent. or more, will additional financial resources be made available to local education authorities? If there is a vote on the management side of the Burnham committee, will the two Department of Education and Science representatives be under the direction of the Secretary of State?

It has always been the convention that the attitude of the management panel is confidential, so I could not talk about that in the House. I would be wrong to do so. As we do not know what will be recommended by the arbitration tribunal, it would be hypothetical to talk about that.

Will the Minister accept that before the management offer was referred to arbitration there was widespread anger in the teaching profession at the paltry offer? Are the Government prepared to say now that they will accept the Burnham committee arbitration award and give finance to teachers who, after all, like all other working men and women, must keep pace with inflation?

In the Burnham committee the management panel offered what it thought it could afford within the limited amount of money that was available. More money would not be available if the arbitration tribunal said that more should be given. The authorities would have to make their decision against that background.

Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the teachers that, whatever the arbitration award, the Government can make available only the same amount of money and that either there must be fewer teachers or smaller increases in pay?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The amount of money being offered by the Government to the local authorities is a quantum that has been set. The more teachers who are employed, the less individual teachers can earn, or vice versa. If the authorities run down the number of teachers, they can pay more for those who are still employed.

Was not the Minister in danger—I am sure inadvertently—of misleading the House in his last but one answer when he said that the management panel had made an offer on the basis of what it could afford? Had not substantial numbers of local education authorities quickly communicated the fact that they were prepared to and could find ways of affording more than the 3·4 per cent. increase, and could not the threatened uproar in the education service have been avoided entirely had they been left to their own devices? I shall repeat this question, because this is a matter of great importance, with the examination term coming before us. In the event of the arbitrator making a recommendation, will the Government provide funds to enable the teachers to be paid what the arbitrator recommends?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis), the amount of money that has been put before the local education authorities has been set. No more will be provided. Any payment to the teachers must be made within that limit. The management committee has always considered that any offers that are made in the Burnham committee should be confidential. It would be wrong for me to disclose any of the happenings in that management committee.

Youth Training Scheme

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied that colleges of further education and other educational institutions will have adequate resources to meet the needs of the youth training scheme.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Sever).

Is the Minister aware of the concern felt by many colleges of further education at the apparent lack of co-ordination between his Department and the Department of Employment, with the result that courses that colleges are planning as part of the new scheme are having to be cut because not enough money is available?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is close co-operation between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Employment. There are at least four different committees with interlocking memberships sitting well-nigh full time. As I have said, a new committee will look at the education content of the Manpower Services Commission's programmes.

Is the Minister aware that another 400,000 boys and girls will be leaving school this year with no prospect of jobs, and that many of them will be looking to the further education system at least for an opportunity for training? Is he aware that we have an urgent crisis on our hands, which cannot wait for the Government's scheme in 1983?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying that that crisis has been met by the Government, not only by the increase in provision for 16 to 19-year-olds, announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but by additional funding for the further education system announced by my right hon. Friend last December.

Is the Minister aware that many of those involved in education, particularly in the colleges to which he referred, will have found all of his answers this afternoon complacent? Will he now give a positive commitment that the job that needs to be done to protect the interests of those young people will be met squarely by the Government and that they will provide the funds necessary to carry out that job?

As I said earlier, we are not complacent. This is a challenge that the Government are accepting. The hon. Gentleman will know that the funding not only on the educational side, but for the Manpower Services Commission, is greater than we have ever had before in the history of the country.

Prime Minister

Departmental Financial Advisers

Ql.

asked the Prime Minister if, further to her reply to the hon. Member for West Lothian on 3 March, she will, subsequent to any further review, establish new criteria upon which appointments of financial advisers are made by Departments, so as to ensure more effective public accountability and parliamentary control.

Departments are already accountable to Parliament for public funds spent on the appointment of professional financial advisers. It is always in the Government's interest to obtain the best advice available. We have no plans to change the present arrangements.

Is this really the right time to go ahead with plans for the dismantling of the British National Oil Corporation?

We shall make the judgment at the precise moment we wish to do so. I am sure that it will be an excellent judgment.

Will my right hon. Friend look again at the proposal to appoint as an experiment half a dozen outside accountants to the new district health authorities and recognise that the problems that they face are urgent and that if there is to be outside financial help it should be on an extensive scale and not just on an experimental scale?

I shall pass on that suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend has made proposals to ensure that those authorities are properly accountable to Parliament, which they have not been in the past.

Will the Prime Minister tell us who is the financial adviser to the Government on the Falkland Islands operation, and when and how Parliament will be told of the cost of that operation?

I hardly think that that question is relevant to the one that I am discussing. I think that most people in this country will take the view that the Government take on that issue.

Engagements

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 April.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall preside at a meeting of the Cabinet later today. This evening I am giving a reception for those engaged in business, representing both management and the shop floor.

In view of the seriousness of the position in and around the Falkland Islands, has the Prime Minister any plans to invite the leaders of all the political parties in the House to Downing Street for discussions?

I have no such plans at present. Had the hon. Gentleman been in the House at the time he would have heard what the Leader of the Opposition said. We take it as our duty to keep the House as a whole as fully informed as possible.

Will my right hon. Friend today undertake to consider with great caution any proposals from the Argentine, bearing in mind that if an aggressor is even half compensated for his aggression, that will be an encouragement to others to behave likewise?

I take my hon. Friend's point. It has been made strongly. That is the feeling on both sides of the House. Of course we shall try to seek a diplomatic solution, but we have to be true to our objectives. I cannot disguise from the House that the Argentine proposals at present before us fall short in some important respects of those objectives and of the requirements expressed in the House.

Will the right hon. Lady tell us when she will report to the House—in accordance with what she has said about such reports—on those proposals, on what they are officially and what the Government's views are about all of them? Will she tell us whether they are supported by the United States Administration or whether General Haig was merely acting as an intermediary in the matter?

The proposals are Argentine proposals. We are grateful to Mr. Haig for the patience and stamina that he has shown over the proposals, both in Buenos Aires and in his visits to this country, but they are Argentine proposals. He has kept us fully informed, when he has been able to do so, about precisely what they are. We now have full details. The right hon. Gentleman heard what I indicated a moment ago. We regard this as a stage in the negotiating process that must now be continued. We are examining the proposals very closely and will seek to put forward our own proposals to Mr. Haig. With that in mind, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary plans to visit Washington on Thursday.

When will the right hon. Lady be reporting to the House again? I hope that in these discussions she will also be taking into full account the proposals made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) about the implication of the United Nations. Does the right hon. Lady agree that, apart from the inherent justice of our cause, a major source of strength is that this country is acting in conformity with the United Nations charter and in pursuance of resolution No. 502? If the right hon. Lady and the Government follow up the proposals made by my right hon. Friend they could provide some alternatives to the specific proposals from the Argentine and also make sure that we continue to act in full conformity with the United Nations charter and our obligations under the charter.

I do not believe that there is much point in reporting to the House before my right hon. Friend has seen Mr. Haig in Washington. Among the many problems presented by the Argentine proposals is that they fail to provide that the Falkland Islanders should be able to determine their own destiny. The House has always said that the wishes of the islanders are paramount.

As regards the proposals put forward by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East that referred to United Nations administrators, we are in the process of one negotiation through Mr. Haig, and it would be better not to get our wires crossed but to go steadily forward on that proposal. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said. We are trying to secure implementation of United Nations resolution No. 502, which is clear, but not so easy to implement. We also have rights on self-defence under article 51 of the charter.

I wish the right hon. Gentleman well on his visit to the United States. However, I am not at all certain that it will not be necessary for further reports to be made to the House in the meantime. Does the right hon. Lady agree that as these matters are fully discussued in other places there should be constant and persistent reports to the House of Commons?

There is no intention to hold up information in any way. The right hon. Gentleman, his right hon. Friends and Members have been extremely understanding of the fact that while negotiations are in progress it is difficult to give full details of them. I have indicated one important respect in which the Argentine proposals fall short of the objective of almost every hon. Member. I am here every Tuesday and Thursday, but we will make much fuller statements as often as we can.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her handling of the Falklands crisis with a combination of firmness and diplomacy has commanded the support of the vast majority of hon. Members? Is she further aware that her declaration this afternoon that despite the difficulties or shortcomings of the present proposals she will pursue resolutely a diplomatic solution to the crisis will also have the full support of most hon. Members?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. We remain committed to seeking a diplomatic solution if an acceptable one can possibly be found.

The Prime Minister knows that she has all-party support for her determination to secure the removal of the Argentine from the islands, to secure implementation of the Security Council resolution and reestablish conditions in which the future of the islanders can be determined in the long-term. However, will the right hon. Lady refrain from ascribing to the House as a whole her phrase about the paramountcy of the wishes of the islanders? Does she agree that while their wishes and interests are uppermost in our minds, the long-term issue is a paramount one for the House to resolve?

But the House, in exercising its duty, has always said, not only in these negotiations, but on many previous negotiations, that the wishes of the islanders are paramount. Many previous negotiations have been on the basis that the Argentines wanted what is called decolonisation—that has a particular meaning in United Nations terms—but they have not been able or willing to grant self-determination to the islanders.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 April.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that it would be a great advantage to involve the United Nations more deeply? That would relieve the United States of the necessity to act in what is called an evenhanded fashion. If the United States adopted the same economic sanctions and brings the same pressure to bear on the Argentine as Western European countries and the Commonwealth have done, is it not a fact that that would have a moral and economic impact and would make a peaceful and diplomatic solution much more likely?

There is a clear mandatory resolution on record by the Security Council, which should have the force and effect of international law. At present it is not being implemented. Mr. Haig is trying to see that it is implemented. I believe that he is a very good and appropriate negotiator, but a negotiator must have credibility with both parties to the negotiations. It is in our interests that he should continue to have that credibility. However, we all know that the United States and this country are democracies.

Are the Government still determined to use whatever means are at their disposal to secure the withdrawal of the Argentine forces from the islands and to re-establish British administration before any question of a longer-term solution is entered into?

I confirm that that is our aim. Our strategy is to try to use diplomatic means, backed up by a task force, which continues steadily on its way.

In view of the strong all-party support that the Government have rightly received during the past two and a half weeks, will the Prime Minister bear in mind that she will be expected to take future, I hope and believe, un-rushed decisions in an equally non-party way? Does she agree that that demands more than merely asking the right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster General, as chairman of the Conservative Party, to a meeting of senior Ministers last night? Will the right hon. Lady seriously consider the proposition made by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells)?

I must confess that I had expected a more fundamental point from the right hon. Gentleman. On the last occasion that this point was raised the Leader of the Opposition said, rightly, that he would not find that the appropriate way to proceed. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to see me—I am sure the same applies to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—about this matter I am always available to see hon. Members on these important issues.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 20 April.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite the recent proposals, she has widespread support in the country for the stance she is taking to ensure that dictators cannot get by aggression what they fail to get by negotiation? In particular, in view of the Argentine record on human rights, does she agree that the suggestion to bring Argentine police in to the islands is not acceptable, because it could lead to the intimidation of the islanders?

My hon. Friend has enunciated a very important principle, not only for the people of the Falkland Islands, but for the people of many other territories which may be invaded if unprovoked aggression in this case succeeded. As to the police, my hon. Friend knows that there were only two police officers on the islands—it was a very law abiding place—and we are very much aware of the record of the present junta in Argentina.

Bill Presented

Northern Ireland

Mr. Secretary Prior, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Whitelaw, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Sir Keith Joseph, Mr. Secretary Pym, Mr. Secretary Nott, Mr. Adam Butler, Mr. David Mitchell, Mr. John Patten, and Mr. Nicholas Scott presented a Bill to make new provision for the resumption of legislative and executive functions by the Northern Ireland Assembly and by persons responsible to it; to amend the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 and the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 106].

Local Authority Tenants (Heating Charges)

3.31 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to confer on local authority tenants a right of access to accounts forming the basis of communal heating charges and a right to be consulted before such charges are fixed; and for purposes relating thereto.
The Bill would give to council tenants rights which Parliament has already given to tenants of private landlords and to tenants of housing associations. Under the Housing Act 1980, when a private landlord levies a charge for services provided to a tenant, such as a charge for communal heating, the tenant has a right to get information about the accounts on which the charge is based and a right to challenge the level of the charge as unreasonable in the courts. Council tenants have no such rights.

The rights of private tenants in more detail are as follows. The tenant can demand to have a summary of costs giving rise to a service charge, including a heating charge. He can then demand to see the accounts and receipts on which the charge is based. If he thinks that the charge is too high for the service provided, he can take the point to the county court, whose decision is binding on the landlord, or he can pay only what he thinks is reasonable and leave it to the landlord to take him to court. This is a package of extremely valuable rights which tenants can use to avoid being over-charged for heating and other services. Council tenants are, of course, given rights also under the 1980 Act, but not those I have just described relating to service or heating charges.

Local authorities are obliged to consult their tenants on matters of housing management, but charges for heating or other services are specifically excluded from the definition of housing management by section 42(3) of the Act.

If it is argued that the mere fact that a local authority is an elected body should make it unnecessary to give council tenants the same rights as private tenants, I would point out that elected bodies are sometimes guilty of action just as high-handed and unfair as private landlords.

A more serious argument would be that section 159 of the Local Government Act 1972 gives everyone a right of access to accounts, including bills, vouchers and receipts, of a local authority. To that, the answer is that without any obligation on the authority to provide a summary of the costs specifically relating to a heating charge, no member of the public could possibly identify and draw together the relevant information unless he was a chartered accountant and district auditor who had missed his profession. Even if he did manage to dig out all the information explaining the level of the charge, he would still not have the right the private tenant has to challenge the reasonableness of it in the county court.

It is particularly wrong for Parliament to discriminate against council tenants on this matter, because those council tenants who have communal heating systems pay far more for their heating than anyone else would consider remotely reasonable.

In my Adjournment debate on 31 July last year, I showed that on average council tenants with communal heating systems pay about double what most others pay for the same service. They pay double what the gas boards and the Department of Energy publish as normal costs. The difference is not explained by the fact that many communal systems use oil, whose price has overtaken that of gas. Even when using the same fuel, many communal systems cost tenants far more than systems with separate boilers in each house or flat under individual tenant control.

Some examples drawn from my own constituency are as follows. On the Packington Square estate, the charge in a three-bedroom maisonette is about £500 a year. For that one gets hot water and space heating in only the sitting room, dining room and hall—no heating in any of the bedrooms.

In Jessop Court, one pays about the same for a three-bedroom maisonette, and besides hot water all one gets is hot air from one central heating column blown into the sitting room, the hall and the kitchen. Few people, of course, want extra heating in their kitchens, but the architects who have over the years treated council tenants as guinea pigs for their diseased imaginations are unaware of that fact.

On the Golden Lane estate belonging to the City of London, the occupant of a bedsitter now pays about £370 for hot water and one space heating outlet.

On the Delhi-Outram estate, a modern and efficient system with heating in every room costs tenants £680 a year for eight radiators and hot water.

Why are the charges so much higher than in individually controlled systems? It is partly because the systems are old, partly because they are inefficiently serviced, partly because the efficient systems must subsidise the inefficient ones and partly because with most communal systems the tenant either has no control of the system at all or, if he can turn it off, he gets no financial gain from doing so. So, even if the house is unoccupied all day while everyone is out at work, the tenant cannot save money by turning the heating off.

Where the systems provide only partial heating, tenants must supplement, usually with forms of heating such as electric fires which are particularly expensive, so they lose all round. When the systems break down, as they not infrequently do, it is the devil's own job to screw any refund at all out of a local authority.

The whole situation begs for some central body to take an interest and to do some central research. One would think that with energy saving so much in the air, the Department of the Environment would at least be prepared to collect some sample figures throughout the country to see just how big the problem is and what we might do about it. But two successive Department of the Environment Ministers have refused my request to do exactly that, and the Department of Energy seems to be doing no more about it. I still hope that it will summon up the energy to reply to a recent letter from me on the subject.

But even if those Departments took the interest that they should take, there would still be a need for the Bill I am proposing. Tenants faced with bills double the size of what they should be ought to have a right to get at the costs behind them and ought to be able to challenge the reasonableness of the charge in the courts just as private tenants can. My Bill would give them the right to have a summary of the calculations behind the charge, just like a private tenant; the right to see the books, just like a private tenant; and the right to challenge the charge as unreasonable in the county court, just like a private tenant.

It is worth pointing out that any council tenant who buys the leasehold of his flat under the right-to-buy legislation and who has a communual heating system will have the rights of a private tenant with regard to a heating charge. He will have the rights, but the person next door who continues to be a weekly tenant will not have those same rights.

If the Government mean what they say about enfranchising the council tenant, they will accept this proposal in principle. I shall be happy to negotiate with the Government on the exact drafting of the Bill, which might present some minor difficulties.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. George Cunningham, Mr. David Alton, Mr. W. Benyon, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mr. John Cartwright, Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann, Mr. Christopher Price and Mr. Phillip Whitehead.

Local Authority Tenants (Heating Charges)

Mr. George Cunningham accordingly presented a Bill to confer on local authority tenants a right of access to accounts forming the basis of communal heating charges and a right to be consulted before such charges are fixed; and for purposes relating thereto: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday and to be printed. [Bill 109.]

Employment Bill (Allocation Of Time)

3.41 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Bitten): I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the bill:

Committee

1. — (1) The Standing Committee to which the Bib is allocated shall report the Bill to the House on or before 29th April 1982.

(2) Proceedings on the Bill at a sitting of the Standing Committee on the said 29th April may continue until Eleven p.m., whether or not the House is adjourned before that time, and if the House is adjourned before those proceedings have been brought to a conclusion the Standing Committee shall report the Bill to the House on 30th April 1982.

Report and Third Reading

2. — (1) The proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in two allotted clays and shall be brought to a conclusion at Seven o'clock on the second of those days; and for the purposes of Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) this Order shall be taken to allot to the proceedings on Consideration such part of those days as the Resolution of the Business Committee may determine.

(2) The Business Committee shall report to the House their Resolutions as to the proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, and as to the allocation of time between those proceedings and proceedings on Third Reading, not later than the fourth day on which the House sits after the day on which the Chairman of the Standing Committee reports the Bill to the House.

(3) The Resolutions in any Report made under Standing Order No. 43 may be varied by a further Report so made, whether or not within the time specified in sub-paragraph (2) above, and whether or not the Resolutions have been agreed to by the House.

(4) The Resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in the order in which proceedings on Consideration of the Bill are taken.

Procedure in Standing Committee

3.—(1) At a sitting of the Standing Committee at which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion under a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee the Chairman shall not adjourn the Committee under any Order relating to the sittings of the Committee until the proceedings have been brought to a conclusion.

(2) No Motion shall be moved in the Standing Committee relating to the sitting of the Committee except by a member of the Government, and the Chairman shall permit a brief explanatiory statement from the Member who moves, and from a Member who opposes, the Motion, and shall then put the Question thereon.

4. No Motion shall be moved to alter the order in which Clauses, Schedules, new Clauses and new Schedules are to be taken in the Standing Committee but the Resolutions of the Business Sub-Committee may include alterations in that order.

Conclusion of proceedings in Committee

5. On the conclusion of the proceedings in any Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

Dilatory Motions

6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, proceedings on the Bill shall be moved in the Standing Committee or on an allotted day except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

Extra time on allotted days

7.—(1) On an allotted day paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for two hours after Ten o'clock.

(2) Any period during which proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to the said period of two hours.

(3) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion fen the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 stands over from an earlier day, a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings upon that Motion shall be added to the said period of two hours.

Private business

8. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of those proceedings.

Conclusion of proceedings

9. —(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or the Business Sub-Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others), that is to say—

  • (a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
  • (b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including, in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill);
  • (c) the Question on any amendment or Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment or Motion is moved by a Member of the Government;
  • (d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded;
  • and on a Motion so moved for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

    (2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

    (3) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock—

  • (a) that Motion shall stand over until the conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time;
  • (b) the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
  • (4) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.

    Supplemental orders

    10. — (1) The proceedings on any Motion moved in the House by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.

    (2) If on an allotted day on which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

    Saving

    11. Nothing in this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee shall—

  • (a) prevent any proceedings to which the Order or Resolution applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by the Order or Resolution, or
  • (b) prevent any business (whether on the Bill or not) from being proceeded with on any day after the completion of all such proceedings on the Bill as are to be taken on that day.
  • Re-committal

    12. — (1) References in this Order to proceedings on Consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings, at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of re-committal.

    (2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to re-commit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.

    Interpretation

    13. In this Order—

    • "allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has ben agreed on a previous day or is set down for consideration on that day;
    • "the Bill" means the Employment Bill;
    • "Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a Resolution of the business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee;
    • "Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.

    No Leader of the House would wish to make his first essay in debate on this sort of topic. I realise that the conciliatory qualities that are normally supposed to touch, however lightly, the Leader of the House cannot be much in evidence this afternoon. We all play many roles in our time. As Leader of the House I have to play a role of moving timetable motions as well as, I hope, taking part in other more congenial parliamentary occasions.

    Having said that—I feel that it is a ritual that is required of me—my sense of the traditions of the House tells me that timetable motions are almost as integral a part of this assembly as the Chair itself. If I wanted any reassurance, I would have only to turn to the Leader of the Opposition, who has kindly remained in the Chamber. Doubtless a sense of nostalgia brings him here to hear the House deal with a timetable motion on employment legislation. On that great day, 20 July 1976, the right hon. Gentleman managed to bag five timetable motions in one wide-ranging grapeshot. That remains a record. The right hon. Gentleman's unbridled enthusiasm worries me. Surely a man of such fastidious concern as the right hon. Gentleman should be one of the first deeply to reflect upon Talleyrand's dictum, "Pas trop de zéle". However, on 20 July 1976 there was practically nothing that was too radical or too sweeping for him. Given that precedent, I do not stand before the House with any penitential sheet.

    I shall detain the House but briefly. I am aware that a number of hon. Members wish to make speeches on this important occasion. However, I shall draw the attention of the House to three matters. The first is that, in a sense, the subject of the great debate is the Employment Bill. The second is the experience of the Bill in Committee. The third, and most important, concerns the proposals in the motion that we are formally debating.

    The subject before us is trade union legislation. The Bill addresses itself to one of the central items of debate in the democratic procedures of the House and the country: what is to be the appropriate legal framework which will provide a balance between trade union immunities and privileges and trade unions' legal obligations? There is nothing startling or new about addressing oneself to that principle. It has featured in legislation from time to time over the past few years.

    Whenever I want guidance on these topics I turn to the Leader of the Opposition for my inspiration. Admittedly, one has to go back to the days when, if there was a strong light behind him, he could be considered almost a radical. I refer to the days when, as managing director of Tribune, he became engaged in one of those fraternal dialogues with the late Arthur Deakin. On one such occasion he placed the following on record:

    "Trade union leaders are not a special breed of humanity, always to be shielded from the rough breezes of democracy, rare birds to be protected by special game laws."

    I note that the right hon. Gentleman cheers. I am glad that the same robust sentiments that were expressed a couple of decades ago still beat within his breast. That is an encouragement to us all.

    In the halcyon days to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, he will note that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was talking about trade union leaders. The Bill that is the subject of this motion is not about hamstringing trade union leaders. Its purpose is to attack the rights of 12 million trade unionists. There is no conflict on the Labour Benches with what my right hon. Friend said many years ago.

    The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) does his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition a disservice by suggesting that he can defend him rather better than the right hon. Gentleman can defend himself, and does so more disastrously by suggesting that the power of trade union leaders does not rest upon the power of the bodies that they lead. The privileges, immunities and effectiveness of the trade unions invest in the leaders of those organisations the very real power that they have in today's society.

    The Bill that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment introduced not so very long ago is a measure that touches upon matters of controversy. That is perfectly understandable. It touches upon the closed shop, the immunity of trade union funds and the determination of a trades dispute.

    I must be very gentle in responding to the interjection of my pair, the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice), who said "Touches upon?", as though I were guilty of some disgraceful underplaying or of plundering the English language of all its meaning. However, on Second Reading my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment said:

    "`The Bill … is a modest measure, in both size and purpose."—[Official Report, 8 February 1982; Vol. 17, c. 738.]

    The violence of the reaction does not tell us anything about the modesty of the measure. However, it tells us something about the mental attitudes of those who have enjoyed privileges over the decades and who are horrified at the thought that anyone might question their enjoyment of those privileges.

    We have had early warning that the Bill would be trial by verbiage. The sittings motion and order of consideration—admittedly, they were two approaches—were considered for over four hours. Clause 1 and schedule 1 were discussed for 36¼ hours, while discussion on clause 2 continued for 37½ hours. Then something happened. I am not entirely clear what happened, even after a close study of the manuscripts, but clause 3 took only 4¾ hours. However, a fairly good record was being maintained. So much so that clause 4 was eventually secured in slightly more than 10¾ hours. This morning there was suddenly a burst of speed and clause 5 was obtained in one hour.

    Clause 3 was dealt with quickly for two reasons. First, the Chairman refused to allow a debate on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. Secondly, and more important, none of us, including the Minister, could understand the clause.

    There are important conclusions to be drawn from that intervention. However, the proceedings in Committee have reflected the conduct of parliamentary opposition on a more generous and extended scale than any Government could reasonably contemplate given their commitment to the securing of their business.

    I approach this matter in a fairly charitable mood as I know that there is a certain other worldliness about debates on timetable motions. Before the debate is over, we shall be knee-deep in tears of anger and remorse, but everyone knows perfectly well that when Governments face difficulty in securing their legislation there comes a point when they must strike a balance and secure reasonable consideration of immportant outstanding aspects of the legislation.

    Before I leave the subject of the length of time spent on the Bill, an accolade or two should be given out of sheer puzzlement at the sustained loquaciousness of certain Opposition Members. I am afraid that I shall have to disapoint the hon. Members for Bethnal Green arid Bow (Mr. Mikardo) and Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton). They are old hands at this, but the leading contestant is a newcomer who shows great promise. I refer to the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), who will no doubt be recruited to take part in many future debates on these matters.

    I have looked again at the figures for the number of hours spent on the Bill, and I believe that the right hon. Gentleman does us an injustice. Adding up the figures that he gave, I make the total just under 60 hours. I do not wish to make the right hon. Gentleman's case for him, but I am sure that the Bill has been in Committee for longer than that. If his figures were right, we should not have been doing our job.

    That was simply the characteristic deployment of my case by understatement. I am happy to be corrected and to hear that the verbosity was on a scale beyond even what I have suggested.

    Important issues remain to be debated. For instance, there is the "union labour only" requirement in contracts, which is an oblique form of closed shop. That falls to be considered in clauses 10 and 11. The bringing of immunities of trade union funds into line with the immunities of trade union officials is dealt with in clauses 12 to 14. The definition of a trades dispute and its consequential impact on immunities is dealt with in clause 15.

    The Bill and the consideration of those matters must not be lost in a quagmire of verbosity. That is the reason for the proposals before us today.

    The purpose of the motion is to ensure that the passage of the Bill is expedited so that the remaining important clauses can be properly debated. Under paragrph 3 of the motion, it will be for the Business Sub-Committee to determine the number of sittings between now and 29 April, when the Bill must be reported to the House.

    Having had the pleasure of serving with the right hon. Gentleman on the Procedure Committee in years past, I ask him seriously to consider for the future the possibility of introducing the kind of timetable now before us at the commencement of a Bill's passage through the House, rather than after the Committee has wasted perhaps not all but a great deal of the first 100 hours of debate on the Bill? As Leader of the House, will he seriously consider the possibility of timetabling Bills in future?

    I note what the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) has said. I also note that this morning The Times—the house organ of the Social Democratic Party—carried an article in which the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) makes a broadly similar point. I hope that the hon. Member for Rochdale will acquit me of any discourtesy when I say that this is a fairly substantial sidewind, even for him to suggest, in a fairly narrow debate of this kind. He is, of course, right that we should always be attendant upon our procedures and consider ways in which they might be improved. Nevertheless, I must say straight away that what he has suggested en passant will not immediately commend itself unreservedly to all quarters of the House.

    Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the Committee on the Bill on 9 March, as reported at col. 176 of the Official Report, I pleaded for just such a timetable for the Bill?

    Yes, indeed; and I am sure that when other opportunities arise to debate the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised he will be able to use that as evidence to sustain his case.

    The Government hope that the present four sittings a week will be retained until 29 April, when the motion will lead us to complete the Committee stage after that afternoon's sitting. The motion will therefore enable a further six sittings to take place before Report to deal with the remaining clauses and schedules. This means that the Committee will have had over 135 hours in which to debate the Bill. We believe that to be a reasonable allocation of time.

    As is usual on these occasions, it is left to the Business Sub-Committee to determine the compartments into which the Bill should be divided and the times at which debate should close.

    Proceedings on consideration and Third Reading have been allocated a day and a half, with consideration on the first day coming to a conclusion at midnight. The Business Sub-Committee will be able to decide how the time on Report is to be apportioned.

    In conclusion, I believe that four considerations underpin the virtue of these proposals.

    First, the proposals provide for measured debate on important outstanding topics.

    Secondly, the motion will secure the passage of an important, albeit modest, piece of legislation that was outlined in the Queen's Speech and which the House has every reason to expect will be secured during this Session.

    Thirdly—I add this as a consideration to appeal both to the Leader of the Opposition and to the hon. Member for Bolsover—this arrangement means that Third Reading may come tolerably soon and thus secure the tantalising spectacle of how the Social Democratic Party will actually vote on that occasion.

    Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, it should be placed on record that on the last Tory Government's Industrial Relations Bill, which was debated on the Floor of the House at far greater length than this Bill, Liberal Members who then represented the "breaking the mould" type of politics into which the Social Democratic Party has now entered, voted for the Bill until Third Reading, when they voted against it. One of my hon. Friends aptly described their position as being like a rocking horse—all motion and no progress.

    That intervention shows how avid an alliance spotter such as the hon. Member for Bolsover must be to see the arrival of Third Reading. Therefore, I am sure that with his heart, if not his boots, he will be in the Lobby with us.

    Fourthly, and finally, I revert to the ringing declamation of the Leader of the Opposition all those years ago. It is important for the House to demonstrate that there are no rare birds protected by special game laws. Today we are using a parliamentary device which in this instance will be a vindication of democratic parliamentary procedures against entrenched corporate interests.

    3.59 pm

    I regret that I congratulated the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House during business questions the other day. I should much rather have done it at this moment, on his speech today and particularly on the quality that I think every hon. Member of the House willingly accords to him—the quality of modesty.

    It is remarkable how in about a fortnight or three weeks the right hon. Gentleman has already completely immersed himself in the other spring ritual of Governments. The first is the Budget and the other is the timetable motions that Governments of both parties introduce about this time. In the debate on the last timetable motion, when his predecessor was in office, I pointed out the remarkable coincidence that with a Conservative Government the timetable motions started on the first Monday in March and went on to a Tuesday in April. The right hon. Gentleman has got it absolutely right. This is the time that he should be introducing this motion.

    The right hon. Gentleman is also engaged in the verbiage of the ritual of saying that the Government introduced the guillotine but regret that they have to do so. While plunging the knife in, they apologise to the House for having to do so. The Opposition also have their rituals. Our ritual lies in saying that fast progress has been made on the Bill. As far as I am concerned, the slower the progress that we can make on this Bill within the parliamentary rules, the better, because this is the worst Bill that has ever come on the Floor of the House since the Industrial Relations Bill of 1971. The Bill surpasses that Act in both evil and in fear, contention and division in the House.

    The right hon. Gentleman went fairly deeply into the principles of the Bill. I do not know why, as everybody knows what the Bill is about. However, as he has done so, the Opposition obviously have to keep pace and do the same. The first and most important principle is that trade union funds are attacked at such a level and in such a way as to endeavour to make trade unions impotent in our society. This is much worse than it was in 1971, when, as the House will recall, the architect of the Industrial Relations Bill was the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is no wonder that the keystone of the Industrial Relations Bill fell apart soon after it was passed.

    This Bill is in more cunning hands. The architect is the same architect who flew an aircraft for many years and invariably reached his destination without crashing. He has clearly in mind what he wants—he wants to go back to the Taff Vale decision. That is what the Bill is about. Therefore, the phrase "trade dispute", for example, in the Bill has a much more restrictive meaning than the 1971 legislation. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of that.

    The second part of what the right hon. Gentleman is doing is concerned with closed shops. He does not make them illegal; he is much cleverer than that. Instead he makes them virtually inoperable. The effect is much the same. Even clause 1, under which payment is made out of public funds to certain people dismissed between 1974 and 1980, is intended as a piece of deliberate shop window dressing, and a piece of deliberate destruction of trade union principles. All this is clear and has been well thought out and is one of the reasons why progress has not been as fast as the Government would wish.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) is right. His and my mathematics make the total time the Bill has taken so far near to 100 hours. If the Government had had their way it would have been one hour. That is what they would have wanted. It is interesting to note the effect of the guillotine. We can watch the effect of the guillotine on the previous Industrial Relations Bill.

    In 1971 the result of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer's architecture was that the guillotine meant that although that Bill took longer than this, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) pointed out, the effect of it was that large sections were not the results of the measured debate about which the right hon. Gentleman is talking. Large parts were not discussed, with the result that when the Bill was enacted it was shown to be legislatively one of the worst Acts ever, and inoperable. That is what happens.

    Another result was that in the complete year following the enactment of the Bill 24 or 25 million working days were lost through industrial disputes—the worst period of loss of industrial working hours and days since the general strike of 1926. The Secretary of State for Employment is out to make records—we know that. No doubt, if this Bill becomes law and remains in operation for a year—which is highly dubious because I doubt whether the Government will exist a year from now—that 24 million lost working days will be equalled. Therefore, the last thing we shall have is measured debate.

    The second point made by the right hon. Gentleman is clear and fair. Governments want their legislation. The Labour Government next year will want their legislation and will look to the right hon. Gentleman for full support in getting it through. [Interruption.] That will certainly happen next year.

    The right hon. Gentleman's third reason in support of the guillotine tempts me. It will be interesting to see which way the Social Democrats vote—one way, two ways or three ways. If it were not for the fact that this Bill is disastrous from the point of view of uniting the country, the right hon. Gentleman would have completely convinced me. It is his most convincing argument.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman recall that since that vote on Second Reading the Social Democrats and the alliance have won the Hillhead by-election and now have 43 per cent. support in the opinion polls? Voting three ways cannot have done them a great deal of harm.

    I have a feeling that, with a few more by-elections and a few more three-way votes, the result may be different. We shall see.

    Will my right hon. Friend take note that this morning in Committee, where there were only two Members of the alliance, which inhibited a three-way split, there was only a two-way split?

    I am not sure that the presence of two Members of the alliance necessarily inhibits a three-way split. On the contrary.

    However, this argument was the most attractive and possibly the only argument that the right hon. Gentleman could give us. We shall resist the timetable motion and the Bill as it goes through the various stages. When the time comes the Bill will go into the dustbin of history as the 1971 Act did in its time.

    I should like to end on a more serious note by pointing out what an opportunity has been missed. Whatever one may think of the Bill, it is one of the most divisive Bills that we have had. The right hon. Gentleman knows and paid tribute to this. At a time when the Government are talking about national unity, to bring in a Bill such as this, carry on with it and to see that it goes through against the wishes of the whole Opposition and at least half the population of the country, possibly more, is to miss an opportunity that the right hon. Gentleman, if he had thought about it, would have been the first to grasp.

    I think that the right hon. Gentleman overstated the case when he said "against the wishes of' the whole Opposition". After all, the Government had a majority of 107 and that included several, or parts of several, of the Opposition parties.

    There is only one Opposition party, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. He had better get it clear in his mind, because a year from now, when he is sitting on the Opposition Benches, he may find himself sitting below the Gangway. I hope to tell him that, although there will be several opposition parties at that time, we shall recognise the Opposition.

    4.10 pm

    I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his first speech in his capacity as Leader of the House. His appointment was popular throughout the House and all hon. Members wish him well. I follow that with a critical point. I do not think that my right hon. Friend need have been apologetic, in the sense that he seemed to be, when he said that he would have preferred to be speaking on a different motion in making his first appearance at the Dispatch Box as Leader of the House. I support guillotine motions. I think that there should be more of them and that they should take place earlier. I agree with the proposition of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) in his intervention. I should like to develop that argument in a moment.

    The speech of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) was typical of the exaggerated hysteria that has marked debate on this subject. It is an important subject. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of House that it is one of the central items of debate in our time. Hon. Members should be debating in depth and carefully the role of trade unions in our society. We should be discussing properly and seriously such matters as who pays the damages in cases where there has been an action outside the proper immunities of trade union action. We should be discussing carefully how workers can liberate themselves from the closed shop if they want to get out of it. There should be a reasoned debate. We are not getting it either from the TUC or from the Opposition Benches.

    The right hon. Gentleman appears to think that I was being hysterical or slightly so. Will he not agree, when he considers the Bill that he so rigorously opposed from these Benches——

    —that he pretended to oppose rigorously—that this Bill is infinitely worse from a trade union point of view?

    That is an example—it is one that I was going to quote—of the exaggeration in which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends indulge. I was opposed to the Industrial Relations Act 1971. In retrospect, I am still opposed to it. I do not think that we can solve the problems of or improve industrial relations through a special court with the powers that it possessed, including the power to order standstill periods in disputes and the power to order unions to hold ballots of their members. The practical experience of the early 1970s showed that the legislation was wrong. This is a matter on which both sides of the House should reflect.

    The document "In Place of Strife" in 1969 contained many of the proposals included in the Industrial Relations Act 1971. I believe that both political parties have learnt the lessons of those years. The present Government are not bringing forward a great blockbuster of an Act of that kind. In 1980, the Government produced a modest step to change the balance of industrial relations in certain ways. This is another modest step. I for one look forward to further steps on such matters as compulsory ballots before major strikes and compulsory ballots for the election of senior trade union officers.

    I believe in strong, responsible and democratic trade unionism. I believe that the trade union movement of which I have been a member since leaving school is falling short of the democratic standards that we are entitled to expect these days. It was a gross exaggeration to compare this measure with the Industrial Relations Act of the early 1970s. The right hon. Gentleman went further. He suggested that the objective of my right hon. Friends was to go back to the Taff Vale judgment. What illiterate nonsense that is. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to make statements of that kind, they should be backed by some reasoned arguments. What has been lacking in recent months has been reasoned arguments.

    The Trades Union Congress has failed to make its case on this matter. The recent special conference was a nonevent, not simply because it was overshadowed by the Falklands crisis but because everyone, including the people who were participating, knew that they were not speaking on behalf of this country's trade unionists. I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's statement that perhaps half the nation was against the Bill. In other words, perhaps half is for it. Perhaps half Britain's trade unionists are for it. If a representative number of rank and file trade unionists was to be gathered together in a room of this House—I mean the genuine rank and file in the widest sense—to discuss point by point the clauses of the Bill, it would be found that the Bill had the overwhelming support of those trade unionists.

    The TUC is using such absurd tactics in denouncing not merely this Bill but so many aspects of Government policy that it robs itself of any credibility in the eyes of the public. This means that when the TUC has something worthwhile to say, it will not be listened to. That would be a pity. I want to see the TUC recovering some credibility in this country.

    The Opposition have a duty sometimes to tell the TUC when it is wrong. As someone who, 10 years ago, sat on the Labour Front Bench as Shadow Secretary of State for Employment, I can say that I was prepared to tell the unions when they were wrong. I believe that this should happen now. What has happened on this Bill and in relation to so many matters is that the Shadow Cabinet decides to find out what the TUC wants it to say and then says it hour after hour, day after day and night after night. It never takes an independent judgment on any of these matters.

    I wish to put the timetable motion in the context of the manner in which this House conducts its affairs. I have expressed myself in favour of more timetable motions. I have warned my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I would try to bend his ear on this subject. I did so privately with both of his two predecessors, for whom I have the greatest respect. On this matter, however, they turned out to be almost as reactionary as Labour Leaders of the House over the years. In other words, they did not believe in modernising or updating our procedures.

    I believe, nevertheless, that my right hon. Friend should initiate discussions to find out the views of hon. Members on the proposition that there should be an automatic timetabling motion immediately after Second Reading of every major Bill. Those consultations should not be conducted simply through the usual channels, which tend to become blocked so easily on such matters. The consultation should take place with Back Benchers on both sides of the House, not only those who like to speak at length late at night but the majority who conduct themselves more modestly but who also have a valid view on these matters.

    I have referred to previous Leaders of the House. The one episode in the career of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) to his credit in the 1970s is the fact that he introduced more guillotine motions than anyone occupying that position had previously done. I cannot think of many other things to his credit, but that certainly is. Our parliamentary procedures, in many ways, operate badly. They have been getting worse during the last decade and they will continue to get worse unless we are prepared to make radical changes.

    The House of Commons sits twice as long as the second longest-sitting parliamentary assembly in Europe. The second longest sitting parliamentary assembly in Europe is the British House of Lords. This has been the case for many years. I believe that these excessive hours of sitting and time-wasting tactics in debate have reduced the quality of our debates and have reduced our influence on the affairs of our country. Responsibility lies mainly with successive Oppositions. I am not making a party point. I am merely saying that the extent to which Labour and Conservative Oppositions in turn have tried to make a virility symbol out of the way they can hold up Government business and keep Committees sitting late at night has got worse over the years.

    Nothing of the sort. They are supposed to make a reasoned case against Government policy. That case is not advanced by wasting time. Indeed, the case becomes weaker because of the time-wasting.

    Does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that one of the jobs of the Opposition is to obstruct, as he will find in all the textbooks on the British constitution? It is widely held that one of the reasons for Committees debating over a long period is that the passage of time itself is sometimes conducive to changing the nature of a Bill. The most important reason for opposing the short, sharp passage of Committee stages is that hon. Members should have time to reflect on what has happened and to see how it affects people, and so enable action to be taken inside the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman's short sharp ideas would ruin that deeply held philosophy.

    First, I am not suggesting short sharp Committee stages. I am suggesting that Committee stages should proceed on a timetable motion, which, I hope, would normally be agreed between both sides of the House. That would provide adequate time for debate, just as the motion before us provides adequate time for the remaining debates on the Bill. There is nothing short or sharp about what I am proposing.

    Secondly, the idea that an Opposition can use parliamentary time as a political weapon seems to me completely out of date. Successive Governments have used the guillotine to get their main business through. Therefore, the effect of time-wasting is not to defeat a Government's main proposals but to squeeze out of our debates smaller and non-controversial measures—possibly Private Members' Bills, possibly minor Bills that Departments want to bring forward. Many people are deprived of the benefits that can come from such minor legislation which could be dealt with if time was not wasted on measures of this kind.

    In case anyone is misled, the right hon. Gentleman should make it clear that he is not a member of the Standing Committee. I may be wrong, but to the best of my knowledge he has not sat in on any of our proceedings. Therefore, he is hardly in a position to judge the merits of debates in that Standing Committee. If Committee members are ready and willing to continue to debate and examine the Bill carefully, why should he complain? He is not losing by it at all.

    This is a motion for decision by the House. I agree that I have not sat on the Standing Committee, but I have read its proceedings. When the right hon. Gentleman intervenes, he knows that he is speaking not for the whole Committee, but for his own side.

    Three major advantages would flow from the regular timetabling of Bills. First, it would put an end to the unhealthy and unnecessary business of excessively late sittings. At the moment, we sit excessively late. Sometimes both the House and its Committees sit all night. That is not a sensible way to do business. Members of the public say that we are foolish to conduct our business in that way, and they are right. When a Committee or the House sits all night we inflict work not merely on ourselves but on the police and other staff who have to do extra and unpredictable hours. We should have some thought for them.

    Secondly, debates are better if time is limited. Arguments will be put more briefly and crisply. Hon. Members will not seek to talk just for the sake of talking. Such debates are likely to have a bigger influence on public opinion than those which take an excessive time.

    I want to make a non-political point which I think the right hon. Gentleman will accept is true. Although the House is supposed to be fair, we all know that it is not. Some hon. Members are better treated than others. A Privy Councillor can be called when he wants, take part in a debate and walk out. He is not seen any more. Why should Privy Councillors further restrict Back Benchers, who are already restricted? The right hon. Gentleman knows that he has privileges above all others because his political antecedents give him privileges. He was born almost into the trade union movement, obtained a trade union job and went on the payroll——

    I was not born a Privy Councillor. I could give the House a different version of my career from the one that has just been heard. However, it would be unfair to take the time of the House on such matters. I am one of those Privy Councillors who do not address the House all that often. I agree that one should not abuse the privilege of being a Privy Councillor.

    Thirdly, timetabled Bills would give Government Back Benchers a genuine chance to contribute to debates. Under our present arrangements time is taken mainly—I do not say exclusively—by Opposition speeches and ministerial replies. If no timetable motion has been passed, debates in Committee or on Report tend to be debates between the Opposition and Ministers. For understandable reasons the Whips will always encourage Government Back Benchers either not to speak at all or speak briefly. Government Back Benchers are then reduced to waiting for the bell to ring. Their role is that of Lobby fodder rather than that of legislators. That is not right. That point may appeal more to Conservative Members than to the Opposition. However, if the right hon. Member for Deptford is correct in his claim that the Opposition will win the next election, they should have a view on this.

    This is one of many changes—there are others—that should be made in our parliamentary procedure. It should be made partly for our own sake, partly for the sake of our staff, but, most important of all, so that we can give better service to those we represent by the quality of our debates.

    4.26 pm

    I am sorry that the first motion that the Leader of the House has to move in his new capacity is part of the annual charade that the House of Commons allows itself to be subjected to. I am sorry too, if I may say so, that within three weeks he appears to have steeped himself so deeply in the office. When I read of his appointment with great pleasure, I thought "I know this man. I have sat next to him in Committee. I have listened to his points of view as expressed in the Procedure Committee. At last we have a radical as Leader of the House who will attempt to change our procedures and get a bit of sense into them." I thought that he would put forward new ideas and proposals. However, instead of that, within three weeks, we find that he is steeped in the old routine and that there will not be much change. I see that he nods his head in approval. That is a great shame.

    I sincerely believe that the time for change in the procedure of the House has long since passed. I agree with much of what the right hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) said. There is a need for a little bit of order in our procedure, especially in the Committee stages of Bills.

    When I intervened, the Minister tried to say that I was following some SDP line as reported in The Times this morning. He should get the order of priority correct. [Interruption.] He said that he had read the reports of the proceedings of the Committee. He may be interested to know that on 9 March, at the sixth sitting of the Committee, I pleaded for a timetable motion for the Bill so that we might properly discuss each clause.

    If it would help the hon. Gentleman, may I say that I regard the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) as very much his junior in these matters?

    That may help me, but I am not sure what it does for the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant).

    I said in Committee on that day that it was obvious that we would finish up with a guillotine on the Bill. The right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) asked me how I knew that there was to be a guillotine, and whether I was privy to some information that he did not have. I replied that experience showed that we would end up with a guillotine motion. Five or six weeks later we are faced by a guillotine motion. That motion has been moved after spending 90 hours on the Bill and after debating five clauses. One of those clauses went through in an hour this morning. As a result of the guillotine motion we have been left with three days in which to discuss the rest of the Bill.

    One of the remaining clauses is far more important to the trade union movement than all the clauses so far discussed. I refer to the clause on trade union immunities. We have not yet reached it and it will now be limited because there was no proper timetable motion at the beginning. Instead of having a proper timetable motion at the beginning we have gone through the idiotic charade of trying to carry on talking while knowing that the object of the exercise is to force the Government to introduce a guillotine motion. When that has been done we can all say that the guillotine motion is a disgrace and that the Government have not allowed sufficient discussion on the Bill.

    Such speeches will not be made in the House. There may be the odd comment in the House for the sake of putting things on the record, but the speeches will be made at TUC meetings up and down the country. The object of the exercise is to force the Government to introduce a guillotine motion so that hon. Members can go to TUC and to trade union meetings round the country and tell their comrades that the Government have made a disgraceful, vicious attack on the trade union movement and have not even allowed us the time to debate the Bill in the House. It will be said that they introduced the guillotine motion to cut the amount of time available for debate.

    I do not criticise the Opposition, because in Opposition the Conservative Party did the same thing. The same stupid, idiotic charade is played out from Government to Government. During the Committee's sixth sitting I said that there should be a timetable when Bills start their passage through the House. I called not for a rigid but for a flexibile timetable. If a Committee then found that it needed a little longer on one clause than initially agreed, there would be sufficient flexibility within the timetable—a matter of two or three weeks—to spend a little more time on one clause and to shorten the time available to discuss another clause. That is the sensible way to conduct business.

    The problem is that Oppositions have only the weapon of time.

    When the Leader of the House was a member of the Procedure Committee we took evidence from the Chief Whips of both parties. Both of them remarked—without knowing that the other had said the same thing—that the only weapon that Oppositions had was that of time. That made a deep impression on me. The party political system operated in this House is to blame. There have already been references to the SDP and its vote on Second Reading. It is considered almost hilarious and certainly politically unwise for two members of the same party to vote differently. That is deemed nonsense and stupid.

    This afternoon, the Social Democratic Party was taken to task by both Front Benches. However, it is precisely because hon. Members do not vote differently that the Opposition's only weapon is that of time. Hon. Members belonging to the party in office always vote for the Government unless they are sure that the Government will not be defeated if they do not vote for them.

    I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman because I know what he will say. He will say that he often voted against the Labour Government. Of course he did, but not when he thought that they would be defeated. I have seen the hon. Gentleman sit here during a Division, counting how many Opposition Members abstained and how many went into the Lobby. He did that before he decided whether to vote against his Government.

    The record shows that on at least half a dozen occasions I voted against the Labour Government's policies. However, 1 voted in line with Labour Party policy, when, as a result, the Government were defeated on all those issues. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is wrong about the way in which I voted. I also voted a total of 154 times in that six-year period against the Government Whip. Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that the Scotland and Wales Bill was defeated in the House not because there were special arrangements or because a guillotine was introduced beforehand but partly because hon. Members—irrespective of party—who had often voted against Government policy decided to chuck the Bill into the dustbin?

    The House was not prepared to go along with the guillotine motion. Because the Government knew that they could not succeed with a guillotine motion, they abandoned the Bill. [Interruption.] That is the truth. The hon. Member for Bolsover and other hon. Members did not talk out the Bill. The Government were well aware that a guillotine motion would not be accepted.

    I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman said that he had voted six times or 154 times against the Government. [Interruption.] However, the Labour Government were defeated only once on a vote of no confidence. Therefore, the hon. Member for Bolsover voted against his Government only when he was sure that they would not be defeated, or when he was sure that defeat would not result in them having to go to the country for a new mandate. [Interruption.] He is not the great champion of democracy that he claims to be.

    Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) must take his medicine as well as he gives it. He must listen when other hon. Members are speaking.

    I am not sure whether I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly. In the unlikely event of a Social Democratic/Liberal Government, will he retain the right to vote against that Government as he wishes, even if it brings them down?

    Of course I reserve that right. Governments should not resign merely because they are defeated. However, they should resign when they are defeated on votes of confidence. If, as a result of defeat, the Government consider that confidence in them is at stake, they should be required to come to the House the next day and to seek a vote of confidence. If they lose that vote, they should resign. I do not take the view that, because a Government lose a Bill or a vote, they should automatically go to the country.

    I wish to help the hon. Gentleman. He should have said that he and the Liberal Party brought the Conservative Party to office. The Liberals joined the Labour Party in the pact, but then reneged and voted the Labour Party out. They got the Tories in at the general election.

    The truth of the hon. Gentleman's statement depends on one's view of history. I could equally argue that the Liberal Party kept the Labour Government in power. However, I suspect that such discussion will not get us very far. However, I hope that I have at least given the Leader of the House a hint that there is the possibility of a good debate on that subject. I hope that he will not lose sight of that.

    On Second Reading I voted in favour of the Bill and advised my colleagues to do the same. I made it clear that it was not the Bill that I would have introduced then. It is on record that I said that if the Liberal Party had introduced a Bill, it would have dealt with subjects such as employee participation, industrial democracy, profit-sharing and the legalisation of works councils.

    I then went on to say that none the less we were not the Government, that the Conservatives were the Government and that this was their Bill. I hope that I shall always judge a Bill on its merit and not on the source from which it comes. Judging the Employment Bill on its merit. I said that I intended to vote for it. I am sorry to disappoint the Opposition Front Bench but I shall continue to support the Government on the Bill and I shall vote for it on Third Reading. What my colleagues do will be for them to decide but there is no question about what I shall do.

    The Bill is as much concerned with individual liberty as with trade unionism. I am concerned about individual liberty. The closed shop is obnoxious and anything I can do to help cripple it is worth doing. No one—not even the Liberal Party Council or anyone else—will change my view on the closed shop. I shall continue to support the Bill. I think I can claim in modesty that I have supported it in Committee. [Interruption.] As I indicated earlier, it is a question of what view one takes of these things. There are those who see their leaders as bosses. There are others who see them as people to be influenced. The House may judge for itself as to which category I fall into. If hon. Members are in any doubt, my right hon. Friend I he Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) could tell them.

    In regard to the motion before the House, since it is not a Bill that I would have been moving and since I vote for the Bill simply on merit, full stop, it is no part of my job to assist it procedurally through the House. In any case I do not like guillotine motions. Therefore, normally—[Interruption.] I am sorry that hon. Members find it difficult to understand. There is a great difference between a timetable motion that is introduced at the commencement of a Bill's passage and a guillotine motion. The object of the latter is to prevent discussion, whereas the object of a timetable motion is to enable discussion to take place rationally and properly over an agreed period.

    This is not a motion to approve or disapprove of the Bill. It is a motion to assist the Government procedurally to get the Bill through the House. It is not my Bill; it is their Bill. It is their job, therefore, procedurally to gel it through the House. While they are getting it through I shall vote for the Bill, but I am not prepared to vote for a guillotine that is merely a procedural mechanism to get the Bill through. I shall therefore vote against the motion before the House.

    I was genuinely surprised at the shortness of time that is being allowed for the remainder of the Bill. I was staggered when I saw that the Standing Committee is to report to the House by 29 April. I would have thought that it would have been the middle of May or the third or fourth week of that month. That is a secondary matter. It is not my principal reason for voting against the motion. It is a secondary reason and confirms my decision to vote against the motion.

    4.44 pm

    One of the good things about the Bill taking so long in Standing Committee is that it gives not only Back Benchers but Ministers an opportunity to understand it. During the Committee stage we have had revelations from the various Ministers who are representing the Government. During all the time that has been spent on the Bill in Committee we have not discussed industrial relations, because the Bill has nothing to do with industrial relations.

    I thank the Leader of the House for his comments about me in his opening remarks. I do not know whether he was trying to put the boot in by suggesting that I serve on Standing Committees. There are many other Members on the Standing Committee who have worked harder than I have on the Employment Bill.

    The guillotine is unnecessary. If there has been delay it has been because of the attitude of the Government Front Bench. We have been trying to get questions answered, but we get different answers. The Leader of the House mentioned that we have spent 36¼ hours on clause 1 and schedule 1. This is because there was no prior consultation. We debated for so long and asked many questions because we wanted to find out the attitude of various organisations. At the first sitting of the Standing Committee my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) moved an amendment that clause 1 be taken after clause 18. Had the Government accepted that, it would have given us the chance to debate the important clauses that have been referred to by hon. Members.

    Some of the provisions of the Bill will have fundamental repercussions on the trade union movement. When I talk about the trade union movement I mean trade unionists who go to work and hold a trade union card, and not the dozen general secretaries that some people refer to as the trade union movement. The Bill will hit trade unionists. That is why we are concerned that all clauses should be properly debated in Standing Committee.

    No one knew about clause 1 and schedule 1 until the Bill was printed. The clause gives the Secretary of State for Employment not only retrospective power but retroactive discretion to pay out £2 million to those free riders who lost their jobs between 1974 and 1980 because they would not pay their union dues. The clause gives the Secretary of State for Employment the right to appoint assessors, but it also gives him the right not to take any notice of those assessors. There will be no tribunals to consider the cases of the individuals who lost their jobs through not paying their union contributions between those years. It means that one individual will have the right to pay out £2 million of taxpayers' money at a time when hundreds of thousands of people are being thrown out of work because of Government policy. That is why hon. Members who serve on the Standing Committee were so concerned and debated the clause for so long. I hope that hon. Members will remember this when they talk about the length of time that has been taken on various clauses.

    Clause 1 is completely unnecessary. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) said, it was the icing on the cake. This money is to be paid to people who were martyrs during the period from 1974 to the Employment Act 1980. This is why we spent so long, rightly so, on questioning the clause.

    When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) pressed the Minister to find out how they arrived at the sum of £2 million, we were eventually circulated with a photocopy of a newspaper article. The newspaper gave the figure of about 400 people, and a little mathematics showed that the compensation worked out at about £5,000 each. When further questions were asked, we learnt that, just as the official receiver appeared after the 1971 Act, a fellow called Professor Gennard was doing a great deal of research. Then we were told that about 325 people would qualify for the bonanza of £2 million, or £5,000 to £7,000 apiece, when the Secretary of State eventually received the retroactive discretion.

    Further questions were asked, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster was told that the Ferrybridge Six were not included in the 325, so that reduced the number to 319. The need for that questioning is the reason why it took so long to deal with clause 1 and schedule 1. If the Government wanted progress on the Bill, they should have accepted my right hon. Friend's amendment at the first sitting to discuss clause 1 after clause 18, and then we should have had a debate on the important clauses to which hon. Members have referred.

    For example, clause 10, on trade union labour only, is an important clause, bringing back lump labour on most construction sites. That is the sort of thing that Labour Members and trade unionists oppose. They will not have the clock turned back and have safety arrangements thrown out of the window with the reintroduction of lump labour. We should have dearly loved to debate the clause at length and ask the Government some important questions.

    The £2 million that the Secretary of State will dole out under clause 1 will cost £250,000 to administer. In addition to being a Member of Parliament I am a local councillor. My council is suffering Government cuts, and the whole of local government is told to cut back on administration. We have to cut the numbers of home helps, dinner ladies and so on, but the Government can pay £250,000 to meet the administration costs of doling out £2 million to those who were free riders between 1974 and 1980. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I oppose clause 1.

    Another important clause is clause 15, which is also relevant to today's debate. An article in my local newspaper, the Evening Chronicle, of 16 April, under the heading
    "Argentine spares ban",
    stated:
    "A consignment of spares for an Argentinian ship has been `frozen' by North-East marine engineering workers.
    Men at the Killingworth factory of the British Shipbuilders company, K. & L. Marine Equipment, said they would not handle the components ordered for the repair of the vessel.
    The spares were due to be flown out to the vessel from Newcastle Airport.
    Mr. Frank Arthurs, an official of the Boilermakers Society, said: 'The lads were concerned about the order. We can't have spare parts going to Argentina to repair a ship which could be used as a supply ship against us."'
    On Second Reading my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) said that the Bill would stop any action that trade unionists wished to take in support of the Solidarity movement in Poland. If the Bill were on the statute book those boilermakers who are trying to freeze parts that could be used in a ship employed against our Navy would be breaking the law. That is the sort of nonsense that appears in the Bill. It is the reason why my right hon. and hon. Friends have opposed it at every stage.

    It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman would be a little more accurate. Such a strike would not break the law.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me how such a strike would not break the law if the Bill were on the statute book, in view of clause 15 with regard to disputes outside the United Kingdom?

    I am only too delighted to do so, because that will help to clear up one or two matters that arise particularly because of the loose use of words, which has become commonplace. There is no law against such a strike, but political strikes are already unprotected. That is why the strike on the so-called day of action was an unprotected dispute.

    A political strike is clearly different, which is why the day of action was unlawful. On that occasion an injunction was issued against certain newspaper unions. They ignored it, and nothing was done about it. My hon. Friend is referring to something different—to a dispute originating from outside the United Kingdom.

    No. The matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) is referring would fall foul of the provisions that the Secretary of State is introducing. They are two quite different matters.