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Business Of The House

Volume 169: debated on Tuesday 13 March 1990

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12.9 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the re-arranged business for this week:

  • WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH—Timetable motion on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill.
  • Completion of Report stage of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill.
  • THURSDAY 15 MARCH—Until about seven o'clock, Third Reading of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill.
  • Consideration of Lords amendments to the Coal Industry Bill.
  • Motion to amend schedule Ito the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975.
  • The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.
  • At ten o'clock, the Question will be put on all outstanding supplementary estimates and votes.

As, on this occasion, the business statement was made, unusually, by the Patronage Secretary, may I begin by asking the right hon. Gentleman whether he is confident that his Whips Office will deliver a majority for the guillotine motion this afternoon? Is he aware that the deeply unpopular National Health Service and Community Care Bill now threatens to damage democracy as much as it threatens to damage the Health Service?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Bill, which gives local people no say about whether their hospital opts out of the NHS, is now to be forced through Parliament at a pace that gives Parliament no opportunity for a proper debate? Has the right hon. Gentleman counted the selection that remains before the House? Is he aware that it includes 40 new clauses and 212 amendments, of which 100 are Government amendments? How does he propose that the House should give proper scrutiny to those outstanding 250 items for debate in the timetable that he has stated?

Is the real reason for the timetable motion to curtail the debate, not of the Opposition, but of Conservative Members? As he is Patronage Secretary, will the right hon.Gentleman explain to the country outside why a Government with a record majority require a record number of guillotines to get their business through the House?

If he remembers what it was, the answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is, "Yes, Sir." In answer to his second point, there is no question of the timetable motion damaging democracy in this House. It is rather that the hon. Gentleman's speeches have damaged the procedures of the House.

The hon. Gentleman gave the game away earlier this morning when we were debating the motion to report progress. He said that he was getting into his stride, because we were in prime time. In the past five hours, the hon. Gentleman has made two speeches, one of one hour and 48 minutes and one of one hour and 11 minutes. He is suffering from what may indelicately be called "televised verbal diarrhoea". The sooner that the House can help the hon. Gentleman to find a cure, the better.

Does the right hon. Gentleman regard it as significant that, for the first time that I can recall, a major health Bill has been subject to a guillotine motion? Can the Patronage Secretary tell the House the last time that we had a guillotine on a major health Bill? The National Health Service Act 1946, which enjoyed a degree of consensus across the House, went through without a guillotine. I repeat: when was the last time that we had such a guillotine?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that each of the 100 Government amendments will potentially have to be put to a vote under the timetable motion? In what way will the timetable motion take account of the amount of time that will be necessary for those Divisions?

Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the people of Scotland, who will be deprived of a huge chunk of Scottish legislation, will wonder why we burden the House with such an amount of business that we cannot discuss it properly, when we could have the viable alternative of a Scottish Parliament that could give proper debate to important matters of Scottish business?

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman asked me his first question. The last time that a health Bill was guillotined was in 1976, when the Labour Government guillotined the Health Services Act 1976 after just 80 hours in Committee. Hon. Members who served on Standing Committee E will know that we have already spent 109 hours in Committee. This Committee stage was not guillotined by the Government, whereas the 1976 Act was guillotined in Committee, and on Report, and on Third Reading, and the timetable motion was introduced by the Labour Government after only 42 hours in Committee. That gives the hon. Gentleman his answer.

On the Scottish dimension to which the hon. Gentleman referred, he knows that Scottish Office and Welsh Office Ministers have been represented during our debates and there has been an ample separate Scottish debate for the many areas in which the legislation is separate. The hon. Gentleman will be able to raise points about the details of the timetable motion later this afternoon, when the timetable motion is debated.

The Patronage Secretary has claimed that his proposals do not represent an intrinsic affront to democracy. Will he now tell the House the period in which he expects to be able to settle the timetable motion tomorrow? Will it run over the possible 18 hours that we could have, from about 6 pm this evening until midday tomorrow—through the night?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the remaining new clauses and amendments relate to many important things that affect every citizen of this land, including dispensing from doctors, appointments to health authorities, carers, disabled people and every aspect of our National Health Service? Will he tell the House the timetable that he envisages?

The hon. Gentleman is a well-known expert on the procedures of the House and he knows as well as I do that the timetable motion will appear on Wednesday's Order Paper. The House is currently enjoying Tuesday; I am simply trying to give the House a Wednesday in which the timetable motion can be debated, along with the Bill's remaining stages. The House will have an opportunity to debate the details of the timetable motion later.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that members of the public who are watching the proceedings of the Opposition will wonder what they have been up to? Those of us who served on the Standing Committee know that we had a sensible Committee stage in which the Opposition debated the clauses, new clauses and amendments at some length, but not at the length at which they debated the Report stage during the night. We have discussed only four clauses since yesterday afternoon. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, like his hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) spoke for half an hour in the middle of the night, moving a new clause which merely——

No. What the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) has said has been perfectly in order.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to intervene to protect Back-Bench rights? My hon. Friends have identified many new clauses and amendments that have to be spoken to——

Order. If I call the hon. Gentleman to put a question to the Patronage Secretary, he can ask it. At the moment, I am hearing the hon. Member for Pembroke.

The Patronage Secretary has not told the House the time that is to be available. I am asking you, Mr. Speaker——

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) spoke for half an hour in the early hours of this morning? He moved a new clause, the only effect of which was to make the community health district council boundaries the same as the local authority boundaries. It took him half an hour to move the new clause and we had an hour's debate on it. Is it not time that the House got on with debating the Bill, which many of our constituents want to see on the statute book, so that we can bring in the reforms?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) did not take account of the nature of the debate that takes place in the House after Committee stage. There is a wider grouping of people in the House on Report than in Committee. The hon. Gentleman seems to believe that that wider grouping should not discuss at any length the matters that have been discussed in Committee.

I am not responsible for what the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) seems to believe. Questions to the Patronage Secretary must be limited to the business statement that he has just made. They must not raise arguments that should properly be raised when we come to discuss the guillotine motion.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett). The Committee stage was dominated by sensible and reasonably brief discussions. The Committee stage was completed in 109 hours. Up to the business motion, we spent 18 hours discussing a mere five new clauses.

There was clear agreement through the usual channels that two and a half days was sufficient for the whole debate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House announced that in business questions last week. There was no comment on it from Opposition Members, except from the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) who congratulated my right hon. and learned Friend on making as much as two and a half days available.

The Opposition have simply failed to deliver the agreement. We have discussed only five new clauses on the first day. If the business is to be concluded in two and a half days, there is a clear need to structure discussions more sensibly from now on.

Does the Patronage Secretary realise that, if the guillotine motion is passed, the important debate on disablement will almost certainly be lost? Is that not completely unacceptable? In view of the statement that he has just made on the general business, will he tell the House whether the Government will make a statement today or tomorrow on the appointment of a new Secretary of State for Wales? The appointment has been announced on the tapes but not to the House.

The present Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) is carrying on as Secretary of State in Committee. His future position is uncertain. We do not know how long he will remain in office. In the meantime we have been landed with another governor-general, not elected by or answerable to the people of Wales, to do the Government's dirty work.

Order. I am not certain that this has much relevance to the guillotine motion.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Welsh Ministers have been represented on both Front Benches during the debate. There have been several separate debates on Wales, too.

On the appointment in due course of the new Secretary of State for Wales, I am sure that all my hon. Friends wish the new Secretary of State for Wales every success. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is it?"] I am simply answering the hon. Gentleman's point. He can raise the other point of detail either on the timetable motion this afternoon or in business questions tomorrow.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Patronage Secretary congratulated an individual on an appointment which has not been announced to the House. May I ask through you, Mr. Speaker, that the Patronage Secretary come to the Dispatch Box and tell the House the name or the constituency of the individual whom he has just congratulated?

I am not aware that it has ever been the practice that ministerial changes are announced in the House. I call Mr. Bill Walker.

My point of order is directed to you. I remind you of a point of order that I raised on a similar issue and the points of order that were raised on three occasions last week and in Business Questions on Thursday. It arises from whether we should have a statement about the successor to the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who is now Secretary of State for Wales. We have had no statement from the Government. We ask the question yet again because the press and the media have been given the statement. It is an abuse for the Government to overlook the fact that hon. Members who represent Wales would like to be informed publicly and in the House who will be the successor to the person who has resigned.

Order. Again, I cannot recollect that ministerial changes have to be announced in the House. That is a new doctrine altogether.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Of course it is not the practice that resignations are announced to the House. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) sought to make was that the Secretary of State for Wales is betwixt and between. He was in what must be a wholly impossible situation this morning. He appeared as the first Government speaker in the Welsh Grand Committee, after it had been announced on the tapes that he had been succeeded by his hon. Friend the Member for the poll tax, the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt). Clearly, the Secretary of State for Wales is in an impossible position. No one knew whether he was speaking with the authority of the Government or not.

I understand that argument, but it has nothing to do with the statement or with me.

I raised an issue earlier. I put it to you that you are now—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Gentleman does not need to be barracked from his own side.

I do not need comments like that. You are now in conflict with Ministers. You have selected amendments and new clauses on the basis that sufficient time would be given for their debate. Ministers are curtailing the rights of hon. Members to debate these matters by introducing the guillotine motion. The conflict is not between us and Ministers; it is between you, as selector of the amendments and the new clauses, and Ministers. You should advise Ministers what time should be given for further debate on the Bill. It is a serious—

Order. That is another new doctrine. I have not heard it enunciated before. The Speaker's duty is to select the amendments.

Order. I am dealing with one question at a time. Of course I selected the amendments. I did so very generously. I do not bring in guillotine motions; that is a matter for the Government. That motion will be debated this afternoon.

Let us have the hon. Member's question. I called him to put his question to the Minister.

When I take the opportunity to put my question, may I draw it to your attention that I, too, represent a minority in Parliament? Minorities look to you in the Chair and whoever sits in the Chair in Committee to ensure that their rights are not abused. One of the reasons why the Order is important to us as minorities—my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench——

Order. I certainly give the hon. Gentleman my protection but I would prefer that he put his question to the Patronage Secretary rather than to me. I cannot answer what he seeks to enunciate.

I understand that. I was on the point of addressing my question to my right hon. Friend. My point of order is important because of what I am about to say to him.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a reason why the motion is so important to the interests of minorities is that, throughout the Committee stage, and, indeed, today, we have been exposed to bogus points of order, many of them from the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)? He has taken up a great deal of time and the Chair has always replied "That is not a point of order for me." He has taken up more time than any contribution made by any Member on any specific narrow topic that we have debated.

That is why my right hon. Friend is right to introduce the motion. Those of us who have been present on Second Reading, throughout the Committee stage and through the night believe that minority interests, for which I speak in Scotland, must be heard in this Chamber. That is why we must deal with the offenders.

I thank my hon. Friend for his support. I agree with him that, over the past 18 hours, we have listened to the same speches as those made in Committee, but by and large in Committee they were made briefly, whereas over the past 18 hours they have been made at inordinate length.

Order. I hope that I am not doing hon. Gentlemen a disservice, but if I may anticipate them, I am not prepared to take any more points of order on the appointment of the Secretary of State for Wales of which I have no knowledge. I call Mr. Ashton.

Is the Patronage Secretary aware that, when Bassetlaw health authority announced that it would opt out, it caused tremendous controversy and that the Secretary of State for Health had to smuggle himself past protest meetings into the local hospital in a small car? He gave an assurance that the matter would be debated in Parliament, there would be full consultation and nothing would pass without extensive consultations. Now we find that the Bill will go through on the nod this afternoon. How does he expect my constituents' protests to be made and democracy to work?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health is not normally considered capable of being smuggled quietly anywhere. That is not in his nature. The business motion deals only with the business before the House for the next two days. The hon. Gentleman will be able to ask the Secretary of State the point of substance and detail that he has made, during the debate on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon.

As, last night, the Opposition lost every last vestige of credibility——

As last night the Opposition lost every vestige of credibility that they might have had in the public eye by failing to be present in the Chamber to take part in a Division which they at least considered important, does my right hon. Friend think that on this occasion their anger might be just a little synthetic?

It is not only synthetic, but it shows, in the long-winded speeches with no content, the Opposition's lack of interest in series proposals for improving the NHS.

Does the Patronage Secretary realise that, because of this announcement, he can be accused of mismanaging the business and procedures of the House? As there has already been some discussion with him through questions on what the nation will think about this, does he realise that he is giving food to the thought that this motion is not just about gagging Members of this House, but about gagging Members in his party because the Government suffered a bad defeat last night?

As this is a major piece of Government legislation and some of us were not privileged to serve on the Committee, how can we as Back Benchers have the opportunity to debate the many significant new clauses and amendments to the Bill which affect our constituents?

Finally, as his hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) confessed that the Conservative party was a minority party in Scotland, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that this motion will ensure that it remains a minority party in Scotland for a long time?

The hon. Gentleman is a senior and experienced Member of this House, and I am sure that he is trying to be helpful, but when he makes accusations of mismanagement, he should direct them at his own Front Bench. There was agreement between the usual channels that Report and Third Reading would take two and a half days. In business questions last week, the only comment on that suggestion came from the hon. Member for Belfast., South (Rev. Martin Smyth), who expressed thanks for finding so much time. Between 5 am and 11.30 am, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, took three hours and occupied nearly half the time available. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is serious discussion on the Bill, the hon. Member for Livingston, who is not even in his place, should be replaced by someone more serious.

Anybody who attended the 100-hour-long Committee, as I did, would have to accept that our debates were infinitely superior in terms of point and conciseness than the farce of the past 12 years—[Laughter.]—or rather, 12 hours. It felt like 12 years. Is it not partly due to the wounded pride of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), because of the temerity of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State in announcing publicly that the Committee had had a smooth ride and debated the issues sensibly? Given that the Opposition gave an undertaking to get the Bill through in two and a half days on Report, can we ever believe anything that they say again? Does this not underline the need for early guillotines in future?

I thank my hon. Friend for his sensible and brief comments. It was a Freudian slip that led him to refer to 12 years rather than to 12 hours, but many of us on both sides may agree that it felt like that. One must ask where the hon. Member for Livingston is. I suspect that he has left the House to give another television interview.

Is the Patronage Secretary aware that, although my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) expressed thanks for small mercies, the Unionist party is not in favour of guillotine motions, and we shall vote against this one as usual? May I put it to him that we are extremely disappointed that, when the opportunity occurred to rejig the rest of this week's business, the chance was not seized to discuss the decision of the Dublin Supreme Court and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which vindicated the stance taken by the Unionist party, or to discuss the judgment handed down on extradition in the courts in Dublin yesterday, which can simply be translated as a licence to murder in Ulster?

I remind the hon. Gentleman of the precise words of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth):

"I welcome the fact that there is to be a two-and-a-half-day debate on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill."—[Official Report, Thursday 8 March; Vol. 168 c. 1014.]
The debate has not proceeded with due dispatch, simply because of the inordinately long speeches made, particularly from the Opposition Front Bench, rehashing comments that they had already made in Committee.

The hon. Gentleman is well versed in the procedures of the House. The question of the Irish judgment does not arise from the business statement. The question of a debate on that and, indeed, on other subjects, is best left for discussion through the usual channels.

Does the Patronage Secretary realise that, because of the Government's action, we shall not have an opportunity to debate new clause 8 on the limitation of junior doctors' hours in self-governing hospitals? Because of that, patients' lives could be put at risk if junior doctors must endure the long arduous hours that they are enduring now in many hospitals.

The hon. Gentleman should direct his remarks to his Opposition Front Bench spokesmen. If they curtail their speeches this afternoon and tomorrow, perhaps we will reach new clause 8.

Why has not the Patronage Secretary given details of the timetable? As he has not given details, perhaps he will tell me whether there will be any time for me to raise the allegation that the Scottish Office is bribing consultants in South Ayrshire by saying that phase 2 of the new South Ayrshire hospital will go ahead faster if there is agreement to opt out of the National Health Service. Does he agree that we ought to have time to discuss that kind of disgraceful allegation? It reeks of corruption in the highest places in the Scottish Office.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his success in making his point during the course of these questions on a business motion. He is an ingenious Member, who usually finds an opportunity to make any point that he wants to make. He knows the procedures of the House very well. As to the timetable motion, I repeat that it will appear on Wednesday's Order Paper, and during the debate on it these matters of detail may be raised with Ministers.

Did my hon. Friend really believe that the agreement that had been reached through the usual channels would be honoured by the Opposition?

My hon. Friend and I might have a quiet discussion about that later, outside the Chamber.

Did the Patronage Secretary's business statement take fully into account the 100 Government amendments outstanding? I am sure that he is aware that, regardless of his power to restrict debate, he cannot restrict votes on those amendments. There is potential for 24 hours of voting. Would it not be better to devote that time to debate? Will he, rather than whining about the usual channels and about agreements made or not made, acknowledge that many Members and many parties in this House are not covered by the usual channels? How does his announcement today defend the rights of those Members who have been waiting to contribute to the debate?

The hon. Member, if he has studied the amendment paper carefully, will realise that the 83 Government amendments deal with drafting and technical matters. They are the ones about which there did not seem to be any dispute. There should be no need for substantive debate on them. However, as I have said, there will be plenty of time at the sittings on Wednesday and Thursday to consider these matters in detail.

Will the Patronage Secretary acknowledge that the longest debate on this Bill so far was the one on new clause 1, which dealt with income support shortfall for people in residential homes? During that debate, Government Members took up more time than Opposition Members. Can the Patronage Secretary guarantee that new clause 12 will be debated at length?

When the Secretary of State had replied last night, there was unfinished business on that clause. He promised that the House would return to it. This is obviously a matter of great concern to Members on both sides of the House, and it ought to be debated fully.

The hon. Gentleman is getting extremely indignant. I can only say to him what I have said to other hon. Members on both sides: the timetable motion will appear on Wednesday's Order Paper, and the House will have an opportunity, in the debate on that motion later today, to deal with this matter. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the two longest speeches in Tuesday's debate were the one by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), which lasted one hour and 48 minutes, and one that lasted one hour 11 minutes. If the hon. Member thinks that that is orderly progress in this House, I have to tell him that it is not my understanding of those words.

I imagine that it is with some sorrow that the Patronage Secretary is proposing a guillotine motion. Guillotines thwart the very purpose of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman has based his proposal on the suggestion that the debates on this Bill have been over-long. I am sure that he was present last night when, within 10 minutes of the end of a fairly lengthy debate on new clause 1, it was necessary for one of his hon. Friends below the Gangway to get to his feet to ask for clarification of the awful things that the Government are proposing.

If ever there was an illustration of the fact that the debates have not been over-long—that the debates that we have had have been extremely necessary to bring to the attention of Government Members exactly what is happening—that was it. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman, having received a reply indicating that his thoughts were absolutely correct, did not carry his objection into the Lobby.

Perhaps it is no surprise to the hon. Gentleman to hear that I disagree with his interpretation of the events of the last 18 hours. Progress last night and this morning clearly showed that the Opposition are seeking to delay this Bill rather than to engage in sensible debate. It is always with regret that a Patronage Secretary as democratic as I am introduces a timetable motion, but, for the reason that I have just given, the motion is necessary. The House must be enabled to continue to make progress on this very important matter.

Does the Patronage Secretary agree that the first affront to the House was to put Health Service legislation and community care legislation together? Can he confirm that very many people expected last year that there would be two separate Bills and two separate opportunities for debate? The second affront is the Government's introduction of a guillotine motion without telling us how much time will be allowed. Does not the Patronage Secretary realise that hon. Members and very many people outside who try hard to lobby their Members of Parliament in respect of particular amendments are being denied the opportunity to allocate the remaining time rationally?

No one can make a souffle rise twice. The hon. Gentleman really should not rehash the argument about putting two Bills together. This matter was well ventilated, for example on Second Reading, for which we allowed two days—in itself, an unusually generous provision. As to the hon. Gentleman's other point, I repeat that he will be able to make it in detail when the timetable motion is debated and in further proceedings on Report. When business motions of this sort are tabled, it is not customary to give precise details of the timetable. Those appear on the Order Paper, as will happen on this occasion.

The Patronage Secretary must be aware that many clauses and amendments that concern patient care will now not be debated fully. Many hon. Members hoped to raise the question of the deficits that their district health authorities are facing. In the case of the authority in my area, the figure is£1·2 million. That will lead to a massive loss in patient care, to ward closures and to many other difficulties that will cause suffering and inconvenience to the people of Halifax would have been grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) had he talked from now until next week, if that had given us a chance to bring to the attention of the House the great suffering that these cuts will inflict on them? The hon. Gentleman's trivialisation of the debates that have taken place does neither him nor his party any good.

Obviously, the hon. Lady ought to direct her remarks to the hon. Member for Livingston. She says that she would have been content had he spoken from now until next week. Clearly, in those circumstances it would have been impossible to restrict the debate to the two and a half days that were agreed and accepted by the House during business questions last week.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As those on the Opposition Front Bench had been attacked several times by the Chief Whip, it ought to be made quite clear that there never was an agreement on two and a half days. The Government did not give us two and a half days. The Government lost again last night, and today they have run away with the ball.

This is my first chance to say anything during the entire proceedings on the Bill. I believed that I would have an opportunity later to get involved in the debate. Why is it that, presumably, I will not be allowed to speak during the course of the proceedings on the 108 amendments that could still be taken? And if I am not allowed to speak, why will I not be allowed to vote?

I was voted into this House by people in my constituency, and they expect me to be able to vote on their behalf on these important matters. Will we be given a chance to go through the amendments, so that we may at least have an opportunity to exercise our right to go through the Division Lobbies?

I note the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm. He has had a number of occasions on which to vote during the past 20 hours and I am sure that he will have other occasions on which to vote in the hours ahead.

I am sure that the Patronage Secretary is aware, because this point has been made during the debate, that there are 11 district health authorities in the south-west, of which eight in their entirety are to be removed as trusts in the first wave. As a member of a district health authority, I know that the care services for the mentally ill and the physically disabled and the priorities for community care have not yet been dealt with. Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that we shall have adequate time to discuss the items raised under community care? In that way, some guidance can be given to the district health authorities which are opting out and at present making no provision.

As the hon. Lady well realises, it is not in my power to give the guarantee that she seeks. Whether there is an opportunity to raise those detailed points about the south-west depends very much on the length of the speeches made in the debate on the timetable motion and during the remainder of the Report stage.

At the beginning of the debate on the timetable motion, will the right hon. Gentleman include a section for what might be called sleaze time? This information was not discussed overnight, although it was circulated. It concerns the four companies—P and O, British and Commonwealth, Trusthouse Forte and BET—which, since 1983, have given more than £1 million to the Conservative party. We could also discuss the 22 Conservative Members who have shares in those various companies. There has been some dispute—which we should clear up—as to whether those Members should be allowed to vote. They certainly would not be allowed to vote in local authorities, so why should they be allowed to vote here?

The hon. Gentleman has a natural aptitude for raising matters concerned with sleaze. Whether there is time to debate those points on Wednesday or Thursday obviously depends on the length of speeches made by him and others of his hon. Friends during the debate.

Is not the real reason why the Patronage Secretary has come to the House today the fact that the Government are crumbling at the edges, as witnessed by their defeat last night and the absconding of the Secretary of State for Wales? Where is the Leader of the House? Has he done a bunk as well? The Government are rotting at the centre. They do not want to debate these issues because they do not want those 22 Tory Members to be named in the debate. What is wrong with debating between now and Sunday night? If hospital doctors have to work for 80-odd hours on their own, why cannot Members of Parliament work? Stop the cover-up.

The hon. Gentleman has a marvellous capacity for fantasy, which never ceases to amuse and delight both sides of the House, although I sometimes wonder how much his constituents like it. We will have business questions tomorrow, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will then tell us when we shall have an opportunity to debate the conduct of the 32 Labour Members who are leading a campaign not to pay the poll tax, and when the leader of the Labour party is going to put the boot where his mouth is and remove the Labour whip from those Members.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his normal good humour is wearing a bit thin, and he is certainly looking the worse for wear? Is he aware that, if all these rumours about the new Secretary of State for Wales are true, we in Scotland will be bitterly disappointed? We had hoped to get rid of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and thought that he had a chance of getting that job.

On the business statement, why did not the Patronage Secretary take the opportunity to correct the history knowledge of the hon. Member for Rockburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who said that the National Health Service Act 1946 was an agreed measure? Why did not the right hon. Gentleman tell him that the Tory Opposition voted against its Second Reading and fought it line by line? Is not the guillotine which has been announced evidence that the Health Service is not safe in the hands of the Conservative party and that, in fact, a guillotine looms over it?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his sympathy. On listening to him, my good humour returned. I should like to point out, however, that he has a selective memory. As I said to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), the Health Services Act 1976—a Labour Act—spent only 80 hours in Committee. The debate in Committee was then guillotined, as were the Report stage and Third Reading, and the timetable motion was introduced after only 42 hours. If the hon. Gentleman compares that disgraceful Labour record with ours, I am sure that he will join me in thanking Conservative Ministers for the democracy that they are showing and for their care for the procedures of the House.

So that the public clearly understand what is happening in the House of Commons, will the Patronage Secretary confirm that we are now required to debate more than 108 amendments and new clauses in five and a half hours, whereas last night the Government were prepared to give six hours to one clause? Cannot the public rightfully ask why the Government are willing to give six hours to one new clause but only five and a half hours to a further 108 measures?

Could it be that one of those measures would give us the opportunity to discuss the sleaze factor, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) referred—that is, give us the opportunity to expose the relationship between Conservative Members and private contractors who hope to act as parasites living on the back of the NHS following this legislation?

As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), the hon. Gentleman has a natural attraction to sleaze. If he wishes to discuss that matter during the Bill's later stages and the Opposition make short speeches, he will have an opportunity to do so. I agree that progress during the night was too slow. We shall introduce a timetable motion so that reasonable progress can be made.