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Commons Chamber

Volume 170: debated on Wednesday 28 March 1990

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 28 March 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Yes, Mr. Speaker. If you prefer me to raise it at the end of Question Time, I shall defer to your wishes, Mr. Speaker—but that will not detract from the urgency of the matter.

My point of order is that last Thursday, during business questions, several requests were made for a statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland on capital offsets. No indication has been given that such a statement will be made. My constituents, and those of other right hon. and hon. Members, are being adversely affected because poinding warrants are being issued and executed in respect of bills that are not founded in law. May I have your permission, Mr. Speaker—

Order. The hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to raise that matter if we reach questions today that are relevant to that subject. I believe that question No. 16 is the first of them. We must see whether we can do so.

Oral Answers To Questions

Scotland

Drugs

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what extra resources he is making available to Strathclyde police to enable them to fight against the significant increase in drug abuse and drug-related crime; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland
(Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

The provision of resources for Strathclyde police is a matter for Strathclyde regional council as police authority. My right hon. and learned Friend stands ready to pay police grant on the council's net approved expenditure on the police service.

I am disappointed by the Minister's reply. Is he aware of the concern felt by thousands of parents in my constituency about the increase in drug and alcohol abuse and in related crimes there? This year, Glasgow is meant to be the city of culture, but it is becoming better known in Europe as the city of drugs. I am saddened by the Minister's response. Is he further aware of the increased use of firearms in drugs offences? Will he take on board early-day motion 771, which deals with the need for gun control, and support Strathclyde police force in calling for stricter firearms laws and controls over those licensed to use guns?

Last year, we tightened up the law on firearms ownership—and I voted through the night for that legislation. As to the number of police officers working on the extremely serious problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers, Strathclyde drugs squad now has 34 officers in comparison with only 18 in 1979. The Glasgow drugs wing of the Scottish crime squad has 10 officers, and another will be added later this year. Uniformed and CID officers also co-operate in dealing with the problem. Strathclyde police are under establishment by 130 officers, and the hon. Gentleman would be well advised to make representations to his colleagues on the police authority, as to the need to bring that force up to strength.

Is the Minister aware that Strathclyde police officers also work in Argyll and Bute on drug-related crime, not least because of the length of the coastline there? Does he agree that they would undertake those duties more happily if they were not seriously disadvantaged in comparison with colleagues outwith that area? Eighty per cent. of police in Argyll and Bute live in tied houses. Although I agree with the provision of such accommodation, police are not permitted to buy those houses, and have been disadvantaged since the rates relief portion of their rent allowance was abolished. Will the Minister examine that anomaly?

We recognised that police officers in provided accommodation were at a disadvantage in comparison with colleagues owning their own houses, which is why we made provision in the regulations that come into effect on 1 April for an allowance of £300 per annum for officers in provided accommodation, which will continue for three years. The right to buy obviously depends on whether the property is surplus to requirements, which is a matter for consideration by the chief constable in each authority.

Will my hon. Friend encourage police forces in Strathclyde and elsewhere in Scotland to use referral schemes, so that people suffering from drug misuse, and falling within the ambit of police forces, can be referred to voluntary organisations for help with treatment—as well as being brought within the law?

There are Home Office plans for the deployment of local drug prevention teams, but they are still at an early stage. We shall be monitoring developments in the first small group of local teams in England. The new central drug prevention unit, as an executive arm of the ministerial group on the misuse of drugs, will have a British role and we are conscious of the need for rehabilitation and education, on which we are spending substantial sums.

Fishing Industry

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to meet the executive members of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation to discuss the current state of the fishing industry.

My noble Friend the Minister of State and I last met representatives of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation on 7 February, and my noble Friend did so on 8 March; in addition, my officials are in regular contact with the federation. It has not asked for a further meeting.

Does the Secretary of State understand the deep sense of apprehension felt in the fishing community, in the fish processing sector and by all those who derive their living from the fishing industry in Scotland? Will he now undertake to consider a package of measures to alleviate that concern, and in particular give serious consideration to the introduction of a decomissioning scheme?

I understand that concern. I have had some extremely valuable discussions with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. I am aware of the concern that a reduction in quotas might have implications for fishermen's income. That is why we have been monitoring carefully what has been happening in the fishing industry since the beginning of the year. So far, it is encouraging that the value of fish landed in Scotland is slightly higher over the first two months of this year than the value of fish landed a year ago. There is no proof that that will continue, but it is encouraging at this stage that the increased prices will help to offset the reduced amount of fish being caught.

Why does the Secretary of State persist with his irrationally vindictive policy of driving the Scottish fleet into bankruptcy? Why does not he take into account the fact that European Community money is available and consider having a proper decommissioning scheme and a proper lay-up scheme? It is no use his saying that prices can take care of the problems when he knows that with boats being allowed to go to sea only 92 days a year, it is quite impossible for the price of fish to rise that much and still produce income without causing great hardship to the owners of vessels and to all those employed in the fishing industry in Scotland.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen carefully: the value of fish landed in Scotland this year is slightly higher than the value of fish landed last year. As we are only in the early part of the year, that will not necessarily continue, but it is important that we bear it in mind. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the decommissioning scheme was the subject of an extremely critical report by the Public Accounts Committee, and the House and the industry must take into account the critical remarks that were made about previous decommissioning schemes.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend analyse carefully the financial returns to the industry in the first part of the year? Admittedly, the returns have been good, but they relate to a very small proportion of the fleet. The rest of the fleet has not been able to go to sea on account of bad weather. Because they are restricted to 92 days, they cannot recoup the losses incurred in the early part of the year as they would in a normal year. Will my right hon. and learned Friend please understand the deep apprehension that still exists in the industry, to the extent that fishermen are now considering legal action against him? I ask him in particular to reconsider a decommissioning scheme.

Naturally, we shall continue carefully to monitor what is happening in the industry. I know that my right hon. Friend will be the first to agree that the financial implications of the reduced quotas must be examined. The value of the fish landed is a factor that determines fishermen's incomes and we cannot ignore the fact that it is marginally higher this year. Obviously, legal challenges are a matter for the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and ultimately, if the matter is considered by the courts we shall all respect the outcome of the judgment, if it goes that far.

Public Housing (Dampness)

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received from local authorities and other organisations about the need to direct further investment to tackling dampness in public sector housing.

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received from local authorities and other organisations about the need to direct further investment to tackling dampness in public sector housing.

No such representations have been received. I am pleased to say that I am today announcing the final housing capital allocations to local authorities for 1990–91. The final gross allocations have been increased by £46·5 million compared with the provisional allocations that I announced last December. That will benefit all housing authorities in Scotland. Of the increase, £41·1 million is in respect of expenditure on local authorities' own stock. Full details of the final allocations have been placed in the Library and the Vote Office.

Does the Minister recall that the Scottish Development Department's own house conditions survey showed that more than 500,000 houses in Scotland were suffering from dampness, of which 370,000 were in the public sector, and that that dampness was creating major health problems, particularly for youngsters and children with chest problems such as bronchitis? As last week the Secretary of State reshuffled some £4 million to save his political skin and the skin of his party, will a substantial proportion of the allocation that he has announced be spent specifically on the eradication of dampness?

I visited 39 district councils, none of which pressed me to make specific allocations because they want the discretion to choose their own priorities. What the hon. Lady says about the seriousness of dampness is true. Moray district council has today been given an extra allocation of £676,000, and on the non-housing revenue account an extra allocation of £50,000. Every authority in Scotland will benefit from the extra allocation of £41·1 million to the housing revenue account, except West Lothian, which has been allocated everything that it asked for. It also benefits on the non-HRA.

Given that over 520,000 houses in Scotland suffer from dampness, which affects the lives and health of many Scottish people, the amount of money that has been allocated is inadequate to meet the problem. Even to recycle money within the Scottish Office budget, Ministers must go cap in hand to the Secretary of State, who must go cap in hand to the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister dominates the Scottish Office, she should be answerable, because Ministers certainly are not. When will we get action to solve major health and housing problems, which are nothing less than a national disgrace?

The extra allocation of £46·5 million is being made not as a result of recycling within the Scottish Office but on the basic assumption that it is possible to process council house sales within seven and a half months. Some authorities in Scotland have taken well over a year to do that, but we know that, in two years, processing has been completed within less than eight months. Last Sunday, the Sunday Mail said:

"It's not a shortage of cash that's causing chaos, but massive delays by some district councils' house selling operations."

The Government have created a national housing agency, Scottish Homes, which owns more than 70,000 houses in the public sector. How can it possibly tackle dampness when, according to its strategic investment plan, investment in those 70,000 houses has been placed at the bottom of six different spending priorities? Is not that an obscene order of priorities and does not it represent a sell-out of Scottish Homes' tenants and Scottish Homes' stock?

The Scottish Special Housing Association and Scottish Homes have a good reputation among their tenants for spending sufficient funds on management and maintenance of council house stock. Most of their houses are in relatively good condition. It is for them to choose their priorities, and obviously they will do so. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular problems in his constituency, I should be glad if he drew them to the attention of Scottish Homes and myself.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that 74 per cent. of houses that suffer from dampness are in the public sector is a condemnation of the policies of Scottish local housing authorities?

It is important that housing authorities have the discretion to choose priorities within their areas. These problems are found not only in the public sector but in the private sector, and today we have made an additional allocation to the non-HRA as well.

Is the Minister aware how blindly complacent he sounds when he speaks on the subject of dampness? Does not he understand the enormous human misery caused to thousands of Scots through their having to live in damp houses? Does he accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that dampness in housing causes ill health? If he does, will he stop mouthing meaningless statistics that no one in Scotland believes and invest the massive amount of money necessary to eradicate that unacceptable and unnecessary scourge for ever?

The hon. Gentleman seems to think that £46·5 million is to be sniffed at. His authority in Glasgow has today been allocated more than £9 million extra on the housing revenue account and £2 million on the non-HRA. He should address his comments to his district council which, no doubt, will take them seriously. The average increase throughout Scotland is 9·8 per cent., and that should not be underestimated.

Community Care

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what extra provision he has planned for the community care of mentally ill citizens and those people who are mentally handicapped in 1990–91.

Government support to local authorities in 1990–91 through revenue support grant will take account of likely additional costs arising from the introduction of the new community care arrangements, including services to those with a mental illness or a mental handicap.

Does the Minister agree that one important aspect of community care is the provision of sheltered employment? Is not one of the finest examples of that the sheltered placement scheme, which provides some 350 permanent jobs for those with mental handicaps? As there are about 14,000 mentally handicapped people in Strathclyde region alone, will the Government give an assurance that they will increase their share of that scheme's budget, as Strathclyde regional council has done? When will the Government provide proper community care for those with mental handicap and illness?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the success of the sheltered placement scheme, which has received strong Government support. Our commitment to the needs of those with mental illness or handicap is reflected in the fact that the social work budget has planned provision increasing over 11 years by 75 per cent. in real terms. That is a substantial increase.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the difference between Labour and Conservative health care policies is the difference between talk and action? The Labour party talks whereas the Conservative party has spent more than three times as much on health care in Scotland over the past 10 years.

My hon. Friend is right. It is not insignificant that the title of our White Paper was "Caring for People". The interests of those in especially vulnerable groups have been brought to the forefront in the provision for community care.

When will the Minister bring together the social work services group and the Scottish Home and Health Department to achieve proper planning and co-ordinated policies for Scotland? One of the advantages of the Scottish Office is supposed to be a corporate approach, but it does not exist. There are twice as many mentally ill people and one and a half times as many mentally handicapped people in hospital in Scotland as there are in England and Wales. When will the Minister and the Scottish Office show some leadership in this matter?

The figures show a dramatic improvement in our provision compared with that of the previous Labour Government. Residential places for the mentally ill have increased by 88 per cent. since we took office; there has been a 73 per cent. increase for the mentally handicapped; and the community health services budget generally is up by 57 per cent. in real terms over the decade. That is a dramatic increase. We have found the resources to follow up our care in this important area.

Water Authorities (Debts)

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if Her Majesty's Government intend to write off any of the current outstanding debts of Scottish water authorities.

Debt was written off in connection with water privatisation in England and Wales. As we have no proposals to privatise the Scottish water authorities, the issue does not arise.

The Secretary of State might say that the issue does not arise, but, as the Treasury gave £5 billion to the water authorities in England and Wales in this financial year, does not that mean that nothing equivalent has been given to Scottish authorities, with the result that every poll tax payer is paying a higher element of community charge than would otherwise be the case? Should not the right hon. and learned Gentleman have another of his cosy chats with the Prime Minister and point out the injustice of that as well?

The right hon. Gentleman is uncharacteristically misinformed. First, he is unaware that expenditure on water and sewerage in Scotland will be more than £500 million over the next three years—a major increase which we announced recently. Secondly, he is unaware that Scottish water consumers actually pay significantly less than consumers south of the border. The average cost per Scottish water consumer is £40·62 compared with an English average of £55·12. For metered water users, there is a similar difference of which he should have been aware.

I acknowledge the extra money for investment that my right hon. and learned Friend has allocated for water and sewerage, but will he also recognise the problem facing regional councils such as Grampian? In recent years, Grampian has had to invest large sums in water and sewerage services because of the service that the council gives to the development of North sea oil. As a result, traditional industries in Grampian such as fish processing, food processing in general and the paper industry must bear charges out of all proportion to those of similar industries elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

I am very familiar with the point that my right hon. Friend has raised. He will be aware that water charges in Grampian are much the same as those in England. In addition, Grampian regional council, which has received advice from the Scottish Office about the council's discretion to vary water costs for certain classess of its consumers, has—if I am not mistaken—reduced some of its water charges this year as a result of that discretion.

When the Secretary of State says that he has no plans to privatise the water industry in Scotland, is he aware of the speech made by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), to what he described as the new Right in Scotland, in which he said that the Conservative party had not yet run out of things to privatise in Scotland? Will the Secretary of State give us an absolute assurance that water is not included in the speech made by his hon. Friend, or is he still afraid of him?

I can give the hon. Gentleman a categorical assurance that we have not run out of things to privatise in Scotland, and water is not one of them.

Fishing Industry

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had with representatives of the Scottish fishing industry since the announcement on 8 March of measures to restrict fishing activity.

My noble Friend the Minister of State met representatives of the Scottish fishing industry on the day of the announcement.

I am sure that, from his contacts with fishermen and the fishing industry, the Minister will know that one of the great weaknesses in the present conservation regime is the number of fish that are discarded into the sea. Does he agree that the measures announced on 8 March will do nothing to stop that fault in the regime? The problem will not be tackled properly until the Government are prepared to come forward with measures that bring the catching capacity of the fleet into line with fishing opportunities. Is it not the case that any efforts on the part of the Scottish Office to do that are being frustrated by its English counterparts?

No, that is not the case. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises that conservation is vital, which is also recognised by our colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as well as by the Scottish Office. With regard to the announcement about haddock, there was an option to move to nets with a wider mesh of 110 mm, but the vast majority of fishermen opted instead for the more restricted number of days' fishing.

The restriction of fishing activities off the west coast of Scotland must have as its aim the protection of the west coast fishermen, who fear—rightly and understandably—an incursion into their traditional fishing grounds by the bigger vessels from elsewhere in Scotland. With regard to discards, mentioned by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), what consultation have the Government been involved in on the harsh measures threatened by the Norwegian Government and the banning of discards on catches in their waters? That ban will affect some north-east Scottish fishermen.

I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the interests of west coast fishermen. We are looking closely at that point with a view to bringing forward a consultation paper at an early date, which may, for example, canvass the possibility of a weekend ban on fishing in west coast inshore waters.

School Assemblies

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any legislative proposals relating to the conduct of school assemblies; and if he will make a statement.

All education authority schools in Scotland are required by law to practise religious observance. My right hon. and learned Friend intends to issue shortly draft guidance on how this and other aspects of religious education might be strengthened.

Does my hon. Friend agree that all pupils should have a sound knowledge of the Christian religion and that that can be substantially achieved through well-conducted school assemblies? Does he think that those assemblies would be enriched by the regular singing of "I vow to thee my country", meaning Great Britain of course? Perhaps the singing of that great hymn would enrich our prayers in the House.

Yes, or perhaps the singing of "Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom." It is certainly our intention in bringing forward the consultation paper to find ways of strengthening religious observance and religious education in schools. That is part of our purpose.

Does the Minister agree that the Scots do not require advice on religious education or practices in schools or anywhere else, and certainly not from sources in England where the average attendance in church on Sundays is less than 2 per cent? Does he further agree that perhaps school assemblies could join in observing the Church of Scotland's day of prayer against the poll tax? Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), could advise the education authorities and the school chaplains to do just that.

I am only a Minister of the Crown and I cannot aspire to those greater insights to which ministers of the Kirk aspire. There is a need for improved religious observance in schools, and the characteristics of that should be more frequent. It should be more regular and of high quality.

Ayrshire And Arran Health Board

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of Ayrshire and Arran health board; and what was discussed.

I regularly meet health board chairmen to discuss a variety of topics.

No doubt when the hon. Gentleman met the health board chairman in Ayrshire he discussed the question of opting out. I wish that I had been a fly on the wall at the time. Is the Minister aware that in the Glasgow Herald of 19 March, Bill Fyfe, the chairman of the health board, made it clear that in his opinion only doctors could decide the question of hospitals opting out, that it could not be decided otherwise, and that opting-out cannot be rammed down their threats? Will the Minister therefore refrain from ramming the idea of opting-out down the throats of doctors and consultants in Ayrshire and elsewhere? Will he give an undertaking to abandon opting-out since little interest in it has been shown by doctors, or will he at least allow opting-out only where a majority of those working in hospitals have agreed to accept it?

I am very much aware that Mr. Bill Fyfe, the chairman of the health board, rejected the view expressed by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), in his role as paid columnist for the GlasgowHerald, to the effect that the proposals that are being discussed in Ayrshire and Arran for self-governing status for that hospital were in in no way linked to any possibility of development of phase two of that hospital. Whether a proposal comes forward will depend entirely on the discussions that are taking place and on whether the consultants believe that it is in the interests of patient care.

Will the Minister take time to visit the chairman of the Greater Glasgow health board? He will know from correspondence that he has received from me that some patients in Springburn are not shown on the records of the Greater Glasgow health board as being with their doctors. As a result, some patients who have been with their doctors since 1935 are not recorded as being on their GP's list. That means that the general practitioner is not being paid for those patients. It is ridiculous that Greater Glasgow health board does not have proper records.

I take that as support by the hon. Gentleman for the proposals by Greater Glasgow health board to privatise its medical records in order to improve the service.

Can the Minister answer the simple question that was put to him initially and say when he met the chairman of the Ayrshire and Arran health board? Does he recall that the working paper on self-governing hospitals that was produced by his Department stated:

"It will be for boards to give all proposals … local publicity. They will seek the views of those with an interest," including
"staff affected, general practitioners, local health councils and the local community"?
Has that working paper become waste paper? Or, if the Minister still believes in an element of democratic consent, how will the promise to consult the staff of hospitals that may opt out be implemented?

The hon. Gentleman seems somewhat confused. If he has read that working paper he will know the process whereby hospitals become NHS trusts. The first stage is an expression of interest; the hospital in Ayr has not even reached that stage yet. The second stage is that, if the Secretary of State considers it appropriate that the expression of interest should be followed up, a plan will be prepared. At that stage there will be full consultation, not only with the doctors but with the wider community, as spelt out in the document to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Investment

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how much inward investment has taken place in Scotland over the last five years; and what steps he is taking to encourage further such investment.

Over the five years to the end of March 1989, Locate in Scotland recorded planned investment by companies of about £2·4 billion, associated with the intended creation or safeguarding of more than 40,000 jobs. Locate in Scotland is continuing to promote Scotland vigorously as a location for inward investment, and I have recently increased its staffing.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, since 1981, a total of 60,000 jobs have been attracted to Scotland as a result of the Government's policies, and that they almost certainly would not have been attracted in those numbers had a Labour Government been in power, because the Opposition are anti-business? Does he also agree that the Government's inward investment programme is being maintained, as is evidenced by the 2,000 jobs that have just been attracted to Scotland as a result of Motorola coming there? Will my hon. Friend kindly leave some jobs for the rest of the United Kingdom?

I would not argue with my hon. Friend about the exact number of jobs that have been created, but certainly a number of indirect jobs follow from the direct jobs that have been created, and they are substantial in number. Over the past five years about 300 projects have been attracted to Scotland, which is an average of one a week every week for five years. That is a dramatic advertisement of the qualities that Scotland has to offer.

If the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran), who has joined us, is looking for a safe seat in Scotland, following the resignation of his Tory councillors, he is wasting his time.

Perhaps the Minister will ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State a question. In "The Thatcher Interview", talking about the effect that high business rates are having on the closure rate of business in Scotland, the Prime Minister said that closures might be the result of bad management or too much borrowing. Does the Secretary of State fall into line with her judgment on this issue?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should raise the subject of business rates, because the Labour party has been responsible for substantially increased business rates in Scotland over the years, to the great detriment of business. The Government have stepped in with new resources and a progressive plan to reduce business rates in Scotland steadily over a five or six-year period to bring them into line with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Does my hon. Friend agree that nothing could do more harm to Scotland's prospects for inward investment than a combination of the roof tax and the setting up of a Scottish assembly as the only European haven of socialism apart from Albania—a comparison which is perhaps unfair to Albania?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The reason why we have been so successful in attracting inward investment to Scotland is that we have established an enterprise economy there based on low taxation rates. The high taxes that would result from a Labour Government would drive investment away not only from Scotland but from the whole United Kingdom.

I congratulate the Minister on the success in attracting new industry to Scotland—

But does he agree that Dumfries and Galloway, Stranraer and Cairnryan are as peripheral to the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland is? Is there likely to be inward investment in that region of Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman will know of my enthusiasm to attract inward investment to Dumfries and Galloway. As for infrastructure, we have substantially increased investment in the A75—about £50 million has been spent on it in the past decade, and more is to follow. That is of advantage not only to my constituents but to the hon. Gentleman's in Northern Ireland.

Does my hon. Friend believe that the European Community may soon find that the special measures given to Scotland, over and above those given to England, are going to an area which is no longer one of low income and low economic growth, and that it will not allow them in a free-trade Europe?

My hon. Friend may be assured that the selective assistance that operates in Scotland is part of the United Kingdom scheme which is applied on even-handed criteria and meets the rules and regulations of the European Commission.

Police (Court Work)

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the report made to him by the chief constable of Central Scotland police about the amount of police time spent in courts.

Efforts will continue to be made, in consultation with my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, to reduce the amount of police time spent in court, so far as that is consistent with the administration of justice.

I do not know what efforts continue to be made because it is now two years since I came to see the Minister about the absolutely disgraceful situation, particularly in the sheriff courts in Scotland, and nothing but nothing has happened. If anything, it is worse than it was two years ago. Is the Minister aware that the situation in the sheriff courts is nothing short of a national scandal? If anybody should be charged with wasting police time, it is the Scottish Courts Administration and the Minister.

Over the past 18 months the average delay period for summary criminal trials has been reduced from 17·6 to 14·9 weeks. The hon. Gentleman has correctly identified a pressing problem which we have been looking at hard. The main problem is caused by late changes of plea, and no solution has emerged which protects the interests of justice. If someone were required to plead guilty or not guilty 48 hours earlier, many accused would plead not guilty, causing even longer delays, because they wait to see how many witnesses appear in court to see what chances they have of getting off. I am sorry that that should be so. The hon. Member, who once had responsibility for the problem, has identified it correctly. The joint report of the chief police officers and the Crown Office made several important recommendations on the quality and timeliness of police reports and statements, the availability and citation of witnesses and the use of procedures to reduce inconvenience. Some findings may well be put into effect by the summer. I shall keep in close touch with the Lord Advocate on this point.

Although I welcome the reduction in time that it takes for cases to come to trial, may I enjoin my hon. Friend to reconsider the perfectly simple scheme which I devised for both sheriff courts and High Courts, under which there would be a mandatory meeting of both parties to arrange pleas in time to dismiss the witnesses? It is not only policemen who spend a ludicrous part of their working time hanging round the courts, but witnesses who are reluctant to co-operate in the prosecution of crime.

I will certainly discuss my hon. and learned Friend's point with the Lord Advocate as soon as possible and draw those comments to his attention.

Employment Strategy

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss employment strategy in Scotland.

I met the general council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress on 10 November 1989 for a general discussion on the Scottish economy. There are no plans for further meetings at present.

Does the Secretary of State intend to raise with the STUC and British Steel the crucial importance of investment at Clydesdale and Imperial mills? Will he discuss with them the recent gossip, rumours and speculation about foreign deals? Will he tell the House whether he considers the Scottish capacity for producing seamless tubes to be important, especially for the North sea?

When I last met the STUC we discussed those matters and agreed that it would be highly desirable if British Steel could be persuaded to consider further investment in the steel industry in Scotland. That industry has different components, including the category to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The Scottish Office intends to ensure that its views on the future plate mill strategy for Scotland are taken into account by British Steel when it comes to develop its future strategy. At the end of the day these are matters for British Steel, but it is important that it should be aware of the good case that exists for investment in Scotland.

The Secretary of State is only too well aware of the thousands of livelihoods in Scotland that depend on the steel industry. How can it possibly be right for Ministers to abdicate responsibility for all those people and simply to hand over the final decision for this vital industry to the board of directors of British Steel plc?

The employment opportunities that exist because of the steel industry are important, as are the employment opportunities presented by Yarrow, Ferranti, IBM or any large employer in Scotland. The Government do not directly provide employment. Their responsibility is obviously to encourage an atmosphere and a quality in the economy that encourage job creation. The hon. Gentleman will join me in feeling great pleasure because unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 150,000 over the past two or three years.

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets the STUC, will he inquire whether it has changed its policy of opposing job-creating investment, such as that which was to take place at Ford of Dundee, and whether it is still its policy to support Scotland as a museum of industrial archaeology by public sector subsidies rather than supporting the Government's policy to attract private sector investment from abroad, thereby securing the jobs of the Scottish people indefinitely?

I am glad to say that, unlike the Labour party, the STUC supports the Government's Scottish Enterprise proposals and the way in which training is to be developed to local enterprise companies throughout Scotland. We welcome that support. It is a pity that, so far, the Labour party has felt unable to support us.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, given the serious employment problems in Scotland, it is far too long—four months—since he last met the STUC? Is he aware that the serious position in Midlothian is causing great concern? Recently, Sneddons went into receivership, with the loss of 200 or 300 jobs? Crystal Glass has threatened to close. The coal mining and engineering industries have contracted. I am worried about employment prospects in Midlothian. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider giving Midlothian special regional status to tackle the employment problem?

The hon. Gentleman has rightly drawn attention to the various closures in his constituency, but I think that he would wish to point out fairly that many more jobs have been created in Midlothian over the past few months and years than have been lost.

If that had not happened, it would have been impossible for me to say, as I can, that unemployment has fallen greatly in Midlothian over the past two or three years.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the STUC leaders that there are more people in work in Scotland than ever before, but that that is no thanks to certain trade union leaders who put the interests of their members at Dagenham above those of the jobless in Dundee?

My hon. Friend is right to say that the number of people in employment in Scotland is at its highest ever recorded level.

A month ago at Scottish questions, when replying to me, the right hon. and learned Gentleman agreed that it was important that British Steel was aware of the Scottish Office view that there was a strong case for investing in the Scottish steel industry. Despite the statements of Conservative Back Benchers, that has nothing to do with industrial archaeology. What steps have been taken to get this message across? Have there been meetings at a senior level with British Steel and involving Ministers? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that it is essential that he personally takes up the cudgels on behalf of the Scottish steel industry?

I must ask the hon. Gentleman to await my answer to the next question on the Order Paper, which deals with that very matter.

British Steel

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the chairman or chief executive of British Steel.

I expect to see the chairman of British Steel in the relatively near future.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is a different dimension in relationships between the Scottish Office and IBM and the Scottish Office and British Steel, because he deliberately privatised British Steel? When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets British Steel senior executives, will he discuss the fact that there are lying at Leith docks mile upon mile of welded pipe which will be used to extract Scottish oil from the Scottish waters of the North sea, and not a single mile of it has been produced in Scottish steel mills?

When will the right hon. and learned Gentleman press British Steel to accept—and will he accept unequivocally—the call by shop stewards at Dalziel today that the welded steel mill that British Steel is earmarking for Teesside should go to Dalziel in Lanarkshire, which would increase its take from Ravenscraig and ensure that Scottish steel jobs are created from the massively expanding demand for steel products in the Scottish waters of the North sea?

The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that there are imports of steel into the United Kingdom in categories that are simply not manufactured in this country, in Scotland or elsewhere. It is obviously a matter for British Steel to decide whether that makes sense or whether it should start manufacturing in the United Kingdom steel that it currently imports. That is a matter for British Steel to decide and, naturally, we hope that if it comes to that judgment, it will choose a Scottish location for the manufacture of products of that kind.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the shutdown at Ravenscraig, however unwelcome, is being handled with the customary responsibility and competence of the managers and steel workers there so as not to prejudice the long-term future of the plant? Will he make sure that the chairman of British Steel fully understands the implications of the plate review for the future of Dalziel and Ravenscraig up to and beyond 1994?

I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the responsible attitude of shop stewards and work force at Ravenscraig, and I agree with him that it is important for all in Scotland who attach importance to these matters to ensure that British Steel is aware of the attractions of Scotland as a location for investment, either at Dalziel or in respect of its other steel activities north of the border.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there would be considerable resentment on Teesside if he were to use, or seek to use, undue influence on British Steel? The people of England are just as entitled to produce steel—on Teesside—as the Scots are; let the board of management make that decision. I am sorry that there are no socialists from Teesside here today to fight for jobs on Teesside, as I am doing, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend has got the message.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The decision must be based on the good commercial case that can be put in regard to where investment should go. All parts of the United Kingdom would welcome steel investment, and it is the responsibility of us who live in Scotland to put such arguments as point towards investment in Scotland. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will be making similar representations on behalf of his constituency and his part of the United Kingdom.

I am genuinely grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me again. I welcome the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is soon to meet the chairman of British Steel. May I press on him the urgency of doing that in a short time scale, given the imminence of decisions that may affect the Scottish industry? Will he bear very much in mind the fact that British Steel is not just another private sector company but that it has a wider responsibility, given its history and the vulnerability and importance of the industry in Scotland? Its special status is reflected by the existence of the golden share.

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the golden share applies only in regard to any attempt by any outside interest to acquire more than 15 per cent. of the shares in British Steel, and I am not aware of any suggestion that that is about to happen or is likely to happen.

As for the overall responsibilities of British Steel, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the assurance that was given at the time of privatisation, and which has since been repeated—that if at any time British Steel did not wish to continue with its assets at Ravenscraig, it would consider any private sector bid for those assets to ensure the continuation of steel activity north of the border. That is a matter to which I attach importance and to which the Prime Minister referred when questioned about it at this Dispatch Box.

Council House Sales

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many council houses have been sold to sitting tenants in Scotland since May 1979.

Since April 1979, over 184,500 public sector houses in Scotland have been sold to sitting tenants. Included in that figure are over 132,000 sales by local authorities.

What percentage of the council house stock in Scotland has been sold to sitting tenants? If the figure is still significantly below that in England, what further steps does my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State intend to take to increase the number of sales in Scotland?

The figure is now 18·6 per cent., and south of the border it is 22·2 per cent. The gap has narrowed. On the previous occasion that I reported to my hon. Friend, it had narrowed by 0·1 per cent., and it has closed by at least as much again. We have taken steps, by way of a right-to-buy publicity campaign, to ensure that tenants know of changes in the law. It should not be forgotten that the average rent in Scotland is approximately £20 and the average weekly cost of a mortgage is approximately £23. That is within the reach of thousands of families throughout Scotland.

Does the Minister appreciate that, notwithstanding the discounts on these council houses, many people in Scotland who bought their houses are now in arrears with building societies because they cannot afford the high interest rates? Does he appreciate that the Government's policy of cutting public support for council housing, and thus forcing rents up, led many people to buy houses when they would probably have been better advised not to do so? When will the Government reconsider their whole approach to this issue? When will they start to provide decent support for public sector housing? When will they allow local authorities to avoid increasing rents excessively and start building some of the council houses that are needed?

Obviously, in the case of the public sector housing stock, the level of rents is determined by what is considered to be an appropriate level of management and maintenance. Public sector sales—sales to sitting tenants—greatly benefit the remainder of the public sector housing stock. Fewer than 0·1 per cent. of houses sold to tenants are being repossessed. The overall number is very small. Also, building societies are prepared to discuss with those concerned suitable phasing arrangements to enable debts to be paid.

Can my hon. Friend tell me what progress is being made in respect of the rents-into-mortgages schemes in Scotland? This is a terrific idea, which I hope can be extrapolated to the new town corporation houses in my area. Changing a rent into a mortgage is a very simple idea.

I was present when the Prime Minister handed over the first deed of contract to a remedial teacher in Uphall, who was gaining her own house under this scheme. There have been more than 500 expressions of interest, and we expect the scheme to be highly successful. Of course, we shall review the success of the operation shortly.

Local Government Finance

16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has as to how many extra staff have been employed by local authorities for the administration of the poll tax system.

Local authority staffing levels are the responsibility of individual authorities. Information on numbers of staff employed for particular duties is not held centrally.

I find it remarkable that, on this question, the Secretary of State is not facing the music. The poll tax is surely one job-creation scheme that Scotland could have done without. Will the Minister take this opportunity to explain how his right hon. and learned Friend's £4 million poll tax panic package will be distributed, and where the money will come from? Can he explain why his right hon. and learned Friend failed to protest in Cabinet last Tuesday; why he required us, on Tuesday and Wednesday, to explain that such blatant discrimination against Scotland was an outrage; and why his right hon. and learned Friend was looking like a right idiot on Thursday? What kind of humiliation will it take to make the Secretary of State resign?

My right hon. and learned Friend will make a statement to the House on the details of the scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Shortly. The Budget is, of course, secret until it has been delivered. The meeting to which the hon. Gentleman referred was not a discussion session, but a relatively formal meeting. The matter has been taken up by my right hon. and learned Friend. As to the source of the funds, suggestions that the sum of £4 million will be taken from sensitive Scots programmes are incorrect. The sums involved are marginal in the context of the total resources of £9·5 billion. It is part of the normal good housekeeping practised by all Ministers within overall programmes to adjust resources in response to changed evidence of need. The £4 million for this purpose will be found as part of the normal process of good housekeeping, and not by deliberate cuts in any programme.

Does the Minister accept that, despite the increase in numbers employed, we have rightly had exemptions for Alzheimer's disease, transitional payments and now capital offsets? All those impinge on what Scots should have been paying since April 1989. Therefore, will the Minister instruct local authorities not to pursue poindings and warrant sales against costs that manifestly cannot be substantiated in law? Does he accept that it is not a matter just for the Budget but for the status of the Scottish Office, and that there is a clear indication that Scottish Office officials were not consulted and did not know what was happening in England and Wales?

I will not give any such guidance to local authorities. It is for them to choose the most appropriate measures to raise the revenue due to them from such persons as the hon. Gentleman. I will not give them any advice on that. Further exemptions, would breach the principle of accountability which underlies the whole concept of the community charge.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that on average about 90 per cent. of community charge payers are paying the community charge? Will he take time today to write to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who is a lawyer, to ask him why he refuses to condemn those of his hon. Friends who wish to break the law?

We look forward to the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and other Labour Front-Bench Members on their colleagues who are refusing to pay, which we believe to be wholly irresponsible because defying the law is a short-term policy which is unworthy of any hon. Members who espouse to be a future Government. I can indeed confirm what my hon. Friend said; on average 90 per cent. have paid the community charge in Scotland. I expect that figure to increase in coming months.

Will the Minister clear up the big remaining mystery of last week? Did he threaten to resign, and was that what really pulled the Prime Minister back into step? Is the Minister aware of the statistics that have come out about the change in the number of poll tax registrations in Scotland? Before the whole thing began, the official Government estimate was 800,000 registration changes in Scotland in the first year. The actual number has been 1·5 million, every single one of them generating bureaucracy, expense and confusion. Will local authorities be compensated for the wrongness of the Government's official estimate? Will the Minister assure the House that, whatever else the £4 million comes from, it will not come from local authority budgets within the Scottish Office?

It is ironical that the hon. Gentleman should express such concern about registration since he strongly opposed registration in the "Stop it" campaign. Those who have registered amount to 99 per cent. I believe that the system is working well. As to the hon. Gentleman's question about whether I or any of my colleagues threatened to resign, the answer is emphatically no.

Points Of Order

3.32 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am rising to ask whether you have received any notification from the Government as to whether they intend to make a statement today about the seizure of nuclear trigger devices at Heathrow airport. I am sure that everyone in the House, on both sides, will agree that this is a profoundly important matter, relating not only to national security but to the United Kingdom's relationship with the Government of Iraq. It is something on which it is necessary for the House to hear from the Government very urgently. I should be obliged if the Leader of the House, who is here, could arrange for a statement to be made later today.

The right hon. Gentleman has made his point. It is indeed a very serious matter. I am sure that what he has said will have been heard by the Leader of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I invite you to make a statement on the following circumstances? Under Standing Order No. 128, a Select Committee governs the operation and compilation of the Register of Members' Interests. On the Order Paper today, there are 32 parliamentary questions tabled by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith). I have given the hon. Gentleman notice that I would raise the point of order. On the last occasion that similar questions were tabled, at a cost of well over £3,000 to the taxpayers, the hon. Member admitted that it had nothing to do with his constituency but that he had tabled the questions on behalf of Price Waterhouse who wanted the information to form a business plan.

This is an abuse of the House. May I invite you, Mr. Speaker, to deprecate the practice until the Select Committee on Members' Interests has had an opportunity to examine the matter? I recognise that it is the responsible Select Committee. I had hoped, in the past when I raised this matter, that the publicity would lead to an end of the abuse, but that has not been the case. It would be helpful if you could say whether you prefer that sort of questioning about outside interests when an hon. Member receives several thousand pounds a year in his private income. The questions should not be asked in order to reflect that interest.

The hon. Member is quite right to say that that is a matter for the Select Committee on Members' Interests, and I understand that that Committee is already looking into that practice.

On a separate point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that it did not escape your notice that, at the start of Scottish Questions, there was only one Conservative Back Bencher in attendance. In the course of the hour, two other Scottish Back-Bench Conservative Members came into the Chamber, one of whom did not manage to remain until the end of Question Time. Will you convey to them that they have a constitutional responsibility to be here to question the Secretary of State for Scotland and they are not absolved from that by encouraging large numbers of English Members to communicate their wishes?

I like to see the Chamber full for Question Time, but hon. Members' other engagements are not a matter for me.

I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether you observed the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) arriving late during Scottish Questions, asking her question and swanning out again? Would you consider that that is a good way to get a question called?

Yes, I know but I do not know why the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) arrived late or may have left early.

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), Mr. Speaker. In the past, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) used to do exactly the same with agriculture questions, and the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has a research assistant who has been approaching all lady Members on the treatise that she is doing on the representation of women in Washington and in the House of Commons.

Statutory Instruments, &C

Ordered,

That the draft Industrial Training (Northern Ireland) Order 1990 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Fallon.]

Local Authority Playing Fields

3.37 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to remove from local authorities the power to dispose of land used as playing fields, except in circumstances where ownership is passed on for continued use as playing fields to a recreational association of charitable status under the terms of the Recreational Charities Act 1958.

We have all heard of the man who said, "Whenever I feel like taking violent exercise I go to bed and stay there until I feel better." However, there is no doubt that a healthy body aids the mind to be healthy too. Therefore, I think that people who practise sports or keep themselves fit have a healthy mind and a healthy body to boot.

There are two dangers in sport at the moment. First, some local education authorities have for a long time discouraged competitive sport. I number among them the Inner London education authority which, during the past 10 years, has largely discouraged competitive games within school sport. That authority has now changed its position completely after conducting a thorough and careful investigation, and it is now in favour of competitive sports in schools.

Another example of the disastrous discouragement of competitive games is the headmistress in Bristol who banned an egg and spoon race on school sports day because she thought that it would encourage undue competitiveness in children. Nothing could be more absurd. That type of attitude has damaged sport in schools no end. Eight out of ten children in schools today will not keep up a sport after leaving school; therefore, sport in schools needs every possible encouragement. In addition, with our test team poised on the brink of a possible great victory in the West Indies at this moment, we can see the sheer pleasure for the nation of producing successful international teams. We hope that our soccer team, too, will be successful this evening.

The second danger to sport is the selling of playing fields for building. When playing fields are sold, an amenity is lost which may never be replaced, and the environment is permanently damaged. Competitive sport in schools is regaining popularity, thanks in part to the widespread support of many hon. Members, including the sponsors of the Bill—among them my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), to whom I express my great appreciation. But we still have some way to go because playing fields are continuing to disappear for building.

It is said that an area the size of the Isle of Wight is lost every year. That is a huge acreage to lose, bearing in mind the fact that the National Playing Fields Association says that we should have six acres per thousand of the population. Just to achieve that statistic, which is small enough, we should need an extra 6,304 acres of playing fields in the south-east, an extra 2,793 acres in London, an extra 791 acres on Merseyside and an extra 974 acres in the west midlands.

Anyone who seeks to oppose the Bill will have to examine his or her conscience and realise that to do so will be to deny opportunities for sport to our children and to adult members of the community. That is the responsibility the House faces.

In an Adjournment debate on 12 February, the hon. Member for Vauxhall raised a number of these issues in a remarkable speech and kindly allowed me to refer to sports facilities in my constituency. I shall mention those within the broad national context, because the Bill is concerned with playing fields right across the land. In my constituency, Ealing council is seeking to dispose of 17 acres of playing fields at Cayton road for building development. They are in a heavily built-up area with no other leisure facilities for children or the community, and they are absolutely vital to the community.

I understand that the borough is seeking to acquire the substantial playing fields and facilities at the Warren Farm sports complex, but it must be understood that that facility will not serve the neighbourhood of Cayton road. It is too far away and there are no public transport facilities. Moreover, the schools that use the Cayton road playing fields do not want to transfer to Warren Farm and nor do the public. The two sites are not interchangeable.

The loss of local facilities will be particularly hard on the young who require not only somewhere close to home where they can play and practise informally but somewhere to spend a few minutes with their friends playing a game. Most hon. Members have had the pleasure of doing that. The Cayton road playing fields must remain playing fields, and my Bill will secure their future.

Educational and community playing fields acquired through the public purse require further protection, given that they are disappearing at the rate that I have described. The Government are due to produce a much-needed consultative planning guidance note on planning for sport. They have also recently published a consultative paper proposing changes to deemed consent planning procedures whereby local authorities can grant themselves planning permission for more profitable forms of development in advance of the sale of playing fields.

Do these steps go far enough? I believe not. I propose that local authorities be prevented from disposing of playing fields. Some may consider that an excessive and inflexible requirement, but there is a duty on all of us to look beyond the 20th century and the early 21st century. Land lost for building or for any other purpose is lost for ever, and that should be on the conscience of anyone who opposes the Bill. Future generations will not thank us if we take the short-term view and allow the sporting endowment of a century to be frittered away.

The only way of safeguarding land for public recreation and sport is to establish charitable trusts for a particular area under the Recreational Charities Act 1958. If a local authority wants to dispose of playing fields, it should be allowed to do so only in circumstances in which their use as outdoor playing space is legally assured. Provision should be made for such land to be disposed of to appropriately constituted recreational charities—and not for either private or public building, ever. The land can then continue to be used as playing fields, and will become subject to the charities Act and to the oversight and control of the Charity Commissioners. The Bill will enable people with an interest in the sports facilities in their neighbourhood to take the initiative and to exercise self-help.

In the longer term, my Bill will establish a partnership with local government in introducing expertise and new potential sources of financial support. It will also increase the likelihood of reductions in public expenditure, so that money can be beneficially released for the development of other recreational and community initiatives. The Bill is not mandatory. Its purpose is to protect the recreational or playing fields land bank that is our heritage in such a way that local authorities can, if they choose, transfer the ownership of such land at reasonable cost to responsible bodies within their own communities. The public interest and public benefit of any such transfer will be guaranteed by the limited scope of disposal to recreational charities only.

This nation has a particular duty to our children, and to those who are no longer children but who enjoy sport, to ensure that facilities are available to learn sports, and to enhance public enjoyment of them, at all levels and ages, by those of every creed.

3.47 pm

I do not take second place to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) in my zeal to ensure that the existing playing field stock is not only sustained but substantially expanded. I myself was a schoolboy sports enthusiast, and I remain an ardent supporter of sport in general.

I oppose the Bill because, although the hon. Member for Ealing, North raises a point of general principle that no right hon. or hon. Member would oppose, he could not resist the temptation to let fly and seriously to attack the Labour-controlled London borough of Ealing, despite the difficulties that confronts it at this time. It is well known in the locality that the hon. Member has been involved in a running battle with Ealing borough council for a considerable time.

The school playing fields to which the hon. Gentleman referred are connected with Ealing Green boys' school in my constituency, with which I have had a great deal to do over many years. With my encouragement, groups of boys from that school come to see debates and 10 o'clock Divisions in this House. From time to time, I visit the school to explain the workings of the House—although occasionally, I find that difficult to do. Never in all those years have I heard any complaint from the school or its headmaster about the local authority's plans for the playing fields of which the hon. Member for Ealing, North spoke.

I wish to put on record the practical difficulties faced by the London borough of Ealing and its plans to allow the Notting Hill housing association to develop 10 of the 17 acres of the Cayton road playing fields for social housing. The rest of the site, which is currently underused grassland, will be developed into a public park. The site is currently used as a sports ground by Ealing Green high school and is some distance from the school. It is not open to the public and has no ecological merit. The council proposes to relocate the school's playing fields if a suitable alternative site can be found, and there is a strong chance of that.

No relocation proposals will be considered without extensive consultation and the school can expect to remain at Cayton road for some time. There was extensive consultation on the proposals last year, including a public meeting organised by the planning and economic development department of the borough council.

On 22 June, the Department of the Environment issued a direction preventing planning permission from being granted. That may have something to do with pressure from the hon. Member for Ealing, North, who will have quite a struggle to retain his seat because of the poll tax. People in flats and young couples who have taken on mortgages on their houses will struggle to pay twice as much under the community charge—

I digress, and I shall now return to the subject.

The additional housing that will be provided will help to combat the homelessness crisis and reduce the burden of the bed and breakfast bill on local ratepayers. Ealing has 1,700 people in temporary accommodation and 9,500 households on council waiting lists. The council has been told by central Government to provide 9,000 new homes in the borough. There is a great scarcity of land for private and public development. At the same time, under the proposals a new park will be opened for public use, and Ealing Green high school will be relocated to an equally suitable site.

No decision on the Cayton road application has yet been made, and the views of local people will be fully considered. The London borough of Ealing will consult Ealing Green high school about finding a suitable site. The public will save because such housing will relieve the colossal cost of bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Those are the facts.

I have been looking up the record of the hon. Member for Ealing, North in debates. He warmly supported the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1981 against anxieties expressed by some Opposition Members. Locally, he is regarded as the ooslam bird who tries to fly in all directions simultaneously and he will come unstuck because of those antics today.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. Richard Tracey, Mr. Denis Howell, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Miss Kate Hoey, Mr. David Amess, Mr. John Carlisle, Mr. Edward Leigh, Mr. Phillip Oppenheim, Mr. David Evennett and Mr. David Evans.

Local Authority Playing Fields

Mr. Harry Greenway accordingly presented a Bill to remove from local authorities the power to dispose of land used as playing fields, except in circumstances where ownership is passed on for continued use as playing fields to a recreational association of charitable status under the terms of the Recreational Charities Act 1958: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 20 April and to be printed. [Bill 114.]

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified Her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Consolidated Fund Act 1990.

Strathclyde Regional Council Order Confirmation Act 1990.

British Film Institute Southbank Act 1990.

Birmingham City Council Act 1990.

Social Security Bill (Allocation Of Time)

Before we proceed to the allocation of time motion, I must announce to the House that I have selected all the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), with the exception of amendment (c).

3.55 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill:—

Report And Third Reading

1.—(1) The proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in two allotted days and shall be brought to a conclusion at the times shown in the following Table:—

TABLE

Allotted day

proceedings

Time for conclusion of Proceedings

First dayNew Clauses 19, 21 and 229:00 p.m.
New Clauses 23 and 2611:00 p.m.
New Clauses 1 to 6Midnight
New Clauses 7 and 81:00 a.m.
Second dayRemaining New Clauses7:00 p.m.
Amendments to Clauses; New9:00 p.m.
Schedules and amendments to
Schedules
Third Reading10:00 p.m.

(2) Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee) shall not apply to this Order.

Order Of Proceedings

2. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which proceedings on consideration of the Bill are taken.

Dilatory Motions

3. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, proceedings on the Bill shall be made 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 Day

4.—(I) On the first allotted day paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for three 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. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to the said period of three hours.
(3) If an alloted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, paragraph (I) of Standing Order No. 14 shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion; and on the first allotted day that period shall be added to the said period of three hours.

Private Business

5. 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. 14 (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

6.—(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 and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, other than the proceedings specified in sub-paragraph (2) below, Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)—
  • (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 is moved or Motion is made 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 made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, Mr. Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
    (2) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which the Table in paragraph 1 above specifies are to be brought to a conclusion at Nine o'clock on the second allotted day and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put (so far as they are applicable and notwithstanding any Order of the House relating to the order in which the Bill is to be considered) the following Questions (but no others)—
  • (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 Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Schedule be added to the Bill);
  • (c) the Question that the new Schedule (amendment 22) be added to the Bill;
  • (d) the Question that all remaining amendments standing in the name of a member of the Government be made to the Bill;
  • (e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded;
  • and on a Motion so made for a new Schedule, Mr. Speaker shall put only the Question that the Schedule be added to the Bill.
    (3) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (I) or (2) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
    (4) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (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, 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, 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.
  • (5) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which under this Order 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

    7.—(1) The proceedings on any Motion made by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (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 the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying of supplementing the provisions of this Order.

    Saving

    8. Nothing in this order shall—

  • (a) prevent any proceedings to which the Order applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by the Order; 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.
  • Recommittal

    9.—(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, recommittal.
    (2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to recommit 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

    10. 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 been agreed on a previous day, or is set down for consideration on that day;
    "the Bill" means the Social Security Bill.

    Hon. Members do not need me to tell them that my right hon. Friends and I do not table timetable motions without due consideration. We believe that it is important for all legislation, including this important Social Security Bill, to be debated and scrutinised properly by Parliament. For that reason alone, it is a matter of importance that one feels obliged to move such a motion, particularly on this fairly short Bill.

    It was striking that the Bill's Committee stage was orderly and compact. Subsequently, we reached what I thought was a sensible agreement between the usual channels to allocate a day and a half for Report and Third Reading. Both sides judged that sufficient, so it should have been, and so, indeed, it was. For that reason, I attach some significance to the fact that the motion means that the House will spend more time on the Bill, not less, than was originally planned by the usual channels.

    The Committee stage was, in many respects, a model of how the detailed scrutiny processes of the House should operate. Opposition Members moved about 120 amendments, some significant but others less so, and four new clauses which in their view would have improved the Bill. Where the Government were able to agree with them, my right hon. and hon. Friends accepted their points. The Government moved about 145 amendments and the whole process was completed in about 30 hours.

    In his remarks at the end of the Committee stage, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security summed it up:

    "Some difficult issues have been discussed and I think we have managed to discuss them, despite the vigour and enthusiasm of the Opposition in attacking us, with good humour. That is very important, and in no way would I underestimate the strength of feeling of the Opposition about some of the measures."

    On the same occasion, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short)—I am pleased to see her taking her place with such zeal and diligence—who led for the Opposition, said:

    "It has been a civilised but serious Committee."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 8 March 1990; c. 462-63.]

    That was a sensible judgment. I think that all my right hon. and hon. Friends who had participated in or followed the proceedings of the Committee agreed with her.

    What happened subsequently, however, revealed a startling and far less constructive attitude by the Opposition. They have tabled no fewer than 21 new clauses and a further 21 amendments for consideration on Report. Few of the new clauses relate to subjects that were discussed in Committee. The remainder have been tabled to widen substantially the scope of the Bill and as pegs on which to hang a series of debates about matters not directly related to its main purposes. Unless we take sensible steps now, the debate will become unmanageable.

    Did not the Government table new clauses on matters not related to the substance of the Bill when it went before the Committee, precisely because they found themselves in difficulty with other legislation? The clauses that have been tacked on bear no relation to the substance of the Bill in its original form. The Government have extended the agenda and turned the Bill into a holdall to pick up the pieces of other shoddy legislation.

    I do not accept that analysis. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and I shall deal with it shortly. The usual process for the handling of a Bill is for the main substance to be debated in Committee and for discussion to focus more sharply when it returns to the Floor of the House. What has happened with this Bill has paralleled what happened with the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. The House will remember that that Bill made good progress through Committee, only to be brought to a virtual standstill on the Floor of the House by the behaviour of some Opposition Members when we began to make headway on Report.

    Has the Leader of the House forgotten what really happened? That Bill was obstructed and eventually guillotined for what some might say was exactly the same reason as this Bill will be obstructed—I understand by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Back Benchers—and guillotined. We are debating the same issue—the charges in residential homes. Do not the Government bear responsibility for that? It has nothing to do with my hon. Friends.

    If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he will believe anything. What happened on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill was overwhelmingly the result of the time taken by Opposition Members. That Bill could continue its passage through the House in a sensible manner only after the successful moving of a timetable motion by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health. He did so only after many hours of debate on Report.

    The Social Security Bill is a much smaller Bill. Because of the similarity in the way in which the Opposition are apparently proposing to handle the Bill, it is sensible to let the House make a decision at the outset of the Report stage on the amount of time to be devoted to consideration of the Bill. Indeed, that view is in line with the view increasingly often aired in more than one part of the House, that timetabling is generally helpful.

    Will my right hon. and learned Friend cast his mind towards the two Procedure Committee reports about the Committee and Report stages of Bills? If the Government had followed our advice, this debate might have been unnecessary. Our reports make two recommendations similar to what I think my right hon. and learned Friend is now attempting to do. Is not he attempting to ensure that all parts of a Bill are debated in Committee, and that only new factors of apparent importance are debated on Report? Would not it be better to timetable in that way and so ensure that this sort of position does not arise?

    My hon. Friend gives me such comprehensive support that I must welcome it. However, I must take care to ensure that my response is not so enthusiastic that it makes him feel that the argument is already over. There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend said. One point about the recommendation for more timetabling that emerged from what he said is that the earlier that that is undertaken the more value it has.

    I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be cautious about those recommendations, which touch on the heart of what the House is about. The Government, through their hubris last year, introduced 11 guillotines. That meant that much legislation was unargued, unreasoned and caused difficulty in the country through the necessity to defend our position. Our fear about the guillotine is that many of the issues arise as a consequence of debate, and are not matters of settled judgment beforehand. In a spirit of humility, I ask the Government to be cautious about such arguments.

    I would not imagine my hon. Friend making a point of that kind except in a spirit of the utmost humility and I accept it in that sense.

    The time foreshadowed for the Report stage was a day and a half and that is not unreasonable. We are now providing for rather more time than that to be devoted to debate and for that to be carried out in a more orderly fashion. That should command reasonable support.

    I hope that the House will agree that it makes sense to keep within reasonable bounds the amount of time that can be devoted on the Floor of the House to topics that were touched on or discussed in detail in Committee. There is much to be said for a fair, but disciplined approach to debating the new clauses and amendments that will shortly come before the House and the timetable motion will encourage that process. If the House approves the motion, the more self-disciplined we can be, the more new clauses and amendments we shall be able to debate.

    I repeat the central point that the Bill will now have longer for debate than the one and a half days agreed through the usual channels. Therefore, I see no merit in accepting the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer).

    The Leader of the House has repeated his earlier point that there will be more time to debate the Bill and its new clauses. How can that possibly be so when the first six Opposition new clauses are being squashed into one hour and when the most important of these is about poll tax benefit, and all hon. Members know that that will take up the whole hour on its own?

    The total time allotted exceeds the normal one and a half sitting days—

    The Government new clauses deal with important matters with which it is perfectly sensible to deal at this stage. For example, the social fund amendment is a response to events that have occurred since the Bill's introduction. The measure relating to income support payments for people in residential care and nursing homes is a sensible response to the concerns expressed earlier this month by hon. Members on both sides of the House. That is a complicated area and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was understandably concerned to get it right. That new clause was tabled yesterday.

    The new clause on occupational pensions tabled last Friday improves the existing provisions, following further and useful consultations with interested parties. The overwhelming majority of the Government amendments are simply designed, as you would expect, Mr. Speaker, to improve the detailed drafting of the Bill. I see no reason to apologise for bringing any of the new clauses to the House on Report.

    Will the Leader of the House explain what possible justification the Government have for tabling a three-and-a-half page new clause on the duties of fathers to maintain their children if that saves social security costs—as seems to be the Government's only interest? When the Prime Minister made her speech about that in January we had plenty of time left in Committee. Why did the Government not bring that important issue forward sooner? We will not have enough time to discuss it properly now because of the guillotine motion.

    As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will explain, it is important that that matter should have been thought through carefully before it was debated in the House. The new clauses, including the one to which the hon. Lady has referred, have intrinsic merits and they will provide an opportunity for hon. Members to air their views on those issues.

    The Leader of the House has just made a very serious point. He has suggested that the reason why the new clause has only just been introduced is that the issue had to be thought through. Was it not thought through when the Prime Minister made her speech in January?

    Of course it was. Speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister are lucid and effective, but even her speeches require a little time to be translated into clauses and then find their way into Bills such as this.

    The time that will be made available under these arrangements is a sensible allocation, not least in the light of the experience on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill to which I have referred. It is a sensible way to ensure that these matters are discussed in an orderly and sensible fashion. No Government can stand back and allow the proper management of the business of Parliament to be threatened by the unreasonable prospect that could have followed from handling the Bill without a timetable motion. I commend the motion to the House.

    4.10 pm

    I shall try to be helpful, but I doubt whether the Government will take my advice. I cannot help reflecting that I have had the job of opposing a guillotine motion in the House on only one other occasion. The Government decisively rejected my advice and I have the feeling that they have regretted that decision ever since. It was made during the guillotine debate on 22 February 1988 on the poll tax Bill. I advised them that it was not a good idea to rush it through. There were 317 of them and 223 of us and, accordingly, the vote to rush the legislation through as quickly as possible was carried. The old phrase about turkeys voting for Christmas inevitably comes to mind. Having made the mistake once, perhaps the Government will listen more carefully today.

    I am disappointed that the Leader of the House has chosen to bring forward the motion. I approach my job with a little caution, because I know that guillotine debates have a certain sameness about them, and I also know that it will not be long before the Government and Opposition are reversed. I do not disagree with the Leader of the House when he says that it is important to get sensible consideration of Bills in Committee. However, he stretched matters to excess in pretending that the guillotine on this series of debates constitutes the orderly management of Government business.

    I had some hopes that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be a reforming Leader of the House. He has made promises about the private Bill procedure and I thought that he would find better ways to deal with such things. I am afraid that, increasingly, he is becoming a party hack putting through business as effectively as he can and stifling opposition and debate. He has been a little disappointing. The guillotine motion is not business management, it is crisis management.

    The hon. Gentleman talks about crisis management. As a fellow retread, he will recall that some years ago when he sat on the Government Benches as the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth, we both witnessed the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) standing at the Dispatch Box and moving five guillotine motions in one day. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that was orderly and that it was good management?

    The hon. Gentleman neglects the critical difference. At that time there was a deliberate attempt, helped by the House of Lords, to throw out major pieces of legislation to which we were committed. There was a different state of affairs at that time and the motions were presented much later in the parliamentary year. We had fewer guillotine motions than the present Government. I will not bore the House by reading the list of all the guillotine motions that the Government have presented. In the two and a half years since the general election more guillotine motions have been brought forward by the Government than were brought forward during a similar period by the last Labour Government. That has happened even though the Government have a large majority, a supine press and a largely docile House of Lords. I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that the state of affairs is totally different.

    What are the possible explanations for the Government bringing in a guillotine motion on this legislation at such short notice? The first might be that we were running out of parliamentary time at the end of a parliamentary year. Clearly that does not apply to this legislation. I know that, to Conservative Members, it must seem a long time since the Queen's Speech, but I remind them that we are only three months into the parliamentary year.

    A second possible reason is that the Government's legislative programme is threatened. I know that they are losing by-elections, but the Government still have a substantial majority in the House, so surely they cannot claim that their programme is threatened.

    Have the Opposition behaved irresponsibly when considering the Bill? That cannot be the reason: Second Reading was on 22 January and the Committee had 12 sittings, so there can be no suggestion of filibustering or of the Opposition behaving unreasonably.

    The reason for this guillotine is that the Government are in a panic. Just for the record, let us get straight how the Government tabled their five new clauses, which are complicated and which deal with important issues. One was tabled on Monday; two more were tabled early on Tuesday morning; a fourth was tabled a little later; and the final one, on residential accommodation, appeared only at 5 pm yesterday. The first we knew about the guillotine motion was yesterday morning. If that is not crisis management I do not know what is.

    Surely the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the residential care provisions were changed because the Government were responding to the wishes of the House? He cannot grumble about that.

    The hon. Lady did not have the advantage that I had of being in Mid-Staffordshire on the day the Government lost the vote of residential accommodation and of seeing the panic at the Tory press conference when Conservatives had to explain how the Government were operating. I am sure that that panic has fed back to the Cabinet by now. The Government were in an indefensible position, so they are not being reasonable and sensible: they are panicking.

    I shall not give way as I have already been speaking for some time.

    The Government are panicking because they can no longer rely on many of their Back Benchers. On Tuesday night in the debate on the flagship of their legislative programme, the poll tax, they were deserted by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, so it is not surprising that run-of-the-mill Back Benchers without big jobs are failing to support the Government.

    As the Leader of the House rightly pointed out, our 21 new clauses touch on crucial areas such as residential care, the poll tax, the uprating of benefits in line with earnings, people with disabilities—important new clauses tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) deal with them—and the compensation of victims of radiation. Either all these new clauses, some of them supported by Conservative Members, will not be considered at all or debate on them will be grossly foreshortened. No Government with a majority of 100 or more, three months into the parliamentary year, should be doing this, and they would not be if they were in rational control of their programme.

    I said at the beginning that I would try to be helpful, but I have a feeling that I am not striking a chord among Tory Members. If they will not take any notice of us I suggest, in their own interests, that they take a look at their record of rushing legislation through Parliament, to see what happens when they make a mess of it. The three guillotines on the "great" Social Security Bill still failed to produce a sensible Act. Time after time, with the poll tax legislation and social security legislation, the Government have not listened to reasoned argument and allowed enough time for debate, so they have looked stupid and sometimes have ended up in the courts thereafter.

    The guillotine motion is not moved so that there can be sensible scrutiny of the Bill, but because the Government are in a panic. That is why we shall vote against it.

    4.19 pm

    Like the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), I hope to be helpful. His speech was short on enthusiasm and seemed to be a bit of a ritual. Perhaps it was a word-processor-written speech with "social security" inserted for the name of the previous legislation on which he may have opposed a guillotine motion.

    I spoke on Second Reading, but did not serve in Committee. We had a reasoned debate, with support from both sides. I understand from my hon. Friends who served on the Committee that it was a civilised procedure. Therefore, at first sight it may seem that the legislation does not deserve a guillotine motion. The reason for the guillotine and why I support it is what happened a fortnight ago.

    A fortnight ago, I voted in every Division through the night. The notion that if one allowed this debate to proceed through the night there would be a civilised and rational discussion of new clauses is betrayed by anybody who was here a fortnight ago or anybody who reads Hansard. We got through about one clause in four hours and did not put the time to good use. If this measure were not guillotined, we would waste the small hours, and tomorrow afternoon the Government would have to introduce a guillotine motion. Against practice and even the declared intentions of Labour Members, it is sensible to introduce this motion to ensure a civilised debate in reasonable hours.

    Although I have not always supported guillotine motions in the past and I did not support one on the community charge, I shall vote for this one with enthusiasm.

    I have followed the drift of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but it is inconsistent. Is it not better to debate matters at length than not debate them at all, which is what he will vote for if he votes for the motion?

    The hon. Gentleman misses my point. If one provides extensive time for debate, it is not put to productive use. I am not sure whether he was here a fortnight ago and listened to some of the debate—

    The hon. Gentleman was. I challenge him to say that the hours between 10 pm and 7 am were put to the best possible use, that we got through a whole series of new clauses and had a useful discussion. We did not. Labour Members filibustered. They used the time to spin out discussion—

    No. The hon. Lady will be able to make her own speech.

    That is why I have no hesitation in supporting the guillotine motion. We shall make more sensible use of time than if we did not have the guillotine and sat all through the night listening to boring speeches from Labour Members who are simply trying to spin out time. That does the House no good. People outside the House and Conservative Members wholly understand why the Government have introduced the motion.

    4.23 pm

    I am glad to have this opportunity to speak in the debate. I have spoken on one or two guillotine motions before and I shall refer to them.

    The Leader of the House should have waited to listen to the debate. Whenever I moved a guillotine motion, I at least had the courtesy to listen to the debate. This is an important occasion, and he was at his lucid and most effective best—those were the words that he purloined from the Prime Minister—when he spoke to us. To run away immediately afterwards is grossly discourteous. It is not how the House of Commons should be run. He should be here to listen to the debate.

    I mean no disrespect to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), who is left on the burning boat and serves alone. He is probably better than his colleagues and if he had the chance to speak, it might be better all round. It is shocking for a Leader of the House to move a guillotine motion and to skedaddle off as though it were nothing to do with him. The Patronage Secretary moved the previous timetable motion because the Leader of the House was not present to move his own motion—he was off in Chile or somewhere. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's absence during that previous debate is all the more reason why he should have stayed today.

    The behaviour of the Patronage Secretary was bad as well. I have never in all my time as a Member seen a more raucous, demonstrative Patronage Secretary. I thought that he had been appointed to the Chief Whip's Office to bring a much-needed touch of elegance and courtesy. All his measures outside are matched when he comes into the Chamber. He sits next to the Leader of the House, shouts and interrupts everyone who wants to make a speech. He skedaddles off when he has the chance, leaving the hon. Member for Hallam, who is not allowed to reply, although I am sure that he is more capable of doing so than Ministers.

    This is a discourteous way of treating the House of Commons, especially if the Government want the motion to be treated seriously, as it should be. I agree with the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) that it is dangerous for the House of Commons as a whole if we become used to the idea that we just need a guillotine motion to get business through.

    If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that it is discourteous for my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House not to be here, does he think that it is also discourteous for the shadow Leader of the House not to he here?

    My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) made an effective speech from the House of Commons' point of view, and everyone who heard it knows that it was a good speech. He is here to listen to the debate. I should have thought that every Conservative Member would understand that for a Leader of the House to move a motion and then clear off without having heard any of the replies is a discourteous way to treat the House of Commons. When I was Leader of the House, I stayed pretty well throughout the debates, certainly on these matters, to listen to the view of the House of Commons.

    I underline the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin. It is foolish, even from the Government's point of view, not to listen to the House of Commons. The main purposes of a Leader of the House are not only to listen and move motions but to take messages from here to the Cabinet. Perhaps the breakdown in the Government's operations has occurred because that main task has not been performed. Cabinet does not learn what the House of Commons says, for example, in the early hours of the morning, when some of the most interesting developments take place—such as the debate a week or so ago that led to the other guillotine motion.

    If such events are not reported to No. 10 Downing street by the Leader of the House, it shows a great weakness in our government and injures Cabinet government. Whenever there is a fresh Government crisis, the Leader of the House says, "We shall go back to Cabinet government." He says that almost twice-weekly now, but he is one of the chief offenders. He should tell No. 10 Downing street and the Prime Minister around the Cabinet table each week what is happening here. He cannot do so if he is not here to see what happens. Even in the Government's own interests, it would be better for the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary to pay attention to the House of Commons for a change and learn some wisdom from this place.

    I was provoked into making those comments by the conduct of those on the Government Front Bench, but I now wish to start on a different note. I agree with the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that this is a serious matter for the House of Commons as a whole, although I disagree with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), who has great knowledge of the House. It is a serious matter if Governments of any complexion get into the habit of thinking, "We can always introduce a guillotine motion to deal with these matters. If we get into trouble, we need not worry too much, and we need not even think of it at the beginning of a Bill." Indeed, a proposal to that effect is sometimes put forward by the Select Committee on Procedure.

    That idea has always in the past been rejected by the House, and it should be rejected. I regret that the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), is not in his place because he could learn something by listening to this debate. It is important for all concerned to hear what the House of Commons as a whole has to say on issues such as this.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is attending a meeting upstairs.

    The hon. Gentleman may have a good cause for not being here, but he makes interruptions in debates such as this and has suggested that the House should conduct itself in this way. As I say, he might attend here on occasions such as this because people can learn by listening to what is said in the Chamber.

    The idea that we should have a cut and dried timetable for every Bill, with utter certainty about each measure going through in an allotted time, would do great injury to the House as a whole. After all, every Government, even the next Labour Government, would like such powers. We never sought such powers when we were in office. I accept that I introduced, and urged the House to introduce, guillotine motions on particular Bills. Indeed, we introduced five in a single day, as some people are kind enough to recall—[Interruption.]—but even then I said exactly what I am saying now, which is that it would be a great injury to the House of Commons to have cut and dried guillotine motions on all Bills. The Government would love to have such a power but, by the same reckoning, it would greatly injure the power of the House, including the power of Government Back Benchers.

    That that is true is borne out by the experience of the last few years, and Conservative Members will recall the debates that took place on what is now the Official Secrets Act 1989. A guillotine was introduced on that measure at a late stage—not to control speeches by my hon. Friends, but to gag Conservative Members.

    Is there anyone who does not think that that measure would have been better had the Government listened to what Back Benchers said, and had even gone to the extreme length of incorporating into the legislation some of the amendments tabled by their supporters? The Government would have done better from their point of view and from that of the legislation.

    I urge the Government—as I urge the new Government who will be coming into office; nobody knows exactly when, but it is within a measurable time—not to be tempted by the idea of saying, "Let us have a cut and dried procedure so that we can get every Bill through in exactly the way we want."

    If the Government take that attitude, they will, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin said, finish up with legislation with gross defects. No measure has ever been pushed through with grosser defects than the poll tax legislation. The Government could have saved themselves a great deal of trouble by listening to what hon. Members in all parts of the House said about that legislation.

    Had the Government not used the guillotine, they might even have had time to think up some of the brilliant ideas on the poll tax about which we have heard in the last week or two. Indeed, they might even have put those ideas to the House and got them approved. That is the purpose of debates in the House. I have found over a number of years that debates in Committee are some of the best. Those debates, be they late at night or early in the morning, are some of the most important of all.

    A prime example of the point I am making occurred only a week or so ago, when the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton voted against the Government, and I accept that he has had a creditable record on the type of issue that was then before the House. He did his best to persuade the Government to adopt his view. Although he did not quite succeed, anyone who listened to that debate—and I listened to most of it—could see that that is what the House of Commons is for.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) made his case very effectively, but it was the cross-play of argument with several Conservative Members that made the debate a most memorable one. In the end, the Government had to give way, but it was not only because of the vote. I claim that those who listened to the debate could come to only one conclusion: that something had to be done.

    If only the Government had been wise enough not to introduce the guillotine, the debates on the poll tax legislation could have been much better. The Government could have learnt something from the House of Commons and could have had second thoughts, but, far from learning from experience in the House of Commons, they rushed off to introduce the guillotine to deal with the situation.

    I do not want to elaborate a point that has been made quite clearly, but I have to say that, so far as I can judge—and I am an expert on the subject—that is why the present Government's use of the guillotine has been far more dangerous, extensive and elaborate than that of any Government since the introduction of the mechanism by the Liberal party before the first world war. Previous Governments took some care. They paused before introducing the guillotine. That is the purpose of debates such as the one that we are now having, but even this debate has been cut down—to some extent, in my opinion, wrongly.

    As things are going, it seems that the Government would like to make introduction of the guillotine a simple formality. The procedure is used so often that one might almost think that it was a formality already, that in every Bill there was a clause providing that, when the Committee stage or the Report stage has been reached, the guillotine will be brought in. The present Government have introduced more guillotines to curtail debate at this stage of Bills than any other Government in British history. By doing so, they have done injury to the House of Commons, but principally to themselves. The more this is done, the worse the government of the country becomes. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. and hon. Friends, when they are given the chance to run affairs, will resist any temptation to follow the present Government's example in this field—as in any other field. Indeed, I am sure that they will.

    The Leader of the House comes into the Chamber with a real hangdog look on his face. Time and again he appears looking as if he has just come from a meeting with the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). [Interruption.] I am glad to have from such high authority, confirmation that that is what the Leader of the House has been doing. That is his excuse. He will have to troop round the country to keep up with his right hon. Friend the Member for Henley.

    Let me give the Leader of the House some advice. If he wants to finish off his right hon. Friend, we shall help him. We too think that the right hon. Gentleman is not fit to be Prime Minister. When it comes to a comparison, there is not much choice—"small choice in rotten apples", as Shakespeare would have said. If the Leader of the House really wants to deal with the right hon. Member for Henley, he has only to ask him why he voted so eagerly for the application of the poll tax in Scotland when he knew that it was going to be so injurious to England. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has had the nerve to cross the Scottish border when he has been on his tours. He takes trips everywhere else. He should be invited to Scotland soon and asked to reply to that question.

    All these matters could be dealt with properly if only the Government learned that they should provide time in the House for arguments to take place properly. That is why I oppose the motion in good conscience. The Minister for Social Security, who is to reply to the debate, knows something about the Bill. I am sure that he will try to defend the Government's position. No doubt he is as good a person to defend it as anybody; certainly he will be much better than the Leader of the House or the Patronage Secretary, with whose eloquence we had to content ourselves on the last guillotine motion.

    It is better that the Minister should deal with the motion. He starts with a measure of good will. I am trying to dissipate some of it so that he does not have too easy a time. The Minister has a long record. I do not know who will be Leader of the House in the next Parliament, but I am sure that some hon. Members who are now on the Government side, and perhaps the Minister himself, will be on the Opposition Benches, remembering what I am saying today. They may reflect then on how wise I was.

    If only the Government would get the message, how much better it would be for the country. When the Minister replies to the debate, I ask him not to make the formal reply which he has been given by the Leader of the House but to express the view which he would get from this side of the House in this and future debates.

    4.41 pm

    It is always a pleasure to listen to the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), with his not infrequent strictures on the introduction of guillotine motions. One feels that one is listening to a maestro who had the opportunity, when he was in a similar position to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, of obtaining an entry in the "Guinness Book of Records" for the greatest number of guillotine motions introduced in one day. We are well aware of that and we shall continue to remind the House of it when Opposition Members complain that we are guillotining happily.

    Given that his Government have extended the guillotining process, does not the hon. Gentleman consider that there might be a danger that the next Government, whoever they may be, will extend the process further? Does not the hon. Gentleman worry about that?

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. It pre-empts what I intended to say in a few moments; perhaps I may come to it now.

    The main problem that we face in the House is that we have opposition for opposition's sake. It has been going on for many years. Opposition Members recounted that the Government introduced a guillotine on the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which introduced the community charge. If my memory serves me right, we debated that measure for 180 hours or longer. Try as we might, we could not obtain from the Opposition one element of their alternative policy. It was just mindless opposition for the sake of opposition. Not one shred of policy came from the Opposition. There is still not a shred of policy on their alternative to the community charge, although they have a vague idea of values about which they trumpet in by-elections, but no one knows what the values are. It is like saying, "If you do not like my principles, I have plenty more where they came from."

    Did my hon. Friend hear the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) on the radio the other morning? When he was asked by the interviewer if the Labour party had made up its mind on whether the future funding of local government would be by a property tax or a tax on each individual in the property, he said that that was one of the little points that Labour had not quite worked out.

    That is right, but we are not here to debate the community charge. I should welcome that opportunity because we might have the chance to flush out Opposition policy. My point is that after 180 hours of endless debate in Committee and on the Floor of the House we could not obtain one shred of policy from the Opposition.

    My hon. Friend and I had the honour of serving in Committee on that Bill. Does he recall that Labour policy has changed twice since the Committee stage? Such policy as we were able to get out of the Opposition changed immediately afterwards, and it has subsequently changed again. What conclusions does my hon. Friend draw from that?

    My hon. Friend invites me to draw conclusions. I note that the Labour party has introduced a flexible membership card, a credit card. It is like the party's policy—extremely flexible depending upon which by-election the party is contesting.

    I am not giving way. I must get on because other hon. Members want to speak.

    Not only did we have problems in flushing out any worthwhile opposition to the community charge and in obtaining concise, realistic debate, but we suffered the same experience on water privatisation. In my book that was an outstanding achievement for the Government. It has transformed the water and sewage industry and put it on a sound financial footing, which will deliver quality and efficiency to the consumer. Try as we might, all we got from the Opposition was mindless opposition with not a shred of alternative policy.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is a danger of the House being misled by the hon. Gentleman, although I am sure he has no intention of doing so. No doubt he would want to confirm to the House that he and the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) were members of the Standing Committee on the Local Government Finance Bill, yet in all the hours of debate to which he referred they never opened their mouths.

    Order. I should like to hear a little more about the Social Security Bill.

    I shall not travel along the path that I have been invited to follow, except to point out that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) obviously does not yet know the workings of the House. He does not realise that as Parliamentary Private Secretaries my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) and I were not by convention entitled to make a contribution in Committee. Of course, our views are well known to the Government.

    If we were to conclude the debate on the motion fairly abruptly, we should have about 14 more hours' debate on the Bill. That is a considerable amount of time. Not only will we continue until 1 o'clock tomorrow morning, but we will come back next Tuesday to complete consideration of the measure.

    The experience that we have obtained in the House over the past few years with the introduction of a 10-minute limit on speeches at certain times shows succinctly that contributions to the point can be made in a short time. Open-ended debate encourages excessive waffling and flannel, which is often all that we hear from the Opposition when they do not like a measure but have no realistic alternative to offer in its place.

    We owe it to the country to have clear, concise debate. There is an argument for having a timetable for Bills when they receive their Second Reading. We should debate that issue. Those of us who spend considerable time in Committee debating a measure come back to the House to hear the same points being debated all over again. Long hours are required to accommodate that debate. Timetabling a debate would not mean glossing over some points. On the contrary, it would concentrate the minds of hon. Members in an efficient debate on the matters at the core of the legislation. For that reason, I welcome the motion, so that we can get on with the real business, which is to improve social security benefits.

    4.48 pm

    I feel that it ought to be said from this side of the House, relative to the intervention of the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), that the reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is not here is that he is attending a funeral, that of my late hon. Friend the Member for Bootle, Allan Roberts, whose untimely passing is so widely mourned. I am sure that the hon. Member, with his customary decency, will now understand.

    If the guillotining of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill was a disgrace, the Government's action today plumbs new depths of infamy. Whereas the NHS Bill was debated in Committee for weeks of late night sittings, the Social Security Bill never disturbed Ministers' schedules beyond 1pm on but two days a week. That alone makes this a preposterous motion. It is one about which I feel very strongly and, unlike the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), I shall certainly oppose it.

    There has never been any suggestion of filibustering: nor did the Order Paper suggest that the Bill's remaining stages could not be completed in due time and without this motion. The only portent of filibustering has come from the Secretary of State himself, who, by yesterday, had tabled four new clauses, one new schedule and 65 amendments.

    Social security affects the lives of every family in this country and they expect their concerns to be fully debated on the Floor of this House. Our new clauses and amendments—and indeed those tabled by hon. Members on both sides of the House—reflect their concern. Yet with this motion the Government are treating not only Parliament with studied contempt but all of our constituents who will be the victims of the huge cuts in public spending under this Bill.

    Are Social Security Ministers so ashamed of their record that they wish to avoid debate? Do they not want to hear how people with AIDS are being forced to beg from charities for essential food and for items which the Department used to provide before 1986? Last year, charities provided £350,000 to people with AIDS, not for luxuries but for basic subsistence. Is not that both extremely cruel and deeply scandalous?

    Does the Secretary of State not want to defend in detail the laughable claims that private occupational sick pay schemes provide adequate earnings-related cover for long-term sickness? Is he afraid to have fully debated in the House how severely disabled young people have their severe disablement allowance withdrawn? Is he hiding from the vast evidence of the need for personal care and assistance revealed by the independent living fund? Does he want to avoid having to make a definitive statement about the independent living fund's current financial crisis, which, if it is not resolved soon, could lead to people with disabilities having to return to lives of dependence?

    The guillotine is calculated to prevent any meaningful debate on new clauses and amendments which are of the first importance to disabled people and which now have scant, if any, likelihood of being discussed. As the Secretary of State must know, many of these suggested changes to the Bill reflect the deep concern of the all-party disablement group.

    Does the Secretary of State want to avoid discussion of the comments flowing from all sides on that pitiful document "The Way Ahead"? Many of the organisations of and for disabled people say it should have been christened "The Way Backwards". Peter Large, of the Disablement Income Group—than whom no one is more qualified to comment—has described "The Way Ahead" as
    "Nothing but a narrowing stony ledge",
    and he says that ministerial
    "talk about a more coherent system of benefits is a sign of delirium."

    The Secretary of State may recognise new clause 18, since it is practically identical to the clause inserted into the Social Security Act 1973. When Labour came to office in March 1974 it was abundantly clear that the outgoing Tory Administration had given no thought at all to the requirements of that part of the Act. Yet in six months the then Labour Government had published its proposals for the mobility allowance, which now goes to 615,000 people; for the invalid care allowance; and for the noncontributory invalidity pension.

    I must congratulate Conservative Members on one thing. When they were in opposition there were no more enthusiastic proponents of increasing the social security budget. Indeed it became a standing joke in the Department that their next ten-minute rule Bill would seek to extend mobility allowance to pole-vaulters.

    The Secretary of State is backing this motion only because he is profoundly ashamed of the record of the Government in which he serves. The House should reject the motion with the contempt that it demonstrates for the countless needful people who will lose from the provisions in the Bill.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the light of the statement made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), I feel that my criticism of the shadow Leader of the House may well have been misplaced and in the circumstances I should like to withdraw it.

    4.55 pm

    The real reasons why we are debating a guillotine motion today are not those given by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), who opened the debate for the Opposition, but are given in the Morning Star and the Daily Mirror yesterday. On page 8, the Morning Star said:

    "Labour MPs plan a 23-hour all-night Commons sitting tomorrow",
    and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is quoted in the Daily Mirror as saying:
    "Labour MPs plan to force an all-night Commons session tomorrow".
    We know what all-night Commons sittings are about, and they are certainly not about debating Bills in detail. They are about filibustering and ensuring that time is wasted to prove some sort of parliamentary virility symbol.

    We want a proper debate on the important subject before the House. I recall that, during the debates two weeks ago on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill—I was a member of the Committee on that Bill —I sat in the Chamber at 3 o'clock in the morning listening to a speech by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr Michael) that went on for 32 minutes. The whole purpose of his amendment was merely to make local health district boundaries and community health council district boundaries the same as the local authority districts. It took him 32 minutes to say precisely that.

    Labour Members then went on for another two and a half hours, making the same points over and over again. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) made two speeches, one lasting one hour and 48 minutes and the other lasting more than an hour, on small points in the Bill. Having had that recent example, we are right to take heed of the public warnings in the national press that they intend to do the same with this Bill.

    We know the reasons why the Opposition made all that fuss two weeks ago about the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. In Committee, we had a reasoned debate and went through the Bill sensibly, but their union paymasters in the National Union of Public Employees and in the Confederation of Health Service Employees were unhappy about the reasoned and moderate debates on that Bill and were determined that there should be a fuss on the Floor of the House.

    Now the Opposition are seeking to do the same on this Bill. Having had a reasoned and sensible Committee stage, they want to create a rumpus on the Floor of the House, because that is where the television cameras are. That is why the Labour party is taking that attitude on Bill after Bill. We have reasoned debates in Committee; then there is a row and rumpus and synthetic indignation in the Chamber.

    I listened with great interest to the speech by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). When it comes to timetable motions, as my right hon. Friend the Member for—I am sorry I am promoting him before his time—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) said, the right hon. Gentleman is an expert. He takes the cake for guillotine motions. He never missed an opportunity to speak on them. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely consistent. When in opposition, he is always against guillotine motions, and when he is in government he is a firm supporter of them.

    The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who was Leader of the House, criticised my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House for not being here. I wonder whether we shall hear similar criticism of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), who is standing in for the shadow Leader of the House, for not being here to listen to the debate.

    My hon. Friend makes a good point. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    As we know, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent is the expert on these matters. No one has beaten his record for introducing five guillotine motions in one day, which he did on 20 July 1976—a date that will no doubt live for ever in the right hon. Gentleman's memory.

    The right hon. Gentleman has spent a lifetime proclaiming himself a great libertarian and constitutionalist and a great upholder of the rights of the House of Commons. We heard it all again today. We should be more prepared to listen to the right hon. Gentleman and believe what he said if we had not had experience of his record in office from 1974 to 1979. First, as Leader of the House, he introduced five guillotine motions in one day. Then, as Secretary of State for Employment, he moved motion after motion to enforce the closed shop and force people to join trade unions.

    When this great libertarian, who has spent his life telling us what a great constitutionalist he is, had the power to put his principles into practice, he did exactly the opposite. I shall bear that in mind when I listen to his lectures.

    I want to conclude by quoting from Hansard.

    As my hon. Friend says, the lesson for the day.

    My quotation is this;
    "We see a Labour Government as having a right and a duty to legislate against any attempts to frustrate us in the end from exercising our rights of legislation, whether in this House or in another place—and, of course, it is a particular illustration of the malice, folly and absurdity into which right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition side have got themselves that when we exercise those ancient rights it is cheating and when they exercise them it is freedom."—[Official Report, 20 July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 1543.]
    Those were the words of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent when he moved the five guillotine motions on 20 July 1976.

    As I said, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the right hon. Gentleman's Government were entitled to move those guillotine motions, the present Government are entitled to move the guillotine motion on the Social Security Bill to ensure that we can have a proper and rational debate on this important measure and that we do not face a filibuster—the macho-virility symbol of a weak and divided Opposition.

    5.2 pm

    For a weak and divided Opposition, we did not do badly in Mid-Staffordshire where the electorate decided on a swing of 21 per cent. in favour of Labour. The previous speech came from one of the most noxious Tories, although there are a number of candidates for the title so it is difficult to single out the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett).

    Both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) said that they would support the guillotine motion because of their experience of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. Anyone capable of an objective assessment could fairly claim that not only did we have a debate on important issues throughout the night on that Bill, but that a number of Labour Members were not called in the debate. We were anxious to talk about the balloting provisions for the opting-out process, and so on. So many of us were present that we could not all be called. In all, four Opposition Members were not called, not because there was a guillotine but because the House wanted to get on to another subject. It is simply not true to say that there was an organised filibuster.

    The National Health Service and Community Care Bill is of extreme concern because its effects will be so damaging. We therefore wanted to get our remarks on the record in Hansard to make it clear beyond peradventure that we oppose the damage that the Bill will do to the National Health Service and that we shall restore the National Health Service as a full public service after the next general election when we will be swept into office with a mandate to do that.

    The same is true of the Social Security Bill. It may be shorter than the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, but it is important. The Minister knows full well that his Department produces some of the most shoddy legislation with some of the most shoddy appendages of secondary legislation. It is responsible for the most errors and its legislation is subject to the greatest number of court cases. The Bill is shorter than the NHS Bill, but it still has 18 clauses, six schedules and 55 pages and includes in its provisions the repeal of nearly 100 sections of several other Acts. Perhaps we should help the Minister to avoid further court actions. One of the new proposals tabled by the Minister would reverse a court action that his Department sustained, which reversed the aim and effect of legislation previously passed by the House. It might not be a bad idea to spend some extra time on a matter which, by common consent of hon. Members on both sides of the House—it is a question of fact—is subject to the most challenges in court.

    The reason for that is that Social Security Bills affect most people in the country. This Bill will affect as many people as the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, if not more. Fortunately, some people go through life without ever having to be treated in a National Health Service hospital. Some go through life without even having to see their GP. But it is rare for people not to have to consider some aspect or other of social security, for themselves or for a relative. That is why the allocation of time motion is ill advised and ill judged.

    The guillotine motion will have two effects. In the ordinary course of debate, the House creates its own discipline. There is usually the sense that hon. Members want to move to a vote. People say, "Do not speak for too long because we want to vote at 10 o'clock." Everyone knows that that happens. In addition to removing that voluntary discipline, which requires no imposition by the Whips, the guillotine removes the initiative from the Opposition and places it with the Government. With a guillotine, the Government and their supporters know that they can talk for as long as they choose and rob the Opposition of the opportunity to advance their case. The longer they take, the less time the Opposition will have, and the guillotine will fall, irrespective of who takes up the time.

    In Committee, it is an entirely different matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) raised a point of order about the situation that obtained in the Committee on the last Local Government Finance Bill. We have heard expostulations from the hon. Member for Northfield to the effect that we have had plenty of discussion. We know that, in Committee, he kept quiet. The general instruction to Government supporters in Committee is to keep quiet and not to take up the time because the Government want to get their Bill through. That means that the initiative is with the Opposition, and that is right and proper.

    We are here to criticise and it is interesting to hear Tory Members say that Opposition Members are here simply for the sake of opposing. They say that they want an opposition in eastern Europe. They have not said that they want a tame opposition in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the other eastern European countries. They did not say of Romania that Ceausescu should have an opposition but only if they were a tame opposition who did not challenge Ceausescu's Government. But that is what they say they want here. They say that we are opposing for the sake of opposing. That is patently untrue. We seek to challenge the Government and we need time to do that.

    The trouble with guillotining is that it diminishes the opportunity for proper debate and robs the Opposition of their main job of scrutinising legislation. That has to be done because most Conservative Members are subservient and will not challenge their own party's legislation. They are frightened to do so after the Mid-Staffordshire by-election.

    Opposition for opposition's sake is not a good thing. Opposition against a background of proper policies is something else, but Labour does not have any policies. Will the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) say whether he is in favour of a timetable motion —yes or no?

    I am opposed to the timetable motion before the House and shall vote against it, and I have tabled amendments to try to make the motion more equitable.

    When a Labour Government introduced timetable motions, which have been well debated this afternoon, Lord Hailsham described that Government as an elective dictatorship. At the time, we did not have a majority, so we were never certain of getting anything through the House —let alone a guillotine motion. We had to convince the minority parties in debate that they should vote with us.

    What of the comments of Lord Hailsham and his cronies today? Given that the Government have an overall majority over Labour in this House of 150, and over other Opposition parties of 100, the timetable motion is a good example of an elective dictatorship imposing its will on this House and robbing the Opposition of an opportunity to oppose legislation—in just the same petty way that the Government introduced several statements yesterday, to try to rob us of the opportunity to present the victor in the Mid-Staffordshire by-election at a time convenient to most right hon. and hon. Members, and when my new hon. Friend would have been seen by millions taking her seat. The Government's tactic did not work but merely focused more attention on the newest Member of the House—showing again that the Government are losing their touch.

    Does the hon. Gentleman recall this quote:

    "A timetable motion is an exceedingly sensible addition to a Bill … The principle of a timetable motion is highly commendable as a general rule. It is not cutting down debate".—[Official Report, 20 July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 1728-29.]
    Those were the words of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) on 20 July 1976, when speaking to timetable motions on the Rent (Agriculture) Bill and Education Bill.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to my words on that occasion. I am all in favour of quoting from Hansard. Right hon. and hon. Members are on record for the very purpose of ensuring some accountability. The Government are trying to remove that accountability from the Opposition and to fill out the time available within a guillotine with speeches by Tory Members, thereby robbing Opposition Members of the right to place their views on the record.

    The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) does not have a good record for consistency. He spoke of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, on whose Committee I also served. The hon. Gentleman is on record as signing an early-day motion in support of enrolled nurses having a right to training, yet when I moved an amendment for that purpose he voted against because he thought that that would go unnoticed in Committee.

    My hon. Friend makes the valuable point that all the comments and views expressed by right hon. and hon. Members are open to scrutiny. I am certainly willing to stand by my own past comments.

    All right hon. and hon. Members would agree that there must be guillotines in some circumstances, because every Government must get their business through Parliament. However, today's debate centres on our desire to raise a series of questions on social security measures that have hurt people throughout Britain. I refer to the Government's failure to provide proper pensions, child benefit, treatment of the homeless, and so on.

    My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are willing to stay up through the night to debate those matters. We have made it clear that we are not trying to jeopardise tomorrow's business. The timetable motion is an attempt to prevent Opposition Members from raising those issues so that lazy Conservative Members can go to bed.

    My hon. Friend echoes my point that the Opposition have a serious purpose in mind in opposing the timetable motion. We are concerned that legislation leaving the House should be as clear and unambiguous and equitable as possible. If any Conservative Member wants evidence of my genuine concern, I remind the House that I spent hours, as Chair of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, ensuring that that was done. Statutory instruments of the Department of Social Security have often had to he reported to the House because of their ambiguity and unusual use of power. We make a just and valid claim when we say that our action is motivated by concern about the Government's attempts to compress, for example, Government new clauses 23 and 26 into one hour of debate, as they intend to do also with new clauses 1 to 6 and new clauses 7 and 8. My amendment would extend the final guillotine from 1 am to 2 am, which would give the House an opportunity to debate more thoroughly new clauses 7 and 8.

    New clause 7 is complicated, and relates to applicable amounts, and new clause 8 encapsulates a private Member's Bill dealing with Crown employees exposed to radiation. I refer to service men who ran that risk in the service of their country, and who are a body of people normally much admired by Conservative Members. My amendment would allow the House to debate and reach a decision on the provision of compensation for former Crown employees suffering from leukaemia; cancer of the thyroid, breast, pharynx, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine or pancreas; multiple myeloma; lymphomas except Hodgkin's disease; cancer of the bile ducts or gall bladder; or primary liver cancer, except if caused by cirrhosis or hepatitis B. Those diseases have been contracted by people as a result of their service to the Crown and exposure to radiation, and they now rightly seek compensation—such as that paid in the United States of America, where proper legislation already exists.

    The House should have an opportunity to debate new clause 8 extensively, but it is squashed into one hour together with new clause 7. What is the betting that the Tory Whips will organise Tory Members to vote against it?

    New clause 8 does not have the support only of Labour Members, which is why my amendments place particular emphasis on giving more time to debate that new clause in particular. Eight Tories, 11 Labour Members, two SDP Members, one Liberal, and one Scottish National party Member put their names to that new clause, so it has the support of a cross-section of the House. I hope that the Government will encourage their own Members to support new clause 8 in the Lobby, and so provide a little help to literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have suffered ill effects as a consequence of their service to this country. We shall see what happens.

    New clause 8 was tabled because a handful of Tory Members set out to sabotage the private Member's Bill on the same subject, which should have enjoyed a consensus of the House. Instead, there was filibustering on its Second Reading to prevent the Bill from progressing further.

    My second amendment would extend the time available for Third Reading by two hours, to 12 midnight. I am willing to remain here for that length of time, as are my right hon. and hon. Friends, because the legislation is important enough to justify doing so. The guillotine is trampling on the rights of Parliament and the good work of the Opposition, but it will avail the Government absolutely nothing, as the Mid-Staffordshire by-election amply demonstrated.

    Yes, formally.

    Amendment proposed: (a), in paragraph (i), leave out '1.00 am' and insert '2.00 am'.—{Mr. Cryer.]

    5.19 pm