2. If at the expiration of the period mentioned in paragraph 1(1) above the proceedings 10 on Consideration of Lords Amendments have not been completed, then, for the purpose of bringing those proceedings to a conclusion—
We are faced with yet another timetable motion on the Education (No. 2) Bill. It would be unseemly, if not a dereliction of the Opposition's duty, if we did not refer to the need for a deliberate and thorough debate on the issues which have been raised yet again in the House of Lords amendments. Since the Bill started its journey in November, it has not gained any friends. Indeed, it has lost some of the friends that it had at the beginning.
We regard gleefully the decisions made in the other place. In order to abridge my comments later, I must say that although the House of Lords decision on clause 23 is welcome in the House and in rural areas by parents of children who attend denominational schools, one swallow does not make a summer. One welcome and progressive vote by the House of Lords does not make it a necessary part of our democracy. I hope that we shall not desert the substance of tonight's debate or abandon any proposals for the reform of the British constitution through the abolition of the House of Lords. That remains firmly on my agenda.
The Government hoped that the Bill would have received Royal Assent before today. The Bill had a hasty delivery. It was one of the earliest to be debated on Second Reading this Session after we returned from the Summer Recess. We had a thorough but insufficiently long Committee stage. Two days were spent on Report and the Bill went to the House of Lords. In spite of the claims of my noble Friends, they failed to gain extra time for debate. As a result, not because of delaying tactics by the Opposition but because of the Bill's substance and the requirement for thorough discussion, whole areas failed to receive the scrutiny which they deserve. That is regrettable.
Responsible parliamentarians are aware of the facts of life involved in having a Government with a substantial majority. We acknowledge that the Government have the power and the right to secure their business. That is the essence of Parliament and its hallowed traditions. The Government had an excuse for trying to press the Education (No. 2) Bill through Parliament provided that they were trying to enact a Bill to permit the operation of their major and destructive reduction in expenditure for local education authorities.
Throughout the time the Bill was in the House and the other place, we claimed that the Government's haste was not only unseemly but unnecessary, and, because it was unnecessary and deliberate, that it was a conscious attempt to prevent the House from giving the kind of attention to the complex parts of the Bill that was required and justified. "That is not so", said the Government. "We are simply undertaking the conduct of business in a way that will afford debate and consideration of the Bill."
Now we find in The Times Educational Supplement of last Friday that the Department of Education and Science has informed those who wished to ask that the implementation of important parts of this Bill cannot occur for another 18 months. We are also informed in that paper that
Although the Bill will become an Act after the beginning of the new financial year—the Government's original deadline—this will not matter in practice. Local authorities are not planning to use their new discretion to charge for school meals and milk until the beginning of next term anyway.
So, despite the deadline that was set originally which dictated the progress of the Bill through the House, together with the sittings motions that the Government members on the Committee voted for and the guillotine motion that we debated a month or so ago, we have a bland and calm announcement that all that haste was unnecessary because some further weeks must elapse before the implementation of some parts of the Bill and a year and a half can be expected to elapse before the implementation of another part of the Bill.
Therefore, there was no justification for the kind of rush that has characterised the passage of the Bill through the House, with the Government using their majority to secure their business. Indeed, only that rush can explain the extraordinary circumstance revealed in the latest edition of the Bill which eventually emerged from the House of Lords. It will be seen that, while the Government accepted the will of the other place—and, indeed, did not even bother to press clause 23 or clause 25—we find in the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill as printed the following proposition:
Relaxation of the present restrictions on the powers of local education authorities to charge for providing home to school transport (clauses 23 and 25) is expected to lead to a reduction in annual rate of net public expenditure for this purpose of at least £30 million in England and Wales and £2 million in Scotland.
I wonder whether the Government are taking their responsibilities seriously or whether, in their haste, they are prepared to commit that kind of inefficiency.
I will say little about the changes that have come about which directly affect the education system and the Bill since we last debated the matter on Report and Third Reading, because we are anxious to move on and give the maximum possible time to consideration of the Lord's amendments and the amendments tabled by the Opposition and members of the Liberal Party. However, since those previous debates, we have seen a new public expenditure White Paper proposing cuts of nearly £1,000 million over the next few years on education. That will have a major effect on the implementation of the Bill. We have also seen the leak of the findings of the National Children's Bureau which would have had a major effect in supplementing the information available to hon. Members, and those interested outside the House, had they been published during the passage of the Bill, especially as regards clause 17, which deals with the assisted places scheme.
The assisted places scheme is based on the assumption that the non-selective maintained school system is incapable of meeting the needs of children of above-average ability. That proposition has been shot to pieces, as we understand it, by the National Children's Bureau, and I should have thought that the Secretary of State would have taken it upon himself to make those details available to the general public during the course of the months of debate on the Bill.
Finally, tonight we shall deliberate further on the public expenditure White Paper. We shall talk about cuts and the effect of those cuts on the implementation of the Bill and the way in which, in an arbitrary and varied fashion, those cuts will directly affect those affected by the various clauses of the Bill.
However, as with the annual conferences of the teachers' unions, this debate has taken place before the most crucial decision in this educational year has been made apparent to the public. I refer to the findings of the Clegg Commission. In that sense, we are debating these matters in the same way in which they will be debated at teachers' conferences this weekend, and in the same way in which they have already been debated at teachers' conferences in recent weeks.
This is an open-ended discussion which is without conclusion. It is taking place without the fullest information and without the most crucial and determining figure being made available—the recommendations that will be made by Professor Clegg about teachers' pay and conditions of service.
I wonder at the Secretary of State not trying to expedite the publication of the Clegg Commission report, so that it can either be debated in this House or, more importantly, so that the information it contains is made available to the teachers' conferences which will take place this weekend.
We have considered the Bill. We should like to give it mote consideration. We shall try to make up for some of the deficiencies of time by discussing some of those matters this evening. I hope that we can proceed speedily to undertake that task.
I beg to move, as a manuscript amendment, in line 18, to leave out from "Question" to end and to add:
on each remaining Lords amendment, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
I shall explain the effect of the amendment in a moment. However, I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing us to discuss this matter, thus ensuring that this feature of the timetable motion gets proper consideration.
The House of Lords spent about a fortnight of long, and in some cases all-night, sittings on the Bill. It did a very good job, both in detail and on a major principle. This House and people in constituencies such as mine have every reason to be grateful to their Lordships for what they did. We are now discussing how much time we should spend discussing the work that they have done.
That ought not to take us very long. It is reasonable that a limited amount of time should be set aside for a timetable motion of this kind. However, tonight we are dealing with a timetable motion the like of which I have never seen before. From all the inquiries that I have made of the Officers of the House, it seems that they have never seen the like of it before either.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) has tabled another amendment relating to one of the points in the motion. I should like to refer to two other points, because I believe that these are disgraceful proceedings, which may be taken as a precedent on future occasions. In my opinion, this will do great harm to the House and to the way in which it discusses Bills.
My amendment is designed to deal with that problem. When the guillotine falls at the end of the four-hour period that has been allotted for discussion, what will we do with the amendments to which the Lords devoted so much time and attention in so many long sittings? The ones which are left, and which have not been debated, will be taken en bloc, and one motion will be put to deal with them.
According to the motion,
Mr. Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Amendments.
It is not beyond the bounds of human reasoning that there may be some amendments with which we agree and some with which we disagree. We are rather fortunate that the Lords have done an excellent job on the Bill. It is pretty hard to find anything with which to disagree, except in respect of Government amendments which have been inserted and which we think we can improve, indeed, attempts have been made to do precisely that.
It is ludicrous to put on the Order Paper a motion that prevents hon. Members from distinguishing between the amendments passed in another place. It is equally ludicrous to vote on them en bloc. That is an insult to the proceedings that have taken place in another place. Frankly, if the other place dealt with the Bill in the same way as we propose to do. I am sure that the House would have some strong criticisms to make. If the other place decided to take the whole Bill en bloc and had only one vote—irrespective of whether there were individual items with which it agreed or disagreed—those proceedings would be regarded by hon. Members as ludicrous. That is what we are proposing to do with the amendments that they have pressed. If we make a practice of this, we are entering dangerous territory.
My amendment enables us to single out the odd case where we may wish to take a different view of an amendment that we have not discussed. Why should the Government put hon. Members in a position of voting for a block of amendments, some of which they agree with and some of which they do not? That is a ludicrous way of proceeding, and we should not give the Government the opportunity to continue with it. I hope that my amendment will gain widespread support.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West beat me to it by putting an amendment on the Order Paper about an even more appalling feature of this timetable motion. I do not think that there is a precedent for this motion. If there is, perhaps the Government will tell us. In effect, they are saying that any time that we spend discussing the timetable motion will automatically be deducted from the time that we have left to discuss the amendments. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down".] Conservative Members are telling me to sit down. I thought they were elected to this place to defend parliamentary democracy and to ensure that we have an opportunity to discuss these matters properly. It seems reasonable that our Standing Orders should set aside a fixed and limited period to discuss the timetable motion, but that is not what we have here.
The hon. Member is totally wrong and totally misguided. By putting the motion in this way, we allow four hours from the moment that the debate on the timetable motion begins. Since the timetable motion itself is limited to one hour, that means that the House can have anything from three to four hours, depending on how long it chooses to spend on the timetable motion. Had I put the motion down the other way and merely allowed the timetable motion plus three hours, the hon. Member would not have had the advantage of possibly having longer on the debate on the amendments.
It is entirely within the Government's power to give more time to the debates on the amendments. They could put down a motion to give us as much time as we need. I do not know why they want a timetable on the discussion of the Lords amendments. Why are they worried? The Lords amendments are not so numerous that we could not discuss them in a reasonable time. Many of them are Government amendments. The truth is that the Government want to curtail the discussion on those amendments. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West was right to seize upon this point at an early stage.
The Government have got themselves into difficulties and have had to resort to a timetable motion, but their action is unnecessary. This is another illustration of their contemptuous attitude towards Parliament. Originally, they told the local authorities not to worry and that they would be able to charge for school transport for any number of children and at any level of charge, but in the course of the past few months they have run into difficulties and they have had to make concessions one by one.
First, there was the concession of a fixed rate of charge. Then there was the concession over the number of children —the charge could be made only for a limited number. Then the Government lost the clause altogether in another place, thus putting the few local authorities that were rash enough to go ahead into a position whereby the provisions that they had put in their budgets were no longer legally possible. The Government are still worried that they will leave the local authorities in the lurch in relation to some other aspect of the Bill. Therefore, they have had to compress the proceedings and rush through the Royal Assent tomorrow. They have even put a motion on the Order Paper to make sure that we sit around tomorrow waiting for Royal Assent. If there is any delay, we shall still be here at 7 pm tomorrow debating second, third and fourth Adjournments while the Lords discuss any amendments that we may make to their amendments. The Government are in a panic.
The Government have told local authorities "Do not worry, we can fix Parliament." The Secretary of State has told them that they need not wait to see whether the House of Commons or the House of Lords approves. They have told them that they have those bodies in the palms of their hands. The Government have said that they need only put the Bill before hon. Members for it to be carried. They have told local authorities to include those provisions in their budgets and that that will be all right. What has happened? They have lost. They have had to make concessions. Hon. Members from all parties object to the provisions. The Government have been defeated in another place on a massive scale.
Have the Government learnt the lesson that decisions are supposed to be made in Parliament? They have no right to tell local authorities not to worry about Parliament because they, the Government, are running the show. They have no right to tell them what to put in their budgets or to assure them that they will sort out any consequent problems. Both Houses of Parliament have effectively rejected that approach. Any local authority that has been taken in by the Government has had its fingers badly burnt.
The timetable motion is another illustration of the Government's desire to push Parliament aside and to run government by ministerial dictation from Whitehall. That is not the way that we are supposed to run the country. That is not the way to invite local authorities to play a part in the government of Britain. I ask hon. Members to stand up for the principles of parliamentary democracy.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has done the House a good turn because he has pointed to one of the flaws in the motion. I hope that Conservative Members will feel free—as they are not losing anything, and as no one will vote separately on the amendment—to accept the amendment. They have nothing to lose.
The Government know that it is not a matter of the Education (No. 2) Bill. If they insist on resisting the amendment, the House will draw only one conclusion, namely, that this motion has been brought in not to meet the needs of the Bill but to set a precedent for some of the other guillotines that the Government know they will have to bring in on Lords amendments to other Bills. They wish to prevent the House of Commons from voting separately on particular Lords amendments. I am sorry to be so suspicious. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State wishes to intervene. He seems to be on one haunch.
My amendment contains a completely new point. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's amendment is new. However, I spent a large part of the years 1974–76, when I was in Opposition, successfully persuading the Labour Government to change the form of guillotine motions. In those days guillotine motions also wiped out Ten-Minute Bills. Indeed, we would have had no Ten-Minute Bill today if we had followed the old system of guillotine motions.
I am deeply suspicious of our business managers. They are always trying to slip through new forms and shapes of guillotine motions. They seek to prevent the House from undertaking the detailed scrutiny of legislation that should be employed. It is well to remember that at one time guillotine motions were introduced very sparingly. In the old days we spent a whole day discussing a guillotine motion. That discussion could be curtailed was a serious consideration.
The Government have put down a guillotine motion completely unnecessarily. There is nothing controversial in the Lords amendments. The Government are also putting down a form of block voting that is completely unnecessary. The official Opposition, a splinter group from the official Opposition or Conservative Back Benchers would not dream of voting against the amendments, save perhaps for the mad mullahs who would like to restore school transport charges. I can only conclude that the motion is to set a precedent for the Housing, Employment and other Bills. Beyond that, paragraph 1(1) in the motion is wholly unprecedented.
I understood what the right hon. and learned Gentleman was trying to say when he intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed—that it is an attempt to meet the convenience of the whole House, and have a flexible guillotine period that might run to the full hour allowed in the motion of 29 January or might be taken on the nod. The business managers on both sides would like to get the vote on the guillotine over and send everyone home.
I have sufficient experience of the House to be suspicious. Perhaps on this occasion it is for the convenience of the House to have a concertina clause as the first clause of the guillotine motion. In the past it has been clear. We had a guiltine clause motion that exactly specified the length of the debate on allocation of time and then an exact specification of the time allocated to the remaining business. That is the proper way to do it. If we slip away from that approach, we shall have lost the chance to exert our rights in debating the guillotine motion and the remaining business to be guillotimed, because a precedent will have been set. It will have formed a footnote in "Erskine May". Before we know where we are, our rights will have been washed away.
I support the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed in this at least. The Government have got themselves into this muddle for one reason and one reason only. They have foolishly promised to legislate on a massive chunk of education policy in half a Session. Governments have never tried to do that before.
The Government made local authorities a range of promises quite outside their power. As a result, many local authorities, particularly those that planned to charge for school transport, find that their estimates and expenditure plans are in chaos. It was promised that they would be allowed to charge for school transport, and they so planned the remainder of their education budget. They now have to change every single heading to find the extra money.
The Government are at fault in two ways. I hope that they have learnt the lesson of rushing legislation. They are in a muddle because of the 4 April deadline, and they are willing to use every parliamentary device, fair or unfair, to rush the legislation through in time.
I may be wrong in my suspicions, but I doubt it. I believe that the Government have concocted, in order to form a precedent, a wholly new form of allocation of time motion that has no relevance to the amendments before us. I shall warmly support the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed if he decides to press his amendment. If the Government have any sense, they will accept it.
I shall reply briefly to the points raised. The Government have made it clear that it is their desire to pass the Bill before parliament rises for the Easter Recess. I make no confession or apology about that. We made that clear from the out- set because of the clauses that allow for savings of money on school meals.
It is the desire and the wish of the Government that the Bill should receive Royal Assent tomorrow. Although there is little controversy in any of the Lords amendments, it was to safeguard that position that we felt it right to table the timetable motion.
I shall take up the two points made on the amendment and deal with the second point first. As far as I know, the timetable motion, which allows not for a specific time for debate but that the debate should end four hours from the moment that the timetable motion is moved, is a new measure. It was an attempt to meet what we thought would be helpful to the House.
Under the previous timetable motion passed by the House, the time allowed for the debate on the motion was one hour. Therefore, I could have merely moved a motion allowing for three hours' debate on the amendments, assuming that one hour would be taken on the timetable motion. That would give a total of four hours, which is usually accepted as a half-day debate. If the motion was passed in less than an hour, there would still have been a limited three hours for debate, By tabling this motion—should it be taken either on the nod or after a short debate—there would be a longer period, if the House wished it, to debate the Lords amendments.
It was in no way a deception. We intended to give a measure of flexibility by tabling the motion in this manner. We considered the substance of the Lords amendments. The Government will invite the House to agree with all of them. Many of them are of a drafting nature. That will leave ample time for debate.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that he has never before seen anything like the motion. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) said that he had been a trustee safeguard of the interest of the Back Benchers when be was on this side of the House between 1974 and 1978. There is a precedent for the paragraph in this timetable motion which provides that at the end of four hours' debate any outstanding Lords amendments shall be put at once. During the period of the previous Labour Administration, every time table motion contained such a provision.
If the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was watching interestedly, as he says he was, and the hon. Member for Lewisham, West was being a doughty safeguarder of the Back Benchers, I am bound to tell them that they failed to take the point that such a paragraph has been used on every occasion over the last few years. Therefore, I am following a perfectly proper precedent.
The Minister is right in one respect but wrong in another. He overlooked entirely that I moved a number of amendments to Bills in the previous Parliament, including the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, specifically designed to enable votes to be taken on amendments selected by Mr. Speaker and which were to be taken in
|Division No. 250]||AYES||[9.45 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Parris, Matthew|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Gummer, John Selwyn||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Haselhurst, Alan||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)||Hawksley, Warren||Pawsey, James|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Heddle, John||Percival, Sir Ian|
|Bendall, Vivian||Hill, James||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Best, Keith||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Hurd, Hon Douglas||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Body, Richard||Jessel, Toby||Robinson, Peter (Belfast East)|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman|
|Bowden, Andrew||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Boyson, Or Rhodes||King, Rt Hon Tom||Silvester, Fred|
|Bright, Graham||Latham, Michael||Speed, Keith|
|Brinton, Tim||Lawrence, Ivan||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Lawson, Nigel||Steen, Anthony|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)||Lee, John||Stevens, Martin|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Le Marchant, Spencer||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Buck, Antony||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Tebbit, Norman|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Luce, Richard||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Lyell, Nicholas||Thompson, Donald|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)||Macfarlane, Neil||Thorne, Nell (Ilford South)|
|Chapman, Sydney||MacGregor, John||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Major, John||Trippier, David|
|Colvin, Michael||Marlow, Tony||Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)|
|Cope, John||Mather, Carol||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Costain, A. P.||Maude, Rt Hon Angus||Waddington, David|
|Crouch, David||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Moate, Roger||Waller, Gary|
|Dover, Denshore||Murphy, Christopher||Watson, John|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Myles, David||Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage]|
|Dykes, Hugh||Neale, Gerrard||Wheeler, John|
|Eyre, Reginald||Needham, Richard||Wickenden, Keith|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Nelson, Anthony||Wolfson, Mark|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Normanton, Tom|
|Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)||Onslow, Cranley||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gow, Ian||Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham||Mr. Robert Boscawen and|
|Greenway, Harry||Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)||Mr. Tony Newton.|
|Alton, David||Campbell-Savours, Dale||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest||Canavan, Dennis||Cowans, Harry|
|Beith, A. J.||Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Cryer, Bob|
|Dalyell, Tam||Home Robertson, John||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)|
|Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||Howells, Geraint||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||John, Brynmor||Prescott, John|
|Dewar, Donald||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Price, Christopher (Lewisham West|
|Dormand, Jack||Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)||Richardson, Jo|
|Douglas, Dick||Kinnock, Nell||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McCartney, Hugh||Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Soley, Clive|
|Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Spearing, Nigel|
|English, Michael||McNally, Thomas||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)|
|Ewing, Harry||McWilliam, John||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Field, Frank||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Fitt, Gerard||Maynard, Miss Joan||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Flannery, Martin||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Welsh, Michael|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Foster, Derek||Molyneaux, James||Winnick, David|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Morton, George||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Hardy, Peter||Park, George|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Parry, Robert||Mr. Ted Graham and Mr. James Tinn.|
|Haynes, Frank||Penhaligon, David|
2. If at the expiration of the period mentioned in paragraph 1(1) above the proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments have not been completed, then, for the purpose of bringing those proceedings to a conclusion—