EDUCATION (No. 2) BILL (ALLOCATION OF TIME)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:31 pm on 2nd April 1980.

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Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West 9:31 pm, 2nd April 1980

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.