Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:25 pm on 8th November 1989.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 4:25 pm, 8th November 1989

I am not in favour of timetabling Bills from the beginning. Apart from the other arguments, it would deny the Opposition of the day opportunities that they should have. Being a generous sort of person, I have in mind the Tory Opposition that we shall have after the next general election. I would imagine that when the Tories are in opposition, as they will be, they will not be in favour of the kind of reform advocated by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace).

It is often argued that the anger on the Opposition side over a guillotine motion is artificial and does not amount to anything. I assure the House that there was nothing artificial about our anger last night. It was genuine, because we believed that we were debating Lords amendments and our own amendments to an important Bill. No Tory Member could surely deny the importance of the substantive matters that were either being debated, or would have been debated had we been allowed to do so. Instead, at 11.30, the Government decided that enough was enough.

Nobody has seriously suggested that there was any filibustering. I spent 10 minutes speaking about ring fencing and related housing matters. I have looked at what my hon. Friends have said, and all their speeches were brief and relevant. What is interesting is that not one Tory Back Bencher considered it appropriate to speak, even on these matters of substance such as ring fencing and the way in which council tenants will be faced with even more substantial rent increases on top of those of the past few years.

We were dealing with the housing crisis and the plight of people who cannot afford a mortgage and so are denied adequate accommodation because over the past 10 years, local authorities in the main have not been able to build. Are these matters that can be considered minor or trivial? Are they not matters that should concern not only the Opposition but the House as a whole?

What I find surprising is a factor that came up again in Question Time today—the lack of seriousness with which Tory Members regard the homeless. [Interruption.] Some Tory Members are having a laugh, but what is funny about being homeless? What is amusing about the continuous vigil, taking place opposite Downing street, organised on behalf of the homeless by Shelter? What is amusing about so many of our fellow citizens having to spend time, often with children, in bed-and-breakfast hostels? Is it amusing that many will be spending Christmas in such accommodation? Should we dismiss that and say that it is of no great interest? What is the House of Commons for if it is not willing to debate such serious matters as the plight of our fellow citizens, whether that is caused by lack of housing or lack of employment? Many people are denied adequate housing because they cannot now, and are not ever likely to be able to, afford a mortgage. These are serious issues, and that is why we believe that it is necessary to debate the other aspects of the Bill on planning, grants, repairs of council dwellings and houses in multiple occupation. We could not debate these issues last night, and we shall not be able to debate them at any length or at all today because of the timetable motion.

To us, if not to Tory Members, these are matters of great interest. We are not hypocrites. If we say to our constituents, when we respond to letters and to those who come to our surgeries, that these matters concern us, we mean it. When we say it during an election, we mean it.

When we say that we shall raise certain issues if we are fortunate enough to be elected to the House of Commons, we mean it. If we did not mean it, there would be no reason and no justification for electing Labour party candidates to this place. We are genuine over these matters. Conservative Members may disagree with us as much as they like, but let them not deny our genuine commitment to housing, employment and other social and economic issues.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said from the Opposition Front Bench—I would not disagree with him for one moment—all Governments try to ensure that guillotine motions are carried. It would be kindergarten politics to pretend that when a Labour Government are in office they never try to carry guillotine motions. It would be wrong to say that a Labour Government would not try to do so in future. All Governments introduce and implement such motions, and they have done so for the past 100 years or so. I would not try to pretend otherwise. If I did, it would be easy enough to go to the Library and find the appropriate copies of Hansard.

We are arguing that guillotine motions should not be introduced in the way which the Government have adopted. The Government have an ample majority, but they should be more reluctant to act as they are acting. They should show respect for the Opposition's wish to discuss issues.

There is undoubtedly a difference, even if Conservative Members are not willing to concede it now, between a Government with a majority of five or even fewer be it Labour or Tory, and a Government with a majority of 100 or more. There is a feeling outside this place that this is a Government who have a strong authoritarian approach. It is considered that they are led by a Prime Minister who does not show much respect for democracy. Moreover, it is considered that the Prime Minister does not show much respect for her Cabinet colleagues. It is unfortunate that the Government are displaying those same attitudes when dealing with the House. They are riding roughshod over our rights and privileges.

I do not mess around with procedure, and last night was the first time that I used the "I spy strangers" device. I did so to ensure that the Government's supporters would remain in this place for another 15 minutes. I do not pretend otherwise. I had no wish that the motion should be carried. The Minister appears to be shocked. He should be shocked when he is confronted with genuine issues. I do not know what the Minister is muttering, but I make no apology for moving such a motion last night for the reasons I have stated.

I give a warning which follows the concern that I voiced last night to the Leader of the House. If a Government are to show such a dictatorial attitude to the House and show contempt for it, there are ways for Opposition Members —if not those on the Front Bench, certainly those on the Back Benches—to make life extremely difficult for the Government. We all know that Tory Back Benchers are eager to be home at 10 pm, 10.30 pm or midnight at the latest.