Sittings of the House (Wednesday 17 April)

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 8:27 pm on 16th April 2013.

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Votes in this debate

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons 8:27 pm, 16th April 2013

I beg to move,

That, on Wednesday 17 April:

(1) the House shall meet at 2.30 pm and the moment of interruption shall be at 10.00 pm;

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 21 (Time for taking questions), no questions shall be taken other than questions which are in the Speaker’s opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business;

(3) the sitting in Westminster Hall shall begin at 2.30 pm and continue for up to four and a half hours; and

(4) in calculating the period of four and a half hours in paragraph (3) no account shall be taken of any period during which the sitting in Westminster Hall may be suspended owing to a division being called in the House or in a committee of the whole House.

The motion before the House proposes two principal changes to the business of the House tomorrow. The first part of the motion provides for the House to sit at 2.30 pm, with the moment of interruption at 10 pm. This is instead of the usual starting time of 11.30 am with the moment of interruption at 7 pm.

It is not without precedent for the House to change its sitting times to deal with specific, and tragic, circumstances. Indeed, right hon. and hon. Members may remember that the House was rightly recalled to pay tributes to the Her Majesty the Queen Mother following her death in 2002, but then also delayed returning from recess to accommodate the funeral arrangements.

The change in sitting times will allow Members from across the House who wish to pay their respects at the funeral of Baroness Thatcher to do so. The effect of an objection to this motion would be to deny colleagues, friends and others who wish to pay their respects that opportunity. There can be no justification for this. This is a debate about the sitting hours for tomorrow, and it should not be abused by those seeking now to debate the legacy of Baroness Thatcher. There was an opportunity to do that in the debate last Wednesday, and I remind the House that 77 right hon. and hon. Members contributed to that debate.

I thank Her Majesty’s official Opposition for the way in which they have worked across the House to provide proper respect for the longest serving Prime Minister of the last century. The Leader of the Opposition, the acting shadow Deputy Leader of the House and other Labour Members paid generous tributes in that debate, not necessarily endorsing or agreeing with the policies of Baroness Thatcher but, I thought, very generously paying proper respect. In like spirit, the proposal to change the sitting hours tomorrow, and to defer questions on that day until next week, has been taken after consultation with Her Majesty’s official Opposition, and I am grateful for the approach that they have taken.

The second effect of the motion is to suspend the operation of the oral questions rota for the day. This, too, is being done following consultation with, and the agreement of, the official Opposition. Should the motion be approved by the House, the consequence for Members is that the ballots that have already taken place will be rolled over until next week, and the Table Office has helpfully contacted affected Members to explain this to them.

It is quite proper, in the circumstances, for the House to defer questions by one week. The Prime Minister takes his responsibilities to this House very seriously, as evidenced by the extent to which he not only responds to questions but makes statements to the House. I am sure that the vast majority of the House will understand what is being proposed and why. It is simply a matter of decency and respect that, in returning from the funeral service and receptions tomorrow, Members should not immediately enter into the character of business customary at Wednesday’s questions.

As a consequence of the House agreeing to meet at 2.30 pm, paragraphs (3) and (4) of the motion provide for Westminster Hall also to meet at 2.30 pm, which is an obvious and common-sense addition to the first two parts of the motion.

I do not intend to detain the House any further. This is a simple motion, confined to the times of the House’s sittings tomorrow, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 8:31 pm, 16th April 2013

It is a pleasure to follow the Leader of the House, who knows that, many times over the past year, we have expressed the view that the Prime Minister seeks to dodge Prime Minister’s questions. We do not yet know when Prorogation will take place, but that may be another occasion when we will not sit on a Wednesday. Could the Leader of the House tell us when Prorogation will be? I pointed out recently that, following the Budget and given when we adjourned for the recess, four weeks will have passed between the Budget being delivered and the Prime Minister dealing with its aftermath in this House. I have argued consistently that the way this House’s business is arranged rather excludes Wednesdays and the accountability that Prime Minister’s questions brings to bear.

I do not believe, however, that the reasons for changing tomorrow’s sitting hours mean that we can accuse the Prime Minister of dodging Prime Minister’s questions. A former Prime Minister who led this country for 11 years has, sadly, passed away and I think it is right that the business of this House should pause and the din of the Chamber should quieten, so that hon. and right hon. Members, many of whom were personal friends of hers, are able to attend her funeral and reflect upon it subsequently without having to come back to what is often the bear pit of adversarial politics in this country.

That does not mean that I agree with a single policy that that distinguished Prime Minister brought to this House or the country, and it would be wrong of me to say that I did, but that does not preclude me from having the appropriate amount of respect for her memory, funeral and loved ones. The official Opposition absolutely understand why tomorrow must be different in these very special circumstances. That will not preclude me from checking how many Wednesdays are included in the parliamentary calendar in future, but we absolutely understand why this particular Wednesday cannot be a normal one.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats 8:34 pm, 16th April 2013

On behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I support fully the sentiments expressed by the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House.

Whatever our views about Baroness Thatcher and her policies, it is entirely appropriate that tomorrow the nation does not have Parliament sitting at the same time as an important national funeral. It would also be entirely inappropriate to have a funeral in the morning and for Parliament to come back immediately into a confrontation at the highest level, not least as it would involve the Prime Minister, who follows Baroness Thatcher as leader of the Conservative party.

I would have thought it was in tune with the wishes of every democrat that we will sit tomorrow. Indeed, there is no proposal that we do not sit. Parliament will go on and will do contentious business, as is entirely appropriate, in considering the Finance Bill. I deduce from what the Leader of the House said that there will be Prime Minister’s questions next week and that the people who won the ballot for this week will ask their questions. I hope that that will happen next week as planned.

There will be other times to discuss the other arrangements for tomorrow and the Thatcher legacy, but it is right that we pause in the morning for those who want to pay their respects and continue our business without massive confrontation at 2.30 tomorrow.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West 8:35 pm, 16th April 2013

I have never heard such tosh.

This House of Commons continued its adversarial, bear-pit, unarmed political combat throughout the darkest days of the second world war. Mr Churchill did not ask for Parliament to be silenced and for confrontations across the House to be forbidden when our soldiers were being laid waste. In the Norway debate, the House of Commons rose perhaps to its finest 20th century moment. Nobody said, “Our armed forces have suffered a disaster. The House of Commons cannot meet. The clash of ideas cannot be heard. We must muffle the drums and silence ourselves.” At Dunkirk, the House clashed without pause. Real war leaders like Mr Churchill understood that the whole point of our being here, the whole point of democracy, the whole point of elections is that we do not suspend normal political activity.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

Happily; I have a lot to say and I may take some time to say it.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has missed the rather important point that between 1939 and 1945, general elections were suspended, so democracy was suspended during the war and his history is faulty.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

Actually, there were many by-elections, some of which produced spectacular results—as spectacular as the one in Bradford West just over a year ago.

In any case, is anyone suggesting that Aneurin Bevan did not stand from these Benches and lacerate real war leaders about their conduct of the war? Jacob Rees-Mogg is a scholar and a gentleman. He knows well the words that came from Mr Amery on his side at the darkest hour in the Norway debate, which brought about the defenestration of the Prime Minister and the coming to office of Mr Churchill, about whom more, much more, later. We did not suspend our democracy in our darkest hours; why are we suspending it now?

It was said by one of those in the iron-clad consensus on the Front Benches that this is a national funeral. I am sorry, but it is not a national funeral. There can be a national funeral only when there is a national consensus about the person being buried. That consensus does not exist in relation to Mrs Thatcher. No matter how oft people from the Front Benches fawn upon her, pour honeyed words upon her or even—outside this House, of course—tell lies about her and her record, that will not change. The British establishment, and the Opposition parties in particular, are making a profound misjudgment if they imagine that there are not tens of millions of people in the country, all of whom have votes, who are very angry about a whole range of issues that have arisen. With your permission, Mr Speaker, I hope to adumbrate some of those issues in relation to the motion this evening.

If I were to speak shortly, it would be with that great New York phrase, “Enough already.” We have had enough of this; it has gone on too long and gone too far, and this—the idea that we should suspend a vital part of our democratic process for a party-political, and private, funeral—puts the tin hat on it.

Do not get me wrong. I will not be demonstrating at the funeral tomorrow; I believe it is wrong to demonstrate at someone’s funeral, but I will not agree to suspend our democracy so that some of the friends of the deceased do not have to make a choice between attending Prime Minister’s question time or going to the funeral. That choice is up to them to make, and it is of course clear that they could do both, although they would—tender sensibilities though they may have—have to come into the bear pit immediately on their return to the House. But that is what they are here for; that is what they were elected to be here for.

Harold Wilson, who won four general elections and did not receive a scintilla of the treatment that the British establishment has rolled out for the deceased on this occasion, said that a week was a long time in politics. This week has been a very long time. We were told at the beginning of the week that it was disrespectful to speak of someone so recently dead. I was told on the BBC yesterday that I should hold my peace until Thursday. How much national mourning, without consensus and without justification, are we supposed to observe?

You know, Mr Speaker, how much personal respect I have for you, so I hope you will accept that I mean nothing personal by this point. However, the decision to muffle Big Ben, just after the BBC muffled “Ding Dong!”, summed the whole thing up. It has become farcical. There is no national consensus around the deceased, and there was no justification for muffling Big Ben because that puts the deceased on a par with Mr Churchill—a very divisive politician. My grandparents helped overturn his car after the count in Dundee in the 1930s when he was thrown out of Parliament in the city.

Photo of Jim McGovern Jim McGovern Labour, Dundee West

I wish to correct the hon. Gentleman. Winston Churchill, then a Liberal MP, was ejected from Dundee in 1922. He served from 1908 to 1922.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

It is a very important qualification. He was—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. May I say, as I do not wish the hon. Gentleman to be led away from the path of virtue, that the point may be of interest to scholars but it is at best tangential to the sittings of the House motion?

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

As would have been what I was going to say about Neddy Scrymgeour, the great temperance MP who was Mr Churchill’s partner in the two-Member constituency at that time. How we could do with some temperance, some prohibition in the House today, at least as far as Eric Joyce is concerned.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I know the hon. Gentleman is developing his argument, but I ask whether he would be good enough to withdraw the reference to an hon. Member who is not present, and to continue with his main speech.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

I happily withdraw the remark. It was unworthy, but I have some history with the hon. Gentleman. I hope you, Mr Speaker, and the House will forgive me for that unworthy detour down Dundee way.

My point is that Mr Churchill was a deeply divisive figure. He was a man who changed sides, ratted and re-ratted; a man who was in Parliament, out of it and back again; and a man whose conduct of public affairs was very controversial and divisive. However, by the time he died, only a tiny percentage of the population were churlish enough to imagine that such a man should not be given the full 21-gun treatment and the full gun carriage treatment.

Virtually everybody in this country knows that, were it not for Mr Churchill, this Parliament would either not exist or it would speak in German. I argue that the very existence of the country was saved by Mr Churchill. That makes him worthy of a national funeral. That is what made him—whatever one’s point of view of his domestic politics—deserving of the muffling of the chimes of Big Ben, and deserving of the lowering of the cranes on the Thames.

No such consensus exists—you must know this, Mr Speaker—about the deceased in this case. Vast tracts of this land—the north, Scotland, the midlands and south Wales, and other industrial areas of this country, which were reduced to distressed areas in Mrs Thatcher’s term of office—have never forgiven her, but they are being asked to pay for this funeral. In fact, they are not being asked; they are being told that they must pay for it.

The deceased was a great proponent of private enterprise and a great enemy of public expenditure and the role of the state, which she wished to shrink. You were once a devotee of those things, Mr Speaker, but age has brought wisdom, as it has in some respects to all of us. Is that not an irony? As Ken Loach, the great film director, put it, surely we should have put the funeral out to tender to the private sector, and invited companies to sponsor it. Surely that is what Mrs Thatcher would have wanted at a time when our pensioners are shivering to death in a long winter that has stretched into the spring. At a time when we are virtually nationally bankrupt, is it right that the public should be told—not asked, but told—that they must pay for a party political funeral? I believe not.

The public have not been consulted on any of this. If my postbag has any relation to anyone else’s, it must be obvious that a lot of people are very unhappy. The public had one chance, to which I alluded a moment ago. They could download “Ding-Dong!”, the song from “The Wizard of Oz”, as they did in very large numbers, but the state broadcaster, which has led the fawning, censored the music that the public chose with their money in private economic decisions—Mrs Thatcher was a big fan of those.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I was awaiting the conclusion of the hon. Gentleman’s sentence, but I struggle to see how what he has just said relates to the terms of the sittings of the House motion, to which I know it was his intention, and is now his intention, immediately to return.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

Indeed, Sir. Of course, the backdrop cannot be separated from the motion. Many watching on the Parliament channel will know what the backdrop is—[Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but that is because they are not used to being watched on the Parliament channel.

Perhaps that is just as well—[Interruption.] They cannot silence me. Some Members are not for turning, and I am one of them. Better men than they have tried to do so. [An Hon. Member: “You are hardly ever here.”] But when I am here, people listen, unlike some—[Interruption.] Well, I have had a lot of tweets about the speeches that preceded this one, and they are not at all complimentary.

The backdrop to this motion is clear, and it has been one thing after another. As Mr Macmillan said, it is not one damn thing, it is one damn thing after another. It is the state mourning that was effectively declared by the state broadcaster. It is the decision that the Government made—it is speculated that your office, Mr Speaker, was not wild about the idea—to recall Parliament at vast public expense. Members of Parliament were offered up to £3,700 to fly back from their holidays to attend what was, in effect, a state eulogy for a party political figure, and then to fly back at public expense to their holidays. I hope that IPSA will release the details of who claimed and what they claimed. That was a grotesque and totally unnecessary decision. Monday was the day on which Parliament returned, and Monday was the day on which people could have paid tribute and made the points that they wished to make. That was the second problem. The state mourning was the first, and the unnecessary and fantastically expensive recall of Parliament was the second.

The muffling of the chimes of Big Ben was the third, the banning of “Ding-Dong!” was the fourth and now we have this motion. The shadow Leader of the House, politely as is her wont, made the point that there is every belief in this House that this Prime Minister likes to avoid Prime Minister’s questions. If he avoids it tomorrow, he will have avoided it for four consecutive weeks—

[

Interruption.

]

I am at every Prime Minister’s questions—

[

Interruption.

]

I again caution hon. Gentlemen—as I must call them—on the Government Benches: people are listening to this debate, and this Thatcherite chorus, cackling like hyenas, would do better to show a touch of sensitivity to the fact that millions of people in this country hate Margaret Thatcher and those who followed her.

If the Prime Minister dodges Prime Minister’s questions tomorrow, he will have dodged them for four consecutive weeks. As Mr Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics. Four weeks is a long time to miss Prime Minister’s questions, the only mass audience—

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

I would much prefer to give way to the hon. Gentleman than for him to cackle and wobble his ample girth from a sedentary position.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you rule whether such turns of phrase are parliamentary?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

The short answer is that what has just been said was distasteful, but was not disorderly. It does not seem to have evoked any great display of misery on the part of Alec Shelbrooke, but I know that when the hon. Member for Bradford West rises to speak again, he will do so with the degree of calm and measurement of his words for which I know, in future years, he will want to be renowned.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

There was I under the impression that George Galloway was a great orator. In the context of his last comments, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to congratulate this Prime Minister on ensuring that Parliament is not absent for four months, and on bringing the House back in September for those two sessions of Prime Minister’s questions that, until recently, did not happen.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

That is actually the best point the hon. Gentleman has made all evening. It just goes to show that points made from one’s feet are usually better than points made from a sedentary—indeed, relaxed—position. It is a fair point that Parliament does not retire for the summer for as long as it did in our long period together, Mr Speaker, in the House of Commons. But facts are chiels that winna ding, as we say in Scotland. Every Wednesday, the Prime Minister should stand at the Dispatch Box and face the music for everything that has happened in the previous week. For four weeks it will have been the case that the Prime Minister has not done so. At a time when the British economy is in desperate trouble, the Prime Minister has not been able to be questioned about it. At a time when a Budget has come and gone, which has been near universally regarded—

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

Welcomed? My goodness. I do not know where it was welcomed—certainly not by the financial commentators; certainly not by the markets; certainly not by the public; certainly not by the opinion polls—but the Prime Minister has not been able to be questioned about it. The Prime Minister has not been able to be questioned about anything for four weeks, neither domestic nor international. Our country is involved in very many serious matters overseas—you will be very happy that I do not seek to dilate upon them, Mr Speaker—and the Prime Minister has not been able to be questioned about them.

I just feel, and I think that the attendance here this evening indicates, that there are many who feel, whether they are in the official Opposition or not, that this has all gone too far. An attempt at canonisation of a person around whom there is—I see that Mr Speaker is frowning. I speak as a religious man. I am not against canonisation where it is justified, but there has to be a consensus before one can be canonised, and no such canonisation is possible—[Interruption.]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. There is an insistent noise from the Back Benches, which I think is rather unseemly. Members cannot both cavil at what is being said and make a raucous noise themselves. I simply say to the hon. Member for Bradford West that I was not frowning at him; I was listening attentively to him.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

Thank you, sir.

The point is that beatification and canonisation is something that can happen only when there is a consensus. There is no such consensus about the former Prime Minister, yet people are acting, the state is acting. The state broadcaster and now the parliamentary authorities are asking us to accept things that are too close to royal. Mrs Thatcher famously had a slightly fraught relationship with the palace, and I can understand why. Mrs Thatcher might to many Government Members have been great, but she was not great to up to 60% of the electorate when she was alive, and, according to the polls, more than 50% of the people now being polled are against her—strongly against her and feel that she did bad things here and abroad. It brings into discredit this kind of funeral, this kind of state occasion, if it is awarded when many people in the country feel it is unjustified, and feel that it is being rammed down their throats for partisan and ideological reasons, for which they are being asked to pay.

Through you, Mr Speaker, I caution the establishment of which I suspect you are not fully regarded as a member, though you ought to be, because your office is one of the great offices in the land. I say to the establishment, through you, Mr Speaker, that it has gone too far. There has been too much of this. It is too expensive, too elaborate, too regal, and many people in the country are unhappy about it. And to compound it all by effectively cancelling a vital part of British political life would be to add insult to the injury already suffered.

My last point—[Hon. Members: “Hurray!”] Gentlemen—[Hon. Members: “And ladies!”]—and ladies, although the misbehaviour is coming exclusively from gentlemen, as I think they are called, on the Government Benches, my point is this. This funeral did not have to be organised so that it would clash with Prime Minister’s Question Time. It could have been held today or on Thursday. The state was vitally involved in the organisation of this funeral—we know that, because we are paying for it—and it was the state that organised the clash with Prime Minister’s Question Time, so why should the

House of Commons be asked to accept the abrogation of its proper role tomorrow, given that the Government are responsible for the clash?

It is too late now to change the time of the funeral, but it is not too late for the House to refuse to abandon its responsibilities at Prime Minister’s questions. If the House divides on this at the end of the evening, as I hope it will, I hope that a decent number of Members of Parliament will reflect the feelings, if not of their own constituents, then of the tens of millions of constituents of many of us on the Opposition Benches—and of some Government Members too—who feel that the adoration of the Maggie has gone far enough.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover 9:02 pm, 16th April 2013

It is almost like history repeating itself. In the mid ’70s, I came down on the train and my Whip told me that there would be a few tributes to Anthony Eden and that then the House would finish for the day. I thought, “Surely, that’s not fair. We’re actually packing up because Anthony Eden, who was living in the Caribbean, has died. So the tributes will be paid and then the House will finish for the rest of the day.” I had an argument with the Labour Whip, and then I went in for the tributes. I had not been here very long and I am not so sure I thought at the time it would be a good idea for me to say anything, because, as sure as night followed day, a lot of people were going to pay these tributes to Anthony Eden, who some of them had never even seen. So it is not as if this has not happened before.

I had been a miner for 20-odd years, I said that when I worked down the pit and somebody died, four people took him out on a trolley along the rails, and they were allowed to go home and the rest of the pit continued to work, because people like us had managed to secure a tiny agreement with the National Coal Board to get £250 for the miner’s widow. On that basis, the rest of us went to work. What I am trying to convey is that the people who concern me now are the people out there having to suffer austerity, the benefit cuts and the increasing costs of their own funeral. They are just like the people who concerned me back in the days of 1975—the miners I had left behind in order to speak for them in Parliament. I remember all the Tories walking out the moment I made that kind of criticism. I suppose it is an indication of the split Tory party that some of them are staying today, because they have not followed their leader. Indeed, the leader has not ordered them out.

Let’s not kid ourselves. We hear talk about the thing that we sometimes suggest has gone away: class. That’s what it is: it is about class. It’s about the fact that people out there have to live their lives in a different way and that there is one rule for those at the top and another for those at the bottom. It has never changed—I wish it had, but it hasn’t.

I heard about the chain of events—because that is what it was: it seemed to grow like Topsy. First of all there was going to be some sort of ceremonial funeral. The next thing we hear—I have to say it to you, Mr Speaker—is you telling us that the chimes of Big Ben are going to stop. Then we hear that we are going to abandon Prime Minister’s Question Time. What’s it all about? That is why the people out there are angry—a lot of them. I am not suggesting for a minute that there is a majority—I never have—but I do believe that this Government are out of touch with the people out there on a big scale, and this in the same week when benefits were cut again. We should of course have Prime Minister’s Question Time.

P

Sir Anthony Eden did not pull this Country up by its boots. Lady Thatcher took over a failed Country from your Marxist Labour Party and despite the Communist backed Unions managed to put life back into this Country. She deserves recognition. Especially as we are in a similar situation now to that which made her Great! I also note your 20 odd years as a Miner. Here in Shirebrook most people refer to your career in the Mines as 'the odd year' you were a Miner.

Submitted by Paul Rutherford

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

I’ve got question No. 13.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

The hon. Gentleman may have No. 13, but in the absence of that list I have got about 15 questions in my pocket to ask. Of course we should have Prime Minister’s Question Time. The people out there would want us to put the case about how they manage to make ends meet. We are talking about the people who commit suicide because they are up to their necks in debt and they have got so many callers knocking on their door—first it’s Wonga and then it’s God knows how many others. That is what is happening in our society among the working class.

I do not think there is any doubt, whatever we think, that Mrs Thatcher was a divisive character. I am too, but I am not Prime Minister. I know that there is the desire within a lot of us to fight at the edges and take extra-parliamentary action and all the rest of it—and what’s wrong with that?—but let us not give the impression that Margaret Thatcher was different or that she was cool with everybody. She had an agenda the moment she got in—she actually got in on my birthday.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

I just want to make the point that Baroness Thatcher is lying just yards from us in her final night in this Palace. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that just on this night, when she is only yards away, in the name of nothing other than good taste, it might be as well that we called this to an end?

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

I am just making a statement about the fact that during the course of Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary time, especially when she was Prime Minister, she was divisive, first, in the sense that she got rid of all the wets so that she could set about her agenda. There is no question at all about that—I know that has nothing to do with Question Time being abandoned, Mr Speaker.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

I do not need any lectures from Tories about what they did to Mrs Thatcher, because I remember that night and the following day, when she stood at that Dispatch Box. She had not had a night’s sleep and she was making her final speech in Parliament. Why was she making the final speech in Parliament? It was not because the Labour MPs had put a knife in her back. There is no question about that: a succession of Tory MPs had gone to her in the night and said, “I don’t think you should run again for the second ballot.” That is the truth of it. So, whatever I am saying here today does not compare with the fact that a woman who had won three elections in a row then suffered the indignity of being kicked out like a dog in the night by her own Members of Parliament. That is the truth of it, and whatever I say today is minimal compared with that.

Yes, I would like to have Question Time tomorrow, of course, and I have a few questions prepared. Perhaps I should ask the Leader of the House my questions; he might answer them when he winds up. One of them is undoubtedly about getting rid of the bedroom tax. I also want to tell the Prime Minister that it would not be a bad idea to do something about agency workers. There is all this talk about immigration, but the real problem in our society is the fact that a majority of the foreign people who come to this country are now being dictated to by agencies, and it is time we got rid of them. They are undercutting the indigenous workers. I worked with Poles in 1948, down the pit. Why were there no rows? Why did nobody get worked up about the displaced persons—the Poles and the Ukrainians? Because they were in the union with us, and they were paid the same wages. And there wasn’t an agency in sight. So that is another question that we could have put tomorrow.

We could also have put a question about doing something, now that the country is skint, like we did in 1945—

P

If the New Labour Party had been honest with the Working Classes, who voted them into power; they would not have encouraged all these EU citizens to move here and take British jobs. We would not need all these Agencies then, and less British people would be drawing Welfare Benefits. In your own Constituency we have a prime example of EU citizens taking British jobs through these Agencies. Your Party did this deed for Political gain and now that deed has turned on the people you are supposed to represent.

Submitted by Paul Rutherford

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

It was caused by that great economic tsunami that swept across the world—[Interruption.] And why did it sweep across the world? Because in 1989, in one of her last acts, Mrs Thatcher talked about the brave casino economy, the big bang in the City and deregulation. That was the moment it began. We never knew when it would turn into a recession, but we knew that somehow or other, that society of instant gratification would cause a recession at some time. That is how it all began.

It was just like that with the share-owning democracy. We could have discussed that tomorrow. Mrs Thatcher, that non-divisive character, sold off all the public utilities. She said, “We’ll sell off all the public utilities—gas, electricity and all the rest—and everybody will have shares. You can buy them off Sid and you’ll be able to be part of that great British share-owning democracy.” What happened to that? What happened to the share-owning democracy? EDF is now owned by French electricity; E.ON is owned by Germans; Scottish Power is owned by Spain’s Iberdrola; and npower is owned by the German company RWE. Anglian Water has gone to Canada, and Thames Water is owned by the Germans—

P

Gordon Brown declared there would be no more 'Boom & Bust' ever again. It therefore follows that there should not have been a recession expected. Why did you not share your thoughts with him at the time. Perhaps New Labour was too far right for you, and you wanted it to fail.

Submitted by Paul Rutherford

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely in order, and it is relevant to the motion if he refers to matters that he would raise if there were a question session. In other words, he can raise the questions, but it is not in order for him also to provide the answers.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

So who owns Orange and T-mobile? Have a guess. France and Germany! Who owns Cellnet and O2? Spain! Who owns Arriva buses? The German Deutsche Bank!

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s diatribe, and to his list of privatised utilities. May I suggest that he gets a new researcher? EDF stands for Électricité de France and it has been French for as long as it has existed. Please will he get a new researcher, to put him out of his misery as well as ours?

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

Yes, the hon. Gentleman has made his own case. Gatwick is owned by South Korea; Cadbury’s is owned by the United States; the M6 toll is owned by Australia’s Macquarie bank—on and on it goes. We could, then, talk about bringing the public utilities back into public ownership.

The whole concept of Thatcher was to divide and rule. She was also the one who said that “There is no such thing as society”—

P

At last an idea of merit. Yes! Bring back all the Utilities to State control, these are the essentials of modern living. If a profit is to be made from Utilities it should be re-invested in the Utility and not into the pockets of rich Politicians and their backers. Perhaps the Unions...

Submitted by Paul Rutherford Continue reading

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

Yes, I know the hon. Gentleman likes it. That is why he is a thorn in the side of the leader of the Tory party now. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is falling out with him.

What I am saying is that it is important to remember that the people out there know where Thatcher stood. They have not forgotten it. I am talking about those communities where shipbuilding was destroyed in the early ’80s and where the steel industry at Corby and various other places was smashed when Thatcher brought in MacGregor, then brought him back, paying a £1.5 million transfer fee to Lazard’s bank for him to shut, it were said, about 20 or 30 pits. What happened in practice? We had 150 pits at the end of 1985 pit strike, and by the time Thatcher went, there were only 30 left. That is why people out there are angry, and why they demand of us—at least a few of us—to speak the truth on their behalf. That is why I am all in favour of Question Time because I have a list of questions I would like to ask the Prime Minister every single week.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the chance to talk about this issue. It is not about personalities; it is all about class. We must never forget that. We should remember where we come from. I remember my own family—with nine kids, who did not have two ha’pennies to rub together—and that is still embedded in my soul. That is why I speak as I do. I do not want to change; I never will. That will not get my hands on the Dispatch Box, but that is not a luxury that it has ever bothered me to get. It is important to remember that these words of mine do not come out of my mouth because of envy or greed, but because I believe that we have to look after those people who do not have two ha’pennies to rub together. That should be what motivates us every day of the week, including at Prime Minister’s Question Time. When the Labour party understands that as we do here today, it will be better for it. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

P

It would appear Dennis, that you have forgotten that the Communist controlled Unions, and Marxist Politicians, of this time, had a hand in pricing our Industries out of the Market Place by preventing modernisation and demanding high wage increases. The Germans managed to get through those years almost unscathed and are still the power house of Europe. Perhaps their Unions and Politicians were afraid of Mother Russia; it was already on their doorstep; whilst our Unions and some Politicians were ready to hand us over. Lady Margaret Thatcher may not have been perfect, but she certainly saved our Democracy.

Submitted by Paul Rutherford

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 9:17 pm, 16th April 2013

It is a daunting prospect to follow two speeches that do great credit to this Chamber. I look forward to the next election when the voters in many lucky constituencies will have the chance of putting right the major defect in this House. We are elected here to represent how the country looks: at the moment there are more women here, but not enough of them; there are more ethnic minorities here, but not enough of them—and there is a terrible shortage of octogenarians. The people of Bolsover and Newport West will have a chance to correct that in future.

My point will be brief, but it is one of great importance. It is not just the pantomime of Prime Minister’s questions that will be absent tomorrow; also absent will be the valuable recent tradition of announcing the names of the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am afraid that the Government have form on that. On two occasions, the announcement was changed from Prime Minister’s Question Time—the moment of the week of maximum attendance by Members and maximum attention by the press and public—once to a Monday and once to a Tuesday. It was only because of an outcry by Back Benchers that it was restored to its proper place.

There are other indications that the Government wish not to publish the names of the fallen, by which I mean the practice of reading out the names—it has been done—of the 179 fallen in Iraq and of the fallen in Afghanistan. It is now part of our orders in the House that that is not permitted. Why? Lance Corporal Jamie Webb died on 26 March, and was repatriated to this country on 4 April. Did anyone see any publicity about that? Did anyone realise that the event had taken place?

I went down to Brize Norton to inspect the facilities for the repatriation of our fallen soldiers. I was grateful to the Prime Minister for writing to me after last Wednesday’s debate in the House, because Brize Norton is in his constituency. Those facilities were very sensitively conceived, and one can think of hardly any improvement that could be made. There is provision for counselling, and rooms have been allocated for the coffins to be laid out with the appropriate religious regalia. Also—this is very touching—because many of the fallen were the fathers, or perhaps in some cases the mothers, of young children, a room has been fitted out with Peppa Pig toys for the children who turn up.

However, I believe that, sadly, an attempt has been made to hide the event at Brize Norton. A special entrance has been constructed so that the main entrance, and the attention that it might receive, can be avoided. When the procession went through the attractive town of Wootton Bassett, it was a touching sight. Passers-by would stop and bow their heads in respect and reverence. Now, however, rather than going through the main town, the procession skirts the local village and goes on to the main road, where no one can show respect.

I think it a great shame that there was no prime ministerial announcement of the death of Lance Corporal Webb. That meant that the country could not pay tribute to the 441st of our soldiers to die in Afghanistan. We hear today that we went into Helmand province in 2006 in order to reduce the growth of drug activity there. At that time only two soldiers had died in combat. Now 441 have died, and the growth of drug activity is at record level. I think it absolutely right for us to meet and to bring that part of Prime Minister’s Question Time back into being.

I congratulate my hon. Friends on their speeches. I agree with much of what they said. It would have been possible for the funeral to take place on a different day, and for Prime Minister’s Question Time to take place here. It is a great shame that although there was a minor announcement of that recent death, we have not paid that soldier the full respect that he so richly deserves.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons 9:22 pm, 16th April 2013

I am sure that Paul Flynn was present for Defence questions yesterday, and heard the Minister of State,

Ministry of Defence, my right hon. Friend Mr Francois, pay tribute to the recently fallen.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, Ms Eagle, for what she said earlier. It put me in mind of a caller to “Any Answers” on Radio 4 on Saturday, who said that, in his view, it was not a matter of whether one supported or opposed what Margaret Thatcher had done, but a matter of understanding what was proper, decent and respectful in relation to someone who had clearly been of immense importance to the country. Indeed, the hon. Member for Newport West said in the debate last Wednesday that history would judge her to have been a great Prime Minister.

The hon. Lady asked about the date of prorogation. When she is able to tell me that we have completed all the business whose completion is required in the current Session, I shall be able to tell her the date of prorogation, but I cannot do so until then.

No one would accuse Mr Skinner of having changed, but what did change was this country under Margaret Thatcher. Moreover, at each of the elections in 1979, 1983 and 1987 she was returned with an increased vote from the people of the country. That was another change.

George Galloway asked the House to search for a consensus. I am not sure that anyone has ever established a consensus with the hon. Gentleman. However, in the midst of a litany of false analogies and irrelevancies, he did say one relevant thing. He said “That is what we are here for: to be here.” I have to say to the hon. Gentleman and the House that since his election on 30 March last year, he has been here for just 13% of the votes.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons

No, I am responding to the debate.

Let me just say this: it seems to me that, to coin a phrase, the hon. Gentleman broke his own bat before coming to the crease.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

I am grateful to the Leader of the House. He would not want to mislead the House or the public on that point. First, I was elected on 29 March, and the House of Commons has been on holiday 50% of the time since then. I am in the House of Commons every day; I just do not want to vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat?

There are two issues here. First, it was not clear to me, but it has since been signalled to me, that the Leader of the House has concluded his speech; I thought he was giving way to the hon. Gentleman. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman should not accuse someone of misleading the House, which I thought I heard him suggest.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bradford West

Mr Speaker, I said he “would not want to” mislead the House.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that correction. There is no argument.

The debate has been concluded by the Leader of the House. Those who wished to speak were called to do so. I do not think anybody would say I have been other than fair in facilitating a proper debate, and I listened respectfully to all the speeches, as I always do.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 245, Noes 13.

Division number 210 Business of the House — Sittings of the House (Wednesday 17 April)

Aye: 245 MPs

No: 13 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered,

That, on Wednesday 17 April:

(1) the House shall meet at 2.30 pm and the moment of interruption shall be at 10.00 pm;

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 21 (Time for taking questions), no questions shall be taken other than questions which are in the Speaker’s opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business;

(3) the sitting in Westminster Hall shall begin at 2.30 pm and continue for up to four and a half hours; and

(4) in calculating the period of four and a half hours in paragraph (3) no account shall be taken of any period during which the sitting in Westminster Hall may be suspended owing to a division being called in the House or in a committee of the whole House.