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Column 579hankie at the window and the dock gates will not be shut." Employers capitulated immediately, because they knew that the port would collapse.
I accept that Aberdeen has benefited from North sea oil and changing industrial conditions. The dock labour scheme has done nothing to hold back Aberdeen's development as a port. Investment in, and industrial relations at, the port have been very good, so the Minister cannot use that as a reason for this precipitate action or the guillotine.
No reason has been given for the lack of discussion between the Government, unions and employers. It is not as though there has not been sufficient time for those discussions to take place. When I was the Labour party's shadow transport spokesman, I had extensive discussions with trade unions and the National Association of Port Employers. We held long and detailed discussions about the way forward. The National Association of Port Employers always said that it was willing to negotiate and discuss matters, but again no explanation has been given for its change of mind. It was seized of the need for moderation and understood that change would occur only through discussion with unions. I warned it--and I warn it now--that if change were required and desirable, it would come about only if a proper package were put before unions and employers.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : Surely the point that the hon. Gentleman is making--I appreciate that he is making it in good faith and for the highest reasons--is undermined by the fact that Mr. John Connolly, who is convenor of the docks section of the Transport and General Workers Union, made it abundantly clear that there was no negotiation on the dock labour scheme and that it was outside consideration altogether.
Mr. Hughes : The hon. Gentleman displays his complete ignorance of industrial relations. Any initiative had to be taken by port employers ; no package had been put before the unions. If employers had been asked, "Will you be prepared to negotiate at the end of the dock labour scheme?" they would not have said, "Yes, we will negotiate," without any idea of what was in mind. What utter nonsense. I do not know what business the hon. Gentleman is in, but if he signed a contract on the understanding that its conditions would be changed later and its details thrashed out, he would be bankrupt before very long.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett rose --
I told the National Association of Port Employers that it would have to be prepared to accept a national negotiation scheme. It said, "Yes, we understand that." I said, "You must realise that the national pension scheme will have to be maintained." It said, "Yes, we understand that." On Second Reading, the Secretary of State said that nothing in the Bill would change the pension scheme, but that does not appear to be what employers think. They are saying, "These things will have to be discussed later." In every privatisation of a public company, be it railways, buses or airports, the Government have always frozen the existing pension scheme and said that new pension
Column 580arrangements must be negotiated with the new company. Under the Bill, there will be individual discussions port by port. I warn employers that workers will not wear that.
I warned the National Association of Port Employers that the national training scheme would have to be maintained. It said, "Yes, of course ; that is what we want to happen." Part of the employers' case--I am surprised that Conservative Members have put the employers' case so badly-- has been that the national dock labour scheme made it difficult to recruit and train new employees. That is nonsense, but it is what they said. If we take the Government at face value, it is clear that they have reneged again on this issue, because the White Paper makes it clear that these matters are best dealt with port by port.
The national medical scheme for dockers, which is one of the best of its kind in any industry, is to be broken up and decided port by port. I told the National Association of Port Employers that there would have to be some sort of national contract and some security of employment. After 10 years of Tory government, we know that no one in industry has security of employment in the sense that we should like, but there must be some security, guarantee or promise that there will be no return to casual labour. Employers have said, "We shall not return to casual labour," but the truth is that they are doing so. Port employers have said that they want a core labour force to meet the minimum throughput of a port. They want to take on additional labour as and when it is required. If that is not casual labour, I do not know what is. They must stop using language that is completely different from reality.
The Bill will scrap all the negotiations and agreements that have been built up over many years, which is why it must be properly discussed. It is unprecedented, because I do not know of any Bill that says that, in the interests of haste, a public body will be directed to sell its assets at below market value simply to get things through. That is astonishing and would be fraudulent in ordinary business--it is certainly fraudulent in thought.
The Government are not concerned about industrial relations. I do not know what will happen about the dockers' ballot, and it is not a matter in which I should intervene. I am a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and I should resent it if my colleagues advised me how to deal with industrial relations. Therefore, I shall not presume to advise the Transport and General Workers Union on a matter with which it must deal.
Whatever the outcome, the Secretary of State must be in no doubt that relationships in the ports industry will be soured for many years to come. There will be a running sore, port by port, as employers scramble to drive down conditions as hard as they possibly can. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but I must confess a sense of disappointment and bitterness, to put it mildly, that the National Association of Port Employers allowed itself to be carried by hysteria whipped up by Conservative Back Benchers, or, to be more suspicious, connived in the whipping up of that hysteria. I am deeply disappointed that the many hours of negotiations I had with it, in which I accepted what was said in good faith, have been set aside, either because it was unwilling to stand up to the Government or for some other reason. People will draw their own conclusions. I am proud that the voters of the Vale of Glamorgan took the decision they did. It marks a turning point in history. The witch's spell has been broken and the 10 years'
Column 581celebratory events which were supposed to happen last week turned out not to be a celebration. People's minds have been concentrated on events. They are beginning to understand that the Government, who have had an unprecedented opportunity, with their large majority and the large North sea oil revenues, to make this country one of the best industrially--
The Government have destroyed every opportunity and ordinary people's belief in Government. The time will soon come when they will rue the day.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Debates on timetable motions have become a ritual in recent years. It is interesting to look back at the history of timetable motions to see how debates were prolonged in the 19th century and how Governments then tackled the problem of Opposition Members speaking for the sake of speaking without wishing legislation to progress. The record for speaking in the House is held by Henry Brougham who, on 7 February 1828, spoke for six hours on law reform. In more recent times, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) have both spoken at great length. In the past week, we have had an example of a three-hour speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), following in the footsteps of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who spoke for three hours earlier this year.
Long speeches in the House, although rare, are not unknown and in Committee, the records are even longer. The record is held by the Gas Bill in 1948, when the debate lasted for 49 hours non-stop from 10.30 am 11 May 1948 to 12.8 pm on 12 May. A fairly recent example was the former hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Mr. Golding, who spoke for more than 11 hours on the British Telecommunications Bill in 1982.
The Government of 1887 brought in a guillotine, because they became frustrated by the fact that legislation on Irish matters was continually held up. The record for a sitting of the House was on an Irish matter in 1881, when the House sat for 41 hours continuously on the Protection of Personal Property (Ireland) Bill. Although we have not had so long a sitting recently, I recall that in the past year, we sat for about 29 hours on a private Bill and lost the following day's business.
Debates on timetable motions tend to be rather ritualistic.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : Just to get the record correct, the longest speech recently was made by our hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) in the debate on fluoridation. His speech was longer than that of Mr. Golding.
Mr. Bennett : I do not think that my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Our hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton spoke for about four hours, whereas Mr. Golding spoke for 11 hours in Committee. Our hon. and learned Friend did not speak for as long as that in the Chamber.
Mr. McLoughlin : My hon. Friend is going through history and saying that long speeches are rare occurrences. Does he intend to do a repeat performance--if so, he should perhaps warn the House first--or is he merely saying that such events happened in the past?
Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend is being a bit unfair. He spoke for 19 minutes, whereas I have been speaking for only three minutes. I was merely giving a little historical background to the debate, which would not come amiss.
It was interesting to listen to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) who, as always, managed to get the facts wrong, when he used them, and to get the arguments wrong, when he put any forward. He told us that the Government wanted a timetable motion today because a tube strike was due to take place, so the public would tie the two events together and rush to vote Conservative in the European elections on 15 June. He told us that the Government wanted a dock strike. He did not tell us how that could be the case, given that a national dock strike would damage the economy and would lead to imports being held up, only to flood in later. Our export potential would also be damaged.
Mr. Bennett : Any employer who employs dockers or who uses the ports would be foolish if he did not take account of the words of the Transport and General Workers Union and of the fact that the ballot is taking place now. That is merely to be far-sighted. It does not mean that the Government wish to have a dock strike ; it is the Opposition who want a dock strike. The Government have nothing to gain from a strike because it would have long-term adverse effects on our export potential.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras went on to talk about by- elections and, as usual, got his facts wrong. He said that the result in the Vale of Glamorgan last week was the best swing to the Labour party in more than 50 years, going back to the Liverpool, Toxteth by-election in 1935. The hon. Gentleman, who is not in the Chamber now, has a short memory. If we look at the results in the past 20 years, at the Hayes and Harlington by-election in 1971, there was a 16.5 per cent. swing to Labour. In Southend, East in 1980, there was a 12.9 per cent. swing. In Brecon and Radnor, there was a 15 per cent. swing and Labour nearly won the seat, narrowly coming second to the Liberals. Only three years ago in Fulham, there was a swing of 10.9 per cent. It is not unexpected for a Government to do badly in mid-term by-elections and we know, as do the victors of Fulham and Ryedale by-elections in 1986, that winning a by-election is no long-term predictor of the next general election. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras could not get right a simple matter such as that.
Mr. Hind : My hon. Friend will remember that, between 1976 and 1979, under the last Labour Government, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who was Leader of the House, introduced many guillotine motions. It is interesting to note that during that period, there were some spectacular Labour party losses, with
Column 583massive swings against them, especially in mining constituencies in the midlands, such as Ashfield, which was won by our hon. Friend the present Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith).
Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend is right. When the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) was Leader of the House, he guillotined five Bills in a day. The Wales Bill and the Scotland Bill had guillotines introduced immediately after Second Reading. We need take no lessons from the right hon. Gentleman when he speaks to the House about liberty and freedom, because his record of introducing guillotines in one day is unmatched by any other hon. Member.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. There are several hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is short. I appeal for brief speeches and, even more, for hon. Members to keep to the subject on the Order Paper.
Those of us who serve on the Standing Committee on the Bill will have been pleased to hear our right hon. Friend the Leader of the House describe some of the agonies we suffered in Committee. We had to listen to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) speak for two hours, with 10 interruptions. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), who is not in the Chamber, was interrupted no fewer than nine times in just five minutes and was warned by the Chairman for tedious repetition.
As has been recalled by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), the hon. Member for Great Grimsby said : "the only power available to the Opposition is that of argument and delay."
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West challenged him by saying that he had let the cat out of the bag. The hon. Gentleman said :
"This Committee is rather like an educationally sub-normal class on constitutional law. The Opposition's only effective weapon is delay, which has to expand to counter the brutality of the Government's unacceptable tactics." --[ Official Report, Standing Committee A, 2 May 1989 ; c. 216.]
We do not complain about the hon. Member for Great Grimsby speaking at great length. To have an audience of more than 10 after his second job, to which he has "bobbed off", to use a dockers' term, must be a great pleasure for him.
Opposition Members have asked why we need the Bill. I refer them to an editorial in The Times of 22 January 1988 about the
"Dark ages in the Docks".
It said :
"Some flavour of the rule book under which registered dockers work is provided by the injunction that dockwork shall exclude the loading of carts by horse drivers in the ports of Penzance, Hayle, Portreath, Porthleven and Newlyn' and references to work connected with sailing barges and other self -propelled vessels' in the port of Medway."
The leader in The Times concluded :
Column 584"A Government which believes that adaptability and hard work are the best guarantee of prosperity and employment should have the courage to allow working practices in the docks to be brought into the 1980s."
"On so many major issues of economic and industrial policy where the Tories have made really radical proposals over the past decade, Labour has managed to appear to be caught on the hop. A good example is the docks. When did Labour last offer a creative thought about the docks industry that made any impact at all?"
In case Tribune is too Left-wing for the hon. Member for Garston, I refer him to a pamphlet issued by the Labour party--admittedly in 1966. The report of Labour's port transport study group said : "The scheme has failed to bring full decasualisation any closer The evidence we have heard has been unanimous in questioning the value of the NDLB."
That was in 1966, so the Labour party recognised 23 years ago that there were things wrong with the scheme.
Mr. McLoughlin : Does not my hon. Friend find it strange that although that document was produced 23 years ago, and although Labour Governments have been in power since, we still do not know what the Labour party would put in place of the national dock labour scheme? Does my hon. Friend agree that, given 23 years and now a policy review, even the Labour party ought to be able to reach some sort of conclusion?
Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend has a good point. We await the outcome of the policy review discussions that are taking place today and tomorrow. It is interesting to note that an exit poll in Vale of Glamorgan last week showed that only eight of the 250 people interviewed voted Labour because of the credibility of Labour policies. I suggest that, after the review documents have been analysed and debated, no one will vote for the Labour party on the basis of its policies.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) asked why the Bill had been introduced without consultation and so quickly and why there had been no discussion with the employers. We have all the evidence that we need that the Transport and General Workers Union is not prepared to discuss the dock labour scheme. For years, the union has said that there can be no debate on the scheme and that it cannot be amended. When challenged in the national joint council's executive committee on 19 March 1986, Mr. John Connolly is reported as saying that
"he doubted whether the employers wanted that kind of discussion, and suggested that they wished instead to talk about the abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme. He said that the trade union was not prepared to discuss the abolition of the Scheme."
We have many other quotes from Mr. Connolly. For example, on 12 November last year he said on Channel 4 that any attempt to amend or abolish the national dock scheme would be met with a national dock strike. How can the Government talk to people who will not even consider amending the scheme, let alone accept its abolition? The Opposition are wrong to say that the TGWU is willing to discuss amending the scheme.
In 1986, the director of the National Association of Port Employers wrote to Mr. John Connolly, at the
Column 585suggestion of the then Secretary of State, to propose that a meeting be held. Replying on 21 April 1986, Mr. Connolly said : "In reply to your letter of 6 April 1986, I can advise you that, having in mind our position that the Dock Labour Scheme is to remain, I can see no point in having joint discussions to provide for arrangements which might follow its removal."
We have it in black and white, in correspondence, speeches and television programmes : in the eyes of the TGWU, the scheme must remain. It is not true that the TGWU wants discussion and debate. It is not interested in getting rid of the scheme. It is up to Parliament to legislate for the end of the scheme.
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead) : Given the hon. Gentleman's grandparentage, I doubt whether I am alone in finding the degree to which he seems to welcome this move to do down the dockers pretty unseemly. In his ire against the dockers, however, will he not find time to remember that Mr. Connolly and Mr. Todd visited the National Association of Port Employers last month? They offered to negotiate new arrangements for the dockers in the scheme ports on the basis that the workers' conditions would be no less favourable than they are now. Does the hon. Gentleman regard that as an unjustifiable bottom line for a trade union?
Mr. Bennett : The hon. Gentleman knows that that discussion took place merely so that the trade union could seek to protect itself from any legal proceedings that might result if a strike were called. The simple fact is that the TGWU is having a political dispute with the Government. The employers are not directly concerned with the merits of the dock labour scheme, because they are not in charge of it. It was set up by legislation and only the Government and Parliament can dispose of it. There is no dispute with the employers about the dock labour scheme. The TGWU is trying to persuade the courts, therefore, that the dispute is with the National Association of Port Employers. The TGWU cannot even get away with that, because dockers are employed by individual port employers and not by the National Association of Port Employers. The members of the trade union and Opposition Members in Committee are not interested in getting rid of the scheme ; they merely want to replace it with another scheme that is equally restrictive and damaging to our export possibilities.
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock) : At the meeting referred to by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), the employers made it clear that, once the scheme has been abolished, they will be employing people who have been in the scheme on exactly the same basis and with exactly the same terms and conditions as their employees who have never been in the scheme. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is perfectly justifiable and morally acceptable?
Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no reason why the dockers should be treated differently in law from any other group of workers or why they should have the restrictive practices and protection that they have at present. With the increase in Britain's export potential and the strengthening of the economy, there is no doubt that plenty of jobs will be available in the docks in the coming years. We merely wish to remove this
Column 586ridiculous scheme, which is holding up the redevelopment of inner-city areas and clamping down on dock development.
It is interesting to examine the question asked by the Transport and General Workers Union of the registered dock workers this week. The ballot paper is headed :
"Trade dispute with your employer"--
that brings me back to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway)--
"including all matters arising out of and in consequence of that dispute".
The question is :
"Are you prepared to take part in a strike?"
and the dock workers are asked to answer yes or no. The ballot paper does not tell the registered dock workers what the dispute is. This must be the first secret ballot in which the question itself has been kept secret. It is extraordinary that the trade union is not prepared to include in the ballot paper the nature of the dispute. It has done that because it knows that there is no trade dispute with the employers, that it is a dispute with the Government, who are introducing a Bill to get rid of the scheme.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has a long record of making speeches about the dock work scheme and the strike. The hon. Gentleman challenged remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West about quotations from speeches that he may or may not have made on the radio, and I accept what he said about that. It turns out that it may have been the Leader of the Opposition who was speaking. The hon. Member for Oldham, West said on Radio Lancashire news on 10 April this year, in answer to the question whether there would be a dock strike :
"frankly we have no alternative but to support, if there were a strike."
The views of the hon. Member for Oldham, West are clearly on record. It is the Labour party that wants a strike, not the Government.
I gave the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) notice that I would mention his comments earlier in the debate, although I understand that he has now gone to meet the President of Nicaragua. The hon. Member may have a good time when he is there. He talked about Tory Members having dinners with the port employers. That is very interesting, but I have a list of dinners that Labour Members have had with the port employers.
At the National Association of Port Employers reception at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre on 15 December last, the hon. Member for Garston was taking the entertainment of NAPE. The hon. Members for Great Grimsby, for Liverpool, West Derby, for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) and for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) were also invited. They accepted, but, unfortunately, did not turn up. Other hon. Members attended, but they did not sign the visitors' book. In June 1988, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North had lunch with the port employers. On 2 March, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was at the Mayfair hotel to discuss the dock labour scheme. On 7 March, the hon. Member for Oldham, West had a meeting at the House of Commons with the National Association of Port Employers about it. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East had two lunches with NAPE in July 1988 and in Jaunary 1989.
Opposition Members not only have lunch with the Transport and General Workers Union but are busy lunching off the National Association of Port Employers.
Column 587The hon. Member for Newham, North-West should be careful when he talks about people who lunch, as though it were some way of getting into hock with employers, when Labour Members on the Committee appear to dine more frequently with port employers than Conservative Members might.
The real reason we are getting rid of the scheme is that it is totally indefensible. When one looks at the examples of ports where registered dock work schemes are in use, time and again, one finds that ghosting takes place. For those hon. Members who are not on the Dock Work Bill Committee, I should explain that ghosting occurs when a registered dock worker stands by while another man does the job and they both get paid for doing it, thus doubling the cost of the work. It is specially prevalent in the constituency of the hon. Member for Garston. There are plenty of examples. It takes place in Liverpool, Glasgow, Middlesbrough, Cardiff, Bristol and Newport. Wherever one looks one sees examples of ghosting. It occurs on the Medway and in Hunterston.
There is a good example in Grangemouth, which shows why the Bill is necessary. The docks in Grangemouth have been fully automated and require no docker involvement. However, dockers in the port insisted that a ghost docker must be in attendance while unloading takes place. Recognising that there was absolutely no work for that docker to do during the operation, the men demanded that he be provided with a Portakabin fitted with a colour television and a microwave oven. That was so that he might "overcome boredom". The prospective employer did not enter into the contract, and lucrative business was lost to the port.
That sort of behaviour goes on in ports which are under the registered dock work scheme. Not only is ghosting taking place ; there is also "bobbing". A registered dock employee signs on and "bobs off" to another job, perhaps running a pub or taxi driving.
Mr. Bennett : The hon. Gentleman shouts about Tory Members not being present. I will tell the hon. Gentleman about Labour Members on the Committee and their voting records. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West had a 60 per cent. voting record in the House last year. He was 324th in the league. The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) came 480th in the league, with a 51 per cent. record. The hon. Member for Newham, North- East (Mr. Leighton) had a 59.7 per cent. record, and he came 339th. Who came top of the league? Tory Members. I came 19th in that league. I do not take lectures from the hon. Member for Hillhead. He is the part-timer in the House when it comes to attending debates and taking part. We will look at his voting record, too, if he wishes.
Mr. Leighton : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps the reason my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) does not take part in debates is that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) filibusters for so long that it prevents him from doing so.
Column 588are a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have served on the Committee and are seeking to speak. I should like to call as many hon. Members as possible.
Mr. Bennett : I am grateful for your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was provoked by the part-time hon. Member for Hillhead, who spends most of his time bobbing around on trips abroad. He should not lecture us about the people who do the work in this House. It is worth while to point out why the scheme must go. For years, the national dock labour scheme has ruined opportunities for expanding our ports in inner-city areas. If we examine the record of Felixstowe, which is outside the scheme, contrast it with Ipswich and look at dock labour schemes on both the east and west coasts and compare them with non-scheme ports, we will see the improvements in productivity and trade in non-scheme ports. In 1970, dock scheme ports accounted for 90 per cent. of non-fuel imports into and exports from this country. They now account for 70 per cent. Non-scheme ports are improving their productivity and the amount of trade that they take. They are taking on more workers, but, on their own, they cannot take the full burden of the national economic expansion that is taking place.
We need to make sure that scheme ports are able to operate without restrictive practices--without overmanning--and that they can operate in such a way that they can improve their facilities and compete with continental ports. With 1992 approaching and with the need to make management decisions today and not in 1992, it is right that we should abolish restrictive practices and ensure that our ports and docks have an opportunity to expand to meet the challenge of an expanding economy.
Mr. Archie Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : If the House were looking for a good example of how to waste 25 minutes of parliamentary time discussing a guillotine motion, it could not find a better example than the speech of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett). He talked about everything under the sun, such as who had lunch and who had dinner with the port employers. It is with some sadness that I tell him that nobody invited me to lunch or dinner. I am always in the market for a good meal and a good discussion. Mr. Nicholas Bennett rose--
I have a rather questionable right to take part in the debate, and I do so only because my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is prohibited by adverse weather conditions from getting out of his constituency. He would have been in his place as Chief Whip of the Social and Liberal Democrats. His absence puts me in a good position. I am spared the worst excesses of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). His speeches are always long and arduous, but I find them entertaining. That is a saving grace. The debate gives me the opportunity to look at the terms of the guillotine motion in an objective manner.
Although, as a party, my hon. Friends and I are not prepared to defend the continuation of the dock labour scheme, by no stretch of the imagination does it mean that
Column 589we are prepared to abandon dockers. Important matters must be resolved and guarantees must be secured before we would be prepared to allow a return to the casual system of dock labour. The Government must give some important guarantees in Committee.
Although, on balance, I favour the terms of the legislation, my hon. Friends and I cannot support the introduction of the guillotine at this time. There are two matters before the House. First, I refer to the use of guillotines in the first instance. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) was right : there is a worrying trend in the frequency with which the House resorts to guillotine motions. The hon. Gentleman said that the House had resorted to 11 guillotines in his time in the House. That is a serious matter. Of course I understand that Governments need to get legislation through. Of course I understand that, on previous occasions when Governments have survived by wafer-thin majorities, there are circumstances in which guillotines are necessary. Of course guillotines may have to be imposed when important constitutional questions are involved. But the Government have no impediment in terms of a lack of majority, nor are they troubled by any restraints on parliamentary time this year. As someone who is an objective observer and not a member of the Standing Committee, I advise the Leader of the House that I do not think that he made a case for bringing forward a guillotine after only 29 hours in Standing Committee.
It was admitted earlier that this is essentially a one-clause Bill and if it is, I do not see any danger in having a later guillotine. If the Government had come to the House much further into the Committee's proceedings, they would have found, at least on this Bench, a more willing acceptance of the need to resort to the guillotine. However, in our present position and looking at the special character of this legislation, which I fully understand is party politically contentious--that is obvious to anyone who considers the issue for longer than a second--why have the Government decided to timetable the Standing Committee so soon? We have not had an effective answer to that question and until we do, the House should consider rejecting the motion.
I go further, and say that there are special circumstances with this Bill which make the Government's position even more untenable than the purely constitutional case of the number of hours that the Standing Committee has been able to deliberate on the Bill in detail. The way in which the White Paper and the Bill were suddenly introduced out of the blue bears heavily with me when trying to decide how to vote on the timetable motion.
If one listens to what Conservative Back Benchers have said this afternoon, one realises that they are not interested in any legislative scrutiny. They have said that as there is no prospect of changing the Bill, we should introduce the law straight away, never mind any parliamentary procedure. Unfortunately, that is the way in which the Government are operating more and more. Parliament has been swept aside time after time on contentious issues, despite the Government having a majority in excess of 100.
Special circumstances are involved because of the way in which the Bill was introduced and the transition from the Government saying that there was no need for reform, to the White Paper being introduced on one day, with the Bill on the next, and the guillotine being introduced just one month and 29 hours in Committee after the Bill was published. That is a scandalous timetable for any