HC Deb 29 March 1994 vol 240 cc812-38 4.22 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

I beg to move, That, at this day's sitting, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), the Speaker shall—

  1. (1) put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr. Secretary Gummer relating to Rating and Valuation not later than one and a half hours after their commencement; and
  2. (2) put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Sir Fergus Montgomery relating to Northern Ireland Affairs not later than one and a half hours after their commencement; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments to the said Motion which she may have selected and which may then be moved; notwithstanding the practice of the House the said Motion shall be regarded as a single Motion:
and the above proceedings may be entered upon and proceeded with, though opposed, after Ten o'clock. The purpose of the motion is, I think, clear and can be stated briefly. The first half of the motion provides for the motion on rating and valuation in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to be debated for up to one and a half hours, in the same way as if it were being discussed after 10 o'clock, and for the Question then to be put.

The second half of the motion similarly provides for up to one and a half hours' debate on the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery), Chairman of the Committee of Selection, to determine the membership of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee—together, of course, with any amendments that may be selected. The Question would then be put on any amendments that are moved and then on the motion, or the amended motion, as a whole.

In other words, Madam Speaker, these are simple, sensible and straightforward proposals to enable the House to discuss and decide these matters in a way which I judge will be for the general convenience of hon. Members, and I commend the motion to the House.

4.23 pm
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I do not agree in any way with the Leader of the House in his summation of the motion. As we shall be dealing later with matters concerning democracy in Northern Ireland, I am sure that the House will join me in sending our good wishes to Councillor John Fee of Crossmaglen, who suffered an appalling beating at the hands of republicans. He is the spokesman for democracy in Crossmaglen and the people of Crossmaglen have shown their support for him by putting him at the head of the poll on every occasion. He is their representative, not the people who so seriously battered him. We wish him well for a speedy recovery.

The Government's decision to allow only an hour and a half on each of these two important matters is a purely political manoeuvre which in no way reflects the seriousness of the issues to be debated. It is part of a general policy that has been followed by the Government to force through legislation without any debate or critical assessment of the Government's policies. The Government are therefore maintaining the same cavalier attitude towards the parliamentary process as they showed during the passage of the Non-Domestic Rating Act 1994, which they guillotined to prevent proper debate. The decision to limit debate on the Railways (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order is yet another example of that policy.

The order is an emergency provision which will come into operation on 1 April without any proper discussion. There has been no time to consult the interested parties, despite the long-term significance of the order. The increased rateable costs which the order will introduce will inevitably be passed on to the consumer, or the passenger on the train, thus adding to the increased costs of transport which will inevitably follow the Government's ill-fated and badly designed proposals for the future of British Rail.

The establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee is not simply a procedural parliamentary decision—it has major political ramifications. Therefore, discussion of the composition of such a Committee needs more time than has been allotted. Further detailed discussion on the proposed composition of the Committee is vital and we object strongly to the severely limited time allotted to the matter.

Mr. Newton

As I said, had the Railways (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order been debated at the more usual time for such orders—quite late at night—it would have been debated for only an hour and a half. Also, it would have been debated at night rather than at this more sensible hour. The hon. Gentleman does not appear to acknowledge that if the Committee of Selection motion had been dealt with at the usual time—after 10 pm—it would have been debated for only one hour. I am, therefore, allocating more time.

Mr. McNamara

We must ask why is the Government's business so thin today that they are allocating more time? This almost Pauline conversion and generosity in allowing an entire half hour to the Opposition is without precedent. Nevertheless, whether we have an hour or an hour and a half, neither is sufficient to discuss the important ramifications of the proposed appointments to this important new Select Committee.

In the debate on the establishment of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, the Leader of the House asserted that, in the past, when considering their attitude towards the creation of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, the Government had taken account of all the relevant political considerations in Northern Ireland."—[Official Report, 9 March 1994; Vol. 239, c. 340.] When we examine the appointments to that Committee, we need further debate to discover the relevant political considerations behind the Government's decision to support the creation of the Northern Ireland Select Committee and to propose a composition that is patently unrepresentative.

To understand the political considerations, it is necessary to examine thoroughly the context in which the Select Committee was proposed. It would not be in order for me to do so in full, nor do I have the time, but it would be correct to examine the salient points that have governed the decision to appoint the Select Committee and which also govern its composition.

The creation of a Northern Ireland Select Committee has a significant symbolic importance that has been acknowledged by all parties represented in the House. The Ulster Unionist party is particularly aware of the symbolic value of such a Committee. In its press briefings, the Ulster Unionist party argued that, although the Committee will bring administrative benefits, the symbolic effects will be more immediate. This will be the first positively unionist move by the British Government since our parliamentary representation was increased in 1979. That is the Committee's significance and it is why its composition is so important. It has very little to do with the need for proper scrutiny and more to do with the restoration of Stormont.

The Ulster Unionists identify the Northern Ireland Select Committee with the failed Stormont regime of the past. Their briefing states: The Northern Ireland Select Committee will probably want to sit regularly in Belfast. When we see a group of familiar parliamentarians again in Stormont with their doings reported in the local media, then Ulster folk will see something useful and purposeful in local politics … And this useful and purposeful achievement has been the result of Unionist pressure. That is why we should have been given more time to consider the composition of the Committee.

A question remains over exactly what pressure was put on the Government to concede to a Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, despite the objections of representatives of the minority community in Northern Ireland, and to concede to a Select Committee whose composition is wholly unacceptable to the Labour party and to the SDLP. That is why we need more time to consider the terms of appointment of the membership of that Committee.

In the past, the Government have accepted that a Northern Ireland Select Committee should be established only on the basis of broad cross-community support because of its symbolic significance. The Government recommended against the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee in 1990, leaving the House to conclude that, due to the sensitivity of the talks process, there should be no alteration to the status quo. Having tabled the motion to establish the Committee, the Government are now prepared to go into the Lobby—

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara

In a moment. The Government are prepared to go into the Lobby to support a gerrymandered new Committee.

Mr. Peter Robinson

I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument to the extent that it appears to him that some deal has resulted in the formation of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. What I cannot understand is how that would reflect his view of what the composition of a House of Commons Select Committee should be.

Mr. McNamara

That is my exact point. We objected to the Committee as such, we were defeated on that and the House came to a decision. We are now looking to the way in which the composition of the Committee will be decided. That will be decided by a subsequent motion, for which we have only an hour and a half's debate. What I am arguing is that we must consider the political reasons that have led to those particular people being appointed to the Committee. Hence, it is our argument that we should have longer than an hour and a half and that we should oppose the Government's imposition of that time limit, despite their unbounded and unprecedented generosity of giving us an extra half hour.

The Government have not been prepared to explain their own radical change in policy. They are now prepared to ignore the forcefully expressed wishes of one section of the community. That unscrupulous betrayal of an often-pronounced principle has helped to undermine trust felt towards the Government in Ireland and underpin the continuing distrust which is gradually being felt by both communities. That sense of betrayal is only heightened by the knowledge that the Government chose to override their principled stance for the sake of the squalid deal that they have made. The deal has nothing to do with securing peace in Northern Ireland and everything to do with the Government's narrow and unstable majority in the House. That is also why they have decided to gerrymander the composition of the Committee and why we should have more time to discuss it.

The Government have allowed their actions to be dictated not by a long-term strategy to secure political settlement in Northern Ireland, but by the need to maintain their so-called understanding with the Ulster Unionist party. The Government are allowing short-term political expediency to take precedence over the peace process; we should examine the nature of the proposals that they are making for the membership of the Select Committee and have more time so to do.

The Government are casting doubt over their assertion that Britain has no long-term strategic or economic interest in Ireland. They are calling into question the whole basis of their policy because they now have a selfish political interest in Northern Ireland—being able to maintain their majority.

During Northern Ireland questions on 17 March the Secretary of State claimed that there was "no question of decoupling" strand 1 from strands 2 and 3 of the talks process that had taken place. Yet that is precisely what the Government have done by unilaterally establishing a Northern Ireland Select Committee with such an unbalanced representation. We shall discuss that matter later, and that is another reason why we need extra time.

Under the framework for the inter-party talks agreed in 1991, strand 1 covers measures affecting the institutional arrangements governing Northern Ireland. The establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee clearly came under strand 1, so its composition, too, would come under strand 1. By withdrawing the arrangements for a Northern Ireland Select Committee from the ambit of inter-party talks, the Government themselves are unravelling the strands agreed by the British and Irish Governments and by all the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. Therefore, we need extra time to discuss the principles behind the appointments.

The Government have also undermined the principle on which the talks were based—"nothing is agreed until everything is agreed." During Northern Ireland questions the Secretary of State said: Whether the parties in the resumed talks wish to maintain that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed is a matter for them. That is not a matter on which I can lay down a rule."—[Official Report, 17 March 1994; Vol. 239, c. 998.] That is a strange position for the British Government to adopt, given that they were a party to the original framework agreed in 1991, and given that we assume that they will still be a party to any future inter-party talks.

If that matter is to be left purely to the parties, it means that the Government are acquiescing in an unravelling of the situation. Apparently, the British Government are relinquishing all responsibility for the future structure of the talks. That would affect the composition of the Committee, because it would be within its ambit to examine those proposals. Therefore, we need more time to discuss its membership. The Government's attitude is irresponsible, because it has the potential to hinder progress towards an agreed political settlement.

The Government appear to wish to surround themselves in a fog of uncertainty. As I said during the debate on the motion to establish a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, the Government have two agendas—one to secure their majority in the House of Commons by keeping their right wing and the Ulster Unionists on board, and the other to keep alive the peace process based on the Downing street declaration.

Obviously, that matter will come within the ambit of the discussions in the Select Committee. The membership of the Committee must be of importance when such a fundamental matter is to be discussed, so we should have more time to discuss that membership later today.

The establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee is part of the agenda for maintaining Ulster Unionist backing. However, the Government's second agenda, for the peace process, is causing some conflict with the Unionist party. There appears to be some disagreement between the Secretary of State and the followers of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, over the current status of bilateral talks taking place between that party and the Minister of State.

Doubtless that would be reflected in the attitude that might be taken by the members of a new Select Committee, were it to be appointed and were we to have more time to discuss its composition. We hear the Secretary of State saying that the tripartite talks, with the three strands, are still taking place, but the Ulster Unionist party says that it is not part of that set of talks. It considers the present talks to be bilateral only, between the Secretary of State and the different parties, including itself. Others say that because the Minister of State is advising the Government of the Republic of what is taking place in the bilateral talks, the three strands still exist.

The questions arise: are the Ulster Unionists in the three strands or are they not, and is what the Secretary of State says accurate? That fog cannot help in the search for a solution and we may find it replicated or even made thicker by the representation of hon. Members who will apparently be on the Select Committee. Therefore, we should have more time to discuss that representation.

The Secretary of State stands accused, in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, of misrepresenting the position of the Ulster Unionist party. The Secretary of State is reported to have caused offence because of his claim that, since the talks with the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram)—the Minister of State—are continuing on the same basis as before, the Ulster Unionist party is still discussing the three strands. That would be a positive development. The Labour party maintains its support for the inter-party talks. If we had more representatives on the Select Committee—a matter which we shall be discussing later—and if we had more time, we should argue that the talks should continue. However, the development would also be a surprising one given that the leader of the Ulster Unionist party has condemned the circus format of the previous talks process". The right hon. Gentleman's reference to "the previous talks process" suggests that he regards the talks as being over.

There is, therefore, an urgent need for Government clarification. The clarification should come in today's debate on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, as, presumably, the position of the Ulster Unionist party was one of the political considerations that Government took into account when they decided to table a motion to establish a Northern Ireland Select Committee and to support the inclusion of the hon. Members whose names appear on today's Order Paper. By opposing this motion, we are asking for more discussion of the membership.

All those factors behind the decision to back the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee and the Committee's proposed composition should properly be debated and examined in today's debate. This is why the Opposition object to the Government's provision of only an hour and a half.

There is absolutely no agreement on the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee and, as is shown by the Order Paper, there is certainly no agreement on the Committee's composition. Yet the Government are attempting to deny the House sufficient time even to debate the question of composition.

The proposed composition of the Northern Ireland Select Committee is still further proof of the Government's duplicity. While claiming to want equality, they have allotted representatives of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland just one seat on the Committee. This is an example of gerrymandering at its worst. They have allotted the Labour party only two seats—a gross distortion of parliamentary procedure, as there are 270 Labour Members of Parliament. The Labour party is demanding more time for today's debate because of the wide-ranging implications of the proposed composition of the Northern Ireland Select Committee.

In considering a matter as important as the composition of a Select Committee and the amount of time that should be provided, the Government have a responsibility to the peoples of these islands to secure a just and lasting political settlement for Ireland—a settlement that has the agreement and support of the people of Ireland. The Government should not jeopardise such an important objective by establishing a Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee with a wholly biased composition, purely and simply at the whim of one of the parties to the talks, in a desperate effort to shore up an increasingly shaky Government with an increasingly shaky position on the Floor of the House.

For those reasons, we oppose the motion.

4.42 pm
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

It was not my intention to speak, but I should like to clear up two points.

It appears to have been suggested that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is being appointed contrary to the advice of the Procedure Committee. If that is the implication I must make it absolutely clear that the Procedure Committee, in its report of 1990, said quite clearly that it would not be possible to go on for ever refusing to appoint a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. That, the Procedure Committee said, would have to come, but it would be up to the Government, having particular regard to the evidence from the Secretary of State of the day, to decide the proper time. When we reconsidered the matter we altered not one jot or tittle of the report. In other words, exactly the same recommendation stood in 1993.

With regard to numbers, the Procedure Committee made it clear that all the political parties in Northern Ireland should be represented. I understand that to be what is happening. Somewhat strangely, the Government are not demanding a majority on the Committee. The latter aspect is slightly unusual in respect of Select Committees of this nature.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The right hon. Gentleman said that all the political parties in Northern Ireland will be represented. Will he, for the benefit of the House, enumerate the political parties from Northern Ireland that will be represented?

Sir Peter Emery

Let me correct myself: the report said that all the political parties represented in the House should be represented on the Select Committee. That is what is happening.

In normal circumstances, there would have been no means of objecting procedurally to the length of debate. If the Government had tabled the matter for discussion after 10 o'clock the debate could have lasted only an hour, and the Opposition could not have objected. In fact, the 20-minute speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is a gift of the Government, and the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will still have an extra 50 pet' cent. in the actual debate. Thus, the suggestion that this is a case of Government gerrymandering is an exaggeration and indicates a slight misunderstanding. I cannot see that there are any grounds for such an implication.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

The right hon. Gentleman has made two points that I should like to take up.

First, he said that it is an exception to the rule for the Government to relinquish their majority on a Select Committee and to provide representation for each Northern Ireland political party. I suggested to the Committee of Selection that the Government could keep their majority by taking seven seats and giving two to the Labour party and one to each of the Northern Ireland political parties. However, as the Government had done a deal with the Ulster Unionists at the time of the debate on the Maastricht treaty, they were afraid to give them fewer than two seats.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government are being very generous by allowing this debate. The Government's conscience must have pricked them, as they tabled the motion before the Select Committee's decision. It seems to me that they felt self-conscious and guilty because of their attempts to gerrymander the Committee. Incidentally, the recommendation of the Committee of Selection was adopted on the basis of a majority Conservative vote.

Sir Peter Emery

As the Deputy Chief Whip knows only too well, I do not know what goes on in the Committee of Selection; nor can I be expected to. Indeed, I understand that such matters are normally confidential.

Mr. Dixon

It was forced through.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. It is not in order, in the debate on this motion, to discuss what happened in the Committee of Selection.

Sir Peter Emery

I understand that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was led astray by the Labour Party's Deputy Chief Whip—something I shall resist doing in future.

The Labour party is laying a false trail and the sooner we get on with the business that should be before the House the better.

4.48 pm
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

It is quite obvious to all those hon. Members present today and to all those who attended the debate on 9 March that the Government have not provided adequate time for discussion of the various ramifications of the motion concerning the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. The pretence that this is exclusively a procedural matter is being perpetuated. It is, of course, a procedural matter, but that is almost incidental to the Government's attitude to and policy on the Select Committee. The Government have made a major political decision. But we have also seen an about-turn and a betrayal of the statements and undertakings of successive representatives of the Government over a number of years. In that context, the Government's integrity has been brought entirely into question, certainly in the eyes of the people in Northern Ireland whom we represent. The Government continue to affirm that both communities must give support before the matter is brought forward, so the Government lack integrity in that respect.

The Government also broke the integrity of the inter-party talks, which were based on a delicate and long-negotiated agreement dated 26 March 1991. That agreement stated that all matters could be put on the table and discussed, and matters relating to relationships in Northern Ireland, relationships between north and south and relationships between Northern Ireland and Westminster would be discussed in detail. The Government made a decision unilaterally without consulting my party—I do not know about the other parties—on an item that was on the agenda for the inter-party talks. Their integrity in that respect has gone by the board. This is not a procedural matter; a major political decision has been made. The Government have brought before the House a shameful and treacherous decision.

The Government have betrayed their commitment under article 4 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which says: in relation to matters coming within its field of activity, the Conference"— the Anglo-Irish conference— shall be a framework within which the Irish Government and the United Kingdom Government shall work together

  1. (i) for the accommodation of the rights and identities of the two traditions which exist in Northern Ireland; and
  2. (ii) for peace, stability and prosperity throughout the island of Ireland by promoting reconciliation, respect for human rights, co-operation against terrorism and the development of economic, social and cultural co-operation."
The two-tradition approach has been abandoned totally in the approach taken today.

On several occasions over the past couple of years, the Secretary of State and the Lord President of the Council have referred to the need for cross-community and cross-electoral support for the parties represented in the House; indeed, as late as 1 December 1993, the Procedure Committee, in its report for the 1993–94 Session, stated: It should be remembered that the only reason given by the Procedure Committee in 1978 for its decision not to recommend the creation of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs was the continuing uncertainty over the future constitutional arrangements for the Province". That still pertains today. The argument is still valid, yet it has been totally rejected in the business before the House both on 9 March and this evening.

A letter dated 2 December 1993—if I may read from the Committee's journal—says: Thank you for your letter about the Procedure Committee and the possible Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. Your letter was drawn to the attention of the Committee at its meeting yesterday. As you will see from the Report the Committee subsequently agreed, we were not concerned with the issue whether a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs should be established now. We dealt solely with the updating of our 1990 report in respect of the possible composition of such a Committee. Ultimately it will be for the House to decide whether to amend the Standing Orders, appoint a Select Committee and to nominate its Members. A few days before the announcement in the House on 16 December, assurances were given regarding the necessity for inter-community support and cross-party support in the House.

On not one occasion during the whole process—the establishment of the Committee, the nominations, the decisions about the detail—has my party been consulted. Not once have we been consulted about the times at which meetings would take place. I do not know whether this is a procedure that could be the subject of a point of order but that is the fact of the case. There was supposed to be cross-party support in the House, but we were not even asked about the matter, never mind being invited to give an opinion on it. [Interruption.] I am prepared to take interventions if that is what hon. Members behind me want. However, if they do not want to intervene formally, I shall be obliged if they will keep quiet.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said no later than 11 November 1992 that such a proposal would have the support of the broad community in Northern Ireland".—[Official Report, 11 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 892.] It does not. On 10 February 1993, the same statement was made by the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, who referred to the need to examine the extent of support from elected representatives from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland. No such support exists. On 22 July 1993, the Secretary of State referred again to the extent of support from elected representatives from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland". That consent does not exist.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is putting forward the pros and cons for the Select Committee, which is not the subject of the motion before the House. The Select Committee has been established and the question before the House is whether sufficient time has been allowed for debate. That is the issue.

Mr. McGrady

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your direction in the matter. I was following the lead given by previous speakers. My points illustrate—I have only touched on them—that more time is required to delve into the issues that I have raised. That is why I am stating those issues: we have not had the opportunity to make our points. You may not recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I do not think that you were in the Chair at the time—that, on 9 March, when the motion relating to the appointment of the Select Committee was introduced, hon. Members who have taken a constant interest in Northern Ireland affairs did not get an opportunity to speak. As the sole representative on that night of the nationalist people of Northern Ireland, I had only a few minutes in which to make my points on the matter.

Mr. Mallon

I appreciate the points that have been made about the time factor. I wonder how much time was spent on researching the designation of political parties in the north of Ireland. I have been active in Northern Ireland politics for the past 25 years and I recognise why someone from the DUP, the UUP or the SDLP would be appointed, but I fail to understand why others have been appointed. I simply want clarification of the basis of the political party—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is anticipating a debate later this evening in which he may well catch my eye.

Mr. McGrady

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) for his intervention, the subject of which will be dealt with again in the debate later this evening. My hon. Friend makes the valuable point that consultation of the elected parties in the House did not take place. That is categorically correct; consultation did not take place. Whether consultation should have taken place is a moot point and a matter of opinion.

The point that I have been making is that a series of important issues is at stake. Today and on 9 March, the Government tried to present their case as though this were merely a procedural matter—I do not mean that in any insulting way—and a technical matter for the House to address. It is not a technical matter—and the Government's activities and statements clearly show that they do not consider it to be a technical matter. Even the timing of the announcement—24 hours after the Downing street declaration on 16 December, the Leader of the House said that the establishment of a Select Committee had been agreed—was obviously a political statement whose intention it was to buy political loyalties. It had nothing at all to do with the needs and requirements of Northern Ireland. Going back to the needs and requirements of the parties in Northern Ireland, one should look at what the leader of the official Unionist party said about—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Ulster Unionist party"]—I take that correction. The names of political parties in Northern Ireland are apt to change depending on the venue and on the order in which the members wish to speak. I will leave it at that for the moment.

The modest demands of the UUP were for less of a procedural arrangement than that which we have now. That party said that it wanted the existing Select Committees to deal with departmental matters for Northern Ireland, as they do here; there were only one or two issues—security and, believe it or not, the Anglo-Irish Agreement—which it would be useful for the Select Committee to debate.

I believe that the point has been made. On your direction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not refer to percentages or numbers in connection with the appointments until the later debate, but they again show that there has been a lack of integrity on the part of the Government. They have not dealt even-handedly with the communities in Northern Ireland, as they have consistently alleged in statements made during the past two or three years they wanted to do. The integrity of the Government among the community that I represent is at an all-time low.

5.1 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

You properly instructed the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the matter that we must consider is whether 90 minutes is a sufficient length of time to discuss the motion concerning the membership of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs later this evening.

I suppose that, if any political party in the House had a right to complain that 90 minutes was not sufficient, it would be my party. On 9 March, the two previous complainers in the debate so far—the Labour party's spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), and the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady)—took 19 minutes and 11 minutes respectively to speak during the debate. [Interruption.] Yes, 11 minutes. Hon. Members should look at Hansard. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) was given only two minutes at the tail-end of the debate.The Democratic Unionist party is entitled to have the opportunity to speak, and I hope that we will be able to catch your eye later this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and perhaps do a little better than the two minutes which we had on the previous occasion.

The issue is whether there will be sufficient time later this evening. I was delighted to hear the logic of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, who now clearly believes that it is essential to have a better airing of Northern Ireland affairs in the House and that one and a half hour debates are not adequate. I suggest that that is an implied criticism of the Order in Council procedure that operates for Northern Ireland affairs. I trust that we can look forward to the hon. Gentleman's support on the matter of having Northern Ireland business dealt with fully by way of Bills in the House.

Mr. McNamara

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is disgraceful that great, fat pieces of legislation that are really Bills should be dealt with by the Order in Council procedure. I put it to the hon. Gentleman, his hon. Friends and the Ulster Unionist party that the remedy lies in their own hands—in an agreed devolved government for Northern Ireland with a strong Irish dimension contained therein. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is enough on that.

Mr. Peter Robinson

As you have ruled the hon. Gentleman out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I cannot reply and state that there was of course agreement between the parties in favour of a devolved assembly in Northern Ireland but that the Social Democratic and Labour party backed out of it.

It is important to Northern Ireland that there should be a Select Committee to deal with Northern Ireland business. I do not believe that it is to the merit of the House that that should be delayed. Both the previous speakers argued that there are political implications—indeed, that the prime issue is political rather than procedural. I contend that it is only political in their minds because they do not want anything to occur in relation to Northern Ireland that stops it moving increasingly towards Dublin rule. They would seek to oppose anything that is not consistent with a continued momentum towards Dublin.

Everyone knows that every Department has a Select Committee which looks at its work and can quite properly call the Minister responsible to account. A Select Committee can also bring the civil service to account, particularly in Northern Ireland where there is less accountability than elsewhere. Nowhere is it more important than in respect of the Northern Ireland Office that we should have such a procedure of the House. The key issue is therefore procedural rather than political. The argument that more time should be devoted to the consideration of political issues attendant on the motion is not well founded.

I am delighted that even the hon. Gentleman who most strongly opposed the setting up of the Select Committee—the hon. Member for South Down—has now decided to join in; he clearly recognises that the Committee is not so political as to constitute a bar on his membership of it, and he wants to be a part of the process whereby Northern Ireland business is scrutinised.The hon. Gentleman need not say that members of his party are not boycotters, because they have been boycotters in the past. They boycotted the Stormont Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982. I am glad that they are not boycotting on this occasion and that they recognise the validity of having a Committee that deals with the Northern Ireland Office and can look into matters dealt with by Northern Ireland Ministers.

If there was an argument that more time was needed because the matter had somehow jumped out of the woodwork—that it was a surprise issue whose ramifications hon. Members had not had adequate time to consider—the House would have had to consider seriously whether more time was necessary. However, it is not a new issue. It has been considered and debated on many platforms, including in this House, over a long period. It was, of course, most recently discussed in some considerable detail by the Procedure Committee and by the Committee of Selection. The matter has had a considerable airing, which suggests that no more time is needed on this occasion to determine its membership.

The Labour party would be on very weak ground if it argued that the Labour membership should be substantially increased, considering that the Labour party has not shown sufficient interest in Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom to set up in Northern Ireland. It seems content to rely on the representation of the SDLP, which it sees as its sister in the battle in Northern Ireland. The Labour party should be content that the SDLP will be represented on the Committee and will be capable of representing that interest. If that is the contention offered by the Labour party for having more time to discuss the matter, it seems to me to be false.

The other argument advanced by those on the Labour Front Bench is that some sordid backroom deal between the Government and the Ulster Unionist party has resulted in the establishment of a Select Committee. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North quoted a press statement from the Glengall street camp that referred to the first Unionist step for many years. That set me thinking about what might be considered the last Unionist step. I suppose that it must have been the increase in the number of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland here. I wonder which party proposed that in this House. Of course, the hon. Gentleman's party supported that Unionist step. What were the circumstances in which it did so? I recall that it was looking for larger numbers to go through the Lobby. Now it has the audacity to point its finger at someone who has been trained in its school, who copies its practices, who does exactly the same as it did in the past and will willingly do in the future.

Mr. McNamara

First, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will recall, I voted against that policy for precisely the same reason that I oppose what is happening today. Secondly, when it came to the vote of confidence, the result of that deal was that the majority of the Ulster Unionists went into the Lobby with the Conservative party and turfed out the Labour Government. That might yet happen to the Conservative Government.

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman can live in hope. We shall see whether that occurs.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I happened to be a party to that situation. The UUUC, as it was called, never undertook to vote for the Labour party to keep it in power in a vote of confidence.

Mr. Robinson

My hon. Friend has been heard and I am happy to endorse his views.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

If the hon. Gentleman does not remember, perhaps his colleague the hon. Member for Antrim, North will confirm that the Labour party was betrayed on that occasion by its sister party, the Social Democratic and Labour party and by the republican whom it brought over from Fermanagh to vote for it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I was here, too, but that that matter is not relevant to this debate.

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North attempted to attach relevance to what he considered to be the deal between the Ulster Unionist party and the Government by saying that that party was in some way being rewarded by being given additional members and that additional time was therefore required to sort out why it should have two members instead of one.

Mr. Mallon

Surely, the remark made by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) points to the wisdom of the decision. The personnel within the Social Democratic and Labour party changed as a result of the increase in the numbers. He and members of the Committee of Selection spent an enormous amount of time properly researching the proposed Select Committee. Can the hon. Gentleman inform the House, from his own investigations, which parties represent the north of Ireland in this House?

Mr. Robinson

I shall not deal with Donegal and the rest of the north of Ireland, but if we are referring to Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the United Kingdom, the parties in this House are the Ulster Unionist party, which sits behind the hon. Gentleman; his own party, the SDLP; the Ulster Democratic Unionist party; and the one in which he is most interested, the Ulster Popular Unionist party, whose chairman, president and Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder), is chairing a meeting of the Standing Committee on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill. It is altogether proper for the official Unionist party to have two seats. The UUP has nine Members in this House, and the SDLP has four, it would seem proper—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That debate is to come and the hon. Gentleman said that he was hoping to catch my eye. He should not anticipate that debate now.

Mr. Robinson

I was not attempting to build some insurance into the system by getting the matter off my chest now. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was simply saying that we no longer need additional time to discuss these matters because the Select Committee has properly and proportionately allocated the seats to Northern Ireland parties and therefore that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) can be content that the task has been done well and additional time is not required to consider it.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government are trying to straitjacket Parliament by limiting debate to one and a half hours for each item, which is artificial and unnecessary? The exchanges on this issue demonstrate that it would have been preferable if a business motion had not been tabled so that we could have first debated rating and valuation and then launched into the debate on the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. That debate could have been extensive and lasted far more than one and a half hours.

Mr. Robinson

I would be the last person to try to limit the length of debate in the House. I judge only that the Government must have considered that some Opposition Members would table a series of amendments to try to change each member of the Committee, which might have kept the House voting for a considerable time.

The hon. Member for North Down advanced the argument that, in some way, additional time was required because there had been a betrayal—

Rev. Ian Paisley

It was the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McCrady).

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Member for South Down said that the Government had betrayed the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. That was an argument that I found difficult to swallow. The hon. Gentleman over-eggs his cake if he expects the House to believe that the nationalist community in Northern Ireland has in some way been put down by the Government. The Government have done everything possible to elevate the nationalist community, as has been seen from a number of their so-called initiatives. The hon. Gentleman's argument that the setting up of the Committee is contrary to the talks agreement of March 1991 does not hold water. That agreement came to an end on the day that the talks ended.

Mr. McGrady

The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the talks came to end in November 1992. He mistates the case. The official Unionist party [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] Very well; the Ulster Unionist party. The UUP and the DUP withdrew from the talks. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not true."] They withdrew because that week saw a meeting of the Anglo-Irish conference between the Irish and British Governments. The remaining parties to the talks were the British Government, the Irish Government, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party. Coincidentally, those are the four parties that are still at the table.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That just demonstrates that if hon. Members are not able to prepare for the debate, all sorts of comments come up. The motion is clear. Could we please get back to it? The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) has been straying a little in the past few minutes.

Mr. Robinson

I have been given the first good reason why I should change my mind. Clearly, more time is needed if we are to educate the hon. Member for South Down. He is labouring under the assumption that the talks did not come to an end and that the Unionists left. But all the parties put out an agreed statement that showed that the talks had come to end. They came to an end because the nationalist parties demanded that there should be an intergovernmental conference meeting. Obviously, hon. Members do not require more time to discuss this issue as it was clearly dealt with in the statement.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Was not the basis of the talks that there would be no inter-party conferences while the talks were taking place and that both the official Unionists and our party said at the table, "If you bring the talks to a close by having an inter-party conference meeting, they will be finished." The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said, "Yes, they are finished" and the Irish said that they were finished. I do not know what the hon. Member for South Down has been finishing, but everyone else knows that the talks are finished.

Mr. Robinson

My hon. Friend's comments are accurate. It is inconsistent for the hon. Member for South Down to argue that the Government have dishonoured the March 1991 agreement when the March 1991 agreement said specifically that the talks would last between meetings of the intergovernmental conference. Therefore, as soon as a meeting of the intergovernmental conference came, ipso facto the talks must have ended. There has been no betrayal of the nationalist community. Perhaps another time I shall have the opportunity to describe the nature of the Government's betrayal of the Unionist community.

It was argued that, because in that March 1991 agreement there was a remark that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed, and because during the talks there was no agreement on the setting up of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, there should not be a Select Committee. I have already said that that 1991 agreement came to an end the moment the talks stopped and therefore the Government were no longer bound by it.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) is now in the Chamber, it might be worth while drawing attention to the fact that we nearly had to drag the hon. Gentleman and the SDLP to the 1992 talks during the last week, and that they were outraged that we, the Ulster Unionist party, should introduce a summation paper during the last week. They came most reluctantly, and departed—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That has absolutely nothing to do with the motion before us.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle)

No one is interested in solving problems around here. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber. Mr. Robinson.

Mr. Robinson

You can understand what we have to put up with in Northern Ireland, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that we shall have your sympathy from now on.

If the agreement of 1991 came to an end the moment the talks were ended by the SDLP insisting on the intergovernmental conference, the Government were not bound to obtain the agreement of everyone to any change and the House could never allow itself to be gagged in terms of changes that it might make.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robinson

Yes, but I had intended to sit down.

Mr. O'Brien

I have been following the arguments of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) closely. In view of the interventions and exchanges that have been made, and the fact that there is more to be said on issues involving Northern Ireland—especially this issue—does the hon. Gentleman agree that there ought to be more time to discuss those issues? This is no different from the other issues that we discuss in Select Committees. Does the hon. Gentleman accept the view that we need more time to discuss Northern Ireland issues?

Mr. Robinson

Given a little ingenuity, hon. Members still have another four hours and a little more in which they might make whatever comments they want.

Finally, the Government are not under an obligation to obtain everyone's agreement, especially on a matter that is germane to the procedures of the House. How could the Government allow the procedures of the House of Commons to be determined by the agreements of those outside the House of Commons—especially if those outside the House of Commons include a foreign Government?

5.23 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I wish to speak because I was one of the people who objected to the business motion. I am sorry that I did not hear the opening speeches, but I was chairing the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, which is why I want to speak later about the rating and valuation order.

The business motion, to curtail debate in one case and to extend debate by a very small amount in excess of the usual amount of time in the second case, puts the House of Commons in an unnecessary straitjacket. An open-ended business motion to take the debate up to 10 o'clock would have been acceptable. In curtailing the debate to three hours, I suspect that the Leader of the House is proposing the type of limitation that we can expect if the Jopling report is ever implemented—I hope that it never will be—to curtail parliamentary discussion and to put debate in a straitjacket. That is one reason why I wanted to object to the business motion—it was unnecessary. I object to the Jopling report being brought in by stealth—because that is what the limitations represent.

The rating and valuation order, debate on which is limited to an hour and a half, is quite important. One of the advantages of Parliament is that there is always a number of people—perhaps a handful—who take a specialised interest in something as obscure as the draft Railways (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order 1994. I do not think that there should be a limitation of an hour and a half before 10 o' clock. There is usually a limitation on an affirmative instrument after 10 o'clock and I think that we could usefully reconsider that, because affirmative orders are as important as primary legislation. Indeed, some of them—although not this one—repeal primary legislation which has been considered by the House in great detail. Therefore, the arbitrary hour and a half is frequently inadequate to deal with the complexities of subordinate legislation. It is unreasonable to impose a limitation of an hour and a half before 10 o'clock simply because that pattern has so often been followed after 10 o'clock.

There are only two items of business on the Order Paper today, because the third item is a European Community document, which will be dealt with forthwith. If there is a vote, that will take 15 minutes; if it is a head-nodding job, it will go through in perhaps 20 seconds. The whole of the evening is before us, yet the Leader of the House proposes to finish the sitting, if we curtail the debate, at half-past 8. I do not think that, if we have the opportunity, we should limit debate in that way because of the importance of subordinate legislation.

I am happy, in a way, that the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill has focused attention on the enormous powers of Ministers. I gave evidence, which was not very welcome, to the Jopling Committee to the effect that I thought that Parliament should sit longer hours, not shorter. Parliament does not give adequate scrutiny to the enormous number of statutory instruments and regulations that pour out from the present Government. As the Leader of the House knows, the number is now running at 3,300 to 3,500 per annum. When we have the opportunity to debate a very important order, we should not curtail debate to an hour and a half.

If I may remind the House without going into the debate that would ensue if people so chose, the draft Railways (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order 1994 places on the railways the imposition of providing a rateable value of the English railway hereditament of £191 million, and a smaller sum, £7.3 million, for Welsh railways. We could debate how much better that £191 million would be used on improving the services to British Rail instead of abstracting that money to an organisation that will be broken up and privatised, and is already in enough difficulties simply maintaining services without taking out £200 million—which is only a transfer payment in any event. I do not want to debate those matters, but they are justified arguments about an order that would impose a significant charge on British Rail, discussion of which is, however, limited to an hour and a half.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is typical of how the Government deal with legislation on non-domestic rates? He will remember that, when the House debated the non-domestic rates legislation on 12 and 13 January this year, the Government decided to guillotine the proceedings. Does he agree that that is not an acceptable way to discuss such important provisions?

Mr. Cryer

Yes; and it applies to all subordinate legislation.

We accept that Ministers should be given powers to fill in the nuts and bolts of Government administration, but the Government are abusing the process. They are producing some 3,500 instruments a year, which is more than any other Government in history, whereas they are supposed to be taking legislation off people's backs. Labour Governments managed with some 2,000 statutory instruments a year; Tory Governments cannot do so because they are centralising. In the process, Parliament must have a degree of accountability—it has little enough.

To curtail debate on this limited, narrow occasion when we have the time available is entirely unjustified. Parliament normally has a good idea of self discipline. Normally hon. Members who want to promote the railways issue have a peg on which to hang their cause. They would use the railways valuation order to ensure a reasonable debate. If no Member wants that, the motion goes through in 10 or 15 minutes, with five or 10 minutes apiece for speeches by Front-Bench spokesmen.

Most controversy is on the second motion. None the less, the hour and a half limitation is not necessary. One of the great virtues of Parliament is that, unlike Ministers who have access to the Dispatch Box when they choose because they determine the agenda, Back-Bench Members must be ingenious. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who is grinning, has access to the Dispatch Box whenever his business managers organise it for him. Back-Bench Members must use such motions to get time to discuss important issues. That is why I object to the fact that the Government are centralising and concentrating Government powers, and straitjacketing Parliament to make it all the easier for them.

If I am taking a bit of extra time, it is because oodles of time is available, yet the Leader of the House wants us to finish early. The first motion is on rating and valuation and the second relates to the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. The Leader of the House should have said that the business could continue until 10 o'clock. Indeed, to judge from the exchanges that have taken place so far, it might have been useful to have a 10 o'clock business motion saying that the business, though opposed, could continue until any hour. Many more hours after 10 o'clock could be filled because the issue is controversial. If the House deals with an issue more controversial than the affairs of Northern Ireland, I have yet to know it.

The speeches from Members on both sides of the House have shown that there is great bitterness, anger and concern about the Select Committee. In addition to the motion, five amendments have been tabled to be taken in an hour and a half. They are not just Back-Bench amendments but are supported by Front-Bench Members, which in some people's eyes—not mine—makes them more important. Back-Bench Members cannot table a prayer and have it debated unless it is supported by members of the shadow Front Bench. When dealing with subordinate legislation, Back-Bench Members must have the support of Front-Bench Members to get time on the Floor of the House. So there is a rule that items supported by Front-Bench shadow Members are more important.

The meritocracy of this place—the sort of thing that gives preferential treatment to Privy Councillors, which ordinary Back-Bench Members find outrageous—means that motion No. 3 on Northern Ireland affairs should have been given more time than the hour and a half allocated to it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) said, the exchanges tonight illustrate the controversy surrounding the motion.

I look forward to hearing the argument of the Leader of the House. He should abandon the idea of introducing Jopling by sleight of hand in business motions such as this. We should kick it out and let the House decide the priorities. He should stop interfering with the business of the House in this way.

5.35 pm
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) spelt out pIainly and adequately why we should press for more time to discuss the motions. In my experience of discussing motions on Northern Ireland, this is the first time that I have heard Members representing Northern Ireland say that they do not need more time. I have always agreed with them that we need more time to discuss Northern Ireland issues because of the controversies that arise.

In my intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), I said that today's exchanges reinforce the demand for more time to discuss Northern Ireland issues, whether they are political or matters of principle. We are in danger of giving too much away to the Executive if we do not show them that we need more time to discuss issues, particularly on Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East referred to the fact that, because the Labour party does not organise in Northern Ireland, its membership of the Committee should be considered. If it is right to criticise the number of Labour Members on the Committee, should not the same principle apply to the Tory party

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman was not here at the beginning of the debate—

Mr. Vaz

He was.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I apologise if the hon. Gentleman was here. However, I made it clear that hon. Members must not anticipate the debate that is to come, which concerns membership of the Committee. This business motion is specifically about motions Nos. 2 and 3, not about how much time should be given to debating Northern Ireland as such. I should therefore be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would be specific in addressing the issue.

Mr. O'Brien

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was referring to the orders and my intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, East. May I finish what I was saying? The hon. Gentleman's reference was relevant to the discussion, but I accept your ruling on that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Tory party is organised in Northern Ireland and some of us got here having defeated Tory candidates.

Mr. O'Brien

I accept that point, but will not pursue it, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have ruled on it.

Given the exchanges across the Chamber and the concerns expressed by hon. Members about the principles set down in the motion, I support the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South that more time should be allocated so that we might hear hon. Members' views on significant issues relating to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mallon

The hon. Gentleman has said that this is the first time he has known Northern Ireland Members not to use all the time available to make their points. Lest that be misconstrued as a lack of interest or concern on our part, I should point out that we are acting in recognition of the Chair's ruling that the debate should be only about the time factor. Perhaps we should all make a small sacrifice and deny ourselves the opportunity to listen to our own voices in this of all weeks. That might allow us to get on to debate the Northern Ireland issue.

Mr. O'Brien

I acknowledge that point, although it prompts certain other controversial questions—which I could put to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that there is more that he could say on this issue.

The restriction on the time for debate on the orders is a retrograde step—especially when people press for even less time to discuss them. I appeal to the Leader of the House carefully to consider our request for more time in future to discuss these issues.

5.40 pm
Mr. Newton

This has been a debate of what I may tactfully term endless fascination to those of us who have witnessed it. I can only say how much I envy my hon. Friends who are to have the chance to serve on the Select Committee, following what I have seen this evening—

Mr. McNamara

When are they to have that chance?

Mr. Newton

I hope that they will have it following the recommendations of the Committee of Selection. Given that the Select Committee is to include the hon. Members for South Down (Mr. McGrady), for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder), and the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), I suspect—based on what I have seen this evening—that its members will spend less time scrutinising the Government and the Northern Ireland Office than scrutinising each other. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Another fascination of this debate—there were many—was to witness the transformation of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), not present in the Chamber now, from glowering at us from one side of the Gangway to glowering at us—after an intervention—from the other side of it.

Yet another fascination offered by the debate was the the speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). It reappeared like a familiar friend from our previous debate on the establishment of the Committee. I cannot say that it reappeared by popular demand, but it doubtless made a contribution to the recycling industry—I listened to it with great interest.

Both the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North and the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) referred to the iniquity of the guillotine on the non-domestic rating legislation. I remind them that, so draconian was that guillotine, that the Opposition could not even fill the time for which it allowed.

This further "draconian" measure on rating and valuation—allowing an hour and a half for discussion of the proposals—has led the hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Leicester, East to demand a £200 million reduction in the money available to local authorities this year. If British Rail does not pay £200 million in rates, local authorities will not receive that revenue—a most interesting demand betokening a welcome conversion, somewhat unexpected, to restraint on public expenditure.

Mr. Vaz

The point that my hon. Friend and I were making was that there was no need to bring in this measure three days before it was due to come into effect. There has been plenty of time to debate it since November 1993, when the Railways Act became law. Our objection is to the fact that the order has been brought in at such a late stage.

Mr. Newton

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, and I will deal with it in my conclusion.

Although there has been a good deal of point in my comments so far, I should like to end on a more serious note. I do not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether I am allowed to advert to this fact, but the rating and valuation order went through another place on 21 March. So awful is it—so important is it—that—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not about to debate the order.

Mr. Newton

I was merely about to observe, having been told that there is not enough time to debate the order, that when this allegedly dreadful measure went through another place on 21 March, Her Majesty's Opposition did not see fit to offer a single word on it, let alone to discuss it for an hour and a half.

I should tell the hon. Member for South Down that it is my understanding that there were conversations through the usual channels with his party. For all I know, the problem may lie with the usual channels in his party—

Mr. McGrady

I reiterate what I said: there was no communication of any sort with my party about the setting up of the Select Committee or the appointment of its members.

Mr. Newton

That is different from my understanding, but I do not question the hon. Gentleman's integrity; I regard him as an hon. Gentleman and I respect his veracity. Perhaps it is all a misunderstanding, but I have put my view on the record, as he has his.

The last fascination of this debate is that it has been rather like those Adjournment debates when the Leader of the House offers the House a holiday, only to be confronted by a solid phalanx of Members simultaneously demanding more and more work and praying that the Leader of the House will not accept their blandishments. There has certainly been an element of that in this debate.

I have provided an hour and a half each of prime time for the rating and valuation order and for discussion of the Select Committee membership. That has resulted in my being here to listen to some rather strange speeches for the better part of an hour and a half or more. The alternative would have been to table the rating and valuation order for 10 o'clock tonight or tomorrow night, followed by an hour—not an hour and a half—on the Northern Ireland Select Committee motion. If that is what hon. Members want, they had better tell me. I think that what I have offered the House is sensible, reasonable and right, and I hope that the House will accept it.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 303, Noes 233.

Division No. 183] [5.47 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Clappison, James
Aitken, Jonathan Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Alexander, Richard Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Coe, Sebastian
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Congdon, David
Amess, David Conway, Derek
Ancram, Michael Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Arbuthnot, James Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Cormack, Patrick
Ashby, David Couchman, James
Aspinwall, Jack Cran, James
Atkins, Robert Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Baldry, Tony Day, Stephen
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Deva, Nirj Joseph
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Devlin, Tim
Bates, Michael Dickens, Geoffrey
Batiste, Spencer Dicks, Terry
Beggs, Roy Dorrell, Stephen
Bendall, Vivian Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Beresford, Sir Paul Dover, Den
Biffen, Rt Hon John Duncan, Alan
Body, Sir Richard Duncan-Smith, Iain
Booth, Hartley Dunn, Bob
Boswell, Tim Dykes, Hugh
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Eggar, Tim
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Elletson, Harold
Bowden, Andrew Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bowis, John Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Brandreth, Gyles Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Brazier, Julian Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bright, Graham Evennett, David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Faber, David
Browning, Mrs. Angela Fabricant, Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Burns, Simon Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Butcher, John Fishburn, Dudley
Butterfill, John Forman, Nigel
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Forsylhe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Carrington, Matthew Forth, Eric
Carttiss, Michael Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Cash, William Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger MacGregor, Rt Hon John
French, Douglas MacKay, Andrew
Fry, Sir Peter Maclean, David
Gale, Roger McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gallie, Phil Madel, Sir David
Gardiner, Sir George Maginnis, Ken
Garnier, Edward Maitland, Lady Olga
Gill, Christopher Malone, Gerald
Gillan, Cheryl Mans, Keith
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Marland, Paul
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Marlow, Tony
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Gorst, John Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Merchant, Piers
Grylls, Sir Michael Mills, Iain
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hague, William Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Moate, Sir Roger
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hampson, Dr Keith Monro, Sir Hector
Hanley, Jeremy Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hannam, Sir John Moss, Malcolm
Hargreaves, Andrew Nelson, Anthony
Harris, David Neubert, Sir Michael
Haselhurst, Alan Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hawkins, Nick Nicholls, Patrick
Hawksley, Warren Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hayes, Jerry Norris, Steve
Heald, Oliver Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hendry, Charles Oppenheim, Phillip
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Ottaway, Richard
Hicks, Robert Page, Richard
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Paice, James
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Paisley, Rev Ian
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Patnick, Irvine
Horam, John Patten, Rt Hon John
Hordem, Rt Hon Sir Peter Pawsey, James
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Pickles, Eric
Ho well, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Rathbone, Tim
Hunter, Andrew Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jack, Michael Richards, Rod
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Riddick, Graham
Jenkin, Bernard Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Jessel, Toby Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jones, Gwllym (Cardiff N) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Key, Robert Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Kilfedder, Sir James Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Kirkhope, Timothy Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knapman, Roger Sackville, Tom
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shaw, David (Dover)
Knox, Sir David Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shersby, Michael
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Sims, Roger
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Skeet, Sir Trevor
Legg, Barry Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Leigh, Edward Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Soames, Nicholas
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Speed, Sir Keith
Lidington, David Spencer, Sir Derek
Lightbown, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Spink, Dr Robert
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Spring, Richard
Lord, Michael Sproat, Iain
Luff, Peter Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony Walden, George
Stephen, Michael Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Stem, Michael Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Stewart, Allan Waller, Gary
Streeter, Gary Ward, John
Sumberg, David Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sweeney, Walter Waterson, Nigel
Sykes, John Watts, John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wells, Bowen
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd) Whitney, Ray
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Whittingdale, John
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Widdecombe, Ann
Temple-Morris, Peter Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Thomason, Roy Wilkinson, John
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Willetts, David
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Thurnham, Peter Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wolfson, Mark
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th) Wood, Timothy
Tracey, Richard Yeo, Tim
Trend, Michael Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Trimble, David
Trotter, Neville Tellers for the Ayes:
Twinn, Dr Ian Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Mr. Michael Brown.
Abbott, Ms Diane Darling, Alistair
Adams, Mrs Irene Davidson, Ian
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Allen, Graham Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Denham, John
Armstrong, Hilary Dewar, Donald
Ashton, Joe Dixon, Don
Austin-Walker, John Dobson, Frank
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Donohoe, Brian H.
Barnes, Harry Eagle, Ms Angela
Barren, Kevin Eastham, Ken
Bayley, Hugh Enright, Derek
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Etherington, Bill
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bell, Stuart Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bennett, Andrew F. Fatchett, Derek
Benton, Joe Faulds, Andrew
Bermingham, Gerald Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Berry, Dr. Roger Fisher, Mark
Betts, Clive Flynn, Paul
Blair, Tony Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Blunkett, David Foster, Don (Bath)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Foulkes, George
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Fraser, John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fyfe, Maria
Burden, Richard Galloway, George
Byers, Stephen Gapes, Mike
Caborn, Richard Garrett, John
Callaghan, Jim Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Godman, Dr Norman A.
Canavan, Dennis Golding, Mrs Llin
Cann, Jamie Gordon, Mildred
Chisholm, Malcolm Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Clapham, Michael Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Grocott, Bruce
Clelland, David Gunnell, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hall, Mike
Connarty, Michael Hanson, David
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hardy, Peter
Corbett, Robin Harman, Ms Harriet
Corston, Ms Jean Harvey, Nick
Cousins, Jim Henderson, Doug
Cox, Tom Heppell, John
Cryer, Bob Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hinchliffe, David
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Hoey, Kate
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Dalyell, Tarn Home Robertson, John
Hoon, Geoffrey O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) O'Hara, Edward
Hoyle, Doug Olner, William
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) O'Neill, Martin
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Patchett, Terry
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Pendry, Tom
Hume, John Pickthall, Colin
Hutton, John Pike, Peter L.
Illsley, Eric Pope, Greg
Ingram, Adam Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jamieson, David Prescott, John
Janner, Greville Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Purchase, Ken
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Radice, Giles
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Randall, Stuart
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Raynsford, Nick
Keen, Alan Redmond, Martin
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S) Rendel, David
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Khabra, Piara S. Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Kilfoyle, Peter Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Kirkwood, Archy Rogers, Allan
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Rooney, Terry
Lewis, Terry Ruddock, Joan
Litherland, Robert Sedgemore, Brian
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Sheerman, Barry
Loyden, Eddie Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lynne, Ms Liz Short, Clare
McAllion, John Simpson, Alan
McAvoy, Thomas Skinner, Dennis
McCartney, Ian Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Macdonald, Calum Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
McFall, John Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
McGrady, Eddie Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McKelvey, William Snape, Peter
Mackinlay, Andrew Soley, Clive
McLeish, Henry Spearing, Nigel
McMaster, Gordon Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
McNamara, Kevin Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
McWilliam, John Steinberg, Gerry
Madden, Max Stevenson, George
Maddock, Mrs Diana Stott, Roger
Mahon, Alice Strang, Dr. Gavin
Mallon, Seamus Straw, Jack
Mandelson, Peter Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Marek, Dr John Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Turner, Dennis
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Vaz, Keith
Martlew, Eric Wareing, Robert N
Meacher, Michael Welsh, Andrew
Meale, Alan Wicks, Malcolm
Michael, Alan Williams, Rt Hon Alun (Sw'n W)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Milburn, Alan Winnick, David
Miller, Andrew Wise, Audrey
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Wray, Jimmy
Morley, Elliot Wright, Dr Tony
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Mowlam, Marjorie Tellers for the Noes:
Mudie, George Mr. Jim Dowd and
Mullin, Chris Mr. John Cummings.
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That, at this day's sitting, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), the Speaker shall—

  1. (1) put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr. Secretary Gummer relating to Rating and Valuation not later than one and a half hours after their commencement; and
  2. (2) put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Sir Fergus Montgomery relating to Northern Ireland Affairs not later than one and 837 a half hours after their commencement; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments to the said Motion which she may have selected and which may then be moved; notwithstanding the practice of the House the said Motion shall be regarded as a single Motion
and the above proceedings may be entered upon and proceeded with, though opposed, after Ten o'clock.