HC Deb 02 June 1997 vol 295 cc122-34 10.41 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)

; With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement. The business for tomorrow will now be as follows:

TUESDAY 3 JUNE—At 3.30 pm, there will be consideration of an allocation of time motion relating to the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill, followed by consideration in Committee of the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill.

The business for the remainder of the week will be as previously announced.

Mr. Alastair Goodlad (Eddisbury)

Is this not an example of a guillotine—the details of which have not yet been given to the House—that exemplifies the Government's high-handed disregard of the House and their blatant disdain for its views? Will the Leader of the House confirm that an offer was made through the usual channels to agree a timetable for the Bill? Does it not beggar belief that, before the Bill's Committee stage has even been started, the right hon. Lady proposes that the House can properly consider under a guillotine a Bill that will affect our constitution and have a fundamental effect on the future of every person in the United Kingdom? [Interruption.] "Of course it doesn't," says the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Bill will have a fundamental effect on the United Kingdom, but he says that it will not have an effect. We will note his comment, from a sedentary position, that it does not have an effect on this country.

Has the right hon. Lady considered the amendments that have been tabled? Does she not deduce from them that there will be much which right hon. and hon. Members of all parties, including her own, will wish to raise? Does she or does she not consider that their opinions are worth hearing? [Interruption.] The Secretary of State for Wales clearly believes that the opinions of the House are not worth hearing. The Secretary of State for Scotland is trying to shut him up, but the Secretary of State for Scotland also believes that they are not worth hearing.

Does the Leader of the House wish deliberately to cause the Bill to pass through the House unconsidered? The Lobby fodder do, but we know about the Lobby fodder. Has she considered that she has a duty to Members in all parts of the House to protect their rights? If so, will she confirm that her representations to her ministerial colleagues went unheeded and that, in effect, she lost the battle and has had to bow to the unelected forces—otherwise known as the secret seven, or is it the secret seventy—of the gauleiters who now run the Government and the Labour party?

Is it not ironic that the Government should choose on this, their first Bill, to move a guillotine motion and take an anti-democratic approach to a Bill, the purpose of which—[Interruption.] The Lobby fodder do not know what the purpose is. It is to allow some of the people of our country to have their say and yet to prevent the nation's elected representatives from considering it in Parliament. Does the right hon. Lady realise that her credibility in the House and the House's co-operation with the Government have now been put in jeopardy?

Mrs. Taylor

The shadow Leader of the House first asked me to confirm that the Opposition had offered a timetable for the Bill. I cannot confirm that that is the case, because, had they done so, we would not have needed this timetable motion.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Bill would affect the constitution. Having seen the amendments that have been tabled, I think that many Conservative Members do not understand that it is not the devolution Bill but a Bill for a referendum, a test of opinion. There will be changes to the constitution only if the people of Scotland and Wales, who are to be consulted in the referendums, vote for them.

As for the time that has been allowed for the Bill, we had one day of the debate on the Queen's Speech to examine constitutional issues, and we offered a day and a half on Second Reading. It is a simple, straightforward Bill with only six clauses. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is misleading the House when he talks about its complexity. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I am sure that the right hon. Lady will withdraw and rephrase that sentence.

Mrs. Taylor

I apologise, Madam Speaker. The Bill is not complex. If the right hon. Gentleman has read it as such, I suggest that he looks at it again. It has six clauses and two schedules. The Government also have a clear mandate for it. I remind Conservative Members, most of whom did not come into the Chamber during the Second Reading debate, that they have not a single Scottish or Welsh Conservative Member. They have very little mandate on the issue.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the anger from the Conservatives seems synthetic, given that, as I understand from Tea Room rumours, they were offered more time for the Second Reading—time that they did not want to take?

Mrs. Taylor

I shall not confirm Tea Room rumours from the Dispatch Box, but they often have some substance. As for synthetic anger, I remind Conservative Members of the words of a previous Conservative Secretary of State for Education: Any debate on a timetable motion invariably causes a good deal of indignation from the Opposition,… usually found to be largely synthetic and totally unjustified."—[Official Report, 29 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 1210.]

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Does the Leader of the House agree that there was almost a good case this evening for a timetable motion on responses by the shadow Leader of the House? Does she also agree that for a party that guillotined the legislation on the Single European Act in 1986 to complain about a timetable motion from the outset is humbug and synthetic hypocrisy?

Will the Leader of the House take it as a useful precedent that there should be timetabling of Bills from the outset, not when the Government run into trouble in Committee? Does she agree that it would be a waste of the House's time to debate amendments such as amendment No. 189, which says: Voting in the referendum shall only take place during daylight hours"? Given that the shadow Leader of the House has Shetland origins, will he tell us whether he wants the referendum to take place before or after the autumn equinox? That would have a great bearing on whether we have six hours or 18 hours in which to cast our votes.

Mrs. Taylor

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his choice of frivolous amendments. He could have chosen others to prove his point equally well. We have tried to ensure a measured approach to the debate in Committee. We want the debate paced to try to ensure that some of the main issues will be covered, rather than going through the frivolous amendments and then finding that vital issues might not be discussed.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

If the Opposition offered a timetable, would my right hon. Friend have any confidence that the Leader of the Opposition, whomever he or she may be, would have any control over the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) or any of his friends?

Mrs. Taylor

We understand the severe difficulties under which the official Opposition are operating. It must be difficult for the shadow Leader of the House, not being sure with whom he should discuss the issues.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Is it not the Labour Government's contention that this is the most important measure in this year's parliamentary calendar? We are dealing with issues that relate to the Union. There is a legitimate fear about that among Conservatives. As now posited, the referendum excludes the English or Scots living in England from expressing a view on the most precious Union of all to us.

On the Government's first serious measure, they are proposing a guillotining without testing whether the debate is frivolous or serious, yet it is fundamental to those such as me—born in Scotland, living in England and representing and English constituency—to be able to test the proposition. The motion should not be called tomorrow and we should stand by the proper procedures of the House on a constitutional matter.

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman says that there are many people who were born in Scotland who represent English constituencies. Indeed there are and I am one of them; I have always followed this issue carefully.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the Bill is about whether the Union should continue to exist. The Bill is a test of opinion. There has been one test of opinion already during the general election and the result was very decisive. The Bill will allow for a very specific test of opinion. Opposition Members ought not to be so disdainful of the idea of consulting the people. One of the reasons why the Conservative party did so badly in Scotland and in Wales was that it was not willing to listen.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest argument in favour of expediting the Bill is that, in the previous referendum in 1979, we won? The majority of those voting in the referendum in Scotland voted for a Scottish Parliament. In the most recent general election, the Tory party—the party of the status quo—suffered a complete wipeout. The people of Scotland want constitutional change. We want a Scottish Parliament and that is what we expect the Government to deliver.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right. Conservative Members cannot have their arguments both ways. On occasions they say that there is no authority for devolution, but when we seek to provide that authority through a referendum, they still complain.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

We are seeing an arrogant, presidential style of government. Will the right hon. Lady tell her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he should not snub Her Majesty when the President of the United States visits and that he should not override the House of Commons in this high-handed way? Will she do her job as Leader of the House and stand up for the rights of the House on crucial constitutional matters?

Mrs. Taylor

I am not sure whether all the other contenders will have equal right to speak and equal time this evening. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has done his party's fortunes in Scotland and in Wales any good by his attitude. We are not overriding the opportunities that will be available. We are making better use of the parliamentary time that is available, which is in the interests of the House.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

Given the recent opinion poll which shows that 75 per cent. of Scots favour the inclusion of a multi-option referendum, an idea with majority support in all the parties, does the Leader of the House accept the importance of allowing sufficient debating time for the issue? Can she guarantee that the substantive issues will be given adequate debating time?

Mrs. Taylor

I understand why the hon. Gentleman has strong feelings on the matter and I know that some of his hon. Friends share them.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Guarantee it.

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, "Guarantee it." If the House behaves sensibly, that debate could be guaranteed. If we do not see disruptive tactics, there will indeed be more time for the debate to which the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Welsh) has referred. If we pace the debate, we can guarantee that the main issues will be given time—not perhaps as much as the hon. Gentleman would like—to be aired and that there will be time for decisions to be taken by the House. That is one reason why we are going down this path.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

I am sure that the Leader of the House agrees with the dictum of Lord Acton that all power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Did she expect it to happen, however, so early in this Parliament?

Mrs. Taylor

The Labour party was very specific during the election campaign about its intentions with regard to a referendum being held in Scotland and a referendum being held in Wales in the autumn. It is clear from looking at the amendments that some Conservative Members, not all of whom participated in our previous debate and many of whom were not present during it, have tabled them to frustrate debate. We want to facilitate debate.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Although I appreciate that the Leader of the House wants to facilitate debate, is it not always a Government's task to try to stymie debate and therefore move a guillotine motion? Speaking as one of those who have suffered in the past when the then Opposition joined the Government of the day in imposing a guillotine rather than allowing free debate, I ask: should not we guarantee real debate? We should not restrict the rights of Back Benchers to examine Government policies.

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman should consider what has happened on other occasions and what could have happened during tomorrow's debate. We could have started the debate with whatever amendment happened to be top of the list and spent all evening and all night voting on the more minor amendments—some of the amendments that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) has called frivolous. We are trying to make better use of parliamentary time by trying to ensure that there are debates on the key issues that have been indicated to us.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

A limited number of us were here in the 1970s, when devolution for Wales and Scotland was debated. May I remind the House how seriously hon. Members on both sides of the House took those debates? Those debates were long and detailed. The House took them extremely seriously because they were of great constitutional importance.

I look to you, Madam Speaker, to protect the interests of Back Benchers on both sides of the House. Should a guillotine motion be moved without detail and before the Committee stage of an essential constitutional Bill—essential from the Government's point of view, very damaging from the Opposition's point of view—has begun?

I ask the right hon. Lady to take account of those of us who have been here a number of years and who are deeply concerned about the Union of the United Kingdom. The matter is being introduced the wrong way round. We should see what the Bills on devolution are about before we start discussing the referendum.

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the devolution debates in the 1970s. I, too, was in the House during those years and remember the hours spent on them—though I have to say that very often the debates were dominated by a relatively small number of hon. Members. He says that the Bill is very important. In that case, I wish that the Opposition Benches had not been so empty on Second Reading.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Does the right hon. Lady recall that, during the business statement that she made on 22 May—the day the House rose for the recess—I asked her directly and clearly whether she intended to move a timetable motion. She gave no indication that she was going to do so. Can she explain why? Can she reconcile her attitude with the speech that she made later that very day, when she talked about the House having the opportunity to call the Executive to account?

Mrs. Taylor

I think that I was very wise not to give any indication on 22 May because at that stage we had not had any indication of how Opposition Members would be treating the Bill. The simple fact is that 250 amendments, 21 new clauses and 12 new schedules have been moved to a Bill which has only six clauses. What I said later that day in the debate on modernisation proves the point. I said that some Bills have a highly political content on which there is no possibility of agreement across the Floor of the House and, on that basis, the Government must act to get their legislation through.

Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

This is a matter of the utmost importance to hon. Members on both sides of the House. Those on the Government Benches may find that the time comes when they also have a great interest in such a procedure. Does the Leader of the House acknowledge what all her predecessors have acknowledged: that it is her responsibility to look after both sides of the House and not just her own side? If she does, in my experience it is completely novel that such a motion should be moved before the Committee stage of a Bill has even begun. In all my time in the House, I cannot recollect that ever happening before.

Nor do I think it advisable that it should happen particularly in this case because, as has already been pointed out, the Bill is to introduce a referendum on another matter that is not yet embodied in parliamentary draft, let alone approved by the House as a matter on which there should be a referendum. Therefore, I must ask the Leader of the House to give fresh consideration to this because it is a completely new introduction into procedure in the House and not one—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The right hon. Gentleman did it.

Sir Edward Heath

No, I never did it.

The change is not one which I believe that the House as a whole, on reflection, would wish to consider to be a precedent for future action.

Mrs. Taylor

The right hon. Gentleman says that there might be a time when we are interested in such procedures. I must tell him that, after 18 years of watching the former Government introduce guillotines, we have taken a great deal of interest in that procedure. He asked me directly whether I believed that the Leader of the House has responsibility to all parts of the House. I say to that, "Yes, I do." I strongly believe that. That is one of the reasons why I am so glad that the minority parties agree with the procedure that we are adopting.

Mr. Skinner

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in 1971 the then Prime Minister, the present Father of the House, whose memory is obviously beginning to fade a little, introduced a guillotine on the Industrial Relations Bill? That was one of the most controversial Bills that came before the House at that time. The net result was, as he might now recall, that we used to have to vote night after night in the Lobby because he and his Tory Members of Parliament guillotined that Bill. As a result, we had to fight tooth and nail even to make a speech on it.

After all that turmoil, the then Prime Minister decided to put the Industrial Relations Act on the back boiler. It fell into disuse within two years of being passed by Parliament. It is some cheek for the Father of the House to make an intervention now. It is a wonder that the Tories can keep their faces straight when they make such speeches.

Mrs. Taylor

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a wonder that some people can keep their faces straight when they make their comments. My memory does not go back quite as far as his, but I accept what he says about 1971.

On many occasions, we have seen night after night of voting with little discussion of the relevant Bill. There are many examples of the previous Government introducing guillotines at all stages of legislation and, as a result, the time of the House has been wasted and there has been very little constructive debate.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Does the right hon. Lady accept what is said in "Erskine May" on the question of guillotines? It states: They may be regarded as the extreme limit to which procedure goes in affirming the rights of the majority at the expense of the minorities of the House". Does the right hon. Lady accept that what she is doing is no more than exercising the assumed rights of an elective dictatorship? Does she not also accept that this Bill is classified as what is known as a first-class constitutional Bill and, therefore, that the precedents that apply in this case, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) has made quite clear, are not applicable? The fact is that this represents a novel use of the guillotine in relation to a first-class constitutional Bill. If she disagrees with me, will she give me an indication of the precedent on which she relies?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned timetables in general. May I tell him that, when we debated timetabling and the Jopling reforms, we were of course in favour of voluntary agreements to reach a timetable. But I know that the hon. Gentleman's party would have found it very difficult to reach a voluntary agreement because he would probably not have honoured it.

With respect to what I have said in the past about timetabling Bills, the last time that I spoke on a guillotine motion—a Tory guillotine—I accepted that guillotines had a part to play in our constitution.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, while it is proper to be sensitive to the rights of the House, the Bill is to give rights to the people of Scotland and Wales? Far from the Government being an elective dictatorship, any filibustering on the Bill would deny to the people of Scotland and Wales something that was pledged plainly in a manifesto that led to a clearance from both those countries of any Conservative Members who might oppose it.

Mrs. Taylor

My right hon. Friend is right. That is why Conservative Members seem unable to understand the nature of the Bill, which does not change the constitution but allows consultation with the people of Scotland and Wales. It allows us to fulfil a clear manifesto commitment in which we defined the specific provisions that we would introduce and, indeed, the time scale.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It needs to be suggested that the Leader of the House has, deliberately or otherwise, misled the House.

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made a very serious statement. I must ask him to withdraw it.

Mr. Gale


Madam Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman is refusing to withdraw the statement that he has just made about the right hon. Lady misleading the House—[Interruption.] Order. Who said it was justified? I will deal this matter, and I will also deal with the hon. Member who said that it was justified. Let me deal first with the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale). If he refuses to withdraw, my only alternative is to ask him to withdraw for the remainder of this day's sitting, under the Standing Order.

Mr. Gale

What I said—and I must repeat it—was clearly that, either deliberately or otherwise, the Leader of the House has misled the House. She has given the House the impression that this is not setting a precedent, and—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman can say that the right hon. Lady has given the House an impression. If he is saying that, he should make it very clear to me. Otherwise, I will use the Standing Order.

Mr. Gale

The right hon. Lady has given the House the impression, correctly or incorrectly, that the measure tonight is not setting a precedent. It is my understanding, as a Back Bencher who has been in the House for 14 years, that it is a precedent.

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Gale

I would ask you, Madam Speaker, and your Clerks, to clarify whether this is a novel experience and a precedent.

Madam Speaker

Order. It is not a precedent. Standing Orders allow for guillotines. Let us get on with it. Who said that it was justified? I would caution him not to use such words in future.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I did not say that it was justified. I said that perhaps he could justify it.

Madam Speaker

No, you did not. I heard the hon. Gentleman clearly.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

Has the Leader of the House missed the point, which is quite simply that the Bill is a class A constitutional Bill in its own right? There are so many amendments because the detail that follows the Bill in devolution legislation is so important and remains unresolved. The Government want to force it through and get a vote in Scotland and Wales so that subsequently they can ram through their devolution legislation on a guillotine as well, on the basis that we have no right to debate it. The Leader of the House plans to guillotine the Bill, but can she give the House an undertaking that none of the devolution legislation will be guillotined?

Mrs. Taylor

The timetable motion is a response to the attitude of Conservative Members who did not even participate in the debate on Second Reading. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Bill's constitutional nature. The Bill has one simple purpose, and that is to consult the people of Scotland and Wales by a referendum.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Has not the Leader of the House said that, although the Bill is short and the amendments are numerous, it is a measure which is worthy of a guillotine because the amendments are, in her words, frivolous? Is it not inappropriate for her to make a value judgment on amendments? Is it not for the House as a whole, after due debate, to decide the merit or otherwise of amendments? Is she not seriously endangering her authority and position as custodian of the rights of the House as a whole in taking that partisan view and thereby pre-empting an important Committee stage on the Floor?

Mrs. Taylor

Every guillotine is a value judgment, and is needed only when there is not agreement between the two sides of the House. I remind the hon. Gentleman that some parties in the House have not been hostile to the decision because they realise that it guarantees some of the debates that they think are essential.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

Does the right hon. Lady not understand that her monstrously arrogant decision shows that she is utterly contemptuous of the views of the House and is as keen to stifle debate here as the Prime Minister is to stifle it in the ranks of the Labour party?

Mrs. Taylor

We are trying to prevent men behaving badly and get a proper debate

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

Does the right hon. Lady agree that 136 amendments and new clauses—I have a copy of them with me—have been selected for debate? Does she agree that her motion will make sure that the majority of them will never be discussed at all? Is it not tragic that Governments of both parties have presented complicated Bills that contain many proposals that when considered carefully turn out to be a load of rubbish, as happened with the Single European Act, which I voted against? Is there not a danger that we will not have the opportunity to consider this issue carefully?

Mr. Canavan

The hon. Gentleman was kicked out of Scotland by the people of Scotland.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Does she-and the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), who got it so wrong over the last such Bill—agree that the tragedy of devolution is that the Government, like the previous Labour Government, are supporting something that they know to be against the interests of Scotland because they think that it will defend them against the Scottish National party?

Mrs. Taylor

I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a keen interest in this issue over many years and, unlike some Conservative Members who have spoken, he participated in the debate. I disagree with him when he implies that every one of those 136 amendments would have had the sort of scrutiny that he suggests had we not decided to get proper debates on certain groupings. We are endeavouring to ensure that the main issues that require consideration find time for debate in the House. However, he is being incredibly arrogant when he says that in promoting devolution we are promoting something that we know to be against the interests of Scotland. This Bill gives the people of Scotland and Wales the chance to make the decision.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Does not the Leader of the House appreciate that the people of this country will be stunned at the Government's breathtaking arrogance in introducing a guillotine procedure even before Committee stage has begun? What am Ito say to my constituents, the people of Ribble Valley? Some of them are Welsh, like me, and will have no say in that referendum. Some are Scottish and live in Ribble Valley, but will have no say in that referendum. The vast majority are English, but will be asked to pick up the tab for that referendum. Surely, the Leader of the House should recognise that denying them their say means that, at least, she should not deny their Member of Parliament in the House of Commons the right to speak at length on the issues involved in the referendum debate.

Mrs. Taylor

I am not sure, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman spoke in the debate on Second Reading, although I am sure that he has told his constituents his view. [Interruption.] I am asked what that has to do with it. It is astounding that there is such peculiar indignation coming from the Opposition Benches, from people who showed no interest at all on Second Reading. The hon. Gentleman says that people will be stunned by the guillotine that we are suggesting; I think that people are stunned by many of our procedures, which see this House sitting through the night to no good effect.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Just as a matter of interest, can my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House tell us how many of those Conservative Members who are protesting now protested against the guillotines on highly controversial legislation, such as the Single European Act, the poll tax and many other measures that were strenuously opposed by Labour during the 18 years in opposition? Have we not seen tonight the height of hypocrisy from Conservative Members who never once protested against the guillotine motions of their own Government?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right. The list of the guillotine motions produced by the previous Government runs to several pages and I do not think that any Conservative Member voted against any of them.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

Just a few weeks into the new Parliament, are we not witnessing a quite disturbing situation—a new Government who find it impossible to resist the undoubted temptation presented by a large majority to treat this House with increasing levity?

We have already had the unilateral decision to change the arrangements for Prime Minister's Questions, reducing from six to three the number of questions a week that the Leader of the Opposition can ask the Prime Minister. We have already had a very important announcement about giving the Bank of England operational independence being made outside this place, and we were simply presented with a fait accompli.

Now, we have the double event of a Bill being guillotined which is, first, a major constitutional Bill and, secondly, one that has not even started its Committee proceedings. Will the right hon. Lady—even at this late hour—think again before fundamental damage is done to our parliamentary system, which all of us on both sides of the House who are devoted to this country's parliamentary system will come to regret and to rue?

Mrs. Taylor

I do not think that this decision has the implications suggested by the hon. Gentleman. This is not a major constitutional Bill—it is a Bill allowing for the consultation procedure.

Mr. Cash

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Leader of the House has just said that the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill is not a major constitutional Bill. Is it not absolutely crystal clear from "Erskine May" and, indeed, from your own ruling that this could not possibly be described as anything other than a major constitutional Bill?

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order for me. The House must examine the Bill as it comes before it, as it is doing now and as it will do tomorrow.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

Can the Leader of the House answer the question that she has so far avoided? What is the precedent for guillotining a constitutional Bill in the House before Committee stage has even begun? Many people in the House tonight will feel that she has betrayed the trust put in her position, which is to defend the interests of the House against an Executive who seem to believe that if a measure is in their manifesto, it does not have to be debated in the House.

Mrs. Taylor

It is basic common sense to adopt the approach that we are suggesting, not least because, if we did not take steps to ensure that there was a referendum in Scotland and one in Wales in the autumn, we would be breaking a manifesto commitment.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I can understand why the right hon. Lady is so terrified of even brief debate on amendments. Clearly, it is entirely a matter for her if she wants to treat Government Back-Bench Members with contempt, but will she tell us how she justifies treating the people and democracy itself with contempt?

Mrs. Taylor

The Bill is about democracy; it is about consulting the people of Scotland and Wales.

Mr. John Butterfill

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The right hon. Lady is justifying the proposed guillotine motion by saying that some of the amendments that have been tabled are frivolous. Surely that is your decision. You decide which amendments will be called for debate.

Madam Speaker

My Chairman of Ways and Means decides.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Will the Leader of the House tell me when such a Bill was guillotined before consideration in Committee? Is it her view, as it appears to be from what she has said already, that only those such as myself who participated in the constitutional debate on a Friday and spoke on Second Reading may take any interest in Second Reading?

Mrs. Taylor

I did not say that. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman participated as he describes. I was comparing the synthetic debate this evening with the amount of real interest that was shown on Second Reading.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. We must now move on to the Northern Ireland business.

Dr. Fox

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Leader of the House, who is supposed to represent the interests of Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House, to fail to answer questions on precedent in the Chamber on repeated occasions, as we have seen this evening?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

What is said from the Government Front Bench is entirely a matter for Ministers and not for the Chair.

Mr. Salmond

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Leader of the House to timetable business during the Conservative party's internal elections? As I remember Second Reading, there were only three Conservative Members present in the Chamber because the debate took place during the 1922 Committee elections. If the Leader of the House had timetabled consideration in Committee for the next instalment in the Tory party leadership election, she might not have needed a guillotine motion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Like many things that I have heard in the House, that is not a matter for the Chair.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During the 38 years that I have sat in this place, I have never seen a Minister, in the middle of answering questions, walk out of the Chamber. Unless the right hon. Lady has been taken unwell, which we would all much regret, it seems to me an act of the grossest discourtesy.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

In fact, Madam Speaker had determined that we move on to the next business. There was not, therefore, any question of discourtesy from the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House made it clear that she did not think that the Bill was a first-order constitutional measure. Why, then, is it being taken on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There are other such measures that are taken on the Floor of the House, as the Order Paper for this week already shows.

Mr. Wilshire

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House could not have been other than aware that the issue of a guillotine motion was still being raised on points of order, despite what Madam Speaker said. Is it not therefore a matter of gross contempt towards us all for the right hon. Lady to walk out of the Chamber and ignore what we are saying?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Madam Speaker had decided that we were moving on to the next business, and certain right hon. and hon. Members acted on that fact.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you, as the Chairman of Ways and Means, are responsible for the selection of amendments, may I ask you whether it is normal practice on an important constitutional Bill for the Chairman of Ways and Means to select frivolous amendments?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that there may be a more appropriate time to discuss whether the amendments that have been selected are appropriate.