HC Deb 14 December 1999 vol 341 cc243-4

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, at the sitting on Thursday 16th December, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any messages from the Lords shall have been received.—[Mr. Mike Hall.]

9.54 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

This motion comes under a slightly different category. I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office because, rather like the dance of the seven veils, he is revealing his and the Government's position slowly but intriguingly. We are now beginning to see the rationale behind their thinking on these matters. He told us in the previous debate that the usual channels had fixed things up. He tried to reassure us, but he had given the game away earlier. He has now told us—and this is the crux of the matter—that the Government must have their way and must get their business. You and I well understand that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because that is how our parliamentary democracy works in the House, but the Minister neglected to point out that, given their enormous majority, the Government will eventually get their way. However, it is surely important to the House that there are proper deliberations before the Government get their way.

I am increasingly worried that the Government seem to expect to move straight from what they propose to the disposition of that business without anything in between. The difference between us concerns whether we should judge whether Tuesdays should become Thursdays or whether Consolidated Fund Bills have their First, Second and Third Readings in the twinkling of an eye, whether or not there is a precedent for that.

I add in passing that the Government Deputy Chief Whip seemed to find it extremely amusing that I might seek to dissent from something that the Government of whom I had the honour to be a member had done before. All I say to him and to his colleagues is that the Prime Minister has changed his mind on the odd occasion—for example, between 1983, when he was a member of CND and wanted us to leave the European Union, and now.

I am accused of pursuing some unacceptable political position by being uneasy about what my own Government may have done in previous years, but I claim as an ally no less than the Prime Minister, who has exhibited an able method of changing his mind on some of the most key policies and has prospered as a result, but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would not want me to pursue that matter because we are talking about motion 9, which relates to the business of the House.

The motion says: at the sitting on Thursday 16th December, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any messages from the Lords shall have been received. That strikes me as an intriguing and rather odd motion to bring before the House at this stage in the Session. One would normally expect such a motion—we are used to it—as we get to the end of a Session, when there is to-ing and fro-ing of Bills between the House of Commons and another place. That is normal. We saw it not that long ago, but what is genuinely intriguing is that the Government should want to have such a measure on the Order Paper and to have it approved by the House at this stage in the parliamentary Session.

That makes me wonder whether the Government have some secret and sinister ploy up their sleeve to spring on the House between now and Thursday 16 December. Why else would they want to make provision for messages coming from another place? It strikes me as rather odd and unusual.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

I am listening carefully to my right hon. Friend. He is right to state that it is unusual to see such a motion on the Order Paper at such an early stage in the new parliamentary Session, but would it not have helped if the Minister had moved the motion, explained what it was about and what messages the House might expect to receive on Thursday 16 December from the other place? We should have been told that at the beginning of the debate. He is the responsible Minister.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is right, but the Government do not seem to have understood yet. If the Minister had done us the courtesy of a brief explanation in advance when you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, rose to announce the next item of business, it would have been helpful. He courteously and helpfully gave such an explanation on motions 7 and 8—I am grateful to him for that—and if he had done so on this motion, who knows? It might have reduced or, in some circumstances, even eliminated the need for the little debates that the House is now helpfully having.

Mr. Maclean

I am afraid that, on this occasion, my right hon. Friend is being too kind to the Minister. It is not a matter of it helping the House if the Minister had broken convention and explained the motion. That is not the argument. It is a motion in the Government's name and it asks the House to do something. Therefore, it is up to the Government to explain the motion—to move it, to tell the House what it is all about and then to ask the House to agree with it. It is ridiculous for anonymous Government Back Benchers—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. We must not have shouting from sedentary positions in the debate.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was intervening on my right hon. Friend. I wish to be brief, but it is nonsensical for those on the Government Back Benches to suggest that, if I keep quiet, the Minister may explain matters in his winding-up speech. A motion that is moved by the Government should be explained by a Minister at the outset.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. In his helpful intervention, he pointed out that the motion is tabled in the name of none other than the Leader of the House. I have no criticism of the Leader of the House—

It being 10 o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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