HC Deb 22 July 1999 vol 335 cc1360-406

11. In this Order, 'allotted day' means any day on which the Employment Relations Bill is put down on the main business as first Government Order of the Day.

I propose to be extremely brief, as I am conscious that time taken on this debate will be time taken from debate on the measure. The Employment Relations Bill and the Food Standards Bill are important elements of the Government's legislative programme—indeed, both were referred to in our manifesto. Both Bills have already received substantial discussion and consideration in the House. As the whole House will be aware, the Food Standards Bill, in particular, received an unprecedented amount of scrutiny—public consultation, which produced 1,000 replies; a Special Select Committee; a Second Reading; and an ordinary Standing Committee. The Government are now keen to maintain the momentum of the measure.

It was not possible to complete consideration of the Lords amendments to the Employment Relations Bill last night; that is why it was necessary to table an allocation of time motion today. The motion must be seen against the background of a lack of progress and of the difficulties that have occurred throughout the week. I fear that it has become quite clear—

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

As the right hon. Lady was present during the earlier exchanges, will she explain to the House why, at the start of this week, it was necessary to take up a whole day's sitting on a Second Reading of a Bill that clearly cannot progress to fulfilment during this Session? That has now caused the right hon. Lady to introduce a guillotine motion on other important Bills.

Mrs. Beckett

No, I do not propose to get involved in that matter, for the simple reason that, as I have pointed out, I do not want to take time from the matters that we are now discussing-the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman is not one of them. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends did not have the chance to raise the matter at business questions, but that is not a matter for me. The issue was not raised with me and, consequently, I did not deal with it. [Interruption.] I do not propose to deal with it now, no matter how often it is raised. If hon. Gentlemen want to raise it, they should please not waste the time of the House.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I am confused about what happened yesterday to make the right hon. Lady decide to curtail business. She will know that the House expected that the Access to Justice Bill

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. I shall not allow hon. Members to mention other Bills. We have an allocation of time—

Mr. Bruce

On timing.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We have an allocation of time motion before us, which specifically relates to the Food Standards Bill and the Employment Relations Bill. No other Bill should come into that discussion.

Mr. Bruce

I apologise for naming that particular Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, because of the way in which yesterday's business was conducted, both the Leader of the House and I did not actually return from Buckingham Palace in time to vote. We were expecting a vote at 6 o'clock, but the vote took place 20 minutes earlier. The right hon. Lady will probably remember that the second vote was so early that she arrived from the Palace still wearing her hat—looking very elegant. Surely, we were moving faster yesterday and today's guillotine motion is not justified.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman makes some kind remarks, but flattery will get him nowhere.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the specific timing expected for a particular vote, and what that indicated as to the passage of legislation. He alleges that a particular vote was expected for a particular time; that is a matter that relates to the information that he had. I do not want to take up too much time, so I simply say to him and to the House, that, through the week, it had become clear that a small number of Opposition Members were keen to disrupt the smooth passage and progress of business. I make no complaint about that, although it can be annoying to other Members. Such tactics are sometimes regarded as trivial, but they are a perfectly legitimate operation of the Opposition's role and of their rights in the House. I have no quarrel with that whatever.

However, as all hon. Members know, rights involve responsibilities. The Government have a responsibility to protect our business and to see it through and to protect the private Members' business that is set down for consideration tomorrow. That is the last day available to consider private Members' business and many hon. Members hope to see their legislation progress. The hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) raised that matter with me during business questions.

Events throughout the week led to our conclusion that a few hon. Members were keen to slow down progress. Although I recognise that programme motions are preferable to guillotine motions, even if programme motions had been agreed on this legislation—and they were not—we would then have had to ask whether that promise could have been delivered. The Government chose to move this guillotine motion against that background and in the light of events during the past week.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Lady's comments. Is she suggesting that, because about five Opposition Back Benchers kept Labour Members up until beyond midnight on Monday, she proposes to guillotine the Food Standards Bill—which had Opposition support in Committee, which came out of Committee bang on time and upon which I think the Government will admit they received the full co-operation of my right hon. and hon. Friends? Is that the right hon. Lady's justification for chopping ruthlessly the time allowed for its consideration today?

Mrs. Beckett

We are not chopping it ruthlessly. We have provided adequate time to discuss the Bill and that will occur so long as we do not take up too much time considering this motion. I am well aware of, and the Government recognise, the part played by Opposition Members in the Committee's considerations—in which I understand the right hon. Gentleman also played a distinguished role. It is not a matter of time, or of people being kept up late. The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that, of the nine Divisions that were called on Monday night after a couple of hours of debate, seven related to statutory instruments and all of them had been to Standing Committee and passed unopposed.

Let us not be mealy-mouthed about this. We all recognise and understand the tactics employed—they are legitimate tactics for Opposition Members to use. However, it is equally legitimate for the Government to recognise when they are being used and to take the decisions that a Government must take.

2.22 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

The motion before us would curtail the debate on two Bills—the Employment Relations Bill and the Food Standards Bill—neither of which we have sought to delay. At no time in her speech did the Leader of the House allege that the Opposition intended to obstruct the measures. These Bills have been caught up in some wider Government agenda—about which they have been less than explicit—which requires some display of virility and the exercise of their majority in this place before we rise for the summer recess.

I shall deal first with the Employment Relations Bill and to the events of yesterday. The House began considering the Access to Justice Bill and the Lords reasons for disagreeing with House of Commons amendments at 3.56 pm. Consideration concluded three hours later after one Division, which was called by the Opposition. There was no delay and no evidence of any obstruction of the Government's business. We then began considering Lords amendments to the Employment Relations Bill at about 7 o'clock. By 10 o'clock, there had been one vote—which we had called—and we had finished considering all the issues in which we were interested, with the exception of two upon which we wanted to have a brief debate and to vote. The rest of the business was Government amendments.

I have looked through yesterday's Hansard to see whether there was any filibustering by my hon. Friends. I saw some references to "The Goon Show" and to "Hancock's Half Hour" but they were made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who also asked whether druids were exempt from the minimum wage. The Secretary of State made the longest speech in the debate leading up to the guillotine announcement. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman was called to order in column 1288 of Hansard for moving away from consideration of the amendment. Only one of my right hon. Friends was called to order, at column 1283 of Hansard, for straying from the subject under consideration. There were no long speeches, only good, serious contributions to the argument.

A 10 o'clock motion on yesterday's Order Paper in the name of the Prime Minister would have enabled the House to sit beyond 10 o'clock, and I have no reason to doubt that consideration of the Bill could have concluded at a reasonable hour. The Order Paper then listed for consideration another Bill, the Contracts (Right of Third Parties) Bill, which is clearly not very important, as it has now disappeared into the spill-over. There was nothing in the conduct of the Employment Relations Bill yesterday to justify imposing a guillotine.

The House did not begin its final deliberations on the Food Standards Bill yesterday because it was due to be considered today. We did not oppose the Bill on Second Reading and we dealt with it in Committee in three weeks, which is a reasonable time scale. I assure the House that the Opposition did not intend to disrupt the passage of the Bill today, and it is simply absurd to imply that we wanted somehow to threaten private Members' business tomorrow.

The Leader of the House asserted yesterday—she repeated that assertion today—that we did not agree to a programme motion. That is a wholly new doctrine: "Sign this programme motion or we will guillotine you." That is not how the business of the House is arranged.

Mrs. Beckett


Sir George Young

Perhaps the right hon. Lady would allow me to finish my point. We gave an undertaking, which I believe that the Government accepted, that we would not delay the passage of the Bill.

Mrs. Beckett

That is not what the Government are saying. If the right hon. Gentleman looks over the pattern of events this Session, he will see that, on the last few occasions when the Government felt obliged to guillotine legislation, we sought programme motions that were refused. When we embarked on the process of debate, there was then substantial delay. So, unfortunately, there is a history of the refusal to agree to a programme motion leading to subsequent delay, which has made it necessary to impose a guillotine.

Although we were only a third of the way down the amendment paper when I made my business statement last night, the right hon. Gentleman makes much of the fact that the Opposition wanted to raise only one or two minor points, which he implies could have been dealt with speedily. Why did no Opposition Member approach the Government side to explain that the Opposition wished to continue for another half an hour, an hour, or whatever? We all know that that is a perfectly ordinary way of discussing and arranging business through the usual channels. However, it was not done.

Sir George Young

The right hon. Lady has raised many points. However, with respect, she did not deal with the final point that I made before her intervention—perhaps because she had decided to intervene before I made it. We gave an undertaking—which I believe that the Government accepted—that we would not delay the passage of the Food Standards Bill. That denies the right hon. Lady's reference to an earlier case, when no similar undertaking was given. In this case, we said that, although we did not agree to a programme motion, we would not delay the passage of the Bill. I believe that that undertaking was accepted.

The Leader of the House said that there was no implied threat. However, she said yesterday: It is the Government's lack of certainty about proper progress of business—not just as a result of the official Opposition, although I remind the hon. Gentleman that they did not agree to a programme motion on the Bill—that has led us reluctantly to take this step."—[Official Report, 21 July 1999; Vol. 335, c. 1296]. That is a clear implication that, if we did not agree to the programme motion, we would expose ourselves to a guillotine. That is not how the House does business, and I hope that we will not be confronted with that sort of argument in the future.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Many hon. Members who were in the Chamber on Monday night witnessed Divisions for two hours—if our constituents had seen it, they would have thought that we were barmy—on issues that had appeared before Standing Committees and been agreed without Divisions. The right hon. Gentleman had no control over the Opposition Whips or his Back Benchers that day. He can do nothing to stop those people disrupting Parliament. The Government have every right to protect the business of the House if he cannot protect us from half a dozen of his Back Benchers.

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman has given the game away. The guillotine has nothing to do with these two Bills; it is revenge for what happened on Monday.

The Leader of the House has announced another guillotined debate for next Monday on yet another Bill. So the Government are planning to end the Session in the high-handed, dictatorial manner to which we have become accustomed.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Leader of the House is motivated not by revenge but by judgment, because the Opposition have shown that they are singularly incapable of controlling their own Back Benchers?

Sir George Young

The Government are guillotining discussion on two Bills on which the Opposition have given undertakings. At no time in the speech that we have just heard did the right hon. Lady challenge our undertakings or imply that we were going to obstruct the Bills. As she said yesterday, and as we have heard today, the guillotine has nothing to do with the Bills; it is a result of what happened on Monday. When I asked yesterday what was the reason for the guillotine, the right hon. Lady said: Time has been taken up in the House. One wonders what the House is for if not to take up time.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman embarrassed by the fact that his party is being run by about six or seven vigilantes who are disrupting the business of the House? He ought to be ashamed of trying to defend them.

Sir George Young

That is an absurd allegation about a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends, who take their duties to the House as seriously as did a number of Labour Members during the 18 years when we were in government. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to cast no aspersion on the late Bob Cryer or on the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Is he directing at them the remarks that he has just made about some of my colleagues? [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House must come to order. We cannot have hon. Members shouting across the Chamber.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am sure that, in his study of Hansard, my right hon. Friend will have noticed that, on Monday night, we were having an important debate about an entirely new procedure, which was being invented on the hoof by the Government for their own purposes, and that debate was foreclosed by the Government's action without any attempt to answer the important questions being asked. It is Labour Members who are not taking their responsibilities to the House as seriously as they should.

Sir George Young

I quite agree, and my hon. Friends' reward is simply to be called "vigilantes" by Labour Members.

The reason given by the right hon. Lady last night for the guillotine was that it was in view of the lack of progress on business this week". Later, she said that it was the progress and the general climate of the handling of business over the week…that led to the Government's concern."—[Official Report, 21 July 1999; Vol. 335, c. 1292–95] In other words, discussion is being guillotined on these Bills not because the Government are concerned about what might happen to them, but because, as we have heard, the Government wasted Monday on the Second Reading of a Bill that will have to have another Second Reading when we return in November. The House sat late, perfectly legitimately, and not nearly as late as we used to sit in 1979 and 1980, when we had many more late-night sittings. It is deeply disturbing that, after one late night, the Labour Government have overreacted in this way.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

The right hon. Gentleman said earlier that last night's business could and would have been completed by a reasonable hour. In that case, surely six hours is enough time to complete the business today, so why does he not sit down and allow the House to get on with the business in hand?

Sir George Young

The Government are guillotining two Bills. If the hon. Gentleman accepts our undertaking, why is there any need for a guillotine?

The reason for the guillotine dates back to earlier this week, so the Government must have been planning it for some time. Yet, when we had a debate on the summer recess arrangements yesterday morning, there was no mention of the guillotine for the remaining business. The first that I knew about the guillotine was at about seven minutes to 10 last night, which was at about the same time as everybody else. We expect the normal courtesies to be extended if the House is to manage its affairs sensibly. That is simply no way for the Government to treat not only this Opposition party, but the Liberal Democrats, and it is no way to treat the House of Commons. It is not the right arrangement for the measures that we want to discuss.

Mrs. Beckett

I simply remind the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the point that he has just made, that, when I was shadow Leader of the House, I had experience of being in my office and seeing the Leader of the House on the screen telling the House about a guillotine motion, so I had no notice at all.

Sir George Young

The right hon. Lady made it clear that the reason for the guillotine motion was related not to what happened yesterday but to what happened earlier in the week. Against that background, she could have observed the courtesies of letting us know through the usual channels earlier than seven minutes to 10. Her hon. Friends had to call a Division to allow the Government more time to get their act together.

I say to the right hon. Lady that we have helped the Government when they have made a reasonable case. About a fortnight ago, I added my name to a programme motion, so it is nonsense to assert that we do not act reasonably. In the case of the Food Standards Bill, we gave undertakings that the Government accepted.

The guillotine is therefore unnecessary and vindictive. I believe that it an attempt to unite the Labour party after its well-advertised splits and tensions, and it does so at the expense of the freedoms of the House. For those reasons, we shall vote against the motion.

2.35 pm
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I do not intend to follow precisely all the points made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) because I do not think that repetition will help and it will certainly take time from the debate when our purpose this afternoon is obviously to get on with that debate.

I remind the Leader of the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) asked at business questions specifically about the terms on which guillotine motions are brought before the House. I hope that, if she has time during the summer months, she will reflect carefully not only on those terms but on the consultation that takes place in advance.

Liberal Democrat Members' general approach is that a guillotine motion, which is a sledgehammer, should be used only as a very last resort. The way in which we use them at the moment does no credit to Parliament, individual parties or their individual members. It guarantees less effective scrutiny and less effective legislation, and both Parliament and the public lose out as a result. Moreover, the aggressive antics that inevitably follow such actions are not to the benefit of the reputation of the House or the work that we do.

The Leader of the House made much of what happened earlier this week in justifying the motion. I propose to spend a moment or two on that subject. Surely the aggressive antics that we have witnessed do not justify the particular motion in front of us today. As the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire has said, the origins of the motion lie in the events on Monday night.

I was here throughout those proceedings, and I took part in the debate on the business motion. It became clear in that debate—I hope that, when the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food replies to the debate, he will recognise and respond to this point—that, unless the Minister concerned knows the reason for a business motion, the House will be in a complete state of disarray. It was clear that the Minister for Transport did not know the answers to the questions that were being asked about the business motion. For example, she did not know whether, as a result of the Select Committee inquiry, there would be a second Second Reading. She did not know what would happen at prorogation. She did not know whether Standing Committee proceedings would follow.

The failure of those on the Treasury Bench to give adequate answers to important questions that were asked by hon. Members on all sides of the House resulted in a mess. Frankly, the events of Monday night were absurd, but the Government must take responsibility for failing to explain what would happen.

The Leader of the House has made much this afternoon about the progress of business through the House. All that happened on Monday night was that some of the usual hooligans—the term "vigilantes" is too much of a compliment—sought to disturb the business of the House. In the previous Parliament, the hooligans were members of the right hon. Lady's party; such people are a fact of parliamentary life. However, on Monday night, the hooligans had some justification for their actions, in that, at the end of the debate, there was no conclusion. The Whips moved a closure motion, but no answers had been given to the questions that had been asked. There had been a failure in communication.

I hope that, this afternoon, closure will not again be moved before the Minister has responded to the proper issues raised by those of us who want to improve the way in which the House deals with business.

I can only concur with the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire about the panic business statement last night. We witnessed the charade of Labour Back Benchers forcing an entirely absurd Division so that the Leader of the House could arrive with an adequate statement. There was a complete lack of consultation. The right hon. Gentleman and I stood by the Dispatch Box just before the business statement was made and were told what it might contain. We had no opportunity to conduct proper consultation or find out whether we could agree on a process that would help the House to deal effectively with its business.

In an intervention, the Leader of the House implied that she was simply following the bad example of her Conservative predecessors. For goodness' sake—if we develop on that basis, the modernisation of the House will go into reverse. Taking a bad example from the past and adopting it as the process for the future—

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I am grateful to the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip for giving way, and I am very excited to hear his opinion that he and the Conservative Front Bench spokesman should consult on these matters, but the House is the representative institution for much more than Front Benchers. It must also enable Back Benchers to express their views. Back Benchers, I regret to observe across 20 years, are not always ad idem with the views of their party's Front Benchers, and that will apply to the Government as well as to the Opposition. If it is just a cosy-up between three Front Benches, where is the interest of constituents throughout this country protected, and where is the opportunity for Back Benchers to pursue an interest that may seem minor in the great scheme of things but is of great importance to their area or constituency?

Mr. Tyler

I welcome that intervention because I entirely agree with it. The way in which on-the-hoof decisions are sometimes taken, even when the bipartisan usual channels are in operation, does not help the House to do its business in a way that is to the service of all our constituents. That is why short notice is, by its very nature, the antithesis of good consultation.

I happened to be sitting in my office watching the debate, and at 9.55 pm I happened to see the text come up at the bottom of the screen, saying that there would be a business statement at Ten o'clock. I had no foreknowledge. For the Leader of the House to tell us that, on a previous occasion, she sat in her office and was told nothing, is merely to suggest that no lessons have been learned from the mistakes of the past. Two wrongs do not make a right; surely we should know that. I hope that there will be no repeat of that It is extremely important to bring one piece of information before the House. I understand that the Conservative party was offered a programme motion—no one has yet denied that. However, I do not know the terms of that motion, or whether the Conservatives turned it down flat and were not even interested in talking about it. If so, I think that we should know. I, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, was never even offered the opportunity to comment on a programme motion. We would have been very sympathetic to it.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and I are both members of the Modernisation Committee, so he knows that I welcome sensible discussion in advance of business. I should like there to be a business committee to take over that responsibility, so that we do not have to rely on the usual channels. By definition, in a House that is now multi-party, a two-way conversation, with one person saying yes and another person saying no, is also the antithesis of good consultation of the whole House, and we must get away from it.

That may be necessary in exceptional circumstances—

Mr. Maclean

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyler

No; I want to make progress, because I want to get on to the debate.

Mr. Maclean

On that point.

Mr. Tyler

The right hon. Gentleman may make his point in due course. I am sure that it is vital, but, even so, I want to make progress.

In my book, there is a very important difference, not of degree but of substance, between a programme motion, which is agreed to, and an imposed guillotine, which by definition is disagreed to. I hope that we shall find ways to develop the former, so that the opinions of those in all parts of the House have a better opportunity of feeding into the way in which we conduct business.

The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire has mentioned the two Bills that are the subject of the timetable motion. Throughout yesterday evening, I carefully watched the way in which the Employment Relations Bill was debated. For once, the ingenuity of the Opposition was comparatively brief. The ingenuity of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was, uncharacteristically, extremely long winded. Any complaint about progress on the Bill should therefore have been directed by the Leader of the House at her colleagues, not at the Opposition. My hon. Friends were extremely brief.

As far as I can judge, the Government amendments were comparatively straightforward. They were also comparatively welcome to the Opposition and, to a considerable extent, they tidied up some inconsistencies that had been left by the Committee.

The House had not had an opportunity to judge whether there would be major problems on the Food Standards Bill. It had not been put to the test. All the signs were that there would not be major problems unless some of the Conservative Back-Bench hooligans had subtly thought up some new problems and wanted to cause trouble, in which case I am sure that we could have relied on the good offices of the shadow Leader of the House to keep them firmly under control. He is a firm disciplinarian, as we shall discover in a few minutes.

This is a test of the Conservatives' sincerity. If several Conservative Members pop up in a minute, and go on in a way that one or two of them can, we shall know that there is some hypocrisy among those on the Conservative Benches, because the important issue is surely to make progress on the Bill.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyler

No; I am making progress.

I believe that last night's events very seriously—I hope not permanently—undermined cross-party co-operation on progress on business. We have made some real progress in this Parliament. The Government have been forthcoming with the programme motions following the advice of the Modernisation Committee. However, there must be real progress hereafter, and I hope that we shall find that last night's events were an aberration, not the pattern of what is to come.

The Food Standards Bill covers important matters, and I do not propose to speak for much longer. The Food Standards Agency is supported by Members in all parts of the House and by the wider public. There will be important issues to discuss, but I am confident that the Government will be forthcoming in meeting some of the concerns of my right hon. and hon. Friends as well as of the Conservative Opposition, not least in relation to smaller enterprises.

I hope that we shall avoid a full three-hour harangue. That is where the discipline of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire will come into play. Yes, in the past, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has provided the hooligan element. Yes, in the present, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) does much the same thing. However, this afternoon is a test of the ability of the House of Commons to deal with an issue on which we basically have no fundamental political differences, and I very much hope that we can now get on with it.

2.46 pm
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I shall be brief. I want to share with the House the confusion that I felt, as a new Member, about the attitude of the Chamber to time. A historical convention seems to have developed whereby time is the only weapon available to the Opposition and to Back-Bench Members. That is a foolish weapon. The time has come for us to give Back-Bench and Opposition Members other opportunities to influence the progress of legislation.

It seems to me peculiar that, when issues are raised by those who are not members of the Government, usually the only vote that we may have is on whether the House shuts down its business completely. That does not sufficiently respect the interests of our electors or of those on the Government Back Benches, which might sometimes differ from the interests of those on the Front Bench. In a Chamber where the only weapon of anyone who has any criticism is time, Ministers naturally desire to keep their Back Benchers silent.

It is time that we grew up and that we admitted that we all have an interest in representing the interests of our constituents and advancing the programmes on which we were elected. It is time to consider mechanisms that can better achieve those aims.

Interestingly, we used such mechanisms to some extent in the case of one of the Bills that is subject to the allocation of time motion—the Food Standards Bill. The Bill was introduced relatively late, but it received pre-legislative scrutiny, which fundamentally changed it on an issue on which the Opposition led the charge, but about which many Labour Back Benchers shared their concerns: the poll tax to fund the Food Standards Agency. Because that was done intelligently, we won on that issue without there being a great row.

The problem with the fact that the only weapon that is available to us in this place is time is that it encourages tribalism. It says, "This side are the good guys and that side are the bad guys," or vice versa. That may very well—

Mr. Shepherd

I appreciate that the hon. Lady is concentrating on time. Does she agree that time can be used to enable intelligent Members of Parliament, also trying to represent their constituents, to employ the device of intelligent, rational argument by which, if there is a problem, one unpicks a contention within a Bill? This guillotine motion, or any guillotine motion, is designed to curtail that opportunity. The hon. Lady's rationale does not address what is central to the purpose of the House of Commons—not this foo-fa of good will and good intent, but the detail of analytical and rational argument, dealing with the content of a Bill.

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making an important point. By regarding time in the Chamber as the only valuable time, we do not get rational debate. We sometimes endure midnight chunterings, which are not examples of thoughtful and rational debate. Would we not be better off if we genuinely provided time to enable analytical, thoughtful debate to take place, to which I know the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is committed? Such debate could make a difference and not simply provide the opportunity to bore and tire those on the other side of the Chamber into submission. We could actually change things. I think that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and I are united in believing that that is our job in this place. We could do our job better if we had a more modern and grown-up attitude to time.

We should programme every Bill and we should know when the House will be in recess well in advance. I come from a tradition that knows that the pressure of the deadline often produces better work. However, we should focus on opportunities to debate that can produce thoughtful, intelligent and better responses, rather than indulging in ritual tribal warfare that degrades the Chamber.

2.52 pm
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said that time-wasting last night stemmed very much from Labour Members. At 9.58 pm they called a wholly unnecessary Division. They had to produce two Labour Back Benchers as stooges to be the Tellers because there was a zero Opposition vote. That Division occupied 12 minutes, which perhaps enabled the Leader of the House to get her act together. I cannot help but wonder how much more of the meat of the debate could have been dealt with in that 12 minutes.

Mr. Hoyle

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paice

I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman, but before I do, I suggest that over the coming weekend or during the summer recess, he has a chat with his father, who was a past master at prolonging debate unnecessarily.

Mr. Hoyle

I do not have the opportunity to get a word in with my father.

To say that no Opposition Members voted in the Division to which the hon. Gentleman refers is not quite correct. I think that he will find that two of his hon. Friends went through the Opposition Lobby. They realised that they had made a mistake and went back through the other side of the Lobby to cancel their votes. How does the hon. Gentleman explain that?

Mr. Paice

Hansard records in column 1291 that there were no "Noes". There were just two Tellers. If Members had gone through the Lobby and had been head counted, they would have been recorded as having voted. It is as simple as that.

I wish to underline what a shambles the Government have made of taking the Food Standards Bill through its parliamentary stages. As the Leader of the House has said, it is one of the Government's flagship Bills. The Labour party heralded it in its manifesto and it has not been opposed by any Opposition party.

Let us reflect on what has happened in the Government's handling of a flagship policy. The White Paper, on which the Bill was to be based, was published in early 1998. It was very welcome. It then went out to consultation. We were promised the draft Bill in the summer of 1998, after consultation had taken place. We did not get it until February 1999. The Government, properly, suggested that it should receive pre-legislative scrutiny. That was a sensible approach to the consideration of such a Bill and I have no criticism of that. However, the Government sought to complete that scrutiny in only seven weeks.

It is worth referring to what the Special Select Committee that scrutinised the Bill said. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who chaired the Committee, is no longer in his place. It should be borne in mind that that Committee was massively dominated by Labour Members. It stated: This period of just over seven weeks is by any standards a very short one for an inquiry by a Parliamentary committee. Paragraph 8 reads: Given the way in which a select committee undertakes an inquiry, by requesting written evidence, taking oral evidence, and finally producing a report, it is clear that seven weeks is a far from ideal amount of time. We are concerned that this first exercise in ad hoc committee pre-legislative scrutiny should have taken place under difficult time constraints". It was flagged up clearly at that stage that even Labour Members felt that the Government were not providing enough time for the Bill.

There were the usual discussions through the usual channels immediately after Second Reading. I do not think that I am giving away any secrets when I say that the Labour usual channels wanted the Bill to be considered in Standing Committee in only one week, on the basis that there had been pre-legislative scrutiny.

The Select Committee that considered the Bill did so carefully and its report is an ideal example of what can be achieved. It produced recommendations relating to the principal issues arising from the Bill. It did not go through it line by line in the technical way that a Standing Committee does, but made a number of proposals. In one instance, thankfully, the Government accepted that Committee's advice and backed down on charging. If we have time this afternoon, we shall debate the Meat Hygiene Service, which is a clear example of the Government taking no notice of the Standing Committee's advice, or not responding to it properly.

It has been widely accepted that in Committee we addressed the issues constructively. Where we felt that specific issues had been debated thoroughly, we withdrew or did not even move amendments later in the proceedings, so that we might move on without rehashing old arguments.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

To complete the picture, I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that only eight of the original 42 clauses remained unamended and survived the draft of the Bill that we considered in Committee. The vast bulk of the draft Bill had been amended.

Mr. Paice

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has considered these matters carefully. She makes the point that the Standing Committee had to scrutinise the Bill that was before it, which was not the same as the draft Bill originally presented. Some of the changes were welcome because they were responses to the recommendations of the Select Committee. That did not mean that the Standing Committee did not have a responsibility to examine the Bill.

On specific issues, we wanted more scrutiny. We said that we would raise those matters on Report. Last night, the Leader of the House accused me of not being present at business questions and suggested that I should have asked for more time to consider the Bill during previous business questions. However, there was no need to do that; we thought that we would have a full day on Report, with perhaps an extra hour or two hours. The right hon. Lady has implied that that would be perfectly acceptable. Six, seven or eight hours would have been adequate for what we were planning to do in raising certain issues.

If we had known that the Bill would be guillotined, we would have explored some of the key sections of the Bill rather more deeply in Committee. As it is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) said, we delivered the Bill as we said we would. At the end of three weeks in Committee, we had not run over time. Indeed, we finished with about an hour to spare. No one can suggest that three weeks in Committee—only 11 sittings—is a sign of time-wasting.

The amendments and new clauses selected for consideration today are set out on one side of one sheet of paper. They are fairly well spaced out. There are not huge groups of amendments, as we sometimes see in other selection lists. Often, we find huge groups of Government amendments. Only 35 amendments were tabled and they were not all selected for debate. Three new clauses were tabled, one of which was not selected, and the Government tabled a new schedule. There are 13 groups on the selection list, one having been tabled by Plaid Cymru. As Plaid Cymru was not represented in the Committee, it should have the right to bring its amendments to the Floor of the House. One amendment was tabled by a Labour Back Bencher, supported by a couple of Liberal Back Benchers. That can hardly be laid at the door of the Opposition. Two groups of amendments are Government concessions, which we welcome, and one group consists of miscellaneous and drafting amendments.

No objective person would classify the amendments and new clauses tabled for this afternoon as time-wasting. Why should we waste time? We are not against the Bill. We support the principle. It now seems unlikely that we will reach all the major issues dealt with in the groups of amendments, in particular the Meat Hygiene Service, which we discussed to a degree—

Mrs. Beckett

I shall take only a second. The hon. Gentleman says that hon. Members wanted a day to debate the Bill and that that would have been adequate. A normal parliamentary day is six hours, and six hours is what the motion allows. He is not debating the Bill, but that is his choice.

Mr. Paice

If the right hon. Lady had listened, she would know that I said about a day, or six, seven or eight hours, which for many years has been a more typical day. Six hours is the minimum—

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Leader of the House is trying to suggest to the House, as did the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) in his sanctimonious speech, that somehow it is improper to take time debating one of the most vicious and ruthless guillotines that I have experienced in 16 years in the House. Owing to the way in which the guillotine motion has been drafted by the Government, of course time spent on it will take time out of the debate, but God help this House if the Government say that we cannot discuss guillotines in future because that is inappropriate and takes time out of important debates.

Mr. Paice

My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. I am certain that, if challenged, the right hon. Lady could not name a guillotine motion in the 18 years of the previous Government on which the Opposition did not speak, or which they allowed to go through on the nod, as she implied by her comments today.

I limit my remarks to the Food Standards Bill. The legislation has been welcomed across the political spectrum, by outside bodies ranging from the National Farmers Union to the National Consumer Council—the entire spectrum of the food industry. They would be horrified by the arrogance of the Government in trying to rush through a Bill that must be right if the agency is to have the credibility that everyone wants it to have.

The Minister of State said that the agency will be the most powerful quango in the land—it may well be. Surely that justifies our demand that the Bill should be properly examined. If the Government do not want it to be scrutinised, that is an indictment of their approach to the House and to legislation.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Paice

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall conclude in a moment. I am sure that he will have a chance to speak later.

When I entered the House, it was the convention that Bills were not timetabled—guillotined—until they had had 100 hours in Committee. That is not so long ago, and certainly well after both the Leader of the House and the Minister of State entered the House; they both preceded me by some years. Now it seems that the Government are riding roughshod over democracy in order to get their way.

Last night the right hon. Lady said that the Government needed certainty. That is the language of dictatorship, not of democracy. In any event, she has that certainty. It is represented by the hundreds of grinning eunuchs on the Benches behind her, who are not prepared to undertake proper scrutiny of the Bill, which it rightly deserves and which consumers throughout the country expect it to have.

3.3 pm

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

What a charade this is. We have already taken almost an hour on the allocation of time motion, and we have only six hours to debate that and substantive issues. It is clearly a case of arrogant self-indulgence from a few egos on the opposition Benches. Such enormous time-wasting is essentially anti-democratic. We know that we have only six hours. The posturing and pomposity of Opposition Members will make no difference to that. I am sick of listening to synthetic emotion from hon. Members who are incapable of making speeches less than 10 minutes long.

We need proper timetabling in this place, similar to the sittings motion before consideration of the Finance Bill, so that people will not jump up on their hind legs and speak for 20 minutes or half an hour about nothing. That is a waste of the time available to us and an example of end-of-term public school spirit on the part of the Opposition.

The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) let the cat out of the bag when he said last night—

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

Hold on. I will give way in a moment. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire said that the business last night was in good order and could have been completed by a reasonable hour. It follows logically from that that we could easily complete the business today within six hours. That is ample time, which is why so much time is being wasted by Opposition Members, and here is another one of them.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I am exceptionally grateful to the gracious Member for giving way. I hope that he will apologise to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for his attack on public school people, given that she is a product of Cheltenham Ladies college.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that throughout the period of Labour opposition—18 long years, throughout which I was in the House—every guillotine motion was debated in full? Were his right hon. and hon. Friends guilty of synthetic fury?

Mr. Davies

I am glad to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) contained her remarks within less than five minutes. I hope to do the same.

As regards guillotines, the point backfires. The number of guillotines imposed by the previous Government was enormous. That shows the contradictory position of the Opposition now, when they jump up and down. Why do we not get on with the business in hand and discuss the Bills on the Order Paper?

3.6 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

It was the Lords amendments to the Employment Relations Bill that I addressed at about 6.50 pm yesterday. That business has been lost, although we could have completed it last night. [Interruption.]

I am asked why I am speaking from the Back Bench. I am doing so in order to contribute and to put on the record of the House the reason why an important Bill—a Government Bill—was thwarted by the Leader of the House at 10 pm last night.

As a member of the Conservative Front-Bench team, I co-operated with the Labour Whips to an extent that is probably unprecedented. Before I took my place last night, I had already indicated to the Whips that I would be quite happy for the first two groups of Lords amendments to be nodded through. I had indicated on the amendment paper the areas of debate on which I wanted to concentrate, and I had given every indication that the work last night could be concluded in good time.

There were, as the House knows, 19 sets of grouped Lords amendments, but only five amendments had been tabled to those amendments. Two had been tabled by my hon. Friends and me, one had been tabled by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and two more had been tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and cross-party members of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

I made it clear to hon. Members on both sides of the House that we would conclude the business last night. I also made clear the aspects that warranted discussion. There were two aspects in particular. One was the amendments tabled by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which took only three quarters of an hour to debate and were not pressed to a Division, despite the fact that the relevant Lords amendments were tabled very late in the progress of the Bill and had not been subject to debate or scrutiny in Committee either in this House or in another place.

Those amendments had important security implications for the country. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) uses dismissive language about the tenor of the debate. Had she been in her place last night, she would know only too well that in our discussion of the Employment Relations Bill last night, we concentrated on matters of national security and on the other matter, relating to clause 15, on which ministerial commitments made in another place about amendments on Report had not been forthcoming.

Fiona Mactaggart

The hon. Lady misunderstood me. I made no dismissive remarks about last night's debate. Indeed, I was extremely interested in the proposals from the Intelligence and Security Committee. Had I been able to be present, I would have been in the Chamber for that debate.

My concern is that the House seems to have developed a habit recently of having, very late at night—[Interruption.] My constituents think that after 10 o'clock at night is a funny time to do one's work. The House has developed a habit of engaging very late at night in debates that are ridiculous rituals. If we held our debates earlier in the day, they might be less so.

Mrs. Browning

Of the 19 groups of amendments scheduled for debate last night, we completed six, the first two of which I agreed to nod through. But the two which took up the substantive amount of time were the two that I mentioned—one relating to national security matters raised by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which should have had proper scrutiny, and the other to clause 15, on which the House divided because commitments made by Ministers in the other place had not been honoured. It was when we then moved on at approximately 9 o'clock that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry decided to share with us, amusing as it was for those of us who were present, anecdotes about Spitfire pilots and scenes from "Hancock's Half Hour". From 9 o'clock onwards, it was clear that the Government Front-Bench spokesmen were under instruction to filibuster.

Mr. Clive Betts (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)


Mrs. Browning

I did everything that I could to co-operate with the hon. Gentleman's colleagues. At one stage, I referred one of his colleagues to other channels. I am not other channels, but, being in charge of the legislation, I was convinced that we could conclude it satisfactorily. Without the intervention of the Leader of the House at 9.50 pm, we would probably have concluded the Bill, including one more vote, by 10.30 pm. For that business to be lost to the House last night and deferred until next Monday was unnecessary.

Mr. Tyler

If it was not an intentional filibuster, it was certainly an effective unintentional filibuster. If the Government were not under instruction, they seemed to be doing it anyway, which seems an extraordinary situation. The credibility of what the Government have said has surely been blown to smithereens by their subsequent action of calling an absurd Division.

Mrs. Browning

The hon. Gentleman says that it was a filibuster; it certainly developed in that way. However, those of us who set out in good faith on the next group of amendments had no idea that it was to be turned into a filibuster by no less a person than the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

How shall we be able to accept the Government's word during future legislation? Knowing how to allocate one's time effectively in order to give due consideration to those issues that require it is becoming a pretty precarious business.

Dealing with amendment No. 17 last night I said: I will be happy to allow speedy progress on some amendments on the Order Paper, but not amendment No. 17. What has happened as a result of the amendment bears full examination."—[Official Report, 21 July 1999; Vol. 335, c. 1262.] Throughout the evening I gave every indication of where I needed to spend time on matters of substance while reinforcing the message that, where we could make rapid progress, we would.

There still seems to be something of a mystery about the Government's agenda last night in curtailing progress on the Bill. Having voted to overturn a Lords amendment, it is clear that, even when we dispatch the Bill on Monday, it will have to go back to the other place.

Matters of great importance arise here, such as the timing of the application of the legislation for industry and employment. Given that the Government's excuse seems to be that they were all tired after Monday, the only conclusion to which I can come is that they were not only tired but pretty emotional as well.

3.15 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Under the new Labour Government, guillotine motions are becoming increasingly ritualistic. The Leader of the House and I have voted long and often against the principle and employment of guillotine motions as an instrument of Executive abuse of process. The House, as a collective body of elected representatives, can only attest, or assent—if it is a higher order of attestation—to the proposals brought before us for consideration.

I felt for the Leader of the House because, towards the end of any Session, with the pressure of the necessity of returning to our constituencies and giving our constituents undivided attention for 14 weeks, the Government naturally want to ensure that they have secured all aspects of their business.

The Leader of the House tried to negotiate that concept, and adduced arguments which were essentially arguments of divination. I say divination, because as one reads the arguments that the right hon. Lady adduced last night, and which my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) cited, they have a curious ring. The right hon. Lady said: We have had a substantial amount of time wasted—[HON. MEMBERS: "What?"]—yes, wasted, although I accept not necessarily by the official Opposition as such. Time has been taken up in the House."—[Official Report, 21 July 1999; Vol. 335, c. 1292.] In the exchange that the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) was kind enough to allow me to pursue with her, I thought that we accepted that Members of Parliament have the right to try to express arguments on details, which are often outside the consultations. Therefore, any hon. Member can anxiously wait for an opportunity to rise on a clause which might be dismissed by a guillotine motion.

A generation ago and before, guillotine motions were looked upon as something shocking because they are the denial of freedom of speech. They may have something to do with the enormous legislative programmes that modern Governments seek to carry through. To list such programmes is almost the parliamentary equivalent of soundbites. From my own memory, I can recall a previous distinguished Prime Minister—to put it that way—who was elected on the basis that we have far too much legislation, coming to the Conservative 1922 Committee and cheering us, with a ringing affirmation, for passing 44 pieces of legislation during our first period of government. "Jolly good," the Prime Minister called out, then added, ominously, "but we can do better."

The claim to reduce the burden of legislation going through the House was in the Conservative party's election manifesto. But within one brief parliamentary Session that was out of the window and we were into the business of proclaiming how many pieces of legislation we had scuttled through the House.

Nearly 20 years later, a new Government have come in, and what is one of their most ringing cheers? Of course, they have to clear up the detritus, the misgovernment of Britain for 2,000 years, the misappropriation and all the rest. I seem to recall that one of the current Prime Minister's ringing and cheering assertions to the nation is of 52 pieces of legislation.

Perhaps the House and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will forgive me for just reflecting on what is the point of a Queen's Speech. It cites 16 or 18 pieces of legislation, but no longer reflects what we shall all be condemned to doing in the House during the next 12 months. I make those observations because they affect why the House sometimes becomes tense over the progress of Bills through the Chamber. That is really what this is about.

Why did I say that the Leader of the House was into divination? Although the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies) made a very sour speech, if I may be allowed to say so, it is probably agreed by Members on both sides of the House that, on reflection, genuine questions were not answered. For example, although I try to follow such matters, I have no certainty about how one moves amendments in a Select Committee. So we come to the guillotine motion; in a sense, it is addressing the failure to satisfy the House on Monday. [Interruption.] I see that the usual channel has absented himself from the corner of the Chamber which he occupies.

The motion contains one of the features that we have taken up a number of times. It would not be true to say that those on the Treasury Bench invented the device of including the three hours, as set down in the Standing Orders, for discussions on guillotine motions within the overall time allocated for consideration of a Bill. I regret that that happened on one occasion that I can identify before 1997. However, the toy that has been given to the Government means that that is becoming a standard feature of guillotine motions. That is why I am very disappointed in the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). I do not want to detract from the fact that he made a very good speech but hon. Members should note that, having almost completed it, he turned round and said, "But I hope no one else will cause any obstruction by making a speech, because we want to be able to discuss the merits of the Bill."

Mr. Maclean


Mr. Shepherd

I shall not go as far as saying that that remark was a little sanctimonious. The hon. Member for North Cornwall was saying, "I am quite prepared to be coerced by guillotine motions of this nature." To pursue his argument, we must ensure that the Government are ashamed of encompassing substantive argument on a Bill within the time allowed for a guillotine motion.

Mr. Tyler

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to know that during my previous sojourn in this place in 1974, throughout the period of the Conservative Government and during this Parliament I have always voted against guillotine motions on principle.

Mr. Shepherd

I am very cheered by that enunciation and I hope that it becomes part of the Liberal party's programme. I would say that, wouldn't I? However, I recall that the hon. Gentleman came close to falling into the hands of Lucifer over the absurd provisions of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998, which the House considered last September. Not only was he not going to vote against the guillotine motion, but he actually signed it. Fortunately, the good and intelligent argument of his own colleagues and other Members of the House convinced him that it was inappropriate for him to sign that motion. In one of the most touching moments that I have ever witnessed in the House, a signatory to a motion on the Order Paper—presumably, signing the motion reflected a considered position—withdrew his support by standing up and saying, "I withdraw my signature." I do not condemn that, because we sometimes change our opinions. After all that the hon. Member for Slough has said on that point of rational argument, I accept it; I sometimes have my mind changed.

The point that I want to make is about a three-hour guillotine motion encompassing argument on the substantive legislative issues before the House and I hope that the Government—and the usual channel, who unfortunately is not in his usual place—will take it on board. In truth, using that little device does no Government any credit. Either the Government want to give us three hours' debate on these matters or they want to give us six. Surely they do not want to coerce us into surrendering a proper debate about whether the allocation of time is adequate. That is what we are discussing.

The divination to which I referred is in the words of the Leader of the House, who said: The course of events over this week led the Government to have some anxiety about the progress of the Food Standards Bill. This matter has nothing to do with the Food Standards Bill itself and, by a process of divination, the right hon. Lady knows that the character of certain Members makes it unsuitable for them to be permitted to address it. Why do I say unsuitable? Because she said that time had been wasted not necessarily by the official Opposition as such. How gracious; now we are allowed—as an official Opposition, no less—to be commended for the way in which we discharge our business, although the hon. Member for Croydon, Central does not believe that there is merit in that position.

The Leader of the House continued: It is no good hon. Members asking questions if they do not want to listen to the answer. She was saying, "We'll guillotine it if necessary." She went on: The Opposition have every right to use time in the House"— That was very big of her— that is their legitimate right". She then talked about the duty of the Government".—[Official Report, 21 July 1999; Vol. 335, c. 1292.] I know that after 10 o'clock we are all driven to make some absurd comments, but the particularisation and characterisation, which I think are wrong, is that any Member, however humble or however recently elected, can be guillotined out of the way.

Acceptance of the Food Standards Bill is what is behind the motion. I have no way of testing this until the debate has finished, but when the guillotine falls we may have three hours, less up to 20 minutes for a Division, to debate the Bill. That means that the Government consider only two hours and 40 minutes to be appropriate for such a debate. I do not believe that a Bill that has received almost universal support and attracted the good will of Members on both sides of the House should be treated so casually. However, the Government are not treating the Bill casually; they are treating casually the right of those who send us here to represent them to have their say.

Perhaps the 52, 54, 56 or 57 pieces of legislation that the Government hope to pass next year should be viewed by their business managers with a much more jaundiced eye. Good government in this country means, by and large, a sense of fairness and recognition that other people sometimes have different views. The motion should be opposed, because it strikes at freedom of speech and exerts the absolute control of the Executive over the Chamber.

3.28 pm
Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

The motion before the House is intolerant and it has been tabled by a Government who are becoming increasingly intolerant. I exempt from that accusation the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for Public Health because of their behaviour and demeanour in Committee when we were discussing the Food Standards Bill. They behaved with exemplary courtesy and were grateful for some of the contributions from the Opposition; I think they said that some of those contributions helped. I feel that I know the Minister of State slightly better than I know the Minister for Public Health, and I cannot imagine that he is behind the tabling of the motion.

The Minister of State was probably as appalled as the rest of us last night when he discovered what was going to happen today. The motion is certainly not his style, considering the way in which he handled proceedings in Committee. I would be the first to acknowledge that his patience would soon run out if there was one second of time-wasting today and we did not make proper progress on the Bill. He would be calling on the business managers to use a guillotine motion to get the Bill through the House.

However, that is not the scenario. The Employment Relations Bill and the Food Standards Bill are being guillotined not because there was one second's time wasting by the official Opposition, the Liberal Democrats or anyone else, but because the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the business managers concluded that the climate during the conduct of other business in the week indicated—as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, the Leader of the House concluded through divination—that the Food Standards Bill might be delayed, or filibustered. That is an extraordinary way in which to run business in the House.

Mr. Drew

Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously asking Labour Members to accept that he would not have been filibustering last night in advance of his filibuster on Friday on the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill?

Mr. Maclean

I can give an absolute assurance that I would not have spoken at all last night. I did not have a particular interest in the Bill. One cannot be a specialist—one cannot be an amateur—on every Bill before the House, so I had no intention of speaking last night.

I had intended to speak on the Food Standards Bill today. I assumed that it would kick off at about 2.30 and finish about 7, 7.30 or 8; that would be the normal amount of time. I also assumed that, if we finished at 8 o'clock on Thursday night, that was not too late for the precious luvvies and darlings on the Labour Benches, who seem to wilt and to turn into pumpkins if we go beyond 10 o'clock.

I do not intend to do any filibustering on Friday. In fact, if I did filibuster, Mr. Deputy Speaker would be ruthless in pulling me up. I may have one or two points to make on other Bills, but that is an entirely different matter.

I get back to the point of the guillotine. It has been introduced because, on Monday night, some Divisions were called by some Opposition Back Benchers. Because of those Divisions, proper sensible debate on the Employment Relations Bill and on the Foods Standards Bill will be ruthlessly curtailed.

What happened on Monday night? I agreed with much of the speech of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), but take issue with two little points. On Monday night, the Minister for Transport failed to respond to the points in the debate and then, all of a sudden, decided to move the closure. One of my hon. Friends had given way to the Minister or a Government Whip, and suddenly the Minister or the Whip moved that the question be now put, without us hearing a cheep from the Minister in response to any of the crucial questions that had been asked. Those questions were crucial because, in opening the debate, the Minister for Transport had not a clue what would happen.

I assume that the reason was not the briefing because the civil service cannot have gone downhill that much in two years; I assume that the Minister had been given, as usual, excellent briefing. Why she decided not to use it, or not to call for answers from the Box, is beyond me. Because there was no response and because the closure had been moved, I, with other Opposition Back Benchers who were annoyed at the lack of a proper response, forced a Division.

What else can an Opposition do? What else can individual Members do when we make serious points in a debate and then find that there is no response? Of course Divisions were called. If the Government wanted to avoid—

Fiona Mactaggart

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclean

In a moment. I shall comment on the hon. Lady's speech soon.

If the Government want to avoid what they consider to be unnecessary Divisions, they should have the courtesy to answer questions that are asked of Ministers. The Government can control all the motions and all the business before the House. Ministers' refusal on Monday night to answer some simple questions was directly responsible for five or six Opposition Members forcing Divisions.

Fiona Mactaggart

The right hon. Gentleman asks what else a Member can do. That seems to be the nub of the problem. We need to establish procedures whereby Members can make their views known and have their questions answered through a sensible, reflective procedure, rather than by dancing round and round in circles at 2 o'clock in the morning.

Mr. Maclean

We have those procedures. We asked the Minister for Transport some questions. She had a Parliamentary Private Secretary behind her who could have run to the Box to obtain the answers. As usual, she had her big red folder. I suspect that all the answers were in there to begin with, but she decided not to respond. Whether that was out of arrogance and contempt for the House, or whether she did not like the questions and did not want to respond, we do not know.

We do not need to invent some new fancy procedure. The Minister could have read out the answers in her briefing notes if she had wished to do so. Because of that failure, as everyone knows, some unnecessary Divisions were called. The hon. Member for North Cornwall was right that that was the genesis of some of the Divisions on Monday night but, being a typical Liberal Democrat, he castigated the Government for causing the problem and then castigated some Opposition Members for voting. It was an absurd charade, he said. Fortunately, I have had the benefit of checking Hansard. He and other Liberal Democrats voted in almost every one of those Divisions—certainly between midnight and 1.30 am.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall has re-entered the Chamber. I am refreshing hon. Members' memory, mentioning that he said that some of the votes on Monday night were absurd. I notice that he participated in those votes, but I congratulate him on getting the point correct: those votes happened because of the Government's arrogance in not responding.

As a result of that, we have a guillotine motion. There is no question of delays on the Employment Relations Bill being caused by any Opposition Member. The delays on the Bill were caused by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He deliberately delayed the Bill after 9 o'clock, when he got the message to keep talking until the Government cooked up a guillotine.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

It was not only the fact that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry spent a considerable amount of time speaking in yesterday's debate that caused the problem. It was also the fact that, because of the Government's bad drafting of the Employment Relations Bill, a huge number of Government amendments had been tabled. If there had not been so many Government amendments, there would not have been so many groups of amendments to discuss.

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is right. No Labour Member can deny that.

The Leader of the House made a virtue out of making a very short speech on the guillotine motion. She said that she did not want to take time out of the rest of the debate. We know why she made a very short speech: she had nothing the say. There was no justification for the motion. She could not justify it on the basis that the Opposition were delaying the legislation yesterday. The Opposition were not; they were co-operating fully. The only person delaying it was the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

The Leader of the House could not justify the guillotine motion on the basis of the behaviour of the Opposition, the Government or anyone else on the Committee that considered the Foods Standards Bill. I have served on quite a few Committees and taken a few Bills through the House; parts of some of them were opposed vigorously by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. I cannot remember a time when a Committee was conducted in such a spirit of sensible co-operation.

We had the odd stormy moment but, in the main, there was complete co-operation. The Opposition—Conservatives and Liberal Democrats—tabled amendments. The spirit of some of them was accepted by the Government, who are coming back with improvements. On other occasions, Ministers pointed out why the amendments were helpful but not necessary, saying that, through guidance or codes of practice, the point would be addressed. Ministers know that.

That is why I feel sorry for the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for Public Health. Although I am critical of this intolerant Government for their disgraceful motion, it is not those two Ministers who are responsible for it. To use the expression of the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) in her imitation of the Prime Minister, "They are the good guys." They are not demanding the introduction of what is an unnecessary guillotine.

Why did the Government not see what would happen? Why did we not start on the Food Standards Bill? It would be a bit difficult to filibuster or delay the few sensible amendments that my hon. Friends have tabled. Moreover, if we wanted to wreck or mess about with the Food Standards Bill, as the Government know, some of us are capable of tabling more than 13 amendments.

Fiona Mactaggart

The right hon. Gentleman made it clear earlier that his strategy when he is frustrated by one thing is to fuss about something completely different. He made it clear that he did that on Monday night. That is what I described as a failure of the procedures of the House. I imagine that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House thought that he might choose this occasion to do it again.

Mr. Maclean

What a preposterous idea. I assure the hon. Lady that, had we intended to disrupt the Food Standards Bill, there would be 50 amendments in my name on all aspects of it. I have tabled no amendments to the Bill because I was largely satisfied by most of the Minister's comments in Committee. I am also satisfied with the few—it is a few in parliamentary terms—sensible amendments that have been tabled by my hon. Friends, which are adequate for debate. It is preposterous of the hon. Lady and outrageous of the Leader of the House to suggest that a Bill that we have not even started to discuss on the Floor of the House should be guillotined, especially given that there was utterly sensible co-operation from the Opposition in Committee.

Mr. Barron

Ten minutes ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that all that he wanted to do this afternoon was discuss the Food Standards Bill, the Standing Committee considering which we both sat on, until 7.30 or 8 o'clock tonight. Why, then, does he not sit down so that we can do that?

Mr. Maclean

Because I shall not be blackmailed by the Government, who want to curtail remarks on a guillotine motion by wrapping it up with the substance of the Bill. That is the evil that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills complained about, and that is what other Labour Members have been threatening us with today. They are saying, "Don't talk on the guillotine motion. Stay gagged. Let us drive it through ruthlessly, because every minute you talk on the motion takes time out of discussion of the Bill."

I deplore the fact that time is being taken out of the debate. That is not happening because my hon. Friends and I are talking on the motion; it is happening because the Government have phrased the motion in that way. They could have phrased it to give us two or three hours on the guillotine motion and then presented a separate time limit for discussion of the Bill itself. This is, therefore, a simple blackmail motion, because we know that for every second that we take in protesting about the Government's illiberal behaviour in trying to drive through guillotines, we are taking time out of discussion of the Bill. Although the Bill is extremely important, the freedom of Members of Parliament to have a say on all aspects of legislation is even more important.

Labour Members also suggest that, because this and other Bills have been before a Special Select Committee, we need less time to debate them. They suggest that they can be guillotined and that it does not matter if we have a shorter debate on Report because Special Select Committees of experts have looked at them. That is a jolly good thing for the 17 people fortunate enough to be on the Special Select Committee, excellently chaired by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), but what about all the other Members of the House? What about those who were not even more fortunate in being on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill line by line? The only opportunity for those 635 Members to discuss the Bill is on the Floor of the House.

This motion is preventing that discussion from happening, not because I am protesting about the motion, but because the Leader of the House has drafted the motion in such a way that every word of protest against this illiberal, intemperate motion takes time out of the debate. That is why I shall vote against the motion. It is wrong because it seeks to curtail parliamentary democracy when there has not been one second wasted on the Food Standards Bill, or on the Employment Relations Bill last night.

Mr. Hoyle

The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that he is taking time away from Back Benchers who want to get on with the debate. He must realise that he is filibustering.

Mr. Maclean

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is stupid or slightly deaf, but he has missed the point that I am making.

Mr. Hoyle


Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman is using the standard blackmail on us. His Government have phrased this motion in such a way that it amounts to parliamentary blackmail.

Mr. Hoyle

How can the right hon. Gentleman say that I am blackmailing him when I simply asked him to get on with the debate and allow Back Benchers who were not on the Select Committee to contribute to it. That is not blackmail. The right hon. Gentleman should withdraw his disgraceful comments; he should know better.

Mr. Maclean

I have been here slightly longer than the hon. Gentleman, and I profess that, on this matter, I do know slightly better. It is parliamentary blackmail to phrase a motion in such a way that, every minute that one takes in protesting against the illiberal nature of the motion takes time out of the subject that we really want to debate.

This motion is the Government's responsibility. They should have phrased it differently, as such motions used to be phrased on most occasions in the past. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) can laugh his head off, but he is part of the parliamentary blackmail. If he really wants time for debate on this measure, he should vote against the guillotine motion.

The motion is not necessary for the Food Standards Bill and I doubt whether it is necessary for the Bill that we were dealing with last night. I shall oppose it because I shall not be blackmailed by the Government into staying silent on a guillotine motion.

I wish to exempt, once again, the Ministers responsible for the Food Standards Bill, because I do not believe that they are guilty on this occasion. Indeed, I am absolutely certain that they are not. They will have been as appalled about this motion as the rest of us. Whenever the Government table a guillotine motion that is not necessary, I shall oppose it, as I will tonight.

3.47 pm
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

The Leader of the House made it abundantly clear that the motion arises out of the events of Monday night. I do not want to dwell on that, but I shall say this: after last week's business statement, both my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and I drew to the attention of the Leader of the House the fact that such problems would arise. We flagged up the fact that Monday's Bill would require a second Second Reading.

When the Minister for Transport was unable to explain the events that would follow on from the motion that she was proposing, Conservative Members naturally, and quite properly, wanted to investigate that fully in the debate that followed. As that debate was then curtailed arbitrarily—and improperly, in my view—it led to the subsequent Divisions that kept hon. Members up until 2 am. As a consequence, we now have the motion before us.

The motion is absurd; it is a punishment motion. The Government are saying, "You did this on Monday night; therefore we shall do this now." It is an absurd way for the Government to run the business of the House.

The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, in support of the motion, that we should have programme motions on all our business and sensibly agree a timetable in which to discuss Bills. We have been through that. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) will agree that, when we sat through hour after hour of the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill, all of which had been timetabled through the usual channels, the timetable proved thoroughly inadequate because it was a straitjacket. Indeed, the Bill was effectively guillotined.

The timetable constrained debate of matters that arose quite naturally out of the investigations and probing amendments of Back Benchers. When issues were suddenly discovered that required fuller and more expansive debate, the timetable simply could not accommodate that. Timetables drawn up in advance cannot take account of what may be discovered by proper scrutiny.

I am against guillotines in principle, but I am against this one in practice. As the Leader of the House has made clear, it does not arise from any fear about the passage of the two Bills involved; it arises from the right hon. Lady's desire to be seen to be taking firm action following what happened on Monday night.

3.50 pm
Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

I expected that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) would have much more to say. Given that he does not, I certainly do.

I agree with those of my hon. Friends who, like me, were present throughout Monday's proceedings, that we have been traduced by the way in which Ministers have described our behaviour this afternoon. We have heard from other Labour Members that we are hooligans and vigilantes. Various other phrases have been used, but they have not discouraged the Leader of the House from saying that we employed legitimate tactics. We are not surprised that the right hon. Lady considers it all right for Back Benchers to be hooligans and vigilantes, because last night we saw a Minister being a hooligan, delaying the very legislation that is now to be subject to the timetable motion. It is the Government's Front-Bench hooligans who pose the real problem.

That Minister is not the only one, however. This whole difficulty arose from an attempt on Monday to assuage the pride and the prejudice of the Deputy Prime Minister. His pride demanded that there should be a Railways Bill from his Department—a Bill which, as is becoming clearer by the day, simply cannot proceed in the current Session. That is what provoked all that happened on Monday night. A Minister was not prepared to admit to us how the Bill would proceed and would not reply to the points that I was making. I gave way to one of her ministerial colleagues in the belief that we would be enlightened about how the Government would deal with the innovative structure for Bills; instead, we were faced with a closure motion, as a result of which we spent three and a half hours on procedure. We shall spend more than three hours on procedure this afternoon and we shall spend more than three hours on it on Monday. If we take into account the time spent on points of order concerning these issues over the past few days, that amounts to a total of 10 hours of debate on procedural matters.

People outside this place will ask what has resulted from our spending nearly three times as much of our precious remaining time on procedure as will be spent on consideration of the important Bills that we shall discuss this afternoon and on Monday. The solution is simple: the timetable motions should be withdrawn. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) helpfully reminded us today that he had signed a timetable motion a year ago but, having heard the arguments presented in the House, had decided to oppose it. It is entirely within the rules of the House for a Minister to say, "Having received reassurances from Conservative Back Benchers, and having understood why their actions on Monday night were entirely justified, we are prepared to drop the timetable motions for today and Monday, and proceed with a clear, well-intentioned, well-timed but untimetabled debate on these two key Bills."

The Parliamentary Secretary's eyes light up at the prospect. If he is tempted down that road, he will have struck a blow for democracy, for the freedoms of the House and for the mutual respect in which we hold our arguments. I am afraid that that mutual respect was sadly lacking in the Minister's colleagues on Monday night: despite numerous offers, they spurned all attempts to make them explain how they proposed to proceed with the Bill that we were considering.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend who is making a powerful point, but did he observe that Labour Members began chuntering a moment ago when he referred to points of order? Does he agree with my recollection—I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office is listening attentively—that most of those points of order concerned the procedure for the handling of legislation? The need for them could have been readily avoided if the Government, via a statement, had made clear what the criteria were for the future handling of all Bills—if they had made it clear when Bills would and would not be referred to Select Committees, and when it would or would not be necessary for there to be two Second Readings as opposed to one. The Government may chunter, from a sedentary position, about points of order, but they know that the way to avoid such problems in the future lies in their hands.

Mr. St. Aubyn

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. A week ago, during business questions, I heard the Leader of the House being told for the first time that she would have to explain how this week's Bills would be dealt with. I was present throughout business questions and I know that the right hon. Lady had no answer.

On Monday, we observed that hon. Members received no reply when they constantly asked the Government how the Bill could possibly proceed. Points of order have been made to the Chair over a number of days, and no doubt many hours have been spent in the Speaker's Office in an attempt to resolve the enigma of the Railways Bill. I expect that there will be chapters about it in "Erskine May". All that was required, however, was a little thought and a clear statement from Ministers.

The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) asked why we could not have a mechanism allowing Back Benchers to receive answers from Ministers. We would love to know her ideas but, in fact, we have such a mechanism: the mechanism which we employed on Monday night.

Ministers, their Whips and the usual channels all knew exactly what was happening on Monday night. They knew exactly what would happen if they refused to give any answers; they knew exactly what would happen if the closure was moved and they forced us to use such tactics. There was no mystery about it. It has happened time and again. Labour Members who are now trying to present themselves as innocents employed exactly the same tactics when they were in opposition. The mechanism is there, and it was used. This afternoon, in a reflex reaction, Labour control freaks are trying to punish Back Benchers who used the mechanism which, because she was not present, the hon. Member for Slough did not witness on Monday night.

Fiona Mactaggart

My point is that the mechanism used on Monday night, if understood by hon. Members, was certainly not understood by our constituents. It did not constitute a reasonable, proportionate way of dealing with the problem that may have existed. Would it not be better for us to use our imagination to find a more sensible, transparent way of dealing with the problems, rather than simply saying, "We have always done it that way"?

Mr. St. Aubyn

I heard the speech the first time. The hon. Lady clearly was not here on Monday night—her votes are not recorded—and she may not even have read the report of the debate. The response on Monday night was entirely proportionate to the events that preceded it. We had an "unlimited time" motion, which the Chair described as a free-standing motion outside Standing Orders. If the hon. Lady likes innovation, she should have been here on Monday night because Ministers were innovating on the hoof. What became increasingly clear was that they either did not know or, much more likely, were not prepared to admit—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is dwelling over-long on the proceedings that took place on Monday night, and is becoming a little repetitive. I ask him to address his remarks to the motion.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am trying to explain that the behaviour of hon. Members on Monday night was entirely reasonable. If hon. Members are behaving reasonably, closure and timetable motions are unnecessary.

The entire history of guillotine motions in this Chamber is based on the unreasonable behaviour of hon. Members in the previous century, when Irish Members used quite unreasonable methods to delay progress on Bills. Historically, the House has always justified passing timetable motions on the basis of dealing with unreasonable behaviour. Today, Opposition Members have demonstrated quite conclusively that, in this instance, there has been no unreasonable behaviour—except for Ministers' totally unreasonable behaviour, on Monday, yesterday and today. That is why all hon. Members who respect the House's rights and privileges must oppose the motion.

4 pm

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

I do not recall speaking in any previous debate on a guillotine motion. I am speaking in this one because a Bill in which I have an interest has, this week, become the innocent victim of wranglings in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) has just described those events, on Monday and again last night.

On Monday, the Government did not lose their business—they obtained a Second Reading of their Railways Bill, which was the House's business on that day. Subsequently, there was a wrangle over procedure, but I should be very surprised if any right. hon. or hon. Member could have any objection at all to the way in which Back Benchers expressed their concern and anger about the Government's proposals on further consideration of that Bill.

As we all recognise, the Government were proposing a slightly unusual way of proceeding on the Railways Bill. Indeed, given that the Bill had already been considered by the Committee to which it has now been referred yet again, to many of us, the Government's proposals seemed to be very strange—thereby giving rise to legitimate questions whether Back Benchers would be able to table amendments in Select Committee as they should have been able to do had the Bill been referred, in the normal way, to a Standing Committee.

I, too, was in the House last night when more of the House's time was wasted. Last night, I clearly heard the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), who has intervened also in this debate, calling for a vote on the motion. Last night, it also seemed—at least to Opposition Members—that there was complete confusion among Labour Members. Many of us were perplexed about why some Labour Members were calling for a yes vote, whereas others were calling for a no vote.

Last night, there was such confusion among Labour Members that one of my right hon. Friends said, "Lindsay, what are you doing? You've got it wrong." However, the hon. Member for Chorley did not hear my right hon. Friend, because he knew perfectly well what he was doing: acting, under instructions from the Labour Whips, to force a Division, absorbing yet more time allocated to debate on the Employment Relations Bill.

It was sheer effrontery for the Leader of the House to tell the House, as she did a few moments ago, that we shall now have a guillotine because, last night, "it was not possible" to make progress on the Employment Relations Bill. That is simply not true. Last night, had there been discipline among Labour Members, we should have had additional time, before 10 o'clock, to debate the Bill.

Moreover, last night, the 10 o'clock motion was not moved. Therefore, it was a matter not of insufficient time to debate the Bill but of the Government denying us the opportunity to do so. Today, the Government are proposing a guillotine motion on not one Bill but two. I do not know whether such a motion is unprecedented but, in my time as an hon. Member, I certainly do not recall ever seeing one before.

Last night, had the 10 o'clock motion been moved and debate been allowed to continue, if the debate had got out of hand and the Government thought that there was a filibuster, it would have been quite open to Ministers to move a closure motion at any time after 10 o'clock to close down the business. Yesterday, if they had allowed the debate to continue after 10 o'clock but had to move closure, today it would have been perfectly legitimate and reasonable for them to ask for a guillotine.

As I said, I am speaking to the motion because the Food Standards Bill, in which I have an interest, has been the casualty of the Government's ineptitude. Ministers know that the row started on Monday because they were not able to answer Back Benchers' questions on the future of the Railways Bill. In the circumstances, the Government—knowing what they wanted to do—without fear or favour should have known what the next step would be and how to answer the questions quite legitimately asked by Opposition Members.

As many of my right. hon. and hon. Friends have said, the Food Standards Bill itself commands widespread support. There has been no attempt to obstruct the Bill, which easily obtained a Second Reading. In the House, as in Committee, the Opposition have co-operated in every way in the Bill's passage.

I hope that the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) is not leaving the Chamber now as I should like to say one or two words about what she had to say. She clearly is leaving the Chamber, but I hope that she will appreciate that I have tried to observe the normal courtesies of the House by warning her that I shall be mentioning her name.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gill

Yes, but I have much to say.

Mrs. Winterton

I shall be very brief and am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He mentioned courtesies of the House. I wonder whether other hon. Members noted that the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies)—whose speech was very sadly described as "sour" by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who is considered to be one of the most courteous Members, with tremendous integrity and a consistent record in speaking for his constituents—clearly is very discourteous and does not understand the courtesies of the House, such as that of remaining in the Chamber until the next speech has been completed. Does my hon. Friend join me in deploring such behaviour and in wishing to see the old-fashioned courtesies continue? Perhaps Ministers could also make that point to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central when, eventually, he returns to the Chamber.

Mr. Gill

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's comments. I was not in the Chamber when that happened, but perhaps the hon. Member for Croydon, Central, who is a relatively new Member—I believe that he was elected at the last general election—left the Chamber unaware of those courtesies of the House. Perhaps he does not understand them.

I should add, having been prompted by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), that today it was unfortunate that the hon. Member for Chorley left the Chamber after making a very direct, but not necessarily very courteous intervention on an Opposition Member. As he is implicated—because of his actions yesterday, which I have described—in the matters that we are now debating, one would have thought that he should remain in the Chamber to hear more of this debate, rather than leaving shortly after making an intervention. I am very glad that he is back in the Chamber now.

As I was saying, the Opposition have in no way tried to obstruct the Food Standards Bill, which commands widespread support. Nevertheless, the Bill raises issues of great importance which I, for one, had hoped to be able to address on Report or Third Reading. However, as I said, the Bill is the unwitting victim of earlier events in the House. There is no evidence that the Bill would have been obstructed on Report or at Third Reading. I would go so far as to say that I had a genuine fear that it would not go the distance, and that there would be insufficient Members in the Chamber to sustain the debate until 7 o'clock this evening.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

I have been doing a calculation while my hon. Friend has been speaking—although I was listening to every word that he said. Some 35 amendments have been selected by Madam Speaker for debate. If we had the full six hours to go through them, we would be allowed 10 minutes of debate per amendment. Does my hon. Friend agree that 10 minutes per amendment is a gross insult not only to Parliament but to the people whom we serve?

Mr. Gill

I very much regret that the Bill will not have a greater amount of time. My hon. Friend is right to point out how little time is left for each group of amendments. He will recognise that some of the amendments are more important than others and that some will demand more time than others. Nevertheless, he is right to say that the average time allowed is insufficient.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. A few moments ago, he made it quite clear that he thought that there might be insufficient Members present for the Bill to run its full time. Now he is agreeing with the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) that there is not enough time to debate the amendments. He needs to be clear on what he is saying to the House.

Mr. Gill

I am saying that I very much regret the way in which a Bill in which I, as a Back Bencher, have an interest, and in the debate on which I wished to participate this evening, is being dealt with. I am debating this issue because of something outwith my control. If the Government had got a grip on their business and had been able to answer the questions that arose on Monday, we would not find ourselves in our present bind, which has been compounded by what happened last night.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I am trying to work out whether the hon. Gentleman approves or disapproves of the suggestion by the Modernisation Committee that there are three ways of dealing with a Bill, any one of which can be open to the House. That is relevant to the discussion. We do not want to go back over Monday's discussion, but the House was following the procedures set down by the Modernisation Committee, and voted. Some of us might not think it particularly sensible, and some might be totally opposed to guillotines—whichever Government move them—and even more opposed to the moving of double guillotines. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know which of these approaches the hon. Gentleman supports.

Mr. Gill

Like the hon. Lady, I am not a great lover of guillotines although I understand that, from time to time, Governments will seek to impose them. I believe that that should be done sparingly. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said powerfully that we are talking about the denial of opportunity for Back Benchers to contribute to debates.

I am concerned that, because the Railways Bill has been referred to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, the opportunity for Back Benchers to contribute are severely restricted. How do Back Benchers make their views on the Bill known to the Committee? Are Back Benchers allowed to table amendments? Is the Committee allowed to consider them?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is again going over the Railways Bill and the debate on Monday evening. I would be grateful if he came back to the motion.

Mr. Gill

I will follow your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but you will appreciate that I was responding to an intervention by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody).

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Before my hon. Friend took the intervention from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), he said that the Government had lost control of their business on Monday. What I find so bizarre is that the Government did not lose control of their business on Monday—they got their business on Monday and have continued to do so this week. Yet, in her extraordinary statement at 10 o'clock last night, the Leader of the House said that we would have this guillotine motion due to the lack of progress on Government business.

Mr. Gill

My hon. Friend misunderstands me. I did not say that the Government had lost their business—I made the point that the Government did get their business on Monday. I have explained to the House that it was spurious of the Leader of the House to say that a guillotine was to be imposed because the Government could not get their business, and I went on to explain that she said that it was not possible to make progress last night. I have demolished that argument as well. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) will forgive me for being hard on him, but he could not have been listening carefully to what I said.

Mr. Maclean

If my memory serves me correctly—others can check Hansard— the only business lost on Monday night was when Labour Members objected to a motion moved by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) on behalf of the whole House.

Mr. Gill

That event will have been recorded in the journals of the House, but I take my right hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Fabricant

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gill

Not again.

At this stage, I should remind the House that I am not a professional politician who comes to this place simply to talk for the sake of talking. I come to the House to speak when I feel strongly about something and when I have something to say on a subject that I know and understand. I am acting very much out of character this evening by speaking in this debate, but I want to make it clear why I feel constrained to do so. A Bill in which I am interested is being sabotaged because of the Government's ineptitude on Monday, their failure to answer the questions that they were asked and their failure last night to get a grip on Labour Back Benchers, who forced divisions that we need not have had.

I refer now to the comments of the hon. Member for Slough. The House will applaud the way in which she made her suggestions about how the House might operate better. In all sincerity, I say to her that we have all been there. We have all felt frustration about the way in which the House conducts its business, and we have all felt that the House sometimes denies us the opportunity to say what we want or to get our own way. I wish to outline to her, from my experience, how the procedures of the House have been changed by Back Benchers speaking in this House consistently on certain subjects. This has led to amendments to the routine of the House, which have gone a long way towards improving the situation in the way that the hon. Lady would like.

Select Committees were introduced by a Conservative Government in 1979. The consensus of opinion would be that these have been a success. The fact that we can now refer legislation to Select Committees and to other—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is wandering away from the motion again.

Mr. Gill

I take note of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Fiona Mactaggart


Mr. Gill

Before I give way to the hon. Lady, she should note that if she wants to say something more on the theme that occupied her earlier—a theme that interests me and to which I would like to respond—either she or I will be ruled out of order.

Fiona Mactaggart

The hon. Gentleman referred to the establishment of Select Committees in 1979. As I recall, it was Richard Crossman who first had the idea some years before, and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is completely irrelevant to the motion, and the hon. Lady knows it.

Mr. Gill

Being a law-abiding citizen, I shall follow your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and conclude my remarks.

This is probably the first time that I have ever spoken in a guillotine debate. I have no ambition to speak in another. I hope that the Minister and the House understand why I felt constrained to be on my feet for however many minutes it has been, on this rather singular occasion.

4.21 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) has entertained us greatly.

I could not help feeling that the Leader of the House did not have her heart in it when she moved the motion. She has not come back for most of the debate. I do not criticise her for that; she is exceptionally busy and I cast no aspersions, but her heart is elsewhere. The becoming hat that she wore yesterday at the garden party, which some of us had the privilege of glimpsing, suits her far, far better than the Madame Defarge creation that she sported briefly this afternoon.

It is interesting that my old friend, the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is to respond to the debate, as it was he who said: The Leader of the House knows that the full three hours will be taken on a guillotine motion…We are at fault if we do not fill all three hours."—[Official Report, 1 February 1994; Vol. 236, c. 807–8.] He once occupied the position that I now occupy and made scintillating speeches, castigating the then Government for introducing guillotines. Unlike some of my distinguished right hon. and hon. Friends, I do not carry the baggage of Government, and there were occasions when he took me with him, both in the argument and into the Lobby.

I remember an occasion when a guillotine was introduced on a health Bill and I was so appalled that the House was not being given a proper opportunity to discuss it that I made my contribution to the debate and left. Labour Members should remember that they support a Government with an enormous majority. They are playing into the hands of a potentially tyrannical Executive if they too easily support guillotine motions. Incidentally, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) charmingly called them "guee-otine" motions. I hope that she enjoys her holiday in Paree.

Of the two underlying reasons for the debate, one has not yet been mentioned, and that is the way in which we have changed the business of the House and fundamentally altered our Thursdays. I did not approve of the experiment, driven by the Government's proposals, of having Thursday morning sittings and trying to end everything by 7 o'clock. Without that change, we would not be under the current time constraints. Today's debate proves that ending at 7 o'clock on a Thursday, for all our good intentions, is not always possible.

The more immediate reason for this debate is the character of our proceedings—the charade—on Monday night. My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne)—a distinguished theologian, as I gathered as I thumbed through Dod this afternoon—and for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) all underlined the fact that, had it not been for the way in which the Government handled Monday's business, there would have been no unduly late sitting that night.

Those of us who have been here a very long time—I remember sitting through the night, night after night, on industrial relations legislation in the 1970s—do not consider 2 am especially late. However, our proceedings were protracted by the fact that the Government had no direct and sensible answers to perfectly permissible and sensible questions. That point was also made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who talked eloquently about the reputation of the House, about last night's filibuster by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and about that farce of a vote in which there were two tellers, but no voters, for the Noes.

The Government must bear the responsibility for what is happening today. They have behaved extremely badly. We all know that July is a bad month. T. S. Eliot said that April is the cruellest month but, for parliamentarians, it is certainly July. I hope that, when we have a structured parliamentary year, the House will rise a little earlier than it will this year.

We are in this quandary today because the Government behaved both arrogantly and incompetently on Monday. Arrogance and incompetence provoke Oppositions. We were told that often enough—in as many words, sometimes—by the Minister, who is now gazing at the ceiling.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

I was checking how long the hon. Gentleman had been speaking.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I frequently used to check how long the hon. Gentleman spoke, and he had several marathon records. If he wants to hold a competition, perhaps we can do it for charity one day.

Farce is added to today's proceedings by the fact that there has been no filibustering by either the official Opposition or the Liberal Democrats on either Bill. There have been no fancy points of order or ridiculously involved and complicated speeches on trivial subjects. My hon. Friends the Members for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) both spoke knowledgably, and we had further testimony on the Food Standards Bill from my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow.

Ministers have behaved well over the Food Standards Bill and there has been an unusual—for this Government—willingness to listen to constructive points. An important amendment was accepted and everything proceeded in an orderly and sensible manner. My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border complimented both the Ministers concerned, and I am entirely happy to echo that. Then, last night, in a fit of midsummer pique—it can be described in no other way—at a few moments' notice, a timetable motion was imposed. The Food Standards Bill was not in jeopardy. Nobody was going to seek to talk it out—not that we could anyhow when the Government have such a massive majority. The Bill was receiving mature and proper consideration, and that was what we wished to continue to give it.

It is not for Labour Members to criticise us for taking time on the guillotine motion. In an extremely important, impressive speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who is a considerable parliamentarian, talked with great eloquence, and the House listened with great respect as it always does to him, about the background to this manoeuvre. He pointed out, as he is particularly well equipped to do, how Government after Government promise less, not more, legislation. Then, we have repeated breaking of that pledge. This Government are more guilty than any other Government of recent years, as they have driven to get their legislation through. As a result, they treat the House with scant regard and, indeed, sometimes even with contempt. In that splendid speech, my hon. Friend said that what was at issue was freedom of speech, and he was right to make that telling point.

We had just two contributions from the Labour Benches. The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies) made a brief and, frankly, disgraceful little speech. He then waltzed out of the Chamber and has not been seen since. His attitude was: what a tiresome thing is an Opposition. I say to him in his absence—I hope that he will at least take time to read Hansard— that if, as is most unlikely, he retains his seat or gets another one at some stage, there will come a time when he will sit in opposition. What will he then say about an Opposition being tiresome? Many hon. Gentlemen who are present know full well that what I say is true.

Mr. Barron

indicated assent.

Sir Patrick Cormack

The hon. Gentleman nods his head. He should take his hon. Friend to the bar one day and tell him what opposition is all about. The hon. Member for Croydon, Central made a petulant, vindictive speech that was riddled with bitterness.

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend took three minutes.

Sir Patrick Cormack

In three minutes, the hon. Gentleman poured out more bile than the Minster, who is exceptionally good natured, could pour out in three hours.

As for the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), I do not accuse her of any discourtesy for leaving the Chamber because, as she left, she looked across and said, "I'm starving." She had sat throughout the debate and I hope that she is now enjoying a well-earned snack, so will not mind what I say about her. She talked about the need for consensus, and many of us would agree with much of what she said. However, as a supporter of the Government, she should not lecture this side of the House on consensus.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), shadow Leader of the House, has signed two or three programme motions where we have agreed with the allocation of time. There was no attempt properly to seek consensus on the time to be allocated to the Bills that we shall discuss later this afternoon and on Monday. The Government must learn to behave in a parliamentary way. [Interruption.] That was a jolly quick snack and we are delighted to see the hon. Lady back. I hope that she enjoyed it.

It is interesting to see that one Member who has sat throughout the debate and has obviously taken pleasure in it is the hon. and genial Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). If he wants to learn a little about how frustrating opposition can sometimes be and how important it is for an Opposition to speak out against what they consider to be draconian actions, all he need do is walk to the other end of the Corridor and see his recently ennobled father. How glad I am to see that he describes himself on his writing paper as "the Honourable".

Mr. Hoyle

I am amazed to hear that about my writing paper. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I certainly would not use that title. Will he please check the writing paper, because it certainly is not mine?

Sir Patrick Cormack

If I am wrong in that, of course I apologise. I would hate to make an accusation that proved to be wrong. Certainly, the hon. Gentleman is so described in official literature that I have seen and I am delighted that he is, because nobody deserved the ermine more richly than his honourable dad.

We now have a Government who regard Parliament as their creature. That is a dangerous attitude for any Government to adopt. The Government treat Parliament with a degree of derision that is bad for the body politic. They react with the indignation of the short-tempered owner trying to house-train a puppy when he thinks that his will is being thwarted. It is right that the Government's will should be thwarted. It is right that, this afternoon, we should seek to thwart their will and it is extremely wrong that the Government should have brought this motion to the House in the way that they did. I hope that we shall not have any more guillotine motions in this Parliament, but I suspect that we will, beyond the one—

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

There is one on Monday.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I know that there is already one on the Order Paper for Monday.

If we do have further guillotine motions, I hope that the Government will never again behave with this ill-tempered petulance, which has been provoked by their own arrogance and incompetence in dealing properly with a Bill, and has put the House of Commons into a legislative straitjacket. This is a sorry day for Parliament. It is a sorry note on which to come to the end of a long and fairly gruelling parliamentary Session. I have no hesitation in urging all my right hon. and hon. Friends, and anybody in the Chamber who cares about the House and the democratic process, to vote emphatically against the Government.

4.38 pm
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

This has not been an interesting debate. First, I apologise to the House on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for her unavoidable absence during the latter part of the debate and the winding-up speeches.

I may be wrong but, as I look at the Conservative Benches, I see only two faces who have that incredible beauty of experience of having sat on both sides of the House before this Government took office—the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and, I think, the right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith). [Interruption.] I may be wrong, but the point is that the vast majority of them have, until now, spent all their life in this House on the Government Benches. I accept, therefore, that opposition is a new experience for them.

The procedures of the House have changed over the years since I came in. I fully accept that I have made speeches that can be thrown back at me—the longer we are here, the more likely that is to happen. I should like to say, however, that I have learned from those experiences. I know how to play parliamentary games, but I also know how to get a result. I like to make progress and to make changes to bring this place, at least remotely, into the latter part of the 20th century by introducing quality legislation. On any assessment that might be done, if this place were in the private sector, of our performance in terms of the quality of legislation, it is abysmal. We have attempted from day one to produce quality legislation on the Food Standards Agency. That does not necessarily mean that we used the old methods. In fact, by definition, we have had to use different methods.

The proposal to establish an agency started life when the Labour party was in opposition. Professor Philip James was commissioned to have a look at the idea of a food standards agency and see how it would work and what its functions and powers might be. We received the report a week after the general election, published it and then consulted on it. We received some 600-odd submissions.

Mr. Gill

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Rooker

No I will not give way for the moment. We then produced a White Paper "The Food Standards Agency: a Force for Change" in January 1998, on which we received about 1,100 submissions as a result of a systematic consultation.

The Select Committee on Agriculture conducted an inquiry in 1998 into the general issues surrounding food safety, and published a report. We fully intended to produce a draft Bill last summer or autumn but, for reasons that have been explained in the past few months, it was not possible. Even in the Queen's Speech debate, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that it was our intention to produce a draft Bill and, if possible, to legislate this Session. That depended to some extent on matters in the other place.

We produced a draft Bill with notes on clauses in January this year, on which we again consulted systematically, not just as a paper exercise but by taking almost a roadshow to the regions. I went to five separate regional meetings and listened to, rather than spoke to, 1,500 or so people. We consulted on what was in the draft Bill and the consultation paper in respect of the levy.

At the same time, we set up the Special Select Committee. As we still intended, if possible, to legislate this Session—everyone can see the kind of timetable that we were working to—we asked the Special Select Committee to do a quick job. The general consensus among those who have read the report is that it did an excellent job in the short time available. It rightly made it clear that it would have liked more time. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health spent two sessions in front of the Special Select Committee at the beginning and the end of its proceedings, for a total of five hours. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who chaired it, the Committee took submissions from 24 outside bodies and three individuals and produced a report that resulted in about a dozen substantial changes to the draft Bill.

Earlier, the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) criticised the Government for changing the draft Bill before it became the main Bill that came to the House. I cannot imagine anything more ludicrous. We have listened throughout and consulted at each stage. We made substantial changes to the proposals from Philip James's report to the White Paper, from the White Paper to the draft Bill, from the draft Bill to the Bill that came to the House.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Rooker

I will give way in a minute. I am going to finish the point. We did not make all the changes that the Select Committee suggested, and we have explained why. We have not made changes furtively, and we are happy to explain the changes that we have made later today in discussions on the amendments.

Every Government amendment on the amendment paper today is the result of the Government's commitments in Committee. I shall tell the House now, because there will not be time later on, that other Government amendments—technical amendments relating to devolution for Northern Ireland and Scotland—which I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have refrained from tabling today, will be tabled when the Bill reaches the other place. We knew that, if those amendments were not reached today or, for some reason, the Government decided not to move them, that would send the wrong signals—it has nothing to do with food safety—to the countries involved.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Rooker

No. I want to finish the point that I am making.

We were still committed to obtaining Royal Assent this Session. The advertisements for the chair and deputy chair of the Food Standards Agency were published a couple of weeks ago, within a week of Second Reading. It has been public knowledge for a while that Second Reading of the Bill in the other place, subject to the will of this House, is programmed for Friday 30 July. To make that a reality, the Bill has to be delivered to the other place today, not tomorrow. We knew that all this week. Therefore, when we saw the possibility that that would not happen, we had to take appropriate action.

Mr. Tyler

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Rooker

No. I am going to finish this point. I will then take questions, if we are going to have a Select Committee-type of operation.

We have to deliver the Bill today so that the other place can complete its Committee stage and any other investigation in the carry-over period so that we can deal with any Lords amendments before the end of this parliamentary Session.

Amendments have also been tabled relating to the financial provisions. It is up to the Opposition whether we have a debate on them so that they can be explained. As I promised in Committee, I have some information and some figures that I should like to give to the House about the financing of the agency. I cannot organise the business—we are in the hands of the Opposition. That being so, we had to take action to guarantee that the Bill would complete its stages today.

I am not saying that there would have been a filibuster on this Bill. It was quite possible that yesterday's business could have knocked out today's business. No one can contradict me on that. It is also clear that delivery of the commitments that were honourably entered into by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen could not be delivered. Therefore, in the interests of the package of business that the Government are asking the House to approve, and given that we have announced the dates of the recess, it is wholly reasonable to move a timetable motion on a Bill on which we have nothing to hide.

At 7.30 pm on Tuesday, I personally handed to the Opposition copies of all the Government amendments being tabled that evening. I even gave them the opportunity to table amendments to the Government amendments. We were open. We gave all those commitments in opposition. There is nothing new in the Government amendments today. It is true that we have conducted the Bill in a different way from day one. For that, I make no apology on behalf of the Government. We are determined to get quality legislation through this place so that the agency works from day one.

Sir Patrick Cormack

The Minister must realise that we do not criticise his conduct of operations, or the Bill. We accept that it is, by and large, a sensible Bill, which has great cross-party support, but why, oh why, would he not accept the undertaking that he was given? I can tell him that it would have been delivered. Instead, he has ended a good ministerial story with a rather sad last chapter by imposing a guillotine.

Mr. Rooker

In replying to the debate, I have concentrated on the specifics. The whole of my contribution was devoted to answering that question. I shall give way to the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), and then I shall conclude.

Mr. Paice

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I want to make it clear that he has treated me—as the leading Opposition spokesman on the matter—and the rest of the Committee with the utmost courtesy throughout the Bill's proceedings so far; I appreciate that. I hope that its remaining stages will be dealt with in the same manner.

In that light, will the hon. Gentleman reconsider the accusation that he threw at my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman)? She and I—in my response to her intervention—were not suggesting that the Government should not have altered the Bill. We were simply making the point that, because they had altered the Bill—quite rightly in many instances—it was necessary to study the new version and give it proper scrutiny. To change the Bill does not remove that objective.

Mr. Rooker

The underlying theme of the criticism seems to be that, for some reason, if any change that the Government make to the draft after the White Paper is not subject to parliamentary debate, we are cheating somehow. We are not. We have been wholly and utterly open about the matter. To improve the Bill as it went along cannot be a charge that can be held against us. There was no criticism in Committee that we had changed it from the draft. I sincerely hope—

Mr. Tyler

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rooker

I will, but only because I like the hon. Gentleman. He has been extremely positive about the measure. Furthermore, he was a Member of this place for only six months in 1974 and was out of the place for 18 years. I shall give way to him and then I am determined to sit down, or we shall be in danger of losing the chance to discuss the amendments.

Mr. Tyler

I am grateful to the Minister; I cannot take all these compliments from both sides of the House—they are most damaging to my reputation.

I agree with the point that the Minister made at the outset; the experience of the Bill has been uniquely constructive. It has been most helpful. However, that does not explain why this motion is before us. The Minister is right to say that there might have been a problem with the Employment Relations Bill, but that could have been dealt with separately. There is no evidence, from anything that he has told us this afternoon, that the treatment of the Food Standards Bill would be obstructed—none whatever.

Mr. Rooker

I explained that there were time constraints because of the need to send the Bill to the other place. There are 13 groups of amendments. At two hours a group, I could easily organise a two-hour debate on any group of amendments, and that would make 26 hours. That is the reason for the motion.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 276, Noes 108.

Division No. 271] [4.51 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Coleman, Iain
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Colman, Tony
Alexander, Douglas Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Allen, Graham Corbett, Robin
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Corbyn, Jeremy
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Cousins, Jim
Ashton, Joe Cox, Tom
Atkins, Charlotte Cranston, Ross
Barron, Kevin Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Battle, John Cummings, John
Beard, Nigel Cunliffe, Lawrence
Begg, Miss Anne Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Dalyell, Tam
Bennett, Andrew F Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Berry, Roger Darvill, Keith
Best, Harold Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Betts, Clive Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Blackman, Liz Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Borrow, David Dawson, Hilton
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Denham, John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dismore, Andrew
Brinton, Mrs Helen Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Donohoe, Brian H
Browne, Desmond Doran, Frank
Buck, Ms Karen Drown, Ms Julia
Burden, Richard Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burgon, Colin Edwards, Huw
Butler, Mrs Christine Efford, Clive
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Ennis, Jeff
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Etherington, Bill
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Field, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Fisher, Mark
Campbell-Savours, Dale Fitzpatrick, Jim
Cann, Jamie Fitzsimons, Lorna
Caplin, Ivor Flynn, Paul
Casale, Roger Follett, Barbara
Caton, Martin Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Chisholm, Malcolm Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Clapham, Michael Foulkes, George
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Fyfe, Maria
Galloway, George
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Gapes, Mike
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Gardiner, Barry
Clelland, David George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Clwyd, Ann Gerrard, Neil
Coffey, Ms Ann Gibson, Dr Ian
Cohen, Harry Godsiff, Roger
Golding, Mrs Llin Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Merron, Gillian
Grocott, Bruce Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Grogan, John Mitchell, Austin
Gunnell, John Moffatt, Laura
Hain, Peter Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Moran, Ms Margaret
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Morley, Elliot
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Healey, John Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mullin, Chris
Heppell, John Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Norris, Dan
Hill, Keith O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hinchliffe, David O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hodge, Ms Margaret O'Hara, Eddie
Hoey, Kate Olner, Bill
Hope, Phil Organ, Mrs Diana
Hopkins, Kelvin Osborne, Ms Sandra
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Palmer, Dr Nick
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Pearson, Ian
Howells, Dr Kim Pendry, Tom
Hoyle, Lindsay Perham, Ms Linda
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Pickthall, Colin
Hurst, Alan Pike, Peter L
Hutton, John Plaskitt, James
Iddon, Dr Brian Pollard, Kerry
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Pound, Stephen
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jenkins, Brian Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Purchase, Ken
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Kelly, Ms Ruth Roche, Mrs Barbara
Kemp, Fraser Rooker, Jeff
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Rooney, Terry
Khabra, Piara S Roy, Frank
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Ruddock, Joan
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Ryan, Ms Joan
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Salter, Martin
Laxton, Bob Sarwar, Mohammad
Leslie, Christopher Savidge, Malcolm
Linton, Martin Sawford, Phil
Livingstone, Ken Sedgemore, Brian
Lock, David Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Love, Andrew Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McAllion, John Singh, Marsha
McAvoy, Thomas Skinner, Dennis
McCabe, Steve Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McDonagh, Siobhain Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Macdonald, Calum Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McDonnell, John Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McIsaac, Shona Snape, Peter
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Soley, Clive
McNamara, Kevin Spellar, John
McNulty, Tony Squire, Ms Rachel
MacShane, Denis Steinberg, Gerry
Mactaggart, Fiona Stevenson, George
McWalter, Tony Stewart, David (Inverness E)
McWilliam, John Stoate, Dr Howard
Mahon, Mrs Alice Stott, Roger
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wareing, Robert N
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Tipping, Paddy Wills, Michael
Todd, Mark Winnick, David
Touhig, Don Wise, Audrey
Trickett, Jon Wray, James
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Wyatt, Derek
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Vaz, Keith Tellers for the Ayes:
Vis, Dr Rudi Mr. Greg Pope and
Ward, Ms Claire Mr. Jim Dowd.
Amess, David Kirkwood, Archy
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Leigh, Edward
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Letwin, Oliver
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Baldry, Tony Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Loughton, Tim
Beresford, Sir Paul Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Blunt, Crispin MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Body, Sir Richard McIntosh, Miss Anne
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Brand, Dr Peter Maclean, Rt Hon David
Brazier, Julian Major, Rt Hon John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Mates, Michael
Browning, Mrs Angela Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Burnett, John Moore, Michael
Burstow, Paul Nicholls, Patrick
Cable, Dr Vincent Norman, Archie
Chope, Christopher Öpik, Lembit
Clappison, James Page, Richard
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Paice, James
Colvin, Michael Prior, David
Cormack, Sir Patrick Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Cotter, Brian Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Curry, Rt Hon David St Aubyn, Nick
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Sanders Adrian
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Sayeed, Jonathan
Day, Stephen Shepherd, Richard
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Duncan, Alan Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Duncan Smith, Iain Spring, Richard
Faber, David Swayne, Desmond
Fearn, Ronnie Syms, Robert
Flight, Howard Tapsell, Sir Peter
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Foster, Don (Bath) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Tonge, Dr Jenny
Fox, Dr Liam Tyler, Paul
Fraser, Christopher Tyrie, Andrew
George, Andrew (St Ives) Viggers, Peter
Gill, Christopher Wallace, James
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Walter, Robert
Gorrie, Donald Wardle, Charles
Gray, James Waterson, Nigel
Green, Damian Wells, Bowen
Greenway, John Wilkinson, John
Hague, Rt Hon William Willetts, David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Willis, Phil
Hancock, Mike Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Harvey, Nick Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Woodward, Shaun
Horam, John Yeo, Tim
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. John M. Taylor and
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Food Standards Bill and on the Employment Relations Bill

Forward to