HC Deb 22 May 2000 vol 350 cc677-725 9. The proceedings on any motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall (if not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced; and Standing Order No. 15(1) shall apply to those proceedings. 10. If at today's sitting the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the time at which any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order, no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

I shall speak briefly because the House has important business to consider this afternoon. The motion would allow for up to five hours of debate on the timetable and both Bills. I hope that it will not be necessary to spend three hours debating the motion, and that we can move on swiftly to debate the substance of the Bills.

There can be no doubt about the value of both measures. Of course, some hon. Members want to probe and discuss various aspects of the Bills. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said last Thursday, the Committee stages of the Bills—and, indeed, two other Bills that the House will consider later today—passed swiftly.

The Nuclear Safeguards Bill took one hour 48 minutes in Committee. Today, 33 amendments, four new clauses and one new schedule have been tabled. None of those amendments raises anything new, and the Government oppose them all.

The Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill took one hour 13 minutes in Committee. The Government accepted no amendments, and no Government amendments have been tabled today.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Unless I misheard the Parliamentary Secretary, he suggested that the Nuclear Safeguards Bill absorbed one hour 48 minutes. Will he confirm that it in fact absorbed only one hour 12 minutes?

Mr. Tipping

I cannot confirm that, but I shall look at the matter. I understand that the Nuclear Safeguards Bill took one hour and 48 minutes and the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill one hour and 13 minutes. The three new clauses and two amendments, which have been tabled by an Opposition Member, would add nothing to the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time with his characteristic courtesy. Unless I am much mistaken, or there has been a misprint, the Standing Committee sitting began at 10.30 am on 18 April and consideration concluded at 18 minutes to 12. Even by new Labour calculations, that amounts not to one hour and 48 minutes, but to one hour and 12 minutes. That is germane to our consideration of the timetable motion.

Mr. Tipping

Clearly, if the Official Report is correct—I am sure that it is—the hon. Gentleman is better at his sums than other people. I apologise to him and the House.

There are important matters that the House needs to debate this afternoon. It is regrettable that a few Opposition Members seem to be less interested in the genuine scrutiny of legislation and more interested in disrupting the progress of business, regardless of the desirability of the legislation that they want to delay. Such behaviour may not be in the interests of the whole House and the industries concerned, nor in the public interest. However, it is for those Members to justify their actions. I do not complain, nor should they complain of the Government's desire to pass legislation. I hope that the House will approve the motion quickly.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Can my hon. Friend the Minister tell me where, in the Government's view, the dividing line on applying timetable motions falls? Is it where Her Majesty's Opposition are being an irritant and, therefore, have to be taught a salutary lesson or where the legislation is of such major importance that it should be dealt with in an exemplary manner, without the Opposition having recourse to what are legitimate means of opposition?

Mr. Tipping

I remind my hon. Friend of what I have just said—I do not complain and those are legitimate tactics; nor should other hon. Members complain about the Government's desire to secure their business.

The Bills are important for the industries concerned. There has been widespread concern across the House that important issues are not given sufficient time for debate. For example, last week, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) pressed strongly for a debate on House of Lords reform. Small measures such as these may be blocked, which takes a great deal of time and causes the Government difficulties in initiating bigger debates.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

If the minority in the House has rights which are respected—I hope that that will always be the case—should not we also recognise the rights of the majority? If a small minority of Members causes lengthy delays, despite remaining perfectly in order, surely the majority has a right to put its foot down and say, "Enough is enough."

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend may have an opportunity to put his foot down if the motion is pressed to a Division. It is a matter for the House and he will be able to express his view. I have expressed mine: a small group of Members is needlessly holding up the business of the House to the inconvenience of a great many other Members.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Why have the Government decided to consolidate what are effectively two guillotine motions into one? That denies the House the opportunity properly to discuss the motion. I should be grateful to the Minister if he would advise us why the Secretaries of State responsible for the Bills are not leading the debate. The precedent was in the 1970s when, as the Minister will recall, the relevant Secretaries of State spoke on the sections of the motion that related to their Bills and explained the necessity for a guillotine.

Mr. Tipping

I am supported by my hon. Friend the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs. The precedents on such matters are far from clear. The hon. Gentleman asks why two Bills are being guillotined by one motion. He makes the point that there is insufficient time, but three hours have been made available to discuss the motion. I hope that the House will debate the motion quickly so that we can deal with the important matters.

3.50 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The Minister is one of the most courteous Members in the House, and we all acknowledge that, but I am bound to tell him that he dealt with the motion in an exceptionally perfunctory manner. I am also bound to tell him that I think it a great pity that the Leader of the House is not here—indeed, I am sorry that she did not introduce the debate. Given that she too is a Member of impeccable courtesy, I would have expected her at the very least to be present.

We should consider the context of this debate. In last year's Queen's Speech, the Government put before us one of the heaviest legislative programmes of recent years. Since then, we have seen an attempt by them to push through non-controversial Bills as quickly as possible so that they can get the rest of their legislative programme through. In fact, they have not yet extracted themselves from a legislative quagmire of their own making.

I accept that although both the Bills we are discussing are important, they are not controversial in a party political sense; but to say that they are not controversial is not to say that they are unimportant. Many pieces of legislation put before the House are non-controversial in a party sense, but are extremely important. I do not think anyone could suggest that a Bill relating to nuclear safeguards, or, indeed, a Bill dealing with sea fishing, deals with an unimportant subject.

A number of important points were made on Second Reading of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, which ran for some time. Although the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill had a briefer Second Reading, again important points were made, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss). I do not believe that the Government have answered either set of points adequately.

The trouble with the present Government—I acquit the Minister of this charge—is that they are excessively arrogant when it comes to Parliament. The purpose of Parliament is to serve by holding the Executive to account and by scrutinising legislation thoroughly. The present Government seem to be so hell bent on their legislative programme—their agenda—that they are not prepared to allow Parliament to fulfil its role properly.

We have already heard one reference to this in an intervention, but last week, in business questions, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) asked yet again—I have lost count of the number of times he and I have asked for this—for a debate on the intergovernmental conference White Paper, and for a debate on reform of the House of Lords. Most important of all in the context of what is currently happening, he asked—for the second consecutive week—for a debate on Sierra Leone.

People outside Parliament find it incomprehensible that we have so distorted our patterns and procedures—or, rather, the Government have done so—that we do not have the opportunity to debate matters that are in the headlines of every newspaper and news bulletin, at a time when British troops are engaged, albeit with impeccable skill, in one of the most delicate operations in which British troops have been engaged for a long time.

Ms Tess Kingham (Gloucester)

Does the hon. Gentleman not concede that we would have more time for important debates on such subjects as Sierra Leone, and other vital topics that concern our constituents, if we were not kept up all night by silly games that have very little to do with scrutinising legislation, and more to do with the Opposition's attempts to keep the Government up all night, make them tired and prevent discussion of the important issues of the day?

Sir Patrick Cormack

I read of the hon. Lady's declaration at the weekend. All I would say to her is that she has failed to understand what being a Member of Parliament is all about. She has failed to understand what she has to do in this place: she treats this as a job that should involve fixed hours, and clocking on and off. We are here as the servants of the people who sent us here, and we are expected to debate at length important issues, whether they be of a partisan nature or, as these two Bills are, of a non-partisan nature.

We would of course have made sure that the hon. Lady lost her seat at the next election, but I am sorry that she is voluntarily throwing in the towel. If people such as her treat the House as an ordinary place of work, they have fundamentally misunderstood the historic nature of the British Parliament.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Is my hon. Friend aware that on Friday the House sat between the hours of 9.30 am and 2.30 pm and made law, very successfully as it turned out, yet none of the Members who are making the loudest protest about unsocial hours managed to be present?

Sir Patrick Cormack

I had better answer that rather carefully, because I was not here on Friday either. My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. I am well aware that on Fridays he regularly travels here from the far distances of Bromley. We could all learn from his parliamentary expertise.

The hon. Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham), when she intervened, and the Parliamentary Secretary, when he introduced the debate, seemed to be suffering from a parliamentary amnesia. I well remember in the early 1970s, when we were in opposition, parliamentarians of the calibre of the late John Mendelson and the late Bob Cryer perfectly rightly and properly inconvenienced the then Conservative Government time after time, week after week. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is not in his place, because he was a past master at that. I shall never forget when he kept us vastly entertained for some considerable time on a debate as to whether a by-election writ should be moved. He was properly exercising his parliamentary right to try to delay the Government of the day moving forward with legislation of which he wholeheartedly disapproved. That is a historic right of the Back Bencher, whoever the Government of the day are.

Mr. Winnick

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is always courteous. Does he realise that there is a difference between keeping us up all night on, say, the national minimum wage legislation, which is an issue of great importance to the Government and to the Opposition—I know of no Labour Member who complained about that—and keeping us all night on issues that are not particularly controversial? A small minority of Members—not Opposition Front-Benchers—legitimately consider it their duty to keep the debate going on and on, if necessary all night.

This should no longer be a gentleman's club. If my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham) has come to the view that people of her generation and gender are not able to carry out their responsibilities as a Member of Parliament as they would like to, with all respect to the hon. Gentleman I believe that that is a loss to Parliament.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I disagree. I believe very strongly that it is not the job of Parliament to adjust its procedures for the convenience of individual Members. I believe passionately in this place. I believe in this Chamber. I readily concede that the hon. Gentleman has a point when he refers to the broad-brush approach of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

Mrs. Dunwoody


Mr. Bercow


Sir Patrick Cormack

May I reply to hon. Members one at a time? Then I will give way to the hon. Lady.

My right hon. Friend has been goaded beyond endurance by the cavalier manner in which the Government have treated the House over their general legislative programme. He is not the Rupert of debate, as a 19th century parliamentarian was once referred to; he is the Dick Turpin of debate—or being the American aficionado that he is, perhaps the Jesse James of debate. He wants to hold up everything in sight. He has done that for a purpose. He has perceived a Government who know only two instruments—the steamroller and the sledgehammer. He has done his best—I pay tribute to him—to underline that fact to the British people.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Does the hon. Gentleman remember the occasion when the present Chairman of the Liaison Committee and his very good friend, who is now in another place, held up every conceivable bit of legislation, irrespective of its worth, to ensure that the reformation of the House of Lords did not go ahead, because they had decided that what was on offer was in the interests neither of Parliament nor of anyone else?

Sir Patrick Cormack

Indeed I do, although that was just before I came into the House in 1970. It was a wholly legitimate exercise. If the Government are seeking to put through legislation that, in the view of certain Members, is not in the interests of the country or their constituents, they have every right to use every legitimate parliamentary weapon to seek to make it difficult for the Government to get their business through.

We all know that the present Government have a huge and overwhelming majority. We know that, because of that, it is inconceivable that, in the Division Lobby, we can overturn an item of Government legislation, but the hon. Lady is right. She is a consummate parliamentarian. The problem in the present House of Commons is that we have far too many Members of Parliament and not enough parliamentarians. She is right to underline not only the historic opportunity of the Back Bencher, but the historic duty. It is the duty of a Member of Parliament, if he or she believes that what is being done is inimical to the interests of the country, to seek to use whatever legitimate device is available to stop it or to hold it up. If the debate achieves nothing else but to underline that historic right of Parliament, it will have achieved some purpose, even though it was introduced in such a brief way by the Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. Bercow

Is my hon. Friend aware that, even if we were not debating the allocation of time motion, and instead all four hours available were devoted to the consideration of the 32 new clauses and amendments to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, it would apparently be acceptable to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham) that, on average, each of them should receive consideration by the House for seven and a half minutes?

Sir Patrick Cormack

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I speak on the subject with, I hope, reasonable credentials. I well remember walking out of a debate on the guillotine during the Conservative Administration because I felt that not enough time was being given to a very important Bill. On a number of occasions, I refused to support a guillotine brought in by my own Government. One must use that weapon with extreme care. The current issue of "Erskine May" says that guillotine motions may be regarded as the extreme limit to which procedure goes in affirming the rights of the majority at the expense of the minorities of the House, and it cannot be denied that they are capable of being used in such a way as to upset the balance, generally so carefully preserved, between the claims of business, and the rights of debate. That is what it is all about. It is the judgment of the Government in resorting to the guillotine that we question today.

I know that "programming" is a word that is anathema to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, but I think that even he would concede that there is perhaps a case, with certain non-controversial but important measures, perhaps to give some regard to that. However, just for the point of the argument, he is an absolutist. In a sense, he is the—what colour is his tie today? He is the technicolour incorruptible of this place. I cannot call him the sea-green incorruptible. [Interruption.] He is certainly not a Shi'ite, as the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs says from a sedentary position.

Putting on one side for a moment my right hon. Friend's extremely purist view, I should say that there is a case for programming certain measures. However, in this case, the Government did not attempt to come and say, "Should we programme these particular measures so that they receive adequate and proper discussion?" Indeed, on various occasions—we have the same tomorrow—the Government have scheduled two Bills for Second Reading on a single day. I believe that that is just not the way in which Parliament should be treated.

Mr. Shepherd

I am very interested in the argument that my hon. Friend is developing, not least because he played a part in that extraordinary day when the then Labour Government proposed five guillotines in one day. In this Parliament, however, the Government—with a little support from the official and the unofficial Opposition Front Benchers—have introduced about 40 guillotines. Use of the guillotine is now not only a ritual reminder of the Government's importance, but a deliberate attempt to manage the business of the House and to deny freedom of speech to many Back Benchers on both sides of the House.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I tell my hon. Friend that, as "Erskine May" has it, the Opposition have most certainly not connived at 40 guillotines; that is not right. What we have had is some agreed programmes. Regardless of who is in government, one has to balance the programme. Although the Government are in office now, potentially they are tomorrow's Opposition. A quite good political maxim is, "Do not do to others what you would not have done to yourself."

It is a matter of getting the balance right. I believe that, in this Parliament and in this matter, the balance has not been got right. The Government have treated Parliament with some disdain—as demonstrated in the number of announcements that they have made not to the House but outside it, before hon. Members have been told. In a sense, these guillotines show the ultimate disdain.

Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned balance. However, when considering that balance, should not Back Benchers take into account, among other things, the number of amendments tabled to a Bill in Committee and the length of the Committee's consideration of that Bill? If the Committee has not examined legislation in great detail, does that not indicate how many important issues need to be addressed in the legislation?

Sir Patrick Cormack

With genuine respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the situation. Every amendment that is selected for consideration in Committee is selected by the Chairman of that Committee. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and I have been joint Chairmen of a number of Standing Committees. I think it is true to say that at the beginning of this Parliament, I had served on the panel of Chairmen longer than any other Opposition Member. The fact is that Chairmen select carefully, with regard to what is relevant, and that they are advised at every point by the Clerks.

Sometimes, it is appropriate that an amendment should be debated not so much in Committee, but on Report—on the Floor of the House—where every hon. Member will have the opportunity to attend. On Report, it is again a matter—as you will know all too well, Madam Speaker—of a proper selection of amendments; nothing is selected that is out of order. Therefore, everything that appears on the Order Paper and is selected for debate is proper, relevant and can be—indeed, should be—debated.

It is a matter of—I keep coming back to this word—balance. I believe that the Government have the balance wrong, and that, in the process, they have dealt a very real blow to the whole foundation of parliamentary representative democracy.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

Before my hon. Friend concludes his remarks, I hope that he will reflect once again on the point made by the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) and the preposterous notion that he seemed to be proposing to the House—that because a Committee of 12, 18 or 24 colleagues carefully considered a matter, there is no need for the other 630 colleagues who had not been on the Committee to consider it at all. That would make a mockery of Report and disallow all the rest of us from properly contributing to parliamentary debate and to Bills as they are passed by the House.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Of course; that is the point that I was seeking to make. Report stage is the one occasion when all hon. Members have the opportunity not just to attend—they can turn up and listen to the proceedings in Committee—but to take part.

Very often, the majority of amendments come not from the Back Benches or from the Opposition, but from the Government—and this Government have been as guilty of that as any that I can remember in my time here. Sometimes that is commendable, because it means that the Government have listened to the arguments, conceded a point and brought forward amendments on Report to remedy a situation. That has happened during this Parliament, but only on two or three Bills. For the most part, the Government amendments have been tabled to cover up their own technical ineptitude—and in some cases because of a misreading of the situation that beggars belief. I need only utter the two words "Utilities Bill" without expanding on that—and therefore being rebuked by you, Madam Speaker—to illustrate my point.

I ask the Minister—if he will be kind enough to listen—to talk to the Leader of the House and tell her that we regard her as our Leader of the House. Her job transcends the party political. Of course she is an important member of the Cabinet and has a party political role—no sensible Member of Parliament would dispute that for half a minute—but she also has a parliamentary role second in importance only to the supreme parliamentary role of Madam Speaker.

The Leader of the House is actively involved in the business of the House. It is not for Madam Speaker to say whether a Minister shall make a statement, as she has so often said. However, the Leader of the House has the regulation and control of Government business. We are suffering from the Government's disdainful and, on occasions, contemptuous approach to Parliament. We are not allowed time to debate issues of great importance, because the legislative programme crowds out everything else. It is so enormous that Members of Parliament do not have an opportunity adequately to digest, let alone debate, the measures that are put before us. Parliament's role is being unbalanced by the Executive. That is an extremely important point.

I accept that the inimitable behaviour of my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) is sometimes exasperating for all concerned. I remember once quoting to them Richter's famous words to the third flute: Your damned nonsense can I stand twice or once, hut sometimes always, by God, never. However, they are performing a service to Parliament and I pay an unreserved and unqualified tribute to that. They see a Parliament that is being railroaded by the Government. On the precept that was so very well enunciated by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, they are saying that they are not going to put up with it. In doing so, they have entered into the long and honourable lineage of fiercely independent, sometimes bloody-minded, true servants of Parliament in whose debt we all stand.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Does my hon. Friend share the sentiment behind the words of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who said to me two years before the last general election that when the Government get themselves into a hole, they legislate too much? Would it not be good advice to this Government not only to slow down the legislative process, but to stop it altogether?

Sir Patrick Cormack

It would be a good thing if the Government rationed the number of Bills that they placed before this House. I hope that, at the next general election—at which I am confident the Government and Opposition parties will be transposed—we will make a promise that is often made to the electorate: that there will be less legislation, not more. I hope that that is a promise that we then fulfil. We need legislation that is carefully considered and drafted, and legislation to which every hon. Member has the opportunity to contribute. That cannot be done if we submerge Parliament in a vast number of Bills which there is not enough time for hon. Members to digest, let alone debate.

The Government have their own legislative ineptitude to thank for the motion. They are doing a scant service to the Parliament they would pretend to honour in tabling the motion. I hope that when we come to vote, my right hon. and hon. Friends will all resolutely vote against it.

4.16 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

When the last election was called, I desperately wanted Labour to win because I felt that previous Governments over a period of about 20 years had increasingly behaved as if Parliament were not relevant to the government of the country. For a long time, we had had people in charge who no longer understood the role of Members of Parliament, and were not prepared to consider in detail either legislation affecting ordinary people or the implications of what they were doing.

I believed that my Government would be different. I believed that they would insist on parliamentary matters being dealt with seriously. Answers to parliamentary questions, even awkward ones, would be honest and straightforward. I believed that the parliamentary timetable would be organised in such a way that we would see a new era of responsibility and the flowering of the important role that Parliaments have played in the UK almost since the time of the Anglo-Saxons.

When I see an Order Paper with a timetable motion—for two Bills, not one—I am disappointed in terms of my hopes for the incoming Government. It is my duty to say these things, which will not make me popular on this side of the House. Nor will I be appreciated by many new Members of Parliament, who will only too readily write off the views of anyone who does not believe that our role in Parliament is to be a salaried employee of particular parties, answerable not to those who send us here and perhaps not even, in a wider sense, to the constituencies that are, to me, the final and most important arbiter of my role.

I am deeply saddened by the fact that, yet again, a timetable motion has been tabled. A dangerous idea is growing that if we were somehow to reorganise the hours of Parliament and go home at 5 pm—like well brought up office personnel—and if we were not to sit through the night, we would produce better legislation. We would be able to round off in simple and sonorous terms those legal opinions that are to be included in legislation. That is not the case.

Parliament has always existed to express the views of ordinary men and women, although it has at times been manipulated by those in government or in power. Sometimes it ignores those views or translates them in a way that many of us find unacceptable. Sometimes Parliament believes that it has such God-given rights that it can override the views of those who have a vote and a say in how people get here. In reality, Parliament—although it took a considerable time before it admitted women—has historically acted to represent the peoples of this country and, fundamentally, has protected the essential aspects of democracy.

I hope that the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) will forgive me if I say that neither of them are automatically high on the list of people whom I love dearly. Nevertheless, what they are doing and have done is not unique. Indeed, they are not even as efficient as some of my colleagues have been in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) used often to be given instructions by previous Labour Whips to keep business going for as long as possible to cause the maximum difficulty.

I also remember my late friend John Golding, the former Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, making the longest recorded speech in modern parliamentary history on a telecommunications Bill, because he believed that what was being offered to the House was inadequate and wrong. He chose to use the methods of Parliament to try to change that. In doing so, he used devices that would have seemed pathetically complicated to people outside. They could have been described as little boys' games, but they were based on an understanding of the procedures of the House of Commons and an ability to use those procedures to have an effect on the progress of legislation.

Such actions are legitimate, although they may be irritating. I do not particularly want to be here in the middle of the night. In fact, it occurred to me the other day that when I first entered the House, I was told that I should stay up all night because I was part of the payroll vote. Now I am told that I have to stay up all night because I am not part of the payroll vote. I cannot understand what happened in the interim when I got it all wrong.

The growing use of timetable motions is a retrograde step, and I say that no matter who introduces them. I do not even understand why timetable motions are necessary on the Bills that we are considering today. However, I am concerned by the idea that somehow Parliament can be organised, like local authorities, into short days or a shorter week. Parliament cannot be organised into a nice, neat tidy bundle so that the Executive take decisions, tell Parliament what they have decided and produce Bills that, even if they are wrong, can be presented as a package and pushed through, because no one any longer alters a word of them. Such an approach is dangerous and depressing.

It is also depressing—as the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) pointed out—that senior members of the Government are not even prepared to come to the House and argue the case. They could at least have the decency to tell us why we must accept this motion. All Members of Parliament understand that we got here with the support of party politicians and need to defend particular party political views, but we also have a duty to ordinary men and women who have let this Parliament grow up over 900 years because they thought that if they could hear their views expressed here by the Members whom they elected, they were defending democracy.

Parliament is not a rubber stamp for the arrangements of Executives or of Front Benchers. There have been occasions when it has suited Opposition Front Benchers to make arrangements with the Government, and I understand why that happens. Whips Offices must manage business, but we should not forget that there is something deeper about what we do here than getting the House's business on the statute book. That means that we cannot behave as if we are councillors. We will not be able to maintain a life in which our families can see us whenever they want. I had three children when I first entered the House, aged 12, 10 and 8. I therefore know what tremendous costs family life has to bear. That is the same for males and females. This is a brutal place. It destroys more people than it creates. Those of us who come here do so because we believe that democracy and the expression of the views of ordinary voters are of fundamental importance.

The House has withstood the arrogance of previous Prime Ministers. It has withstood the arrangements of elite groups who think that they can get what they want merely by dictating to Parliament. It can withstand the business arrangements of the Front-Bench Members of both large parties, who think it convenient not to allow people to get in the way of what they want. If ever those groups succeed in getting what they want, we shall know that Parliament no longer represents the interests of the United Kingdom.

4.26 pm
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). She is a formidable opponent, and one suspects that she could be a dangerous friend as well.

Liberal Democrat Members do not support the motion. We think that the Government have lost their nerve to some extent by requiring the House to consider two timetable motions and four Bills in one day. As has been boasted about and admitted in the House today, the Government have suffered some provocation, but Governments should not lose their temper when facing provocation from those they do not like. Governments with commanding majorities in the House should show responsibility, whereas Opposition parties are entitled to show irresponsibility on occasion. It is the job of Parliament to contain that diversity, and it is the job of Opposition Members to do their best to resist what the Government want to achieve.

I must say, however, that it is hard to support every detail of what the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) have been trying to do. I have had the sometimes doubtful privilege of sitting through many contributions from the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst in this House. It is occasionally hard to see how legislation is improved by that process, or how amendments tabled by those right hon. Gentlemen would allow it to emerge from the process in better shape.

Mr. Maclean

I invite the hon. Gentleman to check the Hansard report of last week's debate on the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill. The spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker), commented on the new provisions on compensation for farmers and other matters that the Government had built into the Bill. Those issues were raised by me and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), among others, a year before, when the original Bill on fur farming was before the House. We objected to that Bill, and obstructed its progress, because it lacked those provisions. The Government added them to this year's Bill because of the action that we took—a fact that won the praise of some Liberal Democrat Members.

Mr. Stunell

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but the Order Paper states that this motion refers to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill and the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill. Moreover, given enough time, a group of monkeys will type the collected works of Shakespeare, so sooner or later any hon. Member might come up with an amendment that would improve a measure. By no means do I discount the process of scrutiny by the House, but it might be carried out more effectively and efficiently. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I support his right to act as he chooses. I am simply drawing to the House's attention the factors that I consider render the Government's reaction wrong.

Mr. Bercow

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the course of five hours' debate on the Bill's Second Reading on 10 April, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I asked innumerable questions? Is he further aware that the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs was denied the opportunity of a reply to that debate, because the rug was pulled out from under his feet by the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office? Is the hon. Gentleman further aware that on 18 April the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) aired concerns in Committee to which he required a response? In those circumstances, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be helpful if the Minister indicated whether he intends to respond to the debate on the new clauses and amendments this afternoon?

Mr. Stunell

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I would simply say that even the Secretary of State should be able to squeeze that in during the course of a four-hour debate. Perhaps he needs longer, but four hours seem a reasonable time in which to do so.

I stress that I am not supporting the timetable motion. I accept, as a given, that the process of debate is beneficial to legislation. Ministers should be held to account and we expect viable, comprehensible and comprehensive answers to issues raised by Opposition Members and Government Back Benchers. That is not in dispute. I might question whether that is the most effective way for contributions to be made, but that is not the essence of my remarks.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich made some powerful points. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who were not in the Chamber to hear the hon. Lady's speech will take the trouble to read it in Hansard. She warned of the risk of increasing Government dictatorship over the House. She referred eloquently to the House's 900-year history. The first 800 years may not have gone according to Labour Members' wishes but, depending on the culture of the times, the House has been a powerful way of controlling the Executive for a long time. Hardly anyone would dispute that it has become less effective, however. The reasons for that are not all connected with the introduction of too many guillotine motions. They include the introduction of a very strong party structure and, in the past century, almost continuous universal majority party rule of Parliament and the Executive.

The hon. Lady might want to reflect on whether her views give a complete picture of the situation when it comes to seemingly relishing the masochistic aspect of Parliament. The idea is that one should expect to start work at 2.30 in the afternoon and work until 2.30 in the morning. If not, one could not be said to be qualified for Parliament. I put it to the hon. Lady that that is not a complete picture.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I agree absolutely. That is why the Committees of the House do not start at half-past two in the afternoon. That is why Select Committees frequently meet at different times. Members of Parliament take part in debates elsewhere in the House—in Westminster Hall, in the Committee Rooms and in Standing Committees. The idea that the House starts work at half-past two in the afternoon may be propagated generally, but it is not accurate.

Mr. Stunell

I thank the hon. Lady for that confirmation of her point of view. I am what is generally described as an owl, rather than a lark, and it suits me very well to be up at 2.30 in the morning. I look forward to being kept up by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border in future. However, although such a course looks convincing in the statistics, it is not the best way of employing Members of the House in holding the Government to account.

I have made the point repeatedly in the debate—and I shall continue to make it outside the Chamber—that imposing a guillotine motion is not the response that a mature and responsible Government should make to the deficiencies in the running of this place. If there are deficiencies in the direction of there being too great a control of the House by the Executive, the solution is not to increase that control by the imposition of guillotines.

Mr. Fabricant

I am finding the hon. Gentleman's argument somewhat confused. What is he arguing for as a way of holding the Government to account—a Government who have a larger majority than there are Conservative Members? What other mechanisms would he propose?

Mr. Stunell

I am in danger of being led out of order. I could mention many mechanisms. One would be a Parliament that represented the people by the introduction of proportional representation. Another would be the extension of pre-legislative scrutiny, as recommended to the House. Yet another would be the implementation of a proper procedure for having our business organised throughout the year as well as throughout the week. Those are all matters on which I have gone on the record, as has my party, and we shall continue to do so. However, there are Conservative Members who prefer to continue with the old techniques, which did not prevent the poll tax or the Child Support Agency. Similarly, they did not rescue Parliament from gaining a reputation for passing bad law too often.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

What is the Liberal definition of a proper procedure?

Mr. Stunell

I can define what the procedure is according to Liberal Democrats. I cannot speak for anybody else. I and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) have submitted a paper, which I trust will be published in the proceedings of the Modernisation Committee. It is being considered almost as we speak. Perhaps those are matters for another debate.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stunell

I am happy to follow this line but I am not sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how far I should stray from the terms of the motion.

Mr. Bercow

Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is wallowing in a sea of obfuscation. I suspect that most Opposition Members believe that the country suffers from over-government. As we are considering the allocation of time for consideration of legislation, will the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, tell the House whether he agrees with the Conservative Opposition that it is objectionable in principle that the Government should be allowed to ram through the House in one parliamentary day no fewer than four Bills?

Mr. Stunell

I started by saying yes to that question, and I will say it again—yes. To have two guillotine motions in respect of four Bills in one day is a sign of a Government who have lost their nerve and are responding immaturely to provocation. I do not know whether I can make myself any plainer than that. That is our view.

There is a better organised and more formal approach. The business of the House should be planned in a much better way, and we have definite proposals that would enable that to be done. Sadly, they are not on the Order Paper.

I strongly urge the Government and the official Opposition to take notice of the public's views of the way in which the House conducts itself. I want them both to take account of the true quality of the outputs of the House. I think that Members on both sides of the House share the view, and the frustration, that it is not effective at holding the Government to account. It does not pass high-quality legislation and it does not allow the best form of representation of the people who elected its Members. That is a greater cause for concern than the motion.

The proposed guillotine does not have the support of Liberal Democrats. I hope that we shall reject it and proceed to consider other business.

4.39 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I apologise in advance for having to leave this debate. I am a member of a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation and, if I do not attend it at some point. I shall doubtless be guillotined by my Whips. [Interruption.] Yes, no doubt the Opposition would greatly miss me.

A charge of arrogance has been made against the Government. I have the same respect for the House of Commons as I had when I first entered the House many years ago. The House is a place for debate, and even, sometimes, for delaying matters. I accept the rights of the Opposition. I spent 18 years on the Opposition Benches, and often heard Government spokesmen introducing guillotines by saying that they were absolutely necessary. This is no unique occasion on which a wicked Government are moving a guillotine. Successive Governments have reached the view that guillotines are necessary.

As I look across the House, the only Conservative Member whom I can see who, under the previous Government, and to his credit, opposed all—at least, almost all; he certainly gave the impression that he did—guillotine motions is the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). I cannot recall any other Conservative Member present being so strenuously opposed to guillotines when he sat on the Government Benches.

Minorities—even a minority within a minority—have rights and privileges. I do not say that it would be wrong to prevent such Members from prolonging proceedings. It is part of the House of Commons that they should be able to do so, and I have never argued otherwise. However, the time must come—as it has now—when the rights of the majority must also be considered. If that is not so, one or two Members on the Opposition Benches may prolong proceedings by speaking endlessly on a certain measure—within the rules of order, no doubt, and sometimes with the help of colleagues who rise to say, "Does my hon. Friend agree with me?"

All that may be perfectly in order, but the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack)—who does not take part in such proceedings—cannot really be telling the House that the Government of the day should never respond by bringing in a timetable motion. Should it be that one or two Members—half a dozen at the most—can delay proceedings hour after hour, well into the night, leaving a large majority of Members powerless to act? I cannot accept that. The hon. Gentleman knows better than anyone the history of guillotine motions. They resulted from events in the 19th century, when Irish Members—for good reasons, I believe—delayed the House, and there was no machinery with which the House could respond. Thus was the first guillotine motion introduced, but they have since been used on many occasions by successive Governments.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I was not here in the 1880s. He knows full well that I was arguing that the Government are going in for overkill and distorting the balance of parliamentary priorities. They have so submerged Parliament in legislation that we have reached the pass that we have come to. If he casts his mind back, the hon. Gentleman should know that I have opposed guillotines irrespective of which party has been in Government.

Mr. Winnick

I have been here for many years, but cannot claim to have been here in the 19th century. I do not want to wish to claim longer membership than the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). If the hon. Member for South Staffordshire opposed guillotine motions from his own side, I am glad to hear that he joined the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills in doing so.

In a previous Parliament, the Jopling Committee looked into the hours of the House. It was chaired by a former Tory Minister and Chief Whip, and among its recommendations about our hours it argued that we should, in the main, not sit beyond 10 o'clock. Hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), argue that we must not change our ways and that it would be quite wrong to do so; why then were the conclusions of the Jopling Committee accepted almost unanimously? Despite that, during this Parliament, we have sat after 10 o'clock more often than previously.

I hear the point made by some hon. Members that we are not really in a working place, but I disagree.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Winnick

No, because I shall keep my remarks brief.

This is a working place and it changes—as it has done over centuries. There is no reason why, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham) should be forced to conclude that it is impossible for her to combine her domestic responsibilities with her parliamentary duties. Although it is unlikely that we shall sit from 9 to 5 o'clock—for all sorts of reasons—and I have never advocated anything of the kind, we must realise that there are people who could make a contribution to the House of Commons, but who have domestic responsibilities. They have a private life—and why not? Surely we are not saying that we cannot adjust—that we are so inflexible that it is not possible for us to change our ways at all.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Winnick

I shall not give way, because I want to conclude.

I am willing to sit through the night on important issues. We can all decide for ourselves what is important—I gave the national minimum wage as one illustration. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich mentioned, I was in the Chamber when Michael Foot and Enoch Powell—for differing reasons—opposed changes to the House of Lords. Those were fundamental issues—of the greatest importance. I do not remember that Labour Members were complaining in the Tea Room then, because they understood what was involved.

However, why should we stay here hour after hour to discuss relatively non-controversial issues? We know that such matters are not of the greatest importance—although I do not want to minimise their importance. Why should we stay here through the night, simply because one or two Opposition Members believe that they are making a contribution for their party? As I said, they have a perfect right to try to do so, but surely we too have a right to say that enough is enough, and that we want to conclude the debate and move on to other business.

People outside—our constituents—find it impossible to understand why we sit here all night. They say, in effect, "Are you not too tired? Can you really pass important Bills that affect the lives of ordinary people by debating at 2, 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning? Why don't you have more sensible hours?" That is the view of the country. Although it may be a simplistic approach—

Mr. Paterson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Winnick


The guillotine motion is perfectly justified. We have a right to proceed with our business. I see no reason why we should not do so tonight.

4.48 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

For many Members of the House the matter is not merely one of administrative convenience, as the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) seems to suggest. It is one of principle—as was reflected in the speech made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody).

The matter touches on the very purposes and functions of the House. Given the long parliamentary career of the hon. Member for Walsall, North, he will recall the processes whereby guillotines were introduced. During the 1945–51 Labour Government, there were only five guillotines. If the two motions are passed today, about 40 Bills will have been guillotined in less than three years.

Mr. Tipping

Perhaps I could correct the hon. Gentleman—as his hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) tried to do earlier. If the guillotine motions are passed, the number will be 19—not 40.

Mr. Shepherd

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look both at the Library briefing on guillotine motions and at the Sessional Orders. I think that the total number was 36 at the last count. The motions apply to four Bills; I am talking about the number of guillotined Bills.

In fact, the number of guillotine motions is higher than the number of Bills guillotined because sometimes a Bill requires a second, or even a third, guillotine motion—perhaps on Lords amendments or in Committee. However, the degrading of our processes in respect of such motions means that we no longer handle them with the respect that the House once expected.

I notice that the motion on the Order Paper is in the name of the Leader of the House, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. If the Parliamentary Secretary considers the five guillotine motions that were moved by Michael Foot in the mid-1970s, he will find that Secretaries of State themselves led the debate and explained why the motions were necessary.

The Government no longer have the courtesy to field the Minister responsible for the Bill so that he can tell the House why the process of debate has broken down to such an extent that they have to use a guillotine to expedite business. The Parliamentary Secretary said the fact that one Bill was discussed for one hour and 20 minutes and another for one hour and 13 minutes in Committee was sufficient. He therefore suggested that he did not have to explain why it was necessary to impose guillotine motions on them.

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend has considerable and honourable experience of such matters. Can he recall any other motion that imposed a guillotine on a Bill's Report stage before that stage had even begun and after a Bill had received such little consideration in Committee?

Mr. Shepherd

My right hon. Friend poses a question that I am unable to answer. Guillotines have become fashionable since the war and there have been many of them. Therefore, I regret to say that there is probably a precedent.

Mr. Bercow

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's justification—which was supported by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)—is especially bizarre given that the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs, did not reply on 10 April to the Second Reading debate on the Nuclear Safeguards Bill and given that no fewer than 33 amendments have been tabled for Report?

Mr. Shepherd

I agree with my hon. Friend. The very essence of a guillotine is to deny the opportunity for debate or to give rise to the possibility that Members might not be able to speak on matters that they think are germane or important. I reflect on the one hour 12 minutes and the one hour 13 minutes that were spent on the Bills in Committee and recall my experience of sitting on Committees that considered Bills which were eventually subject to a guillotine. I need only mention the Telecommunications Act 1984, which privatised BT. It spent 180 hours in Committee before the Government felt able to bring the most draconian parliamentary practice to bear on it.

Let us be clear in our minds: there has been a degradation. As I said, 40 Bills—and probably well over 50 guillotine motions—have been exercised by the Government in a little over three years. Mrs. Thatcher's Government were much attacked for their use of the guillotine, but they introduced about 60 guillotine motions in 11 years. In one Parliament under this Government, the drumbeat of the guillotine has been used to limit freedom of expression.

When the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich spoke, she referred to the essential purpose of the House. It has been said often enough that we represent defined areas—our constituencies—and we are not sent here to govern because that is the role of the Executive. Their tolerance and understanding of the balance of arguments make up what I call the due process of Parliament.

Any Member, however junior and whether the hon. Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham), has a right to stand up and speak on matters that affect his or her constituency. There are 659 of us and there is a heavy legislative programme. However, if the Government try to put a quart into a pint pot, something will have to give. The Government say that the right to freedom of speech and expression must therefore give, not that we should curtail in any way the important measures before the House. That is the essence of the matter, which, of course, is the most flagrant assertion of the strength and power of an Executive over their party and the expression of the majority over the minority.

The House always used to be careful about that balance. It is not fashionable to discuss that and Liberal Democrat Members are in a muddle about whether timetables should be agreed only by Front-Bench Members. I did not know whether the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), the Liberal Democrat spokesman, was coming or going in his remarkable contribution, but he veered towards saying that the measure is bad because, for some arcane reason, it denies freedom of expression and speech.

We never know how the pattern of Bills will run, which makes it difficult to fix timetables and guillotines.

Mr. Stunell


Mr. Shepherd

I shall finish this theme while it is in my head. On our Front Bench is an honourable opponent of the poll tax. Many in the House came to realise how profoundly wrong was the principle behind that tax during the patient, lengthy exposition of the detail of the Bill introducing it. Indeed, that was a purpose of the process of debate. This Government, however, do not even want that process, which, after all, lets the steam out of the kettle.

I was profoundly concerned when Nicholas Ridley announced the principle of the Bill introducing the poll tax and asked why a dustman should pay less than a duke. During the passage of the Bill, the argument moved on to the question of why everyone should not pay a little. When a Bill's principles shift so radically, one knows that it is on uncertain ground.

The Government are in difficulties, as they have introduced several contentious Bills in this Session. I do not understand why they must resort to guillotines, when the Attlee Government, the most remarkable Labour Government in my lifetime—I am now 58—who perhaps transformed the second half of the 20th century in a way previously unknown to the people of this country, needed only five guillotines. In their first year in office, that Government passed 72 pieces of legislation.

Perhaps we have changed, as in their first year—the first year in office is always slightly longer than the following years—the present Government introduced only 52 Bills, which is, none the less, a considerable number. The House must digest the scale of that burden. There is now a regular drumbeat here, as the Government guillotine an average of 13 or 14 Bills every year. As a result, we are now seeing new management of the House, in which the Executive effectively do away with our role as Back Benchers, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said most eloquently. Now, there is not even a guillotine motion for every Bill, as they have been consolidated.

I am always fearful about making suggestions to the House: the good ones are rejected and the bad ones—which I make ironically—seem to be accepted. I responded to arguments about why I should not speak against the Maastricht Bill by saying that the Whips were searching for a power of attorney. They require Members of Parliament to sign over a power of attorney on first coming to the House, so that the Whips may exercise the vote themselves. The guillotine motions give rise to the following question: why should not the guillotine motion be that all future Bills will be disposed of within one minute or—let us be generous—one hour of the Bill's commencement? After all, it is within the power of the majority in the House to pass such a motion. That could even be the subject of a Bill, if the majority wished. What would our role be? We could all stand up on points of order to the Speaker, but the House would have passed the motion into Standing Orders. It would be among the rules of the House.

I hope that the Government will detect the mocking tone in which I make the suggestion, and will not seize upon it to meet the objections of the hon. Member for Gloucester, who wants—one cannot call it a more orderly disposal of business—an "off with your head" approach to legislation.

I know that those on the Front Benches sometimes connive. That is why we have what are called agreed timetable motions, but they are still guillotines. Their purpose is still to limit the opportunity for debate. That may be agreed, or imposed by a majority, as it clearly is in this case.

I remember the summoning of Parliament during a summer recess, when hon. Members on all three Front Benches had signed up to new prevention of terrorism legislation. The Liberal Democrats—God bless them, as I have commented before—had second thoughts on the very Floor of the House, and withdrew their name from the motion, because they had begun to reflect on its effect. That was an example of intelligence applied to a matter before the House.

The trouble with Front-Bench agreements—this applies to every hon. Member—is that we are not all party to them. We do not necessarily know that anything has been cooked up. I knew nothing about the matter until last Thursday. There was a change of business, and I saw no reason why that should pose any difficulty for the House, yet we are faced with two motions disposing of four Bills. It is wrong, and the Government know that. All those who were here in past times know that it is wrong.

I ask hon. Members to reflect on this: why does the Library's descriptive note on the guillotine, which will no doubt be excised in due course, refer to it as the most draconian aspect of parliamentary procedure? No one reflects on that. The House knows that in order to divert the parliamentary Labour party from a re-arrangement of hours, we are considering the guillotine. Goodness knows why, as the guillotine is an option of majority. It is regularly imposed.

Mr. Winnick

Is the hon. Gentleman saying, in effect, that if matters are delayed considerably because some hon. Members exercise their right and continue to oppose a measure or a number of measures for hours on end, the House should have no protection whatever?

Mr. Shepherd

The hon. Gentleman will recall that I mentioned the first British Telecom Bill, which was discussed for 170 hours in Committee. Where there is wilful delay over many hours or days, I recognise that the House may want to resolve the matter by the imposition of a time limit. I have seen that all my parliamentary life. That is not the point at issue.

We are presented with the justification for the guillotine on two Bills because they were, respectively, one hour and 12 minutes in Committee and one hour and 13, or 30, minutes in Committee. I intend no disservice to the Minister whose unpleasant duty it is to try to make sense of the appalling motion before us, when I ask why, as a courtesy to the House, members of the Cabinet are not present to justify it.

This is not a matter of formality; it is a profound matter of principle. The House can be exasperated and, at that point, do something about deliberate delay, but there is no evidence of that in the 40 Bills to which I referred. The House is well aware that guillotines are now being imposed on constitutional matters.

I see that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie), who is a Member of the Scottish Parliament, is present. He knows that part of the Scotland Act 1998 was guillotined. The Government of Wales Act 1998 and the Greater London Authority Act 1999 were also guillotined. There are no longer any frontiers. The motion proves that precedent is now on the side of the guillotine, which is the weapon not of Back Benchers, but of the Executive. It is their assertion of absolute control over the House.

The answer lies in ourselves. We made the point when considering the Freedom of Information Bill, and we shall make it again. The procedure is wrong and it is employed almost ritualistically. The new Labour Government have become fond of telling the House that opposition to such matters is ritualistic; it is not. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich pointed out, it is at the heart of our purpose and our being here.

5.5 pm

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

I participate in the debate with some reluctance. The Government will be pleased to know that I support them. I would not speak in the debate if I believed that, if I did not speak, we would discuss the substance of the issues, or we could prevent some of the marauders in the Conservative party from taking up more time. However, by participating, I can say what I believe should happen.

I have been here for 13 years. Some hon. Members have asked about the extent to which newer hon. Members understand parliamentary matters and should listen to those who have been here a little longer. I listen to those who have been here longer than me—I always listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who made several points. She believes with great passion that we should go in a specific direction. I cannot agree with her. I do not agree with her comments today and I did not agree with those sentiments 13 years ago.

My first job in this place was serving on a Standing Committee that considered a measure to enable privatisation of the water industry. It contained approximately six clauses. In the middle of October, the Labour Chief Whip told us, "Just keep it going till February." That was supposed to be a method of disposing effectively of an important measure. We kept a Bill of six clauses going until February. Once, I spoke for two hours 20 minutes on whether one could better consult the public on privatisation at St. James' Park or Roker Park. I am confident that if I had brought Hartlepool's ground into the equation, I could have sustained the speech for a bit longer. I have therefore served my time as a marauder. Several colleagues in the Chamber have fulfilled that role recently. I know the game, but I do not believe that it enhances democracy or the reputation of Parliament.

I am not totally uncritical of the Government. They have probably introduced too much legislation. I realise that they do not want to listen to my messages; nevertheless, my message to them would be to be more selective. The punters in my constituency do not understand 50 Bills. However, they might get a grip on three or four important measures, such as the minimum wage, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred earlier. The Government should be a little more selective in introducing measures. If they introduce too much legislation, they bring on themselves some of the tensions that we are all currently experiencing.

However, I do not blame the Government entirely, or the marauders on the Opposition Benches. The right hon. Gentlemen from Scottish backgrounds will know that I call them sleekit marauders who operate only at night, but I do not blame them because they are only taking advantage of the parliamentary procedures available to any Member or small group of Members who wish to hold the rest of the House to ransom.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way as he referred to me and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). He may not be aware that my right hon. Friend and I were here on Friday when two excellent Bills made progress. The House sits on many Fridays. Regrettably, few other Members attended other than my right hon. Friend and myself, who were here doing our duty. Most of the Lady Members who complain bitterly about the alleged anti-social hours of the House did not attend, but the House sat between 9.30 am and 3 pm on Friday, and was very thinly attended.

Mr. Henderson

I usually like to hear the right hon. Gentleman's arguments, but he makes one of those ingenious arguments that one used to hear at Glasgow university, which he attended. Some points sound very much like those made in a debating society; they are not related to the real issues that affect this country and our constituents. I do not blame him, other Conservative Members or the Government; I blame the system, which needs reform. Whatever a Government's colour, they will face more and more demands to legislate and regulate to protect the public and their human rights, which the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) thinks very important.

Mr. Paterson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Henderson

In a little while.

There will be such pressures and we must design a system that allows the Government to set priorities and Members to comment on them in the House. The Government's programme must be accountable, but a distinction has to be drawn in parliamentary procedures between important issues, such as armed forces reform or major economic or social security changes, and the role of ice-cream salesmen in a royal park. That is my argument with the current system. We in the House are all far too conservative; we must consider reforms that would make the House efficient and effective.

Mr. Paterson


Ms Kingham


Mr. Henderson

I shall give way in a second.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham) is a very able Back Bencher and when I was a Minister she asked me one of the hardest questions that I ever had to deal with in a Standing Committee. Contrary to some of the points that have been made by Opposition Members, she asks good questions and is interested in the real issues. It pains me that younger people with family commitments are not able to fulfil them and still make the impact in the House that they could. That is a tragedy. They could make an impact in industry and commerce even if they had family commitments because they are more realistic about, and tolerant of, the family. We preach about family values in the House, but it is the most family unfriendly institution that I have ever known.

Ms Kingham

Several issues need to be addressed. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, some Members want the House to work from 9 to 5, as in any other job. Those of us who criticise the current system are not saying that; we do not mind working incredibly long hours. When I was involved in international development, I always worked long hours, went overseas at the drop of a hat and worked at 3 or 4 in the morning. That is not a problem—when it is worth while. However, many of us feel that it is difficult to do a good job for our constituents when we have to sit up all night or are called in at the whim of a few others to take part in such silly activities. That does our constituents no credit and involves putting off appointments to the next day or rejigging them completely, which causes unpredictability—we never know where we are. Those are the real issues.

Comments have been made about some of us not attending. I have been away for four months having twins. I am terribly sorry, but I cannot leave them at the drop of a hat. This should be a modern Parliament that can accommodate women Members having children as well as serving their constituents.

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising those points. She has brought home far better than I could the extent of the pressures that not only she but others, male and female—although I think the pressures are greater on females than they are on any male—experience in this institution. I think that when reforms come, as they will, hers will prove to have been a major contribution, and I hope that, if she does not stand at the next election, we shall see her back here when her family grows up a bit.

Mr. Paterson

Will the hon. Gentleman please answer the question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)? He was here from 9 am until 2.30 pm on Friday; I was here for the later stages of the debate. As for the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), who complained during business questions, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), who is not here today, and the hon. Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham), who is leaving the House in a great blaze of publicity, none of them were here. If they will not turn up between 9 am and 2.30 pm, when will they turn up?

Mr. Henderson

That is a schoolboy debating point, and I shall not waste time on it. The debate is about the House facing up to its responsibilities, and about whether it is prepared to introduce real measures that will reform it.

I do not normally take part in debates of this kind, but I feel compelled to do so on this occasion because I think that the House is bringing itself into great discredit. There is enormous cynicism among Members of Parliament about the purpose of this place, and that cynicism is being transmitted to the public. If anyone doubts me, he or she should come to Newcastle with me on Friday and ask those who visit my surgeries, or whose community centres I visit, what they think. They will tell any Member of Parliament what they think about the House of Commons.

The aim of marauders—who act sometimes on their own behalf but, I suspect, sometimes with the co-operation of the Opposition Front Bench, although I do not blame the Opposition Front Bench for this—is to discredit the Government and to suggest that the Government pay no attention to Parliament, and will railroad everything through. The effect of their actions is not only to discredit the Government—in fact, the public will judge whether the Government have been discredited—but to discredit Parliament. Parliament is now viewed with great cynicism, which is why I believe that we must make reforms.

Parliament is not about the nonsense of staying up all night being very inefficient, making silly and often drunken points after 10 pm. The test of virility seems to be how long Members can speak, not what they say. Members would do well to visit the European and Scottish Parliaments—I have not visited the Welsh Assembly, so I cannot comment on that—and note the efficient way in which they conduct their business. It is possible to argue about the end result, but they conduct their business far more effectively, and when we consider reform of the House we should also consider whether we can learn from some of their procedures.

When it comes to reform, we must differentiate—I know that this is repetition, Mr. Deputy Speaker—between important issues and issues that are less important. We must differentiate between issues that should be discussed in the House—all night, if they are important and it has been agreed that the time is needed—and issues such as ice-cream vans in royal parks, which I think can be dealt with by a Committee. Ice-cream salespersons and park officials would be happy to hear the arguments put in a Committee; they do not need to hear them put in the Chamber.

Another major reform should be made: everything should be timetabled. A guillotine system is hopeless, because the accusation will always be made that the Government are acting for their own reasons in the particular circumstances. It will be said that there has not been enough debate, and that the Government made the decision even before Report. The only way to avoid such arguments is to timetable every piece of business dealt with by the House and its Committees, giving it an appropriate allocation of time that will depend on the seriousness of the issue.

The timetable should not be something that can be imposed only by Government Whips. There should be a Government recommendation providing for some fallback—an appeals structure, as it were, giving those who do not think enough time has been given an opportunity to challenge the timetable. Such motions should not be debated every day for three hours: there should be an occasion to deal with them.

We waste far too much time voting: there is no need for that. We should have electronic voting once a week, when everyone would know they had to be here. The votes could take place very quickly, and there could still be provision for consequential voting when that was essential to the procedure.

The guillotine motion needs the support of the House if we are to make progress with the business. However, we will be back again in a couple of weeks with more such motions unless we face up to the issue of reforming the House.

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

This is an important guillotine motion, because never in my recollection have two guillotine motions been imposed in one day to drive through four Bills when they have had so little debate. We have heard that one Bill may have been debated for one hour 13 minutes or one hour 14 minutes, and another for one hour 12 minutes. All told, there has been a total debating time in Committee on these two Bills of two and a half hours. We have no time to debate either Bill on Report, and we have a guillotine motion to drive both Bills through this afternoon.

I start from the principle enunciated by a great parliamentarian, who said: All guillotines are an affront.… Guillotines, surely, represent a failure of the parliamentary process. They imply that the House has neither the disposition nor the time to deal properly with the matters in hand. They also render impossible the main function of the House, which is to scrutinise legislation properly; and they deny Back Benchers, in particular, an opportunity to give their attention to it. I suspect that they also imply the existence of an excess of legislation. Goodness me, we have heard a lot about that this afternoon. He went on: The fact that a guillotine needs to be introduced at any stage of the parliamentary Session suggests that the Government are putting too much legislation before the House, and the House feels that it is not being given proper time to deal with it.—[Official Report, 9 May 2000; Vol. 349, c. 663.] Those wise words were spoken not in the 19th century in the Irish debate, not in 1945 during the Attlee Government, but on 9 May by the parliamentarian of the year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). That gives them extra gravitas.

We also heard the wise words of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). Labour Members may dismiss what I say or what my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said with his usual eloquence—even more so today. He made some telling and powerful points—and not just those in my defence or in defence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) described us as "marauders", but Labour Members cannot dismiss the wise words of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. It is not as if she has just come to the views that she now espouses. I can remember being in government as a junior Minister sitting on the Government Benches and cowering behind our Leader of the House as a guillotine motion was advanced to close a Bill with one day's debate having spent 130 hours in Committee. I can also recall when, as a junior Whip, I went to the then Leader of the House, Lord Wakeham as he now is. I do not tell tales of the Whips Office—never have and never will—and I do not think that this is telling tales out of school. I said, "We are bogged down upstairs. Members are keeping us going on Scottish legislation. We need a guillotine." He said, "Come back when you have done 130 hours. We will talk about it then."

Just 10 years ago, there was no question of the Government having the gall, the effrontery or the arrogance to come to the Dispatch Box and to put a guillotine motion before the House until we had done at least 100 hours in Committee upstairs, with the prospect of doing another 100, still not being past clause 6 and still being bogged down in Committee. There would have been no question of coming before the House with a guillotine motion on Report when we had not even had the Report stage of a Bill.

Again, I have sat on the Government Benches as the then Government defended themselves at the Dispatch Box from attack after attack by Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich who has consistently attacked guillotines that she considers excessive and act too quickly or peremptorily. I remember sitting on the Government Benches as we advocated a guillotine to give six hours, 10 hours or two days to the remaining stages of Bills when we had already spent days bogged down on Report. Those were the days when we were kept up all night. Some research is called for. I shall commission it shortly at the end of the debate.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

The right hon. Gentleman is recalling his experiences when he was on the Government Benches. Would he care to confirm my own research on the number of guillotined Bills? In 1987–88 it was six, in 1988–89 it was 10, and in 1989–90 it was 4, making a total of 20. That was the number three years after the June 1987 election, compared with 15 at this point in the current Parliament. Does he agree that the Government whom he supported were even more enthusiastic users of the guillotine, which he now criticises the present Government for using?

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman's statistics are entirely wrong, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has already explained. It is not just the number of guillotines that count—we have heard that the Government have guillotined about 50 Bills—but at what point in the process the Government use the most draconian method of curtailing debate available to them.

Of course, one can defend the use of a guillotine in certain circumstances. I listened with incredulity—no, I was not incredulous. It was the usual speech that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) makes before he bolts from the Chamber. We shall no doubt hear him make the same point in the debate on the next guillotine motion.

The hon. Gentleman went on and on about a Government not being able to tolerate sitting here night after night, hour after hour, debating the same measure. He said that the right of the majority must be respected, and that the Government must have the right to impose a guillotine after all that time. He missed the fundamental point. These Bills have had two and a half hours' debate at most, by probably, at most, 30 Members of Parliament upstairs. Another 630 of us have not had a chance to consider one iota of them on Report.

Mr. Forth

My right hon. Friend has just repeated the assertion that has been made a number of times during the debate—that the House repeatedly sits all through the night. My memory suggests that, in the three years of the current Parliament, the House has sat all through the night two or three times, but it is no more than that. Will he confirm that fact? Does he not believe that a mythology is arising? More often than not, the House now finishes at 10 o'clock and almost never sits through the night.

Mr. Maclean

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was going to come on to that point—it is in the part of my speech entitled "The myth of sitting through the night". We have heard hon. Members talk about it. There was a point during my 17 years in the House—it was in the mid-1980s—when all-night sittings were fairly common. When one did two in a row, that was tough going. No doubt two all-night sittings in a row, or going until midnight on the second night, tired Ministers, Whips and all those participating.

I am not saying that that was the best way of passing parliamentary business, or that we were at our freshest and best. I am not defending that way of proceeding. However, we must puncture the illusion—which has been quoted by too many people who want excuses to take away hon. Members' rights—that we are sitting all night, all the time. It just does not happen any more.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the mid-1980s pale into insignificance compared with the early 1970s, when night after night—especially in our consideration of the Industrial Relations Act 1971; I did not miss a single sitting—we were kept up by skilful Labour Members, who—although, in my view, misguidedly—absolutely properly used all the instruments available to them to delay what they considered to be inappropriate and obnoxious legislation?

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He also has a more glorious record of sitting long hours than I have, as I was elected to the House in the 1980s. His intervention is relevant to this guillotine motion. One of the reasons given by Labour Members for seeking to curtail debate is that we must prevent all-night debates, because we have wasted so much time on them that they have been bad for legislation. In this Parliament, however, we have had barely any all-night sittings. Moreover, although we have not even started to consider on Report the Nuclear Safeguards Bill and the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill, the Government have already moved to guillotine debate on them.

I could understand the Government moving a guillotine motion on the Bills if, having ploughed on with debate on them until 2 am or 3 am, the Government decided that they could not get the legislation by continuing debate for another hour or so, and that it would be better to give up and to come back on another day with a guillotine. We have not even started debating the Bills on Report, but the Government are introducing the draconian instrument of the guillotine. One of their excuses for doing so is that they do not want the House sitting up all night.

Mr. Bercow

I do not want to deflect my right hon. Friend from the thrust of his argument, but will he take this opportunity to rebut the dangerous argument made by the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill), who suggested that precisely because a Bill had been considered so briefly in Committee, that in itself justified minimal attention being given to it by the House on Report? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe recently used a similar argument in relation to another Bill, saying that she would not give way to me because I had not been on the Committee? Does he agree that it is essential to understand that Bills are reported to the House so that all hon. Members are able thoroughly to debate their contents?

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That illustration also portrays one of the frightening attitudes of some Labour Members, who believe that opposition to the Government is blasphemous. One can detect that attitude whenever any criticism is made of the Prime Minister. The Government's attitude is essentially one of, "But you cannot oppose us—we are right. You should not talk against the Bill—it is right. We are doing it—it must be right." That attitude is creeping into so many spheres.

The Government's attitude seems to be that because legislation has been considered in Committee, that should be it—it is good enough. They seem to think that we should not consider legislation at all on Report, because they gave it some time in Committee, where another noble bunch of Members of Parliament considered it. They seem to be asking what on earth we are doing trying to consider it in the Chamber.

Conversely, I have heard some Ministers suggest that it is outrageous for Opposition Members to table amendments on Report, because we were not on the Committee and did not raise the issues there. I have not heard that said by the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, who has been handed the poisoned chalice today. He is a nice, decent and honourable man, told to do a dirty job that should have been done by the Leader of the House. It is an outrageous contempt that the right hon. Lady is not here in person to face the House and justify the motion.

The Government, however, cannot have it both ways. If they want to gag us, they should be brutal enough to say that they do not like opposition per se. They should have the guts to say whether they believe that it is blasphemous, irrational or not to be tolerated for Opposition Members—or Labour Members—to pop up and say that the Government may be wrong. They should not produce the type of guillotine motion that we are now debating. It is intended drastically to curtail debate on Bills that the House has not had a chance to debate or to run, to see how they might turn out.

Mr. David Taylor

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. A few moments ago, I attempted to roll back the calendar a decade to look at the experience of the first three years of the Government elected in June 1987, led by Lady Thatcher, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member. The figures show that 20 Bills were guillotined in that period—making use of a tool that the right hon. Gentleman has described as a draconian instrument used by all-powerful Governments who arrogantly tread all over their Back Benchers and the Opposition. How many of those 20 guillotine motions did the right hon. Gentleman vote for?

Mr. Maclean

I sincerely hope that I voted for all of them if I was serving in the Government. If the hon. Gentleman has tried to do some research, he should tell us how many times Lady Thatcher or members of her Government argued for a guillotine after only one and a half hours of debate in Committee. If any Tory Minister had tried that, there would have been outrage from the Labour party and the media, who at that time considered it their fundamental duty to join the Opposition in opposing the Tory Government, because they thought that Lady Thatcher's 120 majority was too big and was bad for democracy. Now we have a Government with a majority of 180 driving through what they like with the media licking their boots—I choose boots as a safer and more advisable part of the anatomy.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend recalls the many late-night and all-night sittings that we had in the late 1980s and the excitement that ran through the Chamber at about 4 o'clock in the morning when, while we were feeling extremely weary, in through the door behind the Speaker's Chair appeared the Prime Minister, without a hair out of place and looking as bright as a button. How many times has my right hon. Friend seen the present Prime Minister in the Chamber when the House has been sitting late at night? Let us hope that he will be kept up late at night now.

Mr. Maclean

I should not care to speculate on matters that might be out of order, but in relation to the motion, it will be interesting to see whether the Prime Minister turns up. His Government appear to consider the four Bills under discussion today to be so vital that they must have these draconian motions, so I assume that if the Prime Minister can tear himself away from his family duties today, he might be able to pop through the voting Lobbies for a few minutes. When we had all-night sittings in the 1980s, one would always see the then Prime Minister participating, just as one always saw the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and Bob Cryer going through the Opposition Lobbies, because they were the ones who had kept us here most of the day and night, doing their important parliamentary duty of scrutinising all legislation properly and in detail and trying to find flaws in it.

Mr. Bercow

My right hon. Friend will be aware that I missed the intoxicating excitements of the 1980s and early 1990s to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) referred, because, as I am happy to concede and the House will be aware, I am a parliamentary virgin. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one reason why it is essential that we should debate the Report and Third Readings of the Bills before us today in particular detail is that, if anything, in the past three years the Opposition have debated for too few hours in the House, not too many?

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is right. If he studies the time that the House has sat, he will see that, given the number of Bills and measures that we have considered, the number of hours allocated to debate has declined considerably since the new Government came to power.

My hon. Friend has made another confession. I was in the House a few months ago when he came out and confessed that he was heterosexual. We have heard today that he is a parliamentary virgin. However, there is still time left in this parliamentary Session for my hon. Friend to lose his parliamentary virginity in whatever way he thinks appropriate.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) said that he would support the Conservative party in opposing the motions. He suggested that my right hon. and hon. Friends' scrutiny of legislation was like the monkeys who, with lots of typewriters and enough years, would doubtless write a Shakespeare play. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not intend that to be derogatory, but I took slight umbrage at that.

Amendments tabled to many Bills by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and I—particularly on Fridays—have, on most occasions, been accepted by the Government. Hardly a Friday goes past without a Minister agreeing at the Dispatch Box that an amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend or myself has merit. Ministers say that the Government will consider it and, perhaps, adopt it in another place. I will not embarrass the Ministers concerned by quoting their words about some of the amendments that we have tabled—amendments which Labour Members have described as wasting time or filibustering. On nearly all of those occasions, the Government have accepted that our amendments were valid.

I have tabled some amendments on the Order Paper today, some of which have been selected by Madam Speaker. I assume that they are in order and that the Chair does not regard them as utterly irrelevant. Over the past few years, I have been fortunate in having many amendments selected for debate. In drafting them, I have often thought that the Government would dislike them, that the amendments would get nowhere and that it could be a waste of time. However, I have persisted because I believe that it is our duty as parliamentarians to scrutinise legislation and draft amendments.

With regard to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, my new clauses were an attempt to address the problems of entry and the powers of arrest and give foreign inspectors certain rights to go into people's homes. I thought that I could address some of the concerns, and I tabled amendments which have been selected. For someone to suggest—as the hon. Member for Walsall, North did—that we are wasting time by drafting irrelevant amendments is an affront to the whole purpose of Parliament, which is to scrutinise legislation, and an insult to the Chair.

When I have strayed out of order, the Chair has pulled me up; severely, on some occasions. I make no complaint about that; it is the duty of the occupant of the Chair. However, we can say that all my other remarks on these occasions were in order and that there was no wasting time. In last week's debate on the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill, the Minister welcomed some of our amendments and suggested that we had conducted the debate properly, efficiently and courteously. He said that there was some merit in our arguments. He then convinced us that his approach was better and we withdrew the amendments.

If we had wanted to waste some time, we would have forced a vote on the amendments, and that would have been even more embarrassing for the Government because they had given their Back Benchers the night off. That was at only 7 o'clock in the evening. If the Government cannot keep their Members here at 7 o'clock, there is not much hope of them being here on a Friday between 9 and 2, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst vainly hopes.

Why are we considering this motion today? I can only assume that the Government have got frit and lost their nerve. We face a massive amount of legislation, because the Government have overloaded their legislative programme. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North was right to question the Government's priorities. Some chap from London wrote to me recently to say that the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill was vitally important and that I must, in no circumstances, speak against it. He wanted the powers to drive out the smelly hamburger sellers within days. I could respond only by saying that I am just one Member of Parliament. If the Government think that the issue is so important, they should adopt it as a programme Bill and get it through that way. However, the hon. Gentleman questioned the wisdom of the Government in selecting measures that he considers not to be of earth-shattering importance. He told the House today that some measures in the Government's programme are sufficiently important to fight about that we could sit up all night debating them.

Mr. Doug Henderson

The right hon. Gentleman has drawn conclusions from what I said and claimed that I said something that I did not say. I said that the House needed reform and should draw a distinction between important and less important legislation. I did not say that any of the legislation before us today was not important. I actually said that the House must consider effective ways to deal with the issue.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's clarification, but in his next breath, or in his next sentence, he mentioned the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill, and he seemed to minimise its importance by referring to ice-cream sellers. He dismissed ice-cream sellers in royal parks, and I took it that he was using that Bill as an example of a measure that he did not consider as important as other legislation.

I cannot make such distinctions. The Government lay out their legislative programme and the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill is a Government Bill. Therefore, I expect it to get the sort of scrutiny that a Government Bill should get. It should not be bounced through on the nod on a Friday, which is a bad way to make legislation. It should not be bounced through after one hour and 10 minutes in Committee. The Government should not then claim that it has been debated by 18 or 24 Members in Committee and that we should just let it through. That is not the proper way to make legislation and that is not doing our duty as parliamentarians.

Mr. Bercow

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be some consistency in the statements from Labour Members? If they wish the job of a Member of Parliament more closely to resemble that of almost anybody else, in the private or public sector, they should answer the question that would be on the lips of many millions of members of the public why the House does not sit for approximately 20 weeks of the year. If they defend that arrangement and continue to want the House to consider the quantity of legislation that it currently considers, they have to accept that many more late nights will be required.

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which brings me to the comments made recently by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham). There were many new Members after the election and I do not recognise all of them, but I confess that today was the first time I have ever seen the hon. Lady. On Fridays, I have the pleasure of contesting with some very able—I am not being patronising—hon. Ladies on the other side who have driven through legislation and are often here participating in debate, giving myself and my hon. Friends a tough time of it. I can only assume, given that some hon. Ladies on the Government Benches are able to cope, that the hon. Member for Gloucester was looking for an excuse when she decided to make her comments at the weekend about leaving Parliament.

If the hon. Member for Gloucester wants the House to operate from nine to five, or to work a shorter week, or to finish earlier at night—not that it goes on as long as it used to—she must accept the 48-week year worked by most people outside the House. Hon. Members have constituency engagements in recesses, but Parliament cannot have both a nine-to-five working day and a 30-week year. Something has to give, and that something is scrutiny of legislation. The Government have overloaded the legislative programme. They should not complain when some parts of the programme receive more scrutiny than they would wish.

It is not the Minister's fault that the Government have got into this problem with the four Bills before the House today. The Minister is decent and honourable, but he is not in the driving seat of the programme. The Government's business managers, the Cabinet Ministers and the Chief Whip are in the driving seat, and they are the ones who have got the Government into this muddle. They have added these Bills to the programme without considering that there might be opposition to them, or that hon. Members might want to debate them.

It was assumed that no one cared about the Bills and would not oppose them. It was assumed that they could be bounced through Committee and Report—although the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill will not have a Report stage at all.

Mr. Forth

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the problem is even worse than he suggests? All the Bills contain controversial proposals, such as increased police powers, powers of entry to private premises, retrospectivity, and the possibility that private information might be divulged by the Department of Social Security or the BBC. Surely no one can suggest, therefore, that they can be nodded through without thorough scrutiny?

Mr. Maclean

My right hon. Friend is right, but I did not suggest that the Bills were unimportant and non-controversial. That is what the Government's business managers or their advisers think, and they have got it seriously wrong. After all, the Government have tabled a new clause to the Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Bill. They will drive it through later tonight, but I hope that Conservative Members are not accused of giving unnecessary scrutiny to an innocuous little Bill that everyone supports.

Mr. Bercow

Given the concerns once more expressed by Conservative Members about these important Bills, and assuming that the Leader of the House will be voting tonight, would not it be a courtesy for the Minister to say whether she will move the second allocation of time motion?

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is right. There is time to get a message to the Leader of the House that she should return to the courtesies of the House by moving the next guillotine motion. I cannot recall a junior Minister being given that task, but the fact that Cabinet Ministers no longer make all statements to the House diminishes the House's status and importance. In the past, Cabinet Ministers opened important debates, but Ministers of State now do that—a practice that would have driven the Labour party in opposition mental. It is all a plan to diminish the importance of the House, and to remove the need for Cabinet Ministers to justify their actions to Parliament. The Prime Minister does not do that, so why should the rest of the Cabinet?

I shall begin to draw my remarks to a conclusion, as I know that other Conservative Members want to contribute to the debate. I have missed out most of my main arguments in principle, but there will be another opportunity to, make them later.

I turn now to the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill. No amendments have been tabled to that Bill, but the Government have guillotined debate on it. I appreciate that with a good brief, a fair wind and remarkable—almost incredible—tolerance from the Chair, it might be possible for some people to speak for 30 minutes on the Third Reading of that Bill.

I doubt that any occupant of the Chair would tolerate longer speeches on that measure, however. If hon. Members tried to speak for longer on that little Bill, the Government could move a closure motion. I do not presume to predict what the Chair might do, but I guess that it would grant a pretty rapid closure motion—even though the Bill was not amended in Committee and has been debated for only one hour and 12 minutes.

The Government are not prepared to accept even that. They have proposed a motion to guillotine debate on the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill, even though we lack the opportunity to debate that little Bill all night in any case. The hon. Member for Walsall, North should recognise that the mechanism to allow us to spend all night on that Bill does not exist. No amendments have been selected for that Bill, so there are not the half a dozen groups of amendments that would allow us to attempt to talk for ages. However, the Government have guillotined debate anyway.

The Nuclear Safeguards Bill has been allocated the same amount of time—one hour—as the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill, even though there are five groups of amendments to debate. Two of those groups—concerning powers of entry, access and search, and restrictions on disclosure of information—are very important. The first group was discussed in Committee in another place, and it exercised that Committee greatly.

Mr. Forth

Last week, the Leader of the House implied that the Bills were inconsequential and uncontroversial and that they therefore need not detain the House for long. The Minister said the same today, but Madam Speaker has selected for debate three new clauses and 29 amendments to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. Does not that suggest that Madam Speaker agrees that the Bill is worth a great deal of the House's attention and time? Does my right hon. Friend know the answer to that apparent conundrum?

Mr. Maclean

The answer is straightforward: the Government are trying to advance arguments that they know are wrong. That is why the Minister wisely curtailed his remarks today. He spoke as gently and apologetically as he could in his attempt to justify this appalling guillotine motion. He could not rant and rave, justifying the motion against an Opposition baying for blood. He knew that there was no justification for the motion. That is why he adopted the approach of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who goes round the country saying to farmers, "I know you're all going out of business, and it is terrible, but I am a nice chap, so don't criticise me." The right hon. Gentleman gets away with it—for the moment. That is a skill that one admires. Similarly, the Home Secretary comes before the House to say that something else has gone wrong in the Home Office but as he is a good, decent guy, no one wants to land a punch on him—although my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) is getting a taste for it.

I understand why the Minister adopted that low-key approach to the guillotine—not wanting to announce it, saying that it did not really merit one, but that it had to be done because of all the loose ends, and it was pretty ghastly. That is a feeble excuse for imposing a guillotine. The Minister knows it, and he got away without having a baying mob attack him at the Dispatch Box only because of his reputation for being an honest, decent man. To borrow an analogy from the Liberal Benches, he is the monkey—in the nicest possible sense—who has to be at the Dispatch Box today. The organ grinder has wisely stayed hidden away in a room. The monkey has been produced to grind the organ, appease the House and take the blame for this discreditable and disreputable draconian guillotine.

Mr. Forth

In spite of what my right hon. Friend has said, does he agree that if the Minister, when he has the opportunity to reply to the debate, can give us further views and a proper reply, rather than the apologetic and low-key remarks with which he introduced the debate, that might be very useful?

Mr. Maclean

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I take that as a reminder that there are only 41 minutes of the debate left. Having made some of the points on principle on the guillotine motion that I wished to make, I am happy to conclude my remarks, conscious that others wish to speak and that we need the Minister's reply.

6.2 pm

Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)

The debate has covered a number of matters. Conservative Members have displayed so-called outrage, which I consider to be synthetic. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have also spoken about the reform of the Chamber and the way in which we do our business. I do not want to speak about that in my brief contribution, but I think it relevant, when we debate a motion such as this, to discuss how we could better carry out the business of the House.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. I should like to challenge him on one point. I think that he should reflect on his suggestion that the sense of offence felt by Conservative Members is synthetic. It is not synthetic at all. There is a very strong feeling on this side of the House, which was echoed on the Government Benches in the speech of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), that Parliament is increasingly held in contempt by Government.

Mr. Darvill

If the hon. Gentleman had let me continue a little further, he would have seen that I will soon be getting round to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). I will come to the point about synthetic outrage in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman will permit me.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich talked about the role of Back Benchers. I am not blindly following the Government's line on the motion; I am considering it purely as a Back Bencher. I am interested in the question of balance, mentioned by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack)—the balance between the legislation that we are considering at any particular time and the amount of time that the House grants to it. That is the basis on which I have considered the timetable motion before us, and I think that it does deserve the support of the House.

I have listened to a number of such debates in this Parliament, and some genuine points have been made about cutting the time that we spend on debates, which should clearly be challenged by the Opposition. However, we need to look at the issues that we are debating and how to allocate our time for the entire legislative programme.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Timetables were introduced for the first time because of Irish business when, for four months, the House of Commons had debated nothing but Irish legislation. It is rather different from the matters that we are talking about tonight.

Mr. Darvill

I agree that it is. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that we need to look at every piece of legislation and the time that we spend on it. If the House had been debating a piece of legislation for four months and that was deemed to be too long, it must have come to a decision to cut short the debate.

The Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill obtained support from all parties in the House. It closes a loophole in the law. The Second Reading debate was wide ranging; the debates in Committee were quite detailed; and the amendments which were tabled—I do not think that they were selected—would not have changed the purpose of the Bill significantly. The amount of time spent debating that piece of legislation could well have been adequate with a short timetable.

Sir Patrick Cormack

To echo the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), why, in the name of goodness, are the Government seeking to guillotine a Bill when there is no Report stage because no amendments have been tabled and when, by common consent, it would receive a brief, expeditious and sensible Third reading? Why take a sledgehammer to this Bill?

Mr. Darvill

That is a fair point. In the time allocated to both pieces of legislation, there is sufficient time within the timetable motion to discuss that. It seems perfectly reasonable.

I made the point earlier about the number of amendments tabled in Committee, and the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made a specific point about it. My point was that when Back-Bench Members are considering the controversy of a Bill and the issues that it contains, they should look at how that Bill was debated in Committee. That is not to restrict Back-Bench Members in tabling amendments, but, in coming to a balanced view on the time that we give to legislation, one factor to consider—although not the only one—is the way in which a Bill was dealt with in Committee.

Mr. Bercow

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that another factor to consider is the number of new clauses and amendments tabled on Report—32 in this case. Will the hon. Gentleman at least be guided by precedent in the debate, and give the House an example, with specifics, of a situation between 1979 and 1997 when a Bill that had a truncated Second Reading and was debated in Committee for only 1 hour and 12 minutes was nevertheless thought appropriate for the imposition of a guillotine?

Mr. Darvill

No, of course I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer to that question. One would need to analyse the debates that took place over that period.

The two Bills before us are uncontroversial in the view of the majority of Members of the House. All those who have contributed to the debate have signified support for them, certainly in Committee. Despite some opposition from individual Members, these two Bills have received support from all parties.

Mr. Paterson

We are discussing a Bill under which a person who contravenes its provisions when it is enacted will go to jail for up to two years or have imposed on him an unlimited fine if he goes before a jury. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that is uncontroversial? Is not our first role to come here to defend the liberties of our constituents and to ensure that legislation is properly considered, in great detail, before casting them upon the whims of a jury?

Mr. Darvill

That is absolutely right. It is a question of the time that we allocate to that process. Many Bills that pass through the House have provisions of the sort that the hon. Gentleman has described. Such issues have not been ignored during our debates. Time has been given to them. They were considered on Second Reading, they were debated in Committee and they will be debated this evening.

Mr. Bercow

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is being characteristically courteous.

Let us move the debate on from generalities, in which the hon. Gentleman is indulging, to specifics. He will have heard me say earlier that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham) was content with only seven and a half minutes of debate on each new clause and amendment, and that was assuming that there would be no Divisions, which was a rather improbable scenario. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that seven and a half minutes per new clause and amendment is wholly inadequate consideration? If he does, will he put a figure on what he thinks would be a more appropriate allocation of time?

Mr. Darvill

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the amendments would be grouped and discussed on that basis. There would not have been seven and a half minutes' consideration per new clause and amendment. Such an analysis can be used to discredit any allocation of time motion. The overall time allowed would have been sufficient if we had moved on to the new clauses and amendments sooner.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman rightly says that the time available to discuss the amendments and new clauses has been attenuated. I suspect that we shall be left with one hour to discuss the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. It contains 32 clauses, which means that we shall have less than two minutes to consider each one of them, and that is assuming that there are no Divisions. Even if we take the amendments as five groups and consider them on that basis, we shall have only five minutes per—

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

Order. Some interventions, and not only the hon. Gentleman's, have been overlong. Make them brief in future.

Mr. Darvill

I think that I answered the point made by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) when I responded earlier to the intervention of the hon. Member for Buckingham.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)

We supported the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee, and we supported the closure motion. The debate has moved on and the Bill is next to be considered on Report. However, does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a great difference between the Government wanting legitimately to get their legislative programme through the House, including Bills that have cross-party support, and introducing four guillotine motions in one day?

Mr. Darvill

First, we are debating guillotine motions on two Bills. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Committee that considered the Bill. He had the opportunity between Second Reading and consideration in Committee to table amendments that reflected his and his party's point of view. I note that there was only about one hour and 17 minutes of debate. A factor that I am taking into account in establishing whether we are achieving the right balance and providing the right time for debate in the Chamber is whether the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues tabled any amendments in Committee. Had they done so, had they spent a significant amount of time debating them and had they analysed key issues, those opposing the motion would have a much stronger argument to advance.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not a fact that there are 32 amendments and three new clauses to consider when we come to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill? Without the motion, we would not complete consideration on Report this evening unless the Government decided to let the debate proceed until a late hour. At most, we would have completed consideration of the one Bill. It is more than likely that that process would have been completed at 3 am, 4 am or 5 am. Many amendments would not have been debated. That is the only alternative to the motion that is before us.

Mr. Darvill

As ever, my hon. Friend, who has much more experience in the House than I, makes an extremely good point.

It is regrettable that the number of guillotine motions introduced by Governments is increasing. That is partly because of the weight of legislation. That must be acknowledged. Increasingly, Governments have large programmes of legislation because there is a demand from society for that. That should be reflected in the way in which we deal with our business. We must establish the right balance when determining the time that we can devote to legislation and how Members can cope with that in terms of their parliamentary and personal lives. Against that background, I am in favour of more timetable motions. Provided that we have the appropriate safeguards, that is the way forward. I shall support the motion.

6.15 pm
Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)

I thank the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) for restoring my faith in democracy, which was being sat on by various heavy quarters in various places. It was an admirable speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) was criticised by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) on various parts of his speech. I understood that my hon. Friend was making it clear that Liberal Democrats oppose the motion. However, he was adopting the sound attitude of Voltaire, pointing out that he disagreed with many of the arguments of Conservative Members but fully supporting their right to advance them. He added that sometimes they produced good amendments that deserved support, but often there is filibustering, irrelevant debate and general time wasting, which most people think brings Parliament into disrepute. He was supporting the Opposition's right to oppose guillotine motions and saying that the Government should not impose them.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that we must consider Parliament's procedures and the way that we run our democracy. It is clear that Parliament is failing in its duties to hold the Executive to account and adequately to scrutinise Bills. To the dismay of Conservative Members, my hon. Friend said that a decent voting system would greatly diminish the power of the Executive. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) similarly said that Parliament must review its procedures in order to do things better. He argued that there are better ways of holding the Government to account than ambushes late at night and filibusters, for example.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must be careful. The Chair would never allow filibustering.

Mr. Gorrie

I stand corrected, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise.

Mr. Paterson

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) made it clear that Liberal Democrats oppose the motion. When I asked what their answer was, the answer was about as satisfactory as chewing cardboard. Will the hon. Gentleman explain what methods the Liberal Democrats would propose?

Mr. Gorrie

My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove found that he was being led into a long disquisition on subjects not really relevant to the debate. I may receive another deserved rebuke from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I take them up. My hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) have put forward proposals to the Modernisation Committee, some of which would meet the point made by the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson).

Mr. Stunell

Bearing in mind that there will be a second debate on guillotine motions, there may be an opportunity to colour in the picture that I sketched earlier.

Mr. Gorrie

I look forward to enjoying my hon. Friend's impressionistic skills.

My main point—a fresh, if, perhaps, a cheeky, one—is that, as a Member of another, much newer Parliament, I know that it learns from this Parliament, and bad habits are easier to copy than good ones. The Government treat this Parliament with a good deal of disdain, and Parliament does not adequately check that Government. Those facts set a tone that the Parliament in Edinburgh is tending to copy. We ought to scrutinise the Government properly to encourage newer and younger parliaments to do the same. We owe it to others to set the House in order by scrutinising the Government properly and by stopping these ridiculous guillotines.

6.20 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I, too, pay tribute to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) for an outstanding speech, which demonstrated the distilled wisdom of an hon. Lady who has been an active participant in the House for a great many years. Without wishing to embarrass her, I hope that her speech will become compulsory reading for all new Members. She demonstrated her wide and sensible understanding of how the House operates, and she reflected exactly what is so important about Parliament.

This institution is under fire. Its powers are haemorrhaging away, and I use that word deliberately. They are haemorrhaging to the European Union, the constituent parts of the United Kingdom—to Scotland and to Wales—and, come 1 October, even more greatly to the courts. For that reason, this debate is timely. We ought to oppose the guillotine, and should debate some of the wider issues at stake, as you are allowing us to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was a Member in the 1980s, and I recall sitting up all night. I loathed it, and I thought that it was a stupid way to operate. I had not been here long when I arrived home at 3 am or 4 am once, only for my then young daughter—who now works a few yards from here—to jump on me at 7 am. I said, "Emily, go away, daddy is very tired." She answered, "Daddy, do you know what MP stands for?" I said, "No." She said, "It stands for Mouldy Person."

It can be difficult to combine life in this place with family life. However, it was important in the 1980s fully to debate the matters that were discussed. The Opposition were rightly given every opportunity to oppose a Government with a majority of 140, of which I was happy to be one. There was then far greater opposition to the Government—by Bob Cryer, then the hon. Member for Keighley, and by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Every night, there would be a 45-minute debate on the money resolution. Good luck to them. I was an idiot to believe the Whips who told me that I had to be here. I should have gone home long before I did.

The House does itself a disservice in the manner in which all Governments deal with the Committee stage of Bills. Virtually no amendment introduced in Committee by an Opposition Member can possibly be accepted by the Government of the day. It will be dismissed as defective, as striking at the heart of the Bill or destroying the Bill. Then, however, we come to Report, and the Bill requires 300 or 400 Government amendments. That tends to lower the esteem of the House in the eyes of the public. Governments—Tory, Labour or whatever—would do themselves much good by accepting that a Bill can be improved by the Opposition.

On how we facilitate opposition to legislation, I cannot see a way around our existing rules, save at the expense of reducing yet further the powers of the Opposition to oppose. The Government of the day have a huge raft of powers and levers that enable them to dragoon their people into their Lobby. Not least is the power of patronage. If Members do not do as the Government say, they will not have the benefit of a magnificent office as parliamentary private secretary to the Under-Secretary of State for Pensions or whatever illustrious office it may be.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that reducing the hours of this place would lead to even greater problems because of the occasional inability of Governments to listen to common sense?

Mr. Howarth

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. He is entirely right.

I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham), who has taken the trouble to come to the Chamber this evening, although I did not have the opportunity to hear what she had to say. I read what she had to say over the weekend, and I agree that it is difficult to combine membership of the House with bringing up children.

Ms Kingham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth

In a moment. I am somewhat old-fashioned, and I believe that bringing up children is an extremely responsible job. One of the great contributions that women make to the continuation of society is the exercise of that responsibility. I recognise that it is hard to combine that job with being a Member of Parliament.

Ms Kingham


Mr. Howarth

Before the hon. Lady intervenes, let me also tell her that my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Thatcher, for whom I had the privilege of being parliamentary private secretary for about six months, managed to combine both things. So does Nicola Horlick, who earns a great deal more than we do. In the City, she combines a demanding job with bringing up, I believe, five children.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are straying away from the motion before us. The hours of work in the House are being considered by the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons.

Ms Kingham

I should like to knock one inaccuracy on the head. I have no difficulty in combining my domestic arrangements with my work. My husband is at home looking after my children; in the same way, male Members of Parliament have left their wives at home with their children for many years. I have been criticising the long hours that we spend in this Chamber that are not worth while and in which we do not debate issues of substance that affect our constituents. I have no objection to working long hours; I have always done so. Nor do most of my hon. Friends have any such objection. There is no problem concerning my combining my family with working practices. I do not find that difficult at all.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

On that note, therefore, and as we know what the hon. Lady's thinking is, may we return to the motion before us?

Mr. Howarth

I could not agree more, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are wise to draw to our attention the need to return to the heart of the matter. I would say only that I do not recall having seen the hon. Lady in the Committee on the Nuclear Safeguards Bill on 10 April. I was rudely interrupted then by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy)—the Government's pairing Whip—who moved the closure, but my last words were "extensive powers". As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) made clear, the Bill contains powers that have been described outside Parliament as draconian.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) pointed out that it is our duty to scrutinise legislation to ensure that, if we are conferring draconian powers on officials, we do so with the full understanding that, first, those powers are necessary; and, secondly, there are adequate mechanisms to safeguard them so that they are not abused.

Before I was interrupted on 10 April, I was saying that the powers in the Bill are extensive. Clause 5(4) states: An authorised officer may accompany an Agency inspector while he is exercising powers under this section. That inspector is an official of a foreign agency—not necessarily a UK national—empowered, without a warrant, to enter a private company in the UK. An authorised officer of the Secretary of State "may accompany" the inspector—in other words, he does not need to do so.

The guillotine motion is unnecessary and wrong because the Bill is important and the House has not had an adequate opportunity to discuss it.

6.31 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack

By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is terribly important that there is a ministerial winding-up to this important debate.

I draw the Minister's attention, yet again, to three matters; at the very least, I ask him to address them. First, will he explain why the Government have imposed a guillotine before Report on one Bill and when there will be no Report on the other, because no amendments have been tabled? If ever there was a case of premature overreaction, this is it. In his opening remarks, the Minister did not begin to address that matter. We have seen a Government reacting in pique, annoyance and petulance because some parliamentarians take their duties seriously. The Minister must deal with that point.

Secondly, the Minister must address the underlying issue—the context of the debate. Apart from the fact that the Government are piqued and petulant, why have they been driven to this expedient? It is because they have overloaded Parliament with legislation. It was noticeable that even the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who has now left the Chamber, spoke of the need to introduce only a few pieces of legislation. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and I shared a smile when the hon. Gentleman said that we should have only three or four pieces of legislation, but then argued for a timetable. If there were only a few measures, we should have to consider that argument seriously. The Minister did not begin to address that matter.

Thirdly, I direct the Minister to the most important contribution to the debate. It was not the vastly entertaining speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), although it was a splendid parliamentary exercise; nor was it the many pertinent interventions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) who made the most extraordinary admission. His maiden speech was itself—to use a famous phrase—a brazen hussy of a speech. However, he now says that he is a parliamentary virgin—good gracious me, I have never heard such a confession.

The most important speech was made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). In 10 minutes, she encapsulated what Parliament should be about. She speaks from many years' experience of the House, and as one of the most distinguished members of the Chairmen's Panel. She pointed out to the Minister that a usurpation of Parliament's democratic position is implicit in such a motion. I want to hear what he has to say about that.

6.35 pm
Mr. Tipping

First, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge the bouquets and brickbats that have been thrown at me across the Chamber. The debate has been interesting; its importance has become ever more apparent as it progressed.

The motion paves the way for two important Bills that the House will have the opportunity—albeit limited—to discuss later this evening: the Nuclear Safeguards Bill and the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill. Those who accuse us of considering those Bills unimportant are mistaken.

The significance of the debate has been in relation to process—the way in which we conduct our business. Several hon. Members made important and fundamental speeches—my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) has been mentioned more than once.

The debate has drawn out the wide range of views in the House, including that of those who might be described as the Dick Turpins, the Jesse Jameses or the marauders—those who use parliamentary tactics legitimately to disrupt business. I acknowledge that without apology. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was prayed in aid. Some time ago, I had to counsel him to stop giving tutorials to the Opposition—they were becoming too effective. Those hon. Members want to maintain the status quo—the right of Back Benchers to fight and to work into the night. I was struck by the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich that the House has broken more people than it has made.

On the other hand, a group of hon. Members—mainly my hon. Friends—argued that we should modernise and change our procedures. In the middle—as always—were the Liberal Democrats. They argued strongly for modernisation—but not tonight, because they will not support the motions. They argued that we have not got the balance right. I look forward to reading the paper produced by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell).

Mr. Stunell

The Minister implies that the guillotine is a modern invention that is driving forward the procedures of the House. Would he care to use the remainder of his speech to justify that outrageous statement?

Mr. Tipping

I am grateful to have the opportunity of a second go. It has been said that the Liberal Democrats always sit on the fence. Their performance this evening has demonstrated that. They say that, although they do not like the way the House works at present, they are not prepared to support the Government on this motion, but that, perhaps, they will give us an answer in the future.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) made an important point about balance. We must get the balance right. He asked me specifically to reflect on the comments made during the debate and to talk to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and to other Cabinet colleagues about them. Of course, I will.

We must put into the balance the obvious desire of a small group of hon. Members to use the Chamber, quite legitimately, as a debating society—as a place to test ideas and to push the Government to the wall. I do not object to that—I have never done so. We must also consider those who argue strongly that in order to do some of the things that hon. Members want us to do, we should reform our procedures.

I will closely consider the comments of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire on the programming of Bills. He will remember that that idea sprang from the Jopling report; he will remember that the Conservative party signed up to the report of the Modernisation Committee; and he will remember that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the shadow Leader of the House, has in recent weeks worked hard to make programming work. That is an important and significant way forward.

Mr. Bermingham

Surely the test of whether the Opposition's approach is genuine would be their willingness for the House to sit into August and in September and October. That would create more time for debate.

Mr. Tipping

As always, my hon. Friend leads me on to another important point, and it has been mentioned tonight. I have been struck by the number of hon. Members who have said that there are 659 Members of Parliament. There is no rubric for doing the job correctly. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) clearly thinks that his priority is to be in Chamber frequently and religiously to debate the issues. Other hon. Members—I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich for pointing this out—have argued that we do not start at 2.30 pm and work until whatever time at night. Many colleagues spend time on the work of Standing Committees and Select Committees, and other hon. Members believe that it is important to go round the country so that they can talk to people and listen to their views.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Tipping

The right hon. Gentleman's remark typifies the view that we know all the answers. That charge has been laid against the Government, but I remind the House—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83 (Allocation of time to bills).

The House divided: Ayes 294, Noes 140.

Division No. 201] [6.42 pm
Ainger, Nick Dawson, Hilton
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Dean, Mrs Janet
Alexander, Douglas Denham, John
Allen, Graham Donohoe, Brian H
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Doran, Frank
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Dowd, Jim
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Drew, David
Ashton, Joe Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Atkins, Charlotte Edwards, Huw
Austin, John Efford, Clive
Banks, Tony Ellman, Mrs Louise
Barnes, Harry Ennis, Jeff
Bayley, Hugh Etherington, Bill
Beard, Nigel Field, Rt Hon Frank
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Fisher, Mark
Begg, Miss Anne Fitzpatrick, Jim
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Flint, Caroline
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Flynn, Paul
Bennett, Andrew F Follett, Barbara
Benton, Joe Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bermingham, Gerald Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Berry, Roger Fyfe, Maria
Betts, Clive Galloway, George
Blackman, Liz Gapes, Mike
Blears, Ms Hazel Gardiner, Barry
Blizzard, Bob Gerrard, Neil
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Godman, Dr Norman A
Brinton, Mrs Helen Goggins, Paul
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Golding, Mrs Llin
Browne, Desmond Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Burden, Richard Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Burgon, Colin Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Butler, Mrs Christine Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Grocott, Bruce
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Grogan, John
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hain, Peter
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cann, Jamie Healey, John
Caplin, Ivor Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Casale, Roger Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hepburn, Stephen
Clapham, Michael Heppell, John
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hesford, Stephen
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hope, Phil
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hopkins, Kelvin
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Clelland, David Howells, Dr Kim
Clwyd, Ann Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Coaker, Vernon Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cohen, Harry Humble, Mrs Joan
Coleman, Iain Hurst, Alan
Colman, Tony Hutton, John
Connarty, Michael Iddon, Dr Brian
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Illsley, Eric
Cooper, Yvette Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Corbett, Robin Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jenkins, Brian
Cousins, Jim Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Crausby, David Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Darvill, Keith Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pond, Chris
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pope, Greg
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Pound, Stephen
Keeble, Ms Sally Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Kelly, Ms Ruth Primarolo, Dawn
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Prosser, Gwyn
Khabra, Piara S Purchase, Ken
Kidney, David Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Kilfoyle, Peter Quinn, Lawrie
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Radice, Rt Hon Giles
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Rammell, Bill
Kingham, Ms Tess Rapson, Syd
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Raynsford, Nick
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Laxton, Bob Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lepper, David Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Levitt, Tom Rooney, Terry
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rowlands, Ted
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Roy, Frank
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Ruddock, Joan
Linton, Martin Salter, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Sarwar, Mohammad
Lock, David Savidge, Malcolm
McAvoy, Thomas Sedgemore, Brian
McCabe, Steve Shaw, Jonathan
McCafferty, Ms Chris Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
McDonagh, Siobhain Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Macdonald, Calum Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mackinlay, Andrew Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McNulty, Tony Soley, Clive
Mactaggart, Fiona Spellar, John
McWalter, Tony Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mahon, Mrs Alice Steinberg, Gerry
Mallaber, Judy Stevenson, George
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Stinchcombe, Paul
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stoate, Dr Howard
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Martlew, Eric Stringer, Graham
Maxton, John Stuart, Ms Gisela
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Sutcliffe, Gerry
Meale, Alan Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Austin Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Moffatt, Laura Timms, Stephen
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Tipping, Paddy
Morley, Elliot Todd, Mark
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Mountford, Kali Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Mudie, George Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Mulin, Chris Tynan, Bill
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Vis, Dr Rudi
Norris, Dan Walley, Ms Joan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Ward, Ms Claire
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Wareing, Robert N
Olner, Bill Watts, David
O'Neill, Martin Whitehead, Dr Alan
Organ, Mrs Diana Wicks, Malcolm
Pendry, Tom Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Pike, Peter L Wills, Michael
Plaskitt, James Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David Wyatt, Derek
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Phil Tellers for the Ayes:
Worthington, Tony Mr. David Jamieson and
Wray, James Mr. Mike Hall.
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Jenkin, Bernard
Amess, David Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Baldry, Tony Keetch, Paul
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Key, Robert
Bercow, John Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Beresford, Sir Paul Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Blunt, Crispin Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Boswell, Tim Lansley, Andrew
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Leigh, Edward
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Letwin, Oliver
Brady, Graham Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Brazier, Julian Lidington, David
Breed, Colin Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Loughton, Tim
Browning, Mrs Angela Luff, Peter
Burns, Simon Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Cash, William Maclean, Rt Hon David
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Chope, Christopher Major, Rt Hon John
Clappison, James Malins, Humfrey
Collins, Tim Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Cormack, Sir Patrick May, Mrs Theresa
Cotter, Brian Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Cran, James Moss, Malcolm
Curry, Rt Hon David Nicholls, Patrick
Davey, Edward (Kingston) O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Ottaway, Richard
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Page, Richard
Day, Stephen Paterson, Owen
Duncan Smith, Iain Pickles, Eric
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Randall, John
Faber, David Redwood, Rt Hon John
Fabricant, Michael Rendel, David
Fearn, Ronnie Robathan, Andrew
Flight, Howard Robertson, Laurence
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Fox, Dr Liam Ruffley, David
Fraser, Christopher Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Gale, Roger St Aubyn, Nick
Garnier, Edward Sanders, Adrian
George, Andrew (St Ives) Sayeed, Jonathan
Gibb, Nick Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gidley, Sandra Shepherd, Richard
Gill, Christopher Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Spicer, Sir Michael
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Gorrie, Donald Steen, Anthony
Green, Damian Streeter, Gary
Greenway, John Stunell, Andrew
Gummer, Rt Hon John Swayne, Desmond
Hague, Rt Hon William Syms, Robert
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hammond, Philip Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Harvey, Nick Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hawkins, Nick Taylor, Sir Teddy
Heald, Oliver Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Tredinnick, David
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Trend, Michael
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Tyler, Paul
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Tyrie, Andrew
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Webb, Steve
Hunter, Andrew Whitney, Sir Raymond
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David Tellers for the Noes:
Willis, Phil Mr. Peter Atkinson and
Wilshire, David Mr. Keith Simpson.
Yeo, Tim

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Nuclear Safeguards Bill [Lords] and the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill

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