HC Deb 07 November 2000 vol 356 cc213-80

(1) The provisions of this order apply to proceedings in the House or in Committee of the whole House on a Bill which is subject to a programme order.

(2) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) applies to the proceedings for any period after ten o'clock (or on Thursday, seven o'clock) allocated to them in accordance with the programme order.

(3) The proceedings may not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.

(4) If, on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an order of the day, a motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) would, apart from this order, stand over to seven o'clock—

  1. (a) that motion stands over until the conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, in accordance with the programme order, are to be brought to conclusion at or before that time; and
  2. (b) the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, in accordance with the programme order, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time is postponed for a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings on that motion.

(5) If a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an order of the day is one to which a motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, in accordance with the programme order, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day is postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that motion.

(6) No dilatory motion may be made in relation to the proceedings except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion is to be put forthwith.

(7) If at any sitting the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the expiry of the period at the end of which proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under a programme order, no notice is required of a motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of the programme order.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that, with this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment (d) to the above motion, in paragraph (6) of order A, leave out 'three-quarters of an hour' and insert 'three hours'.

Amendment (g) to the above motion, after paragraph (10) of order A, insert— '(11) On a day on which a programme motion is to be moved, the Speaker shall put the Question on a second reading of the bill to which that Motion applies not later than 9.30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 6.30 p.m. on Thursdays'.

Motion relating to deferred Divisions: That in the next Session of Parliament the following Order shall have effect:

  1. (1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), Standing Order No. 38 (Procedure on divisions) shall not apply if, after the time for the interruption of business, the opinion of the Speaker as to the decision on a question is challenged in respect of any question.
  2. (2) Standing Order No. 38 (Procedure on divisions) shall apply (and this order shall not apply) to questions—
  1. (a) on motions or amendments in the course of proceedings on bills or allocating time to or programming such proceedings;
  2. (b) on motions which may be made without notice;
  3. (c) on motions to be disposed of immediately following the disposal of amendments proposed thereto, and on such amendments;
  4. 214
  5. (d) on motions made under—
    1. (i) paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business);
    2. (ii) paragraph (3) of Standing Order No. 51 (Ways and Means motions);
    3. (iii) sub-paragraph (1)(a) of Standing Order No. 52 (Money resolutions and Ways and Means resolutions in connection with bills);
    4. (iv) paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates); and
    5. (v) paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.); and

(e) on motions made under paragraph 3 below or to which an order made under that paragraph applies.

  1. (3) After the moment of interruption and the conclusion of proceedings under any other Standing Order which fall to be taken immediately after it, a minister of the Crown may make a motion to the effect that this order shall not apply to questions on any specified motions; such motion may be proceeded with, though opposed, and the question thereon shall be put forthwith.
  2. (4) If the opinion of the Speaker is challenged under paragraph (1) of this order, he shall defer the division until half-past Three o'clock on the next Wednesday on which the House shall sit.
  3. (5) On any Wednesday to which a division has been deferred under paragraph (4) above—

(a) Members may record their votes on the question under arrangements made by the Speaker;

(b) votes may be recorded for one and a half hours after half-past Three o'clock, no account being taken of any period during which the House or committee proceeds to a division; and

(c) the Speaker, or the Chairman, shall announce the result of the deferred division as soon as may be after the expiry of the period mentioned in sub-paragraph (b) above.

Amendment (d) to the above motion, in paragraph (5), leave out from beginning of sub-paragraph (a) to end of sub-paragraph (c) and insert—

  1. '(a) a list of the deferred divisions to be taken on that day shall be printed in that day's Order Paper;
  2. (b) deferred divisions shall be taken at the commencement of public business; and
  3. (c) Standing Orders No. 38 (Procedure on divisions), No. 39 (Voting) and No. 41 (Quorum) shall apply to deferred divisions.'

Mrs. Beckett

I rise, as Chair of the Select Committee, to place before the House the report of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. A previous report of the Committee is also relevant, as is some of the report of the Jopling Committee from 1992.

First, I stress the fact that the purpose of the proposals is to improve the workings of the House of Commons, to make it more efficient and effective. There are two main proposals in the report. The first is that the House should agree a proper programme for debating all legislation that is brought before it. The second is that some of the votes that may now fall after 10 pm should be able to be deferred, so that they can be taken during the ordinary parliamentary day.

The proposals on programming offer the House the opportunity now to take a decision on issues that we have been considering in one form or another for more than 10 years. In two reports in the 1980s, the Procedure Committee recommended programming in Standing Committee. The 1992 report of the Jopling Committee noted: The evidence given to us on timetabling of bills was almost without exception in favour of its general use. That is in paragraph 67. It went on to say: The arguments in favour of the proper scrutiny of all parts of a bill are compelling; and timetables applied from an early stage after second reading are probably the best way to avoid the capricious effects of a guillotine being imposed at a later stage. None of those proposals was fully pursued, though there have been encouraging experiments such as the voluntary timetabling of Committee discussions on, for example, the Greater London Authority Bill. In 1991, in evidence to the Jopling Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), then shadow Leader of the House, put forward on behalf of the then shadow Cabinet proposals that included programming discussion on all Bills.

Those ideas were further advanced in the earlier recommendations of the Modernisation Committee, in paragraph 89 of its first report of the 1997–98 Session, for arrangements for programming legislation which are more formal than the usual channels but more flexible than the guillotine. That proposal was for programmed discussion on all major Bills, but it envisaged—the report was on an all-party basis—that that would be by consent, which it clearly anticipated would be generally forthcoming.

The House will know that such arrangements began to be used. However, it then became clear that consent to the continued use of such procedure was unlikely to be obtained. Indeed, it also became clear that consent for a proportionately less demanding scrutiny for more minor Bills might no longer be available. That is the process that I have described as "working to rule". I give the House one simple example of what I mean.

No Government would have expected, or would have needed, to guillotine a measure such as the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) (Amendment) Bill, which simply remedied what I believe were unintended errors by the previous Administration—but, as a result of the process of working to rule, the Government did need to guillotine even that minor legislation.

It has become clear to many Members that we need the capacity to manage the House's time in regard to any such business. That realisation led a majority on the Modernisation Committee to the proposal for a mechanism for universal programming—a mechanism that is in the Sessional Orders. As Sessional Orders, they allow the House to experiment with this method of managing our business.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Is the Leader of the House suggesting that the Government have some right, divine or otherwise, to present any number of Bills in any given Session and then to subject them to this timetabling procedure? The example that she just gave may or may not be relevant, but it occurs to me that two things could happen: either the Government could present a large number of Bills, or they could introduce many Bills during a Session and then use the right hon. Lady's logic to ram them through in a virtuously timetabled way.

Mrs. Beckett

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman means "virtually"—but I will not detain the House on that point.

It is, of course, the case now that the Government can present as much or as little legislation as they choose, although it is up to the House to decide whether or not to accept it. It is also the case that the Government can, and from time to time do, impose a guillotine on any proposed legislation.

The advantage of a guillotine to Government is that it gives certainty about when discussion of a Bill will end. The disadvantage, for the whole House, is that it is a timetable imposed by Government for the convenience—if you like—of Government, and consequently need not take account of the range of items included in a Bill, or indeed of issues on which the Opposition, as opposed to the Government, might wish to concentrate.

I have looked at some of the evidence given to the Jopling Committee. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has done the same, for he is assiduous in his research. If so, he will know that many members of his party—including the then Minister for women, Mrs. Angela Rumbold—argued for programming of this kind. That was not least, Mr. Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.]—I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me be the first to welcome you to the Chair.

As I was saying, that was not least because Mrs. Rumbold felt that the House should behave in what she called a more grown-up way.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)


Mrs. Beckett

On that point, I will gracefully give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bercow

I thank the right hon. Lady.

Further to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), why does the right hon. Lady not plainfacedly acknowledge that she is proposing less debate on more Bills of greater length? How does she justify presenting such a proposal at a time, and during a Session, when no fewer than 2,537 pages of legislation have been dealt with? That represents an increase of 947 on the number of pages dealt with during the last Session. It simply does not make sense.

Mrs. Beckett

First, I am not proposing less debate. There may be amendments on the Order Paper that suggest some curtailment, but we are not proposing less time for debate. Secondly, nothing in these measures suggests that there will be more Bills—or, indeed, that Bills will be of greater length. Indeed, as I hope to show the hon. Gentleman, I believe that the proposals will have the opposite effect.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I echo the right hon. Lady's words of welcome to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The right hon. Lady is again missing the point, which is unlike her. The fact is that many of us would be very willing to discuss programming, so long as the Government were willing to discuss rationing—rationing, that is, of the number of Bills that they present. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), however, has made an unanswerable point. If we are submerged in reams of legislation, programming equates to guillotining.

Mrs. Beckett

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recall, we discussed rather more legislation 10 or 15 years ago than we discuss nowadays. The trend is down rather than up.

The orders allow Bills to be programmed directly after Second Reading, on a motion tabled—as is normal—by the Government.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)

Is it intended that constitutional Bills should be excluded from programming and guillotining? That has always been a tradition in the House.

Mrs. Beckett

I believe that we have made no specific provision for constitutional Bills. The hon. Gentleman will know, however, that all the provision that has been made includes a procedure to weigh the importance of the issues involved, and to decide how much time is needed. Precisely such considerations would need to be taken into account if a constitutional Bill were discussed on the Floor of the House.

The detailed provisions needed for programming are set out in the orders. Each motion on a Bill will be able, within the framework set by the orders, to specify clearly what time will be allowed for business. The essence of what is proposed will then be put to the House, which will have a much clearer picture than is provided by the long and complex motions currently used to specify proceedings with regard to any guillotine. The programme motions will be debatable for 45 minutes, as such debate will now be focused on the detail of proposals for each Bill, rather than on the principle of timetabling at all.

The Committee expects these procedures to enable the Opposition to identify parts of legislation that are of particular concern to them, and to concentrate debate where they wish. The Opposition have, as always, made much of the power to delay, but it has always been the case that that can, if necessary, be overridden by the guillotine. There has been no mechanism for ensuring, and no pressure to ensure, that members of all parties make considered decisions on how legislation should be dealt with, which Bills are most important, and which provisions in those Bills require most scrutiny. The Modernisation Committee's Report gives us the framework to do just that.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that we would take what she says in good faith rather more if she understood the mood of the House on this important issue? If she is to let the Opposition debate issues that really matter to them, why can we not have the two-stage discussion for which many Members on both sides of the House have asked—one debate on the principles, and one on the detail?

Presumably the right hon. Lady will recommend that we break up for the Christmas recess at least two or three days before Christmas Eve. Could we not have a one-day debate just before that—on a free vote, so that Members who were not interested would not have to attend—enabling us to settle the issues, and enabling Members to express their own views?

Mrs. Beckett

There is a free vote today, on this side of the House.

We are well aware that there are those who would wish to separate the decision that we make on the orders from the discussion that we are having today. Let me repeat what I have already said: we have been discussing the issues, and the principles that underlie them, for many years, so I do not think that the notion that these proposals are new to the House bears scrutiny.

What today's report offers the Opposition is worth far more than the power to delay or simply to block debate. It is the power to choose to focus debate on the parts of legislation that the Opposition believe deserve most scrutiny, and to expose the weakness of the Government's arguments—if they can.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

What my right hon. Friend emphasises is the very thing that worries me about this programming. She is saying, quite simply, that those on the Opposition Front Bench will have a chance to agree whatever programming motion they want—that they will have a chance to decide the order in which Bills are debated. The whole point of the debate about programming, however, is that it is Back Benchers who will be unable to decide either the order or the importance of the matters that they are debating.

Mrs. Beckett

I accept my hon. Friend's point completely. She will be pleased to know that that matter was aired, discussed and thoroughly considered by the Modernisation Committee when we discussed the proposals, as there was concern that such a problem could legitimately arise. Obviously, we all try to make provisions to cover all those matters, but any Opposition who are aware of concerns that Government Back Benchers want to be aired, but make sure that they are not aired, are a very stupid Opposition indeed. I go no further than that, but it is evident that there is an interest.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am terribly sorry, I must be very dim tonight—but is my right hon. Friend saying that if I want to raise a certain matter as a Member of Parliament, and the Opposition are in control of the programming, they will automatically assume that what I wish to raise as a Government Member is sufficiently important to be given precedence? If that is the case, I must tell my right hon. Friend that that has not been my experience over the years.

Mrs. Beckett

It is possible to programme discussion and debate so that different points of views can be aired and heard as often as is normally possible in the House. Of course, my hon. Friend is right that it is not open to any of us to guess what is in the mind of another when that person is called to speak. On the other hand, there are sometimes indications, which are used in the House.

Mr. Bercow

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I wish to move on to another issue.

So far we have talked about the issue of the timetable for Second Readings. However, I want to make sure that the House takes on board the fact that, just as the overall timetable for a Bill will be debatable on Second Reading, it is proposed that when detailed provisions to timetable discussion in Standing Committee are suggested, the House—if the Bill is taken on the Floor of the House— or the Committee will be able to debate those proposals for up to half an hour. As you will appreciate, Madam Deputy Speaker, that is fuller scrutiny than has been available under the conventional guillotine procedure, in which, due to a precedent set by the previous Government, discussion of the time for debate comes out of the debate of substance. Again, any detailed timetable, should one be required, would focus debate on issues identified as important by Opposition parties and Back Benchers.

These mechanisms give the House the capacity to be flexible, or as prescriptive and detailed, as necessary. For example, we may find in practice that we need only end dates, especially for discussion of more minor Bills. It may be thought that more structure is needed to ensure that all issues are covered in debates on Bills of more substance.

I shall touch on the point made by the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir P. Tapsell) a moment ago. I wish to say clearly to the House what I have already said to the Select Committee and my colleagues in Government: our proposals bring greater rigour and predictability into our management of our business, as well as far greater transparency. I have no doubt whatsoever—indeed, I have warned the Select Committee and my colleagues about this—that if brought into effect, the proposals will place substantial pressure on Government—any Government—to ensure that there is adequate scrutiny, better preparation of Bills, and, almost certainly, less legislation. That will produce benefits as well as problems.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

On that particular point, several Members have always advanced the major argument that programming should ensure that all parts of a Bill, and all major matters in it, can be debated in Committee. That greatly benefits legislation, but I can find nothing in the order that sets out that principle. I believe that principle should be set out. Indeed, one could easily have put it in paragraph (5)(a) of order C, which deals with the programming of sub-Committees, to ensure that all parts of a Bill and major matters in it are considered. I am disturbed that the Government did not include that in the order, as I had believed that that was their intention.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that matter, and hope that to some extent I can reassure him. As always, it is a matter of balance, and of what it is right to include in Sessional Orders, as opposed to motions and what can be covered in other ways. Obviously, the matter depends to some extent on whether one wishes to have a detailed programme motion to cover all aspects of discussion of a Bill, or simply all aspects of it until it reaches Committee. Certainly, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, it was very much the Modernisation Committee's intention, and is the thrust of our report, that the proposed procedure has the advantage that all parts of legislation could, and would, be properly considered and given their weight and due.

The question is simply whether one puts that in the Sessional Orders. It may well be that it can be put in a programme motion, especially if at first the House wishes to have detailed programme motions for all the legislation that comes before it. That matter can be aired.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

If the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment, I may be able to answer the point that he is about to raise.

The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) will know that the report includes a proposal for informal discussion after the Queen's Speech across the House, with representatives of all parties present, to inform the decisions that the Government need to take. Obviously the Government will have a view, as every Government have always done, on the major pieces of legislation in a programme, and on which Bills are expected to be the most controversial or need the most time. That discussion is always held in government under any Government. The informal proposals in the Select Committee report suggest that that discussion can be informed by views across the House, and that other Members of Parliament can contribute and say which matters they think are the most controversial, most weighty or time-consuming. Again, that could be reflected in programme motions.

I should also like to stress that we considered the question whether that should be a more formal structured process. The recommendation to the Committee was that it should not deliberately tie people's hands, as sometimes in the early stages of legislation, a matter is taken to be not particularly weighty or controversial, but events may change things. or when the Bill is published, people's views may change. Therefore, it was felt that there should be room for manoeuvre for those who suggested that a certain Bill was a more minor one, so that they could come back, change their minds and inform discussion about the drafting of the programme motion.

Mr. Grieve


Mrs. Beckett

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve); I apologise for making him wait.

Mr. Grieve

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, who was not sufficiently psychic to read my mind.

How can we take the proposal seriously, when in this Session, the Government were prepared to impose a guillotine on the undoubtedly contentious Police (Northern Ireland) Bill after only 12 hours' discussion because they wanted to ensure that the tight time frame for the Bill was adhered to? Effectively, they gave us only three weeks to discuss that Bill. There is nothing in the proposals to prevent a repetition of such a performance, as I am sure the right hon. Lady will be able to confirm.

Mrs. Beckett

I readily confirm it and, indeed, do not seek to conceal that from the House. However, the hon. Gentleman has not chosen a good or typical example. After all, we are talking about a Bill the timing of which was driven by the peace process in Northern Ireland as much as by anything else. The Police (Northern Ireland) Bill is a piece of legislation that, under any Government, would come into the category of proposals likely to be introduced as something of an emergency, and likely to be dealt with in that way—[Interruption.]

Opposition Members may not like that, but most people outside this place would recognise that there is something particularly special and important about the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill. They may even recognise that the timing of that legislation might have something to do with the peace process and events in Northern Ireland. If Opposition Members—or some of them, at any rate—do not think that that is how most people would approach the matter, they are even more out of touch with public opinion than I thought. However, I do not wish to get involved in the substance of particular legislative proposals.

I simply highlight the fact that the process that is described in the Committee's report, and specifying the framework for decisions in the Sessional Orders, will allow the House more structured debates. It will also allow—indeed, facilitate—examination of all parts of legislation. Everything that I have heard and read of the contributions of most of my predecessors in the past 15 or 20 years, and of many other long-serving and distinguished hon. Members, leads me to believe passionately that the orders will substantially improve our processes of debate.

I also fear that the orders will have a strongly inhibiting effect on the ability of any Government to implement their legislative programme. I say this with deep respect to those who are engaged in these processes, but what is now hidden, discussed through the usual channels or—as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) would undoubtedly assert—imposed on Back Benchers by agreement among Front Benchers, will now all be open. It will all be before the House. People will have the opportunity to contribute and to make known their own points of view when the programme motion is discussed. The report also contains recommendations that on Report and in Committee, proceedings should not continue past 10 pm.

All of that will have an impact on how long it takes any Government to pass their legislation. Labour Members are prepared to accept that consequence, because we believe that it will substantially improve the way in which the House works.

Mr. Tyrie

I wonder if the right hon. Lady could help to clarify one point. The intention is to have programming of the Standing Committees' consideration of all Bills, except for those few Bills on which there is sufficient agreement to make programming unnecessary. We know from experience, however, that Bills are very often altered beyond recognition by amendments tabled in Committee by the Executive. What provision will there be to enable the programming to be revisited, and what guarantees can the Opposition have that that provision will be satisfactory?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right—there has been a history of that under both the current Government and the previous one. Although we could argue about who started the practice, I will not do that now. However, there is provision for altering the programme motion, should such events occur and Bills be substantially changed. There would need to be such provision. There is provision for supplementary motions, either in Standing Committee—if such a motion becomes necessary during debate there—or, subsequently, perhaps on Report, in the House.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

The right hon. Lady has been very generous in giving way, and I appreciate it. My point is similar to that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie). Will she explain whether, under paragraph (4) of order A, a motion to vary the programme order would include a carry-over motion? If so, and if all Bills are to be programmed—and, therefore, possibly carried over—we need not have a state opening at all.

Mrs. Beckett

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is no intention that the issues that we are discussing should apply to carry-over. He will know that separately, the Modernisation Committee recommended that we should experiment with carrying over some legislation—which I think that we have done only once, with the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. However, the order that we are debating does not affect the proposals for the use of carry-over at all.

I turn now to the issue of voting on stand-alone business taken after 10 pm. The whole House will know that such issues can vary sharply in importance, from relatively routine business decisions on which a vote is taken forthwith, to a statutory instrument in which a few hon. Members—but only a few—take a great interest, to an issue in a statutory instrument that arouses substantial concern on both sides of the House. The Committee had no wish to curtail debate on such issues when they are of substance, and has made no such proposal. However, all hon. Members are aware that the process of voting itself has been used to detain hon. Members late at night, even when no debate was possible, or when only a handful of hon. Members were engaged.

I know that many colleagues, on both sides of the House, feel that the sheer unpredictability of being so detained, without even being sure that there will be a vote at all, is one of the worst aspects of our procedures—[Interruption.] I am aware that not everyone shares that view, but it is a view that is legitimately held.

We are all perfectly well aware that 999 times out of 1000, those matters are so handled not as a matter of principle, but as a matter of tactics. On 5 October 2000, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), with commendable but perhaps embarrassing candour, said to the Daily Express: We have played merry hell here in a number of ways, one of which is taking votes late at night.

There is no hon. Member who supports the proposals who does not take his or her work as a parliamentarian seriously. There is none who is not willing to put in long hours on matters of weight, substance and importance. There are, however, many who feel that we as a Parliament are not behaving seriously if we do not direct our efforts to proper scrutiny of the substance of proposals before us, rather than simply to taking up time, keeping people into the small hours unnecessarily, or deliberately setting out to make life uncomfortable for the sake of it.

Mr. Forth

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

It would be appropriate to give way to the right hon. Gentleman on that point.

Mr. Forth

I am most grateful to the Leader. Does she concede that there is an equal danger—I put it no higher than that—that if one of the outcomes of the proposals, including the deferred division proposal, were that hon. Members attended even less often than many of them do now, the House might be brought into even greater disrepute?

Mrs. Beckett

I think that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish the public to get the impression that the House is ill attended. He will know as well as I do that hon. Members are here in large numbers every day and for very long hours; one has only to go into the car park to see that that is the case—[Interruption.] Indeed, the Chamber is not always as full as the car park. I invite Opposition Members, or at least some of them, to search their consciences and see whether they can imagine a reason why that might be the case.

All hon. Members do take their work seriously, and I know of no hon. Member who seriously objects to being here for the long hours, which we all work, to discuss issues of substance. However, I know of many who have strong objections when they feel that time is being wasted.

The proposal before us is that if a Division is called on business being taken after 10 pm, those votes should be deferred to the following Wednesday afternoon. The detailed arrangements for deferred Divisions will be under the authority of the Speaker, both to ensure their impartiality and to give flexibility. In essence, however, hon. Members will vote on ballot slips listing the decisions that have been deferred. I should stress that the proposal acknowledges that not all decisions could or should be so deferred.

The order therefore exempts, for example, decisions in the course of debate on a Bill. Consequently, however, and as I highlighted a moment ago, the report recommends that, in programming consideration of Bills, the aim should be to end consideration at about 10 pm. Nevertheless, the Committee recognised that, whereas the process of consideration would end at 10 pm, there may be consequential Divisions, perhaps when a Bill is being considered in Committee or on Report.

I fully recognise that many hon. Members will quite legitimately have concerns about deferred votes separating the vote from the debate. However, we have such separation now. Particularly when considering Bills in Committee or on Report, we vote when we reach the relevant point on the Order Paper, which is not infrequently entirely separate from the debate.

I have known hon. Members, even very experienced hon. Members, to fail to call a Division by which they had hoped to embarrass the current Government, purely because they had forgotten to do so at the appropriate time. So separate were those Divisions from the debate that those hon. Members lost their opportunity. It will be within the recent memory of hon. Members on both sides of the House that, when there was an important matter of division and discussion in the House, Labour Members took the opportunity to make it plain to hon. Members exactly how and when they should call Divisions, should they wish to do so, so that the opinion of the House could be tested. We already do separate decision from debate.

Mr. Grieve

The right hon. Lady seems to be making the most compelling case against her proposals. She is rightly pointing out that the divorcing of the voting process from the discussion process is unsatisfactory, and yet she intends to build on that in the proposals.

Mrs. Beckett

No. I did not say that it was unsatisfactory. I said merely that it was by no means unprecedented. We do it all the time.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I am grateful, as always, to the right hon. Lady for giving way, but she is making a wholly spurious analogy. There is all the difference in the world between the minor deferments to which she is referring and the proposal that votes should be put down on bits of paper the following Wednesday. If that is what she is after, we may as well all pack up and go home.

Mrs. Beckett

I do not accept that it is an invalid point. First, we are talking about individual, stand-alone issues on one particular subject, not those that interact with other discussions. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman will know, it is not infrequently the case that Divisions occur on matters that the House does not debate at all, purely in order to cause inconvenience. So I do not agree that there is something wholly unacceptable about the proposal.

Mr. John MacGregor (South Norfolk)


Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)


Mrs. Beckett

I have to give way to a former Leader of the House. I shall then make progress, because we have a curtailed debate.

Mr. MacGregor

Quite apart from all the other objections to which my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) has drawn attention in his minority report, does not the right hon. Lady agree that the system will be unworkable? The idea of voting as we do in private Member's Bill ballots is not a serious analogy. That is a ballot for presenting a Bill. The proposals refer to votes that should take place in the Chamber. Does she really think that if there are a number of votes on a Wednesday and there are also votes in the House, the whole system can work?

Mrs. Beckett

Yes, indeed. As is now the case on certain occasions, if there were Divisions in the House, the amount of time available would have to be extended in order to allow Members the certainty of having an opportunity to express their views. The Modernisation Committee gave considerable thought to these issues, although I readily concede that it will create problems for some hon. Members—I trust that I am not one of them. The Whips on both sides will have a different and possibly slightly more difficult task. Obviously, that is a matter for them, but it is not a reason for saying that the proposal would not work.

Mr. Gill

I too welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. It cannot possibly be right to vote on an issue up to a week after the debate. In the intervening time the Whips will work on hon. Members of their respective parties, the press will express their views on the rights and wrongs of the decision that we are about to make, and our constituents may also have something to say. That smacks of double jeopardy.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)


Mrs. Beckett

I shall give way for the last time, to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Pike

Is it not important to remember that on two important occasions—the Budget and the Queen's Speech—we always vote at the end of five days' debate? We do not vote on each specific issue on the day that it is debated.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important point, but I do not propose to dwell on it.

The proposal to programme more legislation is not new. Nor is it one put forward only by Labour Members or uniquely by the Government as a means of oppressing the Opposition. It is put forward frequently by many who comment on our affairs, including recently the Norton report, and a report from the Hansard Society.

For myself, I have long opposed—and I do not think that I have ever practised—the tactics of simply wasting time. Although my years in the House have inured me personally to the hours that we keep, I have long been conscious that they often produce bewilderment rather than admiration among the public, and that they never contribute to our effectiveness as a legislature. I fear that people only think that they are more eloquent at 2 o'clock in the morning.

It is often said that the chief weapon of the Opposition is time, and that is held to mean only delay, but I believe that the chief weapon of the Opposition—and Labour has had more years of experience of it—is the constructive use of time. Their strength or their weakness is the strength or weakness of their argument, not how long it takes to put it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made the point that members of the Select Committee were very aware that in recommending that how time is used be primarily in the hands of the Opposition and of Back Benchers, they were creating a new and, they believed, a more potent weapon. However, what they were certainly doing, and what the House will do if it carries the motions tonight, is to place our proceedings on a clearer, firmer and more effective basis. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said quite correctly that we have not discussed in detail, although we have touched on them, the parliamentary calendar, the parliamentary year and the parliamentary day. All those issues are more than worthy of fresh consideration and debate, but the key to them all is the decision that we take tonight.

7.5 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

I, too, welcome you to the chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am a new member of the Modernisation Committee and I begin by repeating that any proposal it makes should seek to strengthen the House and its Members in order to enable them to hold the Government of the day to account, yet the proposals on the Order Paper tonight would not strengthen Parliament—they would weaken it. They would give the Government more power to get their business through more quickly. I shall oppose both motions tonight because they fail that crucial test.

By definition, the word "modernisation" implies change for the good. It is used in a parliamentary context to raise the perceptions of those with conservative views who would change nothing at all and those who seek to break the mould. I do not hold that view, but I believe that the litmus test that I have described is important. I am not opposed to change, but I believe that it should be in the interests of the democratic process rather than to prioritise what is convenient and expedient for individual hon. Members.

The debate led by the Modernisation Committee has been strongly influenced by the intake of hon. Members in 1997, many of whom did not expect to be elected and were unprepared for the terms and conditions of the job that they were elected to fulfil. The hon. Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson) explained clearly that this is a job with terms and conditions and that individual hon. Members are responsible to those who elect us.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

First, I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I have been here for 13 years and I have never found the terms and conditions of the House acceptable. I am a normal human being and I believe that I can do my job in the House effectively during more reasonable hours. Does the hon. Lady believe that the proposals would lead to fewer hours? They would not; they would organise the hours in a different way.

Mrs. Browning

If the proposal before the House tonight had been that business should be conducted in more reasonable hours, it would have been reasonable to expect the Modernisation Committee to have at least considered the options of conducting more business during daylight hours rather than bringing before the House one proposal that clearly does not have cross-party agreement.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale)

Would the hon. Lady also support moves to start the day before 2.30 pm on the days when we currently do that?

Mrs. Browning

I would consider it and that is why I am astonished that it was not considered by the Modernisation Committee. The Government have been judge, they have been jury, they have been cunning old fury and they have not given the House reasonable options. They have put a proposal on the table and asked us to take it or leave it.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

Is the hon. Lady not aware that the main reason that the Modernisation Committee has not made those proposals is that they were consistently, regularly and routinely blocked by the Conservative Members on that Committee? That is why the House does not have those proposals before it.

Mrs. Browning

It is nice to hear that part of the Government coalition rowing in. This is not a party political matter, but one for Parliament and individual Members. Our need for full debate and proper consideration of proposals made it incumbent on the Modernisation Committee to put forward more than one proposal, a point clearly made in the minority report produced by Conservative Members. The proposals before us did not carry the full support of the Committee, and it would have been helpful if, instead of offering us a curtailed business motion, the Government had given us a greater chance to discuss other options for improving the conduct of our business.

Given the views of many new Members who entered the House in 1997, it is unsurprising that the Committee's emphasis has been on the hours of work, late nights, facilities for Members and their families, and other such extramural issues as the right to breast feed in Committees. Those issues have doubtless influenced debate, but have coincided with a Government desire, for quite different reasons, to reduce opportunities for parliamentary debate, scrutiny and questions.

New Labour Members are encouraged to spend time in their constituencies, even while the House is sitting. The Prime Minister favours the House with his presence only once a week, apart from the rare statement. Cabinet Ministers prefer photocalls to statements that can be questioned and debated on the Floor of the House. The move to change the way in which the House conducts Government business for the convenience of Members could not be better timed as far as the Government are concerned.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Congratulations on your appointment, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Does the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) accept that open-ended debate is often not an effective way of holding the Government to account? Does she accept that the Opposition are being given greater power than before to decide the timing of contentious debates so that they might be available to the media and open to public scrutiny?

Mrs. Browning

I do not agree. I shall come later to substantive parts of the motion, but first I shall discuss why the proposals before us and their timing suit the Government so well. Their agenda is to sideline the House and to prevent Members and the Opposition as a whole from challenging the Government. In March 1998, the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in a speech in Germany, declared: It may be that the era of pure representative democracy is slowly coming to an end. The right hon. Gentleman and some colleagues prefer direct representation to representation through democratically elected Members, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said. For new Labour, all-embracing direct contact with lobby groups, focus groups and other organisations is preferable to being accountable to those who were elected through the ballot box to represent the people in this Chamber.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Not at all.

Mrs. Browning

Given that sedentary intervention, I hope that the House may be favoured with a visit by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who might explain why what he said should have been put on the public record by a member of the Cabinet.

In a recent publication by the Hansard Society, Greg Power wrote: The decision to focus on the constituency is an entirely logical response to a job where the principal requirement of the New Labour back bench MP is to vote with the party. The problem however, is that the constituency role has risen as an alternative and not a complementary activity to that in Parliament. It will not have gone without notice that even tonight's earlier debates were administered by the Labour party Whips while Conservative Members were allowed a free vote, with Tellers provided from outside the Front-Bench team.

Mr. Bercow

Is the meagre fare proposed by the Modernisation Committee any surprise, given that that Committee is chaired by a member of the Cabinet and contains no fewer than three parliamentary private secretaries to Ministers, who are, of course, members of the Government payroll vote? The fingerprints of the Government Whips Office are all over the Committee.

Mrs. Browning

I thank my hon. Friend for that and shall offer some suggestions later on how we might modernise in a way that pays respect to the democratic process by changing how the business of the House is conducted so that Parliament rather than the Executive gains strength. If laws and methods of scrutiny and debate are changed to meet the social needs of Members of Parliament, we will undermine the role of Members and neuter the activities of the official Opposition.

Mr. Winnick

Whether I am new or old Labour is a matter of interest to very few people, but does the hon. Lady accept that I always place parliamentary duties alongside constituency duties? When the House is sitting, I hope that I will always be in the House or in the Chamber. Does she also accept that during my years in the House I have always noted strident opposition to change? In 1966, by just one vote, the House was not televised, and it took years before it was. Thursday morning sittings were opposed by many Members but are now regarded as quite normal. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] That response merely strengthens my view that some people simply do not want to adapt the House of Commons to modern circumstances. It is essential that we should do so, because the House will die—or, at best, decline significantly—if we do not.

Mrs. Browning

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is an assiduous contributor to the House's proceedings. I do not take issue with much of what he said, but would ask him to put the motions before us to the litmus test. We are not talking only about modernisation, although I agree that persuading people of change is always difficult. We are asking whether the proposals would strengthen the people who sit behind the Front Bench on both sides of the House. I do not believe that they would. Modernisation is an all-embracing generic term, and we should test whether the Modernisation Committee's proposals improve our democratic process or weaken Back-Bench Members.

Mr. Winnick


Mr. Redwood


Mrs. Browning

I have been generous in giving way to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), so shall give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood).

Mr. Redwood

I am very grateful. Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Labour party were serious about making this place more relevant and interesting to the electors who sent us here and who pay our salaries, it would have allowed the House to sit during the fuel protest so that the Government could have stated their case and we could have cross-examined them? In addition, would they not reinstate Prime Minister's questions to at least twice a week? It provides the biggest box-office draw outside the House and inside it, but is the one thing that the Government want to cancel.

Mrs. Browning

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. On our return to government, very shortly, we shall restore Prime Minister's questions to twice a week.

The first proposal before us is on the timetabling of all Government Bills. As the Leader of the House pointed out, by the end of the debate on the Queen's Speech, the official Opposition would have to guess how much time would be necessary for each Bill's consideration, but entirely without sight of a draft Bill.

Efficient drafting of legislation has not been one of this Administration's hallmarks. Earlier this year, the Government's flagship Utilities Bill was well into Committee when the Government finally acknowledged that it was flawed and abandoned half of it. Conversely, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, which remains in another place, has had 125 pages of amendments added to it. The Commons has not yet had a chance to consider those, and it is unlikely that we will be able to do so very fully.

If the Modernisation Committee had been serious about improving the workings of the House, it would have addressed the cause rather than the symptoms of why the House had been kept late to deal with a backlog of legislation. We clearly have such a backlog in spite of the fact that devolution was supposed to lighten the legislative load. The Committee is instead proposing that the Opposition should be bound, at an early stage, to the Government's agenda. That sounds cuddly and friendly, but it could clearly undermine an Opposition. If the Government have an agenda in a Queen's Speech, with a list of Bills that they believe are their priority and are right for the country, they should defend their view. They should not ask the Opposition to second-guess before we have had an opportunity to see how badly drafted some of that legislation is.

Mrs. Beckett

There is nothing to compel the hon. Lady or any Opposition Member to take part in the discussions if they have no wish to do so and nothing to say. There is no suggestion of binding the Opposition in some way. The idea is to give them an opportunity to express a view, to consider the programme as it is set out and to say, "You may have thought these issues are not controversial, but our initial reaction is that these are the Bills on which the House should spend time." The purpose of making the process informal was so as not to bind anyone. If Opposition Members do not want the opportunity to contribute to the discussions, that is fine.

Mrs. Browning

Does the right hon. Lady accept that, as the legislation for a Session is listed as on a menu, and given our experience of the appalling drafting of many of the Government's flagship Bills in this Parliament, it is virtually impossible for the Opposition to negotiate a timetable motion for various stages of certain Bills?

Mrs. Beckett

indicated dissent.

Mrs. Browning

I hope that she will assure me that, to make the proposal more practical and to fulfil the outcome that she described, measures are in place to improve the drafting of Government legislation.

Mrs. Beckett

Such measures are in place. If they are successful, legislation will be entirely different from how it used to be under the Conservative party.

There is no suggestion that the Opposition would be bound in some way. The whole idea is to give not merely the official Opposition but representatives in the House the opportunity to express a view based on what they know in the early stages. That is one reason for making the process informal. As a Bill emerges, people sometimes realise that they have more concerns about it. Conversely, something that people thought might take a great deal of time might not turn out to be so weighty and would, therefore, require less. There is no suggestion that anyone should be bound in any way. The opportunity is merely being offered to the Opposition to contribute to how the weight of the parliamentary year should be distributed. I am never one for having meetings if they are not necessary. If the hon. Lady does not want to make her view known, that will be fine by me.

Mrs. Browning

We understand now why the Liberal Democrats were so keen on this proposal. If they are going to take an interest in Standing Committees, I hope that their attendance in those Committees will improve; it has been lamentable.

The minority report produced by Conservative Modernisation Committee members described the way in which Divisions are to be deferred as "a mass vote-in". The right hon. Lady described the procedure. Members will vote weekly on a Wednesday between 3.30 pm and 5 pm. I have huge concerns about that. I am amazed that she cannot understand the concerns of the House. The system would break so many principles—the right of a Member of Parliament to debate a matter and then vote on it, and also the way in which that vote is cast.

At the moment, when a Division is called, the cry goes out, "Clear the Lobbies." There is a good reason for that—it allows all "strangers" to be excluded from the route to the Lobby. Under the proposal, a ballot paper printed on the Order Paper a week after the original debate will be prepared, possibly outside this Chamber—indeed, even outside the House—and submitted by the Member to the Clerk in the Lobby. One can almost hear the whir of the printers in Millbank tower as they prepare the Wednesday votes for those Members whose only interest in the week's votes is to ensure that they do their master's bidding. As for those brave souls who might have indicated dissent, the Whips will have had a week to change their minds.

I was also concerned to read on the Order Paper and to hear the right hon. Lady repeat—

Mrs. Fitzsimons

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Browning

In a minute. The Leader of the House described the procedure that will be used; it will involve the Speaker, which is totally inappropriate. It is wrong to involve the Speaker, under the guise that the Chair is neutral, in a matter that could be so contentious across the Floor of the House. The Modernisation Committee should have identified a way in which the procedure was decided by the hon. Members who cast the votes. It should not involve the Speaker.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Browning

Indeed, I will, but first I promised to give way to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons).

Mrs. Fitzsimons

The Speaker already has powers over the selection of amendments, which can be crucial to the outcome of votes—that has been a key to Opposition lobbying for a long time—and over free votes, such as those on abortion. Therefore, the Speaker is already considerably involved in the order of debate and so forth. Does the hon. Lady accept that?

Mrs. Browning

There is a difference between the order of debates and selection of amendments and breaking the principle that votes should be cast immediately after a debate. Those votes could now be decided outside the House, or be subject to third-party influence. The Speaker should not be required to put his name to that method. It is not only flawed, but wrong.

Mrs. Beckett

I hope that I can ease some of the hon. Lady's anxieties. It is for the House to decide whether to carry the motion. The House has to decide to carry out the procedure. It is suggested that the Speaker should exercise a general supervisory role, as he does now, through the Clerks. The reason is simply to allow a degree of flexibility.

The proposal is for a period of an hour and a half—to be interrupted by Divisions if necessary. After some experience of the system, hon. Members may speedily decide that they need a little extra or a little less time. The hon. Lady identified the problem of having sufficiently easy access to the Lobby. Those issues may be aired. We ought not to decide all the detail tonight, nor should the procedure be set in tablets of stone. The obvious people to supervise the process are the Speaker and the Clerks, as they supervise all our procedures and votes now. The principle will not be in the hands of the Speaker; that is what the House will decide tonight.

Mrs. Browning

It would be nice to know how the Committee arrived at the decision that votes on a Wednesday would be the optimum method. Clearly, it is minded to deny hon. Members a vote on substantive matters after 10 o'clock at night from the Queen's Speech onwards.

Mr. Cash

Does my hon. Friend agree that we have just been treated by the Leader of the House to an unbelievable description of what happens in practice? Does my hon. Friend also agree that if we are to do something about the situation that has developed in the past 100 years and to restore the role of the House as it used to be—a proper debating Chamber where Back Benchers have a proper role—it is essential that there is a Speaker' s Conference and that the role of the Whips is included? If it is not, everything that the Leader of the House has said will turn out to be simply a handful of dust.

Mrs. Browning

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why it is of concern that the debate on this important issue will be curtailed. Matters that were not thought through by the Modernisation Committee are being brought up by Members who feel passionately about the changes and are affected by them, yet despite the importance of the matter, they will have to vote on those changes after an extremely short debate.

Mr. Fallon

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is somewhat incongruous that, under the proposals, someone entering the House on a Tuesday afternoon, after a victorious by-election, will be able to vote—on the following day—on a matter that may have been debated on the previous Wednesday night, before he or she was even elected?

Mrs. Browning

That is why I suggested a litmus test for the Modernisation Committee's proposals: whether they enhance the democratic process. The excellent example given by my hon. Friend shows what a mockery the proposal is.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Browning

I will give way once more, but I want to make some progress as I am aware that many hon. Members want to contribute before the 10 o'clock deadline.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the Leader of the House that to delay votes until Wednesdays puts phenomenal power into the hands of the Whips? As someone who rebelled on many occasions during the previous Parliament, I have experienced that power, but many Labour Members do not experience it—nor have they done so in the past. The power to register one's vote almost immediately—having worked out the issues during a debate—takes away hugely from the power of the Whips to spend time bullying and exerting massive pressure on individual Members. That power works against them, but they do not care.

Mrs. Browning

Indeed. That is why I drew attention to the fact that a time lag of up to a week would subject Members to external pressure that could not be exerted if votes immediately followed debates—pressure from the Whips and possibly from the media and special interest lobby groups. That would break a fundamental rule that we have always upheld: the right of individual Members to cast their vote according to their own judgment. As a result of the proposal, Members would be subject to extraneous pressures.

The proposals would diminish attendance and interest in the Chamber. Their main purpose is to make it easier for the Government to push through not only primary but secondary legislation. The Leader of the House referred to the important votes, but for many of us, the volume of secondary legislation passed by the House is equally important. We hear from people outside this place about the burdens on business and the weight of bureaucracy and red tape, most of which comes from secondary legislation. However, such matters are to be downgraded in the deliberations of the House—at a time when we need to scrutinise secondary legislation even more carefully in this place, rather than introducing a system that makes it more advantageous for Members to be elsewhere and that permits debates to be held much later in the scrutiny process.

The voting system recommended by the Modernisation Committee breaks with most parliamentary conventions. When we vote, we do so on behalf of our constituents. Of course, those of us elected on a party ticket generally vote with our party—with the Government of the day if our party is in power. However, many Members, of all parties, exercise the right to disobey their party Whips—we have heard some examples this evening. I voted against the wishes of my party on two occasions. I did so for principled reasons on matters of importance to me and my constituents. Important issues will be debated after 10 o'clock at night. It is essential that Members have the right to cast their vote immediately after such debates.

Sir Patrick Cormack

As someone who not infrequently voted against the Conservative Government on matters such as free sight tests and free dental inspections—matters that appeal to Labour Members—I point out to my hon. Friend that it would not have been easy to wait a week to vote on a Wednesday. If there is to be deferred voting, we should hold it at 9 am the following morning, when Members have had a chance to read Hansard. They should then vote properly in the Lobbies. That is the most that we should do.

Mrs. Browning

My hon. Friend tempts me to try to tweak the Modernisation Committee's ill thought through proposals in order to improve them a little. I oppose the proposals on a point of principle. I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend will want to be involved in the new policies that a Conservative Government will introduce. They would enable Members to put their responsibility for democratic representation first. My hon. Friend is far too young to remember the Crossman experiments in the 1960s—

Mr. Winnick

I remember them.

Mrs. Browning

As the hon. Gentleman has first-hand experience, perhaps he agrees with the report on that experiment: in almost everyone's view, holding debates in the morning and voting later in the day was an abysmal failure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills pointed out, the change was made purely to accommodate the Government.

Mr. Winnick

The experiments did not succeed, because the Conservatives thought that it was wrong for us to sit in the morning and for votes to be taken later. Surely, we should advance from that. As I have proposed on other occasions, the times of our Thursday sitting should be repeated on other days—certainly on Wednesdays.

Mrs. Browning

I shall not be drawn on that. If I had wanted to tweak the proposals, I should have tabled amendments to the motions. I did not do so because I object to the motions on principle. Although I was not a Member of the House during the Crossman years, I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I remind him that the Crossman diaries show clearly that the motivation for that change was not the interest of Back Benchers but that of the then Government.

The views of the House and its individual Members are important. If the proceedings of this place are to reflect our responsibility as the democratically elected representatives of the people, neither of the motions will strengthen that responsibility. It is for that reason that I shall vote against both motions; I urge my hon. Friends to do the same.

7.37 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)

Madam Deputy Speaker, I join in the congratulations on your promotion to the Chair—it fits you well.

The way in which Conservative Members approach the subject of our debate highlights their problems in dealing with such matters. They make a fundamental mistake to assume that the Opposition's only weapon is time. When I was elected to this place in 1979, I believed in that theory, but it is deeply flawed; it has not been true for at least 50 years and probably longer.

Part of me says that I should let the Opposition find out about their mistake in the same way as I did—trying to use that weapon to effect changes in Government policy during 18 years in opposition. During 10 years as a member of an Opposition Front-Bench team, I managed to have only one amendment accepted—by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young)—and it was not especially significant. I was not the only Member to experience that—we could not effect change by that method alone.

However, something more serious was going on. People outside this place—not least in the media—began to notice that the weapon of time merely amounted to Members of Parliament talking for talking's sake. That did the House immense damage. That is why so few people now take notice of our proceedings. However, if we follow through the process on which we are currently embarked—and there are many more reforms yet to come—the power and authority of Back Benchers will be increased.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for whom I have a great deal of respect, feels genuine anger about the lack of power for Back Benchers. I share that frustration, but as I have said to him before, he is missing the point if he thinks that we can restore that power by rowing backwards. We cannot. The great age of the House in the 19th and early 20th century occurred because the circumstances and the way in which we governed worked for that period. However, we cannot just bring that forward. We cannot live in our history; we learn from our history.

The reason why the House became the cutting edge of democracy around the world in the 19th century was precisely that it was the most modern parliament in the world. We introduced new technology. We gave greater power to Back Benchers. I want to make a few remarks about why I believe the proposals will help us. In doing so, I say to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that his anger is misdirected. I know that he feels it deeply, but I plead with him not to get angry but to get organised.

We must radically change a number of things in the House not only to keep up with the constitutional changes that the Government are rightly introducing but to make ourselves more relevant to the people of this country. Several Opposition Members have said that the Government are forcing the proposals through and getting their own way, and that the House does not want them. The House is governed by the majority and the majority is on the Labour Benches. The House wants more modernisation, not less.

Mr. Tyrie

I hope that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that some Opposition Members are not against all programming in principle and see that there might be some merit in some of the proposals, but the problem is that the proposals before the House are all take and no give by the Executive. Nothing in them would enhance the ability of Back Benchers to scrutinise the Executive, and there are many ways in which our powers will be reduced. The hon. Gentleman says that we should not get angry but get organised. Can the hon. Gentleman suggest any way in which including the proposals in the Standing Orders will give any Back Benchers, including Labour Members, a chance to influence the Executive more?

Mr. Soley

That is precisely what I intended to do in a few moments. I was going to say that I hope that the hon. Gentleman will intervene again if I do not satisfy him—but perhaps I should not do so because that was a long intervention. I want to make some other brief points before I answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

One or two hon. Members have said that the proposals implement family friendly policies. They do not. If people think that finishing at 10 or 11 o'clock at night is family friendly for hon. Members who do not see their families during the week because they live back in the constituency, all that I can say is that they must have very funny families. The proposals are not about being family friendly. They may lead to a more family friendly approach, but they are about not legislating at 3 o'clock in the morning, which is not sensible and not understood by anyone outside the House. They are about better scrutiny of legislation, which was the point of the intervention by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie).

Mrs. Browning

I must read to the hon. Gentleman the quote from the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons), who is in her place. She said in her article for the BBC: Yes, the proposals will make the House of Commons more family-friendly—I'm fed up with falling asleep on the phone to my husband—it's become a family joke. And yes, Westminster will become more women-friendly if these proposals are adopted, and it's probably true that the large number of women who've come into the Commons this session have driven through reform. The priority is clearly a family friendly policy, not scrutiny.

Mr. Soley

I have no problem with that because it is obviously better for families if people are not here all night or in the early hours of the morning, but it does not follow that it is the ideal family friendly structure to finish at 11 o'clock at night and not see one's family during the week. If the Government were introducing the proposals for family friendly reasons, they would start from a differing position.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

Does my hon. Friend agree that perhaps the Opposition need to consider the need for family friendly policies? If the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) looks behind her, she will see not a single woman on the Opposition Benches. Can she not understand the need for change?

Mr. Soley

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I return to the key issue of how the proposals can help to produce better legislation. For a start, we will no longer vote late into the early hours in order to kid people that we are giving better scrutiny to Bills. We know what the truth is. In the early hours when we come to vote, there is hardly anyone in the Chamber any way. That is not better scrutiny.

Then we come to the more interesting and hopeful part, which is what Opposition Members ought to focus on. If we can programme legislation, we can do one of the other things for which the Modernisation Committee and other Committees have fought for years.—we can take evidence on Bills. We all know that one of the reasons why Governments are reluctant to allow evidence-taking sessions is that they do not want to lose control of the timing of proceedings on the Bill. Government Back-Bench Members who at present sit in Committees trying to catch up with their work—that happened under the Conservative Government and it happens now—will have an opportunity to scrutinise more effectively, to question and to cross-examine.

The proposals will result in less legislation. Governments will have to face up to the fact that it will be more difficult, not easier, to get Bills through. They will make it more difficult for them to ram through lots of amendments at the last minute. It is more likely that amendments will come out of the evidence-taking sessions from hon. Members on both sides. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?] Opposition Members doubt that, but when the late Nicholas Ridley was a Minister, I was faced as Opposition Front-Bench spokesman with 1,200 amendments to a Bill—I cannot remember which one—tabled in the last few days of proceedings on it. I did what we all do. I took advice from all the pressure groups and lobby groups, partly because Members of Parliament are not resourced enough to do the research themselves. We get into the trap in which legislation is driven through either because increased numbers of Bills are introduced or because last-minute Government amendments are tabled and we cannot give them effective scrutiny—the very thing about which the Conservative party is complaining.

If we want good scrutiny, we have to do several things. First, we have to make sure that Committees take evidence and scrutinise, rather than play for time. Secondly, we have to ensure that the Opposition parties and Back Benchers achieve greater control over the time of day when Bills are debated so that debates take place under the observation of the media rather than in the early hours. All Governments kick away debates into the early hours when legislation is embarrassing. Thirdly, we must ensure that when amendments are tabled as a result of better scrutiny, the Government are able to take them.

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful speech, but is not one of the problems the fact that it will still be open to the Government to do exactly what they have been doing in the past 12 months and what they did, for example, after the Omagh bombing? They have forced through on guillotine motions legislation that causes disquiet and concern to hon. Members without providing adequate time, entirely on their whim. It is a one-way system in which we are giving power to the Executive and getting nothing back.

Mr. Soley

The hon. Gentleman is wrong and time will prove him wrong. We are setting up a series of structures. I readily admit that more modernisation is necessary to make the system work well, but the proposals will improve it.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soley

I shall make another point first. It may help to answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

About two years ago, I came to the conclusion that the argument about time in this Chamber started from the wrong position. It was almost impossible to argue about when the House of Commons should start and stop sitting unless first we made the conscious decision that we had too much happening on the Floor of the House. That is why I produced a paper calling for what was then described as a parallel Chamber. It is now Westminster Hall. I wanted to get much of the stuff that unnecessarily takes up time on the Floor of the House into a Chamber in which Back Benchers would have a greater voice and in which we could have more debates on Select Committee reports. Back Benchers now have greater opportunities and we can also increasingly carry out the work of this Chamber in the hours in which the media can examine our work. By focusing our work in that way, we can achieve the better scrutiny that we all genuinely want.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soley

I shall give way for the last time, because interventions are taking up too much time.

Mr. Bercow

Further to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, when there are substantial numbers of Government amendments to a Bill, the decision as to whether to alter the timetable for the consideration of that Bill will not be automatic but discretionary, and, similarly, that the extent of any such alteration will be entirely subject to ministerial fiat?

Mr. Soley

The hon. Gentleman appears to fail to appreciate my view that the direction that our modernisation efforts are taking will impose a discipline on both Labour and Tory Governments that they have not experienced before. First, modernisation will produce less legislation because Governments will know that they will have a finite time for it. There will be clear times at which legislation will enter and exit the pipeline. Secondly, they will concentrate on getting the legislation right rather than on dreaming up umpteen amendments at the last minute and banging them on to the Floor of the House. That has happened under Governments of both colours, and it is a very bad practice.

We have to build on these proposals. I would like the House to support the motions as part of a process and not as an answer in themselves. They form one step among many. We will then need to go for post-legislative scrutiny so that, after a Bill has become an Act, we can examine how it has worked. The Conservative Members who have told us that those who are now in opposition will be in government tomorrow and vice versa are right, but have they already forgotten the lessons of the poll tax and the Child Support Agency?

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham)

And rail privatisation.

Mr. Soley

Yes, and rail privatisation.

Would the Conservative Government have got into such a mess if they had had better scrutiny during the legislative process and Acts had been subject to post-legislative scrutiny? I do not think that they would.

I take a similar view to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills on giving power to Back Benchers, even though we have a totally different approach on how to do that. We must consider the way in which Select Committees work, and I regret the fact that I shall not be present for Thursday's debate. We must also consider providing more resources to Members, so that they can do their job better, and we must examine the management of the House of Commons, which does not have a committee to address the needs of Back Benchers. That is why I would like there to be a radical reform of the House of Commons Commission. All those proposals could return the House to the position that it had when being a Back-Bench Member really mattered. Back Benchers attracted the attention of people outside and were listened to.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) does in the early hours of the morning many of the things that I did in the early 1980s. I did exactly the same, but that did not help me. We did not win, but kept losing. However, the most frustrating aspect was not losing but the fact that one's best arguments were totally lost on the general public and the wider world. They are not interested in tactics that merely bring the House into disrepute. That does the damage, and that is why we should take another step towards putting it right and putting the House in the forefront where it used to be 100 years ago when it was the leading legislature in the world. People used this place as an example, but they will not do that with the model that we followed in the late 20th century and that we are following now.

7.54 pm
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am sure that you will be delighted that, for once, the House is taking seriously the business of its own business and that we are not considering this issue rather flippantly late at night.

There are Members on both sides of the House who genuinely come to this issue with an open mind. Without exception, all the members of the Modernisation Committee have addressed the problems to the best of their ability and by using a great deal of experience and expertise. The Committee particularly misses the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who brought to it a level-headed approach and always tried to ensure that we moved with consensus across the Committee.

I take up the point made by the hon. Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson)—why are we here? The hon. Member for Ealing, South and North Acton—it is something like that—

Mr. Bercow

Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush.

Mr. Tyler

Yes, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley)—I should have remembered that it had something to do with sheep—raised the issue of what the world out there thinks of the way in which we arrange our business, and it is important that we do not become so introspective that we do not recognise that there is a real problem with the way in which people outside perceive us. It is perfectly true that Americans love watching Prime Minister's Question Time, but does anyone on either side of the House think that the Government's activities are scrutinised effectively by the House of Commons in that half hour? Of course not—it is theatre. Similarly, most Question Times may provide information, but, usually, they produce more heat than light.

However, Westminster Hall, the Select Committees, the Standing Committees and a Committee of the whole House provide us with a real opportunity to put a Minister on the spot. It is extremely important that we recognise from the start that we are not in a golden age in which everything is wonderful. I start from the premise that we may not be totally broke, but we are somewhere near it and that it needs fixing. Hon. Members on both sides somehow think that we have achieved perfection in scrutinising the work of the Government—be that their Executive actions or their legislation. I do not believe that, and I certainly do not believe that the electorate who put us here believe it.

We have already heard the quotation from a former Leader of the House, Lord Newton, and I also draw attention to the interesting pamphlet produced by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), in which he advances the case for agreed programme motions. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not here now, but his wisdom is to be encouraged.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Tyler

No, because I want to make progress and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to speak. We have very little time as the result of his colleagues activities earlier this evening.

I take as my text a quotation from the minority report put before the Modernisation Committee by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire. He said: We believe that the terms of trade between Parliament and Executive need to be tilted back towards Parliament. I agree, and I think that the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush and Members on both sides would do so, too. I was here in 1974 and I remember what Parliament was like then. Under successive Governments, attempts have been made by those on the Front Benches—and sometimes in collusion, it has to be said—to prevent the House of Commons from acting as effectively as it should. That is why I welcome the Government's agreement to the Liberal Democrats' suggestion that there should be an informal ad hoc sessional business committee. That would provide Back Benchers and both Opposition parties with real opportunities to tilt the terms of trade back towards the House.

For example, we could say that it would be more appropriate for such and such a Bill to go to the Lords first, because it is not so controversial and we want to get our hands on another Bill. At present, such decisions are made within the confines of a small group of people who sit on the Treasury Bench. The House of Commons is entitled to take a view on such issues. We are also entitled to express a view on which Bills might be better understood by being subject to scrutiny before the full Standing Committee process. That would be helpful.

The interminable debates in the House about how to avoid interminable debates must reach a conclusion. Anyone who has read the Crossman report and the Jopling reforms will know that there were endless discussions about trying to concentrate our efforts on the issues that people wanted to discuss. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) moved a motion in the Jopling committee and it is referred to in the documents before us today. He suggested that the speeches of Front Benchers should be subject to the same restrictions as those that are often imposed on the speeches of Back Benchers. I say amen to that, and other Members have expressed a similar view. Curiously, Front-Bench Members are not very enthusiastic about that attempt to ensure succinctness.

I am keen on the close examination of legislation to which the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) referred. It is a pity that, having fired her Exocet, she has left her place, because she made an important point. Anyone who really thinks that the Floor of the House of Commons at 3 o'clock in the morning is the right place to ensure close examination of legislation—and I have been here then, doing just that—has another think coming. I am sure that she would agree.

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful speech, to the nods of Labour Members, but there is nothing in the programming proposals to prevent the scrutiny of legislation late at night when the Government decide to railroad it through the House, which they have often done by introducing last-minute guillotine motions on the grounds of some spurious emergency or need. How do the proposals help us to deal with that?

Mr. Tyler

The hon. Gentleman will have seen my colleagues and me vote against the guillotine motion, as we always do. That is common practice because we believe that such motions are always a sign of the Government's failure. Incidentally, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was a Member of Parliament at the time, but we did the same thing when Conservative Governments pushed through guillotine motions, as they did all too often, sometimes unnecessarily.

That is why we are trying to move on and get away from guillotine motions, so that they are the exception rather than the rule. We are trying to ensure that we can usually have a sensible, businesslike discussion. Any other assembly—let alone any other business community—in the world thinks that it is better to sit down and try to work out the best way to handle business. Extreme measures must be taken when that is not possible, but let us at least make the attempt. That is why I said that the one-and-a-half hours spent on the previous debate would have been much better spent getting on with the substance of the discussion. A serious attempt to obtain agreement to a programme motion for this evening's business would have been preferable to the guillotine, and the Government are at fault there.

In the previous Speaker's letter to the Modernisation Committee—one of my complaints about modernity is that text seems to get smaller as I get older—she reminded it that its first report set out three important issues for programming. First: The Government of the day must be assured of getting its legislation through in reasonable time (provided it obtains the approval of the House). Secondly: The Opposition in particular and Members in general must have a full opportunity to discuss and seek to change provisions to which they attach importance. Thirdly: All parts of a Bill must he properly considered.

We all know that none of that happens under a guillotine. I wanted to remind the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich that we had a programme when we discussed the Transport Bill which enabled us to have a proper discussion of the important concerns, anxieties and apprehensions of some Labour Back Benchers. If we had had a guillotine and the Conservative party had had its way and gone hell for leather at that Bill, those concerns would never have been expressed or voted on. There would have been no Divisions on the issues on which Labour rebels wanted to divide.

That is the advantage of a programme motion. It enables hon. Members on both sides of the House to ensure that their voices are heard. Frankly, we on the Opposition Benches would not be doing our duty and would not be effective if we did not ensure that Labour Members behind the Treasury Front Bench had the opportunity to be heard, not only by voicing their concerns, but by voting.

The former Speaker's letter also said that the artificial prolongation of proceedings, by whatever means, does the House no credit in the eyes of those whom we represent and is rarely a productive use of the House's time. Amen to that. If Opposition Members think that that is not true, they have been living in cloud cuckoo land—or perhaps they have just arrived there.

It is extremely important that we make progress this evening, not because this is the end of the process, but because we can experiment in the next few months to see whether we can make some real improvements in the way in which we operate, and change the balance of trade back towards the House to enable hon. Members who are not members of the Government Front Bench to have an effective voice and a more effective vote at a more effective time.

The first amendment to be called, which is in the name of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), demonstrates no understanding of the difference between the whole House taking a businesslike approach to our business and reaching agreement, and the use of the damaging, blunt instrument that is a guillotine motion. That is why I advise all Members to reject the amendment.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) and a number of my colleagues, but we are just about to undertake one experiment, and I wonder whether this is the right moment to begin another. I should prefer to return to that proposal when we know whether the first experiment has been successful.

On deferred Divisions, it is extremely important that all parties should tell the Government, fair and square, that we hope that they will avoid tackling major issues after 10 o'clock. They should impose on themselves the self-discipline that the House is accepting for itself. I do not have a problem with the discussion of motions to appoint Members to Committees—not even a motion to appoint the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst to the Commission. Hon. Members can discuss those matters all night, if they want.

However, I have a great deal of sympathy with the points made by Conservative Front-Bench Members, and I would regard it as a problem if the Government, because of their tight legislative timetable, so arranged their business that they had to impose on Members after 10 o'clock. That would be breaking with the spirit of the proposals.

The idea that stand-alone motions should be subjects for debate, and Divisions on them deferred to another time is nothing new—it happens all the time. However, it would be wrong if matters of legislative importance continued to be debated after 10 o'clock and a Division was then deferred.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

The hon. Gentleman may well be aware that in this Session more than 3,800 Government amendments have been tabled in the Lords. Will the incompetent legislative drafting revealed by such amendments be improved by these reforms?

Mr. Tyler

Yes, I think that it will, as long as there is agreement in the House about the total time that is necessary to deal with amendments. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, the problem under successive Governments has been that we have not had sufficient time for all the issues that Members want to address.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyler

No, I want to make progress because other Members want to speak.

It is extremely important that we recognise that, in future, the slot after 10 o'clock should be for matters that are not of supreme legislative importance; otherwise, Members on both sides of the House will think that they have been sold a pup.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Tyler

No, I want to make progress.

We already have deferred Divisions. Indeed, when there is a Committee of the whole House, it is perfectly possible that votes will take place even a day or two after that discussion.

I love the idea, which has suddenly emerged this evening, that Members, Conservative Members in particular, listen to every word of a debate and make up their mind about how to vote according to the merits of the discussion. I do not know how many Conservative Members were here yesterday when my colleagues and I led two important debates, on pensions and on privatisation, but it was noticeable that some Conservative Members arrived in the Lobby not knowing whether to vote or, if they intended to vote, not knowing which way to vote, and had to be given careful guidance by the Whips.

I accept that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst is not one of those Members. He always thinks for himself and votes according to his conscience and judgment.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Tyler

That point is absolutely without doubt, and I will not take any interventions on it. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst can speak for himself in a moment.

In a perfect world, of course, all Members would attend every debate, listen and make up their own mind. I recall one member of the Modernisation Committee—I shall not identify him—wondering, at an earlier stage in the Committee's proceedings, why we could not vote at the beginning of debates. He said that he always knew which way he would vote, so why should he bother listening to the arguments? I completely reject that attitude—

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

Name names.

Mr. Tyler

I will not, and the hon. Gentleman might be embarrassed if I did.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyler

No, I have said that I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman may get a chance to speak if I speed up.

It is a grand illusion that everybody somehow reaches their conclusion on how to vote on the precise dot of 10 o'clock, and that if they were asked to do so later, they might somehow be deflected by other judgments. That is nonsense. Amendment (d), tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, on which we shall also vote, is a wrecking amendment. All he wants is to make Wednesday a total nonsense.

It is on evolution that we have been most successful—not with great radical changes but by moving, checking, going back, monitoring, experimenting, making progress. Some hon. Members do not think that we are moving fast enough—I probably share that view—but if we take the majority of our colleagues with us, we are more likely to make sustainable improvement than have to chop and change. That is true for the sittings in Westminster Hall and several other reforms in the Parliament.

I accept precisely the view of the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush that we can make progress across the House by experimenting and being prepared to consider matters again. Our great opportunity in the next few months is to do precisely that—I accept that the run-up to the election is a sensitive time—but with a clear end point. If the new Parliament feels that our trial and error has not gone far enough, as the hon. Member for Cambridge suggests, or too far, as others suggest, we can look again.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) is not in her place, but I very much welcome the fact that she appeared to be much more open minded on some of the issues about which hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned. I hope that we see that approach reflected on the Modernisation Committee.

However, I very much regret that, on this issue, in this debate, and on the issue in the Modernisation Committee, the Conservatives broke with our previous practice to try to make progress together. On such issues, the House always achieves a great deal more by experimentation with a degree of co-operation and consensus. Nevertheless, we should be making progress tonight, and I hope that the House will vote to do so.

8.12 pm
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

The proposals are a big step forward in the modernisation of the House's procedures. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, as she makes her way out of the Chamber, on producing an innovative solution to some of the problems to which we have drawn her attention. The proposals will make the House more effective and more efficient. Yes, we need proper time to scrutinise legislation—that leads to better Bills and better law—but that does not mean that we need open-ended time or rambling speeches in which the same points are made over and again. Let us try to make ourselves much more like a modern business, which would not waste its time as we do.

After a good summer break and a fairly light parliamentary timetable so far, most Members of Parliament—at least those on the Government Benches—are beginning to feel like normal human beings. However, I remind hon. Members of earlier in the Session, when we had votes after midnight on a number of occasions. The problem was not so much the lateness of the hour but the uncertainty of how long we would be kept here and whether we would be required to vote. The proposals would remove such uncertainty and allow right hon. and hon. Members to get home at a reasonable time and have a proper night's sleep. I believe that that is important because there is much work for a Member of Parliament both inside and outside the House. We cannot work effectively if we are tired and exhausted.

It has been argued that the proposals will reduce the powers of the Opposition. They will reduce the power of a handful of Tory Back Benchers to hold the House to ransom. A moment ago, in a sedentary exchange, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) admitted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) that some of the proceedings that he conducted were to irritate us; he has been open about that. Under the proposals, it will no longer be possible to table amendments, which, though in order, add little to the debate—their sole purpose being to keep Government Members in the House in case of a vote.

Mr. Swayne

Was the hon. Lady present for any of the proceedings of the Scotland Bill, which was programmed as it went through the House? If she was, did she observe that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was constantly frustrated by the programme motion, which, in effect, silenced him on points that he legitimately wished to raise? Has it not occurred to her that the programming will be a stitch-up between the Front-Bench teams to the exclusion of Back Benchers' legitimate points of view?

Mrs. Campbell

I should be very surprised if my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) were silenced by any procedure. He is well capable of making the comments that he wants to make, and making them very forcefully and effectively.

The handful of Tory Back Benchers to whom I referred are the sort of Opposition Members who believe in bludgeoning their opponents with tiredness and exhaustion. That is not about opposition; it is not opposition as people outside the House perceive it. They want to hear the arguments and the debate. They do not want to hear Members of Parliament who are tired and out of touch because they are here until the small hours of the morning.

The Opposition are being offered greater powers in exchange. The Modernisation Committee proposals suggest that an informal committee meets after the Queen's Speech to decide the length of time to consider each Bill, and there will be a programming sub-committee to decide when and for how long contentious parts of Bills will be debated. That is right. It will give people outside the House a better chance to hear the arguments.

Mr. Grieve

In the present Parliament, it has been possible for the Government and the Opposition to arrive at informal arrangements on programming legislation that was taking time, but does the hon. Lady agree that the usual effect of that—we witnessed it when considering the Scotland Bill in Committee—has been to leave reams of amendments and clauses unscrutinised? How will the proposed system be any better in practice? Will she explain that?

Mrs. Campbell

Programming is obviously more effective than the way in which we proceeded previously. If the hon. Gentleman goes into the matter in more depth, he will find that the Tory Whips could not deliver what was agreed between the Government and the Tory Opposition.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Mrs. Campbell

No, I am not giving way again. I have given way twice and I know that many others want to speak.

It is true that the House is held in less respect than in the past. Opposition Members should reflect on that fact and ask themselves why. It is because debate is considered increasingly irrelevant to people's lives. It is because politicians are not seen to be normal people with normal lives. We do not go home in the evening; we do not watch the same television programmes as other people; we lose touch with our families, our children, our grandchildren. We impose that stress on ourselves and on the large number of people who work in this place and serve us so well. If we are so different from other people, how can we properly represent them?

I approve of almost everything in the proposals. No one outside this place would consider them radical. On the contrary, they would consider them just sensible moves by which we can discuss business at times when people are awake. However, I have concerns, and one in particular. That is why I have tabled a very modest amendment, which has been supported by many of my hon. Friends and found support on the Liberal Democrat Benches, too.

The purpose of my amendment is to remove an anomaly in the Modernisation Committee proposals. It is proposed that debate on a programme motion takes place after Second Reading. That means that we could finish debate at 10 o'clock, take votes, debate the programme motion for three quarters of an hour and then take votes on that, keeping right hon. and hon. Members here until 11.30 pm or later. I do not find that acceptable. I propose a very modest amendment that would provide adequate time for debate on Second Reading and on a programme motion, and still we could get home at a reasonable time in order to live like reasonable people.

Mr. Grieve

Will the hon. Lady explain how her amendment would leave the amount of time for the Second Reading intact?

Mrs. Campbell

Of course, the amendment would reduce the amount of time for Second Reading from about six hours to five and a half hours. If the hon. Gentleman sees that as a problem, I suggest that he tries to get Opposition Members to be a little more succinct and to express their arguments in a less rambling way than some of them sometimes do.

I believe that we would have adequate time for Second Reading debates under my amendment, which I hope will be supported by a majority of the House.

8.20 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I have difficulty with all the proposals, not least because the analysis that gave rise to them is terribly flawed. I start with the proposition that seems to underpin many of the proposals—that the House does not have enough time to deal with the matters with which it wants to deal through scrutiny and by holding the Government to account. That puzzles me.

If one examines the pattern on which the House now works, it is clear that the House does not sit on most Fridays. Friday used to be a parliamentary working day. We are told that we are desperately short of time, yet the House of Commons chooses not to sit on most Fridays.

There are occasions when the Government artificially prolong a debate—often a Second Reading debate—that could be concluded quite early, allowing us to move on to other business fairly readily, except for the convenience of hon. Members. As we have heard from several Members on the Government Benches, they get upset if they cannot be told exactly what will happen and when. They may be forced to stay in the House or even in the Chamber, because they do not know when the votes may occur. The truth is that we could get a lot more business done in the time if we did not work simply for the convenience of hon. Members, and if the Government Whips did not have to prolong the business artificially so that delicate Labour Members could know what was happening and could return to the House.

Joan Ruddock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he not think that it is for the convenience of our constituents, and extremely important to them, that we are available on a Friday to deal with matters in the constituency and to conduct surgeries? I believe that the right hon. Gentleman does not conduct surgeries. We all do, and we consider it extremely important to make ourselves available in a democratic way in order that people can raise issues of great importance with us.

Mr. Forth

When I did waste my time and that of my constituents doing surgeries on Saturdays, that allowed me to be in the House on Fridays, which I was on all or most occasions when the House used to sit on Fridays.

The hon. Lady's comments give lie to an important consideration which has underpinned much of the debate. For reasons that I think I can begin to understand, Members on the Government Benches see their work in the House as being of little or no relevance, but see their work in the constituency, as the hon. Lady puts it, as being of overriding importance. I dispute that.

My view is that the principal and most important work of a Member of Parliament is here, at Westminster, in and around the House of Commons, primarily holding the Government to account, scrutinising legislation and questioning the Executive. That is what I believe should be the most important part of the work of a Member of Parliament, so I entirely reject the hon. Lady's assumption that any excuse to be away from here somehow legitimises her work and that of her colleagues.

We can see that theme running right through the proposals, which seem to be designed—particularly the deferred Divisions proposals—to make sure that hon. Members are not here for most of the time and appear only briefly and when it is convenient for them to do so. To my mind, any proposal that starts from the assumption that it is for the convenience of hon. Members misses the whole point of the House of Commons and the relationship between the Executive and the House. That, I believe, is one of the reasons why there is a difficulty in achieving consensus, about which we heard a moment ago.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Does my right hon. Friend agree with my previous point, that the difference between the convenience of hon. Members and their social lives, and the convenience of those who have a genuine complaint about what the Government are doing—this affects Government Back Benchers more than other hon. Members—is that when important debates are held after 10 pm in future, the Whips will spend the next few days making certain that there are plenty of reasons why the hon. Members concerned should not and will not be around to make their vote count in due course? That is what will inevitably happen—it is how Governments work.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall return to that point, as it highlights the worrying aspects of some of the proposals.

I challenge the assumption that has underpinned much of the debate so far—that the Government are entitled to get their business. I dispute that. Part of what I try to do as an individual Member of Parliament is to prevent the Government from getting their business at all, or getting it easily. A Government who can get all their business and more easily and without much challenge are in danger of overriding the safeguards that we always thought existed in this House and the other place.

Mr. Winnick

The right hon. Gentleman may recall that after Second Reading, there could be a 45-minute debate on the money resolution. He may also remember that the late Bob Cryer almost monopolised those debates. That was abolished in the previous Parliament. There was a vote on 2 November 1995, and I see that among those who voted to abolish the Back Bencher's right was the right hon. Gentleman. He may argue that he had no alternative because he was a Minister, but many Ministers did not vote on that occasion.

Mr. Forth

Of course I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I had to make a decision whether to stay as a member of the Government whom I had the honour to serve or whether to resign in order to express my view on such matters. I made the decision that I should continue to be part of the Government, and I voted accordingly. I had many discussions with colleagues about it and I was never happy with the proposals, but that was the decision that I made. Looking back, I might rather regret it, but I am where I am now, and I feel absolutely free to make the points that I am making as a Member of the House and of the Opposition.

I want to retain as much of a right as I can, as an individual Member of Parliament, to harry the Government, to irritate them, to make their life difficult, to delay them and thereby to try to prevent the damage that they inflict through excessive and bad legislation.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Is not the point exactly the reverse of what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) argues? I remember that when the late Bob Cryer was in his place, the Government of the day used to get deeply exasperated with him, but he was effective because he forced them to come back time and again. Yes, it was wrong to do that, but does that mean that closing down more Back Benchers' rights is the route to take?

Mr. Forth

That is the problem. Those of us who have had the privilege of being in the House for some time must inevitably draw on the experience that we have had, both in government and in opposition. Part of the difficulty is that very many of the hon. Members who are excited about the proposals and support them have experienced only what it is like to be in government. Alternatively, they spend so little time in the House of Commons that they have lost interest in its proceedings. Many of the hon. Members who are behind the proposals fit one or other category.

Mr. Stunell


Mr. Forth

I exonerate the hon. Gentleman from the second categorisation.

Mr. Stunell

It is always good to hear a sinner brought to repentance, as the right hon. Gentleman seems to have been. Some of us think that there might be other areas where repentance was overdue.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that some of us came to the House because we thought that the entire process of government in this country needed to be changed and improved? We are not discussing a trade union measure to improve our terms and conditions of service. We are trying to make this place effective, and the right hon. Gentleman might sometimes direct his efforts towards achieving that, instead of wrecking our business.

Mr. Forth

I will be the sole judge of what I think is effective and of what I should do. I will stick by my judgment, and I will not be lectured or hectored by the hon. Gentleman or anyone else.

Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forth

Knowing the hon. Gentleman, I am sure that I will not be lectured or hectored. I am sure that he will give me advice.

Mr. Casale

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Earlier in his speech, he said that he judged it to be a waste of his time to meet his constituents in his constituency surgery. Does the same apply to answering their correspondence?

Mr. Forth

I think that I can say fairly that if one of my constituents writes to me, he or she will receive an answer the same day. I have always rather prided myself that that works. Perhaps it is something to which we should all aspire.

Mr. Bercow

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as seems clear from the rather ambiguous speeches of the hon. Members for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) and for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), if the timetable for a Bill is determined in advance, and if the issue of whether to alter that timetable is entirely a matter for ministerial discretion, there is no inbuilt incentive for the Government to minimise the number of amendments that they table to facilitate the interests of the House?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend has typically put his finger on one of the flaws of the argument that has been advanced so far, which is the extent to which the Government will now control the time that the House will give to each Bill. The Leader of the House said honestly and openly to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), the shadow Leader of the House, that although discussions might take place, if the Opposition did not want to take part that would not matter very much because the Government would say to the House, "This is the time that we, the Government, believe that the House will spend on our legislative programme."

What my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has said must follow. Why should the Government take any trouble to ensure that their legislation is any better than it has hitherto been? That really does not matter because the length of debate will be determined and Back-Bench Members will be squeezed out. Goodness knows what will happen to the inevitable flood of amendments that we have seen from the Government over three years, which they have had to introduce to almost every Bill to make it not very good but—

Mr. Bercow

Less awful.

Mr. Forth


These measures appear to fail on every count. They appear to reduce—

Mr. David Taylor

The right hon. Gentleman seems to justify the classic style that he uses of delay, harry, irritate and obfuscate on the basis that, somehow, that will bring about a welcome change in the direction of the Government of the day, or an amendment. Given his lengthy experience in the House and the various constituencies that he has represented, will he give us examples of that approach being successful in the objectives that he claims for it?

Mr. Forth

Yes. I think that we are seeing an example of that now. The tiny role that I have played so far this Session in delaying some of the Government's progress in this place is being reflected, at least in part, in another place. I would take enormous pride if some elements of the Government's programme were not to survive to the end of the Session. I would claim that I might have played a tiny part in that process in some of the things that I have been able to do over the past few months, when many Members here present were not in the House and were not participating in its business.

I do not want to make excessive claims. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make a small claim. If more Opposition and Labour Members were to attempt to delay, irritate and obfuscate occasionally, they might find the results rather pleasing and, in a way, unexpected.

Joan Ruddock

Is it not true that the right hon. Gentleman gained his reputation, or perhaps his notoriety, by defeating about half a dozen popular private Members' Bills, which had wide support in the House and in the country?

Mr. Forth

I hope that I have contributed to defeating many rather disgusting private Members' Bills. Many of them were driven by equally disgusting interest groups outside the House. I would stand by that on any occasion.

I am not here to aid the process of legislation, which I regard as being almost inevitably inimical to the public interest. I wish to try to obstruct as much legislation as possible. Examples of good legislation are so few and far between and examples of bad legislation so legion that I consider it almost self-evident that it is the duty of a Member to try to prevent legislation rather than to encourage it.

Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give examples of the good legislation?

Mr. Forth

I would find that so difficult that I would not want to waste either my time or that of anyone else.

The act of programming will be inimical to quality of legislation and to the role of Back-Bench Members. It will alter adversely the balance between the Executive and the legislature.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I want to deal with programming and the role of Back-Bench Members. Both sides of the House—the Leader of the House and even my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning)—have talked about the agreement that can be reached through the usual channels on programming. Would my right hon. Friend care to speculate with me on the opportunity that genuine Back-Bench Members will have to influence the programming of legislation?

Mr. Forth

The mere mention of agreement between the Front Benches causes me great fear and trepidation. I hope that there will be few such agreements. If those agreements were to be made, I suspect that that would diminish yet further the role of Back-Bench Members, who after all are in the majority. There are far more Back-Benchers in the House than there are Members on the Government payroll or Front-Bench Members. It strikes me that anything that is arrived at by cosy consensus through the usual channels will be undesirable for Back Benchers.

It seems from much of what has been said that deferred Divisions are so patently absurd that they are barely worth discussing. It is worrying, however, that Members seem to be serious in their desire to have Divisions deferred. Some may accuse me occasionally of being slightly cynical about these matters, but it strikes me that the proposals contain at least the possibility that, were the Government to wish artificially to prolong debates so that votes could not take place before 10 o'clock, we could quite easily find that Members would no longer be required to be in the House on a Monday or a Tuesday. Members could drift into the House, take part in some rather peculiar voting process and then leave.

In other words, we would be reducing the House, perhaps so that Labour Members could spend more time in their constituencies—I know not what. Members could turn up once a week and vote, probably on the basis of a list given to them by the Whips. They would not have been present for the debates and they would be unaware of the content of the issues. After voting, they could leave.

In the meantime, if there were doubts about the way in which Members would vote, they would be under pressure from the Whips or others, who would tell them how to vote as the voting day approached. I fear greatly for what the results of that might be. Perhaps the Government are not as clever, cynical or subtle as I have suggested and would not organise such a system. Perhaps unwittingly I have given them a tip. If we begin to consider the implications of the formal and systematic detaching of Divisions from debates, we shall take the House into difficult territory.

I believe that all the proposals are bad and that they should be opposed. I hope that the House does not approve them. However, having looked at the disposal of votes in the previous two Divisions, I fear that this is very much a Government versus the rest of the House matter. That is the most worrying feature of all. We see the massed ranks of Government Members coming into the House to vote these measures through, when the only beneficiary can be the Government. That is surely the final condemnation of the proposals.

8.28 pm
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

I am glad to have the opportunity of saying a few words in this important debate and to take up some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). I shall take a different line from his.

I am mindful of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that many Labour Members have not experienced opposition. I spent 14 years in opposition, and since then three and a half years as a Government Member. As for the right hon. Gentleman's other stricture, I would say that I am a fairly diligent Member. My attendance is fairly good and my voting record is as good as most Labour or Opposition Members'.

I support the Government's proposals because they are important steps forward in modernising the House and ensuring better scrutiny of legislation. We are not emphasising enough that the issues are not only about hours or a family-friendly working situation, although those are important factors. We are seeking to ensure that the House does its job better than it has done so far. The proposals before us could help to ensure that outcome.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) wants to debate other modernisation issues, as do I. He knows that I want us to consider the tabling of written questions during recesses, and there should be a five-year rolling programme under which legislation could be introduced at a steady pace throughout each year. Instead of a Queen's Speech every November or December, as is the case this year, there should be a time limit—perhaps of a year—within which legislation should complete its passage. There is a lot that we could do.

Unlike the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, I would like every Friday sitting to be scrapped. There is uncertainty over when constituency Fridays will fall, which does not help Members who live away from London to plan their diaries and make arrangements. I am already booking Fridays to February next year—not for advice bureaux, which I hold every Saturday, but because people want me to fulfil constituency commitments such as meeting councillors, visiting companies and considering the problems of local schools.

Provincial Members would be helped if they could get out of Friday sittings altogether. At present, they are torn between being at the House for a vote on an important issue and fulfilling a constituency commitment. Private Members' legislation would be given a better crack of the whip if we dealt with it on Wednesday mornings and if facilities in the Chamber released by the Westminster Hall experiment were made available.

I am a strong supporter of the programming proposal, and regret what happened during the Modernisation Committee debate on it. We bent over backwards to reach a consensus, considered different drafts week after week and tried to reach agreement with Conservative Members and with the Liberals, who were more accommodating. We tried to meet Opposition Members' concerns and make a deal on what we proposed. It was not intended that the Modernisation Committee report should be favourable only to the Government. We wanted it to be favourable to the Opposition to ensure that the House scrutinised legislation better and that a fairer deal was provided. I worked hard to that end. I accept that the Opposition of today could be the Government of tomorrow. I said that in Romania to President Iliescu, who denounced me for it, but a few years later he was in opposition. I accept that changes are inevitable, although I hope that my hon. Friends and I will sit on this side of the House for a long time to come.

Programming would help the Government to plan their legislative timetable, but it would also ensure better scrutiny. Like me, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst was a member of the Committee that considered the Transport Act 1985, and he used to groan when I, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) or one or two others rose to speak. During one sitting, even though I had only five words noted on my slip of paper, I was told that I had to speak for four hours. I managed four hours and 10 minutes. That night, we told the Government that we could progress to clause 7, however long that might take. We got to clause 7 at 2 o'clock the following afternoon and abandoned the sitting. That was nonsensical.

As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst is now, I too have been a time waster. Members can make sensible contributions briefly and the programming proposal is about having meaningful debates. That night in Committee, I could have made my speech in 10 minutes, but we knew how much progress we would allow the Government to make. As he will remember, the 1985 Act contained a pensions clause relating to the National Bus Company, but we never managed to debate that burning issue because proceedings were guillotined. Once that had happened, the debate was under the Government's control and, even though Conservative Members had remained silent for weeks, they suddenly began to make speeches to prevent Labour Members from contributing on what we considered to be important provisions.

The proposals represent a major step forward, and it was a tragedy that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), for whom I have great respect, produced a minority report out of the blue on the last day of proceedings in the Modemisation Committee. He made a contrary proposal, which we had to debate despite having worked for weeks to reach agreement, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and Labour members of the Committee leaned over backwards to try to reach a consensus. The timetabling proposal is sensible and will achieve much better debates.

There should also be time limits on speeches made in Committee, because it is nonsensical that Members can make long, boring and repetitive contributions that stray from the point. They return to order only when told to do so by the Chair.

Ms Oona King

Does my hon. Friend agree that a Member who cannot make a cogent case in 10 or fewer minutes should not be in Parliament?

Mr. Pike

That is not necessarily always the case. However, on most issues most of us can make our case very clearly in 10 minutes. The timetabling proposal represents a sensible way forward and we should support it.

The voting proposal also represents a sensible move. Let us be absolutely realistic: it is nonsensical that six Opposition Members can force 250 or 350 Government Members to remain in the House. I accept that Labour Members have used such tactics, and the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst knows that I was involved with them a few years ago, but that does not make that right nor does it mean that we do not want to make progress in the 21st century. Does anyone believe that a vote involving six Opposition and 350 Government Members is not an insult to democracy?

Mr. Gerald Howarth


Mr. Pike

I shall not give way because I want to limit my speech to 10 minutes.

Electronic voting would improve the situation and I would welcome it. Furthermore, separating a debate from a vote is established practice. For example, that happens during the Queen's Speech debate, in Committee when groups of amendments are dealt with, and after the Budget, when a mass of votes takes place after a debate lasting several days. Let us not pretend that the majority of Members attend the Chamber to follow a debate—they might be at Standing or Select Committee sittings or dealing with their mail—and those who believe that the Whips will be able to apply more pressure are kidding themselves. Such a fear is irrelevant and unfounded, and Members who are not scrutinised as they walk across the Chamber to the Division Lobby and can vote on the Wednesday of the week following a debate will be better able to rebel and take their own line. The proposals are sensible and should be accepted. Let us move forward.

8.47 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

I very much enjoyed my two years on the Modernisation Committee. Our discussions were largely constructive and good humoured, and we were agreeably chaired by the Leader of the House. To say that I led for the Opposition would be to overstate the case, as my hon. Friends on the Committee were impossible to lead, but I am grateful to them for their support in my minority report.

I say to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) that the Conservatives on that Committee during the past three and a half years accepted quite a lot in the interests of unanimity and making progress, and we accepted recommendations that did not always find favour with our right hon. and hon. Friends. I regret that on this occasion, for the first time in the Committee's life, we were not able to produce an agreed report.

The report is wrong for three reasons. First, set in the context of the broader debate about the powers of the House versus the powers of the Executive, the report takes a decisive step in the wrong direction by giving more powers to the Executive. Secondly, in seeking to tackle late-night sittings—no one will be happier than I to see them go—the report ignores the real problem behind the congestion in the legislative programme. Thirdly, the proposal to defer votes is more likely to enhance cynicism than confidence in the political process.

Two debates are taking place this afternoon—one about modernisation and one about strengthening. I regard them as two circles which overlap in part. Where they overlap, all-party agreement can be obtained on measures which modernise and strengthen. Some of the recommendations already implemented fall into that shaded area—voluntary programming of Bills rather than guillotines, shorter speeches so that more hon. Members are called, and the carry-over of Bills from one Session to the next by agreement. All that was done by agreement, as has been the tradition when changing the rules.

Then there is a slightly separate agenda for strengthening, which is outside the modernisation circle. The report of the Liaison Committee, "Tilting the Balance", much of the Norton commission report which we debated before the recess, the work of the Hansard Society on accountability to be published next spring—those are all essentially about strengthening, rather than modernising.

Then there is the modernisation agenda, which is not primarily about strengthening, but simply bringing us up to date, much of which I agree with—the ability to buy fax paper and batteries as well as whisky and cigarettes in the Palace of Westminster, and finding a computer on my desk as well as a telephone. That is all part of the modernisation debate.

What we have today however is a proposal that, in the name of modernisation, actually weakens Parliament. The Opposition do not have many weapons, and the report invites us to put some of them beyond use, while the Government sit on their substantial arsenal.

The first proposal contains no recognition that the Government have a role to play in enabling more user-friendly hours by drafting their legislation better and by exercising some self-restraint in the legislative programme. Despite all the evidence in pages 31 to 36, the verdict is that the Opposition are guilty, not the Government. The report then extends to all Bills a procedure that has not been properly tested and which has a number of defects. For example, if the Opposition parties agree a programme motion in good faith with the Government to focus debate on certain key issues, it is possible for Members to frustrate that intention by making longer contributions than they would if the Bill was not guillotined, or to focus on earlier groups of amendments so that later ones are not reached. As the report makes clear, that has already happened in the Northern Ireland legislation.

The proposed consultation in the report takes place only after, not before, the Queen's Speech is published. By that time, we may already have another over-programmed Session. The meaningful dialogue that the Government want may simply be impossible because the Opposition cannot validate an unacceptable timetable dictated by an over-ambitious legislative programme.

At the moment, we spend quite a lot of time after 10 o'clock dealing with Report and Third Reading. Where will the time come from if all discussion stops at 10? There are no answers in the report to that. The notion that once we pass these resolutions the Government will produce a series of perfectly drafted Bills is simply for the birds.

What made it impossible for me and my colleagues to go along with this section of the report was simply that the Government brought nothing to the negotiating table, as I made clear during our lengthy discussions. There is to be no discipline on the Government, just on the rest of us. For that reason, the section is unbalanced, inequitable and indefensible.

On the second proposal, I simply say that it takes the spontaneity out of the Chamber and will be widely seen as a cynical move, divorcing decision from discussion and promoting an even more mechanistic approach to decision making. On a practical note, I am happy to say that it will be a nightmare for the Government Whips to monitor. They will have to hang around the Lobbies like tipsters at a point-to-point, offering Members a marked card so that they can correctly place their bets.

In retrospect, it may have been inevitable that something like this should come out of the Modernisation Committee as currently configured. The Chairman of the Modernisation Committee is the Leader of the House, whose task as a member of the Cabinet is to deliver the Queen's Speech—she is its midwife. She winds up the debate on the Loyal Address and, every Thursday, she announces the business, which is inevitably dominated by the political imperative of getting the Bills through.

Is it right to entrust to a Committee under the chairmanship of the Leader of the House the responsibility for changing our rules? Has not the House traditionally done that? Does not the concept of a Select Committee chaired by a Cabinet Minister sit uneasily with the rationale of establishing Select Committees: to strengthen the House's ability to hold the Government to account?

The proposals are flawed and unbalanced and they derive from a flawed process. In the next Parliament, whoever wins, the House must change that process so that it can engage the Government on more equal terms.

8.55 pm
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham)

I rise to support the proposals that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House presented and the amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) tabled. I agree with the points that my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) made. I shall argue the case for those changes—and more—not only to make the House of Commons more effective but to make Parliament more family friendly.

Parliament has always changed its hours; they are not set in tablets of stone. It is time to change again. When I became a Member of Parliament in 1982, there were 635 Members. I was one of only 22 women; one of the 3 per cent. of women in Parliament at that time. Some hon. Members have argued that, long ago, there was a golden age when the House was much better. However, I contend that the House was much worse 20 years ago. My argument is not based on convenience, although that is an issue. It is a democratic argument.

When I became a Member of Parliament, the House was unrepresentative of women in this country. Ninety-seven per cent. of Members were men. That meant row after row of grey suits, and men talking to and sometimes shouting at other men. Women outside the House felt that Parliament had nothing to do with their lives, and they were right. I am proud that there are now more than 100 women Members, and that questions are asked about issues such as child care and balancing work and home. Such questions would have been impossible 20 years ago, but they are now mainstream. In scrutinising legislation, women raise points that were never made in a House that was almost all male.

Most women who become Members of Parliament have family responsibilities. They are mothers of young children and they are daughters of elderly parents. Being women, they often shoulder the lion's share of their family responsibilities. The fact that it is difficult for them to debate round the clock does not make them bad representatives. Far from it. It makes them essential to represent and demand change for all the women in this country whose lives are also a juggling act.

I am unimpressed by the argument, "You knew what the rules of the House were when you came here." My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson) said that we are trying to change the terms and conditions on which we entered the House. To that, I say "Good." Many of us entered Parliament not to keep things as they are but to change them, to respect our traditions and our heritage but not to let them ossify.

Some who argue against change say that we should choose between Parliament and a family. That argument is objectionable. What sort of people would be Members of Parliament if a condition of entry was either not having a family or having one but not caring about it? What credibility would Parliament have on family issues if hon. Members dumped their concerns for their families at the door of the House? People do not want their representatives to be martyrs; as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge said, they want them to be human, like them.

There is no shame in arguing that Parliament should be family friendly. If we have mothers in the mother of Parliaments, Parliament must change to take that into account.

Some argue that we are simply trying to make life easy for ourselves and that we want to cut the hours. I do not want to cut the hours. I want to move them much further forward. We should start earlier as well as finish earlier—we should start at nine and finish at five—but I agree that London can be an expensive and sometimes a lonely place for people who are away from their home and families when they are in their constituencies. It is right that some of the facilities, such as the Library, meeting rooms and refreshment areas, could be kept open in the evening.

Some Members have argued that late hours equal effective opposition and that time is an effective weapon in the hands of an Opposition. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley, I have many years of experience in opposition. Most of my parliamentary life has been in opposition, as is the case with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush. Unlike my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who introduced the proposals, I have found myself doing my fair share of going through the night. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush: time is not an effective weapon. It is a macho game; it changes nothing.

Mr. Casale

We have discussed the matter on a number of occasions. My hon. Friend will know that I once thought that late-night sittings were a way to grind down the Executive. I now realise that I was wrong. They grind us down as legislators and prevent us from effectively discharging our parliamentary and constituency duties, especially if we have family responsibilities. Most important, they grind down the esteem of this place in the minds and eyes of the people who sent us here in the first place.

Ms Harman

I agree with all my hon. Friend's points, but the final point he makes is absolutely right. I give an example. When I was in the shadow health team and the current Foreign Secretary was shadow Secretary of State for Health—I was his deputy—we took the House through the night, opposing the opting out of NHS hospitals into NHS trusts. It was entirely pointless. Not one single hospital remained non-opted out as a result. However, when I was shadow Chief Secretary, the Opposition won the vote to stop value added tax on gas and electricity going from 8 to 17.5 per cent. We did that not by staying up all night, but by comprehensively winning the argument in the House and in the country. It is that on which successful opposition depends.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Perhaps I can give the hon. Lady a more up-to-date example. When she was Secretary of State for Social Security and there was a huge row on the Labour Benches about cuts to lone parent benefit, by deferring the vote for three or four days, would the rebellion have been greater or smaller?

Ms Harman

The hon. Gentleman is trying to imply that timing of votes or delay make a difference to the outcome and that that, of itself, is a weapon. I do not believe that anything that has happened since we have been in government has been changed by the tactics of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) or anyone else.

Some people have argued that we want to weaken the Opposition. That is absolutely not my case. It is important that we have strong, effective and credible opposition. We all know that over-powerful Governments make mistakes—we need look only at rail privatisation and the poll tax. We need to find ways of making parliamentary scrutiny of legislation more effective.

That is one of the reasons why, when I was Secretary of State for Social Security and we embarked on the complex issue of pension sharing on divorce, we experimented by establishing pre-legislative scrutiny under the leadership of the Select Committee on Social Security—an all-party Committee, chaired by a member of the Opposition party. There are things that we can do to improve scrutiny. Staying up all night and using time as a weapon is not one of them.

Some have said that those of us who argue for family-friendly hours do not recognise that the situation is different for Members whose constituencies are outside London. I have always argued that we should start no earlier than we do now on Mondays, so that Members outside London have time to travel to Westminster. I have also always argued that we should start earlier and finish earlier on Thursdays, so that Members have a chance not only to do the work described by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley on Fridays, but to attend evening engagements in their constituencies on Thursdays. It is not acceptable for Members to have to be here all week, and then spend all their weekend on constituency business. That makes them exiles from their families. Again, I have always argued that it is wrong for the House to rise at the end of July and not return until mid-October, thereby ensuring that Scottish Members are in London when their children are on holiday and in Scotland when their children are back at school.

Much of what has been said today reflects a desire to return to some bygone golden era of an effective Parliament. Of course we should strive to enhance the authority, legitimacy and credibility of Parliament—otherwise Governments will always give in to the temptation to go over Parliament's head—but we shall not achieve that by moaning about others.

The Opposition are, I think, going through a transitional period. If there is a problem, it is not the fault of the "Today" programme, or even the fault of Ministers. Looking around for others to blame for a perceived loss of our own power is just a way of avoiding the challenge to us to change ourselves—and we have the power to make that change. It is for us to build a new credibility and authority for Parliament, enabling it to scrutinise legislation effectively and hold the Government to account. I believe we can best do that by moving forward—not looking back or clinging to the past, but creating a modern, efficient, daytime Chamber, and abandoning the old night-time ways of the gentlemen's club.

9.7 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I will be brief, because I know that others wish to speak.

These measures have been sold to us today on the grounds that they are new, that they are modern, and that they are all about modernising and reforming Parliament. I think that they are nothing of the kind. These measures are not being introduced for the convenience of Parliament, they will not make Parliament more accountable, and they are certainly not for the convenience of the Opposition.

The fact of the matter is that these measures will act for the convenience of the Government and Ministers, so that they can get their legislation through. They will act for the convenience of Ministers who will not have to spend as much time "tied up"—as their private offices would put it—in the House of Commons. I suspect that, above all, they are being introduced—as the right hon. Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) has just demonstrated—for the convenience of Government Members who, having spent every available hour trying to get elected to Westminster, evidently do not like the hours that operate at Westminster during the months when Parliament is actually sitting. The right hon. Lady did not quite make that point.

A number of conversions seem to have taken place. The most dramatic confession was the one that we heard a few moments ago, but let me remind the House that it was all very different when Labour was in opposition. The first Bill that I introduced—I was Minister of Transport at the time—was the one that became the Transport Act 1980. It was a manifesto measure, which denationalised the National Freight Corporation and reformed and abolished many traffic commissioner rules. Although it was, as I say, a manifesto measure, the then Opposition kept us in Committee for 110 hours, and there were 123 Divisions. At no stage did we introduce a guillotine.

The extraordinary backwoodsmen of the Opposition who took us through the night were Albert Booth, who was the chief spokesman, and his chief lieutenants, the present Deputy Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), the former Health Secretary and an unsuccessful candidate for the post of London Mayor. They opposed the measure, wanted to subject it to line-by-line scrutiny and knew that by taking us on night and day they might find a chink in it. I do not object to that, as that is the purpose of opposition. If the then Opposition did not find the chink or defect, they could delay the Government's legislative programme, which is entirely legitimate.

The House must recognise that it is legitimate for the Opposition to do that. Ministers now talk about smoothing the progress of legislation, but we are not civil servants, and that is not our function. We are certainly not trying to run a business, although the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) tried to suggest that we were. We are Members of Parliament, and one of the jobs of Opposition Members is to oppose—which appears to come as a shock to certain Government Members, who seem to believe that a big majority gives them absolute power. That position was well understood by the Government when they were in opposition, in which role some of them were very good, including the late Bob Cryer, who was an excellent exponent of that art.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is right to say that delaying the Government's legislative programme is a legitimate weapon of opposition. It is not the only weapon, but it is an important one. The Leader of the House says that Members of Parliament should decide what they want to focus on in debates in the House of Commons. However, the argument goes the other way, and Governments need to focus on deciding which legislation they will introduce, which legislation they can get through the House and which legislation they can pass through Parliament.

Mr. Soley

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall not, as I have very little time.

Above all, the Government should not try to overload the system. The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) and anyone who has had any experience of government will know that at one end of Westminster are civil servants who have draft Bills in the bottom drawers of their desks and are waiting for a gullible Minister to come along and introduce those Bills. We all know that that happens, whether the Government are Labour or Conservative. At the other end of Westminster are politicians who are trying to introduce legislation that will be highly controversial with the public, but perhaps not so controversial with their party, or a faction of it.

It is a thoroughly good thing that the Opposition make the controllers of the legislative machine pause and introduce Bills that are necessary and a matter of priority. I therefore defend the Opposition's role in delaying legislation. We should be concerned, not about Parliament's hours or voting procedures, but about its status and position. I do not accept the Government's arguments on that, because above all, we should be concerned that Parliament is being marginalised by the Executive, and the Government are riding roughshod over the legitimate fears of the House. When I was shadow Home Secretary, I took part in debate after debate on the closed list voting system for the European elections. There was hardly a friend of the closed list on either side of the House, and hardly anyone, apart from the Home Secretary, spoke in favour of it. However, the legislation went through with massive majorities.

We should be concerned about such matters, and should be fundamentally anxious that so much political debate now takes place not in Parliament, but in the studios of John Humphrys and the brothers Dimbleby. If we had any sense, we would be debating such issues.

Although I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush—he made a good re-election speech, and I wish him well in his task—the voting method that we are introducing is best characterised as a comic opera, and it is being introduced simply to prevent—perish the thought—Members of Parliament from staying up past 10 o'clock at night.

We are also going to separate the debate from the Division. I think that that would be wrong. It is absurd to attempt to draw an analogy between that and the ballot for private Members' Bills.

Worse, we are going to introduce a system that fails even by its own standards. The system will produce not better, but worse legislation. It will also not reduce, but increase the volume of badly drafted legislation, for it will make it easier for the Government to pass their legislative programme by reducing scrutiny and making the Opposition's job more difficult. The only ones who will really rejoice are the Ministers who have to pass the legislation and the civil servants who have to prepare it.

As drafted and presented to the House, the proposals represent one more victory for the Executive over Parliament. The first speech that I made in the 1997 Parliament, before going into the shadow Cabinet, was on a guillotine motion. I said then that the Government were giving the impression by their actions that they were thinking: We are the masters now.—[Official Report, 3 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 203.]

In the past three years, that impression has hardened and hardened. They are a Government who not only hate being held to account, but clearly resent the whole process. "Who are these MPs?" they seem to ask. "We have our majority. We will rule. Take it or leave it." The Leader of the House came very close to saying that in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning).

Ministers seem to believe that arrogant government is strong government. It is not. If there is one silver lining to this debate, it is that that quality of arrogance will finally bring down this Government.

9.17 pm
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I am somewhat disappointed that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) should have made such a speech, as I remember him saying at one time that he sought to spend more time with his family.

I support the proposals, and I certainly support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). I can also tell the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) that the Leader of the House certainly speaks for me. This is not a matter of the Government imposing something on their own Back Benchers or on anyone else, but a case of a Leader of this place listening to Back Benchers. That is what we have in modernisation, and that is what I have campaigned for in the 13 years for which I have been a Member. Although I wholeheartedly support the proposals, they are really very modest indeed.

Much has been made today of the issue of scrutiny. However, as many of my hon. Friends have pointed out very clearly, based both on our own general observations and on our observations of Conservative Members, spending time debating is in no way equivalent to being effective in scrutiny. Many people try to speak in debates—this debate will be no different from all other debates in that respect—but, because of the length of some of the speeches, are unable to do so. That diminishes scrutiny. The arrogance of a few Opposition Members, from whom we have heard today, holds the House hostage and prevents the most effective deliberation. The whole House has to deal with their arrogance. The issue is not one of scrutiny.

Mr. Redwood

Does the hon. Lady realise that there are many Opposition Members who, when they were Ministers, thought that time was a very useful weapon for the Opposition and that, at times, it was very well used? The reason why it works is that if one delays the Government and makes them think again and argue their case, they cannot rush through so much bodged legislation. It is important that the then Opposition did it to us, and it is equally important that we should do it to them.

Joan Ruddock

The right hon. Gentleman is clearly wasting his time, and has not been listening to the debate. The examples given by Labour Members about the Government in which he served—such as rail privatisation and the poll tax—demonstrate that his point about the Opposition needing time is complete nonsense. Nothing is changed by using what he and others have described as their most potent weapon. The real scrutiny that should—and does, by and large—take place in the House happens in Standing Committees, during Question Time, when there are statements in the House, and, indeed, in Select Committees. We should look at how we can enhance the role of those procedures and the opportunities that they present. How many times have I attended Question Time and been unable to get in? How many times have I listened to a statement and been unable to get in? Those are the real frustrations of Back Benchers. We want the opportunity to express our views. We certainly do not want to sit here into the early hours of the morning listening to long speeches, primarily by Conservative Members.

Mr. Grieve

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Joan Ruddock

No. This is a Back Benchers' debate. Proper scrutiny depends not on the length of speeches, but on their intellectual rigour. That intellectual rigour is often lacking, because of very wordy contributions and time-wasting tactics that are frequently employed by the Opposition.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who spoke immediately before my maiden speech just over a year ago, which I well remember. One reason that my constituency sent me here is that they wished me to be their man at Westminster, not Westminster's man in Eddisbury. According to my constituents, the value of debate is that it draws on the expertise of many who may not have a formal role in discussing the legislation concerned. That might take longer, so the debate continues into the night. My constituents also expect our debates to be illuminating and educative as well as combative. I hope that the hon. Lady takes that into account.

Joan Ruddock

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I wonder just how edifying his constituents found the debates that have taken place after midnight. I wonder how many of them actually read those debates or listen to them. Indeed, I wonder whether they have heard his speeches in the early hours of the morning. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman takes a poll of his constituents and finds out how many of them follow our deliberations in the House. Perhaps he should consult them before forming a view. I have consulted my constituents, and I know that they do not follow the procedures of the House. They do not identify with the people here and the nonsense that they feel is talked.

The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) said that the principles of democracy would be buried tonight.

Mr. Ian Pearson (Dudley, South)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I am sure that a lot of people out there could not give a monkey's about what we do late at night. I have a great deal of sympathy for family friendly policies, but I do not want to jeopardise the traditions of parliamentary scrutiny. I should like changes that will improve scrutiny, and be more family friendly. My hon. Friend has to decide what comes first if there is a conflict. Does she believe that any of tonight's proposals are conflicting? Some of us do.

Joan Ruddock

Let me answer that question directly. I do not have the slightest doubt that programming legislation must come first. If we programme legislation, we can make many of the changes that he and I seek, but without programming we cannot make sense of our procedures. People cannot follow our procedures because they are so cumbersome and impossible to understand. Indeed, few people will have understood tonight's debate.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Joan Ruddock

No. I must make progress as others are waiting to speak.

What is the principle of democracy that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks suggested would be buried tonight? I suggest that the only principle at stake here is the principle that one, two or three people can hold the House to ransom. That is the reality of what happens here.

Since April, there have been 78 sittings days. On a quarter of those days, the House sat after midnight. During July, our finishing times included 12.10 am, 1.27 am, 3.4 am, 1.44 am, 3.26 am, and 3.50 am. What do people outside the House think about those who sit up until those hours talking and talking to themselves when no one is listening? That is not scrutiny. It is simple arrogance on the part of those who can hold us here. Hansard records that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) rose to his feet more than 400 times during that period. There is an unsurprising correlation between his getting to his feet and the hour until which the House was detained.

Many of us want to go much further than the proposals before us tonight. Our experience is that the House does not carry out the most effective possible scrutiny at present. Our constituents do not enjoy following the House because they cannot understand what is going on. Having more time means more time for time wasting. There is much scope for improvement, and our experience is that there is no satisfactory way in which to contribute.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) complained about long holidays. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) asked why we did not vote in the mornings. Many of us would support a different parliamentary year. Many of us would support returning much sooner. Many of us would support a different daily schedule, with an earlier start. Most of us would support the strictest time limits on speeches, from Front and Back Benches alike.

We do not want fewer hours. All of us are hard workers who came here prepared to do our best for our constituents. We want more efficiency and more effectiveness. Programming legislation will offer that. We shall know much more clearly what we are doing and when. It will provide greater focus, enabling us to move modernisation forward.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Strict time limits on speeches?

Joan Ruddock

I have been interrupted many times and have taken 10 minutes. I propose to stop now.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield talked of the status of Parliament. We can improve that status if we accept the motions and proceed further with modernisation to bring Parliament into the 21st century.

9.28 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I agree with some of the final words spoken by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who quoted the excellent speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) on the status of Parliament. I have become profoundly sad as I have listened to speeches from those on the Labour Benches. Labour Members are the dupes of the Executive. They have been conned into believing that what is being proposed will enhance their status and the effectiveness of the House of Commons, but it will have quite the opposite effect.

I am not one of those who enjoys late nights. I do not believe that our hours are immutable. We have changed the hours of Parliament many times over the centuries. I am not in favour of long speeches about very little, but I profoundly believe that this place has a prime duty to hold the Executive to account, no matter from which party that Executive come.

I was once described as a thorn in the side of the Thatcher Administration.

Mr. Redwood

You were, indeed.

Sir Patrick Cormack

My right hon. Friend confirms that I was indeed. In being so, I believed that I was fulfilling my prime role as a Back Bencher. On occasions, I could not have done so without resorting to the weapon of time.

When the measure to abolish the Greater London council was being put through by the Thatcher Government, I opposed it because I did not believe that London should be deprived of a strategic authority. I said that we would be landed with something worse in due course and, by Jove, I have been proved right. At that time, I said that we should not take powers to ourselves that we would not wish others to have. Labour Members should ponder on that. They are taking powers to themselves through these measures that they will find extremely uncomfortable when they sit on the Opposition Benches—if a Conservative Government were misguided enough to renew this sort of Sessional Orders.

Programming is one thing and I am not against it. [Interruption.] I am not against it in all circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) makes some good points in his admirable pamphlet on the matter and I can associate myself with much of what he says. In an intervention, I said that if there is to be programming, there also has to be rationing of legislation. The more legislation we have, the less helpful programming is to anyone other than the Executive.

The Modernisation Committee, chaired by a totally honourable Chairman—the Leader of the House—has become the creature of the Government. It has abandoned the principle of consensus in its report. All the other issues that it has put before the House have been based on consensus. I was one of the first members of the Committee and I was involved in some of those proposals—I was happy to be so. When I sat on the Conservative Front Bench and supported, first, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) and then my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), I was happy to support a number of the Committee's proposals. The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, knows that to be true.

However, it was a parliamentary tragedy when the principle of consensus was abandoned to get this proposal before the House before the end of this Session. The sort of programming that we are being offered tonight will give power to one group of people—the Executive.

I have been in the House for 30 years. In that time, the balance has moved inexorably away from Parliament—the legislature—towards the Executive. In the past three years, that process has been accelerated and has diminished the House, making it less effective. More than anything else, that has been responsible for reducing the esteem in which the House is held by constituents of the hon. Member for Deptford, and constituents of mine and of many other hon. Members.

The proposal is inimical to true parliamentary sovereignty, in which I believe. It will concentrate power over legislation entirely in the hands of the Executive. The frank exchanges that took place this afternoon between my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) and the Leader of the House demonstrated that. The right hon. Lady said in effect, "We'll discuss matters with the Opposition if they want to talk about it. If not, we'll do it just the same." That was a revealing exchange.

I do not want to make a long speech—I believe in short speeches—but I must say a few words about the ridiculous order on deferred voting. If the Modernisation Committee had proposed that we could vote in the proper way at 9 am the next morning on certain matters debated late at night, I would have considered that a sensible way forward.

This football coupon-type voting on a Wednesday is inimical to our freedom as Back Benchers. The intervening period allows enormous opportunity for the Whips, on both sides of the House, to influence the vote. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Deptford may laugh. She has not been here all that long—she may think she has, but she has not. It is an arrogant laugh. She believes that the proposal she is supporting will somehow make Parliament more family friendly, and, in the process, make it more effective. It will do neither. Whether the hon. Lady likes it or not, she has become a pawn in the hands of the Leader of the House. She has succumbed to the blandishments of the Government and is writing off her powers as a Back Bencher in the process.

Joan Ruddock


Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)


Sir Patrick Cormack

Both hon. Ladies are writing off those powers.

Ms Jackson

The hon. Gentleman has argued for a change—a shortened legislative programme—but he is not alone among his Opposition colleagues in arguing that an Opposition's only weapon is time and that, whatever the length of the legislative programme, the first requirement of an Opposition is to use that weapon of time to attempt to delay Government legislation. What has clearly emerged from the arguments made by Conservative Members this evening is that they are actually concerned not with power—either in government or in opposition—but with their inability to exercise their power as an Opposition with any responsibility at all.

All this smoke and mirrors on voting is absurd. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that he has never seen other Members dashing breathless for a Division, asking the Whips which Lobby they should be—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I thought that the hon. Lady had already made a speech.

Ms Jackson

It was a long time ago, Mr. Speaker.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I was about to ask the hon. Lady if she would give way, Mr. Speaker. I must respond to the point that she made, but I shall probably not have time to give way to the hon. Member for Deptford.

Joan Ruddock

Will the hon. Member give way?

Sir Patrick Cormack

No, I am trying to respond to the inordinately long intervention made by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson). It showed that the hon. Lady has completely misunderstood what has been said in the debate. Neither I nor any of my hon. Friends have argued that time is the only weapon, nor that time is the most important factor under discussion. It is a weapon that can and should be used legitimately—albeit sparingly—both by Opposition and Government Back Benchers. I make no apology for the fact that I have used it in government and in opposition.

My fundamental criticism of the measures is that they erode the general powers of the legislature vis-a-vis the Executive. Like other Members, I have often quoted Dunning's 1780 motion: The influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished. The power of the Executive has increased inordinately, especially during the past three years; it is increasing and it ought to be diminished.

The effect of the measures will be to increase the stranglehold of the Executive at the expense of the rest of the Members of the House. It is for that reason that I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to vote against the motions.

9.37 pm
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central)

This debate offers me my first opportunity to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker.

I speak in favour of the programming of Bills and in favour of the motions introduced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I was especially interested in the points made by the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), in a fairly waspish speech. She even went so far as to imply that the Conservatives had nothing to do with the scuppering of previous changes introduced by the Labour Government in 1966. She referred to the Crossman diaries.

During the 35 years in which the Conservatives held power since the second world war, they made only two constitutional changes of any significance. They introduced the modern form of Select Committees, on which they should be congratulated, and they signed the Maastricht treaty. Apart from that, they have opposed almost every proposal for change. Such opposition is exactly what we have heard tonight from every Conservative Member in the Chamber. They oppose a fairly modest scheme.

My own views reflect some of the points made by my colleagues, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). That will come as no surprise to hon. Members, but we have to start somewhere.

The Conservatives have opposed everything. It seems from the speeches we have heard tonight that Conservative Members have not adjusted to opposition.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Doran

I do not think that I should, because the Front-Bench spokesmen wish to speak. I shall have to ditch most of what I intended to say.

I want to say something about the changes that I have seen in this place since I became a Member in 1987. There has been a variety of substantial changes. We have seen the first woman Speaker; she was also the first working-class Speaker. You, Mr. Speaker, are the first Catholic Speaker since the reformation, and the first not to use the wig. We do not spy "strangers" any more, and we have got rid of the blessed hat, which is great progress. However, none of those changes is of real substance because the major problem is one of credibility. One of the main contributory factors in our lack of credibility is the ridiculous way in which we work.

I have heard Labour and Opposition Members talk about how they behaved in opposition. When I first entered the House in 1987, I was no different from any of my colleagues in opposition. I believed that the best way to oppose the then Government was to waste time by speaking. I was a member of many Committees, and I could bore for Britain. I did not quite reach the dizzy heights of my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) with four hours and 10 minutes, but I operated in exactly the same way. I accepted it as the norm until I became a member of the energy Opposition Front-Bench team.

On the Bill to privatise the electricity industry, I saw constructive opposition for the first time. We decided to prepare our timetable and work to it. We ran the Government ragged. We made sure that they could not keep up with the amendments that we had tabled. We made sure that every important issue that we wanted to have debated was debated.

We have seen nothing from this Conservative Opposition. Everything is done with the sledgehammer of talking us through the night. [Interruption.] I am being urged to complete my speech. Before I finish, I want to include a personal anecdote about the impact of our hours. They have had a serious effect on the way we all function. They have a serious effect on many lives.

I asked the Library today to dig out the figures for the number of Members of the House who have died. Since 1989, 48 Members have died. We have had to cope recently with the death of Donald Dewar. A lot of that death toll is to do with the stress and pressures arising from the occupation that we have all chosen to follow. There are many other names; I will not go through the list. There have been five deaths a year. Only three were not the result of natural causes. That is a serious statement to which we should all have regard.

The sittings of the House may not start until 2.30 pm, but the rest of the world starts work at least five and a half hours earlier. If I am to meet the people whom I need to meet to do my job properly, I have to conform to their working hours. Then I have to be here in the House on most business days until 10.15 pm or later and sometimes through the night, as we have heard from previous speakers.

The culture that we have allowed to develop in the House is unforgiving. We have an ethos which is not very different from the mediaeval joust. For some of us, a joust would be just as brutal and devastating in its consequences. It is time that we changed our working practices to meet the needs of the 21st century and the much increased demands on Members of the House. Victorian rules met Victorian needs. In the 21st century, we need to introduce rules and hours that reflect the demands made of Members today.

Mr. Pearson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the programming of Bills motion, paragraph (2)(b) of order B and paragraph (3)(b) of order C give you the power to appoint up to eight members of the Programming Committee and seven members of the Programming Sub-Committees. Will you appoint members according to the current balance of political parties, or will you ensure that no party has an overall majority and the Chairman of Ways and Means has a casting vote?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until the House agrees the orders.

9.44 pm
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Contrary to the opinion of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), the Minister and I decided to confine our remarks to 10 minutes each, but the programming of this debate seems to have gone astray, which is perhaps inauspicious for future agreements.

This has been a fascinating debate, but a depressing one. It is clear why the Modernisation Committee was not able to reach agreement. There is a massive philosophical difference between the approach taken by Conservative Members and that taken by Labour Members.

My right hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) all made powerful speeches about respecting the traditions of the House and about the ability of the Opposition to oppose. The impression conveyed by the speeches of Labour Members was that they were matters to which they accorded very little account. Indeed, many of them gave the impression that they were converts, had had a road to Damascus experience and had changed their habits now that they suddenly were Government and not Opposition Back Benchers.

The issue is important, because we are discussing the destruction of convention. [Interruption.] I hear the word "Good", but the hon. Member for Ealing. Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) made the point that the House established its reputation in the 19th century as an independent Chamber because of its ability to debate. Ultimately, that was because of the then Governments' willingness to allow debates to take place. There was little difference between then and now in that Members of Parliament made perorations late at night. Many Members then were similar to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and saw themselves as performing a role, and they were respected by the Government for that. Members took the view that, if they did not carry out that role, proper parliamentary government was not possible and that if parliamentary government was not respected, the decisions taken in the House would not be respected by those outside who were adversely affected by them.

I have listened to Labour Members and they seem to suggest that if one simply has a vote and a majority, one can do whatever one likes. The consequences of that have been well reflected in the past few weeks when people driving lorries have parked them and protested outside Parliament because this place has ceased to command respect as it is not where difficult issues can be discussed. That is not more important but it is as important as our ability to scrutinise legislation properly. The measure tends against our ability to scrutinise properly and it is clearly against our ability to be regarded as a place where difficult issues can be aired and people with different points of view can be respected.

I shall try to be brief to give the Minister time to respond, but I come now to the issue of timetabling. Conservative Members are perfectly prepared to consider the possibility of trying to arrange for timetabling. Indeed, the minority report that was produced in the Modernisation Committee recommended that we should try to arrange timetabling as much as possible. However, what is the point of the House surrendering something that Back-Bench Members can use to have an impact in holding the Government to account when the Government have not made a single concession towards giving up power to allow timetabling to take place?

We can have timetabling but, under these measures, if the Government decide that they want to alter a timetabling motion and want to behave in the way they did on the passage of the legislation—bad legislation, badly passed—after the Omagh bombing, they can do whatever they like. The Government have made no concessions either to a Speaker's Conference or to any other mechanism that would give the House an independent voice on how timetabling could take place.

We remain completely at the Government's mercy, and, having listened to the contributions from many Labour Members, it is clear that we will not find among them the independent voices that alone will prevent the Government from abusing their powers in that respect. That is the central reason why the House should reject the motion on timetabling. It is not as though there is no need for sensible timetabling or for a review of the hours that the House might sit—although there is no mention of that in the report.

The hon. Member for Deptford said that she wanted Back Benchers to have more opportunities to participate in questions to Ministers, but nothing in the report will provide that. When will time be made available if the Government do not volunteer to review the timetable? When, in late-night business, which I shall address in more detail in a moment, will there be opportunities to hold the Government to account?

The timetable motion is a device by which Members surrender power to the Government. It gives the Government an extra ratchet that will allow them to say in future that the convention that Members are given time to discuss business went out long ago. Far from our benefiting from such motions, we will find that the Government will use their existing powers to take more time for discussion away from us whenever they want to.

On deferred votes, I think that we are moving into the land of fantasy. Late at night we consider, for the most part, secondary legislation. As a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, I know that if ever anything is poorly considered in the House, it is secondary legislation. Late at night is the one time that we have for proper debate of such legislation, which sometimes deals with highly contentious issues. I am thinking of a number of Northern Ireland orders, on which there may have been consensus between Government Members and the official Opposition, but Members from Northern Ireland held very different views.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Where are they?

Mr. Grieve

Well, precisely. Attendance will be much more difficult for Northern Ireland Members, some of whom have other duties in the Northern Ireland Assembly, if they have to come to this House for debates and then return on another day to vote.

My hon. Friends have made the valid point that separating the process of decision making from the voting process, especially for debates of only one and a half hours, will degrade the status of the House. It will remove the chance that one's vote could be influenced when matters are fresh in one's mind, and it will prevent the Chamber from being a focus for any informed or sensible debate in which people can be influenced by what is said.

One thing that I have learned since I came to the House is that if one bothers to spend six hours on the Benches listening to a debate, one learns an enormous amount, usually from one's opponents. The central and most critical point about the parliamentary process is that it makes what is otherwise unpalatable acceptable by the process of debate. That is being attacked by the motions, not because modernising and improving our procedures is not good, but because we are approaching the issues from completely the wrong angle.

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

This is, of course, a House matter, and colleagues will decide individually how we should proceed. During this important debate it has become clear that there is no unanimity of view; indeed, my hon. Friends have made it clear that they will vote differently. I welcome that—it is healthy.

In 1902, Balfour remarked that he had never been able to understand why of all His Majesty's subjects a Member of Parliament should be the one who never knows when he is to dine or when he is to sleep. Important issues are raised in debates: Members discuss whether they should press schedule 1 and whether, during the debate, they have considered the matter enough; they ask whether the candlestick makers and the bell makers have been consulted. I see that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is listening, and those are the tactics that he employs on occasion. I do not blame him for that—it is called throwing grit into the machine. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) will recognise that phrase because it comes from his pamphlet. There is a great deal of activity in such debates, but no achievement. All that activity and all the time expended does not prevent the Government from dealing with our business; we can impose a guillotine to do that. As has been pointed out, Governments of all colours do just that. All that time-wasting does is to reduce us to the state of the Member who, in 1902 was reported as being so unoccupied that he was knitting a pair of stockings in the smoking-room.—[Official Report, 20 February 1902; Vol. 103, c. 663.] Our proposals in response to the Modernisation Committee report are designed to ensure that Members will know when they are to sleep, but that that should not be at the expense of proper examination of legislation or proper debate of motions.

The proposals are not new. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made clear at the outset, they have a long parliamentary history. In 1985, the Procedure Committee recommended that Bills be programmed in Standing Committee, and even at later stages. Jopling confirmed that position in 1992. At the beginning of this Parliament, the Modernisation Committee recommended programming, and most recently, both the Hansard Society and the Norton commission have suggested it.

Programming provides something for everyone: the Government know when they will get their business through, should the House agree it; the Opposition have the power to determine the terms of debate and to choose what will be dealt with in prime time; and all of us get some certainty about our working hours. Being able to plan leads to better use of our time and greater efficiency of our work.

The amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst are designed totally to undermine the Modernisation Committee's proposals. The Government's motions allow a reasonable period for debate on the proposed timetable: three quarters of an hour for the main programme motion and half an hour for motions on the details proposed by the programming committee or sub-committee. It is true that the allocation is not as generous as that, in theory, for a guillotine, but unlike the guillotine, debate on the programme motion will not eat into time for debating the substantive business. Amendment (d) would reverse such a process: three hours would be spent debating the programme motion, and many of us would spend our time in the Smoking Room knitting our socks.

Strangely, given her very different views, amendment (g), tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) and a significant group of colleagues, would also reduce the amount of time for debate. Half an hour would be lost from Second Reading. I take the view that debates on Second Reading have a high profile. All too often, colleagues who wish to speak on Second Reading are denied the opportunity through lack of time. Several of my hon. Friends have explained forcefully why they support the amendment. Indeed, the Modernisation Committee considered the issue very carefully. It has merit, but I think that the Committee reached the right conclusion in protecting the traditional length of debates on Second Reading.

I should say directly to my hon. Friends that the proposed Sessional Orders on which we are to vote shortly are indeed Sessional Orders. There will be an opportunity to review how they are used, and we shall see how hon. Members on both sides of the House use them. For my part, I hope to see a consensus and a positive use of our time. Just as the House is tonight reviewing its procedures, there will be the opportunity to do so again in 12 months' time.

I turn briefly to the issue of much controversy: deferred Divisions. It would be possible to hold deferred Divisions in the normal way on a Wednesday, as set out in amendment (d). Yes, the traditional way has its adherents, but it is important to remember the commitment that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made when she said that we have made it clear that the stand-alone issues to go to sittings on Wednesdays will be relatively uncontentious. I know that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) focused on that point.

If the House decides to implement the reforms, we shall have much more orderly processing of business. It will be appreciated that the Government will have to introduce legislation in better order and perhaps in less quantity. Once we are able to predict the amount of legislation, we might be able to look at longer-term issues. We will be able to look, for example, at the timetable for the recess dates and the parliamentary calendar. I cannot promise that all that will flow from the experiment, but I can promise that it will be impossible to do that if we do not proceed with these issues tonight. I therefore hope that my hon. Friends will support the Modernisation Committee's proposals.

Amendment proposed: After section A (10), at end insert— '(11) On a day on which a programme motion is to be moved, the Speaker shall put the Question on a second reading of the bill to which that Motion applies not later then 9.30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 6.30 p.m. on Thursdays'.—[Mrs. Anne Campbell.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 174, Noes 253.

Division No. 323] [10 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Banks, Tony
Ainger, Nick Barren, Kevin
Alexander, Douglas Begg, Miss Anne
Allan, Richard Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Berry, Roger
Atherton, Ms Candy Blackman, Liz
Atkins, Charlotte Blears, Ms Hazel
Baker, Norman Blizzard, Bob
Ballard, Jackie Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Kemp, Fraser
Bradshaw, Ben Kidney, David
Brake, Tom King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Brand, Dr Peter Kingham, Ms Tess
Browne, Desmond Lammy, David
Burden, Richard Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Butler, Mrs Christine Lepper, David
Cable, Dr Vincent Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Linton, Martin
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) McCabe, Steve
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) McCafferty Ms Chris
Casale, Roger Macdonald, Calum
Caton, Martin McDonnell, John
Cawsey, Ian McFall, John
Chaytor, David McIsaac, Shona
Church, Ms Judith McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Clapham, Michael MacShane, Denis
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Mactaggart, Fiona
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) McWalter, Tony
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Mallaber, Judy
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Clwyd, Ann Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Coaker, Vernon Maxton, John
Colman, Tony Michie, Bill (Shefld Heeley)
Connarty, Michael Moffatt, Laura
Cooper, Yvette Moore, Michael
Cousins, Jim Moran, Ms Margaret
Cox, Tom Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Mountford, Kali
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Davidson, Ian Oaten, Mark
Dean, Mrs Janet O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Organ, Mrs Diana
Dowd, Jim Osborne, Ms Sandra
Drown, Ms Julia Palmer, Dr Nick
Edwards, Huw Perham, Ms Linda
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul Plaskitt, James
Follett, Barbara Pollard, Kerry
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Prosser, Gwyn
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Fyfe, Maria Quinn, Lawrie
Gapes, Mike Rammell, Bill
Gardiner, Barry Rendel, David
Gibson, Dr Ian Ruane, Chris
Godman, Dr Norman A Ruddock, Joan
Goggins, Paul Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Ryan, Ms Joan
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Savidge, Malcolm
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Sawford, Phil
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Shaw, Jonathan
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Sheerman, Barry
Grogan, John Singh, Marsha
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Harvey, Nick Soley, Clive
Healey, John Southworth, Ms Helen
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Hinchliffe, David Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Hurst, Alan Stinchcombe, Paul
Illsley, Eric Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Temple-Morris, Peter
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Jenkins, Brian Timms, Stephen
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Tonge, Dr Jenny
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Trickett, Jon
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Keeble, Ms Sally Tynan, Bill
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Vis, Dr Rudi
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Walley, Ms Joan
Keetch, Paul Ward, Ms Claire
White, Brian Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen) Wyatt, Derek
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wood, Mike Tellers for the Ayes:
Woodward, Shaun Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons and
Worthington, Tony Mr. Frank Doran.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Eagle, Maria (L 'pool Garston)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Allen, Graham Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Amess, David Etherington, Bill
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Evans, Nigel
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Fabricant, Michael
Ashton, Joe Fallon, Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Fearn, Ronnie
Baldry, Tony Flight, Howard
Barnes, Harry Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Beard, Nigel Foster, Don (Bath)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Foulkes, George
Beggs, Roy Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Beith, Rt Hon A J Fraser, Christopher
Bercow, John Gale, Roger
Beresford, Sir Paul Garnier, Edward
Betts, Clive George, Andrew (St Ives)
Blunt, Crispin George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Body, Sir Richard Gibb, Nick
Boswell, Tim Gill, Christopher
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Golding, Mrs Llin
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Green, Damian
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Greenway, John
Brady, Graham Grieve, Dominic
Brazier, Julian Grocott, Bruce
Breed, Colin Gummer, Rt Hon John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hague, Rt Hon William
Browning, Mrs Angela Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Burnett, John Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Burns, Simon Hammond, Philip
Burstow, Paul Hancock, Mike
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hanson, David
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hawkins, Nick
Caplin, Ivor Heald, Oliver
Cash, William Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Heppell, John
Hill, Keith
Chidgey, David Hodge, Ms Margaret
Chope, Christopher Hood, Jimmy
Clappison, James Hopkins, Kelvin
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hoyle, Lindsay
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hutton, John
Coffey, Ms Ann Iddon, Dr Brian
Collins, Tim Jamieson, David
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jenkin, Bernard
Corbett, Robin Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Cormack, Sir Patrick Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Cotter, Brian, Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cran, James Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Cranston, Ross Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Key, Robert
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Kilfoyle, Peter
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Curry, Rt Hon David Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Lansley, Andrew
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Laxton, Bob
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Letwin, Oliver
Dawson, Hilton Levitt, Tom
Day, Stephen Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Drew, David Lidington, David
Duncan, Alan Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Duncan Smith, Iain Livsey, Richard
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Llwyd, Elfyn Sayeed, Jonathan
Lock, David Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Loughton, Tim Shepherd, Richard
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McAvoy, Thomas Skinner, Dennis
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McIntosh, Miss Anne Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Snape, Peter
Mackinlay, Andrew Soames, Nicholas
McLoughlin, Patrick Spellar, John
McNulty, Tony Spicer, Sir Michael
McWilliam, John Spring, Richard
Madel, Sir David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Maples, John Steen, Anthony
Martlew, Eric Streeter, Gary
Mates, Michael Stuart, Ms Gisela
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Stunell, Andrew
May, Mrs Theresa Sutcliffe, Gerry
Merron, Gillian Swayne, Desmond
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Syms, Robert
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Moonie, Dr Lewis Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mullin, Chris Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Nicholls, Patrick Tipping, Paddy
Norman, Archie Touhig, Don
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Townend, John
O'Hara, Eddie Trend, Michael
Olner, Bill Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Öpik, Lembit Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Ottaway, Richard Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Page, Richard Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Paterson, Owen Tyler, Paul
Pearson, Ian Tyrie, Andrew
Pendry, Tom Viggers, Peter
Pickthall, Colin Walter, Robert
Pike, Peter L Wardle, Charles
Pope, Greg Wareing, Robert N
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Waterson, Nigel
Powell, Sir Raymond Webb, Steve
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Wells, Bowen
Prior, David Whitney, Sir Raymond
Randall, John Whittingdale, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Wilkinson, John
Robathan, Andrew Willetts, David
Roche, Mrs Barbara Willis, Phil
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Winnick, David
Rooney, Terry Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Roy, Frank Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Ruffley, David Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
St Aubyn, Nick Tellers for the Noes:
Salmond, Alex Mr. Keith Simpson and
Sanders, Adrian Mr. James Gray.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 296, Noes 137.

Division No. 324] [10.14 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Allen, Graham
Ainger, Nick Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Alexander, Douglas Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Allan, Richard Ashton, Joe
Atherton, Ms Candy Drew, David
Atkins, Charlotte Drown, Ms Julia
Baker, Norman Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Ballard, Jackie Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Banks, Tony Edwards, Huw
Barron, Kevin Ellman, Mrs Louise
Beard, Nigel Etherington, Bill
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Fearn, Ronnie
Begg, Miss Anne Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Beith, Rt Hon A J Flint, Caroline
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Flynn, Paul
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Follett, Barbara
Foster Don (Bath)
Berry, Roger Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Betts, Clive Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Blackman, Liz Foulkes, George
Blears, Ms Hazel Fyfe, Maria
Blizzard, Bob Gapes, Mike
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Gardiner, Barry
Bradley, Keith (Withington) George, Andrew (St Ives)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Bradshaw, Ben Gibson, Dr Ian
Brake, Tom Gidley, Sandra
Brand, Dr Peter Godman, Dr Norman A
Browne, Desmond Goggins, Paul
Burden, Richard Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Burnett, John Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Burstow, Paul Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Butler, Mrs Christine Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cable, Dr Vincent Grocott, Bruce
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Grogan, John
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Campbell-Savours, Dale Harvey, Nick
Caplin, Ivor Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Casale, Roger Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Caton, Martin Heppell, John
Cawsey, Ian Hill, Keith
Chaytor, David Hinchliffe, David
Chidgey, David Hodge, Ms Margaret
Church, Ms Judith Hood, Jimmy
Clapham, Michael Hope, Phil
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hoyle, Lindsay
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hurst, Alan
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hutton, John
Clwyd, Ann Iddon, Dr Brian
Coaker, Vernon Illsley, Eric
Coffey, Ms Ann Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Colman, Tony Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Connarty, Michael Jenkins, Brian
Cooper, Yvette Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Corbett, Robin Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Cox, Tom Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Cranston, Ross Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cunningham Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Cunningham Jim (Cov'try S) Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Keetch Paul
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Kemp, Fraser
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Kidney, David
Davidson, Ian Kilfoyle, Peter
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Dawson, Hilton Kingham, Ms Tess
Dean, Mrs Janet Lady man, Dr Stephen
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Lammy, David
Doran, Frank Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Dowd, Jim Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David Rendel, David
Leslie, Christopher Roche, Mrs Barbara
Levitt, Tom Rooney, Terry
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Linton, Martin Roy, Frank
Livsey, Richard Ruane, Chris
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Ruddock, Joan
Llwyd, Elfyn Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Lock, David Ryan, Ms Joan
Love, Andrew Salmond, Alex
McAvoy, Thomas Sanders, Adrian
McCabe, Steve Savidge, Malcolm
McCafferty, Ms Chris Sawford, Phil
Macdonald, Calum Shaw, Jonathan
McDonnell, John Sheerman, Barry
McFall, John Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Singh, Marsha
McIsaac, Shona Skinner, Dennis
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Mackinlay, Andrew Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McNamara, Kevin Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
McNulty, Tony Smith, John (Glamorgan)
MacShane, Denis Snape, Peter
Mactaggart, Fiona Soley, Clive
McWalter, Tony Southworth, Ms Helen
McWilliam, John Spellar, John
Mallaber, Judy Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Martlew, Eric Stinchcombe, Paul
Maxton, John Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Merron, Gillian Stuart, Ms Gisela
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Stunell, Andrew
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Moore, Michael Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Moran, Ms Margaret Temple-Morris, Peter
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Morley, Elliot Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Tonge, Dr Jenny
Mullin, Chris Touhig, Don
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Trickett, Jon
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Oaten, Mark Twigg, Derek (Halton)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
O'Hara, Eddie Tyler, Paul
Olner, Bill Tynan, Bill
Öpik, Lembit Vis, Dr Rudi
Organ, Mrs Diana Walley, Ms Joan
Osborne, Ms Sandra Ward, Ms Claire
Palmer, Dr Nick Wareing, Robert N
Pearson, Ian Webb, Steve
Pendry, Tom White, Brian
Perham, Ms Linda Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Pickthall, Colin Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Pike, Peter L Willis, Phil
Plaskitt, James Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Pollard, Kerry Wood, Mike
Pond, Chris Woodward, Shaun
Pope, Greg Worthington, Tony
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Primarolo, Dawn Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Prosser, Gwyn Wyatt, Derek
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie Tellers for the Ayes:
Rammell, Bill Mr. David Jamieson and
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Mr. Mike Hall.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Jenkin, Bernard
Amess, David Key, Robert
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Baldry, Tony Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Barnes, Harry Lansley, Andrew
Beggs, Roy Letwin, Oliver
Bercow, John Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Beresford, Sir Paul Lidington, David
Blunt, Crispin Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Body, Sir Richard Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Boswell, Tim Loughton, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Brady, Graham McIntosh, Miss Anne
Brazier, Julian MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Breed, Colin McLoughlin, Patrick
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Madel, Sir David
Browning, Mrs Angela Maples, John
Burns, Simon Mates, Michael
Butterfill, John Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Cash, William Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) May, Mrs Theresa
Nicholls, Patrick
Chope, Christopher O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Clappison, James Ottaway, Richard
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Page, Richard
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Paterson, Owen
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Powell, Sir Raymond
Collins, Tim Prior, David
Corbyn, Jeremy Randall, John
Cormack, Sir Patrick Redwood, Rt Hon John
Cran, James Robathan, Andrew
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Curry, Rt Hon David Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Ruffley, David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Day, Stephen Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Duncan Alan St Aubyn, Nick
Duncan Smith, Iain Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Shepherd, Richard
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Evans, Nigel
Fabricant, Michael Soames, Nicholas
Fallon, Michael Spicer, Sir Michael
Flight, Howard Spring, Richard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Steen, Anthony
Fraser, Christopher Streeter, Gary
Gale, Roger Swayne, Desmond
Garnier, Edward Syms, Robert
Gibb, Nick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Gill, Christopher Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Golding, Mrs Llin Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Taylor, Sir Teddy
Green, Damian Townend, John
Greenway, John Trend, Michael
Grieve, Dominic Tyrie, Andrew
Gummer, Rt Hon John Viggers, Peter
Hague, Rt Hon William Walter, Robert
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Wardle, Charles
Hammond, Philip Waterson, Nigel
Hawkins, Nick Wells, Bowen
Heald, Oliver Whitney, Sir Raymond
Hopkins, Kelvin Whittingdale, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton) Tellers for the Noes:
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield) Mr. Keith Simpson and
Young, Rt Hon Sir George Mr. James Gray.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered, That in the next Session of Parliament Orders A to I below shall have effect: