HC Deb 08 February 2001 vol 362 cc1129-43

5. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of Sessional Order A (varying and supplementing programme motions) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on any programme motion to supplement this order or to vary it in relation to—

  1. (a) proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments; or
  2. (b) proceedings on any further messages from the Lords,
and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith.

The motion proposes that the remaining stages of the Bill should be completed by 7 pm. The programme is supplemental to the one approved for the Committee stage, which finished in good time, before the programmed date of 1 February. Indeed, we did not use all the time that was allowed in Committee under the programme motion agreed by the House.

The Bill was debated thoroughly in Committee; the debate covered a range of relevant matters in detail. There was a high degree of consensus, and I am grateful for the co-operation of the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) and other hon. Members on the overall aims of the Bill. However, that did not prevent detailed and vigorous discussion and a thorough examination of the provisions.

The Government have not tabled any further amendments. Only a small number of Opposition amendments were tabled in Committee, and the amendments before us this afternoon were discussed in Committee, so we should have plenty of time for debate in the time allocated for consideration of the amendments. Similarly, I hope that, given the consensus, Third Reading would not require more time than has been allocated. If the Opposition do not oppose the motion and we commence Report and Third Reading shortly, we will have two and three quarter hours for the debate. I commend the motion to the House.

4.17 pm
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

It has become a ritual at the conclusion of each Second Reading debate and at the beginning of each Report stage that we spend 45 minutes debating not the merits of the Bill, however worthy and however urgent, but how long we will permit ourselves—or more correctly, how long the Government will permit us—to scrutinise the legislation.

The proceedings on the Bill are a classic example of bad management of the time that the House spends scrutinising the Government's legislation. We spent the permitted 45 minutes debating the programme motion after Second Reading on 15 January, then a further 15 minutes or so voting on the motion—all to what effect? We voted to conclude the Committee stage by 1 February—not an unreasonable target for an eight-clause Bill, but as the Government are the masters of the timetable of the House, did the House need to resolve such a date at all?

We also voted to set up a Programming Sub-Committee to timetable the Committee stage so that we might meet that target. As is the practice of such Sub-Committees, we met in private, with no record of our proceedings. We met early in the morning, two days after Second Reading, with the greatest display of amity that I have seen in the House for some time. We all referred to each other not by our constituencies, nor as Mr. this or Mrs. that, but by our Christian names, which is the practice in the National Assembly for Wales, where Members have a different way of conducting their business.

The Minister—I dare not call him Dave now—moved a motion that we should meet at 10.30 on a Tuesday and 9.30 on a Thursday, and that we should conclude our proceedings by 1 February. The Government Whip—may I call him Don?—then informally suggested that we meet for five sittings: twice on the first Tuesday, once on the Thursday and twice the next Tuesday. The Opposition protested that that might not be sufficient. "Ah. No problem." We could meet after dinner each Tuesday. "But that may not be sufficient, either," we protested. We were then told, "Oh well, maybe we could meet twice on the first Thursday, and if that isn't sufficient, we could meet twice on the following Thursday." The original five sittings had now been expanded to a possible 10 sittings.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

To help the Opposition.

Mr. Walter

Indeed, to help the Opposition. That is the point that I am coming to. We could meet as often as we liked, so long as we finished by a specified end date. It was concluded that we could come back to the House if there was not sufficient time and ask for more time. There was some discussion between the Chairman and the Clerk on that point, but the Committee concluded that we could ask for an extension.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

My hon. Friend will be aware that a motion asking for more time was dealt with earlier today, in relation to another Bill. He has obviously been preparing for the excellent speeches that he will make on the Bill before us, but will he confirm that we cannot consider or debate motions for further time? Such motions are simply slapped before the House, with or without consensus, and hon. Members who have not had the privilege of participating in the process are asked to take them or leave them. Does my hon. Friend approve of that procedure?

Mr. Walter

I do not. As my right hon. Friend points out, we were not permitted to debate a Hunting Bill programme motion that was dealt with earlier. Apparently, according to the Sessional Orders that deal with programme motions, no debate is possible on such extensions of time.

I left the Programming Sub-Committee wondering what purpose our meeting and the programme motion had served. It seemed that the usual channels were alive and well. The Whips could formulate whatever mutual agreement they felt to be necessary, and the rigid programme motion was completely superfluous. We must now consider whether the Government's proposed allocation of time is adequate for Report and Third Reading. As on so many previous occasions when we have debated a timetable motion, it is peculiarly difficult, if not impossible, to state with confidence whether the proposed time will be adequate.

One of the principal reasons why we can have no idea at this stage whether it will be adequate is that we do not know how many hon. Members will seek to speak on the new clauses or to what extent. Without knowing how many speeches will be made, how complicated they will be or how strongly held the opinions expressed by hon. Members on either side of the House will be, it is absurd to speculate on whether we will have sufficient time to consider the issues.

Even hon. Members who consider, as I do, that the Bill is sound in principle believe that the House should be able to consider its detail even at this late stage, before it goes to another place.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

My hon. Friend said that this was a late stage. Although he is correct in one sense, it is also the first stage at which the House as a whole can consider the detail. That is what consideration on Report is about.

Mr. Walter

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. This is the opportunity for hon. Members on both sides of the House who did not have the privilege of serving on the Committee to discuss the amendments and new clauses that they have tabled. That will be pretty difficult in the time available. Although Opposition Members have tabled a number of new clauses and amendments, only two of them—I am sure that the timetable was borne in mind—have been selected for debate. It is a great pity that the Government display so much haste and indifference to the rights both of the Opposition and of their Back Benchers, who were very active in Committee.

Mr. Hanson

I am greatly enjoying the hon. Gentleman's contribution, as I can tell from his eyes that he does not believe a word of it. Will he tell the House exactly when the Committee's sittings finished? As I recall, we did not use the time allocated for either the Tuesday or the Thursday sittings. And which hon. Members who did not serve on the Committee have tabled amendments for consideration today?

Mr. Walter

It is clear that other hon. Members have not tabled such amendments. However, I have discussed with my hon. Friends a number of amendments and new clauses, and given the limited time granted by the timetabling of this business, we plan to ask our noble Friends in the other place to table similar amendments.

Mr. Hogg

It may be right for amendments to be tabled in the other place, but does my hon. Friend agree that we, as elected Members of the House of Commons, should be the first to consider any substantive amendments? Does he further agree that if amendments have to be considered in another place because of a timetable motion, that is in itself a criticism of the process on which we are embarking?

Mr. Walter

Yes. We will have barely an hour or so to consider on Report what emerged from the Committee. That time is insufficient for us to give adequate scrutiny to the Bill.

I know that the Government are treating the measure with a degree of urgency, and that they want to get it through the House of Commons, to the other place and then back, so we can consider their lordships' amendments. I have no doubt that some members of the Government have a date in mind, maybe a month or so away, when they would like to tell the electorate that they have put the measure on to the statute book. Indeed, the Bill may be the only measure that they can claim to have introduced in the current Session.

The timetable that the Government are insisting on has not been discussed before today. Opposition Members will be content to vote against the motion because we do not believe that the business of the House should be conducted in such a manner. We do not know how much consideration will be required by hon. Members who have an interest in the Bill, yet the Government are insisting on the motion. We will oppose it for that reason, and ask them to reconsider it.

It is a flagrant abuse of the House to use programme motions on every Bill, but the Government have done so since the current Session began. However perverse they might feel it is for Opposition Members to complain at great length about lack of time, and while I do not want to detain the House, I must make it clear that we do not believe that such timetabling is the right way for business to be conducted. As has been pointed out on a number of previous occasions, the motion is a sign of the Government's discourtesy.

Paragraph 4 of the motion states: Sessional Order B (Programming Committees) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading. Last week, when the House considered a similar motion in relation to the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said that he was not familiar with that aspect of Sessional Orders. He made inquiries and discussed the matter with the Clerks, and discovered that the Sessional Orders do not merely provide for, but are supposed to insist on, the creation of a Programming Committee, which comprises several individuals almost as of right and meets explicitly and exclusively to determine the allocation of time when considering a Bill on Report and on Third Reading."—[Official Report, 30 January 2001; Vol. 362, c. 200.] That Government are now inviting the House to disapply that Sessional Order and to substitute for a Committee and proper cross-party discussion a brief motion that they doubtless intend to ram through on their payroll vote.

If the Minister is sincere about the need to be open-minded about the workings of the new procedure, it is extraordinary that neither he, as the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, nor the hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), a Government Whip—who, as he should be, is currently silent—has made any attempt to communicate with my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who was the Opposition Whip on the Standing Committee, with me, or with any other Conservative who served on the Committee about the allocation of time for Report. They have ignored Sessional Orders, and devised a cheeky form of words enabling them to insist on devoting only an hour or so to the remainder of the Bill.

Mr. Hanson

I would not wish the hon. Gentleman inadvertently to mislead the House. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) that he discussed the matter with both the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown).

Mr. Walter

I cannot comment on what happens through the usual channels, but I understand from my discussions with those gentlemen that there was no agreement on the amount of time to be allocated. I understand that a discussion may well have taken place, to which I was not party but which—as is often the case when discussions take place with Ministers and Whips—was rather one-sided. I understand that it was a case of, "This is our business. We propose that this will happen. Of course, you will have every opportunity to discuss it during the debate on the programme motion."

That, clearly, is what we are doing now. We are debating the programme motion, and the probity of it. As I have said, however, I think it extraordinary that the Government should use their solid majority to overrule the rights of the House. It is wholly unacceptable for the Government, at the beginning of a Session, to introduce Sessional Orders permitting a programming Committee to decide on the length and content of debate on Report, and then to table a motion asking us to disapply those orders a bare few months later, in favour of a motion severely limiting our discussions on Report and Third Reading.

No amount of protest from Labour Members about there being cross-party agreement on the need for the Bill will change the fact that the Government have treated the House with disdain, indifference and contempt. The allocation of time is unsatisfactory. This is not a proper way for the House to do business, and it is not a way for the Opposition, or Labour Back Benchers, to scrutinise the Government's legislation.

I am sorry that Ministers do not take their legislative responsibilities as seriously as they might, but my hon. Friends and I do, and I know that Labour Back Benchers who served on the Standing Committee, in particular, took theirs exceedingly seriously. The many Members who also take their responsibilities seriously, and who share my view that inadequate time has been allocated, will doubtless wish to register their concerns shortly.

4.33 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

I oppose the motion. I regret to say that I have had to oppose such motions many times since we returned from the Christmas recess at the beginning of January. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I oppose programme motions because I think they are wrong in principle. We will not refrain from protesting about them and voting against them, even if in a particular instance there is enough time for debate, and even if the time taken by discussion of a programme motion is subtracted from time for the substantive debate.

A number of us find this deeply offensive. I shall articulate again the reasons why: they are very similar to the reasons that I have given on many occasions in the last few months. The first applies not only to this Bill but to any Bill that is the subject of a programme motion. The basis on which accountable government works, and the reason for people's willingness, in a political commonwealth, to accept legislation that has passed through the House, is the belief of those people that the legislation has been properly scrutinised by their elected representatives. The plain truth is, however—this cannot be said too often—that a timetable motion prevents a Bill from being properly scrutinised by their elected representatives. In time the electorate will come to recognise that, and when they do they will appreciate that the existing legislative process is a farce—and a disgraceful and shameful farce at that.

My first and, I believe, wholly compelling objection to programme motions is that important legislation is not properly scrutinised. My second objection is also one of principle. It was hinted at—in fact, expressly stated—by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) when he said that amendments might be necessary, but that they would be tabled in another place.

There are at least three comments to be made about that. First, I think that my hon. Friend felt obliged to say what he did because he did not think we would have enough time today to discuss properly the amendments that he had in mind. That is shameful. I do not mean that my hon. Friend's action was shameful; I mean that it is shameful that he should have been put in such a position. Surely substantive amendments tabled by those on the Opposition Front Bench should be debated here, not in the other place.

That was my main point. My second is this: amendments will be debated in the other place, and possibly passed; they will then come back to this elected House, where they will be debated again—if at all—on a very tight timetable motion. As a consequence, proper measures of change will not be properly debated in an elected Chamber. That cannot be right.

Mr. Win Griffiths

How often did the right hon. and learned Gentleman make this speech when his party tabled guillotine motions during its time in office?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman has been here for a long time. He will remember what happened under the last Government, of whom I was a member for 13 years. We did not guillotine Committee stages until 100 hours or so of debate had taken place. It was not our practice to guillotine Committee stages; nor was it our practice, as a matter of routine, to put down timetable motions on Report. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's intervention was plainly misconceived.

Those of us who are interested in parliamentary government—representative, accountable government—are deeply concerned about the fact that the Chamber is increasingly deserted. There is a reason for that, although it is not the only reason. The hon. Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger) points to the Conservative Back Benches. That is fair enough; I now point to his.

If a debate is confined to a few minutes, an hour and a half or whatever, Members who might otherwise wish to participate will know full well that they will not have a chance to do so, or that they will be sat on by Whips from one side or the other. That is a way of reducing the amount of debate in this place. If debate is restricted by artificial limits, there will not be Members in the Chamber. I consider that process extremely dangerous.

I think it was the Minister who, quite fairly, pointed out that only two new clauses had been selected. It is possible—I made the point earlier—that in this instance there is time enough to consider them. I do not pretend that I have followed the debate on this particular Bill very closely.

Mr. Forth

I am surprised that my right hon. and learned Friend is prepared to be so generous. He will note that six, seven or eight Members are present, and they may wish to speak. Two new clauses have been selected; two times six or seven is 12 or 14; we have been given only an hour. Even my right hon. and learned Friend may rapidly conclude, having divided an hour by 14, that only a few minutes will be left for each Member to consider the new clauses. In all conscience, does he consider that adequate?

Mr. Hogg

It may or may not be adequate. I am not trying to pretend that I have been following the debate on the Bill very closely. I am prepared to accept, as a basis for argument, that on this occasion there might be adequate time. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst says that that is not the case. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset has already made the point that he will have to cause amendments to be tabled in another place because there is not sufficient time to debate them here. Perhaps my assumption is, therefore, unduly generous.

Mr. Walter

If I may correct my right hon. and learned Friend slightly, he will see from the amendment paper that three new clauses and two amendments were tabled. Although it is not for me or any other hon. Member to question the Speaker's judgment in selecting amendments for debate, I suspect that the allocation of time was such that Mr. Speaker, in his wisdom, could choose only two amendments for discussion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Mr. Speaker would select the amendments that he thought appropriate. He would not be influenced by the time available.

Mr. Walter

I withdraw my suggestion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Hogg

I was proceeding on the basis that the Speaker's selection was as it is, and I was not seeking to go beyond that. However, my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset makes a sound point in saying that amendments will have to be tabled in another place because of the restriction of time. That is a serious observation.

Although it is true that there are only two new clauses to debate, hon. Members often use debates on particular amendments or new clauses as an occasion on which to articulate concerns arising out of the issues that are their subject. That is an important mechanism, whereby hon. Members can bring to the Floor of the House constituency-based problems and refer to them in the debates on new clauses. If one cuts down such debate, either by cutting the number of new clauses to be debated or by restricting the time available, the opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to articulate such concerns is inevitably lost. That is a sad state of affairs.

I must also remind the House that the first occasion on which the House as a whole has the opportunity to discuss the detail of any Bill is on Report. We are frequently told by Ministers—no doubt the same thing happened when I was on the Government Front Bench—that the new clauses are but a reflection of what was promised in Committee. That may be true, but it does not satisfy or conclude the argument, because that is the first occasion on which the House as a whole—even if we are but 12 in number now—can consider those new clauses and amendments. Promises, assurances or statements made in Committee are neither here nor there, so far as hon. Members who did not serve on the Committee are concerned. A process is being put in place that tramples on democracy.

I know that I have said all this before, and I shall say it again. At the root of the matter, democracy is being denied. The Government are denying democracy and deliberately trampling on it. That is a scandal, and I shall take every opportunity to bring that fact to the attention of the country. I hope that at the forthcoming election, the people of this country will understand that this is a tyrannical and despotic Government.

4.44 pm
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

The programme motion offers a brief timetable for seeing the Bill through. I have seen crocodile tears being shed, and a bit of a song and dance going on, rather like in a university debating society. However, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said that an important principle is at stake, and there is no doubt about that.

Two new clauses have been selected; there are eight clauses in the Bill. Two other possible amendments were tabled for debate, but not selected. The Government have decided to pass the Bill in its entirety without accepting any amendments—or, at least, not wanting any votes on them. The reason is that the Bill impinges on constitutional issues relating to the Government of Wales Act 1998, and perhaps we shall get to the bottom of some of them in the short debate that follows this one. I do not think that the Government will give way on any of them because there are important legal principles at stake, but I am sure that they will be examined in great detail in another place. We shall see what the Bill looks like when it returns to the House and we debate the Lords amendments.

Most hon. Members agree on the need for an independent Children's Commissioner for Wales, and the Liberal Democrats do not want to delay that process. However, we also want the best possible independent Children's Commissioner, who will serve the children of Wales and in Wales. There is undoubtedly an element of determination behind the Bill, and it would be better for us to get on and to debate it on Third Reading. This is no time for pontificating; it is time for getting on.

4.47 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I share the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) on this matter. It is incumbent on the House, each time the Government introduce a programme motion, to give it proper consideration. However, these programme motions are guillotines: we are being subjected to serial guillotines.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) rather mischievously implied that such proceedings had been perfectly routine under the previous Conservative Government, and that things were no different now. The hon. Gentleman's brain has obviously been addled by his years in Europe. He must remember that, during the glorious 18 years of the previous Government, when a Bill had had very lengthy consideration in Committee and been gratuitously obstructed by the Labour party in opposition, the then Government would introduce a motion to curtail debate and to move on. However, the Labour Government have routinely guillotine Bills from the off before having any idea of the likely length of time needed for proper consideration in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading. That is a key difference, which I hope that even the hon. Member for Bridgend will concede on reflection.

Mr. Win Griffiths

The right hon. Gentleman also served in Europe. I do not want to cast aspersions on his time there and the effect on his brain. However, does he recall the time when we served on a Committee that considered an education Bill in 1992–93? The proceedings were guillotined well before the 100 hours to which the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred as the magic number that the previous Government had used.

Mr. Forth

I do not want to fall out with the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have perfectly civilised relations outside the Chamber. Perhaps we could settle the matter over a cup of tea. I remember matters differently. When I first became a Member of Parliament in 1983, along with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it was not unusual for a large Bill—the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman referred had approximately 350 clauses and 50 schedules—to receive 150 or more hours of consideration in Committee before a guillotine was even suggested. Guillotines were introduced after less time much later. However, today we are discussing not hours, but minutes. We are being allowed only minutes in which to consider key stages of a Bill.

It is all very well for my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) to agree with the Minister that the proceedings were consensual and chummy and that people were on first name terms and so on. That is beside the point. Every Bill deserves proper scrutiny. The more horrendously consensual the approach, the more scrutiny the measure deserves. Some of the worst legislation to emanate from this place had the ghastly appellation, "all-party support". In the legislative world, there is nothing worse than a Bill with all-party support. It inevitably ends up as sloppy, loose and damaging.

It is not good enough to say that the Lords will sort matters out after we have been happily consensual, failed to do our job, or rushed matters through for political reasons or because we believed that a particular measure would be attractive to the electorate. It is even worse to rush through a measure because we believe it has a title that is too good to oppose. All those reasons apply to the Bill. It is unacceptable to rely on Tony's cronies, the unelected Members of another place, properly to scrutinise a Bill that we have fiddled through.

Let me remind hon. Members of the Government's intention. They tell us that we have from 5.15 to 6.15 pm on Report; they allow the House of Commons only one hour. It has been pointed out that the amendment paper contains two new clauses. New clauses are serious provisions and deserve proper scrutiny. The fact that they have been selected shows that they are important and deserve the House's full attention.

It is possible that 400 hon. Members could turn up in the next half hour, pack the Chamber and want to contribute, as they are entitled to do, to consideration of new clauses 2 and 3. My arithmetical ability just about extends to making the calculation: 400 Members of Parliament, each considering two new clauses in an hour. There is not enough time for each hon. Member to have a proper opportunity to do that.

To be fair, the position that I outlined was theoretical. Let us consider the real position. Three Labour Back Benchers, one Plaid Cymru Member, one Liberal Democrat and, happily, four Opposition Back Benchers are present. Even if no other hon. Member attends the debate, seven or eight hon. Members may wish to participate. Seven hon. Members multiplied by two new clauses is 14. Sixty minutes divided by 14 equals a maximum of four or five minutes for each hon. Member to make a contribution on the new clauses.

I do not know whether Labour Back Benchers believe that they can represent their constituents adequately on the matter that we are considering. I am sure that they will return to their constituencies and issue press releases that state that the matter is very important, the Government are wonderful, the atmosphere is consensual, the public are lucky to have the Bill and that they have been dying for such a measure. I bet they do not add, "By the way, I had four minutes to discuss it on your behalf in the House of Commons." However, that is the time that the Government are allowing hon. Members to discuss the matter on behalf of their constituents. It is inadequate; hon. Members should not be put in that position. I almost feel sorry for Labour Members when I think of them having to account to their electors for their Government allowing them only four minutes each to consider the new clauses.

Mr. Hogg

Is not the point further aggravated by the fact that we are considering new clauses? In effect, our proceedings will constitute Second Reading of the new clauses. What has happened to the Committee stage? There will be no detailed discussion, and that makes the position even worse.

Mr. Forth

My right hon. and learned Friend is correct. I will not discuss the substance of the new clauses because, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would not want me to do so. However, new clause 2 says that the commissioner may at any time give advice to the Assembly". That could be worth discussing. It might even be somewhat controversial.

New clause 3 talks about requiring persons to allow the Commissioner access to institutions which include children to whom this Part applies. That is important. Allowing somebody called a commissioner access to institutions smacks of what we thought we had put behind us. The commissioner will have access to institutions with the power of statute behind him. At the very least, that requires considerable thought. I wish we could table amendments to the new clauses, because I would be tempted to do so. In fact, that would have to be done by Tony's cronies at the other end of the building, not by the elected House of Commons. The more we consider this matter, the worse it becomes.

The Minister thought that he was being clever when he challenged my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset and asked why, if there was so much interest, there were not more amendments. My hon. Friend pointed out that amendments were tabled and were not selected. We cannot discuss or challenge that, but that is not my point. My point reflects that made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. The tragedy is that, because hon. Members know that the Government will allow only an hour for the Report stage of a Bill such as this, I suspect that many of them say, "What on earth is the point of tabling amendments when they will almost certainly not receive proper consideration?".

Mr. Hogg

We know that to be the case because my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset said as much in respect of his amendments.

Mr. Forth

There is growing evidence that the arrogant automatic guillotining of legislation in advance of our knowing the nature of the Bill or its amendments or the amount of interest in it—we see it happening before our eyes—is throttling and diminishing hon. Members' interest and participation in the legislative process. There can be no worse condemnation of what the Government are gratuitously doing to this House and the legislative process than the fact that more and more Members of Parliament are being persuaded that they have no role in the legislative process. They are reduced to asking the Prime Minister cringing, sycophantic questions on the few occasions when he appears at the Dispatch Box, and to doing other trivial things. As a result of this ruthless guillotine process, all-party groups are proliferating because those poor creatures do not have anywhere else to go and have nothing to do in the Chamber.

It is not my place to feel sorry for Government Back Benchers, but occasionally I do. They have to go back to their constituency and say, "Don't worry, I took part today in the all-party group on chocolate. You can be assured that I am representing your interests at Westminster because I have attended several important all-party groups on all sorts of important matters." If someone asks whether they participated in the legislative process or scrutinised the Government, they have to say, "No, I did not have time. I worked out that I would have less than a minute to make my contribution on your behalf if I ventured into the Chamber." That conversation will be taking place up and down the country as hon. Members try to give an account of themselves. I bet they are not out spinning or boasting about how much they have influenced the Government. I bet they are telling their constituents that the all-party group on chocolate was as far as they got.

All in all, we find ourselves in a desperate situation. I share—I often do—the sentiment and undertaking given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham: that each of the programme motions stands on its own and requires the same amount of attention and debate. If I can, I will participate in a Division or, if necessary invite the House—

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

I always enjoy the right hon. Gentleman's attempts to fill up time. I have enjoyed those attempts in Europe, and I enjoy them here. However, I do wish that he would not present the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) as a great martyr—

It being forty-five minutes after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000].

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.

The House having divided: Ayes 254, Noes 134.

Division No. 112] [5 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cawsey, Ian
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ainger, Nick Clapham, Michael
Allen, Graham Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clark, Dr Lynda
Ashton, Joe (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Atherton, Ms Candy Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Austin, John Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Bailey, Adrian Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Banks, Tony Clelland, David
Barnes, Harry Coffey, Ms Ann
Barron, Kevin Coleman, lain
Battle, John Connarty, Michael
Beard, Nigel Cooper, Yvette
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Corbyn, Jeremy
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Corston, Jean
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cousins, Jim
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Cox, Tom
Bennett, Andrew F Cranston, Ross
Bermingham, Gerald Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Berry, Roger Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Betts, Clive Cummings, John
Blears, Ms Hazel Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Blizzard, Bob Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Borrow, David Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Davis, Rt Hon Terry
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) (B'ham Hodge H)
Bradshaw, Ben Dawson, Hilton
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Dean, Mrs Janet
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Denham, John
Browne, Desmond Dismore, Andrew
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Dobbin, Jim
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Dowd, Jim
Campbell-Savours, Dale Drown, Ms Julia
Caplin, Ivor Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) McIsaac, Shona
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Edwards, Huw Mactaggart, Fiona
Efford, Clive McWalter, Tony
Ellman, Mrs Louise McWilliam, John
Ennis, Jeff Mahon, Mrs Alice
Etherington, Bill Mallaber, Judy
Field, Rt Hon Frank Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Fisher, Mark Martlew, Eric
Fitzpatrick, Jim Maxton, John
Flynn, Paul Meale, Alan
Follett, Barbara Merron, Gillian
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Miller, Andrew
Galloway, George Mitchell, Austin
Gardiner, Barry Moran, Ms Margaret
Gerrard, Neil Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Gibson, Dr Ian Morley, Elliot
Godman, Dr Norman A Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
Godsiff, Roger (B'ham Yardley)
Goggins, Paul Morris, Rt Hon Sir John
Golding, Mrs Llin (Aberavon)
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Mountford, Kali
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mudie, George
Hain, Peter Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Norris, Dan
Hanson, David O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Healey, John O'Hara, Eddie
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Olner, Bill
Hendrick, Mark O'Neill, Martin
Hepburn, Stephen Organ, Mrs Diana
Heppell, John Palmer, Dr Nick
Hill, Keith Perham, Ms Linda
Hinchliffe, David Pickthall, Colin
Hodge, Ms Margaret Plaskitt, James
Hoey, Kate Pollard, Kerry
Hope, Phil Pond, Chris
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Pope, Greg
Hoyle, Lindsay Pound, Stephen
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hutton, John Primarolo, Dawn
Iddon, Dr Brian Prosser, Gwyn
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam Purchase, Ken
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Jamieson, David Quinn, Lawrie
Johnson, Miss Melanie Radice, Rt Hon Giles
(Welwyn Hatfield) Rammell, Bill
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Rapson, Syd
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Raynsford, Nick
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Robertson, John
Joyce, Eric (Glasgow Anniesland)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Rogers, Allan
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Kemp, Fraser Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Roy, Frank
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Sarwar, Mohammad
Laxton, Bob Savidge, Malcolm
Lepper, David Sawford, Phil
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Sedgemore, Brian
Llwyd, Elfyn Shaw, Jonathan
Lock, David Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Love, Andrew Short, Rt Hon Clare
McAvoy, Thomas Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McCabe, Steve Skinner, Dennis
McCafferty, Ms Chris Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian Smith, Angela (Basildon)
(Makerfield) Smith, Miss Geraldine
Macdonald, Calum (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McDonnell, John Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McFall, John Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Soley, Clive
Spellar, John Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Squire, Ms Rachel Tynan, Bill
Steinberg, Gerry Vis, Dr Rudi
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wareing, Robert N
Stoate, Dr Howard Whitehead, Dr Alan
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Wicks, Malcolm
Stuart, Ms Gisela Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Swansea W)
(Dewsbury) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Wilson, Brian
Temple-Morris, Peter Winnick, David
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion) Woolas, Phil
Timms, Stephen Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Tipping, Paddy Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Truswell, Paul Wyatt, Derek
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Tellers for the Ayes:
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Mr. Don Touhig and Mr. Ian Pearson.
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Allan, Richard Greenway, John
Amess, David Grieve, Dominic
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Hammond, Philip
Beggs, Roy Ham's, Dr Evan
Beith, Rt Hon A J Hawkins, Nick
Bercow, John Hayes, John
Beresford, Sir Paul Heald, Oliver
Blunt, Crispin Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Boswell, Tim Horam, John
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Hunter, Andrew
Brady, Graham Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Brand, Dr Peter Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Brazier, Julian Jenkin, Bernard
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Browning, Mrs Angela Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Burnett, John Leigh, Edward
Burns, Simon Letwin, Oliver
Burstow, Paul Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Chapman, Sir Sydney Lidington, David
(Chipping Barnet) Livsey, Richard
Chope, Christopher Loughton, Tim
Clappison, James Luff, Peter
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth MacGregor, Rt Hon John
(Rushcliffe) McIntosh, Miss Anne
Cotter, Brian MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Cran, James Maclean, Rt Hon David
Curry, Rt Hon David McLoughlin, Patrick
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Major, Rt Hon John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Maples, John
Donaldson, Jeffrey Mates, Michael
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Duncan, Alan Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Duncan Smith, lain Moss, Malcolm
Faber, David Norman, Archie
Fabricant, Michael O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Fallon, Michael Öpik, Lembit
Right, Howard Ottaway, Richard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Page, Richard
Foster, Don (Bath) Paice, James
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Pickles, Eric
Fox, Dr Liam Prior, David
Fraser, Christopher Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gale, Roger Rendel, David
Garnier, Edward Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gibb, Nick Ruffley, David
Gidley, Sandra Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl St Aubyn, Nick
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Sayeed, Jonathan
Green, Damian Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard Tyrie, Andrew
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Walter, Robert
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Waterson, Nigel
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Whitney, Sir Raymond
Spring, Richard Whittingdale, John
Steen, Anthony Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Streeter, Gary Wilkinson, John
Stunell, Andrew Willetts, David
Swayne, Desmond Willis, Phil
Tapsell, Sir Peter Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Yeo, Tim
Taylor, Sir Teddy Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Thompson, William
Townend, John Tellers for the Noes:
Tredinnick, David Mr. James Gray and Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.
Trend, Michael

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered, That the following provisions shall apply to the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 16th January: