HC Deb 23 January 2001 vol 361 cc817-31

  1. 1. The Bill shall be committed to a Standing Committee.
  2. 2. Proceedings in the Standing Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 1st February 2001.
  3. 3. The Standing Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it shall meet.
The programme motion proposes that the Standing Committee be brought to a conclusion on 1 February. We consider that appropriate because it will give sufficient time for up to four sittings in Committee during the week commencing 29 January, although we think that we are likely to need a maximum of two sittings. However, the Programming Sub-Committee will consider the detailed timetable and may decide that it will be necessary to sit more frequently than usual. The arrangements for the programming of later stages of the Bill will be decided by the House at a later time, in the light of the experience in Committee. I commend the motion to the House.

4.41 p.m.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

We are just beginning to get properly to grips with the full horrors of this iniquitous new process that the Government have inflicted on the House. These debates play an important part in providing the House with the ability to explore what is now the relationship between the Government and the House of Commons, and to explore how the legislative process is supposed to work under the dispensation that is so wrongly called modernisation. The programme motions and the debates surrounding them have started to provide an important opportunity for the House to consider whether the Government's approach to the legislative process is acceptable or satisfactory.

The Minister said that, in his opinion, it would be sufficient for the Standing Committee to have completed consideration of the Bill by 1 February, and that he envisaged four Committee sittings. We do not know whether four sittings will be adequate; we cannot know that at this stage. The big difference that has taken place between the way in which the House used to work and the way in which it now has to work is that the Government take it upon themselves arbitrarily to decide how long a Standing Committee will take.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is another feature to this question? It is that very short Standing Committees make it much more difficult for those outside the House to make representations on the content of the Bill at a time that is relevant to the Committee's consideration of the Bill.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. It is typical that the Government do not care whether right hon. and hon. Members have a proper opportunity to consider a Bill. However, they care even less whether anyone outside the House has an adequate opportunity to make representations or to attend Committee sittings, thus allowing that iterative process, to which we had become used in the past, between members of the Committee and legitimate outside interests who wish to play their part in the Committee's considerations.

The Government say that, in their view, the legislative process—the scrutiny of legislation by the House—will be completed within a certain, very short, period of time. That is the new arrangement that we are supposed to accept. It is quite different from the arrangement that we knew before, in which it was assumed that the legislative process would take as long as was properly required for the Bill to be considered and amended before being brought back to the Floor of the House on Report. The Government now say that they know how long Members of the House will need to consider our legislation.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

Was not that the most revealing remark by the Minister, to which my right hon. Friend has drawn the House's attention? It was—no doubt involuntarily—an extremely revealing insight into the Government's state of mind. Is it not clear that, in the Government's perception, the legislature will examine legislation only to the extent—and in a form—decided in advance by the Executive? What kind of balance in the constitution does that leave us with?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend is correct. As we proceed down this path—we are still in the early stages of the new dispensation—we see more and more clearly the arrogance of Ministers in taking it on themselves to decide how long scrutinising legislation will take.

Mr. Hogg

My right hon. Friend was present last night when we debated another timetable motion and will remember the justification given by the Minister for Public Health for a time limit that will expire on 8 February. She said that, in her opinion, the House has sufficient time to consider that Bill. Does not that reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies)?

Mr. Forth

Yes. The legislative process is clearly being run on the basis of Ministers' opinions. Worse than that, although the Minister can say, as the motion tells us, that, in the Government's view, the House of Commons can have only until 1 February properly to consider the Bill, we have not even been given full information. We do not know what the secret Programming Sub-Committee—which, needless to say, will be dominated by the Government—will say about the time that the Government will allow the Committee to sit and deliberate. First, the Government tell us the end date for deliberations. Then, the Government-dominated Programming Sub-Committee will decide how long each day and each sitting will last.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the different treatment that we receive from different junior Ministers who represent the Executive? Today, the junior Minister graciously let us into the secret of how many Committee sittings the Government want and even said that there could be another two, according to unspecified criteria. That is a slight improvement on what we usually get, which is no information at all about what the Executive have decided. We now have a little more knowledge of the time available and I am grateful for that, but I agree with my right hon. Friend that this debate should not be taking place because the Executive should not tell the House how long it can debate such matters.

Mr. Forth

My right hon. Friend is obviously in a generous mood today because he has been much kinder to the Government and the Minister than I am disposed to be. The Minister made the rather casual remark that only two Committee sittings are needed, presumably because these matters are so trivial and his Bill so good that scrutiny is not required. I do not consider that to be a concession; it is a gratuitous insult to the House, the legislative process and the members of the Committee. Of course, we do not yet know who they will be.

Another factor is that, given that we do not know who will be a member of the Committee or how much legitimate outside interest there will be, we cannot possibly know how many amendments are likely to be tabled. We do not know how long the sittings will be because the secretive Programming Sub-Committee has yet to meet—dominated as it will be by the Government. All in all, we are being asked simply to accept the Government's view of how their legislation should be scrutinised by the legislature. Surely that is an insult to both the history of the House and its every tradition.

As we know, the Government rammed the changes through, though they did not have all-party support by any means, and here we are, living with the results of that process. A lot of the principles behind and the approaches to scrutiny, which most of us have held dear for as long as we have had the privilege of being Members of the House, have simply been thrown overboard and replaced by procedures introduced by a Government who are apparently so afraid of their measures being scrutinised that they want to diminish the scrutiny process to an intolerable extent. That is the inevitable outcome of such motions.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that everybody realises that the Government have an enormous majority and can do exactly what they want in the House? Some of us were Members when another Government had a large majority of 144, which was not as big as the majority of the current Government. None the less, that previous Government recognised that the House had its rights and that the Opposition had theirs. Matters were resolved by agreement, but that has gone out of the window. Does my right hon. Friend recognise a constitutional change here?

Mr. Forth

Yes, I do indeed. Only by the House taking every one of the few opportunities left to explore those matters—which, fortunately, the motion allows us to do—will we be able to expose that change for what it is. It is part and parcel of a process that we have witnessed for nearly four years—the systematic dismantling of all the mechanisms on which our electors thought they could rely to ensure that legislative proposals were scrutinised.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

My right hon. Friend should perhaps remind the House that the motion constitutes a guillotine on when a Bill leaves Committee. Not so very long ago, no Government would introduce a guillotine until an issue had been debated in Committee for 90 or 100 hours. There is, I am afraid, no such criterion in the motion that we are discussing.

Mr. Forth

Memory tells me that in the 1980s, in the case of a substantial Bill, the benchmark was nearer 150 hours in Committee. Indeed, that was reckoned to be barely sufficient before a guillotine could even be contemplated.

I can only assume that the Government have introduced the measures with which we are now forced to live because they are both contemptuous of the parliamentary process and afraid of their legislation being properly scrutinised. The motion proposes, rather patronisingly, that The Standing Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it shall meet. That gives us a flavour of what we now face.

In earlier times, a Committee would by convention spend the morning of its first sitting deliberating on future sittings and considering how much time it would need. It would then adjourn in order to give its members time to reflect on the Bill, and perhaps to table amendments. None of that will be possible now, because the Government are in such a rush and are so anxious to push the legislation through to prevent it from being properly scrutinised.

Mr. Hogg

My right hon. Friend has touched on the question of amendments. Should the House not be reminded that, in the week permitted by the motion, the Government will not have time properly to formulate amendments in Committee, as is necessary, and will have to rely on amendments made in the other place—amendments which, inevitably, will not be properly debated in this, the elected Chamber?

Mr. Forth

That leaves me with a personal dilemma. Part of me naturally wants to ensure that the House of Commons, accountable as it is to voters—probably very soon now—will give the most effective scrutiny to, in particular, Bills with a financial or tax content or connotation. Another part of me, however, is beginning to recognise and almost welcome the fact that—given our increasing inability, under the guillotines that the Government are imposing on our legislative process, to scrutinise legislation fully and allow for amendments—the onus will be transferred to another place. It will be for another place to give even closer and more rigorous scrutiny to legislation, because the Government's constraints have prevented us from scrutinising it in the same way. So there is a glimmer of light.

I shall vote against the motion unless the Minister says something to persuade me not to do so, but I shall leave the Chamber with a spring in my step. I feel that there is potential for the other place to be encouraged to exercise its duties and responsibilities even more vigorously than it has in the past, as a direct result of the Government's attempts, through motions such as this, to restrict and limit the power of this House to scrutinise legislation effectively.

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

I want to focus on what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). This is the second occasion in a week on which we have considered a timetable motion of this kind, and once again the motion is, in my view, an affront. My right hon. Friend presented the arguments against it with great clarity, and I therefore propose merely to summarise them, although I hope to emphasise one or two.

For a start, we simply do not know whether an end date of 1 February is in any way appropriate. We cannot know that until we know how long the Committee will sit, what its members will deem to be important, and—perhaps even more significant—what people outside the Chamber will deem to be important, and will seek to communicate to those members. It is arrogant and wrong of the Government to put an end date on the Committee.

The measure precludes proper scrutiny. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, this is a complicated Bill with tax and national insurance connotations. It is inevitable that Committee members will look to those outside, constituents and interested bodies to make representations on the Bill so that they can table amendments to address the issues. Being realistic, we know that people take a little time to get moving and an end date of 1 February will make it impossible for people outside properly to address the Bill.

A further point is the status of the other place. Governments always amend Bills. I have been responsible for many Bills and I know that it is the practice of Governments to amend Bills in Committee. They must, because no Bill is perfect, particularly a complicated Bill of this kind. Thus the Government will determine that amendments are to be made and will not be able to formulate them within the time scale for the Committee. They will then seek to table amendments in another place, which is an unelected House dealing with quasi-financial matters. That is very unsatisfactory. The Government will come back to this House—probably on another timetable motion—and we, the elected Chamber, will never have a proper opportunity to discuss amendments.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

My right hon and learned Friend said that detail would be left to an unelected House, which, by tradition and constitutional convention, has nothing to do with taxation. This Bill is concerned with national insurance, which is extremely close to taxation. Is the other place even entitled to amend such a Bill?

Mr. Hogg

Strictly speaking, it is entitled, as a matter of law and constitutional practice, but it is thoroughly undesirable. My right hon. and learned Friend is entirely right about the status of the Bill. When Bills of this House attract substantive amendments, they should be amended in this place and not in the other place, unless it is absolutely essential.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) reminded the House that, when our party was in government, we did not move timetable motions in Committee until a long period of time had elapsed. My benchmark was 100 hours; that is in accordance with my right hon. Friend's recollection, although a little short of that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. However, we recognised that there had to be a long period before that was appropriate. In our minds, we knew that we could not properly timetable a Committee until it had become plain that what was going on was an unreasonable obstruction in Committee.

The Government are proposing timetables of but a few hours on matters of great complexity and importance. That is shutting down on the legislative process. If we do that, the country will discover in time that legislation is going through the House of Commons that has never properly been scrutinised. As the acquiesence of the electorate depends, at least in part, on a belief that legislation has been properly scrutinised, we will be tampering with the foundations of accountable government and democracy.

Sir Peter Emery

Two or three weeks ago, when the Government proposed the procedure, they gave the assurance that enough time would be given for the Opposition to table amendments and for each clause of the Bill to be properly debated. They are reneging on what they said to the House.

Mr. Hogg

My right hon. Friend is right, although I am bound to say that the fact that the Government are reneging causes me no surprise. We are dealing with an essentially despotic and tyrannical Government, although the country as a whole does not recognise that yet. Our business, as legislators, is to draw to your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and, through you, to the attention of a wider public, that democracy is being served ill by those on the Government Front Bench.

I have no doubt that timetable motions will be put down regularly. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will be opposing them on grounds of principle.

5 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Sophocles was said to have walked around Athens talking to everybody he met and taking note of their opinions. He then sought to regale his fellow Athenians with exactly the degree of veracity that one gets from a wide selection of citizens.

What worries me about the increasing habit of timetabling everything is that any Parliament—however it is brought together—must rely on support from the citizenry. I am extremely worried that we are increasingly—for what the managers of Government business probably think are perfectly acceptable reasons—going ahead on the in-built assumption that legislation is simply here to be rolled through the House of Commons and the other place with the greatest speed and the smallest number of alterations that will be acceptable to the Government. I am afraid that I do not take that view, and I do not believe that it can be sustained for any length of time.

I do not entirely go along with the emotional and colourful language occasionally used on the Conservative Benches about the iniquities of the Government. While I am prepared to call them all sorts of things, despotic is not one of them. Despots, on the whole, tend to be reasonably efficient. Seriously, it saddens me that we are getting to the point where no Labour Member is prepared to say that the procedures of the House of Commons have been developed because there has to be give and take across the Chamber and an examination of various ideas. Above all, there has to be an examination of laws. We are talking not about union debates or dinner party disagreements but about laws, which not only have the power to carry sanctions but which affect the people who sent us here.

I do not want to go on about this matter tonight; I simply want to record that, in the past three weeks, there has been a constant procession of timetable motions. We can call them what we like: guillotines, which is a more accurate description, or timetables. We can say that the House accepted all these "reforms" and suggest that somehow this is an improvement and a modernisation.

Some of my colleagues occasionally give me the impression that they would rather there were no debate on any subject at all—[Interruption.] That refers to colleagues on both sides of the House. There are people who, when they are in Government, think that it is a good idea that the House of Commons does not debate the iniquities of the legislation before them. When I listen now to those who protest most about why we are allowing this to happen, I remember what they were like when they were Ministers. Once we let a monster out of the pot it is very difficult to get it back in.

I do not believe that there will be a change of Government in the remainder of my parliamentary career, but such changes do happen in this country, and Conservative Members will be very quick to learn from our behaviour and to pick up those habits that they so roundly condemn. That is why I say to my Government colleagues: please think again. Do not assume that God is always in our corner; occasionally he may desert us. Do not assume that we always know right from wrong and always have absolute right on our side. That is not the case.

Above all, please remember that legislation that goes through the House like a runaway train frequently comes off the rails at considerable speed and does great damage. The House should bear that in mind. We are increasingly losing sight of the object that a democratic Parliament should keep closest to its heart: legislation works when it is thought about, when it is real, when it represents the views of the ordinary citizen and, most of all, when it is not imposed without real thought and proper consideration.

5.5 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

In a sense, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) is wrong: the Government have moved to a certainty about procedures. The matter is no longer open to debate. The Government are about swank and spin; through their measures on the procedures of the House, they demonstrate their complete contempt for the very existence of the House of Commons.

Such measures owe nothing whatever to reasoned thought. How do we know what Back Benchers think about the legislation that the Committee will discuss in what the Minister decides will probably be no more than two sittings? Nevertheless, through the Government's graciousness and their relentless and overweening majority, they may give us four sittings. I have not been consulted; in truth, no Member has been consulted. We have not been asked whether aspects of the measure cause us concern, whether we want to develop any points or to take soundings among interested groups in our constituencies.

All the arguments that are being made are old ones. We used to impose guillotines because there was an insuperable blockage in normal procedural matters. During my time as a Member of the House, such motions have moved from being the exception and have become accustomed procedure Before Christmas, at the behest of the Government, the majority party imposed on us these ludicrous and contemptuous arrangements for the review of Bills.

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend puts most eloquently the arguments against timetable motions. Will he remind the House that he makes those arguments from the perspective of someone who actually approves of the Bill? Perhaps that adds greater force to his comments.

Mr. Shepherd

In the House, we all know that the matter is not whether an individual approves of a Bill; it is to safeguard the processes whereby a Bill is scrutinised. Other points of view may be brought to bear on measures and that may convince me that my original position was wrong. That is the tolerance in our legislative process.

The Government are now so divorced from the House of Commons that they do not need the House at all. They have reduced us to the absurdity of trying to forecast magically the course of a Committee—the amendments that will be tabled and the length of time to be taken up in debate. In truth, they are not interested. Indeed, the process on motions such as this has been truncated from the intolerable length of three hours to 45 minutes for the discussion of the grievances of hon. Members who think that they may not be able discuss a Bill during its proceedings. That is one of the great modernisations and improvements.

This procedure is a farce. It is an absurd assertion by an arrogant Government. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich made a misjudgment in her comments; the attitude and arrogance of the Executive are beyond redemption. There are many decent Members on both sides of the House. There can be no pleasure in the fact that the House has been dragooned into a 45-minute debate; in essence, to approve the motion.

One can see the exasperation on the faces of Ministers and Government Whips—this is all so trivial. They ask: why do we not nod the motion through? Why bother to seek approval? Why do we not conceive, in the brilliant Modernisation Committee, a Standing Order that gives the Government the right—because they have claimed it—to get their business? That was never an historic concept of the House. The House examined and consented to business, but it could also reject it.

Such ideas do not even enter the mind of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, as he proposes these arrangements without ever having asked for the views of Back-Bench colleagues on either side of the House. That is why I oppose the motion. It crystallises something that I have resented and regretted all my life. From being an occasional necessity, such arrangements have become the instrument of the Executive's dominance over the Chamber and show their contempt for the House.

5.10 pm
Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

This is a very serious matter indeed, and the country needs to understand it. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, and the tone in which she said it. I have a high regard for the Minister and have served with him on a long and carefully thought-through Committee on the financial services. I am sure that he would not propose such measures if they were not being forced on the House from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer downwards, given the Government's attitude.

It has been said that the Government are despotic and tyrannical, but those words sound old fashioned and out of date. The Government are certainly arrogant; they are bullying the House. It is unnecessary for them to bully the House. The Government are also bullying the country and the other place, and they are producing very bad legislation.

Why have the Government introduced the Bill? There can be no argument about the fact that they are incompetent. They are amending legislation that they introduced only in past year or so, because provisions that were not properly thought through now have to be changed. To some extent, the changes that they propose are sensible and, therefore, we suggested in our reasoned amendment that they needed modifying, but we did not oppose the whole Bill. However, the Bill needs to be carefully scrutinised not only by the House—as can be seen on television around the world, by those with Sky and so on—but by those in the City of London, the CBI and financial services generally, as well as by those in all the places where small businesses congregate and consider such matters. They must have time to propose amendments.

Let the country know what is proposed in this small, technical, but important Bill. The Government will ram the Bill through. The Committee is supposed to consider the Bill carefully and constructively, but it must take no more than eight days to do so. This week will be taken up in trying to determine exactly when the Bill will be debated in Committee. That effectively leaves only 30 January and 1 February for the Bill to be considered in Committee. That is five and seven days, or six and eight days ahead, so the small business groups, the City groups or the taxation accountants, who have already helped us on Second Reading, have no chance to consider whether the Government have got it right and to propose constructive amendments. That is very bad government indeed.

Let everyone know that the Government are thoroughly unreasonable and that, day after day, they are timetabling—guillotining—every Bill that they introduced in this short Session before the general election. They are throwing aside the traditions that have existed for the 22 years that I have been a Member of Parliament, when my party has had two very large majorities.

Let us not consider the proposals blindly. We can modernise sensibly. There have been some suggestions for sensible modernisation. In the past, Committees used to sit for 80 or 150 hours in Committee before a guillotine motion was introduced. Those hours were often used stupidly. The then Opposition felt that they could do nothing but ramble on indefinitely because time was their only weapon, and only the first or second clause of a Bill was debated. However, we have exactly the same amount time available proportionately—there are the same number of days in the weeks and the same hours in the day as there were in the 1980s, when such a Bill would never have needed to be guillotined. We could have used those 80 hours constructively on getting the legislation right.

From the top, the Government—from the Chief Whip, the Leader of House and the Prime Minister himself—are unnecessarily denying Parliament the opportunity to give legislation serious scrutiny. That is a disgrace. The country is being misgoverned; the House is being mismanaged; the Government are responsible, and the country should hold them to account for it at the election.

5.15 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

I strongly agree with all that has been said so far in the debate, including that by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). However, something she said should perhaps be corrected, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) could have done so, but from personal modesty, which we all know is one of his qualities, he refrained from doing so. It is not true that to say there was no opposition to the introduction of timetable motions under the previous Government. Indeed, such motions were opposed in principle.

My hon. Friend courageously opposed the principle of the programme motions introduced by the Administration formed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). However, those motions had been introduced after perhaps 100 or more hours of debate in Committee. Such arrangements have existed since the 19th century, but they were emergency provisions intended to deal with abuse. They were used to timetable Bills that were clearly being obstructed. The Government have turned those emergency powers into a weapon. They were intended to be used exceptional circumstances in response to abuses, but the Executive now use them regularly. Just as Governments around the world have abused emergency provisions to seize power, overthrow democracy and so on, those powers are being similarly turned into a regular, routine procedure, which the Government effectively use to suppress the legislature's rights.

Those hon. Members in the Chamber this afternoon—indeed, those in the Public Gallery—have been here on an unfortunate, but memorable occasion. I could hardly believe something that the Minister said; I have never heard the like in my 13 and a half years as a Member. Speaking from the Front Bench on behalf of the Government, he suggested that the Committee would need only two sittings to deal with the Bill, but in a moment of generosity, the Government were prepared to concede to four.

Mr. Hogg

I cannot remember whether my hon. Friend was in the Chamber last night, but as I told my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), such suggestions are becoming the norm for Ministers. During yesterday's timetable motion, the Minister for Public Health said that only two weeks would be sufficient to consider the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill in Committee. It is now the habit of Ministers to form a view on how much time is required in Committee.

Mr. Davies

Unfortunately, I have been aware for some time that the procedure has been abused and that timetable motions are not the exception but the rule. However, until this afternoon, I had not heard a Minister say, with such brutal frankness, that he would determine exactly how long a Committee needs to do its job. Let us briefly examine the statement that the Committee will need only two sittings, or perhaps four if it wants. What does that mean? How can the Minister possibly know that the Committee requires two sittings, rather than any other number?

The Minister is responsible for introducing the Bill, so he presumably thinks that it is perfect. If he had been aware that something was wrong with it, that it had some shortcomings or that it contained inadequacies or contradictions, presumably his duty would have been to get those points right before presenting it to the House. So, in his mind, the House needs no time at all to consider the Bill. He certainly cannot determine how long it needs, but he has said that it needs two days. Let us suppose that, in his modesty, he accepts that the House needs time to consider the Bill, that the job that he and the Executive have done cannot be perfect, that we should not live under an elective dictatorship, that there should be a balance between the Executive and legislature and that the legislature still has a role. If he accepts all that, how can he possibly determine whether the Bill should have two, four or 24 days in Committee?

The Minister cannot anticipate the Bill's shortcomings. If he could do, it would not have those shortcomings. If there are other difficulties that he has not anticipated, how can he possibly determine the time frame that Parliament will need to consider the issues? Therefore, his remarks on behalf of the Executive were not only arrogant and unacceptable, but they were meaningless. They just show that he had not begun to think through the issues before he tried to impose the timetable motion on us. That is extremely sad.

The Government have shown contempt not only for Parliament, but for the 56 million people of this country who still believe that Parliament has a role in the legislative process. If members of the public have a point to make about impending legislation, they look forward to the Committee stage as the only moment when they will have an opportunity to express their ideas to Committee members. The public hope that the Committee will take those ideas seriously and that they will be examined and debated. Clearly, that process is dead; it no longer takes place. All the people with faith in Parliament are under a childlike and naive illusion. That is a sad fact, but we must recognise it.

5.21 pm
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

I am glad that I shall have more than 10 seconds to speak, which is how long I had when I spoke in the debate on the programme motion on the Armed Forces Bill.

I agree with the arguments put by my right hon. and hon. Friends and particularly with those put by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). The Executive simply sees Parliament ramming legislation through without any amendments of worth being tabled by Members of the legislature. I sometimes wonder whether we are a legislature at all. The way in which the Government have used the programme motions illustrates that.

I want to consider the position of individual Members of Parliament. I wanted to be on the Select Committee considering the Armed Forces Bill, because I know something about the subject and wanted to make a contribution in such a Committee. I have no idea whether I will be appointed to the Standing Committee considering this Bill, but I could be. I am not an expert on social security and national insurance contributions, so it is quite likely that I will be appointed, particularly given the way in which the Government carry on. They are likely to appoint Labour Back Benchers with no knowledge of the subject, because that is precisely what they did on the Armed Forces Bill. The Select Committee on that Bill for which Government Members, in particular, voted comprises seven Members from the governing party and none of them has served in the armed forces or on the Select Committee on Defence. Only two Opposition Back Benchers will be on the Committee considering the Bill.

The Committee structure for the Armed Forces Bill provides one occasion in which a Select Committee can take evidence, go on visits and, to a degree, hold the Government to account. That Bill is different from other Bills. However, the arrangements for this year's Bill show the Government's arrogance.

If a Back Bencher were appointed to the Standing Committee considering this Bill, he would presumably be appointed tomorrow. Therefore, if he is not an expert on the subject, he would have a short time in which to be able to understand the complicated issues involved. I served on the Committee considering the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000. Even though I was familiar with military law, I had to sit down with a wet towel on my head to work out my own amendments. I tabled about 100 amendments that were not suggested by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. It took a great deal of work and concentration for me to be able to contribute meaningfully in Committee.

I am a not an expert on the subject covered by this Bill and to invite me to sit on a Committee that would have to complete its consideration by 1 February would be a disgrace. It would be a contempt of the House and its individual Members. The motion should be opposed.

5.25 pm
Mr. Timms

With the leave of House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not recognise the characterisation of our procedures that has been so passionately denounced by —

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

The House divided: Ayes 270, Noes 152.

Division No. 76] [5.25 pm
Ainger, Nick Banks, Tony
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Bayley, Hugh
Allen, Graham Beard, Nigel
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E) Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Ashton, Joe Bennett, Andrew F
Atherton, Ms Candy Benton, Joe
Atkins, Charlotte Bermingham, Gerald
Bailey, Adrian Berry, Roger
Best, Harold Goggins, Paul
Betts, Clive Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Blackman, Liz Grocott, Bruce
Blears, Ms Hazel Grogan, John
Borrow, David Hain, Peter
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Bradshaw, Ben Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Hanson, David
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Healey, John
Buck, Ms Karen Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Burden, Richard Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Butler, Mrs Christine Hendrick, Mark
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Hepburn, Stephen
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Heppell, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Cann, Jamie Hill, Keith
Caplin, Ivor Hoey, Kate
Casale, Roger Howells, Dr Kim
Caton, Martin Hoyle, Lindsay
Cawsey, Ian Hume, John
Chaytor, David Hurst, Alan
Clapham, Michael Hutton, John
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Iddon, Dr Brian
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Illsley, Eric
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Clelland, David Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Clwyd, Ann Jamieson, David
Coaker, Vernon Jenkins, Brian
Coffey, Ms Ann Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Cohen, Harry Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Coleman, Iain Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Colman, Tony Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Connarty, Michael Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Cooper, Yvette Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Corbyn, Jeremy Joyce, Eric
Corston, Jean Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cousins, Jim Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Cranston, Ross Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Crausby, David Kelly, Ms Ruth
Cummings, John Kemp, Fraser
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Kidney, David
Dalyell, Tam Kilfoyle, Peter
Darvill, Keith Kumar, Dr Ashok
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Davidson, Ian Lammy, David
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Dawson, Hilton Laxton, Bob
Denham, John Lepper, David
Dismore, Andrew Leslie, Christopher
Dobbin, Jim Levitt, Tom
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Donohoe, Brian H Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Doran, Frank Linton, Martin
Dowd, Jim Lock, David
Drew, David Love, Andrew
Drown, Ms Julia McAvoy, Thomas
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Edwards, Huw Macdonald, Calum
Efford, Clive McDonnell, John
Ellman, Mrs Louise McFall, John
Ennis, Jeff McIsaac, Shona
Fitzpatrick, Jim Mackinlay, Andrew
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna McNulty, Tony
Flint, Caroline MacShane, Denis
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Mactaggart, Fiona
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McWaltor, Tony
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McWilliam, John
Galloway, George Mahon, Mrs Alice
Gapes, Mike Mallaber Judy
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Gerrard, Neil Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Gibson, Dr Ian Martlew Eric
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Singh, Marsha
Merron, Gillian Skinner, Dennis
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Miller, Andrew Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Mitchell, Austin Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Moffatt, Laura Snape, Peter
Moonie, Dr Lewis Soley, Clive
Moran, Ms Margaret Southworth, Ms Helen
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Spellar, John
Mountford, Kali Squire, Ms Rachel
Mudie, George Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mullin, Chris Steinberg, Gerry
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stinchcombe, Paul
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Stringer, Graham
Olner, Bill Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Perham, Ms Linda Temple-Morris, Peter
Pickthall, Colin Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pike, Peter L Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Plaskitt, James Timms, Stephen
Pollard, Kerry Tipping, Paddy
Pond, Chris Todd, Mark
Pope, Greg Touhig, Don
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Trickett, Jon
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Truswell, Paul
Primarolo, Dawn Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Raynsford, Nick Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Roche, Mrs Barbara White, Brian
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Whitehead, Dr Alan
Rooney, Terry Wicks, Malcolm
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Rowlands, Ted
Ruane, Chris Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Ruddock, Joan Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Wills, Michael
Sarwar, Mohammad Winnick, David
Savidge, Malcolm Wood, Mike
Sedgemore, Brian Woolas, Phil
Shaw, Jonathan Worthington, Tony
Sheerman, Barry Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
Shipley, Ms Debra Mr. Kevin Hughes and
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe.
Allan, Richard Butterfill, John
Amess, David Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Chidgey, David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Chope, Christopher
Baldry, Tony Clappison, James
Ballard, Jackie Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Collins, Tim
Bercow, John Cormack, Sir Patrick
Beresford, Sir Paul Cotter, Brian
Blunt, Crispin Cran, James
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Brand, Dr Peter Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Brazier, Julian Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Breed, Colin Duncan, Alan
Browning, Mrs Angela Duncan Smith, Iain
Burnett, John Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Burns, Simon Evans, Nigel
Burstow, Paul Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael McLoughlin, Patrick
Fearn, Ronnie Madel, Sir David
Flight, Howard Major, Rt Hon John
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Malins, Humfrey
Foster, Don (Bath) Maples, John
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Fox, Dr Liam Moore, Michael
Fraser, Christopher Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Gale, Roger Oaten, Mark
Garnier, Edward Öpik, Lembit
George, Andrew (St Ives) Page, Richard
Gibb, Nick Paice, James
Gidley, Sandra Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Gill, Christopher Randall, John
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Redwood, Rt Hon John
Green, Damian Rendel, David
Greenway, John Robathan, Andrew
Grieve, Dominic Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume)
Hague, Rt Hon William Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Ruffley, David
Hammond, Philip Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Harris, Dr Evan St Aubyn, Nick
Harvey, Nick Sanders, Adrian
Hawkins, Nick Sayeed, Jonathan
Hayes, John Shepherd, Richard
Heald, Oliver Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Soames, Nicholas
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Horam, John Spring, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Stunell, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Swayne, Desmond
Jenkin, Bernard Syms, Robert
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Keetch, Paul Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Key, Robert Tonge, Dr Jenny
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Trend, Michael
Kirkwood, Archy Tyler, Paul
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Tyrie, Andrew
Lansley, Andrew Viggers, Peter
Leigh, Edward Walter, Robert
Letwin, Oliver Waterson, Nigel
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Webb, Steve
Lidington, David Wells, Bowen
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Whitney, Sir Raymond
Livsey, Richard Whittingdale, John
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Llwyd, Elfyn Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Loughton, Tim Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Luff, Peter Yeo, Tim
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Young, Rt Hon Sir George
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne Tellers for the Noes:
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Mr. James Gray and
Maclean, Rt Hon David Mr. Stephen Day.

Question accordingly agreed to.