HC Deb 15 April 2002 vol 383 cc363-4 3.31 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, quite properly, the Government delayed by one day the Second Reading of the Enterprise Bill—by any measure, a very substantial Bill—precisely to allow the tabling of a reasoned amendment. Since then, in preparation for tomorrow's Committee proceedings, we in the official Opposition have worked on the assumption that the Bill's clauses will be dealt with in the normal sequence, and we had no reason to believe otherwise. To our shock, Mr. Speaker, and no doubt to yours, we found out on Friday that the Government have arbitrarily, and without consultation, changed tomorrow's order of consideration in Committee in such a way that no one could reasonably prepare the tabling of amendments to certain later clauses, consideration of which has now been brought forward.

That affects not only the position of the official Opposition, but of legitimate outside interests, which have been similarly caught unawares by this apparently underhand move by the Government. Is there anything that you can do, Mr. Speaker, to protect the House and Members, particularly those who participate in Standing Committee, so that we can ensure that this sort of thing does not happen; otherwise, we will be left in the invidious position whereby no one will be able properly and legitimately to prepare amendments for Committee. I look to you for guidance and protection, because this is yet another typical example of the Government's cavalier attitude to the House and its Committees.

Mr. Speaker

If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the order of business, he will see that the Enterprise Bill Programming Sub-Committee meets at 7 o'clock this evening. That is an opportunity for the official Opposition—and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats—to raise this matter, so my strong advice is that a good attendance is required.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your help, guidance and clarification on business later today. Will you confirm and clarify my understanding that, at 7 o'clock—when we begin consideration of the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill—the 10 o'clock motion, which cannot be debated, will be put? Is there any vehicle by which hon. Members who have consistently resisted that grubby little measure—born of a clandestine and wholly illegitimate grouping of the City of London corporation and Ministers—might ensure that it is rightly the subject of a free vote? Certain hon. Members are under the illusion that it is Government business, and that they might somehow gain preferment, but they will not.

There is also a serious parliamentary point at issue. This is a private Bill and according to the traditions of the House, which you jealously safeguard, the vote, by definition, is a free vote, but the plot is that it is not. The nod and wink from those on the Treasury Bench is that Members should be present to provide parliamentary time through the night to see this squalid little measure through.

I hope that, at 7 o'clock, we can have the opportunity, first, to prove that all that I have described is the case and to highlight that and, secondly, to persuade colleagues, particularly Labour Members who year after year in opposition derided the City of London, but are now—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has put his case.