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Column 784for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). We are getting to the stage where it is not in the House's best interests to deal with matters in such an ad hoc way.
I particularly noted two things that the Leader of the House said. He thought that the timetable motion was inevitable, but I do not believe it was. The precedents that he quoted certainly do not enable him to argue that that is the case. No Finance Bill has ever been guillotined before the Committee stage, and this is a very serious situation. By definition, the Finance Bill is the most important legislation to be considered by the House during a Session. It is unacceptable for the Government to take the draconian step of casually guillotining it before it goes into Committee.
The Finance Bill is yet another measure to be guillotined. I repeat what I said during the last debate on a guillotine motion, because it is true--to date, every Bill that this House has referred to the House of Lords has been subject to a timetable motion.
The Leader of the House said that it was his duty to protect the rights of Members. That is true, but he is not doing so by responding willy-nilly and casually on an ad hoc basis. I understand that he is not in control of the context within which he is taking the action, but candidly it will not do to respond in this piecemeal fashion. When the Finance Bill is dealt with in this way, the Government are entitled to say that the House is not being treated properly. The Leader of the House should look for a longer-term solution if he cannot get guarantees that the war of attrition that is going on over the heads of myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends will not continue indefinitely.
The House will require something systematic to be done to protect Members' interests. I do not say that lightly, because, if changes are made, they will be made for all time, but we are reaching the stage where such action must be taken. The right hon. Gentleman is not discharging his duties as Leader of the House unless he considers that option seriously. If he has a proposition, right hon. and hon. Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches will listen to him and carefully consider whatever action he feels is necessary. I have a great deal of respect for the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), because I shadowed her in her social security days and in previous incarnations, but she owes the House more of an explanation about the end that the Opposition are pursuing through the disruption.
I perfectly understand that the Government should be given a hard time. I have said that I am in favour of doing so, within the normal rules and regulations of the House. One does not have to be a parliamentary strategic genius, however, to work out how one can bring this House to a grinding halt, especially if more than 200 Members of Parliament are willing to comply with one's request. One does not have to be clever : it is a very easy thing to do. The House is teetering on the brink of grinding to a halt. If the official Opposition are intent on doing that, they have a duty to explain why--if they have a plan, they have not vouchsafed it to me. Perhaps there is some great strategic and clever game plan, but all I hear are stories leaked from the office of the Leader of the Opposition to the effect that the disruption will continue until the Euro-elections in June or July.
I hope to heaven that the Opposition know what they are doing, because the Government must get through their business. If that incontrovertible principle is not followed,
Column 785this place will descend into chaos. Such shenanigans puzzle and perplex people outside : they think that we are not doing the job we are paid to do when such an operation continues and the Government are forced to take action that is not in the short-term interests of the House.
Mrs. Beckett : I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but I am having difficulty following his point. I remind him, first, that the House of Commons is like any other institution or place of work--it works best when people seek to work with a reasonable degree of mutual respect, co-operation and good faith. Secondly, reasonable procedures were abandoned because the Government arbitrarily, without consultation or good reason, chose to impose a guillotine on two consecutive Bills. Nobody--not even the hon. Gentleman in his most charitable mode--can say that, since that date, the Government have not continued to treat the House with contempt. The Lord President may talk about disruption because our debates take place until 10 o'clock at night, but the hon. Gentleman, at least, knows better than that.
Mr. Kirkwood : That is tit for tat--and where does it get us? The hon. Lady says that the Government acted scandalously. I was present during the debate on the guillotine motion, and I supported her on it. I am simply saying that I understand the analysis, but what is the prescription? What is she asking for? What needs to change so that we can return to what she considers the only sensible way to get the House to work? If the hon. Lady will say what she wants, I will say whether I am in favour of it, and we can get on with real life.
Mrs. Beckett : I am not prepared to tell the hon. Gentleman the acceptable price for a return to more normal relationships, but I am prepared to tell him that it stands out a mile that the Government are behaving unreasonably by continuing to introduce unprecedented guillotines.
Mr. Kirkwood : We must all be careful to measure exactly what we are trying to do. The Government hold all the cards, and we are not in a position to control matters, so if the official Opposition do not clarify their objective and if the Government are hit with a series of changes to the Standing Orders, they will not be easily reversed later.
The Lord President probably goes around with guillotine motions in his inside pocket. I bet that, if he turned out his wallet, it would contain draft changes to Standing Orders that are waiting to be used any minute now. The official Opposition are walking into an open trap if they do not realise that that is coming down the track, and continue this disruption without a specific time scale in mind. They will then deserve all they get.
Mr. Illsley : The hon. Gentleman says that the Leader of the House is walking around with draft amendments to Standing Orders in his pocket. If the Government intend to amend Standing Orders to force their business through the House, is that not another example of their treating the House with contempt?
Mrs. Beckett : Exactly what does the hon. Gentleman suggest as an alternative? He has thought of a phrase--"tit for tat"--which he hopes will make him look statesmanlike. Does he suggest that we simply give in and say to the Government, "Oh well, never mind. Just carry on"?
Mr. Kirkwood : One of two things must happen : either the right hon. Lady will have to "give in", as she puts it, or she must say what she wants to achieve so that we know when she achieves it. I am trying to make sense of this matter, and simply saying that the House is in danger of grinding to a halt. The hon. Lady is as much to blame as the Government for bringing forward the Standing Orders amendment.
I did not mean to get drawn into such a discussion, but, as I have started, I shall finish it. If the Leader of the House makes changes on a piecemeal basis, such as a timetable motion here or there, with no checks or balances, the House will be worse off than it would be had we had the whole Jopling package. At least the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) gave us some return for the cost of timetable motions.
I happen to be in favour of timetable motions, and the sooner we can get our hands on some sensible amendments to the Jopling package the better. Although some of it is loopy, the vast majority is extremely sensible.
The House of Commons is in danger of spiralling out of control. There will be an unedifying spectacle as Front-Bench Members on both sides of the House blame each other for the ensuing chaos. That is not good enough. It is in the interests of neither the House nor taxpayers.
I apologise for having been drawn into that level of argument. None the less, the Government have proposed this guillotine motion prematurely. There is no rush to bring forward this legislation. When the Budget system changed, the date by which the provisional collection of taxes legislation must be completed was pushed back to 5 May. This is only 1 February, so what is the hurry? There is no need for the motion, which is why the case for this strict timetable motion was found wanting, and we should reject it.
As to whether a clause on VAT could be added, I am perplexed about why the Business Committee cannot meet and make arrangements for the timetable to accommodate that. If the official Opposition have the discipline to do so, they can simply stay ahead of that timetable by two or three days. They can then find the two or three days they need on the Floor of the House and, if they are really that bothered and can keep their troops in order, they will win a couple of days and can have the vote before Good Friday. So what is the problem? I wonder whether the official Opposition know what they are doing. Nevertheless, unless we have an extra couple of hours' debate this evening, I cannot support the Government in the Lobbies on this guillotine motion.
Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing) : I have now spoken on some 30 Finance Bills. On about half of those, I spoke as an Opposition Member or a Government Front-Bench Member. However, I have never previously spoken in a debate on a guillotine motion, but am provoked to do so for reasons similar to those of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood)--I am genuinely worried about how matters are developing.
Column 787On the point that I raised in an intervention with the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) about a vote on VAT on fuel, I still do not understand why, if she wants a vote on VAT on fuel, she could not have tabled a new clause for selection for debate on the Floor of the House. There is no reason why she should not have done that. The right hon. Lady may have felt that she could not have negotiated that if a total breakdown in the usual channels had taken place. That is a matter for speculation, but I see no technical reason--I speak with some experience in the matter--why, if the Opposition wish to engineer a debate on VAT on the Floor of the House in Committee, they should not have done so.
Mrs. Beckett : The right hon. Gentleman and I are clearly at cross purposes. We cannot table a new clause at this stage in the proceedings. The Government chose the topic, as they always do, for this stage of the Bill. [Interruption.] There are no usual channels at the moment. And even when that is done through the usual channels, the Government choose topics to be discussed on the Floor of the House. We usually try to reach a degree of accommodation, but they have the power.
Sir Terence Higgins : There is no reason why the right hon. Lady should not have tabled a new clause for debate in Committee and there is no reason why that new clause should not have been selected for debate on the Floor of the House. Of course, that requires some negotiation ; if she is not prepared to operate the usual channels, it might be difficult and in that sense she is hoist by her own petard. I do not want to generate an antagonistic atmosphere because I am seeking to pour oil on troubled waters.
Mr. Rooker : The right hon. Gentleman has been here longer than I have. Before I came to the House, and when he was here, the entire Finance Bill Committee was taken on the Floor of the House. When the change was made to consider most of it in Standing Committee, it is clear from "Erskine May" that only the part of the Bill which received a Second Reading could be selected for debate by a Committee of the whole House. It is not within the remit of the Opposition or any hon. Member to dream up a new clause for a Committee of the whole House. That can be done only at the end of the Bill's consideration in Standing Committee. That decision was made when the present arrangements were put in place not to take the whole Committee stage on the Floor of the House.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Dorrell) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is an argument between the two sides of the House as to whether it would have been possible for the Opposition to table a new clause which, through the usual channels, we could have brought to the Floor of the House during the consideration of the Bill by a Committee of the whole House. I seek your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to whether that would have been possible under the rules of order of the House.
Mrs. Beckett : It is not our understanding of the procedure, but if the Financial Secretary is right, I repeat the offer that I made to him earlier. By tabling our new clauses and saying that we want to take them on Report, we are saying that we believe that it is possible to scrutinise the Bill, get the report back before Easter and have a debate and a vote on VAT. If the Financial Secretary has no problems with that, let him ensure that the Government do nothing to impede it. We are quite content with that.
I follow what the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire said and I do not consider that the current position is in the interests of the House. None the less, in the present overheated atmosphere I shall support my right hon. Friend's proposals for a guillotine. Otherwise, it is highly unlikely that we shall have any reasonable debate, but instead long debates at the beginning and short debates at the end of considering a massive Bill.
Mr. Macdonald : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask you to ponder a further point of order related to the previous one? If it is possible for us to discuss a new clause on the Floor of the House in Committee, does the present guillotine rule out a further day on the Floor of the House in Committee to discuss just such a new clause?
Many of our strategic and tactical problems stem from the fact that in his Budget last spring my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) said that we would have a unified Budget the following autumn.
A decade ago, the Procedure Committee on finance, which I chaired, set out the arguments both ways and did not decide in favour of or against a unified Budget, but it was absolutely clear that before embarking on that course one needed massive and widespread consultation, especially on timing. Many of our problems stem directly from the fact that that did not happen. The consequences were that just before Christmas the Government found it necessary to guillotine two Bills because they did not have time to carry them through on schedule. As a result, they incensed the Opposition and created the present unsatisfactory situation.
That having been said, there is a case for reconsidering the whole issue of the unified Budget. The Opposition should have a responsibility--as do the Government, the Liberal Democrat party and all right hon. and hon. Members- -for trying to get our annual financial programme back on a sensible basis. Until recently, we had three main occasions : the autumn statement, the public expenditure White Paper debate and the Budget. They have all been concertinad into a short period of time. Perhaps we shall have a couple of days on public expenditure just before the summer recess ; none the less, the schedule is out of kilter.
Both sides of the House must have a sensible arrangement for a procedural basis. I am deeply concerned about what is happening at the moment, particularly on the broader question of timing. For example, the deadline for getting the Finance Bill through, which used to be 5 August, has been brought forward to 5 May. In other
Column 789words, it has been brought forward by exactly the same amount as the Budget, but between the Budget and the deadline we have the Christmas recess--the Finance Bill may or may not be published before it--and the Easter recess.
The period for consultation for outside interests and so on is severely curtailed. There is no reason why the Budget and the deadline should have been brought forward to the same extent. There could have been a longer period, as was proposed by the Treasury Committee and the Procedure Committee, so that we could have a more reasonable time. I do not imagine that the Treasury will be on holiday on 5 May, so there is no desperate need to get the Bill through.
The unified Budget is an illusion. It is not a unified Budget in the sense of public expenditure and taxation being considered together. That is not even true in Government. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary takes the view that the effect of unification is to bring home to spending Ministers rather more appreciation of the tax implications of their proposals. That may be so, but we do not need a unified Budget for that purpose.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is still determining what is happening to taxation. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Security cannot say that he would like to spend more on something and so taxes should increase on something else : it is still all in the control of the Chancellor. The House is not in a position, as the Procedure Committee recently suggested, to put forward proposals on whether taxes or public expenditure should be increased. We are still in the traditional position where the House can only reduce them, so the Budget is not a unified Budget in that sense either.
In addition, we are supposed to be debating taxation and public expenditure together. We still have all the old traditional taxation debates, but there is no corresponding stream of debates on public expenditure. We have the Estimates days, which always fulfil a useful function, but there is no serious debate on individual items based on reports from individual Departments on which Select Committees could report and which could lead to a separate stream of debates on public expenditure, which would be sensible if we were really fulfilling our jobs.
This all gives one grave cause for concern against a background of the biggest Finance Bill ever. That is not disputed by anyone ; it is the only two-volume Finance Bill ever.
The Select Committee on Procedure, the Treasury Committee and others have strongly advocated splitting the Bill into a taxes management Bill on the one hand, with the more political aspects of it on the other. I still believe that the arguments in favour of that are overwhelming and that the arguments against it, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House put to the Procedure Committee, do not stand up. There is no great difficulty in splitting the Bill. We can both say which are technical matters and which are not. The reality is that some nasty things are hidden in parts of it--for example, retrospection and
Column 790whether the Inland Revenue can examine accountants' records even though a mistake was made. The Bill contains a series of difficult items and also a lot of technical stuff.
One of the objections that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made against splitting the Bill was that it would have to have two Second Readings and two Report stages. It is seriously arguable--I have not thought about this until recently--whether one should not have the Budget and the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, split the Bill into two separate Committees, which could then consider the technical aspects as against the political aspects, bring it back for Report and then on to Third Reading. In the light of the timetable motion, I think that it is a bit late to do that, but it is important that we should seek to get the whole of our financial procedures on an even keel.
On balance, we have serious tactical problems, for the reasons that I have mentioned. It is important that we get the usual channels working as soon as possible. That is important not only for the immediate reasons of the Bill, but we must get the fundamental programme for the future consideration of our financial affairs on the right basis, which can happen only through consultation on both sides. The sooner that begins, the better.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : This is the first occasion on which I have spoken in a debate on an allocation of time motion since I have been a Member of the House. There have been many opportunities to speak--far too many. I have held back until now because I have wanted to develop the point in my mind before bouncing it off the House of Commons.
What the Government are doing is an affront to parliamentary institutions and fulfils Lord Hailsham's idea about parliamentary dictatorship : one wins a general election, gets the parliamentary arithmetic and pushes through legislation regardless of the views inside or outside the Chamber. Of course, that means bad legislation. It also means that an Opposition can win the the debate but time after time they lose the vote ; the Government arrogantly proceed. The guillotine motion is bad for those reasons and shows the arrogance of the Government in their approach to Parliament and democratic institutions. I believe that it is time that every Back-Bench Member of Parliament paused to consider whether we should take away from the Executive the capacity and power to decide what should be parliamentary business.
When I have discussed that concept with one or two of my colleagues, they have looked bewildered, because they have been brought up on the basic British constitution A-level and think that it cannot be done in the Westminster-style constitution. I disagree. It seems to me that we should have, in relation to the Finance Bill and other legislation, a Select Committee of senior Members of the House of Commons with whom the Government would negotiate, every year, "train paths" for legislation. They would not only discuss the amount of parliamentary time that is given to each Bill but also the volume of Bills. In my mind's eye I see a Select Committee, probably chaired by
Column 791the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) or the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). They would be ideal candidates for the chairmanship of a Select Committee that was distanced from the Executive. Of course, there would be a parliamentary majority on it for the largest party, but nevertheless it would be able to decide how much legislation and at what pace and volume Parliament could and should allow for Government Bills. That is different from Jopling, because he assumes that the parliamentary timetable of the business would still be dictated by the Government. It is that principle that we should consider breeching. It would make for a much better Parliament and better legislation. It would temper the excesses of Government and give them time and pause to determine whether legislation, in its entirety or in part, was prudent for the country or even their parliamentary fortunes. It is archaic that the business of the House, under the guillotine motion, should be dictated to us by the Lord President of the Council, who acts as judge and jury--he obviously had the Opposition in mind--and decides whether we are being tendentious, are filibustering, or that the quality of our speeches is fair. That is nonsense.
Let us consider the Lord President of the Council. The present incumbent of that office is quite a decent bloke. Contrary to his better judgment, since I have been here, he has been kind and courteous to me. No doubt he is kind to animals, too. Nevertheless, his office is wrong. That point has been brought home this afternoon by the fact that he can and does behave as judge and jury in this place on the quality and relevance of the speeches and the behaviour and performance of Members of Parliament. I would like to see that changed. In parenthesis, the title "Lord President of the Council" is also a nonsense. That grand title sends the wrong signals to people outside about the business of this place.
The other day I tabled a parliamentary question asking whether the right hon. Gentleman would set out in Hansard the Privy Council oath. He said no ; it was secret. What a peculiar set up. We have a supposed open Government, yet we cannot know what is the Privy Council oath. The Lord President of the Council presides over such humbug and the business of this place. That is wrong. It is time that his office was reviewed and, in my view, swept away.
Reference has been made to yesterday's debate. The truth is that the Conservative party Whips said to their hon. Friends, "For goodness sake, do not get up. Do not come out of your corner fighting. We do not want to give an opportunity to the Opposition to explore the foolishness and consequences of the air passenger duty. Keep quiet." As a consequence, there was the apparent disparity that Opposition Member after Opposition Member spoke, but no Conservative Members came out of their corners to defend the proposal for which they were prepared to vote.
Mr. Forman : The hon. Gentleman probably knows that I spoke briefly in yesterday's debate precisely to lend my support to what the Government are doing with the air passenger duty. The fact is that the imbalance came about not because of any reticence on the Government side--we were merely following a disciplined approach--but because Opposition Members were speaking for too long and filibustering.
Column 792colleagues, in parliamentary terms he came out fighting. There was a dearth of hon. Members who were prepared to speak and defend that policy, particularly those whose constituencies are around regional airports or whose work force and the economy of their area are dependent on regional airports or the airline industry. I think that you, Mr. Morris, were in the Chair. The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) used the occasion to suggest that the Government--
Mr. Mackinlay : In that case, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will take my word for it. On another occasion last night, the hon. Member for Torbay suggested that, in place of the tax under discussion, value added tax should be imposed on the package holiday industry. The body language of the Paymaster General suggested that he wanted the ground to swallow him up : he was acutely embarrassed. Yesterday, Conservative speakers did not give the Government's policies sustained support. The message went out--I except the remarks of mavericks and of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman)--that the Conservatives wanted to minimise the opportunity for debate, and to deny the Opposition a chance to explore and expose the foolishness of that tax proposal and others. As has already been said, the Government fear a further airing of their proposal to impose VAT on domestic fuel, and of all the consequences for the poor and disadvantaged. They fear the political consequences, particularly in view of the approaching municipal and European elections. I am not a very sophisticated man, but let me advance a proposition : all that is required is an opportunity for the House to vote on the proposed imposition of VAT on domestic fuel. Not only Opposition Members but people outside want that. People want to know whether their Members of Parliament were for or against the proposal.
Earlier opportunities have been blurred by parliamentary procedures and the wording of motions. Ultimately, however, we want to know who supports the proposal, who is against it and who--among Conservative Members in particular--had the courage to oppose it, despite the party machine.
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : Will the hon. Gentleman explain why his party failed to table an amendment to the Budget debate back in December, which would have given hon. Members the opportunity to debate the proposal? Was the reason incompetence or forgetfulness--or both?
Mr. Mackinlay : You will observe, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am being advised by my colleagues. I have candidly confessed that I am not a very sophisticated person : all I want is for the House to have an opportunity to decide whether it supports the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel--and, implicit in that, the ability of our constituents to run their fingers down the Division list and find out how their Members of Parliament voted.
There has been dispute about both the wording of motions on the issue of VAT on domestic fuel and the timing and structure of those debates ; but we have had no opportunity to debate the issue in black and white. This guillotine motion is frustrating because it is preventing us
Column 793from showing the electorate where we stand on this important matter. I would welcome the opportunity for the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), for instance, to go into the Lobby and vote on the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel : it would enable my hon. Friends and myself to point out to his constituents that he supported it.
I take a fairly ecumenical view of the Liberal Democrats outside the House. I have always said that the defeat of this Tory Government is of paramount importance, and that anyone who joins us in the Lobbies with the aim of defeating them is welcome. Having listened to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), however, I must add that his party must decide whether it seriously wants to frustrate the Government in their implementation of policies designed to disadvantage ordinary working people. More important, are the Liberal Democrats prepared to do all that they can to defeat the Government and bring forward the date of a general election? In short, the Liberal Democrats must decide whether they are with us or against us. The speech of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire betrayed a confusion of thought. Liberal Democrats are trying to have it both ways. The challenge, or test, lies in whether they are prepared to vote with Labour on this issue and others between now and the general election, thus demonstrating that they oppose the Tory party. I hope that, in areas of the United Kingdom where the Liberal Democrats allegedly hope to maximise their majority over the Conservatives, potential Labour voters and others opposed to the Conservatives will note the ambiguous stance of Liberal Democrats in this debate and others.
The repeated use of the guillotine by the Leader of the House and his colleagues will ultimately prove foolish from the point of view of the Conservatives. They have been in office for so long that they see themselves as almost divine ; few Conservative Members can envisage the day on which they might just be sitting over here. Two years from now there will be a Labour Government, and that Government will have an important duty : they will have to get through a bottleneck of legislation in a short time. After 14 years of Conservative government, we shall want to reverse many
decisions--legitimately, because we shall have a mandate.
Mr. Mackinlay : The Chief Secretary may interrupt from a sedentary position, but we shall have a mandate. One thing that we have learnt over the past 15 years is the need to stick to the programme and press on. I hope that my hon. Friends will do that. I also hope that--because one of the hallmarks of the Labour party and its traditions is democracy--we will restrain ourselves from giving way to the legitimate temptation to behave as Conservative Members have behaved in recent years.
Column 794much missed by working people ; to invest in our manufacturing base, which has haemorrhaged over the past 15 years--and much more. Our capacity to right the wrongs of 15 years will, however, be limited by problems of parliamentary time. Nurses, teachers, parents, trade unionists and others, both in and out of work, will all be seeking remedies for the excesses of the Thatcher years and the era of the present Prime Minister. We shall be faced with the temptation of using the guillotine. I hope that we shall act with restraint ; but Conservative Members might be prudent to reflect for a few moments on the fact that there will soon be a change of Government. Then decisions about parliamentary timetables, the use of the guillotine and appointments to boards and police authorities will be taken by my right hon. Friends. Because we are democrats, we shall refrain from the excesses demonstrated by the Lord President of the Council today, and for a long time before today.
I was not able to make the point when I was interrupted by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, but I say now that we shall review and modernise the United Kingdom's parliamentary institutions and constitutional structure. I may then be able to persuade my right hon. Friends to consider ways and means of ensuring that this legislature--in particular, Back-Bench Members--can influence the volume of legislation and the capacity to facilitate serious debate on legislation.
This Finance Bill is a monstrosity. There is not a stapler capable of going through it. Such is its size that it has had to be produced in two parts. Never before have we had a Finance Bill as thick as this one. When you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, became a Member of Parliament Bills were not printed on A4 paper. If the paper size had not been changed, this Bill would have had to be produced in four or five parts.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Ministers have claimed that the Bill is 40 per cent. longer. That figure is based on numbers of pages. The Finance Bill of 1993 had 69 clauses and 12 schedules, so that there was potential for 81 debates ; this year's Bill has 244 clauses and 23 schedules--a total of 267 provisions. In other words, this measure is three times as big, in terms of number of provisions, as last year's. Here we have a further example of the Government's disgraceful conduct.
Mr. Mackinlay : My hon. Friend is right. Very often Members of Parliament are approached by constituents--people who have supported and sustained the Tory party over the years--with complaints about measures that they have discovered are on the statute book even though they have not been properly scrutinised in this House. An example is the Child Support Agency, which we are to debate tomorrow. An enormous number of my constituents
Many constituents have told both Conservative and Labour Members quite openly that, although they voted Conservative at the last and previous general elections, they feel betrayed by the Government. To such people I
Column 795have to say that Parliament is a peculiar place, that it is not geared up for detailed scrutiny of the plethora of legislation that the Conservative Government are railroading through. I have to admit that this will be a problem for the next Labour Government unless we are prepared for self-denial--as I am sure we shall be. In any case, we shall devolve power, and many matters will be dealt with by assemblies in Edinburgh and elsewhere.
The Lord President of the Council has complained about the behaviour of Opposition Members yesterday and about the content of their speeches. I have a complaint to throw back at the right hon. Gentleman. In the course of my few moments' speech last night on the proposed air passenger duty I challenged the Paymaster General to tell us whether there had been discussions with the Isle of Man Government about the impact of this tax on their affairs. I wanted to make the point that, even if there is no legal requirement, there is a constitutional convention that the Isle of Man Chief Minister and his colleagues are approached at an early stage and given an opportunity to make representations. The right hon. Gentleman was not listening when I tried to make that point.
I referred also to Northern Ireland and expressed regret at the absence of Northern Ireland Members. This measure certainly has an impact in their Province. The Paymaster General, in his winding-up speech, failed to respond to my points. This illustrates how, when we make legitimate points- -sometimes in the form of questions--to Members on the Treasury Bench they are ignored.
The Paymaster General (Sir John Cope) : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed that I did not respond specifically to his points. In fact, I have had talks with the Isle of Man Minister about this tax. The reason for my not responding last night was that I was under very considerable pressure from both sides of the Committee at the end of a very long debate, in which I was speaking for the second time. A good many points--not just those of the hon. Gentleman--were left to be responded to at a later stage.
Mr. Mackinlay : No doubt the Paymaster General will deal with these points in Committee, where there will not be so many Members of Parliament as witnesses and to which the television cameras do not have access. It is not good enough for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he was under pressure. He wanted to get the debate over with the minimum contribution and the minimum defence of the Government's policy on the imposition of this tax.
I shall go into the Division Lobby in opposition to this guillotine motion because I believe, above all else, that the House of Commons is not scrutinising adequately the vast amount of legislation with which it has to deal. This makes a mockery of parliamentary democracy and produces bad legislation.
Mr. Newton : I have been resisting the temptation to get to my feet. Although I am prepared to pay the hon. Gentleman as many compliments as he pays me, I have to say that brevity is not notable among his many qualities. I want to draw attention to the apparent paradox between most of the contents of his speech during the last few minutes and the demand of his right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) that less time be provided for debate on the Bill.
Mr. Mackinlay : Either the Lord President of the Council is on a different planet or he has been listening to a different debate. The Labour party wants an opportunity to debate and expose the Government's proposal to impose value added tax on domestic fuel--a measure that will hit poor and disadvantaged people. We want our constituents to see who supported this decision and who opposed it. When the Lord President interrupted me I was explaining why I shall oppose the guillotine motion. What the Government are doing makes a mockery of parliamentary democracy, and it is time to demonstrate that they are completely disregarding the people of this country. They are imposing taxes that will have an enormous impact on many individuals and many enterprises. What is being done will have a deleterious effect on manufacturing industry and on our capacity to export. It will be bad for Britain.
I look forward to the day when my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South is Lord President of the Council so that we may have a sensible and fair timetable for all legislation and may take the initiative of reviewing and revising our rather outdated parliamentary institutions and our rather old and inadequate constitutional structures. That day is not far away.