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Mr. Dixon : It was forced through.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. It is not in order, in the debate on this motion, to discuss what happened in the Committee of Selection.

Sir Peter Emery : I understand that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was led astray by the Labour Party's Deputy Chief Whip--something I shall resist doing in future.

The Labour party is laying a false trail and the sooner we get on with the business that should be before the House the better. 4.48 pm

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) : It is quite obvious to all those hon. Members present today and to all those who attended the debate on 9 March that the Government have not provided adequate time for discussion of the various ramifications of the motion concerning the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. The pretence that this is exclusively a procedural matter is being perpetuated. It is, of course, a procedural matter, but that is almost incidental to the Government's attitude to and policy on the Select Committee. The Government have made a major political decision. But we have also seen an about-turn and a betrayal of the statements and undertakings of successive representatives of the Government over a number of years. In that context, the Government's integrity has been brought entirely into question, certainly in the eyes of the people in Northern Ireland whom we represent. The Government continue to affirm that both communities must give support before the matter is brought forward, so the Government lack integrity in that respect. The Government also broke the integrity of the inter-party talks, which were based on a delicate and long-negotiated agreement dated 26 March 1991. That agreement stated that all matters could be put on the table and discussed, and matters relating to relationships in Northern Ireland, relationships between north and south and relationships between Northern Ireland and Westminster would be discussed in detail. The Government made a decision unilaterally without consulting my party--I do not know about the other parties--on an item that was on the agenda for the inter-party talks. Their integrity in that respect has gone

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by the board. This is not a procedural matter ; a major political decision has been made. The Government have brought before the House a shameful and treacherous decision.

The Government have betrayed their commitment under article 4 of the Anglo- Irish Agreement, which says :

"in relation to matters coming within its field of activity, the Conference"

the Anglo-Irish conference

"shall be a framework within which the Irish Government and the United Kingdom Government shall work together

(i) for the accommodation of the rights and identities of the two traditions which exist in Northern Ireland ; and

(ii) for peace, stability and prosperity throughout the island of Ireland by promoting reconciliation, respect for human rights, co-operation against terrorism and the development of economic, social and cultural co- operation."

The two-tradition approach has been abandoned totally in the approach taken today.

On several occasions over the past couple of years, the Secretary of State and the Lord President of the Council have referred to the need for cross- community and cross-electoral support for the parties represented in the House ; indeed, as late as 1 December 1993, the Procedure Committee, in its report for the 1993-94 Session, stated :

"It should be remembered that the only reason given by the Procedure Committee in 1978 for its decision not to recommend the creation of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs was the continuing uncertainty over the future constitutional arrangements for the Province".

That still pertains today. The argument is still valid, yet it has been totally rejected in the business before the House both on 9 March and this evening.

A letter dated 2 December 1993--if I may read from the Committee's journal- -says :

"Thank you for your letter about the Procedure Committee and the possible Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. Your letter was drawn to the attention of the Committee at its meeting yesterday.

As you will see from the Report the Committee subsequently agreed, we were not concerned with the issue whether a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs should be established now. We dealt solely with the updating of our 1990 report in respect of the possible composition of such a Committee.

Ultimately it will be for the House to decide whether to amend the Standing Orders, appoint a Select Committee and to nominate its Members."

A few days before the announcement in the House on 16 December, assurances were given regarding the necessity for inter-community support and cross- party support in the House.

On not one occasion during the whole process--the establishment of the Committee, the nominations, the decisions about the detail--has my party been consulted. Not once have we been consulted about the times at which meetings would take place. I do not know whether this is a procedure that could be the subject of a point of order but that is the fact of the case. There was supposed to be cross-party support in the House, but we were not even asked about the matter, never mind being invited to give an opinion on it. [Interruption.] I am prepared to take interventions if that is what hon. Members behind me want. However, if they do not want to intervene formally, I shall be obliged if they will keep quiet.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said no later than 11 November 1992 that such a proposal

"would have the support of the broad community in Northern Ireland".--[ Official Report , 11 November 1992 ; Vol. 213, c. 892.] It does not. On 10 February 1993, the same statement was made by the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, who

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referred to the need to examine the extent of support from elected representatives from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland. No such support exists. On 22 July 1993, the Secretary of State referred again to the

"extent of support from elected representatives from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland".

That consent does not exist.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is putting forward the pros and cons for the Select Committee, which is not the subject of the motion before the House. The Select Committee has been established and the question before the House is whether sufficient time has been allowed for debate. That is the issue.

Mr. McGrady : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your direction in the matter. I was following the lead given by previous speakers. My points illustrate--I have only touched on them--that more time is required to delve into the issues that I have raised. That is why I am stating those issues : we have not had the opportunity to make our points. You may not recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker--I do not think that you were in the Chair at the time--that, on 9 March, when the motion relating to the appointment of the Select Committee was introduced, hon. Members who have taken a constant interest in Northern Ireland affairs did not get an opportunity to speak. As the sole representative on that night of the nationalist people of Northern Ireland, I had only a few minutes in which to make my points on the matter.

Mr. Mallon : I appreciate the points that have been made about the time factor. I wonder how much time was spent on researching the designation of political parties in the north of Ireland. I have been active in Northern Ireland politics for the past 25 years and I recognise why someone from the DUP, the UUP or the SDLP would be appointed, but I fail to understand why others have been appointed. I simply want clarification of the basis of the political party

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is anticipating a debate later this evening in which he may well catch my eye.

Mr. McGrady : I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) for his intervention, the subject of which will be dealt with again in the debate later this evening. My hon. Friend makes the valuable point that consultation of the elected parties in the House did not take place. That is categorically correct ; consultation did not take place. Whether consultation should have taken place is a moot point and a matter of opinion.

The point that I have been making is that a series of important issues is at stake. Today and on 9 March, the Government tried to present their case as though this were merely a procedural matter--I do not mean that in any insulting way--and a technical matter for the House to address. It is not a technical matter--and the Government's activities and statements clearly show that they do not consider it to be a technical matter. Even the timing of the announcement--24 hours after the Downing street declaration on 16 December, the Leader of the House said that the establishment of a Select Committee had been agreed--was obviously a political statement whose intention it was to buy political loyalties. It had nothing at all to do with the needs and requirements of Northern Ireland. Going back to the needs and requirements of the

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parties in Northern Ireland, one should look at what the leader of the official Unionist party said about--[ Hon. Members :-- "The Ulster Unionist party"]--I take that correction. The names of political parties in Northern Ireland are apt to change depending on the venue and on the order in which the members wish to speak. I will leave it at that for the moment.

The modest demands of the UUP were for less of a procedural arrangement than that which we have now. That party said that it wanted the existing Select Committees to deal with departmental matters for Northern Ireland, as they do here ; there were only one or two issues--security and, believe it or not, the Anglo-Irish Agreement--which it would be useful for the Select Committee to debate.

I believe that the point has been made. On your direction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not refer to percentages or numbers in connection with the appointments until the later debate, but they again show that there has been a lack of integrity on the part of the Government. They have not dealt even-handedly with the communities in Northern Ireland, as they have consistently alleged in statements made during the past two or three years they wanted to do . The integrity of the Government among the community that I represent is at an all-time low.

5.1 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : You properly instructed the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the matter that we must consider is whether 90 minutes is a sufficient length of time to discuss the motion concerning the membership of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs later this evening.

I suppose that, if any political party in the House had a right to complain that 90 minutes was not sufficient, it would be my party. On 9 March, the two previous complainers in the debate so far--the Labour party's spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), and the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady)--took 19 minutes and 11 minutes respectively to speak during the debate. [Interruption.] Yes, 11 minutes. Hon. Members should look at Hansard . My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) was given only two minutes at the tail-end of the debate.The Democratic Unionist party is entitled to have the opportunity to speak, and I hope that we will be able to catch your eye later this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and perhaps do a little better than the two minutes which we had on the previous occasion.

The issue is whether there will be sufficient time later this evening. I was delighted to hear the logic of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, who now clearly believes that it is essential to have a better airing of Northern Ireland affairs in the House and that one and a half hour debates are not adequate. I suggest that that is an implied criticism of the Order in Council procedure that operates for Northern Ireland affairs. I trust that we can look forward to the hon. Gentleman's support on the matter of having Northern Ireland business dealt with fully by way of Bills in the House.

Mr. McNamara : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is disgraceful that great, fat pieces of legislation that are really Bills should be dealt with by the Order in Council procedure. I put it to the hon. Gentleman, his hon. Friends

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and the Ulster Unionist party that the remedy lies in their own hands--in an agreed devolved government for Northern Ireland with a strong Irish dimension contained therein. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That is enough on that.

Mr. Peter Robinson : As you have ruled the hon. Gentleman out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I cannot reply and state that there was of course agreement between the parties in favour of a devolved assembly in Northern Ireland but that the Social Democratic and Labour party backed out of it.

It is important to Northern Ireland that there should be a Select Committee to deal with Northern Ireland business. I do not believe that it is to the merit of the House that that should be delayed. Both the previous speakers argued that there are political implications--indeed, that the prime issue is political rather than procedural. I contend that it is only political in their minds because they do not want anything to occur in relation to Northern Ireland that stops it moving increasingly towards Dublin rule. They would seek to oppose anything that is not consistent with a continued momentum towards Dublin.

Everyone knows that every Department has a Select Committee which looks at its work and can quite properly call the Minister responsible to account. A Select Committee can also bring the civil service to account, particularly in Northern Ireland where there is less accountability than elsewhere. Nowhere is it more important than in respect of the Northern Ireland Office that we should have such a procedure of the House. The key issue is therefore procedural rather than political. The argument that more time should be devoted to the consideration of political issues attendant on the motion is not well founded.

I am delighted that even the hon. Gentleman who most strongly opposed the setting up of the Select Committee--the hon. Member for South Down--has now decided to join in ; he clearly recognises that the Committee is not so political as to constitute a bar on his membership of it, and he wants to be a part of the process whereby Northern Ireland business is scrutinised.The hon. Gentleman need not say that members of his party are not boycotters, because they have been boycotters in the past. They boycotted the Stormont Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982. I am glad that they are not boycotting on this occasion and that they recognise the validity of having a Committee that deals with the Northern Ireland Office and can look into matters dealt with by Northern Ireland Ministers. If there was an argument that more time was needed because the matter had somehow jumped out of the woodwork--that it was a surprise issue whose ramifications hon. Members had not had adequate time to consider--the House would have had to consider seriously whether more time was necessary. However, it is not a new issue. It has been considered and debated on many platforms, including in this House, over a long period. It was, of course, most recently discussed in some considerable detail by the Procedure Committee and by the Committee of Selection. The matter has had a considerable airing, which suggests that no more time is needed on this occasion to determine its membership.

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The Labour party would be on very weak ground if it argued that the Labour membership should be substantially increased, considering that the Labour party has not shown sufficient interest in Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom to set up in Northern Ireland. It seems content to rely on the representation of the SDLP, which it sees as its sister in the battle in Northern Ireland. The Labour party should be content that the SDLP will be represented on the Committee and will be capable of representing that interest. If that is the contention offered by the Labour party for having more time to discuss the matter, it seems to me to be false.

The other argument advanced by those on the Labour Front Bench is that some sordid backroom deal between the Government and the Ulster Unionist party has resulted in the establishment of a Select Committee. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North quoted a press statement from the Glengall street camp that referred to the first Unionist step for many years. That set me thinking about what might be considered the last Unionist step. I suppose that it must have been the increase in the number of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland here. I wonder which party proposed that in this House. Of course, the hon. Gentleman's party supported that Unionist step. What were the circumstances in which it did so ? I recall that it was looking for larger numbers to go through the Lobby. Now it has the audacity to point its finger at someone who has been trained in its school, who copies its practices, who does exactly the same as it did in the past and will willingly do in the future.

Mr. McNamara : First, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will recall, I voted against that policy for precisely the same reason that I oppose what is happening today. Secondly, when it came to the vote of confidence, the result of that deal was that the majority of the Ulster Unionists went into the Lobby with the Conservative party and turfed out the Labour Government. That might yet happen to the Conservative Government.

Mr. Robinson : The hon. Gentleman can live in hope. We shall see whether that occurs.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : I happened to be a party to that situation. The UUUC, as it was called, never undertook to vote for the Labour party to keep it in power in a vote of confidence.

Mr. Robinson : My hon. Friend has been heard and I am happy to endorse his views.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : If the hon. Gentleman does not remember, perhaps his colleague the hon. Member for Antrim, North will confirm that the Labour party was betrayed on that occasion by its sister party, the Social Democratic and Labour party and by the republican whom it brought over from Fermanagh to vote for it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I was here, too, but that that matter is not relevant to this debate.

Mr. Robinson : The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North attempted to attach relevance to what he considered to be the deal between the Ulster Unionist party and the Government by saying that that party was in some

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way being rewarded by being given additional members and that additional time was therefore required to sort out why it should have two members instead of one.

Mr. Mallon : Surely, the remark made by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) points to the wisdom of the decision. The personnel within the Social Democratic and Labour party changed as a result of the increase in the numbers. He and members of the Committee of Selection spent an enormous amount of time properly researching the proposed Select Committee. Can the hon. Gentleman inform the House, from his own investigations, which parties represent the north of Ireland in this House ?

Mr. Robinson : I shall not deal with Donegal and the rest of the north of Ireland, but if we are referring to Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the United Kingdom, the parties in this House are the Ulster Unionist party, which sits behind the hon. Gentleman ; his own party, the SDLP ; the Ulster Democratic Unionist party ; and the one in which he is most interested, the Ulster Popular Unionist party, whose chairman, president and Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder), is chairing a meeting of the Standing Committee on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill. It is altogether proper for the official Unionist party to have two seats. The UUP has nine Members in this House, and the SDLP has four, it would seem proper

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That debate is to come and the hon. Gentleman said that he was hoping to catch my eye. He should not anticipate that debate now.

Mr. Robinson : I was not attempting to build some insurance into the system by getting the matter off my chest now. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was simply saying that we no longer need additional time to discuss these matters because the Select Committee has properly and proportionately allocated the seats to Northern Ireland parties and therefore that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) can be content that the task has been done well and additional time is not required to consider it.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government are trying to straitjacket Parliament by limiting debate to one and a half hours for each item, which is artificial and unnecessary ? The exchanges on this issue demonstrate that it would have been preferable if a business motion had not been tabled so that we could have first debated rating and valuation and then launched into the debate on the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. That debate could have been extensive and lasted far more than one and a half hours.

Mr. Robinson : I would be the last person to try to limit the length of debate in the House. I judge only that the Government must have considered that some Opposition Members would table a series of amendments to try to change each member of the Committee, which might have kept the House voting for a considerable time.

The hon. Member for North Down advanced the argument that, in some way, additional time was required because there had been a betrayal

Rev. Ian Paisley : It was the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady).

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Mr. Robinson : The hon. Member for South Down said that the Government had betrayed the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. That was an argument that I found difficult to swallow. The hon. Gentleman over- eggs his cake if he expects the House to believe that the nationalist community in Northern Ireland has in some way been put down by the Government. The Government have done everything possible to elevate the nationalist community, as has been seen from a number of their so-called initiatives. The hon. Gentleman's argument that the setting up of the Committee is contrary to the talks agreement of March 1991 does not hold water. That agreement came to an end on the day that the talks ended.

Mr. McGrady : The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the talks came to end in November 1992. He mistates the case. The official Unionist party [Hon. Members :-- "Who ?"] Very well ; the Ulster Unionist party. The UUP and the DUP withdrew from the talks. [Hon. Members :-- "Not true."] They withdrew because that week saw a meeting of the Anglo -Irish conference between the Irish and British Governments. The remaining parties to the talks were the British Government, the Irish Government, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party. Coincidentally, those are the four parties that are still at the table.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That just demonstrates that if hon. Members are not able to prepare for the debate, all sorts of comments come up. The motion is clear. Could we please get back to it ? The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) has been straying a little in the past few minutes.

Mr. Robinson : I have been given the first good reason why I should change my mind. Clearly, more time is needed if we are to educate the hon. Member for South Down. He is labouring under the assumption that the talks did not come to an end and that the Unionists left. But all the parties put out an agreed statement that showed that the talks had come to end. They came to an end because the nationalist parties demanded that there should be an intergovernmental conference meeting. Obviously, hon. Members do not require more time to discuss this issue as it was clearly dealt with in the statement.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Was not the basis of the talks that there would be no inter-party conferences while the talks were taking place and that both the official Unionists and our party said at the table, "If you bring the talks to a close by having an inter-party conference meeting, they will be finished." The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said, "Yes, they are finished" and the Irish said that they were finished. I do not know what the hon. Member for South Down has been finishing, but everyone else knows that the talks are finished.

Mr. Robinson : My hon. Friend's comments are accurate. It is inconsistent for the hon. Member for South Down to argue that the Government have dishonoured the March 1991 agreement when the March 1991 agreement said specifically that the talks would last between meetings of the intergovernmental conference. Therefore, as soon as a meeting of the intergovernmental conference came, ipso facto the talks must have ended. There has been no betrayal of the nationalist community. Perhaps another time I shall have the opportunity to describe the nature of the Government's betrayal of the Unionist community.

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It was argued that, because in that March 1991 agreement there was a remark that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed, and because during the talks there was no agreement on the setting up of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, there should not be a Select Committee. I have already said that that 1991 agreement came to an end the moment the talks stopped and therefore the Government were no longer bound by it.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) is now in the Chamber, it might be worth while drawing attention to the fact that we nearly had to drag the hon. Gentleman and the SDLP to the 1992 talks during the last week, and that they were outraged that we, the Ulster Unionist party, should introduce a summation paper during the last week. They came most reluctantly, and departed

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That has absolutely nothing to do with the motion before us.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle) : No one is interested in solving problems around here. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber. Mr. Robinson.

Mr. Robinson : You can understand what we have to put up with in Northern Ireland, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that we shall have your sympathy from now on.

If the agreement of 1991 came to an end the moment the talks were ended by the SDLP insisting on the intergovernmental conference, the Government were not bound to obtain the agreement of everyone to any change and the House could never allow itself to be gagged in terms of changes that it might make.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Robinson : Yes, but I had intended to sit down.

Mr. O'Brien : I have been following the arguments of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) closely. In view of the interventions and exchanges that have been made, and the fact that there is more to be said on issues involving Northern

Ireland--especially this issue--does the hon. Gentleman agree that there ought to be more time to discuss those issues ? This is no different from the other issues that we discuss in Select Committees. Does the hon. Gentleman accept the view that we need more time to discuss Northern Ireland issues ?

Mr. Robinson : Given a little ingenuity, hon. Members still have another four hours and a little more in which they might make whatever comments they want.

Finally, the Government are not under an obligation to obtain everyone's agreement, especially on a matter that is germane to the procedures of the House. How could the Government allow the procedures of the House of Commons to be determined by the agreements of those outside the House of Commons--especially if those outside the House of Commons include a foreign Government ?

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5.23 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I wish to speak because I was one of the people who objected to the business motion. I am sorry that I did not hear the opening speeches, but I was chairing the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, which is why I want to speak later about the rating and valuation order.

The business motion, to curtail debate in one case and to extend debate by a very small amount in excess of the usual amount of time in the second case, puts the House of Commons in an unnecessary straitjacket. An open- ended business motion to take the debate up to 10 o'clock would have been acceptable. In curtailing the debate to three hours, I suspect that the Leader of the House is proposing the type of limitation that we can expect if the Jopling report is ever implemented--I hope that it never will be--to curtail parliamentary discussion and to put debate in a straitjacket. That is one reason why I wanted to object to the business motion--it was unnecessary. I object to the Jopling report being brought in by stealth-- because that is what the limitations represent.

The rating and valuation order, debate on which is limited to an hour and a half, is quite important. One of the advantages of Parliament is that there is always a number of people--perhaps a handful--who take a specialised interest in something as obscure as the draft Railways (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order 1994. I do not think that there should be a limitation of an hour and a half before 10 o' clock. There is usually a limitation on an affirmative instrument after 10 o'clock and I think that we could usefully reconsider that, because affirmative orders are as important as primary legislation. Indeed, some of them--although not this one--repeal primary legislation which has been considered by the House in great detail. Therefore, the arbitrary hour and a half is frequently inadequate to deal with the complexities of subordinate legislation. It is unreasonable to impose a limitation of an hour and a half before 10 o'clock simply because that pattern has so often been followed after 10 o'clock.

There are only two items of business on the Order Paper today, because the third item is a European Community document, which will be dealt with forthwith. If there is a vote, that will take 15 minutes ; if it is a head- nodding job, it will go through in perhaps 20 seconds. The whole of the evening is before us, yet the Leader of the House proposes to finish the sitting, if we curtail the debate, at half-past 8. I do not think that, if we have the opportunity, we should limit debate in that way because of the importance of subordinate legislation.

I am happy, in a way, that the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill has focused attention on the enormous powers of Ministers. I gave evidence, which was not very welcome, to the Jopling Committee to the effect that I thought that Parliament should sit longer hours, not shorter. Parliament does not give adequate scrutiny to the enormous number of statutory instruments and regulations that pour out from the present Government. As the Leader of the House knows, the number is now running at 3,300 to 3,500 per annum. When we have the opportunity to debate a very important order, we should not curtail debate to an hour and a half.

If I may remind the House without going into the debate that would ensue if people so chose, the draft Railways (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order 1994 places on the railways the imposition of providing a rateable value of the

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English railway hereditament of £191 million, and a smaller sum, £7.3 million, for Welsh railways. We could debate how much better that £191 million would be used on improving the services to British Rail instead of abstracting that money to an organisation that will be broken up and privatised, and is already in enough difficulties simply maintaining services without taking out £200 million--which is only a transfer payment in any event. I do not want to debate those matters, but they are justified arguments about an order that would impose a significant charge on British Rail, discussion of which is, however, limited to an hour and a half.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : Does my hon. Friend agree that this is typical of how the Government deal with legislation on non-domestic rates ? He will remember that, when the House debated the non-domestic rates legislation on 12 and 13 January this year, the Government decided to guillotine the proceedings. Does he agree that that is not an acceptable way to discuss such important provisions ?

Mr. Cryer : Yes ; and it applies to all subordinate legislation. We accept that Ministers should be given powers to fill in the nuts and bolts of Government administration, but the Government are abusing the process. They are producing some 3,500 instruments a year, which is more than any other Government in history, whereas they are supposed to be taking legislation off people's backs. Labour Governments managed with some 2,000 statutory instruments a year ; Tory Governments cannot do so because they are centralising. In the process, Parliament must have a degree of accountability--it has little enough.

To curtail debate on this limited, narrow occasion when we have the time available is entirely unjustified. Parliament normally has a good idea of self discipline. Normally hon. Members who want to promote the railways issue have a peg on which to hang their cause. They would use the railways valuation order to ensure a reasonable debate. If no Member wants that, the motion goes through in 10 or 15 minutes, with five or 10 minutes apiece for speeches by Front-Bench spokesmen.

Most controversy is on the second motion. None the less, the hour and a half limitation is not necessary. One of the great virtues of Parliament is that, unlike Ministers who have access to the Dispatch Box when they choose because they determine the agenda, Back-Bench Members must be ingenious. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who is grinning, has access to the Dispatch Box whenever his business managers organise it for him. Back-Bench Members must use such motions to get time to discuss important issues. That is why I object to the fact that the Government are centralising and concentrating Government powers, and straitjacketing Parliament to make it all the easier for them.

If I am taking a bit of extra time, it is because oodles of time is available, yet the Leader of the House wants us to finish early. The first motion is on rating and valuation and the second relates to the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. The Leader of the House should have said that the business could continue until 10 o'clock. Indeed, to judge from the exchanges that have taken place so far, it might have been useful to have a 10 o'clock business motion saying that the business, though opposed, could continue until any hour. Many more hours after 10 o'clock

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could be filled because the issue is controversial. If the House deals with an issue more controversial than the affairs of Northern Ireland, I have yet to know it.

The speeches from Members on both sides of the House have shown that there is great bitterness, anger and concern about the Select Committee. In addition to the motion, five amendments have been tabled to be taken in an hour and a half. They are not just Back-Bench amendments but are supported by Front-Bench Members, which in some people's eyes--not mine--makes them more important. Back-Bench Members cannot table a prayer and have it debated unless it is supported by members of the shadow Front Bench. When dealing with subordinate legislation, Back-Bench Members must have the support of Front-Bench Members to get time on the Floor of the House. So there is a rule that items supported by Front-Bench shadow Members are more important.

The meritocracy of this place--the sort of thing that gives preferential treatment to Privy Councillors, which ordinary Back-Bench Members find outrageous--means that motion No. 3 on Northern Ireland affairs should have been given more time than the hour and a half allocated to it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) said, the exchanges tonight illustrate the controversy surrounding the motion.

I look forward to hearing the argument of the Leader of the House. He should abandon the idea of introducing Jopling by sleight of hand in business motions such as this. We should kick it out and let the House decide the priorities. He should stop interfering with the business of the House in this way.

5.35 pm

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