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The successful passage of the Bill so far perhaps results from the fact that its origins lie in an initiative started within the chiropractic profession.
Mr. Hinchliffe : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for Government Whips to supply briefing material to Government Back Benchers, who have not shown the slightest interest in the Bill's previous stages ? They have done so in an attempt to block the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, promoted by my hon.
Column 947Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry). I witnessed the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) being supplied with briefing material on Tuesday by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). The hon. Member for Scarborough has not shown a scrap of interest in the Bill before now and his speech is a disgraceful attempt to delay business and block the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.
Mr. Sykes : That was an unworthy point of order, but it was entirely in keeping with the stature of the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) in the House. He obviously was not listening to the start of my speech, when I said quite clearly that I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Osteopaths Bill last year. Every day 310,000 suffer from back pain ; there are as many people who suffer from back pain as there are disabled and they should have their say.
The successful passage of the Bill so far perhaps results from the fact that its origins lie with an initiative started within the chiropractic profession. The Bill is not a coercive measure or an unpopular one. It has support through the chiropractic profession and enjoys cross-party support in the House.
The prestigious King's Fund management committee, impressed by the co- operation that it saw from all the different parts of the chiropractic profession, decided to set up a working party to investigate the possibility of statutory regulation. It found in favour. The report, provided under the auspices of its chairman, Sir Thomas Bingham, has subsequently provided much of the substance and thought behind my hon. Friend's Bill.
It is perhaps unnecessary to stress the intellectual and philosophical pedigree behind the Bill, because, as has often been said during its passage, the popularity and confidence that the profession enjoy among the public are now indisputable. The Bill is not merely concerned with legislating for a flash-in-the-pan fad. A huge change has occurred in the attitude of the medical disciplines towards alternative and complementary medicine. As the number of people receiving treatment continues to rise, so does the number of referrals from orthodox doctors, a theme to which I shall return in a moment.
At times like this, it is tempting to resort to the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
However, statutory registration will prolong the smooth running of chiropractic treatment. Indicative of that truth are the lengths to which the various chiropractic bodies went to gain agreement about the setting of common standards for education and training of chiropractors. The chiropractic registration steering group dismissed all professional jealousy and competitiveness to gain
Column 948agreement that, within five years of legislation coming into force, all schools of chiropractic in the United Kingdom would have minimum standards in accordance with those set down by the European Council on Chiropractic Education.
The other measures that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury has chosen for inclusion in his Bill are indicative of the same need for statutory regulation. Through the creation of a General Chiropractic Council, as recommended in the King's Fund report, and a group of four subsidiary committees, a sophisticated self-governing watchdog system can be put in place. That is of major concern to the profession, whose method of treatment could be highly dangerous in the hands of the unqualified.
The general council will regulate, develop and promote chiropractic treatment. The subsidiary groups will form layers of defence against potential abuse and provide breadth of expertise, which will ensure that the profession has a solid and legitimate basis from which to meet the increased demands that the future is likely to bring. The Bill seeks to bring reassurance to patient and practitioner alike. Statutory regulation would offer reassurance to the patient that the registered practitioner was properly qualified. The obligation to retrain will further ensure that reassurance. The Bill will give the practitioner official recognition and respectability, which can only improve the chances of a member of the profession playing a more integral role in the health care system of the nation.
In the light of the recent debate about deregulation, it can also be assured that provisions of the Bill show a laudable tendency for self- government. The financial onus of the general council is placed entirely on the shoulders of the profession through subscription rates, except where the Privy Council is required to intervene, and the work of the general council and its committees is prescribed to be proactive and progressive.
The incorporation of alternative and complementary medicine into mainstream UK health care has been helped by a number of changes of perception in established views. An especially influential article, with vast implications, was a study published in the British Medical Journal in 1990 and conducted by the Medical Research Council. It found that in a comparative study of the treatment received in hospital through traditional medicine with the treatment received from chiropractors, only one of the 11 hospital centres could claim to perform better than chiropractors. There was an insignificant difference between the performance of two sets of the other centres and chiropractors, although the study found that 741 patients studied between the ages of 18 and 65 received "significantly more effective" treatment from chiropractors than from eight of the hospitals. Chiropractic is, in many such ways, receiving greater attention and recognition for its successful treatment of what is now a widespread problem--back-related ailments. Some of the hon. Members in the House today are still worried about the extent to which complementary medicine will be made available on the national health service, especially those medicines that are to be, or have been, statutorily regulated.
I believe that that is merely a case of counting chickens. Before chiropractic is incorporated completely into established patterns of health care, it must first achieve statutory recognition. It must then be allowed a period of assessment, to discern the true extent of its need.
Column 949A more prescient question might be about the way in which a proportion of the 60 million working days are lost each year as a result of back pain could be recovered. Schemes for chiropractic treatment at the workplace, which the Minister outlined during the previous debate, represent only one response to that large problem. Far from exhibiting
"a reversion to primitive beliefs",
as the BMA thought as recently as 1976, complementary medicine could contain many answers to our anxieties about welfare expenditure. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam believes that there are savings to be made. On Second Reading, she said that she believed that £13 million could be saved in lost output and £2.5 million in social security payments, against an additional cost of about £4 million from the introduction of chiropractic in the national health service.
Various pithy guidelines were produced during the previous debate to illustrate the readiness of the chiropractic profession to receive statutory regulation. It must now be obvious to all that that is the case. Likewise, I believe that the Bill in its present state is more than ready for statutory recognition and hence I commend it to the House.
Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich) : Like hon. Members who spoke earlier, I welcome the Bill and want it to be brought into force as soon as possible. I recognise the importance of chiropractic to many people who are disabled by severe back and other pain, but there is no dispute in the House about the importance of the Bill and the importance of its coming into law.
No debate is necessary on the Bill and I hope that, after this long debate, the House will recognise that the tactics of the Conservative Members are not to add anything to the Chiropractors Bill. They intend to block the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which would bring benefit to millions of disabled people in the country. 10.24 am
Although, 20 years on, the BMA remains agnostic about complementary medicine, I have a personal observation to make. About 20 years ago, when I started working, I had an injury which resulted in the most appalling headache. I visited countless doctors and specialists, none of whom could find anything wrong. Therefore, I speak with considerable feeling when I say that a chiropractor solved that problem. I am not alone in that. It was an appalling experience of six months of considerable pain.
Complementary medicine has been brought substantially into the main stream and I welcome the fact that the cure of pain through chiropractic can be achieved without the use of pills, which have become a considerable problem in our country. In the old days, chiropractic and osteopathy were considered to be off-beam and eccentric. They were unloved and held in deep suspicion.
Column 950On a final personal note, when I telephoned my doctor to say that I had got rid of that excruciating pain via manipulation of the spine, he was horrified. I do not believe that today a general practitioner would react in that way.
The thrust of the Bill, therefore, is to recognise the achievements of chiropractors by upgrading their reputation and giving them the professional status that they deserve because they have helped so many people such as myself.
Increasingly, medicine takes an holistic view of people. We know that illness can be psychosomatic in many respects, but we know that the spine is the conduit for the nervous system and can have an impact on the immune system. Indeed, the huge volume of back pain which is so noteworthy of contemporary Britain is increasingly treated by chiropractors without recourse to tranquillisers. Last night, I initiated an Adjournment debate about substance abuse. One aspect of substance abuse that is an increasing problem in this country is the overuse of tranquillisers and painkillers. That is where alternative medicine has an important part to play. In my constituency a few months ago, I visited the Bury St. Edmunds chiropractic practice and met an elderly gentleman, who had for years been in agony and was now being successfully treated. He wanted me to see the treatment that he had been undertaking. Increasingly, GPs and chiropractors work hand in glove. It is no coincidence that, in my constituency, the Bury chiropractic practice is now cheek by jowl with a new GP's surgery. I believe that that is the way for the future.
In the past 20 years, there has been a sea change. People live longer. Better health is expected. However, as a result of rising living standards and people's desire for good health, the risk of the charlatan remains. One only has to read newspapers and magazines that discuss health to read the names of countless individuals offering therapies, hypnotism and so on. There is an explosion in such treatments, which are beneficial in many respects as part of complementary medicine, but also have their dangers. That is why the Bill is so important in creating parameters for the professionalism of chiropractors.
The Medical Research Council, during a two-year trial, gave complete credence to the use of chiropractic in returning patients to good health. The medical profession, in contrast with 15 to 20 years ago, is no longer dismissive. Increasingly, younger doctors take an admirable holistic approach. Clinics offering complementary medicine are increasing and are working closely with the existing medical profession.
The chief executive of the King's fund said that complementary medicine should be regulated and recognised by statute, provided that it met three important criteria. First, it should rest on a solid professional basis with knowledge and skills that could be examined. All hon. Members would agree with that. Secondly, it should be able to cure pain by any objective assessment. We know that chiropractors can achieve that. Thirdly, there should be a public demand for it. The public require a proper understanding and feeling of security, and the difference between good and bad practice should be made clear. Publicly accountable self-regulation is, therefore, part and parcel of that.
The Bill appears properly to fulfil those themes. It gives assurance to the public and greater self confidence to the profession ; it weeds out the charlatans ; and the general council will be self financing. We are not discussing some
Column 951overweening new statutory body that is introducing a host of unwelcome legislation, full of bureaucratic intent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) said, 75,000 people a week visit chiropractors. However, there are only 900 chiropractors in Britain and, considering the demand and the good that they do, that number is inadequate.
With a proper status and self-regulating framework, GPs and the public will increasingly accept the profession. The increased number of GP fundholders using complementary medicine will undoubtedly attract further people. I welcome the fact that the Bill itself will attract people to become chiropractors, given the shortage that exists.
In 1975, the British Chiropractic Association applied unsuccessfully for inclusion as one of the professions regulated under the Professions Supplementary to Medicine Act 1960. At that time, there was a division about the way forward for the profession, born largely of a contradictory self image. As a result of the Bill, that will no longer be the case. Complementary medicine is in place and the General Chiropractic Council will give it form and structure.
A poll conducted by The Times and MORI showed that 93 per cent. of those consulting a chiropractor were satisfied with their treatment. I doubt whether many professions in Britain enjoy that level of satisfaction and acceptance, despite the fact that, hitherto, anybody could call himself or herself a chiropractor. Despite the high satisfaction, those who were unsatisfied could have recourse under common law alone, which is an important point. The additional assurance of proper registration and regulation of the profession springs directly from the Bill, under which the General Chiropractic Council can decide whether to introduce disciplinary proceedings. I welcome that arms'-length principle.
The Bill neither defines nor describes chiropractic, the practice of which will be regulated by the General Chiropractic Council. I welcome the comprehensive machinery on fitness to practise to ensure high standards and that other patients are not at risk by the illness of a chiropractor. Allegations may lead to the suspension of practitioners immediately, pending an inquiry into the allegation, which is wholly to the good. All that will add to the public's perception of the profession as being of the highest quality. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough said, 310,000 people in the United Kingdom are off work each day with back pain, which costs the nation £3 billion a year in lost production. The incidence of back pain in Britain is increasing at a faster rate than any other disability. In November 1992, a survey conducted by Which ? magazine showed that chiropractic was the second most frequently used complementary therapy. It is now 99 years old, with statutory regulation in 17 other countries. This is a Bill whose time has come.
Mr. Knapman : Earlier comments show that all Conservative Members are pleased to see in his place the Minister of State with responsibility for disabled people. In 1979, no such post existed and the budget for disabled people has risen from £1 billion to roughly 10 times as much. So we need no lectures from Opposition Members about looking after disabled people.
Column 952Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of serving on the Committee discussing the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, which prevented me, until now, from commenting as fully as I would wish on important legislation such as this. The fact that that Committee sat for 177 hours taught me how important the Labour party feels it is to scrutinise carefully important legislation. I am, therefore, sure that they will not criticise us for carefully scrutinising this Bill.
Mr. Sykes : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) is speaking, whereas the annunciator shows that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is speaking.
This is an important Bill. All those who have spoken have had back problems at some stage. I spent the last election campaign flat on my back in Frenchay hospital with muscle spasms in the back, which is extremely painful. My agent was unkind enough to suggest that my majority went up due to that fact. However, I was grateful for the treatment that I received in the hospital and from chiropractors soon afterwards.
I find the Bill somewhat contentious, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on the points that I wish to raise. I shall not take long to raise those points.
It is fair to say that a move to statutory regulation can be seen as a change in the method of regulation, rather than an extension of regulation. That is what we are told, but when we read the Bill carefully, we see that clause 1 provides for the establishment of a General Chiropractic Council and four committees. Indeed, an amendment that was not selected this morning sought to establish five committees. Clause after clause then sets up registers, annual registers, the suspension of registration and so on. How will that all be paid for ?
Nineteen people are to sit on the general council, whereas the average size of a council is 10 to 12 people. With a little practice, 19 people could create nearly as much hot air as we do in this place. Is all that to be paid for by 900 people ?
That matter has no doubt been considered and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) who has been as splendid in taking this Bill through the House as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) was at taking the Osteopathy Bill through the House last year.
However, all the clauses up to clause 13, and again in clauses 20 to 26, which provide for machinery to investigate allegations of unacceptable professional conduct, have cost implications. What are those cost implications ? We are led to believe that discussions between officials and representatives of the profession indicate that statutory regulation would have no net adverse cost effect on business. As Mandy Rice-Davies in the pre-"back to basics" era might have said, "Well, they would say that, wouldn't they ?" Some 900 members will have to pay for a vast bureaucracy so I presume that, ultimately, the patient will pay.
Column 953I have concerns about the Bill. I welcome the thrust of it and what it seeks to achieve, but I query the number of committees and the size of the council. I wonder whether 900 practitioners can reasonably be expected to pay for it. I suspect that in two or three years' time, the cost of visiting a chiropractor will be considerably more than it is today.
I am sorry that today we could not could not cover new clause 2 which involves animal chiropractors
I think that I am entitled to ask whether the Government intend to allow the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to appoint someone to the committees. If there are animal chiropractors, surely the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons should be given the same privileges and rights as the doctors' representatives are given in another clause.
Mr. Alfred Morris : Would the hon. Gentleman respond favourably to an appeal from the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), to reduce the length of his speech in order not to endanger the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill ? If an appeal is made by the Bill's promoter, who spoke more briefly than some of his colleagues, would the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) respond favourably ?
Mr. Knapman : I have already said that I have no intention of speaking for any great length of time. Bearing in mind that, for some minutes when I started speaking, the monitor showed the wrong name, I am the last person to be accused of seeking to detain the House unnecessarily. With one possible exception in relation to a specific Bill, I have never tried to delay the House for any great period. I am sorry that my anonymity should have prevented me from continuing along that line. I merely wonder whether veterinary surgeons should have the opportunity of nominating one member.
I am also concerned about why the Bill involves the Privy Council and a negative resolution of the House. Why are the names proposed not put forward by the Secretary of State in the normal way so that we can ask questions in the House about the Bill's effects ? I appreciate that sometimes one avenue of approach is used and sometimes another, but I wonder why, on this occasion, the Privy Council is involved, rather than the Secretary of State.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) appreciates that I have no further points to make other than to say that back pains lead to the loss of far more working hours than almost any other ailment. I am sure that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) will wish to make a contribution. I see in the Rochdale and Heywood Express , under the heading, "Liz backs bill" that she gives her full support to the Bill. I am sure that she will wish to make a few comments on Third Reading.
Mr. Knapman : It seems that when Liberal Democrat Members support a Bill, they no longer express their support in the House of Commons, but issue press releases to the Rochdale and Heywood Express stating that they support everything.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider what I have said and respond.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) : I do not intend to delay the House, but I have one short point to make. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on the Bill. He has chosen to follow the path recommended by many eminent authorities and put in place a system of regulation for chiropractors similar to, but separate from, that for osteopaths. The question I pose to him and the Minister is that, since the central purpose of the provision is to protect the public from rogue practitioners and the like, would it not be desirable to have the fullest co-operation between osteopaths and chiropractors ? [Interruption.] Before the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) becomes much more excited, may I say that the issue is of some interest to people who suffer from back pain. The issue was raised in the debate on Second Reading, and I have taken less time to make my speech than her hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) took to make his point of order earlier this morning, which was not related to back pain or disability. The hon. Lady knows what it involved.
Mr. Sackville : It is with great pleasure that I rise to respond on behalf of the Government and also in my role as the junior health Minister with responsibility for back pain, which seems to be a growing problem. Perhaps the problem is increasing because we live longer and are wearing out our backs or perhaps we abuse our backs through the way we live. I do not know the answer, but it is a large and growing problem to which the Department of Health must give greater attention.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on his choice of Bill and the efforts that he has made in steering it through the House. Today is an important day because the chiropractic profession helps a great many people who suffer from back pain. The Bill will undoubtedly strengthen that profession and make it more accessible to the NHS and to more patients. For those reasons, I intend to respond for a few minutes. It is fitting that I should do so, although I am aware of the need to leave time for other business later.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury did extremely well in the ballot-- the same cannot be said of all ballots. He therefore has precedence today and I shall respond briefly to him.
Mr. Sackville : Fund holders have absolute freedom to buy the services of chiropractors, just as the family health services authorities have absolute freedom to decide that non-fundholding GPs should have their costs reimbursed--there is access. The Bill gives people--practitioners and public--the confidence to seek to use chiropractic on the NHS. That has not happened to a great extent until now.
Anyone picking up my hon. Friend's admirable Bill would immediately be struck by its size and scope. It probably holds the record for the largest private Member's Bill that the House has ever seen--the records of the House suggest that that is so.
The chiropractic profession will shortly be celebrating its centenary and I can think of no other more suitable event to mark that occasion than the successful achievement of statutory regulation of the profession in the United Kingdom. Within the sphere of health care, statutory regulation often marks the occasion of a profession's coming of age. Through the years, chiropractors have worked diligently, often in the face of opposition, to have their skills accepted and their contribution to health care recognised. Not that long ago--only 30 years ago--chiropractors in some parts of the United States were convicted of practising medicine illegally. The profession is to be commended for holding firmly to its faith and its belief that one day it would win through. That is why today is important.
There is no doubt that chiropractic has an important role in helping increasing numbers of people remain mobile and free from discomfort. Those who have benefited from chiropractic treatment--we have heard from some today and I include myself in that number--are eager to testify to its benefits. It was probably not until June 1990, when the British Medical Journal published the results of a Medical Research Council trial on lower back pain that the medical profession in this country sat up and took notice. The MRC trial was the first large-scale comparative study of orthodox and complementary medical treatment of a particular condition, and it compared chiropractic management with hospital out-patient management of back pain. The report by the King's Fund working party remarked : "The decision to conduct this trial reflected steadily growing public demand for chiropractic treatment, a marked shift in the attitude of the medical profession towards chiropractic, the readiness of chiropractors to subject their treatment techniques to clinical trial and the willingness of chiropractors, hospital consultants, general medical practitioners and state-registered physiotherapists to work closely together."
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the King's Fund for the considerable contribution that it has made to the Bill. It is also fitting that I should congratulate the chiropractic profession on its success thus far and on its skill in persuading my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury to take up the Bill.
The formation in 1991 of the chiropractic registration steering group marked a significant step in the development of chiropractic in this country. Its members are drawn from all the voluntary associations that represent chiropractors. It is a very diverse profession ; to some extent that answers the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) that it is top heavy. There are different parts of the profession ; everyone needs
Column 956to be involved. I do not think my hon. Friend will find that the general council will be unwieldy or over- expensive. It will do its job economically.
Together, all these people have been tireless representatives of the profession and a consistent and dependable source of information about chiropractic treatment and the way it is practised in the United Kingdom. The steering group was formed with the single purpose of preparing the way for statutory regulation. It was a great asset to the King's Fund working party, and I know that it has served my hon. Friend and officials from my Department very well.
The steering group has been, however, more than a collection of like-minded people. It represents a change of attitude on the part of members of a profession who have in the past been divided, sometimes bitterly, by their common title of chiropractor. Through the steering group, bridges have been built and a common way forward has been agreed. The success of any statutory scheme will depend on a united profession.
My hon. Friend made some timely and well-observed comments on the future of the profession, and I in turn should like to add some of my own. I have already mentioned changes that have taken place in the profession, as shown by the formation of the steering group. Together, all these developments amount to a life-changing experience. The profession has already started down a new path which promises an exciting future. In the unlikely event that the Bill were to fall, the profession has already come too far ever to be the same again. The profession ought, therefore, to be setting its sights on how it will shape the future for the benefit of the whole profession. I do not suggest that it should attempt to pre-empt the role of the council ; rather, it should build on and develop the spirit of working together that has already taken hold. Increasing each chiropractor's sense of belonging to a single profession should not make practitioners fearful of losing their identity as particular types of chiropractor. After all, geriatricians and obstetricians are trained in and work in very different ways. Both, however, have to register with the General Medical Council, so the analogy is a fair one.
I am aware that times of change can bring uncertainty and that some chiropractic students are anxious about their future. Nothing in the Bill should lend credence to such fears. Should my hon. Friend's Bill be successful, as I hope it will be, there will follow an indeterminate period before the general council can be set up. We discovered from the experience last year with the osteopaths that, even with the best will, it takes a great deal of time for members of the first general council to be identified and appointed. It needs to be borne in mind, however, that the first council will have an unprecedented role, taking the profession through the transition from voluntary registration to statutory regulation and into the formative years of the new scheme. Although everyone wants the expeditious establishment of the new council, it will be of far greater importance to ensure that those appointed to serve on it are of the correct calibre and possess the breadth of experience necessary to meet their responsibilities.
Running in parallel with the appointment of the general council is the need for the profession to raise the necessary finance to run the statutory scheme. Once the council is established, it could be 18 months to two years before the register opens. In the meantime, the general council will have had to draw up--and have approved by the Privy
Column 957Council--its rules, of which there are necessarily many. It will also need to have determined and published the standard of proficiency for safe and competent practice. Its education committee will need to have appointed visitors to visit educational institutions and make recommendations to the general council about courses that provide evidence of having reached that standard of proficiency and which, subject to the approval of the Privy Council, should result in recognised qualifications under the Act. Premises may need to be secured, the registrar and other staff will need to be appointed, equipment and stationery will have to be purchased, and so on.
All that will require time. Until the registration fees start to come in, the general council will need to find money from other sources. In addition to the fees, the council will also need enough reserves to finance its fitness-to-practise machinery.
I welcome the Bill and I believe that it will be very beneficial to the chiropractic profession. The widening and growth of that profession will do a great deal for those who suffer from back pain. I commend the Bill to the House ; I hope this is the last time we shall see it here, and that it will have a speedy passage through another place.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a deeply serious point of order of which I gave notice to the Clerk of the House on Wednesday of this week. On Tuesday evening, I was informed by a highly authoritative source that a huge number of amendments for the Report stage of the Bill had been drafted by the Government for tabling by Conservative Members. The following morning, no fewer than 80 amendments appeared in the names of five Conservative Members who had taken little, if any, part in debates on the Bill since I first presented it to the House nearly two and a half years ago.
My reaction to the information that I received was to table a parliamentary question for priority written answer today, the earliest date on which that procedure could be used, asking the Lord President how many amendments for consideration at Report stage of the Bill had been drafted by the office of Parliamentary Counsel. The question need not be answered by the Lord President until this afternoon, by which time today's proceedings on the Bill could have concluded, without the House knowing how many and which of the amendments that we shall be debating today were drafted by the Government.
What makes it all the more important and urgent that we should have this information is the fact that the Government said that they would not be tabling any amendments to the Bill on Report. The House ought surely to know whose amendments these really are, and I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will agree--I know how dedicated you are to protecting private Members' time--that it would be helpful if the Lord President told us this morning how many amendments were drafted by the Government at taxpayers' expense. Not to do so can only increase the--now widespread--suspicion that the Government have decided to wreck the Bill by proxy.