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6.25 pm

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): This is the first time in almost 20 years in the House that I have spoken on a guillotine motion. I spent more than 11 of those years on the Government Front Bench, so the opportunities were more limited than the original statistic might suggest. When I stepped down from the Opposition Front Bench in June, had anyone suggested to me that this, my first Back-Bench speech since 1985, would be on a guillotine motion, I would have been deeply sceptical. Nevertheless, that is the speech that I shall make.

I am sorry that the Home Secretary has left. I hope that the Minister will tell him that I feel moved to speak because of the Home Secretary's insistence that closed lists were some sort of matter of principle that lay at the heart of the Government's thinking on the Bill. For, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary reminded the House, it was my intervention at the Dispatch Box on Second Reading that elicited from the Home Secretary the acknowledgement that he had an open mind on whether there should be a closed list or an open list.

I shall not quote verbatim, but I believe Hansard records that the tenor of my remarks was that that was a significant statement by the Home Secretary, which I asked him to repeat. I said that we would want to consult with him during that period of open-mindedness. I hope the House will understand why I am singularly unimpressed by those on the Government Front Bench who now try to peddle the line that they were always in favour of the closed list, as a matter of principle.

May I add, for the Minister to convey to the Home Secretary, that in the House on a number of occasions since the general election I have expressed appreciation to the Home Secretary for his courtesy and for the way in which he has behaved? So I am not--I repeat not--suggesting that the Home Secretary is behaving in a duplicitous way. However, it is right to point out to the House that that newly acquired principle is precisely that--a newly acquired principle to enable the Government to get their legislation.

I have no problem in principle with the concept of guillotine motions. I have always held in high regard my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who has principled opposition to guillotine motions. He will recall that on a number of occasions during the previous Administration, when he was speaking vehemently against the previous Government introducing guillotine motions, I frequently came into the House to listen to his contribution, even though the Government Whips might have thought him slightly less helpful than they would have wished.

There is a principled argument against guillotine motions, but I do not hold it. It is right that the Government of the day should get their legislation. We introduced guillotine motions and, in doing so, followed a precedent of the previous Labour Government. I have no problem with the Government introducing a guillotine motion as such this evening, or with the Government invoking the Parliament Act. The Home Secretary, rather unconvincingly, spoke about the conventions of the other place having been torn up in the case of the Bill.

As my right hon. and hon. Friends have pointed out, the Parliament Act exists precisely because there is always an opportunity for the other House to move beyond revision

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on an issue that may affect the passage of a Bill. As Labour Members have said, if that happens, it is right that the elected Government of the day should have their will. The Parliament Act is there is ensure that that happens. But I hope that the Minister will not persist in the charade--a charade that is hard to defend--that, because the Government of the day have lost a few votes in another place, that can be spun into a great constitutional crisis.

I remember when--weekly, it seemed to me--Viscount Cranborne reported to the last Government the number of votes that that Government were losing in the House of Lords. Losing votes is not in itself a prelude to a constitutional crisis.

Mr. George Howarth: The difference is that, on this occasion, the House of Lords has overturned decisions made by the House of Commons. I do not think that a precedent for that was established when the right hon. Gentleman's party was in government.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: There may not be a precedent for this degree of repetition, but there was a recognition of something that still obtains today. It was recognised that the Parliament Act was intended to ensure that the will of this Chamber would ultimately prevail. That is right. It is the Government's view, and it would be the view of the Conservative party whether it was in government or in opposition. None of us questions the fact that, ultimately, the will of the democratically elected Chamber should prevail--and it will prevail in regard to this Bill. That is what the Parliament Act is about.

I hope that the Minister will forgive a Member of Parliament who has been in the House for quite a long time for not falling prey to the excitement about this great constitutional crisis that Ministers--with, I must say, a conspicuous lack of success--are trying to generate. I must tell the Minister that my feelings about the motion are ambivalent. I believe that depriving my constituents of their historic rights to vote for an individual is an outrage. I will not mince words. I am interested by the number of constituents who, without being prompted, have made clear to me that sense of outrage during the past few weeks. It will not comfort the Minister to learn that the affiliations of those people extend well beyond those of people whom, even in my wildest fantasies, I would expect to vote for me as a parliamentary candidate.

The Minister will know from my speech on Second Reading--the Bill's first Second Reading, that is--that I am deeply unhappy about the ending of constituencies, as opposed to areas.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That may displease the right hon. Gentleman, but we are debating a timetable motion, and he should not go into matters that will be dealt with on Second Reading in any depth.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: I note your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My point is that I am outraged by the imposition of a guillotine. Owing to the lack of time for debate, hugely important issues cannot be explored in the detail that they require. I must tell the Minister, however, that although I am outraged by the timetable motion, in a sense I welcome it. It will be apparent even to the most partisan

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Labour supporters outside the House that, when their Government provide for a timetable motion, a Second Reading, a Committee stage, a Report stage and a Third Reading to take place in four hours, it is clear that that Government do not expect the primary legislation that is being debated to be given the scrutiny--from elected Members--that it deserves. I welcome that aspect of the motion, which constitutes the most powerful demonstration to the public of the Government's arrogance.

The Prime Minister became very frisky the other day. He does not like being called a control freak. I assume that the Minister does not like being called a control freak either.

Mr. George Howarth: I never have been.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: In that case, the Minister does not understand the collective nature of government. The present Government are made up of control freaks: people who are arrogantly telling the country that, in regard to major legislation, they know better than the combined wisdom of the House of Commons. They will not even give the House of Commons an opportunity to examine this fundamental constitutional Bill. However the Minister wishes to slice it, that conveys an arrogant message to the people, who now understand that it is increasingly the Government's attitude.

In that sense, I welcome the motion. It is politically hamfisted. The Minister expects the House to look at a constitutional Bill and debate the timetable motion relating to it, all in four hours. That is the message that is being sent to the public. The issue is not the guillotine, or even the timetable. As the Minister will recall, when we debated the Bill in the last Session we discussed the amount of time that it would be appropriate to set aside to examine the issues. The Minister will, I think, be gracious enough to concede that we did not filibuster at any stage. We kept our word, and gave the Bill adequate consideration--and, having done so, we did not berate the Government for tabling it.

I give way to the Minister.

Mr. Howarth: I was not asking the right hon. Gentleman to give way, but as he has been kind enough to do so, let me say this. I confirm what he has said, but it rather contradicts the overall point that he is making. The Bill was given detailed consideration when it was dealt with in the House of Commons during the last Session.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: On the contrary. Only a few days ago, the Minister and I went to another place and heard Her Majesty introduce a new Session of Parliament. We heard a list of Bills that would constitute the business of the current Parliament. Although this Bill was not mentioned, it has been introduced, and the House has a right to scrutinise it.

If the Minister genuinely believed that an element of scrutiny had taken place that ought to be taken into account this time around, it would have been courteous of him--or the Home Secretary--to replicate the discussions in which we engaged during the last Session, in order to secure an arrangement. Ministers did not do that; instead, they sent the country a message conveying the

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Government's arrogance in tabling a motion allowing a total of four hours--including three hours for the guillotine debate--for discussion of every stage of a constitutional Bill.

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