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Mr. Jenkin: It might be necessary to put guillotines on the hon. Gentleman's interventions; they are becoming so long now that he is in his dotage. On the substantial point he made, the Conservative party's attitude is changing. [Interruption.] Goodness me, the Labour party has changed its attitude on a large number of matters and have adopted Conservative views. It seems strange for the hon. Gentleman to justify joining in with what happened last night on the basis that he loathed it when we were doing it to him. We should all agree that there is a better way.

One of the ideas that the Select Committee on Procedure came up with was the timetabling of Bills. At no point did the Government ask us to consider a more constructive timetable for the Bill. We ended up with the least satisfactory kind of guillotine, which may suit the despots in the Whips Office, but does not suit democratic discussion in this country.

3.56 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I rise to express my concern at the decision to move a timetable motion. It is typical of the Government that, on

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the day when British service men might be going into action in Kosovo, the Government should be doing two things: first, they are truncating the vote on an important local government measure; and secondly, they are denying hon. Members an opportunity--even though pressure was exerted last night--to discuss Kosovo today on the rearranged business. It is typical of the Labour Government that they have done both those things.

The Bill is important, but we have been granted only five hours to discuss the remaining parts of it. We should remember that the Report stage is when hon. Members who were not members of the Committee have an opportunity to influence thinking. We have a substantial number of amendments and new clauses to discuss--there are 10 groups, containing more than 70 amendments. We know full well that if we divide on any one of those amendments, that time will come out of the allocated timetable.

Ms Armstrong rose--

Mr. Hogg: I shall give way in a moment.

The time for this debate will also come out of that timetable, as, no doubt, will the right hon. Lady's intervention.

Ms Armstrong: I welcome the right hon. and learned Member to local government debates. It is a pity that he did not show his face yesterday.

Mr. Hogg: I was here yesterday, listening in a despairing frame of mind because Labour Back Benchers did not participate at all. That was one of the points to which I wanted to draw your attention, Madam Speaker. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) made the point that the Government will get their way in any case. That is true, but participation in debate is an opportunity to highlight, and focus on, errors in a Bill. The Bill is important and its errors are not going to be addressed. When the Bill goes to another place, I hope that it will be debated extensively, as it should be, because their lordships will know that it has not been properly debated in this place.

One or two provisions in the Bill raise issues of fundamental importance. The Henry VIII clause--clause 15--is a scandal; it enables the Government to disapply legislation and to give powers to local authorities as they think fit. The only statutory mechanism that the Government are obliged to employ is the affirmative resolution procedure. However, as you will know better than most people, Madam Speaker, that procedure is unamendable. The Government are giving themselves powers to disapply legislation or to create new powers and obligations, subject only to the affirmative resolution procedure. I regard that as an absolute scandal. That matter, along with many others, should be the subject of extensive debate. To allow only five hours in which to debate 10 groups of amendments and the timetable motion, and to have such Divisions as the House might think appropriate, is in no sense an appropriate way to treat a democratic assembly.

4 pm

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): I do not want to take too much time, as I think that we should be spending our time debating the Bill. However, I hope that when the

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Minister replies she dissociates the Liberal Democrats from her remarks about Opposition Members wasting time. Yesterday evening, only one Liberal Democrat Member spoke, and that for only about 10 minutes.

4.1 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I congratulate the Minister for Local Government and Housing on the way in which she moved the guillotine motion. The right hon. Lady addressed one of the issues that the House traditionally has to weigh, which is whether there is any question of delay in the conduct of the Report stage. However, she addressed little else: for example, she did not tell us that an unconscionable length of time had originally been spent on the Bill. Library notes used to advise us on guillotines, telling us how many hours had been spent on each stage of a Bill before a guillotine had been judged to be appropriate.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) pointed out the historic reasons as to why it is appropriate that, on Report, the full range of Members of the House can bring to bear their views and judgment on the individual clauses and parts of a Bill. Following on from that, I wish to support the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin). It is intolerable to place before the House a guillotine motion that is constructed in such a way that it incorporates the Standing Order that allows three hours to debate it into the total time allowed for debate on the Bill, including Third Reading.

Given that the Government have clearly weighed that matter, let us suppose that the debate on the guillotine motion runs for three hours and that, quite appropriately, the House decides to divide on it. If that happens, the Government are telling the House and the country at large that consideration of all the clauses of the Bill and Third Reading is to be completed in only about one hour and 40 minutes. I do not believe that that can be the Government's intention.

I should like to think that this is an example of the mindless imposition of a poorly drafted guillotine. The two acts are quite separate. First, there is the question of why the Government think it appropriate and necessary to impose a guillotine; I am opposed to the use of guillotines, but the Government nevertheless make out a case. Secondly, there is the appropriate and proper consideration of the issues relating to the Bill.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was unerringly inaccurate in his assertion that today's guillotine is the first of this Parliament. The Labour Government have taken it into their head that it is wholly appropriate to guillotine even constitutional measures that are taken on the Floor of the House, and we have already had two guillotines on such measures. The Government should reflect on their action, despite the fact that the majority that is assembled will be sufficiently formidable to carry the guillotine motion. The Bill commands considerable support, both on the Government Benches and throughout the country, so there is no point in conducting such a major piece of legislation in this way. However, as on every great issue that faces the House, there is always another side to the argument. Surely it is not inappropriate that the other side should be able to have its say?

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The intervention of the hon. Member for Bolsover encapsulated what has become the defence of a Government who turn to guillotines to an increasing extent--that two wrongs make a right. Criticism was rightly expressed at the time of the conduct of the three Governments between 1979 and 1997 who, to an increasing extent, imposed guillotines as a measure of the management of the House. The Minister, then in Opposition, opposed those measures at the time, but now, when she has the honour to serve the Government and therefore the interests of the people, she is prepared to bring forth this most onerous and hideous guillotine.

Reflect on it: that is all that I say to the Government. If the House decided to take its time on this issue, the way in which the Government have constructed the guillotine would reduce the entirety of the rest of the debate, including Third Reading, to one hour and 40 minutes. It is therefore not good enough to say that two wrongs make a right.

Mr. Hogg: Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we were to have a substantial number of Divisions on any of the amendments, we would not have time to debate Third Reading?

Mr. Shepherd: My right hon. and learned Friend made that point eloquently. It is one which has haunted debates on guillotines. The right hon. Lady and the other occupants of the Government Front Bench are fully aware of that. It is the very onerousness of the guillotine that suggests that there is a determination to restrict proper and appropriate debate.

I started by praising the right hon. Lady--

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Does my hon. Friend think that, in spite of everything that he has said, the Government may well have an opportunity, or may be forced, to take a different view from the one that they are now taking when the Bill returns from another place? If their lordships decide that it is their duty to examine carefully the parts of the Bill that we shall not be able to consider as a result of the guillotine, the result may be a large number of amendments coming back to us. I would hope that we shall then have an opportunity properly to consider those amendments, however an inadequate substitute that might be.


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