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Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) rose--

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it have been in order if I were wrecking a debate? Surely that would have been out of order, and I would have been called to order by the occupant of the Chair. I should therefore like an apology from the Minister.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): The Minister has said nothing out of order.

Mr. Dobson: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The attitude of those Tory wreckers was made crystal clear last night, when, simply to protract the proceedings, they voted against three orders agreed by the professions and the Privy Council--

Mr. Brady: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No.

The wreckers voted against three orders to improve the professional regulation of clinical scientists, speech and language therapists and paramedics. I am sure that the members of those professions who were involved, and their patients, will have noted the priorities of the extremists who are now running the Tory party.

The five hours that the motion will provide today for debate on the Health Bill, added to the five and a half hours taken up yesterday, mean that the Bill's remaining stages will occupy 10 and a half hours on the Floor of the House. That is longer, not shorter, than the one day's debate that was envisaged originally and to which the Tories never objected.

The timetable motion deals also with the Immigration and Asylum Bill--an important measure that has been the subject of 93 hours of scrutiny in a Special Standing Committee. That procedure is rarely used, and has never been used before for this type of Bill. The Committee took written and oral evidence from a wide range of organisations and individuals outside the House, whose evidence helped to identify the key issues to be raised when the Bill was considered clause by clause. That consideration itself was very detailed.

Once again, therefore, there is no question of curtailing the debate. The motion is necessary simply to ensure that the Immigration and Asylum Bill will be dealt with over the course of the two days earmarked for its remaining stages--which is what the Tories had asked for and which the Government have provided.

As the time taken debating the motion is eating into the time available to debate the Health Bill itself, I shall be brief and simply invite my right. hon. and hon. Friends to support the motion.

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4.38 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): The contribution made by the Secretary of State for Health epitomises the profound arrogance characterising the Government's attitude towards legislation and proper parliamentary scrutiny. Indeed, he is the same Secretary of State who effectively abolished fundholding, and then came to the House for permission to do so one year later. That is entirely typical of the way in which the Government have approached their legislation.

Today, the Government come before the House not with what is called a guillotine, but with a double guillotine, in which a time limitation will be put not only on the Health Bill--which was being debated yesterday--but on the Immigration and Asylum Bill. I should like to know, when the Secretary of State for the Home Department replies to the debate, on how many previous occasions there have been double guillotines in the House.

One can, of course, understand the Government's embarrassment. On the Immigration and Asylum Bill, the Government are afraid of their own Back Benchers, and rightly so. When it comes to the Health Bill, the Government are simply afraid to debate their own failure. It is amazing impertinence to suggest a guillotine for a Bill for which the Government have contributed the majority of the business to be considered, thus squeezing out the limited, restrained and responsible input that there has been from the Opposition parties.

The Government have tabled six new clauses on the Immigration and Asylum Bill. Because those new clauses have priority, the guillotine will squeeze out debate on Opposition amendments and new clauses. The Government have tabled 82 amendments to the Health Bill. That is rather odd. The Bill started in the Lords, where it was subjected to considerable scrutiny and many of the issues on which the Government have now tabled amendments were raised, but they tabled no amendments then and did not respond. The issues were rehearsed again during the lengthy Committee debate, but the Government did not take that opportunity to table amendments. They then flooded the amendment paper on Report with what they coyly describe as tidying-up amendments and put a guillotine on discussion. That is a most unfortunate and decidedly anti-democratic way of proceeding.

I shall be taking an interest in the Immigration and Asylum Bill and I have been taking an interest in the Health Bill. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) on the distinguished way in which he has conducted business on the Immigration and Asylum Bill and other matters in his portfolio in the past two years. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) on the detailed way in which he has tackled a complex Bill that refers to many other Acts and raises many highly important issues. He has done that with great distinction. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) on succeeding in the task of destroying the Government's now floundering reputation on the health service. I further congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), whose handling of the Committee stage of the Health Bill has rightly attracted praise from both sides of the House.

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Regrettably, I cannot extend my congratulations to the Government.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle): While my right hon. Friend is on the subject of congratulations, will she join me in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? Given the highly unusual nature of this hybrid timetable motion, which requires skill, as well as knowledge and experience of health and home affairs, was he not particularly wise in promoting her to the home affairs role today so that she could deal so effectively with both aspects of the motion?

Miss Widdecombe: My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has great foresight.

I understand the Government's embarrassment on the Immigration and Asylum Bill. When we introduced a Bill on the subject in 1996, the current Home Secretary and his team accused us of playing the race card, indulging in vulgar electioneering and trying to make race an issue. The measures that we introduced did not go anything like as far as the Government's measures. We are now faced with the forced dispersal of asylum seekers.

In opposition, Labour Members criticised--nay, voted against--our proposals to introduce a speedy return to safe third countries; but what do they do in government? They build on our measures by removing the right to judicial review for people being returned to--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I gently remind the right hon. Lady that we are discussing not the content of the Bill but the allocation of time?

Miss Widdecombe: Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is important that those matters should be discussed in full, which is why we should not have time limitation. I was describing the Government's embarrassment, which is behind the guillotine motion. I will not stretch your patience by going any further into the details, other than to say that the Bill even includes fines for innocent, law-abiding lorry drivers who happen to find an illegal immigrant in the back of their lorry. If I go home and find a burglar and turn him over to the police, will I be fined? It is difficult to see how the analogy would not hold.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): My right hon. Friend is putting the Opposition's case very strongly, but surely there is an even stronger case in the way in which Government Back Benchers are being gagged because of the Government's embarrassment over the fact that people in the Trappist tendency suddenly spoke. The Government have realised that they could lose more seats than they gained in the general election if Thursday's result were repeated in two years' time.

Mr. Dobson: The hon. Gentleman's majority isonly 77.

Mr. Bruce: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for raising that matter. If Thursday's result were repeated, I would have two and a half times as many votes as the Labour candidate. That is why the Government are attacking their own Back Benchers.

Miss Widdecombe: There is no doubt that the Government are extremely frightened, and they have good

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reason to be so after last Thursday, when it was clearly demonstrated that they cannot continue with the arrogance and dismissiveness of which the motion is an example. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is not only the Opposition who will be denied adequate time for debate. One can only conclude that to deny time to Government Back Benchers is the main motivation for adding the Immigration and Asylum Bill to a guillotine motion on the Health Bill.

After all, it was the Health Bill that yesterday failed to make progress, in the Government's terms, or was being democratically debated, in our terms. The Government are afraid of what will be said about the Immigration and Asylum Bill, and rightly so, because some of what is being proposed is reasonable, and we would support it in principle, but we remember what Labour Members said before the general election about what they wanted to do and the amount of sheer abuse that they heaped on us for measures, some of which were in the same direction but some of which were rather milder.

The Government have introduced a panic Bill on asylum, because they started off their term of office sending out a message that Britain was a soft touch for bogus asylum seekers. They panicked when they realised that more and more such people were coming in, and when the resultant Bill ran into trouble with their own Back Benchers they decided to curtail debate. That is hardly an impressive way of handling a highly important piece of legislation.

It is most unfortunate that because of the guillotine on the Health Bill, substantial matters--again, deeply embarrassing to the Government--will not be given adequate time for debate. For example, at a stage that we will probably not reach, because of this draconian motion, we have a proposal to replace the ludicrous and discredited emphasis on waiting lists with a far more responsible emphasis on waiting times. We believe that the Government are embarrassed by that. They do not want to stand up and justify their ludicrous preference for raw numbers on lists, which are only too easily manipulated. The Government might not want us to reach that point because they do not want to be obliged to discuss the fact that even under their ludicrous procedures for waiting lists and gross manipulation of them, the lists have still increased by 19,000.

It is only right that we should debate the superior merits of waiting times over lists. What bothers patients is not how many other people need the same operation but how long they will have to wait for their operation. It is right, furthermore, that we take into account not only the time that they have to wait after they have seen the consultant but the time that they have to wait from the point at which their GP refers them--


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