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5.20 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I shall be brief, as I share the views eloquently expressed by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). We are talking about extremely important legislation, and I shall use only a small amount of time that would otherwise be devoted to debating these measures. I will certainly not waste time in the way Conservative spokespeople have done this afternoon.

This debate is about the orderly management of parliamentary business. I make no bones about it: I think the guillotine should always be used as an absolute last resort. Unfortunately, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said--

Miss Widdecombe: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think I heard the hon. Member forNorth Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) say that Conservative spokespeople--only one of us has spoken in the debate--had wasted time this afternoon. Presumably, you would not have allowed me to do that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Do you believe that I wasted time this afternoon?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: If the right hon. Lady had been wasting time, I would certainly have called her to order.

Mr. Tyler: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This debate is about the orderly management of our time. We must try to achieve the best scrutiny of the legislation that comes before the House. Anybody who attended, watched or listened to the debate last night would have been fully aware that it was not a good use of House of Commons time: it was not a careful assessment of the legislation before the House and it did not result in proper scrutiny.

Guillotine debates always have an element of play acting, and this afternoon is no exception. I know--as I am sure the House does--that Conservative Front Benchers were clearly manoeuvring last night in order to make a point. I do not blame the Opposition for that, but it should be obvious to all, inside and outside the House. The Conservatives sought to trigger precisely the sort of

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motion that is now before us so that they could say that the Government had cut short the debate. The Government stand accused of making no attempt to avert that motion. They could have done so, if they had wished, by offering a programme motion.

I serve on the Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, and we have experimented successfully with agreed programme motions involving all parties. I would like to extend that process further by ensuring that Back Benchers have some input. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich would like to have some input, and I believe that would be extremely helpful. No one can pretend that what occurred last night amounted to orderly management of the business of the House.

The Government did not offer a programme motion on the Health Bill. I understand that to be the fact. I am involved in these discussions to some extent, and the Government made no offer to programme the timing of that legislation. What sort of programme motion could we have regarding the Immigration and Asylum Bill? We do not know whether there will be punctuation marks during the debate to enable the articulation of all views in the House--particularly those of Government Back Benchers. No offer has been made to us and I understand that no detailed offer was made to the Conservatives. The Government stand accused of provoking this situation in order to smother the views of any remaining Labour rebels.

Both sides of the House have been play acting. Indeed, is this not some sort of pantomime? We have had contributions from Baron Belly Laugh and the Dame this afternoon, and I gather that later we shall see Jack the Beanstalk himself. Sadly, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is not in his usual place. He usually takes the part of the wolf in Red Riding Hood and at this stage he would normally snarl, bear his fangs and make the point that all Conservative Governments used the guillotine far more often than do the present Government.

It is ridiculous that we have reached this point. It is a reflection on the way in which the House is managed, and the fact that we cannot manage it better is a reflection on us all. I hope that we can now get on with the real debate.

5.25 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): We can take it that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) is not a candidate for the Liberal Democrat leadership. [Hon. Members: "Shame." ] Yes, it is a shame. The hon. Gentleman appears to come from the bureaucratic tendency in the Liberal Democrats. He says that this debate is about the orderly management of business or time but it is not; it is about parliamentary democracy, and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) was entirely right about that.

I shall be brief, and I speak as perhaps the most recent arrival on the Back Benches. I want to protest at the use of the guillotine. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who spoke from the Front Bench and whom I congratulate on her new position--she will be entirely excellent--pointed out that the guillotine deals with two Bills. I shall concentrate on the Immigration and Asylum Bill because I am most familiar with that.

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Even if I accepted the Health Secretary's arguments, they have nothing to do with that Bill. By any standards, it is a most important Bill. It seeks to deal with questions relating to political asylum seekers, both genuine and bogus. Inevitably, the Bill is sensitive; it deals with issues of human rights and the rights of families and children. It arouses genuine and sincere differences of opinion.

That is not only my view, but that of the Home Secretary, because he made the Bill, exceptionally, subject to the Special Standing Committee procedure. I assume that his aim was to achieve the best possible legislation after detailed consideration. There is no point in having that system and using it unless that is the aim. Today, that policy is being reversed--that is the truth of what is being proposed. There is now no question of the Bill receiving the fullest examination. Its remaining stages were to be taken over two days, and they will now, at best, be taken in just over a day.

In that time, we shall be expected to consider amendments that deal with the treatment of over-stayers, the removal of asylum claimants, support for children and restrictions on employment. We shall be asked todeal with charges for passengers without proper documentation, bail hearings, victims of torture, detainees with children and a range of other matters, not to mention the Bill's Third Reading.

We shall be expected to deal, most crucially, with legions of new clauses and Government amendments. It is not Opposition Members but Home Office Ministers who have filled the Order Paper with amendments, and now they are guillotining the discussion of those amendments. That discussion is not the responsibility of the Opposition or of the Government's allies, the Liberal Democrats; it is absolutely the Government's responsibility.

In that time, we shall be expected to deal also with Opposition amendments. Even the Liberal Democrats have managed to muster the courage to table one or two amendments, and there are amendments in the name of Labour Back Benchers. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald suggested, there is no doubt that one reason for the Government's concern is an amendment tabled by Government Back Benchers.

This is a disgraceful way to treat the House. Although the Health Secretary has now left the Chamber, I must say that his arrogant speech did nothing for the Government's case. It was a disgraceful speech that would not have persuaded anyone who listened to it, and he should be ashamed of it.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Many hon. Members will agree with the sentiments that my right hon. Friend has just expressed. Does he believe that we should be told by the Secretary of State whether he authorised the Leader of the House last night to describe the new clauses that had been tabled to the Health Bill as "minor and technical"? Given that they cover a wide variety of matters that are of the essence of public debate about our national health service, does my right hon. Friend, as a highly experienced parliamentarian, believe that what we witnessed from the Leader of the House last night was the clearest illustration of the Executive's arrogance and contempt for the House of Commons?

Sir Norman Fowler: I do. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall not go back into the national health

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service. Having done the Health Secretary's job for an unprecedented six years, I shall not tiptoe back into that area for the time being. However, my hon. Friend's point is correct.

What the Government are doing is disgraceful also because it represents such a reversal of attitude on the part of Home Office Ministers. They started by saying that they wanted the closest examination of the Immigration and Asylum Bill. They were anxious to have our suggestions and proposals. Now, at the last stage, in they come with the proposal that discussion should be guillotined.

The guillotine of the Immigration and Asylum Bill has no justification. The Bill has been dealt with in an entirely sensible way, and the issues have been debated fully and sensibly. There is no question about that. On our side the Bill was handled outstandingly by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). Any member of the Standing Committee would endorse that. I can say with certainty that in the two-day debate on the remaining stages of the Bill, the approach would have been exactly the same. We were not planning to filibuster it into the small hours of the morning. There was no question of our doing that.

There is absolutely no justification for the Government's guillotining the Immigration and Asylum Bill. Up to now, they have blamed the last Conservative Government for any faults in the political asylum and immigration system. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who has come into the Chamber--I was going to put it more emotively--has no other speech. I have been listening to him, regrettably, for a year. He has no other form of words.

From now on, the defects in the Bill and in the system belong to the Government and to that set of Ministers. They have entire responsibility for the workings of the legislation, discussion of which they have wrongly curtailed.

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