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Mr. Brady: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has considerably greater experience in the House than I have. Can he recall any precedent for a Government pursuing a double guillotine policy--using one Bill as an excuse for curtailing discussion of another, as the Government are trying to do?

Sir Norman Fowler: I cannot, but that is not conclusive. Every Minister on the Front Bench has been looking over the procedures and the debates of the past 25 years to find such a precedent. Knowing the Government back-up, I think that there may well be a precedent, although I have never come across one.

I have also never come across a Government who begin with the Special Standing Committee procedure and then decide, halfway through, to guillotine the Bill. Of that there is no question. I can think of no such precedent, but doubtless the ministerial advisers will scuttle off to find one for us.

The issues go beyond that. Over the past two years the Government have been talking about modernising Parliament, although I do not always agree with the ideas that they put forward for modernisation. They keep talking about their commitment to open government and how they want to achieve the maximum accountability of

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Parliament and Ministers to the public. They are entirely right to have those aspirations, because parliamentary democracy and political accountability are vital issues; in my view, none are more important.

I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich and think that we would take the same stance on that issue, but there is no point in the Government using the language of parliamentary democracy and then behaving in this way, which is the opposite of parliamentary democracy. Week after week, they have made statements outside the House of Commons that should have been made inside it, and we all remember the statement on jury trials. They relegate Parliament by acting in such a way and, by tabling the guillotine motion, they have further devalued the parliamentary process. That is the essential charge against this bunch of Ministers and this Government.

There is no point in the Home Secretary coming to the House to talk about freedom of information only a few weeks after imposing an injunction on the whole of the British media. Equally, there is no point in the Government talking about modernising Parliament and increasing accountability when they have imposed a guillotine such as this. The guillotine is unjustified and an arrogant abuse of power, and such autocratic action will eventually destroy the Government's credibility.

5.37 pm

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, North and Leith): I shall be extremely brief because, unlike Conservative Members, I want to discuss health. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) gave the game away when he said that the Opposition had no intention of filibustering the Immigration and Asylum Bill into the early hours of the morning. The truth is that that was precisely their intention for the Health Bill.

Yesterday, I sat through three hours of discussion on the opening group of amendments and I can say that the Opposition gave a completely new meaning to making a mountain out of a molehill--and it was an uncontroversial molehill at that. We heard repetition, exaggeration and ridiculous comments from Opposition Members. I made a brief intervention and it was referred to time and again--and, indeed, misrepresented. It was absolutely clear what Conservative Members were doing.

Mr. Brady rose--

Mr. Chisholm: I will not take interventions, because my speech will be very brief. I want to get on to the health debate.

I said yesterday--I was not making a general point about this Parliament in relation to the Scottish Parliament, although some people took it in that way--that we were witnessing self-indulgent time wasting. That was absolutely true. The Government's mantra is rights with responsibilities, and that is entirely wise. If we are protecting the rights of Back Benchers--normally, I would agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)--we also have a responsibility to debate matters in a relevant and responsible way. That did not happen in the debate on the Health Bill yesterday.

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5.39 pm

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle): The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Chisholm) said that he would speak briefly, and he did, but he made it clear that his reaction to a difference of opinion in the House and to a desire to debate an issue is, unsurprisingly, a knee-jerk reaction. He wants debate closed down.

What a pleasure it is to be the speaker from the Conservative Benches who follows my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who is fresh from the Front Bench. I recall him expressing to me many years ago, when he was responsible for health matters, an ambition to involve himself in home affairs. He had been a home affairs correspondent of The Times, and he has had that opportunity. I am sure that the whole House wishes him and his family well now that they will be spending more time with each other.

I want to discuss the motion as it applies to the Immigration and Asylum Bill. I shall not comment on its application to the Health Bill, other than to say that the Secretary of State for Health seemed to depart from his normally cheerful demeanour, and to protest too much. Indeed, there was the merest hint of arrogance in what he had to say, which was disappointing.

Having heard your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall try to stick to the subject of the motion. As I was travelling with an all-party group on the day of the Second Reading of the Immigration and Asylum Bill, I shall resist the temptation to wade into other aspects of the Bill. Let me say, however, that this is a bad use of the guillotine, and that the Government have no serious justification for its introduction.

As both the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said earlier, all Governments use guillotines from time to time. The Leader of the House, fronting for the business managers, will say sagely that there is pressure on parliamentary time owing to the heavy legislative programme; but there is no reason for a House of Commons that does not discuss Government business on Fridays, and takes two-week spring recesses, suddenly to say solemnly that there is no time for it to debate a subject as important as this, and that we must press on. That is a bit of a joke.

As far as I can see, having followed its progress one stage removed, there has been no time-wasting on the Bill. As far as I know, no timetable motion was openly contemplated in the House last week. What happened yesterday resulted from the Government's pique about their disastrous showing in the European elections--coupled, I dare say, with a bit of good-natured teasing from the Opposition--and the Government's undoubted petulance about the extended debate on a single amendment to the Health Bill. It had nothing whatever to do with the Immigration and Asylum Bill. It is necessary to look further, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald did precisely that.

The Government were clearly sufficiently bothered by the very public setback that they had suffered from so many of their Back Benchers in regard to social security reforms that they did not want to allow time for another embarrassing ambush that could add to the concessions

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already made by the Home Secretary. The timetable motion is really all about controlling the Government's own Back Benchers.

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend referred to the Government's poor showing in the European elections. Does he agree that, once again, the Government are missing the point that the electorate tried to convey to them? I am talking not about just European policy, but about the Government's arrogance and contempt for parliamentary debate. It is partly because our population is so sick of a Government who will not listen and will not debate that they had that poor showing.

Mr. Wardle: I entirely agree, although I think that I would soon be in trouble with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I expanded on my hon. Friend's second point.

Bearing in mind what my hon. Friend said about the recent European elections, I feel that the constraint on debating time is ill judged. There is widespread public concern about the way in which immigration and asylum are spiralling out of control. The queues are becoming longer, and there are more illegal immigrants. Ordinary, fair-minded British people who are proud of the welcome that they extend to foreigners--people of all political persuasions--are understandably bothered by the drain on benefits, school places, health facilities and housing.

Many of those people--this is why the debate should be allowed an adequate airing on the Floor of the House--consider the root cause of the difficulties to be the Government's willingness to bend our immigration rules and modify our immigration controls at the behest of the European Union. A number of the illegal immigrants who have come here recently have come from eastern Europe, but a great many--wherever they have come from originally--have travelled through the European Union. That public concern was part of the reason for the voting pattern throughout the country in Labour's strongholds, as well as in Conservative strongholds, last Thursday, so it is unfair and unwise of the Government to curb debate on the Bill when it is on the Floor of the House.

I do not dispute that the Bill was closely examined in Committee. I am sure that it was right of the Home Secretary to press for a Special Standing Committee and to take expert advice, but the Secretary of State for Health was wrong to say, "Therefore, there is no need for the debate to continue on the Floor of the House." There were a limited number of right hon. and hon. Members on that Committee. Many others of us have something to say. There is not a person here who does not know that, apart from those experts, experienced witnesses and a few specialist reporters, the Committee stage hardly touched public awareness. That is all the more reason to have adequate time on Report.

Three particular aspects of the Bill will suffer from the lack of sufficient time on Report and Third Reading. First, the Bill needs to be challenged further because it is long on theory and short on practical detail. I know that that came out in Committee, but the Bill leaves much to be done by delegated legislation, subject to negative resolution. Those things should be challenged openly on the Floor of the House, where they can be heard.

My second concern was voiced by the Immigration Service Union, which said that the Bill opened the gate to softer, European-style controls. I give two examples.

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One is that leave to enter with a visa will not be challengeable by an immigration officer. Not so many years ago, I saw countless immigration cases. There were often instances of the immigration officer looking at a perfectly valid visa and, after a few questions, discovering that circumstances had changed, or, indeed, that the visa had passed to someone else.

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