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Mr. Dobson: Why did the Opposition not divide on new clause 18?

Mr. Brady: The Secretary of State seems to think that he has hit on a clever point--perhaps for the first time--in suggesting that, if the Opposition do not press an amendment to a Division, it should not be debated. He clearly fails to understand that Governments can benefit from proper scrutiny of their own amendments, even if there is not a Division on those amendments. He fails to understand that point because he does not understand the purpose of Parliament and of parliamentary debate.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): My hon. Friend is exactly right. Has he noted that some of the Government amendments on today's selection list were tabled as a consequence of debate and discussion in Committee?

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. It is a relief to know that the Secretary of State is prepared, occasionally, to listen to good sense. He has not often been willing to do that, and he is certainly not prepared to do so today. The crux of the matter is that he is not prepared to give the House time properly to scrutinise new legislation and Government new clauses, which have not been thought through by Health Ministers and have not yet been properly scrutinised by the House.

Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend realise that there is an irony in the situation? If we had pressed new clause 18 to a Division, the Secretary of State would have accused the Opposition of wasting time. He would have said, "We had such a large parliamentary majority that we were bound to win; therefore, for 20 minutes, we wasted time on a Division." He cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend is almost certainly right. The Government's belief that the parliamentary process is an inconvenience for the nation, rather than an asset, is another illustration of their arrogance.

As I said in last night's debate--I now echo the comments of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), for whom I have the greatest respect--if Ministers had understood that they could gain from proper scrutiny in the House, they would not have even contemplated proposing this type of guillotine. Ministers

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are refusing to listen to debate, to the views of Opposition Members, or--perhaps just as bad--to the views of Labour Members.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brady: The hon. Lady is an honourable exception, and I shall give way to her.

Ms Abbott: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is new to the House. If he were not new, and had been in the House during the 18 years of Tory Government, he would not be so quick to hurl accusations of Government arrogance or about the failure of Government Back Benchers to subject legislation to proper scrutiny. Although I cannot speak for my colleagues, or about other Bills, in Committee, I subjected the Immigration and Asylum Bill to the most energetic scrutiny. I am now anxious to get on and to debate the two Bills, and regret that Opposition Members are wasting time on debating the guillotine.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I trust that, as she wants to have proper time to debate the Immigration and Asylum Bill, she will vote against the guillotine. In the same way as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) suggested that it was wrong to oppose the guillotine motion, as he wanted to have time to debate the Bill's substantive matter, the hon. Lady is making an illogical assertion. If she wants proper time to debate the Immigration and Asylum Bill--just as I should like proper time to debate the Health Bill--she should oppose the guillotine.

Although my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield was cautious in replying to my intervention on the point, he said that, in his experience, it is unprecedented to attempt to guillotine debate on a Bill by using an excuse that is entirely unconnected with that legislation. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) should oppose the guillotine particularly for that reason. Attempting to impose such a guillotine is a serious travesty of the House's rules of procedure, and is an attempt to undermine proper debate in the House and our ability to scrutinise legislation. The Government's attempt is utterly transparent, and they should be ashamed of themselves for even contemplating trying to stifle debate on the Immigration and Asylum Bill by using such a device, which is utterly wrong.

Last night, if Ministers had said that they wished to timetable debate on the Health Bill, we might have been able to debate the matter. They could have said, "We have reasons for imposing a guillotine", and we could have said, "No, you're wrong to propose imposing one." The Opposition might have been able to object to timetabling the Health Bill by saying that we needed more time to debate the more than 20 groups of amendments that have not been debated. If Ministers had done so, it would have become apparent to everyone that the Government were trying to stifle debate on the Health Bill.

The Government have, however, gone one step beyond that, by saying that yesterday's imagined slow progress in debating Government amendments to the Health Bill--which were tabled with very little notice--justifies stifling debate on the Immigration and Asylum Bill, which is a Home Office matter. Such an assertion is staggering.

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The Government's attempt to use a double guillotine has nothing at all to do with the Health Bill. Ministersare simply trying to limit the inconvenience and embarrassment that they would suffer if some of their own Back Benchers--the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington may be among them--were able to express their convictions about Government legislation to which they objected. All Governments should occasionally face embarrassment. That is why the United Kingdom has an open democratic process which enables the House to debate such matters. It is also why Government Back Benchers are able to express their views, if they have the courage to do so. The Government's attempt to stop that process is not only an abuse of parliamentary debate and of the House's rights and responsibilities, but utterly transparent.

It is staggering that the Government should seek to curtail debate in such a manner. It simply demonstrates the Government's massive abdication of responsibility. Ministers should welcome proper scrutiny and debate of the matters dealt with in the Bills. However, perhaps even more worrying than the Government's abdication of their own responsibility is their failure to allow the Opposition to do what the Opposition should do: ensure that the groups of amendments to the Health Bill--which take up almost two pages in the provisional selection of amendments--are properly debated.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) mentioned the significant matter of doctors' hours. However, the Secretary of State suggested that it was not possible to find time to debate that important subject in the House. The subject is not only important to doctors--who are being forced to work unreasonably long hours--but is a matter of the gravest concern to the entire population of the United Kingdom. On admission to hospital, members of the public may discover that they are being treated by a doctor who, although he or she may have the highest professional standards, has been awake for countless hours, staggering--as my right hon. and learned Friend said--through the night.

The rich irony, which will not be lost on the medical profession or on members of the public who observe our debates, is that the plight of doctors--who might be expected to work not only until 10 o'clock at night or midnight, but throughout the night and the next day--could not be properly aired in debate on the Bill's relevant clauses because Labour Members were not prepared to provide time to debate those clauses or to work beyond 10 o'clock.

It is deeply disturbing that the Secretary of State for Health and other Labour Members--who, when in opposition, always sought to take enormous party political advantage from the national health service--are now manifestly failing in their stewardship and management of the health service. In the past, Labour Members sought to gain party advantage by making huge play of issues such as junior doctors' hours, yet they now want longer working hours to be permitted in Europe. It is pathetic that the Government do not have the courage to allow a proper debate on that and I have nothing but contempt for their approach.

Mr. Fabricant: Is my hon. Friend as interested as I am in noticing that, while all the Conservative members of

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the Committee are present, not one Labour member of the Committee, apart from the Front Benchers, has bothered to turn up? [Hon. Members: "There's one."] I see that the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) has now appeared. Well done to her. Let her name go down in the record. I presume that they chose to serve on the Committee to scrutinise the Bill. Why have they not chosen to scrutinise the guillotine motion or the two pages of amendments that are before us on Report?

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