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6.57 pm

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Last night at 10 pm, the Leader of the House told us that a guillotine would be applied. We were debating new clause 4 on clinical freedom and restrictions of prescribing. We were trying to make the Secretary of State admit that there is rationing in the health service, in the hope that the

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Government would do something to alleviate it. If the Leader of the House had not come here last night, I would have read a letter from a constituent of mine that goes to the heart of our debate. Our debate about time means that I cannot debate the real issue fully. As we are not debating the Health Bill, but a guillotine motion instead, I shall read only a little of the letter, but it is highly relevant.

My constituent wrote:

a drug known to many hon. Members--

    "which has very good results only to be told Staffs don't fund Taxol and if they did I wouldn't get it when there are so many people waiting for hip operations. As a result of this I decided to go for a 2nd opinion and am now seeing an oncologist".

My constituent believes that she will have to pay for Taxol.

Many of my hon. Friends have received similar letters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has received hundreds of letters like that, and they demonstrate that rationing exists. However, all that the Secretary of State can do today--he did not bother to turn up at any sitting of the Standing Committee--is talk to his Front-Bench colleagues. He is not listening to what any of us are saying. Finally, he had to be overruled by the High Court, which said that his imposition of rationing--he does not use that word--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. The hon. Gentleman is discussing the subject matter of the Bill, rather than the timetable. He must speak to the motion.

Mr. Fabricant: Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point is simply that so many issues that were discussed in the Health Bill Standing Committee need to be discussed again on Report and at Third Reading.

My hon. Friend and near neighbour the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) listed the groups of amendments selected by Madam Speaker. He calculated that the timetable would allow five and a half minutes to discuss each group. As he said, it is not his opinion or even merely our opinion that the clauses are worth discussing; it is Madam Speaker's opinion. Many more clauses and amendments were tabled and published by the House authorities. Those selected were merely a few that Madam Speaker chose. She felt, on behalf of the House, that they ought to be debated this day for the sake of parliamentary democracy, which means for the sake of those people who elect us to this place.

We all realised that we might well have to debate into the early hours of the morning. I think that all of us were girding our loins. Ladies in the Tea Room asked me whether they would get much overtime and if the debate would go until 4 am or 5 am. While one can argue, as I might, that 4 am is not the best time to debate such issues because of human circadian rhythm--

Miss Widdecombe: It is better than not debating them at all.

Mr. Fabricant: Exactly, but that seems to be a common theme under this Government.

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Government new clause 18 was the first issue that we debated last night--a tidying-up clause. Perhaps it was minor and technical, which is how the Secretary of State described all the clauses chosen for debate today. New clause 18 was important and it had to be discussed. If the issue was so minor and technical, as the Secretary of State claims, why did he not produce the new clause in Committee? It is not fair to blame the parliamentary draftsmen; it is passing the buck. We have worked with them and in particular the lady who wrote the explanatory notes and who did so much good and sterling work in the past few weeks in Committee. It is not the parliamentary draftsman but the Government who are at fault.

The very wording of new clause 18 is typical. The first line states:

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We agreed new clause 18. I was in the Chair last night. It is away--gone and lost for ever. The hon. Gentleman must stick to the timetable motion.

Mr. Fabricant: You know that it is not gone and lost for ever, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as it has been added to the Bill and will be discussed on Third Reading, with which this motion is concerned. Therefore, I think that it is relevant, but I will not try your patience. I simply point out that the new clause and other amendments in this and other Bills presented by the Government constantly provide for secondary legislation upstairs in the form of statutory instruments.

In the past, what was contained in a Government Bill was clear. It contained the information that people needed to know, such as how it would operate. Now we find not Henry VIII clauses but what I would call blank-cheque clauses. Those state that the issues will not be discussed on the Floor of the House and passed on Third Reading, but will be discussed in a brief one and a half hour debate in Committee.

Time is pressing. We are to have two hours to debate Third Reading and all the clauses that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills enunciated at length--it was right that he did so. This is not parliamentary democracy and it is not why I came to the House in 1992. It is not the reason why one single Member of Parliament in this House was elected. If hon. Members vote for this guillotine motion, it will not only be a betrayal of the electors who elected them but of their own principles that brought them here.

7.6 pm

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): What we are talking about and what has been exercising my right hon. and hon. Friends is an institutionalised stifling of debate. We are considering two important Bills. They are very different, but they both contain important issues, which still need to be debated by the whole House. They have one theme in common--the extensive use of delegated legislation and the reservation of powers to Ministers. I will speak first on the Health Bill, about which I inevitably know a little more.

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The Secretary of State told us in his opening remarks that the Health Bill had been thoroughly debated in Committee. How does he know? He was not there. He did not attend the Standing Committee once, not even for a courtesy visit.

Health was the Government's keynote policy. It was one of the issues that they used to persuade the electorate at the last general election. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House were expecting the Bill to be a major part of the Government's programme. However, as we have seen, the Government are afraid to debate their failures. If anyone doubts that health is one of their failures, they need only to have seen the graphics displayed on BBC television on Sunday night duringthe election programmes, which showed how the Government's ratings with the general public have fallen further and faster on health than on any other matter.

The Government are good at publishing glossy White Papers and consultation documents and they are good at issuing press releases--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are talking not about the issues but the timetable.

Mr. Hammond: Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall attempt to show that vital issues remain to be discussed, despite the debate in the House of Lords and in Committee, which must be debated on the Floor of the House.

The Government have delayed all along. They delayed between issuing the White Paper in December 1997 and publishing the Bill for initial consideration by hon. Members at the beginning of this year. They maximised the gap before the reality bit--the period of time when the airy language of the White Paper could be circulated and before it was shot down by the harsh reality of what is in the Bill. During that period, it is fair to say that many people in the professions connected with medicine supported what the Government were doing and liked what they saw in the White Paper. However, that changed rapidly and dramatically when they read the detail of the Bill. As the Bill progressed through the House, those professionals came to us because they relied on us, during Report and at Third Reading, to raise the concerns that still exist after the Bill's extensive consideration. The Government could not get the Bill right, even though it had a year in gestation. The Bill deals with realities, not merely the aspirations expressed in the White Paper.

When the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords, it had 54 clauses and 66 pages. The Bill before us this evening contains 68 clauses and 106 pages. The Government made it up as they went along. They are still making it up now; even during the past few days, they have tabled new clauses and substantive amendments. We must have the opportunity to scrutinise those provisions in detail.

Last night, the Leader of the House said, with a flourish, that the Government had given advance notice of their intention to table a clause containing the provisions in new clause 18. She implied that, in some way, that made it less necessary for us to consider and debate that matter. She referred to a letter from the Minister of State about tabling that new clause, but that letter indicated the Minister's intention to table the clause

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in Committee. The first that we saw of the new clause was when it was introduced last week; none of us had a formal opportunity to scrutinise it until yesterday.

The right hon. Lady also said that the 82 Government amendments were largely technical. I appreciate that she is not able to follow every Bill in detail as it progresses through the House, but she was not correct in saying that.

The Government amendments tabled to address local representative committees are far from technical; they amount to a reversal of the position that the Government took up in Committee on a new clause that was--incidentally--tabled extremely late and was unable to be debated adequately in Committee. In relation to pharmaceutical pricing, the Government have taken on board at least some of the points made by the Opposition in Committee. However, we certainly needed the opportunity to explore those points further.

Several vital issues were included in the Bill as a result of cross-party initiatives in the House of Lords, such as the regulation of private health care, on which the Secretary of State slipped out a press release at 3 o'clock this morning--no doubt thinking that we would be debating the subject at that time; and the transition from primary care groups to primary care trusts. In Committee, the Government used their majority to delete those provisions, so we will now have to send the Bill back to the House of Lords with their lordships' carefully considered and well-argued provisions deleted, without our having had the opportunity to debate on the Floor of this House the reasons for the Government's action.

There is an arrogance about what the Government did yesterday and today. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said that Governments always try to avoid scrutiny. I am sure that she is right. However, in this case, the effort to avoid scrutiny is dangerously misplaced; it is clear from the evidence of the passage of the Health Bill through the House so far that it benefited greatly from the scrutiny that it received. The Government fear proper consideration of the issues because that exposes the gap between their rhetoric and the reality that drives their actions tonight.

It is apparent that the Government regard the beauty sleep of Ministers as more important than debate on hospital waiting lists, in which my right hon. and hon. Friends would have been able to probe the alternative solution of considering hospital waiting times. Ministers' sleep is more important than establishing proper relationships between the NHS and the private sector, so that both can benefit. It is more important than the scandal of junior doctors' working hours, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) touched on during his speech. It is more important than allaying the widespread fears and anxieties of GPs as to the transition mechanisms for primary care trusts.

We have been unfortunate in that the Health Bill and the Immigration and Asylum Bill were side by side in this week's business. There was no need at all for the Government to stop the business at 10 o'clock last night. They could have allowed the debate on the Health Bill to run on through the night without risking, in any way, the progress of the Immigration and Asylum Bill today. However, their business managers seized the opportunity to use that excuse to curtail debate on the Immigration and Asylum Bill. There was no excuse whatever for

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dragging that Bill into what was, in essence, a health dispute. Those Labour Members who were likely to prove awkward in respect of the Immigration and Asylum Bill had already been sent off on their gardening leave for the appropriate days. No member of the Government wanted to risk any slippage in the timetable.

I am conscious of the fact that I need to leave enough time for the Home Secretary to respond to the debate, but this has been a very shabby episode indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) used the word "pique", which I had already written down in my notes. The whole matter smacks of pique. The Government are acting like a school bully who was given a thumping on Sunday evening and came into the Chamber on Monday determined to throw his weight around, in a desperate effort to reassert himself--or perhaps I should say "herself". However, in that process, the Government have proclaimed their contempt for Parliament; they have reasserted their determination to undermine and marginalise this House. I urge my hon. Friends to vote against the timetable motion.

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