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Mr. Forth: Does my hon. Friend not see the connection between the point that he made initially and the point that he is making now? Presumably, the reason why our Front Benchers do not think that it is necessary to explain the motion to the House is that they believe that a cosy and consensual arrangement made in private is sufficient, and that the House should simply accept whatever our betters on the Front Benches agree. Does he agree that that is a likely reason for the lack of courtesy from Front Benchers?
Mr. Shepherd: Before I answer that, I should first point out that Liberal Democrat Front Benchers have also signed the guillotine motion and do not think that it is necessary to justify cutting people off from speaking. The cosiness of the arrangement--which, as we all know, has been debated in the Modernisation Committee--means that Back Benchers, who comprise the overwhelming majority of the House, march to drums that deny them the opportunity to speak. It is an extraordinary arrangement.
Mr. Shepherd: I feel that the hon. Gentleman has not even read the motion before the House, and his point is unwise. He should take the matter up with his own party managers, and ask whether a debate on a substantive matter should be curtailed to 40 minutes because some obstreperous Back Bencher has argued against the motion.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): Both Front-Bench teams have been accused of discourtesy. My hon. Friend will know that I have enormous sympathy for what he is saying, but we were left with a choice between two evils--a programme motion or a guillotine. I venture to suggest that, in this case, a programme motion is preferable to a guillotine, as we can at least guarantee that matters of concern to this House can be discussed. Otherwise, an endless stream of mundane Government amendments could use up the time before the guillotine falls. That is why we have done this. I do not expect my hon. Friend's forgiveness, but I crave his understanding.
Mr. Shepherd: There is no difference between a guillotine and a programme motion, other than the fact that, under a timetable motion, my hon. Friend is saying that he can more judiciously allocate the time allowed for debate. However, that does not work either, as we have one and a half hours to discuss some groupings of amendments.
One must consider the extraordinary nature of the Bill, which weighs a great deal and covers many pages. The amendments are colossal. The House must pause; that is all I am asking. We are giving so little time to important issues, and we are reducing debate so that there is an almost mechanical passage of legislation. There can be almost no thought or reflection on the individual amendments, which are blocked, grouped and marched on.
Previously, we had a guillotine on Lords amendments when the Government used their judgment as to the appropriate time for the guillotine. Out of 11 groupings of amendments upon which Madam Speaker had graciously decided, only four were debated. We do not even debate substantial pieces of legislation now, and that is what angers me. This House is viewed with great contempt because we just seem to be two marching armies. It is as if these are matters for party alone. However, each one of us represents a constituency. By voting to deny ourselves the right to speak on some of these important amendments, we are denying the very justification for our existence in this House.
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): I intended no offence by not intervening when the motion was moved, because the three main parties had agreed. However, this is a matter for the House. The three Front-Bench teams can get together and make agreements, but the House can agree or reject them. That is what we face.
I have been in this place for 30 years and I am bound to say that I have heard these arguments from both sides. I am not unsympathetic to the points that have been made, as these are essential democratic issues. It is hoped that many of these issues can be debated in Committee where considerable time is given, but that does not deny the House the right to debate them.
We have faced such problems before--for example, during debates on the Maastricht treaty. I do not know what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) thought about that, or whether he voted against the timetable motion. I presume that he did not, as he was a member of the Government.
I have been on both sides of the Chamber dealing with the matter, and we have to find agreements in dealing with legislation. The fundamental point is being looked at by a Committee of this House which will report back to us. This is an agreed timetable, as is made clear in the motion which is signed by the three parties involved in the process. It suggests a sensible and logical consideration of the Bill, and it gives an opportunity for the Opposition to make clear those parts of the Bill that they want to discuss. I can recall several occasions when we discussed all sorts of stupid Government amendments and did not get to the serious issues until 2 or 3 am. We want to discuss the serious issues at a time when the public may be most interested to hear those discussions.
We sought to co-operate with the other parties to devise the right timetable. With all its faults and limitations, the timetable before us represents the best way forward. It also avoids the duplication of debate and makes for speedier consideration.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that many of us will feel that it is important to vote on more than one of the amendments and new clauses in the first group?
Mr. Prescott: We are trying to find as much time as we can, and I am trying to hurry my contribution, because the longer I am at the Dispatch Box, the more I shorten the period for discussion. That is one reason why I hung back, hoping that we would not have this debate, but the House has the decision in these matters. We have provided a timetable that I believe represents the best way of dealing with the Bill, and I commend the motion to the House.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): I am very conscious that we are eating into debating time for substantive matters, but I want to make one point on behalf of my constituents, bearing in mind that the most recent crash at Heathrow took place in my constituency.
My experience of 13 years in the House has taught me that when we have a programme motion or a guillotine and there are a given number of hours and many people want to speak, it is the matters of principle and philosophy, and the general matters of national concern, that get debated, while the local concerns of my constituents--and, in the context of Heathrow, probably those of the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen)--get squeezed out. With the memory of what has happened in Spelthorne, my constituents would want me to object, very briefly, to that squeezing out of their interests by other people's debates.
'.--(1) Any property, rights or liabilities shall only be transferred under a transfer scheme to a company which--
(a) has been formed and registered under the Companies Act 1985 or the Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1986; and
(b) is wholly owned by the Crown.
(2) For the purposes of this Part a company shall only be regarded as wholly owned by the Crown if each of the issued shares of the company is held by--
(a) the Treasury,
(b) the Secretary of State, or
(c) the nominee of a person falling within paragraph (a) or (b).
(3) A company to which any property, rights or liabilities have been transferred under a transfer scheme shall not issue any shares or share rights unless such shares or share rights are issued to the Treasury, the Secretary of State or a nominee of either of them.
(4) Subject to subsection (5), neither the Treasury, the Secretary of State nor a nominee of either of them shall dispose of any shares or share rights in a company to which any property, rights or liabilities have been transferred under a transfer scheme.
(5) Subsection (4) does not apply to any disposal by the Treasury, the Secretary of State or a nominee or either of them to any other such person.'.--[Mrs. Dunwoody.]