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Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): My hon. Friend speaks with immense knowledge of the way the

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House operates, and with a fervour that can be picked up in all parts of the House. Is he not saying, in essence, that this guillotine motion--and it is typical of what might happen in the future--is making the role of Back Benchers in the House totally irrelevant and handing over control to the usual channels? Am I not right in saying that the House is a place in which Members of Parliament, whatever their role, should be heard, and that they are being denied?

Mr. Shepherd: I agree with my hon. Friend. He has only to refer to paragraphs 3(1)(c) and (4) to see that the motion gives enormous power to the Government. In addition, there is another device, to which my Front-Bench colleagues agree. What is so startling is that debate on guillotining Bills should be included in the time allotted to the first group of amendments. The objective is quite clear, and we have had enough of it--it is to stop people discussing the fact that they are being denied the right to speak to their own amendments, and even to vote on them. It has happened time after time.

One can see Ministers' eyes glazing over--they think that government is far too important a job to be troubled with the mere consideration of Bills. This is Henry VIII at his very best:

Indeed, we will not even vote on this because of paragraphs 3(1)(c) and (4) of the motion.

It is pretty futile to ask the Government what they are doing in the shape and form of these motions, but I do so nevertheless. Ultimately, they are striking not just at me but at their own Back Benchers. We have seen it time and again--for example, with the debate on air traffic control. That indicates the prospect for people who may feel strongly on issues in this Bill.

The House does not even discuss whole parts of Bills. The Disqualifications Bill that emerged from here has not re-emerged anywhere else, but we have had debates on Lords amendments in which only three and a half out of 12 groupings have been reached--what a discourtesy to the House of Lords. What does it imply when measures such as this go back to the House of Lords and it sees that we have not discussed important amendments?

Those were the remarks that I wished to make, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

5.28 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and, if I may say so, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody).

I oppose the timetable motion, notwithstanding the fact that I understand that it has been agreed with those on the Front Benches. That does not, from my perspective, give it any greater validity. We need first to understand how frequently this process takes place. I believe that this is

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the 34th timetable motion in this Parliament. That contrasts markedly with the practice in previous Parliaments.

Mr. Shepherd: I would suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that 35 Bills have been guillotined, with well over 50 motions to secure the objective.

Mr. Hogg: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification. The number is even greater than I anticipated. The contrast, therefore, with previous practice is even more marked. I understand that under the Government headed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), there were some 17 timetable motions, while under the Government led by Lady Thatcher there were some 34 timetabled Bills in the 11 years that she was Prime Minister. We are seeing an extraordinary increase in the practice and it is wrong.

First, I want to emphasise and endorse what the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said. She clearly articulated the anxiety that ought to be felt when these timetable motions are proposed. Her first point was on the redress of grievances. All of us, as Back Benchers, have an obligation to find suitable opportunities to express the anxieties, uncertainties and grievances of our constituents. That is one of the foremost duties of a Member of Parliament, although in this legislative sausage machine it is becoming less easy to perform. One way in which one does so is by tabling amendments to Bills, which give one the opportunity to focus on individual cases. The consequence of timetable motions, which provide a tight framework for debate, is that we cannot debate the amendments that we have tabled to provide the focus for our constituents' grievances. The hon. Lady is right about that.

The second reason why I deprecate this use of timetabling is that it is the inevitable product of too heavy a legislative programme. The reason why we have such motions--apart from the unwillingness of the Labour party to sit late--is because of the enormous legislative programmes. No one supposes for a moment, however, that this country is better governed because we have this large corpus of law; indeed, we are much worse governed. If we have to have timetable motions to get the vast body of legislation through, the solution is not to have these motions but to have less legislation.

My third point--it was also the hon. Lady's--deals with the willingness of the Government to legislate on the hoof. The hon. Lady has much experience in government and she will forgive my saying that so do I. Both of us would agree that when we started in this place, Governments were much more disciplined about preparing their Bills in advance. That is not to say that we did not sometimes legislate on the hoof, but we tried not to.

It is an absurdity that 115 Government amendments are tabled for discussion--I think that about 400 were tabled in Committee, which is also an absurdity. Also, the Bill has already been discussed in the Lords. What sort of government is this? It is thoroughly incompetent and bad government and we should not acquiesce in it by approving timetable motions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills referred to paragraph 3 of the motion, which enables Government business to be thrust through regardless but also prevents our ensuring that we discuss and vote on other matters.

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My hon. Friend also pointed out that the time that we are taking to debate the motion will be taken out of the time for the substantive discussion. If the House does its duty by protesting against the motion, the first part of the Bill will barely be discussed. The timetable motion will prevent it from being discussed. The Government's answer is simply to say, "Well, don't talk about the timetable motion." That is a scandal, but it does not surprise me because hon. Members who were in the House last night heard the Minister with responsibility for prisons say in terms in his reply, "We, the Government party, are not interested in hearing what the Opposition have to say. Why should we be?"

The Government do not want the House to debate the matter. Indeed, the Minister for Local Government and the Regions, who is in charge of the Bill, has just left. She may have fled--[Hon. Members: "No."] No, I see that she is below the Gangway with her back to me. I suppose that is courteous enough--at least she is here.

However, the point is that we are so constructing the timetable motions that we cannot debate the substance of the Bill. We have 50 pages of amendments. There are 16 groups for discussion. There are about 242 amendments, of which 115 are Government amendments. Any time for voting comes out of the overall time. We can be entirely certain that whole wedges of proposed legislation will not have been discussed in this place.

Let us remember that this is the only occasion when the House as a whole has the opportunity to discuss the detail of the Bill. Second Reading is not a substitute for that. The Report stage is when the House as a whole can discuss the legislation that will bind our constituents and our fellow citizens.

This is a scandal. I know that the Government propose to introduce more and more such motions, but it is our business, as the Opposition, to say that this is tyranny; we should play no part in it.

5.36 pm

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): I welcome this debate on timetabling, believe it or not; although I do not welcome its direction or logic. I shall speak only briefly, particularly as I do not want to do the House a discourtesy, because I cannot remain for the whole debate.

I cannot help but pick up on the main thrust of the arguments put forward by various Members that, if we have timetabling and programming of Bills, we undermine parliamentary scrutiny. If one wants to undermine parliamentary scrutiny, the best way to do so is to scrutinise matters in the middle of the night. That is what we do all the time.

Many hon. Members are sick to death of that ludicrous and antediluvian procedure; we certainly welcome moves to change it. I understand some of the concerns that are being expressed; they are genuine points, but my fundamental point is that they stem from the fact that, historically, opposition in this place--whether from the official Opposition or from the ranks of the Government--has only one weapon: time. Often, that results in time wasting.

Mrs. Dunwoody: In my time, I have been known to oppose my own Government--impossible though that may seem. Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a difference between carefully reading what is written in

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legislation and automatically opposing it? She assumes that only those who oppose the content will want to read what is in the legislation. I assure her that that is not the case.

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