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Ms King: The hon. Gentleman suggested that timetabling is not necessary and that I want it because I need time to prepare for a speech. But earlier, I spoke after 30-seconds notice. He said that the timetabling motion is outrageous and that the Government are castrating the House.

However, has he noticed that not a single woman is on the Opposition Back Benches? Unpredictability further discriminates against women. That is outrageous.

Mr. Winterton: I have to tell the hon. Lady that, of all the people in the House, I most value the fact that the House is accessible to women Members of Parliament. I should know; I am married to one. She came into the House on her own merit and she speaks for the Conservative party on an important matter.

As the hon. Lady is more than aware, many things take place in the House other than the debate that is currently taking place in the Chamber. I shall not comment on who is present and on what sex they are. All I can say is that Conservative Members believe fervently in genuine debate.

The motion will deprive us of the opportunity to debate the issues and of influencing those on the Government and the Opposition Front Benches. I think that the House will rue the day that this motion is passed, as it will be because of the Government's huge majority. However, representatives of the Opposition parties are putting down markers that the purpose of the House is being undermined and destroyed.

I regret the fact that my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench have agreed to the motion. It is an abuse of the House and I support the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. It might embarrass the hon. Lady, but I must say that she is a fervent and stalwart believer in democracy and parliamentary democracy. It is a pity that more Labour Members are not prepared to take the same stance. I congratulate her, as she as been congratulated by my hon. Friends. I only wish that there were more like her in the House.

5.52 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): It is very difficult to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) but, as ever, it is a great privilege. I endorse everything that he said.

I want to speak briefly to underline the important warning that was given at the outset of the debate by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who raised the concern about the rights of Back Benchers. I am particularly moved to do so because of an experience that I had a few weeks ago in relation to the Transport Bill, which was also timetabled. A complete absurdity took place. I tabled an amendment which I was told had the support of Ministers, and I knew that it had the support of Members from both sides of the House and of all the major parties. However, that amendment could be neither debated nor voted on because of a timetable motion.

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We are in precisely the same position this evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has tabled an important amendment that merits debate and consideration. However, that amendment cannot be debated or considered, and that is bad for the House of Commons. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, it is also bad for our country and our democracy. We are not far from considering the important deliberations of the Modernisation Committee on the timetabling of legislation, so it is vital that all Members, particularly Back Benchers, understand what we stand to lose if we proceed with the further timetabling of legislation.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) committed an error that is often made when making the argument for timetabling all legislation. She confused that argument with the one about the hours that Parliament sits. We are not talking about what time of day or night we hold our debates, and it is always possible to have debates on more than one day if it is necessary to do so to avoid sitting late. However, if we timetable all legislation, it is certain that the rights of Back Benchers to influence legislation and the rights of ordinary citizens to have their views and concerns expressed in the House of Commons will be vastly diminished. That will be regrettable and it will greatly damage our proud parliamentary democracy.

I was heartened to hear the excellent contributions from those Members on both sides who warned of the consequences of what is being contemplated. I only hope that all Members start to hear those important warnings before it is too late.

5.55 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Although I accept that my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench have come to an arrangement with the Government, I have enormous reservations about the guillotine motion that is being discussed. It is an admission by the Government of the enormous work load that they are trying to push through this place in a short time. People will wonder why the House of Commons will rise on 28 July and return on 23 October, which is one of the longest recesses that there has ever been. That means that the time that we have to discuss, scrutinise and improve legislation will be truncated. Yet, the number of amendments that the Government have tabled shows that they believe that this Bill can be improved.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) seems to believe that the Report stage exists merely for the Opposition to delay the Government getting their way. That is not what it is about. We have been sent here by our constituents to consider and to improve legislation, so that the Acts that we put on to the statute book are as good as they possibly can be.

A full debate is not just an opportunity for Opposition Back Benchers. It also allows Government Back Benchers to scrutinise the Bill. The problem with a timetable motion is that my contribution even on this motion is being shortened. Because of the guillotine motion, I am a less effective Back Bencher than I otherwise could be. [Interruption.] No, we are all less effective. The role of

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Parliament has been diminished by the motion. It is not about the Executive getting their legislation through; it is about the weakening of Parliament, and the weakening of Parliament weakens us all.

Question put and agreed to.


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