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Rev. Ian Paisley: When the time for votes is taken away, how much time do we have? I urge hon. Members to look at the fact that more than 200 amendments have been tabled. We do not have adequate time to deal with a matter that has seriously divided the people of Northern Ireland and will continue to divide them.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). I oppose the motion on more general grounds which, if I may be forgiven, are not especially related to this particular Bill. I want to protest at the frequency with which the Government are introducing these motions. I believe that this motion is the 36th to be introduced. Indeed, this time last week, we addressed a timetable motion for the Local Government Bill. On that occasion, the hon. Member for Crewe and
I find motions of this kind objectionable, both in general and in particular. The present motion is objectionable because the Report stage of a Bill is the only occasion on which the House as a whole has the opportunity to debate the detail of the measure. The hon. Member for North Antrim made a fair point when he said that his party was not represented in Committee. It does not matter whether or not I agree with him, as he should be able to express his distinctive view on the Bill. The Bill's Report stage is the only time when he is able to do that, which also holds true for other hon. Members on the Ulster Benches. Of course, it also true of Conservative Members because, inevitably, we are only lightly represented in Committee.
Mr. Hogg: Yes, of course, at the moment. Our views often coincide with the views expressed by our Front-Bench spokesman, but they do not always do so. It is important that the House should give Back Benchers a proper opportunity to discuss fully the detail of a Bill and amendments to it.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): I have listened with interest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Is he aware that many Government Members who wanted to strengthen the Bill were kept off the Committee? The grievance is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's alone, but we must accept what has happened.
Mr. Hogg: I am not being critical of the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, his point reinforces what I want to say. I am sure that there are Government Members who feel that the Bill is defective in one way or another, and they should have a full and proper opportunity to voice their opinions, as that is what democracy is about.
We are confronted with 10 groups of amendments. In all, there are some 335 amendments, of which 224 are Government amendments, as I think the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) told me. That means that many of the amendments will not be debated at all, and the effect of that is surely to undermine the democratic legitimacy of decisions made in the House. If amendments and new clauses become law without having been discussed at all, how can we say that they have been passed with the democratic authority of this place?
Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down): Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this is simply another manifestation of the increasing power of the Executive over the liberties of the House and an attempt to circumscribe what is properly the function of elected Members of the House of Commons?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I must invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman to spare the House that particular reason; we are debating a specific allocation of time motion. If he wants to pursue procedural matters as a whole, he must find another opportunity to do so.
Mr. Hogg: I am now coming from that general point to a particular one. If we consider the amendments that have been tabled by Members other than Front Benchers, we find that a number of them express the particular concerns of Back Benchers, often those from the Ulster parties. The effect of any timetable motion--and this is, in fact, a guillotine rather than a timetable motion, in so far as there is a difference--is that those Members will be shut out and they will unable to articulate the grievances that are felt very powerfully by their constituents. That cannot be right.
We have been told by Ministers that this is a precautionary measure, which is basically in the interests of good order and military discipline, but why is that necessary? I understand that there was no filibustering or unparliamentary conduct in Committee. I saw the Minister of State nodding when the hon. Members for North Antrim and for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said that there was a co-operative approach to the Bill.
Mr. Hogg: As the Minister says, he also made that point. What, then, are the Government guarding against? Why are we truncating debate? I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would stop any filibustering, but if the proceedings were filibustered, the proper course of action would be to move for closure and then to consider having a timetabled debate.
Those of us who prize the rights of Back Benchers should protest at a process of pre-empting discussion, and it is no good the Government saying that they do not want to discuss this in the small hours of the morning, which may be implicit in the position that they have adopted. I agree that we do not want to discuss the matter then, but the proper solution is not a timetable on one Bill: it is less legislation. There are many Bills with which I have been concerned in the past three or four weeks and many Bills in this Session which we could very well do without. The Government are not conducting business better through the volume of legislation that they carry through; they carry through legislation simply because they think that Departments have a momentum of their own. That is a scandal, because it undermines proper democratic scrutiny.
As I said, the Bill will go to the other place with scores, or perhaps hundreds, of amendments that will not even have been mentioned in this place. That detracts from the democratic authority of the House and it is a scandal. I deplore what is happening.
Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley): As a Member representing a Northern Ireland constituency, I echo the comments that have been made by right hon. and hon. Members and reiterate what was said by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay). This is a sad day, given all that the Royal Ulster Constabulary has done, standing in defence of democracy and of the liberties of people living in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom. It is shameful that its future should be dealt with in such a shoddy way.
Many police officers and their families live in my constituency, and I represent them in this place. What am I to say to them when I come to tell them that the best opportunity that the House could offer me to represent their views and those of their families, neighbours and friends was a guillotined debate? I was not a member of the Committee that considered the Bill in detail, so I wanted the opportunity fully to debate all the issues that are important and relevant to the Bill. Why is that opportunity to be denied to me and my colleagues?
I am far from convinced by what the Minister said about the need for haste in having the Bill enacted. There is a feeling in Northern Ireland that the agenda has more to do with the need to satisfy the more extreme elements in society, especially on the republican side, and to deliver certain undertakings that were given to them than it has to do with the need for proper legislation and proper debate on it, leading to a proper policing service that can address the real issues that are of importance to people in Northern Ireland, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) said.
I echo what was said by the right hon. Member for Bracknell and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). The police have a difficult job in Northern Ireland and they are under attack. We deplore the attacks that have taken place recently--shootings, for example--against the RUC. There was the bomb at Stewartstown and there have been other such incidents. As I represent Aghalee, I mention especially the attack that took place last night on the Orange hall, when people were meeting in it. There was a petrol bomb attack and, but for the grace of God, people might have lost their lives as a result of the actions of republican extremists, who sought to inflame an already unstable situation. We condemn that attack and all the others.