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Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a matter of concern that, apart from the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary

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and the Whip, there is only one Labour Member in the Chamber. That is an extraordinary state of affairs when a guillotine motion is being introduced.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): The hon. Gentleman is here, the Minister is here and I am here. That is all we need to get on with the business.

Mr. Clarke: I could not express it as well as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The guillotine motion that we are debating was envisaged, set out and agreed in the motion introduced last week. The amendment tabled by the Opposition did not seek to remove this aspect of the procedure.

The Government are convinced that the approach that we have set out in the Bill has to be clear and must be understood widely from the beginning of the next football season. We are determined to have the Bill agreed by the end of this month, so that it will have full effect from that date.

The Bill has been debated substantially and it has been improved through discussion. It may help hon. Members to learn that the Government intend to recommend that the House accepts all the amendments passed in the other place. We have sought to move by consensus and to seek agreement. We acknowledge that important suggestions and amendments have been made by both sides of the House. For those reasons, I hope that the guillotine motion will be agreed and that we can move as rapidly as possible on to substantive debate on the issues covered by the Lords amendments.

2.32 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): This guillotine motion is silly and it is unnecessary. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have co-operated with the Government in making sure that the Bill makes due progress. Indeed, in the debate on the procedural motion in another place, Lord Williams of Mostyn said that the Opposition in the House of Commons

During the debate in Committee, Lord Bassam said:

On Third Reading, he said:

Even Lord Bassam feels that the procedure used is outrageous. He said:

Nobody is happy with the procedure--except, possibly, Ministers. They have received the fullest possible cross-party support, but that support did not envisage them rushing the Bill through without due debate. We have had due debate on some, but not all, the matters of considerable concern to which the Bill gives rise. The Minister now says that he accepts all the amendments

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made in another place, so why on earth is it necessary to have a guillotine if it is not yet another example of the Government's absolute compulsion to be control freaks at every stage of the way?

The motion is not necessary. Frankly, it is an insult given all the co-operation that the Minister has had. The Government have shown that they are not taking the Bill as seriously they would have done if they had allowed adequate time for debate and had given it a sensible passage through the House. Instead, the process has been characterised by one guillotine motion after another, all of which have been unnecessary.

2.34 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I share completely the view that we should not have this guillotine motion. The Bill was introduced late in the Session entirely at the Government's instigation--it could have been introduced at any time after the Queen's Speech or been scheduled in the Queen's Speech--and this motion is the latest in their attempt to bounce the Bill through all its stages. It is the last unhappy event in a series of unhappy events about a fundamentally worrying Bill.

I wish to consider the procedure that has been used. The Bill received its Second Reading the week before last and it came back before the House on the next but one working day. We went through all the remaining stages under a guillotine without any separation between the Committee and Report stages or between Report and Third Reading. As colleagues pointed out to the House, we were required to anticipate what we might want to debate after the Committee stage before the end of the Committee stage. There was just a matter of moments before the debate on Report began when other amendments could be considered. We discussed Report and Third Reading under a guillotine motion and that debate ended at 2.56 am on Tuesday last week.

There was just one working day before the Bill went to the Lords on Thursday last week. On Second Reading, the Lords expressed their unhappiness. However, they do not traditionally vote on Second Readings, so the Bill was not opposed at that stage. The Bill returned to the Lords on the first available working day--on Monday this week. As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) suggested, the Lords Committee sat until 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning to deal with the amendments. I pay tribute to Lord McNally and my other Liberal Democrat colleagues, and to the colleagues of the right hon. Lady. They carried out assiduously until the early hours of the morning what Madam Speaker reminded us we are all here to do--holding the Government to account. Incidentally, if Parliament decided that it did not want to sit at anti-social hours, we would never be able to introduce such Bills. It is not possible to scrutinise them other than in the early hours, because no other time is available.

The Government decided that they wanted the Bill's remaining stages--Report and Third Reading--to take place in the Lords on Tuesday. In their wisdom, the Lords said, "No thank you. Up with this we will not put!" and rightly defeated the Government's proposal to carry straight on with the debate. That gave the Lords at least a day in which to consider the matter. It allowed them 18 hours--instead of the Government's anticipated nine--to read the relevant Hansard, which was not available until Wednesday, and to table amendments.

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The Lords held the Report and Third Reading debates yesterday, and the debate on Third Reading ended early yesterday evening. The Bill, with the amendments made by the Lords, was published for the first time for us to see this morning, and the earliest that anyone could get hold of a copy was at 7 o'clock this morning when the Vote Office opened. We now have to debate four groups of Lords amendments, some of which raise controversial matters. Although they improve the Bill, they do not improve it nearly as much as some of us would have wished, and some of the improvements need to be explained and justified.

My colleagues and I considered what we wanted to do this morning and we tabled our amendments then--the only time available. Madam Speaker has selected my amendments, which I discussed with colleagues, in three of the four groups and we are likely to want to vote on at least one of those groups, if not more.

I have outlined the Bill's history, but we shall certainly vote against the guillotine motion for two other reasons. As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald rightly suggested, this is a Government Bill which was introduced at their instigation. It returns to us on what is scheduled to be the last but one sitting day, with two relatively uncontroversial matters behind it on the Order Paper, and tomorrow we shall debate a completely uncontroversial item of business. There is absolutely no reason why we should not deal with the Bill in our own time. We have plenty of time; the House does not have to rise at a particular time today, which is a working day, and we are able to sit in the evening. We could deal properly with the four groups of Lords amendments and the amendments in my name.

It is unlikely that the Government will be defeated, given their majority, but if they are, the Lords will have the opportunity to do their work again. There is no reason for the guillotine. It comes down to the sad admission--I do not blame the Minister of State for this--that the Government have become obsessed with limiting debate. They want to ensure that their legislation is passed, but they do not want it to be debated. In the other place, thank goodness, there is no power to guillotine proceedings. The Government tried to pull a fast one by attempting to concertina the times between the different stages, but they failed in that.

I was amused to hear that the Government almost failed again in the middle of Monday night when a Conservative Member of the Lords insisted on a vote on his amendment, because the Lords had generally assumed that they were not going to vote on the Committee stage, and almost all the Government had gone home. That was a good amendment, and my noble Friends who were around in the early hours of the morning voted for it.

We should vote against the motion because it is not necessary and because the Government have to be told that Parliament will not just give in to an Executive which keep on piling guillotine motions on to the House. The Government have remaining legislation that they have not, for some reason, brought back from the other place, but have kept in the sidings. That legislation went to the Lords weeks or months ago. I refer to the Freedom of Information Bill, the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill and sex equality legislation. None of those have been dealt with. I give the Government warning that if, when we

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return from the recess, they try to argue that they need a guillotine on those measures, we will oppose each and every motion.

The Home Office is entitled to bring legislation to the Cabinet Committee; the Cabinet Committee is entitled to bring legislation to the Government, and the Government are entitled to introduce it to the House, but they are not entitled, without opposition and strong argument, to disfranchise Members by preventing them from taking part in reasonable debates on important issues. I hope that they will learn that they do themselves no credit by seeming to curb debate. The Prime Minister has a new desire to be tough, but limiting debate is not a tough measure that does him credit. We have accepted that there is a case for amending the law before the summer holidays, but there is no case for a guillotine to limit debate on the motion and Lords amendments to a total of two hours.

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