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Dr. Moonie: I recognise that other groups suffered. Today's announcement recognises the unique collective nature of what happened in the far east, as the hon. Gentleman's remarks graphically illustrate.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that the payment will also apply to the widows of those who died in captivity before the end of the war. In dealing with the veterans of the Indian army who have properly been included in the statement, will he make it clear that it would be wholly unacceptable if members of the Indian army who deserted in captivity to join the Indian national army received the payment?

Dr. Moonie: I should point out that only a relatively small number of people who served in other armed forces are eligible for the payment. As for widows, we have tried to be as inclusive as possible.

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Points of Order

4.7 pm

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I correct a comment that I made yesterday following the statement on floods? I am delighted to say that Yorkshire Electricity has assured me that it will not levy any charge on victims of the floods who have had to be reconnected. My constituents at Stockbridge should refuse to pay any future reconnection fees and should report such requests to the West Yorkshire police.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not totally out of order for a Member of the House to stand by your Chair and harangue you in the middle of Foreign Office questions, thereby disrupting a very important question on Iraq? For how long will that Member be banished? Will you make it plain that you will no longer stand for such bully-boy tactics?

Mr. Speaker: I have dealt with the matter.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With reference to the forthcoming business, some hon. Members find the motion on the business of the House somewhat opaque. It would help the House enormously if you could give an idea of how business will be conducted. Irrespective of whether the House agrees to the business motion--I hope that it will not--do you propose that debates should be structured, or should different elements of the motions and the amendments be dealt with separately?

Mr. Speaker: I have been very good to the right hon. Gentleman--two of his amendments have been selected for consideration. I intend to make a statement that will explain the structure, which will be fair to all concerned and will, I think, satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.

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Business of the House

Motion made, and Question proposed,

4.9 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): This motion is yet another attempt by the Government to truncate debate on--arguably--one of the most important matters that has come before the House, perhaps in its history, but certainly for a very long time. It proposes to alter the balance between the Government, the Executive and the House of Commons. Given that, one would have thought that even this Government would want the House of Commons to have sufficient time to consider properly the matter in its totality, including the amendments to the motions, which you, Mr. Speaker, have kindly selected.

However, we find that the opposite is the truth. In what can only be a calculated insult to the House, the Government have had the gall to suggest that such vital matters, affecting, as they might if hon. Members agreed them, the very balance between the Executive and the House, can be disposed of at an arbitrary hour--in this case 10 o'clock. That strikes me as gratuitous and completely unnecessary--and, might I add, insulting.

That is even more true given that the Order Paper on Thursday and then yesterday revealed that the Government were to attempt to cut this business even shorter, by finishing it at 8 o'clock. That is notwithstanding the fact that we have had an important statement today, and therefore time is even shorter. That cannot be right. One would have thought that agreeing such radical and fundamental changes to Standing Orders, and therefore the relationship between the Executive and the House--and, in the matter of deferred Divisions, the basis on which the House has been used to debating and voting for many centuries--required proper time for consideration.

Under the motion, the House is asked to agree that justice can be done to such matters by 10 o'clock, even though we have started to consider them after 4 o'clock. Indeed, the situation is worse than that, because, subject to your guidance in due course, Mr. Speaker, the Government are suggesting that we debate all matters at once and then vote on them in a group after 10 o'clock. In other words, the House will not be able to consider its decision on one matter before it moves to another. That is unnecessary and highly irregular.

Surely it would have been appropriate, in this of all debates, to have given Members, as has happened in debates not just in this Parliament but in many previous Parliaments, proper and ample opportunity to deliberate these matters until whatever time we think appropriate, rather than presenting us with what can be described only as a guillotine on the ending of the traditional role of the House of Commons.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does my right hon. Friend think that it is particularly ironic that the Government should be seeking so to undermine

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parliamentary democracy in the few days immediately after Guy Fawkes night? Nearly 400 years since the successful foiling of the previous attempt to damage this House, the Government are trying to blow up parliamentary traditions.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; with much greater elegance than I am ever able to muster, he has summarised the nature of the decisions before us. [Interruption.] Labour Members obviously find this amusing. The distressing thing is that they would, wouldn't they? Given what we have come to know as the collective contempt of Government Members for this House, its traditions and conventions, and more particularly for the role that Members of Parliament have assumed until now that they can play in holding the Government to account, it would appear that there is a remarkable similarity. The Government, in the guise of the Modernisation Committee--for this purpose the two are identical--have decided to assault the House of Commons.

As has become the custom in such cases--I regret to say this, with the Leader of the House in her place--there has not even been an attempt by the Government or anyone else to explain to the House why the motion is on the Order Paper, and why the Government believe that discussion of these vital issues, which touch on the most fundamental relationship between the House and the Government, must be truncated and limited as is proposed.

As usual, we are all at sea. We do not know the rationale behind the proposal. The assumption seems to have been made, as ever it is by the Government, that the House will meekly accept this outrageous attempt to limit us before we get to the substance of the matter, when the Government and the Modernisation Committee will attempt irrevocably to change the relationship--

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that the normal practice has been that we would debate such matters, and orders would later be tabled for the House to decide on, having considered what the debate had produced? That will not happen today.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. That is yet another flaw in the proceedings. Neither the Government nor the so-called Modernisation Committee have any idea at this stage how far the House agrees with the thrust and the principle of what they are trying to do. Not for them an attempt to seek the views of the House, and in the light of those to present proposals to change Standing Orders. Instead, we are faced with a peremptory effort to change the principles and the subject of the matter, and rolled within that, an attempt to change Standing Orders.

Mr. Speaker, you have said kindly that you will guide us as to the procedures that will be followed--but if I may say so, even subject to that, I doubt very much whether we will be able to do justice to the issues before 10 pm. That should be a matter for the House to decide; it is not for the Government to say that we have from now until 10 o'clock to decide these matters.

The business motion that we are considering represents as good a summation as one could get of the contemptuous attitude with which the Government are

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dealing with the matter. It is not good enough, and I shall seek to divide the House on the motion, so that hon. Members who are as unhappy as I am about it will be able to express their views on this attempt to gag the House even in such a vital matter.

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