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Ms Jackson: By failing to listen to what anyone else says and being more concerned with producing some party political soundbite, the right hon. Gentleman has yet again fallen into the terrible trap that reduces the respect that my constituents believe they should be able to have for the Chamber. What is proposed by the Modernisation Committee is, despite the outrage that has emanated in the Chamber, minor in the extreme. What is not minor is what I believe to be serious inroads into the democratic remit of this place in relation to those who send us here to represent them. What happens in the Chamber, certainly as far as my constituents are concerned, is becoming increasingly irrelevant because of the games that are played in it--games that have nothing whatever to do with genuine scrutiny of legislation, and do virtually nothing to enable our constituents' concerns to be represented at a time when they wish them to be.

Why is there such a vast lobby out there? Why have we seen people organising themselves in various ways? Because this Chamber--via its Standing Orders, which were created by Members for a different age and, in the main, for an exclusively male representation--does not meet the needs of our constituents, and cannot do so until we begin to examine those Standing Orders in detail and argue for modernisation.

4.46 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I support the six right hon. and hon. Members who have so far spoken against the imposition of the guillotine. They have expressed very different political opinions, they have spoken in different tones of voice, and they have made different kinds of plea to the Leader of the House.

I find it sad that the Leader of the House is not listening, and has made no statement about why she wishes to crash on with the business in this thoroughly undemocratic way. She does not even listen to the sensible advice of her hon. Friends, let alone Opposition Members who have a passion for Parliament similar to that of many Labour Members who are offended by the proposal.

The Government have already gained the all-comers record for the imposition of the guillotine. Guillotines are always very contentious. When they were imposed by Conservative Governments, there were times when some of us felt uncomfortable about that; but Conservative Governments imposed nothing like the number--with nothing like the ruthlessness and consistency--imposed by this miserable Government so far.

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The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not want to give the House incorrect information. It is not true that the present Government hold the record for guillotines; it is held by the Conservative party.

Mr. Redwood: If the right hon. Lady looks at the annual rates, she will see that--as she well knows--the Government hold the all-comers record by a mile. It was foolish of her to try to make that point.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): Would the right hon. Gentleman care to qualify his statement by giving the actual figures?

Mr. Redwood: They are on the record in Hansard, having been given in an earlier debate. I shall not delay the House by putting them all on the record again--although my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who is now looking for them in the text, may well return to them himself. However, I well remember the burden of the argument, and the evidence of the figures is overwhelming--as the hon. Lady will find if she cares to check them.

We are engaging in an important set of debates, or perhaps a single debate, on the big issue of how the House of Commons is to hold the Government to account.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Perhaps I can assist my right hon. Friend by answering the point made by the Leader of the House. Between 1946 and 1949, under Labour, there were three timetabled Bills; between 1951 and 1963, there were 15; between 1966 and 1970, under Mr. Wilson, there were five; under my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), there were five; under the subsequent Governments of Wilson and Lord Callaghan, there were 12; under Lady Thatcher, there were 34; under my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), there were 17; and under the present Prime Minister, between 1997 and 2000, there have been 34.

Mr. Redwood: I hope that the Leader of the House will now withdraw what she said. I did indeed remember correctly, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

This is symptomatic of how the House is treated by the present Government. Not only do Ministers not want to come here and make statements; not only do they not want to come here and answer questions; but when they do come here, they attempt to mislead the House in an appalling way. The only statements that they wish to make are those that will gain cross-party support, or show them in a good light.

This place is here to hold the Executive to account. How can we do that this afternoon and this evening if major procedural changes are to be rushed through, and if we cannot even have an explanation of why time is so limited that the debate must be truncated?

Mr. Bercow: Given that the Order Paper contains no fewer than 10 specific proposals from the Government and 11 amendments tabled by other right hon. and hon. Members, does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is essential for the public to understand that the Leader of

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the House thinks it appropriate that, on average, each of those matters should receive approximately a quarter of an hour of the House's attention?

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I fear that several big issues will receive no attention whatsoever because the Leader of the House is proposing to the House that debate should take place in a dreadful way.

Why are we short of time today? We had 13 weeks off, but when the Opposition asked for the House to be recalled to discuss important matters, we were denied the opportunity to do our job in September or early October. We have now been sitting for two weeks, but the business does not often stagger through to 10 o'clock because it is not of great interest to many right hon. and hon. Members, especially those on the Government Benches. We have now been told that we are so short of that precious commodity, time, that our debate has to be steamrollered.

Conservative Members and, I believe, some Labour Members, think that this matter is being deliberately steamrollered on a busy news day outside this place. The Government want to make their life easier and do not want difficult questions to be asked, and certainly have no intention of answering them. They do not want to find time to debate legislation in detail because so much of it is drafted so appallingly badly that they know it would not stand up to proper scrutiny.

The Government are trying to push the matter through on a day when the United States of America is busy electing the most powerful man in the world and an awful lot of briefing is taking place on what will be in the pre-Budget statement tomorrow--which, of course, should be kept quiet until the Chancellor makes his speech to the House. Once again, the Government are showing contempt for the House by briefing the press and speaking to journalists long before Members of Parliament.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): A moment ago, my right hon. Friend referred to bad drafting. Is he aware that the motion that we are debating is badly drafted? A careful reading makes it clear that if our current debate goes on until after 10 o'clock, it will not be possible for us to vote on the following two motions, which will be dropped.

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful for the important point made by my hon. Friend. If the timetable motion is passed tonight, followed by that on the business of the House, Parliament will get an unflattering name for itself. Historians and the British people have a habit of giving Parliaments names, so we have had the Merciless Parliament, the Addled Parliament and the Parliament of the Saints--which one could hardly call this Parliament. I fear that this Parliament will go down in history as the Useless Parliament without backbone, thanks to the reluctance of so many Government Members to hold the Executive to account and stand up against the guillotine tonight. All that they seem to want is to do their knitting at the base of guillotine as the tumbrel falls.

The silence of the babes on this matter is eerie, and it is about time that they started to represent the views of their constituents to the Government, instead of just

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representing the Government to their constituents. They could start tonight by speaking out in favour of proper parliamentary procedure.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): My constituents tell me that they find this place embarrassing. They find contributions such as those of the right hon. Gentleman the most embarrassing, as they are the yah-boo of this place. One reason that my constituents sent me here is that they want Parliament modernised and changed. They want the Executive to be held to account and they want legislation to be properly scrutinised. I want that to happen, but I do not see it happening under current procedures. Today, we are debating a way of improving that.

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