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Mr. Redwood: I look forward to the hon. Lady joining us in the Division Lobby, should there be a Division on this matter. She must accept that there cannot be proper accountability if guillotines are imposed on every piece of business and votes are divorced from the argument. Everyone outside knows that when a discussion or debate takes place, the issue is put to the vote, and voted on then and there. One does not invite people who were never part of that debate to come in up to a week later to vote on the matter. However, the House is being asked to do that, and the motion is designed to strengthen the power of the Executive, not the House.
Of course, people out there want change. They want a Parliament of people who speak up for their rights and they want Members of Parliament who tell the Government that they are wrong on the fuel tax, the Budget and how they are trying to run the country.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Does the right hon. Gentleman not feel at all guilty about the night on which the Conservative party forced through 17 orders on the poll tax--which consisted of 32 pages on matters including imprisonment and other things--when there was only an hour and a half to debate all those orders?
Mr. Redwood: I think that that was a mistake, and, eventually, the previous Government saw that it was a mistake. Eventually, the previous Government listened to public opinion and removed that tax. If the hon. Gentleman would like to look at the record, he will see that I was the Minister who was given the rotten task of removing that tax and introducing one that was a bit more palatable. It is a very good example of why Parliament should not have been sidelined. That Government should have listened then, when the voices were very clear. This Government should now listen to the fuel protesters and to all the other members of the public who dislike what the Government are doing in health and education and in the Budget.
Above all, however, will Labour Members join us today in demanding proper scrutiny and discussion, and tell the Leader of the House that she speaks for no one but the Government in trying to stifle debate and stop proper voting?
I remember when the right hon. Gentleman was pushing and prodding through legislation, and he and I had the type of private chats that spokespeople have. He would say, "I have to do this because there is no other way that we can get the business through." He knows how Governments work.
Mr. Redwood: Does the hon. Gentleman not remember that, when I was a Minister, I asked the shadow spokesmen how they would like to organise the time? I was always very keen that the Opposition had sufficient time to deal with the two or three big issues that mattered most to them. Will he confirm that that is so?
Mr. Henderson: I can confirm that the right hon. Gentleman used to consult Opposition spokespeople on statements that he was about to make to the House, and I thank him for doing that. However, he was not his own man, as his Whips sometimes had other ideas about how business should be conducted, and his view did not always prevail. The Whips often wanted to timetable business, because they recognised that the Government had to get their business through.
I am speaking in this debate not as an apologist for the Government, but as someone who has constituents to represent. My constituents, like those of my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown), would laugh us out of court if they saw this debate, in which some hon. Members seem to be saying that the future of democracy depends on how and when we do our business. Consumers do not judge cars on the basis of when they were made or the circumstances in which they were made, and people do not judge lawyers on the basis of when they gave advice or the circumstances in which they gave it. People, and consumers, care about results.
I believe that the public hold this place in disrepute more than ever before in my lifetime, largely because of the way in which we conduct our affairs. The public want decisions to be taken well and Government legislation to be scrutinised. I think that any British citizen would tell us, however, that the best way of scrutinising legislation is not to use 650-plus people, but to use small groups of people to examine the detail, to cross the t's and dot the i's. That belief is based on their experience of life--the way in which they work, participate in social clubs and become involved in charities.
The public are far too wise to believe that relying on set-piece speeches in the Chamber that last halfway through the night is a sensible way of conducting parliamentary affairs. They are far too wise to believe that there should be seven or eight Divisions when one would be enough to clarify the issue. I believe that the public are looking for the results of our action to improve health, education and other services, and that, at the next general election, they will be judging all of us on those results. It surely makes sense for us to have procedures that lead to good decisions being made as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Mrs. Dunwoody: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Does he not realise that the logic of what he is saying is that the ability of hon. Members to speak for their constituencies would be reduced to a series of administrative decisions? Indeed, one way in which we could produce very rapid decisions with apparently a certain amount of consultation would be to have us all e-mail our views and then to collate the result. Does he not realise that one of his privileges here is to be able to speak openly? Although many people may deeply disapprove of hon. Members expressing views that are not regurgitated from their Front Bench, that is fundamentally what Parliament is about.
Mr. Henderson: I do not disagree with my hon. Friend about the fundamentals of Parliament; I am arguing about how it is done. I do not think that it takes 20 minutes to make a point. It is possible to make a point in two or three minutes, as many other Parliaments around the world require. Quite frankly, to be flippant and derisory about e-mail is to live in the last century. The business community does not spend endless hours at face-to-face meetings dealing with detail. Most people deal with the principles face to face and leave the detail to e-mail. We may have to involve e-mails in Committees in future. I do not know about that, but I would not be derisory about them.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Does he not appreciate that although some people will have the privilege of serving on a Committee and examining legislation in detail and at length--but even that is likely to be programmed--others, for whatever reason, will not be selected to serve on that Committee? We, as Back Benchers, have a responsibility to examine legislation in detail, if we so wish and if we have responsibilities as constituency Members of Parliament representing particular interests. We should not be denied that.
Mr. Henderson: Of course I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but when the opportunity arises on Report or whenever for an hon. Member to make an observation on a Committee recommendation that he or she has not been part of, it should be expressed succinctly at a reasonable hour and we should vote on it at a reasonable hour. That is what the public would expect.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he realise that we are being asked to vote on a motion that the public would find perverse as it says that we should vote at 10 o'clock regardless of where the discussion has reached and whether or not we have had an informed debate or reached the end of business? Does he really support the idea of a guillotine on our procedures?
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was correct in saying that this Labour Government have imposed more guillotines than any other Government since the war. In fact, annexe C to the Select Committee report indicates that there have been 36 guillotines, 18 of them having been agreed between Front Benches and 18 having been imposed by the Government. Of course, the report was written before the Government got into their full stride and before the end of July, since when there have been at least another two.