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Mrs. Beckett: I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman so early in his remarks, but he has said something very important and I am grateful to him for placing it clearly on the record. He makes no distinction--and it is a perfectly legitimate point--between programme motions that have been agreed across the House for the convenience of scheduling proper debate and guillotines that have been imposed by the Government. It is important that we recognise that he has made that point.
Mr. Shepherd: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for clarifying her position. The fact remains that the Government have imposed more than 20 guillotines, in addition to, as she and I agree, guillotines agreed between the Front Benches. We have rehearsed the arguments about guillotines over many years. I lived through 34 guillotines during the Thatcher years--but that was 11 years. I lived through 17 guillotines during the Major years, and have since lived through more than 20 during the Blair years.
To curtail freedom of expression used to be considered one of the greatest offences against parliamentary practice. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, if this House stood for anything, it was for the right to stand up and speak, no matter how lonely that task might be, for one's constituents or for one's country. That is an important consideration. The House can justify itself to the outside world in no other way.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) spoke true when she said that the House is in crisis. No one believes that Members of Parliament have any role. As I go around my constituency, I encounter, as do other hon. Members, business men and constituents who ask what is the point of us. "You never change anything the Government say", they tell me.
We have reached the stage, in this modern world, in which Governments may talk directly to the nation. Traditionally, the nation responded through its elected representatives, but we are no longer a House of representatives in any true sense. In fact, those elected here are impatient to support their Government. That, ultimately, is why we have a motion before us that will ensure that we guillotine everything. There lies the essence of what has gone wrong with the House. No one knows how to talk back to the Government. We are all, in a sense, bought placepeople.
I recognise the role and importance of party, but surely some importance must be attached to being ourselves and standing up for what we believe. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate was right in one sense. I have no problem with the hours at which the House sits. The motion before us is incomprehensible to almost anyone; it was probably written by someone with a PhD from the London School of Economics. I doubt whether many hon. Members have actually troubled to read it from beginning to end.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the business motion? I hope that he will not anticipate what he might say if he catches my eye later on the substantive motion.
Mr. Shepherd: Of course not, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point is that this outrageous guillotine is inappropriate because of the nature of the business that it would guillotine. That must require some discussion of the length and complexity of that business. That must be a fair point.
The motion is inexplicable, and we have, indeed, had no explanation of it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) have made the important point that this debate is the only one in which we may discuss the principles--if one can call them that--set out in the report of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons, "Programming of Legislation and the Timing of Votes". We shall come later to the substance of what is a change to our Standing Orders.
No one had seen the motions before last week. Some principles had been enunciated in the report, but the proposals were never put before the Modernisation Committee in the form before us now. Nor were they referred to the Select Committee on Procedure so that it might deliberate on whether they provided an appropriate way to achieve an end.
We need time to debate many issues. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) was very concerned about our sitting hours. Did the Modernisation Committee discuss those? Does the issue appear in the report? Is it the way to solve the problem?
Essentially, this--the business that we are being denied the opportunity to discuss fully within the terms of this motion--is a bluff. We never looked into whether, in this modern world, the House could sit at 9 am and rise at 7.30 pm. We never looked at the rhythm of the parliamentary year. Why? All those matters have been discussed long ago. If we look at the Crossman diaries, which were circulated to all the Committee members, we can see where the power lies in this matter--it lies in the Cabinet. So, create a diversion and grab something while one is at it.
I am convinced that this proposal will mean the aggrandisement of Government on a scale that is unacceptable to the House, or should be. It is saying, "We shall get our business." That rules out the views of individual Members, as the hon. Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson) said, and of the hundreds of others who have served in the House in the years that I have been here. The Government should not always get--
Mr. Shepherd: The hon. Lady forgets our traditions. Our process has never been merely a question of x divided by 2 + 1; it is the process by which one gets there. The Opposition, or those who oppose the might and weight of a Government's argument, must be allowed to make their case. The hon. Lady, who will doubtless support the timetable motion, asks, "Why have a debate? We have just announced our policy. We can determine the matter in the Lobby." That is essentially what is behind all such arguments. We are asking the outside world to listen to these arguments. When we speak, we are meant to be the people's elected representatives.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Is not the essential difference between the two sides of the House the fact that far too many Labour Members think that they were elected to support the Government, not to represent their constituents?
This is meant to be a House of Commons debate about us as Members of Parliament. I am trying to point out that this guillotining of a debate on a fundamental principle, without allowing the House first properly to discuss that principle, is wrong. It is as simple as that. The Committee did not consider whether the House could meet at 9 am or 10 am and rise at 7 pm or 7.30 pm, without the need to impose such guillotines.
Let us remember what is behind this guillotine on a motion to guillotine for ever--albeit initially only for the next Session. It is meant to assure the Government that they own the House in the most positive way.
Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): To put the record straight, I spent 18 years practising what the hon. Gentleman claims is a good method. It fails because we play with time in this place, which brings the House into disrepute. The proposal before the House is a way to improve the quality of legislation and of not legislating in the middle of the night. That is what it is about and that is what we should get on with.
Mr. Shepherd: That failure is no reason to insist on how another Opposition should conduct their business, but that is the conceit behind the proposal. Now, Governments tell Oppositions how they should perform their job. That is outrageous, and yet the outrageousness marches through the business motion, and through the next motion on the programming of Bills.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate made a fair point, which is appreciated by many Conservative Members, that the House will seem dead to the outside world if it discusses business at 10 pm, 11 pm, midnight or 1 am. We want to be vital contributors to the arguments in the country. This proposal does nothing to meet that need. It ensures only that our debates will take place at the traditional times--perhaps starting at 5 or 6 pm.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: My hon. Friend has pointed out that we are putting the House into the hands of the Government. Are not Governments--whoever is in power--resistant to changes in hours, because Ministers cannot be in the Chamber in the morning? That is why the House cannot sit in the morning. The Government and the Cabinet resist changes that some Members might find convenient.