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Mr. Shepherd: That is why I drew the attention of the House to the Crossman diaries--the entry to which I referred is that for Thursday 17 November 1976. Cabinets oppose such changes. However, Ministers are in the House at an early hour. They have to take Bills through Standing Committees and answer Adjournment debates in Westminster Hall. It would liberate the House if we could all go out and make our party political speeches after 8 o'clock. It would enable Opposition Front Benchers to do so.
Until this Session, the Prime Minister voted extremely casually--in only 5 per cent. of the votes. He is now up to 10 per cent. No Prime Minister has either attended the House so rarely or voted so little. That is also true of Ministers, who expect their measures to be voted through by Back Benchers--such as the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate--at 10 or 11 o'clock at night. That is what we have come to. So confident are they--so assured in their hold over those elected to the Chamber--that Back Benchers will do almost anything, Ministers do not have to give any time to such matters.
The matter is all in the Crossman diaries--what goes around comes around. Such matters are repeated time and again, but never so much as under the Labour Government. In Opposition, Labour Members vigorously criticised the Conservative use of guillotines--I agreed with the Labour Back Benchers who did so--but the Labour Government now say that was all a terrible waste of time because they are in government and they must use the guillotine as often as they want.
The assumptions in the report--we will not have the opportunity to consider it now--are extraordinary: the Government must get their business. What new constitutional principle do the Government propose by that? If the House believes that is right for the country, we must accept that principle; but if the House believes
Mr. Pike: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House. Does he agree that the whole purpose of today's motions is to move away from the use of the guillotine and towards sensible programming? That will ensure better scrutiny of legislation. That is why we are holding the debate.
Mr. Shepherd: The distinguished hon. Gentleman is a member of the Modernisation Committee. The only evidence offered to us on the supposed programming of Bills was mixed. It is set out in an appendix written by the Clerk. The hon. Gentleman is aware that, even when such programming was agreed between Members of the Front Benches, we did not discuss all parts of a Bill.
The debates on the poll tax offer a powerful and instructive example. Individual Members on both sides of the House took the opportunity--and had the time--to set out why the tax was defective and could not be borne. That began to turn the tide of opinion in the Government. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, he eventually had to ameliorate the legislation under another Prime Minister. Do not doubt the importance of holding in the hands of the House the ability to check Governments. However impatient we are, if business were conducted during the day, most of us would not regret being here for an extra half hour or hour. There would not then be the need to impose guillotines. I hope that the new Labour hon. Ladies and Gentlemen are not fooled by this device of guillotining everything.
A distinguished Leader of the House, now Lord Biffen, when confronted with the precursors to the Jopling proposals said, from where the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), is sitting now:
Ms Glenda Jackson: The thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument up to this point has been that Back Benchers must be assured that they will have the time to hold whatever Government are in power to account. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is simply not the case that the present structures of the House afford that opportunity to every Back Bencher. If we are genuine about affording to Back Benchers of whichever party the opportunity to hold the Executive to account, we must consider structures that will afford that opportunity to all Back Benchers. They certainly do not do so at the moment. Unless the Speaker chooses to limit speeches to either 10 or 15 minutes, the majority of debating time in the Chamber is taken up by the most asinine, childish debate, usually rooted in empty party political badinage, which has nothing to do with scrutiny and not only brings this place into disrepute, but is contemptuous of the people who sent us here to represent them.
Mr. Redwood: The great weakness in the hon. Lady's argument is that if everything is guillotined, a small group of trusties who support any Government can come in and take up practically all the time available for debate and prevent independent-minded Back Benchers on either side from getting their views across. That is what we object to.
Helen Jackson: I appreciate the fervour with which the hon. Gentleman regularly talks to the House about guillotines, but does he agree that he is making a blinkered refusal to recognise the difference between the old- fashioned guillotine, which stops debate on a Bill, and the new modern approach to programming legislation, which is fully supported by the Hansard Society and many other Parliaments around the world? The new approach has at its heart the need to discuss and scrutinise Government Bills thoroughly. Such a distinction exists and, by basing his argument on the assumption that there is no distinction, the hon. Gentleman loses the whole point.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That intervention was far too long, but it illustrates that we are becoming much more involved in the substance of the motions to come. I realise that this motion cannot be entirely divorced from the others, but the hon. Gentleman has had some scope to develop his argument. We should not have too much more debate on the substance, given that the House has yet to reach a decision on when it will tackle the other motions.
Mr. Shepherd: I absolutely agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, this is a guillotine motion and the issue is whether we shall have the time to discuss the substantive issues. The Modernisation Committee's report examined whether guillotine motions allow for full consideration of all the constituent parts. It considered the programmes motions on the Northern Ireland Bill and the Transport Bill. About the Transport Bill, it said:
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we vote for a guillotine on such extraordinarily important matters, we shall not be able to discuss sitting hours or what the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) believes is the abuse and misuse of Question Time? We will not be able to discuss those points, because we will not have the time.
Mr. Shepherd: I am only too conscious of that point. I regret that my speech has already lasted 25 minutes, but the fact is that more Members have attended this debate than any other on a procedural matter. That suggests to me that many of them wish to speak.
I know full well what will happen, because I have served in many Parliaments. Therefore, I put the hypothesis to the Leader of the House--a Cabinet member--that if we discuss the procedural motion until 10 o'clock, the attitude will be, "Go hang the debate on the substantive matter. We'll just pass it on the nod." People will then say, "You see just how ridiculous the House of Commons is."