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Mr. Forth: It might help my hon. Friend if I inform him that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley), the Government Deputy Chief Whip, is hovering by the Speaker's Chair and that he is on the point of asking for a closure motion. The Government might not even allow us a proper amount of time to finish this debate.

Mr. Shepherd: I do not know what the Deputy Chief Whip will do, so I shall not consider that point.

As I understand the Order Paper, the business of the House may be discussed until any hour. However, if we discuss this motion until 10 o'clock, we shall not be able to discuss the motions that the Government so desperately want.

Mr. Tyrie: To reiterate a point that I made earlier, if this debate goes beyond 10 o'clock, the House will not have an opportunity to vote on the motions on the programming of Bills and on deferred Divisions. The business will therefore fall.

Mr. Shepherd: I would have loved the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire to have been taken on board. There should have been a debate on the principles that lie behind the motions and on the report itself. The Government should have made their proposals after such a debate.

5.30 pm

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I want to make a brief contribution, not only because I care about the House, but because I am also a member of the Modernisation Committee and as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) knows, I am happy to support some of the proposed changes to Standing Orders. However, I want the House, and the Leader of the House in particular, to know that I think that the Government's handling of the matter is totally unacceptable.

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I share the view expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills and for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) who, picking up on remarks made by the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson), said that we should debate the general principles and issues contained in the Modernisation Committee's report as it relates to programming, the establishment of business sub-committees and, of course, deferred Divisions.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Is it not the case that the Leader of House could help the House enormously if, when my hon. Friend finishes his speech, she accepted the principle that has been raised by so many hon. Members?

Mr. Winterton: As an eternal optimist and a believer in democracy, I would--to use a most unparliamentary phrase--love the right hon. Lady to do just that. She has it within her discretion and power to heed the concern that has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I found some contributions rather sad, not least the remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) about the new programming. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said that programming is another word for guillotine. I think that it is a more rational word and that programming might lead to improvements that are not available within the guillotine system. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North appears to think that under this guillotine motion, which covers all the business that will subsequently come before the House, the concerns, responsibilities and role of Back Benchers will be properly safeguarded. I do not believe that they will be.

I am deeply worried about some of the proposals--in particular, the fact that Back Benchers will have less opportunity to do what they are here to do. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, we are here to represent our constituents. As hon. Members have said, Members of the House might not have the privilege of serving on a Standing Committee and, because of the number of people who want to speak, may not be able to speak on Second Reading of an important Bill. Therefore their only opportunity to make a contribution would be on Report or during remaining stages. If even those stages are to be programmed and limited, many Members on both sides of the House will be very unhappy that their responsibilities are being removed, reduced and undermined.

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North--who, as a distinguished Minister, did very well in the positions that he held--has so little understanding of the impact of what the House, under a guillotine motion, will decide this afternoon.

Mr. Doug Henderson: Did the hon. Gentleman understand my point? I did not say that Back Benchers should have less opportunity to speak, but that they should have at least as much opportunity as they have now. My point was that they should speak more succinctly within a programmed motion. [Interruption.]

Mr. Winterton: I am hearing murmuring to the effect that that is not in the proposed amendments to the

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Standing Orders. I must agree with my hon. Friends and those on the Government Benches that that point is not dealt with. However, I must still say to the hon. Gentleman--a distinguished ex-Minister--that there are occasions on which Members believe that the interests of their constituents or constituency deserve more than two or three minutes, in which he says hon. Members should be able to get their point across. If he is right, why do Ministers and shadow Ministers take so long to speak from the Dispatch Box? Even the hon. Gentleman when a Minister took rather longer than two or three minutes. Why should he as a Minister be treated any differently from me, an evergreen Back Bencher?

Mr. Henderson: I hate to prolong the debate, but I was not for a second advocating that Ministers should be allowed lengthy periods in which to speak. They should be equally succinct.

Mr. Winterton: I note what the hon. Gentleman says--

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members must debate the business motion. How long Ministers have spoken or intend to speak has nothing to do with the business motion--perhaps another time.

Mr. Winterton: I accept your courteous reprimand, Mr. Speaker, and shall seek to keep my remarks to the business motion.

Mr. Redwood: Has my hon. Friend noticed that one of the many ironies of this debate is that we have now spent almost two hours discussing how the business is to proceed? If the Government had let us debate the substance right from the beginning, we might have found that six hours was sufficient to expose the problems with the proposals. Have not the Government contributed to making it impossible for the House to consider the matters properly?

Mr. Winterton: I believe that I implied that in saying that I fully support the request of my hon. Friends the Members for South Staffordshire and for Aldridge- Brownhills and of Government Members.

Mrs. Dunwoody: As someone who has been in the House a very long time, can the hon. Gentleman tell me of an occasion on which debate on a business motion of such importance was not opened by a statement from the Government Front Bench?

Mr. Winterton: I have to be a little careful in how I respond to that question because I fully accepted the Speaker's reply to my point of order on that matter. I felt that the debate might have been so opened, but I must fully support our Speaker; he does not have any role in who wants to speak and who does not. If the Leader of the House had provided an explanation of the business motion, it might well, as the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire suggested, have enabled the House to make more progress and proceed with the debate in a much more orderly and informed way.

Mr. Hawkins: Does my hon. Friend agree that one thing that is upsetting so many hon. Members on both

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sides of the House is the constitutional outrage of the Government's guillotining something which itself will guillotine future debate?

Mr. Winterton: I was intending to begin my brief speech by saying that the motion is the guillotine of all guillotines. I am sad because, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the former shadow Leader of the House, would agree, we had established some common ground for progress. However, in certain other areas of the Government's proposals, the Opposition are deeply concerned that their role and that of Back Benchers will be eroded.

One great problem in debates on matters that relate entirely to the House, and should therefore be House of Commons matters, is that, however impartial the individual in question may seek to be, these are presided over by a member of the Cabinet. That causes me some concern because, as has been said, none of the details on the Order Paper today have been discussed by the Modernisation Committee. The motions have clear implications for the way in which the House can operate. The House would be far better to proceed by having a general debate on the issues contained in the Select Committee's report, and then having separate debates on the important changes to Standing Orders.

I make a plea to the right hon. Lady. I know that she has a difficult job to do, and that in general she does a very good job in the Committee. I respect her for it and praise her for it, but will she not listen? As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, who is no longer in his place, said, referring to words originally spoken from the very position in which the right hon. Lady is sitting, today's Government is tomorrow's Opposition. The House needs to proceed with agreement and by agreement on such important matters.

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