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Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right--there has been a history of that under both the current Government and the previous one. Although we could argue about who started the practice, I will not do that now. However, there is provision for altering the programme motion, should such events occur and Bills be substantially changed. There would need to be such provision. There is provision for supplementary motions, either in Standing Committee--if such a motion becomes necessary during debate there--or, subsequently, perhaps on Report, in the House.
Mrs. Beckett: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is no intention that the issues that we are discussing should apply to carry-over. He will know that separately, the Modernisation Committee recommended that we should experiment with carrying over some legislation--which I think that we have done only once, with the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. However, the order that we are debating does not affect the proposals for the use of carry-over at all.
I turn now to the issue of voting on stand-alone business taken after 10 pm. The whole House will know that such issues can vary sharply in importance, from relatively routine business decisions on which a vote is taken forthwith, to a statutory instrument in which a few hon. Members--but only a few--take a great interest, to an issue in a statutory instrument that arouses substantial concern on both sides of the House. The Committee had no wish to curtail debate on such issues when they are of substance, and has made no such proposal. However, all hon. Members are aware that the process of voting itself has been used to detain hon. Members late at night, even when no debate was possible, or when only a handful of hon. Members were engaged.
I know that many colleagues, on both sides of the House, feel that the sheer unpredictability of being so detained, without even being sure that there will be a vote at all, is one of the worst aspects of our procedures--[Interruption.] I am aware that not everyone shares that view, but it is a view that is legitimately held.
We are all perfectly well aware that 999 times out of 1000, those matters are so handled not as a matter of principle, but as a matter of tactics. On 5 October 2000, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), with commendable but perhaps embarrassing candour, said to the Daily Express:
Mr. Forth: I am most grateful to the Leader. Does she concede that there is an equal danger--I put it no higher than that--that if one of the outcomes of the proposals, including the deferred division proposal, were that
Mrs. Beckett: I think that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish the public to get the impression that the House is ill attended. He will know as well as I do that hon. Members are here in large numbers every day and for very long hours; one has only to go into the car park to see that that is the case--[Interruption.] Indeed, the Chamber is not always as full as the car park. I invite Opposition Members, or at least some of them, to search their consciences and see whether they can imagine a reason why that might be the case.
All hon. Members do take their work seriously, and I know of no hon. Member who seriously objects to being here for the long hours, which we all work, to discuss issues of substance. However, I know of many who have strong objections when they feel that time is being wasted.
The proposal before us is that if a Division is called on business being taken after 10 pm, those votes should be deferred to the following Wednesday afternoon. The detailed arrangements for deferred Divisions will be under the authority of the Speaker, both to ensure their impartiality and to give flexibility. In essence, however, hon. Members will vote on ballot slips listing the decisions that have been deferred. I should stress that the proposal acknowledges that not all decisions could or should be so deferred.
The order therefore exempts, for example, decisions in the course of debate on a Bill. Consequently, however, and as I highlighted a moment ago, the report recommends that, in programming consideration of Bills, the aim should be to end consideration at about 10 pm. Nevertheless, the Committee recognised that, whereas the process of consideration would end at 10 pm, there may be consequential Divisions, perhaps when a Bill is being considered in Committee or on Report.
I fully recognise that many hon. Members will quite legitimately have concerns about deferred votes separating the vote from the debate. However, we have such separation now. Particularly when considering Bills in Committee or on Report, we vote when we reach the relevant point on the Order Paper, which is not infrequently entirely separate from the debate.
I have known hon. Members, even very experienced hon. Members, to fail to call a Division by which they had hoped to embarrass the current Government, purely because they had forgotten to do so at the appropriate time. So separate were those Divisions from the debate that those hon. Members lost their opportunity. It will be within the recent memory of hon. Members on both sides of the House that, when there was an important matter of division and discussion in the House, Labour Members took the opportunity to make it plain to hon. Members exactly how and when they should call Divisions, should they wish to do so, so that the opinion of the House could be tested. We already do separate decision from debate.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I am grateful, as always, to the right hon. Lady for giving way, but she is making a wholly spurious analogy. There is all the difference in the world between the minor deferments to which she is referring and the proposal that votes should be put down on bits of paper the following Wednesday. If that is what she is after, we may as well all pack up and go home.
Mrs. Beckett: I do not accept that it is an invalid point. First, we are talking about individual, stand-alone issues on one particular subject, not those that interact with other discussions. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman will know, it is not infrequently the case that Divisions occur on matters that the House does not debate at all, purely in order to cause inconvenience. So I do not agree that there is something wholly unacceptable about the proposal.
Mr. MacGregor: Quite apart from all the other objections to which my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) has drawn attention in his minority report, does not the right hon. Lady agree that the system will be unworkable? The idea of voting as we do in private Member's Bill ballots is not a serious analogy. That is a ballot for presenting a Bill. The proposals refer to votes that should take place in the Chamber. Does she really think that if there are a number of votes on a Wednesday and there are also votes in the House, the whole system can work?
Mrs. Beckett: Yes, indeed. As is now the case on certain occasions, if there were Divisions in the House, the amount of time available would have to be extended in order to allow Members the certainty of having an opportunity to express their views. The Modernisation Committee gave considerable thought to these issues, although I readily concede that it will create problems for some hon. Members--I trust that I am not one of them. The Whips on both sides will have a different and possibly slightly more difficult task. Obviously, that is a matter for them, but it is not a reason for saying that the proposal would not work.