|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful speech, to the nods of Labour Members, but there is nothing in the programming proposals to prevent the scrutiny of legislation late at night when the Government decide to railroad it through the House, which they have often done by introducing last-minute guillotine motions on the grounds of some spurious emergency or need. How do the proposals help us to deal with that?
Mr. Tyler: The hon. Gentleman will have seen my colleagues and me vote against the guillotine motion, as we always do. That is common practice because we believe that such motions are always a sign of the Government's failure. Incidentally, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was a Member of Parliament at the time, but we did the same thing when Conservative Governments pushed through guillotine motions, as they did all too often, sometimes unnecessarily.
That is why we are trying to move on and get away from guillotine motions, so that they are the exception rather than the rule. We are trying to ensure that we can usually have a sensible, businesslike discussion. Any other assembly--let alone any other business community--in the world thinks that it is better to sit down and try to work out the best way to handle business. Extreme measures must be taken when that is not possible, but let us at least make the attempt. That is why I said that the one-and-a-half hours spent on the previous debate would have been much better spent getting on with the substance of the discussion. A serious attempt to obtain agreement to a programme motion for this evening's business would have been preferable to the guillotine, and the Government are at fault there.
In the previous Speaker's letter to the Modernisation Committee--one of my complaints about modernity is that text seems to get smaller as I get older--she reminded it that its first report set out three important issues for programming. First:
That is the advantage of a programme motion. It enables hon. Members on both sides of the House to ensure that their voices are heard. Frankly, we on the Opposition Benches would not be doing our duty and would not be effective if we did not ensure that Labour Members behind the Treasury Front Bench had the opportunity to be heard, not only by voicing their concerns, but by voting.
It is extremely important that we make progress this evening, not because this is the end of the process, but because we can experiment in the next few months to see whether we can make some real improvements in the way in which we operate, and change the balance of trade back towards the House to enable hon. Members who are not members of the Government Front Bench to have an effective voice and a more effective vote at a more effective time.
The first amendment to be called, which is in the name of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), demonstrates no understanding of the difference between the whole House taking a businesslike approach to our business and reaching agreement, and the use of the damaging, blunt instrument that is a guillotine motion. That is why I advise all Members to reject the amendment.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) and a number of my colleagues, but we are just about to undertake one experiment, and I wonder whether this is the right moment to begin another. I should prefer to return to that proposal when we know whether the first experiment has been successful.
On deferred Divisions, it is extremely important that all parties should tell the Government, fair and square, that we hope that they will avoid tackling major issues after 10 o'clock. They should impose on themselves the self-discipline that the House is accepting for itself. I do not have a problem with the discussion of motions to appoint Members to Committees--not even a motion to appoint the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst to the Commission. Hon. Members can discuss those matters all night, if they want.
However, I have a great deal of sympathy with the points made by Conservative Front-Bench Members, and I would regard it as a problem if the Government, because of their tight legislative timetable, so arranged their business that they had to impose on Members after 10 o'clock. That would be breaking with the spirit of the proposals.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): The hon. Gentleman may well be aware that in this Session more than 3,800 Government amendments have been tabled in the Lords. Will the incompetent legislative drafting revealed by such amendments be improved by these reforms?
Mr. Tyler: Yes, I think that it will, as long as there is agreement in the House about the total time that is necessary to deal with amendments. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, the problem under successive Governments has been that we have not had sufficient time for all the issues that Members want to address.
It is extremely important that we recognise that, in future, the slot after 10 o'clock should be for matters that are not of supreme legislative importance; otherwise, Members on both sides of the House will think that they have been sold a pup.
I love the idea, which has suddenly emerged this evening, that Members, Conservative Members in particular, listen to every word of a debate and make up their mind about how to vote according to the merits of the discussion. I do not know how many Conservative Members were here yesterday when my colleagues and I led two important debates, on pensions and on privatisation, but it was noticeable that some Conservative Members arrived in the Lobby not knowing whether to vote or, if they intended to vote, not knowing which way to vote, and had to be given careful guidance by the Whips.
It is a grand illusion that everybody somehow reaches their conclusion on how to vote on the precise dot of 10 o'clock, and that if they were asked to do so later, they might somehow be deflected by other judgments. That is nonsense. Amendment (d), tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, on which we shall also vote, is a wrecking amendment. All he wants is to make Wednesday a total nonsense.
It is on evolution that we have been most successful--not with great radical changes but by moving, checking, going back, monitoring, experimenting, making progress. Some hon. Members do not think that we are moving fast enough--I probably share that view--but if we take the majority of our colleagues with us, we are more likely to make sustainable improvement than have to chop and change. That is true for the sittings in Westminster Hall and several other reforms in the Parliament.
I accept precisely the view of the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush that we can make progress across the House by experimenting and being prepared to consider matters again. Our great opportunity in the next few months is to do precisely that--I accept that the run-up to the election is a sensitive time--but with a clear end point. If the new Parliament feels that our trial and error has not gone far enough, as the hon. Member for Cambridge suggests, or too far, as others suggest, we can look again.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) is not in her place, but I very much welcome the fact that she appeared to be much more open minded on some of the issues about which hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned. I hope that we see that approach reflected on the Modernisation Committee.
However, I very much regret that, on this issue, in this debate, and on the issue in the Modernisation Committee, the Conservatives broke with our previous practice to try to make progress together. On such issues, the House always achieves a great deal more by experimentation with a degree of co-operation and consensus. Nevertheless, we should be making progress tonight, and I hope that the House will vote to do so.