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Mr. Duncan Smith: Does my right hon. Friend agree with my previous point, that the difference between the convenience of hon. Members and their social lives, and the convenience of those who have a genuine complaint about what the Government are doing--this affects Government Back Benchers more than other hon. Members--is that when important debates are held after 10 pm in future, the Whips will spend the next few days making certain that there are plenty of reasons why the hon. Members concerned should not and will not be around to make their vote count in due course? That is what will inevitably happen--it is how Governments work.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall return to that point, as it highlights the worrying aspects of some of the proposals.

I challenge the assumption that has underpinned much of the debate so far--that the Government are entitled to get their business. I dispute that. Part of what I try to do as an individual Member of Parliament is to prevent the Government from getting their business at all, or getting it easily. A Government who can get all their business and more easily and without much challenge are in danger of overriding the safeguards that we always thought existed in this House and the other place.

Mr. Winnick: The right hon. Gentleman may recall that after Second Reading, there could be a 45-minute debate on the money resolution. He may also remember that the late Bob Cryer almost monopolised those debates. That was abolished in the previous Parliament. There was a vote on 2 November 1995, and I see that among those who voted to abolish the Back Bencher's right was the right hon. Gentleman. He may argue that he had no alternative because he was a Minister, but many Ministers did not vote on that occasion.

Mr. Forth: Of course I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I had to make a decision whether to stay as a member of the Government whom I had the honour to serve or whether to resign in order to express my view on such matters. I made the decision that I should continue to be part of the Government, and I voted accordingly. I had many discussions with colleagues about it and I was never happy with the proposals, but that was the decision that I made. Looking back, I might rather regret it, but I am where I am now, and I feel absolutely free to make the points that I am making as a Member of the House and of the Opposition.

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I want to retain as much of a right as I can, as an individual Member of Parliament, to harry the Government, to irritate them, to make their life difficult, to delay them and thereby to try to prevent the damage that they inflict through excessive and bad legislation.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Is not the point exactly the reverse of what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) argues? I remember that when the late Bob Cryer was in his place, the Government of the day used to get deeply exasperated with him, but he was effective because he forced them to come back time and again. Yes, it was wrong to do that, but does that mean that closing down more Back Benchers' rights is the route to take?

Mr. Forth: That is the problem. Those of us who have had the privilege of being in the House for some time must inevitably draw on the experience that we have had, both in government and in opposition. Part of the difficulty is that very many of the hon. Members who are excited about the proposals and support them have experienced only what it is like to be in government. Alternatively, they spend so little time in the House of Commons that they have lost interest in its proceedings. Many of the hon. Members who are behind the proposals fit one or other category.

Mr. Stunell rose--

Mr. Forth: I exonerate the hon. Gentleman from the second categorisation.

Mr. Stunell: It is always good to hear a sinner brought to repentance, as the right hon. Gentleman seems to have been. Some of us think that there might be other areas where repentance was overdue.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that some of us came to the House because we thought that the entire process of government in this country needed to be changed and improved? We are not discussing a trade union measure to improve our terms and conditions of service. We are trying to make this place effective, and the right hon. Gentleman might sometimes direct his efforts towards achieving that, instead of wrecking our business.

Mr. Forth: I will be the sole judge of what I think is effective and of what I should do. I will stick by my judgment, and I will not be lectured or hectored by the hon. Gentleman or anyone else.

Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forth: Knowing the hon. Gentleman, I am sure that I will not be lectured or hectored. I am sure that he will give me advice.

Mr. Casale: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Earlier in his speech, he said that he judged it to be a waste of his time to meet his constituents in his constituency surgery. Does the same apply to answering their correspondence?

Mr. Forth: I think that I can say fairly that if one of my constituents writes to me, he or she will receive an

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answer the same day. I have always rather prided myself that that works. Perhaps it is something to which we should all aspire.

Mr. Bercow: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as seems clear from the rather ambiguous speeches of the hon. Members for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) and for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), if the timetable for a Bill is determined in advance, and if the issue of whether to alter that timetable is entirely a matter for ministerial discretion, there is no inbuilt incentive for the Government to minimise the number of amendments that they table to facilitate the interests of the House?

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend has typically put his finger on one of the flaws of the argument that has been advanced so far, which is the extent to which the Government will now control the time that the House will give to each Bill. The Leader of the House said honestly and openly to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), the shadow Leader of the House, that although discussions might take place, if the Opposition did not want to take part that would not matter very much because the Government would say to the House, "This is the time that we, the Government, believe that the House will spend on our legislative programme."

What my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has said must follow. Why should the Government take any trouble to ensure that their legislation is any better than it has hitherto been? That really does not matter because the length of debate will be determined and Back-Bench Members will be squeezed out. Goodness knows what will happen to the inevitable flood of amendments that we have seen from the Government over three years, which they have had to introduce to almost every Bill to make it not very good but--

Mr. Bercow: Less awful.

Mr. Forth: Indeed.

These measures appear to fail on every count. They appear to reduce--

Mr. David Taylor: The right hon. Gentleman seems to justify the classic style that he uses of delay, harry, irritate and obfuscate on the basis that, somehow, that will bring about a welcome change in the direction of the Government of the day, or an amendment. Given his lengthy experience in the House and the various constituencies that he has represented, will he give us examples of that approach being successful in the objectives that he claims for it?

Mr. Forth: Yes. I think that we are seeing an example of that now. The tiny role that I have played so far this Session in delaying some of the Government's progress in this place is being reflected, at least in part, in another place. I would take enormous pride if some elements of the Government's programme were not to survive to the end of the Session. I would claim that I might have played a tiny part in that process in some of the things that I have been able to do over the past few months, when many Members here present were not in the House and were not participating in its business.

I do not want to make excessive claims. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make a small claim. If more Opposition and Labour Members were to

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attempt to delay, irritate and obfuscate occasionally, they might find the results rather pleasing and, in a way, unexpected.

Joan Ruddock: Is it not true that the right hon. Gentleman gained his reputation, or perhaps his notoriety, by defeating about half a dozen popular private Members' Bills, which had wide support in the House and in the country?

Mr. Forth: I hope that I have contributed to defeating many rather disgusting private Members' Bills. Many of them were driven by equally disgusting interest groups outside the House. I would stand by that on any occasion.

I am not here to aid the process of legislation, which I regard as being almost inevitably inimical to the public interest. I wish to try to obstruct as much legislation as possible. Examples of good legislation are so few and far between and examples of bad legislation so legion that I consider it almost self-evident that it is the duty of a Member to try to prevent legislation rather than to encourage it.

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