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Mr. Green: There will be about 500 on the two Bills to which my right hon. Friend refers. That will happen during the first two days of this week. On that basis, more than 1,000 amendments will be subject to guillotine by the end of the week.
There will be seven pages' worth of amendments on areas of outstanding natural beauty, which will be dealt with at the end of the Bill. It is possible that seven pages of the Bill will never be debated by a democratically elected House. That is a democratic disgrace.
None of the possible reasons for a guillotine provides the slightest justification for today's motion, which is just another example of a Government who run scared of Parliament and run away from debate. Tonight's proceedings reflect badly on the Government, but more important is the fact that they reflect badly on the House. What the Government do to their own reputation is their own business; what they do to the reputation of the House matters to all of us and to everyone in the country. If a Government show contempt for Parliament, the British people will ultimately show their contempt for that Government, which they will deserve. The Government have not bothered to make any serious argument in favour of guillotining either Bill. Tonight, we shall take another step towards the elective dictatorship against which Lord Hailsham warned us. I urge the House to throw out this wretched motion.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin): At the risk of upsetting the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for whom I have the greatest respect, I have to say that there is something of a ritual about these occasions. There is always a certain amount of synthetic indignation, and we have seen a fair old barrel-load of that tonight. I exempt the hon. Gentleman from that observation; his indignation is entirely genuine and has the merit of having lasted throughout several Governments, whereas the indignation expressed by many of his right hon. and hon. Friends is entirely post-May 1997.
Mr. Mullin: Of course, the Liberal Democrats' indignation stretches back through the mists of time. The hon. Gentleman's indignation therefore appears more credible than many of his colleagues'. However, I have to disagree with him. It has always seemed to me that timetable motions are inevitable if Parliament is to be anything more than a talking shop. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, Labour Governments suffer the additional disadvantage of being permanently in a minority in the other place.
I do not accept that effective scrutiny necessarily requires unlimited debate. It ought to be possible for any half-way decent Opposition to select the issues that they most want to highlight and ensure that they are debated. The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne)
Mr. Mullin: The right hon. Gentleman will not recognise any of them, since, as far as I am aware, he has not been involved in any of the previous debates, but those hon. Members who have participated will recognise quite a few of the amendments. I shall not give way, because I have been left only 10 minutes in which to wind up--[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Yes, and then the guillotine will fall.
I have never managed to work up much indignation about timetabling. However hard they search the Official Report, Opposition Members will not find one scintilla of indignation from me on the subject of guillotines during my years in Parliament. In my early days in opposition, I recall spending the best part of 150 hours considering the Bill that became the Water Act 1989, but covering barely 10 clauses. At the end of that, the Minister in charge, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), announced a guillotine. At that point, the Opposition were all supposed to rise and say how outrageous it all was. Personally, I could have kissed him.
Mr. Tyler: As the Minister is revealing secrets, will he reveal another and tell us why the Government have decided to close tomorrow's debate at 10 o'clock? Could it be that they anticipate a defeat at the other end of the Palace on National Air Traffic Services? If so, do they intend to bring that legislation back to the Commons tomorrow night at 10 o'clock?
Mr. Mullin: Unfortunately, I am not a member of the secret society known as the usual channels, so it is not for me to comment on why 10 o'clock has been chosen. However, at this point, I shall deal with another matter that I have been asked about. I believe that it is the Government's intention, subject to the Speaker's permission, to make a statement on the rural White Paper tomorrow.
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)--a man not given to self-doubt or embarrassment--spoke of the Government undermining the foundations of democracy. It requires a certain amount of restraint to reply rationally to such a comment, but I shall do my best. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a chip off the old Hailsham block--a very distinguished one it is, too. His father did indeed write a book about an elective dictatorship; then he promptly joined the greatest elective dictatorship of the century, after which not another peep was heard from him on the subject.
We have wasted a lot of time this evening. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) spoke of bull-headed opposition and we have seen a fair amount of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) made the point that, if Opposition Members had really wanted time for debate on the Bill, they could have had at least two of the past three hours, but for reasons best known to themselves, they chose not to.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, timetable motions are a regrettable necessity, but the parliamentary process has to be managed. It had to be managed under Conservative Governments and it will have to be managed under Labour Governments. The parliamentary timetable means that, at this stage of the Session, a reasonable limit must be set on time for debating Bills, and that is what the motion is designed to do. Both Houses have had full opportunities to discuss these important Bills: Select Committees of both Houses studied the Freedom of Information Bill in some detail; the Standing Committee considering that Bill sat for 40 hours, and the Standing Committee considering the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill for almost 50 hours; and the House spent two full days on Report stage of each Bill. The Bills are important measures that deserve full debate and none of their main stages has been guillotined.
Of course it is right that the House should examine the changes made in another place; the timetable motion allows ample time to do so. Both Bills are valuable measures and are popular in the country at large. The House has had long, valuable discussions on them, and there is no need for us to go over the same old ground again. The Government had a clear mandate for the measures, which must now be completed and implemented.