Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Forth: My right hon. and learned Friend has raised an intriguing possibility. Does it not highlight the symbiotic nature of the relationship between the two Houses of the legislature? There can be such intercourse

15 Dec 1999 : Column 289

between the two purveyed by messages, as the motion suggests. Even on a day such as tomorrow, which the casual observer might think is one on which not much would happen in the House--

Mr. Maclean: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Forth: Yes, but I shall be concluding my remarks shortly.

Mr. Maclean: Although most observers might think that tomorrow will be a quiet day, the last paragraph of page 611 of "Erskine May" says:


    "the House having ordered the Lords' message to be read and considered . . . motions are made and questions put from the Chair".

Has my right hon. Friend considered the possibility that the Government anticipate important messages from the Lords tomorrow and intend to bounce the House by putting important questions from the Chair on a day when they expect slack attendance?

Mr. Forth: My right hon. Friend has typically teased out a point that had escaped my attention. I had not realised the importance of that paragraph on page 611 of "Erskine May", because I had been concentrating on the previous paragraph. My right hon. Friend may expand on that point if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because he has obviously given it more consideration than I have been able to do in my brief preparation for this important debate.

I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will agree that we have identified under this motion some possibilities that deserve a brief debate, and certainly merit an explanation from the Minister. Were the Government to decide, unusually for them, that in future they will do the House the courtesy of explaining briefly their intentions in these procedural motions, it could save time. By not doing so, they display the arrogance of assuming that we will nod everything through. They have made sinister references to the usual channels, which they seem to think determine what happens in the House. If I do nothing else, I should like to disabuse them of that.

Mr. Hogg: The important point about the usual channels is that, although Front Benchers can commit themselves, they cannot necessarily commit their Back Benchers.

Mr. Forth: That is the case on the Conservative Benches, but it remains to be seen whether it is also the case on the Government Benches. That is the valuable point that I hope will emerge from this brief debate.

Should the Minister catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that he will be able to satisfy me, if no one else, on the points that I have raised, so that I can decide whether I think the House should divide on this issue to express its view. I believe that that is a modest request.

15 Dec 1999 : Column 290

4.22 pm

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): There are some important issues to be dealt with in the motion. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) dealt with them last night and, more particularly, today. The House knowsthat my right hon. Friend has drastically telescoped his remarks so that they do not interfere with our consideration of the important Bill that is before us today.

Opposition Members who are present on Fridays--my right hon. Friend and I are often here on a Friday--will realise that, had my right hon. Friend wished to pursue these matters in much greater depth, the House would be discussing them for a few more hours. If some of my right hon. and hon. Friends came to assist him, we could be debating the motion until 10 o'clock tonight. However, it is not my right hon. Friend's intention, nor is it mine, to prolong these proceedings unnecessarily.

I hope that Labour Members have learned an important little lesson from our brief discussion of this motion last night and today. The Minister is an honourable, decent man, and I suspect that he listened to the advice of the champagne socialists in the Whips Office sitting on the Front Bench with him, who told him, "Bounce it through on the nod and keep your mouth shut. Don't say a word. It's late at night and they all want to go home to bed. Just put it through without explanation." It may have seemed good advice at the time, but I suggest to the Minister that it is not the way to proceed if he wants such motions put through reasonably quickly.

Mr. Forth: Has my right hon. Friend thought about what might happen if a message from the other place had to be dealt with by a Minister in this House who was at that very time engaged in the Disneyland Chamber that we mistakenly set up somewhere off Westminster Hall? Has he thought of the procedural implications that could arise from a message from the other place, were the relevant Minister to be wasting his time in futile debate in a pretend Chamber?

Mr. Maclean: My right hon. Friend is right. I am not sure whether the Serjeant at Arms could extract a Minister from the banana republic parish council that we have created above the Westminster Hall Cafeteria and bring him to the Chamber so that he could deal with a message. I do not want to pursue that, but the Modernisation Committee may wish to.

Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend is conveying his own messages to the Government Front Bench about the dangers of taking the House for granted. One message that he may wish to convey is this: if Ministers ever seek to provide Government time for the promotion of a private Member's Bill that would infringe the rights of my constituents, they can be sure that every parliamentary opportunity will be taken by Members who defend human rights.

Mr. Maclean: I think that we have all noted the underlying point made by my right hon. and learned Friend. I look forward to seeing him here every Friday in future when private Member's business is being dealt with. I also look forward to co-operating with the Government to ensure that the rights of all our constituents are protected, at least for the time being, until important inquiries are completed.

15 Dec 1999 : Column 291

I was making a straightforward point. The Government will be able to conclude their business more quickly if they do the House the small courtesy of explaining what are, in some cases, simple and innocuous measures. If they do not do that, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and I, along with others, will conclude that they may have a more devious and sinister purpose, and will wish to explore what they are up to in more detail.

Let me give the Minister a good reason for not obeying his Whips Office in future, but trusting his own instinct and judgment, jumping to the Dispatch Box and telling the House what the Government are doing. A late lamented Transport Minister--I believe that she was once an actress--did not appreciate that, to get a Bill through the House on a Friday, she must treat the House with a certain courtesy. She became rather grumpy when a Bill that she hoped would be bounced through in 10 minutes took about five hours to debate because the House was giving it proper scrutiny.

That lady is no longer a member of the Government, which is a source of concern to some of us who would like to oppose some of her other transport measures. Because she treated the House with discourtesy and contempt, she did not win favours from her own Back Benchers. If the Minister wishes to earn favours from his Back Benchers, to conclude business by 10 pm and to get it passed, a simple explanation at the outset would be helpful. It is not good enough for him to explain that a measure is innocuous after Opposition Members have made their speeches.

I urge the Minister in future to tell us what a motion is about at the beginning, so that we do not have to drag it out of him at the end.

4.28 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The House should be grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) for taking the opportunity to clarify, or at least to seek to clarify, the purpose that lies behind the motion. He has also done something else, which the Government would do well to consider: he has made it clear that, if the Government ever act in a way that is not consistent with what hon. Members think to be right, a range of possibilities are open to hon. Members to put obstacles in the way of business, and to do so in a way that is proper.

I was here earlier when the private Members' Bills were introduced. I noticed that they included the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill. Any attempt to bang that Bill through the House will attract a great deal of discussion on every possible occasion. I will not be alone in going a long way to ensure the rights of our constituents to go fox hunting.

My other point is made in the spirit of helpfulness. The Order Paper often contains motions, the impact of which is unclear. I congratulate the Government on the new Order Paper, which is an improvement on what we had in the past, but it would be helpful if it gave some indication of the purpose and impact of many of the orders that we are asked to pass on the nod. The usual channels could have a profitable discussion about that. If the impact of some of the motions and orders could be set out, perhaps in an appendix, Members of Parliament such as me would have a clearer view of what we are being asked to do and we might well find that, on occasions such as this, business would pass through the House more expeditiously.

15 Dec 1999 : Column 292

I am delighted to know that there are agreements between the Front Benches. That has always been so. However, as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said last night, some of us feel that the rights of Back Benchers can never be compromised by agreements between Front Benchers. Front Benchers speak for themselves, but they do not necessarily speak for their Back Benchers.

Next Section

IndexHome Page