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Mr. O'Brien: As the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, the House considers many controversial Bills. Discussions--which are perfectly amicable--are held in the usual way, and now in this new way. People disagree over the content of a Bill, but they are nevertheless prepared to ensure that the timing of discussion of that Bill gives everyone a fair chance to put their point of view. Programme motions are all about ensuring that Opposition Members as well as Labour Members have an opportunity to put their points of view. Programme motions are about providing certainty and letting the whole House know when particular business is to be debated, and when a particular stage of a Bill is to be completed. It also gives the Opposition the opportunity, if they choose to take it, to have some input into the process.
Mr. Wilshire: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way to me, and I hear what he says about the time scale. He said that there would probably be three weeks between the date of the Committee stage on the Floor of the House and the completion of the Committee stage upstairs. Why does he not specify in the motion that the Committee stage upstairs will be completed three weeks after the debate on the Floor of the House, rather than by a particular date? If the business managers find that the debate on the Floor of the House takes place only one day before the specified date, the three weeks will be up the chute. Will he make that change, so that the motion says that the debate should be three weeks later, rather than take place on a particular date?
Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman has made his point, which no doubt will have been heard by the usual channels. However, those who represent the interests of his parties in the discussions will no doubt discuss with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and others how they wish this matter to be handled. If the Opposition are sensible about the way in which they want the measure debated, there is no reason why it should not be debated in a sensible way that gives everyone the opportunity to have their say.
Mr. King: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I accept your ruling. In the light of your correction about the motion being amendable, will you accept a manuscript amendment to implement the Minister's intention, which he has now stated to the House?
Mr. O'Brien: No. We are happy that the motion before the House will deal with the issues in the proper way. I can assure the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) that we are already having discussions with those on the Opposition Front Bench to determine an appropriate date--
The way in which this matter can be debated should be discussed through the usual channels. Members on the Opposition Front Bench know perfectly well how that is done, and if they want to enable Conservative Members to have their say, they will no doubt co-operate in the usual way. The motion provides ample opportunity for the Bill to be properly considered in Committee, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Lidington: I was genuinely shocked when the Minister said that the one thing that he regretted about the change of business this week was that it deprived him of what he termed the honour of moving the first programme motion under the new arrangements that the Government rammed through at the close of the previous Session. It was a cause for shame and disgrace rather than honour. His comments reminded me of the saying:
The programme motion has two themes, and I shall deal briefly with each of them. First, there is the committal to a Committee of the whole House on clauses 1 to 4 and new clauses. In his remarks, the Minister skipped lightly over the fact that the committal arrangements in the motion do not merely apply to the selection by the House of one of the three options embodied in the schedules, but cover any new clauses that hon. Members may table between this evening and the Bill's emergence before a Committee of the whole House.
Mr. Greenway: This is a shameful moment for Parliament. One day is inadequate to consider not only those clauses and any new clauses, but amendments to the clauses. My hon. Friend and the Minister know that, were the Bill to go into Committee upstairs, it would take several sittings to deal with the first three clauses because of the amendments that would be moved by hon. Members on both sides of the argument.
Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. It takes the biscuit for the Government to say that there will be ample time in just one parliamentary day to consider the three options embodied in the schedules and any amendments and new clauses that may be tabled.
The experience of the House on Second Reading today was that you, Mr. Speaker, had to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches by Back Benchers because of the number who wanted to take part in the debate.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The hon. Gentleman is making a great deal of this point, and I understand that, but perhaps he would tell us how many days he and his Front-Bench colleagues asked that the Committee on the Floor of the House should sit. Was it one day, two days, three days or no days?
Mr. Lidington: I have not agreed to the programme motion. All hon. Members will have a free vote on the Bill--a pre-eminent example of the sort of measure to which it is absurd to apply a programme motion. It is not my responsibility--or that of any other Conservative Front Bencher--to speak for all my hon. Friends, who have independent views, which they will wish to express in the debate on the Bill.
Mr. Soames: Points were made in great depth and detail on Second Reading. Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the fundamental wickedness of the Bill--[Interruption]--or at least its grave consequences for the personal liberties of many of our citizens, the measure clearly deserves two days' consideration in a Committee of the whole House?
Mr. Lidington: My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) is being generous in the offer that he has made in the amendment. I hope that he will get the opportunity to speak about it later.
The time allocated for debate today was inadequate because it did not provide an opportunity for every hon. Member who wanted to contribute to do so. Furthermore, the Government chose to deprive the House of nearly an hour of debating time by including a ministerial statement in today's proceedings. [Interruption.] If the programme motion is accepted, we have no guarantee that the Government will not choose to introduce--[Interruption.]