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Mr. Lidington: I want my hon. Friends and others who wish to contribute to the debate to have the opportunity to do that. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) should make representations to his business managers if he believes that the time allowed for debate on the Bill or the motions that relate to it is inadequate. The timetable is in the Government's hands, not those of the Opposition.
Mr. Miller: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) alleges that the Bill should not be a matter for the usual channels. I understand that a discussion took place between Government and Opposition Whips. Is it not the case that the hon. Gentleman knows that and is misleading the House?
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Member for Aylesbury would not mislead the House. I hope that there is no suggestion of that; I do not believe that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) would make such a suggestion.
Mr. Miller: I am sure that the hon. Member for Aylesbury would not intentionally mislead the House. However, discussions have taken place between Government and Opposition Whips. The hon. Gentleman need only consult to confirm that.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Now that we have got that point out of the way, I stress that we are considering a narrow programme motion. The hon. Member for Aylesbury made a point of debate, and it is up to other hon. Members to rebut his case if they wish. It is not a matter for the Chair. Let us leave it at that.
I hope that hon. Members will be quiet in the Chamber and listen to the case that is being made. The way in which they vote is then up to them. I stress that we are considering a narrow issue. I call Mr. Lidington.
If the House accepts the motion, I hope that the Government will reflect on the matter. If we are to be allowed only one day's debate in a Committee of the whole House, I hope that they will undertake to arrange no ministerial statements for that day. I hope that they will also undertake to allow debate to continue until any hour with the votes at the end, rather than resorting to a cut-off at 10 pm or to the deferred voting procedure.
Mr. Leigh: Does my hon. Friend think that the motion is an honest attempt to balance the desire of the majority to get their Bill with the desire of the minority to have proper scrutiny, or is it dictated by a desire to deliver the Bill to the House of Lords in time for the calling of a general election in March? In other words, is this a proper debate about centuries of tradition or just playing politics with country people?
Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend puts his finger on the point at issue. The political motive for the motion is to achieve retrospectively the position claimed by the Prime Minister: that the House of Lords had obstructed the Bill on hunting. That is why the Government want to ram the Bill through the House of Commons with inadequate debate and get it to the other place as quickly as possible.
The second limb of the motion is the guillotine to be imposed on future Committee proceedings. That is objectionable as a matter of principle. Only once a Standing Committee starts to examine a Bill in detail can one begin to see where problems arise, where more consultation is required and where there have been errors of drafting by Government draftsmen--and we have had plenty of those over the past three years.
In the immediate aftermath of Second Reading, it is impossible to predict accurately where the problems and points of interest lie in a Bill. It is sensible to leave it for the Committee and the respective business managers to agree--informally, if appropriate--on arrangements for the handling and management of business, rather than laying down a rigid motion.
Outside organisations always wish to make representations to Committee members. The organisations affected by the Bill do not include large corporations, which can employ professional lobbyists and others to investigate the details of the Bill and to draft possible amendments on their behalf. Many of those affected by the Bill live in scattered rural communities and are not particularly familiar with the workings of Westminster and the way in which legislation is made. Those of us
If the amendment is accepted by the Government, it will make only slightly more palatable a ruthless guillotine motion that is rotten in principle and malicious in its detail. The House is considering a guillotine motion that displays the typical arrogance of this most dictatorial of all Governments; a Government who have decided on Second Reading what the timetable will be in Committee for an option that has not yet been voted on.
The House has before it three options: schedule 1 has seven paragraphs; schedule 2--the option for which the Home Secretary said he would vote--has 64 paragraphs; and schedule 3--the option for a total ban and the attempt to criminalise hundreds of thousands of law-abiding people--has 28 paragraphs. However, the Government do not know officially which way the House will vote. It could vote for the Home Secretary's option and then we would have only a short time in Committee to deal with 64 provisions.
Mr. Öpik: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, whichever option is selected, there will be a problem? Supporters of the other two options will want to make significant amendments. That is where the time will go; there is concern that the present time allocation may not be enough.
Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right--as every Member knows: one day's debate on the Floor of the House to deal with three major issues of principle is a ridiculously short period for such an important Bill.
My right hon. Friend will appreciate that many of us feel that if this bad Bill goes ahead, a compensation scheme should be an essential part of it. It will inevitably take a great deal of time to work out a proper scheme and we shall not have time to do so.
Mr. Maclean: My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. If the House accepts the option of a complete ban, that will raise questions of criminal law and the fact that innocent people who are currently pursuing
The Government have decided in advance. They do not care which option is accepted; they have decided that the Bill will leave Committee by 8 February--no matter when it goes into Committee. We heard an interesting revelation this evening; I hope that we shall have the chance to pursue it by way of a manuscript amendment immediately after the vote on the motion. The Under-Secretary admitted that he hopes that the measure will have three weeks in Committee; only six days--a miserable 12 sittings. That is what the Minister hopes will happen, so that he can get his Bill out by 8 February.
However, we know that the Bill does not have a slot for consideration during the first week after the Christmas break. We know the business for that week; it does not include the Bill. It is certainly not included in the provisional business for Monday 15 January. If the Bill is slotted in for consideration on the Floor of the House for the week commencing 15 January, there is a possibility that we might complete a miserable 12 sittings in Standing Committee by 8 February, but we have received no guarantee from the Government that the Bill will be given consideration during that week. It is quite possible that the timetable will slip. If the Bill is not considered until 22 January and still has to complete its Committee stage by 8 February, we will be down to four days in Committee.
We are seeing double dealing and sleight of hand from the Government tonight. Even if the Bill was considered on the Floor of the House during the second week of January, and even if my modest amendment for two days of such consideration was accepted, there would still be inadequate time in Committee to deal with all the points that would be raised. Why are the Government so keen to get the Bill out of Committee by 8 February?