Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman seems to have strayed from the terms of the motion. He has discussed the respective merits of hon. Members and their perspicacity and is now discussing the substance of the Bill. However, the time for that has not yet arrived, so he should confine himself strictly to the terms of the motion. I hope that he will not engage in further repetition.
Mr. Bercow: I have not engaged in that at all and I challenge the hon. Gentleman to provide a single example of my making the same point twice. I have not done so and do not intend to do so. As always, I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for returning me to the straight and narrow.
The point that I was trying to make--as a modest fellow, I am happy to concede that I was obviously making it very inadequately--is that precisely because these matters are contentious and precisely because there has not yet been a proper opportunity for Members of the House who were not members of the Committee to debate them, it is important that there should be adequate time to do so.
I give another example--fees and charges--not because I want to dilate on that, but because it is an example of an important subject, which hon. Members should have more time to debate. An extraordinary series of exchanges took place in Committee. My hon. Friends and I proposed an amendment that would have ensured that the Government could not impose stealth taxes, but could levy charges such, and only such, as to recover the administrative costs incurred. The Minister quibbled about the terms and suggested that the clause as it stood was preferable to the wording that we recommended. However, when Ministers were challenged to guarantee beyond doubt that a profit to the Exchequer would never be involved, they retreated into waffle and obfuscation. Those matters need to be properly debated tonight.
The central point is that it is unreasonable--simply and plainly unreasonable--for Ministers to expect 61 new clauses and amendments to be intelligently and comprehensively debated in only three hours. Now, I am not the very distinguished and upmarket mathematician that is the Minister. Nevertheless, I scraped through the O-level. Three hours is 180 minutes, so it is clear what considering 61 new clauses and amendments in 180 minutes means: fewer than three minutes per new clause or--
Mr. Bercow: Well, you have slapped my wrist, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I bow to your authority and the discipline that you have imposed. I apologise, but my hon. Friends are clear about our objection. The Government are trying to ram through too much in too little time with too few opportunities for hon. Members to voice their concerns. That is not acceptable.
If the Minister is so confident of the robustness of his case and so convinced that the Government are being fair in their proposed allocation of time, why have neither he nor either of his hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench had the courtesy to consult through the usual channels about the apportionment of time? The fact is that they did not consult on either the amount of time that they proposed to allocate or its proposed distribution on Report and Third Reading. I must emphasise that, to me, that is unacceptable.
Mr. Bercow: No, I have not. The hon. Gentleman, who is a diligent Whip, has started to dig his own grave and I am afraid that I must throw the earth in to fill it. It is certainly true that he approached me. He wanted to established whether I was content with a day's consideration and it was pretty clear to him that I was not. My response was twofold. First, it was incumbent on him to go through the usual channels and speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk, because that is the way that business is done. Secondly, the time needed--based on the proposals that the Government themselves would produce--was crucial. I must emphasise that.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is decent and fair-minded enough to acknowledge that I said to him, "It depends how many new clauses and amendments the Government choose to put to the House." At that stage, the hon. Gentleman, who was kept in the dark by his very senior, very distinguished and very ambitious Minister, was not in a position to advise me about what the Government intended.
We face a strange situation as we consider the allocation of time. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk and I were not aware of what the Government would propose for the simple reason that we were not the proposers and they would not tell us what they had in mind. Inevitably, as the Opposition in the dark, we were in a state of ignorance. The situation on the Government side resulted in this pitifully inadequate allocation of time: the Minister apparently knew what he had in mind, but the hon. Member for Hyndburn, the Government Whip, did not.
If the Minister and the hon. Member for Hyndburn do not communicate about these matters, it is their problem, but there is no reason why the rights of the House should be imperilled or, indeed, ultimately trampled, as a result of such a pitiful failure of communication.
Mr. Clarke: First, there is no difference relating either to information or to knowledge between my hon. Friend and me. Secondly, I am glad the hon. Gentleman had the grace to concede that there was a consultation, and that a meeting took place. Thirdly, I had a similar conversation with the hon. Gentleman before the Programming Sub-Committee considered the Committee stage, and received a similar response to that described by him. I have to say that I think it very difficult to take him seriously, in terms of the possibility of engaging in a serious discussion of these matters.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am anxious to ensure that a balanced debate takes place. I know that others wish to speak, and I suggest that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) limit his remarks.
Mr. Bercow: I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall follow it. In any event, it is difficult to reply to what the Minister said, because it was so vague as to border on the opaque. Whether he meant that I just chuckled at him when he spoke to me, or whether he suggested for a moment that I was guilty of tergiversation--that I said one thing on one occasion, and subsequently changed my mind--I know not. The fact is, however, that there was not proper conversation between the Minister and the hon. Member for Hyndburn. The fact is that either the hon. Member for Hyndburn did not know how many new clauses or amendments the Government intended to table, or, if he did know, he failed to divulge the information to me. And the fact still is that, despite that non-communication, based on either secretiveness or lack of knowledge, the hon. Gentleman had the cheek to expect me to agree to a circumscription of the rights of the Opposition in particular, and of the House in general. That is unacceptable.
No amount of dancing on the head of a pin by the Minister will change the fact that the Government have treated the House with disdain, indifference and contempt. The allocation of time is unsatisfactory: this is not a proper way in which to do business. I am sorry that there are too many part-timers who do not take their legislative responsibilities seriously. My hon. Friends and I do, and I know that, in particular, traditionalist Labour Back Benchers take those responsibilities extremely seriously. The many Members who take them seriously and who share my view that the time allocated is inadequate will doubtless wish to register their concerns.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I shall be extremely brief, and perhaps demonstrate to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that it is possible to make points succinctly, and in a short time.
I have served on a wide range of Standing Committees, and will draw on that experience to illustrate my view not only that there was sufficient time in Committee, but that there is plenty of time for us to deal with substantive arguments--if there are any--this evening.
As you have observed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there has been an element of repetition. In Committee, I heard the arguments about pieces in The Guardian six, eight or even nine times. If the hon. Member for Buckingham were to confine himself to substantive issues, I am sure that the time allocated would be sufficient.
If hon. Members look at the report of the Committee's first sitting, they will see that the hon. Gentleman took up more than half the first 38 columns. If they then go through the record line by line, deleting references to The Guardian, spider bites and similar trivia outside the scope of the Bill, they will note that the hon. Gentleman effectively occupied a reasonable proportion of the debate; but it is a different matter when we start to add all the trivia. For instance, the hon. Gentleman takes up eight and a half out of 10 columns in the debate on clause 17.
The Bill deals with important issues. I want adequate time tonight to deal with clause 37, which I sought to amend in Committee. Coincidentally, the hon. Member for Buckingham mentioned the constituency of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). There are extremely effective speed cameras throughout the heart of that constituency--at least, I think it must be that constituency--along the A5.
Such issues are important, and we must deal with the substance of them. We can only do so, however, if Members on both sides of the House confine their remarks to what is relevant--although I would point out that the Committee stage ended before the scheduled time.