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Mr. Waterson: Let me come to that very issue. Mr. Holt is perfectly entitled to comment on this part of the Bill, not only as an individual but as the representative of 18,000 fellow members of his profession. However, the Minister's comment on Mr. Holt was:
Mr. Raynsford: Will the hon. Gentleman now tell the House what led to my comments? Will he confirm that Mr. Holt's letter accused the Government of behaving like Mussolini? If that is the case, will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he agrees with that judgment--and whether he
Mr. Waterson: We shall come on to what I have termed the conveyancing Gestapo in due course. It is true that Mr. Holt made a passing reference to Mussolini, which I took to be jocular; but it was in the context of the application of a set of criminal sanctions to people who failed to get together their seller's packs in time. We consider that to be one of the most objectionable parts of the Bill.
Mr. Holt is perfectly entitled to express his views, and perfectly entitled to express them in trenchant terms. It certainly caught the Minister's attention, and he has been banging on about it ever since--but Ministers are not paid to dismiss the views of professionals and others with genuine opinions as simply the views of people with an interest in these matters.
Mr. Hayes: The comparison with Mussolini does not, in fact, bear much scrutiny: Mussolini made the trains run on time, whereas the Government have done precisely the opposite. Leaving that aside, however, may I suggest that it is organisations of that type--independent outside bodies--that look to the Report stage of a Bill for the raising and debating of their considered views by Members? That is not always possible in Committee. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) pointed out, Report stage is vital if the House is to take into account that broader appreciation.
Mr. Waterson: My hon. Friend puts in a nutshell the role of the various stages of scrutiny of legislation. It is up to us not simply to make points that may occur to us, but to act as a conduit through which organisations and individuals can make their concerns known. The Government have not made it easy for outside bodies to comment; they published the Bill just before Christmas and it went straight into Committee on 8 January, when we returned from the recess. Some organisations were caught very much on the hop.
I shall not labour the point because we dealt with it at length in Committee; but the Council of Mortgage Lenders, which represents some 98 per cent. of lenders dealing with properties, also received the ministerial treatment. It was clearly hectored and bullied by Ministers into withdrawing many of its objections to the Bill.
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) made the case with the gentleness and restraint for which he is renowned in all parts of the House. On the subject of arrogant authoritarianism, however, will my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) confirm that in the Programming Sub-Committee he specifically asked the Government for an additional seven hours of debate in the final Standing Committee sitting, and that the Sub-Committee--meeting hole-in-corner, in private--chose to vote down that proposed change in the timetable on the strength of a Government-whipped vote?
Mr. Waterson: I was about to deal with the issue of the Programming Sub-Committee. My hon. Friend, I believe, has his own experience of these strange new bodies that meet in secret and are barred to hon. Members
It is true that we tried to extend the scope of the sittings motion. We spoke of the complexity of the Bill, and made a number of points on which I have already touched. We also stumbled across the fact that a secret deal had been made between the Government and the Liberal Democrats to limit the time spent on debate.
One of the major points we made was that an awful lot of the powers to be taken under the Bill would be taken by way of regulations. The Minister has been unable to produce draft regulations, which one sometimes has available. In fairness, he produced a document that set out some of the thinking behind some of the possible regulations, but even that shopping list was added to as the Committee went on.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the main thrust of his argument is that he wants more opportunity for genuine debate on those issues? If that is the case, why has he occupied more than half the total allocated time for debate on this issue?
Mr. Waterson: I do not know why the Liberal Democrats are taking up that matter with us. They should take it up with their friends on the Government Benches, instead of kowtowing at every possible opportunity to the Government and doing little deals behind the scenes to reduce the amount of debate. I am not surprised. I doubt whether we will see many Liberal Democrats during this debate, no matter how long or short it is.
I have set out the history. There has been no delay, filibustering or anything remotely close to it by Conservative Committee members. The Minister was good enough to describe our contributions as constructive. We ended up spending less time on part II than part I, which was contrary to the wishes of some Labour Members. We have many additional Government amendments and new clauses to deal with. As I have said, because of the quirk of our procedure, we could run out of time to debate part I, which will occupy the minds of some 1.5 million people a year. Sixty-nine per cent. of the population are owner-occupiers.
Mr. Raynsford: In view of the hon. Gentleman's response to the question from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), will he tell the House why, on the penultimate day of the Committee, he personally wrote to the Government Whip to ask that we should agree to try to get to the end of clause 26 on that day and finish then or at 7 pm, whichever was earlier? If that was his view in Committee, how can he come out with all that synthetic indignation about a lack of time for debate?
Mr. Waterson: It is simple. It seemed to be for the convenience of Committee members to finish that part of the Bill and start afresh. It was clever of the Whip to keep the note, but the Minister seems to be trying to say that he wants those matters to be debated in the middle of the night. Is that what he is saying? We are not going to take any lessons from Ministers. They think that we have had ample time to debate all the issues in Committee. They think that we have ample time today. We sensibly
At least there is no suggestion from the Minister that this has all been agreed between the usual channels. Agreement subject to duress is no agreement at all. That was our attitude at the beginning of the Bill, it has been our attitude throughout, and it is our attitude today. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the motion.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I am pleased to be given the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), but I have to correct him on three points. First, there was no secret deal between the Liberal Democrats and the Government. Secondly, there was a deal between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives: we voted for the motion to extend by seven hours the business of the Committee, as the hon. Gentleman will have to acknowledge. I see the Conservative Whip, the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), nodding. Thirdly, no one could accuse the Government of being like Mussolini--the trains do not run on time.
All hon. Members who have participated in this short debate have had the disadvantage of not being a member of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. I have been a member of it and have been involved throughout in the discussions on the way in which we should seek to make our business more business-like.
The Minister and the hon. Member for Eastbourne have completely missed the point. Although the Government are entitled to pass their business if they have a majority in the House, which they clearly have, and to set what they believe should be the target date for completion of that business, they have no right to set in stone the way in which that business should be considered in Committee or on Report.
In our report to the House, which it accepted, the Modernisation Committee proposed that programme motions should be used as I have just described, but that has not happened in this case or in several recent cases. Consequently, my colleagues and I have voted against those motions. Liberal Democrat Members are still very much in favour of programming our business, but the Government have imposed those motions on the Opposition parties rather than allowing us to say precisely how we should consider each of the Bills.