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Mrs. Spelman: My hon. Friend makes the point very well. Lest he should be disturbed by sedentary interventions from Labour Members, I must warn him that we must be prepared for quite a few of them during the
It is also important that, whereas by convention, a decent period is allowed to elapse between the end of a Bill's consideration in Committee and its Report and Third Reading, Opposition Members have, in effect, had one weekend. That is, frankly, next to useless in terms of contacting the business community, which will be seriously affected by the Bill. Weekends are, to all intents and purposes, dead time for business, and with so little time to talk to those who will be directly affected, it has not been easy for the Opposition to prepare themselves for the debates on Report.
Mr. Ian Bruce: Did my hon. Friend share my experience--that members of the Standing Committee regularly received representations from organisations outside the House a day or two after we had discussed the relevant matters, so that those organisations have not had the chance to get their points of view across and we have not had the opportunity to consider them?
Mrs. Spelman: My hon. Friend makes a practical point, not unrelated to the disruption to some of the distribution services caused by the disintegration of our transport system--so much for the Government's integrated transport strategy. An impact of the disintegration of their transport strategy is that we can no longer rely on the post arriving on time. I certainly found myself similarly badly affected by the late arrival of important documents that would have supported our views at different stages of the Bill's progress.
In practical terms, when we arrived back from our constituencies yesterday, no fewer than 11 starred amendments had been tabled under the signature of the Secretary of State for Health. If any further proof were required of the disadvantages of rushing the Bill, that is clear evidence that the Government are rushing their own business. Many of those starred amendments address genuine issues of importance raised in Committee, so they were of great significance to us in preparing our response on Report; but virtually no time was left for us properly to consider their importance.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The fact that those amendments are starred will mean that interested external groups will not be able to comment on them, so any anxiety that they express will have to be addressed in the other place. That is profoundly unsatisfactory.
Mrs. Spelman: My right hon. and learned Friend should be aware of the danger of assuming that there might be time in another place to scrutinise the Bill properly. I understand that, of the two health Bills that were considered simultaneously in Committee, the Health and Social Care Bill, which will be considered in the Chamber tomorrow, will take precedence in another place, thus placing this Bill in a risky position if the Government go to the country early, which we understand is becoming increasingly possible.
I should like to stress that in the rush, not surprisingly, some typographical mistakes have been made. I draw hon. Members' attention to the fact that amendment No. 13 should refer to clause 2(4), but it has unfortunately slipped through with a typographical error. That is what happens when we have to rush through legislation in this way.
There has been little chance properly to consult the people and organisations who will be affected. I was in the Library at 7.30 this morning because that was the only way I could catch up on the work and with the business community, which keeps different hours from the House's. That is not a good way to operate. It makes a mockery of the empty words about modernising the workings of the House and of the Government's attempts to introduce a family-friendly policy and transparent government.
The brutal truth is that the Government, who have a huge majority, want their Bill now, for their convenience, because of the imminent general election. They want to be able to tick the box of an election pledge and say that it was done, irrespective of whether the Bill is correct, has the right tools to be effective or deals justly with the people affected. They have not considered whether Labour Members might have something to say on the matter, perhaps to improve or enhance the Bill's effectiveness. They are simply impatient and want their ill-prepared and ill-thought-out Bill now--but unfortunately, it will not be properly scrutinised by the Chamber.
A report that was mentioned for the first time on "Newsnight" last night highlights the fact that adult smoking is rising for the first time in 30 years, according to Department of Health figures. The BBC News Online service, which also carried the story, says that that increase is thought to be a result of the high number of teenagers who took up smoking in the early 1990s. In light of that fact, it is important that we undertake proper scrutiny. We were at pains to point out on Second Reading that we strongly suspect that one of the main factors fuelling the increase in smoking--and we share the Government's interest in trying to reduce it--is the flood of illegally imported tobacco to this country. The Bill will do nothing about that. We seriously doubt its effectiveness unless the illegally imported tobacco floodgates are closed.
Mrs. Spelman: I am happy to return to the programme motion; I was merely explaining that the debate's curtailment and the terms of reference that the Government have chosen to constrain this important subject mean that the Bill will miss the mark and we will not have time to get down to the real issues. The Government will get their way and imperfect legislation will be passed. We have been deprived of the tools and time to do a far better job.
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): The motion is not a programming motion; it is a guillotine. The programme motions for Committees can properly be described as such, but this motion has nothing to do with Committees. It provides a guillotine to deal with Report and Third Reading, and a guillotine motion is usually moved by the Leader of the House. It is not left--I do not mean to be unkind--to a junior Minister. It is wrong that she should face such a problem.
I am in favour of the Bill. I am also in favour of the modernisation of procedure, but the Government are making a mockery of the Modernisation Committee's intentions. They have also tabled a motion that means that debate can continue until any hour--perhaps 2, 3 or 4 in the morning--on a matter that is not of such importance. There is thus no reason why they should have limited the time that might be needed to deal with the host of amendments that have been tabled.
How will the Under-Secretary ensure that the Government amendments are carried? Most guillotine motions state that Government amendments will be taken at the end of the timed proceedings, but I see nothing in this motion that will allow that to happen. Presumably if the proceedings carry on until the time limit, the Government amendments will fall. Is that the case? If so, surely it is wrong. Not only are we right to say that the Bill will not be properly debated, but there will not be enough time for Government amendments to be debated and decided on. That makes a mockery of the procedure for Report stage and Third Reading.
Why are the Government doing this? I have the answer: it is intended to allow Labour Back Benchers to leave at 10 o'clock. That does not permit the proper scrutiny of legislation, and those of us who have been in this place for some time condemn absolutely the way in which the Government are trying to cut short proper debate on amendments on Report. I hope that we can ensure that it does not happen again. When those who are in favour of a Bill have to get up and complain that the Government's arrangements for debating that Bill are nonsense, there is something very wrong with the procedure in the House.
I am very sorry that the Under-Secretary has to sit there and take this criticism, which ought to be directed at the Chief Whip or the Leader of the House. It was they who decided on this procedure, not the poor Under-Secretary, so I hope that she will forgive me. None the less, she is the face of the Government on the Front Bench today and she must take this criticism.
Mr. Ian Bruce: I do not know whether my right hon. Friend realises that another precedent is being set today, but this is a Department of Trade and Industry Bill, not a Department of Health Bill, and it does not deal with issues on which the Under-Secretary is an expert. She has been hung out to dry by the Government, which is a shame for her future career.