Sir Peter Emery: I am very sorry for that. The hon. Lady is a very pretty thing to hang out to dry, and I do not mind being sexist in saying so. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. She and the duty Whip should acknowledge that the Government's attempts at modernisation--I am a member of the Modernisation Committee who has tried to assist in that process--
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I am afraid that this is not the first time that I have had to speak on a programme motion, nor will it be the last. I have spoken on six or seven such motions since the beginning of the Session, and my purpose is to oppose them whenever I have the opportunity. I do not conceal from you, Mr. Speaker, the fact that some of what I shall say I have said before. The problem is that if we do not repeat our objections, right hon. and hon. Members may lose sight of the evil associated with these motions.
Let us be clear: this is a wholly arbitrary motion. The Report stage is to conclude at 8.15 and Third Reading is to conclude at 9 o'clock. There has been no discussion about that between Members who represent different parties; it is an arbitrary decision by the Government. They are determining the amount of time that is to be spent on this motion. That in itself is sufficient condemnation.
Let me make a point, which I have probably made four or five times before, about respect for legislation. A political society is based on a somewhat fragile compromise, one element of which is the belief on the part of the electorate that their elected representatives have properly scrutinised a Bill--or, to put it differently, have had the opportunity properly to scrutinise a Bill. Once a process is established that prevents that from happening, the implicit bargain that supports the legitimacy of what we do is destroyed. With these programme motions, we are undermining respect for democracy, because we are disenabling ourselves from scrutinising Bills properly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) made the point, rightly, that several of the amendments have been brought late to the House's attention. That has certain consequences, the first of which is that those outside the House who have an interest in the Bill do not have an opportunity to express their views to right hon. and hon. Members or to the Government. That is bad enough in itself, but it means that if those views are heard favourably by the Government or anyone else, the resulting amendments will have to be made in the other place. However, if amendments are made in the other place and we want to change them--as we, the elected Chamber, are entitled to do--we may well not have the opportunity to do so because the amendments from the other place will come to this Chamber on another timetable motion and, lo and behold, we shall find ourselves deprived of an opportunity to consider them. That is to make a mockery of the processes of a democracy.
Sir Peter Emery: The Government made it clear when introducing these procedures that they would ensure that all amendments and all parts of a Bill could be debated. I do not know whether that was done in Committee, but when a host of new amendments is introduced on Report
Mr. Hogg: I am bound to say that the fact that the Government are falling down on their undertakings causes me no surprise. When they start to adhere to undertakings, I shall be surprised. My right hon. Friend makes an important point. He is right to say that new amendments will not be properly debated. If he followed my argument, as I know he did, about amendments being made in the other place and coming back to the House on a timetable, he will realise that they may never be debated at all by the House. By any standard, that is a disgrace.
From time to time, Ministers tell the House that their new clauses and amendments are but a reflection of discussions in Committee. They often say that and I have heard it many times. However, that is to miss the point, which is that Report stage is the first and only occasion on which the Chamber as a whole has an opportunity to scrutinise the detail of any part of a Bill. If the Report stage is truncated, it prevents those right hon. and hon. Members who did not serve on the Standing Committee from making a constructive contribution to the Bill.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Will my right hon. and learned Friend address his remarks to the Government amendment that would increase the penalties under the Bill from a maximum of three months' imprisonment to a maximum of two years' imprisonment? That amendment was tabled--
Mr. Hogg: I shall not, of course, address the merits of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), but it is relevant to the programme motion to state that a great extension in the penal powers contained in the Bill is likely to be passed by the House without discussion, and that cannot be right.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): So that everyone outside the House understands what is happening, I put the same question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman as I did the other week. Has he ever voted in favour of a guillotine? The answer is yes or no. As a Minister, has he ever had to preside over a guillotine from within his Department--again, yes or no?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that when the Conservative Government were dealing with the consideration of Bills in Committee, our practice was not to impose a timetable motion until at least 100 hours had passed. We never programmed in advance. I do not remember as a Minister, although I may have done so, seeking to programme consideration on Report when there was no evidence that Members were seeking artificially to extend debate.
Mr. Hogg: If I had been the Minister responsible for the Bill in question, I would not have done that. I had too high a respect for the proprieties of Parliament. I remember consideration of the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, which went right through the night. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) may remember the occasion. There were so many Divisions that Members were asked, when Divisions were called, to rise in their places. I believe that there were 57 Divisions. We never tried to guillotine that debate or to subject it to artificial constraint. We put up with the consequences.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: There is another question that demands a similar answer--yes or no. Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman ever vote for a motion on a guillotine following fewer than 100 hours of debate on a Bill?
Mr. Hogg: I cannot give a categorical answer. I was a Minister for 13 years, and I do not want to deceive the House. However, I can say with certainty that it was the Conservative Government's practice to allow consideration of 100 hours or more in Committee. I am not excluding the possibility that there might occasionally have been slightly fewer hours than that. However, in broad terms, 100 hours was a fair benchmark.
Mr. Evans: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that many people will wonder when the Government say, "We do not have the time"? We are about to go into yet another five-day break, a so-called half term, when we would be prepared to scrutinise legislation. The half term follows one of the lengthiest summer recesses that we have ever had. We have ample time to scrutinise legislation. There is nothing sacrosanct about the 10 pm cut-off. Many of us are prepared to go beyond 10 pm, if necessary, to improve legislation.
Mr. Hogg: I agree with that. My hon. Friend makes some important points. I am not in favour of legislating late into the night, but in the context of this place, I think that it is tolerable and proper to legislate between 10 pm and midnight. Thereafter, it is undesirable.
A problem that has arisen is that the volume of legislation that the Government are seeking to put through Parliament cramps the scrutiny of Bills. It is not a sign of parliamentary virility to pass Bills; usually, the fewer Bills the better. Parliamentarians would do well not to remove the checks and balances within the constitution that reduce the ability of government to legislate. We should stand by the checks and balances, and not dismantle them.