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Dr. Peter Brand (Isle of Wight): Liberal Democrats do not usually approve of wasting time on programme motions, but it is important to make a few points now.
The Committee stage was useful because it became clear that some of the Bill needs to be rewritten. So many issues were raised that Ministers agreed that they needed to be addressed. However, instead of a proper rethink and rewrite, the Bill has become more complicated in terms of drafting and the extra bodies that are being introduced. Not only do we have a problem of too little time between Committee and Report, but the Government have been unwise to introduce some of the measures.
In Committee, the Minister told us that the working party, which has been beavering away on patient confidentiality for, I think, two years, will be reporting in the autumn; yet we are being invited today to pass legislation to cover that issue. We were also told that a proper complaints and advocacy procedure for patients is about to be announced, yet we are being asked to approve legislation today that is intimately involved with that procedure. In addition, the Prime Minister told the House today that the Government are still consulting on the future of community health councils. That is a short consultation, because we are legislating on that matter today.
I do not like to waste time--it would be better to use it to discuss the amendments--but the Government are unwise to legislate now on at least those three issues. The Bill started as a curate's egg, but has turned out to be a dog's breakfast.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I support my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) in opposing the motion. I am not fundamentally opposed to all programme motions. I know that some of my hon. Friends are against them all, and I respect that view. I do not share that view, and there have been occasions when I have put my name to programme motions. I did so because I felt that that was in the best interests of a structured debate, sometimes with benefits to the Opposition. However, I am in favour of programme motions only when they do justice to the issues under discussion and give the House an adequate opportunity to scrutinise them. That is not the position this afternoon.
There are three reasons--the Minister did not deal with them--why the motion is particularly inappropriate. One reason relates to community health councils. Much concern was expressed on Second Reading about CHCs. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) initiated a debate in Westminster Hall. There were meetings in Committee Rooms that were well attended by hon. Members from both sides of the House.
For whatever reason--I make no complaint about the Committee of Selection--no Labour Members were notable critics of the Government's policies on CHCs.
Dr. Fox: Given the Prime Minister's indication at Question Time that the Government may be intending to make a partial U-turn, does my right hon. Friend agree that in the light of the discussions in defence of the Government's original proposals in Committee, in which the Minister of State participated, it would be unacceptable to have any new Government ideas being put briefly to the House this evening? We would be unable fully to scrutinise what the Government intend to do. That opportunity should be available to us in Committee.
Sir George Young: If the Government are about to make a major change in their policy on CHCs, that could not be accommodated within the programme motion, which was tabled before such a U-turn was contemplated. That would be an injustice to the House.
Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): The right hon. Gentleman commented on Labour Members speaking on behalf of community health councils. Does he remember that on Second Reading I spoke on behalf of Redbridge CHC and my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mrs. Gordon) spoke on behalf of the CHC in her constituency? We put forward our views on Second Reading.
Sir George Young: We were sorry not to see the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Romford (Mrs. Gordon) in Committee, where their concerns were not done justice by the Labour Members who served on it.
Mr. Bercow: The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Ms Perham) has made a challenging and important point. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although she and the hon. Member for Romford (Mrs. Gordon) bravely and eloquently criticised the Government's policy on CHCs on Second Reading, that does not remove or diminish their responsibility, if the Government have not responded to that concern, to repeat their criticism in even more forceful terms?
Sir George Young: The House awaits the hon. Lady's speech with bated breath.
My second reason for thinking that the Government are wrong was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring, and it is the number of Government amendments. There are 15 pages of Government amendments to an 80-page Bill, yet they seriously expect us to consider these matters in the time that remains available, which is about four and a half hours. It is impossible for us to consult the bodies that are interested
My interest in speaking on the motion is that the final group of amendments on Report are in my name. I am concerned that, given the time frame, we may not reach that group.
Mr. Hogg: Perhaps my right hon. Friend will remind the House that there is no reason why we should finish at 10 pm. Last night, we continued until 12 midnight on a Government Bill. The Government were content to allow the House to debate the complications of the Capital Allowances Bill between 10 pm and 12 midnight. Why should we not do the same with today's Bill?
Sir George Young: I am sure that the Minister will deal with that when he replies. My right hon. and learned Friend said that there is no reason why we should not go beyond 10 o'clock but, as he knows, that is what the programme motion says. If it is carried, we will have to stop at 10 o'clock. Health councils, patient information--dealt with in clause 62, which was previously clause 59--the new regime for prescribing, important changes for residential and nursing homes and the new changes to capital limits are important issues in the Bill to which the House will not be able to do justice by 9 o'clock.
That is symptomatic of the mismanagement of the Government's legislative programme. They are simply trying to get too many Bills through in too short a time. The House cannot do justice to the sheer volume of legislation with which it is confronted. Within their programme, the Government have mismanaged matters because this Bill comes after the Hunting Bill. It is clear that the Hunting Bill will not reach the statute book, but it is conceivable that this Bill could. If the Government had put it ahead of the Hunting Bill, we would not be facing this programme motion and we would have had more time to discuss the Bill.
I want to register my protest against the programme motion. I shall follow my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring into the Lobby with enthusiasm.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I, too, want to speak briefly against the programme motion. I am not opposed to modernisation or the timetabling of Bills, and I have supported programme motions when I felt that sufficient time and consultation had been allowed. However, it is clear that we do not have enough time to scrutinise the details of this Bill before 9 o'clock.
I was concerned on Monday when I saw that so many Government amendments had been tabled. I was interested in the details of the Opposition's amendments and to see what important issues they brought out. I am also concerned that no Member from Wales served on the Standing Committee. That issue needs to be addressed by the usual channels, whoever they are, because no Welsh Member, whether from the Government or the Opposition, was on the Committee.
The Bill will have a huge impact on Wales. Of course, Wales is keeping community health councils--the National Assembly has already consulted on the matter and decided to keep them.
Mr. Hogg: Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House and, through it, the wider community that a Bill's Report stage is the only occasion when Members as a whole have an opportunity to address its details? As there were no Welsh Members in Committee, the Report stage is the only occasion when Members who represent Welsh constituencies can debate the detail of the Bill. They are being prevented from doing that by the Government.