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Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) rose--

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) rose--

Mr. O'Brien: I will give way to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, but then I shall conclude my remarks.

Mr. Garnier: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In the Standing Committee, he conducted the Government's business with considerable calmness and in a reasonable spirit. I hope that he will not depart from that conduct on Report. I think that he made a false point when he was dealing with the 52 admonishments from the Chair. If he analyses the speeches that were being made on those occasions, he will find that there was no flagrant abuse of the time of the Committee. If he then translates my point about the Committee to the 11 groups of amendments tabled today, he will find that it is not unreasonable to complain that the amount of time allotted is insufficient. A huge number of amendments and groups of amendments--

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman's intervention has gone beyond an intervention.

Mr. Garnier: May I complete the point?

Mr. Speaker: Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman can complete the point at some other time.

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. Excessive dilation on a particular issue has just been demonstrated, so I do not need to deal with that matter further.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman prayed in aid the argument that every Member should have a right to contribute. Does he not realise that, by saying that, he hoists himself with his own petard? Earlier in his speech, he argued that substantial consideration of the issues in Committee necessitated--or at least justified--circumscription of debate on Report. Does he not realise that many right hon. and hon. Members did not have the opportunity to serve on the Committee? Nor were they able to contribute on their constituents' behalf on important and detailed issues on Second Reading. They want to make their voices heard this afternoon.

Mr. O'Brien: Again, that was a rather lengthy intervention. As I understand it, that Standing Committee

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was one of the largest ever appointed to consider a Bill. That extension was made at the request of the Opposition. We did so in order to ensure that there was a fair amount of debate--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister is replying to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), but the hon. Gentleman is not giving the Minister a hearing.

Mr. O'Brien: The Committee had a fair amount of time to debate the issues. The programme motion provides us with ample time to consider the Bill, given the large amount of debate held already--

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) rose--

Sir Peter Emery rose--

Mr. O'Brien: If hon. Members on both sides of the House adopt a constructive attitude, I see no reason why we should not be able to deal with all the tabled amendments in the time provided.

Sir Peter Emery: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. O'Brien: When I gave way to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), I indicated that I should not be giving way again.

Sir Peter Emery: I have tried to get in--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. O'Brien: I said that I would give way to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, who speaks from the Conservative Front Bench. I then gave way a second time, and I will not give way again. We need to debate the Bill. Some hon. Members may well want to make lengthy interventions and have lengthy debates that do not deal with the issues. People in the countryside expect the Opposition to deal with the issues, and I am ready to do so, so let us now get on and debate them.

3.55 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): I object to the programme motion on two counts. First, any dispassionate or independent-minded observer who looked in on the proceedings of the House this afternoon would regard the Government's decision to set aside the entire day to debate a ban on hunting with hounds as demonstrating a sense of priorities that verges on the surreal. British farmers are now facing what anyone with a reasonable turn of mind--whatever his or her view on the Bill--would recognise as by far the gravest crisis that has faced British agriculture and this country's rural economy for at least half a century. To spend hours debating a ban on hunting today displays what I can only regard as a warped sense of priorities.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Did not my hon. Friend notice that despite the reminder of the point of order, the Minister did not take the opportunity to

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associate himself with the views that most of us have about the seriousness of this occasion? Is not it surprising that a Bill that assaults the sentiments of most people in the countryside has been introduced on a day when the countryside is reeling from yet another blow? Is not it time for the Government to learn a little respect for the countryside?

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are debating the programme motion, and those matters cannot be discussed during this debate. The right hon. Gentleman has made his point. I understand the difficulties that people in the countryside have at the moment, but the debate on the programme motion is not the time to discuss them.

Mr. Lidington: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In answer to my right hon. Friend's questions, I simply say that I agree with every word that he has said, but we are faced, sadly, with the fact that the Government have decided to insist on debating this Bill today.

My second reason for opposing the motion will unite every member of the official Opposition, whatever view he or she takes on the Bill's merits or demerits. As on every occasion when hunting has been debated, my right hon. and hon. Friends will have a free vote not only on the various amendments that we shall consider on Report, but on Third Reading later tonight. Although the overwhelming majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends share my opposition to the Bill, there is a distinguished minority in my party who have, for honourable reasons over a long time, supported such a ban, and they will, as always, enjoy a completely free vote in any Division. However, the Opposition will, as a matter of principle, oppose the motion, as we have opposed other programme motions since the habit of the routine guillotine was introduced at the beginning of this Session. We have made our opposition to the principle of such programme motions clear on numerous occasions, including in the meetings of the Programming Sub-Committee, to which the Minister referred. However, as we know, no record is kept of the proceedings of those meetings so Members are not accountable in the way that they are if they speak in the Chamber.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Has my hon. Friend noted that the Government consistently say that they are upholders of liberty and protectors of minorities? If they truly believe what they say, should they not, on this and any other issue of conscience, allow a full debate until any hour and not use a guillotine? A guillotine is an affront to democracy and to liberty.

Mr. Lidington: I agree with my hon. Friend. The very idea of a programme motion is particularly unwelcome and inapposite in the case of a Bill that divides Members in all political parties and on which there will be a free vote. I cannot say on behalf of the Conservative party that we collectively support or disagree with particular amendments or particular details in the Bill. Every individual Member of the House must, in conscience, reach a decision about each of the groups of amendments before us and about Third Reading. They must then speak and vote accordingly. It is therefore a particularly inappropriate Bill for a programme motion.

As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, the motion has been drafted in such a way as to protect the right of the House to take separate

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decisions on each of the main categories of Government amendments. However, as he also said, the motion does not protect the right of the House to debate those Government amendments. Certainly, no protection whatever is given to Back Benchers to ensure that their amendments are discussed in any length at all.

Mr. Leigh: Does my hon. Friend agree that the programme motion is doubly surreal, and not just for the reasons that he gave earlier? I thought that such motions were usually tabled when a Government wanted to get their Bills enacted in the face of fierce, official opposition. However, it is apparent from the Bill's timing--it was the first to be introduced and it will be the last to go to the other place--that the Government do not want it to become law. Why are we having this doubly surreal programme motion? Can my hon. Friend explain what is going on?

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