The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire shamefacedly sits before the House, defending his right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald for doing what I did, and himself being party to the decision that she should proceed in the way that she did. Far worse in many ways is the fact that what those right hon. and hon. Members did was official. It was done on behalf of the Opposition. That shows that they have changed their very attitude towards Parliament. Whereas historically the Conservative party stood for law and order, it now stands for no law, no rules and disorder.
Mr. Hogg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been in the House as long as I have, and he used to have a reputation for defending parliamentary liberty. He knows a lot about the history of Parliament. Does he not recognise that, from time to time, hon. Members have had to define the practices of the House to cure a greater injustice? May I remind him of Mr. Bradlaugh and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), both of whom defied the practices of the House to cure a greater injustice? That is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) did last week.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: That is true. There has been a series of those incidents over the years, but there is a distinction between those that have occurred in the past 200 years and the one that we are discussing this evening. This occasion, unlike those in 1849, 1827, 1952, 1974, 1982, 1989, 1994 and 1991, was organised by members of the shadow Cabinet--people who, in six weeks, will aspire to run this country. That includes the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who seeks to be Leader of the House of Commons. Tonight, at the Dispatch Box, she is sanctioning outrageous activity. That is deplorable and, in my view, she should withdraw immediately from the Chamber.
May I remind the House of the Bill that we are discussing? It is the Government's flagship legislation and has run into trouble tonight. In fact, it ran into trouble over its content a long time ago. It raises serious law and order issues and, as we discovered both on Second Reading and in Committee--when my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) and I tested the Government--it raises major civil liberty issues too.
In many cases, the ideas in the Bill were shown to be flawed and its policies unworkable. The Government proved to those Committee members who listened and paid attention that a lot of it was about trying to find "eye-catching initiatives"--in the words of the Prime Minister--to put in the pre-election shop window. We all know that if the Prime Minister keeps to his intention to hold the election on 3 May, the Bill will not complete its parliamentary stages anyway.
This is a flagship Bill with no port of destination. Its cargo is fatally flawed, and now it has run into difficulties concerning procedure in the House. [Interruption.] Liberal Democrat Members are making innumerable contributions: the Bill has foundered; it is sinking; it is sandbagged; it has run into difficulties. Although it does not sound like it tonight, the Bill is beached, if not becalmed.
The issue before the House is not whether we have programme motions for Government Bills, but whether, for the first time in our history, we get rid of whole stages of procedure and allow a Government, however arrogant and consistent they have been in wanting to push their business through, to get the approval of the House for a procedural stage to be completely removed. This is a night for Parliament, Labour Back-Benchers and Opposition Members to say to the Government, "You must not have your motion accepted because Parliament should never be told that it should not do its job properly." If there has been disruption, we should go back to where we were and not get rid of a Committee stage which, for one reason or another--I shall come to that later--we could not finish.
The accident of the present distorted political system gives the Labour party more Members of Parliament, but the job of Parliament is to ensure that the accident of the electoral system does not mean a denial of democracy for the citizen. We shall not allow the Government, however big their majority, to get away with brushing aside parliamentary procedures. We shall ensure, if possible, that Parliament resists whoever is on the Government Benches taking away powers from Back Benchers and giving them to the Government, just because they have decided that they want to get rid of parliamentary procedures.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Does not the hon. Gentleman's party support the principle of programming? The amendment that he and his hon. Friends have tabled today appears contrary to what his party agreed to in the Modernisation Committee, and to what has been agreed to by the House. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the tactics used by Conservative Members last Thursday--which could be used time and again in disputes in which hon. Members disagree about difficult issues--completely negate how democracy in Parliament works?
Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman has asked two perfectly proper questions. He served on the Modernisation Committee, and we appreciate his work. On his first point, we believe in sensible programming, provided that Front Benchers and Back Benchers have a say in how that is decided, and provided that, when a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says that we shall have 16 sittings, we have 16 sittings. On this occasion, we went from the 16 sittings announced by the Government to the 14 announced by the Government in Committee, then, after negotiation, to 15.
I say to the hon. Gentleman, whom I respect, that if the Government propose a programme, they must keep to the promises and the proposals that they make. On a flagship Bill, they cannot expect Opposition Members suddenly to sign away the amount of time for its consideration that the Government had told us--although we had not agreed to it--was the least that we would have.
The Liberal Democrats have supported the idea of programming, but we have never supported the way in which the Government have set about implementing it. We should not have programme motions put before the House the minute after Second Reading. Such programme motions do not take into account the breadth of views expressed on Second Reading; nor do they give the House an opportunity to consider them. If we are to have programme motions, they must be introduced at a decent interval after Second Reading, when the House has been able to reflect on how much time needs to be given to each Bill.
Mr. Hughes: The right hon. Lady is quite right to remind the House of that. However, she knows that our shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), has said on regular occasions since he and the right hon. Lady took on their respective jobs that, if we are to get agreement across the House, we must allow time for the House to reflect on Second Reading debates.
I shall come to the other point raised by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), concerning the behaviour of Conservative Front-Bench Members, in a minute, as it is an important matter and one that I want to say something about.
The Bill is not only a flagship Bill; it is a Bill containing 132 clauses, and one to which a large number new clauses and 300 amendments have been tabled, many by the Government. At the beginning of our last afternoon sitting, we had got as far as clause 77, out of 132. When we finished our work last Thursday evening, we had only reached clause 90 out of 132. There were amendments yet to be considered, including Government amendments.
Those who chaired the Committee--experienced Members of the House--were clear that there had been no filibustering. Both kept the Committee on a tight rein. My hon. Friends and I pay tribute to them for doing an extremely competent job, as the House would expect of them. If they said that all debate was in order, clearly there had not been enough time to complete consideration. When we finished last Thursday afternoon, had there not been the proceedings to which I shall refer in a moment, about a third of the Bill remained to be considered. We should have considered all of it. Parliament had not properly done its work when the guillotine fell on the timetabled Committee debates.