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Mr. Rogers: I am sorry that my hon. Friend is surprised at the behaviour of the Conservative party. The yob tendency has always been there. There was one occasion when the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) picked up the Mace to disrupt proceedings. I cannot quite see the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) being cast
Maria Eagle: Has my hon. Friend noticed from the debate in 1995 on disruption in Select Committees that the response of the then Government was immediately to come to the House to change a Standing Order to give a general power to Select Committee Chairmen to deal immediately with this kind of behaviour? Does he agree that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House might consider giving a general power to Standing Committee Chairmen so that we do not have to come to the House on every occasion to ask for a particular power?
Mr. Hope: My hon. Friend makes the very point that I was about to make. Although "Erskine May" makes it clear that there have been orders in the past on various occasions, some of which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington listed, there is no general power for a Standing Committee Chairman to impose his authority where there is and has been, as in this case, a persistent and wilful desire to obstruct the business of the House. It is therefore incumbent on the House to determine whether such a procedure, which currently applies to Select Committees, should now apply to Standing Committees to prevent the undermining of our democratic process.
The motion is before us because of the Conservative party's appalling behaviour. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald purports to support the rule of law and to condemn those who break the law, yet, with breathtaking hypocrisy, she deliberately set out to flout and break the rules of the House by which we make the very laws that she seeks to uphold. That exposes the arrogant contempt with which she treats our democratic--
I hope that I am clearly making the point both to the House and to the external world that the contempt with which the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald has behaved with regard to the Bill's Committee exposes the fact that she thinks that there is one rule for behaving outside but another way of behaving in the House.
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the House precisely how democracy is protected by a motion of one paragraph stating that the Bill shall be deemed to have been passed by the House? Is that not an outrageous breach of the rule that he is trying to establish?
We have three tasks to undertake tonight. First, we must restore the proper democratic procedures of the House by passing the motion. Secondly, we must ensure not only that such behaviour is condemned but that the miscreants do not go unpunished.
Finally, on a point of parliamentary procedure, because of the anomaly as between Select Committees and Standing Committees, we should consider the introduction of new measures to ensure that never again will the procedures of the House be undermined by an Opposition who resort to breaking the rules of the House to have their way and to exert influence, because they cannot gain the support of the people through the ballot box.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) has got it wrong in a very big way. We are not in the Chamber this evening to discuss the behaviour of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and her colleagues; we are here because the Government are attempting to railroad through the House an extremely important and complex Bill in a way that shows utter contempt for the democratic procedures of the House.
Many years ago, when I was sitting on the Government Benches, I was so angry at the way the then Conservative Government were trying to guillotine a Bill that I walked out, saying that I would take no further part in the proceedings. At the time, I said that we should be careful about taking to ourselves powers that we do not want others to have. I commend that sentiment to the Minister of State and his hon. Friends. What we did in a minor way is being done in spades by the Labour Government--that lot opposite. It is quite disgraceful.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Before I give way, I will give the Minister something else to talk about. Last Monday, he appeared as the first witness before the new Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I am privileged to sit. We considered only one or two aspects of the Bill, but they showed--and the hon. Gentleman admitted in as many words--that the measure needs the most careful and detailed scrutiny. Indeed, he and I had a passage of arms over precisely what is meant by "quarrelsome" as distinct from "argumentative"--
The Minister knows that what we said during that sitting of the Joint Committee shows that the Bill needs the most detailed scrutiny. However, not only will a whole section of the Bill receive no detailed scrutiny--it will receive no scrutiny at all.
Mr. Clarke: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that none of the issues we discussed in that Committee were guillotined and that they were all debated fully? Will he take this opportunity to condemn the activities of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and say that they were wrong and out of order?
Sir Patrick Cormack: That is not the point at issue tonight. The hon. Gentleman made a very belligerent speech from the Dispatch Box. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) adopted the advice given in Bardell v. Bardell in "Pickwick Papers"--weak case: abuse plaintiff's attorney. That is what he did this evening, and he has the good grace to laugh now. What we are really discussing this evening is the way in which the Government, without any regard for parliamentary propriety, seek to railroad Bill after Bill through the House with programme motions which are, in fact, guillotines in disguise.
Few Members on either side of the House would have a legitimate argument against proper programming which gave proper time for all clauses in the Bill. When my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard)--a former shadow Leader of the House--and I briefly served on the Modernisation Committee, we made it plain, as did others, that we were prepared to discuss that proposal, but the Modernisation Committee has become the emasculation Committee; it is preventing the House from fulfilling its function. The prime function of the House is to subject to detailed and critical scrutiny measures introduced by the Executive, thereby holding the Executive to account.
Sir Patrick Cormack: We are not debating that this evening; we are debating the way in which, time after time, the Government use a so-called programme motion as a guillotine--and use their massive majority, which is vastly in excess of the one we finished up with in the previous Parliament. The right hon. Lady should get the smile off her face and remember that she is, in fact, the Leader of the House; she has a responsibility to every Member to ensure that the procedures are properly followed.