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Sir Patrick Cormack: No; I might give way later.

12 Mar 2001 : Column 760

The right hon. Lady, for whom I have a high regard, is letting herself down very badly by putting her name to the motion. As Mr. Speaker said when he was in the Chair, it is a motion without precedent because we are being asked to deem something done which has not been done.

Several hon. Members rose--

Sir Patrick Cormack: I should like to develop my argument, then I may perhaps give way again.

We are being asked to say that the House has done something that it has not done. We are being asked to be parties to a collective parliamentary lie. We are being asked to say that something has happened which has not happened.

Mr. Simon Hughes rose--

Sir Patrick Cormack: The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), in his admirable speech, made it plain that that is what we are being asked to do.

Mr. Cook: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been a Member for longer than I have, and he has a very good memory. He is basing his argument on the fact that some clauses have not even been read, let alone debated. I ask him to cast his mind back to the Hungerford tragedy and the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which was introduced as a result--the Minister then responsible is present this evening--when 67 clauses, many of which went against commitments given in Committee and which would not be applicable to Northern Ireland, were introduced on Report and the Bill was guillotined not against the then Opposition, on whose Front Benches I sat, but against Conservative Members, because the then Government had to deal with their own hunting, shooting and fishing crowd, who were very much against the measure. So let us have none of the misrepresentation about such a motion being unique and having been introduced for the first time, because that is far from accurate.

Sir Patrick Cormack: That was a very inexact analogy. However, I must inform the hon. Gentleman that I have spoken out--my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has done so even more than I have--against guillotines by whomsoever they have been introduced. My hon. Friend's record is without equal, but I have a reasonable record too in that regard. I have never liked the instrument. I am not seeking to defend what may or may not have been done in the past.

Mr. Cook: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am sorry, but I will not give way again.

The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. Labour Members are trying to rake up the embers of the past when we are concerned about the raging inferno of the present. We have a Government who are seeking to consign parliamentary procedures to the bonfire of their own vanity.

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The motion is without precedent. We have never before in the history of Parliament had a Government who have come before the House and sought to persuade it to connive--I use my words deliberately and carefully--at the collective lie that something has been done that has not been done.

Dr. Ladyman rose--

Mr. Miller rose--

Sir Patrick Cormack: I will not give way.

We have not discussed the clauses and that is why the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey was right, in his admirable speech, to concentrate on that aspect of the issue. As he rightly said, we are discussing the Government's motion, which is urging us to deem something to have happened that has not happened.

Labour Members may laugh, but if any one of them goes into the Lobby to support the motion, he or she will be denying his or her parliamentary heritage. Any Member who votes for the motion is, in fact, voting for the Executive against the legislature. Any Member who votes for the motion is voting for the emasculation of Parliament and what it stands for and must continue for stand for.

Any Member who votes for the motion is voting against a free Parliament in a free country. [Hon. Members: "Rubbish."] Labour Members may say that, but the Government have a massive majority. Of course, the real reason why we are being asked to accept the motion is that the Prime Minister--who has such a massive majority, who has 15 months of his mandate yet to run, who has, as he has readily told us many times, much unfinished business to do and who is now faced with a national calamity--now sees in the opinion polls what he believes to be a chance to renew his mandate. He will therefore rush anything through regardless of whether it is discussed or not.

Mr. Bercow: That is totally unacceptable.

Sir Patrick Cormack: As my hon. Friend says--but that is what the debate is all about.

Dr. Ladyman: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman deprecates what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) did, but that he is too loyal to say so. However, will he at least accept that if we do not take action of the type the Government have proposed, what the right hon. Lady did will become the norm and we shall never again get business through the House?

Sir Patrick Cormack: What arrant nonsense. If we vote as we should for the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and his Friends, to which the Conservative party's Front-Bench spokesmen have attached their names, all that will happen is that Bill will receive adequate discussion and debate. That is what it must have and that is what it deserves. There will be no need for future protests. If the Leader of the House takes this lesson to heart, continues to hold her job and produces properly

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negotiated programmes that give adequate opportunity for all parts of all Bills to be fully discussed, the problem will not arise again.

At this late hour, we face an important matter. In my 31 years in the House, never has Parliament faced such a serious transgression of its rights and privileges by the Executive, who are trying to prevent the legislature from holding them to account. They are behaving with a draconian ferocity that is usually found only in dictatorships. For that reason, it is incumbent on every lover of parliamentary democracy to go into the Lobby to support the amendment.

12.11 am

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): I am amazed at the general air of hypocrisy that is seeping from Conservative Benches. It stinks. Those of us who sat through the 1980s and saw the Government use their majority to push through the privatisation of gas, transport, electricity and the atomic weapons establishment can only cringe. I understand why some older Members have sat through our proceedings with a smile on their faces, but I also understand the bowel syndrome of new Members. Their constipated look of pain has been fed by the oracle, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who has suggested that something terrible is happening. It is a pretty awful scene. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that he, too, understands the Conservatives' frustration--their bowel syndrome. However, I cannot bear to hear the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) bounce from pillar to post. He has more sides than an old thruppenny bit, which is typical of Liberal Democrats in action.

What happened last Thursday is regrettable, but the hon. Member for South Staffordshire should reflect on this thought: regardless of whether the Government were right or wrong to introduce a programme motion, they have a majority and the rules under which the Committee was to operate were set down. The Opposition have deliberately conspired to go against the wishes of the elected Parliament, but he should remember that the shoe is on Labour's foot, in the same way as it was on the Conservatives' foot in the 1980s--and, by gosh, did they use it. Talk about boots being made for walking--they walked over all semblance of democracy in the House and rammed through all the legislation that they wanted, so much so that someone said that a large majority might be bad for democracy. However, that is another argument. The Liberal Democrats will not like the system because they stand no chance of getting a majority.

Mr. Stunell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rogers: No. The hon. Gentleman can speak for himself later.

Some sanctions must be applied. If we do not accept that, we cannot accept that the House is able to set the rules under which we operate.

From the swinging of the mace to the swinging in the trees, Opposition Members want to make Parliament a jungle. It has been pointed out that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) had a peerless record of standing against his own Government when he felt that something was wrong. I have such a record, but I cannot honestly see that any wrongdoing occurred in this case,

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except that the official Opposition deliberately conspired to break the rules of the House. If they are allowed to get away with it, parliamentary democracy will go out of the window.

12.15 am

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate, but I am rather sorry that it is taking place at all. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who is a Whip, seeks to participate. Perhaps he will deviate further from procedure and speak in the debate as he is already having a stab at it.

We are debating not the conduct of particular Members but that of a Government who are prepared to deem that a Bill has been considered in Committee--

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