Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend's textual exegesis is second to none, but, in fairness to the Leader of the House, does he not think that she possibly--and presumptuously--intended the word "proceedings" to refer to a single event?
Mr. Forth: I cannot believe that. I think that my hon. Friend, unusually, has got the wrong end of the stick. I assume that the Leader of the House deliberately used the word in the plural because of the devastating combination that would confront us under a guillotine: in quick succession, Second Reading, a Committee of the whole House, Report--if amendments had been made in Committee--and Third Reading.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: In the normal run of procedure, when we have a Standing Committee, there is the safeguard of a Programming Sub-Committee. How can the safeguards built into the normal passage of legislation by the good offices of such a Sub-Committee be taken into account when a Bill is being taken through all its stages in one day on the Floor of the House?
It strikes me, at first glance, that items in the Bill mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning)--we have had only a few minutes in which to look at it--suggest considerable scope for amendments, which, of course, are allowed by the motion. The controversial issue of a fixed date might be the subject of one debate; a change of circumstances
Mr. Hogg: In regard to limits on expenses, is it not difficult for us to determine whether it is appropriate to approve the motion until we have had the opportunity of receiving representations from the Local Government Association on whether the 50 per cent. figure is sufficient?
Mr. Forth: My right hon. and learned Friend raises an important matter. We are being told that a Bill that we have only just received will go through all its stages tomorrow, and that the motion allows the tabling of amendments, new clauses and new schedules, all of which could well be the subject of serious representations from those directly involved in local elections and local councils up and down the land, whose circumstances will vary. Given the compressed nature of the timetable that is being suggested, I should have thought that the lack of any time for those outside the House to make legitimate representations to Members would seriously undermine the credibility of the Bill, should it be passed.
It is all very well for the Minister to say, "It is all very uncontroversial; it has all been agreed, everyone is happy with it, and therefore we need not bother with it too much, need we?" We know from bitter recent experience--the other Bill that we are to debate tomorrow, which you will not want me to discuss or even refer to, Mr. Speaker, is standing testimony to this-- that, if we do not scrutinise legislation adequately, mistakes are likely to arise.
Mr. Hogg: Would my right hon. Friend care to make this point? We cannot judge whether the motion now before the House is appropriate until we know what, if any, representations were made to the Government by the Local Government Association and other bodies when the Bill was originally drafted.
Mr. Forth: The Minister has just indicated from a sedentary position that he is not going to bother replying to the debate. I think that that was the gist of what he has just muttered. I am beginning to think that this matter will now be subjected to a Division. I am certainly of a mind now to seek to divide the House on it, if only to seek to censure the Minister for the fact that he has indicated that he will not reply to the debate. A debate not replied to should be subjected to a Division, so that we can test the view of the House. I thought that I would give a little indication of that at this stage to help my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker: It might be helpful if I said that the motion simply allows amendments to be tabled before the Bill has been read a Second time. It is about timing. It has no bearing on the scope of amendments that may be proposed.
Mr. Hogg: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. That is helpful guidance and we are grateful for it, but can you tell us whether you would be minded to accept manuscript amendments in Committee, bearing it in mind that, in the ordinary course of events, amendments must be tabled by tonight? It would be enormously helpful to us if you accepted amendments in Committee and, if we have a Report stage, on Report.
Mr. Hogg: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be possible for you this evening, once you have had an opportunity to discuss the matter with the Chairman of Ways and Means, to say what the likely ruling would be? It would be of enormous value to the House to know that amendments could be tabled in Committee.
Mr. Speaker: The Chairman of Ways and Means, like me, cannot deal with hypothetical matters. Obviously, amendments will have to be weighed up by the Chairman of Ways and Means, as they are weighed up by me.
Mr. Forth: That is extremely helpful, Mr. Speaker. We are all grateful for that, but you referred a moment ago to amendments. The motion also talks about new clauses and new schedules. Therefore, potentially, a new schedule could--
Mr. Clarke: I may have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, but I just want to make it clear that, if he divides the House against the motion, amendments, new clauses and new schedules to be moved in Committee might not be accepted by the Clerks before the Bill has been read a Second time. That may be the effect of dividing the House. I want to make sure that he has understood that.
Mr. Forth: I am always grateful for the patronising guidance of the Minister from the depth of his vast parliamentary experience. I always feel completely inadequate when faced by this Minister across the Chamber, and I find his guidance extremely helpful.
Mr. Hogg: I shall be very chary in the way in which I phrase my intervention. Would I be right in supposing that, had the Government been minded to allow amendments in Committee, the motion could have been drafted in such a manner as to say so?
Mr. Forth: Of course, but it is perfectly obvious that the Government's objective in this whole exercise is to minimise the opportunity for consultation, representation, debate, amendments and consideration. We can draw no other conclusion than that. Although the Minister has tried, rather feebly, to portray the motion as an act of parliamentary generosity by the Government, those of us who have been in this place for more than a dog-watch will know that the situation is precisely the opposite.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): As one who has been in this place for the same length of dog-watch as the Minister, I should perhaps tell my right hon. Friend that, before he takes into account the Minister's guidance on this Bill, on three occasions during our consideration of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, the Minister's guidance on likely events turned out to be terminologically inexact.