The date of 3 May is important, not just because its otherwise historic importance slipped by while our vacillating Prime Minister tried to make up his mind. The main question that we must consider is not why the end date is 3 May and whether the Government have made the correct calculations, but whether they have put the Bill at risk by choosing that date. I hope that they have. Worse, they are caught in a dilemma between allowing the Committee reasonable time in which to consider the Bill properly and granting the measure a reasonable opportunity of succeeding.
I believe that the Government have fallen between two stools. We will not get enough time to scrutinise and consider the Bill properly, nor will we give the measure the maximum opportunity of succeeding. That is typical of the Government, who do not understand the operation of the House. They do not care, they are not interested, and, therefore, they are in danger of getting matters tragically wrong yet again.
We have witnessed a succession of cock-ups, misjudgments and Government mishandling, which mean that Bills fail or do not receive proper consideration. If they get pushed through in a peremptory fashion, the Government have to correct them later.
Mr. Bercow: The need for urgency in legislation is greatly overstated and overrated. I speak as someone who is probably regarded as feeble, pathetic, hand-wringing, moisture-emitting and wet, because I believe that there is much merit in the Bill. There is no urgency about its passage that should prevent lengthy, civilised, detailed and comprehensive discourse on its contents for as long as necessary before deciding whether to pass ut.
Moreover, statements may be made. In your generosity, Mr. Speaker, you may grant a debate under Standing Order No. 24. The Government ignore such matters and confidently tell the House that, regardless of proceedings in Committee or intervening events, deliberations on Report and Third Reading will be completed by nine o'clock. That is outrageous for a Bill of this size, even given the truncated Committee stage for which the motion allows. Yet the Government employ that approach time and again. They are not interested in proper scrutiny; they
The Minister and his colleagues like to strut around the international stage, attend ridiculous conferences and ludicrous get-togethers and gatherings, puff out their chests and feel important. I should have thought that they would want to tell other important international figures that they had got the measure right--but no. They are so casual about even their international contacts and junketings that they do not care whether the Bill is right.
The measure will be shoved through an inadequate Committee stage, nodded through a ridiculous Report and Third Reading, and the Government assume that they will get it right. I am sorry, not for the Government, but for my country, because it is represented by such inadequates as those on the Labour Front Bench. They affect to strut around the international stage, and put us at risk of getting the measure completely wrong. That would be bad enough with a domestic matter, but with a global, galactic matter such as this, I would have thought that it was rather important to get things right.
Mrs. Gillan: My right hon. Friend is making some very important points, but does he agree that one would expect the Government at least to take into account the views of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who is in his place now? On 11 December, in this Chamber, he said:
Mr. Forth: Given the Minister's inadequacy, I am not surprised that he needs a crutch or prop, in the shape of one of his colleagues, to help him in the Committee. I certainly agree that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee is extremely influential, important and senior--
This matter now stands exposed for what it is. It is a travesty; it is nonsense. I hope that the House will throw the programme motion out so that we have the opportunity to scrutinise the Bill properly and do it justice.
Mr. Donald Anderson: I have never been described as a crutch or a prop before--but in all humility, I have to admit that I agree with those wise words that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee uttered last December.
There is a certain easy familiarity about our debates on programme motions, and I sometimes feel rather as if I am watching one of those bad films and saying, "Isn't this where I came in?". The cast is almost invariably the same. Sometimes the arguments are good and sometimes they are bad. I suspect that tonight they are rather more flimsy than normal--although that does not stop the Opposition dipping into their pool of hyperbole and railing at the Government. Indeed, I believe that as his hyperbole rose to an ever higher pitch, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) suggested that the programme motion was not only a gross disservice, but a "galactic" disservice to the House.
I shall not be unkind to the hon. Member for Chesham because we all like her, but she was trying to make bricks without straw. I was reminded of a friend who, very nervously, appeared before the Court of Appeal for the first time. After he had been speaking for a quarter of an hour or so, one of the judges said, "Mr. X, is that your best point?". My friend quivered, "My lord, it is my only point."
Similarly, I thought that the hon. Member for Chesham had one good point, which was that the Government were at fault in delaying the publication of the Bill. There may have been good technical reasons for that, because of the pressure from other directions on the parliamentary draftsmen--but the Government were at fault because of the very long delay. We in the Foreign Affairs Committee pointed that out. Indeed, for some time we had been urging the Government to get on with it.
The hon. Lady said, among other things, that two weeks ago it did not look as if the Bill would have the time that it deserved. Since then, however, things have changed. I do not know to what extent the change was influenced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), but now we have at least the possibility of having enough time, if we act reasonably. The hon. Lady admitted that we now had the opportunity to hold at least 10 sittings. I would have thought that adequate, especially as the Opposition will be able to select the key elements debated within that time, and in view of the fact not only that there has been considerable input from outside specialists during the consultation period--as great, probably, as that regarding any Bill of this nature--but that there has been a very learned legal trawl through the Bill in another place.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that, even though there is a possibility of our having 10 sittings in Committee, there is no constitutional guarantee that any of those sittings will take place? During our deliberations on the International Development Bill, when no Chairman was available to chair the Committee, we lost some time from the scrutiny of that Bill. That time could not be put back into the process later. So even though it might appear that there will be 10 sittings, there might not be. That point was partly made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) when he spoke about emergency legislation, SO24s, or whatever, in the House possibly bringing to a halt the anticipated process. Will the right hon. Member for