The right hon. Gentleman received neither embraces nor kisses on that occasion, and he will certainly not receive any from Opposition Members today. There is no justification whatsoever for what can be described only as an outrageous and absurd guillotine motion, tabled by the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House. The motion will hinder the interests of democracy and of our constituents, who send us here to hold the Government to account and to ensure that the laws passed by Parliament are in good order, well thought through and properly scrutinised.
It is only a couple of weeks since three Members of the Conservative Whips Office and I were sufficiently incensed by the lack of true accountability by the Government to try to bring the issue to wider public attention. Today, we have two more justifications for that sit-in.
Later, in one hour flat, we shall put a Bill through all its stages in the House--a Bill that would never have been necessary if the House had been allowed to scrutinise the original Bill properly. The amendment that it seeks to correct was never put to the House for debate and was introduced at a late stage in the other place. Yet, undeterred by having created such a mess that an emergency Bill is now necessary, the Government still push it through without any attempt at serious scrutiny.
I challenge the right hon. Gentleman--I have challenged him before and I challenge him again--to tell me of any other occasion, under any Government, when a Bill on the constitution was taken through Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading in 60 minutes flat at the behest of a Government on an imposed guillotine.
Mr. Forth: The matter is even worse than my right hon. Friend suggests. As it happens, an amendment that I tabled to the Elections Publications Bill has been selected. It was known to have been selected, yet the Government tabled this vicious guillotine, allocating one hour for all stages, in the knowledge that the Chairman of Ways and Means had selected an amendment. Since then, another amendment tabled in the name of an hon. Member from another party has been selected. Does not that compound the matter beyond all endurance?
Miss Widdecombe: It certainly does. Large numbers of amendments to both Bills will not be debated tonight. We have already seen the consequence of such an approach. We would not have had to debate the Election Publications Bill today if there had been proper scrutiny of the original Bill.
What is the justification for the guillotine motion? It is not as though the Opposition are trying to delay or frustrate the Elections Bill. As I made clear in response to the Home Secretary's statement on Monday afternoon, the Opposition welcome the fact that the Government have decided--albeit belatedly--to provide for a postponement of the local elections, which were due to take place on 3 May. Indeed, it was the Opposition who first called, more than two weeks ago, for such a measure to be introduced.
The Election Publications Bill is also the subject of cross-party consensus, as the Home Secretary has acknowledged, and as he knows full well. There is not a shred of evidence to support the contention that, without a guillotine, the Opposition would attempt to delay or frustrate the Bill, yet these days the House cannot expect much more from a Home Secretary and a Leader of the House who had the audacity only a few weeks ago to deem that the Committee stage of a major Bill had been completed, despite the fact that more than half its text had never been considered.
So what is the real reason for the motion? The House, and especially my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), will recall the attitude of Labour Members during the Committee stage of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill--and of one Labour Member in
The right hon. Gentleman is again moving a guillotine motion on constitutional legislation, which shows exactly what the Government think about both these important constitutional measures and about the need for consensus and agreement on them.
The guillotine motion means that the House will have very little time, if any, in which to consider the important amendments that have been tabled on a range of crucial electoral issues. Indeed, when the Government amendments are made in Committee and the House proceeds to consideration on Report, the farcical procedure that applied to the Football (Disorder) Bill in the previous Session will apply again. [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong) must be calm. [Interruption.] Order. The right hon. Lady will withdraw that remark. [Interruption.] Order. The right hon. Lady will get to her feet and withdraw that remark.