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Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of the House. As I said to him, this is a programme motion; he puts a case that must surely relate to the Finance Bill itself. He must talk about the programme motion.

Mr. King: I apologise, Mr. Speaker. It is entirely my fault for not making my case earlier.

My case is that there must be time under the programme motion for Opposition Members and Government Members, who care deeply about the issues and who see inadequacies in the Bill, to move amendments. The motion does not provide enough time for that. I thus have to make the case for why more time is necessary--indeed, imperative. That needs an understanding of the situation. I am trying to point out clearly to Treasury Ministers that the worrying situation in the tourism industry needs more than temporary palliatives; we must have more time to move amendments to the Bill.

With your courtesy, Mr. Speaker, perhaps you will let me give one fact. I was talking to Business Link advisers today. They told me that people in the tourism industry initially thought that the problem would last between four and six weeks. They considered their financial situation and thought that they could just about sweat it out. However, what has just hit them is the realisation that the problem will certainly last for six months and that, because their season is only six months, this year is a write-off.

If the Government said that that was tough and that people cannot expect the Government to help--that we cannot expect public money to be given to individual private businesses--that would be their position, although I would not agree with it.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): In support of the right hon. Gentleman's point that the programme motion is wholly inadequate, he might be interested to learn that I and my right hon. and hon. Friends met representatives of all four clearing banks today. Their view is that six months is an underestimate of the time that it is likely to take to move beyond the crisis.

Mr. King: If there is not to be a statement, we must find a way to deal with the matter in the Finance Bill.

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There must be time during its proceedings to table amendments that address the problem. The situation is grave. We are about to go into recess and will return in two weeks. During that Easter period, people will have experienced the effects of the problem in various ways--through the banks, for example. After the recess, it may be too late to deal with the matter.

I take this opportunity to tell Treasury Ministers how grave the situation is. It will not take long to prove me right or wrong.

10.39 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I rise to support what my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has said. I suppose that I have spoken in a dozen programme motion debates, and it gives me no pleasure to have had to do so, but I am deeply opposed to programme motions in general. They are wholly offensive, and they are yet more offensive when they relate to Finance Bills.

I want to put before the House a number of objections, the first of which builds on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). The control of Supply is the beginning of the authority of the House of Commons. If we go back in the history of the House--[Interruption.] Hon. Members may sneer, but one needs to keep a grip on history. When we got a grip on Supply, we began to diminish the control that the Executive exercised over the people. When control over Supply is lost, the control that Government have over the people is enhanced. I do not want to enhance the control that any Government have over the people--far less that lot over there. Thus on a Finance Bill more than most, a timetable motion is contemptuous of the House and its history.

I come to a point--my second, not my last--made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). In all Governments, the Treasury exercises a very great control. I suspect that, with the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, this Government seek to exercise yet greater control--but they do it from the shadows. They are seldom exposed to public argument; they do things in Cabinet Committees. [Interruption.] There is no point in hon. Members making moaning noises. I speak with authority; I have attended endless Cabinet Committees, and I speak from considerable experience.

In the end, the Treasury exercises almost total control over the affairs of other Departments, so Finance Bills are a particularly important way for the House, by amendments and new clauses, to express to Treasury Ministers--even inadequate ones, as we have now--the concerns that affect our constituents and the House. When the debate on the Finance Bill is restricted so that Treasury Ministers are not exposed to arguments from the Opposition or elsewhere, the quality of government, not to mention democracy, is seriously diminished.

There was an interesting little piece from the Paymaster General. She said that we shall be very busy on the first day in Committee on the Floor of the House. However, she did not reflect on the fact that while we may be busy on her business, she does not know what my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, those on the Liberal Democrat Front Benches or those on the Conservative Back Benches will table. So the truth is that we shall be

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busy dealing with Government business, but no attention at all has been paid to the business that the rest of us will introduce. Where lies the democracy in that?

Mr. Letwin: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Treasury knows one fact--because of the way in which it has designed the programme motion, it will be necessary for hon. Members, especially those in the Opposition parties, to table amendments on 33 of 108 clauses within 24 hours of the time when it was first possible to do so, and without the benefit of consulting industry, which would be the normal practice under such circumstances? Is that not absolutely astonishing?

Mr. Hogg: It is absolutely astonishing. The Bill is 292 pages long and the timetable motion provides for two days of debate on the Floor of the House, but we have not yet had an opportunity to table a single amendment or new clause. No one can tell whether we will have sufficient time to debate the clauses that have been grouped for those days. That is an absolute scandal.

You and I, Mr. Speaker, arrived in the House at the same time, so you know I have been here a long time. Let me say in deference to my hon. Friends in the Whips office--they always like to know the intentions of Back Benchers--that I propose to stay here a lot longer. The interpretation of the Finance Bill and the consequences for the taxpayer are usually a matter of considerable difficulty for the courts, but those consequences are critical. Our ability, and that of our constituents, to pay taxes, and their liability for penalties if they get things wrong, are the consequences of the business that we do on the Floor of the House and in Committee. If debates are so constrained that the Finance Bill is not properly considered, we can be sure that the law will be in error.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the Bill has already been out for 10 days? I urge him to use the time available in the recess constructively to consult industry so that he can achieve the results that he wants.

Mr. Hogg: It is clear to anyone who has just heard that intervention that the hon. Gentleman, wherever he comes from, has no idea about legislation. Does he suppose for a moment that interested groups--accountants, lawyers, tax specialists, my constituents and even his constituents--have got to grips with this Finance Bill? Does he suppose that they will spend the Easter recess pondering it? That is nonsense. Only the folly of those on the Government Benches would lead to the suggestion that that would happen.

Mr. Letwin: My right hon. and learned Friend is being much too charitable to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies). I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend realises--I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman does--that if people spent the recess considering those matters, it would not do the blindest bit of good, because the Standing Orders of the House mean that we cannot table amendments following the recess.

Mr. Hogg: That is right. I hope that I have not been unduly generous to the hon. Gentleman; that was not my

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intention. He and the Labour party have been undermining democracy since 1997. I, for one, have had enough of it. This place is being treated in a scandalous, discourteous and tyrannical manner, and it is the business of the House to protest, protest and protest again.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Is my right hon. and learned Friend's argument not supported by the fact that the Government know how badly they are behaving, because they have not yet dared to bring forward motion 2, under "Remaining Orders and Notices", on the conduct of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and three of my--

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are debating the programme motion.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend may very well be right, but I suspect that, if I tried to expand on that line of argument, you, Mr. Speaker, would call me to order.

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