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Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Has my right hon. Friend given any consideration to what will happen if no such messages are received? Will we stay here, presumably for ever?

Mr. Forth: That is a glorious thought, and one that I would very much welcome--whether the electorate would

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welcome it, I do not know--but I do not read the motion in that way. I can see what my hon. Friend is getting at, but the motion says:

so, in the quaint but correct old grammar that we delight in here--I am pleased to say that we do--it is making proper provision for, but not necessarily tying us into, the receipt of such messages.

The point is that, in paragraph (6), we are celebrating the fact that we have two Houses of Parliament, both of which have an important role to play, and that even in this wash-up--to use the quaint phrase of the Leader of House, which seems to be her attempt to say, "All this is very trivial and does not matter too much, so why are we bothering with it?"--both Houses of Parliament have a role to play, so we, properly, will be here, waiting to hear what those in the other place may say. I hope that they have a lot to say about some of the rather ghastly Bills that will be put through Parliament before Dissolution.

Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend's interpretation of paragraph (6) might be unreasonably narrow. Given that the motion does not refer to a time limit--certainly not in relation to the receipt of Lords messages--will he reconsider and accept the possibility that our hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) is correct?

Mr. Forth: Our hon. Friend may be correct, but the combination of paragraph (2)--which I welcome, as it states that Government business on 10 and 11 May can be proceeded with until any hour--and paragraph (6) offers some interesting possibilities. However, all this will, of course, depend on what Members of the other place decide to do to the pretty revolting Bills that are still washing about in the parliamentary system. I should like to think that we could somehow prevent them from reaching the statute book. I should also like to think that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will resist them stoutly, but I have been a Member long enough not to be too optimistic about that.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): May I seek clarification from my right hon. Friend? The phrase,

is used in paragraph (6). Does he assume that the word "received" includes the term "considered", because I believe that both those words are important? Will he consider that point?

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, as the very respected, influential and extremely senior Chairman of the Procedure Committee, knows about such things better than almost anyone else. I had not thought of the point that he makes, but I wish to consider it immediately.

My hon. Friend raises the intriguing possibility that we could not adjourn on 10 May until we had received a message, which we would then consider on 11 May, but what about those messages received on 11 May? Presumably, we should have to continue to sit while what we in the trade rather quaintly know as ping-pong takes place between the House and another place and until either everyone gets tired and goes away, which I hope will be the case, or the ghastly Bills involved receive

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Royal Assent and finally come to rest on the statute book, which I hope will not be the case. One way or another, the motion offers some intriguing possibilities about what could happen during the open-ended, unlimited parliamentary days on 10 and 11 May.

Of course, as my hon. Friend knows better than most, another peculiarity is that if the parliamentary day of 10 May were to continue until 9.30 the following morning, 11 May would not exist. So the intriguing possibility that arises, even as I speak, is that, as I understand our procedures, we may find ourselves with a lot of business on 10 May because another place had happily sought to amend those ghastly Bills considerably. If the Government wanted to resist that process and if, even with closure motions, we considered the business through the night on 10 May and past 9.30 the following morning, 11 May could not exist as a parliamentary day. That, in turn, raises some very intriguing possibilities, if we were to approve the motion. If the Government have committed themselves to Dissolution on Monday 14 May, we may well face the possibility of the Bills that they think they will obtain not being passed.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): I find my right hon. Friend's train of thought extremely helpful. Will he extend it a little further? If the House were to continue sitting, not only might we lose the 11th, but we might also lose the 12th, the 13th and the 14th. Does he consider that, if the 14th did not exist because we were still sitting, it would be possible to dissolve Parliament on a day that did not exist?

Mr. Forth: The Government are in trouble; the more we examine this possibility, the more matters spin delightfully out of control. I suspect that the people of Bromley and Chislehurst want the coming election like a hole in the head. I suspect that that is mainly because they are entirely satisfied with their existing representation in the House. However, were the election not to take place because of Government cock-ups, and it looks as though we are entering that territory--

Mr. Winterton: Wash-ups!

Mr. Forth: Wash-ups or cock-ups, I can tell my hon. Friend that no tears will be shed in Bromley and Chislehurst.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): May I take issue with my right hon. Friend? Is not what he says nonsense on stilts? The stilts are that he bases all his arguments on his belief that the Government will live and abide by traditional parliamentary practices, while the truth is that they will simply crush the Opposition, if necessary with guillotines, and will ensure that we depart when they want us to do so.

Mr. Forth: I have never regarded my hon. Friend as crushable. He certainly does not look crushable to me. As long as some of my right hon. and hon. Friends are in this place, representing their constituents and taking their parliamentary duties seriously, crushing will not come into the question. Certainly, we are finding that, as we probe this ill-thought-out motion, it is defective and has not properly considered the possibilities that lie before us. I now realise, having reached this part of my analysis,

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why Ministers did not try to introduce the motion in the normal way: either they were ashamed of it, or they realised that it was defective or, as is more likely--although I freely admit that that would be uncharacteristic of the Leader of the House--they did not want to submit themselves to parliamentary scrutiny. I exonerate the Leader of the House entirely from that accusation because she is fearless and would be more than prepared to face any criticism.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: The exchanges between my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) follow the train of thought that I was pondering while trying to interpret the rather difficult wording of the motion. Does it seem to my right hon. Friend that the drafting may have been in error? The rather arrogant assumption has been made that we are so used to programme motions and unused to holding debates until any hour that this technique has been used--completely forgetting that the parliamentary day may not be a calendar day, thus giving rise to potential confusion and great constitutional dilemma.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Although he has not been a Member of the House for as long as many--indeed most--his mastery of the intricacies of parliamentary procedure is most impressive. I congratulate him on that. The only fly in all that ointment is my tiny inkling of doubt as to how far my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench are determined to run the Government ragged during the next two parliamentary days.

Mrs. Browning: I am hurt to the quick that my right hon. Friend should even suggest that there is any question that the official Opposition will not run the Government ragged whenever they get the chance. He knows that the allegation is most unjust. I must ask him to withdraw it.

Mr. Forth: I do not want to be drawn too deeply into that analysis. Perhaps my hon. Friend and I can talk about it in the Tea Room--much later, when this debate has matured. We are only making our opening shots at present; indeed, so far I am the only speaker. As the debate is blessed--unusually--by being tabled for "any hour", I can say with some confidence that my hon. Friend's visit to the Tea Room with me will be delayed for a while longer.

Mr. Bercow: I am now immensely perturbed by my right hon. Friend's comments--

Mr. Winterton: Too mellifluous?

Mr. Bercow: I do not think that they have been mellifluous. In fact, I find rather alarming the suggestion that if we lose Friday 11 May as a parliamentary day, paragraph (8) of the motion--with each word of which the Leader of the House will be familiar--will immediately fall and it will not, therefore, be possible to reconvene the House on 14 May. Would it not be rather unfortunate if my surmise were correct, given that, if we could return on 14 May to engage in the extremely important debates that remain to be had, those debates

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could potentially be led by the Prime Minister, which would be most welcome because he would be present in the House and not hectoring and intimidating innocent south London schoolchildren?

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