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Mr. Wilshire: I find that an interesting comment. It suggests to me that some Opposition Members are prepared to reflect on the past and see whether we can improve on it, whereas the Government are perfectly happy to fall back, when it suits their convenience,
Mr. Bercow: I hope and trust that my hon. Friend will not be deflected from the sound points that he is making. Does he agree that if the House had sat on more Fridays, and had not effectively played truant both in February and over Easter, there would be no need for the unseemly haste with which we are now considering matters?
The motion addresses two fundamental matters that the House should be considering: taxation and expenditure. It took us many years to wrest those issues away from the monarch. In the end, it took a civil war before Parliament obtained the powers that it now has over expenditure.
Mr. Edward Davey: While the hon. Gentleman considers the past and control over public expenditure, will he comment on the fact that not since 1919 has the House rejected an expenditure Question from the Executive?
Mr. Wilshire: I was not here in 1919, so I do not know what debate took place then. If the hon. Gentleman was present, perhaps he will enlighten me later in the Tea Room as to what part he played in the debate.
Paragraph (2) states that the House may continue "until any hour". I raised my concern on that point with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, but he was not able to give me an answer. If the Leader of the House would be so kind as to listen to the debate, she might be able to help. My right hon. Friend made the point that the motion would allow us to continue debate on Thursday until any hour. If we continued until half-past nine the following morning, Friday would not exist. My point that if we were able, because of the substance of the debate, to continue beyond that point through Saturday and Sunday, we would arrive at half-past nine on Monday, at which point Monday would not exist. The Government have announced that the Queen has agreed to dissolve Parliament on Monday 14 May, but if the debate continues until 9.30 on Monday morning, that day will not exist. I would like the Leader of the House to tell us whether it is possible to dissolve a Parliament on a day that does not exist. If she cannot give us a satisfactory answer, the only conclusion can be that
Paragraph (3) refers to deferred Divisions, which I considered an abomination when they were introduced. They turn this House into a chat shop, where decisions are not taken on the basis of what has been said in debate but at the convenience of the Government, using us as a rubber stamp. We were told that the introduction of deferred Divisions was part of modernisation, but when it suits the Government's purpose they want to forget all about them. Where is the justice, the fairness, the democracy and the respect for the procedures of the House when the Government say, "When we want to use the House as a rubber stamp by having afternoon Divisions, we will do so, but when it suits us we will forget all that and do things differently"? The Government have made a trap for themselves. Time and again in debates on modernisation, we have told them that they do not know what they are doing. Here is further proof that they do not have a clue what they are doing in the so-called modernisation of the House--and further proof, too, that the Government want the House to be a rubber stamp.
Paragraph (4) refers to paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 55, which deals with estimates, and states that the normal requirement of two days' notice is not needed at this stage in a Parliament. In fact, no notice is needed at all, and the point made earlier by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton is therefore relevant. Even two days' notice makes an informed debate about estimates almost impossible, so how much more stupid is the proposition facing us today? We are blithely asked--without advance notice, additional information or discussion--to rubber-stamp expenditure estimates of £149,381 billion and £144,305 billion, respectively. Sums so vast must cover a range of expenditure that all hon. Members would support, but the details are not available to the House and there is no chance for debate. Paragraph (4) simply makes worse the previous disgraceful actions in regard to estimates, as described by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): The hon. Gentleman's argument might have had some credibility were it not for the motion passed by the previous Government and voted for by him, which was placed before the House on 12 March 1992. It set aside private Members' business, and stipulated that
Mr. Wilshire: It is extraordinary how long it took for that intervention to be made. I had moved on from that point, but the Government are so ill prepared for the debate that they have had to rummage in the files for something to say.
Mr. Wilshire: I agree absolutely. Certainly, I shall look at the Hansard record of this debate, and cut out and keep the interventions made by Government Members. From 8 June, those hon. Members will be sitting on the Opposition Benches, and their criticisms of today's debate will be quoted back to them.
Mr. Miller: The hon. Gentleman criticised me for not intervening on him earlier. He has been speaking since 5.14 pm. It is my view, as a democrat, that everyone should be given an opportunity to make their point. However, the hon. Gentleman has been rabbiting on for so long that I thought it time to intervene on him.
Mr. Wilshire: It was very kind of the hon. Gentleman; it gave me a chance to gather my wits about me and check my pages. However, the hon. Gentleman need not fret; this debate can go on until any hour, so I am not depriving him of an opportunity to speak for as long as he wishes if he has anything useful to say about the contempt with which the Government are treating the House.
Mr. Bercow: I am anxious that a hitherto unresolved question should be resolved. My hon. Friend has made a game and stoical effort at penetrating the inner recesses of the mind of the Leader of the House, yet the question still has not been answered. Did the right hon. Lady refrain from proposing the business motion tabled in her name out of a misguided deference to tradition, as is being suggested, or was it because, at the start of the debate, the necessary papers had not been smuggled into the Chamber? Can my hon. Friend answer this important question about the right hon. Lady's motivation for not moving the motion? Was it deference to tradition, was it a free choice, or was it an unavoidable necessity? I would like to know--I am inquisitive and I want an answer.
Mr. Wilshire: I am many things--a few of them good, lots of them bad--but I am not a mind reader. I am therefore unable to oblige my hon. Friend as to what was going on in the mind of the Leader of the House. I am perfectly happy to give way to her if she would like to explain to my hon. Friend something that I am unable to answer on her behalf.
Mrs. Beckett: I do not know why I am bothering, except that anything is better than listening to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). I can assure him and the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that I had ample briefing material with me. In fairness, perhaps I should enlighten the House: although I said that there was no precedent for this motion being debated in the past 30 years, as far as I am aware there is no precedent, full stop. Only the records for the past 30 years have been checked. As far as I am aware, no Opposition have
The unworthy thought did cross my mind that such a shambles is the Opposition that they might decide to waste the time of the House in this way, as no Opposition before them have seen fit to do. I hoped that I was wrong, but I can assure Conservative Members that I was quite prepared to take part in a debate, was it necessary. On the whole, I concluded that it would not be to the benefit of the House and that it was better to leave the shambles in the hands of those who are so practised at creating it.