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Mr. Wilshire: There we have it. The right hon. Lady began her intervention by saying that she did not know why she was bothering. That says everything that needs to be said about the Government's attitude to the House. Why bother? We are not even worthy, in the right hon. Lady's estimation, of an explanation.
The right hon. Lady says that this has never happened before. To that I would say, "Methinks I hear modernisation." She should be congratulating us on that, not complaining about it. I make no apology for having a sensible, considered debate about the matters in this motion which are of such importance to democracy in this Chamber.
Paragraph (5), which deals with the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, says much the same as paragraph (4). We will rush through the consolidation part of the Bill and not even bother, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, to have a Second Reading. It gets worse. The paragraph says that notwithstanding the fact that these changes are to be made, Standing Order No. 56, which bans the moving of a committal motion, will apply. So not only do the Government want to get rid of Second Reading and not only do they want us to rubber-stamp the Bill: they want to stop us from committing it to a Committee which might consider it sensibly. That is how much they care.
Some of my colleagues--I forget exactly who--asked what would happen with Lords messages if, on the day, the debates were still continuing. I do not know why my hon. Friends get so excited because, even if we do receive some Lords messages, I have absolutely no doubt that debate on them will be banned by a guillotine motion.
We have before us the type of motion that the House should oppose. The Government have had plenty of time, and they still have time, but we are witnessing a Government who are leaving office exactly as they arrived. They arrived with contempt for Parliament and disdain for democracy. In four years, absolutely nothing has changed. One of their very last acts is once again to try to make a mockery of the House of Commons, of this Parliament, and of the democracy of this country, which has been struggled for for so long. The Minister's refusal even to bother to explain what the motion was about was yet another demonstration of the Government's wish for this Parliament to be a rubber stamp for whatever they want.
The Government's wish to stifle debate in the House should serve as an awful warning to the voters, because if we have another Labour Government we shall witness the completion of their project to turn this country into an elected dictatorship--a dictatorship that they can control at their whim, and in which the House has no part to play. It is a nightmare, and I hope that the electorate notice.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): This has been an entertaining debate in which your tolerance has certainly been stretched, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will endeavour not to stretch it further. My remarks will be brief and specific and will relate to the matter that I referred to in an intervention much earlier.
My hon. Friend referred to an earlier intervention about the work of the Modernisation Committee, and said that a future Conservative Government would remove the Modernisation Committee. I would concede that and agree with that only if the work currently carried out by the Modernisation Committee was transferred to the Procedure Committee, which I chair. The Procedure Committee would be very competent and very able to deal with those matters, and such a transfer would remove a Select Committee currently chaired by a very distinguished and, if I may say so, very traditional leading member of the present Labour Government. I admire much of what the right hon. Lady has done, but I believe that much of the Committee's work has now been done, and that the remainder of the work could be transferred to the Procedure Committee. The fact that that Committee is of course chaired by a Back-Bench Member of the House might give its recommendations more status.
Mrs. Browning: Of course I cannot make any commitment to my hon. Friend as to personalities who might be leading such Committees. I just wish to clarify for him that matters to do with changing the orders and procedures of the House are a matter for the House, not matters in relation to which the Executive should be controlling events.
Mr. Winterton: I shall also briefly mention an intervention by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), who spoke about the very inadequate way in which the House deals with estimates. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Procedure Committee has made recommendations as to how the House should deal with estimates. It has said that the House should devote more time to the granting of money to the Executive.
I shall be extremely brief. More than 90 per cent. of the geographical area of the borough of Macclesfield, which I have had the honour to represent for almost 30 years, is rural and agricultural. Only 2.3 per cent. of the working population of that huge area work in agriculture. So the area meets the population sparsity criteria, which is an important part of the business rate relief scheme.
Let me explain reason why I feel incensed and think it necessary to raise the issue in this debate. I have written to the Minister for Local Government and the Regions. I have written to and spoken to the Minister for the Environment, the chairman of the taskforce, with whom I have requested a meeting to discuss the matter because my borough has raised it with me. I believe that there should be a statement on the unfairness of the current position before Parliament is dissolved.
I make a plea to the Government, and hope that a reply may be forthcoming from the Leader of the House. As I have said, I have a quiet but deep respect for much of what the right hon. Lady has sought to do. I see that I am angering my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), but I have worked very closely with the right hon. Lady, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). I have done so throughout this Parliament, since she took over from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who chaired the Modernisation Committee at the beginning of this Parliament. I believe that the Leader of the House understands the seriousness of this matter to me and to those whom I represent. If she will assure me that I shall receive a sensible answer as to why Macclesfield is excluded, I shall not press my opposition.
Mr. Winterton: Before I give way to the right hon. Lady, may I say that I am all the more incensed, and the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) will know this, because the hon. Gentleman's constituency, which is heavily urban and does not have the sparse population of my huge rural area, is eligible for assistance under the scheme. There is an inequity, and I believe that the right hon. Lady believes in justice.
Mr. Winterton: You are indeed charming, Madam Deputy Speaker, and you have been extremely patient and very gracious. I have got my point across. May I say that I do not seek to abuse the rules and procedures of the House? Far be it from me, as Chairman of the Procedure Committee to do so, but all hon. Members, of whichever party, have a duty and responsibility to represent their constituents, which I have sought to do. I rest my case, but I hope that I receive an answer from whoever responds to the debate--and I shall be delighted if the Leader of the House does so.