Mr. Paice: That is one of the points on which I did agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) in his farewell statement to the House, although of course I did not agree with everything that he said.
Mr. Paice: I am sure that there will be a long queue for them if my hon. Friend's desire is met, but the serious point--Third Reading would allow the opportunity to expand on it--is that part of the reason for the foot and mouth crisis and the rapid spread of the disease was the absence of abattoirs.
Mr. Paice: I can assure the hon. Gentleman, who shouts from a sedentary position, that the rate of closure under his party's Government is substantially higher than it was under the previous Government.
The crucial point is that the Bill will affect abattoirs, partly because it is the farmers and the farm business premises that may be currently consigning animals to abattoirs, but also because many farmers may wish to use the provisions of the Bill to gain--
The motion does not provide adequate time to debate the amendments, which my right hon. Friend will deal with, or to debate all the arguments that should be debated on Third Reading, which are beginning to come in a flurry from my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Mr. Paice: My right hon. Friend is entirely right. In Committee, the Minister promised to take away some items and consider them further, and I do not believe that the two hours that we have been allocated is adequate, particularly in view of the fact that Ministers have only had from yesterday morning until today to consider those items. We are under pressure to pass the Bill before dissolution. Tomorrow, the Bill will go to another place and is expected to pass through all its stages in order to receive Royal Assent before Dissolution. Therefore, we shall lose the opportunity that is normally allowed for any legislation, which may not be given proper scrutiny in the House, to go to the other place for more in-depth scrutiny, using the expertise that we all know exists there.
Mr. Jack: Has my hon. Friend considered the fact that the Minister may have a rather restricted view on the amount of time needed by virtue of his former incarnation as a Government Whip? As we all know, the Government Whips' objective is to get business through the House at any cost.
Mr. Paice: My right hon. Friend's experience of those matters tells in such debates. Not all hon. Members necessarily share his cynicism, but I can vouchsafe that I do, having been a Member as long as he has and having seen the machinations of the dark corners of the Whips Office. I understand that the business takes precedence, rather than any propriety in scrutinising legislation.
The Bill is important in itself. We welcome it in principle, but believe that it should be given greater scrutiny on Report, on Third Reading and in the other place. I regret very much that the Government have seen fit to introduce a two-hour timetable. Given that we are still at a very early stage of the night's proceedings compared with what we were used to only a few years ago, there could have easily been time to give the Bill the far greater scrutiny that it will not now be given. That is a great shame, but there are many points that my hon. Friends and I wish to make in debating the amendments and on Third Reading, and we shall demonstrate the validity of the arguments that I have adduced against the motion.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): This is, by common consent on both sides of the House, a modest Bill. It is limited in scope, flawed in detail, late in formulation and even more dilatory in execution, but with all its manifest inadequacies, it is important and should reach the statute book before Parliament is dissolved. I do not believe that we should take up the time that our constituents properly expect us to spend debating what is--or is not--in the Bill with a sterile argument on process. I urge the House to move on to the debate on the Bill itself. Let us pass it into law at the earliest opportunity because, however inadequate, it is better than nothing.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): I rise to contribute briefly to the programme motion debate on this modest Bill, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) rightly describes it, for two reasons. First, as I said a moment ago, in retrospect, I am sorry that yesterday's debates in Committee were so sharply curtailed. Hon. Members will remember that there was an atmosphere of excitement as the helicopters hovered overhead and the Prime Minister made his stately way down the Mall to visit Her Majesty the Queen to request the Dissolution of Parliament. There was a general feeling in Committee that sitting around for an afternoon discussing such matters was not the right thing to do. I regret that I gave in to that feeling and allowed my remarks on important matters connected with the horse industry to be limited to only 10 minutes.
Perhaps I should declare an interest: I am the chairman of the horse and pony taxation committee--an informal committee of the House, established by my noble Friend Lord Cope of Berkeley, who will wish to take a close interest in the Bill's equestrian provisions when it is debated in the other House tomorrow. Furthermore, I am an unpaid consultant to the British Horse Industry Confederation, a body that brings together all the interests of the horse industry throughout the nation. The Bill's provisions will have a significant effect on that industry; we have been debating such matters in the committee and the confederation for many years. As long ago as 1987, we nearly brought in an amendment to the Finance Bill that would have changed the status of the horse on farms to that of an agricultural animal, thereby removing business rates from all buildings in which horses were accommodated. These are complex matters and we in the horse industry are concerned about elements of the Bill that will help the industry in some respects but that may be worrying in others.
Mr. Gray: Although programme motions have only recently been invented, I am surprised that after his many years in this place, the hon. Gentleman does not understand the relevance of my comments. The answer is that the amendment that we tabled on equestrian matters has not been selected. That means that the only detailed discussions took place yesterday when, sadly--in retrospect, I regret it--I curtailed my remarks on that complex subject. I thus seek extensive time on Third Reading to discuss those matters. Unfortunately, only two hours to discuss everything--the programme motion, amendments and Third Reading--is not enough to discuss extraordinarily complex matters.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman knows anything about the business rate regime in so far as it affects horse matters on farms. It is extraordinarily difficult, delicate and complex. Broadly speaking, it achieves cross-party consensus. We are talking about riding schools throughout the nation. We are not talking about something grand but about something very ordinary: horse matters in all our constituencies.
Mr. Gray: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not understand by now but I shall try again. It is important that I should explain how complex such matters are so that it should be clearly understood that we do not have enough time to discuss them. If they were small and simple, we could discuss them in a few seconds, but because they are difficult, and because he does not have the faintest idea of them, I must explain that we do not have enough time.