Mr. Leigh: What my hon. Friend's comments have to do with time is this: as riding stables go out of business every day of the week and as the industry is in crisis, the House should be given time to debate these matters to bring them to the attention of Ministers and to try to put pressure on them. The industry accounts for 6 per cent. of the total work force. There is minimal--indeed, no--compensation. We need time to discuss that. Again and again, the Government ram through programme motions--two hours here, one hour there. That is not good enough. People are not being properly represented.
Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point well. In this country, 2.4 million people ride horses; 1 million horses are kept. The equestrian industry is the second largest in the countryside. We are talking about--
The business rate regime covering equestrian businesses in the countryside is badly flawed; there are peculiar anomalies. For example, if a private stable is next door to one's house--attached by a wall--it is exempt from business rates in the countryside. If, however, the private stable is at some distance from the house, it is not exempt and one has to pay business rates on it even though it is an entirely private--
The point that I was making--albeit inadequately as I am inexperienced in such matters--is that the two hours available to deal with the whole process, including amendments on village shops and Third Reading, are wildly inadequate for covering the complex detail of the rating regime as it affects equestrian businesses in the
It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.) and Order [this day].
It puts the little matter that we are discussing into context to think that, according to the explanatory notes, if the Bill becomes law, up to £16 million will be spent over five years, which translates as roughly £3 million a year. When I compare that with the £149,381,539,000 that we agreed in a matter of seconds, perhaps I should be grateful for the fact that we have two hours in which to discuss a mere £16 million.
However, in the countryside, post-foot and mouth disease, the £16 million is crucial to the farms that the Bill will allow to diversify. That diversification will be crucial to the riding schools and other equestrian businesses throughout the nation that are going out of business. The matter is of great importance, which is why I believe that the time allocated to it is wildly inadequate.
The Programming Sub-Committee met yesterday morning at 10 o'clock. I made the point that it is absurd to have a Committee in which no record is taken. There is no purpose in the Opposition and the Government debating the programming proposed by the Government if there is no one present to take note of those points. Members of the Programming Sub-Committee then have to repeat in Standing Committee the valuable points that they made so that they are put on the record. I hope that the Modernisation Committee, or whatever abstruse organisation is responsible for such matters, will take that into account and consider keeping an official record of Programming Sub-Committees so that our powerful points on whether enough time is available are recorded and perhaps referred to when subsequent programming motions are discussed.
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about the absence of a verbatim record or even of a minute of the proceedings of the Programming Sub-Committee that considers the terms of a programme motion. That concern has been raised before, not least in relation to other Bills. Does he accept that one reason why that is problematic is that the absence of a record tends inevitably to lead to argument about who said what in the Committee, when they said it, or whether they said it at all?
Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes a good point. He has participated in many Programming Sub-Committees and knows their shortcomings. I believe that you, Mr. Speaker, are considering whether a Hansard reporter should be present to produce a formal record of what happens in them. That would be an eminently sensible innovation for the new Parliament to consider.
There is another absurdity to take into account. As the Minister said, the Programming Sub-Committee was reasonably agreeable towards the Bill's timetable. That was because the Bill has broad cross-party support and we thought that it was sensible to sit until 10 o'clock last night. I shudder to mention it in public, but the usual channels had duly considered that factor well in advance of the sitting of the Programming Sub-Committee. Therefore, its meeting was absurd and a waste of time. That highlights the nonsense that has come about as a result of the Government's so-called programming ideas. Either both sides of the House agree on a suitable programme for discussion of such matters, or they do not. By and large, we have agreed since time immemorial; rarely have we disagreed on how much time should be given to discuss a Bill or other business.
However, if we disagree, there is no Hansard reporter to take a note of that fact and the reasons for it, which means that we have to repeat our arguments in Standing Committee. The system makes no sense. The programme motion for this Bill was relatively generous and the Bill could, theoretically, have been discussed in Standing Committee until 10 o'clock last night. Both sides of the House agreed to that. None the less, two Ministers, two Whips and half a dozen Back Benchers had to spend five or 10 minutes yesterday morning meeting in a Committee to agree something that had already been approved. I hope that those points will be noted when the future of programming is considered in the next Parliament. It has not worked. Well established and acceptable procedures have managed to achieve the same results.
In that context, allowing us only two hours today to discuss the Bill's remaining stages perhaps reflects the fact that we did not make use of the full time allocated to us last night. That was because of the great excitement buzzing around the Committee Room as a result of the Prime Minister's announcement. However, that was before we saw his nauseating performance in the school in Southwark, which made the nation call for the sick bag.