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Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend makes a serious point about the verbiage in the motions. Does he agree that it would be a great improvement if the Order Paper always contained a summary of the consequences of the motions presented to the House?
Mr. Cash: As ever, I am delighted by my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks. Like most of my hon. Friends, he understands these matters. Labour Members apparently do not understand them. Bills that deal with treaties--one was published recently--and other important matters are accompanied by an explanatory memorandum, explaining in simple language what exactly is going on. Do not Members of Parliament have a right to such explanations of motions?
There is a serious problem. The confidence of Members in what is happening is at risk. Its diminution is the direct result of the sort of technical garbage that we are considering. It is therefore essential for the House to deal with the matter properly. I believe that some Labour Members agree with me in principle. I should be delighted if they addressed the matter, however moderately. I am looking at a specific Member, whom I know well. All power to the elbow of those who have the courage to stand up to their Government. The independence of Back Benchers in matters that relate to the power of the Executive is at risk. Hon. Members know that some Conservative Members occasionally had to inconvenience our Government.
We are considering a test case, which presents an opportunity for Members of good heart, good will and determination on behalf of Parliament to say from the beginning that we have had enough and that we will not allow such a method of proceeding to continue.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I came to the House with the joyous intent of wishing the new Parliamentary Secretary all the best. His appointment under the Leader of the House is important. Indeed, the Leader of the House is one of the most effective parliamentary speakers and questioners, who has--or had--a fundamental regard for the purposes of the House. I shall now enter a caveat: it is disappointing that,
I think that it was Maine who said that justice was to be found in the interstices of procedure. I am conscious that in justice lies our liberty. The Leader of the House, when he took over these responsibilities on that glorious day, 8 June, must have closeted himself away to produce, between then and now, nearly seven pages of closely argued and reasoned motions. Reasoned? Well, argued, anyway, through the seven pages.
Is the House being given justice in being asked to examine something in only four and a half hours that strikes at its very function and purpose? These pages touch on the absolute control of the Executive over the House. That is why this little half-hour being taken out of those deliberations signals something: this is not now a matter for the House; it is a matter for the Executive.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I am a little bit baffled as to where this entire set of suggestions came from. Has it been debated on the Floor of the House before now, or in one of the Committees, perhaps giving us some of the answers to the questions that the hon. Gentleman is now asking?
Mr. Shepherd: There are no documents attached to this motion. It is purely an act of the Executive. It is being taken at the moment of the greatest vulnerability and weakness in the life of a Parliament, which is when it is a new Parliament. I look across the Chamber and I ask myself how many hon. Members have actually read the motions that are to follow, which are to be subjected to this guillotine. Two people have put their hands up. Any other offers? Now four people have put their hands up.
Mr. Shepherd: Yes, I have. I remember the great Michael Foot asking that question of "the ninnies on the other side" and they put their hands up. That is what we have reduced this Chamber to: not reason, not argument, but to the fact that we put our hands up. The reading of this document and the understanding of Standing Orders are important. When I first came into the House, I did not understand the constitution and the way in which we carry out our business. Our justice lies in these details. We are talking about the constitution not only of the Chamber but of this country.
If I cannot express myself, if I cannot argue even though I am mandated, and if it is solely the majority--or not even the majority, after all--that slaps in and says what will happen on occasions that follow this, I must ask the House to consider whether what is effectively a guillotine that will truncate our debate will allow us enough time to discuss in detail whether we shall have in future the opportunities that we have had in the past.
Mr. Shepherd: Sir, I would only suggest that I am referring to the motions in respect of the question of whether there is sufficient time to discuss them. Their import is so great that, having identified the principles behind them, I am arguing that there is not. That is the purpose of my reference.
It is difficult to condense into a four and a half hour debate the passions, the histories and the traditions of this country as a free nation in which freedom of expression was central to the way in which we undertook our business. I suggest that new Members should have the opportunity to read the seven pages of the motions. After all, the former Foreign Secretary must have spent an enormous amount of time preparing them.
If I am fortunate enough to catch your eye later, Sir, or if I am fortunate enough to be able to speak to the amendment, I shall ask many questions and address the issues then, but, as the matter stands, let us be absolutely clear that the time available is inadequate; that this motion does not give us the opportunity to discuss the matter sufficiently; and that we ought to stand back and put our view to the Leader of the House. Remember, he holds a unique post in which he tries to hold the balance between the interests of the House and--[Interruption.] I thought I heard the hon. Member for East Lothian (Anne Picking) say, "Too long." It is not my fault that the motion is on the Order Paper. The hon. Lady should take that up with her Whips and her Government. If she has a view, she can make her own argument as to why the time we have taken is too long. This "off with their heads" attitude has reduced the House to impotence, so that it is of no interest to the wider public outside.
I am trying to contain a fury at what is to come, although my anger started during what was to have been a tribute and well-wish to the deputy Leader of the House. I hope that he will understand that balance in future. When the present Leader of the House was already a Member, John Biffen, a former Leader of the House, said, "We have to remember that today's Government is tomorrow's prospective Opposition." Protect our freedoms and our liberties, and do not introduce these measures.
Allowing for all that and for the central seriousness of a proposal which, unless the Leader of the House says otherwise, could in some respects represent almost instant guillotines on our proceedings, are we not being daft in wasting time on this debate? The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills made the point that we have only one afternoon to discuss the matter, but we have already wasted half an hour--