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Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office to the Front Bench. I believe that this is his first debate. He has considerable expertise on constitutional issues and I am sure that he will be a valuable addition to our Front-Bench team.
I have to start by being slightly critical of the Modernisation Committee's report. I would have liked to see the kind of analysis of programme motions to which hon. Members referred earlier. Analysis of the arguments made in programme motion debates would have been valuable because it would have shown that no new arguments were made after the debate on the first such motion.
Every programme motion debate that I heard was remarkably similar. On several occasions, I made a point of coming to the Chamber to listen after 10 pm, and when I did not come to the Chamber, I often listened to the monitor in my room. The debates were remarkably unoriginal in content, so I am sorry that the Modernisation Committee did not think that it could undertake an
A nice search facility is offered by Hansard online, so I typed in the name of a Member and the words that I was looking for. Instantly, and with little work, I found the number of references by a Member to a particular subject. I typed in "programme motion" and "Forth". I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is not in his place, as the total was 4,353. When I typed in "Hogg" and "programme motion", the total was 3,558, while "Bercow" gave a total of 3,401.
I was expecting to be asked how many references I had made. I typed in "Campbell" and must confess that the total was 5,833. However, I should point out that four other Members of the previous Parliament shared my name. I am afraid that Hansard online is not sufficiently discriminating to distinguish between Anne Campbell, Ronnie Campbell, Menzies Campbell and so on. My point is that programme motion debates were the sole preserve of a few Members who made the same points over and over and over again.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Lady is right that we were repetitious, but the problem is that once one accepts the precedent, it is difficult to protest. She is therefore correct that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and I took advantage of every debate to protest about what was going on so as not to let go and allow a precedent to be established for a procedure that we thought profoundly wrong.
Mrs. Campbell: I admire the right hon. and learned Gentleman's persistence. However, there comes a point in all democratic debate when one has to admit that the argument is lost. This is one such occasion. The point was made several times and the right hon. Gentleman lost in democratic votes, for good reasons.
I remind the House of the situation that persisted before the introduction of the programming and deferred votes experiment. Bills that were thought to be uncontentious sailed through Second Reading and Committee only to be subjected to the tabling of huge numbers of amendments on Report and Third Reading. Those amendments often lacked substance, and were frequently trivial and obviously time-wasting, although they were, of course, in order. Many Opposition Members made essentially the same point.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Does not the hon. Lady detect in her tone some arrogance in her treatment of the House? She dismisses the opposition afforded from this side of the Chamber, but I put it to her that when she finds herself on these Benches, as she will one day, we shall throw those arguments back at her.
Mrs. Campbell: I have had the benefit of experience of the Opposition Benches, and I did not like it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not like it either. It is uncomfortable to feel that one is continually losing the argument, and I remember my delight when we won a vote in opposition. That was a remarkable feeling, although it becomes commonplace in government.
If Conservative Members think that the public admire or approve of such actions, I am afraid they are sadly mistaken. The general public do not approve; they think that we are all mad to sit here until 2 am or 3 am discussing arcane points about a comma in the middle of a clause. That is not a sensible way to use the time of busy people who have serious work to do, and it is one reason why many of the public, who are so disenchanted with the whole process, decided not to turn out to vote at the general election. The public find such activity totally abhorrent.
Mr. Howarth: There were infinitely more all-night sittings when I was elected to the House in 1983--night after night after night. My noble Friend Baroness Thatcher never complained, unlike the Prime Minister, who treats the House with complete contempt and comes here only once a week. My noble Friend would come to the House at 4.30 am completely unfazed, hair impeccably in place and handbag at the ready. She gave inspirational leadership to us all and never made any complaint.
I accept that there is no sense in time wasting and keeping Members up indefinitely for no good purpose, but I remind the hon. Lady that, when we were in government, there were no complaints from Ministers at the antics of the present Leader of the House and his colleagues.
Mrs. Campbell: The fact that the House sat later more frequently is no reason to say that it was better. When I sat on the Opposition Benches, I was aware that such activities were perpetrated by my party, although I never participated. I never even thought about whether I approved, although now that I sit on these Benches, I know that I definitely disapprove and that I would not like them to be pursued, even if I finish up on the Opposition Benches again.
Joan Ruddock: Can my hon. Friend clarify a point on which I hope she agrees with me? Those of us who are modernisers and who have campaigned for these changes are not trying to work fewer hours. We are trying to achieve circumstances in which we can work more effectively. We are all prepared to work horrendous hours, as we do now, but there must be a balance between the constituency, family life and our life in the House. As so many hon. Members have said, effective scrutiny can be achieved if we make changes and rearrange our hours and voting patterns.
Mrs. Campbell: My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. All of us, as Members of Parliament, want more effective scrutiny in this place. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) made a similar point when he said that time was not in fact a very good weapon: we need to improve the quality and succinctness of our arguments, and make our points more
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I am sure that she speaks with great sincerity, and I accept her critique of some of our practices, but she will appreciate that--especially when measures are being introduced by a Government after a period during which that Government used the very tactics that she now deplores--the Opposition are bound to greet such measures with a certain suspicion. That is all the more inevitable given that on all the real measures that could be taken to modernise procedure in the House, we have heard nothing from the Leader of the House. The Conservative party has contributed by publishing a major document with proposals on the subject.
Mrs. Campbell: I am surprised that it has taken so long for an Opposition Member to refer to Lord Norton's report on modernisation, which was a welcome contribution to the debate. I am trying to set up an all-party modernisation group. I hope that Opposition Members will feel able to participate, and will use the opportunity to put Lord Norton's views to the group more cogently so that we can have a sensible discussion.
Debates could be much briefer and less repetitive than they are now. I am reminded of the famous writer--I think that it was Oscar Wilde, but I may be wrong--who said, "I am writing a long letter, as I do not have time to write a short one." That is the problem: because we do not prepare very well, we often have to go the long way round to say things that we could have said much more succinctly.