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I also feel that debates held at a more reasonable time of day would attract more press interest. We have often engaged in debates at midnight or in the early hours of the morning, and it is unreasonable to expect any member of the press to be up at that time of night listening to what we say. I do not think that debates held after 10 pm are the most widely watched or noted.
It is important that we allow adequate time for debate. I do not approve of the practice of pushing clauses and Bills through this place when they have not been debated or scrutinised. But adequate time does not mean unlimited time because unlimited time has shown itself to invite abuse of the system.
Opposition Members mentioned the role of Members of Parliament. We must continually and carefully rethink that role. I regard myself as a representative of my constituency, and I think it important for me, in that role, to listen closely to what my constituents say to me. I read their letters and e-mails, talk to them whenever I can, and engage in dialogue, and I am frequently influenced by their remarks. I come back here, mention my experiences in debates, talk to Ministers and if I am persuaded myself, try to persuade other people.
It is important to the whole process of democracy for us all to give ourselves opportunities to be influenced by what constituents say. The problem is that some of us have the impression that a parliamentarian has a fixed set of ideas, comes here to express his or her views, and never undergoes any process of renewal--never goes back to listen to what the outside world is saying.
Elections are a good time at which to bring home the views of constituents. Many of us knock on doors in our constituencies during election campaigns, and at the end of the recent campaign I felt that I had a good idea of my constituents' concerns. That is an important process in which we should engage as often as we can, and that means having time to engage in it. If we are in this place all the time, the balance is wrong.
Mrs. Dunwoody: On a day when it has been announced that the House will probably rise on 19 July, does it not behove us be careful about saying that we do not have enough time to talk to our constituents?
Mrs. Campbell: I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that 19 July is early. In recent years, the House has sat until the end of July. The early finish may be due to a number of factors, but it is certainly not due to the fact that the Executive want to give us time to go back to our constituencies. Listening to constituents, however, is an important part of our role.
I hope that the House will vote for the proposals. I believe that both the quality of our lives and the quality of debate will be improved if we accept that programming will become a permanent feature of our procedures.
The hon. Lady said that we had returned from the election with a clearer view of what the electorate felt about a number of issues. One message that I received--as, I think, did other Members--concerned the extent to which the House of Commons, politicians and politics are held in low regard. There are many reasons for that, and I do not think it necessary to catalogue them now; but for many years I have been aware of a recognition that the House has become the instrument of the Executive, and we as Members of Parliament have become the creatures of party. As a result, members of the public observing our deliberations say of Members that they are but expressing the party view.
I want to impress on hon. Members my profoundly held conviction--which, I should point out to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), I held when I was on the Government Benches and serving in a Government office--that Members of Parliament should be much more independent. It is very nice to see my deputy Chief Whip on the Front Bench, because he knows my views as he has heard me express them many times. I took the precaution of including in my election address my belief that it is desirable for Members of Parliament to be as independent as possible. I wanted my constituents to know that when I come to the House it is my intention to be as independent as I feel is right.
I do not believe in the whipping system, and I do not like to be told that I have a free vote only on matters of conscience. I regard all votes as free. Clearly, there is a presumption that we vote in favour of our party, and we are obviously not experts on many issues. This has nothing to do with conscience. When individual Members of Parliament form an opinion, it behoves them to express that opinion and to vote according to it when desirable.
Mr. Cash: I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on that statement and on his election address. I made a similar point in my election address for exactly the same reason. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the greatest objective and justifiable change that any great party could make would be to have a policy of ensuring the independence of Parliament as well as the independence of Back Benchers?
Mr. Hogg: I agree with my hon. Friend. Modernisation is important, and there are things that we can do about our practices to make ourselves more efficient. To re-establish independence on both Benches is by far the most important thing that we can do. If we were to do that, and to speak our minds and vote accordingly, we would be held in much greater esteem, and the decisions of the House would have much greater authority.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's point is particularly valid for Select Committees and Committee work, but it is more difficult to be independent in the discussions that take place on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is right in part, but I would like to see as much independence as possible everywhere. It is obviously easier to be independent in the Committees, because hon. Members have access to much more information on the specific measures that they are discussing. I want hon. Members to be, broadly speaking, independent, and to form their own views on the basis of the evidence presented to them.
Incidentally, I would change the oath that we all take when we come to the House, not because I am an anti-monarchist--I am not--but because I want hon. Members to take an oath that they will vote in accordance with their judgment.
Mr. Hogg: Only to this extent, Mr. Deputy Speaker--I may be able to persuade you of a slightly different view. If hon. Members swore that they would vote in accordance with their judgment, they would be in a much better position to say to the Whips, "Oh, no, my friend. I have sworn an oath, to which I intend to adhere." That would erect a different obligation, which one could set against the obligation of party. However, I do not want to test your patience further, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I am against the deferred Division procedure, and I have not the slightest intention of participating in any of the votes in the No Lobby for the remainder of this Parliament. We are allowing important decisions to be made by hon. Members signing a visitors' book, which they may sign as many as five or six days after the debate. I willingly concede that hon. Members frequently vote on matters without having heard the debate and without having been present at any material time, but the deferred Division procedure gives a legislative or parliamentary sanction to that process. I regard that as profoundly unsatisfactory. Although I did not entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) when she talked about third-party influence, the truth is that when hon. Members vote on a piece of paper six or seven days after the event they are much more prone to pressures from their Whips than they would be if they were present for the debate.
If hon. Members have to vote at the end of the business under discussion, there is a reasonable chance that they will listen to some part of the debate. They may identify some anxieties or problems that they wish to communicate to their Front-Bench colleagues or to the House, but the deferred voting procedure makes that impossible.
By using delegated legislation, Governments can make substantial changes to the law. If they must have hon. Members present--often late at night--to approve those changes, that is a check on the volume of legislation that they can handle in that way. The hon. Member for Cambridge understandably does not want to be here late night after night, and she would say to her Whips, "Look, my friends, this is intolerable." If enough of her
I am profoundly uneasy about programme motions. We need to consider the detail of the proposal for the programme motion, which has two substantive parts: paragraph A and paragraphs B and C. The key detail of paragraph A is that the motion is tabled before Second Reading and is to be voted on immediately after the conclusion of the Second Reading debate. It will be voted on, not debated, after Second Reading. Save for three limited exceptions, the programme motion will be taken forthwith.
The detail of the programme motion will be formulated before the Second Reading debate, which is before right hon. and hon. Members have had a chance to express their views on the merits of the Bill, or even those parts of the Bill that are deemed to be material. That is a travesty, because the Executive are determining the timetable without having listened to the views of hon. Members. We are precluded from saying that the timetable is inappropriate, because we cannot debate the timetable motion: it is to be voted on immediately after the Second Reading debate. That is a travesty of democracy.
Paragraphs B and C relate to the composition of the Programming Committee and Sub-Committee. The House will know that the Programming Committee comprises eight Members to be selected by the Speaker, with a quorum of four. The truth, as we know well, is that the members of the Committee and the Sub-Committee will be selected largely by the Whips. They will draw up the timetable that they wish to see. They will probably not consult the awkward squad on either side. Indeed, the awkward squad's interests will be disregarded. I do not suppose that the interests of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) or of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) will be taken into account because the Front Bench will not want that to happen.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said, the process also takes place in secret. There is no record of what happens in the Programming Committee. We do not know what pressures were brought to bear, who said what or how people voted. The process is put together by the Front Benches, whose interests are not mine nor are they those of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who is now a Back Bencher and whose interests should be with us. We have a legitimate interest in preserving the rights and powers of Parliament.