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Mr. Speaker: Order. I have already made a statement regarding the Business of the House motion, which is very narrow. The hon. Gentleman should perhaps put that argument when we reach the next set of motions. I think that that would be the best thing for him to do.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): The question is why the Government seek arbitrarily to limit the time that the House has to debate what is supposed to be a House of Commons matter. As usual, the Government have thought that we should not have a prolonged debate, because that might be awkward or embarrassing. The Government also do not want Members of Parliament delayed too long in the House because they must all be home and tucked up in their beds early. The Government have put on Government business after this business, although limited in time, so it is obvious that the blame for the arbitrary truncation of the debate rests squarely with the Government.
What could possibly be the Government's motivation for the arbitrary time limit on the debate on the next set of motions? As you have kindly indicated, Mr. Speaker, it will be proper during that debate for the House to consider the method of selection of Select Committee memberships. That may be the only opportunity in this Parliament to deal properly with that question, which is now much on people's minds.
Hugh Bayley: If the right hon. Gentleman is arguing that three and a half hours is too short a time to debate the issues before the House this afternoon, why did he think that one and a half hours was sufficient time in 1992, when the Conservative Government, of which he was a member, excluded the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) from the chairmanship of the Health Committee?
This matter is rightly attracting more attention from the House, which is a welcome development. However, it will be for hon. Members to decide whether we can do justice to all the implications of the many motions in the brief time that the Government are allowing for debate. After all, we will be considering the membership of 27 Committees of the House and we are entitled to take a view on each of the proposed memberships, and on the method for determining them. That will require us to gaze into some murky depths, because we all think that we know how the determination is made.
Many hon. Members will be happy with the proposals, because they will benefit from being members of the Committee of their choice. However, an equal number will be unhappy and some may even be suspicious of the
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): My right hon. Friend is addressing the House with his usual restraint and understatement. Does he agree that the allocation of time is inadequate not only because it allows fewer than four minutes for debate on each of the motions on the Order Paper but because, for the debate to be adequate, we need a reiteration by the Leader of the House of what he is reported in the news media to have declarednamely, that he personally opposes the dismissal of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)?
The Government might want to give further consideration to withdrawing the motion if only in the light of the number of Members who are present which, I regret to say, is unusually large. I would rather that a normal number of Members were present for such a debatethat would bring great joy to my heart. If the Leader of the House were to glance around the Chamber, particularly behind him, and look at the number of his colleagues who are here for these debates, to say nothing of Members on this side of the House, he might conclude that if even a fraction of those present wanted to participate, the time allowed would be lamentably inadequate. On that basis alone, I hope that he will seek leave to withdraw the motion so that the debate can continue at the pleasure of the House and Members can allocate their own time to the matter to decide it properly.
Surely we all agree that the creation and membership of our Select Committees is one of the most important acts that we will perform in this Parliament. For it to be performed within this ridiculously short time scale and against this guillotine, which is what the motion amounts to, is unacceptable. My plea is that, before we are forced to vote against the motion, the Government should withdraw it.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): I support the motion. Because of the advance publicity, a large number of our constituents will probably be watching the debate live, and I believe that many of them will be bemused by what they have heard so far and will fail to understand the points that have been made. As someone who has been in the House since 1979 and has always had to participate in these debates after 10 o'clock at night, I thank the Government for giving us prime time. We still have more than three hours, and my guess is that the House will be able to make its views effectively known to the Government before the 7 o'clock motion falls.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said that his constituents would be bemused. They should not be, because as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) rightly said, the appointment of Select Committees is one of the most important acts carried out by this Chamber. We are appointing the method by which it is generally agreed that the Government of the day are most effectively scrutinised and called to account. As he and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said, that is essentially a House of Commons matter. We are seeing an attempt by the Government to control the ability of the House to select the Select Committees. In other words, the ability of the House properly to perform its functions on a House of Commons matter is being curtailed.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): I am one of those who is concerned with regard to the two Members in question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the Government should not interfere. However, on 13 July 1992, in a debate about the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) being refused reappointment to a Select Committee by the Government of the day because he was considered too much of a hindrance, the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not take the same view. In the Division Lobby, he voted against the hon. Member for Macclesfield being reappointed to the chairmanship of the Select Committee on Health. Will he explain why he did not resign his post if he considered it such a crucial matter?
Mr. Hogg: Of course I shall. There are many things that one does in government with which one does not necessarily agree; that is the nature of collective responsibility. Indeed, having heard the Leader of the House make observations both in private and public, I suspect that he does not agree with the decision not to appoint the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody).
Mr. Hogg: I doubt that I was wrong, because I would have been expressing in private the view that I am now expressing in public. The real question is whether one should always resign when one does not wish to oppose a particular measure. That is nonsense; we would never have government. I do not suppose that I was wrong; I imagine that I expressed in private what I am saying today. I just did not do it in public; I was discreet.
The substantive issue is whether the House should appoint Select Committees. Nominations for 27 or so Committees are to be decided, six amendments have been tabled and there are six substantive debates. We have four hours in which to complete that.
Mr. Hogg: The idea that we can do so in three hours is absurd. The House ought to say that there should be Divisions on the motions at 10 o'clock at the earliest. The idea that we should have them at 7 o'clock is a travesty of democracy but only too typical of the Government.