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23 Oct 2002 : Column 339—continued

Mr. Miller: The hon. Gentleman must understand—perhaps it is a question of geography—that while Southport is in Merseyside, Ellesmere Port and Neston, although it is on the side of the Mersey, is not in Merseyside but in Cheshire. My constituents, therefore, are not covered by the promoters of the Bill. They are substantial users of the facility but have no say under the mechanisms that he suggests.

Dr. Pugh: Clearly, the mechanism can be perfected. I have had no indication that the opponents of the Bill are interested in making the process more democratic. They are simply interested in getting their way, as they have supported a procedure that I regard as arcane and unworthy of the House.

Stephen Hesford: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as I agree with the direction of his argument. Does he accept that there is a democratic deficit in using this procedure? Is it not therefore inherently likely that there will be a deficit in representation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) suggests, in the determination of what is, in effect, a tax-raising power?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Let me try to assist the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh). I remind him that this is not a debate about the generality of the procedure on private business before the House. It is about whether this particular Bill should be granted a carry-over.

Dr. Pugh: The principal thrust of my argument is that we have had a debate before on the merits of the proposed legislation. The net effect was that a majority of Members attending at the time voted that it should be continued. Owing to circumstance—that is all—we have not advanced to the next stage. We must now repeat the performance, and the same pitfalls may arise with the Bill's promoters. A majority vote of the House should be decisive. If it is not decisive, and if, for some reason, not enough Members are present tonight and the Bill falls, that will prove—I am forbidden to use the word Xfilibuster" but I will use whatever appropriate word I am guided to use—that such a fundamentally undemocratic procedure will carry the day. Any Member with an interest in democracy and in carrying forward the views of the House and of the people of Merseyside—rather than allowing matters to be determined simply by the fact that a Member is capable of speaking at length—should vote for the continuation of the Bill.

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7.38 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): A load of rubbish is being talked tonight. I only want to make a small contribution to the debate, but it is important to make a few things clear.

The House will decide whether the Bill is good on the basis of the debates that take place. Not only is it a fact that Members use procedural methods known to all of us to hold up or to progress legislation, but I regard it as one of the few minor rights left to Back-Bench Members, most of which are being rapidly taken away from them by a Government who ought to know better. Tonight's debate has been very narrowly based, and I have tried to keep out of it as I think that it is finely balanced. The various interests in the Bill must be considered, and I do not intend to cross the line by discussing that this evening. What is important, however, is that if there has been a long debate—it has continued over several months—the least that we can do is allow the Bill to proceed. It is not the end of the debate on the Bill, as there will be other points at which other aspects can be debated. Amendments can be tabled and the legislation can be altered. Therefore, the motion will not close off debate on issues that concern both sides of the House.

It is clear that the Bill concerns Members with constituencies on both sides of the river. My involvement in the issue is simply the result of my interest in transport. I know the implications and difficulties that will arise if the Bill does not go forward, but I am prepared to accept that those with a constituency interest take a different view. However, my point is slightly different. I am not surprised when Members of Parliament use procedural methods to try to hold up private Bills or when people say, XIf the Bill does not go forward, it will cost the ratepayers on Merseyside a great deal of money." I understand why they do that.

Given the opportunity, I will cast a vote tonight and my decision will be determined by the fact that I believe that we should continue this debate. It would be an imposition on the ratepayers to return to square one and start again. That is my only concern, but it is important. The House of Commons has a responsibility to think in those terms before it commits local authorities to a great deal of extra expenditure.

7.41 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point): I take issue with the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who said that carry-over would not frustrate debate on the Bill. That is not my understanding, and I seek explanation from someone as to what the actual procedure would be. I want not to discuss the Bill's merits but simply to explore the procedure. If the Bill is carried over, the motion states:

The Bill will then simply proceed to a Committee of four Members of Parliament and they will take evidence, discuss the Bill and think carefully whether to accept the Bill as it stands or to reject it as a whole. They will consider whether any amendments might make it

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acceptable, and their decision will be reported back to the House. It would be very unusual for their decision to be varied by the House. The precedent is that their decision should simply be accepted.

The Bill's promoter and the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) are nodding to suggest that my understanding is correct but, if I am wrong, the House will have the ability to debate and discuss the detail of the Bill again. However, I believe that my comments on the procedure to be adopted are accurate.

7.43 pm

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West): In an intervention on the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), I explained the reason for this debate. We are here to discuss the Bill because of the ineptitude of its promoters and the decrepitude of the system under which it has been proposed.

Hon. Members may know that this is not the first Bill to have come from these promoters. They started the process in 2000. It is their fault that they withdrew the first Bill and then came up with a second one. Although I accept what you say about the procedure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why should the House be asked to agree to a procedure that is rarely used just to save the promoters time and effort, when it is their fault that they found themselves in this position? Why should the House assist them when their own goal caused us to be here?

The promoters have been dilatory. When they first introduced the Bill, the office of Ways and Means offered the Bill a slot before the one that they eventually accepted. They declined that offer, thereby losing at least a month, if not two, of the legislative cycle. It is their fault that the Committee to which the Bill should have gone after Second Reading could not, for administrative reasons, be set up in September. Why should the House have any sympathy for the promoters, given that this problem is their fault? I shall discuss the decrepitude of our procedure more fully later.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): If the hon. Gentleman had listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), he would have discerned that the delay did not result from a request made by the Bill's promoters. The request came from elsewhere.

Stephen Hesford: I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I absolutely accept that he believes that. None the less, I take issue with him. The problem is entirely due to the promoters ducking out when they had the opportunity to take the Bill up in May or June instead of in July. That is my understanding.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I have to disagree with my hon. Friend. What evidence would he require, and be comfortable with, for us to prove our position?

Stephen Hesford: This is not a court of law; it is the mother of Parliaments. I am afraid that I cannot take up that intervention.

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Sadly, the two Bills have had a bad history. The first Bill contained a different formulation of schemes from the second one. The various schemes are misplaced and they are as misplaced as the position that their advocate in this place took on an earlier occasion. We are where we are because of thorough incompetence.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) for raising an interesting point in an intervention. This motion is not the only procedure available that would enable such a Bill to survive. I am not sure if this is the right term, but there can be a resurrection motion.

Mr. Miller: A revival motion.

Stephen Hesford: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There can be a revival motion in the following Session, and that is better than the motion before us. No matter how many mistakes the Bill's promoters make or how many further opportunities to further the Bill they fluff, they carry on in what psychologists might describe as a dissociative state in their approach to legislation. They seem to be stuck in their own tunnel—one from which they cannot get out.

The motion raises a constitutional issue for my constituents. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order if I rehashed the debate on Second Reading.

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