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4.53 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): I shall not follow my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) into discussing whether the Government have acted in bad faith. That is a matter I reserve for discussion at the next meeting of the parliamentary Labour party. I want to clarify absolutely the position that will result from the programme motion and if the House decides to defeat new clause 13 and accept new clause 11.

Last week, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in what I believe was absolute good faith, said in response to a question from me that if certain amendments were carried—he undoubtedly had in mind new clause 11—consequential amendments would be required and the Bill would be unable to complete its passage before the recess, and that would certainly have implications for the invocation of the Parliament Act, if it were needed.

The Minister can contradict me in what I am about to posit if I am wrong, but if he does not contradict me, I will take it that I am right. If we accept new clause 11 this evening and, as a result, consequential amendments are required and the Government accept the Minister's motion to recommit the Bill to the Standing Committee, the timetable that has been described this afternoon means that the Bill will have a swift passage through the reconvened Standing Committee and complete its passage through the House next Wednesday.

That means that, as Mr. Speaker has clarified, although the Bill cannot have its Second Reading in the House of Lords by the scheduled date of 17 July, it will

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be referred back to the House of Lords for a Second Reading, presumably in September. If new clause 11 is accepted and the House of Lords obstructs the Bill, the Parliament Act can nevertheless be invoked in this Session, which means that the Bill can become law at the beginning of the next Session.

If the Minister agrees with that, I will welcome his saying so. I see that the Clerk is giving you advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Minister disagrees with me, that will create a situation that is unacceptable to many Members of the House.

Alun Michael: As ever, my right hon. Friend sought to set out very clearly his understanding of the whole process. The problem is that it is an extremely complicated set of propositions to say yes or no to, particularly because some of them depend on what happens in another place and some depend on the processes and decisions of this House, and I am not qualified to rule on those. I heard nothing in what my right hon. Friend said that I want to disagree with or challenge, but I am not sure that I can say yes to his entire series of propositions with the clarity that he seeks.

Mr. Kaufman: Two matters pertain here. First, the Minister ought to have briefed himself on this question because he knew that I would raise it. I have had discussions with senior members of the Government over the weekend, and the Minister ought to have been well aware that this matter required clarification from the Front Bench.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, whom I do not accuse of acting with a scintilla of bad faith, reiterated when I asked him last Thursday that he stood by the two commitments given to me by the Minister that if the Bill emerged from this place with new clause 11 and the House of Lords obstructed it, the Government would use the Parliament Act. I do not regard that as convoluted; it is pretty straightforward. If the Minister cannot clarify that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps you will help us, since the Clerk has been advising you.

Alun Michael: That is certainly a simpler set of propositions than my right hon. Friend previously put forward. I stand by what I said in my statement on 21 March, and there should be no doubt about that. Secondly, I have given my right hon. Friend the assurance he sought that the intention, if the Bill is recommitted tonight, is that it will return to Standing Committee and complete all its stages in this House before the recess. That will allow other consequences, which are outside my hands, to follow. I do not disagree with my right hon. Friend's analysis.

Mr. Kaufman: Unless you have further clarification, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Kaufman: Of course.

Mr. Martlew: It is obvious that the Government are in something of a mess at the present time—[Hon.

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Members: "No!"] Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way forward would be for the Government not to move new clause 13?

Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Mr. Kaufman: That would be a way forward of a brilliance that I expect from my hon. Friend. Whether I can expect such brilliance from Ministers, we shall see.

5 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): It seems to me that our debate so far has been more about the Government's intentions, the Parliament Act and some of the internal problems of the parliamentary Labour party than about the programme motion itself. I wish to make one simple point about that motion.

We completed Committee stage—I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) was wrong: we did complete consideration of the Bill during the time available—on, if memory serves, 27 February.

Mr. Garnier: Of course we completed consideration of the Bill, but that was a fiction. We reported back to the House, or at least we attempted to. However, I cannot say that we considered every clause of the Bill or every amendment that was tabled.

Mr. Luff: I think we probably did, but never mind. The fact is that we completed our consideration on 27 February and the Government have had the Bill for the whole of March, April, May and June, yet after all the time spent in the Standing Committee—estimates differ: some say 70 hours, some 100, but it was certainly an awful lot of hours—we are now being given about four and a half hours in practice to consider the Bill on the Floor of the House.

That is unacceptably short, on two grounds in particular. First, there is new evidence in relation to the utility test: the study by the university of Kent. The House should have the opportunity to consider that new evidence on biodiversity. Secondly, there is new evidence from the middle way group on the effects of shooting foxes, which the House should also have a decent amount of time to consider. Four or so hours is simply not good enough.

I have a practical suggestion—sadly, the Government Whip whose business this is is not in his place to hear it. My suggestion is that the Government abandon the programme motion and lift the 10 o'clock rule and instead go for closure on each group of amendments. It would not take for ever—[Laughter.] Labour Members laugh, but I imagine that the Chair would take a very dim view of any attempt to filibuster during debate on the individual groups. Let us do this properly and give the House time for consideration. The first group of amendments is the biggest and the busiest and it is my guess that that group will take most of the time available to the House for Report stage. As we go down the selection list, the groups become less and less time consuming, and I am sure that in the spirit of good will the House would give each the serious consideration it deserves. Lift the 10 o'clock rule.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the hon. Member for West Ham

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(Mr. Banks) and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) were sincere in what they said, they should consider voting against the programme motion, as it would be incongruous if they supported a programme motion that they oppose? Secondly, does he agree that there are some important amendments relating to welfare, such as amendment No. 22, and that if the hon. Member for West Ham and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton were to go along with the programme motion, it would indicate that they do not really care what happens to a few orphaned cubs?

Mr. Luff: I entirely agree that the effect of voting for the programme motion would be to deny debate on such subjects. I am sure that the House would respond reasonably to being given a reasonable amount of time for debate. We should resist the programme motion.

5.3 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I shall be brief, because I have to be.

I am disappointed by the Minister's interventions this afternoon. I am disappointed that the Leader of the House, who played such an interesting part in the debate last Thursday, is not here to explain the Government's case for the programme motion.

Mr. Forth: He is probably in Wales.

Mr. Garnier: I dare say he is.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality did not explain why we should pass paragraphs 2 and 3 of the motion, still less did he condescend to explain why paragraph 4 should be voted through. No such recommittal to a Standing Committee has been proposed in the 10 years in which I have been an MP—

Miss Widdecombe: Never, certainly not in the past 16 years.

Mr. Garnier: I thank my right hon. Friend. I think that we should be given a little more than the remaining time that the programme motion allows to discuss such an unprecedented, or almost unprecedented, procedural measure.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) said that any discussion of the programme motion takes time out of the debate on the substantive issues, but it is a pretty facile argument when we are faced with such a great array of amendments and new clauses to complain that it is contrary to democracy to take a mere 45 minutes to discuss whether we should be allowed to discuss anything. The Government should be ashamed of themselves. Last autumn, the Minister said that he wanted to see the legislation stand the test of time, but he will not allow us the time to check the Bill.

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