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Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I endorse the right hon. Gentleman's observations. I hope that he agrees with me that, given the shortage of time in Committee and in view of the matters being drawn to our attention by business people throughout the country, surely now is an opportunity to have at least two or three days for Report and Third Reading.

Mr. Forth: The hon. Gentleman is right. I suspect that even Committee stage did not take as much time as has often and traditionally been allotted in the past. He makes a wholly valid point, and I admit to him and to my colleagues that I might have been rather selfish in concentrating on the parliamentary aspects of the programme. Outside interests legitimately take as much interest in and have as much to say about the Finance Bill as about any other measure, and perhaps more than most. At this stage, given the new material being introduced by the Government, such outside interests should be able to expect Members of Parliament to have ample time in which to reflect their legitimate views.

I suspect that people outside this place looking in on the parliamentary process can only draw the same conclusion as I have drawn. The Government do not really care what they have to say and do not see any need for anyone outside this place or, indeed, Members of Parliament to show a proper interest in the contents of the Finance Bill. Instead, we have the usual Government assumption that because they will it, it must be so, and there is no need for proper scrutiny. This is yet another sad episode in what I can only perceive to be the decline of opportunities for the House of Commons properly to scrutinise the Government's business.

I hope on this occasion, as I always do, that the House will resist the programme motion—or even that the Paymaster General will have a last-minute change of

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heart. I am always optimistic about such things and the compliant look on her face makes me even more optimistic. I hope that she is about to tell us that, having heard my argument, she is prepared to give us more time. That is my earnest wish. If that is not the case, those outside the House can draw only one conclusion.

12.54 pm

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil): I am not quite as optimistic as the shadow Leader of the House, but I rise to pick up some of his comments without wanting to eat further into the precious time available to us today.

It is fair to say that this year's Finance Bill has not been politically high profile. Perhaps that tempted the Government to think that they could accelerate the progress of the Bill through Parliament, including the proceedings to be dealt with today. However, the Bill's lack of a high political profile does not mean that it does not contain a tremendous amount of very important detail that is important to individuals, businesses and those who have to use the tax system. This is the fourth longest Finance Bill on record, and those who have examined the Committee proceedings will know that although we were able to cover a substantial proportion of the Bill, parts that arose during the earlier sittings in particular were not touched upon. Given that those parts deal with some of the issues that are most important to us, and which might create problems for the tax system in future, we must be concerned.

Also of concern is the fact that we are faced with an accelerated timetable in circumstances in which we cannot rely on the other place to mop up some of the aspects that we are unable to cover. We have to be able to cover all of the issues contained in the Finance Bill in adequate time during proceedings in this place. Given the length of this year's Finance Bill, it is not obvious why we are to have only nine and a half hours today to debate the range of issues encompassed by the amendments, compared with approximately 13 and a quarter hours of debate last year. Even if I do not share the optimism expressed by the shadow Leader of the House that the Paymaster General will suddenly announce that the House will sit into the early hours of the morning, I ask her at least to put on the record the fact that this year's curtailment to one day of the final stages of the Finance Bill does not set a precedent for future years.

12.56 pm

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): I will be brief. I always find debates on programme motions intriguing in that they eat into the time that hon. Members say they desperately require.

I take issue with the shadow Leader of the House who, when listing the important amendments before the House, failed to mention the oil and gas industry-related amendments tabled by Scottish National party Members. That was uncharacteristic of him: as a Scot, he knows that the industry supports approximately 250,000 people and has brought £160 billion to the Treasury over the past 25 years.

My point is direct and straightforward. In Committee, SNP Members tabled two amendments: one on the whisky industry and the other relating to our

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concerns about the changes to the fiscal regime covering the North sea oil and gas industry. The amendments were submitted in good faith and we were given a reasonable assurance through the usual channels that we would get our usual time during Committee stage to debate those issues. However, our amendments were put way down the list and our time was squeezed by a developing row between the Opposition and Government Front Benches that resulted in a series of inconsequential amendments being tabled and debated at length. Although we had time to debate our whisky amendment, our amendment on oil and gas fell without debate.

We believed that we would therefore have the opportunity to debate that subject on Report, so we tabled a similar amendment. However, such are the rigours of the programme motion that it seems likely that we will be disappointed once again. It is no great secret that the programme motion will pass, so let me make an appeal—a plea—to Front Benchers and others who seek to catch your eye during the debate, Mr. Speaker: give us this opportunity to debate oil and gas, even though it is way down at the bottom of the list of matters for debate.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): I want to put on the record something that the hon. Gentleman, who was not a member of the Programming Committee, may not know. A strong submission and argument was made by Her Majesty's official Opposition, supported by the Liberal Democrats, that there should be no knife after new clause 9 and that we should have a package of time running from the beginning of our consideration of amendments to the start of consideration of the amendments relating to stamp duty. Had that been allowed, the hon. Gentleman would not have to suffer the concerns that he has expressed. As he knows, the order in which new clauses are considered depends to some extent on the time of their tabling, so it behoves him to try to get his new clauses tabled rather more quickly. None the less, it is important that he recognise that the Opposition did all we could to assist him. It was entirely the Government's edict that demanded that a knife fall at the point that gives rise to his complaint.

Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I appreciate his assistance in the Programming Committee. I go further and thank him for the assistance that Conservative Front Benchers gave us in the Standing Committee: they rushed through business so that we had an opportunity at least to discuss our concerns about the whisky industry. I hope that similar consideration is given today.

I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, agree that debates on the Finance Bill should be open and accessible to hon. Members of all parties, regardless of size. The oil and gas industry is a massive industry of substantial significance to Scotland. I hope that we will secure assistance and that we will reach our amendments, which are of fundamental importance to Scotland.

12.59 pm

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): To give the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) the assistance that he seeks, I shall be brief.

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The record shows that the motion was agreed to without a Division. If the shadow Leader of the House checks the draft programme motion that was circulated to his representatives last Thursday, he will see that the Government, in discussions with the Opposition, ensured that the nine and a half hours allocated for debate, including of the ways and means and programme motions, were protected. The motion provides the equivalent of one and a half days and sets out three groupings for debate—the new clauses, the amendments and a very substantial section 3 on stamp duty.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Will the Paymaster General give way?

Dawn Primarolo: I should like to finish my comments. The hon. Gentleman was present in the Committee, where there was discussion about the division of time, but no dispute about how much time would be taken in respect of the first group, which consists of new clauses, and the second group, which consists of amendments. There was a question about the inclusion of the programme and the way in which we proceeded. If less time is taken on the new clauses, more time will roll forward into the amendments—

Mr. Wilshire: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Dawn Primarolo: I am explaining the position. If 45 minutes are not taken in debating the programme motion, the time will roll forward and there will be more time for the new clauses.

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