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Mr. George Osborne: Surely it is important to remember when considering the time allowed for discussing the groups of amendments that if there is a disagreement in the House and Divisions are called, that will eat into the debating time. In some cases, we might have only half an hour in which to discuss important issues.
Mr. Wiggin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am reminded that we do not know whether there will be a statement on Monday, which would also eat into the time allowed for the debate. I am glad to say that guillotines and knives are bad because all Conservative Members think that we need the opportunity to hold the Government to account. They are wriggling by moving such a programme motion. I am worried that issues such as fluoridation, which my hon. Friends touched on, will not receive more than two hours if we are lucky. The situation is absurd. The topic is controversial. Much doubt and uncertainty surrounds it. Fluoridation should be allocated much more time. It is appalling how the relevant clause has been pushed into the Bill without providing reasonable time for a quality debate.
Chris Grayling: Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me rephrase my remarks. Does my hon. Friend agree that Ministers' motivations in selecting the timetable might be more dependable were the calendar packed with business? As we saw yesterday and see today, many parts of the parliamentary calendar are allocated to Adjournment debates, for example. Does he agree that if Ministers wanted to make time available, it would be easy for them to do so in the next few days?
Mr. Wiggin: I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes his point most honourably. The speed at which the Bill is accelerating through both Houses is unseemly and does not do justice to the importance of the argument.
Other unanswered questions left over from the Committee will also need to be debated. The Minister was amenable in Committee, but even he will not have time during the two hours to cover all matters raised. In fact, when we debated fluoridation, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), responded[Interruption.] It seems that fluoridation slipped into a DEFRA Bill. The Government have ensured that the lack of debate will prevent everyone from having their say, including the public. After all, we need to debate fully whether the public will get a proper opportunity to be consulted and have their say on what happens to them.
We need to thrash out how the Government will proceed with their intended agenda of introducing a registered poison into our drinking water while protecting companies through an indemnification policy instead of devolving the matters to local authorities, which are democratically elected and accountable, as opposed to strategic health authorities, which are not. Strategic health authorities are also not local, whereas local authorities are in touch with local people. All households should be consulted. It is vital that everyone in an affected area is not only presented with neutral in-depth information, but has the opportunity to have their say, perhaps in a referendum. That is not in the Bill. It is essential to cover that in a constructive debate.
Mr. George Osborne: As I said, my hon. Friend makes a powerful case for more time to be available to debate fluoridation. There are many things to consider, not just whether it is good or bad. I suspect many hon. Members on both sides of the House, not least on the Labour Benches, will be interested in making that argument. We also need to consider how fluoridation should take place and which body should be charged with the duty of determining public opinion in a particular area. Such matters cannot be debated in a maximum of two hours.
Mr. Wiggin: My hon. Friend is right. The questions on fluoridation that we asked in Committee were not answered in full. We were relying on the debates on Report to provide some of those answers. One question was the likely cost of indemnification. What will legal procedures cost? We have been assured by people who feel passionately about fluoridation that they will go to court because they believe that it infringes their human rights. I do not know whether that will happen for certain, but we need to know what it would cost. That alone will easily fill the time allowed, but we have only two hours for the whole debate.
It is strange that the Government have decided to take time to put the Bill through both Houses but failed to allow a full debate on all aspects of it. In Committee we hurried through as much as we could and, despite receiving many assurances from the Minister, we are now hurrying through the Report stage as well. It is easy to grow cynical in old age, but the method of legislating is not as thorough as it could be[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Methinks hon. Members do protest too much. We could do more to scrutinise the actions of the Government, especially a Government with such a large parliamentary majority, so we should we take a stand,
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): I had not planned to say much during this debate, because the programme motion has already been debated and was agreed on 8 September. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) talks about parting the Red sea, but it sounds to me like he is lost in the bulrushes, so it might help the House if I clearly set out what has been agreed.
The motion does not alter the programme agreed by the House on 8 September, which is that the debate should last for one day, with the last hour reserved for Third Reading. The time allocated for debate on part 1, water resources, which includes quarry dewatering, will end at 5 pm. Debate on part 2, which deals with new regulatory structures, will end at 6 pm, allowing time to cover some of the points the hon. Gentleman raised. Debate on part 3, miscellaneous provisions, will end at 7 pm, which allows two hours to discuss fluoridation.
Chris Grayling: Has not the Minister experienced in his constituency the level of public interest in fluoridation? Does he not realise how many letters hon. Members have received on this subject? Does he not accept that many hon. Members will want to debate that subject? Does he not recognise that allowing only two hours is, to be frank, an insult to hon. Members on both sides of the House?
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): It is an anomaly that Report stage does not include a report. Will the Minister report to us how many new clauses, amendments and schedules were not properly scrutinised in Standing Committee? Is it not the case that Committee stage proved to be more controversial and more detailed than was anticipated back in September?
Mr. Morley: No, I do not accept that. Although I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the precise details off the top of my head, I can say that the Opposition parties felt that too much time had been allocated to discuss fluoridation in Committee, so, with the consent of the Committee, the three sittings allocated were reduced to two, which allowed us to take all the amendments and schedules, and finish them completely in the course of the Committee's sittings.
Mr. Morley: Just about all the issues were coverednot all, and I do not pretend otherwise, but I have served on Bill Committees for many years, including under the Conservative Administration when there was no programming of Bills, and I think that we got through a greater proportion of the Water Bill than of many other Bills. The lack of programming under the Conservatives meant that big chunks of legislation were never reached, and Opposition Members should not forget that.
Mr. Bercow: The Minister is sniffily dismissive of the idea that fluoridation is a matter of public controversy. I put it to him, for the avoidance of doubt, that I have received a plentiful supply of letters on that subject from constituents, who would not accept his categorisation of the issue as merely one of health, but regard it as one of civil liberties. Furthermore, I remind him that consideration in Standing Committee is separate from and irrelevant to the question of hon. Members having a chance to ventilate their views on the Floor of the House.