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Sir Nicholas Winterton:
My right hon. Friend has missed an important aspect of carry-over. Carry-over is not out of the question because some complicated non-controversial Bills require a great deal of consideration, but surely it becomes unacceptable when it does not have cross-party support.
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Mr. Forth: I might reluctantly have to accept that in exceptional cases, when there is cross-party support, carry-over might be acceptable. I simply say, however, that any Government who are in proper control of their legislative programme should be able to introduce difficult and complex Bills early enough in the Session to deal with them properly during that Session. There may be exceptional circumstances in which an urgent matter might arise towards the end of a Session that requires legislation, but I expect that to be the exception.
Mr. Tom Harris: I am following the right hon. Gentleman's argument, but surely he accepts that without carry-over and programme motions, which he also opposes, it would be fairly easy for a minority of hon. Members to undermine the will of the House by preventing that will from being carried out. Surely if he believes that the House is a sovereign body, we cannot allow a small minority to talk out Bills that have the support of the House.
Mr. Forth: The hon. Gentleman illustrates yet again the wisdom of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills in that he has a limited sense of parliamentary history. I do not blame him for that. He arrived recently in the House, and nothing wrong with that. However, in the good old days of the 1980s, a Bill went into Committee with no time restriction or timetable. Opposition Members often delayed, irritated and caused nuisance. Government Back Benchers, such as myself, often sat until 1 and 2 am, which we regarded as part of our job. It was up to the Opposition at that stage, for many hours, many days and sometimes many months, to decide the pace and shape of the Committee. That was right.
At some stage, the Government would say, "Enough already!", and introduce a guillotine motion to allow only a certain amount of further debate. That was how we lived. To my mind, that was a proper balance between the power of the Governmentwe had a majority of 140 in 1983and the right of Opposition Members to use the time as they saw fit. That is what has been destroyed.
Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) (Con): Towards the end of the 1980s, when Baroness Thatcher was Prime Minister, I was in the Government's Whips Office. The convention on progress in Committee was that we would take it as prima facie evidence that we were being obstructed if we had not got past clause 3 after 100 hours.
My right hon. Friend describes the late-night sittings and he is entirely right. Does he agree that the fact that Governments were subjected to late nights constrained their readiness to introduce long and difficult Bills? They were more constrained and the volume of legislation was less partly as a result of the late nights.
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Mr. Forth: I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is right. All those things contribute to restraining and limiting what the Government do. Nearly all of them have gone, which explains the prolix nature of this Government's legislative approach.
Mr. Shepherd: When a Government wanted to truncate debate in Committee or on the Floor of the House they had to move a guillotine motion, which could be debated for three hours. So they had to justify the reasoning behind the action because, as our Library notes used to note, the guillotine is the most draconian measure in parliamentary debate.
Mr. Forth: We do not do debates any more in the House of Commons. The debates that we routinely held on the Floor of the House on statutory instruments, guillotines and so on have all disappeared, some of them completely. Time and time again, motions on the Order Paper are followed by the words "without debate", which symbolises the Government's belief that debate, discourse and exchange of views are an irrelevance. The Government believe that there is no need to hold debates, because they have a large majority and their Members have better things to do. They do not want to be distracted by such things.
Finally, on the issue of strangers, I agree with what has been said about political correctness. No one has told me that they found the use of the term "strangers" offensive, nor that they were deterred from coming to the Palace of Westminster because they are referred to in that way. This is another piece of nonsense. Earlier the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) spoke about Chairs, and the proposal to remove references to strangers distracts us from the real business before us. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) said, only the press are interested in whether or not members of the public should be called strangers. Why do we not call them guests or stakeholders? Surely, we could find a more welcoming term than "the public". If we are going to go down that route, we should be a lot more cuddly and welcoming. Let us hold back, and keep "strangers" until we find something really fuzzy to which people can relate and which, if they were deterred before, will bring them rushing to the Chamber.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I shall be brief, as I am conscious that I have not heard the full debate, for which I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and other contributors.
I shall address the points about Report stage made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), which were strongly reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who explicitly suggested that that stage should be exempt from programming. I entirely agree with my hon. Friends, and shall reinforce their argument. In truth, if Members are not selected to serve on Committee they do not have an opportunity fully to address the detail of a Bill unless they participate on Report. Before the Whips remind me, I acknowledge that I have not been forward in volunteering to serve on Committee, but when I have done so I have articulated
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the Hogg rulesI vote in accordance with my opinion; I move amendments as I think fit; and I conduct myself as a free Member.
Mr. Hogg: That is true, but it does not disqualify me as a matter of definition from having views on a Bill. I have views on almost every Bill that affects the constitution, the law, foreign affairs and many other things, but they are not always the same as my party's views. I am clearly entitled to express those views, and it is wrong to deny me that opportunity. The Report stage is the one opportunity
Mr. Hogg: I shall be candid. When I first came to the House, I wanted to be a Minister and, I am glad to say, I held ministerial office for 13 years, which I enjoyed hugely. Naturally, in pursuit of that ambition I occasionally swallowed my opinions and bullied people. No doubt, I did things that I later regretted, but in favour of myself I would say that when I did so I knew that I was wrong. Now, I am suitably contrite and I can bring to the House the experience of someone who has bullied right hon. and hon. Members in my capacity as a Whip. If I am asked whether I think that is an honourable activity, the answer is no. But if I am asked whether I think it is honourable to allow oneself to be bullied, the answer is even less so. Right hon. and hon. Members must recover their self-respect. We are in this place to assert the rights of Parliament, to hold the Executive to account and to face down our own party. Until we do that, this place will be held in contempt, and rightly so.
Mr. Hogg: I apologise. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) also opposed the Bill. We three should have ample opportunity to point out the evils associated with that legislation and many other pieces of legislation. My colleague has been through the evidence and pointed out the effect of the knives, both in Committee and much more seriously on Report. Very important clauses and schedules were allowed to pass through the House without discussion.
That is offensive for a number of reasons. First, it puts too great a burden on the other place. Secondly, it enables Government to be slipshod about the drafting
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of legislation. It enables them to present legislation late because they know it will not be discussed. Much worse, it undermines the bargain that underpins a democratic society, because the electorate gives away its freedoms and gives us the right to impose penalties and rules on the premise that we will give them serious consideration and debate them properly. If we deny ourselves the ability to do that, we are cutting away the basis on which the public surrenders its own rights. I therefore hope that we will accede to the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield and accepted by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills on the question of the Report stage and exempt the Report stage from the programming procedures currently under discussion.
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