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Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con):
I will be brief, for the reasons already given by my hon. Friends the Members for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) and for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) and by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). I entirely agree that the whole passage of the Bill has been a mess.
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I want to make a specific point on the programme motion. If the Government had had the sense to listen in much greater detail to all, not merely some, of the recommendations made by the Joint Committee so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and including my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire, they could have avoided a lot of the mess into which they have got themselves. One of the reasons why they had to make two such humiliating U-turns in Committee was that they were under pressure, which they completely failed to anticipate, from a media campaign and from some of their own Back Benchers.
However, that huge media campaign would not have occurred if the Government had simply stuck to the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee's recommendations. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire would not then have faced the position that he described as unique in his parliamentary experience, which is much longer than mine.
It is inadequate that we have such limited time today. I do not want to take up more time, but I hope that those in another place will listen carefully to all that my hon. Friends the Members for Maldon and East Chelmsford and for South-West Hertfordshire, the hon. Member for Bath and I have said today. I hope that they will insistas they have the right to do in another place, where the Government cannot so easily programme, guillotine and bulldoze things throughon proper scrutiny.
I predict that the Government will regret not acceding to the request of the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats for two full days of debate. I suspect that there will be substantial rebellions in another place by Labour peers, especially those who have detailed knowledge of the industry. They will say, as I am saying, that the recommendations of the Joint Committee should have been followed and that, having performed all those humiliating U-turns and changes of policy, the Government are wrong subsequently to guillotine and programme the debate. By doing that, they are preventing the House from doing the job for which we were all elected.
The Government are introducing much new material, which will not be debated by the House. I therefore suspect that they will have genuine problems in another place. Once the other place has finished with it, we may end up with a Bill that is much closer to the Joint Committee's sensible recommendations.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): It is not my habit to speak about such motions, because I know that, no matter who is in power, they must have some such procedure. However, I ask the Minister whether he genuinely believes that it is in any way reasonable to discuss 127 amendments, new clauses and Government amendments in one hour. That simply means that we will not have the slightest chance of discussing them all.
Some Members of Parliament represent seaside towns. For example, my constituency has many amusement arcades. The residents and the owners of the arcades had meetings with me and said that there were
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some questions that I simply had to ask the Government about amendments Nos. 106 and 109. They want to know, for example, whether and in what circumstances the Government would use the powers for which they are providing. Yet there is not the slightest chance of my being able to ask those questions. The second part of the selection list includes a long list of headings, including "Age limit", "Miscellaneous", "Lotteries", "Restrictions on gambling and gaming", "Gaming machines" and "Children". How on earth can we hold a reasonable discussion on 127 different amendments in one hour? It is not possible, and the proposition constitutes treating the House of Commons with contempt.
It is not as though we are dealing with a silly industry that does not count. The betting and gaming industry employs 82,000 people, and the income that it generated last year was £1.76 billion. The industry is huge, and important to seaside towns. Although I appreciate that there will be no vote, which I greatly regret, will the Minister say whether the Government would be willing to re-examine the matter and ensure that we have at least a quarter of an hour, or even 20 minutes, on some of the big issues? They are desperately important matters, which could have a serious effect on employment in seaside towns. I wonder whether the Minister, even at this stage, would allow half an hour or 20 minutes on some issues.
I hope that the Government appreciate that when many jobs are at riskand the people who run the industries do believe that jobs will be at riskthe least we should do in the House of Commons is hold some sort of discussion and provide some opportunity for hon. Members to ask questions and find out why the Minister intends to proceed with some of the proposals. The time allowed for discussion makes the House of Commons nonsensical, and I hope that the Government will think again.
Mr. Caborn: The Executive are accused of not listening to the House of Commons, and then we get accused of reacting to it. I have been a Member of Parliament for some 20 years, and I believe that if Governments of both sides had taken heed of the House, that would probably have made for better legislation. Therefore, that is exactly what we have done. On Second Reading there was clearly much concern in the House, and we responded to it. Yet when the Executive respond to that, we are accused of U-turns and back-downs; many such descriptive nouns are used.
If the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) examines the programme motion, he will see that there are two hours, followed by the time until 9 o'clock, and then an hour for Third Reading. I believe that there will be adequate time.
We have indeed responded to all the issues of concern raised on Second Reading, and there has been some radical change. The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) argued that we used the facilities of the House to allow an Adjournment of the Standing Committee. Well, what is wrong with that? The House was flexible enough to be able to take into account the concerns that hon. Members had clearly expressed on Second Reading, and the Executive have
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responded to them. A statement was made to clarify the position, which I believe is now more in concert with the views of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committeeand, indeed, with what we brought to the House on Second Reading. I am proud that we have listened to the House of Commons and responded positively to hon. Members' concerns. I believe that we are now presenting a Bill that is in concert with what the British people are thinking.
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