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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The amendment illustrates how chaotic the programme motion is. It is still possible to table amendments today, and the Government's programme motion does not take into account the issues that Back Benchers may want to raise. The problem with the amendment is the priorities that the Government have set and the time that they have allocated. The business in the first one and a half hour debate is highly likely to provoke two votes, which will take almost half an hour. Accepting the amendment means that we would have no debate on intercept evidence, which is extremely important. That is frustrating and worrying.
The Procedure Committee presented a report that aimed to improve the way programming works, and to provide encouragement through the usual channels to produce a consensual programme that would fit most of the business in. Sadly, on the advice of the Government, the House rejected the report. As a fall-back from the
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Procedure Committee's proposals, the Government would have to use the guillotine process. The report was an attempt to force the Government to recognise the need to build an understanding throughout the House of what should be in the programme. Having rejected that, the Government have become addicted to managing the business for their own convenience, not for the effective scrutiny of legislation nor for effective debate.
The programme motion does not allow enough time for adequate scrutiny of fundamental matters such as intercept evidence and the whole new area of vital legislation on animal rights extremists and the effect of their activities on people's legitimate right to carry out their business. The future of Parliament square is bound to be controversial, so all the remaining topics will receive no consideration. The Government have failed to protect the business so that Back Benchers have an effective and adequate input. Yet again the Government are passing the buck to the other place to scrutinise the legislation. I urge them to recognise the error of their ways, withdraw the programme motion, acknowledge the need for more time on Report and Third Reading, and come back with a far more thought-out proposal.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) has spoken modestly and moderately, just as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) moved his moderate amendment in a modest and moderate way.
The Minister has perpetrated an outrage today. She had the brass nerve to stand at the Dispatch Box and move the programme motion formallyshe did not explain for one minute why the Government are doing this. We are seeing evidence of an elective dictatorship. That is exceptionally serious. Programming is bad enough. It is happening with every Bill, and it is happening without proper and adequate consultationbut this is a programme too far. In his admirable speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) went through the parts of the Bill showing how they directly and indirectly touch the lives of millions of our fellow citizens. There is almost no one in this country who will not be affected in one way or another by the implications of this Bill.
I support many parts of the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield made that clear. My Front-Bench colleagues have some objections to the Bill that I do not share, and I shall explain why. On some parts of the Bill, I am more on the side of the Government than of the Opposition. They are only small points, but they exist.
Sir Patrick Cormack:
My right hon. Friend asks, "What's new?"and I do try to bring an independent mind to most things. But the fact of the matter is that the Government are ignoring Parliament, sidelining it and treating it with derision. We were all sent here to play a part in holding the Government to account and in scrutinising legislation that is put before us. It is a duty that we cannot perform if this programme motion is voted through. It will be impossible to debate adequately any of the subjects that the Bill touches upon.
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Probably a couple of hourscertainly an hour and a halfwill be taken up by Divisions and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield said, half an hour may be spent on intercepts. If the modest amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, which I should like to support, were made, there would be no time at all.
There was a time when someone came into the Chamber, or its predecessor, pointed to the Mace and said, "Take away that bauble," and Parliament was suspended. The Government have introduced plenty of stealth taxes, and they are now attacking by stealth the very integrity of Parliament, with a series of motions that emasculate it. That should be a matter of supreme importance to every Member, whatever his or her views and whatever constituency he or she represents. We cannot do our job if motions such as this are passed.
Most people in this House will accept that I try to behave as a House of Commons man: I seek consensus where it can be found. I hope that I am independent-minded on most subjects. But if the Government persist in this way, the official Opposition would be entirely justified in withdrawing all support, in leaving the Modernisation Committee and saying: "We will have no part of this and we will not do anything that can be construed in any way as conferring legitimacy on an operation that is designed to obliterate the proper function of Parliament."
This is a sad and serious moment. It is a programme motion too far, and I hope that the Minister, who has not yet uttered a word, will take it away, and then return and give us two days. That is modest enough for a measure of such far-reaching importance, but we could then work together again in a consensual spirit, ensuring that as far as possiblewe accept that the timetable is truncated because an election is loomingwe discuss, at least briefly, every aspect of this far-reaching Bill.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): What is so symptomatic about the charade in which we are now engaged is that, first, the Ministerall too typically, I am sad to saydid not see fit to explain to the House why the Government saw fit to truncate our deliberations in this vicious and draconian way. This now routine guillotining of our proceedings sums up all too well the narrow relationship between the Government and the House of Commons. As has been eloquently explained on both sides of the House, we are faced yet again with a major piece of legislation containing serious and controversial matters that we shall not have proper time to debate.
Frankly, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) was over-generous to the Government. He was as angry as the rest of us, but said that, for example, a one and a half hour debate on religious hatred might be enough. The matter has caused great concern to people up and down our land, and rightly so, and deserves prolonged and serious considered debate in this House. Yet the Government announce peremptorily in the programme motion, "No, you will have only a limited amount of time on this because we, the Government, see it that way." That eloquently states the narrow relationship between the Government and the House.
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I have done a quick count of amendments, but further new clauses and amendments may be tabled today, so it is by no means complete. The Order Paper lists 17 new clausessome were tabled by the Secretary of State, so the Government are still amending their own Billand some 133 amendments, of which 70 were tabled by the Government, on subjects such as intimidation of persons, animal research organisations, the power to seize, interception, which my hon. Friend mentioned, religious hatred, and restrictions in Parliament square.
In the good old days when there was a proper relationship between the Government and the House, that last matter alone might have taken a day's debate. We are talking about the possible restriction of the ability of our citizens freely to demonstrate in the vicinity of the Houses of Parliament. That is a very serious matter, and one on which I am sure that we all have a view, because it touches on the fundamental rights of our citizens. Yet the Government have apparently dismissed it as worthy of little discussion or deliberation.
I tabled a couple of amendments, because the Bill requires deliberation and improvement. If the draconian guillotine is swept through today by the Government with their huge majoritysadly, we are used to thatI doubt whether I shall have an opportunity to bring the matter to the House. That is just one relatively small example. It is a sad, sad day when we are left in this position, whereby the Minister, secure with her huge Government majority, knows that she can come here and not even do the House the courtesy of explaining what the guillotine is about, and assumes that it will go through with little protest.
That is all well and good, but I hope that some day people will wake up to what has happened to this Parliament, and to this House in this Parliament. We are effectively handing over our responsibility, as the House of Commons, for the proper scrutiny of legislationironically, to the unelected House of Lords. It does a wonderful job of scrutinising legislation properly: it works more days and longer hours than we do, it has more serious debates, and it is not subject to draconian Government timetables. I wish that I were a member of the House of Lords.
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