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Simon Hughes : On a point of order, Sir Michael. I have a predictable point of order. I do not remember ever having been in the House previously when the proposals from the Chair for amendments, new clauses and new schedules have taken 27 minutes, without the Division. I do not pretend to be 100 per cent. accurate, but by my calculation there were 91 clauses, 8 schedules, 31 Government new clauses, one non-Government new clause, two new schedules and 102 amendments. Apart from asking whether anyone in this place keeps records—as I think that we have broken one—is there anything that we can do, if we anticipate that this is what is likely to happen, other than to ask the Procedure Committee to re-examine this process? This is the second day in a row—I understand that today's context is not as controversial as yesterday's—when a major constitutional Bill, on the Floor of the House, has not been debated. Many perfectly reasonable Government amendments that were made, and one or two new clauses and amendments from the Opposition, have not had a chance of debate. That does not do a service to the legislation or the cause and certainly does not do a service to Parliament.

Mr. Garnier : Further to that point of order, Sir Michael. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) completed the point of order that I was intending to make to you during the Division. I fully accept that that was perhaps not the most convenient time to take it. Is there no procedure, however, whereby a Minister who introduces a guillotine motion to curtail debate on a Bill, and on this Bill in particular, can be required to explain himself after the event so that he can justify, after what he has done, what he intended to do beforehand?

I presume that all Ministers come to the House with the good motive of wishing to allow the House ample time to discuss their legislation. Clearly, Sir Michael, you have been on your feet for nearly half an hour, which is probably the longest contribution that you have made on the Floor of the House since becoming a Deputy Speaker. I am delighted for you, but it is an abuse of our constituents and of our role as Members of Parliament, of which you are one, for a Government to deal with constitutional legislation, or any legislation, in this way. You may say that that is no more than a point of frustration, and not a point of order that you can deal with. None the less, the Government are increasingly abusing this place and we increasingly look to the Chair to protect us and the integrity of our procedures.

I appreciate that you, Sir Michael, are as much a servant as a master of this House and that you must do what the House—through the Executive telling Parliament what to do—dictates. We live by the fiction
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that we in this place are free agents, and that being understood I urge you to apply some pressure to persuade the Government to behave themselves.

The Second Deputy Chairman: I think that I have understood the hon. and learned Gentleman. On the first of several points that he made, concerning the Minister's providing an explanation, I am afraid that no allowance is made in our proceedings for requiring such an explanation, so there is nothing that the Chair can do about that.

On the original point of order from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), all that I can say is that we have done things this evening absolutely correctly and as the House—until now, at least—decided that we should do them. I am sure that all his remarks will have been noted by everybody in the House; perhaps the House will want to return to this issue on another occasion.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Further to that point of order, Sir Michael. To be fair to the Government, it is worth recognising that a substantial number of the amendments involved putting back the words "Lord Chancellor", which is what the House desired.

The Second Deputy Chairman: That is absolutely true. A number of amendments were technical, but the House will be able to decide for itself which were and which were not. That is now a matter for the record.

Order for Third Reading read.

6.46 pm

Mr. Leslie: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill's Second Reading has been debated on the Floor of the House, followed by three full days in Committee on the Floor of the House. That process was agreed through the usual channels following discussion about there being insufficient time. We have had an interesting and long discussion in Committee, but even so a number of amendments, new clauses and schedules were adopted that we did not have time to discuss. Of course, that is always a matter of regret, but I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), who leapt to my defence—that was unsurprising; nevertheless, I shall remember it—to point out that many amendments were consequential and drafting amendments that simply replaced the word "Minister" with the phrase "Lord Chancellor." Of course, that was not the Government's original intention; rather, it was a reflection of the debate and of having listened to concerns expressed here and in the other place. It was unfortunate that we had to go through such amendments one after the other, but they did constitute the bulk of those tabled.

That said, other matters arose as well, and in the light of the earlier request that I deal with them I shall try my best to do so.

Peter Bottomley: In this spirit of comradeship, does the Minister accept that if the Government had thought before they spoke in creating this constitutional disarray—if they had asked the Lord Chancellor to
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agree not to sit as a judge and if they had agreed with the senior Law Lords that they should not take part in partisan debates—we would not have needed these provisions?

Mr. Leslie: The hon. Gentleman has just spoiled his standing in my eyes with that contribution; if only things could have stayed as they were. I am afraid that I disagree with him on that point.

This significant Bill is driven forward by a number of fundamental principles, the first of which is clarifying the relationship between the three arms of the state—the legislature, the judiciary and the Executive—thereby allowing a Minister with an unambiguous constitutional role to focus on the administration of the courts and the justice system. Another principle is modernising the constitution to make it better fitted to carrying out its vital role in a modern democracy, and a third is providing the public with greater confidence in the clearer shape and nature of each of its branches.

Mr. Grieve: I take the Minister back to what he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), who was indeed right to say that many of the Government's amendments merely substituted the word "Minister" with the phrase "Lord Chancellor." One thing that has to be assessed when the usual channels negotiate how much time should be allowed for discussing a Bill is which issues will require close debate. In such circumstances, if the Government do not indicate beforehand that they will adopt Back-Bench amendments, there is no opportunity for Members to understand the Government's thinking or to ask for sufficient time to debate those issues.

Mr. Leslie: I understand that the hon. Gentleman is talking about new clause 42, proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). It is a simple new clause, which I can read out now that it has been adopted in the Bill. It states that the judicial appointments commission, in performance of its functions

The provision is subject to clause 57, according to which selection must be "solely on merit" and the person should be "of good character". It is a simple and, I would have thought, wholly uncontentious new clause.

This admirable and worthy provision has been welcomed by the judiciary and its genesis lies with the Constitutional Affairs Committee. I would have thought that our adoption of it accords with the spirit of responding to debate and to suggestions from the Select Committee. Instead of rebutting these sorts of provisions, Opposition Members should listen and allow a level of dialogue to take place, even if not in this particular debate. I have sought to respond to appropriate suggestions, which is why I accepted the new clause.

New clause 42 has been available for Members to view in the amendment paper and hon. Members have been able to make their judgments about it. I accept that it is buried away in a number of other amendments, but
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it is there and it was wrong to vote against it. I regard voting against it as extremely regrettable. Perhaps, on further reflection, Opposition Members will accept the provision in the other place.

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