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Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): I join the tributes paid by the Leader of the House to all those who work here and help us so much in everything we do. I thank them for their work throughout this Parliament. I also thank the officers at Conservative headquarters who help me with the necessary research in my role.
I join the tribute that the Leader of the House paid yesterday to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who has had a long career here and is now retiring. We wish him well in his retirement. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear.]
I thank the Leader of the House for consulting, through the usual channels, on the form of the motion. We agreed that it would be for the convenience of right hon. and hon. Members throughout the House to include everything in one motion, particularly the programmes for the various Bills in so far as they are known. That is acceptable to us as a suitable way of dealing with business only at this stage of a Parliament and not as a wider precedent. I hope that the Leader of the House will confirm that that is his understanding.
I am happy to confirm that the motion does not set a precedent for the general conduct of business. The shadow Leader of the House is aware of the unusual circumstances that always occur at the end of a Parliament. I take this opportunity to thank him and the usual channels for expediting matters and for the constructive approach that meets both Opposition and Government interests and, ultimately, the national interest.
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Mr. Heald: I thank the Leader of the House for his comments. I said yesterday that we would take a constructive approach to the Bills before Parliament. Good progress has been made and the Government have accommodated our requirements on the Bills that are proceeding. However, would the Leader of the House look again at the Inquiries Bill? Two Lords amendments were removed in Committee here, but concern has been expressed throughout the House. When an inquiry touches on ministerial conduct, surely it is right that Parliament should approve the details of the setting up of an inquiry, as happens now under the Tribunals of Inquiry Evidence Act 1921. What is the reason for taking that power away from Parliament unless it is to be able to hold such inquiries in a way that might not be approved by both Houses of Parliament? Surely that is not something that the Leader of the House wants. In the interests of having inquiries that have the support of Parliament and the public, surely the Government could look at the matter again.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): I add my thanks on behalf of my colleagues to those that have been expressed. Perhaps I could also be allowed to thank not just the Officers of the House, but right hon. and hon. Members of all parties with whom I have been happy to work for some years. The House is often at its best when we work across party lines for the achievement of better business and a better legislative product. We all regret it when a straitjacket is imposed but, as the Leader of the House said, this is not a precedent for the way in which Parliament usually operates. These are abnormal times and I accept that this is evidence of the way in which constructive consultation behind the scenes in both Houses can achieve a sensible way of doing business in abnormal circumstances.
If I have any reputation at all as I leave this House, I hope that it is that I am capable of making both a brief point and a point briefly, so I hope that by making a succinct contribution this afternoon I do not endanger that reputation. We should get on with the substance of the business so that we have the maximum time for scrutiny.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I would not like the House to prorogue without my joining in the tributes paid by the Leader of the House and the spokesmen for the Opposition parties to the staff. This establishment has not always caught up with modern management techniques and, inevitably, it cannot run in the same way as a structured, commercial organisation, nor should it choose to do so. It is thus essential that our staff at every level, whether direct employees or members of associated firms, are not only sufficiently flexible to fit in with the needs of the House of Commons and the Members, but that they also meet the very real need of the general public to know what is happening here and to understand our sometimes arcane procedures.
It is easy to criticise and occasionally to knock those who maintain traditional forms of dress, but who marry with that extremely modern forms of administration. It
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is important that Members understand what an enormously effective job the House of Commons does in servicing the needs of a Parliament. That goes right the way through, whether it is the Refreshment Department staff, the people who service the building or the industrial or non-industrial civil service. It is essential not only that Members understand that, but that we say firmly how grateful we are to the staff for the way in which they perform their duties day in, day out, and occasionally, even now, night in and night out.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and I have west-country connections that go back a long way. He will be missed in this place; he is an individual voice and a very plain one. I shall miss all the other Members who are retiring. Some of them are going far too soon, and I hope that they will regret leaving us so early. Every one of them has contributed in a unique and essential way to the work of Parliament. Long may they enjoy their future careers. Long may we record with affection and respect the work that they have done in this Parliament.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I am always suspicious when the House indulges in an orgy of self-congratulation and mutual admiration. It makes me suspect that something rather unpleasant is going on, and I had only to read the words of the motion that we are being asked to approve for that to be confirmed fully.
In the good old days, I would have looked at the Order Paper, seen the words "until any hour" and been thrilled at the prospect. I am tempted to explore those words to the full, but those days, for the moment, have passed, although I hope they return soon; even I recognise that this is probably not the occasion for a full exploration of the motion, but I want to touch on one or two points.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) properly focused on Members who are not seeking re-election, I reassure my right hon. Friend that I certainly shall be seeking re-election, both because I love parliamentary life and, quite frankly, because I am too young and cannot possibly afford to retire. I put it to my right hon. Friend that if it is true that the Government are abandoning the Identity Cards Bill, that is magnificent news. It is a thoroughly bad and obnoxious Bill; it has not been properly considered by the House of Lords, so it is extremely welcome that, despite the breast-beating of the Home Secretary, the Government are ditching that piece of nonsense.
Mr. Forth: I can give my hon. Friend a little bit of reassurance as I do not see that Bill mentioned in the motion, although it could always be subsumed in some mysterious way into the words "any other motions", to which I may return in a moment.
There is a parliamentary dangera constitutional danger, evenin the proceedings that we face when we come to Prorogation and Dissolution. Because of our rather unusual parliamentary system, a Prime Minister can call an election at any time, so we are faced with an abrupt ending to our proceedings right in the middle of
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the parliamentary cycle. The danger lies in the fact that at that point consultations are undertaken between a very small number of people, on both sides of the House, who reach a cosy agreement and then, congratulating each other, present us with a fait accompli. The words of the motion reflect that all too fully.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) has said from the Front Bench how delighted he is that we can sign up to everything and the Leader of the House has said how delighted he is that the Government are getting what they want: "We are getting what we want". But the we on this occasion is them. Nobody has consulted me about this at any stage.
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