|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
There is a serious point. I do not want to dwell on it excessively, but merely to put down a marker. It is that we are being asked to legislateto make the law of the landin an extremely truncated and restricted way, on the basis that a small number of no doubt senior and eminent people have decided what will be and are then asking the rest of us, as Members of Parliament, to say, "Oh, all right then. You're only giving us an hour to consider an entire Bill". Even worse, we are being asked to sign up to the fact that
When we consider the detail of the motion, we find that the House of Commons is being asked to deal with the entire Finance Bill in four hours, and that other serious measureson disability discrimination, international organisations or whateverare to be agreed to in one hour for each. In all reasonableness, that cannot permit any degree of proper parliamentary scrutiny. In what we are told are exceptional and unusual circumstancesalthough I worry about thatthe Government are saying, "Trust me. We the leadership have agreed that this will be the case and the rest of you are expected to fall into place." I have to say that looking around the Chamber it looks as though that is highly likely to happen, but we should be worried about it. It is yet another indication of the extent to which the proceedings of this House have been downgraded that we are being asked to sign up to the motion with a smile.
6 Apr 2005 : Column 1429
Of course, everybody's thoughts are on the upcoming election. That is perfectly natural. But it should not mean that we legislate in such a way that we eliminate all possibility of parliamentary scrutiny, with one great exceptionthe saving of our constitution and our parliamentary process; thank goodness for itthe House of Lords is still not controlled by the Government. Their timetable is still theirs to control. The Government still do not have a majority in the House of Lords.
As a Member of this House for some time, and someone who loves this place and is happy to spend much of my time here, it saddens me to acknowledge that in the motion we are surrendering our role in the legislative process and expecting our colleagues in the House of Lords to do the real work of scrutiny. That has been the reality for some time. It continues to be the reality and the motion reflects that; in fact, it sets it out in words simple to understand.
Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend is consistent on these things. Surely, the essence of the matter is ministerial self-importance. Does he agree that the problem is that Ministers are very important, very senior, very respected, very influential, very busy, with very many commitments and very full diaries, so they think that it is a bit undignified to have to find the time to come to the House to explain and justify their legislative measures?
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend reflects all too well the current "modern" attitude of the Government and their Ministers to the parliamentary process and to the House of Commons. It comes from the top of course. The Prime Minister has never had any time for the parliamentary process and, sadly, shows that repeatedly.
Mr. Heald: I do not entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the motionin fact, I do not agree with him at allbut on the general point that there is far too much programming and not enough time for scrutiny, has he seen early-day motion 945, which points out that about 40 per cent. of the groups of amendments tabled on Report this Session have not been debated because of severe guillotining?
Mr. Forth: Sadly, I neither read nor sign early-day motions because I think that they are parliamentary graffiti of the worst and most useless kind, but if my hon. Friend tells me that there is something of value in that early-day motion, I am half inclined to believe him.
Although my hon. Friends keep tempting me and it feels more and more like the good old days, I will soon conclude, but before I do so, I simply want to tell colleagues that I really hope that in the next Parliamentif I have the honour of being returned to itwe will be prepared to look again at what we have done to our House as part of the legislative process, how we have diminished our role and how we have increasingly to rely, ironically, on the unelected, appointed House of Lords to do the real parliamentary work, while we are increasingly expected to act as legislative rubber stamps. The motion reflects that as well as anything that I have seen recently. I regret that, and I wish we did not have to act in that manner.
6 Apr 2005 : Column 1430
Discussions are still continuing on the Inquiries Bill, but I understand that the major issue at stake is the Prime Minister's ability to maintain control over his Government, whom he appoints and Ministers' conduct and behaviour. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will understand, on reflection, that if he were in my position and the Leader of the Opposition were in the Prime Minister's position, they would take exactly the same view. The good conduct of government is the issue at stake.
As I said yesterday, I pay tribute to the long parliamentary career of the Liberal Democrat shadow Leader of the House. He is a brilliant parliamentarian, as well as a good colleague, despite the party differences, and I wish him all the best in the future. He was indeed very brief, but he is not someone to spin out his points.
Given the long parliamentary experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), I agree with the generous tribute that she paid to the staff. She reminded us of their crucial role. I particularly welcome her reference to the catering staff, who are sometimes called on to perform their duties at very short notice and have their hours extended at short notice. They do so with good fortitude and good cheer, and we are indebted to them.
The same is true of the Doorkeepers, to whom I pay special tribute. Indeed, my only quarrel with them is our serious arguments about rugbythey do not appreciate the value of the Welsh rugby team enough for my liking, although, with the grand slam that we accomplished, they acknowledged, to be generous, the expertise and brilliance of that performance.
Finally, in response to the points made by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I would feel bereft if he had not got up to make them, and he does so with great honour and determination. I was interested to research a previous occasion just before the last general election when one of my predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), now the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, had an exchange with the right hon. Gentleman in which she pointed out that this wash-up period procedure goes on at the end of all Parliaments and has done so for decades. Indeed, when he was an Education Minister, his own Bill was taken through at great speed in exactly the same way. He did not seem to object to that process then, and I wonder whether he should be objecting now.
I very much wish to echo the tributes that the Leader of the House has paid to the staff of the House. I cannot resist making an effort to elicit from him a statement in his own words that the Government are withdrawing the Identity Cards Bill. Will he please tell us that that is the case? Perhaps he will admit that he is secretly rather delighted that that obnoxious Bill is being withdrawn because, as he has a long track record as a civil libertarian, he cannot seriously believe in that nonsense.
6 Apr 2005 : Column 1431
Mr. Hain: It is not the place to discuss the merits of the Identity Cards Bill, about which I have an honest disagreement with the hon. Gentleman. I am a long-standing civil libertarian and proud of it, and remain so, but I honestly think that the Identity Cards Bill is a common-sense measure in an age when we must supply photographic proof of identity to take an internal flight in Britain. Increasingly, we must come up with the kind of identification to travel abroad that the new identity card will provide on our passports, driving licences and so on. It is a common-sense measure and, no, we have not withdrawn it; we could not get the Opposition's agreement to allow it through, as other Bills have gone through, so it will fall, but it will do so as a result of the express opposition of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, who did not give it the passage that it needed and should have had in the interests of security and the safety of all our citizens. I regret that very much.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|