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3. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order.[Bridget Prentice.]
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): The short length of the Committee stage, and the expediency of dealing with this business by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, might lead the Government, or their Whips, to assume that this programming might not be objectionable. I am concerned, however, not least because of the expediency of the Bill's earlier stages. Why do the Government now feel it necessary to place this straitjacket on our debate? To table this motion seems unnecessarily dismissive of the positive attitude that hon. Members have shown throughout the course of the Bill. It signifies a bullying attitude that was not present in Committee and that sets the wrong tone for our debate this afternoon.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I, too, am surprised by the need for the Government to table a programme motion on this Bill. Judging from the reports of the Committee stage, everything was extremely amicable, and the Minister herself said earlier this week during Constitutional Affairs questions that the Opposition had been pretty supportive of the Government's proposals. If we are to have a programme motion, presumably the Opposition will support it, because there are so few amendments to be discussed on Report that we could go on to have a Third Reading debate that would last longer than the Report stage and possibly even the Committee stage.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con):
I am really disappointed in my constituency neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice). I should have thought that she would know better than to treat the House in this contemptuous way. We have become used to Ministers assuming that these so-called programme motionsor guillotines, as we used to call themwill be quietly nodded through and that they need give no explanation to the House as to why they have been tabled. I shall have to have a word with the Minister about this afterwards, because our neighbourliness could come under severe strain.
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The motion reveals all about the philosophy behind programme motions. Let us look back at the original programme motion of 13 December, which is referred to in the motion that we are now considering. I will assume, in a generous spiritwhich, of course, is typical of methat the Government had envisaged that this debate would take place on a Thursday, so I shall cast my remarks in terms of Thursday business, although I could range more widely than that. I could, but probably will notI say "probably"pursue an analysis of how Monday's, Tuesday's and Wednesday's business might have been affected as well. For the sake of brevity, however, I will limit myself to Thursday's business.
The original motion assumed that Report stage would end one hour before the moment of interruption, which implied that on a Thursday, Report stage would last until 5 pm and the Third Reading debate would last from then until 6 pm. Question Time would run from 10.30 am until 11.30 am, and let us assume for the sake of argument that business questions would run from then until 12.15 pm or thereabouts. According to my calculation, that would have allowed some four and three quarter hours for the Report stage.
At the time when the programme is originally envisaged, we have no means of knowing what will transpire in Committee. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) has said that the Committee stage was amicable, and that the Opposition seemed to be giving the Government their full support, something that happens all too frequently nowadays. Let us assume that this is one of those ghastly non-controversial consensual measures to which we all sign up without too much debatebut the Government did not necessarily know that at the time. The problem with these programme motions is that when they are drawn up, the Government have no regard to what might happen in Committee or, indeed, on Report. So the Government allowed four and three quarter hours for the Report stage, still not knowing what might transpire.
It might be said that that would have been bad enough. Who knows how many amendments might have been tabled on Report by Members who had not served on the Standing Committee, and for whom the Report stage provides an opportunity to contribute? The Government, however, swept all that aside. They said, "We, the Government, will generously allow you, the House of Commons, a whole four and three quarter hours in which to deliberate on Report." Several hundred Members, potentiallythere are several hundred Members who are not in the Governmentwould have had four and three quarter hours in which to consider all the changes that they might wish to make on Report.
That was then. This is now. Now, the Minister has the gall to present us with the motion that is before us, and to say, "Never mind all that. It has all changed now. We are going to make an even more draconian assumption: that the House will require even less time in which to discuss the Bill"and, as I shall make clear in a moment, it is a substantial Bill.
We began our debate on this programme motion at 1.36 pm. The Government are now saying that we have a total of three hours in which to consider all the remaining stages of the Bill. Potentially, one hour of that time will be taken up by this part of our deliberations45 minutes for the debate on the
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programme motion plus a Division at the end. I now give warning that unless the Minister can persuade me more than she has so far that the motion has any merit at all, I shall seek to divide the House on it, because it is a disgrace.
Keith Vaz: It is always fascinating to hear the right hon. Gentleman speak about these issues because he is such an expert on them, but may I urge him not to prolong the debate too much? As he says, there are a good many important issues for us to discuss. In view of what he has said about her, the Minister may withdraw the programme motion and allow us a longer debate on Report. Only two amendments have been selected, and we might then be able to discuss them even more fully. If the right hon. Gentleman speaks for too long, however, we shall not have a chance to debate those substantive issues.
The hon. Gentlemanthis is very uncharacteristic of himseeks somehow to blame me for the fact that the House may not have sufficient time in which to consider this important motion. It is the Government's motion, however, that gives us but three hours in total to consider the Bill. If I, or indeed my hon. Friends, wish to examine the motion in rather more detail, that is surely our right. We are being given only 45 minutes in which to do it.
Let me continue my analysis. If we assume that the first hour will be taken up by the debate on the programme motion and the Division which I hope will followit will, if it is anything to do with meand the last hour is taken up by the Third Reading debate, we are left with but one hour in which to consider the two amendments, or more accurately the new clause and amendment.
These are not trivial matters. The hon. Member for Leicester, East, who is an eminent legal expert, and the other eminent lawyers who are with me on the Conservative Benches, will doubtless want to bring their analyses to bear, but they will have hardly any opportunity in which to do so. The proposer of an amendment or new clause usually wants to explain it properly to the House. Others will undoubtedly wish to contribute, especially those with legal knowledge and expertise, and we shall wish to hear from them. I cannot imagine that that can happen satisfactorily in the time that we have been allowed.
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