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Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): I am following my hon. Friend's argument with great care. He has it in his power, if he can manage it, to ensure that the timetable does not apply today. The debate on the substantive motion has to finish at 6 o'clock and I believe, Mr. Speaker, that my hon. Friend could in fact to speak to the motion before us until 7 o'clock. Perhaps he would like to find that way out of the situation.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I listen with great care to what my hon. Friend says, but I suspect that although I may have the ability to speak until 7 o'clock, Mr. Speaker, neither you nor the House would wish me to do so.
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This is a matter of principle and I say to the Leader of the House that to make the speech that he has just made in justification of the business of the House motion is to treat this House with contempt.

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for not speaking until 7 o'clock. Perhaps he can enlighten me on the following point. It is something of a mystery to me why the debate is to be curtailed at 6 o'clock. Does he think that the Leader of the House could have been somewhat clearer in giving the reason for doing so?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: My hon. Friend is extremely shrewd, in that he has anticipated my next utterance. Will the Leader of the House, with whom I work relatively closely on the Modernisation Committee, do the House the honour of explaining precisely why he has tabled this motion, which limits debate to 6 o'clock, rather than the normal time of 7 o'clock?

Daniel Kawczynski: Before commenting on how long the debate should last, I am rather keen to know what your attitude is to this question, Mr. Speaker. I spent last night reading about the noble Baroness Boothroyd of Sandwell's opinion when she adjudicated on the same issue in 1996, and I am very keen to know what yours is before we carry on.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is a new Member and I should tell him that during debates, the Speaker does not have an attitude.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I should point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) that I, Mr. Speaker, as a member of your Chairmen's Panel, would in no way seek to draw you into this matter, on which you have no opinion so long as the motion before us is in order with the Standing Orders of the House. I point out to my hon. Friend that sadly, it is in order.

The Leader of the House should do the House the courtesy of giving us a full and appropriate explanation for this motion. As a long-serving Member, I take it and the main motions extremely seriously. I should point out, however, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham that I fundamentally disagree with the view that he is going to take in discussing the main motions.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): The Leader of the House's failure to explain here today the reason for this motion is not the only example of contempt for the House; we—or our party, at least, which is the fourth biggest in the House and the one most intimately interested in this motion—were not even shown the courtesy of being consulted through the usual channels. Does not that discourtesy also show contempt for the procedures of this House?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I agree—reluctantly, in a way, because I have a regard for the Leader of the House—that it was extremely discourteous not to consult the Democratic Unionist party; no doubt the
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official Unionist party also was not consulted. We heard from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that the Liberal Democrats were in no way consulted, and given that I have not had a nod or a wink from my party's Front Benchers—the shadow Leader of the House and the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—I am assuming that we were not consulted, either.

I tell the Leader of the House, who is a courteous, highly intelligent and articulate man, that the House would benefit from a real and full explanation of the reason for the motion and the time limit on debating what is a critical matter of principle. In my view, it is also a matter of constitutional importance—of importance to the future of this House and the way in which it operates.

1.8 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): I detected through my radar that the Leader of the House indicated earlier from a sedentary position that if we sat down, he would give a reason for the motion, but the reality is that the appropriate time to do so was when he opened the debate. Of course, there are two reasons why the Government want to spend no longer than is necessary on this debate. First, doing so is for their convenience. A photograph is to be taken to celebrate the Labour party's centenary—

Sir Patrick Cormack: Is it for their identity cards?

Mr. Robinson: It is one of the rare occasions when they will all be facing in the same direction, and hopefully all smiling at the same time.

The reality is that the Government do not want a long debate on these motions because they have struck a deal with Sinn Fein. I have in front of me a copy of the parliamentary Labour party briefing on these motions, which is very poor in terms not only of quantity but quality. I also have a copy of the Conservative party briefing, which is more substantial in both senses. The PLP briefing makes it clear that these motions arise from a deal that the Government have done with Sinn Fein-IRA. They did another deal with Sinn Fein-IRA on the on-the-runs legislation, and we all saw what happened to that. So it is not in the Government's interest to have a long period of embarrassment in the House.

The other factor is that, uncharacteristically and unintentionally, the Leader of the House may have misled hon. Members when he said, in the very brief remarks with which he opened the debate, that the motion was designed to facilitate the House, when in fact it is to facilitate himself and his party colleagues. In addition, he said that the debate was to be truncated because we had gone over these matters before.

That is not correct. One of the motions has been debated before in this House, but the other has never been debated here. The unique proposal is that a new fund should be set up that will be available exclusively to Sinn Fein-IRA. Other parties in the House will not enjoy the same freedom, when it comes to the expenditure involved, that Sinn Fein-IRA will have. That is a completely new subject for debate, and a major issue that we need time to discuss.
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I hope that the House recognises that a major constitutional issue is involved that we have never discussed before. We should be given the time to debate it properly.

1.11 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): This House has become accustomed to being routinely guillotined. For the reasons that have been given, it is inappropriate in this case. The matter before the House determines the nature of membership of the House, and so affects all hon. Members. My hon. Friends are right to say that this is a constitutional matter and therefore significant.

There is no reason for us to restrain our debate on the proposal. Each generation of hon. Members has a right to ascertain the reasoning and basis of its standing in this Chamber, and to claim the associated rights and revenues. That is why it is a constitutional issue. Moreover, the forthcoming debate is to be constrained by a motion tabled by the Government, not by the House or Back Benchers. Let us make no mistake: it is a motion tabled by the Executive.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend makes an important point that he may want to emphasise. He spoke of the rights of each parliamentary generation. The Leader of the House mentioned the debates in 2001 and on 10 March 2005, but they took place in earlier Parliaments. Surely, this Parliament, sitting afresh, should have a full opportunity to consider these matters.

Mr. Shepherd: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I said what I said about the motion and the guillotine with full intent. The Government have sought to change the culture of this House over three Parliaments. This House now routinely subscribes to the truncation of debate on matters that are for the House itself to decide. That is why I resolutely oppose the business motion, and I urge all hon. Members to do the same, for the sake of our standing. At the heart of the debate is the ability to determine whether a person elected by an electorate should receive the rights that go with that position.

1.13 pm

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