Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). On any reasonable assessment of the Houses consideration of the Bill, the arguments made particularly well by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) when he set out the case against the programme motion are overwhelming. It is almost certain that the hon. Ladys amendment will not be reached for debate. It would be a great surprise if it were.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, on 27 June we were promised a new beginning for the House, which was to be treated with respect. If the Government intend to insist on the disgraceful programme motion and their disgraceful treatment of the House of Commons, will the Prime Minister at least come to the House, less than an hour after he was here to answer questions on his own account, and vote for the motion?
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): When the Minister moved the motion, he suggested that the Government had to terminate their business today in order to get such an important Bill through. All the arguments that have been deployed suggest that the Bill is a mess, that it has been and will further be severely amended, and that it is being railroaded through.
When the Minister responds, will he deal with this question? Tomorrows business in the House is a debate on the Adjournment. There is no vote. It would have been perfectly possible to reschedule that important debate in order to debate the Bill tomorrow. It would have been equally possible to suspend the 7 oclock rule, as we shall in fact do, and to sit, if necessary, later into the night in order to debate these matters properly. Why are the Government not prepared to do that?
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I, too, wish to place on record my extreme disquiet about the programme motion. All the other speakers have been experienced Members of the House, but I speak as someone who was elected only at the last election. I came to this place to play whatever part I could in effective scrutiny of legislation, to make sure that laws came out of this place as good as they could be. I find this process utterly demoralising, and a disgrace. When the Minister winds up, will he tell us what possible reason there is for not suspending the increasingly irrelevant gimmick of a topical debate tomorrow to make room for a proper debate on some of the measures before the House?
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): As my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, all Governments have programme motions, and there is nothing unique about this one. We saw that when we were in opposition. Usually, rightly or wrongly, I vote for programme motions, but I have the greatest hesitation in doing so today. The debate on industrial action by prison officers must end at 2.43, and whatever view one takes on whether the Governments proposal should be pursued, surely there should be more time. If there is a Division on the programme motion, there will be less than one hour to debate that important issue. The Government are wrong on this matter. There are many other important issues, as my hon. Friend and others have mentioned, and not to provide anywhere near adequate time to debate them shows a lack of sensitivity towards the House of Commons. For that reason, I will not be able to support the programme motion.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): I add my voice to those that have already been raised against the programme motion. It is particularly important on Report that all hon. Members have an opportunity to debate some of the detail of the Bill, and
Order. I know that the hon. Member does not mean to be discourteous, but I have already prevented an hon. Member from entering the debate
because she was not here for the opening speeches, and it has been brought to my attention that that is also the case with the hon. Gentleman.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I was here at the start of the debate, Mr. Speaker, and I simply wish to make the brief point that, as legislators, we will be voting ourselves into disrepute if we vote for this programme motion. Whatever the requirements and pressures of government, we as legislators are charged specifically with care and consideration for the law of the land. The Bill contains wide-ranging and deep-reaching changes to the criminal law that affects so many aspects of individual life and community and national life. Under the programme motion, new clauses and amendments will be microwaved on to the statute book, undebated, untested and unread by many hon. Members, and that is a democratic scandal. When many parties are competing as to who will tell people who are not working that they must work, we as a democratically elected Chamber should not be shirking our work and leaving it to unelected people in another place to give more care and consideration to what goes into the law of the land. We as legislators should pass only that which we, according to our conscience and consideration, deem fit to be in the law of the land. More consideration and care has been given to who stays in various celebrity television reality shows than hon. Members are prepared to give to what should be in the law of the land. I appeal to hon. Members to vote not according to party but as conscientious legislators, and to reject this programme motion.
Mr. Hanson: With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I shall respond to the debate. I said at the start that I understood that there would be concerns on the part of the official Opposition and other hon. Members about the nature of the programme motion, but I also said that I agreed wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friends the Lord Chancellor and the Chief Whip that every effort has been made to give sufficient time today to debate these matters. We will continue beyond the normal time of interruption, to 8.45.
I have been in the House only 16 years, which is not as long as some hon. Members who have spoken, but I can recall five years of opposition with guillotine motions from the Conservative Government, and there has been no discussion by the Conservative party about repealing the ability to table programme motions. Any Conservative Government, if there ever were one in the future, would have the same regard to getting legislation through this House and the other place within time, as we seek to do today. We have had 47 hours in Committee, when we sat late into the night, and the House has eight hours today for consideration
This is a question not of programme motions but of rationality. Everyone who has spoken on the matter has criticised the rationality of the process of dealing with the matter before us today. The
Minister referred to the Chief Whip, who is not present, and the lord high panjandrum, but neither has spoken on this matter and we know nothing about their arrangements; that is the essence of the indignation and anger that some of us feel, particularly after all the promises made by the new Prime Minister. It is a question of trust.
Mr. Hanson: As has been said, the hon. Gentleman makes the same speech on such matters on every occasionoccasionally with some justification. But we had 47 hours in Committee and we will have eight hours today. We have had trailed before the House in statements by my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor the measures that we are bringing forward today on the Prison Service, on imprisonment for public protection and on the Carter reforms. On Monday, my right hon. Friend made a statement to the House giving hon. Members an opportunity to commentunheard of in normal practice.
Mr. Garnier: I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to lose his rag, because he contained himself admirably in Committee. As I said, we had a happy Committee, although we had a very unhappy Bill to deal with. But it will not do for him to pray in aid the amount of time that we spent in Committee, because we were dealing with matters that are completely outside the ambit of todays debate. Regardless of the merits of the measure on prison officers right to strike, we are debating today a wholly new addition to the Bill. There are hundreds of new clauses and amendments, and if he cannot get that into his head we are in trouble.
Mr. Hanson: On Monday my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, in an unprecedented way, made a statement to the House telling hon. Members that he was introducing the clauses that are before us today. We have an opportunity today to debate those clauses and the points brought before the House, and I repeat that we had 47 hours in Committee, with late nightswhich as the hon. and learned Member for Harborough said, it was a very friendly Committee, and
Mr. Hanson: These matters are for discussion and agreement, and the Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), and my right hon. Friend the Lord High Chancellor, and I, as the Minister responsible, are content with the motion before the House today. If we were not content, I would not be standing at the Dispatch Box proposing that motion.
The question before the House today is whether it supports the motion. I contend that we have had considerable time in Committee, and we have today opportunities to debate the key issues: indeed, we have until 8.45 to complete our proceedings on the Bill. I commend the motion to the House.