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The issue of timetable motions is not new to controversy, but there has always been a tradition that anything that can be deemed a constitutional Bill is not timetabled. The tradition dates back a long way and there is an important point to it. Be that as it may, we have a programme motion before us that is, as ever, extremely unsatisfactory. It simply says that by the moment of interruption we will conclude business on a large number of amendments. By my estimate, at least four major
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subjects ought to be debated today and it is quite possible that three of them will not be debated at all, because we will simply spend the next six hours or so debating the first major group of amendments on treaties and will not get to debate elections or the Lords-we may not even get to debate demonstrations in Parliament square.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I hope my hon. Friend will agree that it should be an advantage to have the Committee stage on the Floor of the House, rather than in Committee, yet we are at a disadvantage because of the limitation of time.

Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The advantage of holding the Committee stage on the Floor of the House is that everyone should be able to contribute, but the reality is that hardly anyone will be able to contribute and, as I said, that very large areas of this Bill will probably not be debated at all. We go on with the business of the House by tabling increasingly tough programme motions on very long and complex Bills, to which a large number of amendments are introduced at late stages. That means that they are never examined by the elected Members of the Houses of Parliament. There is something deeply unsatisfactory about such an arrangement in any kind of democratic society. This issue has been raised before and it will doubtless be raised again. One would have hoped that in this era of an examination of the role of Parliament, and of its ability to hold the Executive to account and to introduce good legislation, the least we could do is give ourselves sufficient time to examine the details of a very important and serious piece of legislation properly. I appeal to the Minister to think again about this programme motion and at the very least guarantee sufficient time on each of the four major areas of debate that we are to discuss today.

Mr. Cash: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in this context, even the Wright Committee proposals appear to be being stalled? Does he agree that we need a radical reform programme and that the evidence that the Government are not interested in that is the way in which they are behaving with this Bill?

Jeremy Corbyn: I await with interest the proposals of the Wright Committee and I look forward to their being properly debated on the Floor of the House. The whole point that the Committee was trying to make was that Parliament has to bring itself into popular repute rather than bringing itself further into disrepute through such a cavalier approach to major pieces of legislation. In that sense, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point and I hope that the Minister will understand that if we continue to get wrong the primary role of Parliament, which is to examine legislation and to hold Ministers to account, and that if we do not do that effectively, we will increasingly look irrelevant in a democratic society. That is quite an important issue and I hope that the Minister will treat it accordingly.

4.11 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Government never cease to disappoint in the way they approach parliamentary business. They never cease to
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let down those who hoped they would increase the accountability of the Executive to this House, as they said they would. They never cease to disappoint those who hope that eventually we will have proper debate of serious issues. They never cease to provide evidence, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) says, of the incapacity of the present system to allow this House to do its work properly and of the need for fundamental reform of the procedures of this House, of which the Wright Committee is but the very first step-yet we are denied the opportunity to debate it.

First, as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) have said, this is a constitutional Bill and there used to be a certain way we approached constitutional Bills. They were debated in a Committee of the whole House so that every Member of the House had the opportunity to have their say. The debate would be open-ended, again so that every Member who felt there was a proper point they wanted to raise on behalf of their constituents had the opportunity to do so. Today, the Minister is coming forward yet again with a programme motion and with internal knives to prevent and close down debate. That is simply not the way to do it.

Mr. Cash: I very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. When we talk about constitutional Bills, we are talking about who governs this country. It is this Parliament that is the forum in which that government takes place, and so it is essential to stick to the principle that we should give such Bills maximum time; otherwise, we are simply legislating in a vacuum and on a basis that does not allow people to decide whether they are being governed properly.

Mr. Heath: Precisely so. Instead of that, we have the assertion by the Minister that this timetable will allow sufficient time for matters to be debated. There is no evidence for that; he has simply decided and asserted that there is sufficient time. If he were right, the perverse thing is that there would be no need for the timetable motion. If he were right, we would conclude our business within the two days provided and there would be no need for the provisions that he is proposing in order to curtail debate.

Mr. Wills rose-

Mr. Heath: The Minister now wants to tell us why he is not right.

Mr. Wills: I want to be clear about the hon. Gentleman's position. The logical conclusion that we can draw from what he is saying is that every Member of this House will speak succinctly and pithily, make the points that he has to make in the minimum amount of time and then sit down. Is that what he is saying?

Mr. Heath: I am saying that every Member of this House has the right to express their opinion before this House in whatever way they feel is appropriate and to be listened to. The Government are asserting that Members do not have that right and that is where the difference lies between me and the right hon. Gentleman. Our position on this point is very important. So for the first
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reason-that this is a constitutional Bill, and precedent shows that it should not be divided as the Government propose-I will oppose the timetable motion.

Secondly, as the hon. Member for Islington, North said, there is a great deal of important business on the Order Paper today, and I fear that we will not reach some of it. It would be scandalous if provisions in such a Bill were passed to an unelected House without consideration by the elected House. Were that to be the case, noble Lords in another place would have every right not to make any attempt to expedite that business before Dissolution.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Of course, the hon. Gentleman would want to make the point that many of the new clauses relate directly to this Chamber, and it would be bizarre indeed if this Chamber did not discuss those matters, whereas the other place did.

Mr. Heath: That is absolutely right.

Mr. Grieve: Equally, there are some clauses that relate very much to the other place, which is why I raised with the Government my concern that this Parliament is running out of time for the proper scrutiny of such an important piece of constitutional legislation. It is time that the Government made the time available-the hon. Gentleman may agree with me-and provided some finality as to what we will be asked to consider.

Mr. Heath: I entirely agree. I fear that the point may already have been reached where the chances of significant parts of the Bill reaching the statute book are fast diminishing.

There is a very large amount of business to be transacted today and on the second day, although there is a small blurring at the edges. The last paragraph of the programme motion allows us, through the munificence of the Government, to proceed with the fourth day's business early, should we finish today's business early. But that is not the problem. The problem is the other way round-if we do not finish the business that is set down for debate today, we cannot proceed with it on another day. It will go through on the nod, undebated. That is what I find unacceptable.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Is it not important also that a Government in their dying days, who have lost the trust of the people and who have been seen to allow Parliament to lose its ability to scrutinise the Government, could do something to redeem themselves by at least allowing this Bill to be properly scrutinised?

Mr. Heath: I fear that the Government are irredeemable. I fear that they have gone past the point where they can ever lay claim to having a proper regard for the proprieties of the House and the way that it does its business. The Government prove that fact every day that we do business.

My third reason for opposing the programme motion is that we do not know what may yet be in the Bill-what amendments the Government may table to implement the Kelly proposals at present under discussion. We know that such amendments may be tabled. That will take further time and more days of debate. We need to know that those days will be available.

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The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) mentioned the small matter of reform of our electoral system-a trifle to be considered in the odd five minutes that may be left at the end of the fourth day of debate. The Government promised that they may bring forward such provisions. That is the sort of promise that we get from the Government-that they may, or they may not. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten the House whether they propose to table amendments on that matter, when we might expect to see them and, more importantly, when we might expect to debate them.

I would expect a programme motion tabled today to have incorporated the Government's intentions, and discussions to have taken place with the Leader of the House. As the Minister correctly said, the Leader of the House intimated on Thursday that more days might be made available. I would expect to know, as we enter the third day in Committee, whether there will be one, two or three more days in Committee or as many days as are required to transact the business that the Government are putting before the House. For all those reasons, I will advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose the programme motion.

4.19 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): The Minister is quite shameless. I think he forgets that the Bill arises out of a piece of work called "The Governance of Britain" Green Paper and the subsequent White Paper. The Bill is meant to be an important part of the response to that work. One of the main points in that work was to have a new constitutional settlement that

The Government said that they were going to reinvigorate our democracy, increase participation and review the right to protest. They said that they wanted to make people and their representatives feel that they were more involved in the process of government than they had been allowed to be in recent years under this miserable Administration.

With no hint of irony-I do not think he has that advanced a sense of humour-the Minister comes to us today and presumes to say how much time each clause or amendment will receive. This is a most important Bill, with many issues that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen and Ladies may wish to discuss, but the Minister is apparently all wise and all knowing. If we were to say that the Bill needed less or more time, he would claim either that we were being not thorough enough in the first instance or too loquacious in the second, and presume to mark us down accordingly.

Can the Minister not see that his approach is deeply offensive to the very principles of parliamentary Government? Can he not see that Parliament is adult enough to be able to decide how to distribute its words and actions over the quite long period of time that the Government have allowed for discussion of the Bill as a whole?

We are making a very simple point: it is that we, Parliament, should for once be able to decide how much of the time that the Minister has allotted to the Bill overall should be spent on x or y. What is the problem for the Government, other than possible embarrassment
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because they do not want us to go on too long talking about a subject that they are not very strong on or are a bit worried about?

However, I also wish to query the total amount of time being allowed. Any Government with a majority of course have a right to get their legislation.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): No they do not!

Mr. Redwood: No one denies that-

Mr. Shepherd: I do!

Mr. Redwood: If a Government have enough votes, and if it is the will of the large majority in the House, they should have the right to get their legislation. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with me really, but a Government should have to work for that right. They should not squash the minority too soon, too obviously, or in too peremptory a fashion. They should hear the minority out at decent length, answer the arguments and make their case.

Mr. Hogg: Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the most disagreeable features of the argument that we have just heard from the junior Minister came when he said that he did not want to let people speak, lest they speak too long?

Mr. Redwood: Indeed. Who is the Minister to presume how long I or anyone else should speak?

Mr. Wills: With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he really ought to listen to what I said. That is not what I said. I ask him to look at Hansard tomorrow to see what I actually said, instead of misrepresenting me in that way.

Mr. Redwood: For the sake of the Hansard record, the Minister was referring to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), and not to me. However, he forgot to mention the "and learned", and the Hansard writer could not see that he was looking at my right hon. and learned Friend rather than at me when he intervened on me. I am afraid that he has been discourteous to the House yet again in the way that he responded and used the intervention- [ Interruption. ] I am sorry, but I feel very strongly about this. The Minister is very discourteous to the House in not giving it the time it needs.

Mr. Wills: I would like to stand up and apologise to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). I do apologise. I understand that there may have been a misconception that I was referring to him and not to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I do apologise to the House, and wish to make it quite clear that I did not intend to be discourteous to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that he understands that now.

Mr. Redwood: I think I said that the Minister was being discourteous to the House. I still believe that he is being discourteous to the House in the way he is handling this short debate and, more importantly, the bigger issue.

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I come back to the question of the overall timetable. If it turns out that the House needs more time overall to discuss this matter-and we do not know whether it will or will not-why can the Minister not grant it to us? We can go on after 10 o'clock tonight. What is the problem? Right hon. and hon. Members are not going to find it easy to get home after 10 o'clock anyway, so why can those who need to do so not stay on till midnight or 1 o'clock in the morning or whatever to see the business done?

I am not even saying that the Minister needs to delay the Bill's final exit from this place by another day or two. I am saying that he needs to give us more time, if that is what the House needs. If by any chance the House has finished this chunk of business by 9 o'clock in the evening, then he is very lucky and will have an early night. However, he should be prepared to put in the hours if he is going to take the salary. He should be prepared to put in the hours when an angry House is saying, "He is short-changing us. This is a constitutional Bill. These are important matters. We want our democracy back!"

4.24 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I understood, from the Minister's intervention on the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), that there was a sense of incredulity in the right hon. Gentleman's inquiry. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome had put forward the simple proposition that a constitutional Bill that is taken on the Floor of the House gives every Member an opportunity to speak, because this is, after all, the constitution of the United Kingdom that we are talking about. That sense of incredulity is what informs my response and, I think, those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who are sitting on this Bench.

It is intolerable that a Minister, in a Government sinking so rapidly, should still assert that they are on the side of Parliament as they tighten the noose around Parliament's neck. It is hubris that brings forward a guillotine motion of this nature. We know that much of the Bill will not be discussed. This is a busted Parliament, and one reason is that the Executive have hollowed out from our responsibilities the very function of this House, which is to debate important matters-treaties, whatever they are-in this constitutional Bill. The very logic of the Minister's argument was to say quite simply, "We've determined what is necessary and appropriate for this House to debate."

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