Programming of Bills
Mr Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills, Conservative)
The speech by Mr. Luke was a cheer to me. One of the very first cities to enter my consciousness was Dundee: I was born in Aberdeen and my mother comes from Glasgow, and our journeys between the two settled on Dundee, whose romance has never left me. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the great jute industry which, in a sense, opened up Scotland and brought the world to Scotland, so part of his history as a man of Dundee extends much further than the borders of Europe.
When the jute trade, which had created great wealth and prosperity, went into decline, Dundee shared the experience of many of our great cities. I give a cheer for what the hon. Gentleman had to say in that respect. I was especially moved by the fact that he believes in representing the people of Dundee. I believe profoundly that the purpose of the House is to bring together people from all the parts of this island of ours to represent the people who live real lives--those who suffer the varying fortunes and prosperity of their town or region. I wish the hon. Gentleman well--his was a bonny and fair speech.
Before the House today are certain motions, and every speaker has touched on them--indeed, the hon. Member for Dundee, East did so as well. It is a cause of sorrow to me that we seem to be in a court in which the prosecution determines how long the defence may have to make its case. That was not always the tradition of the House. I should have liked the Leader of the House to be present for my speech, because I agree with much that was said by my hon. Friend
I wonder what would happen if there were yet another Scott inquiry. I remember the formidable arguments that Sir Richard advanced to demonstrate the improprieties and the actions of people in high places. I was convinced that his arguments were right, and I along with one other Conservative Back Bencher supported the critique that Sir Richard Scott made of the actions taken by government. He said that certain Ministers had failed in their constitutional duty. I can think of no more severe rebuke. We are talking not of pennies that are stolen but of people who fail in their constitutional responsibilities.
In a sense, that is why I feel that the burdens of the arguments that have been advanced in response to the motions are a real failure in a constitutional sense. I would have liked to remind the Leader of the House that his job is as set out in the traditional sense by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire. The right hon. Gentleman represents the House to the Executive. The formation of how we go about our businesses must allow the defence, if I may so categorise the other position, the opportunity to make its case--the Opposition's case. The motions arrogate power to the Executive--not the House as a collective of individual representatives, such as the hon. Member for Dundee, East and me, of defined areas in the country--and to the Government and the Crown.
A great Member retired at the end of the previous Parliament. He used to characterise the historic function of the House as a struggle against the powers of the Crown. In the course of our democratic history, however, the Crown moved from the end of the Mall to Downing street, and with that came the distinction that was lost. The Crown now so entirely controls the House that the opportunity for us to make a contrary case is diminished. The motions will enforce that.
There is no opportunity to make representations prior to the determination by the Government of what is the appropriate length of debate. Why is it that my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning, who led for the Opposition from the Front Bench, and all my other hon. Friends have so taken agin these proposed measures? If I were taking Oakeshott as my guide, I would say, "I do not know where we are going sometimes. I can only guide myself by past experience."
The experience of the previous Parliament was lamentable. We ended up with no safety valve. There were no means by which we could say, "This was insufficient." My right hon. Friend Miss Widdecombe and three other colleagues protested in a Committee Room. The Government insisted, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire said, that what was not true was true and that the House had considered a Bill when it had not.
I have spoken about justice lying in that cross-section of the detail of procedure. However, the justice that we are talking about concerns liberty, the liberty of the people whom we represent. There are those who argue that Parliament is in decline, and we know why that is. What difference do we make? If I want to do a deal, like Mr. Ecclestone, I deal direct with Government. None of those matters ever came before the House.
Our constituents are not foolish. We have no weight in the balance of things. Perhaps when there is a Major-type Government with a small majority, where persuasion can alter the conduct of individual Members who support that Government, that will make a difference. In these great days, however, there is fealty to party. That is not to denigrate the concept of party, because I do not doubt that every Member on the Government Benches supports the Labour party, and that those Members who sit round me support the Conservative party. But the control of patronage runs through the whole system.
The Leader of the House told us that the motions were built on reports produced by the House. With my hon. Friend Mr. Winterton, I served on the Modernisation Committee. We consistently asked for a simple thing--an analysis of how the system had worked in practice. Rational people sat down and pursued rationally a Bill's individually weighted progress, allowing for differing tolerances, but that turned out so badly that the Liberal Democrat representative, Mr. Tyler who, if I may say so, had prattled on in Committee about the merits of the arrangements, saw his party vote against every single measure.