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Procedure

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:40 pm on 27th February 1986.

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Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton 4:40 pm, 27th February 1986

I do not disagree with my hon. Friend's last contention, but I do accept that the Legislative Business Committee, of which he might be a member, should have to analyse the normal proceedings in Finance Bills for many years to make sensible conclusions about the length of time that is required.

However—of I think this is the only exception to what the Committee says —if the Finance Bill is a special case, as it used to be because it was debated entirely on the Floor of the House, it would be exempted, from that procedure. It does not have to be exempted but that is a major possibility.

The approach to legislation of the Procedure Committee, of the Government and of the Opposition, obviously start from entirely different points of view. The Government have to ensure that their necessary and excellent legislation is obtained as expeditiously and quickly as possible. The Opposition have the right to examine, harry, oppose and delay legislation whenever they wish. The Procedure Committee takes the view that, once the principle of legislation is agreed on Second Reading, the House has a duty, which the country expects it to fulfil, to ensure that Committees will examine the Bill reasonably and fully to ensure that the legislation makes sense and is not full of nonsenses that will require correction by further legislation. The House should also consider representations from those affected and improve the Bill wherever necessary. The objectives of Opposition and Government need not be in conflict with the approach of the Procedure Committee, and I believe that our recommendations are not in conflict with their objectives.

I shall explain the workings of our recommendation because there is massive misunderstanding of it. Even on the BBC today, having had the matter explained, it was suggested that the Procedure Committee was trying to limit time on all Committees to 25 hours. That is absolute nonsense. There is some misunderstanding on both Front Benches. The flexibility remains. The suggestion that it does not is unfair and unworthy. After Second Reading, every Government Bill will be considered by the Committee.

It is thought that certain action should follow after 25 hours. If there is any weakness in the proposal, it is that 25 hours is too little. Perhaps it ought to be 30 or 35 hours. However, the Committee recommended 25. The principle is the same. There can be prolonged debate in Committee on Bills which everyone knows will be guillotined. We should not pretend that there is marvellous argument and consideration of every amendment for 80 or 90 hours before the guillotine is brought in. That is not living in the real world and it is unworthy of the Front Bench to suggest that it is.