Parliamentary Procedure

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:42 pm on 20th June 1994.

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Photo of Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale 6:42 pm, 20th June 1994

I am afraid I do not have time; it is 6.52 pm.

That civil servants should be used in that way to further party political policy is to plumb new depths of abuse.

Through a series of further written questions, I managed to force an admission from four Ministers that they had authorised parliamentary counsel to draft amendments to private Members' Bills that were opposed by the Government. Those amendments were then passed to Conservative Back-Bench Members so that they would do the Government's dirty work. It is obvious that that practice has become endemic. It is obvious also that the civil service is no longer independent.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall rightly said, comprehensive reform of Parliament is needed so that those abuses do not occur again. But, as a first step, the Government could show their willingness to tackle the crisis of confidence by changing the procedure by which private Members' Bills are considered. Private Members' Bills should be eligible for timetabling in the same way as Government business, a whole day should be devoted to Third Reading, and a vote should then be taken. Perhaps also the ten-minute rule could be applied to debate on private Members' Bills to prevent filibuster. That matter has been considered by the Procedure Committee. One of its suggestions which seems to have merit is that, at 2.30 pm on Fridays, private Members should be able to move that extra time be provided on a later Government day after 10 pm. That would go some way to redressing the balance between Government business and private Members' Bills, although not as far as I should like it.

At the moment, the Government of the day can crush without difficulty any legislation that they do not explicitly approve. The elderly people of this country who have lost the opportunity for savings against VAT on fuel deserve the ending of that systematic abuse. The children who, in the next few years, will be attracted to smoking, and the bereaved families of smokers who died from their addiction deserve changes to be made urgently to the Government's power over the business of the House.

The victims of the side-effects of drugs who were unable to judge for themselves whether to balance the benefits of drugs against their side-effects deserve the restoration of the sovereignty of Parliament so that it becomes more than just a slogan. The disabled people of Britain who have to face yet another day of systematic and institutionalised discrimination deserve the Government doing more than just paying lip service to our democratic institutions.

Hundreds of hon. Members are trying to represent their constituencies fairly and honourably, but they are being thwarted by the Government's obsession with their own dogmatic concerns and sectional interests. I ask that the House supports the motion which could lead us into a new era of enfranchisement, involvement and enablement—the true constituents of a real democracy. We cannot afford to wait any longer.