Miscellaneous

– in the House of Commons at 11:03 pm on 8th March 2000.

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6. If the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the expiry of the period at the end of which proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order, no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

7.—(1) In this paragraph "the proceedings" means proceedings on the Consideration of Lords Amendments, on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill, on the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the Report of such a Committee.

(2) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.

(3) The proceedings shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(4) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a Minister of the Crown; and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

8. If proceedings on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House would, by virtue of Standing Order No. 24 (Adjournment on specific and urgent matter that should have urgent consideration), commence at a time when proceedings to which paragraph 7 applies are in progress, proceedings on the Motion shall be postponed to the conclusion of those proceedings.—[Mr. Mike O'Brien.]

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 11:10 pm, 8th March 2000

It is with regret that I once again speak to a guillotine motion on discussion of amendments to this Bill, an important constitutional measure that purports to encourage more people to get involved in our representative democracy. It could lead to wholesale changes to the way in which we elect our politicians.

Considering the Government's record in introducing constitutional changes since they took power in 1997, it is right that we should scrutinise the legislation very carefully. After all, this is the Government who brought us the constitutional change in European elections which, with the list system, transferred power from the people to political parties and led to a mere 23 per cent. turnout for the European elections. This is the Government who introduced the devolution changes without properly thinking through the settlement. They have not fully thought through the West Lothian question. Indeed, their response to it was that it should not be asked.

This is the Government who introduced the changes to the second Chamber without fully thinking through what shape the House of Lords would finally take. The threat is that, if the House of Lords does not behave, it will be flooded with more of Tony's cronies—the Prime Minister's placemen—and made into a compliant Chamber to do the Prime Minister's bidding.

The irony of this guillotine is lost on the Government. We have only up to two hours to discuss amendments dealing with important issues such as asylum seekers. We already know that the number of asylum seekers has grown dramatically over the past three years. Last year, it was 36,000; this year, it is 71,000. There is a backlog of 100,000 asylum seekers, and we need to know whether they are to be allowed to vote in our elections.

Other amendments deal with absent voters. We all want more people to vote—voting should be made easier—but we do not want to make it easier for people to vote fraudulently. There are amendments to deal with proxy votes.

One amendment concerns the declaration of local connection—the Swampy factor, as we have called it.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway Conservative, Ryedale

Before my hon. Friend continues his catalogue of Lords amendments, will he agree that we might not have needed to consider Lords amendments at all if the Minister had listened to our arguments when we considered the Bill in Committee? Most of the amendments made in the other place were amendments that were first tabled here. If the Government believe that this House should have supremacy over the other place, when will the House make its own amendments to legislation rather than having to rely on the other place to do it?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will remember, as I do, that we had to sit through a guillotine motion when the Bill first came through the House. We ought to look for consensus on such important constitutional matters, yet the Government keep introducing guillotines.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

While the hon. Gentleman huffs and puffs about important constitutional matters and the outrage of a guillotine on such a Bill, will he explain why the Opposition took the view that they did not need to vote against the guillotine on 20 January? If it was so important, why could they not even be bothered to vote?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The Minister should just wait until the end of this timed motion to see how we will proceed. We all know the game that the Minister is playing. He wishes us to spend 20 seconds on the guillotine motion and then go on to the detail of the amendments, but he knows full well that the time that is allowed to discuss those important amendments means that we will be lucky to get past the first or second batch. We know his ploy, but we are not going to fall into his trap. Tonight, we are seeing a denial of democracy and we are not prepared to stand for it.

The Minister has rolled out several pilot schemes. He will know that, because he had to answer a written question on 29 February from the shadow Home Secretary, asking him to list all the pilot studies for which he had given permission. However, if it had not been for that question, we would still be waiting for such a list. The Minister gave that list to other organisations first and the press also had a copy, but the House had to wait. In fact, the House still has not officially been given the full list of pilot schemes so that we can question Ministers about them.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am concerned if the hon. Gentleman thinks that there has been any discourtesy to the House, because there has not. As he knows, certain councils applied for pilot schemes and we gave them a provisional indication that, when the Bill was passed, we would be disposed to give our approval to particular councils. The hon. Gentleman will also know that there were broad discussions on the issue. However, because the Bill has not yet been passed, we have not been able to give that formal consent. When we do, we will of course immediately tell the House.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

That is a rather thin response, and the Minister knows that it is doubtful whether any of the local authorities whose applications for pilot schemes he has already approved will later be told that they will not get those schemes. It would have been far better if he had told the House at the same time as he told the local authorities. He could have done so through a written answer, or he could even have come to the Dispatch Box and answered hon. Members' questions on the issue.

The pilot schemes are important, as 1 am sure that the Minister agrees, but many other issues contained in the amendments need to be discussed.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, which we will discuss next week, the Government are purporting to amend this Bill to allow the Electoral Commission to intervene with local authorities in respect of pilot schemes?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I am fully aware of that and, if we are able to reach the amendments that deal with the pilot schemes, I hope to go into more detail. However, that is not the Government's intention. They do not want us to investigate the amendments, and that is what the guillotine motion is designed to achieve.

At 10.15 pm, we started to discuss the money resolution. We have now started to discuss the guillotine motion, for which we have an hour, but that will eat into the two hours that the Government have allowed for the discussion of these important amendments. It is an absolute disgrace. We face a double guillotine. Even Wilkinson Sword never produced a blade that shaved as close as the guillotine motion that the Government have produced tonight. True democrats will look on tonight, not in amazement, but in disgust.

There is no surprise at the Government's antics. After all, this is the Government who rigged the referendum on devolution in Wales. This is the Government who rigged the internal elections for its leader for the Welsh Assembly. This is the Government who rigged the selection of the mayoral candidate for the Labour party, so they have ended up with two Dobsons. We are all wondering when they are going to drop the dead Dobson. The Government even rigged the procedures for grammar school votes. Now, they want us to trust them on the amendments tabled tonight. The Government want us to trust them with a referendum on a single currency, but they have another thing coming.

The Government have a very large majority and can push any measure through the House, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) noted, so they have a special obligation which they should treat with respect. Everyone knows which the Government have no principles, and tonight we have discovered that they have no shame.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:21 pm, 8th March 2000

I shall be brief. However, like the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), we Liberal Democrat Members want to register our belief that it is an unacceptable use of Government power to apply a guillotine motion to a Bill which, up to now, and as the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) noted—has benefited from the consensus agreement of a working party. That working party was chaired very ably by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth).

However, the Government now want to steamroller this relatively small number of groups of amendments

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

There are 100 amendments, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, in 12 groups, and some of them contain controversial and important matters. One highly controversial subject—the use of electoral registers—was discussed in a long debate in the House. Should they be sold commercially? Should people be allowed to remove their names, or make money out of the registration process? That is not an uncontroversial topic, and it would be perfectly proper for the House to debate it in the context of citizens' liberties.

Another controversial matter is the possibility of holding pilot schemes for voting on Saturday or Sunday, or early in the morning, or on voting for a week, or by electronic means. My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) has made it clear that there would be great unease in her part of the world if it were suggested that voting should be held on Sundays. The Bill contains a provision to decide such matters locally but if, as a result of pilot, the Government were minded to implement a proposal more widely, there is much concern that safeguards should be adopted to protect communities with different religious views, traditions or cultural backgrounds.

Thirdly, and self-evidently, the list of amendments goes further than the Government's concession on freepost facilities, which stemmed from an agreement between the parties. For instance, another amendment deals with whether one candidate can refer to the name of another, or to other parties. The Government's majority means that they will always be able to get proposals through the House. However, they do not enjoy a majority in the country, and they did not even gain a majority among those who voted at the general election. The electoral process has merely given the Government a distorted majority in the House.

It does the Government and the country's view of democracy no good when the House is consistently confronted with proposals for guillotines. The matter could have been negotiated by agreement, and a proper day's debate secured to allow adequate time for those hon. Members who wanted to speak. If we cannot have debates about the electoral process without guillotines, we really are in some trouble.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills 11:24 pm, 8th March 2000

The two preceding speeches have been important, but I want to concentrate on the way in which the motion has been tabled in the names of the Leader of the House and of the Home Secretary. No member of the Government Front Bench rose to explain to the House why the motion was necessary. It is a shaming, inappropriate motion. Something is going wrong, as is evident in the arrogant, undirected, self-justifying nature of the Government.

I speak firmly because, again, this is an impossible motion. Not many hon. Members have been in the House a long time, but I have been here 20 years. I have seen the gradual squeezing by a jealous, self-aggrandising Executive of the freedom to debate and properly discuss the issues.

The Government are clearly in a great mess over their programme, given the hysterical state we are in. I remember how the Government, when in opposition, used to rage against the use of the guillotine by the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher. They counted, as I counted, with alarm. For the first time since the introduction of the guillotine procedure, there was an average of five a year under Mrs. Thatcher. The figure rose, finally, to six a year.

What does this Government do? Let us be candid. They have been in power for less than three years, and between 1997 and 2000 they have guillotined 35 Bills. This is the fourth Bill to be guillotined this Session, and it is only March.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Will my hon. Friend remind the House of yet another factor? When the Conservative Government were in office and they moved guillotine motions, it was normally done by the Leader of the House, which showed respect to the House. We now have a junior Home Office Minister moving the guillotine motion. Is that not a disgrace?

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I hope that I indicated that. There is a casualness here. At least the Secretary of State responsible for taking a Bill through the House used to move the motion, if not the Leader of the House, who is the custodian of the interests of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and safeguards the House as an institution.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman wants me to justify the guillotine motion. I thought it best to do so at the end of the debate, once I had heard the points made by hon. Members such as him. I shall be happy to justify the motion then. Given that the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly and speaks so forcefully about this matter, and given that he is so outraged, why, earlier in our proceedings, did he take the view that he would not even vote against the guillotine motion?

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I have spoken on almost every guillotine motion in the House for the past 20 years. There comes a point when it feels as if repetition does not serve the cause. Let us weigh what is happening. The Minister says, rather audaciously, that he intends to address the ruminations of the House after the motion has been discussed. He does not speak to the motion, but merely responds to hon. Members' observations: it is a motion on the Order Paper, moved formally. It would cheer the ghost of Lord Garel-Jones as he ranges round the House. The Government are implementing the device that he stumbled on and used but once—the incorporation in the time allowed of the guillotine motion. If we take the guillotine seriously, there will only be 45 minutes in which to discuss all the amendments to the Bill. That is less than five minutes for each group. It is palpably nonsense.

Some 35 Bills have already been guillotined. The Government clearly want practice, requiring something like 52 guillotine motions, including today's supplemental motion. What has gone wrong with them? Why are they so arrogant when it comes to due process?

Hon. Members have heard me say often enough that the liberty of this people is formed through this Chamber. It is our only representative institution—we have nothing else but this Chamber. Wilfully and cheerlessly, the Government march through guillotines, because they insist on having 10 Home Office Bills in this Session alone. I feel for the Minister who is, as often as not, charting two Bills simultaneously through Committee. How can this be a serious process?

The Labour party should listen to what is happening in the Government. We have a Prime Minister who barely comes here, whose factual attention to detail such as guillotine motions is nil, who gives us inaccurate answer after inaccurate answer, even contradicting the information given by his Ministers, as if this were a show place.

The Home Secretary told us yesterday about ritual opposition, as if opposition in our system is ritualistic. It is not. Opposition is in the clash of idea and counter-idea. The Home Secretary's Hegelian vision of how, through synthesis, we come to an understanding of what is appropriate is all nonsense. Every one of us is elected on an equal franchise. We come here to represent our people and say our bit for them, and they can then judge whether we have acted appropriately.

What of due process? A long time ago it was said that our freedom and liberty lie in the interstices of procedure. That is true. We must remember Burke, as I have said many times. The Minister knows as well as I do that a parliamentary majority is not just x divided by 2 + 1: it is informed by the process and our right to argue and say what we think is appropriate.

I think that the whole London mayor idea is nonsensical. It has no relevance to Aldridge-Brownhills, and only 23 per cent. of the electorate in London voted for it. It is typical of the Government in that they play around with the constitution not knowing what they are doing, and then do not wish to discuss it. They break up our Union and undermine the Welsh nature and culture. They do all that with no solid signal from the electorate to the effect that that is what they want: whatever the agenda, it must be steamrollered through, and that is what the House is doing yet again tonight.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is a neighbour, for generously giving way to me again. The Bill was debated on the Floor of the House, and had three days in a Committee of the whole House. On the second day in Committee, only two Conservative Back Benchers bothered to speak. On the third day, only four Conservative Back Benchers bothered to speak. We then had lengthy speeches from one or two hon. Members, who were clearly abusing the procedures of the House. The Deputy Speaker had to intervene on 19 occasions during those debates. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that the abuse is coming from the Opposition rather than from the Government?

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I know one thing, and I say it as gently as I can to the Minister: he is not a solicitor or barrister whom I would employ in these matters. After all, who is he to determine where an argument lies or at what stage simpletons such as me begin to appreciate what is happening? I have begun to appreciate from the figures that I have quoted that the Government are using the guillotine more frequently than it was ever used under Mrs. Thatcher, and in a more savage and aggressive way than she ever used it. I can only conclude that it is because she had a parliamentary history, and the new Labour Government have almost none. They do not remember the traditions of allowing other people to speak.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

Although the hon. Gentleman says "rubbish", he remembers full well his own anger at the use of the guillotine in the past.

I return to the idea that opposition to the guillotine is not ritualistic. It is the right of every Member to try to express himself. The Liberal Democrats have fought hard on some of the issues in the Bill and have a right to argue their case; I have a right to argue my case; and the Government's official Opposition have a right to argue theirs. In forgetting due process, the Government forget the trust of the British people that in this place our liberty and freedom are secured. They are not secured by measures such as this.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway Conservative, Ryedale 11:34 pm, 8th March 2000

I said at the outset of the proceedings on the Bill, when I had other duties and spoke from the Dispatch Box, that I believed that the Bill was deeply flawed. I made very unkind remarks about it. I am glad that some of those deficiencies have been corrected in the other place, but I am bound to say to the Minister that all the warnings that we gave on Second Reading and in Committee, which as the Minister said, was on the Floor of the House, have turned out to be true in even greater measure than we expected.

One other negative aspect is that, by the introduction of the Greater London Authority election measure, the Government have included in the Bill a matter that clearly does not command consensus. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said, in a Bill of such importance, affecting electoral matters, that is a great mistake. It says something of the Government's lack of preparedness for the assembly and mayoral elections that the only way in which they have been able to rescue the situation at this very late stage has been to introduce a measure that has no place in the Bill. As a result, a Bill on which we hoped there would be complete consensus has ended up the subject of bitter and acrimonious argument.

Such acrimony is made all the greater because, regardless of whether the Government are justified in deciding to impose a guillotine on proceedings on Lord amendments, it is abundantly clear that they have not allocated enough time. There should have been at least a whole day's debate.

The Minister says that hon. Members were given three whole days in Committee—indeed we were. He says that, in some debates, Conservative Members did not speak. I shall give him two reasons why. For the first two days, we were debating not what is in the Bill but what some of his hon. Friends and Liberal Democrats Members would have liked to be in it. That is not scrutiny of the Bill but an attempt to add other measures to it. In reality, we had only one day in Committee in which to scrutinise the Bill. That is why some of my hon. Friends were persuaded not to speak in some debates. Otherwise, we could not have debated some of the issues that should have been discussed. I know, I was there and I understand entirely the reason for the number of contributions: lack of time. We are using the time allocated—it is the only way available to us—to register our protest yet again at the Government's mishandling of a measure that should have commanded consensus.

I turn to the most telling argument that one can deploy on the mess that the Government have got themselves into.—

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway Conservative, Ryedale

Let me finish. The Minister can answer points in his winding-up speech.

As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), the tragedy for democracy and our democratic process is that we were not able to put this Bill right before we sent it to the other place. We have had to rely on the other place to make changes, some of which the Minister told us only three or four weeks ago were totally unnecessary but is now asking us to accept.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Will my hon. Friend reflect on the irony that this elected Chamber has not been allowed to make changes to arrangements for elections which the non-elected Chamber has been allowed to make? Is that not a symbol of the disrespect with which this Government treat this Chamber?

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway Conservative, Ryedale

My right hon. Friend, with all his experience, articulates my point better than I have done. I simply add the caveat that, although we clearly have unfinished business in reforming the other place, the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, believe that this Chamber should be pre-eminent. I think that most of us would accept that that is right because this is the elected Chamber. However, owing to the way in which the Government handle their business, we are not able to show that pre-eminence by sending to the other place legislation that is in proper order. It must have been abundantly clear to Ministers and their officials that the Bill was deficient, yet when the Bill was still being considered by the Commons, they made no effort to change it. That reveals their pomposity and arrogance, and we Members of Parliament are right to voice our concern with the passion shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does my hon. Friend agree that the position is worse than that which he describes? The other place had the opportunity to debate a very large number of amendments as recently as Monday this week, and in that debate, the Minister in the other place accepted amendments that he had ruled out only days previously. The Government are in a complete muddle, and have been throughout.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway Conservative, Ryedale

My hon. Friend makes a telling point, but I believe that the situation is even worse than that. The Lords amendments need to be scrutinised in considerable detail because the speed with which they have been drafted and approved means that some are defective. I predict that, before long, we shall have to debate these matters all over again, in connection with amended legislation.

For that reason, the House should be especially grateful to the other place for persuading the Government that, as we in this House had suggested, it was right to remove from the Bill the Home Secretary's powers to extend to parliamentary elections the pilot schemes for which the Bill provides. When we raised that issue, we were told that we were scaremongering and that there was no likelihood of that happening. Thank goodness there is no likelihood of its happening now, because the relevant provisions have been removed.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 11:41 pm, 8th March 2000

I would find it difficult to emulate the passionate speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for AldridgeBrownhills (Mr. Shepherd), but I want to echo his stated view that these proceedings are a scandal. We should not pass over it quietly.

Let us remind ourselves what the House is being asked to do. I start not with the guillotine motion, but with the Lords amendments. There are 12 groups, consisting of more than 100 Lords amendments. Many of them are the result of considerable work in the other place, yet the House of Commons is treating those deliberations with total contempt—not because we want to, but because we are being made to. The order of business gives us but two hours from the commencement of this debate for the completion of the entirety of the business. Even if we wanted to, there is no way we could debate every important amendment. Not only could we not do so, but it is intended that we should not do so. That is a scandal.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills made an important point when he talked about process. He spoke more eloquently than I can, but I understood him to mean that, in a democracy, individual Members, parties and representatives have a right to express their views on matters that come before the House. Some of the matters dealt with in the Lords amendments are extremely important. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) referred to the extraordinary irony that this House—the elected Chamber—will not be discussing the provisions dealing with election addresses that were inserted in the other place. Those provisions touch on democracy, but we are forbidden to discuss them. Not only are we not going to discuss such matters, but the procedures that the House is adopting will prevent us from discussing them.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that when the Minister tells us, as he probably will, that if we had not debated the guillotine motion there would have been more time to discuss the amendments, he really means that we should not discuss the guillotine motion and that we should instead discuss some bits of the amendments? Does he also agree that it is only by debating the motion that can we draw attention to the scandal of these proceedings?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

That was to be my next point; I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The argument—the weasel words—from the Government is that we should make rapid progress to the next business, but what is the point of discussing the next business? We know full well that if we are lucky, we can discuss only the first, second or third of the 12 groups.

I would rather protest at the scandal of the Bill proceeding in this way. I would rather not discuss the Lords amendments than let the matter pass. If we begin to touch the Lords amendments, people will say that they received some discussion and therefore they have had some authority from this House.

Late as it is and with a limited audience, we must make it plain that this is a scandal. It is the sign of an autocratic Government. Our business as representatives of the people is to do our best to stop it. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) intends to divide the House, but I can tell him now that I shall. I very much hope that I will have the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire 11:46 pm, 8th March 2000

I want to contrast this guillotine motion with the earlier guillotine motion on the same Bill—on Report, I think. Although guillotine motions always put pressure on the House, on that occasion we got through the list of amendments before us. We were conscious of the pressure of time, and some hon. Members spoke very briefly to allow us to do that. It worked well on that occasion.

The problem with the present guillotine motion is the amount of time available. The speeches that I would like to hear in connection with the 12 groups of amendments before us are 12 speeches from my hon. Friend the Minister, to explain to the House the meaning of each group of amendments. It may be possible to do that briefly, as some of the amendments may be technical. The guillotine should provide sufficient time for such explanations and for appropriate responses. If we had more time, we might be able to deal with the Lords amendments in the way that we dealt with amendments on Report.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 11:48 pm, 8th March 2000

I shall be brief, and I hope to be non-party political in what I say. I speak as a Back Bencher, but, as many hon. Members know, I also chair the Procedure Committee, which clearly is concerned that Parliament as a whole, and particularly the House of Commons, should have an adequate opportunity to scrutinise any legislation that goes through the House. I am sure that hon. Members on the Government Benches will not disagree with that. I am happy to follow the brief contribution from the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) I picked up from the remarks of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) at the beginning of the debate that there had been no discussions through the usual channels about the way in which the Bill was to be handled. I assume from that that there has been no consultation through the usual channels with either the Liberal Democrats or with the Conservative and Unionist party, which is the main opposition party.

I register my concern that that is the case. On an important matter such as representation of the people, which is of deep concern to the democratic traditions of this country, it is worrying that there has not been proper co-operation between the Government of the day, with the huge majority that they have in the House, and the opposition parties, which clearly feel strongly on the subject.

I followed the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) carefully. I do not believe that any hon. Member believes as fervently as my hon. Friend in the democratic process and the traditions of parliamentary democracy. I always listen to his remarks with deep attention because I regard him highly. If more hon. Members spoke in this place with the integrity of my hon. Friend, we would have a better Parliament. The Government ignore his words at their peril.

The Government have a substantial majority now, and they may be able to push the Bill through the House, but they do themselves and the House no service. The House deserves better on a Bill that deals with what the House is about: representing the people of this country in this country's Parliament. I view with deep anxiety the way in which the Government have handled the Bill. To include a timetable motion in the time that we are allowed to debate 12 sets of amendments is disgraceful—more than that, it is undemocratic.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 11:51 pm, 8th March 2000

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said that he would make a non-partisan speech and then made a partisan speech. That is slightly regrettable, but the way in which he decides to use his position is a matter for him.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) asked why I had left my comments to the end of the debate. Some valid points were made, not least by the hon. Gentleman. I shall bear in mind his comments on when I should speak in such a debate. It is useful to hear from someone of his experience.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

Other hon. Members could have spoken during the hour. That means that the Minister may not have had an opportunity to speak. He declined such an opportunity to the Conservative Front Bench. The House might not have allowed him time to speak. He should lead on the amendment.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I hear the hon. Gentleman's point, but I hope that hon. Members would want to ensure, as they did during the previous debate, that the Minister had an opportunity to reply.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was worried about the guillotine. I refer him to the comments on 20 January of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who is the Liberal Democrat shadow Leader of the House. He made it clear that he understood why the Government believed that they needed a guillotine in specific circumstances, even though he was careful not to endorse it. He said: we believe that agreed programme motions are the way to proceed … I do not understand why the Conservative Front Bench, having agreed to the necessity and importance of the Bill, did not then agree to a programme motion.—[Official Report, 20 January 2000; Vol. 342, c. 1007.] I have a great deal of sympathy with that view, and I understand the frustration of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey at the need for a guillotine. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Cornwall would also understand that. However, I am sure that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will recall that there were reasons for imposing a guillotine.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). However, whatever happened when the Bill was previously considered by the House, it is no excuse for not trying to agree a procedure on such an important Bill when the Lords amendments returned. We might have been able to achieve that, but the Government did not try.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

That is not quite fair. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the guillotine was imposed earlier in our proceedings on remaining stages in the House. It is usual to impose a guillotine on all stages when matters are referred back to the House from another place. Therefore, we are complying entirely with the usual and customary approach to these matters during consideration of a Bill of this sort. I do not accept that there is some great breach of precedent.

Although we have a lot of amendments to consider tonight, none ought to be particularly contentious, with the possible exception of those relating to the free mailshots in the London elections. As I shall explain at the relevant points, quite a few are simply minor drafting amendments and others respond to points raised by the Opposition here and in the other place. Not one of our amendments was opposed by the Opposition in the other place and quite a lot were taken on the nod. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said that they should not have been, but the Conservatives in the other place were happy with them. It seems to me that we are having a ritual debate about the guillotine, even though the Conservative Opposition in the other place took many of these measures on the nod. They did not oppose them.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

In a moment, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me.

The mailshots were the one issue on which there was a lot of controversy and I accept that we probably need some time for debate, but we would have had it were it not for all this ritualistic nonsense.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) presaged that suggestion by saying that we would be told that we are at fault for complaining about the guillotine. The Minister says that most of the amendments are uncontroversial, so why table a guillotine motion in the first place?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

A guillotine motion has been tabled—the Opposition did not vote against it on 20 January—because on 19 January a handful of Conservative MPs behaved in a manner that was described in the following day's debate as an abuse of the House. Long-winded, discursive speeches caused the Deputy Speaker to intervene on various Members to bring them to order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. Perhaps we should leave the Deputy Speaker out of it. No one should involve the occupant of the Chair in the argument.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I take your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That brings the number of interventions to 20—one on me.

The Bill has enjoyed broad parliamentary support through most of the proceedings. Although hon. Members have raised proper points, it was the product of a working party with all-party representation and everyone has had time to express their views.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

May I finish my point? Then I shall give way.

Many of our amendments are technical; they have arisen from our debate. It is not right that we should tolerate the behaviour of a few hon. Members—as on 19 January—who were not prepared to contribute to the debate previously. I again make the point that, having demanded that the Bill be taken on the Floor of the House, only two Conservative Back Benchers bothered to make full speeches on its second day in Committee. On the third day, only four Back Benchers bothered to make full speeches.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I agreed to give way to the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson).

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I shall do so in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me.

Most of the Members who now express great concern about the Bill did not bother to turn up to the Committee debates. At various times, only a Front Bencher—the hon. Member for Ribble Valley or one of his colleagues—and possibly a Whip were on the Opposition Benches. On occasion, the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) turned up. That went on for long periods, which shows how concerned some Members were about these matters.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

Will the Minister answer the straight question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt): why has a guillotine motion been tabled if the amendments are not contentious?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The guillotine has been imposed because for a long period, and on completely uncontentious matters, a handful of Opposition Members decided to run the debate unnecessarily into the highways and byways.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to say that my hon. Friends were going down highways and byways that were irrelevant to that debate, given that they were not so directed by the Chair?

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

It is a matter for debate. If someone catches my eye, they can rebut that—but not at the moment.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

If the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) had heard me properly, he would know that I actually referred to the highways and byways of the debate.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

On the occasion to which the Minister refers, the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) was also made after the business motion was moved by the Leader of the House. It was made quite clear from the Chair that the debate in which many of my hon. Friends and I participated was entirely in order. Serious points were being made, many of which the Government have been forced to accept in the other place or in some of the amendments that they are presenting tonight. The Minister is failing to deal with that important point. It was a valuable debate, which highlighted the weaknesses in the Bill.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

All I can say is that the hon. Gentleman must have been present at a different debate from the one in which I participated. Not many of the matters that were discussed during those days on the Floor of the House are now turning up in these amendments.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am conscious that we are pressed for time, and I am trying to conclude. However, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am a little concerned about the Minister's argument. Surely he would agree that some hon. Members were involved in serious debate on the issues in the Bill. The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and I, together with many other hon. Members, were involved in debates on this issue. Are we not entitled to continue those debates on the serious issues that have been referred to us by the House of Lords without the application of this guillotine motion—which seems to refer to other hon. Members, who may have other purposes?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman is right. As his hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall said, in the early stages of the proceedings we had a sensible debate in which the Liberal Democrats, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) and some Conservative Front Benchers and Back Benchers participated. The sensible debates of the first couple of days turned into something entirely different on the final day of the Committee. The Tories decided to drag it out unnecessarily.

Some hon. Members have argued that guillotines are unacceptable. Conservative Members may recall with a certain discomfort the European Communities (Amendment) Bill in 1986, when the then President of the Council, John Biffen, moved the guillotine motion and pointed out that six constitutional Bills had been timetabled since 1966. This Bill is not as controversial as most constitutional Bills. We have had very few real Divisions on it.

During our debates, certainly today, we have had much ritual posturing. I have explained that, given the largely uncontroversial nature of most of the amendments, which the Opposition did not oppose in the other place, I am confident that we can deal with the Bill properly. The Opposition did not vote against the guillotine motion on 20 January following delays the previous day. We do not want to repeat such unnecessary delays. We should get on with the debate.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has already made a contribution to the debate.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

No, the hon. Gentleman cannot contribute again, not even with the leave of the House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 260, Noes 134.

Division No. 100][12.40 am
AYES
Ainger, NickBradley, Keith (Withington)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Ashton, JoeBradshaw, Ben
Atherton, Ms CandyBrown, Russell (Dumfries)
Atkins, CharlotteBrowne, Desmond
Austin, JohnBuck, Ms Karen
Barnes, HarryBurden, Richard
Battle, JohnBurgon, Colin
Bayley, HughButler, Mrs Christine
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Bennett, Andrew FCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Benton, JoeCampbell-Savours, Dale
Berry, RogerCann, Jamie
Best, HaroldCaplin, Ivor
Blackman, LizChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Blears, Ms HazelChaytor, David
Blizzard, BobClapham, Michael
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulClark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Iddon, Dr Brian
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Clelland, DavidJenkins, Brian
Clwyd, AnnJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, HarryJones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Colman, TonyJones Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Connarty, MichaelJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Corbyn, JeremyJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Corston, Jean
Cousins, JimJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, DavidKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Keeble, Ms Sally
Cummings, JohnKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Kemp, Fraser
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireKhabra, Piara S
Darvill, KeithKidney, David
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Kilfoyle, Peter
Davidson, IanKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Kumar, Dr Ashok
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Dawson, HiltonLeslie, Christopher
Dean, Mrs JanetLevitt, Tom
Dobbin, JimLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Doran, FrankLinton, Martin
Dowd, JimLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Drew, DavidLove, Andrew
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)McAvoy, Thomas
Efford, CliveMcCabe, Steve
Ennis, JeffMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Etherington, BillMcCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, MarkMcDonagh, Siobhain
Fitzsimons, LornaMacdonald, Calum
Flint, CarolineMcDonnell, John
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)McFall, John
Foulkes, GeorgeMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Fyfe, MariaMcIsaac, Shona
Galloway, GeorgeMcNamara, Kevin
Gardiner, BarryMcNulty, Tony
George, Bruce (Walsall S)MacShane, Denis
Gerrard, NeilMactaggart, Fiona
Gibson, Dr IanMcWalter, Tony
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMcWilliam, John
Godsiff, RogerMallaber, Judy
Goggins, PaulMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Gordon, Mrs EileenMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Grocott, BruceMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Grogan, JohnMaxton, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Meale, Alan
Hanson, DavidMerron, Gillian
Heal, Mrs SylviaMichie Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Healey, JohnMitchell, Austin
Hendersor, Ivan (Harwich)Moffatt, Laura
Hepburn StephenMountford, Kali
Heppell, John
Hesford, StephenMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaNaysmith, Dr Doug
Hill, KeithO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hinchliffe, DavidOlner, Bill
Hoey, KateO'Neill, Martin
Hope, PhilPalmer, Dr Nick
Hopkins, KelvinPearson, Ian
Howells, Dr KimPendry, Tom
Hoyle, LindsayPerham, Ms Linda
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Pickthall, Colin
Humble, Mrs JoanPike, Peter L
Hurst, AlanPlaskitt, James
Pond, ChrisSutcliffe, Gerry
Pope, GregTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Temple-Morris, Peter
Primarolo, DawnThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Prosser, GwynThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Purchase, KenTimms, Stephen
Quinn, LawrieTodd, Mark
Radice, Rt Hon GilesTouhig, Don
Rapson, SydTrickett, Jon
Raynsford, NickTruswell, Paul
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Rooney, TerryTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Ruddock, JoanTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ryan, Ms JoanTynan, Bill
Salter, MartinVis, Dr Rudi
Savidge, MalcolmWard, Ms Claire
Sawford, PhilWareing, Robert N
Sedgemore, BrianWatts, David
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)White, Brian
Singh, MarshaWhitehead, Dr Alan
Skinner, DennisWicks, Malcolm
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Wilson, Brian
Snape, PeterWinnick, David
Soley, CliveWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Southworth, Ms HelenWise, Audrey
Spellar, JohnWoodward, Shaun
Steinberg, GerryWoolas, Phil
Stevenson, GeorgeWorthington, Tony
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)Wray, James
Stinchcombe, PaulWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Stoate, Dr HowardWyatt, Derek
Strang, Rt Hon Dr GavinTellers for the Ayes:
Stringer, GrahamMr. Clive Betts and
Stuart, Ms GiselaMr. Graham Allen.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Cotter, Brian
Amess, DavidCran, James
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Baker, NormanDuncan, Alan
Baldry, TonyDuncan Smith, Iain
Ballard, JackieEvans, Nigel
Beresford, Sir PaulFaber, David
Blunt, CrispinFabricant, Michael
Boswell, TimFallon, Michael
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Fearn, Ronnie
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaForth, Rt Hon Eric
Brady, GrahamFoster, Don (Bath)
Brazier, JulianFraser, Christopher
Breed, ColinGale, Roger
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterGarnier, Edward
Browning, Mrs AngelaGeorge, Andrew (St Ives)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Gibb, Nick
Burnett, JohnGill, Christopher
Burns, SimonGray, James
Butterfill, JohnGreen, Damian
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)Greenway, John
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Cash, WilliamHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Chope, ChristopherHayes, John
Clappison, JamesHeald, Oliver
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Collins, TimHogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Horam, JohnRendel, David
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Robathan, Andrew
Hughes, Simon (Southward N)Robertson, Laurence
Hunter, AndrewRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Ruffley, David
Jenkin, BernardRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Key, RobertSt Aubyn, Nick
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Sanders, Adrian
Lait, Mrs JacquiSayeed, Jonathan
Lansley, AndrewShepherd, Richard
Leigh, EdwardSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Letwin, OliverSpicer, Sir Michael
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Spring, Richard
Lidington, DavidStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterStunell, Andrew
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Swayne, Desmond
Loughton, TimSyms, Robert
Luff, PeterTapsell, Sir Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTaylor, John M (Solihull)
McIntosh, Miss AnneThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
McLoughlin, PatrickTownend, John
Malins, HumfreyTrend, Michael
Mates, MichaelTyrie, Andrew
Maude, Rt Hon FrancisViggers, Peter
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir BrianWaterson, Nigel
May, Mrs TheresaWebb, Steve
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Whitney, Sir Raymond
Moore, MichaelWhittingdale, John
Nicholls, PatrickWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Norman, ArchieWilkinson, John
Oaten, MarkWillis, Phil
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Ottaway, RichardWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield
Paterson, OwenYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Pickles, Eric
Prior, DavidTellers for the Noes:
Randall, JohnMr. Peter Ainsworth and
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnMr. James Arbuthnot

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Order of the House of 20th January be supplemented as follows: