Orders of the Day — Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 7:09 pm on 22nd November 2000.

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Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office 7:09 pm, 22nd November 2000

I beg to move,

That, at this day's sitting and the sittings on Thursday 23rd and Monday 27th November, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords shall be received. I am pleased to move this motion, which is extremely narrow in scope, stating that the House should not adjourn today, tomorrow or on Monday until any messages are received from the other place. The motion is perfectly standard. Many of those who have been Members for some years will have seen similar motions. The motion is in the interests—[Interruption.]

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. Will hon. Members who are not staying for this debate please leave quickly and quietly?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

The motion is in the interests of all Members, especially the Opposition, because it will allow us to keep the House open until the messages are received. That will allow any message to be printed in the Order Paper so that Members have an opportunity to understand what they have to discuss. Standing Order No. 78, as many hon. Members will know, gives the House leave to take Lords amendments forthwith, so it is technically possible for any amendment received to be debated at a convenient time.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Can the Minister confirm that it is perfectly possible for Lords messages to be included in the following day's business without the need for such measures and that things could therefore be done in a proper way?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is not implying that the motion is not entirely proper. It is in order and perfectly proper. He knows that there are different ways and procedures in the House, and he has suggested an alternative. The motion will simply allow the messages that come from the Lords to be printed in the Order Paper for the benefit of all Members. We had the example of Members tabling amendments to Lords amendments for the previous debate. The motion will not inconvenience Members. Technically, the House does not sit until the message arrives and we reconvene. There are precedents for the motion, which is in the interests of all Members, especially the Opposition, and will not inconvenience any Member.

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

As I understand it, technically the House could sit, but it will not do so. Surely if that is the case, we could fill the idle hours with many debates that might be of interest to the hon. Gentleman. For example, he might like to discuss the desirability of excluding sugar from the everything but arms initiative. Could we discuss that matter? Perhaps he would confirm whether we could debate a motion on the European rapid reaction force, so that the Government could gauge the opinion of the House in a full debate? Will he confirm that if he were so minded, we could have an opportunity to debate such matters while the House awaited messages from the other place?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

The right hon. and learned Gentleman, and many of his hon. Friends, take many opportunities to discuss various issues. I have had the benefit of listening to some of his comments today. I acknowledge the point that he makes: hon. Members wish to discuss many matters. The motion will provide a framework for the orderly discussion of Lords amendments.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Scotland) 7:14 pm, 22nd November 2000

We always know when the Government have got themselves into difficulty—it is the moment when they send in the Minister, who, with his normal courtesy, kindness and politeness, comes along and spreads a bit of emollient to try to disguise the fact that their legislative programme is in the most terrible mess, with appalling consequences for the way in which the House conducts its scrutiny.

The state opening of the new Session is projected for Wednesday week, but important legislation still has to return to the House from the other place, and, as the Minister has admitted, the purpose of the motion is to facilitate that process. The Opposition might be happy to facilitate that process if the only consequence were that the House would have adequate time to scrutinise the legislation. However, as was made clear yesterday with the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, when the House waits for Bills to return and considers them—as the motion invites it to do—what happens is a complete charade.

We recently heard that, on the Government's initiative, the House is planning to timetable legislation. Would that it were true that we had an adequate timetable. Yesterday there was inadequate time for debate. The debate was subject to a guillotine, which was scandalous. At the end, dozens of amendments remained to be considered, and the House could not even express its view properly on some of the amendments that had been debated. The motion seems likely to facilitate the repetition of exactly the same thing in the coming days.

The Minister knows very well that legislation on the scale of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill—a measure that is engraved on his heart and on mine, and which is being considered at this very moment in another place—will require a great deal of scrutiny. We are told that the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill is likely to return with hundreds of Government amendments.

The motion is designed, as I understand it, to facilitate the rapid consideration of such messages from the Lords and, if legislation is sent back after being considered by the House, further messages from the Lords. Haste makes for bad scrutiny, and the Minister knows it. In those circumstances, it would be much better if the Government admitted that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said, time is required for messages to be considered in the perfectly ordinary course of events, to allow the House to respond to those messages and consider legislation properly.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Scotland)

If the state opening of Parliament has to be delayed, so be it. We are making a mockery of the trust placed in us by the electorate to scrutinise legislation properly. A moment ago, I detected that the Minister wanted to intervene. If he wants to do so, I shall be happy to give way.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I am happy to give way to my right hon. and learned Friend.

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

Does my hon. Friend agree that we are being asked to waste a great deal of time because sittings will be suspended while we wait at the convenience of their lordships? I do not particularly mind doing that, but I do mind wasting time. Can he confirm that it would be perfectly possible for the Leader of the House to table a business motion on Monday whereby, during the sittings that would otherwise be suspended, we could debate important matters, such as the European rapid reaction force and the EBA sugar initiative, and a few others that I have in mind?.

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

Indeed, French beef. That would be a much more productive use of our time than simply suspending the sitting.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. We could make productive use of the time. Alternatively, if the Government do not want to do that, they could cease to proceed with the motion and allow business to be conducted in an orderly and sensible manner; then we could do what some Labour MPs apparently enjoy doing, such as going off to their constituencies. Instead of being on permanent standby, the House should not sit on days when it is not necessary. When it does, it reminds me of those buttons on our television sets that we are told to switch off because they consume so much energy.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Following the intervention of our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), does my hon. Friend accept that one of the other advantages of the procedure that he described would be that the debates would take place here in the Chamber, instead of being shunted off to that pathetic sideshow known as Westminster Hall? We could turn the terms of the motion into something positive for the House of Commons.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has gone way outside the terms of this narrow motion, and I advise his hon. Friend not to respond.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Scotland)

My right hon. Friend is a man of creative ingenuity, and the Minister should definitely take his words on board. He makes a lot of sense when he talks about the House proceeding with sensible scrutiny. However, I shall return to the narrow wording of the motion.

I shall not labour the points that I want to make; I simply say to the Minister that he is asking the House to place itself in a state of permanent standby. Perhaps the House would be prepared to do that if we had any confidence that at the end of the day we would have a proper opportunity to debate serious business when it became available. The reality of the past two weeks has been other. Yesterday highlighted a woeful deficiency in the legislative process, and everything suggests that in the coming week we will be subjected to a similar situation. The country deserves better.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 7:22 pm, 22nd November 2000

When I see such a motion, I rise to speak with some apprehension. I suspect that it is a device for getting business hastily through the House instead of proceeding in the orderly way that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) suggested. I would be much more willing to support the business motion if the Government were to give an undertaking that messages received from the other place to be discussed in this House would be the subject of proper and full discussion, rather than being timetabled.

If the Government were to give us an undertaking to that effect, I would be a great deal more sympathetic to what the deputy Leader of the House proposes. A number of important Bills are being dealt with in the other place, and they will no doubt be the subject of messages. One is the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, and another may be the Disqualifications Bill—I mention just two. It is likely that the House will want to discuss fully and properly the many scores, if not hundreds, of amendments that will appear from the other place.

As I understand it, this procedure will enable the Government to rush through discussion of that legislation. As this will be the first time that this House collectively has had an opportunity to discuss the amendments that will the subject of the messages, we need to have proper time for reflection. If hon. Members agree with me on that point—being true democrats, Conservative Members will do so—they should have no truck with this business motion.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Given the amount of hard work that their Lordships are doing, can my right hon. and learned Friend envisage circumstances in which a message may come from the other place very late in the evening and be placed on the Order Paper under this dubious procedure? How would Members of this House be able to table amendments to those messages in those circumstances? Is there not an element of subterfuge?

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

That is exactly what I was worried about. If a message comes late one night and the Government have it in mind that we should debate the matter the following day, there will be no opportunity to consult, or be consulted by, the relevant interest groups. Consequently, the amendments that may have been appropriate will not be tabled. That is the inevitable consequence of accepting this business motion, whereas if we do not accept it, we will gain a day or two and have proper time for reflection.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

My point was similar to that made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). I would go further and say that a message may be received from the Lords very late on Wednesday night as they work into Thursday morning. As this House meets at 11.30 on a Thursday morning, there would be even less time for hon. Members to consider business received from the Lords at 3 o'clock in the morning.

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

My right hon. Friend is entirely right. I do not want to attribute an evil motive to those on the Government Front Bench, but if I were in the Government Whips Office—thank God I shall never be a Government Whip again—I would at least reflect on the possibility of so arranging the timing of a message that it achieved the consequence, and had the effect, that my right hon. Friend describes.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the problem of a potential shortage of time is especially acute in the context of the Freedom of Information Bill? I feel sure that it was only an error of omission that prevented him from mentioning that legislation in his list of dubious and ill-fated Bills.

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

It was actually because I do not like trying your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I know that your patience is easily tried. My hon. Friend is wholly correct. The Freedom of Information Bill may well be one of the beneficiaries—from the Government's perspective—of this business motion.

We want to make it absolutely plain to the House that the purpose of the business motion, or at least its consequence, is to enable the Government to push through business rapidly, without hon. Members having a proper opportunity to consult the interest groups that may be affected, or even to discuss among ourselves what our policy and attitudes should be. On that basis, it is objectionable.

I think that the motion is objectionable and that is the end of the matter—but one or two things could make it marginally less objectionable. One of them I have already alluded to briefly, and that is an undertaking from the Government. They should undertake to the House to allow us to sit late the succeeding day—the day of the substantive debate—until 2 o'clock in the morning, for example, which was perfectly usual when I first came to the House, and did not cause undue inconvenience. One merely went away if one did not want to be here: we were independent Members in those days. That would be one way of addressing the matter.

The other way would be to give a formal undertaking to the House that there will not be any timetabling, and that we will be able to debate matters fully. Speaking for myself, if the Government gave an undertaking to that effect, I would be more minded to accept the business motion than I would otherwise be.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am persuaded by my right hon. and learned Friend's arguments—with one exception. I do not think that the House should be put in the position of having to take the Minister's word on a matter of such serious consequence and interest. We have had no opportunity to amend this motion because of the timing of it.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. It is a point of argument.

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

I was suggesting that we could get an undertaking from the Government. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) is a perfectly respectable Minister. I would take an undertaking from him, and would regard it as copper-bottomed, so I am looking forward to receiving such an undertaking.

The Minister could also make the proposal more agreeable to us in another way—by filling those empty hours. We on the Conservative Benches are a hardworking lot. Considering our relatively small number, it is noteworthy how the Conservative Benches have been more densely populated than the Labour Benches this evening—except, of course, when the Division comes, when, not having listened to the debate, all these characters come out of all the crannies of this place and do what their Whips tell them. That is one of the reasons why the House is held in such low esteem in the country. However, if we were able to fill the idle hours contemplated by Ministers with useful discussion, we might be more willing to pass the business motion.

I have taken a little advice on the matter because I do not like to talk absolute tommy-rot on these occasions. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) laughs. I assure him that that is true. It would be possible for the Leader of the House, tomorrow, say, to indicate a willingness to table a business motion to enable us to discuss on the Floor of the House substantive issues on a timed basis—say an hour, an hour and a half or whatever—to fill the time when the House would otherwise stand suspended.

I suppose that it would have to be a term of the business motion that we would resume the substantive business within a stated time of receiving a message, but speaking for myself, I am willing to help the Leader of the House with the drafting. I wish to be constructive, and I know that she does not think very constructively. A little help from Conservative Members might be of value. I suggest to the deputy Leader of the House, who is just about to go to sleep—I would not dare wake him up—that there are a number of subjects on which he could give an undertaking. I saw him in Westminster Hall yesterday; it was the first time that I had ever been into Westminster Hall for the purpose of making a speech. It was an interesting occasion. We discussed sugar. I saw that he was deeply concerned about the sugar regime, and the fact that the everything but arms initiative, which is supported by the Government, will ruin sugar producers.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is going way beyond the terms of the motion. I have already heard him advert to that particular matter, and I do not wish to hear him advert to it again.

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

Of course I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not dream of doing otherwise, but my point is—I am sure that you were the first to grasp it—that if the business motion is passed, there will be periods when although the House is suspended, hon. Members are present.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I have indeed heard that argument, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman first placed it before me during an intervention. He cannot go on repeating it.

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

It would be shameful of me even to think of going on repeating it, but there are one or two illustrations that might prove attractive to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The arguments that are advanced have nothing to do with me. There is no point of order involved for the occupant of the Chair. I have to ensure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not in breach of Standing Orders about repetition, or going outside the terms of the motion.

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

I was not raising a point of order, but I was conscious that all observations on the Floor of the House are directed to the Chair and through the Chair. That is all I was doing—I was speaking to the Chamber through you.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

I would not wish my right hon. and learned Friend in any circumstances to disobey the instructions of the occupant of the Chair. Of course, he must not go down the route of repetition, as I have sometimes—but I have not fully understood his argument. Is it possible for him to state his argument in such terms that it is not repetitive, but we can fully grasp the concept?

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

I would never accuse my right hon. Friend of being mischievous. Sometimes, he has not followed the argument as clearly as I would wish—but mischievous? Surely not.

The point that I was seeking to make is that the House wants to make constructive use of the time. We are being asked to sit on our backsides doing nothing, probably in the bar, or in our offices. That is not a sensible use of our time when we have the possibility of discussing substantive business. I will not mention sugar again, because you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have told me not to. I imagine that if I mention the European rapid reaction force, you will tell me that I should not develop that argument either, save to say that today, the Government made a far-reaching policy statement, which has not received the authority of the House; the House has not been asked to vote its approval of the proposal. We could do that on Monday or Tuesday if the Government let us. One can take advantage of otherwise empty hours to discuss substantive business. That is the proper way to make progress, so let us have an undertaking that there will be no guillotines. Let the House consider, and perhaps vote on, whether we should have the business motion at all, but the motion would be more acceptable to us if we were going to use our hours profitably, and not in the idle way that Ministers want us to use them.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 7:35 pm, 22nd November 2000

The trouble with this type of motion and the way in which the Minister has presented it is that we know no more now than we did before about why the Government feel compelled to bring it before the House. He said in his beguiling and rather charming way that it is narrow and standard. That is ministerial code for, "I hope that the debate will not go on for long or be discussed much. I wish that it were all over very quickly." I bet he does, because lying behind this innocent-looking motion is quite a lot of history.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will judge how far it is appropriate to go into the history. Suffice to say that the reason why the Government have felt compelled to come forward with a procedural motion at this stage—it is the only conclusion that I can draw, subject to the Minister correcting me—is because there is a substantial amount of business in another place, which will come here in the form of messages, and which, therefore, the Government must deal with in an unusual and extraordinary way. That is the key to all this. If the Government were in full control of their legislative programme—if they had managed that programme properly—those matters could come to the House in the normal way and be dealt with properly, but what underlies the motion is the fact that the Government know that that cannot be the case, or at least they think that it cannot be the case. They are placing the House under an artificial and unnecessary time constraint and, therefore, must bring forward this extraordinary measure.

For the moment, I will leave to one side the fact that it is odd that the Government have gone to enormous lengths to seek to change the Standing Orders of the House, so that the House cannot vote after 10 o'clock at night, yet, in the business motion, it appears that the Government are prepared to ask for the House not to be adjourned until messages are received without time limit. That contradicts the proposal to which they attached such great importance just two weeks ago.

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

Surely the following argument follows on from that of my right hon. Friend. The Government have often said that it is bad government and makes for bad law to debate matters after 10 o'clock—I do not happen to believe that; none the less, that is the Government's position—but the effect of the business motion is to oblige us to make law after 10 o'clock.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Indeed. As we know, messages are part of the law-making process—an integral part. I want to add to my right hon. and learned Friend's references the business that we know will come to this House in the form of messages from another place. The Countryside and Rights of Way Bill will come in our direction, as will the Freedom of Information Bill and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. We can be certain of all those—they must be the subject of at least some of the messages referred to in the motion.

What is not so certain is whether the Disqualifications Bill will be the subject of one of the messages. It is a Bill of which I know a little because in February this year I had the honour to participate in a debate on it. It took the House of Commons quite some time to deliberate on it. Whether it would be proper for that Bill, on which we deliberated, from memory, for about 27 hours, to come back in the form of a message in that peremptory way and to be rushed through is another matter. Perhaps the Bill will be one to come in this direction.

Whether the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill would be subject to a message is also a matter for some speculation, but I need not speculate because you, Mr. Speaker, and I know that the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, the Freedom of Information Bill and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill are all in another place. They are an essential part of the Government's programme, and therefore—I think I am right, but the Minister may correct me—they must be involved in one of the messages that are to come from another place. Of that much I think we can be certain.

Here, however, the matter becomes more difficult. Indeed, if the Government are telling us that they think it proper for those substantial Bills, along with hundreds of amendments from another place, to be dealt with in the way suggested in the motion, the matter becomes improper. I use the word deliberately: I mean "improper" in terms of the legislative and deliberative process.

It would appear that the Government want to truncate, or compress, the time scale that would normally be available to the House in order to rush the legislative process. That must be entirely wrong, although I can see why they would want to do it. Their legislative programme is in a mess: they have far too much legislation, and we know that hundreds of amendments—mostly Government amendments—have been required in relation to those important Bills.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is now repeating his own argument. There cannot be endless repetition of the same point.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I have explained why I used the word "improper"; but the position gets worse. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) pointed out, what we do not know from the motion is how it will work in practice. The motion simply states that

the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message …shall be received.

It does not tell us what constraints that may or may not place on the normal conduct of the House's business. It does not tell us whether a gap or hiatus would appear between the end of normal business and the House's not adjourning. Does this mean, for example, that Members will have to continue to be present—or can they continue to be present? Does anything lie procedurally beyond the normal finishing of business and waiting for the message?

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

My right hon. Friend has drawn our attention to the text of the motion. He will know that amendments can be tabled at any time before the Adjournment of the House, but not thereafter. According to the motion, it would be possible for the House to adjourn immediately after a message had been received. Consequently, there would be no gap between the receipt of the message and the Adjournment of the House. If that were the case, no amendments could be tabled that night, and the business, unamended, could be discussed the following morning.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Indeed. That is probably one of the most sinister aspects of this piece of Government deviousness and jiggery-pokery.

In the normal course of events, the legislative process requires that when a message comes to us from another place, we can do what we did earlier this evening. We should be able to deliberate on the message, and then table amendments that may or may not be selected and subsequently debated. But, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham pointed out, none of that may be possible if the mechanism proposed in the motion is approved this evening.

We could find ourselves in an invidious position. No doubt the Government would be very comfortable with it: no doubt it is exactly what they want. I suggest that now they have got themselves into such a mess, and with messages coming from the other place in such a way, the last thing they want is for Members—their own, for all I know: not necessarily Opposition Members—to look at what is arriving here, and to decide whether they want to table amendments.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

If we are to know the extent of the constraints that we may face, we surely need to know the extent of the legislative consideration that the Government envisage. Given the mauling received by the Disqualifications Bill in another place, is not a Lords message in relation to that a real possibility? In that event, would not extensive consideration be required?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

That must be so, although my judgment is different from my hon. Friend's: I suspect that the Disqualifications Bill might not come in our direction. We do not know, however, because the Minister has not shared any of these governmental secrets with us.

I am keeping an eye on the Government's Deputy Chief Whip, who seems to be haranguing you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not want to interrupt, but Mr. Speaker recently deprecated the practice of Members' going to the side of the Chair and haranguing its occupants. I know that you would not stand for any of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker—especially from the Deputy Chief Whip.

Another question arises, which the motion does not begin to answer: no time limit is placed on the mechanism that it proposes. The motion suggests—indeed, mandates—that

the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords shall be received.

We know how late their Lordships have had to sit recently, given the mess that the Government's legislative programme is in and the excess of legislation and Government amendments in another place. It is fairly simple to deduce, in view of recent experience, that the House of Commons may be required not to adjourn until some very late hour. That raises another question: is it incumbent on Members to be available until that hour, or would the Government want us all to go home so that some sinister process could take place late at night when we were all elsewhere, and not present to try to slip in an amendment even if we were able to do so?

It gets worse. It is not just that we might not be able to do that for reasons of timing. Would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or the Government encourage Members to stay on the premises and to be alert to what was happening, or would we be told that we should all go home? That would leave us in a very odd position, which the public would not understand.

Will the cameras be switched on, showing the Chamber? How will the process work? How will the messages come? Will one of the Whips, with his wand, present the messages to an empty House, and will it be apparent by that stage that all Members have long since gone home? These are important questions, because they bear on whether Members will have a realistic opportunity to table amendments to the messages.

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

My right hon. Friend has raised a serious point. It is desirable for Members to be available, in order to know what the messages are. Does that not reinforce the value of my suggestion that we should fill the idle hours, as it were, with substantive debates, so that Members are present, interested in the business of the House and ready to receive the messages because they will have something to discuss?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Indeed—and that is why my right hon. and learned Friend's suggestion is so helpful. It answers the point so often spuriously made by Labour Members that we do not have enough time to debate all the matters that we want to debate. That is one of the completely invalid reasons that the Government gave for the nonsense of Westminster Hall. Hot on the heels of the endorsement of Westminster Hall that we gave so misguidedly the other day, an opportunity has arisen for the first time. Were we to avail ourselves of that opportunity, we would have extra time for debate. Having taken advice, my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that it was well within the Government's power to table a business motion to give effect to that. We have heard nothing from the Minister, but I hope that he will rise to the challenge later.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

My right hon. Friend is clearly quite knowledgeable about these matters. Can he help me out?

What will be the status of the Adjournment debate? Will it be taken first, and will the House then be in suspended animation until a message is received before adjourning? Or will the House be suspended, receive a message, decide to adjourn, and then have the Adjournment debate? In the latter event, we might have half an hour in which to table amendments.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

That is a possibility, but I do not want to give my right hon. Friend advice off the cuff, and I am sure that he would not wish me to guess on my feet—which, of course, I would not dream of doing. I will, however, allow myself to go so far as to speculate—unless you advise me otherwise, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that the motion raises an intriguing possibility. If normal business has been concluded, whether under a guillotine or not, and if the House does not adjourn until a message comes, it might be possible for the Adjournment debate to proceed throughout the period between the completion of normal business and the arrival of the message.

Perhaps such a possibility would help my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. If we cannot debate a Government business motion, as he suggested, perhaps there could be, in the usual manner, albeit only on one pre-determined subject, a much lengthier Adjournment debate between the end of business and receipt of the message.

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

Perhaps the Government could propose a general subject for debate on the Adjournment, rather like the old Consolidated Fund Bill or Christmas Adjournment debates. Such a debate would enable hon. Members, during otherwise wasted hours, to speak on any subject that they may have in mind.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a typically helpful suggestion—which, procedurally, would probably be do-able. However, if it were not do-able and the Government were not to accept it, and were we to be misguided enough to give the Government the carte blanche suggested in the motion—I hope that we do not; I shall certainly oppose it unless the Minister gives me much better reasons than he has so far—it may be that all we can salvage out of this episode is a series of intriguingly prolonged Adjournment debates on subjects that had already been accepted for debate in the usual way.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I have already heard sufficient argument on that particular subject.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I was contemplating concluding my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker; you may have hurried me a little along the way.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I hope that my right hon. Friend is not trying to prolong my remarks.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Certainly not, as I hope that I might be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in due course.

Earlier, my right hon. Friend commented briefly on the proposal that there would be no voting after 10 o'clock and said that he would deal with that proposal later. As far as I can recall, he has failed to do that. I thought that it was a valid point that was relevant to the motion.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Because I am a generous chap, I shall voluntarily leave my right hon. Friend to elaborate on that point. Although I have oodles more material, I sense that I might be testing the patience of the House—[HoN. MEMBERS: "No."] Frankly, if looks could kill, the type of look that I am getting from the Government Deputy Chief Whip would have rendered me a corpse long ago. I do not think that I should push my luck too far. I certainly would not comment on your demeanour, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as that would be way out of order.

I want just to make one final point. If the Minister were to answer only one question from me, I hope that it would be this. Can he undertake that if the House agrees to the motion today, he will guarantee that there is proper opportunity for hon. Members to table amendments to the content of messages from another place? Will he also spell that out to the House in advance, so that we all know how that can be done and we can be reassured that no subterfuge is involved? That is my main request to the Minister. However, unless he does a lot better than he has so far to persuade me, I really feel that I cannot support the resolution.

Several hon.:

Members rose

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

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be possible for you to raise with the Speaker the possibility of tabling manuscript amendments if a message is received very late, at a time when most hon. Members are not available?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. That is a hypothetical question and not one that I can answer now.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Deputy Chief Whip, Treasurer of HM Household (Deputy Chief Whip)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House proceeded to a Division.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What is the precedent for accepting a closure motion when the main motion has been debated for only 45 minutes and only about four more hon. Members—two of whom are privy councillors—wish to speak? As only four more hon. Members wish to speak, the debate could not have continued for much longer.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The right hon. Gentleman would be aware, if he knows the Standing Orders, that closure is wholly a matter for the discretion of the occupant of the Chair.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course I accept that a closure motion is entirely at the discretion of the occupant of the Chair. I was asking whether it is possible for you to elaborate on the circumstances and precedent that have led you to conclude that it was a suitable instance in which to exercise your discretion after 45 minutes.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I think that the right hon. Gentleman knows better than that. The rulings of the occupant of the Chair should not be questioned in that manner.

The House having divided: Ayes 257, Noes 21.

Division No. 352][7.54 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeBarnes, Harry
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Barron, Kevin
Ainger, NickBayley, Hugh
Alexander, DouglasBegg, Miss Anne
Allen, GrahamBeth, Rt Hon A J
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Bell, Marlin (Tatton)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryBenton, Joe
Ashton, JoeBest, Harold
Atkins, CharlotteBetts, Clive
Banks, TonyBlackman, Liz
Blizzard, BobGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Grocott, Bruce
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Brinton, Mrs HelenHancock, Mike
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Hanson, David
Buck, Ms KarenHarvey, Nick
Burden, RichardHealey, John
Burgon, ColinHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Burstow, PaulHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Butler, Mrs ChristineHepburn, Stephen
Cable, Dr VincentHeppell, John
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Hesford, Stephen
Campbell-Savours, DaleHewitt, Ms Patricia
Cann, JamieHill, Keith
Caplin, IvorHinchliffe, David
Casale, RogerHood, Jimmy
Caton, MartinHope, Phil
Cawsey, IanHopkins, Kelvin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Chidgey, DavidHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clapham, Michael Hurst, Alan
Clark, Dr LyndaHutton, John
(Edinburgh Pentlands)lddon, Dr Brian
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Illsley, Eric
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Jamieson, David
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Clwyd, AnnJohnson, Miss Melanie
Coaker, Vernon(Welwyn Hatfield)
Coffey, Ms AnnJones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Cohen, HarryJones, Ms Jenny
Coleman, Iain(Wolverh'ton SW)
Connarty, MichaelJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Cooper, Yvette Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Corbett, RobinJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Corbyn, JeremyKeeble, Ms Sally
Corston, JeanKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Cousins, JimKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Cox, TomKeetch, Paul
Cranston, RossKennedy, Rt Hon Charles
Crausby, David(Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Khabra, Piara S
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireKidney, David
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairKilfoyle, Peter
Darvill, KeithKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Kingham, Ms Tess
Davidson, IanKumar, Dr Ashok
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Lepper, David
Denham, JohnLeslie, Christopher
Dismore, AndrewLiddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Donohoe, Brian HLivsey, Richard
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Llwyd, Elfyn
Edwards, HuwLock, David
Efford, CliveLove, Andrew
Ennis, JeffMcAvoy, Thomas
Flint, CarolineMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Flynn, PaulMacdonald, Calum
Follett, BarbaraMcDonnell, John
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMackinlay, Andrew
Foster, Don (Bath)McNamara, Kevin
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)McNulty, Tony
Galloway, GeorgeMacShane, Denis
Gardiner, BarryMactaggart, Fiona
Gerrard, NeilMcNulty, Tony
Gibson, Dr IanMcWilliam, John
Gidley, SandraMahon, Mrs Alice
Godman, Dr Norman AMallaber, Judy
Godsiff, RogerMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Goggins, PaulMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Golding, Mrs LlinMartlew, Eric
Gordon, Mrs EileenMaxton,John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Michie, Bill (Shetld Heeley)
Moffatt, LauraSmith, Angela (Basildon)
Moran, Ms MargaretSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Morley, ElliotSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Morris, Rt Hon Ms EstelleSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
(B'ham Yardley)Soley, Clive
Mountford, KaliSquire, Ms Rachel
Mudie, GeorgeStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Mullin, ChrisSteinberg, Gerry
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Naysmith, Dr DougStuart, Ms Gisela
Norris, DanStunell, Andrew
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Olner, Bill(Dewsbury)
Palmer, Dr NickTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Pearson, IanTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Pickthall, ColinTemple-Morris, Peter
Plaskitt, JamesThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pollard, KerryThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Pond, ChrisTimms, Stephen
Pope, GregTipping, Paddy
Pound, StephenTouhig, Don
Powell, Sir RaymondTrickett, Jon
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Truswell, Paul
Primarolo, DawnTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Prosser, GwynTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Rapson, SydTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)Tyler, Paul
Rendel, DavidVis, Dr Rudi
Rogers, AllanWard, Ms Claire
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffWareing, Robert N
Rooney, TerryWelsh, Andrew
Rowlands, TedWhite, Brian
Ruane, ChrisWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Ruddock, Joan(Swansea W)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Ryan, Ms JoanWinnick, David
Salter, MartinWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sanders, AdrianWoodward, Shaun
Sawford, PhilWorthington, Tony
Sedgemore, BrianWright, Tony (Cannock)
Shaw, JonathanWyatt, Derek
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertTellers for the Ayes:
Skinner, DennisMr. Jim Dowd and
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Mr. Mike Hall.
NOES
Bercow, JohnMcLoughlin, Patrick
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Randall, John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Ruffley, David
Fallon, MichaelSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gale, RogerStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Grieve, DominicSwayne, Desmond
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lidington, DavidYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterTellers for the Noes:
Loughton, TimMr. Douglas Hogg and
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidMr. Eric Forth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put accordingly:

The House divided:— Ayes 260, Noes 17.

Division No. 353][8.7 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeAllen, Graham
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Ainger, NickAnderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Alexander, DouglasArmstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hillary
Ashton, JoeFlynn, Paul
Atkins, CharlotteFollett, Barbara
Banks, TonyFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Barnes, HarryFoster, Don (Bath)
Barron, KevinFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Bayley, HughGalloway, George
Begg, Miss AnneGardiner, Barry
Beith, Rt Hon A JGerrard, Neil
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Gibson, Dr Ian
Benton, JoeGidley, Sandra
Best, HaroldGodman, Dr Norman A
Betts, CliveGodsiff, Roger
Blackman, LizGoggins, Paul
Blizzard, BobGoldon, Mrs Llin
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Brinton, Mrs HelenGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Buck, Ms KarenHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Burden, RichardHancock, Mike
Burgon, ColinHanson, David
Burnett, JohnHarvey, Nick
Burstow, PaulHealey, John
Butler, Mrs ChristineHealth, David (Somerton & Frome)
Cable, Dr VincentHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Hepburn, Stephen
Campbell-Savours, DaleHeppell, John
Caplin, IvorHesford, Stephen
Casale, RogerHewitt, Ms Patricia
Caton, MartinHill, Keith
Cawsey, IanHinchliffe, David
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hood, Jimmy
Chaytor, DavidHoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Chidgey, DavidHope, Phil
Clapham, MichaelHopkins, Kelvin
Clark, Dr LyndaHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
(Edinburgh Pentlands)Hurst, Alan
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hutton, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Iddon, Dr Brian
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Illsley, Eric
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Clwyd, AnnJohnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Coaker, VernonJohnson, Miss Melanie
Coffey, Ms Ann(Welwyn Hatfield)
Cohen, HarryJones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Coleman, IainJones, Ms Jenny
Colman, Tony(Wolverh'ton SW)
Connarty, MichaelJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Cooper, YvetteJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Corbett, RobinJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Corbyn, JeremyKeeble, Ms Sally
Corston, JeanKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Cousins, JimKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Cox, TomKeetch, Paul
Cranston, RossKemp, Fraser
Crausby, DavidKennedy, Rt Hon Charles
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)(Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireKhabra, Piara S
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairKidney, David
Darvill, KeithKilfoyle, Peter
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Kingham, Ms Tess
Davidson, IanKumar, Dr Ashok
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Lepper, David
Denham, JohnLeslie, Christopher
Dismore, AndrewLiddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Donohoe, Brian HLivsey, Richard
Dowd, JimLloud, Tony (Manchester C)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Llwyd, Elfyn
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Lock, David
Edwards, HuwLove, Andrew
Efford, CliveMcAvoy, Thomas
Ennis, JeffMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Flint, CarolineMacdonald, Calum
McDonnell, JohnSalter, Martin
Mackinlay, AndrewSanders, Adrian
McNamara, KevinSawford, Phil
McNulty, TonySedgemore, Brian
Mactaggart, FionaShaw, Jonathan
Mc Walter, TonySingh, Marsha
McWilliam, JohnSkinner, Dennis
Mahon, Mrs AliceSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Mallaber, JudySmith, Angela (Basildon)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Martlew, EricSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Maxton, JohnSoley, Clive
Michael, Rt Hon AlunSpellar, John
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Squire, Ms Rachel
Moffatt, LauraStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Moonie, Dr LewisSteinberg, Gerry
Moran, Ms MargaretStewart, David (Inverness E)
Morley, ElliotStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morris, Rt Hon Ms EstelleStuart, Ms Gisela
(B'ham Yardley)Stunell, Andrew
Mountford, KaliSutcliffe, Gerry
Mudie, GeorgeTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Mullin, Chris(Dewsbury)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Naysmith, Dr DougTemple-Morris, Peter
Norris, DanThomas, simon (Ceredigion)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Timms, Stephen
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Tipping, Paddy
Olner, BillTouhig, Don
Palmer, Dr NickTrickett, Jon
Pearson, IanTruswell, Paul
Pickthall, ColinTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Plaskitt, JamesTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pollard, KerryTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Pond, ChrisTyler, Paul
Pope, GregVis, Dr Rudi
Pound, StephenWard, Ms Claire
Powell, Sir RaymondWareing, Robert N
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Welsh, Andrew
Primarolo, DawnWhite, Brian
Prosser, GwynWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Rapson, Syd(Swansea W)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Rendel, DavidWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Rogers, AllanWinnick, David
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Rooney, TerryWoodward, Shaun
Rowlands, TedWright, Tony (Cannock)
Ruane, ChrisWyatt, Derek
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Tellers for the Ayes:
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Mr. Kevin Hughes and
Ryan, Ms JoanMr. David Jamieson.
NOES
Bercow, JohnMc Loughlin, Patrick
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Randall, John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Day, StephenSwayne, Desmond
Grieve, DominicTaylor, John M Solihull)
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lidington, DavidTellers for the Noes:
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterMr. Gerald Howarth and
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidMr. Eric Forth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That, at this day's sitting and the sittings on Thursday 23rd and Monday 27th November, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords shall be received.—[Mr. Keith Bradley.]