I hear muttering from a sedentary position on the Opposition Benches that there is some objection to the motion. Of course that is the Opposition's traditional role, and I do not particularly criticise them for that. However, to save time, I remind Opposition Members that introducing a single guillotine motion to cover two Bills is not unusual. There are plenty of examples—if pressed, I will bring them to the attention of the House—of the previous Administration passing similar motions between 1979 and 1997. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) carries on twittering, I shall mention the many occasions on which she and many of her right hon. Friends, including the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), voted for such timetable motions.
None of us particularly likes having to use timetable motions. Sometimes they are necessary. [Interruption.] It does not lie well in the mouth of any Opposition Member, with the single exception of the hon. Member for Brownhills-Aldridge—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that correction.
It does not lie well in the mouth of any right hon. or hon. Member who was a Conservative Member of Parliament at any time between 1979 and 1997 to complain about the use of guillotine motions, because they were sometimes used with gay abandon—for example, in 1988–89 and 1989–90.
Of course I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman, as I always do.
The Freedom of Information Bill has been the subject of very extensive pre-legislative and legislative scrutiny, including two days of fine debate at the beginning of April, which happily was not guillotined. We are now drawing towards the end of the Session, so it is necessary for the House to have the opportunity to vote on a raft of Government Bills. Of course, the House may take a different view—it is for the House to dispose of matters; it is for the Government to propose them.
There is a difference between any Conservative Government and any Labour Government: Conservative Governments always had a built-in majority in the other place, and they could always rely on that majority to ensure that debates were truncated and that they got their business—that has always been a fact of life, and it continues to this day—whereas Labour Governments do not have a built-in majority in the other place; they have a built-in minority.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way, with his usual courtesy. He seems to have forgotten that the guillotines apply to the House, not to another place, and that it is the procedures here with which we are rightly concerned. Will he dig into his papers and provide some quotations from the speeches that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends made during the 1980s and 1990s on the similar occasions when the previous Government felt obliged to introduce timetable motions? He has made great play of the idea that because the Conservatives introduced such motions, it is all right for him to introduce them. Will he give us the other side of the coin and remind us of the outrage that he and his colleagues felt when confronted with the fact they had only one or two days to consider several hundred amendments to Bills to which I hope he will refer later?
I will refer to those Bills if I am tempted to do so. Of course the then Opposition typically voted against guillotine motions. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking me whether I, as an Opposition Back Bencher or Front-Bench spokesman, protested against the Conservative Government's guillotine motions, the answer is yes. However, I draw his attention to the fact that towards the end of our time in opposition, we were serious about being an effective Opposition—[Interruption.] We were so serious that we are now in government. Because this Opposition are not even any good as an Opposition, and still less as an alternative Government, they continue to fail to make any sensible arrangements to secure the proper passage of Bills.
Of course, there have to be arrangements through the usual channels. Our record in opposition between 1994 and 1997 was exemplary. In the Session 1994–95, the then Government introduced no guillotine motions, because we had reached accommodation with them through the usual channels. I say to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that there was a guillotine motion in 1995–96 on proceedings on the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Bill. However, if my memory serves me right, that motion was unusual in that I supported it from the Opposition Front Bench. I was persuaded that the additional powers were necessary and that the matter had to come before the House to be dealt with before the end of the Session.
In 1996–97, I recall—my recollection is usually accurate—that the guillotine on the proceedings of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill was introduced not because of fire from the then Opposition, but because of friendly fire from those who did not wish there to be effective control of firearms. That fire came from the then Government's Back Benchers.
Many of us are concerned about the practice of allowing the unelected second Chamber, in effect, to make legislation. Does the Home Secretary understand that 123 amendments are before us, and that inevitably, we shall not discuss them all? Many will not be reached and we shall simply be asked to accept many of them. That means that the peers, as an unelected body, will make law in this country. Does that make him content?
There is always time for sinners to repent. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view these days is against an unelected Chamber, that is interesting.
That is fine, and I accept that statement as accurate. However, that was not the view of the Conservative party when it was in government. It was perfectly happy to rely on a huge majority made up not only of unelected peers but of those who were in the other place for no other reason than that they were their fathers' sons or their grandfathers' grandsons.
When the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) was an adornment of the previous Government and they introduced the poll tax, they ensured that people who had never been seen in the other place, but who had a Conservative ticket there, were pulled out of the woodwork to vote for that legislation. If that had not been the case, the previous Administration would have been done a great favour.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will remind the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) that the Conservative Government guillotined the consideration of Lords amendments on 34 separate occasions? In which Lobby did the right hon. and learned Gentleman vote then? Did he come into the Labour Lobby to vote against those guillotines?
My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise that matter. The previous Administration used the guillotine not only at the end of the Session, when it is more justifiable, but at other times, such as on 14 December 1993, when they guillotined the Statutory Sick Pay Bill and the Social Security (Contributions) Bill just a few weeks into the Session.
I must tell the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and the rest of the House that although there are many amendments, a great many of them were passed in the other place in response to undertakings that I gave during two days of extensive debate on the Floor of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not all of them."] No, not all of them, but many were, and they relate to those key debates. It is a fact of life that guillotines mean that some amendments go undebated. I regret that because I would prefer Bills to be timetabled properly. None the less, it is a timeless verity that never worried Opposition Members all that much before.
Wherever possible we try, as we did on Report, to reach understandings through the usual channels so that there is proper time for debate. I would prefer that, but I hope that both sides of the House accept that Governments have the right to ensure that their legislation is put before Parliament for a proper conclusion before the end of a Session.
If there were no guillotine motions, what possible chance would the controversial measures that are most opposed by the Conservative party, such as the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, stand of getting through Parliament by the end of the Session?
We have previously been charged with sitting for too many hours. As ever, the right hon. Lady wants it both ways. If we were to sit on a Friday, there would still be no guarantee that we could get these Bills through Parliament unless an undertaking were reached through the usual channels, which would have to maintain proper Back-Bench discipline. The eloquence of some hon. Members quickly fades and they become exceptionally prolix when they have an interest in keeping our proceedings going for ever and ever. They regard that as their task; I do not complain, but we have to take action as a result. Everyone knows that that is a fact of life.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is right to say that the Freedom of Information Bill and the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill would have no chance of being enacted without the guillotine motion. The Opposition did not oppose the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, or, as far as I recall, the Freedom of Information Bill, on Second Reading, but they will not be bothered if those two measures are not enacted. We know their real view of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. As for the Freedom of Information Bill, we were famously told in the Conservatives' campaign guide at the general election that such a Bill was of interest only to "left-wing busybodies".
Is there one example of a controversial private Member's Bill being agreed to on a Friday? Is it not pretty obvious that if people are opposed to a Bill,
there is no possibility of it ever being agreed to, even if we sit on Saturday and Sunday? That was the case when I opposed certain measures. The essence of the argument is that unless there is a guillotine, as there is on this measure, some Bills will never be enacted.
No. If freedom of information legislation is for Governments, it certainly strengthens the hand of Oppositions—and opposition. I celebrate the fact that that is so, because I happen to believe that good government is made better when Ministers are accountable. For them to be accountable, more information is needed.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. To clear up a factual error that has crept into the debate, the controversial Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill, which was a private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon earlier this Session—[Interruption.]i—was passed, despite extensive and exhaustive debate on Fridays. It is on the statute book and is an extremely good Act.
There was some perplexity on our side about who the hon. Member for Basildon was. That constituency was the subject of a famous victory by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith). The hon. Gentleman to whom the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) referred went on the notorious chicken run and now has a safer seat in Southend-on-Sea, West. [HON. MEMBERS: "Southend, West".] Southend-on-Sea, West.
I have spent more days in Southend than many other hon. Members—[Interruption.] It is not far from Brentwood, and we used to go down to Southend for pleasure.
I shall put on record why we think that, although regrettable, the guillotine motion is justified. I remind the House that we published a White Paper in 1997 and a draft Bill consultation paper in 1999, which was subject to extensive pre-legislative scrutiny during the summer of 1999. Since then the Bill has been subject to substantial scrutiny—40 hours in Committee in this House and two full days on the Floor of the House at the beginning of April this year, as well as 28 hours in the other place.
The House will recall that there were detailed debates on specific issues in the House on those two days. In the other House I sought to meet in full the commitments that 1 gave to this House on those occasions. There had been concern about the Executive override, and I said that we would introduce changes to make it clear that it was no longer based on a discretionary element in the Bill, but that there would be a strong and enforceable duty to disclose information where the public interest required it. That has been put in.
Yes, there remains the possibility that a Minister of the Crown will exercise what is called an Executive override, but when he does so—again, because of an amendment that we accepted in another place, which I do not believe will be controversial—that must be reported to this House.
I have considered carefully whether we could introduce into the body of the legislation a duty for Ministers collectively to consult other Cabinet colleagues, or whether there should be a collective Cabinet decision. For reasons that we can debate when we come to the subject, that has not proved possible.
Colleagues on both sides who have studied various constitutional texts will know that the Cabinet per se has no formal constitutional standing, but I will give undertakings that, save where it relates to a quasi-judicial decision, which by definition normally has to be taken by an individual Secretary of State, guidance will be given, which will be made public, requiring Ministers to consult their colleagues. In addition to that, anyone who has served in government knows that it would be a poor career move for any Minister to make such a decision without consulting his or her colleagues.
I am having difficulty following the right hon. Gentleman's argument. He seems to be arguing that if proceedings on a previous stage of the Bill have been thorough, he can dispense with thoroughness at later stages. Given that every stage sees changes to a Bill, and given that 123 amendments affected the present stage of the Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman please justify not guillotines in general, but this guillotine on this stage of this Bill?
I am seeking to do so. It is a fair bet that whatever I say, unless I withdraw the motion, the right hon. Lady will not be convinced by my argument—but sometimes she gets the point in the end, albeit a bit late.
In this instance, the point is simple, and has been discussed at length. Many of the amendments relate to issues that were discussed at length in the House or in Committee. Amendments have been introduced to deliver undertakings made in the House. If the right hon. Lady wants to have an exchange about the number of occasions when the House has considered Lords amendments when the debate has been subject to a guillotine, I could go through the list—but I think we should take that as read.
In addition to constraining the circumstances in which the so-called Executive override can be used, and the important related matter of removing the discretionary element in the public interest test, there are important Lords amendments that, if accepted by the House, will improve the Bill. They will do so by removing the powers to add to the list of exemptions by order and, importantly, by reversing the way in which the public interest balancing exercise is carried out. They will introduce a duty for Government Departments and other public authorities to assist those who are seeking information and to help them make their applications. They will introduce other improvements in the way in which both factual and statistical information is dealt with.
I refer the House to amendments Nos. 26 and 27 to clause 33, which we shall move on to. They go some way to meet concerns about the availability of statistical information—I accept that they do not go the whole way, but I hope to explain why not. The changes that will ensure a better supply and availability of factual and statistical information need to be seen alongside something that is not in the Bill but which represents a huge change—the reform that we as a Government have introduced to the national statistical service, together with the establishment of an independent statistical commission, to ensure that never again do we have the scandal of the 1980s, where in the face of mounting unemployment the then Government changed the definition of unemployment 18 times, to massage the figures downwards.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the many important and substantial amendments on the amendment paper for the House to consider. Will he explain why the House is expected to give proper consideration to the amendments over a period that will almost certainly be less than four hours? I accept his point about the number of amendments and their importance, but will he tell us how we can do justice to them in the pathetic amount of time that he is allowing?
I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's description of the time available. We have from now until midnight to consider the amendments. Although there are many amendments, the right hon. Gentleman, as an experienced parliamentarian, knows that they are grouped by the Chair. There are nine groups of amendments, and of those—
Yes, even better. They are grouped by the Minister in charge of the Bill with a little guidance from the Clerks. In only three of the nine groups are there amendments to amendments, and I think that only three groups will prove controversial.
I shall do so shortly. Then I want to talk briefly about the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, and then other right hon. and hon. Members can contribute to the debate.
When the decision was made to move the timetable motion, did the Home Secretary know that two statements would also be made, which would eat into the time originally allocated?
No. I think that the decision was made towards the end of last week. I knew that there would be a statement on revenue support grant and associated matters. I did not know until 12.50 pm that there would be a statement on climate change following the meeting at The Hague.
I shall now make progress on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the light of the Home Secretary's comment, would you at this stage accept a manuscript amendment to the motion to allow additional time for consideration—time in proportion, at least, to the time taken by the second statement, of which the Home Secretary was unaware when he judged how much time should be made available?
I shall now deal briefly with the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, which will be addressed in greater detail by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who will wind up the debate.
The Bill completed its passage through the Commons last June after 69 hours of debate; the other place completed its consideration after a further 102 hours of debate. As the House knows, there are 281 amendments to the Bill, dealing with 16 separate subjects. The Bill will make important provision to grant new rights of access on foot to mountains, moor, heath, down and common land in England and Wales. It will improve the complex law relating to rights of way, significantly strengthen the law on nature conservation and the protection of wildlife and enhance the protection of areas of outstanding natural beauty.
In both Houses, provisions relating to the new right of access to open countryside have proved to be the most controversial aspect of the Bill, and we understand that. However, the principle is not controversial, and the Opposition did not vote against either Second or Third Reading in either House. At issue is the balance between the new access right, and the ability of owners and occupiers of access land to manage that land to best advantage. Those who are familiar with the measure will know that a great deal of effort has gone into determining where that balance should rest.
Many of the amendments to the access provisions made in the other place address the concerns, often highly practical, of landowners and managers. We have listened carefully to those concerns; when we have been persuaded that they are justified, we have made the necessary changes. Some of those changes reflect concerns expressed in Committee and on Report in the House of Commons. The debate on the access provisions themselves did move forward in the Lords.
As the Home Secretary knows, the timetable for the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill requires debate to end at 10 o'clock on the allotted day. So that the House is better informed about how much time it will have to consider the 283 amendments, will he tell us whether we are to have any statements tomorrow, and if so, how many?
I know of no statements due to be made tomorrow, but the truth is that I cannot guarantee that none will be made tomorrow.
There has been plenty of consultation on all matters covered by the Bill. The statutory agencies—the Countryside Agency, English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales—have been fully involved, as have
many non-governmental organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Ramblers Association and the Country Landowners Association. Many useful ideas have emerged from the national countryside access forum, which brings together representatives of many of the key interests.
The parliamentary process has worked openly and well in respect of the Bill, although it has taken time: 170 hours is at the top end of the amount of time given to such Bills, whether by the current Government or by previous ones. Everyone knows that there are only a few days left before Prorogation and it is the Government's submission that there are no issues in the Bill on which we need to disagree with the Lords.
No. I am about to finish and I have already given way many times.
I have acknowledged that guillotines are to be avoided whenever possible. They are regrettable, but I believe that the guillotine on the two Bills is entirely justified. We shall, no doubt, hear the Opposition express the usual protests, as is their right, but I ask the House to bear in mind the scores and scores of guillotine motions that were moved under the Conservative Government.
I suspect that there was not, but I can easily find out and shall look it up for the right hon. Gentleman. Between 1980 and 1981, there was not a guillotine, but I shall not detain the House by reading from a long list.
Those years were light on legislation.
Finally, much has been made of the statement on climate change made today by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. I understand that that statement was made in response to a request from the official Opposition, who cannot have it both ways, although they always seek to.
Here we are at the beginning of national guillotine week. The Government have imposed a guillotine, first because they are incompetent, and secondly, because they are arrogant. They are incompetent in hopelessly overloading the parliamentary timetable, which is why the forthcoming Queen's Speech is the latest in the year since the one in 1928. The Government have tried to pack far too much into little time, and as a result, they have to choose between losing Bills altogether or brutally and cynically cutting parliamentary debate to achieve their timetable. That is the position to which the Government have brought themselves.
It is not surprising that there is a Home Office Bill in the list of those be guillotined. The Home Secretary is almost historically incompetent. For the first time in our history, the Chair rejected a reasoned Government amendment because the right hon. Gentleman tabled it to the wrong Opposition motion. He has already lost one Bill—the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial)(No.2) Bill—in the House of Lords. Indeed, that is the second time a mode of trial measure has been lost. Another Bill has been reduced to such complete nonsense that it makes no sense. That is the state of affairs to which the Government have brought their legislative timetable.
This guillotine is an affront to democracy. In the summer of 1996, the Prime Minister said:
It is time to sweep away the cobwebs of secrecy which hang over far too much government activity. If trust in the people means anything … there can be no argument against a Freedom of Information Act.
It seems to have escaped the Home Secretary that there is considerable irony in curtailing debate on the Freedom of Information Bill. The measure will make more—not fewer—things secret and will give the Government more, not less, power to withhold information. The right hon. Gentleman has suffered embarrassment about that through the Bill's various stages, so I understand his desire to cut his embarrassment short tonight. However, doing that says a great deal about the Government's contempt for the House—indeed, for both Houses. They are unprepared, in failing to allow adequate time, to allow the House to discuss the amendments tabled in the other place. They are therefore utterly contemptuous of the democratic system.
The guillotine means that there will be 27 minutes in which to debate each of the nine groups of amendments—[Interruption.] Labour Members may find that amusing, but that time does not even allow for Divisions. If there are Divisions, there will be even less time to debate serious amendments to a major Bill. [Interruption.] Labour Members think that funny. Of course they do, because they have used their enormous majority throughout the current Parliament simply to push through whatever measures they want, regardless of due process. They regard that as funny, but I do not think they will find it so funny when they have to justify their stewardship to the electorate.
The guillotine does not come as a great surprise. The Government have a history of forcing their ill-thought-out legislation through Parliament. So far during the current Parliament—I remind the right hon. Gentleman, in case he needs reminding, that it has lasted only three and a half years—the Government have guillotined more than 18 Bills. That compares with the 17 Bills that were guillotined in twice the period, between 1991 and 1997.
The right hon. Lady makes my point for me. There were so few guillotines because we co-operated with the Government[Interruption.] It is true. After some years of experience of being a poor Opposition—I promise that the Conservative party will enjoy a similar experience—we decided to make ourselves a decent Opposition and to concentrate on the things that mattered. If the right hon. Lady thinks that it was all so bad, she must explain why we were such a good Opposition that we won the general election in May 1997 with a huge majority.
Come on, come on. I thought the Home Secretary was going to speak, but he has changed his mind. His silence speaks for itself. Of course, we can assume that silence may now be interpreted as having a guilty motivation.
I think that my right hon. Friend is understating the case, if that is possible. Including the Bills that we will discuss this evening, 40 Bills have been guillotined during the current Parliament. There has never been anything like that cascade of guillotines. I regret that Opposition Front Benchers agreed to 18 of them, but we are still left with an extraordinary record of the Labour Government imposing their will on the Chamber.
This must be the first time I have ever understated a case, but I yield to the considerable expertise of my hon. Friend. However, neither he nor the Government will argue about the fact that more than 453 amendments were tabled to the Freedom of Information Bill in the other place. At Committee stage in the other place, 368 amendments were tabled. More than 150 of those amendments were tabled by the Government. They cannot say that the Bill is in such good order because of previous stages of its passage that we need not spend long discussing it, when they have seen fit at every single stage to table a raft of amendments to improve the Bill and to tidy it up.
That is proof positive that we need as thorough a discussion during this stage of the Bill's passage as during previous stages. The other place agreed to 118 amendments. We want to consider them today. Within the available time, it is utterly impossible to do justice to so many amendments, even if they are grouped, as the Home Secretary pointed out rather unnecessarily. After all, the Government removed an entire clause and introduced a new one after clause 1. That is a significant change to the Bill's structure and alters its mechanism for ensuring that information is released. If something so central and significant has occurred, it is only right that the House should have the opportunity for a full and thorough discussion.
There is another matter that we have not had a chance to debate: the deal between the Liberal Democrats and the Government. We all remember what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said during earlier stages of the Bill's passage. He argued that it was wholly inadequate and unsatisfactory and said that
the Liberal Democrats would alter it and stand up and be counted for true freedom of information. Then, lo and behold, in the other place, they meekly trotted along to the Government and did a deal to frustrate Opposition amendments that might have had a significant impact. Indeed, Maurice Frankel of the Campaign for Freedom of Information said:
we find it incomprehensible that, in return for these modest concessions, the Liberal Democrats are proposing to abandon their support for essential amendments which would have given the public greater rights to safety information and denied ministers the right to veto decisions of the independent Information Commissioner.
However, we will not have an opportunity properly to debate that today.
The Government also plan to guillotine the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, despite the fact that they have tabled nearly 300 amendments and introduced a entirely new section on—
I am prompted to intervene by the right hon. Lady's late adoption of the Campaign for Freedom of Information. At the general election, the Conservative party campaign guide said:
The only group in Britain who are seriously interested in a Freedom of Information Act are inquisitive left-wing busy bodies.
What led her to change her mind about that?
The stupid Bill that the Government introduced. I should have thought that even the right hon. Gentleman could work that one out. If his position has moved no further since the general election, all that I have to say is that he has not studied his own Bill, which reverses the significant improvements that we made through our code—it gave access to information, which he will deny. That is the background to our opposition to the Bill.
To the shame of the Liberal Democrats, having made so much of their commitment to freedom of information, they have done a deal with their partner, the Labour party, to ensure that our amendments would not be agreed to in the other place. It is high time the right hon. Gentleman came clean. Arrogant and incompetent, the Government do not want freedom of information, and they do not even want freedom of debate.
I find it extraordinary that we go through this performance whenever a guillotine is imposed. There are not many aspects of the political system in the United States that I admire, but we might emulate the arrangement under which, in the Senate, one can read into the record speeches that do not need to be heard by anyone else.
On every such occasion, the Secretary of State rises to his feet and, by contrast with the usual protestation—which involves saying that the previous Government were an awful, anti-democratic shower, that they treated the House with disdain, and that they were totally devoid of respect for the procedures and democratic opportunities in the House—argues that the fact that the previous Government used so many guillotines a year gives the present Government a good excuse for doing so. That is ridiculous. Rather than having to come to the House to make such a speech, the right hon. Gentleman would find it much easier if he could simply read his speech into the record.
Equally, the speech of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe)—the spokesman for the Conservatives, those repenting sinners—could be read into the record. That approach would also make life much easier for me: as I always argue on these occasions, would it not be better for the House to decide when and how it discussed such an issue, with an agreed programme motion so that we would give the proper moment—
No; I shall be speedy, unlike the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald.
Such an approach would allow us to debate and vote on those issues that are important rather than having an all-embracing final vote and generating a lot of heat, but no light. That is precisely what the Conservative party wants—it does not want to vote on the individual issues. If it did so, the remarkable transfer of its allegiance to the freedom of information movement would become apparent.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) could read into the record his usual sermon and his Old Testament denunciation of all Governments who did anything to try to get business through the House, even via programme motions and with agreed timetabling, and despite all Members having had an opportunity to put their point of view on a specific issue.
No, I will not.
The Government should respond to a specific issue: by using a timetable motion that is tied to an hour of the night, they have prevented us from having a proper debate. An indication was given to the House—I notice that Labour Members are nodding—that there would be sufficient time, through to midnight, for us to examine some of the issues. However, the fact that the format of the motion is tied to a specific time rather than to a number of minutes and hours means that we will not have the amount of time suggested. I understand that there is no technical reason whatever for denying us the appropriate time that we require—perhaps six and a half hours. If the debate lasted until midnight, there would be eight and a half hours—
No, I will not.
The Government are obliged to explain why they opted to use a guillotine motion that effectively takes the time used by the statements out of today's debate. It has already been pointed out that there are more than 120 amendments to discuss. If the Government's business manager calculated last week that eight and a half hours were required to debate the amendments, why have we been restricted by the format of the motion to a particular time?
There are also problems with the arrangements for tomorrow. The Government appear to have taken exactly the same view, and have decided that the guillotine will come down at 10 pm. We do not know, but we are told that it is highly likely that there will be a statement on the rural White Paper—that was pointed out in an intervention. If that is true, it would be much better if tomorrow's guillotine motion provided a specific length of time, and did not bring down the shutters at a particular hour.
I ask the Government, even at this stage, to consider whether it is possible to re-table tomorrow's timetable motion. After all, the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill is as complicated as the Freedom of Information Bill. In addition, more than 280 amendments cover, as I believe the Home Secretary said, 16 different subjects and three specific policy areas—access, rights of way and conservation—which, in normal circumstances, could have been dealt with in three separate Bills. To compress that debate into an even shorter time than tonight's debate shows, I am afraid, that the Government have lost control of their business.
The motion is misguided in principle and even more misguided in practical detail. I hope that the Government will learn their lesson, not only about today's proceedings, but about what should happen tomorrow. They should re-table tomorrow's timetable motion and enable us to have a proper debate.
Such debates have become something of a ritual, and the House does not perform well when we go through the motions ritualistically. I hope that we shall promptly get on to the substance of the debate, but I very much regret that there is a comparatively short time in which to debate some extremely important issues.
I intend to speak for only about two minutes. I want to place on record what happened under the previous Government.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) referred to a ritual. Perhaps we need some text to which all hon. Members could refer when they condemn our Government for introducing guillotines. The record is as follows: the previous Conservative Government guillotined 65 Bills.
I want to complete my argument. I shall give way at the end.
The previous Conservative Government guillotined 44 proceedings in Standing Committee and 34 sittings of the House dealing with Lords amendments. They guillotined 58 debates on Report, all on separate Bills, and 58 Third Readings of different Bills, but the Conservatives have the hypocrisy to condemn a Labour Government for introducing guillotines. [Interruption.] I have not even finished my list. The Conservative Government even guillotined, on two separate occasions, business dealt with by a Committee of the whole House. On four occasions, they guillotined Second Readings.
This should be on the record, and the public should know about it. The hon. Member for North Cornwall was right to talk of ritual, but I want to put that in context and give the background. Under the last Conservative Government, 201 separate proceedings were guillotined in the House of Commons.
Once again, we are being asked to consider a timetable motion. We considered one last week. It is the business of those who are concerned with good government to protest about this practice, because it is profoundly wrong.
I do not pretend that the fact that we are dealing with two Bills is exceptional, but it is at least unusual. We should remind ourselves that the two Bills that we are proposing to guillotine are by any stretch of the imagination important, and that many Lords amendments are attached to them. Nine groups of amendments—123 in all—have been tabled to the Freedom of Information Bill, but the debate will finish at midnight. We should also bear in mind the fact that when Members express their views by means of a Division, which they will from time to time, that Division will be included in the timetable.
Tomorrow we shall debate the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, to which 281 amendments have been tabled. I do not know how many groups of amendments there are, but I know, because it is in the timetable motion, that the debate will finish at 10 pm. It is very probable that a statement will be made on, for example, the rural White Paper, and that is bound to take some time because Mr. Speaker is bound to allow a decent period for discussion.
My right hon. and learned Friend need not speculate. The Order Paper tells us, does it not, that tomorrow will feature a ten-minute Bill, which may be controversial and on which the House may divide. In that event, the first half hour of business after 3.30 pm will inevitably be taken up with the ten-minute Bill, notwithstanding the possibility of a statement as well. So the time available is diminishing before our very eyes.
Indeed. Moreover, it would only take another crisis engineered by, for instance, the Deputy Prime Minister to trigger a private notice question, which would eat away at the time allowed for tomorrow's extremely important debate.
To make matters worse, there is another timetable motion on Wednesday, also applying to two Bills. That, no doubt, is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) described this as national guillotine week—a phrase that resonates especially strongly from her lips.
Would my right hon. and learned Friend care to comment on the information given by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)—for which the House is grateful —that the last Conservative Government guillotined an average of only three Bills per annum? This week we shall deal with three guillotines: that is three guillotines in one week, in one Session of Parliament.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. I always enjoy listening to the speeches of the hon.
Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), but he will forgive me for observing that he, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, went in for double counting in a quite extraordinary manner—and, furthermore, took care that we were not reminded of the divider of 18. That was my right hon. Friend's point, and it brings us to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for AldridgeBrownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who reminded us that the guillotine had been applied to 40 separate measures since 1997. That puts the speech of the hon. Member for Workington in its proper context.
I find it extraordinary that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) was not prepared to give way; but the Liberal Democrats, of course, have become a sub-set of the Labour Government. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that I would certainly be prepared to agree to consensual timetable motions on occasion if, and only if, we were also consulted on the volume of legislation to be announced in the Queen's Speech. I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman nodding. If there were an agreement entitling us to a decisive say on the volume of legislation and other business, there might—I put it no higher than that—be a case for a consensual timetable motion.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm, for the elucidation of the public, that even if there were no votes tonight—which is an unlikely contingency—and even if every amendment were debated, an average of less than two minutes would be allowed for consideration of each amendment? Does that not demonstrate the Government's contempt for the House of Commons?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. I shall come to the consequences of that in a moment, but I think that we need to remind ourselves of what the Home Secretary told us. I am sorry that he is not present now; he has left his two sidekicks to deal with the debate. He told us that a number of important amendments had been introduced in the other place, which, if we considered them at all, we would consider for the first time tonight.
Let us focus on what is bad about this process. For one thing, when we are dealing with nine groups of amendments—when we are dealing with 123 amendments, or 283—the inevitable consequence of a timetable motion is that a substantial number of them will not be discussed. It is no good the Home Secretary saying that some amendments moved in the other place were moved in pursuance of undertakings that he had given here. That may be true, but we are not in a position to scrutinise the language he has used, or to ask ourselves whether those amendments meet the undertakings he has given. Such an assurance constitutes no justification whatever.
As a result of these increasingly numerous timetable motions, elected representatives cannot scrutinise important legislation. That means that we cannot express our views on the amendments before us; it means that the interested parties who look to us to articulate their concerns will not have their concerns reflected in discussion; and it means that our constituents will not be able, through their elected Members, to express their views on legislation. All that is profoundly wrong.
With these timetable motions, we are stripping out part of the democratic process. If that were not bad enough, we are also stripping out part of the legislative process,
and our ability to improve legislation is being greatly diminished. There is yet a third offensive element, which I put to the Home Secretary. All the amendments originated in the House of Lords, and many will not be discussed here. That means that the unelected other place is making law. What possible justification can there be for that, in the 21st century?
That, I assume, is a reference to my right hon. and learned kinsman the former Lord Chancellor, who warned the country about an elective dictatorship. That is exactly the answer that he would give the hon. Gentleman. What he warned of is coming to pass: a tyrannical, dictatorial Government are using their Back Benchers to force through legislation. What is so bizarre is that the Government are using Labour Back Benchers to force through legislation emanating from the other place that has been voted on, or discussed only in the other place.
That is a scandal. Were it not happening now, we would not believe that it were possible. It reinforces strongly the case for an elected second Chamber. I believe—I make no bones about it—that we should have a wholly elected second Chamber. That at least would give some legitimacy to the process that we are seeing thrust upon us.
Order. First, we are not here to discuss the other place in any depth. Secondly, I am starting to hear arguments that I have heard more than once this evening.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have heard those arguments on other occasions, too. We are being told by Ministers to approve a timetable motion. Those of us who are against timetable motions come to this place whenever they are moved to debate them. Inevitably, the arguments are much the same; they go to democracy. It is an offence for us to be asked to approve such a timetable motion.
I have already this evening and on previous occasions described how such a motion undermines the legislative process, but worse than that, it undermines democracy. The country looks to the House of Commons to ensure that legislation is properly scrutinised. It assumes that legislation is properly scrutinised. The fact that people are willing to acquiesce in a given law reflects their belief that their elected representatives can and do scrutinise the legislation.
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a Minister in previous Administrations, was a guillotine ever used for legislation for which he or his Department was responsible?
I am sure that I did: I make no bones about it. I was in government for 13 years and, as part of the process of collective responsibility, I supported many things publicly that I privately disagreed with. That is thenature of collective responsibility. One of the joys of being with the Back Benchers is that I can say whatever I please without the slightest fear of committing either myself or those on the Front Bench.
Regrettably, I was in government for only nine years, so I cannot speak with quite the same authority as my right hon. and learned Friend. Will he concede, though, that what is radically different now is that we have not only an arrogant Government with a huge Commons majority, who have proved themselves capable of trampling over all our traditions and conventions and changing our rules, but a House of Lords that has been radically changed? The combination of the changes in the two Chambers of Parliament, the changes to Standing Orders and, now, national guillotine week, has removed all possibility of true accountability of Government to Parliament.
I need to be careful about what I say about the other place, lest you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, call me to order, but my right hon. Friend has made an important point. The other place contains many fewer independent-minded people than it did. I have never tried to defend the hereditary composition of the other place. I have always favoured an elected one, but at least the hereditary composition provided for an independent number of Members, as opposed to the present nomination system, which, on the whole, does not. We have lost the independent Members.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, on the particular legislation on which the Government are putting forward their guillotine tonight, we have an extra lack of independence, in that there has been a squalid deal between Liberal Democrat peers and the Government, apparently to the enormous displeasure of the Liberal Democrat spokesman in this Chamber, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—which is why he is not here? He is too embarrassed and has sent the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) to try to defend the indefensible.
If there has been a squalid deal between the Liberal Democrats and Labour, that does not surprise me. After all, we now understand from the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) that there was a secret deal to impose some form of coalition government on this country which was never disclosed to the electorate at the time of the general election, so I am not in the least surprised to hear that there has been a squalid deal between Liberal Democrat and Government Front Benchers.
Let us go back to what really matters because, in the end, the Liberal Democrats do not. To have authority, legislation depends on the process being properly adhered to. I do not believe that one can go on indefinitely passing laws that have neither been discussed nor scrutinised, without the electorate waking up to the fact that the law-making process is breaking down. Once that happens, we get a disenchantment with the process so great that the foundations of democracy are undermined.
The Government in that respect, as in many others, are undermining the foundations of democracy. Therefore the House—and those of us who are seriously concerned about representative government—needs to protest and go on protesting whenever such a motion is moved.
I offer absolutely no apology for having opposed guillotine motions when sitting on the Opposition Benches. I opposed them for the simple reason that I opposed the Bills themselves. As I did not want the Bills to pass into law, obviously, I used every opportunity to oppose guillotine motions. I have no objections to Conservative Members who basically oppose the Freedom of Information Bill and the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill saying that they oppose the guillotine motion. Some Labour Members may be of the view that that is wrong. I am not at all of that view. I opposed guillotine motions when in opposition; it is understandable that Conservative Members are doing so now.
As I said when I intervened on the Home Secretary, if there were no guillotine motion covering the two Bills, they could not pass into law in the current Session. If they do not pass into law in this Session, they are dead. There is no carry-over.
It is nonsense for the Conservatives to claim that they are really in favour of the Freedom of Information Bill and the right to roam Bill. One previous attempt to introduce a freedom of information Bill was made by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), but his Government opposed it. When my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) tried again to introduce such a measure, it was also opposed because the Conservatives did not want a freedom of information Bill. There may be certain new clauses and amendments that could strengthen the Bill. Some of are perhaps a little critical and believe that it could go further, but the Conservatives in office opposed any such measure. There would never have been a freedom of information Bill had the Tories been elected at the last election. That is a fact of life; it is no use pretending otherwise.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a time constraint. He seemed to imply that the motion was essential for the Government to complete their legislative programme against some deadline or other. Does he agree that the deadline is of the Government's making? Having set that completely arbitrary deadline—a Prorogation date; a Queen's Speech date—they must now introduce this motion, denying us the opportunity for debate. The motion is to meet their own self-imposed deadline.
It is a bit odd because the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) criticised us for beginning the new Session later than usual. Conservative Members cannot have it both ways. No hon. Member—certainly no Conservative Member—could be more opposed to the Freedom of Information Bill and the right to roam Bill than the right hon. Gentleman, so let us be clear what we are debating.
As we know, the right to roam Bill is strenuously opposed by many Conservative Members, especially in the other place. They do not like the Bill, and we know why: as they see it, their interests would be adversely affected by it. Can anyone imagine a Conservative Government introducing a right to roam Bill such as we shall be debating tomorrow? Of course not; Conservative Members are absolutely opposed to right to roam legislation.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that Opposition Members did not vote against the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill on either Second Reading or Third Reading? Will he also confirm that, in Committee, it was made abundantly clear that, although we would have preferred not to have the Bill, the Opposition's sole objective was to improve it? A testament to that fact is the vast number of Government amendments that have subsequently been tabled to the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman himself has just said it: Conservative Members would rather not have a right to roam Bill. Of course they did not oppose this Bill on Second Reading, but that was because of political opportunism. It would have been better and more honest if they had opposed it—as he has just done by saying that they would rather not have it.
I simply repeat my belief that the two Bills are useful and necessary. Although the Freedom of Information Bill could certainly be strengthened as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) would like, I want the two Bills to be enacted. If there is not a guillotine motion, the Bills will die, and that will be the end of it. There is every justification for the Government to ensure that they do not die, but go on to the statute book by the end of this Session. I have no hesitation at all in supporting the Government's guillotine motion.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate—which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said, is but the first of a series of debates in national guillotine week, in which the Government are seeking to curtail debate.
I do not want to reiterate arguments that have already been made. I shall restrict my remarks entirely to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, in which I have taken a close interest. I shall also try to demonstrate that, in relation to that Bill, the timetable motion has nothing to do with events of this week or with the artificial timetable that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst mentioned, but everything to do with Ministers' incompetence from the very first day on which they entered Government. Although the legislation was a manifesto item, it has taken Ministers until their third parliamentary Session to introduce it. One might have thought that Ministers would have wanted to introduce and implement it very quickly.
Conservative Members have never made any bones about the fact that, as the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) implied, we do not think that right to roam legislation is a sensible way of improving access to the countryside. However, such legislation was part and parcel of the Government's manifesto, as it had been part of Labour's manifesto for very many years. The fact that it has taken until the middle of the Government's third parliamentary Session to introduce a Bill defies the belief that Ministers are competent in managing their affairs.
The Bill was not introduced until this calendar year, well into the Session. Moreover, Ministers themselves have delayed the Bill. Not only were they late in introducing it, but, while it was in Committee, they moved an amendment to delete one entire schedule and to replace it with another very long and complicated schedule. Indeed, the new schedule was so long and complicated
that the Government decided to cancel an entire day's consideration in Committee, so that Committee members could consider it. Although I do not belittle the Government's generosity in thinking that we needed extra time to consider the new schedule, if they had got the confounded thing right initially, we would not have had to lose that day and the subsequent time in considering it.
In Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and the Minister for the Environment—who seems rapidly to be assuming the title of Minister for hot air—consistently opposed sensible amendments moved by me and my right. hon. and hon. Friends. However, when the self-same amendments were moved in the other place, Ministers accepted them. Although I am pleased that Ministers have accepted them, and I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will express their pleasure—if they have time tomorrow, given the vast number of amendments that we have to consider—that they have been accepted, the 100-plus hours to which the Home Secretary referred that were taken up considering them in the other place were unnecessary. The Government should have accepted the amendments when we moved them initially.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary will no doubt reply, "All we are doing is considering points that were seriously made in Committee, and returning to them as we promised to do." There were some occasions—which Opposition Members will welcome tomorrow, if we have time—when Ministers quite properly agreed to consider an argument made in Committee and to return to it. Previous Ministers have done the same and, I hope, future Ministers will do so, too. However, as I shall explain in more detail shortly, in Committee, the Under-Secretary and the Minister vehemently opposed many amendments and gave them no quarter, but they accepted them in the other place.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a major matter of principle here? If one is going to move substantial amendments, it should be done in this place, not least because we represent the electorate who will be affected by the consequences of the legislative change? Although I willingly concede that the other place brings great expertise, it does not accurately reflect or represent those on whom the legislation will directly impact.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a case with which I cannot disagree. I was planning on addressing the issue later, in relation to areas of outstanding natural beauty, but, as he has touched on it, I shall do so now.
AONBs are a major part of United Kingdom conservation legislation and, in Committee, my right. hon. and hon. Friends gently inquired why they were not included in the Bill. Ministers waited until the legislation was considered in the other place before moving copious amendments to establish not only the concept of AONBs, but conservation boards and all the paraphernalia that goes with them.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said, as those matters are dealt with in new clauses and could be considered, if at all, only at the end of our consideration tomorrow, there is a risk that they will not be debated in the House. Before any hon. Member jumps up and seeks to intervene, let me make it clear that I hope that we consider those matters. I shall certainly not be responsible for preventing us from considering them.
Although the Home Secretary seems to be ignorant of it, everyone else seems to know that, tomorrow, there will be a statement on the White Paper. Therefore, it is likely that we will not start considering the Bill until 5 o'clock, leaving us about five hours to consider 16 groups of amendments, in at least six of which there are also amendments to Lords amendments.
Although it is very important that we debate those provisions in part III, if we get to them, I hope that my hon. Friend, as a Front-Bench spokesman, is not suggesting that we skip over the vital amendments on improved or semi-improved grassland or the provisions touching on clause 13 and occupiers' liability, which would impose horrendous burdens on our constituents and which need to be dealt with properly in the House. That is to mention only a few amendments.
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not respond in too much detail on those amendments, because that is not what we are dealing with.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. I was about to refer to the matters that we will need to deal with before we get on to areas of outstanding natural beauty. I referred to them only because my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) mentioned them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) mentioned some of the amendments. It is worth while considering Ministers' responses to points made in Committee. We had a considerable debate about the definition of curtilage. The Minister for the Environment said:
Curtilage therefore has a meaning that can be flexibly applied to the facts of each case—
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am seeking to demonstrate that the Bill has had to be timetabled because of the Government's own incompetence during earlier stages.
The Minister for the Environment said:
Curtilage has a meaning that can be flexibly applied to the facts of each case. There is no reason to suppose that a statutory definition of curtilage will be any more helpful than the court's interpretation.—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 4 April 2000; c. 144.1
Despite all that, Lords amendment No. 153, a Government amendment, inserts
Land within 20 metres of a dwelling
as a definition of curtilage.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is now doing precisely what I asked him not to do. If he is not careful, he will attempt to have a debate today that we will probably have tomorrow.
There is of course the argument that there will not be much time tomorrow. I seek not to rehash the arguments but to demonstrate the fact that, if the Government had not taken such a bull-headed approach in Committee and rejected the selfsame amendments that they agreed to in the other place, we would not need to be having this debate, because proceedings in the Lords could have been completed and the legislation enacted some weeks ago.
My hon. Friend is on a very important point of principle. In view of the principle established in Pepper v. Hart, whereby a Minister's words can be used in interpretation, is not it vital that the Minister for the Environment comes to the Dispatch Box tomorrow to reverse what he said? Otherwise, when a court is faced on judicial review with a question concerning the interpretation of legislation, it will be faced with a Commons Minister saying one thing—
I believe that my right hon. Friend is entirely right. I am sure that when Ministers consider what they said in the past and what they will almost certainly have to say tomorrow, they will want at least to show some shame-facedness.
We also discussed in Committee the definition of mountain, moor, heath and down. We had a long debate on semi-improved and improved grassland. The Minister for the Environment said:
let me be absolutely clear: the cultivated land exception is not intended to be the mechanism for excluding improved or semi-improved pastures and fields from a right of access.—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 6 April 2000; c. 167.]
Yet Lords amendment No. 2 says that mountain, moor, heath and down does not include land that consists of improved or semi-improved grassland. That is a complete and utter volte-face.
I might be tempting providence if I read out countless more examples, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
One of the problems with the timetable is that we may not be able to probe Ministers about why they have changed their position so fundamentally. Does not that emphasise the injustice and lack of wisdom associated with a motion of this kind?
My right hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. Part of the House's duty is to challenge the Government about their reasons for tabling certain amendments, just as, in earlier stages, we challenged them about their reasons for opposing certain amendments. If their two positions are completely contradictory, we have to ask why, and we should have time for that.
I would like to think that the change of mind was all down to the persuasiveness of our arguments or those of my noble Friends but, whatever the reasons, we have a right to know.
It is not only ourselves but the thousands of people out there who will be affected who have a right to know. If a case turning on the definition of improved grassland goes to court, the court would have a problem.— The European Court of Human Rights would have a problem—
I apologise to my right hon. Friend if I did not answer his point adequately the first time. I agree with him, and his point is very important.
I will give one more example and—
Order. I think that the House has now heard enough examples. The arguments are getting rather repetitive. I hope that some new points will be made soon.
If I may say so, these are all new points, because they concern different issues on which the Government themselves have caused time to be wasted. Had the Government agreed to the amendments in the first place, we would not have wasted all that time in the other place, which has led to the need for the timetable motion.
The Hansard report will show that the Government clearly misled the Committee over occupiers' and owners' liability and then accepted that they had done so. The Minister for the Environment made a statement that proved to be entirely untrue, and he accepted that when he was challenged on it later. On liability and dry stone walls, he said
Listening to hon. Members' comments on walls, one might think it remarkable that there are any walls left in Dartmoor, much of the lake district, Snowdonia or many other areas that already have statutory rights of access—[Official Report, Standing Comtnittee B, 18 April 2000; c. 398.]
Surprise, surprise, Lords amendment No. 9 introduces an absolution for owners and occupiers from liability for
a risk of that person suffering injury when passing over, under—
believe it or not—
or through any wall, fence or gate.
There is a catalogue of examples of the Government's wasting the time of Parliament in its entirety: this Chamber and the other place. Had they introduced the Bill earlier and got it right, rather than doing it at the very last minute, and had they acceded in Committee to amendments to which they subsequently acceded in the other place, the motion would not be necessary.
Despite what the hon. Member for Walsall, North said, the Opposition have never sought to delay the Bill. Hon. Members need not take my word for that. The Minister and the Government Whip in Committee both put on record the statement that the Opposition were not wasting time. It is the Government's fault that we are in this
position, and the Government should pay the price. I do not want the Bill to fail, but the Government should have allowed us time to complete the debate on it.
I did not. I have said quite clearly that I do not want the Bill to fail because it contains a number of measures that I support. Yes, there are aspects that I do not wish to see implemented, but I have accepted that they will become law. My sole intent is to make the legislation more practical and feasible for all those whom it affects.
Nineteen minutes is an awfully long time, particularly when it contains a large amount of tedium. Will the hon. Gentleman remind us whether he said at the start of his speech that he and his party, broadly speaking, did not want to see the Bill hit the statute book?
If the hon. Gentleman had attended the earlier debates and listened to what I said, he would know that there has been no doubt in my mind—nor, I believe, in the minds of my colleagues—that we would rather not have had part I on the statute book. However, we have accepted that it will be law, and that simple bull-headed opposition will achieve nothing. We have thus concentrated all our efforts on trying to make part I more achievable, practicable, enforceable and understandable. Most of the arguments that we put forward earlier in the Bill's proceedings were rejected by the Government in Committee. They have subsequently seen the light, for which I rejoice, and have accepted many of those amendments in the other place.
It is the Government's fault that we are in this position. They had the opportunity to get the Bill through the House earlier, more effectively and more cleanly. They could have ended up with a piece of legislation that the House would in general support, although perhaps not in every aspect. As it is, we can be clear that whatever happens tomorrow night and however quickly my right hon. and hon. Friends and I move through the list of amendments, not all will get discussed. For that reason, I oppose the motion.
I thought that I heard the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) sighing, but he introduced a quite novel principle into the application of the guillotine. It was his submission, if I understood him correctly, that there should be no distinction in principle between the measure and the guillotine motion. He extended that principle to say that so long as the Conservative party was opposed to a measure, that was itself a proper reason for imposing a guillotine on it.
At least the hon. Gentleman had the courtesy to give way during his speech, which is more than can be said for the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip. However, the hon. Gentleman had a very good reason for not giving way. I see the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) smiling; I am coming to him.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall said at the outset that he was in favour of a system whereby speeches could simply be read into the record without having to be delivered at all. As that option was not available to him, he nevertheless went for the next best thing by reading his speech into the record. It follows, therefore, that he could not take interventions, and, indeed, he refused to do so.
The hon. Member for Workington made a very mischievous speech.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is right to object to the way in which the Government propose to truncate the debate. He is also right to upbraid the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). [Interruption.] I am indeed addressing the Chair; 1 do not need lectures from a sedentary position from the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). Does my hon. Friend agree that the rather tribal attitude that the hon. Member for Walsall, North habitually displays might be one of the reasons why the late Lord Wilson famously described him as the silliest man in Parliament?
Leaving aside the rubbish of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) misinterpreted what I said. I said that if the Opposition oppose a measure, it is understandable that they would oppose a guillotine to hasten the progress of that measure, such as the one that we are debating today.
I take the hon. Gentleman's correction. I entirely understand his desire to see a timetable motion used to get a Bill of which he approves on to the statute book. However, it has been our case all along that this would not have been necessary if the measure had been properly handled.
The hon. Member for Workington drew attention to what he described as 201 separate pieces of business on which the previous Government imposed a timetable motion. He sat down before he could be interrogated about whether that was a record that he admired—because he seemed to imply that it was—and whether it was his intention that the Government should attempt to emulate it. The hon. Gentleman gives every impression of being prepared to support the Government in this timetable motion.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has done the House a marvellous service tonight. He is man of honour and integrity, as well as being my next-door neighbour. He has confirmed—and I do not think that anyone in the House will challenge
his word—that during the 18 years of the previous Tory Government we averaged only three guillotines a year. Now we are running at four a week.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Perhaps I should make it clear, so that there is no misunderstanding, that one was referring to the number of Bills guillotined by the previous Government, not all the individual motions which the hon. Member for Workington double counted. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah !"] However, he has confirmed that the previous Government guillotined, on average, slightly more than three Bills per annum.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will answer my question: is that a record of which he approves and does he support his Government's guillotine because it is an attempt to emulate that record?
I think that the hon. Gentleman should have listened to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he said that in the last five years when Labour was in opposition, we decided that we would take a more co-operative approach on these matters. We decided we would co-operate with the then Government whenever possible and, indeed, we did so. The hon. Gentleman may wish to pursue that.
I was asked another question, something to do with 201 by 3. I have forgotten it now, but I will remember in a minute.
I will deal with that point shortly, but first I return to a phrase first used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) when she referred to this as national guillotine week. I thought that although that is a very useful way of describing this week, it does not take sufficient account of the fact that last week was also national guillotine week. Indeed, there will be similar weeks to come—every week will be national guillotine week.
In his opening speech, the Secretary of State complained that there was an occasion when the previous Conservative Government had guillotined two Bills not at the end of the parliamentary Session but at the beginning of it, in December. Has the Secretary of State recognised that from now on all Bills will be, in effect, guillotined as a consequence of the decisions that were taken 10 days or so ago?
That prompts me to wonder why we have so many guillotines this week. We have had a couple of weeks of fairly light whipping, and from next week we face the prospect of all Bills being programmed—that is, guillotined. It would not have been too much to expect if Members had been required to sit up late two or three nights this week, given the importance of the Bills under consideration. Is it the case that the guillotines before us are for the convenience of Members? I suspect so, but also that matters go further than that.
If this evening's business is taken when we have only 27 minutes for each group of amendments, there will effectively be time only for the Front-Bench spokesmen to have their say. That will curtail any Back-Bench contribution, which is the purpose of programming. The hon. Member for Workington said that his party, when it was the Opposition, began to co-operate, which led to a diminution in the need for guillotines. He recommended that course to us, but co-operation—enforced co-operation will increasingly be the case under programme motions—will always be used to stifle dissent on the Back Benches.
Anyone who sat through our debates on the Scotland Act 1998—programmed from beginning to end—will be aware that the person most disadvantaged was the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Time and again, debates were arranged by the hon. Gentleman's own Front Benchers in such a way as to exclude the contributions that he wished to make on key elements that went through without being discussed at all. That is the problem with all timetable motions. They can be used to ensure that Front Benchers have their say, and that dissent, whether from the Government or Opposition Benches, is silenced.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) is not in his place. He advanced a deeply distasteful concept when he referred to these proceedings as a ritual. As a Conservative, I view rituals with caution and respect, and I must ask to what ritual he was referring. The rituals in question are freedom of speech and the right to represent those who sent us here. I am not dismissive of either concept. Both are important, but the hon. Gentleman thinks that they are not. He thinks that it is somehow denigratory to have freedom of speech and to be free to represent the views of those who sent us here.
Last week, the hon. Gentleman voted against a guillotine. I take it from the burden of his remarks that he will do so again today on a motion affecting two Bills. Did he mean that the ritual had convinced him to vote against the guillotine? He said that he would like all Bills to be—in his grandiloquent word—programmed, and that even when they are, we do not necessarily fail to debate important areas of Bills. The Police (Northern Ireland) Bill was perhaps the most powerful demonstration against that, and I do not want to waste too much time on the triviality and deeply offensive ideas that the hon. Member for North Cornwall holds on representative democracy.
The hon. Gentleman was supporting the Home Secretary's motion. I speak only in the context of the Freedom of Information Bill, as I do not have the
knowledge to speak on the second Bill. The Home Secretary said that there is, at the end of a parliamentary Session, an imperative to secure the Government's business. That business could be set off course by the shuttling between the other place and this one, and he therefore had to address that imperative.
An assumption lay behind his words that has become a commonplace under the Government since 1997. They say that all Governments must get their business. That has never been a constitutional proposition in the United Kingdom. Governments propose, and, in one sense, the House of Commons disposes. Governments bring measures before the House. Those measures may have had the support of the electorate who made the Government, but no electorate have ever examined the detail of a Bill, know what is hidden in the clauses or sub-clauses or know in advance the weight of the criminal sanctions to be imposed in legislation. That is why the process of being able to examine and unpick legislation is something that all Governments seek. Our system secures authority by allowing those opposed to have their say. That is the most crucial element in asserting the rights of the people and the old Burkean concept of consent, not just allegiance.
Does my hon. Friend agree that an even more sinister thought lies hidden behind the new principle that he has identified? It is that the Government of the day can be assumed to have a right to any number of Bills, because the programming mechanism that the Government have single-handedly imposed on the House implies that the Government may determine how little time can be given to each Bill and therefore how many Bills—an unlimited number—can be forced through in a Session. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the implication of the arrangements that we face in the new Session?
My hon. Friend makes, as always, an extremely powerful speech. Does he agree that what he is criticising the Government for doing was wisely encapsulated in the other place by Lord Archer of Sandwell, a Labour peer attacking his own side, who said:
I'll be judge, I'll be jury", said cunning old Fury;
I'll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death"?—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 November 2000; Vol. 619, c. 214.1
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case that Parliament exists to question the Executive. What would he do, however, if he were faced by an Opposition who, on many occasions, insisted on dragging out the process of legislation with a view to destroying it? Oppositions raise valid issues, but are there no circumstances in which the hon. Gentleman would have to come to terms with the use of some mechanism to ensure that Oppositions should not be allowed to destroy Bills that the majority of the House of Commons feels are wanted by the wider public?
I said that our system secures authority by allowing those opposed to have their say. The hon. Gentleman—who double and treble-counted to give us an extraordinary relationship on the number of guillotine motions used—[Interruption.]
Under Mrs. Thatcher, 34 Bills were guillotined in the House. As the hon. Member for Workington said, 64 motions were required to guillotine 34 Bills. That took place over slightly more than 11 years. Let us contrast it to the conduct of the Labour Government, who in three and a half years—less than one Parliament—have already guillotined 40 Bills, requiring more than 50 motions. The hon. Gentleman's list would not even include the motion to guillotine the two Bills that we are discussing. Even if we allow for the agreement of Conservative Front-Bench Members and of the hon. Member for North Cornwall to such timetables, only 18 Bills could be deducted from the Government's total.
This matter raises a point of principle. What makes us angry about the imposition of such guillotines is that Governments are disposing of the most essential process for giving legitimacy to the laws that they make. This procedure has become a system of management of the Commons. The hon. Member for North Cornwall applauds that as merely ritualistic, but in fact it is destructive of the House and of its standing with those who sent us here.
I am fearful that guillotines such as this undermine the standing of Governments. Governments can talk directly to the electorate, but how do the electorate talk back to them? They can talk back only through us as the representatives that they sent to this place. If we are so marginal that a majority is mobilised to stop proper discussion of measures, we undermine our system of authority.
I did not intend to speak for long, but the arguments adduced by the Home Secretary as to the need for the guillotine do not stand up to reasonable examination. The Government's assertion is deeply offensive when they tell those who are opposed to, or who want to examine or improve measures how they should go about their business of representing the arguments of those who sent them to this place. The guillotine should be rejected.
We have heard an interesting combination of arguments, ranging from the principled to the detailed. Those used by Government Members all seemed to start from several propositions that would, I suspect, be accepted by very few Opposition Members. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has just reminded the House, the first of those propositions is the completely new idea that has arisen—at least it is new to me, and, obviously, to my hon. Friend—that a Government have the divine right to push through any amount of legislation they choose, at a time of their choosing, in a given Session of Parliament.
I did not know that that was a principle of our constitution. I was not aware that that was the result of centuries of historical development of the relationship between Parliament and the Executive—but suddenly it has burst on to the political scene. We are told with great confidence, even by the Home Secretary, that apparently the Government of the day have a right to any amount of legislation, and also have the right so to structure the parliamentary timetable as to fit that legislation into a given amount of time. That is further reflected in the fact that during the debate, Labour Members told us repeatedly that there was to be a timetable on the consideration of other Bills due to come to us from another place this week. Given that time limit, we are told that we must truncate debate on this week's business.
That argument poses some difficulties. The first is that the time limit is of the Government's making. They have decided, quite arbitrarily, that the Queen's Speech will be next week, so the House must prorogue before that. That time limit is only of the Government's making, because of their incompetence in managing their legislative programme for this year to date.
Within that, there is another artificial time constraint. What is so magic about midnight? Do we all turn into pumpkins? Do we turn into something else? Do our shoes no longer fit? I do not understand why, according to the Government's timetable motion, deliberations on the Freedom of Information Bill must finish at midnight. Even more bizarrely, proceedings on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill must finish at 10 o'clock tomorrow night.
I realise that the Government have imposed on the House a new set of Standing Orders, under which it is decreed that in the next Session of Parliament, the House will not deliberate, or—more accurately—that it will not vote, after 10 pm. But we are still in the current Session, not the next one, so I am not aware that there is a requirement to end our consideration of Bills at 10 o'clock on a given night.
I am aware that Labour Members are delicate flowers—especially the babes. I know that they want to go home, presumably not to their constituencies, although some of them are probably there already; indeed, they may not yet have arrived back—perhaps they will not arrive back at all. I understand all that, but, like many of my hon. Friends, I continue to cling to the belief that the primary duty of Members of this House is to be in the Chamber to hold the Government to account—not against an artificial time limit, but using the amount of time reasonably required to investigate properly what they are doing.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, judging by previous debates, the Government did not need to be especially wise to anticipate that substantial debate would be needed—certainly on the Freedom of Information Bill? As they could have foreseen that some months ago, would it not have been judicious to consider a recall of Parliament in September to facilitate that proper debate for which my right hon. Friend rightly asks?
As ever, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I did not necessarily want to review the year to date in detail, but the Government passed up many opportunities to use the time of the House to examine legislation properly. Fridays have come and gone. Business has finished early and prematurely. The three-month summer recess came and went. None of those opportunities were taken by the Government to allow us to examine legislation.
My hon. Friend knows the answer to the question: the Government have so mismanaged their legislative programme this year that they have put themselves in the position of having to meet artificially imposed time deadlines. They passed up many opportunities—indeed, because of their mismanagement, many opportunities were not even available to them.
Surely one of the best examples of the Government's complete mismanagement of time was when they gave time to a private Member's Bill to outlaw the sale of hamburgers in the royal parks. They gave that Bill time in the Chamber and imposed a guillotine. Debate on the measure on the Floor of the House took about two days, which could better have been devoted to important measures such as the Freedom of Information Bill.
My right hon. Friend and I could reminisce at some length about the Government's odd priorities. One of these days, someone will no doubt write a paper on the subject—examining this Session and musing about why the Government chose to spend inordinate amounts of parliamentary time on what can only be described as relatively minor matters, while having the gall and arrogance to tell the House that this week, which is artificially deemed to be the final week of the Session, only a certain amount of time will be allocated to deal with such major measures as the Freedom of Information Bill and the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill.
Before I enter into the substance of my remarks, I shall consider briefly some of the provisions of the motion. No one has yet done so, and it would be worth spending a little time on them. My eye lit on paragraph 3, which is headed "Subsequent stages". Sub-paragraph 3(1) states:
The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the consideration forthwith of any further Message from the Lords on either of the Bills.
However, sub-paragraph 3(2) states—crucially—
The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.
The Government are thus imposing on us in the further stages of consideration—if measures go from this to another place and, perhaps, return—an arbitrary limit of one hour. So things are worse than we thought. Not only are we being limited to the magic hour of midnight tonight for the consideration of the Freedom of Information Bill, and to 10 o'clock tomorrow for the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill—on which, incidentally, we still do not know the groupings, the selection or anything else, which leaves us in a rather difficult position—but under paragraph 3(2), the Government tell us that there will be a limit of one hour on subsequent discussion.
I regret to say many Members regard the Reasons Committee as a trivial, automatic mechanism contained in the motion, but it is nothing of the kind. The Reasons Committee is an important element of our deliberations and it requires, as the motion reminds us, a
Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment, nomination and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons.
So far as I can see—subject to correction by any Member, or, indeed, any Minister—the motion states:
The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion.
So the House will not even be given an opportunity to debate the Government's mandate for the appointment, nomination or quorum of the Reasons Committee. That is another matter that is being swept aside. We are supposed to assume that the Government—omniscient and omnipotent as they now regard themselves—can impose the Reasons Committee on the House without giving us an opportunity for debate, although there will be an opportunity to vote.
Will my right hon. Friend consider whether one of the reasons why the Government are behaving in a draconian and anti-democratic way may be related to the fact that there was such a substantial rebellion on the Government Benches when the Freedom of Information Bill was first introduced, when about 37 Labour Members were unwilling to support the Minister?
Tempted though I am, I do not want to intrude unnecessarily into the Government's grief, but it is true that they may be structuring such rigid timetables because they do not want to provide too much time for Labour Members to express their dissent. That is at least a possibility; I put it no stronger than that.
To finish the point about the Reasons Committee, paragraph 6(2) of the motion states:
Proceedings in the Committee shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion 30 minutes after their commencement.
That is yet another way in which, almost surreptitiously, the Government are assuming that all the normal mechanisms that have become available to the House over centuries, which we have developed to discharge our duties and responsibilities properly, are being swept aside with the casual arrogance that has become the hallmark of the Government.
The Government are not content with their gigantic majority in the House, nor with destroying the independent element of another place and replacing it with what have become known, rather disrespectfully, as Tony's cronies. Never mind all that; hidden in paragraph 6(2), we find that in the discharge of its duties, the deliberations of the Reasons Committee—an important, if small part of our proceedings—will be timetabled to 30 minutes.
The motion contains several smaller, but equally draconian, restrictions on the time that will be available for the House to discharge its duties properly. I shall now begin to consider the structure of the timetable for the Bills themselves. As has been said many times, there are about 120 Lords amendments to the Freedom of Information Bill. The way things are heading, by my calculation, the House will probably have only about three and a half hours in which to consider all the 120 amendments. That would be bad enough, even if it were not for the content of some of the groupings that the Government have made.
I understand that at this stage in proceedings, rather unusually, it is Ministers who determine the grouping of amendments, not the Chairman of Ways and Means, as is usual. That in itself makes the procedure somewhat unusual, because we normally look to the impartiality of the Chair to give us some protection, through the even-handed selection of amendments and their grouping. However, as if the Government did not have enough advantages, as if they were not taking enough powers to themselves, and as if they were not restricting Back Benchers on both sides of the House sufficiently, they can also group the amendments for their own convenience. Given that fact, and given what we know of the selection of amendments to the Freedom of Information Bill, we shall have completely inadequate time to debate some very important matters.
The item that is lucky enough to appear early on the selection list—the subject of public interest and exemptions—may receive reasonable scrutiny and consideration. Knowing that there is rightly a great deal of interest in that matter on both sides of the House, I suspect that it will be debated at some length and considered properly, and I should not be surprised if the House were to divide as well. If that is the case, all subsequent business will be put at risk—and we should not imagine that any of it is trivial. I should have thought that some of the later items—fees for disclosure, special provisions, public interest and so on—in the Freedom of Information Bill will attract a great deal of attention, not just in the House but outside.
My right hon. Friend has helpfully explained the sort of subjects that we will be obliged to address in our truncated debates. Is he aware that our present understanding is that the Home Secretary intends to deal with the sixth and eighth categories of amendments? Does he not think it just conceivable that the right hon. Gentleman has opted to deal with categories six and eight in the fervent hope that the eloquence of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), among others, will prevent those matters from being reached? Would not that be an undemocratic disgrace of the first order?
Much though I respect the Secretary of State, I am not anxious for us to engineer the business so that he makes some sort of dramatic appearance at a late stage to seek either to impress or to depress us—I am not sure which. I am much more interested in the implications of what my hon. Friend says. If we look at the groups of amendments to the Freedom of Information Bill as the Government have imposed them on us, we see that the first group is very important, and may rightly occupy some time in deliberation, and, no doubt, Division, but the others are by no means trivial.
There are very important provisions on Wales and Northern Ireland and important matters bearing on the relationship between the parts of the United Kingdom and on the implications of the Bill for the very different Administrations that we now have in those different parts of the United Kingdom. I should have thought that there would, rightly, be a lot of interest in such matters among those with a knowledge of, and an interest in, the relative roles in our constitutional affairs of the Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland, as covered by that group of amendments.
There is a group that catches my eye. As soon as I see the words "drafting and minor", I am almost certain that the amendments will cover important, controversial and difficult matters that the Government wish to conceal. It is an old trick, but we understand it fully. I should not be surprised if we were to spend an unusual amount of time on that group, because we shall want to winkle out what the Government want to conceal by giving it that rather bland title.
The phrase "Historical records and the Public Record Office" sounds innocuous, does it not? However, that group contains all sorts of implications that should be considered. Another group of amendments is entitled, "Advice and assistance to persons making requests for information". The Government probably think that we can rush through all those amendments and accept them on the nod, but I should have thought that that is far from the case. Although I have gone only halfway down the selection list, I need go no further, because I have not yet even begun to deal with the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill.
It is clear, to me anyway, that substantial matters have to be dealt with, but there is a pathetically short time for the House to consider them properly. As if that were not difficult enough, when I came into the debate, I still did not know how the amendments to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill would be grouped. The groupings may have been promulgated since—although I doubt it—but I do not know how many amendments the House will be able to consider tomorrow. Tomorrow's Order Paper already contains notice of a ten-minute Bill. Although the debate on such a Bill can take as little as 10 minutes, proceedings on it can take half an hour if there is opposition to it and a Division. That happened last week.
One of my hon. Friends said that he had reason to believe that there would be a statement tomorrow on a rural White Paper. The Home Secretary was rather shy when he was asked about that earlier, but there is at least the possibility of such a statement.
We already face the possibility that we may not commence our consideration of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill until 5 o'clock tomorrow afternoon, yet in the motion, the Government tell us that they expect deliberations on it to be completed by 10 o'clock. We might have only five hours to debate 280 amendments. It does not take a mathematical genius or a rocket scientist to divide one figure by the other and to come up with the answer that the time that the Government suggest we should have for the debate is lamentably and scandalously small and inadequate.
It could be argued that, as is our custom, the amendments will be divided into groups, but we do not know the groupings yet. In other words, the Government are asking us to sign a blank cheque by asking us to agree to the motion and the time limits in it. We know how many amendments to the Bill have come from another place, but we know nothing of how they will be grouped or the structure of the debate that will be suggested to us. That is entirely unsatisfactory.
We can consider the motion from the perspective of an overview of the legislative year and try to fit it into that, or we can look at it upwards from our position as humble parliamentary ants on the Opposition Back Benches—mere cogs in the great machine of parliamentary consideration. However, from every angle, the motion before us is entirely unsatisfactory. It is typical of the Government's approach to the House of Commons.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, particularly as I think that he was going to try out other similes on us.
Is the position not even worse than that described by my right hon. Friend? We shall have one minute to discuss each amendment tomorrow, and in that time, Ministers will have to try to explain why they said something totally different in Committee. Is it not imperative that we have time for the explanations to be given, so that we do not get into a legal quagmire later?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. He has highlighted one of the difficulties that always exist. The theory of parliamentary scrutiny is that each measure is considered in a number of stages, and that there is a relationship between the stages. Issues considered on Second Reading, in Committee or on Report in this House, and in the different stages in another place, and all the issues that are sent from one House to the other, interrelate. That is inevitable, so we in this Chamber would want to take account of what a Minister might have said in Committee or on Report. We would also properly want to take into consideration what the Government and their representatives had said in the other place. Will we have time to do that? The answer is patently no.
I do not dispute the fact that we may be able to consider one or two groups of amendments—but there are so many amendments in so many groups, and so little time, that the House will not be able to discharge its responsibilities properly. That is how serious the matter is. Unless I hear an argument that is much more persuasive than those that I have heard already, even from someone as eminent and distinguished as the Home Secretary, I will be unable to accept the motion. Unless my hon. Friends hear something much more persuasive, I invite them to join me in opposing it.
It is a privilege to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). Mine will be a more modest speech.
An argument often deployed in favour of timetabling is that it enables what truly needs discussing to be discussed. In moving the Modernisation Committee's proposals on the programming of Bills on 7 November this year, the Leader of the House referred to an encouraging experiment in the Committee stage of the Greater London Authority Bill. No Government member of that Committee is present tonight, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst was on the Committee. He will recall that, despite our discussing 270 clauses and 30 schedules, we scarcely had time under the timetable motion to discuss congestion charging or the car park levy.
The Government say that the Opposition always have the ability to choose what they regard as significant.
Last week, in defending the guillotine on the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, said that, of the 140 amendments,
some 40 are minor and miscellaneous.—[Official Report, 21 November 2000: Vol. 357, c. 182.]
The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) then took four-and-a-half columns, or 19 minutes, on amendments that the selection list described as minor and miscellaneous; Conservative and Unionist Members took just over a column; the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), who supports the Government, took a little less than a column; and the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) took a little over a column. In all, Government Back Benchers ensured that the "minor and miscellaneous" element that the Minister had used to defend the guillotine motion took a whole hour of the five hours available for debate. I acknowledge that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst might think that minor and miscellaneous amendments should receive massive attention. However, on that occasion, Government Back Benchers crowded out debate on issues that others wanted to discuss.
The Unionist parties were particularly concerned to discuss flags and emblems. In that debate, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) took a little over two columns; the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) took two columns; and the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) took a column and two thirds. I acknowledge that I spoke for half a column, but the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who also supports the Government, began his speech by saying:
I rise reluctantly to make two points, which have not been given the prominence that they should receive in the debate.—[Official Report, 21 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 238.]
He then went on to speak for two-and-a-half columns, which was longer than anyone else in the debate. However, I acknowledge that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann devoted three columns to the issue of police recruitment.
Earlier this afternoon, I intervened on the Home Secretary to ask whether consideration of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill in 1981—the parallel Bill to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill—had been guillotined. He replied that it had not. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) then asked the Home Secretary about Bills that were guillotined in 1980-81 and effectively made my point for me. The 1981 Bill was framed in a manner that made it acceptable to the Opposition. I accept that the other place discussed it for 10 days—indeed, they did so knowledgeably—but the Bill did not require a guillotine.
Some of us welcome the wildlife aspects of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill but are concerned about the setting in which those aspects have been placed. People outside are also interested in the wildlife provisions and they wrote to us saying that they were concerned that the Government might not be able to carry the Bill, and the Government have proved that they will be able to carry it only with the use of a guillotine motion.
I am an old-fashioned fellow. I never sign early-day motions except those of a memorial nature. I treat the others as a form of constitutional graffiti. I do not hurry to vote on ten-minute rule Bills, a legislative mode that deludes and deceives the general public. The creation of more than 300 all-party groups likewise misleads our electors as to their significance. The fact that the one that took the number up to 300 was concerned with chocolate exemplifies their potential insubstantiality.
I suppose that guillotine motions make the hair stand up on the back of my neck, but what is most disturbing is that campaigns that used to last a year—I think of the year of the tree, the year of the child and the year of literature—have now spawned campaigns that last a week, including, I learn from right hon. and hon. Friends, national guillotine week. However, I see nothing that will stop the Government, who are taking on the characteristics of Gadarene lemmings, from inventing the year of the lottery as well.
Parliament has existed for more than seven centuries and, in that time, we have forged a remarkable array of legislative instruments from our collective wisdom and experience. It is sad that so destructive an instrument as the serial guillotine is being deployed so ruthlessly to cut us down to size.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) for allowing me to speak before him because he has sat more assiduously than I have through the debate.
Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I am becoming outraged by the Government's attitude, as exemplified by the guillotine motion. The Government seem to want to reduce Parliament to nothing more than an electoral college in which they have been put in power merely to bring the motions and Bills that they want rubber-stamped back to the House before they go on their way. That is this evening's approach, and the 40 Bills that have been guillotined in just three years are further evidence of it.
We should remember that the House of Commons had a three-month break this summer. If we had used some of that time to examine the Bills that clogged up the other place, we would not find the legislative programme in such a poor condition. It is clear that the Government pushed us away on our holidays because they did not want and did not trust their Back Benchers to examine their legislative programme. The Government thought that they would be better off if the detailed amendments that they were obliged to table—such as any Government might be obliged to table to such highly complex Bills—were examined in the other place and not in the House of Commons, perhaps during an extended consideration on Report.
No doubt the Government were also concerned about the threat of Back-Bench revolts. We know that such revolts are imminent today on aspects of the Government's programme. We wish Labour Members well in joining us to get some democratic accountability in the House for the Government's action.
I would no more suggest that than I would describe my right hon. Friend, who said that we were the ants of the parliamentary system, as a drone.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House should revolt against the motion because it goes against the basis on which Parliament is elected. My constituents cannot understand why we do not have the power and the time to examine major pieces of Government legislation and why unelected Members of another place are given that time when it is denied to us.
The truth is that the extended recess also played into the Government's hands by allowing Ministers to do their job without being properly called to account in the Chamber. They get a double gain at our expense: their legislative programme is rammed through because they have run out of time at the end of the parliamentary Session—that is their excuse today—and during the recess they can get on with the job of government without being made accountable for disasters such as the fuel crisis.
For reasons that I have never agreed with, we have always had long summer recesses. I have argued that we should return in September, but I have not noticed much enthusiasm for that from Conservative Members, and certainly not from those on either Front Bench. If the hon. Gentleman checks up on what happened in 1992, he will discover that we broke up—if my memory is correct—in the middle of July. We had two extra weeks and the recess was longer than it was this year.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing us on to the historical record. Labour Members have told us what a well-behaved Opposition they were, but people who were in Parliament at the time have a different memory of how business was conducted. The fact is that from 1992 onwards there was a slimmer majority and there were other means of putting pressure on the Executive. The tried and tested method of putting pressure on an Executive with a large majority is that Opposition Members may scrutinise every detail of a Bill before it is allowed to pass through this place.
The hon. Gentleman referred to how well the previous Opposition claimed to behave, but in 1992 they were so anaemic that they refused to vote against a guillotined Bill that a handful of Ulster Unionists and some Tory and Labour Members were scrutinising and that was being imposed on the people of Northern Ireland without their consent.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that example of the hopeless way in which Labour Members opposed the previous Government.
I am concerned that the collective amnesia of Labour Members also extends to a collective amnesia among Ministers about affairs for which they are responsible. Ministers spend far too much time cocooned in their offices surrounded by civil servants who tell them what they want to hear. It is only when they come to the Chamber that they hear the blunt truth. If the Ministers who are on the Front Bench tonight were to listen for a minute, they would hear a few blunt truths.
Just 12 days ago, I challenged the Prime Minister on the Labour party's conduct in putting the Freedom of Information Bill through another place and the way in which Labour Members there, with the support of Liberal peers, voted to give Ministers a right to deny access to information instead of giving the people the right to freedom of information just the night before. The Prime Minister seemed to be affronted that any Conservative Member of the House could dare to challenge the Government's credentials on the issue of freedom of information, but it will go down in the annals of this place that on a Bill about freedom of information we are not allowed freedom of discussion. That is the scandal of tonight's debate. Many Conservative Members have a consistent record of promoting and defending the principle of freedom of information.
I am even more alarmed by the Prime Minister's letter of 20 November in which he responded to detailed points that I raised to highlight the serious consequences of the Government's neutering of the Freedom of Information Bill. In the context of important information about the health hazards posed by building new incinerators, the Prime Minister said that the allegation that officials had hidden information on health and incinerator emissions was false. I was referring to an article in The Guardian on 10 November which began—
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not hear me call another hon. Gentleman to order. There is a limit to how much time he can use to give his example. He has made his point and he needs to address his remarks to the motion.
My point is that Ministers are so out of touch with what is going on in the real world with regard to the lack of freedom of information that they would greatly benefit from a proper debate on each group of amendments tonight so that they realise the full import of how they are neutering the Freedom of Information Bill.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is moving back to the subject that I asked him to move off. He should choose his words carefully and perhaps withdraw that last remark.
I would be happy to withdraw any remarks if they are against the norms of the House, but it is difficult to reconcile a factual statement by the Prime Minister with evidence from both sides of the House and statements from Labour Members that directly contradict him.
My point goes to the heart of the Government's problem. They are selling us assurance after assurance on Bill after Bill, and we are finding it harder and harder to accept a single word of what they say. When we examine the evidence and the facts behind what they are saying, we realise that the truth is often diametrically opposed to what they have told us.
I shall spend a few minutes on the other Bill that is to be guillotined tonight—the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said, we do not even know to which sets of amendments the guillotine will apply. The set of amendments dealing with vehicular rights of way greatly affects my constituents. I know that many Opposition Members and some on the Government
side are still not content with the extent to which the Government have revised the Bill in another place, and we want a full and proper debate on that important issue.
By guillotining the Bill today, without knowing whether we will have even a minute to discuss those amendments tomorrow and to interrogate Ministers on the basis on which they have amended their Bill in respect of vehicular rights of way, we are denied a key opportunity to put right an injustice that affects home owners across the country as a result of a quirk in the law.
I should be grateful if, in his response tonight, the Minister could give us an assurance about how that matter will be dealt with. I see him shaking his head, which exactly proves my point—
Order. I suspect that the Minister is shaking his head because he does not want to respond to a question that I have already told the hon. Gentleman he should not be putting.
That is most distressing, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are being asked to vote blind on the guillotine motion. As my right hon. Friend said, we are being asked to give a blank cheque to the Government so that we cannot hold them to account at all.
Yet again, we see how hon. Members are being neutered by guillotine motions. It is now only in another place that any change in the law takes place. Here, we are not allowed even to debate and interrogate Ministers. We are told by them that we must shut up and put up.
I hope that in the course of the main debate on the amendments, Ministers will deal more fully with the points that I have raised. The allegations against Ministers could not be more serious. Unless there is time for them to answer those allegations fully and comprehensively tonight, we will have proved once more how these guillotine motions are depriving the British people of their right to hold the Government to account.
I intended firmly to say nothing during this part of the debate, and I am sorry to have relented, but I do so only under provocation and for less than a minute.
Although I admire the shameless energy of some Opposition Members, the naive question persists: why on earth are we spending all this time talking about our inability to discuss matters, whereas if we took a little less time, that acre of space would open up—
I will not give way—and we could discuss all the matters which, we are told, are of extreme importance?
When in government, the party now in opposition strenuously opposed everything to do with freedom of information. Despite Sir Richard Scott's report and the report of an all-party Select Committee with a Conservative majority, which recommended that we should move from a code to an Act in this area, that was opposed by the Conservatives when in government. When suddenly they announce their conversion to that cause, against their history, and announce their deep desire to speak about all these important issues, yet spend all their time preventing the House from discussing all the important issues, it is difficult to take them seriously.
It is true that Bills should not be guillotined. It is true that that is a democratic outrage. It is true that 120-odd amendments should not be presented for discussion in scarcely four hours. It is an outrage this time, and it was an outrage last time it happened. It is an outrage under the present Government, and it was an outrage under the previous Government. It has been an outrage for as long as anyone here can remember.
The real indictment of this place is that nothing has been done about that, because on such occasions hon. Members would rather spend their time getting into a great froth about the absurdity of our procedures than reforming them. We have hour upon hour of debate, or of the depressing spectacle that passes for debate, going through the ritual whose words we all know by heart, to prevent us from discussing matters that we are supposed to discuss. The solution is a better legislative timetable so that that does not happen, and procedural reform to make sure that we discuss issues properly. Because I want to get on with that now, I shall sit down.
I listened carefully to all the contributions to the debate from the Government side. I shall deal immediately with the point made by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright). He is, of course, right. The time that we are spending discussing the guillotine motion is time that we will not be able to spend discussing the Freedom of Information Bill, unless our opposition to the guillotine is supported by enough honourable—I mean that both formally and non-formally—Members on the Government Back Benches. Given everything that the hon. Gentleman said in his short and pithy speech, I assume that he will join us in the Lobby this evening to oppose the guillotine motion.
The other Government contributions to the debate have not made it clear whether the shambles into which the Government's legislative programme has fallen is a result of their contempt for Parliament or of their sheer incompetence. I conclude that, sadly, it is a pernicious mixture of the two. The result of that rather unsavoury cocktail of arrogance and incompetence, characteristic of the Government, is what we now face: national guillotine week, as it was rightly called by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe).
Every debate that we have this week will be guillotined. None of the important Bills that the House is to discuss this week will receive full scrutiny. The speech by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase gave me hope that there may be some residual feelings about the importance of parliamentary democracy among those on the Government Back Benches. If so, I hope that they feel a faint scintilla of shame about the proceedings this evening.
There is a peculiar Noah's ark quality about the motion—the guillotines are being brought in two by two. I am surprised only that the Government have not given us what their business managers would no doubt regard as the ultimate package deal: four guillotines in one debate.
The Home Secretary made the extraordinary assertion that because the Freedom of Information Bill had been extensively amended at every stage as a result of the scrutiny that it had received, it might not need long debate this evening. Simple logic suggests that if parliamentary scrutiny improved the Bill to which he is putting his name, he should encourage more parliamentary scrutiny, not less. With that simple suggestion, the Home Secretary blew a hole in his basic argument.
I was fascinated and appalled by the speech from the Liberal Democrat Benches by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who said that, on guillotine debates, we should all read speeches into the record, no one should take interventions, as they might introduce an element of debate to our proceedings, and it was all very tiresome that we had to have parliamentary debate at all—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is misrepresenting what I said. May I ask him whether the Conservatives were offered by the Government an agreed programme motion, so that we could have had a genuine debate on the issues that concerned us? That was never offered to me, and may never have been offered to the Conservatives. If so, the Government stand accused of hypocrisy, because they talk about better arrangement of our business, but are not prepared to offer it to us.
I can speak only for the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, for which I am responsible. I am not aware of any such offer being made to us. I cannot speak about the Freedom of Information Bill—[Interruption]but I am assured from a sedentary position that no such offer was made. I am happy to agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall that the Government stand accused and convicted of hypocrisy. I am grateful to him for pointing that out.
The Home Secretary sought to evade the extraordinary nature of these guillotine motions, given the two statements that we had today and the possible statements tomorrow. The point has been well made by several of my right hon. and hon. Friends that it is possible to table a guillotine motion that provides a certain time for debate, so that anything that happens earlier in the parliamentary day does not eat into time under the guillotine. Instead, the Government have chosen to introduce a more pernicious guillotine motion that merely sets an end time. Statements that come earlier in the day, which are in the control of the Government, can be used to destroy the possibility of debate on important parts of the Freedom of Information Bill and the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill.
Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that it is expected that we shall receive a statement on the rural White Paper tomorrow. I do not think that I am breaking a state secret when I say that journalists have been calling us today about it. I know that the "Today" programme has made its dispositions for tomorrow morning. The Minister may want to clear up the ambiguity. Will he confirm that we shall have a statement on the rural White Paper tomorrow? I shall give way if he wishes to confirm that. Perhaps he might like to do so when he replies. That would tell us how many hours of debate we shall have on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill tomorrow. It is a shame—
Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be a small item of freedom of information? It seems bizarre that Ministers are prepared to sit on the Treasury Bench during this debate on the Freedom of Information Bill and gratuitously withhold simple and basic information that is germane to the conduct of our business this evening and tomorrow.
My right hon. Friend is correct. Indeed, the situation is even worse. Information may be being withheld from the House, but it is not being withheld from anyone outside. The media know what is going on. It is only the House that is not allowed to be told what is happening.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald comprehensively destroyed the case for a guillotine motion on the Freedom of Information Bill. That being so, I shall deal with why a guillotine motion is wrong and inappropriate for the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. I shall do so by examining the various reasons why it might be necessary to curtail debate on the Bill, to ascertain whether any one of them holds water.
Despite the hopes of Labour class warriors, especially those of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), the Opposition have been entirely constructive throughout on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. We oppose parts of it and support other parts. Its very name lets us know that it is rather uncomfortable portmanteau Bill that is designed to try to put together provisions on access to the countryside, which we oppose, with provisions to improve the rights-of-way network and wildlife protection, which we strongly support.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North may not have participated in earlier debates, but I am happy to confirm that we have always thought that part I was badly thought out and wrong. We did not vote against it, however, on Second or Third Reading in either House, because we thought that other parts of the Bill were leading in the right direction. We have sought consistently to improve the Bill throughout its consideration in both Houses, and we have had some success in that regard.
The first reason for a guillotine motion—an irreconcilable clash of principles—does not apply. The Opposition have not adopted that approach on Second or Third Reading. Secondly, the Government could argue that a guillotine motion should be introduced because of filibustering. No one has suggested that the Opposition have filibustered at any stage. Labour Members who appear sceptical should consider what the lead Minister, the Minister for the Environment, said in Committee:
I am grateful to all members of the Committee, not least to the Opposition. I pay tribute to those on the Opposition Front Bench, who dealt with the Bill extremely well. They never filibustered and allocated time tightly and well, concentrating on the key points.— [Official Report, Standing Committee B, 23 May, c. 860.]
That is an extremely good point. The Government cannot hide behind the filibustering argument.
The third possible reason that the Government could bring forward for employing a guillotine motion is that the Bill did not need significant alteration. That argument would not withstand the most cursory scrutiny. The House will consider 281 Government Lords amendments tomorrow. That demonstrates the state of the Bill when it left the House. In addition, Opposition Front Benchers and Back Benchers have tabled amendments. There will be about 300 amendments in all.
If the Minister will confirm what the world knows, which is that we shall have a statement tomorrow, we shall know that the House will be allowed about one minute to discuss each amendment. That is outrageous. To help my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the amendments will, be divided into 16 groups. We shall have less than half an hour per group. Throughout, the Bill has been badly drafted and impractical. It is better now than it was but it should be better still. It will not be, however, because the House will be denied proper debate tomorrow.
Scrutiny of the Bill has brought about improvements. The amendments that we shall consider tomorrow will make that obvious. In Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who will reply to the debate, talked about the important issue of the control of dogs. He said:
On balance, I am not convinced of the need to specify the length of the leads.—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 April 2000; c. 268.]
I was therefore moderately surprised to read the Government amendment, which states that a
short lead means a lead of fixed length and of not more than 2 metres.
That contradicts what the Minister said in Committee. There are many more examples, and I shall save some of them for tomorrow on the off chance that I shall have time to describe them. Scrutiny of the Bill at every stage has improved it.
The fourth possible reason that the Government could advance for a guillotine motion is that nothing significant has been introduced into the Bill since it left the House. Nothing could be further from the truth. The section on areas of outstanding natural beauty was deliberately held back from the House and introduced in another place. We were asking for that section throughout. Labour Members tabled amendments in Committee, some of which we supported. At every stage the Minister said, "Hang on. The section is coming." Only when we debated Third Reading did he reveal that the section would be introduced in another place.
The Bill was a manifesto commitment. Labour knew for two and a half years that it wanted to introduce it. It was disgraceful to wait to introduce a key part of it until it reached another place.
In national guillotine week, has my hon. Friend any idea of how many amendments may be guillotined? There will be more than 1,000. Could it be 2,000? Will he tell us how many will be guillotined on the Freedom of Information Bill and the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill?
There will be about 500 on the two Bills to which my right hon. Friend refers. That will happen during the first two days of this week. On that basis, more than 1,000 amendments will be subject to guillotine by the end of the week.
There will be seven pages' worth of amendments on areas of outstanding natural beauty, which will be dealt with at the end of the Bill. It is possible that seven pages of the Bill will never be debated by a democratically elected House. That is a democratic disgrace.
None of the possible reasons for a guillotine provides the slightest justification for today's motion, which is just another example of a Government who run scared of Parliament and run away from debate. Tonight's proceedings reflect badly on the Government, but more important is the fact that they reflect badly on the House. What the Government do to their own reputation is their own business; what they do to the reputation of the House matters to all of us and to everyone in the country. If a Government show contempt for Parliament, the British people will ultimately show their contempt for that Government, which they will deserve. The Government have not bothered to make any serious argument in favour of guillotining either Bill. Tonight, we shall take another step towards the elective dictatorship against which Lord Hailsham warned us. I urge the House to throw out this wretched motion.
At the risk of upsetting the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for whom I have the greatest respect, I have to say that there is something of a ritual about these occasions. There is always a certain amount of synthetic indignation, and we have seen a fair old barrel-load of that tonight. I exempt the hon. Gentleman from that observation; his indignation is entirely genuine and has the merit of having lasted throughout several Governments, whereas the indignation expressed by many of his right hon. and hon. Friends is entirely post-May 1997.
Of course, the Liberal Democrats' indignation stretches back through the mists of time. The hon. Gentleman's indignation therefore appears more credible than many of his colleagues'. However, I have to disagree with him. It has always seemed to me that timetable motions are inevitable if Parliament is to be anything more than a talking shop. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, Labour Governments suffer the additional disadvantage of being permanently in a minority in the other place.
I do not accept that effective scrutiny necessarily requires unlimited debate. It ought to be possible for any half-way decent Opposition to select the issues that they most want to highlight and ensure that they are debated. The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) talked about having 27 minutes per group of amendments, and the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) spoke of having one minute per amendment, but when have we ever felt obliged to address every single amendment, many of which are consequential? It is also worth noting that many of the amendments flow from propositions that the Opposition invited us to take up and, being a listening Government, we have listened. The Opposition will find that they recognise quite a few of the amendments—
The right hon. Gentleman will not recognise any of them, since, as far as I am aware, he has not been involved in any of the previous debates, but those hon. Members who have participated will recognise quite a few of the amendments. I shall not give way, because I have been left only 10 minutes in which to wind up—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Yes, and then the guillotine will fall.
I have never managed to work up much indignation about timetabling. However hard they search the Official Report, Opposition Members will not find one scintilla of indignation from me on the subject of guillotines during my years in Parliament. In my early days in opposition, I recall spending the best part of 150 hours considering the Bill that became the Water Act 1989, but covering barely 10 clauses. At the end of that, the Minister in charge, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), announced a guillotine. At that point, the Opposition were all supposed to rise and say how outrageous it all was. Personally, I could have kissed him.
As the Minister is revealing secrets, will he reveal another and tell us why the Government have decided to close tomorrow's debate at 10 o'clock? Could it be that they anticipate a defeat at the other end of the Palace on National Air Traffic Services? If so, do they intend to bring that legislation back to the Commons tomorrow night at 10 o'clock?
Unfortunately, I am not a member of the secret society known as the usual channels, so it is not for me to comment on why 10 o'clock has been chosen. However, at this point, I shall deal with another matter that I have been asked about. I believe that it is the Government's intention, subject to the Speaker's permission, to make a statement on the rural White Paper tomorrow.
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)—a man not given to self-doubt or embarrassment—spoke of the Government undermining the foundations of democracy. It requires a certain amount of restraint to reply rationally to such a comment, but I shall do my best. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a chip off the old Hailsham block—a very distinguished one it is, too. His father did indeed write a book about an elective dictatorship; then he promptly joined the greatest elective dictatorship of the century, after which not another peep was heard from him on the subject.
Should the day ever dawn when the right hon. and learned Gentleman finds himself back on Government Benches, I predict that he will be able to argue in favour of guillotines with at least as much facility as he now argues against them. One of the most remarkable things I have observed during my years in Parliament is that there are certain hon. Members who are able to argue with equal facility the exact opposite of the case that they made brilliantly only a month or two previously. Most of them are lawyers, and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham is a case in point.
I think that my right hon. Friend's shoulders are broad enough to withstand the assault, vicious or otherwise—and it was otherwise.
We have wasted a lot of time this evening. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) spoke of bull-headed opposition and we have seen a fair amount of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) made the point that, if Opposition Members had really wanted time for debate on the Bill, they could have had at least two of the past three hours, but for reasons best known to themselves, they chose not to.
No. I have only a minute or so left and, although I do not complain about that, I do not propose to give way.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, timetable motions are a regrettable necessity, but the parliamentary process has to be managed. It had to be managed under Conservative Governments and it will have to be managed under Labour Governments. The parliamentary timetable means that, at this stage of the Session, a reasonable limit must be set on time for debating Bills, and that is what the motion is designed to do. Both Houses have had full opportunities to discuss these important Bills: Select Committees of both Houses studied the Freedom of Information Bill in some detail; the Standing Committee considering that Bill sat for 40 hours, and the Standing Committee considering the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill for almost 50 hours; and the House spent two full days on Report stage of each Bill. The Bills are important measures that deserve full debate and none of their main stages has been guillotined.
Of course it is right that the House should examine the changes made in another place; the timetable motion allows ample time to do so. Both Bills are valuable measures and are popular in the country at large. The House has had long, valuable discussions on them, and there is no need for us to go over the same old ground again. The Government had a clear mandate for the measures, which must now be completed and implemented.
|Division No.354]||[8.10 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Cooper, Yvette|
|Ainger, Nick||Corbett, Robin|
|Alexander, Douglas||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Allen, Graham||Corston, Jean|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Cousins, Jim|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Crausby, David|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Ashton, Joe||Cummings, John|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack|
|Austin, John||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Banks, Tony||Dalyell, Tam|
|Barnes, Harry||Darvill, Keith|
|Barron, Kevin||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Battle, John||Davidson, Ian|
|Bayley, Hugh||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Beard, Nigel||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Davis, Rt Hon Terry|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||(B'ham Hodge H)|
|Bennett; Andrew F||Dawson, Hilton|
|Benton, Joe||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Denham, John|
|Berry, Roger||Dismore, Andrew|
|Best, Harold||Dobbin, Jim|
|Blackman, Liz||Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Blizzard, Bob||Doran, Frank|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Dowd, Jim|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Drew, David|
|Borrow, David||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Efford, Clive|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Ennis, Jeff|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Field, Rt Hon Frank|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna|
|Browne, Desmond||Flint, Caroline|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Flynn, Paul|
|Burden, Richard||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Burgon, Colin||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Foulkes, George|
|Caborn, Rt Hon Richard||Galloway, George|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Gapes, Mike|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Gardiner, Barry|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Gerrard, Neil|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Cann, Jamie||Gilroy, Mrs Linda|
|Caplin, Ivor||Godsiff, Roger|
|Casale, Roger||Goggins, Paul|
|Caton, Martin||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Cawsey, Ian||Gordon, Mrs Eileen|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Chaytor, David||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Clapham, Michael||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)||Grocott, Bruce|
|Clark, Dr Lynda||Grogan, John|
|(Edinburgh Pentlands)||Hall, Mike (Weaver vale)|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Hall, Patrick(Bedford)|
|Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Hanson, David|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Healey, John|
|Clelland, David||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Clwyd, Ann||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Coaker, Vernon||Hepburn, Stephen|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Heppell, John|
|Coleman, Iain||Hesford, Stephen|
|Colman, Tony||Hewitt Ms Patricia|
|Connarty, Michael||Hill, Keith|
|Hinchliffe, David||Michael, Rt Hon Alun|
|Hodge, Ms Margaret||Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)|
|Home Robertson, John||Milburn, Rt Hon Alan|
|Hope, Phil||Miller, Andrew|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Mitchell, Austin|
|Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)||Moffatt, Laura|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)||Morley, Elliot|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||(B'ham Yardley)|
|Hurst, Alan||Morris, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Mudie, George|
|Illsley, Eric||Mullin, Chris|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)|
|Jamieson, David||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|(Welwyn Hatfield)||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)||O'Hara, Eddie|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Olner, Bill|
|Jones, Ms Jenny||O'Neill, Martin|
|(Wolverh'ton SW)||Organ, Mrs Diana|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Osborne, Ms Sandra|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Pearson, Ian|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Pendry, Tom|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Kemp, Fraser||Plaskitt, James|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Pollard, Kerry|
|Khabra, Piara S||Pond, Chris|
|Kidney, David||Pope, Greg|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Pound, Stephen|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Powell, Sir Raymond|
|King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Prescott, Rt Hon John|
|Lammy, David||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Laxton, Bob||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Lepper, David||Purchase, Ken|
|Leslie, Christopher||Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce|
|Levitt, Tom||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Radice, Rt Hon Giles|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)||Rammell, Bill|
|Linton, Martin||Rapson, Syd|
|Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)||Raynsford, Nick|
|Lock, David||Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)|
|Love, Andrew||Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|McCabe, Steve||Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff|
|McCafferty, Ms Chris||Rooney, Terry|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Macdonald, Calum||Rowlands, Ted|
|McDonnell, John||Roy, Frank|
|McFall, John||Ruane, Chris|
|McGuire, Mrs Anne||Ruddock, Joan|
|McIsaac, Shona||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|McKenna, Mrs Rosemary||Ryan, Ms Joan|
|McNulty, Tony||Salter, Martin|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Savidge, Malcolm|
|McWalter, Tony||Sawford, Phil|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Mallaber, Judy||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Short, Rt Hon Clare|
|Marshall-Andrews, Robert||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Martlew, Eric||Singh, Marsha|
|Maxton, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Smith, Angela (Basildon)||Trickett, Jon|
|Smith, Miss Geraldine||Truswell, Paul|
|(Morecambe & Lunesdale)||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Snape, Peter||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Soley, Clive||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Southworth, Ms Helen||Tynan, Bill|
|Spellar, John||Vaz, Keith|
|Squire, Ms Rachel||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Starkey, Dr Phyllis||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Stevenson, George||Wareing, Robert N|
|Stewart, David (Inverness E)||Watts, David|
|Stewart, Ian (Eccles)||White, Brian|
|Stinchcombe, Paul||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Stoate, Dr Howard||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Straw, Rt Hon Jack||(Swansea W)|
|Stringer, Graham||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Stuart, Ms Gisela||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Wilson, Brian|
|Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann||Winnick, David|
|Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)||Worthington, Tony|
|Taylor, David (NW Leics)||Wray, James|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)||Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)||Wyatt, Derek|
|Tipping, Paddy||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Todd, Mark||Mr. Robert Ainsworth and|
|Touhig, Don||Mr. Clive Betts.|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Davey, Edward (Kingston)|
|Allan, Richard||Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)|
|Amess, David||Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Duncan, Alan|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Evans, Nigel|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Faber, David|
|Baldry, Tony||Fabricant, Michael|
|Ballard, Jackie||Fallon, Michael|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Fearn, Ronnie|
|Bercow, John||Forth, Rt Hon Eric|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Boswell, Tim||Fraser, Christopher|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Gale, Roger|
|Brady, Graham||Gibb, Nick|
|Brake, Tom||Gidley, Sandra|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Brazier, Julian||Green, Damian|
|Breed, Colin||Greenway, John|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Gummer, Rt Hon John|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Hammond, Philip|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Hancock, Mike|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Harvey, Nick|
|Burnett, John||Hawkins, Nick|
|Burns, Simon||Hayes, John|
|Burstow, Paul||Heald, Oliver|
|Butterfill, John||Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas|
|(NE Fife)||Horam, John|
|Cash, William||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney||Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)|
|(Chipping Barnet)||Jack, Rt Hon Michael|
|Chidgey, David||Johnson Smith|
|Chope, Christopher||Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Collins, Tim||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Keetch, Paul|
|Cotter, Brian||Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles|
|Cran, James||(Ross Skye & Inverness W)|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Shepherd, Richard|
|Leigh, Edward||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|Lidington, David||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Soames, Nicholas|
|Livsey, Richard||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Spring, Richard|
|Loughton, Tim||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Luff, Peter||Steen, Anthony|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Streeter, Gary|
|McIntosh, Miss Anne||Stunell, Andrew|
|Maclean, Rt Hon David||Swayne, Desmond|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Syms, Robert|
|Madel, Sir David||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Malins, Humfrey||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Maples, John||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|May, Mrs Theresa||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)||Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Moore, Michael||Townend, John|
|Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)||Tredinnick, David|
|Moss, Malcolm||Trend, Michael|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Tyler, Paul|
|Norman, Archie||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Oaten, Mark||Wardle, Charles|
|O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Page, Richard||Webb, Steve|
|Paice, James||Wells, Bowen|
|Pickles, Eric||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Prior, David||Whittingdale, John|
|Randall, John||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd|
|Robathan, Andrew||Wilkinson, John|
|Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)||Willis, Phil|
|Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)||Wilshire, David|
|Ross, William (E Lond'y)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Ruffley, David||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Russell, Bob (Colchester)||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|St Aubyn, Nick|
|Sanders, Adrian||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Mr. Stephen Day and|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian||Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.|