Orders of the Day — Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] (Programme)

– in the House of Commons at 10:14 pm on 20 March 2001.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment 10:14, 20 March 2001

I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall apply to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]:

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

There will be ample time for debate after I have spoken to the motion.

Hon. Members:

Give way!

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I would appreciate it if hon. Members did not shout at the Minister; that is an instruction.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has shown no interest in the Bill up until now.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The hon. Lady is not going to give way.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have ample opportunity to make his points after I have finished.

We believe that the motion proposes ample time to consider a Bill of this size, whose principles are generally supported by Members on all sides of the House—even if some vote against them—and by voluntary organisations.

I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment) 10:16, 20 March 2001

My immediate reaction to that speech was, frankly, "Oh dear." I must confess a certain liking for the late Frankie Howerd, a fine comedian—particularly on television. Some of the more mature of our colleagues may remember him appearing in what might loosely be called the Roman follies. He always built up the case in the forum and then, at a certain point, he would turn aside, remember himself and say, "And now, the prologue." Tonight, it was, "And now, the programme motion."

Frankly, this would all be a farce—it has been treated as such by the Under-Secretary—if it were not so serious.

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

I am grateful that my hon. Friend gives way, when the Minister did not. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extraordinary that this House should be asked to approve a programme motion on the basis that there will be enough time to consider the Bill in Committee, when we have not been told when the Committee will meet, how often it will meet or the total length of time for which it will meet?

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Not for the first time, I find myself entirely in sympathy with my right hon. and learned Friend. He may not have been able to attend the whole of the previous debate—I understand the reasons for that—so I remind him that I made an offer. I said that we might consider withdrawing our opposition on the reasoned amendment if the Government took away their absurd programme motion tonight.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman giving way, as it was obvious that the Minister was not prepared to do so. Will there be enough time to clarify one aspect of the Bill? In part 3, clause 43(12) says: Parts 2 and 3 do not extend to Northern Ireland. By inference, one would suspect that part 1 does, yet I understood education to be a devolved matter in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

As I am no longer a Minister, I am not sure that I can give the hon. Member an authoritative and ministerial reply; the Minister clearly cannot. That point exemplifies the need for proper discussion of the Bill in a full Committee stage. That has nothing to do with subverting the Government, let alone subverting the intentions of the Bill, which may be admirable.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Lots of people have fine intentions. The Government Whip alarms me by suggesting that his intentions are entirely honourable.

Even if the intentions are good, there are still points to be raised. Sadly, tonight's motion—moved so peremptorily by the Under-Secretary—suggests that the Government are exactly like the Bourbons; they have neither learned anything nor forgotten anything from recent events. Instead of adopting a wise course of action and taking on board the genuine sense of anger and grievance aroused by the Criminal Justice and Police Bill last week—it was almost a disaster—the Government have come back to the House all fresh faced as if nothing had happened. They pop up again as insouciant recidivists.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

My hon. Friend said that the Criminal Justice and Police Bill was almost a disaster, but I am sorry that I must take issue with him. It was not almost a disaster, it was a disaster. There were 50 clauses that were not examined in Committee. If that is not a disaster for the people of this country, I do not know what is.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I am grateful for that reproof. My characteristic moderation got the better of me, as ever.

The Government offer no time for debate because, in their book, only soundbites matter. The Bill does not matter to them. I may be old fashioned—and I am mortified that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is not here tonight, as he would probably clash swords with me on the matter—but I think Bills are the core business of the House. We should debate them and get them right, but the Government persist in their belief that the Opposition are a nuisance to be crushed and not persuaded.

At all events, the only defence offered by the Government is that they will table no amendments in Committee. That is the triumph of hope over experience: I have never come across a Government who did not table amendments in Committee. If the Government have closed their mind to tabling amendments, it suggests that they will not take seriously what the Opposition have to say. I am sure till t they will say that, although they understand the objective behind half of the amendments that we put forward, the wording is defective or not in order. However, it is not sufficient for them to say in advance, "Sorry, no dice: we're not going to change a thing, whatever you say."

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

The Government have said that they will not table any amendments. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if it turns out that they do table amendments, it would be logical for the Government to extend the period covered by the programme motion?

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I agree. I cannot speculate on the conduct of the Committee, but we could find ourselves in a real dilemma. We would not want the Government to break one of their pledges. If they produced an amendment—even if it were a good one that I might wish I had devised myself—the Committee would have to decide whether to vote against it so as to fulfil the Government's pledge not to introduce any amendments.

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

Does my hon. Friend agree that precedent suggests that to suppose that the Government will not table amendments to the Bill would represent a triumph of optimism over reality and a victory for complacency over common sense? Even if the apologists for mediocrity that pepper the Government Benches choose not to table amendments to the Bill, Conservative Members and other hon. Members might choose to do so. Should not those amendments be deliberated on comprehensively, enthusiastically, in detail and, if necessary, at length?

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I am fond of my hon. Friend, not least because he is a constituency neighbour, and we share the same newspapers. His intervention was a triumph of clarity and alliteration. I regard him as a one-person walking amendment himself. It we were to fail in Committee, I am sure that he would be able to remedy any deficiencies in the Bill when it returns to the House for further consideration. However, I know other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall make progress.

We need to remember the genesis of the Bill. It was promised in the Gracious Speech of 1999. The Bill is a promise from the last century that only now the Government are seeking to honour. Earlier, the Bill was, sadly, dropped from the legislative process, allegedly because of delays in consultation. One wonders what occasioned those delays in consultation. A draft Bill was promised last summer, but we never saw it; then this Bill was introduced in another place.

The Government seem to faster the no doubt agreeable myth that because the Bill is not party politically contentious, it contains nothing to talk about. They seem to believe that the Bill is absolutely straightforward, designed by central casting and that it should immediately be accepted and nominated for an Oscar. However, the Bill needed detailed analysis in another place, and unless the Prime Minister decides to alter the timetable—no doubt for purposes other than saving the Bill or the embarrassment of his Ministers—I strongly believe that it requires proper consideration in this place. The two Houses are complementary, not alternative.

The proposal that we heard tonight from the Under-Secretary, albeit briefly, is entirely of a piece with earlier events. The first of many Bills that I have considered in Committee during this Parliament was the very first Finance Bill. Indeed, the hon. Lady also served on that Committee. The sentence in those days was five days on the trot, guillotined to midnight every night. That was not a very good way of doing business, but the Government have learned nothing from it.

We are being offered, in practice, four days of sittings. The Whip will seek to establish reasonableness, but first let me remind him about the Learning and Skills Bill, which was not without its contentious aspects. That Bill was introduced in another place. Conservative Members tabled a reasoned amendment on Second Reading in this place, and we then spent two months and more than 20 sittings considering the Bill. It was a longer Bill than this one. If the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), would like to make me a pro rata offer on the time required for this Bill, it would take us up to around 5 May, but I have not heard that offered so far.

A compressed timetable makes it impossible for organisations to consider the debates and the arguments put by Ministers and to lobby for changes. Indeed, in my experience, it is difficult for Ministers to brief themselves. I have always found that the most constructive dialogue on Bills is the one that no one ever hears—the part of the iceberg below the surface where Ministers are briefed by officials. They say, "What is he rabbiting on about that for?", or "Does he have a point about this?" All that will go by the board because the timetable will make this a simple exercise in speeding the Bill through the House.

It will be difficult for Back Benchers, and even Front Benchers, to meet any timetable of consecutive sittings. For example, I have certain obligations to my constituents, who are tearing their hair about the foot and mouth epidemic. I deal with a number of constituency cases every day. Frankly, even if we went into purdah for a fortnight, we would still have great difficulty in giving the Bill the consideration that the subject matter and its complexity require.

The situation is a perfect parable of new Labour. They care more for the soundbite than for sound sense. They would rather pursue another initiative than consider legislation sensibly. To them, dissent is the ultimate sin, yet we believe that democracy is about debate and debate will, from time to time, require consent.

In conclusion, the chances are that before too long—possibly even in conformity with the entirely inadequate timetable that the Government have set—democracy will speak, and I cannot wait. Those on the Treasury Bench may find that the boot is on the other foot. When we are in government, we will have to make sure that we do not abuse the trust that has been put in us.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 10:29, 20 March 2001

Once again, I rise to oppose a timetable motion, as I found myself doing last night. It is about the eighth or ninth time that I have spoken in such debates, and I shall carry on intervening in them for as long as we have to consider these timetable motions.

The motion is wholly inappropriate for the Bill. It is substantial: 57 pages, 43 clauses and nine schedules. The idea that such a Bill can be rattled through in four consecutive sittings is for the birds—the proposition is absurd. Apparently, we are to have the Bill out of Committee by 5 April. There will be five hours maximum for Report—perhaps much less—and one hour for Third Reading. That is complete nonsense, of course

The House really must understand that in considering a Bill, it needs to perform at least two purposes. The first relates to policy and the second relates to the language in which that policy is framed. Both are equally important. I do not pretend to have followed the Bill with great particularity, so it may be that there is general agreement about the policy. That, however, is not conclusive of the issue.

We are, after all, talking about legislation. When we do that, we talk about burdens, obligations and penalties. We must ask what the authorities and the courts will make of legislation. The House must address those questions in the Standing Committee—that means proper scrutiny of the Bill.

The Committee has to undertake a further function which is not always recognised—the redress of grievances. In the context of any Bill—this one is no exception—particular cases, known to right hon. and hon. Members, may be highlighted. One of the ways hon. Members can do that is by tabling amendments directed at a particular grievance or abuse. If the Committee stage is so timetabled as to provide only four sittings, or whatever, hon. Members are prevented from pursuing their historical task—the redress of grievances.

We are told by the Government that they will not table amendments. I am prepared to accept that the Under-Secretary believes that as she stands at the Dispatch Box. However, in my time I was responsible for the passage of 14 or 15 Bills through the House and I was never so imprudent as to say, "There are going to be no amendments". It is probable that someone—perhaps her legal advisers—will tell the Under-Secretary that she has got it wrong. If she does not table amendments in Committee, surely she will have to contemplate doing so on Report or she will be in considerable difficulty.

In any event, the idea that just because the hon. Lady does not want to table amendments the matter is concluded is arrogance of a high order. Many hon. Members may want to table amendments. Are we really to be told, on the say-so of some Under-Secretary, that we are to be shut out from that?

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

My right hon. and learned Friend is a distinguished lawyer—I am not. Will he clarify, for my information, the importance of holding debates in Standing Committee? Since Pepper v. Hart, such debates may be taken into account by the courts in the interpretation of the intentions of legislation. Does that not presuppose that nice points and difficulties—for example, the application of section 316, or of 316A, on the provision of finance to independent special schools—need proper elucidation in Committee? That requires a Committee stage.

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

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Under the ruling in Pepper v. Hart, the courts consider what is said in the House as an interpretation of a Bill's purpose. So it is important that in addressing the construction and interpretation of clauses, Ministers give themselves adequate time properly to explain what they mean, because those explanations are relevant to the interpretation subsequently put on the legislation. It is wrong artificially to compress the debate so that such interpretation cannot be given if requested.

All those are arguments against artificially compressing the debate in Committee, but the arguments against compressing the debate on Report are even more potent. We all know that but three or four Opposition Members will serve on the Committee; thus some of my right hon. and hon. Friends who wish to make a contribution will be unable to do so. Incidentally, it should be noted that the Opposition Benches are pretty densely populated tonight.

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

My hon. Friend is right.

The first occasion when the whole House will have an opportunity to consider the Bill in detail is on Report. We have been told that five hours of debate will be sufficient, but there may be 30, 40 or 50 amendments in six, seven or eight groups. In the past few months during this Session, there have been countless occasions when Bills have passed that have been but partly discussed on Report. It is wrong that the debate on Report is so constructed that, in reality, Bills go undiscussed. We give those in the other place a role that they should not have.

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

Of course what my right hon. and learned Friend says about the insufferable arrogance of the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is beyond dispute among Conservative Members, but does he agree that it is entirely possible that, in the event of a statement after business questions on 5 April, we shall end up with under an hour to debate each clause? Is it not right that, even if few Members table amendments, every Member who wishes to contribute to the debate should have the opportunity to speak to the amendments?

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

I entirely agree.

May I remind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, perfectly rightly, Mr. Speaker allowed the discussion on today's foot and mouth disease statement, which was very important, to continue for an hour and 20 minutes? If there had been another statement of similar importance, about two hours or so would have been subtracted from the available time. That is simply not a proper way to address the manner in which the House conducts itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) also made an important point when he said that the process of compressing timetables shuts out external representation. He will have great difficulty in taking the opinion of outside interest groups as the Committee rattles through its consideration. Although I do not know whether this happens now in government, the Government will have difficulty in gathering the views of outside interests. Moreover, they will have difficulty in taking the views of their own officials.

I return to the plain fact that I have conducted through the House as many Bills as most Ministers have, and more than most, and I know that it is important to have regular and close briefings with officials to consider the points being made. The officials should not be shut out simply because the Government are rattling along. That would be very wrong indeed.

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

I am used to Ministers chattering to each other.

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

Order. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) should keep quiet when in a sedentary position.

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

My hon. Friend was helping me, and I am most grateful to him for doing so.

I want to make two further points. I am sorry to make a point that I have made on numerous previous occasions, but it goes to the root of parliamentary government. There is an implied bargain in a democracy between the electorate and Parliament. Parliament imposes obligations, liabilities and duties and requires the population as a whole to adhere to legislation. The electorate, in return, makes an assumption that the House properly performs its duties of scrutiny. If we are deprived of our ability to perform that duty, the elements in the bargain fail.

What happens when the public really begin to understand not just that the House is not performing its duty, but that it is being prevented from performing it? At that point the House and democracy itself will be seen to be a fraud. If we care about these things, we have to go on saying that it is the duty of the House properly to scrutinise legislation. Those who prevent that and who chatter and giggle like little girls on the Front Bench are, in the end, denying democracy. Ultimately—thank God—they will be rumbled.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 10:41, 20 March 2001

I shall be brief. As I said in the debate on the programme motion last night, I am not in principle against programming. I want the House to use the time that is available to it to the very best advantage so that we ensure that the legislation that the Government of the day put through is properly scrutinised and that both sides of the House have an opportunity to participate in the debates.

Will the Under-Secretary, who moved the motion briefly, assure the House that, given the time that the Government have allocated to the Bill in Standing Committee, the Committee will have extra sittings if they are necessary? Will she assure us that the Government will not use their majority on the Committee to frustrate its having extra sittings that would be necessary to ensure that every part of the Bill is properly and fully discussed? Does the Minister wish to intervene to give that assurance to the House? I would be delighted to give way, but clearly she does not wish to intervene [Interruption.]

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

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I say to the hon. Member for Buckingham that I have given him one warning and I do not expect to have to give him another We are trying to conduct a debate.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan).

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is not much hope of obtaining from the Minister a reply guaranteeing extra time to scrutinise the Bill? Last week, the Committee considering the International Development Bill was deprived of seven minutes of scrutiny time because of the inadvertent absence of the Chairman. When the Government and the Chair were asked to reinstate that time so that the Bill could be scrutinised for the full time stipulated in the programme motion, the request was denied. What hope is there that the Minister will grant my hon. Friend's reasonable request when such a denial was made last week?

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

My hon. Friend, who is an experienced Member of the House, makes a point that I hope those on the Government Front Bench will have taken on board.

I am a member of the Modernisation Committee, which sits under the distinguished chairmanship of the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons. Since the Committee published its first report, which made the proposal for programming, the House has discovered that the programming structure that was proposed has not properly worked. If this Parliament sits long enough—I doubt that it will—there is no doubt that the Modernisation Committee will table amendments to the way we currently deal with business. I think that it would take on board the concerns that are felt by Conservatives Members and shared by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who spoke eloquently and positively in the debate on the programme motion last night.

There is no doubt that hon. Members—including Labour Members who sometimes do not agree with aspects of the Government's policy—are not able to argue their case fully. Programme motions deny the House a proper opportunity to debate an issue. I have received many representations on special educational needs and disability, most of which I have passed on to the Minister. Those matters are of great importance to our constituents, especially to the parents of children who are affected by them. They are deeply worried.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to the Report stage. Newer Members of the House, including some Ministers, may not understand that that is the only time when all Members have an opportunity to participate in a debate on a Bill. That is not possible on Second Reading because of the limited time and many of them are not appointed to the Standing Committee. The real opportunity to debate issues that deeply concern them and their constituents is on Report.

My right hon. and learned Friend told us how many clauses and schedules the Bill contains. The Government should reconsider the five hours that they have allocated, in particular the time for debate on Report. The Bill is important to many people. I do not think that the Minister is unsympathetic to my request to have additional sittings if that is necessary.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Although I arrived in the Chamber only five minutes ago, I am aware of the issues. Although there is a case for programme motions, I agree that it is important for the Opposition to have time for scrutiny. However, does the hon. Gentleman accept that, prior to such motions, our late night sittings were not appreciated by the public? If there is a willingness in the new Parliament for the Government and Opposition to reach a compromise, it will be possible to have some programme motions and to give the Opposition what they want without sitting late into the night. I hope that the business of late night sittings has gone for good.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because I greatly respect his role and his immense experience in this place. Had he arrived at the beginning of my speech, he would have heard me say that, in principle, I am not against programming. In fact, I am in favour of it and want it to work. The House should use its time to the very best effect so that legislation is fully discussed. He has opposed some of his Government's policies and must realise that Opposition and Labour Members should have an opportunity to have a say on important Bills. We are old hands. He knows that we are sent here not to speed legislation on its way, but to ensure that it meets people's needs and is properly scrutinised.

The Minister has been effective in the four years that she has been in the House. She must appreciate the Opposition's valuable role as part of our democratic process. Although she has not responded to my challenge, I note that she indicated from a sedentary position that the Standing Committee could have additional sittings. Perhaps the Government will consider allocating additional time for the Report stage, which is the only time when all Back Benchers have a chance to participate in debates on important legislation.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford 10:50, 20 March 2001

I agree with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), except for his opening observation. My hon. Friend is extraordinarily sanguine in supposing that if the Government found in Committee that more time were needed to debate a clause or the whole Bill, they would ever have the slightest inclination to return to the House and change their programme motion to allow the Committee more time. I would literally eat my hat if the Government ever did such a thing.

We now come here night after night to debate these programme motions, and it is the most extraordinary state of affairs. It is now considered quite natural that the Government, who after all have a responsibility for drafting legislation and presenting it to Parliament, should systematically feel that they are able to assume in advance how long Parliament will take to do its share of the legislative work in examining a Bill. That is a fundamental contradiction. There should be a balance between the role of the Executive and that of the legislature—the Executive proposing and the legislature deliberating and agreeing or otherwise. The way in which the Government are conducting these matters with their enormous majority makes it obvious that they do not accept that.

The arguments this evening and on other occasions amount simply to the Government saying, "We can predict exactly what will happen in Committee and on Report. You have no surprises for us." There is a logical slippage into the next position, which is to say, "The parliamentary stage is a complete waste of time. It is just a ritual and a nuisance for us and it makes not the slightest difference to the legislation." To act in this way is not only to treat Parliament with contempt"—as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said in an extremely powerful speech, it is to treat the wider public with contempt, because their one opportunity to influence legislation is through Parliament. We are but the mouthpieces of those who send us here.

Back Benchers on a Committee play an important role in listening to representations from individuals or groups outside the House who may be affected by the legislation in question or who may be taking an entirely disinterested view of its consequences. Having considered the merits of those representations, Members must decide whether to take them up, perhaps in the form of amendments. That process, by definition, cannot be predicted in advance. The Government, by saying high-handedly that they know in advance how long proceedings will take, are essentially saying that no such process exists and that they are not open to representations made by the wider public. The Government are treating the whole country with contempt. This is an extremely worrying process because it is not far to the end of the road, which is saying that legislation is what the Government draft and nothing else. By definition, we will then have legislative despotism. I am not using hyperbole. This is government by fear, by bureaucracy and by Ministers for the four or five years for which the Government have a majority in the House and can continue to govern the country.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not because we have little time left for the debate. I hope that he will recognise that that is not my fault, and will make representations to his Front-Bench colleagues.

That is the direction in which the House is moving as the 21st century opens, and it is extremely worrying. At the moment, we speak entirely impotently, and the Government laugh at us and pay no attention at all. The two Ministers here this evening have studiously avoided listening to a single word that has been said on the subject by anybody during the debate. First, they may be personally embarrassed to hear the strictures of Conservative Members. Secondly, they know that those strictures do not matter anyway, because they trust their cannon fodder on the Back Benches to go into the Lobbies after the debate and override all those considerations and ensure that no account is taken of them. That is the situation that we face, and if the public seriously want it to continue, and seriously want to go further down the road that I have just described, they will soon have the opportunity to take that decision. I do not believe that they will take that road.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford 10:55, 20 March 2001

I have not participated in one of these programme motion debates before. I come to the debate as a member of the all-party Select Committee on Education and Employment, which has reached consensus on the issue of special educational needs. It is a mystery to me that there is a need for any sort of programme motion when, broadly speaking, there is consensus about the need for new legislation and about the direction that policy is taking. Surely—given the enthusiasm and support that the Bill should be generating outside the House—the Government would not need a programme motion if they were confident about the Bill.

The conclusion that we must draw from the fact that we have a programme motion is that the Government are far from confident about the validity and strength of the Bill. They are far from confident that the Bill is free from the kind of flaws from which the Opposition fear it suffers. Indeed, we are not the only ones who fear the effects of the mistakes that the Government have made in the drafting of the Bill. I have received a letter from the National Union of Teachers, stating that the union has "particular concerns" about the Bill. I have also received a letter from the National Association of Head Teachers, stating: We do have reservations … We hope that the Bill will not lead to a headlong rush". We are worried that we are being led into a headlong rush by Ministers under this procedure.

In our experience, it is a far better approach to give a Bill such as this plenty of time to mature in Committee. I have known cases, on previous education Bills, of unions saying that they had not realised how the Bill would affect their representatives until it was in Committee. We wanted to table amendments but found that, because of the programme motions that were in place, it was too late to do so. Here we have a case of a Bill starting in another place. The Conservative spokesman there, Baroness Blatch, was most prescient in her comments. She said that she feared that the Bill would be: severely guillotined in another place. We know that the plan in another place is for the Bill to be shoved through in a day."— [Official Report, House of Lords, 20 February 2001; Vol. 622, c. 774] She might well have said "in a day", because we do not even have a day's worth of time in which to debate the Bill in Committee.

Furthermore, in another place, the Committee met in the Moses Room, where procedure dictates that there shall be no Divisions. Anything remotely contentious could not, therefore, be put to a vote in another place, whereas in this House, there will not be time to put such matters to a vote. That is an example of how the Government are grossly distorting the role of the House, and denying us from acting in accordance with the sense of responsibility that we all feel towards our constituents to deliver a decent Bill for those with special educational needs.

That is why we must oppose the programme motion. That is also why those on the other side of the House who really care about special educational needs—

It being forty-five minutes after that commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000] .

The House divided: Ayes 283, Noes 122.

Division No. 161][10.59 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeBradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Brinton, Mrs Helen
Ainger, NickBrown, Russell (Dumfries)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Browne, Desmond
Allen, GrahamBuck, Ms Karen
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E)Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Armstrong, At Hon Ms HilaryButler, Mrs Christine
Ashton, JoeCampbell,Alan (Tynemouth)
Bailey, AdrianCampbell,Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Banks, TonyCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Barnes, HarryCampbell-Savours, Dale
Bayley, HughCann, Jamie
Beckett, At Hon Mrs MargaretCaplin, Ivor
Begg, Miss AnneCaton, Martin
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Chaytor, David
Benn, At Hon Tony (Chesterfield)Clapham, Michael
Benton, JoeClark, At Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Bermingham, GeraldClark, Dr Lynda(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Berry, Roger
Betts, CliveClelland, David
Blackman, LizClwyd, Ann
Blears, Ms HazelCoaker, Vermon
Blizzard, BobCoffey, Ms Ann
Blunkett, At Hon DavidCohen, Harry
Boateng, At Hon PaulColeman,Iain
Borrow, DavidColman, Tony
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Jones, At Hon Barry (Alyn)
Corbyn, JeremyJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Cousins, JimJones, Ms Jenny(Wolverh'ton SW)
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cunningham, At Hon Dr Jack(Copeland)Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, At Hon Ms Tessa
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Joyce, Eric
Davidson, IanKeeble, Ms Sally
Davies, At Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Davis, At Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Dawson, HiltonKhabra, Piara S
Dean, Mrs JanetKidney, David
Denham, Rt Hon JohnKilfoyle, Peter
Dismore, AndrewKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankKumar, Dr Ashok
Donohoe, Brian HLadyman. Dr Stephen
Doran, FrankLammy, David
Dowd, JimLawrence, Mrs Jackie
Drew, DavidLaxton, Bob
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Lepper, David
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Levitt, Tom
Edwards. HuwLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Ellman, Mrs LouiseLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Ennis, JeffLiddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Fisher, MarkLinton, Martin
Fitzpatrick, JimLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Flint, CarolineLock, David
Flynn, PaulLove, Andrew
Foster, R Hon DerekMcAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)McCafferty, Ms Chris
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)McCartney, Rt Hon Ian(Makerfield)
Foulkes, George
Galloway, GeorgeMcDonagh, Siobhain
Gerrard, NeilMacdonald, Calum
Gibson, Dr IanMcDonnell, John
Godman, Dr Norman AMcFall, John
Godsiff, RogerMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Goggins, PaulMclsaac, Shona
Golding, Mrs LlinMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Gordon, Mrs EileenMackinlay, Andrew
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)McNamara, Kevin
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)MacShane, Denis
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Mactaggart, Fiona
Grogan, JohnMcWilliam, John
Hain, PeterMahon, Mrs Alice
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Mallaber, Judy
Hanson, DavidMendelson, Rt Hon Peter
Healey, JohnMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hendrick, MarkMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hepburn, StephenMaxton, John
Heppell, JohnMeale, Alan
Hesford, StephenMerron, Gillian
Hinchliffe, DavidMichael, Rt Hon Alun
Hodge, Ms MargaretMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hope, PhilMiller, Andrew
Hopkins, KelvinMoffatt, Laura
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Morley. Elliot
Howells, Dr KimMorris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle(B'ham Yardley)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Morris, Rt Hon Sir John(Aberavon)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, AlanMountford, Kali
Hutton, JohnMudie, George
Iddon, Dr BrianMullin, Chris
Illsley, EricMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Jamieson, DavidNaysmith. Dr Doug
Jenkins, BrianO'Hara, Eddie
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Olner, Bill
Johnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Haffield)O'Neill, Martin
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr NickStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Pearson. IanSteinberg, Gerry
Perham, Ms LindaStevenson, George
Pickthall, ColinStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pike, Peter LStinchcombe, Paul
Plaskitt, JamesStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Pond, ChrisStringer, Graham
Pope, GregStuart, Ms Gisela
Pound, StephenTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann(Dewsbury)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Primarolo, DawnTemple-Morris, Peter
Purchase, KenThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Quinn, LawrieTimms, Stephen
Rammell, BillTipping, Paddy
Rapson, SydTodd, Mark
Raynsford, NickTouhig, Don
Robertson, John(Glasgow Anniesland)Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rooker Rt Hon JeffTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Rowlands, TedTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Roy FrankTynan, Bill
Ruane, ChrisVaz, Keith
Ruddock, JoanWalley, Ms Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Watts, David
Ryan, Ms JoanWhite, Brian
Salter, MartinWhitehead, Dr Alan
Sarwar, MohammadWilliams, Rt Hon Alan(Swansea W)
Savidge, Malcolm
Sedgemore, BrianWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Skinner, DennisWills, Michael
Smith, At Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wilson, Brian
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Winnick, David
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Woodward, Shaun
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Woolas, Phil
Snape, PeterWorthington, Tony
Soley, CliveWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, JohnTellers for the Ayes:
Squire, Ms RachelMr. Tony McNulty and
Mr.Gerry Sutcliffe
NOES
Amess, DavidEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesEvans, Nigel
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Fabricant, Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Fallon, Michael
Baldry, TonyFlight, Howard
Beggs, RoyForth, At Hon Eric
Bercow, JohnFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Blunt, CrispinFox, Dr Liam
Boswell, TimFraser, Christopher
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaGarnier, Edward
Brady, GrahamGibb, Nick
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterGill, Christopher
Browning, Mrs AngelaGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Burns, SimonGray, James
Butterfill, JohnGreen, Damian
Cash, WilliamGrieve, Dominic
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Chope, ChristopherHawkins, Nick
Clappison, JamesHayes, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Heald, Oliver
Cran, JamesHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemptice)Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Day, StephenJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenJenkin, Bernard
Duncan, AlanKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Lansley, AndrewRuffley, David
Letwin, OliverSt Aubyn, Nick
Lidington, DavidSayeed, Jonathan
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterShepherd, Richard
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Llwyd, ElfynSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Loughton, TimSpicer, Sir Michael
Luff, PeterSpring, Richard
McCrea, Dr WilliamStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McIntosh, Miss AnneSteen, Anthony
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidStreeter, Gary
McLoughlin, PatrickSwayne, Desmond
Madel, Sir DavidSyms, Robert
Malins, HumfreyTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Maples, JohnTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Mates, MichaelTaylor, Sir Teddy
May, Mrs TheresaThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Moss, Malcolm Tredinnick, David
Nicholls, PatrickTrend, Michael
Norman, ArchieTyrie, Andrew
Ottaway, RichardWalter, Robert
Waterson, Nigel
Page, RichardWells, Bowen
Paice, JamesWhitney, Sir Raymond
Paisley, Rev IanWhittingdale, John
Paterson, OwenWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Pickles, EricWilkinson, John
Portillo, Rt Hon MichaelWilletts, David
Prior, DavidWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Randall, JohnWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)Tellers for the Noes:
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)Mr. Keith Simpson and
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Mr. Douglas Hogg.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered,

That the following, provisions shall apply to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]

The programme motion proposes that the Standing Committee he brought to a conclusion on 5 April. We consider that to be a reasonable time, and we hope that the motion meets the Opposition's reasonable expectations. Although the exact time in Committee will of course depend on the Programming Sub-Committee, I can say that the Government do not intend to table further amendments to the Bill. Even Conservative Members will agree that the programme proposed should give ample time to consider a Bill of this size—43 clauses and eight schedules.