I beg to move,
That, at the sittings on Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th November—
(1) notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1) of
(2) the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords has been received and any Committee to draw up Reasons which has been appointed at that sitting has reported.
This is a contingency motion. It provides for us not to have a Question Time if we are required to sit on Monday and Tuesday, because the House has made no arrangements for the tabling of questions for those days. Any urgent questions, ministerial statements or personal statements would be taken one hour after the commencement of business. The motion also provides for the sittings on those days to continue until any message from the Lords has been received and any Reasons Committee has reported. As I have said, it is a contingency motion: I hope that we shall not be sitting on Monday and Tuesday, but we must make arrangements in case it proves necessary.
Surely the new procedures mean that we need much less notice of questions? What does the Leader of the House think of the way I was treated over a parliamentary question tabled on
"I will write to the hon. Member and place a copy . . . in the Library."
Is that the way in which Members of Parliament should be treated?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman raised this yesterday, and was given a very clear answer. [Interruption.] If Members would calm down and let me speak, it would be for the convenience of the House.
As the House will know, the motion is necessary only because of the extreme and highly irregular attitude adopted by Opposition and Liberal peers last night. The decision to adjourn against the Government's wishes was entirely contrary to the usual conventions.
"crossbenchers in the House of Lords who've been crucial to the outcome of the votes there" .
Actually, it was quite the opposite. In the votes, Cross Benchers were evenly divided—[Interruption.] Let me give the figures. On foundation hospitals, 11 Cross Benchers voted against, and eight for the Government. On jury nobbling, 23 Cross Benchers voted with the Government and 10 with the Conservatives. Perhaps the hon. Member for South Suffolk can be forgiven for trying to mislead "Today" listeners, but I know that the House will not be fooled.
The Government were repeatedly defeated yesterday by a coalition of Conservatives and their partners in crime, the Liberal Democrats. On foundation hospitals, 101 Tories and 51 Liberal Democrats voted against the Government. On fighting fraud, 117 Tories and 55 Liberal Democrats voted against the Government.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend provides me with an opportunity to expose, as she did, the double standards of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who claim on the ground and in some of their public statements to be fighting crime, but who vote against measures that fight crime much more effectively.
On jury nobbling, 119 Tories and 53 Liberal Democrats voted against the Government. The truth is, this is not about the sensitivities of Cross Benchers, who were more or less evenly divided on each of the key votes. Nor is it about another spurious argument that was dragged into the debate yesterday—the outrageous attempt to suggest that some Members of this House are more equal than others when voting on Government legislation and matters before the House. These specious allegations seek to camouflage a carefully planned operation orchestrated by the new Leader of Opposition to sabotage the Government's fight against crime and frustrate health service modernisation.
Would the Leader of the House comment on the views of that great conspirator, Mr. Field, who said that if there had been a free vote only 50 Labour Members would have supported the Government's proposals on foundation hospitals? Is not the truth that the Government Whips are forcing through a measure that nobody in the House wants?
Order. The shouting in the Chamber is so loud that sometimes I cannot hear the hon. Members who are speaking—[Interruption.] It is my duty to listen.
As one of the nobblers who voted against the Government, I promise the Leader of the House that I will not vote against the Government. [Hon. Members: "Groveller!"] Yes, I always grovel, especially to you lot. I shall certainly not vote against the Government, because it is quite outrageous that this has become party political. Even though I disagree wholeheartedly with the Government's policy on foundation hospitals, the will on this side of the House is that it should become law. Although I shall not vote for that, I shall certainly not oppose the Government on the issue any more.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he and colleagues on the Government Back Benches have sincerely held differences of opinion. However, the issue is not about sincerely held differences of opinion any more—it is about an unelected House of Lords defying the will of the elected House of Commons to take these matters forward.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that rumours are circulating that negotiations are taking place in the other place on a deal or bargain to win concessions from the Government? Does that not demonstrate sheer opportunism? I speak as someone who voted against the Government last night, but what happened in the Lords was not the result of a principled position in any way whatsoever—it was just an attempt to thwart the Government with an unelected Tory majority in the Lords. Will my right hon. Friend promise that in the Queen's Speech next week there will be an opportunity to discuss future reform of the House of Lords and have a free vote on its abolition?
Order. Before the Leader of the House continues, the House should remember that there is a motion before us, and we cannot go too wide of it.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following directly from what you have just helpfully said, you will, I hope, confirm that in the ensuing debate, in which I hope to catch your eye, there will be a full opportunity to explore the areas opened up by the Leader of the House as part of our response to what he said about the motion.
I do not like to give the right hon. Gentleman assurances before he has delivered his speech. Let me hear what he has got to say—I can always stop him in full flow.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been very generous in giving way.
As someone who has consistently voted against both the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill, and did so again yesterday, I assure the Leader of the House that what is before us has now changed utterly. We are not talking for or against Bills—we are voting for which House is supreme. The House of Commons has spoken on those two Bills. I and many others will respect that and not vote against the Bills again.
I was about to come on to that very point, and am grateful to my hon. Friend for his clarification.
I am explaining the issue by speaking directly to the motion, because it is important that the House understand why the Government have found it necessary to introduce the motion.
The public have a right to know that the Opposition voted to allow juries to be nobbled. They also have a right to know that the Opposition voted to enable rich fraudsters to evade imprisonment by dragging out court proceedings, costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds that should be spent on locking up criminals, not allowing them to get away scot-free. In relation to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West, the public have a right to know that, having lost the last two elections by huge majorities, the Tories have given up on democracy and are now ruthlessly manipulating their power in the Lords to defeat an elected House of Commons.
The Leader of the House is deploying a series of irrational arguments to justify something. There is one Bill before the House that was not in the Labour manifesto. A large number of his Back-Bench colleagues voted against it and his colleagues in the House of Lords were divided on it. The Leader of the House has come to the House with a strange argument and is trying to reassure his Back Benchers of its legitimacy. Will he assure the House that he will base our debate on the merits of the case for the Bills that he is talking about?
As ever, my hon. Friend sticks to the terms of the motion.
In response to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove: do the Liberal Democrats have a new policy to favour the supremacy of the House of Lords over the elected will of the House of Commons? That is what the motion is about. It is about the fact that the public have a right to know that Conservative peers have been acting under close instruction from the new Conservative leader in the House of Commons, who, because he knows that he cannot defeat the Government in the Commons, is deliberately organising defeats in the Lords, where the Labour Government have only 28 per cent. of the vote. If the leader of the Tories wants to provoke days of reckoning on fighting crime, on delivering better health services, and on the fundamental constitutional and democratic right of an elected Government to have the will of the Commons prevail over an unelected, undemocratic Lords, we are up for it. We are up for it today, we are up for it on Monday and we will be up for it on Tuesday, too. We will run this right up to the wire of Prorogation in time for Her Majesty to deliver her speech on Wednesday.
I have already given way generously. If I have time, I will do so again.
I trust that everybody understands what is at stake here. This has gone way beyond sincerely held differences on the detail of both Bills: it is about a naked and unprecedented attempt to block the will of the people, who want fraudsters and jury nobblers to be jailed, not let off—of a public who want better health services and do not want them to fail so that the Conservatives have an excuse to pursue their agenda of privatisation and charging for health. I repeat what health Ministers said last night: no matter how many times the Bill goes back to the Commons, it will come back with clause 1 and schedule 1 on foundation hospitals reinstated.
Let us remind ourselves, too, that the House of Lords has not been engaged in revising legislation—it is not a case of carrying out its normal duties to scrutinise and constructively to revise—because we have already accepted 90 amendments to part 1, on foundation hospitals.
If it is right that the Government made 90 amendments as a result of the House of Lords amendments that brought them to their senses, how can the Leader of the House say that the Lords are not doing a worthwhile job? Of course they are —they are revising the legislation and making the Government think again.
I am distinguishing between a situation where the Lords carry out their proper constitutional duties and the situation where, in an unprecedented fashion, and having clearly decided to confront the will of the elected Chamber, they simply adjourn, thereby denying the Government the chance to take the initiative.
It is important for the House to know, and vital to our understanding of the motion, that two crucial pieces of legislation are at risk. If we lost the Health and Social Care Bill, the results would be: a delay in implementing the new GP contract agreed with the British Medical Association; the loss to the national health service of up to £150 million a year through the provisions relating to the injury cost recovery scheme; the loss of the new provisions on NHS dentistry; the loss of the reform of the welfare food scheme; and the loss of the independent inspectorates. And if we lost the Criminal Justice Bill, that would mean not only a continuation of jury tampering and a free ride for fraudsters, but the loss of these measures: tougher sentences for murder, especially "life meaning life" for premeditated child murders; longer sentences for dangerous sex offenders; longer sentences for violent offenders; longer sentences for dangerous drivers who kill; five-year minimum sentences for gun offences; a crackdown on bail bandits to tackle reoffending on bail; more drug testing and drug treatment—
If we lost the Bill, we would also lose more powers for the police in their fight against crime and terrorism, and the possibility of giving the police, prisons, probation service and victims a voice in sentencing for the first time ever.
I say frankly to the hon. Gentleman that what is at stake here is whether an elected Government with a majority in the Commons are able to carry on with a programme of fighting crime or whether the Conservative Opposition, with their Liberal Democrat allies, are going to thwart us in that objective.
The House of Lords needs reform, and it will be reformed. We are talking about an unelected, undemocratic House of Lords—
It is very interesting that the Opposition are engaged in trying to wreck two crucial pieces of legislation on fighting crime and on health service reform and investment. That is their agenda.
No, I will not give way any more.
Let us be clear that where Labour is tough on crime, the Tories are weak on crime. Where Labour wants better health service delivery, the Tories want to cut health services, forcing people to pay for vital operations and go private.
Of course, the Parliament Acts are available to any Government at any time, in particular circumstances, but we are not seeking to go down that road—we hope that the House of Lords will co-operate constructively, as, traditionally, it often has. If it does not, there will be serious consequences.
Where the Labour Government are for democracy, the Tories are for privilege and elitism. We are happy to fight them on that new ground, because we know that the people will be with us on cracking down on crime and on better health services. The Tories may be able to defeat us in a House of Lords full of their supporters and hereditary peers, but they will not defeat us where it really matters: where the people have a vote in the next general election. Passing this motion leads us on the road to that victory.
The Government are as intransigent as they are incompetent. The Leader of the House has created delight from Bromley to Bolsover by saying in the motion that we should sit for two more days. I want to take him up on his point that the House of Lords had considered these matters and that, over a period of some days, persuaded the Government to accept 90 amendments to the Bills. He is now telling us, however, that the House of Lords is full of arrogance for standing up against the Commons. Why does he say that?
In a moment.
The Leader of the House says that that is the case because the House of Lords decided to adjourn at 11 o'clock last night, yet the Government spend all their time telling us that we should finish work at 7 o'clock every evening. In fact, we are about to lose the opportunity to use the Smoking Room after 8 o'clock because of the changes in hours that the Government have made.
No, no. The former Leader of the House of Lords always used to argue that it was right for the House of Lords to have sensible sitting hours, yet when it suits the Government, they say that the Lords should sit all night. What sort of reform of the House of Lords is the Leader of the House of Commons talking about? He wants a House full of Tony's cronies. Even if the Government's reform to remove the hereditaries from the Lords had been made, they would still have lost every vote yesterday, because we were not relying on the support of the hereditaries to win them—we were relying on the support of Members on both sides of the House of Lords. Furthermore, in yesterday's debate on foundation hospitals it was very revealing that Mr. Field said that only 50 Labour MPs supported the Government's policy.
In a moment.
We have been standing up for important principles. On jury trial, we have said that the Government should not erode that important liberty of the subject unless there is an overriding reason to do so. What reason have the Government put forward? They say that in long and complicated fraud trials, there should be trial by judge alone, yet 92 per cent. of fraud cases result in a conviction. So what is their reason for this change?
Can you confirm, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this debate is not intended to be an opportunity to revisit the arguments on either the Criminal Justice Bill or the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill, and that it is an opportunity to discuss the motion on the Order Paper, which Mr. Heald is not addressing?
I have already said, and I repeat it for the benefit of all hon. Members, that we are not at this moment discussing the merits of any particular piece of legislation that may subsequently come before the House.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way at last. Is he not concerned that the Lords' unprecedented move of pulling up stumps last night when this House was prepared to continue to debate the merits of Government legislation that had already been voted on by this elected House cocked a snook at the House of Commons, and that the electorate will not understand why their views are being overlooked by the other place?
Labour Members call that modernisation when it suits them.
We have spent a good deal of time having constructive discussions with the Government and a great deal has been achieved: they have accepted 90 amendments. As we speak, further discussions are going on. It is right that, if necessary, we should take extra time to discuss these issues, as the motion suggests.
In a moment.
The Leader of the House used to write eloquently about the rule of law and the need for justice and liberty. The day before yesterday, a former Labour shadow Attorney-General and Attorney-General, Lord Morris of Aberavon, whom the Leader of the House knows well, made the point that to erode jury trial was a very serious step. We are arguing that, if it is to be done for the sake of 50 cases a year, it is a step too far. We have support for that argument right across the House. Will the Leader of the House intervene in this matter, even at this late stage, in the interests of justice and the rule of law? Can he not bring some common sense to bear on all those who are digging in? As Lord Healey has rightly said, those who are dug in should not keep digging. That is something that the Leader of the House could do for us.
Does the hon. Gentleman not recall that when we were in a similar position over the Railway Act 1993, when the Conservative party was in government, the House of Lords adjourned while this House was in disagreement with it, but when it met the following morning, it accepted—as it did on every occasion during the 18 years of Conservative rule—that when there were disagreements, the legitimacy lay within the elected House and not the other place?
There are always constructive discussions to be had, as there should be.
The offer that has been made is a fair one. It is to accept 393 clauses. Cannot the Government just go that small step in the interests of justice and the rule of law, and refrain from eroding the right to a jury trial? Can they not do that small thing, bearing in mind that it will affect only 50 cases a year—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It might have been before you assumed the Chair—when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair—that we all listened politely, if incredulously, to the Leader of the House listing many elements of the Bills under discussion. I raised this issue with Mr. Speaker in a gentle way, and he said that he was prepared, at that stage, to allow at least elements of the Bill to be brought in when they were relevant to the debate. As I said, that might have been before you assumed the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, but your perusal of Hansard tomorrow will show that the Leader of the House spent a large part of his time enumerating elements of the Bills.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, who is a very experienced Member of the House, will be able to distinguish the difference between listing the contents of a piece of legislation and debating its merits.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is rather appalling that aspersions should be cast on the other place in this debate? I have been reading carefully yesterday's debate on the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill in the other place, in which our noble Friend, Lord Cope of Berkeley said:
"More seriously, as far as I can detect, the various parties seem to have moved close to one another on the Bill on the various outstanding issues. We should, as a House, attempt to facilitate the ability of the Government, Opposition and other parties to come to an agreement about the future and settle it on a Bill about which there has been much controversy."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 19 November 2003; Vol. 654, c. 2035.]—
We were looking for a cooling-off period—a time for reflection—and I do not think that it is too much to ask that the Government should reflect on issues of this seriousness.
In a moment.
The offer that has been made on foundation hospitals would allow the whole Bill—the GP contract and all the other measures that I could list—to go through. What we do not want is a two-tier system in our country—a half-baked solution that simply will not work. We are entitled to negotiate and discuss. The other place was giving us that opportunity. [Interruption.] It may be, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we are to have those clauses listed.
In a moment.
It would be bad news for this place if we were left to wait for Lords messages with the Government digging in and nothing else to be done. We should reflect on the reason for us getting into this mess: the Government's appalling management of the business.
In a moment.
How could it happen that the Criminal Justice Bill, which had been in Committee in this place in January, arrived for final, serious consideration in the Lords only last night? In fact, the printers were kept up all night to get the papers ready for this place. That is incompetence. To add to it, we now have intransigence. That is not good enough.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Given the burgeoning alliance between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in another place, does it not alarm him that he has been abandoned by all but one of his allies in this place? Does it not speak volumes of the Liberal Democrats that while their peers are queueing round the block to defeat the Government in another place, only one of their MPs can be bothered to turn up to this Chamber to debate the supremacy of this House?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Before an attempt at rescuing the shadow Leader of the House is made by his predecessor, will you rule that any listing of the titles of the 393 clauses that might be envisaged by Mr. Forth would be ruled out of order as tortuous and unnecessary in relation to the debate on the matter before us? [Interruption.]
Order. No, first and foremost, I want to respond to this point of order. Never would it be appropriate for any occupant of the Chair to make a ruling in advance of hearing what any Member would say.
May I turn to an important matter of detail in the motion? Paragraph (1) says that no questions should be taken on Monday and Tuesday of next week. If we are to be here, waiting for Lords messages, it would be wrong to lie idle, so may I suggest that we have questions on Monday and Tuesday of next week and that we find time for a short debate on Iraq, which the shadow Foreign Secretary asked for?
Does my hon. Friend think that it would be worth while to have questions to the Chancellor, because the one question that no one on the Treasury Bench seemed to be able to answer yesterday is whether total capital investment in the health service is capped? If the Chancellor, who is now responsible for almost all domestic policy, came to the House, we might be able—
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is making a convincing case. Has he borne it in mind that we have had only 164 sitting days in the parliamentary year, although a lot of people outside the House have to work 240 days a year in their normal employment? Does that not show that we do not have enough time to consider such Bills properly or to ask the right questions, as he has said? Should not we ask the Government for more sitting days as well as more hours?
It appears to me that the Government will get into similar problems next year. They have a number of unpopular Bills that they will find difficult to get through this place and, indeed, the other place. The issue of questions is important: should not the Government modernise Question Time so that we can table questions in the expectation that we may sit on the Monday and Tuesday when prorogation takes place? If we came across a similar situation, we could have Question Time.
Looking at paragraph (1) of the motion, the only reason that this proposal is needed is to prevent us from having Question Time. If the motion had not been tabled, I believe that we could have normal days on Monday and Tuesday.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because I want to ask him a question about paragraph (1). Is my interpretation correct in that, fortunately, it allows for an interruption on Monday and Tuesday for an urgent question? Given the comments of the Leader of the House on an unelected Chamber, could not that opportunity be used for the Prime Minister to come to the House to explain why he believes in an unelected Chamber whereas his Ministers seem not to?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Of course, if we had the Chamber at the other end of the Corridor that the Prime Minister wants, we would still have had exactly the same result in those votes.
Give me a moment, because I want to make the point that there is a good reason to have Home Office and Department of Health questions next week. [Hon. Members: "And Treasury questions."] And possibly Treasury questions. Let me give an example.
My hon. Friend Mr. McLoughlin has explained that on
In a moment.
"I will write to the right hon. Member and place a copy of my letter in the Library."
That is the reply, 10 months later. My right hon. Friend could come along on Monday or Tuesday.
I put it to my hon. Friend that even when we receive answers they are not much use. After all, the Prime Minister yesterday told us that trade between the United States and the United Kingdom totals £2,000 billion a year. That is more than the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom.
In a moment. The Secretary of State for Health was asked
"what recent discussions he has had on the testing of school children for sexually-transmitted diseases".
The answer was:
"The power of decision to provide a school based health service, and the content of that service, is for the individual governing body of the school in consultation with pupils, parents and the school community."
What discussions did he have? He would not answer the question. All right hon. and hon. Members who regularly ask questions and wait for 10 months for an answer or do not receive an answer could come to the House on Monday or Tuesday and ask the same questions and get answers for a change.
Sadly, we do not need a debate on that. The Prime Minister is already doing that.
It is right that we should have the opportunity to use this time well. The Leader of House has made his accusations, but the truth of the matter is that he and his colleagues should be using the time that the House of Lords has given us to pause and reflect.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been listening to my hon. Friends' arguments and your rulings from the Chair on points of order. They have convinced me to prepare a manuscript amendment that is real, rather than hypothetical. I hope that you will accept it as an amendment to the motion.
The Government have made their allegations, but they should do the responsible thing and use this time for reflection. Instead of being stubborn, arrogant and intransigent, they should listen, learn and look at what all sides are saying. Then we could move forward on the basis of the constructive proposals made by the Opposition and others. Unless the manuscript amendment is accepted and there is some change during the course of debate, we shall divide on the motion.
I congratulate Mr. Heald on his new role: he clearly enjoys it and has kept the House amused and lively.
I have not fully understood the terms of the contingency motion, but I am assuming that in the light of the Lords' behaviour the Prime Minister will use the next occasion available to him to visit Her Majesty to recommend that more peers should be created so that the House of Lords respects the will of an elected Parliament. In that way, if we are here on Monday and Tuesday, we shall be debating the possibility of a new Parliament Bill that will limit further the powers of the other place to prevent the will of the elected representatives from being respected.
I will be happy to give way in due course. We have plenty of time. The Conservative Benches are galvanised and I look forward to hearing from the right hon. Gentleman. The Lords have voted once, but they have to vote again, so we have plenty of time to have a full debate. Before I give way, however, I will set the foundations of my contribution: I am assuming that we may expect the Prime Minister to recommend the creation of more peers, and that on Monday and Tuesday we shall be looking for a new Parliament Bill.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House how that could possibly work? The problem is that once Her Majesty has graciously agreed to create a peer, there is no requirement for that peer to follow the Labour Whip. Indeed, most of them do not seem to bother.
I shall stick with the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in 1911 there was no difficulty in the Prime Minister advising the Leader of the Lords that the recommendation had been made and that the King had graciously accepted it. There followed a Parliament Bill. There is no logistical difficulty about such a recommendation, and given the attitude of the other place, I imagine that Her Majesty would graciously accept it.
As the Leader of the House said, this is not a question concerning the principle of Government legislation. That was debated last night and we shall not go into it again. Many of my hon. Friends voted with the Conservatives. That is a matter for them and their conscience. If they can sleep at night, that is fine. They have made their point. Now we face a constitutional question: the upper House is preventing the elected House of Commons from exercising its will in the interests of the people.
I am grateful for your protection, Madam Deputy Speaker.
In response to the hon. Gentleman's question, it was a Liberal Prime Minister who recommended to His Majesty the creation of peers. That was accepted and there followed a Parliament Bill. That would not change the nature of the Parliament Act 1949. There would still be a pause in the passage of legislation, and certainly the Lords would have the right to amend legislation, fulfil their constitutional function and send legislation back to us. That constitutional position is not being altered. If we are here on Monday and Tuesday, I would like to debate the reasons why we should have a new Parliament Bill; why this House is sitting on Monday and Tuesday under a contingency motion; and why this elected assembly should never again put ourselves in this position.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a great respect for his interest in the way in which both Houses operate. Would he be interested to know—I can send him the details later—that one of the peers appointed by the present Prime Minister to the upper House recently wrote to me to say that she was unaware that she was still listed as a Labour peer, having moved to the Cross Benches because of her professional position, and that she rarely had time to sit in the other place? Does he agree that if we are considering the role of the upper House we must look at whether those appointed by the current Prime Minister are doing the job for which they were appointed?
The powers of the Lords have been referred to. I mentioned the Parliament Act 1911 and I will refer briefly to the Parliament Act 1949. If on Monday and Tuesday the House sits under this contingency motion and if we debate the possibility of a new Parliament Act, it would not interfere with the Parliament Act 1949, which gives the Lords a delaying power. It would be perfectly possible for the Prime Minister to visit Her Majesty on Sunday, for her to accept the recommendation and for us to debate a new Parliament Bill on Monday and Tuesday. That could be done in such a way that the Queen could refer to it in her speech on Wednesday.
Will the hon. Gentleman say who he thinks should be the arbiter on whether the House of Lords is correctly fulfilling its constitutional functions? Should that question be determined simply by the majority, for the time being, in this House, or by wider considerations, including public opinion and a sense of consent throughout the nation? If the answer is the latter, surely it is worth listening to what the House of Lords has to say.
Without diverting into a debate wider than the motion before us, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the answer is very simple: the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 provide the upper House with certain clear powers. Those are revising powers and powers to delay within a set time. As we have heard today, the House of Lords has respected that situation, and it made some 90 amendments, which the Government have accepted. That is the constitutional position.
What we are seeing today and what we saw last night, as my hon. Friend Kali Mountford said, is that the House of Lords no longer respects the will of the people. Without getting into a wider debate, I can say that this House gave a clear view last night; a majority of 17 is quite sufficient. The late Winston Churchill said that a majority of one is enough. The will of this House was expressed, and this motion is a result of the Lords not wanting to respect the wishes of our elected representatives.
May I take the hon. Gentleman back to the terms of the motion? Many hon. Members on this side of the House would agree with it if it did not contain paragraph (1). Why can we not have questions next week?
That, of course, is a matter for Madam Deputy Speaker, not for me. We have already had a suggestion for a manuscript amendment, and the Corridor and the Speaker's door are open if anyone wants to pursue that course. If manuscript amendments were to be accepted by the Speaker, I would be happy to move one saying that we ought to be here on Monday and Tuesday to debate the prospect of a new Parliament Bill.
My hon. Friend strongly made the point that on two separate occasions this House has already made its views known extremely forcefully on both the Bills that have still to return from the House of Lords. Opposition Members have said that the Lords has every right to make the House of Commons think a second time, and it surely does, but not a third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh time, because in the end it should be the democratic Chamber that wins through. Would my hon. Friend suggest in his new Parliament Bill that there should be only one opportunity for the Lords to ask the Commons to review its position?
Again staying within the terms of the debate, I shall answer that by referring to a point made to me by my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke. Not in this Parliament, and certainly not since 1997, have we seen the House of Lords acting in the way that it did last night. Getting to the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Bryant, certainly a new Parliament Act should reduce still further the delaying power of the Lords.
I intervene mainly because my hon. Friend referred to me. Last night I did my duty as an elected Member of this United Kingdom Parliament and as my constituents would have expected me to do. Those who would seek to influence me not to vote on, for example, Northern Ireland matters—particularly, if I may say so with respect, if those people represent the Conservative and Unionist party—should recognise that they are playing right into the hands of the separatists.
On the point made by my hon. Friend, I have not always supported the Government; I opposed them on incapacity benefit. [Hon. Members: "Give way."] However, and here I conclude, the point came when Lord Ashley of Stoke and I, who, if you like, led that rebellion, accepted, as Lord Ashley said, that the democratic House had spoken. He accepted that judgment, and it is time that that wisdom was replicated in another place.
My right hon. Friend made a valid point which I made earlier, and if I may I will repeat myself. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends voted with the Conservatives last night as a matter of conscience. They expressed their wish and their will, and they opposed their own party. However, what we are now debating is a motion through which the unelected upper House can seek to impose its will on an elected Chamber. Two of my hon. Friends have already said today that this is a question of the constitution, and I am sure that all my colleagues will now vote with the Government—I urge them to do so.
The hon. Gentleman is looking at how the role of the upper House as a revising Chamber may affect this motion. Does he accept that the practical reality is that, because of the Government's tight guillotines, the upper House is now the only House that has the opportunity to debate matters such as those arising from the Criminal Justice Bill, in full?
The Government could have all bar about three clauses of their huge Criminal Justice Bill by agreement with the democratic Chamber, so is not the other place entitled to claim that it is doing its job as a revising Chamber by saying to the Government that they can have 305 clauses of the Bill if they just take out the three that many of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues do not like any more than we do?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but I reiterate what the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for Health have said. Certainly in the case of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill, if not the Criminal Justice Bill, these questions go to the heart of Government policy. I surmise, without straying too far from the motion, that if the Government had lost the vote last night, it would have been a matter for a vote of confidence in this Chamber. Mr. Hawkins would have been the first to call for that, and I would have supported that call.
What the Lords are doing is not revising. We have already been told that 90 amendments have been accepted by the Government. What we are seeing now is a policy put forward by the Government, and supported by a majority in this House, being contested and rejected by the Lords, creating not a constitutional crisis but a constitutional difficulty. If, under the terms of the motion, the House sits on Monday and Tuesday, we should take all that into account.
With regard to the Bill dealing with foundation hospitals, will the hon. Gentleman bear it in mind that those policies were not in the Labour party manifesto, and they were rejected by the Labour party conference in October?
I am making this speech as a humble barrister. I did not get into the debate on jury trials, and I will not get into it now. However, the only examination that I ever passed with any distinction was one on constitutional law, and the lesson that I learned from that was that the other place must always yield to the supremacy of this Chamber. What we are seeing now is a usurpation of that right and a lack of dignity and respect for this Chamber, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley said. Last night, this House—certainly 590 of us, if not 650—were ready to sit here to resolve any conflict between the Lords and this place, and the other place refused to do its constitutional duty. Without straying too far from the motion, I can say that that is a challenge to this House, and it is a challenge that I take up, first as a Member of Parliament, secondly as a barrister and thirdly as someone who did well in constitutional law.
Is it not right that there should be a process, which is continuing, of trying to produce a Bill that is satisfactory to all parts of the House? What is wrong with the other place saying, as it did last night, "Let us have a pause for reflection—a cooling-off period—and see if we can go that extra mile"?
It is not "The Green Mile"—the film that the hon. Gentleman may have seen, as I have—to which he refers. He gives me the opportunity to mention a cooling-off period. The House of Lords is a revising Chamber—a Chamber intended to send matters back, to make recommendations and sometimes to cool off the emotions of this House. That function has hitherto been exercised fairly well. But, as Simon Hughes said yesterday, when a debate has been going on for almost a year in this place and the other place, and when, a day before prorogation, after the House and the Government have indicated that they will not yield on matters of substance on Government policy, the other place turns that down, creating the need for the motion before the Chamber today, possibly requiring Parliament to come back on Monday and Tuesday, that is not revising. It is not cooling off. It is, if I may use the vernacular, cocking a snook.
If I spoke about recidivists, I would be getting into the Criminal Justice Bill, and I do not wish to exercise that right at this moment. I see, even in a short space of time, a repetition of the proceedings before the Parliament Act 1911, when the other place sought to interfere with the taxation powers of this House. In 1949 the law was changed again because of the intolerable delays that the House of Lords created in the nationalisation programme of a Labour Government. We are now seeing a third attempt to usurp the functions of an elected Government. That never happened under the Conservatives, even though there was a cooling-off period and many amendments were moved. The Tory Government were defeated many times and the legislation returned to the House. There was a cooling-off period, but there was never a motion such as the one before us to be debated two days before prorogation. That is a challenge to the supremacy of the House.
The former Conservative Government and the present Government have both sought to clarify issues with the Lords, sought to amend or improve their legislation with the Lords, and by and large were successful. Whether the principle of the Bills was accepted is another matter. By accepting 90 amendments to the present legislation, the present Government have shown themselves prepared to fall over backwards to please the House of Lords and to take into account what the Lords said. We come back to the point made by the Leader of the House: this is a challenge to our supremacy. Those on the Conservative Benches—I see many in the House, I see Chairmen of Committees, and I respect them—understand the principle of supremacy and the challenge to this House. I should be surprised if they continue with that challenge by supporting the other place.
Opposition Members criticised my hon. Friend earlier for suggesting that more Labour peers should be created in order to get the Government's manifesto commitments through the other place. He has been in the House long enough to remember that in 1990 the Conservatives made sure that every single hereditary peer in the country—people who had never once attended the House of Peers—were drafted into the House of Lords to push through the poll tax legislation. Does that not show utter contempt for the democratic process of both Houses?
That is certainly the case. Many years ago Laurence Olivier was made a peer. He never showed up at all until his wife, Vivien Leigh, threatened to disrupt the proceedings. He had not even signed the form, but he thought he had better show up. At the Labour party conference in 1977, Jack Jones asked about the origins of the peers and the liaisons in the time of Charles I from which the descendants are now profiting. I will not discuss the composition of the Lords, but I will answer one point that was made in relation to the debate.
It was suggested that I had said that we should create Labour peers. I never said that at all. I said we should create sufficient peers so that the will of this House will be respected in another place. That is the essence of our short debate today.
I am one of the few Members of Parliament who, on the day Lady Thatcher retired from the House, praised her for her contribution, much to the chagrin of my hon. Friend Mr. Skinner, as I well remember. The question was whether she had been the greatest Prime Minister since the war. My response was that the greatest Prime Minister since the war was Clement Attlee.
On the War Crimes Bill, I remember that well. I was one of those who, with Mr. Burns, sought to push it through and congratulated everyone when it was pushed through. But we are not dealing with that.
Whether we are under a Conservative or a Labour Government, the supremacy of the House cannot be challenged. Yet we see it being challenged even now. We sign sessional orders every time we open a new Parliament, so that we have access to the building. Hon. Members may have seen from their e-mails that certain entrances will be closed today. That is an infringement of the rights of Members of Parliament.
There is such a thing as abuse of power. What we are seeing today and what we saw last night are clear abuses of power by the other place towards an elected Chamber. That shows disrespect to every Member of the House who was duly elected by the people of our country to govern the country. The legislation of which we were speaking, which I will not get into, is supported by the Cabinet and by the Commons, and the Lords are challenging it. That is an abuse of power, not a use of power.
Is it not one of the greatest ironies of history that for the most part, the Parliament Act has had to be used on issues on which there had been free votes in the House but the Lords decided to throw the legislation out? A classic example is the Hunting Bill. Should the Lords not bow down and listen to the will of the democratically elected Members of the Commons?
Would it not be useful for the House to come back on Monday and Tuesday? People think we do not sit on enough days. We are discussing two controversial Bills that are deeply flawed and which do not have the full support of the House. We know that there are many reservations on the Government side. Debating the Bills on Monday and Tuesday would give us more opportunities to discuss their merits, which would be useful to the House.
I say again that I would be happy to come back on Monday and Tuesday to debate a recommendation from the Prime Minister to Her Majesty to create new peers. I would be happy to come back on Monday and Tuesday to debate a new Parliament Bill. I would be happy for a new Parliament Bill to be included in the Queen's Speech. I would be happy if we created sufficient peers so that the will of this Chamber was respected in the other place, and so that the will of a Government duly elected was respected. I would be happy to debate all those matters on Monday and Tuesday.
"I do not want to comment on the way in which votes have been cast in one way or another."
She went on to say:
"I sincerely believe that if we had more time to look through these proposals, more might have been achieved."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 19 November 2003; Vol. 654, c. 2019–20.]
We are providing that time.
We are giving that time, but the Government have said, and the Leader of the House has said today, that the legislation is a vital part of the Government's and Parliament's programme to ameliorate situations in relation to health and crime. I shall not go into that, Madam Deputy Speaker, but that is where the Lords are interfering with our democratic process.
The hon. Gentleman has talked considerably about the democratic rights of this Chamber, but in his contract with his electorate I do not recall his standing on a manifesto pledge to remove the right to jury trial or to have two-tier hospitals.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I do not wish to go into that, but in my political career I have followed the conservative line that Governments are elected to govern for a four or five-year period and to return to the country and say, "This is what we did." That was the philosophy and tradition of the Conservative party for many a year. I have sat in this House for 20 years, some under a Conservative Government, and I have voted on Bills that were never put to the people by way of a manifesto or never appeared in a Queen's Speech.
My hon. Friend Mr. Miller mentioned the speech by Baroness Finlay in the other place yesterday. She is a highly regarded Cross Bencher and she complained that many questions had not been answered. My hon. Friend Mr. Bell is a constitutional expert, so could he tell me whether, when the Reasons Committee retires to put together the reasons why this House rejected the Lords' proposals, they could extend beyond one simple sentence? Could detailed reasons be given to the House of Lords as to why we have rejected its proposals?
Did not my hon. Friend's electorate elect him to use his considerable judgment, which has been amply demonstrated this afternoon—I do not require him to comment on that; I simply make that point? Given his great experience and wisdom, is it not the case that on issues such as this there comes a point when each House has to recognise that the argument is over, and have we not now reached that point? However many more days we spend debating the issues, the House of Lords should recognise that we will be answerable to the electorate while they carry on debating, and the constitutional position must remain that the decision lies ultimately with this House.
I, like many other hon. Members, have had to cancel a series of constituency engagements today. I was due to open a building, which happens about once every five years, but I had to tell my constituents that I would be in this Chamber and not one has complained about that because they know that this is my place and this is where I should be.
My hon. Friend is right in the sense that the debate is over and the reasoned amendments have been put. The amendments from the other place are no longer reasoned amendments; what we are getting is rejection. We are now seeing a constitutional ping-pong. We are no longer here for reasons of principle; we are here because of a challenge to this House and its supremacy.
I apologise for not having been here all morning, but I have been listening to the proceedings in the other House. I take it that all hon. Members are perfectly well aware that the amendments now before their lordships' House were originally tabled by my noble Friend Baroness Scotland on behalf of the Government and, having been withdrawn, have now been retabled by the Opposition. They are precisely the basis of an agreement that was reached this morning that would have resolved the entire issue. That ought not to be lost sight of.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who not only has a constituency next door to mine but is also a distinguished barrister who has participated in many of these debates. She demonstrates again not only that this is a constitutional ping-pong, but that the other place is showing cynicism of the highest order. Members of the other House have set aside their own principles and understanding of the constitution and taken a view that we have not seen in the entire life of this Government since 1997, and such as we have not seen since the early part of the century, or in the 1940s when we had a Labour Government with a strong programme of nationalisation.
It is for the Leader of the House to define the Government's policy, but that shows how we are open to argument in the interests of our legislation. Because of that we are still here debating the motion to sit on Monday and Tuesday. The House of Lords is usurping the powers that were given to us by the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949.
The hon. Gentleman has been very reasonable through much of his remarks, and he has a fine reputation in the House. He spoke about the Prime Minister going to Her Majesty the Queen in order to bring about the appointment of a number of additional peers, and he said that they would not necessarily be Labour peers. How could he guarantee that they would take the point of view that he is expressing in the Chamber today? Might they not support the cross-party opposition, not least on the erosion of jury trial, which I consider to be a constitutional issue? Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the Lords have a right to take a position on that to the bitter end, even if foundation hospitals are a political matter?
I have one eye on Madam Deputy Speaker, and she has one eye on me, so I shall not get into a debate on the merits of the Bills. However, I believe that the Lords are wrong on jury trials, and I say that as someone who practised in jury trials in France as well as in the United Kingdom.
On hon. Gentleman's point about the Prime Minister seeking to make recommendations to Her Majesty on peerages, I should say that my right hon. Friend has been reluctant to create peerages, either on the Labour side or on the Conservative side. We are at least 25 peers short, and there may be some announcement later. In the light of what is happening today, I urge the Prime Minister to use his constitutional right to make the recommendations.
On the hon. Gentleman's third point about competence, I am suggesting that, were we to have a debate on Monday on constitutional issues, sufficient peers should be sent to the Lords who would respect the constitutional issue of who is supreme. The Parliament Act 1949 would still be extant in the sense that the Lords would have the power to delay legislation. I am suggesting not that peers be created simply to support this Chamber, but to respect the constitutional position. So it comes down to a question of competence, not political ideology.
Further to the point made by our hon. and learned Friend Vera Baird, is not the point of principle not who did or did not table what amendments, but the thwarting of the democratic wishes of the democratic upper Chamber? This is the upper Chamber in this Parliament, and that is how we should refer to it.
If I may, I should like to go back in history a little, while staying within the confines of the debate. In 1911, the Prime Minister went to His Majesty and asked to create peers because of the constitutional position and the opposition of the Lords to a certain tax Bill that we will all remember, even if we were not here at the time. In 1947, the Lords had to yield to the Commons in terms of their delaying abilities. They had eternal delay at that time, but they do not have it now, except on a Bill that would prolong the life of this Parliament, which is not covered by the Parliament Acts. What we are seeing now is again a threat to the constitution, and my hon. Friend highlights that issue. Not as a Labour Member of Parliament, but as a Member of this House, I seek to ensure that the rights of the people who sent me here are respected.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that there were two general elections before the extra peers were created in 1911? Is he suggesting that that should occur now?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was going to wait until my hon. Friend Mr. Bell had finished his speech before raising this point, but he has taken so many interventions that I do not think that raising it now will ruin his train of thought. Earlier, I said that I had voted against foundation hospitals last night. Unfortunately, an hon. Member on the Opposition Benches—I shall not name him, as he is not present—suggested that I had misled the House. I seek your advice on how I may seek redress and put the record straight, as I resent the accusation that I would deliberately and knowingly mislead the House.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I had a very interesting conversation with the hon. Gentleman in the Lobby and I can confirm that he definitely voted with us.
That was not a point of order for the Chair, but it appears to have been satisfactorily resolved.
I must make an announcement to the House. The following manuscript amendment has been accepted by Mr. Speaker. The amendment, which was tabled by Mr. Eric Forth, Mr. Crispin Blunt and Mr. David Wilshire, is in line 2, leave out paragraph (1) and insert
'(1) notwithstanding paragraph (5) of
The amendment has been available in the Vote Office since 2.41 pm.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the light of the manuscript amendment, which I think most Opposition Members welcome, will there be an opportunity for the Leader of the House to make his position clear before the debate proceeds any further? If he is minded to accept the amendment—I hope that he is—we may well not need to continue this debate for much longer.
Shortly before the points of order that we have just heard and your announcement, Madam Deputy Speaker, Vera Baird pointed out to the hon. Gentleman the peculiar behaviour of Ministers in relation to the Criminal Justice Bill. In talking about the constitutional settlement, does he recognise that many Opposition Members feel that the other place has a particular revising function on criminal justice matters because of the presence there of Law Lords? Does he recognise that, as part and parcel of that position, the expressed views of the Lord Chief Justice, who has been very critical of the Home Secretary's legislation—
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your comments, and to the hon. Gentleman for making those points. As a brief answer, I must first point out that the Law Lords do not vote or participate in Lords debates. Secondly, the same arguments that he advanced on criminal justice were made on taxation in the early 1900s, when exactly the same point was made. I shall not pursue that issue any further.
May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention, if he will listen for a moment, to paragraph (1) of the motion? The House would be interested to hear his views about that paragraph, as the Leader of the House did not give any justification for its inclusion. Why should we be denied the right to ask questions on Monday and Tuesday next week?
I think that the whole House will be surprised by the imaginative move that has been made by Opposition Back Benchers. Given that it has been possible to make such a move during this debate, is my hon. Friend as surprised as I am that those on the Opposition Front Bench were not able to make a similar decision late last night, just as the rest of this House had to make its decision about considering the motion at all?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been most courteous in giving way numerous times to allow hon. Members to make contributions during his speech. May I bring him back to the important point made by Vera Baird, who explained to the House that a compromise had been in the offing this morning? As I understand it, the process of ping-pong is designed to promote compromise; in fact, a compromise was very nearly reached, but the Government reneged on it. Much of his argument has been based on saying that the other place has been intransigent, but is it not unfair to blame the other place for intransigence when the Government had just about agreed a compromise, but then reneged on it?
As I said earlier, I shall not get into that issue or usurp the authority of the Leader of the House.
I am dealing with the question whether the supremacy of this House can be challenged by the Lords, and I am grateful to the House and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the time to speak about that and to make constitutional points. If we do have oral questions to the Home Department on Monday, I will be asking why the Prime Minister has not seen the Queen to recommend new peerages, why we are not debating a new Parliament Bill and why we are not going to restrict the powers of the Lords to seek to usurp the will of this Chamber, and I will be explaining why I will always seek to protect this House of Commons in terms of constitutional law so that its supremacy can remain intact in the interests of my constituents, Members of Parliament and the country.
I beg to move a manuscript amendment, in line 2, leave out paragraph (1) and insert
'(1) notwithstanding paragraph (5) of
and the shuffles for these Oral Questions shall be held at 6.00 p.m. at this day's sitting or one hour after the conclusion of proceedings on this Motion, whichever is later.'.
I am delighted, on behalf of my colleagues, to support the manuscript amendment that was tabled by Mr. Forth and others. I had some sympathy with the sittings motion until I heard the frankly bogus arguments that the Leader of the House advanced in its favour. I want to return to the argument that he put forward earlier this afternoon.
I want to address the sittings motion and dispel some of the bogus constitutional nonsense that we heard from the Leader of the House and Mr. Bell. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman got any prizes for constitutional history. I was a historian and I can tell him, as a matter of fact, that the circumstances in 1911—I was not there but there was a Liberal Government—were totally different from what is happening now. In 1910 and 1911, issues were put before the people in a general election, so that was the context in which the House of Lords eventually had to back down. The circumstances are totally different today, as has been made perfectly clear by hon. Members of all parties, including Labour Back Benchers. None of the issues that the House of Lords has examined during recent hours were the subject of manifesto commitments or a mandate from the electorate. There is no way the Prime Minister could now go to the palace to ask for, or in which the monarch could give, the sort of assurances the hon. Gentleman talked about on the basis of the convention in 1910 and 1911 unless there was a general election.
The hon. Gentleman has obviously not taken account of recent constitutional developments. The Prime Minister and leaders of all parties have said that there is no way that the House of Lords will contain a built-in majority for any one party in the future. Unless the new leader of the Conservative party goes back on that assurance—I am sure that he will not—no future Government will ever have a built-in majority in the second Chamber, and rightly so.
The constitutional myths peddled by the Leader of the House revolve around precisely this issue: he said that the matters under consideration had been the subject of a democratic mandate to Members of this House, so the other House could not intervene. That is simply not true. It is possible that if there were a firm commitment to the creation of foundation trusts in the next Labour manifesto, that could be the case in future. It is equally true that if the next manifesto were to include a commitment to abolish jury trials in certain circumstances, Labour Members could then argue that their mandate would override the role of the House of Lords.
However, as Vera Baird said, the circumstances are nothing like as clear as that. The amendments that the other place has considered were originally tabled by the Government, and the Leader of the House refused to respond to that point at the Dispatch Box. It is simply not true to suggest that the discussions that are taking place in the other place are a challenge to this House and the Government's mandate because the amendments that they are considering were introduced by the Government. Perhaps the Government have changed their mind yet again.
Would it help the hon. Gentleman's argument if I reminded him that not only do Labour Members not have a mandate from the electorate, they do not have one from their own party because the Labour party conference rejected the whole concept of foundation hospitals in October?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the House of Lords adjourned last night after representatives of my party and the Liberal Democrats had made the explicit point that adjournment would allow a cooling-off period so that we could discuss matters and reach agreement? That happened, but the Government then tabled their amendments.
I was party to the discussions late last night and early this morning. Agreement was reached between Ministers and Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members. We struck an agreement but the Government reneged on it at 10 am today for no apparent reason and with no explanation.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that absolutely clear. I hope that Labour Members are listening. We are supposed to deal with matters in just such a way, which is why we listen to Ministers when they suggest a way to get out of such difficulties.
Of course we could have continued with the procedure last night if Members of the other place had not decided to take to their beds somewhat earlier than us. The hon. Gentleman said that the two Houses form one Parliament, which is constitutionally true. However, speaking as a House of Commons man, he must agree that the will of this elected House should prevail over that of the unelected House. The electorate can deal with us, but they cannot deal with them down the Corridor.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point but the question is not who prevails, but when they prevail. I am perfectly willing to be here on Monday and Tuesday. As he knows, this place works by discussion—Parliament means talking. My hon. Friend Mr. Heath was involved in discussions with Ministers in which a sensible compromise was reached. Ministers—not this House or that House but the Executive—pulled the plug on those discussions. The legislature—hon. Members on both sides of the House—has a right to hold the Executive to account. That is what my hon. Friend and Conservative Members were doing, and I hope that Labour Members appreciate that they also have a responsibility to hold the Executive to account.
The hon. Gentleman's argument would be strong, especially on foundation hospitals, if it were not for the fact that Liberal peers have already caved in. They accept that this House should have its say in the end. Surely he should now agree with the Liberal peers.
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the process—he has not been a Member for quite as long as Mr. Banks. The whole point is that sensible conclusions may be reached through discussion, and such discussions are continuing.
The whole point of the sittings motion is to allow more time to ensure that Parliament does its job properly—I have no problem with that whatsoever. My problem with the motion is that it is unnecessarily circumscribed. When Parliament sits, one of our most important functions is clearly to hold Ministers to account, which is why I am delighted to support the manuscript amendment. However, the motion does not provide specifically for urgent questions, so I hope that the Government will assure us that if any urgent questions are tabled on Monday or Tuesday, they may be taken. I hope that the Leader of the House will tell us that if important matters were to arise over the weekend, such as terrorism issues, the appropriate Secretary of State would make a statement to the House. Nothing in the motion makes that impossible, so I hope that it will happen.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will know that Mr. Speaker has always been careful to say that Ministers and others in the Government should not make announcements before the House gets to hear of important decisions. Are you aware that the Government sent a press release to each trust in the country this morning for them to put out saying:
"We are obviously very disappointed by the fact that Parliament has failed to pass the legislation that would have allowed us to apply for NHS Foundation Trust" status? It is said that consultation has taken place for some time and that favourable responses have been received to the application from a number of quarters. The press release continues:
I shall return to the arguments advanced by the Leader of the House at the outset of the debate. He was peddling a completely new constitutional theory about the relationship between the two Houses. I cannot remember what he studied at university at about the same time as myself, when we were both young Liberals, and he was a true radical. However, I know from my experience given the way in which the relationship between the two Houses has developed over the years, not only in terms of the Parliament Acts, to which the hon. Member for Middlesbrough referred, but of the evolution of the relationship, that it is extremely important that we give proper time for discussion between the two Houses.
It is entirely at the behest of the Government's business managers how Bills come through during the course of the year. If those two Bills had been the subject of proper pre-legislative scrutiny, for example, of which the Leader of the House is in favour, and if they had come forward as draft Bills with proper discussion having taken place with outside interests as well as with Members, it might well have been possible for the right hon. Gentleman to bring to this place a carry-over motion. Both Houses have now accepted that where there is proper pre-legislative scrutiny of such Bills, a carry-over motion can be considered.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has misled the House, and I am certain that it was inadvertent. He said that the original motion did not provide for allowing urgent questions. If he reads the first paragraph again, he will see that it refers specifically to Mr. Speaker being able to grant urgent questions.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I was relating my remarks rather more to the question of statements. I apologise if I misled him or other Members.
I shall return to my central theme, which is the constitutional role and relationship of the two Houses. The Leader of the House will know—because he voted for it—that on
The Prime Minister voted for a fully appointed House. Any suggestion that the legitimacy of part of this Parliament is inappropriate in dealing with this particular issue is prime nonsense. It is true that we are told—the Leader of the House may be able to confirm this—that a Bill will shortly come before us that will make modest changes to the constitutional position of the other House. As I read the Division lists in the other place, that would make no difference to the present situation and the two Bills that we have been discussing.
Does the hon. Gentleman concede that what is at issue is not the right of the House of Lords to revise, scrutinise or come up with constructive amendments, but the right of the other place to veto? There is a distinction between a revising chamber and a vetoing chamber. What we have seen happening recently, and particularly yesterday, is the exercise of a power of veto, which is not acceptable to a democratically elected chamber—this Chamber—which is the supreme body of Parliament.
There are two reasons why that is obvious nonsense. First, the Government originally introduced the amendments under discussion. The right hon. Gentleman cannot get out of that one. Secondly, the House of Lords cannot insert a veto into the process. It can only ask for time, and that is precisely what it has done. There have already been discussions and an attempt to compromise, but the timing is in the hands of the Government. If they felt that they wanted more time, why did they leave it until this week to complete the legislative process? The Government's business managers set the calendar, not me, and not our colleagues at the other end of the building.
Why are we in this situation? We are in it because the Government have mishandled the whole of the legislative process for the whole of the year. They have tried to get a gallon into a half-pint pot. They have taken some extremely difficult issues and attempted to deal with them in an extremely complicated way that has involved some substantial Bills. In the so-called spill-over Session—we could have had a longer one if the Government had so wished—we have had the so-called ping-pong.
I hope that the Government have learned some lessons for the future. We need to have a different process. We need better consultation not just between the two Houses and not just between the different parties, but between the Government and their own Back Benchers. Anyone who listened to the formidable speeches delivered by Government Back Benchers yesterday must have been struck by how little Government Front-Bench Members have been listening to their own Members, let alone other Members.
The timing of business is in the Government's hands, and the Government cannot wash their hands of the mess that they have made of this week. If we come back on Monday and Tuesday next week, that will not be down to the House of Lords. It will not be down to anyone in the House except the Government's business managers.
First, I shall pick up the theme that the hon. Gentleman has been pursuing: asking, which we must do in terms of the motion, how we have got ourselves into this position. I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis, which is that this is the culmination of a year of mismanagement by the Government. Indeed, it is worse than that: it is a classic case of the Government attempting to put too much legislation, and too much controversial legislation, into a limited Session.
Here is where I part company with what has been said repeatedly from the Government Benches. The tragedy is that there is no time pressure in this place. Would that it were so. The tragedy of Parliament today is that the Government have so altered our procedures that they have complete control over what happens in this place. As a result, there are no longer any time pressures. That has become increasingly obvious as each year has passed with this Government in control. They have ruthlessly used their enormous numbers and huge majority to change the procedures of this place out of all recognition in such a way that Bills cannot be properly considered in Committee, as we know very much to our cost. All the other stages of consideration are so truncated that there is ample time in the House for almost any number of Bills.
The problem for the Government, as I am happy to acknowledge, lies in the House of Lords. That is excellent for the people of this country. The position is that the House of Lords remains what it is and should be: a constitutional backstop that provides protection against a Government who are abusing their enormous majority in the House of Commons and threatening the constitutional balance that we have cherished for centuries. That is why it is so odd that Labour Members have sought refuge—they have done so today— in the peculiar argument that the House of Lords has no legitimacy. The House of Lords is their House of Lords. It is the House of Lords that the Government have created. It is not the House of Lords that we have known for a very long time, and knew until only a few years ago. It is the Government's creation.
Yes, it is Blair's Lords—that is what we are talking about. When the Prime Minister's supporters on the Labour Benches criticise the House of Lords, they are criticising the Prime Minister, because the current House of Lords is his creation and he is the one who is sustaining that House in its present form. It is all very well for Mr. Bell to say that he wants more peers, he wants this and he wants that—
The right hon. Gentleman is attempting to reply to the debate, which has been running since the Leader of the House initiated it. He covered all these matters, and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, whose speech I enjoyed—as, I think, did you, Madam Deputy Speaker—also referred to them repeatedly and frequently. Now I am attempting to reply to the debate—as I hope we still do in the House of Commons—to which the hon. Gentleman contributed so eloquently.
Oh, perish the thought, Madam Deputy Speaker. I pride myself on being somewhat of a generalist—I like to sweep the horizon of an issue. Not for me the mundane details of a Bill, even though earlier, if you did not invite me to do so, you certainly gave me permission to explore some of those details, and I might come to that later, if I am pressed. However, because of your guidance, I shall not pursue the matter that I was addressing—I just wanted to touch on the matters that the hon. Member for North Cornwall analysed, and to say how much I support him.
The question that arises from the motion is why the Government felt it necessary at this stage, on this day, which we thought would be the day of Prorogation, to table in a panic this rather ill-thought-out motion to provide the possibility of further sitting days in order to save their legislative programme—I assume that that is the reason behind the motion. We are confronted with the possibility, which I welcome, of the House sitting on Monday and Tuesday next week.
That raises another interesting question. Why have the Government not given us the option of sitting tomorrow—Friday? The Government are afraid of Fridays for some reason. Apart from the excellent Fridays on which we consider private Members' Bills, which I value very highly, Fridays have disappeared from the parliamentary calendar altogether. The question that we have to ask ourselves is, what happened to Friday?
I know that, like me, my right hon. Friend welcomed the Leader of the House producing a calendar—an innovation introduced by his predecessor, Mr. Cook. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the calendar produced a few weeks ago covering the next Session lists tomorrow as a possible sitting day? In that case, why do we not have that option available to us now?
Yes, in a moment, but I am enjoying my Friday and I want to elaborate on it before giving way to my hon. Friend. This mystery has arisen directly from the motion before us today. I believe that the House in its generosity would grant that the Government need more time, given that they have cocked up their legislative programme so badly and got themselves into such conflict with the House of Lords that they now need to make provision for extra time. The question I pose—with direct reference to the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker—is: why not tomorrow?
It is probably an impertinence to ask my right hon. Friend whether he has looked at the Order Paper. The answer to his question, why not tomorrow, lies therein. Under the title "D. Other future business" is listed:
Member in Charge: Mr Frank Field".
Perhaps that is why the Government do not want us to sit tomorrow.
I think that my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. That in part shows why the Government are so afraid of Fridays. Fridays, in my memory, were a proper, legitimate, normal parliamentary day in which we conducted parliamentary business, including scrutiny of legislation.
Yes, I remember that with great affection. My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to congratulate him on the fact that the Government sneaked the provisions of his excellent Bill into their Anti-social Behaviour Bill, without hardly anyone except me noticing.
Referring back directly to why Friday has disappeared, does my right hon. Friend think that because the Prime Minister and the President of the United States of America have gone north, rather like a mediaeval court, many Ministers and their hon. Friends will also be in the north tomorrow? Perhaps Parliament could meet up in the north tomorrow.
I shall not allow myself to be dragged too far in that direction, because my hon. Friend is an eminent historian. He and I know that in the 13th and 14th centuries, Parliament moved with the monarch. Since our new monarch is to be in Sedgefield, perhaps sitting there would be appropriate. However, I shall not allow myself to be diverted, because I have a great deal to say on the substance of the motion.
I did not think to table another manuscript amendment to insert "Friday" into the motion—in fact, it occurs to me to try to do that after I resume my seat, since it would give the House the proper option of sitting tomorrow. Perhaps one of my hon. Friends will do so—I simply make the suggestion. As things stand, we are left with the possibility of the House sitting on Monday and Tuesday next week. That brings us to the substance of the manuscript amendment that stands in my name and the names of my hon. Friends, which I am pleased that Mr. Speaker saw fit to accept and which was so ably moved by the hon. Member for North Cornwall, for whose pledge of support for the amendment I thank him.
My right hon. Friend's views on what he calls the wretched Select Committee on Modernisation are well known. Does he appreciate how much it warms our heart to hear him speaking to an amendment on a topical question, which strongly resembles a debate initiated by the Modernisation Committee in September last year?
Indeed, urgent questions are one of the very few points on which I find myself in agreement with the work of the so-called Modernisation Committee. One of the many areas in which the Government, having almost killed it off, have absolutely refused to enliven the House of Commons is in respect of urgent questions. It is a great irony, is it not, that their lordships have urgent questions, but the Commons does not. That is one of the many respects in which the House of Lords acts as a far more effective parliamentary Chamber and holds the Government to account sadly much more effectively than does the House of Commons.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the House accepts the amendment that he and I both support, we might be creating a rather useful convention, given that at short notice we will bring a Secretary of State to the House to answer questions? That is, if I may say so, a highly effective way of ensuring that this House does its proper job of holding Ministers to account.
Indeed, and it is one of the arguments that I intended to deploy in the hope of persuading the House to support our amendment, if I can call it that. Accepting the amendment would provide the opportunity for an experiment to determine whether such a degree of immediacy in questioning would work to the benefit of the House. I am sure that it would.
By the way, this is an appropriate time to appeal to hon. Members present and elsewhere to table their questions now for the Home Department on Monday and the Department of Health on Tuesday. We have been given an opportunity and I hope that my hon. Friends will avail themselves of it.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be remarkably easy to table the questions? As so many written questions are being sent back to Members offering a reply shortly, all hon. Members would have to do is table the mountain of paperwork that the Government have been shunting around the place.
That would be one approach. Another would be to bear in mind that few Members will avail themselves of the opportunity that my amendment offers, so the chances of being selected are high. This is a bargain offer, which I hope hon. Members will find irresistible.
My right hon. Friend has moved on from Friday. I am reluctant to return to it, but I am perplexed. I recall the Leader of the House complaining bitterly that we were not allowed to sit through the night last night because of the House of Lords. Although technically we cannot sit tomorrow, if the House sits through the night, it can continue to sit through tomorrow. Not for the first time, the House would be in Thursday while the rest of the world was in Friday. So tomorrow is available to us. If the Government were so anxious to sit through last night to complete the business, which we all want on the statute book, why not do it tonight?
That raises another interesting matter, which is that Labour Members complain that we were not allowed to continue to sit last night, whereas they have complained for years about late-night sittings. They must make up their minds. I love late-night sittings—
My hon. Friend refers to Mrs. Forth. He is on dangerous territory as to whether she approves of me being here late at night. I invite him to discuss that directly with her, and I wish him the best of luck.
Very wise, too.
Labour Members cannot make up their minds. In most weeks in most parliamentary years they are desperate to get out of the building as quickly as possible and scuttle off to wherever it is they go—except for the one time when they think it might help the Government in their difficulties. Suddenly, they are prepared to sit late at night. That strikes me as inconsistent and odd.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that many of us think it odd that Labour Members have complained about the House of Lords rising early whereas in fact, thanks to the Government's guillotines and change of hours in our House, the Lords has sat for far more days and for far later than us for the past couple of Sessions?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter, because he allows me to speculate—I am sure this is in order—that if the House sits on Monday and Tuesday, as the motion provides, and if we have questions, as my amendment would provide, their lordships presumably would sit at the same time to deal with the business moving between the two Houses. That would allow us to reflect on the pattern of business here and in the other place. It is significant that their lordships sit for more days of the year than we do and for longer hours. Frankly—I get no pleasure in saying this—they do more work than us, and carry it out more effectively than us. That is why I disagree with Labour Members who keep going on about the supremacy of the House of Commons. It is no longer supreme; the Government in the Commons are supreme—a very different thing altogether. That is why, in parliamentary and constitutional terms, we increasingly look to the House of Lords—it gives me no joy to say this—to hold the Government to account. We are failing because the Government no longer allow us to do that because of changes to our procedures.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but those of us who have been in this place for a while notice Whips scuttling around and realise that there is the possibility of a closure. The amendment, which several of us have tabled, was not moved until about 15 minutes ago. I hope that you will allow a proper debate on it before considering a closure.
We are grateful for that observation, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We have a real prospect of sitting on Monday and Tuesday. That is made more likely by what Vera Baird brought to our attention in her incisive way. Having been at the other end of the building observing the proceedings in another place, she let us know that the legitimate negotiations that take place at this stage of the Session have broken down due to a complete loss of faith by the Government. In one sense, that is the Government's problem, but in another sense, it is everyone's problem. We are here to deal with such matters and to hold the Government to account. We are watching carefully—this is what the motion is about—what is happening here and in another place while judging how far the provisions of the sittings motion will be required.
That brings me back to another point raised mainly by Labour Members. Why should either House sit indefinitely or all through the night tonight simply to help the Government out of their self-made difficulties? Why not finish at a reasonable hour tonight, here and in another place, and resume our deliberations on Monday, as the motion provides? What is so wrong with that? It would be interesting to hear the preference of the Leader of the House or his deputy. Would the Government prefer us to deal with the matters later and later into the night and go, as my hon. Friend Mr. Gale said, into what for everyone else would be tomorrow, but for us would be today? Or would they prefer us to have a cooling-off period over the weekend in which the Commons and their lordships reflect on what has caused the difficulties, where the differences remain and how the negotiations could succeed? That would allow us to return on Monday in a calmer frame of mind, with all our questions tabled as a result of my amendment, which I hope the House will support, to have a proper parliamentary day with relevant questions, proper debate and further deliberations. Surely that would be a civilised way of approaching the problem.
I hope that there are many contributions on the motion and my amendment, because it will be interesting and instructive to hear what colleagues on both sides of the House have to say. I cannot believe that anyone would want to oppose my amendment. It is permissive: it would allow hon. Members to table questions and to turn next Monday and Tuesday into much more lively and relevant parliamentary days than the Government contemplated in their original motion. All those possibilities are before us.
The second provision of the motion is that
"the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords has been received and a Committee to draw up Reasons which has been appointed at that sitting has reported."
That part of the motion has been neglected hitherto, but it is worth a sideways glance at this stage.
Reasons Committees are a neglected corner of our parliamentary activities. Once, I took it upon myself to initiate a short, but I thought very relevant, debate on the membership of a Reasons Committee—something to which I hope to return many more times. I have always wondered why the House accepts so meekly and without any discussion the proposed membership of such Committees. They are an important part of our proceedings. They do important and interesting work and yet we usually sit there, assuming that they happen more or less automatically, and allow these people—who ever they may be—to be appointed to the Committee to speak on our behalf.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of what can happen with a Reasons Committee? The guillotines introduced by this wretched Government mean that certain matters may not even have been discussed. We then vote to reject what the other place has proposed. Subsequently, a Reasons Committee is sent to the room behind the Chair to draw up a reason for rejecting something on which the House has not even expressed an opinion. Does he not find that absolutely extraordinary?
I do, but I do not want at this stage—there may be an occasion for it in the future and perhaps my hon. Friend and I could work on that—to query the whole point of Reasons Committees, what they do and what they are supposed to contribute to our parliamentary proceedings, although that would be of real use.
For the purposes of today's debate, and to attempt to keep in order, I accept that the Reasons Committee is a given—for the moment. We are considering the implications if we start to take the Reasons Committee much more seriously, in terms of the motion before us. For example, what might happen if the House decided to take a more direct interest in the Reasons Committee and to have a little debate about its membership—or, perhaps, to move amendments to its membership to satisfy ourselves that we were being properly represented on it, instead of it being the usual stitch-up? That could have implications for the terms of the motion, which is,
"the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords has been received and any Committee to draw up Reasons which has been appointed"—
I would rather say elected—
"at that sitting has reported."
Potential implications for the timing of the sittings on Monday and Tuesday arise directly from that provision and I do not think that that has been properly considered hitherto.
This debate gives me the opportunity to flag up to colleagues that they may want to pay much closer attention to the Reasons Committee to see whether we can make it a more effective and representative element.
All in all, I hope that we can resolve in a proper and civilised way the outstanding matters with regard to the contentious legislation that is moving back and forward as we speak. I have never accepted the analysis that has been attempted by the Prime Minister today and repeated by the Leader of the House, that if their lordships oppose one key part of a Bill, the entire Bill has to be thrown away. I see no logic in that. It is a crude political play by the Government, but it will not wash. No one out there will believe a word of it. We can have all the good things that have been agreed in both of the Bills in question; it is the Government's decision whether they want to throw everything away for the sake of one element. We are all part of that decision, of course.
I do not believe that the public will accept that part of the analysis that the Prime Minister and his friends have been trying to put forward—"If you won't let me have this part of my Bill, the whole Bill is going to disappear", said in that petulant tone to which we have become used. Let us have none of that. Let us hope that there will be a proper discussion and negotiation to resolve these difficulties. If that cannot be the case, however, I am more than prepared to accept the thrust of the motion—hopefully, with my amendment—so that we can contemplate some valuable sitting time next Monday and Tuesday. I shall draw my comments to a close so that other hon. Members can voice their support for my amendment.
A potential problem lies at the far end of this process. It is possible that if we found ourselves sitting at length next Tuesday, a direct conflict could arise with the Queen's Speech on Wednesday—the state opening of Parliament. I do not know whether anyone has given that much thought. Have the Government devised any way in which to resolve that? We should be told what the Government intend to do if we reach midnight next Tuesday without resolving the matters of conflict between this House and another place. That is a highly relevant consideration. If the Government take the trouble to table a motion to provide for Monday and Tuesday sittings, surely they have thought beyond that and considered what might happen if the Tuesday sitting were prolonged.
The right hon. Gentleman presents interesting hypothetical stuff—I am finding it most enjoyable. Would he care for a wager? I should like to wager 25 guineas with him that we will not sit on Monday. What does he say to that?
I shall not take the hon. Gentleman's bet—I suspect that he is a much more astute gambler than I shall ever be. I hope and expect that matters will be resolved today. I know that the motion is a threat that the Government are dangling mainly over their Members and supporters, knowing their desperation to get away from this place on almost every occasion. The motion does not frighten my hon. Friends and me—we should love to be here on Monday and Tuesday—but I bet that it scares the hell out of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.
The right hon. Gentleman has the advantage of us because we have constituencies and constituents who like to see us from time to time. The good people of Bromley and Chislehurst do not give a damn whether they see the right hon. Gentleman.
I invite the hon. Gentleman to come with Mrs. Forth and me to Waitrose in Bromley, where we are to be seen every Saturday morning and where I move happily among my constituents, blessing them as I go.
The motion is sensible and I hope that hon. Members agree that the amendment, too, is sensible.
I am grateful for that helpful information, which demonstrates that we are likely to resolve such matters today in a proper way and we will not need to take advantage of the motion. Nevertheless, I hope that the House will see fit to approve the motion so that we can do our job properly. I therefore also hope that hon. Members will support the amendment.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for accepting the amendment. Accepting a manuscript amendment an hour after the debate has begun is unusual if not unprecedented. It is an indication of the attitude of the Chair, if I may be impertinent enough to impute an attitude to the Chair, to the Government's conduct and their business management.
I want to speak briefly about the amendment. My hon. Friend Mr. Burns has made it clear that we are highly unlikely to sit on Monday and Tuesday.
As the hon. Gentleman is speaking about the amendment and others have asked questions about the subject, I want to make it clear that the Government will not accept it. The sittings motion provides for the completion of any unfinished business between the Commons and the Lords on Monday and Tuesday if necessary. If we can complete the business today, we are willing to sit as long as anybody wishes tonight to achieve that. Perhaps that policy will help the hon. Gentleman when he speaks about the amendment.
I am sorry that I gave way. That intervention was extremely disappointing. Given that it was suggested that my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth would be unwise to take a bet from Mr. Banks on the basis that we are unlikely to be here on Monday and Tuesday, the amendment provides a useful opportunity to establish the principle that if the House is likely to sit, it is appropriate in all normal circumstances for questions to be tabled to Departments. I thought that if the House was unlikely to sit, it would in all normal circumstances be appropriate for questions to Government Departments to be tabled. I do not understand the objection, either in principle or in fact. We are here as a Parliament—as a House of Commons—to hold the Government to account, and if the House is to sit, Ministers should be able to come here.
It was both disgraceful and disappointing, and in a sense typical of the way in which the Government have managed their entire business. Everything must be stitched up, down to the last detail, with the least possible opportunity for the House of Commons to hold the Government to account.
We need only look at the motion to see how unusual it is. Next to it, in brackets, appear the words "Until any hour". When I was elected in 1997, that was the norm. It is, perhaps, a sad testimony to the lack of stamina among Labour Members that over the past six and a half years the Government have ensured that "Until any hour" rarely appears on the Order Paper, and that therefore the House of Commons seldom has an opportunity to explore both sides of an issue properly. Nowadays "No debate" is the norm. No doubt the Government would like that to apply to everything, so that there would be no debates on anything and we would simply be Lobby fodder, with no chance of discussing the issues.
Tragically, that is what the House has actually become, because of the Government's total lack of respect for Parliament as an institution. What was so extraordinary about the speech of Mr. Bell was that he made much of this being a democratic Chamber. In fact it is a cipher, a tool of the Executive. Until Members exercise their responsibilities with the bravery shown by Vera Baird to stand up for the rights of the House of Commons, and for what we believe in and know to be the truth, the House will remain a cipher—even compared to the House of Lords, with its minimal powers of delay and scrutiny.
The hon. Gentleman reminded us that he came here in 1997. I seem to remember making endless speeches rather similar to his between 1983 and 1997, when his party was in Government, and I do not recall a Tory Back-Bench rebellion on the scale of the rebellion we have seen on this occasion. I do not think the hon. Gentleman should point the finger at us and suggest that we are not trying to hold the Executive to account.
The rebellion seemed to be going quite well until there was a possibility of the rebels winning, when it collapsed in short order. We observed the operations of the Labour Whips and others. Had the previous scale of the rebellion been sustained, the legislation on foundation hospitals would have been knocked back.
I was elected in 1992, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and other Members will remember the great Bob Cryer, who used to hold the Executive to account nightly. We would discuss into the early hours of the morning a number of subjects that were open to debate, but that opportunity has now been removed.
Of course, one commends hon. Members on exercising their own judgment on issues like foundation hospitals or the right to trial by jury instead of adopting the views of the Executive. However, the real disaster is that Government Members who are not in the Executive have been party to shredding the House's ability to do its job properly, including even scrutinising legislation. I have served on Standing Committees, as have other hon. Members, which are now subject to a guillotine and timetable. If our constituents knew that vast amounts of legislation and dozens of clauses go through without any scrutiny at all they would be astonished. I do not think that they are aware of the fact that we simply do not do our job as a legislature. It is hardly surprising that the only effective and detailed work to hold the Government to account is taking place in the House of Lords. That is a serious reproach to Members who are not part of the Executive, and is also a reproach to the Executive, who are not prepared to open themselves up to scrutiny. They are not even prepared to open themselves up in principle to scrutiny by allowing questions to the Home Office and the Department of Health in the unlikely event that we are here on Monday and Tuesday.
Is not one reason why the other place has had to table so many amendments that a great deal of legislation has gone through Committee and, indeed, the House without proper debate? Is that not why many amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill have already had to be accepted by the Government, and is it not the case that we are only talking about two more?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend speaks with enormous authority as a member of the Chairmen's Panel. As a Committee Chairman, he has witnessed Committees being unable to do their job. That should be a serious reproach to us all, and it must change. We simply cannot do our job properly if Bills and other legislation go through the House without any consideration at all.
I do not know whether it is unprecedented for Mr. Speaker to accept a manuscript amendment an hour after a debate has started, but it is certainly highly unusual. However, it was accepted and would establish the principle that there would be questions to the Executive on Monday and Tuesday if the House were sitting. It was utterly symptomatic of the Government's behaviour that the Leader of the House should say that they are not prepared to accept the amendment.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the inclusion in the sittings of the House motion of a provision for urgent questions is intended to assist the House, as it allows important and urgent questions to be tabled without the obstacle of a three-day notice period, which is required under the usual procedures?
Unless I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, urgent questions can be allowed in any event by application to Mr. Speaker on the day. We have established that new procedure, and there is no reason why the position should be any different under the amendment. Urgent questions could be taken, just as the Home Secretary was dragged to the House yesterday to answer an urgent question about the breach of security at Buckingham palace—[Hon. Members: "Dragged?] In response to Government Members, the Prime Minister, as usual, was not entirely at one with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but truth, when he was asked about the matter at Prime Minister's questions and said that the Home Secretary would make a statement later. The Home Secretary did not make a statement—he came to the House to answer a question that Mr. Speaker had allowed. That is symptomatic of the way in which the Executive treat the House, as is the way in which the Leader of the House said that there is no question that he will allow questions to the Executive on Monday and Tuesday.
The amendment was carefully tabled, thanks to the assistance of my hon. Friend Mr. Wilshire and the Table Office, to ensure that it identifies the correct Departments—the Home Department on Monday and the Department of Health on Tuesday. By happy coincidence, those are the Departments that are scheduled to answer questions on the next Monday and Tuesday that the House sits, so there would be no disruption to the usual timetable for the tabling of questions. Given the issues at stake, the amendment should be passed on its merits, in the teeth of opposition from the Executive, because it would give hon. Members the opportunity to question the Executive about trial by jury on Monday and foundation hospitals and other health issues on Tuesday.
I want to conclude by replying to the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough about the role of the House of Lords and the impertinence, as he sees it, of its daring to resist the will of the House of Commons. There is such a thing as a democratic mandate, which comes through the contract that we make with our electorate when we stand for office on the basis of our party's manifesto and, no doubt, our own additional material. I am certain that not one Labour Member was elected on the basis of manifesto commitments to introduce foundation hospitals, which enable some hospitals to gain different access to capital funding from others, or to abolish the right to jury trials.
In fact, the introduction of the community charge was part of the Conservative party's 1987 manifesto. It was already in the process of being delivered in Scotland owing to the difficulty of dealing with its rate revaluation—the reason why the policy was conceived in the first place. It is notable that the Government are encountering similar difficulties as a result of loading such a weight on to the council tax, which is a curious hybrid of rates and the community charge—[Hon. Members: What has that got to with the motion?"]. I am replying to Mr. Campbell. I am sure that if I am not in order, Mr. Speaker will do his job more than adequately—but of course I am grateful for the guidance of Labour Members.
Under the Salisbury convention, which has existed since 1948, the other place does not oppose measures that the governing party puts through on the basis of the manifesto on which it was elected. Now, however, the Government are driving through measures that have come as a total surprise to their supporters and are a matter of enormous controversy within their own party. Moreover, as the hon. and learned Member for Redcar said, we now have the extraordinary business of amendments that were tabled in the name of Baroness Scotland in another place—
I am very happy to accept that they were not tabled, but they were agreed by representatives of the three parties. Those were the terms of the agreement, but—such is the controversy surrounding the measures—Baroness Scotland, who presumably thought that she was negotiating properly on behalf of the Government, now appears to have had her position vetoed by the Home Secretary. It is my judgment, and a judgment that I have heard being voiced privately by Labour Members, that the Home Secretary is behaving in the most extraordinarily unreasonable fashion—
Order. The hon. Gentleman has quite rightly said that I would be able to help him out if he ever strayed. He is now straying well away from the motion.
I am grateful for your guidance in keeping me on the straight and narrow, Mr. Speaker.
The point that I was attempting to make, in answer to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, was that the Salisbury convention holds, and that the Government would not be in this mess of having to table this motion asking us to sit on Monday and Tuesday if they accepted the right of the House of Lords to ask the House of Commons to think again. We are being asked to think again about one very profound legal principle that has sat at the heart of our proceedings as a nation for nearly 1,000 years—the right to a trial by one's peers.
It is not unreasonable for the Government to seek extra time to discuss that issue; nor is it unreasonable for their lordships to go on asking us to think again. We should do so. I support the motion, as amended, and I think that it should be carried to give us the time to think again. We should accept that, given the enormity of the principle at stake—and the fact that the Government have had to table this motion because the measure did not appear in their manifesto, which is why it is being opposed—it is appropriate to allow the House of Lords to ask us to think again. We should not then return to the issue. We have seen all the difficulties involved in tabling this motion.
Hon. Members who are not members of the Executive should certainly consider very carefully the amendment that has been tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne and me. In the unlikely event that we play ping-pong with their lordships until Tuesday, it would be appropriate—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The original Lords amendment was rejected by the House of Commons by 17 votes. When it came back and we were asked to think again, it was rejected by 41 votes. Assuming that it comes back again and is rejected by an even larger number of votes, should we continue to think again?
The hon. Gentleman has been as badly wrong-footed as the Department of Health by events down the Corridor. It would appear that the Department has sent out a press release saying how regrettable it is that Parliament has rejected foundation hospitals through the vote in the House of Commons being overturned by the vote in their lordships' House. The Department has also given instructions to NHS trusts as to what they should say about that, and asked them to try to gain support for foundation hospitals in the country. I say with some regret, however, that it appears that one party in the other place—
That is a most extraordinary statement. This press release that was put out and then withdrawn will have to bear a serious amount of examination, although it is plainly not the subject of the motion before us.
I urge Labour Members, who will obviously want to support the motion standing in the name of the Leader of the House, to accept also the amendment that has been tabled simply to say that in the unlikely event of us being here on Monday and Tuesday—
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put and agreed to.
That, at the sittings on Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th November—
(1) notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1) of
(2) the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords has been received and any Committee to draw up Reasons which has been appointed at that sitting has reported.