The Minister is right: we should not allow the programme motion to delay us for too long, but I shall make some quick comments on what he just said and the process by which the Bill has been considered in the House. I did not serve in Committee, and I pay tribute to the members of the Committee from both sides of the House who took on that onerous obligation.
When we heard that we would get three days on Report, we were pleasantly surprised because we thought that that would give us time to consider the Bill properly. We did not expect the Government to concede three days with quite such alacrity. At first, I thought that it was because the Minister is a reasonable man, but I now see that it is because we are considering 28 Government new clauses and 128 Government amendments. Even with three days, we cannot be confident that it will be possible properly to scrutinise 28 Government new clauses and 128 Government amendments.
This debate is the latest example of how the Government have presented the Bill. Hundreds of Government amendments and 36 Government new clauses were introduced in Committee, where the Minister, who is smiling in a slightly guilty way, said:
"I had better not describe it"— the Bill—
"as a work in progress".—[Official Report, Standing Committee B,
The Bill is clearly work in progress, and it has been subject to continuous amendment as it has made its way through this House.
The Green Paper was produced in December 2002 and the White Paper came out in June 2003, but nearly one year later, amendments are being tabled with virtually no time for scrutiny, which suggests that the Government lack a clear and rigorous strategy to tackle the pensions crisis. The Minister is like a schoolboy who is in a perpetual crisis about getting his homework in on time.
It is good to see the Minister in the House. We thought that he might be in Blackpool speaking to the National Pensioners Convention, where my hon. Friend Mr. Waterson is now. Cynics might suggest that one reason why the Bill is on Report today is to give the Minister a good reason not to go to Blackpool to confront the pensioners, who might have told him what they think of the Government's record on pensions.