Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

– in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 21st February 2005.

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Votes in this debate

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Programme Order of 10th January 2005 in relation to the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following table.

3. The proceedings shown in the first column of the table shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the second column.

TABLE
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses, amendments and New Schedules relating to Part 1; New Clauses, amendments and New Schedules relating to Part 2; New Clauses, amendments and New Schedules relating to Part 3; New Clauses, amendments and New Schedules relating to Part 4. 2 hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.
New Clauses, amendments and New Schedules relating to Part 5; New Clauses, amendments and New Schedules relating to Part 6. 3 hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.
New Clauses, amendments and New Schedules relating to Part 7; New Clauses, amendments and New Schedules relating to Part 8; New Clauses, amendments and New Schedules relating to Part 9; New Clauses, amendments and New Schedules relating to Part 10; remaining New Clauses and New Schedules; remaining proceedings on consideration. 4 hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.

4. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion—

(a) 5 hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order; or

(b) at the moment of interruption,

whichever is the later.—[Alun Michael.]

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:59 pm, 21st February 2005

I shall oppose the programme motion as vigorously as possible for several reasons. It is not yet 4 o'clock on the day of the week on which the House usually sits until 10 pm, so Conservative Members find it difficult to understand why knives have been imposed that will fall arbitrarily and thus deprive the House of an hour's debate and scrutiny of a Bill on which both we and the Liberal Democrats wish to raise several new issues. We failed to secure the number of Committee sittings that we would have liked, but having lost that argument we gave the Bill the fullest possible scrutiny, while being mindful of the timetable that was imposed on us.

The most extraordinary thing occurred because the usual channels were not followed as rigorously as is normal on this occasion. As the walk-on speaking part, I was called on to agree with the usual channels about when the knives should fall. I am sure that the usual channels will not want that to happen in future. An even more extraordinary event occurred because my office today received a faxed copy of a letter from the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality, who will lead for the Government, and although the time on the fax said that it was received at 16.25 on 21 February, the House will note that it is not yet that time. I then received a hard copy of the same letter in my hand at 3.40 pm, which was only just before we started our proceedings on the Bill. The letter informed me of why the Government have drafted several amendments that were tabled at the last possible moment—Thursday last week.

I do not wish to eat into any more time, but we deplore the Government's rather shabby behaviour because we thought that we had achieved a good working relationship and co-operation, given the circumstances. On a positive note, I am delighted that we have stirred the Government into action and that they have recognised that there are failures in the Bill, as we consistently stated on Second Reading and in Committee. We shall continue to point them out today. As I said, we will oppose the programme motion as vigorously as possible.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:02 pm, 21st February 2005

May I respond to one or two points made by Miss McIntosh? We extended the time available in Committee after discussions through the usual channels, but she struggled to fill that time. Indeed, she had to speak about all sorts of things, such as the long title of the Bill, the short title and who had printed documents, so that she could drag out proceedings.

The hon. Lady's problem is that her party does not understand the Bill or why we want to tackle the issues with which it deals, such as litter, graffiti and other problems that degrade local neighbourhoods. That is why most of the time available on Second Reading was taken up by 18 Labour Members who spoke with authority about the way in which the degradation of local environments affects their constituencies. Only two Conservative Back Benchers spoke, and neither sounded authoritative or convinced about the points that they were making.

The hon. Lady referred to the usual channels, but as far as I could see, they worked with their usual efficiency and co-operated to ensure that there was the opportunity for Conservative Members and for the hon. Lady to have an input on the timetable. The letter that she mentioned was finally drafted and completed to my satisfaction little more than an hour ago. I brought copies to the House to put on the Letter Board and delivered a copy personally to the hon. Lady, after having faxed an advance copy to her office. It is rather strange that rather than welcoming such courtesy, she uses it as an opportunity to make a critical point. I would have thought that that was a trifle ungracious.

We have debated in Committee a Bill of enormous importance to constituents who are represented by Labour Members. However, Conservative Members do not understand it. They even said on Second Reading that the Bill was about urban, not rural, issues. They should tell that to all the farmers who complain about fly-tipping on their land or the cars that are left on their land that must be disposed of. The Bill deals with problems that are important to both urban and rural constituents, so we should move on to debate such issues rather than trying to find piddling excuses to delay the House's proceedings, as the hon. Lady has done.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am in favour of the Bill but against the programme motion. However, Miss McIntosh said something that concerned me. She suggested that if we agree to the programme motion, we will lose one hour of the time usually allowed for debate. My reading of the motion is that we can go to 10 o'clock. Will you confirm that?

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup 4:05 pm, 21st February 2005

The Minister responded to my hon. Friend Miss McIntosh in his usual robust manner. I was one of those who spoke on Second Reading and who made, according to him, an ill-informed contribution. Whether he meant my contribution I am not sure, but I was chief executive of the largest animal welfare charity in Britain, so I understand a bit more about the care of strays than even he does.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

As far as the Minister is concerned, the fact that my hon. Friend has experience means that he is ill-informed.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

My hon. Friend makes a good point.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman spoke on one clause of a wide-ranging and important Bill. Although he spoke with authority, it meant that 50 per cent. of the contributions by Conservative Members was directed at only one clause.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

I am glad to accept the right hon. Gentleman's apology, which was given in his usual charming way.

Having contributed on that specific matter on Second Reading, I could not serve on the Standing Committee—which I wanted to do to press the Minister further—because as a member of the Chairmen's Panel I was next door chairing the Identity Cards Bill, which was in equally invigorating session. What concerns me about the programme motion, on which I hope my hon. Friends divide the House, is where the knives are placed.

I want to question the Minister on amendment No. 11, which deals with dogs. Less than 45 minutes was spent on that subject in Committee. Obviously, I had no opportunity to press him in that forum. Some of my hon. Friends—I note that the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton, is in the Chamber—have made the point in timetabling debates that not all hon. Members can serve on Standing Committees. If they have duties on other Committees or elsewhere in the House, it is the remaining stages of a Bill's consideration that enable any Member, with the agreement of the Chair, to press the Minister on the detail.

There is no objection to what the Government propose on the matter, and I hope that we will debate it with your consent, Mr. Speaker, but I am concerned that the motion will prevent us from getting to the amendment. Given the time that the Government are allowing for the discussion of the remaining stages, I am not convinced that we will get to it. There may be no time to discuss what happens to the 140,000 stray dogs, which the Committee could consider for only 45 minutes.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

My hon. Friend's tenure running the Cats Protection League is rightly celebrated the length and breadth of the land. It certainly qualifies him to contribute at length to our proceedings. As an experienced parliamentarian, does he agree that in trying to explain our opposition to programme motions to the widest audience, it is important to underline to the public that with 44 new clauses and amendments, and only 240 minutes in total in which to do so—assuming, rather unimaginably, there are no votes—the logic is obvious? There is only roughly five minutes for consideration of each amendment. It is manifestly inadequate and an insult to the House of Commons.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

My hon. Friend makes a superb point, as always. He also makes a reasonable point. People are not saying that all parts of the Bill are dreadful. I am not saying that although I have a predilection for cat welfare, I do not support the dog welfare charities, and I had a great deal to do with them through the industry arrangements. However, when we reach the relevant part of the Bill, I want to press the Minister on the practicalities of his proposals because the Committee did not have time to do that.

I do not object to the proposals. I hope to support what the Minister is trying to do. There is no party political principle involved in the care of stray dogs. There is no magical Conservative, Labour or Liberal solution to what we do with stray animals. However, we are entitled to press the Government on whether the dramatic changes to the care of what are often violent stray dogs—10 per cent. are out of control—will work. The discussions that I have had with vested interests suggest that it will not do so. Therefore, we should have the opportunity to put such points. I predict that, because of the timetable motion that the Government have put before the House, we will not be able to do so.

The groups outside this building that will have to do the dirty work for us—the Dogs Trust, the RSPCA, the Kennel Club and, more importantly, the dog wardens who have grave doubts about the proposals, as the Minister knows—will want to know what the hot words said in this Chamber will mean on the cold nights across Britain if the proposals become law, as I am sure the Government will ensure. It is a great pity that the Minister has guillotined proceedings on the Bill in this way, and it is a pity that those of us who were unable to serve on the Standing Committee will not have an opportunity to press him further. If for whatever reason we do get a few minutes during the course of the evening, I hope to press him on whether his practical solutions will really work for the benefit of the dogs of Great Britain.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 4:10 pm, 21st February 2005

My contribution to the debate on this programme motion will be very brief. My hon. Friend Derek Conway made some valuable points. If I may, I shall speak in my capacity as Chairman of the Procedure Committee. I am deeply concerned that the time limits on debate imposed by programme motions are preventing Members from undertaking their duties on behalf of the constituents who sent them here. The remaining stages of a Bill are the only occasions during the legislative process when Members of whatever party should have an automatic right to be called.

I accept what the Minister said—this is important legislation. It affects people not only in urban areas but in rural areas. Is it right that people such as my hon. Friend, who have expertise in this area and who would like a greater opportunity to express their views, are prevented because of a programme motion from doing so? There are Members on both sides of the House who have heavy responsibilities and cannot always be in Standing Committee when a clause, new clause or amendment is debated.

Will the Minister take back to the powers that be—the Leader of the House and the usual channels—the message that further consideration should be given to the needs of Back Benchers, who should have an opportunity to have an input during remaining stages? The Procedure Committee which I chair has made recommendations which the Government have, at this stage, not seen fit to accept. I believe that the House will review the situation relating to programming. My hon. Friend has made a good point, so please let us allow Members to make a contribution. The remaining stages of a Bill are the only period during its passage when Members should be guaranteed the ability so to contribute.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold 4:13 pm, 21st February 2005

I am grateful to have caught your eye in this very short debate, Mr. Speaker, and I shall keep my contribution brief. My hon. Friends the Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Conway) and for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) have admirably illustrated the point that these timetable motions are beginning to set a precedent. We find ourselves with too little time in Standing Committee, where debates are guillotined so that certain bits of a Bill are not discussed, and we find exactly the same thing on Report and Third Reading. Too much timetabling and too tight a guillotine on clauses can mean that the Government completely control what and what is not debated at all stages of a Bill. What are we sent here for? We are sent here to debate Bills and to try to amend them on behalf of our constituents. If we are not able to do that, there is very little point in our coming here. A pattern is forming.

This timetable is worse than usual. We might have four hours for debate on Report, yet there is a very tight guillotine on Third Reading, so issues such as those to which my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup referred will not be debated and there will be no opportunity to amend the Bill. In the old days, Mr. Speaker, you would have selected what is debated on Third Reading, but the new guillotines and knives mean that you do not have that opportunity. That is an unfortunate precedent, which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, and you must look into.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 243, Noes 116.

Division number 86 Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Aye: 243 MPs

No: 116 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.