I beg to move,
(1) the Order of
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
|Clauses 24 to 28, new Clauses relating to Part 2, new Schedules relating to Part 2, Clause 35, Schedule 5, new Clauses relating to Part 4, new Schedules relating to Part 4, new Clauses relating to the effect of section 18(7) of the Electoral Administration Act 2006.||The moment of interruption on the third day.|
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
|Clauses 29 and 30, Schedule 4, Clauses 31 to 34, new Clauses relating to Part 3, new Schedules relating to Part 3, remaining new Clauses, remaining new Schedules, Clauses 59 to 62, remaining proceedings on the Bill.||The moment of interruption on the fourth day.|
(2) notwithstanding paragraphs 3 and 4 of that Order, if the proceedings shown for the third day in the first column of the Table above are concluded before the moment of interruption on the third day, the proceedings shown for the fourth day may be taken on the third day.
As Members know, three substantive parts of the published Bill remain to be debated: part 2 on the ratification of treaties; part 3 on the House of Lords; and part 4 on protests around Parliament. As such, I believe it to be appropriate that we today consider parts 2 and 4, along with a Government amendment relating to the effect of section 18(7) of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 on the right of Commonwealth and Irish citizens to be Members of the House of Lords and holders of other offices. That would leave the remaining day of Committee free to consider part 3 of the Bill on the House of Lords, along with any remaining proceedings.
I am aware that some Members are concerned about the amount of time allocated to the Bill, should the Government bring forward any additional amendments. In relation, for example, to the report by Sir Christopher Kelly's committee, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House said at business questions last week that we are considering how much time would need to be given to the Bill in the light of any amendments to implement the Kelly report, and that remains the position.
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The right hon. Gentleman has been a Member for such a long time that I am sure he knows the answer to that question. He should not waste the House's time by asking questions to which he already knows the answer.
I believe that the amended programme motion provides the right amount of time-an adequate amount of time-on the Floor of the House for the Bill as it currently stands, and I hope that Members will support it. I also hope the House will accept my commitment that the Government will look again at the allocation of time if there are any further amendments.
I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, but I will not agree to this programme motion, which represents a fairly pathetic performance by the Government in relation to how they treat the House. This is a constitutional Bill, and my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood is absolutely right that, historically, there would have been open-ended discussion of such Bills on the Floor of the House.
We do not like internal knives, as the Minister knows, and the one merit of the second group of two days for consideration of this Bill was that there were to be no internal knives so that the House could debate the matter at its leisure, and if it were to have become clear that there was insufficient time for everything to be considered, I would, doubtless, have approached the Minister, through the usual channels, to ask him kindly to make more time available. On that basis, there is no rational reason for the internal knives now to be inserted.
Moreover, as the Minister has candidly admitted-I am grateful to him for that-the fact of the matter is that this Bill is far from finished. We do not know what will be in about 50 per cent. of it, although we have had some hints. It will be a very important measure, and careful debate will be required on the recommendations of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and how Parliament wishes to implement Sir Christopher Kelly's report. We have also been told that there will be a debate and opportunity to vote on an alternative voting system. Things could not be much more constitutional than that, but all these matters are deferred into the future, and we have no idea how much time will be allocated for us to consider them, or, indeed, how much time the House will then get on Report-I think the Minister would acknowledge that we will have to have a Report stage because the Government have amended their own legislation.
In the context of the Report stage and IPSA, does my hon. and learned Friend agree with the suggestion that has been made that IPSA might be called upon under this Bill to consider the salaries and pensions of Members of Parliament, which would, of course, require a very considerable amount of discussion?
My hon. Friend is correct: there has been talk of that. However, I am not aware of that possibility having been included in any current amendments.
There have been many rumours about how we are to tackle the setting up of IPSA. Indeed, as the Government know, we are sympathetic to and wish to be supportive of most of the measures that it will introduce, although there may be some that, being outside Sir Christopher Kelly's remit, stimulate more debate. Of course I also have to accept that this is a matter on which Members of this House will wish to express their own views, free from interference from any Front-Bench team, because they have a right to do so. For all those reasons, the Conservatives are very unhappy about the way in which this is all meandering.
May I make a final point to the Minister that I do not believe to be uncalled for? The length of time that this Parliament still has to run is rather short, so it cannot be outside the Minister's mind that unless there is a degree of consensus on these matters, there must be a danger that a piece of legislation that I assume has the Government's support, that in many respects has the Opposition's support and that I believe has the Liberal Democrats' support-there is support from all parts of the House-could get into difficulty with time if the Government do not have a proper timetable. As we also know from experience, badly scrutinised legislation that is passed in haste, for whatever reason, including because the Parliament is running out of time, is likely to cause nothing but trouble later on.
For all those reasons, it seems to us that the Government are moving in the wrong direction. I strongly urge the Minister to leave the timetable as it is and to work hard in the next 24 hours-or at least in the next week-to tell the House what the Government are going to do in terms of the further amendments that will be tabled, so that this debate can have some structure and we can have a reasonable certainty of concluding it. For all those reasons, the Minister leaves me thoroughly unpersuaded as to any valid argument for introducing internal knives at this stage of the debate. I urge him to allow the House to proceed with this debate in the usual fashion, so that the arguments may be put forward and the House does not feel that it is being hurried along for absolutely no reason.
The issue of timetable motions is not new to controversy, but there has always been a tradition that anything that can be deemed a constitutional Bill is not timetabled. The tradition dates back a long way and there is an important point to it. Be that as it may, we have a programme motion before us that is, as ever, extremely unsatisfactory. It simply says that by the moment of interruption we will conclude business on a large number of amendments. By my estimate, at least four major subjects ought to be debated today and it is quite possible that three of them will not be debated at all, because we will simply spend the next six hours or so debating the first major group of amendments on treaties and will not get to debate elections or the Lords-we may not even get to debate demonstrations in Parliament square.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The advantage of holding the Committee stage on the Floor of the House is that everyone should be able to contribute, but the reality is that hardly anyone will be able to contribute and, as I said, that very large areas of this Bill will probably not be debated at all. We go on with the business of the House by tabling increasingly tough programme motions on very long and complex Bills, to which a large number of amendments are introduced at late stages. That means that they are never examined by the elected Members of the Houses of Parliament. There is something deeply unsatisfactory about such an arrangement in any kind of democratic society. This issue has been raised before and it will doubtless be raised again. One would have hoped that in this era of an examination of the role of Parliament, and of its ability to hold the Executive to account and to introduce good legislation, the least we could do is give ourselves sufficient time to examine the details of a very important and serious piece of legislation properly. I appeal to the Minister to think again about this programme motion and at the very least guarantee sufficient time on each of the four major areas of debate that we are to discuss today.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in this context, even the Wright Committee proposals appear to be being stalled? Does he agree that we need a radical reform programme and that the evidence that the Government are not interested in that is the way in which they are behaving with this Bill?
I await with interest the proposals of the Wright Committee and I look forward to their being properly debated on the Floor of the House. The whole point that the Committee was trying to make was that Parliament has to bring itself into popular repute rather than bringing itself further into disrepute through such a cavalier approach to major pieces of legislation. In that sense, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point and I hope that the Minister will understand that if we continue to get wrong the primary role of Parliament, which is to examine legislation and to hold Ministers to account, and that if we do not do that effectively, we will increasingly look irrelevant in a democratic society. That is quite an important issue and I hope that the Minister will treat it accordingly.
The Government never cease to disappoint in the way they approach parliamentary business. They never cease to let down those who hoped they would increase the accountability of the Executive to this House, as they said they would. They never cease to disappoint those who hope that eventually we will have proper debate of serious issues. They never cease to provide evidence, as Mr. Cash says, of the incapacity of the present system to allow this House to do its work properly and of the need for fundamental reform of the procedures of this House, of which the Wright Committee is but the very first step-yet we are denied the opportunity to debate it.
First, as Mr. Redwood and Jeremy Corbyn have said, this is a constitutional Bill and there used to be a certain way we approached constitutional Bills. They were debated in a Committee of the whole House so that every Member of the House had the opportunity to have their say. The debate would be open-ended, again so that every Member who felt there was a proper point they wanted to raise on behalf of their constituents had the opportunity to do so. Today, the Minister is coming forward yet again with a programme motion and with internal knives to prevent and close down debate. That is simply not the way to do it.
I very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. When we talk about constitutional Bills, we are talking about who governs this country. It is this Parliament that is the forum in which that government takes place, and so it is essential to stick to the principle that we should give such Bills maximum time; otherwise, we are simply legislating in a vacuum and on a basis that does not allow people to decide whether they are being governed properly.
Precisely so. Instead of that, we have the assertion by the Minister that this timetable will allow sufficient time for matters to be debated. There is no evidence for that; he has simply decided and asserted that there is sufficient time. If he were right, the perverse thing is that there would be no need for the timetable motion. If he were right, we would conclude our business within the two days provided and there would be no need for the provisions that he is proposing in order to curtail debate.
I want to be clear about the hon. Gentleman's position. The logical conclusion that we can draw from what he is saying is that every Member of this House will speak succinctly and pithily, make the points that he has to make in the minimum amount of time and then sit down. Is that what he is saying?
I am saying that every Member of this House has the right to express their opinion before this House in whatever way they feel is appropriate and to be listened to. The Government are asserting that Members do not have that right and that is where the difference lies between me and the right hon. Gentleman. Our position on this point is very important. So for the first reason-that this is a constitutional Bill, and precedent shows that it should not be divided as the Government propose-I will oppose the timetable motion.
Secondly, as the hon. Member for Islington, North said, there is a great deal of important business on the Order Paper today, and I fear that we will not reach some of it. It would be scandalous if provisions in such a Bill were passed to an unelected House without consideration by the elected House. Were that to be the case, noble Lords in another place would have every right not to make any attempt to expedite that business before Dissolution.
Of course, the hon. Gentleman would want to make the point that many of the new clauses relate directly to this Chamber, and it would be bizarre indeed if this Chamber did not discuss those matters, whereas the other place did.
Equally, there are some clauses that relate very much to the other place, which is why I raised with the Government my concern that this Parliament is running out of time for the proper scrutiny of such an important piece of constitutional legislation. It is time that the Government made the time available-the hon. Gentleman may agree with me-and provided some finality as to what we will be asked to consider.
I entirely agree. I fear that the point may already have been reached where the chances of significant parts of the Bill reaching the statute book are fast diminishing.
There is a very large amount of business to be transacted today and on the second day, although there is a small blurring at the edges. The last paragraph of the programme motion allows us, through the munificence of the Government, to proceed with the fourth day's business early, should we finish today's business early. But that is not the problem. The problem is the other way round-if we do not finish the business that is set down for debate today, we cannot proceed with it on another day. It will go through on the nod, undebated. That is what I find unacceptable.
Is it not important also that a Government in their dying days, who have lost the trust of the people and who have been seen to allow Parliament to lose its ability to scrutinise the Government, could do something to redeem themselves by at least allowing this Bill to be properly scrutinised?
I fear that the Government are irredeemable. I fear that they have gone past the point where they can ever lay claim to having a proper regard for the proprieties of the House and the way that it does its business. The Government prove that fact every day that we do business.
My third reason for opposing the programme motion is that we do not know what may yet be in the Bill-what amendments the Government may table to implement the Kelly proposals at present under discussion. We know that such amendments may be tabled. That will take further time and more days of debate. We need to know that those days will be available.
Mr. Grieve mentioned the small matter of reform of our electoral system-a trifle to be considered in the odd five minutes that may be left at the end of the fourth day of debate. The Government promised that they may bring forward such provisions. That is the sort of promise that we get from the Government-that they may, or they may not. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten the House whether they propose to table amendments on that matter, when we might expect to see them and, more importantly, when we might expect to debate them.
I would expect a programme motion tabled today to have incorporated the Government's intentions, and discussions to have taken place with the Leader of the House. As the Minister correctly said, the Leader of the House intimated on Thursday that more days might be made available. I would expect to know, as we enter the third day in Committee, whether there will be one, two or three more days in Committee or as many days as are required to transact the business that the Government are putting before the House. For all those reasons, I will advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose the programme motion.
The Minister is quite shameless. I think he forgets that the Bill arises out of a piece of work called "The Governance of Britain" Green Paper and the subsequent White Paper. The Bill is meant to be an important part of the response to that work. One of the main points in that work was to have a new constitutional settlement that
"entrusts Parliament and the people with more power."
The Government said that they were going to reinvigorate our democracy, increase participation and review the right to protest. They said that they wanted to make people and their representatives feel that they were more involved in the process of government than they had been allowed to be in recent years under this miserable Administration.
With no hint of irony-I do not think he has that advanced a sense of humour-the Minister comes to us today and presumes to say how much time each clause or amendment will receive. This is a most important Bill, with many issues that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen and Ladies may wish to discuss, but the Minister is apparently all wise and all knowing. If we were to say that the Bill needed less or more time, he would claim either that we were being not thorough enough in the first instance or too loquacious in the second, and presume to mark us down accordingly.
Can the Minister not see that his approach is deeply offensive to the very principles of parliamentary Government? Can he not see that Parliament is adult enough to be able to decide how to distribute its words and actions over the quite long period of time that the Government have allowed for discussion of the Bill as a whole?
We are making a very simple point: it is that we, Parliament, should for once be able to decide how much of the time that the Minister has allotted to the Bill overall should be spent on x or y. What is the problem for the Government, other than possible embarrassment because they do not want us to go on too long talking about a subject that they are not very strong on or are a bit worried about?
However, I also wish to query the total amount of time being allowed. Any Government with a majority of course have a right to get their legislation.
If a Government have enough votes, and if it is the will of the large majority in the House, they should have the right to get their legislation. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with me really, but a Government should have to work for that right. They should not squash the minority too soon, too obviously, or in too peremptory a fashion. They should hear the minority out at decent length, answer the arguments and make their case.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the most disagreeable features of the argument that we have just heard from the junior Minister came when he said that he did not want to let people speak, lest they speak too long?
With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he really ought to listen to what I said. That is not what I said. I ask him to look at Hansard tomorrow to see what I actually said, instead of misrepresenting me in that way.
For the sake of the Hansard record, the Minister was referring to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg, and not to me. However, he forgot to mention the "and learned", and the Hansard writer could not see that he was looking at my right hon. and learned Friend rather than at me when he intervened on me. I am afraid that he has been discourteous to the House yet again in the way that he responded and used the intervention- [ Interruption. ] I am sorry, but I feel very strongly about this. The Minister is very discourteous to the House in not giving it the time it needs.
I would like to stand up and apologise to Mr. Redwood. I do apologise. I understand that there may have been a misconception that I was referring to him and not to Mr. Hogg. I do apologise to the House, and wish to make it quite clear that I did not intend to be discourteous to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that he understands that now.
I think I said that the Minister was being discourteous to the House. I still believe that he is being discourteous to the House in the way he is handling this short debate and, more importantly, the bigger issue.
I come back to the question of the overall timetable. If it turns out that the House needs more time overall to discuss this matter-and we do not know whether it will or will not-why can the Minister not grant it to us? We can go on after 10 o'clock tonight. What is the problem? Right hon. and hon. Members are not going to find it easy to get home after 10 o'clock anyway, so why can those who need to do so not stay on till midnight or 1 o'clock in the morning or whatever to see the business done?
I am not even saying that the Minister needs to delay the Bill's final exit from this place by another day or two. I am saying that he needs to give us more time, if that is what the House needs. If by any chance the House has finished this chunk of business by 9 o'clock in the evening, then he is very lucky and will have an early night. However, he should be prepared to put in the hours if he is going to take the salary. He should be prepared to put in the hours when an angry House is saying, "He is short-changing us. This is a constitutional Bill. These are important matters. We want our democracy back!"
I understood, from the Minister's intervention on Mr. Heath, that there was a sense of incredulity in the right hon. Gentleman's inquiry. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome had put forward the simple proposition that a constitutional Bill that is taken on the Floor of the House gives every Member an opportunity to speak, because this is, after all, the constitution of the United Kingdom that we are talking about. That sense of incredulity is what informs my response and, I think, those of my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg, who are sitting on this Bench.
It is intolerable that a Minister, in a Government sinking so rapidly, should still assert that they are on the side of Parliament as they tighten the noose around Parliament's neck. It is hubris that brings forward a guillotine motion of this nature. We know that much of the Bill will not be discussed. This is a busted Parliament, and one reason is that the Executive have hollowed out from our responsibilities the very function of this House, which is to debate important matters-treaties, whatever they are-in this constitutional Bill. The very logic of the Minister's argument was to say quite simply, "We've determined what is necessary and appropriate for this House to debate."
Many Members will enter the Chamber for specific aspects of the debate, not necessarily for the whole of it. The programme motion takes no account of that, so why does the Bill have in its title the very word "governance"-the "Governance Bill"? The "Governance" of what? We have become nothing. I see tumbleweed blowing down this Chamber and out in Central Lobby. That is what the Government have reduced Parliament to. Do not think that it is not an Executive function- [ Interruption. ] However sweet the smile on the face, Ministers sit in arrogance, essentially, and the outcome is the same: "Thou shalt not speak unless we allow you to." Every guillotine motion that comes before the House is almost tailor-made-bespoke-and that is what we have again today.
The Minister accepts, if I understood his expressions correctly, that we may not reach some contentions in the Bill, and that they will not be debated. That seems to be an extraordinary proposition with which to begin a constitutional Bill, but that has been the difficulty with this Government since they came into office. They cannot discern the difference between the types of Bills, how they are born and how they should be considered. They have seized the Standing Orders of this House, and only the Minister may initiate debates and determine how they are conducted.
We will have a Division on this issue; the Government will march into the Lobby; and their own Back Benchers, who have not even been present for the debate, will be summoned by bells. But the bells are execution bells in the end. We are close to a general election, and the process of this Parliament is intolerable. Why should intelligent people come here to be neutered and held down? The Government do not even want to hear the expression of opinion on their own Back Benches, unless it is merely in support of themselves, so I shall willingly vote against this outrageous motion.
I am very glad to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd, my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood and Mr. Heath; and I agree with them. To follow up my right hon. Friend's reference to the Green Paper, in a nutshell, we are now faced not with democracy, but with hypocrisy. The Government have made a series of statements, and I am amazed that the Minister can sit on the Front Bench, scribbling on his bits of paper, when he is responsible for the situation. It is a wanton act of hypocrisy to say something in a Green Paper and, subsequently, to demonstrate, in a constitutional Bill that should be taken on the Floor of the House in proper time, a denial of the very propositions that led to the Bill in the first place.
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg also made some very important points. I recall his father saying, many years ago, that we were moving towards an elective dictatorship. We are not: now we actually have an elected disgrace. That is the problem with which we are faced. In an intervention I referred to the Wright Committee and the fact that nothing has been done about it, despite the fact that action is well overdue. If the business committee that the Wright Committee proposed were to be implemented, this situation could not occur, because the House would insist on proper consideration of the matters that we are about to discuss.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills-he should be right honourable-regarding Standing Orders, on which I have spoken many times. In the early part of the last century, and before then, there was a great deal of discussion about whether Standing Orders should have been taken over by the Executive. That happened in the difficult days of the Irish troubles of the 1880s, when the Speaker's rules were taken over by the Executive with the agreement of those on the two Front Benches, and they have remained with them ever since.
I conclude by reference to a very important essay written by a former Clerk of this House-Sir Edward Fellowes-which was mentioned in Crick's analysis of the constitution. Crick said that at that moment, when the Executive took over the Standing Orders, this House went into decline, and that not until they are returned to the House of Commons will it be possible for it to regain its former sovereignty-a matter that no doubt we shall be discussing very shortly.
I think that the saddest thing about this short debate is the rather pathetic excuses that the Minister put forward for the internal knives in the guillotine to be implemented. There was no real substance to what he said, and no real justification for denying this House the ability to discuss some very important issues.
The Minister suggested to my hon. Friend Mr. Heath that if my hon. Friend could give an undertaking that Members would make brief and succinct speeches, then he, the Minister, might give the matter further consideration. It is an outrage for the Minister to suggest that he could decide these matters on the basis of the length and substance of Members' speeches. For Ministers to believe, with such arrogance, that they have that ability is an obscenity in itself, and to suggest that they can treat this House and its Members with that sort of contempt is beyond belief.
I urge Ministers to consider their position. On the fourth day, they will have an opportunity to extend the time available. There should not be a cut-off today because, as many right hon. and hon. Members have said, it is clear that a lot of the business before the House, which will be guillotined at the end of today's business, will not be properly discussed. How can we discuss the Wright report? We get it wrong by not even discussing it-that is nonsense.
Oh, did I? I stand corrected. Perhaps, like other Members, the hon. Gentleman deserves that title, just for sheer perseverance in this place.
The Minister should recognise the strength of feeling about this. I am sure that if more of his Back-Bench colleagues were here, they would be echoing the sentiments expressed in all parts of the House. When we are discussing the future governance of this country, we are entitled, at the end of that debate, to be justified in saying that all sides had adequate time to discuss the proposals and to listen to the arguments for and against them. For the Government to hide behind the screen of a gerrymandered guillotine that they have altered during the course of our debates shows that they must be frightened of discussing the substance of the arguments against their case. That is a pitiful state for any Government to be in. Surely, even at this late stage, they can recant and give this House the justice it deserves-a fair hearing on such important issues.
When the Minister was intervened on by Mr. Redwood, he said that the right hon. Gentleman should know from his long experience in the House why the guillotine had to be used. However, in his short speech, and indeed in his refusal even to spell out his reasons to the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister indicated that there is not a good justification for a guillotine, especially given the nature of the Bill.
As a Member from Northern Ireland, for a long time before devolution I saw the effects of legislation that went through by Order in Council and was not properly scrutinised, which led to all kinds of problems. We can see the arrangements that we now have in the devolved Assembly in Stormont, which were made in a Bill that had to be pushed through quickly. Some scrutiny may have led to amendments that could have avoided some of the current difficulties with the working of devolved government. It is important that we have proper scrutiny of a Bill that has constitutional importance.
This process started with high ideals, but before we have even got through the whole parliamentary process those ideals have been torn up. The Green Paper stated that the Government were looking for
"a settlement that entrusts Parliament and the people with more power."
Yet we cannot even have a proper discussion about some of the issues in the Bill. The proposals in the Green Paper were made under headings with a high-sounding tone, such as "Limiting the powers of the executive", "Making the executive more accountable" and "Re-invigorating our democracy". What has all that come down to now that we are actually to debate the proposals? A guillotine that, as Members have indicated, will probably not even allow us to discuss a quarter of what we need to.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the current Prime Minister, when newly elevated to that post, made a great point of saying he was going to strengthen Parliament because he believed it had been too weak under the previous Prime Minister, and asked Her Majesty to say that in the Gracious Speech at the start of the 2008-09 Session?
Yes-yet another promise made during the discussions on the Bill has not been fulfilled. Indeed, it is a bit of an irony that we cannot even get a debate when the Green Paper described itself as the
"first step in a national conversation" about the new arrangements. A national conversation? We cannot even get a proper parliamentary debate.
One has to ask oneself what the Minister is thinking of in introducing a guillotine of this nature if the Bill is to be the foundation of a constitutional reform. I think of the guillotines that there have been in the House in recent weeks. On the Equality Bill, we did not get through 20 per cent. of the amendments because a guillotine was imposed on the important measures in it. We will see the same thing happen today.
It will not just be members of the House who are disappointed by what has happened today. When a Joint Committee scrutinised the Bill, it commended the Government for
"taking these first steps towards its stated objective of making Government more accountable to Parliament."
Even when the Committee looked at the Bill, it believed it was getting something that we are not getting even in the debating of the Bill. The Committee indicated that
"the Government's approach to constitutional modernisation has been a rebalancing of power".
Those were the promises that were made and that was what we believed we were getting in the Bill, yet today we see that the end result is that the House has less opportunity for discussion and less say on the great changes that will be required.
Actually, does it not go further than that? Many Members have tabled new clauses that go far outside the scope of the Bill as contemplated by the Government, but are none the less constitutional reforms of a very great kind. Those Members are being denied the opportunity even to ventilate those ideas.
I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. Far worse, of course, is the fact that Members will have little opportunity to debate, or even to prepare arguments against, Government amendments that we do not yet know about. My party will vote against the programme motion, because it does not reflect what the Government promised and it has not been justified in the debate so far. This issue is of such great importance that there ought to be a proper opportunity for debate in the Chamber.
With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course I agree with all the comments that have been made, and of course the House must have adequate time to scrutinise this legislation. However, listening to this debate-an interesting and revealing debate-one would think that the Government were allowing no time at all. I am very grateful to Sammy Wilson, who at last mentioned one of the Committee scrutinies of the Bill. I have here the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. The Bill was published in draft and reported on by that Committee, and it has also been reported on by the Public Administration Committee.
With great respect, I will not give way, because I want to make a few points while I have still got time, which is limited thanks to the programme motion- [ Laughter. ] I would be grateful if he let me continue.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you be kind enough to rule on whether, in the middle of debate on a constitutional Bill, it is right for a Minister to evoke procedures other than those that take place on the Floor of the House, where the Bill should be properly discussed, but which is blatantly not happening at the moment?
The hon. Gentleman should know that that is not a point of order, but an attempt to further the debate. The Minister is now trying to reply to the very important matters raised by hon. Members in general.
If I may, I should like to respond to the previous intervention and to make a few points in response to all the other contributions in the debate-that is parliamentary debate, as I think hon. Members will recognise.
I can say in response to Mr. Cash that the Government published the Bill in draft. I do not remember his party ever doing any such thing when it was in government.
I really cannot resist responding to the Minister's comment on the number of people in the Chamber. When is it going to dawn on him that the reason why the attendance in the Chamber is so low is that the Government, over a long period, have made a complete mockery of the procedures of this House, removing all possibility for debate?
I just say this to the hon. and learned Gentleman: there are important constitutional points here. Every day-
Three quarters of an hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Deputy Speaker put the Question (