Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mrs. Beckett: I do not dispute the hon. Gentleman's last point. The Government would have much preferred to have a sensible programme motion. We have been driven to fall back on the guillotine because that was not possible. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Bill has already been extensively debated. It had 42 hours in the House of Lords and 77½ hours in Committee. The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that there are a large number of amendments. Most of them are minor and technical. Indeed, most were asked for during earlier consideration. Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked whether it was on a matter of detail or on principle that the Conservatives rejected a programme motion. We never got as far as details. The hon. Gentleman will understand why the Government have found it necessary to propose a guillotine motion.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that in the past three weeks we have had one week of recess and two weeks of exceptionally light business by any standards? If she had had the decency to give the House a reasonable amount of time to debate the Bill, the difficulties that we have had tonight would not have arisen. Does she understand that many of us feel that the three weeks of light business were intended to give Labour Members time to campaign in the European elections, and much good it did them? Their arguments were rejected by the voters. Does she understand that her running shy tonight of a proper debate on the Health Bill shows that the Government are fearful of having the arguments on the Bill properly tested in the House of Commons?

Mrs. Beckett: First, the hon. Gentleman's points about the previous business and the recess are irrelevant. If there was a problem with the time allowed for the Bill, it could have been raised on the past three occasions when I announced the time available. It was never raised by the hon. Gentleman or anyone else. The Bills could not have been considered earlier, because they have both just come out of Committee. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been in the Chamber this evening. If he had--I beg

14 Jun 1999 : Column 113

his pardon if he has--he would have known that people have been wasting time and the House of Commons does not have time to waste.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Given the right hon. Lady's difficulties over the past week or so, particularly since Sunday, and her problems with ordering the business of the House effectively, which are clearly becoming profound, will she make time for an early statement on the Government's position on proportional representation for this House?

Madam Speaker: Order. That is totally irrelevant to the statement that has just been made.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Is the Leader of the House bringing the same deft management to organising the business of the House that she brought to organising the Labour party's strategy for the recent elections? If so, will she answer the question put to her by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and explain why the Government were prepared to mark time in the House of Commons for the past two or three weeks, but are now trying in indecent haste to ram through controversial and difficult business? Why cannot the Government face up to difficult issues and give the House of Commons a proper amount of time to deal with them instead of scurrying around trying to hide the difficult issues while wasting time in the lead-up to what was a disastrous election for them?

Mrs. Beckett: I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can have been listening or paying attention. I have already said that the Government were prepared to discuss a programme motion for both Bills. The right hon. Gentleman always attends business questions. I pay tribute to him for being an assiduous attender. Not once has he or any Conservative Member said that the time allowed for debate on the Health Bill was inadequate. It is too late to say it now.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Will we have an opportunity during the debate on the Health Bill to talk about the £21 billion that the Prime Minister keeps talking about? The Leader of the House may have noticed that, for some reason, it was claimed as a great plus for Labour's candidates during the European elections. Will she confirm that that £21 billion is only £3.5 billion extra a year: £3.5 billion in the first year; £7 billion in the second year; £10.5 billion in the third year? We have to add them together to get £21 billion. Surely the country has found out about the Government's health policies and we need plenty of time to highlight what is going on.

Mrs. Beckett: I am sorry to say to the hon. Gentleman that no matter how much time we have, the Opposition are incapable of doing anything sensible with it, judging by their performance this evening.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): While I regret that the Leader of the House has had to make this statement, does she agree that part of the explanation for the behaviour of the increasingly extremist Conservative party is the fact that it has failed to provide opposition on the Immigration and Asylum Bill or on the Health Bill? On the issues of junior doctors' hours, rationing,

14 Jun 1999 : Column 114

discrimination and the work force crisis, it was Liberal Democrat amendments that would have been discussed tonight before the Tories' futile behaviour intervened.

Mrs. Beckett: I do not think that it is for me to intervene in a private fight on the other side of the House, but I share the hon. Gentleman's view that we have not spent time discussing the Bill this evening.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The right hon. Lady will know that, as Leader of the House, she has a role to take into account the interests of the House as a whole and not exclusively those of colleagues on her own Front Bench. Does she understand the concern felt by Conservative Members that what she has just announced may substantially reduce the overall time available for the debate on the Immigration and Asylum Bill? Can she give the House a guarantee that there will be no reduction in the time available for that debate?

Mrs. Beckett: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that I have a responsibility to the House. My responsibility is to see that the House has the opportunity sensibly and properly to debate the issues that come before it. It is not my responsibility to find time for time wasting.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The Leader of the House will know from her experience of running a campaign over the past three weeks, during which she attempted to deal with every other issue than those that were the proper subject of that campaign, that it is on the issue of her stewardship of the health service that the public estimation of the Labour Government has fallen most rapidly. There was no complaint about the lack of time available for debate because there was plenty of time available. I and many other Conservative Members were looking forward to exploring the Government's attitude on rationing throughout the night. Why is the Leader of the House not prepared to do that? Is she tired or just frightened?

Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I have already pointed out that at the rate of progress achieved so far it would have taken to the end of the week to conclude proceedings on the Bill and I did not feel that that was a useful expenditure of the time of the House.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does not the Leader of the House recognise that she is guilty of ignorance and uncharacteristic discourtesy to the House in describing the new clauses and amendments as minor and technical? Does the right hon. Lady seriously think that the issues of clinical freedom, discrimination in the NHS, health and energy efficiency schemes, the regulation of independent hospitals and the partnership between the public and the private sectors, to name but a few, are minor and technical? Is that illustrative of the contempt that she feels for the national health service which she claims to uphold?

Mrs. Beckett: Uncharacteristically, the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said and I am sure

14 Jun 1999 : Column 115

that he would not wish to do so. I did not say that the issues in question were minor and technical but that the amendments were.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Would the right hon. Lady be kind enough to answer a question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and tell us how much time will be allowed for the Health Bill? Why is it necessary to guillotine the Immigration and Asylum Bill, which the House has not even begun to discuss and about which many Labour Members have strong views, as we know? In answer to the question posed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), will she tell us how long we shall have for that Bill?

Mrs. Beckett: The motion will be tabled following the conclusion of this business statement. There will be sufficient time for the debates and the Government have given proper consideration--as we would have done if we had been able to discuss a sensible programme motion--to allowing the House adequate time to debate these matters.


Next Section

IndexHome Page