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That the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) (No. 2) Order 2000, which was laid before this House on 2nd November, be approved.
That the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modifications of Schedule 5) Order 2000, which was laid before this House on 13th November, be approved.--[Mr. Pope.]
Mr. Tipping: The motion is in the interests of all Members, especially the Opposition, because it will allow us to keep the House open until the messages are received. That will allow any message to be printed in the Order Paper so that Members have an opportunity to understand what they have to discuss. Standing Order No. 78, as many hon. Members will know, gives the House leave to take Lords amendments forthwith, so it is technically possible for any amendment received to be debated at a convenient time.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Can the Minister confirm that it is perfectly possible for Lords messages to be included in the following day's business without the need for such measures and that things could therefore be done in a proper way?
Mr. Tipping: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is not implying that the motion is not entirely proper. It is in order and perfectly proper. He knows that there are different ways and procedures in the House, and he has suggested an alternative. The motion will simply allow the messages that come from the Lords to be printed in the Order Paper for the benefit of all Members. We had the example of Members tabling amendments to Lords amendments for the previous debate. The motion will not inconvenience Members. Technically, the House does not sit until the message arrives and we reconvene. There are precedents for the motion, which is in the interests of all Members, especially the Opposition, and will not inconvenience any Member.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): As I understand it, technically the House could sit, but it will not do so. Surely if that is the case, we could fill the idle hours with many debates that might be of interest to the hon. Gentleman. For example, he might like to discuss the desirability of excluding sugar from the everything but arms initiative. Could we discuss that matter? Perhaps he would confirm whether we could debate a motion on the European rapid reaction force, so that the Government could gauge the opinion of the House in a full debate?
Mr. Tipping: The right hon. and learned Gentleman, and many of his hon. Friends, take many opportunities to discuss various issues. I have had the benefit of listening to some of his comments today. I acknowledge the point that he makes: hon. Members wish to discuss many matters. The motion will provide a framework for the orderly discussion of Lords amendments.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): We always know when the Government have got themselves into difficulty--it is the moment when they send in the Minister, who, with his normal courtesy, kindness and politeness, comes along and spreads a bit of emollient to try to disguise the fact that their legislative programme is in the most terrible mess, with appalling consequences for the way in which the House conducts its scrutiny.
The state opening of the new Session is projected for Wednesday week, but important legislation still has to return to the House from the other place, and, as the Minister has admitted, the purpose of the motion is to facilitate that process. The Opposition might be happy to facilitate that process if the only consequence were that the House would have adequate time to scrutinise the legislation. However, as was made clear yesterday with the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, when the House waits for Bills to return and considers them--as the motion invites it to do--what happens is a complete charade.
We recently heard that, on the Government's initiative, the House is planning to timetable legislation. Would that it were true that we had an adequate timetable. Yesterday there was inadequate time for debate. The debate was subject to a guillotine, which was scandalous. At the end, dozens of amendments remained to be considered, and the House could not even express its view properly on some of the amendments that had been debated. The motion seems likely to facilitate the repetition of exactly the same thing in the coming days.
The Minister knows very well that legislation on the scale of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill--a measure that is engraved on his heart and on mine, and which is being considered at this very moment in another place--will require a great deal of scrutiny. We are told that the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill is likely to return with hundreds of Government amendments.
The motion is designed, as I understand it, to facilitate the rapid consideration of such messages from the Lords and, if legislation is sent back after being considered by the House, further messages from the Lords. Haste makes for bad scrutiny, and the Minister knows it. In those circumstances, it would be much better if the Government admitted that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said, time is required
Mr. Hogg: Does my hon. Friend agree that we are being asked to waste a great deal of time because sittings will be suspended while we wait at the convenience of their lordships? I do not particularly mind doing that, but I do mind wasting time. Can he confirm that it would be perfectly possible for the Leader of the House to table a business motion on Monday whereby, during the sittings that would otherwise be suspended, we could debate important matters, such as the European rapid reaction force and the EBA sugar initiative, and a few others that I have in mind?.
Mr. Grieve: I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. We could make productive use of the time. Alternatively, if the Government do not want to do that, they could cease to proceed with the motion and allow business to be conducted in an orderly and sensible manner; then we could do what some Labour MPs apparently enjoy doing, such as going off to their constituencies. Instead of being on permanent standby, the House should not sit on days when it is not necessary. When it does, it reminds me of those buttons on our television sets that we are told to switch off because they consume so much energy.
Mr. Forth: Following the intervention of our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), does my hon. Friend accept that one of the other advantages of the procedure that he described would be that the debates would take place here in the Chamber, instead of being shunted off to that pathetic sideshow known as Westminster Hall? We could turn the terms of the motion into something positive for the House of Commons.