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Mr. Straw: Of course, there have to be arrangements through the usual channels. Our record in opposition between 1994 and 1997 was exemplary. In the Session 1994-95, the then Government introduced no guillotine motions, because we had reached accommodation with them through the usual channels. I say to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that there was a guillotine motion in 1995-96 on proceedings on the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Bill. However, if my memory serves me right, that motion was unusual in that I supported it from the Opposition Front Bench. I was persuaded that the additional powers were necessary and that the matter had to come before the House to be dealt with before the end of the Session.
In 1996-97, I recall--my recollection is usually accurate--that the guillotine on the proceedings of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill was introduced not because of fire from the then Opposition, but because of friendly fire from those who did not wish there to be effective control of firearms. That fire came from the then Government's Back Benchers.
Many of us are concerned about the practice of allowing the unelected second Chamber, in effect, to make legislation. Does the Home Secretary understand that 123 amendments are before us, and that inevitably, we shall not discuss them all? Many will not be reached and we shall simply be asked to accept many of them. That means that the peers, as an unelected body, will make law in this country. Does that make him content?
Mr. Straw: That is fine, and I accept that statement as accurate. However, that was not the view of the Conservative party when it was in government. It was perfectly happy to rely on a huge majority made up not only of unelected peers but of those who were in the other place for no other reason than that they were their fathers' sons or their grandfathers' grandsons.
When the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) was an adornment of the previous Government and they introduced the poll tax, they ensured that people who had never been seen in the other place, but who had a Conservative ticket there, were pulled out of the woodwork to vote for that legislation. If that had not been the case, the previous Administration would have been done a great favour.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Perhaps my right hon. Friend will remind the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) that the Conservative Government guillotined the consideration of Lords amendments on 34 separate occasions? In which Lobby did the right hon. and learned Gentleman vote then? Did he come into the Labour Lobby to vote against those guillotines?
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise that matter. The previous Administration used the guillotine not only at the end of the Session, when it is more justifiable, but at other times, such as on 14 December 1993, when they guillotined the Statutory Sick Pay Bill and the Social Security (Contributions) Bill just a few weeks into the Session.
I must tell the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and the rest of the House that although there are many amendments, a great many of them were passed in the other place in response to undertakings that I gave during two days of extensive debate on the Floor of the House--[Hon. Members: "Not all of them."] No, not all of them, but many were, and they relate to those key debates. It is a fact of life that guillotines mean that some amendments go undebated. I regret that because I would prefer Bills to be timetabled properly. None the less, it is a timeless verity that never worried Opposition Members all that much before.
Wherever possible we try, as we did on Report, to reach understandings through the usual channels so that there is proper time for debate. I would prefer that, but I hope that both sides of the House accept that Governments have the right to ensure that their legislation is put before Parliament for a proper conclusion before the end of a Session.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): If there were no guillotine motions, what possible chance would the controversial measures that are most opposed by the Conservative party, such as the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, stand of getting through Parliament by the end of the Session?
Mr. Straw: We have previously been charged with sitting for too many hours. As ever, the right hon. Lady wants it both ways. If we were to sit on a Friday, there would still be no guarantee that we could get these Bills through Parliament unless an undertaking were reached through the usual channels, which would have to maintain proper Back-Bench discipline. The eloquence of some hon. Members quickly fades and they become exceptionally prolix when they have an interest in keeping our proceedings going for ever and ever. They regard that as their task; I do not complain, but we have to take action as a result. Everyone knows that that is a fact of life.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is right to say that the Freedom of Information Bill and the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill would have no chance of being enacted without the guillotine motion. The Opposition did not oppose the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, or, as far as I recall, the Freedom of Information Bill, on Second Reading, but they will not be bothered if those two measures are not enacted. We know their real view of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. As for the Freedom of Information Bill, we were famously told in the Conservatives' campaign guide at the general election that such a Bill was of interest only to "left-wing busybodies".
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is right. Not only have very few controversial Bills been passed on a Friday, but many non-controversial Bills, supported by a majority on both sides of the House, have also come to grief because of the lengthy contributions by certain hon. Members.
Mr. Straw: No. If freedom of information legislation is for Governments, it certainly strengthens the hand of Oppositions--and opposition. I celebrate the fact that that is so, because I happen to believe that good government is made better when Ministers are accountable. For them to be accountable, more information is needed.
Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. To clear up a factual error that has crept into the debate, the controversial Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill, which was a private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon earlier this Session--[Interruption.]--was passed, despite extensive and exhaustive debate on Fridays. It is on the statute book and is an extremely good Act.
Mr. Straw: There was some perplexity on our side about who the hon. Member for Basildon was. That constituency was the subject of a famous victory by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith). The hon. Gentleman to whom the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) referred went on the notorious chicken run and now has a safer seat in Southend-on-Sea, West. [Hon. Members: "Southend, West".] Southend-on-Sea, West.
I shall put on record why we think that, although regrettable, the guillotine motion is justified. I remind the House that we published a White Paper in 1997 and a draft Bill consultation paper in 1999, which was subject to extensive pre-legislative scrutiny during the summer of 1999. Since then the Bill has been subject to substantial scrutiny--40 hours in Committee in this House and two full days on the Floor of the House at the beginning of April this year, as well as 28 hours in the other place.
The House will recall that there were detailed debates on specific issues in the House on those two days. In the other House I sought to meet in full the commitments that I gave to this House on those occasions. There had been
Yes, there remains the possibility that a Minister of the Crown will exercise what is called an Executive override, but when he does so--again, because of an amendment that we accepted in another place, which I do not believe will be controversial--that must be reported to this House.
I have considered carefully whether we could introduce into the body of the legislation a duty for Ministers collectively to consult other Cabinet colleagues, or whether there should be a collective Cabinet decision. For reasons that we can debate when we come to the subject, that has not proved possible.
Colleagues on both sides who have studied various constitutional texts will know that the Cabinet per se has no formal constitutional standing, but I will give undertakings that, save where it relates to a quasi-judicial decision, which by definition normally has to be taken by an individual Secretary of State, guidance will be given, which will be made public, requiring Ministers to consult their colleagues. In addition to that, anyone who has served in government knows that it would be a poor career move for any Minister to make such a decision without consulting his or her colleagues.