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Mr. Maclean: A moment ago, when my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) said that we were in the business of making good legislation, Government Members chuckled. Is not the truth that, in the past few months, thousands of amendments have come through from the other place, having been made by an incompetent Government who have bashed through legislation under guillotines? Do we not face the danger that, in the other place, the Vehicles (Crime) Bill will be subjected to hundreds of amendments with which this House will be unable to deal appropriately during consideration of Lords amendments?
Mr. Heald: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Because Bill after Bill has been poorly drafted and debate in this House has been curtailed, a whole new Bill, in effect, has on occasion been drafted for consideration by the other place. We, the people who are elected to Parliament to debate the law, are short-changed in terms of debate. It simply will not do. There were 118 amendments to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, of which 77 were not debated by this House. There were 268 amendments to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, of which 47 were not debated here. There
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): There is a further problem, to which my hon. Friend has not yet addressed his remarks. Parts I and II of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill do not apply to Scotland, yet we could find the Committee stuffed full of Labour Members representing Scottish constituencies who can prattle on at great length without having any legitimate democratic right to do so; they might take up the time allotted, with the consequence that Members who represent English and Welsh constituencies do not have ample time in which to express their proper point of view.
Mr. Heald: My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. If members of the Committee come from a different jurisdiction, it is reasonable that they will not understand the intricacies of the law in England and Wales. They do not live in those countries, and debates will take longer. I mean no disrespect in any way to Scotland or to the Scots, Mr. Speaker. We do not know until the Committee of Selection meets how many Members there will be in Committee with that disadvantage.
We already have far less time than we need. However, we do not know how much longer will be needed because the detailed circumstances of consideration in Committee are unknown. Representations as yet unknown will come from industry and will subsequently take the form of new clauses and amendments. If someone who is as succinct as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham can speak for an hour and 19 minutes on the Bill, making cogent point after cogent point eloquently and extremely effectively without trespassing on the good will of the House, we need more than 10 sittings.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): The point has not yet been put that programming appears to be very much between those on the two Front Benches. What input is likely to be heard from Back Benchers on both sides of the House, either as individuals or as groups, who may be interested in a part of the Bill that the Government think is not controversial? The matter may be extremely pertinent to certain constituencies.
Mr. Heald: As ever, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. One of the difficulties in programming a Committee before a Bill's Second Reading is trying to assess the mood of the House, including Back-Bench Members. When we considered the Government of Wales Bill, there were Labour Back Benchers who did not share the views of the Government. Conservative and Liberal Democrat Back Benchers had a slightly different viewpoint on certain issues. As a result, debate was extended. That was impossible to assess in advance. That is what is so wrong with the principle of programming in this way. It seems that it will happen with every Bill, and I see that as a deleterious step.
Mr. Heald: I am sure that you would not allow me, Mr. Speaker, to go into the West Lothian question in huge detail. However, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, the legal system in Scotland is different from that in England and Wales. The issue is between two legal jurisdictions and not between England, Wales and Scotland. If someone comes from a different jurisdiction legally and he is trying to contemplate laws that may be different, with the court systems being different, it is surely fair to suggest that consideration in Committee might take a little longer.
Mr. Hogg: There is another point. An essential element of democracy is that those who make laws should be accountable to those who are affected by laws. If individuals are not affected by laws, those who represent them have no legitimate standing.
Mr. Heald: That point was eloquently made by my right hon. and learned Friend when the Bills to which I referred went through the House. I do not disagree with him, but on a programme motion it would not be right for me to discuss an aspect of principle of the West Lothian question and fair votes for England. However, it is right for me to highlight the time aspects.
The programme motion is a disgrace. It has been presented as being agreed by the official Opposition, when that is not the case. I have no doubt that that is the case. It has been presented by a Government who are making guillotining the business of the House a regular feature, and that is a denial of democracy. When we considered the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which I did not mention earlier, 675 amendments were not debated.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Did he notice that, when the Minister proposed the motion, he gave an indication to the House, if I understood his words correctly, that more time might be needed? He referred to the programming sub-committee, suggesting that it might have to consider whether more time was needed. Will my hon. Friend comment on that admission from the Minister?
Mr. Heald: As ever, my right hon. Friend identifies an important point. It is interesting that, in the previous debate, the Minister was unable to answer any of the questions that I posed in my closing remarks, and several points made by my right hon. and hon. Friends were not answered, because there was not enough time.
As my right hon. Friend says, the Minister admitted that more time may have to be allowed for consideration of the Bill. Should not the hon. Gentleman do the decent thing and withdraw the programme motion? It is not right that the House should be asked to vote for a motion with which the Minister who proposed it at the Dispatch Box does not agree.
The programme motion is inadequate. The House should not be made to curtail the time during which it may debate such an important measure. There is a wide range of issues, and I ask the House to reject the programme motion.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): The Minister was wrong when he introduced the motion. He did so under false pretences. He said firmly that he had the agreement of the Opposition parties. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) made it clear that the Minister did not have the support and agreement of the Conservative party, and he certainly did not have my support or that of my colleagues. I have great respect for the Minister. I hope that he is a big enough man to admit that a mistake has been made in the communication between his Whips Office and himself.
If the Minister does not believe me, let him look at the Order Paper. When there is an agreed programme motion, I put my name to it and a spokesman for the Conservative party puts his or her name to it. There is no name on the Order Paper from either of the Opposition parties. This is not an agreed programme motion.
On many occasions, my colleagues and I supported programme motions, when we believed that a realistic assessment had been made of the time necessary to assure all hon. Members that the major points would be covered. That is not the case tonight. I attended much of the debate this evening. The attendance now is higher than on Second Reading, but it is clear that hon. Members have important points to raise. It is clear that the Committee stage will be convoluted, complicated and important if we are to get the Bill right.
If the Minister means what he said about giving the House a proper opportunity to debate the issues that matter, it is the right course of action for him, having obviously unwittingly misled the House, to withdraw the motion.
Mr. Forth: This is the first opportunity that the House has had to consider the new principle that the Government have imposed on us. It is an important occasion, but there will, of course, be many others. On each occasion, the House will have a proper opportunity to consider whether it is a proper way to consider the Bill under discussion and whether to support the proposals.