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Mr. Hogg: Is not one of the problems of the procedure on which we are embarking the fact that the House does not have an opportunity to amend the motion? We might think that a timetable is appropriate, but we might also conclude that much more time should be given. The defect of this procedure is that we do not have the ability to extend the time from, say, 23 January to 18 February. I make that as a suggestion.
Mr. Forth: I am not sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is right on this occasion. I was under the impression that such motions are subject to amendment, but we can pursue the matter later. Suffice it to say that, on this occasion, the House of Commons must decide whether it is appropriate and proper to bind the Committee so that it has only a certain period in which to consider the Bill.
We have already seen the difficulties that can arise when it is assumed that a small, unrepresentative group of Members of Parliament, masquerading under the title, "the usual channels", can impose on the rest of the House a timetable to which it might not agree. We have seen that that is the wrong way to approach the matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) pointed out, if that is to be the mechanism with which we have to work until the House sees better and throws it out, people who are not from the usual channels should be involved so that, at the very least, there can be a degree of representation from Members of Parliament who are not in a privileged and titled position. It is important and productive that we have already seen that the Government have sought to demonstrate that the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Front Benches had signed up to the motion when, in fact, they had not.
Mr. Bercow: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is especially unsatisfactory that the Government should seek to circumscribe debate by proposing only 10 Committee sittings for the consideration of 45 clauses when, as he is aware, no fewer than nine of those clauses provide enabling powers for the Government to issue regulations? That is despite the fact that Ministers have not given any indication that they intend to provide the House or Committee members with early sight of a draft of the regulations.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is correct and he touches on another point that should not be forgotten. How can the Government decide the length of the Committee stage before Second Reading and before the House has had an opportunity to demonstrate whether the Bill is controversial and whether it includes detailed matters that require lengthy consideration by the Committee?
Mr. Hogg: It might assist my right hon. Friend to know that he is right to say that the motion is amendable. Perhaps he would like to emphasise that point. Does he agree that, when such motions are proposed in future, the proper course for Opposition Front Benchers is to table an amendment that extends the date, which we should have an opportunity to debate at length?
Mr. Forth: My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench should certainly seek to amend the motion. However, my right hon. and learned Friend, other right hon. and hon. Members and I might have our own thoughts on the matter.
Mr. Miller: If the right hon. Gentleman's assertion is right, and if Opposition Front Benchers were correct in saying that they were not in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope), they could have tabled such an amendment. They chose not to, which proves that my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn was correct.
Mr. Forth: No, that does not follow. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said that we disagreed in principle and in fact with the substance of the motion. We do not therefore have to try to amend it; we can simply vote against it. I hope that we will do that. I intend to do so, and to try to give hon. Members the opportunity to do that.
Mr. Forth: I believe that it is inappropriate for the usual channels to be involved in anything, and I do not believe in the existence of uncontroversial Bills. Most of the worst measures that have emanated from the parliamentary process have been deemed consensual, all party and uncontroversial. They usually end up as thoroughly bad legislation because they have been so poorly scrutinised. The Government are in danger of imposing poor scrutiny on the House as a general principle. That leaves only the prospect of another place conducting proper scrutiny, with us as a subsidiary Chamber.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Will my right hon. Friend comment on our Front-Bench spokesmen's remarks, which have been repeated by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)? He said that, despite the Under- Secretary's claim, the programme motion had not been agreed through the usual channels. Given that this is the first time that such a motion has been put before the House, and that the hon. Member for North Cornwall and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) say that it has not been agreed, will my right hon. Friend give the Minister time to reply to the debate, and to do the courteous and decent thing by withdrawing the motion?
Mr. Forth: I wish that that was a realistic prospect. Sadly, I do not believe that it is. In tonight's sordid episode, on the first occasion that the ghastly new mechanism that the Government have imposed on the House has been used, Ministers have given a less than truthful account of the background to the event. We have received neither a retraction nor an apology from them. That is regrettable but, sadly, typical of the Government. We are faced with an improper and inadequate response to the Second Reading debate.
Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is even more worrying that the timetable motion may mean that the clauses that grant power to make regulations will go through all their stages without the regulations being published? Is not that an even more worrying trend?
Mr. Forth: Given the likely detailed and complex content of the regulations, and their number--we identified at least nine on Second Reading--we are unlikely to get any realistic idea of their content in time for the Committee proceedings.
Mr. Hogg: Is not there a further risk, with which my right hon. Friend is familiar, that the Bill will go to another place without being properly discussed, and return to the House with a host of amendments? They will be the subject of yet more guillotine motions, and we will thus never have an opportunity properly to discuss the Bill's provisions.
We teased out many questions on Second Reading and, during the winding-up speeches, the Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire that he had about 50 questions to deal with and that, probably, there were more yet to be answered. All those 50 points require detailed consideration in Committee.
Mr. Heald: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great mischiefs here is that regulation-making powers may not even be discussed in Committee and that the regulations will all be made under the negative resolution procedure? Important regulations for an important industry could be made without any discussion taking place.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I feel a growing sense of unease. As one of those who, in another capacity, is required from time to time to adjudicate on matters of order, I have listened to the points made from the Opposition and Government Front Benches. I have worked over many hours with the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), and believe him to be an entirely honest and honourable man. I say that without equivocation. However, it is clear that two stories have been given--one by the Minister and another by Opposition Front Benchers. As this is the first time that such a matter has been discussed in the House in such a form, you might consider adjourning the House to allow both sides to reach an agreement and to allow either the Minister or Opposition Front Benchers to withdraw their remarks.