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Mr. Tyler: No, I shall not take any interventions. There is very little time because of the long interventions by the hon. Gentleman and the long speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson).
This programme motion raises another issue. As has already been acknowledged, the Bill is an important measure with two very important parts. The first part deals with changes to the overall procedure by which we buy and sell houses, which is very important to our fellow
The second part of the Bill--it has had insufficient attention until now, but it will certainly require attention today--deals with the preparation and implementation by local authorities of homelessness strategies. Those provisions will require very careful consideration.
As hon. Members have said, the time being provided to discuss eight groups of amendments--74 amendments and new clauses--is insufficient. I really do wonder why the Government thought that it was necessary to complete this business by 10 pm. Liberal Democrat Members would be quite happy to be here until midnight. The business that we are considering is extremely important. It is far more important than some of the debates that we have had to listen to, when the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has kept us here on intrinsically less important issues.
Of the 74 amendments, 28 are Government amendments, demonstrating the Government's acceptance that the measure is unfinished business. Although we may welcome many of those amendments, we do not welcome others and believe that they should be carefully considered.
Previously, the Minister has referred to the measure as work in progress. It is unsatisfactory that, all too often, the House does not complete proper consideration of its legislation and sends that unfinished business to the other place. That is intrinsically inefficient and not a good way of handling our business. This motion does not reflect the Bill's importance, and my colleagues and I shall vote against it.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I have not been following the Homes Bill in great detail, but I have been following in considerable detail the Government's practice of tabling programme motions. I have spoken to five or six such motions since the practice began and I wish to renew my protest.
The House will have only four and a half hours to consider the Bill on Report. There are eight groups of amendments. On any view of the matter, some of those amendments are important. There is no point in the Minister saying that some or most of the amendments are but a reflection of what was said in Committee. Although that may be true, this is the first opportunity on which the House as a whole will have an opportunity to discuss the amendments. It is quite wrong that a practice should be adopted by which the House as a whole does not have the opportunity either to discuss or to vote on a number of substantive amendments.
Although I do not usually agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), he is right on this issue. The consequence of this programme motion is that some substantive amendments will be discussed first in the other place and will return to this place, if at all, essentially as Lords amendments. That cannot be right. It is an abuse of the process of democracy.
My final point is one that I have made before, but it is of cardinal importance. Democracy depends on the electorate believing that legislation has been carefully scrutinised by their representatives in Parliament. That is the assumption on which the political compromises of life stand. If parliamentary representatives are not able to carry out that scrutiny, that assumption falls. If we fail in our duty of scrutiny of legislation and the consequences of Government action and policy, we undermine the basis of accountable government.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): The Minister has repeated Ministers' habitual refrain--that our obligation is merely to tidy up the Bill and engage in a little minor drafting. We are also told that the Government amendments have been tabled to meet Opposition concerns expressed in Standing Committee or on Second Reading.
Mr. Bercow: The Minister chunters from a sedentary position, but he appears to be in disagreement with himself. Members of the Government often disagree with each other; more often than not, Ministers disagree with Conservative Members, and it is not entirely unprecedented for members of Opposition parties to disagree with each other. However, when a Minister on the Treasury Bench disagrees with himself, it signals a new departure. The Minister said that the amendments cover relatively minor matters accommodating drafting changes and Opposition concerns: for him to deny that is, even by the Government's standards, spectacularly foolish and contradictory.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): One group of amendments deals with energy efficiency. The amendments concerned strike me as bureaucratic, interventionist and regulatory nonsense. I should not be surprised if they had been penned by Friends of the Earth. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to debate this rubbish and vote against it.
Mr. Forth: I know. I simply want to illustrate the point being made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow)--that the assumption that our task involves merely routine and trivial tidying up could not be more wrong. The amendments contain some real nonsense, to which we should give detailed attention.
Mr. Bercow: There are important matters to be considered, and much nonsense. There is probably a superfluity of nonsense in the Bill, for the simple reason that it has been devised by a discredited, nanny-state, interventionist, mollycoddling Labour Government of the worst variety.
I apologise sincerely to the House for my understatement. My abiding problem is that I do not speak clearly or loudly enough so that my message is unmistakeable. I am sorry if my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) thinks that I have displayed a certain inhibition and wetness in what I have said, but he will know that I do not propose to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), even to the extent of the dotting of an i or crossing of a t.
As a member of the Conservative Front-Bench team, I sign up with enthusiasm and alacrity to the principle of collective responsibility. Therefore, it is to be assumed that I am in agreement with my Front-Bench colleagues in every particular and at all times. However, I am but one small and humble--[Interruption.] Whether or not I am humble, I am certainly small. I am only one of the 659 hon. Members in this House, and I repeat the important point that other hon. Members should be able to consider the amendments--Government, Conservative and Liberal Democrat--that have been tabled. That is especially true for hon. Members who did not have the privilege of belonging to the Standing Committee. I feel sure that my right hon. Friend has views on each of the 74 new clauses and amendments, and he should have at least a modest opportunity to express those views.
It is both salutary and illustrative of the attitude of the new robots who pepper the Labour Benches that the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), who said that we need not trouble ourselves with any significant consideration because these matters had been debated in detail in Committee, has--entirely appropriately, in one sense--absented himself from the Chamber. He was apparently on the Standing Committee, and we congratulate him on the status he thereby acquired. He thinks that the Government have got it right. He thinks that there has been enough discussion. He thinks that his assessment should suffice as the assessment of the House as a whole.
If other right hon. and hon. Members take a different view, what do the Government propose? Do they seek to persuade and convert by power and argument? No. What are those pigs I see flying before my eyes? Instead, they propose to ram through their intended truncation of debate on the strength of a whipped vote, with all the new robots going through the Lobby on the strength of the payroll vote, the knuckle-crunching, the threats, the favours, the offers and the denials that are within the power of the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)--the Patronage Secretary--and her underlings on the Treasury Bench.
The majority of Labour Members of Parliament are probably aware of, at best, one tenth of the contents of the Bill--generosity tends to get the better of me. The betting is that they care about an even smaller proportion of the provisions than that. Some of us do care about the provisions, however. Some of us are inclined to pursue--it is relevant to homes, the involvement of local authorities and the state of local government expenditure--the implications of measures that the Government might take for the state of local finances.
I would welcome the opportunity to express a view and to hear that of the Minister on, for example, the effect of the change in the rules governing the use of capital receipts from the sale of council houses on the size of interest repayments on local authority debt. I might be tempted to expatiate on that subject because it is important
The Government's attitude is, "We have our view; we have the majority; we simply do not care what you think." I emphasise that whenever we mention the public, who might be interested in our proceedings, the unfailing reaction of Members on the Government Benches is to snort and say, "How many?". They do not think that members of the public are interested in our debates. If they are not, it is because of the sheer disdain, indifference and contempt with which this anti-parliamentary, new Labour, quack Administration treat right hon. and hon. Members. Quite frankly, their attitude is plastic, supercilious--