Previous SectionIndexHome Page

2 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I join my colleagues in opposing the motion.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), I am opposed in principle to so-called programme motions.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): Guillotines.

Mr. Howarth: Indeed, they are effectively guillotines. The fact that they are undemocratic, curtailing Members' opportunity to hold the Executive to account, has been amply demonstrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester.

Today's Order Paper illustrates the fatuous nature of programme motions. It features no fewer than three guillotines--if I may bow to the description preferred by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills--and I think the first justifies our complaints. In the motion that we are discussing, and also in the others, the Government seek to impose not so much time limits as a schedule specifying the time by which we shall be deemed to have completed consideration of what are, in some instances, complex matters. The first motion, for example, shows the fatuousness of the original proposal that proceedings on the Hunting Bill should be completed by a certain time, because the Government must now return to the House--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, and I realise that he could not be here for the opening speeches, but we are discussing a specific programme motion relating to the Social Security Contributions (Share Options) Bill, and he must confine his remarks to that.

Mr. Howarth: I was trying to illustrate my opposition to programme motions in general, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I take your point.

I wonder how many more times the Government will come back to the House and ask us to amend an earlier programme motion. Clearly, that will not happen in this case, as the motion we are discussing relates only to consideration and Third Reading--and, of course, to consideration of Lords amendments and further messages from the Lords. I must confess that I am not sure what all that means: the wording is couched in references to such and such paragraphs of the ghastly Sessional Order that is the fount of all the misery we are having to endure as a result of the Government's determination to curtail debate in the House.

We are discussing an extremely important Bill. Although I have considerable experience of the City and international banking, I do not claim to be an expert in the particularities of the share-options issues that lie behind the Bill. Fortunately for us--not just Conservative Members, but Members throughout the House--my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) has such expertise. He bears testimony to the value of Members who have worked in the real world and bring experience of it to the House. Such experience is especially likely to inform debates on such matters as share options, in which my hon. Friend is extremely well versed. It could also be said that his expertise makes the

8 Feb 2001 : Column 1098

case for Members' maintaining familiarity with such issues by having outside interests--but I will not pursue that point.

The Bill constitutes the Government's second attempt to reform their own legislation. Having failed to produce a sensible measure earlier, they have had to return to the House. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester that the Minister is an extremely good Minister; it is just a shame that he is in the wrong party. But the fact that he is such a good Minister--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman seems unable to concentrate on the motion. Interesting and complimentary though some of his asides have been, they are not relevant to the matter before us.

Mr. Howarth: I hesitate to compliment you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I entirely accept your guidance.

This is a complex matter that should have proper scrutiny. I object in principle to programme motions, and I object in particular to this one.

Mr. Tyrie: Will my hon. Friend give some thought to how such a first-rate Minister could end up introducing such a shoddy Bill and still be unable to get it straight? Does my hon. Friend think that programming is the right way to try to force through such a Bill in these circumstances?

Mr. Howarth: Such matters will always be conducted for the convenience of Governments. We should not forget that there were guillotine motions when we were in government. There will always be rational arguments that will persuade Ministers to support guillotine motions, or programme motions, as we now call them.

I am sure that, even if the Minister wanted to spend more time properly assessing and discussing the issues with hon. Members, he would nevertheless be under pressure not to do so, but to comply with the requirements of the sewers of Westminster, as they are known collectively--not the Minister, of course--to ensure that the Government get through their business as quickly as possible, regardless of whether it has had proper scrutiny in the House.

2.7 pm

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Mr. Deputy Speaker, I apologise to you and to the House for not being here at the start of this important item of business. I was able, by another means, to follow some of the Minister's introduction to the programme motion.

I am disappointed that a piece of business dealing with social security and national insurance issues should be introduced by a Treasury Minister. Up to now, most business of this nature has proceeded on an amicable, nay, even consensual, basis in the House of Commons. Since I have been in the House, I have been involved, from the Government and the Opposition Benches, with five Finance Bills and each one has managed to achieve its objectives by agreements through the usual channels. Some of the contents of those Bills have touched on, or dealt with, the issues in this measure.

However, we are now debating a programme motion on a matter that is clearly not of great controversy between the two Front Benches, in terms of the principle,

8 Feb 2001 : Column 1099

at this stage. However, the drafting and objectives of the Bill require further debate, and I shall come to those points in a moment. It is sad that the programme motion breaks away from an important point of tradition on the way in which financial matters such as these have always been dealt with.

I had always thought that the reason for introducing a programme motion--or guillotine motion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said--was that the Government of the day had been filibustered or were in danger of not completing their business. Under the procedures introduced, and in the context of this type of measure, that risk is not there. The Government seem to be on auto-pilot, in that we have to go through this process every time a piece of business is introduced. There is no selectivity. There is no trust between the two sides of the House that some business will pass unimpeded, without the need to impose this rigidity on us.

Why do I object to the programme motion before us today? The debate is scheduled to end at 2.17 pm. By 3.30 this afternoon, or half-past three of the clock as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) more correctly describes it, we are supposed to have considered nine detailed Government amendments. They may improve the Bill.

Mr. Tyrie: How will we know?

Mr. Jack: That is a good question, which leads me to my central point. The Government amendments amount to a fundamental rewrite of clause 3. Yet there is inadequate time for us to probe more thoroughly the failings of any pre-legislative consultation exercise on the Bill. In earlier proceedings, the Government made much of the fact that the Bill had been introduced because of representations from third parties. There is not enough time for us to discover what went wrong between the receipt of those representations, the original drafting and the effective rewrite of clause 3. There is insufficient time to consider the failings in policy development or draftsmanship.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Does my right hon. Friend know of any Bill since the Queen's Speech that has been subject to the pre-legislative scrutiny procedure? Would it not be better for more Bills to be subject to such scrutiny? Perhaps they would not need to be timetabled if that happened.

Mr. Jack: I understand my hon. Friend's point. However, although pre-legislative scrutiny provides an opportunity for technical measures such as the Bill to be considered in detail, it should never replace proper, thorough debate and scrutiny in the Chamber and in Committee. A Bill will be introduced on capital allowances shortly. Although it will have received a great deal of input from outside opinion, that does not remove the right and role of the House to scrutinise.

Given the detail in some Government amendments, which I am sure my hon. Friend has considered, there is insufficient opportunity to consider their implications. Although is not right to debate Government amendment No. 3 now, let me just point out that it introduces proposed new section 4A, which establishes labyrinthine

8 Feb 2001 : Column 1100

interconnections. It would take a good two hours for even an excellent Financial Secretary to explain, for example, how the Corporation Taxes Act 1988 and the various connections between sections 135 and 136 relate to the proposals.

The wording in the amendment is tortuous. The tax law rewrite exercise has shone little light on it. I should have liked at least a quarter of an hour to probe the Financial Secretary about the reason for such tortuous language. I should like another hour to take him, with meticulous care, through some of the reasoning behind rewriting so much of the Bill.

An advantage of Report is that it gives hon. Members who have not served on the Standing Committee the opportunity to hear in detail the reasons for tabling further amendments.

Next Section

IndexHome Page