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4.44 pm

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): The programme motion offers a brief timetable for seeing the Bill through. I have seen crocodile tears being shed, and a bit of a song and dance going on, rather like in a university debating society. However, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said that an important principle is at stake, and there is no doubt about that.

Two new clauses have been selected; there are eight clauses in the Bill. Two other possible amendments were tabled for debate, but not selected. The Government have decided to pass the Bill in its entirety without accepting any amendments--or, at least, not wanting any votes on them. The reason is that the Bill impinges on constitutional issues relating to the Government of Wales Act 1998, and perhaps we shall get to the bottom of some of them in the short debate that follows this one. I do not think that the Government will give way on any of them because there are important legal principles at stake, but I am sure that they will be examined in great detail in another place. We shall see what the Bill looks like when it returns to the House and we debate the Lords amendments.

Most hon. Members agree on the need for an independent Children's Commissioner for Wales, and the Liberal Democrats do not want to delay that process. However, we also want the best possible independent Children's Commissioner, who will serve the children of

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Wales and in Wales. There is undoubtedly an element of determination behind the Bill, and it would be better for us to get on and to debate it on Third Reading. This is no time for pontificating; it is time for getting on.

4.47 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I share the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) on this matter. It is incumbent on the House, each time the Government introduce a programme motion, to give it proper consideration. However, these programme motions are guillotines: we are being subjected to serial guillotines.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) rather mischievously implied that such proceedings had been perfectly routine under the previous Conservative Government, and that things were no different now. The hon. Gentleman's brain has obviously been addled by his years in Europe. He must remember that, during the glorious 18 years of the previous Government, when a Bill had had very lengthy consideration in Committee and been gratuitously obstructed by the Labour party in opposition, the then Government would introduce a motion to curtail debate and to move on. However, the Labour Government have routinely guillotine Bills from the off before having any idea of the likely length of time needed for proper consideration in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading. That is a key difference, which I hope that even the hon. Member for Bridgend will concede on reflection.

Mr. Win Griffiths: The right hon. Gentleman also served in Europe. I do not want to cast aspersions on his time there and the effect on his brain. However, does he recall the time when we served on a Committee that considered an education Bill in 1992-93? The proceedings were guillotined well before the 100 hours to which the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred as the magic number that the previous Government had used.

Mr. Forth: I do not want to fall out with the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have perfectly civilised relations outside the Chamber. Perhaps we could settle the matter over a cup of tea. I remember matters differently. When I first became a Member of Parliament in 1983, along with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it was not unusual for a large Bill--the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman referred had approximately 350 clauses and 50 schedules--to receive 150 or more hours of consideration in Committee before a guillotine was even suggested. Guillotines were introduced after less time much later. However, today we are discussing not hours, but minutes. We are being allowed only minutes in which to consider key stages of a Bill.

It is all very well for my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) to agree with the Minister that the proceedings were consensual and chummy and that people were on first name terms and so on. That is beside the point. Every Bill deserves proper scrutiny. The more horrendously consensual the approach, the more scrutiny the measure deserves. Some of the worst legislation to emanate from this place had the ghastly appellation,

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"all-party support". In the legislative world, there is nothing worse than a Bill with all-party support. It inevitably ends up as sloppy, loose and damaging.

It is not good enough to say that the Lords will sort matters out after we have been happily consensual, failed to do our job, or rushed matters through for political reasons or because we believed that a particular measure would be attractive to the electorate. It is even worse to rush through a measure because we believe it has a title that is too good to oppose. All those reasons apply to the Bill. It is unacceptable to rely on Tony's cronies, the unelected Members of another place, properly to scrutinise a Bill that we have fiddled through.

Let me remind hon. Members of the Government's intention. They tell us that we have from 5.15 to 6.15 pm on Report; they allow the House of Commons only one hour. It has been pointed out that the amendment paper contains two new clauses. New clauses are serious provisions and deserve proper scrutiny. The fact that they have been selected shows that they are important and deserve the House's full attention.

It is possible that 400 hon. Members could turn up in the next half hour, pack the Chamber and want to contribute, as they are entitled to do, to consideration of new clauses 2 and 3. My arithmetical ability just about extends to making the calculation: 400 Members of Parliament, each considering two new clauses in an hour. There is not enough time for each hon. Member to have a proper opportunity to do that.

To be fair, the position that I outlined was theoretical. Let us consider the real position. Three Labour Back Benchers, one Plaid Cymru Member, one Liberal Democrat and, happily, four Opposition Back Benchers are present. Even if no other hon. Member attends the debate, seven or eight hon. Members may wish to participate. Seven hon. Members multiplied by two new clauses is 14. Sixty minutes divided by 14 equals a maximum of four or five minutes for each hon. Member to make a contribution on the new clauses.

I do not know whether Labour Back Benchers believe that they can represent their constituents adequately on the matter that we are considering. I am sure that they will return to their constituencies and issue press releases that state that the matter is very important, the Government are wonderful, the atmosphere is consensual, the public are lucky to have the Bill and that they have been dying for such a measure. I bet they do not add, "By the way, I had four minutes to discuss it on your behalf in the House of Commons." However, that is the time that the Government are allowing hon. Members to discuss the matter on behalf of their constituents. It is inadequate; hon. Members should not be put in that position. I almost feel sorry for Labour Members when I think of them having to account to their electors for their Government allowing them only four minutes each to consider the new clauses.

Mr. Hogg: Is not the point further aggravated by the fact that we are considering new clauses? In effect, our proceedings will constitute Second Reading of the new clauses. What has happened to the Committee stage? There will be no detailed discussion, and that makes the position even worse.

Mr. Forth: My right hon. and learned Friend is correct. I will not discuss the substance of the new clauses

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because, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would not want me to do so. However, new clause 2 says that the commissioner

That could be worth discussing. It might even be somewhat controversial.

New clause 3 talks about

That is important. Allowing somebody called a commissioner access to institutions smacks of what we thought we had put behind us. The commissioner will have access to institutions with the power of statute behind him. At the very least, that requires considerable thought. I wish we could table amendments to the new clauses, because I would be tempted to do so. In fact, that would have to be done by Tony's cronies at the other end of the building, not by the elected House of Commons. The more we consider this matter, the worse it becomes.

The Minister thought that he was being clever when he challenged my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset and asked why, if there was so much interest, there were not more amendments. My hon. Friend pointed out that amendments were tabled and were not selected. We cannot discuss or challenge that, but that is not my point. My point reflects that made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. The tragedy is that, because hon. Members know that the Government will allow only an hour for the Report stage of a Bill such as this, I suspect that many of them say, "What on earth is the point of tabling amendments when they will almost certainly not receive proper consideration?".

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