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Mr. Thomas: I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which is why I oppose the programme motion.

As I was about to say, last week the National Assembly for Wales announced the principles of its national plan for the health service in Wales. That raises many issues which should be debated in the context of the Bill, such as the abolition of health authorities in Wales and the fact that many people in Wales want CHCs to be improved, not abolished. There is a moot question whether the Bill allows Wales to change CHCs in a positive way, not merely retain or abolish them. There is also the question of long-term care for the elderly, which now faces people in Wales as, previously, it faced people in Scotland.

Dr. Brand: I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) is too modest to point out to the hon. Gentleman that he had to make the case for giving powers to the National Assembly for Wales to make its own decisions on matters such as personal care and nursing.

Mr. Thomas: I am grateful for that information. I am sure that many hon. Members do not forget Wales. My point is that we need Members from Wales to ensure that all the issues are put across. I am sure that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) did his best, but it is important that we acknowledge that, on Report, ordinary Back-Bench Members have an opportunity to scrutinise legislation and to support or oppose individual amendments.

My particular concern is that the worthy and correct debate that we will have on CHCs in England, which may not affect people in Wales as much, will take up so much time--as it should--that we will not have time for the full debate that we need on new clause 3 and the definition of nursing versus personal care. With all due respect to those who have been so concerned about community health councils, to me an even greater issue in the long term is how we look after the increasing elderly population in the United Kingdom. We may run up against the buffers of 9 pm while we are discussing that.

Although I feel quite warm towards much of what the Government do in the name of modernisation, I do not believe that modernisation should equate to a lack of time for scrutiny of any aspect of legislation. Because I do not think that we will have sufficient time for scrutiny on Report, I shall oppose the programme motion.

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4.30 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I commend to the Leader of the House the speeches that have been made on the guillotine motion. The motion is in the name of the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for Health, neither of whom had the courtesy to move the motion personally, although it touches on the principal reason why we are in this place: the scrutiny of legislation and the holding of Governments to account. The motion needed the authority of a Cabinet member.

My objection is similar to that of my hon. Friends, but it is wider ranging. Since the Queen's Speech, all Bills have been treated to the guillotine procedure. It is a new procedure, brought in only by a Government majority imposing a new system on the House. My opposition to guillotines goes back a long time. It came about when I first perceived the guillotine as the means by which the Executive could govern the House more totally than it had ever been governed in the past. I used to keep count of the number of guillotines imposed under Mrs. Thatcher--39 or possibly 41; my memory may not be accurate. This Government have been responsible for many more guillotines than were ever envisaged in the 11 years of Mrs. Thatcher.

Under the new device, everything is to be guillotined. Behind that is a Modernisation Committee assumption, which appeared in the first report of that Committee: the Government are entitled to get their business. That was repeated in the Modernisation Committee report that initiated the train of guillotines. It is an entirely new constitutional proposition that a Government are entitled to get their business. That, effectively, is what the guillotine motion states. Scrutiny is not required--the only condition is that the Government have a majority.

The use of the guillotine procedure is a celebration of majoritarianism. The due process by which we achieve consent and acquiescence is thrown out of the window. It does not matter what the Opposition say, because the Government majority will prevail. The logical next step in new Labour's thinking is, "Why do we bother listening to what others say? We have the majority." That view was well expressed by the Leader of the House on Monday and by her one machine gunner in support of that proposition, when Chairmen and members of Select Committees presented their views on the report, "Shifting the Balance".

The Government are increasing their power and their contempt for the House of Commons through motions such as this and the Standing Orders that inform them. It is a denial of the purpose and function of the House of Commons. Ministers who were in opposition for many years know that I say that genuinely. Their views when they were in opposition were an important part of forming public opinion and testing whether the public gave its consent and acquiescence to the measure in question.

The subject of the Bill, community health, is particularly important to many of us. Earlier, we all watched the Prime Minister dancing, yet again. I never know whether he is making a journey between fantasy, half-remembrance and retrieved memories, or just making it up as he goes along. We half expect an announcement of some concession on community health. Whether that can be incorporated into the Bill when a consultation process is still under way raises another question: what is the purpose of legislating on Wednesday, only for the

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House of Lords to accommodate further changes at a later stage, following the completion of that quiet consultation process?

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): The hon. Gentleman rails against the Government for using their democratically elected majority to get their business through the House. Does he also rail against the other place for using its huge undemocratically elected majority to hold up business?

Mr. Shepherd: A majority ultimately comes into play, but let us be clear that we are discussing the process. That process, which the motion tries to deny, involves the rights of Members--who represent diverse communities--and their only opportunity, if they are not members of a Standing Committee, to discuss the issues that they deem to be important. That is called process, but the new system has effectively eliminated it.

As a member of the Modernisation Committee, I know that there is great concern about the arrangements, the way in which they are dumped on to the House and the contempt that they bring to it. There is also anxiety that they do not satisfy the one genuine cry of many new Labour Members: "Can we not go home earlier?" I happen to respect that cry. I am not sure why hon. Members should be in the Chamber at midnight when we could start at 9 am, but it was the Government who did not want us to start earlier.

Dr. Fox: I have a further point in line with what my hon. Friend is saying. The Government might cave in to some extent today on community health councils, but there will be restricted time for consideration of any new proposals. Not only will we have little time at this sitting, if the proposals are amended in the other place our consideration will be guillotined yet again, which will be a double insult to us and to our constituents.

Mr. Shepherd: That is the essence of the point that I am trying to make. The Government are not interested in the process or in the fact that we may or may not discuss these matters. No Government should consciously impose an absurd guillotine such as that in the motion--and the motion is not isolated; it is part of the Labour Government's consistent policy to relegate the proper processes within which we try to represent our electorate. There is no question about that.

The Government now try to make us use polite terms such as "programme motion". I notice that that has worked with some hon. Members, even on the Conservative Front Bench. I think that it was an American politician who said that if it squawks like a duck, walks like a duck and looks like a duck, then it is a duck. We are considering a guillotine motion. I reiterate that no Government can sustain themselves in the regard of the people when they treat elected representatives in such a manner. That does not apply only to Conservative Members, as the Government are doing the same to their Back Benchers, some of whom, through lack of experience or wide-eyed optimism, hope that all will come right.

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We have a purpose that survives beyond the existence of individual Governments and Parliaments. It is a continuing theme of the British people that they are properly represented and that their elected representatives can speak honourably and openly on the issues of the day.

4.38 pm

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I support my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who spoke with considerable passion. I want to speak not about the constitutional issues, but merely the practical issues raised by the programme motion--or the guillotine, as my hon. Friend called it.

Mr. Speaker has selected nine groups of amendments and new clauses for debate in only five--or maybe four--short hours. That is half an hour per grouping. We have already established that the group that relates to community health councils, which has the heading "Representation of patients", contains 22 amendments and new clauses.

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