Previous SectionIndexHome Page

8.30 pm

Mr. Hogg: This is a bad day for parliamentary democracy. There are two bad things about it: the motion, to which I shall speak at some length, and the statement of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in which he made it plain that he resented coming to the House on Wednesday to debate foot and mouth disease, on the ground that he had better things to do.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the scope of this debate is very limited indeed. I ask him to confine his remarks to that.

Mr. Hogg: Absolutely, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I said that two bad things had happened today, and I am now coming to the second--the programme motion. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). You may know, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you have had the misfortune to be in the Chair when I have addressed the House on previous programme or guillotine motions, that I have spoken against such motions, which I oppose on principle, six or seven times in the past two months.

I should have thought that the Parliamentary Secretary would have been chary of introducing this programme motion in the House, as the Bill to which it applies makes good a defect in a previous Bill. If the earlier measure had been properly discussed at the time, it might not have resulted in the current Bill. I should have thought that the Parliamentary Secretary would have been chary of asking the House to timetable a Bill, the object of which is to correct his own error. However, he has done so, and I am against that.

In his opening remarks, the Parliamentary Secretary said that four sittings in Committee were sufficient. Splendid, but whose business is it? It is not his business, but that of the Committee. I hope that the House finds it offensive that the Parliamentary Secretary--who has been in the House but a short time--comes here and says that four sittings are sufficient. That may be the advice of his officials, but the House and the Committee should determine how long they wish to spend on a Bill. That period will depend, at least partly, on amendments that are tabled by Members and representations that they receive from those outside the House. That will not be done properly, because the Parliamentary Secretary, from his short experience of political business, thinks that four sittings are enough. Indeed, he even suggested that two sittings may be enough, which raises the interesting

26 Feb 2001 : Column 662

possibility that he could use his substantial majority on the Committee to ensure that the sittings are abbreviated; perhaps some of the tiresome and difficult things that Members of Parliament want to say to him would not be articulated.

One important aspect of the Committee stage is the fact that it enables Back-Bench Members to table amendments articulating the concerns and anxieties of constituents and interested bodies who write to them. The process of curtailing debate curtails the representation of grievances.

Mr. Forth: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree it is highly likely that the volume and complexity of representations on the Bill will be unusually large because of the nature of the legal profession and the implications for court proceedings that the Bill undoubtedly will have? Does he agree that peculiarly in this instance outside representations will be of particular importance?

Mr. Hogg: Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is highly probable that outside representations will be both numerous and extensive. They will reflect also the fact that the legal profession throughout the country has lost confidence in the Government. The Lord Chancellor and the Under-Secretary have forfeited the confidence of much of the profession. Therefore, it will be examining the Bill with an extremely critical eye. I should be surprised if substantial amendments were not tabled at the suggestion of the profession.

My right hon. Friend has identified the problems that are associated with Report stage. On an ordinary calculation, we shall be lucky to have more than an hour to an hour and a half; we might have substantially less. If the Bill had come forward for Report today, for example, it would not have been debated. That is unsatisfactory.

Report provides the one opportunity for Members as a whole to consider the detail of a Bill and to table detailed amendments, and that is important for at least two reasons. First, the Bill might be improved by the tabling of amendments. Secondly, Members can articulate in the Chamber, before other Members who choose to attend, anxieties that reflect the concerns of their constituents.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that this is only the second time that a programme motion has been applied to consideration in Committee, on Third Reading and on Report. The first such motion concerned the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Bill. The Standing Order that was passed by the House on 7 November 2000 provides in paragraph (1)(b) that

I move on to paragraph (7), shall--

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is not far fetched to envisage a programme motion for Committee, Report and Third Reading, but one, given the way in which the Government are going--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman and anyone else who wishes to participate in the debate that we are confined to discussing the programme motion for the Criminal Defence Service (Advice and Assistance) Bill.

Mr. Hogg: I shall deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). I

26 Feb 2001 : Column 663

was aware that this is the second programme motion to apply to consideration in Committee, on Third Reading and on Report, partly owing to the assiduousness of my hon. Friend. I deprecate the process, largely for the reasons advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. We cannot tell now how long will be required for consideration in Committee, on Report or on Third Reading.

As I have said, Report provides the opportunity for the House as a whole to address the detail of the Bill. The House will approach the Bill with the benefit of representations that have been made from outside. The idea that the House can either amend or intelligently discuss a Bill on Report for an hour or an hour and a half is preposterous--or in any event, we cannot say now whether it would be preposterous.

A further point is that we are undermining the basis of democracy, as I have said in previous debates. The country believes that legislation is properly scrutinised. That, at least in part, is why people are prepared to put up with laws, even bad laws. However, what happens when the truth is that a Bill is not scrutinised properly, or at all? The bargain into which people enter as part of a political commonwealth is being stripped away. Bills cannot be debated properly in an hour and a half. If they are not debated properly, where is the legitimacy of what we do? We are profoundly undermining the respect that people will have for the House, and therefore for the authority of Parliament.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My remarks are general, but they do apply to the timetable motion, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is not the motion an affront to democracy? No one knows what might be discussed in Committee or what amendments might be tabled. Until such amendments are tabled and discussed in Committee, no one knows how much time should be allocated for Report and Third Reading.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Why on earth should we limit the debate to one and a half hours, which will effectively be the time allowed? Why should the debate on Report be brought to a conclusion at 6 o'clock? Why should we suppose that there is other pressing business that day? It might be convenient for the House to discuss the Bill until the ordinary time, without any inconvenience to anyone. We are assuming that one and a half hours is appropriate, and that is that.

Very soon we will be deprived of timetable motion debates, because the Government are uncomfortable with such debates and will do away with them, as happened with money resolutions, or, worse still, there will be a five-minute debate. We have been degrading the process.

When I first entered the House many years ago, timetable motions were generally moved by the Leader of the House. When they were not moved by the Leader of the House, they were moved by the Leader's deputy, or sometimes by the Minister at the head of the Department responsible for the Bill. Now, as a matter of course, the timetable motion is moved by the Parliamentary Secretary, who in this case manifestly had not read paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the motion.

26 Feb 2001 : Column 664

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Once again, I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman of the limitations of the debate. Will he please confine his remarks to the programme motion relating to the Bill?

Mr. Hogg: With respect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was directing my remarks to paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the motion when you called me to order.

The point that I was making was that the Parliamentary Secretary, who presented the motion to the House, manifestly had not read paragraphs 4, 5 and 6, or if he had, he had not understood them. That is a lamentable state of affairs. It suggests a contempt for Parliament and the parliamentary process which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and I believe to be wholly wrong.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will join me in the Division Lobby in saying no to the motion, and that we will go on doing so to motion after motion of this kind as it is laid before the House.

Question put:--

The House proceeded to a Division.

Next Section

IndexHome Page