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Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): As you, Mr. Speaker, were kind enough to say that the question of amendments at the Committee stage would be a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means, I took that to mean that Members of the House would at least be able to table amendments at that stage so that they could be considered by the Chairman of Ways and Means. I regarded that as

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enlightening the House. Did my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) have the same impression?

Mr. Hogg: Yes, I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend is right about that. However, whether the amendments, new clauses and new schedules will be debatable or debated is a matter partly for the timetable and partly for the discretion of the Chairman of Ways and Means. You are nodding, Mr. Speaker, so I assume that I have got it right, which is of great reassurance to me--

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps I can help the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Amendments and new schedules can be tabled, but it is at the discretion of the Chair whether they are accepted for debate.

Mr. Hogg: The point that I think my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) wants to make, and which I certainly want to make, is that as the Government thought it right to make provision for the tabling of amendments, new schedules and whatever up until the moment of Second Reading, it would have been perfectly possible for them to have covered the Committee stage and Report. Had they done that, people such as myself and my right hon. and learned Friend would have been much happier.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I doubt it.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman says that he doubts it, but the truth is that many Members are seriously concerned about the House's procedures. They feel that the House has been abused by Labour Members over a long period--[Interruption.]

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that shouting by Government Members from a sedentary position once again reinforces a point that so many Conservative Members have believed for a long time--Labour Members do not care about democracy. They believe in an elective dictatorship, and this motion is yet another example of that.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) will not answer that intervention.

Mr. Hogg: In view of your comments, Mr. Speaker, I will not respond in detail to my hon. Friend's comments. However, had we more confidence in the democratic credentials of the Labour party, we should be happier with the motion.

The plain truth is that the Bill is important. It will affect many individuals. It also raises technical points of some complexity. One can determine what the amendments should be only as a result partly of representations made from outside and partly from debate in the House. Under the motion, all that we will be able to do with certainty is to table amendments right up until the end of the Second Reading debate, but not thereafter. We should be much happier if we could do so during Committee and during Report stage, if there is one.

That brings me to my final point. We have been told by the Minister of State, Home Office that draft copies of the Bill were given to my hon. Friend the Member for

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Tiverton and Honiton and, no doubt, to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)--or whoever--in the Liberal Democratic party. That is good as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. The hon. Member for North Antrim made the point, as did the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), that the Ulster Unionists were not given a proper view of any draft Bill. Scottish National party Members have said nothing, because none of them are in the Chamber, but no doubt they were in a similar position.

It is a lamentable state of affairs when significant minority parties are ignored. Indeed, the matter goes much further than that. What are the rights of Back Benchers? I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton received the draft Bill. That is splendid, but as she knows full well, I often proceed on my own agenda, and I would have liked to have seen the Bill--and so, I am sure, would my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

Mrs. Browning: I remind my right hon. and learned Friend that in my opening remarks I emphasised that although Conservative Front-Bench Members received a copy of the draft Bill last night, as shadow Leader of the House I was concerned about the rights of Back Benchers.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is always so concerned, which is very much to her credit, but I take advantage of the opportunity to say that it is the duty of the Government to consult the House if they want their legislation to be passed. We are the House; it is not only my hon. Friend.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): The House, c'est moi.

Mr. Hogg: No, we are the House, and I even include the hon. Gentleman in that, although I sometimes find that a rather difficult thing to do.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has been saying for a long time that the Government should have published enabling provisions for the legislation some time ago. If the Government had heeded his advice, a draft Bill would have been published 10 or 14 days ago and we would have had an informed discussion last week after proper consultation with the Local Government Association and other representatives. As it is, an important constitutional Bill will be rammed through the House tomorrow on the back of this motion and a timetable motion, the contents of which we do not know--and on any view of the matter that is profoundly unsatisfactory.

4.46 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) have made a particularly important point about the fact that a copy of the draft Bill was provided only for official Opposition Front-Bench Members and not to the hon. Gentleman, even though, as he pointed out, he is the leader of a party in Northern Ireland.

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I have the advantage of having a copy of that draft Bill. One of the significant changes to the Bill since last night refers, as the hon. Gentleman suspected it would, to Northern Ireland. Clause 4 contains no fewer than six changes to the text about Northern Ireland--[Interruption.] I am trying to restrict my comments to the motion. The concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. If the hon. Gentleman wants to be as good as his word and to restrict his comments to the motion, he will have to wait another day to continue with his point.

Mr. Hawkins: My point concerns the way in which amendments can be tabled, and it was made by the hon. Member for North Antrim. He is a party leader, but he did not have the advantage of seeing the draft Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton did, so it is difficult for him to know how to table amendments. As he says, much of the Bill relates to Northern Ireland. One of the significant changes made to the Bill since last night relates to the text on Northern Ireland, and I have counted no fewer than six amendments. That makes it more difficult to table amendments--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The motion is not concerned with difficulty; it is simply about timing.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I simply wanted to echo the point about minority parties which was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. It will be difficult to debate amendments when even the leaders of minority parties have not have the chance to see the draft Bill.

4.49 pm

Mr. Charles Clarke: With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall respond briefly to the debate. On an earlier point of order, I apologised to the leaders of Northern Ireland parties for the difficulties. I subsequently learned that part copies were given to the party offices yesterday evening, but they took more time to emerge than is desirable. I apologise again for those difficulties.

I emphasise that whatever the date until which local elections are postponed, we need legislation forthwith to effect the postponement. That is why we are using this rapid process, and everybody agrees that it is in the greater interest of all those involved in the local elections rapidly to enact the legislation.

Mr. Forth: Surely the Minister must concede that we have been put in this position because the Prime Minister has delayed making his decision until the last possible moment, so to say that we must agree to the motion because of the timetable for the local elections is to put things back to front.

Mr. Clarke: I hear that political point, but I simply say that the Prime Minister likes to take decisions on the basis of the facts, rather than on the basis of situations that otherwise might become apparent.

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The main point to make on the motion is that the House has only one matter to determine: does it wish to extend the rights of Members to give notice of amendments, new clauses and new schedules? That is the only issue that must be addressed.

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