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David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden): The hon. Gentleman said that we should not try to score points off each other, but I should like to give a single example in relation to which his remarks about the guillotine or timetable system being driven by timewasting are incorrect. During consideration of the Bill that became the Football (Disorder) Act 2000, a serious human rights issue arose: the circumstances in which passports should be taken away on the basis of suspicion. Timetabling meant that it was impossible to amend the Bill in that crucial respect. Many of the hon. Members who were present, including a former Attorney-General, wanted to introduce a constructive amendment, but it was impossible for them to do so. The way in which timetabling is currently run prevents the House from exercising its proper right and duty as a defender of civil liberties.

Mr. Soley: I am not arguing that we got everything right. The circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman describes arose partly because of other things that had been happening at about that time. I say to him that we attempted to allow control of time by the Opposition and Back Benchers in general. I acknowledge that we have not yet got that right, but that is what can be achieved. It will happen only if the Opposition are fully involved. The quid pro quo for the Government getting their legislation on time--that has always been achieved through use of the guillotine, whether by the previous or current Governments--is that Opposition parties and Back Benchers have control of the timing of debates and can prevent Governments from kicking the difficult bits into the early hours of the morning, or whatever else.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): The hon. Gentleman suggests that we have not had enough modernisation. Have not there been four years of modernisation followed by a very low turnout in a general election? How does he explain the fact that 20 years ago, when by present standards the House was thoroughly unmodernised and had all-night sittings and all the features that he has described, voter turnouts in general elections and, arguably, interest in politics and this place were much higher?

Mr. Soley: I could give the hon. Gentleman a range of answers. I have said for some years that the House was most successful in the 19th century and early 20th century. After that, it did not change. We did not change the constitution or the practices of the House. For many reasons, those practices became increasingly out of kilter with normal thinking and behaviour. If he believes that the public like the idea of his sitting up all night debating nothing in particular when most legislation is passed without scrutiny, he is not listening to them. I am considering not other aspects of hon. Members' work, but our effectiveness in examining Bills.

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If we are to improve our effectiveness, we must do much more to modernise. There is an opportunity for the parties to come together. If the Government got anything wrong about the modernisation process, it was our attempt to work with other parties and get them on board. The phrase "got wrong" is perhaps inappropriate, because we should not have done otherwise. However, the process was consequently much slower than I would have liked and some aspects did not work. If Conservative Members will not come on board, we must modernise the House without their co-operation. That is undesirable.

We can consider a range of issues together, such as the operation of Select Committees and the Chamber. We could produce many more draft Bills. The media also have a role to play. The draft Bill procedure was described in The Guardian yesterday as a way of putting matters on hold, whereas it is an opportunity for people inside and outside the House, and those who are affected by legislation, to consider and comment on it in draft so that it can be put into better shape.

A range of achievements is possible, but the House must have the will to make them. It is not a matter for us, but the House of Lords desperately needs to reform itself. We can help to reform the way in which people reach the other place, but one or two incidents that people witnessed there yesterday may make them wish to reconsider structures in the House of Lords.

On several occasions, I have said that we need to reconsider the oath. There are many republicans here. I remember the late Willie Hamilton, who swore allegiance to the Queen but then denounced her and all her works. An oath to Parliament and democracy might be a better way forward. Hon. Members would be free to take the oath to the Queen and Parliament if they wished.

David Davis: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for intervening on him twice. There is a genuine problem at the core of the timetabling system. The hon. Gentleman talks about the involvement of Opposition Front Benchers and Back Benchers in the process, but timetabling is a deal between Front Benchers. Independent Back Benchers are often the strongest defenders of liberties in the House. They do not have sufficient influence over decisions about crucial individual clauses that they want to debate at length.

Mr. Soley: I do not believe that we have got everything right. There is room for movement and we have to reconsider some matters. However, everyone loses patience with the approach of, "Let's keep discussing the programme motion for another three quarters of an hour because we can do that" for the fun of it. If that is the name of the game, we must simply plough ahead with modernisation.

I have spoken primarily about public services. It would be easier to convince the public of the need to reform public services if we reformed ourselves.

2.54 pm

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I congratulate the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on a well deserved promotion. Plenty of such elevations are neither promotions nor well deserved, but that is not true of her. I also congratulate the Minister of State, Department of Health on her well deserved promotion.

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Both Ministers are in important "delivery" Departments, and I expect that they may find the Parliament hard going. Again, the Government will be unable to meet the electorate's expectations. They will find themselves defending the indefensible, supporting the unsupportable and trying to justify the unjustifiable. Some contributions from Labour Members today have displayed a little of that.

I want to focus on four main themes. First, I want to examine the evidence on which Government policy on public services will or will not be based. Secondly, I want to consider whether the policies are planned or haphazard. Do they constitute arrival at a destination by a series of initiatives and gimmicks rather than by a clear plan? Thirdly, I wish to discuss whether the Government's approach is honest from the outset, not only towards the electorate and the staff who work in the public services, but towards Labour Back Benchers, who will ask questions about the Government's direction. Staff, the electorate and hon. Members--even Labour Members--deserve an honest account of their aims. Fourthly, I want to examine whether their proposed policies are well considered in the wider context of society.

I shall not detain the House for too long on those themes because many hon. Members wish to speak, including new Members. I hope that my hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) will catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. They bring a wealth of experience to the Liberal Democrat Benches and to the House.

On the issue of evidence, what evaluation have the Government made of the virtues of more private sector involvement in public services? What academic evaluations can the Government cite to show that the private finance initiative in the health service has been a success in providing value for money and in achieving their objectives? Such academic work has been undertaken in a series of articles in the British Medical Journal by the professor of public policy and her department at the university of London. She presents clear evidence and conclusions to show that the Government's implementation of the private finance initiative has been and will be a disaster. Instead of commissioning or citing more research, the Government have responded by attacking the researchers' credentials.

Perhaps Private Eye is the Government's journal of record since they do not respect the British Medical Journal. Private Eye states that, when the Secretary of State for Health appeared on "Channel Four News" during the election campaign, and

I suspect that all three of those words were meant as an insult. Instead of trying to abuse and denigrate researchers, the Government should commission or cite research that shows that PFI works.

The Government should take account of good, peer-reviewed research papers. Their idea of peer review is getting Lord Falconer and Baroness Jay to cast their eye over a press release.

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Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there was a gap in the speech of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills? She did not explain what the private sector would get out of PFI or privatised health and education services. At least Conservative Front-Bench Members are plain about the matter; their answer is profit. What is the advantage of the Government's policies to the private sector? Is not it also profit from the public purse?

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