|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I do not decry the fact that the Government eventually took away their motion and incorporated my amendment; it would be extraordinarily bad-tempered and unpleasant of me not to welcome that. What I find inexplicable, though, is that having agreed that that was what was going to happen, it took the Government from 26 June to this very day to find any time whatsoever in the parliamentary timetable to enable the motion to be debated so that we could make a decision. Are they
really saying that in nearly four weeks we could not have found an hour and a halfthat is all that it would have been neededto debate this matter and get it through? Of course we could have done that. One of the paradoxes that several Members have commented on in recent weeks is that this motion is about trying to organise our business in a way that suits the House rather than the Executive, yet we have been prevented from debating it for three or four weeks because the Executive decided that the House could not have the time to discuss its business. That is a fundamental flaw in the Governments approach.
Mr. Harper: The hon. Gentleman is being overly generous to the Government in saying that they allowed this evenings debate. They allowed it to happen only because if they had not done so, and the motion had been objected to again today and tomorrow, they would not have got their businessbecause they were forced into it, not because they wanted us to debate the motion.
Mr. Heath: My difficulty with what the hon. Gentleman says is that this is not the Governments business but oursit is the business of the House in reforming itself and making itself more relevant. I am trying to express my frustration at the fact that this debate has been held up by our not being allowed the modest amount of time that would have been required to have it at a much earlier stage.
The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) could have had his Committee up and runningit could have been doing its work and, in due course, have reported on everything that we wanted it to report on. Instead, it has been frustrated by the lack of time and the objections of Members. I do not object to the fact that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) shouted Object every time that the motion came up, because he had every right to do so if he wanted to debate the matter; what was wrong was the fact that no time was then given to enable the debate to take place. That was entirely in the hands of the Government.
Mr. Heath: I am not a member of the usual channels. I do not know who they comprise of and I have no idea how they reach their decisionsall I know is that they often bypass the wishes of most Members of this House. That is what is wrong, and that is why we need a proper business Committee, which I hope will be determined to be the right course of action. That Committee should set out the business of the House in a way that facilitates debate, ensures that we deal with the issues that are important to Members of this House, and does not frustrate the Governments businessthat would not be the purpose of a well-organised Committeebut allows the House to debate properly, in good time, the things that are considered to be important and that Members feel that they need to express their constituents opinions on.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Was my hon. Friend not worried when the Government, in their presentation of their reason for permitting the widening of the motion, said that the consideration of non-Government business might impact on Government business? They did not recognise that the House as a whole had a legitimate interest in the issue of how effectively Government business is considered. Although the Government have the right to bring their business before the House, the House must have the capacity to decide how it can most effectively examine it.
Mr. Heath: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, that is the crux of the matter. The question is whether we are a self-confident legislature that organises its own time, hears what the Government have to say and gives the Government the opportunity to put forward their legislation while not artificially avoiding the opportunities for them to get their business through. However, at the same time, we must be prepared to do justice to the people we represent by debating in this Chamber what we want to debate, not what the Executive feel fit for us to debateand, more importantly, what they feel is fit for us not to debate, which is the situation at the moment.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): While I entirely agree with the comments made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the only way that this House can achieve what he has set out is to take control of Standing Orders? That is critical if we are to do what this House wants.
Mr. Heath: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. First we take Standing Orders, then we take business. The two are consecutive and, to some extent, simultaneous. Without one, we cannot control the other. That is what this debate is all aboutit is about this House getting up off its knees and reclaiming its position as the Parliament of the people of this country, which is able to control its own business. This position is not anti-Government of any description; it is simply a pro-Parliament position. Parliament must have its say, and must be able to do so on its own terms. I hope that that is what the Committee will enable it to do and that it will get to work in the very near future.
I am pleased with the specific amendments that have widened the reference to the scheduling of business to include all business in the House, so that the Committee can consider other matters that appear to it to be relevant. I am perfectly content that the amendment originally tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch has now been incorporated into the terms of reference.
As for the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), we will hear his reasoning in a few moments. I know perfectly well the point that he is making, because it is a point that I have made from these Benches, too. It is simply not acceptable to have junior messengers sent to this House to tell us what the policy is in major Departments of State, particularly when one Department of State appears to have swallowed up whole other Departments within the machinery of government without our ever being given a rationale for why that should be. It seems right that we should find a way in which a Secretary of State appointed by this
Government can answer directly to this House. Whether it is right for this Committee to do that in its first consideration, I do not know. That will be a matter for the Committee to decide when it considers its priorities. I note that the reporting date is 13 November, but I am absolutely clear and confident that that matter needs to be addressed. The amendment is as good a vehicle as any other for addressing it, and I look forward to hearing what the hon. Gentleman has to say.
Given that 13 November has propinquity, as has been pointed out, to the Queens Speech, I wonder what will happen if we prorogue early. Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House can tell us and can make it absolutely clear that the Committees report will be considered by the House at the first opportunity, that it will form the basis of proposals and that its recommendations will be put to the House. I do not mean we should consider those recommendations that the Leader of the House thinks might be appropriate, but that the recommendations of the Committee should be put to the House without being redacted. We want no blank spaces or black lines on the recommendations of the Committee when we consider them. When they come before the House, I hope that there will be a genuinely free vote so that every Member can exercise their own judgment and discretion about how we operate in this Chamber and will not be subject to inappropriate pressure from the Whips, the payroll or anybody else. On that basis, I support the motion.
( ) arrangements for Ministers who are members of the House of Lords to respond in this House to questions for oral answer and to pilot legislative proposals through this House on matters within their Ministerial responsibilities..
The amendment does not tell the Committee that it should allow Ministers who are Members of the House of Lords to appear here, but asks it to examine the proposal. I am dismayed and disappointed by the Leader of the Houses refusal to accept my amendments, especially when she accepts those of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), which are doubtless very good. I wonder what I have done to offend Front Benchers. I emphasise that the amendment involves a reference rather than an instruction to the Committee.
I am surprised because after the most recent Government reshuffle, I know of many hon. Membersparticularly but not exclusively Labour Memberswho were dismayed by the volume of Ministers who are now in another place. Some hon. Members were appalled by that. Personally, I simply want to have access to the Ministersthose who are in Government and have Executive authority. There is a powerful case for claiming that Ministers do not have to be members of the legislature; the important principle is that the legislature has access to them. Perhaps that is to go too far tonight, but I simply want to probe and examine the conduct and stewardship of Departments by Ministers, whether they are in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Probing and examining the Executive is one of our primary duties.
Mr. Harper: Given that I suspect that the hon. Gentlemans view is shared by many hon. Members, does he plan to take the temperature of the House and press the amendment to a Division? He would get much support if he did.
Andrew Mackinlay: If hon. Members will join me in the Lobby and help me with Tellers, I will be pleased to press the amendment. Even if I were not able to persuade the House tonight because of party loyalties and so on, it would send a definite signal to the Government that the matter needs to be addressed and to many Committees of the House that might have an opportunity to examine it. However, I hope that I would win. I appeal to hon. Members to reflect on the fact that we are considering House of Commons business, which is our property.
The Deputy Leader of the House said that the matter was also the business of another place. However, I know Members of the House of Lords who share my view. I suspect that if one our colleagues in the other place raised the matter there, Baroness Royall would say, I cant accept this because it might offend Members of the House of Commons. That is nonsense. If the matter were referred to the Committee, the House of Lords would clearly be consulted. If it collectively had an overriding objection, it would communicate it to the House of Commons. However, I believe that reference to the Committee would be welcomed in another place because it would thus also have access to Ministers, who are the architects of legislation that has to pass through the House of Lords, but is simply dealt with by somebody called a Lord or Lady in Waiting.
Andrew Mackinlay: I am coming to him. I invite particularly, but not exclusively Labour Members with long memories to reflect on the fact that when some of them entered politicsI did so a long time ago; some did so much more recently and have been through various parties, moving from left to right, but we will not go therethe Labour party under Hugh Gaitskell and later under the Leader of the Opposition, Harold Wilson, deprecated the fact that the Foreign Secretary was in the House of Lords. Lord Hailsham had a significant science portfolio at the same time. When Ted Heath became Prime Minister, Alec Home returned to the House of Lords as Foreign Secretary. More recently Michael Foot, and I believe some Members who are present, derided the fact that Lord Carrington was a Cabinet Minister in the House of Lords. I invite Labour Members to be consistent, not to waver, because they have deprecated this situation in the past.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that there was also a man called Lord Young in Margaret Thatchers Governmentthe man who brought her solutions. He had a very senior portfolio, not dissimilar to Lord Mandelsons. It was called something different, but basically it meant he was responsible for trade and industry. His membership of the House of Lords was deprecated by the Labour Opposition, who said we should have access to him. That is in the living memory of some Members who are sitting here tonight and of
some who are absent despite the fact that they have been anointed and appear on the motion as members of the Committee. People need to reflect on that.
Now we have a new invention called GOATsMinisters in a Government of all the talents. We have had a man called Digby Jones, a Lord Carter, a Lord Ryde Pier of Spittle, or Spithead, or whatever it is, and Malloch-Brown, who I incidentally thought was a breath of fresh air. [Hon. Members: Gone.] But he is gone.
As well as those GOATs, who are here today and gone tomorrow, there are some junior Ministers in the House of Lords whose names I do not know and whom, as a Labour MP, I have never met. I think that it was just before you became Speaker, Mr. Speaker, in the last Prime Ministers Question Time under Speaker Martin, that I referred to junior Ministers who act in the other House for the Secretary of Statethe architect of legislation and the person who presides over the Governments policyas superior parrots. I did not mean that disparagingly, but I was illustrating the point that when a junior Minister is acting for a Secretary of State who is not in the same House, all they can do is repeat what has been handed down to them in a brief. They cannot exercise discretion and say, We will accept that amendment, or We will come back to it on Report, because they are frightened of doing so. It would improve our legislative process if the architect of a piece of legislation were to pilot it through both Houses.
That is quite apart from parliamentary questions, where even more so, the more junior the Minister, the more nervous he or she is about saying anything constructive. I appeal to colleagues that to consider the matter would be a common-sense approach.
Andrew Mackinlay: Not so, because this works both ways. There are still a number of distinguished Ministers in the House of Commons, and they would be able to go to the House of Lords. There are also some very significant Ministers in the House of Lords. Until a few days ago our Minister with responsibility for the UN and the middle east was Lord Malloch-Brown, and I understand that Lord West of Spithead is the Security Minister. Colleagues and comrades should pause and think about it: this is the elected House of Commons, and we do not have access to the Minister who is in charge of national security. Surely that is both breathtaking and an abdication of responsibility by this place.
I do not want to go down that road, but one thing that I acknowledge is that Lord Mandelson could certainly cope in this place. He did before, and he could do so again as a Lord. However, I postulate the view that there are some Ministers in the House of Lords who could not cope here. They would not stand up to the grilling that this House still gives
Ministers on occasion. They would not be able to cope, and that is not satisfactory. They are being kept from us, and some of them would not be prepared to be Ministers here, because they would burst into tears if they came here. That is the reality. They would not pass muster.
The Minister tells us that there was consultation. I was waiting for her to say My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock could have come along, but she did not. In a way, I did consult, and I am disappointed that my point was not taken on board. If Members look at the Hansard of 17 June, they will see that I put the issue to the Prime Minister at Question Time. With characteristic precision, and without indecision, the Prime Minister agreed with me, and told me to refer the matter to the Committee that we are discussing. That was his reply. If the Prime Minister says to me that the issue should come before the Committee, it is not unreasonable to assume that the wonderful Ministers would put that into the wording of the motion.
Mr. Harper: I sense a way out of the dilemma: now that the hon. Gentleman has put it to Labour Members that his amendment implicitly carries the endorsement of the Prime Minister, he should test the will of the House. He will be even more successful than he would have been five minutes ago.
Andrew Mackinlay: As hon. Members know, it is put about that the Prime Minister is indecisive, but that is a travesty; on that occasion he was decisivehe told me to refer the matter to the Committee, but Ministers still have not picked the matter up.
I come to my last point. The fact is that the proposal is not rocket science. In the vast majority of parliamentary bicameral legislatures around the world, Ministers appear in both Houses, arguing for their legislation, and defending their stewardship of their Department. That is true of many, but not all, Parliaments that are modelled on Westminster throughout the Commonwealth. I am a bit of an anoraka studentwhen it comes to Irish political history. The Republic of Ireland very much still has a Westminster-style constitution. The Northern Ireland House of Commons and Senate, which endured from 1920 to 1972, had, until 1972, a provision whereby Ministers appeared in both Houses. Today, Ministers appear in both Houses in the Oireachtas of Ireland. Dail Eireann Ministers appear in the Senead, and on the few occasions when there have been Senead Ministers, they have appeared in the Dail Eireann. The proposal is not world-shattering, and it does not require lengthy consideration. Why do we not just do it? The answer is: because this place is so deeply conservative.
What causes me the most regret is that the most conservative element, when it comes to change and constitutional innovation, are my partys Front Benchers. I could burst into tears with the frustration of it. It really is bad. I invite all hon. Members, left right and centre, to join me in the Lobby and to support my modest, sensible amendment, which does not say that such a change will take place; it just says that the Committee will consider it.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|