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Many Members will enter the Chamber for specific aspects of the debate, not necessarily for the whole of it. The programme motion takes no account of that, so why does the Bill have in its title the very word "governance"-the "Governance Bill"? The "Governance" of what? We have become nothing. I see tumbleweed blowing down this Chamber and out in Central Lobby. That is what the Government have reduced Parliament to. Do not think that it is not an Executive function- [ Interruption. ] However sweet the smile on the face, Ministers sit in arrogance, essentially, and the outcome is the same: "Thou shalt not speak unless we allow you
to." Every guillotine motion that comes before the House is almost tailor-made-bespoke-and that is what we have again today.
The Minister accepts, if I understood his expressions correctly, that we may not reach some contentions in the Bill, and that they will not be debated. That seems to be an extraordinary proposition with which to begin a constitutional Bill, but that has been the difficulty with this Government since they came into office. They cannot discern the difference between the types of Bills, how they are born and how they should be considered. They have seized the Standing Orders of this House, and only the Minister may initiate debates and determine how they are conducted.
We will have a Division on this issue; the Government will march into the Lobby; and their own Back Benchers, who have not even been present for the debate, will be summoned by bells. But the bells are execution bells in the end. We are close to a general election, and the process of this Parliament is intolerable. Why should intelligent people come here to be neutered and held down? The Government do not even want to hear the expression of opinion on their own Back Benches, unless it is merely in support of themselves, so I shall willingly vote against this outrageous motion.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am very glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath); and I agree with them. To follow up my right hon. Friend's reference to the Green Paper, in a nutshell, we are now faced not with democracy, but with hypocrisy. The Government have made a series of statements, and I am amazed that the Minister can sit on the Front Bench, scribbling on his bits of paper, when he is responsible for the situation. It is a wanton act of hypocrisy to say something in a Green Paper and, subsequently, to demonstrate, in a constitutional Bill that should be taken on the Floor of the House in proper time, a denial of the very propositions that led to the Bill in the first place.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) also made some very important points. I recall his father saying, many years ago, that we were moving towards an elective dictatorship. We are not: now we actually have an elected disgrace. That is the problem with which we are faced. In an intervention I referred to the Wright Committee and the fact that nothing has been done about it, despite the fact that action is well overdue. If the business committee that the Wright Committee proposed were to be implemented, this situation could not occur, because the House would insist on proper consideration of the matters that we are about to discuss.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills-he should be right honourable-regarding Standing Orders, on which I have spoken many times. In the early part of the last century, and before then, there was a great deal of discussion about whether Standing Orders should have been taken over by the Executive. That happened in the difficult days of the Irish troubles of the 1880s, when the Speaker's rules were taken over by the Executive with the agreement of those on the two Front Benches, and they have remained with them ever since.
I conclude by reference to a very important essay written by a former Clerk of this House-Sir Edward Fellowes-which was mentioned in Crick's analysis of the constitution. Crick said that at that moment, when the Executive took over the Standing Orders, this House went into decline, and that not until they are returned to the House of Commons will it be possible for it to regain its former sovereignty-a matter that no doubt we shall be discussing very shortly.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): I think that the saddest thing about this short debate is the rather pathetic excuses that the Minister put forward for the internal knives in the guillotine to be implemented. There was no real substance to what he said, and no real justification for denying this House the ability to discuss some very important issues.
The Minister suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that if my hon. Friend could give an undertaking that Members would make brief and succinct speeches, then he, the Minister, might give the matter further consideration. It is an outrage for the Minister to suggest that he could decide these matters on the basis of the length and substance of Members' speeches. For Ministers to believe, with such arrogance, that they have that ability is an obscenity in itself, and to suggest that they can treat this House and its Members with that sort of contempt is beyond belief.
I urge Ministers to consider their position. On the fourth day, they will have an opportunity to extend the time available. There should not be a cut-off today because, as many right hon. and hon. Members have said, it is clear that a lot of the business before the House, which will be guillotined at the end of today's business, will not be properly discussed. How can we discuss the Wright report? We get it wrong by not even discussing it-that is nonsense.
The Minister should recognise the strength of feeling about this. I am sure that if more of his Back-Bench colleagues were here, they would be echoing the sentiments expressed in all parts of the House. When we are discussing the future governance of this country, we are entitled, at the end of that debate, to be justified in saying that all sides had adequate time to discuss the proposals and to listen to the arguments for and against them. For the Government to hide behind the screen of a gerrymandered guillotine that they have altered during the course of our debates shows that they must be frightened of discussing the substance of the arguments
against their case. That is a pitiful state for any Government to be in. Surely, even at this late stage, they can recant and give this House the justice it deserves-a fair hearing on such important issues.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): When the Minister was intervened on by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), he said that the right hon. Gentleman should know from his long experience in the House why the guillotine had to be used. However, in his short speech, and indeed in his refusal even to spell out his reasons to the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister indicated that there is not a good justification for a guillotine, especially given the nature of the Bill.
As a Member from Northern Ireland, for a long time before devolution I saw the effects of legislation that went through by Order in Council and was not properly scrutinised, which led to all kinds of problems. We can see the arrangements that we now have in the devolved Assembly in Stormont, which were made in a Bill that had to be pushed through quickly. Some scrutiny may have led to amendments that could have avoided some of the current difficulties with the working of devolved government. It is important that we have proper scrutiny of a Bill that has constitutional importance.
"a settlement that entrusts Parliament and the people with more power."
Yet we cannot even have a proper discussion about some of the issues in the Bill. The proposals in the Green Paper were made under headings with a high-sounding tone, such as "Limiting the powers of the executive", "Making the executive more accountable" and "Re-invigorating our democracy". What has all that come down to now that we are actually to debate the proposals? A guillotine that, as Members have indicated, will probably not even allow us to discuss a quarter of what we need to.
Mr. Redwood: Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the current Prime Minister, when newly elevated to that post, made a great point of saying he was going to strengthen Parliament because he believed it had been too weak under the previous Prime Minister, and asked Her Majesty to say that in the Gracious Speech at the start of the 2008-09 Session?
Sammy Wilson: Yes-yet another promise made during the discussions on the Bill has not been fulfilled. Indeed, it is a bit of an irony that we cannot even get a debate when the Green Paper described itself as the
"first step in a national conversation"
One has to ask oneself what the Minister is thinking of in introducing a guillotine of this nature if the Bill is to be the foundation of a constitutional reform. I think of the guillotines that there have been in the House in recent weeks. On the Equality Bill, we did not get through 20 per cent. of the amendments because a guillotine was imposed on the important measures in it. We will see the same thing happen today.
Mr. Cash: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the Minister, in referring to the requirement to be pithy and in using other such strange, vague expressions, effectively accuses Members of filibustering? The real question is proper debate-
"taking these first steps towards its stated objective of making Government more accountable to Parliament."
"the Government's approach to constitutional modernisation has been a rebalancing of power".
Those were the promises that were made and that was what we believed we were getting in the Bill, yet today we see that the end result is that the House has less opportunity for discussion and less say on the great changes that will be required.
Mr. Hogg: Actually, does it not go further than that? Many Members have tabled new clauses that go far outside the scope of the Bill as contemplated by the Government, but are none the less constitutional reforms of a very great kind. Those Members are being denied the opportunity even to ventilate those ideas.
Sammy Wilson: I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. Far worse, of course, is the fact that Members will have little opportunity to debate, or even to prepare arguments against, Government amendments that we do not yet know about. My party will vote against the programme motion, because it does not reflect what the Government promised and it has not been justified in the debate so far. This issue is of such great importance that there ought to be a proper opportunity for debate in the Chamber.
Mr. Wills: With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course I agree with all the comments that have been made, and of course the House must have adequate time to scrutinise this legislation. However, listening to this debate-an interesting and revealing debate-one would think that the Government were allowing no time at all. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who at last mentioned one of the Committee scrutinies of the Bill. I have here the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. The Bill was published in draft and reported on by that Committee, and it has also been reported on by the Public Administration Committee.
Mr. Wills: With great respect, I will not give way, because I want to make a few points while I have still got time, which is limited thanks to the programme motion- [ Laughter. ] I would be grateful if he let me continue.
Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you be kind enough to rule on whether, in the middle of debate on a constitutional Bill, it is right for a Minister to evoke procedures other than those that take place on the Floor of the House, where the Bill should be properly discussed, but which is blatantly not happening at the moment?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should know that that is not a point of order, but an attempt to further the debate. The Minister is now trying to reply to the very important matters raised by hon. Members in general.
Mr. Wills: If I may, I should like to respond to the previous intervention and to make a few points in response to all the other contributions in the debate-that is parliamentary debate, as I think hon. Members will recognise.
Mr. Grieve: I really cannot resist responding to the Minister's comment on the number of people in the Chamber. When is it going to dawn on him that the reason why the attendance in the Chamber is so low is that the Government, over a long period, have made a complete mockery of the procedures of this House, removing all possibility for debate?
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