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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): My hon. Friend is characteristically generous and understates his case with his usual subtlety. If this were a one-off, it would be bad enough, but it is becoming the rule or norm, not the exception, and is happening day in, day out in this Parliament. As a result, proper debate is being truncated and the people of this country are not getting the hearing that they deserve for issues that are pertinent and, in this case, important to them for the reasons given by hon. Friend. This is a serial crime, not a one-off offence.
I repeat that the Government are in the business of bringing the Bill into the station on time. They cannot do that with a real railway network, but they seem to be able to do it with their legislation. It does not matter how many issues right hon. and hon. Members wish to raise, they have to fit all of them into the time which the Government have decided is sufficient. I have a shrewd suspicion that not only did they decide from the outset, when the Bill was published, that 12 Committee sittings would be ample--to use the Minister's word--but that they would rush through all the remaining stages in one day, as they are seeking to do today.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House which parts of the Bill the Committee was unable to scrutinise or, indeed, which amendments tabled by the Opposition could not be debated in those 12 sittings?
Let us remind ourselves that part I deals with seller's packs and a transaction entered into by about 1.5 million people every year. It is extremely important to many people. For most people in this country, it is the biggest transaction they will ever undertake, yet hon. Members including, I think, the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) were bobbing up and down, complaining about the length of time that we were taking on the matter.
We took a little longer on part I and probably rather less time on part II than we might otherwise have wanted, and possibly than the hon. Gentleman might have wanted. Paradoxically, because of the procedural situation, the opposite could be the case today. Because of the weight of new clauses, many of them Government new clauses, relating to part II, we may well run out of time to deal with part I if we are not careful.
Mr. Love: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. If members of the majority side had realised how little the Opposition had to say about part II, we might not have moved procedural motions to end discussion on part I.
Mr. Waterson: The hon. Gentleman might remember that we spent almost half our time on part II, which I do not complain about. I suspect that he felt a little short-changed, as did some of us, at the way that that came about.
It is typical of the Government that they have no intention of ensuring that both parts of the Bill are fully debated. Not only are they trying to suppress debate in the House yet again, but throughout the Committee stage they chose to ignore informed criticism, and in some cases to denigrate it. Any informed person or organisation, let alone an hon. Member, who seeks to disagree is dismissed as wrong or worse. Sometimes, perhaps, such people are regarded as being slightly detached--to use a familiar phrase--or unfocused.
The Law Society was one of the first to fall foul of the Minister's liverishness on one occasion. The Law Society represents some 80,000 solicitors in England and Wales. When the Opposition in Committee quoted--no one on the Government side would do it--the Law Society's concerns about and criticisms of the proposals in part I, what did we get from the Minister? He said:
Mr. Waterson: Ah! Now we are getting to that. The Minister will no doubt remember what I said in Committee: that of course the president--we have nothing so humble as chairman in the legal profession--of the Bristol Law Society is an enthusiast. I said to the Minister, and I repeat the invitation, that if he would like to give £360,000 worth of taxpayers' money to the Eastbourne legal profession, I can guarantee him that the president of the Eastbourne Law Society will be a convert. The only problem is that the Minister cannot go round the entire country running pilot schemes in every town and city.
We will deal in more detail with the seller's pack, and I do not want to stray beyond the bounds of this debate, but if the Government are handing over such money to a local Law Society, and giving a great shot in the arm at taxpayers' expense to the local legal profession and local estate agents, of course they will all have smiles on their faces, just as the people who participated in the scheme have smiles on their faces--they were given their seller's packs, including their surveys.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): For the benefit of the taxpayers who pay our salaries, will my hon. Friend confirm that there are no fewer than 74 new clauses and amendments to be considered? Will he also confirm that, on the assumption that we take one hour to debate Third Reading, the Government have the audacity to expect us to devote fewer than four minutes to the consideration of each new clause and amendment?
While my hon. Friend is about it, will he also provide an invaluable lesson on the British constitution to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), who seems fondly to imagine that just because the Standing Committee considered matters in some detail, that somehow discharges our obligation to do so? Will my hon. Friend confirm that the importance of this occasion is that the Standing Committee's deliberations are being reported to, and may be pronounced on by, the rest of the House?
Mr. Waterson: My hon. Friend makes two very important points, and he is absolutely right. The Government do not think that people such as my hon. Friend should be in the Chamber debating all these new clauses and amendments--let alone those that have already been considered, albeit only by the Standing Committee. The Government think that Back Benchers should be either in their constituencies trying to get re-elected or sitting in their offices dictating into machines. That is the role of Back Benchers under this Government.
My hon. Friend touched on an issue that I have mentioned only in passing. That is the weight of the new clauses and amendments tabled not only by the Government but by the Liberal Democrats. It is important that there should be the opportunity, on Report, to have a rethink and to take stock. Progress on the Bill has been made at a gallop since it was published just before Christmas; it is now only the beginning of February.
It is right for people--even, perhaps, the Government--to have an opportunity to table new clauses and amendments, but the Government must allow such proposals to be properly debated when appropriate. There is an exact parallel with the debate on the original programme motion--to which I think this is a supplement or amendment--in that the Government had already decided on the length of time needed in Standing Committee before a single amendment or new clause had been tabled. That is precisely the same attitude as we see today.
Before I was led down the path that took me slightly off the subject a moment ago, I was saying why I thought that debate on the Bill was being suppressed. I gave as an example not only the way in which the matter has been dealt with in the House, but the way in which major, serious bodies, organisations and individuals--I shall come to an example of that in a moment--have been dismissed out of hand by Ministers during the course of these debates.
I mentioned the Law Society earlier. Another good example came from Mr. Nigel Holt, the director of the Independent Association of Estate Agents. That is not some little group of eccentric estate agents out of kilter with the rest of the profession; it is a body that represents 18,000 estate agents across the country. When Mr. Holt had the temerity to write to me, I had the even greater temerity to read out some of his views.