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Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has led me into the next part of my analysis. I gave a rather dry consideration of the inadequacy of the numbers involved. However, the hon. Gentleman made a valid point, from which two inter-related points follow.
First, the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) both made the point that the Government assumed that the Committee stage would be completed at a certain point, only to introduce further provisions and peremptorily insist that the House deal with them with almost no notice. That is difficult, and not only for ordinary Members of Parliament. For goodness sake, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs is a world expert on these matters, but even he is struggling a bit. The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon is an intellectual giant of the House, but he is struggling. What hope is there of us poor laymen, who have come to the House to try and grapple with the matter on behalf of our constituents, dealing with the technicalities involved?
Mr. Burnett: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of another example of this sort of detailed legislation being rushed--the Finance Act 1998? Detailed amendments were tabled on stamp duty, reserve tax and anti-avoidance measures. However, they were wrong and the Government lost revenue to the tune of £1 billion or £1.5 billion because of the inadequacy of debate and scrutiny.
Mr. Forth: I am not surprised or shocked by that. The hon. Gentleman strengthened his point and illustrated it well. We run that risk if we are rolled over by the Government, as they are now attempting to do.
The motion is surrounded by an accumulation of negatives and, as far as I can see, no positives whatever. The time made available to the House for considering the Bill on Report and Third Reading has been compressed. Almost no notice was given--and that is true not just for hon. Members. As has already been said, with such a Bill one would have thought there should be an opportunity for legitimate representations to be made by outside bodies to those of us who are privileged to be here, so that we can learn from them and understand their concerns. There is no such opportunity, given the Bill's time scale.
Mr. Howarth: Indeed--there is one of those every day. Any of those eventualities would have required the attention of the House, and would have further compressed the time available for these matters to be discussed.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is right. By taking such an approach--tabling motions that specify a particular time of the clock at which matters must be concluded--the Government make us a potential victim of what Harold Macmillan described as "events". Events do impinge on the parliamentary process, as indeed they should and they must.
The Government make the crude assumption that we will be able to dispatch the Report stage properly by 3.30, regardless of what may have happened during the parliamentary day up until that point. They go on to compound the felony by proposing that Third Reading will be finished by "quarter past Four o'clock." They do not give us a certain amount of time to consider the matter, bad enough though that would be. They make matters worse by saying that proceedings will end, willy-nilly, at a particular time of the clock.
The Government obviously take the view that it does not matter what may have happened up till now today. Regardless of any of that--regardless, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said, of statements, private notice questions being granted and the length of time allowed by Mr. Speaker for business questions--we will complete consideration by 3.30 pm.
That cannot be right. It cannot be a proper parliamentary process. I regret to say that it illustrates yet again the approach that the Government take to Parliament--one of utter contempt. It could just be a misunderstanding of Parliament, I suppose, because some members of the Government have not been in the House very long. Some of them make no secret of the fact that, having got here, they want to leave the building as early and as frequently as possible. Although that may be a family-friendly approach, it does not exactly help the role of the House of Commons in giving proper scrutiny to legislation and holding the Government to account.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is correct. I had calculated 30 minutes for Third Reading, but we shall wait and see. The Government are assuming that their Back Benchers will play no part in the debate at all, as they increasingly do.
There are currently no Government Back Benchers in the Chamber. That is a sad reflection of what has happened to Government Members of Parliament and Government Back Benchers. I wonder what their constituents think they are doing at this time on a Thursday? I leave that for their constituents to muse on. They are certainly not representing them in the House of Commons--that we do know because the physical evidence is plain to see. I leave that as a matter of speculation.
I had intended to go on and comment on the further proceedings on the Bill, which are alluded to in the motion, but I am aware that a number of my parliamentary colleagues are present, in their place, representing their constituents--
Mr. Jack: I had hoped that my right hon. Friend would develop his further point. As the Financial Secretary said, nine Government amendments have been tabled, which means that we are allowed to consider each for 10 minutes. Such timing is sparse in respect of the complex matters that are involved. Does my right hon. Friend think that we have adequate time to consider each of the amendments?
Mr. Forth: My right hon. Friend is generous. I calculated that we were allowed six minutes for each amendment. I shall not repeat my rough calculation of how the time will be squeezed by a combination of events, including votes and other considerations.
I shall conclude my remarks, as I am aware of the pressure from the large number of Opposition Members who want to contribute and I do not want to hog the available time. I believe that the motion is probably the worst example yet of the results of the ill-thought-out and ill-considered so-called modernisation process that has inflicted such a disgraceful programming scheme. I hope that it will illustrate to everybody that that scheme is an unworkable and unjustifiable outrage that should be dropped as soon as possible. In the meantime, I hope that I will get a chance to vote against the motion.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I am not against programming in principle and have argued on a number of occasions that it has some merit. However, I agreed today with almost everything that he said.
A first-rate Minister has had to introduce a third-rate Bill. It is a shoddy measure that has been torn apart by the clear-headedness of my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), who is probably the only hon. Member who understands what it is all about. It is a small and technical Bill, but as has been pointed out, it affects a large number of people. Everybody agrees that it is flawed. I think that the Financial Secretary will admit that that is the case and confirm that clause 3 is still deficient and needs further attention. Currently, he appears to be neither agreeing nor disagreeing with me. I cannot tell what he is expressing, but I suspect that it is agreement.
We are now stuck with an awkward situation and we do not have much time to try to sort it out. Programming makes life no better. The Bill will go to the other place, where the Government will take a bit more time to try to sort it out and table the necessary amendments. Their attitude is clear. They put a Bill into play in the House of Commons to get it running. It does not matter how shoddy it is or how much it is shredded in Committee. They get it out of here on the back of a programme motion and then sort it out in the House of Lords, where the political temperature is a bit lower and they will not have to deal with so much flak. I do not think that that is a good way of making legislation, and neither does anybody else, except the Executive, and an arrogant Executive at that.
As I said, I would not have been against programming this measure in principle. If it is to be used, however, hon. Members must have something in return in terms of better pre-legislative scrutiny. I cannot believe that the Bill would have been brought before the House in its current condition if it had been given thoroughgoing pre-legislative scrutiny and had been considered by a Committee that could ask detailed questions of the few people in the country who understand the subject with which it deals.
Programming has been introduced to the House without anything being given in return. Scrutiny of legislation has not been improved through other means and no commitment has been made to improve pre-legislative scrutiny. That is why I disapprove of what the Government have done in respect of programming. I oppose not the principle, but the fact that it was introduced without any sense of balance in respect of better scrutiny of legislation in the House of Commons.
Let us cast our minds back to the last shift in power that was as dramatic as the adoption of programming. Timetabling was introduced in the late 19th century, but was accompanied by a big quid pro quo: Supply days. The current Government have decided to introduce a major shift in the way in which legislation is scrutinised without offering anything in return to the House of Commons to try to improve legislation or demonstrate to the wider public that they are doing their job properly. Anyone viewing the Chamber today--and I hope that the cameras will be permitted to pan the Labour Benches for just a moment--will see that absolutely no scrutiny of the Executive is going on. This is really not an adequate performance.
As I said, Supply days were introduced in return for acceptance of Balfour's railway timetable; but when we accepted Beckett's railway timetable we were given nothing in return, which is why I shall vote against the motion.