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May I remind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, perfectly rightly, Mr. Speaker allowed the discussion on today's foot and mouth disease statement, which was very important, to continue for an hour and 20 minutes? If there had been another statement of similar importance, about two hours or so would have been subtracted from the available time. That is simply not a proper way to address the manner in which the House conducts itself.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) also made an important point when he said that the process of compressing timetables shuts out external representation. He will have great difficulty in taking the opinion of outside interest groups as the Committee rattles through its consideration. Although I do not know whether this happens now in government, the Government will have difficulty in gathering the views of outside interests. Moreover, they will have difficulty in taking the views of their own officials.
I return to the plain fact that I have conducted through the House as many Bills as most Ministers have, and more than most, and I know that it is important to have regular and close briefings with officials to consider the points being made. The officials should not be shut out simply because the Government are rattling along. That would be very wrong indeed.
I want to make two further points. I am sorry to make a point that I have made on numerous previous occasions, but it goes to the root of parliamentary government. There is an implied bargain in a democracy between the electorate and Parliament. Parliament imposes obligations, liabilities and duties and requires the population as a whole to adhere to legislation. The electorate, in return, makes an assumption that the House properly performs its duties of scrutiny. If we are deprived of our ability to perform that duty, the elements in the bargain fail.
What happens when the public really begin to understand not just that the House is not performing its duty, but that it is being prevented from performing it? At that point the House and democracy itself will be seen to be a fraud. If we care about these things, we have to go on saying that it is the duty of the House properly to
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I shall be brief. As I said in the debate on the programme motion last night, I am not in principle against programming. I want the House to use the time that is available to it to the very best advantage so that we ensure that the legislation that the Government of the day put through is properly scrutinised and that both sides of the House have an opportunity to participate in the debates.
Will the Under-Secretary, who moved the motion briefly, assure the House that, given the time that the Government have allocated to the Bill in Standing Committee, the Committee will have extra sittings if they are necessary? Will she assure us that the Government will not use their majority on the Committee to frustrate its having extra sittings that would be necessary to ensure that every part of the Bill is properly and fully discussed? Does the Minister wish to intervene to give that assurance to the House? I would be delighted to give way, but clearly she does not wish to intervene. [Interruption.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I say to the hon. Member for Buckingham that I have given him one warning and I do not expect to have to give him another. We are trying to conduct a debate.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is not much hope of obtaining from the Minister a reply guaranteeing extra time to scrutinise the Bill? Last week, the Committee considering the International Development Bill was deprived of seven minutes of scrutiny time because of the inadvertent absence of the Chairman. When the Government and the Chair were asked to reinstate that time so that the Bill could be scrutinised for the full time stipulated in the programme motion, the request was denied. What hope is there that the Minister will grant my hon. Friend's reasonable request when such a denial was made last week?
I am a member of the Modernisation Committee, which sits under the distinguished chairmanship of the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons. Since the Committee published its first report, which made the proposal for programming, the House has discovered that the programming structure that was proposed has not properly worked. If this Parliament sits long enough--I doubt that it will--there is no doubt that the Modernisation Committee will table amendments to the way we currently deal with business. I think that it would take on board the concerns that are felt by
There is no doubt that hon. Members--including Labour Members who sometimes do not agree with aspects of the Government's policy--are not able to argue their case fully. Programme motions deny the House a proper opportunity to debate an issue. I have received many representations on special educational needs and disability, most of which I have passed on to the Minister. Those matters are of great importance to our constituents, especially to the parents of children who are affected by them. They are deeply worried.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to the Report stage. Newer Members of the House, including some Ministers, may not understand that that is the only time when all Members have an opportunity to participate in a debate on a Bill. That is not possible on Second Reading because of the limited time and many of them are not appointed to the Standing Committee. The real opportunity to debate issues that deeply concern them and their constituents is on Report.
My right hon. and learned Friend told us how many clauses and schedules the Bill contains. The Government should reconsider the five hours that they have allocated, in particular the time for debate on Report. The Bill is important to many people. I do not think that the Minister is unsympathetic to my request to have additional sittings if that is necessary.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Although I arrived in the Chamber only five minutes ago, I am aware of the issues. Although there is a case for programme motions, I agree that it is important for the Opposition to have time for scrutiny. However, does the hon. Gentleman accept that, prior to such motions, our late night sittings were not appreciated by the public? If there is a willingness in the new Parliament for the Government and Opposition to reach a compromise, it will be possible to have some programme motions and to give the Opposition what they want without sitting late into the night. I hope that the business of late night sittings has gone for good.
Mr. Winterton: I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because I greatly respect his role and his immense experience in this place. Had he arrived at the beginning of my speech, he would have heard me say that, in principle, I am not against programming. In fact, I am in favour of it and want it to work. The House should use its time to the very best effect so that legislation is fully discussed. He has opposed some of his Government's policies and must realise that Opposition and Labour Members should have an opportunity to have a say on important Bills. We are old hands. He knows that we are sent here not to speed legislation on its way, but to ensure that it meets people's needs and is properly scrutinised.
The Minister has been effective in the four years that she has been in the House. She must appreciate the Opposition's valuable role as part of our democratic process. Although she has not responded to my challenge, I note that she indicated from a sedentary position that the Standing Committee could have additional sittings. Perhaps the Government will consider allocating