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Mr. Hayes: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but he seems to be labouring under an illusion. The people of this country elect a Parliament. It is for Parliament to scrutinise and pass Bills, and to ensure that they are effective and that the people's views are represented in the consideration of those Bills. We elect a Parliament, not just a Government. He should revise his perception of democracy.
Mr. Henderson: Of course I accept that. I do not know about the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but my constituents want things done that affect their lives. They want Parliament to act effectively. When they watch some of the goings-on in this place, they ridicule them. Unless we modernise our procedures in the way that is recommended by the programme motion--I wish that we did not need it--we will bring further discredit on this place. I ask Opposition Members to think about that. I have said my piece, and I am happy to allow others to follow in the debate.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Not for the first time during my service in this House, I intend to express a personal point of view. I do so as a member of the Modernisation Committee, to which the Minister referred. I am optimistic that the Committee will provide further guidance to the House on dealing with programming and programme motions. I think that the Minister alluded to that guidance, and I hope that the report that contains it will help the House.
I am not unsupportive of the Government, although I may pass through the other Lobby at the end of the debate. Of course, that happens in the House from time to time. I think that the House has not heeded one of the Minister's assurances. He said that the Bill would come out of Standing Committee on 1 May. I think that he said also
Mr. Hogg: I heard the Minister's assurance, but I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for making a different point about it. The premise is that any decision will depend on whether the Minister thinks that more time is necessary. What matters, however, is whether the Committee and the House think, after speaking freely, that more time is needed. Whether or not the Government think that more time is needed does not address the fundamental problem.
Mr. Winterton: That was not my interpretation of what the Minister said. I believe that he said that if the Programming Sub-Committee felt that additional sittings were necessary, the Government would not oppose its decision. I say to the House and to my hon. Friends that I believe that we should take that assurance--perhaps I can also use the word "concession"--very seriously. It gives much reassurance to the Opposition that there will be more time for debate, if such time proves necessary.
Mr. Hawkins: I wish that I could share my hon. Friend's optimism. However, my experience and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) with regard to the Committee that considered the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, and our knowledge of the way in which the Programming Sub-Committee operated in respect of that Bill, tell us that one cannot accept the assurances given by this Government and by this Minister in particular. Such assurances were repeatedly given and repeatedly broken. In his capacity as a member of the Modernisation Committee, my hon. Friend should undoubtedly take that on board.
Mr. Winterton: I take my hon. Friend's strictures very seriously, but I have to say that I do not agree with them. I am prepared to take the Minister's assurance seriously. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said that he was not prepared to do so, but I can only say that hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about the fact that the programme motion has been considered so soon, immediately after Second Reading. I believe that this particular system will be altered.
Mr. Blunt: Like me, my hon. Friend has had an overt respect for the Minister and his word. The trouble is that the Minister told us during consideration of a programme motion on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill that there would be 16 Committee sittings. That number was then changed to 14. He told us that the motion would be tabled on a Monday, but it was then tabled on a Friday.
Mr. Winterton: Again, I take my hon. Friend's view extremely seriously, but I have been in this place for a few years and I believe that we must use our time well. I believe also that there must be an element of trust
Mr. Taylor: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the bequests that the Modernisation Committee wants to leave to the new Parliament is a refinement of the process that we discussed today? It will mean that such debates, which most people find futile, meandering and otiose, will no longer be a feature of the parliamentary scene.
Mr. Winterton: I am not prepared to divulge the contents of a report that has not yet been published. However, hon. Members, whatever their party, who represent the interests of the House are trying to create a system that is acceptable to the Government and to the Opposition.
To respond to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), the Programming Sub-Committee, under the chairmanship of a member of your Chairmen's Panel, Mr. Speaker, and not the Government will decide whether there will be one or more additional sittings in Committee. I believe that those who serve on the Chairmen's Panel are impartial and will try to represent the best interests of the House and all the parties in it.
Mr. Tyler: I hope that I will not embarrass the hon. Gentleman further by coming to his aid. Both he and I are in some difficulty because we cannot disclose the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee, but does he accept that the role of the Chairman of the Standing Committee and that of the Programming Sub-Committee will be critical to the success of our improvements? Ensuring that they work effectively gives new opportunities to Opposition parties to make sure that everything is properly discussed. One further point--
Mr. Winterton: The hon. Gentleman is right. The new proposals will be a great opportunity for the House, and give considerable authority to the Opposition. I hope that when they come before the House, perhaps in the next Parliament, they will be welcomed.
I want to express one reservation. I have said that I believe that the time allocated to the Standing Committee is adequate, but I remain anxious that the time for Report and Third Reading may prove insufficient. I repeat the argument that I have put before: Report is the only stage during which Back Benchers who were not able to speak on Second Reading and were not appointed to the Standing Committee can speak on behalf of constituents or organisations that have made representations to them. With that reservation, I thank the Minister for his concession, which I warmly welcome.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): It is said that as we get older, the arteries harden. I wonder whether that has happened to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who seems to be overflowing with the milk of human kindness in his charitable regard for the Government. Whatever he says, the proposals that we have not yet had the opportunity to discuss are proposals that we do not know about. We are discussing a programme motion this evening that is tabled under motions that we know about.
If ever a Bill was tailor-made for a Special Standing Committee, followed by a proper Standing Committee, it is this one. It is not politically contentious in a partisan sense, but it is nevertheless fairly meaty. It deals with important subjects and affects the livelihoods of many people. We have already heard, in interventions, that a number of specialist groups and associations have made representations on the Bill.
If the Government intend to proceed--as the Minister honestly and genuinely does--on the assumption that this Parliament has some 14 months left to run, they should put forward a sensible and thorough proposal to ensure that the Bill is properly and thoroughly discussed. The Minister should have moved that the Bill be committed to a Special Standing Committee. That Standing Committee would have had the opportunity to take evidence and listen to witnesses. We should then have moved on to a proper, clause-by-clause discussion of the Bill and considered it on its merits. That is what the Minister should have proposed this evening.
Of all Bills, this is the last one that should be put in a parliamentary straitjacket. Over the past few months, because the Government appear to have worked out a foreshortened timetable for this Parliament, every Bill-- I shall not dilate on any others, Mr. Speaker, because you would rightly call me to order--has been subject to a programme motion that has had little regard to its nature and complexity.