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Mr. Hayes: The point that I was trying to make in an earlier intervention, which I hope my hon. Friend will take on board, is that if all the business had not been crammed into today and we had continued to sit into next week, which would have been entirely possible, full debates on the matters that he has mentioned would have been possible, and perhaps a debate on the estimates as well, as requested by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey).
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) again demonstrated what a generous and kind man he is. He estimated that the Government might decide to move a closure motion after three hours. My hon. Friend's generosity disguises a truth about the Labour Government: I cannot remember one occasion when they have allowed a debate to go on for three hours when they could bring it to a halt in half an hour, one hour, one and a half hours or two hours. My hon. Friend might be proved right, but I suspect that he will not be. His generosity leads him to be kind to the Government; perhaps I am not usually so charitable.
Mr. Wilshire: And Honiton. Long may she remain the hon. Member for both places. Her intervention has made this entire debate worth while. She pledged from the Front Bench that, on 8 June, we shall get rid of what the Labour party euphemistically calls the Modernisation Committee, which I believe to be the stifling of democracy Committee.
In two interventions on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, the Leader of the House made two very interesting points that are pertinent to the motion, the first of which was made after a large number of files were brought into the Chamber. That timing suggests not only that the Leader of the House was not willing to speak to the motion at the beginning of the debate and was simply hoping that it would be passed on the nod, but that she was ill-prepared to speak to it. It was only after the files arrived that we were given statistics that we could use to compare the Government's objective of ramming through certain Bills in the next two or three days with previous practice. I tried to write down her comments accurately, and I hope that I have understood her correctly. If I have not and she is listening, she will probably be able to correct me. I am not trying to misquote her in any way.
My understanding is that 10 Bills were passed at the end of the 1983 Parliament; 14 Bills at the end of the 1987 Parliament; 11 Bills at the end of the 1992 Parliament; and 16 Bills at the end of the 1997 Parliament. Subsequently, we were invited to compare those figures with what she considers to be the modest amount of legislation that the House is being asked to consider in the next two or three days.
Some of my hon. Friends take the view that what happened in the past was unfortunate, but I am not so sure about that. I accept that the party that wins the general election is entitled to legislate and is quite right to introduce as many Bills as it believes it can pass. I accept that train of thought, but the Leader of the House seems to be saying, "See how modest our list of Bills is", whereas I would say that the list is pathetically short. If the Government had anything worth doing--rather than
Mr. Forth: Would my hon. Friend accept an amendment to the words that he has just offered to the House, when he said that an elected Government are entitled to legislate? An elected Government are entitled to put legislation before the House of Commons and the House of Lords and to persuade the majority of those Houses to pass that legislation. That is an elected Government's entitlement; no more, no less.
Although I believe that a Government are entitled to introduce Bills and that the Government perhaps stand condemned out of their own mouths for having no real substance to put to the House and to the country, I do not believe that the Government have any right to object to Opposition Members doing properly that which we are here to do, which is to stop them. I make no apologies for trying to frustrate by any means that are legitimately at my disposal a Government whom I consider to be dreadful and damaging to my country and whom I want to remove from office as quickly as I can.
In her second intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, the Leader of the House seemed to say that it was up to her to say what Opposition Members should be saying. She complained about the way in which we are debating the motion and the points that we are making. There we have it: the Government are trying not only to destroy democracy and silence their own Back Benchers, but to write the Opposition's script in this place. I hope that, for those who listen to our debates, that demonstrates the contempt in which we are held by a Government whose time has come.
I hope that the performance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was broadcast live in Bromley. It is absolutely crucial that his electors understand what a brilliant representative they have in this place and how wise they would be to return him with an even bigger majority. It was a tour de force. I am quite glad that I was not called immediately after him, as it would have been a very difficult act to follow.
I do not know whether you had the live feed on in your office before you entered the Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker. If you did, you would have witnessed a spectacle that the public should see more often. The House was asked to consider a motion, yet the Minister with responsibility for it did not even bother to stand up and explain it. When challenged as to why that was, the right hon. Lady said that it was because of a tradition that such motions went through on the nod--and that coming from a Government who praise the idea of a Modernisation Committee! It was suggested that all that we were doing was "washing up". My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said earlier that the Government were indeed all washed up; that much I agree with. However, I do not agree with the idea that we are just tidying up a few loose ends.
If the Leader of the House were consistent in her train of thought, she could not continue to say that the important thing is to modernise the House, because to appeal to tradition as a reason for not bothering to debate something makes nonsense of the modernisation to which she so often lays claim.
Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to you for making that point, Madam Deputy Speaker, because it brings me to the fact that it was suggested that there would be another business statement tomorrow. I therefore suggest that another such motion will come before us tomorrow, and that a number of my colleagues will want to make a range of points about it.
May I move on to the motion before us in some detail? I am mystified as to why there is such a last-minute panic. Why have we been asked to consider all these ways of truncating debate and rubber-stamping the business before us? We have known since the last Queen's Speech that the election was coming--and I am sure that the Government knew, too. We have had so little business that it could have been finished long ago--yet now we are being asked to deal with it in such a great rush that we cannot debate it.
In fact, we have had an eight-week delay, because the election was going to be in April, then in May, and now it is to be in June. That was another eight weeks in which we could have done all this, and there would have been no need for the motion before us.
As the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, said, much of the motion concerns spending. We should consider the implications of that for a moment. The ability of this House to control expenditure and the raising of tax is one of the primary reasons why we are here. It is highly significant that those very areas are at risk because of the motion that we are considering.
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point. He made another one earlier, about the workings of Standing Order No. 55, and how dreadful it is that we are not allowed to discuss appropriation matters after 10 o'clock. Perhaps I could remind him, and the rest of the House, that although his description of that Standing Order is correct, it was last amended on 20 March 1997, not only under the Government whom he, like all Conservative Members, supported--and in which some of them served--but during what we are now on the record as calling the "wash-up" period of the previous Parliament. At that time, as the hon. Gentleman may recall, the House adjourned earlier than it needed to, and we had a very long election campaign right at the end of a full five-year Parliament.