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My right hon. Friend has mentioned a trend. In view of such programme motions being introduced in the House, does he think there is a link between that trend and controversial changes in public expenditure?
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Mr. Forth: Of course that is true, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I must not allow myself to be seduced by my enthusiastic hon. Friends into straying more widely than the motion itself allows. I shall try to resist that in future.
I want briefly to discuss amendment No. 1, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who is, as ever, in his place. If one considers the explanatory notes as they relate to clause 2(2), one can see the potential importance of that proposal. I do not seek to judge its substance, but I want simply to put in context the time that might properly be required to consider it. The explanatory notes say that paragraph 3B
"provides that power to grant a right to representation can only be exercised where an individual's financial resources are such that the body considering the application is satisfied that he is eligible."
Again, with regard to the substance in these matters, I am looking forward enormously to the Minister's explanation of why she believes, having arrived where we are today in these circumstances, that we can do justice to the gravity and substance of the new clause and the amendment in the time left to us.
James Brokenshire: My right hon. Friend is making some interesting points about the proposals to be considered on Report, but clearly it is for the House to determine how it wants the debate to proceed. Under the original programme motion, more limited debate on the amendments would have allowed extended debate on Third Reading. In terms of the overall impression of the Bill and certain issues that may arise, such extended debate on Third Reading might be constructive.
Mr. Forth: Indeed, but that takes us back to the attempt made earlier by the hon. Member for Leicester, East somehow to blame me for the fact that we might find ourselves rather constrained in terms of the time available on Third Reading.
The right hon. Gentleman has only himself to blame. I understand from Members who sat on the Committee that four sittings were allocated for scrutiny of the Bill, but that consideration lasted only about half an hour. There was the opportunity to scrutinise the Bill at that stage, and we have further opportunities now,
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but he is letting the Government get away with not debating the substance of the Bill. Will he put his great eloquence on hold and call his Division?
Mr. Forth: It is not my fault if the Committee did not do its job; I was not on the Committee. I did not frame this disgraceful motion; the Government did. I did not put on a statement earlier, knowing that this important business was to follow; the Government did. For the hon. Gentleman to seek somehow to blame me for the fact that we find ourselves in this invidious parliamentary position will not do.
Mark Pritchard: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) is a little confused? Earlier he suggested that he was surprised that the Government had tabled the motion. For him to point the finger over here is unfriendly at best. Perhaps he should have words with the Minister.
I do not want to delay the House for too long because I want to leave time for the Ministerafter my hon. Friends have spokento justify this outrageous, disgraceful and unacceptable programme motion, which I hope that the House will throw out.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is right in two respects. First, the programme motion replaces a previous one, which was determined at Second Reading. It cannot be right to determine the length of Report at Second Reading when no onenot the Whips, the Minister or the Oppositioncan know the interests that Back-Bench Members may have in the Bill.
Secondly, I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman is right that had the programme motion not been moved today, proceedings on the Bill would have been completed well within the time allotted by the motion. We have now spent a substantial part of that time discussing a programme motion that I believe to be entirely otiose. Even at this point, the Minister may wish to withdraw it so that we can get on with the important substance of debate.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I will keep my comments short. There are long-standing principles with regard to guillotining debate in this House. As the Committee on the Bill was amicable, I am surprised that the Government have moved this unhelpful and unfortunate motion. There was cross-party consensus in Committee and on the Floor of the House today, with the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) foremost among those indicating surprise that the motion was tabled.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) rightly and eloquently pointed out that this is an important Bill containing important elements of public expenditure. Therefore, it is
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incumbent on all hon. Members to come along on behalf of their constituents, whose taxes will be taken as a result of changes in the Bill, and to be accountable. We need to hear the Minister respond at length to the debate and we need an opportunity to look at the details fully and frankly.
Too many programme motions are being tabled and there is too much curbing of debate. We often hear that this House is no longer taken seriously and, regrettably, I often think that the Government are setting a bad example to new Members like myself. At a later point, I would like to compliment the Government for noting this debate, reading Hansard and changing their mind on tabling so many programme motions. This place is the better for rigorous debate and it is better served by robust debate. That is what this Chamber is for.
Mark Pritchard: I was about to do so in my concluding remarks, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is unfortunate that the Government have taken this course of action. I hope that they will have a rethink and allow all hon. Members who wish to speak to do so.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): My friend and neighbour the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is one of the great debaters and is always charming. He is someone with whom I like to think that I get on extremely well and I am always loth to disagree with him. However, I must do so today. I hope that that will not harm our deep and long friendship.
I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman has a loathing of programme motions and he has a right to take that point of view. However, I must tell him that the debate in Committee was comprehensive, if not lengthy, and that the programme motion was agreed with both Opposition Front Benches.
Bridget Prentice: I will not. I understand why the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst takes the view that he does, but the consensual politics about which he spoke has clearly broken down somewhere along the line. The motion was agreed by the usual channels and for that reason I would like to proceed with the rest of the debate.
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