Speaking in the debate on the Government's proposals to curtail discussion on 666 Amendments, Sir George said this was no way to treat Parliament.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I propose to make the briefest speech so far in this debate. I begin by agreeing with part of what the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said, in that the guillotine is the least satisfactory of all options. A more satisfactory one--if it can be secured--is an agreed programme motion that provides adequate time, to which I have often put my name when I believe that to be in the interests of proper discussion. The difficulty is that we can get an agreed programme motion only if the Government are prepared to offer adequate time. Given the scale of the amendments confronting the House this afternoon, I very much doubt whether the Government would have been able to open Parliament next week if they were first to concede the amount of time which, in my judgment, is necessary to deal with the Bills that are under discussion this week.
Mr. Hogg: Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Sir George Young: Yes, but it will the only time, otherwise I will break my undertaking.
Mr. Hogg: I have already made the point to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that I have sympathy with the consensual timetable programme motion, but only on the basis that it is amendable. Many right hon. and hon. Members believe that those on the Front Benches did not actively reflect the identification of priorities. If we are to have programme motions, they must be amendable so that Back Benchers can seek to vary the allocated times.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I do not think that he disputes my point that the least satisfactory option is the guillotine. A better option is the agreed programme, and then we can have a discussion about how to reach it.
Just over a year ago, when I wound up the debate on the Loyal Address, I said that the Government's programme was ambitious. I also said:
For many of us, the shambles of the fag-end of the previous Session is still fresh in our memory--four guillotines in the last 10 days of the previous Session, and 820 amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill. However, far from learning the lessons of the end of the previous Session, the Government seem determined to repeat and amplify their mistakes.
So indeed has this turned out to be. My warnings at that time were brushed aside by the Leader of the House, who explained that the Government were
modernising and reforming the legislative process.--[Official Report, 24 November 2000; Vol. 339, c. 709-10.]
The right hon. Lady went on to reassure the House that the development of how the Government were handling the House's work should also produce better legislation. I do not think that that hope has been achieved.
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We end this Session, as we ended the previous one, with an unseemly rush of inadequate opportunities to consider important legislation. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill was dealt with expeditiously and amicably in this House. The Minister was kind enough to compliment Opposition Members on the way in which they conducted themselves. Third Reading was on 14 March. Second Reading in another place was on 3 April. The Bill then disappeared into a legislative Bermuda triangle, the map for which is jealously guarded by Sir Murdo Maclean. The Bill was glimpsed briefly between the clouds on 11 May. It then disappeared entirely until 10 September, when it reappeared, running dangerously low on fuel, in another place.
This is an almost unprecedented disruption in the legislative process. It was rather elegantly explained away by a Minister in another place who said:
we have had an unfortunate break in the thread of continuity . . . But that has enabled us to have time to pause for reflection.--[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 October 2000; Vol. 617, c. 183.]
The reflection has altered and substantially increased the Bill, which is now stacked, along with eight others, over the House of Commons, awaiting a landing slot.
This is a serious Bill. It sets the framework within which the democratic process takes place. It is a constitutional Bill; it influences how elections are conducted and referendums held. I caution the Home Secretary and other Ministers against over-use of the "listening Government" phrase. We have heard rather a lot of that this week. They may be a listening Government, but they are also rather careless. These Bills have not been well drafted, and that has been part of the trouble.
The Home Secretary says that the Government have not brought in very many Bills. He is able to say that only because, in one case, three Bills have been put into one. The Transport Bill is actually three Bills--it deals with the National Air Traffic Services, the Strategic Rail Authority and charging. This Bill is also more than one Bill--it is the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. So I urge caution about over-use of the argument about the number of Bills.
I spoke in yesterday's guillotined debate on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. Everybody spoke in a disciplined way--they stuck to the footpath and there was very little rambling. None the less, we could not do justice to all the amendments and the Bill was not fully considered. Exactly the same thing will happen to night.
The Disqualifications Bill also had a very unusual passage. Third Reading was on 25 January. Indeed, it was so important that the House sat all through the night. On 26 January, the Bill had its First Reading in another place and then disappeared off the radar until 27 July. It has now been amended substantially and this House is invited to accept that a Bill which the Government did not seem to mind about for six months now has to be rushed through in two days.
This is no way to manage a legislative programme; it is no way to treat Parliament and it is no way to scrutinise Bills. For those reasons, I will have no hesitation in voting against the guillotine.