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Business of the House

Volume 482: debated on Wednesday 12 November 2008

I beg to move,

That, at this day’s sitting, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on:

(1) the Motions in the name of Ms Harriet Harman relating to Regional Accountability, Regional Select Committees, Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees and Regional Grand Committees, not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first such Motion;

(2) the Motions in the name of Ms Harriet Harman relating to European Scrutiny (Standing Orders) and Modernisation of the House of Commons (Changes to Standing Orders) not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first such Motion; and

(3) the Motion in the name of Ms Harriet Harman relating to the Speaker’s Conference not later than one hour after the commencement of proceedings on that Motion;

such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings may continue after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.

We have tried to introduce the measures as quickly as possible, partly because some of them lapse at the end of the Session and therefore need to be renewed, while others lapse at the end of the year and also need to be renewed. We wanted to ensure that that could happen on one parliamentary day.

We tabled the business motion a full week in advance of today’s debate so that hon. Members could have full notice of the way in which we intended to proceed. That is earlier than we have sometimes been able to table business motions and I hope that it has assisted hon. Members.

We are keen to allow time for votes, given that there may be several this afternoon, and it would wrong for them to eat into the time allowed for debate. Consequently, we have created three discrete debates of one and a half hours on regional accountability and the various measures that need to be rolled over into the next Session

The Deputy Leader of the House talks about time for debate, but I do not understand how there can be time when there is already a five-minute limit on speeches if the motion is accepted.

I may be able to bind the House together by saying that, in my experience, a three-minute speech by me is just as good as a 57-minute speech.

Even the hon. Gentleman is with me. We have tried to allow sufficient time for debate. Several Members said that we should have more time to debate the Speaker’s Conference because it constitutes a significant departure in that we have not had one for many years. Some suggested that we should take time from the regional accountability debate and give it to the European scrutiny debate. We have tried to provide a balanced afternoon.

We have tried to restrict the business to one day because of the current economic position throughout the world and in this country, and the many requests that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I hear every Thursday for debates on many other subjects. For us to debate our own procedures for more than a day might be inappropriate.

First, the House has not had the opportunity to debate the economic situation in Government time, so that is a poor excuse for limiting debate on these important motions. Secondly, the debate may need to be limited to one day, but the length of that parliamentary day does not need to be fixed. There is no need for the business motion to limit the length of the debates and business does not need to finish at 7 pm. We could run the debate for as long as it takes, and those Members who want to participate could stay as long as they wish.

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has fully understood the Order Paper. Under the statutory provisions on the Members’ Fund, we may well go on beyond 7 pm, because that debate must last for one and a half hours. We have made provision to enable that to happen after the moment of interruption this evening.

These measures need to be debated and it is more important that we get on to those debates than we continue debating the arrangements for them.

I certainly agree with the Deputy Leader of the House that it is good that the Government gave rather longer notice of the business motion than they normally do, but that is about all I can agree with. As my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) so clearly pointed out, it is no argument to use the economic crisis as an reason for restricting debate about whether we are going to spend up to £2 million of taxpayers’ money on setting up eight more regional Select Committees and Grand Committees, or on whether the European Scrutiny Committee should continue to meet in private and not in public. We have not had a debate on the economic crisis in this country in Government time. I have consistently asked for such a debate, but the Government have consistently resisted that request.

The motions are significant and need proper time for debate. On the first set on regional accountability, the Select Committee’s report was pushed through only on the casting vote of the Leader of the House as Chairman, but we will have only one and a half hour’s debate on those motions. The issue of European legislation is of great concern to many of our constituents. Some 50 per cent. of our legislation comes from Europe, but the question of how this Parliament should examine it will be debated for only one and a half hours. Frankly, the business motion is outrageous. Far more time is needed for both those issues.

The Deputy Leader of the House also said that the Speaker’s Conference is significant. If so, why does he propose to restrict debate on it to one hour? The business motion is farcical, and I urge hon. Members to vote against it.

I share the strength of feeling of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). This motion is a complete abuse of the Government’s powers. Since we came back in October, we have had days and days on which the House has finished early. We have had days and days on which we have had no votes at all, but we are still told that we do not have time to discuss amendments and new clauses to Bills, which were tabled by both Labour and Opposition Members.

Now we come to this controversial motion—the Leader of the House knew that it was controversial from the moment that the Modernisation Committee discussed it. It was only because she was lucky enough to get a new member on to the Committee the night before the issue was discussed that she even had the opportunity to use her casting vote to get it through. Colleagues want to speak on the issue of regional Select Committees.

The Deputy Leader of the House has suggested that it is relatively less important that we have time to discuss this internal business. It matters to the working of Britain’s democracy whether we have regional Select Committees, how they are composed, how much travel they do and whether we should pay the Chairman; it matters whether the European Scrutiny Committee sits in private or in public; and it matters whether we have a Speaker’s Conference, under your chairmanship, Mr. Speaker, about making ourselves more representative.

Those are important matters, but the Deputy Leader of the House has argued that these issues must be timetabled, because otherwise we would eat into the time for important business. He suggested that we need to debate the state of the economy, but it was my colleagues who initiated the debate on the economy on Monday, not the Government. We still have not had a debate on the economy in Government time. Wednesday is the day when most colleagues are here, so there is no reason at all why we cannot have a debate that is not timetabled to discuss such matters in turn. Some colleagues are willing to attend this place on a Wednesday afternoon and a Wednesday evening, and some colleagues do not have to disappear at 6.30 or 7 o’clock this evening to do other things.

We are willing to earn our money and do the job properly, and it is about time that the Government realised that this is the price that they will pay. They will be criticised every time they introduce business motions of this sort, because they are still insisting that the business of the House is decided by the Executive, not by Parliament. Until we get Parliament deciding Parliament’s business—not the Executive, whatever party or combination of parties is in power—we will not be doing our job properly.

This is a complete abuse of the Government’s powers in this place, and I hope that colleagues on both sides of the House—Labour Back Benchers and Opposition Members—will oppose the business motion.

I rise to support what the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) has just said. Like him, I think that this is an abuse. I think, too, that many hon. and right hon. Members are prepared to sit late tonight on a matter of this importance. After all, those of us who have been Members of the House some little time always used to be here until 10 o’clock, without particular inconvenience. It may be that people now make different arrangements or want to get to their constituencies early on a Wednesday or have pressing engagements at freebie dinners, but that is not a first priority for hon. and right hon. Members.

I want to make a few general points. First, there is a general principle that in a democratic body, Members who wish to express a view on matters of importance should be able to do so. Of course it is true that that is often a bore. Many of us are boring—[Interruption.] That is good of my hon. Friends, but it is also true that some of us are boring at least some of the time. However, one burden of being a Member of the House is to put up with bores.

I was on the Front Bench as a Government Whip for quite a long time. By God, it was boring, but I at least recognised that part of the process of a democratic House is to listen to views. The point has already been made that quite significant issues are being discussed in the first group of motions—I think that all the issues are significant. If one reflects just for a moment on how many right hon. and hon. Members will intervene, one sees how inadequate the time will be. There will be Front-Bench spokesmen for the two leading parties and a Front-Bench spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. Then somebody from the Modernisation Committee will be called, after which one or two illustrious parliamentarians will doubtless be called to speak. When the House has exhausted that lot, there will be very little for the rest of us, unless of course we fall into the category of illustrious parliamentarian.

Even with a limit of five minutes, which you have imposed, Mr. Speaker, very few Back Benchers will get into the debate, but if one looks at the kind of issue that will be raised in relation to the first grouping, one sees how important they are. Right hon. and hon. Members will be demanding an answer to the question, Is there a need for these regional Select Committees? Can the House staff them in terms of parliamentarians and House of Commons staff? Can the House justify the cost of £2 million or so, which is quite considerable? Will this proposal extend the powers of patronage available to those on the Front Benches? That is an important issue, because some Members will pay quite a lot in terms of their independence to sit on these regional Select Committees, and I am not sure that I want to give the Government, or even my own Front Benchers, a power of patronage.

Incidentally, if the Chairman is to be paid, that will be another significant bit of patronage available to those on the Front Bench. I ask myself, “Are those not questions that need to be ventilated by as many people as want to speak?”

I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman has seen them, but there have been two articles in the press in the last week suggesting that the new, or reinstated, Government Chief Whip would not allow Labour Members to become members of a Select Committee if they have ever voted against the Government. Therefore, the only people who would go on the Select Committee would be people—[Interruption.] I am not sure that there will be enough to serve all the Committees. It seems to me that that is absolutely a further abuse of the system, which we ought to discuss.

Order. We should remember that we should be talking about how much time has been allocated to this matter, or the lack of time. We should certainly not be discussing the merits of the argument. That comes at a later stage.

Of course I understand that, Mr. Speaker. All I was seeking to do by identifying some of the issues was to make the point that lots of right hon. and hon. Members will want to intervene on an issue of this kind. That is particularly true in relation to the European Scrutiny Committee, because whether the Committee sits in private or in public is a matter of real concern, and I am sure that lots of right hon. and hon. Members will want to intervene on it. The time limits in the business motion are simply inadequate.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the whole reputation of the House suffers if important Select Committees, when taking evidence from distinguished witnesses, are unable to achieve a quorum? That has happened on many occasions. If we are to establish another eight Select Committees, it will be even more difficult for Select Committees of the House to achieve a quorum. Talking about the House as a whole, the House itself will suffer because fewer and fewer Members will be able to attend debates. Maybe that is what the Government want.

My hon. Friend’s point is important. It is discourteous to witnesses if the Committee is not quorate. I have no doubt, too, that if we set up more and more Select Committees, or regional Select Committees, we will take away from the Chamber, which is undesirable. He and I have been in this place for a very long time, and we happen to believe that this Chamber is the main forum of debate, rather than elsewhere, although I acknowledge that elsewhere can be important.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that I respect him in many regards. He also knows, as a former Whip, that as the motion has been on the table for a week, he or any other Member, including the two Front Benchers who have already spoken, could well have tabled an amendment to increase the time available for debate. I am sure that we would have listened to what they had to say.

I have participated in many debates on timetable motions, and I have tabled amendments on occasion. I think that I can say without any fear of contradiction that I do not recall this Government, on any occasion when I have participated, extending the time available in a business motion. They have never shown any willingness to respond to Back Benchers’ concerns.

I apologise, but I cannot recall whether my right hon. and learned Friend was at business questions last Thursday, but I point out to him and to the Deputy Leader of the House that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) raised exactly that point about there not being enough time for proper debate on the motions. It was therefore entirely open to the Leader of the House to take the view of the House from business questions and change the motion.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention, because I was here when my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) made that point. I also remember that when he made it, there was a lot of chuntering of agreement from those on the Back Benches, which should have indicated to those on the Government Front Bench that there was a lot of support for what he was saying.

The response from the Deputy Leader of the House missed the point: it is not that we want an amended business motion; we do not want a business motion at all. We want to be able to take the business until the House has finished dealing with it. The point is that this is an occasion on which the Government could have left well alone and not had a business motion at all.

I think it is just possible that the House would rise anyway at 7 o’clock if we did not have a business motion. Probably, there is a requirement for a business motion, but it should not be time limited in this way. Speaking personally, I would hope that the House is willing to sit to at least 10 o’clock to deal with this business.

Before my right hon. and learned Friend concludes his opening remarks, will he indicate for the benefit of those such as myself how long, from his experience, this debate and each part of the individual motions might take, in order to help the House make a decision on this business of the House motion?

Obviously I do not know how many hon. Members have sought leave to speak, but I would have thought it fair to allow three hours for the first group of amendments, with two or three hours thereafter. However, I do not know how many hon. Members wish to participate, so I cannot give my hon. Friend a sensible answer.

These are not preliminary remarks; they are concluding remarks. I therefore conclude by saying that in a democratic House we must provide ample time for those who want to participate. True, some contributions will be repetitive, some will be otiose and some will be boring, but at the end of the day, that is the nature of a democratic House and that is what we should allow right hon. and hon. Members.

I am delighted to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and agree with everything that he and the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said. It is not very often that I can say that about the hon. Gentleman, but I do so willingly and gladly today.

There always has been and always will be tension between the Government and the Opposition in the House when the Executive are drawn from the legislature. When my right hon. and learned Friend sat on the Government Benches, he took a rather different view of such matters. When he was briefly and ingloriously a Whip, he was vociferous in expressing his view and expected the troops to fall into line. I think that I shall be allowed to breach this confidence after so many years, but I shall never forget the lecture that he gave to the 1922 committee on how we should behave ourselves and support the Government. I therefore obviously understand the Government’s desire to push their business. However, this Government have gone more than a step too far and they are going many steps too far today. Everything that my right hon. and learned Friend said in that context was entirely right.

I am tempted—I think that I could do it—to take advantage of this motion and speak until 7 o’clock. That would test your patience, Mr. Speaker, as well as that of my colleagues, and I would have to try hard to ensure that I was in order on every particular.

I have had no coffee—indeed, I have not even had any lunch—and certainly nothing stronger. Speaking until 7 o’clock is a temptation, but one that I shall with some reluctance resist. However, it is important that we make our points forcefully.

The Government have abused their position with regard to Parliament in many ways. I have said this many times, but it is an absolute scandal that the Modernisation Committee, once created, should have become the creature of the Government, by having the Leader of the House imposed as its Chairman. That is not the way that we have decided parliamentary matters in the past. If the next Conservative Government, whom I believe will be elected at the next general election, have the lack of wisdom to keep the Modernisation Committee—I hope that they will abolish it—they should certainly not allow the Leader of the House to chair it.

The matter is brought into sharp focus today because the most controversial of the substantive motions, for which such inadequate time has been allocated today, were passed on the Leader of the House’s casting vote. We then witnessed the ludicrous spectacle of the Leader of the House giving the Government’s response to the report and saying that she agreed with herself. That was of course a wonderful revelation for many of us.

To allow only an hour and a half for the regional debate is utterly wrong. In your wisdom, Mr. Speaker, you have rightly decided that speeches in that debate should be limited to five minutes, because you want as many hon. Members as possible to get in. Given that restraint, I hope that all three Front-Bench spokespersons will exercise self-restraint. I hope that we will not hear a lengthy speech from the Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House—much as I should enjoy listening to such a speech in other contexts—or the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey. It is important that Back Benchers from all parts of the country should have an opportunity to express their views.

I must try not to stray and deploy arguments that I will deploy later if I have the good fortune to get five minutes. However, there are questions of manpower and staffing to be answered. There is the question of why we need Select Committees if we are also to have, in my view perfectly properly, regional Grand Committees meeting, one hopes, in the regions to which they relate and on which all the hon. Members from that region will have the right to sit. I completely agree with that, but we should be able to debate the proposal at length. We should also be able to debate whether Chairmen should be paid and whether they should all sit on the Liaison Committee, which would thereby destroy it, by making it the most unwieldy Committee that the House will ever have seen.

It is an insult to the intelligence of hon. Members and the House to say that all those issues should be debated in one and a half hours. Then we come to the other subjects that are to be discussed later. Although there might be a degree of urgency about some of them, there is not the same urgency about all of them. For instance, important as the suggestion is that you, Mr. Speaker, should chair a Speaker’s Conference, we do not need to debate it until after Christmas. It could well be left to one side.

Today should have been devoted to the regional issues and without time constraints, so that we could go on until 10 o’clock. That would have meant that everyone who had a view would have had the opportunity to express it. I suspect that even then, Mr. Speaker, you would have had to limit speeches to perhaps 12 or 15 minutes. I always remember the words of a vicar friend who told me, “If you haven’t struck oil after eight minutes, stop boring.” That would be fair enough and would have given hon. Members from all parts of the country the opportunity to take part in the debate.

What is before us is not a programme motion; it is a steamroller motion designed to push through the Government’s policy, not the House’s wishes, and it is frankly appalling. In many ways, I wish that some of us had organised something of a conspiracy to ensure that we debated the issue until 7 o’clock, although it might not be too late.

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman patiently and have some sympathy for what he is saying. However, what has happened demonstrates not only the weakness of the Government, but the poverty of the Opposition. The Opposition have been asleep when they should have been kicking up—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but let me demonstrate my point. Most hon. Members I have spoken, to, Conservative and Labour, have said that they did not know that today’s motions contain a provision for councillors to be co-opted on to regional Select Committees. It is the Opposition who should be providing the opposition, not me. They should have drawn attention to the issue much earlier.

But when the hon. Gentleman so regularly and felicitously provides the opposition, we are delighted to have him on side. He is extremely perspicacious and sound on most House of Commons matters. Indeed, I am delighted that he has referred to participation by local councillors, which completely changes the complexion of Select Committees, as well as the very identity of Parliament.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue of councillors is an example of how half-baked the Government’s proposal is? The councillors are to be co-opted—the motion does not say by what mechanism—but they will not count towards the quorum and will be unable to vote. We will have token councillors—husks of councillors—and for that the House of Commons is giving up control of its own Committees.

It is as if one had said that people in the Public Gallery could take part in debates in the House, or that anyone who was in a Public Bill Committee could chip in. It is ridiculous. It shows the Government’s lack of appreciation of the place of Parliament and a cavalier disregard for what we are about in this place, and it is entirely at one with the cosmetic policies of the Leader of the House. She has never done anything other than pay lip service to her regard for Parliament since she occupied that position.

I can see that you are getting restless, Mr. Speaker, because I should be talking about the timing. It is wrong to have only an hour and a half when there are, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) have so brilliantly illustrated, issues of such substance and revolutionary changes to discuss.

As a very junior Back-Bench Member, one of the problems I have is that, when this sort of timetabling occurs, I am not able to speak on the subject. That is a matter of fact. The only way in which I am ever going to be able to speak on the subject is if the debate is extended to 7 o’clock, so that the motion lapses.

I believe Mr. Speaker, that you made the point that speeches will be limited to five minutes. I very much hope that my hon. Friend will get one of those slots, as I hope I do. That is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker. However, I take my hon. Friend’s point, because it again illustrates that if there is a one-and-a-half-hour limit, we are dependent on speeches by Front-Bench Members being fairly restrained. We all know—you better than anyone, Mr. Speaker—that speeches from the Front Bench tend to be subject to interventions. That is perfectly reasonable. I would like the Leader of the House to limit her remarks to five minutes, but it is perfectly possible that she will provoke me or one of my hon. Friends—or many of them—to intervene. Before we know where we are, the Leader of the House will have spoken for 20 minutes. The shadow Leader of the House might be in the same position, having been intervened upon from the Labour Benches. That is perfectly legitimate, because it is right that those who have responsibility should be held to account at the Dispatch Box and that those who seek to challenge that responsibility from the Opposition Dispatch Box should also be able to defend their position. The same goes for the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. He is not the shadow Leader of the House—there is only one—but he is their spokesman on parliamentary matters, and it is important that he should be able to deploy, and answer for, his arguments.

However, all that is supposed to happen in one and a half hours. I repeat that that is appalling.

I will give way in a minute.

I would hope that, even at this stage, the Leader of House will give an indication, so that I can shut up and sit down, that she will withdraw the motion immediately. Why does she not do so? She would become the heroine of the House. We would all cheer her to the echo, and debate the matter. She has a once-in-a-lifetime chance for universal popularity on the Floor of the House of Commons—

My hon. Friend is of course drawing attention to the importance of Select Committees and Grand Committees in scrutinising legislation. However, has he considered the fact that London is not mentioned in the proposals? We could have a situation in which Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have Select Committees—my hon. Friend chairs the Northern Ireland Committee with distinction—

I know that the hon. Gentleman is coming to that point, but I am saying that he can do so when we get to the motion proper. I call Sir Patrick Cormack.

Given that the people of the north-east of the country have already kicked the issue of regions into touch and that we will debate a much more substantive proposal today, does the hon. Gentleman agree that allowing one and a half hours for that debate is an insult to any concept of democracy?

Of course it is. I hoped that I had started to make that point, but I am happy to echo those sentiments. It is an insult, and we must realise that we must also debate the manning of the proposed Committees. In some regions of the country, a party is represented very inadequately or hardly at all, yet it will have to have a majority.

On that point, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not limit the time available to the Leader of the House to the extent that she cannot answer one simple question on the south-west. How can it possibly be right to pack a regional Select Committee for the south-west with Members of Parliament from outside the region, and for counties within the south-west not to be represented at all because of the arithmetic?

The House ought to be discussing that at great length, because it amounts to imposing a Government majority in every part of the kingdom, even those parts that do not have or want such a majority.

I am exceedingly glad, and thank my hon. Friend very much.

One point that we need to have in mind is that there is a motion relating to the change of Standing Orders. To apply an allocation of time motion to a motion relating to general questions is one thing; but to apply it to the Standing Orders of this House is taking the situation way beyond what is acceptable, for all the reasons given by my hon. Friend, but for many more that we will pursue for some time this afternoon.

I could not agree more. Having only five minutes to try to deploy those arguments in the forensic way in which my hon. Friend deploys them is cruelty beyond measure.

Will the hon. Gentleman also reflect on the dilemma that many Back Benchers will experience? Given that 13 Members will be seeking to catch Mr. Speaker’s eye during the one-and-a-half-hour debate, there are two ways in which Back Benchers will be able to probe the issue: first, they might be called to speak, which is perhaps a forlorn hope; and, secondly, by extending the Leader of the House’s speech by intervening to probe her arguments. That is clearly a dilemma, because by doing the latter, one might reduce the amount of time available to speak later in the debate.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I referred to the need to intervene on speeches from the Front Bench, including his own. It is important that those who espouse policies defend them properly. They cannot do so if they merely get up, read speeches and sit down. Of course, intervention is an essential part of debate.

It would be an improvement if Front-Bench speeches were excluded and if an hour and a half allocated to Back-Bench Members. I am in such a generous mood today that I will make another offer to the Leader of the House. If Mr. Speaker would accept a manuscript amendment to that effect, would she be willing to accept it? In other words, I should like her speech, that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), which I am sure will be brilliant, and that of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey—his might be a shade long, but I am sure it will be very good—to be exempted, so that the rest of us can have an hour and a half. If you were willing, Mr. Speaker, would the Leader of the House accept such an amendment? Ms Harman indicated dissent.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Good gracious. Every offer that I make on timing is spurned. I feel deeply dejected.

In his intervention on my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) hit on another problem with the timetable motion on regional Select Committees and their composition. Of course, the political composition of each region is different. Really, we need to have a separate debate about the composition of each of the regional Select Committees, to see whether there are particular issues in regions such as the south-west, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. In one and a half hours, the House simply is not going to get that opportunity.

That is right. Another issue that has to be debated within the one and a half hours is what happens to Members who already serve on a Select Committee, because there will have to be a degree of duplication. I have the honour of chairing the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs—a task that I greatly enjoy—and I have three exceptionally good Government members of that committee from the north-east. I can well imagine the dilemma that they would face. We ought to have time to debate that dilemma, but we will hardly have time to do so because in the five minutes allocated to each speaker—properly under the circumstances—it will be difficult effectively to make more than one or two points. Apart from the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the House who, as always, introduced the motion with good humour, no one has even begun to agree that this is a proper allocation of time.

I will resist the temptation to speak for another five hours. I am almost inclined to give in to it—that, at least, would put me in the “Guinness Book of Records”, which nothing else I have done in this place has so far.

On that point, my hon. Friend is tempting fate. There are some who could keep the debate going not just for five hours, but for much longer. Indeed, Gladstone spoke for six and a half hours on a Budget debate.

Well, he did have something of substance to talk about! I would not want to enter the verbosity stakes with my hon. and illustrious Friend. Perhaps we could do a charity competition on it one day, but that could hardly be in this House, because it would be for money, albeit for charity—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, no less, wishes to intervene.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Does he not think that the House needs to hear more from the Deputy Leader of the House, who said a few moments ago that he was sure that, if an amendment had been tabled, the Government would have listened, showing that he was not necessarily wedded to this timetable motion. Should we not hear from him and then invite the Government to table a manuscript amendment to their own motion?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend who, as Chair of the Procedure Committee, has a great background of knowledge in these matters. I have twice already made an offer about a manuscript amendment, but answer came there none. It is very sad indeed that the Deputy Leader of the House, having said effectively that an amendment would be accepted, has spurned by disdainful silence the two offers that have been made. Perhaps the Leader of the House would like to intervene to explain to me and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) what she would accept by way of amendment to this timetable motion. It is that motion that is making us very cross.

Mr. Speaker is scrupulously right to ensure that we talk about the timing, which I am trying to do, but it is ludicrous that we have until 7 o’clock to debate timing issues and only one and a half hours to debate the substance. That is a perversion of parliamentary practice.

My hon. Friend has already made a general offer to the Government Front Benchers, but he may like to be a little more specific. I was asked how long I thought was needed. If my hon. Friend were to suggest three hours for the first group of motions, three hours for the second and two hours for the third, the Government might well find that they had the House’s support. Would my hon. Friend consider putting that offer to the Government Front Benchers?

Perhaps on the basis of third time lucky, I would be willing to do so. My first suggestion was spurned; my second suggestion, to exempt the three Front-Bench speeches from the hour and a half, was spurned; I now fall back upon what I shall call the Lincolnshire amendment. As a native son of Lincolnshire, I am delighted to do that, and I very much hope that the amendment will be accepted—if only out of a sense of affection for my native county and my right hon. and learned Friend’s adopted county. I thus propose three hours for the first set of motions, three for the second and two for the third. Yet again I give the Leader of the House or the Deputy Leader of the House the opportunity to confirm that they would accept such a manuscript amendment. I wait with bated breath for intervention from the Rhondda or from Peckham.

The Government do not seem to want to accept my hon. Friend’s offer, but his proposed time allocation has highlighted another problem, showing that it would be much better if we ran with the mood of the House. The third part of the motion deals with setting up a Speaker’s Conference—subject matter that could have the most dramatic effect on the electoral system and the composition of the House, and from which there could be some important proposals. I do not think that we should be relegating such an important issue to third place in the allocation of timing, as the House might want to spend a great deal of time thrashing out the terms of reference that it wants to give Mr. Speaker. That might well need more than two hours, so we should see how long the House wants to take.

I agree, of course, in principle with my hon. Friend. A number of hon. Members were in the House when timetabling did not exist unless a guillotine was brought in on a specific Bill and voted on by the House—a much fairer and better way of doing things. Now, before we embark on any discussion, we are told how long we have; and when a Bill goes into Committee, we are told when it will come out of Committee. My hon. Friend, as a good parliamentarian, is right: we should have an open-ended debate on these issues. The Chair always has the opportunity to accept a closure motion—something that has been in the possession of the Speaker or the occupant of the Chair since time immemorial. That is fine and as it should be if, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham says, we tend to bore—although I hope I am not doing so at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman is making what I consider to be a wonderful speech. May I take him back to the Lincolnshire amendment suggesting three hours, three hours and two hours? If that were accepted and we commenced the first set of provisions on Regional Select Committees at 2 o’clock, which is not beyond the realms of possibility, we could then conclude the business at 10 o’clock tonight, which does not seem an extraordinary length of time to consider three such important motions. Will the hon. Gentleman please put that suggestion again to the Leader of the House?

I am ready for an intervention by the Leader of the House at any moment. If she or her deputy would accept such a motion, debate would end, as the hon. Gentleman so rightly points out, at approximately 10 o’clock. That cannot be too late for anyone.

It seems to me that denunciation of the idea that councillors should be able to be co-opted could itself absorb a significant number of hours, because we will be creating, in my view, a wholly undesirable precedent. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would have been perfectly possible to deal with the regional accountability issues in a discrete and dedicated fashion on a day that is being used for a general debate which has simply been shoe-horned in to ensure that an otherwise incomplete day can somehow be made complete?

As always, my hon. Friend speaks—at least on parliamentary matters—a very great deal of sense, and I entirely agree with him. I cannot talk about it right now, but the concept of hybridity, which is to be transferred from Bills to Committees, is a parliamentary innovation of revolutionary proportions. That alone deserves a full day’s debate.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, under the present business motion, the House could sit for long after 10 o’clock? This debate can go on until 7 o’clock; we then have an hour and a half on the next item, on which there could be seven Divisions, exempted from the time allotted; and then we go on to other matters. In that case, is not 10 o’clock actually earlier than the time allotted for debate under the Government’s own proposition?

It is indeed. With the exemplary skill in these matters of which my right hon. Friend stands possessed, he has drawn attention to a logic of the position that has escaped those who do not understand logic.

My hon. Friend has spoken of the importance of parliamentary rules and the constitutional position which is being invaded by this disgraceful episode. Is he aware that in, I believe, 1886, during the enormous battles between the Irish Members and the rest of the House, the Speaker—and I say this with great respect to the present incumbent of the Chair—capitulated to an understanding arrived at between the two Front Benches that the Standing Orders, otherwise known at that time as the Speaker’s Rules, should be taken away from Mr. Speaker and conferred on the Executive? A former Clerk of the House rightly said that that was the moment at which democracy in the House came under the most severe threat, and that he did not think it would return until we dealt with the problem of the Executive’s having control over the Standing Orders.

I do not think it was Parnell in this case. I believe that my hon. Friend was referring indirectly to Speaker Gully—or would it be Speaker Brand? I think it was Brand. Anyway, one of them certainly granted a concession from which successive generations of Members of this House have undoubtedly suffered, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), with his grasp of the history of the last century but one—although he was not here at the time; it was his ancestor Bright who was—has done us a great service by referring to that.

Let me return to the central argument, which is that we make a mockery of this place if we do not have adequate time in which to debate important issues.

Is not one of the reasons why the time allowed is so inadequate that so much in this proposition is still unknown and unexplored? For instance, one of the motions refers to “specified elected councillors”. Has my hon. Friend added up all the councillors in Yorkshire and the Humber, or in the south-east region, and wondered by what process they are to be boiled down to an acceptable number if we are not to see municipal mayhem across the land?

I know roughly how many councillors there are in Staffordshire, and I know that Staffordshire is only one part of what is called the west midlands, and I know what a terrible job it will be deciding who should represent whom from those bodies; so of course my right hon. Friend is right.

I have spoken of the need for self-denial on the part of the Leader of the House in her speech because of this ridiculous one-and-a-half-hour limit, but it really is her duty to explain to the House why all these suggestions and proposals are being made, and in doing so, she ought to be open to probing questions in intervention after intervention. I can well imagine that she herself will be on her feet for an hour and a half, and indeed it may be necessary for us to ensure that she is.

The Leader of the House is not doing it; the Deputy Leader of the House is doing it. As my hon. Friend rightly points out, however, the Leader of the House has a responsibility to get to her feet and do it.

Between them, they have a duty to engage in a parliamentary duet that will at least explain what all this is about.

While the hon. Gentleman is illuminating the duties of the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House, I wonder whether he is as perplexed as I am by the fact that they both have responsibilities to the House as a whole. This is not Government business; it is business of the House. Is it not odd, therefore, that the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader are not listening to the voices of Members in all parts of the Chamber and trying to accommodate the wishes of the House, clearly expressed, by accepting one, or any, of the hon. Gentleman’s proposals?

For some years, the hon. Gentleman occupied with great distinction the position now held by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, who has just popped out to do something or other. He has underlined the unique role—I use the word “unique” properly—of the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House is, of course, a member of the Executive, and is, of course, a leading member of the Government of the day. However, the Leader of the House also has a responsibility that transcends those party political duties.

During my time in the House, we have had a number of very distinguished Leaders of the House who have exemplified that. I think of the late John Biffen, who, in my 38 years here, was perhaps the Leader of the House par excellence; but I also think of the late John Silkin, who was a man of great probity, a learned man, and a man who, when he was Leader of the House, considered it his duty to stand up to his fellow members of the Executive to defend the rights of the House. That is something that—with great respect—the right hon. and learned Lady, the present Leader of the House, has singularly failed to do.

I do not know, of course, who insisted on the one and a half hours, but it may be that the Leader of the House was told that that was all she could have. I doubt it, because she is supposed to be in charge of the timetable, but if she was leant on, that was disgraceful, and if she did the leaning, that was even more disgraceful.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it was wrong for the Leader of the House to impose a time limit of one and a half hours on some of the motions when she must have known that they were extremely controversial and would be strongly opposed by at least two parties in the House, and to use her casting vote in the Modernisation Committee to get the necessary resolutions through? She should have allowed more time, because she must have appreciated the controversial nature of the motions.

I entirely agree. As a fellow Select Committee Chairman, I would never, ever use a casting vote to force a measure through. Indeed, that is against the tradition of the Chair. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if there is a tie in a vote in the House and you are in the Chair, you must vote to preserve the status quo, not to bring in innovation. The rules oblige you to do that, they oblige Mr. Speaker to do that, and they oblige those of us who chair Committees as members of the Speaker’s Panel to do that. I came very close to doing it on one occasion, but there was a majority of one, so I did not have to.

Those are the rules; yet what the Leader of the House has done in this instance is use a casting vote in a partisan manner, then reply to the report, and then—piling Pelion on Ossa—decide that we can have only one and a half hours in which to discuss this topic. It really is a disgrace.

Has it occurred to my hon. Friend that if the Prime Minister were aware of the timetables being imposed today, he would be very cross indeed? When he became Prime Minister, did he not spell out the extent to which the House would be given more freedom and he would take more notice of the House? Is it not inconceivable that the Prime Minister knows about this, and should not the Leader of the House telephone him and be told to stop it?

Yes, and I am happy to speak for long enough to allow the Leader of the House to go and make that telephone call. It would be right for her to do so, because, as my right hon. Friend correctly reminds the House, when the Prime Minister assumed office in June last year—17 June, if my memory serves me correctly, although it seems much longer—he said that he wanted to return Parliament to the centre of national life, and that he wanted Parliament to have a special role. Well, this does not give Parliament a special role. We have one and a half hours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in which to discuss issues that affect, in so many minute particulars, every one of your constituents and every one of mine.

This will change the balance of representation. The hybridity of the Committees will change the nature of parliamentary Committees. How can we advance the arguments—I am rightly not allowed to advance them now, despite the fact that I have the time to do so, I would like to do so and I think that I could do so—when the debate is held, because in the one and a half hours available none of us will have the time to develop and deploy them? I hope that even at this stage and even after several offers—this is offer number five or six—the Leader of the House or her deputy will get to that Dispatch Box to say, “Look, you have made your point. It is sensible that the House should have a little more time, and we are going to give you some.” Even another hour would be something.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is being unfair to the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House. Is it not normal that these matters are discussed by the usual channels and an agreement is reached? I wonder whether one of the super-glued duo could tell us whether that was the case.

When someone talks of the usual channels, I am always reminded of Tony Benn, who said that they were the most polluted waterways in Europe. I would have hoped that the usual channels would have been flushed out for this purpose and that a proper sitting down to a discussion would have taken place. However, I infer from the remarks made by the shadow Leader of the House that no proper offer was made. She made some extremely pertinent points both in her speech today and last week. I know that, in making these points, I carry her with me, because she sits on the Modernisation Committee and saw at first hand how this was pushed through on a casting vote. Yet, she was not asked whether an hour and a half would do or whether she would like two and half hours or three hours. When it is a House of Commons matter, not a party political one, then that, above all times, is when consultation should be undertaken.

May I raise with my hon. Friend an important matter that emanated from an intervention by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay)? He indicated that few Members to whom he had spoken knew the content of the Modernisation Committee’s report. Is it not appropriate that the House as a whole should be made more acquainted with the dramatic changes proposed in respect of Select Committees and their membership prior to the House’s reaching a decision following a debate? This matter should be brought to the attention of the whole House before we have a debate on the individual motions.

It would be a wonder to behold if every Member had read a report before it is debated. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) has clearly gone to phone the Prime Minister, but the point he made a few minutes ago obviously came about because he had discovered that his colleagues had not known about this proposal. To be fair, if we had met Conservative colleagues in the Tea Room, we would have probably found a similar degree of ignorance as to whether this could conceivably be done in our name—it is being done in our name.

A few moments ago, my hon. Friend referred rather disparagingly to the usual channels. When the previous Conservative Government sought to change the procedures in this place—the subsequent reforms became known as the Jopling reforms—I was asked by the then Prime Minister, Sir John Major, to negotiate with the official Opposition. My instructions were, “If the Labour party does not like it, drop it.” What is offensive about what we are being asked to do today is that the proposals do not come from a unanimous and united Modernisation Committee; they come from a Committee in which they were decided on the Chairman’s casting vote.

Absolutely. Of course, I withdraw, without reservation and with humble apology, any aspersion that my right hon. Friend might have thought I cast on his record as deputy Chief Whip. I was not casting any such aspersion; I was merely citing one of Tony Benn’s more hilarious utterances. I must remind my right hon. Friend that in the brief time when, sadly, he was absent from our company, I was part of the usual channels for a short period—three years, in fact—and, thus, I endorse absolutely what he says. I know that his remark about the Jopling proposals was true; John Major tried to operate on the basis of consensus, and to a large degree he succeeded in that regard. I also know that Select Committee reports are all the more powerful when they have cross-party support and when they are unanimous. I take great pride in the fact that my Select Committee’s reports have been unanimous when we have been reporting on crucial issues—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been addressing the House for 45 minutes without there being a need for a touch on the tiller. Perhaps that moment has now arrived, because I detect a certain amount of repetition and a tapping into the seam of history, and I think I ought to direct him back to the substance of the procedural motion before the House.

Of course, from time to time, we are all led astray, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but when one is led astray by the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, perhaps the temptation is forgivable—

Order. Perhaps one of the most worrying things that the House has heard today is that the hon. Gentleman could be led astray.

Mea culpa, many times, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I have been trying reasonably hard to relate my remarks to this appallingly short space of time that we are being given to debate these crucial issues, and I think that I have generally done so accurately.

I listened carefully to Mr. Deputy Speaker’s admonition, so this relates directly to the time available for this debate. The only Member to raise the issue of the potential costs of the measures was my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. We are facing great economic challenges, and the memorandum prepared by the Management Board for the House shows that the cost of the proposals will be at least £1.3 million. The House needs to be able, in its time-honoured tradition of debating expenditure, to examine the costs of the proposals in detail, and we are not going to be given the time to do so under this business motion.

This, of course, relates to the business motion. We are being allowed 180 minutes, which works out at £100,000 or so a minute—they are quite expensive minutes, even for this Government.

Has the hon. Gentleman made any estimate of how much of the 90 minutes being given to the debate on regional Select Committees would be needed to discuss and consider the excellent amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats? They propose to add London to the list of relevant regions, and to ensure that members of such Committees are drawn from those

“who represent constituencies within the relevant region”.

That is an eminently sensible suggestion. An amendment has also been tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who proposes to exclude councillors from these meetings, and I am sure he will be joined by Members from both sides of the House, including myself, on that.

The hon. Gentleman is right about all those amendments. It is a red letter day indeed when I can say that all the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats have my support, but I think that is the case today on this parliamentary matter—most of their amendments certainly have my support. He rightly says that the Members moving amendments of such substance and import ought to have a proper opportunity to explain them. Five minutes, or even the extra time that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey might take, is not very long. The hon. Member for Thurrock would certainly be limited to five minutes to discuss his amendment, which is of great substance and merits a full discussion on the Floor of this House.

I certainly welcome the hon. Gentleman into our big tent. Let me bring him back to the point that he was making until he was perhaps led astray by his colleague. We need the time in the debate to try to establish consensus. Reforms of parliamentary structures have to be built on consensus; otherwise they cannot endure. A reform based on the simple majority of one party in defiance of the views of every other party in the House will not endure. That is a significant point, I think.

It is a very significant point. It is right that we ought to have far longer than an hour and a half to discuss such a crucial issue. It is a departure from parliamentary traditions. We have always tried, when altering our procedures, to do so on the basis of a large degree of consensus, if not total unanimity. To tease out from the Government why they are trying to do things might even conceivably—although it is highly unlikely—convert some to their point of view. However, there is not the time for conversion. Even Paul needed the journey to Damascus—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is in danger of moving to the general from the particular, and I must guide him back to the particular.

Obviously, I am always obedient to the Chair. I was merely saying that debating these matters requires time, and we are discussing the time that we are being allocated. Before you came to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker—so I cannot blame you for not knowing this— I made the point that it is a travesty of parliamentary procedure that we have until 7 o’clock to discuss the timing and then only an hour and a half to discuss the substance. It is my contention—

Order. Now I know that the hon. Gentleman is being repetitious, because he has made that point before. The Chair may be put in the position of having to judge for how long this debate should go on, and one factor in that is how many hon. Members are seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. I drop that hint to the hon. Gentleman.

I have taken many interventions. I shall not repeat a single word that I have said. I was only doing so out of charity given the fact, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you were not in the Chair when I made that point.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is being extremely generous in giving way. With his great experience of this place, will he help a junior Member by explaining to me why the Government, in the past few days, have tried to sneak this programme motion through at the end of business? It is only because hon. Members have objected to it that we are having a debate on it today.

That is a very good point. Would that I could see into the mind of Peckham, but I cannot. I do not know why the Leader of the House did it. To try to smuggle something through like that reminds me of a story in one of my favourite childhood books, “Mr. Midshipman Easy”, where the maid gave birth to a child and tried to hide it on the basis that it was only “a little one”. Perhaps the Leader of the House was trying to hide the motion on the basis that it was only a little one.

I can answer the question that was put to the hon. Gentleman. In business questions last week, the Leader of the House said:

“The issues are clear, and an hour and a half should be enough to discuss them.”—[Official Report, 6 November 2008; Vol. 482, c. 364.]

That was her view.

“The issues are clear”. Well, they are not clear. That has been brought out by intervention after intervention, perhaps most pertinently by the hon. Member for Thurrock, who referred to the council co-option point and the hybridity of the Committees, as I have called it. I shall not repeat myself, but I said earlier that the Leader of the House or her deputy must have the opportunity to explain with clarity what all this is about. I want to be able to tell my constituents what it is about. I want to tell my constituents what will happen if I am drafted to a Committee in the north-east and am therefore unable to look after the interests of the west midlands. That is the sort of thing that I want to discuss in the hour and a half that we will have.

May I take my hon. Friend back to a point raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) about the rights and opportunities for new Back Benchers to participate in these debates? I think that that is being severely curtailed.

I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) to comments made today in The Guardian by the Leader of the House. She said:

“If people see the Commons as a narrow and self-serving elite…then the Commons has no legitimacy.”

However, through her actions today, with these guillotine motions, she is doing precisely that by preventing there being a wide cross-section of voices in these debates.

I am always grateful to have my attention drawn to The Guardian, because it contains some interesting articles. It is a pity that the Leader of the House does not read more of them and write fewer of them. She might have been able to write an article justifying the limit of one and half hours, but I doubt it.

All the offers that have been made to the Leader of the House and her jovial deputy to table a manuscript amendment to extend the time at our disposal, which have been spurned, could be taken up even at this late stage—or one of them could.

My hon. Friend responded to an intervention from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who outlined why the Leader of the House felt that this limited time should be available. The excellent note prepared by the Library ahead of the debate, entitled “Regional Accountability at Westminster”, sets out on page 9 why the Leader of the House, who chairs the Modernisation Committee, should have been aware of the controversy surrounding the matter. It states that she had to use her casting vote on the Committee on no fewer than three occasions because the Committee was split “equally”. If that is not a good example of why the House needs more time to explore the issues to give all Members from all parties the opportunity to contribute, I do not know what is.

My hon. Friend does a great service to us, as he has done in several of his interventions. He has referred to the debt that we owe the Library. Whatever one says about the Library of the House of Commons, nobody can ever say that its publications are partisan, biased or flimsy. It does a wonderful service to us all. Anyone reading the notes produced by the Library would, I am sure, come to the immediate conclusion that to seek to dispose of such a highly controversial series of proposals in one and a half hours is appalling—let us remember that we could have as many as seven votes on them.

The hon. Gentleman says that we will have seven Divisions. I rather share that view. I am sure that we will be voting shoulder to shoulder.

The problem illustrates a point of timing. The time taken by the physical act of voting will be much longer than the time spent in debate. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for whom I have very high regard, is most anxious to speak and thinks that I have spoken for too long. I have sought to demonstrate in my few remarks that the time that the House is being allowed is far too short. I hope that my hon. Friend, who is a noted parliamentarian, will be able to expand fully on some of the issues and to explain how important it is that we should have adequate time to debate not just the mechanics but the substance of the issue.

I shall end, in a moment, where I began. The Leader of the House is treating the House with scant respect. She has forced through highly controversial proposals and she has now provided the House with a wholly inadequate timetable for the discussion of those proposals. She is the Leader of the House and she has the opportunity, even at this late stage—now that she has sensed the mood of the House from the interventions on my speech alone—to seek to extend that time. She can do that in a variety of ways. She is well versed in parliamentary procedures and she knows what they are. She can seek to move an amendment to withdraw one of the motions, or she can seek to extend the time on one or more of the motions. She has a range of possibilities, and exercising any one of them would reflect credit on her. It is a credit that at the moment she does not deserve.

My hour is up.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). He made a brilliant speech that summoned into the Chamber first the Government Chief Whip and then, perhaps more worryingly, the Government Deputy Chief Whip, both of whom were inquiring about exactly what was going on.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire began by saying that he could not continue until 7 o’clock, but many of us will remember our late and much lamented friend Eric Forth. I think that he would have risen to the challenge and extended the debate.

I want to add a short footnote to the four speeches that have been made already criticising this timetable motion. When the Deputy Leader of the House moved it, I do not think that he recognised the depth of feeling in the Chamber. I noticed that he said that the timetable motion had been drafted to allow time for votes. We are grateful for small mercies, but the House has not been allowed adequate time for debate. How can we vote sensibly if the guillotine motion has prevented us from debating?

My right hon. Friend is making a point about the votes, but does he agree that there will be more time for the votes than for the actual debate?

It may be that, in protest at the way in which it is being treated, the House will feel provoked into calling Divisions that might not otherwise have taken place, thus bringing into reality what my hon. Friend has said.

Already, the Government’s timetable motion has provoked something that I have not seen before—a five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches on a House matter. Recently, limits of 10 and 15 minutes have been imposed on speeches, but I think that a five-minute limit is virtually unprecedented, especially on a matter for the House. It seems clear to me that the Chair has been approached already by a large number of colleagues who wish to intervene.

The Leader and Deputy Leader of the House cannot say that they were not warned about what would happen this morning. At last Thursday’s business questions, I said that I saw

“from the Order Paper that the right hon. and learned Lady proposes to restrict to 90 minutes the debate on that highly controversial and divisive motion, which was carried on her casting vote in a Select Committee. Between now and then, will she reflect on whether we should have more time to debate the matter?”

I was swotted away. In her reply, which we have just heard from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), the right hon. and learned Lady said:

“The issues are clear, and an hour and a half should be enough to discuss them.”—[Official Report, 6 November 2008; Vol. 482, c. 364.]

With the benefit of what has happened over the past hour and half, I hope that she will concede that perhaps her response to me was wrong, and that an hour and a half is not enough—especially as we now have before us Mr. Speaker’s selection of amendments. The first motion is timetabled for 90 minutes, and the Chair has deemed that seven separate subjects are worthy of discussion. They include whether we should have Select Committees as well as regional Committees, whether the Chairmen should be paid, whether London should be included, and whether the party balance should reflect the balance in the regions rather than in the House. Another matter to be determined is the pay of Select Committees.

I have tabled amendment (a) to motion 7, and it has been selected for debate, but I am very worried that having only 90 minutes will not leave me time to move it and explain why it should be carried.

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The first group of five motions are at least linked, as they are about regional government. However, the second group of two motions contains one entitled European Scrutiny (Standing Orders) and another entitled Modernisation of the House of Commons (Changes to Standing Orders). They are very different motions about different subjects, the second of which relates particularly to the time available to Back Benchers in topical debates. There is a danger that, with such a limited amount of time available, all of it will be focused on just one of those motions, while the other may not be debated at all.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We will have the opening speeches from the Front Benches, but many of the amendments have been tabled by Back Benchers from both sides of the Chamber. I am concerned that those Back Benchers may not have time to move the amendments, and that the House will have to vote on them without having heard the arguments on either side. It cannot be in the interests of good governance so to curtail debate that we vote on important matters concerning the business of the House without having heard the arguments one way or the other.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that this is a matter not just of good governance but of what people outside the House think of us? If we cannot carry out our own business within the sort of time needed for sensible discussion, people outside will feel very hurt.

My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. The Leader of the House has a responsibility to the whole House to make sure that we have enough time to discuss the issues before us, which are controversial. The Government have made it clear that they want their view to prevail, although they were unable to persuade a Committee of the House—putting aside the Ministers on it—that it was the right thing to do. Against that background, it is even more important that the House should hear the arguments on both sides before coming to a conclusion.

Many other colleagues wish to speak in this debate, but I want to record my profound unhappiness at the length of time that we have been allocated. I repeat to the Leader of the House that I warned her that this would happen, and that there is still time for her to salvage something by rising on a point of order and indicating that she is happy to accept some of the propositions that we have heard. If she does that, we can move on to the substantive debate: if she does not do that, I fear that this procedural debate may go on a little longer.

The deliberate intent behind all guillotine motions to stop people speaking. That is their outcome, and their purpose. In the history of this House, they have been treated very cautiously, with guillotines being imposed only for national events of great import, such as war. However, we have got to the stage where this most arrogant of Governments are now showing they have total control over the business on the Floor of the House of Commons and the way we identify issues of importance to us.

All the points that I have been making in my 25 years in the House have been made in the debate already. We are no longer representative if we cannot speak on behalf of our constituents. Behind that, of course, is almost the oldest dictum in legal history—that our freedom and liberties lie at the interstices of procedure. That is what this is about: the Government tell us all the time that what happens in the House is boring to people outside, and that is why they can act in this way. No one pays attention to how we do our business, so why should we ourselves pay any attention to it?

My hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) exposed the sheer sophistry of the Deputy Leader of the House and his casual approach to these matters. The Deputy Leader said that the motion had been on the Order Paper since last Thursday, so we could have proposed amendments to it. He is a former cleric, so we know that he understands that those who oppose the motion in principle do not want to compromise on that principle.

That must be so, but the Deputy Leader has confronted the House with a matter of principle. The guillotine motion appeared on the Order Paper for both Monday and Tuesday and could have slithered through, but Members stayed behind on both nights to ensure that it did not. That is why we are here today, fighting for the business before us—but more than that: fighting for the justification and the rationale of our existence as a House of Commons.

The Executive have so totally seized the Standing Orders and process of business of this House that they treat hon. Members with total contempt. That is what this is about. Why waste time in hearing the views of those who are sent by the constituencies of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to decide matters and raise issues of great importance for those whom they represent? Why trouble with them?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. When the motion to curb debate moved from the back of the Order Paper on to the business pages, there were objections. On Monday night, he, I and others objected. That gave the most obvious signal to the Government, if they had not picked it up already, that Members were unhappy, and they could have come and talked to people. There was not a word of discussion yesterday, however, so we had to object again. Signals have regularly been sent; it is not as though we have not said to the Government, “This is not a good way to conduct your business.”

In those remarks lies the reasonableness of Members in conducting their business. The hon. Gentleman does not honestly believe, because experience has taught him otherwise, that the Government have the slightest intention of negotiating the business of the House. We have had no experience of that under this Government.

The hon. Gentleman did not sit in this House between 1992 and 1998; if he had, he could not make that statement. The Government of that time did not have a majority, and therefore could not insist in the way this Government do that they shall have every jot and iota of their business. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I paused because I thought a Member was about to intervene.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there have been examples in the past of Governments with large majorities who have understood that the business of the House—such as the issues we are discussing—is of such importance that we must all play our part in making decisions, and that they would have been ashamed not to have allowed that? The Leader of the House, given her professional career, would have been the first person to have objected to anyone behaving in this way.

I am very grateful for that intervention, because it highlights the watershed in the treatment of House of Commons business during my parliamentary career, in that it has deteriorated to contempt. That is how strongly I feel. I should tell the House that I have neuralgia, and I am about to see a dentist, so perhaps I am being a bit tart or tough, but I want to emphasise how important the matter is.

The Leader of the House dictated through the report entitled “Regional Accountability” that is supposedly the basis of some of the motion. As has been pointed out, three votes by the Chairman were required to break ties, including on the report being made to the House of Commons. Fortunately, the right hon. and learned Lady had to her right an acting Whip. He served the purpose of pointing out to the Labour members of the Committee concerned when to vote. His reward lies not in heaven, but in being the Deputy Leader of this House now. He did that not for Wales, and not for England, but for the deputy leadership of this House.

I have been a Member of Parliament long enough to remember when we did not have a Deputy Leader of the House, as the leadership of the House was considered the most important function in the management of this House—in the political management and in terms of regard for the House. Mrs. Thatcher took business questions in her time. Prime Ministers, no less, were invariably the Leader of the House, because their authority and the basis of their power rested on having and controlling a majority. Now, however, it is anybody’s old business, so when we have this dire report that required no consensus but just the Chairman’s vote to assert it, we get a reply from the Government, and who from the Government replies on this? The document in question is entitled, “Regional Accountability: the Government’s response to the Modernisation Committee’s third report of session 2007-08”. Remembering that the Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, the right hon. and learned Lady, is sitting in her place in this Chamber, let me point out that that document was

“Presented to Parliament By the Lord Privy Seal, Leader of the House of Commons and Minister for Women and Equality By Command of Her Majesty”.

They are one and the same person. There is no distinction between them. That is what we have come to. We have now a person in post who neither understands this House nor has spent long on the Back Benches waiting to speak, and who has become a princess of New Labour and feels that all this—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman, with his distinguished record in the House, will recognise that if he wishes to make a speech that is critical of the Leader of the House, or any other Member, that would need to be done on a substantive motion. It ought not to be done under this timetable motion.

I apologise. I am trying to explain why there is a sense of frustration that this House no longer has a personality. That should not just be seen in the context of a consideration of the times, although that is the central issue that determines how reduced we are, and serves to demonstrate it to those who send us here.

I do not wish to speak for as long as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) so I am no longer inviting interventions.

If we cannot speak on behalf of those who sent us here, what is our purpose? If Governments cannot take seriously the processes and purposes of the House of Commons, we are all lost. We must have a sense of ourselves, but this motion rejects that. The Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House tabled the subsequent motions and showed concern that we are debating this issue. They had this all wound up. There were attempts on Monday and Tuesday, and again today, to have an opportunity to speak on the virtues of these motions before us. They have now moved far from the Procedure Committee. They have seized the Standing Orders and the whole business of the House through the Modernisation Committee. As far as they were concerned, it had no purpose from the start and certainly not since the return from the summer recess. It has not even met. Its only purpose is to deliver yet more power into the Executive’s hands.

This issue matters to every one of us, from wherever we come. It is not just a question of “Hallelujah” to the passing Leader of the House, or whoever is the successor. This is about the belief that we are the representatives of the nation and about votes in this House, which are important—for the provision of Supply, which is the oil of Government, to name but one essential thing. This is an important matter, and it should be taken seriously. Until the Government learn that lesson, they who treat us with contempt will receive contempt.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly on this business motion.

I want to clarify my intervention on my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) about the necessity for a business motion. I stand corrected, in that there needed to be a business motion to make sure the House did not rise at seven o’clock, but that is all it needed to contain. It did not need to have a limit on speeches or group the motions by linking motions that are not related to each other. If the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader had wanted to, they could have put before the House such a limited business motion, rather than the one that we face today. However, given that we are faced with this business motion, I want to make a few points about why it is inadequate given the subjects ranged before us.

I want to expand on my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) about the linking of some of the subjects, specifically the European scrutiny Standing Orders motion about the European Scrutiny Committee having to meet in public. There is a reason why I am worried about that and want there to be adequate time. A short while ago, I presented a ten-minute Bill to the House on the transparency of European Union legislation. The Bill would have made it incumbent on Ministers to make clear to the House the origin of Bills. In that debate, the House divided, and Government Members were whipped to oppose openness and transparency in EU business—the whipping included Ministers, which is not the normal process for ten-minute Bills. That causes me concern, as we know from the way in which the Government behaved then that they do not want openness and transparency in the conduct of European Union business. It is important that the House has a full opportunity to debate the motion on European scrutiny, and to ensure that the European Scrutiny Committee meets in public, both to hear witnesses and to deliberate. That way, Members of the House—and, much more importantly, through us, members of the public—can know what is being done in their name as far as European business is concerned.

The motion on European scrutiny has been grouped with motion No. 9, entitled “Modernisation of the House of Commons (Changes to Standing Orders)”. Motion No. 9 is important in itself, because it affects the balance of time given to Front Benchers and Back Benchers in topical debates. That is why I am concerned about the time available for debate on the two motions. Back Benchers, every one of whom may wish to contribute to topical debates, have legitimate opinions about the relative time available in those debates to Front-Bench and Back-Bench speakers. My concern is that linking the two motions in a one-and-a-half-hour block means that there will not be time for one or other of those subjects to be properly debated and scrutinised, not just by Front Benchers, but by Back Benchers, who are properly concerned about the issue.

There is a related point, is there not? If members of the public wish to express a view, one of the few ways in which they can do so is to have it articulated by their representative Member in this place. If we reduce the opportunities for Back Benchers to participate, we reduce the public’s ability to communicate with other right hon. and hon. Members through their elected representative.

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a good point. A lot of debates in this House, many of which will be affected by the motions on the Order Paper, are complex. They involve Members of Parliament being given the opportunity to relate the experiences of constituents, particularly with regard to how we ensure accountability for regional business. Our constituents will want to make sure that we have a proper ability to do that. Those issues need to be teased out in full.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is all the more important that Back Benchers get adequate time to debate the matter, given that the majority of Back Benchers on the Modernisation Committee, on which I sit, voted against regional select committees? The vote was only tied because the Deputy Leader of the House, who was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the House at the time, voted with the Government, allowing the Leader of the House to use her casting vote. If just non-payroll, Back-Bench MPs had voted, the proposition would have fallen at the Modernisation Committee stage. Does that not make it all the more important that Back Benchers get adequate time to debate the matter?

My hon. Friend makes a range of good points in his brief intervention. On his first point, we have already highlighted the procedural absurdity, or unwelcomeness, of the Leader of the House using her casting vote as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee to push the proposal through against the wishes of the Committee. There is another problem; my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) highlighted the fact that a PPS served in the Committee and, indeed, enabled the Chairman to use her casting vote. Both positions are unwelcome.

Has my hon. Friend noticed that the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House have found all this incredibly amusing, and have laughed at it, not realising how serious the matter is? Is that not typical, coming from the first Leader of the House to have the party to which she belongs on the notice outside her office? She is the only person in the House who refers to herself officially by the party to which she belongs.

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. When the Leader of the House was appointed to her position, a number of voices were raised in the House about the undesirability of the deputy leader of a party holding the position of Leader of the House and chairman of the party, for the reason identified by a number of Members who have contributed to the debate. The Leader of the House is of course a member of the Government and a partisan politician, but she is also responsible to all Members on both sides of the House; she has that responsibility, too. It is a challenge for her—perhaps a challenge to which she has not risen—properly to combine the role of deputy leader of the Labour party and her role in the House. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will move on.

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows where I am coming from. Perhaps he should stick to the terms of the motion.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and am sorry that I did not move on quickly enough to save you from rising from your seat. I will take that point, and hopefully will not test your patience again.

Let me come back to the business motion and the time available to us. It is clear from the papers made available to the House on the Table that the motions have significant financial implications that are not at all straightforward. The Leader of the House may say that the issues are clear, but I say that they are not. The Management Board presented a paper to the House about the potential costs. I have already said that the potential cost of just the regional Select Committees and regional Grand Committees meeting a relatively limited number of times each year is £1.3 million—a charge on the taxpayer.

A whole range of underlying assumptions about those costs are set out in the fairly complex paper. Each of those assumptions might need to be tested, but under the terms of the business motion, we are not to be given the opportunity to come close to testing those assumptions, so that we could get an idea of the costs to the taxpayer of the motions on the Order Paper. We in the House are charged with the proper expenditure of public funds; the money, of course, does not come from us, but from taxpayers generally. We will not be able to undertake that responsibility properly in the limited time available.

In an intervention, I briefly mentioned the issue of the way in which the time is split between the groups of motions. Although the Speaker’s Conference motion may not be as controversial as the others, it touches on some incredibly important issues that could affect the electoral system, the way in which the House of Commons is composed and the extent to which the House of Commons is felt to be representative. That debate has been allocated only one hour, which indicates that, in the view of the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House, it is less important than the other debates. However, the questions of whether Mr. Speaker shall have his conference set up and of the terms of reference may make the motion the most important on the Order Paper, but it may not be given proper time for debate.

I want to mention one or two issues pertaining to the time available for the debate on regional Committees. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) drew attention to the fact that the party balance in the regions differs from the balance in the House and that the balance in each region is different. We should have proper discussion about whether it is appropriate for the regional Select Committees to reflect the balance of party opinion in the House, as opposed to in a region, and whether Members from outside a region should be on that region’s Select Committee. The nature of the argument will be different for each region. Given that the proposal is to set up eight such Committees, it does not seem possible to discuss that properly and to allow Members from each region to participate—each region will be affected—in the time available.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire drew attention to the amendments on the Order Paper; there are a number of amendments on the motion on regional Select Committees, including an amendment on whether London should be included. There is a big debate to be had on that, but there is also concern about whether the mover of the amendment will even get the opportunity to be called to speak.

Would it not have been more helpful if, in the programme motion, every regional Select Committee had had its own individual motion? The House might want a regional Grand Committee for certain regions but not for others. As drafted, however, it is a take-it-or-leave-it motion, and we cannot debate separately every individual Select Committee.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, because there may be differences in regional opinion. I forget which hon. Member mentioned this point, but it may have been the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) who said that, after all, members of the public in the north-east were given the opportunity to pronounce on the regional accountability of the regional development agencies, and they said very clearly that they did not want a regional assembly. If this House were given the time in the business motion to debate the Select Committees on a regional basis, it might come to different conclusions, but, sadly, the terms of the motion are so limited that we will not have the opportunity to have that debate. And we are certainly not going to have the opportunity to have it during the debate on this business motion.

I rise to add one very simple point. Eight regions are being debated, but even if there were only one speech with a five-minute limit from every main party, not including the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), by definition, that would mean 15 minutes per region, and the debate would amount to two hours without any participation by hon. Members from any of the affected regions.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, demonstrating that if Members from all regions in this House, representing all parties in this House, are to have a proper opportunity to contribute to the debate, we will need a lot longer than one and a half hours. It behoves the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House, in their capacity as guardians of the interests of the whole House, to listen to the debate so far. I have been listening very carefully, as have you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and as did Mr. Speaker, and I have yet to hear from anyone, other than from the Deputy Leader of the House, any support for the business motion and the way in which the Government have chosen to arrange business. I therefore repeat the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) that the Government take this opportunity to listen to the mood of the House and amend the business motion to allow a proper opportunity to have a debate on the substance of the motion that does this House justice.

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House proceeded to a Division.

Ms Dawn Butler and Mr. Dave Watts were appointed Tellers for the Ayes; but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Ayes had it.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that the motion on which we were voting was that the Question be now put, and that we had not yet had a vote on the motion—on the business and on the timetable. I presume that you are just about to put it.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I did not mean to jump further forward; I was not assisted by the absence of key personnel at that particular time.

Question put accordingly:—


That, at this day’s sitting, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on:

(1) the Motions in the name of Ms Harriet Harman relating to Regional Accountability, Regional Select Committees, Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees and Regional Grand Committees, not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first such Motion;

(2) the Motions in the name of Ms Harriet Harman relating to European Scrutiny (Standing Orders) and Modernisation of the House of Commons (Changes to Standing Orders) not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first such Motion; and

(3) the Motion in the name of Ms Harriet Harman relating to the Speaker’s Conference not later than one hour after the commencement of proceedings on that Motion;

such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings may continue after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.