On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am genuinely sorry to take up the House’s time today. Over the Christmas recess, we discovered that the Government have stopped the long-standing practice of releasing the historical Cabinet papers to the national archives for the new year. Only a small selection of files covering the 1986 to ’88 period have been provided, and those dealing with issues such as the poll tax and the Black Monday stock market crash remain secret. Given that the Ministers responsible were themselves advisers to the then Government, it is important that we know who made this decision and for what reasons, yet no statement has been made to this House. Apparently they have found a way to reduce the accountability of two Tory Governments in one go. Is there anything you can do, Mr Speaker, to ensure that Ministers come to this House to explain this decision, not just so that they are held to account for themselves but to ensure that the public know about decisions that previous Administrations made in their name?
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice that she intended to raise this matter. I have to say that it is not a matter of order for the Chair but rather a matter for Ministers. As things stand—I do not think she will be surprised to hear me say this—I have received no indication that a Minister wishes to make a statement on the subject. That said, her concern will doubtless have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench and will be relayed to the relevant Ministers. Knowing her as I have come to know her over the past eight months, I am sure that she will use her ingenuity to find ways to pursue the matter through questions or possibly by seeking an opportunity for debate.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today is not a normal Tuesday, because we usually finish at about 7 o’clock or 7.30 pm but today we are finishing at 10 o’clock, 10.30 pm, or later. Could you help me by telling me what will be the consequence of passing the programme motion before us or defeating it?
I can answer very simply. If the programme motion is passed, there is protected time of up to six hours for debate on the Report stage of the Housing and Planning Bill. That is clearly what the Government intended in putting the motion on the Order Paper—six hours of protected time. If the motion is not passed, the answer to the hon. Gentleman, and for the benefit of the House, is that debate on the Bill could not continue beyond 10 o’clock. However, I must advise the House that in debating the matters appertaining to the Bill up until 10 o’clock, we would not do so in the order set down for consideration in the Government’s motion; we would have to proceed in a different way that would require ingenious and speedy work of an administrative kind by those within the usual channels responsible for these matters. I am glad that one such senior denizen who would have that responsibility is nodding in assent to my proposition, whether with enthusiasm or an air of resignation I will leave it for the House to judge. If the motion is passed, we proceed as the Government had intended; if the motion is not passed, we cannot proceed beyond 10 o’clock and would have to proceed in a different way.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Would it not be possible for Members on both sides of the House to agree voluntarily to continue with the order of debate in the proposed programme motion, even if it was all to be stopped at 10 o’clock?
It is a hypothetical question, but if the right hon. Lady is asking me whether it would be open to the Government to table a different proposed order of consideration at this stage, I am advised that it would be possible. I cannot recall a precedent for it, but if the right hon. Lady is asking me whether it is possible, the answer is that, like most things, if the House were to will it, it could happen. I have to say, however, that, although the resources of civilisation are not yet exhausted, no representative of the Government Whips Office has approached me on this matter. Given that we have been on statements for some time, one would rather have thought that if they did will that, they would have approached me. They have not, so I assume that they do not, if the House follows my drift.
We will have to leave it there for now, but I have explained the position and it is up to Members to do as they wish. As things stand, the House is due to sit—unusually, it has to be said, and pretty exceptionally—for several hours in order to progress the Government’s business. I am the servant of the House and I will do whatever the House decrees.
If there are no further points of order—for now, at any rate—we come to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) has been waiting exceptionally patiently.