Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Order of 9 January 2018 (Trade Bill (Programme)), as amended on 17 January 2018, (Programme)) be varied as follows:
(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.
(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.
(3) The proceedings (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to scrutiny of proposed international trade agreements, or to scrutiny of the making of regulations 3.30 pm on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to devolution 5.00 pm on that day New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the Trade Remedies Authority; remaining new clauses, new Schedules and amendments; remaining proceedings on Consideration 6.00 pm on that day
Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to scrutiny of proposed international trade agreements, or to scrutiny of the making of regulations
3.30 pm on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced
New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to devolution
5.00 pm on that day
New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the Trade Remedies Authority; remaining new clauses, new Schedules and amendments; remaining proceedings on Consideration
6.00 pm on that day
(4) Any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 6.00 pm on that day.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm on that day.—(George Hollingbery.)
I realise that the convention has arisen recently that these programme motions are put forward and go through on the nod, with no intervention by the Opposition, so I wish briefly to register my opposition to these extraordinarily stringent timetable motions, which are becoming the custom. With respect, I think that today’s timetable motion is almost as absurd as yesterday’s, when, as we all saw, an enormous number of historic issues were being debated with people being given a two-minute limit on their speeches, if they were fortunate enough to be drawn.
Today, we have another important Bill and the timetable is extremely stringent. It does not even allocate a number of hours to each section of the Bill; it just sets a time so that nobody can be late for dinner. The result is that the important amendments— including, for example, that tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) on the single market—have to be fitted into an hour between 5 o’clock and 6 o’clock, or as much of that hour as is left after any Divisions have taken place. It is grouped with a huge number of other significant policy amendments, and I really think someone must protest about this.
It is not that long ago—I am not reminiscing as an old veteran; we do not have to go back much more than about 10 or 15 years—that this House was much more powerful in holding Governments of all kinds to account, and time was one of its principal weapons. We had fewer votes across parties and against Governments, but we had the ability in unguillotined Bills to use time, which obliged the Government, who wanted their business, to come back and make responses. The Eurosceptics and the Maastricht rebels made brilliant use of time to extend the Government’s difficulties and try to extract concessions.
We are in danger of making that all dead. It is not as though the House has a compelling amount of public business that it is desperately anxious to fit in. Every day, we spend our time discussing motherhood and apple pie Bills that have no significant opposition and that are all very worthy, or we have general debates on important matters almost without limit of time and with either no vote or no vote of confidence. Indeed, we even had a brief patch when Opposition Supply days were being treated with contempt and the House was being allowed to pass motions criticising the Government that were dismissed as having no legal effect.
Now, legislation does have legal effect, but it is obvious that the moment we have an important Bill, like yesterday and today, the Government are anxious that the House of Commons have no opportunity to talk about it and limited opportunities to vote on it and that it be got out of the way as quickly as possible. I really think that this convention needs to be challenged. This is a debating Chamber. It is one of the most important ways we hold the Government to account, and whatever our views on the subjects that we are about to debate—the stronger they are on either side, the more this applies—Members should start challenging this scandalous abuse of the House that tries to minimise dissent, votes and opinions of all kinds.
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for contributing to what looks like being a brief exchange. Of course, the time available is not a matter for me. As he knows, the House must decide upon that. I say to him and the House, however, that although I cannot influence the time available for debate, on the matter of votes, the Speaker will do everything possible to facilitate votes that Members wish to have. That is what people would expect. As far as the Chair is concerned, no attempt to avoid that will work. People need to be clear about that.
Question put and agreed to.