HC Deb 12 May 2003 vol 405 cc43-61

11. Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

12. The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 shall apply to those proceedings.

13. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

14. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to re-commit the Bill.

15. No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown; and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

16.—(1) This paragraph applies if—

(a) a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) has been stood over to Seven o'clock, Three o'clock or Four o'clock (as the case may be), but (b) proceeding to which this Order applies have begun before then.

(2) Proceedings on that Motion shall stand postponed until the conclusion of those proceedings.

17. If the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies, no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

18. Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

In a moment, I shall explain the urgency with which the Government are seeking to progress the Bill and why it is necessary to take it through all its stages in the House today. However, before I do so, I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning the cowardly attack carried out this morning on the offices of the Ulster Unionist party in Belfast. An explosive device was delivered to the offices in a clear attempt to kill or to maim. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident, but it is a salutary reminder to us all of what we are trying to achieve in Northern Ireland. Attacks such as that and the one some weeks ago on the offices of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) only make us more determined to achieve a complete and unambiguous end to paramilitary activity.

In my statement to the House last Tuesday evening, I explained the Government's assessment of the current state of political developments in Northern Ireland and the reasons for our conclusion that the elections to the Assembly due on 29 May should be postponed. It would not be appropriate to dwell in detail on those reasons in the debate on this motion. Hon. Members will have an opportunity later to debate the Government's analysis and policy more fully, and I intend to address those issues in my speech in that debate. Suffice it to say that the decision to seek a postponement was taken—with regret—on the basis that it is clear that without a clear and unambiguous end to paramilitary activity, there cannot be a revival of the trust and confidence necessary for the restoration of the devolved institutions.

There are two reasons why I am seeking the House's agreement to the motion. The first is that our decision to seek the postponement was taken only after weeks—indeed, months—of intensive negotiations aimed at securing acts of completion from paramilitaries and a common understanding of the basis on which the devolved institutions could be restored. As the House well knows, the Government have already sought one four-week postponement of the election date in order to try to facilitate that process. We naturally wished to give those efforts every chance of succeeding, so it was with great regret that we reluctantly concluded on I May that we had reached a point where there was no longer any prospect of the necessary trust and confidence being established in time for restoration of the institutions following an election on 29 May.

Now that we have reached that conclusion, no one will benefit from continuing uncertainty about the legal status of the scheduled election. The Northern Ireland electorate deserve clarity as soon as it can be given, arid the Northern Ireland political parties are, naturally, anxious to know how the Government propose to deal with a range of consequences of the postponement, from the question of reimbursement of electoral expenses incurred to the implications for the funding of party offices. They deserve certainty and clarity as soon as possible. We have worked to produce the Bill as fast as we can in order to provide that.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I appreciate many of the problems that my right hon. Friend outlines, but given that the issue is fundamental and there will be nowhere other than the House of Commons to debate democracy in Northern Ireland, why is it necessary to timetable the Bill?

Mr. Murphy

I shall address that issue as I can.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

It relates to the motion.

Mr. Murphy

I am aware of that. I shall come to that point in a second.

The second argument for dealing with the business under the terms of this timetable motion is the electoral timetable itself. The Assembly was dissolved on 28 April; at that point the statutory electoral timetable began to run. Nominations have already closed, and as the polling date currently set in law draws near, preparations have to be made for an election unless Parliament determines otherwise. That of course is quite proper, but it makes no sense to incur additional expense or to prolong uncertainty for any longer than is necessary. The Bill to deal with those matters therefore had to be dealt with today.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that part of his argument, which may or may not convince the House. However, why do we have to finish at 10 o'clock tonight? Even if it was necessary for the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman that the matter be dispatched in the House today, that is no reason why we must truncate all stages of the Bill. We have not yet started consideration of the measure at nearly 5 o'clock in the afternoon, when we shall finish arbitrarily at 10 o'clock. Why cannot we continue to deal with the Bill after 10 o'clock, in proper consideration and detail?

Mr. Murphy

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am not responsible for dealing with the workings of the House. However—

Andrew Mackinlay

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Murphy

No, I will not.

For the proposed legislation to go through the House this week, and through the House of Lords, where generally speaking legislation has to take two days, and in the event of messages coming back from the House of Lords, it was necessary for us to deal with the Bill in the way that we have.

Andrew Mackinlay

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Murphy

I will not.

For these simple reasons, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that a compressed timetable for the Bill's passage through the House, while regrettable, is unavoidable in these circumstances.

4.45 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

First, I echo what the Secretary of State has just said about the attack on the offices of the Ulster Unionist party. Thank God no one has been hurt. It is an unacceptable and shocking event. Everybody who stands for public office in Northern Ireland lives against the background of a potential threat. They are all particularly brave men and women. I have come to admire them all in all the parties that are represented in this place in the course of the two years that I have been doing this job. Many of them have had, on occasion, to resist serious intimidation. Many of them have experienced attacks on their own homes and properties. The most recent attack is just one more such incident.

I am sure that the House hopes that the Police Service of Northern Ireland will be able to apprehend the culprits as soon as possible, and that the courts will handle them in an exemplary fashion if, indeed, anybody is found guilty of the attack. In the meantime, on behalf of the Opposition, I extend my concern and sympathy to the UUP and to all those people who work in the UUP's offices, which have been under attack, and to express my confidence and assurance that once again these brave men and women will not allow themselves to be deflected by this utterly contemptible act.

I turn to the situation that has been opened up by the exchanges during the statement on Iraq, which were eloquently confirmed in the memorable critique of the moral and ethical basis on which government has been conducted by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short). I think that we have reached a new depth of cynicism in the management of our affairs when we are told of the difficulties—we shall come on to them in a moment—about an election that the Government want to call off but which has already started.

We are told that there is so little time and so much urgency that Parliament cannot have even two days to debate the measure, which the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) asked for last week. It is inexplicable that Parliament—we have had no explanation in response to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the shadow Leader of the House—cannot even sit beyond 10 o'clock. There is so little time that we are told that we must timetable consideration of the Bill. Then we are told—it has been dramatically revealed this afternoon—that the Government have been caught in the most distasteful, mean and snivelling type of trick, which is to bring forward a statement on Iraq, which was unscheduled, merely to try to push the statement made by the right hon. Member for Ladywood further down the headlines. That really is a depth of cynicism.

I do not think that anything that I can say on this subject would be so convincing, so eloquent, so memorable and so likely to stand in the record for an extremely long time as the words that we have heard from the right hon. Lady.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Secretary of State used a rather strange set of words when he said that his understanding of the necessity for today's timetable was that the other place needed two days in which to consider legislation? Is the Secretary of State telling us that an unelected House can have two days to discuss legislation, but that the elected House of Commons can have only a day's debate? Is that not a disgraceful statement from a Secretary of State?

Mr. Davies

I fear that that is precisely what the Government are telling us— indeed, it is the only possible interpretation. They are telling us that they have a majority of 200 in the Commons, so they can do anything that they like here. They can overturn the procedures of the House and its Standing Orders any time that they see fit.

Mr. Forth

And they do.

Mr. Davies

Indeed, they have done so, as my right hon. Friend says, both on this occasion and countless other occasions. Poor Northern Ireland, however, has been the victim recently. An emergency Bill was introduced in March to postpone the elections, we thought, by a month. The Government, for reasons that we shall no doubt go into later, decided that they wanted more time. They have not actually said how much more time they want, so they introduced a new Bill simply to postpone the elections indefinitely. They think that they can get away with that—they think that they can get away with anything. If we do not do something about that, the situation will continue for, I fear, two years. I hope that over that period the Government will experience a sense of guilt and that a residual democratic conscience will be awakened in them. However, I can see no trace of that whatsoever, and I fear that Parliament is being abused so systematically that, after two Parliaments with a massive Labour majority, it will emerge with its credibility permanently eroded and its procedures taken much less seriously by the electorate, who will have less faith in them as objective procedures on which they can rely or which demonstrate the basis on which public business is done here. That is deplorable, and I share the sentiments of my hon. Friends and, I am sure, many Members on both sides of the House, about today's state of affairs. As I have said, those sentiments were eloquently expressed by the right hon. Member for, Ladywood.

Mrs. Dunwoody

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware, and I am sure that you will want to remind the House, that personal statements are not only listened to in silence but are not commented on.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have not been here as long as the hon. Lady, so this may be an unnecessary comment. However, my understanding is that there is no comment on personal statements once they are concluded but they are often referred to in subsequent parliamentary debates.

Andrew Mackinlay

Or during a guillotine motion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. A generalised reference post facto is permissible, but I was about to suggest to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) that, having made a generalised point, he should perhaps nudge his focus on to the allocation of time motion before the House.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, personal resignation statements are an important part of our political history, and a great many of them have been referred to many years and, indeed, generations after they were delivered.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

The Secretary of State seemed to hint that the usual channels had agreed today's arrangements. Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Conservative Whips did not agree to a cut in the time for debate? No Member from Northern Ireland, as far as I am aware, whatever party they represent, was consulted in any way about today's time limit.

Mr. Davies

It does not surprise me in the least that the Government did not consult any of the Northern Ireland parties about the timetable motion, as they do not appear to consult the democratically elected Northern Ireland parties about the substance of their proposals on Northern Ireland. We shall discuss an example of that very shortly. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks—no deal has been done between the usual channels, and I have not discussed the timetable motion at all with the Government. They do not know what I am about to tell them—what the attitude of the Opposition is towards the timetable motion.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Given the importance of communicating to the people of this country the extent of the Government's contempt for Parliament entailed by the allocation of time motion, will my hon. Friend confirm that, if we start the Second Reading debate at 5 pm, continue for an hour and have a further hour on Third Reading at the end, it means, in practice, that fewer than 10 minutes will be available to debate each of the 19 tabled amendments?

Mr. Davies

My hon. Friend always does his homework impressively and I am sure that his calculations are right. As he says, it is a disgraceful and also an extremely sad state of affairs.

Let me set the curiosity of the House at rest. Had there been some consultation and had we not had such an egregious example this afternoon of an attempt to manipulate Parliament and deliberately waste even more time—the Government acknowledged that it was scarce—I might have been open to the idea, because we accept the need to take a rapid decision on whether to hold elections in Northern Ireland, of accepting some form of timetable motion. However, in view of the circumstances, the Government's attitude and their squalid tricks this afternoon, there is no question of that. We must stand up for what we believe in—that Parliament deserves to be and must be treated with some respect, and that the Government's treatment of Parliament is nothing less than a constitutional disaster. I shall therefore urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the motion. At this 11th hour, I do not have any great hopes, but I would like to see some last-minute repentance when the Government come to understand the impact of their actions, as viewed not just on this side of the House, but by distinguished Members on their own side.


Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I shall enter the Division Lobby against the guillotine motion, which is an outrageous example of the House being brought into disrepute by the charade of our lawmaking process. It is the ultimate example. It was within the competence of the Government to have accorded some extra time for the Committee stage—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State, from a sedentary position, says nonsense, but he was not prepared to give way in his speech. I wanted to intervene on him and I believe I am correct in saying that when he was challenged, he said that he did not decide on Government business. Before coming into the Chamber I tried to inquire who was the guilty party and the Whips told me, "It is not us, Guy". The fact remains that someone somewhere in Government arrogantly decided that all stages of debate would be concluded at 10 pm. It is a shameful exercise, and I am not prepared any longer to acquiesce by my silence in this charade of lawmaking.

If the Secretary of State can contain himself, I shall take him back to 10 minutes to midnight last Tuesday evening, when I asked him when he would publish the Bill. He told me, "Thursday", but as he sat down, the blood drained from his face because he realised that he had screwed up: he did not mean Thursday and it was, in fact, published on Friday. The reason it was published on Friday is that it is a complicated Bill and the parliamentary draftsmen did not have enough time to complete it sooner. It is all right for the Government to have as much time as they need to prepare for a complicated Bill, but it is of no consequence to Parliament. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State should be more sensitive to the legitimate requirements of the House to see a final Bill properly printed, to be able to consider amendments and to consult other people and parties about them.

To buttress my case, I draw attention to clause 6—a catch-all clause lobbed into the Bill, which it makes it even more complicated. Basically, it provides that if anything in the Act needs altering, the Secretary of State has absolute power to alter it. That is a total power, which I believe requires the utmost scrutiny. It means that the Secretary of State can alter anything by statutory instrument without an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. That demonstrates how the rivets have been put on the Bill as it has been going down the slipway. No one else has time to consider it and I am not prepared to go along with this charade. It is a thundering disgrace.

5 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)

I associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to the bombing this morning at the Ulster Unionist party's headquarters.

Since taking an interest in Northern Ireland matters in this place, I have been struck forcefully by the extent to which elected representatives in the House, in other councils and in the legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland require a great deal of courage to go about their day-to-day business, doing things that many of us on this side of the water have always taken for granted.

The Secretary of State, in introducing the timetable motion, referred to the need for urgency. Given that this is a mess of the Government's own making, no one on either side of the House could possible dispute that there is an element of urgency to today's proceedings. However, urgency is one thing, indecent haste is something quite different, and the terms of the timetabling motion, insisting on a conclusion by 10 o'clock, constitute indecent haste.

Having said that, I am mindful of the fact that it is already past 5 o'clock and that we are eating into valuable time. I in no way disagree with the hon. Members for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) and for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), but I wonder whether, even at this late stage, everyone having put their objections on the record, it might be possible to recognise the inevitable and deal with this without a Division, which would be an unacceptable use of exceptionally precious time. It would be a good example of responsible opposition, which, I regret to say, would stand in stark contrast to the attitude displayed by the Government.

5.2 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Members representing English constituencies who get themselves involved in Northern Ireland affairs are not usually those who seek general popularity. Indeed, some might say that they are not even very sensible. But the reality is that we are a United Kingdom, and Parliament, inadequate though it may be, represents every member of it, of every political party and every shade of view.

I have the greatest respect for the Secretary of State. He is an honourable man who fulfils a difficult task very well indeed. But I am today very concerned by the fact that it is felt necessary to timetable such important legislation in this manner. It has become a habit of the Government to treat the passing of legislation as merely a question of spending sufficient hours in a way that can be properly marshalled, and it is not good enough to come to the House of Commons and say, "It is true that the House of Lords must have two days, but despite this being a matter of such importance I intend you to have only one." I am very disturbed. I dislike the timetabling of Bills anyway, but on a matter that is of almost constitutional importance, I have to say that, in my political experience, Members, however discursive, ill informed or sadly misinformed they are, and from whatever part of the globe they come, have the right to express their views in the House of Commons in a proper way. To do that, they must have time, and we must have the time to disagree with them. Those who seek to curtail debate, whatever their reasons and whatever the so-called urgency, do democracy, and certainly the House of Commons, ill, and I am sad to see it today.

5.4 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I thank the Secretary of State and other hon. Members for their comments on the incident at my party's headquarters this morning. As hon. Members may know, an envelope containing a device and addressed to me was being opened by one of my researchers when the device was activated. Had it operated in the way in which the people who made it planned, that gentleman could have received fatal injuries. What happened was a very serious incident in itself. I say to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who speaks for the Opposition, that I, too, hope that, like those who sent a letter bomb to my constituency office some time ago, the people responsible for today's incident will be apprehended. I am sure that the police will spare no effort in that regard.

We have always been opposed, and we continue to be opposed, to guillotines. They are wrong in principle and in this case. However, we are realistic and we know that the Government have a majority. We welcome very much the comments and support of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), but even reinforced by that formidable support we would be unlikely to defeat the Government were the motion pressed to a vote, so I shall not speak at great length. Two points will suffice.

First, the Bill is unnecessary and should not have been introduced. It would not have been if the Government had thought the matter through clearly. There is a conflict between the Northern Ireland Acts of 1998 and 2000. Conflict has been clear, and inconsistency has been clear for some time. Any simple thought by the Government from October onwards would have made them realise that there was a problem that could and should have been resolved. There was plenty of opportunity to resolve the problem, but rather than doing so, people waited to the last minute, hoping that somehow it would go away. It has not. That is unnecessary; with a little bit of thought, the Government could have dealt with it.

As the Government failed to think the matter through and to act, it is unfair that hon. Members should be penalised by lack of time. The Government could either have given more time after 10 o'clock or followed the good example of the other place and allocated another day. There is plenty of time for that, given the business that the Government have scheduled for the rest of the week.

Secondly, until a few minutes ago, I was under the impression that the Opposition line was to make their point on the guillotine, but not to divide the House.

That will only penalise us, as we will lose another 15 to 20 minutes. I ask the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford to think.

5.7 pm

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

I have great sympathy with the position in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been put and the necessity, because of circumstance, of tabling this guillotine motion. I also felt sorry for him last Tuesday night, when we again addressed at 10 pm a very difficult problem in Northern Ireland. However, that is nothing new. This Administration, like earlier Administrations, have given us a dosage of late-night debates on some of the most crucial matters of life and death.

I must not waste time on this guillotine debate, because we as a party must oppose the guillotine. The reason is simple. We are talking about a fundamental change in the democratic process. It is not necessarily a suspension of the elections sine die. It might be an abolition of the elections, because the only redeeming aspect or possibility of bringing an election back to the political forum of Northern Ireland is, in the terms of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, if trust can be re-established. Who measures the degree of trust that would trigger an election? That is a very subjective theme on which to base whether we have an election. Is it the Secretary of State's judgment to say that trust has been reestablished or is it the Prime Minister's judgment? That is what the Bill is all about.

The reality is that, by the suspension and possible abolition of elections, we are handing to the parties in Northern Ireland—particularly Sinn Fein and, I must say, the Ulster Unionist party—a veto as to when, if ever, elections will be held. If they say that they do not have trust, there will, according to the Bill, be no elections. That is a very dangerous precedent. Although I have great sympathy for the Secretary of State, we must record our opposition to the guillotine. Such fundamental principles are involved that we cannot let them go without debate.

I extend my sympathy to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and his party, and to the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds), who was attacked physically. That is an attack on us all, as we have said so often in this House.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

Does not the hon. Gentleman underestimate the resent electoral strength, power and veto of the SDLP? The Assembly and the Executive would still be in existence and the election would already have taken place had the SDLP separated itself after Sinn Fein proved itself to be incapable of being a democratic party and was involved in Stormontgate—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not go down that route: it is outside the scope of the motion.

Mr. McGrady

You have disappointed me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by not allowing me to respond to that attack on my party, but I will abide by your ruling. We know which party withdrew from the last Administration: it was the party of the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside), and no other, that withdrew, bringing about the collapse of the Government. Had its members stayed on in their posts, we would not be here tonight.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

When my hon. Friend speaks about the hon. Gentleman's party, what exactly is he talking about?

Mr. McGrady

I wish that I had had notice of that intervention, because I am somewhat nonplussed as to how to respond.

We must record our opposition to the shortness of this debate on a very fundamental aspect of democracy in Northern Ireland. We now have the ludicrous situation whereby many party members who paid their deposits for nomination for election last Friday week and last Monday are still waiting for it to be repaid as the Bill goes through. That is how much politics and the democratic process have been, and are being, brought into disrepute in Northern Ireland.

5.12 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

Of course, all hon. Members sympathise with the official Unionist party and condemn the attack on its headquarters. I wish that the leader of that party had been as liberal with my party after it was attacked in North Belfast with a 100 lb bomb in a building where two senior citizens were being attended to by their Member of Parliament. At the time, no one in this House, not even the Secretary of State, thought to mention that. I am glad that he did so today. I condemn all such actions equally. Whatever the place may be, no one should plant a bomb or anything that would cause grief, wounding or even killing. That must be utterly and totally condemned. I hope that the people who bombed the official Unionist party's headquarters and the people who bombed the advice centre of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) will be caught and brought to justice, and that the law will take its course, showing that the law does rule in Northern Ireland.

It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that I am wasting time, but he tabled the motion and allowed us three hours to discuss it. He cannot say to me, as a representative from Northern Ireland, that I am wasting the time of the House. I had nothing to do with the three hours that he appointed; neither I nor my party were consulted. As he knows very well, because I spoke to him personally in the House last week, we are grateful that he made an effort to get Members from Northern Ireland a copy of the draft Bill. Otherwise, we would have received a copy only when we walked into the House today. The House should not conduct its business in such a way.

The Bill does not postpone but cancels the election. In the case of postponement, a date would be set. Even someone in Dublin, who must have been at the meetings there, gave a date in October. However, that disappeared when the matter came up for discussion. We have no date and the statement made it clear who would make the decision. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) referred to that. The Bill would wipe out a date for elections, so we are considering cancellation. That is very serious.

The Secretary of State is a fair man and I know that he wants to help the people of Northern Ireland. He may be helping them in the wrong way, but we shall not judge him for that. Some day he will answer to a higher authority. However, surely we should have time to debate the matter properly. I ask him to give us time to do that.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)

The date of the next general election to this House has not been announced. It may be in 2005 or 2006, but we will not know until a month beforehand. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that elections to this House have been cancelled?

Rev. Ian Paisley

It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman has not read the Bill. The measure that set up the Assembly provided for a fixed-term Assembly. I sit in the European Parliament, and I know on the day I am elected when the next election will take place. That should apply in the case that we are considering. My party took the Government to court to deal with the matter, and we have therefore done our bit. After the Bill is passed, the election will be cancelled—that is the truth.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

Is not the comparison that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) made ludicrous? Clearly, elections to the House have to take place in a stipulated period of time. The Bill makes no such stipulation. The Secretary of State could decide to hold them in five years.

Rev. Ian Paisley

My hon. Friend is right. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) made his point. The subject pulls together voices from all over the community. I do not often agree with the SDLP, but its members agree with me and I agree with them about the Bill. We should not pass it and the elections should take place when they were set to happen.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I am beginning to be sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) raised the matter, because it is taking us away from the motion. We must not discuss the Bill at this stage.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I believed that we were discussing the timetable motion, not the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We are considering the timetable motion.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to get on the wrong side of the Chair today, because I mean to stay until the bitter end to vote on the Bill.

The House does itself no good with anybody in Northern Ireland when it acts in the way in which it is acting to put off the elections.

5.19 pm
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

The answer to the dilemma is for the Government to ask permission to modify the timetable motion in the light of the debate and the time that was properly taken up by the two statements. At least that time should be added to our discussions. In the remaining minutes of the timetable debate , I make a plea to the Government to hold consultations, speak to the Chair and ascertain whether it is possible to make such a modification. Otherwise, debates in this place make no difference.

I do not believe that the arguments put forward for maintaining the timetable stand up at all. I do not want to be partisan, but this is the simplest answer. If this debate went on until about midnight, it might inconvenience some of the people who have got used to the idea of clearing up at 10, but I think that they would understand the importance of the matter.

I do not agree with the leader of the Ulster Unionists, or with the Liberal spokesman. I think that this is a matter on which a vote is necessary. We cannot start accepting this kind of trampling on the opportunities of Parliament. Most Members of Parliament have seen the Bill only today and have had no opportunity to table any amendments. Without going into the merits of the Bill, or of specific parts of it, I would like to draw hon. Members' attention to clause 6(5), which says that the Secretary of State can do whatever he likes within 40 days by putting an order through—and, by the way, clause 6(6) says that he does not even need to do that if he thinks it expedient not to. If I had had the time, I would certainly have tried to table an amendment that would have taken out subsection (6). We cannot deal with subsection (6) without considering clause 6. The timetable motion should at least allow for debate on matters on which there has been a chance to table amendments.

I would say to the Government that, of course, life is difficult, and the decisions that they have taken have not been easy. I would also say to those who are not here—namely, the Sinn Fein Members of Parliament—that I am very sorry that the IRA has not allowed them to take part fully as Members of this House, because they would then learn that Parliament is normally, although not today, a place where we can air our views and be defeated. In this case, however, we are not even to be allowed a debate before we are defeated on some of the things that we would like to change in the Bill.

I repeat my plea to the people on the Government Front Bench to think again, and to change the terms of this motion in the light of the debate. I suspect that the Chair would be amenable to the tabling of an amendment to this timetable motion. Although two days' debate would be better, to go on until midnight rather than 10 in the light of the time taken up by the two statements today would be appropriate.

5.21 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Things have come to an extraordinary pass when I am the only one who is going to compliment the Secretary of State on moving this motion. The House has reduced itself to such an extent that the Government do not, as a rule, even trouble the House with a Secretary of State in command of a Department giving the reasons why they should truncate debate. Having heard his inadequate explanation, however, I well understand why many Secretaries of State do not advance such arguments. He has given no real explanation as to why there is such a supernatural necessity to deal with this matter within the terms of this extraordinary guillotine motion, which truncates debate in as reckless a manner as any that we have seen under this Government.

The Secretary of State suggested that he was bringing to an end expense for parties and for individuals, but he is already making provision in the Bill to ensure that such expenses are met. So that is not a reason for the urgency. We know that the Government, who operate the majoritarian principle with such ruthlessness, will be assured of securing their business. Some sophists have tried to distinguish between a timetable and what we in the House have always known colloquially as a guillotine. There is no attempt at serious timetabling here. The Government have not sought consultation, or asked the participating parties for their views on this matter. There has been no endeavour whatever to suggest that this is a timetable motion. It is simply, in the oldest expression of the House, a guillotine.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you very kindly submitted to the Modernisation Committee a memorandum on the operation of timetabling and the use of the guillotine, which was published in the report on the proceedings of that Committee. One of your objections—I will give you the reference if you wish, Sir—reflected something that many of us on both sides of the House fear, namely the exclusion of Back Benchers from the debate. Every amendment on the Order Paper, with the exception of amendment No. 2, tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), has been tabled in the names of Back Benchers. It is the simplest thing for a Government with a great majority to determine that the matter in hand shall be dismissed without regard to the calibrations which individual elected Members of the United Kingdom Parliament may wish to raise in respect of part of their country and which deeply affect those they represent. That is the most profound statement of why we are here, and we have made it time and again.

I do not think for one moment that the Secretary of State will relent on timetables or whatever, as the Government march to another drum. In fact, his audacity is such as to commend the fact that, due to necessity, unelected people elsewhere, who are now mostly appointed, will have two clays to discuss the measure. That puts the matter in perspective.

Mr. Bercow

Further to the speech of our hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), does my hon. Friend agree that even if the Government were not prepared to recommend to the House a reconsidered motion allowing for debate until midnight, there is no good reason whatever why full consideration of the measure should not take precedence over this Thursday's proposed debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House on developing a national skills strategy—an important matter, but palpably not urgent?

Mr. Shepherd

I have experience of guillotine motions and debates that take place under them, and I honestly have no idea how long it would take to debate the measure sensibly and within terms, as I understand them from the amendments. I do not know whether we would finish by 10 o'clock, but I am interested to note that, often, when I have opposed a guillotine motion on the basis that a matter should be allowed its time, the debate has dried up within the time allotted.

We are talking not about the measurement of time, but about the principle as to whether serious Members of Parliament should be allowed the flow and the proper time in respect of passing legislation. That is the profound matter of principle involved when we discuss such a guillotine motion. Having read the amendments—some of which I support—my guess is that the matter would perhaps have been disposed of in the time ordinarily available for the business of the House. Of course, two statements have altered the tempo and timing of the day.

My last point involves not a discussion of your memorandum, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but a reflection on the fact that we have come to a serious pass when leaders of great parties—for instance, the Ulster Unionist party—say, "We accept that we are working under such a burden as this guillotine motion. Accepting that, and knowing that the matter will be dealt with in the House of Lords or wherever else, we would rather get on and will not vote against." Surely that relates to as profound a principle that secures and supports the rights of the Ulster Unionists as any I know in the House.

In the Division, I hope that the Ulster Unionists will join Conservative Front Benchers and all those good Members of the House who stand up for the principle of freedom of speech on parliamentary business.

5.29 pm
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)

I had not intended to speak, but the comments of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) cannot be allowed to pass. I well remember a Conservative Government taking through the House in a day a manuscript Bill that sought to justify all the actions of the British Army in Northern Ireland from the outbreak of the troubles until 1971. The Chair accepted no amendments, bar one, which would have allowed us to look at it again after six months. Only 15 Members voted for it, and not one Tory Member was there to fight for Parliament's right to consider every single matter.

Having said that, I shall vote against the motion, because I think that it is wrong. It little behoves the Tory party in particular to be arguing this case, and it little behoves the Ulster Unionists to be arguing that we should not vote against the motion. We know that all these proceedings favour the position of the Ulster Unionists, and that that is why we are here in the first place.

The House divided: Ayes 274, Noes 175.

Division No. 182] [5:30 pm
Ainger, Nick Dean, Mrs Janet
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Denham, rh John
Allen, Graham Dhanda, Parmjit
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E) Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary Dobson, rh Frank
Atkins, Charlotte Donohoe, Brian H.
Austin, John Doran, Frank
Bailey, Adrian Drew, David (Stroud)
Baird, Vera Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Barren, rh Kevin Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Battle, John Edwards, Huw
Bayley, Hugh Efford, Clive
Beard, Nigel Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bell, Stuart Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Benn, Hilary Farrelly, Paul
Benton, Joe (Bootle) Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Berry, Roger Fisher, Mark
Blackman, Liz Fitzpatrick, Jim
Blears, Ms Hazel Follett, Barbara
Blizzard, Bob Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington) Francis, Dr. Hywel
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Gapes, Mike (llford S)
Bradshaw, Ben Gardiner, Barry
Brennan, Kevin Gerrard, Neil
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Goggins, Paul
Browne, Desmond Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Bryant, Chris Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Burden, Richard Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cairns, David Grogan, John
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Hain, rh Peter
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Casale, Roger Hanson, David
Caton, Martin Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Challen, Colin Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David Healey, John
Clapham, Michael Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Heppell, John
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston) Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clelland, David Hinchliffe, David
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V) Hope, Phil (Corby)
Coaker, Vernon Hopkins, Kelvin
Coffey, Ms Ann Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain Howells, Dr. Kim
Colman, Tony Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cooper, Yvette Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Corston, Jean Hutton, rh John
Cousins, Jim Iddon, Dr. Brian
Cruddas, Jon Irranca-Davies, Huw
Cryer, Ann (Keighley) Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Jamieson, David
Dalyell, Tarn Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
David, Wayne Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli) Kaufman, rh Gerald
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Dawson, Hilton Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Kemp, Fraser Purchase, Ken
Khabra, Piara S. Quinn, Lawrie
Kidney, David Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Kilfoyle, Peter Raynsford, rh Nick
King, Andy (Rugby) Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow) Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen Rooney, Terry
Laxton, Bob (Derby N) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lepper, David Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Leslie, Christopher Ruane, Chris
Levitt, Tom (High Peak) Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Salter, Martin
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Sarwar, Mohammad
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen Savidge, Malcolm
Linton, Martin Shaw, Jonathan
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Sheerman, Barry
Love, Andrew Sheridan, Jim
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) Singh, Marsha
Luke, Iain (Dundee E) Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McCabe, Stephen Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McCartney, rh Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
MacDonald, Calum Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
MacDougall, John Soley, Clive
McFall, John Southworth, Helen
McIsaac, Shona Spellar, rh John
McKenna, Rosemary Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
McNulty, Tony Steinberg, Gerry
Mactaggart, Fiona Stevenson, George
McWalter, Tony Stoate, Dr. Howard
McWilliam, John Straw, rh Jack
Mahon, Mrs Alice Stuart, Ms Gisela
Mallaber, Judy Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mandelson, rh Peter Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Mann, John (Bassetlaw) Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Tipping, Paddy
Martlew, Eric Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Miliband, David Trickett, Jon
Miller, Andrew Truswell, Paul
Moffatt, Laura Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Moonie, Dr. Lewis Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, rh Estelle Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Mountford, Kali Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Mudie, George Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Mullin, Chris Walley, Ms Joan
Munn, Ms Meg Ward, Claire
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Wareing, Robert N.
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen) Watts, David
Naysmith, Dr. Doug White, Brian
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke) Whitehead, Dr. Alan
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Wicks, Malcolm
Olner, Bill Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
O'Neill, Martin Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Organ, Diana Winnick, David
Owen, Albert Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Perham, Linda Wood, Mike (Batley)
Picking, Anne Woodward, Shaun
Pickthall, Colin Woolas, Phil
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Worthington, Tony
Plaskitt, James Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris (Gravesham) Wright, David (Telford)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Wyatt, Derek
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Tellers for the Ayes:
Primarolo, rh Dawn Mr. Ivor Caplin and
Prosser, Gwyn Gillian Merron
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Heald, Oliver
Allan, Richard Heath, David
Ancram, rh Michael Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Hendry, Charles
Baldry, Tony Hermon, Lady
Barker, Gregory Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Baron, John (Billericay) Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Barrett, John Holmes, Paul
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim) Horam, John (Orpington)
Bellingham, Henry Howard, rh Michael
Bercow, John Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Beresford, Sir Paul Hunter, Andrew
Blunt, Crispin Jack, rh Michael
Boswell, Tim Jenkin, Bernard
Bortomley, Peter (Worthing W) Keetch, Paul
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey) Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Brady, Graham Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Breed, Colin Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Browning, Mrs Angela Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Burns, Simon Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Burnside, David Lamb, Norman
Burstow, Paul Lansley, Andrew
Burterfill, John Laws, David (Yeovil)
Cable, Dr. Vincent Leigh, Edward
Galton, Mrs Patsy Letwin, rh Oliver
Cameron, David Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y) Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife) Lidington, David
Carmichael, Alistair Lilley, rh Peter
Cash, William Llwyd, Elfyn
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Chope, Christopher McGrady, Eddie
Clappison, James McIntosh, Miss Anne
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Mackay, rh Andrew
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Mackinlay, Andrew
Collins, Tim Maclean, rh David
Conway, Derek McLoughlin, Patrick
Corbyn, Jeremy McNamara, Kevin
Cormack, Sir Patrick Malins, Humfrey
Cotter, Brian Mallon, Seamus
Curry, rh David Maples, John
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Maude, rh Francis
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford) Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Mercer, Patrick
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden) Moss, Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Djanogly, Jonathan Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
Dodds, Nigel O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Donaldson, Jeffrey M. Osborne, George (Tatton)
Duncan, Alan (Rutland) Ottaway, Richard
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Page, Richard
Fabricant, Michael Paice, James
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster) Paisley, Rev. Ian
Portillo, rh Michael
Flook, Adrian Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Forth, rh Eric
Foster, Don (Bath) Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Fox, Dr. Liam Redwood, rh John
Gale, Roger (N Thanet) Rendel, David
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis) Robathan, Andrew
Gidley, Sandra Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Gray, James (N Wilts) Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Grayling, Chris Roe, Mrs Marion
Green, Damian (Ashford) Rosindell, Andrew
Green, Matthew (Ludlow) Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Grieve, Dominic Sanders, Adrian
Hague, rh William Sayeed, Jonathan
Hammond, Philip Selous, Andrew
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon) Shepherd, Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Harvey, Nick Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Hawkins, Nick Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Soames, Nicholas Waterson, Nigel
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Watkinson, Angela
Spring, Richard Whittingdale, John
Stanley, rh Sir John Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Streeter, Gary Wiggin, Bill
Stunell, Andrew Willetts, David
Swayne, Desmond Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Swire, Hugo (E Devon) Willis, Phil
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wilshire, David
Taylor, John (Solihull) Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion) Wishart, Pete
Thurso, John Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Trend, Michael Young, rh Sir George
Trimble, rh David
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight) Tellers for the Noes:
Tyrie, Andrew Hugh Robertson and
Walter, Robert Mr. Mark Francois

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Bill

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