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Angela Browning, shadow leader of the Commons
"Three hours simplyto discuss the proposition for a guillotine"
 real 28k

Mike O'Brien, Home Office minister
"Oppositions always complain about this"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 11:32 GMT
Ministers 'undermine democracy'
House of Commons
MPs say they are being denied a say on Bills
The Conservatives say the government is being undemocratic and dictatorial in attempting to push through key pieces of legislation before the close of parliamentary session.

We want to act rather than keep talking as the Tories seem to want to do

Mike O'Brien
By the end of this week, ministers will have moved to "guillotine" debate of five key pieces of legislation.

Ministers say they have to limit debate if the Bills are to have a chance of being passed into law before parliament rises.

But ministers' tactics have caused an outcry on the opposition benches with one Tory MP accusing ministers of reducing the Commons to the level of a banana republic.

The logjam has been caused by the huge number of Bills passing through the Commons and Lords this year.

An uncompromising House of Lords, which has defeated the government 37 times this session, has also added to the Labour's problems.

Biggest criticisms

But one of the biggest criticisms being levelled at ministers is that many recent Bills have been badly drafted and have required extensive amendments.

This takes up the time of peers and MPs.

And the pressures have forced Prime Minister Tony Blair to take the almost unprecedented step of delaying the state opening of parliament.

The Queen's Speech on 6 December will be the latest for 100 years.

But the criticism of ministers has not been helped by the fact that many of the Bills that have been guillotined are controversial.

These include:

  • Police (Northern Ireland) Bill - MPs were given just five hours to debate more than 100 amendments to the controversial proposals for police reform.

  • Freedom of Information Bill - MPs said they had just two minutes to debate each of the amendments made by peers.

  • Countryside and Rights of Way Bill - which will give ramblers the right to roam over thousands of acres of mountain, moor, heath and down.

  • Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill - MPs will have three hours to debate 666 amendments to a Bill that overhauls the way political parties are funded.

  • Disqualifications Bill - which will allow members of the Irish parliament to sit in the House of Commons and Northern Ireland assembly.

    In an attempt to fulfil its legislative programme, the government will also use the Parliament Act to override opposition in the Lords and ensure the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill gets onto the statute books.

    The Bill to lower the age of homosexual consent to 16 was defeated by peers on three occasions.

    Party political debate

    Speaking to the BBC, Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien defended the government's decision to limit debate in the Commons.

    Angela Browning
    Angela Browning: The government must learn lessons
    "Previous governments have used the guillotine," he said.

    "The government wants to ensure the business goes through."

    He added: "Oppositions always complain about this and I understand that, it's part of the party political debate.

    "We want to act rather than keep talking as the Tories seem to want to do".

    'Lessons to be learnt'

    But Angela Browning, Shadow leader of the Commons, blamed poor drafting of Bills for the problem.

    This is a scandal

    Douglas Hogg
    She added: "[It is] probably much better to have fewer bills on the agenda but have them properly drafted in the first place than to rush to put through dozens of bills that are clearly quite faulty in their drafting."

    On Tuesday, shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe described the final days of the current parliament as "national guillotine week".

    She added: "The government has tried to pack far too much into too little time.

    "Now it has the choice to either lose Bills or brutally cut parliamentary debate in a cynical way."

    Former Tory minister Douglas Hogg, said the country was being ruled by a "tyrannical and dictatorial" government.

    "I think that the government in this respect are actually undermining the foundations of democracy."

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