Tories accuse Government of not allowing enough time for debates

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The government is forcing through legislation and systematically denying MPs the chance to debate Bills by imposing strict timetables, the Tories complained yesterday.

The government is forcing through legislation and systematically denying MPs the chance to debate Bills by imposing strict timetables, the Tories complained yesterday.

The influence of opposition MPs was being eroded by rules to limit Parliamentary time devoted to scrutinise government Bills, they warned.

The argument began with a series of angry exchanges over so-called guillotines, which limit the time allocated for MPs to debate Bills.

These programme motions were designed to end late-night sittings by setting out the timetable for each Bill, and allocating time for each stage of its passage through the Commons. But the experiment has provoked anger from opposition MPs.

Conservative MPs have threatened to withdraw co-operation with the Government ­ in effect operating a work to rule. Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, was rebuked by the Speaker last month for staging a sit-in during a Standing Committee meeting in protest at the lack of time for debate.

The dispute resurfaced yesterday with the latest report of the Commons Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons. The Labour-dominated committee recommended detailed chan-ges be made to the regulations governing the timetables for government Bills.

The report proposed giving new powers to Commons standing committees to extend the time allowed for detailed debate on Bills.

"We believe that if these procedural approaches are supported by all we will have improved the legislative 'terms of trade' to the benefit of everyone," it said. "In practice, every programme motion in this session has faced opposition, irrespective of content."

The report said the Government would enjoy "greater certainty" about its timetable, while opposition parties and backbenchers "will get greater opportunities to debate and vote on the issues of most concern to them".

But in a minority report, Angela Browning, the shadow Leader of the Commons, condemned the proposals. A memorandum by Mrs Browning and Richard Shepherd, another Tory MP, said: "It is clearly to the disadvantage of the Official Opposition, to the expressed disadvantage of backbenchers and minorities and to the balance between the majority and minority within the House."

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