Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): One of the worst constitutional innovations of the previous Government was their decision to automatically timetable every piece of legislation they brought before this House, which I regretted and opposed at the time. When the coalition Government took office, I was very pleased with their language, because they told us that they were committed to a stronger democracy and a stronger Parliament. What better proof could there be that they not only have those beliefs, but wish to put them into action, than that they not automatically timetable every Bill brought before us?
I rise to speak on the timetable motion because there is a feeling in the House that it is wrong and because it relates to a constitutional Bill. If there is any kind of legislation that should be hammered out and discussed in full on the Floor of the House, it is on matters relating to our constitution. We are the custodians of the constitution. That constitution either expresses the freedoms we believe in or it lets us down, depending on our point of view and the state we have reached. It would be a great day if the Deputy Prime Minister, a former lover of freedom and of an independent Parliament, rose from the Front Bench and said, “I hear what you say. We will give you the freedom to debate this at the length of your choosing.”
Often when we have guillotines, we find that legislation is rushed through with insufficient consideration. Last night an important Bill went through with a big chunk of work left undone by the House of Commons, which means we have to leave it to the House of Lords. There is no reason for that. We could have a few more sitting days, or we could stay here a little later in the evenings. Some of us want to do the job properly and time should be made available for that.
It is even more important to allow proper consideration on something of this magnitude. We have heard today from hon. Ladies and Gentlemen who have a range of very different views on the country they belong to, the oath they wish to swear and the allegiance they wish to show. We are going to the heart of what this nation is, how it expresses itself and how it represents itself at the highest level. I think that it is quite wrong to shorten debate on that. It might be that when we get to the debate we will not need much more time than the Government have allowed, but surely they can trust a free Parliament. Surely, on this issue, they can let Parliament have its way and discuss what it wishes for a reasonable length of time.
Before the Labour Government, previous Governments always reserved the right to introduce a guillotine motion if they felt that the Opposition were behaving unreasonably and not allowing sensible progress to be made. All democratic Oppositions ultimately agree that Governments have a right to get their legislation through if it has been properly advertised and argued for in general elections. Surely, on this issue, this is the time for the Deputy Prime Minister to strengthen his reputation, make his name with a blow for freedom and allow us to speak for as long as we wish.