Consideration of Lords Amendments and further messages from the Lords

Vehicles (Crime) Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 4:55 pm on 30th January 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

5. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of Sessional Order A (varying and supplementing programme motions) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on any programme motion to supplement this order or to vary it in relation to—

  1. proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments; or
  2. proceedings on any further messages from the Lords,
and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith.

The motion proposes that the remaining stages of the Bill should be completed this evening. The programme is supplemental to the one approved for the Committee stage, which finished, as planned, on 23 January.

In Committee, we generally had a serious debate. There was a good deal of constructive comment from the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats. It is true that there were some contributions that I would regard as entirely self-indulgent, but it was a good Committee stage none the less. There was full discussion of all the relevant matters and the debates were completed within the time set by the previous programme motion.

There was only one occasion in Committee when time presented some difficulty. That arose from a filibuster by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and his hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), which led to the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) being kept out of his debate.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek clarification from you. If my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) or I had been filibustering, would not that have been out of order, and would not the Chairman of the Committee have ruled it so?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman. It is perfectly possible for hon. Members to seek to take extra time in dealing with a particular matter, and provided that what they say is not in breach of the Standing Orders of the House, they are entitled to do so. Only when hon. Members stray out of order will they be corrected by the occupant of the Chair.

Mr. Clarke:

I am grateful for that ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I withdraw the word "filibuster" if it is offensive to you.

A large number of contributions from the hon. Members for Buckingham, for Lichfield and for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) and others were constructive and to the point, and helped to clarify matters in Committee. I observed that there were other contributions, particularly from the hon. Members for Buckingham and for Lichfield, that were less constructive and more time-passing in their approach. The effect of such exchanges was that, after one of our Committee sittings, the hon. Member for Colchester was full of ire, because he felt that he had not been able to make the points of substance that he had wanted to make in the debate.

With that one exception, it is fair to note that the debate in Committee took place within the time set by the programme motion; that in general it was positive; and that there were no divisions on issues of substance, although there were divisions on matters of process and procedure.

That has reinforced the view that programming is a good idea and has benefits for both Government and Opposition. For Bills of this size, with 45 clauses, it is particularly suitable. However, I acknowledge that there is an issue of principle across the House about whether programming is desirable.

If we had been confident that all hon. Members would honour the conventions and move the Bill forward, the programme motion might not have been necessary today. There are no outstanding matters of great substance. It is important that the new clauses, some tabled by the Opposition and some by the Government, should be debated. Those debates could be conducted in a positive spirit if we could rely on all hon. Members behaving as the House would expect, but we cannot. That is why the programme motion has been tabled.

In Committee, we focused on the clauses of greatest interest, which related to the substantial parts of the Bill and ensured that there was thorough scrutiny. That applied to the parts relating to regulation of the motor salvage industry and control of the supply of number plates, and also to the clauses that had already raised questions on Second Reading and in the media, such as the hypothecation of magistrates courts receipts to fund an increased number of safety cameras, and police access to motor insurance information.

I am delighted to say that although no amendments were passed in Committee, the Government have tried to address the Opposition's concerns by tabling a number of amendments to insert additional offence provisions in the Bill. Those concern the supplying of false information when a person applies to be registered as a motor salvage operator or number plate supplier. We have tabled those amendments in response to the debate in Committee. That demonstrates the consensual spirit that informed our debate there.

There are a number of drafting amendments as well, and some lesser amendments, mainly of a technical nature, but we are not introducing by way of Government amendment any major new issue of principle. One day should therefore give us ample time to debate the remaining stages of the Bill. For those reasons, I commend the motion to the House.

5 pm

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am sorry to have to begin my remarks on a note of discord with the Government, but I am afraid that the position is simply stated. The tone of the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), is mellifluous, but his message is sadly one of menace. I am bound to say that he has a brass neck to hold Conservative Members—e referred specifically my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) and I—esponsible for the tantrum in which the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) engaged towards the end of the Committee's proceedings.

I was saddened by the inability of the hon. Member for Colchester to speak for any significant time on an important occasion when there was material business to discuss, but Conservative Members were not responsible for that. Indeed, the record shows that we spoke for only six or seven minutes. The Minister of State should check his records if he doubts the veracity of my remarks. The inability of the hon. Member for Colchester to speak is attributable rather to the fact that the Government provided a wholly inadequate time scale within which we struggled, through our best endeavours, to satisfy our responsibility and the interests of our constituents.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that I did not use the word "tantrum", which is his word? When I described the behaviour of the hon. Member for Colchester, I said that I considered his position to be justified. I should like it to be clarified that the word "tantrum" is the hon. Gentleman's word and not mine.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister is notoriously sensitive about being misrepresented in any way, as we saw in Committee. Of course I am happy to confirm that he used the word "ire" and that, in accordance with the principles of the Lib-Lab pact, he said that the hon. Member for Colchester was justified in his outburst. He also said that the remarks of Opposition Members were not justified, although he rightly said that constructive debate occurred in Committee. I am happy to concede that he and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), have tabled a number of amendments that reflect the spirit and intention of those that the Opposition originally recommended.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend is right to commend the Government for drafting amendments to reflect some of the aspects that the Opposition said were missing from the Bill. However, does he agree that although the amendments reflect our suggestions in principle, their detail is not precise and that we must oppose some of it?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is right. He will have an opportunity to develop that argument further later in our proceedings.

The fact remains that it was palpably inadequate for the Bill to be considered for a time that fell just short of 23 hours. If I remember rightly, the deliberations occurred between 9 and 23 January, in only 10 Standing Committee sittings, in which time the Committee had to consider no fewer than 45 clauses, 84 amendments and nine new clauses. If my arithmetic serves me correctly—for all his other failings, the Minister of State is a distinguished mathematician—that works out at roughly 10 minutes per issue; in other words, there were 10 minutes for each amendment, new clause and clause. That was unsatisfactory, but the current circumstances are even worse. With no fewer than 61 new clauses and amendments to consider, the Government now suggest that hon. Members should be expected to wrap up business before Third Reading commences at 8.30 pm. Frankly, that is unsatisfactory.

The argument has a number of strands that I want to develop. It is important that it should not be regarded as a dry, arid and irrelevant constitutional argument that is of no interest or relevance to the people whom hon. Members are elected to serve. On the contrary, it is profoundly significant, as it tells us much about the way in which the Government treat Parliament and the methods by which the Executive seek to downgrade and relegate the role of the legislature. Ultimately, it affects the capacity of the House to discharge its obligations effectively.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if time is limited, it is vital to maximise it to good effect?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I agree, but that argument is sometimes used to justify not having a proper debate on a programme motion. The hon. Gentleman's argument is honourable but mistaken, and it plays into the Government's hands. It is important to set out exactly what is wrong with the procedure.

First, I want to point to a sign of, at the very least, Government discourtesy. Paragraph 4 of the motion states: Sessional Order B (Programming Committees) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading. As I was not familiar with that aspect of the Sessional Orders, I made inquiries about it and discussed the matter with the Clerks. The Sessional Orders do not merely provide for, but are supposed to insist on, the creation of a Programming Committee, which comprises several individuals almost as of right and meets explicitly and exclusively to determine the allocation of time when considering a Bill on Report and on Third Reading.

The Government are inviting the House to disapply the Sessional Order and to substitute for a Committee and proper cross-party discussion a brief motion, which the Government intend to ram through on the payroll vote. If the Minister was sincere in being open minded about how the new procedure works, it is extraordinary that he, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope)—who, as a Whip, is currently silent, as he should be—made no attempt to communicate with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), who was the Opposition Whip on the Standing Committee, with me or with any of my hon. Friends who served on the Committee about the time allocation for Report. Instead, they ignore the Sessional Orders and devise a cheeky ruse whereby they can insist, through the payroll vote, on only a day's consideration of the remainder of the Bill.

We are witnessing as clear a demonstration as we could wish for of the arrogance, temerity and wilful disregard of the rights of the House, which are the hallmark of this overweening Labour Government. It is unacceptable to behave in that way and then to expect us to provide results.

Secondly, as the Minister knows, the Secretary of State for Health made an important statement today. I do not detract from its significance or underestimate hon. Members' interest in its contents. I accept that it was important. However, the Minister and the Government Whip knew that we were due to consider 61 new clauses and amendments today, yet the Government decided to make the statement, thus deliberately and calculatedly limiting the time available for debate on Report. I therefore appeal to hon. Members—even those who might be described as part-time opponents of the Government, namely Liberal Democrat Members—to recognise that such behaviour is unfair and militates against the effective discharge by the House of its duty as the proper body for scrutinising Bills.

I have mentioned the 61 new clauses and amendments. I emphasise that number so that hon. Members and those listening to our proceedings are aware that they have not all been tabled by the Opposition. Partly in response to our representations in Committee, and partly through initiatives taken on their own account, the Government have tabled no fewer than 39 of the 61 new clauses and amendments. A large proportion of the new proposals has, therefore, come from the Government.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would formally concede that many of the amendments and new clauses directly respond to matters raised in Committee, in pursuit of commitments that I and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions my hon. Friend the member for Steatham (Mr. Hill) made to the Committee following the good, constructive points raised in debates there.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I certainly accept that the amendments and new clauses have been tabled in response to concerns that we have expressed, but I fear what the Minister seems to regard as the corollary of his own point. He seems to think that the corollary of the fact that the Government's intentions in tabling the new clauses and amendments are good is that it is somehow less incumbent on the rest of the House to make a judgment on the validity of those new clauses and amendments.

I hope that I shall not hear such a response from the Minister's lips, but I recall a number of debates on Report in which a Minister has had the audacity to say to an interested Back Bencher seeking to intervene, "No, I shall not give way to the hon. Member because he"—or she—"did not serve on the Standing Committee." It is incumbent on Ministers to recognise that the purpose of this exercise is for the Standing Committee's deliberations to be reported to, and subjected to the assessment of, this House. That is what it is all about.

Of course, the Minister is justified in tabling new clauses and amendments and he has done so at least partly in response to the representations and advocacy of the Opposition in Committee. However, that does not divest us of our responsibility fully to consider their contents. Although the Minister's intentions are good, it is not clear that the precise wording, form and likely effect of the new clauses and amendments will necessarily commend themselves to all hon. Members.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the need for debate on the proposals—indeed, for debate by hon. Members who were not members of the Standing Committee. I am grateful to him for accepting my intervention, and I want to ensure that he does not feel that the Government are in some way behaving wrongly in tabling amendments for consideration by the House. The reason that we tabled them was precisely to respond to concerns raised by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is true. However, so far I have—in characteristic fashion, as my hon. Friends will understand—been a bit soft and a bit generous towards the Minister. I am very lucky indeed—I count my blessings—that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has not yet joined us. If he were to do so, I would probably be chastised severely for the rather wimpish approach that I have hitherto adopted.

Although the Minister's intentions are good, some of the amendments should never have been necessary in the first place. It beggars belief that a distinguished mathematician, described by Mr. John Kampfner in The Guardian newspaper—where else?—as a likely future leader of the Labour party, could be the Minister in charge of a Bill that came before the Committee with no provisions for an offence of falsely seeking to register as a motor salvage operator or a registration plate supplier.

Those omissions seem to be an example of the most extraordinary negligence on the part of the Government. Those were simple points that they should have anticipated. Indeed, they were simple and obvious points that would probably have been described by the late Enoch Powell as so blindingly obvious that only an extraordinarily clever person could have failed to see them. It is no good the Minister pleading for brownie points from me and asking for a belated Christmas present. It is no good his saying what a good, democratic fellow he has been because he has tabled amendments that should satisfy the appetite of Conservative Members.

The Minister is a very important, very distinguished, very senior and very respected fellow with very many commitments. He is very ambitious and has a very full diary. We should not need to be considering the amendments now. Had he been willing to lose a bit of face—and to pay a genuine and deserved tribute to my hon. Friends and me—by accepting the original wording of our amendments, which pointed up the lacunae in the Bill and remedied its deficiencies, it would not now be necessary for him to expect us to take an average of four minutes to debate each amendment while we go at a whistle-stop pace through the Report stage of the Bill.

I do not know what the Minister's commitments are. When we were in the Programming Sub-Committee, he got very testy and started looking at what looked like a little diary card in front of him because I had developed a couple of points at reasonable length and asked some questions. It turned out that he was in danger of missing his pre-prandial drink. That was not a matter of concern to me.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman is wrong on that point. I shall take this opportunity to ask him whether he would concede that, in the Programming Sub-Committee, he proposed no changes of substance to the order of consideration of the Bill, or to the amount of time for debate within the time available. The only changes that he suggested related to the total length of consideration. He proposed none at all on the detailed proceedings.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister makes a point that is both right and staggeringly irrelevant. This is where he and I disagree. He is absolutely right to say that I was not remotely concerned to propose a change to the order of consideration of the clauses. He has in mind such monumental, nationwide issues of great popular moment as whether we should consider clauses 16 to 30 first, as the Government proposed, or whether we should follow the chronological sequence of the Bill. I admit that I did not, and do not, give a tinker's cuss about the order in which those matters were considered in Standing Committee.

My point is that it is no good the Minister arguing about the order in which we eat our meal, if the meal itself is not large enough. I am a little chap, but that does not mean that I do not have a reasonable appetite. When I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Buckingham, I took it as my responsibility to subject the Government to scrutiny regularly, consistently and in detail. That is what my constituents expect me and my hon. Friends to accomplish. The fact is that 23 hours were not sufficient.

I hope that the Minister will not dispute that, on the occasion to which he has just referred, I proposed that there should have been 32 hours' consideration in Committee rather than 23 hours. That was a modest proposal, and I am glad that he is not disputing that I made it. One of our objections—as you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a keen student of these matters—is that the conduct of the Programming Sub-Committee was disgraceful. It took place in private; no minute was taken; nor was a verbatim account provided. Subsequently, as I pointed out in a question earlier this afternoon to the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, there was an unresolved dispute between us as to who said what, when and to whom. That dispute will never be resolved, however long we pursue it, because there is no account of it.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge here in the House—as he did in Committee—that the responsibility for the conduct of the Committee and the rules under which it takes place are a matter for the Chair, not for the Government of the day. We honoured and supported the decisions of the Chairman at that time.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

There are two very unattractive features about the Government, and they necessitate the House taking the maximum time for consideration and on Report. One is the tendency to hide behind public servants—that is, Departmental officials. I shall not dilate on that subject, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because if I were to do so I might incur your wrath, and that is not something that any self-respecting Member of Parliament would willingly countenance.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

The hon. Gentleman has done so once or twice before.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I may have done so inadvertently.

I have said that the Minister tends to take refuge behind civil servants. [Interruption.] The Minister asks me to withdraw that comment, and of course I do so. He is getting very excited. I know that he is very ambitious, has many commitments and wants to fulfil all kinds of future desires. I do not want to embarrass him by going into too much detail about that.

The Minister may not seek to hide behind the cloak of official approval, but many Ministers seek the imprimatur of public servants for decisions that are ultimately their own responsibility—decisions that it is their job to defend before Parliament.

Ministers often say, "Ah, that is a matter for the Chair." I have repeatedly made the point to the Minister that it would have been perfectly possible for him specifically to recommend that the Programming Sub-Committee meet in public and that minutes be taken. It would also have been possible for him either to recommend or to agree to recommend lengthier consideration. That is the significant point.

We have many important issues to discuss, such as penalties and offences. I have referred to one example of an offence that the Government had not apparently considered in the first place, which they now propose to introduce—an attempt falsely to register as a motor salvage operator or registration plate supplier—and it is necessary to scrutinise and debate that properly this evening. There is also the important but vexed question of the use of court receipts to finance a major roll-out of speed cameras across the country.

Whatever the politically correct prejudices of Ministers and their Back Benchers, that issue causes considerable disquiet in my constituency and in the constituencies of a number of my hon. Friends. Such matters need to be debated not only by members of the Committee, although I am delighted that they have faithfully turned out today, but by other Members of the House. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who might seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the epitome of the traditional parliamentarian. He believes in debate, scrutiny and holding Ministers responsible for their decisions. While the Minister is busily preoccupied with his ascent of the greasy pole, my hon. Friend is busily preoccupied with the effective and persistent representation of the people of Aldridge-Brownhills. He does that by contributing on issues of public importance that will have an on-going impact on the people whom he is elected to represent.

The crucial issue of police powers is of no apparent interest to the new Stalinists on the Labour Benches. As a Conservative libertarian—I am proud of that description or epithet—I happen to be concerned about the number of occasions on which police officers or other representatives of authority can gain access either to business premises or private property to pursue their inquiries. The Government suggest that registered motor salvage operators or registered registration plate suppliers should be susceptible to unannounced visits—without even the decency of a warrant—by police constables or other representatives of authority. However, the premises of those who are not registered plate suppliers or salvage operators, but who are suspected of unlawful or even criminal activity, can be entered and inspected only if the police or other representatives of authority have secured a warrant.

My hon. Friends and I have argued on several occasions that that inequality of treatment and lack of symmetry—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman seems to have strayed from the terms of the motion. He has discussed the respective merits of hon. Members and their perspicacity and is now discussing the substance of the Bill. However, the time for that has not yet arrived, so he should confine himself strictly to the terms of the motion. I hope that he will not engage in further repetition.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I certainly will not engage in repetition—and far be it from me ever to disobey your instructions, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Greg Pope Greg Pope Assistant Whip

Tedious repetition.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have not engaged in that at all and I challenge the hon. Gentleman to provide a single example of my making the same point twice. I have not done so and do not intend to do so. As always, I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for returning me to the straight and narrow.

The point that I was trying to make—as a modest fellow, I am happy to concede that I was obviously making it very inadequately—is that precisely because these matters are contentious and precisely because there has not yet been a proper opportunity for Members of the House who were not members of the Committee to debate them, it is important that there should be adequate time to do so.

I give another example—fees and charges—not because I want to dilate on that, but because it is an example of an important subject, which hon. Members should have more time to debate. An extraordinary series of exchanges took place in Committee. My hon. Friends and I proposed an amendment that would have ensured that the Government could not impose stealth taxes, but could levy charges such, and only such, as to recover the administrative costs incurred. The Minister quibbled about the terms and suggested that the clause as it stood was preferable to the wording that we recommended. However, when Ministers were challenged to guarantee beyond doubt that a profit to the Exchequer would never be involved, they retreated into waffle and obfuscation. Those matters need to be properly debated tonight.

The central point is that it is unreasonable—simply and plainly unreasonable—for Ministers to expect 61 new clauses and amendments to be intelligently and comprehensively debated in only three hours. Now, I am not the very distinguished and upmarket mathematician that is the Minister. Nevertheless, I scraped through the O-level. Three hours is 180 minutes, so it is clear what considering 61 new clauses and amendments in 180 minutes means: fewer than three minutes per new clause or—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. To my certain knowledge, the hon. Gentleman has repeated himself twice in half a minute. He has also repeated an argument that he has already used in his 26-minute speech.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Well, you have slapped my wrist, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I bow to your authority and the discipline that you have imposed. I apologise, but my hon. Friends are clear about our objection. The Government are trying to ram through too much in too little time with too few opportunities for hon. Members to voice their concerns. That is not acceptable.

If the Minister is so confident of the robustness of his case and so convinced that the Government are being fair in their proposed allocation of time, why have neither he nor either of his hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench had the courtesy to consult through the usual channels about the apportionment of time? The fact is that they did not consult on either the amount of time that they proposed to allocate or its proposed distribution on Report and Third Reading. I must emphasise that, to me, that is unacceptable.

Photo of Greg Pope Greg Pope Assistant Whip

Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten our conversation behind the Speaker's Chair last week?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No, I have not. The hon. Gentleman, who is a diligent Whip, has started to dig his own grave and I am afraid that I must throw the earth in to fill it. It is certainly true that he approached me. He wanted to established whether I was content with a day's consideration and it was pretty clear to him that I was not. My response was twofold. First, it was incumbent on him to go through the usual channels and speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk, because that is the way that business is done. Secondly, the time needed—based on the proposals that the Government themselves would produce—was crucial. I must emphasise that.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is decent and fair-minded enough to acknowledge that I said to him, "It depends how many new clauses and amendments the Government choose to put to the House." At that stage, the hon. Gentleman, who was kept in the dark by his very senior, very distinguished and very ambitious Minister, was not in a position to advise me about what the Government intended.

We face a strange situation as we consider the allocation of time. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk and I were not aware of what the Government would propose for the simple reason that we were not the proposers and they would not tell us what they had in mind. Inevitably, as the Opposition in the dark, we were in a state of ignorance. The situation on the Government side resulted in this pitifully inadequate allocation of time: the Minister apparently knew what he had in mind, but the hon. Member for Hyndburn, the Government Whip, did not.

If the Minister and the hon. Member for Hyndburn do not communicate about these matters, it is their problem, but there is no reason why the rights of the House should be imperilled or, indeed, ultimately trampled, as a result of such a pitiful failure of communication.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

First, there is no difference relating either to information or to knowledge between my hon. Friend and me. Secondly, I am glad the hon. Gentleman had the grace to concede that there was a consultation, and that a meeting took place. Thirdly, I had a similar conversation with the hon. Gentleman before the Programming Sub-Committee considered the Committee stage, and received a similar response to that described by him. I have to say that I think it very difficult to take him seriously, in terms of the possibility of engaging in a serious discussion of these matters.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am anxious to ensure that a balanced debate takes place. I know that others wish to speak, and I suggest that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) limit his remarks.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall follow it. In any event, it is difficult to reply to what the Minister said, because it was so vague as to border on the opaque. Whether he meant that I just chuckled at him when he spoke to me, or whether he suggested for a moment that I was guilty of tergiversation—that I said one thing on one occasion, and subsequently changed my mind—I know not. The fact is, however, that there was not proper conversation between the Minister and the hon. Member for Hyndburn. The fact is that either the hon. Member for Hyndburn did not know how many new clauses or amendments the Government intended to table, or, if he did know, he failed to divulge the information to me. And the fact still is that, despite that non-communication, based on either secretiveness or lack of knowledge, the hon. Gentleman had the cheek to expect me to agree to a circumscription of the rights of the Opposition in particular, and of the House in general. That is unacceptable.

No amount of dancing on the head of a pin by the Minister will change the fact that the Government have treated the House with disdain, indifference and contempt. The allocation of time is unsatisfactory: this is not a proper way in which to do business. I am sorry that there are too many part-timers who do not take their legislative responsibilities seriously. My hon. Friends and I do, and I know that, in particular, traditionalist Labour Back Benchers take those responsibilities extremely seriously. The many Members who take them seriously and who share my view that the time allocated is inadequate will doubtless wish to register their concerns.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 5:32 pm, 30th January 2001

I shall be extremely brief, and perhaps demonstrate to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that it is possible to make points succinctly, and in a short time.

I have served on a wide range of Standing Committees, and will draw on that experience to illustrate my view not only that there was sufficient time in Committee, but that there is plenty of time for us to deal with substantive arguments—if there are any—this evening.

As you have observed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there has been an element of repetition. In Committee, I heard the arguments about pieces in The Guardian six, eight or even nine times. If the hon. Member for Buckingham were to confine himself to substantive issues, I am sure that the time allocated would be sufficient.

If hon. Members look at the report of the Committee's first sitting, they will see that the hon. Gentleman took up more than half the first 38 columns. If they then go through the record line by line, deleting references to The Guardian, spider bites and similar trivia outside the scope of the Bill, they will note that the hon. Gentleman effectively occupied a reasonable proportion of the debate; but it is a different matter when we start to add all the trivia. For instance, the hon. Gentleman takes up eight and a half out of 10 columns in the debate on clause 17.

The Bill deals with important issues. I want adequate time tonight to deal with clause 37, which I sought to amend in Committee. Coincidentally, the hon. Member for Buckingham mentioned the constituency of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). There are extremely effective speed cameras throughout the heart of that constituency—at least, I think it must be that constituency—along the A5.

Such issues are important, and we must deal with the substance of them. We can only do so, however, if Members on both sides of the House confine their remarks to what is relevant—although I would point out that the Committee stage ended before the scheduled time.

Photo of Mr David Chidgey Mr David Chidgey Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:35 pm, 30th January 2001

As only about four minutes remain, I shall keep my remarks as brief as possible so that others can speak if they want to.

The Minister is right to say that the Committee stage was, in the main, even-tempered and intellectually engaged with the issues. Much of the Committee's progress through the clauses before it was due to the fact that he and his colleagues offered to table amendments addressing the points that we had made. It is true that amendments have been tabled, but we now have less than three and a half hours in which to discuss them—significantly less than the three minutes per amendment mentioned by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). Moveover, if Divisions took place we would have even less time.

I must register my concern. A number of important issues were, to a degree, sidelined in Committee while we waited for further information from the Government, and further amendment in recognition of the points we had raised. I fear that in the time available we shall not be able to deal with those issues properly, and shall not have an opportunity to be reassured by the Minister that the amendments are sound.

It is traditional for us to suffer—well, not suffer in this case; but we must recognise that statements from Ministers tend to precede debates such as this. I find it a little strange, however, that an hour and a half of our short time has been allocated to Third Reading, given that Third Reading tends to feature a repetition of what has gone before and to give some Members an opportunity merely to exercise their vocal cords. I would far prefer much of the time to be spent debating amendments and new clauses.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield 5:37 pm, 30th January 2001

The Minister is right to say that Conservative Members dominated the Committee's proceedings. I was not present for the first week because I was unwell—any further talk of spiders and bites and anti-venom is not necessary now—but I was there for most of the time, and I can say that my hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) and I made powerful points. So powerful were those points that the Government have now adopted them, because they related to glaring omissions at the time—so glaring, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said just now, that they staggered the imagination.

The Bill says that it is unlawful not to provide information, or to provide information that is wrong. To include such a provision, and then not to include provision for a penalty for such an omission, is extraordinary, but it is typical of this Government and their arrogance—

It being forty-five minutes after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

The House divided: Ayes 318, Noes 168.

Division No. 91][5.39 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeCaplin, Ivor
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Casale, Roger
Ainger, NickChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Chaytor, David
Allen, GrahamChisholm, Malcolm
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Clapham, Michael
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryClark, Dr Lynda
Ashton, Joe(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Atherton, Ms CandyClarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Austin, JohnClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Bailey, AdrianClarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Banks, TonyClwyd, Ann
Barnes, HarryCoaker, Vernon
Barron, KevinCoffey, Ms Ann
Bayley, HughCohen, Harry
Beard, NigelColman, Tony
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretCook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Begg, Miss AnneCooper, Yvette
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Corbett, Robin
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Corston, Jean
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)Cousins, Jim
Bennett, Andrew FCox, Tom
Benton, JoeCranston, Ross
Bermingham, GeraldCrausby, David
Best, HaroldCryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Betts, CliveCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Blackman, LizCummings, John
Blears, Ms HazelCunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Blizzard, Bob(Copeland)
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Dalyell, Tam
Bradshaw, BenDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Brinton, Mrs HelenDarvill, Keith
Buck, Ms KarenDavidson, Ian
Burden, RichardDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Burgon, ColinDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Butler, Mrs ChristineDavis, Rt Hon Terry
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen(B'ham Hodge H)
Caborn, Rt Hon RichardDenham, John
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Donohoe, Brian H
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Doran, Frank
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Dowd, Jim
Campbell—Savours, DaleDrown, Ms Julia
Cann, JamieDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Kidney, David
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Edwards, HuwKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Efford, CliveKingham, Ms Tess
Ellman, Mrs LouiseKumar, Dr Ashok
Ennis, JeffLadyman, Dr Stephen
Etherington, BillLammy, David
Field, Rt Hon FrankLawrence, Mrs Jackie
Fitzpatrick, JimLepper, David
Fitzsimons, Mrs LornaLeslie, Christopher
Flint, CarolineLevitt, Tom
Flynn, PaulLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Follett, BarbaraLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Foster, Rt Hon DerekLiddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Lock, David
Foulkes, GeorgeLove, Andrew
Fyfe, MariaMcAvoy, Thomas
Galloway, GeorgeMcCabe, Steve
Gapes, MikeMcDonagh, Siobhain
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)Macdonald, Calum
Gerrard, NeilMcDonnell, John
Gibson, Dr IanMcFall, John
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Godman, Dr Norman AMcIsaac, Shona
Godsiff, RogerMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Goggins, PaulMackinlay, Andrew
Golding, Mrs LlinMactaggart, Fiona
Gordon, Mrs EileenMcWilliam, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Mahon, Mrs Alice
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Mallaber, Judy
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Grocott, BruceMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Marshall—Andrews, Robert
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Martlew, Eric
Hanson, DavidMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Healey, JohnMeale, Alan
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)Merron, Gillian
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Hendrick, MarkMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hepburn, StephenMiller, Andrew
Heppell, JohnMitchell, Austin
Hesford, StephenMoonie, Dr Lewis
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hill, KeithMorley, Elliot
Hinchliffe, DavidMorris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
Hodge, Ms Margaret(B'ham Yardley)
Hoon, Rt Hon GeoffreyMountford, Kali
Hope, PhilMowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Hopkins, KelvinMudie, George
Howells, Dr KimMullin, Chris
Hoyle, LindsayMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Humble, Mrs JoanMurphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Hurst AlanNaysmith, Dr Doug
Hutton, JohnO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Iddon, Dr BrianO'Hara, Eddie
Illsley, EricOlner, Bill
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)O'Neill, Martin
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Organ, Mrs Diana
Jamieson, DavidOsborne, Ms Sandra
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Palmer, Dr Nick
Johnson, Miss MelaniePearson, Ian
(Welwyn Hatfield)Perham, Ms Linda
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Pike, Peter L
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Plaskitt, James
Joyce, EricPond, Chris
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPope, Greg
Keeble, Ms SallyPound, Stephen
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Powell, Sir Raymond
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kelly, Ms RuthPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Prosser, Gwyn
Khabra, Piara SPurchase, Ken
Quinn, LawrieStoate, Dr Howard
Rapson, SydStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Raynsford, NickStringer, Graham
Robertson, JohnStuart, Ms Gisela
(Glasgow Anniesland)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Rogers, Allan(Dewsbury)
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Rooney, TerryTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Temple—Morris, Peter
Rowlands, TedThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Roy, FrankThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Ruane, ChrisTimms, Stephen
Ruddock, JoanTipping, Paddy
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Todd, Mark
Ryan, Ms JoanTouhig, Don
Salmond, AlexTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Salter, MartinTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Sarwar, MohammadTurner, Neil (Wigan)
Savidge, MalcolmTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Sedgemore, BrianTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Shaw, JonathanTynan, Bill
Sheerman, BarryWalley, Ms Joan
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWard, Ms Claire
Shipley, Ms DebraWareing, Robert N
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Watts, David
Singh, MarshaWhite, Brian
Skinner, DennisWhitehead, Dr Alan
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wicks, Malcolm
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)(Swansea W)
Smith, Miss GeraldineWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)Wilson, Brian
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Winnick, David
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Snape, PeterWood, Mike
Soley, CliveWoodward, Shaun
Southworth, Ms HelenWoolas, Phil
Spellar, JohnWorthington, Tony
Squire, Ms RachelWray, James
Starkey, Dr PhyllisWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Steinberg, GerryWright, Tony (Cannock)
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)Tellers for the Ayes:
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)Mr. David Clelland and Mr. Tony McNulty.
Stinchcombe, Paul
NOES
Allan, RichardBurstow, Paul
Amess, DavidCash, William
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelChapman, Sir Sydney
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James(Chipping Barnet)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Chidgey, David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Clappison, James
Baker, NormanClark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Baldry, TonyClarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Ballard, Jackie(Rushcliffe)
Beggs, RoyCollins, Tim
Beith, Rt Hon A JCormack, Sir Patrick
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Cotter, Brian
Bercow, JohnCran, James
Beresford, Sir PaulDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Blunt, CrispinDavies, Quentin (Grantham)
Body, Sir RichardDavis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Boswell, TimDay, Stephen
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Duncan, Alan
Brady, GrahamDuncan Smith, Iain
Brake, TomEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Brand, Dr PeterEvans, Nigel
Brazier, JulianFaber, David
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterFabricant, Michael
Browning, Mrs AngelaFallon, Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Fearn, Ronnie
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Flight, Howard
Burnett, JohnForth, Rt Hon Eric
Burns, SimonFoster, Don (Bath)
Fraser, ChristopherO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Gale, RogerÖpik, Lembit
George, Andrew (St Ives)Ottaway, Richard
Gibb, NickPage, Richard
Gidley, SandraPaice, James
Gillan, Mrs CherylPickles, Eric
Gorman, Mrs TeresaPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Green, DamianPrior, David
Greenway, JohnRandall, John
Grieve, DominicRedwood, Rt Hon John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieRendel, David
Hammond, PhilipRobathan, Andrew
Harris, Dr EvanRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume)
Harvey, NickRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Hawkins, NickRuffley, David
Hayes, JohnRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Heald, OliverSt Aubyn, Nick
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Sanders, Adrian
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon DavidShepherd, Richard
Horam, JohnSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Soames, Nicholas
Hunter, AndrewSpicer, Sir Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Spring, Richard
Jenkin, BernardStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Kennedy, Rt Hon CharlesStreeter, Gary
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)Stunell, Andrew
Key, RobertSwayne, Desmond
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Syms, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss JulieTapsell, Sir Peter
Kirkwood, ArchyTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Laing, Mrs EleanorTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Lait, Mrs JacquiThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Lansley, AndrewTonge, Dr Jenny
Leigh, EdwardTownend, John
Letwin, OliverTredinnick, David
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Trend, Michael
Lidington, DavidTyler, Paul
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterTyrie, Andrew
Livsey, RichardViggers, Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Walter, Robert
Llwyd, ElfynWaterson, Nigel
Loughton, TimWebb, Steve
Luff, PeterWells, Bowen
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnWhitney, Sir Raymond
MacKay, Rt Hon AndrewWhittingdale, John
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Maclennan, Rt Hon RobertWilkinson, John
McLoughlin, PatrickWilletts, David
Madel, Sir DavidWillis, Phil
Malins, HumfreyWilshire, David
Maples, JohnWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Mates, MichaelWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir BrianYeo, Tim
Moore, MichaelYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, PatrickTellers for the Noes:
Norman, ArchieMr. Keith Simpson and Mr. James Gray.
Oaten, Mark

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered, That the following provisions shall apply to the Vehicles (Crime) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 18th December 2000: