Criminal Justice and Police Bill

– in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 12 March 2001.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:15, 12 March 2001

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before we debate the Leader of the House's motion on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, will you tell the House whether there is any precedent for the Government moving a motion that consideration in Committee of any Bill be deemed to be completed when it clearly has not? The point is simple. There will be arguments later about what happened, but it seems to me to be wrong for Parliament ever to cut any part of proceedings on a Bill and not to return to the stage at which proceedings were disrupted. Will you rule on whether it is out of order for the Government to seek to cut a whole stage of the parliamentary process on the Bill?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

There is no precedent, but we have a motion covering that matter before us. Therefore, it is not for me to say that the Government are out of order.

Photo of Mr Stephen Day Mr Stephen Day Conservative, Cheadle

That is up to the Lobby fodder over there.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Older. The Government are in proper order; if it were otherwise, I would say so.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you please advise the Houle whether it would be possible for the Government to table a motion recommitting the Bill to the Committee and giving the Committee sufficient time for proper debate?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

That matter is hypothetical. We are dealing with the motion before the House, which has been tabled by the Government, and an amendment, which has been tabled by the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. No, the motion has been tabled by the Liberal Democrats; others have added their names to it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen more often—he might learn something. Before I was interrupted, I was telling the House, and I might tell him, that I have accepted the amendment in the name of the Liberal Demcrats.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 10:17, 12 March 2001

I beg to move, That, following the Report of the Chairman of Standing Committee F on 9th March, the Criminal Justice and Police Bill shall be deemed to have been reported to the House, as amended by the Committee, and as if those Clauses and Schedules the consideration of which had not been completed by the Committee had been ordered to star d part of the Bill, with the outstanding Amendments which stood on the Order paper in the name of Mr. Charles Clarke. I begin by saying how really delighted I am to see the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) here for the whole debate. Earlier, she notified the Whips Office that she would have to miss the first half because of the annual general meeting of her Conservative association in Maidstone, which will presumably call on her to justify her behaviour last Thursday to Conservative party members.

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

No, I will not give way at this stage.

This afternoon, the right hon. Lady and I had a very frank exchange outside the Chamber after Question Time. I am very glad that she has considered further counsel and is with us for the whole debate. I welcome her.

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

Later, but not at this stage.

I believe that the debate is about judgment—three different judgments. The first is the Government's judgment in allocating time to the Bill. The Opposition claim that we did not allocate enough. The second is the judgment of the Conservative party in determining its approach to the Bill. The third is the judgment of the right hon. Lady in deciding to flout the rules of the House and the authority of the Chair. I shall discuss those three judgments in order.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am grateful to the Minister. Can he explain to the House why he said that he could confirm that the Government will be tabling a motion on Monday to the effect that has been indicated"—[Official Report, 9 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 527]— which is this motion? He told the House on Friday that the motion would be tabled today and then slipped it in surreptitiously on Friday. Why did he change his mind?

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

There was no change. That matter was dealt with at points of order immediately after Question Time this afternoon and I have nothing to add.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister says that this matter was dealt with at points of order after questions, but what he said on Friday was not dealt with by you. You have made it clear that you are not responsible for what the Minister said on Friday. What is perfectly clear from Hansard and from the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is that—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am not responsible for the Minister's reply. Opposition Members have a chance to rebut what the Minister states tonight. That is known as debate. The Minister is involved in the debate, and the hon. Member or his Front-Bench colleagues can rebut the case that he puts.

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

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am keen to debate fully all three judgments. First, on the judgment about the time allocated for consideration of the Bill, in the light of some of the examples that have been given I want to give just one example to which the Opposition should give good consideration. The Police Act 1997, which was passed in the pre-election 1996–97 Session, had 138 clauses and 10 schedules on enactment. It was considered for a total of eight sittings, compared with the number of sittings for this Bill under this Government. The House should bear that in mind when considering the crocodile tears that are being wept by some Opposition Members.

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

No, not at this stage.

Our overall approach to this matter was clear. First, we wanted to co-operate with the Opposition on the issues developed, as I and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), have on previous Bills such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill and the Terrorism Bill. Secondly, we wanted to be out of Committee by 8 March. Thirdly, following Second Reading we initially proposed 16 sittings, equivalent to 36 hours, and said that we were prepared to put in more time and sittings. Fourthly, we made it clear that it was up to the Opposition to choose the subjects that they wanted to spend time debating. That was the basis on which we went to the first Programming Sub-Committee for the Bill.

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

As is being shouted out, the resolution proposed for 16 sittings, not 14. That followed a personal commitment by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who believed that his unavoidable absence had been accepted by his opposite number in the usual channels. For that reason, I made it clear at the Programming Sub-Committee that we would allocate time at least to make up the missing four hours, and more if necessary, to debate the subject of the Bill.

The Opposition were not interested in the time. They were interested only in the end date of 13 March, when the Bill would come out of Committee—an extra five hours on the original proposal in the resolution that we submitted. That was their only concern, not time.

I believe that that dispute—it was a sharply held dispute through the whole process—originated from Conservative inflexibility for reasons that I shall explain later. It poisoned the work of the Committee. As a result of that inflexibility, the Opposition usual channels were not prepared to come to agreements unless the Government agreed to change the end date to 13 March, as originally proposed by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald).

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Does the Minister accept that what happens between the usual channels is not a matter for debate in this Chamber? I for one do not intend to enter into discussion about what the Government usual channels and I discussed. That is a private matter for the usual channels, and he should not be raising it from the Dispatch Box.

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

The hon. Gentleman spent 20 minutes speaking in Committee as a Whip. As these issues were fully debated in Committee, when I said exactly what I have said now in this Chamber, his argument has no substance.

The Opposition's argument was not about increasing the time for debate, but about their ambition to change the end date. We made offers that were not accepted. We offered to meet on the afternoon and evening of Budget day on Wednesday 7 March, but they said no because they would not come to any understandings. We also offered to sit longer on other occasions, but none of those offers was accepted.

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

I shall give way in a moment, when I have gone through the facts on time, so that the hon. Gentleman knows where we are.

We originally committed to 16 sittings: a total of 36 hours. The programme motion that we tabled began with 14 sittings: that is, 32 hours. We agreed six extra extensions during that period: 30 minutes on 6 February, 30 minutes on 13 February, an hour on 27 February, an hour and a half on 6 March, two and a half hours on 7 March and two hours on 8 March. That represents a total of eight hours in addition to the 32 that we originally proposed. We allocated 40 hours to the Committee stage, equivalent to 17 or 18 sittings.

The House may wish to consider the amount of time that the Committee spent on procedural discussions of that very point.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

My hon. Friend will have noted that the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) sought to intervene earlier. I wonder whether, before he is given an opportunity to do so, my hon. Friend will ask him why he has not been allowed to speak for the Opposition in this debate.

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

The way in which the Opposition have allocated opportunities to speak is certainly very interesting.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to suggest that another has tried to intervene when he has not?

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

Let me be candid, Mr. Speaker. We decided that the Ministers who were on the Committee should open and close the debate. I find it extraordinary that neither Opposition spokesman is prepared to speak openly tonight, but that is a matter for them.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

In fact, I am the Member for North-East Hertfordshire.

The Minister knows that, in the Sub-Committee, we pressed for extra time to be provided and for the end date to be put back to 13 March because we knew that consideration could not be completed in the time that he was allowing. Does he agree that on the Wednesday afternoon, which he mentioned, we moved a motion that would have allowed us to sit all night if necessary in order to complete consideration, and have 13 March as the end date? We did that because we did not want to deprive the real victims of the guillotine—the organisations and individuals who wanted their case to be put—of the chance to have that case put.

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

That is remarkable. The amendment that the hon. Gentleman tabled at that first Programming Sub-Committee sitting would have given us 37 hours of debate. In fact, we had 40 hours. Beyond that—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I appeal to the House. I cannot hear the Minister. He is entitled to a proper hearing, and he is not getting one.

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

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I shall try to lower my voice, in order not to drown out the voices of others.

What I was seeking to add to my point about the allocation of time, which was that we had given more time than had been requested by the Opposition, was that two and a half hours—equivalent to a whole sitting—had been occupied by debate of procedural matters. In the first sitting on 6 February, the time occupied was 30 minutes; in the ninth sitting on 1 March it was 40 minutes; in the 13th sitting on 7 Marc h it was an hour; in the 15th sitting on 8 March, we witnessed the notorious events led by the shadow Home Secretary and potential leader of the Opposition following the election, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, who sought to disrupt the Committee with a sit-in. On a series of other occasions, the Opposition deliberately sought to waste time.

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

No. I want to continue my speech.

Let me give some specific examples. When we were discussing clause 2, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins)—I cannot see him, but he may be present—devoted half his speeches to reading out evidence from the Criminal Bar Association. We had "interpretation" debates about the meaning of "police" and about British islands; we had ridiculous and misleading information about early-day motions on animal rights.[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Betcow) must behave himself.

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

Therefore, on the first judgment—allocation of time—I believe that the Government more than fulfilled their commitment on 16 sittings. We gave more time than the Opposition requested and ample time to discuss the issues.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to challenge the ruling of the Standing Committee Chairman, who, in the sixth sitting—which was long after the events that the Minister described—ruled: My view, and that"—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. That is not a matter for me. The Chairman is perfectly capable of looking after the Standing Committee.

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

I therefore believe that on the first judgment the Government fulfilled their pledges and that there was ample time to discuss the issues.

I come to the second judgment—the Opposition's judgment—

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

No. I have made it clear that I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman—

Hon. Members:

Give way.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The Minister is not giving way. It is no good for the Speaker to have to keep interrupting proceedings. I appeal to the House to come to order.

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

I now come to the nub of the debate—the Opposition's judgment in this whole process. I believe that the Opposition had a deliberate strategy to undermine the Bill. From the outset, they had the strategy of arguing that there was not sufficient time to scrutinise the Bill and of arguing against the programnting procedures of the House. They would have made that argument regardless of what happened. I believe that the explanation for that deliberate strategy lies in their voting record in Committee.

In Committee, we had an extraordinary series of no votes by Conservative Members on important issues of principle. I shall provide a series of examples. On the matter of payments made for proceedings on fixed penalty notices, they voted against clause 5 stand part. On extending child curfews to older children, they voted no. Liberal Democrats voted against that, provision; Labour Members voted in favour of it.

On extending current disclosure powers, Conservative Members again voted no. On reducing the rank of officers authorised to notify arrest, they voted no. On the use of video links for review of proceedings under the Terrorism Act 2000, they again voted no. On extending the national fingerprint database, they again voted no. On building the DNA database, they again voted no. On doing the same in Northern Ireland, they again voted no. On restricting DNA and fingerprint exchange with overseas authorities, they again voted no.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Surely if my colleagues on the Committee were wishing to waste time, they would have sought to have more votes, not fewer.

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

Each of those was a vote in which Liberal Democrat Members said that, for libertarian reasons in accordance with their principles, they did not like our proposals. Therefore, they voted. However, on each of those occasions, Conservative Members decided not to vote. Those no votes are a matter for them, but they chose that option because they could not decide on the issues of principle involved.

When faced with the choice between libertarianism and authoritarianism, Conservative Members could not decide. When faced with the choice between the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), they could not decide. They could not resolve the next leadership battle in the Conservative party. That was the argument at the heart of Conservative policy—as we saw at the most recent Conservative party conference. Conservative Members cannot decide where they stand on those key issues. That was reflected in Committee. Throughout our proceedings in Committee, Liberal Democrat Members—although I did not agree with them—were clear on where they stood on all the issues.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. How can we believe anything that the Minister says when he said that he would not table a motion— [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I cannot hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying because other hon. Members are shouting. I must be able to listen to a point of order.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Mr. Speaker, how can we believe anything that the Minister says when, on Friday, he said that he would table a motion on Monday, only to table it a few hours later on the same day?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I have already dealt with that matter.

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

I believe that, on that key list of amendments, Conservative Members sat on the fence for a very simple reason. They wanted to hide the deep split in the Conservative party and to hide their policy differences on every issue.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please take his seat while I am speaking? I hope that we will not go over points of order that have already been dealt with. It must be new business.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

It is new business, Mr. Speaker. I cannot see any relevance to the motion that we are discussing in the rather pathetic, feeble excuse for an argument that the Minister is advancing.

Mr. Speake:

Order. I will be the judge of that.

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

For the illumination of the House, the relevance of what I am saying is that I believe that the Conservatives had a deliberate strategy of trying to wreck the working of the Committee by their conduct throughout. The explicit political reason was that their judgment was to obfuscate and obstruct, to prevaricate and pontificate, as a way of hiding their own internal divisions. That is what is was about.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. He will recall saying at the Committee's ninth sitting: I praise the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), whose contributions, throughout the proceedings and without exception, have been constructive and to the point. The hon. Gentleman then went on to say that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) has shown no evidence of having read or discussed the Bill, and has been repetitive ad nauseam on points of no substance."— [Official Report, Standing Committee F, 1 March 2001; c. 343.] Will the hon. Gentleman accept that he had to withdraw clauses 7 and 8 after arguments from my right hon. and learned Friend showed just how deficient the Bill was? Will he also accept that the fact that more than 50 clauses were not debated in Committee is the cause of this debate and of the difficulty in which the hon. Gentleman finds himself?

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

No, the cause was the Opposition's decision from the outset not to come to the kind of accommodations and discussions about the conduct of business in the House that is conventional.

I turn finally to the judgment of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald. She made her position clear in the media. In the Financial Times, she said that her protest—

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

No, I shall not. The right hon. Lady said that her protest was about the fact that the Bill could not be reported and that her aim was to delay its passage. That was very explicit. She said in The Mirror that it was an official Opposition protest. She confirmed again on GMTV on Sunday that it was an official Opposition protest. The right hon. Lady deliberately flouted the House's rules to pursue her dishonourable cause. [Interruption.] She was aided and abetted by the Opposition Whips—

Hon. Members:

Order.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The hon. Gentleman has not been out of order. I ask again that we should not have this shouting across the Chamber. I will not tolerate a situation in which hon. Members tell me how to do my job.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

I hope that it is a proper point of order.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

It is a proper point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to rule on whether the use of the word "dishonourable" to describe the conduct of an hon. Member is in order?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. My understanding is that the hon. Gentleman used the term "dishonourable cause". He was not calling anybody dishonourable; he said that it was a dishonourable cause. [Interruption.] Order. I am giving a ruling. The hon. Gentleman is not out of order and I do not want any Member to shout at the Chair. I have already given a ruling and a statement about Members telling me how to do my job.

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

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I can confirm by reading from my text that the right hon. Lady deliberately flouted the House's rules to pursue her dishonourable cause—exactly as you stated, Mr. Speaker.

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

No, I shall not. I went on to say that the right hon. Lady was aided and abetted by the Opposition Whips. The hon. Members for Beverley and Holdemess (Mr. Cran), for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) and for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) assisted her in her disruptive action. That was their deliberate intent.

The right hon. Lady was also aided and abetted by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). After the entrance into the Committee by the right hon. Lady and her colleagues in crime, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire said: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I understand from 'Erskine May' that there have been occasions … when hon. Members have entered a Committee and stayed there … The Committee has no power to require Members to leave. My understanding of the procedure set out on pages 703 and 704 of 'Erskine May' is that after the requests have been made, the position is reported to the House".—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 8 March 2001: c. 675.] My point is that before the right hon. Lady and her hon. Friends went in, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire knew and had prepared himself to deal with the situation in that way. It was an Opposition conspiracy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—to deal explicitly with that situation.

If we are talking about defending Parliament, I contrast the Opposition's practice with the experience in 1988 in respect of the Standing Committee of the Local Government Finance Bill. On that occasion the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was leading for the then Government and disruption of the same type occurred. On Thursday 21 January 1988, it was caused by the then Member for Falkirk, West, Dentin. Canavan—exactly the same thing happened and exactly the same issues arose. An hon. Member moved a resolution—as I did last Thursday. On that occasion, the resolution was that the then hon. Member for Falkirk, West be reported to the House. The Standing Committee member who moved that resolution was the present Minister of State, Department of Social Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)—then an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. He said that such behaviour could not he tolerated or understood. That is quite unlike the position of the current Opposition.

If it was an official Opposition act, we need the answer to some questions—from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) when she opens for the Opposition or from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald when she winds up. Was that act explicitly approved by the Leader of the Opposition? Was it or was it not? Was it approved by the Opposition Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot)? Was it approved or was it not? Did the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire explicitly and directly plan those acts with his light hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the Opposition Whips?

My conclusions are clear—as, I believe will be those of the House. That act was a conspiracy to deflect Parliament. It was agreed by the official Opposition—by the whole Conservative party. It does immense personal discredit to every Conservative who does not publicly dissociate himself or herself from the actions of the right hon. Lady. It proves the right hon. Lady's unfitness for high office of any kind. It shows that the Tories are not fit to be an Opposition, let alone a Government.

I hope tonight that the House will not reward in any way such contempt for its rules. I urge the whole House to support the motion.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 10:42, 12 March 2001

It is with regret that I note that the Leader of the House is not leading for the Government tonight. Clearly, the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who opened for the Government—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the Leader of the House tells me that it would have been a pleasure to open the debate; I am sorry that she was disappointed. She knows that matters to do with the House's experiment on programming—especially in respect of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill—have not only occupied the Committee dealing with that measure; as shadow Leader of the House, I have raised them no fewer than three times recently, because of my concern and that of my colleagues about the way in which the Committee was proceeding.

Although the Opposition are opposed to programming in principle, in the spirit of the experiment, we accepted the Government's word from the Dispatch Box that they would co-operate, that they would be flexible, that the official Opposition would be listened to and that the Government would negotiate with us in good faith.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Let me make a little progress. I have spent quite enough time at the Dispatch Box trying to convey a message to the Government about the Bill—

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I do not intend to spend valuable time tonight—when it is clear from the presence of so many hon. Members in the Chamber that they' ant to contribute—on trivial interventions from Labour Members who chose not to say a word on the three occasions when I raised the matter with the Leader of the House at business questions. Instead, I shall give way to the Minister.

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

I should be grateful if the hon. Lady would explain to the House whether she was part of the conspiracy. Did she know? Did she agree?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

There is no conspiracy, merely an attempt by the official Opposition to ensure that the democratic processes of the House are carried out so that we, as individual Members, can represent our constituents, and so that the Conservative Members serving on the Committee can make genuine representations and amend the Bill, in accordance with what we, in our recent history, have thought to be the democratic process. It is no good the Minister's waving his hand at me; I will make some progress.

The motion states that the Criminal Justice and Police Bill shall be deemed to have been reported to the House". As part of this wonderful experiment in programming, we are now faced with virtual legislation.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

No.

If we are to accept tonight that a Committee and all its outstanding business, which I shall mention in a moment, are deemed to have been considered and concluded, why do we not deem Second Reading debates to have been completed? Why do we not deem Report stages to have been completed? Why do we not deem ourselves to be elsewhere, and allow some robots to sit on these Benches and legislate on behalf of the people of this country?

The House should not be surprised that the Bill has caused great anger among Conservative Members, although the Conservative party concurs with many of its provisions and has helped to fashion them in Committee so that it can become a better Bill. It was in that spirit that my hon. Friends approached the Bill's consideration in Committee.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

grateful to the hon. Lady. Just for the record, will she tell the House and the public what fundamental objections, if any, the Tory party has to the Bill?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friends have raised many issues in Committee, and the Minister spelt out his objection to the fact that Conservative Members did not vote for several amendments and clauses. In many cases, my hon. Friends were not objecting in principle; they were objecting to the detailed wording and to the way in which the provisions were introduced. That is what a Committee is for; it is intended to scrutinise the detail, the wording and the amendments.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

No, I will not.

The Minister of State knows that the purpose of considering a Bill in Committee is to scrutinise the detail and vote on the particular, not on the generality. It is normal in Committee for hon. Members to accept a principle but not to vote for or concur with the detail of certain provisions. Hence, they abstain on many provisions, as was the case with the Bill.

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

Does the hon. Lady accept that many of the issues were in fact points of principle, not points of detail? Will she confirm that she knew what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was going to do last Thursday before she did it?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

My right hon. Friend had no discussion with me about her actions on Thursday.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The hon. Lady has already indicated that she is not giving way.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

In conclusion on the previous intervention, if the Government choose not to accept Conservative amendments, they should not be surprised if the Conservative Members serving on the Committee do not vote for their proposals. That is the normal procedure in Committee, and I am surprised that, having refused the amendments, the Minister should make such a fuss about it.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

No. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will accept that I want to make progress by stating our principled objections to the programme motions that have resulted in the Bill becoming such a shambles.

At business questions on 1 March, I put it to the Leader of the House that there were problems with the Bill in Committee. When the right hon. Lady replied, she did not address any of my concerns relating to the Bill. I raised the matter again on 8 March, which was my last opportunity at the Dispatch Box to raise with the Leader of the House our genuine concerns about the Bill's progress in Committee. I am sorry to say that, again, the right hon. Lady failed to make representations to her right hon. Friends. As we know, on 8 March, the Committee stage was concluded.

The Committee had only reached clause 90 by the conclusion of its proceedings on Thursday 8 March. Elements of the Bill that were not discussed by the Committee at all included setting up the police training authority, changes to the constitution of police authorities, changes to police ranks, inferences to be drawn from silence in police conduct proceedings, pensions for staff, courts to give reasons for granting opposed bail, expenditure interpretation and repeals. Many important matters remained outstanding. Not only that: yet further amendments in the name of the Minister of State, Home Office are before us tonight. These amendments are bundled up in the wording of the motion. Does the hon. Gentleman even intend to describe to the House tonight that they mean? Are they to be deemed to have been accepted without any discussion in, or explanation to, the House?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I shall give way to the Minister. Does he want to explain the amendments to the House?

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

What I want the hon. Lady to do is accept that the Committee did not finish its business, because it was disrupted by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

That is rather disingenuous of the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I shall, since it is the right hon. and learned Gentleman. This is the last intervention.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Liberal Democrat, North East Fife

If the hon. Lady did not know of the plan for disruption, will she tell us whether she endorses or dissociates herself from it?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The actions of my right hon. and hon. Friends were the only actions left given that, just hours before, as shadow Leader of the House, I had used the only opportunity that was available to us to put to the Leader of the House the difficulties that we were encountering with the Bill.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I read what he said in Committee.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

1 shall give way to the right hon. Lady shortly.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department wasted more than one whole sitting of the Committee on clauses that he eventually abandoned, having been extremely rude about the former Attorney-General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) and having virtually told my right hon. and learned Friend that he did not know what he was talking about. The hon. Gentleman then had to withdraw the clauses, so I do not think that we want to hear anything from him.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

The hon. Lady claims that I made no response to the representations that she made about the timing and handling of the Committee. She must recall that that is not correct. She knows, I am sure, that I repeatedly made it plain, first having inquired into the circumstances that she was describing to the House, that the Government had offered extra time and that the Conservative Opposition had not taken that offer up. That is not the same thing as no action being taken. The hon. Lady is not correct in saying that.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The record of business questions on 1 March shows that, when I first raised the issue, the right hon. Lady did not, as she usually does—she is usually very particular in responding to each of my points—respond specifically to the point that I made about the Bill. She responded to a point about another Bill—the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill—to which she referred, but she did not mention this Bill at all.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I can clarify that for the hon. Lady. At that point in time, I did not precisely recall what the explanation was. I did recall it later. As she says, when she raised the issue on the last occasion, I made it plain to her that the Government had offered extra time, which is the clear answer to the basic point that she has made, as she rightly says, on number of occasions.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The problem when we run into difficulties with programming is thal there is no record of what has been discussed in the Programming Sub-Committees. However, we know that, in this case, the Government voted down the Opposition's proposals. It was my clear understanding, not only from the right hon. Lady but from Labour Members in general, when we discussed the issue in November that unless we made an outrageous and cavalier request this Government would consider our opinion and help to accommodate us. I believe that my hon. Friends' requests were reasonable, which is supported by the fact that we have felt it necessary not to conclude the Bill. Had the Government acted as they said they would, we would have had more time to scrutinise the Bill and they would have got their end date. It was all achievable.

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

The Government are clearly being deliberately obtuse. Does my hon. Friend recall the 1997–98 Session, when the Crimi; and Disorder Bill, which was 152 pages long, had 22 Committee sittings and 54 hours of debate? Does she also recall that the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said that that was a good example of how a Committee stage should operate? Is it not obviously absurd that a Bill of comparable length-150 pages—should have only 15 Committee sittings and 38 hours of debate? Surely that is so obvious that only the most extraordinarily clever person could fail to see it.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

It is obvious, and this Bill is comparable in terms of the work involved.

The motion states that we shall be deemed to have concluded our proceedings on the Bill. If we deem ourselves to have passed legislation that has not been scrutinised either on the Floor of the House or in Committee, we will set a precedent that could well be used in praying in aid the outcome of court cases. Hon. Members will be familiar with Pepper v. Hart, which decided that a Minister's interpretation was important in determining Parliament's will when the House considered legislation. How could any court del eimine our will if we deem ourselves to pass great chunks of legislation—

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

No, I am sorry, but I shall not give way again.

If Parliament passes great chunks of legislation that have not been scrutinised or debated at all, how can the courts determine our will? We mth,t be very careful. However annoyed the Minister may be that his Bill has come to the surface as an example of why programming is not only a mistake but damaging to our democratic process, it would be wrong if, in a fit of pique, his antics tonight were accepted by the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Antics?"] Antics was the word I used, and antics was the word I meant. If the hon. Gentleman's antics were seen as being accepted by the House, there would be a read-across for this and many other Bills.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

No, I am sorry, but I am really not giving way. [Interruption.] The Minister says that the antics of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) have brought us to this state of affairs. It might have been different had we been able to accept the Government's word that programming motions would be negotiated and that there would be compromise between the parties. However, this Bill got off to the wrong start. The Minister knows that the whole House had the opportunity to negotiate the programme motion on the basis of information that was not even accurate.

It is no good the Government praying in aid the fact that somebody had a personal appointment or saying that the half-term holiday reduced the time for which the Committee could sit. It was evident to my colleagues on the Committee that more time was needed for discussion, yet it had to be drawn out of the Government hour by hour, and even then it was not enough. If the Bill had been properly drafted and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department had not wasted at least half a day of the Committee's time on clauses that he withdrew, we would clearly have been in a much better position tonight.

We are focusing on a particular Bill, and an important one at that, but it has demonstrated that the current experiment in programming is not only an abysmal failure but an affront to the democratic process.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Everybody, especially many Labour Members who spent 18 years in opposition, understands that opposition is frustrating, and there will be many occasions on which the Opposition do not get their way on programme motions or guillotines. We could name plenty of occasions when much less time has been allocated to Bills more controversial than this.

I want to be clear about the answer given by the hon. Lady, who is the shadow Leader of the House and aspires to be Leader of the House, to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). Is she saying that it is now the official Opposition's policy that where they object to the time allocated to a Bill, they believe that the generation of "grave disorder"—those are the words of the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale)—by Front-Bench Opposition Members is entirely justifiable?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Gentleman completely misrepresents the case because the actions of my—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) is very noisy this evening. I do not want to hear him.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The actions of my right hon. and hon. Friends last Thursday were in answer to the negative response that we had received not only in Committee but on the Floor of the House. As shadow Leader of the House, I personally did everything in my power to try to resolve that on-going problem before the Committee reached its final stage. The Home Secretary will be aware that, in the words of the Leader of the House, this procedure is an experiment. I hope that, as a result of what has happened with this Bill, he will realise that the experiment needs to be halted or radically changed. I am sure that, as a radical himself in days gone by, he will recognise the thrust of what I am saying.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said, we all understand the concerns of the Opposition about whether enough time has been made available, but the hon. Lady has just said, from the Front Bench, that she can justify the generation of grave disorder by Front-Bench Members as part of a protest. As the grave disorder was directed not at the Government but at the Chairman of the Committee and, by implication, the Chair of the House, may we take it that the hon. Lady is endorsing, as an official Opposition policy, grave disorder undermining the authority of the Chair?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

No. What undermines the authority of the House, whether in the Chamber or a Committee, is the fact that the official Opposition can no longer take the word of members of the Government. When they come to the House and say 16 sittings, they should mean 16 sittings. The Government say that the changes are an experiment, and that they will be co-operative and flexible, but they are not. We have assessed the situation and used every opportunity possible. We are not making a complaint or trying to insult the Chair of any Committee of this House. We are standing up for the democratic rights of the people of this country, and we will continue to do so even if they are not held in respect by the Government of the day. The sooner the people of this country change the Government of the day, the sooner we can get back to democracy as we have known it in this Chamber and the country.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I give way for the final time because I want to conclude my remarks.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I understand that the hon. Lady wants to make progress, and I understand also that she finds herself in a very unfortunate position. I say to her in her role as shadow Leader of the House that many of us—[Interruption.] I do not need advice from Conservative Members, thank you very much. When we were on the Opposition Benches, many of us found ourselves sympathising with actions taken by Members in objection—not normally by the shadow Home Secretary, but we will not go into that—but we simply understood that this House cannot work unless Members, and particularly Front Benchers, sustain the authority of the Chair. Even if we think that the Chairman's ruling is mistaken, we must sustain the authority of the Chair in this House. I hope that the hon. Lady will indicate that she understands that.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I should not have to remind the hon. Lady that the experiment has caused such chaos because—for the first time ever—she and her Government have imposed on this House changes to the Standing Orders without the agreement of the official Opposition. When people flout the rules of the House and show no respect whatever for its precedents, this is the result. It is not any affront to any Chairman; it is a definite affront to this Government, who respect neither this House nor its procedures.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington 11:07, 12 March 2001

We have just heard what I can only describe as an astonishing speech by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was right to press her on these matters. I was involved in an incident such as this some years ago, and I want to draw to the attention of the House what happened on that occasion and the position taken by Conservative Members and, indeed, the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who voted against me.

I was concerned about proceedings in the Select Committee on Members' Interests—the former Privileges Committee—in the case of an inquiry into Neil Hamilton. I was worried that a Conservative Whip had been placed on the Committee. I sought to obstruct proceedings because I felt that that Whip was interfering with proceedings and leading the Committee, with its Conservative majority, into taking partisan decisions. It was clear—this all happened prior to Nolan—that the Committee was being politically manipulated. I confess that I took a maverick position and obstructed proceedings.

What was interesting about that affair was what happened when the matter came before House. As my right hon. Friend the header of the House said, the Labour Opposition sought to protect the House and prevent the likes of me carrying out similar practices in future. I refer to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who spoke from the Opposition Frort Bench in the debate on the motion that dealt with my conduct. He said: I see no case for disrupting Committee procedures, whether they be Select or Standing Committees held in public or in private. Hon. Members can always find a suitably convenient time and place to raise any issue that they want on the Floor of the House. I remember those long distant days wren we had a Labour Government—those times will soon return—and, as a humble Back Bencher, I found that I could raise any issue that I chose whenever I chose to do so by using the procedures of the House. That was the position we took in opposition. It was a thoroughly responsible position, but I had made my point.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) also spoke in the debate. I shall watch with great interest which way he decides to vote tonight. He said: What the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has done is wrong. I appreciate that he holds strong opinions about the matter, but it must be wrong for any Member of the House to override the procedures of the House and take it on himself to decide the way in which the Committees operate. As a result of the hon. Gentleman's behaviour the Select Committee has been obstructed."—[Official Report, 20 April 1995; Vol. 258, c. 404-06.] The hon. Gentleman might wish to intervene to tell me which way he intends to vote. Can we rely on him being consistent in the approach that he takes to these matters?

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity of hearing my views later in the debate.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

I will look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman's views. I shall take great interest in them.

There is another Member for whom I have particular affection this evening, as do many of my hon. Friends. I understand that we have all 'come with the same tracts and quotes. It does not surprise me that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton took upon herself the duty of speaking for the Opposition. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) may have had great difficulty in doing so. He, too, participated in the debate in 1995, and he led for the Opposition in Standing Committee F. He is the one who made the complaint. He conspired with the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald to carry out their little dirty deed. He cannot deny it.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the hon. Gentleman's contribution when he opened the debate. The hon. Gentleman said: My understanding of the procedure set out on pages 703 and 704 of 'Erskine May' is that after the requests have been made, the position is reported to the House".—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 8 March 2001; c. 675.] He continued with that sort of stuff. He could never have known what pages 703 and 704 said. He does not have an encyclopaedic knowledge of "Erskine May"; he must have known in advance what would happen. I put it to him—he can deny it from the Opposition Dispatch Box—that he was party to the conspiracy.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

In Committee, the Opposition were pushed to a point that was intolerable. We were pushed by a Minister who was so arrogant that he would not give the time that was needed for debate. There was no option left.

I have quite an encyclopaedic knowledge of "Erskine May", and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

Those were interesting words, and I think that we heard them correctly. The hon. Gentleman said that the Opposition were pushed to the point of opposition.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

No. The hon. Gentleman can speak when I have finished. I have something to say about him, as well.

The debate is rather like the one that we had the other month on programme motions. The Conservatives leave so much dirty linen in their cupboard. There are so many opportunities for us to respond to their points—

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

I would like Opposition Members to hear what I am about to say because it is quite remarkable.

I shall quote the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire, who speaks for the Opposition on these matters. In the debate on my misdemeanour in Committee, he said: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Committee has its authority as a result of the resolution of this place, that it is therefore arrogant of him to say that its decisions, which are made with that authority, are wrong, and that he is entitled just to walk into the Committee and speak in breach of all the rules? What does that say about this place's powers and the Committee's authority? Is he not breaching it through arrogance? That is said of me—arrogance.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

No, no; there is a lot more to come, and I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the best come at the end.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire said: If we invest a Committee with authority, especially an authority which … is absolute and exclusive in a certain area, it should be wrong for individual Members, whether they be the hon. Member for Workington or. indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery"— that was Mr. Carlile— to say that their judgment is greater than that of the House, greater than that of the Committee, thereby abandoning an essential principle. If one sets up such a Committee, as we have in this House, we should not interfere with its authority. That is the hon. Gentleman's position.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire continued: That principle has been in this place for more than 150 years. In 1844, the Speaker observed in a similar issue"—

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

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), but I must say to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) that it is fairly evident that the hon. Member for Workington is not giving way at present.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

I return to the quote from 1844. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire obviously felt passionately about the matter. The Speaker said in 1844 that no member who was not a Member of the Committee had any right to interfere with the proceedings … though he might be present in the room. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire went on to say that we might just as well go back to having a Committee of the whole House with witnesses brought to the Bar of the House—if all Members were entitled to attend Committees and to interfere in the processes. There must be a remedy. On the remedy, the hon. Gentleman said: The only remedy is that which the motion suggests—in fact, the traditional remedy. On other occasions when it has been necessary to exclude a Member from a Committee, a motion has been placed before the whole House and that person has then been told that he must not attend the Committee at the behest of the Chairman. If there is no remedy, such Committees will become meaningless. The hon. Gentleman went on to say: I do not believe that it is right for an individual Member to put his strong views above those of the House. When this place has decided by resolution to give a Committee authority to deal with an issue, it is simply wrong for another Member to be there trying to interfere with the members of the Committee and with its deliberations. The hon. Gentleman put a prolonged case. He clearly believed passionately in it, yet he sits on the Front Bench today, somehow justifying the actions taken by his right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald. He continued: A more fundamental issue is at stake—the law of Parliament, which has set out those principles for more than 150 years, and which the hon. Member for Workington, aided and abetted by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, now wishes to break and to treat with contempt. That says something about the form of campaign with which they wish to associate themselves."—[Official Report, 20 April 1995; Vol. 258, c. 389–98.] There is more. The House would get bored if I went on, but there are pages of such quotes.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

In a minute.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire shamefacedly sits before the House, defending his right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald for doing what I did, and himself being party to the decision that she should proceed in the way that she did. Far worse in many ways is the fact that what those right hon. and hon. Members did was official. It was done on behalf of the Opposition. That shows that they have changed their very attitude towards Parliament. Whereas historically the Conservative party stood for law and order, it now stands for no law, no rules and disorder.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been in the House as long as I have, and he used to have a reputation for defending parliamentary liberty. He knows a lot about the history of Parliament. Does he not recognise that, from time to time, hon. Members have had to define the practices of the House to cure a greater injustice? May I remind him of Mr. Bradlaugh and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), both of whom defied the practices of the House to cure a greater injustice? That is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) did last week.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

That is true. There has been a series of those incidents over the years, but there is a distinction between those that have occurred in the past 200 years and the one that we are discussing this evening. This occasion, unlike those in 1849, 1827, 1952, 1974, 1982, 1989, 1994 and 1991, was organised by members of the shadow Cabinet—people who, in six weeks, will aspire to run this country. That includes the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who seeks to be Leader of the House of Commons. Tonight, at the Dispatch Box, she is sanctioning outrageous activity. That is deplorable and, in my view, she should withdraw immediately from the Chamber.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:21, 12 March 2001

I beg to move, in line 2, leave out from 'be' to end and add 'remitted to Standing Committee F for consideration of all remaining clauses, schedules and amendments not so far debated in Standing Committee without limit of time for further consideration; that a week shall elapse between the completion of Committee Stage and the commencement of Report Stage: and that notwithstanding the Order of the House of 29th January, Report Stage do continue without limit of time until completion; and that one day be allocated for the Third Reading of the Bill.' Liberal Democrat Members tabled the amendment, and Conservative Member; added their names to it. The speech of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was a useful and helpful contribution. In the words of Edward Lear, I was coming to it. I shall return to a slight inconsistency in a minute.

May I remind the House of the Bill that we are discussing? It is the Government's flagship legislation and has run into trouble tonight. In fact, it ran into trouble over its content a long time ago. It raises serious law and order issues and, as we discovered both on Second Reading and in Committee—when my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) and I tested the Government—it raise; major civil liberty issues too.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No, not at the moment.

In many cases, the ideas in the Bill were shown to be flawed and its policies unworkable. The Government proved to those Committee members who listened and paid attention that a lot of it was about trying to find "eye-catching initiatives"—in the words of the Prime Minister—to put in the pre-election shop window. We all know that if the Prime Minister keeps to his intention to hold the election on 3 May, the Bill will not complete its parliamentary stages anyway.

This is a flagship Bill with no port of destination. Its cargo is fatally flawed, and now it has run into difficulties concerning procedure in the House. [Interruption.] Liberal Democrat Members are making innumerable contributions: the Bill has foundered; it is sinking; it is sandbagged; it has run into difficulties. Although it does not sound like it tonight, the Bill is beached, if not becalmed.

The issue before the House is not whether we have programme motions for Government Bills, but whether, for the first time in our history, we get rid of whole stages of procedure and allow a Government, however arrogant and consistent they have been in wanting to push their business through, to get the approval of the House for a procedural stage to be completely removed. This is a night for Parliament, Labour Back-Benchers and Opposition Members to say to the Government, "You must not have your motion accepted because Parliament should never be told that it should not do its job properly." If there has been disruption, we should go back to where we were and not get rid of a Committee stage which, for one reason or another—I shall come to that later—we could not finish.

The arrogance of the Government—arrogance is often a manifestation of Governments—has led them to become a Government trying to railroad a Bill through Parliament. I remind Labour Members that their party received 43 per cent. of the vote, not a majority of the votes of the British people, at the previous election. Only 30 per cent. of the electorate voted for them: not a majority, nor even a third of the electorate. They cannot, therefore, come to the House claiming that they speak for the British people. They speak for a minority of the people, just like the rest of us.

The accident of the present distorted political system gives the Labour party more Members of Parliament, but the job of Parliament is to ensure that the accident of the electoral system does not mean a denial of democracy for the citizen. We shall not allow the Government, however big their majority, to get away with brushing aside parliamentary procedures. We shall ensure, if possible, that Parliament resists whoever is on the Government Benches taking away powers from Back Benchers and giving them to the Government, just because they have decided that they want to get lid of parliamentary procedures.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Does not the hon. Gentleman's party support the principle of programming? The amendment that he and his hon. Friends have tabled today appears contrary to what his party agreed to in the Modernisation Committee, and to what has been agreed to by the House. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the tactics used by Conservative Members last Thursday—which could be used time and again in disputes in which hon. Members disagree about difficult issues—completely negate how democracy in Parliament works?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman has asked two perfectly proper questions. He served on the Modernisation Committee, and we appreciate his work. On his first point, we believe in sensible programming, provided that Front Benchers and Back Benchers have a say in how that is decided, and provided that, when a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says that we shall have 16 sittings, we have 16 sittings. On this occasion, we went from the 16 sittings announced by the Government to the 14 announced by the Government in Committee, then, after negotiation, to 15.

I say to the hon. Gentleman, whom I respect, that if the Government propose a programme, they must keep to the promises and the proposals that they make. On a flagship Bill, they cannot expect Opposition Members suddenly to sign away the amount of time for its consideration that the Government had told us—although we had not agreed to it—was the least that we would have.

The Liberal Democrats have supported the idea of programming, but we have never supported the way in which the Government have set about implementing it. We should not have programme motions put before the House the minute after Second Reading. Such programme motions do not take into account the breadth of views expressed on Second Reading; nor do they give the House an opportunity to consider them, If we are to have programme motions, they must be introduced at a decent interval after Second Reading, when the House has been able to reflect on how much time needs to be given to each Bill.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I remind the hon. Gentleman of something that many hon. Members seem to have forgotten. The proposal that programme motions should be taken with Second Reading was contained in the first report of the Modernisation Committee—before I was a member of it—which was carried unanimously.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Lady is quite right to remind the House of that. However, she knows that our shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), has said on regular occasions since he and the right hon. Lady took on their respective jobs that, if we are to get agreement across the House, we must allow time for the House to reflect on Second Reading debates.

I shall come to the other point raised by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), concerning the behaviour of Conservative Front-Bench Members, in a minute, as it is an important matter and one that I want to say something about.

The Bill is not only a flagship Bill; it is a Bill containing 132 clauses, and one to which a large number new clauses and 300 amendments have been tabled, many by the Government. At the beginning of our last afternoon sitting, we had got as far as clause 77, out of 132. When we finished our work last Thursday evening, we had only reached clause 90 out of 132. There were amendments yet to be considered, including Government amendments.

Those who chaired the Committee—experienced Members of the House—were clear that there had been no filibustering. Both kept the Committee on a tight rein. My hon. Friends and I pay tribute to them for doing an extremely competent job, as the House would expect of them. If they said that all debate was in order, clearly there had not been enough time to complete consideration. When we finished last Thursday afternoon, had there not been the proceedings to which I shall refer in a moment, about a third of the Bill remained to be considered. We should have considered all of it. Parliament had not properly done its work when the guillotine fell on the timetabled Committee debates.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because he would not want to give the House the impression that we had considered 77 clauses. We had not considered the whole of part III, from clauses 49 to 69.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is correct. He also played an extremely good and effective role in Committee. [Interruption.] No, the hon. Gentleman was very much an independent Back Bencher who moved his own amendments and argued on his own as well as supporting his colleagues. Debate on the early parts of the Bill was often guillotined and we did not fully consider the rest, so it is true to say that we had not properly considered many measures, including significant clauses.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Labour, South Thanet

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he not overlooking the fact that the equivalent of a full sitting was wasted by Opposition Members discussing programming and procedural motions?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I do not accept that because all the debate was clearly in order. The hon. Gentleman served on the Committee and he knows that that was the ruling. It is not surprising that programming was discussed when we were debating the flagship Bill of this Session, which deals with controversial matters.

Although the hon. Gentleman will remember, I remind him that we were debating fixed penalty notices—not uncontroversial; whether curfews should be extended to under-16s—not uncontroversial; how we should deal with alcohol and alcohol-related offences—not uncontroversial; drug-related offences; protection of witnesses and possible witnesses; granting bail; information exchange between Departments and between the Government and agencies abroad—not uncontroversial; limits on the rules of detention; and the use of video links in extending detention under terrorism legislation, which is extremely controversial.

The hon. Gentleman will also remember that, at the end of proceedings, we were discussing not only how to deal with animal rights extremists, which is a matter of particular interest and concern to him for perfectly proper reasons, but whether innocent people whose DNA samples were taken when they were under suspicion should be allowed to have those samples withdrawn, rather than being held for the rest of their lives even though they have done nothing wrong. If those are not controversial civil liberty and law and order matters that need proper debate, I do not know what are.

I pay tribute to the way in which the Minister dealt with the Committee and argued the Government's case. To his credit, he agreed that major issues such as DNA sampling deserve a major national debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I voted in and forced Divisions more often than the Conservatives. We did not agree with the fixed penalty notice system proposed by the Government. We were not in favour of some of the Government's proposals to allow the authorities to close licensed premises without warning landlords.

We were not in favour of extending child curfews, which have not worked for the under-10s, to the under-16s when the police say that curfews would not work for them either. We were not in favour of extending without qualification the power of seizure. We opposed the Government because we were not in favour of detention under terrorist legislation being extended to people at a remote distance. We were not in favour of allowing DNA samples to be kept indefinitely.

We opposed. the Government. I am surprised that the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) did not oppose his Government on those hugely important matters. All deserve to be debated properly.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the debate on each issue of principle that he has raised was substantial and not guillotined? Debate on non-key issues was guillotined.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

In general terms, the Minister is right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] No, the Minister is right, except that the debate was guillotined. We had a timetable and a fixed end point. The Government wanted to come out of Committee by 8 March. Some of us think that that had something to do with a possible election on 3 May. The Government fixed the end point, and they fixed staging points. Although we had decent debates on the major matters, by the end of our consideration of the Bill we were trying to deal with important issues, such as the running, training and organising of the police. The Minister knows that those police matters would never have been debated.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for agreeing with my fundamental point. Does he also acknowledge that we debated clause 1 for four hours and clause 2 for two and a half hours? We fully discussed issues such as fixed penalty notices, as he would wish.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I have argued that there were major matters to debate. We had some major debates, but the question is whether we had enough time to consider a flagship Bill of more than 130 clauses. The answer must be no, given that we had only reached clause 90 half an hour before the end of the last sitting.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that we did not discuss issues such as the disclosure of tax records, the seizure of property, and police organisation, training and discipline—given that the burden of proof is to be changed for disciplinary proceedings? Those are not trivial matters, and many outside bodies, including chartered accountants, lawyers, the Police Federation, police authorities and the National Association of Probation Officers, and individuals wanted us to debate those matters properly and to seek assurances, but we were not able to do so.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is correct. This is a two-part Bill: it is a criminal justice Bill and a police Bill. The police clauses started at clause 86, and we began to debate that clause at some stage last Thursday. We only had until 7 o'clock to debate all the matters to do with the police. Hon. Members on both sides of the House spend much time saying how important the police are, how much we value them, how many more we want to recruit, how difficult it is to hang on to them, and how undervalued they are. I do not think that the police can be satisfied when those clauses in the one Bill in this Session that deals with police matters are allocated less than a day in Committee, and we do not discuss about 40 clauses to do with their future, their structure and their organisation. On that point, I certainly share the hon. Gentleman's view.

We were a few minutes away from the end of the Committee last Thursday when things took a turn for the slightly bizarre. One of the Government's difficulties is that in opposition— I accept that it was not members of the Front Bench—the Labour party often used tactics, as we did, to ensure that it gave the Conservative Government a hard time. We must all be careful not to be self-righteous about this. When Government want to get their business through, they use the levers available to them. When the Opposition want to stop them, they will use ruses to try to do so. Trying to block the timetable has always been one of the weapons open to Opposition parties and to Back Benchers. I and my colleagues have used it, and I give credit to the Conservative party for what happened on Thursday, because it was a good wheeze and it delayed the proceedings.

My hon. Friend and I are slightly confused.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No. not for the moment.

On all the important matters of principle—fixed penalty notices, child curfews, closing licensed premises, extending powers of seizures, allowing detention by remote link and DNA samples—we did not notice the Tory party opposing the Government.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No.

This is the great flagship Bill. Of course, there were differences and unhappiness about the nature and extent of the legislation, but, as I said to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), on the fundamental principles there did not seem to be any opposition to the 10 major ideas in the Bill.

On Thursday, we saw a protest about procedure, but on a Bill on which the Tory party's view was pretty similar to that of the Government. It might have been better to protest about the Bill and its content than to protest about the way in which the Government were taking the Bill through the House.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman should be so shocked. We did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. The point is that there were numerous matters of detail in regard to which we had tabled amendments, wanted assurances and wanted to improve the Bill. As a result, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have dropped two clauses, accepted four amendments, and agreed to reconsider a range of other matters and issue guidance. We served our purpose when we were able to do so; the complaint is that, for much of the time, we were not able to do so.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I understand the hon. Gentleman's position, about which he has always been straightforward. The Conservatives did not object fundamentally to the policy in the Bill. They wanted to improve it; they wanted assurances. In regard to certain matters—perfectly properly—the hon. Gentleman's colleagues and my party agreed that the Government needed to be pushed, exposed and pressed, and the Government made concessions. I make no criticism of that. My point is that the great showdown took place in connection with a Bill on which the Tory and Labour parties have one view, and we have another. It is a strange coincidence in British politics that on law and order the differences between Tories and Labour become narrower every day, almost paling into insignificance—[Interruption.] It is true. It is left to some of us to argue about both the procedure and the principle.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

Surely the scandal is not who said what on a particular clause, but the fact that no one said anything about so many clauses.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have said so myself. The hon. Gentleman, who is consistently good in this regard, knows that the House must stand up for the rights of the House—Back Benchers, Front Benchers and members of every party—to take an interest at each stage of the proceedings. The mischief tonight is that we are being asked by the Government to cut out a whole section of procedure, to ignore the last part of the Bill, and to behave as though it had never had a Committee stage and had never been tested. That must go beyond what Parliament has ever been asked to do.

I sincerely hope that when this is put to a vote, not just the hon. Gentleman—who I am sure is entirely trustworthy on matters such as this—but Members on both sides of the House will realise that the issue is bigger than the Bill or the Government of the day. As Mr. Speaker said about an hour ago, there has never been a precedent for a motion such as this, and the House should not allow a precedent to be set tonight.

As for the action on Thursday, I have said that in terms of procedural rules it was—described neutrally—a jolly good wheeze. It is also true that, as the hon. Member for Workington has argued throughout his distinguished career, many great parliamentary developments have occurred because of peaceful protests by those elected to Parliament. Many things would not have happened otherwise, and many people—not just the Charles Bradlaughs, but many others—would not have secured rights for parliamentarians had they not protested and taken a stand. There is a difference, however, and the hon. Gentleman put his finger on it.

Here was someone who aspired, and still aspires, to be Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, leading a protest, seconded by someone who wants to be Home Office spokesman on police matters and backed by the Conservative Chief Whip. The shadow Leader of the House now endorses the protest. That is an entirely different kettle of fish. It is one thing for Back Benchers to engage in a peaceful protest and challenge the Government; it is something else for people who, as the hon. Gentleman said, aspire to govern the country from the Home Office in six or seven weeks and to set an example in regard to law and order to act as they did.

I sometimes feel a grudging respect and admiration for the antics of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), but I think she made a terrible error of judgment on Thursday evening. For her and her colleagues, who speak on Home Office matters and who want to set an example in regard to law and order, to lead such "non-law and order" activity and defy the Chair of the Committee—who was trying to do a job on behalf of the House—was indeed a bad error of judgment. It was not an example to set: it was not an example of upholding the law, and not an example that the Tory party can easily justify or be proud of. If the right hon. Lady, with that record, ever were to become Home Secretary, heaven preserve the rest of us. If that is the example from the top, there is not much hope for the people at the bottom.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

The burden of the hon. Gentleman's argument seems to be that it would have been perfectly all right if I had asked some Back Benchers to go in, but that it was not all right for me to go and do it myself in a straightforward and honourable manner.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

As I said, if Back Benchers had done it, it would have been an entirely different kettle of fish. However, I understand that the right hon. Lady is never one to shy away from a teeny bit of publicity and that that was another golden opportunity. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said about the intervention of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), I think that I heard a plea of guilty, but the mitigation seemed to be argued at the same time.

On Thursday, the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) was absolutely right and the Conservative party leadership was absolutely wrong. Tomorrow, I think, the House will have an opportunity to decide whether we have to give the right hon. Lady and her colleagues a disciplinary rebuke for Thursday's events. That is a matter for us. In about six weeks, however, the country may have to judge the prospect of a Conservative Government. My judgment is that, on that occasion, the country will give Conservative Members collectively a red card.

Today, however, we are considering a Government motion, and an Opposition amendment that attempts to reassert the rights of the House. I hope that the House will say that the Bill should return to Committee; the Committee should finish its consideration of the Bill; and that only then should the Bill be considered on Report and Third Reading in the House. It is a very simple choice: do we properly observe democratic procedures, or do we allow an unprecedented Government motion to deny debate to which Parliament is entitled? I hope that hon. Members, including many Labour Back Benchers, will support the amendment and that the Government will not be so arrogant again.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Labour/Co-operative, Corby 11:47, 12 March 2001

The motion has been tabled because four Conservative Members—the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and the hon. Members for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Cran) and for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown)—decided to cause grave disorder in Standing Committee F, which was considering the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. Opposition Front Benchers themselves have now confessed that that was a deliberate and premeditated manoeuvre to prevent the Committee from completing its business in the time allocated to it in the programme motion on which the whole House had voted.

Clearly, therefore, the action was not taken by a group of renegades. It was not even a leadership bid, prior to the general election, by an aspirant leader of the Tory party. It was a planned campaign by Opposition Members, with the endorsement of the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. The Committee Chairman was left in the impossible position of having to deal with an organised rebellion and challenge by Opposition Members to his authority as Committee Chairman.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) so eloquently said, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald)—who sought to oppose the motion moved by the Standing Committee Chairman, who is a Conservative Member, asking those Opposition Members to leave the Committee—spoke in the 1995 debate on Select Committees. I should like to add a couple of quotes to those given by my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire said that the issue at stake is the upholding of our constituents' rights. I believe that for that purpose the law of Parliament is important. Once we start breaking that law, there will be no end to it."—[Official Report, 20 April 1995; Vol. 258, c. 399.] That is why it is so important that this motion be passed.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Liverpool, Garston

Will my hon. Friend also look at the comments of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) in that debate regarding the misbehaviour of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)? The hon. Gentleman said: The worrying aspect is the 'demoism'—the wish to take direct action to establish a form of street cred. The House should have no truck with that."—[Official Report, 20 April 1995; Vol. 258, c. 399.]

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Labour/Co-operative, Corby

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the cant and hypocrisy of the Conservative party, which said one thing when it was in power in 1995 and which acts another way now.

In 1995, the then Conservative Leader of the House moved, with the support of the then Opposition, that any Select Committee shall have power to direct such Member to withdraw forthwith; and the Serjeant at Arms shall act on such instructions as he may receive from the chairman of the committee in pursuance of this Order."—[Official Report, 20 April 1995; Vol. 258, c. 383.] However, we are today talking about a Standing Committee of the House, a point made by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire in defence of his Front Benchers as they tried to disrupt the democratic procedures of the House.

How often will we allow this kind of behaviour to take place in this Parliament? What action should Parliament take to prevent an organised rebellion by the Opposition from undermining the democratic procedures of the House?

Pike:

Is it not a fact that a democracy can work only if the Opposition are positive about their role? If they misuse the rules, democracy can be ground to a halt.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Labour/Co-operative, Corby

My hon. Friend is right. The passage from "Erskine May" quoted by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire makes it clear that there have been orders in the past empowering the chairman of a standing committee to direct that any Member who disregards the authority of the chair or persistently and wilfully obstructs the business of the committee do withdraw immediately and directing the Serjeant at Arms to act on any consequent orders he may receive from the chairman.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda

I am sorry that my hon. Friend is surprised at the behaviour of the Conservative party. The yob tendency has always been there. There was one occasion when the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) picked up the Mace to disrupt proceedings. I cannot quite see the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) being cast in the role of Jane to the right hon. Gentleman's Tarzan. The Conservatives have always been a yob party. If they do not get their way, they behave like a bunch of yobs.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Labour/Co-operative, Corby

My hon. Friend is right. The anti-social behaviour orders that the Government have introduced to deal with yobs in the community may well have some bearing in the House.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Liverpool, Garston

Has my hon. Friend noticed from the debate in 1995 on disruption in Select Committees that the response of the then Government was immediately to come to the House to change a Standing Order to give a general power to Select Committee Chairmen to deal immediately with this kind of behaviour? Does he agree that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House might consider giving a general power to Standing Committee Chairmen so that we do not have to come to the House on every occasion to ask for a particular power?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Labour/Co-operative, Corby

My hon. Friend makes the very point that I was about to make. Although "Erskine May" makes it clear that there have been orders in the past on various occasions, some of which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington listed, there is no general power for a Standing Committee Chairman to impose his authority where there is and has been, as in this case, a persistent and wilful desire to obstruct the business of the House. It is therefore incumbent on the House to determine whether such a procedure, which currently applies to Select Committees, should now apply to Standing Committees to prevent the undermining of our democratic process.

The motion is before us because of the Conservative party's appalling behaviour. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald purports to support the rule of law and to condemn those who break the law, yet, with breathtaking hypocrisy, she deliberately set out to flout and break the rules of the House by which we make the very laws that she seeks to uphold. That exposes the arrogant contempt with which she treats our democratic—

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman's remarks about the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and about hypocrisy should be withdrawn and apologised for.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Labour/Co-operative, Corby

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I have made any comments that are outside the accepted procedures of the House.

I hope that I am clearly making the point both to the House and to the external world that the contempt with which the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald has behaved with regard to the Bill's Committee exposes the fact that she thinks that there is one rule for behaving outside but another way of behaving in the House.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the House precisely how democracy is protected by a motion of one paragraph stating that the Bill shall be deemed to have been passed by the House? Is that not an outrageous breach of the rule that he is trying to establish?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Labour/Co-operative, Corby

Obviously the hon. Gentleman did not bother to listen to the first part of my contribution: the reasons we are debating this matter at this late hour are the contempt for the democratic procedures of the House and the anti-democratic behaviour exhibited by the shadow Home Secretary.

We have three tasks to undertake tonight. First, we must restore the proper democratic procedures of the House by passing the motion. Secondly, we must ensure not only that such behaviour is condemned but that the miscreants do not go unpunished.

Finally, on a point of parliamentary procedure, because of the anomaly as between Select Committees and Standing Committees, we should consider the introduction of new measures to ensure that never again will the procedures of the House be undermined by an Opposition who resort to breaking the rules of the House to have their way and to exert influence, because they cannot gain the support of the people through the ballot box.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire 11:57, 12 March 2001

The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) has got it wrong in a very big way. We are not in the Chamber this evening to discuss the behaviour of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and her colleagues; we are here because the Government are attempting to railroad through the House an extremely important and complex Bill in a way that shows utter contempt for the democratic procedures of the House.

Many years ago, when I was sitting on the Government Benches, I was so angry at the way the then Conservative Government were trying to guillotine a Bill that I walked out, saying that I would take no further part in the proceedings. At the time, I said that we should be careful about taking to ourselves powers that we do not want others to have. I commend that sentiment to the Minister of State and his hon. Friends. What we did in a minor way is being done in spades by the Labour Government—that lot opposite. It is quite disgraceful.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

Before I give way, I will give the Minister something else to talk about. Last Monday, he appeared as the first witness before the new Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I am privileged to sit. We considered only one or two aspects of the Bill, but they showed—and the hon. Gentleman admitted in as many words—that the measure needs the most careful and detailed scrutiny. Indeed, he and I had a passage of arms over precisely what is meant by "quarrelsome" as distinct from "argumentative"—

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

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to talk about unreported evidence?

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

If the evidence is unreported, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) should avoid talking about it.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

If I have transgressed in any sense, I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Minister knows that what we said during that sitting of the Joint Committee shows that the Bill needs the most detailed scrutiny. However, not only will a whole section of the Bill receive no detailed scrutiny—it will receive no scrutiny at all.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that none of the issues we discussed in that Committee were guillotined and that they were all debated fully? Will he take this opportunity to condemn the activities of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and say that they were wrong and out of order?

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

That is not the point at issue tonight. The hon. Gentleman made a very belligerent speech from the Dispatch Box. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell—Savours) adopted the advice given in Bardell v. Bardell in "Pickwick Papers"—weak case: abuse plaintiff's attorney. That is what he did this evening, and he has the good grace to laugh now. What we are really discussing this evening is the way in which the Government, without any regard for parliamentary propriety, seek to railroad Bill after Bill through the House with programme motions which are, in fact, guillotines in disguise.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

Perhaps in a moment.

Few Members on either side of the House would have a legitimate argument against proper programming which gave proper time for all clauses in the Bill. When my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard)—a former shadow Leader of the House—and I briefly served on the Modernisation Committee, we made it plain, as did others, that we were prepared to discuss that proposal, but the Modernisation Committee has become the emasculation Committee; it is preventing the House from fulfilling its function. The prime function of the House is to subject to detailed and critical scrutiny measures introduced by the Executive, thereby holding the Executive to account.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

Can the hon. Gentleman account for the fact that a similarly sized Bill was passed after half the number of sittings during the previous Parliament?

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

We are not debating that this evening; we are debating the way in which, time after time, the Government use a so-called programme motion as a guillotine—and use their massive majority, which is vastly in excess of the one we finished up with in the previous Parliament. The right hon. Lady should get the smile off her face and remember that she is, in fact, the Leader of the House; she has a responsibility to every Member to ensure that the procedures are properly followed.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

No; I might give way later.

The right hon. Lady, for whom I have a high regard, is letting herself down very badly by putting her name to the motion. As Mr. Speaker said when he was in the Chair, it is a motion without precedent because we are being asked to deem something done which has not been done.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

I should like to develop my argument, then I may perhaps give way again.

We are being asked to say that the House has done something that it has not done. We are being asked to be parties to a collective parliamentary lie. We are being asked to say that something has happened which has not happened.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), in his admirable speech, made it plain that that is what we are being asked to do.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been a Member for longer than I have, and he has a very good memory. He is basing his argument on the fact that some clauses have not even been read, let alone debated. I ask him to cast his mind back to the Hungerford tragedy and the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which was introduced as a result—the Minister then responsible is present this evening—when 67 clauses, many of which went against commitments given in Committee and which would not be applicable to Northern Ireland, were introduced on Report and the Bill was guillotined not against the then Opposition, on whose Front Benches I sat, but against Conservative Members, because the then Government had to deal with their own hunting, shooting and fishing crowd, who were very much against the measure. So let us have none of the misrepresentation about such a motion being unique and having been introduced for the first time, because that is far from accurate.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

That was a very inexact analogy. However, I must inform the hon. Gentleman that I have spoken out—my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhill (Mr. Shepherd) has done so even more than I have—against guillotines by whomsoever they have been introduced. My hon. Friend's record is without equal, but I have a reasonable record too in that regard. I have never liked the instrument. I am not seeking to defend what may or may not have been done in the past.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

I am sorry, but I will not give way again.

The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. Labour Members are trying to rake up the embers of the past when we are concerned about the raging inferno of the present. We have a Government who are seeking to consign parliamentary procedures to the bonfire of their own vanity.

The motion is without precedent. We have never before in the history of Parliament had a Government who have come before the House and sought to persuade it to connive—I use my words deliberately and carefully—at the collective lie that something has been done that has not been done.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

I will not give way.

We have not discussed the clauses and that is why the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey was right, in his admirable speech, to concentrate on that aspect of the issue. As he rightly said, we are discussing the Government's motion, which is urging us to deem something to have happened that has not happened.

Labour Members may laugh, but if any one of them goes into the Lobby to support the motion, he or she will be denying his or her parliamentary heritage. Any Member who votes for the motion is, in fact, voting for the Executive against the legislature. Any Member who votes for the motion is voting for the emasculation of Parliament and what it stands for and must continue for stand for.

Any Member who votes for the motion is voting against a free Parliament in a free country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Labour Members may say that, but the Government have a massive majority. Of course, the real reason why we are being asked to accept the motion is that the Prime Minister—who has such a massive majority, who has 15 months of his mandate yet to run, who has, as he has readily told us many times, much unfinished business to do and who is now faced with a national calamity—now sees in the opinion polls what he believes to be a chance to renew his mandate. He will therefore rush anything through regardless of whether it is discussed or not.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

As my hon. Friend says—but that is what the debate is all about.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Labour, South Thanet

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman deprecates what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) did, but that he is too loyal to say so. However, will he at least accept that if we do not take action of the type the Government have proposed, what the right hon. Lady did will become the norm and we shall never again get business through the House?

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

What arrant nonsense. If we vote as we should for the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and his Friends, to which the Conservative party's Front-Bench spokesmen have attached their names, all that will happen is that Bill will receive adequate discussion and debate. That is what it must have and that is what it deserves. There will be no need for future protests. If the Leader of the House takes this lesson to heart, continues to hold her job and produces properly negotiated programmes that give adequate opportunity for all parts of all Bills to be fully discussed, the problem will not arise again.

At this late hour, we face an important matter. In my 31 years in the House, never has Parliament faced such a serious transgression of its rights and privileges by the Executive, who are trying to prevent the legislature from holding them to account. They are behaving with a draconian ferocity that is usually found only in dictatorships. For that reason, it is incumbent on every lover of parliamentary democracy to go into the Lobby to support the amenment.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda 12:11, 12 March 2001

I am amazed at the general air of hypocrisy that is seeping from Conservative Benches. It stinks. Those of us who sat through the 1980s and saw the Government use their majority to push through the privatisation of gas, transport, electricity and the atomic weapons establishment can only cringe. I understand why some older Members have sat through our proceedings with a smile on their faces, but I also understand the bowel syndrome of new Members. Their constipated look of pain has been fed by the oracle, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who has suggested that something terrible is happening. It is a pretty awful scene. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that he, too, understands the Conservatives' frustration—their bowel syndrome. However, I cannot bear to hear the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) bounce from pillar to post. He has more sides than an old thruppenny bit, which is typical of Liberal Democrats in action.

What happened last Thursday is regrettable, but the hon. Member for South Staffordshire should reflect on this thought: regardless of whether the Government were right or wrong to introduce a programme motion, they have a majority and the rules under which the Committee was to operate were set down. The Opposition have deliberately conspired to go against the wishes of the elected Parliament, but he should remember that the shoe is on Labour's foot, in the same way as it was on the Conservatives' foot in the 1980s—and, by gosh, did they use it. Talk about boots being made for walking—they walked over all semblance of democracy in the House and rammed through all the legislation that they wanted, so much so that someone said that a large majority might be bad for democracy. However, that is another argument. The Liberal Democrats will not like the system because they stand no chance of getting a majority.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda

No. The hon. Gentleman can speak for himself later.

Some sanctions must be applied. If we do not accept that, we cannot accept that the House is able to set the rules under which we operate.

From the swinging of the mace to the swinging in the trees, Opposition Members want to make Parliament a jungle. It has been pointed out that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) had a peerless record of standing against his own Government when he felt that something was wrong. I have such a record, but I cannot honestly see that any wrongdoing occurred in this case, except that the official Opposition deliberately conspired to break the rules of the House. If they are allowed to get away with it, parliamentary democracy will go out of the window.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 12:15, 12 March 2001

I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate, but I am rather sorry that it is taking place at all. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who is a Whip, seeks to participate. Perhaps he will deviate further from procedure and speak in the debate as he is already having a stab at it.

We are debating not the conduct of particular Members but that of a Government who are prepared to deem that a Bill has been considered in Committee—

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

Will the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to condemn unreservedly the activities of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe)?

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I will take the opportunity to condemn unreservedly the arrogant contempt that the Minister and his colleagues show for the House. I shall express the strong views held by Conservative and, I am pleased to say, Liberal Democrat Members. We believe in parliamentary democracy, and the hon. Gentleman, as a Minister of the Crown, ought to have regard for Parliament and some understanding of why we were all sent here.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The Minister made a pathetic point the last time he intervened, so I shall not give way again. He and his colleagues must begin to understand that they are not here simply because of one day on which there was a general election[Laughter.] Labour Members show how little they understand parliamentary democracy; it does not begin and end on the day of a general election.

We are sent here to do a job, not to be ciphers or delegates or to endorse the Labour manifesto, and even Labour Members frequently depart not only from the manifesto but increasingly from their pledge card. The essence of our job entails scrutiny of legislation and requires that all Members, even Labour Members, should devote their minds and their energy to considering the quality of legislation put before them in Committee. I have sat on Standing Committees and seen how rarely Labour Members do that. All Members have that obligation. The Government are prepared to ride roughshod over the rights of Members from all parties to perform that duty. In addition. I suspect that when we vote later this morning, Labour Members will simply accept this neutering of the role of Members of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

Is not the situation even worse than that? Police morale is at rock bottom. The Minister of State is responsible for police morale, yet he grins and keeps making inane points instead of saying why Members have not even discussed all the clauses that deal with the police.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

My hon. Friend makes his point eloquently, and it will not be lost on members of police forces throughout the country that the Minister responsible for them is not prepared to allow parliamentary debate of matters relating to the police.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

When I talked to the Police Federation about the matter this morning, its response was great dismay that discussion of whole clauses on which it wanted assurances was simply guillotined.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I am not surprised to hear that. The dismay of the Police Federation is mirrored not just by dismay but by cynicism and scepticism among the public, to which the Prime Minister has alluded. Is it any wonder that the electorate, whom we are meant to serve, hold the House of Commons in such low esteem, when it is clear that the Executive hold us in such low esteem and we are not permitted to do the job that we are sent here to do and raise our constituents' concerns?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The position is even graver than my hon. Friend has said. It is not just that these clauses have not been discussed in Committee. Under the timetable motion that the House has passed, they cannot be discussed on Report or even, by implication, on Third Reading. There will not be enough time at those stages either, so they will never be discussed.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

My right hon. and learned Friend has many more years' experience in the House than I have, but in my four years here I have seen the destruction of so much of the freedom and the power of the House of Commons that it appals me. It is frightening to contemplate what the Government are seeking to do: trying further to reduce the powers and the rights of the House of Commons to scrutinise legislation. In doing so, Ministers do a disservice not merely to the Opposition but to themselves, the House of Commons and to the office of Government.

Ultimately, the problem is not just that we will not be able to scrutinise the Government's legislation, or that the Police Federation and other interested bodies will not have their views expressed. As the Government have discovered so many times in the past few years, their all-too-shoddy legislation will not have the opportunity of scrutiny and, therefore, will not be improved by the consideration that it should receive in Committee. If Ministers had a little more humility and a little less arrogance, they might accept that Parliament has a genuinely important function in seeking to improve what the Government introduce. If a Government are not too arrogant to see that, they can benefit. An arrogant Government such as this will soon be discovered by the failures of their legislation.

Photo of Mr David Lock Mr David Lock Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

The hon. Gentleman and I have been in the House for the same time, and I am trying to following his argument. Is he suggesting that the duty that he owes to people outside this House means that he has the right to override the House's rules and procedures in trying to fulfil that duty?

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The Minister is trying hard but he is not doing very well. Surely the crucial point is that, when the House behaves as a proper, functioning part of a free Parliament, procedural matters are dealt with broadly by agreement among all parties. This programming procedure manifestly does not have the support of the House of Commons. It has been forced through by the Executive, who object as a matter of principle to being held to account and do not like to face parliamentary scrutiny.

When the Executive are prepared to force their way in procedural matters and abuse the rights of the House of Commons, the procedure has less validity than when it is agreed properly by all parties. Ministers need to understand that if they are to ride roughshod over the interests of the House of Commons and ignore the rights of Back Benchers, and particularly the Opposition parties, they will lose. I happily give way to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). [Interruption.] I could have sworn that he wanted to make another entertaining contribution to the debate. I wish that he had been about to; I would have enjoyed it immensely.

Ministers must understand that if they abuse the rights of the House, seek to suppress debate and to prevent scrutiny of their legislation, overturn and disregard its procedures and instead impose procedures on it rather than gaining agreement for them, the House must fight to retain its independence. It must fight to have the right to scrutinise legislation. It must hold Ministers to account.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood 12:25, 12 March 2001

I shall speak only briefly because I do not want to delay the passage of the excellent Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

I was pleased to be asked to be a member of the Committee that was to scrutinise the Bill. I took my role seriously. We had hour after hour to debate the detail of the Bill. Extra sittings were made available to us to debate—

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman can make his own contribution later.

We had plenty of time to debate the detail of the Bill. Yet the Opposition have said explicitly that they are seeking to delay it. They admit that last week's extraordinary behaviour was deliberate. The message that my constituents will take from this evening's debate will not be about the detail of parliamentary procedure but about the fact that the Opposition want to delay the passage of legislation that they want to see on the statute book.

I remind the Opposition of an occasion in Committee when Conservative Members agreed with me. I pointed out the need to consult local communities when areas were to be designated by local authorities for the purpose of making illegal drinking in public places. The Opposition also agreed with my hon. Friend the Minister of State on other aspects of the Bill. Yet now they are trying deliberately to delay the passage of the Bill.

The message that I will take back to my constituents is that the Opposition do not want to support measures to give the police powers to control drunken behaviour; or measures to allow licensed premises where disorder is taking place to be closed; or measures to limit the right of convicted drug traffickers to travel; or measures to protect workers who are engaged in legal employment. That is the message of the debate.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

No, I will not.

My constituents want to see all those provisions enacted. They benefited from byelaws—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

As the hon. Lady said, we did agree from time to time in Committee. Does she recall the Huntingdon Life Sciences new clauses, which were to be dealt with at the end of consideration of the Bill in Committee? That would have been the position if I had not moved that they should be brought forward. That was my idea, and it was accepted later by the Minister. Those new clauses would not have been brought forward if the order of consideration had remained the same.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

I remind the hon. Gentleman that several Members raised that issue in points of order. My hon. Friend the Minister listened to those points of order.

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

Does my hon. Friend agree that at the first meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee, and at all subsequent meetings, I said to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and to Members of other Opposition parties, in accordance with practice, that it was for the Opposition to determine the order of the amendments to be debated? When a proposal was made, I said that we would accept it immediately, and we did.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

I return to the point that I was making. In my constituency, Blackpool, we already have byelaws that cover some of the matters dealt with in the Bill, such as drinking in public places. Those byelaws have been extremely successful. The police welcomed them, as did the local community. However, that is a cumbersome way of dealing with an important issue. The Bill will enable many other local authorities to deal much more efficiently with the sorts of problems that we encountered in my constituency, with which the police are now dealing through byelaws. Unless the Bill is passed, other local authorities will not be able to do that without going through all the rigmarole of byelaws. My constituents want the Bill passed. The message that I shall take back after this debate is that the Opposition do not want that. Long may they stay in opposition, so that we shall have a Labour Government who will protect my constituents and deliver public safety.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend Conservative, East Yorkshire 12:30, 12 March 2001

It is unusual for me to be in the House at this time of night, and it is even more unusual for me to try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, tonight is different. I am speaking because I am furious at the Government's action in putting before the House a motion that hits at the main purpose of the House, which is to give adequate line-by-line scrutiny to all legislation before us.

I believe that the motion proposed by the Minister is an abuse of power and undermines the power of Members of Parliament. The Government are asking us to accept that the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which has not been reported to the House, should be deemed to have been reported, even though 41 clauses, amounting to 85 pages of text, have not been discussed. That is particularly objectionable because this is a criminal justice Bill affecting individuals' rights before the courts.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend Conservative, East Yorkshire

In a minute. The Minister must be patient.

I shall point out just two items covered by the clauses that have not been discussed: inferences to be drawn from silence in police conduct proceedings, and courts to give reasons for granting opposed bail. Those are extremely important.

If I give way to the Minister, I hope that he will not ask me whether I condemn my colleagues on the Front Bench. I do not. I hope that the Minister will agree that the proposition that something should he deemed to have been done is a serious matter and would set a very serious precedent. Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to the House that such a motion will never be moved in respect of a Second Reading or a Third Reading?

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

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the reason why the Committee's proceedings were not completed was the yobbish behaviour of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe)? Will he condemn that behaviour?

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend Conservative, East Yorkshire

The Minister does not seem to have been taught when he was a small boy that two wrongs do not make a right. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must tell the House that he is entitled to a respectful hearing, as is any hon. Member.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend Conservative, East Yorkshire

The Minister has forgotten that even if members of the Government think that Opposition Members have acted incorrectly, that is no justification for bringing before the House a motion that undermines the House and sets a precedent, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said, by asking the House to accept a lie and to state that something has happened which has not happened.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. If I accept his argument, will he tell me in return what he thinks would be the appropriate response of the House to gross disruptive behaviour that was deliberately designed and organised to disrupt parliamentary procedure? What would be the appropriate way forward?

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend Conservative, East Yorkshire

It is appropriate for the House to behave properly and send the Bill back to Committee.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend Conservative, East Yorkshire

No, let me answer your question first. You are setting a precedent—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member. He must use the correct parliamentary language.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend Conservative, East Yorkshire

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What point was the hon. Gentleman making?

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

I remind the hon. Gentleman that I was asking what would be an appropriate response. He has kindly told the House that it would be appropriate to send the Bill back to Committee. What steps would he take to ensure that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and her colleagues would not do exactly the same thing the minute the Bill went back to Committee?

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend Conservative, East Yorkshire

The hon. Gentleman seems to have missed the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Can tpbell-Savours). There are numerous occasions on which such things have happened; Government Member;' objection is that, this time, instead of being organised by the Whips Office, as it probably was in the past, it was done openly and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) led from the front. Government Members are not objecting to the principle; they are objecting merely because those on our Front Bench were involved.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) asked what the answer is. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire said, the Government have a large majority and ample time. They have another 15 months. My hon. Friends are talking about another two or three days. There is no need for the Government to rush into an election—[Laughter.] The hon. Member for Hall Green may laugh, but I have a rural seat and, as all of the countryside is coming to a halt, it is strange that the Government are proposing to have an election and force things through. They have tabled a motion that sets a dangerous precedent.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

Of course, there is an answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). If the Bill went back into a Committee without an artificial timetable and deadline, the Committee would be able to take powers to tackle any disorder without our having to come to the House to deal with it. The deadline imposed by the Government is the cause of the entire problem.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend Conservative, East Yorkshire

As I said, this is not the first time that the Government have sidelined Parliament and reduced its powers. One reason why I decided to stand down at the election, even though my constituency party wanted me to do another term, is that Parliament has been undermined. When I came here 22 years ago, I was proud of our unwritten constitution, monarchy and parliamentary democracy. Parliament was supreme; one Parliament could not bind the next. We did not have a supreme court; the people of this country were the supreme court, through their elected representatives in Parliament. If the courts did not interpret legislation correctly, Parliament could pass further legislation and impose its will on them.

Now, Parliament has lost that right. With the incorporation of human rights legislation in British law, we can be overruled by judges. Every day, more power is transferred to Europe—it is all part of the same programme, as has been brought home to me. To be fair, the previous Government allowed power to go to Europe. At that time, I remember fighting for my constituency, as a parliamentarian should. I have a fishing constituency; we persuaded the Government to stop quota hopping, and they passed the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. They were overruled by the European Court of Justice and had to pay the Spaniards millions of pounds in damages.

It is worrying that more power has gone to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Eventually, it will go to the British regions. Parliament has been neutered—indeed, it has been castrated. What the Government are suggesting tonight is just another step in that process. That is very serious, and I do not want to be part of it.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 12:40, 12 March 2001

It is extraordinary to consider, having heard the hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Townend), that only a week ago Conservative Members were putting forward exactly the opposite argument. They were seeking to argue, on Standing Orders issues, that it was appropriate that the House should bind a future Parliament. However, the hon. Gentleman now seems to be arguing a different point. [Interruption.] If he does not understand what I am saying, he should read the debates on procedural motions that have taken place in the House.

I understand the frustration of being on the Opposition Benches. I sat there for five years.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the hon. Gentleman might unwittingly have misled the House. He said that certain statements were made by hon. Members on this side of the House when they were not. Would he now like to say precisely when those statements were made?

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

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman cares to read Hansard, he will understand what I am saying.

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

The hon. Gentleman shouts "When?" from a sedentary position. With his photographic memory, all that he needs to do is get his photographs processed. Then he would understand.

I was saying that I understood the frustrations of being in Opposition. Five years was long enough for me. I understand even more the frustration of the Liberal Democrats. The frustration of sitting on their Bench must be absolutely enormous.

We must understand, looking back at the history of this place, that Governments get their business through and Oppositions try to amend it. Sometimes, in periods of great frustration, Oppositions fail to achieve that.

The Opposition—fragmented, split, and not understanding the will of the people of this nation—have failed to understand the golden offer given to them by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House when she presented the changes with which we are now experimenting. The Opposition misunderstood the difference between time and timing. They have this daft idea that, by keeping things going for ever, they are going to convince members of the public of the wisdom of their way. Would not it be better if they used the opportunities in the Chamber and upstairs in Committee to use timing, like a good cricketer? A good cricketer can score more runs by using good timing than by stonewalling for ever.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am not going to talk about cricket, even though the English team was so successful recently. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that during the Committee—in which the Minister said that there was time-wasting—the Chairman of the Committee said: My view, and that of my co-Chairman, is that, to date, there has been no untoward or over-lengthy debate … we are dealing with intricate issues".—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 15 February 2001; c. 199.]? That is exactly the view put forward by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). This was not a case of time-wasting; this was simply a case of not having enough time to do the job.

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

If I had suggested that the hon. Gentleman was deliberately time-wasting in Committee, I would clearly have been out of line with the views of the Chairman of the Committee, and Mr. Deputy Speaker would quite rightly have called me to order. I was trying to explain to the hon. Gentleman in the Smoking Room the other day that if he looked at a Bill, as it was published, identified the parts on which he thought that the Government Front Bench was on shaky ground, and negotiated with the Leader of the House to ensure that those parts of the Bill had substantive examination on prime time television, he would get far more out of it. But no; as with many other Bills, the Opposition did not see the wisdom of that approach. The truth is that they have nothing to offer. They have no challenge to Ministers that they are even prepared to have exposed on prime time television. We are considering an issue of law and order.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but really the debate is about proper scrutiny of legislation, not prime time television. Does he think that every part of a Bill should be considered in Committee?

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

Members of the House and of the other place should ensure that, before they cast their vote on Report, they are satisfied that that which they are voting on meets the will of the House. I apologise for intervening on the hon. Gentleman during his speech, but I thought that, tactically, he was going down a dangerous route. He needs to understand that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the way in which Ministers presented the issues, the bottom line must be that the House cannot accept hooligan behaviour. Democracy cannot be conducted in such a way.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I put to the hon. Gentleman the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). In Committee, there are essentially two matters at stake: policy and the language used to reflect that policy. If the language of the statute is not right, that will cause immense problems in the courts and elsewhere. It is the business of a Committee to consider the language of each clause in order to perfect it, if perfecting it needs.

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

I would be more sympathetic to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's views if guillotine after guillotine had not fallen when I sat on the Opposition Benches. Those guillotines were operated by Conservative Members, including him. We are dealing with issues of law and order. I genuinely thought that all Members of the House wanted to stamp out the criminality, bad behaviour and anti-social behaviour that goes on throughout the nation. How can the nation accept leadership from the House if we accept hooligan behaviour?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make such points, but they are not the central issue. Will he deal with that? Why do not the Government support the amendment? It would allow us to complete consideration in Committee and the Bill to complete all its stages. It would allow democracy and would prevent nothing. Let us leave to one side the punishment of people who may have disrupted the House, as I gather that another motion has been tabled for debate tomorrow. We can debate that matter another time.

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

I am not aware that such a motion has been tabled as I have not seen tomorrow's Order Paper, although I look forward to reading it. I may seek to amend the motion because I might not think that the proposed punishment is sufficient. [Laughter.] There is laughter, but the simple fact is that we need to set standards. We have sought to set standards in respect of football hooligans by preventing certain people from travelling to away matches. Perhaps that means that Opposition Front Benchers must not travel away to the Committee Corridor. We have introduced anti-social behaviour orders, which constrain people. We have considered introducing curfews. Those punishments may be appropriate.

The bottom line is that we cannot have one law for Members of the House, in any aspect of life, and another for private citizens. How can the nation be expected to work with us and the forces of law and order to improve standards in society if it is considered acceptable for an official Opposition to act in such a manner? Whatever the rights and wrongs of the programming of a Bill, I will not be drawn into the particular by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), because I was not on the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] That is a matter of record. As I was not on the Committee, I do not know precisely what people said to each other.

We must ensure that a Bill has adequate time. I raised the point on the Floor of the House in respect of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, because 14 out of 18 columns dealing with one of its clauses were taken up by an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. If we analyse the content of those 14 columns, we realise that only three columns dealt with the substance of the clause.

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

The hon. Gentleman has a photographic memory, so I am sure that he can remember every one of his own words.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Labour, South Thanet

Would my hon. Friend take it from someone who was on the Committee that the constructive element of the Opposition's case, if it had been put by a private company and someone was paying the bill, would have been contracted into about 30 minutes?

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

My hon. Friend's recent, high-level experience in the private sector may legitimately lead him to that conclusion. As he was on the Committee, I accept his judgment.

The House must set standards. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and her cohorts in this disruption have set standards that are unacceptable to the House and to a nation that is crying out for leadership on law and order. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is seeking to give that leadership, and any respectable Opposition would support him hook, line and sinker in his attempts to do so.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 12:52, 12 March 2001

I am glad to make a short contribution to the debate. It is noticeable that Government Members have not addressed the motion. The problem is that the motion asks us to deem that black is white, and that something that ought to have happened, but which everyone in the House knows has not happened, has happened. That is why it is unprecedented and wrong, and we should not accept it.

The problem comes about because the Government have gone in for programme motions, pushed through with their large majority, that do not give sufficient time for an important Bill of this nature. The Government describe it as their flagship Bill, but they have allowed only 15 sittings for this important criminal justice legislation. I should like to compare that with the way in which the Conservative Government behaved when we put through important legislation. I shall give two examples of criminal justice legislation that I think are fair. The first is the Criminal Justice Act 1982, and the second is the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. I sat on both Committees—for obvious reasons, I had a close relationship with almost all the criminal justice legislation that went through in those 18 years.

The Criminal Justice Act 1982 set the scene, as everyone who follows the courts knows, for the magistrates courts, the Crown courts and criminal justice powers for a generation. It had 45 clauses, was considered during 22 sittings, and went through at exactly this time of year, between January and the end of March. It went through as a result of sensible agreement. We did not sit late, we did not waste time, and we had a full debate.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman care to include in his example the Bill that became the Police Act 1997, debated in 1996–97? It was about the size of this Bill, and went through at the same time of year with half the number of sittings.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

Let us consider my example for a moment. The Bill went through and was fully debated, and that could have happened in this instance.

I cited the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 because it started life as the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill 1983. Again, it was a highly important piece of legislation, which appeared in the run-up to the 1983 general election. It fell because, although it completed all its stages in the House in the early part of 1983, there was no time for it to go through the other place. It therefore did not become law.

Every Member present tonight must accept the overwhelming probability that this Bill, too, will not become law because there is likely to be a general election on 3 May. If that does not happen, there will be plenty of time for the Bill to be taken through the House properly; if it does, the Bill will fall. When we had the power, we allowed a reasonable and proper time, and that is what ought to be done now.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

May I return the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the point put to him by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House? The 1983 example is a very poor one for the Opposition to use. It is true that we were in "oppositionist" mode in that year: we refused to agree to legislation going through in a truncated form before the election, although we broadly agreed with it. That is one of the reasons why we paid such a heavy price in the polls. [Interruption.] It is true. It is a matter of record.

Let me bring the right hon. and learned Gentleman up to date, and return him to 1996–97. The Police Bill to which my right hon. Friend referred was of a similar length to this Bill and similarly non-controversial, but it nevertheless required examination. It had much less examination in practice, and we agreed it. That strikes me as a far better precedent; why do the Opposition not follow it?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

The difference between the Home Secretary and me is that I was a member of the Committee considering the 1983 Bill, while he was not. Yes, there was a good deal of opposition for opposition's sake on Labour's part, and Labour Members were wrong to do that, but the 1983 Bill is not a good example. The debate was constructive, the Bill went through all its stages in the House of Commons, and it was scrutinised sensibly.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that I was a member of that Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) led for the Opposition. We had a constructive debate, which resulted in the enactment of the Bill. What would the right hon. and learned Gentleman have thought had my right hon. Friend led a sit down strike in the Committee?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

That is not the point. [Interruption.] Hold on a second: I will respond to the hon. Gentleman's intervention before returning to what I was saying.

Complaint is made about the manner of protests here, but the fact that a protest may transgress rules does not justify oppression if oppression has given rise to that protest. That argument would have been used against John Hampden, the Tolpuddle martyrs and Mr. Gandhi.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I was the Whip on the Committee considering the second Bill. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) asked what our reaction would have been to the intervention of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). He would never have acted in that way because there was no timetable. The Committee ensured that there was adequate time for the Bill to be debated, so there was no reason, justification or need for such action.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

My right hon. and learned Friend is exactly right. Both those Bills were properly scrutinised and, as I think that the whole House would agree, became good legislation.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

Why is it that after five interventions on the Police Act 1996, no Tory Member is prepared to address himself or herself to the questions that are being asked, which are very simple? In our consideration of the 1996 Act, 18 clauses and schedules were dealt with per sitting. In our consideration of this Bill, nine clauses and schedules are being dealt with per sitting. In other words, in 1996, under the Tory Government, twice as many provisions were considered per sitting. Rather than waffling, why does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman address the specific issue of the 1996 Act?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I have heard special pleading before, and I hear it from the hon. Gentleman now. Labour Members really have to make up their minds about the 1996 Act—are they saying that it was pushed through with or without adequate consideration? We are saying that this Bill—it cannot be denied—is not being adequately considered and that it is being pushed through unreasonably fast. I have participated in the Committee's consideration of the Bill, which has had 15 or 16 sittings. If it had had about 22 sittings, it could have been perfectly adequately dealt with. If it could not have been so considered by the general election, it could have been reintroduced after the general election.

There are reasonable ways of dealing with these matters. It is not right that we have not had time to address really important issues such as the disclosure of material from the Inland Revenue to overseas Governments. Those issues have given rise to very sensible letters to all Committee members. Some of those letters, however, arrived only the day before or on the very day on which we reached the aspects with which they deal. There has therefore been no time to deal with those aspects. The legislation is being handled badly.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

Forgive me, but no.

This motion tries to say that black is white and it is a precedent that should not be followed. It should be opposed and defeated in the Lobby today.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green 1:02, 12 March 2001

As a Committee member, I should like to make just a couple of brief points. We are being told by the Opposition that it would be an outrage and disgraceful for Parliament to pass the motion. Perhaps I take an over-simplified view of these matters, but it seems to me that the reality is that there was a programme motion on which there was a vote. The Chairman often acknowledged that fact to the Committee. Earlier, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said that the Opposition had agreed to an experimental programme motion.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I think that the hon. Gentleman must have misheard me. Conservative Members opposed the programme motion on principle and voted against it. We particularly opposed the programme motion for consideration of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) tabled an amendment to that motion, but Labour Members voted against it, so the amendment was not agreed to.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

I am grateful. I must have misheard the hon. Lady. I thought that she said that the Opposition had agreed to the experiment although they had some reservations about it.

The point is that the events occurred with fewer than 10 minutes to go in the Committee's consideration of the Bill. After those 10 minutes had elapsed, the outstanding matters would have been guillotined regardless, putting us in exactly the same position as we are in now.

It is possible for experienced and honourable Conservative Members to huff and puff about the outrage and the affront. However, the reality is that we were within 10 minutes of the end of the Committee's proceedings—exactly the position that we are in now. At that point the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) chose to prevent that from happening by barging into the Committee and disrupting its procedures. That is what happened, no matter how it is dressed up or described. We should not delude ourselves about what actually happened.

Whether Conservative Members liked it or not, the programme motion had been put to a vote—the Chairman reminded them of that on numerous occasions in Committee. We had reached the stage at which the Committee had run out of time, and we would have guillotined the outstanding items. However, we were prevented from doing so because of the actions of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

In Committee, the hon. Gentleman appeared to have reservations about some aspects of the Bill. Does he think that adequate time was given for proper consideration of all the 132 clauses as well as the new clauses? If not, will he vote for the amendment tonight?

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

First, let me say that I thought that the hon. Lady's contribution in Committee was extremely helpful. She was very constructive in her opposition.

To answer her question, I thought that when members of the Committee turned their attention to the content of the Bill and the issues of substance that it contains, there was effective scrutiny. As she knows, there were matters on which I and others had reservations. I felt that my hon. Friend the Minister did his level best to take on board many of those reservations. The record of the Committee's proceedings show numerous examples of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) thanking the Minister for the consideration that he gave to the objections cited. My view is that when the Committee turned its attention to the substance of the Bill, scrutiny was ideal.

The difficulty is the amount of time that was wasted, a point which the official Opposition cannot escape. We had numerous references to and complaints about the programme motion, despite the fact that the Chairman made it plain what his ruling was and that he did not want to pursue the matter further. We had a lengthy debate on whether the term "British islands" should be in the Bill. At the end of that debate, we discovered that that term had been in use since 1978. No Conservative Member had chosen to table an amendment challenging those words in any piece of legislation that had gone through the House since 1978, yet they spent at least an hour debating whether "British islands" was an appropriate term. What that has to do with the police or the criminal justice system in this country, I do not know.

There were lengthy references to the "Dangerfield" television programme regarding the use of samples and whether a doctor or a registered nurse might be the appropriate person to take a sample. It is worth right hon. and hon. Members hearing about the effective scrutiny to which the Bill was sometimes subject. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) told us: I was especially interested in the series because a great deal of its filming took place in and around the courts where I practised. The Parliamentary Secretary is not with us at the moment, but he was also on that circuit. Much of the filming was done in and around towns such as Warwick, and the exteriors of real police stations were quite often used. It was a successful series with a wide and large audience, and doubtless there is now greater appreciation of the serious risks that sometimes face not only officers but police doctors".—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 8 March 2001; c. 602.] That added a great deal to the scrutiny of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to argue that two wrongs make a right? Is he entirely happy with that argument?

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Either I am doing a very bad job of explaining myself or the hon. Gentleman is not hearing me properly. I am making the point that it is not a question of two wrongs making a right; there was a vote on a programme motion and, as is normal, we accepted the ruling of that vote and the ruling of the Chair. It was only when the Opposition realised that they were not going to have their way—after deliberately wasting time throughout the Committee's proceedings—that they chose to use a further parliamentary, or non-parliamentary, device. Those were the actions of a flying picket—an attempt to block our legitimate procedure. That is not a question of two wrongs.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall not ask the hon. Gentleman to give his views on flying pickets in public.

Putting aside the people involved, does the hon. Gentleman agree that what happened on Thursday was that Members of the House used a tactic open to any Member to try to prevent the fulfilment of the timetable? It was just as proper a tactic to try as any other. In the event, it has brought us to the Chamber tonight. However, whether or not the Committee stage is guillotined, that does not answer the question why we should not go back to finish the Bill's Committee proceedings.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman's views, but he is fundamentally wrong on this matter. Whatever his view, he knows that if that spectacular intervention had not taken place—with less than 10 minutes to go—the Bill would properly have completed its proceedings. The hon. Gentleman may have disagreed with the manner in which the procedure was organised, but that would have been the outcome. The only reason that did not happen was that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald was unhappy about it.

The Opposition freely admit that they had used all the normal procedures of the House to try to prevent the Bill's proceedings. Not content with the outcome and unprepared to accept the judgment of the House. they decided to ignore that judgment and to take another course of action. If we were to take the position advocated by the hon. Gentleman—to go back to the point at which the right hon. Lady disrupted the Committee's proceedings—I have no confidence that, as soon as something occurred that the Opposition were not happy about, they would once again dispense with parliamentary rules and go back to the same bullying tactics. That is how they are prepared to behave.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

Of course, I understand the point that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is trying to make. However, does my hon. Friend agree that the danger with the course of action for which the hon. Gentleman argues is that it creates an incentive for people to repeat conduct that we all deplore?

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

It would be difficult to arrive at any other conclusion. That is exactly what would happen. It appears that we are being told that the House can vote and take decisions on procedure, but that at any point when the Opposition lose a vote—fairly and squarely—and are unhappy about it, they can tear up the rule book. We are being asked to agree that if they take such actions, we should go back to square one and let them do it again. For the life of me, I cannot see the sense of that.

Tonight, as my constituents in Hall Green look at the broken glass outside rowdy pubs or wonder what is happening down the street, not many of them would be too happy if we let offenders have a second chance.

Earlier, we talked about police morale. The morale of the police officers whose pensions would have been sanctioned by the provisions in the Bill that we were due to discuss will not have been particularly reinforced by the actions we witnessed on Thursday—especially if we are not allowed to complete our proceedings. The decision to prevent us from reinstating the rank of chief superintendent—that reinstatement was largely supported by the vast majority of police officers—will not necessarily boost police morale; the police have been asking for that reinstatement for years.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I am interested to hear my hon. Friend's account of the proceedings of the Committee, although I am not sure that his description of the antics of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) as "spectacular" is appropriate. Does he agree that those events demonstrate not only the need for the programming of legislation but that perhaps we need more effective programming to ensure that all the important parts of a Bill are debated?

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. We are still in an experimental phrase, and we need to learn from the experiment. I am sure that improvements can be made.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Not just now, thanks.

Undoubtedly, improvements can be made, but the bottom line remains that there must be good will and good faith on both sides when we enter into any experiment. We must believe that having voted for something, other hon. Members will respect that decision. We must also believe that the time made available will be used constructively. Let us not hear lengthy discussions about the British islands, the "Dangerfield" television series, the virtues of Mr. Matthew Gullick—the son of a High court judge and a junior Conservative party researcher, who is paid to write amendments occasionally. If we have to listen to his suggestions and those of his colleagues being read into the record—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Matthew Gullick—a Conservative researcher—was mentioned because the Government accepted three of the amendments that he drafted. Should he not have been mentioned? He did rather well.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

It is perfectly true that Matthew Gullick was mentioned on day one, when the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said that the score was three nil. He was mentioned the following day. On the third day, the Chairman of the Committee said that he need not be mentioned again. That certainly was three nil.

If there is time wasting, inevitable repetition and less focus on the content it ill becomes anyone to talk about having insufficient time to scrutinise the Bill. As I said at the outset, I welcomed Opposition Members' efforts when they turned their attention to the content. It is an important Bill and there have been important issues to discuss, but it is too late to bleat about running out of time when the time available has been used for everything but consideration of the Bill. To block the Bill by the outrageous behaviour that we witnessed on Thursday, involving discourtesy to the police and the Chairman of the Committee, and then to say tonight that the motion it is an outrage to parliamentary democracy beggars belief.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills 1:17, 12 March 2001

The motion seeks to do two things. First. it states that the Bill shall be deemed to have been reported to the House, as amended by the Committee, and as if those Clauses and Schedules the consideration of which had not been completed by the Committee had been ordered to stand part of the Bill". Secondly, it states: with the outstanding Amendments which stood on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. Charles Clarke. The Minister's amendments—no one else's—will be deemed to have been discussed, so a clear distinction has been made.

Why am I concerned about the motion? It does not take any great feat of imagination to think that it reinvents history. Four days ago, the House failed to do something. The Government have moved a motion that states that it has done something. Stalin rewrote history. I am concerned about the rewriting of history by deeming things to have happened that have not—because what else can be deemed to have happened?

A Minister of the Crown could say that he deems that the Bill has completed all its stages. That is why Mr. Speaker said, when sitting in the Chair, that the motion was without precedent. That is why it is very serious. The Minister's belligerence made me think that he was nervous about the case that he was presenting.

The motion and the amendment test the Government's response. The Bill has not been debated properly. If it reports back to the House under a guillotine, it will be smuggled back to us outside the attention of the wider world and large parts of will remain undiscussed. The Opposition's protests are designed to show that the House must now consider the consequences of the Committee's reporting that it had been unable to complete the Bill's consideration.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

Not just yet. The Government have been presented with two choices. They could have done what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) suggested and the Bill could have been returned to Committee with sufficient time t