On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It relates to the motion and I have notified your Clerks of it. First, I wonder whether you would be willing to reconsider your decision not to select either of the amendments that were tabled. I ask you to do that because—
In that case, Mr. Speaker, I shall move to the second point. The motion sets out a timetable for various stages of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. It appears to be linked to a timetable for the House of Lords to complete its consideration. Will you confirm that we are free to decide our timetable, and that any timetable that the House of Lords has in mind after it has completed its consideration is irrelevant to the motion and our decision? Will you confirm that we are entirely independent? There have been suggestions that we are bound by consideration in the House of Lords and that some agreement may have been reached on dovetailing its timetable and ours. Surely we are independent.
I beg to move,
(1) At the sittings on Tuesday 11th, Wednesday 12th and Thursday 13th December, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Lords Messages relating to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill have been received; and
(2) At the sitting on Thursday 13th December, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until he shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Act agreed upon by both Houses.
The motion makes several fairly standard provisions. It ensures that on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week, the House will not adjourn until any messages from the Lords have been received, to allow discussion in both Houses on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill to take place in an orderly manner. If the Lords amendments are received on Tuesday, we intend to take them on Wednesday so that the House can consider a printed version.
Under the motion, the House will not adjourn on Thursday until any disagreement between the Houses has been resolved and until Royal Assent to any Acts agreed upon by both Houses has been reported by the Speaker.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is the Government's intention, come what may, to secure Royal Assent to the Bill by
That is clearly a matter for the House to determine, but the Government have been very clear in setting out their intention to achieve this emergency legislation before we rise for the recess. That was made clear by Home Office and other Ministers during the passage of the Bill through the House.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House why the Bill has to clear this House by
This is emergency legislation, and the case for this provision was clearly set out when the Bill was before the House in recent weeks. This is simply an opportunity to enable it to progress smoothly next week.
Searching the Journals of the House shows that many similar motions have been tabled in the past. There was at least one in almost every Session of the Parliament of 1992 to 1997, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a Minister. If Royal Assent cannot be signified during the House's normal sitting hours, the motion provides that the sitting should be suspended until the appropriate time.
The hon. Gentleman has been most helpful, particularly in pointing out that we shall have a printed copy of the changes. That will be extremely helpful. However, the one thing that we do not have is an assurance from the Government that there will be plenty of time to discuss these issues, because many of us—in contradistinction to our party, even—are concerned about a number of matters, and we need to have enough time to discuss them in extenso.
I am aware of the concerns that the right hon. Gentleman expressed as the Bill proceeded through the House. Clearly, the Bill is still before the other place, and we do not know, at this stage, what the number of amendments will be. However, there will be a supplementary programme motion, and I think that his points should be borne in mind when it is tabled.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have been told that we are to have a programme motion, which will govern the progress of the Bill that we are discussing under this motion. Is it not appropriate that the supplementary programme motion should be laid before we discuss this business, otherwise, we shall not know the timetable.
Will the Minister say whether there is, anywhere on the record, any statement by Ministers made before today about why the Bill must complete all its stages by next Thursday, as opposed to by the end of the parliamentary term the following week? If there is no such statement, why do the Government insist that it must be completed by next Thursday, rather than giving the possibility of a further four days for proper consideration by one or both Houses of Parliament?
The purpose of this provision is to enable any secondary legislation that might follow from the passage of the Bill to be placed before the House during the following week. I believe that that has been referred to at various stages of our deliberations on the legislation.
I am grateful to the Minister. That is much more helpful than many of the answers that come from those on the Government Benches. As I understand it, however, that will not preclude us from continuing to debate the Bill until the Monday or Tuesday of the following week. That would still allow secondary legislation to come before the House on the Wednesday, which I hear on the grapevine is an idea that the Government may have in mind.
I think that we are starting to argue about how many angels we can get on to the head of a pin. There is not a big difference between the Monday and the previous Thursday.
I am sure that other hon. Members wish to speak to the motion, so I shall draw my remarks to a close, although I shall, of course, respond to the debate at the end. I hope that the House will agree to this motion, which is essential to ensure the orderly conduct of business, and the speedy enactment of what is clearly important emergency legislation. I commend the motion to the House.
I share the Minister's desire for what he described as smooth progress into law for what I hope will be a substantially amended version of the Home Secretary's Bill. We are discussing not whether it should pass into law, but the timetable. I am not sure that I completely understood the import of the Minister's statement, so I encourage him to intervene to clarify the matter. Did he say that if, as it happens, the House and the Lords are not in entire agreement by the normal end of our sitting on
That certainly is not the intention, but clearly the House cannot absolutely determine whether there will be agreement between it and the other place. There are many precedents for such a motion, which provides that, because this Chamber and the other place work to slightly different time scales each day, we shall await messages from there on that day.
May I press the Minister further? We may not be at odds with one another at any point, but if we are, would the House continue to sit as if the day were still
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to discuss a hypothetical situation. At this stage, we do not know how many amendments there will be, but the intention is clear in our proposal. We seek to resolve those matters on that day.
The honest answer to my right hon. and learned Friend is that I am still not quite sure. The Government may hope to coerce the House or they may hope, on the contrary, simply to make us work extremely hard between
I must tell my hon. and learned Friend that our experience on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report and Third Reading suggests an attempt to coerce and limit time, but the Government may not have succeeded in achieving that, if it is their aim. I think that what the Minister told the House means that, if we have not reached entire agreement by
It may well be true that we could be debating these matters until a late hour. Does my hon. Friend gather that the Government would allow a vote to take place after 10 pm? I understand that, if the debate continued beyond that time, the Standing Orders would allow only a deferred Division, which would take place on the following Wednesday. Has he considered what that would do to the proposed timetable?
I want to give the Minister as much opportunity as possible to clarify the position, and I will give way to him immediately if he signals that he is willing to do so. It would certainly assist the House if he did.
The only honest answer that I can give is that I do not know. First, I do not know whether this constitutes an attempt to curtail debate, or an attempt to enable us to prolong it. Secondly, I do not know why
The present state of affairs is clearly unsatisfactory. We need to ensure that, as far as possible, this House and the other place can reach agreement in an orderly fashion, and will have time to continue debate on both sides until such agreement can be reached. Until and unless the Minister can give us a much better explanation of what is meant by this apparently small but, I suspect, rather large proposal—in terms of its implications—I cannot possibly ask my hon. Friends to support it.
We are grateful for the opportunity to debate this part of the proceedings, at least, because so much of the Bill has not been debated at all. I suppose that that is some consolation.
I remind the House that, subject to any as yet unannounced intervention by the Government, the debate could continue until Thursday of next week. It could therefore become otiose, because we might pass the end date specified in the motion. Some of us have had a little practice in at least testing such margins in the past.
I want to ask some serious questions about the process. I accept from the Minister that motions specifying dates by which consideration of amendments should be completed, and dates until which we must sit to allow the other place to send us its reasons, have been put before us on other occasions. I am not aware, however, that it is common practice for a date for Royal Assent to be set in such motions—certainly not a date so many days before the scheduled end of the parliamentary Session.
Is it not also extraordinary that we should be given a terminal date for the Bill without knowing how many amendments will be received from the other place?
That is a strong argument for sensible timetabling of business, for which my hon. Friend Mr. Tyler and others have long argued. Surely one of the prerequisites is knowing what must be dealt with. One of our arguments in the past, when the Government have tabled timetable motions immediately after Second Readings, has been that no one could reasonably think about how much time was needed until they had had a chance to consider what had gone before.
Throughout our debates on the Bill, we have argued that its stages should be taken in turn. It must be the case that until Tuesday night, when the House of Lords ends its consideration, we cannot know what amendments there will be—not least because in the Lords the Bill can be amended on Third Reading as well as on Report. There may therefore be amendments of which we shall not be aware until Tuesday night, and which we cannot possibly consider until Wednesday.
It seems that there is not only a political but an administrative reason for suggesting that the motion is inappropriate, and that Parliament needs more time. The other day, we had the nonsense of there being no time at all between the end of our consideration of the Bill in Committee and the start of debate on Third Reading. Not only did hon. Members have no time to debate the proposals on Report, but there was certainly no time for us to discuss those proposals with people outside the House.
It really must be for Parliament to say to any Government and in relation to any Bill that, politically and administratively, the common-sense way of proceeding is to allow time between each stage. If the Lords finish their consideration of the Bill on Tuesday, we should have at least one clear day before we consider their proposals. Subsequently, if our views differ from those of the other place, the other place should have some time to consider our views, especially as there would still be several days left before the recess.
Is there not yet another argument for the course of action being proposed by my hon. Friend? If compromise between the two House is being sought, is it not quite likely that the other place will suggest amendments in lieu of the proposals that are sent to them by this place? A form of judicial review of the detention provisions, for example, is precisely the type of matter for which amendments in lieu might be appropriate. However, surely such amendments will have to be discussed with people outside the House to determine whether they deal with the concerns that have been expressed.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. However, in the two Houses, we have already had intra-party discussions, inter-party discussions and Opposition-Government discussions. After those latter discussions, the Government have always said that they have to talk to civil servants, for example, to check the drafting. Let us therefore put aside the Bill's serious purpose for a moment and consider the serious practical objections to the motion in its current form.
Whose convenience is the motion supposed to serve? Badly drafted legislation that has been rushed and cobbled together is clearly not for the country's convenience, and asking Parliament perhaps to sit through the night on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to consider proposals from the other place is clearly not for hon. Members' convenience. We must therefore conclude that the motion is entirely for the Executive's convenience. Governments should not propose and insist on such motions so early in a Session simply for their own convenience and without a backstop deadline of the end of a Session.
On Saturday, the Minister and I spoke in a debate on how to make Parliament more acceptable to the public and how to encourage public support for it, and we agreed on what needs to be done. He therefore knows well that Parliament must agree laws, and that ultimately it is Parliament that should seek to determine timetables. It is of course for the Government to propose, but it is for Parliament to dispose. That applies above all to important legislation such as the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman remarked on working through the night. If we were able to work through the night we might have time to discuss the issues that are before us. The motion, however, promises no such thing. Does he agree that the serious issue is whether we shall have time to discuss the proposals that will be before us, although we do not know what those might be as we have not yet had time to discuss the gravamen of the legislation?
The right hon. Gentleman is correct on the procedural point that the motion allows the House technically to remain sitting—not to adjourn—although we may not actually be in the Chamber. However, we are essentially blindly considering the motion, which gives no details on a timetable. It is a series of illogicalities. We do not know what we shall have to do, because the other place has not yet completed its work. We also do not know how long it will take us to do that work, or how long the Government will suggest that we should have to do it. Yet we are now being asked to agree that Parliament should hang around waiting for three nights in a row regardless of the merit of the argument, the possibility of agreement between the two Houses or the seriousness of the proposals that we might be asked to consider next week.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would also be enormously helpful if we could have sight of the secondary legislation that we are told is about to be laid, before we are asked to approve this motion?
That is certainly right. I suggested to the Minister earlier that it is more than a rumour that the Government intend to introduce secondary legislation in the last week of term, and the Minister confirmed that that follows. If that is true, and it is logical in that the Bill contains provision for secondary legislation, Parliament should know what is coming and be allowed to consider how much time it wishes to spend on it. It would be better, if there is general agreement at the end of the debate across both sides of the House—I exclude the Government Front Bench—if the Government pulled the motion so that the parties could have a proper debate and reach an agreement about how to proceed next week. Instead it was tabled and objected to last night, and—on the first opportunity and with no chance of amendment—tabled as a "take it or leave it, but we will get this Bill through next week" option.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the final backstop. Does he believe that paragraph 2 provides for a final backstop, or does it provide for indefinite debate under the heading
The hon. Gentleman raised that point in his speech. I share his view. If there is still work to be done, we can—as we have done before in this notional, upside-down world we live in sometimes—ensure that the day remains Thursday even if it is Friday. In fact, it can stay Thursday whether it is Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. As my hon. Friend Bob Russell pointed out, the only time that it might stop being Thursday is when Christmas day comes, by which time people might decide that they have had enough. However, that is not a very satisfactory outcome. I am aware that European Union business often stops the clock to meet a deadline and so does this House. The hon. Gentleman is right that the backstop is in theory next Thursday but it could in practice be much later than that.
The backstop point is important, because the wording of paragraph 2 places a burden on the Speaker, but not much thought appears to have been given to that point. The Speaker, at some point, has to decide whether any Act will be
"agreed upon by both Houses."
At what point can the Speaker go back to Glasgow for Christmas? At what point can he say, "No Act has been agreed by both Houses and it seems increasingly unlikely that it will be so I'm off, thank you very much."? The motion is not only indefinite in the sense that the debate could go on for ever, but there is no end point if agreement has not been reached between the two Houses.
My right hon. Friend is longer serving and more experienced than I am and he raises a good point that I had not thought of. The argument for not rushing matters is based on many practical considerations that seem not to have been thought about at all during the course of the Bill. In a moment—or an hour or so—I shall give the House some illustrations of the failings of the procedure.
The hon. Gentleman has made the fair point that
That is outrageous and extremely unhelpful. Many organisations have a real interest in the Bill and have written to hon. Members, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Refugee Council, the Confederation of British Industry, representatives of legal organisations, colleagues from the European Parliament and the faith groups. It is a huge Bill and there is huge interest in it outside the House. The thought that we will have to come to some agreement without any chance to discuss the issues with other organisations is nonsense. That is apart from the effect on any other legislation that might properly be timetabled for next week or the week after and will fall out, or be debated at a different time. People will not be able to make arrangements, either for their personal or their political considerations.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the debate has reached the point where it begins to become clear that the Government intend to create a hothouse atmosphere in what may prove to be the closing days before the recess? I believe that they hope to apply pressure on Opposition parties, so that they can argue that those Opposition parties had failed to reach agreement in the Lords and that they were therefore obstructing the whole of Government business. If that is the intention, is not it quite wrong?
I absolutely agree. Today's Financial Times suggested that the Government were not minded to make any significant concession to the views of the House of Lords if any substantial amendments were tabled. The article argued that the Government would perceive any such concession to be a concession to terrorists. The suggestion is that only the Bill as drafted by the Government is adequate to meet the needs of the moment.
I share with Mr. Letwin the view that the Government are not entitled to argue that both Houses of Parliament do not have a right to amend the Bill as they see fit. If Parliament judges that the Bill should have a particular form, that is the proper decision. It is not for the Government to say what the Bill should be when proceedings on it are complete. It is for them to introduce it, and accept the will of Parliament.
In this case, the end of the Session is not near, and the Bill has been introduced only in this Session. That means that the Parliament Act cannot apply, so the Government will have to accept the Bill that Parliament wants. They will not be able to force through a Bill that Parliament does not want.
My hon. Friend may not be aware that there was a significant debate yesterday, the third Committee day in the House of Lords, on the matter of the European third pillar. The proposal is that home affairs and justice legislation should be allowed to be dealt with in secondary legislation. Not one speaker in the other place supported the Government. Hour after hour went by, and no one supported the Government line. Opposition to the Bill is not confined to the major Opposition parties. I know that colleagues from Northern Ireland to whom I spoke earlier are still unhappy, as are Cross-Benchers and Members of the Bench of Bishops.
It would be better if the Government tried to secure some consensus. They could then get general agreement for the Bill now, and return to other matters later.
Will the hon. Gentleman apply himself to the remark that everything in the Bill must be about terrorism, and that we would be in some way supporting terrorism if we did not pass it in its entirety? How can it be supporting terrorism to object to that part of the Bill that suggests that I cannot say about Mr. McGrady what is absolutely true, and that he cannot say about the Pope what is absolutely untrue?
The right hon. Gentleman asks a question to which there is an obvious answer, and reminds us that those issues predated
The hon. and learned Gentleman is right. It is important that we tell the truth when we mean to, and that we do not tell untruths when we do not mean to. His correction is gratefully received.
I have another suspicion to present to the hon. Member for West Dorset. I think that the Government have another motive in moving this business motion, in addition to the one that he has adduced.
I think that the Prime Minister wants to go to the European Council meeting at Laeken in Belgium at the end of next week waving a piece of legislation at his European colleagues, none of whom has thought it necessary to derogate from the European convention on human rights or human rights legislation and say, "Look how tough I am. Look what I can get through my Parliament. Now you must do the same." That has nothing to do with the merit or logic of the Bill or with the duty for Parliament to make the decision. It is simply a timetable that the Minister has not yet mentioned, determined by the fact that there is a meeting for Heads of Government at the end of next week and the Prime Minister wants this business cleared by then so that he can say, "Oh what a clever boy am I."
I am loth to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in a rare bout of Liberal Euroscepticism, which is entirely welcome and healthy. Will he, however, apply himself to the point about deferred votes? If on
There may be two answers to that question. It might be, but I can also think of a reason why it might not. There is certainly a secondary consideration. If more secondary legislation were to come down the tracks and we went on until some days later, that also might be precluded by the fact that this is an expandable Thursday which might take up a lot of extra time.
If ever we are critical of anything to do with the European Union, the word is not Eurosceptic but Eurocritical. I hope that that helps Mr. Cameron get the language right. Other people can be Eurosceptics—we are occasionally Eurocritics.
What are the Government trying to avoid by putting this motion before the House? I think that it is all about trying to minimise the change to a Bill that, as colleagues have said, is in an entirely, or substantially, unacceptable form.
Labour Members have not had much say so far. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the motion might have quite an opposite effect in indicating a strong desire to compromise in terms of Lords amendments? That could be one way of reading this kind of preparedness to foreclose on the business.
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is seeking to do because he, too, has concerns about the Bill. I hope that it is not unfair to remind the House of that.
I hope that the Government are prepared significantly to compromise. There have been small offers to do so in the form of two Government amendments before the Bill left this House and one other suggested area of compromise in the other place. That is about setting up a Committee of Privy Councillors to consider the Bill as a whole and report back after 15 months as an alternative to the sunset clause proposals that have been tabled in this House and the other place, supported on both sides and from the Cross Benches.
I hope that the Government will be more willing to compromise, particularly if they see the strength of feeling that exists. I believe that over the next few days they will see the strength of feeling that exists in the House of Lords. I say, not with any sense of triumphalism, that I expect the Lords to amend several significant parts of the Bill on Report and Third Reading.
The Government appear to want to take the approach that the Bill would then no longer be in line with what public opinion expects and wants. I do not think that the amendments are likely to have that effect—instead, they will have the opposite effect. Let me explain why.
There is a very important issue about judicial review. I do not think that the public have ever signed up to the removal of the right of the courts to oversee the Executive in a way that has been part of our history for centuries. If colleagues have not read it, I refer them to the estimable speech of my noble Friend Earl Russell. He is a constitutional historian and referred to that in his speech the other day. I do not think that the public have ever signed up to the idea that we should, under this Bill, allow the transfer of significant amounts of information about Mr. McWalter, me and everybody else from one agency of the state to another for any reason to do with any possible, as well as actual, investigation in this country or abroad.
I do not think that the public have ever signed up to the idea that the Bill or international circumstances justify the state in retaining data as proposed in part 2. When opinion polls were taken, the British public never said that they wanted that. I do not think that the British public have ever signed up to the fact that we are expecting to give the police powers to stop people in the street and to order them to remove face coverings—for any reason—when they have not even been arrested or charged with a criminal offence.
I certainly do not think that the British public have signed up to the idea—indeed, they would be strongly against it—that we pass in this place decisions taken by the European Council of Ministers behind closed doors, and that have never been given the approval of the European Parliament nor been introduced as primary legislation in the UK Parliament.
I am sure that the British public want us to be able to legislate on those matters. There is no justification for the argument that our amendments would not be doing the will of the British public: on the contrary, they certainly would.
To develop the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, for centuries we have been protected by the common law and by the judiciary against the Executive and their high-handed acts; we were told by the Government that they were bringing human rights home; we introduced the Human Rights Act 1998 and domesticated the European convention on human rights, but what did the Government do within seconds? They removed us from its provisions. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are now exposing the true nature of this pretence of a Government?
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes an extremely important point. I and my party strongly applauded the Human Rights Act. The measure did not meet with universal applause—colleagues in his party did not support it, for reasons that I understand. However, the Government certainly claimed that the measure was an important incorporation of human rights into domestic law—it was bringing rights home.
It seems to us anomalous and contradictory that within 13 months we sent human rights away again—certainly in one respect—the more so because we argued, and tried to persuade the Government, that we should debate the issue after we had debated the Bill to see whether it was necessary at all. That would have been a more logical way to proceed.
There are two further points that the timetable could prevent us from debating. The first has been discussed by the hon. Member for West Dorset, myself and others and proved controversial in both Houses. It is important that we try to include the best definition of terrorism in the measure. That is not an easy matter. We tried to do it in the Terrorism Act 2000, when various recommendations and advice were offered, as well as a proposal from the European Union. Such a definition cannot be arrived at overnight, and we should not try to achieve consensus in both Houses.
It is certainly true that on the really controversial issue, on which the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead rightly signalled his concern—whether there should be a new crime of incitement to religious hatred—we want to try to get the law right. It is foolish to rush into something that may not have been thought through, that may not produce the right result and might actually antagonise rather than pacify community relations.
Our Scottish colleagues—Labour and Liberal Democrat—obtained the agreement of the Scottish Parliament that such provisions should be removed from the Bill. They agreed to take wider advice and to return to the matter, separately from the terrorism debate, at some time in the new year. It is much more sensible to proceed in that way, and I hope that, next week, the House of Lords takes that view and that the provision is removed from the Bill, lock, stock and barrel, so that we can consider those difficult matters properly.
I have a few more points to make before all my colleagues make their speeches. To pick up a point made implicitly by the Conservative spokesman, I hope that, later this week or next week, we do not hear the Government having a go at the House of Lords. Their lordships have been trying to do what we have not been allowed to do. Until today, we have had a total of three days debate—one day on Second Reading; only one complete day in Committee; and then almost a second complete day in Committee, with one hour on Report and Third Reading. The House of Lords has given itself eight days in total to try to make up for the fact that much of the Bill has not been debated in this House.
The House of Lords is trying to do the job of scrutiny that it is meant to do, but let the Government not be critical if the House of Lords has the power and authority to overturn the view of the Government in the Bill for two reasons. First, as the Minister well knows, the Government have a majority in the House, but they did not achieve a majority of votes at the last election; they are a minority Government in the proper sense of the word. Of those who voted, only four out of 10 voted Labour and fewer people voted Labour than previously, so the Government do not have the moral mandate to say that the country was behind them—in the words of a former leader of my party, we are all minorities now.
Secondly, more than in any other Parliament, the other place is the creation of the Government. The other place has been modified in its content and structure—
My hon. Friend is right; it has been genetically modified to make it a creature of the Labour manifesto at the last general election. I have checked the figures, and of the 711 Members of the other place, 245 have been created life peers by the Prime Minister. The Government have determined the entire composition of the House of Lords, so I hope that they will not try to criticise it at all.
I cannot remember whether the hon. Gentleman was present this afternoon during questions to the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, but if he was not here, his colleagues will remind him that the Parliamentary Secretary justified the presence in the other place of the Law Lords and others with judicial experience on the ground that their experience was relevant to legislation of precisely this kind.
As it happens, I was not here then—I was trying to negotiate some amendments to the Bill outside the Chamber—although I discussed that issue afterwards, and it is exactly the reason why the Law Lords—not just Lord Donaldson, who has made his views public, but others—have been keen to ensure that they participate. When the Government briefed the Opposition parties, they invited Lord Ackner—an extremely eminent lawyer—who also asked significant questions. So the right hon. and learned Gentleman's intervention is absolutely pertinent.
The last substantive reason that I want to adduce as to why we should not go down the road of this unnecessarily rushed procedure next week is that, every day, there is more evidence of the need for us to do our job carefully to discover the flaws in legislation. I want to give three examples. First, yesterday, when Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean sought to justify the European third pillar proposals, all sorts of arguments were put to her to show how flawed that proposal was.
At almost the same time, I was attending European Standing Committee B, which was considering the European arrest warrant. That Committee has not yet finished its work. We thought that it might sit for only an hour or two, but it is sitting for rather longer than we expected because its Chairman had to adjourn the sitting when it became apparent that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Ainsworth, was working from a different draft of the document from the rest of the Committee. That only came to light because we had a chance to question him about the document. We would never had discovered that fact if we had not had chance to question him. That is a very good argument for proceeding carefully and ensuring that we all know what we are doing, especially on a hugely important matter, such as whether people accused of an offence in France or Germany can be arrested in this country even though what they had done was not an offence here.
Mr. Grieve mentioned the third example to me a little earlier. It arose during debates on the Proceeds of Crime Bill in Committee, where he and my hon. Friend Norman Baker and other hon. Members have been labouring for many hours today, as on other Tuesdays and Thursdays, and where more unforeseen and unexpected implications turn up each day in relation to a complicated Bill, which has been given proper time for debate in Committee. All those examples demonstrate the need for us to proceed carefully and to take our time.
The Minister is always a reasonable man, so I hope that he will convey a warning to his elders and seniors, if not his betters.
That is a very good question.
We want to send a warning about what will happen if the Government persist in being absolutist about the timetable and the Bill. The more that the Government push for a foreshortened timetable and the less time we have for the negotiation that my right hon. Friend Mr. Beith suggested would be sensible, the firmer will be the resolve of colleagues on the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Benches and elsewhere in the House. The more the Government insist on timetabling debate out of the Bill, the more we will insist on changing it. The more that the Government insist on not allowing proper consideration, the firmer is the probability that the Bill will last for a short time indeed. We will insist on sunset clauses that will ensure that it returns as new legislation in a short time from now.
Issues of whether the courts should have the right to oversee the Executive or whether the British Government and Parliament should breach its duties under United Nations conventions, such as that on refugees, should not be taken lightly or inappropriately. We will not be pushed over and we will not be told what we should legislate. Parliament will decide what should be in the Bill and if the Executive insist that our scrutiny of it should finish by next Thursday, they may well not get the Bill that they intended to have or the one that they want. It will be their fault if that is the case, because they cannot say that they have not been warned.
Interestingly, this is the one occasion when we have all the time in the world to debate anything to do with the Bill. If the Government had allocated proper time on other occasions, this debate might have been curtailed. Although I shall be careful to keep within the terms of the motion, it is not unreasonable to emphasise the fact to the Government that many Opposition Members are present not because this motion is immensely attractive but because we have had so little chance to discuss something that is fundamental to the rights of people in this country and elsewhere.
Thanks to the Government condescending to debate this motion we have a lot of time available to us. However, we cannot have a vote at the end of our discussion. Any Division that takes place on the motion will take place on Wednesday. [Hon. Members: "Next Wednesday."] That is another matter. Any Division will take place on a Wednesday, when we will be required to tick a pink piece of paper. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way for Parliament to reach a conclusion is to have a vote immediately after the end of the debate?
My hon. and learned Friend fails to recognise why we will not have a vote at the end of this debate. If we were going to vote, the Government Benches would be filled, or at least Government Members would be somewhere in the House. They would have to vote and might even have to listen to the realities of the issues under discussion. Perhaps they might be persuaded by the argument.
I perfectly understand why the Minister does not want Labour Members to be here. The most interesting thing about the Bill is that no organ of the press has supported it in its entirety or even most of it. The truth is that people outside the House have deep concerns about the Bill, so the motion should be discussed in detail.
Following the intervention of Mr. Garnier, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a vote could take place in two circumstances? First, we could vote on an amendment, had one been selected. Secondly, if our proceedings go on long enough, we could vote on closure. I do not understand how the debate will end otherwise.
It is no part of my intention to make the second possible. The Speaker made the first impossible and has decided not to reconsider it. We have to consider the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I want to explain to the Minister why I have doubts about the motion. It does not tell us anything about what we are going to do. There are, of course, things that it cannot tell us. The Government have no idea what will happen in the other place, so it is right that the motion is flexible. However, it is not sensible for the Government not to tell us that we will have proper time to debate whatever they will bring before the House when Members of the other place have completed their discussions.
The Government have been universally condemned outside the House. I do not know whether members of the Government read the newspapers, watch television or concern themselves with critics elsewhere, but there has been no dissent in the media, in any circumstances, about the fact that the Government have not given proper time for discussion of the Bill. They might therefore think that they have made a mistake. It is possible that in a Napoleonic way the Government alone are right and the rest of us are wrong, but if they had any humility—I know that the Minister does, but I am not sure about the rest of the Government—this would be the moment for them to think again and give time for debate. That is why I asked whether we will have time to debate our concerns on any of those variegated days in which life will continue for as long as the Government wish it to.
I am happy to hang around for as long as the Government want to debate the most important subject that we have discussed since I had the enormous pleasure of voting for entry into the European Union. It is a crucial debate and I want to represent my constituents when we discuss some of the basic reasons why we are in Parliament.
The Government have handled the debate in a frivolous way. They are unbelievably uncomprehending of the seriousness of the matter, and that concerns me.
I am sorry to distress my right hon. Friend, but does he agree that the Government do not intend to give him or the House an opportunity properly to discuss the Lords amendments? Did he hear that in all probability the messages will come on Wednesday? As he knows, Labour Back Benchers like to be away at 7 o'clock on Thursdays. If we are extremely lucky, we will have three or four hours to indulge in a bit of ping-pong. Does my right hon. Friend think that that is a proper way to deal with a matter of such gravity?
My right hon. and learned Friend knows that I am a man of charity and I hope that the most likely outcome does not come about. I am trying to encourage the Minister, for whom I have considerable respect, to at least go back to those who decide such matters—if not to Mr. Campbell, then to others—and let them know that this issue is of such importance that we should have enough time to debate it.
We have had this argument before, but the world has changed since then because every single commentator has condemned the Government for the timetable that they have placed on this Bill. When everybody suggests that this is wrong, it is difficult for the Government to argue that we have to accept every part of the Bill because everybody believes in it and wants it. It is a very curious situation. We should be concerned because the parts of the Bill about which commentators have expressed concern are not passing issues; they are crucial to the freedom of the individual in this nation. I hope, first, that we will have some assurance about the time that we will have to debate these issues.
I am concerned also that the Government have so far given no indication that they are considering dropping those parts of the Bill that are manifestly not urgent. If they were to propose doing so, most Conservative Members would be happy for them to have the timetable that they have requested for next week. After all, the objection to what the Minister said about finishing the business next week, when there will still be another week to go, stands only if the Government continue to press parts of the Bill that are clearly not urgent. If they are concerned merely with those parts that it is acceptable to view as urgent, if contentious, I should have thought that the House would be prepared to go along with them.
Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect on the fact that another important condition for facilitating the earlier passage of the Bill might be that the terrorist-related matters, which form the core of the Bill, should have a limited life, about which we could negotiate, rather than an indefinite time in statute, because there has not been time properly to debate the Bill in both Houses?
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I entirely share his views on that. It is a matter not only for this Bill but for all Bills passed as the result of an emergency. I have long wished to introduce a Bill that says that any such legislation should automatically fall after two years and have to be reintroduced. We know that the legislation that followed BSE, the Marchioness disaster, the dangerous dogs issue and Dunblane was deeply flawed. It would be much better for us to have replaced that legislation very soon afterwards and debated it in the comparative calm that follows after 12 or 24 months.
Is there not another troubling aspect to the Bill? My right hon. Friend makes the point that not all parts are urgent, but the Government have never tried to prioritise within the Bill. Indeed, they have sought to assert from time to time that all parts are connected with terrorism, when manifestly that is not the case.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right, and I hope to move on to that point in a moment.
I have a real concern about the Government's bona fides. It seems to me deeply offensive for them to come to the House and say, "We are defending national security and are fundamentally concerned with the protection of the people of Britain, so we need emergency legislation," and then to attach to that a whole series of measures that they know perfectly well would never be passed, and would never win the support of their own Back Benchers, if they were presented in the normal way of things—
Order. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that not only is he verging on what might be regarded as Second Reading territory, but he is doing so for the second time.
You are perfectly right to call me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but you will understand that temptation arises when the House is not given proper time at the proper time, which embarrasses the Chair as much as those of us debating these matters.
I shall therefore address the next issue—the problem of timing for people outside the House. One difficulty with the motion is that it will provide no time for Conservative Members and, I suspect, many Government Members to discuss these issues with those outside who have a crucial interest in them. For example, on Second Reading and in Committee, I raised the issue of religious incitement, which is crucial to the question of freedom. I do not wish to trespass on the patience of the House by reminding it why that is so, except to say that at the heart of British freedom is the right to uphold and disagree with religious views. We choose our religious views; we do not choose our race. We choose what we believe in; we do not choose the colour of our skin. Those are different issues, but the Government have confused them.
Out there are many people who will wish to discuss whatever the Lords do to the Bill. They are of all races and all creeds and they need to be heard by Members of Parliament. All of us who care about the matter will want to talk to them about whatever compromise or decision is made in another place.
My right hon. Friend made the point that he and his parliamentary colleagues will want to talk to outside lobbyists. Should he not make the even more important point that they will want to talk to us? Unless they have ample time in which to do so, they will not be in a position to make representations.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point, which goes to the heart of the issue. When the House legislates on the freedom of the individual, people must feel that they have had a proper role in its decisions. If we make decisions about whether rat catchers should be called rodent operatives or whether we should go in for one of the peculiar politically correct phrases that seem to be in vogue, that does not matter much. However, if we are talking about what men and women may say, how they express their deepest beliefs and how they purport to present their being in our society, that matters deeply, and they must feel that they have had an input.
Rather like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in my constituency I have a number of rather extreme religious sects, with whom I have little in common. However, we share one thing; a belief in their right to say what they think about the Bill before I speak and vote on it in the House. I cannot see how the timetable will allow any of those people, whether they are Jehovah's Witnesses or strict Plymouth Brethren, to express those views.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that our experience of the Bill shows that individuals and groups have wanted to take part in the debate and have changed their views? I shall cite one example; the Muslim Council of Britain took a certain view at the beginning but, having listened to some of the debate, it changed its view. It might well be minded to express a different view if it knew that a different proposal was on the table. There is not a fixed view out there; it is responsive to what we say and do in the House.
The hon. Gentleman must take that further. There are many people outside whose views have been presented to the House and to another place, but whose views have changed. There is a great need to make sure that we know what those organisations now think about the Bill. That is one of the reasons why it is so crucial for us to have the time that we need to debate the Bill properly. For that to happen, those organisations must have the time to tell us. That is why I find the timetable extremely difficult to accept.
The Parliamentary Secretary made a serious statement suggesting that secondary legislation would be introduced. I do not know whether he meant to tell us about that, had it not been for my hon. Friend Mr. Letwin and Simon Hughes. Between them, they coaxed out of him, elegantly as ever, a willingness to tell us about secondary legislation.
I understand from the nods and, if I dare say so, winks, that it may well happen later.
We ought to have known before about possible secondary legislation. That is what is so wrong about what is happening in this Parliament. Why does Parliament allow the Executive to present to the House such a piffling motion, which does not contain anything that any sane person in any other assembly would insist on in the minutes delivered before a meeting? Can it be true that any board of any company, private or public, any institution, or any Government institution would allow such an issue to be discussed without full details?
I hate to interrupt the elegance of my right hon. Friend's speech, but he and I know full well that secondary legislation is probably drafted some time in advance. Does he agree that in all probability a draft of the secondary legislation is now available? If the Parliamentary Secretary chose, he could tell us about its detail and present it in the Library tomorrow.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right. He makes the comparison that I made even more true. If the chairman of a public company had such information in his back pocket and did not reveal it when he presented the board with a decision like the one facing us, he would have committed an offence. The Government seem to believe that they have committed no offence in presenting such a pathetic motion to the House, yet the House is to blame, because too many Labour Members do not stand up for the rights of the House of Commons, as they are afraid that they might lose their own rights in the Labour party.
We are debating a serious issue, and the fact that only two Labour Back Benchers are present proves my point. We are discussing the most serious assault on freedom that has taken place in the House for the past 25 years, and the Labour party has managed to bring together two Back Benchers.
The quality may well count, and both hon. Members are, of course, charming, but the fact remains that their number is surprising.
There is a serious issue with regard to the fact that we have been presented with an inadequate motion. For such a motion to be adequate, it would have to set out what secondary legislation we might expect and what time would be afforded if considerable change is made by another place.
There is another reason why the motion is unacceptable. It was mentioned by one of my hon. Friends and supported by one of the Liberal Democrats. I refer to the pressure of the hothouse. I think that that is a real issue. As usual, the House is hotter than it needs to be and would benefit environmentally from a reduction in heat. The fact is that the Government are determined to do a number of things that have nothing to do with the Bill. They need to create a false sense of urgency around the whole Bill in order to get it through. That is what the motion is about: ensuring that we in this House will feel it necessary to pass this stuff because a sort of pressure has been built up, suggesting that if we do not do so, we will be in league with Mr. bin Laden in some way. That is the aim.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that perhaps the most insidious part of the Government's approach is the attempt to make an assault on the patriotism of Opposition Members for daring to stand up against necessary and desirable legislation? Does he agree that that is very offensive to Opposition Members?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. What could be more ludicrous than to attack Opposition Members on the basis of their patriotism, given the history of a whole range of Bills? I do not want to re-emphasise this point, but I should say that some of us have been blown up by the IRA and do not feel very soft towards terrorists. Some of us have clearly taken a very strong, tough and anti-terrorist position. That is not universally true of the Labour party. Therefore, to be put in the position—
The hon. Lady may say that from a sedentary position, but she has not been in the House when large numbers of Labour Members have voted against a Bill night in, night out, so she should not be telling us that. Neither should people who have brought terrorists into the House and who are members of the Labour party make such suggestions. The hon. Lady does not like conversation—
Order. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman may have been provoked—alas, it was by a sedentary comment—but I think that I must direct him back to the terms of the motion.
I offer my sincere apologies to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will understand that if one has had the experience that some of us have had, those who have brought into the House people who were responsible and who do not understand the seriousness of their actions, do not easily get past one's temper.
I return to the hothouse issue. Are we really to believe seriously that this House should be asked to accept an open-ended commitment that does not give it an opportunity to debate? That is what is fundamentally wrong about the motion. It means that we are to make ourselves available to the Government without being assured of our right to speak. It is a sort of prostitution that I find intolerable. We must hang about; they will not tell us whether we shall be allowed to perform.
The motion cannot be accepted lightly. I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary's elegant introduction. He rightly spoke not about the Bill but about the timetable that is likely to be used. However, timetables relate to Bills and their contents dictate the timetable—or used to dictate it. The Bill's content is so serious that it is remarkable that it appears to have no effect on the offered timetable. We have been given a timetable that would be more suitable for altering the terms of housing tenancies in the north-east of England. We might have been able to fit that subject into it.
The proposals are therefore unacceptable. If the Parliamentary Secretary is unable to tell us how much time we will have to speak, debate and talk to those outside the House, and what opportunity they will have to put to us their deeply held views about the vital issues, we should not support the motion. It is a scandal that we cannot vote on it tonight and it is wrong that the Labour party is represented by only two Back Benchers. I note that three extra Members have been pushed into the Chamber by the Whips since I raised the matter. Doubtless more of those who have not gone home will be brought in from various holes and corners.
The three extra Members means that five Labour Back Benchers are now present; they have more than doubled their number. That shows that we still have some power. When we speak, something happens, even if it is only collecting people from the highways and byways and forcing them into the Chamber.
The Bill constitutes an assault on the liberty of the people of Britain. It needs sufficient time and proper consideration. The proposal provides neither. The Government should not be given the powers to proceed in that way; they are not necessary or justified. Above all, they are intolerable, as history will show. When people look back on our debates, it is not those of us who rebelled against our party and voted against the Government who will be found wanting, but those who rely on the strength of the law to protect them and are not prepared to extend that protection to others.
We should begin by identifying exactly what we are being asked to do. We are being asked to ensure that the Bill clears the House of Commons by
That point is reinforced by the thought that, in all probability, the House will not receive Lords messages until
To add to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, I think that I am right in saying that, in the provisional business announced for that week, a full day's debate is scheduled for the Wednesday. The current plan would mean that we should begin to consider any business from the Lords only after 10 o'clock, and that we should therefore have less than 24 hours in which to complete all the rest of the Bill's stages in both Houses, however many times we might be called on.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I had not spotted that. That raises another point of gross impropriety, on which the House needs to focus. He suggested that the substantial debate on the Lords messages will be taking place after 10 o'clock on the Wednesday, and rolling into the Thursday. Yet we have been told time and again by the Government—and by their Back Benchers, in particular—that the House should not, and cannot, properly discuss matters of major importance late at night.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making his point, because the House will be starting to debate matters of fundamental liberty at 10 o'clock at night. We shall be debating matters of fundamental importance in the early hours of the morning, although it is the common view on the Government Benches that the House is incapable of discussing matters of importance properly at that time. That shows a contempt and disregard for liberty that I would find truly extraordinary, if I did not know this Government.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the matter goes further than that? There is plenty of time to discuss these issues during the hours that the Labour party considers sensible—"family friendly" is, I think, the phrase that is used. The Government could, therefore, provide for that if they wished. However, on this occasion, they appear to have decided to be politically incorrect, although this would be the very occasion on which political correctness might possibly be excused.
My right hon. Friend makes a sound point, and he will have noted the contempt that the Leader of the House showed for this provision. My right hon. Friend and I both noticed that the Leader of the House was present during the opening speech from the Government Benches, and that he quickly left the Chamber afterwards and has not been present for any of the subsequent speeches. That is a scandal. Where is he? The answer is that he cannot be bothered with the views of parliamentarians. So unconcerned is he with their views that he proposes to hold the debate at 10 o'clock on a Wednesday, when almost no one other than people like ourselves will be present.
I am surprised that my right hon. and learned Friend is surprised that the Leader of the House is not here. My right hon. and learned Friend may recall that, during our brief debate during the Committee stage of the Bill that we are now considering, the timetable motion was moved by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Beverley Hughes—a veritable beacon of debating excellence—whereas the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House did not find it convenient to grace us with their presence.
In a sense, it is not in the least surprising that the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House are not here, because, of course, the House has not debated the Bill in any great detail. It has 125 clauses and 118 pages, and large sections remain wholly undiscussed. The Leader of the House and the Home Secretary knew that that would be the case, so they no doubt said to themselves, "Why should we be here? The Bill will not be discussed anyway."
The hon. Gentleman must grasp the point that the Leader of the House, not his shadow, is responsible for the conduct of business in this place. The point goes further. The Leader of the House is not only a Minister; he is meant, according to history and tradition, also to be a custodian of the traditions of the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal has been a Member of the House for longer than me, but even when I was first elected, timetable motions, in the generality of cases, were moved by the Leader of the House or the Secretary of State with charge of a Bill.
I do not want to be discourteous to the Parliamentary Secretary, who is a nice chap. He has done his best, although he is but the monkey. I am sorry about that—he is a perfectly pleasant monkey—but the truth is that important motions have been downgraded. Therefore, we are entitled to say that the absence of the Leader of the House is a scandal, because it is his business to know what the House thinks and to listen to the opinions of parliamentarians. If he cannot be bothered, that tells us something about him, albeit that we know it already.
My right hon. and learned Friend will have noticed that, on these Benches at least, those with responsibility for conducting proceedings on the Bill are present. Does not the real scandal reside in the fact that the Leader of the House, in this instance, is merely following the bidding of the Home Secretary, who wants to engender circumstances in which he can accuse Opposition Members of attempting to derail a necessary Bill simply by creating the hothouse atmosphere to which he himself has alluded?
That is probably true, but it is certainly true that it is deeply offensive to me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who have been Members of the House for many years and who were responsible for law and practice as regards terrorism, to be accused of being soft on terrorism. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In this case, it is particularly important to note that the Bill is only in part about terrorism, and only a small part at that. My right hon. Friend was entirely right to say that the Home Office has attached to the Bill many proposals that it knows full well would not get through the House had they not been attached to legislation that is said to carry a degree of urgency. That is a scandal too.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the point is that the Opposition parties, and our party in particular, have never sought to delay or disrupt those provisions that relate to terrorism? We have given them a fair wind throughout, and our only aim is to restrict the Bill to terrorism.
There are mixed views. My hon. Friend has done exactly what he says he has done, but I am bound to say that my opposition to the Bill is more robust, partly because I am against the process of enactment in this case—I do not think that the Bill should have been rushed through as it has been—but partly because I am a strong defender of civil rights, and am very cautious about responding to crises with legislation. I am also very cautious in regard to slipping standards.
In 1939, when the second world war began, the country as a whole was very opposed to the bombing of cities. By the end of the war, we had bombed Dresden. My point is that standards slip, and I fear that if we start chipping away at civil rights in the face of a crisis, a national tragedy or an international crime, we will soon abandon all the protections that our fellow citizens have a right to expect from us. I therefore feel that the House should be very cautious about relaxing any of our traditional protections.
Was it not demonstrated—intentionally or inadvertently—that the Government were not taking this seriously at the end of the first day of the Committee stage of the Bill, when the Under–Secretary of State for the Home Department, Angela Eagle, said this to a Member who wished to intervene?
"I do not have time. I have only two minutes to answer some of the questions that have been raised . . . I will not give way . . . If Opposition Members had not spent so much time talking and voting, we would have had the time".—[Hansard, 21 November 2001; Vol. 375, c. 423.]
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the least we are expected to do is raise the issues and then vote on them? If the Government do not think even that can be done by Opposition Members, we may as well all go home. Parliament clearly has no role in their eyes.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. What the Government were really doing on that occasion was grumbling about democracy. They were saying that the democratic processes were standing in the way, albeit marginally, of their getting their way. I am sorry that we were so discourteous to them as to debate the matter before the House—
The hon. Gentleman is right—and another irony is that literally scores of clauses passed through the House without being discussed in any detail. Indeed, they were not even reached. That is not the example that we should set to other countries.
We were talking about detention without trial. What do Members suppose the Government are saying to the Israeli Government at this very moment? They are urging on that Government the undesirability of detaining people outside the judicial process. Yet Ministers are asking us to do exactly the same, while not giving us an opportunity to discuss it properly.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend contrast the way in which the House is being invited to agree to the motion with the extensive consideration given, inside and outside Parliament, to the Bill that became the Terrorism Act 2000? Parliament had the advantage of a detailed report from Lord Lloyd of Berwick and a White Paper, but the Bill still required considerable debate and rewriting as a consequence of the parliamentary scrutiny. Does that not reinforce the case for adequate parliamentary scrutiny now?
My hon. Friend has made a very important point. However, he will forgive me if I make a point in response, on decaying standards, which was the point that I was making when the Parliamentary Secretary was not listening. Once we start to chip away at those protections, our standards decay. Suddenly, having gone through the proper process with the 2000 Act, we are abandoning all those processes and are leaping quickly and without proper consideration to deeply oppressive legislation.
I think that I can properly say in reply to what I think was in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal—although you and I can only guess what was in his mind, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you intervened at that point—that middle east dictators are very quick to use draconian ways of truncating discussion. I have a feeling that they might look to allies on the Treasury Bench who are doing precisely the same thing.
We do not have to go as far as the middle east. In the east midlands, which my right hon. and learned Friend and I represent, we can find huge disgust at the Government's conduct in curtailing debate not only on the Bill's remaining stages but on its earlier ones. He would therefore be on fertile ground if he confined his remarks to the reaction of people in the United Kingdom; he does not need to go overseas.
It is with that in mind that I move to my next two points, which were foreshadowed by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal. As those comments built on observations made by Labour Members, I can feel sure that by replying to them I shall be properly in order.
I should like first to tell the Parliamentary Secretary how grateful we are to him for telling us that secondary legislation will be forthcoming. I also welcome the fact that we now have eight Labour Back Benchers in the Chamber, which is encouraging progress. I imagine that the Government Whips are now looking in all the bars of the House of Commons and crying out, "Throwing out time—come into the Chamber." Here we have them, and what a pleasure it is to see them.
Of course I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has been in the Chamber for the debate and has not been into the bar to the best of my knowledge.
My hon. Friends too can read my speech—but they have heard me before, and they will surely hear me again.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal knows full well that, whatever the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions would have us believe, secondary legislation is not drafted a day or two before it is laid; it is drafted some time in advance. There is no secret that there will be a draft of the secondary legislation to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, and that it will be printed. It is probably on his desk—[Interruption.] For aught I know, it might even be in his back pocket. It is available to him. However, if it is available to him, why is it not available to us?
I tell the hon. Gentleman not to be fooled. The Parliamentary Secretary says that he will give us information, but will he give us the text? No, he will not.
He is going to give us the benefit of a few snippets—a general precis of what might be in the Bill—but he will not give us the text. However, the text will be available to him. If we had the text, we would be in a clearer position to judge whether we want to have more time than will be provided to consider the Lords' amendments. In the absence of the text, we cannot make a proper judgment.
Is not my right hon. and learned Friend being unfair to the Parliamentary Secretary? Should not he explain to the Parliamentary Secretary that all he needs to do is to ask the Box to provide him with the text? He can then cross out the word "draft", which will be on the top—my right hon. and learned Friend and I know well what it will look like—and place it in the Library immediately. If the Parliamentary Secretary is told that, he will have no excuse for not doing it.
My right hon. Friend makes a helpful and constructive suggestion and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is finding this debate a useful lesson in basic parliamentary procedure. Incidentally, may I say how nice it is to see two more Labour Members in their places?
I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that when the Bill was discussed by the House, some 80 per cent. of it did not see the light of day? Does he agree that it is a travesty of justice that we can discuss matters such as internment—arresting suspects simply on the word of the Home Secretary—without a proper, full debate in the House? Does he also agree that it is time that the House saw all the details of the Bill and discussed properly its failings, especially for the sake of the Muslim community?
On occasion, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have treated this debate with a degree of levity, but the hon. Gentleman has made a serious point. It is the fundamental point that all of us—the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset included—have sought to make. This is a fundamentally important Bill and it is profoundly wrong that it should be enacted in this way. The hon. Gentleman makes the point that scores of clauses went through to the other place without any discussion in this House. The fact that we are not going to see the secondary legislation, which is probably in the Parliamentary Secretary's back pocket, makes the hon. Gentleman's point even more robustly and that takes me to my next point.
Is that another hint that the closure motion is getting closer? We have been given two days, ending on
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the frustration is caused by the Government's attempts to put forward matters of principle as matters of policy, and those matters of principle deserve proper and substantial debate? What is causing such anger in the Chamber is the simple fact that we do not even get to the substantive fact because the Government are trying to force the legislation through without a proper assessment of the implications for civil liberties.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Bill has to be galloped through the House because it does not bear examination? The more it is examined, the more people realise that this is a farcical procedure and inappropriate in connection with proposals to set aside habeus corpus, and all the rest. The Government need momentum.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you can give guidance to the House. Many hon. Members are coming into the Chamber because the debate is so important that they want it to continue. Will you ensure that the House can continue the debate, and that the Chair will allow no early closure motion? I know that two hours is sometimes considered appropriate for unimportant matters, but will you assure the House that a minimum of three hours at least will be made available tonight, as many hon. Members clearly want to participate?
My hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd is right to say that the Government are trying to thrust the Bill through by momentum. He knows that the hostility to the Bill outside the House is building—in the legal profession, among those who care about civil liberties, and so forth. The Government want to ram the Bill through before that external opposition begins to seep through to Labour Members.
My point is that without knowing the timetable the House cannot judge whether
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that sufficient time has been devoted to clauses 21 to 23? The explanatory notes to the Bill state that the clauses extend the application of existing detention powers under the Immigration Act 1971. The powers would allow the Secretary of State to remove a suspected international terrorist—or so-called terrorist—where removal is not currently possible. This is a serious issue, which takes away a basic civil liberty but which we have not had enough time to discuss.
The hon. Gentleman is right. Under the procedure to which the hon. Gentleman refers, a person could be detained indefinitely if the Home Secretary suspected that he was an international terrorist and a threat to national security. In other words, a person could be detained indefinitely on a suspicion and a belief. I regard that as draconian, and it cannot be right. I suspect that many Labour Members agree with the doubts expressed by Mr. Marsden.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that some hon. Members find his protestations, and those of Mr. Gummer, somewhat synthetic? We remember that they were Ministers for many years and steamrollered through many items of legislation—including 16 orders to do with poll tax in one night, without any proper debate.
I have three points to make in response. First, no one who has ever known or worked with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, or with me, can have any doubt as to our commitment to parliamentary freedoms, and the duties that we owe to our constituents.
Secondly, and more importantly, when in government we did not railroad through legislation in the manner that this Government have adopted. We never automatically timetabled motions, and it was a guiding principle of our Government always to allow up to about 100 hours in Standing Committee before a timetable motion was moved. The approach was fundamentally different.
It occurs to me that Mr. Pike makes a better point than he imagines. The poll tax legislation had the majority of the House at the time to get it through but it did not have the consent of the public. If a Bill is passed without the consent of the public—[Interruption.] I am agreeing with the hon. Member for Burnley up to this point. If a Bill does not have the consent of the public for whatever reason—because it is wrong in principle or it is not properly discussed—it will fall into disrepute and lead to the collapse and destruction of the Government. We suffered from that—they will shortly.
My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. As I have said before in this kind of debate, there is an implied bargain between us and the electorate to the effect that where Bills are passed that impose obligations, we—the public's representatives—will properly and fully consider the legislation. When we do not do that, the bargain breaks down and one brings into disrepute the legislative functions of the House.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend remember an occasion when a serious Bill was placed before the House with a timetable anything like as tight as this one, late-night votes were put off until the following Wednesday and the Committee stage was practically non-existent?
I can certainly answer in the affirmative so far as the latter point is concerned, because we have not always had the deferred voting procedure. Were it not for the fact that we are no doubt about to have a closure motion, we could be quite sure that Labour Members would not be here at all to listen to the debate. The only good thing about a closure is that some Labour Members may go into the Lobby with their ministerial colleagues and have the opportunity to express real anxiety about the Bill. That would be a positive plus.
I want to move on, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I do not want to strain your patience unduly. In any case, I want my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough to catch your eye. I have already talked about the problems of the timetable and the fact that we do not know what the amendments will be. The problem is that the amendments will come from the other place at a rate, and at a time, when the external lobbies will not have an opportunity fully to form a view. Perhaps even more importantly, they will not have the opportunity to seek to inform us of their view, which is the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal.
That situation will become compounded if we enter into what is colloquially called the ping-pong session. The other place may have a compromise amendment which might, for aught I know, find favour on the Government Benches. If that happens, a compromise will be put together without external groups ever having the opportunity to express a view to right hon. and hon. Members. That cannot be right.
You will be extremely pleased to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I am coming to a conclusion. [Interruption.] I did not expect my observations to be received with such gladness and am almost tempted to extend my remarks.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman expand on what might be a more suitable timetable for the Bill? I have less experience in the House than he has, and would be intrigued to know what he believes to be a more suitable length of time in which to deal with the Bill.
That is the way I like to be treated—with real courtesy, my opinion sought, my experience praised, my impatience lauded. It is Mr. Toad himself.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. In the first place, I would not put the Bill through this procedure at all. [Interruption.] That is a sinister sight—the Whips seem to be consulting about the closure motion.
As I was saying, I would not have subjected the Bill to this emergency procedure. If I were to do so, I should strip out those parts that did not truly deal with the emergency—in fact the major part of the Bill. However, to answer the point directly, if we were to strip out the non-emergency parts of the Bill, there would be sufficient time to finish by the time the House rose for the Christmas recess, provided that the timetable during the two weeks was properly discussed—not just between Front-Bench Members, but more generally between interested parties. We know who is interested in the Bill, and we can discuss it sensibly.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but it is time to put this matter to a vote. I beg to move, That the House sit in private.
Question put forthwith, pursuant to
Question accordingly agreed to.
Madam Deputy Speaker accordingly ordered the withdrawal from the House of those other than Members or Officers.
The House sat in private.
The following record of the subsequent business is taken from the Votes and Proceedings:—
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the debate be now adjourned.—[Mr. Hogg.]
Motion made, and Question put, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Sutcliffe.]
Question accordingly agreed to.
Adjourned at nineteen minutes to Two o'clock.