Drugs Bill (Programme) (No.2)

– in the House of Commons at 5:25 pm on 22nd February 2005.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 5:25 pm, 22nd February 2005

I beg to move,

That the Programme Order of 18th January 2005 relating to the Drugs Bill be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken in the following order: amendments to the clauses of the Bill; amendments to the Schedules of the Bill; New Clauses; New Schedules; remaining proceedings on consideration.

3. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.

4. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.

I shall be brief, and I hope that we can achieve consensus on this issue. We want to ensure that we guarantee the three hours of debate on the Drugs Bill. There was extensive discussion in our six sittings in Committee, including a very long discussion on the reclassification of cannabis. That was also voted on in Committee. The programme motion allows us three hours of debate on the Bill. It also allows us to deal with the most important issues in an appropriate order.

A number of the issues raised in Committee gave me pause for thought, and I have tried to capture our response in the Government amendments, to show that we have been listening to the concerns that were raised. I hope that Opposition Members will agree that that is what we have achieved.

I would like to apologise to Opposition Members for the late arrival today of a letter that was based on issues raised in Committee. I want to offer my unreserved apology for that, and I hope that it will not happen again in my ministerial career, however short or long that might be.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office) 5:27 pm, 22nd February 2005

The Minister has just said that she wants to dispose of this motion quickly because she wants to guarantee three hours of debate on the Bill. If that is what she wanted, it would have been quite simple not to have tabled this programme motion at all. So I do not agree with her basic premise, and it would be quite remiss of me to pass up this opportunity without making some further comments. I note that she has apologised unreservedly on a particular matter, and I shall refer to that matter in the course of my remarks on the programme motion.

I believe that it was only yesterday evening that the official Opposition discovered the details of the programme motion that is on today's Order Paper. The motion limits the entire Report stage and Third Reading of the Bill to a mere three hours. If I have read it correctly, it provides 45 minutes for this debate on the programme motion. The Report stage can take up to two hours from the time this debate started at 5.25, and there will be an hour thereafter for our Third Reading debate. It is interesting to see that the Government have protected the Third Reading debate, because on another Bill recently, they completely failed to do so. They have obviously learned from their mistakes. I had to weigh up whether to debate this motion, thereby using up part of that precious time, and I decided that the time allotted was so meagre that I ought to make this protest, and to put on record the views of the Opposition.

There is no doubt that the programming device is the subject of a great deal of controversy. It is neither an equal nor a fair process, and it certainly enables the Government to impose a timetable irrespective of the views of the Opposition. That is, of course, if the Opposition have had an opportunity to put their views.

The report on the programming of legislation was published in July 2004. It was the product of the Procedure Committee, of which I was a member many years ago and which does sterling work.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

I have support in the Chamber, and I am pleased to see the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton, in his place, because this is a serious matter that reflects the reason for my choosing to debate the programme motion in these 45 minutes. I am also pleased to see other Members who have been members of the Procedure Committee from time to time.

Page 3 of the report carries the summary and a recommendation from the Committee, which says:

"We recommend that programming motions should be decided without debate only when there is cross-party support; on other occasions the Government would, if necessary, have to justify such a motion in a one-hour debate."

That recommendation has been completely flouted, because we have only 45 minutes in which to pursue the matter of this programme motion. The report continues:

"In exchange, we would expect parties to adopt a constructive approach to programming."

It is fair to say that during consideration of the Bill—the Minister can intervene if she disagrees—the Government received good co-operation from the Opposition. We have attempted to improve hastily drafted and inadequate legislation.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

From a sedentary position, the Government Whip says, "No," but there was absolutely no problem with the programming other than when he got a bit hot under the collar when we appeared to be debating at length matters that needed closer examination.

We have tried at every stage to improve on hastily drafted and inadequate legislation. Indeed, so hastily drafted was it that the Minister herself accepted Opposition amendments—as drafted and in principle, as shown by the Government amendments on the amendment paper today—but at no stage was such extreme timetabling in the closing stages ever discussed. In fact, the opposite impression was given: if more time was required it would be given, although that is clearly not the case, as we see today.

In Committee, we did not complete scrutiny of the Bill and all the proposed amendments, but despite that new clauses went undebated—

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

Again, the Government Whip is interfering by speaking from a sedentary position. He can intervene if he can tell me that we completed scrutiny of all the new clauses at the end of consideration in Committee. We did not complete scrutiny of the new clauses.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister

My hon. Friend may recall that I tabled an extremely important new clause on the General Medical Council and the right to strike off doctors, but there was not time to debate it. That is illustrative of the pressures that we were under.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

My hon. Friend makes a timely intervention to highlight a pattern that is repeated by the Government on so many occasions that they are too numerous to mention. I shall refer to that later. We did not complete the scrutiny of the Bill and today's debate will be truncated by the Government's programme motion.

At the beginning of the debate on the programme motion, the Minister apologised. She did so because she has not been entirely fair and square with the Opposition on the Bill's passage. I need to ask her why I received her office's e-mail at 11.41 this morning. The e-mail says:

"I attach a copy of the letter to Cheryl which was signed in Caroline's absence regarding the Drugs Bill. It has been brought to my attention that due to an administration error it is possible that you did not receive this letter last week. It is vital that this is drawn to Cheryl's attention before Third Reading this afternoon."

Well, that is an extraordinary letter to get from a Minister's office on the day of Report and Third Reading. Attached to it was an undated seven-page letter from the Minister, signed in her absence, which purports to deal with the issues raised in Committee.

First, sending out that letter at the last minute is discourteous at the very least. Secondly, it would appear to be a way to avoid further debate, substantiated not least by the truncated timetable motion today.

I refer once again to the admirable work of the Procedure Committee:

"For report stage and third reading, we recommend that the Government should table its amendments in good time and that the House should be provided with a factual statement of which clauses and schedules were not considered in committee because of the operation of the programme; and we believe that the House will usually want to spend most of the time available on report stage rather than third reading."

Well, the amendments were not tabled in good time. In fact, I am not sure when they were tabled, but I was notified of them yesterday morning. E-mails were sent to my office last Thursday, which were inaccessible by me as Parliament was in recess and the parliamentary data and video network was down until Monday morning. Therefore the first notification that I received of those amendments was first thing on Monday morning. Given that those amendments were tabled so late in the day, and that the letter to which I referred was sent at the last minute, it is not possible to table further amendments on Report. Were I to wish to do so, the timetable motion would now prevent any possibility of their discussion.

Matters arise from both the last-minute letter and the amendments tabled by the Government that need exploring. Let me give as an example those relating to clause 5. I had asked about the implications of the costs of the proposed X-rays and scans, and about whether they are paid for by the police or the national health service, which we know is very pressed at the moment. The Minister's responses in her letter deal with issues in relation to medical emergencies when people are arrested, but still do not deal specifically with situations envisaged in clause 5 in which a police officer decides that there is a reason to X-ray or scan an individual. How were we to know that the answers would be inadequate, as the information only arrived just before midday today?

The timetable motion might also prevent us from reaching one of the most important amendments for which we would wish to argue—the proposed reclassification of cannabis in new clause 1. The Minister referred to that specifically in her opening speech on the programme motion debate. She was pleased that we voted on it in Committee—well, we voted on it, but we did not have an extensive debate. If she would like to refer to the Official Report of the Committee, she will see that there was a short, rushed debate, right at the end of the Committee. It was only because I stood up and asked how I could have a vote on the new clause that we managed to get one in right at the tail end of the Committee.

We believe that the Government have made a grave mistake in reclassifying cannabis as a class C drug. Our concern has been that the reclassification will be a green light to young people, which is indeed the case. If young people are more likely to try cannabis, they are more likely to become involved in the drug sub-culture. We will reclassify cannabis back to class B, and would wish to have more time to deploy those arguments and discuss them with the Minister.

This timetable inhibits debate on a subject which should be of great importance to every parent throughout the country. We know of its great importance, because although the Minister did not have time to answer questions posed properly during Committee several weeks ago until nearly midday today, she did, however, have time to send out a press release about the success of Operation Crackdown at 9.54 this morning. We therefore have a situation in which the Minister can do her press and publicity about Operation Crackdown, but she cannot be bothered to get the letter to the Opposition about points raised in Committee.

I am pleased by the results that the police are achieving in tackling class A drugs, although I must admit that, on the basis of the statistics I have, I am not sure that they were worth a press release. I understand from the press release that 17 kg of heroin were captured by the police in the first four weeks of Operation Crackdown, but having looked at the statistics I discovered that in 1999—

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

Order. The hon. Lady must confine her remarks to the matters immediately before the House.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

I agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The fact is, however, that the Minister is able to get press releases out and not leave time for them to be discussed, and was not capable of producing from her office—throughout the recess—the information that she had promised in Committee. I know she is sorry, I know she has apologised and I accept that apology, but it is still absolutely appalling.

Let me end by returning to the Procedure Committee's excellent report, which made certain recommendations. For the sake of the Minister and those who support her, I should say that page 21 needs to be read carefully. At paragraph 13—unlucky for some—the Committee said:

"We recommend that the Government should table its amendments for report stage in good time."

At paragraph 15, it said:

"We believe that the House will usually want to spend most of the time available considering amendments on report, rather than debating third reading at length."

We are left with a programme motion that ensures that the Third Reading debate will be longer than the debate on Report, which is directly contrary to the Committee's recommendations. That does not surprise me, however. Only yesterday, the remaining stages of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill did not complete their course here. The Prevention of Terrorism Bill is to be rushed through in two days, and because of a programme motion part 2 of the Civil Contingencies Bill was not discussed at all, although it involved serious constitutional issues. What hope have we for the Drugs Bill, which deals with a matter that is so important to families and communities up and down the land?

This is a pattern with the current Government, who wish to stifle debate and, dare I say it, diminish the standing and powers of Parliament. No doubt the Drugs Bill will be added to the wonderful table in the Committee's report, table A on page Ev5. It gives a long catalogue of Bills in the 2002–03 Session parts of which were never reached and never discussed in the House.

I invite my hon. Friends, and anyone else who cares to join me in the Lobby, to vote against the motion as a matter of principle. Once again the Government have been discourteous to the Opposition, have shown that they are not organised or competent, and have sought to stifle debate about something on which I believe Conservative policies are winning hearts and minds throughout the country. I think people believe that the Government have failed to act successfully on drugs.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 5:43 pm, 22nd February 2005

Although it may not be apparent from the debate today, at the end of proceedings in Committee the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Dr. Ladyman, thanked Members for the courtesy and good humour with which they had conducted those proceedings.

We had ample time to explore the issues in Committee, and the Government deserve credit for that. As Mrs. Gillan has said, as a result of that exploration a number of amendments were accepted, either as they stood or in principle. The Government have returned the issues to the Floor of the House, and I give the Minister credit for that. However, I share many of the concerns of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham. For the entire proceedings on Report to be given at most two hours is not adequate. To include in that two hours the debate on the programme motion means that we may have no more than one and a quarter hours for consideration of matters on Report.

Matters on Report are important. If matters have been dealt with in Committee, that has been the preserve of a small number of Members. This is the opportunity for Back Benchers on both sides of the House who have concerns about the Bill to have their say. One hour and 15 minutes will not be sufficient for that.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to the correspondence from the Minister's office. I am quite happy to favour cock-up rather than conspiracy as far as that is concerned, but it highlights the danger of proceeding in the manner in which the Government wish us to proceed today with a highly timetabled debate.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham said that we had protected time for Third Reading. That is not necessarily the case. If she looks at the motion, she will see that proceedings on Third Reading must be concluded three hours after the commencement of debate on the motion. Proceedings on Report must be concluded after two hours. If we were to have a vote after two hours, that would mean that Third Reading would not start until probably about 15 minutes into the one hour. At best, there will be 45 minutes available.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

I accede to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I was referring to a previous Bill where there was no protection at all for Third Reading and the debate was completely lost.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

We should be fortunate and have three quarters of an hour, if that is fortunate.

A number of issues have come to mind as I have considered the Minister's correspondence this afternoon. On first reading, I thought that it was fairly innocuous. The more I read it, the more I think, "Perhaps there is a point to be asked about here and a point to be asked about elsewhere." I hope that, when the Bill leaves the House, as I think it inevitably will tonight, and goes to the other place, the matters that we are not able to deal with today but that have been raised in correspondence from the Minister will get a fuller hearing and that there may be an opportunity for us to deal with those matters during consideration of Lords amendments.

I was slightly surprised that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham was not able to get the Government amendments through PDVN, as I was. I am delighted that, for once, in a technological sense, things seem to be working better in Orkney and Shetland than in Chesham and Amersham.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 5:47 pm, 22nd February 2005

Mr. Carmichael was right to pick up the point that the Minister made briefly and rather weakly that, because matters have been considered in Committee, why should we delay ourselves much on the Floor of the House—that was okay, was it not? That prompts a number of questions, one of which we need not discuss here: was the amount of time even in Committee adequate? My hon. Friend Mr. Bellingham pointed out that his excellent new clause was not considered in Committee because of the Government's vicious timetabling of the Committee itself.

In a sense, however, that is beside the point because the whole purpose of the Report stage, as my hon. Friend pointed out, is to give Members who did not have the privilege of being on the Committee the opportunity to consider what it did and to submit further amendments. Indeed, even the Government themselves now routinely table amendments on Report for consideration. Therefore, we should look at what we are expected to consider on the Floor of the House in the time allotted by the Government. We should notice that under these so-called timetable motions the Government are graciously allowing the House of Commons a certain amount of time to do its job of scrutinising the Government's legislation.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He might want to consider that, first, the Minister was interrupted in mid-flow on a new clause in order for us to vote on the reclassification of cannabis; I have referred to the record in that regard. Secondly, does he agree that, given that part of the Bill refers to provisions in Northern Ireland and that no Northern Ireland Member served on the Committee, it is even more important that consideration on Report be allowed to run for some time, so that Northern Ireland Members can make points on behalf of their territory?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

My hon. Friend is of course correct. The point is that the Government are now deciding how much time they themselves will allow Members to do the job that they have been elected to do, which is to scrutinise the Government's legislation.

Let us examine the specifics. There are five groups of amendments. They are not trivial and they cover some important and fundamental points. The first group deals with provision for schools and with children, and the second deals with dangerous driving. The third group concerns our old friend—substituting "shall" for "may". That always sounds trivial and innocuous, but it rarely is, because it is almost always of extreme importance. The fourth group deals with the role of the Secretary of State, which is also a matter on which we should dwell. The final group consists of new clause 1, which deals with, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the extremely important issue of the classification of cannabis.

Any one of those groups could easily justify at least an hour's debate in the House—if not several hours—because in theory several hundred Members might want to debate these matters, and they would be entitled to do so. Instead, the Government have said, "You will be allowed a maximum of two hours to consider all these matters." That is 24 minutes per group, and if time is allowed for contributions from the Minister and other Front Benchers, there would probably be no time left for Back Benchers. That is the absurd situation in which we now find ourselves. The Government are saying that they do not think that Members need to bother turning up to debate these matters, because they do not think that time should be given to do that. That is the essence of the motion.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

Would my right hon. Friend care to reflect on the fact that although Paul Flynn—he is in his place—has special expertise in this area, he did not serve on the Committee, whereas two Back-Bench Government supporters from Scotland did, even though the Bill does not apply to Scotland? This point surely relates to precisely the argument that my right hon. Friend is making. Today constitutes an opportunity for experts in this House who have not yet had a chance to contribute to do so, yet the time available for debate will be limited to one hour. I am thinking in particular of Members who represent points of view on which Committee members received a great deal of advice. Despite that, no Committee member supported the case put forward by concerned lobby groups and members of the public.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

My hon. Friend makes an important and interesting point on which I will allow myself to be drawn briefly. He is referring to the mysterious ways in which membership of Committees is decided by this House—or, indeed, by the usual channels. The important point is that, sadly, it is therefore likely that members serving on Committees dealing with Bills such as this might not represent views generally held throughout the House. In particular, as my hon. Friend suggested, distinguished Members such as the hon. Member for Newport, West—he is present now and smiling at me, and I am smiling at him—have a unique contribution to make. Today's debate should be an opportunity for such Members. It should not be time-limited by the Government.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Mrs. Gillan touched on a serious issue relating to Northern Ireland. I have a letter from the Northern Ireland Office confirming that permission has been sought and obtained for the extension to Northern Ireland of certain provisions in the Bill. However, the right hon. Member, who always reads legislation very carefully, will have noted that clause 24(6) makes it clear that the Bill

"extends to England and Wales only."

That makes it even more unfortunate that more time has not been set aside this evening to discuss the extension of certain provisions to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who makes an important and different point about the extent to which the Bill covers Northern Ireland. We need to be aware that changes may be made to it even at this late stage. Sadly, as she says, it is doubtful whether we will have a further opportunity properly to explore the issue. The hon. Lady could be lucky if the Minister gives way to her when she winds up the debate; she might even have a brief and peremptory answer to her question. However, that is not the way in which we should conduct our affairs, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It should not be a matter of a nod and a wink here and a moment there. These matters deserve proper deliberation and consideration by Members of this House. The programme motion will simply not allow that.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

Lady Hermon raised an issue that the Minister certainly must answer, and I believe that it should be answered during the course of her remarks this evening. Clauses 4 and 6 specifically relate to powers in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I raised in Committee a matter that the hon. Lady had mentioned about the nomenclature of police officers in Northern Ireland. If the qualifying clause at the end precludes the Bill's extension to Northern Ireland, it shows once again the poor drafting and haste with which the Bill has been knocked up, thrown together and slipped through the House.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I suspect that the best opportunity for the hon. Member for North Down may be on Third Reading, when there may be a chance for the House to press the Minister on matters that are not necessarily covered by the selected groups of amendments on Report. Subject to your discretion and decision, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it may be appropriate to pursue the matter of Northern Ireland with the Minister on Third Reading. In my view, that would be entirely appropriate.

Key issues in the Bill—including the selling of drugs to children, the impact of drugs on driving, the role of the Secretary of State and, not least, the classification of cannabis—are of great substance and importance in their own right. Members who did not sit in Committee—not least, the hon. Member for Newport, West—should now have their opportunity to contribute to the debate in the Chamber, but I suspect that none of that is going to happen. There will be no proper opportunity for debate and Members at large will have little chance to contribute. Sadly, that will once again make an absolute nonsense and a farce of the proper role of the House of Commons in scrutinising legislation.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Is it not appropriate for the Opposition, including Liberal Democrat as well as Conservative and Unionist Members, to make representations through the Minister to the Government to the effect that they should urgently review the programming procedures of the House to meet the perfectly reasonable deliberations and recommendations of the Procedure Committee? I believe that the Minister wants good legislation, but she will not get the best legislation if we proceed in this way.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

My hon. Friend is characteristically more generous than I am, as I gain no sense that the Minister is anxious for any proper or detailed scrutiny of the Bill. In fact, I gain almost the opposite sense—that what we are being allowed to do today is almost too much for the Minister to bear and that she wants us to nod it all through so that she and her colleagues can get away as early as possible. That was my impression, but we may hear more from the Minister either on Report or on Third Reading about whether she is really enthusiastic, as my hon. Friend suggests, about allocating more time to debate the important issues in the House. I will believe it when I see it: that is all that I can say.

I make no apology for that, as this system of so-called timetabling has confronted us time after time with the absurdity that we are not able to discharge fully and properly our responsibilities as Members of Parliament to scrutinise legislation. The system makes life easier for the Government and makes nonsense of our role. That saddens me.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister 6:00 pm, 22nd February 2005

I had the pleasure of being a member of the Standing Committee considering this Bill, and I listened with great interest to the contributions that were made. I listened with special interest to what the Minister had to say in respect of a measure that is not particularly controversial. The Bill has received substantial all-party support, with the few exceptions to which my hon. Friend Mrs. Gillan alluded a moment ago.

I do not understand what is going on. Why on earth is it necessary to apply a timetable motion to a Bill that has all-party support and which is not controversial? Furthermore, many hon. Members are extremely interested in the subject of drugs and know a great deal about it, but, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth said, only a few of them were fortunate enough to serve on the Committee. As a result, many hon. Members would like to contribute to the debate this evening and they might have hoped against hope for a debate on Report that was not timetabled. They will have been sorely disappointed when they saw the business of the House for this week, as it was clear that an extremely tight timetable would leave little chance for a constructive and positive contribution.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a particular problem in Northern Ireland? The Assembly there was suspended in October 2002, and this House alone has responsibility for the criminal law in Northern Ireland. Does not it therefore ill behove this Government to rush through legislation in an area as important as drugs control? I remind the House that cannabis use is the main drug problem in Northern Ireland, yet there is no time for proper discussion of the extension of the Bill's key provisions to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am indeed aware of what is happening in terms of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I was a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee early on in this Parliament. I am aware of the background, therefore, and the point that she makes is absolutely spot on. Given that the Assembly is suspended, surely the Government should be doubly cautious, sensitive and understanding when it comes to the needs of the Province. They should therefore ensure that proper time is given for a Bill of this nature, which is not controversial.

In her excellent speech a moment ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham pointed out that several other Bills—the Civil Contingencies Bill and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, to name but two—have been subjected to the same timetabling tactics. Earlier in this Parliament, I belonged to the Standing Committee considering the Adoption and Children Bill, which was also uncontroversial and given all-party support. Many hon. Members were keen to ensure that this House produced good law that would endure and command respect. Laws like that are effective and can be upheld in the courts, but they cannot be achieved if the Government are always trying to rush them through the House.

There is no good reason for the Government's determination to rush this Bill through—apart from the possibility that the Minister and her team just want to go back to their offices or their homes early. The Bill's Report and Third Reading should be considered over a prolonged period of time, as there are many additional points that need to be discussed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham pointed out that we made good progress in Standing Committee and that the Bill enjoyed all-party support. However, some aspects of it were not properly debated. We should have liked more time in Committee, but the Opposition co-operated with the Government as much as we possibly could. We went out of our way to be co-operative and responsible and, to the extent that it is possible for an Opposition to do so, to help the Government get the Bill through Committee. That is why I am appalled by the letter that my hon. Friend received from the Minister and the notification of the amendments. What is going on? We have just had 10 days off for half-term. Did the Home Office simply close down during that period? What were the Minister's civil servants doing? Why on earth could they not have contacted members of the Committee in good time, given us plenty of warning and behaved more imaginatively and proactively, which might have led to better legislation? What the Government are doing this afternoon is likely to lead to bad legislation and that is why I shall support my hon. Friend in the forthcoming Division.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:05 pm, 22nd February 2005

The way in which the Bill has been conducted is a great shame because much of the conduct in Committee was exemplary. The Minister considered points seriously, listened to concerns raised in the Committee and on one occasion accepted, unusually, an amendment tabled by the Opposition. The Committee tried seriously to improve a Bill that showed all the evidence of being drafted in a hurry. It is partly to the Government's credit and to the rather mysterious ways in which the Committee of Selection works that sitting behind the Minister were the hon. Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) who demonstrated considerable expert knowledge in debate. It was a shame that Paul Flynn was not a member of the Committee, given his expertise and his contribution on Second Reading.

During the Committee's deliberations, when we had a great deal of contact with people who were concerned about the change to the legislation covering magic mushrooms, Mr. Carmichael, who was representing the Liberal Democrats, moved an amendment with which he did not agree to enable a debate to take place. The two issues in the Bill that raised the greatest public concern were the reclassification of cannabis and khat, and the classification of psilocybin-related drugs to group A, and they were dealt with during the Committee's final sitting. Those issues were of great public concern, but no one was genuinely advocating the interests of people who will be affected by the Bill, except academically and artificially, because no one on the Committee agreed with the point of view put forward by a number of concerned members of the public. Therefore, it is important to have sufficient time to discuss such issues when the Bill returns to the House on Report.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

In the interest of accuracy, during an earlier intervention, the hon. Gentleman said that the Bill applies only to England and Wales. Under clause 24(7), clauses 1, 2 and 21 also apply to Scotland.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

The vast majority of the Bill is a matter for England and Wales and only a limited number of provisions, mainly covering repeals, apply to Scotland.

When there is concern about such issues from public lobbies whose views are not over-represented in this Parliament, they deserve the opportunity to have their point of view taken into account. The Government may have an argument for programming if there is adequate pre-legislative scrutiny and an opportunity for interested lobby groups to make their case and to have meetings with hon. Members to ensure that their concerns have been properly taken into account. However, there is no case for this Bill to be rushed through when Transform, a drugs policy organisation, legitimately expresses its concerns about the Bill as follows:

"Its criminal justice focus appears to be motivated by election-time populism rather than evidence of effectiveness or the needs of the drugs field. The result is a series of reforms, most of which will be ineffective or actively counterproductive. They hold no prospect of addressing the very real issues around drug misuse and related offending in the UK."

That is a proper line of criticism of the Bill.

The measure has been put together in a great hurry and has more to do with appearance than substantive, considered changes to the law. Expert bodies and people with a particular interest in the Bill should have had the opportunity and time to consider it carefully. If that had been the case, they would not have said that there had been lack of consultation.

It being forty-five minutes after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A (8)(Programme motions).

The House divided: Ayes 298, Noes 179.

Division number 91 Drugs Bill (Programme) (No.2)

Aye: 298 MPs

No: 179 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly agreed to.