Identity Cards Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

– in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 18th October 2005.

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Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office 3:43 pm, 18th October 2005

I beg to move,

That the Order of 28th June 2005 (Identity Cards Bill (Programme)) be further varied as follows:

For paragraph 4 substitute—

"4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at this day's sitting at the time specified in the second column of the following Table.

TABLE
Proceedings Time for conclusion ofproceedings
New clauses and amendments relating to Clause 1 5.45 p.m.
Amendments relating to Clauses 2 to 7 7.15 p.m.
Remaining proceedings on consideration One hour before the moment of interruption."

First, may I say that the motion is intended to assist the House in using our available time this afternoon on Report to the very best possible effect? We have made good progress on the Bill thus far. There have been seven days and 11 sittings in Committee, starting on 5 July and finishing on 21 July. We had a timetable motion in Committee in order to ensure good progress, and as a result of the knives, only clauses 12 and 13 and parts of clause 5 failed to be discussed—some seven groups of amendments in all. We certainly debated far more than seven groups of amendments in Committee.

Although I should point out that there was plenty of time to raise issues, I am told that we spent, in total, some 26 hours and six minutes in all. We were even offered the possibility of a final sitting on the afternoon of 21 July, but in the event it was not needed or required by Opposition parties. We thus had more than sufficient time.

Because of the need to make the best use of available time, we propose to divide today's timetable with knives at 5.45 and 7.15 to ensure that all parts of the Bill are properly scrutinised.

I readily recognise that there are important and serious matters for us to discuss, but we need to parcel up the business in this way to allow for Third Reading at 9 pm as normal. If hon. Members want to debate the Bill, they should accept the motion and let us get on with that debate. The House will surely agree that it would be better for us to spend time this afternoon debating the Bill and the substantial matters before us rather than taking time to debate at length whether or not to timetable the debate. With that in mind, our motion will help order our debate sensibly.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education)

Is the Minister programming the discussion on the Bill because he personally as a Minister believes that the advantages of the Bill are overstated?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

I shall take that as a question specific to the programme motion, which of course it was. The matters before us are very important. There are three distinct categories, all of which need discussion. If the hon. Gentleman resists the urge to vote against the motion, my views will come out in due course.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 3:46 pm, 18th October 2005

I am used now to the Minister, either from that Dispatch Box or in Committee, demanding less time for this important Bill to be discussed and, lo and behold, here he comes again with the same request. Of course, it is not a request but a demand; a demand that this House will no doubt need to consider carefully. I hope that, in due course, we will test the opinion of the House. Whatever blandishments are put forward by the Minister, I urge the House to reject the motion yet again to curtail debate.

This is not some statutory instrument or anodyne piece of business. This is one of the most important Bills that we will discuss during this Session. The Bill utterly alters the status of the state and its relationship with the individual. Yet as we predicted in Committee, the Government are curtailing debate. We have about seven or eight different areas of discussion to deal with this afternoon, and the Government seem wholly incapable of producing the necessary arguments to justify this curtailment of discussion.

I shall not detain the House this afternoon by dignifying the Minister's remarks with a lengthy response, which would be to fall into the trap that he has so candidly placed before us. However, the Bill contains approximately 60 powers to be given to the Home Secretary, who is no longer in his place, to make secondary legislation. It is a radically dangerous way to legislate and it is even worse that the Government are curtailing our ability to discuss it. I urge all hon. Members with any understanding of the word "democracy", or of the expression "Let us scrutinise this legislation", to vote against the programme motion, which is unnecessary and wholly ridiculous.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:49 pm, 18th October 2005

As the Minister said, the sessions in Committee were good, but they were exactly that: Committee sessions. Today, we have an opportunity for the whole House to have a say and it is important that we allow adequate time for a full discussion of all the issues that arise from this extensive Bill. Frankly, my fear is that although we have been careful in seeking to retain a tight focus in respect of the amendments tabled by myself and my hon. Friends—as, indeed, have the Conservatives—the operation of the knives will be such that we will not be allowed to have a full discussion of all the matters of importance that ought to be scrutinised by this place. Accordingly, should a Division be called, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will not support the Government.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 3:50 pm, 18th October 2005

I rise to support the observations of my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier. The Minister in his opening remarks said that the motion was for the assistance of the House so as to make best use of the time available to us. The time available to us is the amount of time provided by the Government. If they truly wanted to assist the House, they would have given us a great deal more time, especially as the Bill will not come into early effect. The reality is that there is ample time for proper consideration.

My hon. and learned Friend sketched out the principal arguments against timetable motions of this kind, and I shall add one or two further comments. First, we must never forget that the Report stage is the only opportunity for Members of this House who were not members of the Standing Committee to scrutinise the detail of a Bill. On this occasion, they will be allowed no more than five hours for that detailed scrutiny. In my view, that is wrong in principle.

My second point which is rather different, although Mr. Carmichael alluded to it when he spoke about retaining a tight focus when framing his amendments, is that hon. Members faced with tight guillotines often do not table the amendments that they would table if more time were available. As a consequence, Bills are not being scrutinised properly. The grossest example of a Bill that was not properly scrutinised is the one that became the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which has been criticised time and again, in the Court of Appeal and elsewhere, for its inadequate construction and the poor scrutiny that it received here. The same thing is happening again.

I hope that the House will never allow a timetable motion to go through without a protest and a vote. The Government say that that will circumscribe debate. Although true, that is unworthy of this House—but typical of this Government.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills 3:51 pm, 18th October 2005

I, too, rise to support what my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier said from the Front Bench, and the comments that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg has just made. My distinguished colleague was right to say that the time available is the amount of time that the Government set.

The Government expect their supporters to march into the appropriate Lobby to support the proposition that it is fair to devote an hour and three quarters to the Bill's central contention, which is that a national identity register should be set up. This is a profoundly important piece of legislation, yet the Government say that the time allotted will be sufficient for scrutiny by Back-Bench Members from every party who could not attend the Standing Committee, or who were not put on it in the first place.

The Bill was in Committee for only seven days, and the Minister made much of the fact that it received 26 hours and six minutes of consideration. In any Parliament before 1997, that would have been laughable. This Bill affects every citizen of this country. With the fines that it can impose and its proposals for a national identity register, it reaches into every particular of identity, yet it is not being discussed in the traditional manner on the Floor of the House of Commons.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that the motion represents a travesty of parliamentary scrutiny, given the mass electorate that will be affected by the Bill? Is not that underlined by the fact that each amendment in the first two groups, although they relate to the very essence of the Bill, will receive only eight minutes of consideration—and that is on the rather unlikely assumption that there are no votes? Is not that an absolute disgrace?

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I could not agree more. The essence of the argument is that at the heart of the Bill is a change in the relationship between an individual's identity and the Government. Outside wartime emergency regulations, that represents a complete change in our relationship with the state. The Government think that a total of 26 hours and six minutes in Committee discharges their responsibility to this House and to the people whom we represent.

This Bill is important, but we face yet another guillotine. It has been said that the Government rule by guillotine, not by winning arguments in debate. That is why the House should reject the motion.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 3:54 pm, 18th October 2005

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg and my hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd for pointing out a number of vital matters. I heard one of the Ministers refer to the Leader of the Opposition in the context of the Bill. He will know that I have had the gravest doubts about the way in which the Bill was presented on Second Reading. When the matter was decided in 1995, it was pursued on a voluntary basis.

I heard the Minister this morning on the "Today" programme refer to an enabling Bill. The enabling process changes the nature of the operation completely and will not allow proper debate. As the Minister well knows, the reality is that in the context of what the Information Commissioner said, this is about state surveillance. That is why I presented George Orwell's book "1984" to the Home Secretary who, to his disgrace, is not here this afternoon.

With great respect to you, Mr. Speaker, Standing Orders have been taken over by the Executive, and that has led to the situation today. They should be returned to you. This is the constitutional question that we face. Matters related to guillotines and programme motions should be decided not by the majority in the House but by indisputably distinguished and independent parties—in particular yourself, Mr. Speaker. It is a disgrace to hear Ministers from the Home Office suggest otherwise.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:56 pm, 18th October 2005

The legislation before the House is important because it affects every citizen across the United Kingdom, so it is important that we discharge our duty as parliamentarians fully to discuss the Bill. That is why I and my colleagues reject any question of a guillotine, and if there is a vote we will certainly oppose the Government.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 322, Noes 257.

Division number 55

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you look into the fact that on two occasions since we returned to the House what is known as the chauffeurs' entrance has been closed during a Division? I understand that responsibility has passed from the police to the security services in the House, and I wonder whether you could ensure that in future when the Division bell rings entrances are open so that Members of Parliament can come to vote as soon as possible.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that matter. I instruct the Serjeant at Arms to look into it.