I beg to move,
That the Order of 26th October 2005 (Terrorism Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:
For paragraph 3 (proceedings on consideration) substitute—
'3. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table and shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at the times specified in the second column.
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
|Amendments relating to Clause 23, new Clauses||Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration.|
|Amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 22, remaining proceedings on consideration||Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on Amendments relating to Clause 1.'|
I know that Opposition Members object frequently to every programme motion, but I suggest that even they would find it hard to fault this one. The effect of this programme motion is to increase the amount of time that the House will have to consider this Bill on Report.
The House will recall that the programme motion passed after Second Reading allocated us six hours in total for Report. However, any votes in the middle of that would have eaten into that six hours. Without wishing to reveal any secrets or pre-empt later debate, the considered and careful judgment that I have reached is that it is unlikely that the House will reach complete agreement today without any Division.
Accordingly, the motion provides that we begin on amendments to clause 23 and the new clauses that have been tabled. We have three hours for that part of our proceedings. Once that concludes, any votes that are necessary will take place, and they will not cut into the House's remaining time. Once all the votes have taken place, we will then have a further three hours on the remaining groups of amendments, followed by whatever Divisions are required. I hope that the whole House will recognise the benefits of that.
I will not seek to divide the House on the programme motion, but I should point out to the Home Secretary that although we welcome the concession that has been made, the practical reality is that we still have far too short a time to consider the amendments tabled for this afternoon. Even at this late stage, I hope that he might consider taking advice on whether further time can be made available. Let me explain why.
We will start with a debate on the period of detention, which is a subject of considerable controversy. Given the way in which the procedures of the House operate, and the fact that the Government have tabled amendment No. 55, which changes the period from three months to 90 days, anyone wishing to have the 28-day amendment considered must first vote on Government amendment No. 55. We will therefore have to have two votes, whereas one on the 28 days alone might have been necessary otherwise. I am not clear as to why that has come about, except to provide a delay mechanism in the time that the House has for consideration. As a consequence, the reality must be that new clause 8 on stop and search, which was tabled by a Government Back Bencher, and which, I believe, merits the consideration of the House, is most unlikely to receive any consideration whatever. In the context of trying to build consensus, that must be highly regrettable. There is no reason why that should have to happen.
When we move on beyond the three-hour break, when we will probably have had a couple of votes, and the stop and search matters will not have been considered, we will have five groups of amendments to consider, all of which are of importance, and three hours in which to do it. We might well have time to deal with the offences under clauses 1 and 2, which remain controversial because the Government concessions do not appear to change radically the way in which indirect incitement to terrorism can still be committed negligently. If we have a full debate on that subject, however, which greatly exercised the Committee last week, there must be a danger that we will never get to the glorification clauses, which, as we know from last week, were the subject of enormous controversy. If the Home Secretary wishes to avoid the suspicion that the Government are trying procedurally to close down the debate on those clauses, it would be wise to give us more time. Without filibuster in any sense, we will have difficulty in reaching those clauses.
I worry, and I shall judge the matter by what happens this afternoon, that we might see a procession of Government Back Benchers put up to prolong the debate on offences under clauses 1 and 2, so that debate is prevented on the question whether a glorification element in incitement to terrorism should remain in the Bill. That would be a scandalous state of affairs. I look to the Home Secretary to provide guidance, as the debate takes place, to ensure as far as is possible that that does not happen.
My hon. Friend will agree that it is important that our proceedings today should be intelligible to the country at large. Given that we have no fewer than 60 amendments and new clauses to consider, and only six hours in which to do so, the arithmetic is obvious. Does my hon. Friend agree that having fewer than 10 minutes for the consideration of each amendment is a travesty of parliamentary scrutiny, and that if the public knew what was taking place, they would be appalled by it?
I entirely agree. Even if Members act with reasonable expedition, the second part of the motion in particular is flawed in terms of allowing scrutiny.
Even after the glorification amendments, there are important amendments dealing with the endorsements of publications and the defences that may exist, issues that were of great concern to the House last week. There is also the question whether there should be any defences in relation to training for terrorism: there are currently none. Last but not least, although last week Mr. Denham—in a very powerful speech—expressed concern about our failure to define terrorism correctly, that is the last item that we shall have time to consider today, and the reality must be that we shall never reach it at all.
I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman is saying, but does he agree that if the House cannot debate these matters adequately, that will encourage even closer scrutiny—if such is possible—in the other place, and the inevitable amendments? Such scrutiny, however, should be carried out by the elected House and not the unelected House.
I do agree. As I said to the Home Secretary last week, the controversial nature of the Bill makes it immensely desirable that, if at all possible, this House should reach an agreed position so that we can all vote for the Bill on Third Reading tomorrow. But to do that we must debate, and if the debate is curtailed so that important parts of the Bill are never considered at all, that will place those who wish to consider them in great difficulty. As the Home Secretary knows, because the Bill is so controversial, there must be a risk that the other place will take over the responsibility that we have shirked—and that we shall find ourselves involved, as we have too often in the past, in late-night spats as we try to sort out the differences between this House and the other place. Let me say sincerely to the Home Secretary that I think that that can be avoided, or largely avoided, if there is sufficient time, but I do not think there is at present.
John Bercow said that it would not be our fault if there was ping-pong—that it would be the fault of the other place. As my hon. Friend Mr. Heath pointed out, however, if we had not debated the Bill adequately that would be our fault. It was clear in Committee that the provisions relating to offences committed abroad were an extremely controversial part of the drafting, and would merit discussion and refinement on Report. The other place will have to consider the provisions if we fail to do so.
I agree—all the more so because it seemed to me during last week's debates that we were moving towards the possibility of agreement. Members of the other place do bother to read Hansard, and if they see that important matters raised in Committee—[Interruption.]
Order. I know that the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) gets very excited sometimes, but a little calmness might help the situation.
If Members of the other place see that important issues raised in Committee and postponed until Report because the Government said that they would respond positively have not been debated at all, not only will that send a pretty dreadful signal to the public and the electorate of our country about the way in which we conduct our business, but it will make it inevitable that Members of the other place will try to second-guess and look again at what has happened here.
We will not divide the House, because I want to get on, but even now I urge the Home Secretary to consider whether we cannot have more time. I also seek an assurance from him that we will do our level best to get through all the groups of amendments.
I took exception to very little that was said by Mr. Grieve. Like him, we consider the timetable motion defective, but like him I see no reason for us to divide the House on it. I accept the Home Secretary's point that some small measure of protection for the business has been made available, and that small amount of extra time is indeed welcome. Nevertheless, without second-guessing the way in which today's business will proceed, I think it very likely that we shall not go beyond the first string of amendments before the first knife falls after three hours. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield pointed out, that will leave the stop-and-search provisions proposed in new clause 8 entirely undiscussed. Surely that is too important a subject to leave this House without any proper discussion being placed on the record.
I also think that a great deal of important business will remain undiscussed under the second group of amendments. The House will have to choose between holding its tongue and restricting its comments on clause 1 and the question of intention if we are to secure any meaningful discussion on the crucial question of glorification. As a result, questions as fundamental as the definition of terrorism itself will almost certainly be left undebated. As a result of that, the only meaningful scrutiny will be carried out in the other place. If the Government are content to proceed in that way, they cannot then complain that the unelected House has interfered with or changed the Bill when it makes the amendments that are inevitable.
The programme motion strikes me as an exceptionally inappropriate way for the Government to order our business. I hope that, even at this stage, they may see sense and allow further time tomorrow if necessary.
I do not wish to be churlish, and I congratulate the Home Secretary on producing a programme motion that is an improvement on the previous position. I certainly will not vote against it, and I am happy to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having listened to the complaints that we made before the general election about the time allocated to a similar Bill. He has tried to respond according to the standards of today's practice, and the House is in his debt to that extent.
It is, in fact, the standards of today's practice on which I wish, briefly, to comment. As well as trying to avoid being churlish in the House—I hope—I try to avoid overdoing the "senior Member of the House" bit, and lamenting the fact that things are not what they were. But things are dramatically different from what they were, and I cannot hold my tongue on this occasion.
I believe that if such a controversial Bill involving such changes in individual liberty had been produced 10 years ago by a Conservative Government with such a timetable, there would have been a major row. Twenty years ago, such an allocation of time for a Bill of this kind would have been regarded as laughable, and it would not have been entertained by the usual channels during the Thatcher Government. Thirty years ago, if a Conservative Government had proposed a Bill of this kind, several days of debate would have been allowed before any guillotine curtailing debate would have even been contemplated. Had anyone tried to force through a guillotine of this severity, I should have expected the sitting to be suspended as Labour Members caused disorder and began to run away with the Mace, or something of the kind, to give visual expression to their constitutional outrage.
There is a serious point behind all this. I think that the House is becoming accustomed to a shortness of debate and a lack of scrutiny of legislation that is on the verge of becoming ridiculous, given the complexity of this Bill. I see no reason whatever why the House should have to rise shortly after 7 pm today and at a similar time tomorrow. The suspension of the rule to allow us at least to sit on through the evening until such time as the Government's business managers decide to try to call a vote to end the debate would constitute a very elementary extension of debating time, which would cause merely minor inconvenience to a few Members and no real affront to the House.
I also agree with Mr. Carmichael that the present situation underlines the case for not tampering with the powers of the House of Lords. I strongly believe that the House of Lords should be reformed; it lacks legitimacy and we need a much stronger Upper House. If this House is to continue to deal with matters of this importance in such a cursory fashion, it becomes all the more important that the whole Bill be properly scrutinised, and that the Lords force us to look again at, and to discuss in more detail, some of the other very serious aspects of this Bill.
I agree with Mr. Clarke, although I recall that it was the noble Lord Heseltine who had a fondness for wielding the Mace. Apart from that—[Interruption.] Ron Brown played a secondary role in Mace-wielding. I never wielded it at all, as I remember, but never mind.
I support the comments of Mr. Grieve, and I have a very specific reason for being concerned about this programme motion—[Interruption.] During last week's debate—at which I seem to remember
"I can confirm that the Lord Advocate has not been asked for, or expressed any view on the proposed extension of the maximum period of detention without charge."
That admirably candid admission on the part of the Home Secretary is somewhat at variance with the briefings from the Scottish Executive, and was extracted after debate.
Understandably, many Scottish colleagues who are interested in whether the senior Scottish law officer has been consulted on these matters wanted to pursue the same question today in respect of stop-and-search, glorification and the commission of offences abroad. If this timetable renders reaching these crucial matters impossible, the right of Scottish Members to find out whether the Lord Advocate has been consulted on them, and how this Bill interrelates with Scottish criminal law, will also be curtailed.
Of course, the Home Secretary would be straying out of order if he gave us that information in discussing other amendments to, and clauses and passages in, the Bill, but I fear that this timetable will make it simply impossible to pursue the entirely legitimate questions of whether Scotland's senior law officer has been consulted on any of the Bill's crucial parts, and whether the Home Secretary was in blissful ignorance of the Lord Advocate's advice on glorification, the commission of offences abroad and stop and search, as he candidly admitted he was in respect of 90-day detention.
In terms of the protection of the House, this programme motion deals with key matters. In terms of the protection and legitimate rights of Scottish Members, and our ability to question what bearing Scottish criminal law has on these proceedings, this motion is far too strict.
I have yet to be able to take part in debates on this Bill because of other duties in the House, and I shall be very brief.I want to endorse most strongly everything said by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke. During Question Time today, the Prime Minister left the House in no doubt that he believes this to be the most important issue that the House currently faces. I agree. I want to treat the votes in this debate as free votes. I want to try to vote in what I consider to be the national interest, regardless of party, and I know that many Members in all parts of the House take a similar line, whatever view they may reach on the question of 90 days, 28 days and the other issues before us—[Interruption.]
However, if the Prime Minister truly believes that this is the most important issue—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary is busy talking at the moment and it would be quite a good idea if he listened. If the Home Secretary genuinely wishes to create a consensus—he has tried to listen on certain occasions, and this programme motion is a modest advance on what we had before—it is an insult not just to this House but to the people whom we represent to deny this House the opportunity adequately to discuss crucial aspects of this Bill that will affect, in one way or another, directly or indirectly, a vast number of our constituents. We are likely to take decisions today that could have a profound effect on the structure of our society, our criminal law and many other things. We should be able to debate these issues, as we could in former days, at not inordinate but adequate length. There is absolutely no opportunity afforded in this programme motion to debate issues such as glorification and stop and search at adequate length.
Even at this very late stage, I appeal to the Home Secretary, through you, Mr. Speaker, the defender of the interests of this House, to stop sidelining Parliament and to allow this House—which has, or ought to have, primacy within Parliament—adequately and properly to scrutinise, so that the other place can then concentrate more properly on what it ought to deal with: the detail and minutiae. As it is, we are giving the House of Lords the duty and obligation to examine matters that we have addressed for not even half a minute. That is disgraceful.
Over the past eight years, we have seen a progressive sidelining of Parliament and an over-mighty Executive seeking to use their muscle. Yes, I accept that the Prime Minister believes that he is acting in the country's interest. I am one of those who have never impugned his good faith on these issues, but I say through the Home Secretary to the Prime Minister, who is not here, that he is not behaving as a Prime Minister who honours parliamentary democracy ought to behave. He should recognise that in a parliamentary democracy, a fragile thing that our forefathers fought for—[Interruption.] Indeed; our foremothers also fought for it. The Prime Minister should recognise that in such a democracy, it is crucially important that we, who between us represent all the people of this country, should have adequate opportunity to debate the crucial issues of the day. This programme motion does not give us that opportunity.
I fully accept why my hon. Friend Mr. Grieve, who has handled this matter with great sensitivity and skill from the Front Bench, is not going to seek to divide the House. I certainly will not seek to do so from the Back Benches—even though we should divide—because we need to move on to the issues of substance. The fact that we cannot move on to all those issues is not only regrettable, but a blot on the Government's democratic integrity. I again appeal to the Home Secretary, even at this late stage, to let the House sit until at least 10 o'clock tonight, thereby giving us another three hours over and above what the Order Paper allows.
I simply do not believe that there is enough time to understand the unexplained contradictions between the philosophy behind this legislation and that behind the Northern Ireland peace process. I have persistently sought to work constructively with the Government, and particularly the Northern Ireland Office, to ensure significant progress in Northern Ireland, and to that extent I agree that the Government can take some credit for what has happened there, but I find very frustrating the virtual absence in these debates—probably owing to time pressure—of any significant explanation as to why the Home Office takes such a different approach to this legislation from the one we are expected to support for Northern Ireland.
The Government need the time to explain why, for example, internment, which was universally regarded as having failed in the Province, is now proposed as a solution to international terrorism. There is a grain of explanation in the form of a comment yesterday by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Woodward:
Well, it does not seem very different to the victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland. If the Government want our support and sympathy in these difficult times, they need to provide themselves with enough time to explain the apparent contradictions writ large—certainly in the eyes of Northern Ireland residents—as the Government increasingly try to suggest that there are two different kinds of terrorism. Furthermore, and perhaps ironically, only today Northern Ireland offences legislation is being published—
Order. The hon. Gentleman should not stray into that matter.
Even more contradictions are thrown up by other legislation, but I shall not go into them now, Mr. Speaker.
The Secretary of State should realise that his decision on the time for debate necessarily prevents a profound understanding of why the Government believe that they are being consistent and joined up in their thinking with regard to Northern Ireland terrorism and international terrorism. Of course the Government can force these things through in a short period, but I warn the Home Secretary that if he insists on doing so with inadequate explanation, not only will he create resentments in the Chamber, but the ramifications of the programme motion for today's Bill are likely to cause significant and practical obstructions that could well prevent the Government from passing other Bills that they desperately want passed in respect of Northern Ireland.
Let us have a fast debate if that is what the Home Secretary wants, but let us recognise that the Government will pay many times over in delay and obstruction, particularly in the other place, because our good will on Northern Ireland matters has been utterly exhausted.
It was right for the Government to take the Committee stage on the Floor of the House, because the Bill affects every one of us and all those we represent. No one assembled here in the House doubts the importance of the issues before us. In fact, the Bill has many of the features that would, in the old days, have made it be viewed as a constitutional Bill. As a general rule, such constitutional Bills of major importance were never guillotined. Every one of us should have the opportunity to justify, query or give reason to our anxieties about the Bill. I am struck by the fact that we have not concluded any detailed scrutiny of the substance of the Bill before our consideration on Report and before Third Reading.
My concern is that the debate is so staggered or staged that it seems almost impossible to reach some of the key concepts within the Bill. I therefore want to ask the Government whether this is an act of cynicism. Is it a deliberate attempt to ensure that the House will not be able reach the provisions on stop and search, or perhaps on commission of offences abroad or glorification? I believe that denying the House of Commons the proper opportunity to examine the Bill does not serve the Government's own cause of arguing their case to the country.
I want briefly to reinforce the point made by Sir Patrick Cormack—that the House should be involved and at the heart of scrutiny of this legislation. In particular, after eight years in this place, I saw last week that the House of Commons was finally adopting a supreme role in trying to revise and improve the Bill. As I said in an earlier intervention, it became apparent to the House last week that in respect of the commissioning of offences abroad, there was greater concern than had first appeared when the Bill was probed in Committee. It is disappointing that the Government are introducing a programme motion that almost guarantees that there will be no follow-on from last week to this week. That effectively hands back to the House of Lords the job of scrutinising the detail of legislation—a major error.
At business questions last week, my hon. Friend Mr. Heath made the point that the Government should find more time to debate the Bill. It is not yet too late for the Government to recognise that, if the House is to build on what happened last week and to remain the dominant scrutiny Chamber, more time is required to debate the Bill on Report.
I agree with those who have argued that the programme motion is unsound and unsatisfactory. It may represent an improvement—a modest one, at that—on previous procedure, but in view of previous procedure, that does not say much for it.
I do not mind vouchsafing to the House, if you will permit me, Mr. Speaker, that at 7.29 yesterday morning, my wife gave birth to our second child—Frederick James, weighing in at 8lb 6oz and born in an excellent national health service hospital. You will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, and right hon. and hon. Members throughout the House will understand, that I am very keen indeed to take a decent period of paternity leave. Moreover, I have already informed my Whips—I emphasise, informed my Whips—that I intend to do so.
I happen to believe, however, that the issue—or, rather, the set of issues—before us today exceeds in importance any other issues before the House now or for the foreseeable future. To that extent, I agree with what the Prime Minister said at Question Time. Some of us had the privilege of contributing to the Queen's Speech debate earlier this year, and in that debate I made the gentle observation that if the Government were confident of their case on legislation to be put before the House, they should not be afraid of debate, but allow time for arguments and accept that other legitimate points of view can and should be put forward.
In the context of the programme motion, my hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd raised the question of whether the Government were deliberately seeking to circumvent debate. The question has been implicit and sometimes explicitly asked as to whether Ministers are afraid of the arguments. My honest view is that the Prime Minister is not afraid of the arguments and I do not think that the Home Secretary is afraid of the arguments. I am not even going to accuse the Home Secretary, in the context of the programme motion, of engaging in some sort of deliberate Machiavellian parliamentary contrivance. If I were so to suggest, it would probably be unworthy.
What I am going to suggest is something that I think is at least as serious. The charge is not that the Government are afraid of debate or that they are trying to shut people up. The charge is that the Government are, frankly, careless of and insensitive to the wishes of Back Benchers who want the opportunity to put their legitimate point of view and to receive responses to it. It seems to me that that was the kernel of the argument developed by my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack, who is recognised throughout the House as a truly outstanding parliamentarian. He knows that there is a history in this place of considering these matters seriously and at length.
I say in all sincerity to the Home Secretary, whose sincerity I respect and whose patriotism I acknowledge: what harm would be done either to the Government or to the national interest if we were to debate the Bill tonight until 10 o'clock? What would be the harm if the Government were to acknowledge that there was a welter of different opinions around the House and to let us have another day for debate? What damage would be inflicted; what disadvantage would be incurred?
If the Home Secretary is looking just a bit irritated, as I suspect he is, it might be because he thinks that he knows that he has got it right, that the Government know what they are doing and that hon. Members must be told to let the Government get their business through. What I would say to the Home Secretary is that he should accept that in this, the cockpit of parliamentary democracy, we should debate the issues fully and comprehensively. We should have that opportunity, but we are being denied it. If I am prepared to stay here until 10 o'clock at night or to have another day's debate on issues that are far more important than most matters that the House will consider, why are Ministers not prepared to allow that? Why cannot we have a proper representation on the Government Front Bench for these important debates?
Might I say that there was a time in the House—a time that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire will well recall—when on occasions of this sort, the Prime Minister was customarily in his place to hear the arguments and listen to alternative points of view? What is happening to our parliamentary democracy?
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a very important point. I well remember the days when Jim Callaghan, the late Lord Callaghan, would sit in the Chamber for an hour or two at a time to listen to even rather insignificant debates. Other Prime Ministers have done the same, but not Lord Callaghan's successor.
I only wish that this Prime Minister would do that. I repeat that I respect his motivation, and think that he is motivated by the highest considerations of national protection and public service, but neither he nor the Government have made much of a case for the central components of the Bill. Why cannot the Prime Minister be here? If he respected the House, the House would respect him.
I endorse what has been said so far, and wish to make two other brief points. I also have a question for the Home Secretary which I hope will shorten the debate to come.
Colleagues from three different parties on the Opposition Benches have argued that they accept that the programme motion gives more time for debate, but that we will still be hugely constrained. The Government's approach has two obvious defects. First, people outside the House who are not satisfied with Parliament and who have little respect for it will be able to say much more easily that we do not do our job properly or thoroughly and that we rush through important legislation. The central proposition for debate today is that we should make the period for which a person can be detained without charge six times as long as it currently is. Surely that merits a debate that is not constrained? There is no need to constrain debate, and the view that the Government should adopt a different approach is widespread.
Secondly, the Government and the Home Secretary often criticise the House of Lords for being unelected and for interfering in the decisions of the elected House. It is impossible to criticise the Lords validly if this House cannot debate properly all the propositions that the Government put to it. The House of Lords then has an additional duty to make up for our failure in that respect.
The House of Lords does not have a guillotine procedure. The debate there will go on for as long as people want to contribute to it. If ever there were a Bill that needed to be debated at somewhat greater length—and for which time was available—this must be it.
I turn now to my question for the Home Secretary, which follows the question posed by Mr. Salmond about the advice of the Scottish law officer. The right hon. Gentleman's answer to that question might shorten debate later: his answer to my question will do the same, and make it easier for him to make his case.
The Home Secretary got into difficulties last week when it came to explaining the legal advice that he received and its provenance, but my question does not ask him to reveal the content of the advice from the Attorney-General. It is this: who gives him advice as to whether the Bill, or any part of it, complies with the European convention on human rights? Is it internal legal advice from his Department—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going wide of the programme motion.