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Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, pursuant to the Order of 1st April 2008 (Counter-Terrorism Bill (Programme)):
1. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken on each of the days allocated for consideration and Third Reading as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.
2. Each part of the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of the Table.
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
|New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, New Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 1, Clauses 24 to 27 and Parts 4, 5, 7 and 8.||6.30 p.m.|
|New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, New Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 3; New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, New Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 6.||The moment of interruption|
|New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, New Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to pre-charge detention; remaining proceedings on consideration.||One hour before the moment of interruption|
— [Mr. Khan.]
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On April Fool's day, the programme motion for the Counter-Terrorism Bill was published. Of course, we had no opportunity to debate it at that stage because it had to be voted on without debate, so this is our only chance to speak on the programme motion. The Bill is extremely important, and this programme motion restricts debate. I do not understand why—perhaps the Minister will be able to explain this—we will have to stop our debate tomorrow at the moment of interruption. There may be important statements tomorrow before the business begins, and I do not see why, on such an important Bill, the Government are restricting debate.
What happens so often is that junior Back Benchers do not get an opportunity to debate these matters because our Front-Bench spokesperson speaks, as do the Government and the Liberal spokespeople, and by the time the junior Back Benchers are reached the time has run out. Indeed, many amendments do not get discussed properly at all. Either hon. Members keep their comments brief to enable other Members to get in or other Members do not get in at all, so I do not understand the Government's thinking as to why we cannot carry on tomorrow night's debate.
Unfortunately, there is no way of amending the programme motion. Our only option would be to divide the House, but if we did that it would use up more time that could be used for debating the Bill. So I shall not seek to divide the House on this. Let me just say that in future, unless this Government really want— [Interruption.] The Home Secretary laughs; she obviously does not want a full debate on this issue. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, she says that she wants an opportunity to change my mind. That is exactly the point of this House; I will listen to the debate and make up my mind. If the debate is curtailed and if Back-Bench Members are not allowed to put their views, all we hear is what the Government want.
Is there not a pattern to this, in that every time there is a serious Bill and real issues to debate, the time is artificially constrained? We are then given debates on things we do not really want to discuss very much and, all too often and all too early, we are then packed off. The Government want a part-time Parliament because they want there to be no scrutiny of their dreadful Bills.
I am grateful for that intervention. My right hon. Friend puts it far better than I could.
We had an example only a week or so ago, when the "Yes Minister" Bill was given unlimited debate. It took two hours and 44 minutes, leaving three hours of this Chamber's time unused. If a Bill is not controversial, we are given for ever to debate it, but on a controversial Bill—such as this one, or the one on the Lisbon treaty—our time is curtailed.
If the Government must impose a programme motion, why do they not give us set hours? If there were statements tomorrow, we could at least proceed for that set number of hours, rather than finish at the moment of interruption.
I was a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, and I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that his argument that the Government are seeking to curtail debate is undermined by the fact that Conservative Front Benchers failed to use up all the time available in Committee.
I am not sure that that has any relevance to this part of the proceedings on the Bill. What those on the Front Bench do is not my interest; I am much more interested in the rights of Back Benchers to have their say on important matters. This approach reduces the importance of Parliament.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to give way again. He talks about the tenuous relationship he has with his Front Benchers, but he should also be aware that the attendance of Opposition Back Benchers in Committee was less than 50 per cent. Again his argument is blown out of the water by the actions of his own party.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the role of Back Benchers on both sides of the House is to scrutinise the Executive? Surely we should have a mechanism whereby Back Benchers could demand that extra time be found to debate serious Bills, in the name of democracy and fair play.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. There is much confusion around the House on this issue, because the Leader of the House said a couple weeks ago in business questions that we could always debate programme motions. That is of course not the case; we can debate them only when they are being amended. There should be a mechanism to allow debate in the Chamber on programme motions. There were 64 last year, which means 64 reductions in the amount of time Back Benchers have to debate issues. If the Government really are a listening Government and want to hear what hon. Members have to say, they must find a mechanism to allow proper debate.
I support what my hon. Friend Mr. Bone and my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood have said. I was a member of the Committee and, with the exception of the first session, I attended throughout. One of the most remarkable things that I noticed about the Committee was that the only speeches came from the Opposition, with the exception of the debate on the 42 days. For the rest of the time, the Labour Members did their correspondence and said barely a word. In other words, they played no part in the scrutiny of the Bill, and that is a scandal
May I correct the right hon. and learned Gentleman? If he bothers to cast his mind back to the debate in Committee on the 42 days, he will recall that I spoke at some length and he intervened on me several times. That is in complete contradiction to the point that he just made.
The hon. Gentleman simply was not listening. I began by saying that Labour Members spoke on the 42 days, but to all intents and purposes they spoke on nothing else, perhaps because they did not know about the issues or they did not care, or they had been told by their Whips not to do so. Whatever the explanation, it is a dereliction of their duty. When Martin Salter comes along to grumble, he had best look carefully at the non-performance of those on his own Benches. Perhaps we have to treat that as water under the bridge, but we do not have to treat the programme motion as water under the bridge. It is a serious attempt to stifle parliamentary debate.
The Report stage is an important moment, because those hon. Members who were not party to the Committee debates have an opportunity to scrutinise the Bill. This programme motion, like so many others of its kind, dissuades hon. Members from participating because they know full well that if they do and if they push things to a Division, it takes time out of subsequent discussion. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough was entirely right: if the Government had wanted to provide additional time, they most assuredly could have done so, because we all know full well that the parliamentary business over recent weeks has been remarkably light. The Bill is important but discussion has been stifled.
By 6.30 pm, or thereabouts, we will have to conclude our discussion on parts 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8 together with that on clauses 24 to 27. That is about three hours to discuss 16 new clauses and about 60 amendments, and some of them are important. For example, there are important changes in the rules that govern post-charge questioning. There are very important changes suggested by Government Back Benchers on the making of control orders. I have tabled measures to improve defences in respect of offences committed under the Terrorism Act 2000. There are attempts to amend the notification requirements, which are extraordinarily oppressive. There are serious attempts in the selected amendments to amend the asset-freezing provisions, which, as currently framed, can bear harshly on innocent third parties. Those are all matters of substantial importance and we will not have an opportunity properly to discuss them. In truth, the chances are that a number of the groups of amendments will never be reached. I hope that the other place will not hesitate to impose amendments on the Bill, especially when this House has not discussed them.
As regards the second part of today's business, the arguments are even more serious as we will be dealing with the provisions that relate to parts 3 and 6. Part 3 relates to the powers of the court to forfeit assets. We need to be cautious about such powers, because they can bear harshly on the offender and on innocent third parties. The House should have the opportunity to discuss amendments designed to protect the said innocent party. Will there be a vote on the matter, or will we be rushed through to the next clauses? I bet that we will. Important things will fall by the wayside.
Then we come to the last group of amendments, which are probably the most important of all. They deal with inquests. The Government are seeking to do a number of fairly malign things. First, they seek to dispose of the jury inquest in an extraordinarily wide range of classes. Amendments have been tabled to restrict those classes. The Government are also seeking a power to nominate their own specially appointed coroner. Is that desirable at a time when the Government have been seeking through court action to gag coroners from making adverse criticisms of Government policy? Again, that is a matter that the House must discuss in detail. The truth is that in three hours, assuming there no relevant Divisions, the House will not be able to do that. In my opinion, that is a parliamentary scandal. We are not performing our historic duty. Worse than that, we are betraying our historic duty, and that is an affront to democracy.
This Government will not be in power much longer. They will be replaced by a Conservative Government, but I am glad that my party's Whip is present on the Front Bench as I have one final message to impart. I hope that he makes a careful note of the fact that I and others will support programme motions only in the most exceptional circumstances or when there is evidence of filibustering. Moreover, I do not expect to be asked to support such motions in the future.
I cannot allow the words of Martin Salter to go unchallenged, as they were both mischievous and inaccurate. The Committee stage was undertaken in a good spirit, and I thank the Government for largely allowing enough time for debate. It is true that at the very end we were slightly short of time for consideration of some new clauses, but broadly speaking there was enough flexibility in the timetable motion to render it acceptable.
However, the Report stage is not a prolongation of the Committee stage but a separate part of the consideration of a Bill. Leaving aside tomorrow, the amount of time that we have this afternoon is utterly woeful. The Minister knows very well that the chances of getting through the 21 Government amendments that we must consider before 6.30 pm—let alone all the other amendments—are negligible, and I suspect that we are most unlikely to get through more than two groups of amendments. That is a scandalous state of affairs. It is entirely unnecessary, but it fits a pattern that we have seen so often over the past eight years that it leaves one thoroughly demoralised.
I shall not take up any more of the House's time, as I want to get on with the debate. However, the sooner we get away from this absurd timetabling of Report stages, the better.
I endorse what has just been said. I, too, was a member of the Committee, where we did have adequate time for debate. I disagree with Martin Salter: we did not finish early; if we did, it was by no more than a few minutes.
The Minister says that we finished an hour early, and I said a few minutes, so shall we agree on 60 minutes or 58? To be fair to him, the Minister engaged at all times in the Committee, and we had good debates.
This Report stage is the final process in our consideration of the Bill. We should be collating the arguments and pulling all the strings together so that we can see exactly where we are before the Bill leaves for the other place. It is extremely important that all hon. Members, and not just those who were members of the Committee, can express their opinions. This is probably the most talked about Bill for many years: it deals with dangerous terrorists—but we will be wasting the whole of Thursday on dangerous dogs.
It is totally unfair to suggest that we have not had ample time to discuss this Bill. I am pleased to follow Mr. Llwyd, who made his point about the Committee proceedings well.
We started discussing this Bill in mid-April. We held an evidence session on
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She says that we had plenty of time in Committee, but some 115 new clauses and amendments, both Government and otherwise, have been selected for debate today. Does she think that six hours is ample time for us to discuss all of them?
The House is always faced with time problems, and there is always more business than time for discussion. I would not have taken up the time of the House if the nonsense that we have heard had not been spoken. Without that, we could have started the debate half an hour ago, and yes, I do believe that we can get through all the amendments before us.
I shall speak very briefly on the programme motion. There are many substantive proposals in the Bill over and above the 42-day issue, and we must spend the time available today and tomorrow looking at the welcome changes—I shall not call them concessions—that the Government have made in respect of post-charge questioning, which we are about to discuss, or other matters such as sentencing, control orders and inquests.
The fundamental point about the debate today and tomorrow, as opposed to what happened in Committee, is that there is a long list of amendments, many of them tabled by the Government, that we hope to consider in the next couple of days. The issue is the amount of time available in which to do that. I share the concerns expressed by other hon. Members about the fact that there are large chunks of amendments that we will not get to consider today, including those on the notification requirements—an issue that we raised in Committee. If we run out of time today, we hope that the issue can be addressed adequately in the other place, as unfortunately it will not be possible for us to do that today.
What we are discussing over the next couple of days is of huge importance. It is probably some of the most important stuff that I will discuss, or try to discuss, as a Member of Parliament in my first Session in the House. The public take a huge interest in the Bill because it is to do with the removal of people's liberties and a whole range of important issues that matter to our constituents. It seems bizarre that when there is an appetite for greater discussion among Back Benchers on both sides of the House, time cannot be found in the parliamentary schedule in which to allow that discussion to take place. I have nowhere hugely important to be this evening after 10 o'clock, or tomorrow evening after 7 o'clock. We are here to discuss hugely important issues. We are discussing locking people up for 42 days without charge. That merits greater discussion than two afternoons' worth.
I think that Ms Taylor slightly misled herself, inasmuch as she directed her remarks in this debate on the guillotine motion to what took place in Committee upstairs. The point was well made that the majority of Members were not on the Public Bill Committee, so the rules that govern the Committee are outside our knowledge; we know of what happened only from printed reports in Hansard. We are considering the motion before us. The point was well made by my hon. Friend Mr. Bone: there is essentially a hollowing-out of the purpose of Parliament. We simply do not discuss the most major pieces of legislation that bear on our constituents.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Stockton, South spoke, because she is sitting in roughly the place where the late, great Gwyneth Dunwoody sat. Of course, she would have had no truck with the nonsense that the Government have brought forward. In a sense, our only function is to attest that we have looked at the legislation and think, on balance, that it is, or is not, appropriate for the nation. Hon. Friends of mine have mentioned that the Bill touches on one of the most fundamental things that makes us British: freedom. We are to discharge the issue not after consideration of what is appropriate for debate, but merely at the mandate of the Government.
We have had the opportunity to discuss the programme motion, albeit for just 45 minutes, because the Government decided to amend the original guillotine motion. To an extent, I am grateful that they had to amend it, because it gives Members a small opportunity to express their contempt for the way in which business is now conducted. It breaks a trust, and it gives something to the other Chamber: it makes it legitimate for the Lords to argue that what they are doing is in the national interest, whereas we who are commissioned to represent those who vote and send us here are unable to do that.
There is a psychological difference between those on the Government's Front Bench and people such as me. I see the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing gladly pointing his finger at people, but it makes no difference. The fact remains that Back Benchers in this House are often unable to argue about things that bear directly on our constituents. However high the Government ride, and however strong they may feel for a moment, the House still exists. For their authority, money and existence, the Government depend on the sentiment of the House, which ultimately reflects the sentiment of the country. The guillotine motion should be thrown out.
I wish to place on record my thoughts on the comments of Ms Taylor that the Committee had time to debate the serious matters in the Bill. Clearly, that is not the case. Back Benchers have not had the opportunity to express our views. If we are to believe the Prime Minister, who has made so many concessions on the Bill in order to woo Labour Members to ensure its passage, it is very important for there to be sufficient time for us to understand the consequences of the Bill.
I, for one, will not support the programme motion. It is wrong that we have had our debate curtailed, because those who did not serve on the Committee have not had time to debate the Bill.
I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the points being made about the pressure put on the House by the programme motion. However, we know that the recital of protest on behalf of the Chamber is pretty hollow, because the programme motion will go through.
Given the vast number of hours spent by Ministers, Whips and others on telephones and in conversations in corridors and elsewhere on the issue, it is a pity that a little more time could not have been allowed in the Chamber. Hon. Members have tabled many amendments, but with the time pressure that has been created, many of them will not be reached. Hon. Members will not have the time to speak to their amendments or to press them to a Division.
Rattling through the process, as appears to be happening, may well be seen by many people outside as the House not giving the legislation due scrutiny. Things may be slipped through the net that should not have been slipped through, and we may regret that for many years to come.
I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. It is precisely the point that I had intended to come to.
We have been told that the Government have made significant concessions on the Bill and that significant further amendments have been tabled, which are intended to allow parliamentary scrutiny of the use of the new powers, but the House will not be in a strong position to convince people who have doubts about the value of the parliamentary scrutiny involved in the operation of the Bill, because Parliament has been treated so lightly and so glibly.
If this is the amount of impact and scrutiny that we can muster, I am not sure that anyone will believe that the House will have any meaningful influence on the operation of the powers under the Bill. If we are a nod-through House when it comes to a programme motion such as this and on the Bill, we will be a nod-through House when it comes to the use of the very significant powers of pre-charge detention.
I agree with Mark Durkan that this debate is largely a ritual, but it is useful to examine the facts.
At the start of the process, quite properly, the usual channels asked for two days on Report, rather than just one—they asked for and were given that, because of the importance of the matters covered by the Bill. Within that, they asked that one day be given over—I think that this is unique; I cannot remember a similar occasion in my 10 or 11 years in the House—for a full day's debate on one clause. Tomorrow's debate is on clause 22 only, and that is proper, given its importance. For today's debate, the Opposition asked for and were given a knife at 6.30—again, that was quite proper, as Mr. Hogg mentioned, because of the importance of the points about the coroner's inquest and other matters. All those requests were met in the interests of debate.
Let us roll back a little further, as I take the general point about Back Benchers having their chance on Second Reading and on Report, and subsequently on Third Reading, if we reach that stage tomorrow. On Back-Bench input in Committee, the Opposition gently asked for eight sittings and were given 14. Whatever hon. Gentlemen say about junior Back Benchers, that is and has always been the core time for Back Benchers to scrutinise matters in greater detail, as for everyone in the House.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Will he understand this about Committees? Generally speaking, whatever we say about Committee selection, the membership of Committees is chosen by Government and Opposition Whips. Consequently, hon. Members who are not chosen by their Whips Offices have only this opportunity really to scrutinise the Bill.
I will in a moment, because the hon. Gentleman did at least pop into the Committee, although not during the last week. As for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, how many of the 14 sessions did he attend? It was very good of him to pop in. He attended seven out of 14, as has been said. We know that he is a busy man down at the court, running the odd murder trial and everything else, so we are grateful, at the very least. David T. C. Davies, who sadly could not join us in the last week, missed only four sessions.
The Minister will be well aware that I was not there for the last week because the Home Affairs Committee, which oversees this matter, was visiting Russia, and that included Labour Members. May I point out to the Minister that I had a conversation with a Labour Whip in which I was asked specifically whether I was going, because had I not gone, Labour Members would not have been allowed to go either? I put it to the Minister that I was doing my duty as a member of the Home Affairs Committee. What a shame that the Government did not allow a prominent member of the Home Affairs Committee who is against the 42-day provision to sit on the Committee.
The hon. Gentleman must answer to himself for his priorities. Given what has rightly been said about the earnestness and focus of the Bill, which deals with serious matters, if he wanted to pop off to Russia with the Home Affairs Committee, that is entirely a matter for him.
If I may say so, I think that the Minister is missing the point. I said that I made no complaint about the timetabling of the Committee stage, but the way in which we are ordering our business in the House on Report guarantees in almost every instance, even if the Government graciously grant us two days, that we cannot consider the amendments properly. That is a scandal that requires a little bit of consideration on both sides of the House as to how we solve it. At one time we used to solve such problems by sitting through the night. We have abandoned that. Unless the Government give us more days, we will continue to pass bad legislation because we cannot give it adequate scrutiny on the Floor of the House.
None the less, the House has been afforded, through the usual channels, one day's debate on one clause, quite properly, given its nature, as was quite properly agreed through the usual channels.
I point out gently to the Minister that during the passage of the Maastricht Bill, we spent several days discussing just one clause, so it is not unique. Yes, the Committee did spend days discussing one clause. Members here remember that. But no one is arguing about the time allowed in Committee. That was adequate; perhaps even more than adequate. The point now is that the Minister said on several occasions during our debates that he would take a matter away and come back on Report. We are here now on Report and there is a vast amount of stuff to come from the Minister, on which we have yet to know what precisely his thinking is. That is how crucial that is now.
Exactly so. With respect, the hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot complain about the time afforded on Report because of the number of Government amendments, and in the next breath, as he quite fairly acknowledged, say that much of what has come back, certainly for today's business, is a result of our having gone away, reflected and come back again. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, at the very least he was an assiduous attender, far more than some others, which is perhaps why they are so quiet. Uniquely—perhaps this is why they are so quiet—we had better attendance from Liberal Back Benchers than from Liberal Front Benchers. On balance, the contributions by Liberal Back Benchers were significantly better than those by Liberal Front Benchers, for which I was enormously grateful.
We are discussing serious matters, and it is right and proper to debate the guillotine, if hon. Members want to do so, but that debate must take place in the wider context of the process and passage of the Bill through this House, which was broadly agreed throughout by Front Benchers on both sides. I commend the programme motion to the House.