Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill (Allocation of Time)

Orders of the Day — Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:47 pm on 8th July 2008.

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Votes in this debate

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 3:47 pm, 8th July 2008

I beg to move, That the following provisions shall apply to the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill:

Timetable

1.—(1) Proceedings on Second Reading, in Committee, on consideration and on Third Reading shall be completed at this day's sitting in accordance with the following provisions of this paragraph.

(2) Proceedings on Second 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.

(3) Proceedings in Committee, on consideration and on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put

2. When the Bill has been read a second time—

(a) it shall (notwithstanding bills not subject to a programme order">Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order)) stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put; and

(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

3.—(1) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

(2) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

4. For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1, the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)—

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.

5. On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

6. If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph 4(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions.

Consideration of Lords Amendments

7.—(1) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(2) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

8.—(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 7.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question already proposed from the Chair and not yet decided.

(3) If that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment the Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any further Amendments to the Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House disagrees to a Lords Amendment.

(6) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees to all the remaining Lords Amendments.

(7) As soon as the House has—

(a) agreed or disagreed to a Lords Amendment, or

(b) disposed of an Amendment relevant to a Lords Amendment which has been disagreed to, the Speaker shall put forthwith a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown and relevant to the Lords Amendment.

Subsequent stages

9.—(1) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(2) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

10.—(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 9.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided.

(3) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister for the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on or relevant to any of the remaining items in the Lords Message.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.

Reasons Committee

11.—(1) The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister for the Crown for the appointment, nomination and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the appointment of its Chairman.

(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.

(3) Proceedings in the Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion 30 minutes after their commencement.

(4) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with sub-paragraph (3), the Chairman shall—

(a) first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair but not yet decided, and

(b) then put forthwith successively Questions on motions which may be made by a Minister of the Crown for assigning a Reason for disagreeing with the Lords in any of their Amendments.

(5) The proceedings of the Committee shall be reported without any further Question being put.

Miscellaneous

12. Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

13.—(1) The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

(2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply to those proceedings.

14. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

15.—(1) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to recommit the Bill.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

16.—(1) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

17. The Speaker may not arrange for a debate to be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates)

(a) at this day's sitting, or

(b) at any sitting at which Lords Amendments to the Bill are, or any further Message from the Lords is, to be considered, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

18.—(1) Sub-paragraph (2) applies if the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(2) No notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

19. Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

The motion provides for all the stages of this Bill to be taken today. It provides for six hours of debate in two segments: the first three hours for the debate on this motion and on Second Reading, and the second three-hour segment for Committee, Report and Third Reading. I would be the first to acknowledge that six hours to debate the important issues addressed in this Bill is less than ideal, and it would certainly be undesirable if the emergency legislation today were not to be superseded by a Bill in the next Session allowing much fuller parliamentary scrutiny. However, I would like to explain briefly why we need to press ahead at such speed.

Following the decision by their lordships in the case of Davis, there is a broad consensus—indeed, we saw it at the time of the statement to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor following that judgment—that we need to legislate urgently to restore the power of the courts to make witness anonymity orders in appropriate cases. That is widely accepted by Front Benchers in both Houses, by outside commentators and experts of various kinds, and by the Law Lords themselves. They, in the leading judgment by Lord Bingham, said that urgent legislation might be appropriate. I accept that not everybody would think that, but there is a broad range of people who do. Failure to act quickly could lead to a significant number of ongoing and pending trials having to be abandoned and, potentially, to a large number of appeals against convictions secured, to a greater or lesser extent, on the basis of evidence provided by anonymous witnesses. That is the basis of the need for urgency and the reason the timetable motion is as it is today.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I completely understand the general drift of the hon. Lady's argument and do not quarrel with it. However, I understand that the House of Lords will have two days for the Bill and we have only one. Surely the elected House should have at least as much time as the House of Lords.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Gentleman is slightly misinformed. The other place will have two half days, equating to one full day, so there is a basic equality in the time allowed. I appreciate his general point about the undesirability of having a short time, but we need to move swiftly.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

Having read the Davis judgment and listened to the beginning of the Minister's speech, I agree that time is of the essence. Would it not be appropriate, therefore, to have a sunset clause? We know that the Bill will be superseded at some point, but we could make absolutely sure—belt and braces—through a sunset clause. I think that that would be accepted on both sides of the House.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Gentleman is stealing my thunder. The Government have tried to act consensually, given the need for speed, and in consultation with other parties we have accepted the principle that the Bill should contain a sunset clause. If the House agrees, it will be added to the Bill later. No doubt, we will have some discussion about what form it should take, and we have several options to consider.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

We all agree that it is a good idea to provide protection for brave witnesses who want to give evidence to put criminals into prison. However, does the Minister agree that legislation passed in such haste can cause more problems than it provides solutions? Will she reflect on the fact that slightly more time might be needed to get it right? It could still go through relatively quickly.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I appreciate the general point that the hon. Gentleman makes in that there is some danger in hasty legislation. We have said, and will say again later, that the Bill will be a stopgap. There is to be a sunset clause, as I have said, and we will consider amendments to include it in the Bill later. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has made it clear that further legislation will be introduced next Session—the law reform, victims and witnesses Bill—that will subsume the contents of this Bill and enable full parliamentary scrutiny. At the same time, we will have cover for the urgent problems caused by the sudden arrival of the judgment in Davis.

The amendments tabled by Mr. Hogg have not been selected, but I know the substance of what he suggests—and he will no doubt make his own contribution later. He suggests that we should take the summer recess to consider the issues raised by the Davis judgment in more detail and not take the Lords stages of the Bill until the spill-over in the autumn. I fully understand his concern about the undesirability of hasty legislation, as I have already said, and about the timetable motion we are considering, but I cannot commend such a delay to the House as it would cause added distress and worry to many vulnerable and intimidated victims and witnesses, and undermine confidence in the criminal justice system generally, which none of us would be happy to see. Such confidence is vital if justice is to be done and the guilty brought to book.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that courts should adjourn these cases for four months, while we take the time to consider more fully, and ask the Law Commission and other experts for their views. But many victims of serious violent offences, or their relatives, or intimidated witnesses looking forward to the day when the trauma of giving evidence is behind them, would not agree that four months is a short delay. They would want the trial completed as soon as possible. What of a defendant remanded in custody? He, too, would want justice to be done with appropriate speed. While it may be true that if found guilty he will get credit for the time that he has spent inside, not all those tried are found guilty. Therefore, in some circumstances, people could be locked up for longer than necessary, even if they are not found guilty. Moreover, such a delay would leave the whole issue of anonymous evidence in legal limbo. That is not a sensible or acceptable way, in my judgment, to proceed.

We have, I believe, a sensible way forward that will meet the concerns of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham about the speed with which the timetable motion seeks to take the Bill through all its stages. As I have mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has given a firm undertaking that he will repeal and subsume the provisions of the Bill into next Session's law reform, victims and witnesses Bill. That will allow further and fuller debate of these important provisions, but with the cover of the arrangements in this Bill to prevent the mischief of courts having no power to grant anonymity to witnesses in the intervening period.

I hope that I have explained the urgency that we face today.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I fully understand why the hon. Lady wants to accelerate proceedings. I have listened carefully to her, but I do not entirely understand why the apparent desire to finish proceedings at 10 o'clock should take precedence over the need to scrutinise every clause of the Bill. Why do we not simply accelerate but maintain our proceedings until such a time this evening when every clause has been properly scrutinised and every amendment has been considered?

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments. The workings of the usual channels have always been a complete mystery to me, as I have never been a part of them, but there we are. There has been some sort of agreement and it is incumbent on us to get along and debate the important points of the Bill as swiftly as we can. On that basis, it is probably time I resumed my seat.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:56 pm, 8th July 2008

I want to make it clear at the outset that the official Opposition do not accept the Government's timetable, although we accept the principle behind the need for the legislation. The Bill has not come upon us by surprise. The decision of the Judicial Committee of the other place was made two or three weeks ago, but the trial took place as long ago as 2004, the murder took place in 2002 and the Court of Appeal considered the matter in 2006. Throughout that time, I suspect that lawyers within the Government will have been anticipating—if they were not, they should have been—one result or the other. That is to say, a confirmation —[ Interruption. ] If the Home Secretary would keep her mouth shut briefly, we could get on. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I mean that quite seriously, Mr. Speaker

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

Order. We must have temperate conversation and language. The important thing is that I am listening to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I could not be more grateful, Mr. Speaker.

As I said, the Court of Appeal decision was in 2006 and it must have been within the contemplation of the Government that the House of Lords would either disagree or agree with the Court of Appeal and that contingency arrangements should therefore be arranged. However, we do not deny that there is urgency, artificial or otherwise, when it comes to dealing with the problem. We therefore think that there is some ground for the Government's case for urgency. However, what we are about is a fairly fundamental change in the law as it is now declared to be.

We are not talking about a pro forma Bill. Before we got on to this business, we dealt with the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill, which went through all its stages in about five seconds—

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

The hon. Gentleman is quite right; it only deals with the money.

Since the 1979-80 Session, 60 Government Bills have gone through the Commons with all their stages being dealt with in one day. They were largely uncontroversial Bills, such as those to do with consular fees, friendly societies, the Commonwealth Development Corporation—there were two such Bills in that period—the borrowing powers of British shipbuilders and international monetary arrangements. There was the Caravans (Standard Community Charge and Rating) Bill, the Community Charges (General Reduction) Bill, the Australian Constitution (Public Record Copy) Bill, the Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Bill, the Stamp Duty (Temporary Provisions) Bill, the Welsh Development Agency Bill and so on. There was a Bill to amalgamate county and European election dates, and others that were more controversial in their implications if not in their deliberation, by which I mean those to do with the peace process in Northern Ireland.

I suggest that although there is some urgency for the current Bill to be dealt with before the end of this term, there would be nothing to prevent the Government from urging the House to sit beyond 22 July if it were thought appropriate for the Bill to be given greater consideration.

The Minister is right that the House of Lords will consider the Bill on two separate days, but they will be half-days. The importance of that is not so much the amount of time available on each of those days but the gap between them, when outside interests and their lordships will be able to consider better the implications of the Bill. We will not get that advantage. We are to go from Second Reading to Third Reading by 10 o'clock. I suggest to the House that that is not a sensible way to deal with this extremely important Bill.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

May I infer from what my hon. and learned Friend says that there was an attempt to negotiate a better timetable through the usual channels, and that those negotiations failed?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

Like the Minister, I am not a member of that secret society, the usual channels, so I have absolutely no knowledge of what has been going on behind the scenes. I can say, as she did, that there have been discussions between our party and the Government, and I dare say between the Liberal Democrats and the Government, about the content of the Bill. Given the constrained timetable, we wanted to reach as much agreement as possible. However, legislation should be made in this Chamber, not in ministerial meetings outside it. Although I thank both the Secretary of State and the Minister for their consideration in being as open as they can with us, that does not undermine the thrust of my argument that the timetable is inadequate for this important Bill.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I will if the hon. Gentleman will be very brief.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not accept that there is a certain contradiction between the two limbs of his argument, one of which is that the Government have had plenty of time to consider the matter since 2004, and the other of which is that he feels stampeded? He and his party have had plenty of time to consider the issue, too.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands. It is the Government's Bill. We did not see it until it was in its draft form last week.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

There we are—nor did the Government. Perhaps unwittingly, the hon. Gentleman has made my point about the lack of preparedness that the Government are guilty of.

I shall stop there, because I know that others wish to speak and we need to get on with the Bill. I understand the parliamentary arithmetic, but as a matter of principle the official Opposition will resist the motion.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Solicitor General, Ministry of Justice 4:03 pm, 8th July 2008

I, too, accept the need for speed in this situation. A large number of cases pending, or recent cases pending appeal, were decided on the basis of the law as it was believed to be before the Davis decision. In addition to the factors that the Minister mentioned, there is the fact that custody time limits might well run out while a resolution of the legal position is awaited. I would not want a lot of defendants to find themselves with a presumption in favour of bail because we had acted too slowly. It is reasonable to say that if we fail to act swiftly, a lot of people might be released who should not be.

Additionally, as the Minister said, the House of Lords invited Parliament to act quickly on the Davis case, and that is what we are doing. Members of all parties agree that there should be some rules; it is simply a question of deciding what those rules should be, and there is a good deal of urgency to that.

However, I accept that there are grave dangers in legislating too quickly. Knee-jerk legislation is one of British politics' besetting sins, especially in the area of criminal justice. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 are just two examples, although the original Official Secrets Act 1911, passed by the last Liberal Government, was also far too quick. Slow politics, rather like slow food, tends to be healthier and more productive.

Mr. Garnier asked one question that I hope the Government will answer at some point. I hear what other hon. Members have said about this Bill being an opportunity for other parties, but the Government seem to have been taken by surprise by the Davis decision. Various legal practitioners thought that there was at least some possibility that the decision would be as it was, so I am surprised that the Government have been in such a rush to get legislation in place.

Given that we are where we are, however, we have to act quickly. Because of the two factors that the Minister mentioned, I am far less inclined than I would otherwise have been to oppose this rather brutal allocation of time motion. The first factor is the promise that the entire debate will be rerun quite soon in the forthcoming law reform, victims and witnesses Bill, although I hope that the Government will be able to tell the House when that Bill will be introduced. Will it be early in the next Session's legislative programme, or late? I would be more reassured if I knew at least approximately when that would happen.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

Would the hon. Gentleman be further reassured if the Government were to say that adequate time will be given to consideration of that Bill? Does he agree that the successor to this Bill and all the welcome provisions in it should not be shovelled into a portmanteau Bill considered in one day?

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Solicitor General, Ministry of Justice

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important suggestion. On various occasions, especially in Committee and on Report, we have found ourselves discussing newly arrived Government amendments rather than the original proposals. Some reassurance on that would be welcome.

The second important point that the Minister made was that the Government were including a sunset clause in this Bill. It is not the one that we would propose, although it is closer to that than I expected. However, the Government have accepted the principle, and that shows that they accept that this legislation is temporary.

The one thing that I am confident of is that we will make some mistake or other with this Bill. I do not know what it will be, but at least we will have the chance to put it right soon.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 4:07 pm, 8th July 2008

There was an interesting exchange at the end of the speech by my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier. He said that he had not seen the draft Bill until the end of last week, and the Minister made a sedentary intervention to the effect that Ministers had not seen it either. That means that we are actually dealing with Government by decree, or enactment by officials. We are so truncating the parliamentary process that, broadly speaking, we are dealing with a Bill drafted exclusively by officials, and I am against that.

I am going to say something about the timetable motion, although I am sure that that will cause people to say, "You're taking time out of the substantive debate on Second Reading." That is perfectly true, and there are three answers to that point. First, if we are doing something that is wrong, we should say so, and the only place for that is on the Floor of the House. Secondly, and differently, the Government have chosen to draft the allocation of time motion in such a way that this debate comes out of the time for Second Reading. They did not have to do that, but that was their choice, and I suspect that they made it to truncate debate. In my view, that is scandalous.

The third answer is that the Government are determined to get this Bill passed today in the form that they want. Anything that we say or do in this Chamber today is utterly irrelevant because the Government have the troops and they intend to push the Bill through. So I make no apology about speaking to the allocation of time motion or for taking time out of the Second Reading debate.

I move from those points to the substance of what I want to say. This is an important Bill for the kind of reasons that my hon. and learned Friend outlined. It is the kind of Bill that requires serious consideration. It is the kind of Bill that normally would fall within the ordinary parliamentary process—pre-legislative scrutiny, Second Reading, delay, Committee, Report, Third Reading and up to the other place. All of that would allow the Government and hon. Members to consider where they stood and to receive representations from outside. That is not happening today.

This thing was published on Thursday, rather late. We have had little opportunity to do research and have received little comment from outside. The Government have had little chance to reflect further. That does not alter the fact that they have already tabled five amendments and a new clause, and doubtless they will table others in the other place as well. I am conscious even as I speak that there are amendments that I should have tabled but have failed to do so. I tried to table them in manuscript this morning but, understandably, they were not accepted. David Howarth said that we were going to make mistakes, and by God we are. That is the inherent characteristic of legislation of this kind.

The Bill is actually an example of where we could learn considerably by experience because there is other legislation in place. There is a New Zealand Act—the Evidence Act 2006—which I believe was a consolidation Bill, which means that the legislation had been in place there for some time. It would have been interesting to know the experience in New Zealand and the extent to which the legislation worked for justice or injustice. That is research from which we will not be able to benefit. I understand that in the Netherlands a counterpart piece of legislation is in place. I would have been interested to know what the experience of the Dutch was on a Bill of this kind, but we are going to be denied that.

There is another point that we need to keep in mind. The House of Lords did not merely decide that the common-law power did not exist; it also decided that the protective measures put in place by the trial judge in the case of Davis rendered the trial unfair. So the House of Lords decided the case on two bases—the absence of the common-law power and the fact that in any event the protective measures rendered the trial unfair. We need to reflect seriously on how the powers that we propose to take unto ourselves would not have an unfair consequence.

Let me suggest what we should do. In an ideal world, yes we need to legislate. I am perfectly willing to accept that there is a small number of cases in which witness anonymity orders are appropriate. We need the Law Commission's advice, in my view, and we need research too. I do not believe that we need to get this thing through by the end of this sitting. It is true that there are cases under way. I do not know how many, but there will be some. They can be adjourned. It is quite usual for criminal cases to be adjourned for several months. My proposal is that they should be adjourned until the back end of this year. The appeals could be relisted for the same sort of reasons.

If there is urgency, I would like to see happen something like the following. The Bill should clear the House by the end of July and go up to the other place, which would consider the Bill in October. Meantime, the Government could embark on proper consultation and seek the advice of the Law Commission. If the Bill needed to be changed as a result of that advice or consultation, amendments could properly be tabled in the other place in October and brought back to this House in October or November. The Bill would then become law by the end of this Session—by December. I believe that that would provide for the degree of urgency that the Government say they require and give this House the opportunity to make a more informed decision as to the merits of what we are doing.

The Government know that is my position; the Minister perfectly fairly set out my proposals, but I fear they will not be accepted—she made that point plain. In that case, and for that reason, I shall vote against the timetable.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells 4:14 pm, 8th July 2008

After listening to this brief debate, I rise to support what my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg said. I speak as a non-lawyer but I accept the need for legislation in this case, although I, too, cannot understand why a Government who have introduced dozens of criminal justice Bills since 1997 could not have foreseen the problem and prepared accordingly.

I, too, am aware that it is when the House legislates in a rush that it makes mistakes. Some of us remember the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, and realise that when we all agree rather quickly about something we often make mistakes. That Act has certainly been widely found unworkable and inappropriate, so I have a strong prejudice against doing something quickly.

We are not dealing with a matter of trivia, but with a constitutional matter; the rights of the accused are, in my view, constitutional. We are dealing with the coercive power of the state, and such matters should be approached with great humility and care. In other countries, the rights of the accused form an important part of the written constitution. The sixth amendment to the United States constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, actually forbids anonymous evidence altogether, and has been strictly interpreted by the American courts, although they may get round it by using witness anonymity programmes and suchlike.

Doubtless the framers of the American constitution were responding to previous abuses; the inquisition, for instance, regularly denied the accused knowledge of the charges against them or the names of their accusers. As a result, subsequent written constitutions have made protecting the rights of the accused a matter of prime importance.

I am not satisfied that this matter has been properly ventilated. For instance, we normally receive a good many representations from human rights organisations and outside lobby groups, but I have received very few, so I must ask the Minister whether she is satisfied that the normal process of scrutiny, not just in Parliament but outside, has been carried out. Are we certain that a statutory right to anonymity will not gradually be expanded over time, for the convenience rather than the safety of witnesses, and become fairly routine? It would undermine a cardinal principle of the safeguard that in normal circumstances the accused should be confronted by his or her accusers, who can thus be cross-examined.

My final point is that although the Secretary of State says that the measure is compatible with the European convention on human rights, my reading of the convention is that it is very strict indeed about this matter.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

There is a further related point. Does my right hon. Friend recall that Lord Mance, one of the Law Lords who gave the judgment, made it plain that in his opinion the particular protective measures put in place were incompatible with European jurisprudence?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells

If that is true—I defer to my right hon. and learned Friend's opinion—it is very serious indeed, because the House is being misadvised on an important matter. We have heard nothing about it, although perhaps we shall on Second Reading.

All these things should not simply have been left to exchanges in the Chamber on a single day, but should have been explored outside with legal bodies and human rights organisations. We have not been given time to do that. The process is objectionable, and I agree with the points made by my right hon. and learned Friend: this is exactly how mistakes are made.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central 4:19 pm, 8th July 2008

I agree with almost everything that Mr. Heathcoat-Amory has said. Every Member of this House knows—not thinks—that legislation made in haste is almost inevitably bad, but here we are, producing such legislation again, and doing it with our eyes open. That says something very serious about the House. This short debate has revealed certain extremely worrying aspects of the matter. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Maria Eagle said that there was nothing that she could do about the timetable, because although she did not understand the usual channels—well, she has only been in the House for 10 years or so—she was powerless before them. Whose usual channels are they? They are our usual channels, and they are the servants of Secretaries of State and Ministers. We are not the creatures of the usual channels; they do the bidding of Ministers, in co-operation with the Opposition Whips. To say, "There's nothing we can do, because the usual channels make it impossible for us," is ridiculous.

The Secretary of State said that he had not seen the Bill until last week. What on earth is going on? I agree with Mr. Garnier: what on earth are we doing looking at legislation when the Secretary of State says that he did not see it until a few days ago, and asks us to nod it through?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend knows very well why we are introducing this emergency legislation. Their lordships did not reach their judgment until 18 June. We have acted with great rapidity, and most people are willing to give us credit for that. We then had to agree instructions to counsel. There were detailed consultations with the other parties, and with others outside the House. If we had rushed ahead without those consultations, we would have ended up with a far less well drafted Bill. I fail to understand the criticism, given that everybody in the Chamber, bar one or two Members, accepts the need for speed in this case. I will explain that need when we move on to Second Reading.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that. Yes, I think that everybody does accept the need for haste, but not necessarily breakneck haste, with the Bill having to complete all its stages this evening. Also, we do not need to finish at 10 o'clock. There is nothing in our Standing Orders to say that debate has to finish then. Indeed, most of us who have been in the House for 15, 20 or 25 years know that many times, when it was necessary, we have debated matters far into the night. Nobody likes doing that, and it does not necessarily make for very intelligent debate or very good consideration, but it is certainly better than having an artificial limit, and saying, "We must go home to our beds at 10 o'clock, and we'll confine and constrain consideration of the Bill simply to get us out of the building by then." That is not how matters should be conducted in Parliament. We should give legislation the time that it needs. As the right hon. Member for Wells rightly said, we are not talking about any old legislation; we are talking about criminal legislation. We are deciding on measures that will determine whether people are at liberty. We owe criminal justice legislation rather more respect and caution than normal legislation.

We are rushing things through totally artificially. We do not need to finish today, or at 10 o'clock, yet we are saying that we will accept all that. That is not right. Surely that demonstrates that one of the things which is so desperately wrong with this Parliament, and recent Parliaments, is that we are becoming completely supine before the view of the Executive. If the Executive say that they want something straight away, we give in to them. The House should start to assert itself. It should ask, "Is this right? Do we consider this to be the right way of doing things?" It should make its will felt. Unless it does so, and unless we take control of our business and our agenda, the whole parliamentary system will be brought into disrepute. That is quite apart from the issue of the validity of the Bill and of the way in which we are considering it. We are becoming supine in our own Chamber, and it is about time that we asserted ourselves.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 4:24 pm, 8th July 2008

I have listened to what has been said, and I agree that we need to act. We cannot allow the situation to remain in limbo. Everybody across the House understands that. I am not party to the discussions of the usual channels. I was once a Whip, but that does not mean that I got involved in their murky dealings and black arts. Having said that, the point was well made that we are not dealing with the wrongful prosecution of a dog owner whose dog is of a slightly different breed to those listed in an Act that was rushed through. We are dealing with people's liberty. We are dealing with the right to a fair trial, and we are dealing with a defendant's right to be confronted by his accuser.

As a practitioner, it is sometimes vital that one knows who the accuser is, because one may know something about the accuser that renders the accuser's evidence unreliable. If that is the case, one defends one client with all one's vigour, and one ensures that that person's character is brought into question thoroughly and without exception. However, from my reading of the Bill, it is not possible to do so in this instance. People who are far more learned than me are concerned about the matter. I read the New Zealand statute, largely because Mr. Hogg suggested that I do so, but I am extremely concerned about this measure. If it is to be restricted to a small minority of cases—as I hope it will be—we can accept that, because overall, the judge will decide on the fairness of the process.

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

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but he is discussing the merits of the Bill, and the motion is about the allocation of time. Once this debate is over, we can talk about the merits of the Bill.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I fully accept what you say, Mr. Speaker, and I hope to catch your eye at a later stage. In conclusion, if the power is to be used sparingly and only in very rare cases, all well and good, but learned counsel tell me that in 500 to 600 cases a year, it is routinely used by the police. If we are opening the gates up to that, we are opening the gates to injustice.

I would like far longer to discuss this, and I hoped that the timetable motion would allow more time, perhaps even an extra day. I understand the pressure on Government, and the need to move, but an extra day would help all of us in our research. To plonk this on us at the end of last week, and expect us to go through all the Bill's stages today, is unreasonable. As has been said, when we make law in haste, we get it wrong. I am sure that we will get it wrong today, but I am heartened by what the Under-Secretary said about the sunset clause. At least that is something that we can look forward to in the next 12 months. All in all, I believe that we deserve more time to discuss these important matters.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 4:27 pm, 8th July 2008

I, too, was somewhat reassured by what the Minister said about the sunset clause. I was partly reassured by what I took to be an indication that there will be no pressure on the House when that major piece of legislation is introduced in the next parliamentary Session. She is nodding assent, for which I am grateful.

I am entirely persuaded of the need for the Bill, much as I accept the points that were about to be developed by Mr. Llwyd when you rightly cut him short, Mr. Speaker. That is partly because of the knowledge and experience of Northern Ireland that I have gained in the three years for which I have chaired the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. I am delighted that Sammy Wilson is in the Chamber, because we both know that there are times when it is absolutely necessary to protect the anonymity of key witnesses.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

There is an interesting point to be made about Northern Ireland, because in 1992 Lord Diplock, and then Lord Gardiner, held that the anonymity of witnesses could not be allowed in Northern Ireland, because that would impugn the criminal process in the Northern Irish courts.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Yes, but the circumstances were very different, as my right hon. and learned Friend knows far better than I do.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I appreciate the point made by Mr. Hogg, but does Sir Patrick Cormack accept that increasingly, the evidence in Northern Ireland suggests that those who were involved in paramilitary activity, or who are still involved in it, interfere with witnesses on a regular basis, which makes it difficult for the due process of law to be carried out?

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

Order. Once again, although we are on an allocation of time order, we have gone back to discussing the merits of the Bill.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I shall not do that, Mr. Speaker, save to say that I accept what the hon. Member for East Antrim says.

We are, indeed, discussing the timing, and although I accept the need for urgency and—unlike my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham—the need to get the legislation through before the House rises for the summer recess, I do not accept that we have to do it all in one day. Some intricate arguments will need to take place. I am not a lawyer and I shall probably not take part in those, but I am mindful of the fact that when we legislate in haste, we often get it wrong, although, as the hon. Member for East Antrim reminded me from a sedentary position a while ago, sometimes we can take four years over legislation, as we did on hunting, and still get it wrong.

Although I accept that the legislation is urgent and necessary, the fact is that we could have had, at the very least, two days. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Maria Eagle quite correctly put me right when she said that the other place was having two half days rather than two days of debate, but my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier responded from the Front Bench by saying that two half days with a period for reflection in between is better than six hours on the trot.

I realise that the legislation will go through. Mark Fisher made an impassioned plea for the House to assert its authority, but he knows better than I that the House cannot exert its authority if the Government have a majority and whip the legislation. It is as simple and as depressing as that. On the Liaison Committee last week, I reminded the Prime Minister that if he really wanted to put Parliament back at the centre of the nation's life, he could take away the power of the Executive to impose a timetable on every Bill. I do not know precisely what happened in the usual channels—once famously referred to as the most polluted waterways in Europe—but I do know that it would have been better if the timetabling of this Bill, as of any other Bill, had been in the hands of those who are not entirely the creatures of the Executive or of the shadow Executive.

So, we will proceed with the Bill. I do not want to make a long speech and delay the debate about the substantive issues, but it is a great pity that the timetabling did not allow for a period of reflection so that we could have returned to the Bill tomorrow or on Thursday. We could have sat one day longer—on 23 July—without any great inconvenience to people. It is fairly inconvenient to come back for two days, a Monday and a Tuesday, so to have added the Wednesday would, frankly, have made the week more justifiable. I rest my case—but I think it is a pity that we are doing things in this way.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office 4:32 pm, 8th July 2008

In the Lord Chancellor's oral statement to the House on 26 June, he said that if the Bill before us were passed, it would be repealed in the next Session and subsumed into the forthcoming law reform, victims and witnesses Bill. Will the Minister assure the House that when that Bill comes before the House, we will have at least two days on Second Reading?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. My advice is that the question that the Minister has been asked has nothing to do with the matter before us. There may be an opportunity for it to be dealt with at a later stage.

Question put:—

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.

The House having divided: Ayes 283, Noes 145.

Division number 254 Orders of the Day — Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill — Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill (Allocation of Time)

Aye: 282 MPs

No: 144 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Abstained: 1 MP

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to .