Criminal Justice and Police Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 6th February 2001.

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[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 10:30 am, 6th February 2001

I beg to move,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill the Standing Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at five minutes to Ten o'clock and between half-past Two o'clock and Five o'clock;

(2) the Committee shall not meet on Thursday 8th February, Tuesday 20th February or Thursday 22nd February;

(3) 14 sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;

(4) the proceedings on the Bill shall be taken in the following order, namely Clauses 1 to 45, Schedule 1, Clauses 46 to 49, Schedule 2, Clauses 50 to 69, Schedule 3, Clauses 70 to 86, Schedule 4, Clauses 87 to 101, Schedule 5, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 6, Clauses 107 to 127, Schedule 7, Clauses 128 to 131, Schedule 8, Clause 132, new Clauses, new Schedules;

(5) the proceedings on the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion at the 14th sitting at Five o'clock.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale. I am sure that you and Mr. Hood will conduct proceedings in a fair, courteous and expeditious way. Given that the Second Reading debate was good-natured, I expect the outcome of the Committee's scrutiny to be positive.

The Programming Sub-Committee met last week. Its resolution sets out only the days on which the Committee will meet and the order in which the clauses will be considered, so it gives us maximum flexibility in handling the clauses within the overall programme.

The Bill is lengthy and, with collective agreement, we may need to include Government amendments, for example to include measures to deal with animal rights extremists, a topic on which there is broad all-party agreement. However, I believe that the allocated time should be sufficient.

In the debate in the Chamber, I said that there would be 16 meetings of this Committee; that was our intention. We have subsequently timetabled only 14 sittings because of the availability of individual Committee members. I would like to put on record here what I said about that in the meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee. We are prepared to honour the commitment that I gave to have 16 full sittings if necessary, either through extra sittings within the agreed time scale, or by lengthening the proceedings of our sittings, as the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) suggested at the Sub-Committee. Either option would be acceptable to the Government, depending on the view of Opposition Members about the correct way of proceeding.

If we consider that some points have been insufficiently debated, Mr. Gale, we will ask you to consider reconvening the Programming Sub-Committee with a view to re-examining the timing of our sittings. I hope that the Committee will accept the resolution.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I, too, welcome you, Mr. Gale. I agree that both you and Mr. Hood will be charming in the Chair and ensure that good order is kept throughout.

The Minister has frankly admitted that on Second Reading he claimed that we would have 16 sittings. He said:

``The motion proposes that the Committee stage of the Bill should finish by Thursday 8 March. By suggesting that date, we believe that we have allowed adequate time in Committee—that is a total of 16 sittings.''—[Official Report, 29 January 2001; Vol. 362, c. 124.]

That was the basis on which the House allowed the programme motion to be passed, but it turned out to be false, and when we attended the Programming Sub-Committee, the resolution was for 14 sittings.

Our party does not have mere reservations about, but opposes outright, the idea of such a private Sub-Committee programming our deliberations. We object to the fact that no record is kept and that the Minister is able to guillotine the Committee proceedings, and we do not have the traditional method of allowing sufficient time for the deliberations.

The resolution of the Sub-Committee was for 14 sittings. That means not only that the House passed the programme motion on a false basis, but that the 16 sittings that the Minister himself considered adequate are not provided for. I said in the Sub-Committee that we were being allowed 14 sittings instead of the 16 that we had been promised, and at that point the Minister made his concession. He reverted to 16 sittings under the force of argument from the Opposition.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

Will the hon. Gentleman concede that I was not forced into the situation? Immediately he raised the point—not with a great weight of argument—I conceded it.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

As you will recall, Mr. Gale, I suggested that we should move the proceedings back to an end date of 13 March and that the Sub-Committee should report that conclusion to the House. The Minister then made his concession and said that we would have 16 sittings.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Surely the exchange between my hon. Friend and the Minister highlights the essential need for a verbatim report of the deliberations of Programming Sub-Committees. The Minister thinks that he said one thing, and my hon. Friend thinks that he said something different.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is right. Let there be no doubt: it was after I moved the motion that the Minister made his concession. First, the Government say that modernisation is a marvellous thing and they will programme everything before anyone knows the scope of the debate. Then, when it is pointed out in the Programming Sub-Committee that there will not be adequate time, suddenly all that changes and they say, ``We can sit all night if we need to. Oh dear, we don't have enough time. We can put in extra days and sit on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.'' The idea that modernisation will help us is destroyed when such a situation arises. Why will the Minister not agree to put back the date to 13 March, which is only a difference of a few days? One suspects that it might have something to do with the Prime Minister's arithmetic.

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Labour, Gillingham

We made it clear that putting back the date would require a further resolution of the House. Two of the major parties readily agreed on a sensible solution to add hours, if needed, to the existing sittings and thus to move forward and discuss the issues.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I do not accept that, for two reasons. First, to be fair to the Liberal Democrats—[Hon. Members: ``Why?''] That is a good question.

To be fair to the Liberal Democrats, they agreed with us that it was wrong that we were offered 16 sittings but then allowed only 14. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is saying, ``Oh my goodness, we would have to go back to the Floor of the House,'' as if that were a huge exercise similar to climbing Mount Everest. All it involves is tabling a motion without debate one night at 10 o'clock. It could be done tomorrow night with no difficulty at all and would go through on the nod. It happens all the time—not on these programme motions, I hasten to add—that motions are tabled at short notice. In fact, there is a whole list of them on the Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman made a point that could not be sustained by anyone who knows the procedures of the House.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

I share the hon. Gentleman's recollection that, as the Liberal Democrat representative on the Programming Sub-Committee, I felt that we should have the 16 sittings that were originally promised, but I do not share his recollection of the Minister's response. I recall that the Minister immediately accepted that that was what he had said on Second Reading and said that he would be happy to extend one or two Committee sittings to recover the five hours that would be lost.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

On a point of order, Mr. Gale. These exchanges highlight how absurd it is for all three parties to discuss what we said when we met last week. A message must be sent back to the Modernisation Committee—or whoever deals with these things—that the situation is impossible and that we must have a verbatim account of discussions in Programming Sub-Committees.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Strictly speaking, that is not a point of order for me. Mr. Speaker has ruled that it is a matter for the Modernisation Committee. I undertook, as I did on a previous occasion, at the meeting of the Sub-Committee, to report its views faithfully to the Chairman of Ways and Means, and that I have done. I am certain that the issue will be considered by the Chairmen's Panel, and I expect that we will make recommendations to the Modernisation Committee. For the moment, the procedure is subject to House resolutions.

I reaffirm the information that I gave to the Sub-Committee. Mr. Hood and I, as your Chairmen, are here to do the Committee's bidding—within reason. If we need to sit late, and it is agreed through the usual channels, our services will be available.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is the sort of generous offer that I would expect from you, Mr. Gale, and from Mr. Hood, but why should you have to make it? There is endless talk about modernisation letting us go home early and giving us plenty of time for consideration and preparation of amendments, but then the Government turn round and say that that applies only if it suits them.

I will not detail further what was said in the Programming Sub-Committee, except to say that I agree with the hon. Member for Taunton that the Minister admitted that he had earlier promised 16 sittings. However, he promised them only after I moved the motion for a later end date. Although we lost that vote, it was the right approach.

We must examine what will be the effect of having a tight, short consideration of some of the issues. The new clauses deal with some of the most important issues, but they will not be considered until the end of the Committee. There is the terrible situation of scientists being terrorised at Huntingdon Life Sciences and other businesses; we must get that right. The Minister has offered to table new clauses, which we have not yet seen, that deal with the besetting of people's homes and with poisonous communication through the post. Further issues that were identified by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) must be also considered. He asked whether the names of directors and shareholders given to Companies House must also be made public. Are those people to be protected?

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does my hon. Friend agree that our exchange with the Minister at Home Office questions yesterday showed that there is huge concern among Government Back Benchers about the events at Huntingdon Life Sciences and elsewhere? I understand that the Minister is suggesting no more than half a day to consider new clauses that the Committee has yet to see. Is not that unacceptable and does not it show, once again, the Government's contempt for democracy and debate?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The issue concerns many hon. Members, including Labour Members who are former research scientists and Opposition Members with constituency interests. I have an interest, because my constituency is about 15 miles from Huntingdon, and scientists from Huntingdon Life Sciences who have been terrorised live there. We must also consider the issue of secondary action, when people ring up to make false orders for goods, funeral services and the like. Such situations are distressing, but the Minister has not promised time to consider them. The issues cannot be tackled easily by making amendments on the nod at the end of the Committee. We need to spend time going through all the issues. I know that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) is concerned, too, because her constituency and mine are about equidistant from Huntingdon, and some of her constituents work at Huntingdon Life Sciences.

We want to cover not only besetting and poisonous postal communications, but many other issues. I am worried that there is insufficient time and that we may argue sensibly about matters such as DNA only to discover that we have just the last afternoon to discuss matters concerning Huntingdon Life Sciences. That is the Minister's proposal—I have seen the draft timetable. That is insufficient time, because we have additional new clauses to discuss.

We want to exclude people who assault police officers in the execution of their duty from the home detention curfew scheme. It is not right that 200 people who have assaulted police officers should have been let out of prison having served less than half their sentence. That is bad for police morale, police recruitment and law and order. We want to debate that matter in considering a new clause. We want to debate the issue of sex offenders. We may not get time for that, or the Minister may say, at 5 pm on 8 March, that we can go on all night to discuss those matters. We could end up discussing the most important issues at 2 am when other issues have been discussed at more convenient hours.

Either one believes that the House should deal with matters of importance during daylight hours, when people are fresh, and that modernisation brings benefits, or one does not. Some hon. Members do not, but the Minister cannot have it both ways.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 10:45 am, 6th February 2001

My hon. Friend has touched on an important point. Many wide implications arise from the new clauses that we have not seen concerning the protection of research scientists. I should declare an interest, because both my parents are research scientists, although they are now retired and were not involved in animal research. I am aware of the important work of Dr. Mark Matfield and the Research Defence Society. That excellent society will have proposals that should be considered fully and properly while the Committee is fresh, and not in the middle of the night.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I agree that those matters are important. The eyes of the nation are on us. People are concerned about how scientists are protected while conducting valuable medical research. There is also debate on the safeguards that should be available to the parents of children who have had their organs removed. Medical governance and how science is dealt with are at the centre of political debate, and the Minister may be condemning us to a late night sitting to consider such matters. Preparation time would be curtailed because of the introduction of extra sittings to meet his unrealistic timetable. That is not right.

Other issues for consideration in Committee cannot be dealt with quickly. The Minister suggested that we can deal with the whole issue of fixed penalty notices today. We will find out whether that is realistic. There are many aspects of fixed penalty notices, as we will soon discover. The Criminal Bar Association alone has produced a long consultation response on the subject that mentions a raft of legal issues, including human rights legislation. Discussion of that will not be easy.

Other issues for consideration include ensuring that stop orders are properly targeted on licensed premises, and whether there should be tougher penalties for people under 18 who attempt to purchase alcohol. Lawyers tell me, although I know that the Minister does not like them—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is a new one. That may be because lawyers, such as the Home Secretary and Prime Minister, surround the Minister.

We also need to discuss travel restrictions on drug trafficking offenders. I am in favour of that, in principle, but we need to consider circumstances in which first-time offenders may require a suspension.

The extent of the bureaucracy involved in child curfew schemes has been raised with me by police organisations.

The CBI has concerns about how Office of Fair Trading information will be sent to foreign competition authorities that have different laws from ours. That may put our companies in jeopardy when they have done nothing wrong in this country.

We should also consider the safety and privacy of legally privileged documents under the new seizure powers, and the use of video and audio links to extend detention periods, which is causing disquiet among those who are concerned about civil rights.

If someone, perhaps a vulnerable person, was being detained, or there were concerns about the way in which a detention was being managed, it is possible that the person authorising the continued detention might never see or talk to the detainee. It is worrying that the detainee would have no right to make representations about this, that and the other to the person who was about to authorise the extension of the detention. We need to explore that.

The retention of DNA and fingerprints in cases where people are found not guilty, or are not charged, has been mentioned not only by us but by the Liberal Democrats. I am sure that on such human rights issues they will want, as they customarily do, to raise the issue of liberty and the handling of individual rights.

We need assurances from the Minister about the curriculum for police training, which is absent from the Bill. Is it right to introduce a raft of new ranks for senior officers so that there are far more ranks above inspector than below? Why is he not prepared to give us an extra day, when he has discovered that his pledge of 16 sittings cannot be delivered on anything like a civilised timetable? We have grave concerns about the programme resolution.

Several hon. Members rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. I remind the Committee that this debate is limited to half an hour. A number of questions have been asked. If hon. Members want the Minister to respond, they must allow time for that.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I welcome you, Mr. Gale. I have served under you before and am very happy to do so again.

As the Committee has heard, my hon. Friend sat on the Programming Sub-Committee on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Confronted with the Government's revised proposal for fewer sittings, she made a practical suggestion to get round it; it was neither our choice nor our ideal, but it would extend the length of sittings to give us roughly the time that would have been available originally. We are unhappy that programming, which could be a good system in theory, is not good in practice.

It is nonsense to decide immediately after Second Reading for how long the Committee is to sit, before anyone has had a chance to reflect on the issues that have arisen, the number of people with an interest and the general tenor of the debate. That contradicts the ethos of looking at a Bill and then deciding how long is needed for debate. We shall continue to oppose programme motions on the Floor of the House for as long as they continue immediately to follow the Second Reading debate.

We supported a 16-sitting proposal for what is the Government's flagship Bill of the Session. By any definition, that is constrained, because, as the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, it is not only the Bill and any amendments that are tabled that we shall discuss. In theory, there may even be amendments tabled by Labour Members, although they are rare these days, given the nature of the modern, compliant Labour party—

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I do not count Government amendments. The Government table hordes of amendments to every Bill. They come in rafts. We know that there is likely to be a new clause relating to animal protesters. Although we have not seen it yet, we welcome it in principle and are ready to discuss it, as we hope that it can be agreed. As the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire said, new clauses have already been tabled, and we shall table some too. There is much work to do on the Government's flagship Bill.

The whole system is rendered even more ridiculous because the Government continue to hold to the view—the Prime Minister expressed it the other day—that fixed term Parliaments are a bad idea and we should allow prime ministerial flexibility. If we knew the date of the general election, we could have a sensible programme for our political life.

The truth is that the Bill will almost certainly not become law if there is a general election this spring. So we sit here, going through the motions and having lovely discussions about curfew orders, but it is all froth and Government window dressing. The Government want to look tough, even though the Bill will not become law. Civil servants do the work, lobbyists come to brief us, researchers do all the background work and MPs will spend hours discussing it, but that will all probably be lost because the Prime Minister will pull the plug and call an election for March, April or May.

On the inner workings of the Committee, we would welcome sight of the so far hidden proposal on exactly how we are to divide our time. We shall vote against this resolution because we understood that it was to be a 16-sitting resolution. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton tried to ameliorate the situation, but that is not our preferred option. If the Government get their way on the motion—which they probably will—we hope that they will give an early indication of how we will break down the time and fit in the five hours that my hon. Friend said will be needed.

It would be sensible to have plenty of notice of that, not just for you, Mr. Gale, and your co-Chairman, but for us all, so that we can plan our lives intelligently. It would be helpful to have a rough idea of how long each major issue will take, and for that to be known publicly so that people interested in the Committee proceedings will know too.

There are at least 10 big issues in the Bill and I hope that we will give ourselves time to debate them. However, I regret that our time will be constrained and that Committee members from all parties might feel frustrated by the Government's proposals.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Before I call the next speaker, I must make it plain that we have a limited amount of time. That is made clear on the amendment paper. The Chair has a duty to protect, as far as possible, the interests of Back Benchers as well as Front Benchers.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

Thank you, Mr. Gale. I am grateful for that reassurance of protection. I will not go on about the absurdity and the scandal that the programming resolution represents. My hon. Friends have already made that clear.

I want to place on the record my concern that the Programming Sub-Committee can meet, discuss individual availability of Ministers and then resolve to have 14 sittings, instead of the 16 that were promised on Second Reading and in the programme motion on the Floor of the House. No one has asked me about my availability to serve on the Committee. I take my duties as a legislator seriously and I get involved in the detail.

We shall suffer from the effect of cramming everything in before the deadline of 8 March. It will become impossible if we try to lever in the five extra hours that the Minister graciously promised. However, the programming resolution contains no qualification that, if more time is needed, it will be available. I want to place on the record how unhappy I am with the resolution and with the way in which the whole process is managed. I shall allow a minute or two for the Minister to reply.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I have listened to hon. Members' remarks about the process of the programme motion and the issues surrounding it raised on the Floor of the House and in Committee today. This is not the place to conduct that discussion more fully, but I place on the record that it is the Government's function to support the Chair in its decisions. In response to the whole process of modernisation, we are ready to discuss aspects of this experiment through the usual channels, including such matters as the publication of minutes of Programming Sub-Committees.

I reinforce, as strongly as I can, the statement that the Government are ready to make the same time available as would have been provided in the full 16 sittings to which I referred in the Chamber, without any qualification or inhibition.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

Why, then, can we not go back to the House and extend the deadline beyond 8 March?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 12:00 pm, 6th February 2001

That has been made clear and I will simply reassert the point. The House rightly decided that the Committee should end on 8 March but, until then, we are ready to debate for the full time. I say to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that, for the convenience of the Committee, we are ready to commit to an early proposition about how that can be achieved. That is a reasonable request, and I commend the resolution to the Committee.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 6.

Division number 1 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 10 - Brandsharing

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Before the Committee proceeds to substantive consideration of the Bill, I want to state again that, as far as I am concerned, the Chair will do its utmost to accommodate the wishes of the Committee, within the reasonable bounds of human comfort. I would be grateful if the usual channels conducted their deliberations as early as possible, so that as much notice as possible can be given both to Committee members, who might have to rearrange other business, and to the Officers of the House, who have to organise their lives too. Clause 1 Offences leading to penalities on the spot.