As members of the Programming Sub-Committee know, we have agreed to extend the protected time for Third Reading of the Bill from one hour to two hours. I want to place on the record the reasons for that extension. I am delighted that the Government agree with it. We did not have the benefit of the presence of any Liberal Democrat on the Programming Sub-Committee, but took it that their absence connoted consent for what the Government and the official Opposition agreed.
We wanted to extend the time because both the Government and the Opposition feel that this is a slightly unusual Bill. It involves not a huge number, but a certain number of major issues of principle. The fact that the Committee spent four out of nine sittings debating part 1 on those major issues and one whole sitting debating one clause stand part and two new clauses shows where the burden falls. It is not one of those long Bills with a huge number of issues of principle, and Report takes much longer than Third Reading. Some hon. Members on both sides may not have had a chance to catch the Speakers eye on Second Reading, and may want to contribute on the issues of principle and not just on each individual issue on Report. The Government and the Opposition thought that it would be fair to provide an opportunity for more Third Reading speeches of a general nature.
There is a risk that if there are several statements on urgent matters before the House that afternoon, protecting two hours rather than one hour might result in Report being truncated, but the Government have kindly said that they will use their best endeavours to avoid that, and we recognise that that is all they can say to try to protect Report stage so that we can have a substantive debate on the major issues and still have a bit longer for Third Reading. That is the view of Conservative Members, it is clear that the Liberal Democrats do not disagree, or they would have made their point in the Programming Sub-Committee, and the Government are happy with it. That is why we thought it better to protect a little longer, and I have the approval of my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench for saying that.
I did not know that there was a meeting at 2.15 this afternoon, and I regret to say that I was not present for it. However, I am entirely happy that instead of
one hour we should have two hours for Third Reading, not least because a number of hon. Members may want to contribute. Some serious issues of principle need to be discussed, and the more time, the merrier, if that is appropriate.
I was going to encourage the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) to ring his office more often, but I then realised that the problem was not the Liberal Democrats' internal communication. The hon. Gentleman was not invited to the meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee because he is not a member of it. However, his hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is a member. We kept the proceedings going artificially to try to facilitate the arrival of a Liberal Democrat Member. We have no desire to make decisions behind their backs. We shall use our best endeavours to avoid statements, although we cannot legislate for what might arise on the day, and the Opposition accept that. We may want to curtail the debate, but in the absence of any argument to the contrary, the points made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) appear to be eminently reasonable. We thought that we should accept that reasonable request.
This may not have been a matter for the Programming Sub-Committee, but I should mention that there has sometimes been a short gap between the end of the Committee stage and the Report stage to suit the Government business managers. I hope that the Minister can reassure us, after receiving any necessary advice from his hon. Friend the Government Whip, that we will not suddenly see the Bill going to Report within a week. There is usually a gap of at least a week, and we ask that that is observed, or preferably increased, to enable us to consult outside organisations before Report.
I cannot comment. It is a matter for the usual channels to decide, which I am sure they will. We will be as reasonable as we can, notwithstanding other business pressures that the Government place on us.
I should, perhaps, make it clear that I was a member of the Programming Sub-Committee and was aware of the change. I expressed certain views this morning, and I am grateful for the offers of assistance. Unfortunately, I had business outwith the House at lunchtime, and was unable to get back in time. I blame the Mayor of London and the current traffic-management fiasco in Trafalgar square. My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon already made the position clear: it is a matter of supreme indifference to us.
Question put and agreed to.
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. When your co-Chairman, Miss Begg, was in the Chair before lunch, I asked on a point of order whether we should press new clauses 7 and 8 to a
Division then or later as we were running up against the Adjournment. The Clerk advised us that there would be a Division at the end of the sitting, which I accept. However, I want to make it clear that we had had a long debate all morning on clause stand part and new clauses 6, 7 and 8, and we voted against clause 193, because we believe that it should have with it the provisions under our new clauses, not because we disagree with its basis.
I do not want any Minister suddenly to say on Report or on Third Reading that the Conservatives were trying to drive a coach and horses through the Bill and were voting against the national security exemption. I believe that our intentions have been clear during the debates, but it is important to state them for the record. The pressure of time meant that we had to take an instant decision about voting on the clause, and it was logical to vote against it and to try to argue in favour of our new clauses.