Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee on 4th March 2003.

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[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 2:30 pm, 4th March 2003

I thank the Committee for its forbearance. I apologise for the fact that certain staff and members of the Committee had difficulty in entering the Room. Such vicissitudes are sent to try us.

I shall explain to the Committee what has happened, bearing in mind that we are now on the record. This morning, certain members of the Committee were, for wholly understandable reasons, not available to be part of our proceedings. It was decided that this morning's sitting would be cancelled and that the Programming Sub-Committee would meet this afternoon, which it has done. I invite members of the Committee to consider the resolution passed by the Sub-Committee.

I wish exceptionally to place on the record a view that I have expressed privately to the Sub-Committee. As a Chairman, I consider that proceedings of a Standing Committee should take precedence over all other matters. Members of the Committee—as we all have in the House of Commons, given our conflicting duties—must decide whether to be elsewhere or here. It is my personal view that the Committee should and could properly have sat this morning, with or without the Minister or other hon. Members present, however senior they may be. That decision was not taken.

I have discussed the matter with members of the Sub-Committee. I accept entirely their view that, because of the circumstances that have now developed, it would be unreasonable—and would become a matter of emotion—for the Committee to sit on Thursday simply because hon. Members have, in good faith, entered into other commitments. The Opposition Whip has courteously agreed to report my views to his side of the House of Commons, and the Minister has courteously agreed to report my views to her side of the House. I, in turn, intend to report my views to the Chairman of Ways and Means. As has been said, we are in uncharted waters and such an issue needs properly to be resolved by the House and its relevant Committees.

The Programming Sub-Committee has now agreed a draft resolution. I apologise to members of the Committee that there is no printed version of it available, but we have had to move in some haste. Will the Minister explain the resolution and her thinking behind it?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I beg to move,

That the order of the Standing Committee of 25 February 2003 be amended as follows—

(1) in paragraph (2) for ''Six sittings'' substitute ''Eight sittings'';

(2) in the Table, for the entry for the 6th sitting substitute:

6th

Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill (so far as not previously concluded)

7th

Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill (so far as not previously concluded)

8th

Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill (so far as not previously concluded)

5.00 p.m.

In moving the resolution, I am grateful to all members of the Committee and, through the good offices of the usual channels, to the Opposition parties and members of the Social Democrat and Labour party who sit on the Government side of the House of Commons for their co-operation. As a result of representations that the Government received following the developments that are currently taking place in Belfast, we felt that we should accommodate those Committee members who feel strongly about some of the issues that we are debating and who wish to be present. I will report your comments to the Government, Mr. Gale, but because of the circumstances on this occasion, it was felt that we should ask the Committee and the House through the programming motion to move the timing of our further considerations. That is why the motion is before us today. As we are timetabled to sit on Thursday, there will be consideration of a motion to make the move from Thursday to next Tuesday.

It is important that I put on the record that the Government do not intend to use the further time that we have to consider the Bill to bring forward any new items at this stage of our deliberations. We will consider issues arising from our discussions so far on Report: that is when we could consider further new matters, such as Government new clauses. The Government do not intend to use this delay for those ends. It is in good faith that we seek to move this business to next Tuesday, and to allow a full and detailed scrutiny of the clauses in our deliberations next week. I will be happy to respond to questions from Committee members.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I should make it plain that my remarks were not intended to imply any censure of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), who could not be present today, or of the Minister or any other Committee member who felt for other reasons that they could not attend. The situation is straightforward. The House of Commons must consider circumstances such as this and reach conclusions about how they should be addressed in future.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I wish to repeat publicly what I said to you a short while ago, Mr. Gale. I will convey your views to the appropriate people, and I agree that it would have been helpful for those of us who had to grapple with this matter over the course of the morning to have had a precedent to look back on. However, if the net result of our experience benefits people in future, it will not have been wholly in vain.

I will not delay the Committee for longer than is necessary. However, as we are now in a public sitting I must repeat the views of Her Majesty's Opposition. We are implacably opposed to the general principle of there being programme motions on the Order Paper. We have had to agree to another one today, and we were as opposed in principle to that as we were to all the others.

We are also opposed in principle to dividing programmed Committee sittings by guillotines part of the way through them. It has already twice been demonstrated in this Committee that we have not had enough time to deal with matters because clauses have been guillotined, and we are being allowed only two sittings on Tuesday to try to complete a substantial part of the Bill. I will not go into details, but I wish to put it clearly on the record that we do not support the principle of what the Government are seeking to do.

However, we are where we are. The Government are seeking to substitute one wrong thing with an equally wrong thing, but that is the same situation on different days and it would be churlish to kick up too much of a fuss. Therefore, having registered our objection, we will not seek to divide the Committee on the motion. It would also be churlish not to put on the record my gratitude to the usual channels for listening to what we have to say and responding helpfully.

The Minister said that the Government do not intend to bring any new business before the Committee when it sits on Tuesday, but left open the question of what might happen on Report. Should the Government seek to introduce on Report anything arising out of the discussions currently taking place, we will oppose it, because the Bill received full consideration in the other place as drafted.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

I wish to ensure that I understand exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying. If an item resulting from the talks were brought forward that had complete consensus, would Her Majesty's Opposition oppose it as a matter of course?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

No. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the chance to clarify what I am saying. We would oppose the process and judge the issue on its merits, depending on what has been agreed. Should something entirely new be agreed as part of the peace process over the next few hours or days, we contend that the matter should be subject to the full scrutiny of both Houses of Parliament by way of a new Bill. Anything less than full consideration in both Houses would be an affront to democracy.

I am not saying that I would be against what is agreed, but the Bill must not be used as a vehicle for

something for which it was not intended on Second Reading in the House of Commons and when it was fully debated in another place. I am guessing that the Minister will not give us an assurance that such a thing will not be attempted on Report, so I wish to put on the record that on principle we would not support such a course.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

For my part, I am content with the terms of the motion. As you said, Mr. Gale, we are in uncharted waters. We are also dealing with matters that have high stakes. It is to the credit of House of Commons procedures and members of the Committee that we are able to approach the problem with the flexibility that is required to leave all options open.

Reference has already been made to the Minister, and I am grateful to her for stating the Government's intention not to introduce further proposals in Committee. Obviously, the implication is that proposals will be introduced on Report. In that case, I reserve my position. Those who manage the business of the House of Commons can recommit a Bill to Standing Committee after Report if necessary. The Government might find that this is one occasion on which that avenue has merit. Bearing in mind that the Bill has already been considered in the other place, there will be little opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive's proposals after the Bill has been considered on Report in the House of Commons.

I am in accord with the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and wish to place on the record my gratitude for the way in which the usual channels handled the matter, especially the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), who has been understanding and accommodating.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the order of the Standing Committee of 25 February 2003 be amended as follows—

(1) in paragraph (2) for ''Six sittings'' substitute ''Eight sittings'';

(2) in the Table, for the entry for the 6th sitting substitute:

6th

Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill (so far as not previously concluded)

7th

Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill (so far as not previously concluded)

8th

Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill (so far as not previously concluded)

5.00 p.m.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Gillian Merron.]

Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes to Three o'clock till Thursday 6 March at five minutes to Nine o'clock.