Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 25th February 2003.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 9:15 am, 25th February 2003

Heaven forfend that I—a reasonable person who has never been known to waste time—be unfair. I look forward to hearing interventions made by the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North and I promise that when he makes speeches, I shall accuse him of nothing other than addressing the Bill. However, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann is heading for a serious shock about the general principle of guillotining and he will not enjoy what he finds.

The matter does not end there because not only do we have a limit of six sittings, but there are knives at two points during our consideration. I made it clear in the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday that I have no objections to the order in which the Bill will be considered because there are good, sensible reasons why we should not consider the clauses in numerical order from clause 1. My colleagues and I do not disagree with that. However, we disagree with being told how long we should consider each bit. I agree with the Government saying, ''This is a sensible order in which to consider the Bill'', but I disagree with them saying, ''You will only be allowed one, two or three sittings because that is the pace at which we wish to go.'' That should not happen and I shall ask the Committee to divide on the motion because I want to register yet again that that is not the way in which we should do things.

Although we object to the guillotine, the Government will have their way. Within that straitjacket, it is sensible that we should see how things go. In the previous Committee on which I served, it became blindingly obvious during the first sitting that the guillotine arrangements were wrong and that they should be changed. If they had not been there in the first place, we would have got along much better and would not have had to reconvene the Programming Sub-Committee. I say now to my opposite number, the Government Whip, who cannot answer back, that if it is necessary to talk

about moving the knives, I shall be happy to join any discussion on behalf of the official Opposition.

The knives at 5 o'clock might be convenient for those who believe that the new hours are good and want to push off just after 5 o'clock for a night on the town. If that is what Back Benchers are all about, the programme motion achieves that aim admirably. However, the motion does not make for sensible, structured debate because as that unwinds, it may become clear that a subject should be talked about for longer than the Government thought. A longer debate might be constructive and helpful for the Government. We should not always have to look at the clock saying, ''Good heavens, 5 o'clock is nearly here and we must curtail what we want to say about clause x or y because we must reach clauses 8 and 9, which are very important.'' Whatever we might want to say today ahead of clauses 8 and 9, we shall be constrained because those clauses are where the meat of our first two sittings lies.

Some crazy things could happen because we are worried about that. We might say that we shall not discuss fully clauses ahead of clauses 8 and 9 but find that there is not as much to say as we thought about those clauses. We could arrive at the end of our consideration before 5 o'clock because of an artificial attempt to stifle democracy within an overall attempt to trample over democracy.

In normal circumstances, it would be argued that we do not have sufficient time to consider the Bill—the knives are wrong. However, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann touched on what he and others will be doing next week. I have heard it advanced that it would be in the best interests of certain people to ensure that the Bill gets out of Committee this week—to rush it in fewer than six sittings. That would mean that there would be no temptation for the Government to make further concessions to Sinn Fein-IRA by stuffing new clauses into the Bill next week. For the avoidance of doubt, may I make it crystal clear that I hope that the Minister will reassure us about whatever next week's negotiations may bring? I have my views about that but this is not the occasion to go down that route because you, Mr. Benton, will say that that has nothing to do with the Bill. Will the hon. Lady reassure us that if the negotiations require any changes to either the status quo of policing in Northern Ireland or additional concessions to be made in the Bill to Sinn Fein-IRA, they will be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny? In other words, they should be first debated on the Floor of the House, meaning that every hon. Member would be entitled to attend.