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Mr. Heald: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke: I shall not do so as I have so little time; I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. The procedure for the council to make the designation--the point that he mentioned--will be set out in regulations made by the Secretary of State. There will be parliamentary scrutiny of those points.

The Government believe that the legislation is necessary. It will extend civil liberties, help to drive down crime levels, give more targeted weapons to partnerships, improve detection and the solution of crimes, build up intelligence-led policing and improve police training. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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Criminal Justice and Police Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question proposed:

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker: I call Mr. Heald.

Mr. Heald rose--

Mr. Speaker: My apologies. I should have called Mr. Clarke.

10 pm

Mr. Charles Clarke: I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I apologise to you and to the House for not being quick enough off the mark.

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. Of course, the Programming Sub-Committee will consider the detailed timetable and may decide that it is necessary for the Committee to sit more frequently than usual.

The Programming Sub-Committee will also enable Conservative Members to decide to spend more time on the parts of the Bill that they most wish to discuss. Let me take this opportunity to reiterate what we see as one of the most positive aspects of the programming of debates: it offers the Opposition the opportunity to determine the structure and focus of the debate.

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We believe that the arrangement of business within the time allocated should be a matter principally for the Opposition and for Back-Bench Members.

It may be of interest to reflect on the experience of the programming of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, on which I led for the Government. The Government's stance throughout, in the Programming Sub-Committee and elsewhere, was very simple: we wanted to have debates in which there was cogent argument and room for full discussion. We were less concerned with some of the techniques that certain Opposition Members sought to use and develop to take up time. Our experience was that the programme motion allowed the issues to be fully and cogently debated despite the substantial effort to consume time of some Opposition Members of the Committee, who preferred listening to their own voices to debating the points before them.

We believe that it should be for the Opposition to come forward and say, within the time available, "These are the issues that we most want to debate." I place it on record that we will listen and that we will honour that wish as we proceed.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): It has already been said in the House that Programming Sub-Committees are unaccountable. Their proceedings are not transparent and there is no record of them. Now the Minister is giving an account of what happened on the Vehicles (Crime) Bill as a way of explaining how everything is working perfectly. Is the hon. Gentleman now a convert to the idea of having a proper record of the proceedings?

Mr. Clarke: I did not suggest that it was working perfectly. In fact, the Government's view, as clearly set out, was that they were very happy with whatever arrangements were made in that regard. However, the rules of conduct of the Programming Sub-Committee were a matter for the Chair, and you, Mr. Speaker, have made your judgment on that. I think I am right in saying that the Chair's decision was that the Programming Sub-Committee was to be treated broadly speaking as a Select Committee.

I am saying that, above and beyond that, there is in my opinion an obligation on all members of the Committee to take the debate on the legislation seriously and make a distinction between points that are serious and substantive and those that are not. As Conservative Members in Committee and even the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) may concede from our experience of Bills in the last Session of Parliament, as a Minister I sought at all times to take seriously the serious points that were made and to accept amendments that were put forward, including those from the Opposition, if they seemed right. However, there is a distinction between serious debate, which the procedure is designed to encourage, and the kind of time-wasting filibustering that some Conservative Members sought to engage in.

Mr. Heald: Is not the problem that, according to the programme motion, on a substantial Bill with more than 130 clauses, we will have to finish consideration by 8.30 pm and Third Reading by 10 pm? That really is not good enough. If there were a statement on the day in question and the time was even further constrained, it would not leave us enough time to debate such a substantial Bill. Does the Minister not agree that, with a

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Bill of this size, it is inevitable that a significant number of amendments will be tabled? He has already mentioned that.

Mr. Clarke: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I accept that his points are legitimate. By that, I mean that he is right to focus on the amount of time that will be taken up with genuine debate--and I believe that the hon. Gentleman will engage in serious debate rather than in the kind of filibustering that I have just described. He raises an important and legitimate point. However, when he asks whether I think we shall have enough time, my answer is that I think we shall.

Furthermore, we have the ability, through the Programming Sub-Committee procedure, to extend the amount of time available by increasing the frequency of our sittings or by whatever means may be necessary in order to achieve that end, if it is desirable. To give an example from our deliberations on the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, we reconvened the Programming Sub-Committee at one point during the Committee stage to change our timetable. That was entirely legitimate and was done with the agreement of all members of the Committee.

Mr. Malins: I want to make a serious point, and I hope that the Minister will forgive me for saying this. Will he accept that the Bill covers territory with which I am very familiar through my judicial work? Will he also accept that I cannot serve on the Committee because I am on the Chairmen's Panel? Thirdly, will he accept that I asked him a dozen questions during the course of this afternoon's debate, and that he has not been able to answer any of them? I appreciate that he might possibly write to me about them.

Does the Minister accept that someone in my position finds the prospect of so truncated a consideration of the Bill on Report quite impossible? I have at least a dozen amendments to table on Report which I cannot table in Committee, all of which will need the proper scrutiny of the House.

Mr. Clarke: I accept the hon. Gentleman's first two points, relating to his expertise and his membership of the Chairmen's Panel, and to the consequence of that membership on his ability to serve in Committee. As the hon. Gentleman was speaking, Mr. Speaker, I asked for and received your guidance as to whether people on the Chairmen's Panel could serve in Committee. You confirmed to me the view that the hon. Gentleman has expressed.

I can commit myself to answering in detail the points that the hon. Gentleman raised in debate this afternoon. I am sorry that I could not do so in the short time available for summation earlier. Secondly, I also guarantee that all the points that he raised will be addressed in Committee. If they are not addressed to his satisfaction, he may wish to table amendments at a later stage. However, I remain of the view that the amount of time allocated in the programme motion is perfectly sufficient to allow us to debate the issues at great length. I am therefore delighted to support the motion.

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10.7 pm

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