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10.20 pm

Mr. Malins: This programme motion--I have not spoken to a programme motion before--is shameful. I hope that the Minister will be kind enough to listen to my arguments.

Never mind for now that the Minister and the Government have decided that the Committee should finish by 8 March--although I simply do not know where they got that date from. Let us consider how consideration on Report will operate. As described on the Order Paper, it seems that Report may last for less than four hours. The Bill has well over 130 clauses and various schedules. Moreover, it raises a great many issues.

The Minister will know that, today, on Second Reading, I spoke for 14 minutes and never strayed from the subject, focusing only on the Bill's first dozen or so clauses. He knows that the penalty issues--the so-called on-the-spot penalties--are themselves a fairly major topic that has to be examined very closely by people who know what they are talking about, but the Government are offering us only four hours to consider those provisions.

It is worse than that. As I said earlier, the Committee will include only three or four Opposition Members, each of whom may or may not have some expertise on the subject. Other Labour Members and Opposition Members will not be able to serve in Committee. Believe it or not, some of those hon. Members may have real expert knowledge of the subject. In my view, one of the great tragedies of this Chamber is the amount of our debate that consists of our doing no more than mouthing platitudes at one another or watching the clock until there is another vote. There may be another shout and another rampage, but where, oh where is the constructive, sensible thinking?

Today, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) alluded to the fact that many hon. Members have some knowledge of a subject but that very rarely do they have the chance to share it. As he said, there are so many ways of approaching a Bill to make it better.

It is not many weeks since the House considered two quite important pieces of legislation--the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill and the Football (Disorder) Act 2000, which had to do with jury trial and with preventing some football fans from going abroad. I may lack absolute knowledge of many subjects, but I worked very hard on those two Bills, preparing amendments for consideration on Report.

I thought that my amendments were worthy of debate, so I sat in the Chamber all day in the hope of speaking to them. I had not spoken in the House for weeks, but I wanted to comment on an issue about which I knew. Is anyone surprised to learn that our consideration was

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guillotined and that not one of my amendments was touched? That made me sad, not because I have that much great wisdom but because I had something to say on those matters. There are hon. Members who have something to say about the Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

So the Bill will be considered in Committee and the usual formalities will be observed. As we know, someone will say, "Please speak for 20 minutes." If another hon. Member asks me to speak for 20 minutes, I shall go mad. I may want to speak for 20 seconds, five minutes or 25 minutes. I want to speak about things that really matter. I do not mind instructions telling me to speak for 15 minutes, except that Labour Members have been told the same thing. What type of Chamber is this? How often do hon. Members with real expertise have a chance to make a difference? It is a tragedy.

Some hon. Members may want to table new clauses on Report. Some will have something positive to say about the remaining stages of the Bill. However, I know what will happen, as does the Minister. We will not have the time. What were we elected to this place for? Was I elected to go through the Lobbies night after night? Was I elected to be told to speak for 15 minutes? Was any Member to this place elected for that? It is sad, but many of us feel that we were.

The Minister knows as well as I do that four hours on Report may not be enough for the serious debate that the Bill deserves. To force us to complete the debate in four hours is to attack the rights of Back Benchers. It is sad that we have reached this stage, which is why I repeat that this is a shameful motion.

10.26 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): These programme motion debates are now colloquially referred to as "pot and kettle" debates, because so much time is spent trying to pretend that the sins of the previous regime somehow mitigate those of the present regime--or vice versa.

There is however a serious issue here. The motion is defective in two important respects. The Minister made the best of a bad brief, but frankly, had he been a member of the Modernisation Committee, he would have known that his explanation this evening was misleading. The Modernisation Committee wished to make it certain that Opposition parties and Back Benchers on both sides had a real opportunity to debate issues in a Bill that were important to them.

The Government have a right to expect that their legislation will get through in due course, assuming that they maintain their majority in the House, and they may seek to put a marker down for when they want the Committee to be completed. However, they do not have a right to determine precisely what debate takes place in the intervening period.

In advance of the Second Reading of the Bill, it is ludicrous to determine precisely how much time will be required for Report and Third Reading. If the Minister made a genuine concession just now by saying that he was prepared to listen to arguments from other parts of the House about the progress of the Bill, let him say clearly now from the Dispatch Box that he is also prepared to take back to his colleagues the proposal that Report and Third Reading may also have to be extended if necessary.

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This is a Bill different from many of the others that have been programmed in recent weeks. First and foremost, there has been no preliminary discussion, draft Bill or inquiry by a Committee. The House has never looked at most of the issues before. Secondly, there are huge issues that are not even in the Bill, yet which the Minister has said he intends to try to include in it. I know that amendments have already been taken to the Clerk for tabling. When preparing the programme motion, how did the Minister and his colleagues know how many amendments were to be tabled or how significant they would be? How many new clauses will be tabled by the Government to deal with issues that are outwith the Bill?

This is very much a tentative Bill; it is not by any means a complete work. There are already in excess of 132 clauses. I wager that there will be a considerable increase in that number and, if anything, we may find that the existing clauses are subject to substantial Government amendment.

The timing is absurd. To table a programme motion even before the Second Reading debate has taken place is to make an absurd presumption about the views of both Opposition Members and Government Back Benchers. I serve on the Selection Committee. On Wednesday, we will appoint the members of a Committee to consider the Bill. We will look at the contributions made by hon. Members on Second Reading. Without knowing who the Committee members will be, how can we pre-determine how they will want to handle the Bill? How can they decide how they want to handle it before they know who they are?

There is no practical reason why the Government should continue to insist on taking programme motions on the same day as Second Reading. It flies in the face of common sense and practical reality. Incidentally, if the Conservatives have not decided whether to force a vote on Second Reading, we can end up with very late votes on programme motions, directly contrary to the Modernisation Committee's intentions of trying to ensure that main votes are taken at 10 pm and not thereafter.

The motion is a bad one, and I hope that the Minister will withdraw it.

10.31 pm

Mr. Clappison: I agree with the description applied to the motion by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins): it is shameful. He made more eloquently than I could the point that the amount of time allotted for Report will prevent many of us from contributing at that stage.

That also casts a reflection on how the Government intend to approach the Committee stage. Whoever is in government, Ministers will rarely accept in Committee amendments tabled by the Opposition. They more commonly say that they will reflect on the point and perhaps table an amendment on Report. The shortness of the time allowed for Report stage means that it will be very difficult to do that.

The Minister spoke about past guillotines. I cannot recall an occasion when a criminal justice Bill of this length has had such a short Report stage. For example, I remember that the then Opposition spent several days on Report on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill of 1994, introducing matters such as the right to silence--an important and sensitive subject that it was right to

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debate--and it is interesting to see that, in government, Labour has gone back on what it said then and abolished the right to silence for 10 to 14-year-olds.

The motion suggests to me that the Government are not interested in listening to argument and certainly not interested in the details of the legislation, which is being pushed contemptuously through the House. It suggests that what really matters to them is not getting the detail right so that the legislation works in practice but all the headlines that were generated some weeks ago, before the Queen's Speech, when Cabinet Minister after Cabinet Minister was wheeled out to talk about the yob culture.

We even heard the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), when he was still one of the band of brothers, saying that the Bill was an attack on yob culture. The only time I have heard him saying something deranged is when he said that the Government were winning the war on crime. The rest of the time, he has made perfect sense.

This contemptuous motion says all that we need to know about the Government's attitude towards policy, towards the House and towards democracy.

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