Jane Kennedy: I have already explained that it is for members of the Committee to make their own judgments on that matter. I have made it clear that we are looking carefully at the arguments that have been advanced in this debate.
Mr. Bercow: This has been an illuminating debate, but in some ways a very dispiriting one. My hon. Friends and I have expressed criticisms, one or two of which the Parliamentary Secretary has tried to answer or rebut. By her own admission, there are a number of others that she has been unable to deal with today. She is seeking further and better particulars, and hopes to be able to deal with those criticisms satisfactorily at some future, and thus far unspecified, datepresumably, next Tuesday. Frankly, despite her best endeavours, that really is not good enough.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough emphasised, our responsibility is to maximise the Bill's benefits and minimise its defects. The question of whether it is a good Bill or, at least, a less bad Bill, is of the essence. As far as some are concerned, that is not the issue in respect of the amendments. They are not remotely bothered whether the amendments are valid or not. They probably have not studied them, do not understand them and have no opinion on them. Their sole concerns are adherence to a timetable and minimising their personal discomfort. I know that they have a job to do as well, but their personal discomfort and the maximisation of their convenience are of no interest to me[Interruption.] As far as the hon. Member for Weaver Vale is concerned
Mr. Gordon Prentice: My hon. Friend's constituency is Weaver Vale.
Mr. Bercow: I got it rightI clearly said, ``Weaver Vale''. If the hon. Member for Pendle has a problem with his hearing, that is his misfortune, not mine.
The hon. Member for Weaver Vale would do well to understand that we have certain grievances, and that, in so far as we want to support our amendments, we will do so. Frankly, the more often we make our points and the less happy he becomes, probably the better we are doing our job[Interruption.] There is nothing to stop the hon. Gentleman continually chuntering his disapproval, but if he does so, the arguments will take longer to advance, more debate will be required and we shall demonstrate ever more persistence. He should grasp the simple fact that by shutting up we will advance more speedily to a conclusion that would be to his greater enlightenment. If he thinks that the way in which to conclude the debate and ensure satisfactory dispatch of business is to utter rude remarks from a sedentary position to me and my hon. Friends, he is making a serious mistake. He would do better to desist.
We support the amendments. We believe that they are valid and we are disappointed with the Government's unsatisfactory response. This is constitutional vandalism that displays disdain for the rights of the Committee and, indeed, for the integrity of the House. In the absence of proper responses from the Government, we must of course press our amendment to a vote.
Question put, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 17.
Division No. 9]
The Chairman: I must advise the Committee that there was a further meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee before this sitting and a second programme motion was proposed.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)): On a point of order, as members of the Committee might be aware, I missed that Division. I realise that we were probably getting a move on. I have been sitting outside working all the time. When the Division was called, I moved towards the Door, which was locked. I do not know how many seconds elapsed, but I had a word with the constabulary outside, who are my witnesses. I do not like to miss a Division and I would like to know how long it was between the Division being called and the Door being locked.
The Chairman: Order. I cannot give the answer in minutes or seconds, but it was as long as it took the two Whips to nod to me that it was satisfactory to them to close the Doors.
Mr. Lidington: Most members of the Committee did not have the delight of attending the Programming Sub-Committee proceedings earlier. It might be for the convenience of all hon. Members if I state that the proposal is that we should sit, as provided for in the resolution passed by the House early this afternoon, next Tuesday at the normal hours, both morning and afternoon, and that the afternoon sitting should conclude at 10 o'clock unless the business has been concluded before that time.
I am glad that the Government have come forward with a further day's debate. The debate that we have just concluded demonstrates beyond any doubt the need for that additional day. It also demonstrates very clearly the impracticality and craziness of a system under which the Government of the day impose an arbitrary deadline for the conclusion of a Standing Committee's proceedings before it has even met. Only during our debates on certain groups of amendments have we begun to tease out the meaning of the details of the Bill and the Government's readiness, or lack of it, to reconsider the drafting in the light of what we have discovered and the representations that have been made. What we have discovered about deer stalking, for example, and the uncertainty about the issue, is a telling illustration of that principle.
Mr. Bercow: I understand and agree with my hon. Friend. Does he agree that there would be at least a certain rationale behind the Government's insistence on one extra day, however undesirable that rationale might be, if it was their firm intention to secure passage of the Bill, for the sake of argument, by the end of the March? My hon. Friend will understand that I choose that date at random. Given that Ministers have no such intention, and indeed have the contrary intention, does that not render inexplicable and indefensible their insistence on circumscribing the terms of the debate?
Mr. Lidington: Unless a further business statement is made in the House before the conclusion of our sittings this week, or possibly early next week, it would not be possible to have Report and Third Reading until, at the earliest, the week beginning 26 February. That would mean, in turn, that consideration of the Bill in another place could not begin until, at the earliest, the first full week in March. Other members of the Committee have said that the Government are effectively washing their hands of the Bill and believe that it will not become law this side of a general election. Therefore, we are engaged this afternoon in an exercise that owes more to the Government's desire to spin themselves a favourable headline than to any matter of substance.
Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): The hon. Gentleman did not table an amendment at the Programming Sub-Committee. Is he now arguing against the resolution? If so, would he be happy to see the proposed Tuesday sitting abandoned?
Mr. Lidington: No. I said at the beginning of my remarks that I welcomed the Government's decision to allow an additional day, and I shall advise my right hon. and hon. Friends not to oppose that motion. I do not intend to oppose it myself.
My fundamental objection is to the principle of arbitrary programming, rather than, as had previously been the case
Mr. Michael: On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. Is it not the case that the issue of programme motions and the date by which Committees make their decisions has been decided by the House as a whole?
The Chairman: I think that that is correct, but the hon. Member for Aylesbury is in order in expressing his views on the motion.
Mr. Lidington: I am grateful, Mr. O'Hara. As the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth will know, the point that I am making is in answer to the earlier intervention of the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall). My objection is to the arbitrary programming of Standing Committee proceedings instead of, as was previously the custom, the Committee being allowed to commence its proceedings and then, through informal agreements between the usual channels, being allowed adequate time to debate the main points of each clause. That does not always work out in practice and there is a risk that we end up with filibustering and time-wasting. However, in the round it is the best way in which to deal with proposed legislation in Standing Committeesabove all when we are dealing with a Bill such as this, which divides, on honourable and principled grounds, hon. Members of every political party represented in a Committee in which decisions are determined by free votes.
I want to put a few points to Ministers and ask them to use the opportunity presented by next Tuesday's sitting to bring to the Committee a considered response on some important points of detail. This morning, we discussed the trading of rabbit and hare carcases and I am grateful to the Government for agreeing to reconsider.
The interrelationship between the Deer Act 1991 and the Bill is important. In common with the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, I was genuinely grateful for the Parliamentary Secretary's open-mindedness and readiness to reflect on the matter and to return to the Committee next Tuesday with a fuller explanation of that interrelationship.I hope that the Government will table an amendment on rabbits and consider whether rabbit control, as with rodent control, should be an exception.
I also hope that the Government will make a statement to the Committee on the interrelationship between the Bill and the legislation that is likely to be proposed by the Scottish Parliament. In constituencies such as that of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, practical issues concerning enforcement of the Bill will be profoundly affected by what is decided by the Scottish Parliament. We discussed the matter at one of our earliest sittings and the presumption was that Scotland would vote for a complete ban similar to that in the Bill. That has now changed and a statement is necessary because important questions arise concerning enforcement.
Finally, I want to reiterate some points made by other hon. Members. I understand the position in which Ministers find themselves with such Bills. Previous Standing Committees have raised similar questions on how Ministers should conduct themselves. I have told the Parliamentary Secretary and the Under-Secretary that I appreciate the way in which they have dealt with points made by opponents of the Bill and their amendments in a detached way despite the strong personal views they may hold in their capacity as Members of Parliament.
Nevertheless, I have considerable sympathy with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. The Parliamentary Secretary has stressed throughout our proceedings that it is not the responsibility of Ministers to second-guess the decision of the House, but to ensure that we have good law. Some of the detailed questions that have been put to Ministers during our proceedings have been central to whether a particular aspect of schedule 3 will make good law. For those reasons, I hope that Ministers will take time during the next few days to discuss with the authors of schedule 3 the details that have been properly raised and to provide fuller answers.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 8 February 2001|