Standing Committee F
Tuesday 6 February 2001
[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move,
(1) during proceedings on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill the Standing Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at five minutes to Ten o'clock and between half-past Two o'clock and Five o'clock;
(2) the Committee shall not meet on Thursday 8th February, Tuesday 20th February or Thursday 22nd February;
(3) 14 sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;
(4) the proceedings on the Bill shall be taken in the following order, namely Clauses 1 to 45, Schedule 1, Clauses 46 to 49, Schedule 2, Clauses 50 to 69, Schedule 3, Clauses 70 to 86, Schedule 4, Clauses 87 to 101, Schedule 5, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 6, Clauses 107 to 127, Schedule 7, Clauses 128 to 131, Schedule 8, Clause 132, new Clauses, new Schedules;
(5) the proceedings on the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion at the 14th sitting at Five o'clock.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale. I am sure that you and Mr. Hood will conduct proceedings in a fair, courteous and expeditious way. Given that the Second Reading debate was good-natured, I expect the outcome of the Committee's scrutiny to be positive.
The Programming Sub-Committee met last week. Its resolution sets out only the days on which the Committee will meet and the order in which the clauses will be considered, so it gives us maximum flexibility in handling the clauses within the overall programme.
The Bill is lengthy and, with collective agreement, we may need to include Government amendments, for example to include measures to deal with animal rights extremists, a topic on which there is broad all-party agreement. However, I believe that the allocated time should be sufficient.
In the debate in the Chamber, I said that there would be 16 meetings of this Committee; that was our intention. We have subsequently timetabled only 14 sittings because of the availability of individual Committee members. I would like to put on record here what I said about that in the meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee. We are prepared to honour the commitment that I gave to have 16 full sittings if necessary, either through extra sittings within the agreed time scale, or by lengthening the proceedings of our sittings, as the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) suggested at the Sub-Committee. Either option would be acceptable to the Government, depending on the view of Opposition Members about the correct way of proceeding.
If we consider that some points have been insufficiently debated, Mr. Gale, we will ask you to consider reconvening the Programming Sub-Committee with a view to re-examining the timing of our sittings. I hope that the Committee will accept the resolution.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): I, too, welcome you, Mr. Gale. I agree that both you and Mr. Hood will be charming in the Chair and ensure that good order is kept throughout.
The Minister has frankly admitted that on Second Reading he claimed that we would have 16 sittings. He said:
``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 Committeethat is a total of 16 sittings.''[Official Report, 29 January 2001; Vol. 362, c. 124.]
That was the basis on which the House allowed the programme motion to be passed, but it turned out to be false, and when we attended the Programming Sub-Committee, the resolution was for 14 sittings.
Our party does not have mere reservations about, but opposes outright, the idea of such a private Sub-Committee programming our deliberations. We object to the fact that no record is kept and that the Minister is able to guillotine the Committee proceedings, and we do not have the traditional method of allowing sufficient time for the deliberations.
The resolution of the Sub-Committee was for 14 sittings. That means not only that the House passed the programme motion on a false basis, but that the 16 sittings that the Minister himself considered adequate are not provided for. I said in the Sub-Committee that we were being allowed 14 sittings instead of the 16 that we had been promised, and at that point the Minister made his concession. He reverted to 16 sittings under the force of argument from the Opposition.
Mr. Clarke: Will the hon. Gentleman concede that I was not forced into the situation? Immediately he raised the pointnot with a great weight of argumentI conceded it.
Mr. Heald: As you will recall, Mr. Gale, I suggested that we should move the proceedings back to an end date of 13 March and that the Sub-Committee should report that conclusion to the House. The Minister then made his concession and said that we would have 16 sittings.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Surely the exchange between my hon. Friend and the Minister highlights the essential need for a verbatim report of the deliberations of Programming Sub-Committees. The Minister thinks that he said one thing, and my hon. Friend thinks that he said something different.
Mr. Heald: My hon. Friend is right. Let there be no doubt: it was after I moved the motion that the Minister made his concession. First, the Government say that modernisation is a marvellous thing and they will programme everything before anyone knows the scope of the debate. Then, when it is pointed out in the Programming Sub-Committee that there will not be adequate time, suddenly all that changes and they say, ``We can sit all night if we need to. Oh dear, we don't have enough time. We can put in extra days and sit on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.'' The idea that modernisation will help us is destroyed when such a situation arises. Why will the Minister not agree to put back the date to 13 March, which is only a difference of a few days? One suspects that it might have something to do with the Prime Minister's arithmetic.
Mr. Paul Clark (Gillingham): We made it clear that putting back the date would require a further resolution of the House. Two of the major parties readily agreed on a sensible solution to add hours, if needed, to the existing sittings and thus to move forward and discuss the issues.
Mr. Heald: I do not accept that, for two reasons. First, to be fair to the Liberal Democrats[Hon. Members: ``Why?''] That is a good question.
To be fair to the Liberal Democrats, they agreed with us that it was wrong that we were offered 16 sittings but then allowed only 14. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is saying, ``Oh my goodness, we would have to go back to the Floor of the House,'' as if that were a huge exercise similar to climbing Mount Everest. All it involves is tabling a motion without debate one night at 10 o'clock. It could be done tomorrow night with no difficulty at all and would go through on the nod. It happens all the timenot on these programme motions, I hasten to addthat motions are tabled at short notice. In fact, there is a whole list of them on the Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman made a point that could not be sustained by anyone who knows the procedures of the House.
Jackie Ballard (Taunton): I share the hon. Gentleman's recollection that, as the Liberal Democrat representative on the Programming Sub-Committee, I felt that we should have the 16 sittings that were originally promised, but I do not share his recollection of the Minister's response. I recall that the Minister immediately accepted that that was what he had said on Second Reading and said that he would be happy to extend one or two Committee sittings to recover the five hours that would be lost.
Mr. Gray: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. These exchanges highlight how absurd it is for all three parties to discuss what we said when we met last week. A message must be sent back to the Modernisation Committeeor whoever deals with these thingsthat the situation is impossible and that we must have a verbatim account of discussions in Programming Sub-Committees.
The Chairman: Strictly speaking, that is not a point of order for me. Mr. Speaker has ruled that it is a matter for the Modernisation Committee. I undertook, as I did on a previous occasion, at the meeting of the Sub-Committee, to report its views faithfully to the Chairman of Ways and Means, and that I have done. I am certain that the issue will be considered by the Chairmen's Panel, and I expect that we will make recommendations to the Modernisation Committee. For the moment, the procedure is subject to House resolutions.
I reaffirm the information that I gave to the Sub-Committee. Mr. Hood and I, as your Chairmen, are here to do the Committee's biddingwithin reason. If we need to sit late, and it is agreed through the usual channels, our services will be available.
Mr. Heald: That is the sort of generous offer that I would expect from you, Mr. Gale, and from Mr. Hood, but why should you have to make it? There is endless talk about modernisation letting us go home early and giving us plenty of time for consideration and preparation of amendments, but then the Government turn round and say that that applies only if it suits them.
I will not detail further what was said in the Programming Sub-Committee, except to say that I agree with the hon. Member for Taunton that the Minister admitted that he had earlier promised 16 sittings. However, he promised them only after I moved the motion for a later end date. Although we lost that vote, it was the right approach.
We must examine what will be the effect of having a tight, short consideration of some of the issues. The new clauses deal with some of the most important issues, but they will not be considered until the end of the Committee. There is the terrible situation of scientists being terrorised at Huntingdon Life Sciences and other businesses; we must get that right. The Minister has offered to table new clauses, which we have not yet seen, that deal with the besetting of people's homes and with poisonous communication through the post. Further issues that were identified by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) must be also considered. He asked whether the names of directors and shareholders given to Companies House must also be made public. Are those people to be protected?