Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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The Chairman: Before we embark on debate on this matter—I shall add a minute to our proceedings to allow for what I am about to say—I want to make a personal observation. It is regrettable that proceedings of the Sub-Committee are not minuted. Although members of the Committee may attend as observers—indeed, last night one did—that is not always possible. A written record would be helpful because the meetings are informal and not a matter of record, so comment on the proceedings can be reported only through the eyes of those who were present.

I understand that hon. Members have strong views—they would probably not be Members of Parliament had they not. I also understand that occasionally those views will be expressed forcefully. However, I must make it plain that I deprecate acrimony and will not tolerate unparliamentary or discourteous behaviour. Since I joined the Chairmen's Panel, every Committee that I have chaired has been courteous and harmonious within the bounds of proper political disagreement. I am certain that the Committee will want to continue in that vein.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): I would not want the Committee to think that I said anything rude or unparliamentary in yesterday's Sub-Committee. I have always thought that courtesy is important and I have always been extremely courteous to the Minister. However, one is entitled to be angry if one feels that the Government are interfering with something important—namely proper scrutiny.

I sat on criminal justice Bills when we were in government, when I listened to Opposition Members and thought, ``Gosh, that is a tedious point. They are going on at tremendous length.'' The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill was subject to 240 hours of scrutiny, but we did not guillotine it because we felt that it was important. One may argue that we guillotined other legislation, but when it came to Committee we tried to allow the Opposition enough time.

Labour Members may think that we have been going on at great length in this Committee, but the Minister disagreed. He said many times that we were making good points and debating seriously. It is worth remembering the Home Secretary's view when he was in opposition:

    ``Careful scrutiny is one of the best guarantors of good legislation.''—[Official Report, 20 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 339.]

On our first day in Committee, the Minister, who was making his first point on the first clause, said:

    ``Many valid issues have been raised.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 6 February 2001; c. 26.]

In the debate on unlawful street trading, he conceded that we had made a good point:

    ``I am ready to think again about the hon. Gentleman's point and see whether we might consider widening the scope in the way he suggested.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 6 February 2001; c. 31.]

In the same debate, the Parliamentary Secretary immediately accepted one of our amendments. He said:

    ``The amendment deals with whether subsection (5) should be changed so that positive resolution procedure was required.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 6 February 2001; c. 38.]

He then agreed that that should happen.

In the afternoon sitting, the Minister said:

    ``This is an entirely legitimate debate. There was a wide range of evidence from different bodies in the consultation process.''

He continued:

    ``I was at pains to tell the hon. Gentleman that his amendment was perfectly reasonable.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 6 February 2001; c. 79-81.]

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) has also expressed sympathy with our views. He said:

    ``It would be a mistake if people who, under normal circumstances, were entitled to criminal compensation found themselves deprived.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 6 February 2001; c. 86.]

In a later sitting, the Minister described an Opposition amendment as ``perfectly well meaning.'' He also discussed the Opposition's many contributions to

    ``what was nevertheless a serious debate''.—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 13 February 2001; c. 105.]

He mentioned that we had made ``points of substance''.

The Minister also applauded the serious approach to the Committee adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate. He referred to

    ``the spirit of constructive inquiry.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 13 February 2001; c. 146.]

He said:

    ``I commend the issues identified by Opposition Members for inclusion in the guidance . . . Some of the issues that have been identified, particularly in relation to restorative justice, are serious and appropriate.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 13 February 2001; c. 166-7.]

Who made those suggestions? It was my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire, the former Attorney-General, who has been so castigated today. He is also a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee. It had important business that clashed with the business of this Committee. He was entitled to be away from the sitting. He should not be criticised.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

10.15 am

Mr. Heald: Not at the moment.

The attitude of the Opposition to the Bill is not wrong. The criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath with regard to the Criminal Bar Association is misplaced. I have read the file of submissions that came from outside bodies about fixed penalty notices. The Criminal Bar Association was referred to because it was the only organisation to come up with a detailed analysis of the Bill. I do not accept the charge that my hon. Friend has misbehaved. The length of time spent on clause 1 was not unreasonable, given the Minister's own comments, which I hope will be documented fully in the record of our proceedings. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire should not be criticised. In fact, he has made some acute legal points, which Ministers have acknowledged as such.

That brings me back to whether the Committee was allowed enough time in the first place. The Minister must agree that I am always consistent about the matter. Not enough time has been allocated to us. A 132-clause Bill such as this probably needs 18 to 20 sittings. Originally, he offered us 16. He went back on that proposal after the Sub-Committee met and offered us 14. It is wrong to say, ``You've had evening sessions on Tuesday. They can count as extra sittings.'' They do not.

The original proposal was that we could sit on Tuesday evenings. It did not mention our having to finish at a particular time. If it had, we would have opposed it. We were entitled to long Tuesdays. We wanted extra days, which we have not had. It was extremely bad to offer that timetable and to mislead the House—inadvertently, I am sure. The Minister told the House that we would have 16 sittings. He then offered 14. He is now offering us 15, and we are supposed to be grateful. We are not.

The programme motion suggests that, on the last day, we should deal with 50 clauses and the remaining schedules. It is laughable. The Opposition should not be treated like that. It was always the case that, for a Committee to be guillotined, members had to have misbehaved. It was an insult to the Opposition to guillotine a Committee. In this case, I do not think that the Government have reached their decision because of time wasting. It has been done to fit in with their election timetable. It is an outrage. The Minister said that I used bad language towards him. I did not use bad language in the sense of calling him anything personal, but I am annoyed about the matter and he should be privately, quietly ashamed. If we want proper democracy in this country, the ability to debate matters and to ensure that matters are subjected to the careful scrutiny to which the Home Secretary referred, we need time to make our points.

I agree with the Minister that we should be able to debate Huntingdon Life Sciences next Tuesday. I want to do that. It was my idea, and it is important to people who want scientists to be protected. However, he need not take credit for that. We suggested such a debate. The fact that he agrees is good, but it does not get away from the fact that, overall, the timetable is a sorry disgrace.

Mr. Paul Clark (Gillingham): Bearing in mind the comments that have been made about the procedure of the Programming Sub-Committee not being recorded, I do not intend to deal with what might have happened. I want to deal with the facts. The Opposition's position vis-a-vis programming motions is well known. It is not officially recorded in terms of the Sub-Committee, but it is well known and well documented from the Floor of the House and in our proceedings from columns 3 to 11 of the Official Report of the Committee's proceedings. That is clearly laid out. We can repeat that ad infinitum, but we are using up time in which we could be looking at the issues that matter and delivering the provisions of the Bill—which is, I suspect, what we all want to do.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire has just talked about the business of wanting to deliver, and to discuss properly the new clauses. The new resolution from the Programming Sub-Committee picks up what is clearly recorded in the Official Report, when the hon. Gentleman said that the most important issues were being raised under the new clauses

    ``but they will not be considered until the end of the Committee.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 6 February 2001; c. 6.]

Clearly, that issue has been taken on board in the new programming motion because of concerns expressed not only by Opposition Members but by my hon. Friends and other interested parties.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clark: No, I will not, because time is short.

The matter has been taken on board and clearly laid out in the new resolution. With due respect, we talk about wanting proper democracy. I would not disagree, but I suspect that proper democracy for Mr. and Mrs. Smith in Gillingham or, dare I suggest, for Mr. and Mrs. Smith in North-East Hertfordshire is about how they can go about their business without the threat of being abused in the street, meeting drunken people with disorderly behaviour, or people trespassing on the railways. That is clearly what is in the interests of democracy. I would suggest that were we to discuss with our constituents the number of hours that are programmed to deliver the Bill, they would want the provisions to be delivered rather than for us to devote endless hours to them.

I accept that there is always a case to be made for giving a Bill endless hours of discussion. However, when we have got on with business—on Tuesday, for example—as the Minister suggested, many good points arose from proper and sensible discussion. Clearly, we should be trying to deliver what is in the interests of people and democracy in a proper way, with reasonable opportunity for discussion in Committee.

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