Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Hawkins: I wish to adopt, without repeating it, what my hon. Friend has just said. I should like to make a further point. The Minister said, when the Committee was reconvened, that these were simply arguments about procedure, and not matters of substance. When I was elected to the House in 1992 and when I first stood for Parliament in 1987, I thought that I was coming to a democratic institution. All around the world, at the beginning of the 21st century, people are fighting, and in many cases dying, for parliamentary democracy. Last weekend, I was among those who heard a very brave young man who has been in jail for a long time for trying to bring about democracy in Burma. When, at the beginning of the 21st century, the Government tell us that the question whether elected Members of Parliament have the chance to conduct clause-by-clause, line-by-line scrutiny of important legislation on law and order—something vital to this House—is simply a matter of procedure, I can only agree with my hon. Friend that it is an abomination. We were not elected for this. If Labour Members of Parliament want to give their electorates an honest account, during the forthcoming election campaign, of what they have been doing, they should say, ``I have come to Parliament to be part of a Stalinist-style, rubber-stamping, so-called modernised Labour Government, who do not allow debate.''

Even the simplest sixth form debating society would know that what is happening is an abomination, and a negation of democracy. All the members of the Labour party in this Room, from the Minister to the newest and most silent Back Benchers, should be ashamed of themselves.

Mr. Clarke: Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to comment on the long and consistent record of Conservative Governments of propping up dictatorships in, for example, southern Africa and South Africa, and of trying to negate democracy at every turn?

The Chairman: Order. It would be helpful if hon. Members on both sides would try to concentrate on the Motion before the Committee. I rule out of order any further such interventions.

Mr. Hawkins: I accept your ruling, Mr. Gale. All that I would say is that you were kind enough, the last time that a Programming Sub-Committee met, to propose that you should talk to the Chairmen's Panel and report, for further consideration by the House and the Modernisation Committee, the problem that even Front-Bench Members have—although it affects Back Benchers as well. That problem is the inability to vote, or even speak, despite being allowed to be present at a Programming Sub-Committee. Have you, since the last occasion when the Programming Sub-Committee was reconvened, had an opportunity to raise the matter?

You may not feel it appropriate to comment further, but I consider that the recent reconvening made the difficulty known even more clearly than before. More members of the main Committee were able to be present, but only members of the Sub-Committee could speak.

Mr. Paul Clark (Gillingham): I am aware of your undertaking, Mr. Gale, to convey matters of concern that arose in previous discussions about programming in the Sub-Committee and in formal Standing Committee debates. We are aware of the Opposition's views about the issue of programming, which have been made abundantly clear and which you have agreed to take up.

My impression of the workings of the Sub-Committee is that we have been willing to see what could be done. For example, if I recall correctly, the 10 o'clock guillotine would not have been set without a measure of agreement with the Opposition about the stage that we might reach by then. Last night's 10 o'clock guillotine would not otherwise have been arranged.

The proposal that my hon. Friend the Minister has made to continue until 7 o'clock tomorrow night is clearly sensible. However, it would be difficult for many of us to be present this afternoon. Perhaps the reason that the Opposition do not want to be in the Chamber this afternoon is that they do not want to hear the good news of the Budget.

Jackie Ballard (Taunton): I agree with Conservative Members that we do not have enough time to do justice to the Bill in debate. That is why I voted in the Programming Sub-Committee for each of their proposals to extend the time available. However, now that we are under a guillotine for discussion of certain clauses, it is not necessary for every Conservative Member to repeat the argument.

Mr. McCabe: I simply want to observe that when the Committee turns its attention to scrutiny of the Bill we are making rather good progress, which is probably reflected in Hansard. The difficulty is that each performance by a Tory Member is punctuated by a political diatribe that takes up the Committee's time but has nothing to do with the substance of the Bill. If they could be encouraged to desist from such actions, we would make much more rapid progress.

Mr. Gray: The reason why this half-hour debate is necessary—the hon. Member for Taunton said that we should not waste it—is because the Programming Sub-Committee's proceedings are not on record. Once again, I ask that they are reported. If they had been, the Minister's intemperate remarks, the most recent of which was an astonishing outburst about the Conservative Government keeping fascist people in power, which were most unministerial, would have been on the record—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Gray: I hope that the Minister will raise that point because these half-hour debates would not then be necessary.

We should ask Mr. Speaker to examine carefully the remarks made yesterday in the Chamber by the Advocate-General for Scotland. She is not involved in the Committee's proceedings or with the main stream of Home Office business. The fact that she chose to describe this Committee's activities as filibustering shows that it is a common view among Ministers.

Mr. Heald: Did my hon. Friend hear the Minister say clearly in the Programming Sub-Committee that there had been no filibustering in the Committee? Is that my hon. Friend's recollection of the exact words that the Minister used?

Mr. Gray: Those are exactly the words that the Minister used.

Mr. Clarke: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gray: Perhaps in a moment, but the Minister has had his time. There is clearly a disagreement between the Minister and the Advocate-General for Scotland. That is a matter of history, but I hope that Mr. Speaker will examine carefully exactly what was said in the Chamber yesterday and what the Minister said in Committee today.

Mr. Clarke: The record will show that what I said in response to the hon. Member for Taunton was that I believed that there had been no deliberate filibustering. I stand by what I said, and not by the words used by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire.

Mr. Gray: I think that we are dealing with semantics. Saying that there was no deliberate filibustering seems to me be the same as saying that there was no filibustering. A filibuster must, by definition, be deliberate. There is no such thing as an undeliberate filibuster. The Minister is once again fiddling with words to try to justify the affront to democracy caused by the guillotine being brought to bear on the Committee's deliberations.

Most significantly, we Opposition Members were prepared to come back to this Room at 4.30 pm and, if necessary, to discuss the Bill overnight. We do not make such suggestions lightly. Of course we would like to appear on our local radio stations to talk about the Budget and expose the absolute nonsense of the Chancellor's giveaway Budget, but we have been sent here to scrutinise this Bill. If necessary, and despite the fact that in these modernised days we do not crave it, we are ready to sit overnight, but the Minister is not. We are ready to extend the Committee's sittings until 13 March, but the Minister is not.

The Minister is prepared to do only two things. First—he will make a great show of it on Report—he generously gave us two extra hours. That is fantastic. Yesterday, we disposed of 93 clauses, 77 amendments, 37 Government amendments, 13 new clauses and nine Government new clauses that covered 13 pages of fine print. The Minister is prepared to give us two hours to discuss such matters further, but that is woefully inadequate.

Secondly, the Minister generously proposed to bring the guillotine forward, so the chop will now fall at clause 76 rather than later. That was generous of him; he agreed to give proper consideration today to a limited group of clauses, but we shall have only two extra hours tomorrow to deal with a total of about 65 clauses. It has not been suggested that tomorrow's sitting could be extended, so the outrage tomorrow will be even worse. We shall have to deal with 65 clauses, and goodness knows how many amendments or schedules will be rushed. The guillotine will fall at 7 pm because Labour Members will want to rush back to their constituencies. That is an outrage against Parliament. The Government should be ashamed of themselves.

Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South): I am reluctant to enter the debate because the normal protocol is that Whips should remain silent in Committee. However, as you said earlier, Mr. Gale, we are in uncharted waters. I acknowledge your courtesy and the courtesy of your co-Chairman in dealing with the usual channels throughout our proceedings, but we are where we are because of the Opposition's view about the number of sittings that the Committee should have.

Mr. Heald: In the previous Parliament, we always gave far more time to deal with Bills than the hon. Gentleman is allowing. In this Parliament, we had 22 sittings to consider the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which had a similar number of clauses. In 1982, there were 25 sittings to consider the Criminal Justice Act 1982, a Bill of similar length. Why is the hon. Gentleman being so miserable as to allow us only 15 sittings? That is unacceptable; surely he feels ashamed of himself.

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Prepared 7 March 2001