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Dr. Gibson: Will the hon. Gentleman please tell us which group brought the case in the High Court?

Mr. Tyler: I think that it was the ProLife Alliance, but I hasten to assure the hon. Gentleman that I hold no particular brief for that group. That is not the point. The point is that a judge in the High Court of this land decided to rely on the words that we in Parliament had agreed. Amazing.

Our second concern relates to the medical and scientific—

Dr. Evan Harris: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Tyler: I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. I am about to refer to him in flattering terms. When we reach the appropriate point, he will deal in detail

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with the medical and scientific aspects, but I am sure that all hon. Members will acknowledge—as a layman, I certainly do—that they are complicated and difficult for ordinary people to understand. That is an important point.

Three pages of closely argued explanation—or excuse—from the Minister still do not explain why the Department made its mistake last January and gave us those assurances. There is no apology and no explanation. In a few minutes, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to deal with the Bill's substantial omissions and loopholes. The Minister has, in effect, acknowledged that it is full of holes and thus defective. The issue has been debated at greater length in the European Parliament and the United States Congress, and they have still not got it right.

Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman will know that the US Congress has the same procedures as us. After all, the US Congress is a mirror image of Parliament.

Sir Patrick Cormack: It is not.

Michael Fabricant: I believe that it is. However, the issue is whether the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) is aware that the US Congress resisted the temptation to which the House may unfortunately succumb. It has separated the various stages—Second Reading, consideration in Committee and on Report and Third Reading—but we may make the mistake of taking those stages in just two and a half hours today.

Mr. Tyler: I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman in his comparison of the United Kingdom and the US constitutions because, as other hon. Members will agree, we have a very different constitution. But he is right that we will run into the most appalling problems in taking together all the stages of a Bill, however straightforward it may appear at first sight.

Dr. Evan Harris: When my hon. Friend asked the Government to explain why they lost the judicial review, he was challenged for having in some way sided with the ProLife Alliance. Many people advised the Government that their definition would not hold up—for example, Margot Brazier. In his book, Professor Derek Morgan questioned whether it would hold—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Those matters are not directly related to the allocation of time motion.

Mr. Tyler: I therefore express my qualified admiration and gratitude to my hon. Friend, but I have no doubt that he will return to that point if he catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Thirdly, having dealt with the legal and scientific concerns about the way in which the issue is being handled, I turn to the ethical. Whatever our view, we must acknowledge that people have sincere moral and ethical misgivings about these issues; they need the most careful thought. These are highly contentious issues, so all hon. Members, whichever side we take, should give them the attention that they deserve. Indeed, some of us may not have reached a conclusion because these are genuine

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issues of conscience, and certainly not issues of party policy. We may not have had the opportunity of listening to our leaders and the great and good, who may be able to increase our wisdom on the issues, so, again, we have a particular responsibility to give them the attention that they deserve.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick–upon–Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, by taking all stages in an afternoon, we deny not only ourselves but people outside the House the opportunity for careful thought. That is a critical issue for the House. It may not be such an issue for the other House, but as a representative, democratically elected House, we have a responsibility to listen to all sides of the argument and to those outside, especially our constituents.

Earlier this afternoon, the Leader of the House told us that the House will rise for the Christmas recess on the Wednesday before Christmas. Most of us had already noted in our diaries that we would be here on the Thursday. I suggest to the Government, even at this stage, that a little shunting backwards would provide us with an opportunity to return to this issue at an appropriate point in the consideration of the Bill. That would enable us to listen not only to what other hon. Members say, but to people outside the House. I cannot commit every Liberal Democrat Member to this, but I suspect that as all my hon. Friends have marked Thursday in their diaries as a sitting day, they would feel the House fully justified in taking one more day to give this important Bill further consideration.

I do not demur from what the hon. Member for North–East Hertfordshire and the Minister said about the Bill's importance. It is incredibly important that we consider it properly precisely because it is so important.

I must put on record once again the fact that there has been no consultation with my party or, so far as I am aware, with those on the Conservative Front Bench on the handling of the Bill. Frankly, that is a disgrace, and that lack of consultation is not good for business in the House.

On many occasions, the Leader of the House has said that good government requires good parliamentary scrutiny. We are letting ourselves and him down and, most important, we are letting the electorate down by giving the Bill this perfunctory performance of scrutiny this afternoon. Knee-jerk reactions have a nasty habit of hitting the wrong place. If the Bill is as misdirected as I fear that it might be, it could be very painful indeed.

2.5 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): As you reminded us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we are debating not the merits of the Bill, but the merits of considering it in this manner. Frankly, there is no merit whatever in taking it in the manner in which the Government propose.

There is no situation in the world that is not made worse by panic. This is panic legislation that has been introduced by a Government who, as long ago as August 2000, realised that it would be necessary to produce a Bill. They have waited until the very last minute and sprung the Bill on Parliament in a way that is contemptuous of Parliament, insulting to our constituents and that treats an issue of enormous moral significance as if it were a mere bagatelle. However one looks at it, it is a monumental gaffe by the Government for which there is absolutely no excuse.

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Yesterday, we debated a measure that did not keep the House occupied until 10 o'clock. There is no reason on God's earth why we should not have begun the consideration of this Bill yesterday. We would then at least have had 24 hours between one stage and another. That would have been far better than what confronts us now, but there is no excuse for even that sort of precipitate rush.

There cannot be a Member in the House who does not have constituents who are profoundly concerned by the moral implications of the subject. I shall say nothing about that, because I would rightly be called to order if I did. However, in this context, I am a follower of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster who wrote an article last week that outlined some of the complexities of the subject. I well recognise that others take a different view. I honour them for it, and they have every right to take it, but whatever view we take, what opportunity did any of us have to discuss the matter in our constituencies between the announcement that the Bill would be introduced and today's debate? We had no proper opportunity to arrange meetings.

We should have had Second Reading today—that would have been perfectly in order and entirely reasonable—and then had the weekend to talk to our constituents. It is not just the Churches that are interested in the subject. Doctors and many others would have wanted the opportunity—I would have liked to have given them it—to talk about the Bill.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): I am trying to find the right form of words, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman is unintentionally misleading us by suggesting that the Bill has been thought up in the past few days. As Baroness Warnock said in the other place, the Bill should be welcomed because the Government and Parliament are fulfilling a commitment on this very important subject. I have received many letters about it, and I believe that my constituents are happy that we are beginning the process, but think that perhaps we should go further.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am almost sorry that I gave way. The hon. Gentleman completely misses the point. Let me say it again. Yes, the Government recognised the need for the Bill as long ago as August 2000, but why in the name of goodness do they have to give us one afternoon to get it through all its stages? It is absurd and an insult, as much to him and his constituents as to me and mine, and to all hon. Members who are present and theirs.


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