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3.1 pm

Dr. John Pugh (Southport): I shall be focused and speak specifically about why I think, as a pro-life supporter, that the idea of imposing a guillotine on the Bill is nonsensical. It deals with a matter of major moral importance that should be the subject of significant consideration in the House. A prolonged debate is the only mechanism for achieving that.

The Government's procedure seems fundamentally flawed, as they are using statutory instruments and quick Bills to deal with one of the major social issues that is facing the world. As hon. Members have pointed out, certain issues will not be cleared up anyway. They include cross-species implantation and the marketing of embryos, as well as technical issues concerning human rights. All those matters will still be on the table to be dealt with no matter what happens today. It is, therefore, a pity that the Bill is not amendable, as the need will remain for clearing up at the end of the day.

As a pro-life Member of Parliament, the Bill creates a dilemma for me. It outlaws something that I am against—therapeutic cloning—but not everything. Logically, I can understand that, and I appreciate why the Minister would none the less want us to support the Bill. Obviously, if one supports the banning of heroin, that does not necessarily mean that one is in favour of legalising other drugs. Similarly, if one opposes racial discrimination, that does not mean that one supports other aspects of discrimination. I understand that the pro-life argument must be won by the force of logic and that that principle cannot be abandoned. Any amendment that sought to avoid it would be wrong.

None the less, it has been reasonably argued in the Chamber that the way in which the Government have proceeded has given ammunition to people who suspect that some sharp practice is going on. It is perfectly clear that we are concerned with the reality of what we are doing and not with appearance, but a fairly serious argument has been put to me by people who say that, by merely introducing this simple Bill and ignoring all the other issues, we are supporting those other issues or sweeping them away. It might be suggested that we are ignoring the substantive issues that people want to debate, which are going through on the nod and undiscussed.

If that argument exists and the Government will harken to it, there is only one thing that they need to do to correct it: ensure a full and prolonged debate that gives no

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substance whatever to it. Without that debate, pro-life MPs such as myself are left in a dilemma about which we will have to think hard today. Furthermore, speaking not as a pro-life MP, but a new MP, I am simply amazed that we are dealing in this way with something that is a major issue not only for the House, but for humanity.

3.3 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Some of the most effective speeches in this debate have also been some of the shortest. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), who conveyed such important points so briefly, and to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) for their contributions. I pay tribute also to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) for drawing our attention to the Lords Select Committee report and to the illogicality of what we are being asked to do today.

Before I turn to those wider issues, however, I should like to take advantage of the presence of the Advocate–General for Scotland. I do not think that she is winding up the debate, but I should like to point out now that it is not entirely clear to me whether we are dealing with a wholly reserved matter, or whether an enabling or Sewel motion will have to be passed by the Scottish Parliament. If that is the case, how will it relate to the timetabling of the Bill? Perhaps the Minister will be able to clarify that point in her winding-up speech, after her ear has been whispered into. It is relevant to whether we should rush the Bill through today.

Turning to the wider issue, we are considering not a programme motion, but an old-fashioned guillotine motion. It is the sort of guillotine motion of which I remember Michael Foot introducing five on one day. It has always been a fairly noxious proceeding, but what has made it rather more objectionable—and we are bearing the brunt of this now—is that an ingenious adviser to a previous Leader of the House hit on the great wheeze of incorporating the time for debating this motion into the time that is available for consideration of the Bill itself. The effect was to rob the three-hour timetable motion of its deterrent content. The three hours that are still required previously provided some measure of deterrent and could be used to discourage the Government from using such a procedure. I admit that that was not a very powerful deterrent, but the procedure had a deterrent element. Now it has no such element, however, as the Government can sit back and say, "Ha ha, they will debate the guillotine, and then they won't have any time left for the Bill; not even the little bit that we have offered."

I am afraid that, in moral terms, that will not do as ground for the Government to stand on. Governments have created this situation and they must now realise that they are offering an insufficient process and shortening it even further by requiring us to discuss whether we should adopt that process in the time that would otherwise be available to debate the substance of the Bill. This is not merely a matter of the debating time that is provided on the first day. As many hon. Members have pointed out, it concerns the staging of a Bill's consideration. These processes are designed to prevent bad legislation.

I am depressed to say that that is all of a piece with what has been happening generally. The Government's concept of an emergency is extremely wide. It embraces

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the possibility that there will be reproductive cloning in the next couple of weeks not only in one case, but in thousands of cases that we must attend to. The concept also embraces aspects of the new terrorism legislation, to which I referred earlier, such as the provision of powers relating to the purchase of arms by employees of the Strategic Rail Authority. Heaven knows what other nonsense has been crammed into the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, which is supposedly an emergency Bill. It even extends to the ability of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to say to the Rail Regulator that he has authority, if he seeks to use his powers, to bring in emergency legislation.

That is the framework in which we are now operating. Anything can be an emergency, so anything can justify rushing through legislation in a way that cannot ensure that it is properly dealt with. The procedures in our Standing Orders are enfeebled attempts to ensure that legislation is got right, but they will not do that if we have insufficient time and an inadequate process for considering the Bill, as we have today.

Government always get their legislation wrong. Generally, they amend it during its passage, as they discover that it is wrong and table Government amendments. That will happen to any Government. It would happen to a Liberal Democrat Government just as much as it would to Labour and Conservative Governments. That is an important point. The difficulty of Labour Members is that they are so reluctant to admit that their particular Government can get things wrong.

Dr. Gibson: We are never wrong.

Mr. Beith: That is what we are up against. Unless Back Benchers in Government parties realise that any Government are, in the nature of things, liable to have difficulty in framing law that will achieve its intended purpose, they are wasting their time here, as we must get the legislation right. I adduce as evidence for my argument the number of Government amendments that were introduced even in respect of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. They believed that they had got that Bill right, but they had to amend it.

I remember a Solicitor-General in the previous Conservative Government taking a Bill to a Select Committee. He said afterwards said that when it reached the Committee—this was an unusual process—he discovered that it did not carry out its intended purposes and could not even be amended so that it did so. He was a very honest and honourable Minister and his remarks illustrate a problem that all Governments have. After all, the Minister will not have sat down and drafted the Bill on her own. She must take advice from others who do such things for her, and they, too, are not infallible and can get things wrong.

If we agree to the motion, the Government will be under enormous pressure not to table an amendment of their own. If it were discovered during debate of the first group of amendments to be considered in Committee that there was a fundamental fault in the Bill, all the advice, especially from the Government Whips Office, would be the same. The advice would be, "For heaven's sake, don't let a manuscript amendment be tabled; we can't disrupt this procedure and must get the Bill through as we have embarked on this course."

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I should like again to adduce evidence on how easily Governments can get these matters wrong.

I was in Committee on the Hunting Bill in the last Session. It became clear to me on reading that Bill that it would also ban deerstalking. Ministers insisted that that was neither the intention nor the effect of the Bill. A couple of Committee sittings later, they came back and said, "Sorry, we have discovered that it really does ban deerstalking. We will, of course, amend it so that it does not do so."

That is what happens in proceedings on Bills, but if it happens today, the only recourse that the Government will have will be to persuade you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to accept a manuscript amendment. Then there would have to be a Report stage, because the Bill would have been amended. All the pressure would be on the Government not to do that. So, if the Bill is incorrectly drafted—even for its own narrow purpose—the Government will prevent themselves from putting it right.

But what would happen if we got past that stage? Let us say that we did not discover that the Bill was wrong this afternoon, but that it was discovered later. Where would we end up? Right back where we started from: coming to the House, because a court case had determined that the Government had got the drafting wrong. We are here today because the previous Bill was not drafted correctly. That was an innocent mistake, no doubt, but the purpose of our proceedings in the House is to try to prevent that from happening by getting the drafting right in the first place.


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