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Mr. Hogg: I hate to interrupt the elegance of my right hon. Friend's speech, but he and I know full well that secondary legislation is probably drafted some time in advance. Does he agree that in all probability a draft of the secondary legislation is now available? If the Parliamentary Secretary chose, he could tell us about its detail and present it in the Library tomorrow.

Mr. Gummer: My right hon. and learned Friend is right. He makes the comparison that I made even more true. If the chairman of a public company had such information in his back pocket and did not reveal it when he presented the board with a decision like the one facing us, he would have committed an offence. The Government seem to believe that they have committed no offence in presenting such a pathetic motion to the House, yet the House is to blame, because too many Labour Members do not stand up for the rights of the House of Commons, as they are afraid that they might lose their own rights in the Labour party.

We are debating a serious issue, and the fact that only two Labour Back Benchers are present proves my point. We are discussing the most serious assault on freedom

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that has taken place in the House for the past 25 years, and the Labour party has managed to bring together two Back Benchers.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): It is the quality that counts.

Mr. Gummer: The quality may well count, and both hon. Members are, of course, charming, but the fact remains that their number is surprising.

There is a serious issue with regard to the fact that we have been presented with an inadequate motion. For such a motion to be adequate, it would have to set out what secondary legislation we might expect and what time would be afforded if considerable change is made by another place.

There is another reason why the motion is unacceptable. It was mentioned by one of my hon. Friends and supported by one of the Liberal Democrats. I refer to the pressure of the hothouse. I think that that is a real issue. As usual, the House is hotter than it needs to be and would benefit environmentally from a reduction in heat. The fact is that the Government are determined to do a number of things that have nothing to do with the Bill. They need to create a false sense of urgency around the whole Bill in order to get it through. That is what the motion is about: ensuring that we in this House will feel it necessary to pass this stuff because a sort of pressure has been built up, suggesting that if we do not do so, we will be in league with Mr. bin Laden in some way. That is the aim.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that perhaps the most insidious part of the Government's approach is the attempt to make an assault on the patriotism of Opposition Members for daring to stand up against necessary and desirable legislation? Does he agree that that is very offensive to Opposition Members?

Mr. Gummer: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. What could be more ludicrous than to attack Opposition Members on the basis of their patriotism, given the history of a whole range of Bills? I do not want to re-emphasise this point, but I should say that some of us have been blown up by the IRA and do not feel very soft towards terrorists. Some of us have clearly taken a very strong, tough and anti-terrorist position. That is not universally true of the Labour party. Therefore, to be put in the position—

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): Outrageous.

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Lady may say that from a sedentary position, but she has not been in the House when large numbers of Labour Members have voted against a Bill night in, night out, so she should not be telling us that. Neither should people who have brought terrorists into the House and who are members of the Labour party make such suggestions. The hon. Lady does not like conversation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman may have been provoked—alas, it was by a sedentary comment—but I think that I must direct him back to the terms of the motion.

Mr. Gummer: I offer my sincere apologies to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will understand that if one has

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had the experience that some of us have had, those who have brought into the House people who were responsible and who do not understand the seriousness of their actions, do not easily get past one's temper.

I return to the hothouse issue. Are we really to believe seriously that this House should be asked to accept an open-ended commitment that does not give it an opportunity to debate? That is what is fundamentally wrong about the motion. It means that we are to make ourselves available to the Government without being assured of our right to speak. It is a sort of prostitution that I find intolerable. We must hang about; they will not tell us whether we shall be allowed to perform.

The motion cannot be accepted lightly. I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary's elegant introduction. He rightly spoke not about the Bill but about the timetable that is likely to be used. However, timetables relate to Bills and their contents dictate the timetable—or used to dictate it. The Bill's content is so serious that it is remarkable that it appears to have no effect on the offered timetable. We have been given a timetable that would be more suitable for altering the terms of housing tenancies in the north-east of England. We might have been able to fit that subject into it.

The proposals are therefore unacceptable. If the Parliamentary Secretary is unable to tell us how much time we will have to speak, debate and talk to those outside the House, and what opportunity they will have to put to us their deeply held views about the vital issues, we should not support the motion. It is a scandal that we cannot vote on it tonight and it is wrong that the Labour party is represented by only two Back Benchers. I note that three extra Members have been pushed into the Chamber by the Whips since I raised the matter. Doubtless more of those who have not gone home will be brought in from various holes and corners.

The three extra Members means that five Labour Back Benchers are now present; they have more than doubled their number. That shows that we still have some power. When we speak, something happens, even if it is only collecting people from the highways and byways and forcing them into the Chamber.

The Bill constitutes an assault on the liberty of the people of Britain. It needs sufficient time and proper consideration. The proposal provides neither. The Government should not be given the powers to proceed in that way; they are not necessary or justified. Above all, they are intolerable, as history will show. When people look back on our debates, it is not those of us who rebelled against our party and voted against the Government who will be found wanting, but those who rely on the strength of the law to protect them and are not prepared to extend that protection to others.

12.13 am

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): It is a great pleasure to support the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). Like him and other hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), I find the motion offensive.

We should begin by identifying exactly what we are being asked to do. We are being asked to ensure that the Bill clears the House of Commons by Thursday

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13 December. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made the ingenious point that Thursday 13 December will be an extending date and that discussion will continue late that night. He may be right. However, my bet is that the Government will do their best to ensure that the business closes at 7 o'clock because Government Back Benchers want to be away by that time. They will exert enormous pressure on the Government in the same way as they exert it in the Modernisation Committee to curtail debate generally in the House. We can be fairly sure that when the Government say that the Bill is to be enacted by Thursday 13 December, what they actually mean is by 7 o'clock on Thursday 13 December. We are, therefore, entitled to ask whether that gives us enough time to debate the Bill.

That point is reinforced by the thought that, in all probability, the House will not receive Lords messages until Wednesday 12 December, and that, as that is likely to be a fairly busy day—with statements, Prime Minister's questions and this and that—we shall probably not embark on our consideration of Lords amendments until 5 or 6 o'clock that afternoon. We shall in all probability finish by 10 o'clock, which will leave us only the remaining hours—and few of them, at that—on the Thursday. Even on the Government's own timetable, therefore, we are dealing with very few hours.

Simon Hughes: To add to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, I think that I am right in saying that, in the provisional business announced for that week, a full day's debate is scheduled for the Wednesday. The current plan would mean that we should begin to consider any business from the Lords only after 10 o'clock, and that we should therefore have less than 24 hours in which to complete all the rest of the Bill's stages in both Houses, however many times we might be called on.

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