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Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs Etc.)

Mr. Neil Gerrard accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the carriage of disabled persons accompanied by guide dogs, hearing dogs or other assistance dogs by drivers and operators of private hire vehicles; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January, and to be printed [Bill 62].


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Orders No. 114 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (legislative proposals and other matters relating exclusively to Northern Ireland)) and No. 116 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (sittings)),

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 117 (Standing Committee on Regional Affairs),

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Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Business of the House

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [4 December],

Question again proposed.

5.40 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to continue the remarks that I was making last night. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I begin by apologising for the fact that I shall not be giving way to right hon. and hon. Members as generously as I did last night, when I gave way—I have counted—on 23 separate occasions. The House may feel that I had rather a good innings last night and that I might therefore be trespassing on the House's patience if I speak too long today.

There is another reason why I shall not give way so often. I anticipate that the Government will seek to bring this debate to a conclusion within an hour or so of its start. I also suspect that various hon. Members who were in the Chamber yesterday, most of whom remained in the Chamber throughout last night's proceedings, will wish to say something in this debate. I have in mind specifically the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), but there may be others and I apologise if I have omitted anyone. I hope that it will be possible for at least those hon. Members to participate, if that is what they wish. It is with that in mind that I shall be much briefer than I would have otherwise been. I am also conscious that I have had an opportunity—51 minutes or so—to express my views.

There is one other bit of business. May I welcome the Leader of the House to the debate? He was in the Chamber yesterday for the opening speech, but then he departed. He will see from the record that I made some pretty uncharitable remarks about his not being here. However, I am glad to see that, at least this afternoon, at a more convenient hour, he is on the Treasury Bench. I welcome that fact because this is an important debate.

There is one more point that I should deal with before coming to the substance of the debate. The House will be asking itself—it might be helpful to know—why it is that we are debating something now that we were debating about eight or nine hours ago. Last night, we were debating the business motion, the effect of which is in reality to conclude debate on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill on Thursday 13 December—for reasons that I explained yesterday—at 7 o'clock. Various right hon. and hon. Members—including me, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and

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Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)—felt very strongly about that. There are powerful arguments against the proposals and those hon. Members advanced them powerfully.

There were, however, only about two more speeches to be made last night, when it became apparent that the Government were going to move a closure. We knew that because those of us who have been in this place for some time suddenly saw that the Labour Benches, which had been largely deserted, had begun to fill up. We also saw the Government Whips chuntering together in the way that they usually do. We therefore knew that there was going to be a closure.

Liberal Democrat Members—I commend them on this—hit upon a procedural device: to move that the House sit in private. As I understand it, that was the first time since 1958 that that has happened. Unfortunately for the Government, however, at that critical moment, they were plotting closure. So when Liberal Democrat Members moved the motion, there was no one to cry no. The consequence was that we went into private session, the Galleries were cleared, the amplifiers were switched off, Hansard departed—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that he is not going to speak at quite the same length as he did yesterday, but he is now giving a blow by blow account of what happened in the Chamber last night. Perhaps he could turn to the substance of his remarks.

Mr. Hogg: As there was not a record of the proceedings, an account might be helpful; but I have of course finished my reprise. I have explained why we are having this debate today. However, we are debating a very serious point.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we seem to be able to debate the motion in prime time today without any real inconvenience to the Government's agenda for today? Would he like to try to explain why the Government thought that they could not do today what they tried to do in the middle of last night? The public should be made aware of that.

Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend makes a serious point. This is an important business motion and it was being secreted through last night. What is more, it would have been voted on by the deferred voting procedure, which means that hon. Members sign a visiting book on Wednesdays. I refuse to participate in that process, because it is wrong in principle. It is right and proper that matters of importance should be debated on the Floor of the House in prime time and that right hon. and hon. Members should vote in the ordinary way.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I endorse the remarks made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It was the objective of my colleagues and I at all stages to try to achieve three objectives procedurally. First, we wanted to raise the issues and get answers to the questions. Secondly, we wanted to have the debate at a proper time when it could be heard and reported and people such as the Leader of the House could be present.

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Thirdly, we wanted to be able to vote at the end of the relevant debate. We have managed to achieve that, if through a rather unusual device. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his assistance.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. His motives were as he has stated, and I supported them. He has brought about a most desirable outcome. I hope that hon. Members will not think that I am being churlish if I do not give way much more, because I want to allow other hon. Members to participate.

I have taken the liberty of saying that this is a serious matter. I have spoken many times on the Bill and I have advanced the generality of my argument against it. I shall not repeat that today, because those who are interested know why I am against it. I oppose especially the manner of its enactment.

The Lords messages mentioned in the motion are the amendments that will come from the other place. The plain truth is that we have no idea of the weight or the content of those messages. That being so, we cannot tell whether the proposed ending at 7 pm on Thursday 13 December is reasonable. We are asked to assume that it is, but nobody—not even Government Front Benchers—can say that it is because we will not know what the messages are until the Lords delivers them.

Another related point is that it is important that those institutions outside the House with real concerns about the Bill—I hope that Government Front Benchers will understand that there are many of those—should have an opportunity properly to make their representations on the amendments as they come from the other place, and as they go back and forth. The procedure that we would adopt under the business motion would actively prevent that from happening, and that is wrong.

We have been told by the Minister—I am not sure that he intended to be quite as candid as he was—that we would have a timetable motion to govern the process of business on the messages. He will realise that the nature of the timetable—and, indeed, the nature of today's business motion—cannot properly be determined until we know the number, weight and content of the Lords messages. In reality, the timetable and the motion should not be laid until the messages are identified. In any event, the timetable will be shaped by the business motion, rather than the other way round. A timetable should be drawn so as to ensure that the House has a proper opportunity to debate the legislation, and the business motion should reflect the time needed. In fact, the timetable will be the subject of the artificial constraint imposed by the business motion.

Another point concerns the statutory instruments. The Minister told us last night—it was fair of him to do so—that secondary legislation would be introduced, pursuant to the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal and I made the point that the documents will already be in existence, albeit that they will be called drafts. If the Minister had wanted to, he could have laid those documents in the Library—he still could—or read them out in extenso, although you might stop him, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In any event, the House could be told the contents of the statutory instruments. It is unsatisfactory that we should not know those contents or be able to discuss them before we determine the end date. The statutory instruments may be offensive in themselves.

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Indeed, they may be so offensive that we might not want the Bill to pass at all. That is a point that we cannot judge until we see the statutory instrument, and we shall not see that until we are given an end date.

From time to time last night, I approached the debate with a certain levity, as did other hon. Members. It was a fine occasion. I enjoyed it, and I think that other hon. Members did too. However, this is a very serious matter. Although I have not always been able to secure the support of Conservative Front-Bench Members, I have consistently opposed the Bill because it seriously abrogates legal and civil rights.

Sometimes a case can be made for abrogating such rights, and I am prepared to accept that there may be a case for some abrogation in respect of some parts of the Bill. However, no such case can be made for the Bill in its entirety. If the Government are going to abrogate civil, legal and political rights, they must do so in the proper way, with full and proper discussion in Parliament.

The House will vote on the business motion later, and I do not suppose that Labour Members will support us on the matter. However, in the Division Lobby they will have an opportunity—which I hope they will take—to say to Ministers, "Look, my friends, what we are doing is wrong. What is more, we must not do it again." If they do that, the action taken by Liberal Democrat Members last night, which I supported, and the words spoken in this debate will have been worthwhile. A very important principle is at stake. We neglect it at the country's peril, and in breach of the duties that we owe our constituents.

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