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Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The area on which we disagreedor on which I failed to understand the hon. Gentlemanwas in relation to his apparent insistence that it was not good enough for us to say that this measure in
Norman Baker: If that is the opinion that the Minister formed, I am happy to clarify matters, as the Secretary of State for Transport, local Government and the Regions might have said in one of his illuminating statements. If the measure itself does not cut across the Human Rights Act, of course it is compatible with it. However, if the mirroring safeguards that would have been included in legislation previously are not included in this Bill, it will have fewer safeguards, by definition, because of the existence of the Human Rights Act.
I shall not take very much longer, as other hon. Members want to contribute. I shall just raise one other point that I raised on Second Readingwhich I do not think has been dealt with since by me or anyone elseabout the hierarchy. Throughout the Committee, the Minister clearly explained how the hierarchy would work and gave several assurances for which I was grateful and which the Committee accepted. However, my one residual concern relates to the situation in which somebody is charged with a criminal offence and acquitted, and the lesser methodcivil recoverykicks in. The danger would be that, in the case of a high-profile acquittal, the public at largewho would not understand the hierarchical systemwould view such recovery as persecution of an individual. That poses dangers to the credibility of the Bill.
If such a conclusion were reached, the authorities might in turn be encouraged to engage in the equivalent of plea bargainingwhich nobody in this place wantsand to opt immediately for civil recovery rather than a criminal charge. Of course, the threshold for civil recovery is lower than it is for a criminal charge, so that option will be tempting. In the same way, authorities sometimes pursue the charge of driving without due care and attention rather than the charge of dangerous driving.
Overall, however, this is a good Bill, and Liberal Democrats are pleased to support it. We wish it well in the Lords and we shall table one or two amendments to deal with residual matters of concern. I thank the Minister for the considerate and helpful way in which he has ensured the progress of this Bill.
Mr. Davidson: The Minister said that this was his first time piloting a Bill in Committee. He was not nearly as bad as we expected for an ex-Whip seeking to rejoin the human race. He was perhaps over-keen, on occasion, to compensate for his previous form. Nevertheless, he conducted himself with good humour throughout the Committee, as did most hon. Members. I was frequently phoned by the press, who asked for a list of members of the Committee broken down by age and sex. I replied, "All of them." That was a fairly easy response, but still a good one.
In relation to the Opposition parties, it is worth while to remark that there were three Liberal Members on the Committee, but they were never present at the same time. I wonder how many other people noticed that. Even
Mr. Carmichael: The reason why there were only ever two of us was thatnotwithstanding the difference in the numbers of Liberal Democrat Members and Labour Membersthe sheer force of our arguments, if we had all been present, would have been overwhelming. Although the hon. Gentleman may not have raised many issues in Committee, he raised a number of laughs. Regardless of what his colleagues have said about him, I always thought that he was okay.
Mr. Davidson: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman speaks on that point. He told us earlier that his 11-year-old son was cutting his first teeth. Children always use an especially hard type of stone in Orkney and Shetland for such purposes.
I see that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) has rejoined us. It is interesting that after many absences in Committee he has obviously been told to stay away, which seems eminently sensible. He spent much time in Committee signing his books. I understand that he had not completed colouring in some of them. He was sent away for Ugandan conversations at one stage. Given that he is a Member who has newspapers to sell, it is understandable that he was not always in Committee. I find myself hurrying past "Big Issue" sellers in case it is the hon. Gentleman
Mr. Salmond: I have recently been studying some figures. It seems that the hon. Gentleman has spoken more in the past two days than he has spoken in the Chamber since the last general election. That is remarkable. I want to apologise to him, because yesterday I implied that his participation record in the Chamber was miserable. That is not true. The figures show that it is not miserable; it is just not very good. He is 27th out of 55 in the activity rate among Scottish Back Benchers, which I suppose
One of the strengths of the Committee was that a range of views were expressed by Labour Members. The Labour party that I joined was a broad church, and that was a good thing. One of the things that has caused me most unhappiness about new Labour is the way in which it has sought to narrow the range of acceptable opinions.
The Tories have stressed their support for the Bill on Third Reading, but words are cheap. There were many occasions in Committee when they procrastinated and deliberately spun out discussion so that some clauses were not reached. It was made absolutely clear that those parts of the Bill could be dealt with in another place.
We must see what the Conservatives seek to do to the Bill in the other place. They will be judged by their actions there. There is a real danger that they will try substantially to weaken the Bill, which will be to the detriment of our people.
Mr. Grieve: I fear that the hon. Gentleman is beginning to suffer from the paranoia that starts to infect Governments after their first term. It is uncharacteristic of him to have succumbed because he has always been rather semi-detached. I can assure him that consideration in another place will be as constructive as we have tried to make it in this place.
Mr. Davidson: If that were true, I would welcome that. I recognise that there are still some issues that would benefit from some rubbing and polishing, but that has not been the impression that I have gained from Conservative Members in Committee. We shall see.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, no matter how ameliorative he was in Committee, will not be prepared, in enthusiasm to get the Bill through Parliament, to accept from the other place things that we were not prepared to accept in Committee or in the Chamber.
Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman spoke about procrastination. I remember an occasion in Committee when he caused a series of Divisions entirely on his own, to the astonishment and horror of his Whip. Was that part of his crusade against the nationalists, or something to do with procrastination?
Mr. Davidson: No, that was nothing to do with procrastination. It was a result of the operation of the Sewel motion and the fact that we were unable to debate some clauses dealing with Scotland because the hon. Gentleman and his Conservative colleagues had spent so much time on earlier clauses spinning out the debate. I do not remember whether they spun out an entire part of the Bill or just a day's debate, but they clearly wasted timethe Whip intervened on several occasions to keep things goingwith the deliberate intention of preventing us from reaching some provisions applying to Scotland. I made my point reasonably well by forcing a number of votes. For the benefit of those who were not in Committee, it is fair to say that I lost them all, but that was not a surprise.
This is not the end of the road. We must consider implementation. I very much welcome the new unit that is to be established in Scotland and the announcement made by the Minister of State, Scotland Office. We must make sure that we have adequate resources for the police specialist units and the professional help being provided to them and to the Procurator Fiscal Service.
If we are to have confidence in the legal system in Scotland and in England and Wales, we need to tackle its modernisation as a matter of urgency. I recognise that that is an area in which there are substantial vested interests and where there is producer domination. However, if we genuinely want the modernisation of our society, we cannot just be hard on soft targets. We must be hard on some of the real vested interests.
I was asked earlier whether I wanted to reflect on my view of lawyers and the law. Yes, I probably do. On a number of occasions, I was not nearly hard enough. The more people bring me examples of the sort of behaviour to which I object in the law, the more I believe that more hon. Members should take up these issues in the interests of our constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) expressed more eloquently than I could the motivation behind my participation in the debate on the Bill in the House and in Committee. It has been a long slog, but I believe that if hon. Members representing areas such as mine are not prepared to put a substantial effort behind measures such as the Bill, we do a disservice to our constituents.
We must protect those whose lives are cursed by drugs and crime in their communities. I have mentioned several times before, and I make no apology for mentioning again, the families who are unable to go out together for an evening or at any other time because they are afraid to leave their house unoccupied. We must take action against the society that allows that to continue. I hope that the Bill goes some way towards creating a better Scotland and a better Britain.