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Mrs. Browning: I do not intend to spend valuable time tonight--when it is clear from the presence of so many hon. Members in the Chamber that they want to contribute--on trivial interventions from Labour Members who chose not to say a word on the three occasions when I raised the matter with the Leader of the House at business questions. Instead, I shall give way to the Minister.
If we are to accept tonight that a Committee and all its outstanding business, which I shall mention in a moment, are deemed to have been considered and concluded, why do we not deem Second Reading debates to have been completed? Why do we not deem Report stages to have been completed? Why do we not deem ourselves to be elsewhere, and allow some robots to sit on these Benches and legislate on behalf of the people of this country?
The House should not be surprised that the Bill has caused great anger among Conservative Members, although the Conservative party concurs with many of its provisions and has helped to fashion them in Committee so that it can become a better Bill. It was in that spirit that my hon. Friends approached the Bill's consideration in Committee.
Mrs. Browning: My hon. Friends have raised many issues in Committee, and the Minister spelt out his objection to the fact that Conservative Members did not vote for several amendments and clauses. In many cases, my hon. Friends were not objecting in principle; they were objecting to the detailed wording and to the way in which the provisions were introduced. That is what a Committee is for; it is intended to scrutinise the detail, the wording and the amendments.
The Minister of State knows that the purpose of considering a Bill in Committee is to scrutinise the detail and vote on the particular, not on the generality. It is normal in Committee for hon. Members to accept a principle but not to vote for or concur with the detail of certain provisions. Hence, they abstain on many provisions, as was the case with the Bill.
Mrs. Browning: In conclusion on the previous intervention, if the Government choose not to accept Conservative amendments, they should not be surprised if the Conservative Members serving on the Committee do not vote for their proposals. That is the normal procedure in Committee, and I am surprised that, having refused the amendments, the Minister should make such a fuss about it.
Mrs. Browning: No. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will accept that I want to make progress by stating our principled objections to the programme motions that have resulted in the Bill becoming such a shambles.
At business questions on 1 March, I put it to the Leader of the House that there were problems with the Bill in Committee. When the right hon. Lady replied, she did not address any of my concerns relating to the Bill. I raised the matter again on 8 March, which was my last opportunity at the Dispatch Box to raise with the Leader of the House our genuine concerns about the Bill's progress in Committee. I am sorry to say that, again, the right hon. Lady failed to make representations to her right hon. Friends. As we know, on 8 March, the Committee stage was concluded.
The Committee had only reached clause 90 by the conclusion of its proceedings on Thursday 8 March. Elements of the Bill that were not discussed by the Committee at all included setting up the police training authority, changes to the constitution of police authorities, changes to police ranks, inferences to be drawn from silence in police conduct proceedings, pensions for staff, courts to give reasons for granting opposed bail, expenditure interpretation and repeals. Many important matters remained outstanding. Not only that: yet further amendments in the name of the Minister of State, Home Office are before us tonight. These amendments are bundled up in the wording of the motion. Does the hon. Gentleman even intend to describe to the House tonight that they mean? Are they to be deemed to have been accepted without any discussion in, or explanation to, the House?
Mrs. Browning: The actions of my right hon. and hon. Friends were the only actions left given that, just hours before, as shadow Leader of the House, I had used the only opportunity that was available to us to put to the Leader of the House the difficulties that we were encountering with the Bill.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department wasted more than one whole sitting of the Committee on clauses that he eventually abandoned, having been extremely rude about the former Attorney- General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) and having virtually told my right hon. and learned Friend that he did not know what he was talking about. The hon. Gentleman then had to withdraw the clauses, so I do not think that we want to hear anything from him.
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Lady claims that I made no response to the representations that she made about the timing and handling of the Committee. She must recall that that is not correct. She knows, I am sure, that I repeatedly made it plain, first having inquired into the circumstances that she was describing to the House, that the Government had offered extra time and that the Conservative Opposition had not taken that offer up. That is not the same thing as no action being taken. The hon. Lady is not correct in saying that.