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5.39 pm

Mr. Allan: First, I congratulate the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce on having accepted many of the amendments tabled in Committee. That Committee was one of the more useful that I have attended: there was genuine dialogue between both sides and Government Back Benchers chipped in--all too often that does not happen. In addition, we managed to create a relatively jargon-free environment. As a result, we have a clearer Bill at the end of the process than we had at the start of it.

It has emerged clearly from Committee and Report that the legislative framework surrounding electronic communications is changing rapidly. The Bill has been referred to as the first Government legislation of the new millennium, but I wonder whether such issues will in future be dealt with by other means. For example, the Minister has referred to international agreements on taxation, which will probably be well outwith the powers of the UK Parliament. I should be interested to learn more about that dimension in the context of e-commerce and electronic communications.

The Bill specifically covers the subject of industry self-regulation. The Minister referred to the T scheme, which will provide an interesting template for future progress. In Committee, it became apparent that industry self-regulation might be the only mechanism that can respond sufficiently quickly and with sufficient technical ability to achieve the objectives that we have set out.

Finally, I repeat a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Cotter). There are now two Home Office Ministers on the Treasury Bench--

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Only one.

Mr. Allan: Sorry--the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, used to be a Home Office Minister.

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The Liberal Democrats are concerned that, although the Bill represents one step forward, Home Office legislation to be considered later in the Session might represent a couple of steps in another direction. Crooks have always used whatever form of communication they can get their hands on, but we must ensure that we do not cut off our nose to spite our face and start blaming their medium of communication for the fact that crooks exist.

The Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce wants to enhance e-commerce and does not want unnecessary restrictions imposed on it or business scared away by other domestic requirements, even those that are, quite properly, designed to further law and order. I am sure that she will enter future negotiations in that spirit, so that Britain becomes the place where server farms--a sort of farm that does not normally require subsidy--become one of this country's main import and domestic earnings providers.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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Disqualifications Bill

Considered in Committee.

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Clause 1

Amendment of section 1(1)(e) of the Disqualification Acts

5.43 pm

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 1, line 5, at beginning insert--

'Subject to section (Commencement of Act to be conditional on progress in implementing decommissioning),'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 32, in page 1, line 9, after 'Ireland)', add--

'provided that, in respect of Ireland, a person who is or has been a member of a proscribed organisation within the meaning of the Terrorism Act 2000 and who has not disavowed terrorism within the meaning given to that expression by that Act before taking his or her seat in the said House or Assembly shall be disqualified from membership of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly'.

No. 1, in page 1, line 9, at end add--

'(2A) This section shall come into force on a day to be appointed by an order made by the Secretary of State; and the Secretary of State shall not make such an order unless he has previously laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement in relation to the Belfast Agreement (Cm 3883), stating that in his opinion and in the opinion of all parties to that Agreement all aspects of the Agreement have been implemented.
(2B) No order shall be made under subsection (2A) unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

New clause 1--Commencement of Act to be conditional on progress in implementing decommissioning--

'This Act shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint; but no such order shall be made until the Commission referred to in section 7 of the Norther Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 is satisfied that there has been substantial progress in implementing the commitments made in the Decommissioning section of the Belfast Agreement (Command Paper 3883).'.

Mr. MacKay: I have to say, Sir Alan, that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I deeply regret that the Committee of the whole House is to discuss the Bill this afternoon. You will recall that, only yesterday, there was a robust debate on Second Reading. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had to respond to many interventions from hon. Members on both sides of the House and many hon. Members that expressed concern or asked questions about certain aspects of the Bill. With his usual courtesy, he was good enough to say that he would reflect on the observations made. I have to say, with the greatest respect to the Under-Secretary, that I believe that he and hon. Members have had insufficient time to do that.

The only occasions in my recollection--and, perhaps, yours, Sir Alan--on which we have had Second Reading followed immediately by Committee, Report and Third Reading on the Floor of the House have been when there

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is urgent, emergency legislation to be passed. With the best will in the world, it is not possible to describe the Bill as urgent, or even as important. It is a deeply irrelevant little Bill, for which few people asked. The Under-Secretary failed to tell us yesterday who had asked for it; and while spending four days in Northern Ireland last week, I failed to find anyone who is the slightest bit interested in the Bill or wants it to be passed. Despite that, the Government, in a ham-fisted manner that shows great contempt for you, Sir, and for the House, have set the Committee stage for today.

You, Sir Alan, will have noticed that the amendment paper contains amendments that were tabled only yesterday. We have not had time to reflect on those amendments, let alone on the many points raised on Second Reading. I ask the Under-Secretary even at this late hour to withdraw the Committee stage until we have had adequate time to reflect, which is what normally happens. At the very least, he should explain why the Bill is an urgent, emergency measure that must be passed quickly. Perhaps he will intervene on me, but if he is not prepared to do so, we will have to assume that the Bill is not urgent, emergency legislation and that the procedures of the House are being abused.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. George Howarth) rose--

Mr. MacKay: I give way to the Minister.

Mr. Howarth: I am sorry--I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had finished his speech.

Mr. MacKay rose--

The Chairman: Order. The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) is entitled to make some prefatory remarks before speaking to the amendment, but I advise him to move directly to the subject of the amendment. The fact that we are having Committee stage now is not a matter for me. I believe that Madam Speaker ruled earlier today that it is a matter for the usual channels.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Sir Alan. Can you guide members of the Committee on how to proceed with considering the outcome of Committee stage and therefore the possibility of tabling of amendments on Report, before the House proceeds to Third Reading? Will you give us reassurance--so far as it lies within your powers to do so--that the Bill will not proceed beyond Committee stage today? Members of the Committee will want to reflect in the usual way and decide on what action to take as a result of Committee proceedings before we move to Report.

The Chairman: I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I am inclined to take a tolerant attitude toward manuscript amendments, if they are tabled. However, I ask the right hon. Gentleman and other members of the Committee to recognise that we are considering a three-clause Bill that is fairly tightly drawn. My discretion in the matter of amendments being in order might be somewhat constricted. Within the constraints of the difficult and tight time scale with which I have been

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presented, I have done my best to be as generous as possible about when amendments are tabled and as flexible as I can be in the selection of amendments. We should now proceed to consider the substance of the Bill.

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