Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is right, as there is no technically possible way of doing that, which is another nonsense. I do not understand why we are still behaving like this as we go into the new millennium.

Like me, the hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to realise that some of us have argued about such matters, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) who has debated them for many years. If the idea is to have a Committee stage, which is supposed to mean that a few people look at the matter in detail, and to which I shall come back in a second, followed by a Report stage, when all Members of the House, especially those who did not participate in the detailed consideration, can come back and have a look at the Bill, then logic should be that we have a little time in between, so that the work of the Committee can be shared for the benefit of those who have come for Report stage. Indeed, the logic is that one reads what happened in Committee before deciding what one wants to do on Report.

17 Jul 2000 : Column 42

We have muddled that up in two ways. First, the same people are participating in the Committee and Report stages and, secondly, there is no time to amend the Bill. The proposal is not technically possible: it is a technical as well as a parliamentary nonsense.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Perhaps my hon. Friend will bear in mind the fact that it is technically possible, but in such an absurd way that no one would ever do it. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) would have to write out his amendments in the closing moments of Committee stage and get to the Table in the few seconds between the motion to report the Bill to the House and the start of the Report stage. If there were a queue, I do not know how it could be managed.

Mr. Hughes: My right hon. Friend reminds us that, over the years, many of us have given the Clerks amendments in, literally, a couple of seconds. My right hon. Friend is right, as that is technically possible. However, in commonsense terms, there is no chance for any of us to speak to a soul outside about what we have done in Committee. Furthermore, it is not possible for us to leave this place after the Committee and then to table amendments.

There is one more nonsense. We will now debate a Bill that, on the kindest interpretation, is very technical and legalistic, particularly when one takes into account the amendments. We will be debating definitions of important terms such as "reasonable cause to believe" and "reasonable cause to suspect" and important legal and judicial processes such as detention, arrest and court proceedings. We are undertaking consideration of the 46 amendments collectively. Potentially, 654 Members could contribute, excluding you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, your fellow Deputy Speakers and taking into account the one vacancy because of a death.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): What about Sinn Fein?

Mr. Hughes: I stand corrected. There are 652 potential participants, if one takes into account the fact that the two Sinn Fein Members cannot participate. What place in the world would sensibly hold a Committee stage with 652 participants?

We welcomed the draft Bill, but we could have had a Special Standing Committee, time between the different stages of consideration and a chance to do this job well. To put it bluntly, when such legislation was always foreseeable and could have been introduced at the beginning of the parliamentary year, halfway through the year or even a month ago, this is not the way to run a country, let alone to treat a Parliament.

Mr. Burns: I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and if I understand him correctly, he is saying that to have 652 Members taking part in a stage of a Bill's consideration on the Floor of the House is not the best way to proceed. Has he ever made that argument before when we have taken legislation on the Floor of the House? I certainly have not heard him do so.

Mr. Hughes: I have not made that a Hughes campaign, although I have made the argument before. We have amendments in the names of Conservative Members,

17 Jul 2000 : Column 43

Government amendments and Liberal Democrat amendments, all of which relate to drafting, and there are various alternatives for defining offences. I should have thought that the most important argument is that it is sensible for us all--including the hon. Gentleman, who has been involved in this legislation--to try to ensure that we have a debate such as those that we have in a Standing Committee, where we listen to arguments, consider what works best and come up with something that is likely to stand up as good law.

The point that follows from that, and which led me to intervene on the Home Secretary, is that we will end up with bad law or bad drafting, or both. The Bill must contain bad law or bad drafting, or both, because the Government will today seek to persuade us to change it. I only hope that if it contains bad law or bad drafting, or both, Ministers will not, after today, blame their civil servants.

Many colleagues will not have had a chance to see many of the amendments because they appeared on the amendment paper only today. We all know that most colleagues travel from their constituency on a Monday morning and will have seen those amendments only when they got here, unless the Government sent them out round the country, which is unrealistic. That is nonsense. If we have to get the Bill on to the statute book by August, we should have had a deadline by which amendments had to be tabled. We could then have looked at the amendments and, depending on their number, we could have agreed a timetable and proceeded on that basis.

The Bill has an extraordinary variety of opponents, including Liberty, the Law Society, former Attorney- Generals, former Home Office Ministers, the chairman of the Police Federation and Lord Tebbit, as well as good solid burghers such as ourselves. If that coalition does not suggest that something is wrong with the legislation, I do not know what coalition would. This is not the way to treat Parliament, to make sane legislation or to run a country.

We gather from the memo that was leaked over the weekend that the Prime Minister wants to be tough. The price of rushing through incompetent but tough legislation is not one worth paying. It might be better to be a little less tough, a little less rushed and a little more competent.

4.45 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I always oppose guillotine motions, and this one is no exception--save that it is worse than most because of the circumstances in which it has been tabled. Right from the start, I have not accepted any argument that there is some urgency or unusual circumstance surrounding the Bill simply because events--football matches, of all things--provide a backdrop for the legislative process. I find that an insulting and absurd proposition.

I still do not see how the fact that our legal processes--and those of the host countries, for people travelling abroad--cannot deal, or more properly will not deal, with the matter in the present form, provides an adequate reason for this House and this Parliament to legislate in indecent haste. I reject the underlying reason that has been given time and again for the haste with which we are expected to deal with the Bill.

17 Jul 2000 : Column 44

The second reason, which disturbs me more than usual, is the Bill's content. Without rehearsing it--there is plenty of time to start, but not complete that, this evening and into tomorrow--it affects citizens' liberties and freedoms and their relationship with the police and the judicial process. I would have thought that that is a sufficient reason--in fact, an overriding and overwhelming reason--to be more than usually cautious about how we deal with the Bill, and not the other way around. Yet, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has said, the whole matter has been stood on its head. We are being asked to process with indecent haste a Bill that touches on vital areas of individual liberty. That must be an absurdity.

The House and this Parliament have a well established series of processes, but let us look at the detailed provisions of what we are expected to do. Not everybody agrees with the processes; people all over the place who call themselves modernisers are saying that we must sweep such things aside and change them--but we have not done so yet. We still operate under our traditional, well established rules and procedures, which we thought were well understood. Along come the Government, who say, "No, for this Bill, because of the claimed urgency, and never mind the content, we want to fly in the face of what we have always thought in Parliament was proper."

The Bill was properly considered in principle on Second Reading last week, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) said, the House accepted. Yet we are to deny ourselves the normal Standing Committee arrangements, whereby a relatively small number of colleagues looks properly at the Bill and considers it in detail. Even more importantly, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, we are to deny other colleagues the opportunity to look at the Bill having considered what happened in Committee. Committees, after all, report to the House; that is the point of considering a Bill on Report.

How on earth, therefore, are we to deal with the Bill properly in Committee and then report it properly and after due consideration to the House? We cannot because Members have not been provided with a proper opportunity--between Second Reading and Committee, certainly between Committee and Report, and even on Third Reading--for mature consideration.


Next Section

IndexHome Page