Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying rather wide of the allocation of time motion.

Mr. Flynn: I am making the point that the Bill is based on events surrounding three football matches. If Euro 2000 had not taken place, we would not be here now.

In Brussels, the police prepared for confrontation. They turned up in riot gear, they had water cannon and they allowed the sale of double-strength beer. Inevitably, confrontation occurred. It was an example of the stupid, tabloid, tough reaction that won great praise from the Belgian press and the press in this country. The Dutch police turned up in informal clothing--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I was trying to bring the hon. Gentleman back into line and back to the allocation of time motion. However, he is still straying wide of the mark. I should be grateful if he would now refer directly to the motion.

Mr. Flynn: We are considering whether to allocate time to a Bill, the fundamental basis of which has not been established today or last week. There is no basis for the Bill because the problem is not about this country but about the way in which matters were handled by the Dutch police, who dealt with the same football crowd when England lost its matches. There was no riot or bad behaviour by the English fans against whom we are trying to introduce changes in the law. The Dutch police handled matters intelligently and subtly. If we tried to tackle the problem by influencing the police in the foreign countries to which our fans travel, we would get a result. In Eindhoven, the police described the fans' reaction to an English defeat as mild disappointment and polite applause.

This is bad legislation which will not help Parliament in any way. Neither this Bill nor any other should be introduced to satisfy the demands of the tabloid press.

17 Jul 2000 : Column 49

5.5 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) spoke good and true about how the House should legislate. In fact, the cheerful cynicism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) lies behind the Government's position on these matters. The Home Secretary referred to a time when 17 Bills were guillotined, but 37 Bills have been guillotined during this Parliament alone and 20 have not been agreed between the Front Benches. That shows the scale of the problem that has confronted our legislative process, but the Government still go ahead despite the concerns that have been rightly expressed by my hon. Friends, as well as by those on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench.

We now have the most exclusive new Labour Government conceivable. They are so exclusive that they do not want to involve the wider public in the legislative process. Those on the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benches have rightly implied that the legislative process should not be exclusive. We must reach out and test whether the Bill receives the public's consent or merely their acquiesence. By tabling the motion, the Government are bypassing the processes of Parliament.

Opposition to a measure should be exhaustive, because in such debates, we test whether legislation can be borne. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich spoke good and true, because how can we involve anyone in the debate on Report? Second Reading finished shortly before 1 am on Friday and the House did not sit on Friday, yet a Committee of the whole House will soon consider the Bill. What outside representative could weigh up any amendment that has been tabled? It is difficult for hon. Members on both sides of the House to try to collate amendments and ensure that they are in order and to consider whether the allocation of time motion allows adequate time for debate.

I was genuinely surprised to see a guillotine motion on the Order Paper. Nothing in Thursday's debate suggested that the usual grounds for expediting legislation existed. Reasoned arguments were put forward, but the speeches were not long; perhaps the most loquacious was the fine speech of the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). However, there was no will to impede the process of government by delay--by argument, yes, because this is clearly a contentious Bill that touches on civil liberties, our self-respect and that for our fellow citizens.

I refer again to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich because there were truths in the essence of her speech. None of us approves of thuggery or intimidatory conduct, but the House should be allowed to take time to weigh up how legislation impacts on freedom, arrest, detention and magistrates courts.

The Home Secretary tried to anticipate the debate by stating which amendments he would accept. I have no doubt there will be joy in certain sections of the House, but who has had the opportunity to lobby and to reflect on the Bill? How can we reflect on it between Committee, Report and Third Reading? There was no need for the guillotine. I genuinely believe that the business would have probably been disposed of in a much shorter period than the time limit proposed. We can now only make a stab at what is appropriate.

17 Jul 2000 : Column 50

The Government have used 37 guillotines in slightly more than three years. A Government guillotine is, in essence, a denial of freedom of speech; it simply stops Members speaking. Time and again, the Government have said that there is an imperative to table a guillotine motion, but why should a Bill stand if reasoned opposition to it cannot be exhausted? Our processes depend on allowing those who do not agree with the majority sentiment to express opposition, but guillotines are a way to inhibit the expression of opposition to what will become criminal law.

5.10 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has not been prevented from contributing, nor was he prevented from contributing on Second Reading, and I doubt whether any Member interested in debating the Bill will be prevented from having his or her say. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) wondered how 652 Members will be able to get involved in debates in Committee. Oh that 652 Members were interested in getting involved! I suspect that the same Members will be involved in Committee and on Report and very much doubt whether any others will come to the Chamber, so there will be a continuum in the process.

I have opposed and supported guillotine motions. Like most Members, I trust, one exercises judgment as to what is appropriate. I find it distressing that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) and I are on opposing sides. However, I want to address a couple of points made by the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) about the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989 and by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) about the prevention of terrorism Acts. If a Bill came to the House cold and we were asked to act immediately, that could be described as a knee-jerk reaction, to use that horrible expression, but so far as I can see the Bill is almost incremental. It is not as though the issue has not been discussed in the House on various occasions and at great length.

Mrs. Dunwoody: I understand my hon. Friend's point, but if the Bill is simply incremental as he says, it would not have been necessary for the Home Secretary to take note of the points made by Members of the other place and various groups outside. I am afraid that the Bill contains the kernel of a civil rights problem.

Mr. Banks: I can understand the controversy over the Bill, but it is up to us to exercise our judgment as to how we can best address the problems. We cannot always complain about having to consider legislation to a time scale briefer than the norm. It must be possible to exercise judgment over a brief period, as it must possible to do so over an extended period. There are problems, but that is what the process is all about.

I described the Bill as incremental to show that the issue has not just hit us smack in the face, like the problems with dangerous dogs or issues surrounding the prevention of terrorism Acts. For example, there was a sudden, calamitous experience in Birmingham and an immediate rush to do something. Such legislation worries me far more than the Bill. The Football Spectators

17 Jul 2000 : Column 51

Act 1989 was amended by the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999, which was promoted by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns).

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West is right: we would not be discussing the Bill but for the events at Euro 2000. As I understand it, the Government thought that existing legislation was adequate to deal with the problem, but clearly it was not. It was thought that the 1989 Act was adequate, but the hon. Member for West Chelmsford still introduced the 1999 Act. At times, one has to keep fine tuning legislation, and I believe that the Bill has been introduced in that spirit, although I accept that it is highly controversial.

Mr. Gale: I have a modicum of sympathy with the argument that the hon. Gentleman is deploying, but what is not incremental--indeed, it is a new circumstance--is that the Bill is being considered following the introduction of devolved powers to Scotland and Northern Ireland. So far as I can see, no discussions have taken place and no legislation is being introduced in the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly to support the Bill. There is a gaping hole below the Bill's waterline, which is why it must be delayed. All the powers must be properly co-ordinated.

Next Section

IndexHome Page