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8.6 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): It is a privilege to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). On 9 March 1943, I paid my first visit to this Palace and my late, noble father, Lord Brooke, introduced me to Lord Hailsham, the noble father of my right hon. and learned Friend. Ever since, I have been aware of the role of the Hogg family in matters such as we are discussing.

I speak both in anger and in sorrow. I am not a lawyer. I declare that my brother is a lawyer and a senior judge, but I have not discussed the Bill with him. I also declare that I have been a friend of the noble Lord Bingham of Cornhill for nearly half a century. I have not discussed the Bill, in any of its manifestations or in any way, with the noble Lord.

Because I am not a lawyer, I can rely only on my instincts as a citizen. In the previous Parliament, I rebuked one of my right hon. Friends for seeking to end the life of a great hospital after 900 years, by way of a written answer and without direct report to the House. I have the same instinctive unease about the consideration of a right, which the citizens of this country have enjoyed for seven or eight centuries, being drastically amended under a guillotine of five hours of debate during the remaining stages of the Bill. Of course, I acknowledge that the Government have problems with their business programme. The deputy Leader of the House is sitting on the Treasury Bench and can confirm that.

I see almost all life through a filter of cricket. In cricket, the benefit of the doubt is a salient principle, but the right to the benefit of the doubt as regards the Government's programme is necessarily less convincing when two and a half months elapsed between Second Reading and Committee, and even less persuasive when a further seven weeks passed between Committee and the remaining stages. The salience of the business programme as the basis for the benefit of doubt has also been eroded by the substance of the detail revealed in the correspondence that, at a late date, the Government shared with the House.

I said that I spoke in sorrow as well as in anger. I am not privy to the byzantine--indeed Florentine--memorandums that flow between members of the Administration, so I do not know how the decision was made not to announce this guillotine at business questions last Thursday. I am a perennial attender at business questions and have, on other occasions, made clear my respect and my admiration for the Leader of the House. I do not know whether she was aware last Thursday of the Government's tactical intentions in this regard. I recognise the importance of surprise as a military tactic.

However, I regret that the Leader of the House did not come to the Dispatch Box last night in the context of this guillotine. It was not that she was not about this place; I recall passing her in the corridor around about the time of the Government's business motion. She will have to live down her silence last night in her continuing quest for the

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House's respect. But the fact that she did not march towards the sound of gunfire in fact increased my unease about these matters, and I support with calmness, but with quiet passion, the opposition of my right hon. and hon. Friends to this timetable motion.

8.10 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I believe that, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), I am the only person present on the Conservative Benches who is not a lawyer. The Home Secretary should quake at the thought that the lawyers are on the march in the House and are contributing to this debate.

To my constituents, this is one of the few issues that comes before the House that they actually understand. Much of our legislative process is beyond the ken of most of us--indeed, most Members of the House--but this central issue runs through our society, as a beacon, revealing Britain, and particularly England, to be a country of liberty. We do not dispose of these matters lightly and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) said so eloquently, does not each one of us want to express our views on the question of reputation? For many of us in the House, and certainly for those whom I represent, the question of reputation is central to their very standing and sense of themselves; and that that may be disposed of without reference to or the ability to argue that in front of a jury of their fellow citizens is something that cannot be passed away lightly.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary. I believe that he does attend on the House probably more than any other Minister--I make the observation that that reflects the fact that this is the 12th Home Office Bill that has come before the House this Session. When the right hon. Gentleman stood to justify this guillotine--[Interruption.]--he justified it by reference to past Administrations. He said that the motion was no more than that which had been passed by other Administrations. I believe that he cited the Administration of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), in which 17 Bills were guillotined. I just point out that that was over seven years. It is true that Baroness Thatcher guillotined 34 Bills, but that was over more than 11 years.

The record of the present Government is that if the House passes this guillotine motion, this new Labour Executive will have had 38 Bills guillotined. It is on a scale that the House has never seen. It is more than a third of all Bills guillotined since 1945. It is unconscionable, and it represents the only tactic that the present Executive have in controlling the House. It is an instrument--with a vast majority--for ensuring that the House is obedient, because we can no longer express truths that we were sent here to express or have the perception that we were elected here to represent our fellows.

The whole focus of debate in the House must be, surely, to try to turn the opinions of others; to try, by reason, to reach out to them. We make our case, we lose it, but when a huge majority asserts that we may not even make our case, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, where is the legitimacy? Let us be clear, because the matter goes back a long time: a parliamentary majority is not just X divided by two plus one. It is the process--we say this

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again and again--by which those in a minority may express, contrary to the view of the majority, that which they hold true; and the coming into effect of the majority's judgment has legitimacy because the majority has exercised the tolerance of allowing people to speak freely.

This motion cuts right to the heart of the very function of the House. It is shaming for a Government with such a huge majority to wheel out such a motion 38 times in order to assert that others may not speak in the House. It is wrong; and that is why the Government should not only be ashamed, but should be hanging their head.

We know what is behind some of this. The muddle of the legislative programme has now become so intense that even the constitution unit at University college has pointed out that something is going wrong at the heart of Government and its own Committees when--as I said, this is the 12th Home Office Bill in one parliamentary Session--there is no constraint on the amount of legislation brought before the House. There have been 2,500-plus pages in this one parliamentary Session. How does one get through the business without silencing Members so that they may not speak on it? It is pathetic legislation that is passed in this way. A guillotine is an instrument of control of the Executive to the disregard of due process and the legitimacy that they seek for the legislative purposes that they believe are essential to good government. We have a right in this House, on behalf of those that sent us here, to express our concern at this process.

I give praise to the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), on the Government's own Back Bench, who raises the banner--because that, in truth, is the question of conscience--and says, "This process is inappropriate." I do not doubt that the Home Secretary himself feels that as well.

We should reject this guillotine motion. I am bemused that Governments constantly table guillotine motions when there has been orderly, rational, intelligent debate, with no endeavour to filibuster--which used to be the traditional reason, when it became intolerable, why Governments, as a very last resort, sought to impose a guillotine. The Government now stand up and say, "All opposition without the time scale that we set is intolerable, and therefore we shall exert our control over the House, through our majority, to deny others the freedom of speech that is the purpose of the House."

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to you, and to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for that very vulgar intervention earlier.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I understand. The House will have heard the interruption; I am not sure that hon. Members identified whence it came, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his apology.

8.18 pm

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): It is a very great pleasure to follow the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), as indeed it is a pleasure to follow the speeches of other right hon. and hon. Friends who spoke, including my hon.

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Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and for Woking (Mr. Malins), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke).

I follow particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills in the remarks that he made about the guillotine procedure; I want to say a few words about that before I turn to the reasons why this legislation should have more time than it has been allocated under the motion.

Until I heard the reasons that the Home Secretary gave this evening, it was my belief that a guillotine was something that was applied for by Governments in extreme circumstances, when there was evidence that a particular piece of legislation was being resisted, and in order that the Government should get their way--which, as my hon. Friend conceded, is right, but after proper debate. However, having heard the reasons that were advanced by the Home Secretary this evening, it seems clear to me that the ground rules are being continually changed in this process, and always in favour of the Government's limiting debate to the utmost possible.

It would seem that, using the criteria that the Home Secretary gave this evening for applying this guillotine, any piece of legislation could be guillotined. The Home Secretary, in his opening remarks, gave as a reason for the guillotine the fact that the Bill had not been debated for very long--for long enough--in Committee.

The last time I was in the Chamber when the Home Secretary moved a motion to justify a guillotine was on the Bill that became the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Then, according to my recollection, he gave as the reason for applying a guillotine the fact that the Bill had been debated for too long in Committee--not that that was a matter of complaint at the time the Bill was actually being debated in Committee, because the Home Secretary put a written answer in Hansard shortly afterwards, saying how constructive and helpful debate in Committee had been. None the less, and in short order, he imposed a guillotine on the Bill.

The Home Secretary referred to other Bills. However, as we have heard, there is no evidence that this Bill has been the subject of untoward debate or anything approaching it during its progress through the House. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster pointed out, there was a gap of about two months between Second Reading and Committee. The Bill came out of Committee on 6 June and there have been any number of occasions since then--at least four to my knowledge--when the House has risen early in the evening and it would have been possible to debate the Bill. However, the Government made no move to debate the Bill on any of those occasions, or to interpose the Bill in their programme at any other time to give it proper consideration.

I was here, for instance, on the evening of 26 June when we debated the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) was present on that occasion and both sides of the House agreed that it was a short and straightforward measure. It even had the benefit of the in-depth scrutiny of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) but, even after that scrutiny, the House rose at 5.58 pm. That

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debate took place a reasonable time after the Bill had left Committee and--if one can use the phrase--it was the normal time for such a Bill to have its Report stage. However, the Government decided not to debate this Bill on that day or at any other time since then. The biggest obstacle to its progress has been the Government's dilatoriness in providing time to debate it. There is no evidence that obstacles have been created during the House's deliberations on this Bill.

The Home Secretary's justification for the motion is not satisfactory. It will open the door to the guillotining of every Bill. However, there are three reasons why we particularly need more time to debate this Bill than the Government are prepared to give it. First, this is piece of criminal justice legislation and the House has traditionally taken the view that issues affecting the liberty of the subject and criminal justice should be tackled in a particular way. I served on the proceedings on the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and I recall how those Bills were often debated in a non-partisan fashion in Committee and on the Floor of the House. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Woking brought the benefit of their technical expertise to bear.

This Bill is a departure from the previous approach to criminal justice Bills. Figures on the number of Bills that have been guillotined under this Government and in the previous Parliament have been bandied about and it is a fair point to say that some Bills were guillotined in the previous Parliament--but not so many as in this Parliament. Furthermore, I do not remember a criminal justice Bill being guillotined in the previous Parliament, the first Parliament in which I served. If I am wrong, the Home Secretary will correct me. However, I believe that this is a new experience.

It has been pointed out in the debate why the Home Secretary and the House should take particular care with the technical aspects of this Bill. It will be a great shame if we do not reach the second group of amendments and debate whether someone's reputation should be taken into account when determining whether he has the right to elect for trial by jury. That is an important issue in itself.

I also believe that the Bill's drafting means that its purpose is likely to be self-defeating. The Government and the Prime Minister said that one of the reasons for introducing it was a desire to reduce abuses of the system by experienced defendants. However, it seems from the Bill that experienced defendants who have been before the courts before will be most likely in practice to be able to elect for trial by jury.

The Bill says that magistrates must take into account the circumstances of the offence and not the reputation of the offender. It is thus likely that magistrates will consider the most serious offences to have the most pressing call to be dealt with in the Crown court in a trial by jury. It is a fact of life that experienced criminals commit the most serious offences. Therefore, in practice, experienced defendants who know the system and who commit the most serious offences will appear before the magistrates courts and gain the benefit of the provisions in the Bill.

As has been ably pointed out by my hon. Friends the Members for Woking and for Gainsborough, the person who is most likely to lose out under the Bill is the man of previous good character--or nearly good character--who commits a lesser offence but for whom the allegation

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is important and likely seriously to affect his reputation in the future. The allegation could affect his reputation at work and in the neighbourhood, the reputation of his family, and his own self-esteem. It could possibly have consequences for the rest of his life.


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