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2.43 pm

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to my hon. Friend the Minister for not being here for his opening speech, but apparently it was very brief. It was so brief that by the time I had crossed the road by Big Ben and arrived here, it was over. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I read his speech in Hansard on another occasion.

I am not sure whether the House is entirely focused on the Bill, judging by the acres of empty green Benches around and opposite me.

Ms Claire Ward (Watford): It is quality, not quantity.

Mr. Corbyn: Well, there is still not much of it.

I am genuinely sorry that the Government have introduced a timetable motion to try to get the Bill through the House this afternoon because I had assumed that we could have a thorough debate about the Lords amendments tomorrow. Discussing why the Government want to rush the Bill through the House would be an ideal way to spend the last Friday before the recess. I am slightly nervous of guillotine motions at the best of times. They underline the problem of complacency in British parliamentary democracy in that the Executive, for good or for ill, effectively controls what Parliament does because it controls the timetable. In a more mature democracy, which we will one day reach, Parliament may be more independent of the Executive, and may be able to decide on its programme and timetable.

The Bill is born out of appalling events in Brussels and Charleroi during the European cup tournament. Nobody condones what went on there, but the criminal law that applies in Belgium, France, Germany and this country can deal with such disorder. It is important that we understand and accept the principle of the separation of police powers from those of the court. The general thrust of the Bill is to give an excessive power to the police to prevent people from travelling on the assumption that they may cause trouble in future. That assumption is based on their past behaviour, if there is knowledge of that behaviour. That sets a dangerous precedent.

The Bill is being rushed through because the Home Office believes that legislation automatically solves a problem. I am not convinced that the Bill will make a

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hap'orth of difference to what happens at the England versus France game at the beginning of September. There is no need for the legislation because there is criminal law to deal with these matters. Football violence has been dealt with in previous legislation.

Legislating in haste, which we have done several times in this and previous Parliaments, means either that the legislation is simply never used or that it is challenged in the courts in this country or, ultimately, in the European Court of Human Rights, and we end up having to amend it. I realise that the Minister has invested a great deal of time and energy in the Bill, but we should ask whether it is necessary, whether it creates a dangerous legal precedent and whether we would be better off abandoning the whole thing, rather than trying to pass it this afternoon in less than two hours.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) reminded me that we finished last Monday night at 2.56 am. I went home on my bicycle and saw a great deal of anti-social behaviour on Charing Cross road. I had no idea that there were so many people out on Charing Cross road at that time. There is criminal law to deal with those who behave anti-socially, or not, as the case may be, but the police have no powers to deport people or stop them travelling just because of their absurd behaviour; they would have to go through a legal process.

I am concerned that the Bill will set a precedent that could be applied in other cases. What if the measures were to apply to other sports, such as golf or cricket, for which people choose to travel? What if they applied to people going to France for a demonstration?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will return to the timetable motion, because that is what we are debating.

Mr. Corbyn: I conclude by saying that if we legislate in haste, by rushing the Bill through today, we will set a precedent that could easily affect other walks of life, thus damaging our civil liberties. The Bill should be dropped.

2.48 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I rise to support what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has said. I find it slightly disconcerting that he and I, who stand at completely opposite ends of the spectrum, should agree so often on matters of civil liberties.

I am against the timetable motion, and I will vote against it. It is unnecessary and wrong in principle. The hon. Gentleman said that one reason why the House is not as respected as we would wish is that the Government control the proceedings. He referred to their control of the timetable. The hon. Gentleman is right, but the point goes further because the Government also control the votes through their Whips Office, and we are certain of the outcome of any discussion in this place. It is therefore essential that we should have full discussion because although we cannot determine the outcome, we can certainly set out the arguments, which may affect the argument outside the House. It is therefore wrong in principle that the Government should not only control the votes, but curtail the discussion.

That takes me to a point that I made earlier this week. This is the fifth timetable motion that we have had in four weeks. The essence of a democracy is that the discussion

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in Parliament signifies consent to legislation going through, and consent must mean, if it means anything, informed consent. We can have informed consent only if the House hears the arguments on all sides of the debate. Given that the effect of timetable motions is that whole groups of amendments are never discussed or voted on, how can we have informed consent? People will increasingly realise that this House is simply driving through legislation that has never been discussed or voted on. That undermines the legitimacy of what we are about.

The Minister of State argued that we should get through this timetable motion rapidly so that we can get on to the substantive motion. That is an attractive notion so far as it goes, but it is a form of blackmail.

Mr. Corbyn: Aside from the concern about timetables, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that one of the problems with this timetable motion and one or two others that we have had is that, because they do not timetable by groups of amendments, many amendments are automatically not mentioned in debate and therefore, legally, they cannot be mentioned in the courts in the future because Ministers' intentions on the subject are not known?

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is right. We saw this happen last Tuesday, when important amendments were not just not voted on, but were never discussed. That means that the process of informed consent does not take place. If legislation that passes out of this House has not been the subject of rational or informed discussion, what legitimacy does the legislation have? It brings the process of law making into contempt.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): To some extent, my right hon. and learned Friend missed the point made by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), which was about legal challenges. If something is referred to, either in Committee or on the Floor of the House, it can be raised as an argument in the courts. My right hon. and learned Friend knows that better than I do. If an issue is not mentioned, it cannot be referred to.

Mr. Hogg: That is not absolutely correct, although I know what my hon. Friend is getting at. Certainly, statements by a Minister can be taken into account when interpreting the meaning of statute, but my views or those of my hon. Friend would not have that desirable effect. My hon. Friend is therefore only partially right.

As I was saying, the Minister of State said that we should hurry through the timetable motion so that we can get on to the substantive debate. Although that is an attractive notion, it is wrong. It is a form of blackmail, because those of us who think that the timetable is wrong in principle and unnecessary in this case owe the House a duty to say so. Otherwise, the public will not know about the abuses going on and our silence will be treated as acquiescence in the process. I think that what is going on is wholly wrong.

I agree with what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said: there is no need for us to hurry today. We know, because we have been told--I welcome this fact--that the Government will accept the Lords amendments. That makes a rotten Bill slightly less bad. However, we should not be discussing

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Lords amendments today because this Bill came out of the other place only yesterday and one had to be remarkably nimble-footed to table any amendments by today. We have ample time to consider the Bill tomorrow--or, indeed, next week, if the House would so order its business. We are being pushed in an unnecessary way to do something that we should not do. Those of us who value parliamentary government and who agreed with Madam Speaker when she stressed the need for proper scrutiny owe it to the House to say that enough is enough. I, for one, will seek to divide the House on this motion, and I hope that others will do the same.

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