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2.54 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) makes a point that all of us have argued from time to time, depending on which side of the House we have been sitting on and what view we have taken of a particular piece of legislation.

Mr. Corbyn: Some of us have made that argument on both sides.

Mr. Banks: I always defer to my hon. Friend, who is a man of great principle. I cannot lay claim to such a reputation, and neither can the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, whom I have heard and seen strongly supporting guillotine motions when he occupied a Front-Bench position as a Minister in the previous Conservative Government. Therefore, he and I have been on both sides of the argument, so no one can lay claim to being totally consistent throughout their parliamentary life.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Government were controlling both the timetabling of legislation and the votes through the Whips. Has anything changed? Did that arise only in 1997? It clearly did not, so he is just telling us something that is self-evident. There are times when all of us, whether our party is in government or not, have felt the need to speak out, either in this Chamber or outside, because we do not agree with something that our Government have been doing. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has far more experience in that area than I have.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that this guillotine motion prevents informed discussion and therefore challenges the legitimacy of the Bill, but that does not apply in this case. We have already discussed this issue at length. As I said on Second Reading and at other stages of the Bill, there is a continuum here. Governments of both persuasions have been trying to solve the problem of football hooliganism for many years and, so far, we have failed. This Bill is the latest attempt.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): The hon. Gentleman is missing the whole point of this debate. Whatever discussions may have gone on prior to this, inside or outside the House, or even in another place, this is supposed to be an opportunity for Members of the House of Commons to discuss the Lords amendments. It simply is not good enough for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that, because we have had all sorts of prior

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discussions, we need not bother now. This timetable motion denies us the opportunity properly to consider what the other place has sent us.

Mr. Banks: I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman because it depends on what he means by proper discussion. Once we have moved off this guillotine motion, which naturally eats into the time available for discussion of the substantive issue--[Hon. Members: "Sit down, then.] I know that I do not need to make this speech, but I am damned if I will sit down yet.

We have an opportunity to discuss the Lords amendments, albeit not as much time as Opposition Members would like. Let me put a question to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, who I trust will answer it honestly. If we were to discuss this Bill from now until Domesday, would he agree with it? That is the whole point: he would not agree with it. It is a matter of principle.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is throwing down a challenge. The truthful answer is that I would not agree with this Bill even if we discussed it until Domesday, but I will not filibuster it out. That is the key point.

Mr. Banks: I accept that. One could therefore say, as with many decisions made in this House, that we do not have to sit here listening to our colleagues on either side of the House opining at great length. Most of us have made up our minds about most matters beforehand. It would be nice to think that this was genuinely a debating Chamber, but it is not; it is a decision-making Chamber with an element of debate attached to it. We tend to know our own minds. If we did not, we could be challenged on what we were doing here in the first place.

That does not mean that we cannot improve legislation by discussion, amendments and votes, which are all part of the procedure, but we should not make too much of the idea that matters must be discussed endlessly if we are to make better legislation.

Mr. Corbyn: May I help my old friend?

Mr. Banks: Dear old friend.

Mr. Corbyn: Yes, dear old friend. My hon. Friend was once my employer. Does he agree that the lack of a detailed timetable motion means that the Government can introduce important amendments in the latter stages of a Bill--or someone else can introduce them and they can be accepted by the Government--without discussion or a ministerial reply? Therefore, when the courts test a particular section of the legislation, they have no ministerial statement in Hansard to which to refer. That is an important part of the legal process of setting precedents.

Mr. Banks: I understand what my hon. Friend says in that Ministers could give a better steer. I have always been led to believe that the courts do not take into account in any great detail statements made during the passage of legislation. They interpret the wording of Acts; they do not consider the sentiment behind them. That is the point of the process.

Mr. Charles Clarke: To help my hon. Friend in his powerful case, I confirm that the Government do not

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intend to table any amendment to the Bill, as he suggests, and we do not propose to accept the other amendments that have been tabled, except those selected by Madam Speaker. We shall simply argue that the Lords amendments should be accepted. The concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) may arise in other cases, but not in this one.

Mr. Banks: My hon. Friend the Minister is an honest man, and we can have total confidence in the Bill, but I cannot say that for all the legislation that the Government have proposed. I know that other hon. Members want to speak, but I want to mention that my very good, old and hon. Friend the hon. Member for Islington, North asked how we should gauge people's opinions. He answered his own question--we need only look about ourselves. If the Bill is so controversial, why are not more hon. Members here? Attendance must, at times, be used as an indicator of hon. Members' concern.

Mr. Forth: I shall try to answer the hon. Gentleman outright. When Members read that such limited time would be allowed under the guillotine motion, they realised first, that there was no point in attending because they could not all speak, and secondly, that the Government are trampling all over the House as usual. They are two effective deterrents to hon. Members attending.

Mr. Banks: What the hell are we doing here then? We were not deterred by the motion, and we are not anoraks.

Mr. Corbyn: We are all anoraks.

Mr. Banks: I speak for myself because my hon. Friend is clearly an anorak. He said that we should come here tomorrow; it is a perfectly good day for us to do so. I take the point, but he is a notorious non-holiday taker. He is the man who, when pushed to have a day off, took his partner to Highgate cemetery to study the grave of Karl Marx. That is why I love the guy, but he is a notorious non-relaxation Member, who would have us all working like Stakhanovites 24 hours a day. Decent and hard working as he is, we should not use him as our bell-wether for what is good or bad attendance.

We have gone over such matters enough. The timetable motion is perfectly adequate to allow us to deal with the amendments and to continue to discuss the Bill, which I still maintain is necessary. It is the latest measure in a line of legislation that Governments have introduced to try to curb the cancer of football hooliganism. As I have said, I am not certain that the Bill will work, but I am prepared to have a go and to see whether it does. We have plenty of ways in which to keep it under review. If the Bill does not work, or if it works in a way in which we do not believe it should, it is up to us to change it. That is our right, and we are exercising our rights this afternoon.

3.4 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): I, too, apologise for the fact that I missed the Minister's opening comments, but, as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has said, they were remarkably brief and I missed them even in the time that it took to cross the road.

This is a curious Bill; these are curious circumstances; and this curious guillotine motion brings together the opinions of the hon. Members for Islington, North

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(Mr. Corbyn) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and myself. We do not normally agree on many issues, but we clearly agree on this one. The House, especially those on the Front Benches, should pay attention, if only for the future, to the fact that there is no need to railroad through such legislation. It is interesting that the hon. Members in the Chamber today broadly reflect those who were present in the small hours of another morning not so long ago. Clearly, several hon. Members on both sides of the House share the view that this is an appallingly bad Bill. It is badly drafted and it is likely to be badly implemented, and anything that we can do to help their lordships to improve it must be for the good.

Several hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the blackmail element of the motion. The fact of the matter is that every moment that I speak now will truncate debates on the amendments that we wish to discuss. That must be wrong. Although it seems a long time ago, it was only yesterday that Madam Speaker said in her valedictory speech that the job of the House

to challenge bad legislation at any and every opportunity and, if necessary, to do so in depth.

As the hon. Member for Islington, North said, as a result of the timetable motion, we are faced with the prospect that, after two hours, all the provisions will be passed whether or not we have debated them. We cannot even debate the first and second groups of amendments for three quarters of an hour each. Groups of amendments will go through, legally, on the nod. That cannot be right.

I apologise to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who helped me out of my confusion. It is not correct, as I and the hon. Member for Islington, North said, to suggest that if something is not said on the Floor of the House, it cannot be quoted in court. However, if the groups of amendments are not debated, the Minister will not be given the opportunity to reply and therefore his reply cannot be quoted in court.

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