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Mr. Gale: I accept that the Minister has stated several times that the Government agree with the Lords amendments, but that is not the case with other amendments, which will almost certainly not be debated. This is not the first time that that point of principle has arisen. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham mentioned four occasions when guillotine motions have been introduced recently. Whole tranches of legislation are going through on the nod, with no ministerial response. I mean no disrespect to the Minister, who would welcome the chance to respond to all such debates.
In earlier incarnations, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you spent many hours chairing Committees. In the past three years, I have been privileged to spend several hundred hours chairing Committees, but I have never been faced with a guillotine motion. By and large, hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise the need to be broadly
Nothing that has happened today or in another place alters the fact that this is a bad Bill, which has been introduced in haste and which we shall repent at leisure. The only fundamental difference between the Bill and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989 is that, sadly, the Act did not contain the sunset clause that the Minister has now said the Government intend to accept. The Bill is about tokenism; it is a bad Bill.
Mr. Banks: The hon. Gentleman and myself are at one on the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989, but it ended up with dogs being killed, and the magistrates had no discretion whatever. Nothing in the Bill will terminate the lives of football hooligans. I know that that was not the comparison that he was making, but that Act was a bit terminal, was not it?
Mr. Gale: I have to concede that nothing in the Bill terminates the lives of football hooligans, but the arguments against the Bill are not about the effect that it may or may not have on football hooligans--it probably will not have an effect on them--but about the effect that it may or may not have on all sorts of people who are innocently travelling and who have nothing to do with football. That has been the prime argument against the Bill, but I do not want to go too far down that road because you would rightly declare me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The fundamental fact is that the Bill has been introduced in a hurry to deal with a particular football match. It must be the first time in history that the House of Commons and the House of Lords have devoted--have wasted--so much time on one aspect, on one event, on one date. By October, when the human rights legislation that the House of Commons and the other House have passed comes into force, almost certainly the Bill will be out of court anyway, so we are talking about something that is transitory.
The best that can be said is that the Bill and the Government's acceptance of the Lords sunset clause have truncated the misery and the bad legislation--the duration of a bad Bill. The worst that can be said--it really is the worst--is that the Government are again using a guillotine to curtail debate on groups of clauses that should have the opportunity--there is no reason why they should not have the opportunity--to be properly debated, so that the Minister can put clearly on the record and, therefore, if necessary, into law, the Government's view.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): We have had a rather frightening insight from the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) into new Labour's genuine attitude to the House of Commons and to Parliament. He said, with typical candour and great honesty, that he did not regard debate as of any import or substance, that all
Mr. Banks: If that is a slight paraphrase of what I said, all I can say is that I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not start telling untruths about me. I did not say that. I said just that this was not a debating Chamber in quite that sense. Debate can alter things, but the fact is that most hon. Members come in here with their minds made up, and none more so than the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Forth: What I think that the hon. Gentleman said--as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) is pointing out from a sedentary position--is that the Whips make up the hon. Gentleman's mind for him. That is, in effect, what he said. Let us not fall out over it. I and the hon. Gentleman will read Hansard assiduously tomorrow--as we do--probably on the beach, and we will see what was actually said.
This is another rare event. I put on the record that, on this occasion, I agree with almost everything that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said and almost everything--no, I think everything--that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said. They reflected a widespread unease, which we are now seeing all too frequently in the House, about the use of the guillotine by the Government.
I have never accepted the need for the Bill. I have never accepted the justification that, because of a damned football match, of all things, we are going to legislate and to change the law of the land. That must be the ultimate absurdity. Nor have I accepted the responsibility that the Government say we should accept for the conduct of our citizens abroad. It is for the Belgian authorities to apply their laws properly to people in their country.
Mr. Charles Clarke: Given the right hon. Gentleman's absolute clarity about his opposition to the Bill, about which he has been clear all the way through, are there any circumstances in which, without a guillotine, he would consider filibustering for ever to stop the Bill becoming law?
Mr. Forth: The Minister, although he has not been in the House very long, should know that what he has said is impossible. Apart from the fact that you would not allow me to do something called filibustering, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and we all know that--
We are told that we have at the most two hours--and now, in effect, only one hour--to consider four groups of important amendments; 22 amendments of substance from another place. It is not good enough to suggest that the Government accept the amendments. That is a matter for the Government. I am not a member of the Government; I am an Opposition Back Bencher. To suggest that we do not need much time because the Government have accepted their lordships' amendments does not wash with me.
Potentially, 500 Members of the House of Commons may wish to discuss the matter--up to 500 of them. [Interruption.] Potentially, I said, before Labour Members get too excited. As I said earlier, I strongly suspect that most responsible hon. Members with an interest in the matter studied the Order Paper this morning, saw to their horror that the Government were yet again curtailing debate unnecessarily on the matter and drew the conclusion that it was most unlikely that 500 responsible, interested Members of Parliament would be able to make a meaningful contribution on four groups and 22 amendments in one hour flat. I suspect that, for that reason, they decided not to turn up on this occasion--until they come in to vote against the guillotine.
Mr. Simon Hughes: I add one other, I hope linked, point. By definition, the amendments that the rest of us have tabled were not able to be tabled--let alone published and circulated--until about the time that we began the debate, so, to know what was on the agenda, to decide whether they thought that it was important and to come here was probably for many hon. Members either technically or actually impossible.
Mr. Forth: I agree. I hope that many people both inside the House and outside will read the hon. Gentleman's speech. He analysed for our benefit the absurdity of the timetable of the Bill hitherto, which has made proper connection between Second Reading, Committee, the Report stage, the House of Lords and here effectively impossible, thus undermining the process to which we are all supposed to be so committed and attached--parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary law-making. On this occasion, we have been able to do none of that.
Although we are told that their lordships have deliberated and that the Government, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to accept the amendments, that is still not good enough. The House of Commons has not had an opportunity properly to consider the matter and to determine whether a law that affects people's rights fundamentally should be changed. Nor will we be given any opportunity properly to have Divisions in the House--for the House to vote properly on the four groups, on the 22 amendments or, indeed, on the hon. Gentleman's amendments and those in the name of his hon. Friends.
Therefore, all in all, the entire episode has been shabby and disgraceful. I do not accept the approach that the Government have taken. I do not accept that we should legislate to deal with football, football matches, one particular football match or, indeed, football matches in other countries. None of that is legitimate, so this is a blot on our parliamentary history.
However, my real worry is that the comments of the hon. Member for West Ham and the attitude of the Minister, courteous as ever though he has been, reveal the Government's general approach. They are prepared more and more to resort to such a tactic to ram through an inordinate amount of legislation, usually rather badly drafted, invariably misdirected and ultimately harmful both to the country and to the individual citizenry.