|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Clarke: I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the need for debate on the proposals--indeed, for debate by hon. Members who were not members of the Standing Committee. I am grateful to him for accepting my intervention, and I want to ensure that he does not feel that the Government are in some way behaving wrongly in tabling amendments for consideration by the House. The reason that we tabled them was precisely to respond to concerns raised by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
Mr. Bercow: That is true. However, so far I have--in characteristic fashion, as my hon. Friends will understand--been a bit soft and a bit generous towards the Minister. I am very lucky indeed--I count my blessings--that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has not yet joined us. If he were to do so, I would probably be chastised severely for the rather wimpish approach that I have hitherto adopted.
Although the Minister's intentions are good, some of the amendments should never have been necessary in the first place. It beggars belief that a distinguished mathematician, described by Mr. John Kampfner in The Guardian newspaper--where else?--as a likely future leader of the Labour party, could be the Minister in charge of a Bill that came before the Committee with no provisions for an offence of falsely seeking to register as a motor salvage operator or a registration plate supplier.
Those omissions seem to be an example of the most extraordinary negligence on the part of the Government. Those were simple points that they should have anticipated. Indeed, they were simple and obvious points that would probably have been described by the late Enoch Powell as so blindingly obvious that only an extraordinarily clever person could have failed to see them. It is no good the Minister pleading for brownie points from me and asking for a belated Christmas present. It is no good his saying what a good, democratic fellow he has been because he has tabled amendments that should satisfy the appetite of Conservative Members.
The Minister is a very important, very distinguished, very senior and very respected fellow with very many commitments. He is very ambitious and has a very full diary. We should not need to be considering the amendments now. Had he been willing to lose a bit of face--and to pay a genuine and deserved tribute to my hon. Friends and me--by accepting the original wording of our amendments, which pointed up the lacunae in the Bill and remedied its deficiencies, it would not now be necessary for him to expect us to take an average of four minutes to debate each amendment while we go at a whistle-stop pace through the Report stage of the Bill.
I do not know what the Minister's commitments are. When we were in the Programming Sub-Committee, he got very testy and started looking at what looked like a little diary card in front of him because I had developed a couple of points at reasonable length and asked some
Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman is wrong on that point. I shall take this opportunity to ask him whether he would concede that, in the Programming Sub-Committee, he proposed no changes of substance to the order of consideration of the Bill, or to the amount of time for debate within the time available. The only changes that he suggested related to the total length of consideration. He proposed none at all on the detailed proceedings.
Mr. Bercow: The Minister makes a point that is both right and staggeringly irrelevant. This is where he and I disagree. He is absolutely right to say that I was not remotely concerned to propose a change to the order of consideration of the clauses. He has in mind such monumental, nationwide issues of great popular moment as whether we should consider clauses 16 to 30 first, as the Government proposed, or whether we should follow the chronological sequence of the Bill. I admit that I did not, and do not, give a tinker's cuss about the order in which those matters were considered in Standing Committee.
My point is that it is no good the Minister arguing about the order in which we eat our meal, if the meal itself is not large enough. I am a little chap, but that does not mean that I do not have a reasonable appetite. When I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Buckingham, I took it as my responsibility to subject the Government to scrutiny regularly, consistently and in detail. That is what my constituents expect me and my hon. Friends to accomplish. The fact is that 23 hours were not sufficient.
I hope that the Minister will not dispute that, on the occasion to which he has just referred, I proposed that there should have been 32 hours' consideration in Committee rather than 23 hours. That was a modest proposal, and I am glad that he is not disputing that I made it. One of our objections--as you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a keen student of these matters--is that the conduct of the Programming Sub-Committee was disgraceful. It took place in private; no minute was taken; nor was a verbatim account provided. Subsequently, as I pointed out in a question earlier this afternoon to the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, there was an unresolved dispute between us as to who said what, when and to whom. That dispute will never be resolved, however long we pursue it, because there is no account of it.
Mr. Clarke: I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge here in the House--as he did in Committee--that the responsibility for the conduct of the Committee and the rules under which it takes place are a matter for the Chair, not for the Government of the day. We honoured and supported the decisions of the Chairman at that time.
Mr. Bercow: There are two very unattractive features about the Government, and they necessitate the House taking the maximum time for consideration and on Report. One is the tendency to hide behind public servants--that is, Departmental officials. I shall not dilate on that subject, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because if I were to do so I might incur your wrath, and that is not something that any self-respecting Member of Parliament would willingly countenance.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): The hon. Gentleman has done so once or twice before.
Mr. Bercow: I may have done so inadvertently.
I have said that the Minister tends to take refuge behind civil servants. [Interruption.] The Minister asks me to withdraw that comment, and of course I do so. He is getting very excited. I know that he is very ambitious, has many commitments and wants to fulfil all kinds of future desires. I do not want to embarrass him by going into too much detail about that.
The Minister may not seek to hide behind the cloak of official approval, but many Ministers seek the imprimatur of public servants for decisions that are ultimately their own responsibility--decisions that it is their job to defend before Parliament.
Ministers often say, "Ah, that is a matter for the Chair." I have repeatedly made the point to the Minister that it would have been perfectly possible for him specifically to recommend that the Programming Sub-Committee meet in public and that minutes be taken. It would also have been possible for him either to recommend or to agree to recommend lengthier consideration. That is the significant point.
We have many important issues to discuss, such as penalties and offences. I have referred to one example of an offence that the Government had not apparently considered in the first place, which they now propose to introduce--an attempt falsely to register as a motor salvage operator or registration plate supplier--and it is necessary to scrutinise and debate that properly this evening. There is also the important but vexed question of the use of court receipts to finance a major roll-out of speed cameras across the country.
Whatever the politically correct prejudices of Ministers and their Back Benchers, that issue causes considerable disquiet in my constituency and in the constituencies of a number of my hon. Friends. Such matters need to be debated not only by members of the Committee, although I am delighted that they have faithfully turned out today, but by other Members of the House. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who might seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the epitome of the traditional parliamentarian. He believes in debate, scrutiny and holding Ministers responsible for their decisions. While the Minister is busily preoccupied with his ascent of the greasy pole, my hon. Friend is busily preoccupied with the effective and persistent representation of the people of Aldridge-Brownhills. He does that by contributing on issues of public importance that will have an on-going impact on the people whom he is elected to represent.
The crucial issue of police powers is of no apparent interest to the new Stalinists on the Labour Benches. As a Conservative libertarian--I am proud of that description or epithet--I happen to be concerned about the number of occasions on which police officers or other representatives of authority can gain access either to business premises or private property to pursue their inquiries. The Government suggest that registered motor salvage operators or registered registration plate suppliers should be susceptible to unannounced visits--without even the decency of a warrant--by police constables or other representatives of authority. However, the premises of those who are not registered plate suppliers or salvage
My hon. Friends and I have argued on several occasions that that inequality of treatment and lack of symmetry--