Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Bob Russell: For the sake of accuracy, will the hon. Gentleman tell us what has happened to about 50 per cent. of Conservative Members who served in Committee, who are not with us this evening?

Mr. Bercow: Yes. I regret to say that to the best of my knowledge, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) is indisposed. That is why she is not present. What is important is that my hon. Friend has demonstrated on Second Reading, in Committee and on other occasions the closest possible interest in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We must now get on with Third Reading rather than talk about the attendance or non-attendance of members of the Committee that considered the Bill.

Mr. Bercow: We were considering the level of interest on Third Reading. That would be fairly clear. I am developing the argument, and that is precisely what I intend to continue to do, as was my initial intention.

The Minister's recollection of proceedings in Committee does not entirely square with mine. It is true that the Government were guilty of the most extraordinary Horlicks in failing to determine that false applications to register as a salvage operator or registration plate supplier should be a criminal offence. We pointed that out to the Government, and to their credit they have belatedly accepted the point. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for the tribute that he paid. Beyond that, I do not agree with much that the Minister of State, Home Office said about our proceedings in Committee.

I accept that we made some progress. However, we were hurried and heavily circumscribed. There was inadequate time and we got through the proceedings only because the vast majority of Labour Members either had nothing to say or had something to say but were instructed in no uncertain terms by the powers that be not to say it.

30 Jan 2001 : Column 268

I much regret that we are embarking on Third Reading after the most derisory and cursory consideration of the amendments and new clauses that were tabled on Report. There were eight groups and no fewer than 61 new clauses and amendments. By my recollection, we got through four groups. We really only considered three groups, although we voted on the fourth as well. Even if we include matters relating to the inspection of premises, we have covered in a desultory fashion only 38 of the new clauses and amendments, leaving a remaining 23 still to be debated, some of which were new clauses and amendments tabled by the Government.

In the circumstances, it is preposterous for the Minister to claim that there has been adequate debate on the Bill. I must emphasise, as the Government are seeking a Third Reading, that we think it profoundly unsatisfactory that there was such minimal consideration on Report. One of the reasons for that--I have made the point before and I have had no effective rejoinder to it--is that the Government, in their arrogant, imperious and inconsiderate fashion chose a timetable on Report. They did not consult, there was no discussion and we had no debate. We are being invited to give a Third Reading to a Bill the consideration of which on Report was scanty, to put it mildly. We did not properly get through even half of the groups of new clauses and amendments.

Mr. Forth: Can I try to lift my hon. Friend into a more optimistic frame of mind? Does he not agree that, as a result of the process that he accurately described, it is imperative that the House of Lords should give the matter the detailed consideration that the Government have not allowed it in this House? At the very least, a compensatory factor might then enter our parliamentary proceedings, so that for every occasion on which the Government denied the Commons the opportunity to examine a Bill properly the Lords had to do so in the utmost detail.

Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend is right. I have referred before, without embarrassment--and I do so again--to the symbiotic political relationship between us. What my right hon. Friend says is pertinent and I hope that it will be heard in another place. Our consideration of the Bill has been inadequate, although marginally less so as the result of deliberations in Committee--[Interruption.] I am bound to tell the Under-Secretary, who is chuntering from a sedentary position and not paying proper attention to what I am saying, that the Bill is better in spite of the Ministers and not because of them. Frankly, they were Tweedledum and Tweedledee in Committee, and did not achieve very much. I was grateful for their tribute to Conservative efforts, but we have seen only a modest improvement in the Bill and it is pitiful that we have made so little progress today.

I emphasise the fact that, traditionally, Members on both sides of the House have seen it as their responsibility to scrutinise, probe, inquire, test and seek improvement. In this case--and this is an important point in support of our claim that inadequate time has been dedicated to the subject--Conservative Members alone have played any significant part in the proceedings, together with a little input of variable quality and irregular frequency from Liberal Democrat Members. The only Labour Members to have contributed on any significant scale were those who themselves wanted to table new clauses and

30 Jan 2001 : Column 269

amendments. The fact is that there have been few of them. The vast majority sat doing other things, were not engaged and did not take an interest. Their minds were elsewhere, to use a term that is common parlance in relation to other matters at the moment.

Mr. Charles Clarke: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bercow: Yes, briefly, but I must warn the Minister that many points need to be made on Third Reading, and I intend to make them in detail and at whatever length is necessary.

Mr. Clarke: I wish to place on record the fact that the hon. Gentleman's remarks on the participation of Labour Members in Committee were simply untrue.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister. He is accusing me of telling an untruth, which is dangerous, especially as he is a senior, respected, important and ambitious Member with a full diary. He has great claims and hopes for the future, and it would be unwise for him to traduce me. I do not know what he knows but, by now, he ought to be aware that I have a fairly good recollection of who spoke at earlier stages of the Bill's consideration and who did not. I simply make the point that far more Government Members did not speak regularly in Committee than did. That is a matter not of dubiety or speculation but of recorded fact. If the Minister wants to have a wager with me about it, I shall be only too delighted.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend talked about the contribution of Conservative Members in Committee. The Minister himself said that it was a useful and important contribution. Does my hon. Friend share my unease at the continuing lack of scrutiny? By introducing a new clause, we filled a gaping hole in the Bill. The Bill was incomplete when it came to Committee. Does my hon. Friend share my unease about the fact that, because of lack of scrutiny, there may well be other giant loopholes through which criminals and lawyers will be able to pass?

Mr. Bercow: I am worried about that. I am even more worried when a rising Minister--or would-be rising Minister--complains to the House that had we had this or that debate, it would probably only have been a re-run of what took place in Committee. I made the point before and, for the avoidance of doubt, I remind the Minister now that the purpose of the exercise is for those who served on Committee to report to the House as a whole so that its wider membership can engage in the debate--as I know my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), to name but one, is ever keen to do. It will not do for the Government to behave in such a navel-gazing, inward-looking, selfish fashion by seeking to dismiss the claims of those who were not fortunate enough to serve on the Committee, but who wish to contribute to the consideration of the Bill. However, I am not to be diverted for a moment longer from focusing on the purpose of the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill--to cut car crime--is valid. It is the Bill's effectiveness in achieving that purpose which is uncertain, to put it mildly. The Minister of State, Home

30 Jan 2001 : Column 270

Office, knows perfectly well that between March 1998 and March 1999, 1,482,889 car crimes were committed. In the ensuing year, from March 1999 to March 2000, there was, if I remember correctly, a reduction of exactly 7,000 car crimes, so the incidence of car crime fell by 0.5 per cent. in that period.

The Minister of State and his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions are committed to the goal of a 30 per cent. cut in car crime between now and 2004.

I am ordinarily an understated fellow, as you know from your own experience, Madam Deputy Speaker. I tend to beat about the bush. I am not very good at putting my points strongly. I sometimes think that if only I spoke up and made the argument a little more forcefully, I might have a greater impact. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst rather unkindly accuses me of being wet and weedy, but he is probably justified in this case.

I put it on the record that I wish the Government well in achieving the 30 per cent. reduction in car crime by 2004, but do I believe that it will happen? I am bound to ask the Minister of State, who may have trotted off elsewhere by 2004, "What are those pigs that I see flying in front of my very eyes?" I do not believe that that target will be achieved. The notion that the Bill will be instrumental in achieving that purpose strikes many of us as a triumph of optimism over reality.

The Minister drew attention to the incidence and cost of car crime. That is germane to the consideration of the Bill. There is an annual cost of £3.5 billion arising from car crime. The hon. Gentleman speaks glibly of the intention to ensure that there are 39,000 fewer vehicle thefts as a result of the provisions of the Bill, but he failed at any stage--on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report or on Third Reading--to explain how that objective is compatible with or delivered by the reduction of at least 2,500 in the number of policemen. It is extraordinary that the Government expect more with less: fewer people must satisfy higher targets, but there is no indication how those are to be achieved.

Another problem in relation to the Government's target, and a lacuna in the Bill, if I may satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield, is that it does nothing about thefts from vehicles, concerning itself exclusively and perhaps narrowly with the theft of vehicles. If the Minister of State wants to trumpet the Bill as a flagship measure for the greater good not only of the community, but of his rising ministerial reputation, it is a pity that the terms of the Bill have been so narrowly drawn. The Minister is getting itchy. Although there are many other points and other lacunae to which I want to draw attention, I give way to him.

Next Section

IndexHome Page