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Mr. David Heath: I rise only to remind the hon. Gentleman that he gave every impression that he was about to respond to my points when my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) intervened, and no more has been said on the matter.
Mr. Lock: The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome raised the issue of the independence of salaried defenders and the concerns raised by lawyers. I dealt with that when I responded to the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon. He also asked whether lawyers would sign up to the contracts. Lawyers are experienced negotiators. They will negotiate in a tough manner, not only for their clients but for themselves. We are confident that the criminal contract is fair. We are grateful to the solicitors who have signed up to it and I am confident that the solicitors who are negotiating hard will recognise that the settlement on the table is fair. I hope that they will sign up to it; indeed, I expect them to.
Mr. Heath: I accept that a body of solicitors' firms across the country are negotiating in the terms that the Minister describes and will eventually sign up to a contract. However, having spoken face to face with a few solicitors who work in my area, I am convinced that they intend to leave criminal work completely as a result of the process--indeed, some have already done so. That is a loss to the criminal justice system.
Mr. Lock: I do not doubt the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman's solicitor constituents. However, it is also true that solicitors in mixed practices often find that their private work is considerably more lucrative than public sector work has ever been--and than it would be appropriate for it to be. The proper comparator for lawyers who work for the state is the equivalent amount of money that they would get were they to engage in other work for the state at a comparable level of experience, stress and importance, and not the amount that they would achieve if their client were of sufficient means to be able to pay privately.
To that extent, I accept that in mixed practice firms, the solicitors who are successful in their private practice will generate higher fees than those who work in the public sector. If the hon. Gentleman's solicitor constituents are comparing the amount that they earn from the state with the amount that they would earn should they successfully obtain private work elsewhere at much higher rates, I understand that that would raise a concern. However, the contract that determines the amount that is available for the public sector financing of legal services is proper and fair.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire suggested that the CDS was designed to reduce the quality of defence before a court. I entirely disagree. For the first time, the CDS will ensure that every
Sir Nicholas Lyell: No matter what service is supplied, people have to go through some form of quality assurance procedure. That normally leads to as high a standard as is achieved when people have to compete with others who want to take the work from them. They have to demonstrate their competence month in, month out. It is left to the professional and the lay client to choose an advocate of suitable competence. Is there not a marked distinction between having no choice and simply providing a basic quality that is organised by the state, which is also paying what might well be a modest figure, and an open competitive system of the sort that we have enjoyed for so long?
The provisions are important. They will allow vulnerable individuals in court and in other hearings limited representation, thereby protecting their interests at a crucial stage, and will avoid delay. I commend the Bill to the House.
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Standing Committee.
2. The Standing Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it shall meet.
3. Proceedings in the Standing Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 8th March.
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at six o'clock on the day on which those proceedings are commenced or, if that day is a Thursday, at three o'clock on that day.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at seven o'clock on the day on which those proceedings are commenced or, if that day is a Thursday, at four o'clock on that day.
6. Sessional Order B (Programming Committees) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of Sessional Order A (varying and supplementing programme motions) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on any motion to vary or supplement this order for the purpose of allocating time to proceedings on consideration of any messages from the Lords, and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The hon. Gentleman just said that later stages will be regulated by the House at a later time. So far as I can see, paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the motion deal explicitly with Report and Third Reading.
Mr. Lock: Paragraph 4 does not provide for the day on which proceedings will be brought to a conclusion. Clearly, the date for Report will be fixed later. That is what I meant. Of course, the timing of Report is provided for by the paragraphs to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, but arrangements for programming--
Mr. Garnier: The Minister's performance was useless. His arguments in favour of the motion suggested, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) pointed out, that he had not even read it.
The programme motion demonstrates the following: we have before us a small-minded, arrogant, paranoid Government who are infected by control freakery. Why cannot they let the Committee make up its own mind about how long it is appropriate for it to sit and consider the contents of the Bill? Large parts of the Access to Justice Act 1999 were not considered in Committee because matters were brought to a premature end. I really do despair of a Government who have reached the end of this Parliament by programming everything. It is high time that the Government grew up and let Parliament decide its own affairs.
Mr. Burnett: We deprecate the use of programme motions. They are unnecessary and fly in the face of what should be parliamentary democracy. The Bill contains important matters which will be of interest to and have an impact on constituents of all Members of Parliament. Therefore, there should be an opportunity for the widest debate. The programme motion should be resisted, and we shall oppose it.
Mr. Forth: We now go through this process properly with regard to each Bill before the House. We do so properly only in the sense that the Government have decreed that that will be the way in which legislation is dealt with in this House. The Minister's comments illustrate all too well, if somewhat embarrassingly, the fact that Ministers no longer bother to acquaint themselves with the content of motions in their name, and simply assume that such matters will be readily rubber-stamped by the House and dealt with peremptorily by the Government, with little regard to the circumstances or content of the Bill.
The Minister said that he assumes that matters can be properly dealt with. Let us remind ourselves that, at least under the terms of paragraphs 1, 2 and 3, we are talking about detailed scrutiny by a Committee of this House of a Bill that is to become the law of the land. The Minister has taken it on himself, as Ministers now routinely do, to say, "We, the Government, assume that you, the House of Commons, will require only a limited amount of time properly to scrutinise this piece of legislation." That is of course before the Government have had the benefit of hearing the debate on Second Reading. It was perfectly obvious that the Minister assumed that, because the Bill is relatively short and apparently has the support of Members of all parties in the other place, it could be dealt with rather rapidly and without too much trouble by the House of Commons. The Government routinely take that approach to such matters.
I have some doubts about the Bill's wording, and the Minister kindly helped with some of them. However, there are sufficient elements to it--such as those on retrospection, its wording and its relationship to the Access to Justice Act 1999, which it seeks to amend--to suggest that, once the Committee of Selection has done its work, members of the Standing Committee, especially if they are legally qualified and expert, might require considerably more time for scrutiny than the Minister seems to have believed up to this point would be necessary.
It is assumed, presumably, that in the morning of the first day, the Committee will nod through what the Programming Sub-Committee has deliberated on, and then go straight to work on the first afternoon. Such a timetable makes a series of important assumptions--not least that members of the Committee will have had time between Second Reading and the first sitting to think about the Bill's contents and, more importantly, to listen to outside representation and table considered amendments for the Committee to debate. If we are not very careful, none of that will happen.
If, in the light of the fact that the House has just given the Bill its Second Reading, we work on the assumption that the Committee of Selection meets this Wednesday, the two days that the Minister has in mind for the Standing Committee to sit are Tuesday 6 March and Thursday 8 March. There will be two sittings on each day, but the length of those sittings is as yet unspecified--another detail that we do not know at this stage. We are told by the Government that the Committee will sit twice in one day, but we do not and cannot know how long each sitting will last, so we cannot make an informed judgment on how relevant and appropriate is the timing proposed in the motion. We are always working in the dark at this stage in our deliberations. We simply have to accept what the Minister says: "I, the Minister, decree that, in my judgment, because this is my Bill and because I, the Minister, say that it is a small, technical and uncontroversial measure and so should not need much work, the Committee will only have to sit on a certain number of occasions and I, the Minister, do not even know--or if I do know, I am not telling the House--how long it will sit on each day."
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) pointed out in his intervention, to which the Minister was pathetically incapable of replying, the Government, not satisfied with decreeing the timing of the Standing Committee at this stage, are going on to prejudge the timing and duration of Report and Third Reading. The Government have the gall to say that they will allow until
The motion also provides that if the day chosen is a Thursday--a day on which we routinely bunk off at 7 o'clock without doing our proper work--we shall finish consideration at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. On Thursdays, we have Question Time from 11.30 to 12.30, followed by business questions, which usually run until about 1.15. There might be one or two statements on the set day--we do not know, and neither do the Government at this stage. It is entirely possible that consideration and Third Reading, having been decreed to finish at four o'clock in the afternoon, will be squeezed into less than two hours or, in some circumstances, only one hour, or, in extreme circumstances, no time at all.
It is perfectly obvious that the Government will have to give us a cast-iron guarantee that no statements will be made on the day in question, regardless of the circumstances--regardless of whether we have been invaded by the French, have to declare war that day, or any other event. All in all, the motion is even more draconian than the ones to which we have become accustomed and is therefore wholly unacceptable.
That is bad enough, but paragraphs 6 and 7 make matters materially worse. The Government are saying that there is to be no scope for reconsideration in the light of known circumstances--matters that have arisen in
The motion would disapply the provisions of Sessional Orders A and B. Those orders were bad enough when they were introduced, but the Government now propose routinely not to bother any more with those new procedures, which were touted as being part of so-called modernisation, but which are already being swept aside, disregarded and disapplied by motions such as the one before us because the Government are in such a rush to complete their business and want less and less to give the House of Commons the scope to make its own decisions on how to conduct its business. Under the heading "Lords messages", Sessional Order A is disapplied and the time limits for dealing with those matters are to be predetermined--again, regardless of what might arise between this House and another place.
We can now see the sequence of events. The Government lay the programme motion before they have even heard the debate on Second Reading and so before they can gauge the level of interest in the House. They seek to predetermine when the Standing Committee will sit without even knowing the duration of each sitting, and they complicate matters further by allowing consideration and Third Reading to be jeopardised by the tightness of the provision made. I hope that my brief remarks have illustrated the nonsense of setting a time limit of 6 o'clock for the conclusion of proceedings on a certain day when we cannot possibly know what other business will be before the House on that day.
I have mentioned only statements, but leave to ask a private notice question may well be granted by the Speaker on the day set. Who knows? Any number of procedural possibilities could arise. On the previous day, the Speaker may well have granted an emergency debate. Such matters are unusual, but not unknown, and should certainly not be assumed to be an impossibility. Several procedural possibilities could arise so that, if one took the motion literally, the consideration and Third Reading could be squeezed out almost entirely.
Is that what the Government intend? It may well be that they have such arrogance and such contempt for the proceedings of the House that they do not care if we find ourselves diminished almost to nothing. As for the complex and delicate relationship between the House and another place, the Government seem to believe that we do not need to bother with it much; it can be brushed aside, everything can be rushed through, and that will be acceptable. All in all, the motion may well be the worst example of a series of so-called programme motions which, of course, should be called guillotines, as that is what they are.
Is the Minister prepared to give us a much fuller explanation? He barely bothered to explain why the matter should be dealt with in this way. I will not labour a point I made on Second Reading, except to mention in passing that the entire Bill is in jeopardy, as it could well be overtaken by much larger events. That would be the
All in all, the motion is probably the most unsatisfactory programme or guillotine motion with which we have had to deal. Unless the Minister does an awful lot better to persuade me, I shall oppose this outrageous measure when I have the opportunity to do so.