Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before we debate the Leader of the House's motion on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, will you tell the House whether there is any precedent for the Government moving a motion that consideration in Committee of any Bill be deemed to be completed when it clearly has not? The point is simple. There will be arguments later about what happened, but it seems to me to be wrong for Parliament ever to cut any part of proceedings on a Bill and not to return to the stage at which proceedings were disrupted. Will you rule on whether it is out of order for the Government to seek to cut a whole stage of the parliamentary process on the Bill?
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you please advise the House whether it would be possible for the Government to table a motion recommitting the Bill to the Committee and giving the Committee sufficient time for proper debate?
Mr. Speaker: Order. No, the motion has been tabled by the Liberal Democrats; others have added their names to it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen more often--he might learn something. Before I was interrupted, I was telling the House, and I might tell him, that I have accepted the amendment in the name of the Liberal Democrats.
This afternoon, the right hon. Lady and I had a very frank exchange outside the Chamber after Question Time. I am very glad that she has considered further counsel and is with us for the whole debate. I welcome her.
I believe that the debate is about judgment--three different judgments. The first is the Government's judgment in allocating time to the Bill. The Opposition claim that we did not allocate enough. The second is the judgment of the Conservative party in determining its approach to the Bill. The third is the judgment of the right hon. Lady in deciding to flout the rules of the House and the authority of the Chair. I shall discuss those three judgments in order.
Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister says that this matter was dealt with at points of order after questions, but what he said on Friday was not dealt with by you. You have made it clear that you are not responsible for what the Minister said on Friday. What is perfectly clear from Hansard and from the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is that--
Mr. Speaker: Order. I am not responsible for the Minister's reply. Opposition Members have a chance to rebut what the Minister states tonight. That is known as debate. The Minister is involved in the debate, and the hon. Member or his Front-Bench colleagues can rebut the case that he puts.
Mr. Clarke: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am keen to debate fully all three judgments. First, on the judgment about the time allocated for consideration of the Bill, in the light of some of the examples that have been given I want to give just one example to which the Opposition should give good consideration. The Police Act 1997, which was passed in the pre-election 1996-97 Session, had 138 clauses and 10 schedules on enactment. It was
Our overall approach to this matter was clear. First, we wanted to co-operate with the Opposition on the issues developed, as I and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), have on previous Bills such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill and the Terrorism Bill. Secondly, we wanted to be out of Committee by 8 March. Thirdly, following Second Reading we initially proposed 16 sittings, equivalent to 36 hours, and said that we were prepared to put in more time and sittings. Fourthly, we made it clear that it was up to the Opposition to choose the subjects that they wanted to spend time debating. That was the basis on which we went to the first Programming Sub-Committee for the Bill.
Mr. Clarke: As is being shouted out, the resolution proposed for 16 sittings, not 14. That followed a personal commitment by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who believed that his unavoidable absence had been accepted by his opposite number in the usual channels. For that reason, I made it clear at the Programming Sub-Committee that we would allocate time at least to make up the missing four hours, and more if necessary, to debate the subject of the Bill.
The Opposition were not interested in the time. They were interested only in the end date of 13 March, when the Bill would come out of Committee--an extra five hours on the original proposal in the resolution that we submitted. That was their only concern, not time.
I believe that that dispute--it was a sharply held dispute through the whole process--originated from Conservative inflexibility for reasons that I shall explain later. It poisoned the work of the Committee. As a result of that inflexibility, the Opposition usual channels were not prepared to come to agreements unless the Government agreed to change the end date to 13 March, as originally proposed by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald).
Mr. Gray: Does the Minister accept that what happens between the usual channels is not a matter for debate in this Chamber? I for one do not intend to enter into discussion about what the Government usual channels and I discussed. That is a private matter for the usual channels, and he should not be raising it from the Dispatch Box.
Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman spent 20 minutes speaking in Committee as a Whip. As these issues were fully debated in Committee, when I said exactly what I have said now in this Chamber, his argument has no substance.
The Opposition's argument was not about increasing the time for debate, but about their ambition to change the end date. We made offers that were not accepted. We offered to meet on the afternoon and evening of Budget day on Wednesday 7 March, but they said no because they would not come to any understandings. We also offered to sit longer on other occasions, but none of those offers was accepted.