|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
We originally committed to 16 sittings: a total of 36 hours. The programme motion that we tabled began with 14 sittings: that is, 32 hours. We agreed six extra extensions during that period: 30 minutes on 6 February, 30 minutes on 13 February, an hour on 27 February, an hour and a half on 6 March, two and a half hours on 7 March and two hours on 8 March. That represents a total of eight hours in addition to the 32 that we originally proposed. We allocated 40 hours to the Committee stage, equivalent to 17 or 18 sittings.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: My hon. Friend will have noted that the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) sought to intervene earlier. I wonder whether, before he is given an opportunity to do so, my hon. Friend will ask him why he has not been allowed to speak for the Opposition in this debate.
Mr. Clarke: Let me be candid, Mr. Speaker. We decided that the Ministers who were on the Committee should open and close the debate. I find it extraordinary that neither Opposition spokesman is prepared to speak openly tonight, but that is a matter for them.
The Minister knows that, in the Sub-Committee, we pressed for extra time to be provided and for the end date to be put back to 13 March because we knew that consideration could not be completed in the time that he was allowing. Does he agree that on the Wednesday afternoon, which he mentioned, we moved a motion that would have allowed us to sit all night if necessary in order to complete consideration, and have 13 March as the end date? We did that because we did not want to deprive the real victims of the guillotine--the organisations and individuals who wanted their case to be put--of the chance to have that case put.
Mr. Clarke: That is remarkable. The amendment that the hon. Gentleman tabled at that first Programming Sub-Committee sitting would have given us 37 hours of debate. In fact, we had 40 hours. Beyond that--[Interruption.]
What I was seeking to add to my point about the allocation of time, which was that we had given more time than had been requested by the Opposition, was that two and a half hours--equivalent to a whole sitting--had been occupied by debate of procedural matters. In the first sitting on 6 February, the time occupied was 30 minutes; in the ninth sitting on 1 March it was 40 minutes; in the 13th sitting on 7 March it was an hour; in the 15th sitting on 8 March, we witnessed the notorious events led by the shadow Home Secretary and potential leader of the Opposition following the election, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, who sought to disrupt the Committee with a sit-in. On a series of other occasions, the Opposition deliberately sought to waste time.
Let me give some specific examples. When we were discussing clause 2, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins)--I cannot see him, but he may be present--devoted half his speeches to reading out evidence from the Criminal Bar Association. We had "interpretation" debates about the meaning of "police" and about British islands; we had ridiculous and misleading information about early-day motions on animal rights. [Interruption.]
Mr. Clarke: Therefore, on the first judgment--allocation of time--I believe that the Government more than fulfilled their commitment on 16 sittings. We gave more time than the Opposition requested and ample time to discuss the issues.
Mr. Clarke: I now come to the nub of the debate--the Opposition's judgment in this whole process. I believe that the Opposition had a deliberate strategy to undermine the Bill. From the outset, they had the strategy of arguing that there was not sufficient time to scrutinise the Bill and of arguing against the programming procedures of the House. They would have made that argument regardless of what happened. I believe that the explanation for that deliberate strategy lies in their voting record in Committee.
In Committee, we had an extraordinary series of no votes by Conservative Members on important issues of principle. I shall provide a series of examples. On the matter of payments made for proceedings on fixed penalty notices, they voted against clause 5 stand part. On extending child curfews to older children, they voted no. Liberal Democrats voted against that provision; Labour Members voted in favour of it.
On extending current disclosure powers, Conservative Members again voted no. On reducing the rank of officers authorised to notify arrest, they voted no. On the use of video links for review of proceedings under the Terrorism Act 2000, they again voted no. On extending the national fingerprint database, they again voted no. On building the DNA database, they again voted no. On doing the same in Northern Ireland, they again voted no. On restricting DNA and fingerprint exchange with overseas authorities, they again voted no.
Mr. Clarke: Each of those was a vote in which Liberal Democrat Members said that, for libertarian reasons in accordance with their principles, they did not like our proposals. Therefore, they voted. However, on each of those occasions, Conservative Members decided not to
When faced with the choice between libertarianism and authoritarianism, Conservative Members could not decide. When faced with the choice between the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), they could not decide. They could not resolve the next leadership battle in the Conservative party. That was the argument at the heart of Conservative policy--as we saw at the most recent Conservative party conference. Conservative Members cannot decide where they stand on those key issues. That was reflected in Committee. Throughout our proceedings in Committee, Liberal Democrat Members--although I did not agree with them--were clear on where they stood on all the issues.