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Mr. Clarke: I believe that, on that key list of amendments, Conservative Members sat on the fence for a very simple reason. They wanted to hide the deep split in the Conservative party and to hide their policy differences on every issue.
Mr. Clarke: For the illumination of the House, the relevance of what I am saying is that I believe that the Conservatives had a deliberate strategy of trying to wreck the working of the Committee by their conduct throughout. The explicit political reason was that their judgment was to obfuscate and obstruct, to prevaricate and pontificate, as a way of hiding their own internal divisions. That is what is was about.
Mr. Clarke: No, I shall not. The right hon. Lady said that her protest was about the fact that the Bill could not be reported and that her aim was to delay its passage. That was very explicit. She said in The Mirror that it was an official Opposition protest. She confirmed again on GMTV on Sunday that it was an official Opposition protest. The right hon. Lady deliberately flouted the House's rules to pursue her dishonourable cause. [Interruption.] She was aided and abetted by the Opposition Whips--
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has not been out of order. I ask again that we should not have this shouting across the Chamber. I will not tolerate a situation in which hon. Members tell me how to do my job.
Mr. Speaker: Order. My understanding is that the hon. Gentleman used the term "dishonourable cause". He was not calling anybody dishonourable; he said that it was a dishonourable cause. [Interruption.] Order. I am giving a ruling. The hon. Gentleman is not out of order and I do
Mr. Clarke: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I can confirm by reading from my text that the right hon. Lady deliberately flouted the House's rules to pursue her dishonourable cause--exactly as you stated, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Clarke: No, I shall not. I went on to say that the right hon. Lady was aided and abetted by the Opposition Whips. The hon. Members for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Cran), for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) and for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) assisted her in her disruptive action. That was their deliberate intent.
The right hon. Lady was also aided and abetted by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). After the entrance into the Committee by the right hon. Lady and her colleagues in crime, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire said:
If we are talking about defending Parliament, I contrast the Opposition's practice with the experience in 1988 in respect of the Standing Committee of the Local Government Finance Bill. On that occasion the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was leading for the then Government and disruption of the same type occurred. On Thursday 21 January 1988, it was caused by the then Member for Falkirk, West, Dennis Canavan--exactly the same thing happened and exactly the same issues arose. An hon. Member moved a resolution--as I did last Thursday. On that occasion, the resolution was that the then hon. Member for Falkirk, West be reported to the House. The Standing Committee member who moved that resolution was the present Minister of State, Department of Social Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)--then an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. He said that such behaviour could not be tolerated or understood. That is quite unlike the position of the current Opposition.
If it was an official Opposition act, we need the answer to some questions--from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) when she opens for the Opposition or from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald when she winds up. Was that act explicitly approved by the Leader of the Opposition? Was it or was it not? Was it approved by the Opposition Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot)? Was it approved or was it not? Did the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire explicitly and
My conclusions are clear--as, I believe will be those of the House. That act was a conspiracy to deflect Parliament. It was agreed by the official Opposition--by the whole Conservative party. It does immense personal discredit to every Conservative who does not publicly dissociate himself or herself from the actions of the right hon. Lady. It proves the right hon. Lady's unfitness for high office of any kind. It shows that the Tories are not fit to be an Opposition, let alone a Government.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): It is with regret that I note that the Leader of the House is not leading for the Government tonight. Clearly, the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who opened for the Government--[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the Leader of the House tells me that it would have been a pleasure to open the debate; I am sorry that she was disappointed. She knows that matters to do with the House's experiment on programming--especially in respect of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill--have not only occupied the Committee dealing with that measure; as shadow Leader of the House, I have raised them no fewer than three times recently, because of my concern and that of my colleagues about the way in which the Committee was proceeding.
Although the Opposition are opposed to programming in principle, in the spirit of the experiment, we accepted the Government's word from the Dispatch Box that they would co-operate, that they would be flexible, that the official Opposition would be listened to and that the Government would negotiate with us in good faith.