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Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because he would not want to give the House the impression that we had considered 77 clauses. We had not considered the whole of part III, from clauses 49 to 69.
Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is correct. He also played an extremely good and effective role in Committee. [Interruption.] No, the hon. Gentleman was very much an independent Back Bencher who moved his own amendments and argued on his own as well as supporting his colleagues. Debate on the early parts of the Bill was often guillotined and we did not fully consider the rest, so it is true to say that we had not properly considered many measures, including significant clauses.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he not overlooking the fact that the equivalent of a full sitting was wasted by Opposition Members discussing programming and procedural motions?
Although the hon. Gentleman will remember, I remind him that we were debating fixed penalty notices--not uncontroversial; whether curfews should be extended to under-16s--not uncontroversial; how we should deal with alcohol and alcohol-related offences--not uncontroversial; drug-related offences; protection of witnesses and possible witnesses; granting bail; information exchange between Departments and between the Government and agencies abroad--not uncontroversial; limits on the rules of detention; and the use of video links in extending detention under terrorism legislation, which is extremely controversial.
The hon. Gentleman will also remember that, at the end of proceedings, we were discussing not only how to deal with animal rights extremists, which is a matter of particular interest and concern to him for perfectly proper reasons, but whether innocent people whose DNA samples were taken when they were under suspicion should be allowed to have those samples withdrawn, rather than being held for the rest of their lives even though they have done nothing wrong. If those are not controversial civil liberty and law and order matters that need proper debate, I do not know what are.
I pay tribute to the way in which the Minister dealt with the Committee and argued the Government's case. To his credit, he agreed that major issues such as DNA sampling deserve a major national debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I voted in and forced Divisions more often than the Conservatives. We did not agree with the fixed penalty notice system proposed by the Government. We were not in favour of some of the Government's proposals to allow the authorities to close licensed premises without warning landlords.
We were not in favour of extending child curfews, which have not worked for the under-10s, to the under-16s when the police say that curfews would not work for them either. We were not in favour of extending without qualification the power of seizure. We opposed the Government because we were not in favour of detention under terrorist legislation being extended to people at a remote distance. We were not in favour of allowing DNA samples to be kept indefinitely.
Mr. Hughes: In general terms, the Minister is right. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] No, the Minister is right, except that the debate was guillotined. We had a timetable and a fixed end point. The Government wanted to come out of Committee by 8 March. Some of us think that that had something to do with a possible election on 3 May. The Government fixed the end point, and they fixed staging points. Although we had decent debates on the major
Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for agreeing with my fundamental point. Does he also acknowledge that we debated clause 1 for four hours and clause 2 for two and a half hours? We fully discussed issues such as fixed penalty notices, as he would wish.
Mr. Hughes: My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I have argued that there were major matters to debate. We had some major debates, but the question is whether we had enough time to consider a flagship Bill of more than 130 clauses. The answer must be no, given that we had only reached clause 90 half an hour before the end of the last sitting.
Mr. Heald: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that we did not discuss issues such as the disclosure of tax records, the seizure of property, and police organisation, training and discipline--given that the burden of proof is to be changed for disciplinary proceedings? Those are not trivial matters, and many outside bodies, including chartered accountants, lawyers, the Police Federation, police authorities and the National Association of Probation Officers, and individuals wanted us to debate those matters properly and to seek assurances, but we were not able to do so.
Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is correct. This is a two-part Bill: it is a criminal justice Bill and a police Bill. The police clauses started at clause 86, and we began to debate that clause at some stage last Thursday. We only had until 7 o'clock to debate all the matters to do with the police. Hon. Members on both sides of the House spend much time saying how important the police are, how much we value them, how many more we want to recruit, how difficult it is to hang on to them, and how undervalued they are. I do not think that the police can be satisfied when those clauses in the one Bill in this Session that deals with police matters are allocated less than a day in Committee, and we do not discuss about 40 clauses to do with their future, their structure and their organisation. On that point, I certainly share the hon. Gentleman's view.
We were a few minutes away from the end of the Committee last Thursday when things took a turn for the slightly bizarre. One of the Government's difficulties is that in opposition--I accept that it was not members of the Front Bench--the Labour party often used tactics, as we did, to ensure that it gave the Conservative Government a hard time. We must all be careful not to be self-righteous about this. When Government want to get their business through, they use the levers available to them. When the Opposition want to stop them, they will use ruses to try to do so. Trying to block the timetable has always been one of the weapons open to Opposition parties and to Back Benchers. I and my colleagues have used it, and I give credit to the Conservative party for what happened on Thursday, because it was a good wheeze and it delayed the proceedings.
On all the important matters of principle--fixed penalty notices, child curfews, closing licensed premises, extending powers of seizures, allowing detention by remote link and DNA samples--we did not notice the Tory party opposing the Government.
This is the great flagship Bill. Of course, there were differences and unhappiness about the nature and extent of the legislation, but, as I said to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), on the fundamental principles there did not seem to be any opposition to the 10 major ideas in the Bill.
On Thursday, we saw a protest about procedure, but on a Bill on which the Tory party's view was pretty similar to that of the Government. It might have been better to protest about the Bill and its content than to protest about the way in which the Government were taking the Bill through the House.
Mr. Heald: I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman should be so shocked. We did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. The point is that there were numerous matters of detail in regard to which we had tabled amendments, wanted assurances and wanted to improve the Bill. As a result, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have dropped two clauses, accepted four amendments, and agreed to reconsider a range of other matters and issue guidance. We served our purpose when we were able to do so; the complaint is that, for much of the time, we were not able to do so.
Mr. Hughes: I understand the hon. Gentleman's position, about which he has always been straightforward. The Conservatives did not object fundamentally to the policy in the Bill. They wanted to improve it; they wanted assurances. In regard to certain matters--perfectly properly--the hon. Gentleman's colleagues and my party agreed that the Government needed to be pushed, exposed and pressed, and the Government made concessions. I make no criticism of that. My point is that the great showdown took place in connection with a Bill on which the Tory and Labour parties have one view, and we have another. It is a strange coincidence in British politics that on law and order the differences between Tories and Labour become narrower every day, almost paling into insignificance--[Interruption.] It is true. It is left to some of us to argue about both the procedure and the principle.