Mr. Hughes: I have said so myself. The hon. Gentleman, who is consistently good in this regard, knows that the House must stand up for the rights of the House--Back Benchers, Front Benchers and members of every party--to take an interest at each stage of the proceedings.
I sincerely hope that when this is put to a vote, not just the hon. Gentleman--who I am sure is entirely trustworthy on matters such as this--but Members on both sides of the House will realise that the issue is bigger than the Bill or the Government of the day. As Mr. Speaker said about an hour ago, there has never been a precedent for a motion such as this, and the House should not allow a precedent to be set tonight.
As for the action on Thursday, I have said that in terms of procedural rules it was--described neutrally--a jolly good wheeze. It is also true that, as the hon. Member for Workington has argued throughout his distinguished career, many great parliamentary developments have occurred because of peaceful protests by those elected to Parliament. Many things would not have happened otherwise, and many people--not just the Charles Bradlaughs, but many others--would not have secured rights for parliamentarians had they not protested and taken a stand. There is a difference, however, and the hon. Gentleman put his finger on it.
Here was someone who aspired, and still aspires, to be Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, leading a protest, seconded by someone who wants to be Home Office spokesman on police matters and backed by the Conservative Chief Whip. The shadow Leader of the House now endorses the protest. That is an entirely different kettle of fish. It is one thing for Back Benchers to engage in a peaceful protest and challenge the Government; it is something else for people who, as the hon. Gentleman said, aspire to govern the country from the Home Office in six or seven weeks and to set an example in regard to law and order to act as they did.
I sometimes feel a grudging respect and admiration for the antics of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), but I think she made a terrible error of judgment on Thursday evening. For her and her colleagues, who speak on Home Office matters and who want to set an example in regard to law and order, to lead such "non-law and order" activity and defy the Chair of the Committee--who was trying to do a job on behalf of the House--was indeed a bad error of judgment. It was not an example to set: it was not an example of upholding the law, and not an example that the Tory party can easily justify or be proud of. If the right hon. Lady, with that record, ever were to become Home Secretary, heaven preserve the rest of us. If that is the example from the top, there is not much hope for the people at the bottom.
Miss Widdecombe: The burden of the hon. Gentleman's argument seems to be that it would have been perfectly all right if I had asked some Back Benchers to go in, but that it was not all right for me to go and do it myself in a straightforward and honourable manner.
Mr. Hughes: As I said, if Back Benchers had done it, it would have been an entirely different kettle of fish. However, I understand that the right hon. Lady is never one to shy away from a teeny bit of publicity and that that
On Thursday, the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) was absolutely right and the Conservative party leadership was absolutely wrong. Tomorrow, I think, the House will have an opportunity to decide whether we have to give the right hon. Lady and her colleagues a disciplinary rebuke for Thursday's events. That is a matter for us. In about six weeks, however, the country may have to judge the prospect of a Conservative Government. My judgment is that, on that occasion, the country will give Conservative Members collectively a red card.
Today, however, we are considering a Government motion, and an Opposition amendment that attempts to reassert the rights of the House. I hope that the House will say that the Bill should return to Committee; the Committee should finish its consideration of the Bill; and that only then should the Bill be considered on Report and Third Reading in the House. It is a very simple choice: do we properly observe democratic procedures, or do we allow an unprecedented Government motion to deny debate to which Parliament is entitled? I hope that hon. Members, including many Labour Back Benchers, will support the amendment and that the Government will not be so arrogant again.
Mr. Phil Hope (Corby): The motion has been tabled because four Conservative Members--the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and the hon. Members for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Cran) and for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown)--decided to cause grave disorder in Standing Committee F, which was considering the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. Opposition Front Benchers themselves have now confessed that that was a deliberate and premeditated manoeuvre to prevent the Committee from completing its business in the time allocated to it in the programme motion on which the whole House had voted.
Clearly, therefore, the action was not taken by a group of renegades. It was not even a leadership bid, prior to the general election, by an aspirant leader of the Tory party. It was a planned campaign by Opposition Members, with the endorsement of the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. The Committee Chairman was left in the impossible position of having to deal with an organised rebellion and challenge by Opposition Members to his authority as Committee Chairman.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) so eloquently said, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald)--who sought to oppose the motion moved by the Standing Committee Chairman, who is a Conservative Member, asking those Opposition Members to leave the Committee--spoke in the 1995 debate on Select
Maria Eagle: Will my hon. Friend also look at the comments of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) in that debate regarding the misbehaviour of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)? The hon. Gentleman said:
How often will we allow this kind of behaviour to take place in this Parliament? What action should Parliament take to prevent an organised rebellion by the Opposition from undermining the democratic procedures of the House?