Mr. Charles Clarke: Does my hon. Friend agree that at the first meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee, and at all subsequent meetings, I said to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and to Members of other Opposition parties, in accordance with practice, that it was for the Opposition to determine the order of the amendments to be debated? When a proposal was made, I said that we would accept it immediately, and we did.
Mrs. Humble: I return to the point that I was making. In my constituency, Blackpool, we already have byelaws that cover some of the matters dealt with in the Bill, such as drinking in public places. Those byelaws have been extremely successful. The police welcomed them, as did the local community. However, that is a cumbersome way of dealing with an important issue. The Bill will enable many other local authorities to deal much more efficiently with the sorts of problems that we encountered in my constituency, with which the police are now dealing through byelaws. Unless the Bill is passed, other local authorities will not be able to do that without going through all the rigmarole of byelaws. My constituents want the Bill passed. The message that I shall take back after this debate is that the Opposition do not want that. Long may they stay in opposition, so that we shall have a Labour Government who will protect my constituents and deliver public safety.
Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire): It is unusual for me to be in the House at this time of night, and it is even more unusual for me to try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, tonight is different. I am speaking because I am furious at the Government's action in putting before the House a motion that hits at the main purpose of the House, which is to give adequate line-by-line scrutiny to all legislation before us.
I believe that the motion proposed by the Minister is an abuse of power and undermines the power of Members of Parliament. The Government are asking us to accept that the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which has not been reported to the House, should be deemed to have been reported, even though 41 clauses, amounting to 85 pages of text, have not been discussed. That is particularly objectionable because this is a criminal justice Bill affecting individuals' rights before the courts.
I shall point out just two items covered by the clauses that have not been discussed: inferences to be drawn from silence in police conduct proceedings, and courts to give reasons for granting opposed bail. Those are extremely important.
If I give way to the Minister, I hope that he will not ask me whether I condemn my colleagues on the Front Bench. I do not. I hope that the Minister will agree that the proposition that something should be deemed to have been done is a serious matter and would set a very serious precedent. Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to the House that such a motion will never be moved in respect of a Second Reading or a Third Reading?
Mr. Clarke: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the reason why the Committee's proceedings were not completed was the yobbish behaviour of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe)? Will he condemn that behaviour?
Mr. Townend: The Minister has forgotten that even if members of the Government think that Opposition Members have acted incorrectly, that is no justification for bringing before the House a motion that undermines the House and sets a precedent, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said, by asking the House to accept a lie and to state that something has happened which has not happened.
Mr. McCabe: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. If I accept his argument, will he tell me in return what he thinks would be the appropriate response of the House to gross disruptive behaviour that
Mr. McCabe: I remind the hon. Gentleman that I was asking what would be an appropriate response. He has kindly told the House that it would be appropriate to send the Bill back to Committee. What steps would he take to ensure that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and her colleagues would not do exactly the same thing the minute the Bill went back to Committee?
Mr. Townend: The hon. Gentleman seems to have missed the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). There are numerous occasions on which such things have happened; Government Members' objection is that, this time, instead of being organised by the Whips Office, as it probably was in the past, it was done openly and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) led from the front. Government Members are not objecting to the principle; they are objecting merely because those on our Front Bench were involved.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) asked what the answer is. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire said, the Government have a large majority and ample time. They have another 15 months. My hon. Friends are talking about another two or three days. There is no need for the Government to rush into an election--[Laughter.] The hon. Member for Hall Green may laugh, but I have a rural seat and, as all of the countryside is coming to a halt, it is strange that the Government are proposing to have an election and force things through. They have tabled a motion that sets a dangerous precedent.
Mr. Blunt: Of course, there is an answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). If the Bill went back into a Committee without an artificial timetable and deadline, the Committee would be able to take powers to tackle any disorder without our having to come to the House to deal with it. The deadline imposed by the Government is the cause of the entire problem.
Mr. Townend: As I said, this is not the first time that the Government have sidelined Parliament and reduced its powers. One reason why I decided to stand down at the election, even though my constituency party wanted me
Now, Parliament has lost that right. With the incorporation of human rights legislation in British law, we can be overruled by judges. Every day, more power is transferred to Europe--it is all part of the same programme, as has been brought home to me. To be fair, the previous Government allowed power to go to Europe. At that time, I remember fighting for my constituency, as a parliamentarian should. I have a fishing constituency; we persuaded the Government to stop quota hopping, and they passed the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. They were overruled by the European Court of Justice and had to pay the Spaniards millions of pounds in damages.
It is worrying that more power has gone to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Eventually, it will go to the British regions. Parliament has been neutered--indeed, it has been castrated. What the Government are suggesting tonight is just another step in that process. That is very serious, and I do not want to be part of it.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): It is extraordinary to consider, having heard the hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Townend), that only a week ago Conservative Members were putting forward exactly the opposite argument. They were seeking to argue, on Standing Orders issues, that it was appropriate that the House should bind a future Parliament. However, the hon. Gentleman now seems to be arguing a different point. [Interruption.] If he does not understand what I am saying, he should read the debates on procedural motions that have taken place in the House.