Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Fabricant: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the hon. Gentleman might unwittingly have misled the House. He said that certain statements were made by hon. Members on this side of the House when they were not. Would he now like to say precisely when those statements were made?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is a matter for debate.

Mr. Miller: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman cares to read Hansard, he will understand what I am saying.

Mr. Bercow: When?

Mr. Miller: The hon. Gentleman shouts "When?" from a sedentary position. With his photographic memory, all that he needs to do is get his photographs processed. Then he would understand.

12 Mar 2001 : Column 770

I was saying that I understood the frustrations of being in Opposition. Five years was long enough for me. I understand even more the frustration of the Liberal Democrats. The frustration of sitting on their Bench must be absolutely enormous.

We must understand, looking back at the history of this place, that Governments get their business through and Oppositions try to amend it. Sometimes, in periods of great frustration, Oppositions fail to achieve that.

The Opposition--fragmented, split, and not understanding the will of the people of this nation--have failed to understand the golden offer given to them by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House when she presented the changes with which we are now experimenting. The Opposition misunderstood the difference between time and timing. They have this daft idea that, by keeping things going for ever, they are going to convince members of the public of the wisdom of their way. Would not it be better if they used the opportunities in the Chamber and upstairs in Committee to use timing, like a good cricketer? A good cricketer can score more runs by using good timing than by stonewalling for ever.

Mr. Heald: I am not going to talk about cricket, even though the English team was so successful recently. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that during the Committee--in which the Minister said that there was time-wasting--the Chairman of the Committee said:

That is exactly the view put forward by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). This was not a case of time-wasting; this was simply a case of not having enough time to do the job.

Mr. Miller: If I had suggested that the hon. Gentleman was deliberately time-wasting in Committee, I would clearly have been out of line with the views of the Chairman of the Committee, and Mr. Deputy Speaker would quite rightly have called me to order. I was trying to explain to the hon. Gentleman in the Smoking Room the other day that if he looked at a Bill, as it was published, identified the parts on which he thought that the Government Front Bench was on shaky ground, and negotiated with the Leader of the House to ensure that those parts of the Bill had substantive examination on prime time television, he would get far more out of it. But no; as with many other Bills, the Opposition did not see the wisdom of that approach. The truth is that they have nothing to offer. They have no challenge to Ministers that they are even prepared to have exposed on prime time television. We are considering an issue of law and order.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but really the debate is about proper scrutiny of legislation, not prime time television. Does he think that every part of a Bill should be considered in Committee?

Mr. Miller: Members of the House and of the other place should ensure that, before they cast their vote on Report, they are satisfied that that which they are voting on meets the will of the House. I apologise for intervening on the hon. Gentleman during his speech, but I thought

12 Mar 2001 : Column 771

that, tactically, he was going down a dangerous route. He needs to understand that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the way in which Ministers presented the issues, the bottom line must be that the House cannot accept hooligan behaviour. Democracy cannot be conducted in such a way.

Mr. Hogg: I put to the hon. Gentleman the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). In Committee, there are essentially two matters at stake: policy and the language used to reflect that policy. If the language of the statute is not right, that will cause immense problems in the courts and elsewhere. It is the business of a Committee to consider the language of each clause in order to perfect it, if perfecting it needs.

Mr. Miller: I would be more sympathetic to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's views if guillotine after guillotine had not fallen when I sat on the Opposition Benches. Those guillotines were operated by Conservative Members, including him. We are dealing with issues of law and order. I genuinely thought that all Members of the House wanted to stamp out the criminality, bad behaviour and anti-social behaviour that goes on throughout the nation. How can the nation accept leadership from the House if we accept hooligan behaviour?

Mr. Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make such points, but they are not the central issue. Will he deal with that? Why do not the Government support the amendment? It would allow us to complete consideration in Committee and the Bill to complete all its stages. It would allow democracy and would prevent nothing. Let us leave to one side the punishment of people who may have disrupted the House, as I gather that another motion has been tabled for debate tomorrow. We can debate that matter another time.

Mr. Miller: I am not aware that such a motion has been tabled as I have not seen tomorrow's Order Paper, although I look forward to reading it. I may seek to amend the motion because I might not think that the proposed punishment is sufficient. [Laughter.] There is laughter, but the simple fact is that we need to set standards. We have sought to set standards in respect of football hooligans by preventing certain people from travelling to away matches. Perhaps that means that Opposition Front Benchers must not travel away to the Committee Corridor. We have introduced anti-social behaviour orders, which constrain people. We have considered introducing curfews. Those punishments may be appropriate.

The bottom line is that we cannot have one law for Members of the House, in any aspect of life, and another for private citizens. How can the nation be expected to work with us and the forces of law and order to improve standards in society if it is considered acceptable for an official Opposition to act in such a manner? Whatever the rights and wrongs of the programming of a Bill, I will not be drawn into the particular by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), because I was not on the Committee. [Hon. Members:

12 Mar 2001 : Column 772

"Ah."] That is a matter of record. As I was not on the Committee, I do not know precisely what people said to each other.

We must ensure that a Bill has adequate time. I raised the point on the Floor of the House in respect of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, because 14 out of 18 columns dealing with one of its clauses were taken up by an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. If we analyse the content of those 14 columns, we realise that only three columns dealt with the substance of the clause.

Mr. Bercow: Read them out.

Mr. Miller: The hon. Gentleman has a photographic memory, so I am sure that he can remember every one of his own words.

Dr. Ladyman: Would my hon. Friend take it from someone who was on the Committee that the constructive element of the Opposition's case, if it had been put by a private company and someone was paying the bill, would have been contracted into about 30 minutes?

Mr. Miller: My hon. Friend's recent, high-level experience in the private sector may legitimately lead him to that conclusion. As he was on the Committee, I accept his judgment.

The House must set standards. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and her cohorts in this disruption have set standards that are unacceptable to the House and to a nation that is crying out for leadership on law and order. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is seeking to give that leadership, and any respectable Opposition would support him hook, line and sinker in his attempts to do so.

12.52 am

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): I am glad to make a short contribution to the debate. It is noticeable that Government Members have not addressed the motion. The problem is that the motion asks us to deem that black is white, and that something that ought to have happened, but which everyone in the House knows has not happened, has happened. That is why it is unprecedented and wrong, and we should not accept it.

The problem comes about because the Government have gone in for programme motions, pushed through with their large majority, that do not give sufficient time for an important Bill of this nature. The Government describe it as their flagship Bill, but they have allowed only 15 sittings for this important criminal justice legislation. I should like to compare that with the way in which the Conservative Government behaved when we put through important legislation. I shall give two examples of criminal justice legislation that I think are fair. The first is the Criminal Justice Act 1982, and the second is the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. I sat on both Committees--for obvious reasons, I had a close relationship with almost all the criminal justice legislation that went through in those 18 years.

The Criminal Justice Act 1982 set the scene, as everyone who follows the courts knows, for the

12 Mar 2001 : Column 773

magistrates courts, the Crown courts and criminal justice powers for a generation. It had 45 clauses, was considered during 22 sittings, and went through at exactly this time of year, between January and the end of March. It went through as a result of sensible agreement. We did not sit late, we did not waste time, and we had a full debate.

Next Section

IndexHome Page