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Mrs. Beckett: Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman care to include in his example the Bill that became the Police Act 1997, debated in 1996-97? It was about the size of this Bill, and went through at the same time of year with half the number of sittings.
I cited the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 because it started life as the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill 1983. Again, it was a highly important piece of legislation, which appeared in the run-up to the 1983 general election. It fell because, although it completed all its stages in the House in the early part of 1983, there was no time for it to go through the other place. It therefore did not become law.
Every Member present tonight must accept the overwhelming probability that this Bill, too, will not become law because there is likely to be a general election on 3 May. If that does not happen, there will be plenty of time for the Bill to be taken through the House properly; if it does, the Bill will fall. When we had the power, we allowed a reasonable and proper time, and that is what ought to be done now.
Mr. Straw: May I return the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the point put to him by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House? The 1983 example is a very poor one for the Opposition to use. It is true that we were in "oppositionist" mode in that year: we refused to agree to legislation going through in a truncated form before the election, although we broadly agreed with it. That is one of the reasons why we paid such a heavy price in the polls. [Interruption.] It is true. It is a matter of record.
Let me bring the right hon. and learned Gentleman up to date, and return him to 1996-97. The Police Bill to which my right hon. Friend referred was of a similar length to this Bill and similarly non-controversial, but it nevertheless required examination. It had much less examination in practice, and we agreed it. That strikes me as a far better precedent; why do the Opposition not follow it?
Sir Nicholas Lyell: The difference between the Home Secretary and me is that I was a member of the Committee considering the 1983 Bill, while he was not. Yes, there was a good deal of opposition for opposition's sake on Labour's part, and Labour Members were wrong to do
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): The right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that I was a member of that Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) led for the Opposition. We had a constructive debate, which resulted in the enactment of the Bill. What would the right hon. and learned Gentleman have thought had my right hon. Friend led a sit down strike in the Committee?
Complaint is made about the manner of protests here, but the fact that a protest may transgress rules does not justify oppression if oppression has given rise to that protest. That argument would have been used against John Hampden, the Tolpuddle martyrs and Mr. Gandhi.
Mr. Hogg: My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I was the Whip on the Committee considering the second Bill. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) asked what our reaction would have been to the intervention of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). He would never have acted in that way because there was no timetable. The Committee ensured that there was adequate time for the Bill to be debated, so there was no reason, justification or need for such action.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: Why is it that after five interventions on the Police Act 1996, no Tory Member is prepared to address himself or herself to the questions that are being asked, which are very simple? In our consideration of the 1996 Act, 18 clauses and schedules were dealt with per sitting. In our consideration of this Bill, nine clauses and schedules are being dealt with per sitting. In other words, in 1996, under the Tory Government, twice as many provisions were considered per sitting. Rather than waffling, why does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman address the specific issue of the 1996 Act?
Sir Nicholas Lyell: I have heard special pleading before, and I hear it from the hon. Gentleman now. Labour Members really have to make up their minds about the 1996 Act--are they saying that it was pushed through with or without adequate consideration? We are saying that this Bill--it cannot be denied--is not being adequately considered and that it is being pushed through unreasonably fast. I have participated in the Committee's consideration of the Bill, which has had 15 or 16 sittings.
There are reasonable ways of dealing with these matters. It is not right that we have not had time to address really important issues such as the disclosure of material from the Inland Revenue to overseas Governments. Those issues have given rise to very sensible letters to all Committee members. Some of those letters, however,
Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): As a Committee member, I should like to make just a couple of brief points. We are being told by the Opposition that it would be an outrage and disgraceful for Parliament to pass the motion. Perhaps I take an over-simplified view of these matters, but it seems to me that the reality is that there was a programme motion on which there was a vote. The Chairman often acknowledged that fact to the Committee. Earlier, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said that the Opposition had agreed to an experimental programme motion.
Mrs. Browning: I think that the hon. Gentleman must have misheard me. Conservative Members opposed the programme motion on principle and voted against it. We particularly opposed the programme motion for consideration of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) tabled an amendment to that motion, but Labour Members voted against it, so the amendment was not agreed to.
The point is that the events occurred with fewer than 10 minutes to go in the Committee's consideration of the Bill. After those 10 minutes had elapsed, the outstanding matters would have been guillotined regardless, putting us in exactly the same position as we are in now.
It is possible for experienced and honourable Conservative Members to huff and puff about the outrage and the affront. However, the reality is that we were within 10 minutes of the end of the Committee's proceedings--exactly the position that we are in now. At that point the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) chose to prevent that from happening by barging into the Committee and disrupting its procedures. That is what happened, no matter how it is dressed up or described. We should not delude ourselves about what actually happened.
Whether Conservative Members liked it or not, the programme motion had been put to a vote--the Chairman reminded them of that on numerous occasions in Committee. We had reached the stage at which the Committee had run out of time, and we would have guillotined the outstanding items. However, we were prevented from doing so because of the actions of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald.
Jackie Ballard (Taunton): In Committee, the hon. Gentleman appeared to have reservations about some aspects of the Bill. Does he think that adequate time was given for proper consideration of all the 132 clauses as well as the new clauses? If not, will he vote for the amendment tonight?
The difficulty is the amount of time that was wasted, a point which the official Opposition cannot escape. We had numerous references to and complaints about the programme motion, despite the fact that the Chairman made it plain what his ruling was and that he did not want to pursue the matter further. We had a lengthy debate on whether the term "British islands" should be in the Bill. At the end of that debate, we discovered that that term had been in use since 1978. No Conservative Member had chosen to table an amendment challenging those words in any piece of legislation that had gone through the House since 1978, yet they spent at least an hour debating whether "British islands" was an appropriate term. What that has to do with the police or the criminal justice system in this country, I do not know.
There were lengthy references to the "Dangerfield" television programme regarding the use of samples and whether a doctor or a registered nurse might be the appropriate person to take a sample. It is worth right hon. and hon. Members hearing about the effective scrutiny to which the Bill was sometimes subject. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) told us: