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Mr. Stunell: Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to argue that two wrongs make a right? Is he entirely happy with that argument?

Mr. McCabe: Either I am doing a very bad job of explaining myself or the hon. Gentleman is not hearing me properly. I am making the point that it is not a question of two wrongs making a right; there was a vote on a programme motion and, as is normal, we accepted the ruling of that vote and the ruling of the Chair. It was only when the Opposition realised that they were not going to have their way--after deliberately wasting time throughout the Committee's proceedings--that they chose to use a further parliamentary, or non-parliamentary, device. Those were the actions of a flying picket--an attempt to block our legitimate procedure. That is not a question of two wrongs.

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Mr. Simon Hughes: I shall not ask the hon. Gentleman to give his views on flying pickets in public.

Putting aside the people involved, does the hon. Gentleman agree that what happened on Thursday was that Members of the House used a tactic open to any Member to try to prevent the fulfilment of the timetable? It was just as proper a tactic to try as any other. In the event, it has brought us to the Chamber tonight. However, whether or not the Committee stage is guillotined, that does not answer the question why we should not go back to finish the Bill's Committee proceedings.

Mr. McCabe: I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman's views, but he is fundamentally wrong on this matter. Whatever his view, he knows that if that spectacular intervention had not taken place--with less than 10 minutes to go--the Bill would properly have completed its proceedings. The hon. Gentleman may have disagreed with the manner in which the procedure was organised, but that would have been the outcome. The only reason that did not happen was that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald was unhappy about it.

The Opposition freely admit that they had used all the normal procedures of the House to try to prevent the Bill's proceedings. Not content with the outcome and unprepared to accept the judgment of the House, they decided to ignore that judgment and to take another course of action. If we were to take the position advocated by the hon. Gentleman--to go back to the point at which the right hon. Lady disrupted the Committee's proceedings--I have no confidence that, as soon as something occurred that the Opposition were not happy about, they would once again dispense with parliamentary rules and go back to the same bullying tactics. That is how they are prepared to behave.

Mrs. Beckett: Of course, I understand the point that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is trying to make. However, does my hon. Friend agree that the danger with the course of action for which the hon. Gentleman argues is that it creates an incentive for people to repeat conduct that we all deplore?

Mr. McCabe: It would be difficult to arrive at any other conclusion. That is exactly what would happen. It appears that we are being told that the House can vote and take decisions on procedure, but that at any point when the Opposition lose a vote--fairly and squarely--and are unhappy about it, they can tear up the rule book. We are being asked to agree that if they take such actions, we should go back to square one and let them do it again. For the life of me, I cannot see the sense of that.

Tonight, as my constituents in Hall Green look at the broken glass outside rowdy pubs or wonder what is happening down the street, not many of them would be too happy if we let offenders have a second chance.

Earlier, we talked about police morale. The morale of the police officers whose pensions would have been sanctioned by the provisions in the Bill that we were due to discuss will not have been particularly reinforced by the actions we witnessed on Thursday--especially if we

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are not allowed to complete our proceedings. The decision to prevent us from reinstating the rank of chief superintendent--that reinstatement was largely supported by the vast majority of police officers--will not necessarily boost police morale; the police have been asking for that reinstatement for years.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I am interested to hear my hon. Friend's account of the proceedings of the Committee, although I am not sure that his description of the antics of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) as "spectacular" is appropriate. Does he agree that those events demonstrate not only the need for the programming of legislation but that perhaps we need more effective programming to ensure that all the important parts of a Bill are debated?

Mr. McCabe: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. We are still in an experimental phrase, and we need to learn from the experiment. I am sure that improvements can be made.

Mr. St. Aubyn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McCabe: Not just now, thanks.

Undoubtedly, improvements can be made, but the bottom line remains that there must be good will and good faith on both sides when we enter into any experiment. We must believe that, having voted for something, other hon. Members will respect that decision. We must also believe that the time made available will be used constructively. Let us not hear lengthy discussions about the British islands, the "Dangerfield" television series, the virtues of Mr. Matthew Gullick--the son of a High court judge and a junior Conservative party researcher, who is paid to write amendments occasionally. If we have to listen to his suggestions and those of his colleagues being read into the record--

Mr. Heald: Matthew Gullick--a Conservative researcher--was mentioned because the Government accepted three of the amendments that he drafted. Should he not have been mentioned? He did rather well.

Mr. McCabe: It is perfectly true that Matthew Gullick was mentioned on day one, when the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said that the score was three nil. He was mentioned the following day. On the third day, the Chairman of the Committee said that he need not be mentioned again. That certainly was three nil.

If there is time wasting, inevitable repetition and less focus on the content, it ill becomes anyone to talk about having insufficient time to scrutinise the Bill. As I said at the outset, I welcomed Opposition Members' efforts when they turned their attention to the content. It is an important Bill and there have been important issues to discuss, but it is too late to bleat about running out of time when the time available has been used for everything but consideration of the Bill. To block the Bill by the outrageous behaviour that we witnessed on Thursday, involving discourtesy to the police and the Chairman of the Committee, and then to say tonight that the motion it is an outrage to parliamentary democracy beggars belief.

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1.17 am

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): The motion seeks to do two things. First, it states that the

Secondly, it states:

The Minister's amendments--no one else's--will be deemed to have been discussed, so a clear distinction has been made.

Why am I concerned about the motion? It does not take any great feat of imagination to think that it reinvents history. Four days ago, the House failed to do something. The Government have moved a motion that states that it has done something. Stalin rewrote history. I am concerned about the rewriting of history by deeming things to have happened that have not--because what else can be deemed to have happened?

A Minister of the Crown could say that he deems that the Bill has completed all its stages. That is why Mr. Speaker said, when sitting in the Chair, that the motion was without precedent. That is why it is very serious. The Minister's belligerence made me think that he was nervous about the case that he was presenting.

The motion and the amendment test the Government's response. The Bill has not been debated properly. If it reports back to the House under a guillotine, it will be smuggled back to us outside the attention of the wider world and large parts of will remain undiscussed. The Opposition's protests are designed to show that the House must now consider the consequences of the Committee's reporting that it had been unable to complete the Bill's consideration.

Mr. Charles Clarke: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Shepherd: Not just yet. The Government have been presented with two choices. They could have done what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) suggested and the Bill could have been returned to Committee with sufficient time to discuss the 42 amendments that have not yet been debated. The Government did not choose that route. They chose to table this motion. They are saying that what they say is the law. The Government are not suggesting that we should debate the issues in the way that has been offered by the Liberal Democrats, who have been supported by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. The Government motion, in effect, says, "What we say shall be the law."

The issue of majorities is a theme that has haunted the new Labour Government. Within four years, they have reached for the old Stalinist trick of putting on the Order Paper--[Interruption.] Government Members may laugh, but the Order Paper now suggests that what is not true is true. That is what the House is being asked to say. Each one of us must consider where that leaves us. What are we being reduced to? [Interruption.] I agree with that point about the poll tax. I do not think that guillotines

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should be thrown around in the way they have been. My concern about the Bill is deeper. I wonder how we have come to this pass.

The motion has been tabled under the name of the Leader of the House and is supported by the Home Secretary. The Leader of the House does not even deign to "deem" in person and the Home Secretary, whose Bill it is, has not yet spoken. Standards are changing. The Government are becoming so grand that, in less than four years, they insist that they should have a Bill under their own timetable even though there is always a rhythm to a Bill.

Sessional Order (b) was accepted on 7 November 2000 and it lies behind these problems. Despite the objections of the Opposition parties and individuals, a majority determined that the Government should be given the power to guillotine every Bill. However, we have debates of only 45 minutes to discuss these matters. What has been the consequence? Every Bill that has been guillotined--that is, every Bill this Session--has been opposed by those on the Opposition and Liberal Democrat Front Benches. Can we now talk about a Government who seek acquiesence and government by consent? Not a bit of it.

The Leader of the House is almost the Caligula of the House. She insists on things that are not true and is trying to bring about a culture change. If the House is to give authority to a Government and their actions, its whole purpose is to debate their actions. How else can they seek consent and attest to the fact that the issues have been considered?

We are now telling ourselves that we are redundant. If every Minister can deem, with a majority behind him, that something has happened, we can cut out the process of debate and transfer the business to the other end of the Palace. The reformed or unreformed House of Lords will become pre-eminent. That is the cause of our anger. A process has been forced through by the Modernisation Committee, which has not listened with the necessary tolerance to other views. Steam is now building up in a Chamber that has no exits or valves to allow it to be released.

How do I make representations to the Government? How do those on the Opposition Front Benches even begin to negotiate with the Government as to how to consider each part of a Bill? The Modernisation Committee has prattled on about holding the Government to account, but do the most important people--the majority in the House--hold the Government account? All they are doing is marching through the Lobby to support the cutting off of the historic role of Parliament.

Even this debate is being held at 1.24 am. The Government, confident and secure of their affection in the opinion polls, think that such matters are not important and that the public do not care. That is not the issue. Vasari once said something important. Why was it, he reflected, that the Florentines had reached a particular level of excellence in the arts? His response was that it related to the spirit of criticism: the brutality of the critical approach ensured that the second rate could not survive.

The spirit of criticism is essential to the way in which the House has always done its business. No one can be under any illusion about what the Government are arguing for, but the second rate cannot survive in such a system. Yet as we close down all the hatches for reasonable and

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detailed investigation of how the law bears down on each one of us, we sink into the mediocrity exhibited by the Labour Front Bench. It is not dignified.

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