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Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): Does the Minister recognise that the truncation of the procedures in the handling of this matter is a switch-off to democracy? It is extremely difficult, even for those of us who have been members of the Committee, to keep up to speed with the detail of the Bill when it is taken in this way. Will the Minister kindly report back to those to whom he is responsible so that it never happens again?
Mr. Simon Hughes: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can we be clear about what your indications imply? The debate on Monday was about whether the Bill should go back into Committee or whether there should be a foreshortened Committee stage. There was no debate on Monday about Report, tonight's guillotine or the Bill's remaining stages. I ask you to permit, and to make it clear that you are permitting, debate about today's procedure, which was not the subject of Monday night's debate.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have already permitted hon. Members to comment on matters that are nothing to do with Third Reading. We are now on Third Reading. I understand the feelings on both sides of the House, but I think that we have dealt in sufficient detail with the matters surrounding the Bill and that we should return to the Third Reading and stick to it.
Mr. Clarke: Following your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not respond to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), save to say that I think that we have had a very full consideration of the issues.
During the course of our considerations, I did not accept a number of amendments which, in the Government's view, would have significantly diluted the powers we intend to give the police to close down disorderly or excessively noisy pubs for up to 24 hours. I understand the anxieties expressed in the licensed trade, and I have had widespread discussions with its members on a range of issues. However, I have given the Committee the assurance that we shall issue guidance to the police to ensure that the powers are deployed fairly and responsibly in the interests of public safety and nuisance and that every licensee is given an opportunity to put his house in order before action is taken to close any pub.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said that we did not debate part II, but we debated many parts of it--an ironic contradiction. Part II deals with information disclosure. In Committee, at the request of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), I agreed to meet the Confederation of British Industry to discuss its concerns about the disclosure of confidential business information for overseas criminal anti-trust investigations.
I met a delegation from the CBI to discuss the situation in some detail. The hon. Gentleman was right that this is a matter of concern. Although, as I said in Committee, there had been meetings with officials and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, there had been no meetings with me as the Minister dealing with those matters in the Bill. I thought that the hon. Gentleman's point was fair and that I should meet it, as I always try to do.
We see the information disclosure provisions as a key way to improve international co-operation in the fight against anti-competitive behaviour. I am glad to tell the House that through my meeting with the CBI and subsequent meetings with officials, we have managed to
The CBI also agreed with the Government on the need to tackle international cartels, but it opposes allowing the disclosure of confidential business information for overseas criminal anti-trust investigations. Those worries relate to a small number of competition cases that involve activities such as price fixing and bid rigging. We have listened to its concerns and have sought to ensure that it understands the way in which the new powers will be used by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
All overseas requests for information will be considered on a case-by-case basis. We will protect UK companies when we believe that the United States or any other country is seeking to assert its jurisdiction extra- territorially. For example, we would prohibit disclosure if the alleged offences were carried out by a UK company operating solely in the UK. Furthermore, nothing in the disclosure provisions would permit a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998 or European Community obligations.
The Director General of Fair Trading is also aware of the CBI's concerns. He said that he would not generally disclose information collected in relation to a merger other than with the consent of the companies involved. We will continue to reflect on the CBI's concerns, but we cannot accept the overall approach of not acting at all, because it would mean that no information could be disclosed to a foreign competition authority in respect of the most serious breaches of competition law, and because we believe that it is important to fight international cartels.
There has been widespread discussion about DNA and fingerprint issues. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey implied, they will be a significant aspect of debate when the Bill is considered in the public arena. We had to take into account the need for a balance between individual rights and society's right to be crime free. I do not think that murderers and rapists should walk free when the evidence to convict is available to us. Development of DNA techniques now often allows us to solve crimes 10, 15 or 20 years after they have been committed. That sends a powerful message that those who commit awful crimes will be penalised and punished. I accept that there were genuine debates on these matters in Committee and elsewhere, and I am sure that such discussion will continue.
I believe that I can claim that the Bill is a measure of the Government's commitment to reducing crime and the fear of crime. I hope that opposition parties will consider carefully where they stand on the various issues that are involved. As the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire has pointed out at various stages, the official Opposition did not oppose the Bill on Second Reading. He told us that he would consider the situation in detail after that stage of its passage, and no doubt he will tell us in a moment how the official Opposition intend to deal with the Bill tonight.
I know that the hon. Gentleman also has many procedural anxieties, although they have been expressed rather extraordinarily through the actions that have been taken. It is important to understand that the people of this country will consider the Bill and make their judgments. Many of the measures are straightforward and cover common ground, but some are controversial. Everybody in politics has to make choices, which is why I was surprised by the no-votes on a range of measures. The House and the country will be interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say about those abstentions and to find out how his party will vote on Third Reading.
The Liberal Democrats raised similar issues, but their tone was different. The Government and the Opposition disagreed on some points of detail, but I found extraordinary some of their abstentions and votes against measures such as clause 1. In general, those decisions were a question of the need for the official Opposition to explain themselves. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and the Liberal Democrats, however, voted clearly against a whole string of measures for reasons that they articulated and which were consistent with the judgments that they have made.
Being the sort of man that he is, the hon. Gentleman will take the following challenge in the spirit in which it is meant. When he and other Liberal Democrat candidates for Parliament stand in front of their electorates, they must be confident that they are prepared to deal with serious crime and disorder issues. Whether it is in respect of alcohol crime, fixed penalty notices, DNA, murders, rapes or a range of other issues, he must be prepared to put his hand on his heart and say that he is confident that, without introducing the measures in the Bill, the Liberal Democrats are doing their best to ensure that the people of this country get a secure and safe community. That is what the Government are committed to, and that is the choice that he will have to make. He will advance his arguments in his characteristic way, but he should not be under any illusion. We will be putting forward our arguments about the substance of the issues publicly and clearly from now until polling day, because they are right for the people of this country.
Mr. Heald: The Minister is right to say that, in shadowing him, I have worked on Committees and in other proceedings with him. We have rubbed along pretty well and been able to debate matters in a serious way. On many occasions, he has listened and been prepared to change his position on the basis of debate.
You will not want me to go into any detail about the Standing Committee, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I feel that democracy was betrayed and that huge parts of the Bill were not discussed. I feel sorry for organisations such as the Police Federation, which went to the trouble of preparing long briefs for the Opposition, and of raising issues of concern--for example, about disciplinary matters.
My concern is not only about police matters, although they form an important part of the Bill. It also relates to issues such as the disclosure of information. As the Minister said, we debated the CBI concerns on clause 45, as it then was. However, the CBI is still not satisfied. I spoke to its representatives this morning, and they said that they were pleased to have had a meeting with the Minister, but they were dissatisfied with its outcome. No doubt that matter will have to be discussed further in the other place. I am also concerned that the disclosure of tax records, which is a civil liberties issue, was not discussed.
The reason these matters were not discussed is not because there was any unnecessary time wasting by the Opposition. There was not. The Minister said that we wasted time on the first, important clauses of the Bill. He has made that accusation time and again. In fact, after we had dealt with those clauses, the Committee Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), with the authority of his co-Chairman, said: