Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Charles Clarke rose--

Mr. Heald: I should be happy to give way to the Minister.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am most anxious that we should not revisit arguments that have been gone over many times before. Before anyone responds to those comments, I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman now moved on to the subject of the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Heald: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was offered the opportunity to take an intervention, but I shall not do so in the light of your ruling.

We had the opportunity tonight to debate various issues on Report. We were not able to reach more than half of them. That is a pity for parliamentary democracy, but I shall not go on about that any further. The Opposition do not oppose the Bill in principle; we never have. However, we have made it clear from the outset that we feel that elements of it are over-bureaucratic, and that safeguards are required in a number of areas. We also made it clear that fixed penalty notices should be issued only for a range of minor offences, and in a way that does not

14 Mar 2001 : Column 1110

involve major paperwork for the police. That point was put to us by the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents Association, and we still do not think that the measure is right.

Although we voted against the provision on fixed penalty notices in Committee, I made it clear that we were happy to table a new clause setting out what we wanted and, had we won the vote, we would have done so on Report. Criminal damage is our main concern over fixed penalty notices, because compensation is payable to a victim only on conviction. If a fixed penalty notice is issued, there is a risk that people who want compensation will not be able to get it.

The Minister gave us assurances on that in Committee, but they were not adequate. There are corporate businesses and others that should not be subject to a measure that means that they cannot claim compensation, and there should be a definite commitment in law on that. The Association of Chief Police Officers suggested that criminal damage is not suitable for the process. That is our view and we continue to hold it, here and in the other place.

The Minister referred to no-votes as if they are shocking, but if an attempt to amend a measure is voted down by the Government, it is hard to give wholehearted support to that measure. My view is that, after being voted down by the Government, our proper approach in Committee is to abstain. That is what we did when we were not satisfied with the detail.

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

Mr. Heald: Well, no. The Minister can intervene in a moment if he wants to.

It is important to acknowledge that we had serious debates on the Huntingdon Life Sciences issues--I agree with the Minister about that. We made significant changes as a result of those debates, for which I give him full credit, but he should further consider issues relating to conspiracy. He also needs to go further on the child protection measures which we debated on Report. I welcome the commitment that he gave in correspondence to the effect that the full council will make the decision on a non-drinking zone. The Opposition have made that point throughout.

We must ensure that a stop order is served and a rowdy pub closed only when a clear connection can be made between it and the incident about which the senior police officer is concerned. The Minister made concessions, or points of amplification, in correspondence about our concerns on noise. If a pub is noisy and a senior officer wants to close it for that reason, it is now accepted that a closure order will be issued only when warnings and opportunities have been given to reduce that noise. That is a welcome assurance.

Although I could go on at great length about which points we want to be considered by the other place, I tell the Minister that we do not oppose the principle of the Bill. The debates that we had were good and amendments were made that we are pleased about, some of which he mentioned. Although we shall not oppose the Bill, I am sad, as he should be, that it is going from the elected

14 Mar 2001 : Column 1111

House to the other place, which is unelected, when half of it has not been considered by hon. Members. To me, that is deeply shaming for the elected House.

Mr. Charles Clarke: The hon. Gentleman has explained that there will be another no-vote tonight and gave an interesting constitutional explanation, which I found novel, of previous no-votes. Nevertheless, that explanation can be used by Conservative Members if it is appropriate. However, it is not unreasonable of me to say to him, given that he took a certain view in Committee and no-voted on certain clauses, that he should tell us whether he is for or against those clauses as they now stand. It would help the House and the country to know exactly where the Conservatives stand on the DNA issues, fixed penalties and so on. Will he provide some illumination?

Mr. Heald: There is a clear answer to the Minister's question. Report stage is there for that purpose, and we were given a third of a Report stage because of the cruel guillotine that was imposed. I do not mean that it was cruel to me; the victims of this guillotine are organisations that wanted certain issues to be raised, and individuals who would also have liked to hear the explanations for which the Minister now calls. It is not appropriate to give such explanations on Third Reading, which must deal with the Bill as amended--I see you nodding, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not prepared to be told by the Minister how to do my job, or to be told by him what is or is not in order. I am of course prepared to listen to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: My hon. Friend makes a good point, but surely the victims are not just organisations and others whose representations they believed might be debated. Are not the main victims the citizens on whom legislation is being forced by the Government--legislation that the Government know has not been, and cannot be, properly considered? Does that not constitute a criticism in the case of every clause that we have been unable to reach?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not want to keep interrupting, but I am sure the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) appreciates that he is being led back down a certain road, and I would be grateful if he did not go down it.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you clarify the rule on Third Reading debates, in the context of the Government's conduct in forcing a Bill on the House when they know that the House has not considered one third of it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is an experienced Member of Parliament. He knows very well that the purpose of Third Reading is to debate the content of a Bill as it then stands.

Sir Nicholas Lyell rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am not prepared to return to the matter.

Mr. Heald: As the Minister will appreciate, I travel around the country, and I meet police officers. I have to

14 Mar 2001 : Column 1112

ask myself what I am to tell them when they say, "Why did you not do something about that provision on disciplinary proceedings?" The answer is that there was no time, because the Government had introduced this arrangement. When chartered accountants who have written a long paper on disclosure of records for tax purposes say, "We told you that the Bill contained some daft points with which we disagreed; why were they not debated?", I shall have to reply, "Well, there was this guillotine, and the Government would not let us debate them"--and so it goes on.

The same applies to all the individuals involved. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) pointed out, our citizens sometimes find that the law is daft, or does not work properly. But whole clauses--42 last Thursday, and more than 20 on Tuesday--were never debated in Committee, and we then find that we cannot debate them on Report. Of course, one should never exaggerate--[Interruption.] The Minister laughs; he should not.

The problem with the Bill has been that it was not up to this Minister to determine how much time we had, or when the Bill left Committee: he had his orders. I know that the Minister likes to debate, to examine points that are made and to listen; but he himself was not allowed to do those things. He knows that. He knows that whenever we asked for extra time, he was allowed to provide only a certain amount.

Mr. Charles Clarke: Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have been very clear about the fact that we should not revisit last Monday's debate. I would respond to the hon. Gentleman, but I am trying to stay in order. Will you clarify whether what is being said is in order, in the light of your earlier remarks?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am trying hard not to intervene continually. I think the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire is aware that the points he is making have been made many times. I understand how he feels and how others on both sides of the House feel, but I earnestly ask him again to return to the debate on Third Reading.

Mr. Heald: I remember hearing the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) say that when one no longer feels the anger, one should get out of politics. On this occasion, I feel the anger, as do other Conservative Members.

Next Section

IndexHome Page