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Mr. Hawkins: As the Minister said, this Bill has had a most extraordinary passage; one might more properly say, a lack of a passage. Those outside who follow these proceedings will find it extraordinary that the parts of the Bill referring to police training--an issue of huge public concern--police organisation, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad have not received any scrutiny by the elected House of Commons in Committee or on Report and Third Reading. The Minister seemed completely to dismiss the importance of that.
Such rubber-stamping and a negation of democracy is reminiscent only of Stalinist Russia in the 20th century. [Laughter.] Government Back Benchers, who seem to think that this is funny, will find that they must justify to their constituents the fact that they have been part of this negation of democracy, by pushing through a Bill that contains important issues that have not been debated.
The Government--particularly Government Back Benchers--believe that debate does not matter and that one can assume that what the Government are doing is right. They believe that the world started in year zero in May 1997, which is similar to what the Pol Pot regime insisted on in Cambodia.
Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend is right, but it goes further than that. The Advocate-General for Scotland had no basis for suggesting that because all three Chairmen of the Committee had specifically ruled that at no stage had there been any filibustering.
This has undoubtedly been an unsatisfactory matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, it all resulted from a wholly artificial timetable. Ministers--particularly the Minister of State--were clearly operating under orders. They were told by their lords and masters that they had to clear the decks in case the Prime Minister wished to call a general election for April, so these wholly artificial timetables were imposed on us.
In the brief time that remains, I want to touch on a couple of points that were raised in the debate. The hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) spoke about the importance of the protection of scientists. As the son of two research scientists, I thoroughly agree. I think that the best part of our consideration of the Bill in Committee and on Report has been our discussion of the best bit of the Bill--the protection from harassment provisions. If the predictions of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) come true, that part,
I was delighted that the hon. Member for South Thanet reiterated his support for our proposals. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) also made a helpful contribution tonight, as she did in Committee. Both hon. Members spoke passionately and well in support of their constituents and scientists. The hon. Member for South Thanet is still saying to the Minister, as we are, that further steps are required. We have already welcomed the Government's acceptance of our suggestion in Committee that the Bill needs to be amended further. They repeated their acceptance in respect of clause 13 tonight, but yet further work on the law of conspiracy might be carried out in another place. There is no doubt at all that we need to keep that in mind. We hope very much that when the Minister replies to the debate he will confirm that he is still listening to the hon. Members for South Thanet and for Peterborough, and to us.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey spoke about the defects in the procedures for scrutinising these issues. There is no question but that we need to keep the way in which such Bills are scrutinised always in mind. There may be better ways of scrutinising them. There is certainly a much better way of dealing with important criminal justice measures, particular in relation to significant bodies such as police authorities and the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the NCS. There has been a bypassing of democracy. While we do not dissent from some of its underlying principles, the Bill is an example of legislation that attempts to implement what the Prime Minister said when he asked for eye-catching initiatives on crime with which he could be associated.
Mr. Lock: This has been an interesting Third Reading debate, but let us focus first on the Bill. It contains a wide range of measures that will provide the police and others in the criminal justice system with the powers that they need to tackle disorder, to beat crime and to improve the position of victims in our society. It is an important Bill and it is a disgrace to the scrutiny and the importance of those measures that we have heard so much today about the procedure and so little about the substance.
Those outside this place who read our debates will find it extraordinary that we have spent so long talking about how many sittings there were and how many hours were spent in Committee and so little about when it is right for the police to close down a disorderly public house that is causing trouble to a neighbourhood and whether it right for the police to retain DNA samples and about all the other important issues in the Bill. However, we have discussed an important issue of principle between the Government and the Liberal Democrats: when the police have the ability to convict criminals and, when there is evidence, should the power of the state be used to maximise the number of criminals who are convicted for their crimes, or should there be artificial rules to weigh the system in favour of the defendant and against the power of the state? It is used to bring those who commit crimes to justice. The DNA provisions in the Bill are designed to ensure that where there is proper evidence and where there are proper issues they should be placed before a
Whereas the Liberal Democrats have at least set out their principles--we disagree with them, but we understand them--the Conservatives voted against measures in Committee, they were not prepared to say whether they were in favour of the Bill or against it and they were not prepared to commit themselves to supporting either the defendant or the victim. However, we are grateful for sinners who repent and we welcome their support now, albeit at the last moment.
Mr. Lock: The Conservatives supported the principle of the Bill to the extent of not voting against it, but when we came to the detail they were not prepared to support the provisions, and it is only today that they are prepared to say that they will not vote against it. That is hardly a ringing endorsement on behalf of the victims who need those powers.
Other issues have attracted good debates. I commend my hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) and for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) on their sterling work on behalf of the scientific community. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet made an excellent speech describing the benefits of scientific experience and experiments, and the importance of giving scientists the freedom to be able to work without intimidation and harassment. I am sure that his speech will commend itself to the scientific community, and he will know that he has their support in bringing these issues before the House. He has done an extremely good job on behalf of the scientific community. It should be grateful to him, as it should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough.
We have had good debates on other issues. It is difficult to get the balance right on fixed-penalty notices and to know which offences should be included, but I am grateful to those hon. Members who contributed to that debate. It was a good debate and we think that we now have the balance about right.
The Bill will be best known for procedural issues and the Opposition's adoption of student sit-in politics. What makes the way in which they have behaved even more extraordinary is the fact that they sought to hold up the progress of a Bill giving powers to the police and strengthening the position of victims, with which they agreed.
It may have been correct that, in Committee, there was no technical filibustering, but it cannot be said that there was focused debate at all points. Much time was spent discussing procedure and a vast amount of time discussing the fact that the Opposition did not feel that they had enough time.
On Monday, the shadow Leader of the House said in high dudgeon that 16 sittings should mean 16 sittings. That is the debate. Sixteen sittings amount to 36 hours, but, as the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said in the same debate, the Bill was debated for 40 hours, which is substantially more than 16 sittings. The "Dangerfield"