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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Vehicles (Crime) Bill

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

Standing Committee A

Tuesday 9 January 2001


[Mr. Bill O'Brien in the Chair]

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

10.30 am

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move,


    (1) during proceedings on the Vehicles (Crime) Bill the Standing Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and between half-past Four o'clock and Seven o'clock and on Thursdays at five minutes to Ten o'clock and between half-past Two o'clock and Five o'clock;

    (2) 10 sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;

    (3) the proceedings to be taken on the sittings shall be as shown in the second column of the Table below and shall be taken in the order so shown;

    (4) the proceedings which under paragraph (3) are to be taken on any sitting shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column of the Table;

    (5) paragraph (3) does not prevent proceedings being taken (in the order shown in the second column of the Table) on any earlier sitting than that provided for under paragraph (3) if all previous proceedings have already been concluded.


    SittingProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings
    1stClauses 16 to 30
    2ndClauses 16 to 30 (so far as not previously concluded)
    3rdClauses 16 to 30 (so far as not previously concluded)11.25 a.m.
    4thClauses 31 to 335 p.m.
    5thClauses 1 to 15
    6thClauses 1 to 15 (so far as not previously concluded)
    7thClauses 1 to 15 (so far as not previously concluded)11.25 a.m.
    8thClauses 34 to 375 p.m.
    9thClauses 38 to 42, The Schedule, Clauses 43 to 45, new Clauses and new Schedules
    10thClauses 38 to 42, The Schedule, Clauses 43 to 45, new Clauses and new Schedules (so far as not previously concluded)7 p.m.

    May I start our formal business by welcoming you, Mr. O'Brien, and your colleague, Mr. Sayeed, to the Chair of the Committee—the proceedings of which I am sure will be positive. My first responsibility is to move formally the resolution of the Programming Sub-Committee, which met last night. It sets out our proceedings in detail. Given the speeches that were made on Second Reading, we have decided that the order of consideration of the clauses set out in the motion is the most appropriate. We are to discuss clauses 16 to 30 first, as they aroused most interest on Second Reading.

    We believe that the time that we have allowed for consideration of the Bill is absolutely adequate to enable it to be considered properly. That matter was discussed substantially by the Programming Sub-Committee last night, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) will raise certain points about it. However, before the hon. Gentleman develops such an argument, I assure him that we consider that the time that we have allowed for the Bill to be debated is adequate. However, if we consider that some issues have not been ventilated properly, Mr. O'Brien, we shall ask you to consider reconvening a meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee to re-examine the timing of our sittings. We have no reason at this stage to believe that such a situation will arise, but were it to do so, we would take such a responsibility seriously. I emphasise, as I did last night, that we would take such action on the basis of the seriousness of the arguments that were advanced rather than the length of speeches.

    My final point with regard to last night's resolution of the Programming Sub-Committee relates to the controversy that occurred about whether its proceedings should be held in public. As you chaired that meeting, Mr. O'Brien, you will be more than familiar with that argument. You were guided by the Clerks of the House, as were the Government, and I place it on the record that, although the Government support the House in its interpretation of the situation, we understand the arguments that were advanced at that meeting, particularly by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), about the need for our work to be completely accessible and open. The Government are in favour of that, and want to establish such accessibility. Following last night's meeting, we have promoted discussion through the usual channels with the authorities of the House about the way in which such issues can be dealt with in future. The outcome of such discussions is not a matter for this Committee, but we understand the force of the hon. Gentleman's argument about how such matters should be debated.

    The Chairman: Before I propose the motion, I remind members of the Committee that the debate on the motion will conclude at 11 am.

    Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): The Minister will not be surprised to know that, following the proceedings of yesterday's Programming Sub-Committee, my hon. Friends and I intend to oppose its resolution for consideration of the Bill—more details of which will follow anon. Before that happens, however, I wish to echo at this early stage in our proceedings what the Minister said by way of welcome to you, Mr. O'Brien, and to Mr. Sayeed, who will also Chair our proceedings.

    Despite our disagreements yesterday afternoon, which on the whole were good natured although the Minister became tetchy towards the end, your chairmanship, Mr. O'Brien, was a model of clarity, firmness and fairness. I put on record today—because, of course, there were no minutes of yesterday's proceedings, still less a verbatim account—the appreciation that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk and I share for your chairmanship. You have had 17 years experience in the House and, therefore, know a thing or two about sitting on Committees, chairing Committees and participating in parliamentary proceedings. As I gently reminded you yesterday—and you took no umbrage at the reminder—you have, by virtue of your 17 years' service, considerable experience of opposition, so you recognise both its frustrations and its occasional opportunities. We look forward to your chairmanship, which will be firm but fair.

    In the spirit of the earlier part of yesterday's proceedings, it is a genuine pleasure to serve on a Committee with the Members whom I see behind, around and opposite me, many of whom contributed constructively and intelligently on Second Reading. Although we had our differences, several potent speeches were made, and a great deal of interest was shown in this important but not entirely uncontroversial Bill. It is good to know that the arguments will be amplified and developed further in the course of the Committee's consideration. I am especially pleased that the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) is a member of the Committee, as he competes with the Minister as the most courteous and accommodating Government Member.

    It is not only a pleasure but a privilege to serve opposite the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), the Minister of State. No ordinary Minister of State, he; we should be aware that we are in the presence of potential and possibly actual greatness. That is relevant as we begin our proceedings. I refer to what is probably the most recent but, I am sure, not the last commentary on the Minister in yesterday's edition of The Guardian—where else, one might inquire. He was the subject of the Monday interview, entitled Man with a Mission'', written by Mr. John Kampfner, that celebrated journalist and biographer of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. In the byline to the article, he says:

      You've probably never heard of—

    and then he names the Minister, which I will of course not do, Mr. O'Brien—

      But one thing singles him out from countless innocuous Labour MPs.

    The Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are debating the motion on programming. I am aware of the newspaper report, but could he stick to the motion?

    Mr. Bercow: I respond to your guidance and exhortation immediately, Mr. O'Brien.

    Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) rose—

    Mr. Bercow: I will do the gentlemanly thing and give way with alacrity to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh).

    Miss McIntosh: I invite my hon. Friend to address the programming issue. I am disappointed at having missed yesterday's discussions, which I gather were lively. I was concerned by the Minister's opening remarks today, in which he said that, in his view, the Government have allowed enough time for debate. I have come to the Committee armed with a large amount of material connected with the Bill, especially relating to the objection that vehicles such as motorcycles have not been included in its remit. Will my hon. Friend assist me on that point?

    Mr. Bercow: Not for the first time and, I am sure, not for the last, my hon. Friend anticipates me. I intended to focus precisely on that point. My observation about the Minister is germane. In my imperfect way, I was about to suggest that, precisely because he is viewed as a future leader of the Labour party and an arch-operator'' by Mr. John Kampfner, he should be aware of Opposition concerns that there will not be adequate time to debate fully, thoroughly and dedicatedly all the matters appertaining to the Bill. The concern raised by my hon. Friend—raised, in a sense, on behalf of the British Motorcyclists Federation, which is an important representative body—is a case in point.

    The thrust of the resolution was that the Committee should have 23 hours' debate by 23 January, by which time the proceedings should conclude. We oppose that. It is important to emphasise that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk and I tabled an amendment proposing a further nine hours' debate.

    I thought that I was being almost wimpish and stood to be chastised by the more robust of my colleagues for proposing only an additional nine hours. However, my suggestion was that, instead of finishing at 7 o'clock on Tuesday evenings, we should conclude at 10 o'clock; that there should be an hour's break for dinner for those who feel inclined to consume supper; and that, on Thursday afternoons, instead of finishing at 5 o'clock, we should conclude at 7 o'clock, with half an hour's tea break. That seemed to be a modest proposal, given the fact—which must be emphasised, especially in the light of the absence of minutes or, more valuably, of a verbatim account of yesterday's proceedings—that the Bill has no fewer than 45 clauses, and, so far, 33 amendments to it have been tabled. I say so far'' because, as we know, those 33 amendments have been tabled only to part II, which the Government wish the Committee to consider first.

    If we work on the fairly modest assumption that for the other two main parts—I know that there are four parts in all, but it might be argued that there are three main parts—there will be a similar amount of tabling, one does not have to be a distinguished mathematician such as the Minister to recognise that we will face 99 amendments and 45 clauses during the two weeks. I explained that there was therefore a potential for up to 144 debates in 23 hours, which leaves pitifully inadequate time to debate each matter. That is unsatisfactory, which is why we proposed a change. The Minister and the hon. Member for Hyndburn indicated great flexibility on the Government's part— that they would be ready to entertain the idea of longer sittings and more time for consideration of the issues. I was invited to make, and was enthusiastic about making, a specific proposal. However, that was when the Government turned nasty. They were not willing to entertain the idea at all. It was therefore a case of the smile on the face of the tiger. There was general enthusiasm for tolerance, but specific reluctance to entertain it.

    A number of issues arise from yesterday, which, as this is the first occasion on which a Standing Committee is considering a Bill following a decision of the Programming Sub-Committee, are of the highest constitutional importance. The first is whether the Programming Sub-Committee, from which the draft resolution came, was a Standing Committee, a sub-set of a Standing Committee or a Select Committee. We were advised by the Chairman, on the strength of guidance from officials, that it was a Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk and I asked repeatedly when and by whose authority that was decided. I was told that it was thought desirable that it should meet in the form of a Select Committee, and that, as there was no witness present, it should therefore be held in private. I inquired where that was specified in the Sessional Orders, and where there is a resolution of the House to that effect. The Minister readily admitted that there was nothing in the Sessional Orders on the matter, no specific guidance and no resolution of the House.


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Prepared 9 January 2001