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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Criminal Justice and Police Bill

Criminal Justice and Police Bill

Standing Committee F

Thursday 1 March 2001


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Criminal Justice and Police Bill

9.55 am

The Chairman: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I want to make some housekeeping announcements. For ease of continuity, I am taking the Chair until 10.30 am to monitor the debate on the resolution of the Programming Sub-Committee, which met yesterday. The resolution is at the back of today's amendment paper.

I have courteously been given notice that the Joint Committee on Human Rights will be taking evidence on the Bill at 5.30 pm on Monday, 5 March, when the Minister of State will give evidence. Those Committee members who are available and wish to attend are entitled to do so as observers.

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

    That the Programming Order of the Committee of 6th February be amended—

    (1) in paragraph (1), by inserting at the end the words ``and on Wednesday 7th March at half-past Ten o'clock''.

    (2) in paragraph (3), by substituting ``15'' for ``14''

    (3) in paragraph (4)—

    (a) by inserting the words ``New Clauses'' after the words ``Schedule 1''; and

    (b) by omitting the words ``New Clauses'' where they appear after the words ``Clause 132'';

    (4) by substituting the following for paragraph (5)—

    ``(5) the proceedings at the 9th to 15th sittings shall be as shown in the second column of the Table below and (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the third column of that Table.


SittingProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings
9thClauses 27 to 45 (so far as not previously concluded), Schedule 1, New Clauses, Clauses 46 to 49, Schedule 2, Clauses 50 to 69, Schedule 3       —
10thClauses 27 to 45 (so far as not previously concluded), Schedule 1, New Clauses, Clauses 46 to 49, Schedule 2, Clauses 50 to 69, Schedule 3       —
11thClauses 27 to 45 (so far as not previously concluded), Schedule 1, New Clauses, Clauses 46 to 49, Schedule 2, Clauses 50 to 69, Schedule 3       —
12thClauses 27 to 45 (so far as not previously concluded), Schedule 1, New Clauses, Clauses 46 to 49, Schedule 2, Clauses 50 to 69, Schedule 3       10.00 pm
13thClauses 70 to 85       1 pm
14thClause 86, Schedule 4, Clauses 87 to 101, Schedule 5, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 6, Clauses 107 to 127, Schedule 7, Clauses 128 to 131, Schedule 8, Clause 132, new Schedules       —
15thClause 86, Schedule 4, Clauses 87 to 101, Schedule 5, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 6, Clauses 107 to 127, Schedule 7, Clauses 128 to 131, Schedule 8, Clause 132, new Schedules       5 pm    "

The resolution does three things. First, it reorders our business so that we may discuss the new clauses dealing principally with animal rights at a more convenient time, on Tuesday. Secondly, it adds a 15th formal sitting of the Committee next Wednesday. Thirdly, it introduces a series of guillotines to ensure that we have a balanced debate on the issues covered by the Bill.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) may disagree, but the discussion in the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday was acrimonious. He used language about me and other Labour Members that was unacceptable. I do not know whether he intends to repeat it this morning--

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): On a point of order, Mr. Gale. May I reiterate our oft-spoken objection that the Programming Sub-Committee's proceedings are not recorded. The Minister is now referring to discussions that occurred last night and only those of us who were fortunate enough to be present know what happened. It would have been helpful if there had been an official record of what happened because it would then have been possible to refer to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire.

The Chairman: I am not sure that that is a point of order for the Chair, but I shall repeat my view that it is desirable that a record is made of at least the formal part of the meetings of the Programming Sub-Committee. However, that is entirely a matter for the Modernisation Committee. The Chairmen's Panel will make recommendations to that Committee in due course.

Mr. Clarke: I agree with your comments, Mr. Gale, and after discussion of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill I wrote to the Leader of the House with some views on the conduct of the Programming Sub-Committee for consideration by the Modernisation Committee. It is a pilot project, and from it we must learn its weaknesses and strengths. The point made by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has weight and should be considered.

However, it is a fact that the meeting yesterday was acrimonious--I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman dissents from that--and much of the language used was difficult. I want to reflect on some of the points made.

On the amount of time that we have spent debating the Bill, I said on Second Reading that I hoped to be able to have 16 sittings. For reasons that the Committee knows, it was decided at the first Programming Sub-Committee to have 14 sittings, and we gave a commitment that we would be prepared to extend that. We have in fact had two extra sessions that were not anticipated and do not count as extra formal sittings of the Committee.

Through the programming resolution, we have allowed for 15, rather than 14, formal sittings. Rather than the 16 sittings that I originally specified in the House, we will now have 17—that is, 15 plus two evening sessions. The Opposition's proposal to have two extra sittings would have taken the original 14 to 16, so their charge that we are giving significantly less time than they want is unfounded.

10 am

On guillotines, my experience of the Committee is that although there have been some positive aspects—for example, last Tuesday's sittings were full of constructive debates and contributions—some time wasting took place during earlier sittings. All the debates have been in order, not only because they were regulated by you and your colleagues, Mr. Gale, but because all members of the Committee took the trouble to be in order. I shall cite two examples of time wasting. First, during one debate, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins)—a signed-up member of the criminal barristers' tendency—simply read for the record the Criminal Bar Association's evidence from the consultation process, which was one of 111 submissions. Although he had the right to do so, I saw no need for it, and it was time wasting. Secondly, we spent four and a half hours on clause 1—a long time with a great deal of time wasted in the process.

I pay tribute to hon. Members for the parts of the debate that were constructive. The Parliamentary Secretary and I tried to respond as constructively as possible. Neither he nor myself have spoken at undue length and we have always given way to allow for proper debate. Labour Members have universally spoken to the point and to effect. Surprisingly, I can say that the comments of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) have been almost pithy. He has been clear and to the point and has debated properly. That has not been my experience in previous Committees, where he has spoken at inordinate, lawyerly length. I praise the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), whose contributions, throughout the proceedings and without exception, have been constructive and to the point.

I cannot say the same of other Opposition Members. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), the former Attorney-General, has popped in and out of the Committee from time to time, has shown no evidence of having read or discussed the Bill, and has been repetitive ad nauseam on points of no substance.

Mr. Gray: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. Is it right for the Minister to be passing remarks of that sort about an hon. Member who is not present?

The Chairman: As the Minister is aware, he is responsible for his own words, so that is not strictly a point of order for the Chair. It has always been the custom and courtesy of the House that if one Member intends to make a personal attack on another, he should seek to inform him first. I have no way of knowing whether that was done in this case.

Mr. Clarke: I have not done so, because I worked on the assumption that all members of the Committee would be present this morning. Given the nature of the acrimonious exchanges last night, I felt it necessary to respond to the issues that were raised about my conduct and that of my hon. Friends and to set out my position.

Mr. Gray: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. The Minister responded to my previous point of order by saying that he assumed that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire would be present, which is why he gave him no notice that he intended to make a personal attack on him. Surely even if my right hon. and learned Friend had been present, it would have been necessary for the Minister to give him notice.

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to know that no such requirement is placed upon Members, who are responsible for their own words, whether temperate or intemperate. It is certainly not a matter for the Chair, and I do not intend to take another point of order on it.

Mr. Clarke: Thank you, Mr. Gale. I will talk to the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the matter when he deigns to attend the Committee. I am responsible for, and have considered, my own words, and I must give my own assessment of events. Other hon. Members might disagree with it—that is a matter for them. In my opinion, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not addressed the Bill seriously. The many extremely tedious exchanges on minor points that have taken place show that he does not understand the essence of the subject under discussion.

Some of the points made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath were rather more serious. However, he, too, has spoken at inordinate length and extremely repetitively—I am thinking in particular of the discussion on the Criminal Bar Association—and that appears to have been a deliberate tactic. I exonerate the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire from much of what I have to say on this matter. As with other Committees in which he has participated, in general he has sought to speak effectively and to the point. In tabling amendments to probe the issues that have arisen, he is behaving quite reasonably. For the most part he has not spoken at inordinate length, although I cannot say the same for his colleagues.

Last night, my assertion about the use of the usual channels was challenged, and I want to return to that issue. In fairness, the Opposition have made it clear from the outset that in their view insufficient time has been allowed for consideration of the Bill, and they have argued for a finishing date later than 8 March. Although we do not agree with them in that regard, we have been prepared at all times to agree programming informally, through the usual channels and without the need for a guillotine, so as to ensure proper consideration of the Bill throughout. However, my hon. Friend the Whip has found it difficult to secure agreement on those points.

I contrast that with last night, when the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire made a commitment to try to reach the end of schedule 1 by the end of today. I accepted that commitment implicitly, immediately and without question, and as a result I have amended the programming resolution to remove the guillotine in respect of that point. However, he could offer no further commitments. That is his prerogative, but we therefore decided that the guillotine process must be retained, and I shall once again explain why, in order to make matters as clear as possible. The Committee must consider properly all the issues with which the Bill deals. We cannot allow an entire chunk of clauses to fall off the end simply because we did not guillotine. The Opposition have given no assurance that they will honour that process, so there is no choice but to retain the guillotine.

I know that the charge will be made that we are being arrogant and are not listening to Parliament, but I do not accept that for one moment. We have sought to discuss matters in the best possible way, and to address issues of substance rather than playing to an audience by making rhetorical debating points. All Government members of the Committee—in particular, my ministerial colleague and I—have conducted the debate in that way, and that is the way in which we shall continue.

I shall conclude by repeating the offer that I made last night. We would be absolutely open to reaching agreement through the usual channels on an approach to timetabling that is informal in every respect, and to an additional meeting to debate further matters in a different way. For example, last night we were ready to agree to an evening sitting next Wednesday, Budget day. You rightly said, Mr. Gale, that we needed some certainty about a programme for Budget day, but no agreement could be reached on how to proceed, so we had no choice but to act as we have.

The Opposition's approach to this matter is informed by party political electioneering in the light of a possible general election. They are trying to argue that there has been insufficient time to consider the Bill, but their argument is false and I hope that the Committee will support the Government by supporting the motion.


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