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Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman remarked on working through the night. If we were able to work through the night we might have time to discuss the issues that are before us. The motion, however, promises no such thing. Does he agree that the serious issue is whether we shall have time to discuss the proposals that will be before
Simon Hughes: The right hon. Gentleman is correct on the procedural point that the motion allows the House technically to remain sittingnot to adjournalthough we may not actually be in the Chamber. However, we are essentially blindly considering the motion, which gives no details on a timetable. It is a series of illogicalities. We do not know what we shall have to do, because the other place has not yet completed its work. We also do not know how long it will take us to do that work, or how long the Government will suggest that we should have to do it. Yet we are now being asked to agree that Parliament should hang around waiting for three nights in a row regardless of the merit of the argument, the possibility of agreement between the two Houses or the seriousness of the proposals that we might be asked to consider next week.
Mr. Hogg: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would also be enormously helpful if we could have sight of the secondary legislation that we are told is about to be laid, before we are asked to approve this motion?
Simon Hughes: That is certainly right. I suggested to the Minister earlier that it is more than a rumour that the Government intend to introduce secondary legislation in the last week of term, and the Minister confirmed that that follows. If that is true, and it is logical in that the Bill contains provision for secondary legislation, Parliament should know what is coming and be allowed to consider how much time it wishes to spend on it. It would be better, if there is general agreement at the end of the debate across both sides of the HouseI exclude the Government Front Benchif the Government pulled the motion so that the parties could have a proper debate and reach an agreement about how to proceed next week. Instead it was tabled and objected to last night, andon the first opportunity and with no chance of amendmenttabled as a "take it or leave it, but we will get this Bill through next week" option.
Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman talked about the final backstop. Does he believe that paragraph 2 provides for a final backstop, or does it provide for indefinite debate under the heading Thursday 13 December?
Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman raised that point in his speech. I share his view. If there is still work to be done, we canas we have done before in this notional, upside-down world we live in sometimesensure that the day remains Thursday even if it is Friday. In fact, it can stay Thursday whether it is Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. As my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) pointed out, the only time that it might stop being Thursday is when Christmas day comes, by which time people might decide that they have had enough. However, that is not a very satisfactory outcome. I am aware that European Union business often stops the clock to meet a deadline and so does this House. The hon. Gentleman is right that the backstop is in theory next Thursday but it could in practice be much later than that.
Mr. Beith: The backstop point is important, because the wording of paragraph 2 places a burden on the
Simon Hughes: My right hon. Friend is longer serving and more experienced than I am and he raises a good point that I had not thought of. The argument for not rushing matters is based on many practical considerations that seem not to have been thought about at all during the course of the Bill. In a momentor an hour or soI shall give the House some illustrations of the failings of the procedure.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman has made the fair point that Thursday 13 December may roll on indefinitely, in the course of which time the other place may come forward with compromise amendments. The outside lobbyists will not be able to express their views on those amendments because we will be in continuous sitting, being asked to deal with the issues as they pass to and fro between the Houses. Is not that outrageous?
Simon Hughes: That is outrageous and extremely unhelpful. Many organisations have a real interest in the Bill and have written to hon. Members, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Refugee Council, the Confederation of British Industry, representatives of legal organisations, colleagues from the European Parliament and the faith groups. It is a huge Bill and there is huge interest in it outside the House. The thought that we will have to come to some agreement without any chance to discuss the issues with other organisations is nonsense. That is apart from the effect on any other legislation that might properly be timetabled for next week or the week after and will fall out, or be debated at a different time. People will not be able to make arrangements, either for their personal or their political considerations.
Mr. Letwin: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the debate has reached the point where it begins to become clear that the Government intend to create a hothouse atmosphere in what may prove to be the closing days before the recess? I believe that they hope to apply pressure on Opposition parties, so that they can argue that those Opposition parties had failed to reach agreement in the Lords and that they were therefore obstructing the whole of Government business. If that is the intention, is not it quite wrong?
Simon Hughes: I absolutely agree. Today's Financial Times suggested that the Government were not minded to make any significant concession to the views of the House of Lords if any substantial amendments were tabled. The article argued that the Government would perceive any such concession to be a concession to terrorists. The suggestion is that only the Bill as drafted by the Government is adequate to meet the needs of the moment.
I share with the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) the view that the Government are not entitled to argue that both Houses of Parliament do not have a right to amend the Bill as they see fit. If Parliament judges that the Bill should have a particular form, that is the proper decision. It is not for the Government to say what the Bill should be when proceedings on it are complete. It is for them to introduce it, and accept the will of Parliament.
In this case, the end of the Session is not near, and the Bill has been introduced only in this Session. That means that the Parliament Act cannot apply, so the Government will have to accept the Bill that Parliament wants. They will not be able to force through a Bill that Parliament does not want.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Would not it be especially absurd for the Government to try to spin the notion that the Opposition parties were causing difficulty, given that substantial misgivings about the Bill have been expressed by people in their own ranks, and in both Houses?
Simon Hughes: My hon. Friend may not be aware that there was a significant debate yesterday, the third Committee day in the House of Lords, on the matter of the European third pillar. The proposal is that home affairs and justice legislation should be allowed to be dealt with in secondary legislation. Not one speaker in the other place supported the Government. Hour after hour went by, and no one supported the Government line. Opposition to the Bill is not confined to the major Opposition parties. I know that colleagues from Northern Ireland to whom I spoke earlier are still unhappy, as are Cross-Benchers and Members of the Bench of Bishops.
It would be better if the Government tried to secure some consensus. They could then get general agreement for the Bill now, and return to other matters later.
Mr. Gummer: Will the hon. Gentleman apply himself to the remark that everything in the Bill must be about terrorism, and that we would be in some way supporting terrorism if we did not pass it in its entirety? How can it be supporting terrorism to object to that part of the Bill that suggests that I cannot say about the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) what is absolutely true, and that he cannot say about the Pope what is absolutely untrue?
Simon Hughes: The right hon. Gentleman asks a question to which there is an obvious answer, and reminds us that those issues predated 11 September. I have heard such comments from him, the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and others for years before that date. There is nothing new or terrorist-related in that part of the Bill. That is true too about the part relating to the European third pillar, and the Minister in the other place was very much on the back foot in yesterday's debate.