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Mr. Hogg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I had not spotted that. That raises another point of gross impropriety, on which the House needs to focus. He suggested that the substantial debate on the Lords messages will be taking place after 10 o'clock on the Wednesday, and rolling into the Thursday. Yet we have been told time and again by the Governmentand by their Back Benchers, in particularthat the House should not, and cannot, properly discuss matters of major importance late at night.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making his point, because the House will be starting to debate matters of fundamental liberty at 10 o'clock at night. We shall be debating matters of fundamental importance in the early hours of the morning, although it is the common view on the Government Benches that the House is incapable of discussing matters of importance properly at that time. That shows a contempt and disregard for liberty that I would find truly extraordinary, if I did not know this Government.
Mr. Gummer: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the matter goes further than that? There is plenty of time to discuss these issues during the hours that the Labour party considers sensible"family friendly" is, I think, the phrase that is used. The Government could, therefore, provide for that if they wished. However, on
Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend makes a sound point, and he will have noted the contempt that the Leader of the House showed for this provision. My right hon. Friend and I both noticed that the Leader of the House was present during the opening speech from the Government Benches, and that he quickly left the Chamber afterwards and has not been present for any of the subsequent speeches. That is a scandal. Where is he? The answer is that he cannot be bothered with the views of parliamentarians. So unconcerned is he with their views that he proposes to hold the debate at 10 o'clock on a Wednesday, when almost no one other than people like ourselves will be present.
Mr. Garnier: I am surprised that my right hon. and learned Friend is surprised that the Leader of the House is not here. My right hon. and learned Friend may recall that, during our brief debate during the Committee stage of the Bill that we are now considering, the timetable motion was moved by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes)a veritable beacon of debating excellencewhereas the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House did not find it convenient to grace us with their presence.
Andy King: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Mr. Hogg: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall deal with the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), and then I shall of course give way.
In a sense, it is not in the least surprising that the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House are not here, because, of course, the House has not debated the Bill in any great detail. It has 125 clauses and 118 pages, and large sections remain wholly undiscussed. The Leader of the House and the Home Secretary knew that that would be the case, so they no doubt said to themselves, "Why should we be here? The Bill will not be discussed anyway."
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): Someone has switched him on.
To achieve balance, surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman should reflect on why the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), disappeared almost at the outset, when Conservative Members began to speak.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman must grasp the point that the Leader of the House, not his shadow, is responsible for the conduct of business in this place. The point goes further. The Leader of the House is not only a
I do not want to be discourteous to the Parliamentary Secretary, who is a nice chap. He has done his best, although he is but the monkey. I am sorry about thathe is a perfectly pleasant monkeybut the truth is that important motions have been downgraded. Therefore, we are entitled to say that the absence of the Leader of the House is a scandal, because it is his business to know what the House thinks and to listen to the opinions of parliamentarians. If he cannot be bothered, that tells us something about him, albeit that we know it already.
Mr. Letwin: My right hon. and learned Friend will have noticed that, on these Benches at least, those with responsibility for conducting proceedings on the Bill are present. Does not the real scandal reside in the fact that the Leader of the House, in this instance, is merely following the bidding of the Home Secretary, who wants to engender circumstances in which he can accuse Opposition Members of attempting to derail a necessary Bill simply by creating the hothouse atmosphere to which he himself has alluded?
Mr. Hogg: That is probably true, but it is certainly true that it is deeply offensive to me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who have been Members of the House for many years and who were responsible for law and practice as regards terrorism, to be accused of being soft on terrorism. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In this case, it is particularly important to note that the Bill is only in part about terrorism, and only a small part at that. My right hon. Friend was entirely right to say that the Home Office has attached to the Bill many proposals that it knows full well would not get through the House had they not been attached to legislation that is said to carry a degree of urgency. That is a scandal too.
Mr. Letwin: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the point is that the Opposition parties, and our party in particular, have never sought to delay or disrupt those provisions that relate to terrorism? We have given them a fair wind throughout, and our only aim is to restrict the Bill to terrorism.
Mr. Hogg: There are mixed views. My hon. Friend has done exactly what he says he has done, but I am bound to say that my opposition to the Bill is more robust, partly because I am against the process of enactment in this caseI do not think that the Bill should have been rushed through as it has beenbut partly because I am a strong defender of civil rights, and am very cautious about responding to crises with legislation. I am also very cautious in regard to slipping standards.
In 1939, when the second world war began, the country as a whole was very opposed to the bombing of cities. By the end of the war, we had bombed Dresden. My point is that standards slip, and I fear that if we start chipping away at civil rights in the face of a crisis, a national tragedy or an international crime, we will soon abandon all the protections that our fellow citizens have a right to
Mr. Gummer: Would my right hon. and learned Friend care to repeat what he has just said for the benefit of the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons), who has talked throughout, listened to nothing, spoken from a sedentary position, and giggled?
Mr. Hogg: I think that you might protest, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I were to repeat in detail what I have already said. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) can always read my speechbut in any event I have rather more to say, and she will have an opportunity to listen to that.
Simon Hughes: Was it not demonstratedintentionally or inadvertentlythat the Government were not taking this seriously at the end of the first day of the Committee stage of the Bill, when the UnderSecretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), said this to a Member who wished to intervene?
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. What the Government were really doing on that occasion was grumbling about democracy. They were saying that the democratic processes were standing in the way, albeit marginally, of their getting their way. I am sorry that we were so discourteous to them as to debate the matter before the House