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6.6 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I have been truly amazed by the moderation shown by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), Liberal Democrat Front Benchers and my own. This is a monstrous process. Their decent evaluation of whether there is merit in all the contentions in the Bill has been

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exemplary. In point of fact, the argument on many of the clauses has never pointed to how they relate to the special new circumstances that have arisen since 11 September that mean that this country's very survival is at risk.

I object strongly to this process. I was very grateful when your predecessor in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, confirmed that last night was the first time since 1958 that the House has sat in secrecy, and it should be on a measure such as this. That is consonant with the Government's argument that we are in a state of emergency. That was the proposition put by the Home Secretary, who has indicated that he will not yield in the Lords.

I have no doubt what the motion means. The Government are on a journey of coercion. They are saying to the Lords as best they can—we will be the puppets, the shadow, in this parliamentary process—"You will deliver us this Bill in the shape that we require it by a certain date." They have no power to enforce that, but I saw the Lords yield during the seven times that the European Parliamentary Elections Bill ping-ponged between this place and the other. Their Lordships blinked. Anyone who has taken the most casual glance at the proceedings of the other place will know that they have had the leisure and appropriate time to discuss and weigh up important and entire issues. The Government have tried to drive through this monstrous piece of legislation, unjustified in so many of its particulars, in 16 hours, including all the time needed for votes.

I am amazed that the Government troubled with the House of Commons. They have set a new record in deeming that which has not happened to have happened. I am surprised that they did not reach into their armoury, having set a precedent in the constitutional history of this country, and have the House declare—there are enough willing Labour Members for them to do so—that this process is taking place without debate. We are very close to such a situation.

I hope that this coercive measure fails. I am mindful that we have not been allowed a reasonable amount of time in which to discuss matters such as habeas corpus, internment, new religious hatred laws and the third pillar of Maastricht. We have had 14 minutes, with a 90-minute order, directly to translate into British laws a change in our criminal laws that affects our constituents and that has been constructed out of a secret meeting somewhere on the continent. That is monstrous. We are prepared to suspend habeas corpus and to bring in internment in this country.

I am anxious about this vast portmanteau Bill, which has imported a whole series of concepts that have no relationship—certainly none has been demonstrated—to the dangerous circumstances that arose on 11 September. I am surprised only that the Home Secretary did not grasp the opportunity to deliver some of the contentions of the Auld report and to take away our right to trial by jury. The Bill would have provided a good opportunity.

I want the world outside to know what has gone on in this House of Commons: without knowing about the weight, import, number or seriousness of Lords provisions, motions such as this are hung in front of us, late at night, in secrecy—as if we were in wartime circumstances—with the microphones turned off, with one good, loyal citizen in the Public Gallery waving goodbye as we close down the House of Commons to

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outsiders. [Interruption.] It is said that the Liberal Democrats closed down the House, but they could not do that. It is the duty of the Government to secure the business of the House and the country. Hon. Members should reflect on the purpose of this Chamber.

The motion demonstrates that we are nothing. I do not understand why Labour Members cannot stand up for things that we have believed in all our lives, such as habeas corpus, one of the most important features in banishing slavery from these shores.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Shepherd: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not. I am mindful of the time constraints, because there will, of course, be a closure motion.

We can push away consideration of important matters. We do not know the terms of the guillotine motion. The guillotine that the Government will impose next week will tell us whether they will even allow us to have a serious discussion of the serious amendments that we were unable to debate when the Bill was previously before the House.

If the country thinks that its liberties are defended by this Chamber, it is very, very wrong. I want liberty to be defended by this Chamber, but now we are looking to an appointed House—an appointed House: what shame!—to make and defend the liberties and traditions of our country. That is why I oppose this abysmal, outrageous motion. It is all part of the attempt to create a climate in which people believe that this country is in such a desperate plight that the very life of the nation is under threat. It is not. No one believes that.

We believe in proper, targeted, particularised measures to supplement those that already exist. The Government have no sense of country, and in one real sense, terrorism wins a significant battle with this form of legislation. I wish that the House would open up and recognise what we have become: we are nothing when Governments can jig around with their majority, with no debate on the substance of the basic freedoms for which this House came into existence. That is the purpose of the House but the Government will not permit its achievement.

6.13 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): I hope that the House will reflect on the superb sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). We are doing something significant. Sadly, I do not have the same credibility as those Members who have already spoken as I was not here last night. I was speaking at a populist gathering in London that went on until a late hour. However, through the brilliance of the House of Commons, I have been able to read the Hansard report of the debate that took place last night. In fairness, we should give credit to Hansard for recording everything that took place before the House went into private session.

I have some brief points. I hope that the House of Commons will appreciate that the Bill is desperately important; it is of great significance. When we consider that all the changes that we are making in relation to the third pillar of Maastricht were discussed in 12 minutes in this place, we realise that we are treating legislation

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with contempt. The time taken to push the measure through shows that we are not taking democracy seriously. I fear that the motion shows that, too.

Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that although we hold opposite views on Maastricht and the third pillar, we share precisely the same views on the means that the Government are using to pass measures with no debate in the House of Commons? Does not the fact that we can stand together on that show exactly how desperate the Government have become?

Sir Teddy Taylor: I am delighted that my right hon. Friend agrees with me, as I have been complaining for many, many years—in fact, since 1973—about the vicious and spiteful way in which Governments of both parties have forced through European legislation. I know that he would have been no part of that. Certainly, something significant has happened.

We should also seriously consider the fact that the motion means that we cannot have adequate debate. We are talking about being limited to only two and a half parliamentary days. We do not know what other business will be proposed during that time. If the votes take place after 10 o'clock, it will not be possible to proceed with them. There would have to be a deferred vote on the following Wednesday, which would mean that the Government could not complete their timetable. Unless there is a tightly drawn timetable motion, it will be impossible to hold the relevant debates.

The House should consider whether the motion will help the passage of the Bill. I have noticed that, as a result of all the recent changes, whereas the Lords used to be a quiet and inoffensive body, it now appears to take its democratic responsibilities more seriously. Will we help to get the measure through and create the good will that the Government obviously require if we proceed as we are doing?

We are treating the House of Commons with contempt, forcing through massive legislation with no proper discussion. What the Government are doing will create more trouble; it will not solve problems. I certainly appreciate that the Government are anxious to pass measures on security speedily, but what they are doing is insulting to our democratic traditions and may result in their not getting legislation that they particularly want.

There is not enough time properly to consider the measure or discuss Lords amendments properly. I fear that the result will not be to help pass the measure but a lack of good will.

Finally, I hope that Members will think about what happened at the last general election. The vital aspect of that election was not who won, whether Labour, Conservative or Liberal. It was the massive number of people who did not vote. Among younger people, there was not even the slightest interest in politics. The way that we carry on is driving people away from their democratic responsibilities.

When people realise how we forced through this massive, important measure in such an appalling way, they will feel that there is little point in the democratic process. The House should think about the massive strike

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action taken by the voters. If we treat democracy with contempt, we shall simply add to that process and there will be less participation in democracy.

I hope that the House will think about those matters because what we are doing today will not help. It will create more problems, more confusions and more delay.

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