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Norman Baker (Lewes): It is good to see you back in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, for a less eventful sitting than when you last occupied it. It is, of course, an irony that we seem almost to have time aplenty to discuss a motion that contains little of substance, whereas we had almost no time at all to debate a huge raft of terribly important and controversial provisions that will affect this country for many years to come.
The Government told us that the allocation of time was such that they could spare no more time to debate the Bill in Committee, or on Report or Third Reading, yet by the ingenuity of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), we have managed to find an extra hour or so and, indeed, a couple of hours of Government time last night to debate what was called a piffling motion. One wonders why the Government were not able to find more time to debate the Bill, and questions should be asked about that.
At the beginning of the debate last night, the Parliamentary Secretarywho has his back turned to mewas, I am afraid, left alone on the Treasury Bench through no fault of his own. With the best will in the world, the hon. Gentlemanfor whom I have a good deal of respectis not able to assess whether the motion is adequate because he is not over-familiar with the Bill. One has to have gone through the Bill in detail to understand exactly whether the motion is appropriate and what is likely to happen in the other place. I should have thought that a Home Office Minister might have taken the trouble to stay with him on the Treasury Bench last night to advise him, but that was not the case.
It was also a great pity that the motion seems to have been drafted by members of the Government, whose duty is to get business through the House, rather than by those who may have anything important to say about the Bill and who want to reflect on the concerns that hon. Members on both sides of the House have about it.
Simon Hughes: Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the other criticisms that has still not been remediedperhaps the Minister will help us in his winding-up speechis that we still do not have any indication of the timetable under the motion. A further guillotine motion may well be imposed on debate next week. If we at least knew the structure of next week, we might be somewhat better off, but that is another secret not so far revealed to hon. Members, let alone Opposition Members.
Norman Baker: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, the only certainty that we have is the motion. We have no certainty about the Bill's consideration in the House of Lords; about whether Labour peers will table amendments; or about whether the Government will accept any amendment. We have no certainty about the timing in the House of Commons; about any guillotine motion; or about what interested external groups will have to say about the Bill. We have no certainty about
I suspect that a good number of amendments will come from the other place. If the House of Lords is doing its job properly, it will want properly to reflect on the fact that this House has not been able to consider whole swathes of the Bill, as the hon. Member for Aldridge- Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) correctly said. I pay tribute to him for the conviction and passion with which he speaks on such issues.
For example, part 11, on the retention of communications data, was not discussed for one minute in the House, yet it contains huge powers that will allow the Home Secretary to accumulate data in pursuit of not simply terrorists, but those involved in any criminal activity under clause 101(5)(b). That is a matter of profound importance, but we had not one minute to discuss it.
I had only one and a half minutes in which to discuss the transportation of nuclear material, and we are entitled to know more about that. The House spent only one and a half minutes on that part of the Bill, and we spent very little time on a range of other issues. We spent barely enough time even on the topics that we did discusswhether it was Ministry of Defence police or face masks.
I contrast that with the time that we have had to debate the Proceeds of Crime Bill in Committee. That Bill has been properly timetabled, and there have been good debates. To be fair to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), when the Opposition Members who serve on that Committee have asked him whether he has thought about an issue, he has said, "No, I haven't, but it's a good point and I'll go away and consider it." Ministers have not had the opportunity to do that with this Bill because the Opposition have not been able to ask, "Have you thought about this sentence?"
Simon Hughes: My hon. Friend may not have had a chance to read this yet, but I am sure that the Minister will be aware that the Joint Committee on Human Rights produced its second report on the Bill this morning and has found many of the Government's concessions to be inadequate. It has suggested that the Bill needs to amended in many other ways. With a week to go, all parties in both Houses say that the Bill is inadequate, especially in its human rights aspects. That report has not yet been considered. Does my hon. Friend agree that such Committees were set up to give advice, but it seems that there will be no chance to take that Committee's advice, let alone to act on it?
Norman Baker: My hon. Friend makes a very pertinent point. What are those Committees for? I serve on the Human Rights Committee, as does the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, and it has said that it is very worried about the Bill and that, in certain aspects, it is inconsistent with the European convention on human rights. What are the Government doing about that? They have tabled no amendments to deal with those issues. Instead, the Bill is steamrollered through the House. Those Committees seem to be a sop, so that the Government can say that they exist, that they are
Worse than that, when the House had a debate of sortswas it in Committee, or on Report or Third Reading?a Minister told us that debate and voting were shenanigans and that we were wasting time. What are we here for if not to debate and vote? It seems as though the Government want to close things down and run through their business as soon as possible and that they think the Opposition are a bit of nuisance and wish they would go away. The Bill will not go away. It is very controversial, and its consequences will be seen throughout the land if the Government do not listen.
The Government still have time to listen to the House of Lords and to Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members anddare I say?their own Back Benchers. Let us not forget that the gloss of support does not extend to Labour Back Benchers. They are just as unhappy with the Bill as Opposition Members. If the Government have any sense, even at this late stage, they will make more time for the Bill and listen to some of the comments that hon. Members have made.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): I shall be brief. We have heard some extremely powerful arguments during the debate, but exclusively from Opposition Members. The Government know that there is no satisfactory answer to many of the points that have been made. Of course, we do not know what Lords messages will be received, but we do know that, at worst, the motion could be oppressive and, at best, it is premature, and we shall divide the House.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): Hon. Members raised a number of issues last night, early this morning and this afternoon, and I shall do my best to deal with them clearly and succinctly, although there has been rather more heat than light during the debate, especially last night and in the early hours of this morning.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)an hon. Gentleman for whom I have great respectmade an extraordinary contribution this afternoon, in which he questioned the patriotism of Government Members because of the business motion. I hope that, on reflection, he will accept that his remarks were over the top and deeply offensive.
The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) referred in his closing remarks to the disconnection between the public and the House and, in particular, to the disconnection between young people and politics. I can think of nothing more that would switch off young people from politics than the scenes that we witnessed in the Chamber in the early hours of this morning, with the pathetic use of filibustering tactics by the Liberal Democrats and some Conservative Back Benchers.
I should like to address the specific points that have been raised. First, several hon. Members have suggested that the Divisions on matters relating to the Lords messages might be deferred. I can absolutely reassure the
We had a somewhat protracted discussion at the beginning of last night's proceedings about the meaning of the word "Thursday" and how long next Thursday will last. The answer is very much as suggested by several Opposition Members: Thursday could well continue beyond that which we would conventionally understand Thursday to be. Thursday will continue either until both Houses have agreed to an Act and Royal Assent has been notified or until it is clear that no agreement can be reached. I very much hope that the House will not break the previous record established during the consideration of the Coercion Bill in 1881, when the day lasted for 41 and a half hours. It appears that compromise is possible, so Thursday may be extended.
That connects to my third point, which is about the time available for debate. Several Opposition Members have raised the reasonable concern that there should be sufficient time on the Floor of the House to debate the Lords messages. In particular, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) mentioned that issue and, when he intervened last night, I said that there would be a supplementary programme motion. It will obviously be drafted once we have received the messages from the Lords and in the light of the number of amendments that are before the House. The House will decide on that motion and, although I can give no guarantees, I will pass to those involved in drawing up the motion the concerns that have been expressed in the debate.