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4.44 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I thank the Minister for his courtesy and for the way in which he has approached the details of programming the two days of Report. Throughout the Bill's proceedings there has been considerable and welcome co-operation between the Government and the Opposition in trying to find sufficient time to discuss the matters that require consideration.

Although I wish to make it clear that it is not the Opposition's intention to divide the House on the programme motion, it is only right to point out that six hours on each of the two days for Report stage does not give us sufficient time to consider the Bill properly. We have tried to divide the time up as best we can, but I fear that, even if we go as quickly as we can, the sheer volume of a 450-clause Bill will make it difficult for us to meet the timetable that has been set. The Opposition will endeavour to do our best to meet the timetable, but I must record our continuing unhappiness at the way in which the House will I fear, once again, send legislation off to the other place without completing its consideration properly. We will do our best to avoid that, but the possibility remains a source of sadness to me.

When we started our consideration of the Bill, I said that I hoped that its scrutiny would be a model of its kind. I suspect that, on occasions, we have all fallen short of providing a model, but we have made an effort. Two days on Report, however, is not sufficient to do justice to an extremely important Bill.

4.46 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes): I also wish to thank the Minister for his courtesy in discussing the programme motion with the Liberal Democrats as well as with the Conservative Opposition. Indeed, I thank him for his courtesy throughout the proceedings on the Bill and for the way in which he was prepared to discuss its timetabling and the real issues in Committee. The Committee stage proved to be a useful exercise and all three parties co-operated to try to bring about better legislation.

Because of a Division, I did not have an opportunity at the end of the Committee stage to make a few comments, so I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I now thank the Minister for the way in which he has listened to the arguments that have produced the Bill as it is today and thank the official Opposition for their constructive approach. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and the staff on the Committee who helped us with our deliberations.

I am the first to criticise the Government when we do not have sufficient time to discuss detailed legislation. This is a long Bill of 450 clauses, but I believe that the Government allowed us sufficient time in Committee and that it is adequate to have two days on Report. I am happy to make it clear that I do not think that we had enough time to consider, for example, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, but on this occasion the Government have been quite generous. I have no problem with the amount of time allocated or with the way in which it has been divided up. We will therefore support the programme motion.

26 Feb 2002 : Column 584

4.47 pm

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): I shall contribute to the debate because that will take less time than a Division. We either vote to show our displeasure at the programme motion or we place our main points of concern on the record.

I do not believe for a moment that enough time was provided for the Bill's consideration in Committee or that we shall have enough time today and tomorrow for Report. We need only consider what has happened thus far to appreciate the difficulties that the House faces. The Bill has 450 clauses and, although the Committee had 39 sittings, 133 clauses were not considered. We did not have enough time in Committee. We are now confronted with the prospect of debating 271 selected amendments in two days and, if my maths is any good—I suspect that it is not, but it is not too bad—we shall have two and a half minutes for the consideration of each amendment. It is therefore inevitable that, as happened in Committee, large parts of the Bill will not be considered over the next two days.

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): Only if the hon. Gentleman rabbits on.

Mr. Wilshire: The Minister says that the Bill will not be considered only if I rabbit on, and he said that several times in Committee. However, the Government do not understand that the Bill needs proper and thorough scrutiny, and I and my colleagues will never apologise for doing the job that we were elected to do, which is to hold the Government to account. If they do not give us enough time, it is their fault—not ours.

Large chunks of amendments will not be considered today. However, if one accepts that nothing can be done because the Government have the majority and can dictate the time available, it would be churlish of me not to say that within that constraint the approach has been helpful and considerate, with a great deal of give and take. I hope that my Front-Bench colleagues will not force the motion to a Division, despite the fact that we object to it.

4.50 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I have two questions for the Minister. A huge number of amendments have been selected, despite the fact that the parties agree to the general principles underlying the Bill. Given that we will have about two minutes per amendment, is the two-day restriction based on the Government's belief that there is general agreement for the principles? Did the discussions that took place through the usual channels agree that the timetabling was adequate?

4.51 pm

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thank hon. Members for their kind comments. Much of our discussion in Committee was constructive. It caused some parts of the Bill to be reviewed and led to us tabling some of the amendments that are before us for discussion. It reflected the House working at its very best in terms of scrutinising and improving legislation. Although that is not true of every hour that we spent in Committee, it is certainly true of many of them.

I understand why hon. Members claim that we have not had sufficient time to scrutinise the Bill, but we did have 39 Committee sittings. We met every morning and

26 Feb 2002 : Column 585

afternoon of every Tuesday and Thursday on which the House sat since the first week in November. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary joked that we had been in Committee for 300 years. In addition to the length of time that we spent in Committee, we restructured the time allocated to it in response to problems that were repeatedly raised. I have been thanked for that and the Whip who dealt with negotiations on the Bill has been thanked for being flexible.

The Bill is large. It is complicated and important, and many amendments are tabled to it. There is no doubt that it looks like a daunting task to get through all of them. However, those of us who spent a considerable amount of time considering the Bill know that it is very repetitive. Things that are changed in part 2 have to be changed in parts 3 and 4, which multiplies the number of amendments to address a single issue. Many of the amendments are minor drafting amendments with no policy implications.

A large number of the amendments are a direct result of issues raised in Committee and reflect our attempt to respond. I am sure that Opposition Members understand that we were not going to respond to everything that concerned them, but nearly all the amendments that are of substance are in response to problems raised in Committee which I agreed to reflect on and address on Report. I do not think that the task will be as daunting as it looks on paper if the good will demonstrated in Committee continues so that we properly consider the Bill and use the time available appropriately in order to expose the important issues.

In response to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), I point out that there was flexibility in the time allocation, and a great deal of agreement. In the first instance, there was agreement about the amount of time needed in Committee, which was extended in response to representations. I can therefore answer the hon. Gentleman's question in the affirmative.

Question put and agreed to.

26 Feb 2002 : Column 586

Orders of the Day

Proceeds of Crime Bill

[1st Allotted Day]

As amended in the Committee, considered.

Schedule 1

Assets Recovery Agency

4.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I beg to move amendment No. 77, in page 260, line 23, leave out "a senior official" and insert—

'an assistant to the Director'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendment No. 78.

No. 174, in page 261, line 32, at end insert—

'(3A) For the purposes of sub–paragraph (3), there shall be no more than 10 performance targets for any financial year and those targets shall relate specifically to the functions of the Agency.'.

Government amendment No. 79.

No. 196, in clause 4, page 3, line 6, at end insert—

'(1A) Such co–operation shall take place in accordance with the provisions of other enactments.'.

Government amendment No. 89.

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