Housing Benefit (Withholding of Payment) Bill

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Mr. Clappison: May I associate myself with the sentiments expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight)? You have been a model Chairman, Mr. O'Hara, and it has been a great pleasure for us all to serve under you. You have given all points of view a fair hearing, as well as reflecting the interests of others, if I may put it that way.

Mr. Field: May I add my thanks to you, Mr. O'Hara, for the way in which you have steered our deliberations over two sittings? The Bill has benefited greatly from that, as it has from its rewriting. I am grateful for the modesty of my hon. Friend the Minister that he did not put his name in the Bill's title, given how it has been transformed by our proceedings today.

5.15 pm

Temperatures have risen during our debates, but it is worth putting on the record the fact that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton has been very brave. Our constituents will pay increasing attention to where we stand on the issues with which the Bill deals. The private behaviour of some individuals makes it impossible for others to live a civilised existence, and the will of the country in that respect is clear. I am sure that in the lead-up to and during the next election more and more of our electors will want to know where we stand on the new politics of behaviour. In the past, they were not interested in how we voted on such matters, but I think that their interest will grow. While it is a part of good parliamentary democracy that there are minorities, we will increasingly be held to account for what we say here.

Mr. Davey: May I say that I am particularly grateful to you, Mr. O'Hara, for the patience with which you heard me and for your guidance? Although you will not be surprised to hear that I did not necessarily agree with some of your rulings, and that I would have liked to have spent more time debating some important issues, I feel that you have treated me fairly and I am grateful. I would not want anyone to think otherwise.

I will not make a long speech opposing the Bill. I simply say that I believe that the right hon. Member

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for Birkenhead, whom I have long respected for his innovative thinking, will come to regret the legislation. Presumably he will think that it is effective, but he will see that other measures are needed to tackle antisocial behaviour. I will not labour that point.

I am strongly in favour of a panoply of measures, unlike the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, who wanted to sloganise in the Committee. The Liberal Democrats are strongly in favour of tough action on antisocial behaviour, and I sought to explain that. I simply believe that the measure will be counter-productive, and that has been the thrust of my argument. I fear that if the Bill is enacted, we will see more antisocial behaviour, not less.

Mr. Howarth: I associate myself with the various congratulations to you, Mr. O'Hara, on your chairing of these proceedings. I have more reason than any other member of the Committee to know that those skills have been developed over many years. With your indulgence, I will share a little secret about your patience.

In the early 1980s—my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead will also remember this—when we were going through some political convulsions in our part of the world, I was often filled with wonder at how you managed to keep your calm through some very difficult meetings. At the end of one such meeting with the Militant Tendency, you explained that you had kept calm by translating ''Oh my darling Clementine'' into Latin. I hesitate to think what translations you have been making during our proceedings today.

The Chairman: It was actually, ''Oh dear, what can the matter be?''

Andrew Selous: As a Back-Bench Committee member, I, too, put on record my thanks for your chairmanship, Mr. O'Hara. I want also to express my frustration at being unable to express some of my views because of the way in which the debate developed. I believe that many Committee members would have liked to have contributed, but held back, and I want to put that on the record.

Vernon Coaker: I join in the general congratulations to you, Mr. O'Hara, and associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire. Many of us had points that we would have liked to make throughout the day. We have been discussing one of the most important issues facing my constituents and others throughout the country. It is something on which we must all put our heads together.

I just want to make one final point to my hon. Friend the Minister. We have discussed the Bill's title, which notes the permission to withhold payment of housing benefit. There is a plethora of measures to deal with antisocial behaviour, and I hope that when the Bill finally gets on to the statute book, it will be properly used. Many of our constituents feel that although many measures are available to the police and local councils, few are used, and the consequence

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of those measures not being used is that their lives are made a misery.

Malcolm Wicks: In adding my sincere thanks to those of my colleagues for the way in which you enabled us to get through the business, Mr. O'Hara, I must say that I sympathise with hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who have not had the opportunity to speak on behalf of their constituents. That has been a real concern today. You have been very fair to our Liberal Democrat colleague. It was Voltaire who once said of someone:

    ''I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.''

I do not feel quite so inclined towards the hon. Gentleman after such long proceedings, but I might be braver and more generous tomorrow.

I recently went to a test cricket match—sadly, England lost to India. I was intrigued by the scoreboard, which showed both the runs required per over and the actual run rate. There was a great discrepancy between the two today, but we managed to catch up remarkably quickly, thanks to your wise chairmanship, Mr. O'Hara. We are all genuinely grateful for the way in which you handled today's events.

The Chairman: I shall have the last word from the Chair and perform the necessary duty of expressing my appreciation to the Committee members for their demeanour. Although there was general feeling of frustration at several points, I appreciated their control and, when control was lost, the disciplined way in which the frustration was expressed. It was appreciated and helped me in chairing the Committee. I express my thanks to all concerned for their assistance to me in conducting what was not the easiest business.

I thank also those on my left. I shall name three clerks: Mr. Lloyd, who has been invaluable by my side for most of our proceedings, Mr. Cranmer, who has helped on other occasions, and Mr. Poyser, who has come in at the back of the Room. We owe a great debt to him for laying the procedural minefield that we have managed to negotiate. It was not an easy job, and I thank him for that. I thank also the Hansard reporters, who have coped with not the easiest of tasks, and the attendants, who have not had the most difficult job of keeping things in order, but they would have helped if we had needed them. I am sure that they anticipated that the frustration would break out into direct action.

I also thank those on my right. They are traditionally seen but not heard, but on this occasion they had a particular role: I was very grateful on several occasions to be able to borrow their highlighter to help me to identify key points and keep us in order.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East has now left the Room, but he referred to my propensity to quote Latin. I did not intend to, but I made several remarks in Latin. I was musing. I often turn to Juvenal for the apposite quotation. He said,

    ''Quis tulerit gracchos de seditione querentes.''

I shall explain that: the brothers Gracchi were tribunes of the people in ancient Rome. They were noted for

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direct action. Juvenal was saying, ''Who takes any notice of the Gracchi if they complain about action that was out of order?''

That theme has underlined much of the Committee's debates. We have reached the end of a Bill that deals with a delicate subject. I appreciate the principles of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, but I was pleased to hear him say that, although I had to rein him in on occasions, I did my

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best to give him the full opportunity to express his views. With those words of appreciation, I shall perform my last duty to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at twenty-six minutes past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Hara, Mr. Edward (Chairman)
Blizzard, Mr.
Clappison, Mr.
Coaker, Vernon
Davey, Mr. Edward
Field, Mr. Frank
Hoey, Kate
Howarth, Mr. George
Knight, Mr. Greg
Laing, Mrs.
MacDonald, Mr.
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Selous, Andrew
Wicks, Malcolm

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Prepared 11 July 2002