Mr. Beith: Although I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the advantages of pre-legislative scrutiny, as he will realisehe is doubtless coming to this pointmuch of what is in this Bill could not have been the subject of such scrutiny so long as Governments persist in introducing entire provisions of substantial scale on Report. Unless we re-commit Bills to Committee, and perhaps to a Special Standing
Mr. Allen: When the Government are trying to push through legislation and are under the constraints of the parliamentary timetable, it is difficult to understand that the people out there have something to offer to the processthat a partnership of Parliament and the people is available to make the Bill better. I speak as someone who led for my party on the Child Support Bill, which we had five or six subsequent attempts to get right. I believe in listening to the voices out there, because the practitioners are the very people who can point outoften in minor detail, but significantlythe ways forward for the House and indeed the Government. If we are treated as partners, we will produce better Bills.
On pre-legislative scrutiny, we now have the technology to talk to just about everybody through e-mail. We can open up the pre-legislative process so that probation officers in Glasgow can make a relevant contribution.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am anxious not to cut the hon. Gentleman off in full flight, but he is in fact talking about the procedures of the House rather than the content of the Bill before the House. I have been quite lenient until now, but he ought to return to the content of the Bill.
Mr. Allen: I will make my remarks relevant, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the parliamentary process could do with a little burnishing. The legislative aspect of our work, as has been said, needs to be improved, as we effectively started off with a third of the present Bill. I served in Committee and worked hard on the Bill, but over the past two or three days, an additional Bill has been created which, frankly, should have been referred back to Committee before it came to the Floor of the House. That would have made it a far better Bill. Perhaps we need to look at recalling Standing Committees in similar circumstances and situations.
Having dealt with pre-legislative scrutiny and the legislative process, let us deal with the post-legislative situation. The House should be allowed to conduct a review of the way in which the legislative process and the legislation worked. We should assess whether it has been effective and what we should consider in future. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) spoke about the Bill's connection to the public. I am sorry that Ministers have missed a great chance to reconnect members of the public with their criminal justice system. People out there feel that the criminal justice system is owned by the producerslawyers, judges and practitionersand has very little to do with them, and they have lost faith in it. Over the past few months in Committee, and in the past few days on the Floor of the House, we could have helped to reconnect some of them with their criminal justice system. A great opportunity has been missed, but the Bill certainly includes a large number of practical proposals, some of which will have a great impact locally.
Simon Hughes: I shall start, as the Home Secretary did, with thank yous. I join him in thanking his parliamentary colleagues who led the Committee and all the other stages of the Bill. I pay tribute to the collaboration and helpfulness of the former Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), and Lord Falconerwe are very grateful to both. I also thank the Conservative spokesmen for their collaborationwe all tried to work constructively, and succeeded in doing so. As a result, there was much more light and, I hope, less unproductive heat. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) who shouldered with me the burden of a rather long Committee stage[Interruption.] The Home Secretary deserves to be put on the record, as he said that it was not long enough, apparently. It would have been long enough to consider what was put before us at the beginning, but in the event it was not, given what appeared within a couple of minutes of the Committee reporting. The Home Secretary is entitled to expect us to do a bit more work in Committee, but he must give us the materials before we start the process, not after it has finished. Finally, the Government's civil servants are no doubt assiduous, diligent and competent. Opposition parties do not have such a battery of people, so I pay tribute to our senior adviser, the head of my office and others who have given us bullets to fire and ammunition to use.
This is the flagship Bill, as we can see from the fact that it started Report stage with 280 clauses and 29 schedules. It is clear that the Government think that it is a ship that they need to load heavily, given the many additions
Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman anticipates me. The Government have added large groups of amendments, one of which, for example, had 118 new proposals in it. One result is that, in addition to the issues that were causing difficulty before, we now have additional matters that we have not even had the chance to check properly. Therefore, like the Conservativesand, I am sure, others in the other placewe cannot allow the Bill to sail on as it is, and we will oppose it later tonight.
There is some good in the Bill and some bad, and at least one provision is mad. The mad provision is that at the same time as the Government put cannabis in class C, they decide that possession of a class C drug will become an arrestable offencein other words, a much more serious offence. By any objective definition, that is mad. If the public are expected to receive a simple message from the Billand I share the view of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) that it is
The parts of the Bill that are good are parts 1 to 6, 8, 9 and 12. That is three quarters of the Bill. The parts of the Bill dealing with sentencing are also good, by and large. The Liberal Democrats believe in honesty in sentencing and we agree with the proposals for custody plus and custody minus. However, those can be delivered only if funding and support are provided for the probation service for the work outside custody. Time served in the community must be put to good effect. The money is not available and the people are not in place yet to achieve that. The idea is still theoretical and it is not likely to be delivered.
I pay tribute to the people in the criminal justice servicethe police, the probation service, the people who run the courts and the prisonsbut they need the tools to do the job that we are asking them to do. I also pay tribute to one late runner in the good ideas stakes, which is the proposal that we debated earlier today to allow greater penalties for driving-related offences. That has been the result of much campaigning, and I am glad that the issue has at last found a home in the Bill.
Before the raft of late additions, the Liberal Democrats opposed parts 7, 10 and 11, which concerned the rights of defendants. I represent a constituency similar in many ways to that of the Home Secretary, and I share with him the belief that we need to give victims more confidence in the criminal justice system, and that we need to reduce their number. I am sad that we have not had the promised victims and witnesses Bill, which has been much trailed but apparently has now been forgotten. We will not increase the rights of victims, and their confidence in the criminal justice system, by taking away rights from defendants. They are not two sides of the same coin, nor are they two ends of the same seesaw. The objective should be to increase the confidence that everybody has in the criminal justice system, which means more entitlement for victims but does not mean decreasing the confidence of those who end up as defendants.
We have made clear our objections to some of the late additions to the Bill in the past two days. They include the suggestion that if a person is arrested, has DNA samples or fingerprints taken, and is then released with no charge, the state may hold the information. That is entirely illogical. We hope that it will be removed in the other place.
Today, we have opposed proposals that Parliament should set the tariffthe starting pointfor sentences in murder cases. We think that that should be left to others. The House should set the principles, but politicians should not set the starting sentences. We have made it clear that mandatory sentences, including mandatory minimum sentences, are bad sentences, as the courts can always judge best, up to a maximum set by Parliament.
However, the best test of the Bill is whether we have ended up with the police being as independent as before. We fought that battle last year, and by and large we won it. Another test is whether the judiciarylay magistrates