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There is, therefore, a wide body of support for the new offence that cannot be ignored. Furthermore, we have seen from a recent poll in The Guardian that there is also strong public support. I put it to the House that there is a compelling case for the provision, and I invite hon. Members who have expressed concerns about it to think again.
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Under this Government, crime has fallen by 30 per cent. We all accept that we cannot be complacent, because there is much more to do to make our communities and neighbourhoods safe and secure. The other measures in the Bill, including those on antisocial behaviour, police powers and the seizure of cars that are uninsured and unlicensed will contribute significantly to making our communities safer and ensuring that those who do not abide by the law are brought to justice.
Lembit Öpik: I do not know whether the Minister intends to refer to the debate we had only half an hour ago about the restrictions on people's right to demonstrate. I counsel her to recognise that although she has successfully marshalled the Bill through the House, she needs to give careful consideration to the dangers that we highlighted. She may be in government now, but that will not always be the case, and the restrictions on demonstrations may one day restrict her opportunity to protest against a future Government.
Caroline Flint: I believe that the measures concerning demonstrations in the area around Parliament would allow me to demonstrate in the future on any issue. The only constraint would be that I would need the foresight to seek authorisation and be willing to accept conditions. I do not have a problem with that. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner will not say whether people may or may not protest: people may protest, but conditions might be attached. We have outlined the conditions that may apply in the Bill, and they include hindering the operations of Parliament as well as the safety and security of the environment around Parliament.
The Bill will contribute significantly to the achievement of our goal of making our communities safer. I am proud to have played a part in the often exciting and constructive discussions of it in Committee. Many of the measures in the Bill will give us more tools with which to fight organised crime, as well as crime within our communities. I hope that we can all contribute to making our communities safer by ensuring that the Bill has a safe passage and becomes the legislation that we need, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell: We have reached the end of at least the first stage of Parliament's proceedings on the Billits passage through this place. As the Minister rightly said, there are aspects of the Bill with which we strongly agree. However, one of the problems is that it has become something of a Christmas tree to which many things have been added, and as it goes down the Corridor to the other place, she may well have to trim the tree if the Bill is to become law before the general election.
The passage of the Bill falls into two parts. Committee stage was extremely constructive: we managed to raise and debate a large number of very important issues. Report stage, however, was subject to the outrageous
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guillotine that the Government imposed on the House of Commons. In my view, it is an insult to every Member of this House, on whatever side they sit, that the programme order has curtailed our discussion on Report as it has. In Committee, the usual channels did an excellent jobI congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) on the way in which our debates were ordered in the old-fashioned way, without any form of knife being necessary.
In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), the shadow Attorney-General, who is a distinguished lawyer, enlivened our debates and brought his tremendous legal training to bear. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), who has great specialist knowledge not only as a constituency Member of Parliament but as a shadow Minister on the important subject of animal rights terrorism, genuinely managed to influence the Minister to make several changes and amendments, for which we are extremely grateful to her. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who serves on the Home Affairs Committee, also helped our consideration a great deal. It has been a great pleasure to debate the Bill, both in Committee and on Report, with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint).
In Committee, we discussed community support officers and antisocial behaviour in a highly constructive way. There is now a large degree of agreement on the right way forward, although we continue to have reservations about the extra CSOs that are to be provided without a proper independent evaluation. We hope that the Minister will provide us with one in due course. Although, we recognise that, in terms of visibility, CSOs are a plus, not a minus, there should be no confusion about the fact that they are not proper coppers; they are not trained in the way that policemen and women are. We also discussed matters relating to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and disclosure notices, which were very much the Cinderella issues of the Bill. I am concerned that, under this legislation, everyone will be able to arrest everyone else. Such matters will be returned to when the Bill moves to the other place.
The key part of the Bill is the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which the Conservatives strongly support. None the less, we are anxious to ensure that its place in the hierarchy of the police family is understood. We are concerned about some aspects of its financinga subject that we raised frequently in Committeeand about the powers of the Home Secretary, which must be proportionate. If the agency is to be the diamond in the crown of our anti-crime initiatives and to make a real contribution to crime fighting as all hon. Members want, it is extremely important that it is properly established and organised.
I think that all of the issues that we have discussed today were debated, at least briefly, in Committee. Religious hatred has dominated our debate today, and I am not satisfied that the Government have got the
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provisions right, which is why I voted against them. I have no doubt that it will prove to be one of the most contentious issues in the other place.
Dr. Evan Harris: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when the House of Lords looks at the provision, it will consider whether we have had an adequate discussion? The fact that the provision was subject to such an unreasonable timetable will give the Lords the impression that we did not get to the bottom of the issues, and make it much more likely that they will ask us, quite rightly, to think again.
Mr. Mitchell: Although the hon. Gentleman is a Liberal Democrat, he is quite right. It was a disgracefully tight timetable and it had precisely the impact that he described. Even worse, I am sure he would agree, was the fact that intercepts, which are not part of the Bill, were not properly discussed today. We had only half an hour on the issue, which meant that I alone could made a speech when moving new clause 7. It is an extremely important issue, and it should have received far more discussion. I acquit the Minister of any blameit rests exclusively with the Government Whips Office, as it did not give us enough time to discuss the matter.
As for protection against animal rights extremists, the Government and the Minister have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon and without doubt the Bill has been improved as a result. Together with the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), with whom I have been in almost complete agreement throughout proceedings on the Billthat is a little worrying, but it is true neverthelessI raised the issue of police powers. The Government must think carefully about whether they have dealt with the issue satisfactorily.
Finally, my party had a free vote on the issue of demonstrations in Parliament square. I did not decide how to vote until I listened to the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. The Minister was extremely persuasive, which is why I joined her in the Lobby at the end of the debate. I am concerned, however, that Parliament is abrogating its responsibility for making those decisions to the police, given the operational process to which we agreed tonight. Despite that reservation, however, I found the Minister's argument persuasive on the whole. I very much hope that the key parts of the Bill will become law.
Mr. Bercow : I have listened to my hon. Friend with rapt attention and a certain amount of awe at the way in which he has put Demosthenes to shame. Before he concludes an oration of the most remarkable quality, I hope that he will see fit to expatiate on the quantity of the Bill's provisions and their rather worrying implications for secondary legislation. His speech so far, although fine, has been very shortI am sure that he will want to lengthen it.
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