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Mr. Browne: The hon. Gentleman allows me to reinforce a point that I made earlier, which he clearly did not hear. I shall repeat what I said because I wrote it down. I said that the proceedings in Committee proved that, in large part, this was not contentious legislation.
It was clear to me that, had there been a proper use of the time allotted for the Committee, we would have scrutinised every clause. I had already said that I would be happy to sit late and for there to be another Committee sitting.
Some of us find it peculiarly offensive to be told that such and such an allocation of time was provided in Committee and that members of the Committee had every opportunity to consider the Bill, and so on and so forth. That is because I speak as a humble Back Bencher, or at any rate as a Back Bencher who ought to be humble, who was not fortunate enough to receive the preferment of a celebrated appointment to the Committee. I have not had a chance. I am not very pleased about that and I want the chance today.
Mr. Browne: I am very keen that the hon. Gentleman should be pleased about his contribution to the House. My loyalty to my party in Government is modelled on his own loyalty to his party in Opposition. I look to him as a model of that. I know that he is well qualified to speak on that subject.
I am explaining to the hon. Gentleman and to other Members, who I suspect have not engaged in this level of research into the workings of the Committee, why the
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Bill comes before the House with certain parts of it unscrutinised by the Committee. The opportunity was there for that to be done and significant progress was made on large parts of the Bill in short measure in Committee. However, a significant part of the Committee's consideration was taken away by filibustering, which was identified by the Chairman and responded to by him. [Interruption.] I say that because I am sure that, in opposing the motion, Opposition Members will make the point that parts of the Bill were not scrutinised by the Committee. It is a legitimate part of my argument and I will continue with the argument.
To offer the opportunity for the completion of the work in Committee, the Government made the offer of additional time, an additional sitting or a late sitting, but that was not taken up. It is clear to me that, at least in part, some Opposition Members were making use of parliamentary procedures to frustrate the passage of the Bill. As a result, we had to divide the timetable today to ensure that all parts of the Bill are properly scrutinised. That is the purpose of the motion. It is a consequence of what was done in Committee.
On Second Reading, the official Opposition voted in favour of the principle of the Bill. We know that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) is in favour of ID cards. [Interruption.] I accept that some Opposition Members are against them. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman was Home Secretary in the last Conservative Government, some other right hon. Members who are in the Chamber were also Ministers. They were apparently in favour of them as well. They were part of that Government's programme. The right hon. and learned Gentleman remained in favour of ID cards. In an article in The Daily Telegraph on 20 September, he wrote:
Sir Robert Smith: What has the fact that the Leader of the Opposition supports the Bill got to do with the timetable, which is about allowing time for Back Benchers to take part in the debate? Surely it is precisely when Back Benchers disagree with their Front Bench that parliamentary time should be generous. Given that the Leader of the House has told the House that the current hours for Thursday make it unsuitable for major legislation, will the Minister tell us why the Bill has been scheduled for a Thursday? Does it mean that the Government do not see the Bill as major legislation?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill has been scheduled for a Thursday because the usual channels agreed that the Bill should be presented to the House today, and I am not part of those discussions.
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If the Opposition want to allow debate on the Bill, as they suggest that they do, whether from the Back Benches or the Front Bench, they should agree with the motion. Last week, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), during a debate on the programme motion on the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, said:
"Our debates on programme motions often have the qualities of a choreographed Greek chorus, with outrage expressed by the Opposition about the nature of the motion".[Official Report, 3 February 2005; Vol. 430, Col. 1024.]
I am offering an opportunity to the House not to do that in these circumstances and to avoid the temptation of the "choreographed Greek chorus". I am offering the opportunity not to fall into that trap and instead to agree that it would be better for us to spend time debating the Bill rather than taking time, at length, to debate the timetable motion. The motion will help order our debate in a sensible way.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): I thought it apposite to remind my hon. Friend of the wise words of my first Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, who said that when Front Benches were united they were almost always united in error.
Mr. Browne: I always listen to the wisdom of the Father of the House and have enormous respect for his views. Part of my argument, if only by implication, is that I am not that certain that there is unity between the Front-Bench teams on the Bill. The motion will help to order our debate in a sensible way and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the programme motion, for the simple reason that it is the latest in a long line of insults to the House of Commons. We face a Government who are determined to ride roughshod over elected Members of Parliament and to get their own way at any cost. They have consistently ignored the principle of proper parliamentary scrutiny. I shall take a look at what happened in Committee in a moment but, make no mistake Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is a major Bill with major implications for the lives of all of us. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said in a question a little while ago, it touches on the sensitive relationship between the individual and the state, so it has enormous implications for civil liberties, and it is not just about identity cards.
The Bill's principal purposenot understood widely outside the Houseis the creation of a national register or database under which people will be obliged to provide dozens of pieces of personal information to the Government register, to which many others will have access. If one does not supply that information there is a penaltysome say a fineof £2,500. The Bill is clearly important and has huge constitutional and civil liberties implications.
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
As someone who has made it clear that I am not in favour of the Government's proposals, having written a minority report for the Home Affairs Committee and voted against the Bill on Second Reading, may I put it to the
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hon. Gentleman that, whatever the Government's failure to provide time, we are where we are? If the purpose of the main Opposition party is to utilise all the time allowed to debate the programme motion, that would effectively result in less time to debate the matters of substance before us. It would be most unfortunate if that were its tactic, because it would aggravate a situation in which the Government have not provided the time that we would like.
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