Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Malins: I have enormous respect for the hon. Gentleman who, throughout proceedings on the Bill, has opposed the Government. If the debate on the programme motion takes time away from the debate on new clauses, it is the Government's fault, not ours.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I hope that my hon. Friend will not be seduced by the argument of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick). We must assert the right to scrutinise legislation. The only way in which we can do so is to speak in these debates and vote on these timetable motions. If we do not do so, we are not performing our duty.

Mr. Malins: My right hon. and learned Friend is right, as always. What power do we have? All that we can do in practice is speak in these debates, make our protest known and vote when the time comes. That is what we are going to do.

If ever a Bill needed detailed and thorough scrutiny in Committee, this is the Bill. It did not receive it, and that was the Government's fault. I shall tell the House what the Government did. At a stage in Committee when he did not have any justification whatever for his charge, a Government Back Bencher falsely accused the Opposition of over-long speeches and filibustering. It was an absurd allegation that was utterly rejected by the Committee Chairman. Throughout our proceedings, we had kept to the point. Yes, there were long speeches, but the Minister made a speech in excess of one hour. I do not criticise him for doing so—he was giving a lengthy, if unsatisfactory, response to points that we were making.

Following that absurd intervention by a Government Back Bencher, the Government introduced knives or what people outside the House would call a viciously short timetable for the rest of the Bill. As a result, whole clauses were not debated or scrutinised. Part of clause 8 was not debated; clause 9 was not debated at all; clauses 10 and 11 were not debated at all; clauses 23, 24 and 25 were not debated at all. Those important clauses deal with the commissioner and his or her powers, as well as the provision of information about an individual without their consent. None of those clauses was debated, so they were not subject to any scrutiny. By any standards, that is a disgrace.

After the Committee's proceedings had finished, the Joint Committee on Human Rights reported. It said that the Government's identity card and register proposals raised "serious questions" about possible breaches of human rights and it regarded Ministers' failure to explain why they believed their Bill was compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998 as "deeply unsatisfactory". I warned the Government on day one of the Committee that the Joint Committee would shortly report, and I suggested gently, because that is my
10 Feb 2005 : Column 1678
style, that they wait for that report so that we could consider it during our deliberations on the Bill. The Government did not take any notice of my suggestion whatsoever. It is ludicrous that we had to go through the entire Committee stage without the benefit of that important report.

One might ask whether there was a good reason for that unseemly hurry and ridiculous rush. I believe that the main motive of this utterly discredited Home Office is to secure some last-minute headlines before the general election. It wants to give the appearance of being tough, but it has completely ignored the need for proper parliamentary scrutiny of a vital Bill. Today, Members on both sides of the House wish to speak to amendments and new clauses that they have tabled, including the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) and his hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). The hon. Member for Walsall, North is wholly against his Government and has as much right as any hon. Member to speak to his amendments. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and his colleagues have tabled a number of amendments and they have the right to speak to them.

Mr. Hogg: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the perverse effects of this truncated procedure is that it dissuades hon. Members from becoming interested in a Bill, as they know that they do not have an opportunity to discuss it on the Floor of the House or, indeed, in Committee?

Mr. Malins: My right hon. and learned Friend makes a good point. Increasingly in recent years, right hon. and hon. Members have wondered what is the point of tabling an amendment or coming to the Chamber to try to debate something, as there will be a guillotine and their contribution will be cut out. That has a serious impact on parliamentary democracy.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I very much agree with my hon. Friend, but I hope that he accepts that because many Conservative Members take such comments seriously, we need a constant reminder that when we are returned to Government automatic guillotining will stop. That has not been stated with sufficient strength, and until my hon. Friend does so his comments lack moral authority.

Mr. Malins: My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I can only speak personally and I choose my words with care: I hope that when we are returned to Government, considerably more time will be made available for vital Bills of this sort.

Mr. Cash: On the point that my hon. Friend so ably made about the impact on the House of Commons, does he agree that the extent to which people are concerned that they are being effectively cut out also contributes to the lack of turnout in general elections? People who witness what is happening and see that it is such an invasion of constitutional rights and civil liberties say to themselves in a state of fury, "The House of Commons is impotent and decisions are taken without regard to the people we have elected." They then do not bother to turn out, so it is the destruction of democracy as well.

Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend is right. The situation contributes to lack of turnout not just in elections, but,
10 Feb 2005 : Column 1679
I venture gently to suggest, among colleagues throughout the House of Commons who feel that it is not worth turning up.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree, perhaps along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), that one of the best ways of ensuring that all this guillotining is not necessary is to introduce fewer Bills so that they can all be considered properly?

Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend is right—there is far too much legislation and far too little scrutiny. Today we have Report and Third Reading, and we have less time than my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) had for his private Member's Bill last Friday. I refer also to the report quoted earlier from the Select Committee on Modernisation, which mentioned restoring longer hours on Thursday to take substantial business. If this is not substantial business, I do not know what is.

Today should be the chance for all Members of the House to express their views on the detail as well as the principle of the Bill. The Government have taken that chance away from all of us by giving us a matter of a few hours—not even one full day—to debate the vital issues. When times for votes are taken out, the position is even bleaker and even more unfair.

Today, we cannot stop the Government driving a steamroller over Members of the House. Today, we cannot stop the Government showing their contempt for Parliament. But we can still—thank God—protest, and I hope that our protest is heard by the millions of people outside this building who care deeply about parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary democracy.

1.52 pm

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I do not wish to speak for long on the motion, but I want at least to place on record the disgust felt in my party at the Executive's lack of regard for Parliament.

The Minister said that a Greek chorus was the appropriate metaphor for the current circumstances. I am quite a fan of Greek tragedy. If I remember correctly, the role of the chorus is to explain to the audience the narrative of the protagonist rushing headlong to their doom. In the context of the Bill, being in a Greek chorus is quite an apt metaphor for what we are doing.

The Bill is complex and has significant technical, financial and privacy implications that cannot be covered under the programme motion before us today. Its complexity has grown during the passage of the Bill thus far, so there are many areas that need further clarification that we will not have time to deal with.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): My hon. Friend is quite right: there is simply not enough time to discuss all the important amendments that have been tabled. For example, between 3.45 and 4.30, there are three sets to consider, but a vote on the clauses that finish at 3.45 would take out a quarter of an hour, and a vote on the use of information from the register would
10 Feb 2005 : Column 1680
take another quarter of an hour. Even if the debate on the use of information from the register takes only a quarter of an hour, we will have no time to discuss all the later amendments that affect Scotland and remote rural areas.

Next Section IndexHome Page