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Mr. Allan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention; the amendments are important, as I have said. The Scottish National party did not have anyone on the Standing Committee, so this is its only opportunity to raise issuesmy hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) also raised them, and there was an interesting debate about themabout people who live in remote Scottish areas.
Mr. Hogg: If minority parties are not represented in the Standing Committee, as was apparently the case in this instance, Report is the only opportunity that they have to speak on the detail of the Bill.
Mr. Allan: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely correct and I have a lot of sympathy with his point. I come from one of the more compact parliamentary parties in this Parliament and for us to cover all legislation is a challenge. Report is an important opportunity for smaller parties to interveneand if that is curtailed there is nowhere else for them to be heard.
Mr. Browne: I will not disappoint the hon. Gentleman and I am grateful to him for giving way. He made an enormous contribution to the debate in Committee, but he must tell the House that his party had two people on the Committee, only one of whom was ever present at any time.
Mr. Allan: That is known as teamwork: we were running a relay operation. The serious point is that it is difficult for smaller partiesthey will speak for themselvesto cover all the Committees that take place in the House, and Report remains an important part of the structure of legislation for precisely such purposes. I do not think that it has ever been the tradition that smaller parties cover every single Standing Committee.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the other problem is that there are disagreements within parties about such Bills? I happen to be very much in favour of the principle of the Bill, while others in my party take a different view. This is the only opportunity
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that we all have to show what parts we agree with and where we might want alteration, so that there can be greater consensus. With a Bill of this sort and of this importance, that consensus becomes very important.
Mr. Allan: That intervention was entirely helpful. People often say that the debates in the House are meaningless because all parties come in with a single party Whip and troop through the Lobby, not having listened to the debate or changed their minds. This afternoon, we are dealing with precisely the sort of issue on which people will engage in debate and on which they may change their minds, as has been shown by the course of our proceedings so far. It is on precisely this sort of issue that we need additional time on Report.
Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Given that most members of the public have not seen the selection of amendments for consideration today, would the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important, in order to underline the gravity of the situation and our complaint, that people should be aware that there are 150 minutes in which to debate no fewer than 77 new clauses and amendments? In other words, even if there were no votes, which is not realistic or desirable, there would be fewer than two minutes for the consideration of each. That is an outrage and an insult.
Briefly, I shall tell the Minister off, if I may, in my own gentle style for one point that he made in his introduction. He said that there were certain points on which we made progress in Committee. I will be completely honest: there were times when we had too little time in Committee and on other occasions people spent too long debating matters that did not need so much time. I am not going to pretend that everything in Committee worked smoothly, but the reality was that the Committee did not have sufficient time overall. There were occasions on which hon. Members such as I felt that we ought to assist in making some progress in order to get on to other things, so we did not spend as much time debating clauses as we wanted. Having tried to be co-operative and helpful, we find it a little difficult to have that thrown back at us afterwards, as if to say, "You went through these clauses quickly, so everything was fine and they were non-contentious." I want to put that on the record because it is not an entirely fair comment.
If we stick to the timetable that we have before us, hon. Members will be asked to voteI must be careful with my imageryfor a pig in a poke. That is the correct metaphor to describe what we are being asked to buy: something about which we do not have sufficient detail. In my party, we do not want to buy this pig at all. We have made our position clear on the Bill. The Conservatives have explained that they do not yet know enough about the pig, and that what they have seen they do not like. I understand that they are officially planning not to vote at all. However, we will be united in voting against the programme motion, which is essential if we
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are to have the detail that we need to make a proper informed decision. That is, after all, what we should be here to do.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): The programme motion is nearly as bad as it gets. It is not quite as bad as the instrument that the Government use to deem that a Bill has been considered, but it is close. Most Government Members would accept that to deem without consideration is an outrage. The programme motion does not even pretend that we will consider the Bill.
As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) has pointed out, the Bill is essentially an enabling Bill. It gives huge powers to the Secretary of State, but what do those powers enable him to do? The point about a pig in a poke is correct. The House has a right to examine the Bill.
The Minister takes a lofty view of Committees, which are for the convenience of the House. In years gone by, Bills were traditionally taken on the Floor of the House in order to meet the reasoned observations of hon. Members. We have all been elected and all represent a point of view. We should all have the opportunity to express how the Bill may bear on our constituents and to form a judgment whether the legislation merits passing.
Mr. Hogg: Does my hon. Friend agree with this proposition: by curtailing debate, the Government are showing contempt for the views of hon. Members and, more importantly, for the views of the public, who might seek to use their representative to express their views?
Mr. Shepherd: I have spoken so often in debates on guillotine motions that I sometimes think that my remarks are explicit, when they are merely implicit. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for yet again underlining one of the crucial reasons why we have parliamentary debate.
An early-day motion has been tabled to point out to hon. Members and Members of the other place how lamentable the process has been. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) has pointed out, the EDM lists the clauses that were not debatedclauses 8 to 11 and 23 to 25. Is that a mere technical matter in an enabling Bill that should not fuss us? Clause 8 sets out the procedure for issuing identity cards. Is that a small matter and should we have the right properly to consider it? Clause 8 concerns matters such as issuing identity cards and designating documents.
Clause 11 contains the power to require information for validating the register. It is enormously important because it is crucial to the operation of the scheme, but it has not been debated. Clause 11(1) places a duty on a person to provide information to the Secretary of State for the purposes of verifying an individual's entry on the register. Not unreasonably, we would like to discuss that duty.
If the world at large knew what this Government are about in their construction of a security and police state, it would be truly alarmed by databases that can be
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accessed by other people and information that must be given under the threat of law. We want to know to whom the information must be given and for what purpose.
Clause 23(1) states that informationphotographs, signature, fingerprints or other biometric informationprovided under clauses 19 to 22 may be authorised only when the Secretary of State, an omnipresent individual who wants to know everything about us,
For example, if fingerprint information were recorded on the register, the police would first have to search their own register of fingerprint records before requesting information from the register. That is an illustrative example, but it touches on how the Bill will encroach on the very privacy of our lives.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking has mentioned the work of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Bill has been galloped through with less than 28 hours of consideration in Committee, and we are discussing the heart of the Billissuing ID cards, the commissioner and databases. The strongest civil liberties argument is that we have seen no detail because we are examining an enabling Bill. The Bill's vagueness, which is inappropriate, was a principal concern of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. How will the Bill affect an individual's privacy?
I do not accept that we should reduce ourselves to nothing, which is the presumption of all those Labour Members who say, "Let's get on with it. Let's consider the Bill and do what we can." The matter concerns one of Parliament's primary functions, which is to look at that to which we give the power of lawif only the Leader of the House could remember his own dual duty. We must solemnly ask ourselves whether the procedure is right.
This is not a party matter. When we vote on the programme motion, which concerns the suppression of the freedom of expression of elected Members of Parliament, we should make a personal judgment. Some might say that that contradicts the purpose of the modern Parliament, because we are merely party men who must do as we are bid. We are, however, individuals who represent human beingsour constituents. Should we agree to a meaningless and monstrous consideration that defeats the very purpose for which we are sent here?
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