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On Second Reading, Back Benchers were given a maximum of three minutes each in which to debate prostitution, and only three were able to speak. We have not been able to debate any amendments on the subject today. Now, in the middle of the Third Reading debate, the Minister has announced a Government review of the prostitution legislation that may result in subsequent legislation. In the meantime, we are producing legislation that may lead to the imprisonment of thousands of women. May I urge him to think again? If there is to be a delegation and a review, can we remove clause 105 and end up with a decent Bill, a decent proposal, and a decent
period in which we can debate the matter properly? What has happened today has been a fiasco.
Mr. Hanson: As my hon. Friend will know, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is dealing with this matter, said in Committee before Christmas that he was undertaking the review that I have just mentioned, along with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage. They will visit Sweden on Thursday to examine the legislative position there. In the context of the amendments that were not considered today, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has said he will ensure that the issues are considered in another place following a review of the legislation and the visit to Sweden. That may involve legislation in another place and in this place at a future date, but he will examine the issues in detail. I appreciate the concerns that Members have expressed, but I must make some progress now.
Sir Paul Beresford: Part 13 of the Bill includes a clause on child sex offenders. On Second Reading, I raised two issues with the Minister in that regard. Two new clauses were proposed, but fell. I intend, with the help of my colleagues on the Front Bench, to pursue them in another place. I should be grateful if the Minister examined them carefully and positively. He will find support on his side of the House, including in the Home Department.
This Bill is a key Bill for the Government, and I am proud to have introduced it in the House with the Lord Chancellor. It brings into effect not just violent offender orders, the extension of existing crack house closure proposals and measures to deal with nuisance and disturbance on NHS premises, but strong preventive measures on youth rehabilitation orders, measures for the early removal of foreign national prisoners, measures to place the prison and probation ombudsman on a statutory footing, measures to create a youth conditional caution for offenders aged 16 and 17, and a new offence of extreme pornographya matter on which hon. Members have campaigned for many years.
I am particularly pleased that we have brought forward measures to make incitement to homophobic hatred an offence and to end such incitement. I am also pleased that, following the Carter proposals, we brought forward before Christmas major measures not just to support the building of prison places that Carter proposed but to make effective changes on indeterminate public protection sentences, bail conditions and other matters.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab):
I welcome the provisions against incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation, but is not it illogical for the Government to introduce those measures without
also legislating against incitement to hatred on grounds of transgender issues? Will my right hon. Friend look at that matter and perhaps meet me and other hon. Members who are concerned about it with a view to introducing appropriate amendments in the other place?
Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I have some considerable sympathy with the points that she makes. I know that the Lord Chancellor and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston, will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those matters in due course in relation to the legislation.
This Bill is an important piece of legislation. It brings forward a number of measures that have been long expected and which will help to continue the Governments record on reducing crime. Crime has fallen by 35 per cent. since 1997. The risk of being a victim of crime has fallen since 1997. The number of crimes detected has risen and public confidence in the criminal justice system has increased. The Bill will help to add to those measures and to that record of success, and I commend it to the House.
Nick Herbert: Today, we debated for just an hour new clauses that were tabled just 48 hours ago to outlaw industrial action in prisons. We also debated for just under an hour and a half new proposals that the Secretary of State tabled following his speech to the Labour party conference on important matters relating to home owners ability to defend their properties. One of my hon. Friends who introduced a private Member's Bill on the subject was unable to be called because there was insufficient time.
We then debated sentencing provisions in the Bill for just an hour and a quarter: provisions of serious controversy, particularly in relation to the fettering of indeterminate sentences for public protection, the recall of prisoners and the new bail provisions. All the provisions that I have mentioned so far are in some way new to the Billthey go beyond the Bill that was introduced on Second Reading.
We debated youth justice for just an hour, includingthe point was raised by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)the fundamental principle of the extent to which we should be incarcerating juveniles. We debated the repatriation of prisoners for just a few minutes. We debated blasphemy and incitement to hatred, fundamentally important matters, in less than an hour
We debated prostitution, or rather one hon. Member moved her new clause on prostitution and was able to speak for 15 seconds. We did not reach at all the powers of magistrates courtsvery controversial measures to restrict magistrates ability to suspend sentences. We
did not discuss provisions on pornography and sex offenders. We did not reach the issue of personal data, and Opposition Members were unable to move an amendment proposing an offence of recklessly mishandling dataan offence that is currently of enormous interest to the public given the debacle in relation to data loss by the Government, and which has been proposed by the Justice Committee and the Information Commissioner. We did not debate miscarriages of justice or powers to restrict the Court of Appeal, which have caused enormous controversy outside the House, and on which the Government have been completely at sea.
We did not debate violent offender orders, which raise fundamental issues. [Interruption.] I am talking about the debate we have just had, in case that has escaped the Minister. We did not debate nuisance on NHS premises, either. The Home Office promised a debate on tobacco salesthe promise was made in Committeebut that did not happen.
I want the Government, and particularly the right hon. Gentleman, to understand that I am not going through the motions in relation to the criticisms that Conservative Members frequently make about criminal justice Bills: that they are often unprepared, that they change, and that there has been a series of them. It would be easy to make those criticisms in relation to this Bill, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) did so, but I am making a specific and serious point, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take seriously, about the pitiful lack of scrutiny that this House has just given to this important Bill.
Nick Herbert: The right hon. Gentleman will have a chance to reply in a minute. There are serious issues that have simply not been given proper consideration by this House. I believe that we in the House of Commons have today treated the public, and in particular groups within the public, with complete contempt. What will gay people think about the House debating for only half an hour an important measure relating to their protection, in respect of which hon. Members, including me, were also suggesting that there should be restrictions on that protection? What do the Anglican Church and its members, and other people of faith, think about the fact that we chose to debate the blasphemy laws for only a few minutes? What do prison officers think about the fact that a proposal that was first made on Monday and was the subject of a statement, and has now received less than an hours debate, has already gone through the House of Commons? The Government said it was not an emergency measure, but it looked like that to me.
I am being serious when I say that I do not believe that this is any way for the House of Commons to behave. What has happened today is made worse by the
Governments posturing in relation to their pledge to strengthen Parliament. Those words have rung particularly hollow today. I ask the Secretary of Statewho I believe is committed to, and personally supports, the strengthening of the powers of this place and of the role of the legislatureto reflect on whether he really believes that this has been Parliaments finest hour. I believe that we in this House should have cause to be ashamed of ourselves about the fact that we have debated and considered these matters with such little scrutiny, when we are making the criminal law. Above all, I think the Government should be genuinely ashamed about the way they have behaved, and I would like them to reflect seriously on that point.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Without employing hyperbole, I must say that I think this has been a deplorable advertisement for the powers of this House to scrutinise legislation effectively. I am serious when I say that nothing this House does is more important than looking at criminal justice legislation. A superfluity of such legislation is going through, and it has a direct effect on the life and liberty of individuals in this country. If the House of Commons is not employed in giving it proper scrutiny before it passes from this Chamber, it is worthless in protecting the interests and liberties of this countrys people.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I served with the hon. Gentleman for some 47 hours on the Public Bill Committee. Does he agree that the promising start to the Committee, whereby a new process invited witnesses to give evidence, was a good departure from the norm and is in sad contrast with what has happened today, when consideration of the Bill has ended in such a shabby way after such a promising start?
Mr. Heath: It is indeed, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that point. The Committee did its work well, and I paid tribute earlier, and I do so again, to the Ministers who went before it and to those who represented the Conservatives. We did our job as well as could be expected within the constraints of the Committee system, but the parliamentary system is supposed to be an iterative one. It is not supposed to be a system whereby Committee does it all and then something is rubber-stamped on Report in this Chamber. The Report stage is the opportunity for the wider House to have its say on issues that engage it, yet todays Report stage effectively started at 5.40 pm, because until then we were considering new measures. We were considering new Government proposals that the Committee had never considered, so this House was sitting as a rather inadequate committee for the first few hours of todays consideration of the Bill. We had just two hours to deal with what took the Committee many days to consider, and that is simply inadequate. It is also unfair, not only to the Members who came to this House this evening, some of whom were keen to debate issues that were of great importance to them and to their constituencies, but to the people outside this House whom we represent.
I shall not go through all the areas that we did not touch upon, but the Bill contains vital measures. We have not had the opportunity to test on Report, on the Floor of this Chamber, matters that it is impossible to suggest are trivial. After all the years of controversy about how we protect the public against sex offenders who have been releasedthe multi-agency public protection arrangements and the so-called Sarahs lawI cannot believe that the Bill will have gone through without a word being said this evening on the subject. The House has had no opportunity to talk about a fundamental change in this countrys public protection systems.
The proposals on extreme pornography are controversial in some circles and will have an effect. People might be expected to be able to express a view on them, but again we have not had the opportunity to discuss them at all. I could also mention the prostitution issues. We know that Ministers are going to Sweden, and I believe that they are going to Holland too, so we are not simply looking at one countrys experiences. I welcome that, because it is a sensible way of gathering evidence to see what might be a proper future response. If something is going to form part of this Bill, it is proper for this House to have the opportunity to debate it, yet, as we know, this House was prevented from doing so. The changes to the Court of Appeal are matters of fundamental legal substance. They are not a trivial matter or an afterthought that can simply be swept along.
In passing this Bill to another place we will sub-contract our primary purpose as a House to an unelected House, so that it can do the work that we apparently cannot do. I find it offensive that we spend time talking about the primacy of this House of Commons but the Executive then treat it in this way. I am sorry if this is, to an extent, a continuation of our debate on the programme motion, but that is inevitable, because this seriously large and important Bill has received inadequate scrutiny. If we cannot say that on Third Reading, when can we say it? In a few moments, the Bill will have left this House and gone to another place for consideration. We will not have a similar opportunity to affect the shape of the Bill again. The House has failed in its duty.
The Bill has its good points and its bad points. It is open to amendment, and we are now relying on those in another place to make those amendments for us. It would have been so simple for the Government to have provided another day of debate, which would have satisfied the House and the requirements of scrutiny and would not have thrown the Governments legislative programme into disarray.
Mr. Heath: The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that that is a rhetorical question. He knows perfectly well that the procedures of the House do not allow proper consideration of Lords amendments and that the ping-pong system offers scant scrutiny of what the other House says with no attempt to coalesce ideas from both Chambers and reconcile them constructively. Today has set out in stark contrast all the deficiencies of the legislative process in this House.
As I said earlier, the Lord Chancellor is responsible for the Bill. Before he was Lord Chancellor, he was Leader of the House. He committed himself to making the legislative process work properly. He said how important this Chamber and the Report stage were.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he has admitted that this is a continuation of the earlier debate. I ask him to bear it in mind that other Members may wish to participate in the debate in the last few remaining minutes.
Mr. Heath: There may indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The sad truth is that I cannot possibly cover the content of the Bill, because we do not have time to do so. That is the sad tragedy in the way in which the Government have chosen to address the Bill tonight. It is a shame on the House.
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) (Lab): I think I have one minute, and I want to support the Government. In particular, I want to thank them for their proposals in clause 107 and schedule 22. The truth is that they are a logical extension of the law, and have been the law in Northern Ireland for some time. There is no evidence in Northern Ireland that the law curtails religious freedom, comment or thought. With Northern Ireland being as it is, if that was the case we would have heard about it. The truth is that the British public will welcome the debate.
On the subject of the religious divide, gay people are religious and carry through their religious belief. People who are not gay who are religious still support those who are gay. The issue is not about a division between those who are religious and those who are not. Human rights are about all people. Sexuality is not a gateway to a human right. A human right is
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The role of the Speaker in the House has traditionally been to protect the rights of Back Benchers. May I ask you to engage in discussions with the Speaker about what has happened today and about how the role of the Speaker can be used to protect the rights of Back Benchers?
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