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I disagree with the hon. Member for Wellingborough on a second point, in this case his congratulatory remarks to the spokesperson for the UCUNF. I think that the name Ulster Conservatives and UnionistsNew Force is the latest title for the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman outlined how he protested last Wednesday about how the Bill was going to be dealt with, but I can give him only five marks out of 10, because he failed to fulfil what I consider to be the duty of an Opposition Member.
He should have objected and joined me in my protest, as the problem goes beyond our being asked to deal with the Bill in one day.
Some hon. Members may be bored stiff by these matters butshort of running naked across Parliament squareI am not sure what more I can do to draw attention to them. However, the hon. Member for Wellingborough did not join me in protesting about the fact that we were going to deal with the Bill all in one day. Front Benchers from the main parties are both the same, and they are both to blame.
Mr. Hain: Given my hon. Friends threat to run naked, I am rather worried about his expression of love for me. However, I plead guilty to being a serial offender on Bills such as this, because that approach is what has brought the immense progress that has been achieved in Northern Ireland.
Andrew Mackinlay: It is incredible that successive Secretaries of State should suggest that the whole process would collapse if the House of Commons were not to deal with Bills like this in a single day. That is breathtaking in the extreme.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): I support the Bill, but I also support allowing more time to discuss it. The critical feature for me, my colleagues and the whole Unionist community is the issue of confidence before policing and justice powers are devolved. Does it grow confidence to deal with this Bill in the constitutionally tacky way proposed today? The Governments approach will reduce confidence among the unionist community, because it will probably cause many of the good proposals in the Bill to go unreported.
Andrew Mackinlay: The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) speaks for his people, and he is correct about Parliaments duties and expectations. One reason for having a Committee stage is to fine-tune legislation, not to oppose it. A Committee stage allows us to probe and understand the problems and to consider whether all eventualities have been taken into account. It also enables us to indicate and flag up any omissions in the Bill.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many Bills passed by this House in relatively recent yearssuch as those relating to dangerous dogs or Dunblanewere based on consensus and yet were dreadful pieces of legislation?
Andrew Mackinlay: That is absolutely so. If we make legislation in haste, we make it badly. Moreover, the approach adopted by the Government can be the thin end of the wedge, as other Ministers on other occasions can say that it is imperative to pass a Bill.
I return to my central point, which is that, if the many hours spent in Committee or on Report are to have any purpose or meaning, they must ensure that we avoid any unforeseen elephant traps in a piece of legislation by crafting it in the best possible way. That is precisely what we are not doing by seeing this Bill through all its stages in one day. Restricting all stages of this Bill to one day is also an abdication of our responsibility. The House of Lords will devote two days to the Bill, and its
Members will be aware that the House of Commons did not really look at some of the issues that will be touched on by speakers later this afternoon.
In his brief remarks earlier, the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) touched on something that I had not totally understood. I endeavoured to grapple with the detail and complexity of the Bill in order to table some amendments that I hoped would either improve the proposals or give us greater understanding of what the draftsmen intended. However, it looks as though I did not take full cognisance of one of the points that the hon. Gentleman referred tothat is, what will happen if there is a failure to agree.
I also notice that our friends in the Social Democrat and Labour party have tabled amendments that relate to the judiciary rather than to policing. I want to examine the inferences and implications of those amendments, but there is no opportunity to do so. This Bill, which is being passed in one day, would, if it related to England and Wales, be pored over by this House and by another place. As a result, errors might occur that could have serious consequences in a particular case, and they might also cause additional and unforeseen political confrontation some way into the future.
Reference has been made to the two documents that the House authorities, to their eternal credit, squeezed out of the Northern Ireland Office. However, those documents arrived too late. I understand that the correct technical term is to say that the documents are covered by the Keeling schedules. In 1937, the then Speaker, Sir Edward Keeling, sent a memo to the Prime Minister of the day, saying that they had to ensure that the House of Commons was fully acquainted with the consequences of legislation that amends other primary legislation in detail. That memo set an extremely important precedent for the documents before us today. However, a glance through the Keeling schedules relating to this afternoons business reveals the complexity of the task before us and makes it clear that we need to make cross-references. Unfortunately, the two documents to which I have referred arrived too late for all that.
The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland party has not been mentioned yet this afternoon. I think that the Liberal Democrat party may act as its agent in this place, and I look forward to hearing the Alliance partys opinion about these matters. However, it would have been good to have time to discuss the Keeling schedules and some of the amendments with the Alliance party itself, as one might say that it is the unspoken elephant in the room. I may be wrong, but I think that the intention is that someone from the Alliance partyperhaps they have been anointedwill occupy the Ministry of Justice post. It would certainly be sensible if hon. Members in the Commons at least had the opportunity to discuss the proposed amendments in detail with members of that party. That, of course, has been denied to us.
It is interesting that they made an effort to be here. I do not want to labour my point, but this really is a bad day for Parliament, and we should be ashamed of ourselves, collectively, if we approve the railroading through of the Bill. No doubt the Secretary
of State will say, This is a one-off, but it is not. Unless we give the Government aggravation, the same thing will happen time and again. It is not a Northern Ireland issue, but a United Kingdom issue. It is about the veracity and diligence of this Parliament. I am not prepared to acquiesce in such railroading by my silence.
Mr. Carmichael the agent for elephants, whether in the room or elsewhere. I look forward to a day when the elephants might gain membership of this House and speak for themselves. If I live to be 100, I shall never understand the logic that the Government employ in drafting timetable motions. We see on todays Order Paper that consideration of the allocation of time motion can last for up to three hours. The entire time available for consideration of that motion and Second Reading is four hours so, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) pointed out, it is quite possible that if we used the three hours, and there was then a Division, we would have significantly less than an hour for the Second Reading of a constitutional Bill. It is because it is a constitutional Bill that all stages are, quite properly, to be taken on the Floor of the House.
Thereafter, we are allowed two hours for debate in Committee and on Third Reading. I consider that wholly inadequate. Given the number and range of amendments tabled and selected for debate in Committee, it is pretty clear to me that we will not have anything like a Third Reading debate; we will not even have a proper Committee stage. If ever there was a Bill that needed a proper Third Reading, this is it. Third Reading debates are pretty much a poor shadow of what they used to be. If there is a Division on Second Reading, we Liberal Democrats will support the Bill. Thereafter, in Committee, we will consider a number of significant amendments, which we will seek to press to a Division. If those amendments are not accepted, my party may well wish to reconsider our support for Third Reading, but we will be denied that opportunity, and we will not be alone in that.
It is pretty clear that we are being asked to railroad through legislation, and although there may be a degree of urgency, it is not, by any definition, an emergency. As a consequence, we will create a procedure that is fundamentally flawed and defective. I have previously been involved with Northern Ireland Bills that were dealt with in one day in the House. We always co-operated in those cases. I think back to my involvement with the Bill that had to be brought forward to cancel Assembly electionsI think that was in 2004. That was clearly an emergency; this is not. Even if we insisted on sticking to the Secretary of States timetablehe says that the timetable must allow consultation in Northern Ireland to start in the middle of Marchit would still be possible for us to have two days full consideration of the Bill.
Tomorrow, the House has an Adjournment debate. On Monday, we have a second day on estimates. There is absolutely no reason why we could not put that
business off to some other day, and instead deal with the Bill then. In fact, we should do so. This is not just about the progress of the Bill, but about this House taking responsibility for, and control of, its own business. Bills will be railroaded through in this way for as long as we continue to allow it to happen. The situation will never get any better.
Sir Patrick Cormack: The hon. Gentleman makes a most excellent point about Monday. Would it not serve the interests of the Bill, of Northern Ireland and of the House of Commons above all, if the Secretary of State dispatched his Parliamentary Private Secretary to speak to the Leader of the House, to try to arrange a second day for the Bill on Monday? Then we could finish our debate on the allocation of time motion, get on to the substance of the Bill, continue until 7 oclock, and do the thing properly.
Mr. Carmichael: Yes, that is an eminently sensible approach. I am sure that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), the Secretary of States PPS, is keen to have the exercise, and is more than fit for the task. It appears that the logicI use the term in the loosest possible sensethat the Government bring to the timetable is that the amount of time available should be inversely proportionate to the political substance of the debate. That is wrong, and if the House accepts that logic, we do ourselves, and the people of Northern Ireland, no favours.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who said that he did not understand the logic of Government timetabling. I am not sure that I understand the logic of the official Opposition, who seem to support the motion. I may be wrong, but it is amazing if it is true that they will not support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone). I am shocked by that.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I agree with the hon. Lady about the Conservative Oppositions view on the subject, but I am afraid I can easily see the logic of the Governments position: it is crudely to bully the House into acquiescence, to ensure that they can steamroll through legislation in this abbreviated fashion.
Mr. Paterson: The hon. Lady may have missed my earlier comments. The original plan, which was appalling, was to publish the Bill last Monday and to have Second Reading on Wednesday. Through the usual channels, we got an extra week, but I have said that the situation is highly unsatisfactory. I am in total agreement with virtually every Member who has spoken, but because the Government have a majorityI am being completely brutal and practicalevery minute that we speak eats into the time for Second Reading and, more importantly, consideration of the amendments. I have not made any statement on how we will be voting.
Kate Hoey: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, but that is a little play with words. We are talking about serious issuesnot just to do with democracy and the House, but the issues in the Bill. I really do not see that an extra 12, 13 or 14 minutes spent on a Division will make that much difference. One or two of my colleagues have been muttering about time wasting, and have said that the longer we go on for, the less time there is for debate. I am fed up with that attitude; it is almost blackmailing, if I can use that word, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is blackmailing, almost implying it is our fault that we will not have a great debate, because we are all talking about the guillotine motion. The Secretary of State and the Government should have understood that it would cause problems if they sought to get a guillotine motion passed so that they could get the whole Bill through the House in one day. They should have understood that a lot of people would want to make their views known. Unless we all speak for just 10 seconds, that will inevitably take time. Moreover, as the debate proceeds, those who may not have intended to speak are more likely to wish to do so, and we will end up with a very short time indeed.
Mr. Bone: The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. Does she accept that if my amendment were accepted, Second Reading would continue today, so it would not be lost, and all that is necessary is for the Secretary of State to agree with the amendment?
Kate Hoey: In my own way I was getting round to saying precisely that. The Prime Minister may not be in the country, but I hope that at some stage someone will make it clear to him that the way this matter has been handled will lead to all sorts of problems for the legislation in Northern Ireland. Many of the parties have held different views on devolution on these difficult issues, but gradually a consensus is developing on what should happen and how it should happen. The last thing that people in Northern Ireland need is to feel that they and their politicians are being patronised as a result of the way this Bill is being pushed through in such a short time. What matters is the confidence of people in Northern Ireland. The idea that the only way to move the process forwardthe great phrase that has become the mantra of so many Front-Bench spokesmenis by driving a coach and horses through the usual way we deal with business in the House is shameful.
The Secretary of State must understand the anger that this is causing. There is no need for this to be happening. We have time next week to get this Bill through without having to go to these lengths. If we are serious about Northern Ireland coming into the political arena with a normalisation of politics there, we must treat Northern Ireland legislation in the normal way. There were times when that was not possible, and at various times we all had to vote for measures that we did not want to see dealt with so quickly but which were important and necessary. But this measure is not so urgent that it cannot be dealt with in the normal way. As well as appealing to the Secretary of State to listen to what has been said, to change his mind and to allow Second Reading to be dealt with today, and to come back with a different timetable, I plead with the official Opposition not to take the line that they have chosen, and to come out and vote solidly to show that they believe that this approach is wrong. If something is wrong, we must vote against it.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I have listened to the arguments from both Front-Bench spokesmen, but I am unconvinced by the Secretary of States argument that there is an urgency here, or by the urgings of the shadow spokesman that we should have less debate on the programme motion and more on the amendments. I remind him that as we are not members of his new force, we do not feel under any obligation to take orders or commands from him.
As the Secretary of State has made clear, much of the Bill has been discussed with Assembly Members and parties, and we are largely in agreement with its main thrust. But just because the Assembly has agreed it, and just because Members in another Administration in part of the United Kingdom have agreed it, that does not mean that this House should not have the opportunity to scrutinise it. Eventually it is this House that will take ownership of it and have its imprint on it. Therefore, Members of this House, who have not had the opportunity to debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly but who will be held accountable for the Bill, should have the opportunity properly to debate the issues now.
The Secretary of State said that all he wished to do was to give form to the Assemblys wishes. but there was no sense from Northern Ireland politicians that the measure had to be dealt with post-haste or today, or that it had to be in place by a certain date at the end of March. Assembly Members are quite relaxed about it. As a number of hon. Members have already pointed out, the passing of this legislation will not bring about the devolution of policing and justice tomorrow anyway. We wish to see the devolution of policing and justice, and we wish to put that on the record, but we have always insisted that it must be done against the background of community support and confidence
Sammy Wilson: Indeed. That is the only way that the devolution of policing and justice will work in Northern Ireland. If there is an attempt to force it, all the problems that hon. Members have described, such as the danger of collapse, are likely to occur. We wish to work towards a situation where there is trust. Of course we want these powers devolved, but only in that context. As the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said, there is great danger in pushing legislation through the House, particularly since the Unionist parties are not asking for it, the SDLP is not asking for it, and even the elephant party is not asking for it, although the description of the Alliance party as an elephant party is stretching the imagination a little. It may be the party of mice, but it is certainly not the party of elephants. Elephants would certainly not reflect their electoral support.
The only conclusion that one can come to is that if the Secretary of State sees this as urgent, that urgency must have been pressed on him by one party alone, and that is Sinn Fein. If we are to have legislation pushed through the House in an abnormal way, and it is seen to be in response to demands from Sinn Fein, the very confidence and trust that are required to move forward the devolution of policing and justice will be eroded.
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