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23 Mar 2009 : Column 49

Point of Order

5.3 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to draw attention to the fact that when I left the sitting of Parliament on Friday and passed through Parliament square and into Birdcage walk, I was detained by the police on a stop and search on the basis of the use of anti-terrorism legislation. That follows on from what happened only a few weeks ago during our campaign against the third runway. One of our campaigners, who was simply taking photographs of the properties that will be demolished if the proposed third runway goes ahead, was also detained, stopped and searched under anti-terrorism legislation.

I make this point of order to draw attention to the fact that the use of that power is becoming random and affecting Members and our constituents in a way that I believe is in complete contradiction to the way in which we legislated, which was for the selective use of the powers to prevent terrorism rather than to harass MPs and the overall community.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that is not immediately a matter for the Chair, but his points are firmly on record and I am sure that Mr. Speaker will want to take note of them.

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Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

5.6 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House to discuss a specific and important matter, which I believe should have urgent consideration, namely Parliament’s response to the Healthcare Commission’s report on Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Last Wednesday, the Health Secretary made a statement to the House in response to the report and answered hon. Members’ questions for an hour. That was the right thing to do. He proposed several actions, which were the appropriate responses to the report. However, two things have happened since then, which make me ask the House for an urgent debate.

First, I returned to my constituency on Thursday evening, and since then further accounts have been given to me and others of poor care at the hospital. Given that the Healthcare Commission’s report states that improvements have been made and that the trust is safe, it is important to do everything possible to reinforce that statement straight away. In a debate, I would call for Professor Sir George Alberti’s review, which is due to start this week, to be expanded to cover all parts of the hospital, not only emergency care, and, therefore, for him to head a multidisciplinary team to support the current interim leadership, the senior managers and the hospital staff as they ensure that all the improvements for which the commission’s report calls are carried out and maintained.

Secondly, there are growing calls for a public inquiry, which I support for four reasons: to help the new regulator, who is about to replace the Healthcare Commission, to understand how one trust kept its failures from being discovered for so long; to anchor the work that has been promised concerning an independent assessment of medical records; to ascertain what lessons can be learned for the future about how the hospital conducted nurse training, patient-staff ratios, supervision and monitoring of hospital services, and to ascertain what lessons can be learned for the future about the arrangements in the past at the hospital for public and patient involvement in decision making, supervision and monitoring, and whether those lessons can apply to systems throughout the NHS.

To me, the question of a public inquiry is big enough to merit a debate in the House, but the two issues together make the matter urgent and worthy of debate now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman and I have to give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider the matter that he has raised appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24 and I cannot, therefore, submit the application to the House.

Bill presented

Short Selling and Bank Accounts Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. Frank Field, supported by Ms Sally Keeble, Mark Fisher, Mr. Graham Allen, Mr. Jim Hood, Mr. Gordon
23 Mar 2009 : Column 51
Prentice, John Mann, Mr. Peter Kilfoyle, David Taylor, Dr. Tony Wright, Jim Sheridan and Mr. Peter Hain presented a Bill to prohibit short selling; to require disclosure by pension funds and their trustees of records of loans of their shares for the purpose of short selling, and of the fees received in such cases; to require banks and building societies to offer their retail customers current and savings accounts free of any charge for holding the accounts when such accounts are in credit; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 19 June, and to be printed (Bill 79).

23 Mar 2009 : Column 52

Coroners and Justice Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I must tell the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment.

5.8 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): I beg to move,

First day
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses, New Schedules and amendments relating to inquests into a person’s death that may be conducted without a jury; remaining

New Clauses, New Schedules and amendments relating to Part 1; New Clauses, New Schedules and amendments relating to Part 2 except those relating to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation.

The moment of interruption.

Second day

Remaining New Clauses, New

Schedules and amendments relating to Part 2.

New Clauses, New Schedules and amendments relating to Part 8; New Clauses, New Schedules and amendments relating to Chapter 1 of Part 4; remaining proceedings on consideration.

One hour after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill.

One hour before the moment of interruption.

I hope that we can agree the motion quickly so that we can consider the Bill’s provisions. It seeks to ensure that they get the scrutiny that they deserve. First, we have provided for the Bill to be considered over two days and, secondly, the motion orders the proceedings for the two days so that the provisions for private inquests, incitement to hatred on the ground of sexual orientation, data protection, data sharing and the sentencing council receive adequate time for debate. I hope that there will also be an opportunity to consider the other issues that Bill covers.

5.9 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The Under-Secretary charmingly and disarmingly introduced the motion, but I am afraid that it does not attract the House. It is outrageous that, in the two days set aside
23 Mar 2009 : Column 53
for Report, the Government have already spoiled the afternoon by making not only one statement, but two. We accept that it is entirely proper for the Prime Minister to make a statement at the first available opportunity following the spring European Council, even though it took an hour or so out of the parliamentary day. However, it is wholly unacceptable for the Secretary of State for Justice, whose business the Bill is, voluntarily to insert his statement on rights and responsibilities into an already overcrowded first day of the Report stage.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that many of us suspect that the insertion of the statement was done simply for the personal convenience of the Justice Secretary, so that he did not have to be in the House on two separate occasions?

Mr. Garnier: I have absolutely no idea whether that is the case, but it is a wholly improper constriction of the time of this House for the Secretary of State to make a statement today that he could have made on any day last week, any day the week before or any day in the remainder of this week. It was not time-precious—that is to say, time-urgent—for him to make the statement today.

I would suggest that it is an entirely cynical, albeit typical, Government business manager move to compress the debates on the Bill. The Bill, which is about the size of the mid-Suffolk telephone book, is yet another plum duff of a Bill—plenty of duff and very few plums. It deals with about 15 discrete areas of law reform. We had inadequate time in Committee to debate the Bill, and we can see from today’s amendment paper, which is about the size of the Rutland telephone book, that plenty needs to be discussed on Report. We can also see that there are nine groups of amendments and new clauses that have to be dealt with in today’s business alone.

It could be suggested—no doubt the Minister will confess to this in winding up the debate—that the whole purpose of the way the programme motion has been constructed and the way the Government have so organised this afternoon’s business was to prevent things that need to be discussed and scrutinised from being discussed and scrutinised. We will probably see many hon. Members wishing to discuss inquests into a person’s death that may be conducted without a jury, which is a highly controversial aspect of the Bill. However, there are other subjects equally worthy of discussion, such as: the death of service personnel abroad; coroner’s duties and powers; inquest juries; medical examiners; the governance of the coronial system; some new material on sedition and seditious and criminal libel; the reform of the law of murder; and finally, the subject of assisting suicide.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): As ever, my hon. and learned Friend is making a powerful case. Does he agree that the subject of assisting suicide has aroused considerable interest among many of our constituents, who expect such issues to be debated in Parliament? Wherever one might come down on the subject, surely our constituents are entitled to see such subjects debated, rather than seeing them prevented from being debated, which is what the Government have in effect done.

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Mr. Garnier: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Each of those subjects—for example, the reform of the law of homicide, the reform of the law on assisting suicide and the reform of the coronial system—should have been detailed in separate Bills. Then the House would have had proper time to deal with each Bill separately, as would the other place, but the Government are not content with that. They rush round their Departments, just tipping stuff into their shopping trolley in the hope that it can make a useful compendium Bill, but it does not: it leads to chaos, cynicism and a total lack of confidence in the Government’s ability to order their affairs.

What we are seeing from the Government is not just indifference; it is a reckless disregard for the House of Commons and the proper parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. This Government are now beyond shame. I have yet to see a Minister who can look the House in the face and say that what they are doing this afternoon would be worthy of any Government. I regret to say that this programme motion is a shameful motion. It needs to be treated with the House’s utter contempt, and I hope that the House will show that contempt in a few moments’ time.

5.14 pm

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I do not think this is a shameful programme motion, but I do think there is a serious problem with it, which is why we tabled an amendment to it. The problem lies in the balance between the two days. The first day jams together amendments on juryless inquests with five other groups of amendments on coroners, including new material from the Government, on the new topics of sedition and seditious and criminal libel, as well as on the whole of the law of murder and assisted suicide.

The problem with the programme motion is that anything on that list that we do not reach by 10 o’clock tonight will fall. We will then start again tomorrow with a reserved hour for the law on homophobic hatred, followed by a fairly leisurely stroll through the rest of this Christmas tree Bill. We have just had two statements, which have taken up 90 minutes, as well as other matters, and it will now be very difficult to reach the amendments on the law of murder today. That would be a disgrace. Murder is the most serious crime in the law, and the Government’s proposals seriously distorted a Law Commission proposal. The Committee stage demonstrated that there were real difficulties with those proposals.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the programme motion demonstrates a strange order of priorities by giving the law of homophobic hatred an hour, when its likely use in any given year, if implemented, will probably be tiny, while the law of murder is applied every week in our courts?

David Howarth: I completely agree. I have tabled the lead new clauses in the groups on murder and on homophobic hatred. If asked which I would want to give reserved time to, I would say the murder group, not the homophobic hatred group. I put it to the Government that there should have been a two-day debate without any internal knives at all. In such circumstances, I am sure that the House would have paced itself through those two days properly. I urge the Government to withdraw the programme motion.

23 Mar 2009 : Column 55
5.16 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Not for the first time, I rise to oppose a timetable motion. I strongly object to the timetabling of this Bill on Report. The consequences of timetabling, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) have said, is that important sections of the Bill will go to the other place wholly undiscussed. What is more, a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), will not have the opportunity to discuss new clause 42. Whether or not one supports the new clause, it is quite plainly a matter that ought to be discussed by this House. It is urgent and topical, and people want to discuss it, but we are simply not going to reach it. Indeed, I have a strong suspicion that we shall not go beyond the first of the nine groups of amendments.

Mr. Garnier: It is not just that people in the House want to discuss new clause 42; the public outside the House expect us to discuss it.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. Consent for legislation depends on a belief that this House does its duty properly, and the truth is that we are being prevented from doing our duty by this timetable motion. Moreover, on a related point, the Report stage is the only occasion on which right hon. and hon. Members who are not on the Committee have the opportunity to discuss the detail of the Bill. This Bill contains some extraordinarily important clauses. For example, the whole of the first group of amendments and new clauses deals with jury-free inquests. The important thing to keep in mind is that these provisions represent a concession—I concede that it is a concession—announced by the Government last week, on which there has been precious little public discussion and whose details we have a right to discuss. We are not going to be able to do so in sufficient detail, however.

On a different point, the draft changes on murder are extremely important. I agree with what has already been said about that. As the Secretary of State for Justice knows, I have often appeared in murder cases. Provocation has been an extremely difficult area of the law, and we have a right to have the opportunity properly to debate it on this occasion, but we are not going to be able to do so. The definition of an inquest in respect of which a jury should be required seems to me to be a matter of very considerable moment, but we are not going to reach that provision; it will go to the other place without our having had proper discussion. That is also true of the matter of assisted suicide, to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough has referred.

There is another vice about this—if the time allowed for Report is constrained, we can be quite sure that Mr. Speaker will be unable to select as many amendments as we would wish him to select. As we know from the Order Paper, I tabled scores of amendments—I make no complaint about the fact that only a few have been selected—but if debate is unnaturally and too tightly constrained, right hon. and hon. Members are shut out and a Bill is not properly discussed at all.

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