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10 Feb 2010 : Column 999
5.31 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I, too, will be brief, because I am keen not to make a speech that is out of order, bearing in mind the narrow nature of the motion. The Government could have had an easy win on this matter, because the proposal that is mentioned in the motion is very good, but we cannot discuss its substance even though the Minister tried to slip in, I noticed, a justification for it at the end of his speech. I would expect nothing less than a quick passing of the ball from the Under-Secretary who is the Minister for Sport. The fact that Members on both sides of the House are giving him a hard time is not because we do not like him. I have known him for many years, and I think that he is a great Minister for Sport. He is in his dream job, he has probably attended more cup finals than the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) and I have had samosas, and he goes about his business with great elegance. Those of us with an interest in home affairs-this is a home affairs Bill-will note that he was not, as I recall, present on Second Reading. Perhaps he was off commenting on Mr. John Terry's love life at the time. Indeed, why should the Minister for Sport sit in on a debate on the Crime and Security Bill if none of the issues relates directly to him? I know that he voted on it, of course, because all members of the Government would vote on and support something of that kind.

What the Minister has done, however, is to excite people such as myself, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) and others who really do want to have a discussion about the substance of the proposal because it is a first-class proposal. Let me try to explain, without straying into the substance at all, that it is entirely in keeping with recommendations that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has made over a number of years. It is also in keeping with debates that we have had in the House on issues of substance concerning alcohol-related crime. However, there are worries about the way in which the Government have dealt with the matter. I realise their urgency and that the Minister wanted to come here and get his motion in quickly so that the proposal could be part of the discussions in the Public Bill Committee, rather than being left until Third Reading or the remaining stages of the Bill when Members on both sides of the House might have accused him of coming in at the very last minute to discuss issues of substance. He wants to give members of the Bill Committee the opportunity to discuss the proposal, but that will not give other Members of the House the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Bone: Has the right hon. Gentleman considered whether his Select Committee could have an evidence session, as the Bill Committee clearly cannot have one, to help the Bill Committee to reach a decision?

Keith Vaz: I had not considered that until the hon. Gentleman mentioned it. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) is here, and he is a distinguished member of the Select Committee, but I do not think that we need to hold an evidence session as I am sure we are all in favour of reducing alcohol-related crime.

When we get to the substance of the proposal rather than the process, I am sure that the Minister for Sport will be cheered from the rafters. We will say that he is a
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great man who has made a great proposal, but I am afraid that he has been rather hamfisted in the way that he has brought it to the House.

That is why we have been having a go at him, and I presume it is why the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism has arrived to give him reinforcement. It is also why my right hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton, West (Mr. McAvoy) keeps coming in and out of the Chamber. He is not here at the moment: I can stand up to lots of Members of this House, but I tend to shiver a little when I see him.

I know that the Government want a vote on this motion, but I hope that the Opposition will not divide the House. I accept that the process could have been slightly better, but this is a very important issue and we should use any extra time that we may get to discuss it.

People in our constituencies raise matters like this with us every week. We are not discussing the substance of the proposal, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that local people come up to you and say, "Forty two per cent. of crime victims say the crimes are alcohol related." Or they may not-

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Sadly, what they do not come up to me and say is, "Let this be an instruction to the Committee." I think that that is what the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to talk about.

Keith Vaz: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I shall be going back to Leicester tomorrow night, and I shall be there on Friday and Saturday. I am sure that people will say to me, "Well done, Mr. Vaz, for supporting the motion to instruct the Public Bill Committee to allow a debate on these issues."

The Minister for Sport is intervening in a Home Office debate. When the matter is discussed on Report, I hope that those of us with an interest in it will have time to discuss it further. If that happens, I think he will receive plaudits from all sides of the House. We may have been beastly to him this afternoon, but we support him really. We hope very much that the instruction will go through and that members of the Public Bill Committee will have the opportunity to discuss these serious and important issues.

However, the House as a whole must have a chance to discuss them too. The Government have made a decision, although at a very late stage. The Home Secretary should have talked about the proposal on Second Reading, but we accept that the Government did not want to bring it forward then. Nevertheless, the House needs to be able to discuss it as soon as possible.

If necessary, I will gladly support the Government in the Division Lobby today, to ensure that the Public Committee is able to discuss this very important measure.

5.38 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I rise briefly to put on record my great unhappiness with the procedure being adopted by the Government. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said that he thought the proposal was urgent but, if that were so-and following the 2008 report to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport-it could have been incorporated in the Bill at the outset.

10 Feb 2010 : Column 1001

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) said, the proposal could probably have been incorporated in a Bill that went through the House in the previous Session and which is now on the statute book. It is obviously not urgent now, except in the sense that the Government, seeing a general election looming, may think that a way to avoid a public debate on this issue is to try to throw in the towel now. Although they said that the Licensing Act 2003 would not create more crime and disorder on the streets, perhaps they accept that it has in fact had that consequence.

I shall not go into the substance of the matter, but I can see that it may be expedient to bring the instruction forward now. However, the problem with expediency is that it often cuts across the principles of parliamentary procedure. It would be very expedient for the Executive permanently to suspend the Standing Orders of this House, but in effect that would be to tear up our unwritten constitution. The procedures of the House are our constitution, in the absence of a written constitution. I do not think that we should accept the expediency argument easily, or without examining it.

One consequence of our giving the hapless Minister a bit of a rough ride this afternoon is that his Whips Office may well be angry that the procedure has been so mishandled that the House has been detained for as long as it has and everybody is being kept on tenterhooks, not knowing whether there will be a Division or not. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) has indicated his views on that.

I am worried that because the Government did not include the provision in the Bill on Second Reading, which they could easily have done, that prevented hon. Members from referring to the matter in that debate and prevented evidence being given to the Public Bill Committee.

Mr. Greg Knight: Surely there is another point that needs to be taken into account. Because of the procedure being used, the composition of the Bill Committee is different from what it might have been, had Members of the House known that the issue was capable of being discussed during the proceedings in Committee?

Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend is right. Normally, the Committee of Selection will take into account preferences expressed by right hon. and hon. Members about serving on a Public Bill Committee, and it might have reached different conclusions if the matter had been included in the Bill at that stage. We have heard, and the Minister accepts, that it would have been appropriate for him to be on the Committee, but it is probably now too late for that. Or perhaps the Committee of Selection will be reconvened and he can serve on the Committee to answer the points raised by hon. Members.

There are consequences for programming, too. As has been mentioned, the Committee will have less time to consider other parts of the Bill unless extra time is given. One extra day has apparently been awarded already, but having heard today's debate, I should have thought that that was insufficient. We have not yet heard what will happen on Report. Will we get extra time for Report stage? The Bill will be much more complex than it was originally.

I wonder where all this is leading. Although everyone in the House may think that as a matter of expediency the amendments that will follow from the instruction, if
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it is passed this evening, are a good thing, there may well be people-for example, those who have invested in licensed premises-who take a different view. When will they be able to make representations? We must always take into account third-party interests, outside interests and the minority's opportunity to speak. There is no opportunity for people who may be adversely affected by the changes being proposed to the Bill to make their representations in a timely manner.

I see this as a serious issue relating to procedure. That is why I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, has been taking such a keen interest in this debate. Ultimately, the Standing Orders of the House cannot prevent the Government from introducing such a motion and making it the subject of a vote, but we can try to prevent them from trying to use the specious excuse of urgency, when it is patently obvious that there is nothing urgent about it.

It is not as though there has been some ruling from the European Court of Human Rights or the Supreme Court in the past few days which needs the Government urgently to use a legislative vehicle to change the law-everything about the Bill that is known now was known in December, when the Bill was presented and when it was the subject of a Second Reading debate.

If we divide the House tonight, would the mischievous Government suggest that Conservatives had voted against the substance, which we are not allowed to debate, and which has not been exposed to us, except in small part by the Minister? The Minister's colleague from the Home Office, the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, shook his head when I said that such accusations might be made against us on that matter. However, with the proximity of a general election, and knowing how sensitive this subject is in Bournemouth and other town centres, given the feeling that crime and disorder on our streets, particularly in the early hours of the morning, has been exacerbated by the Government's mistakes on licensing legislation, I am not prepared to risk dividing the House, opposing this procedural motion and seeing my opposition misrepresented as support for people who cause disruption in our town centres. It is a pity that the Government did not get their tackle in order earlier and put right what is obviously wrong, but I suppose that the measure is better late than never.

5.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): This has been a very lively and useful debate, with significant contributions from those in all parts of the House. It is the first time that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) seems to have worried about detaining Members, and the first time that I have heard him decry or not take up the opportunity to take an independent stance, even if that means offending his Whips. Occasionally, contributors have strayed towards the substance of the issue, but the motion is about extending the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Chope: I should just like to put on the record that I have not discussed my views on the matter with the Whips. I have made an independent judgment of what I want to do, and whether it be right or wrong, it is my independent judgment.

10 Feb 2010 : Column 1003

Mr. Campbell: I am sure that we are grateful for that, and the independent judgment appears to be not to vote against the measure.

I am grateful for the contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who reminded us of the important work of the Home Affairs Committee. I am grateful also for his supportive comments about the proposal if not the process, and I, too, hope that he has the opportunity to discuss these important matters at the appropriate time.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) rehearsed many of the arguments that I suspect we will hear from him in Committee and beyond, and he asked about the urgency, to which I shall refer specifically in a moment. The hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), who is not in his place, asked for time to consider these matters in Committee. It was made clear that the Committee already has a number of issues to consider, so the Committee's time for deliberation has been extended, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hornchurch for acknowledging that. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) complained about the extension of the Bill, but, whoever the Government in power, it is not unusual for them to extend the measures that are debated in Committee, which then, ultimately, find themselves in a Bill. The difference on this occasion is that the proposals would widen the scope of the Bill, and the motion has been tabled because we need to consider carefully whether that is right.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch asked about urgency. When we make policy on tackling alcohol-related crime and many other things, it is part of a continuum. We are constantly looking at the need for new legislation, at how it works when it beds down and at the next step. Alcohol-related disorder is a good example of why we need to be on the front foot, because the 2008 review of the Licensing Act 2003 found a mixed picture throughout the country. The hon. Gentleman acknowledged that, during the passage of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, we brought forward measures on, for example, the mandatory code, but, without straying into the substance of the Bill, I must say that our proposals will address the situation in a minority of areas where the balance is not correct. We continue to work with licensing authorities, and we seek to deal with individual premises, but it is part of a continuum.

Mr. Bone: He's going into the substance.

Mr. Campbell: Yes, I-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The Minister is already starting to stray. Perhaps he will now come back into line.

Mr. Campbell: My apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

When one has alighted on a particular set of proposals, they must be proportionate-the House would be aghast if they were not-and that takes a period of deliberation. One does not always alight on a particular measure at an appropriate time. Sometimes, however, legislative measures are brought forward that provide the opportunity for those measures to be discussed, debated and then voted on. Getting the balance between the necessary
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urgency as regards such a subject and a proportionate response means that things are not always lined up at the same time.

This Bill is an important vehicle to do with crime and disorder. In order to ensure that its provisions are balanced and proportionate, it was, unfortunately, not possible to bring forward these measures when it was debated on Second Reading. That is why we require this process, which is, admittedly, unusual. I stress that what we are debating today is giving power to local authorities that will then be dependent on regulations brought forward at a later date.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not what we are debating today-we are debating an instruction to the Committee.

Mr. Campbell: Then let me say that there will be opportunities for further debate during later stages of the proceedings on the Bill, whether in Committee, in the remaining stages, or in another place; and subsequent to that if the proposals are accepted. I regard this as the start of a debate, not the conclusion. We are proposing an important and timely additional measure. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With the leave of the House, we shall take motions 6 to 11 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 1186(6)),

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