Skip to main content

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Volume 470: debated on Wednesday 9 January 2008

I beg to move,

That the Order of 8th October 2007, in the last Session of Parliament, (Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill (Programme)), as varied by the Order of 11th October 2007 in that Session (Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill (Programme) (No. 2)), be further varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order of 8th October 2007 shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

3. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.



Time for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses relating to section 127 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994; amendments relating to those new Clauses.

Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

New Clauses relating to self-defence; amendments relating to those new Clauses.

Three and a quarter hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

New Clauses and new Schedules standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown relating to sentencing, the release or recall of prisoners, or bail, except those relating to the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984 or referral orders; amendments relating to those new Clauses and Schedules.

Four and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

Remaining proceedings on consideration.

Seven hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order, or 7.45 p.m., whichever is the earlier.

4. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion eight hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order, or at 8.45 p.m., whichever is the earlier.

I recognise that the Opposition will undoubtedly not share the Government’s wish to support the programme motion. I almost anticipate the fact that the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats will oppose it. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, I shall let you into a little secret, between ourselves: if I were an Opposition Member I might well oppose the motion myself. I know that it will be very difficult for us to discuss some of the amendments before the House in the time that we have allocated for today’s debate. I am sincerely grateful to the Government Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), for securing extra time for today’s business, beyond the normal point of interruption, so that we can continue the Third Reading debate until about 8.45 pm.

My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and I understand that the official Opposition and others would like to have more time. We have tried to use the programme motion to make available as much as possible, consistent with the need to get the Bill to the other place on time.

I do not understand the logic of the Minister’s argument. He concedes the position of those who oppose this dire programme motion and says that we must complete our deliberations in the time available, but it is in the Government’s power to ensure that legislation is not forced or rushed through. It should not be left to the House of Lords to deal with the Bill, so why do not the Government withdraw the motion so that we can adopt a proper approach to the business?

I understand the concerns of the Opposition. With my right hon. Friends the Lord Chancellor and the Chief Whip, I have tried to make available as much time as is practicable, consistent with the need to get the Bill through this House and the other place.

The programme motion ensures that the House will have eight hours today for Report and Third Reading, on top of the 47 hours that we had in Committee. The Bill was debated fully in Committee, where hon. Members of all parties supported the Government’s programming provisions.

I note what the Minister has said about the Committee proceedings, but hon. Members had no opportunity to discuss the new clauses being introduced today. They include new clause 1 on blasphemy, new clause 2 on prostitution and, to a lesser degree, new clause 17 on graffiti. That last new clause is my own modest contribution to the Bill, but although I believe that the Secretary of State is sympathetic to it, we are not likely to reach it.

As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and I have tried to structure today’s proceedings so that there is a reasonable amount of time to debate three significant new additions to the Bill. We had a full debate in Committee and covered all the matters that arose then. In fact, we completed the Committee stage 15 minutes before the allotted time expired, but we have made available a reasonable amount of time so that the new clauses that we have had to introduce—on the reserve statutory prohibition on prison officers taking industrial action, the clarification of the law on self-defence, and the proposed changes to sentencing and bail arrangements following Lord Carter’s review of prisons—can be considered by the House.

I recognise that the programme motion will be debated, and that the Opposition will not support it. However, given the circumstances and the extra time that we have been able to secure today, I commend it to the House.

May I begin by congratulating the Minister on his ability to keep a straight face?

This Bill was first presented to the House before the summer recess and its Second Reading debate took place in the spillover period of the previous Session. In those days—at a time when the Government and their spin doctors were threading their wobbly way through the Corridors, bars and Lobbies of this building, having returned from the hazy pleasure domes of Bournemouth—a general election was in the air. We all expected the Prime Minister to announce when it would be held: certainly, the topic and was being spoken of by journalists and by the younger and more excitable members of the Cabinet.

Indeed, political commentators were promised not only an election in the first week of November but a crushing victory for the Labour party that would see the end of the Conservatives as a credible party of opposition. What that meant, of course, was that the Bill that we now have the misfortune to be considering was intended to die with the Parliament. It was, as anyone who has given it even the most cursory glance will know, a disastrously muddled Bill. As I suspected when it was published—and my suspicions have only got stronger since—the Bill was not meant to be passed into law; instead, it was intended as a headline catcher to give the impression that the Government, despite the departure of Tony Blair, were still at work.

Today is a dark day for the House and for parliamentary democracy as a whole. The Government—who do not enjoy the public’s trust or confidence, or the respect of the membership of this House—now tell us that this Bill should complete its remaining stages by 7.45 pm, or possibly earlier. Were this a 10-clause Bill that had gone through Committee with a few amendments, this timetable would not be objectionable and the motion would pass without debate, let alone a Division, but let us see what sort of Bill this is and the timetable into which the Government intend to fit our debate. The Bill that left Committee bore little resemblance to the Bill that was debated on Second Reading, and the Bill that we are debating this afternoon bears little resemblance to the one that left Committee. It had 128 clauses and 23 schedules on Second Reading.

It was, by any standards, a large Bill. That had much to do with the fact that it was the product of two ministries, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. I suspect that Ministers from both Departments would privately prefer that this Bill had nothing to do with them because neither ministerial team wants to take responsibility for the mess it has become—and I do not blame them. Success has a thousand parents and failure is always an orphan, and this Bill is a legislative failure. It has been used as a dumping ground for every half or ill-considered idea that has been languishing on the shelves of the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and Downing street.

We heard evidence in Committee from several witnesses who pointed out numerous deficiencies in the Bill that were the result of the omission of necessary or desirable provisions and the inclusion of provisions that would not work or were not likely to deal with the problem they were said to be curing. Of course, the Government paid no attention to that.

Ministers have seen this Bill—as will become evident this afternoon—not as an opportunity to improve the criminal law, but as a chance to invent new laws and offences and to stick them, like decorations on a Christmas tree, anywhere they could reach. It was a mis-shapen tree in the first place—how else can one describe a Bill that deals with youth justice, adult sentencing, the creation of a commissioner for offender management and prisons, a Northern Ireland commissioner for prison complaints, proceedings in magistrates courts, international co-operation in criminal justice matters, violent offender orders, antisocial behaviour and disturbances in hospitals, parenting orders, financial assistance for police authorities, inspection of police authorities, misconduct proceedings against police officers, special immigration status, the disclosure of information about sex offenders, sales of tobacco to those under 18, and amendments to armed forces legislation?

I now come to a stark illustration of the chaotic nature of this incoherent Bill, because the following subjects are not just in the same Bill, but in the same part of the Bill. Part 7 includes provisions on pornography, prostitution, sex offences committed abroad, adoption and offences relating to nuclear facilities.

It gets worse, because in Committee the Government introduced 85 new clauses and 11 new schedules, only one of which—that covering the offence of hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation—was mentioned on Second Reading. Where have the Government stuck this addition? It is to be found in clause 107—right next to clause 108 on offences relating to the protection of nuclear material and facilities. In addition, the Government introduced 400 amendments in Committee. We have a Bill that now—by that I mean as at midday today—runs to 176 clauses and 34 schedules. Some of those schedules have as many as five, eight or 10 separate parts. Today we have a Bill that can only be contained in two volumes of 121 and 131 pages respectively, whereas on Second Reading it was contained in one volume, albeit big enough at 239 pages.

One might have thought that the Government would stop there, but, no, not content with the mess they have already created, they have sought to go further. A further 204 new Government provisions—new clauses, new schedules and amendments—have been tabled for discussion today. Some were tabled as recently as Monday, and some were tabled at the end of last week before the House returned. Issues as important to the management of our prisons as the restoration of the statutory denial of prison officers’ right to strike—a fundamental U-turn in Government policy—were brought forward only on Monday, although quite where that fits into the long title escapes me at the moment; further elucidation might be provided in the short debate to come.

Government proposals on issues as important as the repatriation of foreign prisoners and the return of British criminals from abroad, sentences for public protection and for serious sex offenders, on extended sentences—whether time spent on tag before sentence is to be treated the same as time spent in custody before sentence—and the adjustment in the law of self-defence have all been put before the House for the first time today.

This timetable motion, even if it permits us to debate just a few of these important issues for the first time in this House and even if it allows us seven hours from now, is not just inadequate: it is an abuse of power and an affront to this House and the public on whose behalf we make laws. The Government have the numerical majority in the House so I have no doubt what the result of the Division will be. But that is not the point. This is not the Bill that came to this House in October. This is not the Bill that the House permitted to carry over into the new Session. This is not the Bill that Ministers and other witnesses gave evidence about in October. This is not the Bill that left Committee after 16 sittings on 29 November. This is not even the Bill that the House expected to be dealing with even as recently as last Wednesday. This is a vastly expanded, vastly more incoherent and vastly more ridiculous Bill than it was at any stage before today.

I said to the Minister for State last year that this Bill was a plum duff with a lot more duff than plums. In response, the Government have added to the duff, but given us no time to digest it. The Government are beyond hope and beyond rescue, but this House need not follow them into the abyss. Let us do what we were elected to do—hold this Government to account. Let us throw out this disgraceful, shameful motion.

It really will not do for the Minister of State to open this debate by saying how much he agrees with the Opposition about the inadequacy of the timetable for the Bill. I do not take, and never have taken, the reflex view that all timetable motions are of necessity inadequate for the purposes of the House. However, I do say that if the House is prepared to forgo its responsibility to consider some of the most basic legislation that we are here to consider—criminal law—and to sub-contract it to the other place to do the job that we are supposed to do, all the guff about the primacy of the House of Commons and how important this place is as a debating Chamber means absolutely nothing.

These are matters of life and liberty and we are being asked to pass them on the nod because of a timetable exercise by the Whips, against the interests of the Department that leads on the Bill. We are asked to believe that there is no time in January, in a Session that started in November, to find a second day for a Bill that comprises two volumes, 176 clauses and 34 schedules, and to which hundreds of substantive amendments have been tabled today. Many of us could have tabled many more amendments if we had felt that there was the slightest chance that they would be considered.

We are being asked to agree that the House of Commons cannot find the time to discuss criminal law properly and to pass it, without consideration, to the other place. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) has already said that many new clauses—which were not in the original published Bill—were introduced in Committee, often at short notice. Since then, we have had whole new provisions introduced, some of which we are seeing for the very first time today. They are not trivial matters, because they include provisions that affect the governance of our prisons, the basic law of self-defence, the terms for recall of prisoners and public protection. Those are not trivial, but even if none of them had been introduced today, I question whether it is right that the House should be given a mere few hours to deal with fundamental issues such as homophobic hatred crime. Parallel offences were discussed for days and days, but today we are expected to dispose of the provision in a matter of minutes.

Repeal of the law of blasphemy is an important issue on which the House is entitled to have an opinion. People are concerned to make sure that we get right the law on prostitution, both to reduce the incidence of prostitution and to avoid the trafficking of women and men for the purposes of prostitution. However, we may not even have the opportunity to debate those measures.

The Bill introduces what could be termed a Sarah’s law or Megan’s law. It would certainly be an important change to our criminal procedure in protecting children against those who have been found guilty of sexual offences against minors. We may not have a chance to say a word about those proposals because of the timetable. There are to be huge changes to the role of the Court of Appeal, and we are being asked simply to pass the issue down the corridor; the attitude is, “The Lords will sort out the Court of Appeal. It is not for the Members of the House of Commons to have an opinion about its role in the judicial process.”

We are talking about an abuse of the House, made that much more difficult to stomach by the fact that the Lord Chancellor—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber—told the Commons when he was Leader of the House how important it was that we respected the House’s role, the rights of Back Benchers to intervene in debate, and the importance of Report as a part of the legislative process in which the whole House had the opportunity to debate matters that would otherwise be considered only by members of a Committee. That same Leader of the House was to reform and improve the House’s procedures, to make it capable of doing the work entrusted to it. It is he who puts before us today an abuse of process that will prevent us from doing our work. It means that eventually we will have to rely on an unelected House to do the work that we should do. That is quite wrong.

The Minister of State knows that I have argued from day one that this is a big Bill that needs proper consideration. He knows that, whenever possible, I have tried to argue that we need sufficient time for Report. The answer is wholly inadequate. It will not do, and I hope that the House will, for once, take it upon itself to do its job properly by rejecting the programme motion.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have now heard from all three Front Benchers, and it is abundantly plain that what is taking place today is an abuse of the processes of the House. The Procedure Committee sits at 2.30 pm. I will ask the Chairman of that Committee, on which I sit, whether he considers the issue to be within his remit. When you leave the Chair, as no doubt you will fairly shortly, will you be kind enough to summon the Leader of the House to your apartments, and ask her to look carefully at what is happening today, with a view to extending Report for a further day?

As I have said to the House on many occasions, the House expresses its opinions, but the Speaker cannot be drawn into such matters. The House is debating the motion and making its views known, and I will not be summoning the Leader of the House. It is for the House to make its views known at this stage. Everything has been done in perfect order; I am therefore bound by the rules of the House.

I will be brief, because I want to get on to debating the amendments, particularly the first group, in which I have a considerable interest. The Opposition Front Bencher says that the timetable is an abuse, but I am confident that if there were a Tory Government—I trust that that will not happen—and they wished to get a controversial Bill through the House, they would use the same process of introducing a timetable motion and not leaving much time for debate. They would do that because it suits Governments to be able to get their business through.

This afternoon we are being asked to deal with 100 pages of amendments. I know that a considerable time was spent in Committee, but those of us who are not on the Committee have a legitimate right to take part in debates on Report, and to raise issues about which we have concerns. Looking at the timetable, I can see that in the last two and a half hours of the time available, there are a dozen groups of amendments to be dealt with, and some are on issues, including blasphemy and prostitution, that are of major interest to a lot of Members on both sides of the House. There are issues that may not be of great interest to everyone, but about which some of us have concerns. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and I have tabled an amendment on violent offender orders, but we can be almost 100 per cent. sure that the group of amendments concerned will never be reached. It does the House’s reputation no good when we try to rush through 100 pages of amendments in a limited time.

When it comes to such Bills, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to think not only about getting the business through, although clearly they have a legitimate, perfect right to get the Government’s business through, but about Back Benchers who have an interest and wish to take part in the debates. Almost certainly, they will find this afternoon that there are issues in which they take a real interest, but on which they will not be able to say a word.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his concerns are shared by those of us who were on the Committee, because many of the issues that we are to debate today—or rather that we will not debate—are wholly new to the Bill, and not just to the Committee?

Of course there are many issues that are to be discussed that are new to the Bill, and people who were on the Committee will have a legitimate interest in them. As I say, however, I am under no great illusions: if a Tory Government were dealing with such a Bill, they might well adopt exactly the same process, because it suits the Executive. It does not, however, suit the interests of Back Benchers.

When the Bill was published, its territorial extent was described. Only minor matters related to Scotland—issues to do with the commissioner for offender management, nuclear material and facilities, the Data Protection Act 1998, the British Transport police, defence policing, and immigration status for foreign nationals. The explanatory notes said that there would be no requirement for a consent to legislate motion. By and large, the measures seemed reasonable. However, I understand that there has since been published in the Scottish Parliament an intention to pass a consent to legislate motion in relation to bribery and corruption by foreign officers, violent offender orders and the repatriation of foreign prisoners. We will not, or are very unlikely to, debate the latter two issues, so in trying to defend the programme motion, will the Minister tell us what the extent is of the changes to Government amendments, which now require a consent to legislate motion from the Scottish Parliament?

Mr. Speaker, I apologise for not being present at the start of the debate, although I was able to listen to the speeches of the two—

Order. I did not know that. If the hon. Lady was not here for the opening of the debate, I am afraid that I must call someone else. She should not have made that known. I call Mr. Shepherd.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker; I have been here from the beginning of the debate. The path to hell is paved with Home Office criminal justice Bills. They have had a long career: the number of criminal justice measures is now well into the 60s. However, that is not the issue. The Government, under the new Prime Minister, started off with the idea of reinforcing the powers of the House of Commons. He was to return to the House its proper functions. Under the presidency, as I suppose I would call it, of the now Lord Chancellor—a former Home Secretary, Leader of the House, and Foreign Secretary: the éminence grise of the new Labour Government—the Government are back to their old role of ensuring the steamrolling of discordant Bills through the House.

How can it be that, as has been set out so adequately by all those who have spoken so far, the House of Commons is to be denied the opportunity to judge on matters relating to the criminal law? With these measures, we will be consigning people to prison for new offences—yet we will not discuss all of those. This is the very antithesis of good government. A compendium Bill that covers every last thought of anyone in the Administration is not easy for the public to understand, is awfully difficult for the world to get to grips with, and casts our hopes, our securities, our freedoms and our liberties into the hands of lawyers.

I am glad to see that the éminence grise has returned. The debate is seminal to his role. We have heard much preaching about every one of us being able to contribute to the process of law. We were all sent here by distinct electorates to be able to affirm or reject propositions for what should be contained in law. The programme motion, as was honourably said by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), denies Members that right, and deliberately so.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) spoke honourably and nicely. I do not criticise his approach. It was a humble approach to the House. He understands the position of the Opposition, but he goes on to say that in the circumstances it is necessary to adopt this course of action. What circumstances constrain the Government so that they cannot do away with this guillotine motion—for that is what it is?

Perhaps the éminence grise, the Secretary of State, the lord high panjandrum, will get up off his haunches and tell the House why the circumstances, whatever they are, do not enable the House to discuss the Bill. It is farcical. People outside the House would not begin to understand how, after they have sent Members here to examine criminal matters, the high panjandrum and his cronies deny the House the opportunity to consider those matters. That is what it amounts to.

I have listened to the lord high panjandrum over many years, as both Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, with all the soothing, the sympathy, the understanding and his love for the House—but he denies the House the basis of its existence. This is fraudulent and we do ourselves a grave disservice. I shall watch to see whether the hon. Member for Walthamstow votes against the motion. It is appalling. I should like to see every one of those brave new Labourites who believe passionately in the chance and opportunity to change Britain voting in the Lobby to deny the British people representation on criminal law.

The Bill is a mess. Everyone knows that it is a mess. I am surprised that it has not been reconsigned to Committee. That is how serious the matter is. This is not the Bill that originally came before the House, yet the high panjandrum chews his chewing gum and gets on with other business, instead of addressing the House. The House should reject the motion.

It is difficult to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who speaks with such eloquence and passion—more than almost any other Member in the Chamber. We should respect what he says and how he says it.

Let me say in my own words that politicians and the House have never in my memory been held in such great contempt by the public. We see one of the root causes of that before us today—the railroading of a confused, incoherent and deeply flawed Bill, without adequate time for consideration of the 100 pages of amendments. That typifies the root cause of the political malaise and the Executive’s contempt for the House.

Issues such as self-defence, the repatriation of prisoners, blasphemy and incitement to hatred, pornography and sex offenders, and violent offender orders will be rushed through with little or no consideration today. We could spend all the available time on each of the 14 main groups of amendments that we have to consider. With the timetable before us, it is patently impossible to do our job as Members of Parliament, representing our unique group of constituents and legislating properly in the important area of criminal law. That is why I intend to oppose the programme motion.

I have never opposed a programme motion before, because I know that Governments need to get their business through, but I am extremely concerned about this motion. I understand the urgency of some of the matters before us. There is a timing issue in relation to the prison officers’ dispute, but there are other matters, such as self-defence, which were not debated in Committee, but which have arrived at this point and will be debated. As a result, matters that were originally in the Bill, such as prostitution, which the House so rarely has the opportunity to debate, will probably not be debated today. That is why timetable motions should not be employed.

The Government have noticed the problem, which is why the business is not scheduled to end at the usual time. That is not good enough. I feel pretty sure that the new clause that I tabled on prostitution, which is a significant proposal, will not be discussed for years to come, if legislative opportunities follow the usual path. That is not right for the House, and the House has not been treated with sufficient respect.

The problem with the speech by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is that he always says that, doesn’t he? On this occasion, however, he has a better point than usual. The Government’s approach is better than it might have been, but it is not good enough. It is not right that matters such as self-defence, which the House has debated before, should not be considered in Committee. It just is not right.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). On any reasonable assessment of the House’s consideration of the Bill, the arguments made particularly well by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) when he set out the case against the programme motion are overwhelming. It is almost certain that the hon. Lady’s amendment will not be reached for debate. It would be a great surprise if it were.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, on 27 June we were promised a new beginning for the House, which was to be treated with respect. If the Government intend to insist on the disgraceful programme motion and their disgraceful treatment of the House of Commons, will the Prime Minister at least come to the House, less than an hour after he was here to answer questions on his own account, and vote for the motion?

When the Minister moved the motion, he suggested that the Government had to terminate their business today in order to get such an important Bill through. All the arguments that have been deployed suggest that the Bill is a mess, that it has been and will further be severely amended, and that it is being railroaded through.

When the Minister responds, will he deal with this question? Tomorrow’s business in the House is a debate on the Adjournment. There is no vote. It would have been perfectly possible to reschedule that important debate in order to debate the Bill tomorrow. It would have been equally possible to suspend the 7 o’clock rule, as we shall in fact do, and to sit, if necessary, later into the night in order to debate these matters properly. Why are the Government not prepared to do that?

I, too, wish to place on record my extreme disquiet about the programme motion. All the other speakers have been experienced Members of the House, but I speak as someone who was elected only at the last election. I came to this place to play whatever part I could in effective scrutiny of legislation, to make sure that laws came out of this place as good as they could be. I find this process utterly demoralising, and a disgrace. When the Minister winds up, will he tell us what possible reason there is for not suspending the increasingly irrelevant gimmick of a topical debate tomorrow to make room for a proper debate on some of the measures before the House?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, all Governments have programme motions, and there is nothing unique about this one. We saw that when we were in opposition. Usually, rightly or wrongly, I vote for programme motions, but I have the greatest hesitation in doing so today. The debate on industrial action by prison officers must end at 2.43, and whatever view one takes on whether the Government’s proposal should be pursued, surely there should be more time. If there is a Division on the programme motion, there will be less than one hour to debate that important issue. The Government are wrong on this matter. There are many other important issues, as my hon. Friend and others have mentioned, and not to provide anywhere near adequate time to debate them shows a lack of sensitivity towards the House of Commons. For that reason, I will not be able to support the programme motion.

I add my voice to those that have already been raised against the programme motion. It is particularly important on Report that all hon. Members have an opportunity to debate some of the detail of the Bill, and—

Order. I know that the hon. Member does not mean to be discourteous, but I have already prevented an hon. Member from entering the debate because she was not here for the opening speeches, and it has been brought to my attention that that is also the case with the hon. Gentleman.

I was here at the start of the debate, Mr. Speaker, and I simply wish to make the brief point that, as legislators, we will be voting ourselves into disrepute if we vote for this programme motion. Whatever the requirements and pressures of government, we as legislators are charged specifically with care and consideration for the law of the land. The Bill contains wide-ranging and deep-reaching changes to the criminal law that affects so many aspects of individual life and community and national life. Under the programme motion, new clauses and amendments will be microwaved on to the statute book, undebated, untested and unread by many hon. Members, and that is a democratic scandal. When many parties are competing as to who will tell people who are not working that they must work, we as a democratically elected Chamber should not be shirking our work and leaving it to unelected people in another place to give more care and consideration to what goes into the law of the land. We as legislators should pass only that which we, according to our conscience and consideration, deem fit to be in the law of the land. More consideration and care has been given to who stays in various celebrity television reality shows than hon. Members are prepared to give to what should be in the law of the land. I appeal to hon. Members to vote not according to party but as conscientious legislators, and to reject this programme motion.

With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I shall respond to the debate. I said at the start that I understood that there would be concerns on the part of the official Opposition and other hon. Members about the nature of the programme motion, but I also said that I agreed wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friends the Lord Chancellor and the Chief Whip that every effort has been made to give sufficient time today to debate these matters. We will continue beyond the normal time of interruption, to 8.45.

I have been in the House only 16 years, which is not as long as some hon. Members who have spoken, but I can recall five years of opposition with guillotine motions from the Conservative Government, and there has been no discussion by the Conservative party about repealing the ability to table programme motions. Any Conservative Government, if there ever were one in the future, would have the same regard to getting legislation through this House and the other place within time, as we seek to do today. We have had 47 hours in Committee, when we sat late into the night, and the House has eight hours today for consideration—

This is a question not of programme motions but of rationality. Everyone who has spoken on the matter has criticised the rationality of the process of dealing with the matter before us today. The Minister referred to the Chief Whip, who is not present, and the lord high panjandrum, but neither has spoken on this matter and we know nothing about their arrangements; that is the essence of the indignation and anger that some of us feel, particularly after all the promises made by the new Prime Minister. It is a question of trust.

As has been said, the hon. Gentleman makes the same speech on such matters on every occasion—occasionally with some justification. But we had 47 hours in Committee and we will have eight hours today. We have had trailed before the House in statements by my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor the measures that we are bringing forward today on the Prison Service, on imprisonment for public protection and on the Carter reforms. On Monday, my right hon. Friend made a statement to the House giving hon. Members an opportunity to comment—unheard of in normal practice.

I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to lose his rag, because he contained himself admirably in Committee. As I said, we had a happy Committee, although we had a very unhappy Bill to deal with. But it will not do for him to pray in aid the amount of time that we spent in Committee, because we were dealing with matters that are completely outside the ambit of today’s debate. Regardless of the merits of the measure on prison officers’ right to strike, we are debating today a wholly new addition to the Bill. There are hundreds of new clauses and amendments, and if he cannot get that into his head we are in trouble.

On Monday my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, in an unprecedented way, made a statement to the House telling hon. Members that he was introducing the clauses that are before us today. We have an opportunity today to debate those clauses and the points brought before the House, and I repeat that we had 47 hours in Committee, with late nights—which as the hon. and learned Member for Harborough said, it was a very friendly Committee, and—

Did the right hon. Gentleman, or the Lord High Chancellor, ask for more time than the Chief Whip has given?

These matters are for discussion and agreement, and the Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), and my right hon. Friend the Lord High Chancellor, and I, as the Minister responsible, are content with the motion before the House today. If we were not content, I would not be standing at the Dispatch Box proposing that motion.

The question before the House today is whether it supports the motion. I contend that we have had considerable time in Committee, and we have today opportunities to debate the key issues: indeed, we have until 8.45 to complete our proceedings on the Bill. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put:—

The House proceeded to a Division.

I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.