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Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] (Programme No. 2)

Volume 560: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2013

I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

I beg to move,

That the Order of 14 January 2013 (Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be concluded in two days.

3. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.

4. Each part of the proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of the Table.

TABLE

Proceedings

Time for conclusion of proceedings

First Day

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the National Crime Agency (except any relating also to extradition, including European arrest warrants); new Clauses and new Schedules relating to proceeds of crime, except any relating also to legal aid; amendments to Part 1, Schedule 22, Clauses33 and 34 and Schedules 17 and 18.

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

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to drugs and driving or to public order offences; amendments to Clauses 41 and 42, Schedule 21, Clauses 16 to 19 and Schedules 9 to 14; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to bailiffs; amendments to Clause 23, Clause 31 and Schedule 15.

7 pm

Second Day

Remaining new Clauses and new Schedules standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown; remaining new Clauses relating to extradition (including European arrest warrants); amendments to Clause 35, Schedule 19, Clauses 20 to 22, Clauses 24 to 30, Clause 32 and Schedule 16.

Three hours before the moment of interruption.

Remaining new Clauses and new Schedules relating to protection of children or to vulnerable witnesses; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules relating to border control or deportation; amendments to Clauses 36 to 40 and Schedule 20; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules (including any new Clauses and new Schedules standing otherwise than in the name of a Minister of the Crown and relating to press conduct (regardless of anything else they relate to)); amendments to Clauses 43 to 46; remaining proceedings on Consideration.

One hour before the moment of interruption.

5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) b brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to open today’s proceedings on the Bill. We start with the programme motion, which doubles the time available for the Report stage from one day to two. The House may recall that the earlier programme motion allowed for only one day of deliberations at this stage. That was agreed by this House unopposed, but today’s motion doubles the time available for Report and, as such, I hope it will be welcome to the whole House. Within the two days available we will need to ensure that the existing provisions in the Bill are properly scrutinised. The Government have also tabled a number of amendments seeking to introduce new provisions into the Bill, including in response to amendments tabled in the other place, so it is right that those, too, are properly considered by the House. To ensure that that happens, the motion includes a couple of knives on each of the two days for Report, which will ensure that there is a fair allocation of time between discussion of the various issues. It is evident from the volume of signatures attached to some amendments that there is significant interest in a number of the issues to be debated, so we should facilitate such debate as far as is practicable.

My hon. Friend is trying get a balance on the scrutiny issue. Is the simple way of doing that not by trying to guess where the knives come but by simply not having a programme motion and letting this House debate things, as it should do, until it has scrutinised everything? That is what we used to say in opposition, so why are we not saying it in government?

If we were to do that in this specific case, we would default to having the one day of debate that has been allowed for by this House; the Government are expanding the opportunities for the hon. Gentleman by introducing this programme motion to allow two days’ debate. On his more general point, I think it is fair to say that there is general agreement across the House that legislation that is not timetabled at all is not the collective will of the House, if I can put it that way.

I will give way in a moment. I do not want to get too far off the beaten track, but I think that under the previous Government and under this one there has been a presumption that scheduling business—with a few provisions made for financial legislation, for example—is a sensible way to conduct our deliberations in this House. This is not a debate about whether the procedures of the House have changed; it is about the programme motion for this Bill.

We are seeing new Government policy here. This was never in the coalition agreement and, until now, it has not been the view of the coalition. The coalition wants to have a business of the House Committee, so that the Government would be taken completely out of these programme motions. Is this another Liberal Democrat U-turn?

As the last bit of that intervention was so trite, I will give way to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) and then deal with both interventions together.

I just wish to make the point that there is no unanimity across the House that every piece of legislation should be programmed. I was a Member in the early ’90s, before the hon. Gentleman was elected to this House, and under the Conservative Government of that time programming was used rarely indeed and things seemed to work out all right.

I was not wishing to get off the beaten track, and I did not say that there was unanimity in the House. There may be Members who want to debate the motions and business before the House until 5 or 6 o’clock every morning, and they are perfectly entitled to take that view. All I am saying is that we have come to a reasonably settled collective agreement that some sort of timetabling of legislation gives clarity. The balance we are trying to obtain is between ensuring that clarity and providing sufficient scope for all the different points of view to be aired. That is why, as I say, we are making generous provision in this programme motion for this stage of the deliberations on this Bill. I am sure that the wider points that have been made have been heard by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and, indeed, by the shadow Leader of the House. They no doubt spend a lot of time deliberating these matters and can now spend more time considering the issues raised this afternoon.

I have an important and specific extra announcement to make, which relates to the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment. The Government will also introduce a supplementary programme motion if the cross-party talks have concluded—either with or without agreement—to allow debate of Leveson-related amendments on the second day of business on this Bill. On that basis, both coalition parties will support the programme motion, having had the assurances that I have just delivered at the Dispatch Box, and will support the supplementary motion. I hope that we will now get on and debate the many important issues addressed in this Bill and in the amendments already tabled by right hon. and hon. Members.

I beg to move amendment (a), from “Second day”, leave out from beginning to paragraph 5 and insert—

‘Any new Clauses and new Schedules

relating to press conduct; remaining new

Clauses and new Schedules standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown; remaining new Clauses relating to extradition (including European arrest warrants); amendments to Clause 35, Schedule 19, Clauses 20 to 22, Clauses 24 to 30, Clause 32 and Schedule 16.

Two and a half hours before the moment of interruption.

Remaining new Clauses and new Schedules relating to protection of children or to vulnerable witnesses; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules relating to border control or deportation; amendments to Clauses 36 to 40 and Schedule 20; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules; amendments to Clauses 43 to 46; remaining proceedings on Consideration.

One hour before the moment of interruption.’.

I am grateful to the Minister for outlining the Government’s view on the programme motion. We agree that there are sufficient matters for debate to require two days and I welcomed the Leader of the House’s announcement last Thursday that we would have a second day of debate, which, subject to confirmation in business questions tomorrow, will possibly be next Monday.

The Bill covers a number of items that we need to discuss and even today, the Government have tabled amendments on a range of measures on terrorism, Northern Ireland and other matters that were considered in Committee. Those are substantive issues that demand significant debate on the Floor of the House. Amendments on a number of key issues have also been tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Back Benches and Members on the Government Benches, which would tend to lead us to conclude that we will need a second day.

The discussion has not been about the order of the subjects for debate today, and I can say with relative ease that I am satisfied that we will have a full chance to debate the measures the Government have proposed. The amendment to the programme motion is intended to consider the debate on the second day, and particularly the order in which we will debate the different subjects. The Minister has helpfully said that a “supplementary programme motion” will be tabled if the cross-party talks have concluded, “either with or without agreement”, to allow debate of Leveson-related amendments to the Bill. I accept and welcome that, because the Opposition are concerned that we should have the opportunity to debate Leveson in full and that it should not be squeezed out by the other equally important measures that the Government and the Opposition will seek to debate.

As those assurances have been given, I am minded to accept the Government’s programme motion on the basis that the supplementary programme motion will guarantee a debate and, importantly, a vote on the Leveson amendments or any new clause tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends or by the Government.

Order. I understand that new information has just been disclosed to the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), but may I ask for the purposes of clarification whether he is moving the amendment or whether he is just speaking about the motion? I think he had fully intended not just to move his amendment but to press it to a vote, since when the Minister of State has offered new information. If the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to speak in support of his amendment, so be it. He can speak about the motion, but he needs to make that clear.

I am supporting the amendment as well as speaking about the motion, Mr Speaker. I wish to get some assurances from the Minister before the conclusion of the debate. We will then reflect on the Minister’s response and decide whether to press the amendment to a vote.

I think that it is clear that the right hon. Gentleman is moving the amendment and will decide on whether to push it to a vote depending on any assurances he does or does not receive.

If I may, Mr Speaker, I want to seek a few assurances from the Minister before I resume my seat.

I am particularly keen for the Minister to consider what assurances he can give the House that there will be a guaranteed debate on the Leveson amendments and new clauses and that there will be an opportunity for the House to vote on them.

I also seek clarification—perhaps the Leader of the House could assist on this point—about whether the second day of consideration will be confirmed for Monday 18 March—[Interruption.] I would be grateful if the Minister of State could listen to what I am saying, because these are important matters that affect whether we will support the motion. I have asked the Minister, as the Leader of the House is in the Chamber, whether he can confirm that the second day of our consideration will be next Monday, as announced last Thursday by the Leader of the House. We seek assurances that there will be an opportunity to debate and vote on Leveson or press regulation-related clauses tabled by the Government or by the Opposition. I want to hear from the Minister—the Leader of the House can help him—whether the debate will happen on 18 March.

The Minister said that he intends to table a supplementary programme motion and he has a duty to tell the House when he intends to do that. Between you and me, Mr Speaker—dare I say it—our amendment would deliver what the Government want on Monday. If it were pressed to a vote, it might do what the Government seek to do, but I am willing, as I am that sort of a guy, to give the Minister the chance to reflect. If he can assure me that the supplementary programme motion will be tabled within living experience, rather than at some future date of which we are as yet unsure, that would reassure me and my right hon. Friends that the Government’s intentions should be supported by the official Opposition.

Let me clarify. Has the right hon. Gentleman moved the amendment and might he seek the leave of the House to withdraw it later?

That is indeed the situation. I hope I have made that clear, but if I have not, so be it.

I seek three things from the Minister: a guarantee that there will be a debate; a guarantee that there will be a vote; a guarantee that there will be a second day of debate; some indication of when that will be; whether it will be on a day other than that which was previously announced; and when the supplementary motion will be tabled. I reserve the right to withdraw my amendment, but I wanted to move it so that we could get some clarity from the Minister on the key issues about which the Opposition remain concerned and want assurances.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State for how he introduced the programme motion and for the substantive change it makes. It gives us two days for debate on the Bill, which is important and merits that length of discussion. I also thank him for the information he conveyed about the Government’s view on how they propose to respond to the wish of Members on the Opposition, Liberal Democrat and Conservative Benches that we should have adequate time to deal with press conduct matters on the second day.

The Opposition amendment effectively seeks to change the order of discussion on that day, so that press conduct comes at the beginning and is not lost due to any lack of time. I hope that the Minister will confirm that I understood the import of his speech, that the Government accept that desire and that, if there is a wish across the parties for the reversal of the order on the second day—if that is to be Monday, then on Monday—that can be accommodated. I thank the Minister and his colleagues in the Home Office, the Office of the Leader of the House and the Whips Offices of the two coalition parties for facilitating that change as well as the discussions that I know have taken place with the Labour Front-Bench team.

There is a great wish to ensure that Leveson’s recommendations are implemented in the next few days in one form or another and I am clear that we need to do that as a Parliament in agreement with the Government. There might need to be some legislative changes after the all-party talks today and we might need to make legislative provision in this Bill.

Let me make two last points. First, there is wisdom in programme motions if they mean that we do not sit through the night—we are meant to be a family-friendly House and that is not a good way of being family-friendly—but they should always be based on agreement. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) mentioned the House business committee and I look forward to its coming into operation, as anticipated in the coalition agreement.

Finally, as the Leader of the House is in his seat, let me say that, whenever time is taken out of the allocated time for Government Bills by statements or urgent questions—of course, that does not apply today—I hope that we can have injury time. The one flaw of the present system seems to be that we agree a timetable and then lose half the time. That is nobody’s fault, but it means that we do not implement the will of the House. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider that helpfully and accommodate the time we planned to have so that we do not lose time to other business.

This has been a complete and utter shambles. It is outrageous that the programme motion was only tabled at the very last moment last night. Indeed, there was a Government Whip wandering around the corridors, saying that the Whips were about to call for the House to sit in private so that they could get an extra 20 minutes, because they still had not decided what the programme motion should be. That makes it very difficult for ordinary Members of the House to know whether they support the business for the following day, and whether they want to amend it

This is a Christmas tree Bill, and Christmas tree Bills have a terrible habit of gaining not only an awful lot of baubles and tinsel but a fairy on the top as well. There are 29 pages of Government amendments—29—covering very substantial issues, let alone all the other specific issues that ordinary Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House would like to debate. So it is good that we are getting an extra day, but it is therefore incumbent on the Government to make sure that there is an opportunity for key issues in relation to the Leveson inquiry—which have already been debated in the House of Lords—to be debated in the democratic Chamber, which is here.

I say to the Government that it felt very much yesterday—I am not entirely convinced that this has changed—as if the Government were doing everything in their power to rig the system so that there could be no debate at all on Leveson on Monday. That is basically what the programme motion before us does—it makes sure that that and, for that matter, other issues will not be debated on Monday.

I just think it is time we learned that there is a better way of doing politics. I fully accept that not everyone agrees with me about how we should implement Leveson; there is a perfectly legitimate debate to be had. But how on earth could we go back to our voters and say that, yes, we all wanted an inquiry to happen; we wanted millions of pounds of public money to be spent on an inquiry; we were gutted and we all poured out our soul when we heard the stories of Milly Dowler and all the rest, and the way they had been treated by the press; and we all stood up and made wonderful speeches about how there had to be change; and then we voted to make sure that we could not even debate it? That is essentially what the programme motion does.

The Minister is looking querulous, and I hope that does not mean that he is going to undermine what he said earlier, because I take very seriously what he said. As I understand it, he gave a complete guarantee that, for the second day of debate, there will be a new programme motion, whenever that second day is; and that that programme motion will expressly make provision for the House to be able to make up its mind on Leveson and associated matters to do with press conduct. To be honest, if we do not do that, we should be ashamed of ourselves as a House, because we will just have allowed the Executive—a small part of the Executive, I suggest—to prevent public debate, and I do not think our voters would thank us for it.

It is a great honour and privilege to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has put the case exceptionally well. I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes): it is not a problem for the House to sit late in the night if we are doing a proper job of scrutiny; and the idea that it is impossible to stop the House sitting late if there is no programme motion is wrong, because it is possible to bring in a guillotine. There has been a programming motion for every single Bill in this Parliament. The Library has confirmed to me that the present Government have guillotined more debates than were guillotined during the previous Parliament. So the idea that it is impossible to stop debate is unfounded—in fact, I was stopped in mid-flow the other day by a Whip moving a closure motion.

We will, of course, solve this problem entirely if we have an open and transparent business of the House committee. But at the moment what happens, behind closed doors, is that two sets of Whips decide whether they are happy with the amount of debate. If Members on the Back Benches do not happen to agree with either lot of Whips, bad luck you—you just do not get a chance to discuss the matter. I urge the Minister, who is a great democrat—or was, before he became a Minister—to try something different with the Bill. Let us abandon the programme motion, and the other programme motion, and see the self-discipline of the House. When we are talking about things as important as Leveson—although I am probably going to disagree in principle with the views of the hon. Member for Rhondda—we must have this debate. This is the mother of Parliaments and the debate should take place here.

We can spend hours and hours—[Interruption.] We can talk for hours about unimportant things, but when there are really important things to be discussed, the Executive—and, for that matter, the shadow Executive on occasion—get together to restrict debate. This is a great opportunity. I doubt very much whether the minority parties in the House have been involved in these discussions at all. Certainly, no one has asked anyone on the Back Benches what they think about the time allocated to the Bill.

Indeed. Let us just try. If I am wrong, Members can tell me so, but let the Government withdraw the original programme motion, let us have an open timetable on this, and see how we get on. If I am proved right, let us do that in the future, and let us bring the business of the House committee into being. Let us not go for this Stalinist central control.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the exclusion of minority parties. Does he agree that, even if a business of the House committee were set up, there would still be problems if there was not proper representation of the smaller parties on that committee?

In relation to the matter before us, that would be very important, of course, but I envisaged that committee not to have any members from either the Executive or the shadow Executive, and to be made up of independently minded Back Benchers who would not necessarily toe the party line. So it will be Parliament deciding, and I am absolutely sure that there would be members from the minority parties. That is actually a coalition priority. They seem to have slipped on the timetable. We were supposed to have it by May this year, and it does not look quite as though that will happen.

To return to the detail of the programme motion, if the shadow Minister does not stick to his amendment, there is a danger that, if the Government do not do what they promise, the opportunity will be gone and lost, and we will not debate Leveson. I urge the shadow Minister to test the will of the House on this. But of course I am hoping that before that happens the Minister will pop up and say, “We don’t need the original programme motion; we will have unlimited debate on the issue.”

The debate is quite important, because we all know the importance of getting the post-Leveson scene right. Mention has been made of the cost, the time involved, and the great care that Lord Justice Leveson took over the inquiry. We, as a minority party, were never part of the all-party talks, although the official Opposition have kept us in the loop, to their credit. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) said, we should be kept in the loop, which would be perfectly fine.

On the programme motion, of course, we are not part of the foul waters of the usual channels.

The foulest in Europe, apparently—and that is why we are not part of them, probably.

On a serious point, even with the amended timetable we are still pretty well limited in terms of discussing Leveson, and we know that there are many opinions within the House on the Front, Back and middle Benches, on what we should do next. One thing is certain: the people out there demand that we get this right and, if we do this in this piecemeal, last-minute, eleventh-hour way, it will be an ignominious start to any proceedings on getting Leveson right.

I echo what was said by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and I agree with many things that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) said. We do need to have sufficient time to debate this issue. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) said that we could dispense with programming if we want to be in the Chamber until 5 am or 6 am on every Bill. That is patently nonsense, because in the 1992 Parliament that happened occasionally when the Maastricht treaty was debated, but not all the time. There are some Bills that require greater debate and scrutiny, but the flexibility to provide that is missing from all of this. That is extremely unfortunate because, with the best will in the world—with the benign Government we have now and any Government who may follow—the Executive are riding roughshod over us. This is not what Parliament is meant to be.

There are two parts to our deliberation: first, whether the House should programme business at all; and secondly, a specific set of points about provision for discussion of Leveson. On the first part, within about a minute, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) went from describing me as a great democrat, which is extremely flattering, to suggesting that I was an exponent of Stalinist central control. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), however, said that we had a benign Government, so we need to discuss whether Stalinism can be benign. I hope that we are on the benign end of the scale.

There was a vote only a few months ago not to reduce the number of hours, but to adjust Tuesday sitting hours and other provisions, so that we would finish, apart from in exceptional circumstances, at 7 o’clock on Tuesday evening, rather than at 10 o’clock. The majority of Members who voted in that Division favoured the earlier finish on Tuesday. I was not one of them, but the majority made that decision. I do not detect—but I am not responsible for these matters—a groundswell of support for the proposal routinely to sit late into the night to deliberate on Bills, as most Members find it helpful to timetable our business, as long as the Executive make reasonable provision for those deliberations. As I have tried to explain, we are doing precisely that with the Bill.

On the new dimension of Leveson and the points made by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), for the benefit of the House, may I underline the crucial point? The Government will bring forward a supplementary programme motion if the cross-party talks have concluded, whether that is with or without agreement. If those talks have concluded, we will introduce a supplementary programme motion. With that assurance, the Opposition amendment is not necessary. If those talks have not concluded, we can proceed as we are currently proceeding, and if they have concluded, the Government have given an undertaking—I have given that undertaking on behalf of the Government—that we would in those circumstances introduce a supplementary programme motion. As for the question of when we will introduce that motion, which was raised by the right hon. Member for Delyn, the answer is that we will do so when the cross-party talks have concluded, either with or without agreement.

There are two issues that the Minister has not addressed. First, we do not know what “concluded” means. It could mean “came to a conclusion with which everybody agreed”, which might not be the view of the whole House, or it could mean “came to an end” because those talks collapsed. I should be grateful if the Minister provided clarification. Secondly, he has not told us which day has been chosen for the second day. If it is still next Monday, it will be virtually impossible for Members to table amendments that could be selected for Monday, unless there is an announcement today.

On the first point, on when something can be said to have concluded, I had not realised that that was something on which I would be called to judge. It is when it has finished, I suppose: when there is no more left to discuss, or when the cross-party talks have concluded—[Interruption]—as I said, with or without agreement. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) asked what would happen if they had come to an end but there was no agreement. In that case, they would conclude without agreement. When the process of cross-party talks has been exhausted, that is the point at which a supplementary programme motion will be—

Wait a second. Hon. Members keep making points that I am about to address in response to the contribution of the right hon. Member for Delyn. When the talks have concluded, whether with or without agreement, we will bring forward a supplementary programme motion: that is the first point. Secondly, on when that will take place—

Okay. Given that I am trying to help the House by responding to questions in the debate, I shall give way, but then I shall get down to answering the core points.

The participants in the talks, I assume. It will be apparent to them whether they have finished talking. I do not want to make it sound like a papal exercise, but I am sure that the appropriate metaphorical smoke will come out of Government buildings and everyone will be able to recognise when talks are no longer taking place.

I am fearful of running out of time before I have answered the substantive points, rather than the issue of whether a conclusion means something has finished or not, which is a point that we could debate at length, but not very productively. On the substantive points, to which I have substantive answers to give, the right hon. Member for Delyn asked whether there would be a debate. The answer is yes. On the question of whether there will be a vote if the House wishes to vote, the answer is yes. This will be an amendment to legislation. There is provision to vote on all aspects of legislation, subject to the usual caveats and the Speaker’s discretion. Given that everything is subject to those caveats, the answer to the question of whether there will be a debate is yes; and yes, there will be an opportunity to vote.

On the question of when that will take place, at the moment the second day of our deliberations on the Bill is scheduled for Monday. I am not the Leader of the House—a far more distinguished Member has that role—but there is a business statement tomorrow. If the Government wished to suggest to the House that the business should be altered, that would be the appropriate time to do so, not now.

The Minister has made the position clear to the House. The official Opposition have taken from that that there will be a debate, there will be a vote, and there will be an announcement about both the supplementary programming motion and the day of the debate in business questions. On that basis, I am content, if the House will allow me, to withdraw the amendment, allowing the Government to continue the discussions that have commenced. That is our position, to reassure the Minister on those points.

On that extremely consensual and sensible point, the Opposition spokesman has come to my view after some initial wobbles, and everyone agrees that I have come up with a very sensible way to proceed. On that basis, I hope that the House endorses by popular acclaim the Government’s proposal, so there is no need to proceed to a vote.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.