HC Deb 04 March 2002 vol 381 cc22-4

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

3.34 pm
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to delay the House, but while I understand that amendments were not published until Friday so that as many hon. Members as possible could contribute them, that has made it hard for Opposition parties to prepare our responses. We saw the selection list only after 1 pm today. Will you use your considerable influence, Mr. Speaker, in passing on to the powers that be our request for a little more consideration about the amount of time that we are given to examine complicated Bills such as this one?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will remember that I selected the amendments at the Speaker's conference at 12 noon. The Officers of the House disseminated the information as quickly as they could thereafter.

3.35 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Desmond Browne)

I beg to move, That the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new Clauses relating to Part 1, amendments relating to Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1, Clause 3, Schedule 2, Clauses 4 and 5, Schedule 3, Clauses 6 to 11, Schedule 4, Clauses 12 and 13, Schedule 5, Clauses 14 to 20, Schedule 6, Clauses 21 and 22, new Clauses relating to Part 2, amendments relating to Clauses 23 to 29, Schedule 7, Clauses 30 to new Clauses relating to Part 3, amendments relating to Clause 45, Schedule 8, Clauses 46 to 50, Schedule 9, Clauses 51 and 52, new Clauses relating to Part 4, amendments relating to Clauses 53 to 62, Schedule 10, Clause 63, Schedule 11, Clauses 64 and 65, new Clauses relating to Part 5, amendments relating to Clauses 66 to 80, remaining new Clauses, amendments relating to Clauses 81 to 84, Schedule 12, Clause 85, Schedule 13, Clauses 86 to 92, new Schedules and remaining proceedings on consideration.

The motion proposes minor amendments to the previously agreed order of consideration. It is intended only to reorder the business so that it conforms more closely with the order of the Bill. The proposed grouping is designed for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

The Opposition have no problem with the motion, although we do have long-standing and considerable arguments against the amount of time made available for discussion of the Bill. Important amendments have been tabled by the Government. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has pointed out how difficult it is to respond to Government amendments published on Friday and selected by your conference at 12 noon today, Mr. Speaker.

Clearly, the passage of the Bill has been thoroughly unsatisfactory. The hon. Gentleman's concern is but the latest example, although I must point out that it would have helped if he had not voted for the original programme motion and the knives inserted during Committee. If he had not done so, we might be considering on Report a Bill of which we had at least read the 32 clauses that we must now deal with today. I fear that important Government amendments may not be discussed in spite of their immense significance to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that a great many clauses—possibly the majority of them—were not discussed in Committee and that tens of amendments and new clauses also went undiscussed because of the programme motions?

Mr. Blunt

To be precise, 32 clauses and 7 schedules were not discussed. That is plainly unsatisfactory. The Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons is examining the way we legislate, and the Bill provides an example of our profound failure properly to do our job as legislators.

I do not hold the Minister responsible for that in any way. He conducted himself well in Committee, seriously considering amendments and replying to points with care and courtesy. I am delighted to see that many of the substantial number of amendments that I tabled on Wednesday were adopted by the Government as their own amendments on Thursday, which is a proper way to reflect what happened in Committee.

It remains a pity that the Committee was not able to complete its business. Indeed, that is more than a pity: it is a scandal. If I go on any longer about that, however, we shall have even less time. I am happy to support the motion.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

Important matters lie at the end of the list of amendments. It would be a tragedy if those matters were not discussed in the House. No real public discussion would have taken place of matters that all parties in Northern Ireland, no matter what view they take of the Bill, require to be debated.

It would be a terrible tragedy if the House had no opportunity to hold a thorough discussion of matters that are currently in the arena of controversy. This is the place where controversy should be aired and arguments put and debated if we believe in democracy.

Lembit Öpik

In supporting the motion, I want to make two brief points. First, I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your clarification about the understandable restrictions on your time, although that indicates something that we should consider in future: it has been a tremendous strain on the Opposition parties to prepare our responses in the two and a half hours that were available. However, perhaps that matter is one for the Modernisation Committee rather than for us.

Secondly, as the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) rightly said, it was clear in Committee that the Under-Secretary took seriously the representations that were made, although I was concerned that, sometimes, the Government seemed a trifle inflexible about taking those points on board. I deduce from the Government's willingness to consider several of the amendments that were discussed but not accepted in Committee that they want to make amends on Report. That is healthy.

I hope that the Government will be able to provide clear justification where there are still differences between us. I am sure that will be achieved as the debate progresses.

As regards the limitations on time in Committee, it is true that at the beginning we supported the Government's programming timetable. In response to the comments of the hon. Member for Reigate, the Conservatives could have been a little more co-operative when there was an opportunity mid-way through the Committee stage to extend the time. It is perhaps disingenuous for the Conservatives to criticise others when they did not accept that opportunity, although we do not want to pursue that matter in detail now. I hope that, given the spirit of constructive dialogue that we enjoyed in Committee, the Report stage will be similarly constructive.

Question put and agreed to.

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