Previous Section Home Page

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) said that she was not sure why she was here. I am rather glad that she was here, because I enjoyed listening to her speech. I entirely agree that personal, moral, political and religious matters are interlocked. That is something that she learned at her father's knee, just as I learned at her father's knee how to conduct myself at the Dispatch Box. I held him in great affection because he never once ruled me out of order. Just as he once kept the Chamber in order, I am glad to hear that he is now keeping the Anglican Church in business in the hon. Lady's village, despite the fact that he is a Methodist.

I cannot help but reflect on how much my right hon. and noble Friend Lord St. John of Fawsley would have enjoyed replying to the debate. I cannot aspire to his standards of dress. I am sure that purple shirts would have had a good airing this afternoon. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) for introducing the motion and congratulate him warmly on the way in which he introduced it. I am sure that my view will be shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It has been a remarkable debate. It has been very moderate, with one or two exceptions--largely from among the Social and Liberal Democrats. We saw a new version of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who made a moving speech. It was a non-ranting speech and very serious, and the whole House listened to it carefully. The only point from which I dissented was that he appeared to say that the Church of England is the Tory party at prayer. A close observation of the Anglican Church would show that to be untrue, just as it was untrue in the 19th century. We heard a highly engaging and thought- provoking speech from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who introduced the novel suggestion--for me--that Karl Marx was the last great Old Testament prophet. I shall reflect on that and perhaps give him my views in writing from a personal rather than a ministerial view. I shall come to his important point about disestablishment later in my speech.

During the decade that I have known the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I have held him in great respect. He is one of the few members of the Social and Liberal Democrats who is a national level politician. I was all the more surprised to hear his insulting--I presume that they were designed to be insulting--remarks about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. If he wishes me to give way, I shall do so only so that he can apologise to my right hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman had the extraordinary idea that the Government were erecting passing by on the other side into a form of public

Column 62

policy. He got into a terrible muddle. When citing housing and homelessness, he criticised the private sector, and by implication the housing association movement, for wishing to involve itself in housing the homeless. He completely forswore criticism of the councils that keep empty so many homes in the public sector. The hon. Gentleman was deeply confused and, for once in his life, seemed to ignore the role and the contribution of the individual citizen and his active endeavour. When that very good king, Good King Wenceslas, heard rumours of starvation in the hills, he did not set up a royal commission to consider hunger in the Bohemian mountains and to report on other matters. He went out with food and kindling--an early meals-on-feet movement. It was extraordinary to hear the hon. Gentleman deplore, by implication, that sort of conduct.

We heard a most remarkable speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes). It has often been observed in this place that he speaks for England, and he did so this afternoon. The points of greatest relevance, and the most telling to me, were those that he made about schools, Christianity and moral values. That is something that links all Conservative Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) gave us an account of her genealogy and claimed to be an accessory after the event, by descent, of the killing of Thomas a Becket. That was an interesting chain of events. Like the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, she said that she wanted disestablishment of the Church of England. There was some cross-party agreement in that regard. I need not go into the arguments for and against disestablishment, which would be a major constitutional upheaval, but I can say that the Government would not contemplate such a step unless they were convinced that the established Church wished it. Perhaps I may take the theme for the rest of my brief remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove. The thrust of his speech was that the Church is trying to usurp the proper historial role of the state and that the clergy have come down from the pulpit to the hustings. The counterpoint of his thesis was that the Government had formed an unbecoming attachment to preaching sermons. That has been mentioned by my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The gist of my hon. Friend's message was that we the Government, as private individuals, and he as a private Member of the House should not be disqualified from commenting on Church and moral matters affecting all faiths and that, equally, churchmen have every right to comment on political and social problems.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but I believe that each should be judged on the seriousness and weight of his arguments. That point was made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) and for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and--in a remarkable, and remarkably short, intervention--by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman).

Mr. Heffer : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I once participated in a "You the Jury" debate with his right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) in which the right hon. Gentleman was overwhelmingly defeated? It was attended by clergy and lay people and the

Column 63

overwhelming majority were in favour of disestablishment. I believe that many more people in the Church are prepared to agree with disestablishment than the hon. Gentleman pretends.

Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman has made his point. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) is well able to put his own arguments here and in other places, as I have read in the public prints of Synod. As the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove implies, there is a general assumption that it is the job of Churches to provide a moral lead and of politicians to provide a lead in secular matters. However, it is not always a distinction that is clear-cut, and clearly there is a considerable overlap.

The inner cities, for example, which have long concerned the hon. Member for Walton, are an area where churchmen have shown considerable interest and which have given rise to controversy. The inner cities have also been the scene of a considerable amount of constructive work by churchmen and religious leaders of all denominations. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Liverpool or the Chief Rabbi speaks on these issues, we listen carefully.

The Church of England urban fund, launched last April, has already raised more than £6 million and given grants to more than 100 inner-city projects, which is a good thing. In 1986-87, there were about 100 projects funded by the Government's urban programme which were Church-based. We have a substantial number of Church projects and also a substantial number of Church-run but Government-funded projects in the inner cities, which show what good work can and will be done.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : My hon. Friend has referred to the Church of England inner-city urban fund. I hope that he will take the opportunity to praise, as I am sure he would wish to do, the many volunteers who, using individual responsibility, have made that scheme such a success and have certainly drawn the attention of people in my part of the world to problems which perhaps day to day they would not know about.

Mr. Patten : I pay considerable tribute to those people of all faiths and denominations who have drawn attention to local difficulties in the south of England and to the needs of the inner cities.

Some of our Government inner-city task forces are forming constructive links with some of the black-based Churches. Here I find myself in agreement with the points made about the Evangelical movement by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). We have some links with Evangelical Enterprise, which is an excellent body, and the West Indian Evangelical Alliance project, which is important in promoting individual enterprise and Christian development in the inner cities. Churches, therefore, have a role alongside Government.

I do not believe--I have not heard anyone say so in this Chamber--that Governments should be rigidly excluded from moral issues. Through the Government's promotion of the active citizen movement, through their support for the voluntary sector and through their involvement in and help for the charitable world--for example, the establishment of payroll giving- -the Government have

Column 64

shown a considerable moral lead, and one which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said, has not been recognised. It is a shame that, from time to time, that has not been recognised. I consider that there are two historic functions which have always been there for the Churches to fulfil. The first is to propagate the essentials of faith, to assert and reassert the timeless message that there is an unchanging distinction between right and wrong--something that it is critically important for them to do--and that, knowing this, everyone has the free opportunity to choose the right. There is, therefore, an unchanging duty to respect one's fellow women and one's fellow men, to know that one cannot have everything that one wants instantly, to know that one must take personal responsibility for one's actions and, above all, to help those who are less fortunate and are weaker than oneself.

The second function can be traced back to the very origins of Christianity among the poor and oppressed, which is to look after the unfortunate, the downtrodden and the under-privileged. However, thirdly, I believe that there is an under-worked vein for the Church, of whatever faith. In historical times, the powerful and the wealthy, including many churchmen, were a tiny fraction of the country, but their duty was often--sometimes uniquely--to preach that those who were less fortunate than others should be looked after. However, in the modern world, where a large section of society is far more prosperous, there is a further missing element.

I do not believe that at the moment we have a theology coming from any of the Churches--from the Jewish faith, or the Moslems or anywhere else--which is appropriate for the climate of success that we have in Britain in the late 1980s. I do not believe that the Church has yet used a rhetoric appropriate when talking to a nation which is increasingly comfortable, but which should not be complacent. I do not believe that there is a theology, a rhetoric, to use, or a message for a successful nation. That is the third and missing element in much of the debate about the relations between the Church and the State.

The Churches remain welcome to preach generosity and compassion to those who from time to time hold power. However, I believe that spiritual guidance should in the end remain of far greater importance to any Church leader of whatever faith than any question of how to divide the national cake. In the absence of some sort of priestly theocracy running this country, such decisions remain a matter for the elected Government and Parliament to decide, and in the end for no one else.

6.46 pm

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : The early Church was notable for the happiness and joy with which its adherents were filled. That happiness and individual joy spilled out into making the Christian church an attractive centre for other people who were lost, anxious or frightened. I believe that there are many Christian

communities--many of them within the Church of England--about whom that can be said. It is also sadly the case that they are in relatively small supply and that what we desperately need is a reawakening of that happiness, joy and excitement which is now rare to find. One of the charges which it is perfectly proper to lay on the shoulders of bishops is that they should be bending much of their energy and effort to enable that sort of development to reappear within the

Column 65

Church. If that happened, I believe that one would find that many of the areas of controversy between the Church and the State would melt away.

I am sceptical and edgy about the proposition that, because a number of my Christian friends feel strongly that their belief requires them to behave in a particular way, that should, therefore, become the way in which the State requires the rest of the people to behave. That goes right through a whole range of the controversies which at the moment appear to be heating up the relations between the Church and the state.

I believe that each one of us has within his or her power the capacity enormously to improve the relations between the Church and the state. I listened with enormous interest, as always, to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes.) I detected within it a tendency--perhaps I detected it easily--that we share. I would be happy to see my bishop eating locusts and wild honey provided that he left me free to continue eating in the best restaurants that I could afford.

We all of us have the opportunity to improve relations, but many of us do not encourage within our own association a closer relationship between the local clergy and ourselves. Those who are working for most of their time with the afflicted in one form or another naturally become obseessed by that perspective. Those of us who have, perhaps, a wider range of contacts leave those workers too much to their own devices and then become unreasonably aggrieved when, out of their experience, they say things which strike us as either intolerant or intolerably naive. Mutual association would do us all a great deal of good.

I regret the increasingly rancid tone which some on both sides--if we can call them sides within the Church and within Parliament--are liable to adopt when discussing each other's behaviour. It is far better that we should build on the enormous good will and great strengths that exist. As many have said during the debate, we should not be so sensitive to criticism. If the Church wishes to speak out on political issues, those who do so on its behalf must be prepared--I think that most of them accept this --to be confronted in a political way. For some of them, however, that is a bruising experience. When the Church does that, we who have developed skins of considerable thickness in this place should not be so sensitive. It is a curious perversity. We give the bishops--most of them are highly intelligent people--considerable authority within both Church and state, and it is curious that we should become so resentful if some of them, entirely properly or sometimes intemperately or stupidly, say things of which we do not approve. I could say much more but I am aware that there are others who wish to contribute to the debate. 6.52 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood) : I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) on introducing the motion. I am sure that our discussion this afternoon has shown the timeliness of the debate as well as presenting the House of Commons in a much truer light than those who report our proceedings sometimes convey. We have had an interesting and civilised exchange of views across the Floor

Column 66

of the House. There are fundamental differences between hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, but these have been expressed and thrashed out in a civilised way.

I suppose that we as politicians are on dangerous ground when we venture to comment on matters of morality. It is almost as dangerous as when the clergy enter into the political fray, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Kent (Mr. Rowe) has said. It is a commentary on the state of the Church of England in particular that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove has tabled the motion and that there has been so much debate on the role of the Church and on the way in which it is performing that role.

The Church of England must give a much clearer lead than that which it is now presenting to us. Never was there a greater need for abiding Christian values to be clearly and unequivocally proclaimed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr Burt) rightly said, there must be absolute guidance without equivocation. That is what our young people especially need. They do not need to be taught that life is a vast grey area. They must be taught in terms of black and white. They will discover as adults that life is not black and white and is instead a large grey area, but without a basic grounding, what hope have they of succeeding in this world?

I am concerned especially about the pressures on young people. As the father of three children, I have been placed in the dilemma in which many other parents have found themselves. Our children watch television programmes such as "Dallas". That programme and others portray a way of life that is entirely alien to that which the Church and most parents are trying to teach their children. How can we proclaim fidelity in marriage when night after night during episodes of "Dallas" we see people leaping in and out of bed with one another?

Mr. Nicholas Baker : The answer is to turn off the television set.

Mr. Howarth : As my hon. Friend says, the answer is to turn it off. Unfortunately, the programme is shown before the watershed hour. We cannot sit constantly by the on-off switch checking what is being shown on the screen.

What are we getting from the Churches? I believe that there is a preoccupation with the transient and a flirtation with party politics instead of a concentration on the abiding issues. The Church has plenty to say about South Africa. Until last week it had much to say about black sections. The Race Relations Act 1976 was supported by the churches when it first came into operation, but then they found that it conflicted with their aspirations for black sections. They now wish to wriggle out of the law of the land to suit their own purposes. Fortunately, the General Synod thought better of that last week. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) mentioned the case of Viraj Mendis.

Miss Emma Nicholson : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howarth : I shall not give way to my hon. Friend. She has had her say and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove wishes to respond to the debate.

I believe that the Church is taking away our landmarks in what it is doing to our liturgy. This is not a semantic issue. In my view, the Lord's Prayer has been vandalised. That is an example of the false preoccupations of the

Column 67

Church. The issue of women priests is likely to divide the Church. Therefore, it is something on which the Church must embark only with the very greatest care.

This is a Christian country. A recent opinion poll revealed, following a survey, that 85 per cent. of the population regarded itself as Christian. The coin of the realm carries the letters FD--fidei defensor, defender of the faith. It is right that other religions should be referred to, but if we are to understand our country and our history we must understand our own religion. Some Opposition Members have suggested that somehow the Government's policies are at odds with Christian morality.

Ms. Armstrong : Hear, hear.

Mr. Howarth : I contend that irrefutably the arguments lie with us. It is we who are releasing the energy and endeavour of our people. We are allowing the people to make decisions for themselves instead of leaving decision-taking to politicians. I ask the hon. Member for Durham, North- West (Ms. Armstrong) where morality is to be found in the closed shop, which terrorises those working people who do not wish to join a trade union. Where is the morality in inflation, which has destroyed the savings of pensioners? Where is the morality in punitive taxation? I contend that there is no morality in Socialism. 6.57 pm

Sir Hal Miller : I am sure that the House regrets that it was not able to hear more from my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth)

Column 68

because of the pressure of time. He presented an extremely robust defence of the moral base of a great many of our Government's policies.

As I said when I introduced the motion to the House, I appreciate that I am in danger of being misunderstood. Indeed, I was advised by many friends that I would be. Perhaps the misunderstanding was deliberate on the part of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who seems to have been sitting rather too closely to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). He has acquired some rather grubby characteristics as a result. I specifically did not say that priests and bishops should not speak out. I said that they should not expect to be accorded the same authority when they speak on economic or political matters as when they speak on ecclesiastical matters. I said that they could not expect to speak with the same authority from the pulpit or the throne on political matters as on religious matters

We had a wonderful trip down memory lane with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). The right hon. Gentleman referred to liberation theology. Unfortunately time does not permit me to respond. However, hon. Members can read the second Vatican instruction on liberation which I commend as a critique of that theology.

We come to the end of this debate with the issues still unresolved about the disestablishment of the Anglican Church which has had some cross-party support. I ask those who where in favour of that to reflect most seriously on the implications as several of my colleagues have remarked. That could pave the way for much greater and more serious constitutional implications.

It being Seven o'clock, the Proceedings on the Motion lapsed, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13(8) (Arrangement of public business).

Column 69

Official Secrets Bill (Allocation of time)

7 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : I beg to move

That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill :

Committee, Report and Third Reading 1.--(1) The remaining proceedings in Committee on the Bill shall be completed in two allotted days and shall be brought to a conclusion at midnight on the second of those days.

(2) The proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in one allotted day, and shall be brought to a conclusion at Ten o'clock on that day ; and for the purposes of Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee) this Order shall be taken to allot to the proceedings on consideration such part of that day as the Resolution of the Business Committee may determine.

Report of Business Committee 2.--(1) The Business Committee shall report to the House its Resolutions--

(a) as to the proceedings in Committee on the Bill not later than 14th February 1989 ; and

(b) as to the proceedings on consideration of the Bill and as to the allocation of time between those proceedings and proceedings on Third Reading not later than the third day on which the House sits after the day on which the proceedings in Committee on the Bill are concluded.

(2) The Resolutions in any Report made under Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee) may be varied by a further Report so made, whether or not within the time specified in sub-paragraph (1) above and whether or not the Resolutions have been agreed to by the House. Proceedings on going into Committee 3. When the Order of the Day is read for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill, Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without putting any Question, whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

Conclusion of proceedings in Committee 4. On the conclusion of the proceedings in Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

Order of proceedings 5. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which proceedings in Committee or on consideration of the Bill are taken but the Resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in that order.

Dilatory Motions 6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of proceedings on the Bill shall be made on an allotted day except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

Extra time on allotted days 7.--(1) On the first and second allotted days paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for two hours after Ten o'clock.

(2) Any period during which proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock on either of those days under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideraton) shall be in addition to the said period of two hours.

(3) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion ; and on the first or second allotted day that period shall be added to the said period of two hours.

Private business 8. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14

Column 70

(Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of those proceedings.

Conclusion of proceedings

9.--(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)-- (

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair ;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including, in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill) ;

(c) the Question on any amendment or Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment is moved or Motion is made by a member of the Government ;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded ;

and on a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(3) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock--

(a) that Motion shall stand over until the conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time ; and

(b) the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.

(4) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion. Supplemental orders 10.--(1) The proceedings on any Motion made in the House by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.

(2) If on an allotted day on which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

Saving 11. Nothing in this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee shall--

(a) prevent any proceedings to which the Order or Resolution applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by the Order or Resolution ; or

(b) prevent any business (whether on the Bill or not) from being proceeded with on any day after the completion of all such proceedings on the Bill as are to be taken on that day.

Column 71

Recommittal 12.--(1) References in this Order to proceedings on consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings at those stages, respectively, for, on or in consequence of, recommittal.

(2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to recommit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.

Interpretation 13. In this Order--

"allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the day, provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day, or is set down for consideration on that day ;

"the Bill" means the Official Secrets Bill ;

"Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.

The first thing to say is that no-one can doubt that the Official Secrets Bill is an important measure that goes to the heart of the Government's responsibilities. The Bill is a radical narrowing of the scope of the criminal law. It will repeal section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, replacing it with much narrower provisions aimed at protecting, and protecting effectively, official information whose unauthorised disclosure would cause a serious degree of harm to the public interest.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Does the Leader of the House accept that "effectively" means that most people will have to obey the law willingly? By shoving the Bill through the House in this way, does he accept that he is destroying much of the impact which the legislation might have? Many people outside this place will be completely disillusioned by the way in which the Bill has been pushed through. Does he accept that he should not be moving a guillotine motion like this on a constitutional matter?

Mr. Wakeham : I will make those points in my speech. I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : If I misheard the Leader of the House, I hope that he will correct me. I believe that he used the phrase "a serious degree of harm". That is what he just read from his brief. Where does that appear in the Bill?

Mr. Wakeham : I had better make my speech in my own way. The hon. Gentleman can argue his point in his own way later.

Our proposals outline six specific categories of official information that will continue to be protected by the criminal law. That is fewer than any previous Government have proposed. Within those categories we will introduce a number of tests of harm which the prosecution will have to prove. Our proposals add up to a coherent and ambitious reform which is bolder than anything attempted by any Government in this area since the war.

The House will recall that we published a White Paper in June of last year which was debated in July. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary promised then to listen carefully to the points that were made and to take account of them as the Government prepared the Bill. He has done that. The Bill is a significant further narrowing of the scope

Column 72

of the criminal law from the White Paper proposals. It has proved difficult to please everyone, but I believe that we have got our proposals right and that the time has come to settle on the successor to section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, as that section is generally recognised as being too wide and too weak.

Mr. Dalyell : Will the Leader of the House give way?

Mr. Wakeham : No. I will give way later.

The House has already devoted a considerable amount of time to debating our proposals. We had a debate on the White Paper last summer. Just before Christmas, the Bill had a full day's consideration on Second Reading when the House approved it by 298 votes to 221. We have now had two sittings in a Committee of the whole House which have lasted for a total of 13 hours. However, we have not yet finished considering the first clause and in that time have debated only three groups of amendments.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) rose --

Next Section

  Home Page