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Mr. Richard Shepherd: The hon. Gentleman gave an instance of the bugging of property in an emergency. I do not think that the House has any difficulty with that, in that a helicopter or an unmarked police car may follow a vehicle, and other provisions in criminal law give authority in such circumstances. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect, however, on the question of homes and property? What emergency could arise that would not be covered by the remit of the Security Service Act 1996--which the hon. Gentleman mentioned himself--and the warranting that is necessary in that context? The intelligence services can follow through serious crimes involving, for instance, drugs.

What circumstances are so urgent that the proper provisions of law that now exist--which give police officers the right of access to premises, and so forth--are not sufficient? What could bring about circumstances that are so urgent that action in the tradition of the whole common law world requires prior authorisation?

Mr. Straw: I do not think that occasions will arise very often when, if the police want to place an intrusive device in someone's home or office, the circumstances will be so urgent as to require them to use the second limb of the amendment that was passed in the House of Lords by a large majority, but there will be some such occasions. I gave the example of kidnapping. I understand that many kidnap victims are taken to hotel rooms, but if they were taken to private houses exactly the circumstances that I have described would arise.

Mr. Budgen: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once already. I will give way to him again, but then I should like to get on with my speech.

Mr. Budgen: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the use of a code of practice is unsatisfactory, particularly when the House does not have access to it? It would be much better if the code were incorporated in the statute, which would require either the House or the Standing Committee to consider it a great deal more carefully.

Mr. Straw: One of the great benefits of Standing Committee proceedings, in my experience--I do not know how often the hon. Gentleman sits on such Committees--is that the details of such codes, and of other provisions, can be examined at length. Far more

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forensic scrutiny is possible in Committee than is possible on the Floor of the House. Moreover, the code of practice is not an informal document; it will take the form of a statutory instrument, which must be subject to an affirmative resolution by both Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Mackinlay: That means one hour's debate.

Mr. Straw: I accept that. If my hon. Friend wants to serve on the Standing Committee and suggest that more time should be allowed, that is fine, but the arrangement seems very sensible to me. Labour as well as Conservative Bills have provided in the past, and will provide in the future, for detailed matters relating to the operational parts of Bills to be the subject of more extensive codes and guidance.

By the largest majority in recent history, the other place approved a Labour amendment requiring the prior approval of a commissioner for any intrusion into premises without the consent of the occupier. As we have heard, the same amendment accepted that, in urgent cases, an operation could go ahead on the authorisation of the chief officer, with scrutiny by a commissioner as soon thereafter as reasonably practicable.

In framing the amendment for their Lordships, I sought to do two things. First, I sought to ensure that people's right to believe that their home was their castle was guaranteed; secondly, I sought to ensure that controls on the police were proportionate, and did not gratuitously undermine the difficult and sometimes dangerous work that we expect them to do on our behalf. It is because of the need to balance those two considerations that we have never supported, and do not support, the Liberal Democrat amendment which was also passed by their Lordships, albeit with a smaller majority.

That amendment substitutes a circuit judge for the chief officer in every case. It has two overwhelming defects. First, it takes no account of the reality of some police operations in which the need for speed is essential. An Englishman's home may be his castle, but an Englishman's stolen car is not. Yet, when the police suddenly, and with notice, had the opportunity to place a tracking device on a stolen vehicle that was about to be used in an armed robbery or for drug running, the Liberal Democrats would expect them in every case to go off to a circuit judge for approval before the operation could take place. The practical effect would be that the operation could not take place at all.

The second objection is this: a transfer of decision for the initial authorisation from a chief officer to a circuit judge would have wholly undermined the responsibility of the chief officer for the actions of the police under his command. The fact that under the present arrangements, and under the Bill, the chief officer may have to answer in court for his or her authorisation is a powerful discipline and control on the use of such powers. It is possible that the Liberal Democrats have not been immune to those arguments. Their reasoned amendment says something remarkably different from the policy that they pursued in the other place. It speaks only of prior judicial authorisation for the bugging of private places, which is a much more limited proposition than the Lords amendment.

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Following their Lordships' decisions on our amendment, discussions took place between the Home Secretary and me. The result of those discussions is reflected in a written answer given to me yesterday evening, which will form the basis of amendments that will be tabled in Committee in due course.

Mr. Mackinlay: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) will forgive me. We were told a few minutes ago that the draft code of practice was available, and I said that it was not. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has now been to the Vote Office to check, and has discovered that it is not available. It is clearly available to Privy Councillors, but not to hon. Members. I cannot make the position any plainer: a document that has been referred to in the House is not available to hon. Members. Could we have some protection and intervention on your behalf, Mr. Deputy Speaker? It is fundamentally important for us to have access to the document.

Mr. Howard: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point about the code is that it will need to be amended--in particular, to deal with many of the points that have been commented on this afternoon. I am, however, making arrangements for it to be deposited in the Table Office as soon as possible.

Mr. Budgen: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Let me deal with the other points first. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) will have heard what the Home Secretary said. As the document has not been formally laid before the House, it is not up to the Clerks to make it available; it is up to the Government.

Mr. Budgen: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will the Home Secretary confirm that he is proposing to lay the code of practice before the House in the form of a statutory instrument, and that the House will have no opportunity to amend it or consider it in detail? Will he confirm that it will be either passed or rejected after a debate in general terms lasting an hour and a half?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, but I am sure that the Home Secretary will have heard what he has said.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have elevated me to the Privy Council, but that is premature, although some of us may hope.

The Home Secretary spoke of puffs of smoke. I can only say that what was required to make him perform what has been described as a U-turn was not so much a puff of smoke as a single breath from an hereditary peer--or two or three.

Mr. Howard rose--

Mr. Straw: I am coming to the Secretary of State's aid, if he would hang on just one moment.

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In his defence, and mine, our capacity for reassessing our position in the light of representations is nothing compared with that of The Guardian. It has waxed eloquent about this issue since it discovered towards the end of November that it was a great matter of civil liberties. I speak only in the Secretary of State's defence--I see it as part of my role. It must be said in his favour that, when he made a speech on 2 July to the Association of Chief Police Officers setting out in considerable detail what would be in the Bill and going through the various ways in which surveillance could be achieved--for example, under provisions that were exactly those in the original Bill--The Guardian did not report it as a major breach of civil liberties.

I have The Guardian of Wednesday 3 July 1996. It is a useful historical record, which The Guardian, as we speak, is trying to excise from its database. It says:

and then claims that the Home Secretary's proposal would lead to

    "Greater accountability in police bugging and electronic surveillance operations".

It has been suggested occasionally that some people have come late to this issue. I say in defence of the Secretary of State defence and myself only that he and I were there a bit before some of the newspapers.

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