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Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Apart from a brief absence, I have been present to listen to all the speeches in this debate. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), as I wholeheartedly agreed with between 85 per cent. and 90 per cent. of his speech. The one particular message that was important was his reference to the constitutional importance of the legislation, and I support his view on this matter--that the Bill should be dealt with as a constitutional Bill on the Floor of the House.

One complaint that I have about the speech of the hon. Member for North Antrim is that he was far too charitable and courteous to the hon. Member for Halesowen and

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Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley), who opened his remarks by saying, "We must support the police"--implying that anyone not in the Lobby with the Home Secretary tonight would be against the police. That is an outrageous slur on hon. Members who wish to scrutinise legislation as well as do justice to the police. We need no lessons from him about supporting the police, and we wish to do a diligent job as hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge went on to refer to the civil liberties lobby as if they were loopy, but then complained--no doubt for local consumption--that his local police federation was concerned about some of the employment ramifications of the Bill. He also referred to the Worcestershire young farmers, who will be faced with enormous costs following this legislation. No doubt he will trot that out back home to show how strong and vigilant he has been in the Chamber. He should support the hon. Member for North Antrim and others who believe that there should be proper scrutiny of the legislation, The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge needs to be put in his place.

I certainly recognise that some aspects of the Bill have merit. For example, we need to protect youngsters who are members of voluntary organisations, and we certainly need to combat organised crime and the appalling growth of terrorism. Earlier, I spoke with the chief executive of the Scouts Association who stated that the Scouts and other charitable organisations had real concerns about the cost implications of the Bill, and about the fact that it will deter people from taking part in important youth work.

It is no good the Home Secretary, or indeed the shadow Home Secretary, saying that this is not a real problem. If there are costs for charitable organisations, we are duty bound to minimise them--if not avoid them. The House must address itself to that matter. For the record, the Scouts Association considers that if the legislation is unamended, vetting will cost the Scouts £500,000 a year.

We have heard the Home Secretary state that he wishes to repeal the so-called Weatherill amendment. There were indications in another place that the Government had argued that there would not necessarily be a duty to vet all volunteers who have access to children and young people. That fills the Scout Association and me with concern. There is demonstrably a need for proper vetting, but it should not impose disproportionate costs.

Equally, the Bill needs scrutiny to ensure that absurd provisions are not included. For example, a piano teacher with a regular group of young pupils will, as the Bill stands, have to apply for vetting. That shows how the Bill is ill conceived, ill thought out and ill prepared; it does no credit to the Home Secretary or to those who are prepared to let it pass without criticism today.

The one subject on which I reserve support for the hon. Member for Antrim, North concerns ministers of religion. I would not dispute his great knowledge of the reformation, but I am told by Anglican ministers that the Act of Uniformity 1662 reinforced the concept of what is described as the sacrament of confession in the Church of England. It is a matter of English law. Indeed, I am told that Anglican ministers are prohibited from treating the seal of the confession as anything other than sacrosanct. The sanctity of confession is therefore not a matter only of Roman Catholicism; it concerns English law in relation to the established Church.

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Ministers of religion, when acting in that capacity, must have some privilege, whether they be rabbis, Roman Catholic priests, Anglican ministers, Methodist ministers--my local Methodist minister, the Rev. Bob Pritchard, in particular, is concerned about the matter--along with members of the Presbyterian Church and ministers of many other religions.

The Anglican Bishop of Bradwell reminded me--perhaps this backs up to some extent what the hon. Member for Antrim, North said in the latter part of his speech--that any prudent, self-respecting and dutiful minister of religion who is consulted by someone who is troubled in conscience and may have committed a heinous crime, will counsel that, if there is remorse, one must own up to one's wrongdoing or crime.

There must be many instances--we have no way of measuring--in which ministers of religion have helped the police and minimised the trauma and hurt that come from prolonged investigations, because people have taken their advice, owned up and demonstrated contrition.

Electronic surveillance of the confessional or of discussions with ministers of religion that are not described as confessional is not an absurd notion. There was a serious case of that in the past 12 months in the United States of America, which has the same common law system as we do. That incident has now been challenged in the courts there.

I have some sympathy with law enforcement officers, who come under political, public and professional pressure to try to get an arrest in the shortest possible time; that is their duty. If they have no limitation by statute on how they should conduct their inquiries they would almost be failing in their duties if they did not exploit every means open to them.

That is why there should be a specific exemption in the Bill--not in the code of practice--to ensure that the discussions of ministers of religion and others, including lawyers, counsellors and social workers, who receive confidential information in a professional capacity, are not trespassed on by electronic surveillance.

I know that others want to speak, but I have been here throughout the debate, which is not true of every hon. Member who has spoken or who is present at the moment. I want to express my grave disquiet about the way in which the legislative process of the Bill is being conducted.

The Bill has a big chunk missing, which will be contained in the code of practice. Earlier, I had occasion to complain that, for two or three days, I had been seeking from the Vote Office any supporting material to the Bill. However, nothing was available. Today, I discovered that a senior churchman had for some days had a copy of the code of practice.

I telephoned the Home Secretary's private office, and was told that no code of practice relating to surveillance was available. I expressed concern, and said that someone outside the House had a copy. The good gentleman I spoke to was somewhat embarrassed, and said that he would come back to me. Just before 1 o'clock, a code of practice was faxed to me.

To be candid, between then and the beginning of this debate, I did not have the opportunity to give it the scrutiny, understanding and reading that I would have liked. We then found that the draft code was still not

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available in the Vote Office. That is an outrage, and it shows what a charade our legislative process is. We pretend to A-level and university students that we give our legislation great scrutiny, but we do not.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton(Sir I. Lawrence), who is not in his place, told us that we could not deal with the matter on the Floor of the House because the general election is coming up soon. If one railroads legislation merely because of the impending general election, that demonstrates my point--we are not doing things properly, and our processes are being dictated by other considerations.

I am not prepared, therefore, to acquiesce in sloppy law making for anyone. I notice that the Opposition Front Bench is now vacant, which I regret. I was asked from a sedentary position whether I would like to serve on the Standing Committee that will consider the Bill. I do not mind doing so, but I give notice that I will seek to amend it.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: I do not want to put the hon. Gentleman in a difficult position, but it is possible that the new Parliament will have a Labour Government--I say not probable, but possible. Would the hon. Gentleman then insist that all constitutional matters were taken on the Floor of the House and not upstairs in Committee, as has been indicated?

Mr. Mackinlay: "Insist" is the wrong term. I do not have sufficient clout. I have made it abundantly clear, however, both inside and outside the House, that the tradition whereby constitutional issues are dealt with on the Floor of the House should not be abrogated. On previous occasions when both the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary have been pushing through legislation, I have also as a matter of record said that I did not think that the legislation was being given sufficient scrutiny. I do not vary my line. It has probably not done me a great deal of good, but I happen to believe that we in this House must jealously guard the proper scrutiny of legislation. That is not happening at this time.

How can I be satisfied that, by giving a nod and a wink to this legislation tonight, the code of practice will be sufficient? We will debate that code, which is bigger in volume and importance than a whole Act of Parliament, for one and a half hours, and it is wrong that it cannot be amended. For those reasons, I have no alternative but to demonstrate my deep concern about the way the House is behaving, and the only way I can do so is by joining the Liberals in the Lobby tonight.

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