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In any event, because of the nature of what is being done, such arrangements take a bit of preparation and planning. One cannot decide on such a course of action on the spur of the moment. It would be wrong to exaggerate the number of cases in which special urgency procedures are used.

The provision is there now and our job, as we revise the Bill on Report, is to ensure that it is adequate. I hope that the Minister will tell us that urgency really means urgency, and that the provision will not be used lightly. If possible, the code of practice could be improved to stipulate that.

What is said in the House will help to reinforce the fact that the procedures should not be used unless it is not possible to go through the formal procedures, because to do so would prevent the police from doing the important job that they have in hand.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I support the amendment. Perhaps the most grievous thing about the Bill--it is at the heart of the reason why I oppose it root, branch and in every way that I can--is the concept of moving from traditional, constitutional and historical values.

No one should enter our homes without the authority of a warrant, and such a warrant should not be self-issuing. The extraordinary thing about the Bill is that although we have insisted that warrants be granted to the security and intelligence services only through the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary, who are accountable on the Floor of the House, the Home Office now countenances the idea that chief constables or their deputies should be able to authorise themselves in any circumstances.

It was extraordinary to see the House of Lords reissue the language of this country, for this is a land of liberty. We believe in things, and one of the most important of those things is that a warrant must be issued to permit entry into people's homes.

Under the revised provisions, the Home Secretary still countenances the idea that circumstances could exist--he described them as extraordinary--in which it would be necessary to allow a police officer to be in effect self-warranting. That is wholly inappropriate.

Why does our language describe us as a land of liberty? Why have we had all those protections? Why have many people come here as refugees to escape what has been

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happening abroad? Because we were people attentive to due process of law. That is why I support the amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Why, even in extraordinary circumstances, should a chief constable be able to authorise the bugging and burgling of premises? As we were reminded by the speeches made in another place, that is unlawful, although it has been practised by the Home Office and by police forces for many years.

People will understand our sensitivity, especially in the west midlands, where it was necessary to disband our serious crime squad. Policemen themselves had come to conclusions about free citizens and ensured that they were brought to trial and found guilty. Subsequently the convictions had to be overturned, because the police had invented evidence or circumstances.

That is the danger with self-authorisation. People can become so intent on the cause that they are pursuing, the crime that they "know" someone else has committed, that they search out and find evidence, whether it is there or not. Now, for reasons of administrative convenience, the Home Office has introduced a measure that contradicts a fundamental principle--that the agencies of the Executive should not themselves be able to do these things. On Second Reading, I asked the shadow Home Secretary what the exceptional circumstances were. I noticed that, in Committee, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said:

Remember--my right hon. Friend said:

    "I can give no better example".

I have always understood that kidnapping is a crime, so the police are in pursuit of someone in the commission of a crime. The law of the land is on their side as they reach and pluck out those criminals. Why is it therefore necessary to construct an extraordinary warrant for the few seconds in which my right hon. Friend says that the police may have to be able to bug and burgle premises, of which they were not aware until a few seconds before? If one disentangles the logic of the proposal, it does not stand up.

I see that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is frowning, but he will be aware of the indignation of many of us in the House at the Labour party, which stood aside on this matter until the House of Lords brought it to book. It was prepared to accept the wholesale non-use of warrants to achieve those administrative purposes for the police.

Mr. Michael: The hon. Gentleman should not make up the position of the Labour party, which I shall explain in due course. Could he explain what he has just said, as my frown was one of puzzlement? In the circumstances that he has just described, what would be the authority for the intrusion on to property to bug, with which he apparently has no problem?

Mr. Shepherd: I am referring to a kidnap in progress, when, for some reason, the police are required

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to bug or burgle premises. If one tests the proposition, one must ask why any of these provisions are necessary. The police know their duty, and are supported by the law and by the public. There is no need to bug premises. I am trying to suggest that we have constructed the most artificial and curious circumstances in which it is necessary for the police to intervene. I am trying to reiterate a principle that is profound to the nature of our constitution--that no authority, or part of the civil authority of the Executive, may of itself issue warrants to reach into our homes during the investigation of what amounts to 0.00001 per cent. of all possible cases at issue. Yet this law will apply to all 55 million people in the United Kingdom.

In pursuit of administrative convenience, we are prepared to throw away the reason why this was a land of liberty. I just wish that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth could give his attention to reading the original Hansard debates from the House of Lords.

Mr. Michael: Come on.

Mr. Shepherd: There is no point in trying to brush this aside, because it is a matter of indignation for some of us.

Mr. Michael: I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not be absurd. Of course I have read the Hansard reports from the House of Lords--they were extremely important debates. I was involved in debating those issues long before they reached the House of Lords, because of the importance of balancing the authorisation of surveillance to protect the public with civil liberties. Let the hon. Gentleman make his point without trying to misrepresent the position of others.

Mr. Shepherd: The conclusion that the hon. Gentleman came to was that we did not need warrants. That was the position put and argued in the House of Lords, so he should not get indignant with me about reading the report of the House of Lords debate, because it is on the record. We know full well where the hon. Gentleman started from. The House of Lords converted him because of the power of the arguments. The Labour party changed its position and that is fine--it is a triumph for the debating process in both Houses, and I salute that with pride.

We must return to the extraordinary circumstances elicited by the Home Office, which stated that it was trying to make lawful that which was unlawful and which had been a practice--through its memoranda or guidance notes--in our system of which I, through ignorance, was unaware. I suspect that large numbers of other people were unaware. Do we know whether our house is being burgled or bugged? Usually, we do not.

My nightmare is that a burglary or bugging will take place at the home of an elderly couple who are leaving from Birmingham airport and who find that they have forgotten their passports. They might come back and be confronted with intruders in their house. I can see circumstances arising from this issue that would give rise to public concern about the functions and actions of the police.

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We have made it necessary for the security and intelligence services to effect such activities, but with a warrant in all circumstances. We had some great debates in the House on that subject. Yet the police, in a tiny fraction of cases, of which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said

will not be required to have such a warrant.

I am terribly worried about that matter and I cannot support the Bill on that basis. We trust our police and we want to maintain such a relationship with them, but they must never be the instrument of a central authority. Secondly, our constitution is about checks and balances. We have all too few of them and they are precious. Almost the last check and balance is the courts themselves, which now engage in judicial review on a scale unimaginable a generation ago. Why? Because they are almost the only check and balance that we have left. We do not perform the task well enough.

To produce such profound legislation under the avalanche of a general election means that the reflection and consideration necessary to such an important principle have not been given in this Chamber or this House, so I support the amendment.

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