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Mr. Straw indicated dissent.

Mr. Maclennan: With respect, he has. Last night, the Home Secretary made it absolutely plain that he was prepared to consider other ways of giving effect to an Executive override, including introducing it by order. I took him at his word, as I am sure he intended the House to do. I realise that events were happening and minds were moving quickly; as I said, that is welcome. However, I hope that he will not suggest that the structure of new clause 6 is the one he had in mind.

Mr. Straw: What I said last night is on the record and there it remains; I do not see the point of going over yesterday's debate. I do not resile from what I said yesterday. Of course we shall consider the points that were made, and of course new clause 6 will be amended in the other place. However, I have said why I think it important that the Bill goes to the other place containing not only our amendments to clause 13, but the principle of an Executive override. It would be disingenuous to imply that the absence of that concept in the Bill when it goes to the Lords means that it is not the Government's recommendation that, subject to certain clear limitations, it should form part of the Bill.

Mr. Maclennan: I do not resile from the points that I have already made. The new clause sets out a scheme that is not conformable with the Secretary of State's intention.

A more fundamental point is that many Members of Parliament, on both sides of the House, take the view that an Executive override provision is undesirable. We would prefer that it not be proceeded with at all and that the decision be left to the commissioner. For that reason, I hope that the House will not give its assent to new clause 6. The other amendments could be broadly conformable with a scheme that we could live with, but new clause 6 is unacceptable. I hope that the House will decide that it makes more sense not to support the new clause. To do so would not frustrate in any way the Home Secretary's wishes.

Mr. Radice: For those of us who have argued for the New Zealand model of having an Executive override operated at high level and based on collective decision making, which I understand the Government have accepted, it would be logical to support new clause 6, provided that the Home Secretary gives assurances that it will be amended as promised last night and reiterated this evening, and that the Government will seriously consider putting the principle of collective decision making in the Bill, where appropriate.

Mr. Greenway: It was obvious throughout the Committee proceedings that this part of the Bill would have to be altered. Some of the amendments that the

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Home Secretary has now tabled, especially Nos. 64 and 65, are the very amendments that his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State resisted in Committee. We are prepared to offer a word of welcome to, and our thanks for, those amendments.

However, as the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) points out, the fact remains that, with new clause 6, we are being asked to signal the acceptability to the House of the concept of Executive override or veto. In more than four months' deliberations--indeed, until yesterday--that concept had never been discussed or debated. It must be obvious to the Home Secretary that he is asking us not only to send a Bill to the other place containing a clause that he accepts is defective--hardly a satisfactory state of affairs--but to underpin a concept that we have not discussed, while failing to meet our argument that the commissioner should have the final say on whether information is released.

Even without new clause 6, and even if the Home Secretary accepted what I believe to be the considered view of the House, if the commissioner makes a ruling with which any Minister feels uncomfortable, there is still a right of appeal to a tribunal. Following the appeal to a tribunal, there is a right of appeal through judicial review on the question whether the information should be released.

Anyone outside this place listening to our deliberations might begin to wonder why the Home Secretary should want to include in the Bill provisions that effectively leave the final say with Ministers. They might think that national security might require that the Minister has the final say. The answer would be that national security is exempted in the Bill anyway. Other considerations might be defence of the realm or confidentiality in respect of major inquiries and investigations.

I shall not detain the House with the list. I simply make the point that every valid argument that anyone could advance as to why a ministerial override is necessary falls because every clause by way of exemption covers all the eventualities that we have ever been asked to consider as issues that would justify a ministerial veto.

In an earlier debate, I asked one of the Ministers--I think that it was the Home Secretary himself--whether he could give an example in which a Minister would be required to override the release of information and which had underpinned Government policy making, and he could not give me one. The only examples about which we have heard during this debate and throughout Second Reading and Committee are all covered in the Bill by way of exemption.

We have devoted many hours to consideration of these matters over the past three or four months, during which I led for the Opposition in Committee, and have done so with an open and constructive approach. I am sure the Under-Secretary would agree that that characterised the Committee stage. However, we have ended up at this late stage with an admission by the Home Secretary not just that the Bill is defective, but that the scheme of affairs that he brought to the House on Second Reading all those weeks ago was defective at that stage as well.

The Home Secretary's contortions on the measure make him appear quite ridiculous. In recent weeks, he has gained something of a reputation for being a political Houdini. On this occasion, he has tied himself up in knots.

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It would be far better if we sent the Bill to the other place without new clause 6, to give him and his hon. Friends the opportunity to introduce measures that have been thought through for proper consideration.

Dr. Tony Wright: I dissociate myself from those last remarks. If one thing has distinguished our deliberations over the past two days and previously, it has been the way in which the Home Secretary has been prepared to engage with the debate and respond to concerns that have been raised. I shall go further and say publicly what I said to him privately this evening: he is probably the only Minister in the Government who could have engaged with the House of Commons in quite the way that he did last night. He displayed an openness and a willingness to appreciate different points of view. The House does not usually conduct its business in that way. All of us who have been, in Whips' language, difficult should be the first to acknowledge that.

11.30 pm

Deciding who has the last word has lain behind most of our discussions on the Bill. Will a Minister, a public official, who has a potential vested interest, or an independent person have the last word? For many of us, the credibility and integrity of the Bill depended on the answer.

We have made progress on that fundamental issue. The Bill that we are considering represents progress when compared with the original draft and we have been told that further progress will be made in another place. We must record those achievements. We must also record the fact that the question about the last word remains. Why do Ministers believe that they need a comfort blanket and that they cannot relinquish the final word to an independent commissioner? That is not a rhetorical question; I simply do not know the answer. That is why we wanted to veto the veto. The case for the veto has not been made. That is fundamental because of the way in which the Bill is constructed.

In a spirit of reasonableness, and

I was prepared to consider a method that would tackle my fundamental objections through the approach that the Government clearly wanted to press. The Home Secretary has moved some way down that route. However, I want to press him a little harder.

A compromise would have to contain the three ingredients that I mentioned earlier. First, there would have to be a collective Cabinet decision. Secondly, the scope of the veto would have to be substantially narrower. It should resemble the Irish legislation, under which certificates can be served, and which covers key state interests. Thirdly, the veto would have to be removed from local authorities. I want the Home Secretary to assure me that those three conditions will be reflected in the altered new clause 6.

I should like to believe that we have reached a common position. However, I fear that that has not yet happened. The question about the last word remains. I am willing to be as emollient as possible, but I fear that if the Home Secretary can say no more tonight, I cannot support new clause 6 in its current form.

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Mr. Shepherd: The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) has played a magnificent part in the proceedings on this Bill. I am therefore diffident about any split in approach. As Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, he marshalled the arguments--

Mr. David Davis: Public Administration Committee.

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