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Mr. Shepherd: As Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, he brought the arguments together. We are considering new clause 6. I heard the expression "Executive override" for the first time last night. I thought to myself, "What does it mean?" For a moment, in the lull that occurs in debates, I wondered whether it was a new title by Jeffrey Archer. I see that the distinguished and hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) is present. No doubt she has experience of some of the wilder reaches--

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Not of Jeffrey Archer. [Laughter.]

Mr. Shepherd: I do not want to have too big a josh at Lord Archer's expense, but the concept of Executive override, which the Home Secretary introduced to the debate last night, should make us pause. What does he mean by Executive override? It sounds awfully grand. It is American, is it not? There is lots of chrome--or Croham--on it, and it is surrounded by outriders and CIA agents: it is presidential. It must appear somewhere in the American constitution, no less. But no--it does not mean anything quite like that. It means, "I shall be judge and jury in my own case." That is all. It is a simple concept. No, no, no--I shall not let the Home Secretary do this.

Anything that touches on the heart of the state is excluded from the Bill--remember that--and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made the best of all points on that: all the instances given by the Home Secretary last night in his 40-minute exegesis on new clause 6 revolved round the health of General Pinochet. The right hon. Gentleman said that, prospectively, had the Bill been in existence--it is not: remember that also--and had the commissioner ordered the release of Pinochet's medical records, he would have needed an Executive override to ensure that the commissioner could not receive them.

All that was prospective and fantastical. Across the Floor of the House and from a sedentary position, I said, "What about data protection?" The Home Secretary said, "No one brought that to my attention." I asked myself, "Is that naivety? Was the Department unaware of it?" Of course no one would have brought data protection to his attention: the Data Protection Act 1998 did not come into force until 1 March, so that was not a weighing consideration. Those provisions are now in place and, one day, the Bill will also be in place. Then there will be a tussle between the instances that the right hon. Gentleman gave yesterday, as if they somehow reinforced his argument.

When I say that the argument floats, this is what I mean. We already have a belt-and-braces approach, and the Home Secretary can seek judicial review if the Government do not like a decision on these things, which are not very important matters in terms of the security of

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the state: he can even refer a matter to a tribunal. Those are the stages that relate to the little request from Mrs. Brown in Aldridge-Brownhills to see some information. The new clause has nothing to do with all the excluded matters. It was tabled only a few days ago, after all the consultative processes, all the listening by the Home Secretary and all the work by the Home Office unit. Let us consider it again.

Executive override! I am so dazzled by it that I should perhaps accept it as a bargain. But what is in it? Who are these Executive overriders? The Home Secretary suggests that the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties--in other words, the House of Commons--should support the new clause going forth to the Lords unamended, containing all these contentions and propositions. That is absurd, and we know that it is because the Home Secretary has told us that the new clause will soon look nothing like this.

Mr. Greenway: It is defective.

Mr. Shepherd: Absolutely. As my hon. Friend says, it is defective. Yet I can see that we have often been nodding donkeys: we agree on the balance of the argument and say, "The Home Secretary is a good and humane man. Is it not rather exciting to have an Executive override? We must go along with the proposition." That is what we are being invited to do. With the best of intentions towards the prospective mayor of London, did anyone think that, under a freedom of information Bill, we would pass to local councillors the right to cut off our access to information?

I do not want to over-dramatise the point; I want to look at the process involved in the Bill. Just a few days ago, at the end of last week, new clause 6 emerged from all the process of generous thought that produced the Labour party's flagship Bill. The construction of yesterday's debate enabled the Home Secretary to lecture us for 45 minutes on its intent, but we did not have a debate on it, although it was pertinent to the general debate.

The hour is late. I know the devices: I have sat on the Government Benches, and I have heard similar arguments--in truth, we all have. Because of that, we are now having a muted and half-baked debate. Few Members are rising to speak--although, having been through the Division Lobbies with members of all parties, I know of their deep discontent with the Bill. All parties--mine today, but yesterday, and for a long yesterday, the party of government--are frustrated about the fact that we are marched through Lobbies, and that the policy, indeed the polity, is determined by a majority vote in one of the Houses of our Parliament.

Do we really want to deliver a defective Bill that shows just how craven we are? We have not had a proper debate in this place, although we have heard the Home Secretary's arguments in great detail and we have read Hansard. The clause sends a very weak signal about who we are. Moreover, it does not send a strong enough signal that the House expects the Bill, and the clause in particular, to be radically altered.

I know that many Labour Members feel that the clause should be amended. I feel that it should be deleted: it is as simple as that. There is no--what were we told about?--dancing by angels on the pins of needles, or pins of

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needles on the heads of angels. The fact is that we have not had a proper or serious debate on Executive override. All it stands for, in the end, is "I shall be judge and jury in these matters that do not even touch on the intimate security of the state and the intimate well-being of the defence and protection of this island."

Dr. David Clark: Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), I am grateful to the Home Secretary for the way in which he listened to the debate yesterday evening. I feel that we have had a good debate on new clause 6, and I think that the Home Secretary showed his stature yesterday by being prepared to open his mind. Indeed, I understand from what he has said this evening that he has gone a stage further.

I do not like the Executive override, but, given that there is to be an override on the part of Ministers, I disagreed with the previous arrangement for two reasons. First, it was the result of a decision by an individual Minister. I felt that, if there was to be an objection, it should be made on the basis of a formal collective arrangement. I also felt that the objection should be in the Bill, and should not be subject to some code or ministerial guideline. If the Home Secretary catches your eye yet again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps he will confirm that he intends, if possible, to specify in the Bill a way in which any override would be exercised by Cabinet Ministers in that formal collective way.

11.45 pm

Mr. Quentin Davies: The Home Secretary, in his speech moving amendment No. 64 and speaking to new clause 6, essentially invited the House to engage with him in a slightly complex negotiation. I think that it is right for the House to be alert and to count our change pretty carefully when we receive such an offer at this stage in a Bill's consideration. I say that despite the considerable charm of manner that the Home Secretary has displayed to the House in the past two days. Judging by his body language and expression in this debate, the effort of that charm of manner may be beginning to tell. We must be none the less grateful for what we have had up to now.

What we must do, however, is to make a distinction between manner and substance. The House's concern must be with the substance, and also with procedure. We are confronted with great complexity of substance and singular convolution of procedure. What essentially has happened is this. First, the Government made some high-sounding promises at the general election and produced a White Paper which, as we all know, was pretty encouraging. Secondly, the Government introduced the Bill, which to say the least was extremely discouraging, since the great bulk of the substance promised in the White Paper had been removed. Thirdly--under pressure largely from Labour Back Benchers but also from Opposition Members--the Home Secretary made a concession, which was to remove clause 48 and to substitute for the discretionary disclosure recommendation the principle that the commissioner can instruct that disclosure should occur. Fourthly, the Home Secretary introduced his new clause 6, which effectively negates that concession by allowing it to be overridden by the mechanism of Executive override. Fifthly, after upsetting everyone by negating his own concession, the right hon. Gentleman offered a thimbleful of new concessions--which amount to changing the reference

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from Minister of the Crown to Cabinet Minister, while not acceding to the request of Labour Back Benchers and Opposition Members to include the very different concept of collective Cabinet responsibility, which has a constitutional significance of its own.

The right hon. Gentleman's action has been a wonderful example of giving something with the right hand, but taking it away with the left. We have to be very careful before we continue in this vein, and must wonder about what type of deal we will ultimately be left with.

I think the solution is extremely clear. There would have been consensus among hon. Members on both sides of the House in support of the right hon. Gentleman if only he had left matters at the third stage--if he had removed clause 48 and replaced it with a right for the Information Commissioner to give an instruction. Why could he not leave it there? If he did that, we would all be extremely happy. By negating his own concession, he can only arouse the worst suspicions about the Government's real intentions and good faith in the matter.

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