Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Simon Hughes: The Liberal Democrats are co-signatories to and supporters of the new clause. We are sympathetic to the proposal, and we argued for a similar case in relation to the part of the Bill that is covered by the other amendments. I hope that in the short time available the Minister can respond to our concerns and either accommodate the new clause in total or indicate that the Government will respond to the proposed requirement that there should be an independent verification of the seizure by somebody who is not acting on behalf of the authority, but can be there on behalf of the person whose properties are seized.

Mr. Lock: If I do not manage to cover the sensible and valid points made by the hon. Members for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I will write to them.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath is right to say that the measure arises from the Bramley judgment. To take new clause 6 first, I recognise that it might be sensible to strengthen the procedures covering expert input to searches where decisions need to be made about whether particular material is legally privileged or not. However, suitable guidance is more appropriate to the relevant code of practice than putting words--which are, of themselves, restrictive--in the Bill.

14 Mar 2001 : Column 1100

Requiring the presence of independent counsel on every occasion--rather than using best endeavours, or requiring counsel where the finding of such material had not been anticipated--would be excessive. Investigators must have scope to judge the circumstances of individual cases. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath makes a good point about the desirability of having independent counsel available to determine the validity of legally privileged material. However, the right way to deal with this is by guidance--which can be adapted in the light of experience to test the balance between the two competing interests--rather than by fixing it for all time in the Bill.

As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates, legally privileged material can lawfully be seized under the new powers in clauses 52 and 53 only if it is not reasonably practicable to separate it--

Miss Widdecombe: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have just two minutes left and seven groups of amendments have not been reached. At least two of those groups cover ground that we did not cover in Committee. In your view, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is this adequate parliamentary scrutiny?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think that the right hon. Lady knows that the Chair does not have a view on these matters and simply presides over the business on the Order Paper.

Mr. Lock: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I find it astonishing that Opposition Members raise serious points, ask for responses that I am quite happy to give and then use the time raising points of order.

In all other circumstances, material that is accepted by an investigator as being legally privileged cannot be seized. However, consideration can be given to using the code of practice to extend the circumstances in which seized material which the occupier considers to be privileged should be secured pending judicial arbitration, and that could provide a strong backstop where contentious issues arose in the absence of expert advisers such as independent counsel.

I turn next to amendment No. 19. I cannot see how the issue of whether or not electronically held material can be copied on premises is relevant to deciding whether that material should be removed from the premises for sifting or analysis. I suppose that the argument might be based on the suggestion that if a copy can be taken, it is not necessary to remove the originals. In some investigations that may be true and the code of practice that will support these provisions will emphasise that investigators should always give careful consideration to whether removing copies or images of relevant material would be a satisfactory alternative to taking the originals, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can put himself in the position of investigating police officers who realise that in order to make sense of the material--

It being half-past Eight o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Orders [7 November and 29 January], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question accordingly negatived.

Remaining Government amendments agreed to.

Order for Third reading read.

14 Mar 2001 : Column 1101

8.31 pm

Mr. Charles Clarke: This has been an extraordinary process. I am a relatively new Minister with less experience than many of those present. I have had responsibility for a number of Bills, including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill and the Terrorism Bill in the last Session, working with many Opposition Front Benchers from both the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I sat on Standing Committee F and have been in the Chamber throughout the proceedings on Report. We are now considering the Bill on Third Reading with a view to sending to the other place a substantial number of provisions that have received no consideration by the House. It is surely a matter of the gravest concern to the Chair that this can happen. Can you advise me on what can be done to ensure that we as legislators can do our job properly and not destroy the reputation of the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Essentially the same point of order has been put to the Chair by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and my answer cannot be any different. This is a matter not for the Chair, but for debate, however contentious hon. Members may feel it is. It is a matter for debate and not a matter of order.

Mr. Clarke: I was just saying that I thought that it had been an extraordinary process of debate. It has been characterised by extraordinary anti-parliamentary activity by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). Before she leaves the Chamber, I hope that she will take the opportunity to apologise publicly to the House and to the people of this country for her behaviour, which was a total outrage.

Miss Widdecombe rose--

Mr. Blunt rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Can I establish whether the Minister intends to give way?

Mr. Clarke: I was giving way to the right hon. Lady.

Mr. Blunt: We never know what the Minister is doing.

Miss Widdecombe: Indeed. The Minister has criticised my conduct. I have tried to uphold the rights of the House to debate and scrutinise legislation. The Government should apologise--not us--for one of the biggest ever affronts to democracy. We have not even opposed the Bill and now a whole section of it--part II--which was not scrutinised in Committee or today will not be scrutinised at all, yet the people of this country will be governed by it.

Mr. Clarke: I only wish that the right hon. Lady had had the courage to say that in the debate on Monday evening when she had the chance to wind up the debate and address the issues in very great detail.

Mr. Heald: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Did you hear what the Minister just said, namely, that on

14 Mar 2001 : Column 1102

Monday, when the business of the House was discussed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) had an opportunity to wind up the debate? I do not know whether you have had the opportunity to look at Hansard, but you will be aware that on that occasion the Government closed debate on the motion, therefore it was quite impossible for my right hon. Friend to put her case, much as she wanted to do so. Is it in order, and is it parliamentary, for an allegation to be made which is obviously factually incorrect?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I cannot permit a rerun of Monday's debate. Any hon. Member who sought to catch the eye of the Chair would have had an opportunity to be called.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am concerned by what has just been said. There was a closure motion, so some Members who were rising may not have been able to speak.

Mr. Blunt: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was one of those Members who were rising constantly throughout the debate seeking to catch the eye of the Chair, but I was not able to speak because of the closure motion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Nothing that I said in my previous ruling excludes the fact that in any debate it is possible that the Chair may accept a closure motion. Up to that point, it is open to any hon. Member to catch the eye of the Chair. There is nothing inconsistent in the two positions.

Mr. Clarke: I shall respect your judgment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that debate should not be rerun, but the point is simple. Before the closure motion was moved, an offer was made through the usual channels for wind-up speeches to be made by both Front-Bench spokesmen, which was rejected. That is the fact, and it is a great shame that it did not happen.

Let us come to the substance of the debate. Some clauses have been exceptionally well debated. As with some of the other Bills that I have mentioned, we have had some extremely positive and constructive debates, including the debates that we have just had on the new clauses on paedophile crime moved by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the debates on DNA. But we also had a large number of other debates where that was not the case.

Next Section

IndexHome Page