Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Letwin: I certainly do not know whether I shall be able to convince my hon. and learned Friend. If I can, it will be a good test of whether I am right. He is one of those Members whose legal knowledge and attention to these matters is of the greatest. Let me try to convince him.

We believe that the constraints established by subsections (3), (4) and (5), which will force primary legislation de novo for part 4 within a year, for parts 3, 5, 10, 11 and 13 within two years and so forth, already create a sufficient lever for Parliament against the Executive. Subsection (3) would allow part 1, a relatively uncontroversial part of the Bill, to stand for five years. Under subsection (2)(c), to which my hon. and learned Friend refers, the Home Secretary would have the option to implement the provision, to let it lapse because it was no longer deemed necessary or to bring it back again within five years. Given that at the end of five years primary legislation would be required to re-enact the provision, it seemed to us reasonable that he should have that flexibility within the five-year period.

I certainly do not regard that as a cardinal point. If my hon. and learned Friend were able to persuade me or the Committee that new clause 6 was appropriate, bar subsection (2)(c), I should not dream of going to the stake about it. However, the flexibility that we are providing is appropriate, given the strict rigour that we are applying to the Government's actions under the sunset clause.

21 Nov 2001 : Column 345

Furthermore, if the provision stretches the patience and tolerance of my hon. and learned Friend, that is a good indication of the lengths to which we have gone to try to ensure that we achieve consensus with the Government. We have tried to ensure that the new clause provides sufficient flexibility that reasonable Ministers, acting in their own self-interest as well as that of the House and of the country, could accept the new clause.

Finally—I certainly do not want, in these proceedings or elsewhere, to go beyond the requirements of the subject matter—I merely observe that if Parliament passes large sections of the Bill intact, without a serious sunset clause, questions will be raised about the legitimacy of parliamentary proceedings in this country. It is perfectly right that the Home Secretary of the day, attending to a major national crisis, should introduce emergency legislation to deal with it. It is perfectly right that he should entertain the possibility of engaging in legislation of a kind that I suspect for him, and certainly for us, has a rather difficult feel to it. However, it cannot be right to do so at speed, and without the provision—right from the beginning—to enable Parliament to reconsider these controversial issues. The effect of not including such a sunset clause will be to cast into disrepute measures that are in principle acceptable and necessary. So I hope that the Home Secretary will, on mature reflection, support and welcome new clause 6, and I offer to describe it as "the Blunkett amendment" if that helps.

5 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): In speaking to the Government amendments and suggesting that clause 123 stand part, I want first to respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on the substantive issue—the sunset clause.

I said on Monday that we were—in my view, rightly—prepared to listen and respond to proposals, made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and by other hon. Members, that would reassure the two Houses and were material to ensuring that the Bill would be in a good state when it gained Royal Assent. I meant what I said, and we will do so during the Bill's passage through Parliament. The speed with which it proceeds does not affect our willingness to be prepared to listen and respond.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs has suggested, having deliberated such issues in that Committee, that it would be appropriate to draft a clause that did not simply reinforce the return to the detention powers in clauses 21 to 23 annually, for which provision is already made in the Bill, so that Parliament can debate such issues under the affirmative procedure, but for longer than an hour and a half, as we said on Monday. He suggested that the content of those clauses should be put to the House afresh, so that it could show whether it was willing to reaffirm them.

I am prepared to agree on behalf of the Government that, on Report, we shall move a Government amendment providing a sunset clause after five years. That would allow us to determine whether we as a Parliament felt that the detention provisions were justified and acceptable any longer.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I thank the Home Secretary for what he says. His willingness to listen

21 Nov 2001 : Column 346

to what the Select Committee and others have said will make it very much easier for those hon. Members who have some discomfort about the Bill to support it in the Lobby later on.

Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that. I am genuinely prepared to continue to listen and to refute those who have the unfounded belief that we have malice aforethought in assuming that we can have questions and debates that are more like those of the court room than of Parliament.

I only quote The Guardian to upset my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes), but, on 13 November, Hugo Young asked:

The answer is yes—people do seriously expect it to happen, and it will happen not only in the annual reaffirmation but in the sunset clause.

I am also prepared to respond to a further proposal, which appears on the amendment paper, from the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee in relation to the sensible suggestion that, as with the Terrorism Act 2000, we should allow the reviewer of the Terrorism Act to review the operation of the detention clauses in time to report before the first review by Parliament—that is, when they return to Parliament for reaffirmation.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): I hope that, when the occasion arises, the Home Secretary will make another important concession, which I mentioned on Monday. As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I very much welcome what he says, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). Does it not destroy the argument used by some Opposition Members that the Government and Labour Back Benchers are indifferent to civil liberties—that we could not care less about them and that we simply vote without any concern for the civil liberties of people in the country, including those who are not nationals? The Home Secretary shows how deeply concerned we are, and I am very pleased that he has listened to the Committee's recommendation.

Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Throughout my time in politics—a very long time—there have been many occasions, not least the terrible traumas in the Labour party in the 1980s, when abuse rather than persuasion was the order of the day. I have never relented in the face of abuse and I have always said that if people try to persuade they are more likely to receive a hearing. As long as I am in this job, I shall be prepared to listen to persuasion from Members on both sides. I am pleased that Lord Carlile accepted my invitation to undertake the duty of reviewing the clauses and of reporting back in time for the House to hold its deliberations.

I do not intend to speak for long as there is very little time available, but I need to refer to new clauses 6, 7 and 8, which were tabled jointly by the two opposition parties. We really cannot accept sunset clauses that deal with issues that—by anyone's standard and irrespective of how long they have been debated—would be accepted by us all.

Do we want to retain the power to remove unauthorised intruders from aircraft and airfields? Of course we do. Who wants to reject after two, four or five years the

21 Nov 2001 : Column 347

updating of the Aviation Security Act 1982? What is the point of tabling sunset clauses for issues on which we are all agreed? Do we seriously want a sunset clause to ensure that we can no longer protect civil nuclear sites in the way they will be secured and, as Members said on Monday, should have been secured a long time ago under previous legislation? Do we really oppose measures that retain on the statute book powers against the aiding and abetting of people transporting nuclear weapons?

Mr. Letwin: Does the Home Secretary accept that, although we certainly agree with the intent behind such provisions, there is a difference between agreeing with the intent and being sure now that the drafting will have the effect that he and I jointly desire?

Mr. Blunkett: The limited but genuine exercise to try to engage everyone in the past few weeks and the genuine commitment to respond to sensible suggestions, including drafting suggestions made here or in the House of Lords, are designed to meet that point. For example, if we have got wrong the provisions to protect us against the ebola virus, we will be very happy to respond to suggestions about how we get them right. However, the idea that we shall run out of time and that, in the next few years, we shall change our view on how we should protect ourselves does not do the House justice. The proposals would allow opposition for its own sake and not for the sake of getting the measures right. I want to be brief, but that is why we oppose the new clauses.

By all means let Members suggest changes that are appropriate to improving the legislation, but let us not for political or parliamentary procedural reasons suggest that sensible provisions that should have been sorted out a long time ago should be held up in years to come and brought back to the House. If they are, that will be at the expense of the other legislation for which Members on both sides will be pressing. They will ask why a Bill has been left out or why the Government have not managed to achieve what they wanted to do. They will ask why their constituents are demanding that we should have done this, that or the other—whether on the national health service or foxhunting—when we are bringing back large parts of a Bill that people agree with but wish to make a point about.

Next Section

IndexHome Page