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11 pm

Mr. Blunkett: I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this, we may take Government amendment (a) in lieu.

Mr. Blunkett: The cries of astonishment when the last vote was announced reminded me of "phone a friend" in the television programme. I hope that there will be a few friends around tonight—[Hon. Members: "Not a chance!"] I think there will be—there may even be one or two on the Opposition Benches as well as one or two on the Benches behind me.

The amendments relate to the moonlight clauses, or rather the sunset—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There are too many conversations going on in the Chamber. The House must come to order.

Mr. Blunkett: I promise that I shall not try to crack another joke, Mr. Speaker.

On sunset clauses, the Government have taken several measures in response to the Select Committee on Home Affairs and to the wishes of individual Members and to debates held earlier on part 4. Those measures include a sunset clause after five years, review after a year and other provisions that reflect the will of the House.

I want to make it clear—so that there is no doubt in the other place—that we strongly resist any further move on sunset clauses. We shall not allow the Bill to be dismembered by the indiscriminate application of sunset clauses to different parts of it. Having voted on those matters when the Bill was before the Commons for the first time, and after having those provisions overturned by the House of Lords, it is clear that we have listened and responded to concerns on the main clauses of the Bill. It is not possible for the Government to decide that a Bill should be completely taken apart—nor has that been true for any other measure—with different timings for individual provisions; and that proceedings should be repeated and the measure brought back to the House.

Mr. Hogg: The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, speak to Government amendment (a), which proposes that the review should be undertaken by

Privy Council. Would he be so good as to tell us by what criteria he will select those members of the Privy Council?

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Why should we assume that they will not be carefully picked nominees? Would he further give an undertaking that the report will not merely be laid before the House

but be debated by the House, preferably on a free vote?

Mr. Blunkett: The right hon. and learned Gentleman manages to ask a perfectly reasonable question in the most aggressive manner possible, but I have to say that he can rest easy—the one thing that we will not be selecting on is past Cabinet Ministers' competence in doing their jobs. If we want a little bit of a roust at this time of night, we can have one.

Of course, we shall consult the Opposition parties on the committee of review's make up, so the House should agree to the Government amendment in lieu of the Lords amendment to provide a review committee, which would report within two years. That report would be laid before the House of Commons, and both Houses would hold a full debate on it. I am prepared tomorrow to consider the suggestions that the Opposition parties are putting to me to strengthen that proposal. Clearly, the review committee's recommendations on individual parts of the Bill would be taken forward by the Government. We will propose further refinements tomorrow that might—[Interruption.] I hope that right hon. and learned Gentleman had a very good dinner.

Mr. Hogg: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett: No, I will not give way; I have given way several times to the right hon. and learned Gentleman on a number of issues this evening.

The review committee will be made up of Privy Councillors precisely to allow it to take evidence from the security services and then to compile a report that will, therefore, carry weight because it can cover everything in the Bill.

Simon Hughes: First, will the Home Secretary accept that we have no intention of wishing to dismember the Bill, as he suggests our proposals would do? Secondly, does he object to the sunset provision accepted by the House of Lords because there would be different time limits for different parts of the Bill; or does he object to the fact that an emergency Bill contains a sunset clause at all? If he objects to the latter, I hope that he will accept that that is unusual, if not unprecedented, in the case of such emergency legislation.

Mr. Blunkett: I accepted the recommendation of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on the sunset clauses that relate to the updating of the Terrorism Act 2000, precisely to meet the requirements that hon. Members requested. We have sunset clauses on the justice and home affairs provisions for the end of next June. We have the equivalent of a sunset clause on data holding in the form of the two-year provision relating to the code of practice.

We have done our utmost to ensure that, because of speed and complexity, the review body, whose report will be debated by the House, can reflect on those aspects that it thinks require further consideration after the operation of the measure. That goes further than Governments have

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gone in the past in attempting to accommodate the genuine concern that exists because of the way in which we, by necessity, have introduced the Bill just over three months after the events of 11 September.

Mr. George Osborne: So that the House can be well informed on the need for a sunset clause, will the Home Secretary explain what further refinements he will propose tomorrow and, indeed, whether they will include a response to the widespread opposition on both sides of the House to the religious hatred clauses, which we have just debated?

Mr. Blunkett: I was talking about the review of the whole Bill and about any identified aspects of the Bill that the review committee finds to be working inappropriately or not in accord with the wishes of both Houses. We could reach a reasonable measure of agreement on that—if not wholly tonight, then certainly in the next 24 hours. That is an attempt not to end up with a Bill that is fragmented, or with this House and the Lords constantly repeating proceedings on the Bill, which, I have to remind right hon. and hon. Members, has had eight days in the Lords. [Hon. Members: "But not here." ] No, not here. Let us be clear: we originally agreed a timetable, and I have always accepted that it is extremely tight. [Interruption.] There are a few grumbles. Some people accept the agreements that have been reached, and some do not.

I hope that it does not finish his career altogether, but I have to praise the shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who, despite considerable disagreement with me about parts of the Bill and fundamental ideological differences, has always kept his word. That has made it easier to do business with him. We shall continue to do business over the next 24 hours and, I hope, for a very long time to come.

Mr. Letwin: I thank the Home Secretary for his remarks, and his hopes are reciprocated. Moreover, I hope that he will accept from us, and I think from the Liberal Democrats, that if he comes forward with proposals that will genuinely make that review bite, we will look at them constructively and discuss them with him, if he so wishes, and with our colleagues in the other place, in a genuine effort to come to a consensus on this vexed question.

Mr. Blunkett: I am deeply grateful, because the two Houses, the working of our Parliament and the response of people outside to the way in which democracy can operate will be enhanced if we can achieve that in the hours ahead. If we end up making a mess of this, I can see no value or gain for any of us or for our reputations or the reputation of Parliament. If we are able to act swiftly but carefully, people will be encouraged to view our democracy in the way that we would like.

We have rightly had robust and difficult debate and scrutiny of the Executive. I believe that we have listened and responded, and I have certainly learned a great deal over the past few weeks. I hope that by dealing with the Bill as we have, we will be able to present the House of Lords with a programme to which they can now agree. I hope also that despite the harsh words that have sometimes been spoken in the other place, as they have here, they will respect the way in which the Commons has responded, and we in turn will respect their rights to scrutinise and return to us certain measures, which we,

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in turn, have deliberated on. It is in that spirit that I propose that we reject the Lords amendments and agree to the Government amendment in lieu.

Norman Baker: I pay tribute to the Home Secretary for the constructive way in which he has approached this matter and others. I welcome some of his positive responses—"concessions" sounds too dismissive—and the way in which he has changed the wording of the Bill accordingly. However, we are not convinced that enough progress has been made on sunset clauses, and I shall be asking my colleagues to agree with the Lords, not the Government, when we come to vote in 17 minutes or so.

The Home Secretary mentioned a review, and it would be helpful if tomorrow some flesh were put on the bones of that. If the review would result in a sunset clause of a different nature, we would be willing to hear about it, as, no doubt, would the Conservatives. If, however, the intention is simply to tart about with the panel of Privy Councillors that he has suggested, that will not be enough.

Sunset clauses are necessary in this Bill for three reasons. First, by common consent, this is emergency legislation, and it is far reaching. Secondly, most Members feel that it goes beyond what is necessary to deal with terrorism, and deals with subjects that are way beyond that, including ordinary criminal activities.

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