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13 Dec 2001 : Column 1106

Points of Order

7.15 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you received a request for a statement in the House on the consequences of today's judgment in the other place that convicted Dame Shirley Porter, former Conservative leader of Westminster city council, of political corruption arising out of her role in the Westminster homes for votes—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I have heard enough already to tell the hon. Gentleman that that is not a matter for the Chair.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You may be aware that the Adoption and Children Bill is in Committee and that next Tuesday the Committee will discuss the most contentious provisions of the Bill on access to information. It transpires that after the Committee rose this afternoon a copy of a letter to the Chairman saying that the Government had done a complete U-turn on those clauses was released to members. However, I gather that Labour members of the Committee had access to the letter earlier during the Committee sitting this afternoon.

Is it not a gross discourtesy that the information was not made available to all members of the Committee, given that today is the last date for tabling further amendments, and that those who have tabled amendments, including my hon. Friends and me, were not personally told about the radical changes to the Bill that will be discussed on Tuesday? Would you care to investigate that, because a discourtesy has been done to Conservative and other Opposition Members who sit on that Committee?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have no knowledge of the matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised. He has made his point and put his thoughts on the record. No doubt the people responsible for those matters will read it and take note.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of your earlier ruling and in view of the fact that the so-called party of law and order, as the Conservatives used to call themselves, has not raised the matter, if we have a situation in which somebody owes £27 million, this House should do something about it—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is a matter for the courts, not for this House.

Mr. Skinner rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have already dealt with that point of order and I do not intend to return to it.

Mr. Skinner: It is about free speech.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have dealt with that point of order and I do not intend to return to it.

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Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Does it relate to the same of point of order?

Peter Bradley: Well—[Interruption.]

Hon. Members: Yes, it does.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman two things. First, when I am on my feet, the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat, and secondly, I have no intention of returning to that point of order.

7.18 pm

Sitting suspended, pursuant to Order [5 December].

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Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill

Lords amendments in lieu of amendments to which the Commons have disagreed; Lords reasons for insisting on certain of their amendments; and Lords amendments to Commons amendments.

9.30 pm

On resuming—

Clause 17

Extension of existing disclosure powers

Lords amendment 5B, in lieu of Lords amendment 5: in page 7, line 23, at end insert—
"() No disclosure of information shall be made by virtue of this section unless the public authority by which the disclosure is made is satisfied that the making of the disclosure is proportionate to what is sought to be achieved by it."

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): A paper setting out the details of the Lords message is now available in the Vote Office. A second paper setting out the Government's proposals for a response to the Lords is also available.

The first Government motion relates to Lords amendment No. 5. I understand that it is the wish of the Government that all their other motions should be debated at the same time, and they are so grouped. At the end of the debate, I shall put the Question on each Government motion in succession.

Mr. Blunkett: First, I apologise for the fact that it has taken us so very long to receive the Lords message and that we have delayed Members of the House so late tonight. I want to explain the areas on which the Lords have deliberated in detail: part 5 on incitement to religious hatred, part 10 relating to police powers, part 11 on data retention and part 14, which, for want of better a phraseology, we might describe as sunset clauses.

Before we deliberate on the Lords message, it is very important to note that agreement has been reached on about 98 per cent. of the Bill. Given the speed, complexity and vigour of the debate over recent weeks here and in the Lords, that is a tremendous achievement. All people of good will should take pride in having been able to secure it. In that spirit, I shall address the four remaining clauses that we are dealing with tonight.

My political instinct is that people would never forgive us if we engaged in party political wrangles at this stage. I do not believe that anyone outside the House with any maturity expects us to behave in anything but a mature and responsible fashion in dealing with the remaining disagreements. That is why I want to try to secure agreement between the two Houses on the outstanding issues.

One issue and one alone has overridden everything we have debated—that is, providing greater security and reassurance to the people we serve. We have sought to do

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so by providing proportionate and responsible powers and trying to reach agreement where there is disagreement over how far the legislation should go.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): In the spirit of what the Home Secretary says, we recognise that the disagreement has not been party political, because it brought people of all parties together when they felt that the legislation, in some respects, went beyond the requirements of dealing with terrorism and security. The agreements that have been reached have helped to redress that balance.

Mr. Blunkett: I certainly agree that Members of all parties have genuinely sought a way forward, but I hope that tonight we will show that we can achieve that in even greater degree. That is the point that I seek to make. Having established that we have already reached agreement on 98 per cent. of the Bill, I want to reach an agreement that allows the House of Lords to agree to the Bill tonight and to ensure that people are aware not only that we have been able to achieve that goal, but that Parliament has been able to handle a difficult and complex issue in such a fashion. As I said last night, the credibility of the process—not just of Parliament—is important to all of us, certainly those of us who care deeply about politics.

Let me work backwards. Part 14, relating to sunset clauses, has exercised Members in all parts of the House in regard to which elements of legislation should be returned to, not just in terms of deliberation—that applies to part 5, on an annual basis and or part 11, which already involves a sunset clause of two years—but in terms of broader issues. We agreed with the Home Affairs Committee on a sunset clause of five years on part 4, and we agreed that it would be appropriate to return that to primary legislation.

It has been suggested, particularly by the Liberal Democrats, that every part of the Bill should have to be revisited and rerun through Parliament. That, of course, would be at the expense of other measures proposed by, among others, the Liberal Democrats. We believe that, after sensitive deliberation on the matters that are of most concern and after agreement had been reached, it would be right to seek a return only if it was considered that remaining parts not given sunset clauses had prompted concern. We therefore proposed a review by a Privy Council committee, which would report to the two Houses within two years, and recommended that the terms of its report should be debated by the House of Commons.

There appears to have been doubt about whether the commitments given by the Government would result in full deliberation in relation to any concerns expressed by the committee. Our amendment, while declining to provide sunset clauses in regard to every part of the Bill and therefore to rerun those parts, does ensure that the review can highlight areas in which the committee believes there is cause for concern in terms of implementation, and therefore that we would guarantee a sunset clause of six months on any such items should the two Houses not have an opportunity to deliberate fully.

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We consider this a sensible amendment, which should reassure everyone that the Government will have to provide a debate and will have to reach conclusions on the issues highlighted by the review committee.

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