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Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Will the Home Secretary give way?
Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way to the former leader of the Scottish National party in a moment, but I merely want to make the point that the House should not shout and jeer at such moments. We had a rational debate on the matter, and the Government have conceded that we have lost on it. The House of Lords has voted against it twice, both times substantially. However, that is not a matter about which anyone should rejoice. It may be late, and people may be frustrated, but that is the single point that I want to make.
I give way to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond).
Mr. Salmond: The Home Secretary will not have to wait a few years to see such legislation in operation. My understanding is that the Scottish Parliament intends to proceed with similar legislation. However, in the Scottish Parliament, it will not be proceeded with as emergency, rushed legislation. Is not that the lesson that the Home Secretary should take on board?
Mr. Blunkett: I have learned a number of lessons over the past few weeks, which I hope that I will carry with me. However, one lesson that I have learned from interventions from Scottish National Party Members over the past week or two has been how different the two Parliaments are. I do not mean in terms of their processes, but in terms of the volume of legislation and the enormity of pressure that exists in them. Obviously, the modernisation process proposed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will assist us, but in this Parliament we have the most enormous backlog and jam of legislation. Everyone, from every side, wants their preferred Bill to come forward.
I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons).
Mrs. Fitzsimons: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that we in this House are sometimes in danger of operating as though we are not seen by the outside world? Does he share, as I do, the disappointment felt by the 27 per cent. of my constituents of Muslim origin, who feel that, tonight, the House has not listened to their concerns or protected them? Does he agree that we bring ourselves into disrepute when we do so in a crowing manner?
Mr. Blunkett: When a number of faith groups, including the Muslim Council of Britain, asked me if I would consider bringing forward a clause on religious hatred, similar to the provisions regarding race hatred, we
I have made a point that has aggravated Opposition and some Labour Members, but I think that it is important that, when we deliberate on these matters, we take joy in success.
Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): I was one with whom the Home Secretary engaged constructively and graciously. Although we had a difference of opinion that was not resolved, we behaved as Members of this House ought to behave, so I am slightly disappointed at his tone. I ask him to think back to those discussions. The shadow Home Secretary and the Liberal Democrat spokesman both made an offer to the right hon. Gentleman to the effect that, were this measure to be dropped, they would co-operate with the Government on a new Bill that would address these serious issues in the round. Is the Home Secretary now telling us that that is not a prospect in the foreseeable future?
Mr. Blunkett: As for the right hon. Gentleman's sadness about my tone, I merely observe that if someone blows a raspberry in my ear, I am inclined to blow my mouth organ slightly louder. A raspberry was blown by Members when I announced that the clause was to be dropped.
On the substantive issue, I have heard that Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members indicated that they would like to co-operate on a measure that they have just defeated. I am very keen that they should indicate that through the usual channels, as well as how they wish to co-operate over such a Bill, how they believe that it should be designed; what substantive measure, if any, they think that it should be attached to; and which measure would have to give way in order for us to find a slot for it. It was because of the need to get through these measures in time to ensure that we did not leave people at risk or completely disrupt the rest of the legislative programme that we sought to achieve what we are doing tonight.
Simon Hughes: I hope that the Home Secretary will return to his introductory tone and accept that there are honourable views held on this issue on both sides of this House and the other place, just as there are outside in all communities, of faith and without faith. It just so happens that the House of Lords has twice, by the largest majority since it has been reformed, not shared the view of the Government.
I hope that the Home Secretary will not repeat the words of his colleague who suggested that the defeat on this issuewe think that it is the wrong place and the wrong timeshould preclude collaboration on any Bill that deals with the blasphemy law, incitement and religious discrimination in the early future. The Government can make that time available if they want to.
Mr. Blunkett: There is every reason to continue encouraging those who are prepared to co-operate to do so. I repeat that my remarks were based not on concern
If we want co-operation, let us seek it. I shall conclude on that point[Interruption.] I am not bitter at all; we have achieved a lot. We have achieved consensus on a range of measuresincluding the aggravated offence in relation to religion associated with race hate. That will be extremely important in its own right in achieving security and safety, as well as sending a message to people. I do not want people of any faith to believe that tonight Parliament turned down their protection. That is importantwhether or not we disagree.
Although it is late, I want to finish on a positive note. During recent days, we have received substantial co-operation from the Conservative home affairs team. I am grateful to them for that. A responsible attitude has been shown today by Conservative Front-Bench Members, and I am grateful to them. As I said yesterday evening at about 11.30, I hope that that will be emulated by the Liberal Democrats when these provisions return to the House of Lordsfor it is not words that we seek, but genuine co-operation in establishing that Parliament can secure a safer and better future for the British people.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): This is an important moment for Parliament. The Home Secretary set out to achieve a Bill, with good intentions. Throughout, we have paid tribute to that. Throughout, we have recognised the necessity of the Bill and of having it quickly, because we face, as a nation, a real threat and, as I mentioned yesterday, all but seven of the 126 clauses properly address that threat.
I also pay tribute to the fact that the Home Secretary has made significant shifts in order to enable us to have what we set out to have in the first placea Bill about terrorism. There was never a place in such a Bill for a clause on incitement to religious hatred. I will not rehearse the arguments. We are grateful that the Home Secretary has given way to the overwhelming objections from the Lords. I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's view of the performance of the Liberal Democrats, who have worked with us conscientiously and openly to achieve that important result.
I am also grateful that the Home Secretary has made way for a sunset clause that I believe will work. It is not perfect, but I suspect that we could never have hoped to achieve perfection in 10 days or so of parliamentary debate of a Bill of immense length. The provision will, I think, serve the purpose.
I am further grateful that the Home Secretary has allowed the Lords to do their work of noticing that there was something wrong in having about 81 Government agencies and quangos disclose almost everything to almost any law enforcement officer, who was trying to investigate almost any crime, anywhere in the world. That was not proper drafting, although I do not think that the Home Secretary intended that provision from the beginning. The proportionality rule that he has now
Most of all, I am grateful to the Home Secretary for removing from the Bill an item that should never have been in any Bill: an attemptif, indeed, it was intentionalto enable the Government of the day to push through, in a 90-minute debate in a Committee upstairs, any decision reached by EU Justice Ministers on any matter of criminal law. The Home Secretary has, in effect, removed that part of the Bill. He has so constrained the provision that it is innocuous, and for that not only we but the nation as a whole will be grateful, not just this year but for years to come.
What has been proved during the rather arduous progress of the Bill is the value of parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary check. The Home Secretary has ended up with a better Billnot only from our point of view but from his point of view. What has been shown is that when Parliament asserts itself constructively, effectively and in a dignified way against the Executive, Parliament can win and can make the actions of the Executive better than they would otherwise be. That is a triumph for our democracy and I am grateful to the Home Secretary for co-operating in achieving it.