|Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on Video Recording of Interviews) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003
Lembit Öpik: On a point of order, Mr. Pike. I realise now that the hon. Gentleman has made a reasonable point. I wonder what we are doing here if we are just having an interesting conversation, rather than having any influence on the order. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for having been more optimistic than he.
Mr. Wilshire: Well, we are making progress. When the hon. Gentleman raised his first point of order and asked me to give way, I was beginning to get the impression that the Liberal Democrats had, once again, seen it as their duty to help the Government get what they wanted and were being an alternative Labour party. Now they have listened to the facts and discovered that they are being asked to rubber stamp something, which is a meaningless exercise for us. I say to them, ''Welcome to the Opposition.''
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): To assist those who are satisfied with the order, will the hon. Gentleman give any indication about whether he has any issues of substance to discuss in Committee? If he has, we might want to listen to them.
The Chairman: Order. We are getting into complex details about exactly what we are debating and why we are here. Everybody who has been on such Committees knows the procedure: hon. Members vote on a question that I put. The House will decide whether the code of practice is accepted; whether that could be on a deferred Division would depend on when it was put. The question I put a few minutes ago is the question that I shall put to the vote.
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Mr. Wilshire: My answer to the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster) is, yes, I do. I will come to those matters soon.
Alan Howarth (Newport, East): Will the hon. Gentleman say whether the Conservative party's position is that the House of Commons should have power to amend statutory instruments? That was not its position when it was in Government.
Mr. Wilshire: I can understand that question in general terms, but we are dealing with Northern Ireland legislation. I will not make at any great length the point that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) invited me to make. You have heard it before, Mr. Pike, and you will tell me that you do not want to go over the same ground again. However, the great problem with Northern Ireland legislation is that there is no provision anywhere, when it is put through this process, for having an informed debate with an opportunity to vote on amendments. I confine myself to that comment.
We made it clear to the Government that we were willing to help complete the work that was half way through Stormont when it was suspended. That has led us, from time to time, to deal with enormous things that are so big that they amount to a Bill. We have argued time and again with the Government that we do not believe that, in the absence of Stormont, this is a satisfactory way in which to deal with Northern Ireland matters.
The Minister commented that the order and the code of practice have within them a mechanism that means that we do not have to use in future what she called a cumbersome process. That makes matters even worse. This is a cumbersome process and it is undemocratic, but to take away the opportunity to talk about things, as the Minister is now saying, is a procedure too far. I would hope that even Labour Members would take that point. If the Minister is asking them to support a move that says that, in future, there will not even be that opportunity and that the Secretary of State can do whatever he likes by giving notice without a discussion, the whole process is held up to ridicule.
If members of the Committee have a copy of the code and they turn to page 3, they will see what my concerns are. Paragraph 1.6 states:
I am happy, thus far. It goes on:
That is an enormously wide definition. What sort of voluntary organisations does the Minister have in mind? How are they to be judged to be suitable for carrying out the role of an appropriate adult? I should be pleased to have an answer.
Sub-paragraph a. (iii) of paragraph 1.6 states:
What, pray, is a responsible adult? Where do we look for the definition of that word?
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I refer now to paragraph 1.6 b. on page 4. The Minister drew our attention to that when she said that an opportunity had been taken to introduce the words ''mentally vulnerable''. It provides for:
It may well be a good thing to have a different definition, but what does ''mentally disordered'' mean in the context of the code of practice? What does the new phrase ''mentally vulnerable'' mean? The Minister wants us to say that that is a good thing. Surely there must be a definition for that?
Paragraph 1.6 b. states:
What sort of experience would that be? What is meant by that? How do we know that that experience is a positive beneficial experience, rather than something else? Where do we look for the definition of experience that is to be used in that case?
Paragraph 1A of the notes for guidance states:
That is fair enough, but can the Minister tell us what happens if the person who is acting as the appropriate adult is not suspected at the time, but is suspected subsequently? Does that negate the role that that person was playing as a responsible adult? If so, what is the status of the interview that was videoed?
Paragraph 1B of the notes for guidance states:
I ask the Minister the simple question—why?
Paragraph 1G on page 5 states:
Is it reasonable to leave it to a police officer who is qualified in many things but, I suspect, not in deciding whether somebody is mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable to make that decision? Is that the right way to go about it? I have my doubts and I would be interested to hear the hon. Lady's response to that.
Paragraph 5.5 on page 7, which is headed ''The Interview'', states:
What is the significance of always using the same room? There must be some logic in that. What happens if it is not possible? If it is to be done only ''Where practicable'', why include such a provision? On page 7, in paragraph 5.9, it says: ''A master recording shall''—
The Chairman: Order. I am not ruling the hon. Gentleman out of order, because he is referring to the code and we are debating amendments to it. As the hon. Gentleman said at the start of his speech, it is in
Column Number: 009order to debate that. However, he also made the point that the papers to which he refers were not, until recently, in the Vote Office; they were put there earlier today. The Chairman has not seen the items to which the hon. Gentleman is referring. He made the valid point that it is the responsibility of the Department to ensure that the Chairman and members of the Committee debating a measure are able to follow the debate. I am in some difficulty because the hon. Gentleman is referring to papers that the Chair cannot even look at. I hate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that steps are being taken so that we can see the items referred to.
Mr. Wilshire: I was not aware that you did not have the papers either, Mr. Pike. Had I known that, I would have made a very different point at the beginning of my speech. The Minister may care to reflect on whether the statutory instrument should be withdrawn. The code should be circulated properly and we should reconvene to consider the order when the Chairman, at least, has had an opportunity to consider it. If, accordingly, the Minister or the usual channels would like to move a motion, I will willingly give way to them.
Jane Kennedy: I apologise to you, Mr. Pike, and am sorry that you have not had a copy of the code. Copies were made available in the Vote Office as soon as we understood that they were not there. We have made sure that they are available on the Table of the Committee Room. I am loath to defer our consideration of the code, particularly as the amendments to it are relatively minor, and as the code has been a public document for a considerable period. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been working to that code for some time and the amendments that we are making will allow it to operate at the new suite at Antrim from the first available day, which I understand is next week. Therefore, deferring the order would create a difficulty. If the Committee decided not to agree to the motion, it would come back to the House to be considered later. The amendments that we are making to the code are minor and are appropriate to be dealt with in Committee.
The Chairman: Order. It is not for the Chairman to rule on the relative merits or otherwise of the proposals before us because, at the end of the day, it is for the Committee to decide on whether the amendments are minor or appropriate. The Chairman does not have the power to discontinue the proceedings. I must, therefore, continue them. Mr. Speaker has made it clear that, both in the Chamber and in Committee, if hon. Members are asked to consider papers or items, it is important that those should be available to them. The Chairman is supplied with the papers for every sitting, and I assumed that I had all the relevant papers today, but I have not.
I have made my point and I hope that the usual channels will convey that the Chairman, the Speaker and the Chairmen's Panel take the strong view that not only the members of a Committee, but its Chairman, should be able to follow a debate. I am sorry to make
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