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Mr. Heald: Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that a great deal of thought has been given recently to how legislation should be dealt with? The report of the Constitution Committee in another place proposes much more post-legislative scrutiny. If we are dealing with draconian powers such as those in the Bill, they are the obvious candidates for such an approach. A sunset clause is the obvious way of forcing post-legislative scrutiny.
Mr. Allan: The hon. Gentleman has expressed my sentiments effectively. We are at one on this. We are seeking to find a way of monitoring the Bill, because it is potentially so powerful. Because we fear that it will be used more frequently than is strictly necessary, we want to be able to return to it. The Minister suggests that we can do that when we are confronted with an emergency or discussing the detail of regulations that are there to deal with that emergency. However, to suggest that we will be calmly stepping back and reviewing all the possible legislative options that the Government could have used instead of the emergency legislation is fantastical. We will not do that. When the House is confronted with an emergency and a Minister says that we need emergency regulations, the reality is that the regulations will go through using the Government's majority. There simply will not be the scope to take the constitutional or long view that we would need to challenge Ministers as to whether they strictly need to use the part 2 powers in the Bill.
We need the opportunity to return to the powers every three years. As the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire said, the advantage of the sunset clause is that it would force such a review in a way that no other provision could. That is a sensible way forward in that it establishes the point of principle that such powers must be scrutinised separately from the debates around specific regulations.
The Minister concededindeed, she had to concedethat sunset clauses are unusual. They are unusual, but so are the powers in the Bill. It would be difficult to imagine a Bill that was more dramatic in the powers that it confers on the Executive. They powers are contained in clause 22(3) which, apart from anything else, states:
the prohibition of movements, the prohibition of assemblies, the deployment of the armed forces, the prohibition of travel, the prohibition of specified activities, disapplying or modifying any enactment, requiring a person or body to act in performance of a function, and so on and so on. In other words, the Bill gives to the Executive of the day powers of a wholly draconianand I would say authoritariancharacter.
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The question is whether we should so conduct ourselves as to leave the Bill in perpetuity on the statute book or give ourselves the opportunity from time to time to review whether such a Bill should be on the statute book. I have no doubt that we should review it from time to time.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam made the pointhe is entirely rightthat Governments may well be moved to use the powers in circumstances that it is difficult to justify as falling strictly within the definition of clause 19. All of us know that Governments like to use powers that exist, and I ask myself whether the Government might not have been willing to use the powers for the confiscation of property without compensation if they had been able to do so when the foot and mouth crisis was at its height.
One has to ask oneself some uncomfortable questions. The first is, "Do you trust any Government?" or, if one wants to be more particular, "Do you trust this Government?" I remind myself of the circumstances in which we were taken to war in Iraq. We were told facts that turned out not to be accurate. I happen to believe that Ministers knew or ought to have known that they were not accurate, but that is a matter for historians or perhaps an impeachment motion in the House. My point is that to the question, "Do you trust the Government?", the only sensible answer has to be, "No, under no circumstances." If that is true, the House had better equip itself with a mechanism for reviewing the powers.
We have also asked why we should not have such a mechanism, but I did not hear the answer to that question. I heard lots of evidence of unwillingness, but that is a very different matter. That is not a justification; it is sheer unwillingness.
Are there any procedural difficulties? No, because Lords amendment No. 50 requires only a positive resolution in both Houses. That would take only an hour or two, but it would enable the political debate to focus on the Bill so that we can ask whether we need a different definition of an emergency, whether particular powers should remain on the statute book, and whether additional safeguards should be incorporated in statutory language. We are being denied that ability.
The Minister tells us that the regulations have their own inherent sunset clauses. That is true in part, but it will have not escaped her, no doubt sharp, eye that the regulations can be relaid time and time again. The sunset clause of which she spoke is not perhaps as robust a safeguard as she might have hoped that we would believe.
As you may have noticed, Mr. Speaker, I am becoming increasingly cantankerous with age. I find my distrust of Government is becoming more and more intense, especially since Iraq. I would not give any Governmentleast of all, this Governmentthe powers that are in this Bill and, in particular, in clause 22. I very much hope that we will have a sunset clause.
The Damascene conversion that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has undertaken during his travels through the House illuminates the sky and gives us hope.
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My difficulty with the Minister's words was her response that the measure would be inappropriate in the context of such a Bill. I am especially mindful that the Government have already derogated from the Human Rights Act 1998, which they enacted, and that that derogation may occur if our country faces an emergency that threatens the life of the nation. We are already in a position in which the Government may say that life is threatened, but they have managed their business in the years since that Act came into existence without recourse to the new permanent structure without end that they now want.
I accept the points made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) because the Bill is detailed, comprehensive and iron-clad to such an extent that it is inappropriate for a democratic country and a democratic House. The route that he outlined matched my judgment on how emergencies should be dealt with. Legislation on such matters should be introduced on a case-by-case basis and considered in a day, as has often been the case during my time in the House. However, that process requires the danger or peril facing the life of the nation to be self-evident to such an extent that the House will accede to that legislation.
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend will remember the old Northern Ireland emergency legislation that had to be renewed annually. Will he remind himself and the House of the fact that the Labour party welcomed the opportunity to oppose that legislation year after year?
Mr. Shepherd: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend because the propositions of the Government could be tested annually on such occasions and, indeed, the then Opposition made full use of that opportunity.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): May I amplify my hon. Friend's point because he is anticipating something that I was going to say? Does he agree that the Terrorism Act 2000 supersedes and subsumes the Northern Ireland legislation to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred? A feature of this Government is their tendency towards permanence.
Mr. Shepherd: My hon. Friend is right and his point forms a substantial part of my case. As the Minister well knows, the House unfortunately did not have the opportunity to discuss part 2 of the Bill, so all the powers that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham cited are, in a sense, strange to a debate in which every hon. Member may speak. We are running at a gallop on the back of Lords amendments, which I shall support, although I think that they are inadequate. That explains why there is great reluctance to accept the Bill in such a permanent form.
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