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Is not there also a danger to our security if one of these orders is imposed too early on, say, a junior member of a network, before the intelligence services have learned as much as they might do and before they have evidence to bring a charge of
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conspiracy? We would then be in a worse position because the other members of the network would be alerted.
Mr. Fisher: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, because that is a very good point. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen made a similar point. That is a concern that is shared across the House, and it is a valuable contribution to the debate.
The issue of evidence, and the accused's right to hear it, is difficult, but we must be able to do better than the present Bill. The same applies to intercept evidence. It is a difficult issue, as the Home Secretary rightly pointed out to us, but we have not really attempted to grapple with it at this stage. We must do so.
Parliament has been bounced. We have had three years to think about this issue and we have failed to do so. That is not only the fault of the Government, because Members have not bombarded the Government with demands for debates or further legislation. Many of us, on both sides of the House, knew that this issue was simmering, but we, just as much as the Government, failed to do anything. However, we have undoubtedly been bounced in the past week. The Bill was published on 22 February, and only six days later we have had a rushed Second Reading andto the huge discredit of this Chambera farce of a Committee stage, in which we have not properly considered the Bill. That is what we are sent here to do by our constituents. We are sent here to scrutinise legislation and to try to make our laws good, sensible and workable. We have failed tonight.
The Government did not help by bouncing the Bill through on a ridiculous programme motion, but we had the ability to throw that out. We could have said to the Government, "Don't be ridiculous. On a Bill of this enormous constitutional importance, we cannot accept a ridiculous timetable like that." We can certainly warm our hands at the indignity of the Government, who have imposed the measure on us, but we, too, are to blame because it was in our hands to throw out that thoroughly discreditable programme motion. We are as much to blame as the Government.
Anne Picking (East Lothian) (Lab): My hon. Friend is discussing the merit and credit of the House, but does he agree that the House took a decision? He may think that the decision was discredited and that it was not what he wanted to hear[Interruption.]
Surely to goodness, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) must agree that democracy and the majority prevailed; and as much as he disagrees with it, that is the will of the House. It was done correctly through proper procedure. There was a vote and a majority decision. What is the point in harping on about it?
On Second Reading, the House was pretty empty. I made a short contribution at the end of that debate deploring the fact that so few Members were in attendance for such an important Bill. That debate was of high quality, as was the debate today, when the attendance was much better. The House comes out of that better today than on Second Reading.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend understand how distressing and upsetting it is for Members who disagree with him intensely? Many of us fully support the Bill and have no problem with it at all. He says that no thought has been given to it, but many of us have given enormous thought to the Bill and we simply think it is right.
Mr. Fisher: My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster) misses my point. Of course, Members on both sides of the House are entitled to vote and to believe passionately what they believe. We are all honourable Members and we have serious views. I am not complaining that my hon. Friend does not feel the same way about things as me. I am saying that the House has not had time to go into the detail of the Bill.
There is a schedule that explains how control orders work, but we have not had a momentnot even a minuteto discuss it. These are serious matters, but we have not taken them seriously. I fully respect my hon. Friend's views and opinions, but we have not scrutinised a hugely important Bill. We have not done ourselves credit.
We are sent here to scrutinise. I feel that on these Benches we have put too much blind trust in party and have not trusted enough in our own consideration. However, everybody comes to their own view. It is not yet beyond the wit of the House to get this right. The extraordinary thing about the debate is that beneath the criticism and, sometimes, the bad temper there is clearly a will on both sides of the House to get the Bill right. There were flickerings of that when the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary invited the other parties to Downing street. It is clear that everybody, because they are concerned about the threat of terrorism, wants to try to find a solution, but that will not be achieved by the adversarial process inherent in both our judicial system and the House; it must be through consensus and debate. Intercept evidence in court and other matters are difficult.
We shall not reach a solution by opposing each other. The Government must go into discussion with the other parties. I detect good will from all the other parties in the House to try to find a solution and a compromise.
I do not pay attention to the opinion polls that the Home Secretary was shoving down our throats. I do not think that the public will take it kindly if we come up
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with ill considered, ill-thought-out legislation. They will not respect us. We should give ourselves the time to come up with the difficult and quite subtle things that are needed to sort out these problems. I believe that we can do that, but it is ridiculous that we are now dependent on the other place. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves, and we ought to learn from this and ensure that the House insists in future on its will to have time to debate important legislation and the wit, good will and respect for one another to come to difficult, but possible, compromises.
Mr. Shepherd: The good hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) is making a bid to become Home Secretary, but that was much more in evidence with the distinguished speech by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). However, they are confronted by the same question as all other Members are confronted with: should the Bill, as unamended, have a Third Reading? That is the question. The Home Secretary's long exegesis about the dreams that he will have down in another place is irrelevant to the vote that we take tonight. Do we, the House of Commons, approve of the Bill that we have been discussing today? It is simple as that.
If we vote for the Bill, it is an expression by the House that it believes in every clause and detail of it. All the arguments that we have heard today, including the exegesis by the Home Secretary, have demonstrated again and again in which way and what way the Bill is flawed. Some of us feel deeply and passionately that it is flawed because it touches on the very intimacy of the relationship of the British citizen to the British state. It suggests fundamentally and profoundly to many of us that the due process of law is that we should know with what we are charged, and we should be able to answer that charge before we lose our liberty. That is so profound and fundamental that the justification for change must be clear and overwhelming. That is not in the Bill.
What the Bill says relates to orders. As the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett) so compellingly told the House last Wednesday, the pass laws of South Africa stand out as a beacon of what we should not do. The actions taken by Mr. Mugabe in pursuit of his ends or by the Burmese junta are not appropriate for this country. That passionate belief has been expounded across the Floor of the House both last Wednesday and again today, but we come back to what we do when the vote on Third Reading is called.
The Bill must not be passed even in the terms that the Home Secretary has presented us with this afternoon, when he says that this is not the Bill that the country will be presented with if it becomes an Act of Parliament. If that is the case, how can we be self-respecting and stand up for the rights and appropriateness of the House by voting for the Bill when we know that it is not the Act of Parliament that will pass? So we should, in our sense of being who we are as a Parliament, reject it.
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