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Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that renewal is no substitute for a sunset clause? It is not a question of renewing this Bill, but of rewriting it. The run-up to a general election is the worst possible time to be drafting legislation such as this, and the very least that the House can do is vote in favour of the sunset clause.
Mr. Heath: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her support. Her view is shared by the overwhelming majority in another place, which would have accepted the proposal without a single Conservative peer going through the Aye Lobby. I would love to believe that every hon. Member would recognise the importance of revisiting this matter after the general election, but I have no great expectation of that.
Peter Bradley (The Wrekin) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is never a good time for considering or passing legislation such as this? It is not a question of whether it is desirable, but of whether it is necessary.
There is never a good time to consider a legislation such as this, but there is sometimes ample
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time. We could have discussed this Bill three years ago, or a year ago. We could have discussed the recommendations from the Newton committee, or those made by my noble friend Lord Carlile, but we have not done so. The Government left this Bill to the last possible moment and then said, "We have an emergency." That is an unacceptable way to bring forward a Bill such as this.
Many other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall end by saying that this House's prime concern is the protection of the people of this country. It is entirely inappropriate for any hon. Member to suggest otherwise. As the Home Secretary says, we must balance that concern with protection of the liberties that we have always enjoyed.
I believe that a consensus can be reached. Throughout our discussions, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) has started from the point that our party believes that a consensus is possible. The Lords amendments take us very close to that consensus. To reject that through political machismo or obstinacy, or for any other reason, would be absurd and dangerous. It would threaten the physical safety of the people of this country, and the safety of the institutions that we hold dear.
I find it difficult to understand why Ministers might risk losing a Bill as important as this just because they refuse to listen to those who perhaps know a little more than they do about this subject, and who have made very sensible suggestions for making this an effective piece of legislation.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): I moved an amendment, when the Committee of the whole House examined this Bill, that would have provided that a court would decide on an application for an order from the Home Secretary. In that debate, my right hon. Friend said that he believed that that should be an Executive decision, and he made that clear again at the start of his contribution this afternoon. I hold an equally strong but opposite view. Like my right hon. Friend, I am not a lawyer, but my feeling is that the decision cannot be left entirely to the Executive.
The Bill has returned from the other place with myriad amendments. Some of them appear complex to people who are not lawyers. The Government have replied with their own set of amendments and they, too, are quite complex. In my contribution this afternoon, I want to set out what I believe the Home Secretary is trying to achieve. I also want to explore what might happen in the future, and I hope that some of my fears about this legislation will be calmed.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, who is on the Front Bench, will correct me if I go wrong, but this is what I believe will happen. The Home Secretary will apply to a High Court judge for a non-derogating control order in the same way that he will apply for a derogating control order. An order will not take effect unless it is confirmed by the judge, who will consider the evidence and decide whether the Home Secretary has a prima facie case for making an order, whether non-derogating or derogating. That is true despite the controversy that has emerged in this debate about how judicial review might work in respect of non-derogating orders.
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The lawyers seem to have a difference of opinion, but I am reassured by my right hon. Friend's statement that the judge will be able to consider the evidence when making a decision. When the judge considers the evidence for an order from the Home Secretary, and if he agrees and the order takes effect, he will immediately and automatically transfer that order to the court for a full hearing. That will take place as soon as possible and the defence will be consulted about the amount of time it needs before proceeding to the High Court hearing. In addition, there will be an emergency procedure. The Home Secretary will be able to make an emergency order to take effect immediately, but at the same time he will refer the emergency order
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I do not mean to be short with the hon. Gentleman, but is he attacking his own Home Secretary? Does he think that the Home Secretary so inadequately explained his case for more than an hour that it is necessary to repeat the process?
Mr. Griffiths: The Home Secretary will be able to make an order to take effect immediately, but at the same time he will refer it to the court for confirmation within seven days. If the court confirms the order, it will go to the High Court for a full hearing. If it is not confirmed, it will cease to have effect.
The Home Secretary saidlet me be plain about this because there seems to be considerable disquiet that it will not happenthat he will report to Parliament on the application of all orders every three months, and he will explain, if he has used the emergency procedure, exactly why he did so. There will be accountability. In making all the orders, the Home Secretary will be required to consult the police and the prosecuting authorities before making them and the police, and the prosecuting authorities will have the opportunity to tell the Home Secretary whether a case can be taken to court as normal. That will be in addition to the fact that in the Bill that went to the other place, the Secretary of State was already making provision for the police and prosecuting authorities to keep under review any person subject to a control order and to continue the process of gathering evidence.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): I have been following with interest what my hon. Friend is saying. Can he tell us where in the procedures a person subject to detention will be told the evidence on which he is being detained?
I was coming to that. The Secretary of State was at pains to point out that some of the evidence
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could be heard in open court and some would be heard in closed session. An undertaken has been given that the special advocates will be brought together to try to develop a system whereby defendants will be able to know if not everything, enough of the case against them to enable them to mount a defence. That is very important, and the quarterly reports to Parliament will provide an opportunity to test the extent to which that is happening. At the end of the year, Parliament will have an opportunity to decide whether the system is working and it will be able to vote down the legislation if it wants to do so.
Mr. Griffiths: Yes, it is possible that certain intelligence evidence will not be made known to the defendant. These are difficult circumstances and the system is not perfect. We do not live in an ideal world, but hon. Members are welcome to tell me how they think the procedures could be better.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Given that so much will ride on information from the intelligence services, is there not a mechanism we could use to test independently the veracity and reliability of information from the security services? We all remember that Colin Powell, then US Secretary of State, relied on information from the British security services in respect of the second dodgy dossier, which was written by a PhD student and was completely fictitious.
Mr. Griffiths: I would hope that in similar circumstances the judge would be able to make some assessment of the evidence. Given that much of the evidence is seen by the Intelligence and Security Committee, I had hoped that an amendment could be tabled to involve it in the process. I hope that that Committee could still become involved.
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