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John Bercow: I hugely appreciate the spirit in which the Home Secretary is addressing the issues raised by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and others. I appreciate that the Home Secretary is looking at the nature and range of activities that need to be included in a definition. Notwithstanding the real difficulties, is he also considering the other side of the equation: the need to look at the environment in which people operate? If he wants to have an extraterritorial competence, it seems necessary to take account of the circumstances in which people are fighting.
Mr. Clarke: I agree. In fact, that was the central theme of my speech on Second Reading, when I sought to refer to the spread of democracy throughout the world over the past 30 years and the important changes in the environment of whole countries and even continents.
Helen Goodman: Following on from the previous point, not all hon. Members share the Home Secretary's very optimistic picture of the state of the world today. One way to deal with the different situations would be to consider sympathetically amendment No. 61 in reconsidering the issue before Report.
Mr. Clarke: I will very much look at amendment No. 61 in the context of this discussion, but I have an element of optimism. Progress has been made over the past 30 years, and we should commit ourselves to trying to make progress in the future. That is the right way to go.
Before I sit down, I need to make one other point in relation to the previous conduct of the Committee. In exchanges yesterday with the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and others, I suggested that I had received specific advice from the Attorney-General that the Bill is compliant with the European convention on human rights. I should clarify that the clear legal advice that I received was on the Bill's ECHR compliance, which enabled me to sign the section 19 statement to which I referred, and did not come from the Attorney-General personally. Further, in making that statement, I inadvertently breached the long-standing convention over many Governments that the fact that the Law Officers have or have not advised on any matter and the content of their advice should not be disclosed. For breaching that long-standing convention, I want to apologise to you, Mrs. Heal, and to the Committee.
: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal, I have put a question to the Solicitor-General, who is sitting on the Front Bench, and to the Attorney-General asking them to make a statement with regard to the point that the
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Home Secretary has just made. What is the status of that question? I have asked for a statement and for the opinion to be placed in the Library.
Mr. Clarke: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could confirm that his understanding is the same as mine: we now no longer know what the Attorney-General's opinion is, despite the press speculation that he is deeply disturbed.
Richard Burden: My right hon. Friend has heard what has been said. I have heard his undertakings. They are welcome. Many hon. Members' views will be determined by what he returns with next week. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Bill (clauses 1 to 4, 23 and 24, 21, 22, 5 to 20, schedule 1, clauses 25 to 27, schedule 2, clauses 28 to 36, schedule 3, clauses 37 and 38, new clauses, new schedules, remaining proceedings), reported, with amendments; to lie upon the Table.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The House will be aware that today at Colchester the case against seven members of the Parachute Regiment who were charged with murder has collapsed at a cost of £10 million to the taxpayer, apparently. Scathing remarks were made by the judge about the unprofessional nature of the investigation that was conducted on British servicemen.
Given the concern that is felt throughout the armed forces and the damage to morale that such a number of prosecutions is causing, have you, Madam Deputy Speaker, received any request from the Secretary of State for Defence to come and brief the House today? If not, will you be prepared to call for him to make a statement to the House at the first opportunity on Mondaygiven that the House is not sitting tomorrowbearing it in mind that all of us have in our constituencies the families of servicemen and women who are currently serving in the hostile environment of Iraq and elsewhere in the world? We in this House need to give real practical support to our troops to ensure that such accusations are not made against those who are fighting for our country in difficult circumstances, only for them to find that their judgment is second-guessed by civilians in London, after which the case collapses at
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substantial cost to the taxpayer. This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I hope that you will guide me on how we might proceed.
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