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The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington), who made an excellent and moving speech earlier, was not convinced. As between those two gentlemen, I do not believe there is one scintilla of difference as to their genuineness, their sincerity, their passionate support for their own political party or their desire to serve the nation, but they have come to different conclusions, and I honour them for that.
As I observed earlier, we sometimes get circular letters. I hope the Solicitor-General will make a note of this. If we had all had a letter from the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, telling us that there was real conviction and inviting us to briefingsthere are precedents for that, such as before the beginning of the
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Iraq warwe could have gone to the Home Office or to rooms in Westminster Hall, and we could have been briefed. We could then have exercised our democratic duty in the House on the basis of information given to us. I do not know what conclusion I would have come to.
I suspect that I might have been on the Prime Minister's side because yesterday, by chance, I chaired the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairstwo of its members are in the Chamberand Sir Hugh Orde, whom I hold in high regard, gave evidence. The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), who voted with the Government, asked the Chief Constable whether he believed that 90 days was justified. He gave a brief but passionate answer, which was so initiallyI am choosing my words carefullycompelling that if I had spent an hour in his company, discussing the matter directly, I might have been convinced. I do not know.
However, I was not given such an opportunity. That applies to all Back Benchers because the cross-party talks were confined to the Front Benchers. I do not claim that there should not be talks between Front Benchersof course there should. On such an issue, they are vital. But the vast majority of hon. Members do not sit on the Front Benches. Every hon. Member is equal in his or her vote[Interruption]and responsibilities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) reminds me, in an intervention that was untypically sotto voce. We should, therefore, have been treated equally.
Mr. Khabra: When the Conservative party is in government, it is prepared to listen to police advice but when it is in opposition, and the police ask for 90 days for good reasonsto detain people who are involved in or planning terrorist activityit does not. What is the difference? Why are Conservative Members unable to consider 90 days, even on the advice of the police?
Sir Patrick Cormack: There are some fundamental misunderstandings in the hon. Gentleman's question. First, the country has never had the benefit of my services in governmentI infinitely regret that and the country is much the poorer for itand I cannot therefore speak as a member of a Conservative Government. However, it is the duty of advisers to advise, the responsibility of those whom they advise to listen, and the obligation of those who are in executive government to present proposals to the House. It is for the House to determine the ultimate content of the legislation.
As I said earlier, much as I like the hon. Gentleman, he has been too narrow in his definitions and interpretations of yesterday. He has imputed party political motives to those who did not have them. On such an issue, many of us regard every vote as a free vote and would never be constrained by Whips to go into a Lobby if we did not agree. I can cite my frequent rebellions on Bosnia in the period of Conservative Government, when a few of us stood out because we believed that our Government were wrong. We all do those things. Just as I do not question the hon. Gentleman's passionate sincerity, he should not question mine or that of any other hon. Member. He,
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the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, my hon. and energetic Friend the Member for Buckingham, who is about to bounce up again, and I all go to our constituents, answer to them and ask them to send us back here. I know a bit more about that this year than do most hon. Members.
John Bercow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; I certainly would not want to disappoint him by failing to bounce at the appropriate moment. In reinforcement of his argument on motivation, may I remind the House that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Leader of the Opposition, invited Conservative Members to support the Bill on Second Reading? I respected his motivation, but I disapproved of the advice and I rejected it. I voted against the Bill because I thought that it was wrong. It would be a good idea if the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) took to heart the behaviour of the late Austrian economist and philosopher, Friedrich von Hayek. It is said that his view was that one should accuse someone only of intellectual error, and nothing worse.
To return to the point that I was making, I believe that we should have been better informed. The point was made yesterday by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe and me, and by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) and others, that this debate has not been structured as it should have been. This has been treated as emergency legislation, but it is not. Emergency legislationit is generally wrong; one has only to think of the legislation on dangerous dogs, or that enacted after the Omagh bombingis introduced in the wake of a specific emergency and rushed through the House. There is a case for it in theory, even though it often does not work well in practice.
This however is not emergency legislation, and the constraints on the House at this juncture of this Parliament are not such that we could not have had considerably more time to debate the Bill. It might even have been better, within the allotted time scale, to have spent more time on Report and less on Third Reading. We should have been able to debate the definition of terrorism, but we did not. There were other matters that we should have been able to debate properlyincluding stop and search, on which a new clause had been tabledbut did not. Those issues must be debated. We have had quite a discussion today, following the welcome announcement of Lord Carlile's new responsibilities.
The definition of terrorism will have to be debated in the other place. I have a very high regard for the other place. Unlike my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, I would leave it as it is; I would not muck it around. However, he and I unite in saying that, while it is as it is, it has a real function and a real responsibility, and they are very considerable in regard to this Bill. The Bill needs further significant
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amendment. There must be a tightening up of definitions, and further attention must be paid to the glorification concepta misguided one, in my view, even though I understand the motives behind it. There must also be a further opportunity to consider the period of detention. I am not convinced that we have decided on the right period. The Home Secretary said that that issue would not be reopened, but it might well be, when the Bill reaches the other place. If it is, it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that any amendments made in the other place are properly and fully considered.
In a very spirited speech yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham referred to this Chamber as the "cockpit of parliamentary democracy", and he was right. Even though I attach enormous importance to Select Committees and other Committees, this is the most important part of both Houses of Parliament. In this Chamber, there should be adequate and almost unrestricted opportunity for full and lengthy debate on issues of great importance. In that 1970 Parliament in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe and I were new Members, I well remember how night after night we were kept up by the Labour Opposition, led by people such as Eric Heffer and John Mendelson, great orators in their day, on the Industrial Relations Bill. On the final day, as dawn broke, I remember a chorus of "The Red Flag" coming from the Opposition Lobby, as they felt that they had exercised their democratic responsibility. I am not advocating a return to those days, as current Labour Members would not know the words
This is a very important point. I am not advocating a return to those all-night sittings. What I am advocating is that Bills such as this should have more time. They should not be treated as emergency legislation when they should be the Government's considered response to an issue of great national importance. May I make a plea through the Solicitor-General that when we have amendments back from the other place, we should be given adequate time on the Floor of the House to debate those issues? It is crucial that that should be the case.
Let me end where I began. There is a real need for the House to be united in fighting terrorism. That real need, in my view, involves a recognition, in contradiction of a fundamental principle of English law, in a sense, that it is better that one person be detained wrongly than that a bomb go off in the underground. The legislation must be so structured, however, that the opportunity for the wrong person to be detained must be the minimum, and there must be a consensus in the House that we have got it right.
I will support the Bill tonight if there is a Division, and I am glad that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will do likewise. I am glad that the Liberal Democrats will not oppose it. I honour those who will do so, because I respect their motives. It is important, however, that as we search for consensus we do not just roll over, and that we always respect the honest, firmly
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held views, based on convictions, of those who might not agree with our beliefs and prejudices, of which we all have both.
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