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5.30 pm

Simon Hughes: The Home Secretary asked a rhetorical question about how long the emergency will last. None of us knows that. Liberal Democrat Members have accepted that there is a case for special legislation, but we do not know for how long it will be necessary. That is why the new clause provides for flexibility. It will allow the Government to terminate elements of the legislation or even re-enact certain elements within five years, if that is required. However, Parliament has a duty to say to the Government that we will not allow emergency powers or legislation that we have not considered to continue indefinitely. We are the Parliament of the United Kingdom. There are separate issues for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. If ever there were a test of whether the constitution will be upheld, it is whether Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise legislation.

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The sadness for some Opposition Members is that those are exactly the arguments that the Labour party, in opposition, used to deploy against the Government of the day. It is sad to record that the longer it remains in office, the more new Labour forgets that it has to be properly accountable to Parliament—and Parliament to the people—rather than arrogating more and more power to the Executive. The Government need lessons because they are ignoring what they used to say in opposition and what the country expects from a democratically accountable Government. This is a usurpation of power too far.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): In speaking to the new clauses on duration, the Home Secretary said that the important thing is that we all agree on the Bill's intent, implying that we should not get too hung up on procedure or detail. With the greatest respect to him, I beg to differ. We are passing a law on which will turn the liberty of the subject, so despite the fact that many of those interned under the legislation will be people whom most hon. Members find unsavoury, and who have no popularity with the wider public, it is important not only that we agree on the Bill's intent but that we be satisfied that the letter of the Bill is robust and will achieve the desired effect.

In the debate on the programme motion, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), said that we needed to suspend our normal expectations because of the emergency situation. I am not sure what she meant by that, but no emergency justifies the suspension of our normal expectation that the House should pass legislation that is robust, defensible and fair.

I congratulate the Home Affairs Committee on its excellent report, and in particular its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), on his hard work on winning from the Home Secretary the concession of a five-year sunset clause. Of course it is an improvement on the status quo, but I ask my hon. Friend to cast his mind back to the last Parliament, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was Home Secretary. He was a past master at the art of the carefully calibrated concession—just enough to get people voting with the Government but not enough to alter the substance of the legislation. I hope that in this Parliament we will not get caught up with such concessions because, a few years on, no one can remember what the concessions were but we know that we are lumbered with thoroughly bad legislation. The Chairman of the Select Committee is to be congratulated on his body fight for the concession—

Mr. Mullin: The Select Committee considered the proposals in detail and concluded that it agreed with the Government that there is a small category of people who cannot be deported or extradited and who constitute a danger to the state. The Committee is not disputing the Home Secretary's reason for bringing the core part of the Bill to Parliament. We wanted a sunset clause because we hope that in five years the emergency will be over.

Ms Abbott: I do not think that anybody in the House disputes the Bill's intent; it is the letter of the Bill that we are attempting to debate under the onerous restrictions of the programme motion.

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I give the House a general warning to beware, as we scrutinise the Bill, of the carefully calibrated concession and always to return to the substance of the Bill and ask whether it is acceptable. The new clauses that would introduce more detailed sunset provisions would be preferable even to my hon. Friend's hard-won concession, but as we go through the Bill, we will find many substantive points to which many of us wish to speak.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I sit on the Home Affairs Committee with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), and I thank the Home Secretary and his colleagues for giving way on an amendment in our names.

I have listened to the debate and to the point made by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) about the carefully calibrated concession. When the Select Committee suggested a sunset clause on part 4, the most difficult part of the Bill, we also said that we profoundly believed, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said, that it was not appropriate to give the Bill's passage so little time and we called on the Home Secretary to do some major surgery to the Bill.

We know from what we have heard that the House will get no more time to examine the Bill, and having listened to the debate on Second Reading, some of us are doubtful that we will get major surgery. The Select Committee asked for most of part 5 and all of part 13 to be cut out of the Bill. Do Ministers still have an open mind on those other points? New clause 6 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) is, I admit, complicated, but it does at least deal with the problem that the Bill is simply too long.

A sunset clause alone is not enough. A more general sunset clause along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, which would not apply to the bribery clauses in part 12, would allow the Government to re-enact parts of the Bill for 12 months. It would include a fallback position of a full sunset clause: five years for the least controversial aspects; two years for quite controversial matters, and one year for part 4. If the Government accepted that, it would give them the defence that they will need when the Bill goes to another place, where Members will know, because it is simply too long, that we have not had time to scrutinise it properly. I hope that Ministers will address that point.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): Like others who have spoken, I greatly welcome the Home Secretary's acceptance of the Home Affairs Committee's recommendation of a sunset clause for part 4. I especially welcome what he said about extending the remit of Lord Carlile, which would give many people considerable confidence.

The debate about sunset clauses has focused on the principle, intent and duration of the Bill, but there is a separate problem that new clause 6 might address, albeit slightly inadvertently: implementation. We need to retain not only the power to bring the measure to an end after a five-year term, desirable though that is, but the ability to consider and express a view on how it is being implemented.

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Mr. Letwin: That effect is not inadvertent; it was central to the view that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and I took when we tabled the new clause.

Mr. Fisher: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments, which I accept.

I should like to return to an issue that I raised in the debate on the programme motion, and mention what happened when we introduced internment in 1939 and 1940. On 4 September 1939, the then Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson, of Shelter fame, gave in answer to a question from Mr. Arthur Greenwood an admirable reply about how aliens would be treated under internment. He said that there would be

I am sure that that was his intention and that he wanted the measure to be liberally interpreted and carefully considered and constrained, but as quickly as the following July, different results were shown by a statistical survey that was conducted in an internment camp containing 1,500 people. It dealt with the circumstances of all of those people and was conducted to see how internment was operating.

Mr. Blunkett: I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend. All that he has said is entirely true. Policies were undertaken here and in other democratic countries during the second world war that caused great regret. However, first, there is, surely, no comparison; and secondly, no one envisaged in 1939 or 1949 the special immigration advisory committee procedure, which I spelled out in great detail on Monday and which we will, of course, implement to the letter.

Mr. Fisher: I accept what my right hon. Friend says. There is no intention that the measure should be applied on a wider basis than is appropriate. In 1939, however, the then Home Secretary initially thought that he was giving himself powers to intern about 2,000 people, but within nine months, 20,000 of the 30,000 Austrian and German male residents in this country had been interned because of the pressure of events. I suspect that that is not what Sir John Anderson intended, but it is what happened. The speed of events and the implementation of the measures by those with that responsibility—in this case, the chief constables—meant that although the sweep was originally targeted at enemy aliens, it was much wider in practice. Nazi sympathisers and opponents, Jews and Aryans, and a whole range of people who were not originally intended to be caught by the measures were affected. [Interruption.] I must say, Sir Michael, that it is terribly difficult to address the Committee when the junior Minister is talking on the Front Bench. As I was saying, the intention was one thing, but the effect was another. There were no additional powers, but the impetus of events meant that the circumstances were very different as soon as nine months later.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend Home Secretary intends the Bill to cover a very small number of people, as he told the House the other day. However, we must have the right to ensure that we can consider how it is proceeding in one or two years' time. At the very least, we must have a chance to debate, comment and, if necessary, vote on Lord Carlile's report every year,

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so that we can ensure that circumstances do not drive the intentions of legislation that is passed this year in a very different direction.

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