|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Simon Hughes: The hon. and learned Gentleman is right. It is important that we tell the truth when we mean to, and that we do not tell untruths when we do not mean to. His correction is gratefully received.
I think that the Prime Minister wants to go to the European Council meeting at Laeken in Belgium at the end of next week waving a piece of legislation at his European colleagues, none of whom has thought it necessary to derogate from the European convention on human rights or human rights legislation and say, "Look how tough I am. Look what I can get through my Parliament. Now you must do the same." That has nothing to do with the merit or logic of the Bill or with the duty for Parliament to make the decision. It is simply a timetable that the Minister has not yet mentioned, determined by the fact that there is a meeting for Heads of Government at the end of next week and the Prime Minister wants this business cleared by then so that he can say, "Oh what a clever boy am I."
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I am loth to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in a rare bout of Liberal Euroscepticism, which is entirely welcome and healthy. Will he, however, apply himself to the point about deferred votes? If on Thursday 13 Decemberthe long bad Thursdayany vote is deferred, it would seem impossible for the Speaker to report to the House that any Bill could have received Royal Assent. Surely it would be literally impossible.
Simon Hughes: There may be two answers to that question. It might be, but I can also think of a reason why it might not. There is certainly a secondary consideration. If more secondary legislation were to come down the tracks and we went on until some days later, that also might be precluded by the fact that this is an expandable Thursday which might take up a lot of extra time.
If ever we are critical of anything to do with the European Union, the word is not Eurosceptic but Eurocritical. I hope that that helps the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) get the language right. Other people can be Euroscepticswe are occasionally Eurocritics.
What are the Government trying to avoid by putting this motion before the House? I think that it is all about trying to minimise the change to a Bill that, as colleagues have said, is in an entirely, or substantially, unacceptable form.
I hope that the Government are prepared significantly to compromise. There have been small offers to do so in the form of two Government amendments before the Bill left this House and one other suggested area of compromise in the other place. That is about setting up a Committee of Privy Councillors to consider the Bill as a whole and report back after 15 months as an alternative to the sunset clause proposals that have been tabled in this House and the other place, supported on both sides and from the Cross Benches.
I hope that the Government will be more willing to compromise, particularly if they see the strength of feeling that exists. I believe that over the next few days they will see the strength of feeling that exists in the House of Lords. I say, not with any sense of triumphalism, that I expect the Lords to amend several significant parts of the Bill on Report and Third Reading.
The Government appear to want to take the approach that the Bill would then no longer be in line with what public opinion expects and wants. I do not think that the amendments are likely to have that effectinstead, they will have the opposite effect. Let me explain why.
There is a very important issue about judicial review. I do not think that the public have ever signed up to the removal of the right of the courts to oversee the Executive in a way that has been part of our history for centuries. If colleagues have not read it, I refer them to the estimable speech of my noble Friend Earl Russell. He is a constitutional historian and referred to that in his speech the other day. I do not think that the public have ever signed up to the idea that we should, under this Bill, allow the transfer of significant amounts of information about the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter), me and everybody else from one agency of the state to another for any reason to do with any possible, as well as actual, investigation in this country or abroad.
I do not think that the public have ever signed up to the idea that the Bill or international circumstances justify the state in retaining data as proposed in part 2. When opinion polls were taken, the British public never said that they wanted that. I do not think that the British public have ever signed up to the fact that we are expecting to give the police powers to stop people in the street and to order them to remove face coveringsfor any reasonwhen they have not even been arrested or charged with a criminal offence.
I certainly do not think that the British public have signed up to the ideaindeed, they would be strongly against itthat we pass in this place decisions taken by the European Council of Ministers behind closed doors, and that have never been given the approval of the European Parliament nor been introduced as primary legislation in the UK Parliament.
I am sure that the British public want us to be able to legislate on those matters. There is no justification for the argument that our amendments would not be doing the will of the British public: on the contrary, they certainly would.
Mr. Garnier: To develop the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, for centuries we have been protected by the common law and by the judiciary against the Executive and their high-handed acts; we were told by the Government that they were bringing human rights home; we introduced the Human Rights Act 1998 and domesticated the European convention on human rights, but what did the Government do within seconds? They removed us from its provisions. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are now exposing the true nature of this pretence of a Government?
Simon Hughes: The hon. and learned Gentleman makes an extremely important point. I and my party strongly applauded the Human Rights Act. The measure did not meet with universal applausecolleagues in his party did not support it, for reasons that I understand. However, the Government certainly claimed that the measure was an important incorporation of human rights into domestic lawit was bringing rights home.
It seems to us anomalous and contradictory that within 13 months we sent human rights away againcertainly in one respectthe more so because we argued, and tried to persuade the Government, that we should debate the issue after we had debated the Bill to see whether it was necessary at all. That would have been a more logical way to proceed.
There are two further points that the timetable could prevent us from debating. The first has been discussed by the hon. Member for West Dorset, myself and others and proved controversial in both Houses. It is important that we try to include the best definition of terrorism in the measure. That is not an easy matter. We tried to do it in the Terrorism Act 2000, when various recommendations and advice were offered, as well as a proposal from the European Union. Such a definition cannot be arrived at overnight, and we should not try to achieve consensus in both Houses.
It is certainly true that on the really controversial issue, on which the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead rightly signalled his concernwhether there should be a new crime of incitement to religious hatredwe want to try to get the law right. It is foolish to rush into something that may not have been thought through, that may not produce the right result and might actually antagonise rather than pacify community relations.
Our Scottish colleaguesLabour and Liberal Democratobtained the agreement of the Scottish Parliament that such provisions should be removed from the Bill. They agreed to take wider advice and to return to the matter, separately from the terrorism debate, at some time in the new year. It is much more sensible to proceed in that way, and I hope that, next week, the House of Lords takes that view and that the provision is removed from the Bill, lock, stock and barrel, so that we can consider those difficult matters properly.
The House of Lords is trying to do the job of scrutiny that it is meant to do, but let the Government not be critical if the House of Lords has the power and authority to overturn the view of the Government in the Bill for two reasons. First, as the Minister well knows, the Government have a majority in the House, but they did not achieve a majority of votes at the last election; they are a minority Government in the proper sense of the word. Of those who voted, only four out of 10 voted Labour and fewer people voted Labour than previously, so the Government do not have the moral mandate to say that the country was behind themin the words of a former leader of my party, we are all minorities now.