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11.15 pm

Thirdly, the Bill has not been properly discussed. Insufficient time was given to Second Reading and the Bill's first consideration by the Commons, and tonight there is insufficient time to deal with a range of important issues raised by the Lords amendments. When this 125-clause Bill was first considered by the Commons, 86 clauses were not debated in Committee and only two of those were subsequently discussed on Report, leaving 84 clauses undiscussed. None of the schedules were debated in Committee save schedule 5, which had less than five minutes' discussion, and schedule 1 was briefly debated on Report. Of the clauses that were debated, 19 were debated for less than five minutes in Committee. No one could possibly claim that the Bill has been properly debated by the Commons.

In those circumstances, and given the nature of the Bill, it is impossible to say that it should be passed without a proper review being established. With due respect to the Home Secretary's proposals, that body of Privy Councillors does not constitute a proper review. It is a body comprising the great and the good who will consider the legislation and may comment on it, but in no way is their judgment to be binding on the Government. When Lord Rooker was asked whether the recommendations of the review would be accepted, he replied:

In other words, he gave no undertaking that the comments made by that body of Privy Councillors would be accepted by the Government.

Mr. Hogg: Will the hon. Gentleman make the point that amendment (a) is not the amendment that will be enacted? We now know that the Government are to table amendments to amendment (a), so we are not debating that which the Government expect to become the law.

Norman Baker: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes his point well.

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I welcome the Home Secretary's willingness to consider what might be done, but the fact is—

Mr. Blunkett: Let me make it clear that Lord Rooker could not give that assurance because we had not agreed it at that time. However, I have just given it, and if I say from the Dispatch Box that that is what we are going to do, that is what we are going to do.

Norman Baker: I am not quite clear what the Home Secretary is saying, but if it is that whatever the recommendations made by the review body, the Government will automatically accept them, that is not what was said in the House of Lords. If that is what he is saying, it is welcome, but it is not a substitute for a proper sunset clause that limits emergency, far-reaching and draconian legislation. Previous legislation of this nature—prevention of terrorism Acts—have contained clauses whereby a statute is expected to "die" or to be subject to renewal orders. That is not the case with the Bill and we must know why not.

We have not been given sufficient time and it is dangerous to enact such far-reaching legislation in such circumstances. Lord Rooker said:

He seems to recognise it—do other Ministers? He also said:

In circumstances in which a Minister acknowledges that legislation is being rushed, the least the Government can do is ensure that there is a proper sunset clause covering the entire Bill—apart from part 12, on which there is common agreement. By so doing, if there are mistakes and if the Opposition points are well-founded, the Government can get themselves out of the hole and restore the civil liberties that I fear will be taken away under the Bill.

A sunset clause is an essential defence. I hope that the Home Secretary will reflect on that.

Mr. Hogg rose

Mr. Letwin rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I call Mr. Douglas Hogg.

Mr. Hogg: I see that my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) wants to speak, so I shall be brief.

I object to the motion to disagree with the Lords amendment and to substitute amendment (a). To begin with, I am a strong supporter of the sunset clauses in the form that the Lords approved them, and I strongly oppose any attempt to derogate from them. Furthermore, I oppose in particular the proposal in amendment (a).

We are told that there is to be a review. That is very nice of the Home Secretary, but a review by whom? The record of the current Government suggests that it will be a packed review body, comprising nicely and carefully chosen Privy Councillors who will do what they are told

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to do by the right hon. Gentleman. I have no confidence in that sort of review. What will happen when we have the review, which is to be laid before the Houses of Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable? That is jolly nice of the Government. But what then? We are told that the Government will implement the proposals. Why is that not in the Bill? That is because the Home Secretary does not want it in the Bill. Why is that? It is because he wants to be in a position not to do that which he has just said. If not, it would be in the Bill.

What procedure will there be for ensuring that the report is speedily debated? The answer is none. The truth is that weasel words have been brought forward by a Government who are in a fix, trying to find a mechanism to smooth over the effectual injustice of that which they are about. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary is chuntering away. The truth is that we should not have a Bill. However, if we are to have a Bill, we should have a proper sunset clause, and the present proposal is no substitute for it.

Worse, we are told that amendment (a) is not in its final form, because tomorrow, there will be further amendments. We are being asked to approve tonight a solution to a problem that is no solution. Further amendments will come back to the House and we shall have five, six or seven minutes to discuss them. They will then be put through the House on a Government vote. This is a profoundly undemocratic process and we should have no part of it.

Mr. Letwin: I shall certainly not attempt to emulate the unbelievable eloquence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I share many of the reservations that he so potently expressed. Moreover, I share also many of the reservations that were expressed by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker).

The Opposition seek, as does the Home Secretary, to achieve legislation that will protect the United Kingdom from terrorism. As we have always reminded ourselves and the House, that is a joint aim. We have adopted what we continue to believe to be a responsible and sensible approach to resolving the problems that the hon. Member for Lewes accurately described. There is the problem that is engendered by the Home Secretary's desire to see the Bill enacted so rapidly, which is that we have not had an opportunity sufficiently to scrutinise the uncontentious parts of the Bill to determine whether they will work in practice.

If we had our way, and if there were not a problem of urgency, I would wish that we insist permanently on our sunset clause, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, with the gay abandon of the Back Benches, so splendidly calls for. However, we need a Bill, and as I understand it the Home Secretary has offered—I take seriously his point that when he says these things he means them, and he has shown that repeatedly—to consider how the decisions or views taken by the committee of Privy Councillors could be given real bite and made to bear on parliamentary debate and parliamentary revision.

I am sure that the Government will bring forward such proposals. I do not guarantee that they will in their entirety meet immediately with our approval, but we shall

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engage with them. We will work with the Government to ascertain whether we can crack this problem so that the clauses do not prove an obstacle to achieving the passage of the Bill. We need to see the removal of the clauses on incitement to religious hatred, and we have dealt with that. Many of the other items that were most objectionable have been removed or amended by the Government. The item before us should not be a sticking point. Let us hope that in the next 24 or 36 hours we can achieve the desired result. If we fail to do so, it will not be for want of trying on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Blunkett: I do not welcome the continuing opposition, but I welcome the measured and sensible approach that has been enunciated. Everyone in politics has to make decisions about what is possible as well as about what is desirable. In the past few weeks, each of us has endeavoured to do just that. If, in the next 24 hours, we can find a way forward, people will thank us.

In response to those who are sceptical and believe that we are packing the measure or are being elusive, if we were prepared to take seriously what was said by a committee that undertook a review and could take security evidence but, after debate in both Houses, we were not prepared to respond to it, we would be making a rod for our own backs. Making sure that what we say and do is credible is a matter of both will and necessity; there should be trust that that will happen.

The shadow Home Secretary illustrated the necessity even in opposition to recognise that the Government must govern; we have to lead and find a way forward. I urge Liberal Democrat Members, if they aspire to be a major Opposition party, to be prepared to do the same. I have heard the spirit of co-operation tonight, but I have not heard any words about being prepared to give as well as take. If I am prepared to give as well as take with a majority of 165, Liberal Democrat Members might do so as well.

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