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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): With my responsibilities for chairing the Civil Contingencies Committee, I have been leading a comprehensive review of how contingency plans can be updated. We are taking all necessary and sensible steps to make sure that the country is well protected to handle all eventualities, including any major terrorist attack. Those steps will be building on the extensive work already in place, including the work done leading up to the millennium. They include the work being undertaken by my right hon. Friends the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs and the Minister for Local Government, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, who have been leading resilience and contingency planning groups dealing with matters both nationallyand in London, and with chemical, biological and radiological problems.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, a timetable motion has been tabled on which we shall vote later, at least under the deferred procedure. So many hon. Members wish to speak that you have felt it necessary to impose a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. There is genuine anxiety about the timetable. Will you consider not putting the Question on the timetable motion unless and until the Home Secretary makes a statement to explain why two days are deemed sufficient?
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. After the Second Reading debate and the vote on the timetable, we will consider a motion, which has an hour and a half for debate, on whether to support and agree to this country's derogation from article 5 of the European convention on human rights.
Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) wrote to the Leader of the House to ask whether discussion of the derogation could wait until we had completed our consideration of the Bill. That would enable us properly to consider the need for the derogation. This afternoon, there is a debate in the House of Lords about whether such consideration should happen at the end of the Bill's passage through both Houses.
May I, through you, ask a Minister to explain whether the Government are willing to accept that logical proposal? If they are, we would not have to spend a lot of time today arguing about whether to pull out of an article of the human rights convention when it may be rendered unnecessary by Parliament amending the Bill.
I thank all thosemy advisers, officials and hon. Members, including my ministerial teamwho have worked so diligently with me on the Bill. I should also like to put on record my thanks to the members of the
It would be useful to deal with the question that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) asked about the derogation from article 5 of the European convention on human rights. We believe that it is sensible to seek the consent of the House of Commons and the House of Lords because unless Parliament agrees to clauses 21 to 23 and associated provisions, which relate to detention, the need to seek a derogation from article 5 under article 15 will not arise. It is therefore sensible to have the provision in place. It will fall automatically if Parliament does not consent to the clauses that I mentioned.
Simon Hughes: I thank the Home Secretary for being as courteous on this matter as he has been throughout the proceedings so far. Will he reconsider the issue that he heard me raise earlier, and with which he has partially dealt? Does he accept that, by virtue of the order that the Government laid last week, there is a 40-day period within which the order is the law. At the end of the 40 days, it will lapse if Parliament does not agree to the proposal in both Houses. Given that the Government have the cover that they seek, is it not, in a sense, an abuse of the judgment of both Houses to assume that they will agree that the Bill should remain as it is, when there may be waysfollowing the Human Rights Committee's proposalin which it could be amended to avoid derogation? In that case, the Government would not need the decisions of both Houses, the 40-day period would lapse in the normal way and the Government would not, to put it crudely, be putting the cart before the horse on a hugely important national and international legal obligation.
Mr. Blunkett: The 40-day period stands, but we do not agree that there is an alternative way of proceeding that would be acceptable to the Government; if there were, we would propose it. This issue will be the subject of the debate today, and of subsequent debates here and in the House of Lords. On that basis, we are seeking the consent of the House on derogation.
Circumstances and public opinion demanded urgent and appropriate action after the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Many parliamentarians understandably demanded caution, proportionality and a response that would last for the future. Over the five weeks following the attacks, in which thousands of men and women lost their lives, it was the Government's task to appraise the measures that would be necessary to close loopholes and set aside anomalies that had developed over many years in existing legislation.
We therefore took our time in preparing the statement of 15 October, which laid out precisely the kind of measures that I am proposing this afternoon. I make no apology for having taken another five weeks to come to the House with these measures, which required consideration. Given the
It is important to recognise that, in the first few weeks after 11 September, the emotional response to what had happenedthe sight that people beheld and the hundreds of public service workers and volunteers who lost their lives trying to save the lives of otherscould have evoked an immediate and, I would have thought, universal call for even more draconian measures than those that I am accused of introducing. It would have been wrong to do that. [Interruption.] Conservative Members laugh, but it was understandable that the United States Government sought to pass their Patriot Act by 26 October, which they did and it has now received the signature of the President. It was appropriate for us to be more circumspect, and to bring to the House what we consider to be proportionate and reasonable measures.
Mr. Hogg: The right hon. Gentleman made the point that he has taken 10 weeks to contemplate the contents of the Bill. That was indeed right. Given that it was necessary for him to take 10 weeks, does he understand the anxiety in this place that we are being asked to pass the Billall 114 pages and 125 clauses of itin two days beyond today? Surely that cannot be right.
Mr. Blunkett: I am not absolutely certain that the length of the debate and the scrutiny given to a Bill are one and the same thing. The length of the debate and our scrutiny of it depend on the availability of time to deal with the aspects of the Bill on which there is genuine disagreement. Disagreeing with something on which there is general approbation is entirely different. It seems to me that the time available in this House and the House of Lords will be used effectively and rightly to scrutinise those proposals that have already received public attention and on which there has been considerable comment.