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Mr. Fisher: No one doubts the concern in the country and in all parts of the House, but the question that will be put to Ministers, with great force, and to which they must respond during the debate, is, in what regard does the present state of the law not allow us to deal with these
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to make the point that although the hon. Member for Walsall, North may be right to say that there is a degree of urgency regarding some individuals who cannot now be prosecuted, he should remember that the Bill contains many measures that, on any view, are not urgent; for example, on incitement to religious hatred. Why should we be conducting our scrutiny on such a fundamental issue in only two hours or so?
We should proceed more slowly not only to achieve the quality of scrutiny that comes from debate, but to give us time to listen to expert voices from outside the House. There is a purpose behind the slow, measured and sometimes frustrating pace at which we pass legislation, which is to give us time to mull things over, sift out what is essential and listen to those who will be affected.
Last week, hon. Members on both sides of the House who are interested in this subject would have received the first batch of submissions from the organisations with the most immediate and pressing interest in the Bill, such as Liberty and Amnesty International. I was interested to find that today's post brought a submission from the Confederation of British Industry. It would never have occurred to me that the interests of its members would be affected by this legislation, but its submission concerned the data implications of the Bill. Inevitably, other organisations and groups will want to make representations once they have had a chance to read the Bill, think about it and consult their members. After next Monday night, or within a very few days of it, it will effectively be too late to do so.
Norman Baker (Lewes): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members have spent more time in Committee on the Proceeds of Crime Bill than has been allotted for the entire Committee stage of this Bill, and we have only reached clause 6 of the Proceeds of Crime Bill? That is important legislation, but it is not as important as this.
It is important that there should be more time to consider the Bill, not only for Members and those outside, but for Ministers. They need to consider what they want to achieve, although of course they have been thinking about that for the past 10 weeks, and to think how their intentions should be phrased. Moreover, that consideration must be tested in the House and against the opinion of outside experts and those who will be affected. I am sure that Ministers have paid attention to the Second Reading debate, to this debate and to the submissions from outside bodies, but I suspect that they have not given
One has only to look, as I did this morning, at the debates in the House in 1940, when internment was introduced, to see that there was a huge gap between the Government's intentions about how internment would work, as expressed in the good, sincere thinking of the then Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson, and the implementation of the policy by chief constables throughout the country. It escalated beyond the control of Parliament and the Government, despite their modest intentions.
The liberal protestations of regret that characterised the introduction of the policy were soon swept away by the flood of opinion about its implementation, which put a very different spin on the matter. That led to one of the most extraordinary and regrettable instances in our legal system, in which opponents of Nazism and Italian fascism were bundled together with Nazis and fascists in categories A, B and C and transported to the dominions or incarcerated here in appalling circumstances. Parliament was given assurances by the Government, which I am sure were well intentioned, but events worked out very differently.
We need to learn from history. There is a terrifying mood abroad in our societya lack of interest in the past and a lack of understanding that the past is with us. The past is what we are; it is a live thing. I fear that the Government too often think that the past is out of date and irrelevant. It is not. We have very recent examples of internment in 1940 and 1914 and we should be learning from them.
Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): The hon. Gentleman says that Ministers have not given themselves enough time. Will not he go further and recogniseanybody who has had the privilege of being a Minister will do sothat if very short timetables are set, the whole structure is geared to defending what is there, because changing it takes longer than not doing so. There is not only not enough time, but a psychological pressure on Ministers not to listen.
Mr. Fisher: All hon. Members will pay particular attention to that contribution, not only because of the right hon. Gentleman's experience in government, but because of his understanding of the situation in Northern Ireland. He has given us wise words.
I make a late protest: we have not given ourselves time either for the particular, in relation to some clauses, or for the general, in relation to the whole Bill. I do not want to delay the House a moment further, but I express my hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will at least tell us briefly why the Bill is so pressing that we could not allow slightly more measured time for consideration and why the Government could not allow themselves more time to think about their response to the concerns expressed in the House and by people outside.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I rise to support what my old friend the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) has said, which is of great importance to this House. I hope that the Under-Secretary will not misunderstand me when I say that it is very regrettable that she did not introduce this short debate by giving us some indication as to why we are proceeding in this manner. She will forgive me if I remind her of what I told the Home Secretary on Monday. As I said then, some parts of the Bill may be urgent I am not persuaded, but I recognise that such parts may existbut it is clear from any viewpoint that there are large parts that are not urgent. The proper thing to do was to identify the provisions that were truly urgent, incorporate them into a short Bill and, if necessary, clear the parliamentary timetablefor example, last night's business could have been rescheduledin order to give enough time to the business that we are now considering.
I think that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Centralit may have been my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin)spoke about the time that is being given in the other place, where I believe that six days have been allotted. When this House does not properly consider legislation, it does two things. First, we destroy the implied bargain that exists between the citizen and the state in a democracy. When the House imposes obligations, which are always backed by penal sanctions, there is an implied bargain that we, the citizens' representatives, have properly considered the legislation and expressed an opinion about it. The truth is, however, that we will not do so tonight or on Monday. The bargain is being destroyed. When the electorate see that important measures are being introduced without discussion in this place, they will lose their understanding and respect for democracy.
Secondly, I say to the Government that, from time to time, people complain about the way in which the judges are extending the convention and becoming interventionist in their use of judicial review. Indeed, that point has been made by the Home Secretary and others on a number of occasions. One of the reasons why the judiciary is much more interventionist than it was, say, 20 or 30 years ago, is that it understands that this House is not properly discharging its functions. If this House fails properly to safeguard the liberty of the subject, it is not in the least surprising that other people try other methods of enshrining that liberty. That is why we see the interventionism of judges. Indeed, it also explains why I gave broad support to the incorporation in domestic law of the European convention on human rights. I recognise that that gives the judges a legislative function, but we ourselves are not performing our function.
I shall conclude shortly, but I want to make one more point. On any view, the clauses that deal with internment without trial are of fundamental importance; many amendments to them have been tabled. Theoretically, however, those clauses are to be discussed between 6 pm and 8.30 pm. If we have a division at 6 pm, as is likely, we will have two and a quarter hours at the very most in which we will be asked to destroy a fundamental principle of British lawthat a person cannot be sent into detention without proper trial. We have two and a quarter hours to destroy a principle that has underpinned British law for 500 years.
Who, in all conscience, believes that that is right? It cannot be right; we are sending people to prison on the suspicion or belief of the Home Secretary, without allowing them a proper appeal of any kind. We are going to approve that in two and a quarter hours, so the majority of the amendments will not be discussed. That cannot be right and is deeply offensive.