HC Deb 03 May 1983 vol 42 cc23-108

Order for consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee), read.

3.38 pm
Mr. Speaker

I have selected the recommittal motion in the name of the Home Secretary.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I beg to move, That the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House in respect of Clauses 9 and 10 and New Clauses (Power of justice of the peace to authorise entry to search for evidence of serious arrestable offence), (Meaning of 'excluded material'), (Meaning of 'items subject to legal privilege'), (Meaning of 'personal records'), (Meaning of 'journalistic material'), (Meaning of 'special procedure material'), (Access to special procedure material) and New Schedule (Special Procedure) standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Secretary Whitelaw, and New Clauses (Power to enter premises, etc., to search for evidence of serious offences) and (Evidence held on confidential basis) standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Roy Hattersley. The Government agree that clauses 9 and 10 and the new clauses in the motion relate to a most important part of the Bill; and I have introduced the motion in response to the wishes of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). However, it is only fair to remind the House of the detailed and extensive scrutiny in Committee that this important and essential Bill received, as it should over four months. At no time was any proposal made to curtail debate. The Standing Committee did not pass over these clauses briefly or inattentively. On the contrary, it discussed them for the best part of three of its 41 sittings. The issues relating to the extent and procedure provisions were fully aired.

In Committee and later, on 14 April, the Government informed the House how they intended to respond to the principal points that had been made. The Government honoured their undertaking by tabling new clauses 2 to 8 and their related new schedule. They were tabled a full week ago. I accept, of course, that those new clauses, which meet what they promised to do, represent a considerable change to the Bill. That is why I thought it right to respond to the reasonable proposal of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and why I suggest that this part of the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

It is obvious that the Opposition do not propose to vote against this motion. The Opposition originally hoped that the Standing Committee would be reconstituted to re-examine what amounts to new proposals. The House will know that as that hope was embodied in our procedural motion which still stands on the Order Paper, and because it was inherent in the question which I asked the Leader of the House last Thursday.

I still believe that by re-forming the Committee, the Government would be able to make progress without losing time. Whether that is possible if we are to reconstitute the Committee in the form of a Committee of the whole House, only the passage of the next few days will tell. We must proceed with our deliberations and see how time works out, now that the Government have proposed this substantial addition to our business.

Anxious as we all are to move on to substantive consideration of what amounts to a new part of the Bill, the House would expect a moment's examination of how the Government have got into this extraordinary situation. I shall attempt to do that. Cynics may imagine that this is all part of an election stratagem that has been thought up by Conservative Central Office, the Prime Minister making a pitch for the voters who want the obdurate approach, the Home Secretary attempting to appeal to those electors who want vacillation and indecision. Whatever the course of today's debate and this motion, one implication is absolutely clear — the procedural motion which the Home Secretary has moved is an admission that the Bill was badly thought out and badly drafted and is being rewrittten as it passes through the House.

By moving this motion, the Government are conceding that at least two clauses were so inadequately constructed that we must start all over again. If the Government are formally acknowledging that—by any standards they are —the House and the country are entitled to wonder, if two such controversial clauses have proved so inadequate, what assurances we have about the drafting of the rest of the Bill.

No one should be in any doubt about how this difficulty has arisen. The Government decided that speed was the principal requirement when they were preparing the Bill. With speed as their main motive, they produced the two clauses for which they are now apologising and are withdrawing. If the Government concede that those clauses were inadequately drafted, what about clauses on arrest without warrant, on detention without charge and on intimate body search? What faith can we have that they have been thought out as the House is entitled to expect? What faith can we have that they will be passed into law with the precision that such clauses and draconian powers ought to possess?

Although what the Home Secretary has done today is right in terms of House of Commons procedure, it must attract serious questioning of the Bill in general. The Bill has already attracted the opposition of The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. Who knows, after today's admission, perhaps even the Daily Telegraph will turn against it. We must conclude that proposals that are intrinsically unacceptable in a free society have been embodied in a Bill which is thoroughly shoddy and wholly second rate in its drafting and preparation.

3.45 pm

It is worth considering why the Government have been forced into this humiliating retreat. I repeat—it is worth repeating — that the Bill was produced in intolerable haste. The Government committed themselves to a police Bill which the newspapers would describe, above all else, as tough. Perhaps we should not be surprised by that, as the Government were elected on a law and order ticket and then presided over the highest crime rate in the history of the United Kingdom. Their desire to be tough and to be seen to be tough has been matched only by what they believe to be the need to rush their new tough measures on to the statute book. Because of hasty preparation, the Bill was inadequately thought out, and consultations were hurried. The haste was justified by constant repetition in the newspapers that these powers could not be delayed for more than a moment as the country needed, wanted and demanded them at the first possible opportunity.

It is now clear that the Home Secretary is prepared to abandon the entire Bill in the interests of finding an election date that is most to the advantage of the Conservative party. When the drafting was being rushed through, speed was all and accuracy had to take second place. Therefore, we are now offered a second thought on two major clauses which, when they were initially drafted, typified the Government's willingness not to spend any time considering the proper balance between police powers, which the Bill includes, and the protection of civil liberties, which it omits. Because of that, the Home Secretary has come to the House and made what amounts to an admission of failure. Not only has he confessed that two clauses are inadequate but a question mark has been put against the whole Bill. That question mark is reinforced by the four pages of grouped amendments which the House is supposed to consider during three days of debate.

I do not know and precedent does not give me a clear answer to whether ever a Bill which has claimed to be so major in purpose and intention, and which has attracted so much controversy, has been subject to such amendment by a Government as it passes through the House. As a result of what the Home Secretary now proposes, the proper process of examination and amendment is bound to be impaired and inhibited. I shall explain why.

The Government must not believe that, by offering a Committee of the whole House on these controversial proposals, the Government are escaping a Report stage after consideration in Committee is concluded. I assume that, when the Committee stage has ended, it will be possible for right hon. and hon. Members to table manuscript amendments to what the Committee has decided which will be selected and grouped, or not, according to the normal procedures of the House. That must mean that, by the decision to submit this section of the Bill to a Committee of the whole House, which we are about to and must take, we are cutting out a substantial part of the time which the Government originally intended for a Report stage. Had this procedural motion been put and carried, it would have been inevitable that much of the Bill would have been discussed tonight, tomorrow night and Monday night—during the hours when the House is least well attended and our debates are least reported and it is easiest for the Government to ram their business through.

It is intolerable that a Bill that affects the liberties of the subject and that has aroused such controversy and excited such widespread condemnation should be driven through Parliament in this way. In my characteristically charitable mood, I attribute that to the Home Secretary's incompetence rather than to his malice or his tendency to publish Bills first and to read them afterwards. Whatever the cause, his motion demonstrates that the Bill was badly prepared, casually conceived and, until now, inadequately considered. We can rejoice only that it will never reach the statute book and that we shall continue to expose its weaknesses and improve them where we can.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

I have little to add to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). In Committee the Government made no fewer than 134 commitments, most, but not all, of which related to the Bill. That shows a praiseworthy willingness on the part of the Government to listen to argument. No one can say of the Minister of State that he was not always ready to listen to and understand the force of arguments put to him. Therefore, I do not criticise the Minister who for all practical purposes was in charge of the Bill.

If in Committee 134 points are found wrong, or, at least, hon. Members must consider whether 134 points are right or wrong, the Bill must be radically wrong in the first place. That trebly underlines what my right hon. Friend said about the haste and lack of thought given to its conception.

A small proportion only of the 134 Government rethinks deals with the two new clauses now to be recommitted to the House, which leads some hon. Members to ask what will be done about the other pieces of bad drafting. I have been a Member of Parliament for a long time, not quite but nearly as long as you, Mr. Speaker, and have served on many Standing Committees, but I cannot recall a Bill which was in the least like this Bill or during the course of which a half or a quarter as many commitments were made. As we have taken from the three days allocated to Report at least one day for recommittal, how shall we cope with all the other matters in the remaining two days?

I hope that the Secretary of State or the Leader of the House will answer my right hon. Friend's question about how right hon. and hon. Members will table amendments for Report at the end of this Committee stage, because amendments will undoubtedly be required. I hope that we shall be guided on that point.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

Although the arguments for considering clauses 9 and 10 in Committee may be strong, it is absurd to refer them to a Committee of the whole House on the first of the days that have been allotted to Report. If clauses 9 and 10 were carried, in normal circumstances it would be possible to consider amendments to them on Report, but it is inconceivable that we shall be able to do so before tomorrow. The least that the Government should do is to confirm that their commitment to three days on Report still holds and that we shall have an opportunity to table amendments to clauses 9 and 10 before Report which should begin next week at the earliest.

The absurdity of this entire affair has been highlighted largely because the only two clauses of this monstrous Bill that have been considered have been those that affect the press. Because the press has worked up a spasm of activity with regard to its confidential records, we shall have the unique procedure of dealing with these new clauses in a Committee of the whole House. That gives too much importance to what the new clauses are about. The assumption by the press and professional organisations that this is a great incursion into the existing powers of courts with regard to confidential records is quite wrong. The courts already have powers to get hold of confidential records if they wish. We are really arguing about whether those powers ought to be altered in any way.

I am perfectly willing to have that argument, but it is nonsense to suggest that the two new clauses are a good example of the way in which the Bill extends police power in a totally unacceptable way. We ought to be considering the priority considerations that arise under the Bill, such as stop and search, which will be widely extended across the country, and the power to inspect people's orifices, by which we mean anuses and vaginas. That will now be done in a way that is not acceptable in present law. The Bill also proposes that it will be perfectly legitimate to detain people for up to four days.

All these things will be passed over, because consideration will take place in the middle of the night when the press has got its headlines about what will happen to its journalistic records. That does not excuse the complete inappropriateness of much of the printed opposition to the Bill. There was plenty of opposition in Committee, when we made an extended assessment of its merits and demerits. Most of that was not reported. Similarly, only clauses 9 and 10 will now be reported.

If that is to be done, it should be done in a proper way so that we have an opportunity to table amendments to the new clauses on Report. That can happen only if Report is held next week and not earlier. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will rule that that will be possible. It will mean that hon. Members will be able to exercise their rights on Report in a proper way.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I rise only because I believe that a Conservative Member should expose the ridiculous argument of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that the Bill was produced in intolerable haste. It is based on a Royal Commission — [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] — which reported nearly four years ago. The essential issues that we shall be debating today and in the days that follow arise directly from the Royal commission report. One can argue that in one way or another the Royal Commission got the balance wrong, but one cannot say that the country has not had ample time in the past three or four years to argue the merits of the Bill.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stanbrook

The Bill simply reproduces the Government's view on, and in some cases additions to, that report.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will the hon. Gentleman give way? 4 pm

Mr. Stanbrook

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. I shall not be very long.

It is quite absurd for the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook to huff and puff about haste in the way that he does on almost every issue, thereby obscuring the merits of any argument. If there is any criticism of the Government, it is that they have given way too often and have been too ready to give way on many issues. Unfortunately, they have blurred the impression of the Bill as being one which achieves a good balance between the rights of the individual and the duties of the police. By the various amendments which have been made to both sides of that equation the whole thing has been stirred up. Special pleading has been entered on behalf of the church, doctors, journalists and goodness knows what other group. I understand that even film directors have got in on the act. All this has happened because my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has unwisely given way to pressure and given immunities where none existed before.

Therefore, the House should get on with the Bill in the manner proposed. Let us not make any other retreats from what is essentially a good Bill.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I support the procedural motion, but reluctantly, because it is the wrong one at the wrong time. The rights of the individual and of society to try to prevent crime are an important matter for Parliament to consider. Of course the Royal Commission examined it in great detail and produced a balanced report, balancing one right with one responsibility. Sadly, the Government took a selective view of the report of the Royal Commission; they brought forward some of its proposals but left out many of the safeguards.

We are all aware of the clamour from almost every source that clauses 9 and 10 were completely unsatisfactory to protect the rights of individuals. We welcome the Government's announcement that they are prepared to replace the two clauses. The procedural difficulty is that although the Government have proposed to remove the two clauses, they propose to replace them with nine new clauses which they intend to push through the House on Report. This makes it difficult for the clauses to be effectively debated and amended. It is particularly difficult since the Government published the new clauses only last Wednesday.

The Government assured pressure groups that the clauses would meet the legitimate points that had been put forward. However, as I understand it, many of the pressure groups have had no opportunity fully to consider the Government's new proposals. Certainly they have had no opportunity to consult hon. Members, to make alternative suggestions or to question what the Government are doing. They have not even had an opportunity to consider whether the Government are doing what they claimed in their press release they intended to do.

The replacement clauses should be debated adequately. The most effective way to do so would be to submit them to the Standing Committee that considered the rest of the Bill, not just so that that Committee could give them careful scrutiny but so that they might be examined carefully by bodies outside. There could then be discussion between those bodies and Members of Parliament and an interchange of ideas in the Committee. In that way, the Government would not only meet some of the still legitimate fears about the clauses, but would also improve the drafting, as often happens in Committee. Had that procedure been followed, the Government would not have lost much time. If there were to be an autumn election, the Bill could still get through Parliament.

If the Government are determined to cut and run by having a June election, all this is irrelevant. It would have been far better for the Government to have accepted the need for recommittal to a Standing Committee instead of insisting that the new clauses be considered in Committee of the whole House. If we raise legitimate points and get undertakings from Ministers that they will be considered, amendments will have to be tabled in a great hurry for the Report stage, which will follow immediately, or else we shall have to accept assurances that alterations will be made in the other place.

If the Government rush the procedure in this House then, legitimately, the other place will want to consider the new clauses long and hard, and it may take the Government just as long to get the amendments through. I hope that the Government will make it clear that this will be a genuine Committee stage and that the Minister will be prepared to examine the many detailed amendments to new clause 2. I hope the Government will accept some of the amendments or be prepared to table amendments themselves for the Report stage so that we can improve the Bill and safeguard the rights of individuals and the freedoms that we traditionally uphold to other parts of the world.

I hope that the Government put down the motion not just to offer a sop to the Opposition, but to encourage a proper Committee stage, a proper Report stage and a genuine improvement in the legislation.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), rejected the charge that the Bill had been concocted in intolerable haste. Yet that was the most charitable charge that could be directed towards his right hon. Friend. If it has not been put together under inconceivable pressure and in great haste, incompetence is the only other excuse for the fact that the Home Secretary has already had to make 134 confessions of errors and mistakes in the Bill and has had to come here with an unprecedented new procedure, to remove two major controversial clauses from the Bill and substitute others. If his right hon. Friend did not produce the Bill in great, unnecessary and intolerable haste, he certainly behaved in a highly incompetent manner.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Nantwich)

I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is not the Committee stage. If it were those comments would have been appropriate.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The Bill alters fundamentally the balance between the police and citizens. If many of its provisions are implemented they will seriously erode that little confidence that the public still have in the police force. The credibility of the police will be substantially eroded and undermined by many of the Bill's more controversial proposals. The Government have already acknowledged that the Bill is highly controversial and important, and, moreover, that they themselves have made substantial errors in drafting and in the policy behind the Bill.

The two new clauses that we are supposed to be debating in Committee today are extremely controversial. They have been opposed bitterly outside the House by hundreds of individuals and dozens of organisations, and few people, if any, can be found to support them. Under this unprecedented procedure, we are expected to rush through the Committee deliberations on these clauses when we have had no more than five days, since the clauses were tabled, in which to consider them, consult outside organisations and draft amendments. I remind hon. Members that of those five days two were at the weekend and another was a bank holiday. There has been insufficient time for hon. Members or outside organisations to debate and analyse the major and controversial new clauses.

There is an even more important debate. If we are not allowed sufficient time between Committee and Report when the new clauses, if accepted, will be reported back to the House, we shall be unable to consult interested parties, outside organisations and individuals on the new clauses, as amended or clarified this afternoon. We have not only had insufficient time to consider and consult but we shall need additional time between the Committee stage if it takes place this afternoon and the subsequent Report stage to consult and to table further amendments to the clauses.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and others said, we welcome the fact that the Government saw fit to bow to the enormous, almost unanimous, clamour against the clauses, that they have seen fit to remove them from the Bill and to come forward with amendments. However, there is still much to be said about the inadequacies of the new clauses. It is a strange procedure that we should continue to debate a Bill that has hosts of critics and has been opposed by about 170 eminently respectable organisations. No one has spoken out in its favour — not the Police Federation, the Association of Chief Police Officers, or the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales. It seems to have no substantial backing or support in the House or in the country.

It would be sensible this afternoon not to debate whether to discuss the new clauses in Committee but for the Government to acknowledge that the Bill is unnecessary, that its damaging powers will further erode the public's confidence in its police force, that it will damage irretrievably the credibility of the police vis-a-vis the public and that it would be best both for the policing of Britain and for police-public relations for the Government to concede now that the Bill has no future and withdraw it immediately.

Mr. William Pitt (Croydon, North-West)

It is only fair to correct a mistaken assumption of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk). In Committee the Government did not admit to 134 errors but agreed to consider 134 points. That is the reason for this debate. If the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) had read the Royal Commission's report, had paid attention to the Committee's deliberations and read the Bill, he would know that the Bill departs considerably from the Royal Commission's recommendations.

We are debating two clauses that are to be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House which have attracted attention because they affect an articulate section of the population. There are many clauses that affect the inarticulate of our population which have not been committed to a Committee of the whole House. In fairness, the Government should have reconvened the Standing Committee so that we could have dealt with matters of substance on Report.

In Committee I was presumptuous enough to say that the Bill was so woolly that we could make many Fair Isle sweaters from it, and I have not changed my mind. The Bill will be incomplete even after Report. There will have been a lack of time in which to debate it properly because we shall lose a day debating the two new clauses. I stand to be corrected, but I understand that they will be reported at the end of the Bill on Monday. How long will hon. Members have to consult outside bodies and to table considered amendments to them when they will be reported to the House at the end of our deliberations, probably when hon. Members are tired and fed up to the back teeth with the Bill?

I am inclined to associate myself in part with the remarks of the hon. Member for Ormskirk. Are the Government intent on railroading the Bill through before a general election, or do they want the general election to intervene so that they can abandon the Bill and introduce another afterwards?

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I freely admit that I do not particularly care for this procedure. I should have preferred longer to discuss the new clauses with, for example, the Police Federation, and others. I understand the anxieties that have been expressed by all hon. Members, but it is a little unfair to suggest that the procedure is unprecedented. In my last 10 years in the House, I remember several occasions when Bills have been subject to this procedure, not always with a great deal of time for discussion. I do not wish to raise the temperature by pointing to examples, but the procedure is certainly not unprecedented.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is being somewhat unfairly abused. As I understand it, he said throughout the Committee stage, and indeed on Second Reading, that he would listen carefully to the views of the House and outside bodies. Having listened and having been convinced by some of those who made representations to him that changes to the Bill are necessary, he is now regarded as going against the wishes of the House in responding to the wishes of the House. That is rather hard on my right hon. Friend.

As a member of the Committee, I suggest to those hon. Members who laboured patiently and with great good will in a good Committee that it might be best to get on with what is proposed as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has said that he does not propose to divide the House on the matter. Would it not be reasonable to see what progress can be made and, if by the end of the week there has been insufficient time to discuss the matter, I am sure that many hon. Members —I shall be one—will make representations to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for more time for more discussions next week? Surely today we must see how we proceed and then judge what is required.

4.15 pm
Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

I think that I am in favour of the motion, but I am not sure. I do not know whether the Home Secretary or the Leader of the House will reply to this important procedural debate. I shall decide whether to agree with the motion when I have heard the answers to my question, even if only one of my hon. Friends tests the feeling of the House on the motion.

As I understand it, if the new clauses are accepted—the various new clauses which stand as putative amendments or de facto rather than de jure amendments to clauses 9 and 10—it is the Government's intention to place them at the end of the Bill, after citation and so on, as clauses 79 and 80. If that were the case, it would guarantee at least a few days in which to consider what amendments to them we want to table, and even perhaps some amendments to amendments, as would have been done had the Bill been committed to a Standing Committee.

The procedure has merits from that point of view, for we might then have a proper Committee stage on the new clauses, and a proper Report stage. It is curious that occasionally in Committee people such as myself find common ground with hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). That is an unlikely event, but it did take place. In searching for common ground with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, one needs time to seek out those areas and compromises where the civil libertarians and the police are at one. There are very great difficulties, and I should like to ask the Minister of State, the Home Secretary or the Leader of the House about them.

Part II of the Bill was originally drafted very carefully in a particular order, with clauses 9 and 10 where they were because they have consequences on clauses 11 to 15. The Minister of State—I should like to pay a tribute to him for his courtesy during the Committee stage, on which I sure everybody in the Committee would agree—will remember that I went to him as a mini-delegation of one to see him about proposals on seizure, because the law on seizure must have some connection with the law on search warrants.

If, in the new suggestions of the Government, we must discuss the whole law on seizure—that is, clause 14—before the House has decided what the proper law is on power to enter premises and evidence held on a confidential basis, that may throw up very great difficulties in attempting to pass amendments about the law on seizure which will then relate to clauses which we have not reached on Report or discussed and which may be amended.

Although I am sure that it is helpful to have a motion such as this, from that point of view it could land us in very many more procedural problems than we think we are solving by proceeding in this way. I am not asking the Government to give an instant answer to this question. I am asking that, if we fall into the difficulties which I am foreshadowing, as I think we shall, they should again use their procedural ingenuity with as much force as they have used it today in putting down this fairly unprecedented and certainly highly complicated motion at the beginning of the recommittal stage. We shall then, if it turns out to be necessary as the Bill proceeds, postpone certain elements of the Report stage so that we can discuss coherently rather than incoherently the power to enter and the power to seize.

I am not saying that that is the only issue that will come up, but it is one, as the Minister of State knows, that is very dear to my heart. If we give someone the right to look for bombs, he should not be allowed to walk into a house, pick up a bit of marijuana and arrest everyone in the house for something completely different.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

If somebody were looking for marijuana and found bombs, I hope that the hon. Gentleman would not object to his picking them up.

Mr. Price

I have never objected to such behaviour. All I am concerned with on this point—which I think may be frustrated by the process we have now—is to stop the sort of harassment about which the Home Secretary published last week a very interesting answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), with certain correspondence from the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police.

If we need to link certain amendments at the Report stage which look as though they cannot be coherently discussed until we have disposed of the new clauses which emerge from the Committee stage, will the Government be helpful? If they are not, we may find ourselves raising endless points of order and getting involved in procedural wrangles, which would be counter-productive.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

I support the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). When the Minister of State, in the Standing Committee, conceded that there were 134 points which he would look at again, I felt that he did so at least partly because of the interrelationship of one clause or one possible amendment in the Bill with other clauses in other parts. Quite often the Minister of State talked to us about the structure of the Bill and its logical entity. We understood that and that was why we accepted the Minister of State's assurance that he would deal with these points on Report.

We shall he in certain difficulties, however. The logical procedure would be for us to dispose of the Committee stage today but leave a gap between the end of the Committee stage and the Report stage so that we can consider where we are, put down amendments and look again at the structure of the Bill. If we do not do that, I think that we shall get ourselves into the very difficulties which the Minister of State sought to avoid during the four long months of the Committee stage.

I therefore hope that the Government will listen to the arguments and try to meet them, since otherwise we shall be in a bit of trouble.

Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has repeated one of the myths that have been put about in an attempt to make the Bill more respectable—that it is based upon the Royal Commission's recommendations. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is only partially true.

Mr. Mikardo

The hon. Gentleman has not read them.

Mr. Davidson

The truth is that the Bill is based on some of the Royal Commission's recommendations, but, significantly, leaves out several of the safeguards recommended by the Royal Commission. Indeed, some of the clauses are in direct conflict with the recommendations of the Royal Commission. That is why the Government are in such a mess over clauses 9 and 10 and why we are going through this, to say the least, unusual or rare procedure.

The truth about clauses 9 and 10 is that, as originally drafted, they gave considerable new wide powers, and totally unacceptably wide powers, to search for evidence. They gave those powers without even a proper definition in the Bill of evidence itself, without proper legal process to protect the rights of the individuals affected by that search, and without even a proper definiton of "serious arrestable offence"—a phrase that occurs throughout the Bill.

I should like to pay a tribute, as several of my hon. Friends have done, to the Minister of State for his courtesy and, indeed, for the whole style and manner in which he conducted what must have been a very difficult Bill. We all feel a great respect for him.

The position now, however, is that because of the several commitments by the Minister of State and the Home Secretary himself during the passage of the Bill, clauses 9 and 10 are totally different from the clauses that were originally in the Bill and have become very complicated indeed. I find it inconceivable that the Government should have introduced two such wide, far-reaching clauses without even properly consulting the doctors, the journalists or many others.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, the hon. and learned Gentleman is now arguing the case that he will argue in Committee, if we go into Committee.

4.30 pm
Mr. Davidson

I have made the point and I do not intend to argue it one jot further. No doubt it will be argued later.

I agree with my hon. Friends that the difficulty in which we find ourselves is that if we proceed in the way in which we are recommended to — in the circumstances it is probably the best way to proceed—at the end of the day the clauses that we are discussing will be reported immediately, which will mean that there will not be the consultation that most of us would like or a proper scrutiny of the clauses. Therefore, the Opposition and perhaps Conservative Members will find themselves in difficulties about deciding on the true and proper significance of the clauses. However, I accept that it is better to go through these complicated clauses in detail rather than deal with them generally on Report.

I felt that those remarks ought to be made because there has been considerable criticism of the way in which the Government have proceeded with the clauses. The Government are in a mess because they have introduced a complicated Bill in haste which does not correspond in detail with the Royal Commission's recommendations.

Mr. Whitelaw

In proposing the motion I hoped that I was going at least some way towards meeting the proper anxieties expressed by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I should point out to Opposition Members—I do not complain that they are making capital out of this—that it would have been possible for me to refuse to have anything to do with this procedure and to proceed with the Report stage. I thought that I was helping the Opposition and a proper, constructive discussion of the Bill by going along this route. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges that. I maintain that it was a reasonable thing to do in the House of Commons.

Some Opposition Members must have forgotten some of the things that they said. On Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman was at pains to ask that a constructive approach be adopted by the Government and that the Bill should not be rushed through. No one could suggest that a Committee of three months and 41 sittings was a rushed Committee. I am grateful for the many tributes that have been paid to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State for the way in which he conducted the business.

A constructive approach to the Bill must inevitably lead to meeting the Opposition's arguments where they are good. That is what we have done. If we had not done so, we would have been bitterly criticised. I expect that everyone likes having it both ways, but it is a little unreasonable to have it about five ways at the same time. That is what is being done in many cases.

There have been arguments that we have made changes without consultation. I must be careful here, because the hon. and learned Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson) was accused by you, Mr. Speaker, of straying out of order. I shall try not to do the same in reply, except to say that there was much discussion with many people. There was much correspondence. I took part in a great deal of it. All the people concerned have thanked me for the amount of consultation and disscussion that I had with them. That is the answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's point.

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said. I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) thinks, that in some cases we have gone too far. Once I was convinced by those who made representations to me about the clauses, I could not believe that the House of Commons would expect that if I were convinced that the arguments were right I would reject them simply because it meant changing the Bill. That would be a bad parliamentary procedure. It is right against our parliamentary procedures. I should have been bitterly criticised if I had done that. Once I was convinced that the arguments were right, I thought that the changes should be made. That is the purpose of our parliamentary procedures. If it is not, what is the point of having a Committee stage of 41 sittings? What is the point of all the debates that we shall have now if it is not to listen to people and take account of what they say? I thought that that was what Parliament was about. If anyone wishes to tell me that it is not, it is rather too late, because I have proceeded on that basis for nearly 29 years. I cannot see on what other basis we should proceed.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) made an important point. I have taken advice properly. If the clauses are passed in the Committee of the whole House, they will be printed at the end of the Bill. We shall proceed with the consideration of the Bill as it is printed at present.

The proper answer to the other points that have been made is a well known and tried parliamentary one. We shall see how we get on when we consider the Bill.

I hope that on that basis the House will be prepared to proceed to a Committee of the whole House to discuss the new clauses, which I maintain meet the concern that has been expressed by many responsible people in our community.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House in respect of Clauses 9 and 10 and New Clauses (Power of justice of the peace to authorise entry to search for evidence of serious arrestable offence), (Meaning of 'excluded material'), (Meaning of items subject to legal privilege'), (Meaning of 'personal records'), (Meaning of 'journalistic material'), (Meaning of 'special procedure material'), (Access to special procedure material) and New Schedule (Special Procedure) standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Secretary Whitelaw, and New Clauses (Power to enter premises, etc., to search for evidence of serious offences) and (Evidence held on confidential basis) standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Roy Hattersley.

Bill immediately considered in Committee.


  1. Clause 9
    1. c36
  2. New Clause 2 42,601 words
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