HC Deb 15 March 2000 vol 346 cc446-51

Amendment proposed: No. 35, in page 56, line 20, leave out "and".—[Mr. Ingram.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment No. 36.

Amendment No. 148, in page 56, leave out line 25.

Amendment No. 150, in page 6, leave out line 27

Amendment No. 154, in page 56, leave out line 28.

Amendment No. 152, in page 56, leave out line 29.

Amendment No. 156, in page 56, line 30, leave out "or (3)".

Amendment No. 158, in page 56, leave out line 31.

Amendment No. 160, in page 56, leave out line 36.

Amendment No. 149, in page 56, line 40, at end insert "() section 4(3)".

Amendment No. 151, in page 56, line 42, at end insert "() section 71".

Amendment No. 155, in page 56, line 42, at end insert "() section 78(5)".

Amendment No. 153, in page 56, line 42, at end insert "() section 79(9)".

Amendment No. 157, in page 56, line 43, at end insert "() section 96(3)".

Amendment No. 159, in page 56, line 43, at end insert "() section 99(1)(b)".

Amendment No. 161, in page 57, line 2, at end insert— '() paragraph 16 of Schedule 7'.

Mr. Lidington

The non-Government amendments relate to whether order-making powers given to the Secretary of State should be handled in Parliament by the negative resolution procedure, as the Government propose, or whether they should more properly be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and approval under the affirmative resolution procedure before they come into force.

I do not wish to detain the House for long, but it is important to describe the order-making powers in respect of which I suggest that we change the proposed procedure. Amendments Nos. 148 and 149 refer to clause 4(3), which deals with procedure for applications for de-proscription. The Bill states that regulations will specify the minimum time set for determination by the Secretary of State, and therefore the time that he would have to consider evidence in support of, or against, an application. Regulations will also define the grounds on which an application could be made to the Secretary of State.

I cannot see why such regulations should have to be made urgently or at short notice. They would presumably apply generically to any application for de-proscription. It seems logical to bring them before Parliament for proper scrutiny and approval before they come into force.

Amendments Nos. 150 and 151 deal with clause 71. The regulations in clause 71 are to set time limits for preliminary proceedings on scheduled offences. Those regulations would specify matters such as the maximum time allowed for the prosecution, the maximum period during which a suspect might be held in custody, bail provisions for a suspect, and provisions for the handling of non-scheduled offences that would appear on the charge sheet with a scheduled offence in a particular case.

Those items seem to raise quite significant issues on the handling of a prosecution case and the liberty of an individual suspect. Again, I should have thought that the type of regulation governing those arrangements would more properly be dealt with using the affirmative resolution procedure.

Amendments Nos. 154, 155, 152 and 153 refer to different aspects of remission for custodial sentences. Amendments Nos. 154 and 155 deal with clause 78(5). In clause 78, remission under prison rules for Northern Ireland for scheduled offences is set at a maximum of one third of the term for a sentence of five years or more. In clause 78(5), the Secretary of State is given the power by order to substitute a different length of sentence for the five years, and a different period of remission from the one third that is mentioned in clause 78(1).

In clause 79(9), there is comparable provision for young offenders, and that issue is addressed in amendments Nos. 152 and 153. Those regulations deal with a slightly different matter—the circumstances in which a court should sentence a young offender who has been released on remission, but who then commits a scheduled offence during that remission. Specifically, they deal with the circumstances in which the court should sentence the young offender to serve the unexpired part of his original sentence, as well as the new custodial sentence that the court would have imposed on him for the scheduled offence committed while he was free on remission.

Each of those categories of regulation deal with some very important issues, such as the Government's power to vary remission arrangements for people who have been convicted of extremely serious violent and public order offences. I should have thought—especially given the degree of public concern in Northern Ireland and on this side of the water about the Government's handling of prisoner releases in recent months—that amendments Nos. 154, 155, 152 and 153 dealt with subjects that really should merit full parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and a parliamentary decision before the Secretary of State is allowed to vary the remission arrangements as the relevant provisions currently suggest.

Amendments Nos. 156 and 157 refer to clause 96(3), which allows the Secretary of State by order to make provision, including by modifying or supplementing schedule 6, about entering or leaving Northern Ireland by land. Although this group is not as important as the previous group, on remission arrangements, I should be interested to know how the Government envisage that power being used. Why is that rule-making power in the Bill?

Amendments Nos. 158 and 159 deal with clause 99(1)(b), on an order-making power for the Secretary of State to require a silent video recording of interviews, in accordance with the Government's code of practice. Again, I am really seeking in the Minister's reply—or in writing, if he cannot reply today—some explanation of how the Government intend that power to be used. In what circumstances do they intend that those regulations might be applied?

Amendments Nos.160 and 161 relate to paragraph 16 to schedule 7, which covers the power of the Secretary of State to specify circumstances and set conditions in which a detainee should or should not be permitted to consult a solicitor or whether a solicitor can be present at a suspect's interview. In view of the concerns that have been expressed by Liberal Democrat and Labour Members this evening about the civil rights of terrorist suspects, I should have thought that there would be considerable support in the House for requiring regulations under schedule 7(16) to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in order to ensure fuller and more effective parliamentary scrutiny.

Although the amendments relate to the detail of the Bill, we are debating some important subjects—in particular the remission arrangements—and powers that Ministers should not be permitted to exercise without adequate parliamentary scrutiny. The amendments provide for that parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr. Ingram

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Opposition amendments seek to change the parliamentary procedure from the negative to the affirmative in respect of certain, but not all, delegated powers. I shall make three general points before dealing with the hon. Gentleman's point about remission.

First, the delegated powers in part VII, on which many of the amendments are focused, are subject to the same procedure that would apply to the current provision under the EPA. That is not to say that the parliamentary procedure for those provisions must remain the same under the Bill, but it is surely the right starting point. In respect of the new powers that the Opposition seek to amend, we had to take a view, and we think that we have got it right.

Secondly, the negative resolution procedure is a significant procedure in its own right. Hon. Members have the opportunity to scrutinise carefully and pray against orders and regulations that are subject to the negative resolution procedure. Clearly if there were concerns about what was happening, the hon. Gentleman would have the opportunity to raise specific points, including those that he made tonight about remission arrangements—and I take on board his points about remission.

That brings me to my third point. It is my judgment that the delegated powers in the Bill are subject to the appropriate scrutiny. Hon Members will no doubt be aware that before the Bill reaches the other place, the delegated powers will be subject to detailed scrutiny, and should it be felt that any of the procedures are inappropriate, we shall of course have regard to that.

We shall take account of the points that have been made this evening. If I have omitted to deal with any of the detaiis, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman setting out the precise way in which the powers will operate and hopefully set his mind at rest.

If all the issues were dealt with under the affirmative procedure, we should have to deal with a wide range of orders. We consider an enormous amount of Northern Ireland business on important issues. The amendments seek to extend that in an unlimited way. I am not sure whether my hon. Friends—or indeed Opposition Members—would welcome that.

Mr. Lidington

I am grateful to the Minister. I am sure that there is scope—but not tonight—for a full debate about statutory instruments and parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation. There is a serious problem about the amount and the importance of legislation that is passed via statutory instruments. The examples in the amendments illustrate that argument.

The Minister's argument about the precedent set by the Prevention of Terrorism Acts is not conclusive. It is a reasonable point for him to make, but it is equally reasonable for Parliament to review from time to time how it scrutinises legislation, and we suggested an appropriate vehicle this evening.

1.15 am

I am grateful for the assurance that the matters will be considered further, especially in the light of comments that may be made in another place, so I will not press our amendments to a vote.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 36, in page 56, line 21, at end insert— ', and () may make different provision for different purposes.'.—[Mrs. McGuire.]

Mr. Charles Clarke

I beg to move amendment No. 37, in page 56, line 35, after "9", insert "(1)(b)".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 40 and 65.

Amendment No. 174, in schedule 7, page 106, line 41, after "audio" insert "and video".

Amendment No. 175, in page 106, line 43, leave out "constable" and insert "police officer".

Amendment No. 176, in page 106, line 44, leave out "constable" and insert "police officer".

Amendment No. 177, in page 106, line 47, after "audio" insert "and video".

Government amendments Nos. 66 and 90.

Amendment No. 180, in schedule 13, page 130, line 15, after "audio" insert "and video".

Mr. Clarke

The amendments add an enabling power subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, so that the Secretary of State may require the video recording of interviews with terrorist suspects at police stations, in accordance with the code of practice.

This is an example of the Government's broadchurch, inclusive approach in practice. The amendments take account of proposals made by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) in Committee. I agreed to consider his suggestions, and the amendments are the result. He described his irritation with lawyers when he was a Home Office Minister, and this was an example of our all working together against the lawyers' party.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I am sorry to rise to the bait, but I am going to make it even worse by telling the Minister that I agree with him, so he cannot even claim that this is the non-lawyers against the lawyers.

It was always my view that we should try generally, and not only in police stations dealing with suspected terrorists, to have both audio and video recording. When I went to Northern Ireland recently, I asked, as I have in police stations elsewhere, whether people thought that that would save time and work well, and the general view, not only in RUC headquarters in Belfast but at Bessbrook and other police stations, was that it would make life easier and make for less controversy and dispute.

The initiative is welcome. Would that more initiatives came from the more liberal wing of people in the Committee and the House, but we cannot have everything—or at least not every night.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Ingram

I beg to move amendment No. 38, in page 57, line 1, at end insert—

'() paragraph 1(2)(b) of Schedule 1;'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 43 to 47.

Amendment No. 147, in schedule 1, page 60, leave out lines 36 to 38.

Mr. Ingram

The amendments were tabled in response to the helpful debate in Committee and to the points made by the hon. Members for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I have looked again at the arrangements relating to the transitional provisions and decided to provide reassurance in the Bill that, if for any reason the bringing into force of the legislation is delayed, the transitional provisions will remain subject to annual renewal by affirmative resolution, as is the traditional way of dealing with the matter. I commend the Government amendments to the House.

Mr. Lidington

I welcome the Government amendments, which follow a constructive discussion in Committee. The ground covered by amendment No. 147 was addressed in Committee, so I shall be brief. One of a small number of deletions from the emergency provisions legislation that the Government now propose involves the powers granted under the EPA to extend searches for munitions. The Government propose that only one extension should be allowed in respect of any particular search operation.

In Committee, the Minister said specifically that the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland was content with the two other deletions from the EPA to which I had drawn the Committee's attention, which were the provisions concerning the wearing of hoods and the arrangements for the Secretary of State to regulate the siting of explosives factories. I inferred from the way in which the Minister talked of the police being content with those changes that perhaps they were less happy with the imposition of restrictions on extensions to searches for munitions. I wish to press the Minister to say briefly whether the Government are introducing that restriction simply to meet human rights obligations, or whether they believe that the power is now superfluous to legitimate police investigatory requirements.

Mr. Ingram

We had a good and thorough debate on the matter in Committee, and it was obvious that, before a decision is taken to remove a power from the RUC, full consultation must take place to ensure that the Chief Constable and his force are happy and satisfied with that course of action. We keep the legislation under constant review and, if elements of it become effectively redundant—if they have not been used, are no longer effective or, indeed, do not comply with the provisions of the European convention on human rights—we must take that into account. That is the approach that we have taken to the specific issues in the amendments. The Chief Constable was consulted and we would not have moved without his approval. The amendments will tidy up the legislation and I hope that, as in Committee, the hon. Gentleman will not press them to a Division.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Government amendments are useful and we are grateful that the Minister accepted the constitutional point. It means that the Bill is now much clearer and there can be no doubt about the carry-over provisions.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 39, in page 57, line 1, at end insert— '() paragraph 6(2) or 7(3) of Schedule [Financial information];'.

No. 40, in page 57, line 2, at end insert— '() paragraph 9(1A) of Schedule 7; () paragraph 9A(4) of Schedule 7;'.

No. 41, in page 57, line 25, leave out "or".

No. 42, in page 57, line 26, at end insert— '() by virtue of paragraph 35 of Schedule 4, or () under or by virtue of any of paragraphs 18A to 18C of Schedule 5.'—[Mrs. McGuire.]