'Where a constable or other person is exercising or proposing to exercise any lawful power of search, and he has reasonable grounds to believe that material which is legally privileged may be seized as a result, he shall ensure that independent counsel is present throughout the search to assist in the determination of whether such material is legally privileged or not.'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.8.15 pm
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 19, in clause 52, page 46, line 17, at end insert—
'and(f) in the case of material held in electronic form, whether it would be reasonably practicable for the material to be copied on those premises.'.Amendment No. 20, in page 46, leave out lines 18 to 22.
Amendment No. 21, in clause 53, page 47, leave out lines 34 to 38.
Amendment No. 22, in clause 54, page 48, line 22, leave out "to" and insert "within".
Amendment No. 23, in page 48, line 22, leave out "to" and insert—
'within, or on the exterior of,'.Amendment No. 24, in clause 55, page 49, line 28, leave out—
'due regard shall be had to the desirability of allowing'and insert—
'all reasonable steps shall be taken to ensure that'.Amendment No. 25, in page 49, line 30, after "property,", insert "has".
1097 Amendment No. 26, in page 49, line 31, at end insert—(b) where the initial examination of the seized property has been conducted without the presence of—
the person for the time being in possession of the property shall give written notice of the reasons why the examination was conducted without the presence of that person or his representative, unless that person has declined the opportunity to be present at the examination.'.
- (i) the person from whom it was seized (or his representative), or
- (ii) a person with an interest in that property (or his representative),
Amendment No. 27, in clause 61, page 54, line 3, at end insert—
'(2A) An application made under subsection (2) shall be heard by the appropriate judicial authority within 48 hours of it being made.'.
Amendment No. 28, in page 54, line 24, after "return", insert—
'within such reasonable period of time as the authority shall specify'.
Amendment No. 29, in clause 63, page 57, line 37, at end insert—
'(1A) The duty to secure that arises under this section is also a duty of the person for the time being having possession, in consequence of the seizure, of the seized property to secure that arrangements are in force that ensure that any material (including any documents, photographs and material in electronic form) in the possession of any person that has been created as a consequence of the seizure of the seized property prior to the giving of the notice of the application under section 59(1) is not at any time—
§ Amendment No. 30, in page 57, line 38, leave out "subsection (1)" and insert "subsections (1) and (1A)".
Government amendment No. 44.
§ Mr. Hawkins
New clause 6 and the various amendments that are grouped with it deal with matters that were not discussed at all in Standing Committee. It is again an example of where the Government have been quite ridiculous in respect of the limited amount of time that they have provided for debate. I said that the time allowed would prove inadequate, and it has proved inadequate. We are still not anywhere near halfway down the list of new clauses and amendments. Again, there is a negation of the proper scrutiny of the legislation—a negation of parliamentary democracy.
New clause 6 is important. The Government are seeking through measures on the search of premises to close a loophole in the law that emerged in a case last year, which was dealt with by the Court of Appeal: the case of the Queen v. Chesterfield Justices and the chief constable of Derbyshire ex parte Bramley, reported in 2000 in the first volume of the all-England law reports at page 412. Although there is no doubt that there was a need for some fresh legislation—indeed, the Court of Appeal made it clear that, if Parliament wished to regulate the matter further, it needed to have fresh, clear legislation—the Government have, in our view, slipped up because their proposals create some further problems. We seek to solve those problems in new clause 6 and in the amendments.
1098 New clause 6 would require that, where a search is being conducted and it is likely that legally privileged material may be seized during the search, independent counsel should be present at the time of the search to help in the identification of that legally privileged material.
I declare an interest as a member of the Bar and as someone who sat for a number of years on the Bar Council. The Criminal Bar Association of England and Wales has made a detailed submission, but the matter is of concern not just to members of the association but to the whole legal profession, including the Law Society: everyone who deals with that area of law.
I was the subject of some criticism from the Minister of State in Committee for referring with approval to the views of the Criminal Bar Association of England and Wales in relation to another matter. I made no apology for doing so, and I make no apology now. Again, we think that the work of the representatives of the association has been important. There is a clear precedent for what the association is proposing. Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue already regularly apply the procedure of having independent counsel present. It will be for the Minister to explain why, in the area of the law where the Government are putting forward new proposals, we should not have exactly the same arrangement for independent counsel to be present to identify material that is legally privileged.
It already happens in cases involving Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue. The proposal is on all fours with that. The procedure has the advantage of providing a check on the exercise of powers on site. In addition, independent counsel will be able to assist the relevant authorities in justifying whether it was reasonably practicable to undertake the sifting exercise on site.
Amendment No. 19 would require the person seizing material to look at whether, in the case of material held on computers and in other electronic form, it was practicable to copy the material on the premises, rather than necessitating the removal of whole computers or hard discs. Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 would stop these new sifting powers applying to the material that is legally privileged. We raise this matter because of the great concern in the legal profession about the seizure of such material. The amendments are probing and seek an explanation from the Government of why the exception in respect of such material in other areas of the law is not maintained here.
Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 are drafting amendments, which relate to the requirement to put a notice on the premises being searched if no one is present at the time. The Bill refers toin a prominent place to the premises",which is unusual English. We seek to replace that so the Bill readsin a prominent place within the premisesorin a prominent place within, or on the exterior of, the premises".What happens if the notice is fixed on the outside and is taken down? Does a prominent place "to the premises" mean other than within or on the exterior of the premises? Could it mean a lamp post outside the premises?
Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 seek to raise the test for conducting an examination of seized property from "due regard" to the desirability of having the owner present to 1099 "all reasonable steps". What does the due regard test mean? How high a test is it? We think that that is a serious point and that "all reasonable steps" is a far greater safeguard and is more usual in relation to law concerning infringements on civil liberties.
Amendment No. 26 would require that where the examination of the seized property was conducted without the presence of the person from whom the property was seized or his representatives, written reasons should be given. Again, that is reasonable.
Amendment No. 27 would require a hearing on whether to return a seized property to be held within 48 hours of an application. It is a modification of the habeas corpus principle in relation to the detention of a person. We think—as do lawyers in the field—that the 48-hour proposal is reasonable.
Amendment No. 28 would require the return within a reasonable period of seized property that a judge had ruled should be returned. We feel strongly that it should not be left open to the prosecuting authority to return the property whenever it likes.
Amendments Nos. 29 and 30 would require that when an application to return the property was made, the duty to secure the property under clause 63 should include not only a duty not further to use the property until the judicial hearing had taken place, but a duty not further to use any material that had been created as a result of examining or copying the property. In other words, the amendments draw a line on a matter that is not covered by clause 63. At the moment, if the prosecuting authorities had taken a photocopy of a documcnt, they would have to secure the document itself. As the Bill stands, the copy could still be used by the prosecution, even though an application to return it had been male.
What does Government amendment No. 44 do? We recognise that the Government are seeking to make a small amendment to the Terrorism Act 2000, but we are not clear what the significance is of the change from 28 to 22. I would be grateful for an explanation of that.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The Liberal Democrats are co-signatories to and supporters of the new clause. We are sympathetic to the proposal, and we argued for a similar case in relation to the part of the Bill that is covered by the other amendments. I hope that in the short time available the Minister can respond to our concerns and either accommodate the new clause in total or indicate that the Government will respond to the proposed requirement that there should be an independent verification of the seizure by somebody who is not acting on behalf of the authority, but can be there on behalf of the person whose properties are seized.
§ Mr. Lock
If I do not manage to cover the sensible and valid points made by the hon. Members for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I will write to them.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath is right to say that the measure arises from the Bramley judgment. To take new clause 6 first, I recognise that it might be sensible to strengthen the procedures covering expert input to searches where decisions need to be made about whether particular material is legally privileged or not. However, suitable guidance is more appropriate to the relevant code of practice than putting words—which are, of themselves, restrictive—in the Bill.
1100 Requiring the presence of independent counsel on every occasion—rather than using best endeavours, or requiring counsel where the finding of such material had not been anticipated—would be excessive. Investigators must have scope to judge the circumstances of individual cases. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath makes a good point about the desirability of having independent counsel available to determine the validity of legally privileged material. However, the right way to deal with this is by guidance—which can be adapted in the light of experience to test the balance between the two competing interests—rather than by fixing it for all time in the Bill.
As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates, legally privileged material can lawfully be seized under the new powers in clauses 52 and 53 only if it is not reasonably practicable to separate it—
§ Miss Widdecombe
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have just two minutes left and seven groups of amendments have not been reached. At least two of those groups cover ground that we did not cover in Committee. In your view, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is this adequate parliamentary scrutiny?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think that the right hon. Lady knows that the Chair does not have a view on these matters and simply presides over the business on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Lock
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I find it astonishing that Opposition Members raise serious points, ask for responses that I am quite happy to give and then use the time raising points of order.
In all other circumstances, material that is accepted by an investigator as being legally privileged cannot be seized. However, consideration can be given to using the code of practice to extend the circumstances in which seized material which the occupier considers to be privileged should be secured pending judicial arbitration, and that could provide a strong backstop where contentious issues arose in the absence of expert advisers such as independent counsel.
I turn next to amendment No. 19. I cannot see how the issue of whether or not electronically held material can be copied on premises is relevant to deciding whether that material should be removed from the premises for sifting or analysis. I suppose that the argument might be based on the suggestion that if a copy can be taken, it is not necessary to remove the originals. In some investigations that may be true and the code of practice that will support these provisions will emphasise that investigators should always give careful consideration to whether removing copies or images of relevant material would be a satisfactory alternative to taking the originals, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can put himself in the position of investigating police officers who realise that in order to make sense of the material—
§ It being half-past Eight o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Orders [7 November and 29 January], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Remaining Government amendments agreed to.
§ Order for Third reading read.1101 8.31 pm
§ Mr. Charles Clarke
This has been an extraordinary process. I am a relatively new Minister with less experience than many of those present. I have had responsibility for a number of Bills, including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill and the Terrorism Bill in the last Session, working with many Opposition Front Benchers from both the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats.
§ Mr. Blunt
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I sat on Standing Committee F and have been in the Chamber throughout the proceedings on Report. We are now considering the Bill on Third Reading with a view to sending to the other place a substantial number of provisions that have received no consideration by the House. It is surely a matter of the gravest concern to the Chair that this can happen. Can you advise me on what can be done to ensure that we as legislators can do our job properly and not destroy the reputation of the House?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Essentially the same point of order has been put to the Chair by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and my answer cannot be any different. This is a matter not for the Chair, but for debate, however contentious hon. Members may feel it is. It is a matter for debate and not a matter of order.
§ Mr. Clarke
I was just saying that I thought that it had been an extraordinary process of debate. It has been characterised by extraordinary anti-parliamentary activity by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). Before she leaves the Chamber, I hope that she will take the opportunity to apologise publicly to the House and to the people of this country for her behaviour, which was a total outrage.
§ Miss Widdecombe
Indeed. The Minister has criticised my conduct. I have tried to uphold the rights of the House to debate and scrutinise legislation. The Government should apologise—not us—for one of the biggest ever affronts to democracy. We have not even opposed the Bill and now a whole section of it—part II—which was not scrutinised in Committee or today will not be scrutinised at all, yet the people of this country will be governed by it.
§ Mr. Clarke
I only wish that the right hon. Lady had had the courage to say that in the debate on Monday evening when she had the chance to wind up the debate and address the issues in very great detail.
§ Mr. Heald
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Did you hear what the Minister just said, namely, that on 1102 Monday, when the business of the House was discussed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) had an opportunity to wind up the debate? I do not know whether you have had the opportunity to look at Hansard, but you will be aware that on that occasion the Government closed debate on the motion, therefore it was quite impossible for my right hon. Friend to put her case, much as she wanted to do so. Is it in order, and is it parliamentary, for an allegation to be made which is obviously factually incorrect?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I cannot permit a rerun of Monday's debate. Any hon. Member who sought to catch the eye of the Chair would have had an opportunity to be called.
Mr. Patrick MecLoughlin (West Derbyshire)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am concerned by what has just been said. There was a closure motion, so some Members who were rising may not have been able to speak.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Nothing that I said in my previous ruling excludes the fact that in any debate it is possible that the Chair may accept a closure motion. Up to that point, it is open to any hon. Member to catch the eye of the Chair. There is nothing inconsistent in the two positions.
§ Mr. Clarke
I shall respect your judgment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that debate should not be rerun, but the point is simple. Before the closure motion was moved, an offer was made through the usual channels for wind-up speeches to be made by both Front-Bench spokesmen, which was rejected. That is the fact, and it is a great shame that it did not happen.
Let us come to the substance of the debate. Some clauses have been exceptionally well debated. As with some of the other Bills that I have mentioned, we have had some extremely positive and constructive debates, including the debates that we have just had on the new clauses on paedophile crime moved by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the debates on DNA. But we also had a large number of other debates where that was not the case.
§ Miss Widdecombe
The Minister has just said that we had constructive debates, and we did. The reason for that was that we were allowed to reach them. Has he any reason to suppose that, had we reached part II, the debates would not have been equally constructive, and might they not have contributed substantially? Why on earth could that not happen?
§ Mr. Clarke
Quite simply, for the reasons that I set out on Monday evening, which Mr. Deputy Speaker has asked me not to go through again now. There was a series of issues about the amount of time that was wasted when other matters were discussed. [Interruption.] I know that my assertions are contested, and that was the debate that we had last Monday evening.
1103 I am trying to say, in a constructive spirit, that during our consideration we had a range of positive debates, including those on the many important issues of principle which the Bill addresses.
The Bill has a simple aim, and that is to aid the police and the courts in further reducing crime and the fear of crime. It contains a wide range of measures which will provide the police and others in the criminal justice system with improved powers to enforce the law and protect the public.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is time to get on with the Third Reading debate, which is about the contents of the Bill.
§ Mr. Clarke
That is what I am trying to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, the short answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes, I do think that.
§ Mr. Blunt
Would the Minister say that his statement that the Bill has been properly scrutinised is as accurate as the statement that he made to the House during points of order on Friday? He said that he would betabling a motion on Monday to the effect that has been indicated for the House to consider at that time."—[Official Report, 9 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 527]
§ Mr. Clarke
That is another return to the Monday debate, but, yes, I do believe that the Bill has been fully and thoroughly scrutinised.
In Committee and on Report we introduced a number of additional clauses which the Government believe significantly improve the protection of the public, and because my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary by definition was not in a position to refer to those on Second Reading, I should like to go through them quickly.
The first group of measures will provide additional protection for those who conduct important and essential research using animals or those who have a financial interest in the companies undertaking such research. We are all aware of the appalling intimidation of people working in the medical and pharmaceutical industries by so-called animal rights protesters.
The Bill aims to tackle that in three ways. Clause 43 gives powers to the police to direct protesters who harass people by waiting around outside their homes. Clause 44 tightens up the law on malicious communications, and clause 45 amends company law requirements in respect of directors' home addresses. Clause 45 will not provide an instant solution, because existing records cannot be expunged. Over time, however, it will provide additional protection to those directors who, unhappily, have found themselves targeted by protesters and who, as a result, have been subject to intimidation and, in some cases, violence.
Finally, at today's Report stage we have just added a further safeguard against harassment and intimidation. We have amended the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to ensure that it will apply to those who plan a co-ordinated campaign of harassment against another person. Quite rightly, these matters have been the subject of very full debate and close scrutiny, both in Committee 1104 and on Report. The protection that they provide extends further than everybody's right to go about their lawful business without having to fear intimidation and violence.
I want to emphasise that this is not about stopping people protesting publicly and peacefully about things in which they believe. Rather, the clauses are designed to deal with those malevolent and sinister protests that create a feeling of fear through an implicit threat of violence. These clauses will enable the police to protect people who are doing legitimate and very valuable work in medical and pharmaceutical research, and those who support them through finance and other services.
Important political and philosophical debates were held when we considered these matters. What I believe to be an important assertion was made—with which I believe the whole House agreed—about the importance of science. It was determined that decisions about the future of our society, even where they concern difficult and complicated matters such as genetic modification and so on, should be taken on the basis of scientific research and knowledge, rather than on the basis of bullying by people with particular prejudices. Another assertion concerned the importance of the right that everyone enjoys to lead a quiet life in their homes, and not to be harassed and abused in unacceptable ways. I think that that was important.
Important, too, was the establishment of the primacy in a democracy of politics and the parliamentary process in deciding how matters are dealt with. That principle stands in opposition to the contention that an individual protester—or even an individual journalist, as was discussed in Committee—has the right to overcome and overrule the rights of Parliament and of society in general in that respect. Those important principles were fully debated, and I hope that that will set the tone for the debate of these questions in future Parliaments, and thereafter.
The next group of measures seeks to safeguard children and other vulnerable groups by giving the Criminal Records Bureau extra powers to exclude unsuitable people from becoming registered. We went through those proposals in detail.
Other important new provisions relate to juveniles. They will enable courts to deal more effectively with medium-level persistent juvenile offenders by providing a number of options for dealing with young people who defy the courts and commit repeated offences while on bail or in non-secure accommodation. In addition to these new clauses, we have made a number of technical and drafting amendments; for example, to ensure that the provisions on search and seizure will work properly in Scotland.
I cannot say that it was universally the case we had extremely good debates in Committee, for the reasons that I have given. However, I believe that there were important and positive debates. We debated at length the proposals to extend the fixed penalty system to offences of disorder. There was a great deal of interest in the offences to be covered by the new scheme, which is set out in clause 1, and in the power to add new offences to the list in the future.
We engaged in all the debates with a constructive spirit and accepted a number of Opposition suggestions. For example, we accepted their suggestion that the power that I have just described should be subject to the affirmative, 1105 rather than the negative, resolution procedure. That will mean that Parliament has the opportunity to debate all proposals to amend the list of penalty offences, and it will thus help to ensure the continuing integrity of the scheme. We also agreed to the Opposition's proposal that the Secretary of State's power to set the level of penalty for each penalty offence should be subject to tighter restrictions than were contained in the Bill as published.
Another idea within the fixed penalty system which received very close scrutiny was our proposal to provide the police with a special fast-track procedure for dealing with penalty offences committed at large public gatherings, such as festivals or demonstrations. We have also introduced an amendment to the transitional period specified in clause 17, relating to the replacement of existing public drinking byelaws with the national framework to address the problem of antisocial public drinking, which is set out in the preceding clauses.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The Minister is retailing the very good and useful work that the Committee achieved in the time available. On the matters to which he is now coming, does he accept that no hon. Member who was not a member of the Committee has had no chance to debate in detail the fixed penalty notice provisions? They were very controversial in Committee: there was considerable argument about which provisions should be included and which should not.
Does the Minister accept also that no hon. Member who was not in the Committee has had a chance to debate the merit of imposing curfews, let alone of retaining DNA samples from innocent people without their consent? The Minister accepted in Committee that the latter was a question of major national interest that should be the subject of a major national debate. There will be no debate about that in detail tonight. The Minister cannot possibly argue that there has been adequate debate on any of those matters because all but a handful of Members of the House of Commons have been excluded from debating them.
§ Mr. Clarke
I can argue that there has been a very full debate about these matters. I promised the House that in accordance with the guidance from the Deputy Speaker I would not seek to revisit Monday evening's debate on these matters. I do not accept, as I have said before, the premise of what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and other colleagues have said. For large parts of this evening's debate there were almost no Members in the Chamber other than members of the Committee. That goes against some of the hon. Gentleman's points.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)
Does the Minister recognise that the truncation of the procedures in the handling of this matter is a switch-off to democracy? It is extremely difficult, even for those of us who have been members of the Committee, to keep up to speed with the detail of the Bill when it is taken in this way. Will the Minister kindly report back to those to whom he is responsible so that it never happens again?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am glad to allow the Minister to respond briefly to that intervention, but after that I must insist that we return to the contents of the Bill.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can we be clear about what your indications imply? The debate on Monday was about whether the Bill should go back into Committee or whether there should be a foreshortened Committee stage. There was no debate on Monday about Report, tonight's guillotine or the Bill's remaining stages. I ask you to permit, and to make it clear that you are permitting, debate about today's procedure, which was not the subject of Monday night's debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have already permitted hon. Members to comment on matters that are nothing to do with Third Reading. We are now on Third Reading. I understand the feelings on both sides of the House, but I think that we have dealt in sufficient detail with the matters surrounding the Bill and that we should return to the Third Reading and stick to it.
§ Mr. Clarke
Following your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not respond to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), save to say that I think that we have had a very full consideration of the issues.
During the course of our considerations, I did not accept a number of amendments which, in the Government's view, would have significantly diluted the powers we intend to give the police to close down disorderly or excessively noisy pubs for up to 24 hours. I understand the anxieties expressed in the licensed trade, and I have had widespread discussions with its members on a range of issues. However, I have given the Committee the assurance that we shall issue guidance to the police to ensure that the powers are deployed fairly and responsibly in the interests of public safety and nuisance and that every licensee is given an opportunity to put his house in order before action is taken to close any pub.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said that we did not debate part II, but we debated many parts of it—an ironic contradiction. Part II deals with information disclosure. In Committee, at the request of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), I agreed to meet the Confederation of British Industry to discuss its concerns about the disclosure of confidential business information for overseas criminal anti-trust investigations.
I met a delegation from the CBI to discuss the situation in some detail. The hon. Gentleman was right that this is a matter of concern. Although, as I said in Committee, there had been meetings with officials and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, there had been no meetings with me as the Minister dealing with those matters in the Bill. I thought that the hon. Gentleman's point was fair and that I should meet it, as I always try to do.
We see the information disclosure provisions as a key way to improve international co-operation in the fight against anti-competitive behaviour. I am glad to tell the House that through my meeting with the CBI and subsequent meetings with officials, we have managed to 1107 agree common ground. For example the CBI recognises the importance of the disclosure provisions in the fight against crime and is generally supportive of these measures. When I put that to members of the delegation, they were more than supportive—they were enthusiastic. They thought that it was important for the CBI to associate itself with such measures.
The CBI also agreed with the Government on the need to tackle international cartels, but it opposes allowing the disclosure of confidential business information for overseas criminal anti-trust investigations. Those worries relate to a small number of competition cases that involve activities such as price fixing and bid rigging. We have listened to its concerns and have sought to ensure that it understands the way in which the new powers will be used by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
All overseas requests for information will be considered on a case-by-case basis. We will protect UK companies when we believe that the United States or any other country is seeking to assert its jurisdiction extra-territorially. For example, we would prohibit disclosure if the alleged offences were carried out by a UK company operating solely in the UK. Furthermore, nothing in the disclosure provisions would permit a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998 or European Community obligations.
The Director General of Fair Trading is also aware of the CBI's concerns. He said that he would not generally disclose information collected in relation to a merger other than with the consent of the companies involved. We will continue to reflect on the CBI's concerns, but we cannot accept the overall approach of not acting at all, because it would mean that no information could be disclosed to a foreign competition authority in respect of the most serious breaches of competition law, and because we believe that it is important to fight international cartels.
There has been widespread discussion about DNA and fingerprint issues. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey implied, they will be a significant aspect of debate when the Bill is considered in the public arena. We had to take into account the need for a balance between individual rights and society's right to be crime free. I do not think that murderers and rapists should walk free when the evidence to convict is available to us. Development of DNA techniques now often allows us to solve crimes 10, 15 or 20 years after they have been committed. That sends a powerful message that those who commit awful crimes will be penalised and punished. I accept that there were genuine debates on these matters in Committee and elsewhere, and I am sure that such discussion will continue.
I believe that I can claim that the Bill is a measure of the Government's commitment to reducing crime and the fear of crime. I hope that opposition parties will consider carefully where they stand on the various issues that are involved. As the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire has pointed out at various stages, the official Opposition did not oppose the Bill on Second Reading. He told us that he would consider the situation in detail after that stage of its passage, and no doubt he will tell us in a moment how the official Opposition intend to deal with the Bill tonight.
1108 I know that the hon. Gentleman also has many procedural anxieties, although they have been expressed rather extraordinarily through the actions that have been taken. It is important to understand that the people of this country will consider the Bill and make their judgments. Many of the measures are straightforward and cover common ground, but some are controversial. Everybody in politics has to make choices, which is why I was surprised by the no-votes on a range of measures. The House and the country will be interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say about those abstentions and to find out how his party will vote on Third Reading.
The Liberal Democrats raised similar issues, but their tone was different. The Government and the Opposition disagreed on some points of detail, but I found extraordinary some of their abstentions and votes against measures such as clause 1. In general, those decisions were a question of the need for the official Opposition to explain themselves. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and the Liberal Democrats, however, voted clearly against a whole string of measures for reasons that they articulated and which were consistent with the judgments that they have made.
Being the sort of man that he is, the hon. Gentleman will take the following challenge in the spirit in which it is meant. When he and other Liberal Democrat candidates for Parliament stand in front of their electorates, they must be confident that they are prepared to deal with serious crime and disorder issues. Whether it is in respect of alcohol crime, fixed penalty notices, DNA, murders, rapes or a range of other issues, he must be prepared to put his hand on his heart and say that he is confident that, without introducing the measures in the Bill, the Liberal Democrats are doing their best to ensure that the people of this country get a secure and safe community. That is what the Government are committed to, and that is the choice that he will have to make. He will advance his arguments in his characteristic way, but he should not be under any illusion. We will be putting forward our arguments about the substance of the issues publicly and clearly from now until polling day, because they are right for the people of this country.
§ Mr. Heald
The Minister is right to say that, in shadowing him, I have worked on Committees and in other proceedings with him. We have rubbed along pretty well and been able to debate matters in a serious way. On many occasions, he has listened and been prepared to change his position on the basis of debate.
You will not want me to go into any detail about the Standing Committee, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I feel that democracy was betrayed and that huge parts of the Bill were not discussed. I feel sorry for organisations such as the Police Federation, which went to the trouble of preparing long briefs for the Opposition, and of raising issues of concern—for example, about disciplinary matters.
The 11th group of amendments on Report concernPolice regulation, organisation and conduct".Those matters form a substantial part of the Bill, and the Police Federation and others wanted to raise important issues on them, such as whether there should be an inference drawn from silence in police conduct proceedings. They were unable to hear those matters 1109 debated. They also wanted to raise issues about the Secretary of State and his designation of functions, and qualifications for the police service. They have not had the opportunity to have those matters aired either. We also tabled an amendment in Committee and on Report to delete what is now clause 127, but that will not be debated. I do not just feel sorry for those organisations; the Minister should be aware that they feel dismayed that it has not been possible for their concerns to be aired in the way they should have been.
My concern is not only about police matters, although they form an important part of the Bill. It also relates to issues such as the disclosure of information. As the Minister said, we debated the CBI concerns on clause 45, as it then was. However, the CBI is still not satisfied. I spoke to its representatives this morning, and they said that they were pleased to have had a meeting with the Minister, but they were dissatisfied with its outcome. No doubt that matter will have to be discussed further in the other place. I am also concerned that the disclosure of tax records, which is a civil liberties issue, was not discussed.
The reason these matters were not discussed is not because there was any unnecessary time wasting by the Opposition. There was not. The Minister said that we wasted time on the first, important clauses of the Bill. He has made that accusation time and again. In fact, after we had dealt with those clauses, the Committee Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), with the authority of his co-Chairman, said:My view, and that of my co-Chairman, is that, to date, there has been no untoward or over-lengthy debate … we are dealing with intricate issues."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 15 February 2001; c. 199.]The Minister feels able, in his position, to challenge that, and to say that the Chairman may have said that, but he got it wrong. However, I do not think that it is right for a Minister to behave like that. If we have a ruling of that sort, we should accept it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am most anxious that we should not revisit arguments that have been gone over many times before. Before anyone responds to those comments, I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman now moved on to the subject of the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Heald
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was offered the opportunity to take an intervention, but I shall not do so in the light of your ruling.
We had the opportunity tonight to debate various issues on Report. We were not able to reach more than half of them. That is a pity for parliamentary democracy, but I shall not go on about that any further. The Opposition do not oppose the Bill in principle; we never have. However, we have made it clear from the outset that we feel that elements of it are over-bureaucratic, and that safeguards are required in a number of areas. We also made it clear that fixed penalty notices should be issued only for a range of minor offences, and in a way that does not 1110 involve major paperwork for the police. That point was put to us by the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents Association, and we still do not think that the measure is right.
Although we voted against the provision on fixed penalty notices in Committee, I made it clear that we were happy to table a new clause setting out what we wanted and, had we won the vote, we would have done so on Report. Criminal damage is our main concern over fixed penalty notices, because compensation is payable to a victim only on conviction. If a fixed penalty notice is issued, there is a risk that people who want compensation will not be able to get it.
The Minister gave us assurances on that in Committee, but they were not adequate. There are corporate businesses and others that should not be subject to a measure that means that they cannot claim compensation, and there should be a definite commitment in law on that. The Association of Chief Police Officers suggested that criminal damage is not suitable for the process. That is our view and we continue to hold it, here and in the other place.
The Minister referred to no-votes as if they are shocking, but if an attempt to amend a measure is voted down by the Government, it is hard to give wholehearted support to that measure. My view is that, after being voted down by the Government, our proper approach in Committee is to abstain. That is what we did when we were not satisfied with the detail.
§ Mr. Heald
Well, no. The Minister can intervene in a moment if he wants to.
It is important to acknowledge that we had serious debates on the Huntingdon Life Sciences issues—I agree with the Minister about that. We made significant changes as a result of those debates, for which I give him full credit, but he should further consider issues relating to conspiracy. He also needs to go further on the child protection measures which we debated on Report. I welcome the commitment that he gave in correspondence to the effect that the full council will make the decision on a non-drinking zone. The Opposition have made that point throughout.
We must ensure that a stop order is served and a rowdy pub closed only when a clear connection can be made between it and the incident about which the senior police officer is concerned. The Minister made concessions, or points of amplification, in correspondence about our concerns on noise. If a pub is noisy and a senior officer wants to close it for that reason, it is now accepted that a closure order will be issued only when warnings and opportunities have been given to reduce that noise. That is a welcome assurance.
Although I could go on at great length about which points we want to be considered by the other place, I tell the Minister that we do not oppose the principle of the Bill. The debates that we had were good and amendments were made that we are pleased about, some of which he mentioned. Although we shall not oppose the Bill, I am sad, as he should be that it is going from the elected 1111 House to the other place, which is unelected, when half of it has not been considered by hon. Members. To me, that is deeply shaming for the elected House.
§ Mr. Charles Clarke
The hon. Gentleman has explained that there will be another no-vote tonight and gave an interesting constitutional explanation, which I found novel, of previous no-votes. Nevertheless, that explanation can be used by Conservative Members if it is appropriate. However, it is not unreasonable of me to say to him, given that he took a certain view in Committee and no-voted on certain clauses, that he should tell us whether he is for or against those clauses as they now stand. It would help the House and the country to know exactly where the Conservatives stand on the DNA issues, fixed penalties and so on. Will he provide some illumination?
§ Mr. Heald
There is a clear answer to the Minister's question. Report stage is there for that purpose, and we were given a third of a Report stage because of the cruel guillotine that was imposed. I do not mean that it was cruel to me; the victims of this guillotine are organisations that wanted certain issues to be raised, and individuals who would also have liked to hear he explanations for which the Minister now calls. It is not appropriate to give such explanations on Third Reading, which must deal with the Bill as amended—I see you nodding, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not prepared to be told by the Minister how to do my job, or to be told by him what is or is not in order. I am of course prepared to listen to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but surely the victims are not just organisations and others whose representations they believed might be debated. Are not the main victims the citizens on whom legislation is being forced by the Government—legislation that the Government know has not been, and cannot be, properly considered? Does that not constitute a criticism in the case of every clause that we have been unable to reach?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not want to keep interrupting, but I am sure the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) appreciates that he is being led back down a certain road, and I would be grateful if he did not go down it.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you clarify the rule on Third Reading debates, in the context of the Government's conduct in forcing a Bill on the House when they know that the House has not considered one third of it?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is an experienced Member of Parliament. He knows very well that the purpose of Third Reading is to debate the content of a Bill as it then stands.
§ Mr. Heald
As the Minister will appreciate, I travel around the country, and I meet police officers. I have to 1112 ask myself what I am to tell them when they say, "Why did you not do something about that provision on disciplinary proceedings?" The answer is that there was no time, because the Government had introduced this arrangement. When chartered accountants who have written a long paper on disclosure of records for tax purposes say, "We told you that the Bill contained some daft points with which we disagreed; why were they not debated?", I shall have to reply, "Well, there was this guillotine, and the Government would not let us debate them"—and so it goes on.
The same applies to all the individuals involved. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) pointed out, our citizens sometimes find that the law is daft, or does not work properly. But whole clauses—42 last Thursday, and more than 20 on Tuesday—were never debated in Committee, and we then find that we cannot debate them on Report. Of course, one should never exaggerate—[Interruption.] The Minister laughs; he should not.
The problem with the Bill has been that it was not up to this Minister to determine how much time we had, or when the Bill left Committee: he had his orders. I know that the Minister likes to debate, to examine points that are made and to listen; but he himself was not allowed to do those things. He knows that. He knows that whenever we asked for extra time, he was allowed to provide only a certain amount.
§ Mr. Charles Clarke
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have been very clear about the fact that we should not revisit last Monday's debate. I would respond to the hon. Gentleman, but I am trying to stay in order. Will you clarify whether what is being said is in order, in the light of your earlier remarks?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am trying hard not to intervene continually. I think the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire is aware that the points he is making have been made many times. I understand how he feels and how others on both sides of the House feel, but I earnestly ask him again to return to the debate on Third Reading.
§ Dr. Ladyman
This is an important Bill, and I assure my hon. Friend the Minister that I shall address my comments to its content. It will provide greater powers to control drunkenness in public places, protect a quality of life that has been threatened for many of our constituents, and address issues of crime and disorder on the streets that our constituents have raised with us.
My main interest in the Bill has been the provision of powers to protect scientists, and I make no apology for returning to that theme. Earlier, I thanked the Minister for keeping an open mind on the subject, for being prepared to listen to advice that he was being given by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and for introducing new clauses that have now been incorporated into the Bill. As a consequence of his openness and willingness to 1113 accept advice, the Bill is immeasurably better. For the first time, scientists can look forward to being protected by the law and to being able to continue their work. I congratulate not only the Minister but Opposition Members who made a constructive contribution to our debates on the subject.
§ Dr. Ladyman
I have no doubt that there were discussions via the usual channels that allowed us to raise issues that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee believed were important. However, as the hon. Gentleman wants to get into party political banter, and if Conservative Members have opened their minds to the needs of scientists, perhaps they will say whether they will address the issue of scientists with the same openness as the Minister has demonstrated in the Bill. Perhaps they will also re-examine the policy which they have just proposed, of extending the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to animal experiments. Such an extension would close down the United Kingdom's pharmaceutical companies and put terrorism back on to the doorsteps of scientists.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I think that the hon. Gentleman may have been very badly misled by an article that appeared on the front page of The Times today. He should be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), who is the shadow Cabinet member responsible for agriculture, has written a letter for publication in The Times, we hope tomorrow, in which he comprehensively demolishes that article. He makes it clear that both the author of the article and the professor who is quoted in it had been told the true position before the article's publication in today's edition of The Times. Both gentlemen, however, decided to ignore that information. I would not want the hon. Gentleman—with whose views on these issues I agree—to be misled by a wholly inaccurate and perhaps even malicious article in today's press.
§ Dr. Ladyman
I was not misled by that article, which I read only briefly before entering the Chamber. I was informed on the subject by a much longer article written by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) that appeared, several weeks ago, in The Daily Telegraph. I responded to that article with press releases of my own. The response that I received from The Daily Telegraph was that the article was so unimportant that they would not follow it up with my reply, and other media were not interested in the article at all. The article was, however, very detailed. The hon. Gentleman made it very clear that he intended the Conservative party's policy to be to force all animal experiments into the public domain so that they, and the scientists who do them, can be subjected to a critique before proceeding. I can see that you are becoming a little uneasy, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about my taking a route that I should not pursue on Third Reading. I shall therefore return to the protection of scientists.
In my first job, I worked with an eminent scientist who was reaching the end of his professional career. In the latter part of that career, he had conducted a series of 1114 experiments in which he had exposed mice to radiation to see what effects it had. One effect was that it killed their bone marrow. After repeating the experiments to see that that effect was consistent, he took some bone marrow out of the animals before they were irradiated. After the remaining bone marrow had been killed, he returned the removed marrow to the mouse, and discovered that it flourished and grew.
The scientist next went a step further. He took bone marrow from certain mice, and then put it into different, irradiated mice. That bone marrow also flourished. The first point of that story is that he would not be allowed licences to do that work under today's legislation. His targets were too nebulous to allow for licences under the current regime. Secondly, if he were alive today, that scientist would be the target of terrorists, who would not accept that he should do such work.
Thirdly, the principles that that scientist discovered were later transposed into human beings. They now provide the primary treatment for some forms of childhood leukaemia. The hundreds of parents who must have cried themselves to sleep over the years after discovering that their new-born child or toddler had leukaemia have been given relief because of that man's work on mice. Their children are well and whole and happy and growing.
If we do not protect scientists and allow them the freedom to do such work, there will be no new cures for the diseases that we suffer from today. There will be no advances on Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's. We must protect our scientists, not just for our health but for the economic well-being of our nation. If we do not do that, they will go elsewhere to do their work, to a standard lower than that on which we insist.
We have done good work in Committee and on Report in improving the Bill by including provisions that protect scientists. I hope that the Minister will continue to consider ideas as people feed them to him at the later stages of the Bill. I hope that it may be further improved as it passes through the other place, perhaps even on the basis of ideas on conspiracy advanced by the Opposition and professional organisations. Perhaps we can improve it further, but we have, at least, produced a Bill that offers scientists real protection for the first time. The House and the Government should be congratulated on that.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
On Third Reading, we are going round a course that those of us who deal with Home Office matters have followed frequently in recent months. In the previous Session, there were 12 Home Office Bills, and in this Session there have been six so far. In both Sessions, the Home Office has produced far more legislation than any other Department. In addition, it is a matter of record that there have been Criminal Justice Bills almost every year under every Government in recent years. As I reflect on all that, it seems that there is something about our process that we are not getting right.
Governments are given authority by the electorate to produce proposals for Parliament. They are entitled to do that, and are given the advantage of our procedures to enable them to do so. The initiative lies with them. Yet we often end up with legislation that has not been tested against the views and experience of people both in and out of Parliament in such a way as to produce good law.
1115 One of my persistent themes—the Minister and other colleagues on the Committee will hive heard it often—is that we need to improve our procedures so that when we get something on the statute book, we know that it ought to be there, and that wherever possible, it is done deliberatively. Only very exceptionally should we rush into something as a result of the requirement for an immediate response to an immediate set of events. It is a bit like the Budget. Wednesday's Budget looks very different the following Tuesday. Legislation conceived to deal with a problem in 2000 might not be thought to be such a good idea by 2002.
I enjoyed serving on the Committee. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) and I both contributed to and benefited from its proceedings. We had an intelligent exchange on all the issues that we had the opportunity to debate. I pay tribute to colleagues in the other two parties in that respect. We none the less ought to have a process that allows, first, consultation on proposals; secondly, as a matter of normal practice, a draft Bill; and thirdly, the sending of that draft Bill to a Special Standing Committee, Select Committee or other forum, in which things can be checked and evidence taken.
If we did that, by the time we dealt with controversial matters—I shall come to the substance of my speech in a second—we would know properly not only what people thought, but how we could benefit from experience not just in this country but abroad. In this country we are very bad at looking at comparable examples of measures that have been tried and tested in other countries. We are insular in that respect, and it is often to our detriment that we do not draw on the considered experience of people in other legislatures and democracies around the world.
§ Mr. Charles Clarke
I am attracted to the idea of Special Standing Committees and so on; I always have been. However, I ask in all seriousness—I do not know what his answer is—how the hon. Gentleman would deal with repetitiveness in some of the debates. I have sat opposite him on many Standing Committees, and we have no doubt found each other repetitive on various occasions. How do we achieve the scrutiny that he wants without simply providing a succession of forums in which we re-run identical and increasingly sterile discussions?
§ Mr. Hughes
That is a proper question. I think that the Minister knows that I am as open as he is to trying to deal with that issue. I shall not go down that road in detail now; suffice it to say that we should agree a series of steps leading to legislation. I have said what I think they ought to be, in general terms. Indeed, with the Joint Committee on Human Rights, we have built in another step. It produced its first report—on this Bill—as a holding operation the other day. If we agreed such steps, we could negotiate and—depending on the length of the Bill, and as long as there was representation across the parties from Front and Back Benchers—there could be agreement, other than for exceptional measures, for timetables throughout the year.
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
There is a far more effective way of achieving the hon. Gentleman's aim. It is to expose all Bills to the Special Standing Committee procedure, whereby, whatever their 1116 nature, they are subject to scrutiny and the taking of evidence prior to consideration in Standing Committee. That is the answer; it would deal with all his problems.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) responds, I should point out that I have allowed him a certain latitude because other hon. Members have dwelt on the same point. However, this debate is not about our legislative processes in this House—however interesting those may be. This is Third Reading, and I should be grateful if the hon Gentleman would turn his attention to that.
§ Mr. Hughes
I made those introductory remarks because of the nature of the substance of the issues before us. I shall move on, but in order not to be discourteous, I shall first say to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that I have always taken the view that he has just expressed. In my experience, legislatures that do their job well follow a process very similar to the one that he proposes.
My final conclusion about our proceedings on the Bill is that when we legislate in haste, we often repent at leisure. We suffer far too much from trying to legislate when alternatives would be better. We should legislate only when we really must, rather than just when we think that it would be a good idea. The fundamental point about the Bill is that we should give more power to the authorities only when we are absolutely persuaded that that is necessary to deal with the problem.
One of the evils of the parts of the Bill of which I and my hon. Friend disapprove is that whenever Governments are not sure how to react to a problem, they come up with a proposal to give the authorities more power. That is the wrong conclusion in periods of uncertainty when the case is not made. It tilts the balance between the liberty of the citizen and the power of the state. It is another ratchet in the direction of the state, and I regret it because in this country the state still has considerable power, and the citizen is losing power relative to the state all the time because of technology, globalisation and other things.
§ Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)
It may be true in general that there is always an argument for spending more time on legislation. The hon. Gentleman made a point about legislating in haste and repenting at leisure. How does he reconcile that with the comments made by the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) about the urgent need for action to deal with internetrelated offences against children? The argument has been advanced that the technology is moving so rapidly that we must think carefully about what legislation is appropriate to deal with the concerns.
§ Mr. Hughes
The ideas expressed by my hon. Friend and others have been around in that specific form for almost a year. I have said on other occasions that in the context of changing technology, it is necessary to review the law regularly—but, as the hon. Member for Workington said, we must first check out the facts and the evidence.
Ministers know that the Government have the support of the Liberal Democrats on some parts of the Bill, where we have no argument with them. Measures concerning drink and drugs are important, because unless we can 1117 significantly reduce alcohol and drug abuse, we will not significantly reduce crime. We will certainly not reduce violent crime, which is often fuelled by one or the other, or both. It is a good thing that we shall have alcohol-free zones by law as opposed to byelaw. That is a sensible streamlining of the procedure. It is appropriate in certain circumstances that the police be given additional powers to close disorderly licensed premises. The old procedure was often too cumbersome. It is certainly proper to give the authorities power to act where owners of unlicensed premises are acting illegally and exploiting the licensing laws.
If we say that it is against the law to sell alcohol to the under-18s, we must have a law that works and is not so widely abused as the current one is, whether by off-licences, supermarkets or public houses. It is certainly appropriate to be able to give people working in the licensed trade additional power to deal with people who are clearly drunk either when they come in or when they remain on the premises. On all those matters, Ministers know that we are going in the same direction as they are.
Ministers also know that we share their view that people who have trafficked in drugs—international traffic in drugs is the most common serious form of trafficking—can reasonably be penalised by being prevented from travelling. That will have a great effect on their trafficking—although I know that it is naive to assume that much of the large-scale import and export of drugs is done by the people who carry them, and that if we clip their wings we will have a great effect on some of the problems.
The hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) made an important addition to the debate this evening. He spoke about protecting people who have suffered excess harassment and intimidation, especially from so-called animal rights activists. As colleagues will know, we broadly support moving down that road. There was a debate about the definition, and a difference between us, but in general terms we accept that it is right to take further action.
A measure that is good, but does not go far enough, is the provision to protect witnesses and victims from intimidation. The matter is addressed in the Bill, but not in a way that will work in practice. I am sick to death—or rather, I am sick of it and other people are sometimes sick to injury or death—of the fact that people who have been intimidated or harassed cannot be moved quickly enough for their protection. We do not yet have a system that delivers that, and people often pay the price in unacceptable ways. As a last postscript, may I add that some of the new arrestable offences were perfectly reasonable?
We have said throughout that there are some provisions that we do not support. For example, we have not supported the excessively wide powers of transferring information or of being able to access information that is held by the private citizen.
Some extremely controversial, and in my view unacceptable, powers will allow people to be detained for longer periods by the authorities, who will be able to judge the appropriateness of that detention by doing no more than speaking to the individual on the phone, or 1118 using a remote video link. That seems far too broad a power, which is potentially dangerous and capable of abuse.
Of the three most controversial areas of the Bill, we have debated two to a significant degree, but certainly not the third. The proposed fixed-penalty notice system is no less nonsensical now than it was when it started. Consideration in Committee showed that it was more nonsensical than previously thought, and exposed the folly of the system.
We either have one type of justice system that applies across the range of offences, or we go to a two-type justice system. There would be an on-the-spot system to deal with what the Government of the day think should be dealt with in that way, with other matters going through the courts. We resist that. Someone might want a licence to drive, to fly or to do something else. Those things come within the definition of ordinary activities of the citizen. However, if individuals abuse their freedoms and break the law, they should be dealt with by due process.
Consideration in Committee provided evidence that if the Government had thought matters through, they would have at least come to the conclusion that on arrest, someone should be taken to the police and charged. He or she could then be offered the opportunity of a fixed-penalty reduction and immediate disposal. That would have been a far better approach.
I promise the House that with the fixed-penalty notice we are increasingly seeing the rich and the advantaged getting a better deal out of the criminal justice system. The people at the bottom end of the scale are becoming more vulnerable and more at risk from instant justice, which is not what we have traditionally guaranteed for our citizens.
I was not persuaded by anything that the Minister of State said about extending curfews—which have not even been used for under-10s—to those under 16. I am not persuaded that that is the right way to proceed. We should deal with individuals, not areas. We should identify individual culprits, and not seek to identify and define areas that are more liable to have within them criminal communities.
I shall give a practical example: the continuing investigation into the tragic death of Damilola Taylor, in the borough that I represent. In reality, the area where most of the criminals come from is not the area where most of the crimes are committed. Where should the curfew be imposed? Should it be where the offenders live or where the crimes are committed? It cannot be argued logically that curfews should be imposed in both areas unless we are prepared to take in a huge area in which a huge number of the liberties of a huge number of young people will be affected.
§ Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West)
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge and recognise that there are certain defined areas that for special reasons accommodate the antisocial behaviour of young people far more readily than others? For example, a couple of derelict buildings in an estate may attract that sort of behaviour. Another example is a shop that is open late at night. A range of locations, given their design and structure, lend themselves far more readily to antisocial behaviour and cause a nuisance to local residents. Does 1119 the hon. Gentleman agree that in such circumstances it should be possible to have a limited child curfew within the area?
§ Mr. Hughes
The experience and advice of the police suggest that that would not be especially helpful. I have talked to the most senior police officers as well as those on the beat. Crime can be displaced quickly. A trouble area one week is not a trouble area the next; trouble moves around. That happens in our part of the world, which is no different from anywhere else. The problems can be tackled in other ways.
If we want to tackle youth crime, we should start not by imposing more curfews, but by dealing with bullying in schools, and ensuring that there are enough detached youth workers, out-of-school activities, police on the beat and community police. Many measures are far more effective than the proposed tokenistic, shop-window, pre-election gimmick, which has added nothing to the debate and will contribute nothing to the solution to crime in any part of the country.
We have held no major debate on DNA, and people do not realise what the Government propose. People who are under investigation may be required to give a DNA sample. Even if proceedings are dropped, or someone is subsequently tried and acquitted, and affirmed to be innocent, they will be included on the list of those about whom the state holds information.
Of course, such a measure enables the powers that be to know more about defendants and to consult a larger database when crimes are committed. However, if we take that argument to its logical conclusion, we should all be on the database. At birth, our names, parents and birthplace should be registered and a DNA sample taken. That would be a disgracefully large leap in the interests of beefing up the powers that be. We could convict people more readily, and lock up many more people, if we simply gave the state more power. But is that the sort of society we want?
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, says the junior Whip. Thank you very much. Authoritarian Labour people in councils such as his symbolise centralisation and the corruption that often accompanied it. I take no lessons from Doncaster or from old Labour fiefdoms such as Southwark, where power went to the centre and corrupted, which meant that the citizen was less free.
§ Mr. Hughes
Evidence that police have accumulated from innocent people, against their will and under duress, should not be held to facilitate the police's power to do their job. We cannot suddenly claim that society consists of two tiers of people—those who happen to be picked up by the police, irrespective of the merits of the case, and everyone else. I am sure that the Minister does not support that. Home Office Ministers are trying to persuade themselves that they want to give the police more power whenever they ask for it, irrespective of individuals' rights.
1120 The Minister says that we should stand by our beliefs. We shall do that. The Bill has so much merit that we shall not try to prevent its passage to another place. The Government have a majority, so it will go through anyway. However, in another place, we shall try to remove the provisions that we do not like. If there is an early election, we will insist that those aspects are not retained. Liberal Democrats will not agree to a measure that provides for curfews for the under-16s, a range of fixed-penalty notices or DNA samples. Those provisions will not appear in the Bill if an election is held in May.
It may not be popular to stand up for defendants, protesters, suspects or young people, but a Parliament in which people do their job properly will defend the victims of crime, as we have done consistently, and those who may, for various reasons, be imprisoned, or addicted to drugs or alcohol, for a while. We must have a balanced view in this place. Unfortunately, some good Government ideas have been mixed with some poor ideas, some ill-thought out ideas and some illiberal ideas, which should be resisted. I am confident that the House of Lords will resist them, and that if there is an early election, they will not be on the statute book before the election.
§ Mrs. Brinton
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak.
I was glad to be a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, which should, if passed—I know that it will be tonight—enable the police and others to deal more effectively with a range of disorderly and criminal behaviour. I was grateful to be a member of the Committee because it enabled me to pursue some particular concerns that I had raised on Second Reading, which partly related to constituency matters.
I had planned to range over a large number of issues, but aware that time is tight and that we want to hear the Minister's full considerations, I shall concentrate on a couple of specific issues that affect my constituency and, indeed, Cambridgeshire.
The first issue is DNA samples and fingerprinting. As we know, forensic science is, rightly, growing in importance in the fight against crime: in convicting or, it should be stressed, in exonerating an individual accused of a crime. The advance in the science and technology of DNA will make it more useful to the police, provided they have the powers to make optimum use of it. I should like the House to pay tribute to Ben Gunn, chief constable of my local force, Cambridgeshire, who has worked closely with others at national level in considering the present proposals and has given great help.
I have been told by my local force that the police are grateful for the support that the Government have given them on those issues. I should also mention the £208 million of extra funding that the Government have invested in DNA over the next three years, which will underpin police powers to make maximum use of it.
§ Mrs. Brinton
No. I am taking no interventions at this stage.
I make a point that I alluded to on Second Reading. Whatever powers or instructions are given to the police, there should be adequate resources to enable them to carry them out. 1121 I was concerned to hear from my local constabulary, where I have spent some time on useful secondment under the parliamentary police scheme, about the national automated fingerprints identification system—NAFIS—due to be completed this May. Considerable funding has been spent, rightly, on state-of-the-art equipment. I hear that it has produced excellent results so far, but that there may not be enough skilled operatives to use it properly, particularly in smaller forces such as Cambridgeshire.
The new system means the devolution of record keeping, which was previously maintained by New Scotland Yard. Unless that extra responsibility is backed by appropriate funding, the result is likely to be a lower rate of successful identification, rather than a higher one. Indeed, I am told that there is already evidence of that in certain areas.
Finally—it is the key point of my comments—I was extremely glad to support the Government's new clauses in response to concerns that were expressed in the Chamber and outside about unacceptable levels and kinds of protest and their intimidating effects on individuals and groups. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) for his moving and effective comments on the issue.
The new clauses propose to give the police new directions to stop harassment of a person in the person's home and to amend the Malicious Communications Act 1988 in a number of ways, making it more appropriate to the present day of electronic communication, so that it is no defence for a perpetrator to state that he or she believes that his or her threat to another is reasonable. Rather, the issue will be whether it is reasonable according to agreed and shared definitions.
On Second Reading, I voiced my concerns about the level and nature of protests by animal rights activists against employees and others associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences, some of whose employees or associates are my constituents.
I have examples of the tactics used that have constituted the harassment and victimisation of individuals. I pay tribute to Opposition Members who raised those issues effectively in Committee, in the Chamber this evening and on other occasions. We are talking about demonstrations outside people's homes; verbal abuse using a loud hailer; graffiti on homes and cars; and abusive telephone calls to relatives, friends and children's schools. In Committee, I read some of the letters that I have received that detail the abuses. I welcome the amendments on this subject. I do not believe that anyone in this House or outside would support such abuses of individual rights.
I am convinced that this is a vital Bill, which must and will achieve its Third Reading today. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is rehearsing arguments that we have had earlier this evening. I have to say to him that many of the points of 1122 order raised earlier took quite a lot of time and probably partly explain why some Members have not been able to speak on Third Reading.
§ Mr. Hawkins
As the Minister said, this Bill has had a most extraordinary passage; one might more properly say, a lack of a passage. Those outside who follow these proceedings will find it extraordinary that the parts of the Bill referring to police training—an issue of huge public concern—police organisation, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad have not received any scrutiny by the elected House of Commons in Committee or on Report and Third Reading. The Minister seemed completely to dismiss the importance of that.
Such rubber-stamping and a negation of democracy is reminiscent only of Stalinist Russia in the 20th century. [Laughter.] Government Back Benchers, who seem to think that this is funny, will find that they must justify to their constituents the fact that they have been part of this negation of democracy, by pushing through a Bill that contains important issues that have not been debated.
The Government—particularly Government Back Benchers—believe that debate does not matter and that one can assume that what the Government are doing is right. They believe that the world started in year zero in May 1997, which is similar to what the Pol Pot regime insisted on in Cambodia.
§ Mr. Blunt
There is an assumption among those on the Treasury Bench that any debate is out of order. The Advocate-General for Scotland, with the Minister sitting alongside her, saidIf there were less filibustering and more focused argument, the provisions could be considered."—[Official Report, 6 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 140.]That is wholly at odds with the proper and sensible consideration of the issues by the Committee.
§ Mr. Hawkins
My hon. Friend is right, but it goes further than that. The Advocate-General for Scotland had no basis for suggesting that because all three Chairmen of the Committee had specifically ruled that at no stage had there been any filibustering.
This has undoubtedly been an unsatisfactory matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, it all resulted from a wholly artificial timetable. Ministers—particularly the Minister of State—were clearly operating under orders. They were told by their lords and masters that they had to clear the decks in case the Prime Minister wished to call a general election for April, so these wholly artificial timetables were imposed on us.
In the brief time that remains, I want to touch on a couple of points that were raised in the debate. The hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) spoke about the importance of the protection of scientists. As the son of two research scientists, I thoroughly agree. I think that the best part of our consideration of the Bill in Committee and on Report has been our discussion of the best bit of the Bill—the protection from harassment provisions. If the predictions of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) come true, that part, 1123 and only that part, might end up on the statute book. That would be appropriate as those are the only provisions that have been debated properly.
I was delighted that the hon. Member for South Thanet reiterated his support for our proposals. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) also made a helpful contribution tonight, as she did in Committee. Both hon. Members spoke passionately and well in support of their constituents and scientists. The hon. Member for South Thanet is still saying to the Minister, as we are, that further steps are required. We have already welcomed the Government's acceptance of our suggestion in Committee that the Bill needs to be amended further. They repeated their acceptance in respect of clause 13 tonight, but yet further work on the law of conspiracy might be carried out in another place. There is no doubt at all that we need to keep that in mind. We hope very much that when the Minister replies to the debate he will confirm that he is still listening to the hon. Members for South Thanet and for Peterborough, and to us.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey spoke about the defects in the procedures for scrutinising these issues. There is no question but that we need to keep the way in which such Bills are scrutinised always in mind. There may be better ways of scrutinising them. There is certainly a much better way of dealing with important criminal justice measures, particular in relation to significant bodies such as police authorities and the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the NCS. There has been a bypassing of democracy. While we do not dissent from some of its underlying principles, the Bill is an example of legislation that attempts to implement what the Prime Minister said when he asked for eye-catching initiatives on crime with which he could be associated.
§ Mr. Lock
This has been an interesting Third Reading debate, but let us focus first on the Bill. It contains a wide range of measures that will provide the police and others in the criminal justice system with the powers that they need to tackle disorder, to beat crime and to improve the position of victims in our society. It is an important Bill and it is a disgrace to the scrutiny and the importance of those measures that we have heard so much today about the procedure and so little about the substance.
Those outside this place who read our debates will find it extraordinary that we have spent so long talking about how many sittings there were and how many hours were spent in Committee and so little about when it is right for the police to close down a disorderly public house that is causing trouble to a neighbourhood and whether it right for the police to retain DNA samples and about all the other important issues in the Bill. However, we have discussed an important issue of principle between the Government and the Liberal Democrats: when the police have the ability to convict criminals and, when there is evidence, should the power of the state be used to maximise the number of criminals who are convicted for their crimes, or should there be artificial rules to weigh the system in favour of the defendant and against the power of the state? It is used to bring those who commit crimes to justice. The DNA provisions in the Bill are designed to ensure that where there is proper evidence and where there are proper issues they should be placed before a 1124 court—but evidence should be used and those who commit crimes should not have loopholes which they can use to escape conviction.
Whereas the Liberal Democrats have at least set out their principles—we disagree with them, but we understand them—the Conservatives voted against measures in Committee, they were not prepared to say whether they were in favour of the Bill or against it and they were not prepared to commit themselves to supporting either the defendant or the victim. However, we are grateful for sinners who repent and we welcome their support now, albeit at the last moment.
§ Mr. Lock
The Conservatives supported the principle of the Bill to the extent of not voting against it, but when we came to the detail they were not prepared to support the provisions, and it is only today that they are prepared to say that they will not vote against it. That is hardly a ringing endorsement on behalf of the victims who need those powers.
Other issues have attracted good debates. I commend my hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) and for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) on their sterling work on behalf of the scientific community. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet made an excellent speech describing the benefits of scientific experience and experiments, and the importance of giving scientists the freedom to be able to work without intimidation and harassment. I am sure that his speech will commend itself to the scientific community, and he will know that he has their support in bringing these issues before the House. He has done an extremely good job on behalf of the scientific community. It should be grateful to him, as it should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough.
We have had good debates on other issues. It is difficult to get the balance right on fixed-penalty notices and to know which offences should be included, but I am grateful to those hon. Members who contributed to that debate. It was a good debate and we think that we now have the balance about right.
The Bill will be best known for procedural issues and the Opposition's adoption of student sit-in politics. What makes the way in which they have behaved even more extraordinary is the fact that they sought to hold up the progress of a Bill giving powers to the police and strengthening the position of victims, with which they agreed.
It may have been correct that, in Committee, there was no technical filibustering, but it cannot be said that there was focused debate at all points. Much time was spent discussing procedure and a vast amount of time discussing the fact that the Opposition did not feel that they had enough time.
On Monday, the shadow Leader of the House said in high dudgeon that 16 sittings should mean 16 sittings. That is the debate. Sixteen sittings amount to 36 hours, but, as the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said in the same debate, the Bill was debated for 40 hours, which is substantially more than 16 sittings. The "Dangerfield" 1125 series may have been entertaining on television, but when the details were relayed at length to the Committee by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), it lost its edge. Numerous pressure groups have responded, but the Criminal Bar Association's brief, which I regret was not so brief, added little to parliamentary scrutiny when read out at enormous length by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.