HC Deb 17 July 2000 vol 354 cc148-52

12.7 am

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

We now come to amendment No. 2—

Miss Widdecombe

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the tremendous rush—the Bill has gone straight on to Report after being in Committee—has the Home Secretary requested an interlude in which to. make a statement to the House on the crime figures released four minutes ago, which show a substantial increase in robberies and crimes of violence?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The right hon. Lady is pushing her luck.

Mr. Malins

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I tabled a series of amendments to schedule 1 for the Committee stage. It occurred to me at about 10 minutes to midnight that the chances of reaching those amendments was fairly slim. What is the procedure if I wish to table those amendments to be debated on Report?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has missed his chance. I am sorry about that.

Mr. Gale

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you can help the House with this matter. I went to the Vote Office a few moments ago, and the amendments tabled up to 10 o'clock for consideration on Report had been printed, but there was no list of selected amendments. Can you tell the House which amendments you have selected for discussion on Report?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

A revised list will be available within the next quarter of an hour. We can deal now with amendment No. 2, and I understand that there is another amendment that we can discuss. I assure the hon. Gentleman that a revised list will be available soon.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that it is impossible under the guillotine motion for the House to be suspended, which is to be regretted. Some of us have not seen the amendments that were tabled before midnight. Can you tell us whether you have selected any other amendments to be taken with amendment No. 2, which you have just called? Can you give us advance warning about the second group of amendments, so that we have a chance of knowing what is coming and preparing for it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I can tell the hon. Gentleman what is coming. Amendment No. 2 has been selected on its own, and amendment No. 4 is coming. The list that I mentioned will be available within a quarter of an hour or even sooner.

Miss Widdecombe

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) raised a point of order about the amendments that he had tabled and which we were about to reach in Committee. He could not possibly have tabled those amendments for consideration on Report because he did not know whether we would reach them in Committee. Surely such amendments can be tabled during these proceedings

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman can seek to table his amendments, but there is no guarantee that they will be selected.

Mr. Charles Clarke

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 40, at end insert— '( ) Before making an order under subsection (4), the Secretary of State must lay a report about the working of this Act before each House of Parliament.'. The amendment is in response to amendment No. 23, which was debated earlier. The Government acknowledge that it is important for the House to have a report about the workings of the Act so that a proper assessment can be made of it. We also acknowledge that there has been substantial debate about the matter, and concerns of substance have been expressed. We think that there should be a review, and it should be informed by a proper report on these matters.

I hope that hon. Members will accept the amendment, which I believe gives yet a further guarantee that the House will be able, throughout the operation of the Act—as I hope it will become—to make its judgments as we move from step to step.

Miss Widdecombe

The Opposition welcome the amendment and have no difficulty accommodating it. However, I wish to make it clear that affirmative motions, reports or anything else are no substitute for a proper review at a much earlier stage than the Bill now provides for. With that caveat, we are happy with the amendment,

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Government's amendment is welcome. However, this is the speediest turnaround of amendments that I have ever known. We spoke to our amendment at 11.30 pm, and I now discover that the Government are tabling their rewritten version of the same amendment at 10 minutes past twelve. There is some merit in speed.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

It is called spinning.

Mr. Hughes

It is spinning in another sense at this time of the morning.

I am assuming the best, but would the Minister be kind enough to confirm that the report provided for by the amendment—which was anticipated by our amendment in Committee—will be prepared and written by someone who is entirely independent of the Government and can do the job without any partisan view?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful for what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has said, and I acknowledge that the amendment does not go beyond what she herself has argued previously.

I am grateful also for what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has said, although I cannot give the absolute assurance that he is looking for on this point. There is merit in what he says about the need for someone independent to do the report, but we have not come to a view as to the best way of reporting to Parliament on the matter. I am prepared to listen to the hon. Gentleman, but there is a perfectly good case for the Home Secretary to lay the report with the Home Secretary's conclusions. It may well be that the Home Secretary of the day decides that it is better to ask an independent person to carry out that report. I take seriously the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I cannot give him the absolute assurance he is looking for.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to the Minister for his honesty. The experience of the last three years, and the welcome Government initiative and principle of having an annual report, have shown that an independent report has much more credibility than a report that is not independent.

Mr. Clarke

I accept that there is weight in that point. To use a word that we will become accustomed to in the forthcoming years, proportionality is called for here. In terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill and the terrorism proposals, the issues are significant for the state, and having somebody who is clearly seen to be independent is well established in what we do. The point is not so overwhelming in this case, which is why I am not prepared to give the hon. Gentleman the absolute assurance that he seeks. However, it is true that the more independent any report is seen to be, the more it is likely to command general consent and support. That is why I say that I am prepared to look at the proposal, which has merit.

With that, I commend the amendment to the House. Despite the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald's caveat, I hope that she and everybody else will acknowledge that this is an important step and will provide reassurance that the legislation will be kept under close scrutiny.

Mr. Leigh

There is an important point of principle here. This debate on an important procedure has been dismissed in four or five minutes, with some short speeches, and I understand that the amendments were tabled by the Government today. This is a most extraordinary way of dealing with serious legislation. I wonder how many Members know in any detail what the amendments are about. The Government talk about modernisation and how it is bad to make laws after 10 o'clock at night. What an extraordinary way of proceeding. Is it really necessary to gallop through this after midnight and not even wait a day?

12.15 am
Mr. Clarke

I do not accept that. The amendment is one of the most clearly phrased that the House has had to deal with. I acknowledge that there are more complicated issues on other amendments that require close study, but we should also acknowledge that the amendment is clear in its phraseology.

Mr. Heald

Will the Minister amplify a little more what he would expect the report to contain? Will it simply be a list of the number of orders and detentions or will it give a wider view of the effect, for example, on the crime figures, which are rising extremely fast, with violent crime in particular up by a huge amount in the past year?.

Mr. Clarke

I hesitate to embarrass the hon. Gentleman in front of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who has been so eloquent, but the wording is crystal clear when it says report about the working of this Act. The question was fair, apart from the general political soundbite surrounding it.

Mr. Heald

Ignore it, then.

Mr. Clarke

That is a good idea.

The question is simple. It concerns how often the powers are used; how they have been used; what pressures they have put on the criminal justice and police systems; to what extent we believe that we have successfully apprehended individuals who would have been involved in violence abroad; how the legislation has taken effect; and to which football matches it has been applied. In short, it is a list of how the legislation has operated, how the various players have behaved and what problems and difficulties have arisen as a result of trying to implement it.

I hope that some of the concerns expressed by the Opposition will not be borne out by events. The report will allow us to assess the extent to which their concerns have been justified.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Will the report include the costs of implementing the legislation?.

Mr. Clarke

I would certainly assume so. In the financial section of the explanatory notes, we have made an estimate of the costs, and it would be entirely appropriate for Parliament to know what the costs have in fact been.

I commend the amendment to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

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