Protection of Freedoms Bill (Programme) (No. 3)
Oral Answers to Questions — Defence
James Brokenshire (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department; Old Bexley and Sidcup, Conservative)
I am grateful for the contributions of a number of right hon. and hon. Members to our consideration of the programme motion. As I said in my opening remarks, we judge it right that the programme motion should be drafted so as to allow this House to scrutinise the key provisions that are actually in the Bill. I appreciate that a number of hon. Members would have wished to amend the Bill to include various other provisions—in particular, given the level of support for new clause 1, the amendment of section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. My hon. Friend Mr Leigh sought to characterise that as simple or straightforward. However, I would say to him that there are complexities attached, which is why the Government would prefer to consider and reflect on the matter carefully, and to enable a public consultation to take place so as to ensure that all relevant issues are considered in the round and to inform the debate. It is worth mentioning that section 5 of the 1986 Act covers issues such as swearing at police officers and the case against the poppy burning on Remembrance day. It is therefore appropriate to ensure proper consultation before taking any action.
However, I reiterate that the intent is to move quickly to enable consideration of the results of the consultation in another place. Obviously, the consultation will provide an opportunity for hon. Members, the Christian Institute, the police and many others to set out their views, and I look forward to the debate and to meeting my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough to hear his views at first hand.
Dr Huppert mentioned the Digital Economy Act 2010. He will be aware that the Government announced in August that they did not intend to commence sections 17 and 18 of the Act. There might not be time to debate his new clause, but we are now working on a wide-scale review of the communications sector with a view to publishing a Green Paper by the spring of next year, and a draft Bill by mid-2013. Policy on tackling online copyright infringement, including site-blocking, is being considered as part of that review and, given our intention to conduct that wide-ranging review, it would be premature to act now to repeal sections 17 and 18 of the Act in isolation from any other legislative changes that might be needed.
We believe that the programme motion is right to focus on the provisions of the Bill to ensure that this House is able to apply appropriate scrutiny to the legislation before us. We have introduced important changes. I welcome Mr Hanson to his new position in the shadow home affairs team—he and I have had a number of debates on these issues, in relation to the Bill and elsewhere—but I think that some of his comments were a bit rich, because I can certainly remember previous occasions on which we have had less time than we have tonight to debate important legislation. This Government have made important changes that will allow us to debate these matters for two days, rather than rushing them through in one day, as would have happened in the past. I therefore commend the programme motion to the House.