New Clause 6 — Duration

Part of Orders of the Day — Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill — [1st Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 21st November 2001.

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Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 4:47 pm, 21st November 2001

I certainly do not know whether I shall be able to convince my hon. and learned Friend. If I can, it will be a good test of whether I am right. He is one of those Members whose legal knowledge and attention to these matters is of the greatest. Let me try to convince him.

We believe that the constraints established by subsections (3), (4) and (5), which will force primary legislation de novo for part 4 within a year, for parts 3, 5, 10, 11 and 13 within two years and so forth, already create a sufficient lever for Parliament against the Executive. Subsection (3) would allow part 1, a relatively uncontroversial part of the Bill, to stand for five years. Under subsection (2)(c), to which my hon. and learned Friend refers, the Home Secretary would have the option to implement the provision, to let it lapse because it was no longer deemed necessary or to bring it back again within five years. Given that at the end of five years primary legislation would be required to re-enact the provision, it seemed to us reasonable that he should have that flexibility within the five-year period.

I certainly do not regard that as a cardinal point. If my hon. and learned Friend were able to persuade me or the Committee that new clause 6 was appropriate, bar subsection (2)(c), I should not dream of going to the stake about it. However, the flexibility that we are providing is appropriate, given the strict rigour that we are applying to the Government's actions under the sunset clause.

Furthermore, if the provision stretches the patience and tolerance of my hon. and learned Friend, that is a good indication of the lengths to which we have gone to try to ensure that we achieve consensus with the Government. We have tried to ensure that the new clause provides sufficient flexibility that reasonable Ministers, acting in their own self-interest as well as that of the House and of the country, could accept the new clause.

Finally—I certainly do not want, in these proceedings or elsewhere, to go beyond the requirements of the subject matter—I merely observe that if Parliament passes large sections of the Bill intact, without a serious sunset clause, questions will be raised about the legitimacy of parliamentary proceedings in this country. It is perfectly right that the Home Secretary of the day, attending to a major national crisis, should introduce emergency legislation to deal with it. It is perfectly right that he should entertain the possibility of engaging in legislation of a kind that I suspect for him, and certainly for us, has a rather difficult feel to it. However, it cannot be right to do so at speed, and without the provision—right from the beginning—to enable Parliament to reconsider these controversial issues. The effect of not including such a sunset clause will be to cast into disrepute measures that are in principle acceptable and necessary. So I hope that the Home Secretary will, on mature reflection, support and welcome new clause 6, and I offer to describe it as "the Blunkett amendment" if that helps.