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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 7:04 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn 7:04 pm, 1st March 2011

I will deal with each of those measures in turn, and then come to the contents of the Bill. I will run through them in the order they appear in my notes. On surveillance measures, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 was introduced, again by me, to do what it says in the title—to regulate investigatory powers. My predecessor, now Lord Howard, had started that regulation. Before 1996, there was no regulation of those powers, and the most extraordinary situation obtained inside the police. They suited themselves whether to put microphones in walls. They had guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers, but there was no statutory supervision or proper regulation, and no account was taken of the equipment used. That was improved, to some extent, by my predecessor, and then comprehensively by RIPA. However, I accept that the provisions in RIPA have been used by local authorities, in respect of minor offences, in a way that was never intended, so I support the change proposed in the Bill.

I also support the change on wheel-clamping. I will have to look at some of the detail, but like my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary I strongly celebrate the campaign by my right hon. Friend Ms Winterton, who has been promoted partly because of this and has now had to take Trappist vows as Opposition Chief Whip. I also strongly support a campaign that my right hon. Friend Mr Brown began on the elimination of all convictions involving consensual relations with gay men.

Tom Brake asked me about counter-terrorism powers. Although we did not get everything right, the introduction of those powers needs to be seen in context. The Terrorism Act 2000 was approved by the House—I cannot remember where the Liberal Democrats were, but I remember that the Conservatives supported it. However, section 44 was intended to be used in a much narrower way than has been the case, so I have no objection to its effective redefinition in the Bill.

We got it wrong on 90 days—I am perfectly happy to say that—but it must be seen in the context of what happened on 11 September 2001. People were terrified, and the first responsibility of any Government is to secure the most fundamental liberty—the right to life. Of course, we still needed to have a balance, and we sought one, but we did not quite get it right. I am perfectly happy to say that. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that although the prescription in the Bill of 14 days is fine as a standard, the contortions in the Bill and in draft legislation that would provide for a reserve power of 28 days will prove impractical. The reserve power, which we all agree ought to be there, has to be used in circumstances in which it is virtually impossible for the Home Secretary to disclose the details. The full-scale parliamentary legislative process that would follow a recall of Parliament—you can bet your life that that is how it would happen, because that is how terrorists operate—would be the most extraordinary and mocking ever seen: the Home Secretary would have to come to the House and say, “I want this legislation to double the period of maximum detention, but I can’t tell you why.” It would be far better, in those circumstances, to say, “Here is a power for the Secretary of State for which he or she will be accountable in due time.” Given that he or she is the only individual in possession of all the information that should trigger this power, the responsibility for triggering it should rest with the Secretary of State by way of a special order.