I am most grateful for your advice, Mr Speaker. I am sorry that the Minister without Portfolio did not give way to me earlier. He has again made the assertion that the Government are being forced to settle cases, but his assertion would have more appeal if they did not regularly settle cases before exhausting all their options and before applying for a strike-out. I do not think that his admonitions about people seeking confidentiality agreements to hide the amount of compensation that they were getting could apply to Mr Belhaj, for example. The Minister is to some extent peddling damaged goods again, and that is regrettable as he is one of the last defenders of human rights in his party. I thought he might have had a little more to say about article 6 and the common law right to a fair trial. I must get on, however; I am aware of the Speaker’s request.
I want to begin with thanks. This is not a long Bill but it is a difficult one, given the nature and complexity of its subject. It touches on two fundamental concepts: national security, and the fairness and openness of justice system, which we prize and for which this country is still regarded as a role model. In addition to the Front-Bench teams who have laboured hard—exemplified by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull
North (Diana Johnson), the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Brokenshire and the Minister without Portfolio—we have had the benefit of the great expertise of some senior Back Benchers.
I mention in particular, although they are not here, Mr Tyrie and Mr Davis. I mention, too, members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, several of whom are here, particularly Dr Lewis and my right hon. Friend Paul Murphy, who served and brought their experience to bear on that Committee. Then, of course, there is my hon. Friend Dr Francis and his colleagues on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, who have been forensic in their scrutiny of this Bill since it emerged as a Green Paper almost 18 months ago. We have had the advice of eminent lawyers too numerous to mention and all pro bono. I must, however, mention Tony Peto, who not only advised members of all parties but found time to co-author with the hon. Member for Chichester a book, “Neither Just nor Secure”, in time for the Committee stage. Copies, I am told, are still available.
There is substantial agreement on two parts of Bill. Part 1 improves the scrutiny of our intelligence services—something that has come a long way since they first emerged from the shadows in 1994. A point well made by ISC members on the Public Bill Committee was that there is a developing relationship between Parliament and the security services, which tries to balance the need for scrutiny with the effectiveness of the vital job those agencies do. The Bill takes that a step forward in enhancing accountability: it is too little and too slow for some, but it is moving in the right direction.
The clauses reforming the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction seek to re-assert the control principle and to protect the security interests of allied countries—not only in their interest but ours, since the success of our security services relies on close working relationships with their equivalents overseas. Thus far we agree, but how can that explain the definition of sensitive information in clause 15 as information relating to “an intelligence service” rather than to “a foreign intelligence service” as our amendment proposed? It looks like another attempt gratuitously to extend the protection given to secret information for reasons other than those given. It is a pity we did not have time to debate that matter further—perhaps even now, the Government will, of their own volition, look at that point.
That brings me to the contentious part of the Bill—that relating to closed material procedures—which regrettably leaves this House in a far worse condition than it was when it arrived. Not only have the key safeguards added to the Bill by the other place on the advice of the JCHR been removed, but new and alarming departures from the normal standards of civil justice have been put on the face of the Bill. This has been done as late and as obliquely as the Government could get away with. I hope their lordships will when the Bill returns to them later this month reimpose their necessary amendments and fillet the unwelcome additions.
There is not time to rehearse every attempt at mitigating the effect of secret courts that the Government have rejected, but in brief we have had 18 months of feigned
U-turns, compromises and Pauline conversions from the Minister without Portfolio. In the end, they amounted to two important but not fundamental ameliorations. The door was opened to judicial discretion by accepting the Lords amendment on “may” instead of “must” at the entry to clause 6. Citizens will, after a series of wobbles and changes of heart, now have the same status as the Secretary of State to apply to enter a CMP. The two core changes sought by the Opposition in support of the other place have been firmly rejected: judicial balancing between the interests of national security and fair and open justice at the gateway to the CMP; and requiring the court to look at other more open, more tested and more equal ways of proceeding to trial before invoking the CMP—the so-called last resort.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Government were also unwilling to concede considering public interest immunity as a first option, judicial balancing of evidence once the CMP process was under way or to support a sensible renewal clause designed to give parliamentary scrutiny to this botched-together part of the Bill. These are all matters to which their lordships, including some of the finest legal brains in the country, will wish to address their minds. I hope and trust they will renew their attempt to make this part of the Bill work in the interests both of national security and open and equal justice. I hope—I am sure—they will not be deceived by the Government’s flimsy attempts to make purported concessions on these points.
The recent Government amendment 47, to ask the court to consider whether the Secretary of State has considered PII, is purely cosmetic. The hon. Member for Chichester described it as bath-time activity for the Minister without Portfolio—and it certainly comes with the customary large amount of soap. Similarly, clause 7, inserted in Committee, purports to challenge the CMP process continually and expressly on disclosure being completed. The court could do that of its own motion in any event, but it in no way mirrors the balancing act called for in our amendment 38, which was defeated late on Monday evening.
Have these purported concessions been presented to appease the Daily Mail, or—by way of winning the support of the members of the junior coalition party—the Liberal Democrat party conference? If so, they have done neither. The press, from left to right, remains hostile to this part of the Bill in its current form.
This weekend, the Liberal Democrats—when they are not reviewing their process for leadership selection—will vote again on a motion that states, first,
“Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to vote to delete Part II of the Justice and Security Bill”,
“Party policy to remain that the Liberal Democrats will repeal Part II of the Justice and Security Act (if so enacted) as soon as we are in a position to do so.”
Dr Huppert may have saved his skin by his votes on Monday, but 50 of his colleagues may find the air in Brighton less sweet. Even Sir Menzies Campbell may find his comment on Second Reading coming back to haunt him. He asked Mr Clarke
“whether he understands that the detailed amendments made in the House of Lords have been regarded by many people as being entirely favourable and reasonable.”—[Hansard, 18 December 2012; Vol. 685, c. 713.]