Schedule 2 — Consequential provision

Part of Business without Debate — Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 7th March 2013.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North 4:27 pm, 7th March 2013

I have a great deal of respect for Sir Menzies Campbell. In the course of his remarks he said that we must all exercise our judgment, and like other right hon. and hon. Members I do so today. If I may say so without being misunderstood, the right hon. and learned Gentleman put a more reasoned case than did the Minister, but I am strongly opposed to the measure, which, however it is dressed up, is a denial of a system of justice that has been built up in this country over centuries. I have no doubt that the Bill will be carried today, and in due course it is likely to be carried into law, but it will be a poor day for Parliament when it is.

I speak as a non-lawyer. Whatever limited legal work I have done outside the House between seats, I am not qualified as a lawyer, but I understand and I probably understood from the very beginning that there are certain basic rights when a person is accused—the right of defendants and their counsel to know the full case and the evidence against them. As I said, this has been built up over centuries in this country and it is now being undermined. However limited the cases may be, some defendants will not be able to have that right. I consider that very unfortunate indeed.

Under closed material procedure, special advocates will be appointed instead of counsel appointed in the normal way. Defendants will not know the evidence against them, nor will their counsel or solicitors. It is interesting to note that even special advocates who have operated in other fields that have developed in the past few years have argued, as the Minister knows, that that is an unfair way of proceeding.

We are supposed to be satisfied that only a limited number of cases will be dealt with in such a way, but that does not satisfy me. If it is only one case, in my view that will be one too many. It is all very well the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife being satisfied—as I have said, I respect him and his integrity—but why have 700 lawyers, including a large number of QCs, indicated that they oppose it? Why has the Joint Committee on Human Rights made it clear that it is not satisfied with the outcome? Can they all simply be dismissed as some sort of civil liberties lobby that does not know what it is talking about?

We know that the basis for what has been brought before us is the cases of rendition, torture and the alleged complicity of British security personnel. Those cases have been debated on various occasions in the House of Commons, and I have taken part in those debates, but is it not important that we parliamentarians and, more importantly, the British public know whether or not the allegations are true? The right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife, in defending his position, said that if we do not follow what is proposed we will not get the necessary intelligence information from the United States. Are we really going to decide on that basis? Are we really going to decide that what has been built up over centuries, the right of defendants to fair proceedings and the right of their counsel to know what is going on at every stage, should be thrown overboard and into the dustbin because otherwise the United States might not provide us with intelligence information? And is it in their interests not to do so?

I in no way underestimate the acute terrorist danger facing this country. The atrocities of 7/7 came as no surprise to me, and I am sure that is the view of other Members who anticipated, as I did, that at some stage there would be a terrorist attack. Indeed, it might occur again—who knows? Yes, we are faced with an acute terrorist danger. I do not challenge that at all. They are demented, murderous psychopaths who want to bring death and destruction to our people. But if Parliament has a duty to defend our citizens, which indeed it does, I take the view that it has another duty and another obligation: to defend the rule of law and the traditional rights that have been built up in this country. That is why I cannot support the measure before us today. I believe that it is wrong and that it undermines so much of the British justice system that I think that we should be ashamed if it gets on to the statute book. Whatever I can do as one Member to show my opposition to the Bill, I will do it.