Schedule 2 — Consequential provision

Part of Business without Debate — Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:38 pm on 7th March 2013.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 4:38 pm, 7th March 2013

It is a great pleasure to follow Dr Lewis, who brought his customary forensic skills to bear in his description of what has happened in relation to the Bill. I entirely accept his point about the resources that we will need to do the job properly.

I have been a member of the Committee since 2005. When we have had the opportunity to discuss oversight with parliamentarians from other parts of the world, they have always expressed envy for our system. I think that our system is now even more enviable. I am proud to be a member of the Committee and think that the changes will result in our being able, resources permitting, to do a better job than we have done so far.

On part 2, as Sir Menzies Campbell said in a customarily elegant and well-judged speech, in the best of worlds nobody would want to support closed material proceedings. He explained very well the particular circumstances in which many of us think they are necessary.

I have been struck in particular by how the views of people such as David Anderson QC have changed. He started out by saying that they were not acceptable and that there was no place for them in our legal system. He then had the opportunity to inspect the files of the cases pending and, as a result, he ended up with the same conclusion—in fact, it was almost identical—as the right hon. and learned Gentleman, namely that there is no ideal solution, so we have to make a choice between bad and worse, which is, in effect, what we have done.

I echo what the hon. Member for New Forest East has said. I have sat through much of the debate on this Bill, although some of us were not allowed on the Bill Committee, so I did not have the opportunity to debate it there. Much of the tone and rhetoric of the debate on the Floor of the House on Report and Third Reading would have been entirely appropriate if we had been discussing criminal proceedings, but we are talking about civil proceedings. The problem that we have to come to terms with is that, because the Government are unable to defend themselves in civil proceedings—some of those involved may be of good character, while others may be of doubtful character—they end up spending millions of pounds in compensation that might not be paid in other cases, but certainly would in others.

In conclusion, my hon. Friend Mr Slaughter on the Front Bench talked earlier about his amendment—which I and other right hon. Friends opposed on Monday evening—to, in effect, adopt the Wiley test for fair and open proceedings. He has failed to convince me repeatedly about such a test when the alternative is closed material proceedings. That makes no sense to me whatsoever. The real alternative, as the Minister without Portfolio said in his opening speech, is public interest immunity orders, which would mean that nothing got in front of a court or a judge. That is the choice. This is a better Bill than it was when it came from the other place. If there is no Division, I will support the Bill through my non-vote.