The amendments would insert a specific reference to habeas corpus. There are many important issues in the Bill, and some of them will come up towards the end of part 1. I therefore do not want to detain the Committee too long in making the case for these amendments today. However, I would not want my brevity to imply that we do not take the matter seriously. We feel strongly, as do many other organisations from Liberty and Justice to the Freedom Association, that there should be some reference in the Bill to the historic right of habeas corpus, which
British citizens have had for hundreds of years. That is vital. We do not argue that our wording is absolutely perfect. I should pay tribute to the Clerk of the Committee who has helped me considerably with the drafting. As always, the Clerks of the House are helpful to all of us, particularly Opposition spokesmen.
I wanted to alert the Committee to the crucial significance of habeas corpus. We think that this is one of the most appropriate places to put a reference to it in the Bill. We will listen to the Minister with interest. I hope that even if he cannot accept the amendment today, he will recognise that a great deal of time in the other place or perhaps on Report may be taken up with much longer debates on habeas corpus. We feel absolutely passionately about not losing the historic freedoms and rights of British citizens to civil liberty. There is none more important than habeas corpus.
The hon. Gentleman must be in a really good mood this morning. I do not know what happened to him earlier, but he has certainly toned down his allegations about habeas corpus. His only demand now is that it should be in the Bill, whereas previously he said that the Bill in effect removes it. It is a move in the right direction that he is not making that allegation today. I certainly hope that he will not make it again, because there is no justification for it. It is simply wrong. The common law right of habeas corpus goes back many centuries, and there is nothing in the Bill that affects it.
If the amendment were adopted the courts could allow an appeal if they decided that the principle of habeas corpus had not been applied properly at first instance. The principle of habeas corpus is well known. It is a cherished part of English law. Indeed, many see it as a defining principle. The amendments are unnecessary and misguided. It is always open to a fugitive to raise habeas corpus issues. At every stage, the district judge is required to consider whether remanding in custody or granting bail is appropriate, and to ensure that custody issues are properly taken into account. The Bill makes it clear that the designated authority must be satisfied that the requesting authority is legitimate. After arrest, the suspect must be brought before a judge as soon as practicable, and the judge must establish that the person appearing in front of him is the person named on the warrant. If he is not satisfied, the person must be released.
The hon. Gentleman has put around the idea that the Bill in some way seriously damages habeas corpus, so I want to put on record the statements of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. In its report on the draft Bill, it concluded that
''the provision for hearings before the district judge would be likely to be held to satisfy the right to take proceedings to test the lawfulness of the detention''.
It also noted:
''Judicial review and habeas corpus are important safeguards for human rights, although ECHR Article 5 and the Human Rights Act 1998 now give even stronger . . . protection.''
It is clear that the Joint Committee on Human Rights believes that the Bill in no way detracts from the ancient common law right of habeas corpus. There is no need for amendment No. 166.
I was perhaps wrong to be so brief and moderate, because I urged the Minister not to take my brevity as a sign that what we were saying lacked significance. He did not respond in the spirit of my comments, and I do not resile from anything that I said earlier.
Although the debate has been brief, it has been useful because it has enabled the Minister to put on record the Government's beliefs about habeas corpus. However, he will find that in another place people are not so happy to accept his blandishments, and I have no doubt that the matter will take a great deal of further time and debate. We have got the Minister to put his beliefs on record, so that under the Pepper v. Hart rule they can be taken into consideration by future courts, and we will see whether his comments are borne out in later debates.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.