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National Security Bill (Tenth sitting)

Debated on Tuesday 6 September 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Rushanara Ali, † James Gray

† Bell, Aaron (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)

† Eagle, Maria (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)

Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)

† Everitt, Ben (Milton Keynes North) (Con)

† Hart, Sally-Ann (Hastings and Rye) (Con)

† Higginbotham, Antony (Burnley) (Con)

Hosie, Stewart (Dundee East) (SNP)

† Jones, Mr Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)

† Jupp, Simon (East Devon) (Con)

† Lynch, Holly (Halifax) (Lab)

McPartland, Stephen (Minister for Security)

McDonald, Stuart C. (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)

† Mann, Scott (North Cornwall) (Con)

† Mohindra, Mr Gagan (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)

† Mumby-Croft, Holly (Scunthorpe) (Con)

† Phillips, Jess (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)

† Sambrook, Gary (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)

Huw Yardley, Bradley Albrow, Simon Armitage, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 6 September 2022

(Afternoon)

[James Gray in the Chair]

National Security Bill

Motion made, and Question proposed, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Scott Mann.)

The former right hon. Member for Rother Valley was a very good friend of mine. He also had a knighthood, so you might want to have a word with him, Mr Gray.

I am speaking to get some answers that we did not get this morning. I am glad that we have an audience and more time to deliberate this afternoon, as it would be risky just to nod the adjournment through. We need an explanation of why the Government are adjourning the proceedings. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax raised a point of order with Madam Deputy Speaker less than 20 minutes ago—not only about the adjournment of the Committee, but about proper scrutiny and the extra day that the Committee will need if we lose a day, as we have done today.

This is a mystery. I do not know whether the Conservative Whips have locked the Minister in a box somewhere or spirited him away on a nice foreign trip or something like that, but he seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. The point is that in his resignation tweet—that is the “in” thing to do these days, unlike when you started, Mr Gray, when you would use parchment and—

Quill pens, yes. Now it is about resigning by tweet. The Minister was clear in his tweet that he was resigning—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood has helpfully passed me her smartphone—again, using new technology, which is not the usual way I operate. The Minister made things quite clear in the last paragraph, when he said:

“I will continue to serve until a new Security Minister is appointed and look forward to supporting our new Prime Minister.”

The Minister is therefore still in post, so we need an explanation as to why he is not here to continue discussion of the Bill.

I asked that question this morning, and the Government Whip, the hon. Member for North Cornwall, did the usual by just ignoring it. I thought I would try again because persistence pays off and I quite like the hon. Gentleman, as he knows. We—not just the Opposition, but the House—deserve an explanation as to why today’s sittings are being adjourned when a Security Minister is in place.

In her reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax, Madam Deputy Speaker said that this is the normal process until a new Minister has been appointed. I then raised a supplementary point of order to point out that we still have a Minister; it is just that he seems to have disappeared or is being kept away from the Committee. We need an explanation for this unique event, whereby the Minister has been kidnapped or is being kept away from the Committee, and the Government want to fold the Committee today.

I have one last point about the timings of these things. As I said this morning, there is quite a lot of consensus on the Bill. We—me and my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench—want to get the Bill into statute and provide our security services with the best weapons and ammunition for the difficult job that they do on our behalf. That has not been helped by the rather messy and squalid way in which the Committee has been dealt with today. Will the Whip consider giving the Committee an extra day to pursue the Bill through Committee, to make up for the day that we have lost—not through our lack of willingness—and to give the Bill the proper scrutiny that it clearly deserves?

I will speak briefly, as I do not wish to labour the point. I would not be making this point at all if it had not been for the terms of the Minister’s resignation letter, which we have all seen and which has been quoted to the Committee:

“I will continue to serve until a new Security Minister is appointed”.

The new Prime Minister, who is now in post, will no doubt appoint a new Security Minister in the next few days—possibly this evening or tomorrow. That is good; it means that we ought to be able to get back to consideration as planned on Thursday. However, there is no reason that would have stopped the resigning Minister, who is continuing in post until he is replaced, from coming to this Committee today and doing the work on the Bill that he has prepared for, because he has had the whole of August to do it.

The new Minister, no matter how excellent he or she ends up being as a Minister—no matter how knowledgeable in matters defence and national security—is not going to be as familiar with the Bill as the hon. Member for Stevenage. I just cannot see why the hon. Gentleman could not have come here, which is why I asked that question of the Whip, the hon. Member for North Cornwall, this morning. I understand that he has been put in an awkward position, but I did ask him whether he could seek some advice from his Whip colleagues about why the Minister did not come this morning when he had specifically said he was going to continue until he was replaced. Did he decide himself not to come, or was he asked to stay away? The Committee and the House deserve an answer to that question. I live in hope that the hon. Member for North Cornwall has that answer; if he does, it would be excellent if he put it on the record when he replies.

Would it not also be interesting to know whether the hon. Member for Stevenage—unless, let us say, he has been kidnapped and put in a box or sent on a foreign trip somewhere—is still Security Minister? Not only does he have to appear before us today in that post, but there are obviously ongoing issues in that department that he will have to deal with. Some clarity would be helpful.

That is an important point. I was looking at this merely in terms of courtesy to the Committee, proper scrutiny and the way in which Bill Committees ought to and do work, but of course the Security Minister has other duties outside this House. One would not want a discontinuity between one Security Minister and the next, which I expect is why, when the Minister sent his letter to the previous Prime Minister, he said in his last sentence that he would continue until his successor was appointed. However, we now seem to be in a position where he has not continued until his successor is appointed.

When I was a Minister, Mr Gray—no doubt you will recall your own experience of these things—duties in the House took precedence over all other duties that one might have as a Minister, as stated in the ministerial code. As such, if the hon. Member for Stevenage is still the Security Minister, it is extraordinary that he is not here. There are two explanations: either he has decided to stay away himself, in which case it is a dereliction of duty, or he has been asked to stay away by the business managers, in which case this Committee and the House deserve an explanation.

I do not wish to put too much pressure on the hon. Member for North Cornwall, because I realise that he is doing his job and may or may not have had an answer in the time between this morning’s adjournment and the resumption at 2 pm, but we do require an answer. I hope he will be able to give it now, but if he cannot I hope he will undertake to ensure that all members of the Committee get that answer.

I have heard the points made by Opposition Members loud and clear, and I heard their points of order in the Chamber this afternoon. The Chief Whip and the officials are aware of the requests that hon. Members have made around additional timing. The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood made a point about the Minister for Security. I have not had a chance to get an answer to that question yet, but I will seek reassurances on that point.

I will not; I have almost finished. It will not surprise the Committee to know that I have very little to say. I am absolutely convinced that the appointment of the new Security Minister will be made very soon, given its seriousness, and I look forward to that Minister taking on the Bill and delivering this very important piece of legislation for the Government.

On a point of order, Mr Gray. The Whip has had time to clarify whether we still have a Security Minister—yes or no. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood was clear that if he could not give an answer, he should write to the Committee with an explanation of what has happened. Do we have a Security Minister in post: yes or no?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point, extending the debate that we have already had. It is, of course, not a point of order at all: it has nothing whatever to do with the conduct of the debate. None the less, he has made his point, and it will be on the record.

Question put.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

NSB05 Law Commission of England and Wales (supplementary submission)

NSB06 Assistant Commissioner Matt Jukes QPM, Counter Terrorism Policing

NSB07 Guardian News & Media Ltd