BY JOE JENKINS
HOME OFFICE Minister David Maclean announced last week that the Government will not make explicit in its Police Bill its guarantee to protect the Confessional from bugging by police.
But Mr Maclean sought to reassure the Bill's standing committee that police will respect Home Secretary Michael Howard's pledge to safeguard the Confessional, even though this pledge will not appear in the legislation.
Michael Connarty, Labour MP for Falkirk East, was angered by the revelation. He told the Herald that the Government has a record of "leaving their options open".
Mr Maclean told the committee that the extension of safeguards to other faiths
beyond those made to Catholics and Anglicans would be stretching the remit of the Bill "far too wide".
In reply, Mr Connarty said: "The Government refuse to put into statute that Confessionals will not be bugged by the police. The police have said in their code of practice that they won't, but such exclusions can not be guaranteed if not put into statute."
"If a faith has a Confessional system, it should be respected. The Government should have taken the trouble to think that through. If they don't they will leave a large hole in it and face the accusation that they have not named, defined or excluded the Confessional because they countenanced abusing it.
"Many faiths, not only Christian, have a Confessional. They should all be treated with respect."
He told the Herald that he believed that a later amendment to the Bill could ultimately satisfy concerns of Catholics, with bugging of the Confessional made clearly illegal.
However, Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough & Horncastle and a practising Catholic, was satisfied by Mr Maclean's explanation. "I think we got what we wanted," he told the Herald.
Public awareness of the Confessional loophole in the Police Bill was first raised in January, when commentator William Oddie called for a "Catholic Herald amendment".