FOURTEENTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1997--98
Lord Carter: My Lords, it may be helpful if I make a brief statement on today's procedures. My noble friend the Leader of the House will move a business Motion. My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn will then move Second Reading of the Bill and the debate will take place in the normal way. Although the debate is not time-limited there is a long list. Even if the average time taken by each speaker is eight minutes the Second Reading debate will last for almost six hours. There will be a 20-minute adjournment following Second Reading to allow amendments to be prepared for Committee. Some noble Lords have already tabled amendments in advance and those have been printed, but further amendments will be accepted by the Table in the course of the afternoon. It will assist all noble Lords if such amendments are tabled as early as possible. Once the Bill has been considered in Committee, the Report and Third Reading stages will be taken.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the House is extremely grateful to the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip for having outlined today's procedure. However, is the noble Lord aware of the very real unhappiness existing, I suspect, on all sides of the House over the Government's haste in tabling the Bill? We are all aware of the reasons why we are here today. But the Bill that is to be taken through all its stages was published only yesterday. I ask the Government to reflect on whether that is the right way to deal with a subject of this
As the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip is aware, we have agreed in principle to complete all stages of the Bill today. That agreement was given subject to having sight of the Bill. Unfortunately, we did not have sight of the Bill for very long. I believe that some very serious concerns will be raised in the course of debate today. It would be useful to have an indication from the Government as to whether they will consider those concerns favourably and if so what they intend to do particularly in relation to amendments that do not pertain directly to the situation in Northern Ireland.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord has just said. I recall putting precisely the same arguments to him when he was Government Chief Whip. I did not make a great deal of progress then. Although this is an important debate, I believe that it should take place on the Motion to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I have with me two pages of precedents--I shall not bore the House with them--where this procedure has been adopted in the past. I am aware of the concerns voiced by the noble Lord. But all noble Lords are also aware of the urgency of the situation and why the matter needs to be dealt with in this way. The draft Bill was available on Tuesday evening. The print of the Bill in the House of Commons was available yesterday afternoon. The Public Bill Office was open yesterday to accept amendments based on the draft Bill if necessary and amendments have been tabled. I shall take into account all that the noble Lord said, but I must inform the House that it is not the first time that this procedure has been followed.
Moved, That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Bill to be taken through all its stages today.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, my first response to the Motion is, "So here we go again." I speak as someone who supports the Bill, as my party did in the House of Commons. We shall not vote on this Motion. Yesterday all my colleagues in the Commons voted for the measure. However, they also expressed their concern about the way in which Parliament was considering the matter.
I have no desire to delay the Bill's passage. That would be entirely irresponsible. However, my concern--already expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde--is that Motions of this character on Sittings carry a serious danger. First, we are invited to abandon our role as a revising Chamber; we are asked without adequate safeguards to give the Executive almost absolute power to place legislation on the statute book without compelling it to justify its position in detailed debate in the normal manner. Amendments will be placed before the House later today, but few of us believe that there is much likelihood of any of them being carried in what I suspect will by then be a very thin House.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, has the precedents in front of him and as the noble Baroness will surely tell us there are many previous examples of the House agreeing to procedures of this kind. That is right. In 1974, after the Birmingham public house bombings, my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and I introduced the first Prevention of Terrorism Bill. I have never doubted that the passage of that Bill saved many lives in this country. It was carried through this House and another place in a single day with, so far as I recall, the approval of everyone. But there is a significant difference between that occasion and what is happening today. Undertakings were given that the Bill would subsequently be reintroduced in both Houses to allow Parliament to scrutinise it in the normal manner, and that was done on 16th February 1976. When, last week, the Government told me last week of their intentions, I urged them to adopt that procedure. I very much hope that the noble Baroness will tell the House why they have not done so.
I now turn to the increasingly substantial number of precedents for governments behaving in this fashion. During debate on the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc.) Bill on 25th April 1996, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who did not appear to have
There had been an earlier attempt by the government, in July 1985, to take the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Bill through the House in a single day. The case for the procedure on that occasion was that the government wanted the Bill on the statute book before the new football season began. The legislation contained some interesting provisions such as that giving the Secretary of State the power to extend a Bill which related exclusively to football to any other sport. The government were asked what evidence there was of riots at cricket grounds. The answer was that there had been riots in Pakistan. The increasingly desperate desire to justify the unjustifiable which we saw then has been repeated on many subsequent occasions, although a number of us have complained over the years that we received, particularly from the previous administration, no sympathetic response whatever. We cannot continue like this. On the Bill relating to alcohol at sports grounds, the government eventually conceded the point and a second day was made available for debate, but only because the late John Boyd-Carpenter and Douglas Houghton and the then Leader of the House, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, conceded the point.
Our concerns about this Motion go far wider than the provisions of the Bill, which, I repeat, we support. I have asked the noble Baroness to consider the case for reintroducing the entire Bill in a subsequent Session. I do not refer merely to a debate on an annual renewal order, which is unamendable. Secondly, will she agree to refer this whole question to the Procedure Committee? There is no point in our continually complaining about the behaviour of successive administrations and not considering the matter within that committee. I hope that a government paper will be placed before the committee discussing these issues and making a number of recommendations. I repeat that we do not intend to challenge the terms of the Motion, but we must express in most emphatic terms our concern.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will agree with what was implied by the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip. It is important that we should proceed to the substance of the Bill before the House. I therefore hope that noble Lords will agree that it would be most unhelpful if I tried in any way to delay the proceedings.
I wish to support the Motion proposed by the Leader of the House. However, in doing so I hope that the House will allow me to underline the deep sense of unease which I think is common in all parts of the House. It relates not only to the substance of large parts of the Bill but also to the manner of its introduction in an extraordinarily hurried and unprepared way. That is all too evident in the drafting.
The Government Chief Whip and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, rightly suggested that there is a large number, sadly increasing, of precedents for legislation of this kind which naturally involve the surrender of the functions of this House as a working part of the constitution. Sadly, the nature of terrorism makes that inevitable. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, observed, it forced previous governments--and as their instrument in this House, I was part of it--to ride roughshod over our normal procedures. I was all too obviously grateful for the constructive agreement of the then Opposition. Nevertheless, I hope that the Government, given their libertarian traditions, will agree that there are genuine causes for concern when governments are forced to adopt such procedures. There are obvious civil liberties questions; there is the concern over the hurried preparation of the legislation. Although endorsing the agreement we have made to deliver the legislation so far as we are able by the end of what will, I am sure, prove to be a lengthy day, we hope that the Government will be sympathetic to the concerns expressed by my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip. They will be expressed, I am sure, on all sides of the House. I trust that the Government will recognise that the best practical way of giving expression to the sympathy which I have no doubt they feel is through assurances of an ex post facto review of what we are about to do. In that way we can look again not only at the inevitable shortcomings of the legislation, but also at how we may improve it and give guarantees that it will not undermine, more than is absolutely necessary, the workings of parliamentary government.
It is in the spirit that I have endeavoured to express that thought this afternoon that I hope your Lordships will feel that it would be sensible for us to proceed now to the substance of the business in hand. I hope that the Government will be able to give us as much reassurance as possible that there will be opportunities for independent review of the working of the legislation at a sensible but not far distant time. I say that particularly in view of the all too obviously hurried way in which the legislation has been introduced.
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