Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Does the requirement that our law should also be infringed include law which is obsolete or in desuetude, such as the Sedition Act? For example, if in this country a person commits an offence under the Bill which is concerned with conspiracy to commit sedition in another country is the fact that we have a law against sedition on our statute book caught under this Bill?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, it would be caught only if the Attorney-General of the day thought it appropriate to catch any particular behaviour under an old piece of legislation. I am quite certain that no Attorney-General would wish to do that. I believe that given the way that this particular measure is constructed we have that safeguard. The discretion of the Attorney-General and his ability to consider the wider public interest will safeguard hard individual cases. But this House will have the added assurance of being able to form its own

3 Sept 1998 : Column 87

assessment in the light of practical experience, informed by the annual reports on these provisions which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has agreed will be presented to Parliament.

I should like to discuss some of the very detailed points as briefly as I can. As to Clauses 5 and 6, the Bill abolishes a number of specific provisions to allow the prosecution in this country of conspiracy to commit an offence in another country. It replaces them with a general provision. A number of the existing provisions do not require the consent of the Attorney-General. The new general provision does require such consent, which is the safeguard that we are adding. The order-making power will allow categories of case which are not sensitive and do not require the personal engagement of the Attorney-General to proceed without requiring his consent.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, made reference to a letter from the Prime Minister giving advance details of the Bill to all members of the Labour Party in both Houses. When the noble Lord raised this matter I recalled the letter that I had received which gave an indication of the forthcoming debate. To clarify the position, the letter referred to was a party letter whose purpose was to alert party members to the recall of Parliament and the reasons why that had been deemed necessary. That is standard party practice. If the noble Lord believes that in future his own party should copy that practice he is welcome to do so.

Lord Henley: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I made the point because the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Prime Minister felt able to offer some information to members of his party. If that information was available at that time why could it not have been made available to all Members of both Houses since they had to return to Parliament to debate these matters?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I do not have the letter before me, but I can assure the noble Lord that it did not contain hard information but was provided purely out of courtesy. It did not contain as much information as was available in the newspapers at that time. With respect to the noble Lord, I do not believe that there is any point of substance in that. However, I welcome the constructive approach of the noble Lord and his party to the peace process and the noble Lord's efforts to try to do justice to the Bill before the House.

The noble Lord asked whether the police had been consulted and, if so, what views they had upon the matter. I can tell him that there has been discussion with the police in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Both welcome the provisions of the Bill. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary was able to meet the Chief Constable of the RUC and the Garda Commissioner before one of their regular meetings during his visit to Belfast last Friday.

The noble Lord also asked about police cautions. There are no immediate plans to change the terms of the standard caution. However, administrative guidelines will be drawn up to ensure that persons being questioned in

3 Sept 1998 : Column 88

relation to membership of a proscribed organisation are additionally made aware of the possibility of inferences being drawn. This is both necessary and proper.

Finally, the noble Lord asked who would conduct the report provided for in Clause 8 as a result of the amendment introduced in the other place yesterday. The use of an independent reviewer is well precedented in non-statutory reviews of anti-terrorist legislation. I am confident that my right honourable friend will be happy to follow that precedent.

I now turn to specific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. For reasons of time I am not able to go through every point made by noble Lords. I am trying to pick out the most significant in terms of the pattern of debate and importance of the issues raised. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, raised the matter of the offence being introduced in the Republic of directing a terrorist organisation. I assure the noble Lord that we already have the power in Section 29 of the emergency provisions Act. These powers will add to the range of anti-terrorist laws available to the police.

The noble Lord also asked how a specified organisation can stop being specified. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can make an order to that effect under the Sentences (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. The noble Lord will remember the discussions that we had about that only recently. The position of organisations that are specified is kept under review.

The noble Lord also asked about forfeiture. I hope he will agree that we should defer that debate until we come to the substantive amendments later this evening.

He also asked about the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government have taken the view that the only sure way to respond to that judgment is to amend the primary legislation and the relevant PACE and EPA codes of practice so as to prohibit the drawing of inferences from silence when a suspect is questioned at a police station while denied access to legal advice. The limited scope of this Bill means that it unfortunately does not provide a suitable legislative vehicle to make that amendment. However, we are committed to legislate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as soon as the opportunity arises. I hope that details will be available shortly as to how we intend to proceed.

I now turn to the question of audio recording in Northern Ireland referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, and many other noble Lords. The noble Lord suggested that that provision was included in the 1996 emergency provisions Act. I fear that time passes rather more slowly than he believes. It was in fact the 1998 Act which introduced that provision. Let me assure noble Lords that there is no foot-dragging on this issue. We are determined to put the logistics in place quickly and we are actively pursuing these matters with the support of the RUC chief constable. A number--

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord one question. What is the timescale? When will that be done? We deserve an answer.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, perhaps I may continue with my response to points made. I do not think I can give as

3 Sept 1998 : Column 89

specific an answer as both noble Lords would wish. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, also raised a point about whether the recording procedures could be available by the time this Bill becomes law.

There is a commonality of purpose with the Government. We all want audio recording to be introduced quickly. However, I do not agree that this legislation should be delayed simply for that purpose. We are legally bound to produce a draft code of practice, allow consultation and pass it in both Houses by affirmative resolution. However, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary explained in another place, we are examining ways of implementing the procedures administratively before the process is concluded. I hope that noble Lords will accept the good intentions of the Government in this regard. We are going to do it as quickly as we can, but it will not be in time to coincide with this legislation coming into force.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I want to be sure that I have understood his remarks. The Home Secretary has committed himself to the idea of introducing the provision administratively--by which I presume he means something as simple as obtaining the equipment, installing it and starting to record interviews--before the code of practice has been passed by affirmative resolution. Is that what the noble Lord said?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, what we are seeking to do is make progress as quickly as possible. We want to get the procedures in place administratively. We do not want to wait until both Houses pass affirmative resolutions. We want to make progress in order to fulfil our obligation to enact the legislation as quickly as possible.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, does that mean that the police will start recording interviews with the appropriate equipment whether or not we have reached the stage of agreeing the code of practice?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I believe that that is the case; yes.

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. He is always courteous. Can he give the House any explanation as to why the audio equipment will not be available in any case brought under the present Bill? What is the technical or financial obstruction, especially bearing in mind the Minister's remarks as to this provision producing fairness for the honest police officer as well as justice for a defendant?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page