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Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks. I realise that he cannot pre-empt the Queen's Speech. However, will he give the House an assurance that the draft Bill will be published during this current Session?
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I apologise for intervening as I have not spoken in the debate. I am particularly interested in which month of the current Session the Bill will be published as those of us who intend to take an interest in the Government's Bill when it comes forward anticipate that there will be a great deal of work to be done in researching the issues and studying the Government's proposals in the detail that the Bill will contain. It would be of considerable assistance to know in which month we may see the draft Bill.
Let me go back to human rights and data protection. The noble Viscount was of great assistance on data protection, and we spent a long time making sure in the context of public and published information that we fully protected the Article 10 rights of the press. We went to a lot of trouble on human rights. We went to a lot of less conspicuous trouble--both the noble Viscount and I were party to these discussions--about the protection of the press interest. Freedom of information, in other words, in the context of data protection. It was a rather less spectacular Bill--not quite as headline sexy as human rights--but it was still very important indeed.
Of course we support the principle behind the Bill. I do not mean to be tendentious when I say that the Bill does not have the necessary detail--it is too general--and it has certain deficiencies. I cannot support the Bill. Of course, in keeping with the usual traditions of the House, we shall not oppose a Second Reading today. What happens thereafter about timing is of course for the usual channels. I know it is getting late now, but let me finally reiterate that we intend to produce this Bill--Jack Straw has said so, the Prime Minister has said so, and, very low in the pecking order of humankind, I have said so again tonight.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am grateful to everybody who has spoken tonight. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, got it right when he called me a sinner called to repentance. I feel like a sinner called to repentance, and
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has given me a sort of comfort. I am delighted by his reaffirmation of the principle. I and everyone else who has listened this evening will await the Government's Bill with great interest.
The noble Lord has said two things about the timing: he said "this year" and "this Session". This is rather putting back the expected date, yet again, until maybe some time in June or July--or possibly into the autumn--when we were looking at a Bill which we were originally promised, or hoped we might see, in January or February. But the noble Lord did say that it would come before Rhodri Morgan's committee. Given that Rhodri Morgan will clearly assume high office in Wales in the not too distant future, I hope that it will be exactly what it sounds like and be with us within the next few months. I do not see any elucidation forthcoming from the Minister. I think we will have to be content with what was said this evening and hope.
I shall be sorry to see the House lose the likes of the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge, who I feel brings a great feeling of gravitas and depth of understanding. He will at least have the opportunity to vote for the Labour Party in the next election too and help to keep their support at its present level.
As always, I am grateful to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for her words. She was a doughty opponent when I was in government; I soon learnt that I had very carefully to question everything that I was told because she always knew more than I, and knew exactly what was going on. As she said, it was more to make the government honest. Looking back on it, I appreciate it enormously. I hope that she will find that we have a Bill worthy of her aspiration.
I am grateful for everything that has been said today. I do not know where the Bill will go now. It rather depends on what the Government's plans are for their own Bill. But if, in a month or two, we have had no further opportunity to see the real thing, we might look to see whether we can have an opportunity to discuss some of the weightier matters in Committee. I commend the Bill to the House.
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