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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, in almost his last speech, the Minister used certain words again and again: "intended", "likely", "unlikely", "not intended". Ministers should not be telling us what their legislation is "intended" or "likely" to achieve. It should be clear what legislation will achieve in judicial terms. The Bill has been so sloppily drafted that it is in danger of encountering the law of unintended consequences. As noble Lords know, that law is that if an unintended consequence is possible, it will almost certainly follow.
I have two thoughts on the issue. First, if we had let the Government have the powers for which they asked in the form in which they asked for them as the Bill came to us from another place, there would have been even more unintended consequences. It is because this House has been rather difficult--generally good humoured, but occasionally fractious--that the Bill is no worse than it might have been.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I disagree with only one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said: that the Bill has been significantly improved in this place. It has not. It is a striking contrast with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, on which the noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Bach, laboured, as did my noble friend Lord McNally and I, together with the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Lucas. That Bill came to this House in a tawdry and inadequate state and left it much improved. This Bill came to us in a tawdry and inadequate state and leaves us in that condition. There has not been a single major concession to the fears expressed not just by the Opposition, but from the Government Benches.
I may be a recent arrival in this place, but if ever a Bill called not for emergency speed, but for emergency slowness and deliberation, this was it. Some noble Lords have taken a cavalier view of the Bill. There has been too much concentration on hooligans, whom we all deplore, and not nearly enough consideration of the fundamental legal aspects. I fear that I, too, have fallen prey to that tendency many times, thinking about hooligans when I should have been thinking about hooliganism. We have all slipped into the temptation to draw up a Bill designed to convict people whom we know are guilty.
The problem with hooligans is that they are difficult to find and to pin down, as the experience of Euro 2000 clearly shows. Let us make no mistake about what we have done. We have a long and proud history of dealing with difficult issues that balance liberty against public order. For the first time, we have ended up with legislation that will ban people from an activity for up to 10 years on the basis of wholly lawful conduct that could have taken place up to 10 years in the past.
In effect, we shall be punishing past actions under provisions of a law that did not exist at the time they took place, actions that were lawful and actions that are lawful now. Many instances have been cited of such cases: student demonstrations and riots, peaceful demonstrations, demonstrations in regard to genetically modified crops, demonstrations against animal treatment and a 101 other such instances. There has been too much of an assumption that we all know with whom we are dealing. I am afraid that down the ages tyrants have said, "We know who we are dealing with".
I have not been impressed with the reassurances given again and again by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, that we should not worry that the powers in the Bill are uniquely wide. The noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord McNally, and others have made the point that the hurdles set by the Bill are uniquely low. We are told, "Do not worry, the police will be responsible and the justices of the peace will be wise". If that were the basis on which we legislate in matters
Most disreputable of all is the attempt by the Government to dress up this Bill as a civil measure. It is not a civil measure. It has punishments of a criminal nature; its context is of a criminal nature; it involves detention; it involves endless processes before magistrates' courts; it involves the police at every turn. My heart goes out to the police who will have to implement the Bill and my heart also goes out to the magistrates who will have to construe it and apply it. I repeat that it is disreputable that the Government have cast a civil shroud around this corpse so that they can get by on a civil test of proof and so that they can justify retrospectiveness.
In the two years that I have been a Member of this House I have always felt, when a piece of legislation has been concluded, that the House has done its best. I have always felt that we have done a fairly good job. But in this case I have the sense that this shoddy Bill has not been dealt with in the way that is expected of us. We have not discharged our duty of protecting fundamental liberties in balance with our proper purpose of trying to deal with an extremely intractable social evil.
This is a precedent that will ring down the ages. It is all well and good to say that there is a "sunset" clause, but the sun should never have risen on this Bill. The Government are already justifying the Bill on the back of the anti-social behaviour orders, which have been attacked and which were the subject of the sort of reassurance that we have had, but we have gone three steps further than the Crime and Disorder Bill ever went. At Second Reading I attempted to explain how the reassurances given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, at Second Reading of the Crime and Disorder Bill, have been broken in every instance in this Bill.
Although lawyers have a reputation for being money-making cynics, I believe that all lawyers in the House are extremely disillusioned by this measure. It is difficult not to use rather inflated language. Enough said. I wish the Bill well. I fear for it; I fear for the precedent that it creates. I hope that when, under the "sunset" provisions, the Bill comes back, it will be consigned to the place it deserves.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for his courtesy, good humour, patience and stamina. I confess that I am puzzled and disappointed by the attitude of the Opposition. I do not refer to the Back Bench opposition--to the rigorous, hard-hitting and effective opposition provided, for example, by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and above all by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which cannot be faulted--but to the Front Bench Opposition, or perhaps I should say the shadow Cabinet Opposition. I mean no criticism of the noble
This is a Bill, which according to the organisation Justice, seriously breaches European Community law, which does not comply with the Human Rights Act and, as a number of noble Lords from all sides of the House have said, is contrary to British traditions. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has most effectively pointed out, it has not improved since it arrived in this House. If a Bill, or parts of it, are so wrong in principle, merely curtailing the period during which its provisions have effect scarcely makes it any better.
Suppose that, worried by a sharp increase in muggings and burglaries and other forms of robbery, the Home Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, were to stand up in the House of Commons and announce that he was to introduce a Bill to provide for the introduction of Sharia punishments for the worst forms of theft, encouraged perhaps by focus groups that had reported to the Prime Minister that such punishments would play well with the tabloids. One cannot deny that such punishments may be extremely effective, judging by one's knowledge of the Middle East. Would the Official Opposition say, "We are uneasy about this legislation that seems to run counter to the tradition of British justice, but on the other hand it cannot be denied that the crime wave is extremely serious, so perhaps it is a reasonable compromise to agree to Sharia punishments being applied for a trial period of two years, after which we shall review the situation". One has to wonder!
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I express entire agreement with my noble friend Lord Tebbit. I also express the hope that in reply the Minister will bring himself to say that he agrees with every word of the very effective speech of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. If the Minister does not agree with every single word, I hope that he will indicate his disagreement and explain why he disagrees.
In other contexts I have asked about this matter. I hope that Ministers who bring this kind of legislation before Parliament will pause to reflect on what they themselves would have said if they had been sitting on this side of the House and had been faced with this kind of sloppy rubbish. I have always rather admired the skill of the Labour Party in opposition. It has had a good deal of experience in that role. Had it been faced with a Bill of this kind, it would have been the first to protest again and again at almost every tenet in it. It would have seen no justification whatever for the measure. I believe that the Government are motivated by purely populist motives. They have no respectable legal argument.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will be able to tear the curtain of privacy aside for a moment and explain to the House the processes through which the Bill passed before it was printed and presented to Parliament. I would love to know who took part in
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