|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord is himself a life Peer. He has never been regarded as Lobby fodder on any occasion, by anyone. The tables indicateunless I am about to be corrected; I hope that the noble Lord whose mobile phone is ringing will say: XI am on the train"!
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, I hope that I am old enough to be able to ask this question. It is relevant to the total numbers given. Will the Minister explain why the analysis on page 31 of the White Paper of the so-called imbalance in party strengths, includes the remaining hereditary Peers? As the hereditaries will not sit in the reformed House, only the number of life Peers matters for that calculation. Will the Minister place in the Library a corrected version of page 31, indicating the proportion of life Peers for each of the three major parties as compared with votes cast at the last general electionwhich is the proper basis for discussing the future composition of this House?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is no inaccuracy in paragraph 31. It sets out the present facts. There will be a period of time between the beginning of our discussion on second stage reform and Royal Assent when the presence of a significant number of hereditaries has a connection to party strengths. But the simple arithmetical calculation is an easy one, and I am perfectly happy to accept the noble Lord's suggestion.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, the figures given by the Minister suggest a net difference of 28. He referred to 704 being the current strength of the House; 92 hereditaries will go; and 120 Peers will be electedbringing the figure to 732. But he made no reference to Xpeople's Peers". Does that mean that the commission will be redundant, and that the only method of entering this House will be by election?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: No, my Lords. The indication of the Government's thinking given in the White Paper is that there should be a new independent statutory commission. Its remit, over a 10-year period, will be to work to the 600 cap. Plainly there will be a lengthy transition period when the commission will have to work towards that cap. I do not believe that it is unattainable, particularly as the background papers in the Printed Paper Office show that some Members of your Lordships' House do not attend very regularly and might be quite pleased to take a permanent leave of absence.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, why do the Government believe that 600 is the necessary limit for an effective upper House? Would it not be possible to reduce that figure by 20 or 30 per cent and still retain the same quality?
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that quite helpful reply. Is he aware that that is not necessarily the view in the countryside, as expressed by the director of the North West Tourist Board? Does not that add to the general confusion of the whole ghastly saga of foot and mouth and make it even more necessary to have a proper full public inquiry rather than bits and pieces, odds and ends and bits and bobs?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have read the article in the Sunday Telegraph to which the noble Earl alludes and I have read about the case of a director of the North West Tourist Board. We do not comment on individual cases, but we are making inquiries about those allegations. Our understanding is that the views are those of only a small minority of those who are being satisfactorily helped by the programme. That is the remit of this Question.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former deputy chairman of the North West Tourist Board. Does my noble friend recognise that many rural businesses are small firms, often in the hospitality
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I responded to the Question, which was about tax. There is also the Business Recovery Fund, which has provided #74 million in grants through the regional development agencies. There is also the provision of mandatory rate relief, which we are greatly encouraging in rural areas. All those are contributing to the deserving small businesses in rural areas to which the Question refers.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister understand the comments from the UK Competitiveness Index that the rural development agencies are spending too much time on institutional change rather than on the issues in the countryside? Does he agree that they should be pulling together the sort of comprehensive package for small rural businesses that has been developed region by region for farmers whose stock has been culled? Copies are in the Select Committee minutes of the other place. There has been no such package for small businesses.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I assume that the noble Baroness is talking about regional development agencies rather than rural development agencies. That is the context in which I was referring to the Business Recovery Fund. Clearly there are many tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of rural businesses, not all of which are in the same plight. We must remember that at one time 140,000 premises had restrictions, whereas now there are only 1,472. The situation is substantially better than it was.
Baroness Sharples: My Lords, the Minister referred to 20,000 rural businesses being helped by the taxation provisions. Can he tell us the total number of rural businesses that have been affected by foot and mouth?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords. The definition of Xrural" is not entirely precise. The 22,500 businesses to which I referred are those that came to the revenue departments and asked for help. There is no way of telling from what pool they came.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, can the Minister give us assurances about clear and consistent criteria that apply to grants from regional development agencies across the country? In particular, are there significant differences from one region to another? Do some RDAs give grants to individual businesses while others do so only for businesses that are committed to working in some new and co-operative way? There are signs of some unease that the criteria are not clear and the grants are not being given consistently across the country.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group of amendments deals with our core objection to the Bill as it stands. Given that not all noble Lords will have sat through the debates so far, I hope that the House will think it useful if I briefly explain the context for the amendments. The issue is whether the extensive powers reserved by the state should be confined to threats to national security. It is all about reconciling our duty to safeguard our traditional civil liberties with our duty to forestall as best we can any emergency threats to our national security.
Striking the right balance between those duties is an exercise in art, not science; prediction, not measurement. If laws alone could inoculate the body politic against extreme violence, there would be no argument on the amendments. However, as we know only too well from recent history, reaction to authoritarian legislation can beget the very thing that it is designed to prevent. Just as the bodily rejection of inappropriate medication can be worse than the complaint, so it can be with such legislation.
It is counter-intuitive to believe that civil liberties are best preserved by suspending them. That tends to be a poor way of winning the battle for hearts and minds, here or abroad, without which no long-term national security is possible, particularly post-September 11th.
What does Clause 17 allow? As its title says, it extends existing disclosure powers in the 66 statutes listed in Schedule 4. Each of those statutes was carefully considered and contains differing and often highly detailed regimes of required confidentiality and permitted disclosure. The core of our disagreement with Clause 17, and the other clauses to which this group relatesClause 19 and in particular Clauses 103 and 104is that this widespread extension of existing disclosure is not confined to the protection of national security or to the fight against terrorism.
It is instructive briefly to look at the precise effect of Clause 17 in relation to the 66 scheduled statutes, as that has not been done so far. For example, the Companies Act 1989 provides a strict regime of confidentiality, to which Section 87, as mentioned in Schedule 4, will be excepted. However, the exceptions in the Bill as drafted are strictly limited to enabling a
Furthermore, Section 87 of the Companies Act gives a highly detailed description of what are relevant authorities and relevant functions by which to judge whether or not disclosure falls within the general rule of confidentiality, or rather within exceptions to the general rule of confidentiality.
I refer briefly to the Health Act which is also specified. On considering that Act, one realises what an intricate and carefully balanced web of protections is provided which will, frankly, be blown apart if Clause 17 as drafted is approved. It provides a comparable framework to the Companies Act, so that there can be no disclosure for the purposes of criminal proceedings outside the United Kingdom, and disclosure for criminal offences within it is confined to serious arrestable offences. I need hardly say that nothing like that is included in Clause 17.
As I am sure the House is aware, Clause 17 will override those restrictions. It is extraordinarily wide. First, any public authority here or abroad can request information from the commissions and bodies connected with the 66 statutes I mentioned. However, what some noble Lords may not appreciate is that Xpublic authorities" in this context are extremely widely defined and include private bodies and companies in so far as they have public functions such as running schools, prisons or railways here or abroad. Secondly, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, first understood in debate, a request for disclosure from any of those public authorities at home or abroad can be refused only on good grounds or what are known to lawyers as Wednesbury principles; that is, such bodies are judicially reviewable if they refuse a request for disclosure. Thirdly, the scope is not confined to serious offences but extends to any offence whatever. Those can include private prosecutions. Moreover, the list of 66 statutes is not exhaustive and can be added to by statutory instrument. However, to be fair to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, an amendment has been tabled to ensure that that at least is subject to affirmative procedure.
The Government say, and have said repeatedly, that none of those matters should be too worrisome due to the provisions of the Human Rights Act. However, in normal cases a citizen whose rights of confidentiality have been breached will never be aware of that. Even where he or she is aware of it, resort to Human Rights Act remedies is extremely uncertain and expensive. One can exercise those rights only in the course of proceedings and, what is more, the rights themselves are extremely generally framed. I put it to the House that few indeed will treat that as a real and effective protection against disclosure of confidential information.
Above allI have hinted at thisClause 17 is not confined to disclosure in connection with prosecutions, public or private, or investigation of prosecutions, but extends to decisions as to whether to initiate an investigation and even to inquiries before that stage. These amendments endeavour to rectify some of those defects, particularly as regards the issue of scope.
I believe that the unanimous view of this House is that the Government are fully entitled to endeavour to deal with unexpected and emergency threats of terrorism. We have endeavoured to define the scope of disclosure in a practical way that will give the police and other authorities the scope they need in order to do their work. Therefore, we have stipulated that whether disclosure is voluntary or is supplied on request it can be provided where the public authority Xbelieves or suspects" that the relevant information,
I refer to the amendment that we tabled in Committee which would have subjected disclosure requests to prior authorisation. We still believe that that would aid the overall purpose of the statute in circumstances of potential threat. However, in discussions and in correspondence, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was unconvinced of the need for that and we have bowed to that at this stage. However, I urge the Government to reconsider that matter in advance of next Tuesday's consideration of the Bill as we believe strongly that such a measure would aid and abet the swift disclosure of information by public authorities to which requests are made. I beg to move.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 1, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 5 and 10. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith will speak to Amendment No. 9 which relates to Part 10 and my noble friend Lord Northesk will speak to Amendments Nos. 10, 12, 15 and 19 which relate to Part 11.
It is important at the outset to make it absolutely clear that while this overall grouping attaches to several parts of the Bill, we shall make the same point; that is, that whether it is a matter of extending powers of disclosure of information and retention of communications data involving investigatory authorities such as the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Crime Squad, the Commissioners of the Inland Revenue, the Commissioners of Customs and Excise or police powers, as expressed in Part 10, those increased powers should be used only by the authorities involved in counter-terrorism.
It gives me pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, as he and I have, on behalf of our parties, had numerous discussions in relation to Part 3. The noble Lord and I are at one on this issue. As the noble Lord said, we are concerned that this and, indeed, the other parts to which I referred, as currently drafted will inevitably lead to nothing short of excessive state interference in our rights of privacy and individual freedom. It is important, therefore, that this emergency Bill must not be used as a convenient vehicle, indeed, as an excuse, to legitimise fishing expeditions on the part of authorities under the guise of pursuing any criminal investigation.
To extend the power of disclosure in criminal proceedings to disclosure for the purposes of any criminal investigations, however remote or minor, anywhere in the world in this emergency legislation is unacceptable. There is no doubt that these powers will become commonplace in any investigation simply to see what turns up. As a result, quite understandably people will become less inclined to assist public authorities. They will feel that their right to privacy has been revoked and they will be less frank. Is that what the police and intelligence services want? I think not. However, we argue that they would be much more likely to respondindeed, I suggest, they would have no objectionif the information were genuinely intended for the purposes of counter-terrorism. It is as simple as that.
We expressed those concerns both at Second Reading and, again, in Committee. Each time the Minister worked hard to assuage our fears, without success. We were then grateful for the opportunity of a further discussion with the Minister and officials, conscious of the Government's repeated chant: XWe are listening". At that meeting a compromise was suggested which both the Liberal Democrats and we believed could be acceptable. Perhaps I may say that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, in the spirit of listening, agreed that it was worthy of further investigation.
It was believed that that investigation would continue from the Monday until the Wednesday morningthat is, almost two daysif the key interested parties advising the Government of the need for this part to be drafted in such a way were to be consulted. In fact, the Minister wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, with a copy to me, that same afternoon, stating the reasons why our suggestion could not be carried. So much for consultation; so much for listening. The Government have shown by their actions thus far that they will not listen. Considering the true import of some parts of this draconian Bill, that is most regrettable.
While we are determined to support the fight against terrorism, a fight against terrorism it must be and not, in the process, an unnecessary erosion of our right to privacy. The line must be drawn somewhere between terrorism and minor traffic offences. The Bill fails in that task. Following much thought and much discussion, we are certain that the task should be revisited, if at all, with great care another day in a separate Bill. That is why we believe that these amendments are so necessary.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page