Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: It did not seem to me that the noble Baroness actually said what was wrong with the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams,
 
7 Dec 2005 : Column 633
 
which is to make those parts of the Bill not apply to certain people. From the point of view of librarians, if that part of the Bill did not apply to them it would be very much less worrying than the way that the Government are planning to do it. What is wrong with doing it that way round, apart from the fact that the Government have gone forward on the notion of laying the burden of proof on, say, the librarian, and strengthening the defence?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I would like to follow up what the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Greaves, said, because they raised an important point. This is not only about libraries and academia; it is about normal discussion between people. For example, we have—or at least we used to have—trade union branches, and in my experience very vigorous political discussion goes on about all sorts of things in trade union branches. We still have local trade councils, and I assure noble Lords that they were very effective and influential. I do not know whether they still are, because I have been in this House now for 22 years, and I have not had the same contact with trade councils and trade union branches that I used to have when I was a Member of the House of Commons. I believe that they still exist; and where they exist they discuss all sorts of matters. They discuss the Arab-Israeli position, for example, and some of them may say and even publish things that in certain circumstances could be construed as supporting terrorism of one sort or another. This is a dangerous Bill in that it constrains free speech right across the board, and that is what worries me.

I welcome the amendments that have already been put down, and I welcome the amendments that are to come. Unfortunately, we do not know what they are at present. What really worries me is that on an issue of such fundamental importance to our democracy we should have received from the Government and from the Commons a Bill that is so defective that it has to be so amended. I really hope that this will be a lesson to the Government that they have a duty, particularly where our freedoms are at stake, to see that legislation is properly prepared to safeguard the freedoms that we have held for a very long time. The House of Commons should be given adequate time and facilities to consider what the Government have put down, so that the properly elected House also has the opportunity to examine such legislation. It ought not to come to this House in a form where the Minister has to say, "We have not properly considered this Bill, but we will amend it bearing in mind what has been said". Frankly, that is not good enough.

I listened to the Minister with great intent, and she is an extremely able Minister. She should not have been landed in this soup. She should have had a Bill which had been properly thought out, prepared, considered, and considered again before it went to the House of Commons, and was then brought to this House in a proper form so that we did not have to spend so much time amending a bad Bill.

The Earl of Onslow : I apologise for arriving slightly late, but I am moved to defend the noble Baroness. She
 
7 Dec 2005 : Column 634
 
comes forward with amendments, saying that she has listened to the House. I am sure she has. I think that she has not gone far enough. But for her noble friend on the Back Benches to put the boot in and mob her up—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon : I used to be the noble Baroness's noble friend, and I am still a personal friend, but I am no longer her political friend.

The Earl of Onslow: In that case, her noble acquaintance has put the boot in from the back when she has done nothing apart from not going far enough. We spend our whole time asking the Government to listen, so when they do, let us give them credit. I say this through gritted teeth, but I mean it.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am minded to follow that which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and my noble friend Lord Greaves said a moment ago. There are local historical societies all over Wales. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has not studied Welsh history, but he may nevertheless have heard of Owain Glyndwr, described by Shakespeare as Owen Glendower. He could have been described as a terrorist; he burnt enough English castles in his day. His exploits and his governance of Wales over a period of 12 years, his setting up of the Welsh Parliament at Machynlleth are revered—one might almost say glorified—in Wales. When, some years ago, people started burning English homes in Wales, what did they call themselves? Meibion Glyndwr—the Sons of Glendower. That shows how the teaching of history may cause people to emulate what has happened in the past.

I can give another example from Ireland. I was once engaged in representing a person charged with setting off a series of bomb attacks in this country, one of them in a hotel close to Buckingham Palace. To try to understand his point of view, I told him I had been reading the speeches of Daniel O'Connell—the great Irishman, as he was known in his day in the 1830s—whose street, O'Connell Street, is the main thoroughfare in Dublin. His response was, "That traitor! Read the speech of Robert Emmet on the gallows in 1797". Suppose that an academic talks about the Irish troubles of 1797 and Robert Emmet going to the gallows. That had an effect because what happened then fuelled the IRA.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Greaves that we should not simply be talking about high flown academics; we should be developing a defence which can apply to anywhere where discussions of history or wider political happenings take place.

Lord Elton: The noble Baroness invited me to defer my rather narrow point until a later time, which I think we have reached. I do not want to wait until Report because if we do, it will no doubt be too narrow to discuss. The point is very germane to our discussions, in particular to Amendment No. 45.

Let us say that I am the librarian of a university or college with a department of chemistry. A student wishes to study the nature of unstable compounds—another name for explosives—and I have on the shelves a book
 
7 Dec 2005 : Column 635
 
which I have ascertained is a reputable manual on the subject. The student goes away, starts tinkering with bombs and is arrested. He then says that he was led into this path by my endorsement; and however invalid that may be, it lies with me, if the finger of suspicion is pointed at me by the police, to prove that I did not give my endorsement. Therefore the definition of "statement" in this case would not apply to Clause 2; this is just normal language. It is a case of the student's word against mine and I am asked to prove a negative, which I thought one did not ask people to do in a court of law.

4.15 pm

Lord Judd: The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is right to draw attention to the wider virtues put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and my noble friend Lord Stoddart. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, was not misguided, but I ask him to accept that the Government will genuinely have a great challenge in defining exactly in what context this kind of activity is possible. One would be naive not to accept that a number of so-called educational institutions claim to have academic status, but that their purpose is far removed from the spirit of education and academic activity that we are discussing.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: Does the noble Lord agree that the opportunities for discussion should be as wide as possible and that the Bill is so vaguely drafted, particularly in Clause 1, that it may catch all sorts of activities that the Government do not intend to?

Lord Judd: I think that when we deal with issues that are fundamental to human freedom, clarity and precision is important. I hope our deliberations in Committee can help the Government to ensure that that precision is present, if it is not sufficiently present at the moment. In the end we will have to find some kind of definition which refers to bona fide educational institutions. I regard the kind of institutions to which the noble Lord referred as bona fide educational institutions, but am very worried about institutions that exist, not least in London, that claim the cloak of academic educational work but are in reality propaganda organisations.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I wish to add a further thought to the discussion between my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Greaves. As someone who taught for many years in the Workers' Educational Association and the National Council of Labour Colleges, I sympathise deeply with the arguments that have been made. It is difficult to see how the issue could be caught by Amendment No. 21, which addresses itself to academic practice and might be narrowly interpreted. The Minister needs to consider later whether the DPP would wish to be involved in this area because it is huge. I am not suggesting that the DPP should not be involved in other areas, but perhaps there should be some
 
7 Dec 2005 : Column 636
 
recommendation relating to the public interest. There is great public interest in freedom of speech and freedom of expression and the Minister may, when finalising the amendment, give some thought to whether something of that kind could deal with this area of formal, but extremely important, educational instruction.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page