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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. My proper approach ought to be that I am entirely in the hands of your Lordships, subject to discussions with the usual channels. I ought to have said, and I am sorry that I overlooked this, that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, indicated to me informally before I came to the Chamber to repeat the Statement that he was willing to stand ready on behalf of his party to co-operate in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, indicated.
It is a relatively simple revision--but then, we all thought that originally. As the Home Secretary said in his Statement, the draft has been laid. We ought to get on with all appropriate speed in dealing with this matter. I stress that we have a duty--and I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Cope of Berkeley and Lord Thomas of Gresford--not to alarm people unnecessarily. There is a very significant weaponry of criminal legislation available. I repeat, without attempting to derogate from the seriousness of this point, that very few charges have been brought and there have been no convictions.
At such a time there is always a temptation to blame Ministers and the draftsman of the legislation. But I am afraid that I must make myself unpopular. All of us in this House must recognise that we are not entirely blameless. We have no excuse. Although the other place seems nowadays to rush through legislation, often according to a timetable and under a guillotine, when the flawed and imperfect legislation reaches this House we do not make full use of the ranks of noble Lords who are learned in the law and other noble Lords with vast experience. We yield far too often to pressure to endorse measures for, to put it politely, rather dubious political reasons. For example, last September, we were "connived" into passing the post-Omagh legislation all in one day. Much good that has done us.
The impact on terrorism has been very limited. I am afraid that the same is evident in what some call the "grave-diggers" Bill, but which I term the "disappeared" Bill. Both Governments were conned, deceived and double-crossed. I am afraid that that may lead us to the conclusion that, rather than being persuaded--I use that polite term rather than "bullied"--into giving speedy treatment to ill thought-out legislation, of which in the past year there has been a whole host, particularly regarding Northern Ireland, the lesson of the Statement is that this House must insist on proper scrutiny, and on proper time for that scrutiny, from this day on.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful, as always, to the noble Lord for his offer of co-operation, which I gratefully accept. I repeat, for those whose interests he keenly and properly represents, that none of the six cases I mentioned related in any way in terms of allegations to Irish terrorism, although I take the noble Lord's general point about rushing through legislation.
All I can say is that this is a draft order to put right the non-references to Sections 4A and 4B. It is not quite in the category of the Northern Ireland legislation, if I may paraphrase and use that shorthand, which your Lordships discussed and passed in one day in September last year.
I have been given an indication which I ought to share with your Lordships. So far as I understand it, another place intends to take this business at 7 o'clock tomorrow. It would therefore be possible, if your Lordships and the usual channels were agreeable, that we should do it immediately following the dinner break tomorrow. That is the up-to-date intelligence that I have which has just come to me.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I was cut to the quick by the way the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, glanced in my direction when he said that all the lawyers in the House were guilty too. Thus I stand subject to that. I wish to make one serious point which perhaps the Minister will answer. As he said, it is unusual for the draftsman, whether departmental or in the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, to make a slip of this kind. It is
Finally, I welcome the speed with which remedying will be brought about. In support of what my noble friend Lord Cope said, it would have been possible, as I understand it, to have made use of the emergency procedure, to have closed the gap straightaway and at the same time to have come to Parliament and made the frank Statement that the Home Secretary made. However, that is water under the bridge: it will be dealt with quickly.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his remarks and for the tribute he paid. He has far more knowledge and experience than I of the expertise available. His question on whether there is sufficient resource, either departmentally or in the Office of Parliamentary Counsel is a proper one to take up. I undertake to transmit it to the Home Secretary. One of the problems is that if something happens and the public are rightly concerned, the pressure to bring in legislation is great. Added to what I may describe as "manifesto commitments"--if I do not irritate the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, too much by using that phrase--the noble and learned Lord makes a good point. We overlook the pressure we put on people with deadlines which are difficult to meet. Sometimes the pressures are not reasonable.
At our meeting yesterday we were advised that an emergency order was in the process of being laid. We were advised by one of our legal counsel that there was nothing wrong with it from our point of view. I have no doubt--although I have not the authority of the committee to speak--that we will give it every fast-track procedure that we can. However, if it is to be debated tomorrow, it will almost certainly have to be
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for the characteristically helpful response of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I agree with him that it is something to put the drafting right but it has nothing to do with policy determination because the policy determination was that which underpinned the original draft which turned out to be incorrect. I take his point about the necessary care to be attached to the rubric and to the thought behind his observations.
Viscount Colville of Culross: My Lords, can the noble Lord, Lord Williams, confirm this? I believe the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is wrong in talking about guns, explosives, masks and so on, when a conspiracy was in order. First, none of this unfortunate event has affected the powers of the police in Northern Ireland under the Emergency Provisions Act. As regards the trouble that has occurred under the Prevention of Terrorism Act it only relates to matters which would not otherwise in themselves have caused a criminal prosecution to be available where people possessed such things as, in my time, lengths of nylon cord and other matters which were part of the apparatus of bombs. But they could not in themselves have been included in an offence under either the explosives Act or the firearms Act. Therefore, there is a very narrow area in which the defect will apply and only in Great Britain, not Northern Ireland.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I shall divide those points into two parts. The noble Viscount is quite right: it does not affect Northern Ireland. That is a reassurance I sought to give earlier, in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux.
On the second point, the noble Viscount also is quite right. The provisions--again I paraphrase, I hope accurately--were essentially to deal with the possession of items or information in circumstances which might give reasonable suspicion that--I put this generally--they might be connected with terrorist purposes. He is quite right. It was to fill a gap in the law which would not otherwise have been covered.
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