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Lord Richard: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he advocating that we should take Report stage today and put off Third Reading? With respect, I do not think that that is the proposition put by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said twice that he wanted a gap between Report stage and Third Reading. Does he want that; or does he want to put off the whole Bill for now?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I should prefer to have Report stage today. It is up to the Government's business managers to sort the matter out. But to move from Report stage to Third Reading, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, knows better than anyone, concertinas a Bill. This is a Bill on football disorder. It does not involve troops crossing frontiers or a major terrorist outrage. Let us have a sense of proportion about the Bill; and let us protect the proceedings of this House.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I have been involved at the coal-face on this Bill. It has been a rather fruitless exercise. The situation is not fair to the Minister. He has done his very best in impossible circumstances. It is not fair to the House because the Minister cannot have the opportunity to consider the reasoned arguments which have been put to him, even if he agrees with them. I suspect--I do not commit him--that he is fair minded and would wish to give time and credence to many of the points that were made on the Bill. It is also a technical Bill. It has been made ludicrously technical. It involves erosion of individual freedom and many other consequences--criminal consequences.
It is not only unfair to the Minister and the House; it is jolly unfair to the subjects of the Queen--innocents who will be hauled in and treated as criminals. That is one thing that we seek to avoid. We cannot do so today. The Minister must have time to
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, when the Attorney-General responds, can he tell the House on what grounds he defends the taking today of Report stage of the Bill when the vast majority of the Members of this House has not been able to read the Committee stage. There is no way we can know on what the Report stage is based.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I have two different points to make. First, I am concerned about the precedent that is created. After today it will be impossible to resist this kind of approach to Bills on many other issues. Secondly, I am concerned that in a Bill which is supposed to be about football hooliganism we are about to breach a basic principle of our justice system: that you are innocent until you are proved guilty. For those two reasons, I strongly support my noble friend.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for having moved the amendment. Indeed, the House should be indebted to him for raising an immensely important issue on the timings in our House and the usual intervals.
By now it will be common knowledge that the Official Opposition have accepted the argument made by the Government in another place, and, therefore, in this House, that the Bill needs Royal Assent by the end of this week. That is why we have sought to an extent to co-operate with them on the timings although by no means the contents of the Bill. I hope that when, or if, we reach amendments on certain issues this afternoon not only will they be fully debated, but the Government will lose the debate. I refer in particular to the sunset clause. If anything justifies the appalling nature of some of the powers taken in this Bill, it is the ensuring of a clear cut-off period during which the Government can think again.
What seems to have gone wrong today is that the Government were caught out by the length of the Committee stage last night. I am aware that a Division took place in the small hours of the morning. Only 22 Members of the House voted on the Government side and 17 on the Opposition side. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, it was only because of the co-operation of the Opposition that that business was able to be continued.
However, the greatest miscalculation was in not ensuring that a complete Hansard could be provided. Only those who were present in the House--unfortunately, they included neither myself nor the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General--have the faintest idea of the arguments proposed in amendments and the arguments put forward in defence of the Government's position.
The arrangement today is that the Third Reading should be taken on the nod immediately after Report stage, leaving no room for amendments from any Member of the House including the Government. I hope that when the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General winds up he will explain why the Government believe that there will be no further need to amend this legislation.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford has provided a useful opportunity to debate this matter fully. I hope that the Government will take clear note of what has happened. After the noble and learned Lord has responded on behalf of the Government, I hope that my noble friend Lord Marlesford will feel that the Government have offered enough for him to be able to withdraw his amendment to the Motion.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am also conscious that on my own side that is not a popular move. It may well be that my noble friend will seek to take the matter to a Division. However, I hope that he does not, because many Members have come to the House today expressly to deal with the Bill.
I ask a final question. If, as appears likely given the precedent of last night, debate on the Football (Disorder) Bill continues for many hours into the evening, what will happen to the first day of Committee consideration of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill? Can we agree that if debate goes beyond the dinner hour, the matter should be left until we return in the spill-over?
The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I am gratified to find myself in such agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. As always, I am grateful for his full-hearted support. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that the observations made were unanswerable by anyone who cares for this House. I believe it is the time of year when Members of your Lordships' House become a shade too ready to drink too deep of the cup of hyperbole, to put it tactfully.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am glad to see once again that my arguments have proved overwhelming. It goes without saying--and therefore I shall say it--that everyone who is a Member of this House cares for it. What the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, in general terms, is completely accurate: normally we abide by standing orders. He pointed to exceptions. There are exceptions of great significance and importance to our fellow citizens.
If I noted it correctly, the noble Lord's second category was technical measures. His third category was Bills of national emergency. I believe that he went on to warn your Lordships gently to avoid the convenience of the executive. This has nothing to do with the convenience of the executive, which I shall demonstrate in a moment with your Lordships' patient understanding. It has nothing to do with the reputation of the executive, but a good deal to do with the reputation of our country internationally.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was quite right to distinguish carefully between timings and the content of the Bill. One or two of your Lordships have not resisted the temptation to go to the content of the Bill whereas the Motion is about its timing. Of course, we are up against a tight timetable, which arises from external circumstance. The next match to be played abroad, according to my instructions, is on 2nd September. It is France versus England--(friendly).
Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. The distinction between timing and content is a little less easy than he suggests. There were many occasions which emerged last night when the Government clearly did not know their own mind. It would assist us in tabling amendments if the Government were to have time to resolve themselves.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, perhaps I may put forward a correction of fact. I understand that the next really sensitive match is on 4th August. It is to be played in Munich between Manchester United and the Munich club.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as always in my experience, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is right. My briefing was wrong, but I have been corrected by the Chief Whip. I am most obliged for their correction.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was making points of genuine and fundamental importance. Perhaps I may put a wider one to your Lordships. We are the controllers of our own procedure. Perhaps I might sketch in a little history so that no one might be under the sad misapprehension that all this somehow arose unusually and on the basis of the quirkish determination of the Government Front Bench. Nothing could be further from the fact.
The draft business was discussed, as usual, last Wednesday. It was circulated on Thursday and, I imagine in the usual way, discussed at the various party meetings. That is the fact. As I understand it, the timings were those suggested by the Official Opposition. If I am wrong I shall sit down and withdraw. The business was agreed between the usual channels. I shall be most grateful if the noble Lord,
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