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We recognise also the need, if the circumstances are exceptional, to take a Bill through the House on one day. Of course, 1974 is a good example. Those of us with experience of government are fully aware of the circumstances, rare though they may be, when that may be necessary. Nevertheless, there are disturbing aspects of how the matter has been handled. I believe it right to set them before your Lordships this morning in debating this important Motion.
I expressed my anxieties on behalf of these Benches when faced with the surprise of the Statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on Monday evening. I said then that we were disturbed about the Government bringing forward this legislation on the eve of the Recess. Nothing that has happened since, neither anything said in this Chamber nor anything said to another place yesterday, has made me change my mind.
If the Government want all-party support in both Houses, they should go to some trouble to get it and not assume that it is there whatever they may do. At the very least, there are a number of courtesies which should be involved. I absolve the noble Earl, who was in no way responsible; I hope that I can absolve the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; but nevertheless these questions need to be addressed.
The first I heard about this legislation was indirectly at 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon. I was then led to believe that the Business Statement would come the following day. There may have been a misunderstanding about that, and I shall not pursue the matter further. Although consultation--this is the important point--took place between the Home Secretary and opposition parties in another place last week, at no time have I or any of my noble friends received any communication from the Home Secretary or from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on his behalf. I have received no indication and there has been no suggestion at any time that I or any of my noble friends should receive a briefing from the police. I should like to ask the noble Earl when replying to tell us why it was thought appropriate, given the responsibilities of the House, to offer briefings to Members of another place but to offer no briefings, at least to Members on these Benches. There are four or five Privy Counsellors, including myself, on these Benches, if it had been thought to be a Privy Council issue.
I do not believe there is any need to say much about why we should be anxious. This is a Bill, so the Home Secretary told another place yesterday, which is sensible and practical, and so it may be. He said that the Bill was
The resurgence of terrorism occurred with the Canary Wharf bombing eight weeks ago. I understand that discussions between Home Office officials and the police have taken place since then. Indeed, there is nothing in the Bill with which your Lordships will not already be familiar as matters which have been put forward by the police from time to time as those which statute should embody. So, why now, this day, eight weeks after the Canary Wharf bombing; why now on the eve of a Recess has the Bill been brought before us? There is insufficient time to scrutinise something which strikes at the heart of our civil liberties, however important the Bill may be.
There is another point which I would ask the Government and all Members of your Lordships' House, respectfully, to consider. All in this House believe that this House has a role parallel to that of the other place in Parliament. Indeed we believe that to be our justification. Further to that, we believe that this House can spend more time, more usefully scrutinising legislation put before Parliament than can the other House for many different reasons. If that is the case, and this House is as important as we all recognise it to be, and if the Bill deserves proper scrutiny, why was it that more trouble was not taken to inform noble Lords on both sides, and principally the principal political parties, that the Bill was coming forward?
As I said, I, with other noble Lords, spoke on 19th March on the order renewing the Act. I have re-read the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and there was no hint that this Bill was coming forward. Surely it must have been in the Government's mind at that time, given discussions between the police and the Home Office, that such a Bill might be needed. There is nothing new--no new emergency--and, thank goodness, no new terrorism attack. Why could not the Minister have then said to your Lordships' House that it might be necessary to come forward with a Bill with further powers? We might even in the course of discussing that order have formed a view of what those powers might be.
I hope that your Lordships will recognise that what I have said has been said in a constructive spirit and in defence of the proper role of your Lordships' House. I should like to make two practical suggestions. If the noble Earl cannot give a positive response today, I hope that he will convey the thoughts to his noble friend the Lord Privy Seal and will make a Statement to your Lordships' House at an early date.
My suggestion is that during that relatively quiet time that your Lordships' House normally experiences after the Queen's Speech and before the Christmas Recess, the Government should bring forward the Bill again in the way that the 1974 Bill was brought forward again so that we can then scrutinise it in full detail and in the light of experience of it during the interval.
The second point I put to the noble Earl is that I do not wish to pursue this matter further today. It would be inappropriate. I do not know how many noble Lords may wish to do so, but clearly something has gone wrong. Without wishing to attribute blame, and without wanting to argue now that any harm can be undone, there is a case for the Procedure Committee to consider how to deal with emergency legislation, when a Statement to the House should be made and what time should be provided for discussion of it. The Procedure Committee may well endorse the Government's conduct in this case, in which case I shall be satisfied. However, we should at least take the matter out of the arena of discussion across the Chamber. I have tried to make my point on a non-party basis. I suggest that the Procedure Committee should look at the Bill and report to your Lordships' House; we should then not have such problems again. We must all work together to combat terrorism but there is a right way and a wrong way of going about it.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, says because he has repeated much of what was said in another place. I was a Member of the other place when the original Bill was passed and I opposed it for similar reasons. Eighteen months later it was admitted that we had been right in saying that there was insufficient discussion and scrutiny of the Bill.
I am puzzled by the fact that only a couple of weeks ago the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act was debated and discussed. It must have been known then that the Government intended to take extra measures. We know that the police authorities were in constant discussion with the police forces and no doubt with Government Ministers long before the Baltic Exchange explosion and since. Why was it not possible, therefore, to announce the changes two weeks ago during the debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Act? That is a puzzle which no one can solve. Perhaps the need to rush the Bill through is a further example of government by decree rather than the democratic process to which we have become accustomed. There can be no democratic process given the time that has been allotted to discuss a most important Bill.
We are dealing with a Bill which could have dramatic and disastrous consequences for the community relations with the police which have been built up over many years. A great deal of work is being done in that respect; it will be put at risk if the Bill goes through in such a rush. Obviously, there will be a dramatic increase in police duties at a time when there are insufficient policemen to carry out the duties placed on them by other legislation and by the general increase in crime. At a time when they face an uphill task in almost every other respect they are being told that virtually everyone with an Irish accent is suspect and should be stopped and searched.
The Bill is being rushed through and discussion is being denied. When I telephoned to put my name on the list of speakers I was told that it had closed last night at 6 p.m. I was amazed. I did not know that the list would be closed at that time and I do not recall anyone mentioning it. I therefore intend, if allowed, to speak for the allotted time in the gap because that will be the only opportunity to mention some of the more worrying aspects of the legislation.
I am also aware that I am much inhibited by the unfortunate statement from my noble friend on the Front Bench that there is cross-party agreement before the debate has even taken place. From the Back-Bench point of view, that is unfortunate because I knew nothing about it. Had I known I should have been opposed. I take the opportunity therefore to record my opposition to the rushed procedure on an important Bill which will have dire consequences. I reserve my right and privilege to speak in the gap.
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