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Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stallard has been involved in Irish affairs for a long time. In his constituency in north London he represented large numbers of people born in the Irish Republic. However, I have been involved for only 25 years, since I first visited Long Kesh when it was opened. Family-wise, I have been involved for a little longer. My father, who was a Welsh private soldier, was at the Easter rising in Dublin as part of an Irish regiment. Therefore, I knew that Ireland existed before I took my O levels, or whatever they were called. I have no doubt that if Parliament has to act to deal with terrorism it should act, and should act quickly, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. It should not allow procedures to prevent change taking place.
I do not wish to discuss the Bill because there is little point in doing so. No amendments can be tabled and received in the other place. I speak on the Business Motion only because I am surprised and perplexed about why the legislation is being pushed forward. I do not wish to transgress the rules of the House, but perhaps I may say that Clause 1 raises matters of public interest as regards civil liberties and needs to be examined carefully. Clauses 2, 3 and 4 are highly technical. I see no reason why the legislation should be taken so quickly. If there was need to take it quickly it should have been debated last Thursday and Friday after the Cabinet meeting and the discussions with the shadow Cabinet. I do not understand the situation.
I am not sure whether the gossip at the other end of the Palace reaches this end. When I asked what it was all about, I was told, "It's the Home Secretary being political". He is the least political Home Secretary I have ever come across in my career. Political? I would not say that about the Home Secretary. There must be a better reason. There are dark hints about the Unionist vote but I do not see how that comes into the matter. People are thinking around the issue because they can find no good reason for the Bill being dealt with in this way.
There is no point in staying here for the rest of the day because we can do very little and we should be wasting our time. We can make our views clear now, which is what I am trying to do. I am perplexed and surprised. I was privileged to come to this House. But what part can we play? To a large degree we are wasting our time. Today's procedure has been decided. I shall not vote against the Bill. If I did so it would be misunderstood.
One can read the debate which took place in the other place yesterday. It would be very dangerous to become involved in narrow, silly politics, as happened there yesterday, particularly when the Government are talking to the IRA on one side of the water and trying to deal with it on this side. If one became involved in such politics it would be to the detriment of both Houses and to the detriment of Irish policy. Your Lordships have seen the paintings outside the Bishops' Bar. The fact that the politics of Ireland were so involved in party politics was one of the reasons why the aims of the then Liberal Government failed. I do not want that yet I do not understand the Bill. There seems to be no urgency in it. It is highly technical. Clause 1 should be examined most carefully. I shall not vote against the Bill. In my view, we are wasting our time here today.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I wish to make two brief points, to one of which I hope I shall receive a satisfactory answer. First, I should welcome a categorical assurance that another place will still be in session when we complete consideration of the Bill. Secondly, I still do not entirely understand what is claimed to be an emergency. Of course, I understand that some of the evidence on which that may be based could be difficult to put forward. However, the evidence that has been put forward puzzles me somewhat. We are told that it is the 80th anniversary of the Easter rising. I should exaggerate if I said that we have had 80 years' notice of that, but I should not exaggerate very much. We are told also by the Home Secretary in his appearance on "Newsnight" that it is possible to carry a bomb which may be concealed in a pocket. I accept that. It is clearly true, But it is not new. I remember--I think it was something over 20 years ago--during the Christmas shopping rush in Dickins and Jones somebody whom I shall not describe as a dumb animal concealed those in one of every 10 fur coats in Dickins and Jones. Therefore, the Home Secretary has had 20 years to get used to that idea. Why has he only just discovered it now?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I wish to make only a couple of very brief points to follow on from other remarks which have been made. I remind the House and the country that this is the only second Chamber that we have. If it is a second Chamber, it should be allowed to do the job of a second Chamber; that is, to revise and advise. It is being prevented from playing that proper role which has been with us down the centuries and, indeed, which is enshrined in the Parliament Acts which are apparently being set aside.
The other point that I wish to make is that we now appear to have reached a situation in which, if the two Front Benches that is, the Government and the Official Opposition--reach an agreement on something, then Parliament's view matters very little. Even the Liberal Democrats, apparently, have not been consulted.
But I reserve my greatest sympathy for my noble friend on the Front Bench who will advise us to pass this Motion and, indeed, will advise us not to vote against the legislation. My honourable friend in the other place, Jack Straw, has had the privilege of a security briefing. Therefore, he is able to advise in the House of Commons. But my noble friend has had no security briefing; or has he? He did not say so. Therefore, he is advising us in the dark as to what we should do on this Bill. I really do not believe that that is good enough.
I have a final question to put to the Minister. If the Official Opposition had said no to this Bill, had they said that they would not agree to the Guillotine and this procedure which we have before us, would the Government still have brought forward the Bill?
Lord Elton: My Lords, this is an interesting and important debate and I think that in most of your Lordships there is an internal conflict of interest. There certainly is within me. As a member of the Government in Northern Ireland for two-and-a-half years and in the Home Office for three years, I see the pressing need for instant reaction to imminent danger. As a Member of this House for 23 years, I see the importance of protecting the liberty of the civilian and keeping a close eye on the work of the Executive.
In the particular circumstances in which we are today, we must have a certain trust in our system and in our colleagues. What has been delegated by both Houses de facto is a decision as to the urgency of the situation. Those who are a party to that knowledge, the knowledge on which that decision has been taken, are those who have been preferred by the two principal parties as at least capable of taking that sort of decision on their part.
I believe that it would be entirely irresponsible now to throw a spanner into the works on the basis that they were not trusted; to delay the legislation; and to leave the guard of this country down when they say that it should be up. Therefore, I support Her Majesty's Government in their wish to carry through this legislation with the support of Her Majesty's Opposition.
Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will have a later opportunity to look at this legislation when it has been in place for some time. The best thing would be if my noble friend could say whether that is feasible, but I doubt that that can be written into a Bill. I hope that in 12 months' time we may have a debate on the functioning of the Bill. If we can have something of that sort, I shall be warm in my support for Her Majesty's Government in relation to this Motion.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, at a time when rules are being set aside, it is comforting to know that some rules are in place and are being applied and that there are also mechanisms to circumvent that, if I can put it like that.
I start my remarks by apologising to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, because last night I was unable to place my name on the list of speakers for the Second Reading debate and so I should also like to speak in the Gap. I know that that will restrict me to four minutes and no doubt that will come as a tremendous measure of relief to your Lordships' House.
But I went to the Chief Whip's Office last night at seven o'clock thinking that it would be polite to let the Chief Whip know that I should be speaking today. I found that the list of speakers had been opened and had already closed. That was in relation to a debate as to which, in theory, there was no certainty that it would take place today. But we have heard--and a number of noble Lords alluded to it--that there has been an agreement between the two Front Benches that this legislation shall go through.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has already alluded to the fact that the Government had some notice that this year would be the eightieth anniversary of the Easter Rising. But we can see also that the Government have had effectively eight weeks' notice of the fact that the ceasefire has broken down. It is only two weeks since we debated the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. In that debate, I referred to a problem which appeared to present itself because of the requirement following a European Court decision to change the operation of the mechanism in relation to exclusion orders. At this stage I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for responding to my comments and for subsequently writing to me.
While I accept the assurance that she has given from her point of view, I still believe that there is a problem with that particular piece of legislation and effectively we are losing an opportunity to consider that. That could have been included in a Bill such as this. We could have taken that through both Houses of Parliament, not necessarily in the two or three months which it normally takes legislation to pass through, but we could have done it over a period of several weeks. That would have enabled Parliament to scrutinise this legislation and, if necessary, add other parts to ensure that we were protecting ourselves from adverse criticism.
We must ask ourselves why the Government are bringing forward such legislation at this time. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the fact that they are facing a by-election in South Staffordshire. Of course, I could not possibly comment on that. We are advised that the Home Secretary and the Shadow Home Secretary have received security briefings which indicate that there is an urgent necessity for the legislation. While it would be wrong at this stage in the debate to look at the detail of the Bill, if there is some security information which is of such a precipitate nature, is it right that we should be thinking in terms of legislation rather than actually warning the British public of the information which is available? Again, I could not possibly comment.
While I support virtually everything that has been said by other speakers, perhaps I may pose a question to the Minister. Can he say whether it would be possible for the House to adjourn for a period after the Committee stage, where, I suspect, no amendments will be passed, which means that there will be no Report stage? To ensure that it has the ability to do as much justice as possible to our responsibilities of scrutinising the legislation, I believe that it might be useful for the House to have a gap between the Committee stage and Third Reading to give your Lordships, having taken cognisance of what is said in Committee, the opportunity to table manuscript amendments which could then be considered on Third Reading. I make that suggestion in the hope that it will be recognised that what I am seeking to do is to protect the good name of this House as regards its reputation for scrutinising government legislation effectively.
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