|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Monson: I should like to give qualified support to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Experience teaches us that rushed legislation is nearly always defective legislation in ways large or small. However, having said that, I somewhat agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that three months is rather a tight time-scale. I think that four months, which would take us up to 3rd August, would be preferable. In essence, however, I support the amendment.
Lord Annan: I, too, support the principle enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. I am entirely behind the Government in bringing forward this Bill. Presumably on advice from intelligence, they realised that it was necessary to pass it quickly. Nevertheless, there is always the problem that emergency regulations tend to stand for ever. Let us not forget what happened
I do not believe that it would be wise to have an amendment of this kind, but when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, considers these matters I hope that he will address himself to the question of when one should recognise that emergency legislation is no longer necessary. I say that because, although this emergency has arisen as a result of the activities of the IRA, I fear that there will never be a time in our lifetime when terrorists from some quarter or some country or another will not operate in this country.
Earl Russell: This House is a revising Chamber. We live by the creed that, right or wrong, a Bill might as well be as well drafted as possible. Nobody's initial drafting is perfect, and even in the very brief Committee stage that we have had, we have detected one or two ways in which, if we discussed the Bill quietly around a table in private, we could succeed in improving it.
However, we have not succeeded in ventilating a number of other questions. In particular and for the benefit of those of us who are not quite up to pace, if I may put it like that, it would be nice to know exactly what the Bill adds--or what it does not add--to the existing powers of the police. For all those reasons, it would be an extremely good thing in matters where liberty may be at stake if we could consider the Bill together to make it as good as possible. We have not had the opportunity to do that today, but I hope that we shall have such an opportunity fairly soon.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said that he might be inclined to give the Minister more credit than she was entitled to. I have sometimes been accused of giving the Minister less credit than she is entitled to, but during the Second Reading debate I was very disappointed by her response to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. The noble Baroness said that the difference between the 1974 legislation and this legislation was that that was new legislation whereas this was--I quote because I wrote it down--"new powers to build on the existing framework of anti-terrorist legislation". I did not think that our intention was to establish an "existing framework of anti-terrorist legislation". I thought that the whole intention was to have only that anti-terrorist legislation which was necessary to fulfil the task of combating terrorism, and that when that task was reduced or eliminated there would be no anti-terrorist legislation. The whole of our debate as between civil safety and civil liberty has been on that basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, is right that temporary legislation tends to become permanent. Anyone who has been involved in local government knows that there is nothing so permanent as temporary planning permission. It is virtually impossible to get rid of it. I suspect that the same is true of anti-terrorist legislation. However, we should try, and the particular virtue of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Stoddart is that it raises that issue in Committee.
I happen to think that my noble friend's amendment is mistaken. I think that he is wrong to choose three months. That is too short a period. My noble friend is also wrong to suggest the stick of the Act ceasing to have effect. We have never suggested that the Act should cease to have effect before any further consideration takes place. However, the idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that there should be an opportunity for full parliamentary consideration of the provisions of this Act within the next year before the order comes up next March as a continuance order seems sensible. I speak personally, not having had the time to consult my honourable friends in another place. Indeed, it seems a more sensible suggestion than that put forward by my noble friend. On that basis and in the light of developments since my noble friend tabled his amendment, I hope that he may see fit to withdraw it.
Nevertheless, some further scrutiny will be required. It will have to be parliamentary scrutiny because I am sure that those who say that legislation brought forward in this way is almost bound to have defects are right. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby has been in his seat twice during the past week to give proof of that when referring to the defects of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which was rushed through in a similar way. We would do well to take account of the reconsideration of that Act which has been called for on many occasions and the amount of parliamentary time that has been devoted to such a reconsideration when we consider the possibility that we may have got something wrong in this legislation. I think that that is highly likely. The Government should recognise that fact and stretch out an olive branch to parliamentary reconsideration, which is what my noble friend Lord Stoddart is suggesting.
Viscount Slim: I apologise for not being present throughout the debate, but I have had other duties. I hate to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, with whom I agree on so many things. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, and I would agree on very much.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that the problem of terrorism will be with us for the rest of our lives. I believe that. I believe that we are starting to see the commencement of other forms of terrorism which could well be worse than what we have suffered from the IRA.
It has been my experience over 25 years in your Lordships' House--where I have learnt so much--that it has an ability to take matters through the usual channels quite fast when necessary. Your Lordships' House also has the ability to come back to something if a Bill or amendment has gone too far. I should like to think that most noble Lords will see the grave dangers upon us, which may well increase, and agree that immediate steps should be taken to get this right. We cannot have true liberty until we destroy terrorism. Therefore, the actions that we take must be for the moment or for the long term. I have faith in your Lordships that it will be viewed in that way. We are better able to handle this particular question than another place where there is a lot of noise, whingeing or
Baroness Blatch: I am deeply grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, for what he has said. I believe that it makes it so much easier for me to reply to the question in the context set for me by the noble Viscount.
I have to deal with the amendment that is on the table before me, not all the other suggestions that may well be preferable options. I believe that I have dealt with them in passing. This amendment provides that the Bill should lapse in three months' time. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, has suggested that perhaps three months is a bit too short and it should be four months. That will take us into August. It would mean either special sittings of the House in August to cope with what would be almost immediately a vacuum--these measures would not be on the statute book and the police would not have these powers to counter terrorism--or the powers would remain on the statute book until the House sat again in the autumn and they would be at the mercy of the parliamentary timetable.
Lord Monson: I believe that the noble Baroness has misinterpreted the point. We were not suggesting that the powers should lapse but that time should be given to devise perhaps a better Bill and one more thought through in the three or four months between the Easter Recess and the time that the House rises in July.
Baroness Blatch: I understand what the noble Lord has said. However, this amendment says that the Bill should lapse in three months' time. It will then be for Parliament to consider what to do in the absence of the Bill, given that "three months" is literally a matter of a few weeks away. One solution raised after the Statement in another place on Monday--it is no more convincing today--was that if the powers were needed, as I believe they are, they would certainly be needed for as long as the Prevention of Terrorism Act was required. That Act is already subject to annual renewal. Debates on the renewal are informed by the report of the independent reviewer who scrutinises its operation. I cannot see how it would help us to debate again the content of this Bill after three months when there would be very little material on which to base any conclusions about its use. It would certainly help the terrorist if the powers were allowed to lapse, even for a very short time.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page