Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Elton: Noble Lords have heard in this Chamber the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, describe how the Government of the Sudan arrange for the inhabitants of the southern part of that country to be attacked and have their property and, in some cases, their loved ones taken away from them. To resist that in that country is an act of rebellion. To resist the action of central government in this country is also an act of rebellion. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out that unless the legislation proposed is absolutely clear nobody will know until cases have been brought whether supporting the inhabitants of the southern part of that country is a criminal act.

I do not want to add to the catalogue - and I do not expect the Minister to answer every hypothetical case this evening--but it seems to me that we have demonstrated what was clearly demonstrated in the recent debate on the question of whether or not to lower the age of consent for homosexual activity in an earlier Bill--that is, that to legislate in haste on a matter which is complex, controversial and complicated is a very great error.

It seems to me that we all want legislation of this sort, but what we do not want to have around our necks is flawed legislation of this sort which can tie the hands of the many--and good--people who wish to further the causes of peace and prosperity throughout the world. But that is what is in danger of happening if the Committee agrees these clauses. I hope that before the evening is over, if we have not decided to drop them, the Government will have agreed not merely to review them, but to give parliamentary time to revising them, if that is necessary, within the next 12 months.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I support the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Elton. I do not believe that this Bill is the proper vehicle for what the Government have in mind. It is the antithesis of democracy suddenly to bring forward in the context of Northern Ireland and its problems a far-reaching provision which affects boundaries far and wide of Northern Ireland and the troubles there.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, when he made his Second Reading speech, asked a question which was not answered. He asked whether the Government would be bringing forward these provisions in Clauses 5, 6 and 7 by means of a recall of Parliament if the Government did not need, or felt they did not need, to legislate on Northern Ireland and, in particular, following the

3 Sept 1998 : Column 119

Omagh bombing. That question was not answered. It requires an answer. I believe that my noble friend should give us that answer. My guess is that the answer is no.

There has been adequate opportunity in the past for legislation to be enacted. We have heard that there was a Private Member's Bill. It was killed in the House of Commons. But there has been time since then, under this Government, to reintroduce those provisions if the Government believed that it was necessary to do so. They have not done that. It is not good politics and it is not good democratic politics to use the provisions of this Bill for that purpose.

I do not believe--and I cannot find anybody else who believes--that this Bill is so urgent that it could not await a Queen's Speech to contain the legislation in order that the House of Commons and this House could have a proper Bill put before it with the opportunity to debate those very wide-ranging provisions which have deep implications for freedom and for those who sought succour in this country. We should discuss the Bill with a proper Second Reading, Committee and Report stages and Third Reading so that we can consider in good time the very serious implications which have been pointed out in great detail by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

I shall not go through that again. One needs only to mention East Timor as an example. And what about Iraq? Before 1991 we were supporting Iraq. What do we now do about Iraq? Before 1991 we should have been prosecuting people who were trying to undermine Saddam Hussein. What do we now do? Do we prosecute them now because the law in Iraq is exactly the same now as it was pre-1991 and the invasion of Kuwait? Therefore, one has only to mention one or two instances to realise the problems which may arise.

At present, the terrorists, or supposed terrorists, who are organising are Moslems. This legislation may be perceived as racist. It may not be seen as such by people in this Chamber, but outside it and in certain parts of this country, it may very well be seen as racist legislation directed at a particular religion and set of people.

Those are the reasons that I am opposed to this legislation. I do not believe that a Labour Government, whether they call it new, old or whatever they call it, should be introducing such legislation in a manner which does not enable it to be properly considered under parliamentary procedures.

I do not know whether the noble will press the amendment to a vote, but if he does so I shall be hard put to oppose it.

Lord Monson: The noble Lords, Lord Avebury, Lord Elton and Lord Stoddart of Swindon, have made some extremely telling points. Realistically, I do not suppose there is any chance that the Government will accept all the amendments in this grouping tonight. However, perhaps they might consider the very modest Amendment No.31 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who is no longer with us. That amendment would not seriously dent Clause 5 but would confine its operation to conspiracies that might involve the death of

3 Sept 1998 : Column 120

innocent civilians. However, it would no longer cover conspiracies involving non-violent plans such as the disruption of communications. When it is studied thoroughly it will be seen to be an extremely modest amendment. That is perhaps a compromise that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, can accept.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: Perhaps I may put to the noble Lord who is to reply a question that I do not believe to be pedantic in character. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that someone might act in support of a worthy libertarian movement. My noble friend Lord Elton gave the example of support of Christians in the Southern Sudan. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that it must be wrong to wait upon the decision of the Attorney-General to discover whether or not it was lawful. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply can comment on my understanding. I believe that under the provisions of the Bill there is no question but that it would be unlawful. The Bill contains the saver that such proceedings cannot be instituted except with the leave of the Attorney-General. Therefore, it will be unlawful to do that. The only matter at issue is whether or not proceedings can be instituted. If my understanding is correct, does the noble Lord believe that position to be satisfactory?

Lord Elton: It is not as simple as that. Even if the Attorney-General decides that it should not be proceeded with the Home Secretary may take a different view.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I am not very happy about the way this has been proposed, but the reality is that the Government will say that the situation is one of urgency, that not all terrorists are benign and that there is a need to introduce some kind of legislation to ensure that Britain, and London in particular, is not seen as a haven for their enterprises. I am not wholly convinced by that, but the reality is that this Bill has had its Second Reading. I agree with the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. A specific offence is prescribed and discretion is given by reason of the requirement to obtain the fiat of the Attorney-General. The Home Secretary is also involved in that process.

Can my noble friend outline the principal rationale that is likely to be applied by the Attorney-General in approaching these matters to deal with the considerations with which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was concerned? He referred to the position of Nelson Mandela in the days of apartheid. Many other examples have been quoted. Could that situation be taken into account in a principled way so we could understand in advance how the Attorney-General would approach these matters? There is a world of difference between the situation described by the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Avebury, in which people are fighting and occasionally have recourse to violent methods and a situation in which there are plots and conspiracies devised in this country to ensure that some terrible violence is done abroad to innocent people. If

3 Sept 1998 : Column 121

my noble friend can illustrate how the Attorney-General is likely to approach these matters it may be of some help to the House in approaching this issue.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: It was not my intention to intervene in this debate, particularly at this late hour. However, some of us are confronted with a serious dilemma. I believe that more international co-operation is required in reducing and combating crime. I should like to see more of it than we have already, and have said so on a number of occasions. I should certainly regret it if this country were seen as a haven for terrorists who could find no shelter elsewhere.

However, the kind of cases raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, are in a different category. Some of us have spent many years of our lives supporting liberation movements in other countries. I declare a personal interest. I was a foundation member of Amnesty International in 1961 and was for some three years chairman of the British section of Amnesty. It would be appalling if we put an end to the reputation of this country as a refuge for those in other countries who belong to liberation movements and who would most certainly be endangered if they could not find a refuge. This country has benefited substantially from the haven that it has offered to refugees from other countries in those circumstances. The difficulty is that, unless my noble friend can point to something which has so far escaped me, the Bill does not distinguish between those two situations.

If the answer is that the Attorney-General will have a controlling influence because his consent is required, two questions arise. The first was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. If one is going to take a course of action which could conceivably be in breach of the law, as indeed some of us would have done over the years had this provision been on the statute book, one needs to know in advance whether one is liable to be prosecuted and punished accordingly.

There is a second problem that has puzzled me. This may not be the point at which to raise it and, if so, I apologise. Subsection (6) of Clause 5 indicates that there can be situations in which the Home Secretary can provide that a prosecution should proceed notwithstanding the fact that it has not received the consent of the Attorney-General. Can my noble friend give an example of the kind of situation that is contemplated by that subsection? Surely it cannot be intended that the case has already been submitted to the Attorney-General and he has declined to consent. It cannot be a case of the Home Secretary overruling the Attorney-General. I assume that it must be a case where for some reason it is not practicable to submit it to the Attorney-General or to the Solicitor-General acting on his behalf. It is difficult to envisage a case where the prosecution is so urgent that it is not even possible to submit it to the Law Officers. I wonder whether my noble friend can assist us on that point. If he could let us off the hook, we do appreciate the difficulties at this stage of supporting an amendment, but we find a very real difficulty.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page