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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. The reason is that if your Lordships want to make amendments to the Bill, the other place must have an opportunity to consider them and they must then return here. That will not be possible within the timetable of this week, bearing in mind the other business. The alternative is for your Lordships' House to sit next week and to invite, with infinite respect, another place to do the same. I should be happy to invite your Lordships to sit next week and ask for a volunteer to request another place to do the same.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord properly referred to a number of precedents but perhaps I may put to him another. In 1974, when the Prevention of Terrorism Bill was rushed through the House of Commons and through this House, the then Home Secretary, my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, assured the House of Commons that the Bill would be reintroduced in the next Session and be discussed as normal with all legislation. Why are not the Government prepared to give a similar undertaking today?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, because we have not yet reached the final stages of the Bill. There has been substantial discussion of it and your Lordships will have to take a decision. The Opposition in another place gave us an assurance, and delivered on the promise, that we would have their support. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, gave me a similar indication in the Chamber not on this but on a related Bill the day before the Bill was introduced and a
I have a little further information. I realise it interrupts what I was seeking to say but it is right to give it to your Lordships in response to what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. Inquiries have been made and I am told that the overspill record was delivered soon after 9.30 a.m. and that the noble and learned Lord was right in saying that there were missing pages. They were delivered about 20 minutes ago. It is no good to complain. I am giving your Lordships the fullest information that I genuinely have. I should not like to say, "I have in my pocket this piece of paper". I am making a New Year's resolution, beginning tomorrow, that on future occasions I shall cease to try to be helpful.
At least two noble Lords want to intervene. I shall give way, first, if I may, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, as he has the great distinction of being a former Attorney-General.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord realise how proud he makes me to be a member of his profession? Can he even visualise the thunderbolts that he would have been hurling had he been on this side of the Chamber? Does he accept that he is making a beautiful argument in favour of form rather than substance? In his study of such Hansards as have been produced in the time available, did he note the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who said:
Whatever the position may be with regard to the possibilities for future business in the next two or three days, does that arouse in the noble and learned Lord's mind the real belief that what has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is now the right way forward for democratic and sensible government?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for the support given to me by an illustrious predecessor. I do not believe that I am simply making a case without form and substance. If I am, your Lordships must adjudicate upon it. Of course, I know what certain noble and learned Lords have said. I repeat that the business was agreed last Wednesday and Thursday and the Bill was introduced in the House last Tuesday. I do not believe that anyone who stayed here last night until twenty past five in the morning could suggest that a fair scrutiny had not been given to the Bill.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Would it be unduly cynical of me to wonder whether the urgency behind the proposals that we are discussing derives, as of course it does in the other place, more from a fear of the tabloids than from a fear of football hooligans?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not believe that that is a worthy reflection of the present state of matters. There is significant concern in this country about the serious damage that a small, unrepresentative number of persons do to our international reputation. However, if the noble Lord is right, his remedy is to vote against the Bill and he has had ample opportunity to do so.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, metaphorically if not literally, perhaps I may, as a very Cross-Bencher, ask a question. He says that the usual channels are not infallible. I make no comment about that. Does it follow also that, when they are proved to be fallible, they cannot retreat and regroup? That appears to be what is being said.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not believe that it is. I was trying to say--and it is obviously my infelicitous forensic skill that has led the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, astray--that if we want to run our business in the way that we do, based on consent and on honouring bargains, some people occasionally may be aggrieved. That is the fundamental point that I sought to make about the running of our House. I believe that when I sit down the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is entitled to his observations.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General for the case that he has made. I am disappointed in four respects. First, I consider that the Government still do not appreciate the importance of the principle of proper consideration of legislation before it is passed and the crucial part that the intervals between stages of legislation play in that consideration. Secondly, I do not believe that the noble and learned Lord has made the case that this Bill merits, or ever has merited, the suspension of those procedures. Thirdly, I regard it as unfortunate that it is felt that in the consideration of legislation the obligations entered into by the usual channels should be regarded as paramount. Fourthly, it is an undoubted fact that this legislation has not been considered properly and now, whatever happens immediately, it cannot be.
I can say only that I very much hope that the sunset clause, which at least will limit the damage which this legislation could impose over a period of time, will be passed. I hope also that my intervention will have signposted the feelings of this House that the
Resolved in the affirmative, and the manuscript amendment agreed to accordingly.