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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the Minister has explained that Amendment No. 10, standing in my name and those of my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, addresses the same point. It seeks to reduce the second half of the sunset period to one year, making a total of two years.
Last night I advanced a more restrictive formula but did not press it. The Minister suggested that we should try to obtain a greater measure of agreement. There is agreement between the Liberal Democrat and our own Benches but, unfortunately, that does not include the Minister. However, he has--and I acknowledge and am grateful for this--moved from four years to three.
My point is that, first, in any of its formulations the sunset clause affects only the powers in new Sections 14B, 21A and 21B. Those who were with us through the night now know those sections in detail. We know that they are novel--the Minister has just said so. We know that they are dangerous from the libertarian's point of view, and we know that they are full of practical problems to an acute degree. In some respects, they are also suspect in relation to European legislation, the European Convention on Human Rights and so on.
In particular, to start with new Sections 21A and 21B appeared to be essential to the Bill. However, a few minutes ago in a previous debate the Minister described them as "longstop" measures. Therefore, their importance in the Bill has retreated somewhat, but they are still important for their novelty, their libertarian problems and their practical problems. However, the question is: how long should they be allowed to run for this experiment? As I made clear during debate on an earlier amendment, our acceptance of the experiment is based on the notion that it is an experiment and that, given the nature of the
Last night we understood that the provisions will apply to approximately 20 international games a year, involving England playing overseas in various competitions and friendly matches and also significant British clubs playing overseas. All those games may give rise to problems. Therefore, over the two years as a whole some 40 games will take place, together with some 40 experiments relating to the provisions. During that time we shall be able to discover whether the libertarian dangers are as great as are supposed and whether the practical and legal problems can be overcome.
From what we read in the newspapers, apparently two years will easily clear the next election and take us into the next Parliament, whatever that may bring. I believe that a two-year period provides the best solution; that is, one year until the affirmative order, which is agreed on both sides, and one further year until the expiration of the primary legislation which will require further legislation to renew it. That further legislation should not prove too difficult if the experiment works well.
Finally, I want to clarify my understanding of the position concerning these two amendments. Amendment No. 9A--the manuscript amendment recently moved by the Government--provides for three years. Whatever the result of the House's decision on that amendment, we can still move Amendment No. 10 to reduce the period to one year. As I understand it, that is the advice of the Clerks, which the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip gave us. Of course, we believe that three years are better than four and, so far as I am concerned, we shall accept Amendment No. 9A, although I must let the noble Lord, Lord McNally, speak for himself. However, I believe that we shall also wish to press Amendment No. 10 to reduce the whole of the sunset clause period to two years.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask a further technical question. Is this how the process works? In goes three years. There is then a new amendment which states two years. Out goes three years and in pops two? Is that how it works? If so, that would be the shortest period that I have ever heard stated in an Act of Parliament.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I believe that my noble friend has stated the position correctly. Amendment No. 9A will be put. If my opinion prevails, it will be accepted and the figure will be lowered to three. Subsequently, I shall move formally Amendment No. 10, reducing the period to two years in total--that is, one year plus one year. The House will then no doubt decide whether or not we should take that further step which I recommend.
From the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I believe that it will have been noticed that there is now among those of us who were here in the wee small hours a certain camaraderie, rather like Henry V's troops at Agincourt--we band of brothers. Indeed, there was a point last night when I started to feel brotherly love towards the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit--something that I was not expecting.
I do not know whether it is by accident or by design that the usual channels have allowed us to make our decision in this way. As it seems a rather ingenious solution, I assume that it must have been an accident. We have an opportunity to balance the two arguments. One, which was made last night by the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, who has spoken with increasing authority during the passage of the Bill, is about giving the Bill time to bed in. The other, made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and others, stresses the concerns that the civil rights implications of the Bill are so fundamental and the way in which it is being taken through the House at a gallop is so worrying that it should stay on the statute book for the shortest possible time before it is examined again with the full rigours of parliamentary scrutiny.
The Liberal Democrats come down in favour of the latter argument. We shall acquiesce in the passage of Amendment No. 9A, but only to give it the shortest parliamentary life, because we intend to seek the House's approval for Amendment No. 10. Given the way in which the Bill has been put through and the civil liberties issues that it has raised, it should be brought back to Parliament at the earliest possible moment.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I welcome a new Tory Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit of Philadelphia--the city of brotherly love. I even extend a fraction of brotherly love to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on this issue, although it is up to him whether he accepts it. He has at least moved a small way, which is an improvement. As the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Cope, have said, there is too much that is wrong with the Bill and too much that is bad in it. If it had been up to me, it would have gone the way of the Test Acts, but it will probably go through. At least if we do not get two years, we have got three. For that and for very small mercies, let us be grateful.
I am no fan of the Bill, but it seems that it will be passed, so we should allow the reasonable time that the Minister has suggested for the sunset clause. I doubt that the purpose of the Bill will be achieved, although I also have a somewhat conflicting fear that it may be, but at the price of unreasonable and dangerous damage to the civil liberties of a number of innocent people.
The period allowed by Amendment No. 10 would be inadequate. The issue is not just the number of international matches that would be covered--let us say 24. We will not necessarily be able to tell whether the Bill is useful, effective and valuable--or otherwise--immediately after a match.
A number of points have been made on that issue by the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord McNally. There will be challenges in the courts and questions about the European Convention on Human Rights, which may not be resolved as soon as the match is over. After we have spent however many hours it was that your Lordships spent in Committee last night and further hours today, it would be unwise to leave an inadequate period for an experiment--to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Cope--to see whether the Bill has good effects.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, may have used the word "experiment", but I do not believe that Mr Straw would associate himself with the idea that the Bill is an experiment. That is why I asked about independent evaluation. The problem is that civil servants will be under immense pressure to say that it has been a triumphant success. That is why we need an independent agency to evaluate it and publish a report to the Home Office. I hope that the noble Lord agrees that it is best to persuade the Minister that that is desirable.
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