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Lord Elton: I wish to avail myself of the noble Baroness's invitation to respond. I remain regretful that it is necessary to decide the matter this evening, not merely because of my anxieties about what has been said, but because it is a pity that we have to make a decision before we know what the Government's response will be to Amendment No. 97A. That amendment, tabled in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, would remove subsection (5), which enables the Secretary of State to rub out everything that we have just said and put in place a new category. That seems deeply disturbing.
I do not suppose the noble Baroness is prepared to give us a preview of next week's performance; therefore, I would prefer to return to this matter at a later Committee sitting, which would mean recommitment. The noble Baroness shakes her head. In that case, we will be arguing about the same part of the Bill, not in this box-and-cox, chop-and-change,
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very efficient way that we have in Committee, but with each noble Lord restricted to saying one thing and hoping that they got it right in the debate. That is a great pity, given the importance of what we are now to decide.
Lord Lucas: It was not me who started this debate at a quarter to seven. It is open to the noble Baroness, if she is feeling tired, to adjourn the Committee in the middle of this discussion and resume the debate later in the same way as one would if a Division in the House occurred during a Grand Committee sitting in the Moses Room. As the noble Baroness has decided to start the debate now, I want to see it done properly, even though it may take until half-past eight. This is the first amendment in a new part of the Bill. I would not have made the decision to proceed with the debate if I had been on the Front Bench. I am sorry that the noble Baroness has taken that decision, but she must bear the consequences: we have started on something new and we want to debate it properly.
The noble Baroness has said that if the threat is serious enough, however likely or unlikely, it must be able to trigger this part of the Bill. She is saying that it can be something entirely imaginary or illusory. The Government have so many powers and sources of information that they are capable of creating the illusion of a serious threat to this country. Indeed, one does not have to look back many months to see them do exactly that. We have just been to war as a result of an illusion created by this Government.
It would take only the creation of a similar illusion to trigger this part of the Bill. By refusing to make this something that requires a serious threat, we are taking one step towards making it easier for someone to misappropriate this part of the Bill.
Yes, we will come in detail to the safeguards that the noble Baroness alleges are in later parts of the Bill. But just to pick up, for example, on one thing that she just said, she relies on the controls exercised by Parliament. But for one month in every four or five years there is no Parliament. It is a time when, for instance, Al'Qaeda has chosen to attack Spain. If it attacked us at a similar juncture, there would be no Parliament.
It would be very easy in the aftermath of a serious attack for someone who was so inclined to say, "It is inappropriate at this stage to proceed with elections. It is inappropriate at this stage that we should be troubled by the operation of the courts. We have to concentrate on ridding ourselves of this menace". It is open to such abuse. We have to be so careful about making sure that we can rescue our democracy from someone who intends to misuse this legislation.
We should not hurry over it. We should not be tempted by the noble Baroness's suggestion that we should get things over early merely because she has started something with a quarter of an hour to go, which would properly take a lot longer to debate. We need to consider this aspect properly. It is a very important step to follow her down the road and say that we do not require a real threat. As long as it is a threat of something sufficiently serious, imagination will do.
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House adjourned at twenty-six minutes before eight o'clock.
Further to my Statement to the House on 24 March 2004 (Official Report, Commons, cols. 885-93) concerning the disclosure of court papers to the Minister for Children, and with the agreement of my noble friend Lady Ashton and my right honourable friend the Minister for Children, I would like to make a further Statement as to how the Government propose to change the law in relation to disclosures to and by Members of Parliament of information relating to family court proceedings concerning children.
The Government have concluded that the legislation governing the rules on the disclosure of information relating to family court proceedings concerning children is too restrictive and requires amendment and clarification. The amendments designed to achieve this were tabled to the Children Bill by my right honourable friend the Minister for
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Children on 7 October. They will, of course, be considered in proceedings on that Bill in the usual way.
In developing proposals for changes to the law relating to disclosure of information relating to family court proceedings concerning children, policy development has been based on a primary principle of the welfare of the child, supported by four further considerations, which are:
The Government's main aim in considering amendments to the law is that the welfare of the child must be the paramount concern. We recognise that parties to family proceedings and others may have a legitimate interest, in limited circumstances, in sharing information. Our broad policy intention is to permit the disclosure of information relating to family proceedings where it is necessary to allow:
This list is not exhaustive. Further background is given in the written policy statement which has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses by my noble friend Lady Ashton and my right honourable friend the Minister for Children, which explains the effect of the Government's amendments and sets out the Government's thinking on this issue and the proposed way ahead if the amendments tabled are agreed to by Parliament.
Briefly, the proposed amendments would do three things. First, they would amend Section 97(2) of the Children Act 1989 to limit the criminal offence of publication of information which identifies or is likely to identify a child as being involved in family proceedings, or the address or school of such a child, to publications to the public or section of the public. Secondly, Section 12(4) of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 would be clarified to make it clear that where rules of court specify that certain disclosures can
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be made, such disclosures would not be a contempt of court. Thirdly, a series of amendments would be made to current rule-making powers to clarify that rules can be made specifying the circumstances in which disclosures may be made.
Honourable Members will recall that I undertook to consult the honourable Member for Beaconsfield, the shadow Attorney-General, on this matter. I have also consulted the honourable Member for Torridge and West Devon, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on legal affairs. I have also kept the Speaker and the Chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges informed.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): We have today laid before Parliament the 12th annual report of the Firearms
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Consultative Committee, copies of which have been placed in the House Library.
The work of the committee has already helped to inform the consultation paper we issued in May on future firearms controls and we will be considering its outstanding recommendations alongside other responses.
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