Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Thomas of Gresford: We support the concept of a review. It is the drafting to which we on these Benches take exception, because, with an arrogance not unknown on the Benches near to us, the Government have assumed in subsection (3) that neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Opposition will be the leader of the Liberal Democrats. It is our entire purpose to ensure that, in the coming general election which everyone
7 Mar 2005 : Column 575
seems to be talking about, the right honourable Charles Kennedy will occupy position (a) on that list. In those circumstances, we do not particularly care who is in position (b).

With a bit of drafting, I have no doubt that we will be able to come to an agreement with the Opposition.

Lord Clinton-Davis: The noble Lord is being a little optimistic.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has spoken of the speed with which this part of the Bill is being considered. I entirely agree with the notion of a review, but I am not convinced by subsection (3), which is also misconceived. For that reason, this sunset clause should be taken away and reconsidered.

The Earl of Onslow: The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is perfectly reasonable. He would be more likely to achieve his object if the leader of the Liberal Democrats had bothered to vote on this Bill in the Commons. As we are going round making little party political jokes, I could not resist that one.

We must have a review. I suggest that, especially with a sunset clause, a review of the Act should be put in as well. Then, when this Bill dies and goes to the crematorium, as I hope it will, a body of intelligent opinion will have seen some of the details and difficulties faced by the security authorities, and the Government—whoever they may be after 5 May—will be in a better position to produce a proper, well thought-out Bill to deal with the problems we appear to face.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I wrongly referred to the provision as a "sunset clause". I apologise for that.

The Government have to think again about this. It is quite impossible that the provisions that have suddenly been thought of should appear in the Bill. For that reason, we ought to think again about the situation.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: As the last reviewer of terrorist legislation, appointed by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, I entirely support the suggestion of a new review to replace mine of 10 years ago.

Clearly, the Bill should, and could, have been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. As it was not, it should certainly be subject to post-legislative review. I support the amendment.

Lord Crickhowell: So far, I have not taken part in any of the debates on this Bill. I am prompted to do so because I believe this is of extreme importance.

I sat through a large part of our debate last Thursday. I hope the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will not take it amiss if I say he put up a brilliant batting performance on an extremely sticky wicket. Today, however, he was faced with the problem that his colleagues in another place had decided that there should be no more concessions, and
7 Mar 2005 : Column 576
he had to defend a position that became increasingly indefensible as the debate wore on. He found himself with no allies, and indeed some surprising opponents behind him, on his own Benches. He was forced to repeat the argument again and again in an increasingly uncomfortable position. We all know this is something that happens to government spokesmen in this House from time to time, when they are forced to defend the indefensible and have not got the scope to make the necessary adaptations that might convince the House.

Then the Government faced a massive defeat on the critical vote; a great chunk of the Bill was suddenly altered and the Government had to respond in a very short time to a fundamentally changed Bill. It seems extremely probable, given that situation, that we will end up with a flawed Bill. One lesson we have surely learnt on numerous occasions in recent years is that rushed legislation produces bad legislation and unexpected results. If ever there was a case of a rushed Bill, this is it.

Indeed, we have another example of a debate that revealed flaws. It was certainly fun to listen to, although whether it was quite so much fun for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I am not sure. The debate introduced by my noble friends on the Scottish question again revealed a number of extraordinary inconsistencies in the Bill.

It seems to me that there is an overwhelming case for a provision of this kind. To comfort the Liberal Democrat Benches, some consideration may need to be given to the wording of the new clause before we reach the next clause. I am not sure that I die on the particular representation on the committee to be appointed. That there needs to be a committee, I feel absolutely certain about; that there needs to be a time limit under which the Bill is effective, I am equally certain. Parliament must be given the opportunity to look again at the whole question in proper time so that we can have legislation that is likely to endure.

There was a notable speech from the Cross Benches on Thursday about the impossibility of withdrawing legislation once it was in force if only because of giving the wrong signal to terrorists. The example was given of withdrawing ships in the South Atlantic and the Falklands War. As one who was in the Cabinet at the time, I remember all too vividly that particular example.

There is a real problem here. We need the opportunity of thinking how we get permanent or semi-permanent legislation on to the statute book which will not cause huge problems and a huge attack on our civil liberties. Therefore, I strongly support my noble friend in this amendment.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I, too, support my noble friend Lord Kingsland in this amendment. I am sorry that the Liberal Democrats took offence at the drafting; I read it assuming that the Prime Minister might be in this House rather than the other place. Given that the other place has gone home for the evening and we are still here, considering legislation which it has not had a chance to see because of the
7 Mar 2005 : Column 577
amendments, this place seems to be taking on a role that is rather more advanced than that of the other place.

More seriously, I have one concern about the drafting. I think it is an excellent idea that the legislation should be subject to review and that that should be done by a committee of Privy Counsellors in the way that the amendment suggests. However, it is not clear to me what happens when the report is laid before Parliament by the committee. Our experience of the previous legislation was that the Joint Committee of my noble friend Lord Newton made excellent recommendations which the Government chose to ignore. Will my noble friend think about at least ensuring that there is a proper debate and a requirement to have some response from the Government? All too often people produce very learned advice which is subsequently ignored.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I am expecting to find that the Government have allowed this debate to develop as it has so that they may show their open-mindedness and flexibility by conceding the point. In what the prayer book calls the sure and certain hope of that, I shall address your Lordships for only a very short time.

A constant theme of these debates has been to point out the folly of approaching these delicate matters in unseemly haste. One would not wish the Government to add arrogance to obstinacy and folly by resisting the amendment, which calls for a review in a timely period. I confidently hope that the noble and learned Lord, who has shown such flexibility and good humour today, will fulfil my expectations.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I apologise for arriving a few minutes after the beginning of this debate but, as some noble Lords will know, I am somewhat hampered in moving rapidly around the Chamber at the moment. I wanted to make a very brief contribution because, although I fully support, as indeed our Benches do, Amendment No. 169, there should be added to it an understanding accepted by all sides of the House.

The proposal is that there should be a review and that that review should be undertaken by a group of Privy Counsellors appointed by the leaders of the respective parties and by the Prime Minister. My concern is not so much with the idea of a review, which I accept to be a good one; it is whether the Government would feel committed to taking that review very seriously. We are well aware that there has already been a review of Part 4 of the anti-terrorism Act 2001. That review, which I have read very carefully and regard as one of the most outstanding reports ever put before Parliament in recent years, was of course the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree. It consisted of a group of distinguished Privy Counsellors, among whom, if I may pick out just one name, our noble colleague Lady Hayman, was a prominent contributor.

It was an excellent report. Those of you who have read it and re-read it recently will know that Part 4 of the anti-terrorism Act 2001 went into extremely detailed
7 Mar 2005 : Column 578
proposals that were carefully thought through. It covered a range of issues including different kinds of trial that could be conducted in camera or with a security-cleared judge and alternatives, which the committee clearly indicated would be regarded as second-best. Nevertheless, the report consistently and with a great sense of duty covered the whole of the area that it was asked to do.

The report made two striking observations. The first was that the picking out of foreign nationals was a great weakness in the anti-terrorism Act 2001. In other words, the committee showed the prescience to recognise that that would become a major bone of contention. Secondly, the report made a clear indication that there would be possible alternatives that would not require derogation from the European convention. It indicated that no other country in Europe had required that to deal with the threat of terrorism.

The tragedy is that that a carefully thought-through and very thoughtful report was dismissed in the course of a brief remark by the then Home Secretary Mr David Blunkett. He said in terms that he saw no necessity to consider any proposals to replace Part 4. He dismissed the issue of foreign nationals by saying that he had decided that these were the main targets that were required to deal with terrorism. He did not even consider the question of discrimination between British and foreign nationals which was at the heart of the Law Lords' decision of December 2004.

If one then looks at the debate that took place in the House of Commons on 25 February last year, what one sees over and again is the simple dismissal of repeated pleas by Members of Parliament from all parties—Conservative, Liberal Democrat and almost certainly Labour—to ask that much greater consideration be given to the issues that have not been properly dealt with. One of the most striking of those contributions came from Mr Alan Beith, the deputy leader of my own party in another place, when he specifically said that the issues of terrorism that now confronted us were so serious that we needed the time, meditation and care to consider thoroughly built and constructed legislation that would enable us to deal with the terrorist threat without sacrificing our own liberties.

In briefly addressing this amendment, I simply want to say that I sympathise fully with the position of its movers, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and indeed believe that it is important that such a review should to take place. However, the Committee requires, were it to pass this amendment, a commitment from the Government Front Bench that such a review would not be treated with the disdain and virtual contempt with which the Newton report was treated despite the first-rate quality and excellence of its recommendations which were supported by Members of all parties who served on that committee.

I shall not delay the Committee by referring to an amendment that we shall discuss shortly which constitutes, if I may say so, the one guarantee—that is to say, it is the sunset amendment—that if there were
7 Mar 2005 : Column 579
to be a review it would have to be taken seriously. The House would not agree to continue with legislation if the carefully thought out recommendations of its Members were treated with the kind of disrespect with which the Newton committee was treated totally without any justification.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page