|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The speed with which this legislation is going through your Lordships' Houseand has already gone through another placeis evidence enough that we need Amendment No. 171 on the face of the Bill. The amendments that we succeed in passing tomorrow night will only reflect a portion of the deep disquiet we feel about this legislation. The fact that the Bill seeks to suspend habeas corpusthe hallmark of our constitutional life throughout the agessurely justifies the inclusion of the amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I think that the amendment has been moved in haste. Although I agree in principle with the noble Lord, I believe that the provision affecting limitation is misconceived as drafted.
The noble Lord is right to say that some notice should be taken of Amendment No. 169. Whether we have an undertaking from the Government to consider it or whether it is included in the Bill I do not really care, but that the Act should cease to have effect on 30 November is misconceived.
After all, we are likely to have a general election on 5 May and Parliament will not sit for two or three weeks afterwards. Then we are likely to have a Recess lasting a little more than two months in August until October. So, effectively, Parliament will not be sitting for about four months during that period.
At the same time we should review how the Act has been operating. For that reason, I believe that we should consider the whole thing at once. It is very unsatisfactory to consider it in bits and pieces. I urge my colleagues to accept that there must be a review. We should be patient; I am not talking about more than a year. But I think that it is incumbent upon us as Members of Parliament to consider how the Act is operating. If we do not do that, we are not really coming to a sensible conclusion.
On this occasion, however, I am afraid that I have lost patience. A year ago I voted for the renewal of Part 4, even though the committee of which I was a
7 Mar 2005 : Column 583
member, and which the noble Lord, Lord Newton, chaired, recommended that that should be replaced as a matter of urgency. I voted for renewal for a year because I believed that that was an appropriate and responsible thing to do in order to allow adequate time for the proper replacement provisions to be put in place. We have gone through the history many times. But that has not happened. What has happened is that we have ended up where we are in the Chamber this evening, legislating in haste.
My noble friend was absolutely right to say that the Newton committeethe noble Lord, Lord Newton, nodsrecognised and envisaged the possibility of needing something between surveillance and criminal prosecution to deal with a small but important category of terrorist specialists. I believe that there is, not universal but majority, support for that proposition and for finding the right balance in introducing those measures with the protection of civil liberties and the challenge of not contravening the European Convention on Human Rights. I also believe that with a little more time, and outside the frenetic atmosphere before a general election, we could do this task.
On the issue of looking as if you are going soft by withdrawing such legislation, we will have a legislative vehicle because we have been promised such a vehicle in terms of the new offence of acts preparatory to terrorism early in the new Session. I am sure that my friends on the Front Bench would not have put it quite as crudely as that, but that is the import of all that we have understood.
"The idea of a durable body of properly considered, principled counter-terrorist legislationwhich is distinct from mainstream criminal law, addresses this particular threat to society and includes adequate safeguards of the rights of the individualremains compelling".
I support that conclusion, as I did when we published the report. We may be wrong by about a month or two about the duration, but I feel as strongly on the issue of a sunset clause as I did on the issue earlier this evening that sent me into the Lobby with unaccustomed company. Delightful as many of those individuals are, I seriously do not wish to be in that situation again. I hope very much that the Government will see their way to accepting if not this amendment, one that is close to it.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I understand that the Government are up against tight deadlines, but that is to a large extent their own fault. If we look back a few months, it was perhaps not wholly predictable that the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House would come to the conclusion that it did on the Belmarsh detainees, but it was certainly foreseeable as a distinct possibility.
Apparently the Government had no plans on how to deal with that contingency. They had no legislation in draft to put before the House. If they had been able to
7 Mar 2005 : Column 584
do so immediately after we returned from the Christmas Recess, at least we would have had a fair amount of time. But it was not until the third week in February that the Government introduced the Bill. It went through the House of Commons in two days, which was wholly inadequate. It had its Second Reading in your Lordships' House on Tuesday of last week. On Wednesday morning, at about half past nine, very important and substantial government amendments were published. We had to table our amendments for discussion in Committee by five o'clock that afternoon.
We then had to debate the first day of the Committee stage starting at 11.30 the following morning. The groupings were published at two minutes past eleven, and turned out to be wholly unsatisfactory, resulting in a delay of half an hour before starting the debate. The gap between the end of Committee and the beginning of Report will be about 16 hours. Report will be followed by Third Reading after a gap of only four hours. This is a wholly unprecedented timetable. By comparison, the debate on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 moved at a positively glacial pace, with some nine days being allocated to Committee.
We have had a wholly inadequate time for considering the Bill, which is totally inconsistent with the role of your Lordships' House as a revising Chamber. We have been unable to do the work that we should do. There are all sorts of important issues, not perhaps the top four or five, but issues that still have considerable importance, which should have been discussed at length, but which have not been debated.
In those circumstances it seems absolutely essential that the Bill should be re-debated from scratch. That requires, not a review, which the Government can dismiss, but an irremovable sunset clause, which means that we will have to get down and give this Bill the proper consideration that it needs. This is a Bill of great practical importance and perhaps of even greater constitutional importance. We must have proper time to consider it.
Lord Clinton-Davis: Does the noble Lord consider that we ought to have an opportunity to look at the workings of this legislation? For the reasons that I have adduced, I think that the provision of three or four months is not adequate. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that it is better to have an informed debate than a rushed debate.
Lord Goodhart: I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is saying and I fully respect his views. I accept that it is entirely appropriate to have a reconsideration of the principles behind this Bill, but we need what I would describe as a fairly rapid form of pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill to replace this one. I think that that can be dealt with in a matter of a few months. I do not think that it would be appropriate to wait for, let us say, the three years that might be necessary before one sees how the Bill has panned out in practice. It is too important for us to have a proper reconsideration of the issues behind the Bill. We
7 Mar 2005 : Column 585
should move on to it. The proposal for 30 November may not be written in stone but it seems a wholly appropriate timetable with which I am entirely happy.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|