Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Newton of Braintree: I want to speak only briefly, in the light of what I said at Second Reading, when I expressed a number of regrets, some of which have been echoed in slightly different ways during this debate. I regretted that there did not appear to have been more active consideration of alternatives to Part 4 in the wake of our report; that for the second time we were—I echoed what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, had already said—considering in great haste legislation that required careful scrutiny; and that we were not looking at it as part of a balanced package, taking account of what has been promised for later in the year.

On that occasion the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was kind enough to say that she agreed with every word that I had said. I simply wish to reciprocate by saying that on this occasion I agree with every word that she has said. I would not want to die in a ditch about the timing. November may be a bit soon; the wording of the amendment related to a review committee of some kind probably needs addressing; but the basic concepts that we are debating are ones that the Committee and, dare I say, the Front Bench opposite would be wise to take very seriously.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: I shall be very brief. I have listened carefully to the Committee stage of the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House, and with increasing concern. I think back to the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester last Tuesday, which I read in Hansard, and those of my kinsman the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, earlier today. I believe both this amendment and the previous ones to express a humility about this legislation and to be commensurate with the undue haste with which we have to deal with it. I am very uncomfortable about the atmosphere of your Lordships' House at this present time.

Lord Desai: At the end of Second Reading, being the last speaker, I said that I intended to oppose any sunset clause. The problem is very simple: if we accept this clause, we will go through another hasty piece of legislation. As my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis said, think of the timetable: if you lose two and a half months between May and November there will not be enough time to legislate properly. It would be preferable if my noble and learned friend could give us an assurance from the Front Bench—as I think has already been given—that, as soon we can after the election, whichever party is in power should initiate legislation on the crime of acts of terrorism, or whatever it is called. We should, as I have said before, have a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider that immediately.

Given that we made haste with earlier legislation, which was judged to be discriminatory, and that this legislation has had to be introduced in a hurry, we
 
7 Mar 2005 : Column 586
 
should give ourselves lots of time. By the first anniversary of the passing of this Bill, we should be ready with something better. That is not a three-year gap—the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, thought that my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis was asking for that—but one year is a decent gap, after which I am sure we can have better legislation. In the meantime, if we get to November and have nothing else ready, there will be another almighty panic and another rush to get something through, so that the Government can have some legislation to deal with emergencies.

I hope that noble Lords see what I am saying. If they want a sunset clause, make it a bit later; but neither the amendment on the review nor this amendment addresses the real problem. That is: how do we have better legislation in place? We should concentrate on that rather than on a sunset clause.

The Earl of Onslow: Surely the sunset clause will make it a certainty that what the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has just asked for will happen. In other words, it will be looked at—because if nothing is done, the Act will fall. I am not necessarily tied to the date of 30 November. However, I hope I will get an undertaking—from my Front Bench and the Liberal Democrat Front Bench—that if we pass the sunset clause and the Government chuck it back at us from the Commons, with their majority there, then we insist on that clause. Then, if the Government still insist on chucking it out, they will not get their Bill at all. I sincerely hope that such an undertaking can be given by my noble friend Lord Kingsland and by the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. Otherwise, we will, in effect, have been posturing.

This Bill is so important—just as our liberties are, being so much part of everything around us in this building, which was built because of our liberties. We sit here talking and, as Sir Arthur Bryant said in his history of the Napoleonic Wars, the continental dictatorships could not understand that England made war by gentlemen making speeches at each other in the House of Commons. These liberties are so important—and the Bill goes against the grain of them all. With gritted teeth I am prepared to accept it for six months; with more tightly gritted teeth, for nine months—but not for a moment longer.

I would rather get no Bill at all, but if we are to have one then we must have a solid undertaking from both my noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches—I am using the term advisedly—and my special noble friends on the Conservative Benches.

Lord Clinton-Davis: At no time have I ever suggested that we should wait for three years. It is grotesque that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, should suggest that I have. I agree entirely with the view that we ought to consider this clause in a balanced way. It should not be for longer than one year.

Lord Brennan: This is an exceptionally important point that embraces two principles, one of democracy and one concerned with the campaign against terrorism. In my view, a Bill of this nature should always have a
 
7 Mar 2005 : Column 587
 
review clause and a sunset clause. Parliament should always review constraints on liberty as grave as this Bill introduces.

In doing so, two considerations arise, the first of which is democracy. The Bill went through the House of Commons in circumstances in which the other place had no opportunity fully to consider its ambit. It has come to this House and obviously will be the subject of major change. If it goes back to the Commons later this week, and if as I suspect there is a guillotine, the fact is that in our democracy a Bill as grave as this will go on to the statute book with the elected Chamber having given it no proper consideration.

I cannot imagine a more disturbing state of affairs, but I accept the reality of it because I accept the bona fides of the Government's intent. They should accept our bona fides in return. When we want a review and a limitation clause, it is not to undermine the Bill, it is to ensure that, upon review, it is in proper form. If we do not have a limitation and a review, the House of Commons will have lost its place and its function in this particular circumstance.

The second consideration is the campaign against terrorism. Just as we need to be urged on by the Government, they need to be urged on by us. A limitation clause would serve as a trigger for the Government to come back with a comprehensive and up-to-date anti-terrorism Bill setting out new offences and new procedures in a composite picture that satisfies the public that we are doing our best to beat terrorism.

So for the sake of democracy and for the sake of beating terrorism, when this comes back tomorrow I expect the House to favour review and limitation, and I hope that the Government will accept that what is intended is for the benefit of us all.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: I entered the Chamber not intending to speak in this debate, but having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, perhaps I may say that, curiously enough, he and I, on different sides of this House, existed in the same chambers together for many years. That kind of compromise is what is needed at this moment. I believe that it is possible to achieve a Bill which is necessary for the short term, but it has many faults and we should be given the opportunity to look at it with greater leisure so that those faults can be removed. We will then have in place a law that is accepted by both parties and would meet the recognised need for having some means of dealing with terrorists who cannot be dealt with under our normal forms of judicial procedure.

The Government have rushed this Bill through unnecessarily and in a way that has provided no opportunity either in the Commons or in this place for a full debate. In fact one wonders what is going to happen when it returns to the Commons. Will the Government ask the Commons tomorrow or the day after to reject the amendments which they did not vote against in this House, and which have not been debated over there? Surely there is a case for a wider consideration of this Bill, and I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, who I consider to be my
 
7 Mar 2005 : Column 588
 
friend, that we could achieve a compromise provided we then have the time to look seriously at the Bill to take its place.

10 p.m.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page