Business of the House: Football (Disorder) Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 25th July 2000.

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Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department 3:07 pm, 25th July 2000

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with today to allow the Football (Disorder) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages, and again on Friday next to allow the Finance Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

moved as a manuscript amendment to the Motion:

Line 2, leave out "today to allow the Football (Disorder) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages, and again"

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, careful scrutiny is one of the best guarantees of good legislation. I hope that all noble Lords will endorse those wise words that were once spoken by the Home Secretary, Mr Jack Straw. He made that statement in 1995, when he was a member of the Front Bench Opposition.

The intervals laid down between the stages of parliamentary consideration of legislation are crucial to the legislative process. In three circumstances those intervals may justifiably be dispensed with. First, when, for constitutional reasons, this House does not have a full locus on consideration of a piece of legislation. An obvious example of this is in debate on a finance Bill. The noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will have noted that my amendment does not infringe on the proposal in the Motion that the Finance Bill should be taken through all its stages on Friday of this week. Another example might be consolidated fund Bills, which are in effect a front for supply Bills.

Secondly, when Bills are of a technical and wholly uncontroversial nature, they may sometimes have accelerated processes; but here the intervals of parliamentary process would normally apply. A third category would be in cases of national emergency, when to delay legislation would either seriously damage national security or destroy the whole purpose of a Bill. Obvious examples have been legislation connected with the emergency in Northern Ireland or, in earlier days, matters such as the Ugandan Asians and Commonwealth immigration. But the Football (Disorder) Bill cannot conceivably be reckoned to fall into any of those three categories.

There is a fourth reason why governments may be tempted to accelerate the process of legislation through Parliament; that is, for the convenience of the executive--either to get legislation on to the statute book because of the positive impact that it might make on the reputation of the government of the day, or perhaps even because the drafting of legislation is so defective as to make parliamentary scrutiny an embarrassment.

The intervals laid down have three purposes. The first is to enable parliamentarians to reflect on a Bill during its passage and to decide in that context what further changes may be needed. In the case of the football Bill, the Committee stage was concluded only after five o'clock this morning. Therefore, the later proceedings are not even published in Hansard. Only a handful of Members who remained to the end can know what was decided. It is also clear that, under Standing Order 48, it would not be possible for any amendments to be tabled for Third Reading. That could be a serious handicap in terms of our wish to improve the Bill.

The second reason for the intervals between stages is to allow Ministers and their Civil Service advisers to consider points that have been made in debate and to decide whether, and if so, how, they can be accommodated.

The third reason, and possibly the most important, is to allow the people to have their say in the legislative process. Almost every Bill that comes before Parliament is improved because of the views of the people, whether through professional bodies, pressure groups, lobbies or individuals. Those views are made known to Parliament at each stage in the consideration of a Bill. To take a recent example, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill was immeasurably improved in its passage through Parliament largely as a result of public representations. To some of us, that Bill still falls short of the ideal; but without the changes made to it, it would, frankly, have been an abomination in terms of both liberty and practicality.

I do not believe that it is widely appreciated that our legislative process makes provision, through the intervals between the stages of a Bill, for the people to have a real say, and thus to influence law-making. That applies particularly in this House, where we are relatively free of the inducements of patronage and the fear of party discipline. I hope, therefore, that the House will consider whether the case for immediate enactment of a football Bill, argued as it seems to have been on the date of a particular series of football matches, outweighs the abandonment of proper parliamentary consideration. It is a precious feature of our democracy. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I was taking guests round the Royal Gallery today, and I looked again at the Petition of Rights 1628, which won for us our freedom from arbitrary imprisonment. It has lasted 372 years. If we pass this Bill in the form that it is in at present, that is all that it will last.

The Bill allows someone who is not suspected of any criminal offence--indeed, against whom no charge is contemplated--to be imprisoned on the whim of a police officer, to be remanded in custody merely at the request of the police for a further period which may well amount to a matter of months, and if at the end of the day the police bring no charges because they can find no evidence, there is no cause for compensation to that person.

This is a disgraceful state of affairs. We are being asked to rush through a Bill which abuses our freedom as citizens to an extent which very few Bills do. I understand why the Government are doing this. They will come to regret it. I understand why those on our Front Bench are supporting them. They should regret it already. There is no reason why we should all have to share that shame. I very much hope that we shall support my noble friend in his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Strange Baroness Strange Crossbench 3:15 pm, 25th July 2000

My Lords, the delays between the stages of a Bill give everyone time to ponder, think, consider and inwardly digest--and to calm down. It is rather like writing rather a hasty letter and putting it under your pillow at night. In the morning, you may have changed your mind.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

My Lords, even if we accept the Government's attitude that this is a Bill that must reach the statute book before Parliament rises at the end of this week, I suggest that adequate time should be given for its proper consideration. We really cannot say that it can be properly considered if there is no gap at all, even of 24 hours, between the conclusion of the Committee stage and the start of the Report stage.

Many years ago, the Committee on Preparation of Legislation of which I had the honour to be chairman, which produced the only advisory document of its kind in the past 130 years, stressed that there must be adequate time between the Committee and Report stages for improving a Bill and making sure that it works properly and is understood by the people.

Admittedly, we have only this week to consider the Bill. But if the Government were wise enough to have Hansard published as soon as possible and considered by us on Thursday, any amendments--and we are not likely to make many--could still be considered by another place on Friday and the Bill could receive Royal Assent before we rise. I do not understand why that system cannot be followed.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I hope that those on the Government Front Bench are pondering those wise words from the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who is an extremely seasoned and experienced parliamentarian.

When I heard what the Government were planning, it summoned up for me the expression of the great John McEnroe, "You cannot be serious!". The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has previously made a number of points. The Government are treating the Bill as though it were emergency legislation with the war clouds gathering, instead of seeing it as a response to a particular problem. Regardless of what has been said by those on the Front Bench opposite, I hope that there are enough Members, not only on our Benches--I assure the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that we shall be with him if he seeks to divide the House--but on the Cross-Benches, and even on the Benches opposite, who regard this kind of behaviour by a government on legislation as simply not acceptable.

As the Government Chief Whip well knows, he would have lost his business last night had not these Benches co-operated with him in giving him the votes to carry on. We need some "give and take" on the part of the Government. We need space between Report and Third Reading, for all the reasons mentioned.

As was said, there were very few Members in the Chamber last night, but we are working through the Bill and we are improving it. Even as we talked, we saw some initiatives: the effectiveness of tighter rules for the membership of supporters' clubs, not least the Football Association Supporters Club.

A letter from a Leeds director printed in The Times today points out that clubs' life bans are having a salutary effect on behaviour. As the Bill progresses through the House, Members with experience have put forward constructive and good ideas which improve it. However, I think that the Government will now sour the deliberations for the remainder of the Bill. They will also demonstrate a high-handedness which I believe that they will come to regret.

The speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Marlesford and Lord Lucas, are unanswerable by anyone who cares for this House and its proceedings. As has been said, those spaces between deliberations are for a specific purpose. This House abandons them at certain times for certain grave reasons. I do not think that the Bill deserves to be escalated to that height of concern.

As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, there is an easy way for the Government to deal with this issue. They can give us that breathing space between Report and Third Reading which would allow us and outside bodies to carry on the good and constructive work of improving the Bill.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he advocating that we should take Report stage today and put off Third Reading? With respect, I do not think that that is the proposition put by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said twice that he wanted a gap between Report stage and Third Reading. Does he want that; or does he want to put off the whole Bill for now?

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I should prefer to have Report stage today. It is up to the Government's business managers to sort the matter out. But to move from Report stage to Third Reading, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, knows better than anyone, concertinas a Bill. This is a Bill on football disorder. It does not involve troops crossing frontiers or a major terrorist outrage. Let us have a sense of proportion about the Bill; and let us protect the proceedings of this House.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, I have been involved at the coal-face on this Bill. It has been a rather fruitless exercise. The situation is not fair to the Minister. He has done his very best in impossible circumstances. It is not fair to the House because the Minister cannot have the opportunity to consider the reasoned arguments which have been put to him, even if he agrees with them. I suspect--I do not commit him--that he is fair minded and would wish to give time and credence to many of the points that were made on the Bill. It is also a technical Bill. It has been made ludicrously technical. It involves erosion of individual freedom and many other consequences--criminal consequences.

It is not only unfair to the Minister and the House; it is jolly unfair to the subjects of the Queen--innocents who will be hauled in and treated as criminals. That is one thing that we seek to avoid. We cannot do so today. The Minister must have time to understand why they are breaches of natural justice and why the Bill is oppressive. Unless time is allowed, a great misery of injustice will be done.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, when the Attorney-General responds, can he tell the House on what grounds he defends the taking today of Report stage of the Bill when the vast majority of the Members of this House has not been able to read the Committee stage. There is no way we can know on what the Report stage is based.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I have two different points to make. First, I am concerned about the precedent that is created. After today it will be impossible to resist this kind of approach to Bills on many other issues. Secondly, I am concerned that in a Bill which is supposed to be about football hooliganism we are about to breach a basic principle of our justice system: that you are innocent until you are proved guilty. For those two reasons, I strongly support my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

My Lords, I am immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for having moved the amendment. Indeed, the House should be indebted to him for raising an immensely important issue on the timings in our House and the usual intervals.

By now it will be common knowledge that the Official Opposition have accepted the argument made by the Government in another place, and, therefore, in this House, that the Bill needs Royal Assent by the end of this week. That is why we have sought to an extent to co-operate with them on the timings although by no means the contents of the Bill. I hope that when, or if, we reach amendments on certain issues this afternoon not only will they be fully debated, but the Government will lose the debate. I refer in particular to the sunset clause. If anything justifies the appalling nature of some of the powers taken in this Bill, it is the ensuring of a clear cut-off period during which the Government can think again.

What seems to have gone wrong today is that the Government were caught out by the length of the Committee stage last night. I am aware that a Division took place in the small hours of the morning. Only 22 Members of the House voted on the Government side and 17 on the Opposition side. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, it was only because of the co-operation of the Opposition that that business was able to be continued.

However, the greatest miscalculation was in not ensuring that a complete Hansard could be provided. Only those who were present in the House--unfortunately, they included neither myself nor the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General--have the faintest idea of the arguments proposed in amendments and the arguments put forward in defence of the Government's position.

Over the course of the past few weeks we have seen a long succession of government Bills which were not dealt with effectively or appropriately in another place but which needed to be amended in this House not just because of pressure from Members of the Opposition parties and the Cross-Benches, but also because of government amendments.

The arrangement today is that the Third Reading should be taken on the nod immediately after Report stage, leaving no room for amendments from any Member of the House including the Government. I hope that when the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General winds up he will explain why the Government believe that there will be no further need to amend this legislation.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford has provided a useful opportunity to debate this matter fully. I hope that the Government will take clear note of what has happened. After the noble and learned Lord has responded on behalf of the Government, I hope that my noble friend Lord Marlesford will feel that the Government have offered enough for him to be able to withdraw his amendment to the Motion.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

My Lords, I am also conscious that on my own side that is not a popular move. It may well be that my noble friend will seek to take the matter to a Division. However, I hope that he does not, because many Members have come to the House today expressly to deal with the Bill.

I ask a final question. If, as appears likely given the precedent of last night, debate on the Football (Disorder) Bill continues for many hours into the evening, what will happen to the first day of Committee consideration of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill? Can we agree that if debate goes beyond the dinner hour, the matter should be left until we return in the spill-over?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department 3:30 pm, 25th July 2000

My Lords, I am gratified to find myself in such agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. As always, I am grateful for his full-hearted support. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that the observations made were unanswerable by anyone who cares for this House. I believe it is the time of year when Members of your Lordships' House become a shade too ready to drink too deep of the cup of hyperbole, to put it tactfully.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat

My Lords, as a Welsh lawyer, I take that as a tribute.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, I am glad to see once again that my arguments have proved overwhelming. It goes without saying--and therefore I shall say it--that everyone who is a Member of this House cares for it. What the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, in general terms, is completely accurate: normally we abide by standing orders. He pointed to exceptions. There are exceptions of great significance and importance to our fellow citizens. First, the Finance Bill and the debate on the Consolidated Fund are of very substantial importance but, as he rightly observed and demonstrated, stages of those Bills are commonly truncated.

If I noted it correctly, the noble Lord's second category was technical measures. His third category was Bills of national emergency. I believe that he went on to warn your Lordships gently to avoid the convenience of the executive. This has nothing to do with the convenience of the executive, which I shall demonstrate in a moment with your Lordships' patient understanding. It has nothing to do with the reputation of the executive, but a good deal to do with the reputation of our country internationally.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was quite right to distinguish carefully between timings and the content of the Bill. One or two of your Lordships have not resisted the temptation to go to the content of the Bill whereas the Motion is about its timing. Of course, we are up against a tight timetable, which arises from external circumstance. The next match to be played abroad, according to my instructions, is on 2nd September. It is France versus England--(friendly).

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. The distinction between timing and content is a little less easy than he suggests. There were many occasions which emerged last night when the Government clearly did not know their own mind. It would assist us in tabling amendments if the Government were to have time to resolve themselves.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may put forward a correction of fact. I understand that the next really sensitive match is on 4th August. It is to be played in Munich between Manchester United and the Munich club.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, as always in my experience, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is right. My briefing was wrong, but I have been corrected by the Chief Whip. I am most obliged for their correction.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was making points of genuine and fundamental importance. Perhaps I may put a wider one to your Lordships. We are the controllers of our own procedure. Perhaps I might sketch in a little history so that no one might be under the sad misapprehension that all this somehow arose unusually and on the basis of the quirkish determination of the Government Front Bench. Nothing could be further from the fact.

The draft business was discussed, as usual, last Wednesday. It was circulated on Thursday and, I imagine in the usual way, discussed at the various party meetings. That is the fact. As I understand it, the timings were those suggested by the Official Opposition. If I am wrong I shall sit down and withdraw. The business was agreed between the usual channels. I shall be most grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will forgive my pointing out to your Lordships that he is nodding assent to my proposition.

Photo of Lord Harris of Greenwich Lord Harris of Greenwich Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I was nodding assent to something which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, had just said to me.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, I always knew that we should have completed the expulsion of the hereditaries! Had the noble Earl, Lord Russell, not been in conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, what I said was nevertheless right. All the timings were agreed between the usual channels. If I am wrong I shall sit down and withdraw.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, perhaps I may repeat what I was saying to my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich. It was that the timing appeared much better until the Government fell apart in the Chamber last night.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, the Government did not fall apart, unless engaging in rational, coherent discussion is falling apart. That may be so among those Benches where presently dwells the noble Earl. But I do not regard having an extensive discussion until, as has been said, 20 minutes past five in the morning as the Government falling apart. I have read Hansard. Many of your Lordships have commended my noble friends Lord Bassam and Lord Bach for the very great care and attention that they have given to the Bill. I have read the earlier copies of Hansard to which I was plainly referring. But since your Lordships and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, asked me the specific question, I am told, and verily believe, that in the Library there is a typed copy of Hansard containing all of yesterday's and this morning's proceedings. The noble Baroness says "ridiculous". I can only deal with one intervention at a time. I am dealing with the sotto voce intervention made opposite. Now I shall give way, as always, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner.

Photo of Lord Ackner Lord Ackner Crossbench

My Lords, I was anxious to discover what had happened to three amendments I tabled which were towards the end of the Marshalled List. I asked when the second part of Hansard would be available. I was told that that would not be until tomorrow, but that there was a copy in the Library. I went there and found the part where my amendments should have been discussed. Ten pages covering the amendments moved on my behalf were missing and the staff are busily trying to find them at the moment. So that which is in the Library is not complete and in my particular case can provide no comfort at all.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, I did not know that the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, had not been recorded. From what he is saying, I take it that he was not here to move them. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, I was not here myself. I imagine that the amendments must have been moved on his behalf.

I return to the fundamental point, because it relates to a very important way in which we conduct our business. If agreements are made through the usual channels, it has been my unfailing experience that they are adhered to and honoured. If we are to do business in a different way, it will mean a very different House. If your Lordships want that it is a matter for them because we control our procedure. But as I understood what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was saying, he intended scrupulously to adhere to the business arrangement that had been arrived at. It does not surprise me at all to find that he sticks scrupulously to the agreement and honours the bargain. That has always been my experience of him and, I hope, his experience of our Chief Whip also.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord leaves that point, could he explain to those of us who have never formed part of the usual channels, and are never likely to do so, whether the deliberations in the usual channels took account of the fact that the proceedings would not end until 5.20 a.m. this morning?

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord answers that question, perhaps I may ask him whether what was agreed between the usual channels foresaw what happened in the early hours of this morning. In answering that question, would he consider the helpful suggestion that I made, which was warmly supported by the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, that if the Report stage took place on Thursday immediately followed by Third Reading, which is not unexpected, then it seems to me that everyone would be satisfied and the Bill would have proper consideration, which it has no hope of having today?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, was the same as that put by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. In parenthesis, the noble Lord said that he was unlikely to become a member of the usual channels. It does not behove me to comment on that parenthetical observation, except to say that we are soul brothers because I have never been part of the usual channels either and have no expectation of such glory in this world.

The proposition I am putting is deep. We shall be able to run our business only if we run it in a way which we all know perfectly well. If we have such a system, there are bound to be occasions when one or other of us will be dissatisfied. That is inevitable.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord moves away from that point, would he not agree that the usual channels are our servants and that we are not the servants of the usual channels? Most of the time, it may suit us, for the proper conduct of this House, to go along with what the usual channels suggest. However, when they suggest something that is so outrageous, so at variance with the liberty of the citizen and so inappropriate, as they have now for reasons which we understand and for which they are politically driven, it is our right and proper function respectfully to disagree with their conclusion. It is no fault of the operation of this House that we should occasionally do so, but merely a reassertion of the relationship between us and the usual channels: we are the masters and they are the servants.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, I do not disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Indeed, I thought that I had twice said that we are the controllers of our own ways. But that as a proposition does not determine all. If we are not able to work with the usual channels in the way we all know, the business of the House will not--and I mean it literally--be manageable.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, feels aggrieved on this occasion. I sympathise with and understand that. No one who took part in discussions between the usual channels knew for certain that the sitting yesterday would have continued until 5.20 a.m. but let us not forget that that was partly in order to accommodate other matters in respect of Section 28 about which your Lordships also felt strongly. I do not believe, to coin a phrase, that the argument is answerable by anyone who cares for this House. Unless we stick to and honour our arrangements we shall not be able to run ourselves effectively, efficiently or at all.

Your Lordships will have had two opportunities to amend the Bill. This is not the first time the Standing Order has been dispensed with. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, gave certain examples but perhaps I may give another. In February this year, we took Committee, Report and Third Reading stages of the Northern Ireland Bill all in a single day. Whether your Lordships agreed with that decision or not, I am simply pointing out that this is not setting a precedent which will upset the whole of discovered civilisation as we know it. We did it on that occasion because we are masters of our own machinery and business.

Photo of Lord Molyneaux of Killead Lord Molyneaux of Killead Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I have privately made it known that those of us representing the Northern Ireland constituency areas would not feel greatly aggrieved if the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill were dropped from this part of the Session and brought back immediately after the Recess. It is not a delaying tactic but it seems to me that no benefit is to be gained from having a Second Reading and then a two-months Recess before dealing with the Committee stage.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, I know the noble Lord well enough to recognise an offer which I feel unable to refuse. I am sure that his offer was put forward helpfully but it is not something which the Government can contemplate accepting.

Noble Lords:

Why not?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, because the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill is a matter of enormous importance. It needs to be discussed at the earliest possible opportunity. It is extremely serious for all those who live and serve in Northern Ireland and I personally do not think it would be appropriate to put off that stage of that Bill in these circumstances.

I gave that precedent and am returning to the wider precedent for the last time. The usual channels are not infallible. They are the way in which we run our business. I submit to your Lordships that there has been a certain amount of truncation of business, which was agreed. It has been truncated partly because the Chief Whip on our Benches tried to accommodate every possible diverse view about the relative spectrum of importance to be given to different Bills. I do not believe that anyone could dispute that.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, I listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said and prima facie I agree with it. Why does the noble and learned Lord insist that this Bill has an importance which does not accord with anything said in the debate? It is important that we should discuss the issue fully on Thursday and we have the opportunity to do so. Why does the noble and learned Lord, who is a personal friend of mine, take the view that we cannot take the Bill on Thursday, as the noble Lord suggested?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. The reason is that if your Lordships want to make amendments to the Bill, the other place must have an opportunity to consider them and they must then return here. That will not be possible within the timetable of this week, bearing in mind the other business. The alternative is for your Lordships' House to sit next week and to invite, with infinite respect, another place to do the same. I should be happy to invite your Lordships to sit next week and ask for a volunteer to request another place to do the same.

Photo of Lord Harris of Greenwich Lord Harris of Greenwich Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord properly referred to a number of precedents but perhaps I may put to him another. In 1974, when the Prevention of Terrorism Bill was rushed through the House of Commons and through this House, the then Home Secretary, my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, assured the House of Commons that the Bill would be reintroduced in the next Session and be discussed as normal with all legislation. Why are not the Government prepared to give a similar undertaking today?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, because we have not yet reached the final stages of the Bill. There has been substantial discussion of it and your Lordships will have to take a decision. The Opposition in another place gave us an assurance, and delivered on the promise, that we would have their support. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, gave me a similar indication in the Chamber not on this but on a related Bill the day before the Bill was introduced and a similar question was raised. Your Lordships will have to take a view. There is no prospect of completing this business this week in either Chamber.

I have a little further information. I realise it interrupts what I was seeking to say but it is right to give it to your Lordships in response to what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. Inquiries have been made and I am told that the overspill record was delivered soon after 9.30 a.m. and that the noble and learned Lord was right in saying that there were missing pages. They were delivered about 20 minutes ago. It is no good to complain. I am giving your Lordships the fullest information that I genuinely have. I should not like to say, "I have in my pocket this piece of paper". I am making a New Year's resolution, beginning tomorrow, that on future occasions I shall cease to try to be helpful.

At least two noble Lords want to intervene. I shall give way, first, if I may, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, as he has the great distinction of being a former Attorney-General.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord realise how proud he makes me to be a member of his profession? Can he even visualise the thunderbolts that he would have been hurling had he been on this side of the Chamber? Does he accept that he is making a beautiful argument in favour of form rather than substance? In his study of such Hansards as have been produced in the time available, did he note the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who said:

"I find it very difficult to accept the proposed new Section 21A as it stands, without much greater consideration being given to it than has been possible because of the way in which the Bill has been brought forward at the last moment".--[Official Report, 24/7/00; col. 157.]

Whatever the position may be with regard to the possibilities for future business in the next two or three days, does that arouse in the noble and learned Lord's mind the real belief that what has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is now the right way forward for democratic and sensible government?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, I am grateful for the support given to me by an illustrious predecessor. I do not believe that I am simply making a case without form and substance. If I am, your Lordships must adjudicate upon it. Of course, I know what certain noble and learned Lords have said. I repeat that the business was agreed last Wednesday and Thursday and the Bill was introduced in the House last Tuesday. I do not believe that anyone who stayed here last night until twenty past five in the morning could suggest that a fair scrutiny had not been given to the Bill.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, may wish to raise a different point.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Would it be unduly cynical of me to wonder whether the urgency behind the proposals that we are discussing derives, as of course it does in the other place, more from a fear of the tabloids than from a fear of football hooligans?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, I do not believe that that is a worthy reflection of the present state of matters. There is significant concern in this country about the serious damage that a small, unrepresentative number of persons do to our international reputation. However, if the noble Lord is right, his remedy is to vote against the Bill and he has had ample opportunity to do so.

I do not believe that I can usefully assist your Lordships further. I believe that we should stick to the course that has been charted and agreed, and I ask your Lordships to do that. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Donaldson of Lymington Lord Donaldson of Lymington Crossbench

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, metaphorically if not literally, perhaps I may, as a very Cross-Bencher, ask a question. He says that the usual channels are not infallible. I make no comment about that. Does it follow also that, when they are proved to be fallible, they cannot retreat and regroup? That appears to be what is being said.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, I do not believe that it is. I was trying to say--and it is obviously my infelicitous forensic skill that has led the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, astray--that if we want to run our business in the way that we do, based on consent and on honouring bargains, some people occasionally may be aggrieved. That is the fundamental point that I sought to make about the running of our House. I believe that when I sit down the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is entitled to his observations.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General for the case that he has made. I am disappointed in four respects. First, I consider that the Government still do not appreciate the importance of the principle of proper consideration of legislation before it is passed and the crucial part that the intervals between stages of legislation play in that consideration. Secondly, I do not believe that the noble and learned Lord has made the case that this Bill merits, or ever has merited, the suspension of those procedures. Thirdly, I regard it as unfortunate that it is felt that in the consideration of legislation the obligations entered into by the usual channels should be regarded as paramount. Fourthly, it is an undoubted fact that this legislation has not been considered properly and now, whatever happens immediately, it cannot be.

I can say only that I very much hope that the sunset clause, which at least will limit the damage which this legislation could impose over a period of time, will be passed. I hope also that my intervention will have signposted the feelings of this House that the suspension of the procedure of proper intervals between stages in the consideration of legislation should not again be entered into lightly. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Noble Lords:

No.

On Question, Whether the manuscript amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 143; Not-Contents, 124.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the affirmative, and the manuscript amendment agreed to accordingly.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.