HL Deb 09 July 1985 vol 466 cc132-8
Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

This will enable the Second Reading and Committee stage of the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Bill to be taken on the same day and will also enable the Report and Third Reading to be taken together on a subsequent day. When my noble friend the Chief Whip made a business statement about the Bill last Thursday, he said that it was proposed that the Bill should be taken through all its stages this Thursday. In response to representations made at that time and subsequently, I have thought it right that the House should have more than one opportunity to discuss this particular Bill. It has been agreed through the usual channels that the Report and Third Reading should be taken on Wednesday of next week.

I hope that noble Lords in all parts of the House will feel that this arrangement strikes a fair balance between the need to pass this urgent Bill quickly and the desirability of giving the House an adequate opportunity to scrutinise the Bill. I should like to make it clear that my response to the representations on this occasion is without prejudice to how any similarly urgent Bill may be treated by this House in the future. There may well be circumstances when by general agreement it will be right for a Bill to be taken through all stages in your Lordships' House on one day in the same way that this Bill was taken in another place.

Moved, That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable the Second Reading and Committee stage of the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Bill to be taken on Thursday next, and the Report stage and Third Reading to be taken on Wednesday 17th July.—(Viscount Whitelaw.)

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, may I express, with great respect to the noble Viscount, my appreciation of the change in the terms of the order before the House today? I must say that the original proposal caused a great deal of perturbation among Members of your Lordships' House because it is surely only under the pressure of an emergency even amounting to a national crisis that either House of Parliament should suspend the rights of debate in order to allow rush legislation to reach the statute book.

I very much regret, if I may say so again with great respect, the explanation, the kind of tail to the noble Viscount's statement, a moment ago to the effect that, "Well, I am doing it this time, but this is entirely without prejudice to not doing it another time". I hope that we are going to regard the rights and privileges of Members of this House as a very special preserve of the House itself. To set aside those rights in the interest of business has to be, I humbly suggest, under very great pressure of public events and urgent public necessity.

I doubt whether it can be said that to control the consumption of alcohol on the terraces of football matches, with some weeks in hand before the matches begin, ranks as a matter of extreme pressure of public business. Therefore I feel constrained to make this protest that it should even have crossed the minds of the Government, and in particular of the noble Viscount, that the original Motion was appropriate to the present circumstances.

I have held the view throughout my life in both Houses of Parliament that all attempts to curtail the rights and privileges of Members should be questioned and some of them challenged because otherwise what has been regarded as appropriate to rare occasions can become very much more commonplace. That I think must be resisted at all costs.

However, I am glad that the noble Viscount has made this proposal which makes it much less objectionable, although not entirely I think freely acceptable, that we should be doing his bidding this afternoon. In another place those of us who read the debate—which means most of us—have seen what an ordeal it was for Members of another place to start on this Bill early in the afternoon and still be debating it at half-past two the following morning. Again, I humbly suggest that that is no way to conduct the business of Parliament unless we are under the extreme pressure of national events. The other place scrambled through the Bill that contains many additional powers to the police, necessary as they may he. It is unbecoming that we should scramble through a Bill of that kind or surrender our rights of debate on a Bill which, after all, is to take away the civil liberties of some people, however strongly we feel that that has to be done.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, I too agree with my noble friend that the present proposal is more satisfactory than that originally proposed. What I cannot understand is why this particular Bill should be singled out for any special treatment at all. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House may recall that a Bill in almost identical terms was blocked by the Government Whips in 1981, when no doubt he gave such instructions, as he was then the responsible Minister—the Home Secretary.

This Bill was conceived in panic by those who know very little about football or the consequences of football. The three particular games to which objection was taken were ones which would not have been affected anyway—those at Luton, Birmingham and Brussels—by the operation of the Bill. The way the Government are abusing their large majority in another place is becoming a constitutional scandal. We get undiscussed, ill-digested legislation coming to us almost daily in this House. In my view, if we are going to carry out our job as a revising Chamber, we should not let a Bill of this character change the normal and proper procedures of the House which are to give people time both to reflect and to receive representations between the Second Reading, Committee and subsequent stages. I think it could well he that many of your Lordships have greater knowledge and could make a greater contribution to the real problem, on which we are all united, of trying to eliminate or at least reduce football hooliganism. I hope that even now the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council will have second thoughts about this emergency procedure for a Bill similar to that which he got his Whips to block in 1981.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I wonder whether I may express the view of this Front Bench. First, I wish to thank the noble Viscount for the consideration he gave to representations that were made to him to alloy, two days to be allotted to proceedings on the Bill. Secondly, I wish to say to him that on this Front Bench the urgency of the matter is fully realised. Indeed, it is vital from the point of view of Parliament, I would have thought, that this legislation should be through in good time before the football season starts. In those circumstances the noble Viscount has our support.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, having raised this matter last Thursday, perhaps I may first express my gratitude to the noble Viscount for his statement today indicating that the Government have had second thoughts. Secondly, I wish to say as I did last Thursday that no one on these Benches denies the need to have this Bill on the statute book before the beginning of the next football season. I also wish to say to the noble Viscount that we all recognise that in a situation of national emergency in certain circumstances it is necessary to put through Bills in a single day. Indeed, as a Home Office Minister I did that with the Prevention of Terrorism Bill in this House, and the necessary facilities were granted by the then Opposition.

However, I should also like to say to the noble Viscount that there is a major distinction between the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which dealt very specifically with an emergency situation relating to the bombings in Birmingham, and the character of the Bill which is now before us. Quite apart from anything else, the Prevention of Terrorism Bill came up for annual renewal, whereas this Bill will form a permanent part of our statute law in this country. I must say, while repeating again that I welcome what has been said this afternoon, that I very much hope that the noble Viscount will use his influence with the department of which he was once the head to ensure that there is a degree of flexibility on the part of the Home Office in connection with this Bill. The fact is that the Home Secretary has a serious problem in relation to violence at football matches. The noble Viscount will be aware that this Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to extend its provisions to every other sport in this country, subject only to the control of the negative resolution procedure. That causes many of us great concern. I very much hope that the Home Office Ministers who will be dealing with the Bill in this House will be allowed to have some degree of flexibility, because otherwise some of us will be far more argumentative than we would want to be.

There is a broad consensus in this House, as I am sure the noble Viscount knows, and we recognise that it is necessary to have this Bill on the statute book before we rise for the Summer Recess. But we hope that some of these very difficult issues, such as the particular power of the Secretary of State to which I have referred will be subject to critical analysis during our debates in this House. I repeat: I very much hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary who will be in charge of this Bill will not be instructed to take a rigid position on it.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, as this matter concerns the rights and procedure of the whole House, I think it is right that there should be a brief comment also from this side of the Chamber. Like noble Lords opposite, I welcome the Government's decision to abandon the idea of taking this Bill through all its stages in one day. I would venture to say that it seems to me that the procedure of taking a Bill through all stages in one day is one which only the most exceptional circumstances would justify, if there were any opposition to it in any section of the House. It is a procedure which, if the House is unanimous upon it, may well have to take effect, as it did in the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has referred. But I think my noble friend has rightly interpreted the feelings of the House in now allowing two days for the discussion of this Bill. That seems a sensible solution.

I would add only one word. It is plain—indeed, all your Lordships have accepted it at once—that this Bill must be through before we rise and before the football season begins. But the Bill is probably not wholly free from blemish and its provisions may well need careful analysis later on, possibly by way of detailed amendment. For this purpose I call in aid the proceedings in another place in which although the Bill went through in one day—or rather, one day and a good deal of a night—some highly pertinent comments, it seems to me, on certain of its clauses were made by an honourable Member not unknown to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I rise to support the comments made by my noble friend Lord Mishcon on the Front Bench. This could be a very controversial topic, and any noble Lords who have read the report of the proceedings in another place on this Bill will know that if it were to become an Act in the form in which it was presented there, it could be very grievously flawed. Noble Lords have a duty to make sure that what started as a public relations exercise to assuage what happened in the terrible incidents in Brussels, when it leaves this place is a realistic measure that can be applied to football in general.

Personally I believe that there are parts of this Bill which would quite unnecessarily damage football as a national sport in this country and which could damage its future. That is why I am quite pleased and why I accept very gratefully the decision of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to allow an additional day so as to give us the opportunity to get the Bill right.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for the second Motion which we now have on the Order Paper and which I think is a great improvement on the first. Beyond that, I should like to offer my support for much of what has been said from the Benches opposite and I should like to have heard a little more from my colleagues on the Benches on this side.

There is a lot in this Bill. It is drafted in a slovenly way, in the view of some, and if we had had only one day to deal with it, we might have wondered why the House should ever bother with any Bills at all. I am, therefore, very grateful that we now have two days so that we shall have time to consider it. The last time that we took in this noble House what we considered to be a big step in the direction of controlling this particular form of violent terrorism we ended up with what are called "dry trains". That was, indeed, a very big improvement. I should like to think that this time we shall be able to complete the job and that this House as a whole will be able to take credit for this final step, as we took credit for the earlier steps five years ago.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount on having changed his mind. When a Bill goes through in a truncated form in another place, it is all the more necessary that in this House we should preserve our rights to criticise. I think that if the noble Viscount looks at the Bill we are dealing with—and probably the Government have already discovered blemishes—he will agree that we will need that amount of time in this particular case.

I was disappointed when the noble Viscount felt it necessary to add the rider that although he has done this on this occasion, it does not mean that he will do the same again. We are talking about this as an emergency. It is not the first emergency that we have had in the past fortnight. We had a Bill treated in much the same way in respect of Scotland in relation to rate rebates. Urgency was the key to the matter—and the Bill's last clause said that it would come into force six months after it was passed. When does urgency become more or less the same as Government convenience? I think we have to be careful that we do our job properly here and that we are not deprived of what the nation needs: the second thoughts of this Chamber.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, before the noble Viscount replies, may I put a specific point to him? I join with others in being grateful for this change of heart. But anyone who reads the report of the proceedings in the other place will find that the Government spokesmen on several occasions said that they would have to think about certain matters that were raised with a view to possible correction in this Chamber. As we meet this afternoon we have not yet seen any Government amendments put down; they may be down but they have not been published. I have asked in the Printed Paper Office and have not found any Government amendments there. In that case, can the noble Viscount guarantee that they will be put down today, because it would be most unfortunate if we received them only on Thursday morning?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords for their various responses to the proposal that I made. I am also grateful to the House for thinking that it was right for me to change my mind and that of the Government regarding this proposal after I had heard the representations last week. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, who both felt that while the Bill was a very urgent one, it was nevertheless right to take this course. It is perfectly fair to say that we had agreed previously to seek to take it on one day because of the urgency. But the noble Lords support the change and I am grateful to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, first of all said that he was glad; and then he said that he was sorry I had made the comment at the end of my remarks, and so indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. I think it was possibly wise of me to do so, if I may say so, because it was not long before the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, answered both noble Lords. He pointed out that there had been an occasion with the Prevention of Terrorism Act when it was most urgent to take action, and the House felt that it was right to do so on that occasion. If I had not put in that saving clause then I would find myself in all sorts of trouble on the next occasion when it may be thought right to take this action. It is only a saving clause, and I should have thought it was wise to safeguard the position. I realise that it would be a rare occasion, but it might, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said, be the proper thing to do at some other time. That was the only reason for that. There was no other sinister point behind it at all.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, decides that he wishes to criticise those procedures in another place which were agreed between the parties concerned. The noble Lord is entitled to do so. I am responsible for what goes on in your Lordships' House; I have no responsibility for what goes on in another place. I have, as has the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, some passing knowledge over a relatively short time compared with some people of what happened in another place. But it does not enable me to express any views upon the conduct of their business in any way; and I shall not do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Mulley, raked up something from my past. My past is of sufficient length now for some part of it to be raked up against me in any proposal that I may put forward at any time on any Bill on almost anything in our national life. My Lords, I have to live with that! I am now dealing with the present. The more I hear of the discussions about the Bill before it comes into force, the more I feel that perhaps I may have been right on the occasion for which the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, chastised me. At the start, I had convinced myself that I was wrong. But a little later I began to think that I may have been right because there are more criticisms of the Bill now. If I remember rightly, what I was doing on that occasion was to suggest in another place that possibly it would be right to have a debate on the Bill and not to pass it as a Private Member's Bill without a debate. I rather suspect that that is what I was doing. I therefore feel slightly less penitent as a result. Nevertheless, it is always wise to be penitent about the past and I am prepared to be so.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Inglewood for what he said. I hope that the Bill will now proceed through this House with the acceptance that it is urgent. However, it is equally important to make sure that a good job is done by your Lordships' House on this Bill. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, I should like to say that the Government amendments to which he referred will be put down in the Public Bill Office today. I hope that on that basis the House will agree to the proposal that I have put forward.

On Question, Motion agreed to.