HL Deb 19 November 2001 vol 628 cc873-6

3.6 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I take this earliest opportunity to make a brief statement regarding the timetable for the emergency Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. The timetable has been agreed in the usual channels.

It is expected that the Bill will arrive in this House late on Monday 26th November; that is, a week today. The Second Reading will be on Tuesday 27th November. There will then be four days in Committee: Wednesday 28th and Thursday 29th November and Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th December. There will be two days on Report on Thursday 6th and Monday 10th December. The Third Reading will be on Tuesday 11th December. I am extremely grateful to the usual channels for agreeing to reduce the intervals between the various stages of the Bill.

There are a number of associated questions which need to be addressed, for example, your Lordships will want to know when the Speakers' List will be open for Second Reading and what the deadlines will be for tabling amendments. I discussed those matters with the usual channels and with the House authorities and we have placed a comprehensive document outlining all the dates and arrangements in the Printed Paper Office.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I confirm, as the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms says, that we have agreed to the accelerated programme for the Bill that he set out. I thank him for announcing it. However, I wish to add a few sentences about the nature of that agreement.

My right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith rightly expressed to the Prime Minister and publicly the Opposition's support for necessary emergency measures in the face of the new threats from terrorism. We have always been resolute against terrorism and, of course, we remain so. But this Bill is not a coalition document. We were not consulted on its content before it was published. It embodies Labour Ministers' ideas and their judgment of what is required urgently under an accelerated timetable. Neither the Opposition nor your Lordships' House generally is under an obligation to accept unthinkingly either those ideas or those judgments of urgency. Indeed, I believe that we have an obligation to scrutinise them.

Ministers from eight different government departments are proposing permanent changes to laws, including some that we have recently passed after much discussion, for example, the Terrorism Act 2000, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and so on. Some clauses are to be subject to monitoring by statutory instrument for renewal at intervals, some are not. For the first time, I believe, some clauses are limited to international terrorism as distinct from UK terrorism. Given the continuing domestic threat to the United Kingdom and the world-wide terrorist links of some UK terrorists, that is in itself an extraordinary proposal.

The point to be made about the agreement on the timetable is that it does not so much limit the actual length of your Lordships' debates—eight days is probably only two or three days short of what the Bill would have taken in the normal course—but it drastically cuts the normal intervals between stages and between the days of the Committee stage. Therefore, it reduces the time for reflection, for consultation with bodies and individuals outside Parliament, and for thought not only by Members of your Lordships' House but also by others outside and, indeed, by the Government on what is said in Parliament.

We have agreed the foreshortened timetable. However, neither we nor your Lordships' House should neglect our duty to consider the Government's proposals and their claims to urgency in each case.

Lord Roper

My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful to the Chief Whip for the suggestions that he accepted with regard to the timetabling. However, we share a number of the reservations expressed by the Opposition Chief Whip. This is a very full Bill. It includes some measures which do not immediately seem to be directly relevant to the issues of antiterrorism with which we totally agree. We shall want to scrutinise those particularly carefully in deciding whether they should be included in a Bill which is being considered in such an accelerated way. However, subject to that, we have accepted, and will support when they come before the House, the changes which will enable us to consider the Bill in an abbreviated form.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, as we are not accustomed to timetable Motions in your Lordships' House, I want to ask whether this matter will be debatable. As there is very little precedent for it, I hope that it will at least be subject to a debate.

Lord Carter

My Lords, every Bill that we discuss in this House is subject to an agreed timetable. The noble Lord is entirely correct that we have no such thing as a timetable Motion. However, the usual channels spend their time agreeing timetables for every Bill with which we deal, and this Bill is no different in that respect. The timetable has been agreed. Certainly the intervals have been reduced but there are plenty of precedents for that.

I certainly accept what the noble Lords, Lord Peyton and Lord Cope, said. There is no chance that this House will accept unthinkingly anything that is put before it. We have allowed eight days for the Bill. I do not believe that this is the time or place to discuss its merits or what should or should not be included in it. Clearly that will become apparent as the Bill proceeds. However, since becoming Chief Whip, I have worked with the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde, Lord Henley. Lord Cope, the late Lord Harris of Greenwich and now the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and we have always managed to complete Bills according to the agreed timetable. I hope that this extremely important Bill will not be the first on which we breach an agreement reached via the usual channels.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, while I support my own Front Bench and yield to no one in my determination to fight terrorism, perhaps I may raise a procedural point. It may transpire that this House believes that some clauses in the Bill do not need to be enacted before Christmas and that some clauses require further thought and possible amendment. In that case, will the Government be open to the possibility of splitting the Bill so that clauses which, in the view of this House, genuinely need to be enacted before Christmas are so enacted while other clauses could be brought forward after Christmas for further and more detailed consideration? I say that in the context of the very abbreviated consideration which the Bill appears to be receiving in another place.

Lord Carter

My Lords, it would certainly not be right for me to comment on that. I am not familiar with all the details of the Bill. I am sure that the noble Lord and others will wish to place those arguments before the House as we proceed through the Bill. It would not be right for me to give such an undertaking today.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, it is the Government's contention at present that all the propositions in the Bill need to be put into law by Christmas. It will, of course, be for your Lordships to consider whether they agree with that contention in the case of each individual proposal. We hope to be able to persuade the Government that some of the proposals are not urgent and that they should be left out of this Bill. Perhaps, if it is desired, they could be included in a further Bill to follow in the new year.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I raise a point for clarification only. I heard the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms say that the intervals between stages had been reduced. Am I right in thinking that there will be no interval between Second Reading and Committee stage, no interval between Report stage and Third Reading, and that the interval between Committee and Report stages has been contracted to a single day?

Lord Carter

My Lords, that is entirely correct. I was able to meet that suggestion put forward by the two Opposition parties. They wish to go into Committee stage immediately after the Second Reading. Therefore, the noble Lord is quite correct. The Second Reading will take place next Tuesday. We shall then have four days of Committee. A break of one day will be followed by two days of Report. The Third Reading will follow that. The Government regard this as emergency legislation on an extremely important subject. That is the agreement that has been reached.