HL Deb 10 February 2005 vol 669 cc897-9

11.8 a.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the advice of the Lord Chancellor was explicitly sought on the implications for the rule of law of the proposed new anti-terrorism measures.

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, the Lord Chancellor has a constitutional role to protect the rule of law. That role has been recognised in the Constitutional Reform Bill. Decisions on new anti-terrorism measures are being taken collectively by the Government. I am explicitly involved in that process. I will discharge my duty to protect the rule of law. This Government are committed to the Human Rights Act 1998 and the rule of law.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that outstandingly uninformative Answer. I wonder whether he could help us a little further. Given that he has reiterated his residual role, albeit an important one, as the guarantor of the rule of law and given that it was widely reported that the Attorney-General had expressed the view that the new anti-terrorism measures involving house arrest without trial for suspected terrorists might fall foul of the courts, while I accept that he cannot tell us what was said and to whom, can he confirm whether the Lord Chancellor was in the loop? Did the Lord Chancellor share the Attorney-General's concerns? Was the Lord Chancellor an active participant in that debate in government, or did he confine his role to a reassuring interview with David Frost?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I cannot repeat what was discussed between Ministers or the Attorney-General, but I can confirm that the Lord Chancellor was in the loop. In his Statement about the Law Lords' judgment, the Home Secretary made it clear that because the Law Lords had ruled that Part 4 was incompatible with the Human Rights Act, it would be replaced with something compatible. I can think of no clearer demonstration of this Government's commitment to the rule of law.

Lord Henley

My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord was in the loop, as he puts it, can he assist the House by outlining where the Government are on this legislation, which the Home Secretary announced would be brought forward as soon as possible? We have heard nothing in the two weeks or so since that announcement. Before we adjourn for this brief Recess, perhaps the noble and learned Lord could tell us when the legislation is to be brought forward.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I cannot give a running commentary on the timing of the legislation. The Home Secretary will bring it forward when it is ready.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, whoever gives legal advice to the Government, whether it is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, should not disclosure of that advice be subject to the public interest test and not to absolute exemption under the Freedom of Information Act, as it is now? After all, it is we as taxpayers who have paid for that advice.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, in relation to the advice from the Law Lords, there can be no institution in the world that does not seek advice from its lawyers and keep it private. That is the right approach. On the Iraq issue, the Attorney-General set out in legal terms the lawful basis of the war. On everything else, the norm should be that such information is not disclosed. That is the view taken by every other institution and it is the right one.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor consider that control orders decided by the Home Secretary on reasonable suspicion are compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, when it is brought forward, the detail of the Bill will determine compliance with the Human Rights Act. We should wait until the Bill is before us before we consider the detail.