HL Deb 07 March 2005 vol 670 cc474-5

2.44 p.m.

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they have been unable to inform members of the public who have inquired the reason for the repeal of the Treason Act 1795 during the passage of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, neither the records of the relevant debates in Hansard during the passage of the Crime and Disorder Bill nor Bill papers held in the Home Office explain fully why the 1795 Act was repealed in its entirety. It is, however, evident from the Hansard records that the repeal was considered to be a necessary consequence of the decision to repeal the death penalty for treason.

The substantive offences that were contained in the 1795 Act are covered by other parts of the criminal law including the Treason Act 1351 relating to conspiracy and incitement.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, what on earth has been going on ill the Home Office? Does the Minister recollect that on 16 November last, she told me in a Written Answer that the 1795 Act was still in force and subsequently had to correct that? Now her officials have written to members of the public saying that they have no idea why the 1795 Act was repealed. It seems that they are incapable of going to the Library, finding the Official Report for 19 March 1998 and reading in it the speeches made by the noble and learned Lord. Lord Archer, and Lord Williams of Mostyn, who seemed to have some idea why he was advocating the Act's repeal.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, of course, I apologise for the fact that the 1795 Act was incorrectly referred to. I remind noble Lords that it is not every day that the 1300 Act, the 1870 Act or those other Acts are looked at. There was a mistake. I humbly ask the House's pardon for this terrible mistake that was made by me through that dreadful, inaccurate Answer.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the 1795 Act was the terrorism Act of its day? It took rather a long time to repeal something that was inspired by public hysteria about the threat of the French and introduced by a repressive Conservative administration under William Pitt the Younger.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, some might so describe it, but I could not possibly comment. However, the Treason Act 1795 was looked at again in the Treason Act 1817, which was repealed in part by the Treason and Felony Act 1848, so it was dealt with relatively swiftly.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, was the 1351 Act one that applied to the United Kingdom? If not, I wonder why it should be an important part of the law of the United Kingdom today.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we are grateful that that Act was followed by a number of other Acts that sought to bring it into force. To help your Lordships, there was the Treason Act 1351, the Treason Act 1702, the Treason Act 1842 and the Treason and Felony Act 1848, which all amplified our splendid common law offence, so Scotland is safe.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I suppose that this could not possibly have anything to do with the fact that European Union Commissioners affirm an oath of allegiance to the European Union. If they do so, they swear allegiance to somebody other than Her Majesty the Queen, which I understand would in itself be treasonable.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I hesitate as always to give any disappointment to the noble Lord, but I have to tell him that the EU constitution is, unfortunately, not a treasonable document.