Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My understanding is that Question Time is an opportunity for Back Benchers and others to ask questions of Ministers and for Ministers to give substantive answers. Today we have not had answers from the Ministers. All we have had is party political polemics. Do you, Mr. Speaker, have any power to instruct Ministers to earn their money--they are paid substantial amounts--and answer the questions on the Order Paper?
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Those of us who have been here throughout Question Time and have questions on the Order Paper were satisfied with the answers given by my right hon. and hon. Friends. We recognise that it is impossible for everyone to be called, including myself, although I had hoped that my question would be reached.
I think that every hon. Member who wished to sign the book for the ballot has now done so, and I should like to draw it.
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you find time to make it clear to Ministers that, if Opposition Front Bench Members were to rise to the taunts that we have heard often today to answer questions, give the Labour party's policy and so on, you would be forced to rule such interventions out of order? They are not here to answer questions. The Government are here to defend their policy, however inadequate they are at doing so.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Let me deal with one at a time. The hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) and I have been in the House about the same length of time. Over the numerous elections in which he and I have taken part, I have noticed a tendency for this sort of thing to happen.
Column 978Opposition Front Bench Members to put their policies into the form of questions? If they had any faith in their policies, they would do so.
Mr. Skinner : There have been occasions when there has been a waste of time during Question Time and you have allowed a little extra time. On this occasion, you were obviously not aware of what happened, but the baby- faced Minister--the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the one with the Pampers on--could not count beyond 20 and we lost two valuable minutes. I think that you should add those on.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Having heard the Opposition constantly denigrating British industry, we were trying to get in to point out that we should help industry by encouraging the brightest and best, not by crying stinking fish as the Opposition do.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you could advise how the procedure might be reconsidered under which questions must be tabled two weeks in advance. We have seen the disadvantage of that today in that it is not possible directly to raise the 3,000 job losses at Gateway, the 2,000 redundancies at Rover and the 2,000 redundancies at British Aerospace. Events are moving so fast that 2,000 businesses have gone bust since these questions were tabled.
Mr. Speaker : This is a clear extension of Question Time. May I say to the hon. Gentleman that there are opportunities to put such questions to the Leader of the House during business questions on Thursday.
Mr. John Browne
Mr. Ken Hargreaves
Mr. Henry Bellingham
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to secure to every person within the United Kingdom the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights and its protocols, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and certain other rights and freedoms ; to ensure that there are effective remedies before the courts and tribunals of the United Kingdom for breaches of these fundamental rights and freedoms ; to give such fundamental rights and freedoms the same precedence and priority within the legal systems of the United Kingdom as are given to enforceable Community rights under section 2(1) and (4) of the European Communities Act 1972 ; to establish a United Kingdom Human Rights Commission with power to initiate legal proceedings for the protection of these fundamental rights and freedoms and to give advice and assistance concerning the protection of these rights ; to enable the Human Rights Commission to challenge the validity of any provision of any Act of Parliament that in its opinion is in contravention of the guarantees of the fundamental rights and freedoms secured by this Act by instituting legal proceedings in the High Court, the Court of Session or the High Court of Northern Ireland as the case requires ; to enable the Human Rights Commission to examine legislation or proposed legislation for the purpose of ascertaining whether it is inconsistent with the provisions of this Act and to report any such inconsistency to Parliament ; and for connected purposes.
The Bill would secure for every person within the United Kingdom the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European convention on human rights and its protocols and by the international covenant on civil and political rights, and would establish a United Kingdom human rights commission with powers to initiate legal proceedings for the protection of these rights and for connected purposes.
It is about 40 years since a Labour Government under the prime ministership of Clement Attlee acceded to the European convention. The convention had been drafted largely by an English lawyer--Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe--who was subsequently to become Lord Chancellor in a Conservative Government. In 1966, the Government of Mr. Harold Wilson--as he then was--provided that a right of individual petition to the European Commission and Court of Human Rights should be granted. Since then, the United Kingdom Government have had to defend many cases in Strasbourg before the Commission and that Court. There have been a number of attempts in Parliament--three times in another place and twice in recent years in this place--to secure the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into the domestic law of our country, to ensure that citizens whose fundamental rights and freedoms have been abridged or attacked by an abuse of public power or by the tyranny of the majority should be permitted to have access to our own domestic courts for a remedy. The guarantee of these rights without the provision of such a remedy is basically meaningless.
We stand alone in Europe--the only country among the members of the Council of Europe which does not offer such a fundamental protection in the form of a basic law which may be used to strike down the action or abuse of power by Ministers, public authorities or even Parliament itself.
Column 980Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) Or the European Community itself.
Mr. Maclennan : In the free democratic Commonwealth, there is no country that does not give the rights that the Bill seeks to promote. The last country which stood with us in not having a Bill of Rights was New Zealand ; in 1990, New Zealand enacted a Bill of Rights. This country and this Parliament have legislated for others to secure that right. We did so for the people of Canada and, most recently, last summer, we did so for the people of Hong Kong. But we have not sought to protect our own citizens by means of a measure which is necessary and which we have recognised as necessary in other civilised parliamentary democracies.
The case for such legislation is now strong. I make no partisan points about the abuses of power that have disfigured the present Government, for there have been abuses by both parties of Government. In the past two years, there have been five serious breaches of the rights of the citizen, and judgment has been found against this country by the court in Strasbourg. A further six cases have been deemed admissible before the court by the European Commission of Human Rights.
These are not light matters ; they are not academic matters. They touch on the very fundamentals of our freedoms. They affect the right of association, and the freedom of trade unionists not to be part of a closed shop. They touch on freedom of education--the right not to be dragooned against one's will into sending one's children to a school not of one's choice. They govern freedom of expression, and the entitlement of newspapers and the other media to publicise abuses, as The Sunday Times did with the thalidomide case.
Those are the important rights which protect--or should protect--our citizens in this democracy. But before people obtain a remedy they have to take the long and expensive course to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg--a typical case takes up to six years. That cannot be right. The time has come to ensure that the procedures for securing those rights are simpler.
The Bill asks British judges in the nations of this country to adjudicate to protect citizens from abuse. That judges are capable of so doing has been demonstrated already, by their readiness, when they sit as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, to give effect to Bills of Rights enacted by other countries in the Commonwealth. Judges also have increasing experience of giving effect to the broad principles of those rights when enacted by the European Community's legislative process.
It is ironic that the European Court of Justice is recognising the binding effect of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in its procedures, and so, indirectly, our judges are called upon to give effect to those rights in commercial cases. But perhaps the most important cases decided by the European Court of Human Rights are not commercial cases but those that touch upon the family and the individual.
The time has come to move. British public opinion is clear, because, in an opinion poll published by MORI in The Independent in October, 79 per cent. of the British people favoured such a step. The Bill is unlikely to reach the statute book in the latter part of this Parliament, but it can signal to the public the readiness of Parliament to make good a deficiency that has stood for too long.
Column 981Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robert Maclennan, Mr. James Wallace, Mr. Malcolm Bruce, Mr. Richard Livsey, Mr. Alex Carlile, Mr. Menzies Campbell and Sir David Steel.
Mr. Robert Maclennan accordingly presented a Bill to secure to every person within the United Kingdom the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights and its protocols, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and certain other rights and freedoms ; to ensure that there are effective remedies before the courts and tribunals of the United Kingdom for breaches of these fundamental rights and freedoms ; to give such fundamental rights and freedoms the same precedence and priority within the legal systems of the United Kingdom as are given to enforceable Community rights under section 2(1) and (4) of the European Communities Act 1972 ; to establish a United Kingdom Human Rights Commission with power to initiate legal proceedings for the protection of these fundamental rights and freedoms and to give advice and assistance concerning the protection of these rights ; to enable the Human Rights Commission to challenge the validity of any provision of any Act of Parliament that in its opinion is in contravention of the guarantees of the fundamental rights and freedoms secured by this act by instituting legal proceedings in the High Court, the Court of Session or the High Court of Northern Ireland as the case requires ; to enable the Human Rights Commission to examine legislation or proposed legislation for the purpose of ascertaining whether it is inconsistent with the provisions of this Act and to report any such inconsistency to Parliament ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 28 February and to be printed. [Bill 76.]
Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before we proceed with the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, your attention will have no doubt been drawn to the fact that, if passed, the Bill will enable a sum of no less than £450 million to be given to the Commission of the European Community. That money is necessary because the Community has illegally spent that sum of money. It therefore follows that we are seeking to condone something that is illegal.
Am I not right in saying that, under Standing Order No. 54, we are debarred from debating that fact for one reason only--that the Bill has been made the first Order of the Day? If it had appeared as the second Order of the Day, we would be able to debate it fully until 10 o'clock.
Although I hope that I would be the last to question the bona fides of those who manage the business of the House--I am not suggesting for one moment that they are using the procedures of the House to prevent a debate on the Bill--is there nothing that could be done now to make the Bill appear as the second Order of the Day? In that way, we could debate it.
Failing that, are there any steps that could be taken by you, Sir, to enable us to voice our objections to the Bill and to enable the public to be more widely informed about their money, the £450 million, which is being handed over for something that has been illegally spent?
Several Hon. Members rose --
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) is correct : under Standing Order No. 54(1), I am bound to put the Question forthwith on both the Second and Third Readings. The hon. Gentleman may regret what the Government have done in this matter, but it is a matter for them, not for me. However, when I put the Question, the hon. Gentleman, if he so wishes, could vote against it.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : Does it not say in Standing Order No. 54 that, if the Government choose, they can move the Adjournment of the House to enable a discussion to take place? There are several reasons why undoubtedly that should be done. First, we are dealing with the illegal spending of £450 million, which is effectively equivalent to about £8 per head of the population of the United Kingdom. It is a great deal of money. Secondly, we know that the EEC is illegally withholding a great deal of cash due to the British Treasury. Thirdly, we know from the news today that the EEC plans to double the contribution of £2.5 billion which we have to make this year--that means that the contribution of £4 per family per week to the EEC will increase to £8.
If we cannot discuss such things, surely it means that Parliament is basically becoming useless. We cannot discuss the expenditure of money on an unlawful purpose--it was stated to be unlawful by the Treasury in its paper that we discussed late the other night. If the Government wanted to discuss the matter, could they not simply use Standing Order No. 54 to move the Adjournment? We
Column 983could then debate one of the most serious issues--the legality of the EC and how money is taken from British taxpayers.
As for the second part of the hon. Gentleman's point of order, the Bill reflects exactly what the House agreed to last week, and that is all that it could do. If further payments of the same kind were required, the Government would have to present a new estimate, and a further Bill would then be necessary.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In a paper presented to the House when the matter was debated, the Treasury made it clear that it admitted that part of that money was illegal and subject to a challenge in the European Court. Under those circumstances, is it proper for Parliament to proceed to vote on that expenditure when part of it is challenged as being of dubious legality? There must be a Standing Order whereby the matter can at least be deferred rather than involve Parliament in a clear illegality, or an attempt to support one.
Mr. Speaker : I recollect selecting an amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) on that very matter last week. The House divided on it, and the decision of the House was taken.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Trade and Industry questions, you told the House that it must proceed by debate rather than by visual aids after I had shown a banned advertisement by the British Medical Association. May I seek clarification on that? There has been a long and honourable tradition of using visual aids in the House. An hon. Member once brought in a battery hen cage to illustrate the cruelty of battery cages and there have been many other examples. Although I realise that they could be abused because of television cameras in the House, can we not have the same right to use visual aids that was permitted before cameras came to the House?
Mr. Speaker : Order. If the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) casts his mind back to our debates on whether the House should be televised, he will remember that concern was expressed on both sides about the display of visual aids. Although the hon. Gentleman is technically correct to say that it is not out of order to display such items, I believe that it would be deprecated by the whole House if visual aids were generally used. After all, from what the hon. Gentleman wants, it is a small move to Members displaying advertisements for Coca-Cola, for example.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Further to the previous point of order, Mr. Speaker. In last week's debate, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) asked whether the consent of the House was required. He said that the Government have their hands in our pockets again and the Minister in charge of the debate replied :
"I do not have my hands in your pockets, but Europe does."--[ Official Report, 5 February 1992 ; Vol. 203, c. 260.]
So the Government have admitted that Europe is putting its hands illegally into our pockets. Surely we should have time to debate that.
Mr. Skinner : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There have been occasions when similar situations have occurred and it has been pretty clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House have tried to press on you the need to get the business changed, and you have taken that into account.
You will have noticed, Mr. Speaker, that the Leader of the House has not even turned up. We are discussing £450 million of illegal expenditure by the tinpot Common Market. You were not elected by the Common Market ; you represent Parliament. What is happening in, or should I say over, your name today is that the Government are allowing £450 million to go through on the nod. You know only too well what will happen : when the Division bells ring after we have shouted no to the expenditure, the shop stewards--the Whips--of the Tory party will be on the Doors to shovel Tory Members through to gain a victory. It is a scandal, and you should suspend the Sitting in order that some discussion can take place.
"The Treasury may issue out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom and apply towards making good the supply granted to Her Majesty for the service of the year ending on 31st March 1993 the sum of £1,000."
One cannot get much for £1,000 these days--not even if one happens to be the Queen. If additional sums beyond the £1,000 to go to Her Majesty are requested, will the permission of the House be sought?
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I rise to speak not because I have had my name mentioned but to say that, whenever we as Back Benchers have the opportunity to complain about what goes on in
Column 985this place, we have to come to you. You are the protector of the Back Bencher. We have complained time and time again about European affairs being dealt with in the early hours of the morning. We have an opportunity to discuss that problem at this earlier time of day and the Government are denying Back Benchers the right to express their view on it. Come on, Mr. Speaker, get off your backside and do something about it!
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that the debate on 4 February was limited to an hour and a half, took place late at night and many Members who wished to speak were debarred from doing so? From the remarks that you have already made, it seems that it would be possible for the Government representatives to stay seated and say, "Not moved," so that the matter can come back and be placed second on the Order Paper on another day, and be debated. Is that the position? Mr. Speaker : That could happen.
Order for Second Reading read.
Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 54 (Consolidated Fund Bills) :-- The House divided : Ayes 186, Noes 50.
Division No. 79] [3.57 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Beith, A. J.
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William
Currie, Mrs Edwina
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Durant, Sir Anthony
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Fishburn, John Dudley
Fookes, Dame Janet
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Sir Marcus
Gardiner, Sir George
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hampson, Dr Keith
Hannam, Sir John
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, Rt Hon David
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Mo n)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Maude, Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Maxwell-Hyslop, Sir Robin
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Mellor, Rt Hon David
Meyer, Sir Anthony
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Monro, Sir Hector
Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Morrison, Sir Charles
Moynihan, Hon Colin
Neale, Sir Gerrard
Neubert, Sir Michael
Newton, Rt Hon Tony