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Column 419Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Quin, Ms Joyce
Reid, Dr John
Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Strang, Dr. Gavin
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wareing, Robert N
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Wright, Dr Tony
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. John Spellar and
Mr. Eric Illsley.
Question accordingly agreed to .
Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments .
That the draft Contracts (Applicable Law) Act 1990 (Amendment) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 24th May, be approved.
The purpose of the order is to make some minor modifications to the Contracts (Applicable Law) Act 1990 in order to reflect the accession of Spain and Portugal to the 1980 Rome convention on the law applicable to contractual obligations.
It may be helpful at the outset to say a few words by way of background about the 1980 Rome convention. It is a convention made between member states of the European Community, the purpose of which is to harmonise their private international law rules on contract. It lays down rules to determine which law is to apply to a contract that has connections with more than one country. It does not affect the substantive law of contract, but merely enables courts to decide which country's law governs a contract. That harmonisation is designed to make it easier for people to do business in the Community, as the rules on applicable law will no longer vary according to which member state's courts hear litigation in the field of contract law.
The convention was opened for signature in 1980. This country signed it in 1981 and ratified it in January 1991, having given effect to it in United Kingdom law by the Contracts (Applicable Law) Act 1990. The reason for the delay was the time taken to negotiate two protocols to the convention, which provide for the European Court of Justice to have jurisdiction in certain cases under the convention and which were signed in 1988. This country's ratification was the last needed to bring the convention into force on 1 April 1991. All nine member states at the date of the opening for signature of the convention have now ratified it.
Although the Rome convention is not strictly a piece of Community legislation, it is related to article 220 of the treaty of Rome--the treaty which established the European Economic Community. The purpose of that article is to ensure that member states enter into negotiations to secure the simplification and facilitation of recognition and enforcement of judgments in the Community and new member states undertake to accede to the conventions made thereunder, in particular the 1968 Brussels convention on jurisdiction, and the enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. The Rome convention concerns a related area of private international law. Greece acceded to it by the Luxembourg convention of 1984. The United Kingdom ratified that latter convention, and it too is now in force. The convention on the accession of Spain and Portugal was signed in Funchal on 18 May 1992--as a matter of fact, by me. It resembled that for Greece closely in text and is largely formal. It is to be found in the schedule to the draft order, article 9 of which will insert it as a new schedule to the Contracts (Applicable Law) Act 1990. The changes to the 1990 Act contained in this draft order are minor and uncontroversial, and are necessary in order for this country to ratify the convention whereby Spain and Portugal have acceded to the 1980 Rome
Column 421convention. As such, the order facilitates a useful development in an important area of private international law and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South) : However minor and uncontroversial the order may or may not be, the manner in which it was moved by the Minister was indicative of a wider problem. Mr. Deputy Speaker, when you called the order for debate, the Minister was strangely absent from his place, showing his marked reluctance to come to the House to be accountable for the actions of the Lord Chancellor's Department and, for once, to be accountable for his own actions : we learned that he signed the relevant document himself.
Well, that is good news. For once, he can come to the House and be accountable for something that he has done, rather than something that the Lord Chancellor has done--or rather something that he has not done in fulfilling his duties. [Interruption.] I see that some hon. Members are anxious that we should get on. By the look of them, I think that this matter must have some vaguely European purpose because representatives of the two sides of the Conservative party are present in the Chamber. It is enough to make one wish to stay for the next business, rather than beating a hasty retreat.
Mr. Boateng : I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not realised that it is part of the Opposition's job to stir up trouble. We do not have much difficulty with that lot on the Conservative Benches. Some of the usual suspects are here tonight. [Hon. Members :-- "Where are the they ?"] We do not have any usual suspects on the Opposition Benches-- we are all one great big happy family. I shall focus on the measure before the House because that is what you would wish me to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Article 1 of the Rome convention, to which the Minister referred, was given effect by the Contracts (Applicable Law) Act 1990, which gave rise to the amending order that was laid before the House. The article contains a number of exclusion areas, if I may use that phrase--areas that are excluded from the rules of the convention. We are anxious to ascertain tonight the Government's intentions in relation to those areas.
The areas excluded from the rules of the convention are : contractual obligations relating to wills and succession ; rights in property arising out of a matrimonial relationship, and rights and duties arising out of a family relationship ; obligations arising under bills of exchange, cheques and other negotiable instruments, to the extent that the obligations arise out of the instrument's negotiable character ; questions governed by the law of companies and other bodies corporate or unincorporate ; the constitutions of trusts and the relationship between settlors, trustees and beneficiaries ; and, importantly, contracts of insurance that cover risks in the European Community. All those are excluded under article 1. We want to know the Government's attitude towards them.
Also, it is important that we know from the Minister what steps he and the Lord Chancellor's Department are