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Mr. Taylor: That is the fear at the heart of the matter. Whatever references I may have made to the Lord Chancellor were references to an office, and not to any particular incumbent. I had the great honour of serving a previous incumbent in this House, and I hold the office in high regard.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend has endorsed what my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) said--that we are giving judges the final say on a range of rights. However, that is surely the consequence of any Bill of Rights. It is, in fact, the logical objection to the Bill of Rights. Once we have accepted a Bill of Rights--as we have done by adopting the convention--the question for this Committee and this House is whether the judge in question is a European-based or a UK-based judge. That is the narrow question we face, rather than the broad issue so eloquently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough.

Mr. Taylor: My right hon. and learned Friend contends that the adoption of the convention into domestic law is the beginning of a Bill of Rights. I offer an alternative interpretation--that it is perhaps the beginning of a written constitution. He would be welcome to intervene on me on that matter if he wished to do so.

Mr. Hogg: Of course it is--this is indeed a Bill of Rights. It does indeed mean a written constitution, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough--

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and other hon. Members are straying further and further from the amendment. The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) must get back to the amendment.

Mr. Taylor: I shall get back to it--if I was ever there. The correct way for me to bring my speech to a

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conclusion is to remind the Committee that it is a part of our culture, our idiom and all that we have developed in this great country in our great history that the judges defer to Parliament. That point has not been made in the debate. The judges have a customary form of words with which they defer to Parliament--as seen in many law reports--which is "Parliament in its wisdom". That is the view of the judges towards Parliament, and it is a good attitude for them to take.

Mr. Garnier: I do not know whether my hon. Friend intended to or not, but he was on point in at least some of his remarks. Clause 2(1)(a) refers to a


If, in his 22 years as a solicitor, my hon. Friend has read some of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, he will have seen that, in some cases, the court says candidly that it sees the convention and the development of its rights as a constitutional Bill of Rights. The court makes no secret of that.

Mr. Taylor: I am very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for comforting me, even at the conclusion of my speech. I take that solace and endorsement very kindly. I have--to answer his question--read judgments of the Court. Furthermore, having served briefly as a member of the Council of Europe, I have also read the convention. I remind myself that the convention was written largely by British lawyers. We were the first to initial it, and the first to endorse it. It is not exactly an alien creature, except perhaps in its new constitutional setting.

My initial view of the matter generally was that part of the British people's objection to judgments made in Strasbourg was, more or less, that they were made in Strasbourg by people who were not citizens of the United Kingdom, and whose surnames made it sound as if they were not citizens of the United Kingdom. Initially, I felt that the British people would be happier with the convention, feel kinder towards it and have greater respect for its general authority if it were incorporated into domestic law, and if contentious human rights issues could be decided by English and Welsh judges in law courts in the Strand.

Mr. Lord, that was my speech, and those were some of the points that I wanted to make. I am very glad of the opportunity to be able to do so.

Mr. Heald: Many hon. Members in the Chamber are lawyers. I make that confession--mea culpa.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): It is a badge of honour.

Mr. Heald: I am pleased to hear the Home Secretary say that, and I certainly would not disagree with it.

I do not know how many hon. Members in the Chamber have experience of taking human rights cases to the European Court of Human Rights. I have not. However, over many years, I have had experience of appearing in the English courts and being impressed by the quality of our judges and the way in which the law is allowed to interact with the circumstances within our island. I think

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that many of us want to protect the history and quality of our judges being able to interpret the law based on the conditions within our island--or in England and Wales, which is the jurisdiction in which I practise.

Above all, our judiciary do not involve themselves in political decisions, or in decisions that involve interpreting high-sounding and vague principles--the type of imprecise statements in the European convention on human rights itself.

In our jurisdiction, the convention has operated so that our judges have had no involvement with it. Our judges have always made their decisions in the traditional manner, although there has also been the right of recourse to the European Court of Human Rights when that is appropriate.

Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend is making an extremely valuable point. Is he aware of the recent decision of Lord Justice Mustill, in which he drew attention to the great difference between the general terms in which judgments are given in the European Court of Human Rights and the more precise terms in which they are given in the United Kingdom? Does my hon. Friend agree that there can be a very big difference between the two?

Mr. Heald: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. There is a danger that, if we import into our judges' jurisdiction the idea that vague and imprecise concepts can be the subject of their jurisprudence, and that they can reach that type of decision, the overall system may become contaminated, changing our current precise practice of the law--which has been a proud part of our history--into a much more vague, imprecise and undoubtedly high-sounding practice. Ultimately, however, it will result in political judgments being made.

Mr. Grieve: I do not disagree with any of the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. Many judgments of the European Court of Human Rights seem to be very woolly and general. Does he not think that English judges are likely to apply their minds to such decisions--as they have had to do to decisions of the European Court of Justice, which have the same quality of woolliness--and succeed in extrapolating basic principles from that woolliness? They have subsequently applied those principles very specifically--so greatly improving jurisprudence, and case law, in this case, in relation to the convention.

Mr. Heald: My hon. Friend expresses the contrary viewpoint, with which I was about to deal. If our judges are allowed to be pioneers in the matter, they will not half improve that sphere of jurisprudence across Europe, especially as it operates for United Kingdom citizens--[Interruption.] The Minister does not like the way in which I have described the argument. However, I think that he himself would accept that his argument is that our judges should have an input into the matter and be able to define and deal with cases on the basis of the European convention.

I do not accept that argument. I think that there is a danger of contaminating our system and of changing it, so that it conducts not a precise legal exercise, as it currently does, but a rather vague, woolly and rather imprecise one, as the convention demands.

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6.15 pm

In the other place, Lord McCluskey--who is no Conservative, but, none the less, a former Law Officer--said:


Mr. Hogg: That is already the position. Once we subscribed to the convention, that was the consequence. The question that the Committee and the House will have continually to face is whether interpretation of existing provisions under the existing convention is best entrusted exclusively to the courts in Strasbourg or, in the first instance, to courts in the United Kingdom. Speaking for myself, at first instance, I prefer having a United Kingdom judicial interpretation to not having one.

Mr. Heald: My right hon. and learned Friend has made the contrary argument that I tried to describe. I do not know whether he accepts that that was the contrary view that I was trying to describe.


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