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10.45 pm

An editorial in the Guernsey Evening Press says, more or less, that I should mind my own business. It states:

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    That comes from an island where there is a shortage of nurses and prison staff because they are not paid enough and there is a growing drugs problem. The island cannot afford the latest medical technology, and urgent and serious cases are sent to Southampton for treatment. The British health service and all British social services are being drained of billions of pounds through the taxes and fiddles that are going on in the independent financial regime there.

We shall not ratify the fourth protocol at present, for reasons that were explained to me by the Home Office Minister. I wish to put a further question to my right hon. Friend about the fourth protocol, which has been put to me from Jersey. Is it possible to include the fourth protocol in any Jersey Bill if it is not included in the British Bill--and if not, why not? Is there any reason why Jersey or Guernsey could not introduce the fourth protocol in local Bills, even if the UK does not?

I am afraid that I have spoken for too long, so I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion. Many other hon. Members want to participate in the debate and give their views on offshore havens--those curious offshore anomalies. I know that my right hon. Friend is interested in and concerned about the issue. He has demonstrated his concern by initiating an inquiry into the regulatory regime. I hope that he will rush to accept my amendment, so that we can get the matter over with without delay or backsliding from the islands. If not, I hope that he has bankable assurances from the islands that they will legislate for themselves if he is anxious to maintain the convention. In my view, it is not necessary to do so because I want the rights of the masses of ordinary people in the islands--not those of the elite, who can take care of themselves--to be protected, so that we can make the islands fit for people, not just for money.

Mr. Maclennan: The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has raised a valuable issue. In another place, my noble Friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill gave my party's view, which is broadly sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's objectives, and we support the principle of incorporation for the offshore dependencies. It is not necessary to go into all the circumstances that he has adduced in support of his argument, or even to adopt his reasoning. However, there is no doubt about our ability to do what he suggests.

Mr. Mitchell: I omitted to express my indebtedness to Lord Lester, who wrote the amendments and provided me with helpful support and advice. I am grateful to him. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say that.

Mr. Maclennan: In turn, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, as my noble Friend will be.

This country's obligation to take the rights of those living in those dependencies seriously is undoubted. How that is done--whether in the Bill or by the legislatures of the islands themselves--is of secondary importance. What is crucial is that it be done. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby has said that it is likely that it will be done within the islands, or at least that such an intention has been expressed, and I am advised that it is at least probable. That would not necessarily have happened if the issue had not been pressed, as it has been by the hon. Gentleman, and if the House had not expressed strong concern about regularising the position.

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I do not doubt that one point that surprises many other countries about our adherence to the convention is that we did not long ago provide domestic remedies designed to give effect to the convention rights. Equivalent legislation was certainly passed in all the other signatory countries. It would be highly anomalous if the islands were to remain outwith the convention scheme under which domestic remedies are made available to give effect to the rights. I hope that that view will have been heard in all the islands and that we shall have no more Manx birching cases being contested in Strasbourg, because they can be handled in Douglas.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) for tabling the amendments and raising this important issue, just as the Government were grateful in the other place for the way in which Lord Lester raised the matter there.

As we have heard, the amendments would apply the Bill's provisions in various ways to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. My hon. Friend has pointed out that the United Kingdom is obliged to ensure that the islands comply with the convention and that there is a right of individual petition to the convention institutions in Strasbourg in respect of the islands, but that the convention does not at present have effect in their domestic law. I am happy to tell the Committee that the island authorities have made it clear that they want to bring rights home to the islands, just as we are doing in the United Kingdom.

Before I move on to the detail of that, it may assist the Committee if I say something about the constitutional relationship between the United Kingdom and the islands. That was set out in detail in the report of the royal commission on the constitution in 1973--the Kilbrandon report. My hon. Friend referred in particular to paragraph 1494 and the conclusions in paragraph 1513.

Briefly, the conclusion of the Kilbrandon report is that the United Kingdom Government are responsible for the defence and international relations of the islands, and the Crown is ultimately responsible for their good government. It falls to the Home Secretary to advise the Crown on the exercise of those duties and responsibilities. The United Kingdom Parliament has the power to legislate for the islands, but it would exercise that power without their agreement in relation to domestic matters only in the most exceptional circumstances.

A domestic circumstance that also affected all the countries that make up the United Kingdom--and, to some extent, had international effects--which was cited at length in the Kilbrandon report, was the issue, which those of us of a certain age remember only too well, of the so-called pirate radio stations that were set up off the shore of the Isle of Man in the early 1960s. Some of us still remember the catch tune of Radio Caroline. Much of the noise harassment that some of us now suffer could be said to have flowed from that experiment. Those were exceptional circumstances: legislation on domestic matters usually takes the form of laws enacted by the island legislatures, although they are subject to endorsement by me as Secretary of State for the Home Department and by the Privy Council.

United Kingdom laws are sometimes extended to the islands with their agreement. We consulted the island authorities about the extension of the Bill to them. All

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three said that they did not wish it to be so extended, and, as we want to maintain satisfactory relations with the islands, we paid careful attention to their views, as always.

The Committee will be glad to know that my noble Friend Lord Williams, the Minister with responsibility for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, has undertaken a series of visits to find out from the island authorities what plans they have in the human rights field. I am pleased to say that their responses have all been positive. Each of the island authorities has made clear its intentions with respect to the Bill and the incorporation in its domestic law of the European convention. I have placed copies of their public statements and letters in the Library and have made them available to the official Opposition, to the Liberal Democrats and to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby.

It is worth pointing out that Jersey has fairly said that, six years ago, under the previous Administration, a proposal that the island should enact legislation to incorporate the European convention was raised with Home Office officials and was discussed informally with the Secretary-General of the Commission in Strasbourg. The island's Attorney-General was informed at that time by officials that the Home Office did not favour the island acting in advance of the United Kingdom, so the matter was shelved. Consultation goes both ways, and the previous Government, for reasons that I understand, but do not agree with, decided that they did not want incorporation of the convention in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and asked the island authorities to follow suit.

The Bailiff of Jersey has now made it clear that the insular authorities

The Bailiff's letter goes on:

    "The Insular Authorities confidently expect to have a draft law with the Home Office for pre audit in the normal way by the end of this year."

The States of Guernsey issued a public statement on 22 May. The President of the Advisory and Finance Committee said:

    "The States Advisory and Finance Committee intends to recommend to the States of Guernsey that legislation be enacted"--

to incorporate the convention--

    "having regard to the particular circumstances of the Island".

He said that, once the Bill has become law, recommendations will be laid before the States of Guernsey. He added:

    "The Committee is confident that it will be possible to submit a draft law to the Home Office for pre-audit before the end of this year."

In December 1997, the Isle of Man made it clear that it intended to introduce legislation to give effect in Manx law to the convention on human rights. It says:

    "Before any Government Bill is introduced in the House of Keys, a draft is always sent to the Home Office for their comments, if necessary after consultation with other United Kingdom Departments, and appropriate measures are taken to consult local interests."

In the light of those statements, I hope that the Committee will recognise that the Governments of each of the three islands are committed to introducing

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legislation fully to incorporate the European convention into their own law and to consult me, my officials and the Government more widely on the precise terms of that incorporation.

I believe that that is a satisfactory outcome.

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