Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman must understand that the Deputy Speaker cannot grasp all the points that he is putting because he is getting us involved in a debate, but what I told him and his colleague is that

24 Jan 2000 : Column 81

the selection of amendments is not a matter for debate. The Procedure Committee does not deal with private business.

Mr. Cohen: I hear what you are saying. [Interruption.] I hear from a sedentary position--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has heard what I am saying, but I cannot spend the time taking points of order. Some of the points--

Mr. Cohen rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Some of the points are really matters for debate.

Mr. Cohen rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Does Mr. Cohen have another point of order?

Mr. Cohen: Yes, I do--a specific point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for not giving you prior notice, as my colleague did. It was remiss of me, but it was a simple point of order. Clause 1 says:

It might have escaped the promoters' recollection, but we are actually in the year 2000. I submitted an amendment, altering 1999 to 2000, which I thought was helpful and sensible. Obviously, there was a carry-over period and it--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is debating an amendment that was not selected. If the Bill goes for Royal Assent, that matter will be dealt with at that stage, but that is not a matter for debate now. I must proceed with the business before us.

New Clause 1

Statement of compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights

'( ).--(1) Section 3 of the Act shall not have force until the Secretary of State has made a statement to the effect that in his view the provisions of the Act are compatible with the Convention rights.'.--[Mr. Mackinlay.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 22, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, at end insert--

'"the Convention rights" has the same meaning as in the Human Rights Act 1998.'.

Mr. Mackinlay: I am pleased to be the opening bat in the debate. I am pleased that my new clause has been selected for debate, in view of the ingenuity and diligence of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and his twin, my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen), whose many amendments appear on the amendment paper. I am grateful to whoever makes the selections. Nevertheless,

24 Jan 2000 : Column 82

I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the diligence of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington for his assiduous, unrelenting opposition to a rather grubby Bill.

New clause 1, with consequential amendment No. 22, would in essence meet one of the points that were raised on a point of order by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington--that the Bill is, in our view, deficient because it does not carry a certificate. It does not have an endorsement that it complies with our obligations under the European convention on human rights. I believe that we have stumbled across a flaw in our law-making process in this place. Private Bills do not have such an endorsement automatically, and it has not been volunteered by the Bill's promoters at the outset.

7.30 pm

I remind the House that, when we passed the Human Rights Act 1998, it was made explicit under section 19(1)(a) that Government and public Bills had to have an endorsement on the green paper of the Bill itself that the Secretary of State in charge of it confirmed that, in his or her view, it met the provisions of the European convention. For some reason that I have been unable to ascertain, that provision was not made to cover private legislation. Whatever hon. Members' views of the merits of this Bill, it is surely perverse that our legislative process has a rule that requires one, but not another, category of Bill to receive certification that it is compatible with the European convention.

That is perverse and foolhardy. If this or another private Bill reaches the statute book and is challenged in the courts of the United Kingdom or even in Strasbourg, the Attorney-General, not the Bill's promoters, will be required to defend its provisions. He would have to defend something to which he was not originally a party and to defend it at enormous public expense. That would be at the expense not of the taxpayers of the City of London, but of the public purse as a whole.

The House should accept new clause 1 on the basis of prudence and good housekeeping. Until such time as the House revisits the Human Rights Act 1998 and it becomes a requirement for a private Bill to have the same endorsement as public Bills, it would be prudent for the House or another place to adopt the wording in the new clause for every private Bill that comes before them.

Mr. McDonnell: My hon. Friend said that his new clause addresses our earlier concerns, but I do not think that it does. However, I shall come to that point if I catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My hon. Friend suggested that the Bill's promoters would not be liable under the Human Rights Act if anyone sought a future remedy. He said that the Attorney-General would be the defendant. In my view, we are all responsible for the Bill; the localised immunity that we think we have as Members of Parliament does not exist. That has been adequately demonstrated in other cases recently and I shall elaborate--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. This an extremely long intervention. The hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to participate later in the debate if he catches my eye.

Mr. Mackinlay: I follow my hon. Friend's drift, but I look forward to his amplifying his point a little later.

24 Jan 2000 : Column 83

I want to emphasise the point that the obligation to defend the United Kingdom statute book in the courts would lie with the Attorney-General. So far as I am aware, he has not even been asked about this matter. When a Secretary of State presents a public Bill, he does not say glibly that the Bill of which he is the architect complies with the European convention. A memorandum is exchanged between him and the Law Officers, and the Law Officers, not as politicians but as lawyers, express a view. In a sense, the Secretary of State who is piloting the Bill acts as conduit of that information and he reports back to the House. He says that he has consulted the Law Officers, who confirm that a Bill meets the requirements of the convention.

This is not a Government Bill. However, I hope that the Minister will--this evening or subsequently--write to the Attorney-General asking him formally whether the Bill meets the requirements of the convention. He should do that because, if for no other reason, he has an obligation to the public purse. I also presume that he does not want the United Kingdom to be embarrassed in the courts when our legislation is scrutinised. I therefore hope that, when the Minister winds up, he will take account of that point and will, whatever happens, undertake to ask the Attorney-General explicitly for his view on the matter.

May I through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, address the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke)? Quite naturally and rightly, he is the principal steward of the Bill for one of the local authorities in his constituency. The right hon. Gentleman could and should stand up tonight on behalf of the promoters and say, "I accept this new clause." If he does not or is unable to, that suggests that the promoters think the Bill is flawed and deficient in this regard. Why otherwise would they not accept this prudent new clause? When the right hon. Gentleman addresses the House, I hope that he will suggest that he will accept the new clause or commend it to the Bill's promoters so that the Bill could be tidied up.

I have already said the Human Rights Act explicitly requires that a Government Bill be consistent with the European convention. However, the Act is silent about private legislation, and that reflects a failure by the House. We do not make good law because scrutiny is inadequate. However, the Act does not say that such an undertaking cannot be given for private Bills. In a written answer, the Home Secretary pointed out the obligation for a public Bill to have such certification, and also referred to private Bills. He said:

I stress those words--

    " . . . the Minister responsible for the policy should, as a matter of practice, express the Government's views on compatibility with convention rights during the Second Reading debate."--[Official Report, 5 May 1999; Vol. 330, c. 377W.]

While we have given this Bill a Second Reading, I read into that reply that the Home Secretary was getting the message that the Government could not ignore the fact that the courts in this country or the European Court in Strasbourg may consider it a flaw if the Government do not counsel Parliament on the obligations under the convention.

Next Section

IndexHome Page