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Mr. Tony Benn: On that point--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) has completed his remarks, unless he says otherwise.

Mr. Brooke: I was seeking to make those the final remarks in my speech.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I call Mr. McDonnell.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has tabled the new clause and congratulate him on doing so. I have raised compliance with the human rights convention on three occasions, including today. The previous occasion was the carry-over debate in November. Despite the fact that the matter has been taken seriously by the House and by the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means in the discussions, unfortunately, it has been dismissed somewhat lightly by the Government. I need to clarify that the Bill is Government promoted. In every debate, a Minister has taken responsibility for ensuring that it proceeds. Although we are informed that the vote is unwhipped, on

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many occasions we have been told that the Government want to see the business through and an informal Whip has been applied. I find that disgraceful.

I simply say to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that none of our debates on this important issue have been delaying mechanisms. I agree that we should defeat the Bill in the Lobby and believe that, had there been a genuinely free vote, this piece of detritus would have been thrown out long ago. The human rights new clause is critical, though dismissed by the Government. I shall sit down at any stage to allow my hon. Friend the Minister to intervene from the Front Bench so that we can hear the Government's views on whether the Bill complies with the human rights convention.

The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) chaired the Committee that examined the Bill at length, and a number of my colleagues were also involved in that scrutiny. When I raised compliance with the human rights convention in a point of order during our debate on 14 July, he said:

I regret that that statement was made, because it is wrong. I would seek an adjournment of the House, if necessary, to ask the hon. Gentleman, who is not in his usual place, to comment on those remarks. I should have informed him that I would raise this matter, and I apologise to him and the House for not doing so, but I genuinely thought that the Chairman of the Committee would have been present, as he has been for previous debates.

Mr. Syms: As I understand it, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), as Committee Chairman, pointed out on 14 July that that issue was not taken up by either of the petitioners in Committee, although it formed part of the evidence--the original petition--lodged by Mr. Malcolm Matson.

Mr. McDonnell: With the greatest respect, if the hon. Gentleman wants me to read the quote from the hon. Member for Wantage again, I shall do so. He did not say that. He said that

I do not like to contradict him when he is not in his place, but he was the Chairman of the Committee. I should be happy to seek an adjournment to enable him to come forward and say why he made that statement. I understand the difficulties of chairing a Committee of that sort, but a central element of Mr. Matson's petition concerned human rights. It drew attention to the fact that the Bill contravened his human rights, which is why I welcome the debate.

The petition by Malcolm John Matson said:

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    Your Petitioner and his rights and interests and property are injuriously affected by the Bill, to which your Petitioner objects for reasons amongst others hereinafter appearing."

Paragraphs 6, 7 and 8 of the petition draw attention to the breaches of the earlier charter establishing the corporation, which was granted by Edward III in 1341, and paragraph 8 states:

    "The Bill, if enacted, will be incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998 and in particular, Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights."

That was drawn to the attention of the Committee in the petition, but the Chairman informed the House that at no time was it brought before the Committee and at no time debated.

I am happy to ask your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or that of the House on how we can redress the misleading of the House. The premise of all our debates has been that the human rights contravention was discussed in Committee. Only as a result of the tabling of the new clause tonight and the various points of order that I have raised have we identified the fact that the House was misled, no matter how innocently. I know the hon. Member for Wantage to be a conscientious Member and Committee Chairman, but no matter how innocently the House was misled it is not enough to say that the Bill's contravention of human rights was not discussed by the Committee. He and other members of the Committee failed to draw that matter from the petition and seek advice.

Perhaps the Committee sought to discuss the matter in secret session, but was advised by Officers of the House that it did not come before the Committee as a relevant matter. That is not what we have been informed. We have been advised tonight by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) that at no stage did the Attorney-General intervene to advise the members of the Committee or the House that the Bill contravened the 1998 Act. I believe that, when a matter is before a Committee and a petitioner has drawn attention to a specific issue, it is for the Committee to seek such advice. The Chairman of the Committee, therefore, has a specific responsibility. When a petitioner has placed such an important matter before the Committee, he should seek the advice of Officers of the House and, when dealing with specific legislation such as the Bill, he should seek the advice of the Attorney-General.

Mr. Mackinlay: On whether the Bill was somehow canvassed with the Attorney-General and whether it swept across his desk, every Bill is considered by the Law Officers. Although they considered Bills before we passed the 1998 Act, that legislation specifically says that they have to consider human rights. The fact that the Bill might have crossed the Attorney-General's desk is immaterial--he was not charged, nor asked for his opinion on that specific point.

Mr. McDonnell: That emphasises the point that I want to draw out. My view is that procedure on the Bill has been such that, without points of order being raised and without the new clause being tabled, we would have been remiss in our duty and certainly liable under the European convention on human rights. We may still be so if the Bill proceeds unamended.

The new clause is vital because it protects hon. Members and Officers of the House from prosecution under the European convention on human rights, a

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matter which I raised in an intervention on a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock. Hon. Members may feel that the usual protections of the House are sufficient to protect them under the convention, but I do not agree. Such overarching supra-national and international treaties into which we have entered, with their global rights, duties and legal responsibilities, are rapidly undermining national protections and immunities. The best example of that is the recent case of General Pinochet. An individual country may seek to give immunity to one of its elected members--in the case of General Pinochet, a non-elected senatorial member--but international rights established in law exist and will, therefore, hopefully be enforced.

8.30 pm

I am not trying to suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if the Bill is passed you will be arrested on your next trip to France or Spain, or wherever you and your family take your next holiday. I am trying to make the point that localised immunities are not sufficient. They are no longer enforceable. Therefore, we must be sure beyond doubt that, at every stage in our deliberations, legislation is compatible with the European convention on human rights. On this occasion we have not even examined that matter, let alone been convinced.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): I apologise for not being present for the earlier part of the debate, but I was here for the beginning of my hon. Friend's speech, and I have been listening with considerable interest. Does my hon. Friend agree that, under article 33 on inter-state cases, any party or person could take the City of London Corporation to the European Court if it was found to be in breach of article 3 of the protocol, which is the right to free elections? What has been built in here, which does not seem to have been considered, is, literally, a gain in terms of litigation, which will give rise to a number of cases in future. Should not that be avoided at all costs?

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