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Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has just read out a very interesting quotation from "Erskine May".

Mr. Cohen: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will know that Select Committees and the House have the power to insist that both people and papers are brought before them when that is relevant. I submit that it is relevant to receive counsel's advice before the debate is concluded. May I put it--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order. The question of bringing people or documents before the House is not a matter for debate. We are now debating the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock.

Mr. McDonnell: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I hope that it is a point of order. I get the feeling that some hon. Members are seeking to prolong the debate. [Interruption.] Order. I have dealt with points of order and not one of them was a proper point of order. Some hon. Members are testing the patience of the Chair.

Mr. McDonnell: Of course, I would not do that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, may I give notice, on a point of order, that we shall table a substantive motion in the House requiring the production of the document?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order; the hon. Gentleman can do whatever he wants. I call the hon. Member for Hendon to resume his speech, but if he has nothing to say other than to repeat the case that he has already made, he must sit down.

Mr. Dismore: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have quite a few other points to make about the new clause.

First, if we had the Attorney-General's opinion, it would provide a much stronger basis on which we could proceed with the Bill.

Mr. John Cryer: Let us leave aside the legal opinion for a minute. If this Act were challenged in the courts,

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does my hon. Friend think it conceivable that the courts would not consider the House's deliberations this evening?

Mr. Dismore: If such matters came before the courts--the High Court, the House of Lords or, beyond that, the European Court of Human Rights--it is inevitable that, under the provisions of Pepper v. Hart, to which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) referred, the courts would consider what was said in the House. If the Government did not provide the certificate sought by the new clause and appeared before the court--the Government and not the City would defend the legal action--they would be in great difficulty given the points made in the debate.

Because of earlier rulings, we are not able to draw the House's attention to the detailed breaches that were alleged in relation to the Bill, but we can at least make it absolutely clear that, in the absence of a certificate from the Secretary of State, many of us have reservations. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State were to give a certificate, that would go a long way towards satisfying me. I would know that the opinion would be based on the opinion of the Attorney-General, for whom I have great regard.

Mr. Bermingham: If a certificate were given, not only would my hon. Friend be satisfied, but so would I. However, bearing in mind the rulings that already exist under articles 34 and 33 and protocols 3 and 7 of the convention, we need to know on what basis the certificate would be given.

Mr. Dismore: The matter goes beyond that. The new clause would not prevent a legal challenge being made even if a certificate were given. The purpose of a certificate is not to provide one with a cast-iron defence in the courts or a public immunity defence. It would simply reassure the House that the Bill complied with the European convention. It is not a defence to go to court and say, "Well, we've got a certificate so you can't sue us," but the certificate would reassure us.

Mr. Bermingham: Does my hon. Friend further agree that, if the certificate and the reasons behind it were given, we could see whether or not the Government had concluded that a certificate could be given and, therefore, whether or not they thought the Bill was a bad Bill--which is what we have been saying for the past two and a half hours?

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. If such a point were read into the proceedings of the House, it could also be raised during a legal challenge under the precedent set by Pepper v. Hart. If the issue were to appear before the courts, not the City but the Government would be in the dock.

This point is particularly important when one considers the convention. For illustrative purposes, we have all focused on article 3--the right to free elections--but other articles, such as article 2 on the right to education, are even more important. I shall certainly not go through the construction of that article, because there is a risk that it could be contravened by the Bill. Suffice it to say that there are reservations in the context of the Human Rights Act.

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I can see the most bizarre position developing whereby no certificate has been given; somebody challenges whether proper education is being provided in the City of London; the Government end up in the dock and there is some reservation--without any great thought about whether article 2 is contravened by the Bill. We would suddenly find ourselves in the most horrendous legal mess in trying to interpret the position.

New clause 1 is very much needed. It would give the House great reassurance that the Bill complies with the convention--or, to adopt the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South, that it does not do so. When we are asked to give the Bill a Third Reading, that should be very much to the forefront of our minds.

Mr. McDonnell: Legal advice is being bandied across the Chamber--unpublished or not--but will my hon. Friend clarify that his main thrust is that it is essential that we achieve protection in some form? What would be the consequences of not having such protection under the new clause?

Mr. Dismore: The most obvious consequence will be that the House will have passed legislation that does not comply with the European convention on human rights or with our own Human Rights Act. That in itself would have other consequences--in addition to the Government's perhaps looking rather foolish because they would have been found in contravention of the legislation in the European Court.

I mentioned earlier that our Government have been caught out by the European Court on only a couple of occasions in three years--which is not bad when compared with the previous Government's record. I certainly hope that our Government continue to maintain their very good record on the convention.

Mr. Bermingham: Would not the consequences of being caught out be having to agree under the terms of settlement to compensate and to rectify? The cost of rectification in this case would be enormous.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is correct. One problem is that the City is very much a law unto itself--that is why trying to reform it is difficult. We may end up with huge legal bills and having to pay compensation bills for infringing people's rights. We may have to try to unstitch decisions in the City and hold new elections there, having first passed better legislation that incorporates one person, one vote, rather than one building, one vote. I very much hope that the Government will take on board the fact that the consequences could be horrendous, and will either ensure that new clause 1 is agreed to so that we have an opinion, or prevail on the City to release the opinion, so that we can at least check whether we agree with it.

Mr. Peter Bradley: I am worried about the implications of my hon. Friend's comments about legal advice. Can he construe any circumstances in which such

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advice may be given to justify, for example, the constitution of the upper Chamber on the basis of property ownership rather than democratic franchise?

Mr. Dismore: I am very tempted--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We could not stray into those matters under this narrow new clause.

Mr. McDonnell rose--

Mr. Dismore: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington.

Mr. McDonnell: The issue of consequences has been raised and I can understand that the residents of the City of London--or, as a result of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, the residents of Greater London--would be the offended party, but who would bear the cost? It would not be the City of London Corporation any more because the Bill would become a public Act, and because the Government have not intervened--

9.30 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have already heard the hon. Gentleman make that point. He cannot go over it again.

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In conclusion--

Mr. Cohen: Will my hon. Friend give way on one brief point? The whole thrust of my hon. Friend's argument is that the House needs the statement from the Secretary of State; otherwise the whole matter could be taken to the European Court. He knows that there is to be a mayor elected for the rest of London. Does he think that the mayor might--

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