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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his point. The problem with legal challenges is that, if the Bill is not in compliance with human rights legislation, such a challenge could come from any quarter and be made in any court. However, I think that my hon. Friend slightly misunderstands my earlier point, which is that legal challenge is possible, whether or not there is a certificate of compliance. All such a certificate does is reassure the House that the chance of such a challenge being made is small.

A challenge could come from the mayor or the Greater London Authority, from a resident of the City or a business in the City, or from any aggrieved person with a remote interest in the City. That is why new clause 1 is so important. Even if there were a broad consensus in support of the Bill, some mischievous individual might attempt to unpick it by pursuing lengthy legal proceedings through the courts. We all know how long it can take a case to go though the lower courts, the High Court and the Court of Appeal, before getting to the European Court. The Bill could be the source of litigation lasting 10 or 15 years. In the end, the only beneficiaries would be

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lawyers, and it is not the purpose of the House to provide lawyers with a living--even though I should declare an interest in that I am a solicitor.

The new clause is extremely important. The House requires the assurance that it would provide and I hope that it finds favour with hon. Members.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I start by thanking the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) for giving the House the necessary assurances on the compatibility of the Bill with convention rights.

Mr. McDonnell: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bermingham: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hill: For heaven's sake, give me a chance. Well, even though I have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) more than once today, I shall give way to him--although I warn him that it will be the only time that I do so.

Mr. McDonnell: Does the Minister's remark mean that he has seen the legal opinion? If so, why has it not been brought to the House and copied to hon. Members?

Mr. Hill: I have not seen the legal opinion. However, the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster is an honourable Member. It is his duty as the sponsor of the Bill to give the necessary assurances, and he has done so. I have no intention of impugning his honour or his integrity.

Mr. Peter Bradley: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Once before, I made the mistake of referring to a Member specifically as the "honourable" Gentleman. I was reprimanded on the basis that all Members are honourable Members, therefore the expression is meaningless.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order. The Minister can express himself any way he pleases, as long as he observes the rules of the House.

Mr. Hill: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Let me deal with the concerns expressed by various hon. Members about the Secretary of State's involvement, which is the subject of the new clause. We have been debating the new clause for the past two and a half hours, so it does not seem unreasonable that I should make an observation regarding it. The law is entirely clear: the Human Rights Act 1998 requires that, for public Bills, the Minister in charge must make a statement of compatibility with convention rights, or state that he is unable to do so. There is no equivalent requirement for private Bills or private Members' Bills.

Mr. Bermingham: I speak from practical profession experience, going back more than 30 years. Does the Minister accept that the European Court might not care to think about whether legislation is public or private, but that it will think about the rights of the citizen and ask itself one simple question: have the citizen's rights

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been infringed? Whether it is a public Bill or a private Bill matters not a tinker's cuss. The European Court will enforce the rights of the convention.

Mr. Hill: I hope to come on to that point in due course.

I am saying that in various incarnations--

Mr. Dismore: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hill: Just a minute.

In various incarnations I have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington raise the question of compliance in relation to the Bill. He has done so on several occasions on points of order preceding the Bill's consideration. You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that during each of the preceding two occasions when the Bill has been discussed the occupant of the Chair has made it clear that there is no provision in legislation or in the rules of the House for making statements of compatibility with convention rights in relation to a private member's Bill or private Bills.

The view has been taken that the issue is one for debate and not for the Chair. The rules of the House are therefore entirely clear on this matter. The guidance from the Chair is also entirely clear, and we are complying with that guidance and with the law.

I take up the issue that was raised initially by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). It was picked up and danced with by many other hon. Members. The specific issue was the possible future role of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. Should a court wish to declare an Act incompatible, the Crown is given an opportunity to argue against it. It is our understanding that that is a right and not a requirement. The central point is that under existing legislation it is the sponsor who is required to state his view on compatibility. Parliament can then take a view and amend accordingly if it wishes to do so. A further statement from the Government, either on a private Bill or a private Member's Bill, will not change whether the Bill complies with the Human Rights Act 1998. It is Parliament that needs to get the Bill right, not the Minister, not the Government and not the Attorney-General.

Mr. Mackinlay: Are the Government neutral on the new clause? Will there be a free vote for all right hon. and hon. Members, including those who are on the payroll? Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be no Whips outside the Lobby picketing to ensure that Labour Members turn down the new clause? Can he give us an unequivocal assurance on that?

Mr. Hill: As the Minister speaking from the Dispatch Box, I cannot be responsible for events that occur outside the Chamber. I feel very much responsible for what occurs when I am at the Dispatch Box. My hon. Friend has undoubtedly received the Whip during the past few days. My recollection, as I am sure it is his, is that the vote was clearly and unequivocally described as a free vote. If that was on the Whip, I am sure that that will satisfy my hon. Friend and other hon. Friends in the Chamber that it is a free vote.

Mr. Cohen: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Indeed, he is truly honourable.

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Before the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), was he saying that it would be Parliament and Members of Parliament who would be liable if the Bill became an Act and is in breach of the European convention? I can understand that Ministers should not be liable and I sympathise with that point. However, the Bill comes from the City of London. Should not responsibility fall on the City and not on my hon. Friend the Minister or Parliament?

Mr. Hill: Strictly speaking, we are not debating liability in this context. Instead, we are debating where liability lies for a declaration about the compatibility of the Bill with the convention. The fact is that it lies with the sponsor, who has discharged that duty. It would therefore be wholly inappropriate--

Mr. Dismore rose--

Mr. Peter Bradley rose--

Mr. Hill: No, I shall not give way. It would be wholly inappropriate for the Secretary of State to be asked to make a statement on a Bill for which he has no responsibility. That is a matter for the Bill's promoters. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster has placed a statement on record on their behalf. That is the proper approach. I hope that his statement is sufficient to satisfy hon. Members, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Brooke rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:--

The House divided: Ayes 137, Noes 68.

Division No. 35
[9.40 pm


Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Allen, Graham
Amess, David
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Betts, Clive
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Bradshaw, Ben
Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Coaker, Vernon
Collins, Tim
Colman, Tony
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James
Crausby, David
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Day, Stephen
Dowd, Jim
Duncan, Alan
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Ennis, Jeff
Evans, Nigel
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flight, Howard
Flint, Caroline
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foulkes, George
George, Andrew (St Ives)
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gill, Christopher
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Green, Damian
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Heald, Oliver
Healey, John
Heppell, John
Hill, Keith
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hutton, John
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Key, Robert
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kirkwood, Archy
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lock, David
Loughton, Tim
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McLoughlin, Patrick
McNulty, Tony
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mates, Michael
Meale, Alan
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
(B'ham Yardley)
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Pearson, Ian
Perham, Ms Linda
Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Quinn, Lawrie
Randall, John
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Roy, Frank
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Sanders, Adrian
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Syms, Robert
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Wicks, Malcolm
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wills, Michael
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Desmond Swayne and
Sir Peter Emery.


Ashton, Joe
Barnes, Harry
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Butler, Mrs Christine
Cann, Jamie
Cawsey, Ian
Clapham, Michael
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Collins, Tim
Connarty, Michael
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Dalyell, Tam
Davidson, Ian
Dawson, Hilton
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Efford, Clive
Gibson, Dr Ian
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Hinchliffe, David
Hood, Jimmy
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hurst, Alan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
McDonnell, John
Mackinlay, Andrew
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Miller, Andrew
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Olner, Bill
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Rammell, Bill
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Tynan, Bill
Wareing, Robert N
Willis, Phil
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Harry Cohen and
Mr. Peter Bradley.

Question accordingly agreed to.

24 Jan 2000 : Column 117

Question put accordingly, That the clause be read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 81, Noes 120.

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