Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Environmental Protection


Question agreed to.

HUMAN RIGHTS (JOINT COMMITTEE)

Motion made,



to consider and report on:
(a) matters relating to human rights in the United Kingdom (but excluding consideration of individual cases);

30 Nov 2000 : Column 1225

(b) proposals for remedial orders, draft remedial orders and remedial orders made under section 10 of and laid under Schedule 2 to the Human Rights Act 1998; and
(c) in respect of draft remedial orders and remedial orders, whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to them on any of the grounds specified in House of Lords Standing Order 73 (Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments);
to report to the House:
(a) in relation to any document containing proposals laid before the House under paragraph 3 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether a draft order in the same terms as the proposals should be laid before the House;
(b) in relation to any draft order laid under paragraph 2 of the said Schedule 2,
its recommendation whether the draft order should be approved;
and to have power to report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said proposals or draft orders; and
to report to the House in respect of any original order laid under paragraph 4 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether:
(a) the order should be approved in the form in which it was originally laid before Parliament; or
(b) that the order should be replaced by a new order modifying the provisions of the original order; or
(c) that the order should not be approved,
and to have power to report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said order or any replacement order,
be now considered.

Hon. Members: No!

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My understanding is that the Lords Message is debatable and we on these Benches want to debate it.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): I advise the hon. Gentleman that there is a further motion to be dealt with, and it might be more appropriate if he made his objections known then.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Some of us believe in debate and in holding this arrogant Government to account. It is clearly stated on the Order Paper that motion 5, which stands in the name of the Leader of the House and is entitled Human Rights (Joint Committee), is not debatable after 7 pm. I am capable of reading the clock and seeing that it is 6.39 pm, so presumably we have the opportunity to consider the important proposal that there should be a Joint Committee to discuss that matter. May we now discuss it?

Madam Deputy Speaker: In no way was it my wish to curtail debate on a debatable motion. I merely suggested that it might be more appropriate to launch a debate when we reach motion 6. However, if the hon. Gentleman wants to debate motion 5, clearly he is entitled to do so.

6.40 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): I agree with those voices in the House that say it is important to debate this motion. During the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998,

30 Nov 2000 : Column 1226

the Government committed themselves to the establishment of a Joint Committee on Human Rights. That Committee was widely welcomed across political parties, although it may have caused controversy in some of the parties and in both Houses. The Lords have agreed to a remit for that Joint Committee, and the motion invites the Commons to agree that remit.

The Committee's terms of reference give it a wide power to consider matters relating to human rights in the United Kingdom. In that role, it will choose subjects and hold inquiries in the normal way. It will also have a specific duty to consider and report on remedial orders made under the Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Act preserves parliamentary sovereignty. The courts will have no power to strike down primary legislation on the ground that it is incompatible with convention rights, but they will be able to declare that legislation is incompatible with those rights. It will be up to Parliament to decide what action, if any, should be taken following a declaration of incompatibility. Changes to the incompatible legislation could be made through fresh primary legislation or through remedial orders.

Remedial orders will follow roughly the same pattern as deregulation orders. A proposal will be laid and consulted on, during which time the Committee can report, and then a draft order will be laid, which may or may not incorporate any amendments suggested by the Committee. The Committee will report on the draft order. There is also provision, in cases of urgency, for orders, having the effect of law immediately, to be laid before Parliament for approval and for amendments be made to them, if necessary taking account of any report from the Committee.

The Human Rights Committee is expected to play a role in examining remedial orders analogous to that played by the Select Committee on Deregulation regarding deregulation orders. It is not known how frequently such remedial orders will be laid, but it is hoped that they will be rare. However, whether they are rare or not, the Joint Committee on Human Rights will be able to provide Parliament with an expert opinion on them.

The Committee will be able to scrutinise legislation before Parliament to decide whether it is compatible with the European convention on human rights--especially draft legislation or that subject to a statement made under section 19(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act. However, nothing in its terms of reference compels it to do so.

The task of scrutinising statutory instruments for technical faults will remain with the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The grounds for objection to an instrument's vires have been widened by the Human Rights Act to include incompatibility with the ECHR. The Government firmly believe that human rights should be central to our considerations--I think that the current and cult word is "mainstreaming". Giving scrutiny of the human rights aspects of delegated legislation to the JCHR would run counter to that view, would swamp the Committee by requiring it to examine the 1,500 or so instruments laid in a typical Session, and would lead to duplication of effort.

When the two Houses have reached agreement on the principle that there should be a Committee and have agreed a common remit, we will bring forward detailed Standing

30 Nov 2000 : Column 1227

Orders covering its powers. It may assist the House if I explain those powers. The Committee is expected to have six Members from each House, on the model of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege. It will have the powers commonly given to Select Committees, plus a power to exchange papers with other Committees. Discussions are currently taking place about membership of the Committee. Following those discussions, the House of Commons will be asked to approve the membership.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Can the Minister tell us how the Chairman of the Committee will be elected, or appointed?. It would be helpful for us to know whether the Minister envisages any ground rules, or whether the matter will be entirely for the discretion of Committee members.

Mr. Tipping: It will be a matter for the House. Members will have an opportunity to vote.

I hope that, following my assurances, the House will approve the resolution.

6.45 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): We are delighted to have an opportunity to scrutinise the proposal. I note from columns 233 and 234 of the Official Report on 12 July that all that happened in another place was that the Attorney-General read out the proposal on behalf of his noble Friend Lady Jay. There was no debate, so it is particularly important for the democratically elected Chamber to scrutinise what is being suggested.

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

Mr. Hawkins: I certainly will, on this occasion.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I hope he is not suggesting that 14 minutes constitutes adequate time for the House to scrutinise something as important as this.

Mr. Hawkins: I am sorry if I have not already made that clear. I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that the time allowed is inadequate. Nevertheless, we think it important to debate the motion. I was delighted to hear the Minister agree, when we raised our points of order with you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it was debatable and should be debated.

As I have said, I agree with my right hon. Friend that the time remaining is inadequate. For that reason, the House may decide that further debates are needed in a later Session.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Surely the reason that we have any time at all is, in a sense, an accident. It is difficult for the Minister to suggest the existence of any credibility for the debate when the remaining minutes are not only few but accidental. It does not look as if the Government were over the moon about their attempt to give the House an opportunity for debate.


Next Section

IndexHome Page