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Mr. Hawkins: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This may be another example of a happy coincidence calling the Government to account, and my right hon.

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Friend was justified in suggesting as much. However, Conservative Members are determined to use what time is left to seek to hold the Government to account.

Ever since the Government incorporated the European convention on human rights into our legislation, Conservative Members have repeatedly questioned them about the cost of implementation to the taxpayer. Throughout the process, the Government have said that the cost will be negligible. In questions to both the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor's Department, I have repeatedly suggested that the Government woefully underestimated that cost. Because of our feeling that the Government horrendously underestimated it, we are especially delighted to have the opportunity to examine the further piece of parliamentary bureaucracy that the Government propose in the establishment of the Joint Committee.

Jean Corston (Bristol, East): Is it not extraordinary that Conservative Members should complain that there was a short debate this evening? In 1995, a Conservative Government--incidentally, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was a Minister then--

Mr. Forth: A distinguished Minister.

Jean Corston: So the right hon. Gentleman says; others may have a different view. Anyway, that Government incorporated article 2 of the convention without any parliamentary scrutiny or debate.

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Lady is seeking to go back five years, into history. However, I hope she will correct her unwillingness to describe my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) as a distinguished Minister, which indeed he was. When I was a new Back Bencher, I had the great privilege of supporting him in much of the valuable work that he was doing, particularly when he was a Minister of State at the Department for Education and Employment. He was one of the best and most diligent Schools Ministers that the House has ever had the pleasure of working with.

Government Back Benchers' churlishness in failing to recognise the work done by distinguished Ministers such as my right hon. Friend is an absolute disgrace. It is perhaps absolutely typical of them to say that they believe in human rights while being unwilling to pay tribute to the work done by my right. hon. Friends in the previous Government.

I should like to examine the terms of the undoubtedly bureaucratic innovation that the Government are suggesting in the resolution. I am one of a relatively small number of hon. Members who has sat--in the previous Parliament--on a Joint Committee of both Houses. There are not many such Committees. However, the one on which I sat--which had many distinguished Members of this place and of another place--undoubtedly used to get tied up in bureaucracy.

One of the concerns that I know is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst--which they may be able to outline in a moment if they are able to catch the eye of the occupant

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of the Chair--is that the Government are seeking in the resolution to impose an additional cost and bureaucratic burden arising from the Human Rights Act 1998.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. However, I am also slightly confused. The resolution begins by mentioning the "Lords Message [12 July]". I presume that means that the message has been in the hon. Gentleman's hands, or at least in the public domain, since 12 July. What representations have Conservative Members made, through the usual channels, to have a longer debate on the subject?

Mr. Hawkins: I have not personally been involved at any stage in my parliamentary career in what are usually referred to as the usual channels. I do not think the hon. Gentleman has ever been involved on behalf of his party in what are usually referred to as the usual channels. I therefore do not think that he can ask such a question, and I am certainly not able to answer it.

Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that a matter of this importance does not require requests for debate from the Opposition? Since when has debate in this House been something that the Opposition should request? When the previous Government were in office, we constantly had debates because we thought that subjects were sufficiently important to debate. The trouble with this Government is that they do not want debate on anything at all.

Mr. Hawkins: Of course my right hon. Friend, who has vastly more experience of how the usual channels operate than the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) or me, is absolutely right. The Government constantly attempt to bypass Parliament and to curtail debate or abolish it entirely. When we are considering the human rights issue, perhaps we should also be considering the human rights of parliamentarians.

Mr. Forth: Does my hon. Friend not think it odd--sinister, in fact--that something that arose on 12 July is being brought to the House by the Government only in the very last minutes of this Session? What does he think has been happening to the resolution in the intervening several months? Are the Government ashamed of it, or do they want to avoid debate? Why has it taken so long for the Government to bring it to the House?

Mr. Hawkins: That is an appropriate question. The Government chose to have one of the longest summer recesses in living memory. This proposal was put before another place before the recess, and we could have had plenty of time to deal with it. Why should this appear today? Why have the Government been so secretive? My right hon. and hon. Friends will be pressing the Minister to respond if we have a further debate. If there is not time for debate, the Government could withdraw the motion and bring it back in a new Session--

Mr. Forth: Tomorrow.

Mr. Hawkins: Or tomorrow, as my right hon. Friend says, when there could be scope for a more thorough debate.

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6.55 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office for his unfailing courtesy in dealing with the House, even if he is the messenger of some ghastly messages.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for at least telling the House what the proposal is all about. It is right that a matter of topical interest to the public--human rights--should be brought before us at the 59th minute of the 11th hour. That suggests that the Government wanted to smuggle this through at the last minute.

Mr. Tipping: I said straightforwardly that we wished to debate that matter. The debate may not be completed today; it may be necessary to have a further debate at another date.

Mr. Howarth: The House will be grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for that as there would be a wish on our part to debate the issues. Human rights and the way in which the law is developing in that area are causing great concern.

I wish to refer to the impact of the European convention of human rights on this House. I have said many times that it is deeply offensive to our democratic and constitutional principles in this country for the composition of Her Majesty's armed forces to be determined not by this House but by European Court of Human Rights judges who are not nationals of this country, let alone Members of this House.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Can the hon. Gentleman not say that they are foreigners?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman anticipates what I was about to say. They are, indeed, foreigners, or aliens. They are manifestly not Members of this House. The Government are perfectly entitled to bring that proposal to the House for debate and a vote, but that was not the practice. The Government said that they had been handed down a decision by the European Court and they simply had to comply with it, as they have done without a vote in this House or in another place.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Joint Committee will not be able to look at individual cases? Is that not a major failing?

Mr. Howarth: I am not in favour of these matters being addressed by the Joint Committee. My immediate reaction is that this will be a hellish bureaucratic procedure. For example, the order states that the Joint Committee would be appointed

That is a complete open sesame. What are we letting ourselves in for? Will we have to sit in permanent session, considering whether it is the human right of girls in school to wear trousers if they so wish, rather than the designated uniform of that school? Are we to--

7 pm

Sitting suspended.

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7.32 pm

On resuming--

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners:

The House went; and, having returned:

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