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Mr. Mackinlay: We should consider the point raised by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), my way. I would not discuss those matters outside the House with the promoters, other than to make clear what I said a year ago. This year, however, I was not invited to the Lord Mayor's show.
Mr. McDonnell: We have all been regularly invited to the Lord Mayor's show. However, because I do not want there to be any misunderstanding, I should confirm to my hon. Friend that I met the City Corporation to consider an appropriate compromise amendment. At that stage, it was not acceptable to me. I was extremely concerned about elements of the discussion, but I shall deal with that elsewhere and perhaps in private.
I support the principle in the new clause, but my main argument concerns process. The Secretary of State's responsibility would be established, but there would be no procedure to enable the Bill to be considered on the Floor of the House. I am willing to take advice on that at any stage. I say to the promoters that I would support such a new clause if they made proposals that would enable us to undertake such consideration.
I move on to the other arguments, one of which I want to place on the record. The debate is intensely frustrating because the matter could have been resolved so long ago. The Minister argued that the Bill is a private Bill and therefore not subject to consideration by the House in
Mr. Mackinlay indicated dissent.
Mr. McDonnell: My hon. Friend shakes his head. The printing may have been paid for, but the Bill is printed on House of Commons paper and under the auspices of the regulations of the House. It is being considered in the Chamber. It may be a private Bill, but as soon as it becomes a matter for debate it is our Bill. That point was made earlier, but not sufficiently clearly. We have ownership of the Bill. It is no longer the City of London Corporation's Bill, but ours. We debate it here. Should we enact it, it would become legislation signed up to by the House. Therefore, it is ludicrous to say that it is nothing to do with us, but is some private matter to which the human rights convention cannot apply.
It was also argued that, to comply with the principle of the new clause, the private promoter could make a statement guaranteeing or assuring the House that the Bill is compliant. During a previous debate, the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said that the City Corporation had taken advice and considered the Bill to be compliant. He also assured the House that, because the Attorney-General had not made a statement, the Bill was compliant. I am afraid that the tacit consent of the Attorney-General is not good enough. As far as I am concerned, a statement has to be made. It is noticeable that that legal advice has not been published. During the previous debate, which informs this debate, I made the specific point that any legal advice should be published in order to stand up.
Mr. Mackinlay: I am pleased that my hon. Friend has reminded us of that, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) can clarify the point. During our debate a year ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that the corporation had taken legal advice and that the Bill was compliant. We pressed him on the nature of that advice. Will he publish it, as my hon. Friend asks, and was it the advice of counsel? I think that it was the advice of the corporation's jobbing solicitor. I have great respect for that good person, but his advice is not exactly that of counsel.
Mr. McDonnell: I shall make no reference to jobbing solicitors, but let me say that I did not make the point about publication to challenge in any way the veracity, honesty or integrity of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster--far from it. Under section 19 of the Human Rights Act, a written statement--not just a statement to the House--must be made and must
The promoters made it clear that they had taken legal advice. My understanding was that it was detailed and that we could consider it closely and, if necessary, hold discussions with them. That takes me to the other point about meeting the corporation. If that advice had been published, I would have been happy to meet it to consider the details and, if necessary, lose the argument. However, it has never been published. That is why I believe that it is not acceptable to allow the individual promoter to be responsible for publishing the statement on compliance. Such a statement should be detailed.
The argument about the statement itself is that a Minister makes a statement about compliance and is then accountable to the House for the office that he or she holds and the advice that he or she then receives from the Attorney-General, the Lord Chancellor or whoever. Not agreeing to the new clause and leaving it to the promoters to say yea or nay on compliance may be acceptable to the consciences of some of us and may be perfectly practical.
Mr. Corbyn: If the Bill goes through in its current form, with an enormous unresolved question about compliance with the convention, at what point, in my hon. Friend's view, will it be in conflict with our Standing Orders?
Mr. McDonnell: Given the complexity of the Standing Orders of the House, I do not completely understand what point we have reached in the procedure. If the Bill is enacted and its legality in relation to the European convention on human rights is challenged, who will contest the challenge? Obviously, it must be the United Kingdom Government, even though the Minister never accepted responsibility for the Bill. What would our role be at that point? We would have abided by our Standing Orders, followed our existing procedure and complied with the human rights legislation that we had enacted, but we would have erred in the result.
We produce a result in legislation that is not compliant with human rights legislation because we are hidebound by our own Standing Orders, and the Government will not shift and will not amend human rights legislation to apply to private Acts. Although the new clause is ingenious, it still does not resolve the situation concerning the responsibilities of the House.
I return to the matter of accountability, to make it clear why I consider it so important. The promoters may well make a statement on compliance, but they are not in the House. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster may be their advocate on earth, but he is not formally the promoter of the Bill. I am open to advice on the matter, but the promoters are not accountable to the House for the Bill, and are not accountable for the advice that they provide. Only a Secretary of State advised by the Government legal officers can be responsible. That is why the new clause is key.
Mr. Corbyn: In the case of normal Government Bills, the speech made by the Minister promoting the Bill on Second Reading can be quoted in a court of law, as my hon. Friend knows. If a case were taken through the British courts and ultimately the European Court of Human Rights against the City of London Corporation because of its failure to comply with the European
Mr. McDonnell: We are getting ourselves into a state of total confusion about responsibilities. The matter could easily be resolved by the new clause, slightly amended, but it is too late in the game for that. We may have to return to it on another day.
The entire process has been frustrating. I have raised the matter eight times on a point of order, so there has been time to address it. It was not for the Chair, but for the Government, to undertake that.
The other argument advanced was that compliance with human rights legislation did not seem particularly important in the case of this Bill. At one point--I will defer to the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who is present--the statement was made that the human rights aspect of the Bill was not considered by the Committee because that was not a matter raised for the Committee. However, as I demonstrated in previous debates, the issue of compliance was part of a petition, so it is relevant to the residents of the City of London, who raised it in their petition to the Committee.
I am concerned that the Committee, having received such a petition, at a time when the human rights legislation had just been enacted, was never advised that it should consider the matter. That did not reflect a lack of responsibility on the part of the Committee. I attended a number of its sittings, and at no stage was the Committee advised by the relevant officers.
Who was there to advise the Committee? The only people who seemed to take an interest were the promoters. We are told that there was no Minister responsible, so the Committee worked in the dark. If a petition challenges the proposed legislation's compliance with the Human Rights Act, I would expect the Committee to consider the matter.