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Mr. Mackinlay: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for having had to dart out of the Chamber for a moment. I was at the Vote Office, because my attention was drawn to two Bills that have recently been deposited in another place, which are relevant. They are the Barclays Group Reorganisation Bill and the National Australia Group Europe Bill. The first of those Bills, under the heading


The second Bill goes further. Again, under the heading

the Bill states:

I intervene for two reasons. First, those examples show that promoters are making such statements--I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Minister knew that--and, secondly, they emphasise why the promoters of this Bill should do so.

Mr. McDonnell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising a point that I had intended to raise later. In

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virtually every other sphere of operation of private legislation--private Members' Bills or those of private promoters--we adhere voluntarily to section 19 of the Human Rights Act, but the promoters of the present Bill have not done so. That strengthens the argument for the new clause.

If voluntary approaches to compliance with section 19 are not made in a form that is open to examination--that is, in the Bill as published--which allows dialogue after publication, there must be some force of legislation to ensure compliance. That is why the new clause, in principle, meets the objective of a longstop.

I do not want to use cricket metaphors while you are in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the new clause contains a proposal for some form of longstop for legislation going through the net if the other promoters--Members or promoters outside the House--refuse to comply.

That applies not just to the Bill under discussion, but much more widely. A Member whose name comes up in the ballot will choose the legislation that he wishes to promote, then seek a meeting with the Clerk of the House and the legal officers to see whether the legislation will comply with the Human Rights Act 1998 because, in the spirit of the legislation that we endorsed in November 1998, section 19 should apply.

It would be useful to have an undertaking from the promoters that they will publish such a statement. I should also like to see the legal argument that backs it up.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wantage has left the Chamber. When he chaired the Committee, he contested the assertion that the issue of human rights was a key issue. The matter was forcefully raised by Mr. Malcolm Matson in his petition. He argued very coherently that in his view the proposals effectively disfranchised a number of residents and would therefore not comply with human rights legislation. Mr. Matson continued:

At that stage, the Committee should have sought a statement from the promoters on compliance with human rights. It failed to do that and failed to address the issue. There was then a debate on the Floor of the House and, again, all that we had was a oral statement from the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster.

5 pm

I am concerned, as we are dealing not with minor legislation but an issue that goes to the heart of the Human Rights Act. The new clause, faulty though it is, is about the only the chance that we have to ensure that we abide by our human rights responsibilities. I shall not go through it in detail but, as hon. Members have said, article 3 of the European convention on human rights made it clear that there should be free and fair elections. How would individual Members debate, discuss and identify whether the Bill complies with legislation on free and fair elections?

Obviously, we would do that as part of the process of debate, but we would also want to be informed by the Law Officers of the Government, and perhaps other specialists who deal in democratic procedures--especially

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in local government--whether or not the proposals in the Bill afford free and fair elections. In normal circumstances, I would expect that point to be addressed early in Committee, based on the advice both of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which, with the Home Office, is responsible for electoral arrangements, and of the Law Officers of the Government. At no stage in any discussion before the Bill was introduced was any advice offered on whether it would result in free and fair elections.

There is therefore now a new clause that, as I said, will provide the longstop of having the Secretary of State at the end of the process--not during it--to say whether the Bill will result in free and fair elections. I have to say that, throughout the debate, the Government response to that proposal has been embarrassing and, at times, farcical. First, we were told that there were no powers in the legislation to ensure compliance with human rights legislation. We have tabled an amendment to enable those powers to be introduced, but still the Government cannot support it. We were told that section 19 of the Human Rights Act was a right, not a requirement on the Government to challenge interpretation of compliance in a private Bill. Fair enough: section 19 excludes private Bills. Again, in the past, the Minister tried to tell us that the Government would intervene as of right, not as a requirement.

At no stage have we been told that the Government will intervene. We have not been told that the Government will look at the Bill and, if necessary, will intervene if they find that it does not comply with human rights legislation. We have never been given that assurance, although we have asked different Ministers and Law Officers for assurances that the Government should act, identify the problem and suggest the remedy. I do not understand what is so complex about assessing the Bill against the conditions of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, which we endorsed. If the new clause is not acceptable when, possibly, we debate the Bill further, that may give the Government an opportunity to introduce their own proposal.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am now getting the very clear impression that the hon. Gentleman is repeating himself. I put him on warning; otherwise I shall apply Standing Order No. 42.

Mr. McDonnell: Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I am trying to argue that the new clause has been tabled because there has been a negation of the Government's duty to act in relation to compliance with human rights legislation. There is a duty to ensure that all legislation and, indeed all actions within the state, are compliant. That duty falls on the House and the Government as well as the promoters. Unless we accept the amendment, we shall be conspiring to make sure that we avoid our obligations under human rights legislation. It is interesting that, at various times, the Government have said that there should be a have-a-go morality: when we see a potential illegality, we should have a go. I am not arguing that the Government's Law Officers should wrestle the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster to the ground or anything like that. However, the Government should at least take the responsibility proposed in the

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amendment to ensure that, at some stage, they can intercede. At this point, I believe that there is also a duty on the House, which we cannot avoid.

Finally, I agree with the amendment in principle, but I find it difficult to support it. The statement in the Bill is meant to assure Members that it complies with human rights legislation. If that assurance comes after the debate, but before enactment, the House will not have been informed and it will be too late to amend the Bill. The House could be led into illegality, and what would happen then? Would the Bill be enacted, and would we be liable? Would Royal Assent be an illegal act? I am not asking for the Queen to be banged up, or anything like that. However, we are reading ourselves into a situation where, even if we accept the amendment, we will have gone through a process that concludes with a Bill that is not compliant with human rights legislation.

If the amendment is put to the vote, I do not think that I can support it. Again, I ask the Government at least to reconsider the principle of the matter and, before the end of the passage of the Bill--if it is enacted at all--introduce a practical proposal that ensures that the Bill and all private Bills, all private Members' Bills and all privately promoted legislation comply with the Human Rights Act; otherwise, we will be forced to redress the matter at a later date, possibly after the general election. Even if the amendment is carried, I still worry that we will not have acted reasonably. I want to put it on record that, at every stage of debate on the Bill, I have made it clear that it is an abuse of the Human Rights Act. I accept no responsibility for the Bill if it is enacted. Therefore, if at any point in time, others are held liable, I will not be.

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