Mr. Mackinlay: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would have been a victim of the closure motion had the Bill's sponsor been able to muster 100 people to vote, because I would then have been unable to reply to the debate. I am grateful to the House.
The House's disinterest in this matter was reflected in the Division on the closure motion. Bearing in mind the fact that a coalition that included the Deputy Prime Minister, the shadow Home Secretary and the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman did not succeed in stopping my right to free speech, is it not time that the Bill's promoters got the message that there is no mandate for this legislation in the House?
Mr. Corbyn: I am pleased that the House has decided to allow the debate to continue, particularly as I was one of the two signatories to new clause 2 and amendment No. 11. The fact that I am now able to contribute to the debate leaves me a much happier Member than I was a few moments ago.
Mr. Corbyn: I have had an interesting few minutes standing outside the No Lobby considering such matters. It seems to me that the Bill has run its course and run out of time. This is the third time this Parliament that we have discussed the Bill and, on the human rights issue alone, the sponsor is unable to convince the House of its compatibility with human rights legislation. That seems to me to send a clear message. If only 99 hon. Members can find their way into the Aye Lobby to vote for a closure motion when there is an all-party coalition in support of a Bill, that Bill has clearly run out of time and run out of supporters. I hope that the Bill's promoters will think about that and about the sense of promoting legislation about which many people have the deepest possible misgivings.
The new clause and the amendment deal with the Bill's compatibility with the European convention on human rights and the legislation that has been passed by the House to enshrine it in United Kingdom law. I invite the House to think about that for a moment. We passed the Human Rights Act 1998 because we believe in the rights of people to enjoy free elections, to have independent access to judicial decisions and to enjoy their rights as citizens. Yet the House is proposing to pass legislation which, in effect, runs against the spirit of everything that we understand as free, fair and independent elections. It is promoting the idea of election by corporation, by big business, by buildings and, to some extent, by the persons who happen to live and work in those buildings.
The sponsor of the Bill was questioned quite closely on this matter in his contribution: it seems strange that the Labour party, having for its entire existence campaigned against the business vote and the way in which the business men of yesteryear could vote at their home and place of business, is promoting that principle in the Bill.
The promoters' statement says that considerably more people will be entitled to take part in elections in the City of London. That may be true, but the principle is fundamentally flawed and undermined--
Mr. Corbyn: I understand your point, Madam Deputy Speaker, but new clause 2 is about the compatibility of the Bill with the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998, passed by this Parliament. The convention clearly states that the principle of independent, free and fair elections based on the principle of one person, one vote, is to be the norm for legislative authorities throughout the contracting countries, of which this country is one. The Bill is fundamentally flawed in that respect. It runs contrary to that principle by providing votes for people at a place of business, and for businesses themselves, rather than for those who are ordinarily resident in the area.
Mr. McDonnell: Will my hon. Friend address what is at issue with regard to the new clause? Is he arguing that if the clause is not adopted and at no stage is there a statement by a Minister about compliance with the European convention on human rights, that will be taken as the Government's tacit support for the Bill? The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) has argued that the lack of a statement by the Attorney-General in Committee means that there is tacit support for the belief that this legislation does not contravene the Human Rights Act 1998.
Mr. Corbyn: My hon. Friend raises an important and interesting point. We are considering a Bill which, to be fair to the promoter, was introduced before the Human Rights Act 1998 was passed by Parliament.
Mr. McDonnell: With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, it has been argued time and again that the Bill was introduced before the 1998 Act was enacted. It has been two years since that enactment; we are now into the third year of the legislation. At no stage has the Corporation of London given any indication that it would comply with section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Mr. Corbyn: My hon. Friend outspeeds me in thought in this matter, and I congratulate him. I know that he has doubts about the new clause. My point was that, at the time of the Bill's deposition, the 1998 Act had not been passed--it was not part of British law. It now is part of British law. My hon. Friend is right that there has been ample opportunity for the Bill's promoters to come up with a definitive statement. The Bill's sponsor gave an oral statement this evening but has unfortunately declined to publish the evidence on the basis of which he made that statement. Therefore, the debate is still on.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I take my hon. Friend's point, but at the time when the Bill was promoted we were signatories to the European convention on human rights. Although there may have been no formal legal
Mr. Corbyn: Absolutely. The matter must be addressed. This country has been a signatory to the convention from its inception, so the convention has been part of British law in the sense that British citizens have ultimately had the right to go to the European Court if they want to do so. The convention is now part of British law and all legislation must be compatible with it, as the Minister has confirmed today. The question is: why on earth are the promoters not prepared to publish that evidence? What is the Government's responsibility in the matter? In the event of citizens taking out an action against the City of London Corporation--because they believe, for example, that its electoral procedures are incompatible with European law, the case would ultimately end up in Strasbourg. What would be the position of the British Government then?
Mr. McDonnell: May I take my hon. Friend back to his previous statement? He alleged that the City of London Corporation had not published the evidence on the basis of which an oral statement was made in the House to the effect that the Bill complies with the ECHR. The argument in the clause is extremely specific: the Government should make that statement. Under the new procedure suggested by the Government in their parliamentary answer, the onus is still on the promoters of the Bill to make the statement--a written statement. So far, we have been given only an oral statement, with no evidence to back it up. The Government's procedure would at least elicit a written statement; at some stage, I hope that the procedure will elicit the publication of the legal advice endorsing the statement.
Mr. Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. The Minister made a series of important points in her speech. She pointed out that the rule that, in future, compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998 has to apply to all Bills, including private Bills such as this, was an important and welcome step forward. My hon. Friend may recall that, when I intervened on the Minister, I had misunderstood her statement. I thought that she had said that the Government had examined the Bill, and that their Law Officers had okayed it in respect of human rights legislation. However, she specifically and categorically said that that was not the case, and that the Government had not necessarily endorsed the Bill as compatible with the Human Rights Act and the ECHR. It is therefore important that the House should reconsider the Bill's compatibility. As we continue our debate on new clause 2 and on amendment No. 11--
Mr. McDonnell: I apologise for again referring to an earlier statement made by my hon. Friend, but we should not exaggerate the import of the Minister's statement. Of course, I welcome it, but the written answer itself--which I have only just gratefully received from the Minister--states: