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15 Jan 2001 : Column 146

Human Rights (Joint Committee)

11.53 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): I beg to move,

the Lords Message [12th July 2000] communicating a Resolution relating to Human Rights (Joint Committee), be now considered;
this House concurs with the Lords in the said Resolution; and
the following Standing Order be made:
(1) There shall be a Select Committee, to consist of six Members, to join with the Committee appointed by the Lords as the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
(2) The Committee shall consider--
(a) matters relating to human rights in the United Kingdom (but excluding consideration of individual cases);
(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 Standing Order No. 151 (Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee));
(3) The Committee shall 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; or
(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 the Committee may report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said proposals or draft orders.
(4) The Committee shall 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 the Committee may report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said order or any replacement order.
(5) The quorum of the committee shall be three.
(6) Unless the House otherwise orders, each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament.
(7) The committee shall have power--
(a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom, to adjourn to institutions of the Council of Europe outside the United Kingdom no more than four times in any calendar year, and to report from time to time; and
(b) to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee's order of reference.

As I told the House last Session on 30 November, in volume 357, column 1226 of Hansard, the motion fulfils the Government's commitment to invite Parliament to establish a Joint Committee on Human Rights. That commitment has been widely welcomed. The Lords have agreed to a remit for the Joint Committee and, once again, I invite the Commons to agree that remit.

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The Committee's terms of reference give it a wide power to consider matters relating to human rights in the United Kingdom. It will also have a specific duty to consider and report on remedial orders made under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Contrary to the impression that some Members may have, 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 rights under the European convention on human rights. Instead, they will be able to declare that legislation is incompatible with the convention rights. It will be up to Parliament to decide what action, if any, should be taken following a declaration of incompatibility.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Minister tell us what will happen if the courts rule that a matter is incompatible, but Parliament decides to take no action? Where will that leave matters?

Mr. Tipping: That will be entirely a matter for Parliament to decide at the appropriate time. The business will be brought before the House and Parliament will take a decision on what it wishes to do. One will have to make a decision in the light of the individual judgment at that time.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I thought that legislation introduced in the House that is drafted on the Government's behalf always states now that it is compliant with the human rights legislation. Is the Minister telling us that he and perhaps his colleagues are introducing legislation that does not make that guarantee, as they accept that the ECHR may be lacking in some areas?

Mr. Tipping: When we introduce legislation, we will introduce a statement of compatibility. That is standard practice at the moment, and we will continue it.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Is the Minister saying that, were the Government to introduce incompatible legislation, they would put a note at the beginning of the Bill stating that--or would they merely leave a gap?

Mr. Tipping: We shall introduce legislation that is compatible with the Human Rights Act. There will be a statement at the beginning of a Bill--Members are familiar with the procedure--to say that it is compatible.

Remedial orders, if sought, will follow roughly the same pattern as deregulation orders. Normally, a proposal will be laid and consulted on, during which time the Committee can report. 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 made orders, which have the effect of law immediately, to be laid before Parliament for approval and for amendments to be made to those orders if necessary, taking into account any report by the Committee. So the Human Rights Committee is expected to play a role in examining remedial orders very similar to that played by

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the Deregulation Committee on deregulation orders. It is not known how frequently such remedial orders will be made; I hope and it is hoped that they will be rare. However, whether they are made rarely or not, the Joint Committee on Human Rights will be able to provide Parliament with an expert opinion on them.

The motion also contains the Standing Order that will give the Committee its 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. However, because of its United Kingdom remit, it is not proposed that it should have a general power to travel. Rather, it will be permitted to make up to four visits a year to the institutions of the Council of Europe, the body responsible for the European convention on human rights.

Last November, some hon. Members expressed concern that the Committee would add to parliamentary bureaucracy. I was surprised that parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive should be considered bureaucratic, and I am hard put to think of Committees that could be fairly called so. It will be for the Committee itself to determine its subjects of inquiry and methods of working. I trust that it will be effective and influential in ensuring that Parliament continues its scrutiny of human rights. I commend the motion to the House.

11.57 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): The Opposition can welcome a great deal--

Mr. Forth: No we cannot.

Mr. Grieve: Well, the official Opposition can, and I must tell my right hon. Friend that he will doubtless have an opportunity to express his reservations, which I am sure he will do pithily. I shall listen extremely carefully. In the meantime, I can tell the Minister that the thrust of the proposal is welcomed.

Mr. Forth: What?

Mr. Grieve: Perhaps I can explain why. Doubtless my right hon. Friend will wish to listen to my explanation.

Whatever view one may take about the merits of having incorporated the European convention on human rights into our law, the fact remains that the interplay between judicial decisions and the role of the House will be extremely important. Many of my hon. Friends who spoke during the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998 expressed concern about the dangers of Parliament being overridden. As I see it, far from the proposed Joint Committee contributing to that, it should provide a powerful mechanism to ensure that Parliament would have an input in the event of the judiciary reaching decisions--whether in respect of statutory instruments or of primary legislation--adverse to the apparent intention of a Minister or of the House and on which it could comment.

Mr. Gummer: I speak as an enthusiast for European co-operation, as my hon. Friend knows, but I am worried. It would be all very well post hoc to be able to have such

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a discussion, but it appears that the Government will not put before Parliament anything that might be in contradistinction with the convention. It may be that Parliament might wish to agree something ab initio that is contrary to the convention. It appears that Parliament will not be in a position so to do. Am I right on that?

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