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Mr. Grieve: My right hon. Friend's comments fall into two different categories. First, he talks of the possibility of matters being determined that are thought to be in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998. It is abundantly clear that the House retains sovereignty. In that sense, in the event of the judiciary deciding that a piece of primary legislation is incompatible with the Act--notwithstanding that, and having considered the matter carefully--we can determine that we do not want to amend such legislation. If the House so decides in those circumstances, that is the end of the matter; albeit the option might still remain to an individual to take his case before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has been done for the past 30 or 40 years. I forget the period over which--
Mr. Grieve: I think that the Minister is correct. We have come to the 50th anniversary, or close to it, although I think that it was slightly later that the right to direct appeal was ratified by the House.
The second matter is whether we wish to introduce legislation that is, or might be, contrary to the Human Rights Act. The House might decide that it wishes to put it on the statute book. I understand that in those circumstances--the Minister will correct me if I am wrong--there is nothing to prevent us so doing. It would then be for somebody to mount a challenge in the courts to get them to rule that that legislation was incompatible with the Act. At that point, we would then decide whether we wished to agree that.
Mr. Redwood: Surely the Government are saying that they will try to ensure that any legislation that they introduce is not incompatible, given the rights and wrongs of the case. Were they to make a mistake, they would try to use the procedures that are before us to remedy the matter immediately. Surely that implies that in effect decisions will be made by justices in the faraway court rather than by Parliament.
Mr. Grieve: First, I have some doubts whether the imprimatur that appears on many pieces of legislation stating that it is compatible with the Human Rights Act will turn out to be the case. Since the Act has come into operation, I have been extremely concerned that far from it being the baseline for the establishment of rights, as one might have expected, it seems to have been used at times as an excuse for ratcheting down people's rights on the basis that it may still be possible to comply with the Act. That is a worrying development.
It is because I have these anxieties that I can broadly welcome the establishment of a Joint Committee of both Houses, which will have an opportunity to provide some input on these matters. If I have a reservation about the motion, it is that there is some uncertainty--I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some clarification--about the scope of paragraph (3)(b), which reads:
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Minister. I accept that, with a little ingenuity, that should be possible. However, reading the text with a lawyer's eye suggests that until such a matter has been brought before the Committee, it will not be able to initiate proactively consideration of the way in which the Human Rights Act is progressing. Doubtless, that is a matter to which we can return. If the Committee is successful in its remit, and if it finds that it is being hindered by the wording of the order, I hope that the House will be able to revisit the matter.
It is extremely important that we should get regular reports from the Committee, stating how it sees the interplay between the role of the judiciary and the legislature and whether Parliament is working, so as to ensure that, as was argued during the passage of Act, the Act is seen not as a creature of the judiciary, but as evidence of active participation by the House in trying to ensure human rights.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He seems to be making a case in defence of the motion on the basis of his anxiety about the likelihood of the Government bringing before the House measures that contradict the human rights legislation. However, the Minister specifically said that the Government will not bring such measures before the House, so my hon. Friend's anxiety is not shared by the Minister. What, in my hon. Friend's view, is the reason why the Minister is introducing the legislation?
I had reservations about a number of pieces of legislation, as I mentioned. For example, the legislation that we passed in haste after the Omagh bombings has fortunately never been used, but if an attempt were ever made to use it, it might well fall foul of the scrutiny of the courts in respect of human rights criteria. The Government seem to be aware of that, as no attempt has been made to use the legislation.
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Will he tell us at some stage in his remarks why he favours a Joint Committee with the House of Lords? What is wrong with each of the Houses of Parliament undertaking its own scrutiny and consideration in its unique and distinctive way? Why does my hon. Friend subscribe to the current fetish for Joint Committees with the Lords?
Mr. Grieve: I have never considered myself a fetishist, but, as a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, I believe that that Committee, which meets Members of the other place, benefits from the input that can be provided by Members of both Houses. I have little doubt that the nature of the Committee and the fact that its remit will be to scrutinise the activities of the Executive make a Joint Committee appropriate. After all, the Joint Committee may report what it likes, but it will ultimately be for this House to decide whether it accepts the Committee's report or wants to take its own view on the matter--my right hon. Friend is a prime example of someone who extols the privileges and rights of the House. I do not see how that prevents a Joint Committee from coming up with sensible reports and suggestions.
A number of people have been nominated to serve on the Committee. The official Opposition are happy with the names that have been proposed. We hope that they will be able to provide the scrutiny that is needed.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend and I do not want to pre-empt the next debate, which I am sure will be lively and quite lengthy, but is he saying on behalf of the official Opposition that he is content for parliamentary private secretaries to be members of a Committee that is to take the form of a Select Committee and scrutinise legislation?
I do not want to take up any more of the House's time. I simply want to conclude with this thought. The operation of the Human Rights Act will undoubtedly be controversial. Many people have serious reservations