House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Sixth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation




 
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Sixth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman:

Mr. David Amess

†Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
†Campbell, Mr. Alan (Tynemouth) (Lab)
Campbell, Sir Menzies (North-East Fife) (LD)
†Chaytor, Mr. David (Bury, North) (Lab)
†Engel, Natascha (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)
†Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
†Jones, Mr. Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)
†Kemp, Mr. Fraser (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab)
†Khabra, Mr. Piara S. (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
Leigh, Mr. Edward (Gainsborough) (Con)
†McIntosh, Miss Anne (Vale of York) (Con)
†Pearson, Ian (Minister for Trade)
†Selous, Andrew (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con)
†Simon, Mr. Siôn (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)
Stanley, Sir John (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
Tapsell, Sir Peter (Louth and Horncastle) (Con)
†Wright, Mr. Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)
Thomas Healey, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee


 
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Thursday 24 November 2005

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Draft European Court of Human Rights (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 2005

2.30 pm

The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft European Court of Human Rights (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 2005.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Amess.

The draft order was laid before the House, along with the explanatory memorandum, on 3 November. The draft order will confer privileges and immunities on spouses and minor children of the judges of the European Court of Human Rights. That will enable the United Kingdom to lift a reservation made in respect of article 1 of the sixth protocol to the general agreement on privileges and immunities of the Council of Europe, which was signed on behalf of the United Kingdom in 2001. The draft order inserts a new article 4A into the European Court of Human Rights (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2000.

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights forms part of the Council of Europe, and consists of up to 46 judges, one representing each of the contracting states to the convention. Monaco has not yet appointed a judge, so there are only 45 at present. The Court’s mission is to ensure the observance by signatory states of the Council of Europe’s convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, which is more commonly known as the European convention on human rights. It takes as its starting point the UN’s 1948 universal declaration of human rights and is designed to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals.

The present Court was instituted on 1 November 1998, and replaced the existing enforcement mechanisms, which included the European Commission of Human Rights, which was created in 1954, and the previous, limited Court of Human Rights, which was created in 1959.

The sixth protocol to the general agreement on privileges and immunities of the Council of Europe guarantees the necessary privileges and immunities to members of the new European Court of Human Rights that were guaranteed to members of the previous, part-time commission and Court; as they are permanent appointees, they reside in Strasbourg. The United Kingdom therefore considers it appropriate to increase their privileges and immunities, to bring them in line with those enjoyed by diplomatic envoys in accordance with the sixth protocol. The draft order will allow the United Kingdom to withdraw its
 
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reservation and to give full effect to the sixth protocol. I hope that the draft order will have the full support of all members of the Committee.

2.32 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): May I, too, say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Amess?

I am delighted to be appointed to this Committee; it was probably not insignificantly because I was, for a short time, a legal practitioner in Brussels. I took one case before the European Court of Human Rights. I am sure that the Minister will be aware that there are many differences between the procedures in that Court and in our courts, although I accept that there are many similarities with the House of Lords’ procedures. It would be in order to pay tribute to the work of the judges in that Court. Now that the Human Rights Act 1998 has been enshrined in UK law, we are possibly making fewer calls on their time than before. I am also minded of the fact—I do not know whether the Minister has cause to share this concern—that historically there has been great confusion on the part of the British public between the work of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice.

The draft order is required because, if my understanding is correct, the ECHR has been reconstituted and it is extending the same privileges that extended to members of the previous part-time commission and Court. Will the Minister take this opportunity to elaborate a little more on the background?

I do not know whether the Minister is in a position to say how many spouses and minor children might be involved. I notice that no regulatory impact assessment was prepared, because, according to the explanatory memorandum, the measure

    “has no impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies.”

Has his Department made any estimate of the potential loss of revenue to the Exchequer? I am sure that the amount involved will be small.

I remember that in the European Parliament we used to discuss at great length the privileges and immunities of Members of the European Parliament, because many of the constituent countries of the European Union, as the Minister will be aware, have immunities. Mr. Le Pen’s immunity was questioned most frequently. Has the Minister’s Department done any assessment of what the loss of revenue would be?

I also note that the explanatory memorandum states:

    “The United Kingdom will only be in a position to withdraw the reservation made in respect of the Isle of Man once the relevant Manx legislation has been passed.”

Does the Minister have any information on whether the United Kingdom will go forward as a whole? Will there be any delay because of the need for Manx legislation and is a timetable in place?


 
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I wonder whether the Minister will say a word about the sixth protocol, to which this statutory instrument will give effect. When does he expect the Government to be in a position to lift the reservation and bring the issue forward?

You will be pleased to hear, Mr. Amess, that we have no fundamental problems with the draft order. We just wanted to bring these subjects of interest to the Minister’s attention. We look forward to his response.

2.37 pm

Ian Pearson: I shall try to cover fully the points made by the hon. Lady. First, I confirm that in this order we are giving to the spouses and minor children of members of the European Court of Human Rights the same rights and privileges granted to the previous part-time commission and Court. The situation is as the hon. Lady put it in her question.

The hon. Lady asked when the Isle of Man reservation would be lifted. The UK will be in a position to withdraw the reservation made in respect of the Isle of Man only once the necessary Manx legislation has been passed; that will be done as soon as parliamentary time permits. It is not known exactly when, but it is certainly anticipated that it will happen in the next few months.

I should explain that the original protocol was incorporated through the European Court of Human Rights (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2000, which implemented the majority of our obligations under the protocol. However, at the time of that order, we did not have the vires to confer privileges and immunities to spouses and minor children of judges of the European Court of Human Rights, and we entered the reservation for that reason. It is as a result of the
 
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passing in June this year of the International Organisations Act 2005 that we now have the vires, which is why we are bringing forward this legislation today.

The hon. Lady also asked about the potential loss of revenue. It is difficult to put a figure on that, but it is likely to be extremely low. We are talking about extending privileges, which include tax benefits, to people who are normally ordinarily resident in Strasbourg. The only potential cost that I can think of would be if the spouse or child of a European Court of Human Rights judge had a home in the UK and decided to import lots of luxury items; they would be able to do so without paying excise duties. However, that situation is pretty remote and unlikely so I feel confident in saying that the loss to the Exchequer is not going to worry our Chancellor.

Miss McIntosh: In that scenario, I presume that there would be no exemption from the congestion charge and parking fines that apply in this country. I presume that the immunity would not cover that sort of expense.

Ian Pearson: The issue of congestion charges is a matter for debate in another place; we are ensuring that the privileges and immunities ordinarily granted to diplomats are also granted to spouses and children of judges of the European Court of Human Rights. That would bring us in line with the views taken by a wide range of countries. Some 41 countries have already ratified the protocol, and a further four are in the process of ratification. I think that that answers all the questions raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose at nineteen minutes to Three o’clock.

 
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