Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-285)|
CLARKE QC MP AND
4 MARCH 2008
Q280 Chairman: It sounds a bit like
a Royal Commission.
Mr Clarke: Yes, you could have
a Royal Commission.
Q281 Chairman: Mr Porter's idea sounds
like a Royal Commission.
Mr Porter: It is.
Q282 Earl of Onslow: Would it be
possible to sum up what you three have said that, yes, there is
a problem but you do not agree on how to solve it? Is that fair?
Mr Clarke: Yes, a giant executive,
surveillance society, we are not quite sure where we are going.
I would agree with that. That almost puts Henry Porter and myself
together and although Vernon has not covered that so much today
I think it covers him as well. Then we disagree about methodology.
Professor Bogdanor: Our problem
is that because we do not have a constitution when we introduced
the Human Rights Act many people were not aware of what precisely
we were doing. We were not aware of the nature of human rights,
the status of human rights and so on, and therefore part of the
purpose of having a British Bill of Rights is an educative one,
to provide an answer to Mr Sharma's earlier question problem that
people may not understand what the basis of our human rights actually
is. I think this is particularly important in the kind of society
we have become. It is a very different society from that of the
1950s, it's a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-denominational
society, where we face the fundamental problem of how we are all
to live together. The law can only make a comparatively small
contribution to answering that problem but it is nevertheless
basic, it is a framework for everything else. It seems to me very
important for our country that we understand those issues. But
we do not, because we do not have any formal constitutional processes
by which we
Q283 Chairman: But going back to
your earlier answer, could the glue which holds all that lot together
be the aspirational nature of social and economic rights, something
we could all agree on as to where our society should go?
Professor Bogdanor: That might
certainly be the case. As I said earlier, there would be a minimum
of social and economic rights be in the Bill of Rights, but there
is also a large area of aspiration on which we certainly might
all agree. I accept that would make a contribution to making us
a more cohesive society. As I also said earlier, this is a very
large and fundamental problem, perhaps one of the most serious
we face as a country, and I think that the law can only make a
comparatively small contribution to resolving it.
Q284 Mr Sharma: You have suggested
that a constitution should be ratified by a referendum. Would
you also advocate a referendum for the adoption of a British Bill
Professor Bogdanor: That is an
interesting question. I think it would be a good idea, probably,
because if supported in a referendum the British people would
certainly feel that they owned it. I believe however that most
countries have not had a referendum to ratify Bills of Rights
though they do have referendums to ratify constitutions, or at
least many countries do. But I accept your suggestion that there
is a very strong case for a referendum to ratify a British Bill
of Rights if we were to have one.
Mr Clarke: I personally am opposed
to referendums because I think the only purpose of a referendum
is to endorse something despite having a parliamentary majority
in the other direction possibly. It is a replacement for Parliament
and is usually advocated, and has been throughout history, by
people who are very worried they do not have a parliamentary majority
for their particular point of view. It drives me back to my belief
that Parliament does have to be reformed because the growing demand
for referendums is in part a reflection of people's growing lack
of confidence in their Parliament and whether it does its business.
Leaving aside the very controversial issues which we will be debating
in two days' time on the floor about a referendum on the current
topic, my fear has always been that once you have one or two referendums
people will start saying, "These are part of the British
constitution" and demanding them on every subject under the
sun. I actually do not think that is a way which one can sensibly
govern a modern democratic state in an increasingly complicated
Mr Porter: I pretty much agree
with that actually.
Q285 Chairman: Thank you all very
much for coming, we have gone way over time. Is there anything
which you would like to say which you think we have not covered?
Mr Clarke: We will read your report!
Chairman: If we can reach agreement amongst
ourselves! Thank you all very much.