Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo): It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I say that, if Amendment No. 2 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 3 to 6 inclusive.

8 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: I rise to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway—

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am not learned!

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: I humbly apologise to the noble Lord. When I spoke on Second Reading I said that my aim would be to table amendments to improve the Bill brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in order to bring it more into line with the human rights Bill introduced in the other place by the honourable Member for Nottingham North. It is not easy for a layman such as myself to draft amendments. I looked at the wide range of previous debates which were mentioned by the noble Lord when he introduced this Bill on Second Reading. I noted that few of the speakers were laymen. I give notice to the Committee that by the time we reach the Report stage I hope to have prepared more amendments relating to information and accountability.

I owe the Committee an explanation as to why I have changed my mind and am happy to jettison some of my amendments and to support the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. Two things happened which

15 Feb 1995 : Column 766

caused me to change my mind. The first was a report in the Daily Telegraph of 10th February on a decision by the European Court of Human Rights. It decided that Britain had acted unlawfully in trying to confiscate the profits of a crime committed by a drug peddler, a convicted drug trafficker. It states:

    "Nine judges at the Strasbourg court ruled unanimously that a British court acted unlawfully in trying to confiscate £59,000 of Peter Welch's drug profits after he was convicted of a plot to smuggle £4 million of cannabis".

Adding insult to injury, it continued:

    "Britain has also been ordered to pay £14,000 costs and expenses to Welch".

If we are to carry the nation with us it is necessary that decisions can be explained to the general public of this country. Frankly, it is virtually impossible to try to explain to people in the street that decision of the European Court.

That gave me cause for thought. I turn to the second incident. As the Committee will know, I believe that a great deal of the pressure has been motivated by Charter 88. I read a publication by that body which was published in January 1990. The first part deals with its priorities and objectives. After a section on the long-term objectives the medium-term objectives are set out. Under the heading "External", it states:

    "To see enacted into law at least one, if not all of the Charter's priorities, namely: Incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights, electoral reform, a Scottish Assembly, a Freedom of Information Act".

After browsing through the document I saw a photograph printed at the back. It shows Anthony Lester QC holding a placard listing the Charter's demands. The Houses of Parliament are in the background. Glancing down the list I notice a Bill of Rights and Freedom of Information. I understand that the noble Lord was not entirely free with information today, but that is another matter. The list also includes a reformed House of Commons and a democratic Upper House. Of course, he choked back his principles because in 1993 he was elevated to your Lordships' House. I suppose that he managed to swallow his scruples and certainly did not go through the agony involved in his 20 years pondering about whether to stay a member of the Garrick Club.

In winding up the Second Reading debate, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said that he held no brief for Charter 88. Referring to me he said:

    "The noble Lord made it sound like a communist organisation of the most insidious kind. He spoke as though he was Senator Joe McCarthy".—[Official Report, 25/1/95: col. 1170.]

Given the build-up of such a reputation, one feels that one must maintain it. Therefore, I must say that I regard the activities of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in this House as those of a Trojan Horse for Charter 88. I do not say that it is a communist conspiracy by Charter 88; I say that it is a conspiracy by a number of academics and intellectual elitists, or rather, I do not say that it is a conspiracy; I say that there is a plan in which sections of the media are colluding.

Members of the Committee will have noticed that last night's Evening Standard contained a substantial article by the noble Lord about his Bill today. It was no coincidence that on the Saturday after Second Reading The Times published an opinion poll about the public's

15 Feb 1995 : Column 767

attitude towards human rights. I could give other examples but I do not wish to weary the Committee at this time of night.

I am anxious to support the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, because he retains some sovereignty for our Parliament. We must carry people with us on these issues because there is a great deal of talk within my party regarding Sidney and Beatrice Webb. They are being written off as theoreticians because of their construction of parts of the Labour Party constitution. In fact, they were Fabians, and the Fabians were known as gas and water socialists. They were so named because they knew that, if people did not have heating and lighting in their homes and water which they could drink without fear of cholera, typhoid and so forth, there was no point in talking about anything else. They are the basic elements. We must make sure that people understand that we are concerned mainly about the conditions in which they live and that these other issues are more for the intellectuals and academics.

I was heartened by the Second Reading speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. He was not in a minority of one because he made comments with which I found a great resonance. I do not believe that a written constitution provides any guarantee. The Weimar Republic had a written constitution but that did not prevent the rise of Hitler. That constitution contained a clause about religious freedoms and freedom from persecution. We have recently witnessed the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and there is a hollow ring in the belief that the written constitution gave any protection whatever. We should start a campaign to stop knocking this country. Some of those in Europe who seem to be so critical of us should bear in mind that had we not stood on our own in 1940 and had we not resisted and held out, all those countries which now seem to think that we are so backward as regards ordinary, decent civilities and rights would still be living under one of the worst tyrannies that the world has ever known. I am pleased to support the noble Lord, Lord Campbell.

Earl Russell: I am sure that the Committee will be pleased to hear that I am not going to answer that speech. However, I wish to take up one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. He said that he believes that the Bill threatens parliamentary sovereignty. I do not understand how that can possibly be so. I have always understood that the two key principles of parliamentary sovereignty are that a parliament can do what it likes but may not bind its successors. I cannot see anything in the Bill which remotely purports to bind our successors. Therefore, if this Parliament wishes to pass this legislation, I cannot see how we can possibly infringe our parliamentary sovereignty by doing so. I should have thought that an argument to say that we infringe our parliamentary sovereignty by doing what

15 Feb 1995 : Column 768

we like would run more risk of contradicting parliamentary sovereignty than anything in my noble friend's Bill.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Browne-Wilkinson: I do not have the command of the broad territory which the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, has and I shall confine myself to the very narrow point which, as I understand it, is now common ground between the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway.

As introduced, the Bill would have had the effect that those provisions passed by both Houses of Parliament and receiving Royal Assent which were found to conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights would have had to be struck down by the courts.

There are many different views on the merits or demerits of such a matter but there is no doubt that such a move would have involved a major constitutional shift. When I spoke on Second Reading, I expressed the hope that even if, as I suspected, such a basic proposition was not acceptable, consideration would be given to something more moderate in its scope. To my astonishment, there are now no fewer than two amendments designed to produce roughly the same result.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 4—either of them as far as I can see—produce a major shift in what the Bill will achieve. Perhaps I may explain that. There is no longer any question of a judge or a court being able to strike down any Act of Parliament. Whatever its rights and wrongs, the argument about sovereignty is no longer in the picture because the amendments produce an obligation on the courts, in construing Acts of Parliament or administering the common law, to give effect, so far as possible and subject to Parliament's ability to say, "You cannot do it", to the provisions of the European Convention to which we all, as a country, are party and with which we are bound to conform.

I believe that either of the two amendments will produce a most desirable change. When winding up the debate on Second Reading the statement of the law by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, accorded broadly with exactly what the amendment is designed to produce; namely, a general provision whereby, in giving effect to the law as passed by Parliament, there should be an approach designed to give effect to Convention obligations.

I am afraid that I have still not unravelled the cat's cradle and I do not know which of the amendments will prevail or how. But the amendments will produce what I suspect is the wish not only of the Members of this place but also of the other place when passing legislation; namely, they are not intended to authorise the Executive or anyone else in this country to do things which conflict with the European Convention. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to see how they would do properly otherwise as we are bound by treaty to enforce that.

This amendment will merely enable the courts of this country, in approaching the powers conferred by Parliament in very wide terms, of necessity, to assume that those powers are limited so as not to authorise infringements of the treaty.

15 Feb 1995 : Column 769

I can see no reason why that should not be done. It does not involve impugning the sovereignty of Parliament. It would enable the many cases which arise to be adjudicated upon by English judges in England, albeit at considerable expense, in relation to matters which directly affect the citizens of this country. I would welcome either of the amendments and I hope that I shall be given guidance as to which one to vote for when the time comes. I believe that they both achieve a desirable result.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page