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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that question will be abundantly answered following the consultation which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor indicated publicly a little while ago that he is about to carry out. No one can deal with the details or the fine tuning until that consultation has been carried out.
The right reverend Prelate asked whether some of the rights or qualifications were not dangerously general. I am bound to say--this has been said many times--that a general description of rights is in many ways much more appropriate than an attempted description or prescription of rights which is not capable of being flexible with changing social conditions. Perhaps I may give one example. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, referred to electronic surveillance. Of course, that was not known 50 years ago in its present subtlety and sophistication, but the matter is still well covered by Article 8. We do not need over-prescription in this delicate area.
A number of your Lordships, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, referred to the question of whether at this stage there should be a human rights commission. The Government believe that Parliament has an extremely important part to play. That is why the Lord Chancellor went out of his way to indicate that the Home Secretary and he would both look favourably, if Parliament wished it, on the development of a human rights committee.
Dealing with the point about education and the dissemination of material, he said specifically that it might well be subject to the committee's views and that the committee would wish to travel within the jurisdiction in order to take evidence, hear representations and have public forums. That is a development which another place and your Lordships' House might well wish to see. What the Government have said--I hope that your Lordships will think this prudent--is that it is for Parliament to decide on the mechanisms that it wishes to adopt. We are not in any sense drawing back from our commitment.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, asked whether I could say whether there would be a Treasury veto on the human rights commission. If I may put it bluntly, all I can say is I do not readily understand that anyone would be able successfully to overrule the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary if they concluded that they wanted public funding, but that is a little way down the road. The question was whether there will be a Treasury veto. I shall try again: no, no, no.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme, also asked whether we would be "proactive"--I believe that that is the word nowadays--about relationships with the existing statutory commissions. Of course--we have been in regular correspondence with them in past months.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, asked what would or would not be a public body. He rightly conjectured that we would anticipate the BBC being a public authority and that Channel 4 might well be a public authority, but that other commercial organisations, such as private television stations, might well not be public authorities. I stress that that is a matter for the courts to decide as the jurisprudence develops. Some authorities plainly exercise wholly public functions; others do not. There is no difficulty here.
There is no difficulty in the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. Perhaps I may cite Railtrack as a simple example. It is the statutory safety regulator, but equally it carries out private functions of property development or property acquisition. It is perfectly easy for a judiciary, which is as well accustomed as is ours to questions of judicial review, to resolve such problems. It is a mistake to think that we are hobbling authorities because they are now private whereas they used to be public utilities. The point is not the label or description; it is the function. I hope that I have made that plain.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell me whether a newspaper which has never been publicly funded and which has never been a public body comes within the definition? I never understood that the definition required anybody to be an authority; I thought that one had to be either a company or an individual.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, subject to the cautious proviso that this is a matter for the courts to determine in due time, it is our belief that a newspaper is not a public authority. A court is a public authority which is obliged to act lawfully. I have developed that point in the context of the question about the press and privacy.
It cannot be too firmly reiterated that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has made it absolutely plain that the Government believe that the proper way forward is to have effective self-regulation by the PCC; that is to say, effective in terms of the legitimate interests of proper investigative journalism and public protection and, overarching both, effective in terms of public support. As my noble and learned friend has indicated, if there is effective self-regulation there will be no blemishes. I repeat his words: effective self-regulation is the way to keep these cases from court.
This is not intended to be a bonanza for lawyers. It is intended to offer a proper balance within our society in answer to the difficult question: how does one reconcile Article 8 with Article 10? That is not always an easy function to perform. But it is not beyond the wit, intelligence and traditions of our judicial system to come to appropriate conclusions in appropriate cases.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, the noble Lord is always courtesy itself in giving way and replying to points made in the debate. To our applause there is now to be enshrined in statute law a right to privacy. Is that merely to be vindicated by reliance on self-regulation?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I cannot prescribe or precisely foretell how judges will develop their powers. But I reiterate as plainly as I can the view of the Government that on questions of press freedom effective and efficient self-regulation is infinitely preferable to legal battles in court. It is not only the press that intrudes into people's privacy; neighbours and
No one should forget that the press in this country, which is not free of blemish--neither I nor any member of the Government has ever pretended otherwise--does good work. It is absolutely necessary in a free and democratic society that there is an investigative press and media willing to look into matters and to expose wrong-doing, sometimes at great risk and financial cost. I do not believe that anyone who recalls the political history of the past 18 months can possibly differ from that proposition.
My noble friend Lord Mishcon asked what might happen in a criminal or civil case where a convention compatibility point was raised. The solutions will be infinitely variable. The courts already have power under Section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to take certain steps by way of the exclusion of evidence if the case may become unfair. It may be necessary to have adjournments or a preliminary ruling by the trial judge, whereupon the defendant can either continue the trial or change his plea, as happens now, and reserve his rights on appeal. I believe that all of those mechanisms are well familiar at the moment and can be usefully developed as experience demonstrates it to be right.
Without presumption, I recognise the force of the feelings expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. I entirely endorse his comment and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, that people may have legitimate concerns about these matters. There will be differences between us. It is the philosophic difference that perhaps can never be bridged. I correct myself. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, indicated, sometimes argument changes the mind.
I have been at the Dispatch Box for 19 minutes, two of them spent sitting down and hopping up again. I forgive myself on your Lordships' behalf. I put the position of the Government very generally. I have already said that the Government endorse the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that this is a defining moment in Britain's constitutional life, history and traditions.
We want to make the Bill the very best construction that we can. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor pointed out earlier that this was a Home Office Bill. I cannot leave this Dispatch Box--I should not--without complimenting the officials in the Home Office and the parliamentary draftsmen for producing this subtle, elegant and very British construction. There is a verse that I used to know. It has a line or two in it: "'Courage', he said and pointed towards the land".
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