Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: There have been a number of speeches on this important topic so perhaps I may trespass on your Lordships' patience for a little longer than I usually do. Perhaps I may draw the threads together. Amendments Nos. 43, 47 and 49 are linked to the new amendment which has been tabled before Clause 20--I refer to Amendment No. 104--and to the amendment tabled after Clause 3, which is Amendment No. 93.

I want to make the Government's position perfectly plain, as I tried to do at Second Reading. I turn to the White Paper, which states:

24 Nov 1997 : Column 850

We believe that to be a sensible way forward. I do not resile for a moment from what I said at Second Reading, which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, was kind enough to cite. I believe that there will be a change in the culture of organisations in this country. That change in culture will be dictated by the passage of this legislation, but it will not require a human rights commission. I would find it difficult to imagine that a large organisation--for instance, a government department or a large commercial organisation--will not have its own internal structures to ensure that its practices are in accordance with new duties.

The noble Baroness referred to changing times and the democratic ethos. I entirely agree. One of the criticisms that is often made of another place is that it is not sufficiently astute to use its own powers. Many would say that the committee structure in another place perhaps needs a transfusion of life and activity. As I said earlier, with the specific authority of the Lord Chancellor and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, we will look on the matter favourably as a government if another place wishes to set up a parliamentary committee on human rights.

For a very long time now, some would say, another place has been somewhat slow in using the full power which the committee system may offer. If another place wished to have a parliamentary committee on human rights, we would expect it to involve the educative function, the dissemination of information to the public and the taking of evidence, including, as the Lord Chancellor specifically said at Second Reading, the taking of evidence all over our country, and not only in London. That is a reflection of the democratic ethos in a society that we believe is changing and ought to change.

We do not wish to bully through a human rights commission without the fullest consultation with the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality, to name but two. I pay tribute, as we all do, to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, who has great experience of the EOC. When she cautions us and says that the principle may be appropriate but that we need the most careful, intricate and informed consultation with those bodies, I respectfully believe her to be right.

As we said in Rights Brought Home, we have not ruled out the idea of a commission for the future. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said about the expression, "£2 million or £3 million being neither here nor there". I know that he will tell me that such sums do not go very far these days--they may not--but they represent vast amounts of money in stringent financial times.

We believe that the right way forward is the one that has been proposed and that we should do our best to get the best possible Bill. If there is to be a parliamentary committee, single or joint, we welcome its involvement in scrutiny first should there be a human rights commission. Secondly, it is very important that we get the nuts and bolts and practicalities right after taking evidence and approaching the matter with care. The constitution and nature of a human rights commission, if there is to be one, is very important. It is extremely important that we get it right first time.

24 Nov 1997 : Column 851

We are not ruling out the idea of a human rights commission. We believe that we should have the best possible material available before we decide, first, whether to have one and, secondly, what its terms of reference and proper parameters should be. On that basis, I respectfully ask that noble Lords who have moved this amendment withdraw it.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I do not know whether it is for me or the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to reply. I fancy it is for me. I do so by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and other noble Lords who supported this amendment for their contributions. I repeat that informed opinion is now overwhelmingly in favour of a human rights commission. A parliamentary committee, admirable though it may be, is no substitute. One need look only at the terms of Amendment Nos.93 and 104 to see that the functions recommended are entirely different from those which would concern a parliamentary committee. The two are complementary. I certainly do not discourage the Government from consulting further and wider, except I should like to see them get on with it pretty fast.

I undertook not to press my amendment to a Division. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 not moved.]

Lord Lester of Herne Hill had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No.50:

Page 4, line 30, leave out subsections (3) and (4).

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may express my great gratitude to all who have spoken, particularly the non-lawyers. Not only are they specially qualified by their lack of legal qualifications but they are specially qualified in this debate. I pay great tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. I have known her ever since we both gave evidence to the Select Committee on sex discrimination on behalf of the Labour Party. We have known each other since she became the first and most distinguished chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission in 1976. Her role and that of the commission illustrate why one needs a commission at the outset of new legislation, not after the legislation has been tried and tested. She has had a remarkable role in the labour movement and on behalf of women's rights. I pay great tribute to her. We should listen with particular care to what she has to say. The same applies to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, who has had enormous experience both of the EOC and in protecting the rights of ethnic minorities. I also mention my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby who I can well remember in the Labour Party, and beyond, fighting this particular case.

I have listened carefully to the arguments of the Minister. I understand and welcome what he says about a parliamentary human rights committee; but that is no substitute for the functions that we have been describing this evening. I ask the Minister and his colleagues to reconsider whether the doctrine of the unripe time--

24 Nov 1997 : Column 852

a favourite doctrine of conservatives, whether they are Liberal, Labour or Tory, throughout the ages--is really one upon which he and his colleagues wish to stand.

If we had heard this morning about the plans of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for a special fund for its administration, criteria and use, I should feel slightly more comforted. My position and that of my colleagues is that we have probed this evening but we shall surely return to it on Report. I very much hope by that stage there can be a wider consensus on the matter. Therefore, I shall not proceed with the amendment.

[Amendment No. 50 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 50A to 54 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 55:

Page 4, line 35, leave out second ("the unlawful") and insert ("that").

The noble Lord said: This is a modest drafting amendment. Clause 7(4) refers twice to "the unlawful act" of a public authority. The effect of this amendment is that on the second occasion, the style would be improved and the sentence more graceful if the words simply read "that act". I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 56 and 56A not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 57:

Page 5, line 4, leave out ("Secretary of State") and insert ("Lord President or Lord Justice General").

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment was tabled, I regret to say, I suspect, having misconstrued the provisions of Clause 7(8). I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for pointing out to me informally where I may have been in error. I am confirmed that I am in error by the provisions of Amendment No. 105, which we shall no doubt reach in the fullness of time.

It may be helpful to those in Scotland who are interested in this matter if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate would confirm that the rules which are referred to in subsection (8) are limited to rules in terms of which the Secretary of State would specify which courts in Scotland could entertain proceedings as they are referred to in Clause 7(1)(a). If, at this stage, it is possible to indicate what the Secretary of State has in mind as to the courts, I am sure that would also be of interest. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page