Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I rise to oppose Amendment No. 2. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel has declared his interest in the Church of England. I should perhaps declare my interest as

19 Jan 1998 : Column 1255

chairman of the all-party humanists group, although I do not speak on behalf of that group which has not discussed the issue.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, to this extent. This is not a minor matter, but one of major importance. The amendment put forward is of a sweeping nature and refers to remedies,

    "subject to exemption on grounds of religious law and practice".

That goes far wider than the amendment introduced by the noble Lord. It is a blanket exclusion from the provisions of the Bill on the grounds of religious law and practice.

What is religious law and practice? The meaning is not defined in the Bill, nor so far as I am aware is it defined anywhere else. I do not argue in any sense that there should be any infringement of the rights of people to practise religion of whatever kind they wish to follow. That has never been my position. I believe in the inclusion of people of religion in the civic affairs of our country. However, I object to the way in which the Church seeks to exclude itself from the Human Rights Bill. Apart from matters of practice--I believe that that was mentioned today--for the life of me I cannot think of any reason that any Church should seek to exclude itself from the upholding of human rights. It may seem paradoxical, but I argue that one of the main functions of religion is to uphold human rights. Therefore to pass such a wide amendment would lead us into grave difficulties.

I refer to what I call the peculiar religions such as the so-called Moonies--they may take offence at that--which declare themselves to be religions. Some of their practices undoubtedly are totally against the spirit and practice of this legislation. Would such religions be able to creep in under the amendment, and say, "The law can't touch us in our activities because we are excluded"? The issue needs to be looked at closely. For the House to exclude religion on such wide grounds would be extremely dangerous and highly damaging, not just to the Bill, but to the fabric of our society.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment No. 1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. A purpose clause is not always appropriate, but there was general agreement in Committee that this was a case where a purpose clause would be of advantage. There was general approval of the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, had framed the purpose clause which is now put forward again.

I desire to intervene only on two points. The first is in relation to what service a purpose clause is for. It is an aid to interpretation; and it is nothing else. Your Lordships have heard two speeches cogently argued and, if I may say so, deeply impressive. After hearing them, no one would minimise the importance of the considerations which they raise, even if one had been inclined to do so before.

However, the arguments relate to one amendment, or perhaps more than one, which will be moved later by the noble Baroness, Lady Young; and perhaps to one to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in relation to

19 Jan 1998 : Column 1256

the Church of Scotland. As one who was formerly concerned on many occasions with statutory interpretation, I can only say that if one were to start inscribing exceptions into a purpose clause one would only confuse the court. The function of a purpose clause, when it is appropriate, is to give a general guidance to the general spirit of a Bill--an Act of Parliament as it becomes. It is not in the least designed to fish out this or that exception. To do that not only serves no useful purpose but will derogate from the value of any purpose clause.

There is only one other thing I should like to add: it is in relation to the last amendment on the Marshalled List, and the last in the list of groupings. I refer to the amendment to the Title. Frequently a Title can serve a useful and valuable purpose. Instead of or with a purpose clause, it can indicate to the court of interpretation the overriding force impelling the Act of Parliament. The two are not mutually exclusive. They may be cumulative. Therefore I can support wholeheartedly the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, without anticipating in any way by way of derogation the amendment that I shall move in due course in relation to the Title.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I would have supported the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, subject to a bit of tightening up of the drafting--but that is neither here nor there--if I could have supported Amendment No. 1. But I cannot. It is a purpose clause. I stand four square behind the recommendations of the Renton committee on purpose clauses, at paragraphs 11.6 to 11.18 on pages 62 and 63 of the report. These appear under the heading, Aids to Understanding. It is stated quite clearly in the report that they should not be used as a mere manifesto incorporation--in this case to reflect page 35 of the Labour manifesto--to enforce human rights in our courts. That is clearly the main purpose of the Bill. Everyone knows that. It is a tightly crafted Bill, and no aid to understanding or construction would be afforded by the introduction of a purpose clause.

I accept the view of the report. The report states that it is not appropriate to introduce a purpose clause. It is suggested that it is certainly not appropriate to introduce a purpose clause at the outset of any stage of the Bill where amendments are tabled which, if carried, could afford exceptions to the main purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, referred to that in outline and I need not make the point again. I agree with him.

As in the case of the Long Title, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, referred, the purpose clause should be postponed to the end of the Bill, where amendments to the Title are considered. However, as yet no such procedure has evolved. Such procedure may not have evolved because it is not often that your Lordships' House introduces purpose clauses. It is stated clearly in the report that these clauses should be used only as an aid to,

    "better understanding of the legislative intention",

(as to which there is no question here), to resolve doubts and ambiguities (as to which there are none), and to limit or clarify the scope and effect of legislation. This

19 Jan 1998 : Column 1257

amendment does not seek to limit the scope of legislation. There is no obscurity in the drafting of the Bill which warrants clarification. For those reasons, based on the Renton report, which I accept, I oppose Amendment No. 1.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I wish to speak in support of Amendment No. 1, standing also in my name, and explain why I oppose Amendment No. 2 as an amendment to it. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, perhaps I may begin by explaining why I believe the noble Lord is mistaken about the Renton report, and also as to the reasons why this is a valuable provision. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in his place. The Renton report made one exception to the paragraphs to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, referred. The report stated that there is one circumstance in which a purpose clause should be used; namely, where a Bill seeks to give effect to an international treaty obligation. That is exemplified by the present Bill.

Why is that the case? It is because there is a discrepancy between what was stated in the White Paper both by the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government as a whole, and statements by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in the course of debate, which need to be clarified. It may be that they can be clarified when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor replies, in which case the need for this clause may be reconsidered.

Perhaps I may explain the discrepancy. In his preface to the White Paper the Prime Minister said:

    "We are committed to a comprehensive programme of constitutional reform ... The elements are well-known ... new rights based on bringing the European Convention ... into United Kingdom law".

The introduction and summary stated:

    "The Government has a Manifesto commitment to introduce legislation to incorporate"--

I emphasise the word "incorporate"--

    "the European Human Rights Convention into United Kingdom law. The Queen's speech ... announced that the Government would bring forward a Bill for this purpose",

that is to say, for the purpose of incorporating convention rights into domestic law.

Paragraph 1.19 of the White Paper states:

    "to make more directly accessible the rights which the British people already enjoy under the convention. In other words, to bring those rights home".

All that is very plain--although not plainly stated on the face of the Bill.

In Committee, however, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor stated:

    "convention rights will not ... in themselves become part of ... substantive domestic law".--[Official Report, 18/11/97; col. 508.]

It is very important to assist the courts and members of the public to know whether, as the White Paper states, the purpose of the Bill is to provide effective remedies to the violation of convention rights by incorporating convention rights into domestic law. I hope, and believe,

19 Jan 1998 : Column 1258

that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to confirm that the main purpose is indeed to provide effective remedies for violation of convention rights. That is what is meant by bringing convention rights home.

Article 2 of the convention obliges the United Kingdom to secure convention rights for everyone within the jurisdiction of this country; and Article 13 obliges the UK to provide effective domestic remedies. It has not been argued in previous debates either by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, that there is any practical objection to a purpose clause of this kind. For those reasons, I very much hope that the Government will be sympathetic to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.

I turn briefly to the amendment to the purpose clause tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. With great respect to the noble Lord, this amendment is not at all well-conceived. First, it is quite clear from the case law under the European Human Rights Convention that Article 9--the religious freedom provision of the convention--gives ample scope for canon law making, for the ordination of women, for all the practices, procedures, rituals and dogmas of the established Churches, and indeed, other religions.

One of the most dramatic examples occurred in a case in which I was involved in this country, but not in Strasbourg; namely, the Salman Rushdie case. As noble Lords will remember, an attempt was made to extend the law of blasphemy to cover not only the Anglican faith and Christianity but also Islam. It was argued successfully in the English courts, using the convention, that to extend the law in that way would be to set one religion against another and would be divisive, and that any suggestion of discrimination was misconceived. The European Commission of Human Rights agreed with that argument, which had been accepted by the Divisional Court, and threw out a challenge based upon Article 14 by some fundamentalist Moslems who sought to challenge discrimination, and found the case to be manifestly ill-founded. The kind of problems raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, would simply not arise under the convention in a proper case in this country. Were they to be raised I am confident that no British court would be likely to find that any of those established practices could not pass muster under Article 14--the non-discrimination guarantee--and Article 9.

However, I agree with the noble Lord's remark that there are some religions, whether real or supposed, which may violate basic human rights and freedoms; and it would be quite wrong in principle, especially in a purpose clause but also in the body of the Bill, to carve out an exception, or immunity, when no such immunity exists under the European Convention itself. We cannot use the Bill to diminish the rights given by the convention by imposing immunities on particular interest groups. Therefore, I hope that that amendment will not be pressed.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page