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Lord Hylton: My Lords, I wish to consider further what the Minister said. I reserve my right possibly to return to this issue on Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 92:

Page 32, line 8, at end insert (", and
(b) bring proceedings involving law or practice relating to the protection of human rights.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 93, 94 and 96. Amendment No. 94 is in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell and Amendment No. 93 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

Amendment No. 92 makes clear on the face of the Bill the ability of the Human Rights Commission to bring proceedings involving law or practice relating to the protection of human rights. Amendment No. 96 is intended to make it clear that that does not override the need for a victim under the Human Rights Act.

The usual way we see the commission being involved is by offering assistance to individuals under Clause 66. The agreement envisages the commission, in appropriate cases, bringing court proceedings. They might include judicial review on the ground that a particular policy or practice was in breach of human rights other than ECHR rights or that legislation was unlawful because it was discriminatory. There will be nothing to stop it initiating proceedings under Clause 72. Those are examples.

Clause 65(11)(b) defines human rights in a very wide fashion. I should expect most proceedings to be brought in support of specific individuals but the commission will be able to bring its own legal proceedings in appropriate cases. We believe that that fairly and fully reflects the agreement.

The only restriction on the ability to initiate proceedings in its own name is in Clause 67. That is in common with the policy adopted in the Human Rights Act 1997. Clause 67 restricts the bringing of proceedings in respect of convention rights to a victim, as defined in the convention itself.

The proposed amendment in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell is similar to government Amendment No. 92. It, too, would make clear on the face of the Bill the existing ability of the

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Human Rights Commission to bring proceedings for judicial review, but because there is no equivalent of the corresponding government Amendment No. 96, to which I spoke a moment ago, it would allow victimless cases to be brought by the commission. That is not our intention, bearing in mind that having a victim, including an actual or potential victim, is the policy that has been adopted and enshrined in the Human Rights Act.

Amendment No. 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is similar to government Amendment No. 92 and Amendment No. 94. There is no equivalent in Amendment No. 93 to corresponding government Amendment No. 96. I hope that I have explained the Government's position clearly.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, he may be able to assist some of us. What is the extent of the restriction in Clause 67? Does it apply to claims which are brought simply under the convention so that other claims dealing with other aspects of human rights may be brought by the commission?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes, it is exactly the same as the structure in the Human Rights Act. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, Amendment No. 92 is an amendment which I warmly welcome subject only to the comment that it is rather surprising that it contains a reference to paragraph (b) when the Bill will not, on the face of it, contain a paragraph (a). That may be a drafting amendment which will have to be introduced on Third Reading.

Subject to that highly technical point, I welcome the extent to which the Government have moved on this issue. From these Benches, I continue to regret that the Government have continued in this case, as in the Human Rights Act, to impose the victim requirement but that is a long argument which has been raised rather exhaustively in previous debates on other Bills and I shall not seek at this stage of this Bill to raise it again.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I very much hope that the pair of government amendments are more comprehensive than my Amendment No. 93. If I can have reassurance on that point, I shall be very happy not to move Amendment No. 93.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, once again, I am sure that we all welcome my noble friend's response to some of the anxieties which we expressed in Committee. What troubled some of us was the extent of the restriction in Clause 67 which restricts to the victim the right to bring proceedings for breaches of the convention. If that were held to apply too widely, it might frustrate the judicial protection of human rights in Northern Ireland for two reasons. First, a victim may be reluctant to bring proceedings because he may be under peer-group pressure or be subject to intimidation. Secondly, it might do so for the reason indicated in the

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earlier debate by my noble friend Lord Morris. Unfortunately, he has had to leave us early and wishes me to express his apologies to the House. My noble friend's point was that the infringement might be directed not at an individual but at a whole group of people; for example, the disabled.

Amendment No. 92 relieves many of our anxieties because it makes it clear that the restriction in Clause 67 is not as wide as some of us feared. In those circumstances, I do not propose to move Amendment No. 94.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Morris indicated to me earlier the reason why he mentioned that specific point. He has domestic difficulties, which we all regret, and he obviously intended no discourtesy.

The only point to which I believe I ought to respond is the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Amendment No. 92 is a shade wider than Amendment No. 93, although, as I indicated, our corresponding restriction is in line with the policy that your Lordships adopted under the Human Rights Act.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 93 and 94 not moved.]

Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 95:

After Clause 65, insert the following new clause--

Investigations, etc

(".--(1) The Commission may conduct such investigations as it considers appropriate to determine whether a breach of--
(a) the Human Rights Act 1998, or
(b) section 72 or 73 of this Act,
has occurred or may occur.
(2) Where the Commission proposes to conduct an investigation under this section, it shall publicise the fact and shall afford an opportunity to those with sufficient interest to comment on the desirability of conducting such an investigation.
(3) The Commission may require any person who in its opinion is able to furnish information or produce documents necessary to the investigation to furnish any such information or produce any such documents.
(4) For the purposes of an investigation the Commission shall have the same powers as the Court in respect of--
(a) the attendance and examination of witnesses, and
(b) the production of documents.
(5) If any person without lawful excuse obstructs the Commission or any officer of the Commission in the performance of its or his functions under this section, or is guilty of any act or omission in relation to any investigation under this section which, if that investigation were a proceeding in the Court, would constitute contempt of court, the Commission may certify the offence to the Court.
(6) Where an offence is certified under subsection (5), the Court may inquire into the matter and deal with the person referred to in that subsection in any manner in which the Court could deal with him if he had committed the like offence in relation to the Court.
(7) If, after conducting an investigation under this section, it appears to the Commission appropriate, it may lay a special report before each House of Parliament and the Assembly.
(8) In this section "Court" means the High Court in Northern Ireland.").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 133 has also been grouped with this amendment. I referred earlier to the human rights commission not having sufficient tools to do its job, especially during the first two years. That is why I have tabled Amendment No. 95. However, there is a change in the text in subsection (3) where the word "necessary" is substituted for "relevant", which was used in the Committee stage amendment. I am advised that that narrows a little the scope of the new amendment.

I should also like to point out to the House that the investigations which my amendment would allow are strictly limited to breaches under the Human Rights Act and under Clauses 72 and 73, which deal with discrimination and illegal oaths. My feeling is that Clause 65(8) is fine as far as it goes, but its weakness lies in its not having the machinery for enforcement to deal with people who may be totally unco-operative when it comes to an investigation of their behaviour. That is why I have provided for the furnishing of information, the production of documents and indeed for the compelling of the attendance of witnesses.

I turn now to Amendment No. 133. I tabled that amendment because it was pointed out to me during the last stage of the Bill that there was no cross-party or cross-community agreement as to the making of investigations with compulsory powers. That is why I have provided that the Assembly must agree, with cross-community support, a resolution praying for the commencement of the clause introduced by Amendment No. 95.

The Government may say that human rights is a reserved matter and, therefore, it would be out of order for the Assembly even to consider it and investigations relating to it. My reply is that it would be right to give the Assembly a means of enlarging the present scope of human rights legislation and human rights investigations. I beg to move.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, it seems to me that the human rights commission will not be able to do its job without carrying out investigations. However, that is not to say that it necessarily needs all the powers suggested by Amendment No. 95. The attendance and examination of witnesses, the production of documents and so forth, lead to the commission behaving almost like a court. Obviously, if it subsequently finds that there has been some breach of human rights legislation or, for that matter, of some other provision, it will then go to court with the result of its investigations and try to prove it. It is almost a form of double jeopardy in the sense that the commission sits like a court with compulsory powers for documents to be presented to it and for witnesses to appear before it. That is the reason behind my hesitation on the matter. As I said, the commission will need to investigate matters; otherwise, it will never get anywhere. Of course, that is largely what it is for; namely, to investigate complaints.

It is a matter of interest that, as far as I can see, the agreement provides that the new unified equality commission which will be set up under the Bill will

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specifically investigate complaints of default, but there is no such provision as regards human rights. If we were to write in an investigatory clause as suggested by the amendment, we would perhaps be stepping outside the wording of the agreement, although not outside the spirit of it because it is absolutely no use such a commission existing if it cannot look into certain matters. As I say, I am cautious at the rather judicial process set out in the amendment.

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