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Mr. McDonnell: Just to clarify a point that I shall make at a later stage, section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 clearly states that the Minister needs to make a statement with regard to the Act. That is not just a statement about compliance. A statement is also needed if the legislation does not comply, but the Minister wishes the House to proceed with it. That is the key issue. Information must be provided to the House either way--whether the Bill complies or not--which then becomes available as part of the consideration of the debate. That is not required for private Bills. The Act provides an informative power.

Mr. Mackinlay: My hon. Friend anticipates me to some extent. I have always felt that this Bill would not pass the litmus test of lining it up against our human rights legislation. I shall give my reasons for that. In the protocol to the convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as amended by protocol No. 11, which is appended to the convention, article 3 is headed "Right to free elections". It states:


This is not a subject to which I referred in the debate a year ago: it is a new point. Article 3 makes clear the obligation to hold free elections.

Mr. Corbyn: Before my hon. Friend leaves his examination of the convention, will he confirm that at no point does it give the right to vote either to corporations or to the buildings that house them?

Mr. Mackinlay: Of course it does not, because that would be alien to the concept of democracy that is implicit and explicit in all our European obligations and conventions. The promoters of the Bill dare not accept the amendment because they would find that the Bill did not comply. The Bill is anathema to all that we are committed to under the convention and other international treaties and obligations. It would also be hypocritical of the United Kingdom, when I and other hon. Members are expected to go round the world preaching democracy and the principles of representation, to pass a Bill that takes us in the opposite direction.

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4.15 pm

I want to concentrate on the statement in article 3 that the elections


In my interpretation, the word "legislature" applies to the City of London Corporation. That is because a legislature can be construed, in this context, as any law-making body, including a subordinate law-making body. The Court of Common Council passes legislation in the form of byelaws and it controls the police force which issues summonses and fines. The court also has a quasi-judicial role in dealing with planning applications, and so on. Article 3 applies in this case and the Bill therefore contravenes article 3 of the protocol attached to the European convention.

I reiterate a point that I made in the debate a year ago. Although the Government are not the promoters of the Bill, they ultimately have a duty to protect and defend the veracity of the United Kingdom statute book. There is no such thing in law as a private Act. Any Bill that goes through this process and receives Royal Assent becomes an Act of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Before my hon. Friend moves away from Britain's role as an exemplar in these matters, will he tell us whether there is any great move in, say, Frankfurt or Paris to adopt this peculiar British model? The model that we are considering today is clearly perceived as superior, although I am unaware of its currently being imitated anywhere else in the world. Does my hon. Friend know of any great move in that direction? Has a cry gone up in the bourse of Paris for a similar form of masonic--in the sense that it relates to masonry--representation?

Mr. Mackinlay: That is not my brief, because I am addressing myself specifically and precisely to the amendment. However, my answer to my hon. Friend is no.

The Attorney-General, not the City of London Corporation, would have to defend the veracity of the statute book in terms of this Bill, were it to receive Royal Assent and become an Act. I notice that article 52 of section 3 of the convention states:


The high contracting party is not the City of London Corporation, but the United Kingdom. We should have to explain why this Bill, after it became an Act, was compliant. The Attorney-General--who, unfortunately, is not a Member of this House--would be straining to show that the Bill was compliant.

I promised that I would not detain the House. There are sufficient anoraks in this place who will have read and absorbed last year's deliberations. I hope that the Minister has read them. She will remember that Ian Smith introduced similar legislation with regard to the franchise and the meritocracy in Rhodesia, and we found that repugnant. However, that is what the Government are proposing. They should reflect on and reconsider the matter.

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I am modern--

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Modern?

Mr. Mackinlay: I really am modern. It is not just a label--the test is in the eating.

It is deeply conservative, in every respect, to defend the existing franchise arrangements of the City of London Corporation and to compound that perversity in the Bill. I hope that the Minister wants to make a name for herself and shock us by leading us into the Division Lobby in favour of the new clause. Perhaps she will invite the promoters to pause and reflect on whether the Bill should proceed.

Mr. McDonnell: My hon. Friend gave us an idea that discussions might have taken place elsewhere. I do not want to compromise the confidences that he has entered into, but will there be any shift on the matter in the near future with regard to private Bills?

Mr. Mackinlay: I shall not betray confidences because there are none to betray. I detained the House on this matter a year ago and have had informal discussions with Ministers. As someone who is interested in the rubrics of this place, I have also talked to officials. The Human Rights Act 1998 means, for example, that Secretary of State Hoon puts his certificate on the Armed Forces Bill. However, everyone recognises that the Act is flawed and Parliament was foolish in not providing comparable arrangements for so-called private Bills.

I have been frustrating the progress of other private Bills for a narrow reason, not because I believe that the motives behind them are repugnant--I have no reason to think that--but because the promoters have told me that they have been banging on the Government's door and received assurances that the matter would be remedied "over the summer." In addition, in response to parliamentary questions that I tabled, the Minister has said that the issue was being considered.

The problem is not with me, but with the failure and lethargy of the system, and the slow way in which things crank along in Whitehall. That is why an amendment has not been proposed to our Standing Orders and/or discussions have not taken place with the Bill's promoters. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) is a delightful colleague, but I cannot for the life of me understand why he will not accept the new clause, other than the fact that he and the promoters know that the Bill would have to fall because it would not be human-rights compliant.

Mr. Pound: While my hon. Friend is in such a henotic mood, will he allow me to imply a slight note of criticism of his use of the word "anoraks"?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not relevant to what we are discussing.

Mr. Mackinlay: I think that it was taken in the spirit in which it was meant. Anoraks, train-spotters or people who stand outside Heathrow airport to watch planes--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman not to compound the felony.

Mr. Mackinlay: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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Some people are interested in the way in which Parliament is run, and they have turned up today. Some people who watch us on television are also enthusiastic about our proceedings. That was the parallel.

I have finished. My case is made. I want to hear the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, who speaks for the Bill's promoters, say whether he will accept the new clause, and if not, why not. I also look forward to hearing the Government justify their deeply conservative attitude to the Bill.

Mr. McDonnell: I hope that the failure of Opposition Members to rise to speak means that they accept the principle of the matter.

I should explain that I have just returned from visiting my family in Tanzania. I received a message a short time ago that my father-in-law has gone down with malaria, the symptoms of which are a cold, aching bones with the flu and the shakes. I feel a cold coming on and have aching bones, but I do not have the shakes. However, if I do get them, you will understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why I might withdraw from the debate. [Interruption.] It is not contagious.

Let me be clear about the new clause. Concern--almost anger--was expressed when we discussed the issue previously. I have raised the matter on, I think, eight separate occasions as points of order or in debate. The Human Rights Act should be acknowledged as the determinant of our practices in the House. That is why we debated it in November 1997. The discussion ensured that, by endorsing the Act, every aspect of our governance, in terms of legislation and administration, would be compliant with it; otherwise, we would seek the necessary derogations to ensure that we could justify, at least with our international partners, any variation.


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