Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Corbyn: Before my hon. Friend finishes his point on derogations, is he aware of whether any such application was made during the negotiations either for establishing the European convention on human rights in the first place or, more recently, for introducing it to British law in respect of local government?

Mr. McDonnell: I expected the promoters of the Bill at least to indicate that there might be a need, if the Bill is enacted, for a derogation to be sought in the future. Since the Human Rights Act has been implemented, the Government have made no attempt to seek a derogation under the convention in local government legislation, statutory instruments or administrative orders. That puts this legislative proposal in context.

When we debated the Act, it was clear--I remember the ministerial statements--that we wanted to find a mechanism that would allow us to advise others in our society about human rights abuse and adherence to human rights measures, and to ensure that Parliament, as a legislative body, complies with it. That is how section 19 of the Act came about.

4.30 pm

Section 19 was debated, and the Government and others made the obvious point that when legislation comes

11 Jan 2001 : Column 1296

before the House someone should make it clear that it is compliant. I remember that debate clearly, and it was pointed out that legislation might not be compliant for a number of justifiable reasons. There might be conflicts with individual national sovereignties or a conflict within the hierarchy of human rights. I believe that this is such an instance, which is why the new clause is so important. Section 19 was drafted in such a way as to enable a Minister to come to the House and say either, "The legislation is compliant," or "The legislation is not compliant, but we would like you to proceed with it and enact it for the following reasons."

I have not been party to any private discussions or confidences, as hon. Friends may have been. At no stage during the debate on section 19 was the view expressed that not all legislation should be covered by the Human Rights Act. If that had been an issue at the time, specific reference would have been made to it in that debate, and the Act would have excluded individual elements of the legislative process. The issue was never raised in any of the debates or during any of the consultative processes. I shall give way to any Member or Minister who wants to point out any reference in a public debate or a consultative paper to the need for legislative exclusions from the Human Rights Act.

At an early stage the possibility of a problem with private Bills was identified, for which I give credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). However, by that time the Human Rights Act had been passed and it would have been difficult to amend it or to introduce further such legislation, but that will have to happen. We have said that we will ensure that all our legislation and administrative practices are compliant with the convention rights. We have taken on responsibility for enforcing human rights, which means dealing with people who abuse those rights--through physical or administrative abuse--yet we have failed to ensure that all our own practices are compliant. Previous debates have highlighted that issue, and I am deeply disappointed that the Government have made no proposals for private Bills. More specifically, I am disappointed that they have not taken action on this Bill to enable it to be amended so that it would comply with the Human Rights Act before it was enacted.

Despite everything that my hon. Friend has said, I have problems with the new clause. Although I support its spirit, in practice it is faulty and I regret that I may have to vote against it. My arguments concern the importance of legislation being compliant. I have previously raised the question--I have not laboured the point--of Members' liability in failing to comply. I do not believe that we are covered by privilege in the case of human rights legislation, as the Pinochet case has made clear.

We are now into the third year of proceedings on the Bill, and having raised these points for two and a half years I would like clear answers from the Minister or the sponsor. Why are private Bills, and this Bill in particular, different from other legislation? Why are they not covered by the Human Rights Act? A similar new clause was tabled at an earlier stage. The case for it was eloquently made, and it gave the Government a way forward. In some way, it would have made the Bill comply with the Human Rights Act just before its enactment or, at least, before its implementation.

11 Jan 2001 : Column 1297

The case for that new clause was that section 19 of the Human Rights Act refers to a Minister being responsible for legislation and making a statement about its compliance, and in the earlier debate it was argued--these proceedings descend into farce at times--that no Minister is responsible for a private Bill. That is ludicrous because at every stage of the proceedings on the Bill, a Minister has led for the Government and advised the House on the Government's attitude to the Bill. That can be construed as a Minister being responsible for a Bill. If that is not the case, why are Ministers present during the debate at all?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising an interesting point, but it is completely outside the scope of the new clause before us, and I would be obliged if he returned to that subject.

Mr. Corbyn: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the argument about human rights legislation is relevant because the Government's Law Officers are responsible for the passage--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman seeks to challenge my ruling.

Mr. McDonnell: I do not seek to challenge your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I want to clarify why I am making this point. The new clause is important because it would mean that a Minister would become responsible for the Bill. It says:

that it is compliant with human rights legislation. There is a contradiction between the Government's attitude in the past and the appropriate practice. I believe that there has been ministerial responsibility for private Bills, because the House has been advised by Ministers. However, the new clause would make it clear that the Secretary of State would eventually have responsibility, if only in the narrow matter of advising on enactment.

I appreciate your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I abide by it, but I simply make the point that if we passed the new clause Ministers would have to be responsible for private Bills, and that would make them liable for their advice. The Secretary of State would be responsible for making a formal statement, but to whom would he make it? Where would he make it? What purpose would it serve? What responsibility would the House then have to act? Who, at that stage, would have any opportunity to do anything? Or is the advice to the Crown? Would the statement constitute advice to Her Majesty not to sign the Act because it was not compliant?

Mr. Mackinlay: I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said, and he has invited us to consider a scenario. If my new clause was agreed to, and if the Secretary of State, the Attorney-General or the Law Officers considered the Bill not to be consistent and compliant with our human rights legislation, that would be communicated to Parliament, presumably through a statement in the Bill, as with Government Bills. The high contracting party--the United Kingdom Government--would then have to use their payroll vote to defeat the Bill, should the promoters persist. That is the point: Her Majesty's Government would have to say where they stood.

Mr. McDonnell: With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, although I agree with the principle that he has

11 Jan 2001 : Column 1298

established--at some stage, a Minister would become responsible and, under section 19 of the Human Rights Act, make a statement--such a statement should have been made when the Bill was published. I shall come to that point later. A Minister would make a statement, but the House could not then consider the Bill and there would be no procedure whereby it could be republished, considered in Committee, amended and ratified. I am willing to be guided by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or any other Member on that.

Mr. Mackinlay: Such a Bill would be defeated.

Mr. McDonnell: From a sedentary position, my hon. Friend says that the Bill would be defeated. My view all along has been that the House should either amend it to make it workable or defeat it and throw the thing out. I still think that we have to try to make it workable and I am willing to accept compromises over the role of the City Corporation.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): The hon. Gentleman said that the City offered him a meeting. Has he taken up that offer?

Mr. McDonnell: That is a difficult question.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage): It is a straightforward question.

Mr. McDonnell: I cannot tell hon. Members why it is a difficult question because it is a matter for advice. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) and I met the City Corporation to discuss an appropriate amendment, but I do not want to take the discussion beyond the new clause.

Next Section

IndexHome Page