Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): Order. The right hon. Gentleman must confine his remarks to the motion, which deals with the workings and the nature of the Committee itself.

Mr. Lilley: Sensing that you were about to bring me back to that point, Madam Deputy Speaker, I had reached it just as you rose to your feet. The precise matter to which we must give attention is whether or not the Committee would behave in a way that would improve matters. In the powers and duties given to the Committee, I perceive no evidence that would convince me that the Committee would ever help us to stand up against a legal profession that is empowered by the Human Rights Act and motivated by political correctness to overhaul the law.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): My right hon. Friend has referred, rightly and with due deference, to the Hayekian view. As I am sure you agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, Friedrich von Hayek was a great man. However, paragraph (2)(a) of the motion mentions consideration of

on which there are, inevitably, many different views. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the view articulated in "A Nation or No Nation: Six Years in British Politics", published by Batsford, in which the Powellite view is ably expressed?

Mr. Lilley: That was one of the formative texts in the development of my political thinking. It underlies many of my comments tonight and it is no coincidence that my hon. Friend is drawn to recall that seminal work. However, I would not elaborate further on that book by a great former Member of Parliament.

I emphasise that, if we approve the motion, we shall be taking part in a triple pretence: that the House retains any operable sovereignty in such matters; that it will have any say in how the Government decide to comply with the courts; and that the Committee has any power to influence the way in which the Government operate. We should have no truck with pretence and play-acting. Either we radically alter the motion, or we reject it.

1.8 am

Mr. Tipping: I welcome the broad support given by the official Opposition and the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and should like to make a couple of preliminary points. First, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) ably made the point that the

15 Jan 2001 : Column 166

European convention on human rights has been in force for 50 years and British citizens have had recourse to it throughout that period. All hon. Members recognise that, in the past, legislation has had to be amended in the light of decisions by the European Court.

Secondly, the Human Rights Act 1998 is in force. Parliament passed that Act. We had a long debate on it and one of the Government's commitments was to set up the Joint Committee. This evening, there has been a debate about how much the Committee will have to do. One issue is whether the Committee will be overworked, and I remind colleagues of the Scottish experience. The Scottish Parliament signed up to the Human Rights Act a year before us, and so far its experience suggests that the number of challenges has been fairly limited. However, I think that there will be challenges.

The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) correctly identified the fact that past legislation could be reviewed and, like the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, acknowledged that, although a certificate of compatibility is given to Bills, the Government do not always get it right. I have no doubt that there will be challenges to future legislation. As I said, the Human Rights Act is now in force, and the debate will concern how many challenges are made. I remind the House again that British citizens already have access to the European convention on human rights, and have had it for 50 years.

The House has not been asked to consider anything new, save the mechanism that it is being asked to agree on the Joint Committee. A couple of points are at issue. First, on the quorum, may I reinforce the point that I made in an intervention? The quorum is three Members from each House, making a total of six. There has been a good deal of debate about the chairmanship of the Committee. I say directly to the hon. Member for North Cornwall that I shall look to see what press releases there have been. To my knowledge, so far there have been none. I would be surprised if there had been any, but I will look carefully at the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Let me again reinforce the point that it will be a matter for the Committee to decide who will, or will not, be the Chairman. I must not disguise the fact that I know that Labour Members who will serve on the Committee have an idea who they will, or will not, nominate. However, at the end of the day, that will be a matter for the Committee.

Mr. Redwood: Will the Minister tell us why the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) resigned as Parliamentary Private Secretary? Was there any kind of deal before that event took place? It looks as if there must have been.

Mr. Tipping: My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), who was described in glowing terms by the hon. Member for North Cornwall, resigned as PPS to be a member of the Committee, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) and for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas). That is an indication of the importance that they attach to the Committee.

I reinforce the point that deciding the chairmanship will be a matter for the Committee. The hon. Member for North Cornwall argued that it was necessary to have a Chairman from the Opposition because of the casting vote. As I understand it--I am pretty confident about this

15 Jan 2001 : Column 167

but I will check, write to the hon. Gentleman and put a copy in the Library--as this is a Joint Committee, there will be no casting vote: every Committee member has an equal vote. That is a long tradition of the House, and I would be surprised if I am wrong.

The other debate in the Chamber tonight has been about whether the powers of the Committee are too wide. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) explored that point and felt that the powers of the Committee were far too wide. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) was keen to suggest that the powers were too restrictive and that there was no need for the Committee at all. I have been rather shocked during our debate because, by tradition and in what they normally say, Opposition Members envisage greater parliamentary scrutiny. Here we are, introducing a proposal that provides parliamentary scrutiny: I support it, and I hope that the House will.

Question put:--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 17 January, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000].

15 Jan 2001 : Column 168

Human Rights

1.15 am

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): I beg to move,

I am delighted to move the motion and know from personal experience that the Labour Members who wish to serve on the Committee and are being nominated tonight are keen to be members and will act vigorously and diligently. On reading the list of names that the House is being asked to recommend, my impression was that all those Members would do a good job on behalf of the House.

1.16 am

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): The really bad news about the names being proposed for membership of the Committee is that they seem preponderantly to be those of lawyers. That seems to confirm the view expressed earlier that this nonsense will be a lawyers' beanfeast, both outside the House and now, regrettably, inside. I suppose that we can be somewhat consoled by the fact that my very hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) will be on the Committee. I would have thought that he would make an excellent candidate for the chairmanship. Perhaps the Committee--in its alleged impartiality, and assuming that we believe a word of what the Minister told us about the matter not having been carved up already--will realise that my hon. Friend would make a most wonderful Chairman. It may want to consider that.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Frankly, it is not good enough, even at this relatively late hour, for my right hon. Friend to make such an assertion without substantiation. I assume that he is making the point that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) would make such a good Chairman because he is, almost beyond question, the greatest living parliamentarian.

Mr. Forth: That, of course, is a hotly contested title, as my hon. Friend knows.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Has the right hon. Gentleman also noticed that my colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan), who represents all points north, is to be a member of the Committee? Should the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), in his usual modest way, not wish to take up that important appointment, another very respected parliamentarian might do so.

Next Section

IndexHome Page