Joint Committee On Human Rights Twenty-First Report

4. Letter to the Chairman from Lord Avebury

re: the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill

During the second reading debate on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, I said:

"One of the petitioners wrote to Ms Jean Corston, MP, the chair of the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, asking her to elucidate the opinion of the Committee expressed in its 14th report of March 2002, that the Bill does not raise significant human rights questions. There is no indication in that report that the Committee heard arguments on the point raised by the petitioner. Your Lordships' Standing Order 38. 3 requires the promoter to include a statement of compatibility with convention rights and Standing Order 98A requires a Minister to report on the statement by depositing a statement of his own in the Private Bill Office immediately after First Reading. That has been done, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, explained. But the Minister's statement did not endorse the view of the promoters. He said,

"I believe the promoters have undertaken a full assessment of the compatibility of their proposals with the European Convention on Human Rights and I see no need to dispute their conclusions".

The statement does not say that he, the Minister himself has made any assessment of compatibility. But surely the corollary of these new procedures, which your Lordships agreed last year, and which came into effect in November 2001, is that if challenged with an assertion of incompatibility with particular articles of the Convention or Protocol, the promoter should then have a duty to respond so that the challenge and the response can be considered together by the Select Committee ".

Patrick Jenkin replied to this point in Col 301:

"As regards human rights, if I may say so, I think that the noble Lord was straining at a gnat. I said that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, had endorsed the view of the promoters that the Bill complies with the European Convention on Human Rights. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, the noble and learned Lord said that he saw no need to dispute the conclusions of the promoters. I say with the greatest respect that I think that that is as good an endorsement as one would get. There was a great deal of discussion in the other place on the human rights aspect, as my noble friend Lord Brooke will confirm. The statement of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, was issued after the Bill reached this House, as is required by our Standing Orders".

This left me none the wiser about the arguments which led your Committee to the conclusion that Mr Matson's arguments did not raise matters of human rights substance. However, the promoters managed to satisfy Lord Falconer that they had made a full assessment of the compatibility of their proposals with the ECHR, and I presume that (a) this assessment was made available to you and (b) it took cognisance of Mr Matson's submission. I would be most grateful if you would let me have copies of the assessment and of any other advice given to you on this matter, and your own analysis of this material.

For ease of reference, I enclose a copy of Mr Matson's letter, to which he tells me he has not yet had a reply.

28 June 2002

Enclosed letter from Mr M Matson to Chair

My wife and I live and work in the City of London. Some three years ago, when the Corporation of London (my local authority) place a private bill before the House of Commons, and have locus standi in the matter, I deposited a Petition against that Bill. Along with other matters, I claimed that my human rights were severely damaged by the Bill.

It has now reached the House of Lords in the above form. Much to my concern, I find from the Fourteenth Report (Para 23) of your Committee's proceedings, that the Bill has been examined and your committee has concluded "it did not raise significant human rights questions."

Since this is private business and no government minister will have provided such assurance, I would be grateful if you could let me know on whose advice the Committee relied in order to reach this conclusion?

Secondly, may I ask your Committee to re-examine the matter now that the Bill is in the Lords where I have deposited a Petition which includes the following claim:

"The Bill if enacted, will be incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998 (which gives further effect to the European Convention on Human Rights). Article 3 of the First Protocol of the convention states that elections must be held, "under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people". In allowing "qualifying bodies" to hold a disproportionate number of votes based on the size of the workforce, and not on whether the voters actually live in the City of London, the Bill, if enacted, clearly violates this provision, in short it would result in the opinions and interests of the ordinary residents of the City of London being ignored, with preferential treatment being given to "qualifying bodies". As such, the Bill, if enacted, would also violate Article 14 of the Convention, which clearly protects citizens from such discrimination."

Having had to resort to law in the past in order to protect my rights against this undemocratic local authority, I am obviously prepared to do so again. However, I would like to think that I can look to Parliament to ensure that no private legislation is passed which is makes matter worse.

26 May 2002

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