Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Campbell of Alloway: Perhaps I may—

Baroness Blatch: I was about to wind up briefly on that point. If my noble friend wishes to speak before I do so, I give way.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I was coming to the decision on what I would do with my amendment. Perhaps my noble friend wishes to speak first.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to my noble friend. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for pointing out the distinction between the two amendments. That is important, as noble Lords may take a view about which amendment they wish to support.

The difficulties which we envisage in relation to my noble friend's amendment would apply with even more force to the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, which place a positive obligation—the noble Lord made that clear—upon the courts to construe legislation consistently with the convention wherever possible. That provision still represents a very significant constitutional change. Therefore the Government could not support the amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: No other Member of the Committee wishes to speak. I am obliged to the

15 Feb 1995 : Column 778

Minister. I assure the Committee that at this hour it would usurp the whole concept of the way in which we conduct our affairs to seek to emulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, by going into the technical case of Brind and others, and heaven knows what. I have not the slightest intention of doing so. The reason is this. It is more or less common ground that there is nothing to choose between the amendments. They virtually achieve the same objective. As my noble friend says, the Government apparently prefer my amendment to the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lester.

My amendment removes something that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, does not. I refer to Clause 1(2), which states:

    "The provisions set out in Schedule 1 shall have effect notwithstanding any rule of law to the contrary".

That provision remains in the Bill under the noble Lord's amendment. Also under his amendment there is no provision whatever for paragraph (b) of my amendment or the rules of court or practice directions procedure.

At this hour on this important subject I propose to take the opinion of the Committee. Some resolution ought to be made. We do not wish to go on arguing as to whether this amendment is better than another amendment. I shall take the opinion of the Committee.

8.53 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 24; Not-Contents, 25.

Division No. 1


Annaly, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L.
Balfour, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. [Teller.]
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. [Teller.]
Denham, L.
Elton, L.
Halsbury, E.
HolmPatrick, L.
Hylton-Foster, B.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Marlesford, L.
Palmer, L.
Rankeillour, L.
Rodney, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Seccombe, B.
Skelmersdale, L.
Torrington, V.


Ackner, L.
Addington, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Browne-Wilkinson, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Dubs, L. [Teller.]
Eatwell, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Gregson, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Hylton, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. [Teller.]
Lloyd of Berwick, L.
Macaulay of Bragar, L.
McNair, L.
Mishcon, L.
Russell, E.
Seear, B.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Woolf, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

15 Feb 1995 : Column 778

15 Feb 1995 : Column 779

9.2 p.m.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Lord Lester of Herne Hill moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 1, line 15, leave out subsection (3) and insert:
("(3) So far as the context permits, enactments (whenever passed or made) shall be construed consistently with the rights and freedoms defined in Schedule 1.").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment, I fear at great length. I therefore beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 5 to 7 not moved.]

Lord Lester of Herne Hill moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 2, line 10, at end insert:
(""enactment" includes an Order in Council, any Northern Ireland legislation and any instrument made under an Act or any Northern Ireland legislation.").

The noble Lord said: Again, this amendment presents a purely technical definition. It seeks to define the meaning of "enactment" to include,

    "an Order in Council, any Northern Ireland legislation and any instrument made under an Act or any Northern Ireland legislation".

I do not think it is a matter of controversy. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Remedies for violations of the Convention]:

Lord Campbell of Alloway had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 9:

Page 2, line 29, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: I understand that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, will move that the clause do not stand part of the Bill. In the circumstances, it would be otiose and a waste of time for the Committee were I to move Amendment No. 9. Therefore I do not propose to move it.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Sefton of Garston: I listened with interest to the two debates tonight. In the earlier debate some difference of opinion seemed to arise as to what constitutes Charter 88. I do not know whether it consists of intellectuals or professional men. But I do know one thing: they are so far removed from the ordinary people of this country that Charter 88 will never go down very well.

That brings me to the purpose of my intervention. It is not to debate anything at this moment. It is merely to ask the sponsor of the Bill a question. Clause 4 states:

    "For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that nothing in this Act shall be taken to prejudice the right of any person to petition the European Commission of Human Rights claiming to be a victim of a violation of the rights set out in the Convention".

I do not want to argue that point, except to point out that there is nothing in this Bill that would enable an ordinary working-class lay person in this country to go

15 Feb 1995 : Column 780

to the appropriate court to defend his right under the convention. The legal system in this country is framed in such a way, and the exorbitant cost of the QCs and other lawyers in this country is so high, that to suggest that working-class folk could have recourse to this subsection means nothing. If we are to break away from this cycle of intellectuals and professionals removing themselves so far from the ordinary people of the country, something has to be done about the cost.

I had it in mind to put down an amendment to this Bill. It is a long time since I first read the convention. I thought then that it was a good thing. When the Bill came up for debate, I read the convention again. I still see it as an excellent thing. I still believe that there is something in it which contradicts the attitude of the Government in certain fields of public relations and public discussion and it should be challenged. I could not afford to have representation—to pay for the solicitors, the barristers and all the other extraneous matters that they bring in. The earlier debate and this one have confirmed that for me.

The only time that I ever became involved in a court case was when somebody made a remark about me that I thought was libellous, and I therefore went to court. In the due process of law, I employed a barrister. The person who had offended me was also a barrister. Believe it or not, the case went on for seven days. I was completely cleared by everybody in the case, including the person who had offended me. Then the court decided to do what it thought necessary to settle the case. My barrister and the opposing barrister went into Chambers. That terrified me. In my absence, without my having to say anything at all, they settled the case. It cost me thousands of pounds. It cost the other party nothing because she had been conducting her own case.

That gave me an important lesson about British law and its availability to ordinary people. The people who are behind Charter 88 ought to keep their feet on the ground. Those who propose the Bill had better not suggest something like, "for the avoidance of doubt you have the right to do this that or the other". I make a proposal that the Minister should consider an amendment before Report stage; namely, that the Bill should empower or compel the Government to set up an organisation or commission (whatever it may be called) that will guarantee to the people of this land the rights and wherewithal to go to the European Court in order to claim their rights under the convention.

If such an amendment is not brought forward, I feel that we would be in a situation similar to that with Charter 88 and talk of sovereignty. Sovereignty over what, I ask? If the sovereignty of Parliament means anything, it means control over our economic affairs. But our economic affairs can no longer be controlled by the Government. We have lost the sovereignty of this country. Intellectuals talk about the preservation of our sovereignty, but nobody has asked whether we still have it. We do not have it. This country has transferred its sovereignty over economic affairs to the board rooms of private companies and PLCs. It is time that we woke up to that fact. Then perhaps, we can translate the principle that we have the ability to control our affairs into this Bill.

15 Feb 1995 : Column 781

Unless people are provided with the means to go to the European Court, this Bill means nothing. I ask the Minister to give the matter some consideration. When that has been done, perhaps the Minister would consider bringing forward an amendment to Clause 4 in order to provide the wherewithal for ordinary people to claim their rights under the law.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page