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Lord Scarman moved Amendment No. 6:

Line 4, leave out ("the disposition of").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, we move now into a strange world—at least I always find it strange when we start to tinker about with the Title of someone's Bill. Nevertheless, on Report some strange words were introduced into the Title, which now reads:

I propose to delete the words, "the disposition of". What on earth do those words mean in that context? The word "disposition" indicates to me that someone has a choice. Does the Bill suggest that the judges should chose whether or not in a specific case the convention should be considered incorporated? Those are dangerous words. I do not really know what they mean. Let us get rid of them. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Scarman moved Amendment No. 7:

Line 5, at end insert ("and to provide for the interpretation and application of the law.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this is an interesting amendment. I propose that certain words should be added to the Title. The words are,

    "and to provide for the interpretation and application of the law".

I do so in order that it may be perfectly clear that the new clause which entered the Bill on Report—it was the clause moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks—should have its purpose reflected in the Title. Quite clearly, the emphasis of the new clause was on interpretation and application of the law.

In a sense, in justice to the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, we should ensure that those words are now in the Title. So far as is relevant the Title will then read,

    "An Act to incorporate Section 1 of the Convention ... in the law of the United Kingdom and to provide for the interpretation and application of the law".

Emphasis on interpretation and application is sound. It reflects what I believe to be the main purpose of the amendment that was moved on Report. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7.16 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

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I should like to express my gratitude to the whole House for the care with which the Bill has been considered, debated and improved. I am especially grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, who—at great personal inconvenience—has improved the drafting of the Bill and, if I may say so, given wise leadership and unflagging encouragement to those of us who seek to strengthen the effective protection of human rights in this country.

Although the House passed three similar Bills, introduced by Lord Wade and Lord Broxbourne in 1979, 1980 and 1986, this is the first occasion on which the incorporation of the European Convention has the support of the senior judiciary and of the Labour Party. The great majority of noble Lords who have spoken in the debates on the Bill have supported it. That is a source of great encouragement for the future. It is also apparent from recent independent polls of public opinion that this is by far the most popular of all proposals for constitutional reform, being supported by almost three-quarters of respondents.

The Government have argued that the Bill would diminish parliamentary sovereignty. However, as amended, the Bill requires our courts to give effect to Acts of Parliament if they are plainly intended to be inconsistent with the convention. By passing the Bill your Lordships would help to restore rather than to diminish parliamentary sovereignty.

The decision to ratify the convention and accept the right of individual petition was taken by the Government of the day under prerogative powers without any parliamentary debate. Parliament, as represented by this House, now has the opportunity to decide to translate convention rights, freedoms and duties into the law of the land so that British courts can provide British remedies with the European Court of Human Rights acting only as a long stop, where British remedies are insufficient. That would, I submit, strengthen the protection of the civil and political rights of the citizens of this country under the rule of law and greatly influence the role of British law in Europe. It would also give effect to the doctrine of subsidiarity. It would bring the UK into line with the position of all the other contracting states which have incorporated the convention or have constitutional Bills of Rights which match the convention. That is also the position in almost all Commonwealth countries, including Canada and New Zealand.

The passing of the Bill would be likely to diminish the embarrassingly large number of cases in which the UK has been found in breach of the convention—second only to Italy, most of whose breaches result from delays in the Italian legal system. The Minister argued in previous debates that the record is not as bad as it seems when related to population size and to the date on which the right of petition was accepted by the state concerned. That is a fair point, but it does not explain the continuing high level of breaches; nor does it justify the continuing failure to provide speedy and effective remedies in this country, giving us equal protection to that available in the other contracting states.

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Perhaps I may give one example from a country of comparable size and complexity, to serve for all—Germany. Germany has accepted the right of petition for 10 years longer than the UK; yet the number of established breaches of the convention is more than three times as many for this country as for Germany. Whereas there are 16 cases against the UK now pending before the European Court, only one case is pending against Germany. That is not because we respect human rights any less but because Germany provides far more effective domestic remedies in its system.

The Lord Chief Justice has kindly expressed his disappointment at being unable to be present today to speak in support of the Bill, as he did at Second Reading. In yesterday's Sunday Times he was reported as saying that:

    "The fundamental freedoms accepted by the Government nearly 50 years ago are not sufficiently protected by the common law and existing statutes".

The House will wish to give great weight to that considered statement by the Lord Chief Justice, whose views are shared by the Master of the Rolls and, on the basis of the previous debate, by the great majority of noble and learned Lords.

It was reported in yesterday's newspaper that the Government might take the unusual course this afternoon of seeking to kill the Bill in this House, using their considerable in-built majority. I hope that that report is incorrect because it would deprive the other place of an opportunity to consider the Bill. I should like to think that that is simply an example of misplaced and inaccurate journalism.

Whatever the fate of the Bill this evening, the question is no longer whether Parliament will domesticate the convention but when it will do so. I hope and believe that the people of this country will not have to wait much longer to have their rights properly protected by British law. I also hope that this House, having made the original Bill so moderate and unobjectionable in its amended form, will now decide that it should pass so that it may be available to be considered in another place. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Lester of Herne Hill.)

Lord Houghton of Sowerby: My Lords, a Bill of this importance requires and should have a better consideration than it can be given in the dinner break in your Lordships' House. We have here some of the most notable and learned Lords, who have forsaken their knives and forks in order to come to the debate and help us understand the Bill and bring it to a conclusion.

It is a story of government indifference. It is staggering to think that we are considering acting on a convention accepted 45 years ago. Forty-five years ago I was a youngster and it has taken all this time to give me the civil rights that the rising generation was intended to have after the war.

I am in a fog as to whether the European law is incorporated in United Kingdom law. If it is, it is not in the form to which we are accustomed—having our law good for certainty and precision; good for courts to interpret. European law is not always—probably not at

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all—in conformity with the form we have evolved for our own legislation. There is no doubt that in some countries the broad outline of the law is what Parliament decides and administration and bureaucracy decide on application and interpretation.

I have a particular interest in some of the cases pending at present before the European Court. I do not know whether I should comment on them. But Britain ought to be protected from the legislative panic which the Government got into in 1991 with the Dangerous Dogs Act. It is causing much trouble, confusion, anger and anguish. It was the product of a government who ran for cover before they were attacked.

I must not dwell on it. We have only an hour and I am waiting for the noble and learned Lords who have kindly come here to speak. We offer a special welcome to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, a pleasant person to listen to in our earlier debates. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, expressed his regret at being unable to attend the debate. He would have been a supporter of the Bill. See what the House has lost in holding a Third Reading of such an important Bill when people are otherwise occupied! It is as if those who want to do a service for their country must give up their dinner to come. That is contrary to all the rules and trade union practices of which I am aware. We ought to have compensation—double time—for being put to such inconvenience.

I support the Bill. I recall with approval the late Lord Wade who used to come here year after year in order to foster the extraordinary departure from our normal legislative ways to incorporate the broader concept of human liberty which comes from Europe. If people do not like Europe, they do not like European law and European methods. I am afraid that even with the enthusiasm that we had all those years ago, all the parties have lost interest in the matter. If anyone had taken notice of it, we would not be talking about the Bill now. The Government would have decided to do something. I have said enough. I heartily support the Bill and hope that noble Lords will rise as one from all Benches to say: "Aye! Content".

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