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Lord Wakeham: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his substantial reply. It must be studied carefully, and that I shall certainly do. In a debate of this kind one tends to clutch at contributions from non-lawyers. I very much agreed with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, although he did not intend to speak in support of my amendment. I am not here to speak for the press. I am independent of the press. I am concerned to secure an effective remedy for all the people who complain to me, 95 per cent. of whom are ordinary citizens of this country, not celebrities or famous people with large resources. I am concerned about the invasion of their privacy. Further, I am concerned that the remedies which may be inadequate at the moment under self-regulation will disappear and will be replaced by legal remedies which these people will be in no position to invoke because of the thousands of pounds it will cost to take newspapers to court.

However, the noble and learned Lord has made a number of substantial points and I should like to study them carefully. I very much appreciate his kind offer not necessarily to visit him again but to leave open the door. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 4, leave out line 7 and insert ("or tribunal").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 34 is a technical amendment which removes the reference in Clause 6(3)(b) to a tribunal:

This qualification is, on reflection, unnecessary because Clause 21(1) defines the meaning of "tribunal" for the Bill generally as:

    "any tribunal in which legal proceedings may be brought".

The effect is that Clause 6(3) as amended will refer simply to "a court or tribunal" as included within the meaning of "public authority", and "tribunal" will attract the definition in Clause 21(1). I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

5.30 p.m.

[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 36:

Page 4, leave out lines 9 and 10 and insert--
("(c) a local authority,
(d) the police,
(e) immigration officers, and
(f) prisons,").

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The noble Lord said: This amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 38, 40 and 44. I do not wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 40 and 44 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, but I shall say a few words about Amendment No. 40 in the name of my noble friend Lady Young.

Before we broke for the Statement to be repeated earlier this afternoon by the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal I asked for a brief explanation of the definition of a public authority. We can return to that matter with this group of amendments. For my part, these are very much probing amendments because I seek reassurances and explanations, in particular explanations of the Pepper v. Hart sort, from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he comes to respond.

The noble and learned Lord will see that Amendment No. 36 takes words from the White Paper. We have done that in order to elicit further advice and information from the noble and learned Lord as to what he means by "public authority".

I am still somewhat confused. I hope that I am beginning to see what the clause provides but I do not understand how that will be interpreted. As the noble and learned Lord explained, government departments are included in the definition. That is straightforward and I understand that. He then gave the example of Railtrack, a private body exercising public functions. We now hear that as a body the Press Complaints Commission could be included. As the noble and learned Lord will see from Amendment No. 40 in the name of my noble friend Lady Young, there are concerns as to whether religious organisations, denominations or Churches could be included. Again, we seek further advice from the noble and learned Lord in that regard. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord has seen correspondence from the Christian Institute, because that organisation certainly has some concerns that it may be included as a public authority when exercising certain functions.

The purpose behind the amendments is to probe a little further as to what is meant by a public authority and where the line is to be drawn. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to explain that in as simple language as possible so that lawyers and non-lawyers in the Chamber can understand and get a clear grip of the Government's intention behind the words that we see in Clause 6. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne): In proposing this amendment, I should point out that if it were to be agreed to, I should be unable to call Amendment No. 37 because of pre-emption.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Amendment No. 38, which is in my name, has been grouped with Amendment No. 36. I agree respectfully that in the context of this Bill there must be a definition of a public authority. It has been extremely widely construed in different contexts by the courts in various cases.

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Before I speak to my amendment, perhaps I may say that earlier I rather rudely associated my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor with Mephistopheles. Having heard his recent masterly speech on the last amendment, I feel rather ashamed of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that in framing his amendment he has used the words of the White Paper. I claim to have done even better because I have taken the definition of a public authority from two Bills, both of which were Bills of a Labour Government. They were race relations Acts and were therefore in the very sphere of human rights, with which this Committee is concerned.

My general aim in supporting this Bill has been to try to strengthen it to make sure that we really are bringing home convention rights. The definition which I proffer, which, as I say, is taken from race relations Acts, states,

    "any person concerned with the provision to the public or a section of the public (whether for payment or otherwise) of any goods, facilities or services".

There is another advantage in that formula; namely, that it has been subject to considerable explanation and interpretation in the courts. I hope that it will be acceptable to my noble and learned friend and that he will not revert to his mephistophelean role.

Baroness Young: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendment No. 40. I have two reasons for tabling the amendment. The first is to follow from what my noble friend Lord Henley said and to probe further in relation to the definition of a public authority.

Unlike almost every Member of the Committee taking part in the debate, I am a lay person and I think it important that one should try to understand what the Bill means. To that end, I looked carefully again at the White Paper which of course, in the second part of it, goes into considerable detail about the definition of a public authority, although it states:

    "The definition of what constitutes a public authority is in wide terms".

I notice that the point about the definition of a public authority was raised by a number of noble Lords on Second Reading. I much regret that I could not be here on that occasion. However, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, who is in his place, raised that issue, as did the noble and learned Lords, Lord Donaldson of Lymington and Lord Wilberforce. Therefore, there is concern about the definition.

I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said in replying to one of the earlier debates this afternoon. If I understood him correctly, he said that one definition could be recognised quite easily and put in laymen's terms--although I may not be right, I would say that it is an authority set up by statute which one can understand as a public authority. I find it more difficult to understand that a privatised industry is a public authority. It rather reminds me of the kind of essay that I was once asked to write as an undergraduate in philosophy. But I have no doubt that there is an explanation for that. But on the face of it it is quite a difficult argument to accept.

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I do not quite understand the definition given either in the Bill or in the White Paper. But there are many people who think, for example, that the Church of England is a public authority; that in certain cases, charities are public authorities. If that is the case--and it would be helpful to know whether it is--it could lead to decisions of the Church being challenged in the courts under the convention. That might involve a judicial review. Instances which have been put to me include who can and who cannot marry in church, who can or cannot be a godparent. It has even been suggested to me that a PCC which decided that it did not want to have a woman priest would be falling foul of all that, and could not decide that that was what it wanted.

In regard to a charity, let us take, for instance, a hospice dealing with terminally ill adults or children. Let us suppose it is partly government funded. Does that make it a public authority, and should it be obliged to accept, for instance, information about voluntary euthanasia? Those are not entirely imaginary issues. They are the kind of issues that could confront ordinary people trying to go about their business as they have to from day to day.

Let us look again at a Church school. Religious denominations, and Churches generally, have a freedom today to employ certain staff who adhere to a particular faith. Under this arrangement could employment rights be developed so that there could be conflicts with regard to employing a practising homosexual who might be able to claim that he was being discriminated against if he were sacked from the staff of a Church school or not employed in the first place?

The whole issue raises areas where there could be a conflict of rights: the right of the freedom of the individual; the rights of the organisation (its religious convictions). I am not clear which right takes precedence. Whether it is the noble Lord, Lord Williams, or the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who is to reply to the debate, I should be glad to hear whether the Church of England is a public authority or, indeed, whether any religious organisation is a public authority; whether a hospice or a charity is a public authority; or whether a school with a religious foundation or a trustee is a public authority. Those are the organisations which I have put down in my amendment.

In the charity world an enormous number of organisations are partly publicly and partly privately funded. Are they thought to be public authorities? What about those which are entirely privately funded? Is the argument that if it is a private organisation which at times exercises a public function, it is a public authority, and who knows?

If I understood the argument correctly, we need not worry about any of that, because there is a second definition. If I understood him correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said in relation to a public authority that there are those who understand what a public authority is. He said there are those who have part of their functions as a public authority. Perhaps he will explain the matter further, but how does one know whether part of one's functions is public unless that is defined somewhere? If a matter is subject to litigation it

24 Nov 1997 : Column 791

is to be interpreted by the judges. I hope that he will forgive me if I have misunderstood him, but I think that he said that this was all against a background of changing social conditions.

That is worrying, because the convention is drawn in general terms. People now think differently from how they thought 50 years ago. For all I know, in 30 years' time they will think differently again. The matter is open to all sorts of interpretations. I do not understand how many organisations will enjoy the kind of freedom to act as they do now under the Bill. I should be most grateful for an explanation.

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