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Baroness Williams of Crosby: In responding briefly, first may I thank the noble and learned Lord for what he has said and assure him that we shall ponder. Secondly, I am sure that he will fully understand, as will his noble friend, that our difficulty is that the joint committee was floated as a possibility without being in the legislation. I fully recognise that my amendment therefore relates to a possibility rather than to something that is a reality now, but I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will also understand that because of the timing of legislation it will be difficult to include such provisions in legislation once the committee has been formed.

As much as anything, the purpose of my amendment is to ask the Government to consider carefully whether such a provision might be within the terms of reference. I see no difficulty about including a limit to the amount of time allowed for scrutiny. That may be a matter on which I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, about bringing the two together.

Finally, in our view, it is important that there should be (admittedly in the more extreme cases) the possibility of amendment. Our difficulty with the affirmative order is that that possibility simply does not exist. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 85 to 90 not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 90A:


After Clause 12, insert the following new clause--

Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights

(" . There shall be constituted a Commission to be known as the "Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights" to advise the Secretary of State on any matter related to the Convention.").

The noble Lord said: The proposed amendment and the new clause which resides therein is, I think, much more modest than the demands made by various interest groups in the past which have been inclined to stray into demanding that the Government should provide assistance, financial and otherwise, for individuals challenging decisions or rulings.

Having listened to many noble Lords speak on earlier amendments, I am now convinced of the need for the proposed body. It will become essential. In my view, we cannot safely proceed without such an effective link between the European Convention on Human Rights and a whole range of United Kingdom departments. These cannot be expected to establish their own advisory body and, if they did go down that road, there would inevitably be conflict and many areas of overlap between departments. The advisory body proposed in this new clause should be proactive in the preparation of advice and the identification of possible solutions before complainants sought recourse to the courts, with all the inevitable costs and delays.

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The proposed standing advisory commission on human rights would make another valuable contribution by being available for consultation with departments in the preparation of their legislation. I am certain that that would avoid situations in which legislation could be effectively challenged immediately a Bill had completed all its stages and received Royal Assent. Departments would benefit enormously from the availability of advice from such an advisory body representative of broad streams of national life, as opposed to departmental Ministers and draftsmen being buffeted by unworkable demands which, if met, would themselves contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.

I do not have in mind the abolition of certain commissions dealing with limited aspects of human rights. It is possible that in time these may wish to merge with this United Kingdom standing commission on human rights. The present Northern Ireland Standing Advisory Commission could become a valuable element in the main body to which the Northern Ireland commission could and would make a very valuable contribution by reason of its long experience in dealing with the same issues which debates on the Bill have unexpectedly uncovered. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: We on these Benches have listened with great interest to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead. We recognise the extremely valuable work that has been done in Northern Ireland by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in that Province. We wish to reserve our position on this amendment because, while potentially it is capable of doing good work, it is far less effective than what we wish to see; namely, a proper human rights commission as discussed in Committee on Monday. If such a human rights commission were established we would see the standing advisory commission as proposed in this amendment as part of it, or the human rights commission itself doing the work proposed in the amendment. However, we regard this not so much as half a loaf as a quarter of a loaf instead of the full loaf of the proper human rights commission that we wish to see.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Hylton: My noble friend Lord Molyneaux has referred to the Northern Ireland Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. I have had the benefit of meeting that commission on a number of occasions over a period of years. I have also had conversations with its chairman and secretary. I should like to pay tribute to the work of that commission, which has had to operate under extremely difficult circumstances involving emergency law, Diplock courts and direct rule which have had the effect of suspending much of normal democracy.

I was also very glad to have had the opportunity some time ago to be connected with an inquiry into human rights and responsibilities in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The fruit of that inquiry was published eventually in book form by Macmillan and edited by the late Sydney Bailey. One of its recommendations was that there should be human rights

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commissions not only in Northern Ireland but in Scotland, England and Wales. I should like to see any new body that may be created, whether as a result of this amendment or otherwise, having the power to look at individual cases as well as simply considering themes and subjects which bear on human rights, and to give advice to individuals. While I acknowledge the limited scope of this amendment, I give it my support.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, to whose work I readily join in paying tribute, was created by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 for a particular purpose which is not related to any purpose that we are discussing within this Bill. The commission was to advise,


    "the Secretary of State on the adequacy and effectiveness of the law for the time being in force in preventing discrimination on the ground of religious belief or political opinion and in providing redress for persons aggrieved by discrimination on either ground".

I say carefully that it is a much narrower function which is devoted to the problems of a particular part of the United Kingdom.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, proposes the constitution of a commission to be known as the standing advisory commission on human rights. Its purpose is to advise the Secretary of State on any matter related to the convention. That misses the point of the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to enable people who believe that their convention rights have been violated to enforce those rights in domestic courts. Its purpose is not to create a statutory source of advice for the Government on whether they are acting compatibly with the convention. We do not believe that any such device would have any practical value or merit. It does not go beyond anything that can be done by a parliamentary committee on human rights. It would not be in the business of advising individuals; it would be limited to giving advice to the Secretary of State. The Government do not see the value or virtue of such a commission. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord, having considered his suggestion with care, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hylton: Before the noble Lord sits down, can he say whether or not any parliamentary committee on human rights would be able to look at individual cases?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: As has been agreed on all sides, what any parliamentary committee looks at depends upon its terms of reference. Its terms of reference are by definition a matter for another place and this place if either or both Houses wishes to have such a committee.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I fully understand the point that has been made by the Minister. He will have noticed that I was very careful not to model the proposed commission on the Northern Ireland Standing Advisory Commission, for the simple reason that the world has moved on. It is true that that commission was set up in Northern Ireland in very different circumstances and for a very different purpose. But I am

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sure that the noble Lord will admit that in the course of all our debates in Committee on this particular Bill we have dealt with the very same subjects of racial equality, religious freedom and many other matters. If the present Bill had been in force when the Northern Ireland commission was set up, naturally its terms of reference would have been widened to include all those aspects.

I trust that, despite the Minister's rather discouraging response as opposed to the sympathetic response from other members of the Committee, in time the noble Lord and his colleagues will see the need for such a body. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 [Other rights and proceedings]:


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