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Mr. McDonnell: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you are in the Chair, and are therefore responsible for protecting the rights and role of the House, I ask you to ensure that the statement made by the President of the Council in her answer is examined. I believe that a statement of such importance for the Bill should have been circulated previously, and made orally to the House, so that we could have taken it into account.
Ms Hughes: My right hon. Friend has made the position on future Bills clear in the proper manner, in answer to a question asked by an hon. Member. That information was put in the public domain before the start of the debate. My reference to it today was not intended to be a statement and did make the information available for the first time. It has been in the public domain for some time today.
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): The debate on human rights in relation to the Bill has already been the subject of a three-hour debate, almost a year ago, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) said when the House divided on a new clause that he had tabled. I do not propose to repeat all that I said then in response, but I can provide the Official Report references. Given the level of interest that this issue has generated, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say a few words about the actions taken by the promoters following last January's debate, and in response to the speech that the Minister has just made.
As hon. Members would expect, the promoters reviewed the issue of human rights in the light of the debate a year ago. In addition, they referred the Bill, the text of the debate and a copy of the Home Office's guidance to Government Departments on the Human Rights Act 1998 to specialist leading counsel for an opinion. That opinion confirms that the Bill's provisions are compatible with the convention.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill has been referred to leading counsel, and that they have examined and considered the applicability of the Bill to the convention and the legislation. He has just made an important and significant statement. Would he undertake to publish that advice and to place it in the Library of the House?
Mr. Brooke: I can answer that question. I have not made an important statement, and I referred to the City as having taken legal opinion in the debate a year ago as well. I shall respond to the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's question in my speech.
It is for Parliament to decide the procedural requirements for the disclosure of working papers. In respect of Government Bills, the requirement of section 19 of the 1998 Act is for a statement of compatibility. In her written reply to the hon. Member for Thurrock on last Session's Local Government Bill, the Minister for Local Government and the Regions stated that the Government do not normally publish their legal advice. That has a certain resonance for the question that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) just asked me.
Mr. McDonnell: Even though the legal advice by Government Officers, which supports ministerial statements, has not been published, when a Minister makes a statement there is confidence that the legal advice is based on relatively sound advice that has been generated over a period. However, the non-publication of legal advice by a private promoter of a Bill, whom we can have no knowledge of or confidence in, is in a different category. We can have no full understanding of the depth of that advice. It behoves the promoters to publish the advice that they have received openly and transparently.
Mr. Mackinlay: Was the advice given to the Corporation of London from counsel or was it obtained in-house--I do not mean that disrespectfully? May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that, during the long summer recess, the promoters of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne Bill and the Alliance & Leicester Group Treasury PLC (Transfer) Bill approached me and begged me to let their Bill advance. They offered to provide counsel's opinion and to publish it. That is the point. Other promoters are quite willing to do what my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) has asked, unlike the promoters of this Bill.
Mr. Brooke: On this occasion, as on a previous occasion, I use the words "leading counsel" to mean what they say. The City of London consulted leading counsel. In one of the hon. Gentleman's interventions, he referred to a common or garden local solicitor, which is somewhat derogatory to leading counsel, if I may say so. It is not for me to cast aspersions on other promoters of other Bills who have decided to be trailblazing and go beyond the requirements of the 1998 Act. That is for them. That was an act of generosity on their part, but it was voluntary, and in the process they were trailblazing.
Mr. Corbyn: The right hon. Gentleman seems to be saying no to the yes or no question that I put to him a few minutes ago. Will he explain to the House what on earth the Corporation of London wants to protect or hide by not publishing the advice it has been given on the human rights compatibility of this legislation? Anyone outside would find this legislation odd, if not peculiar, to put it at its politest. Why on earth will the corporation not publish the advice that it has received?
Mr. Brooke: I have already said that the promoters will be happy to fall in with what becomes the convention, and I am sure will be happy to participate in the dialogue that the Minister is offering. The Bill was deposited--to go back to the words used in the statement--long before the Human Rights Act was on the statute book. When it was deposited there was no such obligation on the promoters, and everything that has been done since has been done in the spirit of the Act.
I shall not prolong my speech by reiterating what I said at column 93 of Hansard on 24 January 2000 about the role of the Attorney-General in this process, which the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Thurrock will be perfectly well aware of because they took part in that debate. The Attorney-General did not choose to intervene in the Committee when suggestions were made that the Bill may not be compatible with the Human Rights Act. He assented, by silence, that it was compatible.
I hope that the three hon. Gentlemen will give me credit for my position. I should emphasise that everything I have said up to this point was prepared prior to the Minister's announcement, of which I had no prior knowledge; nor, I suppose, did the corporation. We have therefore had no opportunity to consider the consequences of the Minister's statement, but I will draw her comments to the promoters' attention--they are within earshot of our debate--and ask them to take stock, in the light of today's news. It would be unreasonable of hon. Gentlemen to press me further on the next steps that may be taken, for the same reason as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington was prepared to give the Minister the benefit of not answering any question on the spur of the moment. I say diffidently that the Minister had the advantage of knowing about the statement, which I did not.
Mr. McDonnell: At the risk of being unfair to the right hon. Gentleman, which I do not want to be, may I ask him whether, as the Member identified with the Bill--I shall put it no stronger than that--he will advise the corporation to comply with the procedure suggested by the Government, and if necessary go further and publish the legal opinion?
The promoters have sought to replicate the requirements of section 19 so far as practicable by placing on record their considered opinion and that of leading counsel that the Bill complies with convention rights. Members will have seen on today's Order Paper the motion on Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights. The promoter will of course co-operate fully with the Committee in any inquiries that it may wish to pursue relating to procedures for private business.
The hon. Member for Thurrock, who added to what he said a year ago--and, indeed, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington--alluded to article 3 of protocol 1 of the European declaration of human rights, which states: