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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I object to this amendment. This is not the occasion either to initiate or reiterate a form of Committee stage argument. The views of the noble Lord are sincerely held, he is entitled to hold them, and I respect them. However, to impose them at this stage in these circumstances upon this House is not acceptable. The Government have this measure. I do not always agree with the Government--
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I do not know why I do not always agree with the Government, but if one does not feel like doing so one does not. There are occasions when I agree with the Government. I think that the Government have this measure right, and it is rather distressing that we have to take the time of the House on this affair. The noble Lord is, of course, an expert on this matter, but we are not a House of experts. I hope that we are still all of a somewhat amateur status.
Lord Renton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down I wonder whether he would care to rectify one thing that he said. He said that we do not have experts here. The strength of this House and its superiority is because of the vast amount of expertise that there is here.
Lord Meston: My Lords, I wish to reinforce the point that was made by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill by reminding the House of the opening words of the financial memorandum to the Bill which state, in terms, that public authorities should already be seeking to comply with the convention. I also point out that although these amendments affect Clause 7(1)(a) of the Bill, Clause 7(1)(b) provides that a person may,
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am always reluctant to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on matters such as these because he is so often right. I am equally nervous of agreeing with the Government lest my noble friends accuse me of political ineptitude. Nevertheless I think this is an occasion where the Government have got it right.
If the noble Lord, Lord Lester, had advanced an argument based on a six-year limitation period deriving from the establishment of a new tort, the logic would have been compelling. But the noble Lord has not done that. What he has done is to say: "The Government have taken a stab at what is a fair limitation period; I think that they have got it wrong, and my stab is better than theirs".
In matters relating to public authorities, speed is important. Our laws must be certain. I am sure that the Minister would wish to assure the House that, in circumstances where an individual could not possibly have known that a breach of the convention had arisen, a court would normally extend the time period in sympathy with that individual. If the Minister could give some indication along those lines and deal with the important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, about the transitional provisions, we might all find ourselves in agreement with him.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, was in the Chamber at the end of Questions. I am fairly sure that the Minister was. The noble Lord may have heard a Petition presented by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, to which I listened with close attention, relating to the denial of a war pension for service-induced deafness. The denial happened in 1976 and was discovered and finally put right in 1993.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, on the need for speedy execution of the law. Public bodies do not always rise to that. We do not yet have a freedom of information Act. I shall not speculate on when we shall have one. In the absence of such a right it may take quite a long time to discover that a miscarriage of justice or denial of the convention right has taken place. In those circumstances this time limit may prove doubly onerous.
To repeat a comment from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, this matter is before the House for the first time. This is our first opportunity to address it. If new matter comes from the Commons at this stage, we should at least have the privilege of speaking about it.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this amendment delivers all that can reasonably be required. I take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, in indicating that sub-paragraph (b) gives a discretion to the court by stating specifically that the period of one year may be extended to,
The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, asked what happens if there is a good reason for delay. I am happy to confirm that there may well be occasions where an individual has good reasons for delay--for example, when he is not aware at the time of the act that it might be incompatible with convention rights and therefore unlawful.
Every matter has been introduced into this debate, including a freedom of information Bill. I am happy to reiterate--yet again, and I am not confident that it is for the last time--that a draft freedom of information Bill is to be placed before the relevant committee in another place for pre-legislation scrutiny in the early part of next year.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, thought that this was somehow the hand of the Treasury manipulating the Home Office like a marionette. That is simply not so. The Home Secretary has already announced that a task force is to be set up. He has asked the Solicitor-General and the Minister of State in the Lord Chancellor's Department to be on the task force. There will be representatives from non-governmental organisations, and the Home Secretary has asked me to chair it. That is not putting off the evil day at the request or
There will not be confusion. A person bringing proceedings will have the choice of proceeding under Clause 7(1)(a), on the convention ground alone, the one-year time limit, or relying on convention grounds in the course of existing proceedings under Clause 7 (1)(b) with exactly the same time limit as at present.
It would be confusing to have no time limit at all. There is no necessary confusion. For instance, the time limit for defamation has recently been reduced to one year. If I am assaulted by a police officer and defamed by him on the same occasion, there are two different limits. But that is easily manageable. We believe that we have got this matter right--to coin a phrase which the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, was kind enough to offer. This is new law. A year is not unreasonable. It has nothing to do with the purse strings of the Treasury. Public authorities have to run their businesses and manage their schemes. If they are left in limbo for an unnecessarily long period of time, that will militate against efficient administration; in fact, it will be a recipe for human rights not to be upheld and demonstrated. On the basis of the assurances I have given to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, I ask him to withdraw his amendment to the Commons amendment--which I respectfully commend to the House in its place.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps he will deal with two matters before I explain what I propose to do. First, does it follow from his remarks that in the Government's view it would be open to the courts to treat as a just and equitable reason for extending the time period any very long delay in bringing the human rights Act into force after Royal Assent, so that the hiatus problem could be dealt with in that equitable way?
Secondly, will the Minister reassure me on a matter that causes widespread concern among human rights organisations; namely, the suggestion by the Home Secretary that we are not obliged under Article 13 to give effective domestic remedies as a substantive right? Again, that relates to the hiatus problem.
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