HC Deb 15 June 1964 vol 696 cc925-6
25. Mr. MacDermot

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether Her Majesty's Government will now accept the right of individual application to, and the compulsory jurisdiction of, the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. P. Thomas

No, Sir. I should add that the right of individual petition, for which the European Human Rights Convention makes optional provision, is to the European Commission on Human Rights, not to the Court.

Mr. MacDermot

First, as regards the compulsory jurisdiction point, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that there is no objection in principle to our agreeing to submit ourselves to the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court, as, indeed, we do in part to the Court at The Hague? Further, is it not correct that what has been holding back Her Majesty's Government until now on this matter has been the fact that we have extended the Convention to about 42 overseas territories with a population of over 97 million, but is it not right that by next October there will be left fewer than 3½ million people in those territories, the rest having attained independence? In view of this, cannot Her Majesty's Government reconsider this question, as our acceptance of compulsory jurisdiction would greatly enhance the authority of the Court?

Mr. Thomas

I agree with the hon and learned Gentleman that there is no objection in principle to our accepting the jurisdiction of the Court. While we do not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court, we could accept the jurisdiction of the Court in certain ad hoc cases, should we consider them to be suitable. Most of the cases which have come before the Court are, we think, cases which can be dealt with by a body such as is provided for in the Convention, that is, the Committee of Ministers. As to individual petitions to the Commission, we do not accept this, because we feel that it is open to abuse for political purposes.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Will my right hon. Friend take extreme care about any step which might undermine the authority of the Supreme Court in the United Kingdom, which is the envy of many countries of the world?

Mr. Thomas

Yes. That is a matter for consideration also.