HC Deb 23 April 1969 vol 782 cc474-81

3.35 p.m.

Viscount Lambton

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to preserve the rights of the individual. I cannot help thinking that it was somewhat inconsistent that this legislation was not brought in last year, because 1968 was designated as Human Rights Year, and to this the British Government officially subscribed. But what it was all about, and what it actually did, is difficult to tell. If we look back to the most memorable events of 1968, we find that what we most forcefully recollect are the intensification of the war in Vietnam, the intensification of the war in Nigeria and the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. None of those events could remotely be described as helpful to the promotion of human rights. Neither was any attempt made by this county to establish what rights individuals had.

I hope that it may be said uncontentiously that certain legislation can be said to have had precisely the opposite effect. The curious thing is that if we want to find any action about the preservation of rights in this country we have to go back to the famous Bill of Rights of 1688. All of its provisions appear by this time to have been totally eroded. It goes without saying that since then a great deal has happened, especially during the years since the Reform Bill, when the State has anually extended its power. As long ago as 1884 Herbert Spencer wrote: Regulations have been made in yearly growing numbers restraining the citizen in directions where his actions were previously unchecked and compelling actions which previously he might perform or not as he liked. Although this was written 85 years ago, since then more restrictions have been placed upon freedom than in the previous 200 years, about which Spencer was writing.

If we look at the legislation introduced recently and that which it is proposed should be introduced in the near future, we see that it is hard to deny, whichever way one looks at it, that freedom is being seriously curtailed—sometimes unintentionally. Although the Race Relations Act attempts to benefit a section of the community, at the same time, without doubt, it definitely curtails freedom of speech.

Nor can it be denied that, whatever one may think of the educational philosophy of the Government, it is based on a misplaced idealism which denies that parents shall have their children educated by whom they want where they want. If we go into the broader realm of land ownership, we see that the Town and Country Planning Act means—as the Leader of the House knows only too well—that every farmer's property is now held by him only on sufferance. Let us consider more domestic issues. Factory and health inspectors have the right to enter private places without warrant. Only last year there was a withdrawal of passports for the holding of political opinions.

I could give many more examples, because they are legion. Some hon. Members opposite would argue that this legislation has been necessary, but it is difficult for them at the same time to say that the cumulative effect of all these laws has not been overwhelmingly hard on those traditional freedoms which we have become used to accepting as being there. Almost without realisation we are approaching that time which is so often written about in literature of the all-powerful State.

While some hon. Members will agree with the measures which I propose, many will fear that it would be difficult to make any enactment on this subject. For that reason my Bill has been based and is largely modelled on the Act for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom which was assented to in the Canadian Parliament on 10th August, 1960. This ensures that all future legislation is checked by the Canadian Minister of Justice to see that it does not conflict with the principles of the Act. My Bill proposes that a similar check should be made by the Attorney-General.

Those who doubt that the Bill could become a reality should accept that a similar law has been enacted in Canada, that it has been operating for the last nine years, that it has ensured individual rights and that legislation conflicting with those rights has been checked without any constitutional upset.

Lest it be said by some that a Bill like this on such a contentious subject cannot be faultless, hon. Members are well aware—this particularly applies to hon. Gentlemen opposite—that very few Bills have not been improved as a result of their Committee stages. With the good will of the House, any defects which may at first sight appear in my Measure could be ironed out.

The time has come for a Bill like this. After all, we live in an age of continuous legislation. It is being produced in such quantities that detailed inspection of it has become a physical impossibility. Numerous laws are on the Statute Book of which the ordinary voter has no knowledge. If this trend is allowed to continue indefinitely, those who have elected us to look after their interests could one day find that, without their knowledge, they are without rights, are unprotected and are without redress against laws which they did not know had been made.

This is a matter which should be above contention. I hope, therefore, that I shall have the support of the House in introducing the Bill.

3.43 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

I dissent from the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) with diffidence, because he represents a conventional wisdom which is growing on this subject and which has been espoused not only by himself but by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), by the learned gentleman Anthony Lester in a Fabian pamphlet and by much of the Press. I do so with diffidence also because any radical conscience, aware of the need to preserve the liberty of the individual, must always seek some new institution to enable that to be done.

The discussion about where the line shoud be drawn in the conflicting liberties between different individuals is a discussion not just about the conflict of the individual with the State but about the conflict of the individual with any organised power, including landlords, employers, sometimes the Press, and the most powerful institution in the country today, television. It is a question of where the line should be drawn at any given time.

Although the hon. Gentleman was critical of the policies and achievements of the Labour Party, I am by no means ashamed of the battle for liberty that has been waged by successive Labour Governments. It was the 1945 Labour Government who first made it possible for the individual to sue the Crown. A Labour Government first made it possible for the individual who had no resources of his own to stand in a position of equality with the richest man before our courts of law.

It was the present Labour Government—certainly not their Conservative predecessor—who gave the Parliamentary Commissioner the power to intervene in areas where previously the State had had full control. Last year the present Labour Government passed an Act to give equality in housing, jobs and services for all people, whatever their race and colour. This was an essential precondition of liberty and it was made by the House of Commons.

The hon. Gentleman says that all this is not enough. But we already have two Bills of Rights. We have the great Charter and the Bill of Rights to which he referred. Neither of them is protection against a new Act because that always amends its predecessor.

What the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone want is a Measure which would put a fetter on the right of this House to change the law. In deciding whether that is desirable one must look at what the effect of such a fetter on change would be. If the institution that would fetter change was liberal and progressive, it might be to the good. It might have stopped the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of last year. A majority of the House of Commons might have stopped it. That was all that was required.

But if this institution was conservative—be it a constitutional court, a supreme court, a committee or the Attorney-

General—and if it was regressive as well as conservative, then the inflexibility of our machinery for changing the law when obvious social injustice appeared, would make it a gravely retrograde measure for human liberty.

It should be remembered that the American Civil War was precipitated because the Dred Scott decision was made by the Supreme Court at a peculiarly embarrassing time for those who wanted to preserve peace and unity in the United States. If the Supreme Court had, at that time, had more foresight and had been more liberal, it might not have been necessary for the Americans to have had their Civil War.

This is the real test. It is not that one has different institutions but the kind of people who man them, whether those institutions be a Supreme Court, a constitutional court or the House of Commons. This Bill and any Measure like it is really a reflection on the House. It says, in effect, that this House is not worthy of its rôle as the guardian of liberty and that it does not have the foresight to preserve liberty in a changing economic and social climate. That is not true.

This House wakens to the need to preserve liberty and is the best instrument available. It is far better than the American constitutional procedure through the Supreme Court and, by being both flexible and fair, it can preserve liberty and do justice to those who have been oppressed.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 137, Noes 161.

Division No. 165.] AYES [3.49 p.m.
Astor, John Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Currie, C. B. H.
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Dance, James
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Braine, Bernard Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)
Balniel, Lord Brewis, John d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Bruce-Gardyne, J. Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)
Bell, Ronald Buck, Antony (Colchester) Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Campbell, Cordon (Moray & Nairn) Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)
Bessell, Peter Channon, H. P. G. Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)
Biffen, John Chichester-Clark, R. Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen)
Biggs-Davison, John Clegg, Walter Eyre, Reginald
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Costain, A. P. Farr, John
Black, Sir Cyril Crawshaw, Richard Fisher, Nigel
Blaker, Peter Cunningham, Sir Knox Fortescue, Tim
Galbraith, Hn. T. C. MacArthur Ian Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty) Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Glover, Sir Douglas McMaster, Stanley Scott-Hopkins, James
Goodhart, Philip Maginnis, John E. Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Gower, Raymond Marten, Neil Sheldon, Robert
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Sinclair, Sir George
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Monro, Hector Stodart, Anthony
Hastings, Stephen Montgomery, Fergus Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel More, Jasper Summers, Sir Spencer
Hiley, Joseph Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Hirst, Geoffrey Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Hooson, Emlyn Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Hordern, Peter Murton, Oscar Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Howell, David (Guildford) Nabarro, Sir Gerald Waddington, David
Hutchison, Michael Clark Nicholls, Sir Harmar Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Ward, Dame Irene
Kaberry, Sir Donald Nott, John Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Kerby, Capt. Henry Onslow, Cranley Wiggin, A. W.
Kershaw, Anthony Osborn, John (Hallam) Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Kimball, Marcus Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Page, John (Harrow, W.) Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Kitson, Timothy Peel, John Woodnutt, Mark
Lambton, Viscount Percival, Ian Worsley, Marcus
Lancaster, Col. C. G. Peyton, John Wright, Esmond
Langford-Holt, Sir John Pike, Miss Mervyn Wylie, N. R.
Legge-Bourke, Sir Henry Prior, J. M. L. Younger, Hn. George
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield) Pym, Francis
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Longden, Gilbert Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Mr. Frank Pearson and
Lubbock, Eric Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Mr. Victor Goodhew.
Albu, Austen Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mackie, John
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Alldritt, Walter Ford, Ben McNamara, J. Kevin
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Gardner, Tony Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Garrett, W. E. Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Ginsburg, David Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Baxter, William Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Manuel, Archie
Beaney, Alan Gregory, Arnold Mapp, Charles
Bence, Cyril Grey, Charles (Durham) Marquand, David
Bidwell, Sydney Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mayhew, Christopher
Bishop, E. S. Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mendelson, John
Blackburn, F. Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J. Mikardo, Ian
Booth, Albert Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Boston, Terence Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Hannan, William Molloy, William
Boyden, James Harper, Joseph Moonman, Eric
Bradley, Tom Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Brooks, Edwin Hazell, Bert Moyle, Roland
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Henig, Stanley Newens, Stan
Buchan, Norman Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Norwood, Christopher
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Ogden, Eric
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) O'Malley, Brian
Coleman, Donald Howie, W. Oswald, Thomas
Concannon, J. D. Huckfield, Leslie Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Cronin, John Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Hughes, Roy (Newport) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Dalyell, Tam Hunter, Adam Park, Trevor
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Pavitt, Laurence
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Delargy, Hugh Jones T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Pentland, Norman
Dempsey, James Judd, Frank Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Dobson, Ray Kelley, Richard Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Doig, Peter Kenyon, Clifford Probert, Arthur
Dunn, James A. Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Rees, Merlyn
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Lewis Ron (Carlisle) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Eadie, Alex Lipton, Marcus Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Edelman, Maurice Lomas, Kenneth Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Loughlin, Charles Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Luard, Evan Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Ellis, John Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
English, Michael McBride Neil Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Ensor, David McCann, John Slater, Joseph
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) MacColl, James Small, William
Finch, Harold Macdonald, A. H. Spriggs, Leslie
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mackenzie Gregor (Rutherglen) Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Stewart, Rt. Hn, Michael Varley, Eric G. Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley Watkins, David (Consett) Winnick, David
Thomas, Rt. Hn. George Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Thomson, Rt. Hn, George Wellbeloved, James Woof, Robert
Thornton, Ernest Whitlock, William
Tinn, James Wilkins, W. A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Tuck, Raphael Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick Mr. Roy Roebuck and
Urwin, T. W. Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch) Dr. Hugh Gray.