HC Deb 11 March 1976 vol 907 cc605-7
9. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is his policy towards the principle of a British Bill of Rights.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I regard it as raising issues of great constitutional importance which call for the widest public discussion.

Mr. Ashley

Will my right hon. Friend agree that in view of the increasing complexity of our society and the vast changes in our international and local life, we now need a Bill of Rights to safeguard the liberty and freedom of individuals? As a first step, will he consider incorporating the rights which are guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights into legislation of our own?

Mr. Jenkins

As my hon. Friend may be aware, I made a speech in Birmingham about a month ago raising these issues. I regard this issue as being of importance and I am anxious to see public discussion focus on it. There is not necessarily an easy answer. Certainly one option is the incorporation of the European Convention—it is not the only option, but it is one. Clearly, the Government attach importance to that and to the right of individuals to petition, because this January we renewed our adhesion to the Convention for five years, which is the longest period ever.

Mr. Flannery

Will my right hon. Friend agree that in any future Bill of Rights there would be a section to preclude films such as the disgraceful one shown recently and called "Open door" in which naked racialism of a National Front character was paraded for two and a half hours, to the dismay of a large number of people? Is he aware that many organisations have protested about this already?

Mr. Jenkins

I am aware of protests of this sort and clearly it will be no surprise to the House that I did not agree, any more than my hon. Friend—almost every hon. Member would share our view—with the line put over in that programme. I have seen other programmes in this same series which were made by outside groups and with which I have not agreed, though for rather different reasons. This subject is not easily dealt with by a Bill of Rights. Nor would I regard this in itself, much though I might dislike the programme, as being a reason for altering the well-founded view that responsibility for programmes rests not with Ministers but with the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

Mr. Costain

When considering alterations to our Constitution, does the Home Secretary appreciate that procedure in Parliament would be much easier if we had a Bill of Rights, because that would stop any Government from making crazy proposals?

Mr. Jenkins

I stand four square with the hon. Gentleman against crazy proposals being put forward by any Government, but I suspect that there might be room for argument between us and between others, with or without a Bill of Rights, as to exactly what definition the word "crazy" attracted.