HC Deb 04 July 1985 vol 82 cc507-8
1. Mr. Maclennan

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is yet in a position to state whether Her Majesty's Government intend to renew in January 1986 the right of individual citizens to petition the European Court of Human Rights; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Leon Brittan)

The Government are currently considering the matter.

Mr. Maclennan

Why are the Government not of a final mind on this matter? Why are they seeking to put in doubt the protection of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the convention, which have been protected by the right of individual petition since 1965? Does the Secretary of State accept that that right was intended to supplement the protection of those fundamental rights and freedoms in our domestic courts? Will he consider incorporating the convention and allow that to come to fruition?

Mr. Brittan

The Government are not putting anything in jeopardy. The due date for renewal is January 1986. I assure the hon. Gentleman that a decision will be taken well before then.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the European Court has stretched the convention to a quite unreasonable degree by interfering with domestic matters—for example, corporal punishment in our school and the sanctity of our immigration laws? Will my right hon. and learned Friend not close his mind to our withdrawing from that rather ridiculous convention, whereby British issues are being decided by foreign judges who have no knowledge of our domestic affairs?

Mr. Brittan

It is certainly true that the jurisprudence of the Court is extended more broadly than was anticipated 20 years ago. However, the fact is that we are bound by the convention. The question of the right of individual petition is one that must be decided from time to time, and a decision on that will be taken before January 1986.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Is it the Government's view that this decision should be debated by the House?

Mr. Brittan

I understand the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's question to be that he thinks that it should be decided by this House. I shall communicate that view to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Stanbrook

Instead of accepting the pious platitudes which are so beloved of continental lawyers who know nothing about our system, would it not be desirable for my right hon. and learned Friend to consider a review of all our existing legislation and an examination of whether our machinery for the redress of grievances is adequate? If our legislation could be overhauled so that there was no real criticism of it, there would be no need for individual petition.

Mr. Brittan

My hon. Friend seeks to set me a Herculean task. I am not sure that I would respond to that challenge in a positive way.

Mr. Dubs

Will the Home Secretary confirm that he fully accepts the last decision of the European Court of Human Rights regarding sexual discrimination in our immigration rules? When does he propose to respond to that decision?

Mr. Brittan

I made it clear at the time of the decision that we would take whatever steps were necessary to ensure that we were complying with the convention as interpreted by the Court. I hope to announce our plans for doing so shortly.