HC Deb 19 June 1989 vol 155 cc76-117 7.14 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the erosion over the last decade of civil liberties; believes that such liberties are increasingly under threat through the abuse of public power; and further believes that the rights of the citizen are required to be protected, as in other democracies, by a Bill of Rights. This year, Parliament celebrated the third centenary of the passage by the Lords and Commons of the Bill of Rights which ushered in the Glorious Revolution. It was the second Act of the reign of William and Mary. Since that Act was passed, the people of this country have looked to Parliament to secure and enlarge their liberties.

It was not the first attempt to ensure that the executive Government would be subject to the law, for in England that was the main thrust of Magna Carta, but from that Bill of Rights stems the modern development of the doctrine of the supremacy of Parliament and the theory that Parliament secures the nation's freedoms.

The House will, I think, acknowledge that that theory has been put to severe test during the past decade. In the eyes of many British people, and of many friendly foreign observers, Parliament seems more the accomplice of an oppressive central Government than a check on overweening power. Liberty is ill in Britain today. A majority Government, elected by a minority of the British people, have contrived to cut down, threaten and abuse institutions and individuals who have dared to raise their voices in dissent or criticism—in local government, in the press, in the broadcasting media, in the universities. In the name of the economy, security or some other reason of state, freedom has come under attack.

The right of public assembly—the means whereby the man in the street has the opportunity to express his dissent has been hedged around in the name of public order. Proposals have been advanced by the Government to curb jury trials. The presumption of innocence and the freedom from self incrimination—in the United States, secured by the first amendment to the constitution—are under attack here. Censorship has been reintroduced, not because, as in wartime, careless talk costs lives but because the Government presume to impose standards of taste on the British public. Freedom to disseminate sexual information and advice, at a time when never more needed, has been put at risk by the infamous provisions of section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.

While the Government pour forth expensive and tendentious propaganda, they seek to stop up all channels of official information, pursuing—like furies—through the courts civil servants and former public servants who have been scandalised by Government evasions and distortions into revealing what they know of the truth.

It is possible, after 10 years, to stand back a little from the sophistries with which each of these invasions of fundamental rights has been justified and to discern a pattern for some, even for several, of these episodes: the Zircon affair; "Death on the Rock"; the Government's rejection of Lord Windlesham's report on that programme without even having read it; the failure to comply with the Brogan judgment of the European Court of Human Rights condemning Britain's detention policy in Northern Ireland without, apparently, a serious attempt to comply with the ruling.

I have tried to approach each of these cases dispassionately and to look at them on their merits, but we have to admit that what we are seeing is a case-by-case compromise of liberty. The Government's amendment to our motion almost admits that. They speak of the balancing of liberty against certain other reasons of state. That is not the thinking one would have anticipated from a Conservative Administration who wrap themselves in the language of liberty. Ronald Dworkin said: The essence of liberty is not precise boundaries or mechanical tests but an attitude. Despite the Government's espousal of economic individualism, there is no sense that in their eyes the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual are sacrosanct.

We have come to this pass because the Government have exploited the potential of our constitution to allow the concentration of public power in the hands of the Cabinet. Ministers initiate legislation, exercise their broad administrative discretions, control the flow of official information, determine levels of public expenditure and taxation, and appoint the executive heads of the major public authorities. Even to state the theory is to be reminded that in the past decade, Cabinet government has been supplanted by prime ministerial government to an extent unknown in Britain, even in wartime.

Lloyd George and Winston Churchill had as their closest Cabinet colleagues men of other parties with views and opinions widely different from their own. We now have a Prime Minister who brooks no opposition and who does not seek to maintain within her Cabinet any internal balance of views. She admitted before she took office that such a concept was anathema to her and that she sought to do away with Cabinet debate.

I put it to Conservative Members in particular that we have seen the consequences of that dispersal of internal Cabinet debate. If a Government such as ours is not imbued with a sense of the primacy of individual liberty, the British subject has no constitutional safeguard. The will of the majority in Parliament is absolute, and the minority, never mind the individual, can go hang. That constitutional reality understandably embitters the people of Hong Kong, who have seen this Westminster Parliament strip them of their rights as British subjects. We do not hear the call of our own citizens; let us listen to them before it is too late.

In three major respects, the British people suffer constitutional disadvantage in the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in comparison with the citizens of other democratic countries. First, within our constitution there are no institutional checks and balances such as those which flow from the separation of powers in the United States between the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Secondly, although the United Kingdom consists of four nations, we suffer from the most centralised system of government among the major nations of the free world. Thirdly, there is not a transcendent law to which British people may have recourse in the courts of the realm when their fundamental rights and freedoms are attacked. Because of that last weakness, I and other hon. Members have from time to time sought to incorporate into the domestic law of this country the provisions of the European convention on human rights.

The Bill which I introduced in December 1983 was subsequently taken up by Lord Broxbourne in another place, and then introduced with minor modification by Sir Edward Gardner in the House in 1987. On all occasions, it enjoyed considerable cross-party support. The Bills were introduced not as partisan measures but as measures seeking to embody a sense of the inadequacy of our unwritten constitution in the face of the attack on our fundamental rights and freedoms—and not purely by the present Administration, because long before the present Government came to office, successful cases had been brought against its predecessors in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In 1987, only 13 Labour Members stayed in the House on a Friday to vote to give the Bill a Second Reading. As a consequence, it failed by six votes to proceed to Committee.

I believe that there is a growing recognition in this country that freedom will be enhanced if the European convention were to be incorporated into our domestic law. That is the policy of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is a policy favoured by distinguished parliamentarians in all political parties.

Mr. David Ashbey (Leicestershire, North-West)

Has the hon. Gentleman considered the argument that incorporation of the European convention would restrict human rights in Britain and not increase them, that it would have a restrictive effect, because it would be placed in legislation and nothing would be allowed to go beyond it so that there could be no increased human rights but only restrictions?

Mr. Maclennan

I find that a puzzling view. The hon. Gentleman, as a lawyer, will know that not only is it possible to legislate in addition to the provisions of such a charter to amplify the law, but that in the event of a case not being satisfactorily concluded in the eyes of the appellant, the case can be taken further, to the court at Strasbourg. In a short intervention, the hon. Gentleman could scarcely have time to develop his point, but perhaps during the debate he will explain what appears to most of us to be a paradox.

In my view, the Bill and the policy enjoy the support of eminent parliamentarians who have had experience of operating in difficult security circumstances, such as Mr. Roy Mason—as he then was—in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldrige-Brownhills)

The hon. Gentleman will know that I am sympathetic to the drift of his remarks, but given the supremacy of Parliament, what secures the primacy of one piece of legislation over subsequent pieces of legislation?

Mr. Maclennan

The Bill would either have to be entrenched by procedures which the House has not hitherto invoked—I do not wholly rule that out in the light of the developments of our constitution—or it would enjoy the kind of primacy which is enjoyed by the European Communities Act 1972, for example, which successive Governments have considered to be the fundament of the law of our country. It is technically possible to repeal it, and there is no doubt that in that sense it does not impair parliamentary sovereignty, but the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is extremely improbable that the European Communities Act would be repealed without a test of public opinion, comparable to the referendum which ensured that it would remain on the statute book. If a Bill of Rights is similarly enacted by the House and enjoys that kind of security, most of us will be satisfied.

There remain, however, two obstacles to the enactment of such a Bill—the Prime Minister herself and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) the deputy leader of the Labour party. The opposition of the Prime Minister is of a piece with her general belief in the efficacy of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty which she has stuffed down many unwilling throats, not least in her notorious Bruges speech.

However, the opposition of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is a little harder to understand, although he has been at pains to seek to explain it in some newspaper articles. Labour's deputy leader appears to acknowledge the attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms that our present constitution allows, and has recommended a constitutional remedy of his own—the reform of the upper House. He talks of some of the difficulties of introducing a Bill of Rights into this place. He will remember the difficulties that were experienced by the Government of 1966 in reforming the upper House, but let that matter lie. He says that the purpose would be to translate the upper House from its current advisory and revising role to that of a body which, in ways not clearly specified, would entrench the freedoms of the British people.

It is clear that what the right hon. Gentleman recommends is insufficient for that purpose, for, as Lord Scarman wrote in The Independent newspaper of 19 June: Even if the House of Commons could be persuaded to accept the necessity of a second Chamber's assent, a majority of Members of the same party in both Houses could restore the full menace of elected dictatorship. Let us keep in mind that in a pluralistic society many minorities have no real opportunity of acquiring political power and rely on the law's protection against oppression by the majority. If the right hon. Gentleman's alternative to a Bill of Rights is unsatisfactory, his opposition to incorporation is less than cogent. He appears to take the view that, because a Bill of Rights is not sufficient for his purposes, it is not necessary. I still share many of the right hon. Gentleman's aspirations for the people of this country and acknowledge that what he calls positive liberties must be secured by specific legislation—including, for example, a freedom of information Bill and greatly improved access to legal aid, so that such protection as the law affords is generally available. We shall not, however, by the adoption of a Bill of Rights secure a reordering of our public expenditure priorities, nor shall we effect the redistribution of power from Whitehall and Westminster to the regions and nations of the United Kingdom.

Those are not arguments against such a Bill, for the rights that we espouse for our people by treaty, in affirming our membership of the regime of the European convention, are rights that should be enjoyed through application to our own courts and not alone through the tortuous and expensive route to Strasbourg. They are important rights. This matter is of particular relevance at this time when the House has expressed concern about these matters. They include the right to privacy, the right to freedom of religion—perhaps somewhat reassuring to certain of our ethnic minorities—the right to freedom of expression, a right that has been more tested, than, perhaps, any other fundamental right during the tenure of the present Government.

They include also the right to freedom of peaceful assembly—a right which, as I said, was hedged around by the Public Order Act 1986—and the right to freedom of association, guaranteeing the right to belong to trade unions. Again, many people have wondered whether the Government have it in mind to curb that right still further. They include also the right to enjoy those freedoms without discrimination on many grounds—on any grounds—of status.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech to detect any reference to the abuse of trade union power. In passing, he referred to trade union power and suggested that the Conservative Government might be taking too much power from trade unions. The one way in which the Government have enormously extended personal freedom to millions of people was by redressing the abuse of the closed shop. When the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Labour Government, they forced 7.5 million people to belong to trade unions, in many cases against their will. I should have thought that, far from denying freedom to people, we have extended to millions of individuals the freedom either to belong or not to belong to a trade union. Surely that is of great importance to many people.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) would have been even more secure in the pursuit of his objectives if the European convention had been incorporated into our law. The provisions of that law were tested against the closed shop in the British Rail case. It had to be fought all the way to Strasbourg, whereas those who considered themselves to suffer from the closed shop would have had a right in the domestic courts if my proposals had been accepted by the hon. Gentleman's Government.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I hope that my hon. Friend will not forget also that, when that matter was tested in Strasbourg and those who were aggrieved had to go all the way there, they met the resistance of the Solicitor-General of this Government in advancing a case against them in that court.

Mr. Maclennan

I hesitate to rub salt into the wounds of the hon. Member for Colne Valley when I am endeavouring to enlist his support.

Mr. Riddick

We must get this right. First, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) started his speech by criticising the Conservative Government for taking freedoms from individuals. However, this Government have given back to millions of trade unionists the freedom either to belong or not to belong to a trade union. Secondly, when his party was in government, what did the hon. Gentleman actually do to give individuals that right? He was in the governing party. What did he do about it at the time?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman's first point is a repetition of the point that I have already answered. On his second point, the Government to which I belonged, under the leadership of the Home Secretary, the right hon. Roy Jenkins, as he then was, published a White Paper setting forth the proposals that the provisions that I am seeking to have incorporated be incorporated in the law of the land. The hon. Gentleman's own party's opposition to the case of the three British railwaymen is the answer that he needs to bear in mind.

It is important that the Labour party should pay greater attention to support for freedom than it has so far, and not because it is a cure-all. It will not achieve all the objectives that they seek. Neil Ascherson, a journalist who is perceptive and broadly supportive of the Labour party, has put it well. He said: By itself a Bill of Rights cannot halt a drift towards authoritarianism and conflicts born of injustice. But it offers a ledge of legal ground on which the injured subject may stand and fight. That is all that I claim for it, but I claim that it will make a significant difference to the climate in which we live in this country and to the climate of freedom that has been seen to be under threat.

If the Labour party's deputy leader is still seeking to persuade his party that it is better to seek the vindication of those rights in Strasbourg than in Sparkbrook, he cannot be surprised if his point of view seems to some to be perverse. The rights protected by the language of the convention may seem to some to be unduly vague, but the cases that have been dealt with in Strasbourg have covered such precise circumstances as the alleged inhuman treatment of suspected terrorists in Northern Ireland; inadequate safeguarding of personal privacy against telephone tapping by the police; unfair discrimination against British wives of foreign husbands under the immigration rules; alleged inhuman conditions in cases of solitary confinement and segregation; corporal punishment in Scottish schools; ineffective judicial protection for detained mental patients and would-be immigrants; and the dismissal of workers because of the oppressive operation of the closed shop, the case to which I have referred.

They also include the nationalisation of aircraft and shipbuilding companies without adequate compensation —[Interruption.] No, a Conservative Government were in office then. Such cases also include the denial of equal citizenship rights to British passport holders from East Africa and interference with free expression by the Law Lords in extending the common law offences of contempt of court and blasphemy. Many other important matters of public law have been brought before the Commission.

When the call to incorporate the European convention was first made 15 years ago, some doubt was expressed about the appropriateness of judges being involved in deciding cases which, of their nature, had a substantial political element. The capacity of British judges to act in such cases was never seriously in question, for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council had, for many years, fulfilled such a role as the final court of appeal in many Commonwealth countries. That argument was advanced by the Attorney-General the last time this issue was debated in the House—I am glad to see him in his place for this debate—but he must acknowledge that it now seems somewhat dated. In the intervening years we have seen the development by the judiciary, with parliamentary approval, of judicial review of administrative action. Virtually all those cases are of considerable political sensitivity.

We have also seen British judges apply the general provisions of European Community law and find little difficulty in so doing. Indeed, although the European convention has not itself been incorporated into Community law, the European Court of Justice has issued decisions in the light of it. It therefore follows that, indirectly, the European convention is becoming a part of British law, if only in a limited economic sphere.

Although I have not hitherto proposed that a Bill of Rights should be entrenched under our constitution—to answer the point made by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—and it is true that its provisions even if incorporated could be rendered null by a simple Act of Parliament, I believe that the political impact of enacting a Bill of Rights would be considerable. Governments would not lightly derogate from its provisions, and the public would be alerted to the potential breach of our freedoms if a Government showed such a purpose.

I recognise that the Prime Minister has argued before now that that is a constitutional matter of the kind that it is right to enact only when there is broad cross-party support. However, notwithstanding her personal view and that of the deputy leader of the Labour party, I believe that such broad cross-party support exists and that it is underpinned by a substantial majority in the country. That is the evidence of opinion polls that have been taken directly on that point.

There is a growing desire for a Bill of Rights in this country. As the matter seems increasingly urgent, I appeal to the Prime Minister to recall the undertaking of the manifesto on which she was first elected, to institute all-party talks. Such a step would go far to give substance to her claim to be concerned for the rights and freedoms of the people. The people of this realm are concerned that they are seeing the erosion of the liberties that they have taken almost for granted, unchecked by this Parliament, which itself is becoming a cipher to be used by an over-mighty Government.

7.44 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the extension and enhancement of civil liberties over the last decade; believes that the Government has acted fairly to balance the liberties of the individual with the rights of others and of the community as a whole; and considers that these liberties are fully protected by present constitutional arrangements.'. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) made his remarks in a serious tone and gave the House a serious speech. He had obviously thought about what he had to say in some depth and made an interesting speech, on which I congratulate him. Although I did not agree with much of it, it provided a useful text for those of us who wish to examine the arguments of those who, I believe mistakenly, feel that there has been some great erosion of liberties recently, especially in the past 10 years of Conservative government.

Apart from religion and family, to me at least, few things are as important as the protection of basic human rights—I am sure that most hon. Members would agree with that—but the country that the hon. Gentleman described bears little resemblance to the one in which I live and which I know. His suggestion that civil liberties have been eroded in the past 10 years seems to be not only incorrect, but the opposite of the truth. I shall try to demonstrate why I believe that, in what I hope will be the same serious vein as that of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland.

I should begin by saying that this Government and all the Ministers in it are fully committed to ensuring that the citizen of this country knows his or her rights and that those rights are not violated. That does not mean that liberties are or can ever be under the prescription that we favour or that of the hon. Gentleman's Bill of Rights, of which he sketched a brief plan. It does not mean that those liberties can ever be unqualified because any responsible Government must also take account of the rights of society at large and of the conflicts of rights that exist in society. That is fully recognised in the many international human rights treaties to which we are party.

I will take as an example the right of freedom of expression as defined in the European convention on human rights because it carries with it duties and responsibilities". According to the convention, that right may be limited to the extent necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety, the protection of morals, and so on. I do not think that anyone seriously disputes that most freedoms must have some limits. I doubt whether there is any disagreement between the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and myself on that. The disagreement is about where the limits should be drawn.

We should also remember—this was largely ignored in the hon. Gentleman's speech although he was teased into making some references to it, thanks to two excellent interventions by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick)—that political freedom depends to a considerable extent on economic freedom, which is something that Conservative Members hold dear. However much a national constitution may proclaim and purport to guarantee civil rights, those rights will always be limited unless individual citizens have a measure of economic freedom with which they can exercise those rights and within which they can exercise a certain amount of choice.

It is for that reason—not materialism—that the Government have given emphasis to measures which enhance personal freedom—by, for example, returning to people the right not to belong to a trade union. There was precious little freedom at factory gate strike meetings, at picket lines at factory gates or with mass pickets or flying pickets. It is for the same reason that we have given people the opportunity to buy the council house or flat in which they live. Happily, that is now becoming an all-party consensus. The Education (No. 2) Act 1986 and the Education Reform Act 1988 have shifted power away from bureaucracies in the favour of parents, teachers and school governors.

My last point on the necessity to underpin freedom by giving people a measure of improved economic status is that it is no coincidence that the deregulation and freeing of economic life in this country has coincided with increased productivity, lower unemployment, lower taxes and more disposable income in real terms. That bestows freedom, but it also bestows responsibility. That, too, is important.

Mr. Ashby

My hon. Friend has missed out one of the most important freedoms that the Government have given us. The reduction of taxation has given individuals the freedom to spend the money for which they have worked hard in the way that they wish rather than the state saying how it should be spent.

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend, characteristically, is absolutely right.

Over the years in which I have been a Member of Parliament, Opposition Members have made much of a supposed diminution of freedom of expression, which I know that some of my hon. Friends also feel. Again, that is a charge that does not stand up to close examination. In this Session, for example, the Government's Official Secrets Act has removed a huge category of Government information from the criminal law. It has also raised new obstacles to bringing prosecutions against journalists in those few areas which still remain within the criminal law. The decision to prosecute in those cases rests no longer with the Government, but with the prosecuting authorities. The test for a journalist is not whether disclosure will cause the Government embarrassment, but whether it will cause specific forms of harm to the national interest, and that the journalist knew that it would. Protection of the national interest will always remain, however, the first priority of the Government, as I hope that it will for all parties in the House.

On the theme of liberty of expression, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 allows the press to challenge specific orders which restrict press reporting. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 gave judicial protection to journalists' notebooks. Those are three considerable areas in which we have actually improved and not diminished the freedom of journalists to report. I cannot envisage any way in which those matters could restrict the freedom of the press.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Patten

Indeed I will. Perhaps my hon. Friend feels that we have gone too far.

Mr. Stern

On the contrary, on the question of freedom of expression, does my hon. Friend recall that it was this Government who passed the Education Act 1986, which attempted to guarantee freedom of speech within our universities? Where were the Opposition parties when Professor John Vincent was being beaten up by a mob at Bristol university and when our hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) was being forbidden for six months the opportunity to utter a word on every campus in the country?

Mr. Patten

I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that the guarantees of academic freedom are important. I represent a university city. I know that my friend Professor Vincent suffered terribly with those personal attacks, as did his family. That is not the way to conduct free argument.

This Government are committed—as I hope that any Government would be—to the principles which lie behind the idea of open government, but "open government" is an easily turned phrase. The principle is, of course, to make as much information available as possible while preserving the confidentiality that is essential to the effective working of Government. That is, of course, consistent with the principles under which this place works. Ministers are accountable to Parliament for their performance in that respect.

I will cite a few of the many ways in which the Government have made more official information available in the past 10 years. There has been a considerable increase in public consultation, very much more briefing for the media, and publication of research and evaluation papers—[Interruption.] No, by Ministers. Tape recorders now operate at every briefing that I give at the Home Office, which I believe is a good way to conduct those matters. There is more publication of research and evaluation papers on the effect of policies and more openness about the processes of Government. There have been cameras inside our prisons and police stations, and Departments consult far more and much more widely. Of course, the Select Committees have developed their role in examining expenditure, administration and policy of the main Departments.

Mr. Maclennan

On the subject of Government information and briefings, does the hon. Gentleman not think it significant that at least three major national newspapers and organs of opinion think so little of these as a means of learning the truth about what is going on in the Government that they have declined to participate in the Lobby system?

Mr. Patten

The briefings to which I was referring were the kind where journalists with a proper interest want to talk to a Minister on the record, to a Minister's civil servants or to the press department simply to find out information. In my brief experience of Government, there is much more of that now than there was when I started. It is a good thing that, within proper limits, civil servants talk to the press and explain to the press what they are up to and what the bases of policies are without taking on the role of being Ministerial spokesmen.

I believe, however, that the most significant trend of the past 10 years is the fact that the courts have continued to develop and to refine judicial review to supervise the fairness of administrative decisions. I strongly believe that judicial review is far and away the most effective safeguard against the abuse of power. It is a much more effective safeguard than any Bill of Rights could ever be. That is a theme that I shall now try to develop.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

The safeguard used to be the House. I wonder what my hon. Friend would say—I think that this is part of the question before the House—to Lord Hailsham's question about the elective dictatorship: what are the institutional safeguards to ensure the continuance of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly? My hon. Friend has not so far addressed that issue, but I hope that he will do so before he concludes.

Mr. Patten

Given the parliamentary supremacy, I suppose that theoretically there can be none. I say "theoretically", but we are greatly helped by judicial review. I believe that my noble Friend Lord Hailsham recognises that. Of course, we have public opinion, which underpins so many of our freedoms in this country.

The right of freedom of expression is not absolute, for it is limited to protect the rights of others. Hence, we have laws about racial incitement, libel and blasphemy, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. The legal framework which protects an individual's rights in this country has been shown in rather starker relief recently as a result of the "Satanic Verses" affair. Hon. Members will be aware of the background to the case, with the demonstration towards the end of May in London and with the lamentable violence in Bradford on Saturday. There are, however, some general points which bear repeating and emphasising before the House.

The first is that our commitment to civil liberties encompasses the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of protest, which are three important freedoms. The second is that those freedoms should prevail provided that the criminal law is not broken. That principle underpins those three freedoms, On no account should the freedom to demonstrate be regarded as an opportunity for violent disorder, however passionately held the views of the protesters.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brown-hills (Mr. Shepherd), how does my hon. Friend the Minister view the preservation of those fundamental rights, in the sense that any Government who have a majority in the House can, through that majority, overturn rights that we all accept today as fundamental to our community? They can sweep away those rights purely and simply by means of an elected majority. Are not some rights so fundamental that they should necessarily be over and above that and, if we have a Bill of Rights, should require something like a two-thirds majority to overturn them, as in the United States constitution? We should not, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) suggested, have a temporary Bill of Rights, which would be no rights at all.

Mr. Patten

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) has given much thought to the matter, but I believe that this place, reinforced by public opinion and judicial review, is an adequate safeguard. My hon. Friend went very much further in suggesting how a Bill of Rights should be entrenched and made some suggestions which may be useful to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, who did not tell us how he would entrench his Bill of Rights.

To return to demonstrations, freedom of assembly and freedom of protest, the whole House will continue to understand and sympathise with the anger and hurt of many Moslems over the contents of "The Satanic Verses". At the same time, our message to Moslem community leaders, although a brief one, must be clear: "By all means meet and voice your protest as British citizens, but do not let your message be lost among, or your reputation be sullied by, the violent actions of a disorderly minority. Do not abuse your freedom to demonstrate by encroaching upon the freedom of others to hold a different view or simply to walk down a usually peaceful shopping street on a Saturday afternoon. Try to impress on young hotheads in your community that pictures of policemen lying on the ground being kicked do nothing to advance the Moslem cause or the cause of ever-improving race relations, which are an important part of our national fabric."

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Everyone understands why the Minister chose to put that passage in his speech. He referred to blasphemy. There is pressure to extend the law and I have presented a Bill which would abolish the offence of blasphemy. I should like a clear assurance that the Minister stands by the Home Secretary's position that there should be no change in the law. Were an attempt made to assuage those anxieties by extending the law of blasphemy, it would raise serious questions. Hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that it would be wrong to extend it. Indeed, it would be impossible, because for a Moslem, the Christian faith is blasphemous, and so on.

Mr. Patten

I certainly stand by what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said. One of the specific points concerning alleged blasphemy is before the courts, according to a reference on the Press Association tapes this evening.

The motion before the House includes the assertion that civil liberties are increasingly under threat from the abuse of public power. People seem to have short memories. It was this Government who this Session put the Security Service on a statutory footing for the first time. This Government have given redress to citizens who consider that they have a grievance against the security services. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act has strengthened the investigatory powers of the police. If, as is intended, this means that the guilty are more likely to be brought to book, that extends liberty—the liberty to be protected from wrongdoers—while the same Act, with its codes of practice, provides for better safeguards for citizens and those who have not been brought to trial and gives us much more certainty about what powers the police have. As a citizen, I welcome that as much, I hope, as any other hon. Member.

If I disagree with the diagnosis of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland in his thoughtful speech, I find the medicine that he suggests even more unpalatable. He suggests that citizens would enjoy more rights if civil liberties were enshrined in a Bill of Rights. I think that that sums up his argument. Anyone might think, from the way in which this was proposed, that those rights are not protected unless they are codified and set down in a Bill of Rights. That is not so, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

Those rights are already protected in our common and statute law, although in far more precise terms than is usual in, for example, the European convention on human rights, which most proponents of a Bill of Rights would like to incorporate in our law, and which is couched in much more general terms than much of our statute law. For example, article 6 of the convention specifies in general terms minimum rights for a person charged with a criminal offence but without spelling out details of time limits, cautions, rules of court and police procedures, on which our statute law is increasingly specific, giving greater protection to our citizens.

Arguments for incorporation have been paraded in the national press, although the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) in particular has made his opposition clear. I do not often agree with him, and I hope that he will not be alarmed to hear that I agree with some of the things that he has written. He was attacked by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland for being unspecific about the way in which he intended to protect citizens' rights in his scheme. The right hon. Gentleman probably does not need my defence, nor would he welcome it, but I believe that it is unfair for the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland to criticise him for not working his ideas out in full when the hon. Gentleman himself did not spell out to the House how he would entrench his Bill of Rights if it ever reached the statute book, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) pointed out.

Mr. Maclennan

The Minister has clearly neither heard nor understood what I said, and I apologise if that is my fault. I said that I was not proposing the entrenchment of a Bill of Rights. I was advocating that as with the Bill of Rights of 1689, which not even this Government would contemplate repealing, it should be a simple statute.

Mr. Patten

I fully understand what the hon. Gentleman has just said and what he said earlier. He has not explained for the understanding of the House why it is worth going through the exercise if some later Government can turn the whole thing on its head.

Mr. Hind

In that case, it is a waste of time.

Mr. Patten

It is a complete waste of time, as my hon. Friend comments from a sedentary position. We need to grasp that nettle if we are to get anywhere with the intellectual underpinning of an argument for a Bill of Rights. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland has failed that test.

Incorporating the European convention on human rights would mean that the courts, rather than Parliament, would determine society's needs. That is no reflection on the impartiality of the judiciary. Rather it is a reaffirmation that it is for Parliament, with its sovereignty, to decide. I do not doubt that judges could do the job—of course they could—but I have doubts about what the job would do to the judges. It would politicise them in the public eye. There can be no more powerful exposition of that case than that put forward in the Chamber by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General in the 1987 debate on the private Member's Bill put forward by our then colleague Sir Edward Gardner.

Several Hon. Members

rose— —

Mr. Patten

I have given way a great deal. I am anxious not to take up the time of the House because a number of hon. Members wish to contribute.

Our unwritten constitution has served us well, and there is no evidence that a written constitution or Bill of Rights would help us to do it better. Everything depends on how a constitution, written or unwritten, is interpreted and applied in daily life. That is an acid test.

For some people, of course, liberty has been curtailed. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland made threatening statements about the way in which he saw liberty being curtailed. I do not mind the idea that IRA terrorists can travel less easily to and from Great Britain as a result of the powers available to the police, the courts and the Government under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974. Those powers are essential for the defence of law-abiding people against terrorism and, alas, they are powers that the Labour party wishes to revoke.

I do not mind that the opportunity for apologists of bombings and shootings to appear on our screens has been curtailed. I do not apologise for the fact that their chances of making propaganda broadcasts have been denied. I certainly do not mind the curtailment of the liberty of a young man to carry a knife in his pocket and the fact that, should he appear in court, the burden of proving why he was carrying that knife now rests with him and not with the prosecution. Those are certainly restrictions on individual liberty, but they are necessary if we are to stop the growth of a knife culture on our streets. I welcomed at the time and I welcome again the support from the Labour Front Bench for that move.

I do not mind that the drug trafficker and the serious criminal know that, when convicted, they may lose not just their liberty but the profits from their crimes, which the courts are now empowered to confiscate. Those curtailments of liberty are extremely important, and few reasonable people would not accept the case for such action.

Ministers and Parliament have a duty to judge the difficult balance between enhancing individual freedom and ensuring proper protection for our nation. All Governments, of whatever colour, will always have that duty. In the past decade, we have looked conscientiously and meticulously at issues of individual freedom. No decision to increase or diminish those powers—I have openly given examples of increasing as well as diminishing powers over individual liberty—has been taken lightly and without clear evidence of need in either direction. Where the protection of the community has needed limited and well-defined reinforcement, we have provided it, and we shall continue to do so. I ask the House to reject the motion.

8.9 pm

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

Quite understandably, the Minister referred to events in Bradford this weekend. He, like the Home Secretary, has exhibited an unfortunate tendency to lecture Moslems as a whole. We should be mindful of the fact that the majority of Moslems are law-abiding and a minority of people were involved in the trouble at the weekend. Before a Minister imputes blame to the Moslems, he should be careful because it may have unfortunate consequences.

The tragedy is that the reason for the Moslems' hurt and offence has gone undiscussed and undebated in the country because of the trouble on which attention has focused. Unless we are willing to understand and discuss the reasons for the hurt and fromence caused to Moslems we shall be a long way off fostering the mutual understanding and respect needed in this country.

Mr. Stern

rose— —

Mr. Darling

No, I shall not give way. I merely wanted to make that remark, and I know that many hon. Members want to speak. I now intend to address the motion before the House.

There is no doubt that a statement of rights in this country is necessary and that, under this Government, the need for a framework of rights has assumed a greater importance and urgency. Who would have thought that a British Government, this Government, would have ordered the seizure of the English language editions of Pravda to prevent British people reading about "Spycatcher", when the world already knew all about it?

The Minister said that he did not recognise the country of which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) spoke. Perhaps that is where the trouble lies, and perhaps Conservative Members should reflect today that some of the difficulties may be due to the fact that Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, do not recognise the country which most of us see. The Government are intolerant. They talk of enemies within, and their record on rights is poor. More than 80 British laws have been amended as a result of decisions in the European Court on Human Rights. No wonder that Conservative Members, particularly the Prime Minister, do not like Europe.

The Government's actions are oppressive, as has been shown by their treatment of broadcasting. We saw the spectacle of police being sent to raid the BBC headquarters in Glasgow in the middle of the night. Who would have thought that that would happen in a British city? We saw the Zircon tapes seized as an elaborate blind, when the real reason for the Government not wanting the Secret Society series to be broadcast was because of the sixth programme in the series, entitled "Cabinet Government", which still languishes in the BBC Scotland offices in Glasgow. That programme was about the election campaign of 1983, and the fact that the Government sought to undermine and spy on the citizens of this country. Their object was to prevent the programme from being shown, and the Zircon affair was a blind.

Other examples of the Government's oppression include the GCHQ and Stalker affairs, the judicial process and the Official Secrets Act 1989, which means that there is now no public interest defence. We have recently seen their blatant attempt to nobble the judiciary in the immigration appeal tribunal system, although, happily, that has now been stopped.

The Government have no concept of citizenship in society, something which is despised by the Prime Minister. She says that every person should be a freeholder, with the implication that being a citizen means that someone also has to own property. Far from setting people free in this country, the Government have climbed on to people's backs and withheld information. They attempt to condition the media, and the Gibraltar affair was an example. To this Government, freedom is not a right but is strictly on loan. The Government's actions and ideology are but one reason for the changing mood sweeping the country. What is to be done about it?

The motion invites us to endorse a Bill of Rights, but the Opposition will not support it for two reasons. First, the main problem with a Bill of Rights in this country is due to the nature of the British constitution, which is unwritten. I think that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland will accept that most countries with a Bill of Rights have a written constitution which can be entrenched, and that there usually is a supreme court to interpret it. In England, there is no such system. Instead, this country's fundamental constitutional doctrine is the supremacy of Parliament, and the fact that no one Parliament can bind its successor. Therefore, it is obvious that a Bill of Rights approved by one Government could be undermined or substantially changed by a subsequent one. The Bill of Rights could not be elevated above other laws and given the status of a super-law.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

I am very interested in this argument. At the moment, we are signatories to the treaty on the convention of human rights and the courts are increasingly taking note of it. The Government accept the rulings of the European Court, except for the little derogation before Christmas on the Northern Ireland issues, which the Minister thinks is a great advance for liberty. Therefore, have we not enshrined a Bill of Rights by the mechanisms of the treaty?

Mr. Darling

We are a signatory to the treaty, but it is always possible, as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brown-hills (Mr. Shepherd) said, for us to get out of it. At the moment, we do not have a system which allows us to enshrine and elevate any legislation or treaty to the status at which it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to completely remove it or so undermine it that it becomes ineffective. It is always open to the Government to legislate themselves out of difficulties with which they may be presented by the courts in this country or elsewhere.

It is a shame that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland did not dwell on the second problem, which involves the contents of a Bill of Rights. There is no doubt that some Governments, particularly this one, would wish to elevate some of their worst political prejudices into constitutional pillars. I doubt that there would be national consensus, and there certainly would not be in the House, about what should be contained in a Bill of Rights.

Difficulties would present themselves when we dealt with the security services, over which there are fundamental differences across the House.

The general problem can be illustrated by the European convention on human rights, to which reference has been made many times this evening. Article 6 states: In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. As the Minister said, that is all very fine, but unless there are safeguards—for example, involving the time in which someone can be brought to trial—the system is open to abuse.

The Minister sits and nods in agreement, but he may like to reflect that England has no provision comparable with that in Scotland, which requires someone to be brought to trial within 110 days of him being committed for trial. In England, it is possible for someone to remain locked up without trial for a considerable period. The provision in the European convention is all very well as a statement of principle, but without detail and safeguards, it does not have the value imputed to it.

Article 8 of the European convention states:

  1. "1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  2. 2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right".
That is fine, but where does it leave us with regard to phone tapping and so on? General statements, while welcome and sometimes useful are, by themselves, incomplete. It is necessary to specify to a far greater degree than has been done in the European convention or other countries' Bills of Rights, what those rights are. We do not want to have a system of vague rights which can subsequently be undermined by Government action or which allows the judiciary wide room for maneouvre.

The same problem arises in article 12 of the European convention, which states: Men and women of marriagable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right. That demonstrates the difficulty faced by some citizens in this country. It is true that men and women of marriageable age have a right to marry, but as we know, this Government and others before them have posed great barriers if a British citizen wants to marry, for example, a Pakistani or Indian citizen. In that case, they have to pass the primary purpose rule. They have to prove that the primary purpose of their marriage is not to gain admission to this country by means of their prospective spouse. So an article such as article 12 can be undermined by the way in which the Government choose to interpret it or to legislate their way out of it.

Mr. Hind

How would the hon. Gentleman entrench his Bill of Rights in such a way that it would not be possible for a subsequent Parliament to get round the rights that it contained?

Mr. Darling

I say, in the politest possible way, that the hon. Gentleman has been jumping up and down all evening. If he holds on for a little he will hear what we propose.

As I was saying, article 14 deals with discrimination and is also worded in general terms. I emphasise that general rights have only limited value. It is necessary to specify what these rights are and how we might go about enforcing them. Unless it is clear to the courts what remedy Parliament or a convention is proposing, the rights can be undermined.

We should also bear in mind the fact that, unless this detail is enshrined in statute, the issues will be decided not by Parliament, which is supposed to represent the people, but by judges. Ultimately, the Government can still legislate themselves out of awkward difficulties.

Our approach is different, and, I think, practical. It is designed for early implementation and it does not involve writing a constitution for the country. It is designed to fit into the British constitution as it is. The House will be aware that the Labour party proposes major constitutional reform. The reform we have in mind will provide many of the safeguads which, I am sure, the Social and Liberal Democrats—if they are still around—will support, as will a growing number of Conservative Members— —

Mr. Maclennan

How does the hon. Gentleman propose to entrench these changes?

Mr. Darling

If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I am just about to get to that point.

We propose that the House of Lords be abolished and replaced by a directly elected second Chamber which will have the power to block for one parliamentary term certain Acts enshrining constitutional reforms and fundamental rights, which I shall refer to in a moment. We aim to provide a clearly stated system of defined rights, a system that can be enforced by citizens in their local courts without having to go to London or Europe. We aim to create rights that provide an immediate remedy.

For example, we consider that a freedom of information Act is essential and long overdue. Citizens have a right to know why decisions were made and who made them. We would repeal the Government's official secrets legislation. We shall enshrine a right to reply Act and a right to privacy, not along the lines proposed by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), but a right not to be interfered with by the state, providing safeguards against the abuse of power by the state.

We believe that the Data Protection Act 1984 needs to be greatly strengthened. Citizens have a right to know what information is held on them and why, so as to avoid abuses. We also believe that a right to equal treatment, regardless of sex, race, sexuality or disability, is essential.

It is worth observing in passing that the regional and national assemblies which we propose will also provide rights and safeguards and will begin to move the balance of power away from Westminster. This Government have abolished councils. The Secretary of State for Education and Science has acquired 415 new powers, and the Secretary of State for the Environment has acquired 315 new powers over local government finance and 100 over housing. Seventy thousand council officials are being barred from the political process. Patronage has been abused. All this must be stopped, and a system of regional and national assemblies can begin to put it right. Decision-making should be handed back to people so that they can see who is making decisions on their behalf. If they do not like what they see, they can replace an assembly with one more to their liking.

The Minister referred to judicial review, but he must know that it is strictly limited. It cannot examine the law or a regulation; it can merely look into the way in which a decision was reached. It is certainly not the answer to the frequent complaints heard in this Chamber— —

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Much of what the hon. Gentleman has just said would probably find agreement in many parts of the House, but he has still not dealt with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). How would he entrench in his constitutional changes the elements which he regards as so desirable? I find it difficult to imagine that his party will create a constitutional system in which the House of Lords can stop this House legislating in the way in which it has done for many years.

Mr. Darling

We propose that the second Chamber will have the power to delay legislation for a whole parliamentary term— —

Mr. Hind

For one year?

Mr. Darling

No, for the length of a Parliament, which could be up to five years. This would force any Government proposing to diminish any of these rights to go to the country with that specific programme in mind. Thus, we shall be able to safeguard rights and the constitutional settlement which we propose—consisting of regional and national assemblies—so as to stop any Government coming to office and tearing them up. A Government would he forced to go back to the country if they wanted to pursue such a programme.

I fully accept that this will not block repeal for all time —under our constitution that would be impossible—but it provides a new safeguard and, as such, it is greatly to be welcomed.

Mr. Hind

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the public will regard this idea with extreme cynicism? A Labour Government could come to power and pass Acts of Parliament, and then claim that those Acts contained certain fundamental rights. If they were subsequently not elected for a further five years, the system would block the party that came to power from changing the legislation. The Labour Government could then wait until returned to power, and begin again. This will sterilise Parliament for five years and block any progress that is not in line with the hon. Gentleman's point of view.

Mr. Darling

Let us take the freedom of information Act as an example. If it incorporated the fundamental right to which I have referred, it would not be possible for a subsequent Government to take away from or seek to repeal the Act until they had gone back to the country to gain a mandate to do so. That is how we seek to entrench rights that we regard as fundamental.

If an incoming Government were confident of their case, it would be open to them to seek a mandate at a subsequent election to put it into action, and we should have to accept that.

Mr. Stern

The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Once upon a time the Opposition believed in the public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Should such a Government come to power again and pass legislation to that effect, is not the hon. Gentleman saying that they would regard such action as fundamental, thereby ensuring not only that they could nationalise everything, but that they could prevent a subsequent Government from denationalising?

Mr. Darting

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating. No one is suggesting that every Act passed by a Labour Government would be enshrined in the way I have described. I am talking about a narrow but important range of rights, not about every Bill that would go through the House. The hon. Gentleman must understand the distinction. We shall make it clear in the manifesto on which we fight the next election precisely which rights we propose to enshrine in this way. What I have described does not and could not apply to every piece of legislation that a Government wanted to enact. We propose to provide a framework that will allow remedies that are not possible at present. It is essential to create an open society where freedom is the presumption and where the opportunity of redress is easily available. It is possible to enshrine rights about which there is broad consensus. They should be enshrined in such a way that they cannot easily be overturned by any authoritarian or ruthless Government.

There is no doubt that constitutional change is essential and we propose two planks to such change. First, we propose the reform of the second Chamber in the way that I have described with strong and powerful national assemblies in Scotland and Wales and regional assemblies in England. Side by side with that will be a clear system of fundamental rights. They will be enshrined in such a way that they cannot be overturned with ease. Happily, it will not be long before we see that system in operation.

8.30 pm
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

It is clear from what we have heard in the debate that, when there are proposals to change our constitutional arrangements, we get into grave difficulties. They are difficulties not only of definition but of carrying into practice a system that could not be entrenched in our system of parliamentary representation and of the Queen in Parliament, which is the ultimate repository of power. We have already heard the sort of bickering that would soon break out not only in the Chamber but in cross-party and inter-party disagreements. That would occur when we tried to define what should be put in place of that which we have, imperfect thought it is.

I listened with fascination to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the hon. Gentleman made a serious contribution. Undoubtedly, he sincerely believes that in the last 10 years we have seen something happening that is very different from what happened before. He believes that there have been compromises with liberty and that the powers of the Cabinet are in some way different. He thinks that the Prime Minister is some kind of dictator, the like of which we have not seen in the House in any generation.

Each of those matters is based on fundamental difficulties faced by the hon. Gentleman. His party has played no serious part in the protection of liberties nor has it had to balance them against the interests of Government. It has not played a serious part in government since the first world war apart from the short period when some members of his party were in the slipstream of the Labour Government during the 1970s. Many of those who were part of that Labour Government would wish to draw a decent veil over their activities, which led directly to the election of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and a Conservative Government. That Government were mindful of the trampling of liberties and the seemingly uncheckable and unchecked union activities. The memories of that have played a special part in keeping my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister where she ought to be, in No. 10 Downing street.

Are Cabinet powers any different now from what they were before? Let us look at events this century. Neither Baldwin nor Chamberlain was in any way different from the present Prime Minister in his relations with the Cabinet. Neither Winston Churchill nor Attlee listened any more than any other Prime Minister to fundamental disagreements about the way that Ministers behave or about Cabinet responsibility without expecting a resignation or, as on one famous occasion, suggesting that a period of silence would be beneficial.

Eden had a somewhat weak Government who were short-lived. Macmillan's Cabinet provided an object lesson in dissent because although there were no public disagreements, there were clearly disagreements between Treasury Ministers and the Prime Minister—"little local difficulties" in 1958, when all Macmillan's Treasury Ministers resigned. The Prime Minister of the day went to the country a year later and won a majority of 100. It could be argued that Macmillan's Cabinet was handled with a lighter rein than the Cabinets of many other Prime Ministers, and the same description could be applied to the Cabinet of Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

We can remember times during the Government of Harold Wilson when the whip was cracked. We had references to dog licences, and his Cabinet was very much in control of what went on in Parliament. Harold Wilson dominated Parliament for a time in a way that was no different from any other Prime Minister.

Then we had my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). We remember those halcyon days when everyone was listened to and compromise and consensus were the order of the day. However, we also remember that allegations of dictatorship were levelled against that Government. It was alleged that they were pushing through vast chunks of legislation without listening. Many Opposition Members will remember that time, but now we hear that that Government operated in a way that is wholly different from the way that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is operating.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has to come to the House and must go to the country. One cannot blame the British people or those hon. Members who continue to support the Government when they are asked to do so. It is not dictatorship constantly to appeal not only to members of one's own party to support legislation—as has happened for many decades—and also from time to time to have to go to the country. In the end, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is as answerable as any Prime Minister before her and as any Prime Minister who follows her.

It is not new for the constitution to be criticised for not giving rights to individuals. It was put in a rather satirical way by Stanley Holloway decades ago, long before the present Prime Minister entered No. 10. He referred to the Magna Carta, That was signed by barons of old That in England today You can do what you like So long as you do as you're told. At that time it was a satirical comment, but people recognised in it a basis in truth.

All Government are faced with the difficulty of striking a balance between the rights of the individual and the interests of the community as a whole. Obviously, we can think of specific cases that occurred in Government's, and we wish that the decisions could have been different. That applies to Governments of all complexions. Hon. Members, rather than judges or anybody else, must have the ultimate power to question Government, and we must jealously guard that right.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman has advanced a historical argument about the manner in which Cabinet has been conducted in Labour and previous Conservative Governments. Does he acknowledge that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who is in the Chamber, was permitted by the Labour Prime Minister to campaign against the Government on the issue of the European Community? Secondly, in terms of the present Government, does he acknowledge that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) has blown the gaff and explained all the points about how the present Government work?

Mr. Martin

Most certainly not. Several people have left the Government and are now giving commentaries on what happened and what they hope will happen, but that is not necessarily in accordance with reality. The decision whether to go into the Common Market was made on a free vote. It was then followed up, on an idea of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), with a referendum, which confirmed what had been decided in the House. I do not see any difference between what I have been saying, or anything that is inconsistent with what I have been saying, and what the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland has said.

I occasionally agree with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield on constitutional issues, and I certainly agreed with his point about blasphemy. I think that Macaulay foresaw him in the character of Sextus in the battle of Lake Regillus, when he said: Men said he saw strange visions Which none beside might see And that strange sounds were in his ear Which none might hear but he". There have sometimes been bizarre lectures from him looking at the historical scene back to the peasants' revolt, well after Magna Carta, through the 17th century, and no doubt we shall hear this evening a contribution from the right hon. Gentleman that is out of the ordinary. I welcome the opportunity to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say.

The implementation of a Bill of Rights would be decided not by this place but by judges. That would fundamentally change the constitution that we know and that has grown up over many centuries. Most of the ideas in the European convention on human rights are based on freedoms that have been borrowed from countries such as ours that have had them incorporated for many centuries and that are safeguarded within Parliament. We should jealously guard the powers of this place rather than giving them away to judges or anybody else, because I do not believe that they can be trusted with such a role.

8.41 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

I welcome the debate and the initiative to hold it. We do not often discuss the constitution. Last year, we had a little celebration about the events of 1688, which some said were the basis for our liberties, although some of us take the contrary view about that. "The Rights of Man" by Tom Paine is still banned in the Maze prison. He was one of the greatest democrats in our history and he is still controversial 100 years after his death. I doubt whether I shall achieve that honour. I admire him for having said things of such permanent importance.

I can understand the reasons that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) had for introducing this motion because we have had a decade in which many unpleasant things have happened to individuals. Academic freedom in universities has been mentioned, but the Government have banned political discussion on the youth training scheme. If one is on YTS, one cannot discuss why one is unemployed because the Government have said there is to be no such discussion. We have also seen the abolition of the Greater London council, the hamstringing of local government, the banning of unions at GCHQ, the behaviour of the police at Wapping—which I saw myself, and which led to a number of police being charged—"Spycatcher", Zircon, and the "shoot-to-kill" policy.

Yesterday, I sat in Sheffield beside another Member of Parliament the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams). There were television cameras there, which were filming him but those doing the filming knew that if they showed the film, they would be punished. I also knew that the Government could subpoena the film makers if they thought that the film contained any information that would lead to action against him. I have never been more frightened in my life. I was sitting in the heart of this country and seeing a Member of Parliament denied the right to speak to people.

The debate will not be meaningful if we trade party points. Although the use of the powers by different Governments may differ, the problem is the existence of the powers. I can trade many examples about what happened under different Governments, but we cannot remedy this problem without looking at the constitution as a whole. There has been much discussion about a Bill of Rights. Under it, the rights of the people would be set out and monitored by judges appointed by the Prime Minister. They are subservient to the state to the extent that the mere mention of the words "national security" causes them to disregard every other factor. The judges recently disallowed a strike on the ground that it would be inconvenient, which is a contemptible attack on the idea of trade unionism, especially when coupled with sequestration of funds. This cannot be put right by adding one simple ingredient of the kind that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland proposes.

Tom Paine said that the dead cannot control the living. He was right. If the political values of society some years ago had been entrenched, and we could not change them, we should be enslaved by the dead. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) brought forward proposals—not Labour policy—which are to go to the annual conference from the national executive committee. He proposed two things. The first is than we should abolish the House of Lords, although he did not describe how that should be done. I have given some thought to the matter, for reasons into which I shall not go. His second suggestion was that one Government could entrench what they thought important at the expense of the next. What would happen if a Labour Government introduced something that a successor Conservative Government did not like? What would happen if a Conservative Government entrenched things that an incoming Labour Government did not like? There would have to be two elections before any change could be brought about. It is not practical to legislate in that way. These arguments will have to be explored. We need a national constitutional convention, called for the purpose, rather than a discussion on the matter in a three-hour debate on a Supply day for a political party.

The plain fact is that the people of this country have no basic or enforceable civil rights and the reason is simple. We are not citizens living in a democracy, but in law subjects of the Crown, which has immense powers over us and our lives. It has been said that Parliament is supreme, but it is not. Look at the words of the enactment: Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Commons in the present Parliament assembled". The Crown enacts the laws. It does not disregard the advice of either House, but we are still, in law, an advisory body. We have no mandatory power over the Crown.

What the Crown is, is an interesting question. The powers of the Crown are exercised now, in the main, by the Prime Minister of the day, personally and often in secret. It has been said that Cabinets are different, and that may be so, but Cabinets are not told what the Prime Minister is doing. Do hon. Members imagine that the Prime Minister discloses to the Cabinet that he or she intends to make somebody a peer or to instruct the security services to do whatever it is he or she wants done?

We do not even have a freedom of information Act for the Cabinet, let alone in Parliament. I would have settled for that in my time.

If people do not know what is going on, they cannot be held accountable. It is all very well for Ministers to come to the House and say that they are accountable, but we do not know what they are up to and the Conservative party did not know what we were up to when we were in Government. If we do not know, the public do not know, and when the truth slips out, the Cabinet Secretary is sent round the world to apply the principles of economy not only to public expenditure, but to the truth.

The prerogative powers that the Prime Minister has at his or her disposal are varied. They include the power to make war without consulting the House of Commons. There was no explicit vote before the Falklands war, as there would have been in the American Congress. The Prime Minister can also sign treaties. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) signed the treaty of accession before it was published. We never saw the treaty of accession until he came home with his signature on it. Ministers can legislate in Brussels by the use of prerogative powers. As a result, Parliament is impotent before Common Market legislation. When, as a Minister, I went to the Council for over five years, I went not with statutory power but with the prerogative power to make treaties, and the prerogative power has nothing whatever to do with the House of Commons.

The corrupting system of patronage extends its tentacles throughout the administration of Government. Is there to be a night of the long knives? That is the Prime Minister deciding whether to sack Ministers. Who is to be put into the other place? The Prime Minister does not consult anyone about that. Who is to be made a judge, a bishop, or chairman of the BBC? These are powers and they are inherent in our constitution. It is all very well saying that we should try to fit a Bill of Rights into our constitution, but let us be serious about the matter. How have we won the rights that we now have? Has any judge ever seriously advanced, on a major front, the rights of the people of this country? There are women who are Members of this place, including one who sits as a Deputy Speaker. Did a judge give those hon. Members their right to vote? Not at all. It was the struggle that did it. Another example is the right to worship.

All our rights have been won by struggle. It annoys some hon. Members—that is why they need to be reminded of the fact—that all our rights were won by breaking the law on the ground of principle. There are many examples, including the Tolpuddle martyrs against the Combination Acts, the suffragettes, the Chartists and the struggle for the right to worship as we think fit. These rights were won by principled people who broke the law, and who may have suffered for doing so. In the end, however, the House had to respond to popular acclaim.

When we ask how rights have been won, I would not put the judges anywhere. If anything, they have been the ones who have tried to punish the people who tried to make these advances.

What rights should we have? One cannot mention a Bill of Rights and assume that everyone will agree. Many will say, "What a good idea," but what rights should there be?

Is the right to work a fundamental right? Is the right to a home a fundamental right? I see people sleeping out on the Embankment every night—in the summer that is more tolerable than at other times of the year. Is there a right to a home? Is that a fundamental right? Is that something that will appear in a Bill of Rights? Is there a right to lifelong education?

Is there a right to health? My father was a member of the Liberal Government of 1910. He told me that the most important thing that that Government did was to make it clear that the nation's health was a national interest. When he told me that in about 1945, I thought that he had made a pretty obvious statement. I thought to myself, "Why did you mention that?" I realise now why he did so. The right to health is no longer a national interest. The right to free treatment is no longer a national interest. Is the right to dignity in retirement to be in a Bill of Rights? If these rights are to appear in a Bill of Rights, we shall find ourselves in a new arena.

During the 1945 general election, I remember going to Covent Garden with the wife of a Labour candidate, Peggy Ashcroft. I drove around in a loudspeaker van for a fortnight. I remember a man called Knocker O'Connell. He got to the microphone—that was not a good thing to happen during an election because none of us knew when he would let go of it—and produced his political alphabet. He told us "F stands for freedom:"—what Britain brags about. If you can't afford your dinner, you are free to go without." What about President Roosevelt's four freedoms? These included the right to be free from fear, disease and poverty and ignorance. For some people in society the state and trade unions are the enemy, but when we consider the rights to which I have referred, one sees that the state and the trade unions are the friends of many people.

It was the state that gave people the right to health through the National Health Service. Trade unions give people rights. I happened to be speaking in another part of the House today and someone who works within the House told me that her friend, who had worked for 32 years, had been sacked by her employer after she had had to take three or four months off work to look after her dying father. What is she to do? Does that person have rights? If she does, the trade unions and the state are her friends, not her enemies.

If we are to have the rights of which I have been speaking, how shall we monitor them? Will the judges have that role? I think not. Will Parliament be responsible for monitoring them? I think that it must be. Parliament remedies injustice. We are all employed by the public. I stayed up late the other night when the debate on the registration of dogs took place. I was in my place at 3 am. Many people had written to me to express their anxiety about dangerous rottweilers and alsatians. I replied to tell them that I agreed with the feelings that they had set out in their letters. Accordingly, I was in the Chamber to vote at 3 am. Whether we want to do that does not matter, because in the end our constituents will decide whether to return us. There is nothing disreputable about working for our employers if our employers are our constituents. When I travel around the constituency I do not say, "This is my constituency and these are my voters." I am the employee of my constituents.

As I have said, advance always comes from pressure. The Labour party has rediscovered, quite properly, the importance of Scottish devolution following a by-election at Govan. Devolution was not exactly at the top of our agenda a year or two ago. Following the European elections, there will be many Greens emerging from all political parties. That is because the environmental issue has been won. If we are to get the correction of injustice built into the system, we will not be able to use the judges. To use them would be to politicise them, and they are extremely political as things stand. Another mechanism will have to be used, perhaps one that involves the ombudsman. I am not here to make the constitution. Our rights depend for their achievement on struggle and for their maintenance on vigilance.

The issue that we are debating cannot be resolved until we are prepared to examine the constitution afresh from the highest to the most modest levels in our society. When we do so, I think that we shall realise that democracy and monarchical power are completely incompatible. I am not speaking about the royal family, which is a convenient cover for the abuse of Executive power. Instead, I am talking about the principle of monarchial power. I do not think that the British people will ever be free until we have become a Commonwealth, abolished Crown prerogatives —I introduced a Bill on the subject—and embodied Executive power in statute, compelling those who exercise it to be accountable to the elected representatives of the people.

There are already signs in our society of a tremendous popular demand for the basic reforms that I am advocating. There is demand for a Scottish Assembly, and that is a demand for constitutional change. There are demands for the liberation of local authorities from ministerial control. I do not agree with all the provisions of Charter 88, but that is another example of the demands that are being made. Another example is the demand for the disestablishment of the Church of England both within and without the Church, for it is absurd that a bishop can be appointed by a Prime Minister who is not a Christian. It is a strange concept, especially when the Government seem to want conformity on the Bench of bishops.

There is widespread suspicion of the role of the security services. There is opposition to the dangerous doctrine of lifelong confidentiality to the Crown. What an absurd notion that is. There is the idea that someone has an obligation when the Crown itself knows nothing about it. The Prime Minister who gives the order, or his or her minions, may use that doctrine to conceal any revelation of wrongdoing.

The siting of foreign troops in our territory raises constitutional questions. Mr. Attlee, as he then was, brought them in without telling Parliament what he was doing. He was, of course, a Labour Prime Minister. He said that they were on a training mission. They were not on a training mission at all. They were busy building their bases so that 30,000 troops from America could be in Britain, three times as many as there were British troops in India during the time of the Indian empire. There were only about 10,000 British troops in India, apart from the Indian troops. Parliament was not told about the arrival of the American troops. I do not know whether even that Cabinet understood the position.

There was the decision to transfer powers to Brussels. I am making a democratic point, not a national one. The issues that we are discussing will not go away until we examine them more fundamentally. The important question is whether we have a new constitution and a Government of Britain Bill to put to the electorate for endorsement and not whether we should have a Bill of Rights attached to our present undemocratic constitution.

Given the gross abuse of powers of the Crown by successive Governments, few in my judgment now believe in the merits of the so-called unwritten constitution. They are right not to believe in it. It is just a cover for a form of authoritarianism, whichever Prime Minister exercises power. Any sensible political party would be wise to set aside narrow party points and address its mind to the question how we can give to the people of this country a greater right to determine their own future than is possible under the constitution, which we inherited from feudal days and which is now far less democratic than that in any other so-called free country in the world.

8.58 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I had not intended to speak in this debate. However, I am grateful to the Social and Liberal Democratic party for raising this subject for discussion this evening. The subject touches on some of the anxieties of thoughtful people in society. What protects us? What defends our liberties, such as the freedom of speech or whatever else we identify as essential liberties?

This debate sounded almost like my school books written by people like Dicey, Wade and Phillip about law and constitution. The old concept was that Parliament, in the last analysis, defended us. Our freedoms were safeguarded here. The simplest and narrowest freedoms, the basic freedoms of expression, conscience, thought and worship, were protected in the House of Commons.

I will not trade insults with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who cited the Official Secrets Act 1989 as progress in the parliamentary extension of liberty. I need only reflect that that Act introduces the concept of absolute offences, something that this House has campaigned and fought against for 200 or 300 years. The Minister of State believes that that is an advancement of civil liberties. I shall walk on the other side of the street, but I note what he says.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State also referred to the Security Services Act 1989. If I remember that Act correctly, it states that national security is anything that the Secretary of State for the Home Department states that it should be. Furthermore, the Act states that those matters may not go before the courts. My lessons on the constitution referred to the supremacy of Parliament and the rule of law. The courts enacted the laws. That was a test and a bench mark. Freedoms of speech were asserted through the common law.

The courts mention the "treasured" right, but increasingly this century the supremacy of Parliament has enabled the Executive to take upon themselves powers that we never countenanced that decent, reasonable and moderate people would ever think it necessary to assume. It was extraordinary for me as a Conservative Member to listen to my hon. Friend the Minister of State identify as extensions of liberty two of the most oppressive pieces of legislation brought in over the past six months. For the Minister of State to do that really stands matters on their head.

What defends our liberties? I have little confidence in our courts because of the nature of their remit, their acceptance of the supremacy of Parliament and their job to interpret the law, which I do not dispute. How are our freedoms and liberties defended?

Right hon. and hon. Members have identified several issues which have caused me great anxiety. In his final hallelujah, my hon. Friend the Minister of State stated that it was wholly appropriate, without reference to the courts, to prevent free British citizens from moving from one part of this country to another. The European Court of Human Rights, however, found that improper and considered it an invasion of our freedoms. The Government decided to derogate from that and we had 12 months to figure out a way round the European court's ruling. Although the Government have not found a way round it yet, no doubt they will do so in the next few months. Yet my hon. Friend the Minister of State has been citing those examples as advancements of our civil liberties.

One of my colleagues last January said that Parliament had become a pretty poor defender of our liberties. Given the doctrine of the supremacy of Parliament, and if the Executive can transmit through its party almost any view of the world and enact it into legislation without any correction, it is the duty of the courts to apply that legislation. People who brood on this matter tend to ask whether there is any way in which we can secure certain basic freedoms if they cannot look to Parliament to do so.

The European Court of Human Rights is the mechanism about which we are hearing much today. Incidentally, I opposed it when I first became a Member of this House. I wondered why it was necessary to have a foreign court to oversee our legislative and judicial processes. I regarded that as unnecessary. As a free-born British subject, could I not argue and defend my own rights? But as I watch the growth of Executive power and the exclusion of other centres of balance within our constitution, I become increasingly anxious.

I was elected in 1979. We were told that we were going to have less government and get the Government off people's backs. I remember all those arguments ringing in my head and I still pass them on sometimes to unsuspecting constituents who are not aware of the issues behind them.

We have increasingly concentrated power in the hands of the Executive. In my casualness, I was not mindful of the importance of local government as a balancer. At one time in Walsall, for example, it was important to a large number of residents that the grammar schools there should be maintained. The then Secretary of State for Education, Mrs. Shirley Williams—now of America—did her best to destroy Walsall's grammar schools—but she was unable to do so because the local population offered resistance and exercised its judgment through the council chamber. It happened that Labour was the largest local party and it also wanted to defend the schools, so there the matter rested.

From 1979 until today, I have watched, the Government grasp unto themselves enourmous powers, taking away the rights of local authorities to determine matters which seem wholly appropriate for them to determine. At an earlier stage, and without reflecting, I was happy to see what I thought was in my political interest come to pass. As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, however, what is in one's own political interest is not necessarily in the interests of others. I am not the final inheritor of the kingdom on earth. I am merely one of those who pass through, but the powers will endure. What am I creating when I vote for legislation which increases the Executive's powers? I am handing on an instrument to a faceless successor whom I do not know, who may interpret and use those powers aggressively and in a way that will rebound to my party's dishonour and shame.

What disturbed me a little about the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister was that it did not address itself to the constitutional issue. Are our institutions sufficiently strong to protect my right to stand anywhere I like in this country and say what I wish to say? To me, that is a fundamental right. Yet we have passed a Bill that the Law Lords will enact to the effect that, if I have been a member of the security services for 25 years, for example, I cannot talk about them. To do so would be an absolute offence and one for which I could go to prison. I could not even say that I received a gold watch. The Law Lords have the ultimate jurisdiction and the power to apply that law.

Where is the relief from that aggrandisement of government by a Government who have given up the great parliamentary traditions of Burke? Parliamentary democracy is not divided by two plus one—it is the process of argument and discussion. We should all remember that. Such discussion and argument may not win my agreement, but it should secure my acquiescence. Instead, in recent years our parliamentary guillotine has been flipped up and down faster than anything in the French revolution. I believe that this Parliament has seen the operation of about 30 guillotines, seven in the current Session alone. That is all contrary to our traditions.

Where is the instrument of protection? Increasingly, I have seen it in the belated, slow and unhappy process of references to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of rights that we used to take for granted. Britain made one of the major inputs into that system, as one of its original signatories, but unhappily, the aggrandisement of the Executive is causing anxiety. I believe that these are not just the views of a Conservative Back Bencher but are held more widely. During the "Spycatcher" case, I noted constant references to the European Convention on Human Rights. I also observe judges increasingly attempting to align their judgments with the convention, even though there is no question at that stage of a referral to the European Court. Increasingly, I hear free-born British citizens who still have pockets deep enough to challenge the Government and to stand up and fight them saying, "I will go further if necessary."

One day we shall have the European Court's judgments on Northern Ireland. One day we shall get to the bottom of the Stalker affair. One day the European Court will make a judgment on whether or not our official secrets legislation is reasonable. One day we shall have a judgment on the Home Secretary's warrant for investigations which make lawful that which was once unlawful.

Why is it necessary for us to go to a European court? What if the Law Lords are not mindful of the principles and articles of the convention? Is there a device that can strengthen our institutions? The Opposition have talked about reforming the House of Lords, and I suspect that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield can tell us more about its workings as an "inside outsider". I too have come to the conclusion that the sunset home at the other end of the building, with its slight smell of urine, is a pretty poor body. Life support machines are wheeled in and people talk deferentially about one another's magnificent contributions. In fact, half of them are there due to a mere accident of birth, the other half by virtue of having been grand panjandrums in the Civil Service. Yet we hear them telling everyone how wonderful their careers have been. The whiff of liberty and freedom for which I ask is outside their ken. The spirit of the individual is more than a mere accident of birth.

What unique feature makes a man a legislator? The law reform proposals of Lord Mackay are a classic example of the separation of powers in this country. One cannot get into the House of Lords for Law Lords banging on about how we should legislate on law reform. Hon. Members should talk to me about the role of the House of Lords. It is not respectable any more. One cannot look to the present House of Lords—I go along with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) to this extent—to act as a block or check because it is representative of no one other than the appointees of the Executive who put them there. That curious arrangement was known as the dignified part of the British constitution. Bagehot said that the cure for the House of Lords was to go and see it. I recommend that those who have listened to our debates on this subject should do just that.

Mr. Benn

There is just one charge that the hon. Gentleman has not made against the system. The power of the Prime Minister to give people peerages gives her power over whole sections of society. Many of those people will never receive peerages, but will do anything in the hope that they will. The corruption of patronage—more even than the corruption of inheritance—is a factor that the hon. Gentleman should bring into his denunciation of the other Chamber, which was music to my ears and went further than I would have dared to go.

Mr. Shepherd

It is well known that, in church, I can silence two pews on either side of me by my lack of true note.

I have only to sit in this House as a Back Bencher to see how we are humbled by the creative use of the power of patronage. A Cabinet no longer able to raise its voice to speak home truths and to argue its corner generously and courageously is a sight that diminishes us. That is why we are having this debate. Cabinet government has gone by the board. The ability of the House of Commons to hold its Members accountable and to defend liberties is in question. We must therefore examine the institutional arrangements.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) honourably suggested that we could provide a halfway house—a temporary measure to give British citizens more rapid access—by incorporating the European convention. I have concluded that that would be an important contribution to improving the position while we consider more major constitutional reforms.

9.13 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The Government have seriously undermined the democratic, constitutional and civil liberties of the people. A specific example is the recently enacted poll tax legislation, which comes on top of other measures affecting secrecy and freedom. The unfair influence of the poll tax will have a knock-on effect, for instance, on the franchise, which is part of the essential background of the establishment of civil liberties.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, it is outside this House that pressure is brought to bear upon us. Pressure groups and other people express their views through the electoral system. It is that which is important. The franchise is being fixed and fiddled by means of the poll tax. One might not think that is the case if one looks at the European election results, when the Government got a bloody nose, but the poll tax is manipulating the franchise.

Since the general election two years ago, the franchise has dropped by more than 4 per cent. in 13 Scottish constituencies. That is not due to major population shifts, or to old people dying and fewer young people becoming eligible to enter, the electoral register. It is due to the impact of the poll tax and to the fear of the connection between the poll tax register and the electoral register. The position is even worse in England. Within a year, the franchise has collapsed by more than 4 per cent. in 17 constituencies, including Finchley, where 2,170 people are missing from the electoral register. In the Liverpool constituencies, 10 per cent. have gone missing from the electoral register within a year.

There have to be explanations, but they cannot be given in traditional terms—that fewer people are registering because no election is due. That does not fit in with what happened in the past after elections. It cannot be argued, either, that the cause is demographic change. The change has been brought about by the introduction of the poll tax. It is a sign to us all of the vast changes that the Government have introduced. The poll tax is the Government's flagship. It is a sign of the principles in which they believe.

In the referendum in Chile on the future of Pinochet, people had to pay, in order to vote and have their names put on the electoral register, the equivalent of a month's wages on an employment scheme, so many working-class people were disfranchised. However, those who voted expressed their need for democratic change.

The same has happened to some extent in this country, although it has not been on so dramatic a scale as in Chile. In Labour areas in particular, where people have the most to fear from the poll tax, between 3 and 4 per cent. of electors are beginning to disappear from the electoral register. The smashing of local government has been going on for a considerable period, but it now appears as though a ton of bricks has finally broken the proverbial camel's back.

The poll tax will interfere seriously with our democratic rights and civil liberties. Even after they have smashed local government, the Government will ensure that they fix the system by means of the poll tax. There will be a sort of Hobson's choice about who is elected. Labour-controlled authorities will be in an invidious position: should they increase the poll tax to provide services, and therefore crucify the very people that they are trying to serve, including many people who are on benefit, or should they cut services for those who need them? If local authorities do not cut the services that they provide, there are others waiting in the wings who will be prepared to cut them. The logic of it all is to tie the electoral register to the poll tax register and to manipulate the results.

The poll tax will lead to centralisation, which will be similar to the centralisation that the Government have introduced by means of many other measures, but it will be all-embracing in terms of the operation of rebate schemes, grants, the uniform business rate and many other matters that are in the hands of a Minister who acts in many respects like a municipal Mussolini in his dealings with local government.

The poll tax makes a vast attack upon civil liberties, by searching out information to ensure that, if someone has been missed off the poll tax register, they will be found on the electoral register and if they are not on the electoral register they can be hunted and searched for in a variety of records that do not exist for poll tax purposes. Today, I received a written parliamentary reply from the Under-Secretary of State for Employment stating: Unemployment Benefit Officers are required to disclose details of the name and address of any person or their partner, aged 18 or over, to a registration officer for a charging authority. That was in answer to a question about poll tax registration. The answer then makes certain qualifications, but the principle operates in a host of issues in which we would not expect the state and the poll tax registrars to intervene.

That is why, following the pattern set by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, I seek to bring two measures before the House—one is before the House and one is on its way. The Re-enfranchisement of the People Bill seeks to separate the electoral register from the poll tax register. There is a doubt in law about the legality of the poll tax legislation. Prior legislation which, thank goodness has never been changed will ensure that it does interfere with electoral registration—the 1275 Statute of Westminster, which guarantees free election; and the Representation of the People Act 1983, which codifies earlier legislation and provides that those free elections will allow people to qualify to vote without duress. Do the Government intend to interfere with that freedom and that right of franchise because they believe that the poll tax is even more important?

The other measure I intend to bring to the House concerns petitions. The Scottish Office has said that petitions to poll tax registrars can quite legitimately be used to place people's names upon poll tax registers, yet the ancient right of petitioning precedes that of franchise in Britain. It is the way in which ordinary people could express their views humbly to their monarch and to their Parliament. It was decided that they should not be put under duress for signing a petition, yet what is it but duress to say that when people sign protests against the poll tax, those protests will be used for the very purpose against which they are protesting?

That is another example of the vast attack on the democratic and constitutional rights of the people which is involved in the poll tax. As we have heard, it is but one of the measures before us and one of the signs that the Government's amendment is an absolute load of rubbish.

9.24 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The trouble with the word "liberty" is that it means whatever we choose to make it mean. One man's liberty is another man's tyranny. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) has just affirmed that the community charge, where each person that has a community benefit and can afford to make a contribution shares the burden of the local cost, is the ultimate tyranny. To others it is a much fairer way of imposing a charge upon local services than the rates.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) listed what he considered to be tyrannies. To him the first-past-the-post system of election is a tyranny, but to others the greater tyranny would be to subject our Government to the dictates of the party holding the balance which has attracted the least preferred votes. To him, the Broadcasting Standards Council imposes a tyranny of censorship. Others ask how else we can be expected to protect our children from the pollution of the mind that the television medium could and does inflict upon us without such safeguards. To him, the restriction upon homosexuals not to proselytise their practices is a tyranny, but to others that most limited of restrictions extends the liberty of those who not want their children to be brought up in a too liberal environment. It is interesting to recall that the permissive society was propounded in the 1960s by one of the founders of the party that the hon. Gentleman represented.

To the hon. Gentleman, any restriction upon the rights of Crown servants to blow their secrets for money or, by striking, to bring to a standstill the vital communications centre which helps to safeguard the security of the realm, are tyrannies. However, to others such liberties are a greater tyranny and will do far more to destroy our free society than some of the limited restrictions that the Government have considered it necessary to impose.

Like his leader, the hon. Gentleman claims to believe in democracy. Does he really believe that the people of this country actually want to open Britain to the settlement of 3.25 million Chinese people from Hong Kong? If our present society is such a tyranny, is it not immoral to invite so many potential sufferers to such a tyranny for permanent settlement on our shores?

There are many other issues in which one man's liberty is another man's tyranny. What is the hon. Gentleman's view of random breath tests? Is not the restriction of the liberty of the individual the lesser evil than that innocent people should be continuously mowed down by drunk drivers in our streets? What is the hon. Gentleman's view of the firearms legislation? Is it not a safer society with licences and restrictions on the free use of even sporting weapons?

To say that the Government are cutting the overall liberties of people is such manifest nonsense that I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not embarrassed about doing so.

Are we not a freer society in which the taxpayer is able to spend more of his own money through lower taxes, and a freer society now with the ability to spend abroad without restriction? Are we not freer if we own our own houses instead of being tenants of a municipality, and, if we are tenants, freer with rights that we never had before? Are we not freer in a society in which workers have a right not to be forced into trade unions, in which trade union leaders are elected and there are secret ballots, and in which the small business man now has a right to tender for contracts and to make his financial and economic way?

Are women not freer in the workplace than they were before the Government took over? Are not parents freer to choose the schools and education of their children? Is not our leisure time freer now that we can go to public houses with flexible licensing hours? In the age of the computer, are we not better protected by data protection laws? Is there not a freer press now that we have The Independent, Today and other newspapers that did not exist before, and freer broadcasting with more channels from which to choose?

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and other hon. Members have spoken about the official secrets legislation. Although it is perfectly true that Crown servants are no freer than ever they were to publish their secrets for money, are not civil servants far freer under this Government than they were before? Is not a freer society one that has done away with ministerial certificates as the test for criminality and replaced them with the decision of the jury? Is it not a freer society in which the secret service is put on a statutory basis, with rights that are enforceable by the courts?

Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

My hon. and learned Friend has referred to the Official Secrets Act. On two occasions in my life I have entered a career in which I was subject to the Official Secrets Act and I gave a signed undertaking that I would honour the details of that Act. It was part and parcel of the conditions of my service, and honoured it. Does he agree that to dishonour an oath, a pledge or a covenant is reprehensible?

Mr. Lawrence

What my hon. Friend has just said underlines the extent of his own honour, which I believe all Conservative Members emulate, which is why we supported the legislation when it was introduced.

In the contentious area of police powers, has not liberty been extended by the Police Complaints Authority, by tape-recorded interviews of suspects and by the code of practice in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which is daily invoked in our criminal courts?

I could go on for four and half hours or more—but I shall not—listing the steps taken by this Government to safeguard the liberties of the individual. The total weighs heavily in the scale of freedom and far more heavily than the total of the restrictions placed on some individual freedoms to protect the wider freedom of the greater proportion of our people.

I accept the invocation of an Opposition Member not to turn this into a political debate, but when one recalls how things were under the Labour Government who ended their dreary days of individual restriction and restraint with their limitations on spending, on saving and on investment; with the total repression of state control; ever extending its tentacles into our lives; with the bureaucracy of municipal control; with the abuse of trade union power, yet with none of the liberties that I touched on earlier, how can the House pass a motion condemning the erosion of rights under this Government?

Of course we have not been perfect—that is because, as human beings, we are not perfect and because, as many hon. Members have said, our Parliament is a most imperfect institution. As a Government we have been misled into depriving prisoners of certain rights, such as that peremptorily to challenge three members of the jury. We have had our individual liberty unnecessarily restricted by the fluoridation of public drinking water, a matter upon which I could certainly talk for another four and half hours.

As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), who spoke for the Labour party, said, it is true that we have been taken to the European Court of Human Rights on many occasions, and more often than some other countries, but that is because we have accepted the right of individual petitions since 1966, compared with that right being accepted by France in 1981; by Greece in 1985; by Spain in 1981; and by Turkey in 1988. As it takes between five and six years for an application to reach the court or the Committee of Ministers, of course we have had more violations. However, it is also because we in the United Kingdom are responsible for legal systems other than that in England, Wales and Scotland. We are responsible for the legal systems of the Isle of Man and of Guernsey, which have themselves been taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

However, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central did not tell us that a reference is by no means the same thing as a guilty finding; that some of the issues are by no means serious, and that some are most arguable. In one judgment last year, several complaints were lodged in respect of the opening of personal letters, but only one violation was found. That is a vindication of the civil liberties enshrined in the rules in Scotland. One adverse finding was against the right of the courts to impose a punishment of birching in the Isle of Man, and many people have different views about that matter and about the civil liberties and human rights involved. Another case was the infringement of the freedom of association arising from the closed shop, to which this Government are greatly opposed, but on which they thought that they had the duty to present the arguments fairly in that court. Against that we have, with legal aid, a far more liberal and speedy legal system than many other legal systems in Europe, and our courts, with the civil liberty safeguard of judicial review, are looked upon with admiration by the rest of the world.

Having said all that, I am in favour of incorporating; the European convention on human rights into our domestic law, because I believe that we could thereby improve even further our conformity with human rights and civil liberties. I am sad that the various moves to introduce a Bill of Rights in Parliament have for procedural reasons not so far succeeded. I supported such a Bill, and I support it now, because it would be far better if our own alleged violations were to be considered by British courts, with British judges rooted in British traditions, than before foreign courts, with foreign judges rooted in foreign and quite different traditions. Such a Bill would do still more to correct our inevitable lapses and would underline Britain's complete commitment under the Government to the collective enforcement of civil liberties. It would make our efforts to sustain human rights in the world at large even more convincing.

Of course, the passage of such a Bill would not still the nonsense that cascades out of the mouths of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and his friends and allies, but then, I fear that nothing would do that.

9.35 pm
Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr Lawrence) about the extent to which a lack of definition of liberty has informed the debate. That is, perhaps, not surprising, when the director of one of our supposedly foremost educational institutions—the polytechnic of north London—believes that he is supporting liberty and freedom of speech, when he disapproves of a speaker at that institution to such an extent that he throws the whole weight of the administration of that polytechnic behind organising a rival meeting so that people are not encouraged to hear that of which the director disapproves.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who introduced the debate, listed a number of part-imaginary and part-real areas in which he believed that human rights has suffered in the past 10 years. I should like to put the other side of the case, which has not been entirely explored in the debate so far—the extent to which the Government in the past 10 years have buttressed and extended human rights by their realisation that there can be no liberty and no enforcement of rights without, at the same time, protecting those rights by ownership of property, and by relating the availability of liberty to that of the right to own and the right to choose.

I cite just a few examples. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland represents a constituency which consists in part of council housing. I am sure that like me, he has discovered over the years that the one area that dominates his constituency surgeries, and which, above all others, creates unhappiness and a feeling that rights have not been given or have been taken away, is that of monopoly municipal housing. That is not surprising. If we consider housing in terms of human rights, the right of the council tenant is the right to take what he or she is given or nothing, whereas the right of the home owner, or of the tenant is a sector where there is nore than one landlord, is the right to choose the type and location of housing appropriate to the individual. That is the fundamental truth. It is this Government who have so extended that right of home ownership and are now in the process of extending the right to choose between landlords. Those are rights which were almost completely forgotten by previous Governments and certainly rights to which Opposition Members are very late converts.

Another example is that until the Government came to power, a person in employment was frequently offered the right to join a pension scheme but that right was not a right —it was a legal obligation. If the person did not want to join the pension scheme because it was wholly inappropriate to his circumstances, under every previous Government the only remedy was to leave the job. The present Government have created the right to say no—the right not to join a wholly inappropriate scheme.

There is another matter that has not been mentioned. I defer to no Opposition Member in looking to the roots of trade unionism and the extent to which in their early days trade unions represented an extension of human rights to the individual, but I hope that the Opposition join me in accepting, at least in part, that in the 1960s and 1970s that form of trade unionism had been subsumed in a trade unionism that was an instrument of repression which took rights from people rather than adding to them.

I have referred to respects in which the Government have extended liberties, but I should like to refer also to aspects where they have reduced the power of the state, thereby extending liberties. One of the Government's first actions was to abolish exchange controls. In so doing, they showed that they had the self-confidence to say to ordinary people, "You have a freedom that was not previously given, at least since the war—if you do not like this country, you have the freedom to go elsewhere and take your property with you." No previous Government had ever dreamed of giving such a freedom because no previous Government had had the self-confidence to know that most people would not want to take it once it was open to them.

It is easy to pick isolated matters on which those who wish to attack our society have, in recent years, lost part of the right to attack it, but under the Government there has been a great extension of freedom for ordinary people.

9.41 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I start with the proposition that civil liberties are easily removed but difficult to restore. History demonstrates that freedom of speech and of association were rights that had to be won from a protesting and jealous Executive. They are rights which, under our constitution, can easily be removed because the supremacy of Parliament is such that it can override any of the civil liberties that we take for granted. Our constitution provides no protection for the constitution itself. Parliament can as easily legislate to curtail liberty and freedom as to clean up the streets. Alone among the democracies in Europe, we do not have a written constitution or a Bill of Rights.

The United Kingdom was a signatory to the European convention on human rights in 1951. In spite of that, it has never been incorporated into our domestic law. Our courts cannot apply it and aggrieved citizens have to go to Strasbourg. Some have, so it has been established that there should be legal restrictions on telephone tapping and interception of mail, that prisoners should have the right to correspond with their Members of Parliament and that a woman who has the right to live in the United Kingdom may have her foreign husband live with her here. Because of the rulings of the European Court, the law relating to contempt of court has been changed, homosexual rights have been established in Northern Ireland and corporal punishment has been abolished in state schools in Scotland. If our system is so perfect, why is it that citizens have had to have recourse to Strasbourg for those purposes?

In the Minister's speech there was a central thesis that economic freedom was necessary to underpin constitutional freedoms. Put in that form, I have no objection to that principle, but it is not enough. If the only freedom is an economic one, the rich will be more free than the poor. The right to buy council houses, which I support, is a right that can easily be diluted or made more difficult to fulfil if mortgage interest payments increase because of the operation of the economy by the Government of the day.

The Minister also endorsed academic freedom, to which there would be no objection from the Social and Liberal Democrats. In another place, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead moved, and had accepted, an amendment to provide safeguards for academics against threat of dismissal on the grounds of unwelcome opinions. The amendment was resisted by the Government, which proves that there is no monopoly of good sense in relation to the preservation of liberty to be found on the Treasury Bench.

The Minister referred to judicial review as an essential feature of the protection of our liberty. He was quite right, but he omitted to point out that the single most significant feature of judicial review has been the way in which it has developed since the Wednesbury doctrine of 1947, to the Tameside case and beyond. That case is important and if he is not entirely familiar with it, the Minister should have another look at it, because it reflected an important advance in the doctrine of judicial review. It related to selective education, and the court was constrained to review the statement of the Labour Secretary of State at that time. The court's decision was not political, but its consequences were and the court must have been well aware that it would be.

There seems to be some reluctance in the House to rely on judges, but what happens when an individual goes to Strasbourg? He goes to Strasbourg and enlists the aid of the court to establish the necessary proposition. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) expressed concern about the judges' role. However, in the "Spycatcher" affair they could hardly be said to be the Government's poodles. When the Labour party was endeavouring to clear up a little local difficulty in Liverpool, some of those who were the subjects of the investigations were able to go to the court and obtain an injunction against the executive of their own party to stop it proceeding in a way that would prejudice their rights. In the past, the judges have demonstrated their capacity for making proper decisions.

Much of this debate has turned on the issue whether a Bill of Rights can be entrenched in the constitution. I do not believe that it can unless the sort of wholesale review of the constitution, to which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield referred, takes place. However, neither the Treaty of Union nor the reform Acts by which we gained universal adult suffrage are entrenched in the constitution, although it is unthinkable that any Government would seek to depart or detract from those.

As the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, since we accept the rulings of the Court of Human Rights, we are, by definition, accepting a restriction on our sovereignty. There seems to be no difference in principle between importing that convention into our own law, and the circumstances in which we accept the court's judgments.

An eminent contemporary jurist said: When times are abnormally alive with fear and prejudice the common law is at a disadvantage. It cannot resist the will, however frightened and prejudiced it may be, of Parliament. In another place, Lord Scarman enjoys a certain reputation in constitutional matters and I would have thought that his opinion was one to which the Government should give some weight. To adopt the convention into United Kingdom domestic law would give common law precisely the advantage that it now lacks.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) who has the privilege of being my Member for Parliament, made a most interesting contribution to the debate in which he seemed to move quickly from the constitutional proposals of the policy review yet to be approved, to the changes which he wanted in society. I am not surprised that he felt it necessary to display a fleetness of academic foot which we have not previously seen from him. His programme cannot be entrenched in law any more than ours. His Act to create a five-year delay using the House of Lords can be repealed like any other. So determined are Labour Front Bench spokesmen—no doubt under the benign influence of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)—to have no truck with a Bill of Rights that they are prepared to propose embracing a constitutional curiosity which many would find repugnant and which is likely to be as easily overcome as any other piece of legislation.

Part of the debate touched on freedom of information. I accept, as the debate showed, that there is an immediate clash of values between those who believe in official secrets and those who believe in freedom of information. The Minister claims that the Government's reform in this area is an advance, a proposition which brought an uncharacteristically inelegant horse laugh from the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, who went on to display in his speech that robustness and independence of mind which have earned him the respect of all sections of the House.

The principal concern about the official secrets legislation, which is not yet an Act, is its failure to address what many regard as the real issues. Secrecy has been institutionalised in Britain since 1911 by more than 100 other statutes which make disclosure of information by civil servants or by others a criminal offence, and by strict disciplinary codes. The new official secrets legislation continues the culture of secrecy in Government. Under the new Act there will be no duty to publish information and no provision for a public interest defence for offences of unauthorised disclosure of information. As my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) pointed out during the long debates on the Bill, it would be a crime for a civil servant to reveal that his Minister was committing a crime—a most curious consequence of the legislation and a clear insight into the thinking of the Government who prompted it.

There will be no test of harm in relation to certain disclosures such as telephone tapping and surveillance, and no requirement of guilty intent when certain disclosures are made by civil servants. If it was within our power, we would introduce a freedom of information Act to show this clash of cultures. We would establish a public right of access to official information and seek to amend the Official Secrets Bill, if it becomes law. The effect would be to put the onus on the authorities to justify secrecy, instead of on the public to justify access.

Good government depends on the ability to learn from mistakes and to improve policies. In a closed system mistakes remain hidden and no one learns from them. As this debate has shown, it is, in the end, a question of attitude. To judge from some of the contributions today, Conservative Members believe that there has been no infringement of any sort of the liberties of the subjects of the United Kingdom. They believe that from the position of the influence which they enjoy and of the privilege to which, to a certain extent, they have access.

The truth is that in many areas of our lives, public and private, our liberties have been the subject of continued erosion under all Governments since 1945. We do not notice as our liberties are diluted day by day, but eventually a point must be reached at which those who are worried about these matters take a stand, pointing out that the Government have gone so far and must be allowed to go no further. That is why we have introduced this topic for debate and why we shall invite the House to support our motion.

9.54 pm
Mr. John Patten

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) may have explained why he and his right hon. and hon. Friends have introduced this motion, but they certainly have not explained to me exactly what their Bill of Rights would contain or how it would help or hinder. At no stage during the speeches by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) or the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East did we have any elucidation of exactly what the Bill would contain. They are barking up the wrong tree.

Bills of Rights and written constitutions are not the all-healing prescriptions that they are made out to be. We can see that from around the world. No hon. Member has dealt with any authority at all with what such a Bill would contain. [Interruption.] It was not stated in the speeches. Secondly, no one has said in the debate how a Bill of Rights could satisfactorily be entrenched. The arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East were, presumably, arguments of despair. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East is rather unnerving because he looks and sounds like a Tory. It is just that the words do not come out in a Tory way.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

rose— —

Mr. Patten

I will give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman only on matters of tailoring and asthetics, but not on his political arguments. I will try to make it up to him afterwards.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland gave no indication at all of how his shadowy Bill of Rights would be entrenched. He and his hon. Friends should have listened much more carefully to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), but few SLD Members were in the Chamber when he spoke. He put his finger on the telling dichotomy between liberty and tyranny in this country—that moving frontier where one man's liberty can be another man's tyranny.

I suppose that I must turn briefly to the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling). He lifted the veil on the Labour party policy reviews just enough to agitate the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who did not delay for a moment or hold back from attacking his hon. Friend's constitutional prescriptions, which were exceptionally muddled and unclear. The hon. Gentleman was unable to answer any of the questions put by my hon. Friends and was subject to intimidating threats from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield about the new policy review plans needing the endorsement of the next Labour party conference.

There are many hurdles before the plans by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central for reform of the House of Lords, regional assemblies and local assemblies, and so on, can be put to the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman mischieviously misrepresented what I said about the recent unfortunate demonstrations in Bradford. I certainly did not introduce any overall condemnation of Moslems in this country. I chose my words very carefully, as I hope and believe that he will do in future. I called upon community leaders to try to intervene with the few hotheads who have caused trouble so as to ensure that trouble does not occur in the future. The hon. Gentleman should read the record tomorrow and have the decency to apologise. He should not try to play party politics with sensitive issues about race relations in this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) made an interesting speech, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern), who spoke about academic freedom. We all listened carefully to those speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South, said that the Liberals, the Alliance, the SDP, the SLD and the Democrats—to name but five —have had no serious experience in government since the first world war and simply do not appreciate how difficult and demanding it is to balance freedom and security, individiual liberty and national interests. We certainly cannot look to them for guidance. That was made manifestly clear in the last three hours of debate. That is why their motion is so impractical.

This is a poignant day on which to debate an SLD motion. Yesterday's results show that the public do not seem to share that party's preoccupation with its view of civil liberties. Its vote fell to such an extent that it is now in fourth place behind the Greens, which suggests that its manifesto commitment to incorporate the European convention on human rights into Community law was not quite the standard to which the electorate wished to rally. As befits a party that we now see in terminal decline, its arguments are impractical and impossible. That is why I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to resist the motion in the Lobby.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 16, Noes 164.

Division No. 247] [10 pm
Alton, David Livsey, Richard
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Maclennan, Robert
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Beith, A. J. Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Salmond, Alex
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Steel, Rt Hon David
Howells, Geraint
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Tellers for the Ayes:
Johnston, Sir Russell Mr. Archy Kirkwood and
Kilfedder, James Mr. Ronnie Fearn.
Alexander, Richard Forman, Nigel
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Forth, Eric
Amess, David Fox, Sir Marcus
Amos, Alan Franks, Cecil
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) French, Douglas
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Ashby, David Gill, Christopher
Atkins, Robert Glyn, Dr Alan
Atkinson, David Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Batiste, Spencer Gregory, Conal
Benyon, W. Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bevan, David Gilroy Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Blackburn, Dr John G. Hague, William
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Boswell, Tim Hanley, Jeremy
Bowis, John Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hayes, Jerry
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Brazier, Julian Hayward, Robert
Bright, Graham Heathcoat-Amory, David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hind, Kenneth
Butterfill, John Holt, Richard
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Carrington, Matthew Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Chapman, Sydney Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Chope, Christopher Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Conway, Derek Hunter, Andrew
Cope, Rt Hon John Irvine, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jack, Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Janman, Tim
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jessel, Toby
Durant, Tony Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Evennett, David Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Fallon, Michael Knapman, Roger
Favell, Tony Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Latham, Michael
Fishburn, John Dudley Lawrence, Ivan
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Sackville, Hon Tom
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shaw, David (Dover)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lord, Michael Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Skeet, Sir Trevor
McCrindle, Robert Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Speed, Keith
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Speller, Tony
McLoughlin, Patrick Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mans, Keith Stern, Michael
Marlow, Tony Stevens, Lewis
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Maude, Hon Francis Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Summerson, Hugo
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mellor, David Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Miller, Sir Hal Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mills, Iain Thorne, Neil
Mitchell, Sir David Trippier, David
Monro, Sir Hector Trotter, Neville
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Twinn, Dr Ian
Morrison, Sir Charles Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Moss, Malcolm Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Mudd, David Waller, Gary
Nelson, Anthony Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Neubert, Michael Warren, Kenneth
Nicholls, Patrick Watts, John
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Wells, Bowen
Norris, Steve Whitney, Ray
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Widdecombe, Ann
Page, Richard Wiggin, Jerry
Patten, John (Oxford W) Wilkinson, John
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wilshire, David
Porter, David (Waveney) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Portillo, Michael Winterton, Nicholas
Raffan, Keith Wolfson, Mark
Redwood, John Wood, Timothy
Rhodes James, Robert Young, Sir George (Acton)
Riddick, Graham
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Tellers for the Noes:
Roe, Mrs Marion Mr. Alan Howarth and
Ryder, Richard Mr. David Maclean.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to he agreed to.

Resolved, 'That this House welcomes the extension and enhancement of civil liberties over the last decade; believes that the Government has acted fairly to balance the liberties of the individual with the rights of others and of the community as a whole; and considers that these liberties are fully protected by present constitutional arrangements.