HC Deb 27 July 1998 vol 317 cc66-77 6.30 pm
Mr. McNamara

I beg to move amendment No. 43, in page 26, leave out lines 2 to 6 and insert'— '(3) The Assembly shall refer all proposed Measures to the Commission in draft and the Commission may advise the Assembly whether a proposed Measure is compatible with human rights, as the Commission thinks appropriate. (4) The Assembly shall receive any such advice, and take it into account when considering the proposed Measure.'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 155, in page 26, line 2, leave out subsection (3) and insert— '(3) The Assembly shall refer all Bills to the Commission in draft. The Commission may advise the Assembly whether a Bill is compatible with human rights as the Commission thinks appropriate. The Assembly shall receive any such advice, and take it into account when considering the Bill.'. Government amendments Nos. 181 and 182.

Amendment No. 189, in page 26, line 17, at end insert— '(6A) The Commission may decide to publish its advice and the outcome of its research and investigations.'. Amendment No. 190, in page 26, line 18, leave out 'facilitate' and insert 'ensure'.

Amendment No. 191, in page 26, line 19, leave out 'referred to' and insert 'envisaged'.

Amendment No. 44, in page 26, line 24, at end add 'and all other international human rights standards which are relevant.'. Amendment No. 177, in page 26, line 24, at end add— '(9) In addition to the powers the Commission has at present, the Secretary of State shall order a review, to be completed within one year, to review the remit and structure in line with international best practice, and shall consult with the office of the UN High Commissioner, non—governmental organisations and other interested parties.'. New clause 2—Power of Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to seek restraining injunctions'. —Where the Commission considers that, unless restrained, a person is likely to engage in a persistent breach of the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998, or of section 62 or 63 of this Act, the Commission may apply to the High Court for an injunction restraining him from doing so; and the court, if satisfied that the application is well founded, may grant the injunction in the terms applied for, or in more limited terms.'. New clause 3—Power of Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to conduct investigations

  1. '.—(1) Where the Commission considers it appropriate, it may conduct investigations to determine whether a breach of the Human Rights Act 1998, or of section 62 or 63 of this Act, has occurred, or may be occurring.
  2. (2) Where the Commission proposes to conduct an investigation, it shall afford an opportunity to those with sufficient interest to comment on the desirability of conducting such an investigation.
  3. (3) For the purposes of an investigation, the Commission may require any person who in its opinion is able to furnish information or produce documents relevant to the investigation to furnish any such information or produce any such document.
  4. (4) For the purposes of any such investigation the Commission shall have the same powers as the Court in respect of the attendance and examination of witnesses and in respect of the production of documents.
  5. (5) If any person without lawful excuse obstructs the Commission or any officer of the Commission in the performance of his functions under this Act, or is guilty of any act or omission in relation to any investigation under this Act which, if that investigation were a proceeding in the Court, would constitute contempt of court, the Commission may certify the offence to the Court.
  6. (6) Where an offence is certified under this section, the Court may inquire into the matter and deal with the person mentioned in subsection (5) in any manner in which the Court could deal with him if he had committed the like offence in relation to the Court.
  7. (7) If, after conducting an investigation under this Act, it appears to the Commission appropriate, it may lay before each House of Parliament and the Assembly a special report.'.

New clause 14—Human Rights Commission: Review

  1. '—(1) On the expiry of the third year following the establishment of the Human Rights Commission, the Secretary of State shall invite the Commission to submit a report reviewing its activities to date and, if appropriate, submitting proposals for revising its mandate and structure.
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  3. (2) The Secretary of State shall, following public consultation on the report of the Commission, bring forward such proposals as he feels are appropriate, taking into account the report of the Commission and the process of public consultations.'.

Mr. McNamara

My hon. Friend the Minister inadvertently misled the Committee—or perhaps I misheard him—when he was speaking about the powers of the new Human Rights Commission. He gave the impression that it was to be empowered to examine all legislation from the new Assembly. That is not what the Bill says. I propose in amendment No. 43 that the Assembly should refer proposed measures to the commission in draft and that, if the commission gives advice on whether the measure is compatible with human rights, that advice should be taken into account.

The Assembly should have a responsibility to send all draft legislation to the commission. The commission should have the discretion to choose which measures to comment on. For the commission to have scrutiny powers only when issues are referred by the Assembly would reduce its effectiveness. Requiring the commission to comment properly on all legislation would overburden it and disable it from acting strategically, concentrating on issues that are considered to be of primary importance. It is preferable for the Assembly to be required to receive the commission's views and consider how best to respond than for the initiative to come from the Assembly.

Amendment No. 44 would extend the power of the commission when considering various international organs and statutes to enable it to consider issues on the international stage as well as in the European context. The Paris convention of the United Nations is one example.

New clause 2 mirrors existing legislation for the Fair Employment Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality, enabling the commission to initiate litigation if it considers that there is a pattern of human rights violations. That would enable the commission to be more effective.

New clause 3 would give the commission powers that it currently lacks to investigate breaches of human rights and the rights envisaged in the Paris principle. The crucial issue is what powers the commission should be given to make such investigations effective. The amendment would provide that the commission, like the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, would have the power to allow discovery of documents and to require witnesses to attend and testify at an inquiry, together with adequate safeguards to ensure procedural fairness for witnesses.

New clause 14 would make provision for the Human Rights Commission to report on its work after a number of years, and to consider what improvements might be made. That mirrors the provision in the Fair Employment Acts for an examination of what was happening under the Acts, which resulted in the report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, on which I hope to see legislation in the next Session.

Mr. McGrady

The functions and powers of the Human Rights Commission are among the most important aspects of the Belfast agreement. It is important that the Bill reflects the letter and the spirit of the commitments entered into by the two Governments and the other signatories to the agreement.

The SDLP is not satisfied that the Bill gives full expression to the letter and spirit of the agreement on the Human Rights Commission. The commission must be a powerful guardian of new standards resulting from the implementation of the agreement. In our debates on clause 54 and schedule 8, we have dealt briefly with the resources and personnel at the disposal of the commission and its composition. Those factors—finance, composition and personnel—will determine the quality, the style and the importance of the commission. The enormous wealth of international expertise might be brought to bear on the commission's problems.

The amendments are crucial to help the Human Rights Commission in its initiating role, its investigations of violations and non-performance on issues within its remit and its scrutiny of proposed legislation. Those are vital issues. I am fearful that a repeat of the assurance that the Minister gave on the issues raised on clause 54 and schedule 8—that the matters will be considered at length over the summer and reflected in amendments in the other place—will not give us a chance to tie down some of the existing requirements, agreed by two Governments and eight parties. The aim of the amendments is to ensure that the Human Rights Commission is fully able to undertake the matters referred to it.

It would be inappropriate to repeat the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), but perhaps I could refer to a further issue that is not reflected in the Bill. In paragraph 10, under the heading "Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity", the agreement says: It is envisaged that there would be a joint committee of representatives of the two Human Rights Commissions, North and South, as a forum for consideration of human rights issues in the island of Ireland. The joint committee will consider, among other matters, the possibility of establishing a charter, open to signature by all democratic political parties, reflecting and endorsing agreed measures for the protection of the fundamental rights of everyone living in the island of Ireland. How does the Minister see that being provided for and, indeed, implemented under the powers of the Human Rights Commission and its sister group in the Republic of Ireland for the purpose of ensuring that the human rights of all citizens of Ireland—north and south—are dealt with comprehensively and harmoniously? As the Minister rightly said in relation to clause 54, this very important area took up considerable debating time in the inter-party talks.

I repeat that we are not satisfied that the letter and spirit of the agreement are fully reflected in the Bill. We are, alas, very dependent on the Minister taking on board what has been said, listening to the consultation which he has promised during the summer months and making available amendments to implement the aspects that have been omitted and to create the joint committee before the matter goes to the other place for final consideration.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

Amendment No. 155 is essentially the same as amendment No. 43, which was moved by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), with the exception that it would replace the phrase "proposed Measures" in amendment No. 43 with "Bills". We thought it appropriate to reflect the change between the draft Bill and the Bill before us in the amendment. The amendment's aim is largely the same as that of amendment No. 43: to seek elucidation of the exact process by which the commission will comment and provide advice on Bills and draft Bills—not least because the commission will welcome such guidance.

Our ideal is that all Bills comply with human rights requirements. That could be achieved if all Bills were referred to the commission every time that it can make a contribution—at an early stage, just after the Bill is published, and once again at the end of the process, once the Assembly has amended them. It would certainly take far too long if the commission were invited or expected to examine every new dot or comma and every tiny change. We need to ensure that the Human Rights Commission sees the Bills on enough occasions and at the right times in order for it to comply with the requirements. At the same time, we must ensure that demands on it are not so strict and persistent that the whole process would be held up.

The Bill should provide that the Assembly automatically refers all draft legislation to the commission, which would have the discretion to choose on which pieces of legislation it would comment. The commission may make very little comment on some pieces of legislation, while others may require substantial investigation and advice. Allowing the commission powers to scrutinise only issues that the Assembly has referred to it would massively reduce the commission's effectiveness. Indeed, some friction between the commission and the Assembly may be generated. By the same token, it would be rather unhelpful if the commission felt duty bound to comment on every piece of legislation. It would not be helpful to refer matters that are not relevant to its core work. It would be nice to be reassured that the commission would have such latitude.

I basically support amendments Nos. 189 and 190. As I understand it, amendment No. 189 adds the proviso that the commission may decide to publish any advice it has given and the outcome of its research and investigation. I see the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) nodding. Adding such a proviso is sensible, and would make the commission more open and accountable. More than anything, it would make it clear to the public that the commission can be expected to behave in such a way, which is all to the good. Amendment No. 190 would leave out the word "facilitate" and insert the word "ensure", and amendment No. 191 would change the words "referred to" to "envisaged". They encourage the commission to take a firmer line and ensure that a north-south human rights commission is established. That is also very sensible.

6.45 pm

Taken together, amendments Nos. 189, 190 and 191 go slightly further than the wording in the agreement. There does not seem to be a mandate in the agreement for demanding that the commission ensure the creation of such a north-south commission, although it is certainly in the spirit of the agreement—indeed, the language of the agreement implies that it would be reasonable—to take the matter a little further. I would be very supportive of that. I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on that group of amendments.

I very much support new clause 3, which would allow the commission to be proactive as well as reactive in upholding human rights and ensuring that justice is done. It makes it easier for the commission to ensure that test cases—class actions—can be brought forward rather than an individual being required to bring forward a case which the commission could investigate. It seems right that the commission can embark on such an approach. The amendments provide that, like the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the commission has specific powers to enable discovery of documents and to require witnesses to attend and testify before such an inquiry—together with adequate safeguards to ensure procedural fairness for witnesses. All in all, therefore, new clause 3 would significantly strengthen the commission's opportunities to act proactively. Given the clear spirit and intent of the agreement, it would be very helpful if the Government seriously considered accepting new clause 3, or something very similar, during their deliberations over the next few months.

Amendment Nos. 155, 43, 189 to 191 and new clause 3 would strengthen the sections of the Bill on the commission's work and are very much in line with the agreement.

Mr. Corbyn

I should like to draw the Committee's attention to amendment No. 177, which was tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell). It concerns the role of the Secretary of State in asking for a review within one year. New clause 14, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and others, would require a review at the end of the third year. My hon. Friend and I suggest that an earlier review might be more appropriate.

Given the growing power of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and the importance of human rights that many Governments are now recognising, it would be appropriate if, in reviewing proceedings, the Secretary of State and the commission consulted the UN high commission on whether it feels that the Human Rights Commission's operations are in line with UN best practice. Indeed, the UN high commission could provide helpful advice. In Northern Ireland, we are—hopefully—moving towards a much more peaceful future, where respect for human rights is a cornerstone. The greater the transparency and the greater the involvement of international organisations such as the UN high commission, the more successful the Human Rights Commission is likely to be.

I welcome amendment No. 189, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and others, for its desire for transparency in the commission's work. I am however surprised that its says only that the commission "may…publish" some of its findings. It would be more appropriate for the commission to make public all its findings and research, so that people have much more confidence in it and do not suspect that some unpublished evidence is lurking around which might be the subject of leaks or speculation. Transparency is most important if we are to overcome all the difficulties in Northern Ireland.

Mr. John D. Taylor

The Minister will recall that, in the multi-party talks prior to the Belfast agreement, there was considerable discussion of human rights, especially human rights in the Republic of Ireland. When the Council of Europe at Strasbourg debated the agreement, it requested in its resolution that provision be made for human rights in the Republic of Ireland, as required by the European convention on human rights.

In the multi-party talks, subjects such as family planning legislation, divorce legislation and compulsory Irish in schools were raised. In particular, there was discussion about the discrimination against Protestants from Northern Ireland who marry people from the Republic and move there, but cannot find employment in the public sector because they have never learnt the Irish language. Of all the professions, schoolteachers are most aggrieved at that discrimination; they cannot find jobs, even in Protestant schools, because the rules forbid the employment of teachers who do not have a qualification in Gaelic.

The creation of a human rights commission in the Republic of Ireland would be an important part of the new arrangement within the island of Ireland, by which, I hope, Northern Ireland will be able to live at ease with its neighbour. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind as consideration of the Bill continues.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

I agree with the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor)—one of the welcome features of the Belfast agreement is that parallel movement in the south will cover the problem to which he alludes. Indeed, further provision is made for joint participation on the human rights front; the two commissions will eventually, I hope, have a joint body where such issues can be raised when anyone, on either side of the border, fails to come up to scratch.

Mr. McNamara

The thought occurred to me that that would be an excellent subject for a cross-border committee between Dail Eireann and the new Assembly—such a committee could explore all sorts of problems.

Mr. Temple-Morris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. No doubt the right hon. Member for Strangford has heard what he said and will in time support such a progressive endeavour.

I underline what my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) said about the importance of the clause and the functions of the commission. Under the Bill as it stands, the commission has a benevolence about it; it is an also-ran to almost everyone. However, it does not have many teeth, which is what a human rights body needs if it is to be effective.

That is why I think that the phraseology of the amendment is superior to that of the Bill. I also think, with respect, that the amendment would be more effective than amendment No. 155—although I agree with every word. that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) said—so I hope that the Minister will actively consider it. It is only right that all measures should be referred from the Assembly to the commission. Equally, the commission should not be obliged to submit its opinion in all cases; it should be free to do so when it wills. Currently, the proposal is on the weak side.

I put almost a higher priority on new clauses 2 and 3, which contain the real teeth. Those of us who have had anything to do with human rights matters will be aware that the power to bring injunctions is vital; the efficacy of the commission could be transformed if it were able to conduct its own investigations rather than only advise others.

Dr. Godman

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), I believe that the Government should treat new clauses 2 and 3 with considerable sympathy. New clause 2 would enable the commission to apply to the High Court for an injunction". That is utterly compatible with the agreement, which states, in paragraph 5 on page 17, that the commission's role not only should be advisory and consultative, but should include in appropriate cases, bringing court proceedings or providing assistance to individuals doing so. That would give the commission the power of sanction, which would be most welcome.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I support new clauses 2 and 3. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) has made the point that I wanted to make. I vividly recall how strongly I felt, hearing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State report on the Belfast agreement, that the human rights measures set a future standard for the whole of the United Kingdom—they represent a powerful articulation of what we should deliver.

My concern is that the Bill does not fully articulate all the points in the agreement. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde, I believe that new clause 2 would deal with one aspect of that. Moreover, I believe that new clause 3 would deal with the power to investigate.

To be proactive and to get to the bottom of abuses, a human rights body requires an investigatory power. The Paris principles state that human rights commissions should have powers to examine any situation involving violation of human rights". Without such powers, the commission will not be in accord with those principles or be as effective as it could be.

I have urged colleagues who are concerned with human rights to accept the model that is powerfully set out in the agreement. The Bill deals well with the educative powers, and the other powers are important, but unless the commission fully reflects what is set out in the agreement—the amendments and new clauses would help it to do so—it will not be the ground-breaking, precedent-setting body that it needs to be: it will not be as effective as it should be. An effective guarantee of human rights is the first step towards an effective guarantee of peace.

Mr. Paul Murphy

This has been a very useful debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) was right to emphasise the importance that the agreement and the Bill attach to human rights. However, the agreement and the Bill were both time restrained, so there were gaps in the final talks. Both the agreement and the Bill are silent on some areas, as there was insufficient time to do everything as well as we could expect. That is why, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), consultation with the parties is so important. In a sense, it is a continuation of the talks. We must get the balance right between the parties' views, and then Parliament will make the final decision. The Bill is a Bill of the British Parliament, but it must reflect the spirit and words of the agreement.

We were able to put much more detail in the Bill on strand 1 than on the commission, because the detail on that has simply not been worked out yet. Everyone involved in the talks was conscious of the spirit, which is why it is so important to be able to consult the parties during August and September.

Amendment No. 43 concerns the way in which the commission will deal with legislation by the Assembly. Clause 11 requires the Assembly to send a copy of each Bill, after its introduction, to the commission, but is of course silent on the Assembly's duty to take into account the commission's advice. The amendment would go beyond what is in the Bill, because it refers to "proposed" legislation.

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The agreement says that members of the commission should consider draft legislation referred to them by the new Assembly". Does that mean that all legislation has to be considered by the commission, or only those laws that the Assembly wants to refer, because they have a human rights impact? Of course, the commission must offer advice when specifically asked by the Assembly to do so, but the agreement is not totally clear on the point. Hon. Members can rest assured that clause 11 gives the opportunity for each and every Bill from the Assembly to go to the commission for consideration. That applies also to amendment No. 155.

Government amendment No. 181 will enable the commission to make occasional visits overseas, if it considers that necessary to promote human rights in Northern Ireland, but it will properly prevent it from taking up cases of human rights abuses that have nothing to do with Northern Ireland. Amendment No. 182 is consequential upon it.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) said that he supports amendment No. 189, as do the Government. We accept the amendment, as it would be useful to make it clear in the Bill that the commission can publish its advice and the outcome of its investigations.

Mr. Corbyn

As the amendment says "may publish", does that mean that the commission itself will decide whether to publish its findings, or will that decision be taken by someone else?

Mr. Murphy

The principle behind the wording of the amendment is that there should be publication. For the detail, I suggest that my hon. Friend refer to those who tabled it, but the Government agree with the wording and believe that the commission's ability to publish is an extremely good idea. The amendment, which we accept, does not say whether publication should be compulsory, but perhaps we can consider that in future.

Mr. William Ross

Having gone two or three steps of the way, could not the Government go the rest of the way, and also publish the evidence on which the commission bases its decisions and advice?

Mr. Murphy

As I said, there is to be a memorandum of understanding between the commission and the Government on various issues. Practice will tell whether evidence should be published. Generally, of course, evidence is published in such circumstances, and I see no reason, on the face of it, why that should not be the case, but there may be such reasons, and I do not want to give a definitive answer at this stage. All that the Government are prepared to agree to specifically is what is said in amendment No. 189.

The Government are also prepared to accept amendment No. 190, under which the Bill will say: The Commission shall do all that they can to ensure"— rather than "facilitate"— the establishment of the committee referred to in paragraph 10". That is a reference to the joint committee of the human rights commissions in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. We are grateful to those who tabled the amendment, as we think that it better reflects the spirit and intention of the agreement. It is not within our power to require that the Government of the Republic of Ireland establish their side of the joint committee; the most that we can do is to require by law that our commission does all that it can.

The charter rights are mentioned in the agreement, and that point is covered in clause 55(7), which says: The Commission shall do all they can to establish the committee referred to in the relevant part of the agreement. That naturally includes considering a possible charter of rights for the whole of Ireland.

I cannot be so generous on amendment No. 191. We believe that the clause as it stands covers everything that is necessary.

I do not think that we would benefit by accepting amendment No. 44, which could restrict the commission's activities. The term "human rights" is deliberately not strictly defined in the Bill, to give the commission the greatest possible freedom to determine for itself the standards of human rights protection against which laws and practices should be judged.

We obviously want to monitor very carefully the commission's functions and powers, but we have not yet finalised precisely what those powers are likely to be—that is a matter for consultation between the Government and all the parties in Northern Ireland—and we ought to wait until that is established before instituting a review as envisaged in amendment No. 177.

Mr. Corbyn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said thus far, but his argument would not preclude a later discussion, after a year or whatever period is deemed appropriate, with the United Nations or other relevant organisations. We are a major signatory to the European convention on human rights, and as we are setting up a ground-breaking commission, it would surely be beneficial to both sides to consult the UN.

Mr. Murphy

I am sure that there is indeed great benefit in consulting the United Nations, but at this stage in the legislative process it would be inappropriate to accept the amendment until we know exactly what the final powers are to be.

New clause 2 would give the commission significant additional powers. We cannot accept it at this stage, but in forthcoming consultations we shall certainly consider some of the points that lie behind it. The same goes for new clause 3, which is perhaps the most significant new clause or amendment in this group. It concerns the commission's powers to investigate, which is the matter on which we have had the greatest representation. That has spurred us on to ensure that there will be consultation over the summer. There are differences of view and we are not yet convinced that we have got it right. We must consult the parties in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

For the convenience of the Committee I will again list the amendments that the Government are prepared to accept, which are Nos. 189 and 190 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). As I said, we intend to look further at many of the other points raised during this important debate and to consult parties in Northern Ireland, as well as representatives in the House.

Mr. McNamara

I thank my hon. Friend for his comprehensive reply. However, clause 11, requires the Presiding Officer to send a copy of each Bill, as soon as reasonably practicable after introduction, to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission…enabling the Assembly to ask the Commission, where the Assembly thinks fit, to advise whether a Bill is compatible with human rights (including the Convention rights). The commission has such a power only if it is asked for its opinion. That is the distinction between my amendment and the clause and that is why I tabled my amendment. I trust that my hon. Friend will re-examine that point, which is significant. I am not asking that the commission be forced to comment on all legislation—only on legislation that it thinks significant or legislation referred to it for comment by the Assembly. My hon. Friend seems to be saying that the commission can comment on every Bill that is passed to it. If that could be put on the face of the Bill, it would clear up the ambiguity.

Mr. Murphy

Clause 55(3) states that the commission can comment on all Bills whether they are referred to it or not. My hon. Friend's amendment deals with the stage at which Bills would be referred to the commission.

Mr. McNamara

I am not certain that clause 55 is as explicit as my amendment would be. It states: The Commission shall advise the Secretary of State and the Executive Committee…of legislative and other measures which ought to be taken to protect human rights— (a) as soon as reasonably practicable after receipt of a general or specific request for advice; and (b) on such other occasions as the Commission think appropriate. I take my hon. Friend's point about the clause, but it is not as precise as I would wish.

I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said about new clause 3. There is indeed great feeling about the need for the Human Rights Commission to have teeth. I must return to the Paris principles, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Slough Fiona Mactaggart—not only to the effect that failure to implement those principles would have in Northern Ireland but to the example that that would give to the rest of Europe.

I am surprised at my hon. Friend's reluctance with regard to new clause 2, which merely replicates a power that exists for all the other bodies concerned with human rights. If we are to have a commission for human rights it would seem strange if it did not have such a power, which will presumably be given to the Equality Commission. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that he will look into that and I hope that he will do so carefully as it is an important power.

I am grateful for the progress that my hon. Friend has made in meeting our arguments so far and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 181, in page 26, line 9, leave out 'in Northern Ireland'.

No. 182, in page 26, line 10, after 'rights', insert 'in Northern Ireland'.—[Mr. Paul Murphy.]

Amendments made: No. 189, in page 26, line 17, at end insert— '(6A) The Commission may decide to publish its advice and the outcome of its research and investigations.'. No. 190, in page 26, line 18, leave out 'facilitate' and insert 'ensure'.—[Mr. McGrady.] Clause 55, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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