HC Deb 13 January 2000 vol 342 cc419-20
28. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

When (a) he and (b) the Attorney-General last met the Secretary of State for the Home Department to discuss the implementation of the European convention on human rights. [103803]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston)

The Attorney-General and I regularly meet the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers to discuss matters of common interest, including human rights. In addition, I am a member of the human rights task force, which is chaired by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), and which includes representatives from a range of human rights groups.

Mr. Mackinlay

Will my hon. and learned Friend counsel my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that there is a serious deficiency in our statute law in relation to our obligations under the European convention on human rights? European judges will note that the Crown has been reminded of this by the British legislature. We have no public interest defence under the Official Secrets Act 1989. No doubt the Ponting jury took account of that.

The French courts, recently and embarrassingly for the United Kingdom, declined to meet our extradition requests in relation to David Shayler. The Foreign Office is embarrassed when trying to argue on behalf of, for example, people in the Russian Federation who have leaked information about the deterioration of nuclear weapons and nuclear plants. It is time that we remedied the omission by ensuring that there are adequate defence opportunities when charges are made under the Official Secrets Act.

The Solicitor-General

The Human Rights Act 1998 does not amend the Official Secrets Act 1989. My hon. Friend will know that all legislation, including the Official Secrets Act, must be interpreted in conformity with the Human Rights Act. In addition, all public authorities, including the security services, must act in conformity with that Act. In any prosecution, including one under the Official Secrets Act, the defendant can raise a human rights point. That three-pronged attack does not exactly address my hon. Friend's concern, but it may give him some comfort.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

In the interests of open government, will the Solicitor-General explain to the House the process adopted by the Government before a statement of compatibility with the convention is added to a Bill?

The Solicitor-General

Every Minister must sign a certificate and every Minister receives detailed advice from his or her lawyers. In some cases, my Department will be involved. There will be a detailed statement, which will go to the Cabinet Committee on Legislation. The section 19 statement is backed by a detailed analysis undertaken by Government officials.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Does not the European convention on human rights give the right to parents to ensure that their children can be educated in accordance with the philosophical convictions of those parents? Might not the convention prove an invaluable tool and defence mechanism in the event that the malicious and stupid regulations of the Government were to lead to the abolition of a single grammar school?

The Solicitor-General

Some of the hon. Gentleman's comments are tendentious—[Interruption.] In fact, all of them are. He is right to say that parents have a right to educate their children as they wish. However, there is a range of other rights as well, all of which are important.

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