HC Deb 02 May 2001 vol 367 cc911-3

As amended, further considered.

7 pm

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order, of which I gave you notice, concerns the application of the Human Rights Act 1998. I appreciate that we have trawled over this ground before, but matters have moved on since our previous debate. You will recall that, during the previous debate, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Ms Hughes), quoted a written answer from the President of the Council, which stated: Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 does not apply to Private Bills. We were aware of that. It went on: However, like all legislation, any Act resulting from the passage of such a Bill can be judged in the courts, either in the UK or in Strasbourg, for its compatibility with the ECHR. We were assured: In future, when Private Bills are deposited, promoters will be asked to undertake a full assessment of the compatibility of their proposals with the ECHR and to make a statement setting out their conclusion as to whether the Bill is compatible or not. A Minister in the Government department within whose policy responsibilities the subject matter of the Bill falls will make a formal statement saying that he believes that the promoters have undertaken a full assessment and that he does not (or, if necessary, that he does) see any need to dispute their conclusion".—[Official Report, 11 January 2001; Vol. 360, c. 1304–5.] Today, we have received another statement from the Bill's promoter that contains no reference to whether the Bill complies with the Human Rights Act. Are we tonight to receive a statement from the Minister in that regard? I accept that this is not a new Bill and has not been introduced today, but in the spirit of the statement made during the previous debate I would expect some statement to be made. If not, yet again, there would be no guidance from any Law Officer or the Government that the Bill complies with the Human Rights Act enacted in this Chamber.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It may be for the convenience of the House if I make the following statement.

Hon. Members present for the previous debate on the Bill will recall that the Under Secretary gave a commitment to make a statement on Third Reading on behalf of the Government in relation to the Bill's compatibility with the European convention on human rights.

A copy of the legal assessment procured by the promoter of the Bill on its compatibility with the ECHR was sent to the Government by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) on 29 January 2001. The assessment concluded that the Bill is compatible with the ECHR, as has been stated in previous debates on the Bill.

Having now considered the papers, I can report to the House that I believe that a full assessment of the Bill's compatibility with the ECHR has been undertaken by the City of London corporation and I see no need to dispute the conclusions of that assessment.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has the statement of compatibility with the ECHR been placed in the Library, in the domain of hon. Members? I have not seen it and I have been present throughout virtually all the debates on the Bill and took part in the debate on this very matter. If the Minister is to refer to a document that claims that the Bill is compatible with the ECHR, at the very least we should be privy to it. It has already passed from the Bill's sponsor, on behalf of the promoter, the City of London corporation, to the Government, and such an important document should not remain as private correspondence between the sponsor and the Government and we should not have to take their assurance on the matter. We should also have the right to see it.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that it is generally agreed that a further debate on this subject is not likely to be in order for long. I simply remind the House that the lengths to which the promoter has gone to demonstrate compliance with human rights, including an opinion obtained from leading counsel, is a matter of record. I have shared that advice with the Under-Secretary who was on the Front Bench during our previous debate, in accordance with the invitation that she extended to me on that occasion; the Under-Secretary present this evening, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), has confirmed that.

The promoter has complied with the relevant Standing Orders and will continue to do so. Moreover, provided that the House's authorities are content, the promoter has no objection to the inclusion of a statement on compatibility appearing on the front of the Bill when it is reprinted, even if that is not a requirement of the revised Standing Orders when reprinting is undertaken. I am conscious of the Standing Order that will come into force on 27 November 2001.

I have to say in a gentle voice to Labour Members that the advice that the Government receive that enables them to say that a Bill is compatible with the appropriate convention is not subject to scrutiny in the way that has been described.

Mr. Deputy Speaker(Sir Alan Haselhurst)

I am not persuaded that the matter can continue to be pursued on a point of order. In view of the procedures that have now been followed after exhaustive earlier debate, it is a matter for the House to determine, at the appropriate moment, whether it is satisfied with the statements that have been made. That can be dealt with in the further proceedings of the House. There is no further point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Corbyn

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You were the occupant of the Chair during the previous debate on the question of the Bill's compatibility with the ECHR. We have now heard that the document has passed from the promoter to the Government, but this is a private Bill, not a Government Bill. The Government are merely responding to it; it is the House's property. Is it in order that the House should not be aware of the contents of private correspondence claiming compatibility between the promoter of a private Bill and the Government, when many hon. Members are extremely concerned that the convention might have been breached by the Bill, which does not allow free and unfettered elections as required under the convention? This is an important matter concerning the role of private Bills. I do not like the rules that apply to Government Bills, but I understand them, but this is not a Government Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am satisfied that there is nothing out of order that should concern the House. This should now become a matter of debate that may influence the House's attitude to the Bill. Therefore, we should proceed with consideration of the Bill.

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