HL Deb 08 November 1979 vol 402 cc1040-71

Second Reading debate resumed.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that so many of your Lordships have come to hear about the Bill of Rights, and I welcome the interest which this House continues to take in this important subject. May we now return from Rhodesia to Strasbourg. I returned from Strasbourg, leaving at 4 o'clock this morning, in order to take part in this debate, so I hope your Lordships will excuse some of the incoherence of my remarks. I should like to sympathise very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. I, too, came with various proposed speeches, all of which I have now abandoned because the deeper principles, which those of us on the Committee who agreed that this Bill should be incorporated into domestic British law share, have all been dealt with, in particular in two remarkable speeches by the noble Lord. Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman.

I should therefore like to make a few comments merely in the margin—a few "scribbles at the top of the chapter"—but before embarking on my own small commentary on the passage of this Bill I should like to thank all my colleagues on the Select Committee for having contributed to my further education in these matters. Your Lordships' House has a special role in the constitutional development of this country and I think this Select Committee can be an example of how this House, in its present form, can contribute to the solution of the constitutional difficulties which my noble friend Lord Carr discussed in his most important speech. Like every other participant in this debate, I must thank most of all the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for his persistence in bringing this matter to your Lordships' attention. I hope he will not need to persist for too much longer.

I was alarmed—I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord has gone—by the nature of the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, as well as by some of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, not because they sit on the opposite side of the House, since the difference between their views and mine is not essentially of a Party political nature; but it seems to me that the arguments they advanced and the arguments we heard advanced throughout the proceedings of the Committee are really, if closely analysed, arguments against ever having signed the convention in the first place, or arguments against continuing to be a signatory to it, having signed it.

These arguments are based on a deep and introverted view of the nature of law and Parliament. They are arguments which reject any relevance of an internationally binding convention of any sort, if taken ad absurdum, because the arguments they were putting forward are of a sort which lead one, taken to their fullest conclusion, to be opposed to the idea of having binding conventions of this sort. That, my Lords, is the starting point of my own education. I will not go through all the rest of the stages in your Lordships' House tonight. We sat for a long time in the Select Committee and, like many other members, I began as a doubter. It was this, as it seemed to me, slightly emotional attitude of some of the opponents towards incorporation that started to raise questions in my mind which led in the end to my being one of the majority of eight in favour of incorporation.

I wish to leave the legal arguments to others, not out of cowardice but because there are others who will deal with them better. I should like to return to the nub of the argument of the noble and learned Lord. Lord Elwyn-Jones. He was arguing for a very rigid demarcation line and for a very firm and stern barrier between the judiciary and Parliament. I agree that that line must be firm and must be stern. I also agree, to use his words, that: Parliament is the place for the discussion of broad issues of public policy". Of course it is, and of course it must remain so; but all elected bodies tend towards the tyranny of the temporary majority. I have just joined a new elected body without traditions. I am a member of a temporary majority of the Centre Right in the European Parliament. It is very annoying in committee when independent members of the libertarian Left lie on the floor or cut off all the microphones. It is extremely infuriating when those of us who wish to work are prevented from so doing because somebody else tables 5,000 amendments to a particular report. But concern about getting on with the job must not turn into tyranny of the temporary majority—and Parliaments can turn tyrannical. I would ask your Lordships to look at what happened during the French Revolution and to remember the lessons of Cromwell. So I think there are deeper considerations than a purely reverential attitude towards the role of Parliament in these matters. We must remember that Parliament itself can be an instrument of tyranny if it is not restrained, and this is the place of the European Convention in helping towards the restraint of the tyranny of the temporary majority.

Some noble and learned Lords— not in this debate but in other debates on previous incarnations of this Bill—have cast aspersions on the mental agility and deductiveability of the British judiciary. Other Members of this House—not I— have said they would be incapable of ever applying this Convention. I doubt this myself. I do not know, but I suspect that most judges are capable of judging on a wide variety of evidence. I am also concerned, to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, at the emotional tone in which this sort of comment is made. There is a place for emotion in these discussions because noble Lords are talking about what each of us believes in deeply and how it can he protected. Of course there is a place for proper emotion, because we feel deeply about these matters; but we cannot let feelings allow us to cut off the possibility of adaption. The emotional tone of some of these comments about the incapability of judges to adapt themselves to interpreting the European Convention, as if they were tender, ignorant and innocent people who must somehow be protected from pollution by these dangerous and libertarian ideas, is something that I find reprehensible.

I think the British people, of all different races and parts, especially Wales—I see the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, and his views are well known—have a genius for taking things from abroad, adapting them and developing them into something specifically British: look at architecture, music, Christianity or the Monarchy. All those ideas are not ours alone but we have developed them into something which is specially ours. Are judges somehow so foolish and so wayward as not to be able to adapt the European Convention in such a way that they can make use of it here to protect those categories of people mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman?

I conclude by saying that there are three major anxieties which preoccupy me about the downward path of this country. One is constitutional decay. I share the concern of my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley and I implore my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to use his influence to make sure that this Government help to prop up the British constitution and develop it and advance it wherever they can.

I am concerned also about the decline in the respect for the law generally. The incorporation of this Bill into our own domestic law would be a minor and modest step in showing that we would obey our international obligations and make the law more accessible to the individual. But especially as a European Parliamentarian, I am concerned about our increasing tendency towards narrow introversion and the kind of backward-lookingness which is restrictive and not proud of tradition. Of course, anybody who forgets his past cannot build a secure future and that applies to any country. But if we allow the perspectives to become so narrow that we look at the rest of the world through nothing but a telescope made in Britain, then we are in danger. Some of the concern, some of the opposition and some of the anxieties about this Bill are of that narrow introverted nature, and it is that kind of narrow introverted view of our future that led to our staying out of the Community for far too long, and has led to our not ratifying this international obligation in domestic law for too long.

I conclude—I said that earlier, but I mean it this time—with a plea to my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, to whose difficulties I do not wish to add. Conservatives on the Select Committee, I suspect—there was not a Whip—all went in doubtful. They all voted for incorporation in the end. I think this illustrates that it is now becoming an essential part of the obligation of those who are concerned about the modern interpretation of the principles and roots of the Conservative Party, that constitutional issues, once relegated to the textbook, the federalist and the lecturer, are now becoming part of day-to-day politics and of active concern to those who wish the country to continue and to continue united.

Of course, this is not a special prerogative of this Party or this House, but I believe that this Government now have a special duty to use the veneration for continuity and tradition, of which the Conservative Party is an embodiment as well as an exponent, to make sure that the British constitution works and works for everyone. This little Bill, which must, I hope, proceed through your Lordships' House quickly, is a minor part in that rather larger task. I hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading and a speedy Committee, Report and Third Reading in your Lordships' House before going to another place.

6.23 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for his persistence in pursuing this issue and for tabling this Bill. It is a long saga. I just want to remind your Lordships that, when the Kilbrandon Commission was considering constitutional issues in Northern Ireland, a special document was prepared by the Government of the day which said: Many of the subjects likely to be dealt with in a Bill of Rights are subjects which it is proposed should be devolved to Scotland and Wales (and might also be within the competence of some future Northern Ireland legislature) In January, 1957, the committee of my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner recommended that,

consideration should be given to the enactment of a Bill of Rights". Then, still with a Northern Ireland flavour, in June, 1975, my right honourable friend Merlyn Rees said in another place, A Bill of Rights or legislation covering the human rights law, will be part of the next constitutional legislation for Northern Ireland". Twelve months later, my right honourable friend informed the other place, The Government acknowledge the consensus in the Report"— that is, the Constitutional Convention— that there should be further legislation on human rights. It will consider how best to make appropriate statutory provision in the light of the detailed study currently being undertaken by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland". I had the good fortune to be chairman of that Commission and we produced a document which finally recommended a Bill of Rights for the whole of the United Kingdom. We could not see how there could he a Bill of Rights for part of the United Kingdom; that is, Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish TUC came out very strongly in their evidence in favour of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The British TUC has recently gone on record as supporting a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. I can only say that a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland would not stop violence and I am quite unrepentant, having looked at this issue most carefully over a long period, in believing that a Bill of Rights for the whole of the United Kingdom is now necessary, because modern conditions and the march of events point to the need for such a Bill.

For example, we contrast with other countries in not having fundamental rights guaranteed. This is more important than ever, given our accession to the European Economic Community and the proposed accession of the Community to the European Convention on Human Rights. Your Lordships' Sub-Committee on Law now has before it the document from the EEC and it will he interesting to see its conclusions. It would be better to make a conscious decision about a Bill of Rights, rather than wait for the European Court in Luxembourg to start making decisions about what ought to happen in our domestic law.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carr, said, there have to be adequate constitutional powers to prevent the abuse of power by Government or Parliament. There is no modern and coherent system of administrative law enabling citizens to obtain prompt, speedy and adequate legal redress for the misuse of administrative powers by public authorities. The number of cases going to Strasbourg is growing, and it would be an advantage, in terms of access to our own courts and a saving in cost to members of the public, if we had the European Convention incorporated into our laws. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, made the point that we ought to reduce the cost to individuals of endeavouring to obtain redress.

We must look to the future. A Bill of Rights would face up to the problems which we can only vaguely foresee. We live in a very complex industrial society and the scope and impact of new technology on employment, education and economy is quite fantastic. But these changes and advantages will somehow have to be controlled, and it would be helpful if, under Article 8 of the European Convention—which reads, Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence"— persons concerned about privacy could raise in a court the implications of the technological change, if they so wished.

The point here is that in a stable society existing legal institutions can "apply the law", but we are experiencing rapid technological changes and it is vital, when change is the order of the day, that there is a meaningful way of gaining an answer as to what should or should not happen, and how the change should proceed or should be controlled. Whatever the imperfections of the European Convention, at the very least it is a valuable and worthwhile starting point. Improvements to it could be introduced, but in conjunction with our partners in Europe. The articulation of rights in the European Convention—Article 60 mentions this—in a Bill of Rights in the United Kingdom would not detract from the existing rights provided under the statute or the common law of England. Article 60 reads: Nothing in this Convention shall be construed as limiting or derogating from any of the human rights and fundamental freedoms which may he ensured under the laws of any High Contracting Party or under any other agreement to which it is a Party". Many of the people who argue against the incorporation of the convention into our laws seem to omit consideration of that issue.

We are aware that over the years there have been many measures to try to protect the civil liberties of citizens and to ensure that the convention is understood only as 'a minimum standard. The alleged difficulties for a judiciary are over-emphasised. It is entirely possible for the judges to adapt their practices and interpretations to read existing law in terms of the European Convention, and some already feel that as an international obligation they must already do so. This has been emphasised in the penetrating speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman. May I say how persuasive was the speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and how delighted I was to learn today that the noble and learned Lord will be delivering the Lord Mac-dermott Lecture at Queen's University, Belfast, next April and that he will also be undertaking a task for the Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland, since he is to address a symposium on a Rill of Rights.

There is an anxiety as to whether the entire convention and protocols should be incorporated, or only the substantive provisions. The argument in favour of the former is to avoid confusion by tinkering with the convention as drafted. The argument in favour of the latter is not to clutter up a Bill of Rights statute with procedural material which would additionally dilute the effect of a clear statement of guaranteed rights. There should be a positive statement of the rights guaranteed under law. There is an educative effect and value of a positive statement of rights. It would be useful if there were a schedule setting out the substantive provisions of the statute. Whether this should be Articles 1 to 14 or Articles I to 18 is not really crucial. However, it should be set out somewhere for all to see the basic and fundamental rights which must and will be guaranteed by law.

Some people say that it is impossible, under Motions of parliamentary sovereignty, to entrench any statute so that the provisions are superior to other statutory provisions, while other people say that a Bill of Rights must be entrenched and have superior validity. I am convinced that as a matter of politics the point is not very strong. If you announced a guaranteed list of rights, then it would be an extremely courageous Government which ever tried to detract from them. In other words, a Bill of Rights would be clung on to by the public.

Stating Articles Ito 14 and the protocols would be useful. In addition, however, it is essential that Article 60 should be respected, whether by incorporation in the Bill or otherwise. The whole point of Article 60 is to make it plain that the convention only guarantees some basic rights and is not exhaustive and does not cut down under the other rights and privileges allowed under the domestic law of any of the high contracting parties. It would be wise in any Bill of Rights statutes made in the United Kingdom to understand that other rights are not disparaged or denied in any way.

The important element before your Lordships' House is to have support in favour of the principle of Lord Wade's Bill. There will be detailed amendments in committee and I have indicated some of those which might possibly materialise. Our discussions are a continuing source of parliamentary education about the values of a democratic society. Like my noble friend Lady Gaitskell, I hope that the discussions will very soon be brought to a successful and fruitful conclusion.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, I rise with some diffidence at this stage of the debate, but having totted up the number of speakers who have spoken in favour of the Bill it is perhaps time for a voice to be heard briefly expressing a rather different view. May I begin by saying that for reasons of which the noble Lord, Lord Wade, is aware I was unable to be present for the first part of his speech, and to my regret I missed the comments which I understand he was kind enough to make about the Select Committee. This was indeed a fascinating and, as I found it, educative experience.

One of the things I learned on the Select Committee was that the United Kingdom is the only signatory of the European Convention which has neither incorporated the convention into its domestic law nor evolved a charter of fundamental rights as part of a written constitution. I am bound to go on and say that I have never seen this as being conclusive on the question whether we should now legislate. However, when we last discussed these issues there was some doubt about whether a recent and rather complicated judgment of the Strasbourg Court—in the case, as I recall, of Klass and Others—has some bearing on whether there was an obligation upon a signatory to embody the convention into its domestic law.

I am not sure whether those doubts have been resolved. However, on the assumption that this judgment of the Court does not put a firm obligation on us, I am bound to say that notwithstanding the eloquent arguments we have heard today—notably from the Cross-Benches—I remain unrepentant in keeping to the conclusion I reached on the Select Committee. And may I say to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. that I reached in an unemotional way the conclusion that the case for incorporating the convention into our domestic law has not been made out.

Like other speakers, I do not want to go over ground that we have already trodden several times. However, I should like to say that one of the considerations which appeals to me is the question of uncertainty. I am afraid that the explanation today of my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman has not removed all my doubts. The problem, as I see it, is this: the effect of Clause 2 of the Bill would be that principles of wide generality, as set out in the convention, would override our existing legislation which is drafted in a very different way. The problem of assessing the precise effect of the general on the particular, and therefore of knowing exactly what the law was in important areas, would introduce real doubt and uncertainly—doubt and uncertainty which could be removed only slowly, either by fresh legislation or by decisions over the years by judges on the accident of the cases which happened to come before them.

I cannot see any analogy here with the functioning of the justices of the United States Supreme Court, for a variety of reasons, obviously including the fact that there is a written constitution in the USA; nor do I think there is a very good analogy with the function which our judges have always had under the common law. But these are issues which we have discussed several times before, and having stated my own view I do not propose to pursue them any further this evening.

However, the second of the two points I want to make relates to the form of the Bill, if we are to have a Bill at all. If we are, as I think everyone has agreed, the incorporation of the convention with all its defects and absence of areas which it covers, is clearly the right course. I also welcome the new version of Clause 3, for the reasons which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wade, explained earlier today. There is, however, one small problem under that clause which has made me wonder a little and that is the position in relation to consolidation Acts, which appear before this House in a steady stream, passed after the Bill of Rights came into force. These Acts would simply repeat the existing law in a more convenient form and without any changes of substance, but the actual date of enactment would be such that it seems to me that they would then be caught by Clause 3 rather than by Clause 2. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Wade, commented upon this problem when he opened this debate hut, if not, he may like to consider commenting upon it when he comes to wind up.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is absolutely right. A consolidation Bill enacted after the enactment of a Bill of Rights would be caught by Clause 3.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. It is nice to have a judicial ruling so promptly. There are a number of other points, most of them discussed by the Select Committee, which make me wonder whether this short Bill, if it is to go ahead, does go quite far enough. If I may mention them briefly, it seems to me that they are rather more than being cosmetic amendments suitable to be raised only at the Committee stage. The first point is that the Select Committee thought that the convention ought to be set out in full in the Bill, and although I did not hear the explanation given by the noble Lord for his decision not to include the convention in this latest version, I am bound to say that I think it is rather a pity that it is not included. If these provisions are to be of such concern, not only to the courts and to Parliament but to society as a whole, it seems to me that they ought to be readily available on the statute book. Incidentally, I cannot help thinking that if an amendment were tabled at Committee stage to add the convention and all the protocols it would probably be one of the longest amendments ever moved in the history of Parliament—but no matter.

I am also somewhat uneasy about the provisions of Clause I in relation to the protocols which the United Kingdom has not accepted. I am not at all sure that the clause would bite if we withdrew our reservations at some future date. I think there should be a specific power in the Bill to make Orders-in-Council to deal with such eventualities, and perhaps also to deal with future amendments of the convention itself—and we all know that the convention is very much in need of amendment. I think one ought to be able to do this without having to legislate afresh each time. I think there should be a specific power in the Bill for the Government to be able to make a declaration of derogation in time of war or emergency. It is somewhat unrealistic to leave it to the judges to come to a leisurely decision under Article 15 after hearing argument on whether we are in such a state of grave emergency that we ought to derogate from our acceptance of the convention. Perhaps more important, I am inclined to think that the Bill ought to make some provision for remedies and I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman had some sympathy with this view when he met the Select Committee, although I know too that this would take us into pretty deep water.

References to the closed shop remind me that one point for consideration is whether the Bill ought to provide specifically that its provisions can be invoked against non-governmental organisations and private parties: and I think, too, that there is something in the conclusion which the Select Committee came to, that the Bill itself should make provision requiring the courts to have regard to the jurisprudence at Strasbourg, although certainly not making it binding upon them. That is quite a formidable list of points on which this short Bill is silent and if some of them were adopted at later stages the Bill could end up by looking quite different from the document we have been considering today.

One final comment before I sit down, my Lords. Reading again the previous reports and debates on this topic, and without in the slightest wishing to minimise its importance, it still seems to me that there is some risk of attaching too much importance to whether or not we have a Bill of Rights. A society which is contemptuous of the values embodied in legislation of this kind, as we know only too well, looking round the world, is not made virtuous by changing the law. It seems to me that more important are a country's political climate and its traditions and whether there are enough responsible persons and a responsible Press—and perhaps I may end by quoting, I hope accurately, something which is not usually quoted in full— to exercise the eternal vigilance which is the condition upon which God hath given liberty to man".

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, l wonder whether it would be permitted for me, although I have not put my name down on the list of speakers, just to intervene for a few moments: and I promise your Lordships that I shall occupy your time for no longer than that. I had the privilege, with others who have spoken in the debate this afternoon, of being on the Select Committee and, unhappily, I differed from my noble friend Lord Wade upon this issue. On the last occasion when we discussed this matter in this House I did not have the opportunity to make any contribution and I should like briefly to indicate one reason at any rate why I found myself in the position of differing from him.

It is never agreeable to me to find myself differing from my noble friends, and in particular from the noble Lord. Lord Wade, but I fortify myself with the thought that there is no difference between us about the immense importance of this general issue of constitutional reform in this country, and the arguments for and against the setting up of a Bill of Rights. There is no disagreement about that. And similarly there is no disagreement between us about the importance which we attach to the freedom of the individual and to civil rights.

Having said that, I do not want to do anything more this evening—because so much has been said, and very happily said, on both sides of the House upon this issue—than deal with one single issue; that is the issue to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, paid particular attention, and which has been perhaps the most important point of controversy during the course of this debate. It is the question as to whether incorporation of the European Convention into the domestic law of this country would in fact involve and include and import into our whole legal system an unacceptable degree of uncertainty.

If I may say so to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman—and indeed I address anything to him with the greatest possible hesitation because my admiration for the noble and learned Lord over the years has never fallen short of idolatry; it is highly idolatrous, and therefore I hesitate to make any comment upon what he has had to say—I do not think that he has given due justice to the anxieties which not only I and others but many of his judicial colleagues have expressed about the uncertainty which this incorporation might introduce. It is not, I would suggest, a mere theoretical objection to introducing theoretical uncertainty into our legal system. It is much more specific; it is the fear that we will introduce uncertainty as to what are the human rights in this country.

This is the cause of my anxiety, and what I should like to do is to seek to illustrate the reason why I take that view by reference to one particular civil right which is one of the subject matters of the European Convention. It is a commonplace, of course, certainly for lawyers, that in this country the way in which we have defined individual rights in the past has not been by engaging in generalised solemn pronouncements about the virtues of freedom of expression and freedom of speech and the like. The way we have gone about it, for better or for worse, under our constitution, is that we have sought to establish remedies available to the individual if his civil rights are in fact infringed. The way we have defined civil rights in this country is not by engaging in wide pronouncements but rather by providing remedies, so that if somebody's rights are infringed he has a remedy and he has a court to which he can go to obtain that remedy. The great virtue of that, I suggest, is that it means that the citizen can be reasonably certain of, and can reasonably ascertain, what his rights are. The danger that we see in the import of the convention into our law is that it will introduce, and indeed gratuitously introduce, a new element of uncertainty.

May I explain to your Lordships very briefly how I suggest that that arises. Let me take one element in the business of human rights, the law of defamation, the question of freedom of expression. As your Lordships will all know, over the years in this country, through the common law and partly through statutes, we have developed a law on defamation which is at the same time sophisticated and complicated. It involves a lot of rather esoteric concepts such as the concept of absolute privilege, the concept of qualified privilege, the concept of fair comment, and the effect of malice upon the defences of fair comment and qualified privilege and the like. Over the years we have built up this system of law which defines precisely, or as precisely perhaps as one can do in human affairs, what are the limits upon the right of one man to write or say about another. That is the system which we have at the moment.

Supposing, however, that you incorporate the European Convention into our system of law. You will be incorporating among many other things Article 10, which is the one that begins by saying that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. When one turns to the second paragraph of that article one finds these words—I may say in passing that I am going to leave out words which are relevant to matters other than defamation: The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the reputation and rights of others". Now, my Lords, what happens when we incorporate that in our law and we provide, as this Bill does under Clause 2, that: In case of conflict between any enactment prior to the passing of this Act and the provisions of the said Convention and Protocols, shall prevail"? I should like to ask this question: Whenever anybody brings an action for defamation, libel or slander it will be open, will it not, to either party to question whether our domestic law as it has developed up till now has in fact been superseded by the Convention on Human Rights? That point would inevitably arise. It will not be a matter of crackpots bringing the matter up; it will be a matter raised on every occasion. The judge and the court will have to ask themselves whether the law as it existed before the passage of this Bill has in fact been superseded. Then the court or the judge will have to go on to ask whether the law as we have it today is "necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the reputation and rights of others".

My Lords, why should a court, or why should a judge, be invited and required to engage upon a speculation of that kind? It opens the door, of course, to caprice and arbitrariness. One of the most evil features of so-called justice under so many of the totalitarian regimes of this world is that judges decide cases having regard to the interests of the State. Is every judge who sits upon a libel case, or indeed upon an issue which involves privacy or an issue which involves official secrets, always to ask himself, "Is the law that I am administering something which is necessary in a democratic State?" I suggest that that is a judgment that no judge or court ought to be called upon to make and a judgment that should be made by the representatives of the people—by Parliament. It is for Parliament to make that decision.

That is all that I wish to say. Unfortunately I still believe that this measure, as presented before us today, is one that will not be advantageous. However, I should have liked to say to the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, had he been present, that I entirely agree that, if we once start upon a major constitutional reform, then it may well be—as has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, so often on previous occasions—that the case for a written constitution and a Bill of Rights, is made out.

I am sorry for having intervened for longer than I intended. I apologise for standing between your Lordships and the remaining speakers, especially the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, one matter upon which I think we all agree tonight is that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, is to be congratulated on his determination. I am sure that we all admire the way in which he has urged the House consistently and repeatedly to adopt a measure of the kind now again proposed and he does so, as he did in the Select Committee, in such an engaging way.

I was sorry not to be able to be present when your Lordships last debated this subject on 29th November 1978 in the debate on the Report of the Select Committee on a Bill of Rights. I happened to have been attending the last session of the United Nations General Assembly, helping to deal with human rights matters, among others, as a member of the United Kingdom delegation and, if I may say so, trying to emulate the high standard which had been set there over many years by my noble friend Lady Gaitskell. I should like to add how much I enjoyed her speech tonight.

However, I have read the report of the debate of last November and, as a member of the Select Committee, perhaps I could add my warm tribute—belatedly, but this is the first opportunity that I have had—to the outstanding and genial chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and the excellent service we all received from our clerk, Mr. Valiance White, and our specialist adviser Mr. Rippengal. Perhaps also it is not inappropriate to add that we all valued all of the evidence that we received, not least from the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland, chaired by my noble friend Lord Plant, who also made a valuable contribution in his speech tonight.

There is another matter which was touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and on which I hope that we are all agreed—namely, that none of us, whether we are in favour of the Bill or against it, has a monopoly of enthusiasm for promoting human rights and no one on the one side will say of anyone on the other side that he is wanting when it comes to furthering those aims. Indeed, it might be worth recalling a significant paragraph in the Select Committee's report, where it states in paragraph 6 at page 20: The Committee feel it is of great importance to emphasise that, although some of the members favour incorporation of the Convention into United Kingdom law and some oppose it, there was unanimity of view on the need to protect and advance human rights and unanimous recognition that both sides were wholly committed to the promotion of human rights". I emphasise that, because, although it is most unlikely to happen here in your Lordships' House, it might be all too easy for some people outside to claim that those of us who do not support the Bill, do not care enough about human rights. I am also sure that, when the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, in his interesting speech tonight referred to my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones and my noble friend Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, and rather suggested that perhaps they were casting cold water upon the whole idea of the convention, he was not charging them with anything of the kind. Indeed, as he knows, my noble friend, Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, was a member of the committee and we all shared with the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, a passionate feeling in favour of human rights and so too with my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones. Indeed, as regards my noble and learned friend, I cannot think of anyone who has shown a more enthusiastic, long-standing and passionate support throughout his life for the cause of human rights. Having said that, I share the enthusiasm for human rights which was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and by my noble friend Lady Gaitskell.

As our debates in your Lordship's House have revealed, there are differing views within all the main parties, in your Lordships' House and indeed on the Cross-Benches as well. Therefore, I certainly cannot speak for everyone on my side of the House, let alone anywhere else. I was among those members of the Select Committee who voted against incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into our law. I should like to mention two or three of the main reasons for taking that view. Although some of those have been referred to in our debates in your Lordships' House in the past, I am encouraged to take this course by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, because it' after some 30 years of the convention he can say that there are very many people—indeed an overwhelmingly majority—who do not know anything about that convention, I venture to fear that there may well be a similar number of people who still have not taken in the arguments against, or indeed it may well be for, the Bill of Rights of the noble Lord, Lord Wade. and the arguments about the incorporation of this convention. Of course, this is, in fact, the first opportunity that I have had to give my own view to your Lordships' House.

One of the most fundamental objections to incorporation is that it would—as the committee's report observed in stating the arguments against incorporation of the convention—graft on to the existing law an Act of Parliament in a form totally at variance with any existing legislation, and in a way which would be incompatible with such legislation. Among those who have referred to this problem is my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones.

It has long been accepted in our constitution that Parliament legislates in a specific form and that the role of the courts is to interpret that legislation. If we took the course proposed and incorporated the convention, we would be opening up a wide variety of legislative policies in a very general way and handing them over to the judiciary for detailed development—not just interpretation, but detailed development—on such subjects as race relations; freedom of speech; freedom of the Press; privacy; education; forms of punishment and so on. Yet, those are all matters which, under our constitution, have been the province of the legislature.

I share the view of those who say that, under a Bill of Rights, it would not be the case that the role of the courts would be no more than the type of role they have always had at common law. For at common law the development of legal principles has been a slow process—and that is something which has been referred to in the course of our debate tonight—evolving, as has been emphasised, from case to case. But, under the Bill, they would start off with a set of broad principles and would then have a free hand to decide how to apply those principles to the individual cases coming before them.

In your Lordships debate last November the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, whose wise council and geniality we miss very deeply on so many matters in your Lordships' House, put the matter in the following way at column 1373 of the Official Report: Before we put a measure on the statute book must we not he quite certain that there is a need and that a need has been proved to legislate in the proposed terms? Very often legislation comes about as a result of some strong demands, often vigorously expressed. We have not, I think, experienced such processes. However, my opposition to the suggested legislation does not rest on my view that no substantial advantage has been shown to result from the passing of the Bill, but rather on my view that there would be positive and serious disadvantages. The legislation would be in a form quite different from the accepted style of legislation in this country. It would always be possible to change our scheme of things; it would always be possible to legislate and to lay down some precept or good intention and then to say, ' Now we leave it to the judges to work it out '. I should be wholly opposed to any such system. In my view, it would be quite undesirable for Parliament partly to legislate and then to hand over the matter to the judges and require them to legislate as to the remainder. I am quite sure that Her Majesty's judges will do whatever they are asked to do by Parliament. But I am also sure that they would not ask to have powers put upon them to make decisions which really are decisions as to the content of legislation". So the noble and learned Lord endorsed that major argument against incorporation.

As was pointed out in the committee's report, Parliament has repeatedly demonstrated that it is ready to move into new areas of law-making, where the need has been shown to meet fresh social problems. It is far better for Parliament to enact detailed legislation, as it has, on such matters as sex discrimination and race relations, than to leave it to the unelected judges, who are not there in any representative capacity, to develop policies and work out how they should be applied. Indeed, as we all know, a legislative role is given to some of Her Majesty's judges here in this very House, where part of their very function is to play a full and immensely valuable part in the statute law-making process. However, in my submission it is here that they are meant to fill this particular role, not elsewhere.

Another matter of great concern which has been referred to by a number of noble Lords who opposed the Bill tonight—including the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, my noble friend Lord Lloyd of Hampstead and the noble Lord, Lord Foot—is the uncertainty in the law which we foresee arising. Surely we would all agree that, so far as possible, the law should be clear and certain. After all, that is one of our principal roles as legislators. But if the European Convention were made part of our domestic law—a convention which is couched in broad terms proclaiming wide generalisations open to a variety of interpretations—it would introduce a vast area of uncertainty into our law. I agree with those who draw the conclusion that it would become much more difficult for individual people as well as companies and other bodies to get confident advice about their rights and obligations, their powers and their liabilities. As the Select Committee's report put it when noting this objection: The uncertainty thus brought into our law would itself afford opportunity for exploiting endless challenges in the courts or before any tribunal to the validity of the existing laws. No one would know where he stood until each question had been tested afresh, and the least that can be said is that there is the prospect of a very great extension of litigation in the courts". To put it in less elegant language, it would indeed he lucrative for lawyers; a soft option for soliticors; indeed a bonanza for the Bar. Therefore, not for the first time in your Lordships' House I find myself, as a lawyer, advocating policies against more income and work for my profession. It is fair to say that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in his fascinating survey conceded that there would, indeed, be more litigation arising.

It is also noteworthy that the Law Society came out strongly against the Bill in its evidence to the Select Committee and in a note by its Law Reform Committee published after the Select Committee's report. Among the Law Society's strongest objections to incorporating the Convention, it mentioned the problem of the uncertainties that it said would arise in our law. Of course, other arguments against the Bill have also been raised; some are noted in the report and some have been mentioned tonight by noble Lords.

I return to the main fundamental objections of those of us who oppose the Bill and the questions that those objections raise. This is not to venture into the nevertheless interesting constitutional implications that arise out of a survey of this whole matter, which, for example, have been mentioned tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley. However, the questions that do arise are, for example: Who should be responsible for reforming and developing our laws? Whose responsibility is it to legislate? In whom should power reside? Whose task should it be to intervene in new areas of law reform and who should formulate and introduce new, detailed measures? Should it be Parliament, with its representative democratic elements, or should it be the non-elected judges?

I believe that part at least of this argument is about power, where power resides and should reside in our democracy and under our constitution. I am sorry to differ on this point from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, whose evidence on this to the Select Committee we all very much enjoyed. We are considering here matters of the highest constitutional significance.

When the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—for, if I may say so with respect, whose views on legal matters I have the highest regard and, therefore, it pains me to differ from him on a matter of this kind—spoke in the debate in your Lordships' House last November he raised a number of objections to opposition to the Bill. I was not there, in fact, to hear them, but in part the noble and learned Lord said that those who were against the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, were saying that our own judges are too stupid or too biased to do what we have deliberately put into the hands of the judges abroad as justiciable. As I say, I was not present to hear the noble and learned Lord make his speech and I, therefore, do not know what was the expression on his face when he delivered those words or whether, partly at any rate, he delivered them with tongue in check. But I should like to assure the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that that is certainly no part of my argument and I believe it to be no part of the argument of those who are opposed to this Bill.

Our judges are able people, perfectly capable of doing whatever Parliament asks them to do, as Lord Morris said last year. But in my submission it is a question of what Parliament should empower them to do, not a question of what they are capable of doing. The judges are powerful, and rightly so. Their power derives from the statutory authority that Parliament gives, from the common law and, on a more personal basis, from their own qualifications and intellectual qualities. It is true that the power they possess through the common law is considerable. To develop the law through interpretation and the gradual process of reform has, indeed, brought immense benefits over the centuries. This power has come down to them over the centuries.

In my submission, it is one thing to draw benefits from those gradual developments, which have taken place over the centuries, but it is quite another suddenly to give that gradual common law process of interpretation and development a significant, if not vast, new role and purpose—in fact, one might almost say a new statutory basis for the common law itself. It is a change quite unlike any change it has undergone before. Those who are against this Bill are certainly not saying, "Don't let us reform the law". On the contrary, we are saying, "Let us continue to urge Parliament to bring in the necessary reforms".

In my submission the objections are not least that the uncertainties people would face in seeking legal advice would be too high a price to pay for the flexibility claimed by supporters of the Bill, and answer the claim that the individual citizen could not on any footing be worse off with a Bill of Rights. I am afraid that I cannot support this Bill, but I would just add that in view of the importance of the subject matter that it raises, neither I nor my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones would feel able to urge your Lordships to resist a Second Reading of this measure.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, I deliberately did not come into this Chamber with a prepared speech. I hope that my judgment in not doing so will be justified in the event, but one is always running a risk when one takes this course. Clearly I have a delicate task to perform. On the one hand I have to declare the attitude of the Government, as I understand it to be, as a member of that Government without disloyalty in any way to my colleagues. Secondly, I do so in the knowledge that I have gone on record, I should think not less than a dozen times, in favour of Lord Wade's Bill in one of its variant forms. I have spoken in favour of it in this Chamber at least three times. I gave evidence to the Select Committee once under the chairmanship of Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and I also gave evidence to the Northern Irish one under the chairmanship of Lord Plant. If anybody thinks that I am going to unsay a word of what I said on those various occasions when I was free to speak without constraint, I can only say he has misjudged me seriously. I am not going to unsay a word of it.

I must say first of all on behalf of the Government that this Bill is one in which there shall be at every stage, so far as I can judge, a free vote. That is to say, I am free to vote for it and I should if there was a Division—I rather gather that there will not be—and so is every other member of the Government, free to vote against it if that is what they feel. It is a genuinely free vote. Secondly, I must say—and I hope that this will not be too disappointing to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, because I gave him fair warning that he was likely to get at any rate this douche of cold water—that having made what inquiries I could about the state of business below the corridor, I cannot see the smallest chance of an icicle in June of the thing getting on to the statute book this Session. Especially as although there are no party politics in this in one sense, my belief is that the Liberal Party, in spite of the noble Lord, Lord Foot. is 99.9 per cent. in favour, the Conservative Party I would think is about 70 per cent. in favour, and the Labour Party is probably about 70 per cent. against. The opportunities for the consumption of parliamentary time during this Session that this would present are, I think, an insuperable obstacle against the chances of its seeing the Royal Assent this Session.

The third thing that I say, and I say it as a member of the Government, is that if noble Lords refer to the Conservative Party Manifesto at the last general election, they will see that we proposed constitutional talks. I was going to write to my colleagues in the Government and to either the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, or the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, whichever they prefer, and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Wade. to try to find out what are the prospects of party talks on this subject of incorporation. We are ready to hold them. I am personally anxious to hold them, but I do not want to swim in treacle for about six months and then find that we get nowhere. So I want a candid answer—not now, but in answer to a letter which I shall try to compose—to the question of exactly where the constitutional talks that we said we were ready to have would get if we were to invite people to them, and of the form in which anyone thinks that useful talks can be held. I should like to see something like this on the statute book, and I know very well that I am not going to get it on the statute book simply on the basis of a main Government programme Bill opposed by the Labour Party. It is not realistic and it is no good pretending that I think it is.

That brings me to the actual merits, or demerits according to which way you look at it, of the Bill itself, and of the arguments which have been deployed. When I was appointed Lord Chancellor this time my noble friend Lord Boyle of Handsworth—I hope he will not mind me, without leave, quoting his verdict of me—said that I had got an extraordinarily long experience. Indeed, I am the only surviving member of Mr. Churchill's coalition during the war who is still in active operation. So I have a very long experience. He said that I had a longer experience than anybody except Mr. Churchill himself.

I am left, I must tell the House, with a growing sense of despair and exasperation at the appalling conservatism of the legal profession of which I am a proud member. It is no coincidence at all that those who have opposed this Bill—whether it is the noble Lord, Lord Foot, or the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, or the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elywn-Jones, or the Law Society, or all the rest of them—have all been professional lawyers, and they have all said, "Well, it will give a legal bonanza. There is so much uncertainty. It is a new pattern of legislation, and we really cannot face learning a lot of new law".

The other thing which has exasperated me in a long life has been the appalling inertia of this political machine, of which we are all part, in anything which is in the nature of structural change. It has been with a growing sense of despair that I have seen the gradual grinding to a halt of what I believe to be the effective working parts of our constitution. I have said that in opposition and I should be less than true to myself if I did not say it now individually as a member of the Government.

To listen, for instance, to the noble Lord, Lord Foot, or to listen, for instance, to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, about the role of the judiciary—and I am coining back to that again and again in the few remarks I want to make—one really would think that one would not have realised to the full that by signing this convention we have handed over to foreign judges the very role which they say we cannot hand over to our own. That is what I meant. I did not have my tongue in my cheek when I said those words. It annoyed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, when he was sitting there more than I can say because he thought I was insulting him. But the fact is that I really meant that if you sign a convention in these terms the time to object, to put this sort of argument forward, was when we were handing over these very problems to foreign judges.

When the noble Lord, Lord Foot, says, "What about the law of defamation?" he is making a perfectly valid point. It raises difficult questions. But it will raise them sooner or later in Strasbourg, because the foreign judges will have to sort it all out then and say whether our law of defamation is compatible with the European Convention, just as they had the other day to sort out the question whether our law of contempt was against the European Convention.

This is where I take up what was said in an extremely eloquent speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman: by denying our judges a right to play a part in this debate they are adding to the uncertainty, they are compounding the uncertainty, because the court in Strasbourg—and I have just visited it myself, just as Lord Elwyn-Jones did at my invitation; I thought it right that on rather different occasions we should go there—is far from perfect. It would do a great deal to that Court if there was a jurisprudence in this country fitting the law of defamation—fitting the various bits of the common law and statute law which we have inherited from our forefathers—into the European Convention, as we are bound to do.

If we listened only to the speeches against the Bill today, I think we should be surprised to recall that in every case (not in some or the majority but in every case) when we have given independence to a former colony we have not only given to the judges of that colony the right to decide the very subjects in the very way in which we are told we should be doing—I quote from memory, "lasting and irreparable harm", as the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, put it, to our own constitution if we gave it to our own judges—not only have we given those very powers to the judges of every colony to whom we have given independence since 1945, but we have actually entrenched it in a written constitution so that they cannot be repealed.

It is in this context that I feel like Alice Through the Looking Glass listening to my legal friends deriding the possibility that we might incorporate these things into our law when we have solemnly, and as a great benefit, conferred on them and given in every independent colony just that role to the judges. I say to Lord Elwyn-Jones, to whom I always defer with very great respect and love: I wholly disagree with him, and I disagree with the lawyers, when they say, "The judges have one role, Parliament has another, and one is better than the other and one must stand above the other". No one doubts that Parliament is sovereign—that is what this Bill is about—but if you ask whether judge-made law is better than or inferior to parliamentary law, I would answer that they ought to work, as they have worked for 350 years at least, in concert with one another, the one supplementing the other; each has its virtue and each has its disadvantage.

Sometimes when I read the judgments of, say, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, I only wish that before he formed such radical conclusions he had the kind of evidence from numerous parties that is possessed by a Select Committee or Royal Commission. Sometimes in reading the particularity of the parliamentary draftsmen, whose esoteric art is accepted almost without question in both Houses of Parliament, I wish that they had sometimes tried to sit in judgment in a case in which their own work was being scrutinised after the event and see how many gaps they had left in it.

That brings me back to the argument on the Bill and to what Lord Scarman said. If you sat, as I have been sitting now for the best part of 10 years on and off, on the Appellate Committee of this House, you would notice that nine cases out of 10 are concerned solely with the question of what on earth Parliament meant by certain unintelligible words. delivered a judgment in this House this very morning in which this question, fortunately with the concurrence of four colleagues, was debated, but it is not always that such debates arrive at unanimity. Oh dear no! In a judgment which we are going to deliver, I hope some time in the next two weeks, there is a long history of litigation about the same words going back to 1963 in which the House of Lords divided 2–2 on one occasion, with the casting vote cast on a different point—so that the case actually had an end result—and certainly two of them had got it wrong.

We are being told—and the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, says with great pride that this is an entirely new pattern of legislation which we are imposing on our poor judges—to try to apply general principles to a concrete set of facts. I beg him to believe that I regard that as a virtue. I really believe there would be less uncertainty if the rules of construction—and I am talking now only about the Bill of Rights but about the whole pattern of appellate litigation in this country—which the courts after centuries have found themselves constrained to apply to statute under our present system—could be properly tidied up.

I believe it is only because the subject is so obscure and so little understood by anybody outside the profession that the thing is not a crying scandal. The thing is a shambles. I could give dozens of examples where different courts, differently composed, have been applying different sets of rules. Do you look at the mischief of the Act or how far are you bound by the actual literal grammatical interpretation? Sometimes you will find one judge apparently applying a different set of rules in one case from what he has done in another. And if you go to the magistrates' courts and the county courts of this Realm and see what is actually going on—if you try to read one of the text books like Maxwell on the Interpretation of Statututes—you will realise that there is growing uncertainty. Do you look at blue books? Can you consider the report of a commission? Nobody really knows the answer; some judges do one and some judges do the other. And I noticed a very remarkable judgment of the Master of the Rolls reported in this week's All England Reports in which he said, and I quote almost verbatim, We cannot look at Hansard to see what these words mean, but you can", and he gave the reference as House of Commons Hansard, column so-and-so and such-and-such a date, and added for good measure, It was carried by a very small majority". I should like to see the interpretation of statutes put on a more solid basis. It is a very difficult and thorny subject, but the Law Commission made a report in 1969 which I think deserves rather careful consideration. I know that there are great difficulties and I am not going to commit either the Government or myself to it, but all that this little Bill is—and I accept Lord Seaman's description of it as a modest little Bill—is a rule for the interpretation of statutes. If a certain section of the Law Commission's Report in 1969 had been accepted, it would be totally unnecessary, because that Section said, almost in the words of Lord Wade's Bill—although it did not refer specifically to the European Convention—that, in construing statutes, the courts ought to pay attention to the international obligations which Her Majesty's Government had undertaken and ratified.

At the end of the day I cannot give the smallest hope that the Bill will become law—not this Session anyway. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wade, to weigh very carefully what I might call the series of committee points made by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. I do not want to rule or pontificate upon them, but I thought that most of them had some substance, and if ever we do incorporate the European Convention into our municipal law we shall have to pay very great attention to the kind of questions which the noble Lord, Lord Allen, was raising. They cannot just quietly be brushed aside. The parliamentary draftsmen, the Departments of State, will have to come to some conclusion upon them.

It is for the noble Lord, Lord Wade, to make up his mind in the end what he wants to do with the Bill. I shall vote for it on Second Reading—except that I do not think that a vote will be taken—and I shall give it as fair a wind as I can. But there must come a point—I do not know when it will be—when the noble Lord, Lord Wade, must ask himself whether he wants to go through the entire process of Committee, Report, Third Reading, and "the Bill do now pass", and so send it down to the House of Commons where it will undoubtedly founder if it goes down this Session, or whether he would prefer to adopt the other line of country adopted by, for instance, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in connection with his Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill.

I do not want in the least to unsay a word that I said in favour of the Bill. Everything that I would have liked to say at greater length was said better by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, or by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, or by my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley, with whom I agreed in tato, except that I did not agree with what he said about proportional representation. Having said that, I hope that I have told the House what the Government's attitude is, without any loss of personal integrity.

7.43 p.m.


My Lords, I should like very sincerely to thank all those who have taken part. It has been a very important debate, and the subject matter has been as distinguished as those who have taken part. I have made copious notes with the intention of making appropriate comments on each speech, but there comes a time when one has to assess what it is wise to do. I feel that the House will forgive me if I do not make those appropriate remarks and utter words of thanks in regard to the speeches that have been made. I am awfully tempted to start thanking the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, for his first point, with which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor disagrees. I am most tempted to encourage the noble Lord, Lord Carr; but I will not do that.

I must make some observations in reply to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at the end of the debate. Of course I am aware of the situation; of course I have to consider very carefully what is the proper thing to do. After hearing the speeches of, just for example, the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, I could not possibly not attempt to get the Bill through the House of Lords. It is not only because of the Members of this House. I do not want to be presumptuous, but a number of bodies are anxious to know what we decide. They want to know what kind of Bill we have produced. After all, we have been discussing this for several years. We have had a Select Committee; we have sat for over a year. If those of us who agree with the Bill cannot get through a Committee stage and produce a Bill, I am afraid that it will not—I hope I am not disrespectful—help the prestige of this House. There are points to be raised on Committee, and I would agree that some of these points require amendment.

I think the only difference I detected among supporters of the Bill is the question of whether the whole of the convention should be incorporated, or only those parts that set out the rights and liberties. That I see as a fine point of argument, and I hope that it would not take up a lot of time. I would do my utmost to ensure that the Committee stage was carried through as expeditiously as possible. I do not think that it should involve an inordinate amount of time for the reason that the main difference is whether there should be a Bill or not. Quite clearly those who say "not" are going to flood us with amendments. I think that the points will be serious ones on the question of whether the Bill is worded in the most appropriate way so that we can get it through this House.

As to what happens after that, I am not in a position to say. My jurisdiction does not extend to another place. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has given some indication that the prospects are not exceedingly bright in this Session. But it is certainly my duty to do my best—I have an obligation to my colleagues who are supporting me—to try to get the Bill, in the best form possible, through this House, and I hope that we shall succeed.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.