HL Deb 05 June 1980 vol 409 cc1592-5

3.21 p.m.

Viscount DE L'ISLE

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have received the report of the European Commission of Human Rights on the complaints of the closed shop by Messrs. Young, James and Webster against the United Kingdom, adopted on 14th December 1979, and whether they have decided upon the course of action which they will pursue before the European Court of Human Rights to which the Commission has referred its report and before which they will now be summoned to defend their violation of Article 11(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms reported by the Commission.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have received the report which the commission has referred to the court. A chamber of the court has been constituted but no date for a hearing has been set and Her Majesty's Government have yet to be asked by the court for their submission on the case. When they are so asked they will consider, in consultation with their professional advisers, what submissions it might be appropriate to make.

Viscount De L'ISLE

My Lords, while thanking the noble and learned Lord for that economical Answer, may I ask whether he realises that as the Employment Bill will be again before the House next week, it is very important that the Government on this important matter, which affects the human rights of three railwaymen whose complaints have been found substainable by the commission, should be in a position to tell their attitude to human rights in general and to the commission's report in particular?


My Lords, I am happy to assure my noble and gallant friend that, if the Employment Bill had been the law at the time when the complaint arose, there would have been no complaint because the Employment Bill as at present drafted completely covers the point. I would also remind him, in the presence of the noble and learned Lord concerned, that when the 1976 legislation was going through I warned him there would be trouble with the commission, but he somewhat pooh-poohed the suggestion. I now have the luxury of knowing that at least a majority of the commission agreed with me and not with the noble and learned Lord, but I have not yet the glee, to borrow a phrase of his from the other day, of knowing whether or not the court will take the same view.


My Lords, as I have not had the pleasure of reading the report of the commission, which the noble and learned Lord has had, I cannot comment on its wisdom or folly. I wait with impatience to read it myself.


My Lords, no doubt the noble and learned Lord will also await with equal impatience what the decision of the court will be.

Viscount DE L'ISLE

My Lords, further to those supplementary questions, may I ask the Lord Chancellor whether he is continuing to ride two divergent horses, the horse which was contended at Strasbourg by the Solicitor-General and the horse that the complaints will be remedied? Is he aware that he cannot have it both ways?


No, my Lords, I was answering a perfectly respectable question, if he will allow me to say so, from my noble and learned friend. The Solicitor-General on 9th July 1979 made it very plain to the commission that the view of Her Majesty's Government in regard to the merits of the case differed significantly from that of the previous Administration. In fact, the commission divided and the majority took the view which I tended to take on the previous occasion. But there was a minority and, as the noble and learned Lord will be relieved to know, there is no divergence here; the duty of a Government who are impleaded before a court of justice, whether in this country or in Strasbourg, is to assist the court, if only as an amicus curiae.


My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that the new Bill was submitted to the commissioners in December and that they, I understand, have found against both the previous Labour Bill and the new Bill in that it contravenes human rights? Is he further aware that 23 cases have been submitted by the commissioners for judgment and in no case have their recommendations been upset? As this Government always look forward, would it not be right to anticipate that the legal judgment may follow precedent in this connection, and ought we not, before we go any further in the consideration of this very important Employment Bill, to have a statement from the Government about what they will do if they are found to be offside under the present legislation we are considering?


My Lords, if my noble friend will study the report he will find he is not right in the first of the observations he made, but I do not have the report before me and cannot quote from it. As regards the statement, we shall of course comply with the Convention on Human Rights, but I do not think there is any prospect of our present proposals being held to be contrary to the Convention on Human Rights. If it is, then of course we shall comply with the convention.


My Lords, does it follow that a decision reached by a European Commission, whether on human rights or on some other subject, is always acceptable to the countries of the Nine? If so, how does the noble and learned Lord account for the French defiance of a particular European Commission in another context?


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is confusing the Strasbourg Court with the Luxembourg Court.


My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord be wholly astonished to hear that there is some legal support for the view that the proposed Clause 6 on the closed shop, which involves some kind of inquisitorial process—it has been described as an examination of the heart and mind of the individual—is wholly inconsistent with the commitment into which the Government have entered, in the words of the convention, to safeguard the individual's freedom of thought, of conscience and of religion"?


My Lords, I am afraid I was dealing with the question of my noble and gallant friend which referred to a particular complaint in a particular report of the commission. I therefore do not think that point arises. But if the noble Lord from the Cross Benches wishes to put down a Question, I will answer it. I do not like giving instant answers on legal points.

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