HL Deb 05 February 1997 vol 577 cc1725-58

6.25 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

In October 1950, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Jowitt, sent a memorandum to his Cabinet colleagues in the Attlee Government about the European Convention on Human Rights explaining why he regarded ratification of the convention as a regrettable political necessity. The Lord Chancellor concluded his memorandum by pointing out that the Government: shall have to bring in legislation applying the conditions of the Convention to our domestic law". But for half a century, despite repeated attempts in this House and another place, what Lord Jowitt regarded as necessary has not happened.

The main object of the present Bill is to give effect in our domestic law to the rights, freedoms and duties set out in the convention and its first protocol, which are already binding in international law upon the United Kingdom—upon our Parliament, executive, judiciary and other public authorities.

The main reason for incorporating the convention into UK law is to ensure that there are speedy and effective remedies in our own courts for breaches of the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the convention—rights and freedoms which are the birthright of the people of this country and which are universal in the sense that they are inherent in our common humanity.

The incorporation of the convention and the enactment of a modern Bill of Rights have been part of Liberal and Liberal Democrat policy for decades. Indeed, it was in July 1969 that my noble friend Lord Hooson introduced in another place a Bill of Rights Bill drafted by my friend, Mr. John-Macdonald QC.

The history of the campaign over almost three decades is fully described by Professor Michael Zander in the recently published fourth edition of his very useful book, A Bill of Rights?. I am very sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, is unable to be present this evening, for he has given such dedicated and inspiring leadership on the need for effective constitutional protection of the basic human rights and freedoms guaranteed by the convention. I also deeply regret that the untimely death of Lord Rippon of Hexham has deprived the House of a wise and long-standing supporter of this measure and of other long-overdue measures of constitutional reform.

It is two years since my previous Human Rights Bill was given a Second Reading, on 25th January 1995. I gave a very full account in my speech on that occasion of the relevant history and background, which I shall not now repeat. The Bill was given an unopposed Second Reading, as is the custom of this House. But such was the strength and depth of the Government's hostility to the measure that, when a wrecking amendment was moved at Report stage, three Ministers voted for the wrecking amendment.

It was, and remains, curious that a Government so conspicuously lacking in enthusiasm for either European court, should be so implacably hostile to any attempt to empower British courts to give direct effect to a convention drafted by British lawyers on the basis of traditional common law concepts. It is an irony of political history that that should be so, for Winston Churchill and David Maxwell Fyfe, later the Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir, were in the vanguard in the making of the convention. One might have supposed that a Conservative government concerned about the incoming tide of European law would be eager for our own judges to be able to give effective domestic remedies for the misuse of state power, rather than to compel British citizens to have recourse unnecessarily to European judges in Strasbourg for want of effective remedies in our own courts. One would have thought that the Government would want British judges to have a strong influence on the developing case law of the Strasbourg Court.

But successive Conservative governments over the past 18 years have refused to introduce a citizen's charter of constitutional rights and freedoms, and unfortunately I have no reason to suppose that the Minister will be any more sympathetic to my new Bill than the Government were to the many previous attempts by noble Lords of Conservative and other political persuasions in this House, including, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne.

However, I dare to hope that a new government soon to be elected, with the right honourable Tony Blair as Prime Minister, will speedily introduce, and that the next Parliament will speedily enact, a measure to make the convention a part of our fundamental law, as an important first step towards the making of a modern British Bill of Rights. I am delighted to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, in his place and I look forward to hearing what he will say about that from the Labour Front Bench.

This debate gives the House an opportunity—almost on the eve of a general election crucially important to those of us in the Opposition parties who seek to renew our democratic system of government—to discuss for the first time a measure modelled on the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Previous versions, both mine and others, have been modelled more upon the European Communities Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights. I have chosen the New Zealand model because of the powerfully persuasive advice given during the debates two years ago, notably from the Cross-Benches, by some of our most senior and eminent judges. I believe the present version to have the best prospect of winning widespread cross-party, Cross-Bench and senior judicial approval, without challenging the English doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty and without significantly diluting the practical value of incorporation.

Responsibility for the content of the Bill is mine alone, but I should like to express my gratitude to Sir Kenneth Keith, former chairman of the New Zealand Law Reform Commission and a member of the New Zealand Court of Appeal, who played a crucial role in the making of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and who has given me the benefit of his knowledge and experience in some respects in improving upon the Bill that was enacted in New Zealand.

Unlike the previous version, the present Bill does not require or empower the courts to strike down provisions of Acts of Parliament which are plainly in conflict with the human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the convention. Instead, Clause 1(4), like Section 6 of the New Zealand Act, provides that, whenever an enactment can be given a meaning that is consistent with convention rights, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning.

I have taken another leaf out of the New Zealand statute book. Clause 3 requires Ministers, when introducing Bills into Parliament, to explain why a provision is, or appears to be, inconsistent with convention rights. This will enable Parliament to be properly informed so that it can act effectively as constitutional watchdog in enacting and scrutinising primary legislation. It will also mean that, in the absence of a Minister's notification, the courts will be able safely to assume that Parliament did not intend to repeal or amend convention rights by implication. In other words, by this device both Parliament and the judiciary will be much better informed and individual rights and freedoms will be protected against any implied repeal. In practice it will achieve what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor of Gosforth, suggested during the Second Reading debate two years ago—namely, that Parliament could expressly but not impliedly override the provisions of the convention if an exceptional need arose.

I can think of few cases, during the past 30 years since the United Kingdom accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in individual cases, in which a breach of the convention has been found to have occurred because of a patently inconsistent provision in an Act of Parliament. Breaches have usually arisen either from the exercise of administrative discretion under broad statutory powers—for example, in preventing prisoners from corresponding with Members of Parliament—or from the manner in which the courts develop the common law—for example, by giving too little weight to freedom of speech in the Thalidomide or Harman or, if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, will forgive me, the Spycatcher cases.

I would hope and expect that the circumstances in which a government wished to introduce primary legislation inconsistent with convention rights would be rare, and that the requirement of having to make the position clear to Parliament would deter Ministers from doing so. However, as I have explained, the Bill does not attempt to fetter the rights of a future Parliament to legislate inconsistently with the convention, provided that the Government's intentions have been expressly made clear. In such exceptional cases—and only in such exceptional cases—the remedy for a breach of the convention by Parliament would, as at present, be by recourse to the European Court of Human Rights.

That means that European Convention law would to that extent have a weaker status in UK domestic law than does directly effective European Community law. I will be criticised by purists for having sold the past in that respect. I accept that that is not strictly logical as a matter of principle, especially as there are already cases in which our courts may be required by the European Communities Act 1972 to set aside provisions in Acts of Parliament which are inconsistent with Community law read with convention law. However, I do not believe that the effective legal protection given by the Bill will be seriously eroded by this pragmatic concession to political expediency.

If the courts were to interpret the present measure loosely, or if Parliament were habitually to enact legislation with the express intention of breaching convention rights, it would be necessary to legislate more strongly, so as to place our courts in the same position as courts in other Commonwealth countries when interpreting their written constitutional guarantees of human rights. However, I have confidence in the willingness and ability of our judiciary to make legislation of this kind effective. I pay tribute to the enlightened way in which the judiciary have done their best, in the absence of incorporating legislation, to give full faith and credit to the convention when interpreting and applying our written and unwritten laws. I would hope that Ministers, of whatever political colour, would feel greatly inhibited from having to certify to Parliament that proposed legislation would violate the minimum standards of the European human rights code.

Clause 1(2) of the Bill requires the courts to interpret the common law in accordance with convention rights. They already do so, most notably perhaps in the Derbyshire County Council case, where the Court of Appeal held that it would unnecessarily interfere with the right to free expression if government bodies were permitted to sue for libel on their governing reputation without proof of bad faith or special damage. The House of Lords went further, holding that the common law matched the guarantee of free expression in Article 10 of the convention.

The Bill will enable everyone to rely upon convention rights through the ordinary courts and tribunals. Clause 1(3) makes clear that it will apply to acts done by or for Ministers and to any person or body performing a public function, as distinct from persons acting in a private capacity.

Unlike my previous version, the Bill does not seek to create a general right to damages for breach of statutory duty. Clause 2 gives the courts the power to fashion remedies flexibly according to the justice of the case, including, where appropriate, the remedy of compensation.

Where a breach of the convention involves tortious conduct, the courts will be able to award common law damages. There will be cases where public officers and bodies, acting under cover of law, will breach the convention in circumstances amounting to a government tort, an extension of the existing tort of misfeasance in public office. Suppose, for example, that the police were to misuse statutory powers to carry out electronic surveillance of a newspaper or its lawyers' offices in connection with possible breaches of official secrecy or criminal contempt laws by the newspaper or a disloyal "whistle-blower" civil servant. If such an abuse of power were to occur, for example, in circumstances which were for an improper purpose or where, knowingly, in breach of the convention right to respect for personal privacy, or of the right to free expression, then the courts would be able to award damages.

Derogations from the convention in time of war or public emergency will be required by Clause 5 to be clearly framed and expressly authorised by Parliament.

Clause 5 also enables the Secretary of State to amend Schedule 1 to include provisions of other convention protocols which may be ratified. There are several additional protocols which have been ratified by many other major member countries of the Council of Europe but which the present Government have refused to ratify. If I may say so, I have better hopes of a future government.

One very important matter is excluded from the Bill because of its nature as a Private Member's Bill; namely, provision to secure effective access to justice. Once the convention is incorporated into UK law, anyone complaining of a breach of the convention will be required to exhaust all available domestic remedies all the way to the Appellate Committee of this House. I believe it is essential that there should be adequate and well targeted provision for legal advice and assistance in such cases. That would help citizens advice bureaux, local law centres and specialised public interest groups to bring test cases. I would hope and expect that a government Bill, as distinct from a Private Member's Bill, to incorporate the convention would create a human rights commissioner or commission to provide such advice and assistance and be able itself to bring proceedings, whether by judicial review or by representative proceedings on behalf of a number of people with a sufficient legal interest. That already happens with the two equal opportunities commissions and the Commission for Racial Equality. Quite small sums are spent in that way under their budgets, never in my experience more than a couple of hundred thousand pounds a year, for example, in the case of the EOC for Great Britain.

Indeed, I would hope and expect the next government to give effect to the very important recommendation made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in the final report Access to Justice, that, where proceedings are brought in the public interest, the courts should have a discretion not only to order that each side should bear its own costs but that the taxed costs of the applicant should be paid out of public funds. If that strikes someone as novel, a similar proposal was made by Lord Evershed's committee in 1953 (Command Paper 8878).

I submit that almost half a century after the United Kingdom became the first country to ratify the convention and 30 years after the United Kingdom accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, the time is over-ripe to domesticate what are or should be British civil rights and liberties and to bring them home to British courts in a way that ensures effective access to justice. I beg to move.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, before the Question is put to the House, it would be appropriate for me to signify the Queen's consent. I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Human Rights Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest so far as they are affected by the Bill at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—{Lord Lester of Herne Hill.)

6.42 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, although I may not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, I should like to pay tribute to the assiduous way in which he has pursued this issue and his remorseless peppering of the Order Paper with Questions all building up his case. I feel that he was let down last year in the other place when your Lordships passed the Bill down the Corridor. I inquired from the Clerks what had happened to it and I received a letter saying: In reply to your query about the Human Rights Bill of last Session, I can confirm that the Bill was brought before the Lords to the Commons on 2 May and was taken up by a Member on 14 June. Subsequently the Bill was put down on the list for Second Reading on 14 July but, as the Votes and Proceedings indicate, no further date or instructions were given". The noble Lord deserved better than that. Certainly, as a student of procedure, he has my sympathy. He now has a dual role. The front page of the Liberal Democrat News for 1st November 1996 is taken up by a large headline: Hammering out a path for reform". The text says that: Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs have started to hammer out a way forward to reform Britain's creaking constitution". It goes on to talk about a working party being set up with people from both sides, the Liberal Democrats and Labour, which will be serviced by four experts which include the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and John McDonald, QC, of whom mention has already been made. In fact, it is being serviced by the Constitution Unit. I have mentioned the Constitution Unit in the past in similar debates. We are told that it is independent and has been set up to try to move along constitutional reform.

What is interesting about it is that, first of all, the advisory committee contains at least four prominent politicians who I know have changed party. To me that does not exactly ooze the kind of consistency with which one would hope that a constitution, which may have to last a very long time, should be prepared. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was a Labour Party member because I found out quite by chance that my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, whom I always treat with the greatest deference as our Chief Whip, beat the noble Lord for the nomination as Labour candidate for Enfield North in 1966. Because of his innate modesty and diffidence, I shall not embarrass my noble friend Lord Graham by mentioning that he won by a substantial majority.

The Constitution Unit is funded by charities. I have a list of them but I shall not weary your Lordships' House with it. As they now service this political thrust, I know that already questions are being asked of the Charity Commissioners about whether the various contributory groups are in breach of their obligations. It may interest your Lordships to know that I have in fact been promoted because I received through the post Issue No. 6 of the Constitution Unit Newsletter. I do not quite know what I have done to deserve such an honour. Perhaps it is sent out from a general list to all Members of your Lordships' House. I notice that it is posted in an envelope and the Neopost number by which it was paid for belongs to University College of London. If there is any expenditure of public funds, I hope that a suitable adjustment is made by the Constitution Unit from its charitable donors.

I also found out that the publications of the Constitution Unit were appearing in the Printed Paper Office. I felt that that might not be entirely right. So I inquired from the Clerks about whether it was in order. I received a reply: the general rule is that privately published papers—such as the Constitution Unit's reports—are not supplied free of charge unless they are referred to in a motion or question on the Order Paper; Lords are, instead, expected to consult such papers in the Library". The letter went on to say that: when the first two Constitution Unit Reports, Reform of the House of Lords and Delivering Constitutional Reform, were published in the Spring of last year, several Lords requested copies". They were considered germane to the major debate which your Lordships had on the constitution last year. So it was regarded as being in order. But, the letter goes on: During the Summer of last year, several other Reports were published by the unit, and these, too, were made available in the Printed Paper Office". The Clerk of the Parliaments reflected on that and could see that the relevance of those later reports was not so clear. Therefore, he instructed that no further copies of the reports should be purchased and that Peers who asked for them should in future be directed to the Library.

I believe that the activity of the Charity Commissioners is erratic, to say the least. In the debate last year I made various remarks about possible charitable abuse. I tabled a Question about the Scarman Trust. The answer was given in Hansard of 15th October 1996. I asked: Whether [Her Majesty's Government] consider that the activities of the Scarman Trust are compatible with its status as a registered charity".—[Official Report, 15/10/96; col. WA 213.] The Answer from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was: Following the concerns which the noble Lord expressed in this House on 3rd July, the Charity Commission is looking into the activities of the Scarman Trust. It is taking into account the publication to which the noble Lord refers".—[Official Report, 15/10/96; WA 213–214.] I actually referred specifically to the report The Untouchable: Power and Accountability in the Quango State. As I have referred to the quango state, I should perhaps mention for completeness that I happen to hold positions on two rather prominent quangos myself—the BBC and the Docklands Development Corporation. I say that only in case I am pulled up afterwards.

Recently I put down another Question to find out what was happening. With the acme of timing which makes our public servants the envy of the world, at ten minutes to five this evening I found an answer which says that the Charity Commission staff have obtained and considered a range of the Scarman Trust's publications and have had discussions with the trustees about its activities. The publications and activities are now being assessed in relation to charity law. Today is 5th February. My speech was made on 3rd July. That is seven months ago and the matter is still being considered. Contrast that with the Observer of 2nd February which reports under the heading "When it all gets a bit too political, watch out for the commissioners"—there is a flattering headline if you like: Last Monday the Charity Commissioners sought clarification from Professor Jack Scarisbrick, chairman of the anti-abortion group Life, about its alleged support of the Pro-Life Alliance, which plans to field at least 50 candidates on an anti-abortion ticket". Your Lordships will know how very recently this matter has come to public notice, yet the Charity Commission was there like a dose of salts. It does not mind taking on some small pressure group.

The RSPCA has come under fire from the Charity Commissioners. Anything to do with animals, they are there on parade. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has also taken some stick from the Charity Commissioners. It seems to me that they are rather selective—

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would enlighten us as to what this has to do with the Bill before the House. It would be most helpful to those of us who are perhaps a little new to these proceedings to be told what point he is making. Is he for or against the Bill?

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, if the noble Lord can contain himself for another few minutes, I hope that my rather limping grammar and paltry phrases will give some clarity.

The Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is part of a large constitutional programme. I have seen it suggested that these constitutional Bills in the Commons should be considered in a Standing Committee instead of on the Floor of the House. I must tell your Lordships that, having battled in the other place with the devolution legislation for two years, the one thing that never occurred to me was to tuck it away in a committee upstairs with a government majority. I really do think that this should be resisted. After all, if you are going to do that, why bother with tedious debate and why not scrub voting entirely? I would remind those who want to tinker too much that in pre-war Germany it was the abolition of the first past the post system which first enabled Hitler's Nationalist Socialist Party to gain power and to get its foothold on the ladder.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, is absolutely right that these Bills have been coming before this House and another place for more than 20 years. One of the proponents was the noble Lord, Lord Wade, who very early on referred to a "groundswell" of popular demand. The word "groundswell" occurs so often that I am reminded of that quotation from Twelfth Night, "That strain again!". That is a vestigial remnant of my early education. But the groundswell is so flabby that there is no sign of the tide coming in; in fact it still looks like Weston-super-Mare sands, for those of your Lordships who know them.

The people in this House who have spoken over the past 20 to 25 years have all been lawyers apart from a handful of lay people who have dared to get up. This has been stimulated by pressure groups of self-appointed people who are unaccountable to anyone. The only evidence that is called to show how popular it is with the public is opinion polls.

Going through some papers, I came across an issue of the Abortion Rights newsletter of Winter 1991 called Breaking Chains. It said: Bill of Rights includes abortion". Referring to an opinion poll commissioned by academics on what items people thought should be included in a Bill of Rights, it said: Abortion was deliberately included as one of a few controversial subjects to add spice to a mixed list of 12 political, civil, social and economic rights". I hope your Lordships will agree that my reputation for objectivity is well known. I thought that I must not rush at this and that I would turn up the article in the Independent to which the newsletter refers. Turning up the article, I find that the poll is described. It says that respondents, were given a mixed list of 12 political, civil, social and economic rights, spiced with a few deliberately controversial items". There is so much public demand for this constitutional change that questions have to be put into the poll to liven up interest and get people to read it. That is the biggest giveaway of the lot.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I am a little surprised by the noble Lord's reference to abortion. I know of no reference to abortion, one way or the other, in the European Convention on Human Rights. Perhaps the noble Lord can explain why he brought that into his speech.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I am probably out of order, but I brought it in to show how it was included in this questionnaire in order to try to get people to take an interest in it. I find that distasteful because abortion is a matter on which there are deeply held personal convictions. To use it as a sprat to entertain people and to try to get their interest is bad.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lord, the noble Lord can take some comfort from the pleasure the Government Front Bench is taking in his attack on the rule of law and on this convention. Can he help us a little more as to his attitude to the Bill?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way. One of the things that I take delight in is the fact that he has the courage to speak up in a debate which hitherto has been exceedingly intimidating in terms of some of the points he has raised in the course of his speech.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness. If the Government Front Bench finds some entertainment in my speech, that is fine. This would be a very dull place if we could never get any enjoyment out of it.

What I am trying to say is we have to be careful that we are not manipulated into changing our laws in very fundamental ways. I may be accused of being a xenophobe, but I believe that this country is different in these matters. That is basically because we have not been invaded for 900 years. Our European counterparts have had wars raging backwards and forwards. They have had great putsches and clear-outs and they have been constantly changing. They feel the need for this protection much more than we do.

If there is time for the noble Lord's Bill to progress, I shall take an interest in it. I think, as the noble Baroness said, that the voice of the layman should be heard occasionally in these debates which have been dominated for nearly 25 years by the legally qualified.

6.59 p.m.

Lord Woolf

My Lords, having regard to the powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, I should apologise for imposing upon noble Lords as a lawyer. The position is, however, that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has paid a generous tribute to the judiciary and it is only right that I should reciprocate the compliment. It is correct to say that throughout the world, and especially in the Commonwealth, the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to the cause of human rights and fundamental freedoms is, as I know from my own personal knowledge, much admired and respected. Fortunately, that contribution has also extended to this country and to our courts.

Until fairly recently many judges, including myself, were sceptical as to the need for a Bill of this sort. The common law has served us well in the past and we doubted whether it could not equally serve this country in the future without being bolstered by domestic legislation which implemented the European Convention on Human Rights as part of our domestic law.

However, the judiciary have had no alternative but to increase our knowledge of the workings of the European Convention because even though the convention is not part of our domestic law it still can and does contribute to our decisions in a great variety of cases. As an advocate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has been pre-eminent in educating the judiciary concerning the Bill and has persisted in that education notwithstanding the fact that not infrequently his education was received with barely concealed reluctance. Benefiting as I have from that education, I have no hesitation in supporting this Bill.

I do so for two reasons. The first is that we do now need a Bill of Rights which is part of our domestic law. The second reason I do so is that this particular Bill is the right Bill.

I do not need to rehearse all the reasons why we need a Bill, but perhaps I may emphasise two, which have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. They are pragmatic reasons which are none the worse for that. The first is that it cannot be correct that our citizens should have to go to Europe to receive a remedy which they cannot receive from our domestic courts.

The second reason is that I believe we are losing a real opportunity to influence the European human rights jurisprudence as a result of our judiciary not being able to give judgments as to what should be the legal effect of the convention which I am sure would have a beneficial effect on the views expressed by both the Commission and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. I know that decisions of our highest court which directly deal with the effect of the convention would be extremely influential on the interpretation of the convention by the court at Strasbourg.

I turn to why in my judgment this is the right form of human rights Bill. It is the least intrusive form of what can be regarded as a constitutional innovation as far as this jurisdiction is concerned. Most importantly, insofar as it affects our constitutional balance, the influence is the minimum. It does not interfere with the sovereignty of Parliament. Parliament, if it makes it clear that that is what it intends to do, can override the provisions of the Bill. That does not diminish the importance of the Bill since it avoids what happens at present which is that, unintentionally, Parliament contravenes human rights from time to time. It requires attention to be paid by Parliament to the nature of the provisions which it is bringing into law and to consider the implications which they have for human rights.

Secondly, it does not provide for the award of damages for contravention of the rights contained in the Bill. This is important because it is the tradition in this country, so far as the control of public bodies is concerned, that the courts are not primarily concerned with the enforcement of personal rights but the enforcement of public duties. That is why in the ordinary way one does not get damages as a remedy on an application for judicial review.

I attach great importance to the approach that we have to the enforcement of public duties rather than private rights. I regard that as being a healthy state of affairs. I do not myself want to move the emphasis in that area from public duty to private rights. That is one of the reasons why I commend this Bill. I regard it as very important that public bodies should do what Parliament required them to do, but I consider it unhealthy and unattractive that that should result in damages being awarded for alleged breaches of private rights. It is much better that we should continue with our discretionary use of our prerogative remedies when in the majority of situations there is no need for an award of any form of compensation, although I recognise that if this Bill becomes law there will be a minority of situations where compensation will be appropriate.

Finally, perhaps I may say a word about the dangers to the judiciary of their being sucked into politics in consequence of a Bill such as this becoming part of our domestic law. I am conscious of those dangers, but I would not regard that as a reason for not supporting this Bill. Unhappily, the reality is that today, because of the sort of issues that come before our courts, irrespective of the introduction of this type of Bill, the judiciary are continually having to reach highly sensitive decisions and, insofar as they can be unwillingly sucked into the political arena, that is happening anyway. As I have already said, even without this Bill the courts are required to have regard to the European Convention with increasing frequency for the purpose of construing legislation.

In addition, the most senior judges, exercising their jurisdiction in the Privy Council, regularly have to construe and apply Bills of Rights in Commonwealth jurisdictions where the Privy Council is still the final court of appeal. We have no difficulty in doing that. It will be no more difficult for us to deal with a United Kingdom Bill of Rights than it is to deal with the very similar Bills in Caribbean jurisdictions and in Hong Kong and New Zealand. The benefits of this Bill far outweigh its disadvantages. A Bill of a similar nature works in New Zealand. I am sure that this Bill would work in this jurisdiction.

7.6 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I was impressed by the gallantry of the Minister when she came to the assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks. But having known the noble Lord over many years as the Chief Whip in another place in the party of which I was then a member, he needs about as much support as the Rock of Gibraltar when it comes to intimidation. It is very difficult to intimidate the noble Lord. I wish to rush to his defence by saying that I am also part of that small, humiliated handful of people who do not happen to be lawyers. I would be quite incapable of being a lawyer as I do not have that kind of mind.

Having said that, perhaps I may also add to the praise, mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, of my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill and also of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, who cannot be with us tonight, for their long commitment to the cause of human rights. It is a commitment—I can say this from first-hand knowledge—that they have pursued regardless of the nature of the party in government in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, has never been in the least put off by whether his pursuit of human rights might be embarrassing to a Labour government, a Conservative government or any other kind of government. He believes in this cause with great passion and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said, he has brought a great deal of intelligence and leadership to the issue.

Why does it seem to him and to some of us who are not lawyers such an important Bill? One of the major reasons for Britain signing the convention in 1950—although from that time until now it has not been incorporated into our law—was the timing. We had just come out of a war which showed all too clearly the extraordinary fragility of liberty. Liberty is not much less fragile today. Many countries—those making the difficult transition to democracy in central and eastern Europe and elsewhere—desperately need the framework of international law and of regional law that the European Convention provides.

And that need exists in places not quite so distant as those I have mentioned. In the past few weeks this House has discussed two Bills, both of which raise issues of human rights—one, incidentally, towards which one side of the House was very sympathetic and the other to which another side of the House was very sympathetic. The first is the Police Bill as regards which many Opposition Members are extremely concerned about what kind of warrant or right would have to be given by an independent body to allow the study and surveillance of the various bodies which might be involved at one remove in organised crime—in other words, those associated with those committing such crimes. There is deep concern in the House about the possibility of the tapping of telephones and, in this case, the placing of bugs in such a way as to raise very powerful issues about our constitutional safeguards.

Only yesterday we had a different kind of case, which raised the issue of whether people should be compensated if their business is affected as a result of legislation passed by Parliament. I refer to the Firearms (Amendment) Bill. I shall not take up the time of the House pursuing either of those Bills in detail; I simply want to illustrate the fact that in this House—and on both sides of this House—we are increasingly coming across issues of the most fundamental human rights which disturb us and which lead us to believe that we need more safeguards than we have.

There is one other reason why we need more safeguards than we have. I shall couch this in a way that I hope will not be seen, or thought of, as partisan. The world has changed a very great deal. If one re-reads the European Convention on Human Rights, in many ways one feels that it is almost an innocent document. It refers, for example, to the rights of privacy and the family. It is a document which is unaware of the extraordinary power of organised crime and of terrorism in our times. It is a document which is unaware of the extraordinary flourishing of technology that goes far beyond anything that those who signed the convention could have envisaged.

The Minister and some of her colleagues have understandably over and again in this House told us not to underestimate terrorism, organised crime or the organised drugs trade. They are absolutely right to do so. However, I believe that my noble friend and those who think like him are absolutely right also to say that in the pursuit of organised crime, the organised drugs trade and terrorism, we need to be all the more careful about trying to preserve basic individual liberties.

At one time, I was Minister of State for Northern Ireland. I have seen the way in which terrorism in Northern Ireland has driven us in Parliament again and again to have to consider such issues as internment, detention without cause being brought, and detention over a longer period than habeas corpus would have recognised as being proper. I say, with whatever force I can command, that it is precisely that erosion of civil liberties because of the threats that are raised against this country and other democratic countries that makes it all the more important to embed our liberties in the law. I cannot put that too strongly. Convention and precedent alone will, in my view, no longer protect us.

I turn finally to the technological advances that have been made which make the European Convention on Human Rights look as if it were written in a "Garden of Eden" world. We know that it is now possible to establish detailed surveillance of conversations happening inside a house by measuring the vibrations on the windows. We know that it is possible to track every single movement of a human being by electronic devices that may be planted under his or her skin or on the person without their knowledge. We know that we are close to being able to tell virtually every movement of every person we wish to trace simply because the combination of the networks of surveillance equipment and of the intelligence services makes that possible. I am not condemning that; it is part of the advances that are made as we try to deal with crime. But I am saying that in the wrong hands it poses a tremendously dangerous threat to our liberties.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, will recognise that my intervention is not the intervention that a lawyer would make; it is the intervention of a lay person. On the grounds of the immense changes in technology, of the immense changes in the threats to liberty that we see all around us, and of the absolute necessity to try to protect and to strengthen our liberties if we are to continue as a democratic country which enshrines the concept of individual freedoms, I urge all Members of the House, regardless of where they may sit, to set aside partisan considerations and to reflect on whether it is not now time that a Bill such as this should be passed.

7.14 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington

My Lords, I make no apology for being a lawyer. Lawyers are people too. They move in the real world—and may perhaps know more about the real world by observation than members of other professions.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, on introducing this Bill, and particularly on doing so at this time. It enables us to discuss not only the Bill, but also the role of the convention, the court and the commission. I am opposed to the Bill, and there is the added advantage that there is no risk of it ever becoming law in this Parliament. However, I am quite genuine in my belief that this discussion is valuable and I propose therefore to say a few words about the Bill.

The convention was a post-war attempt to provide broadly based benchmarks which would distinguish democracies from dictatorships. In that context, I cannot imagine that any Member of this House would disagree with it. It was surely the intention of its founding fathers at the time that freely elected parliaments should remain wholly free to make, or to refrain from making, laws within those broad parameters, and that any interference or protest should occur only when there was a clear over-stepping of those parameters. The same should be true of the common law—the common law as administered by the courts of the various countries. I am not referring only to this country, or to the equivalents of common laws in other countries. That administration of the common law should be left within the responsibility of the various countries concerned unless there has been a clear over-stepping of what I repeat are very broad benchmarks.

However, the court and the commission seem to see it quite differently. Under the guise of interpreting and enforcing the convention, they are making policy decisions which, in my view, are not for them. Indeed, many—most, I suspect—of the rulings against the United Kingdom come into that category. The results can be surprising—that is, they are very surprising to me.

Article 2 quite clearly permits capital punishment, yet the court seems to regard corporal punishment in schools as being in breach of Article 3, from which, incidentally, no state can derogate. I express no view as to whether either is desirable, but for my part I should have thought that neither could, if adopted by a national parliament, over-step the parameters set by the convention, provided that I am right in thinking that a degree of freedom was to be left to the national parliaments.

It is said that the Bill would enable United Kingdom courts to express their own views on the interpretation of the convention and that that might have a restraining influence on the court and the commission. I suppose that it might, but I must confess that I do not share other people's optimism on that score. After all, we are only one of a large number of nations. Why should our no doubt powerful views have an effect which does not appear to be had by other countries?

It is said—it was said by my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf tonight—that the Bill would relieve our citizens of the delay and expense which is at present involved in appealing to Strasbourg. That is clearly right, subject to the fact that most of those I have heard say are off to Strasbourg would get there anyway—and would have a much longer legal journey on the way.

In my view, there are substantial countervailing disadvantages in incorporating the convention, even in the modified form which the noble Lord suggests. For a start, it would undoubtedly have some unwelcome and perhaps unexpected effects on our laws. Perhaps I may give three examples which occurred to me immediately and without any more detailed study. As we all know, under our law a policeman (like every other citizen) is entitled to use reasonable force in self-defence, even if that involves killing his attacker. Under Article 2 of the convention, he can kill in self-defence only if absolutely necessary. That is a significantly stiffer test. Presumably that would come into play under the Bill if it were enacted.

The second concern relates to community service. The Crime Bill contemplates such a sentence being effective notwithstanding that the accused does not consent. Many noble Lords will say that there is nothing wrong with that. I express no view on it one way or the other. However, almost certainly it contravenes Article 4 which prohibits forced labour, save in various contexts that do not apply. The plain fact is that when the convention was being drafted it never occurred to anyone that there could be a community service order, other than when someone was subject to a custodial sentence or release from it. There are problems in that area. Either the convention must be sidelined, or not brought into the fold in the way proposed by the noble Lord, or it must be looked at again.

Problems arise also under Article 6(2) which provides that everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty. But what about the offence of being in possession of dangerous drugs? Guilt depends on whether or not the accused has lawful authority and the burden of proof is on him. What would the convention say about that? The same is true of the offence of possessing an offensive weapon in a public place. The accused is presumed guilty unless he can prove a reasonable excuse. I have not looked at the Knives Bill, but I imagine that under that measure exactly the same test applies.

I do not believe that these matters are to be lightly discarded or suggest that common sense will prevail or anything of that kind. Under the Canadian Bill, which I agree is in slightly different terms, there was a considerable furore about drug legislation that was on similar lines. What about the role of United Kingdom judges in the context of judicial review? My noble and learned friend Lord Woolf regarded that with some equanimity. It is a little unfortunate that a former holder of an office and the current holder of that office should disagree about these matters. We lawyers are independent souls and we disagree with each other much more frequently than Members of this House may suspect. I do disagree with my noble and learned friend. At present the United Kingdom judges are not concerned with policy but only with whether or not the act or omission complained of was authorised or required by law. I know that politicians in particular cases say that that cannot be right, but it is right if the decisions are analysed dispassionately. In my experience even that limited role has been greeted with scant enthusiasm both by Ministers and Shadow Ministers. The present proposal would give them a much wider role.

I hope that when noble Lords have the leisure and inclination they will look at Articles 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the convention. Each of those articles involves a consideration of what is or is not necessary in a democratic society. To my mind, that is a highly political consideration that is much better suited for Parliament and is wholly unsuited to judges. I do not say that because I do not believe that judges can do it. They can do it. If I were still a serving judge I would greet it with enthusiasm. It would be great fun to get into the wider realm of politics. But I cannot believe that it is in the interests of the country that judges should be encouraged or allowed to do so.

I respectfully suggest that before further thought is given to incorporating the convention into our domestic law it may be profitable to call a meeting of all the signatory states at which there is an in depth review of the proper role of the convention, the Court of Human Rights and the commission at the dawn of the 21st century. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester points out, this convention has been in existence for nearly 50 years. Few laws remain unamended for so long.

I suggest that a root and branch re-examination would be highly profitable and might render the noble Lord's Bill quite unnecessary.

7.25 p.m.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, first I apologise to the House that because of the difficulties of travel to Northern Ireland I may not be able to remain until the end of this evening's debate. I thank my noble friend for his introduction. I was reminded of an introduction to another Second Reading debate on a human rights Bill. The mover said: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time. This Bill is substantially the same as the one which I introduced [two years ago] … Its aims are precisely the same, that is, to make unjust, discriminatory practices amenable to the law and to create machinery whereby complaints may be fully and impartially investigated. This Bill is not a mere academic exercise. It is not a mere affirmation of principles. It is an attempt to provide a remedy for a situation which actually exists and which has existed for a long time". Those words were spoken in another place, but not in this building, on the 8th February 1966—almost 31 years ago to the day. I refer to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Those words were spoken by the sole Liberal MP at that time, Miss Sheelagh Murnaghan. I suppose that in many ways she was the Helen Suzman of Northern Ireland—a substantial lady in her principles and convictions. She introduced the Bill at that time, as she had two years before—it was voted down by the Conservative and Unionist Party which dominated the Parliament for over 50 years—not because she had prescience as to the terrible events that would befall Northern Ireland but because she knew that something was going wrong and it had to be put right. I do not say this to remind noble Lords, although I believe I am justified in doing so, that they and the Members in another place retain, as they always have done, ultimate responsibility for the affairs of Northern Ireland.

It was said earlier that the United Kingdom had not suffered invasion from outside for some 900 years. We are all relieved about that. But increasingly, throughout the world, threats of disorder do not come from invasions from outside but from invasions from within. Northern Ireland has had a terrible invasion from within the community for nearly 26 years. I do not remind your Lordships of that matter to suggest in any way that the nightmare that has been visited upon our beloved Province is likely to befall this much more fortunate island. I refer to it because I believe that what has happened in Northern Ireland is an extreme example, but an example nevertheless, of what can happen when citizens take the view that an unjust state of affairs cannot find a remedy that is not unduly delayed, expensive, difficult or distant. When citizens feel that those who govern their country or enforce the law may be doing so more in their own interests than in the interests of citizens the presence of a ready and persuasive form of redress is necessary to maintain public confidence.

In recent years there is evidence of disenchantment with political life in communities throughout the United Kingdom. Many people despise, even ridicule, those who take up politics. Confidence in the maintenance of the rule of law on a just and effective basis is slipping all the time. This has led some to make increasingly strident political promises of tougher policies on law and order. That is not what is needed. It only persuades many observers that the legal system is becoming ever more politicised, and that in many senses diminishes both law and politics. The solution is to ensure that there is a form of redress that calls upon standards and precedents that have external verification and international standing. In the context of Northern Ireland, where suspicion and disagreements over loyalty are rife—I hardly need to say it—the establishment of a set of principles that rises above party loyalties, even national loyalties, is a crucial component of any settlement. It is for that reason that the subject of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland became a matter of discussion among the parties in the multi-party talks in 1991 and, particularly, in 1992. It may be of interest to your Lordships to know that one of the few things upon which we could agree as parties—the Ulster Unionists, the Democratic Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance all agreed—was that one component which was necessary for a settlement was a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

Of course, as noble Lords might imagine, it quickly became apparent that if we were to discuss how we should ourselves construct a Bill of Rights from the start we would find the whole issue falling foul not just of party spirit but of genuine disagreement. The way, it seems, to satisfy the wishes of the parties to have a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, and the whole of the UK, is to incorporate and entrench an external international standard—the European Convention on Human Rights—in our domestic legislation.

It is impressive that parties from a Conservative and Unionist background, a Catholic Nationalist and Social Democratic background and a Liberal Alliance background—in the enormous difficulties of Northern Ireland—can come to appreciate that a Bill of Rights in this form is an essential component of a settlement to our difficulties. We should thank my noble friend for his persistence. I hope that not only will agreement in Northern Ireland lead to an early incorporation of the European Convention for Northern Ireland but that his efforts will lead to success and its incorporation for the whole of the UK.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, several noble Lords have referred to the distinguished history of support for a Bill of Rights and for the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights in this House over many years. My noble friend Lord Lester mentioned my noble friend Lord Hooson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and Lord Rippon, whom we sadly lost last week. We should also recollect Lord Wade, whom the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, mentioned, who from these Benches pursued this course for many years; Lord Broxbourne from the Conservative Benches, and Lord Houghton from the Labour Benches, all of whom were dedicated to the introduction of a Bill of Rights and/or the incorporation of the European Convention as being the best and shortest practical way of achieving that.

There has also been considerable cross-party support in this House. There has been growing support among the senior judiciary, well exemplified this evening by the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, despite his eloquence, would probably now acknowledge that he is an exception among the ranks of the senior judiciary on this issue.

I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Lester on what the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, called his persistence. I would call it tenacity. Speaking of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, and persistence in the same breath, one cannot fail but be impressed by his dedicated Inspector Clouseau-type pursuit of a constitutional conspiracy through the labyrinthine trails of Charter 88, the Constitution Unit, the Inns of Court, the ancient universities, and the media until he finally, I think, has found the monster. If I heard him aright, the monster is the dear old Charity Commissioners.

I shall say two things to the noble Lord. First, I wonder whether he has noticed that his own party seems to have left him high and dry on these issues. On constitutional matters, Mr. Blair and new Labour have adopted much of the agenda of constitutional reform which he seems to think is a matter of a small pressure group pursuing a conspiracy. If so, it now includes his own party which is dedicated to much of this agenda. The noble Lord will forgive me, I am sure, if I say that he seems just a mite old Labour on this issue. No wonder the Government Front Bench liked his remarks so much.

Secondly, the noble Lord should be aware that far from a Bill of Rights being a minority preoccupation, a recent opinion poll shows that no fewer than 79 per cent. of the public support the measure that is proposed in the Bill. There is a high level of public support for it. I should just like to venture briefly into why I think that might be.

We are one of the few democracies which has neither a written constitution nor a Bill of Rights. It is axiomatic that in a modern democracy the will of the majority can and only should be exercised through parliamentary sovereignty if it is circumscribed by the protection of the rights of minorities and of individuals.

My noble friend Lord Lester has leaned over backwards in this new Bill towards the traditional claims of parliamentary sovereignty. Some may think that he has gone too far. I am not sure that I do not feel that myself, although I fully understand his motives in doing so and in trying to meet the traditional views of Parliament about parliamentary sovereignty. He has met those more than halfway by adopting the New Zealand model, as he explained. I should have liked to have seen some reference in the Bill to a human rights commission or commissioner to help plaintiffs who believe that their rights have been infringed to deal with those issues and take them forward.

I shall turn to the issue of Northern Ireland and a Bill of Rights raised by my friend Lord Alderdice. I do not want to cover the ground that he covered so ably; but I should like to say to the Minister that this is one measure—I speak as someone from these Benches who has responsibilities, as she knows, for Northern Ireland—in that divided society upon which there is an extraordinary level of cross-party agreement. Unionists and Nationalists agree on this. There is so little upon which they agree but they agree on this, so that one asks oneself what is the obstacle to the introduction of a measure which could bring people in Northern Ireland together and protect the rights of minorities in a way which is crucial to moving forward with a joint declaration?

I am bound to say that it seems that the obstacle is the resistance of this Government to the incorporation of the European Convention for the UK as a whole. It is a political obstacle and not an intellectual obstacle. It is certainly not one which is helpful in the Northern Ireland context.

I am not a lawyer. Looking at the speakers' list, I think that we have five lawyers to four real people—or perhaps it is the other way round. Of course one of the real people is a psychiatrist so that is probably not an accurate statistic. Lawyers are always consumed—it is their job—by litigation, getting it to the courts, what happens in the courts. The real case for a Bill of Rights and incorporation of the European Convention is the enormous effect it would have on us legislators legislating, on administrators administering, of making them live up to the respect for the individual and for minorities. If that were the case—I am sorry to have to say this to my lawyer friends—there would be less litigation, but we would have a society more securely founded on the rights of the citizen and we should be closer to the citizens' society which I believe we so badly need. It is in that spirit that we shall be supporting the Bill.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sand well

My Lords, I fear that this is another intervention by a lawyer. I can only plead that we are none of us perfect. I add my tribute to that of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and my regrets that he cannot be with us tonight. Both the noble Lord and I had the privilege of working with him over a long period in the past. This debate would have benefited from his wisdom. I regret also that we cannot have the wisdom and experience of our former colleague Lord Rippon.

There is no room for disagreement about the principle underlying the Bill. The Bill is not about the principle; it is about how best to implement it. There is no debate as to whether the people of the United Kingdom should have the rights set out in the European Convention. They already have them; they have had them since the United Kingdom ratified the convention, as I am sure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, is aware. What remains is the question of where and how they should enforce them.

Again, it is no longer in dispute that the United Kingdom recognises the right of individual petition. I am old enough to remember when that was a controversial proposition. Now an individual who claims to be deprived of a right guaranteed by the convention may complain to the European Commission and the commission may decide that it shall proceed for adjudication by the court.

None of that will depend on the passage of this Bill. It is in place already. The Bill seeks to provide machinery for assuring the people of their rights without the necessity of resorting to the European Commission and Court. That would have the three advantages mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. First, it would spare individuals the expense and delay of litigation in Europe. Secondly, it would spare this country the necessity of being constantly hauled up and admonished in an international forum. It would be better to deal with our family washing in our own laundry. Thirdly, it would enable the judiciary of this country to contribute to the jurisprudence of the European Court to the benefit of that jurisprudence.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, has explored more than once ways in which that might be achieved. I believe that he has placed your Lordships' House very much in his debt and not for the first time. However, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I take a moment to analyse what we are and are not doing when we seek to attach some legal or constitutional significance to human rights—or, if I may reformulate that, when we attach to a principle the label "human right".

The normal way to make decisions in a democratic political community is to empower electors to choose their representatives after hearing a political debate about their proposals, and the will of the majority prevails. Of course, we recognise that a majority may be unfair, prejudiced or muddled, but the right to take a decision must include the right to take a wrong decision. In that respect I have the misfortune to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Holme; I do not believe that there is much historical evidence that a minority—be it an oligarchy, an intellectual elite or a group of platonic philosophers—is likely to be more fair or successful than the majority.

In that respect, I find myself in agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. To declare that a principle is a human right is to withdraw it from that process; it is to say that it is so self-evident or that it commands so wide a consensus that it should be accepted without subjecting it to a political debate—or at least to place limitations on the methods of challenging it. I stand squarely with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in that I believe that there are principles in respect of which that is desirable. I hope that I do not need to argue my record of support for both an international and a domestic machinery for the protection of human rights.

However, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, that we should exercise some care as to the legal and constitutional significance which we give to human rights. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has had to leave the Chamber, but I believe that there are special considerations in relation to Northern Ireland which are not necessarily the same as in the remainder of the United Kingdom. I believe that we should have some care as regards the significance we give to the concept.

If the noble Lord, Lord Lester, had sought to entrench the rights set out in the European Convention so as to render them immune from the decisions of Parliament I would have hesitated for two reasons. The first is because it would have represented an attempt by us in our generation to impose our culture and our views on subsequent generations. Indeed, some other countries have done that, but I would hesitate. The second is that it is often the most vulnerable groups which are most likely to have occasion to challenge the received wisdom of the past.

However, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has not sought to do that. He is seeking in the Bill to do three things. First, he is seeking to give a remedy in domestic law for infringements of rights which at present must be remedied in the European Court and Commission, and to give it subject to the domestic legislation of this Parliament. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, observed, the judiciary may not feel impelled to invent a large range of remedies. But whatever is necessary is best done in this country, and I believe that my noble friend Lord Cocks would assent to that proposition. That was the theme of a report many years ago of a committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, of which I was privileged to be a member when we were members of the same party. If I remember correctly it stated almost exactly that.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is seeking to provide that where legislation can be construed so as to be consistent with the convention that construction should be preferred. It does not seem to me an unreasonable presumption that Parliament intends to legislate consistently with our obligations under the convention. I add my tribute to that of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to the judiciary of this country, which has sought where possible to give effect to that construction. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said, it is true that in the earlier years it sometimes required a little persuasion, but it has since done that with great dedication and skill.

Thirdly, the noble Lord is seeking—and this seems to me to be the principal constitutional role of the concept of human rights—a way of causing the majority or its representatives to think again when we witness the effect, or the potential effect, on an individual of what we are saying in our legislation.

I believe that in a representative democracy it is that which we should seek to achieve. What is proposed in the Bill is parliamentary machinery which will alert legislators when they are in danger of passing legislation in contravention of the European Convention. Surely we may assume that they will not wish lightly to place the United Kingdom in breach of its international obligations. That, as I understand it, is largely what New Zealand has done.

I venture to develop that theme. It may be a matter of how this House and the other place arrange their consideration of business rather than an issue requiring statutory provision. I would like to see a Select Committee in each House, or even a joint committee, consider legislation which falls within Clause 3. Your Lordships have a Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee on which I am privileged to serve. One of its functions is to scrutinise potential legislation to see what powers it is conferring on Ministers to effect subordinate legislation. The scrutiny of legislation for its conformity with our obligations under the convention seems to me worthy of consideration.

Therefore, I am in the fortunate position of being able, from this Bench, to welcome on behalf of my party proposals which I would in any event have welcomed enthusiastically on my own behalf. I would not necessarily wish to include in that the proposal which the noble Lord made in his speech, although, as he pointed out, it is not included in the Bill, for a human rights commissioner. That implies no lack of enthusiasm by my party for enforcing human rights, but simply that it may have implications for the very commissions which the noble Lord mentioned; namely, the Equal Opportunities Commissions for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Commission for Racial Equality, the National Disability Council and the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland. That raises questions which may require consultation and careful thought. I say no more than that at this stage but I think it right to put down a marker.

Subject to that, on these Benches we support the proposals. Of course, even if we opposed them, it would be quite wrong to deny a Second Reading to a Private Member's Bill. But that is not the position here. It would be good if the noble Baroness were able to announce that the consensus included the present Government. Her body language has just indicated what I already suspected. I do not believe that she is as indifferent to human rights at that might indicate but, like all others, she has a brief. For those of us whose concern for human rights goes back for many years, our patience too may be rewarded.

7.50 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I should say to the noble and learned Lord that my interest in human rights is as strong as that of the noble and learned Lord and other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. Yes, I have a brief, but I confess to being a believer in the case that I am about to put forward.

Perhaps I may be confessional at the outset and plead guilty. I am guilty of enjoying the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, not simply for the reason that I gave in my intervention—namely, that it was a lay voice in the debate—but I enjoyed his speech and I admire him for withstanding what has been for many months or even some years now an almost intense challenge and criticism of him from those who disagree with his point of view. Tonight was no exception. There were a number of interventions—by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. But the noble Lord has been assiduous in championing the record of this country on human rights. He has put some balance into the debate, for which I am grateful.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, chided me for coming to the rescue or supporting and defending the noble Lord, Lord Cocks. I agree with the noble Baroness that he does not need that. He is a big boy now and he can certainly defend himself. I say that with some humour but I say it very seriously because it is important that there should be a lay voice in the debate. I am delighted to say that that has also been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, the noble Lord, Lord Holme, and myself. I am delighted equally to welcome the contrary judicial view of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. That too recognises that there is more than one view on this issue.

As many speakers have already noted this evening, the matters we have been discussing occupy a central place within our constitution. The preservation and development of the rights and freedoms of the individual must lie at the heart of any effective and legitimate constitutional structure. In the United Kingdom we have a long-standing tradition of upholding individual freedoms and rights. These are inherent in our system of democracy and our legal systems. They form an essential part of our culture.

The Bill before us seeks to make a fundamental change to the way in which those rights and freedoms are protected in this country. I therefore welcome this opportunity to make clear the Government's position on those proposals.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, reminded us of two important debates that we have had recently on two Bills passing through Parliament at this time. I make only one point which is relevant to both the Bills and the issues referred to by the noble Baroness. In pursuing organised crime and terrorism, any compromise or slight erosion of civil liberties and the interests of those who may be intruded upon must be balanced by the liberty, freedoms and safety of those who are on the receiving end of such evil acts by the criminal or the terrorist. For those of us who are fortunate enough to benefit from the protection afforded to our country by the efforts of responsible and frequently courageous officers of the police and security services it is a question of balance. Sometimes, standing at this Dispatch Box defending the Government's position, I feel that we become preoccupied with the civil liberties of the wrongdoer and not sufficiently occupied with the civil liberties of those of us who are innocent and very often at the receiving end of the activities of the wrongdoer.

I have spoken on such matters on several previous occasions in this House. On those occasions I have made clear that the Government consider the advantages of incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into our law to be doubtful and the drawbacks to be considerable. Noble Lords tonight have argued that this Bill is more acceptable than previous Bills, that it should dispel the Government's concerns, and that we should therefore incorporate the convention, since nothing now stands in the way. This is a considerable over-simplification of the difficult issues raised by incorporation, and, I would contend, a potentially dangerous one.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, and other noble Lords have argued that this Bill would allow for incorporation of the convention while at the same time preserving the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. I have doubts about that, as I shall contend later. But even if those were to be resolved, the Bill would introduce a major change in our long-standing constitutional arrangements, bringing with it a number of potential hazards, for little advantage.

Let us look at the basic issues. First, do we need to incorporate the convention? Our rights and freedoms are already inherent in our legal systems, and are protected by them, and by Parliament unless removed or restricted by statute. The United Kingdom is already party to all the major international instruments which concern human rights, including the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The terms of those instruments do not require their incorporation into domestic law; and it has not been the practice of the United Kingdom to do so.

Would incorporating the convention increase the seriousness with which we treat these obligations? I doubt that. The United Kingdom has always sought to honour fully our obligations under those instruments, and attaches great importance to doing so. Our present arrangements already provide for our commitments under the convention, and the other treaties to which we are party, to be taken into proper account in our governmental, legislative and judicial systems. Our obligations under the convention are systematically and carefully taken into account in the formulation and application of government policy, and in the preparation of draft legislation.

If the United Kingdom is found to be in breach of the Convention by the European Court of Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, effective arrangements are in place for remedying the matter. Any necessary changes in the law or administrative practice are made as soon as practicable.

The fact is that whether or not the convention has been incorporated into the domestic law of a country has little bearing on how well that country affords legal protection for its people.

Some noble Lords have argued that the United Kingdom's record before the European Court of Human Rights is in itself a pressing argument for incorporation. But would incorporation mean fewer violations before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, as some noble Lords have suggested? The evidence does not support that claim.

In a society which prizes the rights of the individual so highly, it is not surprising that the actions of governments are challenged, and that there is debate on whether individual rights and freedoms have been properly balanced in relation to the general interest. That debate is healthy. But we must not be misled into believing that, as some have wrongly asserted, the United Kingdom has the worst human rights record in Europe: that is palpable nonsense. Most people would agree that human rights are in fact very well safeguarded in the United Kingdom.

Those who suggest that the United Kingdom's record for breaches of the ECHR is the worst in Europe are misinformed. It is important to note that levels of awareness of human rights in this country among the legal profession, active civil liberties, non-governmental organisations and the public at large are far higher than in most, probably any, of the Council of Europe countries. That is cause for satisfaction but it means that numbers of initial applications tend to be high. In considering the figures for findings of violation, we cannot ignore the fact that the relative population size of different states varies enormously, and that individuals from some states—such as the United Kingdom—have been able to petition Strasbourg for much longer than others. In fact, the UK's record of compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights compares well with the records of many other countries across Europe—countries like Austria, France, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland—when considered in relation to our large population and the 31 years that the right of individual petition has been accepted in this country.

Such figures, of course, are only indicative: the differences between individual states preclude any absolute comparisons. But the significant fact worth stressing is that all those other countries have incorporated the convention and yet they have relatively worse records than the United Kingdom in complying with it. Preventing breaches being found in Strasbourg is not therefore a persuasive argument for incorporation.

In fact, very many cases are taken up by the European Commission on Human Rights from countries which have incorporated, despite earlier consideration of those cases in their domestic courts. For example, in 1996, 32 allegations of violation against the Austrian Government were found admissible; 37 against the Turkish Government; 75 against the French Government; and 370 against the Italian Government: all of these countries have incorporated the convention.

Over the same period, 26 allegations against the United Kingdom were declared admissible. Given our population, and the fact that the right of petition is now a well-known form of recourse in our county, these figures hardly support the claim that incorporation reduces the numbers of cases going forward to Strasbourg, or that it might hence have a corresponding effect upon the numbers of adverse judgments.

Let us look also at the experience of other countries which have recently incorporated the convention. Denmark, for example, incorporated in 1992. Since then, there has been an increase—not a decrease—in complaints to Strasbourg from that country. Figures for complaints against other countries which have been recently incorporated suggest a similar trend. We really should be wary of reading too much into those figures, or any others. Many factors affect the numbers of applications, and the Council of Europe is seeing a general increase in applications from all states, as the right of petition becomes better known. What it demonstrates, however, is that there is certainly no evidence at all to suggest that incorporation would reduce complaints to Strasbourg.

It has also been asserted that incorporation would allow convention cases to be handled more quickly and, as I believe has been suggested, more cheaply. But if significant numbers of cases would continue on to Strasbourg, despite having first been considered by the domestic courts, it is hard to see how that might be true. I would argue rather to the contrary.

In short, the supposed advantages of incorporation are, on closer examination, highly doubtful. What is clear is that our non-incorporation is not the reason why the United Kingdom is found from time to time to be in breach of the convention. Instead, the answer to that lies primarily in the broad and general provisions of the convention, which are inevitably subject to different and changing interpretations and to the different composition of the national and international tribunals.

If the advantages of incorporation are not proven, what about the drawbacks? I should like in particular to consider further the matter of parliamentary sovereignty, which has been the subject of some discussion here this evening.

There will always be debate about the way in which broad rights or principles should be applied in individual cases, or about the balance between conflicting principles, such as the balance between freedom of expression and respect for privacy, as our society evolves. The freedom to debate such issues, and to develop our laws accordingly, is a key feature of our system of parliamentary democracy, and derives primarily from the central principle of parliamentary sovereignty. That is why we consider it to be so important.

Parliamentary sovereignty is the founding principle of our constitutional arrangements. Under those arrangements, it is for our democratically elected and accountable Parliament to enact detailed legislation on matters affecting the rights and liberties of the individual, and for Parliament to decide where the difficult balance between competing public and individual interests must be struck. The role of the courts is then to apply that legislation. When legislating, of course, Parliament must clearly have regard to the European Convention on Human Rights and to other treaties to which we are party. But the final decision on any legislation lies with Parliament.

Some have argued that this Bill, unlike the previous Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, would leave the principle of parliamentary sovereignty untouched. I am glad to see that the noble Lord now recognises the fundamental importance of that principle, but I do not think he has been successful in seeking to find a way round it; indeed, what we now have seems to be rather a muddle. In fact, the very points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, in relation to recent debates in this House, have already made that point for me.

I have to say that it is far from clear exactly how the courts would be expected to give effect to the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 of the Bill gives "full legal effect" to the relevant provisions of the convention and goes on to provide that the convention should have effect, notwithstanding any rule of law to the contrary". But it goes on to require the courts to look at the convention whenever a question of interpretation of UK legislation arises and to give the United Kingdom legislation a meaning consistent with their interpretation of the convention, whenever the enactment can be given such a meaning". Would that move matters substantially forward from the current position, as reflected in the Brind judgment, under which such international obligations such as the convention are relevant to the interpretation of UK legislation only where the legislation is itself ambiguous?

What is more, Clause 2 of the Bill gives all courts and tribunals power to grant, such remedy or relief or make such order as it considers appropriate to give effect to the convention. That is a broad power indeed. Are courts able to make orders suspending the effect of Acts of Parliament or annulling subordinate legislation under this power? Will they be able to make orders of mandamus requiring Ministers to exercise their powers in a particular way in order to comply with their interpretation of the convention?

Clause 3 would require formal notification and explanation by government to Parliament of any "inconsistency or apparent inconsistency" with the convention in proposed legislation. Do we really wish to see a provision effectively authorising Parliament to legislate in breach of the convention? In practice, of course, it would be extremely difficult for Parliament to do so, unless it intended also to derogate from the convention itself, as is the position now. It is worth remembering that derogation is only permitted under the convention in respect of certain obligations in time of war or public emergency threatening the life of the nation, and then only to the extent required by the exigencies of the situation. So while this provision might be argued to protect the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, it is difficult to see what it would actually achieve.

Moreover, even if the courts were not able to strike down parliamentary enactments, they would probably not be slow to indicate when they considered legislation to be in breach of the convention, thereby increasing the likelihood of a case being taken on to Strasbourg and casting doubt on that legislation and any subsequent cases in the intervening period. Noble Lords may wish to consider what the effects of that might be.

How, for example, would the courts give effect to Article 13 of the convention—the requirement to provide an effective remedy before a national authority—if their existing powers, for example, by way of judicial review, did not enable them to provide such remedy? What would happen then? Would the court assume powers that it did not previously have in order to provide the effective remedy it deemed to be required by Article 13? If so, those provisions would impinge on parliamentary sovereignty. It seems to me that the circuitous route around parliamentary sovereignty proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has not entirely been thought through: in fact, I believe that it leads us back, time and again, to this fundamental issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, contends that the provisions in his Bill are modelled on a successful provision in the New Zealand Bill of Rights, which preserves the sovereignty of the New Zealand Parliament. That point was referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. But the effects of this provision cannot be assessed on the basis of what happens in New Zealand because New Zealand is not of course party to the ECHR or to any other international system of monitoring compliance with human rights obligations at the instigation of a complaint by an individual. And even in New Zealand, I understand, the application of this new area of their law is still developing. It seems to me that this is dangerous territory to be entering if we cannot be sure of where these provisions will lead us.

What is clear is that the effect of this Bill would be to require the courts to interpret the broad and general provisions of the convention and apply these, as part of the law, to areas of public policy concerning the rights and freedoms of individuals. This must inevitably draw the courts into making decisions on questions of public policy which have hitherto been for Parliament: decisions which we believe must ultimately be as much political as legal.

Some have suggested that the courts are already involved in such matters, that the boundary between policy making and judicial interpretation has already been crossed, for example through the use of judicial review. It is clearly right that the courts should hold Ministers to the proper use of their powers, and should safeguard the procedural quality of decision making. That is merely an example of our constitution working. But, by the same token, it is of course ultimately up to Parliament to decide the laws on which judges and courts make their judgments. Requiring the courts to apply the broad and general provisions of the convention would take them into hazardous terrain with no clear boundaries.

In the Government's view, it remains a vital merit of our constitutional arrangements that Parliament decides public policy affecting the rights and freedoms of the individual and, equally, that it decides how, and when, to change that policy, whether as a result of the evolving needs of our society, or evolving Strasbourg jurisprudence. In doing so of course it must have regard to many things including our international obligations, the judgments of our own courts, and judgments by the European Court of Human Rights. Nevertheless, the final decision remains with Parliament. That is an important principle within our system of democracy. We do not think it should be dodged. There are no easy ways round it, as I have sought to show the House this evening. And it should not be imperilled, particularly for such doubtful advantage.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, made an important point on the way in which the convention is currently interpreted. I believe the noble and learned Lord knows that those are concerns which the Government share and are pursuing with other state parties in the Council of Europe and elsewhere. However, as I believe the noble and learned Lord hinted, it can take a long time because of the number of signatories to the convention and the difficulty of reconciling interests across that range of countries. It will be painstaking work, but it is work in which the British Government are very much involved. We believe we are gaining a number of supporters to the cause, but that work will continue.

We all understand why the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is not present at the end of the debate. However, I wish to put on record a comment in response to something he said. Advocates of incorporation, including the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, recognise that incorporation would not be a panacea. It would not contribute significantly to the resolution of issues which have been particularly sensitive in Northern Ireland such as discrimination in employment. The law in Northern Ireland is consistent with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Convention on Human Rights reinforces the standard which the Government seek to meet. The provisions of the convention help to shape our policy and practice. Emergency powers can already be—and indeed are—tested in open court.

Our constitution has been formed by the people of this country over the years. It embodies their values, their understandings, their respect for the individual and his freedom under the law. And the changes which have taken place over the years have not been made for the sake of change or in the interests of particular institutions. They have been practical changes, driven by what people want, not what someone out there thinks.

Our system of parliamentary democracy, and our unwritten constitution have provided very effective protection for the individual in this country for many years. It is perhaps too easy at times to take the safeguards they provide for granted. That is a point the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, has made on many occasions. We must not fall into the trap of doing so: we should be proud of these fundamental parts of our heritage; and we should not seek to change them, where there is neither a clear need, nor good reason for doing so.

This is a Private Member's Bill and the Government would not therefore propose to vote against it. However, the Government continue to believe that incorporation, whether in this form or another, remains undesirable and unnecessary, both in principle and practice. For those reasons, we cannot support this Bill but we shall not oppose its Second Reading.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken this evening. I am grateful for the excessive compliments paid to me which I do not deserve. I am particularly grateful to those who are "normal" people; that is to say, non-lawyers and non-judges, of whom I think there is a small majority this evening. On my count there are six "normal" people and five judges and lawyers who have spoken, unless I do not count myself as a proper lawyer, in which case one can say there is a clear majority for the lay elements.

I am also especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, for what I can only describe as his unique contribution and an entertaining one. I do not think there is anything he said that I would wish to answer. However, sometimes he makes the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats sound like some kind of criminal conspiracy.

I shall not attempt at this hour to reply to all the points that have been made. However, I shall make one or two points. First, I am extremely grateful to my noble friends Lady Williams of Crosby and Lord Alderdice for introducing wider and necessary political considerations into the debate. This is not the preserve of lawyers. My noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham some years ago belonged to an earlier conspiratorial organisation which he led called the Constitutional Reform Centre, as I recall. Early in his life in this House he introduced a Motion on the subject.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, also belongs to an older conspiracy. It is many years since he and, I recall, Lord Silkin of Dulwich supported a more diluted version of this Bill. Therefore a number of us here have been arguing about this matter, sometimes it seemed in the wilderness but perhaps that is no longer the case.

The wise and most welcome support given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, is greatly appreciated. I would not wish to introduce a Bill that senior judges regarded as impractical or unworkable or as adding significantly to their burdens. I also thank the Minister for her careful reply. I wish briefly to try to focus on the real practical gaps that the Bill seeks to deal with, and then point out how odd our position is compared with that not only of the people out there but also the rest of the world.

The real gaps are two-fold. The first is the Brind gap. Judicial review of Ministers', civil servants' and public authorities' actions is ineffective in using the convention in cases where Parliament has given virtually a blank cheque to the decision maker. The House of Lords recognised a problem in the Brind case. It felt it was impossible to require Ministers, civil servants or other public officers to have regard to the convention in performing their duties or exercising their powers as it said that would bring the convention in through the back door when Parliament had failed to bring it in through the front. That is the major gap in our arrangement. It is the old vice of uncontrolled administrative discretion that used to lead to so many more cases of violations being established in Strasbourg.

The second gap is that although the executive branch of Government take the convention extremely seriously, Parliament has no machinery, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, emphasised, and no advice to enable it to scrutinise pending measures properly to ensure that what the executive branch has done complies with the requirements of the convention.

Those are two practical gaps that put us at odds with the remainder of the Commonwealth as well as the civil law of continental European countries. Noble Lords may not appreciate that the United Kingdom has exported the convention to more countries in the world than anyone else. We have written these rights and freedoms into the constituttions of African, Caribbean, and Asian Commonwealth constitutions. We have given the judges in those countries much greater powers than this Bill does—the power to strike down inconsistent legislation. We have given the convention to Hong Kong. I pay tribute to the Governor of Hong Kong who has been strongly defending the Bill of Rights ordinance in Hong Kong against the threats made by the People's Republic of China to tear it up. What is good for Hong Kong and the remainder of the Commonwealth remains, for reasons I do not understand, in some way threatening to order and good government in this country.

My noble friend Lord Alderdice pointed out that the greatest support for a Bill of Rights comes from both main communities of Northern Ireland. It has always been thus since the debate began. I think it was in 1975 that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lowry, chaired the constitutional convention. The one issue on which the Republican clubs and the Orange Order could agree was the need to make the basic standards of the convention enforceable in Northern Ireland. It has always been thus from that part of the United Kingdom. It is only in the past 20 years that the movement of popular opinion—I do not refer to some little coterie of chattering classes—has been mobilised successfully so that it has become an important part of renewing our constitutional arrangements, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, indicated.

Many years ago I had the honour of defending the United Kingdom against the Republic of Ireland. The European Court of Human Rights pointed out that the system which best reflects the intentions of the founding fathers of the convention, there having been no founding mothers at that stage unfortunately, was to give effect to the convention by incorporating it in domestic law.

The Minister made great play with statistics. However, I made it no part of my case that somehow we are the worst violators of the convention. We are I think the country with the most significant breaches of the convention found by the European Court. That goes to quality rather than quantity. The reason is not that we are particularly wicked; it is simply that we do not provide remedies in this country. I make the comparison with Germany. It is significant that Germany with a larger population than ours has almost no cases before the European Court. It makes sure that its domestic system and the three branches of Government tackle the issue.

On parliamentary sovereignty, I have been at great pains to ensure that Parliament has the last word. That follows the New Zealand model. If I may say so, only one error was made in the brief given to the Minister. It is mistaken to suppose that New Zealand is irrelevant because it is not a party to an international human rights code similar to the convention. What is remarkable about New Zealand is that not only is it a party to the international covenant on civil and political rights, it recently accepted the optional protocol—the equivalent of the right to partition—which means that their judges, Parliament and Executive will find cases going before the human rights committee in precisely the same way that cases go before the Human Rights Commission and the Court of Human Rights. I am impressed by the way in which the New Zealand polity has managed to fit into its system—we had always regarded it as a far more conservative system than ours—a Bill which deals with the need for effective domestic remedies.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, pointed out a number of respects in which he thought that the convention was inconsistent with UK law. The noble and learned Lord was troubled that if we incorporate it, our judges might find our system wanting. I believe that the position taken by the United Kingdom Government would be that there is no mismatch between the convention and United Kingdom law. If there had been, we would have been obliged in international law to give effect to the convention.

I fully appreciate the noble and learned Lord's reservations about some of the European Court's decisions. But, with respect, he is mistaken if he thinks that the unique English and Scottish judicial contribution would not be much stronger if cases that went to Strasbourg had been reviewed by our courts, applying convention standards to the facts of the case.

If we incorporate the measure, as I hope that we shall before long, those who won their cases in this country would have speedy remedies. Those who lost would find it more difficult to win in Strasbourg if their cases had been carefully reviewed by judges of the quality and enlightenment of those who spoke in this debate and in previous debates. For those reasons, I very much hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

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

House adjourned at twenty-six minutes past eight o'clock.