HL Deb 03 May 2001 vol 625 cc816-20

3.30 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. With your Lordships' permission. I shall move all the amendments together. I notice that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is not in his place and therefore I shall not need to write to him on this occasion. The 12 amendments broadly speaking fall into three categories. First, Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 relate to human rights. As they are of particular importance, I hope that the House will allow me a little time to explain—although I hope that it does not take as long as it did on Monday.

Section 19(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires Ministers of the Crown to make statements to Parliament as to whether in their opinion public Bills are compatible with convention rights, but there is no equivalent provision for Private Bills. The absence of such a provision has been a matter of concern to some Members of Parliament and as a result most Private Bills in the House of Commons were blocked in the last Session.

From the start of the present Session, the parliamentary agents who act for the promoters of Private Bills have agreed to provide a statement of opinion on behalf of the promoters. That has already been done for this Session's two new Private Bills. The third amendment I am moving today embodies that in an amendment to Private Business Standing Orders.

However, those who have been concerned about the matter have been anxious that the Government should express their own opinion as to the compatibility of Bills with the convention rights. That has been discussed by Ministers and officials at some length over the past 18 months and the Government have agreed to report on the statement of opinion by the promoters. The sixth amendment is intended to enshrine that in Standing Orders. The other amendments relating to human rights are subsidiary to the sixth amendment.

It may be helpful if I were to inform the House that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has agreed to this approach and the amendments have been agreed by the Private Bill Offices of both Houses and discussed extensively with the Government and with parliamentary agents. The proposed procedure would not require the Joint Committee on Human Rights to consider Private Bills but would facilitate such consideration if it chose to do so.

Amendment No. 7 relates to reports by Ministers of the Crown. It brings us helpfully into line with the House of Commons Private Business Standing Orders on this issue and Amendment No. 1 provides a definition of "Minister of the Crown", which will apply to all Standing Orders.

Thirdly, Amendment No. 2 to Standing Order 27 is needed to correct a printing error in the current text.

Finally, when I moved a substantial number of amendments to Private Business Standing Orders in March, I informed your Lordships that it is intended shortly to publish a new edition of the House of Lords Private Business Standing Orders which would not only include the amendments but would also incorporate some stylistic changes to make them easier to read and use. Having now seen these changes, most of which are matters of paragraphing and none of which alter the substance of the Standing Orders in any way, I considered that the amendments to Standing Order 167, numbered 9 to 12, should be moved formally on the Floor of the House.

As I understand it, these do not change the substance of Standing Order 167 in any way, but simply reflect modern legislative drafting practice, which is to refer to individuals under the age of 18 as "minors" rather than "infants". I have a teenage granddaughter and I know that to refer to her as an infant would be to cause a riot!

I hope that the House will therefore agree to these drafting amendments and will support my request that they should also agree that the Standing Orders should be reprinted as amended with the incorporation of a number of stylistic changes. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Standing Orders relating to private business be amended, with effect from 27th November 2001, as follows:

Amendment No.

Standing Order 1

1. Line 46, at end insert— "minister of the Crown" means the holder of an office in Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, and includes the Treasury;

Standing Order 27

2. Line 52, leave out from "borough, or" to "and if" in line 53 and insert "(in Wales) of the county or county borough or (in Scotland) of the local government area"

Standing Order 38

3. Line 13, at end insert— (2A) The printed memorandum shall include a statement of opinion, by or on behalf of the promoters, as to the compatibility of the provisions of the bill with the Convention rights (as defined in the Human Rights Act 1998).

Standing Order 39

4. Line 7, after "Treasury," insert "the Privy Council Office,"

Standing Order 91

5. Line 5, at end insert— (2) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (1) of this standing order, where in the case of a private bill which has been read a first time no report from a minister of the Crown has been presented to the House under Standing Order 98A, the Chairman of Committees may, if he thinks fit, direct the attention of the House to that fact.

After Standing Order 98

6. Insert the following new Standing Order—

"Reports concerning human rights.

98A. In the case of a private bill originating in this House or brought from the House of Commons, a report from a minister of the Crown on the statement of opinion required by Standing Order 38(2A) shall be presented to the House (by being deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments) not later than the second sitting day after that on which the bill was read a first time."

Standing Order 127

7. Leave out Standing Order 127 and insert— "Reports by ministers of the Crown.

127.—(1) All reports on a private bill, or its objects, which are—

  1. (a) made by a minister of the Crown; and
  2. (b) presented to the House by being deposited in the office of the Clerk of the Parliaments,
shall stand referred to the committee on the bill.

(2) Where a recommendation is made in any such report, the committee—

  1. (a) may, if they think fit, hear an officer of the minister in explanation of the recommendation; and
  2. (b) shall note the recommendation in their report and, if they do not agree to it, shall state their reasons for dissenting."

Standing Order 142

(8) Line 15, at end insert "(by being deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments)."

Standing Order 167

(9) Line 2, leave out "(hereinafter referred to as an infant)" and insert "(in this order referred to as a minor)."

(10) Line 5. leave out "such infant" and insert "the minor."

11. Line 8, leave out "such infant" and insert "the minor."

12. Line 13. leave out "infants" and insert "minors."—(The Chairman of Committees)

Lord Peston

My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question of clarification about Amendment No. 6. It relates to a Minister of the Crown giving an opinion about the Human Rights aspect of a Private Bill. Using one's common sense, I assume as a matter of practice that if a Minister of the Crown thought that a Bill infringed human rights it would not come forward. However, I understood the Chairman of Committees to have said that the Joint Committee on Human Rights would have no status in this matter.

Let us suppose that the Minister has said, "No, there is no human rights infringement", and, the Joint Committee not being involved, a Member of your Lordships' House on examining such a Private Bill said, "I believe that there is an infringement of human rights here". Would he or she automatically be ruled out of order on the question of human rights or is it a matter that a noble Lord could raise in relation to a Private Bill?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, further to that matter, in this day and age I readily understand why the promoters are expected to sign a certificate stating that the Private Bill in question is compatible with the human rights legislation. However, I do not understand why on earth the Government should insist—and I understand from the Chairman of Committees that the Government have insisted—that we have Amendment No. 6 before us. What will happen will be that the Minister of the Crown will second guess the promoters, possibly without any real knowledge of the matter in question.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, the Joint Committee can examine the statement. Indeed, I made that clear in my previous remarks. I said that the proposed procedure would not require the Joint Committee to consider Private Bills but would facilitate such consideration if it chose to do so. Therefore it is able to do so and presumably an objection from a noble Lord might well refer that matter back to the Joint Committee in certain circumstances. If I am wrong about that, I shall certainly write to the noble Lord.

As regards the Government's position, the fact is that, like all legislation, an Act coming from the passage of such a Bill can be challenged and judged in the courts both in the United Kingdom and Strasbourg. At that point, the Government might have some standing in it and it is therefore felt wise that they should make a statement before the matter gets to that stage. I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.