Orders of the Day — Human Rights

– in the House of Commons at 1:15 am on 15th January 2001.

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Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office 1:15 am, 15th January 2001

I beg to move, That Mr. Desmond Browne, Sir Patrick Cormack, Jean Corston, Mr. Robert Maclennan, Mr. Andrew Miller and Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd West), be members of the Select Committee appointed to join with a Committee of the Lords as the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I am delighted to move the motion and know from personal experience that the Labour Members who wish to serve on the Committee and are being nominated tonight are keen to be members and will act vigorously and diligently. On reading the list of names that the House is being asked to recommend, my impression was that all those Members would do a good job on behalf of the House.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 1:16 am, 15th January 2001

The really bad news about the names being proposed for membership of the Committee is that they seem preponderantly to be those of lawyers. That seems to confirm the view expressed earlier that this nonsense will be a lawyers' beanfeast, both outside the House and now, regrettably, inside. I suppose that we can be somewhat consoled by the fact that my very hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) will be on the Committee. I would have thought that he would make an excellent candidate for the chairmanship. Perhaps the Committee—in its alleged impartiality, and assuming that we believe a word of what the Minister told us about the matter not having been carved up already—will realise that my hon. Friend would make a most wonderful Chairman. It may want to consider that.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Frankly, it is not good enough, even at this relatively late hour, for my right hon. Friend to make such an assertion without substantiation. I assume that he is making the point that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) would make such a good Chairman because he is, almost beyond question, the greatest living parliamentarian

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

That, of course, is a hotly contested title, as my hon. Friend knows.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

Has the right hon. Gentleman also noticed that my colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan), who represents all points north, is to be a member of the Committee? Should the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), in his usual modest way, not wish to take up that important appointment, another very respected parliamentarian might do so.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was about to deal with that point and shall do so now.

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan)—or the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Island, as I like to call him—is indeed a senior and experienced Member of the House. He was first elected in 1966, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire in 1970. Proposed for membership art two enormously experienced, very senior, very influential and extremely respected Members of the House. Although I suggested my hon. Friend first, I am sure that he, as well as we, would want to consider seriously the claim that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) has put for his colleague, the right hon. Member for places in the far north.

My only reservation is that the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross obtained an LLB from Cambridge, which I regard as a distinct disadvantage. He then practised as a barrister, as did the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas), who graduated from Aberystwyth. I leave it to the House to judge whether that is an advantage, but he also, apparently, is a barrister. I am happy that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) is here. His presence indicates that at least those proposed for membership of the Human Rights Committee, unlike those proposed for membership of the Committee that we discussed earlier, show genuine interest and commitment. We should all be grateful for and appreciative of that.

I am delighted to say that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun is almost certainly the most highly qualified proposed member of the Committee because he has an LLB from the university of Glasgow. I can think of no higher qualification than one from Glasgow, and he has practised as a solicitor.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Like my right hon. Friend, I was encouraged by the presence in the Chamber of the Members who are seeking to sit on the Committee. However, is it not rather disturbing that they seem not to have speaking parts? They seem to have only a walk-on part in this Government-arranged drama. Would we not believe rather more if they told us of their views?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

That is a matter for them to decide. I am still suspicious about why they all suddenly mysteriously resigned as Parliamentary Private Secretaries. That makes me wonder whether they will still effectively be members of the payroll and under some instruction from somewhere, but perhaps they will not.

Having taken account of the plethora of legal talent, I come to the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), who either is or is not, or is allegedly, to be the Chairman of the Committee. If the records are correct, she has an LLB from the London school of economics.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am now becoming really suspicious. It is one thing to come from Cambridge, Aberystwyth or Glasgow—

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I will not discuss when. That would be ungallant. Some of us still cling to rather old ideas of gallantry.

All these Members being lawyers, I am beginning to see why my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, is so enthusiastic about these matters. He is part of the mafia. In his readiness to endorse the motion, he was obviously rather keen on the idea that all the other legal eagles would get jobs on the Committee. It is beginning to look rather cosy. The Member I exempt from that is the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), to whom we must look for a lay view of the matters that are before us. He may be the only member of the Committee whom we can trust to give a properly balanced view of its work, instead of all the ghastly lawyers.

I express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North—

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

The hon. Gentleman must tell me the difference some time.

It is a matter of some importance whether the Government believe that the chairmanship of the Committee has been carved up in advance. It looks like that. There is circumstantial evidence, if I may use that rather legalistic term, that the hon. Member for Bristol, East has already been tapped on the shoulder by the Government and assured that the chairmanship is hers.

The Minister has said that he will look into the matter and reveal all. He has said also that he will put things into the Library and—

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

I said that I thought no press release had been put out but that I would look, then write to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and put a copy in the House Library.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

That is a pretty weedy undertaking. I suspect that simply to look into whether there has been a press release is not what most Members want. We want an assurance, a guarantee or an undertaking that the Government have not said to the hon. Member for Bristol, East, "You will be the Chairman of the Committee as and when the House sets it up." Knowing the Minister as we do, he should be prepared to tell the House—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we are discussing the members of the Committee, not who will be the Chair of it.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker.

One of the lacunae in the motion is that no mention is made of the chairmanship. It is somewhat doubtful whether the Committee will have a Chairman.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the motion dealing with the setting up of the Committee has already been dealt with. As I have said, we are now discussing the membership of the Committee.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Has he observed that although there is in the motion no reference to the chairmanship, there is such a reference in the Lords motion? That might mean— perhaps the Minister will intervene to confirm—that the Chair must come from the Lords.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

That may be, but I am precluded from speculating further on the matter by the ruling from the Chair, which I will of course observe meticulously, as I hope I always do.

We are left with the bare bones of what we know about the hon. Members being proposed for the Committee. It is for the House to decide. If we want the Committee to be packed with lawyers, that is one thing. If we expected a broader representation of the Members of the House, we will be disappointed. We have been told that the Committee will have a balance of Government and non-Government members, and for that small crumb I suppose we should be grateful.

We will all be watching very carefully to see whether the House agrees to the establishment of the Committee. It is one of those absurd deferred votes, so we cannot know until Wednesday whether the Committee has been set up. I therefore conclude that we cannot logically agree to the motion tonight, as the House has not yet indicated whether it accepts the substantive motion to set up the Committee.

I shall be guided by you on that, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I should be surprised if you told the House that we could deal with the matter now, when we have not yet dealt with the substantive matter, as a result of the ludicrous and absurd deferred Division procedure, to which we are now—I hope only temporarily—subject.

I need not express my view one way or the other on the matter at this stage, presumably. That will have to wait until Wednesday. I shall ponder the matter between now and Wednesday. I shall almost certainly vote against the substantive motion to set up the Committee, for reasons that my right hon. and hon. Friends explained. I shall want to think about the motion. I am rather grateful that I do not have to cast my vote tonight.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm whether the matter can be put to the House at this stage, as we have not yet indicated whether the House agrees to the establishment of a Committee for which the motion proposes the members?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

There is nothing in the order of the House on deferred Divisions to prevent the motion on human rights being debated in the House this evening. We have already begun the process of coming to a decision on the motion on Human Rights (Joint Committee). When the motion to nominate members to the Human Rights Committee was not moved in the House last week, the House had already decided not to consider the matter of setting up the Committee. That was therefore an entirely different situation.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The ruling that you have just given is self-explanatory, but it refers to debating the issue, not deciding it—[Interruption.]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The matter is subject to a deferred Division, as has already been explained to the House.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If you are telling us that it is your view that there will be two deferred Division matters before the House on Wednesday, how will the House know whether it has approved the first one in a deferred Division, before they must decide how or whether to vote on the second one? Surely, as we aniticipated long ago, the House is being put in a ludicrous, unacceptable and unworkable position by the fact that there will be two interrelated deferred Divisions on the Order Paper. I do not see how that can make any sense at all.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

That is a matter for hon. Members at the time that they are exercising their vote. Right hon. and hon. Members who are dissatisfied with the operation of the order on deferred Divisions should make their views knows to the Modernisation Committee.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Surely it would be helpful to the House if it were decided that the deferred Division on the matter of substance should take place this Wednesday, and that the present motion should be reintroduced, if the Committee is to be set up. I do not see how we can vote on who should be on a Committee when it may not be set up. Can you please clarify that?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I have already given a ruling on the matter. That is not for me to decide.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If the Government enjoyed an extremely narrow majority, a deferred vote on the Committee—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already explained that, if right hon. and hon. Members are dissatisfied with the operation of the order on deferred Divisions, they should make their views known to the Modernisation Committee.

Question put:

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members:

No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 17 January, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000].