With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Green Paper “Rights and Responsibilities: developing our constitutional framework”, which was laid before Parliament today. It is the next stage in what has been described as a quiet revolution in our constitutional arrangements, which, since 1997, has included: independence for the Bank of England; devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; independence for National Statistics; the Human Rights Act 1998; the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998; and reforms to the House of Lords and of party funding.
This Green Paper deals with some of the most fundamental questions we face as individuals and as a society: how we live together; what rights and freedoms we enjoy, and from whom; and what duties and obligations we owe, and to whom. Those issues are not abstractions, removed from the practical politics of jobs and housing, health care, education, crime and disorder, because these constitutional arrangements determine how power is distributed, and therefore the conditions in which every other question in our public life will be answered.
It is because of the centrality of these issues that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister chose to make his first major policy statement, within days of taking office, on exactly this matter of constitutional change. He told this House that it was right to involve the public
“in a sustained debate about whether there is a case for the United Kingdom developing a full British Bill of Rights and duties”.—[Official Report, 3 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 819.]
This was to be as a step towards a written constitution. The Green Paper presents the arguments for such a Bill. It does not reach final conclusions—that is for the end of the process of national discussion—rather, it sets the framework for this debate. Indeed, if by the end of the process the Bill is perceived to provide protection to rights and freedoms, it will become effective in defining common values so that people in Britain of different backgrounds may feel ownership of it.
From the Magna Carta and the declaration of Arbroath, the 1689 Bill of Rights and the Scottish Claim of Rights, to the great Reform Acts of last two centuries, our history illustrates the proud traditions of liberty on which our nation is built. Though the profound changes that those great texts initiated were the subject of intense struggle at the time, the United Kingdom’s experience of constitutional development has been unlike that of almost any other democracy in the world.
The constitutional arrangements of most other nations have emerged from rebellion, revolution, civil war, occupation or oppression. The United States, France, India, South Africa and nations across Europe and the world, have had to set down their arrangements in a single text—a constitution, underpinned by declarations of rights. Whether legally enforceable or not, they have become abiding points of reference as to how their citizens should relate to each other and to the state, and help to define the kind of nation they wish to be. This Green Paper sets out the case for how a Bill could become a similar unifying force for the United Kingdom, not least because our own society is much more diverse, in race, religion and ethnicity than at any point in our history.
We are, self-evidently, launching this Green Paper at a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. Tackling the global recession must be our immediate priority. But acting, at the same time, to strengthen communities’ and individuals’ sense of a stake in society—by better articulating the responsibilities we owe and the rights we have—is not an alternative to decisive measures on the economic front but an essential complement to them.
One of the most significant constitutional changes in the past dozen years is the Human Rights Act 1998. I worked hard as sponsoring Minister to achieve a consensus behind it: and I commend the official Opposition for the support that they gave the Act in its final form. Prior to that Act, accessing convention rights via the Strasbourg court was a time-consuming, expensive and difficult process, and, as such, prohibitive for many. Now, those rights can be accessed in UK courts, with cases heard by UK judges.
The Act better protects the family. It has benefited all sections of society; from the elderly couple wanting to live in the same care home, to the loftiest of newspaper magnates. In providing a more practical mechanism to access rights, as well as a positive obligation on the state to protect them, countless thousands of people have benefited from the law, without necessarily having to resort to the law.
Despite that, the Act has its detractors, primarily because the atrocities of 11 September 2001 occurred less than a year after it came into force. Had those tragic events not occurred, I suggest that the HRA would have slipped comfortably into the fabric of our lives without controversy. As it was, those terrible events threw into acute relief the tensions between liberty and security. We recognise these tensions but the Government are proud of the Human Rights Act. We will neither resile from it, nor repeal it.
The principles and rights set down in the European convention—now in the HRA—are timeless. They are the mark and measure of any civilised society at any time, but in the intervening 60 years since the convention was drawn up, the rights in it have been added to by a great extension of social and economic rights—of health care, dignity in old age, education, housing and social security. But as our rights have become so much wider and stronger, one question is whether their claim is balanced properly by an equally strong sense of the responsibilities we each owe. We believe that there is a case for drawing out more clearly and explicitly the responsibilities that go with rights.
Duties and responsibilities are to be found in the convention, in statute, in common law and woven deeply into our social and moral fabric. We have a latent understanding and acceptance of our duties to one another and to the state. That said, responsibilities have been a poor cousin to rights. The Green Paper proposes that responsibilities are given greater prominence in our constitutional arrangements, better to articulate what we owe, as much as what we expect. That is how we can move away from a “rights culture” to a “rights and responsibilities culture”.
Some responsibilities are obvious, such as obeying the law, paying taxes and undertaking jury service. Others are less obviously recalled at the moment they should be exercised, such as a responsibility towards future generations to live within environmental limits, the duty we have to protect the well-being of children in our care, a civic duty to vote, responsibilities towards our neighbours, respect for those public sector workers who care for us and a responsibility towards the taxpayer—for example, not claiming benefits if one is able to work.
If we are to fulfil our responsibilities, we must have a clear understanding of what they are. As the Green Paper sets out, an accessible Bill of rights and responsibilities could be emblematic of the fair society in which we want to live, where awareness of our rights is matched with a greater understanding of our responsibilities to each other. Most of the social and economic rights to which I have referred are already embedded in law, but they are scattered across myriad legal texts. The Government believe that we should encapsulate those rights in a single document, bringing together the “new” post-war rights of social justice and the welfare state, victims’ rights, rights of equality and good administration.
A key question set out in the Green Paper is whether any Bill should have, directly or indirectly, the force of law. Bills of Rights from around the world are a combination of symbolism, aspiration and law across a spectrum of legal effect. There need not be a binary choice between the justiciable and the declaratory. As the Green Paper points out, the Government do not necessarily consider a model of directly legally enforceable rights or responsibilities to be the most appropriate.
But even without full legal enforcement, words can have great power. The universal declaration of human rights contained no legally enforceable rights, but was rather the global expression of a shared commitment and a recognition of humanity’s common dignity—what Eleanor Roosevelt described as the Magna Carta for all mankind. A Bill of rights and responsibilities for the United Kingdom could be such a declaration and could set down the values we cherish.
I have had the rare privilege of taking through this House many of the constitutional changes of the past 12 years. Throughout that time I have looked to secure the broadest political consensus behind those changes, as reform of such importance to our democracy requires nothing less.
Constitutional change should take place only on the basis of full and proper deliberation. The Green Paper has been through such a process within Government and now it is time to take the debate out to the people whom we all serve. The deliberation must not be rushed and so the Green Paper will not precede any legislation this side of a general election. We are dealing with the fundamental building blocks of our democracy, and as the Prime Minister made clear:
“Constitutional change will not be the work of just one Bill or one year or one Parliament”.—[Official Report, 3 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 815.]
A Bill of rights and responsibilities could form the next natural and necessary step in a process that began 60 years ago with the universal declaration. It is an opportunity to bring together existing rights and responsibilities in one statute and better to define the relationship between citizen and state in a new and unifying constitutional document for this century. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. It was not in fact needed, as it was all in The Sunday Times. Yet again, even on serious matters of constitutional reform, this Government demonstrate their disdain for this House by first announcing policy to the media. Am I correct in recalling that the Justice Secretary told the House last Tuesday:
“I might be old-fashioned, but I take the view that the place to make announcements is in the House of Commons”? —[Official Report, 17 March 2009; Vol. 489, c. 762.]
What has changed since then? Was this a decision taken by the Prime Minister?
We have had a decade of botched constitutional reform from this Government. The Justice Secretary was there from the start, and now he has been instructed by the Prime Minister to clear up the mess. In truth, there can be only two reasons for this Green Paper, which he says sets the framework of debate. Has he come to the House because he accepts that the Human Rights Act, which has been in force for less than nine years, has proved badly flawed, and that new thought is needed? Or is the statement just the latest exercise in pure spin, designed to make absolutely no difference in practice?
I have to correct the Justice Secretary: the Opposition voted against the Human Rights Act, and experience has proved that we were correct about many of the concerns that we expressed. The Act has singularly failed to protect our core freedoms. The heavy-handed abuse of the right to peaceful protest is documented in today’s report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. As for intrusions into personal privacy, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust today referred to Britain as the
“most invasive surveillance state…of any Western democracy”,
and this evening, the House will again resist the Government’s latest attack on juries.
The Human Rights Act has fuelled a rights inflation; it requires UK judges to take a maximalist approach to the interpretation of convention rights that is not, in fact, required by membership of the European convention on human rights, and that has created confusion and uncertainty in practice. Does the Justice Secretary now accept that the Act has often left police and probation services unclear of where the legal boundaries are as they strive to discharge their duty to protect the public, as was shown in the tragic case of Naomi Bryant? Does he accept that the Act has saddled public service providers with heavy liabilities and has what the Audit Commission describes as
“a universal and costly impact on the way that public bodies operate”?
Will he take responsibility for the Act’s role in undermining social responsibility, as the Government oversell human rights as all things to all people? If so, how exactly will his proposals make a difference to all that?
On the contrary, the Green Paper is, it seems, destined to make each of those problems worse. Take legal confusion. Writing in The Sunday Times, the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), explains that
“There may well be a case for not creating new rights outside the scope of the courts”,
but he urges us none the less to
“celebrate…the rights we enjoy…through…constitutional expression”,
“Words have power in their own right.”
Can the Secretary of State, who is after all a lawyer, please explain what on earth his junior Minister is talking about? The question is pretty straightforward: does he favour the creation of new economic and social rights with legal force, or are we talking about an entirely cosmetic exercise? If he does want to create new economic and social rights, he needs to say so, and he needs to explain why we in this House should abdicate to unaccountable judges our responsibility, as democratic law-makers, to set the nation’s economic and social priorities, and decide how finite public resources should be allocated to meet them.
Take rights to health care. Does the Justice Secretary accept that the reality of any new human rights to health care is that they will feed the claims culture? Just this week, the NHS Litigation Authority lambasted the existing regime. Would not the new rights mean more money for lawyers and less for patients—the last thing that the taxpayer will welcome in a recession? If he does not intend to create justiciable rights, can he explain how the standing of law is not undermined by the process on which he has embarked? What are we to make of his Minister of State comparing the proposals to the Bill of Rights of 1689? Was that document merely “aspirational”? Given their track record, I begin to think that the Government might well wish that the Bill of Rights, too, was merely the pap that is being served up here.
The Justice Secretary could not put off coming to the House for ever. We have waited more than 14 months for this announcement, which has been put back time and again, scuppered each time, we are told, by his colleagues. In a vain effort to say something—anything—on how to reform the Human Rights Act, he has produced a Green Paper that can only make matters worse. May I suggest to him that on the evidence of the Green Paper, he really would be well advised to heed colleagues’ warnings? That would be better than trying to create more confusion, and undermining yet again the democratic prerogatives of this House and, above all, the clarity of the law. The Green Paper has just one saving grace: it will not result in any legislation this side of a general election—in other words, it is for the birds.
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman protests too much. He makes much of his discontent with the Human Rights Act and how that has fuelled a compensation culture.
Let me read the House a quotation:
“The Human Rights Act has many benefits which it has conferred. The Human Rights Act is dynamic. . . I don’t think the Human Rights Act has anything to do with fuelling a compensation culture at all.”
That was the shadow Attorney-General speaking to lawyers at the Stationers’ Hall, City of London, on 30 March 2005—the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), the same hon. and learned Gentleman who told the House when the Human Rights Bill was going through the House,
“As is probably well known to my colleagues and possibly to other hon. Members, I have long been a supporter of the incorporation of a human rights Bill into our law. . . I would be denying my own conscience and feelings in the matter if I did not say that I believe that incorporation is a sensible step forward.” —[Official Report, 16 February 1998; Vol. 306, c. 831-3.]
I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that when the Bill was before the House, it was indeed the case that the Conservatives voted against it on Second Reading, but they did not vote against it on Third Reading, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has now had the grace to nod in agreement. Why? Because the Bill was much improved as a result of parliamentary scrutiny, not least from himself as an ardent supporter of the measure. When we came to Third Reading, the then shadow Attorney-General, now the noble and learned Lord Lyell, stood at the Opposition Dispatch Box and “wished the Bill well”. The Conservatives, or some tendency of the Conservative party, supports the Human Rights Act.
We were entertained at the weekend by the shadow Business Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), putting a torpedo through the Conservatives’ tax policy. He has also put a torpedo through the Conservatives’ failure to come up with any significant alternative to the Human Rights Act, describing his own leaders’ proposals as “xenophobic and legal nonsense”.
As I read his speeches, the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield must agree with most of that which is in the document, and is simply posturing to who knows whom on the Opposition Benches behind him. He is in favour of the Human Rights Act. When I read his speeches I see that he is in favour of almost everything that is in the document, as I am in favour of much that he has written, particularly recently.
To what is the hon. and learned Gentleman objecting? Is he objecting to us setting down in summary form the economic and social rights that we all enjoy? What is the problem about that? What is the problem with setting down, as we have done in slightly longer form, the rights to health care or to education? While we set down those rights, which we all enjoy and which not even the Conservative party proposes we take away—yet—is it not also sensible to set down the balancing responsibilities?
The hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that by setting in a single declaration those rights and responsibilities, we will somehow encourage the compensation culture. He has already answered that. It is nonsense. But if in the same text, along with the right to health care, we set down the responsibilities of patients, and if in the same text, along with the right to education, we set down the responsibilities of parents in respect of the education and upbringing of their children, does our society lose from that exercise or gain? I suggest that our society can only gain from such an exercise, and I invite the Opposition to join us in a serious exercise better to set out for the society that we have today the rights and responsibilities that we owe and we should enjoy.
I, too, thank the Secretary of State for early sight of the Green Paper and of his statement.
With all due respect to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), I do not understand the position that the Conservatives are taking. They seem on some days to want the plaudits of populists for calling for the abolition of the Human Rights Act, but also to crave the respect of civil libertarians. They simply cannot have both. However, does the Secretary of State not recognise that he, too, seems to want it both ways, in how he attempts to link rights to responsibilities? He seems to want not only to satisfy those who rightly say that human rights set up a minimum standard of which no civilised Government—no matter whom they are dealing with—can fall short, but to please those who say that some people do not deserve human rights; that latter position is simply a watered down version of the position of those who want to get rid of the Human Rights Act altogether.
More fundamentally, does the Secretary of State recognise the fundamental distinction between human rights on the one hand, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship on the other? They are not the same. Human rights set up obligations owed to all humans, and cannot be conditional. The rights of citizens, on the other hand, are not universal, and there are far fewer problems in saying that responsibilities are attached to citizenship.
Does the Secretary of State not also agree that there is a crisis of citizenship in the simple sense of people taking part in the government of their own communities? He is a great supporter of first past the post, but does he not at least accept that one of its effects is to narrow electoral politics to a few swing voters in a few marginal constituencies to the exclusion of everyone else? Is there not an irony in calling for greater commitment to citizenship just before a debate in which, as the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield said, the Government seek to restrict one of the best traditions of our citizenship—namely, the jury system?
The statement also seemed confused and vague on the relationship between constitutional texts and a sense of national unity. Does the Secretary of State not agree that it is not a text in itself but the experience of acting together to govern one’s own community that creates a sense of democratic identity? National identity itself very rarely creates democracies—in fact, things might be the other way round: too strong a sense of national identity might have been destructive of democratic ideals in the past century.
The Government are right to be cautious on economic and social rights. It would be a mistake, I believe, to constitutionalise too many essentially political decisions about taxing and spending. At the same time, it is already a human right not to be left in destitution and it is a plausible extension of the rights of citizens that they should have an entitlement to sufficient access to health, education and welfare services for them to be able to take part in a practical way in governing their own communities.
However, I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield that such rights as are included have to be properly enforceable in the courts. I am disturbed by what the Secretary of State has said about a range of rights—rights that are enforceable on the one hand, and rights that are purely declaratory or symbolic on the other. Does he agree that there is a grave danger that in creating rights that are not enforceable, he might end up diluting the whole idea of rights themselves? We have had enough of government by press release; the last thing that we need is a constitution by press release as well.
Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman’s last point. Essentially, he said that if we have a Bill, anything in it has to be justiciable; that, at least, is what I took him to say. I understand his point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read the Green Paper, but I commend it to him some more. In chapter 4, we bring out the fact that if we look at equivalent documents and texts around the world, we see that not every part of a declaration, Bill of Rights or preamble to a constitution is enforceable in the same way as every other part. On page 54, we cite what is set out in article 45 of the Irish constitution. The article is declaratory, but by all accounts the Irish believe that setting out important economic and social rights in a declaratory form in their constitution meets important imperatives within their society. My view is that it is sensible for there to be rights and responsibilities across the piece in a single document. If those could be agreed between the parties in terms of education for citizenship, it would be enormously valuable, when we talk to our constituents, to be able to say, “This is what has been agreed. Whatever else the British political parties and the British people disagree about, these are the sets of basic values—rights and responsibilities—that we all agree about.” This is a good starting point. There are certain things that we agree about, but at the moment they are less articulated than they should be, particularly as regards responsibilities, and we should set them out. In its important report last summer, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said that it would be unwise to make economic and social rights directly justiciable because that would pre-empt the role of this Parliament. Of course, I accept that. However, there is greater value in having such a document than in not having it.
I am always ready to rise to the bait of discussing electoral reform, but I will not on this occasion, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me. I will just say that there is greater concern in Norway and in the Czech Republic about the state of their democracy than there is here, notwithstanding their proportional representation systems. The whole House will have noted that I did not mention, among the major constitutional changes that this House has agreed in the past 12 years, the list system for European Parliament elections. [Interruption.] It was a manifesto commitment, your honour.
The hon. Gentleman is right to ask what the Conservatives want. I think that they want different things. In February this year, the shadow Home Secretary said that what we want is “fewer rights, more wrongs”. That was an extraordinary statement—so extraordinary that the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) had to say that he was not completely clear about what it meant. [Interruption.] As a matter of fact, I am completely clear about what “fewer rights, more wrongs” means: it means fewer rights and more wrongs. That produced complete chaos at the heart of the Tory party.
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I say to the House that there is enormous pressure on business today, so could I please ask for single, brief questions and, if possible, brief replies?
I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the Human Rights Act, which stands in stark contrast to the intellectually incoherent position of the Opposition. His remarks about social and economic rights are particularly important. I agree that direct enforceability is not appropriate, but such rights need to be more than just aspirational or declamatory. Will he consider some of the options that we advanced in our report as to forms of justiciability—for example, interpretive powers for the courts, an annual report to Parliament on progress, and a bottom line that nobody should fall below in terms of their social and economic rights?
As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, my hon. Friend has played a very important role in developing our thinking and that of the House. The answer to his question is yes. For example, we will take careful account of what is shown in recommendation 39 of his report of last July.
Given that one of the most important rights of all is freedom of religion and freedom to express one’s belief, what does this document offer in the way of hope to the British Airways stewardess who was suspended for wearing a cross, to the nurse who was suspended for saying prayers for one of her patients, to the school secretary who was suspended because her child talked about Jesus, and to the pantomime dame who believes that his rights are threatened by what we will do tonight?
I am as appalled as the hon. Gentleman by those cases. They have nothing whatever to do with the Human Rights Act, and they are absolutely shameful. I made that clear at the time, and I do so again. The right to freedom of religion is guaranteed by the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act. However, I hope that he will contribute to the debate that we are starting off today about whether one can better protect the rights of faith so that the kind of appalling nonsense that has taken place, to which he refers, is not repeated in future.
The Lord Chancellor quotes Britain’s constitutional history, but is not one of the prizes painfully won in that history that a British citizen’s human rights are enforceable by the courts and do not depend on a person behaving as the Government want them to behave, as long as they obey the law? If people cannot enforce their rights under the proposed Bill, and if the duties are unenforceable, is it not just a Bill of hopes and aspirations—or Straw’s sermon on the mount? I think that I prefer the original.
So do I.
I should have said to the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) that basic human rights do not depend on responsibilities. We all understand that. It is a mark of a civilised society that we are ready to give to the least worthy in our society—the people accused of the worst kinds of crimes—rights that they would never accord to us. There is no argument about that. None the less, the way in which people behave towards others is taken into account by the courts and is part of our overall moral code, and we need to articulate that better. If the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) considers what happens in other countries, he will see that Bills of Rights and declarations cover a range from aspiration to direct enforcement. I believe that our Bill of Rights could do the same.
Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that many of us who have listened to his statement will come to the following conclusion? Either the proposal means nothing at all, and is an attempt to give apparent substance to the empty mouthings of the Prime Minister, or alternatively the Justice Secretary intends to create enforceable rights—that is, enforceable at law—in which case, he will give to unelected judges huge influence over matters that are the proper responsibility of this place.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not, understandably, had a chance to read the document, but I ask him to do so. I hope and believe that when he has done so, he will see that it is neither of the things that he describes. It is a serious contribution to an important debate, which was initiated, among others, by the leader of the Conservative party. His party has also promised a paper on rights and responsibilities. The only difference is that it promised it three years ago, and so far it has not produced anything at all.
The Justice Secretary quite rightly made reference to our constitutional heritage, such as the Magna Carta. But the Bill of Rights of 1689 was composed and arrived at within simply months, but the gestation period that the present Government have embarked upon confuses one. All the inalienable rights that we have always assumed as a free and democratic people are available in the constitutional instruments at our disposal, including the Human Rights Act. They protect the relationship of the citizen to the state and they define it. What the Justice Secretary proposes—this confusion and mishmash—is clearly just a diversionary tactic. I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends: the proposal is going nowhere, and the Justice Secretary knows it. We are wasting time.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. On the drafting of the Bill of Rights of 1689, I am not sure how long it took to transcribe, but it was certainly the subject of huge debate over many decades, including during our own civil war. It reflected a long period of gestation.
That is not right.
Well, we can have a separate debate about that; we could have it in Government time. I invite the hon. Gentleman to read the document.
As well as some dodgy history that seems to claim the Declaration of Arbroath as British history, this curious and extravagant document hints at further devolution. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that Scotland, as a distinct legislature and community, should go its own way in terms of rights and responsibilities, and will he assure me that he will not be too prescriptive in how he applies measures across the nations of the United Kingdom?
The inclusion of the Declaration of Arbroath was a mark of respect to Scotland. As to the future, we are a Union. We are a United Kingdom of four nations in one, and there are clear competences for the sovereign Parliament of that Union, as there are for the devolved Administrations.
Does the Justice Secretary agree that when people avail themselves of their right to demonstrate, they should also be held responsible for any offences that they happen to commit in the execution of that right, and that the law should be applied consistently no matter who the demonstrators happen to be?
Of course I agree with that.
I welcome the fact that there seems to be an emphasis on social and economic responsibilities. Many people would say that those include saving for a pension, and nobody will take the emphasis seriously if the Equitable Life pensioners do not have their rights restored through the ombudsman and get the pension that is due to them.
The hon. Lady will excuse me if I do not get drawn into the issue of Equitable Life, except to say that the Human Rights Act, which the Conservatives supported and which the shadow Justice Secretary was supporting until, I think, 1 o’clock this afternoon, has given individuals, including those in a similar position to pensioners of Equitable Life, far greater rights than ever they had before.
I hope that we are going to be spared Gordon’s little red book on responsible citizens, but can we have our right to a referendum on big constitutional change at Lisbon properly observed?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that we set out in our manifesto provisions and proposals in respect of referendums, and they were also set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
The right hon. Gentleman might recognise this question from the sessions of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. His statement mentioned responsibilities including obeying the law, but may I ask him why paying taxes, jury service and not claiming benefits if able to work are not obeying the law? Are not all the responsibilities that he lists simply obeying the law, and therefore is it not just a gesture to the tabloids to call this a Bill of rights and responsibilities?
No, it is not. My guess is that, notwithstanding the fact that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make a partisan point, he often talks in his constituency about people who are claiming rights and the responsibilities that they owe. It is a good idea for Government and Parliament, on a consensual basis, to put in better relief the balance between rights and responsibilities, which is what we seek to do in this document.
Surely one of the fundamental rights of the British people is to a Parliament that has the freedom independently to scrutinise the Executive. On the assumption that the Secretary of State can agree to that rather prosaic proposition, when will the Executive stop appointing the members of the Select Committees that scrutinise them and instead allow right hon. and hon. Members to elect the members of those Committees for themselves?
The process of the Committee of Selection is subject to the endorsement of the House. We thought about this when I was Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, and the honest truth is that the only other possible system would almost certainly produce the same results. There are plenty of individual Members who have particularly strong views and still sit on Select Committees.