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The European Human Rights Convention

Volume 415: debated on Tuesday 25 November 1980

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2.41 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. May I apologise to the House and to the Minister for a clerical error? The words "Article 40" should read "Article 46".

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is their intention to ensure that the right of individual petition under Article 25 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms shall be renewed and, if so, for an indefinite period, and whether the appropriate declaration will be deposited with the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe; and further whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to make the appropriate declaration under Article 40 of the said convention to be effective for an indefinite period and to deposit such declaration with the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have decided that our acceptance of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, and the right of individual petition to the European Commission of Human Rights, will be renewed for a period of five years from January 1981. The appropriate declarations will be communicated to the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe shortly.

My Lords, I welcome that Answer by the Minister, which I hope will end recent uncertainty about the position of individual petitions. Will the Minister agree that it should now be an accepted principle that an individual adversely affected by an alleged or real act under the convention should have a right of access either to a domestic court or to the European Court? Finally, if that be so, would it not be helpful if the procedure under Article 25 were determined by a more suitable and more permanent practice than an announcement by the Government of the day lasting only five years?

My Lords, the access to the European Court is of course through the Commission, and subject to the findings of the Commission. That is the effect of the continued acceptance by Her Majesty's Government of Articles 25 and 46. So far as matters to do with domestic courts in this country are concerned, that is a matter for the courts of this country. The noble Lord asked finally whether the Government's acceptance of these two articles should be on a permanent footing. I should like to point out to the noble Lord that we believe that the acceptance that we have given is in the best interests of this country, and that we have renewed for as long a period as any of the countries which have renewed for specified periods.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his announcement that the Government have decided to renew the right of petition for a term of five years is greatly welcomed on this side of the House? It is the same period of renewal that the previous Administration decided upon and it is, after all, quite a substantial span of time. Does the noble Lord agree that the right of individual petition goes to the very root of the provisions for the protection of human rights, and has contributed greatly to that protection during the time of the ratification and existence of the convention?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the support that he has given for the machinery by which we have accepted these articles. So far as the last remarks of the noble and learned Lord are concerned, the Government attach importance to support of human rights in Europe, and it is for that reason that we have given this acceptance that I have announced today.

My Lords, while welcoming deeply the decision of the Government, may I ask this: can something he done to speed up the procedure of the court, which oftens means that applicants have to wait for months, even years, before a decision is made? Will Her Majesty's Government make some suggestion by which this may be remedied?

My Lords, I imagine that this is a matter for the court, but certainly we will look at what the noble Lord is asking.

My Lords, while not lessening my welcome, would the noble Lord agree that there are cases where there is a breach, or alleged breach, of one of the articles and the complainant cannot find a remedy in a British court and has great difficulty in getting the case to the European court?

My Lords, this may be so, but I do not think it alters the terms of the original answer which I gave to the noble Lord's first supplementary question.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I do not often find myself in total agreement with Lord Fenner Brockway but that I should like from this side of the House to accentuate the need for some speeding up of the procedure? The railwaymen who have been appealing to the human rights court now for some three years are still awaiting a judgment. When people have lost their jobs through the application of the closed shop, it is very unfair that individuals should be kept waiting for three or more years for a judgment.

My Lords, so far as the Government's responsibility is concerned, we certainly take note of the support that the noble Lord has given to the noble Lord opposite.