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Declaration Of Human Rights

Volume 460: debated on Tuesday 18 January 1949

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asked the Prime Minister whether His Majesty's Government accede to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and what changes they propose to initiate in British domestic and colonial legislation in order to bring such legislation into line with the principles laid down in the Universal Declaration.

I should perhaps explain the difference between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Draft Covenant of Human Rights. The Declaration is a statement of fundamental human rights and freedoms that the General Assembly has proclaimed as a common standard of achievement which all should strive to attain. The draft Covenant, on the other hand, is to be a legally binding Convention. It will contain specific obligations to secure the observance by all States that accede to it of those rights and freedoms which can be expressed in such a form.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly in the form of a Resolution, the United Kingdom representative voting in its favour. There is no question of any separate act of accession by States, or of an obligation to give early legislative effect to any provision with which Kingdom or Colonial laws may at the moment be at variance. Nevertheless, His Majesty's Government subscribe generally to the ideal embodied in the Declaration and will continue to work towards it.

Is the Prime Minister aware that that reply will cause very great concern among a number of people, many of them in this country, who hoped that this Declaration of Human Rights was going to be accepted by the Government as a standard for the future behaviour of all civilised nations? Is the Prime Minister saying now that we are merely going to pay lip service to it and not strive to get rid of the control of engagements and other things?

I am afraid that the hon. Member could not have listened to what I have said, because what he is stating is exactly the reverse of what I said. In fact, I stated precisely what he has suggested those people were hoping.

Then may I ask the Prime Minister if he will give a specific assurance that within a short measure of time our British and Colonial legislation will be brought into line with the standard of behaviour which is now accepted as the result of this charter?

I think, generally speaking, that-both here at home and in the British Commonwealth we approach more nearly to reaching these ideals than does any other country in the world.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether there is any hope, as the result of our adherence to this convention, that we shall get rid of all discrimination on grounds of sex in this country?

Are we to understand that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are striving day and night to get rid of the closed shop?

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of the Secretary of State for War to the section in the Declaration where it is declared that a man is innocent until found guilty and ask the Secretary of State for War to see that his Department acts on these lines?

My hon. Friend had better put down a Question to the Secretary of State for War.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Article 24 of the Declaration lays down that everyone, without discrimination, has the right of equal pay for equal work; and can he give the House an assurance that the Government will work towards this a little more radically than they have worked up till now?

These declarations contain a great number of rights, but rights must always be considered also with regard to duties and when one is looking at the whole body of these rights one must see how far in given circumstances one must approach them. It is not, I think, accepted that every State will be able at once to realise all these ideals.

Is it not the case that one of the fundamental rights of mankind is to put an end entirely to the exploitation of man by man? Do the Tories and Liberals approve of that?

In view of the most unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall ask for a day to debate this matter, or raise it on the Adjournment.