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Human Rights

Volume 301: debated on Monday 24 November 1997

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9.

What measures he intends to introduce to safeguard the rights of British citizens under the European convention on human rights. [15785]

We introduced the Human Rights Bill in another place last month and published a White Paper at the same time. The Bill gives further effect in domestic law to the rights and freedoms set out in the convention and will significantly improve the ability of people in the United Kingdom to have access to their convention rights before our own courts.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his welcome reply. May I clarify with him the position of British citizens who are already bringing cases to the Strasbourg Court and are thereby locking themselves into a lengthy and expensive procedure? Will British citizens be able to transfer their cases into the British legal system when the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into our law is complete?

We thought about that issue carefully in preparing the Bill. However, we decided that it would not be practicable to allow for cases to be brought retrospectively in the British courts. For that reason, the Bill provides for a right of action in the British courts that will come into force at the same time as the Bill.

Does the Home Secretary accept that one effect of incorporating the European convention on human rights into our law will be the politicisation of the judiciary? If he does not, will he explain his position to the Lord Chancellor who, in 1996, wrote an article expressing those very dangers?

I do not accept that for a moment. I am interested to learn that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with the shadow Lord Chancellor. It was Lord Kingsland, the shadow Lord Chancellor, who said on the radio on the day we published the Bill:

"One thing you could say in favour of the Bill is that it domesticates the powers of the institutions of the Convention with the result that our own judges are now making these decisions instead of the judges in Strasbourg."
The Conservative party needs to get its act together on this, as on so many other issues. Of course we are not remotely politicising the British judiciary; indeed, we have constructed the Bill carefully to ensure that there remains a clear separation between the role of the judiciary and the role of Parliament.

Do prisoners have any rights under the European convention? In particular, does Myra Hindley have any way of challenging my right hon. Friend's decision to keep her in prison until she dies, while other people convicted of heinous, revolting and repulsive crimes may be released early?

Any individual, whether or not he or she is a British citizen, who is resident or in Britain has a right under the European convention at the moment and subsequently upon incorporation. Myra Hindley has such rights. Indeed, she is seeking to exercise her rights under British law by bringing an action for judicial review of my predecessor's and now my decision in respect of the whole life tariff which he set and which I confirmed last week.

What the Lord Chancellor actually said about the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into British law was that it offers

"immense scope for political and philosophical disagreement"
between the House and the courts. I have a simple question for the Home Secretary: does he agree?

The Lord Chancellor made it absolutely clear that he accepts—and, indeed, he was one of the architects of the scheme—the arrangements which we have laid down in the Human Rights Bill to separate the role of the judiciary from the role of the House. One of the important parts of the scheme of incorporation that we have adopted—views have moved on since the Lord Chancellor made that point—was to ensure that the sovereignty of Parliament was absolutely protected. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there will be no provision in the Human Rights Bill by which the courts will be able to override and render void a Bill or an Act of Parliament.