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Bill of Rights (Public Consultation)

Volume 495: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2009

6. When his Department plans to begin a public consultation on the proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. (283759)

The Government are currently considering the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s detailed proposals. We aim to publish a consultation paper after the parliamentary summer recess.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Given that polls show that three quarters of people in Northern Ireland, from all sides of the community, think that a Bill of Rights is important for the future, will the Minister, after the consultation, commit to allowing sufficient parliamentary time to deliver on that vital part of the Good Friday agreement?

Before we consider the issue of parliamentary time, we need a proper consultation on the proposals made by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. As the hon. Lady will know, it provided us with a 200-page document with some 80 recommendations. We are considering all of them very carefully indeed. I look forward to the public consultation that will follow later in the year.

The Minister will be aware that there is widespread concern, particularly in the Unionist community, about the proposals in the draft Bill of Rights. Unionist parties, Unionists on the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Protestant Church leaders have made clear those concerns. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will not proceed with the Bill of Rights as it is currently drafted and that they will go back to consult the community and take on board the genuine concerns held by many people in Northern Ireland?

I acknowledge that there are many views on the issue, and many views have been expressed. There was, however, one report from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; we have received it, are considering it and will consult on it. However, I offer the right hon. Gentleman the absolute reassurance that he and all people in Northern Ireland will have the opportunity to comment on and be part of that consultation.