Skip to main content

Human Rights Act 1998

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 20 July 2010

In the coalition agreement, the Government committed to establishing a commission to investigate the creation of a Bill of Rights. The scope of the commission and its terms of reference will be announced in due course, but it is my expectation that in the course of its work the commission will consider the experience of the Human Rights Act 1998.

I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for that response. Does he agree that, on the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the Act, domestically enforceable and universally applicable human rights are one of the best checks on Executive power that we have, and does he agree with the remarks that he made in The Daily Telegraph on 27 June 2006 that to repeal the Human Rights Act would be an act of “xenophobic and legal nonsense”?

We are going to review in due course every aspect of the working of the Human Rights Act in the light of that 10 years of experience. I agree that there are very important protections for human rights, and there is no question of moving away from the European convention on human rights. The coalition agreement does not contemplate that. Actually, the changes that have taken place in British common law, with the huge enlargement of the scope of judicial review—which includes reviews of all ministerial decisions and of legislation current in the House—have also greatly altered the scene. Sometimes that gets confused with the European convention on human rights. I have given a range of views in the past and no doubt we will consider those views carefully in the light of the report that we eventually get from the commission.

Is the Lord Chancellor aware of the book by the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) and Peter Oborne entitled “Churchill’s Legacy: The Conservative Case for the Human Rights Act”? Will he encourage his right hon. and hon. Friends to read it and thereby dispel the many myths about the Act? The Human Rights Act exists for all of us: what is not to like?

The European convention on human rights was produced after the second world war, largely at the instigation of Churchill and others, to ensure that the whole continent developed in line with those values for which the British had fought the war. The principal architect and draftsman of the convention was a man called Maxwell Fyfe. I recall that history because it is relevant to this issue, and we have to improve public understanding of the application of human rights in British law as well as reviewing the operation of the Act.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he had had a range of views on whether the Human Rights Act should be repealed, but he has actually had one view, which he has repeated over and over again—he even described the Prime Minister’s proposal as “anti-foreigner”. Given that consistency, which I commend the right hon. and learned Gentlemen on and welcome because it was supporting a Labour policy, and given that, as he well knows—because he is a very bright man—the issue is not the European convention on human rights but the Human Rights Act passed by this Parliament, will he now rule out the abolition of the Act?

I do not mind being quoted from my freelance days on the Back Benches. However, in their enthusiasm to find quotes, people find the odd word and attribute them to things. I never accuse any of my colleagues of being anti-foreigner. Part of the confusion about the European convention tends to be that somehow it is not British, which I just addressed in pointing out that it was drafted by David Maxwell Fyfe and very much supported by the British Government and both main parties at the time. The Human Rights Act has now had 10 years, and it is time to review it. There is a range of views and sometimes concern in this country about exactly how it relates to Parliament and where our constitution now is on these matters. In due course, we will set up a convention to advise us on that.