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Human Rights Act

Volume 532: debated on Tuesday 13 September 2011

9. If he will make an assessment of the effectiveness of the Human Rights Act 1998 in respect of the balance between fundamental liberties and obligations to society. (71314)

We have established an independent commission to investigate the creation of a United Kingdom Bill of Rights. The commission is due to report no later than the end of next year and the Government look forward to receiving and considering its findings.

I am grateful for that answer. Does the Secretary of State support Liberty’s campaign, entitled “Common Values”, that seeks to separate the myths from the truths of the Human Rights Act, which has, for example, protected the victims of rape from being cross-examined in court by their assailants? Is this not the right way to tackle what the Prime Minister recently called the misrepresentation of human rights?

The best way to answer that is to say that I agree with the campaign, with the hon. Gentleman and with the Prime Minister. A perfectly serious debate has taken place about human rights legislation and I look forward to the commission’s advice. A lot of the difficulty comes when human rights are invoked by officials in excuse for bad decisions or in all kinds of cases that have nothing to do with any human rights legislation. We would have an altogether more sensible debate if people understood the real problems and difficulties—and that they are not all problems and difficulties.

For many, the perception of the application of human rights law is that the pendulum has swung too far away from responsibilities and duties. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the commission will present a good opportunity to extend the understanding that with rights go responsibilities?

I think the commission is a very helpful idea for getting some objective and balanced advice on the whole subject. Otherwise, I agree with my hon. Friend that there is no reason why human rights should interfere with the proper balance between the responsibilities and duties that one properly owes to society. Everybody in this country is in favour of basic human rights and everybody wants to have an orderly society. I think the commission will help to steer the debate in a more sensible direction.

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to assure us that any review of the Human Rights Act will not include withdrawal from the European convention on human rights or the European Court of Human Rights? Will he recognise that both those institutions have done a great deal of good to improve the human rights of minorities and ordinary citizens across Europe and that the convention is worth staying in?

The convention was largely drafted by British lawyers led by Lord Kilmuir. Successive British Governments have adhered to the convention and have put great value on it and the Court. Since the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the cold war, the convention has acquired new importance in making sure that we support advancing standards in eastern and central Europe. There is not the faintest chance of the present Government withdrawing from the convention on human rights, and we are waiting for the commission to give us—[Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Have a look at our coalition agreement. Indeed, it is not just the coalition agreement—we have agreed to have a fresh look at this through the commission and we are not prejudging its findings.