Skip to main content

Bill of Rights

Volume 548: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2012

2. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies on constitutional reform of the introduction of a British Bill of Rights. (115846)

The hon. Lady will know that the Commission on a Bill of Rights is investigating the introduction of a UK Bill of Rights, building on our responsibilities under the European convention on human rights. It is due to report at the end of this year. We look forward to its report, but I do not want to pre-empt its conclusions.

I thank the Minister for his response. Given that there are absolute rights and qualified rights under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the margin of appreciation doctrine, does the Minister know whether the commission is considering the possibility of the Human Rights Act sitting alongside the Bill of Rights in a happy coalition of rights and responsibilities?

I do not know whether that is what the commission will recommend. It gave us some welcome interim advice on reform of the European Court of Human Rights, which was helpful in the negotiations that secured the agreement of all 47 members of the Council of Europe to some improvements, which were welcomed on both sides of the House. I will wait to see what the commission recommends at the end of the year.

Will the Minister confirm that, far from nibbling away at this problem, which many of us fear is what the commission is doing, any Bill of Rights will be based on Westminster legislation, not on European Union legislation or the European convention on human rights?

Again, I do not know what the commission will recommend. It contains distinguished and eminent lawyers on both sides of the argument. I think that it will come up with a very good report, and the Government will consider what it says. I remind my hon. Friend that this country signed up to the European convention on human rights only because this House decided that it should do so. We will listen to the commission’s conclusions and act on those that the Government support.

Given the special circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland, will the Minister have direct discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about Northern Ireland’s human rights legislation and a separate Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland?

My understanding is that discussions are under way on that point, but that the parties in Northern Ireland have not been able to reach a consensus. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will continue to have discussions, but he wants to reach a consensus among the parties in Northern Ireland before making progress.

Is it not a fundamental right of the British people to elect those who make our laws? Is it not a reasonable expectation that Parliament, once it has agreed that principle, will not allow it to be prevented by delay?

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. Later today, I will have the opportunity to set out my views at greater length, which I hope the House will find interesting.