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Bill of Rights Commission

Volume 550: debated on Tuesday 18 September 2012

11. What recent assessment he has made of the work of the commission on a Bill of Rights; and if he will make a statement. (121189)

The commission published its second consultation in July 2012; this is due to close on 30 September. In accordance with its terms of reference, the commission should aim to report no later than the end of 2012, taking into consideration responses from both consultations.

I apologise, Mr Speaker, for that rush; I was so excited to be asking the question.

Let me first congratulate the whole Justice team and thank the Minister for his response. Will he inform the House where he stands on the future of the Human Rights Act 1998? Is he with his predecessor in wanting it to be retained or would he prefer it to be abolished and replaced by a Bill of Rights? If the latter, which of the rights currently protected by the Act does he believe are no longer worthy of protection?

The hon. Gentleman should never apologise for his characteristic courtesy, which is welcome on both sides of the House. I will tell him what we hope to achieve through the commission: we hope to move to a position in which human rights are once again completely accepted. In this country, “human rights” has become almost a boo-phrase, which is ridiculous. They are the basic rights to which we and all democracies adhere, but in various actions inside the courts and outside, human rights have been abused and this Government will put an end to that.

May I congratulate the Minister on his appointment? Is not an important right the British people’s right to a final say, and, with 80% saying in opinion polls that they want the Supreme Court to have the final decision, is it not right that we should consider how that can be done?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. It is precisely because of the strong feelings that we have set up the commission, which will report in a few months’ time. I hope that then we can have a well-informed debate about how we will take forward human rights in this country, preserving what is essential while avoiding the terrible abuses that have grown over the past few years.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to say something positive about the European Court of Human Rights and the European convention on human rights, which have done so much to improve the human rights of minorities and individuals all over Europe, and stop listening to the neanderthal voices behind him of those who think there is some salvation in walking away from what was a very important step forward in European human rights after the second world war?

As I hope I made clear in my answer to the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), I want to restore human rights and the basic ideas behind them to their place as not only a central part of our political debate but something that is unquestioned on either side of this House or anywhere outside it. That is what we should think about human rights; the problem is that they have been abused in both the European Courts and our domestic courts and in other parts of the system. We need a proper balance and, once the commission has come up with recommendations on that, that is what this Government will achieve.