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Rule of Law

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 26 March 2013

1. What recent representations he has received on the effect of membership of the European convention on human rights on the UK’s reputation for upholding the rule of law. (149745)

I have not received any recent representations on this subject, but I am clear that the United Kingdom’s enviable reputation for upholding the rule of law is closely linked to our country’s commitment to the European convention on human rights and to ensuring that those rights are enshrined in our own laws.

I thank the Attorney-General for that answer. Some Government Members are talking about exiting the European convention on human rights. Will he assure us that that will not happen? I know that he believes in the convention, so may I tell him that he will have the support of Opposition Members in the battle to ensure that we remain in it?

I have noticed, on occasion, irritation in all parts of the House about the operation of the European convention on human rights, but the Government’s position remains clear: our adherence to the convention is in the national interest.

Is it not possible to be proud that this country created the European convention on human rights in 1948 to counter communism and fascism while also being dismayed that, because of judicial activism, the Court is interfering in the rights of this democratic Assembly to come to its own conclusions on issues such as prisoner voting rights?

My hon. Friend is right to say that the United Kingdom has not been uncritical of the way in which the European Court of Human Rights has operated. That is why we initiated the negotiation with other countries which led to the Brighton declaration. We believe that the principles of subsidiarity should be re-emphasised, that the selection of judges should be improved and that the backlog of the Court needs to be addressed. Those are important reform packages. We were successful in getting agreement on them last year, and we intend now to see that they are implemented.

Does the Attorney-General agree that it is simply not possible or right to start picking and choosing which decisions of the European Court of Human Rights we agree or disagree with? We are signed up to that charter, which guarantees the human rights of people all over Europe, including in this country. Surely that is something of which we should be proud rather than trying to undermine it all the time, as many of his Back Benchers consistently do.

The convention is an international legal obligation that we take extremely seriously and I have no doubt that our adherence to it is extremely helpful in raising standards of human rights elsewhere and in countries that have much poorer track records. The advantages to be derived from such an international legal obligation applied across countries need to be weighed in the balance when people are critical of how it is sometimes interpreted.

Will the Attorney-General ensure that all Ministers and members of his own party are at all times honest and accurate about both the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights?

I am quite sure that all my right hon. and hon. Friends always strive for accuracy in this department. It has to be said that I sometimes open my newspaper and am quite surprised to read some of the material published on the subject, so if anyone relies on such newspaper articles, it may be that they are likely to be misled.

Will the Attorney-General confirm very simply that the European convention on human rights was founded by the Council of Europe and is nothing to do with the European Union, and that it is legitimate to be against the European Union while being supportive of the European convention on human rights?

Is it true that some of the judges on the Court that enforces the European convention have no legal training whatsoever?

I would be hesitant to make such a comment. It is true that the judges are sometimes appointed from academic backgrounds, but it is worth bearing in mind that our national judiciary, apart from the fact that they have sometimes sat part time as judges, are not formally trained for judicial office even domestically. One must be a little wary of making such a sweeping statement, but there is no doubt, as I said, that the quality of the judiciary needs to be improved.

Given that one of the early backers of the European convention on human rights was Winston Churchill, does that not add an historical tone as to why it would be irresponsible to remove oneself from the convention?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that Winston Churchill was a great proponent of the convention’s coming into force. It was supported on both sides of the House. There were some hesitations at the time, but it was undoubtedly seen as a marked step change in improving human rights on the European continent.