Hon. Members will know that I cannot discuss legal advice that I may have given to members of the Government, but I have regular discussions with colleagues about a large number of issues. Domestic and international human rights are an important aspect of our law and are a key consideration in the Law Officers’ work.
The answer to the latter part of the hon. Gentleman’s question is yes. On the first part, I do not support the Human Rights Act, but I do support the European convention on human rights. There is a misunderstanding here, perhaps on his part and certainly among some of his Labour colleagues, as the abolition of the Human Rights Act does not mean the abolition of human rights. The Conservative party is in favour of human rights and we have a proud record on human rights. What we do not agree with is the mess his party made of the relationship between this country’s courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg—we will do something about it.
May I follow up on the Attorney-General’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) by asking whether he agrees that last week’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that British courts can hand down whole-life sentences without breaching human rights is a fine example of dialogue between our courts and Strasbourg? As we mark the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death, will the Attorney-General join me in celebrating the European convention as Churchill’s legacy and one that provides vital protections that we would be unwise to deny our people?
I welcome clarification from the European Court of Human Rights on whole-life tariffs, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is not just the outcome of these cases that can be problematic but the time, effort and taxpayers’ money spent defending them. He is quite right that the convention is an excellent document; there is very little to disagree with in it. The problem is the way in which the European Court of Human Rights has interpreted that document. Once again, the Conservative party will do something about that, but, as far as I can tell, the Labour party in government would do nothing whatever about it.
One of the basic human rights is the right of association and, through that, the right to combine together in trade unions. Will the Attorney-General say why his Government are making it harder for civil servants to exercise that basic human right by withdrawing the right to have trade union subscriptions taken off pay at source?
I do not accept that we are taking human rights away from civil servants. Let me repeat the point that I made: the Conservative party in government has a proud record on human rights. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was a Conservative Home Secretary who brought forward the Modern Slavery Bill, of which we are very proud. Clearly, it was a “human-rights enhancing measure”. Those are not my words but those of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It was a Conservative Foreign Secretary, now Leader of the House, who has done excellent work on preventing the use of sexual violence in conflict—again, huge steps forward in the defence of human rights in this country and abroad. We are proud of that record, but see no reason to combine that pride with a blind and meek acceptance that every judgment of the European convention on human rights by the European Court of Human Rights, however eccentric, should be meekly accepted.
The Council of Europe and the European convention on human rights were set up to protect the citizens of Ukraine from the former Soviet Union. Should we not be doing more to protect the citizens of Ukraine with regard to their human rights at this present time?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point. Of course she is right that when the convention was originally drafted, it was precisely to deal with the most egregious examples of breaches of human rights across the world. That is what we have always supported, and we will continue to do so. What we do not support is the extension of that franchise to discussing things such as the insemination of prisoners in prison, and whether prisoners should be given the right to vote in British elections. That is in no way comparable to what my hon. Friend is discussing.
Will the Attorney-General confirm that neither the repeal of the Human Rights Act nor a British Bill of Rights could in any way diminish Britain’s obligations under the European convention on human rights, or does he disagree with his predecessor on that point?
As I have said, there is no direct connection between what we decide to do on the Human Rights Act and what we decide to do in support of human rights, both nationally and internationally. We remain wholly committed to the preservation of human rights, both in this country and abroad. As for my predecessor, I think that he would wholeheartedly support that position.
The Attorney-General refers to the Government’s leadership in tackling modern slavery. Given that traffickers operate across jurisdictions, what is he doing to support other countries to have effective justice systems to protect the victims and enforce the law?
My hon. Friend is right that we need to think about how we assist other countries in the way in which they implement their justice systems so that we can work together to confront what is, as he says, cross-border problems. It comes back to the dilemma that was being discussed with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister around what we do in countries that do not have the best records in the preservation of justice and human rights. We have to get the balance right, but it is important that we continue to co-operate.