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EU Convention on Human Rights

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2015

15. What the Government’s policy is on the UK remaining party to the European Convention on Human Rights. (902608)

We cannot rule out ever withdrawing from the ECHR, but our proposals for a Bill of Rights are focused on remaining within the convention, which contains a common-sense list of rights.

Does the Minister agree that a constitutional court could have primacy over decisions in Strasbourg and that such a possibility should be at the heart of any further consultations?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. We respect the fact that the convention includes a common-sense list of rights, and we want to ensure that we have the proper interpretation of those rights. We also want to ensure that we have a Supreme Court that remains supreme. It should be said that where the goalposts of human rights shift, it should be elected Members here that have the last word.

It was reported last week that the long-awaited consultation on the Government’s plans to scrap the Human Rights Act would not be published until the new year. Will the Secretary of State confirm when he intends to bring forward a British Bill of Rights, and will he commit to ensuring a full consultation on these proposals and that adequate time will be given to consider and answer any responses to the consultation?

We have made it clear that the proposals will be brought forward in the new year for full consultation. One area that we want to look at a bit further is the impact of the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice in Luxembourg as well as the Court of Justice in Strasbourg. I can reassure the hon. and learned Lady that we will take the Scottish view very seriously. I have already met the Scottish Justice Minister, Alex Neil, and a range of Scottish practitioners and non-governmental organisations. I look forward to continuing that consultation.

In June the Secretary of State assured this House that, in his view, human rights were a reserved matter. Last week, however, he told the House of Lords Constitutional Affairs Committee that legislation regarding human rights is neither reserved nor devolved. Does he therefore now accept that any legislation repudiating the Human Rights Act and introducing a British Bill of Rights will require the consent of the Scottish Parliament? Is he aware that there is no question of such consent being given?

As we have said many times before, revising the Human Rights Act can only be done by the UK Government, but implementation of many human rights issues is already devolved. I have to say that the SNP’s policy on this issue is rather “cake and eat it”. SNP Members suggest that Westminster is attacking Scottish human rights, but the SNP continues to agree that it does not want to give prisoners the vote. After the Scotland Bill becomes law, the Scottish Parliament will be able to decide who votes in Scottish elections, so the only way that the SNP will be able to maintain the bar on prisoner voting in Scottish elections is by relying on Westminster legislation. Can the hon. and learned Lady confirm that that is her intention?

Order. The hon. and learned Lady has no responsibility to confirm anything. The Minister is a dextrous fellow, engaging in a certain amount of rhetorical pyrotechnics, but I do not think we need a treatise on Scottish National party policy on these important matters on this occasion. He should keep it for the long winter evenings that lie ahead.

The Government’s policy of bringing in a British Bill of Rights will, I am sure, be welcomed across the House. Will the Minister confirm that rather than rushing through the proposal, we should get it right and bring it forward when everyone has had their say and it can stand the test of time?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We make no apology for thinking through tricky constitutional issues. If only the last Labour Government had done the same—but we were saddled with the Human Rights Act 1998. Tony Blair claimed that he had secured an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union, only to find that it leaked like a sieve. It may take a little longer to clear up the constitutional mess, but that is what we intend to do.

Order. I do apologise. I think we nearly missed the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David). We must hear from the hon. Gentleman first; let’s hear the feller.

You are very kind, Mr Speaker. Thank you very much. May I return to the issue of Scotland and human rights? Clarity on that issue is now extremely important. The Deputy Leader of the House said that human rights were

“reserved for the UK Parliament and not a devolved matter.”—[Official Report, 15 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 132.]

Will the Minister say quite clearly that she was wrong?

I have made the position very clear; we have consistently made it very clear. Only the UK Government can revise the Human Rights Act, but the implementation of human rights issues in many areas is already devolved.