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European Convention on Human Rights

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2016

12. What representations he has received from (a) international bodies, (b) the Council of Europe and (c) the UN on the UK’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights. (903246)

16. What representations he has received from (a) international bodies, (b) the Council of Europe and (c) the UN on the UK’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights. (903250)

I have met many of our international partners, from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid. The Secretary of State for Justice has met many others, including Secretary-General Jagland of the Council of Europe. Those meetings are important opportunities to reinforce Britain’s proud tradition of promoting freedom and discuss how the Government intend to strengthen it both at home and abroad.

I am sure that if it was just the Labour party saying, “Don’t scrap the human rights act,” the Minister could roll with it, but when the Minister met Prince Zeid, did Prince Zeid say that the Government’s proposals would be

“damaging for victims and contrary to the country’s commendable history of global and regional engagement”

and that

“many other states may gleefully follow suit”?

Is it not important that we listen to the United Nations?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should listen to all our international partners. I can tell him that Prince Zeid did not say that to me at all. When we have those meetings, they are a good opportunity to discuss the reality of our plans for reform. I made it clear that our forthcoming Bill of Rights proposals are based on staying within the convention. I explained the kind of abuses that we want to be rid of under the Human Rights Act and some of the challenges that successive Governments have had with the Strasbourg Court. That allows us to contrast our common-sense reforms with some of the baseless scaremongering coming from some of our critics.

But the UN special rapporteur on torture, Mr Juan Mendez, has warned that the Government’s plot to replace the Human Rights Act with a Tory Bill of Rights is “dangerous, pernicious” and would set

“a very bad example to the rest of the world”.

Is he not right?

That is not right. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, in all the meetings I have had with all the UN officials that pass through Westminster, none has ever used that kind of language in front of me. I very much doubt that they would.

Since when was it the practice of foreign legal and other entities to decide the views of this Parliament, and to traduce its sovereignty and the electoral mandate we have to introduce a British Bill of Rights? It is a tragedy that the European convention on human rights, which was founded by British jurists, has been distorted by perverse decisions such as trying to give an axe murderer the vote, which we have rejected. Is it not time that we got on with our manifesto commitment to a British Bill of Rights?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and makes his point in his characteristically powerful way. I would point out that the Labour Government had problems with how the Strasbourg Court operated. They did not implement prisoner voting—I do not remember the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) calling for it to be implemented when he was a Minister—and nor did they implement the Abu Qatada judgment.

Will the Minister confirm that human rights have been part of our law in this country under the common law for many years, and that they will continue to be so after the repeal of the Human Rights Act, perhaps in a more modern and codified way?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have a long tradition and pedigree of respecting human rights, dating back to Magna Carta and before that. We protected human rights in this country before the European convention, and certainly before Labour’s Human Rights Act. We shall continue to do so proudly in the years ahead.

The Minister is yet to issue his consultation on the repeal of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights, but it is eight weeks until the Scottish Parliament is dissolved and goes into purdah—it is the same with Northern Ireland and Wales. Will he give an absolute guarantee that he will not squash out Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales from this important consultation by issuing his proposal before, or worse still during, the election purdah period? Will he give that absolute guarantee?

There will be no squashing out of any of the devolved Administrations. We are already in detailed soundings. When we come to our consultation, there will be full consultation with all the devolved Administrations. There are clear rules and Cabinet Office guidance on purdah, and we will be mindful of them.

Another perverse decision of the European Court of Human Rights was on prisoner voting. Will the Minister please confirm that there are absolutely no plans to change our laws on prisoner voting?

As I have made clear to the Committee of Ministers and to our colleagues and partners in Strasbourg, it is for hon. Members in this House to determine whether prisoners should be given the vote. I see no prospect of that happening for the foreseeable future.

When Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, visited the United Kingdom last week, he said that the repeatedly delayed launch of the consultation on the repeal of the Human Rights Act is

“creating an atmosphere of anxiety and concern in civil society and within the devolved administrations”.

Will the Minister tell us exactly when the consultation will be published?

As the hon. and learned Lady knows, I met Nils Muižnieks last week to talk through these issues, and there is absolutely no cause for anxiety. We will introduce proposals for full consultation in the near future—those proposals are going well—and she will hear more shortly.

The commissioner also said:

“My impression is that the debate over the HRA in Westminster is not a true reflection of concerns outside England”.

Does the Minister appreciate that the impact on the devolved Administrations of an attempt to repeal the Human Rights Act would likely provoke a constitutional crisis?

The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right that the debate within the Westminster bubble, particularly the shrill scaremongering, is not reflective of wider public opinion outside the House, which is clearly and consistently in favour of a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, including, she will note, in Scotland.