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British Bill of Rights

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 26 April 2016

The Minister will recall saying to me, on 30 June,

“the United Kingdom has a strong tradition of respect for human rights that long predates the Human Rights Act 1998. The Government are proud of that tradition and will be true to it in delivering our reforms. As I explained…our plans do not involve us leaving the convention. That is not our objective.”—[Official Report, 30 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 429WH.]

Is that still Government policy?

The right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right when he said last month that the Human Rights Act was not the last word on human rights. I look forward to debating the proposals with him.

The Government’s position on the European convention on human rights remains clear. We cannot rule out withdrawal forever, but our forthcoming proposals do not include it, not least because we have been clearly advised that if we withdrew from the convention while remaining a member of the European Union, that would be an open invitation to the Luxembourg Court to fill the gap, which could have far worse consequences, and also because the convention is written into the Good Friday agreement.

We are confident that we can replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights and reform our relationship with the Strasbourg Court, and that is precisely what we intend to deliver.

A condition of entry for new applicants to join the European Union is that they must be signatories to the European convention on human rights. Would putting into practice the Home Secretary’s welcome announcement yesterday of what I presume is now the Government’s policy to withdraw from the convention require us to leave the European Union?

My hon. Friend is tempting me—coaxing me, I might say—down a route that I am not going to take. I have set out the Government’s position very clearly, and our current plans, at least, do not involve withdrawing from the convention.

The Minister says that he and the Government want to stay in the convention, but we know that he wants to leave the European Union. The Home Secretary told us yesterday that she wants to leave the convention, but she wants to remain in the European Union. Should we understand that the Government are as divided on the question of ECHR membership as they are on the question of EU membership?

SNP Members have been asking for a long time when the Government will publish their consultation paper on repeal of the Human Rights Act. Does the Minister understand that the Home Secretary’s statement yesterday has caused particular concern in Scotland, because in Scotland the convention is embedded in the devolution settlement, as it is in the other devolved Administrations? Does he appreciate that the convention could never be withdrawn from without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, and that there is no question of that consent ever being given?

I hope that I have reassured the hon. and learned Lady by reiterating the Government’s position.