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Human Rights Act

Volume 614: debated on Tuesday 6 September 2016

First, I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on human rights reform as a Minister in this Department. He is a great champion of liberty.

The Government are committed to scrapping the Human Rights Act and introducing a British Bill of Rights.

May I say at the outset that it is an honour to be the first Member to welcome the new Justice Secretary and the new Front-Bench team to their posts? I wish them every success. I also reassure my right hon. Friend, from experience, that being a lawyer is of very limited value in her Department—no offence to the Minister of State.

Britain’s decision to leave the EU will remove the jurisdiction of the Luxembourg Court, which is probably the biggest obstacle to delivering a Bill of Rights. May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement on the intention to continue this reform and encourage the Government to proceed to consultation as soon as possible?

This is an important reform; we need to get it right. We will be introducing proposals in due course. We will deliver on this manifesto commitment.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I remember with fondness our time together on the Justice Committee, where he had many good thoughts to put forward. We will be putting out our proposals in due course, which will discuss these issues in detail, but one of the important points is that we want the ultimate arbiter of those rights to be the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the problems with the current set-up is that the code of rights includes many reservations and qualifications that the European Court does not embrace? A British Bill of Rights can ensure that there is proper balance and that the interests of justice are served.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is absolutely the reason we want to pursue a British Bill of Rights to put that in place.

If we are to have the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter, does that mean that the Lord Chancellor wants to withdraw from the European convention?

The Prime Minister has been very clear that leaving the European convention on human rights is not something that we are going to pursue.

May I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to her post and her determination to proceed with a British Bill of Rights? Could I urge her to remember that the cornerstone of the rule of law in this country has always been the sovereignty of Parliament? May I urge her not to listen to those who argue that getting rid of an Act that came 40 years after we signed up to the European convention on human rights somehow or other undermines our position within the treaty.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: human rights were not invented in 1998 with the Human Rights Act. We have a strong record, as a country, of human rights, dating back to Magna Carta, and the British Bill of Rights is going to be the next step in enshrining those rights in our laws.

May I welcome the Secretary of State to her new role and say that while, of course, it is not a prerequisite for the person in her role to be a lawyer, she will no doubt wish to listen carefully to any legal advice she receives about any proposals to reform the law?

There is almost universal opposition to the repeal of the Human Rights Act in Scotland; this is reflected in the Scottish Parliament and across Scottish civic society. On 11 August, I wrote to the UK Government seeking clarification of their plans for so-called reform of the Human Rights Act, following press reports. I have yet to receive a substantive response. At what stage in her plans will the Secretary of State seek to consult the Scottish Government, and can she confirm that she will listen to and respect their answer?

I have already had a number of legal meetings about this issue, and I am sure I will enjoy working with the legal profession in my role. The Prime Minister has already had a very good meeting with the First Minister of Scotland. I will be meeting the Scottish Justice Minister shortly to discuss a number of issues.

Order. I do apologise; I had not realised that the hon. and learned Lady wanted a second bite of herself.

I was rather hoping to have a second bite of Her Majesty’s Government, Mr Speaker.

If the Secretary of State has been having legal meetings about the Human Rights Act, she will have been advised that human rights are not a reserved matter and that therefore the Scottish Parliament must be consulted regarding any legislation with regard to human rights. During the independence referendum, Scotland was told that it was an equal partner in this Union. Does she appreciate that to proceed with repeal of the Human Rights Act across the UK would fly in the face of that promise and exacerbate the democratic deficit that already exists in Scotland, where a Tory Government we did not vote for are planning to take us out of the European Union against our will?

I would point out that this was in the Conservative party manifesto and we secured a majority at the general election. As I said, I will be in touch with the Scottish Justice Minister; I look forward to talking to him about this subject.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her new role. It is good to see a Leeds person at each Dispatch Box. I understand that, like me, she comes from good, left-wing Leeds stock, and I look forward to our exchanges.

At the Secretary of State’s swearing-in ceremony, she quoted with approval the late Lord Bingham. On the Human Rights Act, Lord Bingham said in 2009:

“Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard?”

He went on to say:

“There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not of their number.”

To give the Secretary of State another chance, because she failed to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), which of these rights does she wish to discard?

I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box. It is great to have somebody who is also from Leeds facing me, although I learned the error of my ways after growing up in a left-wing household in that great city.

All I can say is that I believe that everyone is capable of reform, even those on the Opposition Benches. I have not yet given up hope on the shadow Secretary of State for Justice.

The whole purpose of the Bill of Rights is to enhance human rights in this country. We have led the world in human rights since Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights that was published in Wales in 1689, and we will continue to do so.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but let me say this:

“We were very clear that we will replace the Human Rights Act, which isn’t working for British people, with a British Bill of Rights that gives the ultimate power to citizens in this country.”

Those were the words of the Secretary of State on the “Today” programme in May 2015. Given that, and in the light of the answer that she has just given, can she explain to the House why she wants to rob the people of Britain of their rights? Will she admit that talk of a so-called Bill of Rights is simply posturing and making concessions to the hard right of the Conservative party?

Human rights were not invented in 1998 with the Human Rights Act. There are major issues with the Human Rights Act and we need to move forward. We need a British Bill of Rights that enshrines our ancient liberties.

Order. We now need to make progress as there are a lot of questions. Progress thus far has been slow, so we can be speeded up by Mr John Mann.