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European Convention on Human Rights

Volume 626: debated on Thursday 29 June 2017

1. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the future status of the UK as a signatory to the European convention on human rights. (900092)

The Government have committed the United Kingdom to remaining a signatory to the European convention on human rights for the duration of the Parliament.

I thank the Attorney General for his answer, and I am reassured by it, but, as he will know, earlier this week the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights described the Prime Minister’s comments after the appalling attack on London Bridge as “a gift” to every despot

“who…violates human rights under the pretext of fighting terrorism.”

Will the Attorney General recognise the danger of playing politics with human rights, and accept that the Government need to desist from doing it?

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not accept that that is what is happening. What I think the Prime Minister was saying is something with which I would expect every Member of the House to agree, namely that human rights involve a balance: there is a balance between the human rights of all the different people in our society. Everyone has the most important human right of all, which is to live their life unabated by those who wish to do them harm through terrorism. What the Prime Minister was saying—rightly in my view, and, I hope, in the hon. Gentleman’s—was that we must ensure that that balance continues to be struck correctly, and that is what we will do.

The Court behind the convention has tens of thousands of cases outstanding, and many of the so-called judges have no legal qualifications at all. Do not those two stark facts undermine the credibility of that organisation in upholding human rights at all?

I think my hon. Friend and I would agree that the Court in Strasbourg could sensibly reform and improve, but he will also recognise that we in this country do not rely solely on that Court to protect our human rights. Our Government and our courts do that too, and do it very effectively.

Does the Attorney General not agree that, although the Strasbourg Court may need reform, it has done excellent work over the years in putting forward the case for human rights in central and eastern Europe? The uncertainty of Britain’s position will give succour to regimes such as those of President Putin in Moscow and the President of Belarus, which is not a signal that the British Government should be giving.

I applaud all those who work to promote human rights, whether in a court or elsewhere, but it is important to understand that the European convention on human rights itself permits derogation in certain circumstances. The hon. Gentleman was, I think, a member of a Government who sought to do that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It is certainly within the hierarchy and system of the European Court of Human Rights that that should be allowed, and we need to ensure that the balance I described earlier is maintained.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The right to the peaceful enjoyment of property is a valuable safeguard in the convention. Does the Attorney General agree that the Serious Fraud Office has a strong and growing reputation for upholding that right, and will he clarify his plans for the future?

I certainly think that the Serious Fraud Office has an important role to play in doing what it can to deal with economic crime, as of course do other agencies. As for the future, we are looking carefully at how we can improve performance in tackling economic crime across the whole range of organisations that do that work.

During the election campaign, the Prime Minister said that she was going to rip up human rights in order to fight terrorism. Can the Attorney General confirm that he has advised his Cabinet colleagues that there is nothing in the Human Rights Act 1998 or in the convention on human rights that would prevent the Government from taking a robust approach to terrorism, and that this plan to rip up human rights will be shelved?

No, the Prime Minister said nothing of the kind. Let me read out exactly what she did say, which was that

“we should do even more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they present a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court. If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it.”

That seems eminently sensible, and something we should all agree with.