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Human Rights Framework: Reform

Volume 669: debated on Tuesday 14 January 2020

I have been discussing this issue with my Cabinet colleagues and will continue to do so. The United Kingdom is committed to protecting and respecting human rights and will continue to champion them both here and abroad. As set out in our manifesto, after Brexit we need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution, including the balance between the rights of individuals and effective government.

I welcome you to your place, Mr Speaker.

Before the general election, the Conservative manifesto promised to update the Human Rights Act 1998. Since its introduction, the Act has successfully protected countless citizens across the UK from human rights abuses, so can the Secretary of State tell me which specific aspects of the Act need updating?

I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave in the context of the constitutional commission. Updating Acts is something we do regularly in this place. The Human Rights Act is now just over 20 years old. Aspects of its operation have worked very well; others deserve a further look—for example, the operation of the margin of appreciation and how Strasbourg case law is adhered to. All those issues are relevant and material to the work of the commission.

Christine Bell, professor of constitutional law at Edinburgh Law School, has said that

“any unilateral repeal of the HRA by Westminster would…violate the Sewel Convention”.

Does the Secretary of State agree? If not, why not?

The hon. Lady will remember that our manifesto talked about updating the Act, not repealing it, so her question is literally academic.

The Human Rights Act is also part of the constitutional backbone of devolution, so again will the Secretary of State agree that there should be no change to that Act, given all its implications for devolved competences, without the express agreement of the Scottish Parliament and Government? Otherwise, what sort of democracy are we living in if one Parliament can change the competences of another with such ease and little respect?

As I said to the hon. Gentleman in a previous answer, I am in the spirit of working constructively with a fellow Parliament and fellow parliamentarians. I want to ensure a situation where the whole of the United Kingdom can benefit from improvements and rebalancing, and that applies equally to the people of Scotland. I hold out an olive branch to him today. I want us to work together on these issues. We can achieve far more working together than by pursuing pointless independence referendums.