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Human Rights Act 1998: Discussions with Scottish Government

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2020

What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on proposals to update the Human Rights Act 1998. (904701)

What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on proposals to update the Human Rights Act 1998. (904709)

We regularly engage with the Scottish Government, as well as the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, on a range of justice-related matters, including human rights. The Government are committed to looking at the broader aspects of our constitution, including updating the Human Rights Act. I can assure the hon. Members that, once the work on the Human Rights Act review commences, the implications for the devolved Administrations will be closely monitored.

I thank the Minister for that answer. At Justice questions on 9 June, the Lord Chancellor told us that he was working on that independent review of the operation of the Human Rights Act, but given how hugely significant the Act is to the devolved settlements of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, does the Minister agree that any changes to it would need full consultation, not just monitoring, and the consent of the devolved Administrations?

Yes, of course. Scotland has a distinguished and distinct legal system and of course it would need to be consulted in that way. I do wish, though, to make one point crystal clear: whatever amendments may come to the Human Rights Act, the United Kingdom remains committed to membership of the European convention on human rights. That will not change.

Can the Minister outline the relationship between the independent review of the Human Rights Act and the proposed constitution, democracy and rights commission, as well as the terms of reference for the independent review and whether the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, will be consulted about those terms of reference?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. There is a manifesto commitment to look at updating the Human Rights Act, which is now—what?—20 years old or so, but we have yet to set the terms of reference. Of course it is the case that, as we go forward in that process, the implications for the distinguished and distinct, separate legal jurisdiction of Scotland must be taken into account, and that is exactly what we will ensure takes place.

Can the Minister confirm what criteria will be used to appoint members to this independent review? Will it include members with expertise in the human rights regime in Scotland, and will civic society organisations from Scotland be able to submit evidence and participate in the review?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Of course, it is axiomatic that membership of that committee, which has yet to be settled, must include those who have the wherewithal to comment on precisely the points she alluded to, including the impact upon Scotland. I would want to see that being the case and, indeed, in respect of the other jurisdictions as well. We have to make sure that, as we go forward, we respect and recognise the differences that exist in the United Kingdom in this most important regard.

The Scottish Government have plans to pass a new human rights Act incorporating economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the devolved areas. Does the Minister agree that it is unfortunate that, at a time when the Scottish Government are working to expand the rights of people living in Scotland, at least in respect of devolved areas, the UK Government are perceived as threatening to diminish human rights protections in respect of reserved matters and across the United Kingdom?

May I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question? She will, I hope, acknowledge that perceptions are not always borne out by reality. The United Kingdom Government remain committed to the European convention on human rights, and nothing that will take place by way of an update or any proposals that emerge will threaten that fundamental point. We are a nation of laws. We are committed to upholding human rights. That is the way it is going to stay.

I thank the Minister for his answer and I hear clearly his assurance that the United Kingdom remains committed to the ECHR, but of course it is the Human Rights Act that gives people living in the United Kingdom the ability to avail themselves of the rights protected by the convention in the United Kingdom’s domestic courts. If, in updating the Human Rights Act, the Government have no intention of abrogating the domestic law that gives effect to the ECHR, why are they allowing the perception that they might do so to undermine the chances of securing an agreement with the European Union on future co-operation on law enforcement and judicial co-operation on criminal matters?

The hon. and learned Lady is right that, of course, the Human Rights Act does provide the power for individuals to assert and invoke those rights, but if we are committed to the convention, we are also committed to article 13 of the convention, which is the right to an effective remedy. The courts play an important role in allowing citizens to invoke and assert their convention rights. That will continue.