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Human Rights Act 1998

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 2 February 2021

The Government established the independent Human Rights Act review to examine the framework of the Act—how it is operating in practice and whether any change is required. The review will consider the approach taken by the domestic courts to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, and it will also examine whether the Act currently strikes the correct balance between the roles of the courts, the Government and Parliament. It will then consider whether—and, if so, what—reforms might be justified. It will report back in the summer and its report will be published, as well as the Government’s response.

Last week in the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Lord Neuberger pointed out that the Human Rights Act plays an important role in ensuring that people have access to justice and the means to protect their rights in court, and that the Act is even more vital as legal aid is squeezed. Does the Secretary of State agree with this statement, and does he recognise that removing human rights avenues at the same time as legal aid centres will reduce the ability of citizens to protect their human rights?

I agree with the noble Lord that the Act has played an important part in helping many applicants with important cases that have been brought before the courts. However, I can reassure the hon. Lady that the review is all about the framework of the Act itself, not about the scope of the convention rights that are scheduled within it, and the two issues should not be confused, either accidentally or intentionally.

I would like to start by noting the focus and perspicacity with which my predecessor, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), approached this role.

In my previous role as equalities spokesperson, I noted a change in narrative from those on the Government Benches, who had started to deny the existence of structural inequality based on, for example, race or disability. In my new role, I note that the same Government Members seem resistant to properly explaining the need for or aims of their review of the Human Rights Act. Are the two linked, and do this Government simply not recognise human rights and the need for robust legislation?

May I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role? I well remember working with her on the Investigatory Powers Bill in the 2015 Parliament. I will not dwell upon the internal grief of the Scottish National party; I will simply pay tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), who always prosecuted her case with extreme perspicacity.

Let me reassure the hon. Lady in one word: no. They are not linked. As I have already said, this is not about the ambit of convention rights; it is a sensible and measured review of the mechanism that we have here domestically. It involves representatives from all corners of the United Kingdom, very much including Scotland. It has a balanced panel with a diversity of thought, and I am confident that it will produce robust and important recommendations.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his answer and his welcome, but I am not the only one questioning this Government’s commitment, because the globally respected Human Rights Watch recently published a report stating that this UK Government showed a

“willingness to set aside human rights for the sake of political expediency and a worrying disdain for the rule of law.”

Is it wrong, and if so, can he offer any reason as to why it might have come to that conclusion?

Yes, it is totally wrong. In this Lord Chancellor, and indeed in every Minister, there is an absolute understanding and a deep respect for the rule of law, which underpins the United Kingdom Government’s approach internationally, representing a force for good in world affairs and underpinning what is a proud liberal democracy. I and my colleagues will stand up steadfastly for that, and we do so with confidence and clarity.