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International Treaties on Human Rights: Obligations

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2021

What steps he has taken to ensure the UK upholds its legal obligations under international treaties on human rights. (901932)

The United Kingdom has strong human rights protections within a comprehensive and well-established constitutional and legal system, and a long-standing tradition of ensuring that our rights and liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling our international human rights obligations. We have put in place a combination of policies and legislation to give effect to the international human rights treaties that we have ratified. We have a strong record before the various UN treaty-monitoring bodies and fully participate in the relevant reporting processes.

By contrast with what the Secretary of State just said, the Joint Committee on Human Rights recently published a report that concludes that his Department’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will restrict peaceful protest

“in a way that we believe is inconsistent with our rights.”

The report also singles out the provisions on noisy protests as

“neither necessary nor proportionate”.

With findings like those, will the Secretary of State reconsider his assertion that the Bill is compliant with the European convention on human rights?

I am happy to repeat the declaration that I made on the face of the Bill: its provisions are indeed compatible with the convention. As a former member of the Joint Committee, I well appreciate its work, but with respect, I wholly disagree with the analysis that it has produced. The balance between freedom of expression and other fundamental rights and the need to maintain order and protect the rights of other citizens going about their lawful business is properly struck in the Bill, which I commend strongly to the House.

The Secretary of State recently dismissed the relevance of international treaties, so it is interesting that today he is using what he says is compliance with the ECHR to convince us that his Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is not, as the Joint Committee said, “inconsistent with our rights.” How relevant, then, is the opinion of the UN special rapporteur on human rights, who said last week that the Bill runs “counter to the” human rights “direction” that the UK

“need to be going in”?

Is the Secretary of State not just a little bit embarrassed about that?

Just as the rapporteur is entitled to express, in clear and independent terms, their view, so are we entitled to disagree with it, and we do so very strongly in this instance.

So the Secretary of State does not respect international treaties and is not listening to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights; let us see whether he has a little more respect for the UK’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Will he join in the condemnation of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), who branded Travellers as thieves? What does he say to Travellers who described the Bill as

“the single biggest threat to”


“traditional way of life”

and said that it may “entirely eradicate nomadic life”. Does the Secretary of State want to eradicate their way of life?

I have not seen what was reported to have been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson). I simply say that in everything that we seek to do we uphold the principles of equality, inclusion and diversity in our society, but it is also right to remember that the interests of one group will sometimes conflict with the interests of another. It is important for us to maintain the balance between the rights of, in that instance, local residents and the rights of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community. It is all about balance, which is what this Government constantly seek to strike through their legislation.