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UK Human Rights Framework

Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2021

Under this Prime Minister and before the next election, we will overhaul the Human Rights Act to end its abuse by dangerous criminals and to restore some common sense to our justice system.

Does the Secretary of State believe that the UK should remain a signatory to the European convention on human rights, or does he plan to join such liberal luminaries as Belarus outside the convention? Yes or no?

Will the Secretary of State listen to calls from the campaign group Liberty, and commit himself to ending what it has described as a cynical use of violence against women and girls as justification for the planned HRA reforms, bearing in mind that the legislation has been instrumental in securing women’s rights?

As a trainee lawyer I worked at Liberty, and I have huge respect for the work that it does. In fact, back then I took a test case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg relating to gender discrimination. However, it is also right that we listen to the wider voices, and we have conducted the independent Human Rights Act review to consider all the issues from all the different angles. We are grateful to Sir Peter Gross for chairing that review and we will carefully consider its recommendations in the round.

The Human Rights Act handed power to unelected judges, both at home and abroad, meaning that Britain remains tied to a foreign court. The creeping power of the courts is directly interfering with the Government’s ability to conduct their business, not least in preventing the Home Secretary from combating the unacceptable numbers of illegal immigrants crossing the channel. In the light of this, does my right hon. Friend agree with many residents of Blackpool in thinking that it is time we scrapped the Act altogether?

We will look at reforming and overhauling the Human Rights Act, and I think my hon. Friend raises a reasonable point. I support continued membership of the European convention on human rights, but a fair challenge has been raised by lawyers and judges past and present about the elasticity of rights and whether, when they are expanded, that decision ought to be taken by elected Members of this House and not by courts and lawyers. That is a fair challenge, and if hon. Members look fairly at the data from successful challenges on seeking the deportation of foreign national offenders, they will see that there is a good argument that there are too many cases of criminals being able to flout the system because of that elastic interpretation of rights.

The victims of the most horrendous crimes wait years for justice in this country, the courts backlog might not be sorted for eight years, rape convictions are at shamefully low levels, and even with strict lockdown conditions, violence, self-harm and drug abuse are still rife across the prison estate, yet the Secretary of State is investing his time and energy in his personal obsession with dismantling the Human Rights Act. What message does he think this sends to victims about the priorities of his Government?

I have visited three prisons in my time as Justice Secretary. We have secured an important settlement for the courts backlog in this spending review, but on top of that, a lot of victims and their families say that it is galling to see foreign national offenders who cannot be deported and who are claiming their right to a family life. I think the hon. Gentleman needs to instil a little bit of balance and perspective, and we are going to reintroduce some common sense to the system.