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Westminster Hall

Volume 721: debated on Monday 24 October 2022

Westminster Hall

Monday 24 October 2022

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Covid-19 Vaccines: Safety

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 602171, relating to the safety of covid-19 vaccines.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. On behalf of the Petitions Committee, I will read out the prayer of the petition, which states:

“There has been a significant increase in heart attacks and related health issues since the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines…This needs immediate and full scientific investigation to establish if there is any possible link with the Covid-19 vaccination rollout.

It is the duty of the Government to ensure that the prescribed medical interventions of its response to Coronavirus are safe. We believe that the recent and increasing volume of data relating to cardiovascular problems since the Covid-19 vaccine rollout began is…enough…to warrant a full Public Inquiry.”

The petition has amassed over 107,000 signatures, including signatories from my own Carshalton and Wallington constituency. I put on record my gratitude to the Petitions Committee Clerks and the team behind the scenes for organising today’s debate, and particularly to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency—the MHRA —which recently briefed me on its vaccine safety surveillance strategy. Throughout my speech, I will point out why I do not think that the Government should launch a public inquiry into vaccine safety; it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money, and is not necessary for reasons that I will discuss.

The covid-19 vaccine has been the subject of four previous e-petitions debates in Westminster Hall, and of many other parliamentary debates, many questions and much Committee work since the pandemic hit. It is worth remembering that, for the first 26 months of the pandemic, over 178,000 people across the UK died within 28 days of a positive covid-19 test. It remains my position that vaccination is the single most effective way to reduce deaths and severe illness from covid-19.

More than 53 million people in the UK have received at least their first covid-19 vaccine, and I put on record my thanks to the amazing staff and volunteers who contributed to that gargantuan operation, which was a shining example of effective national collaboration. I would go so far as to say that, in the public inquiry into covid, the Government should look at how the vaccine roll-out was such a success, how we can learn from that success and how we can apply those lessons in future circumstances.

My hon. Friend has obviously done a lot of preparation for the debate. Did part of that preparation include looking at Oracle Films’ “Safe and Effective: A Second Opinion”, which was produced about a month ago and has already had more than 1 million views online? Most people think it highly persuasive.

I have not seen that publication, although I have read a lot of the significant amounts of material that have been shoved through my constituency office door by a large number of anti-vax protesters, who have flyposted my office on no less than a dozen occasions, and intimidated my 18-year-old apprentice and the people who live above my constituency office. Given that the content of that literature includes climate change denial, moon landing denial and so on, I am inclined to ignore it completely.

It is impossible to vaccinate every person in the country, nor should vaccines be thrust upon people without their consent. People have a right to know what is put in their bodies, and have the autonomy to decide whether to have a vaccination. It is therefore the job of the state to ensure not only that vaccines are safe for use and continually reviewed, but that knowledge of why they are safe and effective is communicated well to our constituents.

With that in mind, I will briefly outline the steps taken to review the safety of covid-19 vaccines before the roll-out, and the continuous monitoring of vaccine safety. All vaccines must be tested through a series of clinical trials to establish their efficacy and safety, and must have a product licence before they can be made available for widespread use in humans.

The MHRA is responsible for regulating all medicines and medical devices in the UK by ensuring they work and are acceptably safe. Starting in 2020, a dedicated team of MHRA scientists and clinicians carried out a rigorous, detailed scientific review of all the available data in the development of covid-19 vaccines, including from laboratory pre-clinical studies, clinical trials, manufacturing and quality controls, product sampling and testing of the final vaccine, and it considered the conditions for the vaccine’s safe supply and distribution.

In early June 2020, the MHRA set up an independent expert working group to begin some of the most important safety work. In August 2020, a second working group was formed with different expertise, this time to advise the MHRA on the benefits and risks of the vaccines in development. The groups were formed of 48 experts from outside the MHRA, including virologists, epidemiologists, immunologists and toxicologists.

In September 2020, the MHRA started preparing laboratories for independent batch testing of the vaccine. Although the vaccine manufacturers carried out their own comprehensive testing regimes on the batches of products they produced, it is vital that tests focusing on safety and quality are conducted independently too. In the UK, the independent testing is performed by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, which is part of the MHRA. Before any batch testing can reach the public, the NIBSC must conduct a rigorous assessment to check that it is consistent with characteristics derived from results from batches previously shown to be safe, and from effective clinical trials or routine clinical use. That work began in November 2020.

The covid-19 vaccines were developed in a co-ordinated way that allowed some stages of the assessment processes to happen in parallel, which enabled the producers and regulators to condense the time normally needed. That rolling review allowed the MHRA to review data as it became available from ongoing studies, rather than waiting.

My hon. Friend talks about the independence of the MHRA, and I very much hope he is right about that. Is he aware that it is overwhelmingly funded by the pharmaceutical companies that it regulates? Does he have any concerns about the objectivity of its work?

No, I see nothing to concern me about the independence of the MHRA. Indeed, I saw a group of anti-vax protesters outside the House today, holding up signs saying, “Vaccines kill,” and, “Would you not believe that pharmaceutical companies kill?” It seems a bit of a strange business model for a pharmaceutical company to kill off everyone it is trying to administer a vaccine to. I have seen absolutely nothing to concern me that the MHRA has any problems with independence.

For previous vaccines, we have had to wait for a full package and for each stage to be finished before moving on to the next stage. That is one of the reasons that the covid-19 vaccine was developed at such speed; corners were not cut, but the model was changed.

Pfizer and BioNTech fed the MHRA data to be assessed even before the final clinical submission in November 2020. Once it was submitted, scientific and clinical experts robustly and thoroughly reviewed it with scientific rigour, looking at all aspects, including the laboratory studies, the clinical trials and more. That included assessing the level of protection the product provides and how long that protection is provided for, as well as its safety, stability and how it needs to be stored.

On top of that, the MHRA has a range of experts inspecting the sites used across the whole lifecycle of the vaccine, from its initial development in a lab to its manufacture and distribution once approved. The inspectors work to legislation that incorporates internationally recognised clinical standards. The MHRA seeks advice from the Commission on Human Medicines, the Government’s independent advisory body, which critically assesses the data before advising the UK Government on the safety, quality and effectiveness of any potential vaccine.

I wish I could delve deeper into the specifics of how and why vaccines work, but we would be here all night and I do not want to duplicate the work that has been done in other debates. Nevertheless, I hope I have managed to demonstrate succinctly the rigorous scientific testing that occurs prior to a vaccine being distributed in the UK. However, the main premise of much of the literature that has been distributed about the impact of the covid-19 vaccine and the nationwide roll-out needs to be looked into. As part of its statutory functions, the MHRA continually monitors the use of vaccines to ensure that their benefits continue to outweigh any risks. This monitoring strategy is continuous, proactive and based on a wide range of information sources, with a dedicated team of scientists reviewing information daily to look for safety issues or unexpected events.

My hon. Friend is making a good speech. My constituent Gareth Eve lost his wife Lisa Shaw when she was only 44, as a result of the AstraZeneca vaccine. He is not an anti-vaxxer. Although the debate is on the broad issue, does my hon. Friend agree that matters such as how families get compensation could be dealt with much better, even if he does not agree with a full public inquiry into the entire body of the issue? So many families, including that of my constituent, have been left waiting for that support for a very long time.

Order. I appreciate that hon. Members wish to represent their constituents, but interventions must be interventions and not speeches.

I am very sorry to hear of the case of my hon. Friend’s constituent, and I agree that we need to look at compensation and measures when things go wrong. No vaccine is without risk. No medicine is without risk, but that is the balance that we must weigh up when making decisions about our own health.

Let me return to the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and how that is monitored. The core of this work is individuals self-reporting any adverse effects post vaccination, and active surveillance of particular groups of adverse events. That is well known as the yellow card scheme. I recently met representatives of the MHRA to be briefed on its vaccine safety surveillance strategy, which has four main pillars, the first of which is enhanced passive surveillance through observed versus expected analysis. The MHRA performs enhanced statistical analysis on data generated through the yellow card scheme to evaluate observed versus expected event reports in order to determine whether more events are occurring after vaccination than might be expected ordinarily. That assists the MHRA to identify when and where vaccine-related side effects are signalled.

Secondly, the MHRA conducts rapid cycle analysis and ecological analysis to supplement the yellow card scheme, which relies on direct reporting. The MHRA also analyses anonymised electronic healthcare records, particularly by way of the clinical practice research datalink Aurum dataset, which captures data from 13 million registered GP patients in the UK. It will track a range of theoretical side effects in order to detect safety signals. The MHRA also performs ecological analysis to monitor trends in high priority vaccination population cohorts—for example, increased trends among the elderly.

Thirdly, the agency performs targeted active monitoring; it has developed a new, voluntary follow-up platform for a randomly selected group of those vaccinated through the NHS. The group is contacted at set intervals to determine the frequency and severity of any vaccine side effects. Finally, there are formal epidemiological studies. The above methods detect signals and patterns but do not necessarily confirm vaccine causation. As such, where necessary, formal epidemiological studies are undertaken to solidify causal links.

As of 28 September 2022, in the UK, 173,381 yellow cards had been reported for Pfizer-BioNTech; 246,393 for AstraZeneca; 42,437 for Moderna; 14 for Novavax; and 1,848 for vaccines where the brand was not specified. For Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna, the reporting rate is about two to five yellow cards per 1,000 doses administered.

The use of the yellow card scheme has been used as an example of why vaccines do not work, but it is important to note that the scheme is a self-reporting system. It cannot be used to prove a causal link between reported symptoms and potential damage caused. The reported reaction could have occurred regardless of the vaccine, or the person reporting could have no knowledge of the relationship between that symptom and the vaccine; it may have occurred even if the person had not been vaccinated altogether. I could get on the phone to the yellow card scheme right now and say that I have a side effect from a vaccine—I could completely make it up. The scheme has no verification process.

I think my hon. Friend is suggesting that the yellow card scheme numbers exaggerate the potential negative effect of the vaccines. Is he aware that the independent MHRA suggests that vaccine injuries have been under-reported by one in 10, meaning that there may be 10 times more vaccine-related injuries than the yellow card scheme reports? Surely, if there is an exaggeration, it is in the opposition direction from the one that he is suggesting.

I am aware of that, but the point I am making is that the yellow card scheme is not a determining factor of damage done by the vaccine; there is no way to prove a causal link, as the reported reaction could have happened anyway. The worldwide awareness of covid, its blanket media coverage over multiple years, and the impact it has had on all our lives, are bound to have led to an increase in reports from previous vaccine roll-outs. Most reports relate to injection site reactions, including a sore arm and generalised symptoms, such as flu-like symptoms, illness, headache, chills, fatigue, nausea, fever, dizziness, weakness, aching muscles or rapid heartbeat. Generally, those reactions are not associated with more serious illness and likely reflect an expected, normal immune response to vaccines.

There have been some occurrences of inflammatory heart conditions following a covid-19 vaccination, but fortunately they are incredibly rare. For Pfizer, the suspected myocarditis reporting rate is 12 reports per 1 million doses. For suspected pericarditis, including viral pericarditis and infective pericarditis, the overall reporting rate is eight reports per 1 million doses. For Moderna, that is 42 per million, and for AstraZeneca four per million.

The events reported are typically mild, with individuals usually recovering within a short time, following standard treatment and rest. The benefits of the vaccines in protecting against covid-19 and the serious complications associated with it far outweigh any currently known side effects. I understand that one of the biggest concerns about vaccine safety is the potential influence on excess deaths. Of course, the excess mortality rates have increased. However, there is no evidence to prove a causal relationship between a spike in excess deaths and covid-19. I am not clinically trained, so I do not wish to preach in this debate, but multiple drivers could have caused the spike, including the impact of missed and delayed diagnoses earlier in the pandemic, and the long-term impact of covid-19 on people who contracted it; and that has been confirmed to me by the MHRA.

In one study this year, researchers estimated how often covid-19 leads to cardiovascular problems. They found that people who had the disease faced a substantially increased risk for 20 cardiovascular conditions in the year after infection with coronavirus. Researchers say that such complications can happen even in people who seem to have completely recovered from a mild infection. With millions—perhaps even billions—of people having been infected with the virus, clinicians are wondering whether the pandemic will be followed by a cardiovascular aftershock. Again, I am not clinically trained, but I wanted to touch on that point to provide some food for thought, because I understand that the issues around excess mortality rates are of extreme importance.

Easily the biggest elephant in the room while discussing the safety of the covid-19 vaccine and a potential inquiry into its safety is that the Government have already announced a public inquiry into their handling of the covid-19 pandemic as a whole. Since the Government responded to the petition, the terms of reference for the UK covid-19 public inquiry have been published by the Cabinet Office. One of the inquiry’s aims is to examine

“The response of the health and care sector across the UK…including the development, delivery and impact of therapeutics and vaccines”.

The first preliminary hearing of module 1 of the inquiry took place just a few weeks ago, with the second due to take place next Monday. The inquiry will further announce modules in 2023 that are expected to cover both system and impact issues, including vaccines, therapeutics and antiviral treatment. I would be grateful if the Minister could shed a bit more light on the aim of the content of the modules that will be investigating the vaccines, and if she could provide more details on how others can contribute towards the process, including those who signed the petition.

I will bring my comments to a close because other Members wish to contribute. I appreciate that for some people the question of whether the covid-19 vaccine is safe is still up in the air, and I understand that my comments may not easily persuade them otherwise. However, we know that vaccines are the best way to protect against covid-19 and they have already saved tens of thousands of lives. I hope that I can offer some reassurance to those who are unsure about this matter that the right steps were taken to ensure that vaccines were safe prior to roll-out, and that vaccines continue to be monitored for their safety and effectiveness. I hope that they can also be reassured by the Minister’s remarks that the Government are including an extensive investigation into the vaccine as part of their covid-19 public inquiry, and that separate investigation is not necessary.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), who gave a very good defence of the vaccine programme and of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. I respect that, but I regret his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who raised the point about medical expertise that casts some doubt on the vaccines. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington chose to smear all opponents of the vaccine programme. Of course there are lunatics out there who make absurd and outrageous claims, but there are many reasonable and respectable people who have anxieties about the vaccine programme, particularly people who have suffered as a result of the programme and their families.

I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group on covid-19 vaccine damage, which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch chairs. The APPG looks at vaccine injuries, and we had what I think was our first meeting last week in a Committee room in Portcullis House. I am afraid there were only a tiny handful of colleagues there, but well over a hundred members of the public attended, which is not the usual story for an APPG. I felt somewhat ashamed, on behalf of Parliament, that that was the first time that those members of the public—including families of the bereaved, who are themselves injured citizens—had had the opportunity to be in a room with members of this House, but I am very pleased that we are having this debate, and particularly pleased that there is an opportunity for members of the public to hear from the Minister on this topic.

I should say to members of the public who are watching that we have in Westminster Hall today a very good Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), who is genuinely committed to health, including public health, and she showed a real interest in this topic and in the effect of covid policies when she was a Back-Bench MP.

Although many questions about our covid response need to be answered, the UK is by no means the worst offender. We are not Canada, New Zealand or China—places where Governments think they can exterminate covid by depriving their population of the most basic civil liberties. However, I am afraid that we still have many questions to ask ourselves, and even much to be ashamed of. I put on record that in hindsight I am particularly ashamed of my vote to dismiss care workers who did not want to receive the vaccine. I very much hope that the 40,000 care workers who lost their jobs can be reinstated, and indeed compensated. A group of us—including, I think, the Minister—held out against compulsory vaccination of health workers when that was proposed by the Government last winter. I think that resistance turned the tide, to a degree, on Government policy, and we emerged from the lockdowns more quickly than we might otherwise have done, yet we still have a policy of mass vaccination, which I want to query on behalf of constituents who have written to me about it.

My query starts with a simple point. In October 2020, when preparations were being made for the vaccine roll-out, Kate Bingham, the head of the vaccines agency, said:

“There’s going to be no vaccination of people under 18. It’s an adult-only vaccine, for people over 50, focusing on health workers and care home workers and the vulnerable.”

Why was vaccination extended to the whole population? I do not think we have ever had a completely satisfactory answer to that question. I ask it again, because my concern is that extending the vaccination programme became an operation in public persuasion—an operation in which dissent was unhelpful or even immoral, and an operation that justified the suppression and even vilification of those who raised concerns.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Unlike any other vaccine, the covid vaccine was given to people who had natural immunity because they had provably contracted the virus. Why were those people vaccinated?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The best vaccine against covid is covid, and many people were naturally immune. There are questions to be asked about the effects of vaccination on the immune system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington made an understandable point about the importance of resisting misinformation. As I mentioned, there are certainly many crazy theories out there to which we need not give credence. If we are talking about a programme of vaccinating the population, it is important that the public are persuaded to do what the Government want them to do, so I understand why the Government should have a public health information campaign. However, it is an essential principle of medical ethics that people must be able to give informed consent before any treatment, and I worry about whether we can say that consent was fully informed in all cases.

Throughout, there has been misinformation in favour of the vaccine. I would not say that was deliberate; it was possibly accidental. We can tell that with hindsight. Perhaps the most egregious example was the claim that the vaccine is 95% effective; as was mentioned earlier, Dr Malhotra presented on this to the APPG last week. That figure refers simply to the relative risk, instead of the actual or absolute reduction in risk to an individual. The absolute risk reduction is really less than 1%.

There was also the widespread claim that the vaccine stops transmission, so people should take the jab to protect other people. We were all told that; we all believed that for many months. Last month, we heard from Pfizer that its vaccine was never tested to see whether it would stop transmission. Despite that, we had the notorious claim by Professor Chris Whitty that even though the vaccine brought no benefit to children, children should be vaccinated to protect wider society. I am all for thinking about society, not the individual, but that, again, feels like a profound break with medical ethics. A lot of people are asking what the vaccine does to children and young people, and Professor Whitty is right that the benefit to healthy children seems to be essentially nil.

There are genuine questions to be asked. I have not verified these questions; I merely ask them on behalf of my constituents. How do we explain the increase in the rates of myocarditis, heart attacks and excess deaths among young people? Indeed, across the general population, it is plausible, though not definitive, that the vaccine is responsible for more harms than we know about. As I said in my intervention, we know from the yellow card scheme that up to one in 200 hundred people vaccinated report an adverse reaction. That is bad enough in itself, but we also know that adverse effects are significantly under-reported through the yellow card scheme. Based on the MHRA’s research, there may be as many as 10 times more serious adverse reactions than the yellow card system shows.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important for the Minister to explain how people who say they have experienced damage from the vaccine can ensure that they are heard? There is the yellow card scheme, the module in the public inquiry, and people can apply for vaccine damage compensation, but there need to be more meaningful ways through which people can be engaged with on their experiences of damage.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady—I absolutely agree. This is a very important moment in which the Minister can hear from Members speaking on behalf of their constituents. I encourage far greater engagement with citizens who have suffered from vaccine damage, or even lost loved ones to it.

There may be innocent explanations for the rather terrifying facts I have mentioned; I very much hope there are. If these are conspiracy theories, we need them to be comprehensively and courteously debunked.

To close, I have four questions for the Minister. First, will she review the vaccination of children? Children have strong naturally acquired immunity, and the chance of death from covid for a healthy child is one in 2 million. I believe we should follow other countries, such as Denmark, and stop vaccinating children altogether. I invite the Minister to review that aspect of the policy.

Secondly, will the Minister make representations in Government, and to Baroness Hallett, on broadening the terms of reference for her inquiry, so that they explicitly include the efficacy and safety of the vaccines? I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington says, and he is absolutely right: the inquiry terms of reference include mention of the vaccination programme and its effects. He may well be right that that is sufficient, and that the review will properly consider the topics that we are discussing. I hope so, but that needs to be made more explicit; I invite the Minister to comment on that.

I wrote to Baroness Hallett, asking her to ensure that the terms of reference specifically covered the safety and impact of vaccines. As a result of representations, not just from me but from others, the terms of reference were amended to make it quite clear that vaccines, their impact and the potential damage done by them are included.

I am grateful for that clarification. It causes me concern to hear that it took my hon. Friend’s representations to ensure that the inquiry will consider the effect of the vaccines. We need to go further and talk about efficacy and safety, not just impact. We need to be explicit about what questions we want answers to. These issues need to be covered directly. We need the public inquiry to consider these matters, because of the compromised nature of medical regulation in our country. I mentioned that the MHRA is funded by the pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs and vaccines that it regulates. There might be some universe in which that makes sense, but this is not it. I do not think that is right.

Thirdly, we need to do a lot more for the injured and bereaved, as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) said. I agree with all the recommendations of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, and we will hear from him shortly on what needs to be done to raise the threshold for compensation for the injured, and the speed of payouts. I agree with him that we need clinics for people with adverse reactions, just as we do for people with long covid.

Finally, we need to change the power imbalance. I am sorry, on behalf of Parliament, that this is the first proper debate that we have had on this subject. I regret that victims and families have had to struggle so hard to get engagement of the system. I hope that the Minister agrees to meet some of the people here, and other representatives of families affected by the vaccines, for a proper exchange of information and ideas, and I hope that she will request that Dame June Raine of the MHRA meets them, rather than ignoring letters for months.

A new Government take over this week. I hope that the Minister, who was appointed only recently, will stay in post, and that we can start a new chapter in the story of covid. No more remote power telling people what to do. Let us put truth and justice back into public life, and restore trust in the experts on whom we rely.

We should be all right for time, but bear in mind that three people wish to speak, and I need to start the wind-ups at 5.30 pm.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I am, as was mentioned, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on covid-19 vaccine damage. The group is now up and running. We had an enormously well-supported meeting in Portcullis House last Thursday. I agree with the legitimate concerns of the 100,000-plus people who signed the petition, and share their belief that the recent data relating to cardiovascular problems, which is increasing in volume, is of enough concern to warrant an inquiry on safety. As I have said, the big Hallett inquiry on covid-19 will cover a lot of this ground, but it will not report for many years. In the meantime, people are being encouraged to have more and more boosters, and they understandably want to know the impact of those boosters on their health and the risks and rewards.

As well as being chairman of the APPG, I have taken an interest in the subject for about a year, and produced a private Member’s Bill on the subject, and I hope to produce another, which will have its Second Reading next month. Coroners up and down the country have found in their reports that deaths have been caused directly by covid 19 vaccines. I have spoken to some of the bereaved; indeed, I spoke to the gentleman referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden)—the gentleman who attended our meeting on Thursday, and whose wife was a journalist in Newcastle. I have seen with my own eyes the suffering of people who are bereaved or still suffering adverse reactions.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), in introducing the debate, did not have much to say about the people who we know have suffered death or serious injury as a result of the vaccines. My hon. Friend showed himself to be rather the victim of producer capture—the producer in this case being the MHRA. He does not seem to have allowed his researches to go further than the MHRA. Has he, for example, looked at what has been happening in Germany? The Paul Ehrlich Institute is the German regulator responsible for vaccine safety. On 20 July, the institute confirmed that one in 5,000 people was seriously affected after a vaccination. That also reflected a finding that it published earlier in the year, in which the institute tried to raise the alert that one in 5,000 vaccinated people experienced a serious side effect, such as heart muscle inflammation. It said that, statistically, every 10th person must expect a severe consequence from having a course of three or four vaccines. The institute uses the World Health Organisation definition of a “serious adverse event”, meaning one that results in hospitalisation or is life-threatening or life-changing. After a course of four doses, the risk of a report to its system of a serious adverse effect is one in 1,250. That is serious information coming from the regulator of a country that is highly respected for the quality of its healthcare.

Is it not interesting that the number of adverse reports referred to the institute is far fewer than the number of adverse reports that led to the 1976 swine flu vaccine being withdrawn? Some hon. Members may recall that, in 1976, the President of the United States, Gerald Ford, was panicked by swine flu into organising a vaccination campaign. When reports emerged of suspected adverse reactions, including heart attacks and Guillain-Barré syndrome, and there were 53 reported deaths, people began to worry about the safety of the vaccine. The Government halted that mass vaccination programme in December of that year. In that case, the Government acted on far fewer adverse events than we have talked about in this debate and decided that, given the balance of risk and reward, it was too risky to continue with the vaccination programme. Let us look at the facts and not just be beholden to the MHRA. If this were a debate about the MHRA, I would have masses of material on it.

The Government seem to be in denial about the risks of these vaccines. Only this morning, the deputy chief medical officer for England was on the radio saying that the boosters were perfectly safe and effective, but they are not perfectly safe, and there is a question about whether they are effective, but that is for another debate. The fact that they are not perfectly safe has now been admitted by the Government. Indeed, the UK Health Security Agency has issued “A guide to the COVID-19 autumn booster”—you may have seen a copy of it, Sir Roger. It requests that people get another booster from their GP. Unfortunately, the cover letter from the NHS makes no reference to any risks associated with the vaccine, but if one looks at the document included in the envelope, it talks about serious side effects. It says,

“Cases of inflammation of the heart (called myocarditis or pericarditis) have been reported very rarely after both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. These cases have been seen mostly in younger men and within several days of vaccination. Most of the people affected have felt better and recovered quickly following rest and simple treatments.”

It then states:

“You should seek medical advice”.

What it does not state is what happens to those people who do not recover. That is what I will concentrate on in the remainder of my remarks. Those people, if they are disabled to the extent of 60% or more, may be eligible for payments under the vaccine damage payment scheme. They might get £120,000. That scheme, however, is not fit for purpose, because its description of disability does not necessarily apply to autoimmune conditions such as those suffered as a consequence of covid-19 vaccine damage. And what about all of those people who are only 59% disabled? There is no financial help for them and, even more worryingly for many, no specific medical help.

The Government refuse to provide specialist help for these vaccine victims. Although they have set up long covid clinics, vaccine victims are being ignored. I have asked parliamentary questions about this, but I have not been able to get a satisfactory answer as to why there are no clinics for those victims of vaccine damage. As a result of the Government’s behaviour, victims are increasingly telling their loved ones, neighbours and friends about their circumstances, which is leading to a much lower rate applications for booster vaccines. That is happening because the Government cannot suppress the information that ordinary people are sharing with one another, even though there is very little on this topic in the mainstream media.

Many people now would not touch a booster with a bargepole, and I include myself among them. I am not anti-vax—I had my first two vaccines—but from all that I have seen and know about this, the increase in boosters is counterproductive for many and dangerous for some. We need to take into account what is happening on the ground. People are becoming increasingly vaccine-hesitant. Large numbers of doctors and health professionals are now calling for a complete halt to the vaccination programme because the risks outweigh the benefits.

The thing to understand is that there is a fundamental difference between these kinds of vaccines and vaccination per se. Vaccination per se has saved millions of lives here and elsewhere, but these vaccines are qualitatively different. Science matters, but much matters more.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the United States, they changed the definition of a vaccine. We have always understood a vaccine to mean someone receiving into their system something containing a small element of that which they were being vaccinated against, so that their system could react against it and protect them if they were later exposed to a large amount. But unlike those old vaccines, these vaccines do not use the raw material, so in many senses it is a misnomer to describe them as vaccines at all. That information is not really out there among the public any more than the fact that the booster vaccines have not been tested on humans at all during studies; they were tested only on mice. People are being used as victims for experimentation, and that is why they are getting worried.

Finally, Oracle Films’ film, “Safe and Effective: A Second Opinion”, is available on YouTube—I make no apology for the fact that I participate in that film—and sets out a different view on the safety of these vaccines. I am not saying we should ban all covid-19 vaccines and have a complete halt. What I am saying is that there is an urgent need for the Government to get to grips with this issue before more people are duped into having vaccines that they probably do not need, that will not do them any good and that will present risks to their health.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I will try to curtail my remarks to six minutes.

This is a hugely important debate and it is overdue. Those people who have questioned the efficacy or safety of the vaccines have generally been cut down and cancelled. That is why this is so important. I do not claim to be any sort of expert, but my degree a long time ago was in genetics, behaviour and biochemistry. Science works by challenge, and the science behind the vaccines has not been allowed to be challenged.

A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, included 7,806 children aged five or younger who were followed for an average of 91.4 days after their first Pfizer vaccination. The study showed that one in 500 children under five years of age who received a Pfizer mRNA—messenger ribonucleic acid—covid vaccine were hospitalised with a vaccine injury, and one in 200 had symptoms ongoing for weeks or months afterwards. Will the Minister outline the Government’s current policy on vaccination and boosters, and our current policy for the vaccination of children?

Half a per cent. of the children—40 out of the 7,806—had symptoms that were still ongoing and of unknown significance at the end of the trial. That was during a two to four-month follow-up period, so 0.5% of the children had an adverse effect that lasted for weeks or months. In two cases, the symptoms were confirmed to have lasted longer than 90 days. Given that evidence, perhaps the Minister could explain why we are vaccinating healthy children who are at minimal risk from covid. Surely that is in breach of the Hippocratic oath to do no harm. We are not in a situation where we can ask young people to risk their lives to protect older people. In a civilised society, that cannot be the way it works.

According to The Independent in April, more than 1,200 claims have been made to the vaccine damages payment scheme, which entitles successful applicants to £120,000, as pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), if a causal link between vaccination and severe reaction culminating in injury or death is proven. Does the Minister recognise those figures? Sarah Moore, a lawyer who represents 95 families seeking claims, said that her clients felt “silenced and ignored”, adding that they cannot speak about vaccine harm or linked injuries without being accused of being anti-vax. What is the Minister’s view on victims being labelled as anti-vaxxers?

The Department of Health and Social Care commissions research through the National Institute for Health and Care Research. There is £1.6 million that has been allocated for a programme to understand the rare condition of blood clotting with low platelets following vaccination for covid-19. Does the Minister think that is sufficient? Is there a sufficient breadth of investigation considering all the things we are finding out about the vaccines? Where is the cost-benefit analysis by age group for the vaccines, given the risks that they carry, especially as the pharma companies are now admitting that vaccination does not impact on transmission? Did the Government know, when they mandated vaccines for care and NHS workers, that the vaccines had not been tested to find whether they prevented transmission?

The Florida department of health conducted an analysis through a self-controlled case series, which is a technique originally developed to evaluate vaccine safety. The analysis found that there is an 84% increase in the relative incidence of cardiac-related death among males aged 18 to 39 within 28 days following messenger ribonucleic acid vaccination. With a higher level of global immunity to covid-19, the benefit of vaccination is likely outweighed by that abnormally high risk of cardiac-related death among men in that age group. The recommendation now in Florida is that they do not vaccinate any male under the age of 40.

Florida’s surgeon general, Dr Joseph Ladapo, said:

“Studying the safety and efficacy of any medications, including vaccines, is an important component of public health. Far less attention has been paid to safety and the concerns of many individuals have been dismissed—these are important findings that should be communicated to Floridians.”

I suggest that such important findings should be transmitted to everyone who has had a vaccine or is contemplating a booster. I also had the pleasure of meeting Dr Aseem Malhotra at the APPG launch last week. He made a very strong case for the idea that up to 90% of adverse vaccine reactions are not even being reported.

Finally—I wish I had longer to speak—what is the Government’s analysis of the excess deaths that we are suffering in this country, across Europe and in the Americas? Even a casual glance at the data shows a strong correlation between vaccine uptake and the excess deaths in those regions. Surely we must have an investigation. Tens of thousands more people than expected are dying. This is really important, and if we do not get it right, no one will believe us, and trust in politicians, in medicine and in our medical system will be lost. [Interruption.]

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. This important debate shows the importance of the petitions process in raising issues that it is essential to explore, even when they are contentious or do not reflect a majority view. The petition has attracted more than 200 signatures from my constituency. In addition, on behalf of my constituents, I have written to Health Ministers a number of times in relation to compensation and individual cases of harm.

The covid vaccine development—the sharing of intellectual property, know-how and scientific endeavour, the rapidity of the regulatory process, and the operational roll-out across the entire country—was truly remarkable. We should rightly be proud of everything that was done to stop the covid pandemic in its tracks. However, we are now a considerable way on since the development of the vaccine, and some sort of ongoing vaccination programme is expected to continue. The dust has now settled, but concerns about a number of medical, regulatory and ethical issues persist, as has been set out.

Constituents have raised with me their considered and researched concerns about their experiences, including variations in the menstrual cycle; the long-term impact on fertility—whether people can have children—cardiovascular concerns; muscle issues, including carpal tunnel syndrome; the triggering of serious autoimmune responses, and much more besides. In the past, concerns about the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination, for example, had an adverse impact on take-up before they could be fully allayed, but it is also true that authorised and regulated drugs have caused immeasurable harm and have had to be withdrawn.

It seems that concerns about the vaccine process have been mounting, and they must be considered and addressed, not ignored, if we are to continue to ensure widespread support for a national vaccination programme and confidence in such important drugs. Are the Government considering, accepting and addressing those concerns?

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Roger. I commend the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on moving the motion, and I thank all those who signed the petition, including 119 of my Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill constituents. I also thank Members for their thought-provoking contributions to the debate, which I am happy to attend to outline my party’s position on the safety of covid-19 vaccines.

The covid vaccine has saved millions of lives, not just here in the UK but across the world. In the first year of the vaccination programme, 19.8 million out of a potential 31.4 million covid-19 deaths were prevented worldwide, according to estimates based on excess deaths from 185 countries and territories. In Scotland alone, the vaccine saved almost 28,000 lives; that is, an estimated 86% of potential deaths were prevented in Scotland as a result of the vaccination uptake. Thousands of people in Scotland are still alive today because of the coronavirus vaccines. Dr Jim McMenamin, the director of health protection infection services at Public Health Scotland, said:

“This important study shows that thanks to high vaccine uptake among the people of Scotland, and early implementation, the COVID-19 vaccination programme is estimated to have saved more than 27 thousand lives”.

Despite that, there has been a significant increase in heart attacks and related illnesses since the covid-19 vaccinations started to be distributed in 2021. To determine whether there is any connection with the covid-19 roll-out, the Government must conduct an immediate and complete scientific investigation, and ensure that the prescribed medical interventions of their response to coronavirus are indeed safe. As we know, every vaccine used in the UK is subject to approval by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. The vaccination programme has always been guided by the expert advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

This year, the Scottish Government are looking to maximise the co-administration of boosters and flu vaccines, drawing on learning from previous winter vaccination campaigns. I myself will take my booster—on top of the three vaccinations that I have already taken—when I am called to do so. After consideration and discussion with my 14-year-old daughter, she informed me that she will also take her booster when the time comes. Everybody should be able to do so. Everybody eligible for a covid-19 vaccination in Scotland will also be invited for a flu vaccine, and can safely receive both vaccines at the same time and at the same appointment.

The clinical trials of the vaccines have shown them to be effective and acceptably safe. However, as part of its statutory functions, the MHRA continuously monitors the use of vaccines to ensure that their benefits continue to outweigh any risks. For example, during the pandemic, vaccines for pregnant women were initially suggested to be a risk, but the MHRA reassured the public then, as it does now. Its advice remains that the covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and there is substantial evidence to support that advice.

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware, but contradictory evidence was issued on two separate days. One piece of advice said that pregnant and breastfeeding women could have the vaccine, and then another Government body said that that was not safe and that it did not recommend it.

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I am sure that, no matter which subject we discuss, there will be pros and cons, and arguments for and against. We believe in the institutions that govern our health in Scotland, and we believe that they will make the right advice available to all our constituents.

More than 11 billion jabs have been administered so far. Johns Hopkins University puts global deaths related to covid-19 at 6.5 million. Although the vast majority of vaccinations do not result in serious adverse effects, there will of course be a small number of incidents in which there are serious problems. Those must be fully investigated. We believe that vaccination is the best course of action, because the danger of injury from coronavirus significantly outweighs the chance of harm from vaccines. It is a cruel truth that some people will experience some adverse effects, including disability and death. We know that a grieving person whose partner passed away recently as a result of the AstraZeneca vaccine has now received the first payout under the UK’s compensation mechanism. We must recognise the significance of that. There are severe, legitimate claims of harm from the jag, and they must be respected and listened to. That is vital to maintain faith in the UK’s vaccine programme now and in the future. As those who claim make clear, making claims is not about being anti-vaccine. The concerns are legitimate, and we must listen and learn.

The Scottish Government have set up an independent Scottish covid-19 inquiry to provide scrutiny on the handling of the pandemic and to learn important lessons. The input of bereaved families has been fundamental in developing the Scottish inquiry’s terms of reference, and the Scottish Government are committed to engaging with them. That will be long-lasting. The terms of reference provide adequate breadth for the inquiry to consider the elements that came through strongly in stakeholder engagement. It will be up to the new chair, when appointed, to decide how to investigate the issues listed in the terms of reference. It should not be assumed that a topic or group will be excluded from consideration simply because it is not explicitly referred to.

Following consultation with all the devolved Governments, the UK inquiry’s terms of reference include a number of areas of particular interest to the devolved Governments. The Scottish Government look forward to engaging fully with the UK inquiry to identify the lessons that we all need to learn.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I, too, commend the way the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) opened the debate, and I thank him for his candid support for the vaccine programme.

At the start of September, we had a debate in this very Chamber about the covid-19 vaccine damage payment scheme. I want to begin my speech in the same way as I started my speech in that debate, by saying that the covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective and has saved countless lives. I and the entire shadow Health and Social Care team remain extraordinarily grateful to those who sacrificed countless hours to facilitate our vaccine roll-out.

We are here debating this petition because of the vaccine. Without it, we would probably still be dialling in from our homes—me in Denton, frantically trying to sort my dodgy wi-fi and battling my dog for custody of the study chair. Some 51 million people have been fully vaccinated, and more than 151 million doses have been given in the United Kingdom. Without the vaccine and the extraordinary work of scientists, volunteers and NHS staff, we would not have been able to reclaim the liberties that we were forced to forfeit over the course of the pandemic.

Members from across the House will be aware that all vaccines go through rigorous and ongoing testing procedures. The covid-19 vaccines went through several stages of clinical trials before being approved, and met strict independent standards for safety, quality and effectiveness.

Surely the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the much-publicised interview of a Pfizer representative by a committee of the European Parliament only a couple of weeks ago, when they admitted that they had done no testing whatever to see whether the vaccination prevented transmission of the virus.

Yes, I heard that. Of course, the issue is that we were protecting the lives of those people who needed the vaccine to be able to get on with their day-to-day lives. The covid vaccines did go through several stages of clinical trials before approval and, as I am sure the Minister will make clear in her response, the MHRA continues to monitor the use of the vaccines to ensure that their benefits outweigh any risks. That is an important fact.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but if the vaccines were so safe, why was it necessary for the vaccine manufacturers to seek an indemnity against liability for negligence from the Government and the taxpayer?

I suspect that they wanted those assurances because of the rapidity of the roll-out. There is an ongoing process of testing the vaccines. These things are kept under review all the time by the scientists, the Government and the Department of Health and Social Care.

As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said, the MHRA operates the yellow card scheme to collect and monitor information on suspected safety concerns. A dedicated team of scientists review information daily to monitor the vaccine roll-out. For this reason, His Majesty’s Opposition and I do not view the ask of this petition—a public inquiry into covid-19 vaccine safety—as necessary.

Serious vaccine side effects are extremely rare, and catching covid-19 without vaccine protection remains overwhelmingly more dangerous than getting the vaccine itself. Where vaccine damage does tragically occur, it is right that individuals and their families can access the vaccine damage payment scheme, which I spoke at length about in September. We must ensure that this scheme remains fit for the future. I did raise some concerns about that in the previous Westminster Hall debate on this issue, because it is important that those who are eligible can access financial support.

The petition claims that there has been

“a significant increase in heart attacks and related health issues since the roll-out of the covid-19 vaccines began in 2021.”

I appreciate the strength of feeling of those who signed this petition, and I do want to understand more from the Minister about any investigations being undertaken by the health authorities and scientists.

Was the shadow Minister not listening to my speech? The report in Florida showed an 84% increase in deaths from cardiac arrest in men between the ages of 18 and 39.

I was indeed listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. He should have let me finish the sentence, because I was saying that I want to understand from the Minister what investigations are being undertaken by health authorities to ascertain whether this is actually the case, because there is conflicting information.

The hon. Gentleman talks about a study in Florida. It is important that we take into account all the information from across the globe. There is no data in this country from Office for National Statistics, the MHRA or any other public health body that actually backs that up. Therefore, it is important that all this data is kept under review and scrutinised. I think it is important that the Minister gives us assurances that that is being done.

As the Government made clear in their response to the petition, there have been rare reports of myocarditis and pericarditis. That has informed product information advice for healthcare professionals and patients, as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) pointed out. However, it is worth reenforcing just how rare these specific adverse reactions are. Across all vaccines used in the UK, there has been a reporting rate of just 0.01% for myocarditis and pericarditis. Even where this side effect has occurred, most cases have been mild and individuals have recovered.

There is an awful lot of misinformation regarding vaccine efficacy and safety, and it is vital that any debate about vaccine safety is led by the facts. Could the Minister set out what action she will be taking to tackle vaccine misinformation and to provide accurate reassurance to those who remain hesitant? How will she get robust data out there for proper and effective public scrutiny, so that we can reinforce that efficacy?

I hear a lot in my capacity as shadow Public Health Minister about concerns relating to yellow card reports. To that I reiterate the MHRA guidance, which clearly states:

“Many suspected ADRs reported on a yellow card do not have any relation to the vaccine or medicine”.

The yellow card reporting scheme allows individuals and health professionals to report any suspected reactions or side-effects, even if the reporter is not sure that they were caused by the vaccine. It is often the case that events recorded via the yellow card scheme would have happened anyway.

I feel passionately about tackling vaccine misinformation head-on, because the truth is that we are not in a position to be complacent. In the UK, people are still dying because they have not been vaccinated, and uptake among certain communities is still far too low, but the challenge is also global. More than 20 nations across the world have first-dose vaccine rates of lower than 20%. In Burundi, just 0.2% of people have received their first dose. The United Kingdom has an important role to play in ensuring that low-income countries can access vaccines, but also in making the argument, domestically and on the world stage, that vaccines are safe and effective. That will ensure that we remain better protected not only against covid-19 and potential mutations, but against future pandemics, where trust is a key tool in protecting people and communities across the globe.

This has been an important and wide-ranging debate, and one that I am glad we were able to facilitate. We in this House may have different views on this subject, but we also have a responsibility to protect the health of the people we represent, and that means using our platforms to make it clear that covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective—something that I am sure the Minister will wholeheartedly agree with.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for his kind words regarding the covid vaccine programme, and for bringing this important and timely debate to the House. It is timely because we started the covid-19 boosters autumn scheme just a few weeks ago.

Before I respond to the points that have been made in the debate and try to answer all the questions posed by right hon. and hon. Members, I thank Members—particularly those on the Opposition Benches, including the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar)—for their support for the vaccine scheme. I also thank each and every person in the country who has come forward for their jabs, as well as the tens of thousands of NHS staff and volunteers who made that happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked why the vaccine programme had worked so well. It worked so well because of the dedication and hard work of all who were involved in it—from the Government to the NHS, and from the volunteers to pharma. I was honoured to volunteer alongside people from my local area as young as 15 and as old as in their 80s. It was truly a community effort.

The take-up of the covid-19 vaccine has been huge, and over 151 million vaccines have been delivered in the UK, meaning that more than 90% of people aged 12 and over have received at least one dose and more than 40 million have received a booster or third dose. We have also made a great start to the autumn booster campaign. Since the start of the campaign on 5 September, more than 10 million people in England have stepped forward for their jabs.

Our safe and effective vaccines have underpinned the Government’s strategy for living with covid-19. They have allowed the economy and society to reopen, and the country’s ability to live with the virus in the future will continue to depend on deeper and broader population immunity. Critically, they have also reduced the pressure on the national health service and allowed us to start to tackle the elective care backlog.

Vaccines remain our biggest line of defence as we head into a challenging winter period. Vaccinated people are less likely to get seriously ill with covid-19 or seasonal flu, or to be admitted to hospital, and there is also evidence that they are less likely to pass the virus on to others. We know the covid vaccine has saved tens of thousands of lives—that is tens of thousands of mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters who are thankfully still with us.

Is the Minister aware that excess deaths run somewhere—there are two different sets of figures—between 18,000 and 25,000 this year alone?

I am referring to the covid vaccine, which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. I take my hon. Friend’s point, but there is no evidence that those deaths were caused by the covid vaccine. Let me acknowledge and pass on my sympathies to the very small number of people for whom vaccines may not have worked as intended, and who may have suffered an adverse reaction from vaccines.

I turn to vaccine safety. All vaccines used in the UK covid-19 vaccine programme are safe. In the UK we have some of the highest safety standards in the world. The MHRA is globally recognised for high standards of quality, safety and medicines regulation. Each covid-19 vaccine candidate is assessed by teams of scientists and clinicians on a case-by-case basis. There are extensive checks and balances at every stage of vaccine development. It is only once each potential vaccine has met robust standards of effectiveness, safety and quality set by the MHRA that it will be approved for use.

It is also important to stress that the surveillance of vaccine safety and adverse reactions does not stop once a vaccine has been approved. The MHRA and the UK Health Security Agency constantly review a wide range of available data on the safety of vaccines, including UK and international reports of adverse reactions.

People outside the House will not know that although the Minister has been in her job a relatively short time, she is a remarkably dedicated and diligent person. No Minister is more likely or determined than she is to get to the facts when looking at the international data. Will the Minister give the assurance that she will consider all the information available, including that international data, when she draws conclusions about the content of this debate and the cases that have been made by many of my constituents and others?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words. I will, of course, look at all the evidence. He is aware of my experience as a clinician and he knows that I will look at the evidence-based medical process.

As part of the surveillance into currently used medicines and vaccines, the MHRA continues to review all the suspected adverse drug reaction reports—known as the yellow card reports—relating to covid vaccines, which right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned. Through the MHRA yellow card scheme, members of the public and healthcare professionals can report any suspected side effects. A comprehensive surveillance strategy alerts us to any unforeseen adverse reactions to the vaccine, to enable us to act swiftly when required.

In April 2021, we quickly responded to reports of extremely rare cases of concurrent thrombosis and thrombocytopenia following vaccination with the first dose of AstraZeneca. At that point, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that adults under 30 without underlying health issues should be offered an alternative vaccine to the AstraZeneca if one was available. That was later extended in May 2021 to adults under 40 without underlying health issues. The MHRA, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) said, has undertaken a thorough review of UK reports of thrombosis and thrombocytopenia. While the estimated incident rate has increased over time as awareness of the condition increases across the healthcare system, the number of cases remains extremely low, given that more than 49 million doses of AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine have been administered.

A number of colleagues asked about myocarditis. There is no evidence that people are at an increased risk of cardiac arrest in the days and weeks following the vaccine. The risk of getting myocarditis or pericarditis after the vaccine remains very low. A large study of 4 million vaccinated people in Denmark, published in the British Medical Journal, found that there were no deaths or diagnoses of heart failure in people who were diagnosed with myocarditis or pericarditis after being vaccinated.

In the highest-risk group, those aged 18 to 29, until the end of September this year there were 29 cases for every million second Pfizer doses and 68 cases for every million second Moderna doses given in the UK. The risk is much lower after a booster dose, and in other age groups the risk is lower still. However, it is worth remembering that catching covid-19 can significantly increase the risk of cardiac arrest and death, and the risk of developing myocarditis. There are an estimated 1,500 cases of myocarditis per million patients with covid—far greater than the risk of myocarditis following vaccination.

Let me turn now to some of the questions that have been asked. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked about the inquiry and how people would be able to contribute to it. It will listen to and consider carefully the experiences of bereaved families and others who have suffered loss as a result of the pandemic. It will not consider individual cases; instead, listening to such accounts will inform its understanding of the impact of the pandemic and the response, and any lessons to be learned. Individuals will be able to engage through the inquiry’s listening exercise and the details of that will be brought forward in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) asked about informed consent. Indeed, I think that he produced the leaflet that provides the information that allows people to understand that the JCVI has recommended the vaccine because on balance it is beneficial to people; it is more likely to be of benefit to them than harm. Equally, however, each individual will be provided with information about the vaccine, as they are with all medical treatments, so that they know the benefits they can expect and the risk of side effects, however small, as well as what they are. As I say, he produced an example in the debate of a leaflet containing such information. What is important is that people are aware of the benefits and risks and can make informed decisions. Vaccination is not compulsory, but we are aware that it is of great benefit to the population and to individuals at risk of covid.

What happens if somebody suffers a 50% disability as a result of having the vaccine, through an adverse reaction, or an unusual event? What do the Government do to help that person? They do not provide any compensation, or any special help through the health service, or a clinic, so what do they do?

My hon. Friend is talking about the vaccine damage payment scheme, which has been running since 1979 and provides a payment of up to £120,000—a tax-free lump sum, a one-off payment—for people who have been severely damaged by vaccines, on the balance of probabilities, which is determined when people apply. That does not prejudice any claim that they may have in a legal sense and they can still pursue a civil claim should they wish to do so. It has been asked whether there should be a separate scheme for covid, but of course it is right that all vaccines are treated in a similar fashion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) asked a few questions. He asked about the terms of reference of the inquiry being a matter for the chair, which indeed they are. He also asked whether I would commit the chair of the MHRA to meet specific people, but that is not for me to decide; it is up to the chair. My hon. Friend’s other question was about children’s vaccines. He is aware of my thoughts on that: it is important when we vaccinate children that the vaccines are of benefit to the child themselves. I am aware that when the vaccine was approved that was the decision made by all four chief medical officers and it is very important that the Government listen to and take medical advice. Since then, some things have changed. Natural immunity is more widespread and school disruption is no longer an issue. I understand that very shortly, at its next meeting, the JCVI will consider whether children’s vaccines should continue to be recommended, on the basis of the current situation. I think it is right that medical research is reviewed regularly as it becomes available and is taken into account.

The position of the MHRA remains that for most people the benefits of the covid-19 vaccine continue to outweigh the risks. The surveillance strategy is working, as we have discussed. We are able to respond quickly to ensure safe administration of all covid vaccines. I reiterate that the public should be very confident that all tests are completed to the very highest standards and that vaccines are safe.

Despite the progress we have made, we must not become complacent.

Would the Minister be willing to address the all-party parliamentary group on covid-19 vaccine damage in a private meeting, so that she can hear at first hand some of the concerns that members have?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will be aware of events today and I will at least have to see whether I remain in post before I potentially commit somebody else to such an event.

As I was saying, despite the progress we have made, we must not become complacent. We cannot risk an increase in serious illness, hospitalisations and deaths from covid. The UKHSA estimates that vaccinations had averted up to 128,000 deaths and 262,000 hospitalisations by the end of September 2021, and many more since then.

We must do everything in our power to protect those who are most vulnerable to the virus and keep pressure off the NHS in a tough winter period. Viruses such as covid-19 spread much more easily in winter when we socialise indoors. To protect those most at risk and help to reduce pressure on the NHS, we are delivering an autumn booster dose to those who are most in need of an extra layer of protection. Even if someone has had all of their jabs so far, and perhaps had covid too, they might still need an autumn booster to strengthen their protection. I encourage everyone who is eligible to come forward for their covid booster and seasonal flu jab today. To encourage vaccination against covid and flu and boost uptake, the NHS is making every effort to make it as convenient as possible for individuals to take up the offer, including offering both covid and flu vaccines at the same time, where possible, to reduce the number of appointments needed. Our NHS staff and volunteers are pulling out all the stops to deliver the next phase of the covid vaccine programme at speed once again, with more than 3,000 sites up and down the country involved.

The NHS was the first healthcare system in the world to deliver a covid-19 vaccine outside clinical trials, and it is now the first to deliver the new, variant-busting vaccine. Bivalent vaccines target two different strains of covid-19. They will give us a broader immunity and therefore potentially improve protection against variants of the virus. Whatever vaccine people receive in the autumn booster programme, they can be assured that it remains effective in preventing severe disease against all current variants and any potential future variants.

As I draw to a close, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington for bringing this important debate to the House at such an important time. The Government have already commissioned a public inquiry into the pandemic, and covid vaccines will be reviewed as part of that inquiry. There are no plans for an inquiry solely on vaccine safety. We face a tough winter ahead, and collectively we must do everything we can to protect those who are most vulnerable and to reduce pressure on the NHS. I encourage everyone who is eligible to step forward for their covid and flu vaccines as soon as they are able.

It is unusual to be in this place and be lambasted by colleagues, but I make no apology for looking out for the health and wellbeing of my constituents. I completely agree with the sentiments raised throughout the course of the debate. We have to do more, and I urge the Minister to look into what more we can do for those who are adversely affected. I will not apologise for not allowing that to be a gateway that allows vaccine misinformation to come into the mainstream.

Some people have said that the debate is overdue. I hastened to remind colleagues in my opening remarks that there have been four of these Petitions Committee debates, let alone the Backbench Business debates and private colleagues who have come forward to ask for debates. This is not overdue; it has happened plenty of times. We have given a lot of parliamentary time to this. Yes, there is more that we can and must do for those who suffer harm, but it is worth reiterating that the system for approving and monitoring vaccines is robust, the inquiry exists already and vaccines are a great British success story. It was a Brit who discovered vaccines in the way that we know them today, and they have been effective in tackling a range of illnesses that would previously have been life-threatening or very dangerous indeed. The proof is that they work, they are saving lives and they protect us and others. I join the Minister in urging people to come forward for their vaccines this winter, to help to protect themselves and others and ensure the strain on our NHS is as minimal as possible.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered e-petition 602171, relating to the safety of covid-19 vaccines.

Human Rights Legislation Reform

[Yvonne Fovargue in the Chair]

[Relevant documents: Correspondence from the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, relating to the introduction of the Bill of Rights Bill, reported to the House on 29 June, Correspondence from the Lord Chancellor on the introduction of the Bill of Rights Bill and Bill of Rights Bill Human Rights Memorandum, reported to the House on 20 July, Correspondence from the Lord Chancellor confirming that the Bill of Rights Bill has been paused, reported to the House on 19 October, and the Thirteenth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2021-22, Human Rights Act Reform, HC 1033, and the Government’s response, HC 608.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 607712, relating to human rights legislation reform.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. More than 230,000 people have signed this petition, including 283 people from my own constituency of Blackpool South. It is obvious why a petition on human rights has been incredibly popular and gained such widespread support.

This country has always been a leading champion of human rights, democracy and freedoms internationally and possesses a proud history stretching all the way back to Magna Carta in 1215. This has progressed, and rightly so, to a huge number of rights across all aspects of life and society to provide people with freedom of expression and a right to education and safety in the workplace, among many other things.

However, there is increasingly a perception that the current “rights culture” is contrary to common sense and flies in the face of the original purpose behind the various pieces of legislation. In some cases that has provided a platform for criminals hoping to escape punishment or delay and frustrate natural justice.

I will make some progress. The creator of this e-petition stated that he did not want any changes to the Human Rights Act 1998 because he was concerned that people’s human rights would be less respected. I do not believe for one second that that would be the case. Reforms to the Human Rights Act would bring clarity to the currently opaque human rights standards, specifically those imported and adopted from the European convention on human rights. It is important to note that that does not mean reduced rights for people at home. Any update to the Human Rights Act should not seek to scrap people’s fundamental human rights, and any update to the Act should retain the ECHR and its original principles. However, we must ensure that the Human Rights Act and its interpretations are not used to undermine the desired will of the public or that of our democratically elected Parliament.

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her intervention. If she will wait a few moments, I will cover that. Of course, all aspects of human rights should be covered within our provisions and protections, but there should be a balance between protecting those rights and allowing the Government to ensure that national security issues are protected at the same time.

The British people rightly believe that they should be subject to British law, made by British lawmakers for whom they have voted and by British judges. This Government were elected in 2019 on a manifesto that promised to update the Human Rights Act to ensure a proper balance among the rights of individuals, our national security and effective government.

One of the aims of the legislation is to prevent trivial human rights claims wasting judges’ time and taxpayer money. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have not yet evidenced that that is enough of a widespread issue to risk watering down the rights of citizens across the UK for nominal financial savings?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government are actively considering that. To be entirely honest, I wish the Government had moved ahead on the issue at different points over the past 12 months, but we have had consultations and things that rightly need to be considered in the round. Today we have a new Prime Minister. It will be up to him and his team to set out the new direction forward. I am sure those comments will be reported back to the Department by the Minister. The overreaching ECHR is tipping the balance away from national security and effective border controls in favour of serious criminals and terrorists who are abusing the legislation to avoid deportation. Various ECHR articles have been expanded beyond their original intention. What most frustrates me and the residents of Blackpool is the expansion of article 8 on the right to respect for private and family life, which serious criminals are using to make mockery of our broken asylum system.

In 2020, the Strasbourg court made the controversial decision to allow a Nigerian national who was sentenced to four years in prison for drug offences and had a conviction for battery to remain in the UK on health grounds. That has set the dangerous precedent that if the state wishes to deport an individual, it must be able to show that, when compared with the NHS, the healthcare to which the individual would be entitled in their own country would not significantly impact on their life chances. That is obviously an unrealistically high bar to meet.

In a second case, another convicted drug dealer used article 8 on the right to family life despite assaulting his partner and making no child maintenance contributions whatsoever—what complete and utter irony! The absurd list goes on and on. More than 70% of successful deportation appeals are now based solely on article 8.

I am a little confused by the hon. Gentleman’s speech, and I wonder whether the 230,000 who have signed the petition would think that they were listening to the right debate. I thought he said that he wishes to remain in the ambit of the European convention on human rights, and therefore of the Court—I think that that is Government policy as of last week—but he now seems to be arguing against that. Where exactly does he stand?

I am far from a legal expert, but there is a middle way between protecting people’s fundamental human rights and continuing to enshrine the ECHR in British law, and ensuring that the Government have wiggle room so that serious foreign national offenders can be deported and our asylum system is not overtly abused. Of course, that is the subject of the Government’s ongoing consultation. I look forward to the Government, and far more experienced legal minds than me, finding a way through that minefield.

We cannot fix a broken asylum system until we reform the Human Rights Act. Someone who wants to claim asylum should go through the correct procedure, under which the UK has a number of safe and legal routes. However, 28,000 people illegally crossed the channel in small boats last year, and 75% of them were men between the ages of 18 and 39. Although asylum claims should be processed within six months, many claimants do not hear back within that time, and the appeals process can take many years. Frankly, the residents of my Blackpool constituency are fed up of seeing the asylum system being abused and of the time it takes to deport those who come here, which lengthens year after year.

Simplifying the system, ensuring that claimants demonstrate that they have been materially disadvantaged before they can make a claim and strengthening the emphasis on societal impacts such as criminal behaviour will help to protect our national security and save the taxpayers’ money that is spent in the courts system and on costs associated with accommodating and supporting asylum seekers who have pending applications.

The Human Rights Act received Royal Assent in 1998 and came into force in 2000. Tony Blair’s aim was to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the ECHR, which took effect in 1953, but after such a long time, the Human Rights Act could not have foreseen the incredibly complex challenges that we face today. It is absolutely right that the Government review that Act with a focus on the modern era, while reinforcing the primacy of UK law and protecting the fundamental freedoms that we all enjoy.

I welcome the petition and I congratulate those who organised and signed it. It requests that the proposed reform of the Human Rights Act be withdrawn. However, that demand appears to have been somewhat overtaken by events, so the first question to ask is whether the petitioners’ objectives remain valid. As we know, politics moves pretty quickly, and the proposed reforms have been withdrawn. The Prime Minister ditched the plans for a new Bill of Rights on 7 September. The papers were briefed that Ministers were deeply concerned about the drafting of the Bill. It was pulled just five days before its Second Reading, soon after the Justice Secretary had himself been sacked.

At the time—precisely six weeks and five days ago—the Prime Minister told the Cabinet that her Government would reassess ways to deliver this agenda. Note that she said that she disagreed not with the objectives of the withdrawn legislation, but rather with the method of their implementation. Fast forward to last week: six weeks and two days after the Prime Minister took office, the Conservative party reassessed her ability to deliver her own agenda and unceremoniously ditched her. That leaves human rights reform up in the air.

So is the petition still valid? I think it most certainly is, because the proposed Bill was in the last Conservative manifesto, and as far as I can work out it has been in successive Conservative manifestos since 2010. Indeed, despite withdrawing the draft legislation, the present Prime Minister supported such a Bill when she was Justice Secretary. I assume that the new leader—the Prime Minister unveiled this week, and the next Leader of the Opposition—will in turn pledge to establish the legal supremacy of the UK Supreme Court so that UK courts can disregard rulings from the ECHR. Therefore, despite the Prime Minister ditching the Bill, the issues contained in the petition remain highly relevant and valid.

We can confidently assume that, despite the Conservative party and the Government disintegrating before us, the party is still intent on reforming the Human Rights Act—perhaps one of the few things that unites its different factions. Therefore, the petition’s objective that the Government must not

“make any changes to the Human Rights Act, especially ones that dilute people’s human rights in any circumstances, make the Government less accountable, or reduce people’s ability to make human rights claims”

remains highly relevant. Despite the fact that the Bill has been axed, those issues will not go away, and they therefore deserve to be debated.

We do not really acknowledge the true significance of the proposed human rights reforms. Let me give hon. Members a brief example. The contents of the last Queen’s Speech, on 10 May—it seems like ages ago—were widely described as a damp squib, reflecting a Government who had run out of ideas:

“a party without a project”,

to quote a Guardian editorial. I thought at the time that such an interpretation was slightly wrong. Simply seeing the Queen’s Speech as an incoherent, aimless collection of 38 Bills, symptomatic of an inert, drifting Government, misread what was going on. Such a misreading is important, because it suggests that there was little to see here, and therefore little obligation to contest it and provide an alternative.

Probably the most radical element of the Queen’s Speech, which will be debated tomorrow, is the Brexit freedoms Bill—an extraordinary piece of legislation entailing the wholesale dismantling of domestic law through the constitutionally outrageous use of sunset and Henry VIII clauses. I thought at the time that the Bill of Rights was almost a constitutional companion piece to that piece of legislation. Axing the Human Rights Act would dramatically reset our strategic international position and the rights and freedoms afforded to British citizens. Acknowledging the radical character of those initiatives in the last Queen’s Speech poses many challenges and opportunities for my party, in terms of what we stand for and what we would do.

The Scottish Government have been clear that they oppose this legislation and would invite Holyrood to oppose it too. That means that if the UK Government pushed ahead, they would be showing a disregard for devolution. Does the hon. Gentleman share the concerns of those living across the UK that their rights are potentially being stripped away without consent?

I will come to that when I mention different approaches to economic and social rights, which should be the cornerstone of an alternative approach to a new Bill of Rights in the UK. That goes with the grain of what is happening in Scotland, in contrast to the objectives of the present Government in Westminster. To put it charitably, the Government are a total shambles, and even compared to early September, the possibility of a Labour Government is more likely. It would be useful to find out what Labour’s approach is to reform of the HRA, for instance, whether it would seek to defend the present Act or offer its own alternative Bill of Rights.

The Conservative reform of human rights, which will reappear, cannot be discussed without acknowledging the international context in which it occurs. When set against an international backdrop of war and escalating authoritarianism, the proposed human rights reform suggests a country withdrawing from our international obligations and democratic oversight, both abroad and at home. That is not an accident. The Government have stated a wish to comply with the human rights convention, but they would also seek to mandate our judges to disregard some of its most basic principles and protections. Those include the so-called positive obligations on public bodies to investigate crime and wrongdoing. These are precisely the methods that produced remedies for the victims of the black cab rapist, John Worboys, alongside a range of other cases providing justice for victims—most famously through the Hillsborough inquiry—and a series of cases of justice for soldiers, including the case at Deepcut.

The reform would likely see more cases going to Strasbourg, not less, and would once again expand the power of the Executive, which would be more free to rule by regulation and restrict the interpretive power of the courts. When Europe and the world are crying out for international leadership and solidarity, our Government appear to be running in the opposite direction. We might assume that it is was only the likes of Russia, Poland and Hungary that cynically remained in treaties, such as the human rights convention, while corroding them from within. What I find truly extraordinary is to think that in 2023, the 75th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights—partly crafted by British lawyers—the Government planned to axe the Human Rights Act, the direct descendant of that convention, which sought to unite countries after fascism, authoritarianism and genocide.

Winston Churchill would arguably be turning in his grave. In his opening speech to the Congress of Europe in May 1948, Churchill said that the new Europe must be

“a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values. It is a dynamic expression of democratic faith based upon moral conceptions and inspired by a sense of mission. In the centre of our movement stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law.”

That statement, 75 years on, has a contemporary feel to it, as authoritarianism and fascism are once again on the march, threatening the foundations of liberal democracy.

While I am glad to see that the legislation has been withdrawn, it comes with one downside. The Government’s withdrawn attempt to deny rights to the British people, wrapped up in the almost Orwellian language of a new Bill of Rights, did offer opportunities for opponents to build a coalition around an alternative, rather than simply defend the status quo. It would be a radical new Bill of Rights that builds on the Human Rights Act rather than dismantles it, and one that might echo themes from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vision of a second Bill of Rights in 1944, which informed the universal declaration of human rights.

Such an alternative Bill of Rights might include the right to work, to free education, to access to public health, to housing, to security for all and to freedom from fear. If Labour rethinks its whole approach to modern citizenship, I like to think that could be part of a radical levelling-up agenda. It would be a new democratic and economic covenant between the state and its citizens, one that is aligned with Administrations in Scotland and Wales, which are also seeking to build such an agenda. It would not only honour the Good Friday agreement’s commitment to the human rights convention, but would be in keeping with the long-term quest for a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland. That offers a different type of radicalism to that of the Queen’s Speech, and the ditched attempts to attack our human rights, alongside the desire to consolidate power within the Executive and strip away access to justice.

In conclusion, my basic point is a simple one: the last Queen’s Speech was no damp squib. Reform of the Human Rights Act is a big deal that should be challenged. Thinking that there is little to see here concedes too much ground, and reinforces the political groupthink that underplays the radical character of this Government and their potential to isolate us, diminish our international standings, consolidate long-term economic weaknesses and enduring patterns of inequality, and hand over even greater powers to the Executive. There is plenty to see here. It deserves a radical alternative. The Human Rights Act, as it currently exists, protects all of us; we lose it at our peril. It is essential that we are allowed to challenge public authorities when they get it wrong. The Human Rights Act has changed many lives for the better. It must be protected and built on, and not subject to reforms that reduce its scope and limit what people can rely on it for. This debate will endure. That is why the petition before us retains its significance and should be warmly welcomed.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue, and to have the opportunity to debate this important petition.

I will start from the basic principle that the Government and the Conservative party have always been firmly committed to our adherence to the European convention on human rights. For some of us, that is absolutely non-negotiable and fundamental, and rightly so because historically it has been a largely British-driven instrument. British common law traditions have actually greatly developed both the convention itself and the development of the Strasbourg Court’s jurisprudence.

It is worth bearing in mind that, as the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) alluded to, one of the principal authors of the European convention on human rights, the late Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, later Lord Kilmuir, was, at the time, a Conservative Member of Parliament, had been a prosecutor in the Nuremburg trials and later served as a Conservative Lord Chancellor. Conservative respect for human rights is actually very deep-rooted and, for many years, the UK was a diligent member of the convention, without having the Human Rights Act in domestic legislation. It was sensible to have an Act that enabled the remedies available under the convention to be sought in the domestic courts, rather than having to go directly to Strasbourg. That was the purpose of the Human Rights Act when it was introduced. It is not essential in terms of our commitment to human rights to have a statute in domestic law, but it is certainly convenient and greatly helps many British citizens in the assertion of their convention rights. I think it is right that we keep it, but does that mean it should not be reformed? Of course not. Any legislation has space for reform and improvement and that was the commitment in the 2019 Conservative party manifesto, the manifesto on which this Government were elected. I am happy to support that.

It was consistent with that manifesto commitment that the then Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), commissioned an independent review of the operation of the Act with a view to modernising and updating it. That was the manifesto commitment—no less, but also no more. In consequence, Sir Peter Gross KC, a distinguished former Lord Justice of Appeal, headed up an independent review panel, which took extensive evidence—over 180 submissions plus roadshows around the whole UK—and produced a detailed report. Subsequently, Sir Peter gave compelling evidence in support of his report to the Justice Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and to, I think, the Constitution Committee of the other place.

If there is to be reform, I suggest that Sir Peter’s balanced report is the appropriate template. It touches upon a number of practical changes that could be made. For example, the ambiguity that his panel concluded exists around the hierarchy of rights—the prioritisation of rights—under section 2 of the current Act. Strengthening the means of dealing with the margin of appreciation—that is the way in which there is a degree of flexibility—is consistent with the principle of subsidiarity. According to this principle, each member state of the convention has some flexibility in the way it interprets the rights and the enforcement of judgments and decisions according to their own domestic legal traditions. Developing the concept of judicial dialogue was started again and brought to its current form by Lord Clarke when he was Lord Chancellor, and then developed in the Brighton declaration and subsequently by the Copenhagen declaration. That is a constructive means of developing jurisprudence within the member states. Further recommendations include tackling one or two other thorny practical issues around remedial orders and in relation to extraterritoriality, which is a real issue. Sir Peter posits various alternative ways, but, ultimately, these Houses, as a legislature, would have to decide upon them. Those would be practical improvements and reforms.

I was surprised when, after Sir Peter delivered the report, my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) produced a consultation document that went rather beyond the party’s manifesto and then introduced a Bill of Rights that, again, went rather beyond the manifesto and Sir Peter’s panel’s recommendations. Without reciting the history, in September, as has been observed, the Lord Chancellor paused the passage of that legislation and wrote to the Justice Committee and other relevant Committees, notifying them that that was the position. The Lord Chancellor was right to do so. The Bill of Rights, which has had no more than its First Reading, went beyond the manifesto commitment; it also went beyond the sensible changes that I, as a Conservative, want to see, which would be consistent with the evidence that was available to Government. It would also needlessly undermine some of the practical workings of the convention rights for UK citizens.

That is not to say that there are not circumstances where either judgments in the Strasbourg Court or the application of convention rights by the domestic courts do not cause controversy or political sensitivity, if I can put it that way. However, for context, it is worth remembering that the number of instances in which the UK is in breach of its convention obligations is absolutely trivial. I was struck by that fact when I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, but also when looking at the evidence we have had most recently. The UK actually has one of the best records of compliance with our ECHR obligations of any of the member states.

The figures in the “Report to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Government’s response to human rights judgments 2020–2021” show that the number of adverse judgments has declined from 19 in 2011 to 4 in 2020. There has been a consistent downward trend. Similarly, the number of cases brought against the United Kingdom ongoing before the courts has declined from 2,500 odd in 2013 to 124. It is worth bearing in mind that many of those cases are now historic. They related either to certain elements of retention of evidence in terrorism cases that have now been dealt with or to the prisoner voting issue, in particular—of course, a minor amendment to the legislation resolved that issue and brought us into compliance with the convention. The outstanding issues, apart from those that hit the headlines around immigration and asylum and one or two other matters, are actually very minor.

When we look to change an important piece of legislation and at the strength of our commitment to our international obligation under the convention, it is worth bearing in mind that the issues are very limited and discrete. I therefore hope that we will leave the passage of the Bill paused and that the Government will reflect that, of all the issues confronting the Ministry of Justice, there may be other, rather more pressing issues that we should be dealing with. If we do move forward with reform, to which I would have no objection, I hope that we use the evidence-based approach that Sir Peter Gross and his panel set up for us. That, I argue, is the responsible and sensible way forward, and one that completely meets our manifesto commitments.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill). I am in a very significant measure of agreement with him, particularly about the need for evidence-based policy making.

I rise to speak as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I remind Members that it is a Joint Committee of both the Commons and the Lords, which takes half its members from each House. It is, of course, a cross-party Committee. As the Committee responsible for scrutinising the Government’s human rights record, we have conducted two inquiries considering plans to reform the Human Rights Act. During our inquiries, we heard evidence from experts with a diverse range of views and from people who have benefited from using the Human Rights Act. Having considered all that evidence, we remain of the view, which we have expressed in a number of previous reports, that the Human Rights Act is functioning as intended and enables human rights to be enforced effectively in the United Kingdom, with little need for recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. For that reason, based on the evidence we have heard and the information we have considered, we believe that the Government have failed to make the case for repealing and replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights.

We were pleased to have confirmation from the current Lord Chancellor that the Government were looking again at the Bill of Rights Bill and that its progress would be paused while they conducted a thorough review of the Bill. We were pleased to hear that, unlike before, he intends to look at the evidence base, including the independent Human Rights Act review. We were concerned by the Government’s lack of engagement with experts, Parliament and the public over the Bill of Rights Bill. It followed the independent Human Rights Act review, as we have heard, significant parliamentary engagement and inquiries, and a public consultation exercise, which elicited over 12,000 responses. That is the sort of extensive engagement we should be having before we embark on reform, but engagement has to be genuine and have meaning and purpose, and those who engage should be listened to.

The Bill of Rights simply does not reflect what the Government heard from Parliament’s Committees, their own commissioned independent review or their consultation exercise. The Government’s own consultation analysis shows that many responders were in favour of maintaining the status quo and the Human Rights Act, and believed that the changes proposed were unnecessary. Despite that lack of support, the Government decided to pursue a reform, in which they went to the length of repealing and replacing the Act altogether.

The Government’s consultation analysis provided scant to no reasoning to explain why they decided to disregard the views of a significant number of consultees. In the Joint Committee’s opinion, that calls into question the integrity of the whole consultation process preceding the Bill of Rights. We concluded that, given the overwhelming lack of support for these radical reforms, repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a Bill of Rights was neither democratic nor necessary. We were particularly worried about the international implications of repealing the Human Rights Act. Our primary worry was that removing the Act would weaken protections for people living in the United Kingdom, but we were also worried about how it would be perceived internationally.

When we visited the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg earlier this year, we highlighted our concerns. It was emphasised to us that the Human Rights Act is viewed internationally as the gold standard and a model example of how human rights can be effectively embodied into domestic law and practice. It was impressed on us by our interlocuters that any weakening of the mechanisms in the Act could damage the United Kingdom’s reputation internationally and weaken the UK Government’s position when seeking to ensure that other states uphold their human rights obligations. Importantly, we were left in no doubt by those we spoke to that the United Kingdom’s status as a leading member of the Council of Europe and one of the founders of the ECHR means that any reforms to the Act that suggest that we are wavering in our commitment to the convention’s protections could be a green light for other less committed nations to weaken their own human rights protections.

Other hon. Members have spoken about the incredibly positive impact that the Human Rights Act has had on human rights in the United Kingdom, and the Joint Committee has highlighted that in a number of its reports. It has highlighted that it has made it far easier for individuals to enforce their rights, because they can do so in their domestic court, and that is much cheaper and easier. Before the passing of the Human Rights Act, an individual had to take their case directly to the Court in Strasbourg. That process was subject to long delays, by which I mean many years, and on average cost applicants £30,000. As the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst indicated, another benefit of the Human Rights Act is that it has led to a significant decrease in the number of cases brought against the UK before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, because we resolve our own human rights problems at home, in the domestic courts of our jurisdiction. The hon. Member gave some statistics about that.

Contrary to what people sometimes think, having a Human Rights Act, and incorporating the ECHR into the domestic law of the United Kingdom, has also enabled courts—in my jurisdiction of Scotland and in those of England and Wales, and of Northern Ireland—to influence the development of European Court of Human Rights case law. We heard that there is a strong dialogue between the UK Supreme Court and the Court in Strasbourg; they both influence each other’s jurisprudence, and that often works to the benefit of the United Kingdom.

Another important thing that the Human Rights Act has done is embed a human rights culture in public authorities. We heard from a number of witnesses—including an NHS trust, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the British Association of Social Workers—that the Human Rights Act has placed human rights at the centre of decision making in public authorities, and that the legal framework assisted them in making complex decisions.

We also heard that the Human Rights Act has been central to the devolution of justice and policing in Northern Ireland, and of course we know that it is embedded in the Good Friday agreement. It also plays a very important role in the constitutional underpinning of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd. As other hon. Members indicated, in my own jurisdiction of Scotland, the Scottish Parliament has gone beyond the Human Rights Act to embed, for example, the UN convention on the rights of the child. The Joint Committee was very clear that we do not believe that the Human Rights Act should be reformed without the consent of the devolved legislatures, because it is so important to them.

I want to be clear: the Joint Committee on Human Rights is not saying that there should not be any amendments to the Human Rights Act, but we would like human rights protections to be strengthened rather than weakened. For example, we want the right to protest—a very important aspect of the right to freedom of expression—to be given greater protection in the Bill of Rights Bill, and we want the right to an effective remedy, as protected by article 13 of the ECHR, embedded. We also want the Government seriously to consider incorporating other international human rights treaties, such as the UN convention that I just mentioned and the refugee convention. That should include the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution, in terms similar to those of article 14 of the universal declaration of human rights.

We are pleased that the current Lord Chancellor has paused the process. We had a very positive letter from him last week. We are looking forward to engaging with him, and we are delighted that the Government will go back and look at the independent review in a way that they did not before. The Committee will continue to engage with the Government, but we emphasise that we believe in evidence-based policy making. It is our view that so far we have seen no evidence to justify the argument that significant changes to the Human Rights Act are either necessary or desirable.

It is a pleasure to be serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue, and a real pleasure to follow the eminent Chairs of two Select Committees: the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Justice Committee. With perhaps difference nuances, they both said very much the same thing, and so I will not repeat it for a third time: if there is a priority in legislation, reform of the Human Rights Act is not it. That is essentially what the terms of the petition say.

Despite that, when he was Lord Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) set up the Gross review. That was a substantial piece of work and its recommendations were proportionate, so if changes are to be made, we should perhaps be guided rather more by that than by the subsequent consultation, which as far as I can see paid no regard whatever to the Gross report. In fact, it appeared to be based rather more on a shorter piece of work, the 2009 book, “The Assault on Liberty”. The right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) read his own book again—something that I have tried and failed to do on several occasions—rather than looking at the report that his Department commissioned.

It is a shame, and I would probably err on the side of not reforming at all, because the Human Rights Act is a piece of legislation that we should be proud of. It is a practical as well as principled part of constitutional law, and it has worked very well. However, all this did not start in the last year or two, but probably over a decade ago, with the use of legislation aiming to repeal or reform the Human Rights Act as part of the culture wars agenda and throwing red meat to various members of the governing party. It is in the same bracket now as tomorrow’s Bill on retained EU law, flights to Rwanda and the public order legislation to curtail freedom of speech that we had last week. It is a real shame that we are passing legislation of that kind, as is the motivation for passing it.

All this also means that we get confused about the constitutional impact. For example—given that both Members are present—at Justice questions last week, the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) asked the Minister replying to today’s debate:

“It is becoming pretty clear that we cannot get a grip on the small boats crisis and deliver significant reform of our asylum system without reforming the Human Rights Act. What is the Government’s plan?”

The Minister’s response was:

“we are committed to the European convention on human rights and to the UN refugee convention. We believe that our proposals are within the law and that no court has said otherwise.”—[Official Report, 18 October 2022; Vol. 720, c. 525.]

They cannot really have it both ways: either the existing law is sufficient to do what the Government are doing or it needs to be changed.

I feel that, on many occasions, what is put forward and argued results from the outcomes of individual cases that individual MPs do not like, or from their own prejudices or what they perceive to be the views of their constituents, but which might in fact not be. That is a very poor way to legislate, so I was pleased to see that, with the demise of the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton, the Bill of Rights Bill—which was very much his individual project, in a way that is probably quite unhealthy—also saw its demise. Indeed, it was described in rather brutal terms, not by his successor but by Downing Street, as “a complete mess”. That is quite a harsh term for a Government to use about one of their own flagship pieces of legislation, so probably the best thing that could happen to that Bill now is to be quietly tucked away in a cupboard, so that it becomes just a bit of constitutional history and never sees the light of day.

I do not know, but certainly my impression from Justice questions last week—in which three times the Secretary of State or the Minister said very clearly that the Government would wish to stay within the ambit of the European convention and the European Court—is that there seems to be no urgency at all about replacing the current legislation. That implies that we can perhaps move on and quietly forget this whole rather sorry episode. I notice that the Library page relating to today’s debate says of the Bill that “its fate is…unclear”. Perhaps it should remain unclear and we can all move on to more important things.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

Thank you, Ms Fovargue. That welcome respite from my speech gives me a hint not to go on too long.

Before we were interrupted by the bell, I was saying that reforming human rights legislation should not be a priority for the Government. Having had time to study his brief, the Minister knows—perhaps he will even still be in post tomorrow; who knows?—that the criminal and civil courts face some of their worst backlogs. There is a real crisis of confidence in the justice system. There is also real crisis in accessing justice, and particularly in legal aid, as the Government concede to some extent in the reviews they have undertaken—or, in the case of the civil legal aid review, are undertaking. There is more than enough for the Minister and his colleagues to do without looking for work and interfering with legislation that is working well.

In a way, the Government are in a favourable position. They have an excuse to move on and quietly forget the bee in the bonnet of the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton. If they wish to follow the lead of the Chair of the Justice Committee and look at the matter again, they have a really fine report by Sir Peter Gross and his colleagues. They do not really need to go any further than that. I will not go through this in depth—I do not see any point in doing so until we know what the Government are bringing forward—but it made me weep to see the way that the Human Rights Act was being misconstrued, whether in relation to parliamentary sovereignty or in relation to the margin of appreciation. The proposed reforms, particularly to sections 2 and 3 of the Act, really distorted both the purpose and the effect of the Act.

Constitutional legislation is a very difficult thing to get right, but the Act was thought to be a success, and it effectively made the conduct of justice easy, because it brought human rights down to domestic level. It gave direct access to the UK courts, and it meant that justice was obtainable at lower cost, more speedily and in a more relevant way. The Government have said they will not take us out of the European convention on human rights, and that we will still be subject to the judgments of the European Court, so the only change will be that it the process will be much more protracted. How can that be in the interests of justice, or the interests of the citizen?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) said, this is not about lawyers or high-falutin’ principles; it is about the ability of citizens to challenge the state and institutions on important areas of law, and regarding decisions that fundamentally affect their everyday lives, when they get things wrong. What is obnoxious about that? That is the role that the Human Rights Act performed; that is the role it continues to perform, with or without the sort of amendments that we have talked about today. To repeal it, as an act of political bravado, is simply irresponsible and I urge the Minister away from that course.

I like to think that we will hear a little bit more from the Minister. I am not hopeful because the Secretary of State has already said that he will take his time, but I hope that we will hear at least a little bit about the direction of travel and where the Government think we should be going on this issue. That would be a helpful outcome of this debate. The almost 250,000 people who have urged caution on him would be pleased to hear that that message is being heeded in the Ministry of Justice.

It is a pleasure, Ms Fovargue, to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) for presenting the petition. I am very much in favour of retaining the Human Rights Act as it is. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) said that there might be a need to do some tweaking or make some changes. I am not against that, provided we have a chance to discuss it and see what the changes are. However, I am very much of the opinion that the Human Rights Act should be retained as it is.

I start by thanking all the 230,000 people who signed the online petition to stop reform of the Human Rights Act. That is almost a quarter of a million people who voiced their objection to human rights being diluted in any circumstance, and I believe that they reflect the views of possibly millions more people. Certainly, people to whom I speak in my constituency want things left as they are. All these people oppose moves to make the Government less accountable, and support increasing the ability of people in need to make human rights claims; I, too, think there is a need to have that opportunity in the law.

To give an idea of just how many people 230,000 are, that is twice the population of even the largest constituency in the UK, and it is about one in eight voters in Northern Ireland, which has a population of 2 million people. This is not a fringe issue; it is a massive issue. The correspondence that I receive on it tells me that people are deeply concerned about it.

In fact, as a general rule, people want more human rights safeguards in place, not fewer. A third of the population of the United Kingdom believes that the UK Government are not doing enough to promote human rights abroad. I am very pleased to see the Minister in his place, and I will make some comments about human rights abroad. As everyone knows, I chair the all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief, and I am a deep and strong believer that when it comes to making trade deals with any country in the world, the key to that process must be regard for human rights, including people’s liberty to serve and worship their god as they wish. I know that the Government are committed to that; I understand that. However, I still want to put that on the record.

As I say, a third of people in the UK believe that the UK is not doing enough to promote human rights abroad; I think that the Government are quite active, but people tell me otherwise. Almost three quarters of the British public agree that the UK should take into consideration a country’s human rights standards when negotiating or signing a deal with it. More than half of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland agrees that the amount of foreign aid given to a country should be tied to its performance against human rights standards; I fully support that condition. When I ask questions of Ministers with responsibility for different parts of the world about that, I am encouraged by what they say happens in that regard.

If this Government—my Government—are to reform human rights, they should make the standards higher. Let us do human rights better, rather than water them down. If that is what the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West is saying—I think it is—I agree that we should do that, rather than make the legislation more dependent on the Government’s economic and trade interests.

Human Rights Watch said to the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the repeal of the Human Rights Act would

“weaken human rights protections…and send a negative signal globally about the value of international human rights standards and the worth the UK government attaches to them.”

I am confident that the Minister does not want that to be the opinion of those who look at the United Kingdom from outside. I think many would agree that that is a scathing assessment of the impact that any repeal would have.

Globally, human rights have never been under greater threat. We know about all the things that are happening in Putin’s war in Ukraine. Every one of us is dismayed, disgusted and angered by it, and our Government and our Ministers have taken strong action. We all watched the protests across the villages, towns and cities of Iran. Ladies were often at the fore in those protests; they are the ones feeling the brunt of it. More than 400 people have been killed—most of them women and children—and almost 20,000 have been arrested, all looking for freedom, liberty and human rights. We support that. Then there is China’s treatment of the Hongkongers, not just in Hong Kong but in Manchester, as we witnessed the week before last. We want human rights observed in this country as well as in Hong Kong. The bombings of schools in Afghanistan are human rights abuses. It is really quite annoying. Those are things that have made the headlines in just the past month. If we are to continue to be a global champion of human rights, we cannot let the message be lost. What we do at home is so important.

Hon. Members have made fantastic contributions, and I endorse all of them. Many have a greater knowledge than I do. In my capacity as chair of the APPG for international freedom of religion or belief, I am frequently in dialogue with civil society organisations and Government representatives from countries where freedom of religion or belief is a major concern. When I talk to all those groups from across the world, it is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s leading influence in the defence of human rights that makes bilateral accountability possible. That is vital. I and many others are concerned that replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights would send to those countries the message that the UK does not practise what it preaches. That is the interpretation they will make. I am sure that the Minister will respond positively and lay that to bed. We must see human rights as an absolute good in themselves, and not as a means to an end. Such transparently selfish interests would inevitably undermine attempts to promote human rights abroad, and would do far more harm than good.

The Human Rights Act should be left as it is. There are many in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and many more across this great world, whom we have a duty to protect. We need the Human Rights Act, not a Bill of Rights, but if we change the Act, we should make it better. I cannot and will not agree to the dilution of the current provisions.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue. I commend the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) for moving the motion.

We have had a very good debate. It is clear that this issue is close to the hearts of many of our constituents across the four nations. We heard from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), who is an authority on these matters. It is always worth noting all she has to say as the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

We also heard from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon); we are often on opposing sides in debates and Divisions in this place, but I fully agree with everything he has said today. I thank the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) and the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) for their excellent contributions. Of course, I also thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) for his interrupted contribution; I am glad to say that none of the points he was making was diluted—political bravado, indeed. I place on record my thanks to the public who have partaken in their democratic right and signed the e-petition, including 326 from my constituency of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on what can only be described as an unashamed attempted power grab by the Government, in the form of their proposed reform to the Human Rights Act. There is absolutely no justification for such reform at this time, other than this Government creating for themselves the potential to be above the law. Such is the UK Government’s desire to substantially harden an already hard Brexit that they are literally ripping out the final piece of European-related legislation that we have. It is not a piece of legislation that could, nor should, be changed lightly, if at all.

The Human Right Act aims to protect every individual across our society. We lose that at our peril. It is an essential law that has allowed us to challenge public authorities when they get things wrong. It has helped to secure justice on issues from the right to life to the right of freedom of speech. The Human Rights Act has changed many lives for the better; it must be protected and not subject to reform that reduces its scope or limits when people can rely on it. The reform is a threat to how and when we can challenge those in power; it will strip some people’s rights away and require people to have permission from a judge before they can take a state to court. The UK Government must respect the rule of law. Their changes will mean that future UK Governments, of all political leanings, will be beyond the reach of public accountability. Where is the democracy in that?

The utter contempt of the UK Tory Government for the upholding of human rights has been blatant; we see it in their attempts to send refugees, some of the most vulnerable people in our society, to Rwanda. Since that scheme was invented, public pressure and the protections in our legal system have meant that not one refugee has been sent on a plane. Ironically enough, we are on our third Home Secretary since then. I suppose that is not that surprising; we are also on our fourth Chancellor and third Prime Minister in that short space of time. The Government should focus on far more important things than tinkering with human rights legislation.

It was the words of that former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), that I found most chilling—I alerted her to the fact that I would mention her. It was her “dream” to see planes of refugees sent to Rwanda. Of all the dreams to have! Surely the outcry at that statement proves that the Conservative party’s interpretation of human rights protections is starkly different from that of the wider public and Members from across this Chamber.

One of the most concerning elements of reform for my constituents in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is the implication for the integrity of the devolutionary settlement. We have heard from Members about the encroachments on that. The Scottish Government, along with other devolved Governments, have been abundantly clear that they do not support any such reforms, which would erode rights that years of devolution have achieved. A report published in July 2021 by the Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded,

“The Government should not pursue reform of the HRA without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”.

Well, that consent has not been given.

In their Bill of Rights, the Tories say they want to

“strengthen this country’s proud tradition of freedom, curtail abuses of the human rights system and reinforce the democratic prerogatives of elected Members in this House over the legislative process in respect of the expansion of human rights.”—[Official Report, 14 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 913.]

It takes some serious neck from this Government to portray themselves as coming to the defence of judges, when they have been at constant war with them over the judgments they have given that the Government did not like. Tory proposals to uphold citizens’ rights simply do not equate with the reality of legislation passed under this UK Government, such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, the Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the Elections Act 2022 and the Public Order Bill, all of which impede the rights of our citizens.

The UK Government must stop all attempts to rewrite the constitution and devolved settlements. Such practices cannot continue, and Scotland does not accept that manner of working. I implore the UK Government to stop all attempts to reform the Human Rights Act, and I fully support the aims of the petitioners.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Fovargue. The strength of feeling on the issue has been demonstrated not only by the nearly 250,000 people who signed the petition, but by the speeches we have heard today. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) said that the Human Rights Act provides justice for victims, including soldiers, women facing violence and victims of Hillsborough. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) said that replacing the Human Rights Act was completely the wrong priority for the justice system, and spoke about his hope that that will now be abandoned with the demise of the previous Justice Secretary, the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab). The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) shared his commitment to the Human Rights Act, and noted the very large number of people who signed the petition and the strength of feeling on the issue.

The case has been made very strongly for why the Human Rights Act is such an important piece of legislation, and why it should not under any circumstances be scrapped and replaced with the Government’s Bill of Rights Bill. It is a relief that the Government did not bring forward the Bill for Second Reading last month. I hope that the Minister will confirm that it will not come back, and that the Government will drop their attempt to scrap the Human Rights Act. Make no mistake: rather than a so-called Bill of Rights, it is a rights-removal Bill, which is designed to dilute the rule of law and weaken the rights of British citizens.

The Human Rights Act was brought in by a Labour Government, with a simple but profound aim: to bring rights home, ensure human rights protections are accessible, and provide a mechanism to hold the Executive to account. For the last 25 years, the Act has met that aim. Indeed, it is recognised around the world, and has been integral to the Union of our nations. As has been said, the Scottish Government consistently made clear their support for the Act in their response to the Government’s Bill of Rights Bill consultation. The Welsh Government have recorded their opposition to any proposal to replace the Human Rights Act. Perhaps most significantly of all, the Act has played a large role in peace in Northern Ireland, because the full incorporation of the European convention in domestic law was a key aspect of the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

Members across the House would have grave concerns about legislation that could undermine the Union. We have talked today about the importance of evidence. The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) called for any review to be evidence-led, and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) said that the Joint Committee on Human Rights completed two cross-party reports that concluded that the Human Rights Act is working well and does not need to be repealed or replaced. That was also the conclusion of the independent expert review, and the view of well over 250 charities, trade unions and human rights organisations that joined together to call for the protection of the Act. Organisations working with vulnerable people—ranging from the charity ACTION:FGM to Mind, the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project, the Down’s Syndrome Association and Southall Black Sisters—have also said that the Act is a proportionate and well-drafted protection of our fundamental liberties. The evidence that the Human Rights Act is working is overwhelming.

Far from the mythical rights culture that the Conservatives point the finger at, the Human Rights Act has time and again been the course of redress for those failed by the state. Take Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement. After she reported being raped by two Royal Military Police officers, she suffered bullying, ostracism and overwork. In the end, she took her own life. Using the positive obligations under article 2—the right to life—Anne-Marie’s family secured a fresh inquest into her death and a new rape investigation.

The results of those investigations led to improvements in the military justice system that have helped to support servicepeople who have been victims of rape and sexual assault in the military. It also led to the formation of the service complaints ombudsman, an independent body that investigates complaints by service personnel. The positive obligations under article 2 also ensure that bereaved families of the Manchester Arena attack in 2017 and the Fishmongers’ Hall attack in 2019 received full investigations, which examined whether the attacks could have been prevented. The lessons learned were placed on counter-terror operatives to better protect people in the future.

The Human Rights Act is an essential tool for upholding women’s rights to live free from violence through positive obligations under the Act, but the Conservatives’ rights removal Bill would remove them, thereby limiting women’s ability to challenge the state’s failures to protect them. A prime example of positive obligations under the Human Rights Act in protecting women is the case of black cab rapist John Worboys, who my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and Rainham also spoke about. Despite two of his earliest victims reporting their experiences to the police, systematic failures to properly investigate or take those reports seriously meant that he was not charged, and was free to continue attacking women for many years. Thanks to the Human Rights Act, those victims were able to take the police to court and hold them responsible.

More recently, the High Court judgment regarding the policing of the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard saw the Act play a crucial role when a court ruled that the Met had failed to understand the law when it banned women for holding a vigil for Sarah. Thanks to the Human Rights Act, the organisers were able to seek redress. It is unconscionable that the Government are pursuing an agenda that will attack those basic rights, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that the legislation will not come back.

Rather than looking to the genuine positives of the Human Rights Act, in the proposed legislation the Government attempted to dismiss it as a law misused and exploited by criminals and extremists. The truth is that the Act offers essential daily protections for citizens, which in so many cases we take for granted. There is no justifiable reason for the Government to try to curb those obligations on the state to protect our human rights. Doing so simply seeks to absolve the state of responsibility. Unless the Minister is willing to accept the importance of the Human Rights Act, and commit to dropping the Government’s Bill of Rights, I am afraid that it adds to the Government’s scoresheet of not being on the side of victims, not being serious about tackling violence against women and girls, and not being a guardian of the rule of law.

Labour, on the other hand, believes in a country that is accountable and has proper checks and balances, where institutions seek to protect the rights of the people they serve, rather than cover up and obfuscate when things go wrong. That is what we aspire to, and it is why a Labour Government would defend the Human Rights Act.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I thank the hon. Members for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas), for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar), and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) for their contributions.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) for introducing the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee, and I thank the creator of the petition, who I understand is in the Public Gallery, for his engagement with Parliament. I hope he will agree that we have had a very constructive debate. There may be slight differences of opinion, but the debate has been positive. I also thank the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves). I like the people of Lewisham West; when I stood there in 2005, I found out that I liked them rather more than they liked me, but that is a separate issue. She represents a wonderful constituency, and I thank her for her contribution.

I am genuinely grateful that the debate gives me the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on this issue. The UK has a long and proud history of recognising and standing up for the fundamental human rights of individuals. Robust protection of those rights, such as freedom of thought and of expression, is a vital cornerstone of our modern democracy. In recognition of that, the Government pledged in our manifesto to review and update the Human Rights Act, which was created in 1998 to give further effect in UK law to the rights set out in the European convention on human rights.

Almost a quarter of a century has passed since that Act came into force. It has occupied an important position in the UK’s human rights framework, but after over 20 years, it is entirely right that we should look at it again and seek to update it, not with the intention of reducing protection of our rights and freedoms, but to make sure that this country’s human rights framework continues to be the best that it can be, meets the needs of the society that it serves, and remains a leading example on the international stage. We want to ensure that the Act strikes the proper balance between the rights of individuals on the one hand, and our vital national security and effective government on the other.

The Government established the independent Human Rights Act review in December 2020 to examine the framework of the Act, how it operates in practice, and whether any change is required. Chaired by the former Court of Appeal judge Sir Peter Gross, who my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst mentioned, the review panel was tasked with considering the relationship between domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and the Act’s impact on the relationship between the judiciary, the Executive and the legislature. The Government are most grateful to Sir Peter and his panel for their valuable report, which was published in December 2021.

Following the report, the Government commenced work on a Bill of Rights. Their reform programme not only took the report into account but considered wider issues relating to our domestic framework, including the need to strike a balance between individual rights and the wider public interest, and to give public authorities the confidence to carry out their duties. As Members might expect, when a new Government were formed, the Bill’s progress through Parliament was paused in the light of a wider review of policy priorities. We are taking this opportunity to closely consider our approach to updating the Act, and to ensure that the provisions that we put forward will deliver the Government’s objectives as effectively as possible.

Let me be clear that any reform to the Act will be in full compliance with the European convention on human rights, and with the UK’s other international obligations, including the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, the Northern Ireland protocol, and our trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union. More broadly, we will maintain our leading role in the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law internationally. The UK’s record at the European Court of Human Rights demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that human rights are protected. The UK’s human rights record is strong. Of all the state parties to the European convention on human rights, the UK has the fewest applications to the court per million inhabitants. The figures that I have are slightly different from those given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, but the point remains the same: at the end of 2021, applications against the UK made up only 0.17% of the Court’s case load, and very few of the Court’s final judgments find a violation by the UK; two did in 2020, and five in 2021.

We continue to be a strong supporter of the work carried out by the United Nations treaty bodies to uphold the broader human rights system. The UK remains a strong advocate of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and we have a deep commitment to the success of its universal periodic review. We believe that it is an important mechanism of universal and constructive peer review. It allows the sharing of best practice and promotes the continual improvement of human rights on the ground, and is therefore a process we will continue to engage with.

The UK has been praised in the UN’s previous universal periodic review dialogues for our leadership on certain recommendations and our commitment to the review process. We have recently published our state report for our fourth universal periodic review, the dialogue of which is scheduled for November 2022. This petition rightly points out that the Human Rights Act provides important protection. While I could not disagree with that sentiment, it does not preclude us from looking carefully at how the Act could be improved.

The Minister is making a good case for “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. He has used the phrase “review and update” himself, so I assume we will have no more of “repeal” and “replace”, which is what it says in clause 1 of the paused Bill. He has rightly said that we are both a contributor to international human rights and are less criticised than many other countries in that respect. Are those not all arguments for not needing a comprehensive review? Twenty years is not a long time. Magna Carta has been around for about 800 years—we are not talking about repealing that.

The Conservative party manifesto at the last general election made it clear that we wanted to review and update the Human Rights Act. We would still remain compliant with the European convention on human rights, whatever changes are made. It is purely to review and update the Act. The manifesto does not say that we wish to repeal and scrap the Human Rights Act.

I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being very generous. He makes reference to manifesto pledges and his commitment to deliver on them. I wonder why it is only his Government who are allowed to deliver on their manifesto pledges. The Scottish Government have a clear manifesto pledge to deliver an independence referendum. Self-determination comes under human rights, and I wonder why he would like to deny that to the people of Scotland.

That might take us down a rabbit hole that you, Ms Fovargue, might regard as being out of order. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Human Rights Act is not a devolved matter; it is retained by the UK Parliament to legislate on. Updating the Act to ensure that it serves its intended purpose and keeps up with the needs of a changing society is a crucial step towards doing just that, and the work to review how best to achieve that continues. I look forward to updating the House on that work in future. I reassure all hon. Members present that protecting the rights and freedoms currently enjoyed in this country will remain of the utmost importance throughout this process.

I thank you, Ms Fovargue, and all those hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. We have heard thoughtful contributions from all who have spoken, including the hon. Members for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas), for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), as well as all Front-Bench Members.

It is a particularly opportune time for this debate, with the incoming new Prime Minister. Tomorrow, the Department will establish a way forward, and I am sure that the Minister will feed back all the shades of different opinions from today’s debate. We have alluded to our manifesto commitment to review and update the Act, and I am reassured by the Minister’s comments that that is still on track. Of course, we are now in the second half of this Parliament, so the sooner that comes forward, the better. Along with Back-Bench colleagues, I look forward to seeing what the Government produce and how they will safeguard people’s rights, while allowing us to reform our immigration system and ensure that those who are a threat to national security can be deported. It is a difficult circle to square, but I have every faith that the Minister and his team can achieve it. Thank you, Ms Fovargue; I am happy to close the debate.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered e-petition 607712, relating to human rights legislation reform.

Sitting adjourned.