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Human Rights Legislation

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2024

The United Kingdom has a long-standing tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling our international human rights obligations. We remain committed to a human rights framework that is up to date, fit for purpose and works for the British people. We have taken, and are taking, action to address specific issues with the Human Rights Act, including through the Illegal Migration Act 2023, the Victims and Prisoners Bill and the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021, which address the vexatious claims against veterans and the armed forces.

The Rwanda Bill is the second piece of legislation that this Government have introduced that they cannot guarantee will comply with vital convention rights. Does that not illustrate the total inadequacy of UK human rights legislation? Any old Government—even a crumbling Tory Government—can rip up fundamental rights without constraint, doing over the Supreme Court in the process.

No, I reject that characterisation. The European convention on human rights, under article 13, provides a right to an effective remedy. We think there is a perfectly respectable argument that our legislation fulfils that. We are committed to human rights, and we think we have a route that safeguards those rights and delivers on the interests of the British people.

The human rights campaign organisation Just Fair has said that a human rights Bill for Scotland would provide a blueprint for how the UK as a whole could enshrine social, economic and cultural rights in domestic law. I am certain that the Scottish Government would be happy to share their experience and expertise in this area, so will the Secretary of State commit to engaging with them, with a view to bringing forward equivalent UK legislation, following their example?

I completely agree on the common interest we share across the United Kingdom in wanting to advance social and economic rights—put another way, ensuring good jobs and good public services. Of course that is right. What is questionable is whether it is sensible to make those rights justiciable, as we would find people pursuing all sorts of actions that clog up the courts, leaving them unable to deal with other matters. The hon. Gentleman is right on the principle we all want to achieve for people in our country. Is he right in wanting more litigation and more legislation? I think we have different views on that.

The Scottish Government will bring forward a human rights Bill for Scotland, which is the right thing to do. Given the Justice Secretary’s previous statements in support of human rights and the ECHR, will he confirm his support for the Scottish approach? Surely putting human rights at the heart of Government and the wider public sector is the right thing to do.

It is important not to conflate those two things. We are a member of the European convention on human rights—I have already mentioned article 13—but that does not, in and of itself, determine how one should give effect to those rights. We already have the Human Rights Act 1998. It is not at all clear to me that Scotland’s proposed human rights Bill would advance human rights across the United Kingdom, but of course we will listen carefully to whatever the Scottish Government decide to introduce.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the ECHR and the HRA are integral to the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, setting out a framework for the policing and the very governance of Northern Ireland. Does he agree that any attempt to overhaul the ECHR and the HRA from this place could have serious consequences for the communities of Northern Ireland?

We have a human rights framework that we consider to be important. We are mindful of the points that the hon. Gentleman raises. We are satisfied that we can deliver on the priorities of the British people. It is a perfectly reasonable priority to want to ensure that we have warm hearts but an open front door, and we are satisfied that we can do so within our international legal obligations.

It was revealed yesterday that, despite the best efforts of the Home Office, an Albanian-speaking migrant who has spent half his life in Serbia, and who has been jailed in this country for 18 months for cannabis farming after having entered the UK illegally, has been allowed to remain in Britain after he successfully claimed that he cannot be deported to Serbia because he no longer speaks Serbian. This is despite Albanian being a recognised minority language in Serbia, and despite him living in this country with his Serbian brother. Does this not demonstrate why we need urgent reform of the asylum system and human rights laws to allow the rapid and effective deportation of such dangerous criminals?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that those who come to our country and betray this nation’s trust by acting illegally should not expect a warm welcome. That is why one of the things I am most proud of is signing a further prisoner transfer agreement with the Albanians to ensure that the British people, having suffered the initial crime, do not suffer the double punishment of having to pay £49,000 a year to house them in bed and breakfast accommodation in the United Kingdom. We will send them back, and that is exactly what we are doing.

May I take the Justice Secretary back to his interesting observations on the Rwanda Bill? He has said that the whole debate around the ECHR

“has been tainted by a misunderstanding of what the actual rights are, as though they are a foreign import that do not reflect some of the cultural norms in our country…nothing could be further from the truth.”—[Official Report, 13 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 376WH.]

When it comes to the Rwanda Bill, why is he failing to uphold the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, which embody so many of the legal principles that the people of these islands hold so dear?

Respectfully, I completely reject that characterisation. We are remaining within the four corners of our international legal obligations. Our legislation is novel and contentious, but it remains within the four corners of our international legal obligations and delivers on the proper, insistent requirements of the British people, which are that we protect our borders and ensure fairness for all—for not only the British people, but those who have played by the rules and done the right thing when they have come to the UK. They will always have a warm welcome in our country. Those who act illegally can expect short shrift.

Of course, the Government state on the front page of the Rwanda Bill that they cannot guarantee that it complies with the ECHR, as the Justice Secretary well knows. The Bill also makes direct intrusions into devolved areas, because human rights are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. So will he confirm that a legislative consent motion will be sought from the Scottish Parliament on the safety of Rwanda?

The first point the hon. Gentleman was referring to is about the section 19(1)(b) statement, and such statements are not unusual—the much-missed Tessa Jowell took one through in the Bill that became the Communications Act 2003. There is nothing unusual about this, which is precisely why this provision was put in the Human Rights Act 1998. As for further LCMs, we will of course proceed in the normal way, and I will give that matter further consideration.