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Human Rights

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 16 March 2021

What steps his Department is taking to maintain human rights standards after the end of the transition period. (913482)

The UK has a long-standing tradition of securing human rights. Indeed, the United Kingdom, for many decades and centuries, has been a beacon around the world for the protection of human rights. The operation of the Human Rights Act, now over 20 years old, is being reviewed. The review is being led by Sir Peter Gross, a retired Court of Appeal judge, supported by, among others, two QCs and two professors.

The pandemic has seen necessary but drastic restrictions on human rights, including the right to assembly and protest. There are fears that not all of those restrictions will be fully rolled back. The campaign group Liberty has said that the United Kingdom Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will undermine protest, stifle dissent and make it harder for us to hold the powerful to account. Does the Minister agree that as the Bill moves through Parliament it should be guided by the principle of the right to peaceful assembly and protest, as fundamental human rights must be protected at all costs?

I agree that fundamental human rights should be protected at all costs. The Bill we are debating does protect the right to peaceful protest, while at the same time respecting the rights of other people to get to their work and the need of emergency vehicles to secure safe passage down the highway, for example. On human rights, I was concerned by the passage through the Scottish Parliament last week of a law that had a chilling effect on free speech.

[Inaudible.]—of the Human Rights Act, in which it is made clear that it would robustly oppose any attempt to undermine the UK’s commitment to the European convention on human rights or distance the UK from membership of the Council of Europe. Does the Minister agree it is crucial that those assurances are given to Scotland and will he be working to ensure that the views of Scotland’s Government are heard and respected?

Yes, most certainly. There is no plan to repudiate our obligations under the European convention on human rights and there is certainly no plan to leave the Council of Europe, so I can absolutely give the hon. Lady the assurance she asks for. On working closely with the Scottish Government, yes we are doing that and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Scottish Government for the response to the review’s call for evidence, which I believe has already been received.

[Inaudible.]—my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) has just referred to, and both this Government’s desire for power grabs in many other areas of Scottish Parliament competence and the fact that Scotland’s legal system is separate and distinct, does the Minister agree that when published the review should include a commitment that they cannot and must not impinge on the integrity of Scottish law?

The review is into human rights. As I said, the United Kingdom has been a beacon of human rights for many centuries now and we intend to honour our ECHR obligations. There is no intention to interfere with the Scottish legal system, although I am rather concerned by the remarks Lord Hope made about the apparent problems with the independence of Scotland’s prosecutors.