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The Rule of Law

Volume 700: debated on Tuesday 14 September 2021

Naturally, I do not disclose the details of my private conversations with Cabinet colleagues, but they and everybody else should be in no doubt that I am, and will continue to be, a very active Lord Chancellor in supporting the rule of law. I use the authority of my office to advise, to warn and to encourage. I am absolutely committed, under the oath I took, to my constitutional duty to respect the rule of law.

The Secretary of State will no doubt agree that for any Government committed to the rule of law, respect for international law is as important as respect for domestic law. Will he therefore join me in condemning suggestions by the Home Secretary that she is prepared to break international refugee conventions and turn away boats in the channel? Will he meet her to stress how damaging that action would be to the United Kingdom’s international reputation and credibility?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has taken the fullest and most comprehensive advice on these matters. There is an immediate challenge: we face the appalling exploitation of people by gangmasters and traffickers across the English channel every day. It is absolutely right that she and Home Office colleagues explore every possible lawful avenue to deal with that. That is what this Government are committed to, and there is no question that her actions would come close to breaking international law.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

In the middle of a pandemic, the Secretary of State’s Government are prioritising attacking the Human Rights Act and judicial review, disenfranchising millions of voters with the Elections Bill on voter ID, and, now, threatening to break international law to make it harder for asylum seekers, including those from Afghanistan, to find sanctuary in Britain. The new president of the Law Society recently warned that those measures put respect for the rule of law in jeopardy in the UK. What does the Secretary of State say to the president of the Law Society?

I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that, across the piece, the commentary that has followed my speech and the introduction of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill has reflected the fact that this is a measured and incremental approach to constitutional reform, as, I am sure, will be the work on the independent review of the Human Rights Act. The idea that somehow I am the most dangerous Lord Chancellor in history is risible. [Laughter.]

None of this is funny. This Government’s disregard for the rule of law is wide-ranging, as we have heard. They are reducing access to justice, planning, for instance, to remove Cart judicial reviews; the Nationality and Borders Bill simply ignores the refugee convention, while the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill strips away legal certainty; and the Secretary of State’s own comments to me in this place on 18 May demonstrated his disregard for our international obligations. Can he match my necessarily shortened list with examples that demonstrate the opposite?

I am afraid that that is emblematic of the problem that we are facing. Dressing up legitimate political debate as somehow a direct criticism of our adherence to the rule of law is, I am afraid, a regular trick of the left, and I am not going to fall for that sanctimonious list of nonsense. This Government are absolutely committed to the rule of law across our United Kingdom.

The Nationality and Borders Bill also lengthens the time for which those seeking asylum must wait for a decision, while shortening the time that they have in which to appeal. As we have heard, 22 female judges are trapped in Afghanistan, and neither yesterday nor today have we heard any firm plans to get them out. If they manage somehow to make it here without our assistance, how surprised does the Secretary of State think they will be to discover the complete disregard for them and for the rule of law in that Bill?

Again, the hon. Lady is way off the mark. The idea that there is not a clear plan was plainly negatived by yesterday’s statement from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins). We have a very clear plan for Afghan judges. If the Scottish National party wishes to conduct a proper dialogue and a proper debate, I shall be interested to hear it; thus far, I do not hear it.