Skip to main content

Bill of Rights and Human Rights Act 1998

Volume 711: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2022

22. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the independent Human Rights Act review published in December 2021. (906216)

The Government were elected on a manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, and we have launched a consultation on a UK-wide Bill of Rights. We intend to bring forward legislation in the next Session.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree with me that to ensure that the Nationality and Borders Bill we are debating later today is fully workable, especially in supporting those who desperately need our help, such as those coming from Ukraine, a British Bill of Rights is essential to close the loopholes that allow those who seek to abuse the system—and, in doing so, take away resources from our authorities helping those in need—in relying on existing human rights legislation?

I thank my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right that the Nationality and Borders Bill is crucial for dealing with those issues—not just as a matter of the protection of our borders, but in stemming this appalling trade in misery. The Bill of Rights would make sure that we have the right balance of protecting our freedoms by ensuring that the Executive can be held to account, but also making sure, when Parliament makes difficult balanced judgments on qualified rights, that there is greater respect for that in the public interest.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the current human rights laws are not fit for purpose and are stopping us deporting foreign criminals including rapists and murderers, much to the delight of the leftie lawyers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should fast-track the new Bill of Rights so we can get rid of these foreign rapists and criminals as quickly as possible and send them back to where they come from?

My hon. Friend is bang on; he speaks in a very straightforward way, but I think that is what the public expect. We are not talking about undermining the fundamental freedoms—in fact, we are going to strengthen them, including free speech. We are making sure that those who do us harm or have been convicted of serious offences can be returned home without elastic interpretations of rights scuppering the process.

Contrary to the comments of the last questioner, the Law Society has said that the Government’s Human Rights Act proposals

“do not recognise the significant benefits that have been achieved…through the HRA”,

while the General Council of the Bar says that the HRA

“has worked and continues to work well.”

Given that those who work in our justice system reject the need for changes and only despots and tyrants like Putin object to human rights other than their own, why does the Justice Secretary not scrap these proposals and stop wasting taxpayers’ time and money?

We are of course familiar with the views of the Law Society and others but respectfully disagree, and in the end it is not solely our job to listen to legal practitioners, important as they are, or indeed to serve their interests, but also to stand up for victims and the public and make sure we have a common-sense approach to justice. [Interruption.] I respectfully disagree with the hon. Lady; she might want to put herself on the side of the criminals, but we will put ourselves on the side of the victims.

The Scottish Government have committed to introducing a new Human Rights Bill for Scotland by 2025 incorporating four major United Nations rights treaties—an international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights; conventions on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women; the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination; and the rights of persons with disabilities—along with other progressive human rights. Has the Secretary of State reviewed these plans with a view to incorporating them into any future Bill of Rights?

Although I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, I pay respect to the way he has introduced this question. There is a school of thought—I have been up to Edinburgh and discussed this with the Scottish Government—that we should expand a wider range of policy issues, social and economic, and environmental goals, and turn them into judicially enforceable rights. Many of those areas involve collective issues that require finely balanced judgment calls and often require public finances to be allocated in a very sensitive way, and I think they should be decided by hon. Members in all parts of this House, accountable to the British people, not lawyers in a courtroom.

It is agreed by legal experts in areas ranging from local government to the House of Lords that the HRA is a delicate and well-tuned piece of legislation, and the organisation Lawyers in Local Government said in its response to the independent HRA review that the Government’s proposals not only risk reducing the accountability of public authorities and undermining the rules but will concretely cause further delay in reaching decisions on social housing, which is worse for all our constituents and for councils. This is not about ideology but about real-world outcomes. The HRA is working well, so will the Government accept that plans to scrap it are counterproductive?

I am afraid that I will not, and I respectfully disagree. I will side with the local authorities of whatever political colour or composition who are trying to serve their constituents. They of course need to be held to the rule of law and be accountable, but I am not on the side of the lawyers suing local authorities.

In their consultation response the Scottish Government highlighted that in the initial UK Government approach to Windrush:

“No amount of evidence or reasoned argument proved able to persuade the Home Office of the catastrophic errors which had occurred.”

The HRA was instrumental in securing justice for the Windrush victims, and the UK Government later said they would learn lessons from those failings. Should they not start by ditching plans to overhaul the legislation that was instrumental in securing justice for the Windrush victims?

It is really important that the hon. Lady raises the question of the Windrush scandal. Hon. Members across the House would agree that that should never have happened, but of course it happened throughout the entirety of the entry into force of the Human Rights Act and there was nothing about the Act that led to the situation being addressed in this House—that was down to hon. Members who became aware of what had happened because of members of our communities who had been affected. Frankly, the Human Rights Act did not stop Windrush and had absolutely no role in remedying it.

I call Angela Crawley for her second question. No, she does not want it, so let’s try somebody else. I call Gavin Newlands.