Before I call the Deputy Prime Minister to make his statement, I have to say to him and the Government that I am extremely disappointed that, once again, an important Government policy has been presented to the media before being presented to this House. Why the BBC and Sky News are more important, I will never know. I say again that this is simply not acceptable.
One thing that did not change in the recently revised ministerial code is this important statement:
“When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made, in the first instance, in Parliament.”
Yet again, the media have been the first to know.
I am glad the Deputy Prime Minister is making this statement, but he should have done so before speaking to the media. I would certainly have granted an urgent question, and I thank Mr Bone for tabling one just in case the statement had not been forthcoming. The Government should be aware that I will always do this in similar circumstances. I have to say that I nearly granted both, and I do not want to be put in that position again, so please respect this House and respect Members of every political party. They are elected to hear things here, not via the news.
We strived to make sure we kept within the trammels of what had been in the consultation document, but I heed your advice as ever, Mr Speaker.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the publication and introduction of a UK Bill of Rights as we take the next steps to fulfil our manifesto commitment and deliver human rights reform across the country.
We have a proud tradition of freedom under the rule of law in this country, and I remind hon. Members on both sides of the House that it dates back centuries to Magna Carta, not just to 1998. This Bill of Rights, published today, is the next chapter in the evolution and strengthening of our human rights framework, and it is available online and in the Vote Office.
I now turn to the key strands of our reforms. First, as I said when we launched the consultation back in December, the UK intends to remain a state party to the European convention on human rights. It is a set of common-sense principles, and the problems we have encountered stem from its elastic interpretation and expansion, absent meaningful democratic oversight, particularly as a result of the procedural framework set out in the Human Rights Act.
The key objective of our reform is to reinforce quintessential UK rights such as freedom of speech, the liberty that guards all the others. We will also recognise the role of jury trials, mindful of how they operate in different parts of the United Kingdom. Jury trials are not prevalent on the continent, but they are very much part of this country’s heritage and pedigree. These liberties are part of our proud history, but they are also critical to strengthening our place in the world as an open, vibrant and rambunctious democracy.
We will also strengthen the separation of powers in this country, affirming the supremacy of the Supreme Court and making it explicit that UK courts are under no obligation to follow Strasbourg case law and, indeed, are free to diverge from it. I am proud of our world-beating judiciary, and what is the point of a Supreme Court if it bows in subordination to a European court?
We have seen the goalposts on human rights shift over time through expanded judicial interpretations, licensed by the Human Rights Act, which has tended to magnify overweening rulings from Strasbourg, although it is worth noting in fairness that there has been more judicial restraint in Strasbourg on occasion in recent times. Nevertheless, what ebbs may flow, and we will ensure in our Bill of Rights that any expansion of human rights law—as opposed to its interpretation—is subject to proper democratic oversight by elected Members in this House. Our reforms to sections 2 and 3 of the Human Rights Act in particular will squarely address the flaws in the current framework.
We will be crystal clear that when it comes to the laws of the land, and the legitimate, necessary and constructive dialogue we have with Strasbourg, it is Parliament that has the last word. Much has been said by the judiciary in Strasbourg about an age of subsidiarity, with greater respect for the will of domestic democratic institutions, particularly since the 2012 Brighton declaration, which the UK spearheaded to promote reform. Our approach is crafted with that in mind in order to facilitate that dialogue between the UK and Strasbourg, and to avail ourselves of the margin of appreciation within the bounds of the convention. Equally, as a matter of basic democratic principle, we will reaffirm and reinforce the democratic oversight and control exercised by this House.
Our Bill of Rights sets out a range of important reforms, including a permissions stage in the UK courts to assert greater checks over frivolous claims at an earlier stage, reflecting the Strasbourg Court itself, which has an admissibility stage. We have included provision to ensure that the behaviour of anyone claiming a breach of their human rights is taken into account when our courts consider compensation; it is a principle of law in this country that those who come into equity do so with clean hands, and I think that should be reflected in human rights claims.
We will expressly provide for greater weight to be given to Parliament’s determination of the public interest, as set out in primary legislation, when considering the interpretation of rights in order to ensure that we are better equipped to protect the public. That will reinforce our ability to, for example, deport more foreign national offenders, particularly those claiming ever more elastic interpretations of article 8 on the right to family life to frustrate the deportation process.
Our Bill of Rights will ensure that we can deliver our reforms to the parole system, so that when it comes to finely balanced assessments of risk in decisions on the release of potentially dangerous offenders, public protection is the overriding priority. It will also prevent well-meaning but counter-productive and onerous straitjacket regulatory burdens from being placed on our public services as a result of rulings determined by lawyers in court rather than regulation on such sensitive matters being set by elected lawmakers in this House. That is particularly important with respect to finely balanced assessments of social policy, and matters with a financial impact—the bread-and-butter issues that it is for this Parliament to decide.
We have consulted and engaged widely across the whole United Kingdom, and will continue to do so. This is a UK-wide reform, but we want to work with all the devolved Administrations on these essential reforms, so we will be seeking legislative consent motions—noting, nevertheless, the status of the Human Rights Act as a “protected enactment” under the devolution settlements, meaning that reform, replacement or revision can take place only from Westminster.
Our Bill of Rights will strengthen our proud tradition of freedom, demarcate a clearer separation of powers, ensure greater respect for our democratic institutions, better protect the public, and restore a healthy dose of common sense to the justice system, which is essential for commanding greater public confidence. Ultimately, it will make us freer and help to keep our streets safer. I commend this statement to the House.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), who, following the death of his father last week, cannot be here today.
This is a very dark day for victims of crime, for women, for people in care—for everyone in this country who relies on the state to protect them from harm. This is not a Bill of Rights; it is a con. The Lord Chancellor knows this because he has been working on it for more than a decade. We know from the Queen’s Speech that the Bill will take away the duty of the state to protect everyone from harm by removing the positive obligations set out in the Human Rights Act. It will force victims of crime seeking justice to schlep to Strasbourg, creating endless delays and red tape.
Sir Peter Gross and the review panel do not think the Human Rights Act undermines parliamentary sovereignty or that the UK courts are undermined by the European Court, so why proceed with this Bill? Because this Government look to pick a fight to cover up their own failures, and then find someone else to blame. We have seen a succession of Conservative Members blame the European Court to deflect from their bungled and unworkable asylum policy. Shamefully, some have even demanded that the UK withdraw altogether from the European convention on human rights. For members of the party of Churchill, who inspired the convention, to want to do away with it altogether is quite something. I gather that the Deputy Prime Minister does not want to withdraw from the European convention, not least because he knows it would fatally undermine the Good Friday agreement and peace in Northern Ireland, so will he condemn members of his own party who have made that dangerous and reckless demand?
Labour Members are proud of the gift that Churchill gave to the world in the universal declaration and in the European convention that followed, but we are prouder still that it was a Labour Government who, in 1998, brought rights home from Strasbourg. The Human Rights Act is held up around the world as an exemplar of modern human rights legislation, which is why the European Court very rarely overrules our judges, as the review panel recognised in its report. It is a beacon of hope for people in countries where basic human rights are trampled over by strongmen and dictators. There is no better example than Ukraine, where the rights of millions are being crushed under the jackboot of Vladimir Putin. What stunning hypocrisy from this Government to preach to others about the importance of defending rights abroad while snatching away British people’s rights at home. This is a Government gimmick by a party that seeks headlines for botched policies and then blames others when they fail.
The answer to fixing the mess that this Conservative Government have made of the immigration and asylum system is not to take away British people’s rights given to them by the Human Rights Act. That Act has allowed people to object when doctors put “do not resuscitate” orders on their bed without their consent. It has allowed people with learning disabilities imprisoned in locked units to be reunited with their families. It has allowed families affected by major disasters such as Manchester or Hillsborough to seek justice when public bodies have let them down. It has allowed elderly married couples in residential care to object when care home managers try to separate them, and it has allowed victims of rapists such as John Worboys to force the police to investigate cases of rape.
This Bill of Rights con is not just an attack on victims of crime whom the state has failed to protect; it is an attack on women. Women have used the Human Rights Act to challenge the police when they have either failed or refused to investigate rape and sexual assault cases. We saw that in the case of John Worboys, who is thought to have assaulted more than 150 women. It should come as no surprise that this Bill has been brought forward by a Conservative Government who have effectively decriminalised rape. [Interruption.] Last week’s scorecard showed pitiful progress on the record low—[Interruption.]
Order. People who have been wanting to catch my eye will not do it by shouting when somebody is speaking.
Last week’s scorecard showed pitiful progress on the record low rate of convictions under this Government. The typical wait for cases to complete in court has reached three years, and a fifth have seen waits of four years—and that is if the case even gets to court. The number of rape trials postponed at a day’s notice in our Crown courts has risen fourfold. It is no wonder that rape survivors are dropping out of their cases in droves. Will victims even bother to report their case at all when they learn that the Deputy Prime Minister’s Bill of Rights will stop them forcing our under-resourced police to investigate? It says everything about a Lord Chancellor and a Government who are soft on rape, soft on rapists and hard on survivors, that they want to take away the final backstop available to victims to get justice. Women will be in no doubt that this is a Government who let off rapists and let survivors down, and today is the proof.
The Bill will see enormous amounts of red tape for victims of crime seeking justice. It is an attack on women and it undermines peace in Northern Ireland. It is the hallmark of a party out of ideas that can no longer govern.
Order. May I just say to the Front Benchers that there are times given, so can we please stick to them? I do not want to stop Ministers or shadow Ministers, but I will in future. You must stick to the allocated time.
I join the hon. Lady in what she said about the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed). I extend my sympathy and my condolences to him.
I listened very carefully to what the shadow Justice Minister said. I think I disagreed with everything she said, but then again, she said very little about our Bill of Rights. When she gets a chance to read it, I look forward to debating it with her further. May I just correct a couple of the obviously flawed things she said? She talked about whether or not we will leave the European convention on human rights. When she gets a chance to read the Bill of Rights, she will see that not only are we staying a part of the ECHR, but that it is incorporated in the Bill of Rights. I have to say that the comparison with what Russia or Putin does shows, I am afraid, a lack of a moral compass on the Labour Benches, not the Conservative Benches.
The hon. Lady then diverted into a monologue on a very serious subject in relation to rape. Let us be absolutely crystal clear: there is absolutely nothing in the Bill of Rights that will do anything to weaken the protections of victims; far from it in relation to the deportation of foreign national criminals, the release of dangerous rapists, and what we do inside our prisons. It will strengthen our protection of victims and public protection. Again, for the record, on such a serious issue—I agree with the hon. Lady on its importance—she might get her facts straight. The volume of rape convictions has increased by two thirds in the last year alone. I am working very closely with the Home Secretary, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions, and we are absolutely determined and restless to go even further and faster.
I suspect, however, that that was really a distraction from the fundamental issue, which is the Bill of Rights and human rights reform to get the right balance. The hon. Lady and the Labour party are blind to the flaws in the Human Rights Act in the way that its architects are not. Jack Straw said back in 2007 that he wanted to rebalance the rights set out in the Act, adding explicitly that responsibilities should play a role. They are all in here in our Bill of Rights. He went on to say, in an interview in December 2008, that
“There is a sense that it’s a villains’ charter”.
Mr Speaker, I have not used that language, but I will just say how far the sense of critical self-evaluation on the Labour Benches has gone when the hon. Lady cannot talk about anything that could possibly be reformed.
The model we have taken is based on a textbook that I read back in 1999, written by a very learned authority. He said, on the relationship between the UK and Strasbourg—the hon. Lady mentioned that, not with any specific points—that the role of the Strasbourg Court is
“primarily concerned with supervision and its role is therefore subsidiary to that of domestic authorities”.
Subsidiary, not superior. It has no role unless the domestic system for protecting human rights breaks down altogether. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) asks from a sedentary position who the author is. It was the leader of the Labour party, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), in his seminal textbook on the subject. All I would gently say is that I think he made a more convincing lawyer than he does a politician.
This week we have seen Labour shadow Ministers line up with picketers against the public. Today, the shadow Justice Minister has confirmed that the Labour party will stand in the way of our common-sense reforms that will ensure a better balance of human rights, so that we can stand up for victims—it is always against that when it comes to sentencing or extra police recruitment—deport more foreign national offenders and safely incarcerate the most dangerous people in our prisons. Whenever Labour Members are asked the big questions, they duck. Yet again, the Labour party is showing it is simply not fit to govern.
Thank you for your statement earlier, Mr Speaker. I think the vast majority of Members of this House agree entirely.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his statement. The issue is really very simple: this sovereign Parliament makes laws and our courts interpret them. We should not have the judicial creep of a European Court not interpreting laws, but making new laws. I am willing to support the Bill, but if in practice it fails, will the Secretary of State be willing to support my private Member’s Bill, the British Bill of Rights and Withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights Bill?
I thank my hon. Friend for his tenacity in all these matters. I always listen to him, and I will study his private Member’s Bill. He makes two points. First, there is really no point in having a Supreme Court if it is subordinate to Strasbourg in the interpretation of law. He must be right about that, and our Bill of Rights will expressly address it.
My hon. Friend’s other point is more subtle, but very powerful. I remember our jointly participating in many debates on prisoners’ voting rights, a very clear example of the goalposts shifting. When it comes to legislative functions, it ought to be a point of common agreement across the parties that those matters must be for hon. Members, who are accountable to our constituents, to decide in this House.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
This Bill of Rights and the removal of the Human Rights Act are the culmination of multiple pieces of legislation that have gone through this place in the past year. They are all about one thing: removing human rights from human beings. First, the Government came for the refugees with the Nationality and Borders Act 2022; they told them that their lives did not count. Secondly, they came for those who need to question decisions made about their lives by public bodies, including this Government; the Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022 stopped them being effectively able to do that. Then they went for the voters with the Elections Act 2022, and what do you know? The voters they were targeting were the ones least likely to vote Conservative—the sensible ones, in other words.
The Government then went after the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. They told them that their way of life was unacceptable—well, it is not unacceptable to us. When the Government did not get their way on public order with that Bill, they repackaged it and brought it back in the Public Order Bill, which will take away the rights of anybody to fight for the rights of anybody else. Who would go to a protest when they could be stopped and searched without any suspicion?
It is all about one thing: removing human rights from human beings. This policy, the culmination of it all, is about removing everybody’s human rights. Human rights are not about one group of people, the group the Secretary of State likes to pick on; they are about everybody living on these islands.
I will ask three quick questions and leave the rest to my colleagues. First, why is there a lack of prelegislative scrutiny? What are the Government so afraid of? Secondly, why is the Secretary of State telling people that this policy will bring rights home, when it will actually force people to go to Strasbourg to get justice? Finally, the Scottish and Welsh Governments have made it clear that they are completely against the policy in its entirety. We have a tale of two countries: Scotland is embedding human rights law in all its legislation, while this Government are stripping it away completely. How would the Secretary of State advise the people of Scotland who want to retain human rights law in their legislation to vote in next year’s independence referendum—yes or no?
I thank the hon. Lady, but clearly I disagree. First, no country has been more big-hearted when it comes to those fleeing persecution, from Hong Kong British nationals overseas to the 17,000 who were evacuated out of Afghanistan and the 125,000-plus visas in relation to Ukraine. The hon. Lady talks about standing up for those people; when our Prime Minister addressed the Ukraine Parliament, Union Jacks were flying and people were singing “God Save the Queen” in towns and villages across the country.
When it comes to protecting human rights, we should be big-hearted, but we should also stop the trade in human misery across the channel, which is a real threat to human rights. We should also make sure that we stand up for victims—the hon. Lady does not seem to care too much about that—in relation to the deportation of foreign national offenders. That is something that I think the people of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland all agree on. Why would the hon. Lady not support common-sense reforms and a rebalancing of the system to allow us to stand up for victims, stand up for the public and remove serious foreign criminals?
I welcome this statement, which builds on the work that I and Sir Peter Gross did with his important review. Sir Peter’s balanced committee did not say that all was well with the Human Rights Act 1998. There were issues to be dealt with, and in accordance with our manifesto commitment to update the Act, the Bill of Rights is timely. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that, over and above domestic action that we can take to reform and improve legislation, there is a strong case for international work to be done—on the same basis as the work we did in Brighton 10 years ago—in order to deal with issues such as extraterritorial jurisdiction? That is a common concern not just in this country, but among our judges and many other member states of the Council of Europe.
I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend for the painstaking groundwork he did in the Ministry of Justice, and to Sir Peter Gross and his panel. All that work substantially influenced the shape of the reforms that we are able to announce today; they would not have been possible without the hard work that my right hon. and learned Friend put in. He is right to point to the 2012 Brighton declaration, because the Strasbourg Court under Róbert Spanó—its latest President, who is Icelandic—has talked about shifting from an age of a living instrument to an age of subsidiarity. People talk about our relationship, and it is important that we stick to the convention, but it is also important that the European Court follows its own strictures.
My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned extraterritorial jurisdiction. I will certainly follow up on his advice, as the issue is also addressed in the Bill of Rights. Again, I thank him for his contribution.
The Deputy Prime Minister is right about the priority that must be given to public protection, but may I urge him to proceed with care in reforming parole arrangements? Ministers have already taken measures that will give them a veto over the transfer of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences to open conditions, and he will know that there are real concerns that, as well as being procedurally unfair, such measures may increase the risk to public protection. Will he reassure the House that he will make public protection a priority over political gimmickry?
I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said. I certainly agree that public protection is our overriding concern. The proposals for parole reform that we have published for consultation make it clear that, in the context of convicted murderers, rapists, terrorists and child killers, we want to ensure that there is a ministerial check in finely balanced cases where there is genuine risk to the public and to public confidence but it is hard to predict. If we agree on the principle of putting public protection first, I hope she will agree that that should command cross-party support.
I am frankly disgusted by what the shadow Minister had to say. To suggest that right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches would be soft on rapists—she sits there shaking her head now—is a shameful thing to say, and it undermines women’s confidence in our judicial system across this country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the centuries of experience in our UK judicial system, we can be incredibly confident that it is able to represent the interests of everybody in this country? Does he share my sadness that so many on the Opposition Benches would throw away our sovereignty to anyone else who would have it?
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. She is right that there never seems to be an opportunity to throw away the powers and authority that we have in this House that the Opposition do not grasp with total alacrity.
Rape is such a sensitive issue, and we have seen convictions increase by two thirds. There is a whole range of other work, including Operation Soteria, pre-recorded witness evidence under section 28, and the disclosure reforms that my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) is looking at. We ought to be trying to build on the progress that we have made, not do it down, because that is the stuff that undermines women’s confidence in the justice system. We know there is a longer road—[Interruption.] Hold on. We know that there is much more to do, but that work is not going to get done with the hyperbolic language used by the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves).
I call the acting Chair of the Select Committee, Joanna Cherry.
As acting Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I wish to remind the Secretary of State that we have completed two in-depth, unanimous cross-party reports, which concluded that the Human Rights Act is working well and does not need to be repealed or replaced. Indeed, that was the conclusion of the independent review, which the Secretary of State commissioned and then ignored.
When we visited Strasbourg last week, we were told that UK Government Ministers have given repeated assurances that the UK will remain in the ECHR, and I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State reiterate that assurance this morning. However, the Prime Minister did make some veiled threats in the opposite direction last week. If we are to stay in the ECHR, it needs to be done with integrity. We cannot pick and choose which convention rights we want to observe or for whom we want to observe them. Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the United Kingdom’s disengagement from the ECHR—make no mistake, Mr Speaker, that is what this Bill is about—risks giving encouragement to populist Governments in eastern Europe who have scant regard for human rights or, indeed, the rule of law?
No, I am afraid I do not agree with the hon. and learned Lady, not least because I do not see how she can sustain the argument that we are dislocating ourselves when not only are we remaining a state party, but it is in the Bill of Rights as well.
I pay tribute to the work of the hon. and learned Lady’s Committee. I appeared in front of the JCHR on 8 December. The noble Lord Wolfson appeared on 2 February, and I am attending again on 20 July. We will pay great respect to the role of the Joint Committee, but, of course, we know that there are likely to be objections and we will try to assuage those held by her and her members as best we can.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be many who will be extremely glad that he has now introduced his Bill of Rights? It means, as he said just now, that our Parliament and our judges will have the last word. We look forward to seeing the text of the Bill, and we trust that it will ensure that the European Court in Strasbourg will never again be able to frustrate the United Kingdom’s right to deport illegal immigrants and, at the same time, override our own judges.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the long-standing work that he has done, on the constitutional dimension in particular. I can give him the direct assurance—I have a copy of the Bill of Rights here and it is also available in the House—that we address squarely the issue that he raises. We want to make sure that elected Members from both sides of the House have the last word when it comes to resetting or expanding the laws of this land.
This morning, the distinguished legal commentator, Joshua Rozenberg, summed up this Bill not as the biggest constitutional tour de force in more than 300 years or the apex of the Justice Secretary’s career, but as a ragbag of restrictions. It will undoubtedly cause harm to many thousands of our citizens, especially those who are the most vulnerable and have suffered discrimination by an unchecked state. It will also cause harm to this country’s hard-won reputation as a champion of international law. As a constitutional document, is it not a damp squib and a legal nonsense that sets up confusion and conflict between domestic and European courts?
May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman, of whom I am quite fond and with whom I have debated these issues many times, it cannot be both ripping up human rights and a damp squib? May I suggest that he reads what people have to say on this—including Jonathan Fisher QC, who has written a very thoughtful piece about reform; Lord Sumption, a former justice of the Supreme Court; and John Larkin, a former Attorney General in Northern Ireland? He might get a slightly more sober analysis.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the letter that he wrote to the Justice Committee this morning. In it, he said “The Bill will prevent human rights from being used as a way to bring claims on overseas military operations”, but does he recall that some of the gravest crimes of the Iraq war were revealed only through recourse to the Human Rights Act, enforced in our domestic courts? I think particularly of the systematic torture of detainees by British soldiers in Basra which was revealed in the Baha Mousa case only because of the Human Rights Act, after the Ministry of Defence had declined to investigate. Can he provide reassurances to the House that the new Bill of Rights will not operate to suppress such serious human rights abuses coming to light in the future?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point. Of course, we need to have proper accountability when anything goes wrong. The professionalism of our armed forces is second to none, but mistakes can happen and there needs to be accountability. The reality is that we have the international law of armed conflict, which is designed to do that. It has been unhelpful, and indeed has created legal uncertainty, to layer an extra tier of human rights obligations on top of that. It has created uncertainty as to the state of the law, and huge uncertainty for our armed forces. We will make sure that there is the accountability that she seeks, but we will also deal with the extraterritorial jurisdiction, which, frankly, has encouraged litigation and many spurious claims, as well as the ones that she mentioned.
Paragraph 2 of the human rights chapter of the Good Friday agreement provides that
“The British Government will complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights…with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breach of the Convention”.
Can the Justice Secretary tell the House whether the Bill constitutes a unilateral repudiation of that, or is that something that he has negotiated with the Government of Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong, although he is right to reference the Belfast agreement. We remain a state party to the convention. Not only that, but the ECHR remains incorporated into UK law through the schedule. [Interruption.] He is chuntering from a sedentary position; I genuinely enjoy debating these issues, as we have on many occasions. If he reads the Bill, I will be very happy to address any other questions he has.
The Secretary of State and Attorney General are to be commended for taking seriously the task of taking back control of our ancient legal entitlements from unelected, unaccountable foreign judges, and of rooting them in the people’s Parliament here in Westminster. In doing so, will he challenge the assumptions that underpin the Human Rights Act, which are that rights are more important than responsibilities and that injury to interest is more important than duty? That is the fundamental issue. Will he challenge and, at last, dock the long tail of Blairism?
I thank my right hon. Friend for, as ever, the colourful and eloquent way that he presents the issue. When it comes to collective interest, social policy and finely balanced judgments around public protection, I do think that adjudication in court by lawyers, rather than a broader discussion and debate among elected Members of Parliament accountable to their citizens, is a mistake. We will protect the fundamental freedoms that make this country great—they existed long before the Human Rights Act and they will exist long after. He is right about the balance between protecting individual liberty and freedom under the rule of law, of which I am immensely proud, and making sure that elected Members of this House can protect the public, take finely balanced judgments on social policy, and take judgments that affect the public purse.
Many of our constituents have seen the benefits of human rights, such as the bereaved unmarried widows who had to take the Government to court to make sure that their children were not ignored when it came to pensions, or the women in Northern Ireland who are counting on us to support the statutory instrument to make sure that they have the human right to choose what happens to their own body and to have an abortion. They will be reassured by the Deputy Prime Minister saying that we will remain signatories to the European convention. Can he confirm to his colleagues, who might want to think about the implications of that, that because we will remain signatories and bound by the convention, the European Court of Human Rights will remain the ultimate judicial decision maker on human rights in this country? He is not getting rid of Europe; he is just wasting our time.
The hon. Lady is right about the first point, but wrong about the second. That is clear from the Bill of Rights.
My right hon. Friend started by talking about the 2012 declaration on subsidiarity. He will remember that that flowed directly from action in this Chamber to push back against prisoner votes, of which I think he was a major part. We have not seen the detail of this Bill of Rights, but there are two Conservative tests for it. First, the Conservatives do not believe in an overmighty state, therefore the state has to be curbed by an independent body. Secondly, our fundamental freedoms, such as free speech, jury trial or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) mentioned, freedom from torture, are not the gift of the state but the birth right of our citizens. As such, they all have to be protected by powers vested in an independent judiciary. At the end of the day, the test will be whether the Bill of Rights delivers better protection for those things than the European process.
My right hon. Friend is too generous: he was really the architect of the campaign to defend this House’s prerogative to decide on prisoner voting. Interestingly, he did that with Jack Straw, the architect of the Human Rights Act, but my right hon. Friend is right to say that it was this House that pushed back in 2012 and sought the Government to ensure that the Strasbourg Court was reflecting and following its mandate, which was at the heart of the Brighton declaration process.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in his tests, and I hope I can reassure him on this. When he gets a chance, as I know he will, to study carefully the Bill of Rights, which is now available, he will see that our fundamental freedoms are not being trashed, but that they are being preserved and safeguarded. He will see that judicial independence is being strengthened, because the Supreme Court in this country ought to have the last word, to cherish and nurture this country’s common law tradition, which is ancient.
Finally, my right hon. Friend missed one point, but I hope he agrees with me on this. In broader terms, beyond individual rights, there is a whole realm of public policy—whether it reflects collective interest, social policy, the public purse or public protection—on which it must be this House and its elected Members, who are responsible to our constituents, who have the final word.
Will the Secretary of State share with me the level of support he has for this legislation from the people who will make it work—the lawyers, judges and other professionals? I am not a lawyer, but because I have campaigned with the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) on miscarriages of justice, I have mixed with a lot of lawyers; I have to say that I am worried about the number of lawyers who do not understand the reason for the Bill at this moment.
There have been three Queen’s Speeches with a promise for a royal commission into the justice system, but that has never appeared; it has not gone anywhere. The last thing I want the Secretary of State to remember is that the justice system is in a mess. The barristers are on strike, we cannot get criminal lawyers to represent anyone and the fact is that the Department of Justice has had the biggest cut in budget since 2010 of any Department.
I enjoy engaging with the hon. Gentleman, but he is simply wrong. We have had the biggest increase for over a decade in the spending review, so he is simply wrong on the facts, but I am happy to write to him on that.
On lawyers, of course different lawyers will take different views, but I do not think there are any greater authorities than Lord Sumption, the former justice of the Supreme Court, or Jonathan Fisher QC— [Interruption.] He is shaking his head, but he has just asked me to point him in the direction of some lawyers and I am giving him the most authoritative ones that have recently written on this subject. Jonathan Fisher has written about this today, and there is also John Larkin, the former Attorney General for Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman peruses those opinions and that recent commentary, he might get the reassurance and clarity he needs.
This Parliament is the main guarantor of our rights and liberties; it created them in battles over many centuries for the benefit of us all. Would not this great role be strengthened if our Supreme Court were indeed supreme and not answerable to foreign courts that do not understand the mood of the British people and what they expect of their legislators?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I know that when he gets a chance to peruse the proposals, he will find those principles and that spirit reflected in the Bill of Rights, and I look forward to discussing these matters with him further.
The Secretary of State has asserted that 70% of successful human rights challenges are brought by foreign nationals who cite a right to family life in the first instance when appealing deportation orders. Can he give the House the source of that assertion?
The consultation document gives hon. Members the precise source; it was published back in December.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on resisting the siren voices in this House and outside telling him to withdraw from the European convention on human rights altogether. His decision to stay in it is in the best traditions of pragmatic, sensible, one nation Conservatism. Will he also confirm that the permission test he talked about to stop frivolous uses of human rights legislation simply inserts into the British courts a right already available to the Strasbourg Court under article 35 of the convention?
My right hon. Friend is correct on all those points. This is a principled and pragmatic reform. It retains membership of the European convention. I have heard various arguments against that, but looking at what we would gain from leaving the ECHR, because of the UN convention against torture, which we are party to, and various other conventions, it would not solve all the problems. It is not the magic wand that some people suggest it is; I say that with great respect. We have made sure that within the bounds of the convention we can get the maximum leeway—the maximum marginal appreciation—in the way that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) suggested.
On the permissions test, it is extraordinary that people have criticised doing something that the Strasbourg Court itself does. Making sure that whether they are trivial or frivolous claims, we have a filter early on to make sure that there is significant disadvantage, would, I think, just feel to many of our constituents like old-fashioned common sense.
The UK Government’s scrapping of the Human Rights Act shows a callous disregard not only for the essential universality of human rights but for devolution in Wales too. The Human Rights Act is woven directly into Wales’s constitutional settlement. Changes to the Act will undermine our efforts to promote human rights and equality. When—when, not if—Wales refuses legislative consent to this erosion of human rights, will the Minister use legalistic bully-boy tactics to trample on our democracy too?
No, of course not. The right hon. Lady talks about “callous disregard”. Conservative Members, certainly, want to stand up for victims of crime who do not understand why, based on the most elastic interpretations, foreign national offenders who have committed some of the most abhorrent crimes cannot be deported.
On parole, I think of the victims I have met recently. I do not want to politicise this, but they expect us to stand up for them. As regards protecting not just those within the prison regime but the public from serious ideologues spreading their poison or those who commit terrorist offences, we should stand up for the public, not for the criminals.
My right hon. Friend made it absolutely clear in his statement, and has indeed reiterated in his answers since, that the Government intend that the United Kingdom shall remain party to the European convention on human rights, so it is hard to see the reason for the confusion on the part of the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves). Does he agree that judges of the United Kingdom Supreme Court are more than qualified to determine issues arising under that convention and that the intervention of a supranational court is not always necessary or welcome?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The irony, with regard to case law, is that there is nothing in the European convention that requires the doctrine of precedent, which does not apply in the continental system—let alone in the Strasbourg Court—to somehow be transported, in relation to European case law, to the UK. That is not required. I have been very clear, when we have these debates and when we look at the text of the convention, that I am very proud of the judiciary we have in this country.
Speaking as Lord Chancellor and as a member of this Government, of course there will be difficult decisions, and from time to time Governments do not agree with them, but we have a judiciary renowned the world over and they should have the last word when it comes to interpreting the law of the land. It is extraordinary that Labour, which changed the name of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords to the Supreme Court, would abrogate those rights and that authority.
We know that the Supreme Court has reversed seven of its decisions in the past two years thanks to the bullying of the Government—[Interruption.] Check the record. So if we remove the protection of Strasbourg, do we not have a situation where things that are regarded as human rights abuse and illegal in Europe will become permissible in Britain? If it is okay to have rights not applying in the UK, is it okay for other countries not to apply certain rights, such as in eastern Europe and Russia—in which case human rights become optional instead of universal, and Winston Churchill would turn in his grave?
The hon. Gentleman betrays a fundamental lack of trust in the UK judiciary that I do not share. He talks about a lot of false premises that a cursory reading of the Bill of Rights will clarify.
As a former journalist, I firmly believe that freedom of speech is an indispensable British value. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this essential right will be protected and safeguarded by this very welcome Bill?
I thank my hon. Friend who, as ever, nails a very important part of why the Bill of Rights is a human rights enhancing innovation. If he looks at section 4, he will see that not only do we prize free speech but we are reinforcing its role in protecting journalistic sources and balancing the rights to free speech and privacy. We do not want to see continental-style privacy laws creeping through the back door, and we have seen some evidence of that of late. We want to make sure that the tradition of openness, transparency and accountability is preserved, and the Bill of Rights is explicit on this at various points.
Other countries may disagree. There is a pluralism on human rights that is often lost in debate, but our tradition is to preserve freedom of speech because it is the liberty that guards all the other freedoms we cherish.
I do not think the Justice Secretary has fully thought through the implications for mutual extradition arrangements across Europe, including those under the trade and co-operation agreement. It is important to stress that the Good Friday agreement applies the full effect of the convention, not the convention in name only. Does he understand that confidence in the new policing and criminal justice arrangements in Northern Ireland, including on legacy cases, is very heavily predicated on full adherence to the European convention?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which is why I hope I can squarely give him the reassurance that we are not only remaining a state party to the convention but that it is properly enshrined in the Bill of Rights. That ought to answer all the consequential questions he raises.
From what I can see, this very focused intervention is about making it easier to kick out rapists and people who have broken the law and to stop people arriving here illegally. The elephant in the room is border control, which the people of this country have repeatedly voted for and is bitterly opposed by the Opposition, whatever they say.
Does the Lord Chancellor agree that the Bill of Rights is so important because it will enable us to control our borders and deliver the Rwanda policy, and that it should be expedited? I do not mind doing all-nighters, and I do not mind staying up until 2 am. I think most people in this country who want border control would want this Bill of Rights because they can see how it links to that.
I share my hon. Friend’s restlessness to proceed with all due speed, because we have been talking about this for a long time. I wrote about it in a book in 2009, and it was in our 2010 manifesto. The consultation process is important, and we had a 12-week consultation on the consultation document, which included clauses. We are publishing it now, but there will be space for further scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Justice Committee and others, including Lords Committees. It is important to garner cross-party support to ensure we have the scrutiny that will make our reform more robust when it enters into force.
The Justice Secretary wrote recently that all
“UK citizens should be able to enjoy the same essential protections.”
I return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin). Will all the human rights that the Justice Secretary wishes to cover in his Bill apply to all people in the UK or only to UK citizens? Should not human rights apply to everyone?
I will give the hon. Lady an illustration. We have an international obligation not to make people stateless, so I do not think UK citizens are in precisely the same legal position as a foreign national offender. I think most people think we should have freedom under the rule of law and that we should be consistent in applying the law, but that people who have been welcomed to this country should come here through lawful routes and that people who commit serious crimes in this country should be removed. That is common sense, and I think the people of Scotland will not understand how hon. Members who purport to represent them can stand in the way of such a common-sense measure.
I am reassured by the intentions behind this Bill of Rights, and by two things above all: by the Justice Secretary’s absolute commitment that we will remain party to the European convention on human rights, and by what the former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption wrote at the weekend:
“modifying its operation here need not mean abrogating human rights. We can have all or any of the rights in the convention under ordinary domestic legislation”.
However, will my right hon. Friend help me to understand why he is proposing not to apply interim measures on courts in the UK and make them non-binding, because surely this would be a breach of international law, and would it not be better instead to focus on winning an appeal against any interim measure that the Government do not agree with?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is always sensible and judicious about these matters. On interim orders, he may recall that rule 39—which is the basis—is a rule of procedure of the Strasbourg Court, it is not part of the convention and the rules of procedure are supposed to govern only the internal workings of the Strasbourg Court. Indeed, that is not just my view—it was the Strasbourg Court’s view until 2005. It is not right that a judicial institution abrogates a power, whether at home or abroad, that has to be given to it by the legislators of state parties or Members of Parliament here. Therefore, we will be clear about the impact on the UK courts and under UK law. The Bill of Rights is right to address that squarely. It is a good example of the creeping, shifting goalposts, which are contrary to any democratic oversight, and that is important. Finally on that point, I want to be careful not to impinge on matters subject to legal proceedings, but, as a matter of principle, it cannot be right that the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court address these issues and see no realistic risk to those being removed, but have that trumped by the Strasbourg Court on a vague basis.
Order. Could the Deputy Prime Minister look this way now and again? That would be helpful. If not, it is hard to hear him.
Two things do not surprise me today : the continuing utter disrespect shown to you, Mr Speaker, as Chair of this House, and the utter dearth of historical knowledge on the Government Front Bench and among their Back Benchers. I remind them that there is no such thing as UK law. There is the law of England and Wales, the law of Northern Ireland and the law of Scotland. On the point the Deputy Prime Minister made, I wonder whether, in his next discussion with the Justice Minister of Ukraine, which is a signatory to the convention and a defender of the convention against the Russian Federation, he will say which parts of the convention he thinks Ukraine should leave.
May I give the hon. Member some reassurance? First, the Human Rights Act is a protected enactment and a precise example of UK-wide application. I have met the Justice Minister of Ukraine, and I will tell the hon. Member what he said. He said “Thank you” from the bottom of his heart for everything that this country has done on sanctions, for our support for Ukraine’s military and for the role that we are playing, alongside the Attorney General, in supporting the International Criminal Court prosecution and investigations on the ground in Ukraine to hold the commission of war crimes in Ukraine and hold those responsible to account.
My constituent Mr Lindop, who is trying to recover his kidnapped children from Poland, will be one of many who will be pleased to hear the Government’s continued determination to uphold these international standards.
When I visited the European Court of Human Rights last week, I heard from the UK judge, who was interviewed for his post by Members of this House, that the UK continues to have the lowest number of cases per capita referred to the Court and the lowest number of cases per capita to go against it of any country that is a member of the convention, and that our commitment to upholding the rule of law provides enormous moral authority for our international leadership role. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend confirm once again that, with this new Bill of Rights, the UK will continue to uphold the highest possible standards of human rights and continue to be an example to other member states?
I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which he expressed and articulated his point. He is absolutely right. People talk about the UK’s record and, of course, we have one of the highest levels of compliance with the ECHR compared with many of our European friends and partners. However, rarely but on occasion, there will be moments of mission creep where the goalposts shift. Prisoner voting was an example where we said, “Actually, that is not something that Parliament would accept.” I was the Justice Minister in 2015 who went to the Committee of Ministers and said, “We believe in staying in the European convention, but we feel that the ruling is wrong on principle. We are not going to give prisoners the vote.” We will maintain our high standards of compliance, but when it comes down to it, the final word must stay with this House on critical issues of national importance.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement today. At present, for many Christians, the UK courts have dealt more harshly with cases such as that of wearing a cross in work than the rulings of Strasbourg. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the right to have a religion and freedom to live our belief, inasmuch as it is not harmful to others, will be protected in the Bill of Rights, and our right to speak the name of Jesus and respectfully preach the gospel will be upheld?
The hon. Gentleman is right. He alludes to the harm to others principle and the great John Stuart Mill tradition of liberty in this country, and that is precisely what has infused the Bill of Rights. I think he will see the principles that he has articulated reflected in the Bill of Rights, and I look forward to continuing to discuss the details with him over the weeks and months to follow.
I was one of those who shared the frustrations of my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke when we saw the Rwanda flight grounded and the deportation of foreign national offenders frustrated, which is why I was one of those who openly said that we should withdraw from the European convention on human rights. However, having engaged with my right hon. Friend, and I am very grateful for his time, I am satisfied wholeheartedly that this Bill of Rights and reform of the interpretation of the European convention on human rights with our UK Supreme Court is the appropriate way to go. I am happy to cede, therefore, that on this argument I was wrong—something that I know does not happen in this place very often. So can I get reassurances from my right hon. Friend at the Dispatch Box for the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke that this Bill of Rights will help the deportation of foreign national offenders and illegal economic migrants who come from safe mainland Europe?
I think that was an almost unprecedented intervention, but wholeheartedly welcome. My hon. Friend fights very tenaciously, but he also engages very forensically. I can give him the reassurances. I think the right thing to do is for us to discuss the Bill of Rights, the particular provisions and how they will apply, but certainly in relation to rule 39 interim orders, it is squarely addressed in the Bill of Rights.
We all support human rights, but my right hon. Friend will agree that human rights have been given a bad name in the past by cases brought by people, often offenders, who have shown absolutely no regard for the rights of others. Rights go along with responsibilities, so could my right hon. Friend set out how the Bill of Rights will make sure the courts address responsibilities as well as rights?
One of the ways in which the courts can do that is to make sure—for example, when it comes to compensation—that, where someone has done harm or contributed to their own harm while claiming breaches of human rights, that is something the judges can take into account at the remedy stage. Of course, that is a principle of law in this country already. We often say—I remember studying law as a graduate—that there is a principle that those who come to equity must come with clean hands. It must be right, it must be consistent and I think for many people it is just common sense that we apply that principle in the context of human rights claims.
Over 11,000 people have made the dangerous cross-channel journey this year alone, and it is undoubtedly the case that the decision of the European Court of Human Rights that led to the grounding of the Rwanda flight has raised considerable concerns in my constituency of Dover and Deal that it will simply encourage the people traffickers—people who have no respect for the rights of others, including to human life, or the laws of our land. So can my right hon. Friend expand on how this Bill of Rights will ensure that there is not such overreach by the European Court of Human Rights in future?
I think many people, but I suspect particularly my hon. Friend’s constituents, will think the real threat to human rights is allowing, and not cracking down on, this trade in human misery. She asked about how we will reform the relationship with the Strasbourg Court. First, it will be by freeing the UK courts to diverge from Strasbourg case law, and being clear that they do not need to take it into account. Secondly, it will be by making sure, in the way I have already articulated, that there is the equivalent of a democratic shield, as we relied on in relation to prisoner voting, but reinforced and made clearer, so that when it comes to the shifting goalposts, whether under judicial interpretation at home or abroad, Parliament has the last word. Finally, it will be in relation to rule 39 interim orders, and she will find all those expressly and explicitly addressed in the Bill of Rights.
There has been much talk of Winston Churchill and the authorship of the original convention by British Conservative judges. The fact is that the text of the original convention is absolutely fine, and it is the application and extension of the convention’s original meaning by Strasbourg judges over the decades since that is the problem. I therefore very much welcome the commitment to raise the bar for article 8 judgments.
I also welcome the commitment to give UK judges the right to diverge from Strasbourg case law. My concern, however, is that some UK judges do not want to diverge from Strasbourg case law. In fact, in some cases they want to go further; I think of Baroness Hale, of blessed memory to Members here. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that we will genuinely be free of Strasbourg case law, and is it worth thinking about strengthening the obligation on judges to disregard Strasbourg cases that do not apply in our context?
First, if my hon. Friend reads clause 3 of the Bill of Rights, I think he will find that all his concerns are addressed squarely and fully; I urge him to have a look and come back to me.
My hon. Friend made another important point about people talking as if the European convention was the exclusive authorship of Churchill and the United Kingdom. That is a perverse and neo-imperial reading of history that is totally at odds with the way in which the European convention was negotiated, which was by a mixture of European countries, including the UK—we were centrally involved—and other countries with a civil law background. The convention reflects a mix of those traditions. As a result, it is unobjectionable, but the challenge has come in relation to interpretation and application. My hon. Friend’s points are valid, but the idea that the convention was a British creation is almost neo-imperial myth making.
People in Stoke-on-Trent are sick and tired of human rights laws being abused by serious criminals and illegal migrants. Will my right hon. Friend confirm to my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent South that the British Bill of Rights will restore the authority of this House and British courts?
I can give my hon. Friend and his constituents precisely that assurance. The Bill is not anti-human rights. We are strengthening our tradition of freedom, including freedom of speech. It is pro judges; we want our Supreme Court to have the last word on the law of the land, when it is interpreted. It is also pro democracy, and that is the bit missing from the other side’s critique. We believe that, when the goalposts shift, it is elected Members—accountable to his, my and everyone’s constituents—who must have the last word on the law of the land.
The residents of Blackpool were absolutely furious at the European Court’s move to block the first removal flight to Rwanda last week. They desperately want that policy to work and will warmly welcome the measures outlined by the Deputy Prime Minister today. What assurances can he give them that the reforms will allow our relocations policy to be a success?
There is no silver bullet that can solve that issue and the small boats issue. Even pulling out of the European convention will not provide a silver bullet. However, I can reassure my hon. Friend—I am happy to talk him through this—that, when it comes to deportation of foreign national offenders or public interest in removals more generally, there will be respect and greater deference to primary legislation passed by this House. In addition, our approach to rule 39 interim orders will mean that we can give him and his constituents the assurances they need.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. It is rather curious that he is being criticised for acting on the democratic mandate given to him by millions of our fellow citizens who voted on our manifesto. Millions voted, in both the Brexit referendum and the general election in 2019, for control of our borders and to prevent illegal immigration. It is the job of courts to interpret the will of Parliament, not to invent law themselves. Therefore, the Bill of Rights will not only protect the fundamental rights that we all enjoy; it will give the democratic voice of the British people a role in the decision-making process.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In a democracy, we command, rule and govern by consent. We are at risk of losing public confidence in our immigration controls if we cannot take the common-sense measures that they expect. We are also at risk of losing public confidence in human rights if we do not restore a healthy dose of common sense.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. We now move on to the statement from the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency.