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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 9:26 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 9:26 pm, 1st March 2011

I fear that the “Protection of Freedoms Bill” is not really what it says on the tin. People might think that the Bill protects freedom, but I am afraid to say that it does many things that are not apparent in its provisions. In particular, one of the greatest freedoms we need to protect is the right to decide our own laws and, indeed, to ensure that the judiciary complies with the will of Parliament. Unfortunately, on close examination, I found that the Bill’s content is to do with the upholding of European Court rulings. That is where the problem lies, and I fear that some hon. Members may have missed the wood for the trees. This is entitled the Protection of Freedoms Bill, but it would be far better to describe it as the “Subjection to European Rulings Bill”, as one case after another simply endorses decisions taken by the European Court. By that, I mean the European Court of Human Rights in particular.

We recently debated the rights of prisoners to vote, and the result of the Division on the motion was 222 to 15. Unfortunately, I could not be here. I am sorry to have to admit this, but I was working as Chairman of my Select Committee in Budapest. However, I thoroughly endorse what was said in the course of that debate on prisoners’ votes, but there is no reference to prisoners’ votes in the Bill. The Bill has skipped that one; it is waiting for another occasion. The reason is quite simple: the coalition Government know that idea of including prisoners’ votes as one of the freedoms in this Bill would be catastrophic for them. That is not to say that we should endorse the Bill’s reference to other European Court rulings contained in the provisions, but not set out in the Bill. Unless hon. Members have read much of the background material and case law, it is impossible for them to know exactly how much this Bill offends the principle endorsed by this House by 222 votes to 15.

Let me provide some examples. Given that we have only recently come back after a recess, I doubt whether people have had a chance to read the Home Office memorandum on the Bill, and some may be more interested in its detail than others. I find that detail often throws up one or two of the unfortunate aspects of the manner in which Governments—and the coalition Government in particular—operate. The memorandum says:

“This is a human rights enhancing Bill.”

No, it is not; it is a European Court of Human Rights enhancing Bill. I refer to cases such as the S. and Marper case which related to the retention of fingerprints and biometric data. I would like to see such matters properly dealt with in legislation, and the same applies to the stop-and-search provisions, to which the Gillan and Quinton case relates. Why can we not legislate on our terms in this House? Why must we subject the House to legislating to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, when we have no reason whatever for not legislating on our terms? Putting it in statute form means that the matter goes to our courts for an interpretation of that legislation. Then, in the interpretation of the legislation, our own courts, either at first instance or more likely in the Supreme Court, apply the European jurisprudence.

I remind the House of a point that I have tried to make in debates over a long period and of a speech by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who said that we must beware of the manner in which our legislation is being subjugated to Strasbourg decisions. He warned the judges, “Brothers and sisters, beware of applying the decisions of the Strasbourg court.” [Laughter.] Brothers and sisters, comrades!

The manner in which the implementation will happen is a form of Trojan horse. I would want to see many of the problems that the Bill raises dealt with by legislation, to ensure that people were not unfairly stopped and searched or that children got the proper protection. However, it should not be done through this vehicle. By not eliminating the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act formula, we give ourselves over increasingly to the Europeanisation of our law-making and the judicial claims made in the Supreme Court at the expense of the House. Effectively, we are digging our own grave.

At the same time, I hear and read that the Government are becoming more “Eurosceptic”—I do not know what that word means; Eurorealist is much more to the point.