I have frequent discussions with the Justice Secretary about a range of topics. However, the present Government have no current plans to repeal the Human Rights Act. The Justice Secretary has indicated that in the new year the Conservative party will publish a draft Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. Such a Bill may not be adopted until there is a majority Conservative Government.
Is the Attorney-General aware that the Human Rights Act is one of the few ways in which the victims of crime can hold police and prosecutors to account for failure to investigate and prosecute? If so, does he agree that the desire of many of his colleagues to repeal it would represent a serious backwards step for the victims of crime?
I certainly endorse what the hon. Gentleman says—that the Human Rights Act is a mechanism through which victims of crime may seek redress. He is right about that, but there is no reason to suppose that if it were to be replaced by a Bill of Rights, that right would necessarily be removed.
I am afraid I have to disagree with my hon. Friend. If he were correct, the criminalisation of homosexuality would remain acceptable, because the convention would not have evolved. I realise he touches on a difficult issue. Some have argued that the interpretation of the convention goes further that it should, and that is a legitimate issue of public debate. As for the principle that the convention should simply be static and remain where it was in 1950, I think careful examination would soon reveal a great many problems that would cause anxiety in this House.
The Human Rights Act 1998 is also invoked by the victims of human trafficking and slavery to hold to account state agencies that fail to pursue and prosecute their oppressors. Should we not be careful that we do not take a retrograde step, leaving victims of human trafficking and slavery powerless and voiceless as a result of the Attorney-General’s changes?
First, I have put no changes to the House today. The hon. Gentleman makes the correct point that the Human Rights Act, as interpreted in our courts, provides a degree of protection. It is possible, however, to replace the Act with a British Bill of Rights that is compliant and compatible with our convention obligations, and which could do exactly the same thing. If I could provide him with some reassurance, the mere replacement of the Human Rights Act by a Bill of Rights would not necessarily lead to the mischief he anticipates.
One hundred and fifty years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. In that short speech, honest Abe declared a new birth of freedom. In Britain and the rest of the world, no single law does more to protect our freedom than the Human Rights Act. Will my right hon. and learned Friend honour Lincoln’s call by reaffirming our support for the Human Rights Act, which underpins our freedoms today?
The key issue for my hon. Friend, and for me, is reaffirming the principles embodied in the convention. The Human Rights Act is a mechanism by which we ensure that convention rights are accessible to those in this country. That has always seemed to be a very good principle on which to operate.