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Human Rights Obligations

Attorney General – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 25th February 2016.

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Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Shadow Minister (Education) 9:30 am, 25th February 2016

What discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues on the UK’s domestic and international human rights obligations.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Junior Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities

What discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues on the UK’s domestic and international human rights obligations.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Attorney-General

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer Question 4 alongside Questions 7 and 9. I regularly meet ministerial colleagues to discuss important issues of common interest, including on domestic and international human rights law. As the House knows, not least because the Solicitor General has said this once already today, I am not able to talk about any legal content of those discussions, because, by convention, whether the Law Officers have given advice or not is not disclosed outside Government.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Shadow Minister (Education)

Will the Attorney General list which of the convention rights currently enshrined in the Human Rights Act he plans to repeal?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Attorney-General

I have no plans to repeal any of them. As the hon. Gentleman may have heard me say in this place before, I do not think any of us has any serious argument with the content of the European convention on human rights, which is an admirable document. The difficulty we have is with the interpretation of that document by the European Court of Human Rights. This is not a matter of repealing rights; it is a matter of bringing some common sense back into the ambit of human rights law, and the Government are committed to doing that.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Junior Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities

Does the Minister think it causes any legal or constitutional problem that the Lord Chancellor will no longer be able to ask his Department’s officials for advice on the powers of the European Court of Justice?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Attorney-General

I do not think that is the position at all. The Lord Chancellor will continue to do the excellent job he is doing of running the justice system. He will be able to ask for advice from his equally excellent Government lawyers.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Part of the UK’s human rights obligations is to ensure that minority communities are not subjected to harassment and distress. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that allegations of rabid anti-Semitic behaviour from the Oxford University Labour club are a disgrace to Oxford and no doubt an embarrassment to the Labour party, and they should be dealt with robustly by the University, if not by other authorities?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Attorney-General

I agree with my hon. Friend: these are very troubling allegations, and I hope they are dealt with swiftly and effectively. However, he makes the important point that all of us, on both sides of the House, believe in the protection of human rights and in rules and laws that allow that protection to happen. What we are not in favour of is the perversion of human rights law by the introduction of silly cases that should not be before the courts at all. That obscures the important work my hon. Friend is referring to.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Under the Lisbon treaty, the European Union has a treaty obligation to join the European convention on human rights. However, the European Court of Justice has said that that would be incompatible with EU law. Does that not demonstrate that the European Court of Justice is, indeed, supreme?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Attorney-General

I am sure you, Mr Speaker, were as worried as I was that this session was going to pass without mention of the European Union, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that matter right. As he knows, the decision on whether the European Union accedes to the convention on human rights is for the European Union, and it is therefore not unnatural that the Court of Justice of the European Union should express its opinion. All member states, and indeed the institutions of the European Union, now need to consider carefully what action they take next, and I am sure that is what they will do.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

I am sure the Attorney General will recall that the Attorney General played an important role during the Iraq war, and that it continued right up until the various inquiries, including the Chilcot inquiry. I think he ought to declare now, in order to get rid of any doubts, whose side he is on—the Justice Minister or the Prime Minister. It is a fairly easy question: which side is it?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Attorney-General

I am on the Government’s side; I think I made my position quite clear yesterday. In relation to the role of the Attorney General in inquiries, the hon. Gentleman is of course right that the Attorney General, and the Law Officers more broadly, have an important part to play in ensuring that the Government actions stay within the law, domestic and international, and previous and current Law Officers take that responsibility very seriously.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Shadow Attorney General

Yesterday, Amnesty International published its annual report, which rightly criticises the Government’s plan to scrap Labour’s excellent Human Rights Act. Amnesty’s UK director, Kate Allen, commented that the behaviour of the UK towards China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt shows that the Government have lost their passion to promote human rights. Does not the Government kow-towing to countries like China and Saudi Arabia, without challenging their dodgy human rights records, and the Prime Minister’s phoney plan to water down the Human Rights Act, send the wrong message to dictators and rogue states?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Attorney-General

No. The position is this: Government Members, I am sure in common with the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, will continue passionately to advocate the case for the protection of human rights both in this country and abroad. He is quite wrong to say that this Government, in common with their predecessors, do not challenge other states that have a doubtful human rights record—we continue to do that.

In relation to the Amnesty International report, I have a huge amount of respect for what Amnesty International does, but in this report it has, in my view, overstated its case just a little. It is not the case, as I have said before and as the hon. Gentleman knows, that human rights and the Human Rights Act are the same thing. It is possible to protect human rights without the Human Rights Act—in fact better to do so—and that is what this Government intend to do.