European Convention on Human Rights

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the future status of the UK as a signatory to the European convention on human rights.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the future status of the UK as a signatory to the European convention on human rights.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has regular meetings with Cabinet colleagues relating to the UK’s exit from the EU and issues such as our approach to human rights and the ECHR. The UK is committed to membership of the ECHR, as my right hon. Friend has previously set out, and we will remain a party to it after we have left the EU.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

In a letter written last year, the Minister implied that the Human Rights Act would come under threat post-Brexit. He said that

“our manifesto committed to not repealing or replacing the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway. It is right that we wait until the process of leaving the EU concludes before considering the matter further.”

So, for the avoidance of doubt, will he rule this out today?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

This country has a long tradition, which long predates the ECHR or the EU, of championing and setting the highest standards on human rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 reflects that and gives further effect to the ECHR in our domestic law, and we are not considering amending or repealing it.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

Despite the Prime Minister’s previous wish for the UK to leave the ECHR, the Brexit White Paper committed to membership of the convention. However, the political declaration talks only of respecting the ECHR, so can the Minister explain the change of language and clarify whether the Government plan to repeal or protect the Human Rights Act after Brexit?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I do not accept that our position on the ECHR is ambiguous. Both the political declaration and the White Paper make it clear that our future relationship with the EU should be underpinned by our shared values of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and this includes our ongoing commitment to the ECHR. As I have just made clear, the HRA gives further effect to the ECHR in our domestic law, and we are not considering amending or repealing it.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Human rights are, of course, not a reserved matter, and the Scottish Government have an advisory group on human rights in relation to devolved matters. Will the Minister commit to full consultation with the Scottish Government about his future plans for human rights protection across the United Kingdom?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady, as ever, for her question. We work closely with the Scottish Government. I am always willing to listen and speak to them, and I will continue to do so.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Scottish Government’s advisory group on human rights reported in detail on 10 December, setting out three guiding principles for Scotland’s approach to human rights:

“non-regression from the rights currently guaranteed by membership of the European Union;
keeping pace with future rights developments within the European Union;
and continuing to demonstrate leadership in human rights.”

Can the UK Government commit to each of those principles for the whole of the UK? If not, why not?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. and learned Lady will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Professor Miller chairs that advisory group. We debated this issue in Westminster Hall some weeks ago and I read his report with interest. We note with interest the measures being considered by the Scottish Government to enhance human rights in Scotland, and the principles and seven recommendations set out in that report. Of course, Scotland’s legal system is separate and distinct from that of England and Wales, but I am considering that report, and others, with great care.