Strengthening Human Rights: Discussions with Cabinet Colleagues

Justice – in the House of Commons on 22nd November 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on strengthening human rights.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on strengthening human rights.

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Deputy Prime Minister, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We have introduced the Bill of Rights and look forward to bringing it forward for Second Reading shortly so that we can strengthen quintessential UK rights such as freedom of speech, as well as deporting more foreign national offenders and restoring some common sense to our justice system.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

Given his last stint in the role, the entire legal sector was—how should I put this?—rather surprised when the Secretary of State was reappointed, and they are not alone. The former Lord Chancellor, Sir Robert Buckland called his Bill of Rights “worse than useless”. The former Northern Ireland Secretary, Julian Smith called it “wrong headed and regressive”. Other Ministers described it as “a complete mess”. If that is what his friends think, the House can only imagine what we in the Scottish National party think about this measure. Can the Secretary of State tell us why his own colleagues do not think his pet project is required or desirable?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Deputy Prime Minister, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Gentleman is wrong on all counts. I am confident that—[Interruption.] He can quote anonymous sources, and there are some well-known differences of opinion, but I can confidently predict that on Second Reading, the Bill of Rights will have overwhelming support in this House. He cited academics, but I point to Lord Faulks KC, Oliver Sells KC, Jonathan Fisher KC, Steven Barrett KC and John Larkin KC, former Attorney General for Northern Ireland, all of whom have very much welcomed the proposals.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

Four out of the five parties in the Scottish Parliament are committed to protecting the Human Rights Act. That view is shared by the party of Government in Wales, it constitutes the majority position in Northern Ireland and it is shared by more than 40% of MPs here, who collectively represent a clear majority of the electorate. Does the Secretary of State not see that by pushing his proposed Bill, he is trampling on the will of the devolved Administrations, but also on the views of the majority of the public?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Deputy Prime Minister, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am afraid I do not accept that. It was a manifesto commitment. The Human Rights Act is a UK-wide piece of legislation and a protected enactment under the devolution settlements. Amending it is therefore a matter for the UK Parliament. I have been to all the devolved Administrations and talked to all the Executives. I have had roundtables with all the relevant stakeholders, as have fellow Ministers. We continue to be committed to working with the devolved Administrations in Scotland and elsewhere to ensure that the reforms work well and benefit people across the UK.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government pointed out this month that the Human Rights Act has a 22-year record of delivering justice, including for some of the most vulnerable people in communities across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Given how the Act is woven into the very fabric of the constitutional settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and how it benefits us all, will the Secretary of State accept that it is not in his power or that of his Government to unilaterally unpick that on behalf of the other nations of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Deputy Prime Minister, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

What I will say to the hon. Gentleman is that this was a manifesto commitment. We are not removing the European convention on human rights—indeed, it will stay, as it was under the Human Rights Act, in a schedule to the Bill of Rights—but I do think that the idea that the Human Rights Act was the last word on human rights in UK constitutional history is daft. Actually, there is an opportunity to strengthen things such as free speech to the benefit of people across the United Kingdom, but also to deal with problems and abuses of the system, particularly things such as foreign national offenders abusing the right of article 8—the right to a family life—to avoid deportation. I suspect that that is as popular in Scotland as it is across the rest of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is carers, victims of domestic violence, disabled people, trafficking victims and people with mental health issues who are among those who have vindicated crucial rights and tackled Government discrimination using the Human Rights Act. Their victories could not have happened under his Bill. As we face up to the cost of living crisis, should we not be strengthening our citizens’ rights rather than undermining them? Why does he want to put people in the UK into a second-tier system of rights protection?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Deputy Prime Minister, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

A series of cases have been put about that either would not be affected by the Bill of Rights or were not the product, in terms of the remedy, of the Human Rights Act. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s assertion; I want to work with hon. Members from all parts of the House. There is a great opportunity to strengthen the UK tradition of human rights—I think we should be proud of that as one United Kingdom—but to deal also with the elastic interpretation of rights and the shifting goalposts that have undermined the credibility of human rights and put huge pressure and strains on our ability to protect the public.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The only thing undermining human rights protections in this country is the Justice Secretary’s proposed Bill of Rights. The reality is that a nursery class could have designed a more sensible piece of legislation than his Bill of Rights. Everybody from human rights campaigners to big city lawyers are saying so—indeed, even the disastrous Truss Administration understood that fact. Given the universal criticism, what exactly is it that makes him think he can just carry on regardless, without even a further consultation?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Deputy Prime Minister, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am afraid I do not accept that characterisation. I think that on Second Reading, the hon. Gentleman will see the level of support. There has already been consultation on not just the policy proposals but specific clauses. We have looked at this at length. It is a manifesto commitment dating back to 2010. It remains one today, and we are going to deliver it for the British people.