Amendment 150

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (4th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 8:34 pm on 21 May 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 8:34, 21 May 2024

My Lords, I was very disappointed by the Minister’s response in Committee, so I felt that I ought to have another go in support of the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, aided by the British Institute of Human Rights and Amnesty International, which were also very disappointed.

First, the Minister said that this clause is not about disapplying the Human Rights Act. Well, of course it is not about disapplying the whole Act—but not just Amnesty, the BIHR and the Howard League, but also the EHRC, the chair of the JCHR and the Law Society take the view that it is disapplying Section 3. It feels like one of those occasions when the Government is the only marcher in step.

The BIHR challenges a number of the Minister’s arguments—first, his reassurance that it is still possible to plead any breach of human rights in the usual way and to seek a declaration of incompatibility. It points out that the point of the Human Rights Act was to bring rights home and provide an accessible, practical and immediate remedy. The excision of Section 3 makes access to human rights harder. He said it was a “difficult section to apply”. The BIHR argues the opposite, pointing out that it is used by lay front-line workers who see it as having given them a clear legal framework for arguing for the protection of people’s rights.

Likewise, the BIHR contests the view that it is necessary to provide public protection. The Human Rights Act already requires that the public interest is considered on a case-by-case basis, so this clause is not necessary to achieve that. The Minister’s reading of the independent Human Rights Act review was, shall we say, creative. The review recommended not the weakening or removal of Section 3 but simply greater clarification to improve understanding of it.

Finally, as the Minister will know, the UN Human Rights Committee in its report on the UK’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, while welcoming the abandonment of the wholesale abolition of the Human Rights Act, expressed concern that its diminution has been pursued through other legislation and recommended that any future amendment to the Act be restricted to the strengthening of human rights. This clause does the opposite and it is difficult not to conclude that, like the earlier asylum legislation, it is a backdoor way of weakening the Human Rights Act by undermining the fundamental principle enunciated by so many, including the noble Lord—that human rights are universal and indivisible. Weakening the Act’s application to a marginalised and unpopular group such as prisoners is contrary to that principle, whatever the Minister might say.