Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons


Recent Activity

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am chair, today publishes our report highlighting serious concerns with the new powers in the Government's Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill currently going through parliament.

The Government have got an important job to keep us safe from terrorism. But it must also safeguard human rights.

The Committee believes that this Bill goes too far and will be tabling amendments in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  

New powers are too vaguely defined

Having taken evidence from Max Hill QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director at Liberty, we are concerned that some of the new powers are too vaguely defined and do not have sufficient safeguards to protect human rights. 

Findings of report

Clause 1

The Joint Committee acknowledges the importance of the Government’s power to proscribe organisations but is concerned that criminalizing ‘expressions of support’ for proscribed organisations could prevent debate around the Government’s use of its proscription powers.

Clause 2

Proposes to criminalise the publication of images online which arouse suspicion that a person is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation (e.g. a photograph of an ISIS flag hanging on someone’s wall posted to the internet) goes too far and also risks violating the right to freedom of expression

Clause 3

This clause criminalises viewing terrorist material online where such material is viewed three or more times.

The Committee believes that this is a breach of the right to receive information.

Committee concerns

The Committee believes that there need to be greater safeguards for the increased period that the Bill gives for the retention of biometric data (such as fingerprints and DNA).

At the same time as it increases the powers to retain data, the Bill abolishes the oversight of the Biometric Commissioner.

This risks violating the right to privacy of persons who have neither been charged nor convicted.

The Committee is concerned that powers to stop and search at ports are defined too widely.

These powers can be used to stop people to decide whether they threaten the economic well-being of the UK.

On these grounds, the Committee has serious concerns that the Bill as it stands does not comply with Convention rights.

Committee recommendations

The Committee therefore recommends that:

  • Clause 1 of the Bill, at a minimum, is amended to clarify what expressions of support would or would not be caught by this offence and to ensure that the offence does not risk criminalising debates disproportionately: for example in a way which would prevent someone putting forward a case for why a particular organisation should no longer be proscribed
  • Clause 2 should be deleted or at a minimum amended to safeguard legitimate publications (e.g. for journalists and other legitimate activity which should not be criminalised)
  • Clause 3 at the very least, should be amended to ensure that it only captures those viewing material with terrorist intent and to clarify the defence of reasonable excuse
  • The increase in maximum sentences for certain terrorist offences must be justified
  • The enhanced notification scheme for registered terrorist offenders needs stronger safeguards
  • The Prevent programme should be subject to an independent review
  • The removal of the Biometric Commissioner's oversight of DNA material and for extending the retention period from two to five years without clear notification and review options must be justified
  • The stop and search powers must be circumscribed and subject to more robust safeguards.




Serious concerns that new powers in Counter-Terrorism Bill do not comply with human rights

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am chair, today publishes our report highlighting serious concerns with the new powers in the Government's Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill currently going...

The Home Office provided ‘no credible explanation’ as to why two children of the Windrush generation, Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan, were wrongfully locked up twice, depriving them of their human right to liberty, according to a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights published today.

The Committee, made up of MPs and Peers Chaired by Harriet Harman MP, took evidence in person from Ms Wilson and Mr Bryan, (who have been settled in the UK since childhood) and examined their Home Office cases files. From the outset, the files contained all the evidence that showed that the Home Office had no right to detain them. But the Home Office still wrongly detained them, twice. The analyses of the two case files are set out as appendices to the report.

In evidence to the Committee, the Home Secretary said that he was sorry for what had happened. A senior official from the Home Office called the handling of these cases a ‘mistake’ but could give the Committee no account of any action that had been taken at the department to address the very serious shortcomings in these cases.

Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said:

“Our report presents the Home Secretary with an opportunity to address the systemic problems with wrongful detention at the Home Office. Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan were both locked up, twice, when the state had no right to deprive them of their liberty. The Department simply ground forward through their processes, clearly traumatising Ms Wilson and Mr Bryan in the process.

“The Home Secretary’s personal commitment to human rights is important. This report should alert him to the scale of human right violations within the powerful department he now leads.

“It is simply not plausible that these cases were just ‘mistakes’. The Home Office did not behave like a department which had discovered it had made a terrible mistake, demonstrating a systemic failure when it comes to detaining individuals and depriving them of their liberty. What happened to these two people was a total violation of their human rights by the state’s most powerful government department. It needs to face up to what happened before it can even begin to acknowledge the scale of the problem and stop it happening again.”

The Committee recommends that:

• The Home Office should review its use of detention for immigration purposes to ensure it doesn’t use it unlawfully and that it is only using these powers where necessary and proportionate.
• There should be a fundamental change in the law, culture and procedures to protect human rights in the work of the Home Office.
• A more humane approach to dealing with people who come into contact with the immigration enforcement system is needed.
• There should be more accountability when initiating or prolonging detention and stronger safeguards overall to prevent against wrongful detention.
• There should be more opportunities to challenge wrongful detention and clear parameters to limit the use of detention.
• Detention should only be used if the Secretary of State is satisfied that he has a power to detain.
• The Government should act immediately to set up a hardship fund to help individuals from the Windrush generation facing financial hardship, as recently recommended by the Home Affairs Committee.

The Committee intends to conduct a further inquiry into the UK's immigration detention system in the Autumn, in which the Committee will consider concerns around the safeguards in the immigration detention system in the UK, including the UK’s lack of a set time limit to immigration detention, which is unusual.

In a recent letter sent to the Home Office, the Committee asked to examine the case files of all those who have been wrongfully detained from the Windrush generation.

Notes to editors:

Harriet Harman MP, Chair of the Committee, wrote to the Home Secretary Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP asking the Home Office to share the case files of individuals who had been detained from the 63 Windrush deportation cases. The Home Secretary previously told the Committee in evidence that the cases of Anthony Bryan and Paulette Wilson – whose Home Office case files were supplied to the Committee- were “appalling and wrong in so many ways.”


Committee Membership is as follows:

Ms Harriet Harman MP (Chair) (Labour)
Fiona Bruce MP (Conservative)
Ms Karen Buck MP (Labour)
Alex Burghart MP (Conservative)
Joanna Cherry MP (SNP)
Jeremy Lefroy MP (Conservative)
Baroness Hamwee (Liberal Democrat)
Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon (Labour)
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Conservative)
Baroness Prosser (Labour)
Lord Trimble (Conservative)
Lord Woolf (Crossbench)


Home Office approach to Windrush detention cases has been “shocking” concludes Joint Committee on Human Rights

The Home Office provided ‘no credible explanation’ as to why two children of the Windrush generation, Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan, were wrongfully locked up twice, depriving them of their...


Read my 2017/18 annual report here.

Annual Report 2017/18

Read my 2017/18 annual report here.

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