Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Bill of Rights: ensure Scotland's voice is fully heard

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The Joint Committee on Human Rights writes to Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove, seeking assurance that the consultation period for the Government’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a revised Bill of Rights will not overlap with the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament and pre-election purdah period for the Scottish Government.

The current session of the Scottish Parliament will end at midnight on 23 March 2016 and dissolution will begin immediately after that on 24 March 2016. The Scottish Parliament and its committees will be unable to contribute to the consultation once dissolved.

The Electoral Commission has already published the timetable for the Scottish Parliament elections on 5 May 2016 and guidance issued for the purdah period in 2011 stated that this period began with dissolution so in 2016 purdah will begin on 24 March 2016. 

There is further information in the section on consultations in the purdah or “pre-election” guidance issued in February 2011 before the last Scottish Parliament elections (see Note 9, p15).

Concern arose following a visit the JCHR undertook to Edinburgh last week to meet the Scottish Parliament's European and External Relations Committee, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, representatives from The Scottish Youth Parliament, Trade Unions, NGOs, academics and lawyers to discuss, amongst other things, the Government's proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights.

The letter (found here) notes Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove’s previous promise to JCHR to engage with the devolved administrations and consult with all citizens of the United Kingdom, in his letter dated 27 November, and seeks assurance that no part of the consultation period will overlap with purdah/dissolution. The JCHR letter further notes that this will be a matter of importance not only for Scotland but also for Wales and Northern Ireland.

Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP, Chair of the JCHR, said:

"There has been a lot of debate in Scotland about the proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act.  The Scottish Parliament has, through its European and External Relations Committee, considered the issue of the potential implications for Scotland of the repeal of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights in some considerable depth. [The] Government's forthcoming consultation would undoubtedly benefit from their contribution.

We are concerned to ensure that the voice of Scotland is fully heard. We need to be able to hear from them to benefit from their views and experience."

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