Harriet Harman

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

Urgent Question to the Attorney General on membership of the ECHR

I asked Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP (Attorney General) about the Governments position on the UK's membership of the European Convention on Human Rights:

Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP

The more the Attorney General and the Justice Secretary say that they have not ruled out the UK leaving the European convention on human rights, the more it sounds to me like exactly the direction of travel they intend to take, and I find that chilling. The Attorney General cited the proud tradition of this country in establishing this international system of guaranteeing human rights here and abroad, yet it is that very proud tradition that he appears to be about to kick into the gutter. Does he recognise that we cannot both be a signatory to the European convention and reject the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights? It is not just about having these substantive rights and paying lip service to them; it is about accepting the jurisdiction of the international court to enforce those rights. Does he recognise that every Government in this country needs to have that restraint? All Governments are tempted to abuse their power, and this international system is an important guarantee. Does he recognise, as Conservative Members have said, how important it is for those who are struggling for human rights in other countries to be part of a system that we play a part in guaranteeing? I hope that enough Members in this House and the other place will share that view, so that, if the Government drift towards a position of trying to leave the European convention, this Parliament will stop them.

Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP - Attorney General

I will start at the end of what the right hon. and learned Lady has said. She is quite right to say that the example that we set to other countries is something that should occupy our minds. Again, I make the point that the example we set comes from our actions—from what we do—and I do not think that there is any prospect of this Government or any other likely British Government moving away from a clear wish to protect human rights in this country and abroad. I have set out some of the ways in which the Government have done that.

I think that the right hon. and learned Lady attaches too much significance to the convention and the Human Rights Act. I understand why those who were in office in the Labour Government that introduced that Act feel very attached to it. She must also recognise that that Act and what it attempted to do—no doubt from the best of motives—have been tarnished by a number of cases that followed, which have led many of our constituents to believe that “human rights” is a term to be deprecated, not a term to be supported and celebrated. I am sure that she and I agree that we need to get back to a place where all our citizens are keen to support human rights and their protection.

My final point is this. In terms of restraint and what we are prevented from doing, as the right hon. and learned Lady would put it, by our membership of the convention on human rights, I am surprised that a former Law Officer overlooks the role of our own courts, which are robust in the way in which they hold Government to account and restrict the freedom of manoeuvre of Ministers—quite rightly so. I do not believe that we need to rely solely on the exercises of foreign jurisdictions to restrict our Government appropriately.


You can watch my question to the Attorney General and his answer here.

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