My most recent column published in the Ham & High today.
The political party conference season is always a time when politicians naturally turn to thinking and talking more to their internal audience – the party members who turn up to fill the halls when they speak. With a coalition government it also means we therefore hear more about issues where the two parties in government disagree, especially those issues on which party members feel passionately.
And so the talk of human rights at both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Party conferences – same topic, but very different talk, at each.
In the Blue Corner, Theresa May (my Home Office boss) launched an attack on the Human Rights Act on the morning of the Conservative conference in the Sunday Telegraph saying that saying she “personally” would like to see it go because of the problems it caused for the Home Office. On Marr the same day David Cameron – when questioned on his Secretary of State’s position – backed it up, saying he too would like to see it go and be replaced by a written British Bill of Rights.
In the gold corner, Nick Clegg – my other boss (and Deputy Prime Minister obviously) – at our Conference a couple of weeks ago defended the act: “So let me say something really clear about the Human Rights Act. In fact I’ll do it in words of one syllable: It is here to stay”.
Positions stated, party differences made clear. But the truly important point – and one I hope and trust that both coalition parties subscribe to – is that human rights are absolutely crucial to a civilised world and civilised society – and something to be proud of.
And in fairness – I have been impressed by William Hague and the priority he has given to human rights (including equal rights for women and the LGB&T community) in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office work across the world. There is a real personal sincerity from many leading Conservative figures showing how, in this respect at least, the Conservative Party now is very different from the one of Section 28.
The Foreign Secretary has supported my own international mission in tackling violence against women across the world and gay and trans rights by supporting my key messages on these issues. Travelling ministers will now raise such issues wherever appropriate and possible in their travels – it is becoming a core part of their work when abroad on behalf of the UK , rather than something to be sidelined into the occasional special trip.
As for the Human Rights Act – there are times when people cynically, lazily or ignorantly quote it in a way that completely perverts its intention (and doesn’t stand up if put to the test in court). In that respect it is very similar to the Data Protection Act – often also called in aid as the supposed justification for bizarre decisions in a way that fuels shock media stories but really says far more about the ignorance of those quoting it than about what it actually says.
As even David Cameron said, the real issue with the Human Rights Act is its over-interpretation by some. We do see stupid judgements and ridiculous trivialisation of the Act and the intention of the Act.
So there is scope for common ground on dealing with those excesses, but outside of tha – the Home Sec’s ‘personal’ desire to see the Human Rights Act go – is just not going to happen under this government.
As junior Minister for Equality at the Home Office, you share with the Home Secretary the task of sponsoring the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Commission was mandated by Parliament to promote understanding of and respect for human rights, and quite specifically the Human Rights Act.
You are presently seeking to secure greater Ministerial control of the Commission under the pretext of increasing its accountability. This includes clarifying that it is subject to public spending controls, such as that presently applying to NDPB’s in relation to expenditure on marketing. This would (does?) mean that the Commission would be required to seek Ministerial consent in order to spend money on promoting respect for and understanding of human rights and the Human Rights Act.
You insist that the proposed ‘accountability measures’ would have no impact on the Commission’s independence, which it requires in order to maintain its status as Britain’s accredited national human rights institutions (the existence of which is very much cherished by the FCO). Yet we are faced with the prospect of the Commission needing to seek the consent of a Minister who is publicly committed to scrapping the HRA and who is prepared to go as far as promoting myths about cats to further her cause, to allow it to use resources to promote respect for and an accurate, myth-free understanding of the Human Rights Act.
Does this not demonstrate very clearly why the proposed measures are inappropriate and why they should not be supported by those who wish to see the HRA remain?
Why not emulate the arrangements in Scotland and Ireland and in relation to other constitutional bodies such as the Electoral Commission and make the EHRC genuinely accountable for itself by having it report to Parliament?
Best wishes, Neil
PS I should declare a (past) interest. Until end June 2011 I worked for the Commission as Director of Human Rights
It is for the reasons in this blog that I continue to support the Lib Dems. More power to you all.
Although I live in New Zealand where we have I believe a good relationship with Human Rights issues, as a British National (born in the UK 1940) I have to say that I am so saddened to hear that there are some politicians who cannot see its value.
Should I be surprised, well not really as for a long long time politicians (often sad to say male) faced with real issues that they do not understand all too often use the too hard basket.
So keep up the good work, some of us really need you and all you stand for and never forget that what you do has far reaching affects on not just those in the UK but in many other countries also.
Gender Identity is such an important part of Human Rights especially for those who are Transgender.
I have to bring to your attention that you have just used in your blog the LGB&T label that I believe correctly reflects Transgender people.
For too long the “T” has been inclusive with the label LGBT whereas it is a separate issue.
Unfortunately by association many see Transgender people as being Gay which is seldom the case.
It is also a fact that even many Gay people do not get Transgender people.
So maybe it is time that the “T” people need to be considered as having their own needs within Human Rights, as they are fast becoming the highest on the list of hate crimes, no doubt due to the greater awareness and acceptance of the LGB section.
However I am certain that all Transgender people hold on dearly to Human Rights because what else have we, it may not be fully there in every case but it is something to work with, to expand on!!!!!