Tory human rights plan hits the constitutional quicksand

Scotland and Northern Ireland are not on board with scrapping the laws


Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act could not apply to Scotland.

That was the verdict of a spokesperson at the Scotland Office in October 2014 following David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative conference calling for the Act to be repealed.

Under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998 which established the Scottish Parliament in its current format, the European Convention of Human Rights is enshrined in the devolution settlement. It concludes:

“A member of the Scottish Executive has no power to make any subordinate legislation, or to do any other act, so far as the legislation or act is incompatible with any of the Convention rights…”

Speaking to the Scotsman just after Cameron’s conference speech in 2014, a spokesperson for the Scotland Office said that human rights legislation is devolved to the Scottish Parliament because it was ‘built into the 1998 Scotland Act [and] cannot be removed [by Westminster].’

This view however has been contradicted by the new Scottish secretary David Mundell, who on Tuesday told BBC Radio Scotland that any changes to the Human Rights Act would apply north of the border as well. He concluded:

“New legislation replaces existing legislation and therefore the new act will apply in Scotland.”

Addressing the Scottish Parliament yesterday on the impact of the General Election result, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon made clear that she would be opposing the proposal tooth and nail.

Responding to questioning from Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Kezia Dugdale, Ms Sturgeon explained:

“I welcome Kezia Dugdale’s comments on opposition to repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998. It is one example of, I hope, many in which Labour and the SNP, in that progressive alliance that I spoke about, can work together against some of the wrong-headed measures that are being proposed by the Conservative government.

“Any suggestion that we should move back from human rights protections is appalling and completely wrong. I say on behalf of the Scottish Government that we will do everything in our power to ensure that vital human rights protections remain undiminished in Scotland. I welcome the Scottish Labour Party’s support in that respect.”

Her comments came a day after Scotland’s cabinet secretary for social justice Alex Neil outlined his belief that the Conservative proposals would require legislative consent from Holyrood to apply to Scotland, and as such MSPs should make clear that ‘such consent will not be given’.

In Northern Ireland meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s president Gerry Adams has waded in on the argument.

Just days after a leading human rights body warned that repealing the Human Rights Act would unpick the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Adams attacked the move as a ‘scandalous attack’ and a ‘grievous breach of the Good Friday Agreement’. He called on the Irish prime minister to raise the matter with David Cameron.

In a not so subtle warning to the UK government about its plans, Ireland’s foreign minister Charlie Flanagan has argued that repealing the Human Rights Act  would be ‘a matter of some concern’.

Arguing that the protection of human rights, predicated on the European Convention, was ‘one of the key principles’ underpinning the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Flanagan continued:

“As a guarantor of the Good Friday agreement, the Irish government takes very seriously our responsibility to safeguard the agreement. The fundamental role of human rights in guaranteeing peace and stability in Northern Ireland must be fully respected.”

This comes as the Independent reports that David Cameron, with a majority of just 12, faces a backbench rebellion that could derail his plans. The paper quotes the former attorney general Dominic Grieve who called the plans ‘a recipe for chaos’. Meanwhile an unnamed former aide to new justice secretary Michael Gove is reported to have said there is now a less than 5 per cent chance of the plans going through.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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27 Responses to “Tory human rights plan hits the constitutional quicksand”

  1. Fiona Gregory

    Let’s all move to Scotland then.

  2. EqualOpportunityCynic

    It’s interesting that the Tories scared people into voting for them to preserve the union, but now they sound willing and even eager to blow apart the union.

  3. Rick

    They are together only a small minority of the UK population that voted in the new Government last week.

    The Tories have a mandate to implement ALL of their manifesto.

  4. Jon Danzig

    Hardly much of a mandate to delete or diminish vital basic human rights that people actually died to win for us. The Conservative government has the flimsiest of majorities and most people in the country didn’t vote for them.

    Is the new Conservative government about to abandon the peace-time legacy of its greatest leader, Winston Churchill? It was Winston Churchill who championed the European Convention on Human Rights as a direct response to the abject horrors of the Nazi regime and Second World War.

  5. Jon Danzig

    The Human Rights Act has been essential to help British citizens. For example:

    • The Human Rights Act has brought to account UK police for failing to investigate human trafficking and rape cases.

    • Thanks to the Human Rights Act, UK law was changed to prevent rape victims from being cross-examined by their attacker.

    • It’s because of the Human Rights Act that the right was established in the UK for an independent investigation to take place following a death in prison.

    • Human rights laws have also helped patients to gain access to life-saving drugs and held hospitals to account when failures in mental-health care has directly led to suicide.

    • In the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal, 100 claims were made invoking the Human Rights Act claiming that gross or degrading treatment of patients, mostly elderly, had caused or hastened their deaths.

    • Human Rights laws have also helped to establish that failing to properly equip British soldiers when on active duty abroad was a breach of their human rights.

    And these are just some examples. There are many other cases where British people have needed our Human Rights Act to protect them against the excesses or failures of the State.

    Readers may be interested in my own in-depth blog about why Britain needs to keep the Human Rights Act. For example, how abandoning the Act could risk the Good Friday Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland and the devolution of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of which incorporated the Human Rights Act as a central part of the agreements. Scrapping the Human Rights Act might also be a breach of our membership of the European Union, threatening Brexit before we’ve even had a chance for a referendum.

    See, ‘UK SOS!’

  6. Gerschwin

    No one died to win us the Human Rights Act you numpty. They died to defeat the Nazis, they wouldn’t have given a toss about the Human Rights Act, and Churchill would have been disgusted by the Human Rights Act.

  7. Gerschwin

    Yep, that’s the one, the Tories scared people into voting for them. Do please keep thinking like that.

  8. Gerschwin

    Yeah, that’s the pesky constitution for you.

  9. Jon Danzig

    Nonsense. They died to win freedom and democracy for us. My grandparents were gassed by the Nazis. There were no human rights protections to save them then. But human rights laws have certainly saved many thousands of people since the international legislation came into force in 1953.

    The Human Rights Act 1998 IS the European Convention on Human Rights that Churchill promoted and endorsed. Why do you think it is different?

    Maybe this doesn’t concern you. Those most against human rights mostly won’t need them.

    One of the first acts passed by Hitler’s new government in 1933 was the ‘suspension’ of human rights. It essential we don’t lose them. Many died so that we could have them.

    Read: The photo that alerted the world.

  10. Gerschwin

    Yes absolutely, they all died to ensure the Human Rights Act was implemented into UK law in the 21C, that was bang up there in the fighting on the beaches speech…’we will never surrender the Human Rights Act 1998′.

  11. Fiona Gregory

    I agree with you and my late dad fought Hitler in the Navy.

  12. Jon Danzig

    You are being facetious and it’s pointless debating with you. I hope you never need the protection of human rights law. I am appalled that any fellow human being might be in favour of diminishing or deleting basic rights for others, and your comments in the face of the personal detail I have shared with you is inhumane. The European Convention on Human Rights was established in direct response to the abject horrors of the Nazi regime. It had the full support of Winston Churchill. It seems that the Conservative party is about to jettison the peacetime legacy of its greatest leader.

  13. Gerschwin

    You use your personal detail deliberately because you think it is a trump card. A decent man would keep it themselves and give it the dignity it deserves. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  14. Jon Danzig

    I feel no shame and it’s hardly a trump card. I have a duty to speak up. Silence means acceptance; I do not accept.

    I think this discussion is over. You will not understand and I cannot help you to understand. I hope there will be other compassionate, humane people who will not wish our government to so carelessly discard the most basic of human rights, on the flimsiest of a majority.

  15. RoughSleeper

    I agree with all that you say, and am not trying to draw you back into the silly volley, but:

    HRs are essential, but shouldn’t just be lipservice to make a pariah state look good. There must be serious custodial sentences, where agents of states, ignore, and enforce their denial of, these rights because it is expedient to them to do so. This we certainly do not have.

    (8.5656 x 10K hours expertise, Boots on the ground, @ 1.5747 pence/day)

  16. Jon Danzig

    Thank you. I am happy to have an edifying and respectful discussion; I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am concerned about our current political masters idea to unravel an important piece of international legislation. Thank you for looking at my articles, too.

  17. Keith M

    Hardly when they only have 35% of the vote and are an English party, having been rejected by the Scots.

  18. Keith M

    The Human Rights Act grew out of the need for decency – amazing response that you feel the HRA is of no concern – one day you might need its provisions!

  19. Keith M

    Spot on

  20. Keith M

    You are wasting your time replying to this person who is either very ignorant or a complete wind up artist.

  21. Jon Danzig

    Indeed, but often I reply anyway, for people such as yourself to read…

  22. Gerschwin

    Bollocks. It grew out of lefties trying to fix down your rights so they could tell you what to do whilst doing whatever they wanted to do without having to answer to you for it. You’re just too dim to see that.

  23. Keith M

    You are obviously the kind of ignorant person one cannot hold a reasoned discussion with.

  24. Gerschwin

    No I’m just right and you don’t like it.

  25. SarahTShields

    ☞☞☞$77 /hr 0n the [email protected]//



  26. Torybushhug

    HR’s needs reform.
    They have become a charter for cheats and spongers, never on the side of people doing the decent, quiet, proper thing, always on the side of the cunning and the malcontent.
    Consider where the legal glitterati focus their energy; people like Helena Kennedy. Never does she choose to focus her energy on the side of the Grandma being hounded kids on her state, oh no, she would be on the side of the unruly youngsters, asserting their HR’s.

    Never does she home in on a case of a pensioner that did all the rights things, set money aside only to find this frugality later goes against her when she wants a bit of state help.
    Instead the liberal lawyers focus energy on the Somalian, on a host of benefits (and that owns but to lets on the quiet), as clients like this allow the liberal lawyer to ‘virtue signal’ and underline their right on ‘impartial’ compassion.
    The Brits are at a disadvantage when it comes to HR’s. Unlike the French and Italians that routinely deport Roma encampments, the Brits dare not conduct themselves in such a common sense ‘naturally just’ manner. Instead we fall over ourselves with enrichment and tip toe dancing around criminal that know exactly what HR’s are all about.
    Similarly you get the malcontent disruptive cheating public sector employee that keenly assert their HR’s in order to win lottery sized compensation hand-outs from hard pressed Police forces and the NHS.
    Again a charter for cheats and spongers.
    Just as the liberal establishment ignored the public will on mass immigration, so it is with HR’s. “Ohh I love my HR’s, what…. they come with responsibilities, eeek”.
    This is why we need a more practicable genuinely just HR’s platform.
    HR’s as currently framed will be employed on the side of sponging migrants that rock up to councils with 4 kids in tow, when the Tories try to deport them Again not what ordinary people see as genuine justice, when they know of Brits unable to get housing or jump queues (my Brother is in this position despite having paid tax for 3 years, and yet above my business are lots of highly priced flats being let to recent immigrants).
    HR’s deliver law, not justice.

  27. RoughSleeper

    As Dr Michael Siegel, we must ……..No!…….words fail me!……… this says enough:

    “‘An act of inhumanity against one human, any human, is an act against all humanity.’ That applies to all forms of oppression against any human, in whatever form, in whichever country. ……..Sadly, what happened under the Nazi regime is just one example of inhumanity, but it was a huge and important one that needs not to be forgotten”.

    Thank you.

    God bless the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ that set such an exemplary example to us all.

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