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Both hon. Gentlemen made points about lone parents. It is right that we need to make more progress on assisting lone parents into work because that helps
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us to secure further reductions in poverty. The employment rate for lone parents has increased by 11 per cent. since 1997 and the number of lone parents who are benefit claimants has declined by 230,000.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds was right to point out that there needs to be a carrot. The issue is broader than levels of benefit, because it embraces the structure of the tax system and a requirement for a substantial extension in the number of child care places. He is right that we need to consider the matter comprehensively, which is why our measures respond in all respects, including the extension of child care places, which have greatly assisted many lone parents to choose to move off benefits and go back into work.

The orders provide more than £3.5 billion of additional support: £2.48 billion to pensioners, of which £300 million is above inflation; £16 million to children, of which £7 million is above inflation; £560 million to disabled people and carers; and £520 million to people of working age. The uprating order contributes to our overall programme of reform to the welfare system, which involves linking rights with responsibilities during working lives and providing the opportunity for all to build a decent income in retirement.

We announced last year that we would continue our commitment to uprate the pension credit minimum guarantee by earnings rather than prices, so this year’s uprating order will take us another step away from the extent of pensioner poverty that we inherited in 1997. Through measures including pension credit, the state second pension and above-inflation increases in the basic state pension, we have lifted 1 million pensioners out of relative poverty and established a more equitable system. The uprating order continues that progress. It will lock in the progress we have made on eliminating pensioner poverty and ensure that the poorest pensioners share in the rising prosperity of our nation.

As we look to the long term, we face the challenge of profound social and demographic change. In the next 50 years, the number of people over pension age will increase by more than half. If the system were left unchanged, there would be only two people in work for every one in retirement, as opposed to four at present. The measures that we are taking forward in the Pensions Bill will set in place a historic settlement that will meet these long term challenges.

Let me turn to the aspects of the orders that deal with working-age benefits. Since 1997, we have taken forward a series of reforms to enable people to escape poverty and fulfil their potential by coming off benefit and moving into work. As a result, there are now over 2.5 million more people in work and about 900,000 fewer on out-of-work benefits. Since 1997, we have lifted 1.8 million children out of absolute poverty and almost 700,000 out of relative poverty. We have a historic target of halving child poverty by 2010, and if we are going to achieve that, we will need to renew our efforts.

We want to ensure that children have the best start not just because that is morally right, but because we recognise that individuals’ outcomes are often determined by their experiences in earlier life. From April, the poorest children will thus receive £64 a week through child benefit and child tax credit—in 1997, they received only £28. We will again uprate maternity allowance and statutory maternity pay by earnings and
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we will significantly extend the length of coverage over the course of this Parliament. Furthermore, because we know that the last months of pregnancy and the first months following a birth are associated with additional costs, mothers will be eligible for child benefit from the 29th week of their pregnancy from 2009. That will mean up to an extra £200 for the first child and an extra £130 for subsequent children.

Ultimately, work is the surest way for families to escape poverty and give their children the best start. It is the only way to meet the challenges of an ageing and increasingly globalised society. That was why we began the new deal, which has helped hundreds of thousands of people to get off benefits and back into work. It was why we invested heavily in creating Jobcentre Plus, which has provided an integrated service for people who need support and help in finding employment. It was also why we introduced the national minimum wage and tax credits, which gave people the unambiguous message that they would be better off in work than on benefits. With the orders, we are keen to build on that success by enabling and empowering people to fulfil their potential and ambitions, rather than consigning them to a lifetime on benefits. Our Welfare Reform Bill sets out aspirations for an 80 per cent. employment rate. That would mean a million fewer people claiming incapacity benefit, a million more older people in work and an extra 300,000 lone parents off benefit.

The uprating order further delivers on our promises to help those who need it most, to support families and to tackle the poverty suffered by pensioners and children wherever it occurs. However, we see the right to work as fundamental to tackling poverty and building aspiration, so we are supporting more people to find work, including people on incapacity benefit, lone parents and older people who want to return to, or remain in, the work force. The orders will assist that, so I commend them to the House.

Question put and agreed to.




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Human Rights

[Relevant documents: The Thirty-second Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005-06, The Human Rights Act: the DCA and Home Office Reviews, HC 1716, and the Government Response thereto, Cm 7011.]

6.26 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

Fundamental rights have been recognised throughout our history from the time of Magna Carta. They have not always been protected very well, but there has always been an understanding that the machinery of the state, however democratically it acquired its power, could not ride roughshod over the governed. In the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporated the rights from the European convention, we have a mechanism by which our values are given greater protection and greater status than ever before. We have all grown up with those values, but until that Act came into force in October 2000, we would have had to go to Strasbourg to enforce them.

In the aftermath of the horrific events of the second world war, international powers worked out values around which humanity could unite and could be entrenched and made inalienable. The United Nations declaration of human rights set out those rights, but gave no practical help on their enforcement. The United Kingdom was keen on a new Europe-wide statement of human rights with some practical mechanisms. Both the UN declaration and that more practical document, the European convention on human rights, were heavily influenced by British values. The British inspired the debate, the drafting was led by the British and the values entrenched were British through and through.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I am grateful for that exercise in history, but it is not entirely accurate. The hon. and learned Lady should know that the Attlee Government were very concerned about this, as was the Lord Chancellor of the day, and the convention passed because of the assumption that it could have no consequences in domestic law.

Vera Baird: Thanks for that parallel history lesson.

The convention provided substantive protection for individuals against the violation of their rights by states. It ensured that the principles of democracy were strengthened by giving citizens a forum in which they could be heard if a Government—even a democratically elected Government—sought to deny basic fundamental rights. That was a key step forward in enhancing democratic answerability. The European convention also declared those rights strongly, thus elevating the position of rights in society. It still does all those things.

The convention was never intended to be a precise legislative document. The drafters recognised that rights could come into conflict with each another, so a solution was prescribed: flexibility. The ideal realisation of that flexibility was to let sovereign Governments determine the balance of rights in the context of their national circumstances and then let national courts determine
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whether that balance was correct in those circumstances. That flexibility allows what we in the UK would call local common sense to be engaged. Of course, British citizens had been going to the Strasbourg Court to enforce those rights against the UK Government, and that Court had done its best to understand the British context, but we did not have a national forum and the opportunity to maximise that local flexibility until the Human Rights Act made the convention rights enforceable here, as part of our domestic law.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The hon. and learned Lady refers to conflict between the principles set out in the Human Rights Act. Will she concede that it is extremely difficult in present-day circumstances—it was before, but is much more so today—to reconcile the rights in article 11, which deals with matters such as freedom of conscience and of religion, and rights such as freedom of speech? Those inherent conflicts are part of the problem when there is an inability to provide for a hierarchy of principles.

Vera Baird: But the hon. Gentleman knows that those rights existed before the mechanism, and the mechanism is an excellent one for balancing rights against one another.

No one would dispute the importance of the rights; the right to life and not to be tortured, the prohibition of slavery, the rights to liberty, to a fair trial and not to be punished without legal authority, respect for private life and family life, the rights to freedom of thought, of expression and of assembly, and the right not to be discriminated against in the exercise of those rights. They give expression to the values of our society. They are common sense; what the person in the street, here and now, would expect our values to be. We all share them. They are rights that we have grown up with. These are human rights. The question is not whether those rights and the values that they represent are the right ones, but what is the best way that they can be given expression and protection under our law, and how can we use them positively to add value in our day-to-day lives?

It is an irony that bringing our rights home, in the sense of making them enforceable here rather than in Strasbourg, somehow conspired to make rights to which we are all accustomed seem more alien and foreign, in particular for front-line public authority workers who have to work with them in the mainstream of their day-to-day business. At the very time that we are best able to use our local common sense to apply them, the use of human rights has sometimes produced results that make nonsense instead of common sense.

People’s rights have to be practical. They have to work in such a way that they can resolve conflicts—day-to-day conflicts, where the rights of the individual have to be balanced against the rights of the community. In the vast majority of cases, common sense tells us how to resolve those conflicts. Let me give a couple of examples. In January, there was a well publicised row about a decision by Derbyshire police not to release, supposedly on human rights grounds—I am not pointing a finger at what was said or who said it—photographs of convicted criminals who had escaped from prison. Their crimes were serious and included murder. The idea that the human rights of people convicted of such crimes could
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trump the legitimate use of photographs in trying to recapture the criminals is nonsense. Article 8 specifically recognises that interference with the right to privacy, which it gives, is justified if it is necessary in the interest of national security, public safety and the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, or for other reasons including the protection of others.

Alternatively, take the case in which a man evading arrest in Gloucestershire went on to the roof of a house and while there, surrounded by the police, was supplied with—supposedly—Kentucky Fried Chicken. Gloucestershire police were quoted—rightly or wrongly—as saying that they had to look after his human rights, even though he was a bit of a nuisance. There is no Human Rights Act entitlement to Kentucky Fried Chicken—as a vegetarian, I welcome that, although I do not suppose it would ever be compulsory—and there is no right that can sensibly be interpreted to give such an entitlement. It was nonsense.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): Will the Minister clarify the meaning of paragraph 50 of the Government response to the report, which states:

How does her Department expect to do that and what will she do to help public authorities to become better equipped to deal with such issues?

Vera Baird: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall come to that in due course; it is one of the themes of my speech.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Over-zealous interpretation of the Act does not, of course, invalidate its contents. I believe that that is part of the hon. and learned Lady’s theme. May I put it to her that, as I understand it, it has long been and it remains the case in balancing different rights that the police, for example, are entitled to retain information and, where they judge it to be appropriate, to disclose it if it relates to someone who works in a sector that affects children, even if the individual in question has not been convicted? I think that that is right and nothing in the Human Rights Act prevents the continuation of that discretion on the part of the police.

Vera Baird: Although I cannot call the relevant section to mind, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is correct. There would be nothing to stop such a disclosure if it were in the wider public interest, in the interest of protecting against crime or in the interest of protecting good order.

Common sense is one of my themes tonight. I have pointed to the lack of common sense in the Derbyshire police case and the KFC case. Given that human rights are the values that we have all shared for a long time and that we all expect each other to share now, it would be surprising if, when used properly, they did not produce an outcome that we recognised as common sense. That, it seems to me, is a good test: if the outcome does not, when examined, appropriately accord with common sense, it is probably a case in which human rights have not been applied properly.

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Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I thank the hon. and learned Lady for being so generous in giving way. She has given a number of examples in which people who perhaps should have known better have over-applied what they imagined to be the provisions of the Act, but does she not accept that many verdicts handed down in court have also seemed to fly in the face of common sense? I think particularly of people involved in restraining others who have trespassed on their property, who are then pursued into court and sometimes convicted of assault on the trespassers; or of people who had no right to be in this country in the first place and who have launched attacks on and committed crimes in this country, but who cannot be excluded from the country for fear of their human rights being abused if they are sent to another country. It does not all come down to misinterpretation, does it?

Vera Baird: There was a heady mixture —[ Interruption. ] Yes, a dolly mixture of cases. It is difficult to unravel them to answer specifically on each. I cannot see the human rights implication in the first scenario—that of someone assaulting another person to stop a burglary—although there would be issues of appropriate defence of self and of property, which is a common law defence that has been around for a very long time. As for not deporting someone because of a danger to them, if there is an acute danger of a person being killed, I should have thought that even prior to the Human Rights Act being passed we would have been as reluctant as we are now to deport that individual. It is to some extent a question of balance, but the right to life is absolute and I do not shrink from saying that it ought to be.

Let me give a more difficult example than those that I have given so far: the case surrounding the tragic murder of Naomi Bryant. It is a sobering example of the difficulties in striking a balance between the rights of the individual and the protection of the wider community. Anthony Rice was released from a life sentence and murdered Naomi Bryant nine months later. The Parole Board and the probation service were concerned about human rights legal action against them because he had served more than the 10-year minimum term fixed by the judge; consequently, they prioritised his right to liberty. However, the Human Rights Act rightly provides for a balance to be struck. There is a positive duty on the state to protect the public to safeguard the rights, such as the right to life, of the community who may be put at risk. Appropriate weight was not given to that duty on public authorities, but that is a further example in which although the Act itself was not at fault, its application was.

Human rights are not about the protection of one group in society. Classically, they are about providing a practical framework to protect all our freedoms. If our freedoms require protection, and the freedom of others must be suspended to stop crime, resist oppression or prevent terrorism, the Human Rights Act will allow that balance to be struck, and that makes sense to us all. Of course, there are bound to be cases on the edge, grey areas where there is scope for disagreement, and cases that seem to go against the grain of popular opinion. There are difficult situations, and perhaps the most difficult concern terrorism.

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Recently, Eliza Manningham-Buller talked about the domestic terrorist threat. Police and security services are working at near capacity to disrupt 30 active plots; there are 200 networks, comprising 1,600 individuals known to be engaged in plotting terrorism; and there are more than 20 ongoing terror trials involving over 80 defendants. That is a sombre picture. Against that backdrop, the Government’s primary purpose of protecting the public becomes ever more imperative to attain and ever more difficult to achieve. Terrorism will ultimately be defeated by winning hearts and minds, and any counter-terrorism legislation has to be tested against the impact that it may have on any of the communities that we seek to protect. Human rights are far from being a straitjacket limiting our ability to defend ourselves; in fact, when we need to legislate, we can justify it by reference to human rights.

Human rights go beyond racial, religious or community differences and reach to the common humanity that underpins us all. However difficult it is to sustain that idea in the face of terrorism—terrorism wants to emphasise difference and to battle in a barbarian way, extinguishing human life at random to make a partisan point—we must stay with human rights. They, and the Act, are essential in identifying, defining and protecting the values that we put to the forefront of our struggle against terrorism. Liberty and security are not opposites; they are two sides of human rights. My right to life and that of any of my Muslim or Jewish friends must be secured as best it can by the state. Diminution of that right is intolerable, and limiting freedom is undesirable. We must get away from the false dichotomy, in which security and basic freedoms are in opposition. We must remember that we have probably the widest panoply of anti-discrimination law in the world, and that we have a duty to protect life.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I am glad that the hon. and learned Lady referred to a false dichotomy, because I am worried by some of the language that Ministers use. For example, the Home Secretary said:

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