Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
THURSDAY 21 MARCH 2002
(Mr Heaton) Legal co-ordination is a function which
came across from the Cabinet Office and is now within LCD alongside
Mark's policy responsibilities. We maintain a very regular and
functional network of co-ordination contacts with lawyers in all
Government departments and in all the devolved administrations.
We put out a lot of information to them. We gather a lot of information
from them. We run a website on the Government's secure intranet
("LION"). We put out guidance and we have a link to
your own website. The last meeting we had inter-departmentally
was last week. We have an emphasis on compliance because we are
lawyers and you would expect us to but we found out very early
on that compliance is not really a legal technical issue only,
it very often strays into policy questions. We work out the sort
of thinking that our policy colleagues ought to be engaged in
about proportionality and so on and that is fed through to policy
contacts via the legal network. We are an integral part of the
Department although not part of Mark's unit. I hope that is helpful.
Chairman: Thank you, that is very helpful.
Mr Woodward: How many hot cases have there been?
Lord Parekh: How hot?
61. We are using your terminology. How many
hot cases have there been?
(Mr Heaton) If you are in the Home Office you would
probably answer that in
62. How many hot cases to you? You are saying
that you have asked them to identify hot cases and they should
come to you. How many hot cases have been brought to you?
(Mr Heaton) I have not got the precise figure but
we are notified of roughly a dozen cases a month. We have running
a schedule of monitored cases that we look at. People come to
us at all sorts of levels. We have phone calls about a case; or
a case that is so important it requires a different degree of
consultation and we have to get people together to talk about
this. We monitor cases at all sorts of levels.
63. We, as a Committee, in our Seventh Report
on the making of remedial orders made some recommendations about
how declarations of incompatibility and subsequent action should
be dealt with by Departments. When can we expect a formal reply
to that report? The two month period elapsed on 18 February.
(Mr Wills) I was just checking whether I could give
you some very up-to-date information. I have to apologise for
the delay on this, I am sorry. We needed to consult various interests
and I am afraid that consultation is not completed. We will get
it to you as soon as possible. I am sorry for the delay.
64. Can I move to a different area. I would
like to hear what arrangements do you have for co-operation on
human rights matter between the LCD and devolved administrations?
(Mr Wills) It is in a sense a reserved matter but
obviously a lot of the practical implementation of things, criminal
justice for example, falls to the devolved administrations so
there is fairly regular contact at official level. I am afraid
not at my level, I have not had any contact at all, but at official
level there is regular quarterly meetings, as I understand it,
with the devolved administrations.
65. Is that working well?
(Mr Wills) My understanding is that it is working
very well. Obviously there is a lot of comradely collaboration
66. Just parenthetically, it seems to me that
the expectations of your Department and the amount of work that
you have got, the number of reviews you have got, the number of
hot cases you have got, and there are nine of you in the Department,
it is a heck of a workload and a heck of an expectation. I am
going to ask you now about another review. This time it is a review
of the UK's position on human rights instruments in the light
of the experience of the operation of the Human Rights Act. What
exactly is going to be being looked at in it and why do you restrict
the international comparisons only to the law and practice of
other EU Member States? It seemed to us that there might be many
other useful comparisons that could be drawn and would be very,
very helpful to establishing a human rights culture, but they
would be outside the EU.
(Mr Wills) I will deal with your parenthesis first
because it is very important. What I hope the Committee will have
gathered from us is that we do have quite a challenging task of
making priorities and ensuring that we can deliver what we can
within what are inevitably constrained resources. The message
about mainstreaming the responsibility and ownership in other
Departments is critical in this respect, I would say. In relation
to the question outside parenthesis, as it were, we are currently
scoping this review. We want to be sure that we are getting it
right, we are consulting NGOs on this, we have copied the letter
to NGOs to the Clerk of this Committee and we very much welcome
your views on this. In relation to the restriction to the EU,
there are, I do not know how many members of the UN now, 180-plus
or more, and inevitably we could cast this net very, very wide
but in a sense we are trying to compare, as far as possible, with
our closest colleagues and those with whom we in many ways have
most in common. That seemed to me to be the most meaningful way
of striking that comparison.
67. Just a very quick question to follow-up
before I hand back to the Chairman. When the Home Office completed
the last review in March 1999 it said that there would be a further
review conducted when the Human Rights Act had bedded down, those
are the words that were used. In the light of the recent announcement
that you have made and in the light of a number of things that
you have said this morning, do you think that was a little bit
optimistic to have thought back then in 1999 that it would have
bedded down by about now? In a sense, is your review taking place
in a culture in which you can say to us that the Human Rights
Act has bedded down or do you think that has not happened yet?
(Mr Wills) I would not want to sound complacent about
it. I think it has bedded down. I think there have been quite
considerable achievements. I think the fact that we can talk about
the mechanisms in the way that we have today, that there is this
network of consultation
68. Even though it has not bedded down enough,
for example, to give the Disability Rights Commission the powers
that are in the Act to do the work they wanted?
(Mr Wills) There is the process in place for making
sure that a proper decision is taken on that, making sure that
human rights' application is applied equally to all the commissions.
Now we are not going to get answers to everything. I would not
define being bedded down as actually having this whole thing sorted
out and put away and we do not need to worry about it any more,
of course. It is our job to be constantly vigilant about making
sure that this Act is effective.
69. If you have given them that power then actually
you may have learnt a lot about the powers that perhaps could
be being given to the other equality commissions.
(Mr Wills) We continue to learn all the time on that.
I think the answer is that this seemed to me to be an appropriate
time to conduct this review. There has been a lot of discussion
about this. We constantly get letters about this issue. We did
not want people to feel that we were just putting it off and using
the bedding down of the Human Rights Act as an excuse just to
put off engaging with these issues. They matter quite deeply to
a lot of people who we are in dialogue with and we felt it was
now an appropriate time. We could put it off for a very long time
but we thought now was the right time to engage.
70. Do you think the review should look at whether
it was right to have made that decision about the Disability Rights
(Mr Wills) I think I have already answered that question.
71. On the back of that, Minister, the Government,
through the Cabinet Office, recently issued a consultation paper
on the future of the equality commissions and the implementation
of the European equality directives. We were very surprised to
see it made absolutely no mention even of the idea of a Human
Rights Commission, particularly puzzling as there was frequent
reference to this during the passing of the Act. Do you have any
explanation for that?
(Mr Wills) As I understand it, and I think we would
agree with this, the Cabinet Office view is that at this stage
we should be looking at what sort of outcomes we want this consultation
to produce, the best way of implementing this. I think it might
be premature to look at mechanisms. Certainly at this stage nothing
is ruled in or ruled out, including the Human Rights Commission,
neither ruled in nor ruled out I think is the way we would describe
Chairman: Finally on resources, Mr Woodward.
72. If I could just perhaps follow on that,
Chairman. Would you regard then a Human Rights Commission only
as a mechanism?
(Mr Wills) A Human Rights Commission?
(Mr Wills) As a mechanism?
74. I am taking your words now. Would you regard
it only as a mechanism? I would argue that a Human Rights Commission
is a huge statement about establishing a culture of human rights
which embraces equality and discrimination and all those sorts
of things. In not including it, as the Chair has just said, does
that not say something, perhaps, about the scope which the Government
is prepared to think in terms of whether or not it wants to really
get on with the business of establishing a culture of human rights?
(Mr Wills) No, I do not think so. It has not been
ruled out at all. Certainly I agree with you, I do not think anything
is only a mechanism.
(Mr Wills) There is value in promoting human rights
mechanisms and institutions and they do make statements.
76. Let me bring you back finally back
(Mr Wills) I do not think this is the only way we
can make a statement about the value of human rights in our society,
if I may say.
77. Let me finally bring you back to the question
of mechanisms and one of the most important mechanisms, and I
am not talking about spin, is public relations and promotion.
Looking at the memorandum you sent us, your delegated budget for
this year is about £370,000 excluding publicity. Can you
tell us how much was spent on publicity in the last year?
(Mr Wills) I will have to write to you with the precise
figure. I do not want to raise your hopes.
78. It is in the tens of thousands? It is in
the lower tens?
(Mr Wills) It is not going to be very substantial.
79. The comparison I would ask you just to draw
for a moment, just a couple of examples, the Department of Health
spent on a campaign about organ donation last year half a million
and on rough sleepers half a million. If we really want to establish
a culture of human rights, clearly we are not going to do it just
through spin and public relations and advertising, of course I
am not saying that. Just taking a comparison with other departments,
and of course it is about mainstreaming but nonetheless to get
this culture of human rights up there and out there, do you think
you have an adequate budget to promote maybe this culture of human
rights? It is a yes or no?
(Mr Wills) I do not think you would ever find a spending
minister thinking that they had an adequate budget.