30. Memorandum from the Government
of the National Assembly for Wales
1. There has been very little debate within
Wales about whether we need a Human Rights Commission and the
role that such a body might play here. The National Assembly for
Wales has never formally discussed the issue. There has been no
press campaign in favour of itin contrast to the very strong
Welsh media lobby to have the 2001 Census form altered. As far
as we are aware, the only public discussion was a seminar in Cardiff
in January 2001, organised by the Institute of Public Policy Research,
which brought together various interested parties, including Assembly
Members, and representatives from equality organisations and advice/consumer
groups. Given the nature of the participants, it is not perhaps
surprising that the mood of the seminar was broadly in favour
of establishing an HRC. However, apart from this there does not
appear to be (as yet) a substantial body of public opinion in
Wales in favour of a Human Rights Commission. Assembly Ministers
are, therefore, inclined to follow the Government in keeping a
genuinely open mind on this issue.
2. As the JCHR suggests, the additional
value of a Human Rights Commission (HRC) would lie in having an
independent statutory body that could focus exclusively on fostering
a human rights culture. It could do this by:
Advising UK ministers and the devolved
administrations of legislative and other measures that ought to
be taken to protect human rights.
Scrutinising legislative proposals
to ensure their compatibility with the Human Rights Act. This
could include assisting government departments and the devolved
administrations in "human rights proofing" policy proposals.
Monitoring the impact of the Human
Promoting understanding and awareness
of human rights by, for example, undertaking or commissioning
research or educational activities, and through publications.
Advising and assisting individuals
who claim to have had their human rights violated. This could
include bringing "test cases".
3. The relationship of a Human Rights Commission
to the JCHR is dealt with under Question 7 (on accountability).
4. The functions listed above (Question
1) are in broad order of priority.
5. If a Human Rights Commission is to be
established, we believe there are strong arguments in favour of
establishing one body covering England, Wales and Scotland (accepting
that there are separate arrangements in existence in Northern
Ireland). Firstly, the HRA itself covers the whole of the UK,
providing a common legislative framework. Secondly, the Act and
the values it enshrines are part of the "glue" that
binds our multi-cultural and increasingly diverse society together.
This commonality is particularly important following devolution,
which has seen the development of increasingly divergent public
authority cultures has seen the development of increasingly divergent
public authority cultures in the four constituent parts of the
UK. Establishing a common Human Rights Commission would help to
emphasise the shared nature of HRA values, and would maximise
the opportunities for joint working and for sharing information
and good practice.
6. The way any Human Rights Commission is
structured would, however, need to reflect the post-devolution
context. The existing equality commissions provide a useful model,
having separate offices in Wales and Commissioners with special
responsibility for Wales. The Commission would have a specific
role in scrutinising the Assembly and public authorities in Wales.
It would need to have a Welsh presence to command the confidence
of the people of Wales if it were to succeed in promoting a human
rights culture within Wales. Moreover, there are potential human
rights issues in relation to the Welsh language and culture that
are specific to Wales and to which the Commission would need to
bring an indigenous understanding. A single commission with an
office in Wales would be likely to be more cost-effective than
a separate commission for Wales.
7. There will, of course, need to be maximum
dialogue between a Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights
Commission, which must continue to exist as a result of the Good
Friday Agreement. Close co-operation between the two bodies would
acknowledge the commonality of the value enshrined in the HRA
across the whole of the UK.
8. There is probably little to be gained
in amalgamating the existing equality commissions (EOC, CRE and
DRC) with a Human Rights Commission. Despite possible economies
of scale, this could result in a lack of focus and the blurring
of priorities. This approach is also unlikely to find favour with
the existing equality commissions. The DRC in particular has not
yet had time to establish itself properly. The Northern Ireland
experience of establishing a Human Rights Commission alongside
other statutory bodies that have a role to play in upholding human
rights could provide a useful model for the rest of the UK, and
give clues to what kind of relationships work well and which less
9. The three commissions find it easy to
work together in Wales, and the National Assembly also enjoys
a good working relationship with them. We would hope that a new
Human Rights Commission could establish similarly constructive
relationships. In Wales, the Human Rights Commission would also
need to establish close links with the Welsh Language Board, and
with the new Children's Commissioner for Wales.
10. The Human Rights Commission would be
able to pursue discrimination cases under the HRA which the other
commissions cannot bring because of the limits of the legislation
under which they operatefor example, cases concerning discrimination
in residential care. This is one example of the way in which a
HRC could complement the work of the existing commissions.
11. The existing equality commissions provide
a model for the Human Rights Commission, especially where the
balance between independence and accountability is concerned.
The Commission must be regarded as being independent of Government
(and the Assembly). We therefore suggest that appointments might
follow the model of Ombudsmen. It would report to Parliament but
be accountable in financial terms only to it.
12. We would expect the Assembly to be able
to make recommendations for the appointment of a Commissioner/s
with responsibility for Wales.
13. We have no particular views on the level
of staffing for such a Commission. This would need a good deal
of more detailed discussion within and between the Government
14. We suggest that the Commission should
have the same four powers as the Northern Ireland Human Rights
to assist individuals who apply to
it for help in relation to proceedings in human rights law or
to bring proceedings involving human
rights law or practice;
to conduct such investigations as
it considers necessary or expedient;
to publish its advice and the outcome
of its research and investigations.
15. There are no other issues or considerations
that we wish to add.
17 July 2001