The Work of the Committee in 2007-08 - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

4  Thematic inquiries and other work

Core task 1: examination of policy proposals

57. As discussed in the preceding chapter, a central element of our work is the examination of policy proposals in Government bills to assess their compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK's international human rights obligations. We have already commented on several aspects of this work, including our scrutiny of Government counter-terrorism policy, on which we published seven substantive reports during the session; our ongoing work on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and follow-up to our 2006 and 2007 reports on human trafficking.

Core task 2: emerging policy

58. Our thematic inquiries have generally dealt with areas where human rights concerns have not been adequately taken into account in the development of policy. We published a substantial report in February into the human rights of adults with learning disabilities, including in easy read and audio versions. The report drew on some of the findings from our inquiry into older people in healthcare as well as considering issues such as independent living and the criminal justice system. We are currently seeking an opportunity to debate this report in Westminster Hall.

59. During the spring and summer we undertook a major inquiry into the Government's emerging proposals to introduce a Bill of Rights for the UK. Our report was published in August and made the case for the introduction of economic and social rights. We also questioned the validity of linking rights and responsibilities. We intend to follow up this report once the Government's Green Paper is published.

Core task 3: draft bills

60. Our pre-legislative scrutiny work is dealt with in paragraphs 35-37 above.

Core task 4: specific output from the department

61. We pay close attention to the work of the Human Rights Division in the Ministry of Justice and the minister in that department with responsibility for human rights policy. We have called the Secretary of State for Justice and the Human Rights Minister to give oral evidence on human rights policy and related matters (such as the Government's Bill of Rights proposal) in January 2009. Other examples of work in this area include our scrutiny of the Government's proposal to extend the maximum period of pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects to 42 days (see paragraph 35); our report on the use of restraint in secure training centres, which was debated in the House of Lords in July (see paragraph 34); our scrutiny of the Government's response to adverse human rights judgments (see paragraph 67); and our report on data protection and human rights (see paragraph 42).

Core tasks 7 and 8: scrutiny of relevant public bodies and major appointments

62. Our predecessors in the last Parliament led the campaign for the establishment of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and we have taken a close interest in its launch, in October 2007, and its early work. We met informally with Commissioners at a working lunch hosted by the EHRC in January and heard oral evidence from Trevor Phillips, the Chairman of Commissioners, in October. The EHRC has been represented at our mini-conferences and awayday and has contributed written evidence to a number of our inquiries.

63. The Commons Liaison Committee has agreed arrangements for Commons Committees to hold pre-appointment hearings with candidates for certain high-level public offices after a 'preferred candidate' has been selected but before the appointment is confirmed. We proposed that the Chairman of the EHRC should be added to the list of appointments subject to this new procedure and we look forward to the Committee being involved in this process at some point in the future.

64. Last year we indicated that we would consider approaching the appropriate authorities in both Houses to add the word "equality" to our remit to confirm that we could scrutinise the work of the EHRC. Following further consideration of this issue, and in the light of the scrutiny relationship we have developed with the Commission, we decided not to pursue this matter.

65. We have continued to maintain contacts with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and visited the Commission in October. We will pay close attention to the Commission's advice to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and on the progress made with this initiative in the new session.

Core task 9: implementation of legislation and major policy initiatives

66. Much of our thematic work has been concerned with the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights in specific areas (for example, older people in healthcare) or the impact of particular legislative provisions which have raised human rights concerns (for example in relation to asylum seekers).

67. Our work in scrutinising the Government response to adverse judgments by the European Court of Human Rights as well as declarations of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act by domestic courts relates to core task 9. We aim to scrutinise all the relevant cases by asking the relevant department how they intend to act and then reporting on the adequacy of the Government's response. We published a report in October dealing with around 20 issues. We continue to scrutinise both outstanding and new cases, as and when they emerge. Our work in this area has been held up as a model for other parliaments to emulate by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.[59]

68. Our 2007 report on human rights judgments also dealt with systemic issues, relating, for example, to the co-ordination of action dealing with adverse European Court of Human Rights judgments within Whitehall and the provision of information to Parliament. In our view, these are crucial to improving the Government's disappointing record on dealing with such judgments in a timely fashion. In our last annual report we drew attention to the Government's failure to respond to these recommendations, although seven months had then elapsed since the publication of our report. Despite repeated requests the Government had still not responded by the time we published our 2008 report, in which we called for a response to the outstanding recommendations from 2007 by the end of the 2007-08 session. The Government failed to respond within that timescale. We draw the attention of both Houses to the Ministry of Justice's failure to respond to recommendations in our 2007 Report on human rights judgments concerning the co-ordination of action within Government in response to adverse judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and the provision of information on such matters to Parliament. The Report was published in June 2007 and the department's response to these recommendations is now 16 months late. A delay of this length is entirely unacceptable and we will be questioning the Secretary of State about the reasons for it when he gives oral evidence in January.

Core task 10: debates in the House

69. Occasions on which our reports were listed on the House of Commons Order Paper as relevant to a debate are set out in table 4 below.Table 4: House of Commons debates to which JCHR Reports and other material was 'tagged' to indicate relevance[60]
DateDebate JCHR Report etc "tagged"
3 December 2007Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill, Consideration[61] Correspondence
13 DecemberWestminster Hall debate on JCHR Treatment of Asylum Seekers Report 10th Report, 2006-07
9 January 2008Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill: Consideration Correspondence
16 JanuaryOpposition Day debate on human trafficking 26th Report, 2005-06, 21st Report, 2006-07 and 4th Report, 2007-08
18 FebruaryHealth and Social Care Bill, Consideration 8th Report, 2007-08
21 FebruaryMotion to approve the draft Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in Force of sections 1 to 9) Order 2008 10th Report, 2007-08
13 MarchWestminster Hall debate on Older People in Healthcare Report 18 th Report, 2006-07
1 AprilCounter-Terrorism Bill, Second Reading 2nd, 9th, and 10th Reports, 2007-08
12 MayHuman Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords], Second Reading 15th Report, 2007-08
13 MayEducation and Skills Bill: Consideration 19th Report, 2007-08
13 MayMotion to consider Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules Oral evidence
21 MayRegulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [Lords], Second Reading 17th Report, 2007-08
2 JunePlanning Bill, Consideration Correspondence
10 and 11 JuneCounter-Terrorism Bill, Consideration 2nd, 9th, 10th, 20th and 21st Reports, 2007-08 and correspondence
23 JuneMotion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25 Order) 2008 2nd, 19th and 20th Reports, 2007-08
8 OctoberChildren and Young Persons Bill [Lords], Consideration 15th Report, 2007-08

70. As the table shows, our Reports on the treatment of asylum seekers and the human rights of older people in healthcare were debated in Westminster Hall during the year.

71. Our reports are frequently listed on the House of Lords Order Paper as relevant to debates on the stages of bills and were frequently cited in debate.[62] In addition, our Report on the use of restraint in secure training centres was debated on the floor of the House on 22 July and our Report on human rights judgments was debated in Grand Committee on 24 November.[63]

59   Implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights - Issues currently under consideration, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, AS/Jur (2007) 49 rev, 26 Nov 07, paras 9, 17 and Annex 1. Back

60   With thanks to Kesang Ball for preparing this information. Back

61   Consideration is the formal term for "Report stage". Back

62   See paragraph 51. Back

63   HL Deb, 22 Jul 08, cc1659-75 and 24 Nov 08, cc123-44GC. Back

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Prepared 26 January 2009