Work of the Committee in 2008-09 - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The state of human rights in the UK

1.  Serious, sustained allegations that the UK has received information from countries which routinely use torture, or has been more actively complicit in torture carried out by others, puts the UK's international reputation as an upholder of human rights and the rule of law on the line. (Paragraph 15)

2.  We have consistently argued that the system of control orders, by which the activities of terrorism suspects who have not been prosecuted can be regulated and curtailed, is bound to lead to breaches of the ECHR, particularly because people subject to control orders are not given the details of the case against them. In a series of judgments during the session, the courts have reached broadly similar conclusions, culminating in decisions of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and the House of Lords, which have caused the whole system to unravel. (Paragraph 16)

3.  The Government is, of course, to be commended for introducing the Human Rights Act; but too often subsequently there has been a lack of leadership to use the Act to its full potential, ensure that public bodies promote human rights as well as do the minimum necessary to comply with the legislation, and respond to court judgments which have narrowed the scope of the Act from what Parliament originally intended. (Paragraph 20)

4.  We are concerned that human rights will again become a political football, with serious debate on the choices facing the UK kept on the touchline in favour of noisy recitals of the myths and distortions with which we are so familiar. Politicians on all sides must be clear about what they intend to do and the practical impact of their proposals. We would oppose any suggestion that rights encompassed in the Human Rights Act should no longer be protected or should not be enforced in UK courts, or that the UK need not fully comply with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. (Paragraph 21)

5.  Whatever decisions are taken on the shape of the human rights framework in the UK, we are of the view that Parliament, Government and the people we serve will continue to benefit from a dedicated human rights committee with an unflinching focus on whether human rights are being protected and promoted sufficiently in the UK (Paragraph 22)

Pre-and-Post legislative scrutiny

6.  We draw to the attention of both Houses the Government's undertaking, in 2006, that a coroner may refuse to suspend an inquest in favour of an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 if he reasonably believes that the inquiry will not comply with Article 2 of the ECHR (Paragraph 29)

7.  We welcome requests from members of the public to investigate Government policy or practice which may not comply with the UK's human rights obligations (although bearing in mind that we cannot investigate individual cases). Where time allows, we will endeavour to take up matters within our remit with the Government and to provide a response to those who raise matters with us explaining the action we intend to take or the reasons why we have decided not to act. (Paragraph 31)

8.  We look forward to receiving the fruits of this work: scrutiny of the Finance Bill is central to the work of Parliament and we require additional information than that which is normally provided in order to perform our scrutiny role properly (Paragraph 33)


9.  During the session we reported on nine bills before Report stage in the first House and one before Second Reading in the second House. (Paragraph 34)

Recurring themes

10.  We welcome the Government's willingness to amend the Marine and Coastal Access Bill to meet our concerns about compliance with Article 6 of the ECHR in the light of the Tsfayo judgment. We look to the Government to build on its approach to dealing with Tsfayo in this context in future legislation. (Paragraph 37)

Quality of explanatory notes

11.  Following the example set by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with the Marine and Coastal Access Bill and the Government Equalities Office with the Equality Bill, Ministers should provide us with a redacted version of the human rights memorandum circulated within Government when a bill is introduced. We recommend that Government guidance on the introduction of legislation should be amended to give effect to this proposal in time for the first session of the new Parliament. (Paragraph 42)

Committee amendments to Government Bills

12.   We look forward to the House of Commons being given the opportunity to agree that amendments to bills (and motions) can be tabled in the name of a select committee, as long as the amendments have been agreed formally without division at a quorate meeting (or, in the case of a joint committee, by a quorum of Commons Members). We also welcome the Procedure Committee's recommendation that committee amendments should have priority in selection for decision under programming. (Paragraph 44)

13.  We particularly welcome and endorse that Committee's view that "there should be a presumption that no major group [of amendments] should go undebated". (Paragraph 45)

Civil Society input into legislative scrutiny work

14.   The House of Commons should be given an early opportunity to debate changes to procedure arising from the report of the Wright Committee, including a new approach to the allocation of time for Report stage debates which will enable the Commons to debate legislation more thoroughly than is often possible at present. (Paragraph 45)

15.  We welcome engagement with members of the public, NGOs and others about the human rights issues raised in bills. (Paragraph 46)

16.  The publication in draft of the Government's legislative programme has helped us plan our work and attract more civil society input and should now be regarded as a routine part of the legislative cycle. (Paragraph 47)

UN Convention against torture

17.  This formulation of the Government's view, which we had not previously encountered, does not assuage our concern that the UK may be in systematic and regular receipt of information obtained by torture overseas and may, as a result, be "complicit" in torture as that term is defined in the relevant international standards. An overseas security agency may well use torture without being encouraged to do so by the fact that the information thereby obtained ends up in London. In any event, it is unlikely that the UK Government would come to know or believe that its receipt of such information was acting as an encouragement to torture. (Paragraph 60)

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