Sadiq Khan’s article in Labour List is entitled “Papering over the cracks of a divided government”, here.
I think a central issue in this must be whether there are any meaningful moves to get rid of the Human Rights Act. Many agree that the problems with it have not so much been with the literal legislation of it, but its interpretation.
A number of different reasons have been proposed for extending the Human Rights Act to a Bill of Rights. These have been discussed by the legislature, and include,
i) To provide a means of balancing rights with responsibilities;
ii) To provide a framework for our shared national values as part of the Prime Minister’s “Britishness” agenda;
iii) To educate the public, by providing greater clarity for people about their rights and responsibilities;
iv) To provide greater ownership of the protected rights than is the case with the HRA;
v) To include some recognition of the importance of social and economic rights such as health and education; and
vi) To protect the weak and vulnerable against the strong and powerful.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (21 July 2008, 29th report) said at that point the following:
We regret that there is not greater clarity in the Government’s reasons for embarking on this potentially ambitious course of drawing up a Bill of Rights. A number of the Government’s reasons appear to be concerned with correcting public misperceptions about the current regime of human rights protection, under the HRA. We do not think that this is in itself a good reason for adopting a Bill of Rights. As we have consistently said in previous Reports, the Government should seek proactively to counter public misperceptions about human rights rather than encourage them by treating them as if they were true.
This must surely be a purpose of whatever government is in power and office now, surely? For example, Tom Hickman, of Blackstone Chambers, amongst other witnesses, to this Committee has apparently strongly disagreed that a Bill of Rights should be enacted purely because of perceived deficiencies in the HRA, if those deficiencies could be remedied by amending the Act itself.
I believe that the Labour and Liberal views could be reconciled, if Labour were to make its position much more in favour of civil liberties. The aforementioned Committee cites in the Report that:
We believe it is important that any UK Bill of Rights includes strong legal protections for freedoms such as freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and freedom from unwarranted intrusions on privacy, all of which are essentially negative liberties from state interference. For this reason, we believe any bill of rights should be called a UK Bill of Rights and Freedoms.
I have intuitively felt that a more natural political pact might have been between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, but I have long lost this battle. The fact that we are at least having a discussion about this, in an open way, must be good. I think we should, as a party, think about the direction in which we need to move on civil liberties (given the problems we had with ID cards, detention without trial, etc.), rather than our short-term electoral motives.