Sun, 23 January 2022

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
Home affairs
Home affairs
Home affairs
Press releases

Lord Wallace: Tory pledge on Human Rights Act 'could plunge this country into a legal and constitutional crisis'

Lord Wallace: Tory pledge on Human Rights Act 'could plunge this country into a legal and constitutional crisis'
3 min read

Former Deputy First Minister of Scotland Lord Wallace of Tankerness writes ahead of his Lords debate today on Human rights and civil liberties in the UK.

During my time as Deputy First Minister of Scotland, I had the somewhat doubtful distinction of becoming the first government minister in the UK to be on the wrong end of a decision under the Human Rights Act. As a result I know first-hand of the value of that Act in giving British citizens the ability to challenge the state. The state has the power to improve people’s lives, but also the power to damage them. Such power should not operate in a vacuum – there must be a check on the state. The Human Rights Act provides this very powerful safeguard.

As the debate on the future of the Act progresses, it is essential that we do not focus only on the philosophical importance of our rights and freedoms, but that we also concentrate on the very real way in which the Human Rights Act has protected individual citizens against the arbitrary use of state power.



Human rights vs the surveillance state
Courts could be thrown into chaos as lawyers strike over cuts

The right to life has ensured justice for the families of victims of domestic violence. The right to liberty has ensured that people with mental health conditions are not unlawfully detained. Freedom of assembly has protected the rights of people to join trade unions. The right to family life has secured proper support from a local authority for a child with Down’s syndrome.

So which of these rights does the Government want to get rid of? What is it about the Human Rights Act that this Tory Government fears so much? Or is it part of a wider move by the Conservative Party to make it harder for those with legitimate reasons to challenge actually challenge the power of the state ahead of their planned cuts to benefits, proposals to sell of housing association properties and far reaching measures to allow the security service to keep people’s emails and other data?

In any case, it is clear that the Government has not given any serious thought into their plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Act is hardwired into the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement required a massive leap of faith from all parts of the community, and the assurances over human rights were – and remain – a central part of the peace process. This is not something that can be casually brushed aside.

The implications of the Tory manifesto commitment are at best a dog’s breakfast, and at worst could plunge this country into a legal and constitutional crisis. This is a fight we should not be having. The contract between the state and the public should be retained and enhanced, not diminished or swept away.

There are fundamental questions that need answered about the effect of repealing the Human Rights Act. The Lords’ debate may tell whether they have any coherent answers.

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.


Home affairs