Bill of Rights report response published

19 January 2009

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights today publishes, with comment, the Government’s response to its report on a UK Bill of Rights, ahead of a scheduled session with Justice Minister Jack Straw on January 20 to further explore the Government’s plans for the major new constitutional statement

The Committee notes that the Government has agreed with a number of its recommendations, particularly in recognising the place for developing social, economic and environmental rights in an enduring constitutional document such as a Bill of Rights. It also welcomes the Government’s acknowledgment of the "universality" of rights, separate from the fact that certain more specific rights and entitlements within the UK may depend on nationality and immigration status.

However it calls on the Government to end repeated delays in publishing a green paper on the new Bill of Rights, saying:

"Further postponement will severely undermine confidence in the seriousness of the Government’s intent or the clarity of its thinking. It is now 18 months since the possibility of a consultation on a UK Bill of Rights was first suggested in the Prime Minister’s statement to Parliament on constitutional reform. Although the issues are complex, it should not be beyond the wit of a well-resourced Government to produce an intelligent discussion paper if it knows its own mind. The recently elected Australian Government has shown that where there is a clear political will there is a way”.

The Committee also calls on the Government to appoint an independent committee to conduct a national consultation on a UK Bill of Rights and urges it to introduce a Bill this session to give effect to a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland as envisaged in the Good Friday agreement.

Committee Chair Andrew Dismore MP said

"We are pleased that the Government has accepted a number of our recommendations and seems to broadly accept the direction that we think a UK Bill of Rights should go in. However, there are some things though that remain very unclear, such as the role of 'responsibilities' in the Bill - we hope it will be an aspirational document and not based on some idea that rights are a 'reward' for certain behaviour. This is why it is important that the Government now promptly set out its thinking in the long awaited Green Paper and wastes no more time in setting up an independent committee to consult the public."

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