Members of the House of Lords debated the 2012 report from the Commission on a British Bill of Rights, yesterday (Thursday 20 June)
Lord Lester of Herne Hill (Liberal Democrat), opened the debate. As a member of the Commission, he welcomed the chance to debate the report and confirmed his own position in favour of 'carefully considered constitutional reform if, but only if, it strengthens rather than weakens effective protection.' He also insisted that the UK should remain 'bound by the convention and the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.'
Lord Faulks (Conservative), also a member of the Commission, spoke about what he termed 'the extraordinary cost of human rights' - both in terms of legal action and ensuring compliance - and asked for further information on these costs 'in an area which has much in common with our overreaction to the requirements of health and safety or even the Data Protection Act.'
Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws (Labour), the third member of the Commission to speak, concentrated on party politics, identifying the Bill of Rights as, 'an issue on which the parties to the coalition were deeply divided.' She spoke of the difficulty of reconciling 'distinct beliefs about the reach and purpose of human rights', and reiterated her position that the UK should continue to work within the European Convention and the European Court - even 'to contemplate decoupling... would be folly in the extreme.'
Lord Woolf (Crossbench), QC and former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, identified the only argument in favour of a British Bill of Rights as its potential to 'improve the public's confidence in this area.' He warned of the dangers of human rights being considered an irrelevance and said: 'We must do everything that is practical and possible at the moment to ensure that the British public take possession of human rights.'
Lord McNally (Liberal Democrat), responded on behalf of the government and welcomed the debate. He spoke of human rights and civil liberties as principles which are 'deeply rooted in the history of the people of this country' and reassured the members of the Commission that their report would prove valuable for 'any political party looking forward and working on its policy on this issue.'