UK Politics

MPs block Human Rights Act repeal bid

MPs have defeated a bid by a Tory MP to scrap the Human Rights Act.

Richard Bacon said the act had been used by the European Court of Human Rights to influence British law, which was "fundamentally undemocratic".

But Labour's Thomas Docherty said Mr Bacon had misunderstood the legal impact of the act and praised it as one of Labour's most important reforms during government.

MPs voted against Mr Bacon's 10-minute rule bill by 195 to 72.

It will therefore make no further parliamentary progress.

Mr Bacon told MPs unelected judges in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg had too much power.

A number of MPs are unhappy with a ruling by the ECHR which says the UK's blanket ban on prisoner voting is a breach of human rights.

'Fundamental human rights'

He said: "A supra national court can impose its will against ours and, in my view, this is fundamentally undemocratic.

"Judges do not have access to a tablet of stone not available to the rest of us that allow them better to discern what our people need than we can possibly do as their elected, fallible, corrigible representatives.

"There is no set of values so universally agreed we can appeal to them as a useful final arbiter. In the end, they will always be shown up as either uselessly vague or controversially specific.

"In the end, questions of major social policy - whether on abortion, or capital punishment, or the right to bear firearms, or workers' rights - should be decided by elected representatives, and not by unelected judges."

However, Labour's Thomas Docherty argued that Mr Bacon had misunderstood the legal impact of the act.

Ultimately, the European court had jurisdiction in the UK, not because of the Human Rights Act, but because of the UK's membership of the European Convention on Human Rights, he said.

Repealing the act would therefore not achieve Mr Bacon's aims, the Labour MP concluded.

Mr Docherty also defended the act in its own right, saying it guaranteed fundamental rights to British citizens - including the right to life and a prohibition on torture.

"To turn our back, to tear up, to cast aside this bill that enshrines into law those fundamental human rights which we ask others to respect would remove the legitimacy of our position," he said.

"The strongest argument against repeal is this is the decade in which we hope to welcome more countries, particularly our neighbours to the east of Europe and Asia and to the south of Europe, into the families of democratic, civilised nations.

"How can we ask developing countries, the new democracies, to respect human rights when we seek to remove them from our statute book?"

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