Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. Yes.
  (Mr Heaton) Legal co-ordination is a function which came across from the Cabinet Office and is now within LCD alongside Mark's policy responsibilities. We maintain a very regular and functional network of co-ordination contacts with lawyers in all Government departments and in all the devolved administrations. We put out a lot of information to them. We gather a lot of information from them. We run a website on the Government's secure intranet ("LION"). We put out guidance and we have a link to your own website. The last meeting we had inter-departmentally was last week. We have an emphasis on compliance because we are lawyers and you would expect us to but we found out very early on that compliance is not really a legal technical issue only, it very often strays into policy questions. We work out the sort of thinking that our policy colleagues ought to be engaged in about proportionality and so on and that is fed through to policy contacts via the legal network. We are an integral part of the Department although not part of Mark's unit. I hope that is helpful.

  Chairman: Thank you, that is very helpful.

  Mr Woodward: How many hot cases have there been?

  Lord Parekh: How hot?

Mr Woodward

  61. We are using your terminology. How many hot cases have there been?
  (Mr Heaton) If you are in the Home Office you would probably answer that in—

  62. How many hot cases to you? You are saying that you have asked them to identify hot cases and they should come to you. How many hot cases have been brought to you?
  (Mr Heaton) I have not got the precise figure but we are notified of roughly a dozen cases a month. We have running a schedule of monitored cases that we look at. People come to us at all sorts of levels. We have phone calls about a case; or a case that is so important it requires a different degree of consultation and we have to get people together to talk about this. We monitor cases at all sorts of levels.


  63. We, as a Committee, in our Seventh Report on the making of remedial orders made some recommendations about how declarations of incompatibility and subsequent action should be dealt with by Departments. When can we expect a formal reply to that report? The two month period elapsed on 18 February.
  (Mr Wills) I was just checking whether I could give you some very up-to-date information. I have to apologise for the delay on this, I am sorry. We needed to consult various interests and I am afraid that consultation is not completed. We will get it to you as soon as possible. I am sorry for the delay.

Baroness Prashar

  64. Can I move to a different area. I would like to hear what arrangements do you have for co-operation on human rights matter between the LCD and devolved administrations?
  (Mr Wills) It is in a sense a reserved matter but obviously a lot of the practical implementation of things, criminal justice for example, falls to the devolved administrations so there is fairly regular contact at official level. I am afraid not at my level, I have not had any contact at all, but at official level there is regular quarterly meetings, as I understand it, with the devolved administrations.

  65. Is that working well?
  (Mr Wills) My understanding is that it is working very well. Obviously there is a lot of comradely collaboration on this.

Mr Woodward

  66. Just parenthetically, it seems to me that the expectations of your Department and the amount of work that you have got, the number of reviews you have got, the number of hot cases you have got, and there are nine of you in the Department, it is a heck of a workload and a heck of an expectation. I am going to ask you now about another review. This time it is a review of the UK's position on human rights instruments in the light of the experience of the operation of the Human Rights Act. What exactly is going to be being looked at in it and why do you restrict the international comparisons only to the law and practice of other EU Member States? It seemed to us that there might be many other useful comparisons that could be drawn and would be very, very helpful to establishing a human rights culture, but they would be outside the EU.
  (Mr Wills) I will deal with your parenthesis first because it is very important. What I hope the Committee will have gathered from us is that we do have quite a challenging task of making priorities and ensuring that we can deliver what we can within what are inevitably constrained resources. The message about mainstreaming the responsibility and ownership in other Departments is critical in this respect, I would say. In relation to the question outside parenthesis, as it were, we are currently scoping this review. We want to be sure that we are getting it right, we are consulting NGOs on this, we have copied the letter to NGOs to the Clerk of this Committee and we very much welcome your views on this. In relation to the restriction to the EU, there are, I do not know how many members of the UN now, 180-plus or more, and inevitably we could cast this net very, very wide but in a sense we are trying to compare, as far as possible, with our closest colleagues and those with whom we in many ways have most in common. That seemed to me to be the most meaningful way of striking that comparison.

  67. Just a very quick question to follow-up before I hand back to the Chairman. When the Home Office completed the last review in March 1999 it said that there would be a further review conducted when the Human Rights Act had bedded down, those are the words that were used. In the light of the recent announcement that you have made and in the light of a number of things that you have said this morning, do you think that was a little bit optimistic to have thought back then in 1999 that it would have bedded down by about now? In a sense, is your review taking place in a culture in which you can say to us that the Human Rights Act has bedded down or do you think that has not happened yet?
  (Mr Wills) I would not want to sound complacent about it. I think it has bedded down. I think there have been quite considerable achievements. I think the fact that we can talk about the mechanisms in the way that we have today, that there is this network of consultation—

  68. Even though it has not bedded down enough, for example, to give the Disability Rights Commission the powers that are in the Act to do the work they wanted?
  (Mr Wills) There is the process in place for making sure that a proper decision is taken on that, making sure that human rights' application is applied equally to all the commissions. Now we are not going to get answers to everything. I would not define being bedded down as actually having this whole thing sorted out and put away and we do not need to worry about it any more, of course. It is our job to be constantly vigilant about making sure that this Act is effective.

  69. If you have given them that power then actually you may have learnt a lot about the powers that perhaps could be being given to the other equality commissions.
  (Mr Wills) We continue to learn all the time on that. I think the answer is that this seemed to me to be an appropriate time to conduct this review. There has been a lot of discussion about this. We constantly get letters about this issue. We did not want people to feel that we were just putting it off and using the bedding down of the Human Rights Act as an excuse just to put off engaging with these issues. They matter quite deeply to a lot of people who we are in dialogue with and we felt it was now an appropriate time. We could put it off for a very long time but we thought now was the right time to engage.

  70. Do you think the review should look at whether it was right to have made that decision about the Disability Rights Commission?
  (Mr Wills) I think I have already answered that question.


  71. On the back of that, Minister, the Government, through the Cabinet Office, recently issued a consultation paper on the future of the equality commissions and the implementation of the European equality directives. We were very surprised to see it made absolutely no mention even of the idea of a Human Rights Commission, particularly puzzling as there was frequent reference to this during the passing of the Act. Do you have any explanation for that?
  (Mr Wills) As I understand it, and I think we would agree with this, the Cabinet Office view is that at this stage we should be looking at what sort of outcomes we want this consultation to produce, the best way of implementing this. I think it might be premature to look at mechanisms. Certainly at this stage nothing is ruled in or ruled out, including the Human Rights Commission, neither ruled in nor ruled out I think is the way we would describe it.

  Chairman: Finally on resources, Mr Woodward.

Mr Woodward

  72. If I could just perhaps follow on that, Chairman. Would you regard then a Human Rights Commission only as a mechanism?
  (Mr Wills) A Human Rights Commission?

  73. Yes?
  (Mr Wills) As a mechanism?

  74. I am taking your words now. Would you regard it only as a mechanism? I would argue that a Human Rights Commission is a huge statement about establishing a culture of human rights which embraces equality and discrimination and all those sorts of things. In not including it, as the Chair has just said, does that not say something, perhaps, about the scope which the Government is prepared to think in terms of whether or not it wants to really get on with the business of establishing a culture of human rights?
  (Mr Wills) No, I do not think so. It has not been ruled out at all. Certainly I agree with you, I do not think anything is only a mechanism.

  75. Okay.
  (Mr Wills) There is value in promoting human rights mechanisms and institutions and they do make statements.

  76. Let me bring you back finally back—
  (Mr Wills) I do not think this is the only way we can make a statement about the value of human rights in our society, if I may say.

  77. Let me finally bring you back to the question of mechanisms and one of the most important mechanisms, and I am not talking about spin, is public relations and promotion. Looking at the memorandum you sent us, your delegated budget for this year is about £370,000 excluding publicity. Can you tell us how much was spent on publicity in the last year?
  (Mr Wills) I will have to write to you with the precise figure. I do not want to raise your hopes.

  78. It is in the tens of thousands? It is in the lower tens?
  (Mr Wills) It is not going to be very substantial.

  79. The comparison I would ask you just to draw for a moment, just a couple of examples, the Department of Health spent on a campaign about organ donation last year half a million and on rough sleepers half a million. If we really want to establish a culture of human rights, clearly we are not going to do it just through spin and public relations and advertising, of course I am not saying that. Just taking a comparison with other departments, and of course it is about mainstreaming but nonetheless to get this culture of human rights up there and out there, do you think you have an adequate budget to promote maybe this culture of human rights? It is a yes or no?
  (Mr Wills) I do not think you would ever find a spending minister thinking that they had an adequate budget.

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 17 December 2002