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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: It is well established in human rights case law, international and domestic, that a fair balance must be struck between the rights of the individual, the rights of others and the rights and interests of the community at large. Nothing in any of the international instruments, the Muslim scholar notwithstanding, gets wrong the balance that must be struck and maintained. In authoritarian societies, there is danger of suggesting that the individual owes obligations to the state of a coercive kind as the price for, let us say, freedom of expression. That reactionary position is not accepted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as I understand it.
I am sure that it will be able better to inform the public, in the light of some of the more ignorant attacks on human rights and human rights instruments, that that is indeed a balanced charter of rights, not one with any absolutes. Even the right to life, one of the most fundamental rights, has never been interpreted as absolute in all circumstances. In the examples given by the noble Lord of terroristsor, I would say, child abusersthe Roma or any other citizen or non-citizen who abuses human rights, it is clear under all the international instruments that an abuse of human rights is not permissible. One is always trying to strike and maintain a fair balance.
When the Human Rights Act 1998 was born, ignorant and sometimes malicious attacks were made on it by some sections of the media, especially the tabloid media, suggesting that a right of privacy of a kind that would coerce them would come out of it. Headlines such as, "Charter for Crooks" were frequently bandied about by some sections of the media.
Our judiciary and, I daresay, the European judiciary have managed to strike and maintain a fair balance between the rights of the individual and the general interests of society. I know of no crazy case, even though the media predicted that the measure would lead to huge litigation and crazy cases. I have been unable to find any decision of an appellate court that has not struck a fair balance. Some would saythe noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, is among themthat the judiciary may have been more cautious than it might have been in the ways in which it has struck that balance.
I do not think that either in European or British case law or in the texts themselves there is any need to focus on the obligations of individuals in the sense suggested. It is all enshrined in the texts and case law. One of the valuable things about the commission is that it will explain better than I have done the fair balance that must be struck and maintained.
Lord Northbourne: The noble Lord, Lord Lester, always puts us right on the law. Surely there is an
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argument that most of us are not lawyers and are unaware of the case law. Constant reference to human rights without reference to responsibilities can be extremely misleading to ordinary people. My concern is the responsibility of parenthood and associated family issues. For that reason, I give a guarded welcome to the amendment or something along the same lines.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I say to the noble Lord, Lord de Mauley, that we agree that it is important for people to take their responsibilities seriously. That has framed a number of things that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said over the years. It certainly frames the respect agenda being pursued in the Home Office to ensure that people respect their communities.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, there is the concept of balancing human rights. They are not absolute but must be balanced against the rights of others and the wider interests of society. There is little to divide us. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, understandably raises the question of the responsibility of parenting. It is an issue that the noble Lord and I have discussed many times.
We are all in agreement, but the question is what the amendment would do. The difficulty is that it positions responsibilities as a means of earning human rights, and we cannot accept that as a way forward. In a sense, human rights represent the irreducible minimum of proper treatment that we accord to every member of our society and to every visitor to our shores. They are not earned, nor may they be unreasonably withheld.
I disagree with the terms of the amendment, in the sense that it could not be put into the same balancing scales, but I agree with the sentiment behind it. On that basis and in the hope that the commission will develop its programmes in a way to reflect what is suggested in the amendment, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord de Mauley: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for his comments, which are worthy of our careful consideration. I acknowledge what he said about the more extreme press comment. I said that education would be helpful. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his guarded support and helpful comments. I thank the Minister for her response, which I had anticipated. Although I may not entirely agree with her, this is not the time to press the point. Perhaps I shall rethink the wording. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) In determining what action to take in pursuance of children's human rights, the Commission must have particular regard to the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child."
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We are trying to achieve in this amendment the objectives we stated last Wednesday in dealing with Amendments Nos. 75 and 84. We seek to strengthen Clause 9(4) by inserting a further sentence stating that the commission should have "particular regard" to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in determining what action needs to be taken. I will not go on at length; as I said, everything that had to be said about this has already been said. I beg to move.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for raising this issue again. I understand her concern, as I understand the concern of my noble friend Lady David, to ensure that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and all of the issues connected with that are properly recognised within the commission. That wording is not in the Bill because it does not need to be. The noble Baroness will already have heard me talk about lists and my concern not to end up with a number of different conventions being mentioned. I suspect that, if we accepted this amendment, we would end up with a whole series of further amendments asking for the inclusion of other conventions or issues in the Bill.
As we have already indicated, it is very important that the commission take its responsibilities seriously. As the noble Baroness will know from my work on the Children Bill, I am a strong proponent of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I simply say that it does not need to be mentioned in the Bill for the reasons that I have given. That is not in any way to indicate that there is not a strong commitment to it; it is just that it does not need to be there. I resist the amendment because I do not want to end up with lists. It is on that basis that I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 93 seeks to deal with the involuntary isolation of communities. Currently, the text implies that communitiescomposed of individualsfind themselves isolated
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without having had any say in the matter; that is, involuntarily isolated. The more pressing problem for those of us who "cover" communities at great length, including vis-à-vis the "respect agenda", is that groups of peoplefor whatever reason, including religion, culture, race, socio-economic issuesstay together and choose segregation as an option. They do so very deliberately. They may not appreciate that by remaining as a segregated group they are becoming increasingly isolated. Hence, the aim of Clause 11(1)(d) would be better served through promoting the inclusion of all members of different communities.
The amendment came to my attention through the Commission for Racial Equality, which has done a lot of work. I as a member of the Muslim community, and particularly poignantly in the context of the events of the past week, have become much more aware of the problems that segregation can cause. We feel that the Bill's aim would be better served by rewording it in this manner. I beg to move.
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