36. Memorandum from Trades
Union Congress (TUC)
The TUC welcomes the Committee's inquiry and
the opportunity to submit evidence on whether a Human Rights Commission
should be established for the UK.
The TUC represents 75 affiliated unions with
a total of nearly 6.8 million members. TUC affiliates range greatly
in size, and cover a wide variety of industries, sectors and occupations.
Some unions have members within the public sector who are directly
affected by the provisions of the Human Rights Act, whilst others
are working to foster a human rights culture in workplaces across
The TUC welcomed the enactment of the Human
Rights Act, which for the first time enabled UK workers to enforce
rights established under the European Convention on Human Rights
in the domestic courts.
The TUC supports the establishment of a free-standing
and independent Human Rights Commission to promote and protect
human rights. The remit of the Commission should include promoting
and strengthening the "human rights culture" within
the UK and in monitoring the impact of the Human Rights Act and
other human rights treaties in workplaces and throughout the wider
society. In undertaking this, the Commission should work alongside,
and in collaboration with, existing statutory bodies including
Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality,
the Disability Rights Commission and the Information Commission
Office. The TUC would not currently support the amalgamation of
the equality commissions or the Information Commission Office
with the Human Rights Commission for the reasons outlined below.
1. Why a Human Rights Commission and
what functions should it perform?
There are a number of public bodies which have
responsibility for promoting and enforcing human rights within
the United Kingdom, notably the equality commissions and the Information
Commissioner. Northern Ireland also has a free standing Human
Rights Commission, as well as one Equality Commission. In addition
to these statutory bodies, there are voluntary sector organisations
which promote human rights. Trade unions recognise that they have
an important role to play in encouraging and strengthening the
"human rights culture", through collective bargaining
and campaigning and on occasions, where other courses have been
exhausted, by representing their members' Convention rights through
When the Human Rights Act 1998 was enacted it
was not accompanied by an independent statutory body with a remit
to promote or protect human rights. While existing statutory and
voluntary organisations have already made an important contribution
to fostering a human rights culture within their respective fields,
their roles are necessarily limited by their statutory terms of
reference or non-statutory basis.
The TUC supports the proposal for the establishment
of an independent Human Rights Commission and would welcome the
opportunity to work closely with a Commission in advancing human
rights in the workplace. The closest which the UK comes to such
a body is the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is responsible
for considering and reporting to both Houses of Parliament on
human rights matters. While the Joint Committee makes a important
contribution to informing Parliament of human rights developments,
the TUC takes a view that it is not in a position to carry out
the important tasks of promoting and educating the public on human
rights issues beyond Westminster. The TUC therefore supports the
proposal for the establishment of a free-standing, independent
and adequately resourced body responsible for promoting and protecting
We believe that the Human Rights Commission
should have similar functions and powers to that of the equality
commissions and the Information Commissioner. These functions
(i) Promotion, Education and Research
To promote understanding and awareness
of human rights, including both individual and collective rights.
To carry out and publish research
and provide educational activities and training.
To provide advice to public authorities
and statutory bodies on complying with human rights.
To consult with national and international
bodies and agencies having knowledge or expertise in human rights.
To monitor the effect of the Human
Rights Act and other human rights legislation.
To review the adequacy and effectiveness
of existing UK law and practice on the promotion of human rights
and to advise Parliament of any legislative changes or other measures
necessary to protect human rights.
To make submissions to the Government
in relation to reports which the UK Government is required to
submit to international committees and bodies pursuant to human
rights treaty obligations, including the ILO and the Council of
To examine proposed legislation and
to advise the UK Government on whether it is compatible with all
human rights obligations.
In addition, the Commission could be granted
powers, similar to the equality commissions, to facilitate or
carry out investigations or inquiries where there may have been
a violation of human rights and to give assistance to individuals
or groups seeking legal redress for alleged violations of human
rights law through the courts or tribunals. These powers however
should be limited to providing support to individuals or groups
of individuals and not to companies or corporate bodies.
The TUC was disappointed that during the Parliamentary
consideration of the Human Rights Bill, the Government rejected
our proposals that trade unions should be granted locus standi
and be enabled to bring representative actions on behalf of individuals
who consider that their Convention rights have been violated in
the workplace. The TUC would ask the Joint Committee to consider
calling on the Government to revise the current legal regulations
in order to assist in the more effective protection of human rights
2. Relationship between the Joint Committee
and the Human Rights Commission
As already noted, the TUC recognises that the
Joint Committee on Human Rights has an important role to play
in the scrutiny of legislation and in providing a Parliamentary
overview on human rights issues. We believe that the role of a
Human Rights Commission, as outlined above would complement the
work of the Committee and strengthen the promotion of human rights
in the UK.
3. What priority should be given the
functions of the Commission?
We do not consider that it would be appropriate
to arrange the functions of the Commission in any order of priority.
The TUC does recognise however that the Human Rights Commission
would have a critical role in promoting understanding and awareness
of human rights throughout the UK through research and provide
educational activities and training.
4 & 5. Single jurisdiction or devolved
The Commission could have an important role
in ensuring that minimum human rights standards are observed and
that a consistent and co-ordinated approach to human rights is
adopted across the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the structure
of the Human Rights Commission should also reflect the newly devolved
6. Relationship between the Human Rights
Commission and other Bodies
As noted earlier, while the TUC supports the
proposal for the establishment of a free standing and independent
Human Rights Commission, we would not currently support the amalgamation
of the equality commissions or the Information Commission with
a Human Rights Commission.
We believe that the Human Rights Commission
should be responsible for developing a comprehensive and co-ordinated
strategy for the promotion of human rights in partnership with
existing bodies; taking lead responsibility for those aspects
of the Convention rights not covered by existing agencies; and
ensuring a consistent approach to human rights is adopted throughout
We are concerned that if the equality commissions
were to be subsumed into a Human Rights Commission, it would have
the effect of reducing the level of priority and funding provided
for promoting work on tackling discrimination and promoting equality
in the respective areas covered by the various equality commissions.
Current practice demonstrates the effectiveness
of collaborative working practices between the equality commissions.
We leave open the question of whether at any point in the future
there might be changes to the "equality infrastructure",
eg an amalgamation of existing equality commissions and extensions
to their remits. In any event, we would favour a free-standing
Human Rights Commission, working alongside the equality commission(s).
We believe that the promotion of equality and human rights issues
could be best achieved by close working relations between a Human
Rights Commission and the equality commissions. Joint working
between the Human Rights Commission and the various equality commissions
will be particularly important if Protocol 12 of the European
Convention is ratified.
7. Independence of the Human Rights Commission
In order to ensure its effective working, it
is essential that the independence of the Commission should be
protected and that it should be able to carry out its functions
without interference or undue influence.
The TUC takes the view that the Commission should
be a statutory body, with its powers and duties determined by
primary legislation. While the Government may request the Commission
to investigate any alleged violation of human rights, the Commission
should not be subject to the direction of Government. Further
the Commission could be required to report to the Joint Human
Rights Committee as opposed to a Government department.
The members of the Commission should be appointed
by the Crown, subject to the approval of Parliament. Commissioners
should only be dismissible by both Houses of Parliament. Commissioners
should be drawn from different sections of the community which
have an interest and which are particularly concerned with human
rights issues. Given the potentially wide-ranging application
and impact of Convention rights to the workplace, we would argue
that both trade unions and employers should be represented on
the Commission as is the case on the Northern Ireland Human Rights
It is important that from the outset the Commission
is adequately resourced in order to perform the functions outlined
9. Range of Powers
As outlined above, the TUC considers that the
Commission should be granted similar powers to those of the equality