In Europe - Supporting Human Rights

Simon Hughes’ speech to the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference 2014

 

We are rightly today highlighting why Liberal Democrats are the leading political party for IN the EU.

But for too long we have not strongly enough made the argument setting out the good reasons for our continued commitment to the European Convention and Court of Human Rights.

In the context of all the current attacks on anything European, we must take the opportunities of all this year’s elections and all our campaigning up to the General Election to win the argument that international standards for human rights are good for all of us.

Next year, June 2015 is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Since the last world war we have drafted, signed up to, ratified and enacted into domestic law the European Convention on Human Rights. We have continued the process begun nearly 800 years ago to put in written form an enforceable statement of the rights and liberties that we should all enjoy.

I have a briefing here, which the Ministry of Justice helpfully provided when I arrived in the department. It says:

“We have agreed in the context of the Coalition Agreement that the obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to be enshrined in UK law.
“While the Coalition parties have expressed views on policy directions they may wish to consider in the future, the Coalition Agreement makes it clear there will be no major changes to the human rights framework before the election.”

There may be siren voices from the other side of the Coalition, indeed some in the Ministry of Justice, who would have you believe that it is better to abandon this international commitment.

But we must most strongly reject these dangerous calls.

Liberal Democrats in the UK should be arguing for the highest standards of human rights and justice. For all countries. Not just international obligations for everybody living in the UK but for people in all other countries of Europe - and particularly at a time when the rights and liberties of people in some other countries are so regularly under threat.

Conference, can I remind you what are included in the fundamental rights and freedoms safeguarded by the convention:

The right to life
Freedom from torture
Freedom from slavery
The right to liberty
The right to a fair trial
The right to respect for private and family life
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

I do not believe a single rational person in this country would not say that these are rights and freedoms that we should all be able to enjoy and insist on.

I believe every rational person would support, for example, the right of people to wear a cross round their neck, including when at work and the right of journalists to protect their sources.

 

I want us to make the case for each and every one of the European Convention rights we have signed up to.

As individuals and as a party, we should have no less an ambition than to turn round the all-too-strong current opinion that the European Convention on Human Rights is a bad and dangerous foreign interference.

In the next few weeks Lib Dems will launch a 15 month campaign in support of Human Rights in Britain and for all the people in Britain.

Friends, in national politics, clearly and unequivocally on these issues we must take on UKIP. We must take on those far too many Conservatives who disagree with us. And we must take on those in the media who seek to misrepresent the benefit of an international standard of human rights for all people in this country.

 

For the sake of families in my constituency and yours, for the sake of our friends in Ukraine battling for their democratic freedoms, for the sake of gay people in Russia seeking equal treatment before the law, for the sake of a civilised Europe, we have to take the lead.

Please start campaigning now to win the argument.

We must be the party of IN for the EU.

But we must also be the party of IN the European Court of Human Rights.

We must be the party of IN the European Convention on Human Rights.

We must be the party of IN the Council of Europe.

Conference, we must start the campaign now.