Holyrood Will Not Support Human Rights Act Axe, Warns Nicola Sturgeon

23 September 2015, 06:00 | Updated: 23 September 2015, 12:34

Nicola Sturgeon has said it is "inconceivable'' that Holyrood would consent to Tory plans to scrap the Human Rights Act.

The First Minister said any move to repeal the Act would be a "monumental mistake'' and would face cross-party opposition in the Scottish Parliament.

She also made clear that the Scottish Government would have "no interest'' in any deal at Westminster that would protect rights in Scotland but weaken them in other parts of the UK.

The Conservative UK Government has pledged to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights.

The Scottish Government opposes the move and Ms Sturgeon reiterated that she will urge Holyrood to withhold consent for the abolition of the Act in Scotland.

The SNP leader was joined by human rights campaigner and director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti for an address to civic organisations at the Pearce Institute in Glasgow.

She said that while the Act was reserved legislation, rights under the European Convention on Human Rights were embedded in the devolution settlement.

She said: "Human rights itself is a devolved issue.

"That means that any attempt to amend the Human Rights Act is likely, in our view, to require the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament.

"It is inconceivable in my opinion, given the support which the Act commands across the Scottish Parliament, that such consent would be granted.

"Let me make absolutely clear today, the Scottish Government will certainly advocate that it is not granted.''

Ms Sturgeon added: "The Scottish Government will also oppose any weakening of human rights protections, not just in Scotland but across the whole of the UK.

"There have been rumours, and I've no idea whether the rumours are true, that the UK Government will try to somehow carve Scotland out of what they are trying to do with the Human Rights Act.

"Let me be clear about this. We would have no interest and no truck whatsoever in doing a deal at Westminster which leaves rights intact here in Scotland but dilutes them in other parts of the country, or as is perhaps more likely, protects human rights on devolved issues but not on reserved issues.

"To put it bluntly, there are no circumstances in which my party's MPs will choose to view this as an English only issue and opt to abstain.

"Human rights are not English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish rights.

"They are universal rights.''

Ms Sturgeon said she believed there was a "real chance of success'' for those who want the Act to be retained.

She added: "The current UK Government has a small majority and there is no guarantee of unanimous support on its own benches.

"So repeal of the Act isn't inevitable.''

The First Minister said the Scottish Government would be prepared to work with "anyone and everyone'' to stop the Act being repealed, including members of the Conservative Party.

She told the audience that scrapping the Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, ''addresses no obvious problem'', would create legal confusion and "diminish the UK's reputation overseas''.

The Scottish Government would continue to promote human rights in its approach to issues such as the refugee crisis, trade union legislation and healthcare services, she said.

"The cause of human rights is also the cause of social justice,'' Ms Sturgeon added.

"That is why diluting the protections of the Human Rights Act will cause the most harm to those who most need help.

"And it is why, if the UK Government sets out proposals to do that, the Scottish Government will be vigorous and vociferous in our opposition.''

Ms Chakrabarti said: "The First Minister of Scotland shows international leadership today. She vows to defend the Human Rights Act, the European Convention on Human Rights and the vulnerable against the powerful everywhere - including refugees.

"Her message leaves no room for doubt. Policies of divide and rule must not succeed in stripping us of our universal rights and freedoms.''

The Scottish Government has been called on to review its position on votes for prisoners in order to "credibly'' oppose plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.

It took the decision to oppose granting convicted prisoners the vote in last year's referendum on Scottish independence.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that a blanket ban on prisoners voting is a breach of human rights.

Addressing the question, Ms Sturgeon said: "As we get more responsibility for the franchise more generally of course we will have to consider the issue of prisoner voting. We haven't got any proposals to put forward at this stage but that is something that we will continue to consider.

"Clearly it's incumbent on all governments not just to talk the language of human rights, but not just on this issue but on all issues to make sure that that's reflected in our decision-making as well.''

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The UK has a proud tradition of respect for human rights which long pre-dates the Human Rights Act.

"This Government was elected with a mandate to reform and modernise the UK human rights framework and a British Bill of Rights will protect fundamental human rights but also prevent their abuse and restore some common sense to the system.

"We will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act this autumn and these will be subject to a full consultation, including with the devolved administrations.''