Yesterday at full council my motion challenging Conservative Plans to scrap the Human Rights Act was passed by 90 votes to 4. The first time I can recall Labour voting for an unamended motion from a non-Labour councillor. An achievement in itself.
However the importance of the purpose was not apparent to Cllr Paul Taylor (Brandon), who in my view humiliated himself and his party when he seconded my speech on behalf of the Labour group.
His speech was basically a triade against the Lib Dems. He overran his time, shouting down the Labour chairman of the Council with total disrespect, and showed absolutely no understanding of the importance of the issue at hand.
The fact that Labour allowed Cllr Taylor to be the person to second my motion could be seen as a triumph for free speech. The irony though was that far from showing that Labour supported my challenge against the Conservative plans to set their own levels for human rights, what it actually showed was that in County Durham Labour are still stuck in the past. Trible politicians incapable of working with others for the greater good without chucking in some backstabbing.
I would fight alongside Cllr Taylor to protect his human rights and right to free speech. Free speech which allows me to say that his behaviour was appalling and his speech degrading. If I were a County Durham Labour councillor I would be deeply embarrassed this morning. Thankfully I am not and my motion was passed – one little success in the fight to protect our human rights. I hope every council in the country does the same.
The Human Rights Act enshrines a number of fundamental rights and freedoms that individuals can access.
Council believes these fundamental rights & freedoms are crucial for a fair, free & democratic society & that everyone in County Durham and across UK is entitled to have these rights respected, even when we disagree with their beliefs or actions.
Council further notes that, at a time when we are honouring those who fought in the Second World War and the purpose for which so many lost their lives defending our liberty and freedoms, we reject the Government’s proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Council therefore resolves to:-
- Reject the intentions of the current Government to repeal the Human Rights Act & replace it with a bill of rights.
- To write to the Home Secretary & the Justice Secretary to express opposition to any attempt to repeal this Act.
The atrocities of World War II revealed to the world what a government can do to its own people when there are no limits on state power. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, set down in stone the basic rights and freedoms we all have as human beings. It set the limits below which no state should go and helped formulate the European Convention on Human Rights.
These are protections like the right to life, to liberty, freedom of expression, and the right to a fair trial.
These human rights are not a privilege or within the gift of governments; they are the basic minimums every person should have, and which every government is responsible for upholding.
You know, for a long time the only way people in this country could access these rights was to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, after repeated appeals in the UK
Our Human Rights Act allows anyone to claim these rights in any UK Court and be heard by British judges.
The Act also places an obligation on us as councillors and on this authority as a whole to respect and protect County Durham residents’ human rights in all that we do.
The Conservatives want to scrap the Human Rights Act & replace it with a British Bill of Rights. They want to be able to set the level of our human rights. They want to demand that the role of the European Court of Human Rights be reduced to an “advisory” role. If the court refused to accept the plan, Britain would resign as a member.
You cannot dictate to a supra-national court. Human rights and the European Court sit above national governments.
They are removed from the interference of the state precisely to avoid a return to the horrors of the Hitler regime and the Second World War.
This government seeks to erode our rights by using the language of fear, the illusion of necessity, goaded on by a right wing press hell bent on hating everything European.
And the result if the Tories get their way?
It is unthinkable. We would be saying that as a country we do not believe in universal human rights, we only believe in British human rights.
The damage to the UK’s reputation would be immense.
Despotic regimes using our example, setting their own levels of human rights. The erosion of rights worldwide slowly shattered as each country decides for itself what human rights are allowed, who is protected and who is not.
Now there are members of the Conservative party and the right wing press who will talk of scaremongering, but consider this, and lets bring it down to the nuts and bolts of day to day living.
The only other country in Europe not signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights is Belarus, where you can be dismissed from a job with absolutely no justification needing to be given.
Does anyone think that that doesn’t appeal to some right wingers in the Conservative Party?
Equally, there are countries in the world where political parties see property as theft!
Imagine politicians in government who would like to take away your home simply because you have more money than someone else.
Does anyone think that is not a possibility under a future far left wing government?
Those seeking to erode our human rights should think long and hard because one day it could be their rights which are taken away. Their stately home and duck pond confiscated.
Now we all know that it can be difficult talking about human rights in the context of immigration, of terrorism, of horrendous crimes.
And of course you can be annoyed about the kinds of decisions the law throws up. But I would rather be annoyed, even infuriated, to be safe in the knowledge that my freedom of beliefs, my freedom of expression, my human rights, are protected.
Universal means all of us including those you hate.
Human rights are the rules which all governments should follow. There is no choice for our government. No half way house. The Human Rights Act is our safety net. It is the cornerstone of our democracy.
Any move that takes the UK away from these universal standards risks what protects us all. Both in this country and overseas.
So Theresa May, Michael Gove, David Cameron, I am using my right to free speech to tell you: There are no levels when it comes to human rights. They are inalienable. They are universal. Keep your hands off them.
Fellow councillors support this joint motion and send the message that we will not allow this Tory government to destroy the system that protects us and the residents of County Durham and will never allow them to destroy our reputation as a fair, free and open society.
Thank you Chairman.