24 June 2015

Gove: "in this parliament, human rights are a reserved matter"

Thanks to Jack of Kent, who alerted me to the House of Commons justice questions which took place yesterday.  A couple of SNP MPs took the opportunity to ask the Lord Chancellor about his government's repeal plans. Michael Gove indicated that he is due to meet the SNP Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, next week. But new Aberdeen North MP, Kirsty Blackman, went on, putting the following to him: 

"The Minister will be aware that the Scottish Parliament voted by 100 votes to 10 to endorse the Human Rights Act last year, and that parties representing 58 of the 59 Scottish Westminster seats are against the repeal. Will the Minister make a commitment to not imposing the repeal on Scotland against the will of our people?"

 Gove's reply is remarkable. 

"She makes a very powerful point about the range of opinions in support of safeguarding, enhancing and indeed modernising our human rights in this country. I shall look forward to engaging with the Scottish National party and others, but I think it is important to stress that in this United Kingdom Parliament, human rights are a reserved matter, and parties that support reform of the Human Rights Act secured more than 50% of the votes at the last general election."

Which is, of course, rubbish. Human rights are categorically not a reserved matter, "in this United Kingdom Parliament", or anywhere else. Rummage through Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act, and you won't find them listed. Indeed, the only reference to human rights in the big list of things Holyrood cannot do makes clear that the issue of "observing and implementing international obligations, obligations under the Human Rights Convention" is not reserved.  

As Joanna Cherry's Scotland Bill amendment flushed out on Monday of last week, Gove's only argument that the Sewel convention doesn't apply is far narrower than his imperial answer suggests. Constitutionally, the fact that Mr Gove feels he has a Commons mandate is neither here nor there.  To quote section two of his government's Scotland Bill, "it is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament."

Yet more slapdash legal homework from this incompetent government,  The shambles continues.