Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Throwing the toys out of the cot

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Winston Churchill was a prime mover in getting international agreement about human rights. This resulted in fundamental human rights being agreed by nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The European Convention – and the European Court - on Human Rights have absolutely nothing to do with UK’s membership of the European Union.

The Human Rights Act was introduced by Labour in 1998 and came into force in 2000. It effectively enshrines the Convention in UK law.

David Cameron first proposed the idea of a British Bill of Rights in 2006.  The last government established a Commission to look into it. It reported in 2012 but didn’t come to any substantive conclusions. Then there was a document outlining Tory proposals in 2014 and the promise of a draft Bill for 2014. No sign of it – another broken promise. 

The Tory party manifesto promised to “scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK”.

The Queen’s Speech promised to introduce “proposals for a British Bill of Rights”, but the plans are quite unclear. David Cameron has been asked repeatedly about the government’s position on the UK withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and he’s refused to rule it out.

If the UK left the Convention, we would be in the sole company of Belorussia – Europe’s last dictatorship – as the only two countries in Europe not to be signatories. No wonder, there’s a lot of opposition in the Conservative Party. 

The Tories’ plans would not make it easier to deport foreign criminals or address any of the other supposed problems.

Mr Cameron is flouncing around like a petulant child rather than accepting that, in a democracy with an independent judiciary, the judges will sometimes tell you that you’ve got it wrong. The proper response is not to throw your toys out of the cot.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Too much hot air?

Air pollution in the UK results in the premature deaths of at least 29,000 people a year. Air pollution hits the most vulnerable and children hardest. The World Health Organisation warns that air pollution is carcinogenic; it’s the primary environmental cause of cancer.

Because of the coalition government’s failure to act, the date at which the UK is expected to achieve compliance with legal air quality limits was revised from 2020 to 2030 last year.

Action on air pollution has collapsed across the country. There has been no improvement in the UK’s air quality over the last year and almost 90% of the country now exceeds legal air pollution limits.  It is a particular concern in South Yorkshire and especially in my constituency where pollution levels in the areas around the M1 experience extremely poor air quality standards.

Bizarrely, last year, the Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment wrote to every local authority where air pollution exceeded legal limits to explain that “ultimate legal responsibility for air pollution lay with local authorities and that any fines levied on the Government would be passed on to them.”

Now, I’m fully in favour of ensuring that local councils are taking the appropriate action to cut air pollution. But, suggesting that Sheffield and Rotherham Councils should pay fines because the UK government wouldn’t act to cut air pollution from the M1 was clearly ridiculous.

In April, the Supreme Court ruled against the Secretary of State and stating that: “The new government should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action, which is achieved by an order that new plans must be delivered to the European Commission not later than 31 December 2015.”

The Government has to reverse its quite irresponsible approach to air pollution and to ensure local people have cleaner air in the shortest time possible.

Last year, it was clear that the Department of Transport just wanted to press ahead with the expansion of the M1 through South Yorkshire and to pay little attention to the consequent air pollution problems. That cannot continue.