Who is the “human rights candidate” in the Labour leadership election?

Within the Labour Campaign for Human Rights we have a diverse set of views about who would be the best Labour leader. For that reason we haven’t endorsed any candidate. But we did decide to ask them a series of questions about some of the top human rights issues to help us and our supporters decide who is the best “human rights candidate”.

All the candidates kindly replied to our questions. Thank you to them and their campaign teams for taking the time to do this.

We asked the candidates four key questions:

  1. The Conservatives are currently manoeuvring to replace the UK’s Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and give Parliament a veto over judgments by the European Court of Human Rights. What is your view of these proposals?
  1. In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that GCHQ, Britain’s communications spy agency, collects and stores personal communications data indiscriminately and en masse. This includes the data of British citizens. What is your view on this practice and what would you do to better protect privacy?
  1. The right to strike is a fundamental human right, protected by freedom of association. The government is planning to make it prohibitively difficult for public sector workers to go on strike by raising the threshold of support. Will you protect the right to strike in the UK?
  1. One of the most challenging human rights issues for any government is to integrate human rights into its foreign policy and balance this need with our trade, diplomatic, and defence interests. If you become prime minister, would a country’s human rights record ever stop you from trading or dealing with them?

Yvette Cooper’s answers:

1. The Conservatives are currently manoeuvring to replace the UK’s Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and give Parliament a veto over judgments by the European Court of Human Rights. What is your view of these proposals?

Threatening to rip up the Human Rights Act on the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta demeans the office of the Prime Minister.

The Government’s plans would see Britain join Belarus as the only country on the continent not prepared to accept international standards on human rights. How can we expect the rest of the world to take us seriously when we call on them to meet international standards on human rights, if we are running away from them ourselves?

It is also difficult to understand how the Tories’ new ‘home-grown’ human rights framework would differ from the Human Rights Act, unless it were to drastically restrict current rights, or the categories of people who have access to them. The Tories still haven’t come clean about which rights currently enshrined in the Human Rights Act would not make it into their British Bill of Rights. The right to life? The prohibition on torture, slavery or servitude? Freedom of thought? Of Expression? Of Association?

If what they’re talking about are rights that only apply to some of the people, some of the time, what is actually on the table is a British Bill of Privileges – a shopping list, changeable by successive Governments on a whim.

The Tories plans are a shameful abandonment of Britain’s historic respect for the rule of law and a willful destruction of the post-war human rights legacy that Britain gave the world and we must work together to oppose them.

2. In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that GCHQ, Britain’s communications spy agency, collects and stores personal communications data indiscriminately and en masse. This includes the data of British citizens. What is your view on this practice and what would you do to better protect privacy?

The law in this area is out of date and needs to be overhauled. That is why David Anderson’s review, that Yvette called for, is so important. The police and security agencies need to be able to use interception and communications data in tackling online child abuse and terrorist plots. They are also crucial in certain non-crime emergencies, such as a missing child or someone threatening to take their own life.

But we also need proper checks and balances including, judicial authorisations – a major reform that Yvette has advocated as Shadow Home Secretary

We need strong powers and strong checks and balances to uphold our liberty and our democracy. That’s the change that needs to happen now with new legislation that implements the Anderson reforms.

3. The right to strike is a fundamental human right, protected by freedom of association. The government is planning to make it prohibitively difficult for public sector workers to go on strike by raising the threshold of support. Will you protect the right to strike in the UK?

The government’s plans are an ideologically driven attack on Britain’s trade unions, which put narrow Tory party interests ahead of what is right for the country. The best way to avoid industrial action is for unions and employers to work together to reach compromises through proper negotiation. Instead this legislation seeks to pit workers against employers and will make it harder for successful conclusions to be reached when there are disputes.

This not only undermines years of progress on workers’ rights, but are also another example of the Tories employing cheap divide-and-rule tactics. Yvette has pledged to do all she can to stop these divisive and damaging measures from coming into force and has launched a petition against them on her website.

4. One of the most challenging human rights issues for any government is to integrate human rights into its foreign policy and balance this need with our trade, diplomatic, and defence interests. If you become prime minister, would a country’s human rights record ever stop you from trading or dealing with them?

Equality and respect for human rights are core Labour values and, as such, they are values that we must project abroad, just as much as at home. Philip Hammond’s decision, for example, to ban embassies from flying the rainbow flag during Pride was as appalling as it was regressive, and Yvette is proud that Labour has taken a different approach and appointed Michael Cashman as a special envoy on worldwide LGBT issues. It is also extremely disappointing that the FCO has recently confirmed that campaigning to end the death penalty internationally has been dropped. We should be proud to promote and advance human rights around the world, not shy away from it.

Liz Kendall’s answers:

1. The Conservatives are currently manoeuvring to replace the UK’s Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and give Parliament a veto over judgments by the European Court of Human Rights. What is your view of these proposals?

We must defend the Human Rights Act, and as Labour leader I would ensure the Labour Party did everything in its power to fight these Tory proposals.

David Cameron is letting the rampant dislike of Europe in his party dictate his response to an institution (the ECHR) that unholds our most fundamental rights.

That’s despite the fact that the European convention on human rights, upon which it is based, was inspired by a British (Conservative) politician – none other than Winston Churchill.

And the idea of Michael Gove overseeing a new British Bill of Rights is something that few in the Labour Party would be happy about – and rightly so.

2. In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that GCHQ, Britain’s communications spy agency, collects and stores personal communications data indiscriminately and en masse. This includes the data of British citizens. What is your view on this practice and what would you do to better protect privacy?

The primary task of any government is to keep its people safe. That means our police and security services have to be able to engage in surveillance activities to reduce the risk of crime, terrorism and violence.

The state shouldn’t be able to access all of your emails, phone calls or any other data unless it has reasonable cause to suspect you’ve committed a crime. As Prime Minister, I’d always ensure effective oversight, proper checks and balances and a clear legal framework for our intelligence operations to both keep us safe and protect our vital civil liberties.

3. The right to strike is a fundamental human right, protected by freedom of association. The government is planning to make it prohibitively difficult for public sector workers to go on strike by raising the threshold of support. Will you protect the right to strike in the UK?

Tory plans to attack the right to strike are reprehensible – and I said very early on in this contest that I will tolerate no weakening of protections for working people or the basic rights of trade unions while I’m leader. If they’re implemented by this Tory government, the Labour government I will lead will reverse them.

The right to withdraw your labour must be safeguarded.

There are many reasons why turnout in union elections might be low – including existing legislation around the way ballots are conducted. I want to change the legislation to allow online balloting which is one way of increasing turnout.

4. One of the most challenging human rights issues for any government is to integrate human rights into its foreign policy and balance this need with our trade, diplomatic, and defence interests. If you become prime minister, would a country’s human rights record ever stop you from trading or dealing with them?

Human rights must be respected throughout the world.

If a nation is willing to systematically disregard human rights, then they cannot expect to have a straightforward economic or political relationship with Britain.

Andy Burnham’s answers:

1. The Conservatives are currently maneuvering to replace the UK’s Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and give Parliament a veto over judgments by the European Court of Human Rights. What is your view of these proposals?

The Human Rights Act has ensured that deaths in police custody are properly investigated; that elderly couples are not separated when local authorities put them in different care homes; and that gay people are not discriminated against.

It is time to remind those who want to repeal the Act that it enforces in our law a convention that Britain helped to draw up after the Second World War, with the aim to ensure that no person could ever again be treated as a second-class citizen.

We have seen far too many examples in recent times of the State riding roughshod over the vulnerable, as I know only too well through my work on Hillsborough. Labour must always be there to help vulnerable people stand up against government agencies, public bodies and large corporations. That is why, under my leadership, Labour will oppose any attempt to replace the Human Rights Act with a new set of rights approved only by this Government

2. In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that GCHQ, Britain’s communications spy agency, collects and stores personal communications data indiscriminately and en masse. This includes the data of British citizens. What is your view on this practice and what would you do to better protect privacy?

There is clearly a need for targeted surveillance, with appropriate safeguards, to keep us safe from terrorism and serious crime, at home and overseas. But we should be wary of mass, indiscriminate collection and retention of data. Labour pushed for David Anderson QC’s review of surveillance legislation, and I support his call for greater scrutiny and oversight of the surveillance regime.

3. The right to strike is a fundamental human right, protected by freedom of association. The government is planning to make it prohibitively difficult for public sector workers to go on strike by raising the threshold of support. Will you protect the right to strike in the UK?

Unions still have a vital role to play in defending workers’ rights, and I’m proud of our historic links with them. Industrial action should be a last resort, and is best avoided through proper negotiation. But the 40 per cent threshold proposed by the Tories is a farce when MPs are elected with a significantly smaller share of the vote.

4. One of the most challenging human rights issues for any government is to integrate human rights into its foreign policy and balance this need with our trade, diplomatic, and defence interests. If you become prime minister, would a country’s human rights record ever stop you from trading or dealing with them?

As Leader, I would take a pragmatic and strategic approach to our overseas relationships. Human rights can be promoted and protected in many different ways, and our diplomatic relationships can be means through which we can place pressure on countries to improve their human rights records. For example, I have long had my doubts about Russia holding the next Football World Cup. I voiced those doubts when the situation developed in the Ukraine. I couldn’t see how the whole world could go to Russia as if nothing had happened.

Jeremy Corbyn’s answers

1. The Conservatives are currently manoeuvring to replace the UK’s Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and give Parliament a veto over judgments by the European Court of Human Rights. What is your view of these proposals?

An independent judicial system is there to provide a check on government, so I would oppose any proposal to give parliament a veto over court decisions.

The UK Human Rights Act was a key achievement of the last Labour government and we should be proud of it. I would not be opposed to that being enhanced by a Bill of Rights, but not replaced by one as the Conservatives propose.

2. In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that GCHQ, Britain’s communications spy agency, collects and stores personal communications data indiscriminately and en masse. This includes the data of British citizens. What is your view on this practice and what would you do to better protect privacy?

Our intelligence agencies doubtless provide a brave and vital public service role, but they are among the most secretive in the democratic world. They need to become more open and accountable. Mass surveillance techniques are likely to be ineffective at targeting those very few individuals who do pose a threat.

I am deeply concerned by government invoking ‘national security’ to shut down debate or to restrict our freedoms. I also voted against allowing evidence deemed to be a matter of national security to be put before courts in secret sessions.

3. The right to strike is a fundamental human right, protected by freedom of association. The government is planning to make it prohibitively difficult for public sector workers to go on strike by raising the threshold of support. Will you protect the right to strike in the UK?

Yes, the only other European country with similar strike ballot thresholds to those proposed by this government is Bulgaria – and they were found to be in breach of ILO convention 87.

If the Tories were concerned about increasing democratic participation in union ballots they would change the law to allow for secure workplace balloting, as I and many unions support.

With the horrendous level of cuts we face, on the back of those in the last parliament, we need to stand with public sector workers defending the services on which we all rely.

4. One of the most challenging human rights issues for any government is to integrate human rights into its foreign policy and balance this need with our trade, diplomatic, and defence interests. If you become prime minister, would a country’s human rights record ever stop you from trading or dealing with them?

Britain should be a force for peace in the world. Human rights are not a tradable commodity, they are universal or they are meaningless. When it comes to arms sales in particular we need to tighten up our rules. I opposed arms sales to Iraq in the 1980s, and I oppose arms sales to countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain now.

We always have to consider the consequences of any embargos or restrictions. I supported a boycott of apartheid South Africa and the BDS campaign in response to Israel’s illegal and intransigent occupation on Palestine. However, the sanctions on Iraq after the first Gulf War didn’t harm Saddam Hussein, but they did result in hundreds of thousands of deaths – many of whom were children. Careful judgement is required in each case.

 

LCHR releases “Mass Surveillance vs. The Labour Movement – Why Labour Should Stop Indiscriminate Surveillance in the UK” briefing

Following our parliamentary event “Should Labour Stop the Snooper’s Charter?” last week, LCHR has released our latest briefing “Mass Surveillance vs. The Labour Movement – Why Labour Should Stop Indiscriminate Surveillance in the UK.”

The briefing is aimed at everyone in the Labour movement: MPs, trade unions, and activists. It illustrates the grave threat that mass surveillance – the indiscriminate collection and storage of personal communications material – poses to British liberty by exploring the long history of state surveillance and subversion directed against the Labour movement itself. It is being published in the context of the government’s new push to introduce additional mass surveillance powers in the form of an investigatory powers bill.

You can view and download the briefing here.

Should Labour Stop the Snooper’s Charter?

Labour Campaign for Human Rights is co-hosting an event with Unite the Union entitled: Should Labour Stop the Snooper’s Charter?

Date: Monday 29 June

Time: 6pm-7:30pm

Location: Parliament, Committee Room 1

Speakers: Jennie Formby (Political Director of Unite), Catherine West (Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green), Diana Johnson (Labour MP for Kingston Upon Hull North), Clive Lewis (Labour MP for Norwich South), Jonathan Russell (Quilliam), Rachel Logan (Amnesty International).

We are using this event as an opportunity to inform Labour MPs and members about the issue, explore our concerns, and to discuss what Labour’s position should be on the bill and mass surveillance more broadly.

If you wish to attend, please contact LCHR at ailar.hashemzadeh@lchr.org.uk

LCHR publishes briefing on human rights dangers of the first 100 days of this government

Today LCHR published our new briefing entitled “Human Rights and the New Tory Government – Three Dangers in the Next Hundred Days.”

The briefing covers three of the biggest and most immediate human rights dangers posed by the new government. The dangers are the proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act, the introduction of a “Snooper’s Charter”, and new anti-strike laws.

You can download or read a copy of it here.

LCHR needs your help

Dear friends,

The result of the general election has been hard for us all. Many excellent Labour candidates have lost out on a place in Parliament. The policies we voted for and invested our hopes in will not be implemented. For human rights, the situation is precarious. The Conservatives are intent on using their majority in Parliament to scrap the Human Rights Act and expand mass surveillance powers with a new Snooper’s Charter.

We need your help to stop them. Over the next few weeks and months the fight will be on to save the Human Rights Act and stop the expansion of mass surveillance powers. With your help, LCHR will be leading that fight.

Please consider donating £10 to LCHR to help us win this fight. You can donate online by clicking here. Without funding, our hands our tied. We rely on your donations to lobby MPs, hold events, and develop new policy ideas for protecting human rights. It is vital that we can play an active role and champion your voice in the difficult days ahead. Please consider helping us to do that.

Thank you,

Andrew Noakes
Director
LCHR

LCHR publishes human rights case studies briefing

LCHR is very pleased to publish our latest briefing, Our human rights: six case studies that show how human rights help ordinary people. The briefing details six indispensable case studies for showing how human rights help ordinary people.

As we distill our message on human rights for the election campaign, it’s vital to focus on concrete examples of how human rights can have a positive impact on people’s lives. This will help to challenge the narrative that human rights only benefit unpopular groups in society.

The case studies we have selected include cases where human rights have helped rape victims, elderly people in hospital, LGBT people, and disabled people fighting the bedroom tax. They also include a reminder that human rights can help child abuse victims.

LCHR releases briefing for parliamentary candidates on mass surveillance

Today LCHR published its guide for parliamentary candidates on mass surveillance. This document provides information about mass data surveillance following the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013 and the continuing debate about the balance between privacy and security in a digital age. This briefing can be used by candidates to inform messaging on the doorstep, be used as a basis for articles, and to inform comments during hustings.

You can view or download the document here. 

If you have any questions or comments about the breifing please contact our Director Andrew Noakes at andrew.noakes@lchr.org.uk