Labour’s manifesto 2017 – a human rights scorecard

At the beginning of the month, LCHR put forward our top 15 human rights priorities for the 2017 election manifesto, spanning Brexit and foreign affairs, immigration and asylum, human rights in counter-terrorism, legal protections, workers’ rights, and civil society & trade unions. Now, as the dust begins to settle from the launch of Labour’s keenly awaited official election manifesto, it’s time to comb over the pledges, promises and policies proposed and see how it measures up.

Brexit

In an election decidedly overcast by the heavy clouds of approaching Brexit negotiations, the manifesto understandably wastes no time in promising to alleviate the insecurities felt by individuals whose homes, livelihoods and human rights are left most vulnerable. Specifically addressed is the right of EU nationals to remain in the UK, a promise heavily seasoned with thinly veiled criticism of the prime minister’s attempts to flaunt the human rights of EU nationals over the heads of Brussels officials.

Also emphasised is a commitment to safeguard hard fought employment and equality rights and protections during and after Brexit, and a promise that trade unions, businesses and stakeholders will be closely involved in processes to ensure that there is no rolling back or falling behind the times in terms of the advancements on workers’ rights made in recent years.

Unnamed however is a commitment to avoiding the use of Henry VIII powers, which would allow for largely unscrutinised changes to EU law using delegated or secondary legislation. That said, Labour has made numerous commitments not to use these powers in the past.

Score: 4/5

Foreign policy

Giving human rights parity with strategic and commercial interests in foreign policy is a priority that LCHR has long advanced. Under a Conservative government, relations have been deepened with many human rights abusers notably Bahrain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Turkey.

Labour’s manifesto focuses on advancing peaceful solutions and reinvigorating international institutions. Importantly, it pledges to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia until a UN-led investigation has reported on alleged violations of international law.

Score: 5/5

Immigration and asylum

Playing the numbers game with rates of immigration and asylum is wholly unacceptable. Reducing a myriad of individuals, each with complex lives, motivations and traumas, into sound bite statistics which are unlikely to be met is thankfully, a strategy that Labour has refrained from pursuing. Though the specifics of an immigration system under Labour is not fully disclosed within the manifesto, there is a clear acknowledgement that “bogus immigration targets” will not be tolerated. Instead, the party promises the creation of “fair rules and reasonable management of migration”. Though for many, in the wake of assurances from both major parties that freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union, this lack of clarity surrounding the specific form a new migration system could take, may cause some concern.

Most encouraging of all is the farewell Labour is keen to say to the controversial spousal income threshold of £18,600, a policy instrumentally separating families by stopping thousands of citizens from bringing their foreign partners to the UK.

Finally, the manifesto commits to ending the immoral and draconian practice of indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

Score: 4/5

Refugee protection

In addressing calls for a “humane refugee and asylum system”, the manifesto alludes to the sort of action required to improve the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in this country. The pledge to “take our fair share of refugees” evokes the comforting image of a good first start. However, with scant reference to the egregious conditions forced upon refugees entering the UK, a sharp eye will need to remain on the evolution of such promises to ensure that aid and compassion for refugees and asylum seeks is not simply ‘left at the door’.

Score: 3/5

Human rights in counter-terrorism

Staunchly advocated by LCHR and therefore warmly welcomed within the manifesto, is a review of the Prevent program, a strategy aimed at thwarting extremism but which has in reality succeeded only in further alienating and excluding minorities from our society.

However, in order to properly strengthen a commitment to end discriminatory security and surveillance measures, more thought must be directed at the extent to which “providing our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe”, as promised in the manifesto, risks surveillance without suspicion which often unfairly penalises ethnic and religious minorities.

Score: 3/5

Legal protections

Nestled in the fray of concerns surrounding the UK’s exit from the European Union was Tory support for abandoning the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, a move that would reverse a long history of positive evolution in legal protections of human rights. Labour’s manifesto is unhindered in its ardent support of both protective frameworks, a position now suddenly mirrored in the recently published Conservative manifesto, which officially ruled out repealing or replacing the Human Rights Act “while the process of Brexit is under way”.

Furthermore, in many ways, the official Labour manifesto has gone further than its leaked predecessor. In the draft, it was merely stated that the party would “consider recommendations” to reinstate legal aid. However, a change in the language of the final draft states that the party “will consider the reinstatement of other legal aid entitlements after receiving the final recommendations of the Access to Justice Commission led by Lord Bach”, as well as fully reviewing the legal aid means tests, including the capital test for those on income-related benefits.

Score: 5/5

Workers’ rights, civil society and trade unions

There is a strong commitment to workers’ rights present in a myriad of the policies proposed, with promises to “reverse the unfair employment tribunal fees which literally price people out of justice”, also accompanied by a pledge to end the use of zero hours contracts. This is an important step in the direction of properly regulating the growing ‘gig economy’.

Finally, through promises to repeal both the Lobbying Act and Trade Union Act, we can see a strong desire to unpick the problems caused by misguided legislation advanced by the previous government, and sew back together a far more liberated and united civil society.

Score: 5/5

Total: 29/35

Overall, we at the Labour Campaign for Human Rights are very pleased with the manifesto. While the section on security and counter-terrorism didn’t include a commitment to address Britain’s illiberal mass surveillance regime, and while not all will be satisfied with the commitments on immigration and asylum, there’s plenty here for human rights activists to feel good about. We give the manifesto an A-, a big improvement on the C+ we gave to its predecessor in 2015.

Amy Fallon is a volunteer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

Our manifesto priorities

Human rights are core Labour values. They are rooted in the guiding traditions of our movement – universality, equality, and solidarity. Universality because everyone, whatever their background or their geographical location, is entitled to them by virtue of their humanity. Equality because their universal nature means they can be used as powerful instruments to challenge inequalities and discrimination against oppressed, vulnerable, or disadvantaged people. And solidarity because they are an expression of our concern for others, including those beyond our borders. In short, they help bring our vision of social justice to life.

Below we have drawn up a list of our top 15 human rights priorities for the 2017 election manifesto, spanning Brexit and foreign affairs, immigration and asylum, human rights in counter-terrorism, legal protections, workers’ rights, and civil society & trade unions.

Brexit and foreign affairs

1. Protect employment and equality rights during and after Brexit

Many of the employment and equality rights we benefit from are derived from EU law. They must be protected both during and after the Brexit process. That means opposing the use of Henry VIII powers and committing to protect all rights derived from the EU, including those established through judgements in EU courts.

2. Put human rights at the heart of trade deals after Brexit

The UK will have to negotiate new trade deals across the world following Brexit. In order to ensure we stay true to our own values, and to encourage reform around the world, all trade deals should respect democratic principles and freedoms, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as defined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

3. Right to remain for EU nationals

Any EU national currently living in the UK should automatically and unilaterally be given permanent residency rights. This will end the anxiety currently being felt by millions of EU nationals living across the UK, many of whom have been here for years or even decades.

4. Give human rights parity with strategic and commercial interests in foreign policy

Strategic and commercial interests will always be part of foreign policy, but must not automatically trump human rights concerns whenever they come into conflict. The UK’s continuing arms transfers to Saudi Arabia are just one example of where human rights are not being given the consideration they deserve.

Immigration and asylum

5. A fair immigration system based on value, not numbers

The net migration target turns people into statistics and is blind to justice or economic potential. Immigration decisions should be based on the value of a migrant and their claim to be here, not on a general policy to reduce numbers. The symptoms of this policy should also be tackled, particularly excessively high visa fees and the rigid, unresponsive immigration service that frequently denies people entry on the basis of counter-intuitive technicalities.

6. End the squeeze on family migration

The spousal income requirement for family visas is breaking up families and ruining lives. The current £18,600 threshold is beyond reach for a large portion of the population. The income requirement should be considerably reduced, and the applicant’s earning potential should be taken into consideration as well as the sponsor’s income. Other methods of proving income should also be explored, such as family guarantees.

7. A humane refugee and asylum system

Britain should take in our fair share of refugees to reflect our longstanding tradition of providing sanctuary to those fleeing persecution and conflict. We must also improve the conditions of asylum seekers and refugees when they are here by ending the practice of indefinite detention of asylum seekers, giving them the right to work, and increasing their subsistence allowances. Refugees should also be given more time to find a home and a job before their allowances are cut off.

Human rights in counter-terrorism

8. End mass surveillance

The Court of Justice of the European Union recently ruled that blanket surveillance of the UK population is incompatible with fundamental standards of privacy. The UK’s surveillance regime should be amended so that there is no surveillance without suspicion.

9. Review the Prevent strategy

The UK’s ‘Prevent’ strategy to tackle extremism is divisive and controversial. Many people feel alienated by it after a catalogue of cases where it has been improperly applied. It has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech, preventing an open debate where extremist ideas can be challenged, and has also interfered with privacy. Labour should commit to a full review of Prevent, including examining alternative strategies for tackling terrorism.

Legal protections

10. Protect the Human Rights Act and commit to staying in the ECHR

The Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights are the guarantors of human rights in this country. Together they have helped rape victims get justice, protected children and the elderly against abuse, and helped achieve equality for LGBT people. The Human Rights Act must be kept, as must our membership of the ECHR.

11. A fair legal aid system that protects the most vulnerable

The cuts to legal aid have had a damaging impact on people’s ability to achieve justice, leaving vulnerable people unable to challenge abuses against them. Labour should ensure the system is fair and protects the most vulnerable.

Workers’ rights

12. Scrap employment tribunal fees

Employment tribunal fees are unaffordable for many workers, preventing them from challenging unfair decisions or abusive practices. They allow unethical companies to get away with flouting rules protecting workers’ rights. They should be scrapped immediately.

13. Regulate the ‘gig’ economy

The ‘gig’ economy, where employees are forced to work on zero hour contracts and many are not classified as employees at all, must be properly regulated. Zero hour contracts should be scrapped, and companies should be prevented from improperly classifying employees as self-employed.

Civil society and trade unions

14. Scrap the Lobbying Act

The Lobbying Act is one of the most illiberal pieces of legislation passed in recent memory. It heavily restricts legitimate campaigning efforts by charities and other non-profit groups, while doing virtually nothing to tackle corporate lobbying. The Act should be scrapped.

15. Scrap the Trade Union Act

The ability to strike is a crucial source of leverage for workers who are dealing with unfair working conditions or pay, and is also a basic human right under freedom of association. The Trade Union Act interferes with legitimate strike action and makes it extremely difficult for workers to exercise their collective bargaining rights. It should be repealed.

Rebutting arguments for a British Bill of Rights

We’re pleased to present our latest briefing, ‘Rebutting arguments for a British Bill of Rights‘, which will go out to all LCHR supporters, Labour MPs, and peers.

In the absence of concrete proposals from the government on its planned British Bill of Rights, we’ve trawled through the various arguments and ideas that have been deployed in its favour over the last few years to create a definitive rebuttal guide.

IP Bill becomes law

Last week the Investigatory Powers Bill was approved by both Houses of Parliament, and is now set to become law in a matter of days. LCHR campaigned vigorously against many of the Bill’s provisions over the last 18 months. We argued that mass surveillance, which the Bill authorises, is an unacceptable infringement on privacy and is too open to misuse by the state.

Together with other civil liberties groups we made a concerted effort to challenge the worst of the Bill, and in some areas we were able to work with the Labour Party to win important concessions from the government. We’re proud that Labour secured a ‘double lock’ system of judicial authorisation for intercept warrants and a clause ensuring that mass surveillance powers cannot be used against trade unions conducting lawful activities.

But there was much more that we wanted to see amended in the Bill. Overall, the Investigatory Powers Bill is harmful to our democracy and the bedrock of liberty and privacy on which it stands.

LCHR will continue to look for opportunities to tackle the Bill’s worst provisions in the coming months and years. And we are now looking to expand our campaigning on privacy and liberty in new and important directions. In the next few days we will be launching our members consultation where we will invite views from members on what particular campaign issues you would like us to focus on. If you haven’t yet joined as a member and would like to participate, please join here.

Thank you, as ever, for your continued support.

Best,

Andrew Noakes
Director
Labour Campaign for Human Rights

Should Labour have backed the IP Bill?

Earlier this week the Investigatory Powers Bill passed through the House of Commons with Labour’s support. The Bill will enshrine a series of surveillance powers into UK law, including bulk collection of everyone’s communications data. It will now go to the Lords for further consideration, and may be passed into law before the end of the year.

After months of wrangling with the government, Andy Burnham pointed to a range of concessions he managed to extract as the reason for his decision to support the Bill. These include a clause preventing the security services from spying on trade unions, an independent review into the necessity of the powers being proposed, and a more robust form of judicial oversight for surveillance warrants.

There is no doubt these concessions are a triumph for the shadow home affairs team – the product of a determined effort from Andy Burnham and Keir Starmer to ensure the Bill better protects privacy and is less likely to lead to abuses of power. In particular, Burnham was right to call the government’s concession on trade union spying a historic step. The Labour Campaign for Human Rights has long pointed to surveillance of the union movement as a clear reason why the government can’t be trusted with mass surveillance powers. Taking this out of the equation gives us cause to feel more confident about the Bill.

But as I thought more about it, my mind turned to the people who won’t get a special exception. What about the people who have too often been spied on or smeared by the police because they are considered a nuisance – Doreen Lawrence and her family, the Hillsborough families, environmental activists, even Amnesty International. All these have been victims of abuses of power by the security services or police, and none would have been covered by the exceptions Labour has managed to negotiate into the Bill.

And what about the general public? Where is their special protection from abuse of surveillance powers. What about the millions of webcam images collected by GCHQ without people’s permission? What about the fact that GCHQ collects over 40 billion communication events per day, the vast majority of which are from ordinary people who have done nothing wrong?

Of course, MPs have their own exception to the IP Bill’s provisions. If an MP is going to be subject to surveillance, the Bill requires the prime minister’s permission first. But no one else gets this special treatment.

Again, Labour should only be congratulated for securing protection for trade unions. But if it’s good enough for union leaders and MPs, why not for the rest of us? Or, put a different way, if the security services can’t be trusted not to spy on politicians and union officials without good reason, why are they trusted not to spy on ordinary people? Recent history tells us they’re only too happy to misuse their powers.

The shadow home affairs team deserve our praise for extracting so many concessions from the government. But I hope they also reflect on why those changes were needed, and whether the state can ever be trusted with such draconian powers – no matter how many exceptions you make. A vote against would have been a safer bet for privacy and human rights; and the independent review into the Bill’s necessity may yet show it would have been a safer bet for our security as well.

Whatever the case, the debate isn’t over yet.

Andrew Noakes is Director of LCHR

Update: Q&A with Keir Starmer MP

 

Wednesday 16 March, 5:30pm
Location: Committee Room 8, Houses of Parliament

Q&A with Keir Starmer MP on mass surveillance and the Investigatory Powers Bill.

Moderated by novelist, journalist and liberties campaigner Henry Porter. With contributions from:

Sara Ogilvie, Liberty
Jim Killock, Open Rights Group
Eric King, Don’t Spy on Us

Keir Starmer is Labour’s Shadow Home Office Minister and is leading Labour’s response to the government’s Investigatory Powers Bill, which will enshrine mass surveillance powers into UK law. The Bill is currently being scrutinised by Parliament and Labour is playing a key role in this process.

Keir will be joining us to speak to Labour members, MPs, civil society, and interested members of the public about Labour’s policy on mass surveillance and the Bill. This will be an excellent opportunity to quiz Keir about Labour’s approach and his views on surveillance and civil liberties.

You must register to attend this event. Please e-mail rachel.finnegan@lchr.org.uk to register.

EXCLUDING HUMAN RIGHTS FROM CLIMATE TALKS WOULD BE A DENIAL OF JUSTICE

Introducing a guest blog from European Parliament Rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility and LCHR advisory group member, Richard Howitt MEP. Richard writes following his participation in the COP21 session on Climate Change, Human Rights and Sustainable Development in Paris.
Cop21

IT was a privilege to today speak at the Le Bourget Climate Centre, Paris, at the COP21 session on Climate Change, Human Rights and Sustainable Development, the day before a new climate emissions deal for the world is due to be signed.

And while I am deeply proud of the role Europe has played in forming a coalition for an ambitious deal that we all hope will bring us closer towards combating the challenge of climate change, I am less proud of the fact that the final text of the treaty still does not include strong language about human rights.

I regret in particular that Britain has lobbied to block human rights in the Paris Treaty and needed to be paired with Gambia to try to persuade them to change their mind. I find myself feeling it necessary to apologise to Gambia and then add my thanks for standing up for human rights.

Yesterday was International Human Rights Day and a lot has been said Paris in the last 24 hours about the link between climate change and human rights.

It has also been said that the Paris talks have the opportunity to go a long way in promoting human rights by including resolute language on participation, information sharing between countries and with new measures that can help developing countries deal with the immediate effects of climate change and therefore better protect human rights.

In 2011 the UN Human Rights Council introduced the concept of climate justice that stated you cannot assess the impact of climate change unless you include the rights to health, food, water and adequate housing.

It is clear that droughts, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, desertification, are the next refugee crisis to come and – in truth – one that has already begun.

People lose their livelihoods, are forced to leave their homes and sometimes it forces the loss of life itself. If you cannot live on your land, in your own culture then your ability to enjoy the most basic human rights is eroded away completely.

All of us should ask: who is damaged most of all? Who suffers the loss? Human beings. Climate change is a danger to the security and basic liberties of people around the world. It really is that simple.

Yet, despite this, the provisions on human rights are now only in the preamble of the Paris Treaty, which means they are not legally binding.

What that means is that any measures to enforce the climate agreement will not be bound by human rights standards.

Greenpeace and Amnesty have argued that in order to comply with their obligations under international human rights law, states must take actions to prevent harm and also assist those negatively affected. And that they must help them build their resilience to prevent them from being affected.

So today I made my 11th hour plea for Cop21 to incorporate human rights as a legally binding obligation.

William Gladstone the nineteenth century British Prime Minister once said “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

It has become a legal maxim frequently cited in the United Kingdom and in Europe.

If the negotiators in Paris decide to agree on an emissions cap now – with all the qualifications – but exclude human rights and say they can be left until later…that is a denial of justice.