Priti Patel is MP for Witham.
Next month Britain has a once in a generation opportunity to spearhead reform of the European Court of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and their related institutions when it assumes the chairmanship of the Council of Europe. As the chairmanship rotates between the Council of Europe’s 47 members every six months, it will be a quarter of a century until Britain is in this position again so it is an opportunity that cannot be missed.
These Strasbourg-based European institutions have grown in power and the European human rights system the have created has resulted in the powers of our Parliament being eroded. The laws they create have crippled our immigration system, placing huge and often insurmountable barriers in the way of the authorities when they want to throw a foreign murderer, rapist or violent offender out of our country. They give criminals gold-plated rights, such as allowing prisoners access to IVF treatment. And, as we've seen with their desire to force Britain to grant all prisoners the right to vote, they have no respect for British democracy. Worryingly, these institutions are attempting to go even further and are issuing diktats ordering countries to have soft border controls, grant immigrants more rights and criticising cutbacks to public spending.
It is time to hold them to account and in advance of Britain's chairmanship, Parliament and backbench MPs need to have an opportunity to question ministers over their plans. MPs are aware of the frustration and concern their constituents feel when they see human rights allowing prisoners to have IVF treatment or foreign criminals free to walk our streets by claiming that they have a right to a family life. Our constituents expect action and change. Now that the British Government has an opportunity to deliver that change it would be a beneficial use of Parliamentary time for the Backbench Business Committee to grant time for MPs to debate these matters.
Much of the discussions within Europe over the future of the ECHR relates to streamlining its caseload. With claimants going to the Court being successful in claiming their rights have been violated in over 80% of cases, it is not surprising a backlog of 120,000 cases have built up as more and more people view the Court as a final court of appeal. Inevitably, this will lead to greater integration at the expense of the British Parliament being able to make its own laws. Parliament and the Government must resist attempts for deeper integration.
Reforms to the Convention and the last Government's Human Rights Act have already forced our courts to follow the European human rights system. So the priority for the Government in chairing the Council of Europe must be to push forward an ambitious serious of reforms to bring human rights back to Britain. That goes far further than looking into whether a Bill of Rights should replace the Human Rights Act. While the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe continue to act the way they do, British lawmaking and British justice will continue to be undermined.
Those who support the current system or who want to see closer integration will often claim that it was British lawyers who drafted the Convention and Winston Churchill who pushed for its adoption, as Nick Clegg alluded to during his speech to the Lib Dem conference. But while Britain has a strong tradition of promoting human rights and after the Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed it was right to look at ways to prevent future genocide and persecution in Europe, Churchill would never have allowed Europe to meddle in our laws the way it currently does. He would have stood up to put the British interest first and that is what Government ministers and Parliament must do now. Otherwise, a failure to curtail the Council of Europe and European Court of Human Rights will lead to Britain facing a further unstoppable flow of powers to Europe, which would severely undermine our democracy.