If I told you one Cabinet member had put forward a Bill that’s incompatible with the Human Rights Act, who would you guess I was talking about? Surely not Nick Clegg, the man who has repeatedly defended that Act against calls for it to be scrapped? And yet — as Adam Wagner has just pointed out on the UK Human Rights Blog — there it is, on the front page of the House of Lords Reform Bill:
‘The Deputy Prime Minister has made the following statement under section 19(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act 1998:
I am unable to make a statement of compatibility under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 in respect of the House of Lords Reform Bill.’
Section 19 requires the minister in charge of any Bill to state that it is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights or say — as Clegg does here — that he can’t make such a statement but that ‘The Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill.’
And what makes the Bill incompatible with the Human Rights Act? It’s nothing to do with Lords reform itself, but another hot-button issue this parliament: prisoner voting. You see, Clause 6 of the bill states that only those entitled to vote in House of Commons elections will be entitled to vote in Lords elections — and that, of course, currently excludes prisoners. Since the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the blanket ban on prisoner voting was incompatible with the Convention, Clegg has declared himself unable to sign a statement of compatibility for the Lords Reform Bill.
Of course, this won’t actually affect whether or not the Bill is passed and Lords reform happens (the 2003 Communications Bill was passed despite similarly lacking a statement of compatibility). But it is certainly noteworthy, both because it’s very rare for a Bill not to be declared Human Rights Act-compatible, but also because it may stir up the prisoner votes row again, which was already set to come up again in the next few months anyway.
More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.