The déjà vu Queen’s Speech
You can’t beat the Palace of Westminster for a good ol’ slice of pomp and ceremony. Did you know that every year, ahead of the State opening of Parliament (or Queen’s Speech to the non-political geeks), the Beefeaters still sweep Westminster’s cellars for a Guy Fawkes-esque plot?
Every year we also gather round at Amnesty’s office to watch this spectacle. We do this, not just to watch Black Rod, who wouldn’t look out of place in Blackadder the Third, have the House of Commons door slammed in his face only to respond by taking a massive stick and whacking it. But also because it marks the formal start of the parliamentary year and the Queen's Speech sets out the government’s agenda for the coming session.
So what does this year’s Queen’s Speech mean for our human rights?
Human Rights Act
The Queen has announced (again… and again) that the government will bring in a British Bill of Rights. Last year, thousands of you funded adverts in the Times and the Telegraph imploring the government not to rip up our rights. This year, as expected, we got a renewed (in identical words to last year – maybe they’re tired out from all the failed attempts to write the Bill) confirmation from the government of its intention to replace the Human Rights Act with a weaker “British Bill of Rights”. Perhaps this video sneak peak of the Cabinet meeting pre-Queen’s Speech discussing British Bill of Rights proposals gives us all an insight into why attempts to weaken the Human Rights Act are proving tricky for the government. In response Amnesty and 135 organisations have pledged to fight the (re)announced proposals.
Only a few weeks ago, Hillsborough reminded us all how crucial the Human Rights Act is to ordinary people when all other avenues of justice fail. So, with your help, we will continue to tell the government to leave the Human Rights Act alone - it’s ours, it’s working and it is very much needed.
Extremism and Safeguarding Bill
Yet again the Queen has announced an Extremism Bill, a repeat from last year. Yet again, like the British Bill of Rights, it didn’t actually appear despite the announcement, apparently because they – surprise, surprise – can’t find a sensible way to define what it is they are planning to ban.
As with last year we still don’t know much detail but this time it has been rolled up into something called a Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill. We fear it could mean far-reaching restrictions on freedom of expression and yet more administrative civil Orders imposed on vague grounds to curtail the rights of those whose behaviour isn’t actually criminal. When this was announced in 2015 (seeing a pattern here, people?) Philip Johnston warned us that laws against 'extremism' risk criminalising us all.
The Snoopers Charter
Another déjà vu moment; despite the rush to get the Investigatory Powers Bill though Parliament at breakneck speed, the government didn’t complete work on this last session so here it is again. This Bill is a dangerous piece of legislation. The UK’s surveillance measures presented in the Bill go too far, too fast with vast powers to monitor communications, access information and tamper with computers and phones and software are lacking critical safeguards, including proper independent judicial scrutiny.
The government committed to leading role in world affairs. This something we’d love to see the UK government crack on with on the human rights front. Unfortunately, the headlines from this year feels like we have yet another year of fighting attacks on our hard won rights here in the UK. Perhaps it’s time for us to hold the pen on our Queen’s Speech.
Top of our “does what it says on the tin Bills” would be the following:
- Refugees Joining Their Families Bill – Expanding immigration rules and allowing refugees to join family members in the UK. The government could make a huge difference to families torn apart by war, crisis and persecution in their home country.
- Stop Selling Arms for Human Rights Abuses Bill – First step is stop arming Saudi Arabia and other states that use our weapons and risk abusing people’s rights. Step two, we tighten our laws on arms dealers exploiting tax and company loopholes.
- Protecting Women and Girls from Violence Bill – On this we couldn’t agree with Theresa May more that “Victims of abuse are still being let down”. One step is to finally ratify the Istanbul Convention, which seeks prevent and combat violence against women and girls.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.