Recent oral question answers

Dominic Raab was answering a few questions recently in the House of Commons, but I’m not sure why anyone turned up. His answers weren’t helpful at all. He seems to be avoiding, at all costs, shedding any light on the progress of their proposals. Not one idea was put forward.

Unfortunately it is not fair of us to criticise this; Mr Raab has no control over when the questions are asked, and he must answer them as they come. If they truly are working on this proposal, then we should all be happy that such consideration is being spent on this. This way we know we’ll get a solid bill, for better or worse. Writers don’t discuss their first draft because no one wants to be judged on their rough ideas.

The Under-Secretary mentions that rushing was the apparent down fall of the Human Rights Act, and his Bill of Rights won’t suffer the same issues. The Government does seem to be committed to good amount of consultation with all involved, and so I’m looking forwards to being a part of that process.

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that repealing the Act comes with a lot of legal trouble from Scotland and Northern Ireland. Both of these issues were brought up, and both had the same answer: “there will be full consultation”. I’m curious to see what legislative trickery he has in mind.

The Labour MP for Hammersmith asks a question regarding what impact England withdrawing from the ECHR would have on other countries, in particular Russia. This is a good question. We want England to be a centre for liberty, and those countries who lack our scruples will be looking to us to see where the bar is.

Mr Raab’s response was petty though: “we will take no lectures on liberty from the Labour party”. This is ridiculous. Lectures on liberty should be taken as they come, and Labour’s previous policies on the matter have no bearing on the need. There should be no moratorium on hypocrites giving good advice.

I’m not sure at this point if no news is good news, but at least we know that “this autumn” we should finally start seeing proposals.

Philatelically Speaking

Here’s something I never thought I’d be doing on a Saturday morning: getting very excited by finding a penny red, King Edward VII stamp, with a 1908 cancellation mark on it.

This person actually overpaid. In 1908 they only had to pay a half penny (a green stamp) to send this!
This person actually overpaid. In 1908 they only had to pay a half penny (a green stamp) to send this!

I’m not sure if I’m more excited about that, or the S. Hildesheimer & Co. postcard I found with glitter on it. Printed in Bavaria. Pre-1922. So many questions! Who glitters a postcard, and then doesn’t send it? Why was a printing manufacturer, with a factory in Manchester, outsource his printing?

This all started because my partner has started to collect bank notes. A place one might go to grow their collection of worldly numismatical goodies is the Charing Cross Collectors’ Fair, just outside of Embankment Tube Station, and it’s there I came across a box of postcards. I only ventured into it because as any teenager in the LiveJournal era did, I loved PostSecret. And here I was, in front of boxes and boxes of postcards to and from people all around Europe. What exciting secrets might I come across!

Picking some at random from the unsorted box was very exciting. I about flipped my shit whenever I’d see a postcard close to my home land of Wednesbury (about 170 miles from London, near Birmingham). Eagerly trying to decypher the 1900’s handwriting. I don’t know how to explain glee I felt, the sheer taken-aback-ness, when Tim handed me a postcard to a “Mrs A. Preece”, sent in 1905.

I still don’t understand how it’s possible that I would travel hundreds of miles to the south of where I once lived, follow my boyfriend into this incredibly niche market, find – amongst many – a particular box of hundreds of postcards, and then to randomly pick out a postcard that was not only addressed to somewhere not far from where lived with my family, but addressed to my family name!

Mrs. A. Preece was found in the second drawer down, in that yellow box.
Mrs. A. Preece was found in the second drawer down, in that yellow box.

Since then a whole new hobby has been kicked off for me: how much information can I find out about this postcard, and is Mrs Preece a relative of mine?

The primary aim for me is to find out if Mrs A. Preece is a member of my family, so I started off with my family tree. Many branches fell into place, except for the branch I actually care about: my dad’s side – the Preece side. My dad has a complicated origin story, which included never really knowing who his father is. A key piece of information for me to step back in time, swept away by family squabbles. The challenge is certainly a lot of fun though – tracking down leads to potential new lives my Grandad might be leading now, and getting my hands on as many public documents as I can.

Slow going though.

The other part of my quest is to understand the postcard itself.

I’ve learnt an unusual amount about the postage history in 1905, lots about cancellation marks, and I definitely know my King Edwards from my King Georges now!

All this research feels like archaeology. Learning more from clues really, than history books. It’s one of the most fun adventures I’ve been on in a while!

State of the Act

I’ll be honest – I’ve not done much politically since David Cameron realised that he’d lost steam in the debate around the repeal of the Human Rights Act. HeĀ  quickly went from being gung-ho about the repeal, to questioning himself about it. Since the Queen’s speech announced they would merely “bring forward proposals” (rather than do any actual legislative change) very little has been said from the Conservative party.

I’m not surprised to see Mr Cameron less confident in this.

The Conservative party’s majority is only 12 members of Parliament. Three of the biggest opponents to the removal our the Human Rights Act are Conservative: Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, and David Davis. There’s at least three members of that “majority” wiped out already. There are even more of them in the party that would stand against the destruction of the safeguards to our liberty. With this weak majority, a vote likely wouldn’t pass.

If it were to pass through Commons, the Lords would be an even bigger fight. They see themselves as the guardians of our constitution – exactly what they were designed to be: protectors against a weak government pushing unfavourable legislative change, against the will of the people. With a majority Labour House, they’ll use the Salisbury convention to deny any further progress for the repeal.

More questions have risen about if it’s even legally possible for us to turn our back on the ECHR in this way. The Scotland Act was drawn up with a specific provision around the Human Rights Act. With the Act gone, a whole new debate would be needed around the powers given to Scotland, due to an amendment needing to be added. This likely isn’t something any English parliament member would look forward to.

If Scotland wasn’t enough of a problem, Northern Ireland can step up to the plate and throw his whole ball game: “direct access” to the ECHR was a part of the Good Friday Agreement, the peace treaty we signed. Removing the HRA would leave millions of people in Britain without any access via their local courts, which would be a violation of international law. The UN would be very much within their rights to apply sanctions against us.

There’s still a debate to be had. The government is still planning on bringing this up again. We mustn’t feel like we’ve already won. A fight is still to be had!


Helping “Real People”

I have a note in my notebook, a quick quote: “talk about real issues, that affect real people.” That’s how you’re supposed to capture the hears of the people you’re trying to persuade. Putting that idea in the scope of the Human Rights Act is tricky for me, because so many of the rulings that have come directly from the European Court of Human Rights don’t affect “real people”, the British-every-man.

Taking a look through RightsInfo’s stories and you’ll read stories about a prisoner who was falsely accused being denied representation, or victims of slavery being forced to manage cannabis crops, or children fighting to live in their home whilst their parents are threatened with deportation. Can you put yourself in any of those shoes? Can you foresee yourself being in one of those situations?

You just can’t. For one thing, many people who are being protected by the ECHR in high profile cases aren’t even British. And these situations must happen so rarely, in such bizarre circumstances. Don’t feel bad about being unable to emphasise with the people in those situations. I can’t either. Most people won’t be able to.

We’re fortunate enough to have the European Convention of Human Rights though. During a time of experience, just after the worst war the world will ever see, where many were in horrible situations, these freedoms were decided. We don’t need to decide those freedoms now, completely out of context of the suffering they’re designed to protect against. We saw the horrors and we vowed never to see them again within our borders. That’s why we have these set in stone ideals, which don’t need to be subject to amendments.

We must protect anyone who falls below this standard of care. Be happy that these cases are rare. They’d be much more common without access to the ECHR through the HRA.

The European Court of Human Rights, miles away, in Strasbourg

Response to the Express & Star article

The news paper from back home has written a balanced piece on the Human Rights Act. Or at least, what they think is balanced.

I feel there’s a heavy bias towards removing the HRA, using phrases like “introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government”. It may well have been introduced by Blair’s government, but it was still voted for-or-against by everyone in the House of Commons.

It gives examples of its outdated purpose by saying “and came about at a time […] where people could be sent to gulags without trial”. I don’t believe this has been put there for some historical colour. It was put there because the author wanted to contrast lives back then, and our lives today, implying we don’t need to be worried about these issues any longer.

The arguments against the Act are visually more dominant. The cons are far more colourful than the pros; cons: rapists, terrorists, arsonists all set free. pros: woman is allowed to make her child homeless rather than be taken into care.

Pressing for fear goes further with lines like this: “[..] a foreign national who kills someone won’t be able to use their ‘right to a family and private life’ as an excuse to get out of deportation.” Which is just a lie. No one gets to stay in the UK after killing someone because of their right to a family life, regardless of the Human Rights Act.

It very much missed out the good points having of our Human Rights protection so close to home has. Police need a very good reason to stop and search you, they can’t break up peaceful protests, and they can’t stop you trying to defend yourself when someone accuses you of a crime. It means that your grandparents are required to be put in the same care home as each other, and mentally ill patients are not allowed to be locked in solitary “for their own safety”. These things, and many more, were left unchecked without the Human Rights Act.

Maybe the journalist was honestly trying to give a balanced piece, but they did not achieve. It’s not balanced when you haven’t really researched the stories your telling either.

Just, do me a favour and when you’re reading news articles – especially ones who say they’re going to “cut through the spin” – read them extra critically.