All 4 Lord Craig of Radley contributions to the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill 2019-21

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Wed 20th Jan 2021
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 9th Mar 2021
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Tue 13th Apr 2021

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Wednesday 20th January 2021

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Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I shall concentrate on Clause 12. The international court will accept that it is primarily a matter for the state requiring derogation to judge the imminence and severity of the threat faced. But the court is not going to give a free pass. Has the state gone beyond what is strictly required by the exigencies of the situation? The danger must be actual, clear, present and imminent. Derogation will not be allowed because of a mere apprehension of potential danger.

The link between a public emergency threatening the life of the nation and an overseas operation must be established. To quote Lord Bingham:

“It is hard to think that these conditions”—


of Article 15—

“could ever be met when a state had chosen to conduct an overseas peacekeeping operation, however dangerous the conditions, from which it could withdraw.”

Put simply, there is no guarantee that the Secretary of State will gain derogation for an overseas operation. A prior hurdle for the Secretary of State would almost certainly be that parliamentary approval, possibly even beforehand, must be gained.

There are further historical issues. When the Human Rights Act 1998 was being debated, and I first raised concerns about the legal conflicts between it and the Armed Forces Acts, the Lord Chancellor for the Government argued that it would always be possible to derogate and clear the high bar required. But since then the Act’s reach, both territorially and temporarily, has been extended by judgments in the European court and our own Supreme Court.

There is a further problem. Much of the UK’s resistance to these enlarging findings was based on the submission that the HRA applied territorially only to the UK. Were the Secretary of State to seek derogation in support of an overseas operation, this would mean the UK’s acceptance of increased territorial reach, and so would be inconsistent with our previous, strongly argued position.

So my conclusion is that Clause 12 is flawed. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that it is no more than window dressing and it would be more honest to delete it. The Secretary of State does not need a statutory diktat to consider derogation. The possibility was accepted way back when the Human Rights Act became law.

When the forthcoming human rights legislation review takes place, it should consider how to resolve its incompatibilities with the Armed Forces Act. The most critical concern should be how to protect a commander in the heat of battle from having to weigh up the concerns of human rights legislation with the command and direction of armed conflict when the pressure of events leaves little or no time to consider anything more than the successful execution of a military action. The boundaries of combat immunity should be clear before conflict, not established seriatim years later in a court of law. I regret that this even more worrying aspect of the interaction between the convention and armed conflict has not been addressed fully in the Bill.

I have one final thought. Legislation of critical importance to the activities of our armed forces should be consolidated into the Armed Forces Act. Having a single source of legislation critically important to the Armed Forces would help those in the forces and their legal authorities and would avoid inconsistencies in the separate legislation. This Bill does that for the Human Rights Act and the Limitation Act: why not, where relevant, for the Armed Forces Act? The quinquennial reviews would then ensure that these difficult issues were regularly considered.

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Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord West, I speak to Amendment 14. I strongly support this amendment. Torture, genocide and other crimes identified in the laws of conflict should never be subject to doubt that they are not fundamental to the way in which our Armed Forces are expected to operate, no matter how stressful or dangerous the situation they are exposed to on operations overseas. A dangerous ICC charge of not upholding such international law could arise.

Government reasoning for not including torture and war crimes, as is done for sexual crimes, seems to be that there might be some discernible range of tortures or crimes in the Geneva conventions which could be taken into account by the prosecuting authority—bearing in mind the stresses of active overseas operations—before reaching a decision to prosecute. If that is the case, surely it could be applied to consideration of a discernible range of sexual crimes, which the Bill seeks to eliminate from any consideration. Whether it is sexual crimes or torture, degrees of criminality surely can arise. If so, that should not be some explanation, reason or excuse for not prosecuting; neither should be singled out for different treatment. Torture and war crimes should be grouped with those of sex and treated as crimes always to be prosecuted.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 14 and have considerable sympathy for the other amendments in this group, so I will speak generally about these issues. Like all the previous speakers on this group, I believe that this Bill, as presently drafted, undermines our obligations under the Geneva conventions and the UN Convention against Torture, which explicitly require that serious international crimes, such as torture, genocide and crimes against humanity, are investigated and prosecuted. I am deeply concerned about this Bill because it promotes the growing, dangerous idea that the UK can simply set aside international obligations in law. Its entry into force will be yet more evidence of what Theresa May called the abandonment of the UK’s moral leadership on the world stage, and will add to the risk of more prolonged investigations of our Armed Forces, not fewer.

The Government have excluded a number of sexual offences listed in Schedule 1 from the scope of the Bill. During the Bill’s passage through the other place, the Government were asked on several occasions to explain why crimes such as torture and genocide remain within scope of the Bill, while offences of a sexual nature are excluded. In response, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Defence People and Veterans argued that violent and lethal acts are sometimes justified during combat, and these activities can expose service personnel to allegations of torture or other war crimes, whereas sexual violence can never be justified. The Minister repeated that explanation and expanded upon it at Second Reading.

I struggle to understand this explanation or to grasp why this distinction has been made. The best I can do is to summarise it in this way: the argument seems to be that the very nature of war or conflict justifies special rules to protect those engaged in conflict from allegations that they have breached the laws designed, sometimes solely but at least in part, to prevent just war and conflict from being used as an excuse for the perpetration of the most egregious crimes. This argument simply cannot be allowed to prevail.

The use of torture, like sexual offences, can never be justified. The legal definition of torture describes it in terms of the “intentional” or “deliberate” infliction of severe pain or suffering. In short, these acts are clearly distinct from legitimate use of force during combat. It is surely our duty to ensure that no British service personnel will be engaged in a situation which would put them at risk of credibly being accused of conduct meeting any of the relevant definitions of torture, genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

In the event of a rare, credible allegation of such behaviour being levelled at British service personnel, they should be effectively investigated and, where there is sufficient reliable and credible evidence, prosecuted. That is my understanding of our obligations and what we should be seeking to support with no conditionality.

Ministers who deny that the triple lock will weaken our stance on such crimes dismiss these arguments with the rhetorical equivalent of a wave of the hand, even though a large and diverse coalition of military, legal and other experts have sustained their view that it will do exactly that. As your Lordships’ House has heard from every previous speaker, they can explain comprehensively why that is the case.

I have one final point and I make no apology that it is a point which has already been made by every one of the preceding speakers. What is effectively a de facto statute of limitations on the prosecution of crimes makes it much more likely that British soldiers will be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, which acts only where countries are unwilling to prosecute their own citizens. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, explained very clearly at Second Reading and repeated today that this not only makes investigation and possible prosecution by the ICC more likely, but also subjects them to the possibility of such investigations and prosecutions by any number of other jurisdictions.

There are three very specific public warnings of the risks of investigation and possible prosecution by the ICC. In addition to the letter to Ben Wallace, which has been referred to on a number of occasions, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court warned that if a proposed presumption against prosecution were introduced, it

“would need to consider its potential impact on the ability of the UK authorities to investigate and/or prosecute crimes allegedly committed by members of the British armed forces … against the standards of inactivity and genuineness set out in article 17 of the Statute.”

The Office of the Prosecutor also stated in the final report Situation in Iraq/UK published in December 2020, that it will continue to monitor the development of the Overseas Operations Bill and its impact, and may revisit its decision not to take action against the UK for war crimes committed in Iraq in the light of new facts or evidence. The increased risk of investigation or prosecution by the ICC also applies in respect of other past and future overseas operations.

We should all, Government and Parliament, remember that we have a solemn commitment to our Armed Forces given on ratification of the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court, that no member would ever be at risk of appearing in The Hague. If this Bill in its present form becomes an Act of Parliament, it will be a deliberate breach of this commitment and the ultimate irony is that it will expose our armed forces in the future to long and possibly repeated investigations.

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Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 29 in support of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe and the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Boyce and Lord Stirrup. The de facto six-year time limit for claims being brought against Ministers and the MoD arising from active service abroad seems at first sight far from protecting our people, but rather reducing the rights of individual service personnel. Those injured as a result of negligence during overseas operations, unlike in the UK, will have less protection under the law. Veterans and service charities, as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, are very worried and have been taking quite a lot of notice of this. The British Legion and other charities are very concerned.

To keep this short, it seems that the Bill seeks to protect the MoD from claims by our servicemen, rather than trying to look after them. Again, I am absolutely sure that that is not the intention, and this amendment tries to rectify that problem.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 29 and I support this important safeguard for service personnel. As has been mentioned, not all disabilities are immediately self-evident. Medical advances and associating clinical problems with mental or slowly developing illnesses are helping to explain and track the trigger to events not just in the recent past, but over periods measured in years, not months. Should a claim be considered, it should not be dismissed on some arbitrary timeline. Justice for service personnel, both serving and veterans, demands that their interests should be protected.

The changes made in the past decade, replacing the tried and tested Pensions Appeal Tribunal, which had its origins in 1919, with new arrangements, have been the cause of much anxiety at times. Indeed, I put down an annulment Motion to a major tribunal revamp in 2008 that sought to disband the Pensions Appeal Tribunal of England and Wales and move all its military pension and disability work into a civilian social entitlement chamber. This was widely condemned by those with experience of this type of work, by the Royal British Legion and other charities which help with the preparation and submission of such claims. My Motion was debated and, happily, the Government then agreed that the Pensions Appeal Tribunal work should be given its own separate chamber in the restructured tribunals.

So it is not only that claims by service personnel and veterans should not be arbitrarily time-limited: as important is that the tribunal arrangement in place to deal with claims is respected and trusted, as was the former Pensions Appeal Tribunal, with its long experience and proven track record in this field. I hope the Government will acknowledge the importance of that, as well as Amendment 29.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, the scheme of this part of the legislation creates a long stop of six years, subject to date of knowledge provisions which provide for an additional one year. It also specifies certain additional factors to be taken into account under the provisions of Section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980.

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Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
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I have received two requests to speak after the Minister, one from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and the other from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I will call them in that order.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister has reminded us that, when Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon said:

“before embarking on significant future military operations, this government intends derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights, where this is appropriate in the precise circumstances of the operation in question.”

In her letter of 26 February, the Minister indicated that Clause 12 was included to reflect this undertaking. Significantly, Clause 12 does not give the same weight to a decision to derogate as was indicated by Mr Fallon. If that is what is intended, should it not say so in words that reflect the commitment explained by Mr Fallon? What is the Government’s intention? Is it to seek to have in place an effective form of combat immunity for active operations overseas? That would be welcome but, at present, as many noble Lords have said, Clause 12 seems worthless and should not form part of the Bill.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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The Bill has been drafted to reflect the overall policy intentions to try to reassure our service personnel that, before overseas operations are committed to, careful thought is given to them. As the noble and gallant Lord understands, because of the deliberate way that the Bill is drafted, the impact of Clause 12 is merely to consider, not to compel, derogation. I simply repeat my undertaking to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead: I will look very carefully at these arguments.

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Moved by
34: Clause 13, page 8, line 36, at end insert—
“( ) In particular, regulations may amend the Armed Forces Act 2006 for the purpose of consolidating the provisions of Part 1 and this section in that Act.”
Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 34. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, is a co-signatory and supporter of this amendment, but he had a clinical appointment that could not be changed.

What is immediately striking about the Bill is that it is an amending Bill to others for limitations and for the Human Rights Act, but it does not attempt to amend the overarching Armed Forces Act, though I believe that with a little ingenuity in drafting it could be done. In my amendment, I have suggested a post-enactment approach, because it would have been complicated to attempt to rewrite the first part of the Bill in a series of amendments. The reason for my approach is, of course, to bring all legislative matters of direct import for, and impact on, Her Majesty’s Armed Forces under the cover of the Armed Forces Act.

I have been advocating this approach for many years, going back to the problems that have arisen of conflicting legislation for the Armed Forces in their Acts and the Human Rights Act 1998. When that was being debated, I urged, without success, that human rights matters that the Armed Forces must follow were spelled out in their own legislation. Subsequently, I ensured that the Armed Forces covenant received its own part in the Armed Forces Act. Other legislation of direct impact on the Armed Forces and their discipline has been incorporated, in addition to the melding together of the three single-service discipline Acts into the current Armed Forces Act 2006.

As the services get smaller and are liable to be engaged in operations, their legislation under the umbrella of one Act not only makes for tidier legislation but enables those who have to live under and operate the laws that govern the Armed Forces, and to produce manuals of service law to guide individual commanders, to have a much easier task. Certainly for the particular topic of overseas operations, there is a cast-iron case for the relevant content of this Bill to be part of the Armed Forces Act 2006, just as the clauses on limitations and human rights are transcribed to the appropriate Acts.

This a probing amendment, but I am hoping for an acknowledgment of the benefit that this would bring. I beg to move.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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My Lords, I remind the Committee of course of my interests and say what a pleasure it is to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. He makes a very important point, which is tied to some of the points I am making, about how there has been, at times, an inconsistency in the way that we have dealt with defence matters through a series of different Acts. He made the powerful point that potentially it would help if we were to bring them together into a single Act.

I will speak to the very simple amendment in my name, which seeks to extend the territorial application of the Bill to include the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. In much the same vein as the amendment in the name of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, this would align the Bill with the Armed Forces Act, which this Bill references throughout. The Bill currently applies to a member of the regular or reserve forces, or a member of a British Overseas Territory force, as defined by Section 369(2) of the Armed Forces Act 2006, but it does not extend to the territories themselves. This creates ambiguity in its application and my amendment seeks to remove this. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for writing to me since I tabled this amendment. Her letter, a copy of which she has placed in the Library, addresses some, but not all, of my concerns.

I will take a moment to explain why this inconsistency concerns me. It stems, frankly, from a mistake I made as the Minister responsible for taking the last update of the Armed Forces Act through Parliament in 2016. At the time, I questioned why the territorial extent of the Bill applied to all overseas territories and Crown dependencies with the exception of Gibraltar. I was told that Gibraltar wanted to pass its own mirroring legislation and that officials did not anticipate a problem.

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We felt that it was important to ensure that, when there are joint UK Armed Forces and British Overseas Territory forces operations outside the British Isles, all personnel would be covered in the same way by the Part 1 measures in the event of allegations of historical offences on these operations—although in practice we consider any allegations of this nature unlikely to arise. I hope that, with the benefit of that slightly fuller explanation, my noble friend will not press his amendment.
Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for their support for my probing amendment. At the close of two heavy days in Committee, this is not of prime importance in the spread of amendments, but the Bill does offer an opportunity to press for this as a default approach to legislation for the Armed Forces.

I also thank the Minister and will look very closely at what she said in defence of the current arrangements. She raised one point which could be argued both ways when she referred to the fact that the Armed Forces Act has a quinquennial review. It seems to me that these overseas operations would very much benefit from some form of review. Several amendments in the course of the last two days have suggested a review process for this Bill, however it eventually turns into legislation.

I conclude by thanking the Minister again for her considered approach, which I will study very closely. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 34 withdrawn.

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Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am relieved to hear the Minister’s statement concerning Clause12 and its removal. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, asked who the message was to be sent to. The proposal to give notice to a potential enemy that British forces would not be bound by the restraints of the European Convention on Human Rights was truly alarming. It would have exposed our troops in the field to reciprocal treatment.

I followed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in Committee in pointing out the utter uselessness of this clause anyway, in that it could not deal with those most pertinent and significant rights in the covenant from which no derogation is possible. It did not even try to mirror the circumstances of war or national emergency contained in Article 15, which permit derogation only in very strict circumstances. I do not propose to repeat that analysis.

The Government have thought again on the desirability of this clause. I urge them to think again on the desirability of the whole Bill. I urge them to pull the whole Bill and bring it back in the next Session after proper consultation. I do not say this from any party-political position but wearing the hat of the chair of the Association of Military Court Advocates. I cannot say that I am speaking for that association because no meetings have been possible during the pandemic, but you will appreciate that its members’ primary concern is with defending the ordinary service man or woman in courts martial, many of which relate to overseas operations.

For the reasons which I gave in relation to Amendments 1 and 6 and will not repeat at this stage, this Bill does not protect our service men and women. The only body protected by the Bill is the Ministry of Defence, probably for the ignoble reason given in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Hendy: to save a bob or two. It is badly thought out, with many omissions and with repercussions that were not understood, not least in its failure to carry out the manifesto commitment of the Government to give statutory force to the military covenant—a matter which we shall shortly discuss. So, they should pull it now, and by all means bring it back in the next Session in a form which will be of use to and protect serving seamen, soldiers and airmen, without the ill thought-out provisions which expose them to danger. I say to the Government: pull the Bill.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
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My Lords, I too welcome the Minister’s statement. As I have reminded the House, the Government’s justification for this clause to amend the Human Rights Act 1998 was to reflect the undertaking of a ministerial Statement by the then Defence Secretary, and repeated in this House by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on 10 October 2016. If the Government still stand by it, it is worth recalling parts of that Statement. It explained that in overseas operations our personnel have had to face growing legal uncertainty and an unprecedented level of litigation. The Statement said that

“the resulting uncertainties have been distressing to many current personnel and veterans, and military advice is that there is a risk of seriously undermining the operational effectiveness of the armed forces”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/10/16; col. 3WS]

I draw attention to the risk mentioned in that Statement—the risk of seriously undermining the operational effectiveness of the Armed Forces when engaged in conflict.

The Bill does not adequately address the growing concern that commanders of whatever rank may, for fear of later legal challenge or charge, be unsure or inhibited in the orders or directions they give to engage and defeat an enemy in the course of conflict. Statements about combat immunity in relation to human rights legislation lack the precision required for conflict. To state that a court should be

“very slow … to question operational decisions made on the ground by commanders, whatever their rank or level of seniority”

lacks precision for commanders at the time, on the spot. Even before a case reaches court, the accused will be subject to worries and uncertainty for weeks, months and even years while evidence is collected, witnesses identified and prosecuting authorities decide whether to take the case to court for trial. Some might even describe this as mental torture.

In Smith, the judgment was that there is a “middle ground” between close combat on the one hand and political direction on the other about the allocation of resources, where the actions or omissions of individual service personnel can be determined only on the evidence ex post facto—that is, a review far removed in time, place and emotion from the possible extreme dangers of the moment.

I am not questioning these well-argued legal judgments but drawing attention to a mismatch—and I think it is important to draw attention to it—between the disciplinary dictates of the Armed Forces Act and human rights legislation that may arise when service personnel are at or near to war. I drew attention to this in 1998, when debating what is now the Human Rights Act 1998. Regrettably, this Bill does not address this issue, in spite of the Defence Secretary’s Statement. One must hope that the human rights review now being undertaken by Sir Peter Gross—he has assured me that the issue of combat immunity will be considered—will provide a workable solution.

Meanwhile, Clause 12 provided for no more than was originally and clearly stated at the time the Human Rights Bill was being debated in 1998. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, said, and these words are well rehearsed already:

“I also remind your Lordships and the noble and gallant Lord—


that is me—

that under Article 15 of the convention a state may, in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation, take measures derogating from its obligations under the convention to the extent required by the exigencies of the situation.”—[Official Report, 5/2/1998; col. 768.]

The noble and learned Lord further asserted that the human rights convention was a flexible instrument. I fear that is now rather a dubious claim. Clause 12 added nothing to what was made clear in 1998, and I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I too thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his persistence with this, and I especially thank the Minister, for her gracious concession.

It was just a few weeks ago that the former Prime Minister Mrs May warned the Government, in another place, of what she described as the

“fine line between being popular and populist”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/3/21; col. 78.]

I wonder whether that line is quite so fine. To be more explicit than the noble and learned Lord, dog whistles are bad enough in politics, but they are a lot worse in legislation and worse still when they are by way of legislative amendment to the Human Rights Act—our modern Bill of Rights. To turn the power to consider derogation into an express statutory duty, but not to import the appropriate legal test for such a derogation, was a very dangerous dog whistle indeed. I am very glad that it has been withdrawn. Like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I hope that the Government continue in this positive vein and consider other fundamental concerns about the Bill in general.

I do not want to be churlish. This is an important concession from the Government; to treat the Human Rights Act in this way, and to set a precedent for creating duties to derogate and put them in the Act, would have been very dangerous and would have sent a bad signal about the Government’s commitment to human rights at home and internationally.