Speeches

The Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP: Bright Blue’s Women in Work conference speech

Today is the centenary of women’s suffrage.

This is the moment when women finally gained a foothold in political life.

There are some that say: “So what?” They’re the sort of people that have never felt injustice.

When our Prime Minister made her first statement in her new role, she chose to focus on “burning injustices” that still existed in our country.

She was right to do so. And she gave some examples. Here are some more.

  • If you’re in the UK and disabled, you’re 70% more likely to be unemployed.

  • According to experts, LGBT people are more likely to be at risk of being homeless or rough sleeping.

  • 11% of all rough sleepers in London have been in care, and the majority have mental health needs.

  • 30% of women who were in low paid jobs in 2006 were stuck in low pay a decade later.

  • And people from Black African, Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups are still most likely to live in poverty and deprivation and, given the damaging effects of poverty on education, work and health, families can become locked into disadvantage for generations.

To fight injustice, we need a strong economy.

That’s why I’m proud of our track record economically. It was also clear to me that if we were to deliver her agenda we needed to enable Whitehall to better focus on these complex issues. And problems that needed to be tackled by multiple departments.

For the long term – not dependent on Government, but enabled by it.

Issues, which as a nation we had not yet gripped:

layered disadvantage;
ignored potential.
How do we remove multiple barriers, enabling more resource than government has, and help it to be levered in?

It was clear that business as usual wasn’t going to cut it.

If we’re going to deliver on this agenda. We needed to start by joining things up. We need to work smarter. We needed to make sure we are applying the best ideas and solutions, whether they are from within government or outside. We need to get moving – literally.

Last week I announced that the Prime Minister had approved some “machinery of government changes”, as Sir Humphrey would say.

Let me translate.

I want to give the Government Equalities Office not just a new home, but a permanent home, and most importantly at the centre of government.

That’s why I’m delighted that it’ll be in the Cabinet Office, from April, alongside the Race Disparity Unit. From there it will become an equalities hub, and provide some much-needed clout behind those working to ensure all our citizens have what they need to thrive.

A hub for all parts of Whitehall and beyond.

It’s no good having a central government strategy to tackle injustice if local government and communities can’t deliver it, too.

So, critically, such a hub will help us better articulate and co-ordinate a national mission to enable everyone to help fight injustice.

It will help join up our communications with key stakeholders.

One of the early things I asked for in my role as Women and Equalities Minister was a look across all the equalities asks we’re making of business.

An audit showed we’re making lots of similar requests depending on which government department is asking.

We’re asking large employers to report gender pay data.

BEIS are asking them to report CEO pay ratios, and are consulting on ethnicity pay regulations

Government wants business to sign up to a range of schemes like:

  • The Race at Work Charter;

  • Disability Confident;

  • Sector charters for gender equality;

  • and the See Potential campaign.

All of these issues are important and they all require energy and commitment in their own specific areas. But they’re not joined up or co-ordinated.

We need to think how that looks to an HR director or chief executive. How are we helping them to see the bigger picture or helping them to become an inclusive employer?

How irritating is it to have extra burdens placed on you or be lectured about workplace etiquette by a bunch of legislators whose own Houses are far from in order?

We owe it to our businesses to make sure these processes work with each other and reference each other, so that we are setting them up for success, not failure. I want to thank Greg Clark and David Lidington for supporting me in this.

I want us to get better at understanding of the asks we make on businesses and developing policy which supports them to do better on diversity and inclusion. The processes are only the means. It’s the end – the creation of dynamic, diverse, high performing business and organisations – that really matters.

It will help ensure that what we are doing as a government, but also together as a nation, really is greater than the sum of the parts.

My vision for GEO is that we’re the catalysts across government, amplifying and lending weight to the excellent work already underway in so many departments, and also across the country, too.

And while we’re not changing any reporting lines of Minister of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries who are doing work focused on tackling inequality, we will support them from the GEO in getting their ambitions met.

Work by people like:

  • Rory Stewart at the MOJ, trying to tackle the issues of drugs, violence and high rates of self-harm and suicide in prison;

  • People Like Jackie Doyle-Price, who is doing great work on women’s health inequalities;

  • Or Sarah Newton who is not only working on the disability employment gap, but also on empowering the disabled consumer;

  • Or Chloe Smith at Cabinet Office, who is leading work to engage young people in democracy;

  • Or Kelly Tolhurst, who’s putting into practice the government’s commitment to flexible working;

  • Or Heather Wheeler at Housing, Communities and Local Government, addressing the issues facing some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

I know they and other colleagues have huge ambitions and passion in tackling injustice and giving people what they need to build their future.

I know how hard it can be as a Junior Minister to join things up across Whitehall, and move at the pace that potential partners need us to. And the GEO can be of huge help to them in getting the things that we know need doing, done.

This machinery of government change is important, but more is needed too.

Across the public sector, we must ensure equality impact assessments are effective and remain core and integral to our policy development, with proper consideration of equalities knitted into our organisational cultures and decision-making.

And that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is as effective as it can be and delivers on the recommendations made by the Tailored Review which was published earlier this week. I know David is committed in doing that.

When I took over this brief I know questions were asked about its fit with my other, international facing, department.

Much of my focus at DFID is on the sustainable development goals and more recently on the Human Capital Index – what we’re investing in our people, what we could invest and what outcomes are we getting for that investment.

I’m a Human Capital Champion for the World Bank, and that’s a good fit with my domestic brief.

I’m pleased that the Index already disaggregates the data by gender – something the UK Government pushed hard for. But I would like to see it do the same, for example, by disability. The UK should be leading the way on this, building on the strong commitment to transparency which we have already demonstrated through the Race Disparity Audit and Gender Pay Gap reporting.

My work with other nations is about their journey – so that every one of their citizens can reach their full potential.

And that is the same measure we should judge ourselves on too, that no one should be left behind.

And that is at the heart of the Prime Minister’s mission she articulated on the steps of Downing Street.

To deliver that, we will not just need a shift of gear, but a broadening out of what the GEO has been focused on and an increase in our ambitions in this respect.

Whitehall tends to focus on what it knows can be done. What can be easily measured. Its strategy tends to focus pretty much only on what it can effect directly and control.

When it tackles thornier and more complex issues, it’s usually in the shape of discovering best practice, or chipping away at an issue.

And that is what we have tended to do at GEO.

Understandably, and rightly, it has historically had huge focus on women in work.

GEO has successfully shifted the dial on a number of issues including:

  • launching a £1.5 million grant fund to encourage action in the private sector, and launching programmes in the public sector for health professionals, teachers and prospective Civil Servants, all of which are helping ‘returners’ across the country get back into work;

  • supporting the Hampton-Alexander Review to make progress against their ambitious targets for getting more women at the top of business, seeing the number of all-male boards in the FTSE 350 fall from 152 to 5 since 2011;

  • working with BEIS on a Shared Parental Leave campaign to raise awareness and uptake of Shared Parental Leave, helping more families to share caring.

There’s a lot of focus on women in boardrooms. Of course, that is emblematic of the progress women are making. But, in truth, this is not the place where business is being re-imagined. Often poor treatment and the perception of being undervalued in the workplace is the main driver for female entrepreneurs.

But if we want every woman to thrive, to be as financially secure and resilient as they can be, and to reach their full potential we need to broaden out our work beyond, the FTSE 350, beyond London, beyond executives, women on boards and big business.

We need a focus on small businesses, part time work, women from all parts of the UK, low paid women, women with multiple barriers to reaching their full potential, older women, financially fragile women, women who aren’t easy to reach, or measure, or sometimes even to see.

The invisible women who keep our families our public services and our nation going.

Women to who we owe a great deal.

And women who really need our support.

And we need to focus on women at every stage of their lives.

And let me just briefly add some reassurance to the Times newspaper or anyone else who sees the fact that we want to support women who are cleaning offices, as well as the occupants of those offices, and see that as some sort of ‘downgrading’ of ‘middle class’ issues – don’t panic – women’s ministers can multitask.

The work done on gender pay gap reporting has been hugely helpful in focusing larger companies on the issue. It encourages them to understand the various drivers and the action that can be taken by them and others to address it.

Our work has inspired other nations to follow suit, and our metrics have now been adopted by the Bloomberg equality index.

But what does it tell us?

Let’s take a look at the data.

There is a gender pay gap from the beginning of working life, indicating structural inequalities.

The gap rises steeply as women begin to have children and take time out of the labour market to care for them.

It continues to increase as women approach 50, showing the impact of many women taking several years out of work or working part-time, often to enable them to care for children.

And it is highest for those aged 50-59.

The peak age for being an unpaid carer is 55-64 years old – women often do the caring for both children and elderly relatives.

Towards the end of a woman’s working life it continues to rise and then turns into a pensions pay gap. With men projected to have around a 25% higher income on average than women in their first year of retirement.

As we all live longer, this pensions gap will affect people long into their old age, leading to real inequalities in the standard of living people can afford.

It’s important to me that we recognise women are individuals and we are not all identical. A range of factors affects their personal experiences, which we need to do more to understand.

The gender pay gap data and the wealth of research GEO has done over the past year have helped us understand some of the challenges women face around work:

  • caring responsibilities is a huge issue;

  • women are more likely to be low paid than men and far more likely to get stuck in low pay;

  • just over 2 million people are inactive due to caring for home or family and nearly 90% of those people are women;

  • 1 in 10 working age women belong to the ‘sandwich generation’ – providing care as well as having dependent children;

  • this rises to 1 in 7 for women in their early 40s, those who are most likely to be in this position.

Older women of the ‘sandwich generation’ are more likely than men to have given up work as a result of their greater caring responsibilities. This disparity is particularly acute for older women on low incomes.

Women on legacy benefits can be trapped into limiting their hours or income by Tax Credit rules – that is why Universal Credit, which removes the cliff edge between unemployment and work, has to work.

We need to help women and men to have a better understanding of the negative impact of choices they have, may have drifted or been forced into.

The financial impact of these choices tends to be borne by women, so we need to address the reasons for that, find new solutions and create more choice so that those who want to, can share those burdens more equally. It used to be said that behind every great man, was a great woman.

These days great men are ones that get behind women.

And we need to make it easier for them to do so.

Too often work, schools, childcare and health services are designed assuming that one parent will be in work and one parent is the primary carer.

Today’s families want to share caring more flexibly, and we need work and wider social support to reflect that.

This Government has a strong record on childcare and parental leave: by 2019-20 we’ll be spending around £6 billion on childcare support, more than any previous government.

In 2015, we introduced Shared Parental Leave & Pay to help parents share the care in their child’s first year.

This Autumn, we announced plans to require large employers to publish their policies on parental leave and pay; and to ensure ALL jobs are advertised as flexible. But just as the nature of work is changing, and families’ expectations evolve, we must ensure that we continue to look at how we support parents to balance work and care more effectively.

For example, self-employed fathers are not eligible for Shared Parental Leave, and self-employed parents can find it impossible to navigate the complex system as to what they’re entitled to.

The Industrial Strategy points to workplace flexibility as a driver of productivity, but many people still can’t find jobs that offer them the right flexibility.

We recently published the Carers Action Plan and set up the Flexible Working Taskforce to promote best practice for flexible working.

And we also know that getting local and central government to work better together, is absolutely necessary in really making a difference.

There are some great examples – governments partnerships with local authorities in ‘Integration Areas’ across England, combine the weight of central government with the on-the-ground expertise only local government can provide.

But we know sometimes that is the exception rather than the rule – and if local and central government aren’t pushing in the same direction this leads to confusion for people trying to access local services, or incorrect assumption being made about a person’s costs of living, for example making assumptions about a person’s income, but giving no weight to devolved decisions which affect it, such as council tax discounts.

So, as well as what we can learn from gender pay gap data what else do we need to think about.

How can we give better support to the 4.2 million women who are also disabled, or those from an ethnic minority?

White women have an employment rate of 73.3%, while women of Bangladeshi ethnicity have an employment rate of just 32.8%.

In the 2011 census, there were 464,000 women in the UK who could not speak English well or at all.

Or what about those with complex backgrounds often involving domestic abuse – 1.2 million female victims last year.

Women who are financially or digitally illiterate. An OECD study, found that men were over a third more likely to reach a minimum standard of financial knowledge than women. And out of the 4.3 million adults who have no basic digital skills at all, over 60% are women.

But ALL of these women want to find opportunities to realise their talent and we must help all of them.

It should be the GEO mission to ensure that every woman in the UK has as much freedom and choice and capacity and resilience, and support and protection to do whatever she wants to do.

So, you will see a broadening in our work, as well as a new address.

And today I am announcing that the next phase of our returners programme – £500,000 of funding to support people to return to work when they are ready to do so, will be focusing on those with additional barriers to participating in the labour market – including people who speak little English, people with disabilities, and those who are homeless or have been victims of domestic abuse.

I am also announcing a further £100,000 to start some more bespoke support for very marginalised women some of who have little or no work history in particular parts of the country.

There is so much more to do.

We already have some great organisations out there helping us get this right. The Women’s Business Council helps us reach business leaders, and has done some brilliant work since it was established in 2012. In Parliament, the Women and Equalities Select Committee engages with a range of organisations to inform parliament and government’s thinking.

And there are some great forums and campaign groups out there.

But I want to make sure we hear from women in every community, so we are undertaking a piece of work to ensure female voices are better heard by policy makers.

Every woman in the UK should feel able to raise the issues which concern them, and know that we are taking them seriously and are responding to those issues. And to find the right solutions to the complex policy challenges we face, we need to be drawing on everyone’s expertise – no one has a better insight into tricky gender equality issues than the women who are dealing with them every day.

Our message to women is this: you will set our agenda.

The Prime Minister set out her mission.

But it is all of ours, too.

And in these turbulent and divided times I can think of no better mission to bring us together.

Thank you.

See extracts of the speech here and here.

The Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP is Secretary of State for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities

Dr Phillip Lee MP: Bright Blue’s Fighting for Freedom? Conservatism, human rights and discrimination conference

It is a real pleasure to speak to you today. Because Conservatism and human rights are two things I ardently believe in and that drive my personal politics. They are why I am here as a Member of Parliament, Minister and a GP. And I see them as being inextricably linked. For me, the recognition of our human rights is what true conservatism is all about.

So I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Bright Blue on this important discussion. We have a lot of good work to build on in the form of your Human Rights Project. I hope you will keep it up.

I need to say upfront that I am here under slightly false pretences. I am the minister for human rights – but I do not plan to talk much about that brief. Instead, I want to focus on the big strategic question that our Party faces…….
That is: how we advance human rights in the 21st century.
This is an important question.

To answer it, we have to understand how the world and our country are changing.

And we should build on our Conservative tradition of thinkers, politicians, lawyers and Governments who have worked tirelessly to advance human rights. So let me start with some historical perspective.

…We are the party of Edmund Burke, who advocated for the rights of peoples around the world like those in Ireland who were discriminated against because of religion.

…of Sir Robert Peel, our first Prime Minister, who committed to pursue “the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances” in his Tamworth Manifesto that came to define Conservatism.
…We are the party of Benjamin Disraeli, who wrote that “Toryism will…bring back…liberty to the Subject”. His Government extended political, social and economic rights. He laid the foundations for today’s welfare state. His Conservatives hugely reduced the disparity in living conditions between rich and poor.

…of Lord Shaftesbury who ended child labour in mines and brought massive reform to factory working conditions.

…We are the party of Emmeline Pankhurst who was so instrumental in winning the right for women to vote.

…of Sir Winston Churchill who made the enthronement of human rights a British war aim in World War Two. His vision contributed to the founding of the United Nations; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and the European Convention of Human Rights. The last of these, of course, having been co-written by the Conservative MP and lawyer David Maxwell-Fyfe.
…And we are also the party of Margaret Thatcher, whose commitment to individual liberty against autocratic rule was instrumental in bringing down the tyranny of Communism in Eastern Europe – a warning of what Jeremy Corbyn’s hard left politics has to offer.

Into that great tradition steps Theresa May. Her inspiring words on the steps of Downing Street when she became Prime Minister in 2016 outlined today’s Conservative mission to fight the “burning injustices” in our own society. “That…..if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system…. If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions… If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand. If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.”
At every stage in modern history, the Conservatives and conservatism have carried the torch of human liberty, dignity and empowerment. We have been at the heart of the development and protection of human rights. A legacy that Britain has bequeathed to the world.

So it upsets me that the Conservative Party and human rights are rarely associated in the public consciousness except in negative ways. And some in our party fuel this judgment. These are often the same people who promoted our leaving the EU – an institution that, despite its failings, has done more than any other in recent times to advance human rights in practical ways – and would have us ditch the Human Rights Act.

Those colleagues are wrong. It is not Theresa May…..it is not me…..it is not you who are out of step with Conservative philosophy. It is those who would turn back the tide. Our task is to turn this around. To define a conservative approach fit for the 21st century.
Because our world and our country are changing. This is no longer the world in which Magna Carta defined rights to bring peace to our country; or in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defined them to help bring about the post-war peace in 1948.

It is one in which humanity faces new challenges at home and abroad…..The rise of authoritarian regimes, abject poverty, the impact of climate change are all crippling people in other parts of the world. Populist policies, corrosive injustices, and insidious discrimination are pervasive and have taken root in many societies…….. And of course – I hesitate to introduce the subject but cannot ignore it – Brexit.

For me personally, the experiences I have had serving some of our country’s most challenging communities as a doctor and travelling in some of our world’s most troubled places have brought home what some of this means in practice…..

In Britain, this means the lack of social mobility, the dysfunctional families, the scourges of homelessness, drug addiction and criminality, the failure of integration, the decline in personal responsibility – the sheer absence of hope. I have seen all of these things up close and personal – how they corrode our society, how they erode cohesiveness, how they destroy people, families and communities.

In Syria, I saw the impact of absolute poverty, the terror of living under an authoritarian regime and the way good people are left vulnerable to extremism.

And those experiences among others are the foundation of my Conservatism…..

A Conservatism that… seeks to harness the forces that drive human behaviour – love for our fellow beings, and the pursuit of power – to create a secure and just society in which every person is able to get a chance in life – of health, education and employment. To create a society that is fair and free – but in which freedoms are earned because we value our country, our environment, our world. A society in which rights are balanced by responsibilities, for each other and for ourselves.

A Conservatism that… recognises that we must take care of the world we inherit – conserve it – so that we pass something better to our children. We must respect our riches, and each other, and care for our vulnerable. And we must recognise that humanity is the vital bond without which our society, globally and nationally, our communities and our families will disintegrate.

A Conservatism that… people can trust to govern well – in ways that advance us – as individuals, as a society and as a country.
This is a testing time. And our generation will be judged on how we respond. Because our response goes to the heart of the country we want to be…. What we value; how we look after our people; and how we engage in the world to care for our country and our planet.

A first test we face is to create a strong and positive vision for our country after Brexit.

We are rightly proud of our commitment to the rule of law and our strong legislative record to protect individuals’ rights and prevent abuses of power. And it is absolutely right that our Government committed to staying in the ECHR and keeping the Human Rights Act. We also need to look ahead and consider how our legislation – and its enforcement – needs to be strengthened.

We need to recalibrate what we value as a society and consider how we regulate our markets. Because if we let markets decide how society should be governed, human beings become commodities and human values are debased. Some in our Party would have us oversee massive deregulation. Stripping employment and environmental protections along with everything else. Setting up as many trade deals as possible to generate money. This would be an unfair and unjust foundation for our country’s future. And it is not the Conservative way.

Markets have their place. But we have to make sure that they serve humanity, enhance our liberty and dignity. Not the other way round.

We should be guided by the courage, determination and wisdom that Wilberforce showed to end slavery. And that Shaftesbury showed to end child exploitation. They had powerful opponents. Because the end of the slave trade meant the end of a very profitable market that damaged the economy in places like Bristol, Liverpool and the West Indies. The end of child labour and the introduction of compulsory education made life hard for families who relied on income from their children and for factory owners who faced expensive regulation. Tackling those injustices was not the free market choice, nor the profitable choice. But it was the right thing to do. It was the Conservative thing to do.

A second test is how we nurture good citizens. Because if we lose our own humanity, the most perfect systems and legislation are – at best – worth nothing.

Let me share two personal stories with you from my role at the Ministry of Justice.
The first is that of Darren and John. John was born into organised crime. His uncle carried out one of our most famous robberies and at 16 he owned a sawn-off shotgun, which he was pointing at security vans across London. But in prison, thanks to Darren, a prison officer who appreciated John as a person and did not write him off as a criminal, John found out that he could row. He broke the world indoor rowing record. And now he is a law-abiding, professional, Nike-sponsored, leading international triathlete.

The second is about the women who get caught up in our criminal justice system – many of them ending up in prison for relatively minor offences. Remarkably, a few of them each year, usually among the poorest, are there because they have not paid the TV licence. Over half of them come from abusive backgrounds and are victims of domestic violence. I do not want our society to be one that sends these women to prison. I want us to help these women become the valuable members of society that most of them would like to be.
And we will do this. Our women offenders’ strategy will be published soon. And although I would have wanted more money for it, and our society should find the money, I am confident that I have secured the right direction of travel. We will begin to establish a network of residential women’s centres across the country – a better form of detention. One that helps these women to become responsible citizens, supports their families, respects human dignity and protects the weak. It will transform the lives of those it touches. It will be a measure of our humanity.

And looking after our most vulnerable is not the job of Government alone. It is a way of life that every responsible citizen needs to embrace. As our society fractures and religion retreats, we need to reconsider what responsible citizenship means and how to inspire it in our people, our communities and our companies.

A third test is to look beyond our shores. We must be ambitious for our generation – seek to advance the whole of humanity and see clearly that the abuse of human rights is the global crisis of our times. We must be more globally engaged. Because in our interconnected world, our actions affect others and ignoring problems overseas quickly brings them to our own shores.

It is to our shame that we are presiding over the highest levels of global human displacement ever. That 65.6 million people have been forced from their homes. That over half of our 22.5 million refugees are children under 18. That 10 million people are denied basic rights because they are stateless. Each of the world’s refugee crises is the result of a failure to protect human rights.

We must deal with tyranny. Because tyranny only begets tyranny. And it is always those that least deserve it that suffer most.

But you cannot bring freedom, justice and peace with high-tech weaponry – and I have previously opposed that course of action in Syria in 2013. The right focus for our effort is human security. And that needs to be pursued by empowering people. Military intervention has its place. But it must be used to create – not destroy – human security.

And here we need to be honest about where we still fall short. The Universal Declaration declares “periodic and genuine elections…by universal and equal suffrage” to be a human right. And regimes in every corner of the globe make a point of holding elections. But just holding elections does not empower people. Votes need to be meaningful. People must have a real choice and be able to make a difference.

So we must make better use of the levers we have for effecting change and use all our ingenuity to create new ones. Many countries still look to Britain to show the way and we have a responsibility to step up.
To conclude….

We should not lose sight of the fact that human rights in this country have moved on immeasurably in the last 70 years. This touches us all – young and old, regardless of gender, age, religion, ethnic background. For we all have protections that were unimaginable when Churchill made the enthronement of human rights a British war aim. The very air we breathe is better because we now recognise clean air to be a basic human right.

But we must not be complacent. The challenges that our generation faces are no harder and no easier than those that previous generations have overcome. Britain used to lead the way in protecting and expanding human rights. That is no longer true today. The cause is too often twisted to serve other agendas or selectively applied to some groups and not to others…and this is as true in our own country as elsewhere.

For me, it is simple. Respect for humanity, human dignity and human rights should guide all of our policy – at home and abroad – and every aspect of how we govern. Not just because that is right. But because that is what brings the security, prosperity and human advancement – physical and spiritual – for which we all strive and that is the fundamental point of human existence.

Brexit offers us the chance as a nation and a Party to look at what sort of country we want to be. For me, the choice is clear: we must reclaim the true conservatism of Shaftesbury and Disraeli and others and model Britain as a compassionate force for good.

So the discussion that you have started is vital. We must embrace it and use it to map the future for our Party, our Government, our Country – and our world.

Let’s make sure we are on the right side of history in the finest Conservative tradition – leading the way on liberty, dignity and justice.

And so my challenge to you – to this conference – is to reclaim our Party’s title as a great global champion of human rights…. In fact, to be the greatest! That means standing up to those – particularly within our party – who want us to move away from that path.

Before I finish, I want to make one final point….

The essence of a conservative approach to human rights is the Burkean principle that our institutions guarantee those rights. Most important of all, a Government’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens. This is usually understood in military terms but I believe it applies more generally. It means that sometimes, when a majority of our people wants something that is against the good of society, Government and Parliament have a responsibility to protect us. This was the case with the death penalty when for decades politicians went against the majority view and refused to reinstate it. Now I believe it needs to be the case with Brexit.

I believe that the evidence now shows that the Brexit policy our Government is currently pursuing on the basis of the 2016 referendum is detrimental to the people we are elected to serve. Certainly, it now seems inevitable that the people, economy and culture of my own constituency will be affected negatively. And I cannot ignore that it is to them that I owe my first responsibility as their Member of Parliament.
Today, as many of you know, MPs are voting on the House of Lords’ amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill. In particular, there is one amendment which – if it is adopted – will empower Parliament to take back control of the process, if necessary rejecting a bad deal and directing the Government to re-enter discussions, extending or pausing negotiations which are being badly rushed because of the deadline that Article 50 imposes.

It is fundamentally important that Parliament should have a voice so it can influence the final outcome in the interests of the people it serves. A fake choice between a ‘bad deal’ and a cliff-edge ‘no deal’ – a vote between bad and worse – is not a meaningful choice. It would breach such fundamental principles of human rights and Parliamentary sovereignty that we would not recognise it as being valid in other countries. It is not one that our Parliament should accept.

If it comes to it, my Parliamentary colleagues and I will have to ask ourselves whether we can vote in our own Parliament – that bastion of liberty, freedom and human rights – in favour of something that we would rightly criticise elsewhere. For me, the answer will be….I cannot….

That is why I urge our Government to do the right thing and amend the legislation to ensure that Parliament is properly able to exercise its duty to our country and our constituents by ensuring we are not stuck with a bad deal or no deal.

It is hard to be part of a Government that would countenance the breach of such fundamental principles – and it is important that individual ministers and Parliamentarians should be able to speak up. But effective Government in our country also relies on the important principle of collective responsibility. So I am very sad to have to announce that I feel I must resign as a minister so that I can properly speak out for my country and my constituents……..

I really have finished now. I will be issuing a statement shortly. And so you will forgive me if I get on with the important work that is ahead and go straight back to Parliament to represent my constituents and my country. Thank you……

 

The Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP: Conservatism and human rights

Speech to Bright Blue: Conservatism and human rights

Thank you for inviting me to come along here this morning to participate in your conference and in particular in the launch of the essay collection on Conservatism and human rights. I have to say, when I first heard that Bright Blue was doing this, I was absolutely overjoyed because from my point of view, I've felt slightly, in the course of the last eighteen months, that I'm in danger of turning into one of those CDs which has got caught with a scratch and just going on and on and on about the same theme. As I once said to one of my colleagues in the Cabinet, it would be very nice to get a life again. This was because of course I parted company with the Prime Minister over the issue of adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Government's proposals in respect of a bill of rights.

What excited me so much of seeing the papers written in Conservatism and Human Rights in the essay collection was this was really breaking new ground, booking new topics and perhaps, dare I suggested, getting away from an argument that I sometimes fear is in danger of becoming a little bit sterile. What I wanted to do this morning, then, at the risk of going over an old argument, was just to touch a little bit on this fundamental issue of our relationship with the European Convention because I think it's rather important in the way it colours everything else that we might be doing including this work being done by Bright Blue in looking at other areas of discrimination or indeed of human rights more generally.

The first thing I think we have to remember particularly as this is a think tank rooted in liberal conservatism is that traditions of liberty run really deep in conservative philosophical thinking. It isn't difficult, if you go along to what I would describe as a very traditional conservative audience, to start getting them quite misty-eyed if you start talking about the traditional liberties, starting with Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, and the Bill of Rights of 1689. They are, indeed, rooted in our DNA, and I think a little further than that, rooted in a tradition of English ... I say, “English” with some diffidence, but I think one has to accept it starts with England, of English exceptionalism, a view that within the land and territory in which we live, there are fundamental values reflected in our political system and in the rights and liberties of the individual which we may have exported elsewhere but are very much our own creation.

I'm always mindful that there are other extraordinary treaties written in the middle of the fifteenth century by Chief Justice Fortescue who wrote a book for the son of King Henry VI, who was subsequently, I might add, murdered after the Battle of Tewkesbury, which was a manual of government that he'd seen. It was called De laudibus legum Angliae, in praise of the laws of England. Rather remarkably, if you go to this treatise, you will find a denunciation of torture and the fact that it is alien to our common law. You will find in it a praise of due process of law, a praise of limited government, pointing out that the King of England, unlike foreign kings, is not able to do whatever he wants because he is a political ... he governs a body politic, which can control his actions and, I think in a way, most remarkably, you see his statements about trial by jury, which he says is an excellent principle for the protection of the individual. He goes on, rather remarkably, to say that he would rather see twenty guilty men acquitted than one innocent person wrongfully condemned.

That tradition runs through the conflict between king and parliament in the seventeenth century, the petition of right, Lord Mansfield's judgement in Somerset's case, sometimes seen on slavery, sometimes seen as being a great model of liberalism, but actually it was approached from a thoroughly conservative angle. He just said there can't be slaves in this country because there never have been, and the law of the common law does not allow it; and of course on through the nineteenth and twentieth century to the aftermath of the second world war. In the aftermath of the second world war, we did do something very different. When Eleanor Roosevelt came along and said that she wanted a Magna Carta for the twentieth century, we concluded, along with our European partners that had survived the second world war and were free countries rather than under communist tyranny, that we were going to try to actually crystallise what was an aspirational document, the UN Charter, into a document that really conferred rights, which was the creation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Not surprisingly, at the time we did it, there was a lot of controversy about whether it was right that we should do it or not. There was a wonderful Foreign Office memo which says "to allow governments to become the objects of such potentially vague charges by individuals is to invite communist crooks and cranks of every type to bring actions." A lot of anxiety that it was loosely worded. A lot of anxiety that it would be open to judicial interpretation by, of course, ultimately, an extraterritorial court. We eventually signed up and, indeed, its greatest proponent was David Maxwell Fyfe, who was both a Conservative Attorney General and subsequently a Conservative Lord Chancellor. Why did we do that? I think we did it because as well as our national tradition of exceptionalism, the United Kingdom in the two hundred years leading up to the second world war had become totally enmeshed in the international system.

We were a trading nation and even at the height of our imperial power, we had a keen understanding that our own country was very small by global standards and that its power depended as much on trying to change people's behaviour as all asserting power over them. I once asked the Foreign Office if they could tell me how many treaties the United Kingdom is adherent to. They got into a terrible state about this and they all disappeared down into the bowels of the Foreign Office and they came back and they said they were very reluctant to go back beyond 1834 because their records might not be accurate. Since then, their figure was 13,200 treaties that the United Kingdom had signed and ratified, and perhaps more tellingly, over 700 had an arbitral mechanism for resolving disputes over interpretation.

Of course these range from the UN. charter, the International Convention for the Law of the Sea, the European Convention on Human Rights, dare I say, I won't dwell any further about it or our treaties of accession to the European Union and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, but that's about all I'm going to say on that aspect of Europe. Why are we signed up to all these treaties? We signed up because we believed that it was important to create a mesh of mutual obligations which raised the standards of behaviour, not just for ourselves but for other people.

Over the years, those standards of behaviour have shifted. They're not just about how one state behaves toward another state but, as was shown in the UN. Convention and in the European Convention on Human Rights, how a state behaves towards its own citizens, a critical change from the Westphalian model, which said that ultimately what a state does to its own citizens is entirely a matter for itself. President Putin in a sense establishes in his intervention in Syria, which is the Syrian Government is responsible for its own citizens and he just goes there to pursue his own foreign policy, regardless of its implications.

My view is that, one then has to look at how the convention has worked since. Sixty five years on, it does seem to me that the convention has been a remarkably successful document, indeed so successful that when the Conservative Party published its paper suggesting that we should leave it, it had to acknowledge ... and I think I've got the quote right, that it was an entirely sensible statement of principle that should underpin a democratic nation. Unfortunately, we as a party have then gone on to accuse the court in Strasbourg of subverting the intentions of the draftsmen and because of that, that is our principle argument why we might want to pull out.

As you'll be aware, the only paper we've seen so far on the subject published in October 2014 ... we still wait for the famous bill of rights, that document that is due out at some point but not until well after the referendum, I suspect, is that they want to clarify rights, particularly under article three and eight, that's torture and right to private and family life, and confine it to serious matters that should be determined by parliament as to that threshold, and potentially break the link with the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg altogether and have a wholly, home-grown, national bill of rights, I suppose in keeping with that English exceptionalism which I touched on at the start of my talk.

I think that that is a mistaken approach. I'm reassured that even Michael Gove may think it's a mistaken approach because he's rather rowed back on it, although he still told the parliamentary committee that he wasn't 100% sure that we might not have to withdraw from the convention. My reason for thinking that the party is mistaken is that, of all its faults, it does seem to me that the convention has stood the test of time. Not only has it stood the test of time but it has been the most powerful and effective lever for promoting human rights on our planet. I haven't got time this morning to run through a lengthy list, but it is perhaps just worthwhile highlighting a couple of cases. Just consider, back in the early seventies the court removed the rights to discriminate against children on the grounds of their legitimacy.

Dudgeon in the United Kingdom, on homosexuality in Northern Ireland, the judgement, of course, which was far more important outside of Northern Ireland than in other countries, particularly in Eastern European after they signed the convention. After all, in England and Wales, we had decriminalised homosexuality some time before. More recently, in Russian, establishing the principle that people trafficking is a form of slavery and, therefore, not only is it something which must be criminalised, but there must be a positive duty on the state to try to suppress it in exactly the same way as we did with slavery in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Of course, all these things and developments highlight the fact that the convention is, to quote its detractors, who seem to use this term rather frequently, a living instrument. If it wasn't a living instrument then none of the judgments I've just given you would ever have been able to take place because the standards to be applied to the convention would have been the standards of 1950, when discrimination on the grounds of illegitimacy, criminalization of homosexuality were perfectly permissible and people trafficking didn't exist as a phenomenon at all. What's happened in each of those cases is that the Court of Human Rights has been able to interpret the Convention in light of current social standards and circumstances. This appears to be something which comes in for a lot of criticism from some traditionalists, but I have to say that without it, it's very difficult to see how, in fact, the law could be made to work at all.

When we look at this, we might also want to consider the cross-fertilization that has taken place between the court in Strasbourg and our own courts. It shows that, in fact, the working together of two different traditions of jurisprudence can be very effective. Take most recently the question of hearsay in criminal cases. There was a case called al-Khawaja in Strasbourg, which suggested that our hearsay rules might be unacceptable. We then countered with another judgment in a case called Horncastle and we persuaded the court in Strasbourg to change its view. Of course, sometimes the Strasbourg court simply comes to a conclusion which is different with our own court altogether, but the examples are not necessarily all one way. We may get credit for the need, I claim, of the court's decision on prisoner voting as being an excessive interpretation of the convention, of not giving the United Kingdom a sufficient margin of appreciation in order to make up its own rules.

I have to say that in the last five years, I have never had a single complaint about the decision of the Strasbourg court to condemn the United Kingdom for its blanket policy on DNA and fingerprint retention in S and Marper, notwithstanding the fact that the House of Lords had signed it off as being completely acceptable. That's not to say that all is perfect with the Strasbourg court. I don't think it is.  It's a court that has grown from an idea that it might handle a half a dozen cases a year to one which, at its worse point five years ago, had a backlog of 150,000 cases. The court was drowning under the impact particularly of the arrival of states in Eastern Europe with no rule of law tradition at all.

In fact, it has succeeded partly because of the work of Ken Clarke when he achieved the Brighton Declaration in 2012, in entirely transforming itself, reducing its backlog now to 60,000 cases and with the insertion of the preamble into the text of the convention, asking the court, reminding it to allow national courts and parliaments ... that it is national courts and parliaments who are primary applicants of the convention and not the court itself, which is the longstop. There's a remarkable change, I think, which has been taking place in the way in which the court approaches its workload. Previously, it had probably been micromanaging a bit too much, partly because of its deep concern about the Eastern European countries which had joined and where the rule of law appeared to be so fragile. As a consequence of that, we get cases like that on political advertising, where interestingly enough, the animal defenders, the court agreed that the United Kingdom's interpretation of freedom of expression to limit the right to political advertising was completely acceptable, even though when it had first considered it, it thought that it was not because it was an excessive restriction.

Then, we just have to consider what's going on elsewhere. I always find myself a bit worried when I discuss human rights issues. It seems to me there's a little bit too much of the, ‘me, me, me’ going on, and it becomes an entirely introverted discussion about the United Kingdom or even, for that matter, just England. We ought to consider whether the convention's working. We also have to look at what it's doing elsewhere. We don't live in a bubble. At the moment, just to give you an idea, in the course of its history, 2,400 of the judgments of the Court of Human Rights have been against Turkey. Forty three percent of all cases on the freedom of expression have concerned Turkey, which have gone before the court.

In a moment, you won't be surprised to learn that a lot of its workload concerns countries like Russia and the Ukraine, and indeed, Georgia, Azerbaijan. The public defender in Georgia told me ... he's a sort of ombudsman. He said as far as he's concerned, he could not do his job without the convention because ultimately, even though the rule of law was very fragile in his country, the Georgian Government believed in its membership in the Council of Europe, saw it as an important statement both of the intent and status, and would therefore comply with judgments. That was the only way in which he was able to get redress for the citizens who came to him with violations of human rights, usually by state actors, often the police or other public authorities.

Nor, I think, is the suggestion that the convention is now worthless because there's a failure of implementation decisions. I don't think that stands up to scrutiny either. It's true there's a backlog of about 11,000 cases which haven't been implemented. Russia ... Italy is the worst culprit, but that's because of the length of time it takes to get its cases heard. Actually, in terms of egregious breaches, it's undoubtedly the Russians, and I regret to say that at the moment, the time it takes to get a decision implemented against the Russians is about ten years, but they do eventually pay off damages to the people whose rights have been violated.

Other countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria also had poor records but the evidence is overwhelming that the convention is working to improve their systems. Of course, it's not just convention states that benefit from the existence of a convention. Take that great popular bugbear of the Daily Mail, Mr. Abu Qatada, something which is likely to make the hackles rise on the napes of the neck of the average Conservative voter. Mr. Qatada, as you recall, we eventually deported to Jordan. The Daily Mail thought it took far too long and cost far too much money, but the simple fact was that in deporting him to Jordan, we eventually got rid of him because the Jordanians entirely changed their criminal justice system in respect to evidence in order to ensure that no evidence could be accused against him which had been obtained under torture.

It must represent one of the most tremendous victories for those who wish to see torture removed off the face of our planet, and it was achieved entirely because the United Kingdom was prepared to obey the rules, and not as the Daily Mail recommended, to chuck Mr. Qatada on the next plane, regardless of the views of the Strasbourg Court. That's why I take the view that the convention is of the utmost value to us. If we are prepared to work within the context of the convention, then, as this tremendous booklet shows, we can start thinking about other areas of rights which need to be addressed. Interestingly, as the last session demonstrated, we're beginning to do it. After all, the Equality Act could have gone into a bill of rights but we chose to do it as an equality act.

On the face of it, there are problems with the Equality Act. I have absolutely no doubt about it, and we've had some recent cases about issues of the balance of the way it works. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it's working well. The law is developing. All that is being done entirely in conformity with our adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights. In the paper which has just been published, there are a number of essays on challenges posed dealing with the problem of refugees in the mass migration, an intensely political issue, which, on the face of it, highlights severe shortcomings in the way in which the UN Convention on Refugees operates.

We have a discussion on LGBT matters, which we have just listened to this morning. For example, there is a whole chapter on the duty of rescues, and that struck me as quite relevant because the one thing it didn't have was the question of the international dimension in the duty of rescue, which of course came very much to the fore in the decision which was voted down by the House of Commons but which the Prime Minister wanted to pursue, of invoking the Doctrine of Humanitarian Necessity to take military action against President Assad. Highly controversial, because that doctrine is not recognised in some sections of international law. It's impossible to speculate whether the outcome in Syria would have been better or worse had we taken such action.

Finally, an excellent chapter by Malcolm Rifkind on the investigatory powers bill which, as chairman of the ISC, is a subject which I know is highly controversial, very complex, but one where we as conservatives have to somehow try to strike the right balance between security and privacy, and I believe are in a position to do just that.

I promised I would speak for no more than half an hour and I suspect my half an hour is coming up, so I'm going to bring my remarks to an end, but I really want to repeat again what I said at the beginning. As conservatives, liberal conservatives, I think we would do well to remind ourselves that we are the heirs to a great tradition, one which I think has a lot of traction outside of the Conservative Party or indeed conservative circles itself and one for which we are instinctively respected.

If we want to build on that, we need to look at the totality of the architecture of rights and we need to do that most conservative of things, which is to conserve and then build on what we have conserved. In that context, my view has always been absolutely clear in my mind that to start to knock down the architecture of the European Convention on Human Rights in the, to my mind, rather deluded belief that there is a better tomorrow, an easier tomorrow if you do it is, I'm afraid, a delusional mirage.

Rather, what we should do is accept the frameworks in which we operate, seek, of course, as we did at Brighton in the Brighton Declaration, to change those if we think it's necessary to do so by negotiation with our partners, and also to use the creative engagement, even if sometimes it irritates us a little in order to decide how we ourselves take rights forward in this country. If we do that, then we're doing exactly what a Conservative Party should be doing, which is striving to look at our national picture and to do good for our fellow citizens. Thank you very much.