THE shadow Home Secretary has said Monica McWilliams's proposals for a Bill of Rights "make his hair stand on end".
Conservative Dominic Grieve has lambasted the plans for the rights act, tabled just before Christmas, by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
Speaking at a Tory-UUP dinner at Clandeboye Lodge, near Bangor, Mr Grieve made it clear that a Tory Government would not agree the Bill which is currently with the Labour leadership for consideration.
He said there is “a rights culture” which is “out of control”, not just in Ulster, but throughout the UK.
It did not help that “the undeserving in society” can often use rights legislation for personal gain, he added.
The Conservatives, he suggested, intend to create a UK Bill of Rights which would have in-built safeguards to prevent those “whose own behaviour is lacking” from abusing the powers.
The Tories would then like to see devolved government in Northern Ireland adopt the UK bill, with any changes or additions to take countenance of local needs and issues.
But there would be no possibility of imposing the bill on people here.
In short, he said, there is no need for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland as envisaged.
Mr Grieve commented: “What the Northern Ireland Commissioner (Ms McWilliams) has come up with, makes my hair stand on end.”
He said it was embarrassing that the Bill – agreed by a majority of the Commission, but not ratified by unionist members, Lady Trimble of the UUP and Jonathan Bell, DUP – enshrined the form of government setup under the Belfast Agreement.
This was because the Agreement itself, agreed the power-sharing Executive was a model which could change and would be subject to review. This is with a view to a proper majority or voluntary coalition government being formed, based on who tops the poll.
The Tories, UUP and DUP believe the Bill goes way beyond the remit the Commission was given for drafting it.
The parties believe the Commission expanded this remit by aiming to have an all-encompassing socio-economic based Bill of Rights.
Mr Grieve said governments and legislation were intruding too much into people’s lives.
A key thinker in the Tory Party, who would only be outranked in a Conservative cabinet by David Cameron, George Osborne and William Hague, he insisted his party was supportive of human rights responsibilities being enshrined in law.
And, he added, the Tories believed the European Convention on Human Rights had been an effective template, though sometimes flawed in its application.
But what they want is a Bill of Rights that everyone in the UK could feel they had ownership of and could truly believe in and adhere to – in the same way that Americans believe in the 10 amendments of their Bill of Rights.
An NIHRC spokesperson commented: “The Human Rights Commission has fulfilled its mandate to provide advice on the possible content of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. This mandate was agreed by locally elected politicians in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and further endorsed at St Andrews and supported by the Government.
“There will of course be a diversity of views on the content of Bill of Rights as there is in any society and the Commission has recommended that Government conducts a public consultation as soon as possible.”
During his speech, Mr Grieve touched on a range of issues, as he welcomed the new Conservative-UUP link.
He revealed that former Tory leader William Hague had proposed the UUP-Tory tie-up back in 2001 and assigned him to liaise with then UUP leader David Trimble but the two parties failing electoral performances meant the timing was wrong.
As shadow Home Secretary and shadow Attorney General, he said he personally had no problem with devolving policing, but was unsure that justice should be devolved yet – he was especially concerned that the Director of Public Prosecutions will not be answerable to Ulster’s politicians, in accordance with how the law works elsewhere in the UK.