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Year 2000 No. 164-5, October 3-4, 2000 Archive Search Home Page

Human Rights Act:

The Fight for a Modern Conception of Rights Must Be Taken to its Conclusion

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Human Rights Act:
The Fight for a Modern Conception of Rights Must Be Taken to its Conclusion

For Your Reference:
Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights Embodied in the Human Rights Act

Proton in Rover Talks with Phoenix

Elderly to Hold Public Meeting to Defend Social Programmes

Commemorating the Foundation of the Workers’ Party of Korea

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Human Rights Act:

The Fight for a Modern Conception of Rights Must Be Taken to its Conclusion

On Monday, October 2, the provisions of the Human Rights Act came into force. This Act incorporates articles of the European Convention on Human Rights directly into the law of England and Wales. These articles have already been incorporated into Scottish law after devolution took place.

In a certain sense, this incorporation is long overdue. It is correct that the law of the land should embody the rights (as well as the duties) of its citizens, as what are termed positive rights. The long-standing custom of British law has been one of so-called negative rights, which is to say that in law one is free to do as one wishes, except insofar as specific actions are made criminal offences or subject to restrictions under the law.

However, it can be said that this incorporation of positive rights in the Human Rights Act has fundamental limitations on three fronts. Firstly, there are limitations in the manner of the Act’s enactment. Secondly, there are serious limitations to the realisation of the rights in practice because of the concrete conditions of the life of society. Thirdly, there is a fundamental limitation in the whole conception of rights which are being put forward under the Act, which in turn means that some fundamental rights pertinent to a modern society are completely ignored.

The Act specifies, and Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has been at pains to point out, that its provisions do nothing to undermine the exercise of parliamentary sovereignty. This means to say that parliament as the legislature may pass any Act with absolute authority (and indeed it is the government as the executive which initiates this legislation). Another way of putting this is to say that every Act has constitutional force. There is no fundamental law of the land, no supreme constitutional law, embodying the rights and duties of citizens, and spelling out where political power arises from, against which enactments of parliament may be judged as a yardstick, and struck out if they violate it. This is not to say that there is no constitutional law. It is to say that the constitutional law and the notion of parliamentary sovereignty are anachronistic and incompatible with a modern democracy. The Human Rights Act does not constitute a fundamental law, or bill of rights, in that the judiciary may only declare that, if a challenge to legislation under the Act is upheld, that legislation is incompatible with the Act. Parliament is under no obligation to alter or withdraw such an Act. In that sense, the Human Rights Act is on a par with every other Act of Parliament. One need only quote the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act. Here for instance any notional right of "freedom of assembly" is explicitly limited in a number of ways. Will the government repeal this Act?

Secondly, the conditions of society militate against the affirmation by individuals and collectives of their rights, and against the means by which such rights may be enforced or guaranteed. One of the Home Secretary’s arguments in favour of the Act has been that he expects the judiciary to take a "robust" approach to "frivolous" claims. The example of Scotland is cited where since the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights have been incorporated into Scottish law, only 60 out of 600 actions have been able to go forward. Another example which can be given of a legal right which is proving difficult to enforce is that of workers to paid holiday, when figures are showing that in many cases, especially in small firms, this is having to be foregone or workers lose their jobs. In general, the issue of the conditions in the society is that the economically rich and politically powerful have the means whereby they are in a position of privilege, where their economic and political will can be enforced. The increasing division between the rich, who are getting richer, and the vast majority who are becoming increasingly impoverished and equally important being denied any means to control their own future, is a salient feature of this society. As the social fabric is falling apart, it is this situation that threatens to make a mockery of the Act.

An American newspaper reported the Act’s coming into force with the headline, "209 Years Later, the English Get American-Style Bill of Rights". This highlights both the backward character of Britain, which is two centuries late in setting out some of the rights of its citizens, but also the limitations of such a "Bill of Rights". The comparison illuminates that such a Bill or Act is not an instrument for the people’s exercising their rights, but a means for entrenching the privileges of the rich and powerful, who are enabled through such an instrument to define and enforce these privileges as "rights" as against the disempowered majority. This is a well-known feature of American-style democracy.

The most fundamental limitation of the Human Rights Act is the conception of rights which it embodies. It does not start from the basis that society must guarantee the rights of all its members by virtue of the fact that all are human beings, and that the government is duty-bound to place their claims on society in the first place. A modern definition of rights stresses that rights are inalienable and inviolable, they can neither be given nor taken away, because the holders are human beings. In this way, it can be said that human rights are precisely the rights of human beings. What are these rights in modern-day society? Should it not be recognised that to have food, shelter and clothing are the most elementary human rights? Should not the right to a livelihood be recognised as a fundamental human right, along with the right to health care and education at the highest level available to all? The limitation of the conception of human rights embodied in the Act becomes apparent. The government seems not prepared to recognise these as rights, but they are made dependent on the "resources" which the government asserts are only at its disposal within limits.

Therefore what can be said is that the Human Rights Act is limited by a 19th century and Eurocentric notion of human rights, which should be more properly referred to as civil rights. In general, though a mixed bag, their purpose is to regulate these civil rights of civil society as against the government, as well as "public authorities". It is consistent with the theories that Tony Blair has been propounding of the responsibilities of "civil society", over and above which is the government and which should work in partnership with it. Within this, rights of minorities are supposed to be guaranteed by guaranteeing the civil rights of all members of society to freedom of assembly, speech, the press, conscience, freedom from torture, and so on. But the reality of the society is that minorities, including the various communities and sections of the people, are not protected from discrimination and oppression. The mode of production of society rests on the private ownership of the means of production, in which the most vulnerable are the most exploited. Furthermore, the human right of all members of society to participate in governing their own society is not recognised, indeed is conspicuous by its absence. The reins of power are kept firmly in the hands of an elite and society is run to benefit the rich. So far from the rights of all to a livelihood being recognised and the claims of all being met, the very social programmes are transformed into channels to ensure the maximum economic returns for the rich.

This situation underlines that the fight for a modern conception of rights must be taken to its logical conclusion. Rights must be affirmed in a manner which affirms all human beings and their collectives, including in the form of the nation. It can therefore be also added that the fight for a modern constitution which embodies and guarantees fundamental human rights also continues. Such a constitution can only be written by an insurgent people, led by the working class which is organising itself to defend its interests, constitute itself as the nation and vest sovereignty in the people and defend that sovereignty. Such a new society will recognise the rights of all by virtue of the being of each human person.

Article Index

For Your Reference:

Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights Embodied in the Human Rights Act

Article 1: A preamble to the convention, has not been enacted;

Article 2: The right to life;

Article 3: Prohibition against torture or inhuman or degrading treatment;

Article 4: No one to be held in slavery and forced labour;

Article 5: Right to liberty and security;

Article 6: Right to a fair and public trial by an impartial, independent tribunal;

Article 7: No one should be subject to retroactive penalties or law;

Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence;

Article 9: Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;

Article 10: Freedom of expression;

Article 11: Right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association;

Article 12: Right to marry and found a family;

Article 13: Right to a national remedy (not enacted because the Act itself is deemed sufficient remedy);

Article 14: All above rights to be secured without discrimination;

Article 15: Derogation permitted in time of emergency (not enacted);

Article 16: Freedom to restrict political activity of aliens;

Article 17: Prohibition of abuse of rights;

Article 18: Limitation on use of restrictions on rights.

Several other articles to the European Convention on Human Rights have been enacted:

Article Index

Proton in Rover Talks with Phoenix

Management of the new Phoenix consortium are following the same path outlined by the Alchemy venture capitalists prior to the sell-off of Longbridge. John Towers has led the company into talks with the Malaysian company Proton. Towers confirmed that negotiations were taking place last Saturday night.

Alchemy were intent on making large numbers of workers redundant and concentrating on the MG model. Already Phoenix have eliminated the Mini and changed the name to MG Rover. Towers and four co-directors of MG's parent company Techtronic (2000) currently own all of the shares.

It is estimated that Proton currently only has 0.25 percent of the British car market and is seeking to increase competition in the already shrinking market. The European car market is lumbered with overproduction at present and most companies are faced with stagnating output. It is believed that the ultimate aim is for Proton to establish itself by buying out the whole Rover group in three or four years’ time. The talks are taking place between Rover, MG and Proton. Proton already has a stake in British sports car production of Lotus. The talks could lead to Proton taking an initial minority stake in Longbridge and provide a £450m platform to produce replacement cars for the Rover 25 and 45.

It is clear that the situation facing Longbridge workers has not changed and they will still have to organise themselves for the future of the struggle that they had already initiated, which saw the recent massive demonstration in Birmingham against closure. Workers still have to develop their discussions around what kind of society they would like to see, where production is carried out on a different basis to the anarchy that exists in the present capitalist mode. Only in this way can Rover workers really come out of the margins and put their stamp on the direction they wish to take the economy.

Article Index

Elderly to Hold Public Meeting to Defend Social Programmes

The Residents Action Group for the Elderly (R.A.G.E) are to hold a public meeting in Birmingham to defend council care for the elderly.

A leaflet for the meeting has highlighted the intentions of the New Labour Council to privatise all thirty residential care homes for the elderly although the council's own inadequate consultation shows that the residents do not want any change. The Council intends to privatise day care services and reduce terms and conditions of service for those employed to look after the elderly, which will result in lower quality care.

The leaflet points out that, in order "to achieve their aims, the New Labour Council has imposed low contract prices for elderly care negotiated with private sector care homes. In spite of these low priced contracts causing small and medium sized private homes to close down, the Council is now trying to use these same contract prices as a lever to sell off and force down costs and quality of Council care provision."

"Councils all over Britain," the leaflet goes on, "are trying to enforce similar policies to fit in with Labour Government demands for so-called best quality of the service that is used as nothing more than a cost cutting exercise. It must be opposed effectively by uniting with others across the country, if necessary, to ensure adequate resources are provided for publicly owned, accountable and stable care for the elderly."

At the last General Election, the government promised a robust health service and says that it is ploughing billions more pounds into health. In that case, the RAGE leaflet says, "WE must ensure that the money ends up where it is needed."

R.A.G.E conclude by saying, "It's about the Human Rights of our old folk."



Public Meeting

Private or Public?
The Future of Elderly Care in Birmingham
What do you want to see for Birmingham's Old Folk?

Do you want the council to maintain its care homes and home care service


Tuesday 3rd October 2000
Doors open 7pm
Carrs Lane Church Centre
(Close to Marks and Spencer's)
City Centre

Speakers include

Deborah Chay, Principal Lecturer, Brunel University, Constitutional and Human Rights Law, Implications of the Human Rights Act on Elderly People's care in the UK. Karen Escott, Senior Research & Policy Officer, Centre for Public services Martin Ralph, Lecturer and Organiser, Tameside Care Dispute R.A.G.E Families Chris Smith, Secretary, Coventry pensioner's Association Laura Teague, UNISON, Adult Services Convenor
Also Invited Cllr., Susanna McCorry, Chair, Social Services Sandra Taylor, director, Social Services.

To contact RAGE please call Greg Myatt, 0121 744 3187, Ron Dorman 0121 373 6846

For further information: E-Mail For RAGE updates see section on UK Workplace.

Article Index

Commemorating the Foundation of the Workers’ Party of Korea

On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea on October 10, a public meeting is being held by the Korean Friendship and Solidarity Campaign.

The meeting will take place on

Saturday, October 7, starting at 2.30 pm

It will be held at the

Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London
(nearest tube: Holborn)

The speakers are:

Chris Coleman – RCPB(ML)
Michael Chant – RCPB(ML)

(both recently returned from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)
Keith Bennett – Chair of KFSC

There will be light refreshments available following the meeting and an opportunity for people to have an informal discussion.

All are welcome.


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