Human Rights Act 1998 Bill part one

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MPs held a second reading debate on the Human Rights Act 1998 (Repeal and Substitution) Bill on 1 March 2013.

The bill, which would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and provide for a new bill of rights and responsibilities for the United Kingdom, became the catalyst for a wide-ranging discussion on philosophical topics.

The Human Rights Act incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law and enabled people to have human rights cases heard in UK courts rather than the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The bill was introduced by Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke, who said that the act had "transformed human rights in the UK in ways that are wholeheartedly rejected by the British people".

He claimed that the act had prevented the deportation of foreign criminals on the grounds that they had a right to a family life in the UK, adding: "We see in the newspapers day after day, week after week, so many cases reported which just give a sense that a great injustice has happened."

Fellow Conservative Rory Stewart thanked Mr Elphicke for raising the matter, which was "something that clearly irritates many, many people".

But he warned of a "dangerous" situation in which "human rights" were being discussed as if they were a "trivial, unnecessary issue...connected in people's minds with phrases like health and safety".

He said that the "basic conception of human rights is based on human dignity" and the idea that humans should be "treated as ends in themselves rather than a means to an end".

He argued that "any universal code is always aspirational" and would be applied differently in different countries, but insisted that a person's human rights were dependent on "your humanity, not your nationality".

Mr Stewart entered into what he himself described as a "fundamental philosophical debate" with Jacob Rees-Mogg, in a session which was dominated by Conservatives.

In fact, the debate became a wide-ranging debate on fundamental rights, taking in German philosopher Immanuel Kant and medieval priest St Thomas Aquinas' conditions for a just war.

A Ministry of Justice document claims the Human Rights Act "has been described as the most important piece of constitutional legislation passed in the United Kingdom since the achievement of universal suffrage in 1918".

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