Sam is a Parliamentary Research Assistant and is reading Law at the LSE. He is a member of the Conservative Human Rights Commission, Chairman of his constituency Conservative Future and currently serves in the Royal Naval Reserve.
> Policy summary
A Human Rights Minister to champion natural liberties abroad and further advance our Party’s commitment to the dignity of man.
> Policy explanation
As things currently stand, the member of the Government responsible for Human Rights is the Minister for Trade, Ian McCartney. He is also responsible for: Trade and Trade Policy, Trade and Investment (UKTI), Economic Policy including Science and Technology, Global Issues (including sustainable development, energy, climate change), North America, South East Asia, East Asia and Oceania. This begs the question: how can a person with so many responsibilities adequately defend human rights in a pro-active manner?
As the Official Opposition, our party’s situation is even more obscure. Despite being in the privileged position of having Members on both the Frontbench and Backbenches with a deep rooted and long-standing commitment to Human Rights, there is no single point of reference on Human Rights on the Frontbench despite the significance of liberty, democracy, human dignity and the rule of law.
The solution, it seems to me, is to create a Ministry within the FCO specifically tailored to Human Rights. Whilst in Opposition, we could make this a firm manifesto commitment and create a Spokesman on Human Rights to raise matters in House of Commons, with a colleague to raise similar concerns in the Lords.
In addition to Parliamentary duties, the Spokesman could produce an annual report akin to the America's Annual Report on Religious Liberty. This could be co-authored with the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, which might also inform other areas of the Spokesman’s agenda.
In America the creation of an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom has been widely hailed as a great success. There is similar scope to develop our organisational structure to reflect our concern for Human Rights.
We have seen how DFID has ascended into one of the most prominent Government Departments and the public consciousness of International Development has reached an all-time high. However, it is also time to recognise that economic development means nothing to ordinary people, if they are not afforded freedom from oppression, torture, extra-judicial action, slavery, equality before the law. Furthermore, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of religious conviction and worship, freedom of association, protection of property and most importantly, an adequate standard of living and bodily integrity, are fundamental expectations we must promote amongst all nations.
> Political risks and opportunities
This policy would allow the party to further take the lead on this most vital of causes. The Conservative party of Wilberforce has a distinguished record in this area. As we approach the bi-centenary of the abolition of slavery, we need to ask ourselves how we might best address the injustices of our fellow man.
Perhaps this policy would antagonise some members of the party who see Human Rights (along with Social Justice and the environment) as a “Lefty issue”. However, such obstacles have not stopped progress thus far and must not offset momentum on this issue.
> Questions for ConservativeHome readers
- Have you ever been alerted about Human Rights concerns of the Government?
- Have you been informed of any party action from the Conservative Party on Human Rights?
- Should the Spokesman be a Peer or MP?
- Who would make the best Conservative Human Rights Spokesman?
A lot of the costs are already met under the auspices of responsibilities of the Trade Minister though making Human Rights a stand-alone Ministry would mean a need to provide additional resources. An approximate estimate of such costs might be £500,000: a Ministerial Salary, staff, cost of publication of annual report, travel and other administrative costs.