Robert Neill – 2022 Speech on the Future of the UK

The speech made by Robert Neill, the Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, in the House of Commons on 16 May 2022.

I welcome the concentration in the Queen’s Speech on the importance of levelling up and expanding opportunity across the whole country, which is fundamental to our mission. It could not be more important than in the health service. I am glad to see the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), on the Treasury Bench, because he will know how passionately I feel, from personal experience, about the importance of levelling up all health service provision, but particularly for often underappreciated conditions, such as those that affect stroke survivors—the House will know of my interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on stroke.

Unfortunately, the provision of aftercare and therapy for stroke survivors remains patchy across the country, despite it being the largest single cause of adult disability. If we are serious about levelling up, I hope that we will invest more in those services and, in particular, take up the APPG’s suggestion of transforming our already good national stroke plan into a fully-fledged national stroke strategy, joined up and fully resourced with a specialist workforce behind it.

Levelling up is also about getting education and health services right in relation to the criminal justice system, because failures there, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) pointed out, often have impacts on the justice system downstream. Poor educational outcomes, poor mental health and allied issues, failures in relation to social services and childcare, and poor housing all contribute to people falling into offending behaviour, getting into the justice system and then getting into the never-ending circle of reoffending. That ruins lives and harms the economy. Investment in those topics upstream is actually an investment in the whole public good, both societally and economically. I hope that the Government will redouble their efforts there, both in cash terms and through much more joined-up policy working across the various agencies.

I will turn to some specific legal issues, starting with the proposed Bill of Rights. I stood on and supported our 2019 manifesto commitment to update the Human Rights Act 1998 and its administrative law, and I stand by that. In pursuance of that, the Government commissioned an expert panel of independents, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Sir Peter Gross QC, a highly distinguished former Lord Justice of Appeal. Sir Peter and his team produced a thoroughly detailed, comprehensive and meticulously argued report on how best to take this forward. He followed it up with most compelling evidence to the Justice Committee. I am persuaded by and support Sir Peter’s proposals.

The Government, as they are entitled to do, appear to propose to go further than Sir Peter’s proposals. Well, up to a point there is no harm in that; I am all in favour of updates, and I see no harm in putting into statute rights that are already well established, such as the right to trial by jury in England and Wales, or the right to freedom of speech, even though they are perfectly well protected under our existing common law.

Where I urge caution, however, is in going any further beyond Sir Peter’s well researched and well argued proposals. It would perhaps be dangerous to go down the route of limiting the ability of individuals in the United Kingdom to assert their European convention rights in the domestic courts, which ultimately would simply mean more petitions being brought to the Strasbourg Court. On the face of it, that is potentially counter-productive to the Government’s avowed intention of reducing litigation in this area.

I am delighted that we remain committed to our membership of the European convention on human rights. It is a fundamental. It was essentially written by a future Conservative Lord Chancellor, the future Lord Kilmuir, and it was Churchill’s Government who took us into the convention, so it is in the Conservatives’ DNA. But we must make sure that we approach this important issue with care and caution and that we do not run beyond the evidence.

I also welcome the draft victims Bill, and I look forward to the Government delivering on their commitment to pre-legislative scrutiny of it by the Justice Committee, which will be critical to the Bill having a real impact for people who suffer from crime. I also welcome the economic crime and corporate transparency Bill. That will be important, because our Committee recently took evidence on the prevalence of, and harm done by, fraud to the economy and individuals’ lives. I hope that we will also use that Bill as an opportunity to introduce a long awaited and long argued for updating of the law on criminal corporate responsibility, an area in which we lag behind other common-law jurisdictions, especially on the other side of the Atlantic.

There are great opportunities in the Queen’s Speech, but I have given a word of caution on one fundamental constitutional issue, as well as some constructive suggestions on how we can take important parts of the Government’s agenda forward.