Home Secretary May 'wants Human Rights Act scrapped'

Home Secretary Theresa May risked angering Liberal Democrat Cabinet colleagues today by throwing her weight behind calls for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, she said she would "personally" like to see it go because of the problems it has presented the Home Office.

Her comments, on the eve of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, will endear her to many Tories infuriated by its use by foreign criminals to avoid deportation.

But senior Lib Dems, including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, have pledged that the Act will stay.

Ms May said: "I'd personally like to see the Human Rights Act go because I think we have had some problems with it."

She added: "I see it, here in the Home Office, particularly, the sort of problems we have in being unable to deport people who perhaps are terrorist suspects. Obviously we've seen it with some foreign criminals who are in the UK."

Mr Clegg promised Lib Dem delegates at his party's conference last month that the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights in UK law, was "here to stay".

Mr Huhne suggested the issue, if forced, could topple the coalition.

"If Conservative backbenchers persist in wanting to tear up the European Convention on Human Rights, then I can foresee a time when this party would be extremely uncomfortable in coalition," he said.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights organisation Liberty, said: "Modern Conservatives should think again about human rights values that were truly Churchill's legacy.

"Only a pretty 'nasty party' would promote human rights in the Middle East whilst scrapping them at home."

Prime Minister David Cameron said he and the Home Secretary shared a concern that the Commission would work "more slowly" than the Tories wanted.

But he said action was already being taken to help end the "chilling culture" which the Act had fostered among people fearful they would fall foul of it.

Speaking on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Cameron cited the recent example of a prison van driven nearly 100 miles to transfer a defendant the short walk to a court.

"I agree that it would be good to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights. I think that is the right thing to do."

There was a concern however that it would "go more slowly than Theresa and I would want".

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan accused Mrs May of "pandering to the Tory right" and said Government policy on the Human Rights Act was "a shambles".

Mr Khan said: "Theresa May's comments show just how two-faced and weak this Government's commitment to human rights is.

"The Human Rights Act is the most significant defence for ordinary people against state power ever passed into law. Simply scrapping it is a lazy and incoherent position to hold.

"Two weeks ago the Deputy Prime Minister said of the Human Rights Act: 'It is here to stay'. Now the Home Secretary is saying his words aren't worth the paper they were written on. Government policy is a shambles.

"Someone in the Government now needs to be clear exactly what the policy is. Either the Deputy Prime Minister has been overruled, or this is another fantasy policy from Theresa May."