Human rights and the GLA
Whilst the relevance of a rights based approach to the work of the GLA may not be obviously apparent, I believe this should be integral to services in London generally and provided by the GLA in particular.
Having been the Chair of Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights for five years, I developed a real and deep understanding of just how important human rights are to every public body, including the GLA, as the Human Rights Act requires bodies like the GLA to act compatibly with it.
Most people would appreciate the relevance to policing issues, (which I deal with in my page on policing), especially the right to protest, stop and search (including the infamous s44) and counter terrorism policy. But there are also new and developing rights to a clean environment; and I believe the debate on what have become known as social and economic rights is vitally important, in the context of housing. I say more on this in my website pages on environment and housing.
Trades union rights are part of our human rights framework. I worked as a trades union lawyer for 20 years before entering Parliament, and campaigned for better rights for trades unions and their members whilst I was an MP. Some battles I won, like the right to corporate manslaughter after a 20 year campaign I began whilst still al lawyer dealing with the consequences of the King’s Cross Underground fire; or defending health and safety rules, or the victims of asbestos.
We have seen the way the present GLA member revels in provoking and attacking trades unions, and has no grasp of decent industrial relations. The right to union membership and activity, and the consequent need to work constructively with representative bodies is fundamental.
Human rights are also vitally relevant to the way public services are delivered, from the basic response at an enquiry or reception desk or telephone helpline, to the need to treat all our citizens with dignity and respect, especially when they are in difficult, challenging or stressful circumstances. I recall the work I did as Parliament’s Chair of Human Rights, in reporting on the need for a better approach based on these principles to the elderly in hospital and care homes; and people, especially adults, with learning difficulties who get an incredibly raw deal from all manner of public bodies, as much out of ignorance as neglect. We need to use the GLA as a model and a driver throughout London to embed the basic principles of human rights in the way services are provided in our Capital.
With Labour, we have seen great strides in challenging discrimination: we all have a fundamental right to be treated equally. This is being undermined by the Conservatives in their refusal fully to implement Labour’s Equality Act. and the incredibly restrictive and short sighted approach to migration, which not only causes human misery but is also appallingly bad for the economy, preventing the limited migration of essential skilled people on the one hand, and driving other unskilled workers underground, working outside the protection of the law and undercutting legitimate employment. I spoke up for a decent approach when in Parliament and I would do so again , as London Assembly member. We need to give London’s migrants a fair deal, including a programme of regularisation of long term irregular migrants who have established roots in the country and whom we would not be able to remove in practice anyway.
As the Conservative led Coalition government digs itself deeper in the mire, with its slash and burn programme for public services, we will see increasing challenges to them through the courts, often grounded in basic human rights principles. Whilst court action is not the best way to resolve such issues, sometimes it can be the only way. I believe my understanding of the law, especially of human rights, gives me a particular insight into when such action may be both necessary and possible, and the GLA should not fight shy of taking on the Conservatives through whatever means it can, including the law, when it needs to do so.