Will you campaign to retain the Human Rights Act?
I will fight tooth and nail to protect the Human Rights Act, one of the achievements of the last Labour Government of which I’m most proud.
The Human Rights Act and the rights that it embeds into the British legal system are vital to protecting the interests of everyone. Freedom of thought, of expression, of belief and many other rights that are essential to fundamental human decency are contained within and I will of course do my upmost this Parliament to ensure that those rights are protected.
This Government has already taken a number of backward steps, not least on my own brief by a seeming weakening of our commitment to tackle climate change. But the threat to repeal or replace the Human Rights Act is one of the most serious threats that we now face. It would pose very serious questions about our role as international leaders, able to argue for rights for freedom of expression abroad - what moral authority would we have left if we ceased to be a member of the European Convention on Human Rights? It would also cause further difficulties with a Union already under strain. It is embedded in the Good Friday Agreement and into the devolution settlement for Scotland. The Government are heading in a regressive and dangerous direction and as Deputy Leader, I want to be at the heart of Labour’s opposition to it.
Would you defend freedoms of thought, expression and belief at home and internationally, including through opposing blasphemy laws?
Throughout the world, far too many still face persecution for their beliefs, their sexuality or their politics and it would be right for us to continue to play a constructive leadership role in pressing countries for this to end.
It is deeply concerning that so many people still face conviction for blasphemy abroad and I believe laws like this should be consigned to history. As Deputy Leader I would also press the Government to reverse their decision to stop campaigning for an end to the death penalty worldwide as one of their human rights aims.
We should also prioritise LGBT rights around the world in the face of increasingly restrictive discriminatory rules – for instance, the bulk of Commonwealth countries still haven’t legalised homosexuality. We should use our global influence to show leadership by consistently and publicly calling for an end to this.
I am pleased that our party has sought to introduce a Global
Envoy for Religious Freedom and ensure that the need to promote religious freedom is felt across the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But we should ensure this protects people of all faiths and those of none. Being a progressive voice for the recognition of different views should be a key part of our role on the international stage in the 21st century.
Do you oppose the ability of state-funded faith schools to discriminate on religious grounds against families and teachers?
Faith schools have a place within our education system, which makes it all the more vital to ensure that role is functioning correctly. It is important for there to be a broad and open discussion of the role of faith schools, which includes looking at admissions policies. The right of children anywhere in the UK to receive a world class education and for parents to be confident that this will happen should always be our priority.
Recent allegations about schools in Birmingham have rightly led to a close examination of these issues and further thinking is required. The problem with the current Government’s approach is that the increasing fragmentation of education stands in contrast to their desire to promote cohesion. I want to see a system that promotes and encourages greater collaboration between schools rather than an approach that sets them against each other.
Do you support the teaching of non-religious world views such as Humanism equally alongside religious perspectives in schools?
Pupils should have access to a wide range of views and beliefs during their education and I support schools having to teach a range of views to their pupils. No pupil should go through school without having different views discussed, debated and challenged, as this is at the heart of a good education. As part of this, I believe that there should be compulsory SRE in schools, to ensure that all children, no matter what their religious background, are given the information they need to make informed choices when growing up.
Would you support legislation to ensure that humanists in England and Wales will be able to have a legal marriage ceremony, as they already can in Scotland?
Yes. It is very disappointing that despite a consultation on the matter, there appears to be a real lack of will from the Government to actually deliver on this. As Deputy Leader, I would certainly support the Labour party continuing to press the Government to make humanist ceremonies a possibility for all those who want to recognise and celebrate their love outside of a religious setting.
Do you support an end to having reserved seats for Church of England Bishops in the House of Lords?
I have voted to abolish the House of Lords and clearly it is unsustainable in its current form. The House of Lords should be representative of modern Britain, which is why my preferred option is to elect a Senate of the Nations and Regions that would ensure views from across the Union are heard in its Second Chamber.
Do you think public services should be secular?
Public service users should never be discriminated against because of their views, their religion, their sexuality, their race or anything else. I recognise the concern that some have regarding public services being delivered by religious organisations. Public services should be open, inclusive and non-discriminatory and as Deputy Leader I would be committed to protecting those principles.
Would you support a change in the law to permit assisted dying for people who are terminally ill or who are permanently and incurably suffering?
I have not yet seen the published details of Rob Marris’ Bill, however in the last Parliament, a bill was brought forward by Lord Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor in the last Government. It was introduced in the House of Lords and did not reach the Commons before running out of time.
However, Rob Marris’ Bill is based on the same framework. The Bill’s objectives are to result in fewer dying adults – and their families – facing unnecessary suffering at the end of their lives, subject to strict upfront safeguards, as assessed by two doctors.
The Bill does not either legalise voluntary euthanasia, where a doctor directly administers life-ending medication, or act as a step towards this outcome. The Bill does not offer legal protection to anyone who doesn’t have a terminal illness, including elderly and disabled people, from committing a criminal offence by assisting in the ending of their lives.
You will know that the courts have asked that Parliament clarify the law; and the Government’s Attorney General has not seen it as in the public interest to prosecute relatives who escorted a dying relative to Switzerland to end their life in a clinic.
For the reasons above, I support changing the law to permit assisted dying for people who are terminally ill.
Do you believe the NHS should fund unproven alternative “treatments” such as homeopathy?
No. Policy should be evidence based, and given the considerable resource constraints that the NHS operates under, it is clearly the case that money should only go on treatments that have a sound evidential basis through clinical trials supporting their efficacy. Complementary medicine can play a role, but not at the expense of proven treatments and drugs.