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Rights bill 'sets common values'

posted 23 Mar 2009, 14:16 by Dilwoar Hussain   [ updated 23 Mar 2009, 14:23 ]
From BBC News
Page last updated at 19:19 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has said the government's planned Bill of Rights will define the UK's "common values".

He suggested that entitlements to free healthcare and education could be added to rights such as trial by jury and free speech.

Launching a new consultation paper, he told MPs that people's responsibilities also had to be defined "explicitly".

These included parents' duty to look after their children and not claiming benefits when able to work.

He said it was not certain whether these responsibilities would be legally enforced.

'Live within limits'

The green paper lists responsibilities including obeying the law, reporting crimes and co-operating with the police, paying taxes, voting and doing jury service.

It also urges people to treat NHS workers and other public sector staff with respect, safeguard the wellbeing of children in their care and to live "within our environmental limits".

Mr Straw also said the government thought that "more should be done to bring out the responsibilities which accompany rights".

"We also believe that there could be merit in bringing together rights such as free health care, victims' rights and equality, which are currently scattered across the UK's legal and political landscape."

For the Conservatives, shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve dismissed the proposals as "pap".

They had been repeatedly delayed and, as they would not be enacted before the next general election, were "for the birds", he added.

Mr Grieve said: "Isn't it the case that these new rights would mean more money for lawyers, less for patients - the last thing the taxpayer will welcome in a recession?"

Mr Straw said there would be no repeal of the 1998 Human Rights Act, which has been criticised by the Tories.

The idea of a Bill of Rights is at the heart of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's plans to reform Britain's constitution.