The new chair of the justice committee of the House of Commons has said ministers should ‘not be afraid’ to consider reform of human rights legislation.

Robert Neill (pictured), who will play a key part in scrutinizing the government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act, gave his first public thoughts on the proposals yesterday during a commons debate.

Former Scotland secretary Alistair Carmichael warned during the debate that Conservative plans to scrap the act could undermine the union.

Tory Dominic Grieve, former attorney general and Neill’s rival for the justice chair post, said the government risked embarking on a project that will prove ‘extremely difficult’, the benefits of which would be ‘so limited that I begin to wonder whether the project is worth pursuing at all’.

Neill called on both sides of the debate to be ‘less theological’ and said all options should remain open for now.

‘The thought that the Human Rights Act is a sort of holy grail is probably misleading, and we should not be afraid to think of looking at it again and reforming it,’ said Neill.

‘Equally, we should not assume that the convention is a permanent intrusion on the rights of British courts, because that would be wrong too. Let us try to find a way through the middle.’

He called on the government to provide more details of the timetable for a consultation and what form the consultation will take.

He added that the justice committee was ‘most anxious’ to scrutinise the plans, but stressed that ministers must also address the impact across the whole UK and reflect opinion from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Justice minister Dominic Raab said the government has learnt from the ‘haste’ with which the Human Rights Act was ‘rushed through’, with future legislation likely to take ‘a little time’.

He added: ‘Our plans do not involve us leaving the convention. That is not our objective. We want to restore some common-sense balance to our human rights, which are out of kilter, so nothing has been taken off the table.’