Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 1:30 pm, 21st November 2017

It is a great pleasure to follow Mr Leslie. If I may say so, I do not take the view of my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry in her description of new clause 16. It seems to me that in tabling it for consideration by the Committee the hon. Gentleman has accurately sought to stimulate an extremely important debate on the consequences of getting rid of the charter.

I sometimes feel that there is perhaps a failure of some Members to look at what has been happening in our society and country over a 40-year period. On the whole, western democracies have tended in that time to develop the idea of rights. I know that for some Members that appears to be anathema—it makes them choke over the cornflakes—but it is a development that I have always welcomed and that, it seems to me, has delivered substantial benefits for all members of our society, particularly the most vulnerable.

In this country we have had a long debate about how we reconcile rights with the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. Indeed, in 1997 the Labour Government sought to craft—extremely ingeniously, I thought, which is why I was very supportive of it at the time—the legislation that would become the Human Rights Act in an effort to achieve that reconciliation. I think most people in this House would argue that that Act has worked very well by preserving parliamentary sovereignty for primary legislation, enabling secondary legislation to be struck down if incompatible and with the mechanism of a declaration of incompatibility when required.

The truth is that because of our membership of the European Union there are some things that many of us would regard as rights but which fall outside the scope of the Human Rights Act and the European convention, and those things have developed over the same period I mentioned as a result of our European Union membership. I appreciate that that leads to double choking over the cornflakes, because not only have those rights come from what some people might regard as a tainted source—although I am blowed if I can think why: it is just another international treaty—but on top of that is the fact that once in place the charter has no regard for our parliamentary sovereignty. It has the capacity to trump our domestic laws if there is an incompatibility between our domestically enacted laws and the principles of, or anything that has come from, the charter. That is part of the supremacy of EU law to which we have all been subject.

All that should not make us ignore the benefits that the charter of fundamental rights has conferred. Whatever we may think as we talk about parliamentary sovereignty, I venture the suggestion that if one goes out into the street and asks people whether they think that equality law, which is largely EU-derived, has been of value to this country, most people would give a resounding note of approval. I am sure they would do the same with respect to the recent Benkharbouche case in relation to the disapplication of the State Immunity Act 1978 for the purposes of enabling an employment case to be brought against an embassy that had mistreated one of its employees. Of course, as has been cited, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend Mr Davis has availed himself of the provisions of the charter and the rights that the EU has conferred in relation to questions of data privacy and the way data is handled.