Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 21st November 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 2:00 pm, 21st November 2017

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I slightly question the extent to which we have had clear evidence of that, although I know that there has been a reluctance on the part of the European Court of Justice to accept any higher authority, despite the intention of the parties that it should become subordinate, ultimately, to the ECHR. He is right that one reason why the charter came into being was to secure compliance. I think it is rather more of a hypothetical than an actual state of affairs, although such a problem might exist in future. In any event, I do not think we are dealing here just with matters covered by the ECHR, for the very reasons that were discussed earlier in relation to new clause 16, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham East. I simply say to my right hon. and hon. Friends that the issue has to be addressed.

As I said earlier, I recognise that my amendment is not as good as it might be, and could be improved on. If the Government can give me an assurance that is adequate and goes beyond vagueness, I will be content not to press amendment 10 a vote. The issue is not going to go away, however, and when one is in this sort of dialogue with the Government, one does not want to be soft-soaped off. If that happens, there will be a road crash when we come to Report, in which I will be unable to support the Government on a whole series of matters. I hope that those things can be resolved by consensus.

I have spoken for quite long enough, but I have explained why I think that, on the important issue that we are debating today, the best solution in the interim is to use something along the lines of amendment 10 to ensure that general principles of EU law can continue to be invoked. Of course, as the transition goes on, I assume that so much EU law may disappear, but I venture the suggestion that it will continue to be relevant for some time to come.

May I, finally, touch briefly on the three other amendments —297, 298 and 299—that I have tabled? They are very simple, and they concern the use in clause 5 of the words

“any enactment or rule of law”.

I simply say that nobody I have spoken to understands why the words “rule of law” appear in the Bill. Ultimately, a rule of law is a rule of the common law; and in so far as a rule of the common law is displaced by statute, that rule will be displaced, of itself, by the courts. It does not require to be spelled out in legislation. I draw some comfort, on that, from the fact that a very distinguished lawyer who previously worked in this building shares my view that the inclusion of those words is incomprehensible. I do not think that that is a matter that I would necessarily put to the vote, if I was required to do so, but I hope that the Government might be able to provide a positive response on it. I am grateful to the Committee for listening.