Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 2:30 pm, 21st November 2017

I will not give way just for the moment, but I will give way to the hon. and learned Lady shortly.

To do so would sow greater, not less, legal confusion and I know that that is not the intention of any hon. Member.

I will first address new clause 16, tabled by Mr Leslie, which relates to the charter and, in particular, would introduce a reporting requirement. I will briefly explain why that is unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman, in his perfectly constructive and considered way, has concerns that I want to address. Let me start by saying the Bill will reinforce our UK human rights framework, not diminish it, precisely because we are making sure that the substantive rules of EU law will be retained on day one of exit. This country has a long-standing tradition of liberty and rights, and we intend to build on that following our departure from the EU. The Government are resolute in that commitment. We have always been, and will continue to be, a beacon of freedom for the world, as we have demonstrated since Magna Carta, through the 1689 Bill of Rights, and up to and including more recent commitments to respecting and, yes, remaining a party to the European convention on human rights. The addition of the hon. Gentleman’s reporting requirement will not enhance those substantive rights protections, nor will it give the House any better ability to scrutinise and clarify how rights will be protected after exit.

I will come on to say more about some of the underlying points the hon. Gentleman addressed and on the substance of the charter in the context of amendments 8 and 46, but let me give him the reassurance that the reporting requirement is redundant. Excluding the charter from the body of retained EU law does not affect the underlying and underpinning substantive rights. They are the primary source of rights that existed prior to the charter coming into force and which any citizen will be able to rely on in practice after we leave. That is not just this Government’s position; it was the last Labour Government’s position. In fact, Tony Blair went far further than I have today, telling the House:

“It is absolutely clear that we have an opt-out from…the charter”.—[Official Report, 25 June 2007;
Vol. 462, c. 37.]

Before all Opposition Members start to run away from the promises made by the previous Labour Government, I just remind them that the current spokesperson on constitutional affairs for the Labour party, the noble Lord Falconer—he is still a spokesman, according to the Labour party website—said:

“the charter lays down existing rights;
it is not a legally binding document.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 December 2005;
Vol. 676, c. 1252.]

It later became clear, of course, that there was no opt-out, but it is right that we will be retaining the substantive rights and principles that the charter merely sought to codify. I will explain that in more detail shortly, but I hope that on that basis I can urge the hon. Member to withdraw his procedural amendments.