Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 2:45 pm, 21st November 2017

I will come shortly to my right hon. and learned Friend’s substantive generic point and also touch on the data protection issue he raised.

The Government reaffirm and renew our commitment to human rights law. It is reflected through UK national law, including, most recently, the Human Rights Act, as well as a range of domestic legislation that implements our specific obligations under UN and other international treaties, from the convention against torture to the convention on the rights of the child. Of course, the principal international treaty most relevant to the UK’s human rights laws is the European convention on human rights. I again make crystal clear the Government’s commitment to respecting and remaining a party to the ECHR. There will be no weakening of our human rights protections when we leave the EU.

In fact, we have an opportunity to reinforce and build on our proud tradition of liberty and the protection of rights. We are already in the process of paving the way to ratifying the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women, the Istanbul convention. We are leaving the EU, but our commitment to pan-European standards, human rights and the European co-operation in this area remains undimmed. Furthermore, as the my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield is aware, we will introduce an amendment before Report stage, dealing explicitly with the Equality Act issues that hon. Members have raised, including by requiring Ministers to make a statement before the House on the consistency of any Brexit-related legislation with the Equality Act.

It is worth reinforcing the point that the charter is not the original source of the rights contained within it. It was only intended to catalogue rights that already existed in EU law. Indeed, I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke intervened, because he wisely noted, as recently as 2011, before a European Committee, that protocol 30 governing the application of the charter

“sets out the boundaries around the charter by confirming that it neither creates nor extends any rights to EU citizens outside those that had existed pre-Lisbon, and it emphasises that member states are required to comply only when giving effect to EU law.”—[Official Report, European Committee B, 14 March 2011;
c. 5.]

These rights, codified by the charter, came from a wide variety of sources, including the treaties, EU legislation and, indeed, case law, that recognised fundamental rights as general principles. All of those substantive law principles and rights, of which the charter is a reflection not the source, will already be converted into domestic law by the Bill.

It is not necessary, therefore, to retain the charter in order to retain such substantive rights. With that in mind, it is right—this deals with the issue that the hon. Member for Nottingham East raised at the outset—for me to reaffirm the Government’s commitment, which the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union made to the Select Committee, to publish a detailed memorandum setting out how each article of the charter will be reflected in UK law after we leave. I can confirm that we will publish that by 5 December. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, both of whom raised this point. Let me say to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve that I am very willing to continue my dialogue with him on these important matters.