Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 4:30 pm, 21st November 2017

I will come on to that at the end of my remarks. I followed the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks very carefully. He is absolutely right that we should deal with this in a serious way, because it is a very significant part of our economic present and, I hope, an increasing part of our economic future as we in this country are particularly well placed to take advantage of the digital economy.

The other interesting point flagged up by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield is the fundamental argument about rights legislation. He pointed out that some decisions on potentially striking down Acts of Parliament would have to be taken by the UK Supreme Court, not the European Court of Justice. He said he was very relaxed about that because he had great confidence in our judges, as do I. For rights legislation, however, there is a different argument to have, which is not about the nationality or otherwise of the judges or the court, but whether such decisions should be taken by judges or by democratically elected politicians in this House. We had this argument when we debated prisoner voting—not on the nationality of the judges and the court, but on whether that was a proper decision to be made in this democratically elected House or by judges interpreting a living document. That was a point my right hon. and learned Friend teased out in his remarks.

Listening to the debate as it progressed, my right hon. and learned Friend accepted that his amendments may not be the best way to deal with the potential problems he flagged up. The exchange between him and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset was very interesting and spoke to the debate on schedule 1, to which the Solicitor General will reply. Amendment 10 would get rid of paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of schedule 1. The reason my right hon. and learned Friend gave for removing paragraph 3 was that it talked about the general principles of EU law and not the retained principles. Paragraph 2 tries to deal with the retained principles by saying that we keep all the general principles that have been reflected in decided case law before exit day.

That was an interesting discussion. It suggests that it might be possible for the Solicitor General to find a way for the Government to amend the Bill on Report. Clearly, my right hon. and learned Friend wanted a little specificity on that, although I do not agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, who tempted the Government just to accept the amendments and then correct them. Having been in the Solicitor General’s position at the Dispatch Box, I would prefer the risk-averse approach of inviting the House not to be tempted by the amendments and then coming back afterwards, but I accept that those tempted by the amendments will want a little specificity and detail from him about the nature of what he will reflect on and bring forward. I hope that he can produce the right level of specificity to give my colleagues that confidence.