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 am grateful for that intervention. Actually two other useful points came out that I had not previously heard in this debate. One was about rights. A discussion is under way, which will be dealt with partly in this Bill and partly in the other withdrawal Bill, on the extent to which certain important matters will only be dealt with in primary legislation. Ministers will be clear that they will not use the ability to change those important rights in secondary legislation. To some extent, that has been dealt with by the fact that we will have the other withdrawal Bill. I think that the Secretary of State has given a commitment that certain things will only be dealt with in primary legislation.

On the second point, I hope the Treasury Bench will forgive me—tempting a discussion about amending the Human Rights Act is probably not something that in my previous job as Government Chief Whip I would have wanted to encourage—but a sensible argument has been made for saying that, if there are important rights that we think are not adequately reflected in legislation, at some point, in due course if not perhaps immediately, some of them might benefit from being brought into the Human Rights Act. That might be worth thinking about, although it would have to be done very carefully, because once we start down that process of amendment, I do not know where it will end. Those two avenues for dealing with this were, I think, very sensible.

I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield accepted that it might not be right to pursue amendment 8, but, on amendment 10, although I would not agree with the approach of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, a point has been made on which Ministers could sensibly reflect. I hope that when the Solicitor General responds he will be able to make a sufficiently specific commitment to persuade my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and others not to press amendment 10.

Paul Blomfield, who is not in his place but whose Front-Bench team are more than adequately represented, said that rights were not as effective if their source or root was not clear. I am afraid that this is a lawyerly point that I did not quite follow, but I hope that the Minister dealt with it. The memorandum he is going to bring forward should make clear the source of each of the rights in the charter of fundamental rights, so we should be clear about the retained law being brought forward. I hope, then, that that central point of the hon. Gentleman’s argument will be dealt with.

Let me return to article 8 of the charter of fundamental rights, to the point made by my hon. Friend Vicky Ford in an earlier debate and to the fundamental underpinning of the argument advanced by Stephen Timms. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford slightly overstated what the article says. She claimed that it said that everyone owned their data, whereas it actually says that people have the right to protect their personal data. She also spoke about the level at which it was necessary for our law to be exactly the same as ongoing European legislation.

That, of course, is one of the arguments that we are going to have about our trade and future relationship with the European Union, and it is pertinent to the points made by the right hon. Gentleman. It is the argument about whether we are to have exact regulatory matching and stick to the letter of each piece of European legislation if we are to trade successfully—whether in goods, services or data—or whether we are to have equivalent legislation which adequately protects and matches those rights, which we may deliver in a different way, but which is equivalent to those rights.