Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:15 pm, 21st November 2017

I thank the hon. Lady for making that valuable point. As someone who is not a legal expert, I believe this is about having a safeguard. We are keeping the law in the charter because it fills a gap that we would have otherwise. That is why we should retain the charter.

Let me give an example: the charter provides specific rights for children that are not replicated elsewhere in UK-wide human rights law. It requires that the child’s best interests must be a primary consideration in all actions relating to children; that children’s views may be expressed and shall be taken into consideration; and that children have a right to maintain a personal relationship with both their parents, unless this is contrary to their interests. The latter right was used in a case relating to two British children, whose father’s deportation was successfully challenged by focusing on the major negative impact on the children of loss of contact with a parent. Cases of this kind might become more common if Britain leaves the EU and EU nationals lose the automatic right to reside in the UK, with the consequent risk of family separation.

The charter also contains a prohibition on child labour which is not replicated elsewhere in UK human rights law. Another example of the charter providing greater protection is on disability rights. Disabled people would no longer be able to use the charter to support their right to independence, integration and participation in the community. This interpretive tool in the charter goes much further than the non-discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010. On healthcare, as we have heard, the charter was decisive in ensuring that bans on tobacco advertising were permitted. The list goes on, so why not retain the charter? Let me be a bit flippant here: I cannot help but wonder whether the Government are making this obvious omission from our statute books because some time ago the Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, had a ding-dong over the charter when she unsuccessfully tried to extradite Abu Qatada and this is a bit of late comeback.

To be serious again, what I worry about most in all the discussions about Brexit is that everything is being done in a big hurry because some eager Brexiteers would rather leave the EU tomorrow and not think about any consequences, even those that would mean real harm for this country. New clause 78, tabled by my right hon. Friend Tom Brake, would specifically provide an overarching domestic guarantee of non-discrimination by the state. It would be a domestic replacement for the safety net for equality rights currently provided by EU law. The new clause would serve a distinctive and different purpose from the rights protected by the Equality Act 2010, and I urge the Minister to consider it again. It would provide a guarantee that our laws must be non-discriminatory in their purpose and effect, along with a mechanism to challenge them if they were. Currently, that cannot be done under the Equality Act.

Providing greater protection of our human rights has nothing to do with losing sovereignty but everything to do with doing the right thing by our own people. I am fed up with being branded undemocratic or unpatriotic for merely pointing out that the Government will be failing their own people if the Bill passes unamended.