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EU Withdrawal: Effects on Human Rights

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 14 April 2016

Through the European Union, the UK amplifies its work to promote and protect democracy around the world, increasing the UK’s influence on a range of issues. When 28 member states speak out against the most serious violations of human rights, that can help to set the agenda at the UN and other international organisations. That is a valuable way in which the UK can promote its values.

The EU charter reflects wider international standards and obligations that the UK has a history of championing. By moving away from it, we risk undermining human rights and respect for international law. What advice does the Attorney General have about the weakening of legal human rights safeguards that could follow?

If the hon. Lady is referring to the European Union charter of fundamental rights, it does not create new rights for British citizens, as made clear in protocol 30 of the Lisbon treaty, so there would be no significant consequence of departure in that way. However, there is a considerable advantage to the UK in communicating its views and aspirations on human rights protection not just in this country, but abroad, if we were no longer able to act through the medium of the European Union, as we do through other international organisations.

The Secretary of State for Justice recently told the Select Committee on Justice that, as far he was concerned, the framework of human rights across the UK was a reserved matter. Given that the Attorney General advises the Government on legal issues, will he explain why the Government’s view is that the human rights framework is reserved when it is not included in the exhaustive list of reservations in schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is the Government’s view and mine that any change to the Human Rights Act 1998 as a piece of legislation is not a devolved matter—it is a reserved matter. That is the issue on which my right hon. Friend will shortly be bringing forward proposals.

The shadow Attorney General, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), cannot be with us today because he is busy changing nappies. May we congratulate him on the birth of his first baby, a beautiful daughter, Stella-Mae? We wish him and his partner, Leanne, all the best.

Does the Attorney General agree that if the UK left the EU, it would not only be human rights in Scotland that would be affected? Surely there would be a question over the whole devolution process in Wales and Northern Ireland. We should not forget that the agreement that gave us the institutions in Northern Ireland took membership of the EU as a given, and if the UK left the EU, it would lead to unwelcome uncertainties.

May I begin by adding to the hon. Lady’s congratulations to the shadow Attorney General on the new arrival in his household? We wish them all well. May I also congratulate her on taking on her new, temporary, but none the less important, responsibilities at the Dispatch Box? On her question, she knows, because she has heard me say it many times before, that I take the view that the protection of human rights in this country can perfectly adequately be undertaken by the British Government and by British courts. However, there is no doubt that were we to leave the European Union, a range of complexities would follow, not all of which we have discussed. There is no doubt in my mind that because of those additional complexities and because, on balance, I think there is huge advantage to Britain in remaining in the EU, that is the right decision for us to take.