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Leaving the EU: Human Rights

Volume 631: debated on Thursday 16 November 2017

7. What assessment he has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the protection of human rights in the UK. (901872)

8. What assessment he has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the protection of human rights in the UK. (901873)

The United Kingdom has a long tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically, and of fulfilling its international human rights obligations. The decision to leave the European Union does not change this.

When the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill returns to this House, we will debate the EU charter of fundamental rights. Will the Government support the codification of the charter into UK law following its departure from the EU, and will they support their own Back Benchers’ amendments that have cross-party support?

No. The reason is that the charter of fundamental rights, as the Labour Government indicated at the time, does not create any new rights. It incorporates rights that are already part of European Union law, and the Government’s intention is to translate those substantive rights into domestic law by the operation of the withdrawal Act. We do not intend to incorporate the charter of fundamental rights into domestic law.

How will leaving the European Union protect and enhance our rights, under the European convention on human rights, to free and fair elections of the legislature? Given that the vast majority of legislators in this country are not elected—they are Members of the House of Lords—are the Government confident that they will be complying with their ECHR obligations both before and after Brexit?

Yes, we are confident that we are compliant with our ECHR obligations. The hon. Gentleman enables me to point out that, as he knows, our ECHR obligations will remain after we have left the European Union.

The UK has always been at the forefront of international human rights. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we will continue such co-operation, not least, for example, under the auspices of the Council of Europe?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I find it surprising that Members of this House have so little faith in their own institution. This House is perfectly capable of protecting the rights of the citizens of this country, and routinely does so. We do not need the assistance of the European Union to do it, and after we no longer have the assistance of the European Union, I am confident that this Parliament will continue to do it effectively.

For many years, many people in this House seemed to think that human rights in this country started only with the Human Rights Act 1998, and they now seem to think that they started only with our membership of the European Union. Will the Attorney General confirm that our rights and freedoms in this country go back way beyond either of those points in our history, and will continue long into the future after they have both been replaced?

The rest of the world is rightly jealous of this country’s ability to protect human rights through a robust system of the rule of law, a fiercely independent judiciary, and an effective legal profession.

May I press the Minister following the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell)? Last week, in front of the Exiting the European Union Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) stated that the Government believe that the Human Rights Act can be relied on in place of the charter of fundamental rights. Does that mean that the Government are now fully committed to the retention of that Act beyond Brexit?

I thought we had made clear that this country will remain a signatory to the European convention on human rights for the duration of this Parliament. The Under-Secretary of State was making the point that I made earlier: we are confident that the substantive rights that all Members of the House wish to continue to be protected, will remain protected in domestic law.

Does the Attorney General agree that it is an absolutely absurd proposition to suggest that if we come out of the EU we will deliberately in some way reduce human rights? That is an absolute nonsense, and it is a shame that the Opposition are peddling it.

The Attorney General does not seem to get the point. Our role in human rights in Europe has been to set the gold standard and to show an example. The Council of Europe has experienced recent cases of corruption, with a man called Luca Volontè who took a bribe. The chairmanship was by Azerbaijan—a corrupt country. Our role is not to protect our own human rights by being in Europe, but to set a standard that can be emulated by other countries that have very serious breaches of human rights.

The hon. Gentleman may be in danger of confusing the European convention on human rights with the charter of fundamental rights. As I said, the Government he supported—the last Labour Government—made it clear that no new rights were created by the charter of fundamental rights. Therefore, taking away that charter cannot remove any rights, and the Government have no intention of doing so.