[3rd Allocated Day]
Further considered in Committee.
[Mrs Eleanor Laing in the Chair]
New Clause 16
Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report
“(1) Within one month of Royal Assent of this Act, HM Government shall lay a report before both Houses of Parliament reviewing the implications of removing the Charter of Fundamental Rights from domestic law after exit day as set out in section 5(4) of this Act.
(2) The report under subsection (1) shall set out the policy of Her Majesty’s Government specifically in relation to the fundamental rights of—
(a) dignity, the right to life, to freedom from torture, slavery, the death penalty, eugenic practices and human cloning,
(b) freedoms, the right to liberty, personal integrity, privacy, protection of personal data, marriage, thought, religion, expression, assembly, education, work, property and asylum,
(c) equality, the right to equality before the law, prohibition of all discrimination including on basis of disability, age and sexual orientation, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, the rights of children and the elderly,
(d) solidarity, the right to fair working conditions, protection against unjustified dismissal, and access to health care, social and housing assistance,
(e) citizens’ rights, the rights of citizens such as the right to vote in elections and to move freely, the right to good administration, to access documents and to petition Parliament, and
(f) justice, the right to an effective remedy, a fair trial, to the presumption of innocence, the principle of legality, non-retrospectivity and double jeopardy.”—(Mr Leslie.)
This new clause would require Ministers to produce a report reviewing in full the implications of removing from UK law the Charter of Fundamental Rights – and the rights for UK citizens which it has help to guarantee.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 78—Consequences of leaving the European Union: equality—
“(1) This section comes into force when the power under section 14 to appoint exit day for the purposes of this Act is first exercised.
(2) The purpose of this section is to ensure that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union does not diminish protection for equality in the law of the United Kingdom.
(3) All individuals are equal before the law and have the right to the equal protection and benefit of the law.
(4) All individuals have a right not to be discriminated against by any public authority on any grounds including sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation.
(5) The following provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 apply in relation to the rights conferred by subsections (3) and (4) as they apply in relation to Convention rights within the meaning of that Act—
(a) section 3 (interpretation of legislation);
(b) section 4 (declaration of incompatibility);
(c) section 5 (right of Crown to intervene);
(d) section 6 (acts of public authorities);
(e) section 7 (proceedings);
(f) section 8 (judicial remedies);
(g) section 9 (judicial acts);
(h) section 10 (power to take remedial action);
(i) section 11 (safeguard for existing human rights); and
(j) section 19 (statements of compatibility).
(6) A court or tribunal must have regard to any relevant decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in considering—
(a) the application of this section generally, and
(b) in particular, the meaning of discrimination for the purposes of this section.”
This new clause would ensure that the rights of equality presently enjoyed in accordance with EU law are enshrined in free-standing domestic law after the UK leaves the EU.
New clause 79—Provisions relating to the EU or the EEA in respect of EU-derived domestic legislation—
“(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 5(1), HM Government shall make arrangements to report to both Houses of Parliament whenever circumstances arising in section 2(2)(d) would otherwise have amended provisions or definitions in UK law had the UK remained a member of the EU or EEA beyond exit day.
(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 5(1) and having reported to both Houses of Parliament, HM Government is bound to consider whether it should incorporate amended provisions or definitions into UK law, in order to ensure that the rights of workers and employees in the UK are no less favourable than they would have been had the UK remained a member of the EU or EEA beyond exit day.
(3) Such circumstances arising in section 2(2)(d) include but are not limited to—
(a) any future EU Directives relating to family-friendly employment rights; including but not limited to rights for pregnant workers and employees, and those returning from maternity leave,
(b) any future EU Directives relating to gender equality,
(c) the proposed Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on work-life balance for parents and carers.
(4) Reports presented under subsection (1) must include—
(i) an assessment of how such amendments to UK law would have impacted sex equality in the UK had the UK remained a member of the EU or EEA beyond exit day and
(ii) an assessment of how a failure to implement amended provisions or definitions in UK law will impact the ability of families to combine work and care in the UK and gender equality in the UK.”
This new clause would ensure that Parliament is informed of changes in EU and EEA provisions that might have amended UK laws around family-friendly employment rights and gender equality and their potential impact, as well as committing the Government to considering their implementation. This is to ensure that rights of workers and employees with caring responsibilities, and women’s rights, are no less favourable than they would have been had the UK remained a member of the EU or EEA beyond exit day.
Amendment 297, in clause 5, page 3, line 11, leave out “or rule of law”.
This amendment would remove the reference to a rule of law passed or made before exit day.
Amendment 285, page 3, line 12, after “exit day” insert—
“as appointed for the purposes of this section (see subsection (5A)”.
This paving Amendment is intended to allow for transitional arrangements within the existing structure of rules and regulations.
Amendment 298, page 3, line 15, leave out “or rule of law”.
This amendment would remove the reference to a rule of law passed or made before exit day.
Amendment 299, page 3, line 17, leave out “or rule of law”.
This amendment would remove the reference to a rule of law passed or made before exit day.
Amendment 8, page 3, line 20, leave out subsections (4) and (5).
To allow the Charter of Fundamental rights to continue to apply domestically in the interpretation and application of retained EU law.
Amendment 46, page 3, line 20, leave out subsection (4).
This amendment would remove the exclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights from retained EU law.
Amendment 151, page 3, line 26, at end insert—
“(5A) Within three months of the commencement of this section, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament regulations to create a fundamental right to the protection of personal data.
(5B) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (5A) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
Clause 5(4) of the Bill excludes the Charter of Fundamental Rights from the ‘incorporation’ powers in the Bill. This amendment would require the Secretary of State to replicate Article 8 of the Charter (the Right to Protection of Personal Data) in UK domestic law within three months of the commencement of Clause 5.
Amendment 286, page 3, line 26, at end insert—
“(5A) The exit day appointed (in accordance with section 14 and paragraph 13 of Schedule 7) for the purposes of this section must not be before the end of any transitional period agreed under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.”
This Amendment is intended to allow for transitional arrangements within the existing structure of rules and regulations.
Clause 5 stand part.
Amendment 10, page 15, line 5, in schedule 1, leave out paragraphs 1 to 3.
To allow challenges to be brought to retained EU law on the grounds that it is in breach of general principles of EU law.
Amendment 101, page 15, line 17, leave out paragraph 2 and insert—
2 (1) Any general principle of EU law will remain part of domestic law on or after exit day if—
(a) it was recognised as a general principle of EU law by the European Court in a case decided before exit day (whether or not as an essential part of the decision in the case);
(b) it was recognised as a general principle of EU law in the EU Treaties immediately before exit day;
(c) it was recognised as a general principle of EU law by any direct EU legislation (as defined in section 3(2) of this Act) operative immediately before exit day; or
(d) it was recognised as a general principle of EU law by an EU directive that was in force immediately before exit day.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of sub-paragraph (1), the principles set out in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union shall be considered to be general principles for the purposes of that sub-paragraph.”
This amendment clarifies that all the existing principles of EU law will be retained within domestic law whether they originate in the case law of the European Court, the EU treaties, direct EU legislation or EU directives. It also makes clear that the key environmental law principles in Article 191 of the Treaty are retained.
Amendment 336, page 15, line 17, leave out paragraphs 2 and 3 and insert—
2A (1) Any general principle of EU law will remain part of domestic law on or after exit day if—
(a) it was recognised as a general principle of EU law by the European Court in a case decided before exit day (whether or not as an essential part of the decision in the case);
(b) it was recognised as a general principle of EU law in the EU Treaties immediately before exit day;
(c) it was recognised as a general principle of EU law by any direct EU legislation (as defined in section 3(2) of this Act) operative immediately before exit day; or
(d) it was recognised as a general principle of EU law by an EU directive that was in force immediately before exit day.
2B Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph 2A, the principles set out in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union shall be considered to be general principles for the purposes of that paragraph.
2C For the purposes of paragraphs 1A and 1B the exit day appointed must be the same day as is appointed for section 5(1) of this Act and must not be before the end of any transitional period agreed under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.”
This amendment would retain the existing principles of EU law within domestic law whether they originate in the case law of the European Court, the EU treaties, direct EU legislation or EU directives. The freeze date would be at the end of any transitional arrangements.
Amendment 105, page 15, line 21, leave out paragraph 3.
This amendment leave out paragraph 3, thus retaining the right of action in domestic law in relation to general principles of EU law.
Amendment 62, page 15, line 28, leave out paragraph 4.
This amendment would remove the proposal to end rights in UK domestic law after exit day in relation to damages in accordance with the rule in Francovich.
Amendment 139, page 15, line 29, at end insert—
“except in relation to anything occurring before that day”.
This amendment, together with Amendments 140 and 141, would restore the right to obtain damages after exit day in respect of governmental failures before exit day to comply with European Union obligations.
Amendment 302, page 15, line 29, at end insert—
“except in relation to anything occurring before that day.
(2) “Anything occurring before that day” in sub-paragraph (1) shall be taken to mean any action commenced before or after exit day in relation to any act before exit day.”
This amendment would enable actions to be brought under the Francovich rule either before or after exit day if they related to an act before exit day.
Amendment 335, page 15, line 29, at end insert—
“, except in cases whereby the breach of Community law took place on or before exit day.
4A For the purposes of paragraph 4 the exit day appointed must not be before the end of any transitional period agreed under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.”
This amendment ensures that the right to obtain damages if the Government fails to uphold its obligations continues as long as the UK remains under the existing structure of rules and regulation.
Amendment 126, page 15, line 32, after “Rights” insert “or”.
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 62.
Amendment 127, page 15, line 33, leave out
“or the rule in Francovich”.
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 62.
Schedule 1 stand part.
The measures in this group have a number of things in common, and they relate largely to the rights and freedoms that many of our citizens enjoy, without debate or discussion—they are sometimes taken for granted—but that could well be threatened if we do not get this legislative process right.
Of course, the Bill was supposed to be merely a “copy and paste” piece of legislation. We were told that there were no fundamental changes in Government policy and that it was all very straightforward. The Government said, “We are leaving the European Union and becoming a freestanding United Kingdom, so we will simply cut and paste all the EU regulations and laws as they stand into UK law.” However, you will notice, Mrs Laing, particularly in schedule 1, that a number of things are not to be transposed. The Government have specifically chosen not to bring across the charter of fundamental rights.
When I was sitting in the hon. Gentleman’s place, Labour Ministers told us that the charter would have no more influence in the United Kingdom than a copy of “The Beano”—those were the words used—because it would not apply here. Does he not look forward to a time when what Labour Ministers say will bear a greater approximation to truth?
It turns out that the charter does have value, and it certainly does have effect within the UK. I will shortly give some practical examples to show how we cannot simply airbrush this part of our current legislative framework. Many citizens, companies and organisations recognise the value that the charter brings.
Is not an example of the use of the charter of fundamental rights the one given by our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) when he referred to the case that the EU brought against the Government, in which the current Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, as part of his argument, prayed in aid the charter. If the Secretary of State thinks that it has use, should not that same use be available to everybody else?
Indeed. My right hon. Friend has stolen the punchline that I was building up to, because that is the one example that I thought would surely clinch the argument. Of all the people who really should value the charter of fundamental rights, surely it is the Secretary of State.
Given that the charter has been part of British law for some years now, the case for repealing it must be based on some harm that it has done. I have never heard anyone describe any harm that the charter is supposed to have done to any public interest in this country, so presumably the hon. Gentleman, like me, awaits some examples to justify the proposed change.
Absolutely. We might hear a different argument from Ministers, but traditionally the Government’s argument has been, “Don’t worry about the charter of fundamental rights; it doesn’t have any effect, it isn’t necessary and we can do without it because it is already there in British law.” It is rather like what the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) said in his intervention. Of course, if that is the case, why are the Government deliberately excising it from UK law, and why would they resist new clause 16? The new clause does not even require the charter to be retained—I happen to think that it should be retained—but simply states that Her Majesty’s Government should lay before Parliament within one month of Royal Assent a review of the implications of removing it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one advantage of the new clause is that we could explore properly the impact of losing the access that the charter gives to UN conventions, for example on the rights of persons with disabilities and on the rights of the child, which currently are not fully incorporated into UK law? We will therefore lose the way in which they are currently accessible through the charter.
Indeed. We need a far more detailed analysis from Ministers of the consequences of deleting the charter of fundamental rights, which are potentially myriad and far ranging. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her tireless campaigning on children’s rights. She has tabled several amendments in relation to the UN convention on the rights of the child, and she will know that many non-governmental organisations that campaign for children’s rights, the Children’s Society in particular, have several anxieties about the deletion of the charter of fundamental rights and the lack of clarity that would exist around protecting children, who are sometimes in vulnerable circumstances.
When children in the world are still subject to slave labour or trafficking, or are working as child soldiers, does my hon. Friend agree that the message being sent that the UK would simply do away with rights that we campaigned for, which led to the charter of fundamental rights, is an abhorrence? We need Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and say that they have changed their mind.
People will have many legitimate anxieties. We cannot simply erase a provision that currently has legal effect and provides legal protections without a statement from Ministers about the effect that that could have in law.
What a choice. I will give way to the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash).
One of the most fundamental questions is the notion of disapplying Acts of Parliament and the supremacy that the European Court of Justice asserts over our parliamentary Acts, which the amendments would effectively transfer to the Supreme Court. As for child protection, I was in part responsible for the Protection of Children Act 1978 and I presented the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014, which are intrinsic Westminster Acts. We do not need the charter to do such things; we can do them ourselves.
In no way would I wish to diminish the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to child protection and ensuring that legislation is as good as it possibly can be, but we currently have that extra level of protection that the charter of fundamental rights provides. New clause 16 simply asks for an analysis from Ministers of what would happen to child protection and to many other rights if we delete the charter from our current set of legal protections.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is about not just the application of the charter of fundamental rights in British law, but the message that we send to the rest of the world? That goes to the heart of the problem with the so-called British Bill of Rights. There are no British rights; there are universal human rights. That is the message that this Government and our continent should send to the rest of the world and to places where people do not enjoy those human rights, which should be inalienable.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. If the Bill contained a provision to copy and paste many of the charter’s general rights into UK law to preserve the current arrangements, the Government would have a reasonable case to make, but there is no alternative provision. The legislation simply deletes the charter of fundamental rights.
I have two points. First, when the charter of fundamental rights was introduced, it was said that it simply restated existing rights that were elsewhere in European Union law. Secondly, the argument that if rights are not given to us by the EU, we in Britain could not somehow manage to create them ourselves is utter nonsense. We are signed up to the European convention on human rights, we have the Equality Act 2010, and we are a signatory to many UN treaties. The notion that if we somehow do not adopt new clause 16, we somehow do not have any human rights is offensive nonsense.
It might well be the case that Parliament could salvage many of the protections over time and put them on our statute, but the Bill seeks to delete the charter of fundamental rights from the point that the legislation is enacted. In other words, it would take away rights that we hope may eventually be replaced, but there are none of the guarantees that we currently enjoy by virtue of our membership of the charter.
As an old lawyer who enjoyed jurisprudence, I know that our laws and rights come from many different sources. I am an old common lawyer, so I actually do not like stuff being written down too much; I like things to develop over time. I would really need persuading about new clause 16, because it just asks for a report, which seems awfully wet.
I was trying my best to offer a hand of friendship across the Chamber and to say, “Let’s meet halfway and find a way of forging a consensus.” If the right hon. Lady wishes, there are other amendments today that ask for the charter of fundamental rights to be kept. I will certainly be voting for those, but she obviously knows that I would like to find a way, in the spirit of compromise, of reaching a consensus. I agree that a report is only a small step in that direction—hence the drafting of new clause 16—but I am massively impressed by her strength of commitment to the protection of rights in our country.
One of the differences between the charter of fundamental rights and the European convention on human rights lies in article 8 of the charter, which relates to the protection of personal data. Is it not a particular irony that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union relied on precisely that provision to sue the British Government?
It is probably time to elaborate on that example, because the Secretary of State—for it is he—sued the then Home Secretary, who hon. Members will know is now Prime Minister, to challenge the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 as being inconsistent with EU law. The Secretary of State himself used the argument in court that the charter of fundamental rights needed to be prayed in aid in that case. By the way, he was successful at that point in time.
As a Government lawyer at the time, I was honoured to present that case on behalf of the Government. My real worry about bringing the charter of fundamental rights into English law is that it is too complicated and does not add sufficient rights. Everybody in the House is in favour of the rights in the European convention on human rights that have been incorporated into English law. We are very keen on those and want to protect human rights, but we do not feel that the charter adds sufficient rights to take us much further, and we found that in an enormous number of arguments during that court case.
I have no reason to question the hon. Lady’s capabilities in court, and I am in no way saying that she was a loser in that particular case, but the charter is not complicated. The rights are simple and clear. For example, “Dignity” covers the right to life and to freedom from torture, slavery, the death penalty, eugenic practices and human cloning. “Freedoms” covers liberty, personal integrity, privacy, protection of personal data, marriage, thought, religion, expression, assembly, education, work, property and asylum. Other freedoms relating to “Equality” include the prohibition of all discrimination, including on the basis of disability, age and sexual orientation, and cultural, religious and linguistic diversity. “Solidarity” includes the right to fair working conditions, and protection against unjustified dismissal. Other rights include “Citizen’s Rights” and matters relating to “Justice”. Those are simple, important rights.
I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell)
I agree with the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) that we need more than a report; the rights should be enshrined. On article 25 and the rights of older people, does my hon. Friend agree that having limited protections for older people at a time when so many older people need, but cannot get, things such as social care means that we need to enshrine those rights?
My hon. Friend is correct. While we have powers on the statute and while rights accrue from case law and court conclusions, the charter of fundamental rights fills many of the gaps, particularly in certain circumstances.
I will give way to my right hon. Friend in a moment, because he has a great amendment relating to data, but I want to give an example about the protection of public health. The tobacco manufacturers sought to challenge the Government’s introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes—of course the tobacco manufacturers hated the idea and wanted to stop it—and the Government, in defence of that legislation, prayed in aid of their case the charter of fundamental rights and its protections for public health. The courts therefore upheld the UK’s plain packaging arrangements and legislation on the basis of the protections of public health rights laid out in the charter. That is a very specific example of how the charter has benefited the rights and protections of our citizens in this country.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind reference to my amendment 151. Going back to the case brought by the now Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Secretary of State had not been able to rely on article 8, the likelihood is that he would not have won his case and that the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) would have won for the Government? Does that not give the lie to the suggestion that the charter has no impact?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) had won her case, would she be here today? Perhaps she would be higher on the judicial ladder.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) suggested that the charter of fundamental rights contains rights that are too complicated to be incorporated into English law. Will the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) reassure her that those rights have been incorporated into Scots law, which is a separate legal system, and into all the legal systems of the other member states of the European Union? In fact, it is not too complicated to incorporate the rights into English law.
The hon. and learned Lady makes the point very well, but perhaps the hon. Member for Banbury would like to respond.
My point is not that we do not approve of the rights, nor that we thought it was not possible to make the case without the charter, but that the charter has been part of English law since the Lisbon treaty. As good, responsible lawyers, whether acting for the Government or for anybody else, of course we use whatever tools are available to us, which in recent times have included the charter.
My point is that we do not need the provisions of the charter. It is true that it can be argued the charter can do one or two more tiny things, such as widening the class, making what we can get back greater and possibly widening the possibilities for claimants, but my case is that it is possible to do what we need to do to protect people’s human rights within the law as we have it in this country.
I hear the hon. Lady’s case that somehow the charter is not necessary, which is very much the case that Ministers have made in the past, but she has conceded that there are differences that the charter can apply. She characterises those differences as very small, but what she perceives as small or minuscule rights are not necessarily small or minuscule rights to our constituents, to members of the public or to the most vulnerable in society, who may depend on the very rights provided by the charter in crucial circumstances.
Does the hon. Gentleman find it odd that we are transposing all EU law into our own law while taking away the thing that underpins all EU law? We are taking away the fundamentals and foundations of the body of EU law. Is that not an odd way of going about things?
I agree. I find it odd that Ministers are saying that, somehow, the charter does not matter but are then saying that we must delete the charter in the Bill. They would almost die in a ditch to defend clause 5(4), which simply says:
“The Charter of Fundamental Rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day.”
If the charter is so benign and so irrelevant, why not have the report? It may be tedious to some, but the report is necessary to explain whether those rights do or do not offer protections. If the charter is so ineffectual, and if this is supposed to be a copy-and-paste exercise to transpose EU law, I do not see the argument for deleting the charter.
Has the hon. Gentleman paid attention to protocol 30? Article 1(2) states:
“In particular, and for the avoidance of doubt, nothing in Title IV of the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to Poland or the United Kingdom except in so far as Poland or the United Kingdom has provided for such rights in its national law.”
The whole point of the charter of fundamental rights, subject to the protocol, is that it does not apply in our national law.
I am not quite sure that is the interpretation of the courts, which have referenced the charter of fundamental rights in a number of cases. If the hon. Gentleman listens to the case that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) will make in respect of amendment 151, on the free flow of data across borders and on the protections we have, he will hear how the very backbone of our data protection laws, which go alongside the general data protection regulations, is represented in the charter of fundamental rights. It is not me making the case; it is techUK, the trade bodies and the organisations that campaign and fight to protect data and privacy rights. Many organisations and non-governmental organisations will be bombarding the inboxes of Conservative Members as we speak about those protections.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I want to make a little more progress, if I may, because I need to reference a number of other amendments.
I hope this is not the case, but it seems to me that the Prime Minister, worried that hard-line Eurosceptics and Brexiteers on her Benches are champing and nipping at her heels, had to throw them a bone. There was a need to give them something, and therefore the charter of fundamental rights was the scalp she felt she had to throw in the direction of some, but not all, Conservative Members. I hope that is not the case, because significant protections on data, on children’s rights and on public health—even the protections that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union himself has used—are rights and privileges that we should jealously guard. It is our job in this Parliament to stand up and point out when the Executive are potentially trying to erode many of those rights. I hope we can keep the charter or, at the very least, have a report on its effect.
Amendment 62 also addresses changes in rights. This is not a pure copy-and-paste exercise, and the amendment seeks to preserve something known as the Francovich rule in our legal system. Essentially, it is a fundamental principle of any democracy that Governments should not be above the law. In EU law, the principle is made real by the Francovich rule, which was established by case law that provides citizens with tools to recover damages when their Government fall short of legal obligations. In this case, again, the Government are trying to do away with those protections, and I tabled the amendment—other hon. Members have tabled similar amendments—to probe the Government and to find out what will be the effect of removing the Francovich protection.
The recent prosecutions of the Government under clean air laws, for example, might not have been possible if the Francovich duty were not enshrined in law. The result of the Bill, as drafted, is that, the day before Brexit, people will have the right to claim damages from the Government for the harm they suffer, but there is a danger they will not have that right the day after Brexit.
My hon. Friend makes the point well. We can all imagine circumstances in which the Government could be in part responsible for failures to comply with various legal obligations—as she says, it might well include failure to comply with air quality directives—and those who suffer harm as a consequence of those Government failures may no longer have the right of redress. Those rights exist not only in environmental legislation but in, for instance, equal opportunities legislation. I can foresee circumstances in which a same-sex couple seek retroactively to claim their right to pension arrangements that might not have existed in the past so that they can accrue their pension rights, but they would not have redress to do so under the proposed arrangements.
The other big one is competition law, which relies very much on the right to challenge the Government, particularly on procurement arrangements. Companies that say they did not get a contract for such and such a reason may well feel that it was partly because they were unfairly treated by Government. Under the Francovich arrangements we have protections so that contracts can be let fairly, be it for house building, transport infrastructure or anything else we can name. A number of protections need safeguarding there.
Perhaps the biggest one that has not been addressed by Ministers and where Francovich may still be required is the protection of the rights of EU nationals after Brexit. A number of EU nationals will continue to reside in the UK after Brexit, but what will happen if their residency rights or definitions change, if their children are affected by changes of arrangements with the Government, or if rights to claim various tax reliefs or other things change in an unfair way for them, as EU nationals? There should be some level of redress against malfeasance by Government in that respect, so at the very least we need to hear from Ministers a better justification for the deletion of this Francovich protection.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. His amendment on Francovich echoes my own, although mine is slightly different on time limitation. Does he agree it is unthinkable that a Government who throughout this Bill have said, “All rights and protections would be guaranteed,” are now seeking to remove the ability to sue the state for imperfect administration, mostly of directives, at a time when they are about to incorporate hundreds if not thousands of pieces of EU law into our UK law? They are saying, “If anything goes wrong with any of that, you’ve got no right to sue us in the future.”
My hon. Friend is correct about that and she has tabled a very good amendment on this issue. Ministers need to do better and explain why they would seek to wrench out of the protections for our citizens this potential right-to-redress arrangement, particularly as it may well affect malfeasances and the need for redress that takes place before exit day. This is not just saying that this rule will not apply to situations that occur after exit day; its drafting would prevent that right to redress, even if the claim itself relates to an occasion prior to exit day. All hon. Members, regardless of political party, should therefore think of their constituents, the cases we pick up and the surgery discussions we have with people who ask what they can do. The Government are a large and powerful organisation—many Conservative Members often make that point about the size and power of the state—and individuals need rights in order to protect themselves in some of those circumstances. This is something that really should transcend the normal party political issues.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the threshold for claiming damages under Francovich is that the breach needs to be “sufficiently serious”, which is a principle stemming from EU jurisprudence and case law from the European Court of Justice. Is his position that claims will be interpreted under UK law even in the event of a lack of provision of “sufficiently serious” in UK statute, or is it that UK courts would be applying ECJ jurisprudence in that event?
Would it not be great if we were having a proper debate about retaining Francovich protections, albeit possibly making an amendment? The hon. Lady may well have a case for increasing or decreasing the level of the damage thresholds in place, but that is not what we are debating; we are debating simply the deletion of this Francovich protection—that right to redress—from our laws and protections. I would be happy to discuss with her where that level should be set, as there is a debate to be had about that, but we are talking about the principle, yes or no, and whether this should be retained within this legislation.
My hon. Friend rightly suspects that the Government will say that removing the charter from the UK will not affect the substantive rights that individuals already benefit from in this country. Does he agree that the problem is that the Government do not go on to say what those substantive rights are? If we simply leave it to the common law, a future Parliament—it may not be this one—could determine that it is right to erode those rights. That is why it is important we stick with the charter.
We need to make sure that if we are transposing legislation, it is a true copy and paste, but that is not what has been proposed. I am not in favour necessarily of cutting off our relationship with the single market or the customs union. There are a lot of debates on the Brexit choices we have before us, but here we are dealing with a set of separate discussions about the rights that our citizens—our constituents—could have in a post-Brexit scenario, and we need a better justification in order to be convinced than that we should just throw these overboard at this stage.
I hope this will be a more helpful intervention. The hon. Gentleman is making a good point. The point about Francovich is that we will not be able to have a claim arising from a directive that we have accepted into substantive British law because we will have left the European Union, and that is simply not fair. People would have had a claim but we will have left, so someone who sought to make that claim afterwards will not be able to do so. It is right that we will not be subjected to any new directives, so people could not raise them, but it is bad to take away a right that people would have had as we had accepted the directive into substantive law. That is the point here.
Yes, the right hon. Lady makes a good argument about how we are transposing certain bits of European legislation into UK law but not necessarily the protections to go alongside them. That is the point we need an explanation on. Why not bring those with us?
I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s argument on transposing the charter of fundamental rights into British law. Is it his case that it should be transposed as a cut and paste or that it should be adapted? Article 39 talks about the right to stand for the European Parliament, article 44 talks about the right to petition the European Parliament and article 45 talks about freedom of movement, all of which would presumably no longer be relevant after we leave the EU.
I have been in Parliament since 1997, on and off, and I find that amendments can often be rebutted for a number of reasons but when people say there is a technical deficiency that tends to be the last refuge of the Minister. There may well be arguments that say that we need to cut and paste the charter of fundamental rights or the Francovich provisions, but to do so having regard to changes in the language to take account of new circumstances. Everybody can recognise the need for consequential or supplemental amendments to the legislation sometimes, but let us not kid ourselves: we are talking about some far bigger principles here. I hope the hon. Gentleman would not diminish the importance of the charter of fundamental rights and those myriad legal rights and protections we have that are so essential for the specific and general reasons I have given in this debate.
I will give way one more time but I want to make sure that other Members have a right to speak today as well.
I am in violent agreement with the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) on the issue of Francovich, and I will be speaking to those points in more detail when I come to talk to my amendment. Does my hon. Friend share my concerns that certain rights in the charter such as environmental rights, consumer rights and the rights of the elderly in particular, which are not highly developed in UK case law or in any other sort of legislation, are gently being thrown out with the bathwater in this removal of the charter of fundamental rights?
That is an exceptionally important point. Our legal system is one of the finest in the world. It is a dynamic legal system and is not simply reliant on statute; it can relate to cases as they evolve. The charter of fundamental rights, which could equally be a charter within the UK law, according to this Bill, if it were transposed, could help to maintain that dynamism and the protection of rights to fill the gaps when those unforeseen circumstances arise. We do not know what issues our constituents will bring to us from one week to the next, but we may well have a constituent who has found that their rights have been deprived unfairly and who needs redress to protect them from the Government or others. In our surgeries and discussions, what will we say to our constituents in such circumstances? What will we say when they say, “But you had the opportunity to transpose and retain the protections under the charter of fundamental rights”? Will we say “Oh, well, it was a very busy day. I didn’t really notice what was going on in the Chamber. There were lots of complex things going on to do with Brexit”?
This really matters. I am delighted and proud that many Members from all parties in this House are voicing their concerns and are not prepared to see these rights just swept away on a ministerial say-so.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie). If I may say so, I do not take the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) in her description of new clause 16. It seems to me that in tabling it for consideration by the Committee the hon. Gentleman has accurately sought to stimulate an extremely important debate on the consequences of getting rid of the charter.
I sometimes feel that there is perhaps a failure of some Members to look at what has been happening in our society and country over a 40-year period. On the whole, western democracies have tended in that time to develop the idea of rights. I know that for some Members that appears to be anathema—it makes them choke over the cornflakes—but it is a development that I have always welcomed and that, it seems to me, has delivered substantial benefits for all members of our society, particularly the most vulnerable.
In this country we have had a long debate about how we reconcile rights with the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. Indeed, in 1997 the Labour Government sought to craft—extremely ingeniously, I thought, which is why I was very supportive of it at the time—the legislation that would become the Human Rights Act in an effort to achieve that reconciliation. I think most people in this House would argue that that Act has worked very well by preserving parliamentary sovereignty for primary legislation, enabling secondary legislation to be struck down if incompatible and with the mechanism of a declaration of incompatibility when required.
The truth is that because of our membership of the European Union there are some things that many of us would regard as rights but which fall outside the scope of the Human Rights Act and the European convention, and those things have developed over the same period I mentioned as a result of our European Union membership. I appreciate that that leads to double choking over the cornflakes, because not only have those rights come from what some people might regard as a tainted source—although I am blowed if I can think why: it is just another international treaty—but on top of that is the fact that once in place the charter has no regard for our parliamentary sovereignty. It has the capacity to trump our domestic laws if there is an incompatibility between our domestically enacted laws and the principles of, or anything that has come from, the charter. That is part of the supremacy of EU law to which we have all been subject.
All that should not make us ignore the benefits that the charter of fundamental rights has conferred. Whatever we may think as we talk about parliamentary sovereignty, I venture the suggestion that if one goes out into the street and asks people whether they think that equality law, which is largely EU-derived, has been of value to this country, most people would give a resounding note of approval. I am sure they would do the same with respect to the recent Benkharbouche case in relation to the disapplication of the State Immunity Act 1978 for the purposes of enabling an employment case to be brought against an embassy that had mistreated one of its employees. Of course, as has been cited, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has availed himself of the provisions of the charter and the rights that the EU has conferred in relation to questions of data privacy and the way data is handled.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman also aware of the simple rights that many of us will have used on behalf of a parent, such as the right to wheelchair accessibility at our airports? There are also rights that came up in the course of the youth justice review I did for the Government, to do with making courts child-friendly so that, for example, they do not intimidate a young woman having to relay a terrible case of sexual assault. Such rights did not exist in British law but now exist as a result of the charter. For that reason, we ought to give due respect to our European friends for giving us the charter.
I place great respect on the fact that, for all the faults I can sometimes identify, when the European Union was established its founding fathers wished it to be based on principles not only of the rule of law, but of a vision of human society of which I have no difficulty approving.
I will just make a little progress.
I do not have any problem with that vision at all. It worries me that, in the course of this debate on Brexit and our departure from the European Union, in this massive upheaval of venom about the EU that I have experienced personally in the past week, which seems to have no relation to reality at all and troubles me very much, we seem to be at risk of losing sight of these aspects of real progress within our society as a result of our EU membership. They are overlooked.
I have listened to my right hon. and learned Friend with great care and interest. Will he explain why the matters to which he and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) have just referred could not be enacted? In fact, they often are enacted; I referred to the Protection of Children Act 1978, the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014 and so forth. Does he not understand that it is terribly important to remember that implicit in the charter—as a distinguished lawyer, he knows this—is the power of the European Court to disapply Supreme Court enactments? The Factortame case was a good example of that in respect of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988.
I thought Factortame would come along at some point in this debate. My hon. Friend is of course right about that. I know that he has spent most of his career in this House agonising over the issue of the loss or diminution of parliamentary sovereignty. That is not a matter to be neglected, and if he will wait just a moment I shall come to that point.
As I said, by raising the points he has through tabling new clause 16, the hon. Member for Nottingham East has done the right thing, because we need to focus on what is going to happen after we have left the EU. Of course my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) is correct: the laws that we have enacted, as at the date of exit, as a consequence of our EU membership and the requirement for us to adhere to the charter, will remain in place, but it is interesting that they will thereafter be wholly unprotected. For example, they will not even enjoy the special protection that we crafted in the Human Rights Act for other areas deemed to be of importance.
One solution may be that, in due course, we ought to think carefully about whether there are other categories of rights additional to the European convention on human rights—heaven knows we have been here before—that ought to enjoy the sort of protection that the Human Rights Act affords other rights. That might well be the way forward. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is slightly strange that, in leaving the EU for national sovereignty reasons, we should then say that we will continue to entrench certain categories of rights protected in the charter and give them a status even higher than, for example, prohibiting torture under the ECHR. That might strike people as rather odd. On that basis, I am forced to conclude that, if we are leaving the EU, as we intend to do, the sort of entrenchment that has previously existed is not sustainable. We will have to come back to this House to consider how we move forward, but, in saying that, I think that this is a very big issue indeed.
It worries me that, when we leave in March 2019, there will be a hiatus. There will be a gap where areas of law that matter to people are not protected in any way at all. It is no surprise, therefore, that non-governmental organisations have been bombarding MPs with their anxiety. I think that that anxiety is misplaced, because I cannot believe that any Member on the Treasury Front Bench intends to diminish existing rights. However, we are in danger from two things. One is sclerosis—that the rights development will cease. Secondly, because those rights do not enjoy any form of special status—many, not necessarily all, should certainly do so—there will be occasions when we nibble away at them and then discover that they have been lost. For that reason, it is a really urgent issue for consideration by this House, preferably before or shortly after we leave.
My right hon. and learned Friend and former pupil master is making a speech with his characteristic intellectual honesty. Nothing passes him by. In that spirit, does he agree that the charter is not really the solution to incorporating the rights that so many of us want to see incorporated, such as the new views of sexuality and children’s rights? Possibly the way forward is not to vote for this new clause, but to continue to put pressure on those on the Treasury Bench to ensure that those rights are protected in a modern and suitable way for the current world.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As has been pointed out, this new clause just asks for a report, which means it is trying to concentrate minds on an issue. In our debate last week, one point that I made on my new clause 55, which is still hanging over the Treasury Bench like the sword of Damocles, is that there may be some ways in which we can provide—even now as we leave, as a temporary measure before we can return to the issue—some greater reassurance on the protection of key rights in the fields of equality. I strongly recommend that my hon and right hon. Friends pay some attention to that, because the issue will not go away. If we do not seek to act on it, the idea of a modern Conservative party starts to fray at the edges, and I do not wish my party to gain a reputation for ignoring these key issues.
Might I use as an example very cash-strapped services, which might not naturally wish to be extending the rights and the costs of services? For example, in the aged care sector, a couple who traditionally had to be split up due to the needs of one or other of them can, under European rights, remain as a couple. We can imagine that, in a time of cash-strapped services, that sort of right might not necessarily fall into the lap of service users.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point, but it is worth bearing in mind that that is covered by the Human Rights Act and the ECHR, so let us not get too worried. We must also face up to the fact that some socio-economic rights that require levels of cost and economic policy decisions are legitimate areas in which Parliament and Government can say that, however ideal they might be, a balance must be struck. That is why I am always careful—this probably marks me out as a Conservative—about the infinite extension of rights, because thereby we dilute their importance. That is very important to bear in mind.
My right hon. and learned Friend raised the issue of the extension of rights. Is not one of the problems with the charter and its interpretation by the courts that, because it is a very general set of rights, it can be extended by courts? Unlike with the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, it is not just about declaring incompatibility, but about striking down Acts of this Parliament too. This does not get the balance right, which he accepts is very important.
That of course was one of the great anxieties when the charter was enacted. Indeed, it is the reason for the UK’s so-called opt-out, but it is not an opt-out because, in so far as the charter reflects general principles of EU law, we are bound by it. One example, which my right hon. Friend will remember, was the case of Chester and McGeoch and prisoner voting rights. There was an attempt to invoke EU law as a tool in order to force the UK Government to bring in prisoner voting, at least in relation to European elections. I think that it is fair to say that it caused much disquiet in government as to the possibility that that might be the outcome of the court case. Indeed, I went to argue the court case as Attorney General on the Government’s behalf in our Supreme Court. Invoking EU law was used as a tool, but it did not lead to that outcome.
Looking back over the history of the charter, I do not think that some of the fears that were expressed—that it would be used for an expansionist purpose by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg—have been proved to be correct. In any event, we are leaving the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, unless we have to stay in it for transitional purposes. When we are gone it will be our own Supreme Court, in which I have enormous confidence, that will carry out that interpretation. I do not want to labour this point much further. I simply want to say that there is a really important issue for us to debate. It is about what happens to the sorts of rights that have come to us through the charter and through the EU. The matter cannot be ignored. In the short term—the sword of Damocles moment again—the Government must think about it before the Bill has finished going through this House.
I just want to make sure that I understand what my right hon. and learned Friend is suggesting. Are there some items in the charter which are not going to be retained through the retention principles of the Bill, but which should be retained in the form effectively of becoming an amendment to the HRA, so that they are subject to the HRA’s protections?
That could be a solution, but even if we do not have time to move to that and to have the necessary debate—as we highlighted in the question about the statutory instrument powers that the Government are taking to change law—some comfort and reassurance might be provided with the fact that there are some categories of EU-derived law that could do with at least the assurance that they would require primary legislation to change them. That might go some way to providing reassurance to some of the perfectly worthy organisations that have been writing to us that there is no malevolent intent towards this important area in which rights have developed.
The general principles of European law do not cover the principles of environmental law. That was made clear to us in terms from the Dispatch Box last week. The charter does guarantee those environmental rights. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that environmental principles are one area in which this Bill is deficient and in which our rights will be lost?
I agree that environmental law is an area that could do with the scrutiny that I have just outlined.
I just want to follow what my right hon. and learned Friend was saying a moment ago, because it seemed to be a very useful suggestion. Is he saying that, as part of what he and I sometimes call the triage process, certain items that are classed as rights could be subject to primary legislation in full for amendment, whereas others, which are important but not rights, might be subject to the affirmative procedure and others, which are technical, will be left over for the negative procedure?
Yes, absolutely, and that was what new clause 55 sought to achieve, although it did provide the opportunity of looking at purely technical amendments—those would be really technical, and I do not wish to burden the Committee with complete trivia.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making a typically thoughtful and deeply considered speech. On a point of clarification, would it be right to say that there are, effectively, three different categories in the charter of fundamental rights? There are those rights that, as I indicated earlier, do not make a lot of sense in transposition, such as the right to petition the European Parliament. There are those rights that are already covered by the Human Rights Act, such as the right to life and the right to property. However, there is a third category of rights, such as that in article 41, that are not covered by our own jurisprudence and legal system, and they might usefully be so in due course.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has correctly analysed what the issues are and the categories of rights on which we probably ought to focus.
Some of these rights are going to be incorporated in different statutes. For example, there is going to be an environment Act, which will create a new regulator and, we hope, protect those rights. Is the present proposal not a very broad brush, which is ill fitted to dealing with these rather detailed matters? Can my right and learned hon. Friend give us some reassurance that Supreme Court judges will not be left dealing with more legal uncertainty, rather than less, because they will have to adjudicate between two different rights regimes—one that is directly applicable from our own statute, and the other where they may have to declare an incompatibility with European convention rights? How will that diminish legal uncertainty, which is what Supreme Court judges are looking for?
If I understand my hon. Friend’s question, it goes to the point I made a moment ago, which was that it ought to be possible to consider whether some of these rights should be incorporated in a Bill of Rights that provides equivalent protection to that currently provided in the Human Rights Act. I think it is possible to distinguish between what matters and what does not. I am not suggesting that all environmental law would have to enjoy that protection, but I think it is possible, and an exercise that this House and the Government will have to carry out—the pressure will build for this—to give this issue some consideration. Equally, the House may decide that it is not concerned about some categories of rights and that it just wants to stick to things such as equality, data privacy and children’s rights. We will need to debate that.
But it will create uncertainty.
No, I do not think it will create uncertainty, any more than the Human Rights Act has created uncertainty. I have to say to my hon. Friend that I do not think that that is an issue. However, as I say, I do accept that it will take time to draft and debate these things, and it is not in this current forum that we will be able to achieve that.
On the point my right hon. and learned Friend is making, I think I am in complete agreement with him. It is right for this place to consider, debate and legislate on these issues, because this is the right forum for doing that, rather than by implementing a whole slew of rights, which would then be entirely in the hands of the courts.
Yes, and there we are in agreement. It is inevitable and regrettable that we face this situation, but that is why simply to convert the charter, which, in any case, has lots in it that is unconvertible, and to say that it should maintain entrenched rights, seems to me, in the light of what we are debating in the context of Brexit, to be an impossibility. That is not something that commends itself to me.
Let me now move to a slightly narrower issue. We have to accept that, in the course of what we are doing, we are going through a complex period of transition. Forget about the transitional arrangements we may be negotiating with our EU partners—the truth is that we are creating a whole category of transitional law. By the concept of retained EU law, we are doing some very strange things indeed with our ordinary legal principles.
Clause 5(2) allows EU law to have priority over domestic law in certain circumstances. In fact, it allows for the possibility of UK law enacted prior to exit day being quashed for incompatibility with EU law that is retained on exit day. I simply make the point that, leaving aside our EU membership, which of course will have ceased, this is an utterly unique development in our legal system—it has never happened before. We are about to create a species of domestic or semi-domestic law—I would not quite describe it as feral law—which will have the unique quality of being able to override our own laws. Clause 6(3) will also allow CJEU judgments given before exit day to be binding, but not on our Supreme Court—a matter that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and I have been worrying about quite a lot in the course of the passage of this legislation.
So although the CJEU will rightly lose jurisdiction, it and EU law will keep a special status. However, that is intended to be only temporary, although how temporary is speculative, and I of course note clause 5(3), which says that this law can be modified and still retain this special status, as long as the modification, I assume, is not so dramatic or drastic that it is made explicit that it should lose it. That is different from replacement. That, I suspect, is because the Government know very well that this situation may continue for decades to come.
Yet, in the middle of that, the charter is removed. Leaving aside the other issues concerning the charter, which I have touched on, and which I do not want to go back over, that creates an unusual circumstance. EU law was always intended to be purposive, and one of the purposes is to give effect to the fundamental principles under which the EU is supposed to operate. Yet we are removing the benchmark under which this law is supposed to operate, because the charter will no longer be there, although, interestingly—I think this is an acknowledgment by the Government of the problem they have—they have then, in the next clauses, essentially allowed the charter and general principles of EU law to continue to be used for the purposes of interpretation.
It is very unclear how all this, in practice, is going to work out. That is why I tabled my two principal amendments. Amendment 8 would allow the retention of the charter. It provides an easy route to ensuring that this legal framework is retained, but for the reasons we have just been debating, there are serious issues surrounding it, which is why I think it is probably wrong to pursue it.
However, there is then the question in schedule 1 of what we do with general principles of EU law. What they are is totally undefined, but I assume—I have to assume—that if the Government are content to articulate the existence of general principles, they have done enough research to establish to their own satisfaction that general principles do exist—they are the result of court judgments interpreting the law and, indeed, the fundamental principles in the charter, but not the ones that are going to disappear on the day we leave.
Is not the important point about clause 5 that any future Act of this Parliament takes supremacy, so if there is a muddle or a problem, this Parliament can sort it out definitively? I should have thought that that would deal with the interests of all parties concerned.
My right hon. Friend almost makes my case for me. He is absolutely right that, in so far as we want to depart from anything, this House, once we have left the EU, can do what it likes, and as regards anything we enact thereafter, the supremacy of EU law is entirely removed. We can do exactly what we please, except, I am afraid, in so far as we may find ourselves still locked into trying to maintain comity with the EU when the penny drops about the economic consequences of not having it. However, I will refrain from straying too far into that area.
So the question is: is there some merit in keeping the right to bring a challenge using general principles of EU law? I would have thought that there is. I tried to work through in my mind the importance of this. First, we may have retained EU law that is deficient, defective or does not operate properly, or a court might be forced to conclude that it operates in a capricious or even unfair manner, or is disproportionate. At the moment, the only remedy for the court, unless it can bring in the Human Rights Act, will be to apply the law and somebody points out to a Minister that that law is working very badly.
In my right hon and learned Friend’s observations about schedule 1, paragraph 3(2), is he referring to retained general principles of EU law or to new ones post Brexit? If he is talking about the retained ones, I have a great deal of sympathy with his position, whereas importing rights of challenge that rely on later developments of EU law would be quite against the principle of Brexit.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and we are completely of one mind on this. I am talking about retained principles—the principles that were seen to exist at the date of exit.
I am delighted, though not surprised, that my right hon. and learned Friend and I are thinking alike on this, as we have thought alike on many of these issues. Does he think, in that case, that his amendment 10 ought to be recast when, as I hope, it appears as a Government amendment on Report, so as not to remove paragraph 3 but to say, instead of “general principles”, “retained general principles”, with similar consequential adjustments?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. As I have said on many previous occasions, whatever merits I may have as a lawyer, I am not a parliamentary draftsman. On top of that, I gently point out that, in an effort to get my amendments in early, they were, in the usual way, drafted with a wet towel around my head at about 30 minutes past midnight on the night before Second Reading. I am therefore quite sure that they are all capable of substantial improvement. Indeed, in my experience, it is very unusual for an amendment ever to be accepted just like that, apart from when it adds a comma, particularly in Committee.
Yes, of course there are different ways in which this can be approached. Indeed, my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, with whom I have had an opportunity for a bit of a chat—I shall look forward to talking to him further about this—has made it clear that he thinks I have been a bit too draconian in deleting paragraphs 1, 2 and 3. On the other hand, there are some other things in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 that I find rather concerning. However, I shall confine myself to paragraph 3 for the moment.
On whether the drafting is entirely right, so far, as far as I am aware, the Government have had absolutely no answer to the extremely clear case that my right hon. and learned Friend has made about the proper way to protect these cases in future. The obvious thing is for the Government to accept these amendments today, because they can come back on Report and start correcting and redrafting amendments to which I am sure that he will be wholly receptive. What I would not welcome is some vague assurances from Front Benchers that they will think about it and then might come back with something on Report. The drafting can be corrected later; the points that he is making need to be confirmed today.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very good point. He highlights the difficulty faced by all Back Benchers, particularly Government Back Benchers, in presenting amendments—namely, the extent to which they should accept assurances from Front Benchers. That largely depends on how detailed the assurance is—whether it is woolly and vague or has some specificity to it. My judgment on whether I might press amendment 10 to the vote will depend on how specific Front Benchers can be in providing an assurance that they recognise that, even if there may be areas that remain to be debated, there is a core issue that must be addressed about the ability to bring a right of action in domestic law based on a failure to comply with a general principle of EU law when it concerns the operation of retained EU law.
Furthermore, because retained EU law has supremacy over domestic law, it must be possible that there might be instances in which our domestic law would have to be altered. The Government cannot then argue that that is an extraordinary thing to do, because they have themselves drafted this Bill in a way that allows for the possibility of UK domestic law being quashed. That will, I hope, be for a temporary period. Nevertheless, I am unable to understand how, during that temporary period, we can end up with a situation where the Government are perfectly happy to allow for the supremacy of EU law but remove the very principles that moderate it, ensure that it cannot be abused, and, in those areas that were within EU competence, provide a framework under which the Government are undertaking to operate unless or until they repeal the bits of retained EU legislation that they are bringing into our law.
Before my hon. Friend intervenes, let me say this to him. The big argument against EU law is that it was either created by “this foreign body” or it was inflicted on us and we had to enact it in order to comply with our international legal obligations. In those circumstances, it is a bit odd if we start arguing that, in view of where it comes from, the possibility of, for example, knocking it on the head because it does not comply with its own general principles should be entirely abandoned.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not go down the rabbit hole suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), which is that we should accept this incongruous proposal when in fact it involves a fundamental principle of constitutional supremacy. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) understands that. He is identifying a number of questions, and I entirely encourage him to continue to do so. I suggest, however, that it would be very unwise indeed to follow the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe as regards the Government accepting these amendments for the time being.
I understand my hon. Friend’s point. However, the purpose of this Bill, as I understand it, is to put together a package that enables a smooth transition from our presence within the European Union to our presence outside of it. That, of necessity, requires adjustments to the purity of his thinking about parliamentary sovereignty, which the Government have been required to acknowledge in the way that they have drafted this Bill. In those circumstances, it does not seem to be pushing the boundaries very much further, nor should it be seen as some treasonable article, for us to consider whether the general principles of EU law ought not to be capable of being invoked when they are probably the very thing that has, over the years, prevented the EU from turning into an even worse tyranny, as my hon. Friend would see it. [Interruption.] Well, I have to say, having listened to him, that that is usually the impression that has come across. He sees it as tyrannical because it is not moderated by the doctrine of our parliamentary sovereignty. I simply make that point; I do not wish to labour it.
Is there not an important change once we have left the European Union in that the European Court of Justice would not accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights because it would not accept that a higher court could intervene in any of its rulings? It therefore needed protections within its own system that within our system are provided by the European Court of Human Rights and the application of that in domestic law.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I slightly question the extent to which we have had clear evidence of that, although I know that there has been a reluctance on the part of the European Court of Justice to accept any higher authority, despite the intention of the parties that it should become subordinate, ultimately, to the ECHR. He is right that one reason why the charter came into being was to secure compliance. I think it is rather more of a hypothetical than an actual state of affairs, although such a problem might exist in future. In any event, I do not think we are dealing here just with matters covered by the ECHR, for the very reasons that were discussed earlier in relation to new clause 16, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham East. I simply say to my right hon. and hon. Friends that the issue has to be addressed.
As I said earlier, I recognise that my amendment is not as good as it might be, and could be improved on. If the Government can give me an assurance that is adequate and goes beyond vagueness, I will be content not to press amendment 10 a vote. The issue is not going to go away, however, and when one is in this sort of dialogue with the Government, one does not want to be soft-soaped off. If that happens, there will be a road crash when we come to Report, in which I will be unable to support the Government on a whole series of matters. I hope that those things can be resolved by consensus.
I have spoken for quite long enough, but I have explained why I think that, on the important issue that we are debating today, the best solution in the interim is to use something along the lines of amendment 10 to ensure that general principles of EU law can continue to be invoked. Of course, as the transition goes on, I assume that so much EU law may disappear, but I venture the suggestion that it will continue to be relevant for some time to come.
May I, finally, touch briefly on the three other amendments —297, 298 and 299—that I have tabled? They are very simple, and they concern the use in clause 5 of the words
“any enactment or rule of law”.
I simply say that nobody I have spoken to understands why the words “rule of law” appear in the Bill. Ultimately, a rule of law is a rule of the common law; and in so far as a rule of the common law is displaced by statute, that rule will be displaced, of itself, by the courts. It does not require to be spelled out in legislation. I draw some comfort, on that, from the fact that a very distinguished lawyer who previously worked in this building shares my view that the inclusion of those words is incomprehensible. I do not think that that is a matter that I would necessarily put to the vote, if I was required to do so, but I hope that the Government might be able to provide a positive response on it. I am grateful to the Committee for listening.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who made his case extremely well and very convincingly—it is supported by many hon. Members on both sides of Committee.
I rise to speak to amendment 46, which is designed to ensure that we keep the charter of fundamental rights in EU retained law; amendment 335, which would maintain the principles of the Francovich ruling after exit day for pre-Brexit cases; amendments 285, 286 and 287, which make provision for existing arrangements to continue during a transitional period; and, finally, amendment 336, which makes provision for retaining existing principles of EU law within domestic law until the end of the transitional arrangements.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I think I could probably get a few more sentences into my stride before taking an intervention, but I certainly anticipate that I will take interventions from the hon. Gentleman.
The debate raises fundamental principles about the transposition of EU law and the important role of this House in holding the Government to account for their commitments. Last week, the focus of the debate was on the Government’s attempt to unravel the Prime Minister’s pledges on the transitional arrangements in her Florence speech, by the imposition of a defined exit day for all purposes. The Minister, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), made a good attempt to defend the indefensible and not commit to the application of the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union throughout the transitional period; that was not the Government’s line at the time. It would have been helpful if No. 10 had said a week ago what it said this morning, namely that the Court of Justice will have jurisdiction throughout the transitional period. If that had happened, the Minister would not have been left in such a mess.
That was the focus of last week’s debate, but this week the debate is about securing the proper transfer of the rights and protections of EU law on to our statute book. That is something on which the Government have made strong claims. They have made two very clear propositions about this Bill. The first is that it serves to provide certainty and legal continuity, through the creation of the new category of retained EU law. Indeed, on Second Reading, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said:
“The key point of this Bill is to avoid significant and serious gaps in our statute book.”—[Official Report, 7 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 344.]
The Government’s second claim is that the Bill
“does not remove any underlying fundamental rights or principles which exist”.
And yet clause 5(4) of this Bill flies in the face of both those claims. That subsection, as has been pointed out, omits from domestic law after exit day the charter of fundamental rights, through which all EU law is interpreted. A failure to transpose the charter into EU retained law creates a gap in our statute book. As the Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated, the Bill, as it stands, will not achieve the Government’s stated aim of non-regression on social justice issues. That is a serious matter, which the House must take account of.
We recognise that steps will be required to make the charter operable in domestic law, and there has been some debate on that already. There is no reason why this House could not direct courts in the UK to interpret retained law by taking into account Luxembourg’s interpretations, such as is the case with the Human Rights Act and the ECHR in the Strasbourg Court. That matters, and I will explain why the inclusion of the charter in retained EU law is critical to maintaining and upholding those rights.
Is the hon. Gentleman about to move on to explain why Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith fought so hard to obtain protocol 36—I think it was that one—in the Lisbon treaty, which the Conservative party opposed? At the same time as advancing the charter of fundamental rights, will he explain why we cannot pass such legislation as we wish to in this place?
I was not about to go on to that, but clearly I am now. The hon. Gentleman knows that the charter was not binding when it was first adopted in 2000. It was made legally binding by the Lisbon treaty of 2007, which entered into force in 2009. It has, as the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield pointed out, increased in significance, and the rights that it contains have become more visible and correspondingly more effective. Labour supported the charter then, and we support it now, because it has enhanced and improved European human rights protection, and by doing so it has significantly developed the quality of human rights protection in the UK. The wider point that the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) makes is not relevant to the issue under discussion.
The charter applies only when national authorities are implementing EU law. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that if it is retained, it risks creating a confusing inconsistency by giving citizens powerful rights to strike down some pieces of legislation, but not others? Is it not a case of doing either the whole thing, or nothing at all?
I will come on to this point, but the charter is key to ensuring that retained law is treated properly and that the same rights of enforcement continue in the future. Without the charter, those rights are significantly diminished and access to them is diminished.
Let me proceed with the point I was making about how the charter goes wider than the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights, which I hope I am right in saying the Government accept. As other Members have already pointed out, it was the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union who relied on the charter in the case he brought before the High Court in 2015, against the then Home Secretary and now Prime Minister, when he was worried that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 would impact on MPs’ ability to communicate with constituents confidentially. He cited the charter, and his lawyers argued that it went beyond the European convention on human rights and granted further protection. He relied on the charter precisely because it provided greater human rights protection than was provided for by UK law and even by the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
Despite this, the Government have not indicated which decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union under the charter they disagree with. Moreover, the explanatory notes to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill justify the decision to exclude the charter from retained EU law by saying:
“The Charter did not create new rights, but rather codified rights and principles which already existed in EU law. By converting the EU acquis into UK law, those underlying rights and principles will also be converted into UK law, as provided for in this Bill.”
If that were the case, it would be fine, but it is clearly not the case.
Drawing on existing rights, the charter set out a new framework for human rights protection under EU law. The rights contained in the charter may have existed in EU law for decades—the Government are relying on that point—but that is not enough. The whole point of the charter was that nobody could verify those rights or their sources, and as the lawyers among us will know, identifying the source of a right is imperative in securing effective recourse. In his speech, will the Minister therefore clarify whether the Government have succeeded, where others have not, in comprehensively identifying every single source of these rights? If not, how do they plan to uphold the same level of protections for these rights once we have left the European Union, because a right without effective recourse is rendered effectively meaningless?
By compiling and codifying these rights in a single document, the charter in effect created new rights and certainly created new protections. In short, the charter is the most effective key to unlocking vital rights, and to fail to transpose it and make it operable in UK law is to lock away those rights and deny UK citizens the key to accessing them.
On the data protection point on which the Secretary of State relied—my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) raises it in his amendment 151, which we support—the right to data protection exists in various documents, such as directives and regulations, but it was only by virtue of the charter creating the expressed right to data protection in article 8 that we were given the right to be forgotten.
The rights extended by the charter are not only data protection rights. Such rights start in article 1, which includes the right to human dignity. This does not exist as an enforceable right in common law or statute law applicable to retained law post-Brexit. Will the Minister, when he responds, explain how this right will be enforced after exit day if the charter is not retained?
Will not the hon. Gentleman’s proposals create more uncertainty and raise more questions than answers? For example, considerable reference has been made to the Union, to citizens and to the right to vote and stand in European elections, but is that not at odds with our being a non-member state on our leaving the European Union?
No. The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield answered that point when it was raised by other Members. There are clearly provisions in the charter that would have to be amended to become operable—I made that point a few moments ago—but it includes fundamental rights, so the protections of our citizens will be reduced if the those rights are not carried forward. I will illuminate that point a little further.
The hon. Gentleman proposes that part of the charter should be erased and that it should undergo some kind of surgery before it is applied through UK law. Is it not right that questions of principle and policy should not be debated in relation to this Bill, the purpose of which is to provide legal certainty and continuity, but left for wider parliamentary debate and scrutiny, and indeed the wider democratic process?
I am genuinely puzzled by the hon. Lady’s point because she could make it in relation to all of the several thousands of laws that are being transposed. It could relate to every other part of the Bill. We will have to go through processes of adjustment to ensure their effective operability, but the question that needs to be answered—I hope it will be answered by the Minister when he rises at the Dispatch Box—is: why, uniquely, is the charter of fundamental rights being treated differently and being removed at this stage?
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case, and my anticipation of the Minister’s speech increases minute by minute as the case is advanced. Does my hon. Friend share my puzzlement, first, that given that the Government’s stated objective for the Bill was to move everything across, the one thing they have decided to leave behind is the charter; and, secondly, that Conservative Members have argued that nothing will be lost by the disappearance of the charter, yet we have already heard powerful testimony in speeches to the contrary? That testimony includes the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), when he referred to the judgment in the tobacco case, in which the charter clearly had an important impact in enabling the Government to enforce their rights in relation to their desire to have plain packaging—never mind its being the reason why the Secretary of State, in a former life, decided to call on it in trying to sue the Government. Is there not an incompatibility between the two positions?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Like him, I am looking forward to hearing the Minister attempting to square the circle on that one. It is one thing for the Government to argue that the charter needs to be removed, but it is another for others then to argue that it makes no difference. Let me illustrate a few other areas in which the charter does make a difference.
Let us take article 24—it was mentioned earlier—which gives effect to the UN convention on the rights of the child. While we are a signatory to the convention, that does not provide the same legal protection—simply as a convention signatory—as would be provided by the incorporation of the charter. Let us take the right to a fair hearing, which goes beyond article 6 of the European convention on human rights on the right to a fair trial, because it applies to civil rights and obligations, as well as to criminal charges. In the ZZ case, with which the Minister will be familiar, the Court of Justice of the European Union held that the right to a fair trial in article 47 of the charter applied to immigration cases. Significant issues are therefore at stake.
Let us look at article 13, which requires that academic freedom shall be respected. With the possible exception of some Government Whips—the Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty’s Household, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), was keen to see the reading lists and curriculums of university lecturers to make sure they were teaching Brexit correctly—I am sure that Members on both sides of the House agree that academic freedom is an important principle, and it is not secured anywhere else. How do the Government anticipate that these rights will be enforced in the absence of the charter, and which aspects of the EU acquis or UK domestic law could be used to guarantee these rights? That is an important question.
It is not just that excluding the charter will diminish rights; the charter has transformed access to human rights protection. As the House of Commons Library briefing makes clear, it is not just that the charter contains more rights than the European convention on human rights and codifies existing rights in one place. When we compare the charter with the Human Rights Act, we see that it has a wider class of applicants who can use it. Anyone with a sufficient interest can apply for a judicial review based on the charter, and it can also be relied on in other types of case—for example, employment tribunal claims—that are within the scope of EU law. By contrast, claims under the Human Rights Act can only be made when an individual is a victim of a rights violation.
Our rights always used to be guaranteed, and will be guaranteed once we have left, through a combination of common law and statute law. I do not understand what threat the hon. Gentleman has in mind regarding these rights, because if any threat emerged it would be struck down either by the Supreme Court or by Parliament.
I am puzzled by that point, because EU-retained law will effectively become statute law, and that will be carried forward by the application of the charter. It is not quite clear what the right hon. Gentleman is getting at.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said about article 6 of the European convention. I think that he said it applied only in criminal cases, but having looked at the article it enforces civil rights as well. I remember from my own experience that we took it into account in immigration cases, other tribunal cases and, I think, in some applications of procedures of the House that may or may not be compatible with that right. The measure is much wider than he suggests, so I do not think he was exactly right about that.
As I understand it, it does not apply in all civil cases—only civil rights and obligations under the convention, so it is effectively a narrowing if we lose it.
The hon. Gentleman said that he did not understand the point I was making. Our rights will be guaranteed once we have left by our Supreme Court, and by common law or the application of our statute law. I cannot think of a right that he and I value that will be destroyed because we have not incorporated the charter. I think that they will be guaranteed by those ancient and tested methods.
We are talking about statute law, and about rights such as the one on which the right hon. Gentleman’s friend and colleague, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, relied. I think that that point is clear.
Returning to the comparison of the charter with the Human Rights Act, as well as the wider class of applicants for which it provides, it allows for stronger remedies. If any national court finds that any national law is incompatible with a directly effective provision of the charter, it must disapply contravening primary legislation or quash secondary legislation. We have exercised some of the arguments around that issue, but that is much stronger than a notification of incompatibility. We should be in no doubt that losing the charter means losing rights.
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the impact in relation to alleged and actual terrorists on the question of national security and case law? Many people who would like those individuals to be deported would find that extremely difficult under the principles of the charter because of the provisions relating to the protection of family life, which have been badly abused.
In his keenness to tackle the argument, I think that the hon. Gentleman has missed the point. That has nothing to do with the charter.
Let me turn to a separate but related point on schedule 1, which states:
“There is no right of action in domestic law”
“based on a failure to comply”
with EU general principles. The schedule also prevents courts from ruling that a particular Act was “unlawful” or from quashing any action on the basis that it was not compatible with the general principles. Damages are not allowed, so general principles are rendered irrelevant, which also reduces rights. Our amendment 336 seeks to address that by retaining the existing principles of EU law regardless of whether they originated in case law, treaties, EU legislation or directives. The date on which that retention would end would be the end of a transitional period.
Let me turn to our amendment 335 to schedule 1 on the Francovich rule. I shall be brief because others have tabled similar amendments, which we support, and I want to give them a full opportunity to make their case without my anticipating what they are going to say.
On a point of clarification, the hon. Gentleman said that the date on which the retention would end under the amendment would be the end of the transitional period. Did he mean that no new general principles of EU law formulated after that date would apply, or did he mean the retention would end at the end of the transitional period?
If the Prime Minister’s words are to be taken at face value—we continue to operate during the transition practically as if we were still part of the membership—new principles would apply during the transitional period, although not after it had ended.
The hon. Gentleman has touched on an important point. If we are going into a transitional period retaining the architecture of EU law, or the vast majority of it for that period, to try to leave at the end of the transition and go back to the status of retained EU law on the date on which we moved into transition would be utterly unrealistic. It would have to be from the date on which we moved from transition to final departure.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who has made the point much more effectively than I did. That is absolutely right.
Briefly, Francovich raises some important issues of accountability. Surely there is oversight by Government, because I would expect them to accept that the right to damages should be available in cases where the breach of Community law took place before exit day, and indeed before the end of a transitional period, but discovery only took place afterwards. I am therefore seeking clarification from Ministers on that point, and I hope that they accept what hon. Members are seeking to do in amendments on Francovich.
We are pleased to support new clauses 16, 78 and 79, as well as amendments 297, 298, 299, 8,10,101,105 and 62 and the consequential amendments 126 ,127,129,140, 141, 302 and 9—just for clarity. In conclusion, I return to amendment 46, because we need some honesty from the Government. The House has not authorised the Government to use Brexit as a vehicle to deplete human rights in this country. If the Government want to reduce rights and protections, they should say so and we can debate it. What is not acceptable is to pretend that the Bill provides for the transfer of rights and protections when it clearly does not.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has made a number of statements about the fact that if Opposition parties can identify rights that will not be covered he is willing to look at them and legislate for them. We have discussed a third category of rights—not those protected by the Human Rights Act or those that will be irrelevant because they are in the charter and will no longer apply —so is the hon. Gentleman prepared to take that at face value and work with the Government to ensure that those rights that have been identified are protected?
If the Government can identify the sources of rights covered by the charter and can explain exactly how any deficiencies or gaps left as a result of failure to transpose the charter will be identified, and if they outline what remedies they might make at a later stage, we would be happy to sit down with them and talk about that. It is absolutely clear to us that the Government should stick by their word and their claims in relation to the Bill on the need for the existing level of human rights protection to be preserved in UK law. As it stands, central to that consolidation is retaining the charter as part of the retained EU law. I hope the House will agree and I hope the House will support our amendments.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield). At the outset, I would like to thank hon. Members from right across the House for their contributions to today’s debate, whether in speeches or in amendments. The Government will approach the Bill in the spirit of collaboration, and I certainly welcome the constructive contributions and diligent scrutiny hon. Members are rightly providing today. I shall seek to address clause 5, and the Solicitor General will address schedule 1 a bit later in the debate, to make sure we dwell adequately and with due consideration not only on the provisions of the Bill, but on the various issues and amendments, for which I am grateful to hon. Members, that have been raised.
Clause 5 serves two key strategic objectives: taking back democratic control over our laws and making sure we leave the EU in a way that facilitates a smooth Brexit and minimises legal uncertainty. The Bill aims to provide that the laws which apply immediately before exit day will continue to apply in the same way after we leave. Of course, the act of leaving the EU in itself means it is inevitable that some things will not and cannot stay the same. The changes made by clause 5 relate to certain aspects of EU law which are no longer appropriate, or which will not make sense when we leave the EU because we will then cease to be under the obligations that apply to us as an EU member state. The provisions are therefore essential.
Clause 5(1) ends the supremacy of EU law in relation to new law from the date of exit. That is crucial if we are going to give effect to the mandate from the referendum. At the same time, clause 5(2) makes sure that EU law passed before exit still applies as before, for the sake of legal certainty. That is important for mitigating the risks of legal uncertainty that are inevitable and inherent in departure from the EU. The rest of clause 5 reinforces those critical objectives, including by removing the instrument of the charter on fundamental rights as part of domestic law. I want to come on to address that in detail.
May I refer my hon. Friend to clause 5(2)? My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), in his rather amazing speech which I think we all found very illuminating, said that this was a completely new principle to be applied in British law. Is it not just a translation of an existing principle in EU law into United Kingdom law for the purposes of a smooth Brexit? Is it not, in fact, less exceptional than being a member of the European Union and allowing a court in a wholly different jurisdiction to impose itself on parliamentary sovereignty?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and I will come on to address very carefully the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). I agree that there is an inherent sense that, as we move to change, things are not going to be exactly as they were before. I want to draw a very important distinction. We are leaving the EU and taking back control over our laws and the way we make our laws, so that Members across the House can exercise proper democratic control. At the same time, the substantive law—the rules and the principles—will remain the same, because of the snapshot we are taking on exit day and retaining in UK law, thereby avoiding the putative legal cliff-edge.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will just make a little bit of progress and then I will give way to my right hon. and learned Friend.
I will address the detail of this by reference to the new clauses and amendments that have been tabled, because they usefully highlight and flag up the different concerns of hon. Members. As a matter of guiding principle, I hope all hon. Members can agree that we should not make changes that exacerbate the risk of legal uncertainty, which I think goes to the point my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) was making in his intervention. Our substantive law will remain the same on exit day, but it would be wrong in principle—indeed, I think we would find it counter- productive in practice—to seek to cling to all the procedural mechanisms that are inherent, intrinsic and inextricable institutional features of EU membership.
I will not give way just for the moment, but I will give way to the hon. and learned Lady shortly.
To do so would sow greater, not less, legal confusion and I know that that is not the intention of any hon. Member.
I will first address new clause 16, tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), which relates to the charter and, in particular, would introduce a reporting requirement. I will briefly explain why that is unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman, in his perfectly constructive and considered way, has concerns that I want to address. Let me start by saying the Bill will reinforce our UK human rights framework, not diminish it, precisely because we are making sure that the substantive rules of EU law will be retained on day one of exit. This country has a long-standing tradition of liberty and rights, and we intend to build on that following our departure from the EU. The Government are resolute in that commitment. We have always been, and will continue to be, a beacon of freedom for the world, as we have demonstrated since Magna Carta, through the 1689 Bill of Rights, and up to and including more recent commitments to respecting and, yes, remaining a party to the European convention on human rights. The addition of the hon. Gentleman’s reporting requirement would not enhance those substantive rights protections, nor would it give the House any better ability to scrutinise and clarify how rights will be protected after exit.
I will come on to say more about some of the underlying points the hon. Gentleman addressed and on the substance of the charter in the context of amendments 8 and 46, but let me give him the reassurance that the reporting requirement is redundant. Excluding the charter from the body of retained EU law does not affect the underlying and underpinning substantive rights. They are the primary source of rights that existed prior to the charter coming into force and which any citizen will be able to rely on in practice after we leave. That is not just this Government’s position; it was the last Labour Government’s position. In fact, Tony Blair went far further than I have today, telling the House:
“It is absolutely clear that we have an opt-out from…the charter”.—[Official Report, 25 June 2007; Vol. 462, c. 37.]
Before all Opposition Members start to run away from the promises made by the previous Labour Government, I just remind them that the current spokesperson on constitutional affairs for the Labour party, the noble Lord Falconer—he is still a spokesman, according to the Labour party website—said:
“the charter lays down existing rights; it is not a legally binding document.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 December 2005; Vol. 676, c. 1252.]
It later became clear, of course, that there was no opt-out, but it is right that we will be retaining the substantive rights and principles that the charter merely sought to codify. I will explain that in more detail shortly, but I hope that on that basis I can urge the hon. Member to withdraw his procedural amendments.
I will give way shortly to the hon. and learned Lady, because I know she supports some of the amendments.
I turn now to amendments 297, 298 and 299, tabled my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, and to amendments 285 and 286, tabled by the leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield wishes to remove any reference to “any rule of law”, which is a reference in the Bill to common law rules in relation to provisions addressing supremacy of EU law. In effect, his amendments—at least as I have understood them, and I stand to be corrected—would allow EU law to continue to trump the common law after the date of exit. However, this would undermine both of the key strategic objectives of the Bill. It would mean in relation to common law rules articulated after exit day that retained EU law trumps them, undermining the UK’s basic constitutional hierarchy that we are seeking to restore and affirm.
Allow me to make the point and then I will give way, because there are two sides to my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendment.
Paradoxically, with respect to the relationship between retained EU law and common law rules made up until exit day, my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendment would skew the clear and certain snapshot the Bill will take, because retained EU law would no longer supersede common law rules. By removing the common law from the operation of the Bill, I am afraid the amendments would—at least on the Government’s analysis—create considerable uncertainty for business and individuals alike.
No, I want these words removed because they are completely unnecessary. To use that wonderful word that lawyers like to apply, they are otiose—they add absolutely nothing to the Bill. The common law will be adjusted according to the statutory framework in which it operates, so I say with some regret—because someone clearly came up with the idea—that it seems rather poor drafting. Others, whom I consulted because I was puzzled by this, and who have spent their lives drafting precisely this sort of legislation, seem to agree with me. I was trying to help my hon. Friend, not create some devilish plot to scupper Brexit.
I am not sure where this devilish plot has come from—I have made no such suggestion; I was simply pointing out to my right hon. and learned Friend that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex, the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, mentioned earlier, some of the amendments run the risk of creating more, not less, uncertainty, notwithstanding their perfectly laudable and genuine aims.
If my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendment were passed, it would no longer be clear how common law rules would interact with a particular provision of retained EU law in the event of a conflict between the two. Across a range of issues, from animal welfare to competition law, the concern is that such an approach would create uncertainty about the legal position of citizens and businesses. I am sure that this was not his intention. I am not looking for devilish plots on either side of the House, but I do fear that that would be the practical reality.
On the subject of devilish plots and “The Screwtape Letters”, may I refer my hon. Friend to chapter 12 of Lord Bingham’s magisterial work, “The Rule of Law and the Sovereignty of Parliament?”? In this context, its reference to the rule of law is highly relevant, simply because it refers, indirectly or directly, to the issue of the constitutional supremacy of law making and the construction placed upon it by the courts themselves. On that issue, the rule of law does, I think, have considerable salience.
My hon. Friend makes a considered and thoughtful point. Given the changes we are making—for the purposes of greater certainty and clarity—I respectfully suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and other hon. Members across the House that it is worth having some clarity and certainty on this point.
I turn now to amendments 285 and 286. We discussed similar amendments from the leader of the Labour party on day one of the Committee in relation to clause 6, and for the same reasons given during that debate, we cannot support them. I note again what the Prime Minister said in her Florence speech:
“The United Kingdom will cease to be a member of the European Union on the 29th March 2019”.
I will not speculate on the contents of the withdrawal agreement. The Government will do whatever is necessary to prepare for our exit and have already made it clear that separate primary legislation will be brought forward to implement the terms of the withdrawal agreement and any implementation period. With that in mind, the amendments would pre-empt and prejudge the outcome of the negotiations and introduce a straitjacket of inflexibility for the duration of any implementation period. We are all in the House committed to securing the very best deal with our EU friends and partners, and I respectfully suggest that the amendments would undermine that objective. I urge the leader of the Labour party not to press them.
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that one of his guiding principles was not to exacerbate any legal uncertainty, but the Exiting the European Union Committee has heard evidence from a senior lawyer that the body of retained law will contain instruments that make explicit reference to the charter. If the charter is not part of retained EU law, how are the courts supposed to interpret the body of retained law that refers to it?
The hon. and learned Lady makes a perfectly respectable and legitimate point, but I will address it in the context of amendment 8, tabled in the name of the my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, and amendment 46, tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, both of which, in different ways, seek to retain the charter of fundamental rights in domestic law after exit by removing subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 5. I understand and appreciate the sentiments behind the amendments. Hon. Members are understandably concerned that as we leave the EU we do not see any diminution or reduction in the substantive rights we all enjoy. The Government are unequivocally committed to that objective. I remind the Committee again of the country’s record of pioneering, defending and protecting human rights standards since well before the EU existed and of our ability as a nation to withstand the darker moments in European history that have touched other less fortunate nations.
My hon. Friend reassures us that even without the charter of fundamental rights the House of Commons can be relied upon. That was the argument when the Lisbon treaty was being ratified. There was a widespread feeling that it was not clear whether it would add anything, but we now see that it has added quite a lot, particularly around privacy law, on which the House had never done anything, and now data protection. The lobbies brought to bear on the House if ever we look at privacy by sections of the media and so on are very considerable. Why are we getting rid of a convention that has done no harm and actually has run ahead of this House of Commons at various stages? What will be gained by not leaving open that opportunity for the future?
I will come shortly to my right hon. and learned Friend’s substantive generic point and also touch on the data protection issue he raised.
The Government reaffirm and renew our commitment to human rights law. It is reflected through UK national law, including, most recently, the Human Rights Act, as well as a range of domestic legislation that implements our specific obligations under UN and other international treaties, from the convention against torture to the convention on the rights of the child. Of course, the principal international treaty most relevant to the UK’s human rights laws is the European convention on human rights. I again make crystal clear the Government’s commitment to respecting and remaining a party to the ECHR. There will be no weakening of our human rights protections when we leave the EU.
In fact, we have an opportunity to reinforce and build on our proud tradition of liberty and the protection of rights. We are already in the process of paving the way to ratifying the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women, the Istanbul convention. We are leaving the EU, but our commitment to pan-European standards, human rights and the European co-operation in this area remains undimmed. Furthermore, as the my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield is aware, we will introduce an amendment before Report stage, dealing explicitly with the Equality Act 2010 issues that hon. Members have raised, including by requiring Ministers to make a statement before the House on the consistency of any Brexit-related legislation with the Equality Act.
It is worth reinforcing the point that the charter is not the original source of the rights contained within it. It was only intended to catalogue rights that already existed in EU law. Indeed, I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) intervened, because he wisely noted, as recently as 2011, before a European Committee, that protocol 30 governing the application of the charter
“sets out the boundaries around the charter by confirming that it neither creates nor extends any rights to EU citizens outside those that had existed pre-Lisbon, and it emphasises that member states are required to comply only when giving effect to EU law.”—[Official Report, European Committee B, 14 March 2011; c. 5.]
These rights, codified by the charter, came from a wide variety of sources, including the treaties, EU legislation and, indeed, case law, that recognised fundamental rights as general principles. All those substantive law principles and rights, of which the charter is a reflection not the source, will already be converted into domestic law by the Bill.
It is not necessary, therefore, to retain the charter in order to retain such substantive rights. With that in mind, it is right—this deals with the issue that the hon. Member for Nottingham East raised at the outset—for me to reaffirm the Government’s commitment, which the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union made to the Select Committee, to publish a detailed memorandum setting out how each article of the charter will be reflected in UK law after we leave. I can confirm that we will publish that by 5 December. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, both of whom raised this point. Let me say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield that I am very willing to continue my dialogue with him on these important matters.
Will that report arrive before the Bill’s Report stage?
Yes, it will, and, as I was about to say, there will indeed be a Report stage. If my right hon. Friend, or any other Member, feels that our analysis is deficient, or that we have missed out a substantive right that risks being removed if the charter is not retained, once the memorandum has been considered I will be happy to sit down with my right hon. Friend—and any other Members—and discuss the issue again.
This has been a long and complex legal argument, but let me summarise it. The issue of data protection is vital to many of my constituents, especially young people online, but it is also vital to our tech and financial services sectors. Can my hon. Friend assure me that there will be no risk of a legal challenge in relation to data protection because of the way in which these provisions are being brought into British law?
I know that my hon. Friend is an expert on these matters because of her time in the European Parliament. I shall be addressing data protection directly, but I shall be happy to give way to her again in due course.
The other argument that has been made about the charter is “If it does nothing wrong or does nothing by itself, where is the harm in keeping it?” However, as was pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, the charter applies to member states only when they are acting within the scope of EU law. Indeed, it is a specific device intended to codify—not create—rights, and apply them to EU member states and other EU institutions operating within the framework of EU law. It would be curious, if not perverse, to incorporate that instrument directly in UK law, or implement it, at the very moment when we ceased to have the relevant obligations as a member of the EU.
Will the Minister give way?
I will make a slight bit of progress, and then I will give way.
Seeking simply to transplant the charter into our domestic law as it stands, dislocated from EU membership —given all the other points that Members have made about the way in which it would apply in practice—would not be appropriate, and, indeed, could introduce needless complexities that all of us, on both sides of the House, should legitimately seek to avoid.
My hon. Friend has addressed my question, but, with great respect, he has failed to give an answer. It is true that the charter was originally proposed as a statement of European values to which all members of the European Union could adhere, but, as we have heard, it has developed. If it is doing no harm, why are the Government going to such lengths to get rid of it as the one specific change in the Bill? Presumably it is because it contains the words “European” and “rights”, and this was intended as a Daily Telegraph gesture to the hard right wing of my party.
My right hon. and learned Friend’s intervention was not in quite the spirit in which we have conducted our proceedings so far, but I shall try to address his underlying concern, and I shall be happy to take another intervention from him shortly if he thinks that I have still not addressed it. He is a demanding customer, but I shall keep on trying.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am going to make a bit of progress, but I will give way shortly.
Let me, again, be clear about what the Bill does. It takes a snapshot of substantive EU law, including the underlying fundamental rights and principles at the point of exit. It converts those into UK law, where they will sit alongside the Human Rights Act and other UK legislation on human rights. That is a crucial point. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield rather perceptively asked during debates on the Lisbon Treaty in 2008,
“Will the Lord Chancellor confirm that every country that is a member of the European Union is also a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights? Indeed, I believe that every single one has incorporated it. In view of that, what is the purpose of the charter of fundamental rights?”—[Official Report, 5 February 2008; Vol. 471, c. 804.]
During the same debate, my right hon. and learned Friend made the point, far better than I can—and I say this with all due deference—that the risk of adopting the charter was that it would, at least potentially, run into conflict with domestic human rights law, thereby creating at least the potential for legal confusion. This is the point that I want to make to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. If we incorporated or implemented the charter, we would in effect be triplicating human rights standards in UK law, opening up wide scope for uncertainty. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield was right about that then, and I think he is right about it now.
With all due respect, I do not understand the point that the Minister is making. The charter is already part of UK law, because we are a member of the European Union.
As we leave the European Union, it will make no sense to retain the institutional framework of membership. What we will do is retain, in the way that I have described very carefully, the substantive rights that were codified in the charter. If, when we publish the memorandum, the hon. and learned Lady, or any Member on either side of the House, thinks that there is a gaping gap, we will be able to address that.
Will the Minister confirm that the evolution of our rights through history shows that the best way in which they are created and defended is through the democratic instincts of the British people, and that they then trust this Parliament to make sure that those rights are fully entrenched? As the Minister has assured those rights, I really do not see what the problem is. What is the threat to those rights? We have a free Parliament representing a free people.
I suppose the theory is that a majoritarian dominance—a Government with a huge majority—would trample on rights and rattle legislation through the House of Commons, as the last Labour Government did with identity cards and proposals for 90 days’ detention without charge. We saw most of that off.
Will the Minister give way?
I want to make a little bit of progress, but I will of course give way to the Chair of the Select Committee.
I am grateful to the Minister. He said a moment ago that one of the arguments he was advancing for not incorporating the charter was that it might then come into conflict with our own human rights law. Given that, as we heard from the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), it has been part of our law for some time, can he give the Committee one single example of that happening?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman should look at, for example, the Devine case on prisoner voting. It is very unclear how the case law in the Luxembourg and Strasbourg Courts meshes together. It is possible to argue in favour of one or the other, but they are not entirely consistent or compatible. When giving evidence to a House of Lords Committee in 2015, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield defended the Strasbourg Court very validly by contrasting it with the “predatory” habits of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. I think that even those who have been the most enthusiastic human rights defenders, and those on the remain side of the argument, will recognise the clash and the inconsistency between those jurisprudences.
I am not going to give way again.
The point I wanted to reaffirm is that, given that the substantive rights codified by the charter will be retained in EU law, it does not make sense to incorporate the EU charter itself, an element of the EU’s institutional architecture designed to regulate EU membership, at precisely the moment when we are leaving.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there may be a third category of rights that are in the charter but are not in the Human Rights Act, and require protection, and that the source of those rights cannot be identified other than in the charter? If so, will he accept the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) that there should be an Act of some sort to deal with them?
As I have made clear, we will publish a memorandum containing article-by-article analysis of the charter and how the substantive underpinning rights at the point at which it is codified can be reflected in UK law. I am happy to continue the dialogue with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset if they believe that any rights have been missed out.
I think that this is probably the right moment to deal with amendment 151, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), and which relates to the protection of personal data.
Will the Minister give way?
I am going to make a bit more progress, but I will give way shortly.
The amendment relates to privacy and protections, an issue that has been mentioned by a number of Members on both sides of the Committee. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, respectfully and humbly, that the amendment is not necessary. It is not required because the Data Protection Bill will set high standards for protecting personal data, linked to the general data protection regulation. We will continue to maintain the highest standards of data protection after we leave the European Union. The Bill will also preserve in domestic law existing EU fundamental rights, including data protection rights and underlying case law, which were already part of EU law before the charter came into force. Individuals in the UK will continue to have access to well-established domestic and international mechanisms to bring their cases and obtain appropriate remedies, whether in Strasbourg or under the Human Rights Act, when they consider that their rights have been breached. That includes the right to seek a judicial remedy against data controllers or processers.
I thank the Minister for his words on the Data Protection Bill, which will give strong data protection in the UK. However, my understanding of general data protection regulation in Europe is that it is based on the fundamental principle that people own their own data, whereas the Data Protection Bill does not, as we have drafted it here, start with that fundamental principle. So we either need to amend that Bill or still recognise that principle in order for them to be equivalent; that is what we need to aim for if we want to achieve equivalence.
I thank my hon. Friend; she has made her point in a very careful way. I suggest that that is something for the passage of the Data Protection Bill in due course, if she feels there are gaps in it, and if, after having looked at the memorandum we are publishing, she is not persuaded that we will be reflecting in UK law after exit all the rights.
I am grateful to the Minister for addressing my amendment. Does he accept that it is essential that we avoid a declaration from the European Commission at some point in the future that data protection arrangements in the UK are not adequate, and we must therefore secure an adequacy determination? Does he also accept that not having article 8 somewhere on the UK statute book is an invitation to those elsewhere to find against us when that crunch decision comes?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to be very careful to navigate our post-Brexit period in a way that minimises litigation. I cannot see that such litigation would be good for the UK and its taxpayers, and it is not good for sustaining a healthy relationship with our EU partners.
We do, of course, have article 8 in the ECHR, which is directly incorporated via the Human Rights Act, but, as I have said, if the right hon. Gentleman feels that any elements of it are not properly transposed into UK law when we publish the memorandum, the correct place for that to be considered will be the Data Protection Bill. The wider point is that the removal of the charter from UK law will not affect—
I am going to make some progress, because I have been speaking for over half an hour and the Solicitor General will want to speak again to address schedule 1.
The substantive rights that individuals already benefit from in the UK when their data is processed will be retained under this Bill. As I have pointed out, the charter is not the source of rights contained within it; it was intended only to catalogue those that existed in EU law at that moment in time.
Finally, I want to address the late new clauses tabled: new clause 78, tabled by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), and new clause 79. On the impact our departure from the EU might have on equalities legislation, I again reaffirm the commitment I made on day one in Committee to my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, when we discussed this issue at some length. I understand the intention behind this amendment and can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that there will be no reduction in the substantive equalities protections when we leave the EU. Equally, the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment presents some very real practical difficulties, not least his attempt effectively to copy and paste the procedural model used in the Human Rights Act and then put it into this Bill for the equalities purposes.
The Human Rights Act assesses compatibility according to an international instrument, the ECHR, which is not the same. There is not an equivalent that applies to the Equality Act, but I am more than happy to reaffirm the commitment I made to my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee that the Government will bring forward an amendment before Report stage that will require Ministers to make a statement before this House in the presentation of any Brexit-related primary or secondary legislation on whether and how it is consistent with the Equality Act. I hope that reassures the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are serious about addressing the issue he has rightly raised.
New clause 79 suggests a procedural device for incorporating certain EEA-related rules into UK law. This is entirely unnecessary given the wider snapshot of EU law this Bill will take at the point of exit.
I hope I have tackled, or at least have endeavoured to tackle—
I give way to my right hon. and learned Friend.
Is my hon. Friend about to move on to schedule 1, or is another Minister going to deal with it, and at what stage of this afternoon’s debate? I thought the Government would wrap this all up in one, seeing as it is a single debate.
As I said at the opening of my remarks, given the intention to address clause 5 in some detail and all the underlying amendments, we have split this up and the Solicitor General will address schedule 1 and all my right hon. and learned Friend’s concerns around Francovich and general principles in due course.
I hope I have tackled hon. Members’ concerns, at least in relation to clause 5 and the charter, and I urge hon. Members not to press their amendments to a vote. This Government and the ministerial team have listened, and we will continue to reflect carefully on all the arguments made today. Equally, the Government believe the exceptions to retained EU law contained in clause 5 are right as we carefully seek to separate our legal system from that of the EU, restore democratic control to this House, and do so in a way that leaves more, not less, legal certainty. I urge hon. Members to withdraw their amendments and to pass clause 5 unamended.
I rise to give my support and that of the Scottish National party to the amendments designed to retain the charter of fundamental rights in domestic law, and those designed to preserve legal remedies for individuals and businesses to enforce these rights in the courts and to be compensated when the rights are breached.
It is heartening to see such strong cross-party support for these amendments. I very much hope that the Conservative rebels will have the courage of their convictions to push these amendments to a vote tonight, despite the unpleasant pressure they have been subjected to as a result of the actions of certain newspapers. That is a matter for them. There are other cross-party amendments on the charter that I am sure will be pressed to a vote if those in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) are not.
Before I address why the SNP supports these amendments, I have a crucial question for the Minister. It needs to be answered, not for my benefit, but for the benefit of the whole House and, indeed, the country. The clause we are debating revolves around the supremacy of EU law and whether the charter will be part of domestic law after exit day, but, as has already been mentioned in our debate, this morning the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a routine Westminster briefing that the Government expect
“the ECJ’s role to be unchanged during an ‘implementation period’ of around two years following the official Brexit date in March 2019”.
Are those on the Treasury Bench aware of that statement? Can they explain to us how it impacts on what we are debating today? If the Prime Minister is of the view, as her spokesman has said, that the Court of Justice’s role will be unchanged during a two-year implementation period from exit day, not only is the rather ridiculous amendment brought to this House by the Government last week defining exit day rendered utterly meaningless, but much of the debate we are having this afternoon about clause 5 and, indeed, the debate we had last week about clause 6 and other clauses are rendered meaningless.
I am not trying to score a party political point here. This is a matter of legal certainty which is of the utmost importance to all UK citizens and to UK business and universities. Which is it? Is what the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said this morning correct? Is the Court of Justice’s role going to continue unchanged during a two-year implementation period and, if so, how does that impact what we are debating today? I am very happy for the Minister to intervene on me to clarify that, but if he wishes to take advice, I am sure that his ministerial colleague the Solicitor General will clarify that vital point and the impact of the Prime Minister’s statement this morning on the entirety of this Bill, and most particularly the clause we are debating.
In any event, if this somewhat holed-beneath-the-waterline Bill is to survive and limp on, the SNP commits itself wholeheartedly to the amendments to keep the charter of fundamental rights, to keep individuals’ and businesses’ rights to sue and enforce, and to make those rights meaningful, because that is what the individual right of enforcement and Francovich damages are all about: making rights meaningful. For anyone who has studied law, a right without a remedy is a pretty useless thing; it is trite law.
The Scottish Government published their programme for government earlier this year, and reiterated their commitment to international human rights norms. It is important to remember that human rights are not wholly reserved by this Parliament when it comes to the devolution settlement, so what the Scottish Government choose to do could be very important, particularly if Scotland is to be taken out of the European Union against her will. My colleagues in the Scottish Government have emphasised that it is essential that existing safeguards are not undermined by Brexit, and that the rights enjoyed by everyone in these islands, as EU citizens, need to be permanently locked into a future deal. That is why we oppose the removal of the EU charter of fundamental rights from domestic law, and why we opposed the Government’s previous desire to repeal the Human Rights Act.
I was interested in the Minister’s reiteration—in fairness, this has been reiterated by the Government several times as part of this debate—that there is no intention to withdraw from the European convention on human rights. But, as I have already said, rights without remedies are not much use. The great thing about the Human Rights Act was that it gave UK citizens the opportunity to enforce their rights by raising actions in the courts of their own jurisdiction. Will the Minister—or the Solicitor General, when he gets to his feet—confirm the Government’s intentions regarding the Human Rights Act?
I think I have already said this, but I am very happy to reaffirm for the hon. and learned Lady that the Government have no plans to withdraw from the ECHR, or to revise or repeal the Human Rights Act.
I am grateful to the Minister for that. I had understood that the revision and repeal of the Human Rights Act was on the back burner, but Members on this side of the House and many Conservative Members can celebrate a great victory if that plan has now been dropped and the Government are backing down on it. Unfortunately, I very much doubt that we will be in the mood for celebration as we are facing the Government’s chaotic plans for Brexit, and that is what we have to discuss today.
My colleagues in the Scottish Government in Edinburgh have recently reiterated their firm commitment to the idea that international human rights norms should not just be signed up to by the jurisdictions of these islands, but should be given direct effect by giving individuals and businesses the opportunity to raise and realise their rights in the courts. The Scottish Government have indicated that they intend to
“implement the socio-economic duty in the Equality Act 2010 by the end of this year, placing a requirement on key parts of the public sector, including Scottish Ministers, to have due regard to reducing the inequalities caused by socio-economic disadvantage when taking strategic decisions. This is a key component of our approach to tackling poverty.”
The Scottish Government also committed in their programme for government to look at how they can further embed human, social, cultural and economic rights, including the UN convention on the rights of the child. That is an indication that the Scottish Government’s direction of travel on international human rights norms is very different from the UK Government’s. It reflects the fact, as I said earlier, that human rights are not a reserved matter save in so far as the repeal or amendment of the Human Rights Act is concerned. Indeed, the Scottish Government have the power to legislate to protect human rights and intend to do so.
That leads me to comment briefly on new clause 78 and a new right in relation to equality that is intended to apply across the United Kingdom. There is a laudable intention behind the new clause, but its application in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would require discussion with and the consent of devolved Administrations, if it were to be incorporated into the devolution statutes. The Scottish Government’s and Scottish National party’s position on human rights also reflects the wishes of voters in Scotland, who voted to remain in the EU by a considerable margin and voted in considerably larger numbers for parties that support international human rights norms than for those that do not.
It is about time that this Parliament started to recognise that views across these islands are quite divergent from the sort of Brexit that the Government are proposing. The cross-party amendments would go some way towards the aim of keeping us in the charter and keeping remedies for UK citizens. Of course, that is not to say that there are not many people in England and Wales who voted to leave and also wish to see the charter of fundamental rights preserved. We heard, if I may say so, a typically eloquent speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield, who said that the rights that have come into our law as a result of our membership of the European Union have done good across these islands, particularly for the most vulnerable people in our society. One would hope that we could agree on that on a cross-party basis.
A lot of misinformation is going around about the charter, and that stems from a resistance to the idea that it is either desirable or necessary for international human rights norms to have direct effect in the United Kingdom. We have to recognise that the logical result of that antipathy to giving direct effect to international human rights norms is to take away rights, and the ability to realise them, from British citizens and businesses. That is surely not a desirable state of affairs, no matter which side of the House one sits on.
As we have heard from a number of hon. Members, the Government have tried to reassure us that importing EU law without also importing the charter will make no difference to the protection of rights in the various jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. Indeed, they state in paragraphs 99 and 100 of the explanatory notes to the Bill that it is unnecessary to include the charter as part of retained law because it merely codifies rights and principles already inherent in EU law. That is what the Minister told us from the Dispatch Box. As others have said, that rather begs a question: if it is just a simple codification, why bother not incorporating the charter?
As I pointed out in an intervention on the Minister, the Exiting the European Union Committee heard evidence from a senior legal academic who said that there will be legislation in retained EU law that refers to the charter, so there will be a lack of legal certainty if the charter is not there. The Minister would no doubt say, “Yes, but the general principles will still be there.” But the charter existed as a codification of the general principles in order to make them more readily accessible.
I am interested to see the list that the Minister is going to produce on 5 December, but he could make his life a lot easier—I know that he and his colleagues have a lot on their plate at the moment—if he just incorporated the charter, rather than running around with bits of paper listing the general principles when they are all listed in the charter anyway. Surely that would be the logical and practical thing to do; unless there is, to use someone else’s phrase, some devilish plot, whereby removing the charter of fundamental rights means that rights will be removed. There is some evidential basis for believing that at least some Government Members think it is a good thing not to incorporate the charter of fundamental rights because it includes rights that they do not like. I am sorry to single out one Government Member, but I did read the article in The Sun yesterday by the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes). I am not normally a reader of The Sun, but it caught my eye on Google that it contained an article about the charter of fundamental rights and I thought that every newspaper should be given a chance from time to time, so I had a little look. Like me, the hon. Lady is a lawyer, and she writes:
“This week Parliament will be asked to vote on whether to incorporate the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. If Labour, acting with others, manage to force this through there will be legal chaos. Not only will it hand new and long lasting powers to UK courts”,
but it has also
“crept into many areas of UK law, from asylum to even national security.”
So there we have it in the words of at least one Conservative Member. There are things in the charter of fundamental rights that some on the Government Benches do not wish to be incorporated into our law.
I am flattered that the hon. and learned Lady is quoting me in the Chamber. Does she not find it odd that the effect of her proposals would actually be legal chaos and uncertainty? We would have interacting rights regimes, with the convention through the Human Rights Act, and the charter. This would be precisely at the time at which the Bill is designed to provide legal certainty for businesses, individuals and other Governments.
With respect, we have all that at present. The status quo is that the ECHR and the charter of fundamental rights are part of domestic law, and I do not see any legal chaos in our courts, although I do see an awful lot of political chaos.
Does the hon. and learned Lady agree that there is some kind of misunderstanding here, and that it is the gaps that we are addressing? We are not creating uncertainties. The situation proposed by the Bill will create gaps, and that is the main problem that we are addressing.
The hon. Lady makes her point eloquently. Some of those on the Government Benches say that incorporating the charter into domestic law would cause uncertainty and chaos, but our point is that not incorporating it while we are incorporating everything else at the point of the snapshot is what will cause uncertainty. I do not know whether I would go so far as to call it chaos. After all, there is going to be so much chaos around after Brexit, and a difficulty in establishing the difference between fundamental rights and general principles might not be the biggest example of that chaos. However, there will be legal uncertainty. The Minister himself said that one of the Government’s guiding purposes in the legislation was to avoid legal uncertainty.
Our independent judiciary is clearly quite capable of balancing the rights contained in the charter, the Human Rights Act and other pieces of domestic legislation, and it has done so successfully for many years.
Indeed it has; that is its job. In particular, judges at the higher level such as the Supreme Court and the High Court of Judiciary in Scotland are used to grappling with the complex interplay of international treaties and international human rights protections.
I mentioned earlier that the Exiting the European Union Committee had heard evidence from a variety of witnesses about the effect of not incorporating the charter. I have to be honest and say that some of them were happy for the charter not to be incorporated, but even they said that something would be lost by its going. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have given a number of examples of what would be lost, and I would like briefly to add to that list.
Just before the hon. and learned Lady comes to her list, may I add one more item to it? The Government have made great play of their commitment to the Good Friday agreement—the Belfast agreement—and stated that they are going to uphold all their obligations under it. One of those obligations relates to respect for human rights; indeed, that element has quite a large chapter in the agreement. Part of that obligation involves having, at the very least, an equivalence between human rights protections in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. It is obvious that when the UK leaves the European Union, Northern Ireland will not have the protections afforded by the charter that we are discussing, but that the Republic of Ireland will. I hope that the hon. and learned Lady will therefore press the Government to fill that gap in Northern Ireland’s protection of fundamental rights.
Indeed I will. The hon. Lady has, in her usual clear and incisive way, anticipated something that I was going to come to in a minute. Perhaps I will deal with it now, before I come to my list. As she says, the protection of fundamental rights is absolutely central to the Good Friday agreement, and has its own section in that agreement. The fact that the Bill will take the charter out of retained law raises concerns in this respect. The Good Friday agreement requires at least an equivalent level of protection of human rights in Ireland and Northern Ireland. If the charter is taken out of domestic law, there will be no such equivalent protection of human rights in Ireland and Northern Ireland, because once the UK withdraws from the EU, Northern Ireland will no longer benefit from the charter’s protections. This could pose significant problems for the Good Friday agreement—[Interruption.] The Solicitor General is shaking his head—
I am listening with great care to the hon. and learned Lady’s remarks and to the interventions that she has taken. Let us not forget that the Good Friday agreement was written in 1998, and that the charter of fundamental rights appeared in 2007. It is the European convention on human rights that is the key governing principle here, not the charter.
I beg to differ. The Solicitor General is right about the dates, but as we know, the charter is merely a codification of various general rights and principles. We have significant concerns about not incorporating it, notwithstanding the little list that the Minister is going to give us on 5 December, because with all due respect, a list prepared by a Minister does not have the same weight in a court of law as a codification that has been signed up to by a number of countries.
It is not just my view and that of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) that there will be an issue for the Good Friday agreement. A briefing produced by none less than the Bingham Centre for the rule of law has raised the question of whether non-retention of the charter will impact on Northern Ireland. It has raised a series of questions, which I have just paraphrased, and I look forward to the Solicitor General answering them in more detail, rather than merely saying that there is not a problem. If I may say so, this illustrates the whole problem with the British Government’s approach to the unique situation in which Northern Ireland finds itself as a result a Brexit. There is a constant parrying, and saying, “There is not a problem, it can all be sorted out. It will all be fine.” This is what is causing us problems in the negotiations with the EU27, and particularly with the Republic of Ireland. Mere platitudes and assurances are not enough. We need some detail as to why removing the charter of fundamental rights from domestic law in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland will not pose a problem for the Good Friday agreement. However, I am sure that as we have the Solicitor General here, we will hear that detail later.