Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice to make a statement on the status in the United Kingdom of the EU charter of fundamental rights following the ruling by Mr Justice Mostyn in the High Court on 7 November.
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): I thank my hon. Friend for giving the House an opportunity to consider the AB case, which we all noted last week, and which gained considerable publicity. I think it would be helpful for me to set out the position.
The claimant in that case raised the EU’s charter of fundamental rights when arguing that UK officials should not have allowed information about him to pass to the authorities of the country to which he was being removed. The case was dismissed on its facts but the judge in passing made some comments on the charter and the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg. The judge’s view was that the Luxembourg court had, in the case of NS, held that the charter could create new rights that apply in the UK. It is important to be very clear to the House: we do not agree with that analysis of the NS case. We intend to find another case—we cannot do it with this one as the Home Office was successful and we cannot appeal a case we have won—at the earliest opportunity to clarify beyond doubt the legal effects of the charter and to put the record straight.
It is no secret in this House that I would not personally have chosen to sign up to the Lisbon treaty or to the charter of fundamental rights. However, it is also important to say that the charter’s effects are limited to EU law within the UK, and I have not seen any evidence that it goes beyond that. I would be very concerned if there was any suggestion that the charter did in fact create new rights.
This is an important area, which is why this Government have included the extent of the EU’s competence on fundamental rights in our balance of competences review.
Mr Cash: Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge the scale of the problem with which he is now faced, both constitutionally and practically, which would lead to the bypassing of the Government’s proposals for a British Bill of Rights and the repeal of the Human Rights Act, a policy that I established when I was shadow Attorney-General and which lasted until the coalition Government came to office? Does he appreciate that the import of Mr Justice Mostyn’s ruling opens the floodgates to a tidal wave of charter-based legal action, at enormous cost to the British taxpayer and businesses, and raises a fundamental clash between Westminster supremacy and the claims of the EU and the ECJ in respect of sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act 1972 that goes beyond mere renegotiation? Does he on behalf of the Government recognise that the amendments I tabled to the Lisbon Act—the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008—which the then Government voted against and the then official Opposition and the Lib Dems would not support, although Conservative colleagues did vote for them, would have put our exclusion from the charter beyond any doubt?
Will he therefore agree to support my proposal for urgent legislation as follows:
“Notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972, nothing in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union shall be binding in any legal proceedings of the United Kingdom and shall not form part of the law applicable in any part of the United Kingdom and that this Act reaffirms the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament”?
Chris Grayling: May I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done in this House over the years in highlighting the complexities and challenges of EU law? He is a valuable contributor to these debates and we listen to him carefully. I have both listened to what he has said and I have taken extensive legal advice about the case last week. I think it is of fundamental importance that the impact of the charter in the United Kingdom is limited. We were made various promises about even that degree of involvement over the years, but we were not in power at that time. It is absolutely essential that it is limited in scope in the UK. I would treat it as a matter of the utmost seriousness if it were to emerge in law that that was no longer the case and that the charter was more broadly applicable than that.
I have to say that there are those in the European institutions who argue that it should have a broader impact than that, but I can provide some reassurance to my hon. Friend by saying that I was involved in such a discussion recently at a meeting in Brussels where the overwhelming view of member states present was that they did not wish it to have a broader remit than it does at the moment, and I say to him that we would treat any such situation with great seriousness. We do intend to make sure this issue is laid to rest in law at the earliest opportunity and, as always, I will be delighted to talk to him about his suggestions and about his concerns in this area. (…)