|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
When I was Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary I was very involved in the expansion of the European Union from 15 to 25 to 27. The key issue was not about bringing the economic performances of the countries joining up to a standard; the key issue for them was to
ensure that their human rights provisions were raised to decent standards, in practice as well as theory. Without the bedrock of the European convention on human rights, and the other rights added to it and now described in the charter, that changefrom which we have benefited and which was supported by every party in the Housecould not have occurred.
Mr. Cash: How does it advance our democracy, in the terms in which the Secretary of State has put it, to arrive at a position in which rulings by the European Court of Justice on these enormously important matters displace Acts of Parliament, which are decided by the voters of this country on the basis of manifestos in general elections?
Mr. Straw: The problem for the hon. Gentleman is this: a manifesto was put forward by the Conservative party in 1970; I do not know whether he voted Conservative in that election, but it is beyond peradventure that he was alive for it. That manifesto said that if the Conservative party was elected to governmentand it was, on 18 June 1970it would seek to negotiate our entry to the European Union. [Interruption.] Somebody said sotto voce that there was no charter of human rights; I shall come back to that. The House voted, as the other place did, in favour of membership. Four years later, the Labour Government said that they wished to renegotiate certain aspects of our membership arrangements, and that was put to a referendum. That was endorsed by the British people by a margin of two to one.
The European Court of Justice has been fundamental to the operation of the European Union ever since it was formed. That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman; I know that he disagrees with the mechanisms of the European Union, but it is for him and the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) to have that argument in the Conservative party and commit it to what is in my judgment its most consistent position, although I disagree with it: leaving the European Union.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): As regards the European court of fundamental rights, duplication has been suggested. Would it not have been better had the money that is being spent on this been put towards the European courts that already exist, which have a backlog of cases? As for the powers of the European court of fundamental rights, would the British people be able, for instance, to go to that court to complain about a governing party that promised a referendum on the European constitution but then denied it to us a year or so later?
For the future interests of Britain, and of Europe, it is right that we collectively take further steps to make the promotion of human rights integral to being part of Europe. That is the explanation for the measures within the Lisbon treatythe charter, the accession of the European Union to the European convention on human rights, and further provisions regarding the rights of the child.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The Lord Chancellor has rapidly touched on the fundamental issue. I agree that the adherence of the European Union to the European convention on human rights is an absolutely key issue in promoting human rights within the Union. However, he needs to explain to the House why, if that adherence is to take placeit is long overduethe charter of fundamental rights should then be imposed in the manner proposed by the treaty of Lisbon.
Mr. Straw: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I honestly think that the Opposition are trying to make silk purses out of sows ears. They have no case. Let me go through the charter and recite a series of rights that are already accepted across Europe as fundamental to the way in which our democracies operate. When the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) or the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) stand up to speak, the first thing that I would like to hear is which of these rights they object to. Are they against
respect for...private and family life?
the right to liberty and security?
Mr. Shepherd: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry, but this is just a point of clarification. We are now getting into the detail of the Bill, which I understood to be for the Committee stage. Are we moving into the Committee stage or are we still going through this nonsensical motion process?
Daniel Kawczynski: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. He stated earlier that eastern European countries have somehow benefited from these new human rights laws coming out of the European Union, and that so would we in the United Kingdom. The fact is that those countries were only temporarily isolated behind the iron curtain. They had developed their own human rights for generationsfor centuriesand they reverted back to them when communism fell; they did not learn them from the European Union.
Mr. Straw: The history of states in eastern Europeof course, I bow to the hon. Gentlemans superior knowledge, particularly in respect of Polandvaries, as it does in western European states. Nevertheless, some of the eastern European states had not had any experience of democracy until after the Berlin wall fellthat is simply a matter of straightforward history.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman will recall my asking him in a Select Committee about new rights. He asserted that there are no new rights in the charter, which was repeated by the Foreign Secretary last October. However, the right in article 13, which states that
scientific research shall be free of constraint,
is a new right. According to the Governments own explanation, it is derived from no existing source. I object to that provision because I support animal welfare, and I object to the concept of all scientific research being entirely free of constraint. Parliament should legislate to constrain such research. Does he agree that that is a new right, and does he agree that it is a highly controversial matter which would be much better debated in a national Parliament, rather than asserted unconditionally in a foreign jurisdiction?
Mr. Straw: I shall come on to the issue of those awful foreigners who are trying to impose their will against[Hon. Members: Answer the question!] I am going to answer the question. As far as article 13 is concerned, that right is already part of EU law. It is the same as the right in article 10 in the European convention on human rights.
I note that the only specific right mentioned in the charter of fundamental rights to which the Conservative party now takes exceptionperhaps the hon. Member for Aylesbury has a longer listis the right concerning
scientific and arts research, and that was objected to only by the right hon. Member for Wells. The right hon. Gentleman will know that these rights are balanced against other rights, including those of animals. There is a clear protocol relating to the accession of the European convention on human rights by the European Union, which makes this clear:
The agreement referred to in Article 1 shall ensure that accession of the Union shall not affect the competences of the Union or the powers...It shall ensure that nothing therein affects the situation of Member States in relation to the European Convention, in particular in relation to the Protocols thereto.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has asserted several times that nothing in the charter of fundamental rights creates new rights, and that the rights there already exist. However, in its website commentary on the treaty of Lisbon, the European Commission says that
the Treaty of Lisbon preserves existing rights while introducing new ones.
Mr. Straw: There is provenance for every one of the rights contained in the charter. [Hon. Members: Provenance?] Yes, provenance. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he objects to a particular right, when he comes to make his speech let him say in his own way to which of the rights he objects.
Mr. Winnick: To recognise the advances that have undoubtedly been made in human rights in many parts of Europe, we need only compare the situation now to that 70 years ago. Would my right hon. Friend take the opportunity not to allow history to be rewritten? Hungary and Poland, in particular, pre-war, were deeply flawed, authoritarian states. They were disgusting states.
Daniel Kawczynski: I take great exception to what has been shouted across the Floor about Polanda major nation of the European Union. He describes it as having been a fascist regime. I take great offence at that, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Madam Deputy Speaker: May I just reply to the other point of order first? It is not a point of order for the Chair. It is matter of debate, and I therefore repeat my request that all Members in this House accept the common courtesies of debate.
Mr. Winnick: I realise that you are not directly involved, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is rather unfortunate that some Members refuse to recognise what sort of states existed in Europe before the second world war.
Mr. MacShane: As someone with some lineage connected to Poland, let me tell my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) that it was not a fascist state, but neither was it a perfect democracy. We in England do not have the best of records on anti-Semitism at that time.
I put it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, unless we wish to revert to a Hobbesian world of a war of all against all, contract and covenant between people and nations are necessary. In the World Trade Organisation, which is a treaty organisation, we have to accept derogation of our sovereignty, and it tells us what to do. The same applies to the International Labour Organisation, the European convention on human rights, the Council of Europe and so on. The Opposition have a choice: leave the EU
Mr. Straw: I agree with my right hon. Friend. Any obligations to which we sign up, as long as they exist under international treaties, include duties as well as benefits. We must always balance the one against the other.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury mentioned the European Commission website. The Commission clearly set out the prime objective underlying the charter as making European Union citizens rights more visible. The text does not establish new rights; that was never the intention. It assembles existing rights, which were previously scattered over a range of sources and therefore not always easy to trace.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|