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The charter uses a breadth of language well suited for a political declaration.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 2000; Vol. 619, c. WA142.]
The right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) said, when speaking on this matter,
the people who say that it is a great idea to have a charter of rights do not seriously appreciate what the implications would be if it were incorporated wholesale in the treaty...My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it absolutely clear that we shall not do that...people want a charter of motherhood and apple pie at one level, but are not willing to recognise what full incorporation would signify.[ Official Report, 18 June 2002; Vol. 387, c. 244.]
That is important. The scope of the charter means that several articles are very broad and have potentially significant effects on the rights of this House and of our democratic structure.
One or two Members have drawn attention to article 3 on the right to integrity of the person, which could affect abortion law. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) referred to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which will be debated in this House when it has finished its passage in the other place. We know that many of the votes on that legislation will be free votes for Members of this House because they are on conscience matters, and we know about the passions that will be engaged in our constituents on several of those important issues. My hon. Friend made it clear that it will not be a forward step if decisions on issues such as abortion are taken out of the hands of this House and given to unelected judges.
Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman should read the past declarations and protocols from Ireland, Poland and other very Catholic countries. Of course, abortion is a sensitive issue, and the European Court of Justice will not try to overturn national constitutional abortion law.
In that case, what is the purpose of having this article in the charter? If it will have no effect and the Court will not use it to change reality on the ground in any of these countries, what on earth is the
point of it, and if there is no point to it, why on earth are we effectively putting it into British law?
Some other incredibly important articles could have a huge impact on our domestic policy. Article 21 of the charter states that there should be no discrimination on the grounds of nationality. That is not limited to European states, as I read it; it means that there should be no discrimination on the grounds of nationality at all. That will have a huge impact on and wide-ranging consequences for our benefit system and our tax system. Again, it might transfer huge amounts of power from this Housepeople accountable to our electorsto judges. What the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said about all judges not being accountable is not entirely true. Many judges in the United States are accountable because they are elected, so they have to listen; that is not a very good idea. I do not want people who have to worry about what electors think to make decisions in criminal cases. The right hon. Gentleman made that point about judges and it is not true.
I do not want us to give rights and powers to take important decisions that should rest with this House to people who are not elected and are unaccountable. The right hon. Gentleman raises his eyebrows, but that is what the charter does. If it does not, it has no effect at all, in which case there is no point in bringing it into law. The Lord Chancellor seemed to be trying to have it both ways, as was ably pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere.
I draw hon. Members attention to article 50, which is the right not to be tried or punished twice in criminal proceedingsthe double jeopardy principle. The UK Government have already amended the rules on that, and one can take ones own view on itit would allow the killers of Damilola Taylor to be brought to justicebut such a decision would not be possible if that article were enforced. Such decisions are matters for this House, and for Ministers who are accountable, but we will be handing those decisions over to people who are not accountable.
Finally, I would like to pick up the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere finished on. From discussions over the past few weeks we have seen the regard in which hon. Members are held. People will only turn out in elections when they think that there is something significant at stake. We saw that in the French presidential elections, where there was a clear choice between the two candidates and turnout reached 80 per cent. I suspect we will see something similarperhaps not as high as 80 per cent.in the US presidential election this year. There will be a clear choice. We have already seen a significant number of voters turning out in the Democratic primaries who have not turned out before. The people they are electing can make a real difference and there is a real choice to be had.
In this country, we have seen turnout decline. I hope that voters will think that there is real choice at the next general election and that there will be a competitive election in which turnout goes up. But if electors think that the decisions they take in those elections and that the peopleand the Ministersthey send here are increasingly unable to alter either the way in which our laws are made or the direction of our country, they will become even more disillusioned. They will not come
and talk to us, they will not vote in elections and they will increasingly turn their attention to hiring lawyers and fighting cases in front of the European Court of Justice. That would be not a welcome step but a retrograde one. It is exactly what will happen if we cede these powers, which is why I want the House to support the amendment standing in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am very happy to follow the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), whom I have not caught speaking in the House before; nor have followed a speech of his. I will read his other speeches with some attention to see whether his views are as consistently right-wing as they have been this evening.
I have no problem in supporting the Government in the debate about this aspect of the treaty. I have no fear of the European Union. I respect the views of those who also serve on the European Scrutiny Committee, but sometimes I worry about the tenor of the contributions of the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). They show a paranoia about the institution of the EU, which, despite the views we may have about these elements of the treaty, or the future position of the European Court of Justice, has not done any damage to the good people of this country. That is the truth of it. Nor has it done damage to the place where we live. We live in a Union of half a billion people.
Mr. Clappison: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Michael Connarty: No, I am not going to take interventions, because I hope to leave more time for the winding-up speeches than I would if I took my full 12 minutes.
What does the charter of fundamental rights say to anyone? Who is interested in it, and who is afraid of it? I will tell hon. Members who is afraid of it: the person who stood as the presidential candidate in Serbia, who would have taken that country back under the influence of Russia. It was what the charter of fundamental rights and the European Union stood for that won the election in Serbia for those who want to get closer to the EU and, we hope, join it, alongside other former parts of the fractured former nation of the Republic of Yugoslavia. I have no fear of what the EU holds out to our citizens, as well as to others.
I would like to talk about what the treaty does, with reference to the consolidated texts of the EU treaties as amended by the treaty of Lisbon. For example, article 3 has been referred to by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children as representing a fundamental move forward. Paragraph 3 of article 3 says that there will be
solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child.
eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular the rights of the child.
That is the first time such a provision has been put down in the laws of the EU. It is an important matter because we saw in Romania the terrible sight of
children chained to potties on stools in the so-called childrens homes that existed there before that country entered the EU. If such conditions alone are ended by the treaty, it is one worth signing.
Article 6 refers to the charter of fundamental rights, which is important because it shows that it is central to what the European Union will be about. Paragraph 3 of article 6 says
Fundamental rights...shall constitute general principles of the Unions law.
How can we be afraid of that? Articles 145 to 150, under title IX, Employment, deal with employment rights. I cannot see how anyone can object to a treaty that includes such provisions which will be binding on all nations. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) spoke about the difficulties of Latvia and Sweden, which did not have an understanding with regard to how people have common rights that transfer across the Union.
I come to article 153the original article 137 of the treatyunder title X, Social Policy. For the benefit of those who want to read our debates, and I hope that many will, I want to put on the record what that article says. It refers to
(a) improvement in particular of the working environment to protect workers health and safety;
(b) working conditions;
(c) social security and social protection of workers;
(d) protection of workers where their employment contract is terminated...;
(f) representation and collective defence of the interests of workers and employers, including co-determination...;
(g) conditions of employment for third-country nationals legally residing in Union territory
(h) the integration of persons excluded from the labour market
we are always talking about integration, and wondering about the 2.7 million people who are on incapacity benefit, and why that figure has grown from several hundred thousand
(i) equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities and treatment at work;
(j) the combating of social exclusion;
(k) the modernisation of social protection systems without prejudice.
Those points are not just in the charter of fundamental rights, but in the treaty. They are things worth voting for, and I hope that we will do so.
Everyone says that it is all about the European Court of Justicethis big bad organisation that will somehow take decisions from a malicious point of view. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) pointed out earlier, its judgments normally are on the fair side of the equation and are not made in a malicious way that is disadvantageous to the people. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), my colleague on the European Scrutiny Committee, says that there is no right of appeal. We know of a case that came before the Committee, concerning a journalist from Belgium. His house was raided and his equipment taken because he had put out a story about corruption in the fraud office of the EU. He went to the European Court of Justice and lost. He then went to the European
Court of Human Rights and won. He got €30,000 in compensation and his costs paid. The court found against OLAF, so there are places to which one can go in the European Union if the European Court of Justice denies ones human rights. That is why human rights are so important and central to the Bill.
The charter of fundamental rights is an important document. Somebody asked why it was not a single documentit is. Here it isI am holding up the charter. Anyone can get a copyit is readable, accessible and says some things that we should be proud to state about the European Union of which we wish to be part. Those things will be law once the treaty is passed.
Ministers have said that the charter contains nothing additional, but it does. According to the Law Society, which analysed it purely from a legal point of view, it
contains many rights similar to those set out in the ECHR, in addition to further rights and principles already recognised in EU law.
The rights will be additional but they are already in EU law. However, the article continues:
Until now the Charter has had no binding effect, but this will change as a result of the Treaty of Lisbon.
The charter will be binding, and I find that attractive for reasons that I will outline. Article 4 of chapter I is entitled, Prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Such a prohibition may not exist in some countries that might be considering joining the European Union. Holding up as a flagship guarantee a provision that people cannot be abused, tortured or punished inhumanely by their Governments will attract people to share our view of Europe, rather than that which some other regimes currently hold.
Article 5 of chapter I prohibits forced labour and people traffickers. Article 10 of chapter II is entitled, Freedom of thought, conscience and religion. That is very important. Article 23 of chapter III deals with gender inequality and article 24 is entitled, The rights of the child. Those are fundamental matters in a charter of which we should be proud. Surely hon. Members approve of article 25, about the rights of the elderly and article 26, about the Integration of persons with disabilities.
In chapter IV, articles 27 to 33 deal with employment rights, including family and maternity rights, and the rights that my colleagues who spoke about employment law discussed.
Chapter VI contains articles 47 to 50 and includes article 48, Presumption of innocence and right of defence. That seems to me to be an anti-sharia law article because people are not presumed innocent under sharia law. People are presumed innocent under our law in the EU and that is fundamental, especially when considering some of the jurisdictions that want to join the Union, which take a different view about whether sharia or EU law should apply.
In chapter VII, article 53 protects fundamental freedoms and article 54 deals with the prohibition of abuse of those rights. We should include all such provisions in anything that we wish to become the law of the EU. Indeed, they are a part of EU law.
Some hon. Members have asked why we should have a protocol when, in the European Scrutiny Committees judgment, it did not have any of the
opt-out powers that were originally discussed. As early as July, the Government began to admit that we were right and that the protocol did not constitute the opt-out that was originally intended. Paragraph 28 of our third report of the 2007-08 Session, which was published after taking evidence from Ministers, states:
It seems to us that a judgment of the ECJ interpreting a measure of Union law in a case brought in another Member State would form part of the body of Union law which the UK courts would be obliged to follow in the UK so as to ensure the consistent application of Union law throughout the Union.
We believe that that is the correct interpretation. If there were such judgments on the working time directive, that on agency workers and others that were mentioned, which are part of EU law and in the charter, I believe that they would be binding in this country as well as in others.
The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) was correct when he said that we kept emphasising to the Ministerthe hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) especially pressed the matterthat the only way in which the charter would not apply would be to pass a protocol, which would take effect, notwithstanding the treaties or Union law generally. If Union law generally and the treaties are binding, the charter is also binding.
I believe that that is a good thing. I repeat that I am worried that the trade union movement has reacted so badly to what appeared to be a signala flourishto the CBI that somehow we would not grant the same rights in employment law to everyone. If we rejected the treaty, we would deny the charter to every other country and trade unionist in Europe. Some need it much more desperately than our unions. It is a question of solidarity. The trade union movement should not be afraid of the impact on human rights or workers rights through accepting the treaty, for which I shall vote.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I shall speak briefly, partly because I do not have much time. I will have an opportunity to say more later. Following the speech of the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee allows me to say that my concern is that he is right, because the Committee has examined the position and been through an enormous number of other legal authorities. There is no doubt that the advice that the European Scrutiny Committee has given Parliament is valid. If matters continue the way they are, the Government, who believeprobably not sincerely because they did not want the charter in the first placethat they are managing to put a roadblock in the charters way, will end up having to accept it.
Conservative Members take a different view, which is that the charter should not apply in any event. When we consider amendments in Committee later, I will explain the way in which my amendments can help the Government to achieve their objectives. I may comment on other amendments, too. However, the bottom line is that Conservative Members are united on one central principle: we do not believe the Governments line that their actions can prevent what we fear from happening. We all agree that our argument stands up in the interests of the people whom we represent. There is unity among
Conservative Members about that, but we have a slight problem that we must resolve in the next one and a half hours.
I do not need to add any more until I get to the nub of the issue, and the nuts and bolts, which I will explain when we discuss amendments. I am extremely grateful for a marvellous opportunity to speak for one minute more than I did on the previous occasion.
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