Bill of Rights

Parliamentary Debate, 17 Mar. 2011, Westminster Hall:

I am all for a Bill of Rights, but the question is: which one? Similarly, on the question of the rule of law: which law, whose law, and who is going to enforce it?Eventually, one returns to a question that I am sure exercised those who devised the original Bill of Rights in 1689, which as it happens was never incorporated in an Act of Parliament. Nevertheless, by convention, and therefore by custom, that statement was enforceable in its own fashion, and deals with some fundamental matters. I want to know exactly how, in the context of the review set up by the coalition Government, matters concerning the proposed new Bill of Rights will be tackled. I may be unduly suspicious, but I want to know whether the Bill of Rights will enhance and increase the rights of the people of the United Kingdom. That point will emerge in due course and perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House will be in a position to tell us when he responds to the debate this afternoon.One difficulty is that, as I conceive it, the Bill of Rights would not withstand measures such as the European arrest warrant, investigative orders and powers of entry. We heard about such matters in a debate the other day on the so-called Protection of Freedoms Bill, and about the problem of the rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. Fairly recently—I think it was 11 March 2010, almost exactly a year ago—the Lord Chief Justice made a speech to the Judicial Studies Board. He said that judges were interpreting Strasbourg precedents in such a way that they were applying them as if they were UK law. The concerns of the Lord Chief Justice were encapsulated by his warning, “We must beware.” Those are the words he used and he was talking specifically to the judges. I want to know that the Bill of Rights, which includes, or is associated with, matters as important as habeas corpus, will be retained. If such things are to be given renewed constitutional primacy, they must be absolute and not a sub-text of a European legal system that overrides them.Two days ago I attended a European Committee with the Lord Chancellor, a man I greatly respect. We have totally different views about these matters, but we should not think that he does not understand that the arguments I present must be answered. That is why he came to the Committee. He was talking about the charter of fundamental rights, which is directly related to the issue of the Bill of Rights. If we have a Bill of Rights, will it be superior in some fashion to the European treaties and to the European Communities Act 1972, which incorporates the protocol for the charter of fundamental rights? If people do not understand that matter, they should start reading the material. There is no point in pontificating about a Bill of Rights if we do not understand the hierarchy of laws. That hierarchy says that European Community law comes first and is enforceable by the European Court.When the Lord Chancellor says, “Oh, nothing has changed; we had a discussion on the Lisbon treaty and a lot of people got it all wrong”, I am bound to point out that he voted for the Lisbon treaty and for the charter of fundamental rights—unlike the Conservative party—and he voted against the referendum. I am not criticising him for that; I respect him for it. That is his right. However, one provision in the Bill of Rights is the right of free speech, including in the House of Commons and elsewhere. It is similar to the question about privilege, or about how the rights of people in this country are expressed through the rights of their Member of Parliament, to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) so rightly referred. I want to know what the relationship will be between the Bill of Rights and the European convention on human rights, and between the Bill of Rights and the charter of fundamental rights. Therefore, I have two simple questions. At its apex, will the Bill of Rights be supreme in UK law, enforceable and enforced by the Supreme Court, as against, contradictory to and, if necessary, inconsistent with the European Court, and the assertions of certain members of the Supreme Court that they have ultimate authority? Will that be the case notwithstanding the European convention, the charter of fundamental rights and the European Communities Act 1972 and all treaties under that? If the Bill of Rights is to be effective, I want it to be a real Bill of Rights and not simply a rather obscure version of an amalgamation of those other charters and conventions. At the moment—I do not know whether the Deputy Leader of the House knows this—chapter 3, I think, of the Lisbon treaty sets out, in article after article, the source and derivation of the charter of fundamental rights. In terms of derivation, there is the United Nations this and the European Court of Human Rights that. There is a list of sources, and I trust the Minister has it with him so that he will be in a position to answer my question. Which legislation will have superiority? (Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con), 17 Mar. 2011 Westminster Hall, Column 164WH – 165WH)