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New Clause 19 — Power to remove or reduce burdens

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 15th May 2006.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 6:30 pm, 15th May 2006

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is a late entrant to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire said that hey will support new clause 17. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman.

The basis of legislative supremacy is that the courts obey Acts of Parliament. You are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to bring me back to that point, because that is the essential point that must be understood.

"The rule of judicial obedience is in one sense a rule of common law...it is the ultimate political fact upon which the whole system of legislation hangs."

Those are the words of Sir William Wade, one of the great constitutional authorities. I mentioned the judgments of Mr. Justice Edward Coke, which, relying on the sovereignty of Parliament, stated that the courts could void Acts of Parliament. We now have democracy, votes and general elections but, unfortunately, in the context of the Human Rights Act 1998, which I shall not dwell on, and the European Communities Act 1972, the judiciary have been trying to push the boundaries beyond the established legislative supremacy of Parliament, by drawing down a greater degree of supranationalism. They have even been saying that treaties have a special status. Neither treaties nor convention can stand in the way of legislation—of Acts of Parliament. All the judicial decisions given in the past several centuries have reasserted that main proposition. Ultimately, the judiciary derive their judicial authority from Parliament and, I should say, from the source of their payments, salaries and allowances.

I mentioned the comments of Lord Steyn, who is by no means a person with whom one would easily disagree. In the case of Manuel v. Attorney-General, Sir Robert Megarry stated unequivocally that

"the duty of the court is to obey and apply every Act of Parliament"

What is required to deal with the problem facing us of burdens of business is a clear and unambiguous statement in the Bill, for which the appropriate form of words is:

"notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972"

Even the case of Factortame, which dealt with the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, ultimately depended on the passing of the European Communities Act 1972. In the words of Lord Bridge, Parliament's surrender of sovereignty in the 1972 Act was voluntary. What has been given can be taken away; that is the principle. It does not necessarily follow from my new clause that there would be a political decision and a vote in the House of Commons to do that, although I believe that we have gone far too far in European integration and that we need a substantial and radical retrenchment. Even the judgment of Lord Hope in the recent case of Jackson and others v. Attorney-General ultimately depends on the 1972 Act. Mr. Justice Laws referred to "constitutional statutes", which were purported to be given an additional status over and above ordinary Acts of Parliament. In the context of the European legislation, they themselves would depend on the fact that Parliament had passed the necessary legislation.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Mr. McFadden, has it in mind that some gold-plating can be removed. However, where that gold-plating ultimately depends on the fundamental and intrinsic nature of the European directive or regulation on which it is based, merely removing it and all the Cabinet Office mechanisms that are employed, including regulatory impact assessments, transposition notes, and so on—complicated stuff that nobody in the small business community really knows exists—will be of no value at all if the fundamental issue is not tackled. In the democracy in which we live, the United Kingdom Parliament acquires its authority from the voters at general elections, which decide the Government. Mark Fisher is correct: Parliament is first. The bottom line is that we have the right to be able to decide what legislation is to be passed.

There are those, such as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, who—uncritically, I think—are willing to accept pretty well everything that comes from the European Union and do not want it to be amended or repealed. He would argue strongly, as he has today, that the mechanism that I propose is not to his liking. The reality is that we must stipulate that this House is the sovereign place where the democratic wishes of the people of this country are implemented. If it is necessary to override supranational legislation, whether the Human Rights Act or the European Communities Act, it is our right and our duty to do so.

The legislative supremacy of this House is what the Bill is all about and it is the reason I tabled new clause 17. I believe that, in the context of the burdens of business and deregulation, this debate has been necessary. I am extremely glad that my hon. Friends will go into the Lobby to support the new clause.