I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to approve four draft decisions of the Council of the European Union. All four draft decisions rely on article 352 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which allows the EU to take action to attain the objectives set out in the EU treaties, for which there is no specific power given. That can be done only with the approval of the European Parliament and the unanimous support of all member states. Before the UK can agree those draft decisions at the Council, Parliament must first give its approval. Section 8 of the European Union Act 2011 provides that a Minister may vote in favour of an article 352 decision only where the draft decision is approved by an Act of Parliament. I am pleased that Members of both Houses will have the opportunity to scrutinise and decide whether to approve such measures.
The UK is leaving the EU. Until that process has concluded, the UK remains a full member of the EU, and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. That includes exercising the UK’s vote in the Council of the European Union on these four draft decisions. Whether or not those EU decisions involve the UK directly, they may make a difference to the context of the negotiations. While we are leaving the EU and its institutions, we will continue to maintain a resolute friendship and alliance with all the European countries. We have been working in peaceful partnership with EU member states for decades to build a prosperous and stable Europe.
Thank you very much for that clarification, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend is fully aware that I am the president of the European Conservatives in the Council of Europe. We have had support from the Government and from colleagues in both Houses, and I am sure she would like to make it clear that the Council of Europe is still an important part of what we do here. It was set up by the British in 1948 under Sir Winston Churchill and continues to play an important part through the European Court of Human Rights. I hope she will confirm that it will continue to play that important role.
I commend my hon. Friend for all his work within the Council of Europe, and confirm that that will continue long after we have successfully concluded our Brexit negotiations.
The Prime Minister set out a bold and ambitious vision for the UK. She outlined our key negotiating objectives as we move to establish a comprehensive new partnership with the EU.
I will make a little progress and then give way.
That vision for a partnership in the best interests of the United Kingdom means that we will also continue to work with the EU on tackling areas of common interest.
I am much encouraged not only by the fact that the Minister is giving way but by what my hon. Friend Mr Liddell-Grainger said. It may be that we are no longer brothers and sisters in Europe, but we are cousins. Therefore to that extent we will continue to seek to maintain good relations with the EU, despite the fact that we are absolutely going to leave.
I heartily agree with my hon. Friend that we will continue to foster good relations with our EU friends long after we leave the European Union. Keeping that in mind, we are content that all four decisions that the Bill addresses are reasonable, proportionate and in keeping with our best interests, and will not result in any additional financial burdens on the UK.
As I have said, article 352 decisions must be agreed by all EU member states unanimously. When all member states are in a position to vote on the decision, the European Council will schedule a meeting of the Council of the European Union. If all member states vote to approve the draft decisions at that meeting, the European Parliament will be asked in turn to approve the draft decisions. If it does so, the decisions are adopted into EU law. All member states apart from the UK have agreed the EU-Canada decisions, and all member states except the UK and Germany have agreed the Fundamental Rights Agency decisions. We do not believe that any of the draft decisions should be considered contentious in any way.
I assure my hon. Friend that, were we not to pass the Bill this afternoon, the draft decisions would not proceed. We are still full members of the European Union and therefore our consent is required for the draft decisions to take effect.
The Minister is being generous with her time. She indicated one other country that has yet to ratify or vote on this—namely, Germany. Does she have, or has she been given, an indication as to when support may come from Germany?
Any such comment from me would be speculation, which I intend to avoid, but I point out that Germany, like the United Kingdom, needs the consent of its national Parliament before its Ministers can vote on such draft decisions.
As I said, all member states apart from Germany and ourselves have agreed the Fundamental Rights Agency decisions, and we do not believe that any of the draft decisions are contentious. The Government are committed to being constructive in the UK’s ongoing engagement with the EU. Holding up progress on business that is simple and uncontroversial would undermine that approach and the principle of sincere co-operation that lies behind it. It is therefore clearly in the UK’s interests to approve these draft decisions. Delaying the decisions could have a negative impact on the UK’s exit negotiations with the EU, including discussion on any future framework. There will, of course, be further opportunities to examine more fundamental aspects of the work of the EU in other debates. However, I am sure hon. Members will recognise that, whatever their views on EU exit, it is in the UK’s interests to approve these draft decisions.
Will the Minister confirm that, as part of our ongoing relationship with the European Union until we achieve our freedom, the provisions of the trade agreement secured with Canada will be implemented fully in the United Kingdom, and that we will continue to play a proactive role within the EU and beyond in encouraging further free trade with Canada?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. I remember his excellent work when he was a trade representative to Canada and I assure him that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiations, completed between the EU and Canada, will cover the United Kingdom for as long as we are members of the EU. After that point, it will be up to us to decide the terms of any future trading relationship with Canada, bearing in mind the—I won’t go any further on that.
It is therefore clearly in the UK’s interests to approve the draft decisions. Delaying the decisions could have a negative impact on the UK’s exit negotiations, including discussions on any future framework. There will, of course, be further opportunities to examine more fundamental aspects.
I accept the first part of what my right hon. Friend says, but I do not wish to predict what the UK and Canada may find important to discuss in their trade relationship in the years to come.
I will make a bit more progress and then I will give way.
The first two decisions will enable two countries, the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Serbia, to be granted observer status in the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. Before I go any further on that point, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I remind him of the scope of the Bill we are debating. It does not include much detailed discussion about our future trade relationship with Canada. For the avoidance of doubt, the Canadian decisions are about competition law, not trade.
The Fundamental Rights Agency was set up to support EU institutions and EU member states by improving the knowledge and awareness of fundamental rights issues in the EU, with a view to ensuring respect for fundamental rights. The agency does this through the collection and analysis of information and data. It can also formulate opinions on specific topics, either on its own initiative or at the request of EU institutions. It also has a role in communicating and raising awareness of fundamental rights, but it cannot hear individual complaints. EU accession candidate countries can be given observer status at the agency. This allows the agency to collect and analyse fundamental rights data from those countries, but it does not allow them the right to vote in decisions as part of the agency’s management board.
The goal of the agency is to provide expertise on fundamental rights to EU institutions, member states and countries seeking accession when implementing EU law. The specific tasks of the agency are: to analyse and share information on fundamental rights in the European Union; to carry out scientific research and surveys on fundamental rights issues; to formulate opinions on specific topics, either on its own initiative or as requested by EU institutions; and to increase awareness on fundamental rights in the EU.
Albania was granted EU candidate status in June 2014. The UK supported the awarding of EU candidate status on the condition that Albania redoubled its reform efforts, with particular focus on Justice and Home Affairs, especially tackling organised crime, corruption and illegal migration. The UK welcomed Albania’s progress in adopting legislation towards a judicial reform package in July 2016. Albania must now fully implement the judicial reform package as soon as possible, so that it can underpin other reforms.
Serbia was granted EU candidate status in 2012 and accession negotiations were launched in January 2014, with the first four negotiating chapters opened during 2016. The UK continues to support Serbia on its reform path, including through funding projects in Serbia.
I cannot comment specifically on the likely impact on the treatment of war crimes in Serbia, a subject about which the Foreign Office is extremely concerned—as, I presume, is my hon. Friend—but I think it can only be a mark of progress for Serbia to be admitted in the way that this decision enables them to be.
The Minister says that this is a mark of progress, but I cannot accept that. This sounds like motherhood-and-apple-pie Eurospeak. Exactly the same words were used during the accession of Croatia, but has Croatia handed over its war criminals and does it have the rule of law yet? Both were promised. It has one of the longest borders in the EU, which is used for sex trafficking and human trafficking. We heard exactly the same then, but there have been no improvements. Why does the Minister believe there will be improvements with Albania and Serbia?
To correct the hon. Gentleman, I do not think I said that I thought there would be improvements; I said that I thought it would be a mark of progress. I was trying to limit my enthusiasm to that degree, mindful of what he says about Croatia. However, I would say that it is early days and we can only go down the path of progress. The UK continues to support Serbia on its reform path, including through funding projects in Serbia.
Serbia has more work to do on anti-discrimination policies, improving the situation for vulnerable people and ensuring freedom of expression. Observer status at the Fundamental Rights Agency should help Albania and Serbia to reform in the areas we are discussing. Albania and Serbia should also be allowed to benefit from instances of good practice and evidence from other EU member states in relation to human rights. The Government are therefore satisfied of the need to support these two decisions.
The third and fourth decisions are necessary to implement a co-operation agreement between the EU and Canada on competition enforcement. The decisions will allow the agreement to be signed and allow conclusion of the agreement after it has been approved by the European Parliament. This competition co-operation agreement will replace an existing agreement that has been in place since 1999. It replicates and builds on the provisions in the earlier agreement by allowing the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau to exchange evidence obtained during investigations, including confidential information and personal data.
The existing co-operation agreement with Canada dates from June 1999, and at that time the exchange of evidence between the parties was not regarded as needed. In the meantime, the bilateral co-operation between the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau has become more frequent and deeper in terms of substance.
The Government have already told the Exiting the European Union Committee, on which I served during the last Parliament, that following our withdrawal from the EU we will no longer benefit from, for instance, the information exchange agreements between our competition regulator and the Canadian Competition Bureau. That renders much of the Bill rather pointless, does it not? Can the Minister explain how pulling us out of global deals such as the one that we are discussing will be helpful?
I have explained that the purpose of the decision is primarily to support our role as a continuing member of the EU until the negotiations are complete, in two years’ time. Until then we will be covered by it, but after that date we shall have to see what has been agreed during the negotiations. The existing competition agreement with Canada does not allow the sharing of confidential information, but the new one does. I shall return to that point in a few minutes.
The absence of the possibility of exchanging information with the Canadian Competition Bureau is regarded as a major impediment to effective co-operation. The proposed changes in the existing agreement will allow the European Commission and the Competition Bureau to exchange evidence that both sides have obtained in their investigations. That will be particularly useful in all cases in which the alleged anti-competitive behaviour affects transatlantic or world markets. Many worldwide or transatlantic cartels include Canada and, via Canada, the Commission will gain a good opportunity to have access to additional information concerning those cartels.
Co-operation with third-country competition authorities is now standard practice in international competition investigations. In addition to the agreement with Canada, the EU has concluded dedicated co-operation agreements with the United States, Japan, Korea and Switzerland.
I now return to the intervention by Jonathan Edwards. I omitted to say that even after the Brexit negotiations have been completed, the competition agreement with Canada will continue to apply to British companies if they are trading with the single market of the European Union.
The most advanced agreement is the one with Switzerland, which already contains provisions on the exchange of evidence, and the proposed update would bring the agreement with Canada to the same level as the one concluded with Switzerland.
I am sure Members will agree that the ability to share information is increasingly important for effective and efficient international competition enforcement. Access to information from other jurisdictions can be important to the reaching of a robust enforcement decision. Co-operation and information sharing between jurisdictions can help to ensure that enforcement bodies do not reach different decisions based on different sets of information.
The agreement contains general safeguards for the transfer of information, and additional safeguards for the transfer of personal data. Personal data can be shared only with the express written consent of the person or company to whom they relate. In the absence of consent, such data can be shared only when both competition authorities are investigating the same related conduct or transaction. Furthermore, the transfer of the data will be subject to independent oversight. The agreement also contains safeguards for information provided by a company under the EU cartel immunity or leniency programme. Such information cannot be shared without the express written consent of the individual or company that provided it.
As I have noted, the decisions will have no financial implications for the UK. I confirm that I do not consider that any of the Bill’s provisions interfere with the rights set out in the European convention on human rights, so no issues arise in connection with its compatibility with those rights.
I wonder why there is no cost. Surely, if there is to be an added layer of complexity in the sharing of information—which may be a good thing—there must be a cost in respect of the time of the officials involved.
I am assured that no costs are associated with these decisions, other than those that arise in the normal course of Government business.
It is intended that the Bill will come into force on the day of Royal Assent. For the reasons that I have outlined, I commend it to the House.
The Bill was included in the Queen’s Speech. The background notes refer to helping to grant Serbia and Albania observer status at the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, and an agreement for enhanced co-operation between competition regulators in the EU and Canada. However, I will not be the only one who was somewhat surprised that it was chosen as the second Bill to be given a Second Reading in the new Parliament. Why was it given such a high priority, given what might have happened, and given what was, at one point, in the Conservative party manifesto?
We could have suggested some alternatives. For instance, the Government could have addressed the pay cap. Members of the Cabinet and members of the Conservative party are now doing that, and quite an argument seems to be going on, but we could have been debating the subject in the House today.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the civil war in Yugoslavia was an horrific, scarring experience for our whole continent. We should not belittle it by underestimating the importance of those nations’ reaching our level in terms of human rights and so on.
Of course the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, which is why it was right for the Bill to be in the Queen’s Speech. I was merely questioning why it had been given such prominence. Given that it consists of only two lines, why was something weightier not presented first?
I have mentioned the pay cap, the turmoil in the Conservative party, and the agonising over whether public servants should be given a pay rise. There is also the debate about tuition fees, the debate about whether there should be more police and firefighters—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I fear that he may be being a little bit churlish. He has the opportunity now to set out the Labour party’s position in relation to the Bill. He is, of course entitled to go on speculating on what might or could not or should have been debated at this time—as long as you allow him to do so, Mr Speaker—but he has the opportunity to debate this subject now. What does he have to say about it?
Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his inquiry. I could not know what Bill Esterson would say until he had said it, but now that he has said it, I can tell him that he should not have said it.
It would be advisable now for the hon. Gentleman to return to the subject of the European Union (Approvals) Bill. I very gently remind the hon. Gentleman, who is quite a seasoned parliamentarian, that it consists of two clauses, of which—and I say this not least for the benefit of those who are attending to our proceedings elsewhere—the second is “Extent, commencement and short title”. The only substantive clause is clause 1. The question of the pay cap is a matter of enormous interest, but it is wholly irrelevant to the question of clause 1 and consideration of the Republic of Albania, the Republic of Serbia, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and the relationship between the European Union and the Government of Canada in respect of competition law.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. You may even have stolen parts of my speech.
Anyway, we have the European Union (Approvals) Bill, with its four draft decisions and two clauses, the second of which—as you pointed out, Mr Speaker—consists of the name of the Bill. Members will be pleased to learn that Labour will not oppose the Bill at this stage. We on the Labour Benches are committed to ensuring that the UK fulfils its responsibilities as a member state of the EU, not least in the very important matter of the progress made by the former member states of Yugoslavia. We will do so until the time of withdrawal from the EU; we will continue to scrutinise EU matters that come before Parliament.
This Bill is the enactment of provisions under the European Union Act 2011 and addresses draft decisions of the Council of the European Union. The first of those relates to the participation of the republics of Albania and Serbia as observers in the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and the second to the signing and conclusion of an agreement between the EU and the Government of Canada regarding the application of their competition laws which includes the exchange of information between the EU and the Canadian Competition Bureau.
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights replaced the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in 2007. As set out on the Europa website:
“It advises EU institutions and national Governments on fundamental rights, particularly in the areas of: discrimination;
access to justice;
racism and xenophobia;
The agency’s areas of work have been determined through a five-year framework. The main priority areas include the fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance.
EU candidate countries can participate in the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights as observers. This Bill approves two draft decisions on the participation of the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Serbia as observers in the work of the agency. The decision will not in itself confer observer status on Albania and Serbia, but it will establish that the Stabilisation and Association Councils for Albania and Serbia can determine the conditions of the two countries becoming observers.
As the House of Commons Library explains, under the draft Council decisions, Albania and Serbia would both appoint an observer and alternate observer in the work of the agency’s management board, on an equal footing with the member and alternate members appointed by EU member states but without a right to vote. They would also participate in initiatives undertaken by the agency and make a financial contribution to it.
In an explanatory memorandum to the European Scrutiny Committee on
Albania and Serbia will both make a contribution to the EU budget in order to participate, ranging from €160,000 to €183,000 a year. The draft decisions have been cleared by the European Scrutiny Committee and the Lords European Union Select Committee. The Minister said in her remarks today that this is an opportunity for us to support the progress being made on human rights in the two countries in question, and I completely agree on that.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, both Labour and Conservative Members and other Members of this House work through the Council of Europe with Albania and the Balkan states to make sure they are monitored and understood. An enormous amount of work is done by this place with parliamentarians across Europe to continue the efforts the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I commend the hon. Gentleman and our Front-Bench team, and I know he will praise the fact that there are MPs here doing the work already.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make that point, and I thank him for it; I join him in praising colleagues across the House for their work on these important matters.
However, I have a particular question for the Minister, which also came up in some of the interventions: what would be the nature of our involvement in the agency both immediately after Brexit in handling transitional arrangements and in the longer term? A similar question would apply to a number of other agencies. Perhaps the Minister can address that in her concluding remarks.
There is already an agreement between the EU and Canada on competition. This decision extends the powers so that both sides will be able to exchange evidence collected in the course of their investigations.
I would like the hon. Gentleman to repeat his question in a little more detail, as my understanding of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights is that it is there to help interpret and work on Community law in its member states, so presumably if we left the EU it would no longer be relevant in that context to the UK itself.
I had moved on to the second part, but I will come back to the hon. Gentleman’s question. We need to know what our relationship will be, given the important work—as Mr Liddell-Grainger rightly described it—carried out by Members in this House over many years, which has been extremely important in making progress in the countries named in this Bill and others. It is important that we have a sense from the Government as to how we will stay involved in the work of such agencies. I am sure all Members will agree that this country still has a very important role to play whether or not we are in the EU.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a key bulwark of human rights in this country, and indeed across Europe, is the European convention on human rights, which is not affected by this Bill at all? That has to remain the key and most important element.
I completely agree.
The EU Commission states that there is a danger that the absence of a power to exchange information with the Canadian Competition Bureau will become an impediment as co-operation between the two parties increases; the Minister made that point. Co-operation with other competition authorities is now standard practice in international competition investigations. The EU has co-operation agreements with the USA, Japan, South Korea and Switzerland. The most advanced is the one with Switzerland; it is very similar to the Canada agreement and has proved, as the Minister said, uncontroversial. Many worldwide or transatlantic cartels include Canada in their operations, and the Canadian commission will get a good opportunity via this agreement to gain additional information concerning these cartels and whether practice is anti-competitive or not.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this Bill serves as an interesting template for taking forward competitive activities post-Brexit? If we can get this right, it might serve to enable other members of the Commonwealth to look at how we can pattern a similar relationship.
That is a good point, and I will come later to further questions about arrangements after we leave the EU, so that we can continue to benefit from the sort of arrangements set out in the Bill. We certainly need to make sure arrangements are in place to address anti-competitive practices in this country and involving our interests across the world. The Minister might want to address that very good point in her concluding remarks.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the question of establishing such a pattern impacts greatly on our nearest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland? If we can get the relationship right between ourselves and Canada, it might help in getting it right with the Republic of Ireland, which will help us to bolster our trade.
I think we are in danger of wandering away from the subject—[Interruption.] I have no idea why Conservative Members find that funny, but there we are. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman and the Democratic Unionist party are particularly exercised by that matter, among others, but I dare say that this is something that the Minister can pick up on, perhaps on another day.
Competition delivers benefits to consumers, to businesses and to society as a whole. Competition policy therefore contributes to boosting jobs, growth and investment. The Commission pursues this objective by enforcing competition rules, sanctioning breaches and promoting a competition culture internationally. The proposed agreement will improve the administrative co-operation between the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau. Ultimately, consumers in the European Union and in Canada benefit from competition policy and from the sanctions that contribute to a stronger deterrence of anti-competitive behaviour. More effective competition enforcement results in more open and competitive markets in which companies can compete more freely, enabling them to generate wealth and to create jobs. It also gives consumers a better choice of products at lower prices.
This new agreement is substantively the same as the existing one, which has been in place since June 1999. This agreement just adds new provisions on the exchange of information. Even after we have left the European Union, UK companies operating in the EU will still be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Commission in anti-trust and merger investigations, as all non-EU countries are. Information on UK companies will still be transferable after Brexit. After Brexit, the European Commission will still share information about UK companies with Canada but will not be bound to share the information about the UK it receives from Canada with the UK. I would like the Minister to address that point.
This agreement relates to administrative co-operation between the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau, so public consultation and an impact assessment were not considered necessary by the Government, and, as the Minister has now said on a number of occasions, she does not think that there will be financial implications. The Government have noted in the explanatory memorandum that this new agreement will have no impact on UK law and no financial implications.
The European Scrutiny Committee did not at first clear the proposal. The Chair of the Committee, Sir William Cash, who I dare say will make a contribution to the debate, requested further information about whether and in what way the United Kingdom could participate in the agreement following withdrawal. The Minister responded to the Committee on
“the Government will ensure that the UK is in the strongest possible position to cooperate on competition matters with our international partners...There are a number of options for securing the means for international cooperation…As the form of any cooperation agreement will depend on our negotiation with the EU and negotiations with other countries such as Canada it is too early to say what exact form international cooperation will take.”
That raises a number of questions about transitional arrangements in the longer term. In response to that letter, the Committee subsequently cleared the documents.
That brings us to the question of what arrangements will exist after we leave the EU. The Minister referred in her letter to seeking to extend the current arrangements. For how long does she think that will be necessary? What guarantee is there that it would be possible to extend them? UK companies operating in the EU will still be covered by this agreement. The difference will be that, while the European Commission will continue to share information with Canada about UK companies, that information will not be shared with the UK unless a further agreement is reached. She said in her letter that any co-operation agreement would depend on negotiation. How long does she think those negotiations are likely to take? What will she be seeking to achieve in them? We have now reached the point at which Ministers need to start answering the questions about transitional and longer-term arrangements for these and many other matters.
There is no doubt that competition is vital to our economy, to the success of our businesses and to the prosperity of the people of our country. Encouraging healthy competition is vital. The role of national Governments, and of international co-operation, is to create a fair market, not just a free market. It is also to avoid anti-competitive practices, including the creation of cartels through mergers and acquisitions which distort the market; the undercutting and exploitation of workers and smaller businesses; the use of zero-hours contracts where workers have little choice; the treatment of smaller businesses by banks that will only fund those with liquid assets; and the delays in the payment of invoices by larger firms. Those are all examples of anti-competitive and exploitative practices in which Governments—nationally and internationally—should find ways of intervening to set a level playing field. Governments should be a partner to business and to the workforce. They should encourage those wishing to start and grow a business. They should be investing, and they should have the right strategy for infrastructure and skills. They should have an industrial strategy. Underpinning all that should be the right approach to competition, which is what this part of the Bill is all about.
We need answers to the questions about what happens after we leave the EU and about what transitional arrangements will be in place. The nature of the Minister’s comments in her letter to the European Scrutiny Committee show just how complex these questions are, and it is time we started to get some answers.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber before this debate started, when my hon. Friend Peter Dowd made an impassioned plea to you, Mr Speaker, for the Select Committees to be reconstituted as soon as possible. Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
Labour accepts the referendum result and recognises that Britain is leaving the European Union, but we need to negotiate for strong transitional arrangements to ensure that there is no cliff edge for the economy. We also need to give much greater priority to retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union than we have seen from the Government so far. We should not accept any watering down of workers’ rights and environmental standards as a result of Brexit. We will seek significant improvements to the repeal Bill to ensure that there is proper oversight of the use of new powers and no drop in EU rights and protections.
In that context, the discussions that we are having this afternoon are really important. We on the Labour Benches will seek—as, I believe, will the Minister—a strong, collaborative new relationship with the EU, not as a member but as a partner. We will seek to remain a member of common European agencies that benefit the UK, such as Europol, Eurojust and the Erasmus scheme. Perhaps the arrangements we are discussing today can be added to that list. We have to get this right, but we are not in a strong position as we enter the negotiations. I want to see the Prime Minister change her approach. She must drop the idea that “no deal” is a viable option. She must also put a much stronger emphasis on jobs, on the economy and on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union, and she must bring Parliament back into the Brexit process, as we have seen happening today. The fact that we are debating this Bill shows that we must retain the benefits of the co-operation and relationships that we currently have with the EU.
I said at the start that this was a Bill with only four draft decisions, but it is indicative of what is to come as we address the challenges of Brexit. As far as this Bill goes, the Minister really does need to answer the questions about transitional arrangements and negotiations so that we can continue to share information to the benefit of our economy and of the people of this country.
As has been mentioned, the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I was Chairman for six years, has actually cleared these decisions. We did have some reservations about one aspect, however, namely that we wanted to know how all this would work out during the Brexit negotiations and after we have left the European Union.
Basically, there is a necessity for this Bill because, as the Minister pointed out, although we are leaving the EU, under sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act 1972 we are still within the framework of the requirements to comply with EU rights and obligations until Brexit takes effect. There are some who hope that all this will somehow be kicked into the long grass, that we will have arrangements that take us into a world of never-never land, and that it will all disappear. There are some in the House of Lords who certainly take that view and there may even be some in the House of Commons. I was extremely glad to note, however, that on certain matters, in particular the single market and the customs union, the decision that was taken on the Queen’s Speech made it clear—subsequent events seem to have confirmed it—that the Opposition have actually begun to become extremely realistic about the single market and all that goes with it. These sort of arrangements are implicit in the Brexit negotiations and in the outcome of Brexit.
The Bill has to provide parliamentary approval of the decisions on Albania and Serbia, and the European Scrutiny Committee had no reservation or concern after we heard from the relevant Minister—the same Minister who wrote me the letter last year. The important issue here is that Albania and Serbia are not by definition countries that are likely to become candidates for EU membership during the period of our negotiation process and exit. Mr Juncker himself said that he does not think there will be any enlargement until after we have left the EU, so such decisions will not impinge upon us. We do not have to take a specific position on the candidatures of Albania and Serbia.
The Bill’s briefing paper contains many references to the Fundamental Rights Agency, and one thing that has not yet been mentioned in this debate is the charter of fundamental rights, which is embedded in the Lisbon treaty arrangements and is a matter of law. I strongly resisted our being drawn into the charter, and we held a European Scrutiny Committee inquiry into how Lord Goldsmith and his negotiations had failed so dramatically. We thought that we were not going to be a member of the charter, but we ended up within that framework. The Fundamental Rights Agency, which promotes dialogue with civil society in order to raise public awareness of fundamental rights, things which would be part and parcel of the functions that would be carried through by virtue of the Bill in respect of Serbia and Albania, contains something of a vacuum because we will not be part of the charter of fundamental rights after we have left the EU, but we are part of it for the time being, so to that extent there is a problem. I will not invite the Minister to enlarge on that—I hope she is glad about that—but I want to put it on the record that the charter of fundamental rights should never have applied to us in the first place. It was a botched job by the then Labour Government, and we are now saddled with the fact that we are in it. Fortunately, however, we will be coming out of it as a result of Brexit.
However, part of the Fundamental Rights Agency’s role is to fight against racism, xenophobia and intolerance, and I am sure we would agree with that role as a matter of principle. The object of the involvement of Albania and Serbia in the process is to enable an element of self-education, so that they can become more aware than they have been previously. Take Serbia, for example. I have been in this House long enough to have been here at the time of Sarajevo and all that went with it. Miloševic and Karadžic were dreadful people. However much we airbrush some of these things out of history as time progresses, the reality is that the breaches of people’s rights in Serbia were so horrific that they live with us to this day. It will be important for Albania and Serbia to be, as it were, incorporated and absorbed into the processes by which fundamental rights are considered. I do not like the charter of fundamental rights, not because I am against human rights, but because I do not like the idea of some of the adjudications. That is not to say, however, that it is not important that these two countries should be involved in that process.
The Committee of which I was Chairman when these decisions were made had no reason to stand in the way. We originally asked for some information and further comment from the Minister; we got that, so we were satisfied and we cleared the documents. Indeed, the decisions were also cleared by our counterpart in the House of Lords. What the Minister has said is fair and I would not want to stand in the way of the approval of this Bill.
I referred earlier to the accession process. It will take quite a long time for Serbia and Albania to become members of the EU and they will come in after we have left. A European Parliament resolution on Brexit calls for the transition period to be no longer than three years, and the European Commission’s negotiating guidelines for the Brexit talks state that any transition must be “limited in time”. I will just leave that on the record, because some people seem to have got this idea that transition is an everlasting journey. It is not; we are leaving and that is that. By the time Albania and Serbia become members of the European Union—if they do—we will be out and that will be a good thing for the United Kingdom. I ought to add that the Justice Minister, my hon. Friend Dominic Raab, said on
“committed to engaging constructively with the EU and supports the enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans, subject to ‘firm but fair conditionality’”.
He then made much the same comment as I just did about self-education, saying that participation will
“will assist both countries’ accession to the EU.”
He also confirmed that the proposals would be taken forward only after
“all Member States have concluded their own constitutional requirements” and that is what we are doing here. My hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson mentioned that Germany must also give parliamentary approval, which I understand will be forthcoming because Germany has an interest in the continuation of the EU in a way that we do not.
The decision on the EU-Canada co-operation in competition law enforcement was also approved by the European Scrutiny Committee.
I declare an interest as someone who served on that Committee in the previous Parliament. Has my hon. Friend received any assurances about when the Committee will be reconstituted? Does he agree that that is a matter of urgency?
I am glad to respond, because I have been very much engaged on that subject. In fact, one of the last things I did on the day of Dissolution was to write to the Chief Whip asking him to ensure that our Committee was reconstituted immediately after the election, because in 2015 the whole process went on until November, by which time we had a monument of documents. In the meantime, many things are being decided in the European institutions, many of which are directly relevant to the Brexit negotiations. It is therefore incredibly important that this House has an opportunity to assess the sorts of things that are being decided, subject to the Committee clearing the documents.
As hon. Members may know, if the European Scrutiny Committee imposes scrutiny reserve on a document because we think it is so important that it has to be debated, the Council of Ministers cannot conclude its consideration of those matters, and the Government cannot make a decision to carry the matter through, unless and until that debate has taken place. When we have a pile of documents—I understand there are some 200 documents in the pipeline—and a pile of explanatory memoranda explaining the Government’s position on them, the position the Government adopt on the documents in the negotiations will be highly interesting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole rightly raises the question of getting on with the job, and I am given to understand, without committing anybody to anything, that the Government are taking steps to accelerate the process because it is so important. Of course, we will discuss the other Select Committees later this afternoon. Their schedules and the allocation of chairmanships to each party will be decided, and I understand that that has been discussed through the usual channels, so I do not expect it to be terribly controversial, but for all the reasons I have set out, it is important for the European Scrutiny Committee to get going.
I entirely endorse what the Minister said about the Canada agreement, which again was discussed by the European Scrutiny Committee. We agreed that we would let it go ahead, but the explanatory notes on the Bill indicate some implications for United Kingdom companies operating in the EU after Brexit, which is the bit we should be most concerned about at the moment:
“Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, UK companies operating in the EU will still be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Commission in antitrust investigations and, where the thresholds are met, in merger investigations in the same way as for other non-EU companies operating in the EU. Information relating to UK companies based in the EU would therefore still be transferable under the new Agreement.”
That is becoming a bit of a hot potato. I made a representation to the Prime Minister the other day on the question of citizens’ rights, and we hear a lot about the question of City regulation, and here it is coming up again.
Some people are making too much of it. An enormous amount is emerging from the commentariat and on programmes we sometimes find ourselves listening to but that we perhaps ought to switch off. They are trying to make out that, somehow or other, the real problem is that we have to stay in the European Court of Justice, which is complete rubbish. We do not have to stay in the European Court of Justice and, far more than that, we are not going to stay in the European Court of Justice, because we will be repealing sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act 1972. The Labour party has made it clear that we will not stay in the single market or the customs union, which raises some of the biggest issues relating to the ECJ. Frankly, as I told the House the other day, we have to come up with a sensible arrangement that does not prejudice the regaining of our judicial sovereignty. At the same time, we must agree some form of tribunal that enables us, through a parallel bilateral “source of law” agreement, to have a decision-making process that does not and cannot keep us in the European Court of Justice. That is not a matter of opinion or of wishful thinking; staying in the ECJ is fantasy land.
At the moment, under our current competition agreement with the EU, a British company can seek direct redress if it believes a European company is anti-competitive. Under the agreement between the EU, the UK and Canada, although we will have competition co-operation if we pass the Bill, there will be no direct redress for a British company that is concerned about the anti-competitive activities of a Canadian company. Therefore, although I completely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns about the European Court of Justice, we want enforcement that means British companies can seek direct redress from our largest trading partner, when needed. Does he think that the European economic area or the European Free Trade Association court models might be of interest?
EFTA is a different story, and I specifically raised it with the Prime Minister only a few days ago because I have been having fruitful discussions with the president of the EFTA court and his advisers. He has been over here to talk to the Foreign Office, to me as the then Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee and to others.
It is an interesting proposition. I am not saying that we will do exactly the same in resolving those jurisdictional questions as happens at the moment with EFTA, but the great advantage of the EFTA model is that it is completely independent of the EU yet follows the decisions of the European Court of Justice for the most part, although not always—that is important. I am glad that my hon. Friend Vicky Ford noticed that, because not many people have. It is important that we have a constructive discussion about the best way of being cousins rather than brothers and sisters, as I said in my earlier intervention. We all have a mutual interest in ensuring that we have a proper jurisdictional answer to these questions.
I will not attempt to design a model here and now, but it might be something along the lines of a retired European Court of Justice judge—I do not want to be held to this, but it is a thought—together with a retired member of our Supreme Court and an independent judge, so that we get the benefit of listening to arguments that bridge the two jurisdictions. We will retain our sovereignty, judicial and legislative, but we are interested, for the sake of the companies to which my hon. Friend referred, in ensuring that we give them the answers they need. Her general point raises an important practical question, and we need to ensure that we end up with something that works, without prejudicing our legislative and judicial sovereignty, while providing an answer to the people in our constituencies and throughout the United Kingdom whom we serve as Members of Parliament.
Mr Deputy Speaker, many congratulations to you on the fact that I am seeing you here yet again. As you may have noticed, I am still here as well. So for practical purposes, let me draw my speech to a conclusion by saying that I do not in any way want to interfere with the process before us, because it is not going to affect this country in the longer term, and it is important that we act sensibly and responsibly to make sure that we do not rock the boat in the meantime.
As this is also my first opportunity to do this, may I congratulate you and welcome you back to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker?
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the provisions in the Bill. On the first two draft decisions, we welcome the opportunity to give our support to the participation of Albania and Serbia as observers in the work of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. As the agency says:
“Fundamental rights set out minimum standards to ensure that a person is treated with dignity. Whether this is the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of your age, disability or ethnic background, the right to the protection of your personal data, or the right to get access to justice, these rights should all be respected, promoted and protected.”
Those are shared values, and Scottish National party Members and the Scottish Government hold them dear. We are demonstrating that in Scotland by using our limited new powers to build a social security system with dignity at its heart. We can contrast that with the approach of the UK Government, who are rolling out a dysfunctional universal credit regime which is punishing the disabled, those on low wages and the vulnerable.
On Serbia and Albania, although there is much work to be done, this is an important step for both countries in their journey to improving the lives of their citizens. They deserve credit for their approach, and we know that joining the EU is also the will of both nations. Serbia was formally announced as an EU candidate in 2012 and has already opened 10 of the 35 chapters of accession. Last week, Serbia’s newly elected Prime Minister, Ana Brnabić, talked of a
“strategic orientation toward the European Union, which represents the values that we stand for.”
“That is the place where Serbia should be”.
Similarly, elections in Albania this week showed, once again, a renewed commitment to the EU. Albania’s two largest parties are both pro-EU, and a national survey has shown that more than 95% of its citizens support EU membership. In their commitment to EU accession, Serbia and Albania have shown a willingness and commitment to improving the fundamental rights of their citizens and to restoring peace. They see the EU as a vehicle for peace across Europe. As his name has been mentioned today, it is worth recalling Jean-Claude Juncker’s tribute to the recently deceased former German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl. Mr Juncker said:
“It was on the day we decided to press ahead with EU enlargement to the east and south east. In a voice choked with tears he said it was one of the most beautiful days of his life. That he, as German Chancellor, was able to bring Europe back together after all the harm that Germany had caused.”
Juncker said of his friend:
“He wept. Nobody was embarrassed by his tears. That was Europe at its best.”
That we are here today playing our, albeit small, part in improving the rights of people across the Western Balkans is a great thing.
What a shame then that this UK Government are hell-bent on pulling Scotland out of the very partnership that delivers those protections; and this despite people in every Scottish local authority area voting to remain in the EU. It is also not lost on us that this Bill comes only days after the fundamental rights of people, in particular those of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland, are now being questioned—all because of a back-door deal with the Democratic Unionist party to keep this Tory Government in power.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when it comes to protecting the human rights of people in the United Kingdom, be that in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland, our membership of the convention is by far the most important thing in asserting those rights, and that is what we need to keep in mind?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the membership of the convention, but it is also vital that we take every opportunity to make sure we are protecting the rights of citizens.
Turning to the third and fourth draft decisions, SNP Members welcome further formalisation of the working relationship between Canada and the EU in regard to competition laws. These draft decisions, in particular, serve as a reminder of the good business and trading opportunities the EU provides for the UK. A bad Brexit deal, or the fatuous, ludicrous idea of no deal, will make it more expensive and difficult for our businesses to trade with the EU—a market eight times the size of the UK market.
The people in Scotland stand to lose much, with independent estimates concluding that a hard Brexit could cost Scotland up to 80,000 jobs within a decade and that after 10 years average wages could fall by £2,000 a year per head.
For the record, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that Scotland’s largest trading partner is the rest of the United Kingdom?
I am happy to confirm that, but I am also happy to point out how important Scotland is to the rest of the UK as a trading partner.
This treaty shows there are many other potential costs to a hard Brexit; for example, in respect of the protection of the rights of citizens who otherwise may also find that they face additional burdens. As the Minister mentioned, the explanatory notes state that the Bill carries no cost to the Government, but that does not mean that subsequently losing these protections will mean no cost to our citizens and businesses. Areas of EU competition regulation include anti-trust, cartel, merger and state aid measures, and the sectors covered are agriculture and food; consumer goods; energy and environment; financial services; information and communication technologies; media; motor vehicles; pharmaceuticals; postal services; professional services; sports; telecommunications, and transport.
This is yet another example—and we have heard no update today—of where we have no clarity from the UK Government over Brexit proposals from them on something fundamental to UK companies operating in the EU and, ultimately and importantly, to consumers and our citizens. In contrast, this agreement will mean that information obtained during competition enforcement investigations may be discussed and transferred between the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau. It is intended to increase the ability of both organisations to conclude competition enforcement investigations efficiently, and should be welcomed.
We are advised that following the UK’s exit from the European Union, UK companies operating in the EU will still be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Commission in anti-trust investigations. That raises an interesting question, so will the Minister confirm with whom that agreement has been met and when it was decided? As we know, following the €2.4 billion fine on Google, the EU is considering giving the Commission tougher competition powers to allow for earlier and faster intervention in potential anti-trust cases. After Brexit, the UK will have no say over these types of decisions, which could potentially involve UK companies. How do this Government intend to deal with the implications for businesses and consumers of having no voice in the direction of EU competition law? We need to hear some commitments here. Sir William Cash did not want to be held to anything, but is it not about time the UK Government were held to at least some things that they are going to do in the future?
Although SNP Members are keen to support the approval of these draft decisions, the very nature of the Bill shows us how deep and wide our current protections are in the EU. In Scotland, we remain determined to give people hope for the future and ensure that the protections they currently take for granted will continue to benefit them, their families and our businesses. I believe that many people in all parts of this Chamber are as passionate about dignity, freedoms and protections as I am and as we in the SNP are. Whatever the future holds, it will be important for those voices to make themselves heard, and when they do, we will be ready to support them.
This is a time for everyone to congratulate you on your successful re-election, Mr Deputy Speaker, so let me do so again on behalf of the whole House.
Let us just reflect on what we are doing here. As my hon. Friend Sir William Cash said, we will not be in the EU when Albania and Serbia are admitted as members, so we are using our role as members of the EU now to set out something for their benefit for the future, and that is an important point to remember. We are acting responsibly in our current membership of the EU, not simply washing our hands of those two countries.
In an intervention on the Minister, I asked what the difference is between the work of the Agency for Fundamental Rights and that of the Council of Europe. That is a very relevant question. According to the description she gave, what the agency does is exactly the same as what the Council of Europe does. I could not get a cigarette paper between the two definitions. As many Members have said in interventions, many of us, as delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, are actively involved in monitoring Albania and Serbia—for example, regarding participation in their elections—and will continue to do so for many years after the UK has left the European Union, because the Council of Europe is not an EU body. The UK will, I hope, continue as a member of the Council of Europe and its subsidiary body, if I can use that term, the European Court of Human Rights. It is important to recognise that it is the Council of Europe that owns the European Court of Human Rights and the convention.
As my hon. Friend James Cartlidge said, we should not take lightly the situation in Serbia. I have spent many years in central and eastern Europe helping countries to develop along the paths of democracy and a market economy. Only a few years ago, Serbia appeared to us to be full of warlords, and full of all the angst of the Balkans at the time. It seems a miracle that Serbia has come so far. In my work at the Council of Europe, I spent a lot of time working with Serbian Members of Parliament. That was done on a cross-party basis—it was an extreme pleasure to work with a Serbian Socialist MP. Serbia has come so far in what it is trying to do, in what it has achieved and in where it is going.
The co-operation that we had encompassed all three areas that the Council of Europe looks after: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is important to stress those. There are two examples of Serbia’s problems in the region: one is Kosovo, which some EU members still do not recognise as a separate state, and the other is Montenegro. I am pleased to say that the last Council of Europe meeting was addressed by the Prime Minister of Montenegro, which shows the enormous respect those countries have for the institutions and for the individual members of those institutions.
Albania is a slightly different case. It was, I think, the 35th member of the Council of Europe, and we still monitor Albanian elections very closely. In fact, I was invited to be a monitor of the recent Albanian elections but was unable to do so because of our own general election. There has been an enormous difficulty with corruption in Albania. I am the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria, which has a reputation for corruption, but I can tell hon. Members that Albania runs it a very close second in that respect. When I mentioned to an hon. Friend that I was going to say that in this debate, he warned me, “You’d better watch out. There will be gangs of Albanians wandering about, wanting to throw you into the boot of a car and do away with you.” Well, I have taken the risk and said it.
The Minister set out the responsibilities of the agency: to collect, analyse and disseminate objective, reliable and comparable information relating to the situation of fundamental rights in the EU. I see no difference between that and what the Council of Europe does. In Serbia, the Council of Europe is strengthening the capacity of law enforcement and the judiciary specifically in the fight against corruption. An additional project aims to harmonise court practices and to raise the capacity of judges, to ensure consistent application of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Those seem to me to be identical to the activities the agency undertakes on behalf of the EU, so I believe there ought to be considerable co-operation between the Council of Europe and the agency. It shows how far Serbia has come that it also plays an active role regionally in promoting minority protection, in particular for the Roma community, and inclusive education.
The Council of Europe’s overall strategic objective in Albania is to promote the reform agenda across various sectors. Protection of human rights, anti-discrimination, the fight against corruption and organised crime, and reform of the judiciary, as well as freedom of the media and free and fair elections in line with general European standards, are all part of the effort to increase good governance and democratic participation. I know that Albania has a long way to go—it is behind the other countries of the Council of Europe and the EU in taking that agenda forward—but we are working on that.
It would be churlish of me to deny the rights of Serbia and Albania to be members of the agency on the basis set out in the Bill and in the agreements, but I do think that the European Scrutiny Committee could have looked more carefully at what the Council of Europe is doing and pointed out the overlap between that and what the agency will do. We have talked about how long accession takes. I suggest that the reason it takes such a long time is that there is little in the way of co-operation and harmonisation of aims between individual organisations.
Having expressed my belief that Serbia and Albania should be admitted, I will answer the question put earlier about what we can do to put pressure on those countries, which have emerged from horrendous periods in their history. We have to welcome them into our institutions. It is not necessarily about harmonising legislation and making it EU-compliant, as the agency does. All of that can be taken care of. What we have to do—this is where the Council of Europe works very effectively—is work with them, include them as part of our bigger European family, and press them to act in the right way in their own territories. As those other members of the Council of Europe will affirm, that is an effective practice when it comes to dealing with this issue. I welcome those countries, and cannot think of a reason to keep them out, but I do ask for more co-operation across the board.
Let me turn very briefly to the Canadian competition issue, on which many Members have commented. Personally I can see no difficulty in exchanging information and having a better system for exchanging information—whether that is via the EU or with Canada directly as a result of the activities that take place. On that note, I will sit down.
I add my congratulations to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as you assume your rightful place in this House in chairing these proceedings. It is good to see you in your place. It is also a privilege to follow some of the speeches that have been made here today, especially that of Sir William Cash. When he speaks on these issues, I often think that his constituency has been badly and underwhelmingly named. It should be renamed the rock, because he acts like a rock—he is solid on these issues—when he speaks before this House. Once again, he has shown his breadth of knowledge and skill in this particular area. I wholeheartedly concur with his point that the European Scrutiny Committee should be reactivated—and reactivated very quickly—because, as we exit the EU, we will need to scrutinise these matters very closely and ensure that we consider the details that will come up during the exiting process. The Committee is one vehicle that could be used to that advantage, and I wish him well in his quest to have it re-established.
I also agree with the hon. Gentleman on the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is an absolute dog’s dinner. I will not invite the Minister to comment on that, but he did make a valid point. Many of the shared values that we call rights today originated from this great kingdom under our own rights-based common law. We cast that aside too quickly and think that all those rights were given to us by the EU. We actually bestowed many of the fundamental principles of rights on our neighbouring states. Last year, a display in Westminster Hall celebrated many of the fundamental rights that originated here—from employment rights right the way through to anti-slavery activities. We should take more pride in the fact that this nation is the great bastion of rights and has encouraged rights around the world. I also agree that we are not leaving the European Court of Human Rights. That is an incredibly important point. The ECHR is not affected by Brexit. People forget that. Whenever they hear about Brexit, they all too often think that we are leaving Europe. We are not leaving Europe; we are leaving an economic club that has failed us. We are not leaving those issues of rights.
Drew Hendry made a number of points about “some backroom deal on rights” between my party and the Government of the day. I want to make it absolutely clear that, in my view and in the view of the people in my party and on this Bench, the rights of the unborn child trump any political agreement that has been put in place. I want to make that absolutely and abundantly clear. If anyone thinks that we would trade that issue of life and the sanctity of life on a political deal, they do not understand me and they do not understand my party; they need to be aware of that. For it to be characterised in that way is grossly unfair to members of my party.
The hon. Gentleman makes a point about something I said about the deal. I was making a point not about children born or otherwise but about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender concerns in Northern Ireland. He should be willing to clarify that issue.
I am quite happy that the hon. Gentleman has clarified his comments, but given what has happened in the past week in this House—the passing of the Queen’s Speech and the amendments that were not moved—I think reference has already been made to that. It should be absolutely clear that, in my view and in the view of my party, the unborn is—even in the words of Hillary Clinton—a “human being”. According to science, it feels pain, it knows emotions and it is faithfully and wonderfully made. My party will take a stand on that issue irrespective of the political agreements that are reached. I say that as a warning to others who may seek to raise the issue in the House in the weeks, months and, hopefully, years ahead.
Turning to the issue of competition, which is mentioned in this Bill, and the competitive rights, which have been identified, I welcome what has been put on page 6 of the Labour party manifesto, because it emphasises the importance of what we are discussing today. It says that the Labour party will make sure that we leave the European Union. I welcome that because, when we leave the European Union, we do not half leave it or partly leave it; we get out. It is essential that we get out of the customs union and the single market. We cannot address the competition matters identified in this Bill with Canada, for example, if we do not get out of the customs union. It is absolutely crucial that we leave the customs union. We cannot make free trade agreements with any other country unless we are free to do so, so the quest for freedom is incredibly important. That was driven home to me recently in a piece of correspondence that I received from a large steel processor here in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman is raising some really important points relating to the competition element of this Bill. He touched on an earlier intervention. Will he say a little bit about how he sees the relationship between the north and south of Ireland working?
Certainly. I will comment on it after I have made my point about the steel industry. I received a note from the managing director of John Reid and Sons. It is a massive company that has been in existence for 98 years. It said:
“to remain in the customs union would mean that we cannot do our own trade deals with the rest of the world. We have exported to over 140 countries throughout our 98 years in business;
we have an idea of what we are talking about. … The customs union is a terrible tragedy for Third World agriculture and fisheries, and prevents proper trade.”
That was written by someone who is at the coalface every day and knows what they are talking about. It is important that that point is reflected in this debate.
Bill Esterson has asked me to comment on some of the points that were made about how this matter impacts on the Republic of Ireland. While you would show me great leniency, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I were to speak at length today on the Republic of Ireland and on what a future trade deal would look like, I think that, even though you like me considerably, you would probably rule me out of order. I will try to touch on the point. I recommend to all Members of the House that they go to the Library and get a copy of the Policy Exchange document that was published earlier this month. It was written by Ray Bassett, a former ambassador from the Republic of Ireland to the United Nations. The title is: “After Brexit: will Ireland be next to Exit?” It is a very important policy paper that sets out compelling reasons why the Republic of Ireland must follow the United Kingdom out of the EU. If it fails to do that, its trade will be ruined. We have something in common with Canada on that point. For example, Canada has great fishing waters, and it protects those fishing waters for its fishing fleet and fishing companies. In the past 48 to 72 hours, the fishing rights of the United Kingdom have been discussed at some length in the media.
Of course, the Republic of Ireland’s fishing waters are currently underfished, because the Republic of Ireland is able to encourage the rest of the EU to fish in our waters. Once we claim back our fishing waters, Mr Deputy Speaker, do you know what will happen? The rest of the EU will want to fish in Ireland’s fishing waters, putting great pressure on the Republic of Ireland and stealing their catch. It is for such reasons that it is essential that we understand the commercial reasons why it is important for Ireland to exit the EU. I think that I have probably pushed you just enough, Mr Deputy Speaker, with my comments on the Republic of Ireland. I wish that the shadow Front-Bench spokesman would encourage me again, perhaps by asking me another question on the issue, as I would certainly push the matter even further—then we might not get the red flag.
We must make it absolutely clear, as I said earlier, that agreements such as that which we are discussing today impact tangentially on the pattern of how we should do commerce in the future. The Canadian agreements and aspects are very important, because if that is how Canada will be treated by the EU after we leave, we need to take cognisance of what is in the Bill regarding the relationship that we will have with Canada.
In response to the points made by John Howell, let me say that when the UK leaves and Albania and Serbia join—well, I almost feel like saying, “Good luck with that. It will be some club to be a part of,” but I think that would be unfair—those will, ultimately, be matters for what is left of the EU. By the time the accession rights are achieved, the EU will be a very different club to what it is now. When the UK leaves and, as I have predicted, Ireland leaves, although Serbia and Albania wish to join, the EU countries might at that point consider what is in their greater interests. The charges for membership of the EU will be immense. For example, since 2014 the Republic of Ireland has had to pay more than £1 billion to be a member of the EU. It previously paid nothing. If that is what Ireland will have to fork out, what will countries such as Serbia and Albania have to fork out under the new arrangements?
I leave those points for the House to consider and hope that the Minister can reflect on them when she sums up.
It is a great pleasure to follow Ian Paisley, who speaks, as ever, with eloquence and authority. I want to pick up on just one of the issues he raised at the beginning of his speech, but first, Mr Deputy Speaker, this is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate you on your election, and I do so. It is also the first opportunity I have had to say how delighted I am to be returned for Mid Dorset and North Poole—from Bere Regis to Bearwood, Wareham to Wimborne and all points in between—and I will do my utmost to repay the trust that my constituents have put in me.
I shall make a short contribution to the debate, not least because I see that colleagues also want to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker. I stand here as someone who voted to leave the European Union and who has an optimistic vision of our country outside the European Union, but the irony is not lost on me that this afternoon we are debating two countries that want to accede to the European Union while we, the United Kingdom, are leaving. Be that as it may, it is an important debate and it is important that we get this right. As the Minister has said both at the Dispatch Box and in correspondence, it is important that while we are still a member of the European Union we fully engage, and that is what we are doing this afternoon.
The rather helpful explanatory note mentioned the European Scrutiny Committee, as did Bill Esterson and other hon. Members, and it is clear that the works of that Committee permeate the Bill. Although that is not the purpose of the Bill, I am delighted to be given the opportunity to say what an important job the Committee does. I declare an interest, having served on it, and I want to reaffirm that it is essential that it gets up and running as quickly as possible. The former Chairman of the Committee—and, I hope, the next Chairman—my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, emphasised that documents were piling up even as we speak. I re-emphasise the urgency and importance of getting that Committee up and running, and I am disappointed that there is no reference to it on the Order Paper in relation to the debate later this afternoon.
Let me pick up on one point. On the first occasion, the European Scrutiny Committee did not clear this legislation from scrutiny, but required further clarification. I am delighted that the Minister provided that clarification, which enabled the Committee to clear the document and enable this process to happen. We must of course emphasise that we are leaving the European Union but, for as long as we remain members, we will play a full and sensible part in it. That is what we are doing this afternoon, and I am delighted to have played a small part in the debate.
It is a pleasure to speak from the Back Benches once again, Mr Deputy Speaker—I had almost forgotten about the whole standing-up-and-sitting-down thing.
I welcome the Bill and offer it my full support, but in so doing I want to speak specifically about the provisions relating to Canada and broaden things out—remaining within the realms of the debate—to cover our future relationship with Canada more generally. I do so as our former trade envoy to Canada, a role that I very much enjoyed until I was made a Minister, and which we probably need to fill again in the near future. I can think of one or two possible candidates—tall, dark, handsome former Ministers from the north of England, perhaps—[Interruption.] Where are they, indeed?
It is very nice to have a Bill before the House today that mentions Canada, as it is 150 years since the British North America Act, which established the Confederation of Canada, was enacted. Just this past weekend, celebrations took place throughout Canada. It is nice, 150 years later, to recognise Canada’s birthday and, thinking about competition and business, to recognise the 200-year anniversary of the Bank of Montreal—the bank with the longest presence in the United Kingdom—which also falls this year.
The competition provisions in the Bill are sensible and operate, like the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, as a basis for a future relationship with Canada once we have left the European Union. I want to use this debate to explain why I feel this relationship is so important and is worthy of more attention from Her Majesty’s Government over the coming years.
Of course, we have an important shared heritage with Canada which has been strengthened through conflict and war. A reminder came recently when the Bletchley Park commemorative badge was presented by our representative in Ottawa to 96-year-old Sonja Morawetz Sinclair, who escaped the approaching Nazi armies in Czechoslovakia and worked in the examination unit, supporting the important signals intelligence work that was done there. It is nice that our Government have recognised that contribution.
Of course, we have a shared legal system, a shared language, shared business practices, a shared Head of State and, indeed, a shared system of government. This is a relationship that, post-Brexit, can flourish on the basis of those commonalities. It also makes economic sense for us to develop this relationship much more closely. UK exports to Canada in 2015 were £7.3 billion, whereas imports from Canada were £7.4 billion. We have a relatively well-balanced trading relationship as a consequence of our important commonalities and agreements, not only as regards competition, as in this Bill, but as regards the recently agreed EU-Canada trade treaty. It is a good basis for a treaty between this country and Canada once we leave, but because of the nature of European decision making, I think we can do better following our exit from the EU.
We are well placed to succeed and do well from that relationship post-Brexit, not least because of the friendly business environment that I have mentioned and our shared heritage, but also because of our strong presence in the market, particularly as a result of the investment from the Government through UK Trade & Investment, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and now the Department for International Trade. I saw that for myself, and saw how valued it was in my time as a trade envoy. We had an excellent team, led by High Commissioner Howard Drake, who was well regarded, and by the consul general and director-general for UK trade and investment, Kevin McGurgan, who was based in Toronto. I saw how well regarded he was and how well connected, both at a political and business level, Her Majesty’s Government were as a result of those relationships. Only two weeks ago, I was in discussions with our consul general in Vancouver, Nicole Davison, who leads a team in the west doing a great job.
I want to put a bit of meat on the bones and outline what more we need to do to get the maximum advantage from that relationship post-Brexit. I have discussed the need to recognise first—I believe the Government have done so—the importance of that relationship. We have friends at court in the Brexit process. The newly elected Leader of the Opposition in Canada, Andrew Scheer, wrote a comment piece in favour of Brexit in the run-up to the election. The Canadian Government have said that they want to be as helpful as possible to us in this process, and indeed the probable next premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, a former Federal Cabinet Minister, was an advocate for Brexit before the referendum.
That relationship is important to us, not least because Canada is campaigning for a place on the UN Security Council. I call on the Government not just to recognise the importance of the relationship at a Federal level but to recognise that Canada is a country of several different economies, and that that provincial relationship with those Governments, three of whom are represented in the United Kingdom—British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec—is vital.
Broadly, my pitch on the Bill is to recognise that what we have achieved through the EU and bilateral arrangements with Canada is a close relationship. However, we need to do more to put more meat on the bones and strengthen that relationship. The Government recognise that, and there is work under way. I call on Ministers to ensure that they are fully cognisant of this important relationship, and put the required effort and attention into supporting that through visits and, as I have said, making sure that our network in the market is as strong as possible so that we get a good deal to replace CETA in future. As I say, that requires recognition of the specifics of the provincial position in Canada, both politically and economically. I have nothing else to say, other than to end where I began and wish Canada happy birthday on its 150 years, which I am sure that the House will agree with.
Just a sec. It is worth reminding Members to get into the habit of standing up to catch my eye, so I know who wants to speak, especially as the list of Members wishing to speak is changing quicker than I have ever seen a list change before.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker. As someone who believes in open, competitive and free markets because they foster innovation, generate prosperity and create the wealth that we need for our public services, I believe we must have robust competition powers so that we can take action against companies that act in an anti-competitive manner. In the 21st-century world, the economic actors are frequently global players, especially in areas such as digital markets. It is important that we can work with other countries on competition issues.
A couple of years ago, I was in Silicon Valley with politicians from Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic. Many players in Silicon Valley told us about their concerns about how Google was acting. I went with that group of politicians to meet the head of search at Google, and I have never seen a company with so many lawyers in one room. They knew the power that countries could have when acting together. It was therefore interesting to see the European Commissioner for Competition taking action, a couple of weeks ago, on a proposed fine for Google. That case has caused some controversy, and it may create precedents for how platforms can act in future.
It is important in such cases that those who are taking the action make it clear that there is a level playing field, and that they are not singling out, for example, an American company when they would not do the same to a British or European one. One benefit of a co-operation deal, such as the one that we are discussing today, is that by working together we can help to reinforce the level playing field and the idea that we would not single out our own companies for a different type of enforcement. It removes what we call the jurisdiction bias risk. It also brings bigger resources to take on big cases, and post-Brexit the UK will want to make it clear to the world that we are prepared to take on competition cases for big players. The ability to continue to co-operate with other countries is therefore important.
Canada is a dear friend to the UK, as my hon. Friend Andrew Percy pointed out, but the Canada free trade agreement is not the perfect model for the future UK-EU relationship. That agreement removes many, many tariffs from different trades. We voted it through in the European Parliament on
We therefore need a deeper model, and we need to make sure that co-operation on competition has a dispute resolution mechanism for companies as well as countries. I was particularly pleased to hear my hon. Friend Sir William Cash suggest that the European Free Trade Association courts might prove to be a good or interesting basis for dispute resolution. He was sending a powerful message, given all his experience, that that might be a pragmatic solution.
Finally, picking up the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Stone that we need to move on from being brothers and sisters to become close cousins, in developing that relationship there will be things about which we will need to have serious discussions and arguments. I would suggest that this is not one of them. Allowing other countries to come together on issues such as human rights and competition co-operation is something that we should allow to pass and not block. We should save our discussions and arguments for when they are really needed.
Mr Deputy Speaker, may I join the long queue of those paying tribute to you on your re-election and on the outstanding role you play in this House?
As my hon. Friend Bill Esterson said right at the start, the Opposition support the European Union (Approvals) Bill and the proposals tabled by the Minister today. More generally, the UK is leaving the European Union, and, in that process, the Opposition will fight to put jobs and the economy first. We will also not accept the watering-down of rights and standards, and I say to Ian Paisley that we are right to be concerned about that. To give one example from my past, I took the case of the Eastbourne dustmen all the way to the European Court of Justice 15 years ago. For 10 years, rights on the transfer of undertakings were denied to workers being privatised in Britain. Had it not been for those European mechanisms, we would never have seen those rights enforced in this country. We will be leaving the European Union, but I stress again that we will not accept anything that waters down rights and standards.
The rights under TUPE and the acquired rights directive are now guaranteed in British law. What is crucial—this is not a debate for today—is what happens post leaving the European Union in terms of the continuation of guaranteed certainty for workers and their rights, as well as the enforcement mechanisms that exist in the event of a dispute.
The Opposition strongly believe in the importance of a collaborative relationship with the European Union. We will no longer be members, but it is essential that we are partners. Sir William Cash referred to the notion of cousins, but, given the way some in the Government are conducting these debates, I sometimes think we are more akin to an estranged couple in a difficult divorce. However, at the next stage, partnership will be essential, and that is one of the principles enshrined in the Bill—a more general partnership that benefits Britain, particularly on key issues such as cross-border security or, as in this case, cross-border trade.
As we leave the European Union, it is essential that we put in place new and sensible arrangements. The Opposition support the Bill because it is right and also—I agree with Vicky Ford on this, although I think I have just promoted the hon. Lady—because it would, to use my words, although they amount to the same as hers, be wrong to nit-pick on a measure of this kind. This measure makes good sense, so it should be supported.
On the substantive issues—the participation of Albania and Serbia in the work of the Fundamental Rights Agency—we have heard powerful contributions, including from John Howell, as to the origins of the FRA and why it is so important. That is not least because it was born out of trauma and war in continental Europe and because of the role it has played over many years in advising on fundamental rights, discrimination, access to justice, racism, xenophobia, and victims’ and children’s rights. It is absolutely right that we should have such an agency promoting those principles, rights and values throughout Europe, and that is all the more important now.
It is deeply welcome that we will have Serbia and Albania locked into that process at the next stages. In the not-too-distant past, Serbia was wracked by war, and Albania was under a totalitarian regime for many years. Both are now candidates for European Union membership, and that will be for the European Union to decide. Both will contribute to and participate in the FRA. The proposal has been cleared by the European Scrutiny Committee and the Lords European Union Committee, so we strongly support it.
Let me move on briefly to the EU-Canada competition agreement. The hon. Member for Chelmsford was right that if we have global free trade, it is important that we also have effective mechanisms to combat anti-competitive behaviour. That has to be in the best interests of consumers and companies. Crucially, however, it needs to be effectively enforced. Andrew Percy was right when he referred to the historic relationship we have with Canada. Looking to the future, we need, in his words, to have the economic good sense to develop that relationship.
As far as the substantive proposal is concerned, we already have arrangements in place. It is being proposed to extend the powers to allow both sides to exchange evidence and information in the course of investigations. To make the obvious point, the absence of such a power can be an impediment to effective enforcement. We therefore believe that what is proposed is right, and similar arrangements are in place, as the Minister said, with countries outwith the European Union, such as Switzerland. On that substantive issue as well, we support what is contained in the Bill.
I have two questions over and above those posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central. First, what will be the transitional arrangements? Crucially, as we stand now, UK companies operating in the European Union are still subject to the same anti-trust and merger rules. In future, the European Union will share information about UK companies with Canada but will not share the information it receives from Canada about the UK with the UK. That poses a very big question about what happens post Brexit in terms of transitional arrangements and how this then works in future.
Secondly, will the Minister clarify what will be the ongoing relationship with the Fundamental Rights Agency? For all the reasons that I have spelled out, it is critical that we are part of a pan-European mechanism that is about human rights and combating racism and xenophobia—never more important in the current climate than it has been in the past.
With the leave of the House, Mr Speaker, I am grateful to have the opportunity to respond to the debate.
The Bill will approve four draft European Council decisions. The first concerns the participation of the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Serbia as observers in the work of the Fundamental Rights Agency. The Republic of Albania and the Republic of Serbia both want to become members of the European Union. This measure does not extend the competency of the Fundamental Rights Agency. Albania and Serbia should be supported to increase their human rights awareness and promotion of fundamental rights within their countries, and I was pleased by the support that the House gave to that position.
I will deal with a few questions raised by hon. Members on this decision. My hon. Friend James Cartlidge and my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, to whom I express my appreciation for his work in chairing the European Scrutiny Committee, asked about the impact on Serbia’s war crimes record. The decision will allow Serbia to have access to the expertise of the agency and allow data on human rights in Serbia to be gathered and shared, providing steps to improve Serbia’s human rights protections. The UK continues to urge Serbia to meet its obligations to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal.
Bill Esterson asked whether the UK could remain part of the Fundamental Rights Agency post Brexit. The Government are looking at the UK’s relationship with all EU bodies, including the FRA, as part of the exit negotiations. My hon. Friend Alex Chalk pointed out that the FRA is completely distinct from the European convention on human rights, and our membership of that convention continues post Brexit.
My hon. Friend John Howell spoke with considerable authority on the work of the Council of Europe, of which he is a member, and the overlap between that body and the FRA. I share his hope and belief that the valuable work of the Council of Europe will continue long after Brexit.
On the co-operation agreement between the EU and Canada on competition enforcement, the UK has a large number of companies that are well placed to compete internationally in a system of genuine free and open competition. The agreement will help to ensure free and open competition by facilitating enforcement against international cartels. There are a number of questions in this area. The hon. Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) asked about UK companies continuing to be subject to EU anti-trust jurisdiction. The EU has jurisdiction over competition effects within the EU single market. That will continue after we leave the EU, and UK companies will have to comply with EU competition law when they operate within the EU single market, just as US, Japanese and Canadian companies do. The key point about the Council of Europe concerns the setting of standards and the overseeing of these matters. We welcome greater co- operation on international competition enforcement.
The hon. Member for Sefton Central asked whether, after EU exit, we will have to continue to share with the EU information received from Canada. The UK Government will be free to enter into their own arrangements to share information with Canada directly, and the UK and Canada will need to negotiate any such agreement. He also asked about international agreements after the UK leaves the EU, and whether this agreement provides a model. The UK will be free to enter into international agreements on competition, and we believe that this agreement is a good model.
We have had a good debate on co-operation on international competition enforcement, which will ensure that British businesses continue to compete on a level playing field. I think I have answered most of the points that hon. Members raised during the debate, and I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.