“Within one month of Royal Assent of this Act the Secretary of State shall lay a report before Parliament setting out how the interpretation of retained EU law provisions in section 6 shall operate in the event of a transitional period being agreed between the United Kingdom and the European Union ahead of the implementation of a withdrawal agreement.”—(Mr Leslie.)
This new clause would ensure that Ministers must set out in detail how the provisions in Clause 6 would apply during a transitional period before the United Kingdom fully implements a withdrawal agreement.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
(A2) Subsections (A3) to (A7) do not affect the application of section 7 to retained EU law where, but for the operation of those subsections, the retained EU law would fall within that section.
(A3) Retained EU law does not allow, prevent, require or otherwise apply to acts or omissions outside the United Kingdom.
(A4) An EU reference is not to be treated, by reason of the UK having ceased to be a member State, as preventing or restricting the application of retained EU law within the United Kingdom or to persons or things associated with the United Kingdom.
(A6) Any provision which requires or would, apart from subsection (A5), require a UK body to—
(a) consult, notify, co-operate with, or perform any other act in relation to an EU body, or
(b) take account of an EU interest, is to be treated as empowering the UK body to do so in such manner and to such extent as it considers appropriate.
(A7) In subsection (A6)—
‘a UK body’ means the United Kingdom or a public authority in the United Kingdom;
‘an EU body’ means the EU, an EU entity (other than the European Court), a member State or a public authority in a member State;
‘an EU interest’ means an interest of an EU body or any other interest principally arising in or connected with the EU (including that of consistency between the United Kingdom and the EU);
‘requires’ includes reference to a pre-condition to the exercise of any power, right or function.”
This amendment provides a scheme for interpretation of EU law and to provide a backstop where necessary transposition has not been effected by regulations made under Clause 7.
Amendment 279, page 3, line 32, after “exit day” insert—
“as appointed in accordance with subsection (6A)”.
This paving amendment is intended to allow for transitional arrangements within the existing structure of rules and regulations.
Amendment 303, page 3, line 32, after “Court” insert—
“except in relation to anything that happened before that day”.
This amendment would bind UK courts to European Court principles laid down or decisions made after exit day if they related to an act before exit day.
Amendment 202, page 3, line 33, after “matter” insert—
“(other than a pending matter)”.
Amendment 280, page 3, line 33, after “exit day” insert—
“as appointed in accordance with subsection (6A)”.
This paving amendment is intended to allow for transitional arrangements within the existing structure of rules and regulations.
Amendment 304, page 3, line 33, at end insert—
“except in relation to anything that happened before that day.”
This amendment would enable UK courts to refer matters to the European Court on or after exit day if those matters related to an act before exit day.
Amendment 137, page 3, line 34, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) When interpreting retained EU law after exit day a court or tribunal shall pay due regard to any relevant decision of the European Court.”
Amendment 281, page 3, line 34, after “exit day” insert—
“as appointed in accordance with subsection (6A)”.
Amendment 306, page 3, line 35, leave out from “but” to end of line 36 and insert “a court or tribunal has a duty to take account of anything done by the European Court in relation to—
(a) employment entitlement, rights and protections;
(b) equality entitlements, rights and protections;
(c) health and safety entitlement, rights and protections.”
This amendment would help to ensure that Britain continues to have harmonious social standards with the EU.
Amendment 358, page 3, line 36, at end insert—
“( ) In addressing any question as to the meaning or effect of retained EU law, a court or tribunal must have regard to—
(a) any material produced in the preparation of that law, or
(b) any action taken or material produced in relation to that law before exit day by an EU entity or the EU, to the same extent as it would have had regard to such material or action immediately before exit day.”
The amendment would make clear that non-binding aids to the interpretation of EU law, such as background materials and official guidance produced before exit day, should continue to be taken into account by the courts when interpreting retained EU law to the same extent as at present.
Amendment 278, page 4, line 19, at end insert—
“(6A) The exit day appointed (in accordance with section 14 and paragraph 13 of Schedule 7) for the purposes of subsections (1) and (2) must not be before the end of any transitional period agreed under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.”
This paving amendment is intended to allow for transitional arrangements within the existing structure of rules and regulations.
Amendment 203, page 4, line 20, leave out subsection (7).
Amendment 282, page 4, line 26, after “exit day” insert—
“as appointed in accordance with subsection (6A)”.
This consequential Amendment is intended to allow for transitional arrangements within the existing structure of rules and regulations.
Amendment 283, page 4, line 33, after “exit day” insert—
“as appointed in accordance with subsection (6A)”.
This consequential Amendment is intended to allow for transitional arrangements within the existing structure of rules and regulations.
Amendment 284, page 4, line 44, after “exit day” insert—
“as appointed in accordance with subsection (6A)”.
This consequential Amendment is intended to allow for transitional arrangements within the existing structure of rules and regulations.
Clause 6 stand part.
Amendment 384, in clause 14, page 10, line 36, at end insert—
“‘pending matter’ means any litigation which has been commenced in any court or tribunal in the United Kingdom and which is not finally determined at exit day”.
This amendment provides a definition of pending cases for the purposes of Clause 6.
Amendment 353, page 10, line 48, at end insert—
“‘retained case law’ means—
(a) retained domestic case law, and
(b) retained EU case law;”.
Amendment 354, page 11, line 2, at end insert—
“‘retained domestic case law’ means any principles laid down by, and any decisions of, a court or tribunal in the United Kingdom, as they have effect immediately before exit day and so far as they—
(a) relate to anything to which section 2, 3 or 4 applies, and
(b) are not excluded by section 5 or Schedule 1,
(as those principles and decisions are modified by or under this Act or by other domestic law from time to time);
‘retained EU case law’ means any principles laid down by, and any decisions of, the European Court, as they have effect in EU law immediately before exit day and so far as they—
(a) relate to anything to which section 2, 3 or 4 applies, and
(b) are not excluded by section 5 or Schedule 1,
(as those principles and decisions are modified by or under this Act or by other domestic law from time to time);
‘retained EU law’ means anything which, on or after exit day, continues to be, or forms part of, domestic law by virtue of section 2, 3 or 4 or subsection (3) or (6) above (as that body of law is added to or otherwise modified by or under this Act or by other domestic law from time to time);
‘retained general principles of EU law’ means the general principles of EU law, as they have effect in EU law immediately before exit day and so far as they—
(a) relate to anything to which section 2, 3 or 4 applies, and
(b) are not excluded by section 5 or Schedule 1,
(as those principles are modified by or under this Act or by other domestic law from time to time).”
If we do not have a transitional period after exit day and find ourselves moving to substantially different arrangements and a new set of alliances with member states of the European Union, we may have great turmoil in our economy, with a significant number of jobs moving to other jurisdictions. Most people in this debate—apart from the fabled hardliners on the fourth row back below the Gangway on the Conservative Benches—now accept that a transition is needed. The Prime Minister made that point in her Florence speech. However, if hon. Members look very closely at the Bill, they will see that there really is not much in it about the transitional arrangements. Exactly how it will take place has very much been left up in the air.
New clause 14 seeks clarification from the Government about how a transition will be put in place and operate. It simply calls for a report to be made by Ministers one month after the Bill has received Royal Assent to clarify a number of things. Principally, the report would clarify the question how retained EU law will be interpreted during the transitional period, and by extension, how the relationship with the European Court of Justice and many other aspects will operate during that period.
I very much support the new clause, but does the hon. Gentleman share my incredulity at the fact that the Government have not simply said, “Yes, of course we need to inform businesses and regulators about how retained EU law will be reinterpreted during the transition.”? It is very odd that they have not recognised that this very basic and self-evident thing needs to be done.
I suspect that that is because the Government are struggling to get such a transition. They have admitted that one is necessary, which is a good step. In her Florence speech, the Prime Minister made that concession. In fact, it is probably the biggest single negotiating input that we have seen from the Government since the triggering of article 50.
I have been talking to businesses and I know many hon. Members have done so, and we are hearing that if they do not have some clarity by January or February, they will have no choice but to put in place contingency plans for a no deal and the fabled cliff edge that we would reach at the end of March 2019. This goes beyond the financial services issues, because it applies to a number of sectors of the economy. We need to make sure that we have some certainty. That is why so much is on the shoulders of the Prime Minister in the December European Council meeting, when we are told that we might get some movement from the European Union on this issue.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about the transition. A whole series of amendments have been tabled on this issue, and I wholeheartedly support his new clause. Are the businesses he has spoken to not already having to make very difficult and costly hedging decisions because of the uncertainty caused by the Government and, indeed, the siren call from the small number who want us to go off the cliff into a catastrophic, no deal Brexit?
There is a sort of sadism or masochism— I do not know which it is—on the part of a small number of hon. Members who relish the idea of a no deal scenario, saying, “The WTO has a fantastic set of rules —let’s just dive straight in.” However, I think there is consensus in the House that a transition is necessary, and if that is the case, we must work together across the parties to make sure we put in place the right legislative framework to deliver and facilitate such a transition.
“still govern the rules we are part of” during a transition. The Prime Minister is right. The European Union has said in terms that the entirety of the acquis communautaire needs to apply during a transitional period and that it is the equivalent of the single market, the customs union and the four pillars—the freedoms—within them. That has to include the European Court of Justice, if we are going to sign up to that set of arrangements. That is also the Labour Front Benchers’ policy for the transitional period. Indeed, they will want to speak to their own amendments detailing how they envisage the transition needs to take place.
It is worth reminding ourselves why it is that, during a transition, we will still need a resolution mechanism through the European Court of Justice. Mr Clarke mentioned in an earlier intervention that the UK took the European Central Bank to the European Court when there was a question whether the euro clearing arrangements might not be feasible in the City of London. From time to time, therefore, we have benefited from that dispute resolution arrangement.
What would happen if other circumstances arose during a transition? For instance, if UK citizens living abroad wanted to get their pension payments but there was an obstacle to them doing so, they would need to be able to seek redress, and that could be provided by the European Court. If a breach of competition rules adversely affected a UK firm, it might seek to get redress through the European Court of Justice. If the European Union started passing rules in conflict with the transition agreement, we would want the Court to resolve the situation in our favour. If UK firms were denied market access in the European Union, we would need resolution arrangements during a transition period. The application of the European Court of Justice is integral to such issues—the Prime Minister was right to accept that—but the Bill presents a problem.
The hon. Gentleman has listed a series of issues, each of which is a legal issue. How does he suppose we could delegate to the Government a prerogative power to decide how the courts could decide those issues?
My proposed new clause seeks to elicit from the Government information on how they are going to deal with the issue. The Prime Minister has said that she accepts that the European Court of Justice would need to continue to have jurisdiction during a transition. However, there are problems in the Bill.
I invite hon. Members to turn to page 3 and read clause 5(1), which states:
“The principle of the supremacy of EU law does not apply to any enactment or rule of law passed or made on or after exit day.”
Therefore, under the Bill as framed, the ECJ arrangements will not apply beyond exit day. Further down on page 3, clause 6(1) and (2) similarly state that no regard will be made to the European Court after exit day.
My hon. Friend says that it is not meant to, but I cannot criticise Mr Leslie for raising the issue, because we are hearing more and more about transitional arrangements. Of course, that highlights—does it not?—the fact that this Bill can do only part of the task that we have to do altogether. I think that it is right that we seek in vain to amend this Bill, because we will not able to make it do something that deals with transitional arrangements that we currently know nothing about.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely correct. The whole purpose of Committee scrutiny is to try to get some sense out of what is a very complicated set of arrangements. In some ways, the Bill was drafted in an era pre-dating the Florence speech, when we were moving from state A to state B—in other words, from pre-exit day to post-exit day. Of course, the Prime Minister has now accepted that there will be a transition, so a new interim period has been floated, but no legal architecture has been proposed for it at this stage.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union yesterday floated the idea of an Act of Parliament that would also include details about implementation at some indeterminate point, potentially after exit day. New clause 14 seeks clarity from Ministers. They must set out in more detail precisely what would happen to the legal framework in that transitional period.
Does my hon. Friend share my astonishment at the answer to my question this afternoon about what the legal basis for the transition period would be? Does he agree that the Government have succeeded in minimising their room for negotiation by fixing the exit day and maximising legal uncertainty and that the one thing that business has been calling for is legal certainty before Christmas?
As my hon. Friend says, I am starting to wonder whether the Government will reverse ferret a little bit on the fixed date. We will wait and see—I think the vote will come up on day eight. It is obvious that it has not been as thought through as it should have been.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Various businesses in my constituency and unions have pointed out the need for, and the benefits of, a transitional period. Does he, like me, feel that because of the Government’s actions we are sleepwalking towards a no-deal scenario that would have a catastrophic impact on our economy?
I fear that that scenario is beginning to loom on the horizon. We know the Prime Minister does not want that because she says she wants the transitional arrangement, but more flesh has to be put on the bones in terms of how the UK envisages the transition and at the European Council in December. If a transition deal is not signalled, with more flesh put on the bone in December, a lot of firms will say, not unreasonably, “We have to plan for a scenario in which we are not legally able to sell our services to the 500 million customers across the other 27 countries.” We hear that American corporations that currently have their base in London are looking at all sorts of convoluted branch-back arrangements, so that they can subsidiarise back into the UK. This is getting terribly complicated and very expensive. Ultimately, all these issues will hit consumers and workers in the UK. It will have a very practical effect on the lives of many of our constituents.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s and the Prime Minister’s hope that there will be a sensible implementation period, although, as the Secretary of State has said, it is a diminishing asset if it is left later and later before we know are going to get it. I welcome the inquiring way in which the hon. Gentleman is proposing his new clause, but I think he has made his own point. If there are to be any enforceable legal obligations arising from a withdrawal agreement, or any agreement, after we have left, they should be done through the Act of Parliament that was announced yesterday and not incorporated into this Bill. That is why it is safe to put the exit date in the Bill, because the exit date ends the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Let us imagine the circumstances where exit day falls at that fateful 11 pm on
Just to reinforce the hon. Gentleman’s question: the Bill seems to say that after exit day all European law and legal obligations drop and the jurisdiction of the EJC goes. If we have the transition period proposed in the Florence speech, the subsequent Bill will presumably have to amend this Bill, change the Government’s position and produce new provisions that qualify it. Given that the Florence speech seems to be the only policy we can cling to—it is agreed to by both Front-Bench teams, in theory—would it not be logical just to put the substance of that speech into this Bill and adjust it so that it complies with it?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman and I have shared this inspiration in the form of an amendment that will also come up on day 8 of Committee. Of course, the Labour Front-Bench team will shortly be talking to their own amendment 278, which seeks to deal with this problem by deferring exit day until after the transition has been completed. The idea essentially is to keep the existing legal framework in place, not just for the period up until exit day but for the transition period. That, of course, is one way to solve the problem.
The Bill, though, cannot adequately deal with the transition, and not just because of the contradictions in clauses 5 and 6. Even if one stands on one leg and squints a little bit at the order-making powers in clauses 7 or 9, none seems capable of dealing with the implementation of a transition period. It is clear, then, that we need answers from Ministers. They have said that they will bring forward a Bill, but they have to ensure certainty for business during the transition period. It could be a two-year-plus period. I do not think that two years is long enough, but if it is to be two years, that is still a long time for businesses to operate without a framework of legal certainty. New clause 14 simply says that Ministers must give details within one month of Royal Assent as to how the ECJ arrangement will apply during the transition.
Is it not clear, from what has been said in Europe and by business, that they want the transition deal to be the same as what we have now, with all the same obligations, so that they do not have to go through two sets of changes?
That is absolutely the preference of most sensible observers. We need a transition, of course, because the trade deal arrangements cannot possibly be made adequately by the time of exit day, unless the Secretary of State for International Trade pulls a rabbit out of the hat—perhaps he has been known to do that in the past, but I doubt it will happen this time. The transition period is therefore vital if the UK is to salvage and stitch together a trade arrangement.
We must not forget, moreover, that the 57 existing free trade arrangements with non-EU countries from which the UK benefits by virtue of our EU membership will have to be grandfathered—copied and pasted into UK arrangements. Mr Grieve talked about the 759 different international treaties. We do not know quite how those will apply. We have to think about the legal framework not just after but during the transition. We have a massively complex set of legal steps to take, yet we have no clarity from Ministers, apart from this concession yesterday that there might be a Bill at some point, possibly after exit day, perhaps with a vacuum—
A transition implies moving from one place to another. If we write into statute the date on which we are to leave, industry and the economy will wake up the next day and find that we are out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, out of the customs union and out of the single market. That is not a transition but an overnight crash. The Government say that we will then make a further transition and then pick up the pieces, like the Road Runner hitting the ground and having to pick himself up afterwards. This is not an orderly transition; it is, by any definition, a car crash. Does my hon. Friend not agree?
Yes. There are massive risks, and if we do not have an orderly transition, there will be big consequences. However, although we have identified
The clock is ticking much more swiftly than Ministers may have appreciated. We need to know that they are rolling up their sleeves ahead of the European Council, which begins on
My hon. Friend has mentioned the concern felt by businesses. That concern is widespread, ranging from the Confederation of British Industry to the Federation of Small Businesses. It is also felt by the workers and their representatives, including the TUC and many individual trade unions. Why on earth are the Government being so stubborn?
We can only speculate. There was even a suggestion at one point that Ministers had not yet broached the topic of transition with their counterparts in the EU and Michel Barnier. Thankfully the Prime Minister raised it in her Florence speech, and I hope that her Ministers are now getting it under way, but we need more certainty and clarity. There is a serious period—two years plus—during which legal arrangements must be put in place. It is not unreasonable for the House to ask Ministers to clarify the position at the earliest opportunity, and certainly by the time the Bill receives Royal Assent.
I want to talk about amendments 303 and 304, which stand in my name, and to return to a matter that I raised on Second Reading. I hasten to add that the amendments relate to a specific constituency case. However, I do not want to air the details; I want to stick to the principles, because the case in itself raises a problem that I would like the Government to have a look at.
As we know, the Bill transfers all EU law into UK law. That will become effective on the day of exit, ensuring that all the rights enjoyed by British citizens today will be available to them after Brexit. Owing to some practical difficulties, however, some rights cannot be transferred easily because they are entirely reliant on the European Court. The right of the individual to sue a member state for damages when the law has been incorrectly applied and has caused them harm is ultimately reliant on the rulings of the European Court, and on a legal precedent that I think many of the lawyers who surround me in the Chamber know as Francovich.
Although the UK courts will deal with such cases, they must refer questions about the interpretation or application of EU law or EU legal principles to the European Court, particularly when the interpretation is unclear and applies to every member state. Such a reference to the Court will occur, for example, when the interpretation of rules pertaining to the application of VAT across the EU is required. After Brexit the UK courts will determine all law, and there will be no references to the European Court.
I want to give the Government an opportunity to ensure that the principle underlying Francovich—the protection of individuals against malfeasance by the state—will develop within the British legal system. In the meantime, however, there is a transitional issue arising from changes in the law that impacts individuals who have already commenced such legal action prior to Brexit, or who might wish to commence such an action after Brexit in relation to an issue that occurred in the period prior to Brexit.
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue, and it is not just a transitional issue; it is a rule of law issue, and is about legal certainty. My right hon. Friend is absolutely to raise it, and she may agree with me that the Government are going to have to deal with this, because ultimately it is a fundamental principle of law that people should be able to have that certainty when they commence actions.
My right hon. and learned Friend, who is also my constituency neighbour in Buckinghamshire, knows that I have been preoccupied with this for some time. Of course, there is also that principle of UK law called legitimate expectation, which is based on the principles of natural justice and fairness, and seeks to prevent authorities from abusing power, and I think that that is most important.
Essentially, this principle ensures that the rules cannot be changed halfway through the game if an individual had a reasonable expectation that they would continue. Changes to UK law can only happen prospectively—in other words, they can only apply from a point in the future onwards—and cannot be applied to the past. This means that anyone lodging court proceedings can do so knowing that the rules that applied at the time they lodged those proceedings will apply to their case. If that was not so, the law could be retrospectively changed in favour of the state.
My right hon. Friend is making a most powerful case, and I absolutely agree with her about the need to deal with the Francovich issues. She serves as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as I did in the past; does she agree that to leave people without a remedy in these cases, and to breach that important rule of law of legitimate expectation, would hardly be consistent with our people being given their full entitlement under our commitments as part of the Council of Europe?
My hon. Friend served with great distinction on the Council of Europe and I am thrilled to have been put back on the Council of Europe today, along with several colleagues across the House. I happen to think that this is extremely important, as is our membership of the Council of Europe, and my hon. Friend is right that that situation would be looked at with some suspicion by the other 46 members of the Council of Europe. For that reason, it is important that if we change the law through this Bill, changes that result from the Bill only apply from a point in the future, so that individuals can rely on the law as it stood up to the point when the law changed.
I am sympathetic to the arguments the right hon. Lady is putting forward. Following on from the intervention of Robert Neill, does the right hon. Lady agree that if people’s legitimate expectations and right to an effective remedy are withdrawn as a result of Government action, those individuals might have cause for action against the Government under the European convention on human rights?
The hon. and learned Lady makes a valid point. I am trying to give the Government an opportunity to examine this, as I think it is very serious. I also think that no British Government would want the sort of unfairness thrown up by the anomaly that has arisen from the way the Bill is drafted.
In fact, the repeal Bill already states in paragraph 27(3) of schedule 8 that actions begun prior to Brexit, including Francovich, can continue and can rely on EU legal principles. However, I think there is an error in the Bill, in that it does not allow anyone who has commenced an action prior to the day of exit the right of a reference to the European Court, which they could have reasonably expected when lodging their claim in the court prior to Brexit.
That must be wrong as well. In the past, when we have had references to the Privy Council, for example, and a country has terminated those references, the references have continued after the date of termination until all the cases going through the system are completed. It must follow that references to the ECJ—or CJEU, perhaps, to give it its full title—must be able to continue after the date of exit.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes the same point that I am trying to make. Likewise, the Bill does not allow anyone who has suffered harm because of an act of the state in the period prior to the day of exit the right to lodge a claim under the rules as they stood at the time they were harmed.
My hon. Friend is leading me down a path that I do not wish to go down. I was very much hoping that I could make my contribution today without mentioning HS2, but the trouble is that if I do not mention it, someone else will. In fact, I agree with her entirely. To deny people those rights would be an abuse.
A retrospective removal of rights breaches the principle of legitimate expectation, because individuals have a reasonable expectation that their grievances should be heard under the rules as they stood at the time they were affected. For this reason, I am proposing these minor amendments to the Bill. I do not believe that they would undermine the overall effect of the Bill; rather, they would give legal certainty to those who were caught in the transitionary period. Anyone who has a claim originating in the period prior to Brexit should be able to have their claim heard under the rules as they stood prior to Brexit, including a right to a reference to the European Court. That is only fair and just. The British people voted for Brexit to improve their rights and the rights of their fellow citizens. They did not vote to cause legal confusion or harm, or to frustrate the rights of those relying on the courts during the transitionary phase.
I would like to finish now.
As the Bill already states that cases occurring during the transitionary period can continue, my amendments would do nothing other than ensure that that happens fairly. I really hope that the Government will respond positively to these amendments, and remember that justice delayed is justice denied.
It is a pleasure to follow Mrs Gillan, who has made some thoughtful and sensible points on her amendments, which we would support. I rise to speak to amendment 278, and to the consequential amendments 279 to 284, which would allow for transitional arrangements within the existing structure, rules and regulations. I will also speak to our amendment 306, but I will return to those separate issues later.
Amendment 278 follows on from our earlier debate on clause 1. It brings into even sharper focus the issue of the Court of Justice of the European Union’s jurisdiction during a transitional period. As I said in the previous debate, and as my hon. Friend Mr Leslie said earlier in this one, there can be no transitional period on current terms, as the Prime Minister wishes, without that jurisdiction. The Florence speech has been much quoted already, and I am sure that that will continue. Let me refer briefly to it one more time. The Prime Minister obviously made the speech after the Bill had been published, but perhaps its early drafting did not have the opportunity to accommodate the emphasis that she has placed on the
“two important steps, which have added a new impetus” to the process.
She said of the second of those steps:
“I proposed a time-limited implementation period based on current terms, which is in the interest of both the UK and the EU.”
She was accepting the case made by business and trade unions for an effective transitional period and, crucially, again making the point that this should be on current terms.
As I said in the earlier debate, we were pleased that the Prime Minister had caught up with Labour on that position. However, seven weeks on from the Florence speech, the Government have failed to reflect the ambition that the Prime Minister had at that time in any of the amendments to the Bill. They came up with the bizarre amendments that we debated in relation to clause 1, but they failed to address that ambition, so we have helpfully stepped in to fill that gap with amendments 278 to 284. The amendments would mean that, in relation to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice, exit day should come at the end of the transitional period. The reason is simple: without acceptance of the continuing role of the Court of Justice during the transition, the idea that the implementation period, based on current terms, could happen in the way that the Prime Minister described is frankly delusional.
I get the feeling that the cart is coming before the horse here. No transitional implementation has yet been agreed. It has to be part of a deal, and it would be a mistake for the House to start putting things into the Bill in the expectation of certain things that may or may not happen. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union announced a separate Bill to implement any agreement, which is when such things will be dealt with. This Bill is much simpler than the Opposition would like it to be.
There are some strands of fair comment in that intervention. We have tabled the amendments precisely because, in relation to our previous debate, we do not want the Government closing options down. If the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice is not clear during a transitional period, options would be closed down.
I have said no. I want to give others the opportunity to speak. I took every single intervention in the previous debate—except perhaps from one of my hon. Friends towards the end of my speech—so I want to make some progress.
The Government have a choice to make today—[Interruption.] I wish hon. Members would stop chuntering. The Government have a choice to make, and they have to make it in relation to our amendment 278.
No, having taken every single intervention in the previous debate, most of which came from Government Members, I have explained why, in the interests of other Members, I will not take interventions on this occasion. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can chunter on.
As I was saying, the Government have a choice to make today—a choice about amendment 278. Are they serious about pursuing a transitional period and ensuring that the economy does not fall off a cliff in March 2019 when we leave the EU, or does their ideological red line on the Court of Justice take greater priority than the jobs and livelihoods of people in this country?
Other issues relating to clause 6 also need addressing, and amendment 306 would provide for UK courts to take account of Court of Justice decisions on entitlements, rights and protections on employment, equality and health and safety. The intention of this amendment is to help to ensure that we maintain and keep up with social standards within the EU and do not simply hold workers’ rights and equality in stasis as the EU27 moves forward. Indeed, the EU has made it clear that it will want a level playing field in all those areas if we are to strike an effective trade deal. We are regularly told that the Government do not want to erode rights and protections, but we have a Prime Minister who has repeatedly criticised the social chapter and a Foreign Secretary who has decried the “back-breaking” weight of EU employment regulation, so we need to ensure that we secure clear guarantees in the Bill.
Amendment 306 also addresses the concerns of the former President of the UK Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger. On
“A court or tribunal need not have regard to anything done on or after exit day by the European Court, another EU entity or the EU but may do so if it considers it appropriate to do so.”
On which Lord Neuberger said that if the Government
“doesn’t express clearly what the judges should do about decisions of the ECJ after Brexit, or indeed any other topic after Brexit, then the judges will simply have to do their best. But to blame the judges for making the law when parliament has failed to do so would be unfair.”
Amendment 306 would address those concerns by removing the vague reference to
“if it considers it appropriate to do so” and by requiring UK courts simply to take account of CJEU decisions in relation to employment, equality and health and safety rights. Lord Neuberger was right to flag that deficiency in the Bill, which we need to resolve.
Is not part of the problem that this is an area of law that has quite a political—with a small p —aspect? In reality, this law has been entrenched when it comes from the EU, and it represents a number of areas that have been treated by some as fundamental rights.
The difficulty for the judiciary is that they will be asked to continue interpreting this law—this is the nub of it—without real political guidance as to what emphasis they should attribute to it in future in light of the emphasis it has been given in the past. It is not just any old law but something rather more complex and, for that reason, it is more sensitive to the judiciary’s interpretation.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right, and that is what we seek to address with amendment 306.
I will briefly address some of the other amendments in the group. We support new clause 14, in the name of my hon. Friend Mr Leslie, as it sensibly calls for a report to be laid before Parliament on the interpretation of EU law during a transitional period.
We also support amendment 137, in the name of Joanna Cherry and others, as it seeks to have UK courts pay due regard to any relevant decision of the ECJ when interpreting the new category of retained EU law.
Amendments 202 and 384, in the name of Ian Blackford, would allow matters pending on exit day to be referred to the ECJ, which is clearly common sense, and we are pleased to support the amendments. We also support amendments 203, 353 and 354, in the right hon. Gentleman’s name, on the definitions of EU retained law. Amendment 357, tabled by Robert Neill, raises important issues, and I look forward to the Minister’s clarification. We support amendment 358, which would help with the interpretation of EU retained law.
I end on the same note on which I began by urging the Government to accept amendment 278 and its consequential amendments and, in doing so, to put aside their obsession with the ECJ so that we can secure the effective transitional deal with the EU that they, we, business and trade unions want to achieve.
It is a great privilege and pleasure to speak on behalf of the Government on this essential Bill, and particularly on clause 6 and the various amendments proposed to it. The Bill is complex, but at root it boils down to achieving two basic but fundamental objectives, which it is worth bearing in mind as we consider the clause and amendments.
The first is that we are delivering on the referendum by taking back control over our laws, which is a major opportunity; that was the No. 1 reason why people voted to leave the EU in the referendum. The second thing that the Bill does is make sure there is legal certainty, with a smooth transition for citizens and businesses, mitigating one of the key risks of Brexit, which I believe is felt by people whether they voted leave or remain.
It is essential that the Supreme Court has certainty. The first part of clause 6(2) is admirably clear:
“A court or tribunal need not have regard to anything done on or after exit day by the European Court”.
Why then have the Government included the following phrase at the end of the provision:
“but may do so if it considers it appropriate to do so”?
I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I shall come to that point a little later. The basic point that I respectfully make to the House at the outset is that the various clauses and amendments should be judged according to those basic strategic objectives: taking back control over our laws and making sure that there is a smooth legal transition, which I believe is my hon. Friend’s point.
Clause 6 serves both objectives. It sets out how, once we have taken back control over EU law, retained EU law should be interpreted on and after exit day. It makes it clear that once the UK leaves the EU, domestic courts will not be able to refer cases to the European Court—an affirmation of the supremacy of our own courts and our own legal order.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. The Select Committee that I chair has looked at the implications for equality law. At the moment, individuals can take cases to the Court of Justice of the European Union and gain decisions there that may have a great impact on their lives, but they will not be able to do that in the future. How should the Government look further at how domestic courts might be able to assess the compatibility of UK law with equality law, to make sure that in the future we do not have any problems in the way our law develops in this area?
First, let me thank my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, for her intervention and for highlighting this important issue constructively. I have looked carefully at the report of her Committee and had discussions with the Equalities Ministers on the points she has made, so today I can give her the reassurance, and tell the House, that we have commissioned work to be done on an amendment that the Government will table before Report. It will require Ministers to make a statement before the House in the presentation of any Brexit-related primary or secondary legislation on whether and how it is consistent with the Equality Act 2010. I hope that gives her the reassurance she needs that the Government are serious about addressing the legitimate point she has raised.
The point I was making before my right hon. Friend’s intervention was that once the UK leaves the EU, the domestic courts will not be able to refer cases to the ECJ. Clause 6 also provides that domestic courts and tribunals will not be bound by or required to have regard to ECJ decisions made after Brexit.
May I just finish this point, because I am at risk of answering the question before my right hon. and learned Friend puts it? As I say, UK courts will instead be able to take those post-exit judgments into account when making their decisions, if they consider it appropriate to do so, as they can, of course, with judgments of courts from other jurisdictions—common law, around the Commonwealth and elsewhere.
A number of different points feature in all this, but there is one point about the legal certainty, which was raised earlier. It is one thing to be able to take a case to the Supreme Court, but under a previously set up regime people could take it as a reference to the ECJ. Have the Government considered the propriety issues on removing that right for a case that is current? There is an issue to address there. The Government may be able to provide precedent and justification for what they are doing, but the issue troubles me. This strikes me as an odd way of going about things simply for the sake of trying to get rid of the ECJ in one fell swoop, which I think will be rather difficult in any case for other reasons.
I hope that I can give my right hon. and learned Friend some reassurance as the Committee makes progress. Some of what he says relates to clause 5 as much as to clause 6, but let me have a go at addressing it today. We may well return to it next week.
The Prime Minister has accepted that in a transitional period, the European Court of Justice would govern the rules of which we are part. Will the Minister explain to the Committee how that is compatible will clauses 5 and 6, which say that the ECJ will have no further sway after exit day, which the Government propose to set as
I think the Chair of the Select Committee has answered his own question. The point is that we will produce separate primary legislation to deal with the withdrawal agreement and the terms of any transition. We should not be putting the cart before the horse. This Bill is about making sure that we have at our disposal all the means to implement in UK law any deal, and its terms, as and when it is struck.
I am going to make a little progress, because I think that some of these queries will be addressed in the discussions on the amendments that others have tabled.
I return to clause 6. For as long as retained EU law remains in force in the UK, it is essential that there is a common understanding of what that law means. That is critical for legal certainty and, in real terms, for the very predictability of law that businesses and individuals rely on every day as they go about their lives. We want to provide the greatest possible certainty—I suspect that, for all the thunder and lightning in this debate, that is a shared objective underpinning it all—and the question is how we achieve that. Clause 6 will ensure that UK courts must continue to interpret retained EU law using the Court of Justice of the European Union’s pre-exit case law and retained general principles of EU law. Any other starting point would be to change the law. That is certainly recognised by the Government.
I am going to make a little more progress, but I will give way to my right hon. Friend in due course.
The crucial point reflected in clause 6 is that the intention is not to fossilise past decisions of the ECJ for forever and a day. The clause provides that our Supreme Court—and, indeed, the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland—will be able to depart from pre-exit case law. In doing so, they will of course apply the same tests as they do when departing from their own case law in the ordinary way.
We have, in my view at least, the finest judiciary in the world. Our courts are fiercely independent of Government, as they have already proved during the Brexit process. The clause will provide them with clarity about how they should interpret retained EU law after exit. As we take back control over our laws, it must be right that the UK Supreme Court, not the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, has the last word on the laws of the land. It is therefore of paramount importance that the clause stands part of the Bill.
The Minister is being very helpful on one aspect of the Bill, which is how the Government think European law should be interpreted once we have finally exited, but he is sidestepping the key point put to him by Hilary Benn. As it stands, clause 6 does not reflect current Government policy. It is not putting the cart before the horse to ask whether current Government policy, as represented in the Florence speech, should be reflected in the Bill. The fact is that the Government are seeking, expecting or contemplating the real possibility of a transition period during which we will stay in the single market and customs union and be subject to the jurisdiction of the Court. Why is the Bill being presented and urged by the Government in terms that are totally—
I will come to that precise point in the context of new clause 14, which has been tabled by Mr Leslie. The proposed change refers to the transitional period after the UK exits the EU. I thought that the hon. Gentleman put his points in a perfectly reasonable way.
From the Government’s perspective—I think that this view is widely shared—we will need to build a bridge from our exit to our future partnership to allow businesses and people time to adjust and new systems to be put in place. It makes sense for there to be only one set of changes, which is the point that I have heard from Opposition Members this afternoon. We have therefore proposed a time-limited implementation period during which access to one another’s markets should continue on current terms and Britain should continue to take part in the existing security measures—it is not all about the single market.
We are aiming to agree the detailed arrangements for this implementation period as early as possible to provide that certainty for citizens and businesses. However, this must not mean some form of indefinite transitional status, which would not be good for Britain or the EU. We need some finality in the interests of legal certainty. The new clause will, procedurally, oblige the Government to set out how retained EU law might be interpreted during the implementation period in light of the provisions in clause 6, which specifically deal with the role of the European Court of Justice and its case law. Such a report would have to be laid within one month of the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent.
The House is rightly concerned to understand the details of any implementation period and how it would function. However, the points of detail are a matter for diplomacy and for the negotiations. Imposing a fixed timescale for sharing such information in this area would be unnecessary and also arbitrary. It risks running out of sync with the actual progress of the negotiations and puts, if I may say, the cart before the horse.
I hope that the hon. Member for Nottingham East will agree; I sensed during his speech that he recognised that his new clause has now been rendered redundant by the statement made to the House yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who made it clear that the Government will introduce primary legislation and implement the withdrawal agreement and the terms of any implementation period.
Let me finish my point.
Therefore there will be full transparency and accountability to this House on the issue that the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about. I urge him to withdraw his new clause, but I will give him one further crack at it.
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to probe him on this point. He has suggested that the legal architecture framework for the transitional period will be set out in the Bill that he brings forward for the implementation period. However, it is only possible to agree with that plan if he is guaranteeing that Royal Assent for the implementation Bill will come in ample time before exit day. Clearly, it would be nonsensical to have an implementation piece of legislation that leaves a vacuum between exit day and some later date, when the transition had already started. Can he guarantee that that Bill will be enacted and enshrined in law in good time, well before exit day?
I sense that the hon. Gentleman recognises that he is putting the legislative cart before the diplomatic horse. Of course the implementing legislation relates to the agreement, and we need to have one in place to comply with the terms of any obligations, whether they are under the withdrawal arrangement, the implementation period or the future partnership deal.
I am not quite sure that I understand my right hon. Friend’s forensic point. It is a feature of the common law that UK courts already take into account and consider principles and precedents from other jurisdictions, but they do so with full autonomy as to how they might apply it, where they have discretion under the normal canons of interpretation. We are effectively seeking to apply the same basic principles, through this Bill, to retained EU law and the interpretation of it.
My right hon. and learned Friend is very tempting, but not at this moment.
I understand the point of amendment 357, which is to provide a default mechanism for transposing EU law where regulations have not been made under clause 7. I can equally see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst is seeking to make default provision for any gaps that may exist in the law to avoid creating not just legal uncertainty, but any legal potholes that may strew the road that lies ahead. I hope that he does not mind me saying that he is, perhaps inadvertently, reinforcing the case for clause 7 because his concern appears to be with the risk that it might not being used comprehensively enough. I certainly share his concern to avoid legal cliff edges and legal potholes, for which I think he is trying to cater.
I mentioned to the Prime Minister during her statement a few days ago the bear trap that I can see coming up during the transitional period if we are not careful because of the manner in which the European Court operates by the purposive rule; I know my hon. Friend will understand. During the transitional period, when we are faced with a court operating under that rule and not by precedent, we could end up with the European Court dictating to us the basis upon which we would be operating during that period. Does my hon. Friend agree?
The Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee eloquently makes his powerful point. We need to avoid bear traps, cliff edges and potholes, and that is what this Bill does. That is a common goal that we all ought to be trying to pursue, on both sides of the House—whether we voted to leave or remain. I am not convinced that the amendment of the Chair of the Justice Committee would achieve that aim. Despite his best intentions and his rather ingenious drafting, I fear that the amendment would, in practice, create considerably more legal uncertainty, not less.
I will not claim credit for all the ingenuity of the drafting, as I hope I shall make apparent in due course, but what if I told my hon. Friend that it is based on the work of the International Regulatory Strategy Group—one of the most distinguished groups of practitioners in this field? Would he think again about totally dismissing the thing, recognise it as a serious point that needs to be addressed here and engage with it?
I absolutely will not dismiss it. I am happy to think twice, thrice and as many times as my hon. Friend wants to talk to me about it. But let me make a couple of points to illustrate the risk of uncertainty that his amendment would cause. Subsection (A3) of amendment 357 begs the question of whether retained EU law restrains acts or omissions that start within the UK but that may have effects outside of it. Equally, subsection (A5) conflates functions conferred on public bodies with those of the Secretary of State. They are not the same thing. I sense that, underpinning this, he is trying to legislate in advance for unknown unknowns. I understand that temptation but if we go down that path, there is a countervailing but very real risk of increasing, rather than mitigating, the legal uncertainty. With respect, I hope that he can be persuaded to withdraw his amendment.
In order that I might reflect on that as the debate goes forward, perhaps my hon. Friend would like to give me an example of the circumstances in which he thinks my amendment might increase the legal uncertainty, rather than assist it. I will obviously listen to that.
Well, I have just given two examples regarding subsections (A3) and (A5) of my hon. Friend’s amendment, but I would be happy to sit down with him and give some illustrative examples of how, in practical terms, I think that this is not actually the avenue or legal cul-de-sac that he wants to go down.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will now turn to some of the other amendments in order that I give them due consideration in this important debate. In particular, I want to turn to amendment 278 and linked amendments 279 to 284 concerning exit day, which are from the Leader of the Opposition and other hon. Members.
The Prime Minister made it clear in her Florence speech that
“The United Kingdom will cease to be a member of the European Union on
It is clear that the UK will leave the EU at the end of the article 50 process—some of the suggestions around the caveat are wildly unrealistic. The Government have tabled an amendment to make sure the drafting of the Bill is crystal clear on this point and to give the country—businesses and citizens alike—additional certainty and a measure of finality on it.
These amendments would replace that clarity and finality with uncertainty and confusion. They would alter the meaning of the term “exit day” in the Bill, but only for the purposes of the provisions of clause 6. For those purposes, but for those purposes alone, the UK would not leave the EU until the end of the transitional period. I am afraid that that would create damaging legal uncertainty, and the amendments are flawed. They would have the effect that, for the duration of any implementation period that might be agreed—and we hope one will be, sooner rather than later—all the important provisions on the interpretation of retained EU law set out in this clause could not apply; they could take effect, if I have understood correctly, only from the end of that period. Since we have not yet agreed an implementation period with our EU partners, the effect of the amendments would be to create an indefinite and indeterminate transitional period, which rather raises the question of whether the Labour party is really serious about facilitating the process of a smooth Brexit at all.
The hon. Gentleman is very kind. He had the chance in his speech to make his rapier-like points. I am dealing with his amendment and the very real risk that, with the greatest will in the world, what her Majesty’s Opposition are proposing will add to, rather than mitigate, the uncertainty. When we go away from the fireworks of this debate, it ought to be our common endeavour to minimise that uncertainty.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union made it clear yesterday that there will be separate primary legislation for the withdrawal agreement and any implementation phase, so these amendments are entirely unnecessary in any event. We have also been clear—I think this addresses the hon. Gentleman’s point—that, in leaving the EU, we will bring an end to the direct jurisdiction of the European Court in the UK.
Our priority must be getting the right arrangements for Britain’s relationship with the EU for the long term.
I have given way to hon. Gentleman before. I am going to make some progress.
That priority means getting a close economic partnership, but out of the single market, out of the customs union and without the direct jurisdiction of the European Court. We want to get to that endgame in a smooth and orderly way, with the minimum of disruption.
That is why we want early agreement on the implementation period—on that much, we are agreed. That may mean we start off with the European Court still governing some of the rules we are part of for that period, but the Government are also clear that if we can bring forward a new dispute resolution mechanism at an earlier stage, we shall do so. These amendments do not allow for that. They prejudge and pre-empt the outcome of negotiations, and they introduce legislative inflexibility by saying that we must keep rules in domestic law that would bind us to the jurisdiction of the European Court after we leave, for the full duration of any implementation period, without our knowing for a second how long that might be. The Government are making the case for legal certainty. The Labour party is proposing legal limbo. We cannot accept that.
I actually agree—I should make this clear to my hon. Friend—about the issue of transition. I find it difficult to see how we can approach transition in the course of this Bill. However, there is an important underlying issue here, because, ultimately, our future relations with the EU will have a very powerful bearing, whether it is in transition or even after transition, on what we want EU law to do and how we want it to be interpreted, depending on transition, or indeed when we have completely gone, and on the extent to which we wish to be in comity with EU law. This is the elephant in the room, and it will have to be debated at some point as the Bill goes through, because some of it does not have to do with transition but has really to do with an entire future relationship, and it marries with great difficulty with the constant reiteration that the ECJ is somehow going to disappear out of the window.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I absolutely agree that the scope and parameters of the different options will need to be settled, but I think he has implicitly accepted and recognised that that is the subject of diplomacy. As has been said, we cannot put the legislative cart before the diplomatic horse, and I fear that that is what the amendment would do.
I now turn to amendment 202, which was tabled by Ian Blackford and also relates to amendment 384. In leaving the EU, we will bring about an end to the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and this Bill is essential to ensuring the sovereignty of our Parliament as we take back democratic control. We understand, of course, the desire to ensure a smooth and orderly exit and continuity for those who have commenced matters before the courts before exit. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve and my right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan also made this point.
That is why we set out in our July position paper, “Ongoing Union judicial and administrative proceedings”, that we believe that UK cases before the ECJ on exit day should not be interrupted but should be able to continue to a binding judgment. We recognise that parties involved in such cases before the ECJ will have already gone through various stages of the process, potentially including making oral and/or written submissions. We do not think that they should have to repeat those stages before the UK courts, as this would not provide certainty but undermine it. The amendment would add further uncertainty rather than mitigate it. Pending matters before the UK courts will be able to reach a final judgment post exit without needing referral to the European Court. The Bill will convert directly applicable EU law into domestic law, so our domestic courts will then apply to those matters. In this way, we will have certainty about how the jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK will be brought to an end.
Permitting the European Court to continue ruling on cases that were not before it procedurally on the day of withdrawal, as the amendment proposes, would give rise to considerable uncertainty. It would extend the period under which the European Court would continue to issue judgments in respect of the UK, and it is absolutely impossible to predict how long that may last. Furthermore, after exit day the UK will no longer be a member state of the EU. Under the EU treaties, the European Court itself can rule only on questions referred to it by member state courts, so it follows that without a new and separate international agreement, the references envisaged by the amendment would not, in any event, be possible.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the arrangements that were made in relation to the Privy Council when New Zealand chose to have its own supreme court. In fact, cases from New Zealand are still going to the Privy Council. All we are contemplating with these amendments, which I will address in more detail in a moment, is a similar arrangement.
I seek clarification on this point. Is the Minister saying that if a right of action has arisen before Brexit day that would have attracted, at the time that it arose, the full protections and a right to referral to the ECJ, that right will not be taken forward and those rights will, in effect, have been retrospectively changed?
I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, although I do not accept that characterisation. It is absolutely right that cases that are procedurally before the dock of the court, if I may put it like that—that have been lodged before exit day—will continue to conclusion. However, in relation to facts that may or may not give rise to a cause of action at an indeterminate point in the future, we would end up with a long tail of uncertainty if we went down the path that she suggests. I gently say to her that it will be possible to continue those cases before the UK courts because of the way in which we will retain EU law. There would be more, not less, uncertainty for citizens and businesses alike if we allowed the kind of indeterminate access to the court that she suggests.
Surely, the Minister is ignoring the legitimate expectation that I have talked about. Frankly, if the Government do not look again at the matter, it will constitute an abuse of power, because it will remove from individuals rights that they legitimately expected to carry through to the end of a case.
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point about legitimate expectations. I think there is an equally legitimate expectation, demand and need to have some finality to the legal and institutional arrangements that give rise to cases before the European Court.
Perhaps I can give way to my right hon. Friend when I come on to her amendments.
I turn to amendment 203, tabled by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and to the related amendments 353 and 354. They would remove clause 6(7) and partially reinsert it into clause 14. Clause 6(7) provides key definitions of terms in the Bill that are crucial for the proper interpretation and full understanding of its content. Subsection (7) aims to alleviate any potential confusion and ensure that there is no vagueness or ambiguity about the different types of retained law mentioned in the Bill. That is vital for those who read, implement and interpret the Bill, because of the different effects of each type of retained law. The placement of the definitions in clause 6 is specifically designed to make the Bill easier to navigate and more user-friendly, by placing the definitions close to where they are used and deployed in the text.
I am going to make a bit of progress. Wider general definitions are set out in clause 14, and clause 15 provides an index of all the defined terms to make the Bill easier to use as a reference tool. To remove those definitions from clause 6 and only partially to reinsert them into clause 14, as the amendment would do, would undermine the certainty and clarity that we aim to provide.
Without statutory definitions of the different types of retained law, we would undermine the stability of our domestic legal regime after exit and exacerbate the burdens on the court system. Reinserting the definition of “retained domestic case law” into clause 14 would not alleviate that, because it would give rise to the question why that definition had been included, while others had not. Its placement in the body of clause 14, away from its original use in clause 4, would make the text far less easy to navigate—something that we are keen to avoid.
I turn to amendment 137, which is a joint SNP and Liberal Democrat amendment, in the name of Joanna Cherry. Clause 6(2) will allow our domestic courts and tribunals to take into account any decisions made by the European Court, an EU entity or the EU itself on or after exit day, if they consider it appropriate to do so. That will ensure that our courts are not bound by the decisions of the European Court, while enabling them to consider its subsequent case law if they believe it is appropriate to do so. It is widespread practice in our domestic courts to carry out a similar exercise with the judgments of courts in other jurisdictions—I am thinking particularly of Commonwealth and common law jurisdictions—so, in principle, there is nothing new or particularly different here.
The UK has always been an open and outward-looking country, and our legal traditions reflect that. We pay attention to developments in other jurisdictions, including common law jurisdictions, and we embrace the best that the world has to offer, but we do so on our terms and under our control. That is decided by our courts and, ultimately, it is subject to the legislative will and sovereignty of this House. Amendment 137 is therefore unnecessary, as the Bill already provides that post-exit decisions of the European Court can be considered by the domestic courts.
Amendment 137 would go further, however, in that it would require our courts and tribunals to pay due regard to any relevant decision of the European Court. What does “due regard” mean? It is not defined and, indeed, it is far from clear. It is evidently intended to go further than clause 6, and tacitly urges our courts to heed, follow or shadow the Luxembourg Court, but there is no clarity about what would count as due consideration. The amendment would alter the inherent discretion the UK courts already have to consider, without fetters, the case law in other jurisdictions, and it seeks to apply to the European Court a procedural requirement that is stronger but so vague that it is liable to create more, not less, confusion. I hope that I have tackled, or at least addressed the concerns that the hon. and learned Lady has expressed in her amendment, and I urge her not to press it.
I will now turn to amendment 303 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. I thank her for tabling this amendment and for explaining it, as she did, in a very constructive spirit. I recognise that she is representing the interests of her constituents with her customary tenacity, but I will take a few moments to set out why we have taken our approach to the issues and my difficulties with her amendment.
Clause 6 supports the Bill’s core aim of maximising certainty. It is in no one’s interests for there to be a legal cliff edge. The Bill means that the laws and rules we have now will, as far as possible, continue to apply. It seeks to take a snapshot of EU law immediately before exit day. The Government have been clear that in leaving the EU, we will be bringing to an end the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. To maximise certainty, any question about the meaning of retained EU law will be determined in UK courts by reference to ECJ case law as it existed before our exit. Using any other starting point would be to change the law, which is not our objective. Our domestic courts and tribunals will no longer be bound by or required to have regard to any decisions of the European Court after that point, but they can do so if they consider it appropriate. These clear rules of interpretation are set out in clause 6.
May I try again to ask my hon. Friend the question on which both my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, the former Attorney General, and I have been pressing him? My hon. Friend has just said that courts would be bound by judgments of the European Court about retained EU law. I asked him about clause 6(4)(a), which specifically says that
“the Supreme Court is not bound by any retained EU case law”.
It seems to us that he can have it one way or the other, so which is the governing clause—the one saying that the courts are bound to judge in accordance with the previous judgments of the ECJ, or the one saying that the Supreme Court is not bound by such a rule?
The point is that we take a snapshot of EU law, including case law, at the point of exit, but after that the normal rules of precedent will apply both to the Supreme Court and in Scotland. That will allow a departure from any precedents that apply, which again comes back to the question of how we achieve a smooth and orderly transition from retained EU law while making sure that, when push comes to shove as such case law evolves, the UK Supreme Court will have the last word. That is balance struck in the Bill.
I understand that issue, but there is another one. Let us assume for the moment that there is no transition or relationship with the EU at all. Is the Court supposed to apply EU law as currently applied—purposively—or is it supposed to ignore the underlying purpose by which it has constantly been applied heretofore, and in that case, which rules is it supposed to apply? The judiciary have expressed a real concern about what they are supposed to do, because it is quite unclear what Parliament intends. If we forget about a transition or a future relationship, what are they supposed to do? They have rules for interpreting this law at the moment. Are they supposed to stick to those rules when they no longer have an underlying purpose?
I have to be careful about not pre-judging or prejudicing what the courts decide to do, particularly given that the thrust of the Bill is to make sure that judges have autonomy and discretion. The reality is that the issue is dealt with in the Bill. It is possible for the UK courts, in relation to retained case law, to look at the underlying purpose or intention of any piece of legislation or any principles that have been articulated. Moving forward, they are free, of their own volition, to depart from any precedence in the usual way. That already applies in relation to wider common law jurisdictions. The question I would put back to my right hon. and learned Friend is: why on earth, when we are leaving the EU and given that we are an open and outward-looking country that does filter, take interest in and take account of different principles from different jurisdictions, would we put on an further elevated status the case law of the ECJ?
That is kind, but I will make some progress; otherwise I will lose the thread in relation to amendment 303.
The amendment is at odds with the clear and certain position set out in the Bill, because it would continue to bind UK courts to some post-exit ECJ decisions and case law where the matters giving rise to the case have occurred before our exit. Those judgments would continue to be binding even after an implementation period. Strictly interpreted, the amendment would go further still. It would apply to anything happening before exit day and so would also include ECJ judgments on cases referred from outside the UK. For example, a preliminary reference made by another EU member state in relation to the interpretation of EU law might also fall within the scope of the amendment, if the facts of the case arose before exit day. The consequences would be far-reaching and risk creating considerable uncertainty and practical difficulties for the administration of justice.
UK courts and tribunals would continue to be bound by some new ECJ judgments for an indeterminate period. Those binding judgments could continue to be issued long after we have left the EU as cases continue to progress to the European Court from across the EU. Yet those judgments would not have formed part of the snapshot of retained EU case law that, under clause 6(3), will be binding on our courts, so far as is relevant, and subject to the rule in clause 6(4). By contrast, such post-exit judgments would bind our courts in all circumstances, including where the retained version of an EU regulation had since been modified by this Parliament or a devolved Administration. That would create foreseeable and entirely avoidable uncertainty, and it would not be necessary, because individuals whose cause of action predates our exit would, of course, continue to be able to take their case to the domestic courts, even if after exit they cannot reach the European Court. That is the fundamental point in relation to the procedural framework.
I now turn to amendment 304, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, in relation to retaining ECJ referrals and jurisdiction for anything that happened before exit day. In leaving the EU, we will bring an end to the jurisdiction of the ECJ—we have made that clear. The proposed amendment would frustrate that objective, because our courts could continue to make references to the ECJ in relation to cases where relevant matters have occurred before our withdrawal from the EU. As a result, different rules and processes would apply for those cases, compared with those where the relevant circumstances arose after exit day. That would, I fear, give rise to more not less uncertainty, because it would be impossible to predict for how long UK courts would continue to be subject to binding judgments from Luxembourg.
When we exit the EU, we will know exactly how many pending UK cases are registered with the European Court, awaiting a preliminary reference and thus covered by any proposed agreement we have with the EU on the treatment of pending cases. That is important to deliver certainty about how and when the Court’s jurisdiction in the UK will be brought to an end. The amendment would remove that certainty. Like amendment 303, it is not necessary. Individuals will not lose their ability to vindicate their rights in court after exit. They will be able to take such cases to our domestic courts.
Forgive me, Sir David, but I thought it necessary to address my right hon. Friend’s amendments in detail. Equally, I want to say that I recognise the eloquence and the force with which she champions her constituents. Ministers will take away the underlying issue that she has brought and powerfully moved for consideration. I hope that on that basis she will not feel she needs to press the amendment.
I am following the Minister’s arguments very carefully, with helpful interventions from some of my colleagues. I appreciate that this is a very tricky matter, but it does relate to my constituent. I am therefore grateful that he has undertaken to take the proposal away and look at the principle in relation to this case, because I feel that it would be most unjust not to do so. I have no love for the European Court of Justice and I want the Bill to go through, but not at the cost of justice for my constituent. This case has thrown the matter into stark relief. I am grateful to the Minister for that undertaking and I look forward to talking to him further on the matter.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her constructive approach. We will take that consideration forward after these proceedings.
I will now rattle through the final amendments, so I have done them all justice and given them due consideration. I will turn next to amendment 306, tabled by the Opposition. Clause 6(2) states that our courts are no longer bound by decisions of the European Court after our departure or required to consider in future cases, although they may do so if they believe it to be appropriate. Clause 6 is a vote of confidence in our judiciary: its independence and its expertise. Using similar exercises currently undertaken with court judgments in other jurisdictions, our courts are best placed to decide to what extent, if any, they pay regard to EU law in any case before them.
The intention of amendment 306 is to remove that discretion from clause 6 and replace it with a duty that sets fetters on which aspects of EU case law our judges must consider, although only in certain areas. In practice, that would create a presumption that EU decisions should be followed in those areas. That is the clear intention, but it is inappropriate. It would undermine the purpose of clause 6 in both its fundamental objectives. It would frustrate the return of control to this House and the UK Supreme Court and expose the UK to substantial additional and unnecessary legal uncertainty.
I am going to make a little bit more progress. I have given way to my hon. Friend.
The singling out of these areas of law appears somewhat arbitrary, given other fields the amendment might equally apply to. It would lead to a splintered approach to interpretation of the law and a fragmented UK jurisprudence—more uncertainty, not less. In any case, it is totally unnecessary. The UK has a proud history of ensuring the rights and protections of individuals in this country. The UK has high standards of protection domestically in relation to workers’ rights and human rights. We are recognised as a world leader in delivering robust, rigorous health and safety protections. That record and that commitment is not dependent on our membership of the EU; it is dependent on hon. Members in this House and their eternal vigilance. It will continue to be dependent on that after we leave. I hope that Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues in the Labour party will not press amendment 306.
Finally, I turn to amendment 358 tabled by the Chair of the Justice Committee, my hon. Friend Robert Neill, which sets out the ability of UK courts to have regard to material used in the preparation of retained EU law. I hope that this is the point at which I give some reassurance to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve and my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin. Currently, when interpreting EU law domestically, our courts will look at the language used, as well as considering the legislation’s recitals, legal basis and other language versions to inform their interpretation. We do not want to change how this law is interpreted or to create any fresh uncertainty about its meaning, so the Bill provides for the courts to continue that approach. Clause 6 provides that questions on the validity, meaning or effect of retained EU law will be decided in accordance with retained case law and general principles of EU law. This requires taking a purposive approach to interpretation where the meaning of the provision is unclear, considering relevant documents such as the legislation’s treaty legal base, working papers that may have led to the adoption of the measure and the general principles of EU law. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee and that he will not press his amendment.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case on each of the amendments, but I am among those concerned about the confusion around the cut-off line. The general principles he just talked about will shift and change. Is there a point by which, when we reference the principles and those principles have changed post-exit, we do not consider them to be the principles we referenced rather than the principles that existed before and are now not modified? At what point do we have the cut-off point?
My right hon. Friend raises an excellent, if rather esoteric, point, but it is also fundamentally about clause 5 and schedule 1. If he can be patient, we will turn to that next week and, I hope, address all his concerns.
To sum up, I hope that I have at least sought to address all the underlying concerns in each of the amendments and, given the need to maximise legal certainty, minimise confusion and ensure a smooth transition, that all hon. Members will make sure that clause 6 stands part of the Bill unamended.
I rise to speak to amendment 137, which stands in my name and, I am happy to say, the names of many other hon. Members on these Benches, and to amendments 202 and 203, which stand in the name of my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford and other Members on the SNP Benches. I was particularly delighted to hear the Labour party spokesman say that Labour was supporting my amendment 137, which also has the support of the Trades Union Congress, Justice, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Fawcett Society.
I will endeavour to explain in detail why amendment 137 is necessary. In essence, we have tabled it because it is necessary to create legal certainty for individuals and businesses by giving a clear instruction to the courts about how to treat decisions of the European Court of Justice after exit day. I am afraid that the Bill does not give that degree of clarity. The purpose of the amendment is also to protect the judiciary from having to make decisions open to political criticism. We saw some pretty heinous political criticism of judges on the Supreme Court earlier this year, and we have heard judges on that Court express concern about the possibility of not being given proper direction in the Bill. My amendment seeks to address that issue. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for our constituents, the amendment will encourage UK rights protections to keep pace with EU rights after Brexit.
Amendment 202 is also about giving certainty to individuals and businesses with cases pending before the domestic courts on exit day. I listened carefully to what Mrs Gillan said about her amendments, with which I have great sympathy. Amendments 202 and 203 have a similar purpose. I also listened with care to what the Minister said, but I regret that he has not given me any comfort that anything in the Bill will give the certainty required for people in the midst of litigation on exit day. That is why we seek to define a “pending matter” in amendment 384 as
“any litigation which has been commenced in any court or tribunal in the United Kingdom and which is not finally determined at exit day”.
We need clarity. It is not just me who says so, or those who support the amendment; these amendments were drafted with some care by the Law Society of Scotland, and I submit that they are necessary to protect litigants’ legitimate expectations, but I will return to that in a moment.
The underlying theme of all these amendments is the need to create the legal certainty that hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to today. It is, of course, an absolute requirement of the rule of law that there should be legal certainty. I regret to say, however, that clause 6 does not give that degree of legal certainty. In accordance with our mandate the Scottish National party opposes Brexit, but we understand the need for withdrawal legislation, and we want to reach agreement on it if possible. We also want to ensure that the legislation is properly framed. Clause 6 is not properly framed, because it does not give the certainty that is required.
Before I explain why our amendments would bring certainty and clarity, I want to make a more general point about clause 6. It reflects a discussion that has just taken place, and also a discussion that took place earlier today. Everything in clause 6 pivots around exit day, so the definition of exit day is crucial. The Government have amendments pending which would pin the date to
As I said in an intervention, it seems to me that the Government’s amendments which purport to set exit day are mere window-dressing and mere politics. As others have pointed out, perhaps more eloquently than me—particularly Mr Grieve—the amendments are barmy. They will not achieve what they set out to achieve.
The Prime Minister is very keen on a transition period: that is what the Florence speech was all about. When I and other Members were in Brussels last week, we asked senior EU officials what their understanding was of the legal basis for any transitional deal, and they said that it was article 50. That did not come as a surprise to me because I asked the Prime Minister the same question a couple of weeks ago, and she said that her understanding was that it was article 50, based on the EU’s April guidelines.
What the senior EU officials told us last week was that if a transition took place under article 50, we would stay in the customs union and the single market and would remain subject to the Court of Justice of the European Union. If there is a transitional deal, all the courts in the United Kingdom will continue to be subject to the jurisdiction of the CJEU, which means that clause 6 will not work if there is a transition period. If the Government do not agree with me about that, will they please tell us why they do not agree, what their alternative legal basis is for any transitional deal, and on what basis they say—if they do—that we will not be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice during the transition period?
That said, if we ever do leave the European Union—which I hope we do not—in reality rather than in name only, or if, God forbid, we crash out without a deal, which must be a serious possibility, clause 6 will be very important indeed, so we need to get it right. That is the reason for amendments 137, 202 and 203.
At present, the Court of Justice of the European Union is the ultimate arbiter when it comes to the meaning of EU law under the EU treaties. At present, courts in the UK are bound to determine issues of EU law in accordance with the CJEU’s interpretation. When an issue is not clear, the national court has a duty to make a “preliminary reference” to the CJEU to ask for a definitive interpretation. That is how it works. It is wrong to describe the Court of Justice as having jurisdiction in the UK; it simply has jurisdiction to answer questions about EU law that are put to it by the UK courts. I fear that much of the antipathy that is directed at the Court of Justice is based on a fundamental misapprehension about what it actually does and what it is actually there for. It does not dictate our laws. As others more eloquent than me explained earlier today, the laws come from many sources. What the Court of Justice does is interpret the laws and create some consistency.
I accept that if we leave the European Union, the duty to refer issues to the CJEU will no longer apply, but I also know, because the Bill tells me so, that “retained EU law” will still have to be interpreted by our courts, north and south of the border.
Under clause 6, after exit day our courts will not be under a duty to follow the interpretation of the Court of Justice, but even though that is the case, the Court of Justice will continue giving judgments on references from other member states, and these will deal with the meaning of what law we have retained. The case law of the Court of Justice may therefore still offer useful guidance for our courts. I think the Government accept that, because they have attempted to frame some guidance on that in clause 6, but the only guidance they have given is that the UK courts are not bound by the Court of Justice after Brexit, but they may have regard to anything the court says if they consider it “appropriate to do so.” The word “appropriate” causes concern to many across this House and outwith it, because it gives the judges an extraordinarily wide discretion, but no guidance on the circumstances in which it is proper for them to look at Court of Justice decisions.
This is important because no less a figure than Lord Neuberger, outgoing President of the Supreme Court, has expressed concern that judges will need clarity about how to treat decisions of the Court of Justice after Brexit. He has said that if the Government do not express clearly what the judges should do about Court of Justice decisions after Brexit, the judges will simply have to do their best, and if they are left just to do their best, it would be unfair to blame them for making law which Parliament has failed to make.
I am loth to interrupt my hon. and learned Friend, who is making a powerful case for legal certainty, but does she agree that a wide range of industries and other organisations will need legal certainty, certainly around freedom of movement, such as our education sector and food and drink sector? Does she also share my concerns about the reports that have come from the Financial Times this evening that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union says that bankers and other professionals have been promised a special post-Brexit travel regime? If we are going to have freedom of movement and the benefits that brings, we should not just be protecting the bankers.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to the Floor of the House. I was made aware of it just before I got to my feet. If the Financial Times report is correct that the Government are going to give special deals for certain professions, that will come as a great shock to the other professions that will not get such a special deal, and a particular shock to cross-party colleagues in the Scottish Parliament who have asked for a separate deal on immigration in Scotland, as have Unison, the chambers of commerce in Scotland and the Institute of Directors. I look forward to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union coming to the House to explain what is going on here.
To returning to the issue of legal certainty, the Institute for Government looked carefully at different tests that might be put on this Bill to direct the courts, and expressed the view that if Parliament passes the buck on this question to the judges, it will leave the judges open to fierce political criticism. We have already seen the sort of fierce political criticism that the judges got earlier this year, and regardless of the different views we might have about the British constitution, all of us can probably accept that the independence of the judiciary is a fundamental part of any constitution that recognises the rule of law. We perhaps do not have to look too far from home in the EU at present to see a judiciary that is not independent, but I digress.
We need an independent judiciary in this country, and we have one, but it has to be protected from criticism because judges cannot go into print to defend themselves when criticised. We must provide the courts with a specific legal test on the face of the Bill governing the treatment of Court of Justice case law after Brexit, and that is what my amendment 137 seeks to achieve.
Does the hon. and learned Lady agree that one aspect of the legal certainty that the Government should consider is that, as our relationship with the EU evolves, we do not want our judges to have to make decisions that might affect our commercial policy, or indeed our diplomatic policy, towards the EU?
My amendment 137 seeks to ensure that:
“When interpreting retained EU law after exit day a court or tribunal shall pay due regard to any relevant decision of the European Court.”
The Minister questioned the term “due regard”, but it is not unknown to international law. The Lugano Convention on the mutual recognition on enforcement of judgments, to which EU and non-EU states are signatories, talks about paying “due account”, but I have followed the recommendation of the organisation Justice that it is clearer and better English to talk about paying “due regard”. Under the Human Rights Act 1998, we have a duty to take account of decisions of the Court of Justice, so paying “due regard” to taking account of such decisions is not a phrase unknown.
This amendment is not a Trojan horse designed to continue references after Brexit, and I say that as someone who does not want Brexit to happen. It is designed to create certainty for individuals, businesses and litigants, and also for the judiciary. It would leave it open to British courts to disagree with the Court of Justice’s interpretation, even if its case law was relevant to the case. It would not—as the Government’s current draft does—give an unfettered, politically controversial discretion to consider or ignore Court of Justice decisions as our courts saw fit.
The test set out in my amendment has three advantages. First, it would create legal certainty for individuals and businesses. Secondly, it would provide political cover for the courts. Thirdly, it seems to fit with the preference of the judiciary, who want a clear instruction. In recent evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee, Lady Hale, the new President of the Supreme Court, said:
“It should be made plain in statute what authority or lack of authority, or weight or lack of weight, is to be given to the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union after we have left, in relation both to matters that arose before we left and, more importantly, to matters after we leave. That is not something we”— she means “we, the judges”—
“would like to have to make up for ourselves, obviously, because it is very much a political question, and we would like statute to tell us the answer.”
In my submission, under my amendment, statute would tell the judges the answer.
That is not just my view. The Institute for Government looked at the various options and concluded that the wording that I now propose would license courts in the UK to refer to the Court of Justice’s reasoning in future judgments without making those Court of Justice judgments binding on the UK courts—
I am familiar with that book, but I do not think that it has any relevance to what I am saying at the moment. I remind the hon. Gentleman the Lady Hale is the President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, and she has made the point that what she and her fellow judges require from the Government and the House is clarity in the directions as to how they are to treat the future jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union, because if the guidance is not clear, they will come under the sort of political attack that I am sure the hon. Gentleman, who is a great supporter of the British constitution, would abhor, as I do—although I might actually prefer a Scottish constitution.
As I said earlier, this amendment is not a Trojan horse. It is the result of careful consideration by the organisation Justice and by the Institute for Government. It also has the support of the TUC and, I am delighted to say, the Labour party, as well as the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Fawcett Society. One reason the Equality and Human Rights Commission is so keen on this amendment is because it is also important for rights protections. It is important to remember that EU law is largely about the rights of individuals. The Government’s position paper, published in the summer, seemed to imagine that EU law was all about disputes between the United Kingdom and the EU, but it is not. Most people who make references to the Court of Justice do so in the determination of their individual rights or their rights as a business.
I am listening with great care to the hon. and learned Lady. She will agree that references to the Court of Justice are made by the courts to interpret a particular provision of EU law, not by individuals. That is an important difference that I am sure she will appreciate.
The Solicitor General is absolutely right to correct my rather loose use of language. My point is that the majority of references made to the Court of Justice are made as a result of litigation between individuals or businesses to determine their respective rights rather than, as the Government’s position paper suggested in the summer, between the United Kingdom and the EU. That is not my view; that was the evidence of Professor Sir David Edward, who gave evidence on this topic to the Scottish Parliament in September. He was keen to impress on people that EU law is about the determination of individuals’ rights.
That interchange was quite correct, but does the hon. and learned Lady also accept that the process of making those judgments is where the Court of Justice has widened the interpretation of the treaties by using individual cases that were sent to the Court for clarification?
That is what modern courts do. If the right hon. Gentleman cared to study the jurisprudence of the supreme courts of the United States, Australia or New Zealand, he would find that that is what courts in adversarial jurisdictions do. I sometimes wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman’s real objection, and those of his ilk on the Government Benches, is not to the European Union, but to the very idea of courts and the rule of law itself.
Anyway, as well as creating legal certainty and protecting the judiciary, amendment 137 is also important for protecting individuals’ rights. If the UK’s courts do not pay due regard to decisions of the Court of Justice, there will be no provision to ensure that rights in the United Kingdom keep pace with EU rights after Brexit or even to encourage that to happen. That could lead to rights upheld domestically lagging behind international standards, which I am sure we would want to avoid.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we have already seen examples of the denigration of our rights, particularly in aspects of the Trade Union Act 2016? Without the safety net of the Court of Justice, there is a further risk of those rights being degraded.
To keep rights up to similar international standards is particularly desirable in areas that require a degree of co-operation and reciprocity, such as consumer rights, equality protections and environmental standards. The Exiting the European Union Committee, of which I am a member, has heard much evidence recently about the importance of preserving rights protections after Brexit. EU case law has had an important impact on equality rights in the UK, and my amendment seeks to ensure that British courts will continue to pay due regard to that jurisprudence as our law develops. I urge all hon. Members to give amendment 137 their support in the interests of achieving legal certainty, protecting the rule of law, protecting the judiciary from political attacks and protecting our constituents’ rights.
I turn now to pending cases and amendments 202 and 203, which I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for drafting. There is currently nothing on the face of the Bill about what will happen to litigation pending at the time of exit day. There just is not anything. If there is, I am sure a Minister will point me to it later.
As the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham said, this is all about legitimate expectations. As I said when I intervened on her, if the Government do not move in the Bill to protect the legitimate expectations of litigants, they could find themselves being litigated against for failing to provide an effective remedy.
Of course, it would be objectionable on the ground of retrospectivity if a simple cut-off happens on exit day and if no consideration is given to pending cases, as other hon. Members have said. Such a situation is not without precedent. As I said in my intervention on the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Dominic Raab, one precedent is the way in which the transition from the Privy Council to the New Zealand Supreme Court was dealt with, and I urge the Government to look at that. I urge all hon. Members carefully to consider the amendments designed to protect pending cases and pending litigation on exit day.
I have not tabled any amendments, but I will briefly comment on one set of amendments before making a point about the drafting of clause 6. For me and many of my colleagues, that is the most important clause because the clear definition of being in or out of the European Union ultimately comes down to the Court of Justice’s ability to change the United Kingdom’s laws by direct reference as a result of a clash with European law.
Twenty-five years ago, I stood in almost the same place, during the House’s consideration of the Maastricht treaty, to make the point that the Court of Justice is more political than courts in the UK, even by its appointments and by the nature of its judgments. Judicial activism is a process that came directly from the Court of Justice, and it eventually percolated, to a much lesser extent, into the UK courts.
It is through those judgments that the Court of Justice has widened the concept of where the Commission is able to rule. A good example is that, through Court reference, whole areas of social security that were never in the original treaties were widened dramatically. Rulings have been made on the application of social security payments to individuals from countries that were never referenced in the original treaties, which is a good point about the Court’s power.
This is so critical because, after the referendum, the Centre for Social Justice, the Legatum Institute and others came together to do a lot of polling asking the public why they supported the vote to leave the European Union. The single most powerful reason—more than money and more than migration—was to take back control of our laws. I was slightly surprised because I thought it was an esoteric point for most members of the public, but they said it was their most powerful reason for voting. Some people said that, even if it meant they would be worse off for a period, it was still the overriding principle behind their vote to take back control and leave the European Union.
With that as the key, the Government are right to drive this policy. It is absolutely right for them to make it clear that, on the day we leave, the European Court of Justice will cease to have direct effect in the United Kingdom. I will return to the drafting on how long some of the other principles will continue.
Mr Leslie is not here at the moment but, in line with the earlier statement by the Minister, my hon. Friend Dominic Raab, it would be wrong to support new clause 14 and amendment 278. There is a simple principle behind the Bill, and the Government have now accepted that there will be primary legislation on the agreement, or lack of agreement, as we leave the European Union with regard to our trade and other arrangements. The new clause and the amendment are wrong because they would seek to bind the hand of the Government as they sought to negotiate, and that is not the purpose of this.
Let me give an example. Not so long ago, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said clearly that his view was that during the implementation period—at the beginning, we hope—we would want to have those elements of the eventual agreement in place. One of those would be a process of arbitration between the UK and the EU. If that was agreed and was part of the process, and then became part of the implementation period, the new clause and the amendment would prevent our being able to make that arrangement—they would be bound into law and we would not be allowed to go into the implementation period with these arrangements. That would immediately knock out any opportunity we have to accelerate the process of where we would eventually be by getting into the implementation period and applying an arbitration process agreed between the EU and the UK for those areas of disagreement on areas of law and other interpretations. That is why these proposals are wrong and would damage the prospects of the negotiations that are likely to take place.
I asked a couple of days ago about this idea of an arbitration court. Now that the right hon. Gentleman is here, will he clarify how it would be different for ordinary people in the street in comparison with what the ECJ is currently doing?
The whole process of arbitration is a natural one in all trade arrangements between two different groups: they agree to an arbitration process when there are clashes of interpretation about what they have agreed. That is standard practice; it has been in pretty much every free trade arrangement.
If we seek a free trade arrangement, the way to have that governed is through such an arbitration process, where differences—when things cannot be agreed between the two—are taken for a final process of examination and some kind of judgment about the matter. That would not be done by the Court of Justice sitting in the European Union, or by a UK court; it would be outwith both of those, but in the agreement.
The point I am making is that if such an arrangement was agreed in a free trade arrangement, we would want to start it as soon as possible, because if there is an implementation period, we would want to start implementing what we have agreed as soon as possible. The hon. Lady needs to look up most of the other trade arrangements to see what I am saying. We want to give the greatest flexibility to the Government. It is crucial that as we leave, we leave the Court of Justice in that sense.
I want now to deal with some of the arrangements in clause 6. I say to Ministers that there is a certain amount of confusion over where the courts are meant to reference the ECJ, including in respect of its previous judgments. As has been mentioned by some of my colleagues, including my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, there remains a confusion as to where the courts will reference judgments from the ECJ, both past and existing. I come back to the point of clause 6(2), where they are told not to have regard to anything. However, the Bill later goes on to modify that quite a lot. I am particularly concerned—this has been raised elsewhere—by the definition that
“’retained EU case law’ means any principles laid down by, and any decisions of, the European Court, as they have effect in EU law immediately before exit day and so far as they”.
The Bill goes on to reference exactly how that will work.
My point is that those principles will themselves be modified by the European Court of Justice as it goes forward. My question really is: as they are modified, at what point will UK courts consider those principles to be no longer relevant to their judgments as they refer to them? I do not expect an answer right now, but I hope to get one as we go forward. Lord Neuberger has made the point that it is unclear to the courts how strong their reference should be—whether they should reference the principles or not. The point about the principles is the more powerful point, because I have no idea when the cut-off comes or whether it ever comes—whether we will ever break free, as it were, from continuing judgments and changes to the European Court principles.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, but I wish to emphasise that my own concern is not about retaining EU law in some way, but about getting some clarity, which is certainly not in the Bill. My right hon. Friend may agree that from listening to the Government it does not appear that they are particularly concerned about this matter—yet the judiciary plainly is, and the House cannot ignore that.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. It is important that during this and future debates—we will have the opportunity to return to this issue in the debate on clause 5—my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government take due regard of this issue. The courts have already said that they are unclear and want clarity. It is not always usual for courts to come back and say that they want us to decide, but on this matter they really do. That is important, because there has to be a future point at which they understand that they do not have to have regard to any change in the European Court principles.
I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government to make that point very clear in the course of this process, and I look forward to their response. I think the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton, said that he would return to this issue in the discussions on clause 5, and I would certainly appreciate that.
I know that other Members wish to speak, so I shall conclude. I applaud and support the Government on this part of the Bill. For me, and I think for most of our colleagues, it is the most important element. We can debate money and all these other issues, but who ultimately decides on our laws is the most important element of the vote to leave. I made this point earlier, and I conclude by making it again: the single issue on which the British public voted most was to take back control of their laws. I want that to happen as we leave the European Union.
I am pleased to follow Mr Duncan Smith, because his remarks about a new arbitration system relate very much to the points I wish to address.
When I consider the Bill, my overriding concern is the impact on the economic wellbeing of my constituents. Members know that the north-east is a successful exporting region. Part of the reason why we have been so successful is that we have had a stable legal framework over the past 40 years. The Bill’s purpose is obviously to provide continuing legal certainty, but it seems to me that the combination of the Government’s proposal to set the exit date before the transition period is over, and their red line on the ECJ, will have the rather remarkable effect of minimising the flexibility for negotiation and maximising the legal uncertainty.
Earlier, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr Baker: if the 1972 Act is repealed before the end of the transition or implementation period, what will be the legal basis of our relations with the EU in that period and of the 57 free trade agreements that the EU negotiated with third countries? He said, “Don’t worry, it will all be set out in the next Bill, which will come in perhaps a year or 18 months.” I am sorry to say that I do not find that very reassuring. I am conscious that businesses want an element of legal certainty about the transition period as soon as possible. Waiting for another 12 months, or another 18 months, does not give them that legal certainty, which means that they can continue to close plants and divest. We are already beginning to see that. Frequently, it is not being flagged up as being about Brexit, but it is happening rather too often.
Does my hon. Friend not find it extraordinary that so many Government Members, including those on the Treasury Bench and at the Dispatch Box, have deviated from the position set out so clearly by the Prime Minister in her Florence speech? She said that during the implementation period—transition in everyone else’s terms—the existing structure of EU rules and regulations would be in place to provide the certainty that she has described. That is not what we have been hearing this evening.
No, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The problem is this dissonance between the content of the rules and the enforceability of the rules.
I just want to stress this point about the impact on exporters. In the Minister’s description of how the transition period and the future might pan out, there seemed to be no acknowledgement that, in addition to some of these disputes and rights that citizens will be claiming, whether they are under competition law or in the single market, there will also be citizens in this country making claims in the other European countries, or the other 57 third-party countries. In order to export, these countries need to have more certainty about their data protection—we will come on to that another day—about professional recognition, particularly the services, about licensing and about passporting. If those rights are not enforceable, they will be losing that certainty.
At the moment, we have a situation in which half the exports of this country go to the European Union, and 30% go to the other 57 countries in which the EU has negotiated the legal framework. We are talking about 80% of this country’s trade and this Government are not able to tell us what the legally enforceable base will be during the transition period.
Mr Duncan Smith said that it would be very nice if we could have a new arbitration system. Well, I am sorry, but that does not seem to be on offer. At the moment, there are three possibilities. One possibility is continuing with the ECJ, but the Government have set their face against that. Another possibility is to join the European economic area, but the Government have set their face against that. The third possibility is to crash out. The option of the bespoke arbitration system with the European Union will be extremely difficult to negotiate in the 15 months that we have left before the transition period begins.
With so many organisations and bodies, such as the judiciary, businesses and the Law Society, talking about the uncertainty that comes from clause 6, does my hon. Friend not agree that it is very challenging to believe the Government that this will be all right on the night when an alternative dispute mechanism would need to be created, designed, drafted, legislated for and in place before we leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just one alternative system; it is 58. It is one with the EU and another 57 with everybody else. This is really not going to happen, and Ministers need to get their heads round the fact that they have some hard choices to make, and they need to be straight with their own Back Benchers and with the public about what those choices are.
The Government are being irresponsible in wanting to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which is the basis of our membership, and in setting the date at the beginning of the transition period, before they can tell us how they are going to handle that period. It would be great if they could give us a proper explanation because we have not had one yet. Ministers say that the whole purpose of the Bill—the very thing that the Bill is driving at—is legal certainty, but they cannot tell us what the legal position will be in 18 months’ time. The Bill is flawed and I urge Ministers to look constructively at the amendments tabled by the Opposition Front Bench.
I approach the Bill in exactly the same spirit as my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve made clear earlier in the debate. However much I think we have harmed ourselves with the decision to leave the European Union, we have to ensure that we deliver it in an orderly fashion. That is critical in the legal area and in the business area.
The City of London is the financial hub of the whole of Europe, and we want it to stay that way, but it requires legal continuity and certainty to do so. Now, I accept that the Bill seeks to do this—I have no problem with the intentions behind the Bill—but it is worth stressing the importance of the sector and, therefore, the importance of the detail. Bear in mind that euro clearing involves transactions being processed every day through London to a value which exceeds our annual contribution to the European Union by a significant sum, and which significantly exceeds any likely divorce bill figure that has been bandied about.
The fact is that we are the basis for the euro bond market and we clear a great deal of euro business, and that generates and supports thousands of jobs. Some 36% of the population of my constituency are employed in financial and professional services. I am not going to do anything that puts their jobs at risk or reduces their standard of living. Those who voted to leave did not vote to make us poorer for the sake of a bit of ideology. We now have to find a practical means forward to ensure that we have, as the chair of the City of London’s policy and resources committee put it, an orderly Brexit as opposed to a disorderly one. Therefore, the test of the Bill’s contents is whether they achieve the Bill’s stated objective of trying to assist in that orderly Brexit and withdrawal. Well, it does up to a point, but my contention is that it only goes so far. There are number of areas where the Bill is lacking, which is why it needs improvement, and this set of amendments deals with precisely one of those areas.
The incorporation of the acquis into UK domestic law is accepted all round as being necessary, but the debate has highlighted a number of significant areas where there is still uncertainty and where the current wording may not achieve its objective. I want to see a deal on the basis of the Florence speech. I hope that all Government Members will stand behind the Florence speech and will not attempt to rewrite it, refine it, add to it or subtract from it. If we do that constructively, we can make good progress. I am sure that the Ministers on the Treasury Bench wish to achieve that too—well, almost all of them. But to do that we must ensure that we give the courts and contracting parties the certainty that they need.
My final example is that derivative contracts are generally written over a three to five-year period. Unless there is certainty as to the enforceability of those contracts, people will not contract with counterparties in the European Union. Crashing out without a deal would not give them that certainty any more than going on to WTO terms will give the financial services any certainty. It would not give the London legal services sector any certainty, doing nothing to address the establishment directive or the recognition of professional rights that currently enable British lawyers to gain and earn millions of pounds for this country annually in the work that they sell into the European Union.
All those things need to be done. I doubt whether we could get the detail done by the end of March 2019, and that is why a significant and proper transition, in which we can work out the details, is absolutely necessary. Let us make sure, then, that we enable the Bill to achieve that through some additions and changes to what is in it.
The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that a transition deal is required and that the Prime Minister’s Florence speech said that that would be on the basis of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and the EU institutions have also said that it has to be on the basis of the ECJ. With that remarkable degree of alignment between the British Government and the EU, should we not now get the Government to confirm once and for all that the transition deal is on the basis of ECJ jurisdiction?
I must confess that I do not see what some people’s difficulty is with the jurisdiction of the ECJ for a short period. At the end of the day, as everybody concedes, there has to be an arbitral mechanism. I rather agree that it will be difficult to invent one in time, and there may be alternatives, but, as the Justice Committee’s report in the last Parliament pointed out, the involvement of the ECJ in these areas is often extremely limited in terms of the overall amount of our jurisprudence in the courts. It would be foolish to rule out accepting it for a limited period to see us through transition.
Let me move on to the specific points here. We do need to pick up on certain areas. We have to have greater clarity on the interpretation of retained EU law. With every respect to Ministers, I do not think that the Bill will achieve that in its current form, although I think that it can, with further work.
Like my hon. Friend, I am keen to see that one of our major industries is preserved. Is not the overwhelming merit of his amendments 357 and 358 that they would preserve the Government’s ability to modify the regulations but give certainty on day one because they would deliver a functioning set of rules that could be on the statute book and would therefore take into account some of the cases he mentioned earlier? The key thing for the financial services industry is to have that certainty on day one.
That is absolutely right, and it is critical. With respect to the Minister of State, that is why I do not think the financial services sector will take much comfort from his rather high-level dismissal of these proposals earlier.
Let me just say what these two amendments, in my name and that of my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond, seek to do. They seek to give a general interpretive tool to assist the transposition process. We all accept that that has to happen in that domestication into the statute book. They would interfere with the powers to make regulations conferred by clause 7, but they would reduce the need for regulations. I should have thought that it was preferable not to have to operate by regulation if we could avoid it. If we have a known and established interpretive code, that will save the need to make lots of regulations under clause 7. However, it would also, as the Minister rightly observed, provide a backstop, and that would deal with gaps that are identified but that are not picked up in the transposition process. That is what subsections (A1) and (A2) of amendment 357 would achieve.
These changes draw on rules of interpretation that, as I indicated in my intervention earlier, were proposed by the International Regulatory Strategy Group. That body is co-sponsored by the City of London corporation and TheCityUK, and I am indebted to the Remembrancer’s Office of the City of London corporation for the drafting of these amendments—it takes the credit for the ingenuity.
I absolutely take the spirit in which these amendments are made, and I am grateful to the Remembrancer’s Office, but does my hon. Friend not agree that we need to be cautious? He thinks that this general interpretive approach will, of itself, amend deficiencies, but does the fact not remain that we would still have to amend deficiencies in legislation, even with these otherwise helpful-looking provisions?
I do not disagree with the Solicitor General about that, but I suggest that it is not an either/or scenario. I very much hope that he will indicate that he is prepared to continue working with me and the authors of the amendments to take this forward. I see that he nods his assent, and I am sure that we can find a constructive means of doing so.
Let me explain why this is important. The first of the rules, in subsection (A3), would confine the territorial scope of the retained EU law to the UK. That would put it on the same territorial footing as domestic law, therefore ensuring that as a general principle, retained EU law would no longer enable or require people or businesses in the UK to do, or to stop doing, something in an EU country. It is perfectly logical from that point of view.
The second rule would ensure that reference to a member state in an EU law that has been domesticated was taken, post Brexit, as a reference to the UK. That would ensure that domesticated EU law would in fact fully apply in the domestic sphere, removing any ambiguity on that point. That will be necessary in a large number of instances to avoid the situation in which the UK will, in effect, be treated as a third country for the purposes of its own laws where retained EU law is currently framed by reference to the whole EU. That would be an absurdity, and we are seeking to remove that risk.
The third rule, in subsection (A5), would transfer all the functions exercised by EU bodies to the Secretary of State. I take the Minister’s point that not all those will necessarily be exercised by the Secretary of State. It is not prescriptive in that way—it need not be, and we can talk about that—but it would deal with the many instances where such functions are transferred to an appropriate Secretary of State as well as providing, again, a legislative backstop to cater for circumstances where the alternative arrangements had not been put in place in time, so that there is no cliff edge in that regard.
The fourth rule deals with the many situations where domestic authorities are required, either outright or as a precondition, to exercise their own functions to deal with EU bodies or authorities in member states. What does that mean in practice? It covers, for instance, cases where the UK body has to notify, consult or get the approval of an EU body before taking a particular course of action.
Is not the overwhelming advantage of this rule not that it would put any legal constraints on an authority but that it would allow flexibility to co-operate, making it more likely that we would achieve an equivalent regulatory solution more quickly?
That is entirely right. That rule would preserve the flexibility to co-operate with European partners and to trade into the European markets—regulatory equivalence will be critical to achieving that—and it would do so without the risk of facing any inappropriate legal constraints on the UK’s own operations once we have left.
I am not suggesting that the answer to everything is in this amendment. It is tabled in the spirit of wanting to work with the Government as we move forward, but it does go a long way towards delivering, in a relatively simple manner, the objective of having a functioning statute book on exit day.
Amendment 358 deals with what those who worked on this perceive as a potential gap concerning the interpretation of domesticated EU law. Clause 6(3), as has already been observed, will preserve the effect of case law laid down before exit day. Clause (6)(2) will provide discretion, and we have talked a lot about taking that into account. I listened with interest to the speech by Joanna Cherry regarding her amendment on that point. Again, this amendment does not provide the whole answer, but it raises serious issues that need to be looked at, and I hope that Ministers will do so.
For the sake of clarity, I think that my hon. Friend will find that schedule 8(25) contains enough scope for other documents of the type that he mentions to be considered by the courts. I hope that I have given him enough reassurance on that point.
I am grateful to the Solicitor General for that clarification. Perhaps he could confirm that he is happy to meet me and we can discuss that. [Interruption.] He says that he is of course happy to do so. I am grateful to him for that very constructive response, and characteristically so. That will enable us to deal with things like negotiating texts, which we sometimes know of as the travaux préparatoires within the EU context. [Interruption.] Again, the Solicitor General confirms that that is the sort of thing that we can discuss.
Why is that important to the International Regulatory Strategy Group, and why is the group central to this? Its membership includes virtually all the significant representative institutions of the London financial community: the stock exchange, the Association for Financial Markets in Europe, the Association of British Insurers, the British Bankers Association, the City of London corporation and major commercial organisations such as Credit Suisse, Aviva, Allen & Overy, Allianz, Fidelity, HSBC and Lloyds. The list includes all the key underpinners of the City’s operation.
We need to take those important matters into account, and I am grateful to the Solicitor General for his willingness to meet and discuss them. I commend to him and other Ministers the observation made by my right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan about the Francovich cases. It clearly cannot be the Government’s intention to remove people’s opportunity to seek remedies for wrongs that were done prior to our departure. My right hon. Friend raises a critical issue, and it is important to get this right.
I hope that Ministers will observe that the guidance in clause 6(2) is clearly not sufficient to meet the concerns of our senior judiciary and that they have said as much. When Lord Neuberger, a distinguished President of the Supreme Court, says that, ironically, the discretion is so wide that it puts judges at a degree of risk of political attack, he has to be taken seriously. Several right hon. and hon. Members have praised the quality of our judiciary, and I totally agree with them. We ought to listen very carefully when our judiciary say that, as a matter of protection against malicious attack of the sort that they have suffered in the past, they look to Parliament to safeguard their ability to function independently in cases that are quite politicised.
I am listening with care to my hon. Friend. Will he accept from me that there is another danger, namely that by using too many prescriptive words in the Bill, we could fetter the discretion of the courts in a way that they would find equally unacceptable? There is a balance to be struck here.
There is, and that is why it is all the more important—perhaps unusually so—for Government to talk quietly with the judiciary to find out what they are saying. They cannot compromise their independence, but those of us who are in touch with them want to make sure that the Government understand the root of their concerns. I am sure that there is a constructive way forward on that.
I know that the Solicitor General will be aware of the problem, because it was referred to in the Justice Committee’s report in the last Parliament. I also draw his attention to the concerns raised by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the recently retired Lord Chief Justice, in the evidence that he gave only a couple of days before he retired from that post. He gave a pretty clear steer on the sort of thing that could be helpful and posited various types of language. I hope that the Solicitor General accepts that we need to look further at the matter, and I hope that we can do that constructively as we take the Bill forward.
Many of my constituents and the businesses in my constituency have raised the importance of a transitional period. The UK transition will inevitably bring with it changes to the way in which goods and services are traded between the UK and the EU, and, although businesses on both sides are beginning to anticipate and plan for change, the scope and nature of the changes are as yet unclear. The consequences could range from moderate to significant disruption to current rights and freedoms. The issue goes far beyond banking and impacts on any business that sells goods or services between the UK and the EU.
The negotiation of a new future relationship is a process separate from the article 50 negotiations, and at present there is no indication that a new long-term agreement on trade and services will be in place at the point of exit. Businesses in the UK and the EU face three unknowns: what the future will look like, when the arrangement will be in place and what will happen in the period between the end of the current EU framework and the start of the future framework. That is why transitional arrangements are essential to avoid a damaging cliff-edge effect at the point of exit.
Businesses, customers and regulators will need time to adapt and settle into a new framework. A transition period would reduce the risk of businesses making potentially premature decisions about the structure of their operations. This is why negotiating and embedding transitional arrangements in a withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU would give both sides a greater degree of visibility and certainty in planning for the future. Clause 6 of the Bill makes it clear that the UK courts will not need to keep even half an eye on the case law of the ECJ. In legislative terms, this is as clear a statement as we can get that the UK courts will not have to follow ECJ decisions, directly or indirectly, post-Brexit.
The debate on this string of amendments includes considering clause 6 stand part. I was extremely pleased that, after my intervention earlier, the Minister indicated that the Government intend to bring forward an amendment on Report to take up what I believe is an important recommendation made by the Women and Equalities Committee in the report we published in February. The recommendation is to have a mandatory ministerial statement of compatibility with the Equality Act for all Bills and secondary legislation related to exiting the EU.
This is important because the Government have set out very clearly that they do not want any backsliding on our equalities agenda or, indeed, our equalities law when we leave the EU. With the sort of amendment that my hon. Friend mentioned, we will have more of a guarantee that that will actually happen. The EU White Paper published in February says very clearly that the Government want to ensure that
“the same rules and laws will apply on the day after we leave the EU as they did before.”
This approach will preserve the rights and obligations that already exist in the UK under EU law and provide a secure basis for the future.
Certainty is needed in relation not only to the laws themselves, but to the frameworks within which those laws will operate. The Select Committee’s inquiry into exit from the EU found that things will change for individuals after we leave the EU because the UK courts will no longer be able to disapply law that is found to be incompatible with equality laws, as is currently the case with the CJEU. The UK will lose the particular function of the CJEU as an arbiter of incompatibility with the principles of equality. For the Government to achieve the important objective that they have set out of protecting equality rights as they are now, we will have to do more than simply transpose the legislation; we must also provide such additional functionality.
This really matters to our constituents. It really matters to women such as Carole Webb, who was fired by her employer for being pregnant. She had her case heard in the CJEU, and her rights were enforced. It really matters to mothers such as Sharon Coleman, who just wanted to be able to work more flexibly to care for her disabled son. She had her case heard by the CJEU, and her rights were enforced. We need to make sure that this continues in the future.
The very sensible and practical recommendation put forward by the Women and Equalities Committee proposed a simple solution for the Government. It is that a statement of compatibility should be published by Ministers when any statutory instrument or Bill related to EU withdrawal is published to explain why the proposals are or are not compliant with the Equality Act. That would mirror the provisions set out in sections 19 and 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998. This would make it clear to the courts that they must take account of the Equality Act, and that if legislation was incompatible, the courts could indeed make a declaration of incompatibility, which would have to be rectified by the Government, as is now the case.
This recommendation is important because, as I have said, it will enable the Government to adhere to what they have set out as their policy. It will fill a missing gap that currently is filled by the Court of Justice of the EU, and it will give the courts in the UK the potential power to make declarations of incompatibility. For those looking to the public sector equality duty to partially fill that gap, I would point out that we set out very clearly in our report that this duty does not apply to primary legislation, and that is why such a change is needed.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case, as always, for equality. Does she agree that co-operation on issues such as female genital mutilation, human trafficking and other gender-based crimes should also be included in the exit agreement?
My hon. Friend has a great deal of experience in those matters, and I am sure that Ministers sitting on the Front Bench are looking at them very closely. They will be as aware as us that, as we leave the EU, the complexities, particularly regarding equalities, need careful attention. When Government Equalities Office Ministers came before the Women and Equalities Committee recently, I was pleased that they were prepared to discuss Brexit issues. I hope that in future Brexit Ministers will also come before the Committee to discuss the issues set out by my hon. Friend.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for taking the issue very seriously indeed. I know that he has a lot on his plate, but he has taken the time to look at the issue in detail. He should be applauded for that. I look forward to seeing the fruits of his labour on Report.
I want to speak briefly in support of amendment 137, tabled by my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry, who spoke so persuasively about the need to strengthen and clarify clause 6, particularly subsection (2).
If, utterly regrettably from my point of view, the UK is to leave the EU, it is important not only that there is a functioning statute book on exit day, but that it is as accessible and comprehensible as possible. The ordinary citizen must be able to understand their rights and obligations; businesses need to have clarity about the rules under which they will be trading and competing; and our courts require clear guidance about Parliament’s intentions. The rule of law and our economic interest require that. As it stands, however, there is still much work to do to achieve those aims, and that includes rectifying the lack of clarity in clause 6.
My starting point is clause 6(3), about which I do not think there is any dispute. Clearly, unmodified retained EU law should be interpreted in accordance with retained case law and principles of EU law. That is necessary to ensure that the statute book applies in the same way after exit as it did before. Immediately after that, however, we get into sticky territory, namely the status of post-exit European case law.
In the first months and years after exit, few cases in the CJEU will concern new EU rules that have nothing to do with the UK. Most will continue to relate to rules that existed before exit and that will in fact have been incorporated into the UK statute book by this Bill. In essence, such decisions by the CJEU are about how the law always was and should have been applied, including immediately prior to exit.
With apologies for moving away from highbrow discussions about the rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament, I want to talk about the hypothetical EU widget regulations. If the EU widget regulations come into effect prior to exit, and a decision of the CJEU shortly after exit clarifies that the regulations do indeed apply to a new and cutting-edge form of six-sided widget, that decision would actually tell us and clarify what retained EU law was on Brexit day—the point at which it was incorporated into our laws. Yet the Bill appears to fudge or dodge the issue of whether such a ruling should be followed or even whether it should be given any consideration at all. Parliament is in danger of passing the buck to judges on what is actually a political decision.
Unlike his German counterpart, the UK manufacturer of a six-sided widget is unclear about where he stands and, importantly, so are our judges. Given that the widget directive is part of retained law, there is a strong argument that this Parliament should say that if the CJEU confirms in its judgement—despite it being handed down after exit—that when we incorporated the regulations they did apply to a six-sided widget, that should also be part of retained law in the United Kingdom, unless there is good reason to the contrary. That would seem sensible and desirable from a legal theory point of view and, much more importantly, from a practical point of view. If we are to make trade and competition with the EU as simple as possible, surely it makes sense for exactly the same rule, one still found in an EU regulation and one incorporated by the Bill into domestic law, to be interpreted in the same way unless there are very good reasons to the contrary. However, all clause 6(1) says is that a court or a tribunal is not bound by post-Brexit CJEU decisions, and clause 6(2) merely says it can “have regard to” such case law
“if it considers it appropriate to do so.”
Lord Neuberger says that that is not very helpful guidance for judges. Neither is it helpful for the six-sided widget manufacturer, who needs to know whether he must comply with the widget regulations and is not sure if domestic courts will follow the CJEU in deciding whether it does. Indeed, we might even find that courts in different parts of the United Kingdom could come to different decisions about whether to follow the CJEU’s decision on the widget regulations. Parliament has to do much better.
Amendment 137 provides alternative options. If there are reasons why domestic courts should not want to follow a CJEU ruling, the court could quite simply have regard to and then decline to follow the Court’s judgment. There could be very good reasons for that to happen, for example if Parliament had already decided to put in place its own separate statutory regime for six-sided widgets. Ultimately, if Parliament decides after a particular judgment by the CJEU that it wants to change retained law to take a different course, it can of course do that. However, there are many more rules where it would surely be sensible for this Parliament to leave them in place as they are and to seek to ensure consistency of application between the United Kingdom and the European Union so far as that is possible.
Perhaps one reason why the Government and the Brexiteers, who appear to be paying precious little attention to anything going on in the Chamber, are not really interested is because they want a bonfire of such regulations and a race to the bottom. That is the ultimate goal of the hard Brexiteers on the Conservative Benches.
I suspect my hon. Friend is absolutely right. My point is that there are many more rules where it would surely be sensible for this Parliament to leave in place exactly as they are, and not only that but to seek to ensure consistency of application between the United Kingdom and the European Union so far as that is possible. Clause 6(6) allows for even modified retained law to be interpreted in accordance with retained case law and principles if that is what Parliament intends.
We need a clear expression of intention that by leaving the rules unmodified and retaining the same rules in place on exit day, we are seeking for them to be applied in the same way here as across the EU. That is a much more political decision than I think the Minister accepts, which is why it should not be left to judges; it should be expressed clearly by this Parliament that that is what we want, if that is indeed what we want to happen. That will help judges, it will be good for the six-sided widget manufacturers who will understand the rules under which they have to operate, and, most importantly, it will be good for all citizens who will benefit from clarity about their rights. It is therefore imperative that Parliament makes this happen, through amendment 137 or otherwise.
It pains me to say this, but I think that what several of us have been trying to say, put very briefly, is that clause 6 as it stands is a frightful mess. Of course I shall vote with the Government tonight, but I very much hope that after this debate—as did not happen after Second Reading—the Government will go away and think about clause 6. If they do not, what will happen is that it will, rightly, be massacred in the House of Lords, not least by former Law Lords. Once it has been, it will be very difficult for those of us who know it is a mess at the moment, in a way I am about to describe, to support an attempt to overrule the House of Lords. I beg those on the Front Bench to take seriously the problem we are trying to expose here. Let me try to describe it more clearly than perhaps I have managed so far, although I know that several of my hon. Friends have also tried.
It is clear, from clause 5(2), that the Government accept that, in relation to the retained law, the interpretative powers of the ECJ are extremely wide. It states:
“the principle of the supremacy of EU law continues to apply…so far as relevant to the interpretation, disapplication or quashing of any enactment”.
As my hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox rightly pointed out, the supreme power that can be given to a court in this land is being attributed in the Bill to the ECJ in respect of existing legislation—namely, the power to quash an Act of Parliament. It does not get higher than that.
Now we come to clause 6 and, in particular, clause 6(3). My hon. Friend the Minister said he wanted to create a snapshot—I think I am quoting him exactly—on the basis of which, under clause 6(3)(a), the courts would proceed
“in accordance with any retained case law and any retained general principles of EU law”.
Together with clause 5(2), that means that the courts as a whole are being adjured by an Act of Parliament to observe the supremacy of the ECJ in respect of retained law, including where it requires the quashing of an Act of Parliament, and there is no hesitation in clause 6(3)(a) about the courts’ scope of discretion in that respect.
That seems a perfectly clear position. It is not one that I would wish to sponsor, as it defeats a large part of the very reason for Brexit—for example, almost the entirety of our benefits system has been warped by interpretations of the ECJ that go way beyond the treaties and create constraints on the award of benefits that no British Government would wish to see—but nevertheless it is a clear position. My only purpose this evening is to ensure that we do not create a frightful legal muddle. I would even settle for clause 6(3)(a) as the principle of the thing, if it were clear and it applied to all UK courts.
The problem, however, is that clause 6(4)(a) makes it perfectly clear that
“the Supreme Court is not bound by any retained EU case law”.
My hon. Friend the Minister said that this was fine, because after the snapshot the Supreme Court could make adjustments and the law could move on, but let us follow that process a bit: a lower court—or perhaps a sequence of lower courts up to but not including the Supreme Court—has before it a case to which it must apply the principles in clause 6(3)(a) and in which therefore it must judge that the possibly very expansive and teleological judgments of the ECJ, going way beyond the plain words of any text of any treaty, directive or regulation, apply in respect of the retained law. The same case now reaches the Supreme Court, which is given no guidance on which principles to apply, but is simply told that it is not bound by any retained EU case law.
Let us suppose that in this instance, for some very good reason, such as the principle of equity, natural justice or some such thing, the Supreme Court judges in the opposite direction from that of the lower courts—it has now created a precedent. The next case of a similar variety appears in a lower court, which is adjured by the statute, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decision, to follow clause 6(3)(a) and to apply the rulings of the ECJ, however expansive and contrary to the plain text of the treaties they might have been, and notwithstanding whatever the Supreme Court has said. Or is it? Should the lower court instead apply the principle applied by the Supreme Court when, in relying on clause 6(4)(a), it departed from retained case law?
I am listening with great care to my right hon. Friend. Is not the simple answer that the Supreme Court will apply the rules of precedent in accordance with its practice direction of 50 years ago, which allows it to depart from previous case authority where it appears right to do so? Principles have been set out in domestic law by the Supreme Court and its predecessor, the judicial committee of the House of Lords.
With great respect to the Solicitor General, I draw him back to clause 6(3)(a), which directs the lower court in such a case to continue to apply the retained case law on the basis of ECJ jurisprudence, not Supreme Court jurisprudence. If that is not what the Government intend, they need to redraft clause 6(3)(a). They can have it one way or the other, but we cannot in this country have a legal system that tells our courts to do two different things. That is why the former judges are causing a harouche here. They are not being told what we, as a Parliament, are expecting of them.
What we are seeking to do is, in effect, settle the status of retained EU case law so that it is equivalent to that of Supreme Court authority. That is the explanation of the hierarchy that my right hon. Friend has, very fairly, outlined.
If the Solicitor General is trying to argue that he is aiming for equality between the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice and the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, that poses an insoluble problem for the lower court. One has to trump the other, but if the Bill is trying to make out that one trumps the other, it does not do it. It is really quite important for a human being who speaks English and reads the Bill to be able to see which trumps which.
I understand exactly where my right hon. Friend is coming from. I have to say that my reading of this was that once the Supreme Court had departed from the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice in a particular case, thereafter the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence would be the one that the lower court would have to follow. However, that does not get us past the problem that the Supreme Court is provided with no guidance whatever about the purposive nature of EU law and how it should approach it.
Let me deal with my right hon. and learned Friend’s helpful intervention in two steps. If what he said in the first step about the supremacy of the Supreme Court’s rulings is to apply—which is not inequality, but puts the Supreme Court above the ECJ in the interpretation of these matters for retained law—that is a perfectly clear position, and one that I, as a matter of fact, would welcome; but then the Bill should bloody well say so. However, he is right, in that even if we presume that the Bill will be adjusted—as I am sure it will be, in the House of Lords—to make it clear that that is the case, we face the next problem, which is what it is that the poor old Supreme Court is meant to be doing.
I understand the words
“in accordance with any retained case law” in clause 6(3)(a), but I do not understand the words
“any retained general principles of EU law”.
That suggests that the court must adopt a methodology which has been retained. What we want our courts to do is revert to what they used to do, which was interpreting statute without reference to the jurisprudential and teleological techniques adopted by the European Court.
Notwithstanding the chuntering of my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry—and she is a friend of mine, but she is quite wrong about these issues—I happen to agree with my hon. Friend. My point is, however, that it does not matter nearly so much which side of the argument we are on as that we should be clearly on one side or the other.
I feel sure that the reason clause 6(3)(a) says that the court should judge
“in accordance with…any retained general principles” is exactly the reason that was cited by the former Attorney General, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve. As we see in clause 5(2), the purposive and teleological nature of the judgments, and the ability of those judgments to be used to quash even Acts of Parliament, should apply to the way in which our courts continue to interpret retained law. That, I think, is the intent of clause 6(3)(a).
This leaves us with the wide-open, yawning question of whether the Supreme Court should be making judgments when it is, we are told in clause 6(4)(a),
“not bound by any retained EU case law”, but should nevertheless apply the general principles, and try to use the same purpose and teleological reasoning that the ECJ uses. We are not told, and the judges are not told. Far from creating legal certainty, clause 6 seems to me to create the largest possible degree of legal uncertainty. That is not a tolerable position. It is not one that the Government wish to achieve, and not one that the Opposition wish to achieve. I do not believe that anyone in the House of Commons wishes to achieve it. However, it is what the clause, as currently drafted, achieves.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out issues that need to be clarified as soon as possible, which is why new clause 14 says, in a very polite way, that it would help everybody if the Government, within one month of Royal Assent to the Act, could publish a report explaining in proper detail how EU retained law applies in that transition period.
The hon. Gentleman did not allow me to intervene on him, but let me say now that, unfortunately, his point is wholly irrelevant to clause 6; it relates to the transition which will be covered in another Bill. My concern is about the continuing state of UK law following exit. This is not going to be resolved by the Government producing a White Paper. It has to be resolved by clause 6 being drafted in a way that creates the very legal certainty that the Government so admirably wish to create, and which they at present so abundantly fail to do.
My right hon. Friend is asking some very interesting questions, but that does not necessarily mean—he, or indeed any of us in this Chamber, not being a judge—that he is drawing the right conclusions. He is pointing to several questions that need to be raised, however, although he has not mentioned that clause 5(1) states:
“The principle of the supremacy of EU law does not apply to any enactment or rule of law passed or made on or after exit day,” and that must include this Bill.
Furthermore, my right hon. Friend has not quite taken on board what the Solicitor General said with respect to our application of the stare decisis method of interpretation, which the Supreme Court will be obliged to apply after exit day. So he is asking some interesting questions, but I do not think we can necessarily draw conclusions from them.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, and I am very happy to leave it to the Government to draw the conclusions and answer the questions in due course. I do not think clause 5(1) helps at all, however, because my hon. Friend is right that it excludes the possibility of subsequent enactments being subject to the principle of supremacy, but in clause 5(2) it is equally clear that, so far as the retained law is concerned, the principle of supremacy remains, and therefore there may be judgments in the future that already existing law, where there is judged to be a conflict between an Act of Parliament and an ECJ ruling, should have the result that the ECJ ruling triumphs over the Act of Parliament. That is a perfectly possible and sensible position to adopt. It is not one my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin and I would like to see, and I doubt that my hon. Friend Sir William Cash would like to see it, but it is nevertheless a perfectly tolerable position—and it then needs to be carried over for the Supreme Court just as much.
My point remains, however, and it is a simple one: that if the Bill is trying to achieve a hierarchy here, it needs to state what the hierarchy is, and in stating that hierarchy, it needs to make it clear who governs whom. At the moment, the Bill does not do that.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir Oliver Letwin, who, in uncharacteristic fashion, had to knock several lumps out of his own Front Bench to get it to see sense around some obvious problems with clause 6. I have chosen to rise at this point in the evening to pick up on some of the inconsistencies and flaws, revealed during this debate, in the insufficient—in some cases, absent—replies from the Government Front Bench.
My hon. Friend Paul Blomfield asked the Minister very clearly whether the jurisdiction of the ECJ will apply during the transition period. I do not believe the Minister has addressed that, but I am happy to give way if he would like to do so now.
For the benefit of viewers who have just tuned in on BBC Parliament, I am happy to give way to the Minister a second time if he would like to state very clearly for the record whether, in his view, on that fundamental point, the jurisdiction of the ECJ will apply during the transition period. It is a very simple question and it only requires a yes or no answer, but he will not respond.
The hon. Gentleman is very kind, but neither he nor Mike Gapes has been in here for the entirety of the debate. This issue has been addressed squarely. We are not going to pre-empt or prejudice—[Interruption.]
I am not sure that the Minister had a chance to finish his point, and I would be happy to give way again so that he can answer this central question. It is a simple question. The reason why the issue is so problematic is that many of us have been listening carefully to the concerns being expressed in many sectors of our economy about the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. We have heard a simple message: that the biggest risk to this country’s economy at this time is uncertainty.
If the Government want to reassure those sectors of the economy—manufacturing businesses with supply chains in the European Union, for example, or financial and professional services worried about whether contracts will still be honoured and upheld or whether jobs and activity can be relocated—they could give those industries the central message that during the transitional period, the existing structure of EU rules and regulations will apply.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sure that if he did not hear a clear answer, most other Members did not hear one either. This is a golden opportunity for the Minister to answer the question. The Secretary of State has now arrived in the Chamber. Perhaps he will be able to help the Minister out. The simple question is whether, during the transition period, the European Court of Justice will still have jurisdiction in the way that it does at present. Can the Secretary of State give us clarity on this one point? This is a simple and fundamental question—[Interruption.] Come on!
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for setting out in the House today the consistent view that he has held throughout the referendum campaign and during the debates that have followed.
The Government have a fundamental problem. This is not about whether it is the will of the House that the ECJ should have jurisdiction during the transitional period. I think that most Members, whether they voted leave or remain, understand the central importance of giving business certainty right at this moment about what will happen when we leave the European Union. The Prime Minister understood that when she made her speech in Florence, in which she said that, during the transition period,
“the existing structure of EU rules and regulations” would apply. She also said that we could agree
“to bring forward aspects of that future framework such as new dispute resolution mechanisms more quickly if this can be done smoothly.”
The implications are clear. It was the Prime Minister’s view in Florence that, to provide business with the certainty that it needs now about jobs and economic activity, we would remain in the single market and the customs union and, necessarily, under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice for a time-limited transition period.
Is my hon. Friend as puzzled as I am that Ministers are unwilling to support the policy of the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister made her position very clear, when answering a question from Mr Clarke, that the writ of the European Court of Justice would run during the transitional period, or at least at the start of it.
I am just as bewildered as my right hon. Friend. Many Members may not have seen it, but the front page of The Daily Telegraph tomorrow carries a splash entitled “The Brexit mutineers”. On that front page, Members will find people such as Anna Soubry, Robert Neill, Mr Clarke and other Conservative Members who have done nothing else during the course of this debate but try to get the Government to a position whereby we leave the European Union in a way that provides the most clarity, the most certainty and the most stability, which is in the interests of our economy.
Actually, as my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms mentioned, the real Brexit mutineers are not people such as the right hon. Member for Broxtowe because, ironically, the Members on that front page are upholding the principles of the Florence speech. The real Brexit mutineers are members of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, and they are in the Department for Exiting the European Union and in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Those people are the real Brexit mutineers, and they should be explaining why they are not prepared to back the clear positon set out by their own Prime Minister.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that what he describes is a blatant piece of bullying that goes to the very heart of democracy? None of the people who have been named—I take it as a badge of honour—want to delay or thwart Brexit; we just want a good Brexit that works for everybody in our country. That is not a lot to ask for in a democracy.
I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Lady. I know that she is not someone to be pushed around. In fact, when I looked at the front page of The Daily Telegraph, I saw a whole range of principled Conservative politicians with whom I have a number of disagreements, but I look to them as distinguished parliamentarians who always act in what they believe to be the best interests of their constituents and their country.
That brings me to the central challenge at this point in the Brexit negotiations. Manufacturing firms with supply chains in the European Union are having to make decisions now, before Christmas, about jobs and activity and about whether to renew contracts or sign new ones. The clear message from financial services and professional services, the concerns of which the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has attempted to address through his amendments, and from other leading sectors of our economy is that unless there is a clear sense of direction and some reassurance about the rules of the transition period and how it will operate, they will be forced to activate contingency plans as early as now and before Christmas, but certainly into the first quarter of 2018. The clock is ticking, and time is running out. In muddying the waters during the course of today’s debate, Ministers have done nothing at all to reassure businesses that are hovering over activating their contingency plans.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of certainty, and I support what he says about the transition. Does he agree that what is crucial for certainty is ruling out a no-deal, catastrophic Brexit, about which so many people are worried? Many businesses in my constituency are now hedging against it, because they are fearful of the consequences.
I wholeheartedly agree. We hear this fallacy that those of us who warn about a no-deal Brexit are somehow willing to sign up to any kind of bad deal—as if there is a bad deal that could possibly be worse than no deal.
I would like to hear an intervention from anyone on the Government or Opposition Benches who can explain how crashing out of the European Union over a cliff edge with no deal—meaning an immediate end to all existing contractual and legal obligations and to all the frameworks and protections, a hard border in Ireland, and the end of our trading agreements not only with the European Union, but through the European Union to countries across the world—could be worse than any kind of transitional deal. No deal would be the very worst deal, and it is astonishing that there are Government Members who not only entertain the possibility of no deal, but are enthusiastically encouraging it with the views that they put forward.
There have been many problems with the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit, but in the Florence speech she tried to set out a practical and flexible framework through which we could now give certainty to business about the transition period and, crucially, through which there would be only one set of changes from our membership of the European Union to our future relationship with it once we leave.
This evening, the Government Front-Bench team have driven a coach and horses through the Florence speech. They cannot provide business with the clarity it needs on how the European Court of Justice will operate during transition. They ought to support our position, which is to remain in the single market and the customs union for the time-limited period of transition, because that would give business the certainty it desperately needs.
For Conservative Members to put their ideological vanity against the best interests of the British economy is selfish, reckless and irresponsible, and people should have no truck with it.
I will pick up two or three points that have been made in this important debate. There have some magnificent contributions, particularly from my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin. I will start with what he had to say because it is central to the debate.
I appreciate what the Government have been trying to do with clauses 5 and 6 on the way in which retained EU law should be interpreted. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the wording is opaque, although I think that I understand the Government’s intention on the role and supremacy of the Supreme Court in developing law, but that still does not get us away from the fundamental problem that EU law is different from our law. Its rules of interpretation are different and its purpose is different.
We will come back to that problem right through this Bill, whether on the charter of fundamental rights or the general principles of EU law. We cannot just take EU law and drop it into our law without leaving guidance on what the Government expect that law to be used for. I worry that the lack of explanation is most peculiar. It is not a question of wanting to keep EU law—I assume that it will all ultimately go away, anyway—but in the meantime there is a lack of clarity, and I can well understand why the judiciary, particularly the senior judiciary, are troubled by the lack of guidance. It is almost as though the Government have found it too embarrassing to want to grapple with it. They want to maintain continuity, but they do not want to maintain the implication of continuity because that is a difficult message to sell to some Conservative Members.
We will really have to look at this as we go through the Bill, and I am quite prepared to try to help the Government to find a way through. It is not that I want to keep its aura, and there are many Conservative Members who do not like it at all, but the simple fact is that we need to look at it.
The other issues that have been raised are absolutely right, but they are not relevant to this debate. We do not have the slightest clue what the transitional arrangements will be. We will have to have a completely separate piece of legislation to sort that out, and I suspect it will take a long time to go through this House. Ultimately, if we have a long-term agreement, there will be an interesting issue about whether we will be instructing our courts to mirror EU law so as to maintain comity with the Court of Justice of the European Union or risk constantly having to readjust our legal frameworks for the sake of that deep and special relationship.
I do not want to disappoint some of my right hon. and hon. Friends too much, but the harsh reality is that our geographical location and our desire to have a close trading relationship with the European Union will inevitably mean that decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union continue to have a major influence on our law here—I am afraid that was rather disregarded in last year’s referendum. I think that it is called globalisation, and we will have to return to that as we go along.
We have listened carefully to all hon. Members in the various contributions and concerns that have been raised, and taken account of the amendments in this group. There are issues we will take away for further consideration. I refer in particular to what my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller said about the Equality Act 2010, and my right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan raised her issue powerfully and constructively. My right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin also raised a number of points, and I think that we can address those. I think that they are covered by clause 6, but I will take them away and we will work further to make sure we provide the clarity that is required.
Equally, it is worth reaffirming that clause 6 encapsulates the Bill’s two key strategic objectives: to take back democratic control over our laws, and to do so in a way that delivers a smooth Brexit with legal certainty.
I thank Members for a debate that has covered a wide range of issues relating to transition and the application of EU law, but that has also revealed a number of interesting facets of Government policy. It was particularly stark that the Minister, who would not give way just now to my hon. Friend Wes Streeting, could not let the words, “The ECJ would apply during a transition” pass his lips. That was the very phrase the Prime Minister, for it was she, put into the Florence speech. I thought that speech was Government policy, but it turns out apparently not to be—not today.
I will repeat, in terms, exactly what I said earlier. We want an early agreement on an implementation period. As the Prime Minister said in the Florence speech, that may mean we start off with the European Court still governing some rules we are part of for that period, but the Government are also clear that if we can bring forward a new dispute resolution mechanism at an earlier stage, we will do so. The hon. Gentleman should have listened to what I said earlier.
Well, well, well. The number of caveats, little changes and weasel words within that particular obfuscatory explanation were not as clear as what the Prime Minister said at that time. That was fascinating and I suspect the Minister will get a phone call from No. 10 in the morning. New clause 14, which I would like to test the will of the House on, is still very relevant; we need to get clarity from the Government a month after Royal Assent on how exactly transition would apply. It is clear that although they say there will be an Act of Parliament, we do not know that that can be completed and enacted before exit day. We may find ourselves with a vacuum. We need much more clarity from Ministers. The Minister has proven the point and made the case amply, which is why I wish to press new clause 14 to a vote.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House divided:
Ayes 296, Noes 316.
Division number 35
Question accordingly negatived.
More than eight hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order,
The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (