“The Secretary of State shall, within one month of Royal Assent of this Act, publish an assessment of each of the international treaties, agreements and obligations that will be affected, require amendment or require renegotiation as a result of this Act, including an assessment of where the powers in section 8 may need to be used.”—(Mr Leslie.)
This new clause would require Ministers to publish a full list and assessment of the implications of this Act on the many international treaties and agreements that the United Kingdom is party to and which may be impacted as a result of this Bill. The assessment would also have to set out those areas where Ministers anticipate the powers in Clause 8 of this Bill may need to be used.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“(2A) Regulations under subsection (1) may, in particular, include regulations to match or exceed World Health Organisation air quality standards.”
This amendment is intended to ensure that the UK continues to meet international air quality standards after withdrawal from the EU.
Amendment 292, page 6, line 38, at end insert—
“(e) impose or increase taxation”
This amendment would prevent the imposition or increase of a tax by regulations made under Clause 8 to comply with international obligations.
Amendment 390, page 6, line 38, at end insert—
“(e) confer a power to legislate (other than a power to make rules of procedure for a court or tribunal).”
Amendment 352, page 6, line 40, at end insert—
“(5) Any power to make, confirm or approve subordinate legislation conferred or modified under this Act and its schedules must be used, and may only be used, insofar as is necessary to ensure that standards of equalities, environmental protection and employment protection, and consumer standards will continue to remain in all respects equivalent to those extant in the EU.
(6) In particular, no agreement relating to international trade or investment with the EU or with a third-party state or states shall be made that permits or requires standards of equalities, environmental protection and employment protection, and consumer standards to fall below those extant in the EU at the time.”
This amendment would ensure that in exercising the powers under this provision, the Government maintains equivalent standards to the EU, and in particular, in making trade agreements.
Clause 8 stand part.
What a privilege it is to have the opportunity to speak on such a momentous evening when Parliament has had the guts and foresight to stand up to the Executive, take back control and give hope to those who thought that all hope was lost, and to see Members from all parties working together in the national interest.
It is wonderful to see so many former Ministers on the Conservative Benches discovering their love of parliamentary sovereignty when they are no longer on the ministerial merry-go-round. I have far greater respect in this place for those parliamentarians who have never held ministerial office and actually respect this place, even when things are not going their way.
And I have even more respect for those who have never held ministerial office and who actually vote with their conscience, rather than looking at the ministerial ladder ahead of them and deciding to suppress their views for other reasons. Anyway, we have been there and dealt with that issue.
In speaking to new clause 20, I want to make a couple of introductory remarks. Over the last 44 years, I think, of Britain’s membership of the EU, the UK has accrued a massive array of international obligations, rights and authorisations via a series of 759 treaties—this is absolutely right—with 168 non-EU countries. Of course, after
New clause 20 would require Her Majesty’s Government to publish one month after Royal Assent—we can give them that month to get themselves together—a comprehensive assessment of each of those treaties, agreements and obligations; to set out if there are any requirements they want to amend or renegotiate; and to make an assessment of whether the powers in clause 8 might need to be used. Sir David, you will know, in your eagle-eyed way, that clause 8 gives powers to Ministers, for two years at least, to make a series of orders and regulations to prevent or remedy any breach in those international treaties, as if achieved by an Act of Parliament. I pay tribute to the late Paul McClean, the Financial Times journalist who sadly died in September, who, in one of his final reports, carried out an extremely comprehensive analysis and assessment of some of these many treaties and international obligations.
Is the hon. Gentleman wondering—he might be about to come to this—whether the Government have carried out an assessment of the impact of the UK’s falling out of all these treaties?
That is indeed a question I was coming to. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that the Government have made an itemised assessment of all those 759 treaties.
Those treaties break down as follows: 295 bilateral and multilateral trade deals, whose approval is needed to recreate any multilateral arrangements that will fall away as we leave the European Union; 202 regulatory co-operation agreements, including on data sharing, anti-trust and so forth; 69 treaties on fisheries, including access to waters and sustainable stocks; 65 treaties on transport and aviation services agreements; 49 treaties on customs agreements, including on the transportation of goods; 45 treaties on nuclear agreements, including on the use of nuclear fuel with other countries, parts and know-how; and 34 treaties on agriculture.
On top of those 759, there are an estimated further 110 opt-in accords at the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation that we have entered into via our membership of the European Union. A number of them might seem innocuous, but some are incredibly important. To put why this is so important into perspective, with Switzerland—just one country—we have, by virtue of our membership of the European Union, 49 treaties covering air transport, broadcasting, public procurement and legal services. As we come out of the EU after
Just as the hon. Gentleman wonders whether the Government have produced impact assessments for those treaties, he might also be wondering whether they have produced contingency plans for if they are unable to rewrite them to reflect the UK’s new position.
Indeed, and after the Minister has finished the first page of his speech, on the impact assessment, he will turn it over and tell us about the contingency plans that will be in place.
Imagine, Sir David, that you are a Government Minister at this point in time and you are thinking, “Well okay, I’ve got all these 759 treaties. What are we going to do? How are we going to deal with this? How much time is it going to take to renegotiate them or at least make sure they can be carried over?” Let us assume that all the other parties to those agreements are happy simply to cut and paste them across. Of course, we cannot necessarily assume that, but let us do so. If, for each agreement, it took a civil servant one day to analyse the contents, a day to contact the third party country concerned, of which there are 160, perhaps a day to track down the decision makers in the relevant Departments here in the UK and the other country, perhaps a couple of days in dialogue with that other country—it would be pretty good if they could do it in a couple of days—and maybe a day to bring together our Ministers and their Ministers, we would be talking, on top of the costs of travelling to those other countries and legal costs, some tens of thousands of hours of civil service time.
Because the hon. Gentleman has, notwithstanding his personal views, accepted the will of the electorate, no doubt the logic of where he is leading us is to put off leaving the European Union for some indeterminate period of time until all these issues are sorted out.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents knew all this before they voted in the referendum. I am not convinced that many members of the public, whether they voted remain or leave, actually spotted the downstream consequentials of exiting the European Union in this way. Of course, they employ us, as Members of Parliament, to answer these questions. That is our job and it is what we are here to do.
My view is that the British public always have the right to think again and decide the fate of this country as they see fit, but for the time being, in this Bill and with new clause 20, it is reasonable for us to scrutinise the Executive and to say, “How are you going to do it? How are you going to make sure that all the important aspects of those 759 international treaties will be smoothly transposed after
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As these are potentially fresh treaty discussions, other countries may wish to take the opportunity to reopen or revisit the treaty provisions. We may, of course, have entered into those agreements in different political times, so who knows what they may be?
As always, my hon. Friend makes a compelling case for changing the Bill. Given that the Government are battered and bruised this evening after their outstanding defeat, if the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box and says that they do have assessments of the impact of our leaving these international treaties, should we believe them?
I will believe the Government if they publish the assessments, and I am prepared to make an appointment to go to a private reading room in the ex-Treasury building if needs be, but this must be a bit more than an analysis of how many treaties there are: it must be an assessment of their impact and importance.
My hon. Friend is making an important point. Of course, I support his new clause.
I have long been in favour of the arms trade treaty, parts of which fall within EU competence. The EU as a whole was involved in the negotiations on the treaty, and we are a party to it as an individual country. We also have the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria as well as domestic legislation. The arms trade is one of the issues that cut across many different areas of competence, and we are party to a number of treaties relating to it. Is that not exactly the sort of issue that should be examined?
It is, and I think it is particularly incumbent on those who advocated Britain’s exit from the EU to tell us what their plan was. How were they going to solve that problem? It should not be entirely incumbent on the myriad Conservative Members who were fighting for Britain to leave the EU only to disappear when the really tough job came along of deciding how we were to pick up the pieces and ensure that the treaties could continue in some way, shape or form.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should carry out an impact assessment to establish whether they have the capacity to negotiate the treaties, given, for example, the Secretary of State for International Trade’s recent admission that they do not have the capacity to negotiate trade deals?
Indeed. For example, last time I heard, only three officials at the Department for Transport were dedicated to negotiating aviation agreements. Those three poor civil servants, although hopefully there are four or five by now, will have a heck of a job on their hands to repair all the open skies agreements and international aviation treaties—that is in just one sector, so think of the implications. But I am sure that those who were advocating a leave vote have a plan to cope with the whole scenario.
I just wanted to help the hon. Gentleman. Given his position in the Chamber, he might not have been able to see that both Ministers were frantically texting earlier. I suspect that they did not have the list of treaties to which he is referring. He might need to supply it at the end of the debate so that they can start doing some work on this.
I want to make a bit of progress as others want to speak.
We in the UK are thinking that we must replace a lot of these treaties. When we leave the EU, our exit will affect not just us but the EU, because a great many of its treaties, obligations and agreements with third countries around the world were predicated on the existence of 28 members. Minus the UK, the other members may need to renegotiate their treaties as well. Ministers might not give two hoots about the implications of that, but those on the EU side of the negotiating table probably do care about it, and that will have ramifications for our negotiations.
Of course, the Foreign Secretary was always telling us that all the other countries around the world were queuing up to do deals with us. He had to fight them off as they asked, “Please may we have a new trade agreement with you?” I have not personally seen that particular queue, but perhaps when the Minister winds up the debate he will be able to tell us how many countries have been knocking on our door seeking new trade agreements.
The hon. Gentleman obviously thinks very little of this country if he feels that other countries around the world do not want to do trade deals with the United Kingdom. Why does he think that?
Those countries already have very good trade agreements with us by virtue of our membership of the European Union, and they are worried about losing the opportunity to have good trade arrangements not just with us, but with the rest of the EU, if those agreements are ripped up and thrown up into air, creating uncertainty. I will be the first person, as a member of the International Trade Committee, to go around the world and try to get those trade agreements, if indeed we do have Brexit, but until that point, I want the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he explained to his constituents before the referendum that all these international treaties were going to be ripped up. Did he say that to them?
The hon. Gentleman needs to answer the question that I asked him first, with all due respect. He said there would be concern among many of these other countries—he did not say which—about what kind of trade agreement there would be, and about access to markets and so forth. Of course they will have concerns; we will also have concerns—that is part of any bilateral trade negotiation. Why does he think, despite these concerns, that they will not to wish to do deals with us?
I hope that countries do, and we will need them to, otherwise we will literally be planting carrots in our back gardens. If we do not have trade deals with the rest of the world, we will have to produce more domestically, rather than having the living standards we have previously enjoyed. I am a very pro-trade Member of Parliament, and the right hon. Gentleman should know where I stand on many of these questions. That is why I am asking what the consequences will be not just if we move away from the trade arrangements we have—the finest, frictionless free trade agreement of anywhere in the world that we have right now with the single market and the customs union—but if we then rip up the free trade agreements with non-EU countries that we have enjoyed by virtue of our EU membership. That is another 12% of our exports. Some 50% of our exports are with the EU through our existing trade arrangements, and then there is another 12%—actually, there is another 14% because there are other territories of those non-EU countries as well. That is a big chunk of our trade. I am very concerned about how effectively we can carry out the grandfathering of those FTAs with the rest of the EU.
We must also bear in mind that there are 164 members of the WTO, and they have rights of veto and objection on many occasions. In fact, we recently tried to lodge a suggestion on dividing tariff-rate quotas. This is getting technical, but that is basically dividing up the EU’s share of low or zero-tariff allowances when countries such as New Zealand or Australia try to import lamb. Amazingly, Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America have lodged an objection to the British divvy-up of those tariff-rate quotas. Of course, apparently America should have been knocking on our door, as we were at the front of the queue, supposedly, but it still lodged an objection to our very first relationship with the WTO.
My hon. Friend rightly raises the issue of these countries objecting to any changes to quota, because they will first and foremost seek to protect their own economies, not our economy. In the event that we get a percentage of the EU quota but for whatever reason—customs barriers; non-tariff barriers; the withdrawal of purchasing power—that quota of goods cannot be sold into the UK, those countries’ flexibility to then sell those goods to the EU is lost. That is why they are digging their heels in so early on this issue.
That is a real worry. This will not get media attention or airtime, but it is a big chunk of our economic footprint. It is not just a trade issue with the EU; it is a trade issue in respect of all the free trade agreements with the rest of the world.
There is another complication. If we are saying that we are going to have regulatory alignment on cross-border issues with regard to Northern Ireland, specifically on agriculture, given that we are in the EU orbit in that sense, how on earth can we then have WTO trade arrangements elsewhere unless we give the same conditions that apply to the Irish Republic to every other country in the world, which the EU cannot accept?
There is a big issue relating to the most favoured nation status arrangement because of clauses in the existing EU free trade agreements. If we are given a deep and special relationship with the EU, the EU will be obliged to offer the same access to Korea and to Canada under the comprehensive economic and trade agreement. There are implications to all this. If we pull one thread, all sorts of things appear.
This business of full alignment is also crucial. The Prime Minister said to the Republic of Ireland and the EU Commission, “Oh yes, full alignment—absolutely!” Then she came back to the UK and said, sotto voce, to her own Brexiteers, “It’s pretty meaningless really. Don’t worry. It just applies to this very narrow band of issues in the Good Friday agreement: agriculture, energy, tourism—those kinds of things.” According to the Prime Minister’s definition, it does not apply to trade in goods. However, I think that those on the EU side of the negotiating table think that full alignment includes trade in goods. There is a big disparity there, and I just do not think that the Government are going to be able to paper across it.
I will finish shortly. I know that I am trying the right hon. Gentleman’s patience.
The 36 regional and bilateral free trade agreements with 63 other countries are exceptionally important, but there are also trade-related agreements, including mutual recognition agreements and standards for conformity assessments. The Department for International Trade has also said that there are multiple hundreds of mutual recognition agreements. The list is getting bigger and bigger, and it is all on the shoulders of the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr Walker.
The hon. Gentleman is going into great detail about the amount of time and effort that is going to be spent, and the number of treaties and trade deals that will need to be done. Does he agree with me on the broader point that we are treading water here? A huge amount of money and parliamentary time is going to be spent, and nothing else will be able to be done.
Let us think about all the important priorities for our constituents, including public service reform and living standards. This is one of the most frustrating things: we are treading water just to keep up what we already have. Indeed, things will not be as good as the arrangements we already have. What annoys me most is when Ministers try to gloss over this and pretend that it is all going to be fine, saying, “There’s no problem here. There’s nothing to see.” Lord Price, who used to be a International Trade Minister, tweeted about the 36 free trade agreements, saying that they were all fine and that:
“All have agreed roll over.”
The current Minister of State at the Department, the Minister for Trade Policy, retweeted that. However, when we ask the Secretary of State whether countries have agreed that they all roll over, we are told, “Well, we haven’t had any objections from them to suggest they might not roll over.” Will they want to renegotiate? We are told, “Well, we haven’t heard from them yet.” This is an incredible example of trying to put the best possible gloss on the situation, and to get past exit day and worry about it all afterwards. The Government will then pretend that everybody knew about this beforehand.
I will finish my remarks now because I want to hear the speech of my hon. Friend Geraint Davies. We need an assessment of these treaties and of what could be lost. We need an assessment of the risks and of what is at stake. And we need honesty and transparency from Ministers about the consequences. This is not what the public expected when they voted in the referendum, and that is why I urge Members to support new clause 20.
I shall speak to amendment 352, which seeks to maintain for future trade deals the EU rights and protections that are currently enjoyed in other trade deals. A problem that has already been mentioned is that we are going to move away from the comfort zone of the EU, a massive trading bloc which, on
As for our negotiations with other countries, if we exit the EU and expect Chile or Uruguay or some other country to offer us the same trade terms that it has with the EU, which is a much bigger bloc, at a time when we are much weaker, we will be seen among the international trading community as a vulnerable victim of our own self-inflicted harm. They will say, “We will give these terms to the EU, but you are just a small player compared with the critical mass of the EU.” That would undermine not only the financial impact of the terms of trade, but the standards that we currently enjoy.
People will be aware that the REACH arrangements—the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—mean that manufacturers in Europe are required to prove that a chemical is safe before it is sold. In America, however, manufacturers can basically sell asbestos and other harmful products, and it is for the United States Environmental Protection Agency to tell them that they cannot. The worry is that our regime and our standards may change as we are thrust into the hands of the United States, and that workers’ rights, human rights and other rights may change due to China.
The Minister will know that the widespread use of hormones in meat production in America is giving rise to premature puberty among children, and that the widespread use of antibiotics is leading to much greater resistance to them. There is also chlorinated chicken, genetically modified food and other things, and we will be under enormous pressure from the United States to accept standards that are below those that we enjoy as a member of the EU. Donald Trump stood up at his inauguration and said that he would protect the American economy from the foreign countries that were taking America’s jobs, and he has already shown in the Bombardier case that he will play tough. The United States is a much bigger player than Britain, and the competition between the EU and the US is a matched fight when it comes to the negotiation of a deal such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. We will be a much smaller player, and we will have left the conditions of the EU.
Ministers currently have quite widespread powers to sign deals. The current International Trade Secretary signed a provisional agreement for the comprehensive economic and trade agreement without parliamentary approval, and we should be drawing such powers in for parliamentary scrutiny, amendment and agreement. There is a risk that a negotiated settlement that reduces the standards that our citizens enjoy will happen outside this place. I therefore tabled amendment 352, which seeks to maintain the same standards, rights and protections that we enjoy in Europe, as protection in case we end up being asked to vote on trade deals that have all sorts of dire consequences beneath the surface for public health, workers’ rights and consumer protection.
The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned chlorinated chicken, and he should be worried not only that the Americans may seek to impose it on us, but that our International Trade Secretary has said:
“There are no health reasons why you could not eat chicken that had been washed in chlorinated water.”
Our own International Trade Secretary therefore seems to be advocating the consumption of chlorinated chicken.
It is an interesting idea that foxes have been eating chlorinated chicken.
As the right hon. Gentleman says, the concern is that the International Trade Secretary, even at this early stage, will look to undermine consumer standards, health standards and other standards in order to fix a deal and have something on the table to avoid the humiliation we see coming. As has been pointed out, it is in the interest of other countries to hold back from striking an early deal and to let the UK sweat. We will be in a difficult place if we do not have agreement on tariffs with the EU and elsewhere.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as well as chlorinated chicken and other items, infant formula is regulated differently in the US from in the EU? There are higher levels of aflatoxins in US infant formula than in EU infant formula, which could prove detrimental to infant health.
People will know that the EU has enormous capacity for negotiating trade deals, and we have been relying on it for the past 40 years. Over the past few years the EU has had an intricate dialogue with the United States on TTIP and with the Canadians on CETA to try to bring about some sort of harmonisation and agreement. TTIP has hit the buffers and is not going forward, but my point is that we simply do not have that negotiating capacity. If the EU’s huge capacity cannot achieve agreement in a short amount of time—it takes a long time to get these things right—what hope do we have? Very little.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the EU was able to extract additional protections on the environment and workers’ rights from the Canada deal because the EU worked together as a big bloc? At one moment it looked like the EU would be unable to extract those protections, and it happened only because Belgium and other countries insisted. On our own, we must not be able to be picked off by Canada, the US or any other country—they have already tried to pick off the EU.
That is precisely right. What we are now seeing with the Japan deal, as with CETA, is that it will now explicitly protect the right of states to set higher regulatory standards than their treaty partners; public services; the precautionary principle; labour rights; and sensitive economic areas. The deal will also make an explicit commitment to the Paris climate agreement and will safeguard policies intended to protect the environment.
With those blueprints for a harmonious future, we are now jumping ship. We will be left on our own, floating around in the sea and striking out to hold on to bits of timber for dear life. This is very frightening. Earlier we discussed the situation of a deal or no deal, but the problem is that when we do strike a deal, the EU is not there to penalise or punish us; it is simply there to respect the interests of the EU27, which it will. The EU27 will tell us what we are getting, and we will have to like it or lump it. Lump it would be much more painful—we would go on to WTO rules, which people often mention in this Chamber. People need to remember that WTO rules apply only to goods, not services. The trade in services agreement is currently being negotiated outside the WTO so, because 80% of our exports are services, a large amount of our exports will not even have trade with tariffs; there will simply be no agreement on trade. As there is ambiguity between goods and services, such as with cars—cars are two thirds services because of subcontracted labour, lawyers, payroll and various other things—it is a complex area.
A no deal situation would be catastrophic, and the Europeans know that, so they will say what they want and we will have to accept it. If that is unacceptable and much worse than the status quo, the people of Britain should have a final say with a vote on the exit deal. That is not in amendment 352—people do not need to worry about that—although Tom Brake has tabled amendment 120, which we will consider next week. Half the public already want a vote on the exit deal. Only 34% do not want a vote, and 16% do not know. As it emerges how appalling the future being created at the hands of this Government will be, there will be growth in support for such a vote.
Amendment 352 simply says that we should aim to, and would require us to, enjoy the current protections, rights and standards we have in the EU in future trade agreements, in the knowledge that those standards are going up, as I pointed out is happening in the case of Japan. All I am asking for is that we keep the current parity, so that as Europe moves up we at least stay the same, rather than plunge down into the depths of poverty, lower health standards and so on.
Finally, it is important that these standards are set now and front-loaded, so that at least Ministers can work within constraints. That would mean that the International Trade Secretary does not go off agreeing at one moment that he wants to eat chlorinated chicken and at the next that he wants to have genetically modified foods—who knows where we might end up.
I have a great deal of affection and respect for Mr Leslie, and he has drawn attention to a perfectly proper area of concern, to which, strangely, his remedy is merely a report—but then the mask slipped. We have heard all this sanctimonious guff this afternoon about the need for this House to take back control and about proper scrutiny—everything we heard in the earlier debates —but now we see the real motive. Of course he was assisted by others, whom comrade Lenin would have properly referred to as “useful idiots”, but now the mask has slipped.
The real motive—the hon. Gentleman made it absolutely explicit—is to reopen a question that he does not believe was given sufficient attention at the referendum. That has just been confirmed by the hon. Member for Swansea East—
Swansea West. The hon. Member for Nottingham East said that he did not believe that people should not have an opportunity to revisit their decision, and that they have a perfect right to change their mind—I accept that. I am not in favour of some sort of African democracy of one man, one vote, once. People perfectly rightly have an opportunity to do that, but if there was one thing on which both sides in the referendum campaign were agreed it was on the importance of the vote that took place on
I am not sure how to follow both of those contributions, but hon. Members may be relieved to know that I am going to make a brief one as I rise to speak to amendment 26, which seeks to change clause 8. I will focus on two specific points, the first being the purpose of clause 8 and the second being its scope.
The purpose of the clause, as set out in the Bill’s explanatory notes, is to give
“ministers of the Crown the power to make secondary legislation to enable continued compliance with the UK’s international obligations by preventing or remedying any breaches that might otherwise arise as a result of withdrawal.”
I say to the Minister gently that it is not entirely clear what breaches might require the clause 8 power. It is not clear to us that where breaches occur they could not, in most cases, be remedied by clause 7 or by powers contained in other legislation, for example the Trade Bill, which has already been published, or domestic legislation. I do not intend to discuss what my hon. Friend Mr Leslie said in his comprehensive speech, in which he gave a set of examples about the types of international treaties and obligations the Government will have to deal with. However, it would be useful to hear some further examples from the Minister. To date, we have heard about only one international obligation, or perhaps a couple, where the Government believe the clause 8 power must be used. As the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee noted, the Government have not been explicit about the sort of obligations they have in mind for this clause.
On the scope of clause 8, we have many of the same concerns that we have about the scope of the powers in clauses 7, 9 and 17. Clause 8(3) contains some, although not all, of the explicit restrictions that apply in clause 7. In any case, we believe, just as we do with those clauses—that is why we tabled amendment 27 to clause 9 and amendment 25 to clause 7—that the scope of the delegated powers in clause 8 should be circumscribed so that they cannot be used to reduce rights or freedoms.
I know that many Members, including my hon. Friend Mary Creagh, wish to make speeches, so with that I draw my remarks to a close.
The House has heard many technical and legalistic arguments focused on the economic, trade and legal impacts of our leaving the EU, but so far in the Brexit process and debate, the interests of children and their rights have been barely mentioned. That said, I was pleased to hear the point made by my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss about baby milk and the related regulations.
It is important to focus on children, their rights and the effect of Brexit on their future. In all of this, our children have had very little voice or decision-making opportunities for the future of the UK. All our children depend on UK, EU, international and UN provisions and treaties to protect them and to secure their future rights. It is sad and ironic that it was this Conservative Government who refused to let 16 and 17-year-olds participate in the EU referendum.
No one said it better than my former colleague and my dear friend, the previous Member for Gordon—I know all Members miss him as much as I do—who summed up the hokey-cokey politics of this Conservative Government by saying:
“The case for votes for 16 and 17-year-olds has been demonstrated by the Scottish referendum—not as some academic exercise but on the joyful and practical experience of a generation of Scotland’s young people…Claims that teenagers are disengaged with politics or incapable of understanding constitutional issues was blown apart by the great contribution by young people in Scotland during the campaign…It is a ludicrous situation and nothing better illustrates the total lack of imagination which typifies the Conservative Party at its worst and their headlong pursuit of self-interest…It encapsulates Tory arrogance and the insult to young people will neither be forgotten nor forgiven.”
That is an extremely good point.
I remember studying, not that long ago, politics at the University of Stirling, where I learned about further EU integration. It seems very sad that the students of the future will be studying this process, our performance and the decisions that were made. I wonder what the textbooks and political history books will say and how they will read. I think they will say that this has been a political catastrophe—a series of unfortunate events.
One key thing that future students will read about and find incredibly difficult to understand is how the same people who for 40 years argued that the EU had taken sovereignty away from this Chamber were prepared to give that sovereignty so quickly to the United Kingdom Government Executive. That is what all these clauses, including clause 8, will end up doing.
Does the hon. Lady agree that there will probably be a chapter in the history books called “Impact Assessments”, and students will study the reasons why a Government took the most catastrophic economic decision for the country without having conducted any impact assessments of its effect on the economy?
I absolutely do agree. It will probably say “Impact Assessments” and there will just be a blank page, because that is the reality of the situation. It will probably serve as an abject example of how not to do democracy, and sadly we will all be judged under that banner. I do hope, though, that the history books will include those of us who opposed how this process is being carried out.
It is important to reflect on the fact that, whatever people thought of the Scottish referendum, it was held up as a gold standard and that, when the Electoral Commission reflected on the referendum on Brexit, its view was that it happened in too short a timescale and that there was not proper opportunity for debate and discussion. That is important. It is sad that we set a gold standard on one referendum and then seemed to go backwards.
The other day, sitting on the Tube, reading the Evening Standard, I was quite aghast to read an article celebrating its new appointment of a journalist to Brussels. Is it not ironic that news agencies and the press are suddenly appointing journalists to Brussels? Not that long ago, I read a report that said that, out of all the countries in the EU, the nations of the UK had the worst representation in terms of journalistic reportage. So it is no surprise that, after 10 years and longer of blaming the EU for all our ills and of not properly reporting on it, people were ill-informed and we did not have a proper period for debate.
I come back to my point about children. The House of Commons Library briefing paper on Brexit stretches to almost 200 pages, yet children are mentioned only three times. The Brexit White Paper mentions children only once. It urges us all to work towards a stronger, fairer and more global Britain. Well, is that not ironic because we are going to be weaker, less equal and less outward-looking? We are going to be the exact opposite of what those right-wing Brexiteers seemed to want for us across the UK.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there has been no proper commitment yet to continuing with Erasmus+, which gives so many children in my constituency opportunities to go and make friends, to travel out into the world and to broaden their horizons?
I absolutely agree. A delegation from across the EU—from Spain, France and many other countries—came to my constituency to meet and work with our children. It was so incredible to see the friendships that were struck up and the experiences that were shared. The thought that my three-year-old niece, or any children that I have, will not get to experience that is heart-breaking. We should all reflect on that. What are the young people of the nations of the UK going to miss out on because of the poor decision making and the poor decisions that are being pushed by this UK Government?
The Executive powers provided in clause 8 put current UK international obligations under serious threat. As we know, the UK Government cannot be trusted to uphold international obligations. We have seen time and again instances of them turning a blind eye to our obligations. In Yemen, for example, more than 300 incidents that could violate international law have been tracked by the Ministry of Defence since the conflict began two years ago, yet the UK continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.
One of my hon. Friends talked about the Trade Union Act 2016 and how workers’ rights have been rolled back. When all this power comes back, supposedly, to the UK, what faith can we have that our rights and obligations will be upheld by this Government?
We have spoken about Erasmus, regulations and what our young people are going to do. I strongly believe that the whole rhetoric in this process has been damaging. Some of the phrases that have emerged, the slogans that have been put on the side of buses and the way that political discourse has developed during this period echo, sadly, the Trump Administration. That scares me and, I am sure, many others deeply. We hear that Brexit means Brexit, that it will be a red, white and blue Brexit, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, that there are economic impact studies, there are no economic impact studies—yes there are, oh no there are not—and that the post-Brexit trade deal will be the easiest in human history. We have had a political hokey-cokey on the grandest scale and who are going to be the ones who lose out the most? It is going to be the young people of our nations who have to deal with the impact of Brexit and clean up the mess that many in this Government seem hell-bent on creating. For their sake—for your children’s sake—and for the future of all our nations in the UK, let us stop this madness.
I am very happy to do my best endeavours to ensure that the hon. Lady does get five minutes to make her speech; she often has interesting points to bring to these debates. Let me discuss briefly, therefore, what clause 8 is for.
As we leave the EU, it is essential that the Government can ensure that we do not breach any of the UK’s international obligations. These international obligations stretch from our promises to other nations, some of which were mentioned by Mr Leslie, to those we have undertaken as a sovereign and responsible participant in international organisations such as the Council of Europe and global ones such as the WTO. This need to prevent breaches of our international obligations is the reasoning behind the clause.
The UK helped to found the modern system of international law, and we remain champions of that system across the globe. Our approach to leaving the EU has shown, once again, that we will honour our international obligations. The Government and Parliament have a duty to protect and maintain the UK’s good reputation on the world stage, and ensure that our domestic law complies with the undertakings we have made on the international stage such as those relating to the Council of Europe, whose purpose is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe, and to promote European culture.
My hon. Friend make a good point on the exact matter that I was going to come to in a moment; she pre-empts me brilliantly.
Clause 8 is needed—I think that this answers the point made by the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich—because not all the UK’s international obligations that might be affected by withdrawing from the EU are implemented domestically in what will be retained EU law. Those which are implemented elsewhere are therefore out of scope of the correcting power in clause 7. In addition, there are restrictions on the use of clause 7 relating to, for example, taxation that might, in some circumstances, prevent important changes to comply with international arrangements from being made. We need this power because we need to be prepared for all eventualities.
I would like to clarify that any SIs made under clause 8 that transfer a legislative function, or create or amend any power to legislate, will be subject to the affirmative procedure, as provided for in clause 7. Therefore, Parliament will be able to debate any transfer of powers, and consider the proposed scope of such powers and the scrutiny proposed for their future exercise. Clause 8 gives Ministers a temporary and limited power, as my hon. Friend Suella Fernandes said, to make regulations to prevent or remedy breaches of international obligations. The provision contained in the secondary legislation must be an appropriate way of doing so and will have to pass before this House under the parliamentary procedures that we have been discussing over the past couple of days. In addition to its limited goals, the power is subject to a number of further limitations. It expires two years after exit day and, as listed in subsection (3), it cannot “make retrospective provision”, create certain types of criminal offence,
“implement the withdrawal agreement, or…amend…the Human Rights Act”.
Perhaps I can respond to the hon. Lady’s intervention before she even makes it. It is important that we have the power to maintain all our international obligations. As we have discussed in a previous debate, one of those international obligations is to the international element of the Belfast agreement. We will absolutely maintain our commitment to that.
I am grateful to the Minister for pre-empting the intervention, but he is referring to my earlier intervention regarding clause 9. Will he use this opportunity to confirm at the Dispatch Box that neither clause 8 nor clause 9, which we have just passed as amended, will be used in any circumstances to amend the Good Friday agreement by regulation?
At all—by regulation or in any other way.
I will turn briefly to the amendments and respond to new clause 20 in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham East. My Department is leading cross-Government work to assess and act on the international agreements for which, as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, arrangements will need to be made to ensure continuity for businesses and individuals. Any that require implementing legislation or parliamentary scrutiny before ratification will go through the appropriate, well-established procedures. We are working with our international partners to identify the full range of our agreements that might be impacted by our exit from the EU, and we will be taking their views into account. It would not be appropriate at this stage to publish the type of assessment proposed in new clause 20. Doing so would prejudice the outcome of these discussions and how any action would be put into practice.
I am just looking for a small concession. If the Minister will not do an assessment, will he at least publish a list? The Financial Times has its list of the 759 treaties. Could we have some information from the Government in the public domain about the task that has to be undertaken? That, at least, would be a welcome step.
We will be coming forward with more information on this front in due course. However, a lot of the hon. Gentleman’s speech was specifically about trade issues, and we have a Trade Bill that deals specifically with those issues. If I might gently say, a lot of what the hon. Gentleman and Geraint Davies talked about related to the content of the Trade Bill rather than this Bill.
We do recognise the need to promote stability for businesses and individuals, and we will aim to transition agreements as seamlessly as possible. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Swansea West—I am afraid he is no longer in his place—and I would like to reassure him that this clause has nothing to do with future trade agreements. It is purely to do with our existing international commitments and how we make sure we continue to meet them in the context of leaving the EU.
Clause 8 is a very specific power, which will be available only where a breach of our current international obligations arises from the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. It ensures that we will be able to continue to honour international obligations, which might otherwise be affected by our withdrawal, and it is key to ensuring that we can take our place on the global stage as a fully independent nation. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Members for Nottingham East and for Swansea West will consider not pressing their amendments.
I want to address amendment 345 in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. It is well intentioned but unnecessary. The power in clause 8 has a narrow and specific purpose, and can be used where our international obligations might be breached as a result of leaving the EU. World Health Organisation guidelines are not international obligations; they are used to inform air quality standards in international and EU legislation, but they do not, of themselves, form an obligation to be complied with.
The UK has a strong track record on protecting our environment, and in leaving the EU, we will safeguard and improve on that. The whole purpose of this clause is to ensure that we leave the EU with maximum certainty, continuity and control, and that, as far as possible, the same rules, laws and international obligations apply on the day after exit as on the day before.
Of course, some of the existing mechanisms that allow scrutiny of environmental targets and standards by Governments will not be carried over into our law, and that is why the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced on
I am going to give the hon. Lady a chance to speak, so I hope she will wait.
That body will also potentially advise and challenge other bodies on environmental legislation, stepping in when needed to hold them to account and to enforce standards. The Government will consult on the specific scope and powers of that body early next year.
We have a number of amendments—from Kerry McCarthy, Ian Blackford and the hon. Member for Wakefield, whom I will do my best to give a chance to speak—that seek to place further restrictions on the use of the clause 8 power, beyond those already in the clause. These amendments give me another opportunity to restate our firm commitment to ensuring that environmental protections and the rights of individuals—particularly EU citizens resident in the UK—are maintained as we bring EU law on to the UK statute book. This commitment will be reflected in the use of this clause to ensure that, from day one of withdrawal from the EU, the UK is able to comply with its international obligations.
As we stressed during yesterday’s debate on clause 7, the defence and security of the realm is always the first duty of Government, and the Government are absolutely committed to national security and securing the right future arrangements for security with the EU. I would like to take the opportunity to reassure the Committee that we cannot see that anything that damages our national security would be an appropriate way to ensure continued compliance with international obligations. The same would be true of any change to equalities legislation.
All these amendments are well intentioned, but we have been clear in previous debates that we will preserve rights through this Bill, and not reduce them. In those earlier debates, we also set out that, by giving no definition of what, for example, an environmental protection is, or how one might judge that such a protection was being weakened, amendments along these lines risk unnecessary litigation, undermining the certainty that this Bill aims to create.
In the specific context of clause 8, which is about upholding our international obligations, it is very difficult to see how that could do anything other than require us to preserve rights and protections. Parliament has already approved the UK being party to a number of international conventions and international organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation. We are committed to these international relationships. A key part of that is ensuring that we fully comply with our international obligations. Leaving the customs union and the single market may alter the way in which the UK complies with some of these obligations, specifically with regard to the treatment of WTO most favoured nation status.
Amendment 292 in the name of the hon. Member for Wakefield—I know that she wants to speak to it—does not acknowledge these changes in respect of taxation, or the fact that there will not always be a clear choice about how to comply with such obligations in future. Clause 8 gives Ministers the flexibility to make those changes. Of course, however, we will listen to what she has to say. I understand the honourable intentions behind these amendments, but we believe that this clause is well drafted to continue to meet our international obligations.
The UK is a nation whose word is its bond. This Government introduced the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to ensure a smooth and orderly exit from the EU. Our desire to leave the EU in this way applies both to the actions we take domestically and to our actions in relation to international partners. Clause 8 is key to delivering that, and I commend it to the Committee.
Clause 8 allows Ministers to make any regulations to prevent or remedy any breach in our international obligations as we leave the EU, but it also contains a Henry VIII power allowing for those regulations to do anything that an Act of Parliament can do. That includes amending or repealing any Act of Parliament ever passed. It is the most extraordinary and unusual power. I was going to raise the Northern Ireland Act 1998, so I am grateful to Lady Hermon for getting the Minister on the record on that.
The Government have been very scant on the details about the sorts of international obligations that may be affected. They have also been unable to say—I was listening carefully to the Minister—why regulations under clause 8 can impose or increase taxation. We do not want to end up in a situation where the Government can raise tax-like charges by statutory instrument. That gives away the supremacy of this place on taxation. The “appropriateness” test is too broad, and it undermines the supremacy of Parliament. We cannot have taxation by the back door.
Crucially, I did not hear the Minister say anything about tertiary legislation. We have focused a lot on SIs—the secondary stuff. Tertiary legislation enables a new public body that needs to be set up, such as a chemicals body, to charge fees. This may not be controversial at first, but there may come a time when such bodies want to increase the fees, as happened when the Ministry of Justice wanted to increase probate fees by, I think, 1,500%. Why is there a double standard in clause 8 as regards secondary and tertiary legislation? We want tertiary legislation to be given the same parliamentary control and the same time limits as secondary legislation. My amendment 292 seeks to restore the supremacy of the House on financial matters.
I want briefly to deal with the environmental regulation that the Minister talked about. The Government currently have a “one in, three out” rule. Many of our environmental regulations come from international mixed agreements signed and ratified, as he said, by the UK and the EU; some are bilateral and some are multilateral. The Environmental Audit Committee has been looking at our progress in reducing fluorinated gases. These are very powerful greenhouse gases with a global warming potential 14,000 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. They are in commercial refrigeration systems, in our car air-conditioning systems, and in 70% of the 60 million asthma inhalers that we use in this country every year. Targets for reducing those gases are set and monitored by the European Union, but we are also a signatory to the UN framework, so it is a mixed agreement. We have just ratified the Kigali amendment to reduce F-gases by 85% by 2036. That agreement is monitored by the EU, so the Bill will convert the regulation into UK law and we will need new regulations.
The explanatory memorandum states that the new regulations may be subject to the Government’s “one in, three out” rule. We cannot have the Government making hundreds, if not thousands, of new regulations that get caught under that absurd administrative rule, so I want the Minister to assure the House that it will be scrapped. I have written about that as the Committee Chair, and Lord Henley has said that there is no clarity about it and no decision has been made. That has to change.
This is an incredibly important series of discussions. We need more information on the 759 international treaties that may fall on exit day, and I am glad that the Minister indicated that more information would be forthcoming. I want to vote for new clause 22 on the European economic area and the single market, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 22