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This amendment is linked to NC19, which would aim to preserve, more comprehensively than the existing Clause 4, rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law and incorporated into domestic law via the European Communities Act 1972.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“(4) Notwithstanding subsection (5), the Charter of Fundamental Rights continues to apply to retained EU law after exit day save as set out in subsections (5) and (5A) below and all references in the Charter to “the law of the Union” shall be deleted and replaced with “retained EU law”.
(5) The following provisions of the Charter shall not apply after exit day—
(a) the Preamble, and
(b) Title V.
(5A) Article 47 of the Charter shall apply after exit day as if it was drafted as follows—
“Right to a fair trial
“Everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by retained EU law are violated is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law. Everyone shall have the possibility of being advised, defended and represented.
“Legal aid shall be made available to those who lack sufficient resources insofar as such aid is necessary to ensure effective access to justice.”
(5B) With effect from exit day EU retained law, so far as it is possible to do so, must be interpreted consistently with the Charter.
(5C) With effect from exit day decisions, judgments, advisory opinions of the Court of Justice of the European Union must be taken into account when determining cases under the Charter.
(5D) With effect from exit day in relation to the rights conferred by the Charter with respect to retained EU law—
(a) section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply and the words “a Convention right” shall be replaced by “a Charter right” and all references to “primary legislation” shall be replaced by “retained EU law”,
(b) section 5 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply,
(c) section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply and the words “the Convention right to freedom of expression” shall be replaced by “the Charter right to freedom of expression and information”, and
(d) section 13 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply and the words “the Convention right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” shall be replaced by “the Charter right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.
(5E) With effect from exit day, any derogation or reservation made under sections 14 or 15 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply to rights under the Charter in the same manner as they apply to Convention rights.
(5F) With effect from exit day sections 16 or 17 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply to rights under the Charter in the same manner as they apply to Convention rights.”
This amendment would retain the Charter Rights in UK law and afford them the same level as protection as the rights in the Human Rights Act.
Amendment 7, page 3, line 23, leave out subsections (4) and (5).
This amendment would allow the Charter of Fundamental Rights to continue to apply domestically in the interpretation and application of retained EU law.
Amendment 42, in clause 6, page 3, line 36, at end insert
“other than a matter referred to in paragraph 38 of the joint report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on progress during phase 1 of the negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom’s orderly withdrawal from the European Union dated
This amendment would ensure that UK Courts and Tribunals can refer matters to the CJEU as agreed between the EU/UK negotiators in December 2017.
Amendment 55, page 3, line 36, at end insert—
“(1A) So far as it is possible to do so, retained EU law must be read and given effect in a way which allows it to operate effectively.”
This amendment (linked with Amendment 56) borrows language from the Human Rights Act 1998 to require courts and tribunals to interpret retained EU law, so far as possible, in order to overcome deficiencies in the operation of retained EU law which have not been dealt with using powers under clause 7.
Amendment 43, page 3, line 37, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) A court or tribunal may regard the decisions of the European Court made on or after exit day to be persuasive”
This amendment enables UK Courts and Tribunals to consider the decisions of the European Court to be persuasive.
New clause 7—EU Protocol on animal sentience—
“The obligation on Ministers of the Crown and the devolved administrations to pay regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings when formulating law and policy, contained within the EU Protocol on animal sentience as set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty, shall be recognised and available in domestic law on and after exit day.”
This new clause transfers the EU Protocol on animal sentience set out in Article 13 of Title II of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty into UK law, so that the obligation on the Government and the devolved administrations to pay due regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings when formulating law and policy is not lost when the UK leaves the EU.
New clause 9—Saving of acquired rights: Anguilla—
“(1) Nothing in this Act is to be construed as removing, replacing, altering or prejudicing the exercise of an acquired right.
(2) Any power, howsoever expressed, contained in this Act may not be exercised if the exercise of that power is likely to or will remove, replace or alter or prejudice the exercise of an acquired right.
(3) In subsection (2) a reference to a power includes a power to make regulations.
(4) In this section an acquired right means a right that existed immediately before exit day—
(a) whereby a person from or established in Anguilla could exercise that right (either absolutely or subject to any qualification) in the United Kingdom; and
(b) whereby the right arose in the context of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union and Anguilla’s status as a territory for whose external relations the United Kingdom is responsible.
(5) Nothing in this section prevents the use of the powers conferred by this Act to the extent that acquired rights are not altered or otherwise affected to the detriment of persons enjoying such rights.”
The intention of this new clause is to mitigate the impact of Brexit on the British territory of Anguilla which is dependent on frictionless movement between Anguilla and adjacent French and Dutch possessions of St Martin/Sint Maarten that are EU territories.
New clause 13—Classification of retained EU law (No. 2)—
“(1) Any retained EU law that was a legislative act or implements a legislative act enacted under Article 289 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is deemed to be primary legislation on or after exit day.
(2) Any retained EU law that was a delegated act or implements a delegated act under Article 290 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union or was an implementing act or implements an implementing act under Article 291 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is deemed to be a statutory instrument on or after exit day, unless that law is already enacted as an Act of Parliament.
(3) Any change to the preceding characterisation shall be by regulation which may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”
This new clause would provide greater legal certainty by classifying retained EU law as either primary or secondary legislation.
New clause 16—Consequences of leaving the European Union: equality—
“(1) This section comes into force when this Act is passed.
(2) The purpose of this section is to ensure that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union does not diminish protection for equality in the law of the United Kingdom.
(3) All individuals are equal before the law and have the right to the equal protection and benefit of the law.
(4) All individuals have a right not to be discriminated against by any public authority on any grounds including sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation.
(5) The following provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 apply in relation to the rights conferred by subsections (3) and (4) as they apply in relation to Convention rights within the meaning of that Act—
(a) section 3 (interpretation of legislation);
(b) section 4 (declaration of incompatibility);
(c) section 5 (right of Crown to intervene);
(d) section 6 (acts of public authorities);
(e) section 7 (proceedings);
(f) section 8 (judicial remedies);
(g) section 9 (judicial acts);
(h) section 10 (power to take remedial action);
(i) section 11 (safeguard for existing human rights); and
(j) section 19 (statements of compatibility).
(6) A court or tribunal must have regard to any relevant decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in considering—
(a) the application of this section generally, and
(b) in particular, the meaning of discrimination for the purposes of this section.”
This new clause would ensure that the rights of equality presently enjoyed in accordance with EU law are enshrined in free-standing domestic law after the UK leaves the EU.
New clause 19—Saving for rights etc. under section 2(1) of the ECA (No. 2)—
“(1) Any rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures which, immediately before exit day are part of domestic law by virtue of section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972 continue on and after exit day to be recognised and available in domestic law (and to be enforced, allowed and followed accordingly).
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to any rights, powers, liabilities, obligations restrictions, remedies or procedures so far as they form part of domestic law by virtue of section 3
(3) Where, following the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, retained EU law incorrectly or incompletely gives effect to any rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies or procedures created or required by EU law in force immediately before exit day, a Minister of the Crown shall make regulations for the purpose of giving effect to such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures.
(4) This section is subject to section 5 and Schedule 1 (exceptions to savings and incorporation).”
This new clause is linked to Amendment 57 to leave out Clause 4 and aims to preserve, more comprehensively than the existing clause 4, rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law and incorporated into domestic law via the European Communities Act 1972. Where such rights are incorrectly or incompletely transferred, it imposes a duty to make regulations to remedy the deficiency.
Amendment 40, in schedule 8, page 54, line 6, at end insert
“to which subsection (2) of section (Classification of retained EU law (Amendment2)) applies.”
This amendment is consequential on NC13.
Amendment 41, page 54, line 44, at end insert
“to which subsection (2) of section (Classification of retained EU law (Amendment2)) applies.”
This amendment is consequential on NC13.
Government amendments 37 and 38.
Amendment 57, which would leave out clause 4, is linked to new clauses 19 and 21. Many of the amendments I tabled in Committee have been proposed by Greener UK, a coalition of many environmental organisations that are concerned about the possible impact of Brexit on environmental protections. They see it as one of the biggest threats: I know other people see it as an opportunity, especially when it comes to rejigging how we subsidise agriculture once we leave the common agricultural policy. The concern is what protections would remain, given the importance of our membership of the EU for everything from cleaning up water pollution and protecting biodiversity to improving recycling and reducing waste. It is hard to believe that we used to allow untreated sewage to flow into our seas before the EU’s bathing water directive forced the UK Government to make our bathing waters fit for swimming and to test for bacteria such as E. coli. In 1990, only 27% of our bathing waters met minimum mandatory standards; by 2014, 99% complied.
When the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gave evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry on the natural environment after the EU referendum, she told the Committee that approximately a third of the more than 800 pieces of EU environmental legislation will be difficult to transpose into UK law. The Committee also identified a considerable governance gap, which the Government have acknowledged, and I support new clause 18, which would enshrine what the Government have said they want in relation to carrying over environmental principles and establishing a new environmental regulatory body.
My amendment addresses the substantial flaws, gaps and democratic deficit in the Bill that were not addressed in Committee, in particular to fully transpose current EU environmental legislation in all areas effectively into UK law to avoid any weakening or loss of existing environmental protection during Brexit. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been encouraging in saying that:
“We must not only maintain but enhance environmental standards as we leave the EU. And that means making sure we secure the environmental gains we have made while in the EU even as we use our new independence to aim even higher”.
Opposition Members share the same aspirations and visions, but we cannot just take his word for it. We need those promises written into the Bill and concrete measures to deliver on those aspirations. This has to last longer than he is in post.
Amendment 57 would leave out clause 4, with a view to replacing it with new clause 19 which would preserve—more comprehensively than clause 4—rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law. The new clause seeks only to properly realise the Government’s stated ambition for the Bill—they have repeatedly assured us of this during the process—that the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as before.
In their White Paper, the Government sought to reassure us that this Bill will mean that
“the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law”.
The Prime Minister has promised that
“The same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before”,
but that is simply not the case. As drafted, the Bill will not properly capture and convert all EU environmental law into stand-alone domestic law.
“picks up the other obligations, rights and remedies that would currently have the force of UK law under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 631, c. 498.]
But it fails to do its sweeping properly, because some inexplicable and unnecessary restrictions in clause 4(l)(b) and (2)(b) mean that important aspects of environmental law will be lost. Those exceptions include rights that have not been recognised by a court before exit day. Effectively, the basic rights that everyone accepts but that have not been litigated on are at risk. Those rights have been hardwired into EU law and do not need enforcing, but once we no longer have the safety net of the EU, they could fall.
The Government’s defence of the limitations in these subsections in Committee was far from convincing. The Minister essentially argued that they were necessary because directives do not produce directly effective rights until they have been recognised as such by courts. However, if a provision in legislation creates directly effective law, it does not need a court to confirm that that is the case. If a piece of legislation creates a legal position, it does not need a judge to verify that that is the case. In fact, the Government have often not transposed certain provisions of directives on the basis that they function adequately directly from the directives without any need to transpose them into national law. That clearly demonstrates that there are parts of directives that currently form part of UK law that will be removed by subsection (2)(b).
Clause 4 does not adequately engage with failures to properly transpose EU law. An obligation should be placed on the Government to remedy incorrect and incomplete transposition. The powers to do so are contained in clause 7(2)(f), but there is a significant difference between a power to do something and a duty to use that power.
To summarise, amendment 57, in getting rid of clause 4 and replacing the linked new clause 19, seeks to rectify those errors. New clause 19 is simpler and more comprehensive than the existing clause 4. It would ensure that rights arising under EU directives are preserved and that a mechanism is in place after exit day to deal with problems arising from the incomplete or incorrect transposition of EU law before exit day.
If clause 4 is not amended, we could lose vital EU law provisions, including requirements to review and report on the adequacy and implementation of laws that are crucial to ensure the law is complied with and up to date. That includes the requirements contained in article 20 of the marine strategy framework directive, article 17 of the habitats directive and article 32 of the air quality directive. Without reported data under the latter, ClientEarth would not have been able to hold the Government to account through the courts on air pollution.
We will also lose obligations on the Government to report and send information to the European Commission, which is then able to aggregate it and use it for considering the appropriateness of laws and their implementation. On day 6 in Committee, I gave an example of how losing reporting requirements under article 10 of the birds directive could, for example, present a barrier to future investment in, and the roll-out of, marine renewable energy and other developments. The Government still have not said whether they intend these reporting requirements to disappear.
Without amendment, we will also see a loss of environmental standards and conditions. Some obligations on member states have not been transposed into UK law, such as article 9 of the water framework directive, which requires water pricing policies to provide adequate incentives for users to use water efficiently, or article 5 of the energy efficiency directive on energy performance requirements for publicly owned buildings. We have been promised a green Brexit, and we are told that leaving the EU will not threaten the health of people or nature, so why is there opposition to amending the Bill to make those promises legally binding?
Let me turn briefly to the other new clause tabled in my name. New clause 21 would ensure oversight of the transfer of functions from EU institutions to domestic institutions. It would do that by requiring the Government to establish a publicly accessible register of environmental governance functions and powers exercised by EU institutions and to make regulations that ensure that all relevant environmental powers and functions are continued. The register would allow the public to monitor and hold the Government to account on their plans for robust arrangements to be in place on exit day to deliver their ambition for a world-leading environmental justice system. The new clause also reflects strong public concern that the environmental governance gap that would arise on leaving the EU is filled as quickly as possible.
To conclude, I am simply saying that if the Government want the Bill to match their stated intentions, they need to accept these provisions.
It is a pleasure to follow Kerry McCarthy in respect of her provisions and to have the opportunity this afternoon to talk about the schedule of amendments in front of us, which we have to consider as a block between now and 4 pm.
The hon. Lady’s concern is about the fate of environmental law, as provided to us by the EU, once we leave, and about what provision we will make to provide it with adequate protection. However, the whole list of amendments, including those tabled by the official Opposition, goes to the issue of what happens to areas of entrenched law that have developed during our EU membership after we have gone. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench keep on repeating insistently that it is not the intention, as a result of our removal from the EU, that any of these protections should be diminished in any way at all.
It is true that one or two of my right hon. and hon. Friends have made hinting noises at various times that there are areas that they might like to alter in future, in a way that suggests a possible diminution, but in fairness to the Government, that has never been the Government’s position. Indeed, as we have spent time looking at issues such as equality law or children’s rights, the message has come back over and again that the disappearance of the charter of fundamental rights or environmental law issues, for example, will not be used as an excuse for diminishing the existing legal framework.
The difficulty—it is the one that exercised me in Committee—is that it is all very well Ministers coming to the House and making very pleasant statements that that is what they intend to do, but it must be the responsibility of this House to ask the Government how, in practice, that is to be done, when such a powerful mechanism as our EU membership is about to be removed.
That raises a second and more fundamental problem, where I have considerable sympathy with the Government. I understand why, for many in this House—I think that I count myself as one of them, as a good Conservative—the idea of entrenched rights that override the sovereign power of Parliament is something with which we are not comfortable. Indeed, the official Opposition, when in government post-1997 and when seeking to enact the Human Rights Act 1998, recognised that, in that they did not seek to provide entrenched laws; they sought to provide a mechanism through the Human Rights Act that rights under the European convention on human rights might be protected in a special way through declarations of incompatibility. That was not sufficient to override primary legislation of this House, but, of course, it did provide a mechanism by which it could be overridden and struck down in the case of secondary legislation. That has always been a way of doing things that has commended itself to me.
I have always accepted that one of the consequences and problems of EU membership is that it has provided entrenched laws that ultimately override by virtue of our international obligations and the direct effect of the European Court of Justice. So I can understand that there should be reluctance on the Government side of the House, as we leave the EU, to simply take this category of laws and say that we are going to give it a special status that overrides the ordinary way in which this House does its business.
If we do that, however, it raises the question what the Government propose to do to provide, for example, at least as much protection for these categories of rights as is currently enjoyed under the Human Rights Act. One possibility—we canvassed it in Committee—was that the Government might wish to enact primary legislation to add clauses to the Human Rights Act to provide such a mechanism. Indeed, if the Government were to come up with such a proposal, I would be enthusiastic about it, and it is a matter to which we have to give careful consideration.
I am also aware that some of the rights provided in the charter, for example, clearly pertain to EU citizenship, so they are irrelevant to this country once we leave. I also accept that some of the rights may be said to have a socioeconomic aspect, which makes it debatable whether they should be categorised as rights at all. However, that still leaves a very big area indeed of matters that, as I understand it from listening to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, Ministers acknowledge are of such importance that they are now seen as being equivalent to rights, yet they do not enjoy the protection of the convention.
My hon. Friend Suella Fernandes, who is now a Minister—she is busy, I think, in the Department for Exiting the European Union—characterised the inability to get one’s head around the problem with this issue, if I may gently point it out, by first saying that these rights would be wholly protected after we left—they are plainly not—and then actually suggesting that the argument against the Opposition’s proposal was that there were multiple layers of rights. Those two statements cannot both be correct. The fact is that areas such as equality law will no longer enjoy any protection at all. Indeed, that will be capable of being changed by statutory instrument, by virtue of other changes that the Government are introducing in the Bill, so these areas do raise serious issues.
I listen very carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister says about modernising the Conservative party, giving it a broad appeal to younger people, and trying to ensure that we reflect current norms and standards in our country and give effect to them in the policies we develop. I am sorry to have to say this to my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, but it does seem to me that in simply batting this issue away and saying, “Don’t worry; it’s all going to be perfectly all right,” without even coming up with a plan for the future about, say, possibly adding a Bill of Rights clause or rights clauses to the Human Rights Act, we are sending out a very strange message about Conservative Members’ attitude to matters that I believe many in this country now see as rights of a fundamental character, particularly on such issues as LGBT rights.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the best guarantee of the fundamental rights of the British people is the will of the British people as expressed through the Parliaments they elect? That is the system I thought we all believed in. I know of no threats to these important rights coming from this Parliament. There are not people proposing that they are watered down, and there would be no majority to do so. The guarantee to the British people is that their Parliament will look after their rights.
May I gently say to my right hon. Friend that if his analysis were accurate, no statute would ever have been enacted by Parliament, at any stage in its history, providing additional protections to people’s rights over and above the common law? That must be the end point, because the whole point about the Human Rights Act was that it added to protections enjoyed under the common law and did so in a way that was compatible with this House’s sovereignty. All I am saying to Ministers is that given that, for 40 years-plus, we have been involved in an international organisation that in practice has entrenched certain rights, it must now be for Ministers to come forward with a sensible proposal as to how those rights, in so far as the Government consider that they are in fact rights, will be protected in the future.
I am afraid that I disagree with my right hon. Friend John Redwood. Nice as it is to rely upon the Executive’s good will, 21 years in this House—heaven knows, my right hon. Friend has been here far longer—persuades me that that good will is not something that we should always rely on. I am afraid that I have seen a number of instances—particularly when I was in opposition, I might add—where it did not seem very wise to do so.
I agree with my right hon. Friend John Redwood that in the end, because we are a sovereign Parliament, we are the only guarantor of our people’s rights. However, I am interested in what my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve is saying about this matter, because the other danger that is lurking here is the fact that our courts may well decide that they have an obligation to maintain EU law even in the face of an Act of Parliament, and might strike down an Act of Parliament because, from reading the Bill, they see it as their obligation to retain certain principles of EU law. I like the declaration of incompatibility that my right hon. and learned Friend is suggesting as a very suitable compromise that enshrines what we have.
Order. This, if I may say so to the hon. Gentleman, is a mini-speech, with more emphasis on the speech than on the mini.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly good point, which reinforces my impression that it is inadequate simply to say, “Because we are leaving we shall leave this to a later date.” I will return to that later.
We did actually, Mr Speaker, talk about this at some length in Committee. In Committee, as hon. Members may recall, I emphasised that one way out of this difficulty might be to move away from the charter and look at the general principles of EU law. We could allow them to continue to be invoked, in respect of retained EU law, which would include issues such as the laws which we have under the charter, until they were replaced. That seemed to me to be a stopgap. I emphasise that I put it forward as a stopgap—not as a long-term solution, but as a way of getting the Government off the hook of having to accept any part of the charter, because I know that one or two of my hon. Friends choke when they even mention that word. I have never shared that view—I think they should actually go and read the charter, because then they would realise it is rather a reasonable document. My suggestion provided a way forward, and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General very kindly said that he would go away and give the matter some thought, the consequence of which was Government amendments 37 and 38.
I am sorry to start this Report stage with a bit of carping, because later I shall say some very nice things about the response of my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to some of the representations that I made to them in Committee. Some very good things indeed have been done, for which I am grateful—I will talk about those when we come to the right point—but I think that the response on this matter is, frankly, rather paltry. They have provided a mechanism by which for three months—the period in which it is possible to carry out judicial review—after the exit date it will be possible to invoke these rights, but not in a way that challenges any primary legislation. It is a minuscule change, but minuscule though it may be, it is actually a little wedge in the door, because it represents quite a major surrender or change of principle on the part of the Government towards this issue, and to that extent I am delighted to welcome it. Nevertheless, as I think the Solicitor General knows very well, the proposal is not what I was asking for. The problem is that although it starts to remedy the situation, it does not go anything like far enough, particularly when it is not linked to a wider statement from the Government about how they want to go ahead and deal with this.
I had to make a decision about whether to table a further amendment to put to the House on Report. Having—there is no other way to describe it—rebelled against the Government, because that was what I undoubtedly did on clause 9, and indeed incited some of my colleagues to join me in doing so, because I thought that clause 9 was so deficient, it is not my desire to cause further stir, in the harmonious atmosphere of early January, by doing that again if I can possibly avoid it. It crossed my mind that two things appeared to me to militate against doing it. The first is this.
I have to say to the Solicitor General that I do not think that the Bill will pass through the upper House without this issue being considered. It has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Brexit takes place; it has to do with the state of certainty of law in this country, which is a matter to which plenty in the other place are capable of applying their minds. I very much hope that when the Bill goes to the Lords, they will look at the amendment that the Government have tabled and understand its spirit—it is well-intentioned, so I must welcome it—but perhaps decide that it might be capable of a little bit of development. Or, indeed, they may apply their legal minds to this matter and come up with an alternative that does respect—I want to emphasise this—some of the reasons, which I understand, why the Government do not wish to entrench these laws after we have gone.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a point that gets to the heart of the purpose of the Bill, as stated by the Government: this is a technical transfer exercise—it is technically transferring the acquis communautaire into British law to facilitate Brexit. Does not the decision not to transpose the charter of fundamental rights make a mockery of that claim? Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making very valid points about some of the technical alternatives, do we not need to keep returning the Government to their stated fundamental purpose in the Bill?
The hon. Gentleman makes a totally legitimate point, especially as the Government themselves have emphasised how important these issues are to them. We are not turning the clock back to the 1950s—at least, I do not think we are—since when this country has moved on in respect of rights. The challenge to Ministers is that they have to come up with some solution to the problem. As I said, I do not want to put spanners in the works of how they do it.
Another factor influenced my decision not to table another amendment and divide the House on this matter. Realistically, although I realise that some may not like this, in leaving the European Union, we are about to embark on a lengthy period of transitional arrangements during which, in my view—I might be wrong—every jot and tittle of EU law will continue to apply to this country in every conceivable respect, except that we will no longer share in its making in the institutions of the European Union. I am afraid that I think that is where we are going; the alternative, of course, is that we are jumping off the cliff.
If that is where we are going, I accept that there is a little more time for the Government to start to reflect on how they will deal with issues of entrenched law before anybody’s remedy disappears. That is something else that influences me in not wishing to divide my own party or the House. I am always aware that quiet persuasion may be better than speeches from the Back Benches, and for those reasons, a bit more quiet persuasion might get us to where we need to be on this issue, but it will not go away.
My right hon. and learned Friend says that he does not wish to divide the House. However, if he had tabled an amendment and divided the House, and then that vote had been lost, it would have sent a powerful message to their lordships not to mess with the Bill and that the will of the House had been firmly expressed. There would have been an advantage in his position, if he had maintained it.
There might have been, but as a loyal member of the Conservative party over many years, I have always been of the opinion that the best way to try to influence one’s party’s policy is in the quietest way possible. As this issue has the merit of being able to succeed in that way, I shall stick to my strategy. Of course, if and when I think it necessary for me to do something else, I could, very reluctantly, be forced to do so. On this matter, however, I prefer to leave it.
I turn to a related matter about which I did table an amendment, which I do not wish to press to a vote. It goes to the other issues about the certainty of retained EU law. There is an inevitable internal incoherence about how retained EU law is being handled in the Bill. In reality, retained EU law has a primary quality, because in all likelihood most of it is supreme over our own laws. Oddly enough, that situation is going, at least in part, to be retained, but the Government have dealt with that by allowing it all to be altered through statutory instruments.
In Committee, we tried to find a way out—I tried quite hard. That is why I have tabled new clause 13, which provides a way of identifying what EU legislation is in reality primary and what is secondary. I thought that the House might be interested—if it is not, the other place might be—in how one might go about making that separation, which would then provide a sensible measure of greater certainty. At the moment, the Government’s proposal, as I understand it, is that each measure will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. That seems a rather extraordinary way in which to proceed.
For that reason, I have put the new clause and a couple of consequential amendments forward for the consideration of the House. If the proposal were to be accepted, or taken away and thought about further, it would allow for what I think would be a credible mechanism by which we could identify primary and secondary legislation that had been retained and had come to us from the EU. I will say no more about that.
My right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan is not in the Chamber this afternoon, but she also put forward the issue, which comes into this bracket, of whether after exit day people would be able to litigate on matters that arose pre exit day exactly as if we had remained in the EU. That raises a fundamental issue of legal propriety that as yet remains unresolved. I note that the Government have not responded, although I understood that there would be a response. Perhaps it will come in the other place, in which case I will greatly welcome it.
I am conscious that I do not want to take up more of the House’s time. We have a problem that ought, in fact, to unite both sides of the House about how best to go about retaining what is best of EU law. Although we have made some steps in the right direction, I regret that I do not think we have yet got anywhere near enough to the point at which I can feel really comfortable that we have done things as well as we should.
Fortunately—or unfortunately, because in many ways I would love to get the process of Brexit out of the way as quickly as possible—we will have ample time over a considerable period to reflect on this matter before we finally achieve some longer-term stability. That encourages me to allow the Government to reflect, rather than challenging them on this issue.
As ever, it is a genuine privilege to follow Mr Grieve, whose integrity and honesty have shone through every day we have been debating this Bill.
Order. Forgive me. Before the hon. Gentleman gets under way—I think the Minister is keen to follow—I want to say that a number of Back Benchers wish to contribute. I am very keen that they be fully heard; I do not want the debate to be dominated by the Front Benchers, who I am sure will make succinct contributions.
I will seek to live up to that expectation, Mr Speaker; I do not intend to speak for long.
Amendment 4 addresses one of the six key tests that we set out for the Bill before we could support it. Those tests were not set out simply on Second Reading or in Committee, but 10 months ago, when the White Paper outlining the Government’s approach was first published.
The tests drew support across the House, but sadly the Government have made no significant concessions. In Committee, a meaningful vote for Parliament on the final deal was secured, of course—but against the wishes of the Government and only by decision of the House. Our five amendments at this stage address those other tests: facilitating a transitional period; protecting the devolution settlement; protecting workers’ rights; reining in the Henry VIII powers; and, in amendment 4, retaining the EU charter of fundamental rights in UK law.
The objective of amendment 4, which would retain charter rights in UK law and afford them the same level of protection as those in the Human Rights Act, has wide support on both sides of the House. It is part of a sensible and responsible approach to Brexit that respects the referendum decision but does not sacrifice jobs and the economy or rights and protections on the altar of ideology. It is a sensible approach for which I believe there is a majority across the House—one that goes well beyond those who voted for amendment 7 in Committee. It is also a consensus that I think is reflected in the other place, from which I suspect we might see the Bill return with some improvements, as the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield indicated.
The Opposition support amendments 42 and 43, which would enable UK courts to continue to refer matters to the Court of Justice and to consider CJEU decision to be persuasive. As well as amendment 55, we also support new clause 13, amendments 40 and 41, on clarifying the status of retained law, and new clause 16 on enshrining equality rights, which stands in the name of the my hon. Friend Bambos Charalambous. We also support new clause 7 on animal sentience and new clause 9 on the acquired rights of Anguillans—an indication of the enormous complexity and range of the issues we face with Brexit. We accept that Government amendments 37 and 38 improve the Bill, but we fear that they do not go anywhere near far enough on legal challenges based on the general principles of EU law, which is why we prefer and support amendment 57, which was moved so ably by my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy.
Amendment 4 addresses the concerns we raised in Committee around the charter of fundamental rights and provides an opportunity for the Government to think again. Human rights should not be a dividing line between parties in this House, so even at this stage we hope that the Government, either here or in the Lords, might accept our approach in the amendment and perhaps even accept the amendment today and avoid the vote that we will otherwise be seeking. As we said in Committee, the charter has been critical in developing, strengthening and modernising human rights in the UK. To abandon it risks reducing protections for UK citizens and leaving a gaping hole in our statute book.
The Government claim that the Bill is about legal continuity and certainty in what will become the new category of EU retained law, but all of that EU law is interpreted through the charter, so excluding it would leave our legal system inconsistent and incoherent. To avoid defeat on this issue in Committee the former Justice Minister, Dominic Raab, committed to publishing a memorandum that he claimed would confirm the Government’s case that the charter was unnecessary by identifying where all of these rights could be found in EU retained law or existing domestic law.
Obviously that argument overlooked the main point of the charter, which was to bring all of these rights together in one codifying document, but as an Opposition we were willing to be helpful and awaited the memorandum with interest. We wanted to see a comprehensive document that identified not only the source of each right in the charter but—crucially—how the existing level of effective recourse would be guaranteed. The memorandum was published on
In their defence, the Government insisted that nothing would be lost if we dropped the charter because it created no new rights.
I see the Solicitor General nodding. On this crucial issue, however, the Government’s cover has been blown. For this, I would like to thank the new Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Suella Fernandes —I am sorry she is not in her place today—because in an article in The Daily Telegraph on
“everything from biomedicine and eugenics to personal data and collective bargaining”.
I appreciate that her thinking on this will probably be in line with that of her new boss, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, because he relied of course on the extra rights provided by the charter when he brought his own court case against the now Prime Minister asserting his right to personal data.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. In addition to the points he has just made, the Exiting the European Union Committee heard evidence from witnesses who said that something would be lost if the charter was not transferred. Given that the whole purpose of the Bill is to take the law as it is now and make sure it is still there the day after, does he agree that the Government have thus far failed to persuade the House that the one thing that should be left out is the charter of fundamental rights?
I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend, and I hope even at this stage that Members across the House might join us in supporting amendment 4.
I do not often agree with the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham, but I am delighted to say that in this case I do. She is right that the charter does indeed go beyond the European convention on human rights and that EU retained law will be incoherent without it. Our amendment is necessary, therefore, if we are to achieve the Government’s own stated objective of protecting the rights of UK citizens. This is a crucial issue. The chair of the Government’s own Equality and Human Rights Commission, David Isaac, has said:
“The government has promised there will be no rowing back on people’s rights after Brexit. If we lose the charter protections, that promise will be broken. It will cause legal confusion and there will be gaps in the law.”
These are serious concerns. Human rights should not be a dividing line across the House but should be seen as a British value, and I urge all Members who do not want Brexit hijacked and the rights of UK citizens diluted and reduced to support the amendment.
I want to speak briefly to several of the amendments in this group. In particular, I want to encourage Mr Grieve to elaborate on his rather carefully crafted new clause 13, which sets out quite a clever solution to the vexed question of EU retained law. He slightly rushed through his explanation of the new clause towards the end of his speech, but as I understand it, he is suggesting that, rather than treating as a new category of law the whole corpus of 40 years of accrued EU legislation, rights and duties that we all enjoy—or not, depending on how they apply—for the purposes of future amendment or reform of those rights and retained law, certain aspects should be treated as primary legislation and others as secondary legislation.
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman was saying that issues that fell under article 289 should be treated as primary legislation because they were of greater import, and that if we wanted to amend them again in the future we should do so by Act of Parliament, whereas aspects of retained EU law that related to delegated instruments under article 290 should be treated as secondary legislation, and if there were future reforms of those aspects, Parliament could use the secondary procedure. It would be most helpful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could give us a little more detail about why he felt that those were the right categories to pursue.
I am certainly not going to make a mini-speech; I said what I felt was sufficient. I offer the new clause not as a perfect solution, but as an alternative to what I consider to be the rather incoherent approach that the Government have adopted. The new clause seemed to me to have some merit, especially because it includes a provision allowing the status of retained EU law to be altered by statutory instrument, so the House could be done with the process quite quickly. I thought that it was a way of trying to resolve what I saw as a practical problem. Let me emphasise that it was not intended to be a weapon with which to beat Ministers on the head. I saw it merely as a sensible way of trying to take things forward, and I present it to the Committee in that spirit. It is not perfect, but represents another way in which we might approach the issue.
This may seem a dry and technical question, but from time to time Parliament does reflect on the nature of legislation that has been passed. We all assume that it has been accrued through Acts of Parliament or through secondary legislation, but we are now importing a third category, that of retained EU law, into our legal context, and we need to know how to treat it in the future. I do not think that the Government have addressed that question adequately, which is why I think that new clause 13 is of particular interest.
These issues are very much to do with legal clarity. They are to do with ensuring that the body of our law can operate smoothly and with stability, and that the courts can properly interpret the way in which various rights will apply in the circumstances that our individual constituents may encounter.
You were not in the Chair during the Committee stage, Mr Speaker, but you may recall that we had some discussion about aspects of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Amendment 4, and amendment 7 tabled by members of the Scottish National party, make the important point that, as we heard earlier from my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield, this is not a simple “copy and paste” piece of legislation. I agree with my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn: it seems very peculiar that the charter has been explicitly excluded from the carrying forward of rights. Ministers say, “Do not worry: all those matters are already covered”, or “Common law can deal with them adequately”, but I do not think that such verbal assurances are good enough, and evidence given to the Exiting the European Union Committee bears that out.
The Select Committee consists of Members in all parts of the House. Far be it from me to interfere with the way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central manages—heaven knows how—to steer through a report compiled by a Committee that is not only august but enormous. Evidence was submitted, however, and I do not think that it can be swept away.
Let me remind the Committee what we are talking about when we refer to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. We are talking about rights that relate to
“dignity, the right to life, to freedom from torture, slavery, the death penalty, eugenic practices and human cloning”.
We are talking about
“freedoms, the right to liberty, personal integrity, privacy, protection of personal data”
—which will be a massive issue when it arises later in our proceedings—
“marriage, thought, religion, expression, assembly, education, work, property and asylum”.
We are talking about
“equality, the right to equality before the law, prohibition of all discrimination including on the basis of disability, age and sexual orientation, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, the rights of children and the elderly”.
Again, some of those rights are not necessarily enshrined in primary legislation, but have accrued because of our membership of the European Union over several decades. We are talking about
“solidarity, the right to fair working conditions, protection against unjustified dismissal, and access to health care, social and housing assistance…citizens’
rights, the rights of citizens such as the right to vote in elections and to move freely, the right to good administration, to access documents and to petition Parliament”.
We are also talking about justiciable rights:
“the right to an effective remedy, a fair trial, to the presumption of innocence, the principle of legality, non-retrospectivity and double jeopardy.”
We can all point to parts of existing UK law where many of those rights may be covered adequately, but other rights—particularly those relating to children and families and to social policy—are connected very much with EU law.
The catalogue of rights that the hon. Gentleman has just read out is impressive, without a shadow of a doubt. Will he concede, however, that throughout the glorious history of this place, Governments of all political persuasions have enshrined, in primary legislation and elsewhere, rights that include almost all of those? Indeed, in continental Europe, when many of those rights were being stripped down and attacked, this place had a fantastic track record of defending them both in the UK and in other parts of the world, spilling the blood of our young people in order to do so. How on earth can the hon. Gentleman think that we would strip them away?
No one is more proud of being a member of this fine body than I am. Parliament is a great institution: I would say that it is one of the greatest democratic institutions in the world. We are perfectly capable of dealing with many of these issues, but the hon. Gentleman unwittingly went against his own argument when he said “almost” all the rights in the charter were covered or duplicated in primary legislation. Not all of them are covered, as was made clear in some of the evidence that the Select Committee heard.
Is there not a fundamental inconsistency here? The Government’s reason for not including the charter is that those rights are covered in domestic law, so it would not add anything, but they propose to include thousands of other directives and rules, many of which we would also be unlikely to change in domestic law. The very same argument could be applied to those thousands of other rules that the Bill goes out of its way to incorporate. The Government say, “We do not want to change the labour laws; we do not want to change the environmental rules; we do not want to change the consumer rights.” However, they apply a different logic to the charter. Why does my hon. Friend think that is?
The logic of the Government is a mystery sometimes, and I wonder whether the Solicitor General actually secretly agrees that these are important rights that need to be defended and that the Government have got themselves into a bit of a pickle, possibly because they drafted this Bill before the general election and therefore before they saw some of the consequences of these things.
Those of us who are gay, who went to school in the 1980s and who remember very well the impact of section 28 might baulk at the idea that every Government have given rights and not taken them away. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a fundamental reason why we need to share and stay within the European Union and the fundamental rights system it provides?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That right of protection for freedoms and liberties on the grounds of sexual orientation is enshrined in the charter of fundamental rights. One of the examples given was civil partnerships where in the future pension rights might be divided but at the time when the partnerships took place certain UK laws were not in place; the charter provides protections against discrimination in a way that existing UK law does not.
My hon. Friend is making a strong point and I strongly support what he is saying and Labour Front-Bench amendment 4. I accept that many Conservative Members would strongly defend the rights in the charter and other provisions we have agreed to, but does my hon. Friend agree that the public have reason to be deeply suspicious, because they hear many Conservative Members talk about a race to the bottom in regulation, particularly in employment rights, and about wanting to scrap the Human Rights Act and pull us out of the European convention on human rights? That is why keeping such rights is so crucial.
That is right, and my hon. Friend will also remember that, before becoming Secretary of State, Mr Davis cited many of the rights in the charter in his own legal case against the then Home Secretary, who is now the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman took a case against her and cited many of the provisions in the charter; how strange it is that he now introduces a Bill that does not necessarily carry forward those provisions.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that the issue at hand is not whether those of us in this Chamber now might want to change the rights and protections we currently have, but the process by which those laws and rights could be changed and the ease and lack of accountability and transparency that could put them at risk in future?
I can certainly imagine cases where our constituents, feeling the need to assert some of those rights in the charter in future, find themselves falling foul of the provision in clause 5 that says, all of a sudden, that the charter of fundamental rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day. They enjoyed those rights hitherto; where would that situation leave them?
The Government, when being sued by the tobacco companies which did not like plain packaging and thought it was against their rights of expression, cited the right to public health in the charter of fundamental rights and managed to defeat those tobacco companies. The charter of fundamental rights proved important not just for our constituents, but for the Government themselves in upholding what was a good piece of public policy at the time.
I think I played a small part in that, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Does he agree that all political parties are very keen to appeal to younger voters and that things such as rights really matter to young people, so it could be seen as somewhat ironic that a party that wants to get more young people to vote for it seems to be turning its back on provision for these very important rights?
I am sure that advice will have been heard in senior quarters. Indeed a vice-chair of the Conservative party, James Cleverly, is sitting on the row in front of the right hon. Lady. He is a very senior and eminent individual now, who has great responsibility for digging the Conservative party out of quite a deep hole.
I am not trying to scrape over the point I made earlier, but I am very proud of the history of this place in enacting and protecting rights whether they are in primary legislation or not. The implication of what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that, upon our departure from the EU, unless we bind the hands of Governments of the future in some way, we can no longer trust this place to enhance and protect human rights. Can he reassure me that in no way is he implying that this place will in any way in the foreseeable future row back from its commitment to extending human rights?
Who knows what will happen in terms of future majorities in this place. The hon. Gentleman is still not explaining to me why this issue of all the issues should not be carried forward into legislation. He says he is in favour of almost all, or all of the rights in the charter, but we know there are examples where problems arise.
The Government boast about their protection of human rights, and of course they sign up to UN conventions on the protection of rights of women and children, but they do not then incorporate those rights into our domestic legislation, and because we have a dualist system in terms of international law the rights in UN conventions are not directly applicable in the UK. That is why it is so important that we retain the charter of fundamental rights, and that the Government give a commitment today that they will do so.
The hon. Lady’s legal experience speaks volumes about the issue. Simply explaining that one is in favour of these rights, having Members on the Conservative Benches say “They are all really important”, saying that in leaflets and posting them through letterboxes at elections, and having Ministers at the Dispatch Box saying, “Trust us, it’s all fine” cannot provide the solid protections that our constituents need in a court of law, whereas the charter of fundamental rights can currently do that.
They have never been in any of my leaflets. I may be in danger of repeating myself now, but when did that ever stop anyone? The reality is that I remember sitting where the hon. Gentleman is sitting now and being told from the Dispatch Box on this side of the Chamber by his party colleague Keith Vaz that the charter would never apply in the United Kingdom and indeed that it would have no more force than a copy of The Beano.
As it happens, since that time, we have learned that the charter provides extremely important protections for many citizens. I do not think the Government would have cited it in legal actions against the tobacco companies if it were such an unimportant protection.
I am worried. Anna Soubry was saying to her hon. Friends, “Be careful because our constituents do care about rights.” She said in particular that younger people care about rights. They really do matter. They may not matter to them in their daily lives today, but they may matter to them or their family or relatives or the environment tomorrow. Those are all things our constituents care about.
The hon. Gentleman has been incredibly generous in taking interventions throughout his speech. When this matter was debated at the previous stage, we had a long discussion on the charter of fundamental rights and it was clear that it divides into three sections. One section is already covered by the Human Rights Act, another section will be meaningless when we leave Europe—it includes rights such as the right to petition the European Parliament—and there is a middle section where there are rights that we should look at carefully. The right way to deal with that is through a constitutional Bill in due course to reset our own rights settlement in this country for all citizens, not just for European law.
If that were the right way, the Government would have introduced a Bill to provide such certainty, instead of saying, “Mañana. Maybe at some point in the future we will try to close this loophole.” We have the Trade Bill now, as well as the Nuclear Safeguards Bill and a customs Bill. We are supposed to have an immigration Bill at some point, although I suspect that the Government are having a few difficulties figuring out how to bring it forward. These Bills are supposed to be the fundamental underpinnings of the copy-and-paste process that the Government are pursuing. They are supposed to be taking aspects of European Union rules and regulations and ensuring that they will still be here after March 2019, but no Bill relating to the charter of fundamental rights has been brought forward.
The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of some of these rights, but may I suggest that incorporating the charter would create complete legal confusion? Under the convention, there is purely a power to make a declaration of incompatibility. Under the charter, however, UK law can actually be trumped. The extraordinary situation could arise in which, if a prohibition against slavery were breached, the courts could merely say that it was incompatible, but if there were a breach relating to data protection, UK law could be trumped. That would create confusion and chaos, which is not what we need in this country.
Personally, I believe that Parliament does and should value the provisions of the charter of fundamental human rights. I trust our legal system to be able to reconcile textual difficulties between different Acts. I would rather operate on the precautionary principle and have those rights covered within our law than see the protections that are offered to our constituents expunged at this point, only to unwittingly discover later that the rights we used to have under the charter are no longer provided for because the Government of the day did not want to transpose them.
While talking about rights, but in a completely different context, I want to talk about new clause 7, which has been tabled by Caroline Lucas. It relates to animal sentience and the welfare of animals—not human rights but animal rights. If there is one issue that can be guaranteed to fill all our inboxes, it is the protection of animal rights. Our constituents really do care about this issue. The Government have already got into a tremendous pickle over this, and it would have been funny if it were not so tragic to see the Secretary of State for the Environment scrabbling around trying to pretend that, all of a sudden, the Government really cared about these matters.
Brexit will affect this area quite considerably. On the International Trade Committee, we heard evidence from various animal rights organisations and others involved in the agricultural trade sector, including the National Farmers Union and those involved with what are known as the sanitary and phytosanitary regulations relating to the import and export of animal products. There is a reason that the Americans dip their chickens in chlorine, Mr Speaker. I do not know whether you have had chlorinated chicken recently. I am not that fussy myself, but perhaps we will be invited to a tasting session at the new American embassy at some point. The reason they dip their chickens in chlorine is that the welfare standards that cover their abattoirs and the way in which their animals are looked after before slaughter are far lower than ours. Before the animals reach the consumer, they need to be cleaned up in a way that is not necessary here in the UK because we have higher welfare standards, not least by virtue of our membership of the European Union. Across all the European Union, we take a precautionary principle when it comes to this kind of regulation. We do not have to dip our chickens in chlorine because they are already subject to certain health and safety standards.
Animal welfare issues matter in relation to trade as well. I find it perplexing when Conservative Members say that our salvation will be a trade deal with President Trump and the United States. We all know that the primary goal of the United States will be to have a treaty in respect of agriculture. If we do such a deal, the Americans will want to sell us animal products that have been produced under lower welfare and regulatory standards. That will be the deal they will seek. However, if the Secretary of State for the Environment says that we are going to have exactly the same regulatory standards as we have now, he will effectively be telling the Americans that there can be no trade deal. That would be the outcome—[Interruption.] It would certainly be a very big sticking point.
In Dover and Ramsgate in east Kent, we have to put up with the evil and wicked trade of live animal exports, and we have to do that because of European law. We now see an opportunity to stop that evil trade, for the sake of our communities and for animal welfare, by leaving the European Union and taking back control. Does the hon. Gentleman not welcome that?
There are ways of mending, improving and reforming animal safety standards within the European Union. We should be making the case to do that. We do not want to throw away the benefits that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents enjoy, such as being free from traffic jams—not all the time but on many occasions. If Dover has to institute all the necessary sanitary and phytosanitary checking and inspections, with all the warehousing arrangements and other obstacles and regulations that will be needed at the border because we have left the European Union, his constituents will be mightily annoyed by the bureaucracy that they will encounter.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the Government had had the political will to do this, they could have ended live animal exports by now? There are already references in the EU treaties to public morals, so they could have done it if they had had the political will to do so. Also, if the Government really want to persuade us that they care as much about animal welfare as they claim to do, why on earth would they oppose the new clause? It will simply ensure that we do not have a gap when we leave the EU and before the new Bill, if it happens, comes in?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. In relation to specific issues relating to Brexit, the Government are finding, when the rubber hits the road, not only that there are potential problems such as the one relating to an American trade deal but that an awful lot of their constituents are saying, “Hang on a minute, what exactly are you doing about animal rights issues? Where will we be when we exit from these particular provisions?”
My hon. Friend knows that we do not agree on many issues relating to the EU, but we were both elected on the same glorious day in May 1997, and he will remember that our postbags then were full of campaigns to stop the export of live animals to Europe. The reason that that did not happen was not a lack of political will. The reason that the Labour Government, the coalition Government and the Conservative Government did not change the law is that it is a fundamental part of the treaty of Rome. That gives the lie to the argument that the EU can be reformed from inside. The treaty of Rome is not going to be reformed.
Treaties are reformed every time there are adaptations to them, whether it is Maastricht, Nice or Lisbon. The body of European rules and regulations is adapted and reformed all the time. It is all part of working together in co-operation. Sometimes we get our way on particular issues; sometimes we have to continue to argue our case. That is the nature of pooling some of our rules and sharing sovereignty in some respects with our wider neighbours. That is the nature of agriculture and of the environment in which we live.
It is an absolute fallacy to suggest that this Government have been dying to ban live animal exports and that it is only the EU that has held them back. I think it was Germany and the Netherlands that tried in the past few years to put a limit of eight hours transit time on live exports. The UK went along to those negotiations and argued against those proposals. This is definitely a question of political will.
My hon. Friend absolutely nails the point and brings it home. She knows a great deal more about such issues than I do. The Government of the day do have a say on the rules and can sometimes effect reforms or block them.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but this country is a leader in animal welfare legislation, having introduced the concept of unnecessary suffering in 1915 and, in effect, the first protections for animal welfare, and we have continued that process. Indeed, this Government have reformed animal welfare and this country has high animal welfare protection standards.
We do have high animal welfare standards. I do not deny that there could always be improvements, but I want to retain what our constituents want, which is high standards. By leaving the European Union in this particular way, I worry that we will be forcing ourselves to chase after trade deals with other jurisdictions that have a totally different approach to regulation. The world effectively has three regulatory philosophies: the Chinese have a particular view of regulation; the European Union has a precautionary principle; and the Americans have a different cost-benefit analysis view of the world. If we depart from the precautionary principle ambit, that will affect agriculture, animal rights and many other issues. It would lead to wholly different and lower regulatory standards, which in some ways is the backdrop to this whole question.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being very generous. Does he recognise that people are suspicious given that, for example, the new Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Suella Fernandes, who has just joined us in the Chamber, said that the Government were right not to copy the charter of fundamental rights into UK law because lawyers will love the extra rights that it gives? That shows the real intention behind what some Ministers want, which is to bring down the rights that have protected so many people and workers, the environment, and safety.
I congratulate Suella Fernandes on her appointment, but I am very much looking forward to her speech, which will perhaps wind up one of the sections of this debate, because Parliament will want to scrutinise her views, past and present. I will conclude with that because I have taken up more than half an hour and other Members will want to contribute.
I rise to discuss amendment 7, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends and other Members and relates to the charter of fundamental rights, and amendments 42 and 43, which are in my name, and to give support to amendment 55, which was tabled by my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald, who will be addressing it in due course. The amendments raise issues relating to the protection of fundamental rights, about which we have already had quite a degree of discussion today, and to the justiciability of those rights and their legal certainty in this country and its jurisdictions after Brexit. The amendments tabled by the Scottish National party have the support of the Law Society of Scotland, and those that relate to the charter have widespread support, including from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I am also interested in the wording of amendment 4, which was tabled by the official Opposition, and if I do not press my amendment, they can count on the SNP’s support should they press amendment 4 to a vote.
The questions raised by the amendments have all yet to be answered adequately by the Government. As Mr Grieve alluded to earlier in his erudite contribution, the Government’s approach to the detailed and widely held concerns about aspects of the Bill tends to be rather dismissive or deals with them airily and in generalities. At this stage, before the Bill goes to the other place, which is unaccountable and undemocratically elected, it is incumbent on the Government to address the questions about clauses 5 and 6 that were directed to them in Committee, rather than to continue to deal in the generalities that they have used so far.
Peter Kyle, who is no longer in his place, made a valid point earlier. When we hear constant reassurances from Government Members that this Parliament could not possibly do anything to contravene fundamental rights, we do not need to look back very far into our history, or into the lifetimes of many in this House, to see a prolonged period when the rights of gay people were denigrated by a Conservative Government through the use of section 28.
It was not that long ago. Some of us were at school or were students at the time and fought very hard against it. Some of us still find it rather irksome to see the modern Conservative party presented as a great defender of gay rights, because we remember the years when it was not. It has seen the light since then and that is a good thing, but the contravention of human rights is something that Governments do from time to time, which is why it is necessary to have protections that go over and above the whims of the party in power.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because I think it needs to be put on the record that, as a Conservative, I could not be prouder of what we achieved between 2010 and 2015, when we introduced equal marriage. I also pay tribute to the fact that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives happens to be gay. We just need to move on from all this. We should not talk about the past, but look to the future. We are very proud of our history as it now is in the Conservative party.
I am sorry that the right hon. Lady has failed to take my point, which is that this is not about what has happened over the past five years, when there has been cross-party support across the United Kingdom—apart from the Democratic Unionist party—for things such as equal marriage. I am talking about recent history and my lifetime as a gay woman. When I was at school and when I was a student, the Conservative party had a policy of completely quashing the aspirations of gay people. We were not even allowed to hear about what our lives might be like when we grew up. That is an example of why we need protections that go over and above the Government and the majority of the day.
Conservative Members do not like to hear it, but there are other similar examples from our recent history. Try telling the members of the nationalist and Catholic community in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and ’70s, whose civil liberties and human rights were routinely undermined, that they were defended by this House. They are now, and it is wonderful that we have moved on, but those rights were not protected in the past—in our lifetime—and that is why we need independent support for fundamental rights. It simply will not do for the Government to say that we can get rid of the charter and that all the rights in it will be protected in United Kingdom law, because they are not. I gave an example in Committee of where such rights were not protected—namely, the loophole in the Walker case in the Supreme Court, but we have yet to hear how the Government propose to close the loophole—and there are other examples.
Paul Blomfield, the Opposition spokesman, made the point that the cat was rather let out of the bag when the new Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Suella Fernandes, wrote an article for The Daily Telegraph last year—I mentioned this in Committee—saying that it was right to get rid of the charter because it contained many rights that she would like to see the back of. I wonder whether that isolated attack on the charter, as the one bit of European law that the Government do not want to bring into UK law, is connected to their previous antipathy to the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights. We have been hearing conflicting noises from Government Members about their attitude to the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, and I would be interested to hear the Government’s long-term proposals. We have a new Justice Secretary; what is his view on the matter?
In any event, it is important for us to bear in mind that there are many voices from different parts of British society who want to keep the charter, including all the Opposition parties, the devolved Governments in Scotland and in Wales, large parts of the legal profession, significant parts of the judiciary, respected think-tanks and respected non-governmental organisations. It is time for the Government to take note of views held beyond the House and beyond their own party. This is similar to the attitude the Government take towards the views of the people of Scotland, 62% of whom voted to remain. We will debate what passes for the Government’s amendments on devolved issues later today, but the distinguished Scottish political commentator Gerry Hassan wrote in the newspaper earlier this week that:
“British politics as currently conducted cannot go on indefinitely, with the will of the people interpreted on the basis of just one June 2016 vote, but ignored in everything else…public opinion north of the border cannot be permanently ignored without profound consequences.”
Do not just take that from Mr Hassan, or indeed from the Opposition. The Conservative party’s spokesperson on constitutional affairs in Scotland, Professor Adam Tomkins, said at the weekend that
“the political price of enacting legislation without consent”— from the Scottish Parliament—
“might be quite significant indeed.”
The wilful ignoring of the will of the Scottish people highlights a democratic deficit at the heart of the United Kingdom, which is why I and other Scottish National party Members would like to see an independent Scotland. The irony is that those who push so strongly for Brexit complain about a democratic deficit in the European Union, and many of them hold that view sincerely, but they seem not to care a jot for the democratic deficit in this Union, the United Kingdom.
Many of the amendments being considered today are about defending democracy, and it is right they should be debated and determined by this House, not by the undemocratic and unaccountable House of Lords. The House of Lords contains a significant number of able people—indeed, I look forward to hearing what they have to say about aspects of this Bill—but they are not accountable in the way that Members of this House are. We should be debating these issues, which is why it is so disgraceful that the Government have not tabled their substantive amendments on devolution. My hon. Friend Stephen Gethins will speak about that in more detail later.
The SNP’s amendments, and indeed Labour’s amendment, on the charter are supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and many hon. Members will have had the benefit of reading the EHRC’s briefing and the opinion it commissioned from distinguished senior counsel Jason Coppel on the Government’s right-by-right analysis, which was published back in December 2017. The analysis repeats the Government’s assurance that the rights provided by the charter will not be weakened following Brexit, which we already know is not the view of the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham; nor is it the view of Mr Coppel, who has produced a detailed opinion showing that the loss of the charter will result in a loss of rights in a number of ways.
As I and others said in Committee, there are gaps and, most importantly, this Bill will remove remedies that are currently available in UK law in cases of a breach of charter rights. As the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield said, there is also the very real possibility that charter rights could be repealed or overridden in UK law by the use of secondary legislation.
If the Scottish referendum had gone the other way, would not the hon. and learned Lady have regarded the result as completely binding on the whole United Kingdom, even though large parts of England might have voted against her view?
I will not be drawn into a discussion about that today. I can see why the right hon. Gentleman might want to take attention away from the matter in hand, but we are not here today to debate Scottish independence. That will come later, and I very much look forward to it.
We are here today to consider the Bill. Rather than shuffling off our responsibilities to another place, we should be looking at the provisions here. The “assurance” published by the Government is not worth the paper it is written on. One of their Ministers will tell us otherwise, but, perhaps more importantly, the independent legal opinion of a senior English silk commissioned by the EHRC tells us so, and his view is widely held.
I do not intend to press amendments 42 and 43 to a vote today, as I see them as probing amendments. Amendment 43 arises from matters raised in Committee, and amendment 42 arises from the terms of the agreement reached between EU and UK negotiators in December 2017. Amendment 42 would ensure that UK courts and tribunals can refer matters to the Court of Justice of the European Union, as was agreed between negotiators in December 2017 in relation to citizens’ rights.
Paragraph 38 of the joint report from the negotiators confirms that
“the Agreement establishes rights for citizens following on from those established in Union law during the UK’s membership of the European Union;
the CJEU is the ultimate arbiter of the interpretation of Union law. In the context of the application or interpretation of those rights, UK courts shall therefore have due regard to relevant decisions of the CJEU after the specified date. The Agreement should also establish a mechanism enabling UK courts or tribunals to decide, having had due regard to whether relevant case-law exists, to ask the CJEU questions of interpretation of those rights where they consider that a CJEU ruling on the question is necessary for the UK court or tribunal to be able to give judgment... This mechanism should be available for UK courts or tribunals for litigation brought within 8 years from the date of application of the citizens’
That shows that the agreement reached back in December fundamentally threw away one of the Prime Minister’s red lines, because the Court of Justice of the European Union will have continuing jurisdiction in relation to citizens’ rights for a lengthy period. I am gratified that the words “due regard”, which were in my original amendment 137 in Committee—the amendment was only narrowly defeated—were used in the agreement.
The purpose of amendment 42 is to ensure that the agreement reached last December is reflected in the Bill, and the amendment has the objective of continuing the Court of Justice’s jurisdiction on citizens’ rights in this country up to a point. Of course that does not deal with the thorny problem of clause 6(2), which I attempted to amend in Committee without success. Amendment 42 was suggested by the Law Society of Scotland and is very much a probing amendment.
It needs to be borne in mind that it is not just politicians who are concerned about clause 6(2), as the judiciary are also concerned—there is a real issue here. The Government seem to acknowledge that there might be an issue, but they are unwilling to say what they are going to do about it. The briefing from the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law says:
“The interpretive principles of Clause 6 must be clarified, especially so that courts and tribunals have clear guidance regarding the treatment of retained EU case law by the Supreme Court and”— in Scotland—
“the High Court of Justiciary to enhance legal certainty and individuals’
access to justice.”
I agree entirely with what the hon. and learned Lady is saying, but it is my understanding, and I hope the Minister will say it again—he said it in Committee—that this will be dealt with in the other place. I am sorry that it could not be dealt with here, because that would have been rather better, but if the Government need more time, I expect them to address this issue.
That is what I have heard, too. What I would like to hear from the Government today—this is why I tabled this probing amendment—is some indication that they recognise the gravity of the issue. This is not a political football, and it is not about stopping Brexit; it is about addressing issues of legal certainty.
As a courtesy to this House, I would like to hear some indication of how the Government propose to address the issues of legal certainty, particularly so that Members of my party, which is not represented in the other place, can have some input and give our view. Of course Scotland has a separate legal system. Clause 6(2) will apply to the High Court of Justiciary, and we need to be reassured not just on behalf of judges in the UK Supreme Court but on behalf of judges in the Supreme Courts of Scotland. I very much hope amendments 42 and 43 will draw from the Solicitor General some colourable reassurance that the Government are taking these concerns seriously and that they have them in hand, as well as some indication of the route the Government intend to go down in the other place to address these concerns.
Finally, on the charter of fundamental rights, I will wait to see what the official Opposition do, as we each have an amendment down. Given the spirit in which we have worked together on other aspects of this Bill, I am sure we can come to an agreement on that. The Scottish National party will be happy to support new clause 7, which was tabled by Caroline Lucas. Many of our constituents feel strongly about the issue it raises, as do those of other MPs, and we are grateful to her for persevering with it.
Mr Leslie began his speech by saying that it was going to be very short but he then generously gave way to dozens of interventions from Members from all around the House and spoke for half an hour. He was expressing views with which I largely agreed, but I will try not to follow his precedent. I was not trying to catch your eye at all, Mr Speaker; I was waiting for the Solicitor General to reply to these points, as I was waiting for Ministers to reply to them in Committee, when I made speeches on one or two of them. However, I decided to make a short speech to save myself and the House from the long interventions that I am prone to make and would otherwise make on the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General.
This speech concerns the three points that have dominated throughout, where I am in great sympathy with what many people have said. First, why are the Government singling out the charter of fundamental rights to be the only piece of EU legislation that they wish to repeal? Secondly, on retained EU rights, why are those people who have existing rights of action able to get only this strange concession that for three months they might be able to pursue those rights, otherwise retrospectively they will lose them if their solicitors do not act quickly enough or they do not realise in time that they might have an action? Thirdly, and finally, we have this strange question of how in future a sovereign Parliament will amend EU law if it wishes to do so and why we have this confusion about what is, in effect, primary legislation and will require an Act of Parliament to change it, and what is secondary legislation and will require regulations. I will not repeat the arguments on any of those points at any length, because I addressed some of them in Committee and they have been well put today. But I am astonished that we have got to Report without, as yet, having had an adequate response to any of them.
I was rather doubtful about the charter of fundamental rights when it came before the House originally. I was a supporter of the treaty of Lisbon and I voted against my own party, with the then Government, quite frequently throughout those proceedings, as I thought the treaty was highly desirable. I am glad to say that when we came to power we showed not the slightest sign of wishing to undo any of it. The charter of fundamental rights was the bit I was least keen on, thinking it on the whole unnecessary, as it largely duplicated the European convention on human rights, and thinking that it was not going to make any difference; I did not use The Beano quote, but I could not see that it mattered very much and I went along with it reluctantly. I was wrong, as the charter has led to some extensions of rights in important areas. I cannot see why we should wish to halt that process. We have not yet got the Government’s proposals as to what they are going to do to fill the gap on things such as equalities law, which will emerge if we just repeal this.
The point I wish to make in a short speech is about what kind of answer I want from my hon. and learned Friend. He is genuinely a personal friend of mine. He is an extremely eloquent and valuable member of the Government. Obviously, as all lawyers do from time to time, he follows a brief, but I am sure he makes a considerable contribution to that brief and gives very valuable advice to those who seek to instruct him to temper what they would otherwise wish to do. So this is not at all aimed at him personally. But the Government’s approach throughout these unsatisfactory proceedings so far has been not to debate the main issues; we get raised with us all kinds of technical, drafting or slightly irrelevant reasons why the proposals coming from the Front Benchers on all sides cannot be accepted. So far, as far as I am aware, the Government’s case on the charter of fundamental rights is, “Well, it would not make any difference to repeal it. It hasn’t added anything. This is just unnecessary. We have singled it out, uniquely among all other EU law, simply because our tidiness of mind makes us wish to remove something that is perfectly adequately reflected in other areas.” That is not good enough.
On all three points that I have set out, the Government today, on Report, have the last chance in this House to say why they are repealing the charter, what evil it has done, what danger they think we are being protected from by its repeal and so on. I have yet to hear an example from anybody of a case where the charter of fundamental rights has been invoked in a way that anybody in this House would wish to reverse. We have not been given an example of an area of law that we have been taken into despite the bitter opposition of either the Government or this House. The advances that have been made, in some cases invoking the charter, seem to me perfectly worth while, so I hope the Solicitor General’s speech will specify those areas where the Government see that damage has been to our approach to rights and to law, and what hazards they are going to prevent us from falling into by reversing the charter.
I will give way in a second; before I finish, I will give way if people insist.
Secondly, what on earth is the advantage we gain by putting in a three-month limit? The Government have taken weeks to come back with their alleged response to the points raised on the Floor of the House on acquired legal rights and it seems we can have a concession for three months. That is utterly ludicrous. Thirdly, what is wrong here? My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve is much more of a gentleman than I, and he is much more likely to adhere to party political loyalties. There is no more stout mainstream Conservative than me, and I would say that I am sticking to the Conservative principles that I have followed throughout my life until 18 months ago, but I do think some of these things, certainly on questions of rights, are not party issues. They usually do not have a whip applied. They are matters of conscience and cut across both sides. Going back to the future powers of this Parliament, which it must have of course, to amend retained EU law as and when the political will of the House wishes to do so, what is wrong with new clause 13 and its specification of what is primary legislation and what is secondary legislation? What alternative are the Government going to come up with, other than just saying, “The Government of the day will decide as each issues arises”? They must have a better alternative than that.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that this is the sort of amendment that the other place might just take to heart and bounce back, so it might be more sensible to have that difficult pain now and get it out of the way, and the other House will not have to return it?
I hope and believe that the other place will make an enormous number of changes to this Bill. The idea that a Bill with all these Henry VIII clauses is going to have an untroubled passage through the House of Lords is an illusion. This House just lets every extension of the Henry VIII clause principle through. The Opposition of the day object like mad but then that party takes office, cites the precedents of its predecessor and defends them as the way of proceeding, and the previous Government then start denouncing them. I hope the House of Lords will throw back some of the bizarre extension of the Henry VIII principle in this Bill and some of the European things.
The whole Bill has gone through under a self-denying ordinance—not all the time; the hon. Member for Nottingham East and I have not always stuck to it—that we are not talking about substance. The House has said, “We’re not going to bother very much with the future trade relationship and whether we are still in the single market or the customs union.” Well, they had better not take that view in the House of Lords. The other place is particularly full of highly distinguished lawyers. So is this place—there is no better lawyer in the other place than my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield—but some of the lawyers there will not put up with some of this nonsense. The danger is that if the Government continue with the Bill as they have so far, they will simply take the view that, “Well, the House of Commons can reverse that. We are putting out a three-line Whip on Tuesday. We will all have a debate, solemnly nod, explain why the House of Lords has got the technicalities wrong and throw it back again.” So far, this is a pathetic Parliament in the way in which it has handled this extraordinary Bill.
Let me return to where we are now. We have debated for some time now—over many weeks—all three of the issues I raised, but I have yet to hear an argument of substance on any one of them. I trust that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General will not get up and raise technicalities or say that we need more time, but actually say why we are either taking the step we are taking in the one case or, in the other, resisting the obvious improvements that have been proposed. If we do not do that, this whole Committee and Report stage will have been one of the most curious and ritual parliamentary processes that I have seen for a very long time.
I support amendment 57, tabled by my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy, along with several others, but I wish to speak specifically to new clause 9, which I have tabled and which is on the saving of acquired rights in Anguilla. I do not think there has been any discussion at all of Anguilla in any of the proceedings on the Bill so far.
Before Christmas, I tabled a written question to
“ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, whether the implementation phase of the UK leaving the EU will be the same for Anguilla as the rest of the UK;
and if he will make a statement.”
“Both the EU and the UK have been clear that the Implementation Period will be agreed under Article 50 and be part of the Withdrawal Agreement. Both sides have also been clear that the Overseas Territories, including Anguilla, are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement and our Article 50 exit negotiations…In these negotiations, we are seeking a deal that works for the whole UK family, including Anguilla.”
So, there was no clarity there. It is not yet clear what is going to happen with respect to Anguilla.
Why is Anguilla important? We have debated at some length Gibraltar, which has around 32,000 residents. It is a British overseas territory that has been in the possession of the United Kingdom since the treaty of Utrecht in the beginnings of the 18th century. [Interruption.] Yes, indeed, it was 1713. According the figures I have seen, Anguilla has a population of 15,263, and it has been a British possession since 1650. Just as Gibraltar has a border with an EU country—Spain—so Anguilla has a border with the EU, but with not just one but two EU countries.
Anguilla is in the north of the Leeward Islands, and 8 miles to its south is Saint Martin or, to use the Dutch, Sint Maarten. That island is part of two EU states: the northern 60% of the island has been French territory since an agreement in 1648, and since that same agreement the Kingdom of the Netherlands has possessed the southern 40% of the island. The island of Saint Martin has a complicated history that I do not intend to go into at length, but it is important to discuss its relationship with Anguilla.
Anguilla is one of five British overseas territories in the Caribbean, but it is very much more dependent on its relations with the European Union and with France and the Netherlands than any other British overseas territory. There is an international airport—Princess Juliana—on Saint Martin, but there is no international airport on Anguilla.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could walk on water.
Anguilla is economically dependent on Saint Martin. The relationship is essential for Anguilla. The northern part of the island of Saint Martin, which has been since 2007 a French overseas collectivity, has a population of 38,286. The southern part of the island is one of the four kingdoms that make up the Netherlands, the others being Aruba, Curaçao and the Netherlands proper. France and the Netherlands have a different relationship with their overseas territories than the UK has with ours, and that has changed the dynamics. For example, in September the massive, terrible Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean and wiped out whole communities and destroyed whole towns. President Macron flew very quickly to visit this integral part of France, where there is a tight, close relationship with the Netherlands.
This afternoon, the Foreign Affairs Committee, on which I serve, is discussing the overseas territories and the response to hurricanes. I hope to get to the Committee in time to hear a representative of the Government of Anguilla’s London office give evidence, but I cannot be in two places at the same time. I hope I will be able to speak in advance and ask questions later.
The population of Sint Maarten, the Netherlands part, is around 33,000, so the total population of the island to the south of Anguilla is around 75,000. It is much larger and much more important, so there are fundamental economic questions to be answered about what will happen when—if—the UK leaves the EU.
The hon. Gentleman will know that my colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union have been engaging with Britain’s overseas territories, including Anguilla, through the Joint Ministerial Council and other mechanisms. Does he agree that that is a perfectly adequate mechanism that should continue, and that that means his new clause is not necessary?
No, I do not agree that it is a perfectly adequate mechanism. The report published by the Government of Anguilla’s London office last summer, “Anguilla and Brexit: Britain’s Forgotten EU Border”, points out how we do not give sufficient attention to the needs and requirements of our overseas territories. Let me quote just one example: the position with regard to overseas development assistance. Since 2014, we have virtually stopped giving Anguilla any overseas development assistance through the Department for International Development budget, in contrast to some other overseas territories such as Montserrat and elsewhere, and yet it is receiving assistance from the European Union. There is a big concern, which I will come to later, about what will happen to the continued assistance that goes to Anguilla once we leave the EU. That assistance accounts for about 36% of the capital expenditure of the Anguillan Government. That huge amount comes as a result of assistance from the European Union, and it goes to Anguilla by virtue of UK membership of the EU, but once we stop paying into EU development assistance, does anybody think that the EU will continue to finance a British overseas territory when there is no longer any relationship between the UK and the European Union? These are very complicated questions.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for treating us to the shorter version of his speech. Does he welcome the communiqué signed by the Government and the territories, which said that the UK acknowledged
“the importance of EU funding for sustainable economic development in some Overseas Territories and committed to ensuring that these interests were fully reflected in the UK’s negotiating position”?
Does he not think that that will be of great assistance to Anguilla and other overseas territories?
No, I do not; it is just words. It is all about what will happen in the negotiations. How much money are we prepared to put in? Will there be a payment into the EU budget in order to continue EU assistance to Anguilla, which does not come directly from DFID at this time? Those are interesting and complicated questions.
Like the UK, Anguilla lies outside the Schengen area, which also does not apply to French St Martin. Under EU Council articles 349 and 355 of the Treaty of Lisbon, French St Martin is classified as an outermost region of France, while Dutch Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Anguilla are classified as overseas countries and territories of the EU. In 2017, in a factsheet entitled “Outermost regions”, the European Union’s Parliament stated:
“Regardless of the great distance separating them from the European continent, the outermost regions are an integral part of the European Union, and the acquis communautaire is fully applicable in their territory. However, owing to their specific geographical location and the related difficulties, EU policies have had to be adjusted to their special situation.
The relevant measures concern, in particular, areas such as customs and trade policies, fiscal policy, free zones, agriculture and fisheries policies, and conditions for supply of raw materials and essential consumer goods.”
The outermost regions of the EU are specifically mandated by the EU and, as such, will require specific negotiation in the context of Brexit to take account of their needs. The problem that I face is that the Government have not given us any detail either in the written answer that I have secured or on any other basis as to what they will do to protect the interests of Anguilla. Unlike Gibraltar, Anguilla does not have an effective big lobbying operation, because it does not have a relationship with City financial institutions in the same way. It is very much dependent on tourism. One of its problems is that, because it does not have an international airport, flights go into St Martin, and, at present, at 10 o’clock at night, there is no means of transit from Anguilla to St Martin. Consequently, people have to stay in St Martin and not go across to Anguilla because of those difficulties in communication.
We need to be able to help Anguilla help its tourist industry, and the best way to do that would be within the framework of the European Union, but of course the referendum decision and the way that it is being implemented by the Government mean that that will not be possible. As a result, Anguilla faces some real difficulties and dilemmas: 95% of its access for tourism and other economic measures will be subject to deliberations between EU member states during the course of the Brexit negotiations. Its fuel and desalination capacity will be exposed to negotiations on whether tariffs are to be added to oil imports from the Dutch island of Sint Eustatius.
There is a whole question about essential goods and services such as medical diagnostics, mail and the vast majority of international trade and tourism. Tourism accounts for 21% of the gross value added of Anguilla. So much about Anguilla is dependent on the relationship it has with the island to its south, and that is with the European Union. The Government have said nothing about this.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I do not want to interrupt his most eloquent speech, but does he not agree that the irony is that Anguilla reflects the position that we will find ourselves in at the edge of Europe should we leave? Indeed it is a concern that the Government have not given any sensible or sufficient answers to his queries, and it bodes worryingly for the future.
Actually, I do not agree. The UK has far bigger clout in the world than a small island with a population of just 15,000. My hon. Friend is right that we will be damaged—there is no doubt about it—by self-inflicted harm, but, as President Donald Tusk pointed out today, we can of course change our minds and if we do so, he would be delighted.
The position with regard to Anguilla is potentially one of a country with a problematic border. I have referred already to that closure at 10 o’clock at night. If, once we leave the EU, relations between the UK and France become worse than they are now, how do Ministers and Government Members think that we will be able to speak for the interests of this British overseas territory when we are not able to succeed today in getting everything that it needs? We would have less influence and no seat at the table. We would not be in the room and we would not be able to say anything to help it.
I do not wish to take too long, but there are important points about peoples whose voice has not been heard in this Chamber. Between 2012 and 2014, Anguilla did receive some UK official development assistance, but it was a very small sum, amounting to only £141 per person. Since then, there has not been such support. However, Montserrat received £14,000 per person and St Helena, which is even more remote, received £66,000 per person in ODA.
Anguilla is worried that after the UK has left—if we leave—the European Union, EU initiatives that currently occur within the overseas territories will no longer continue. Anguilla understands that ODA will be vital, but that support has steadily declined and its people are worried about the threat to the European Union funds. As part of the UK Caribbean Infrastructure Fund, a £300 million programme was announced in September 2015, in order to fund infrastructure such as roads, bridges and ports across the Caribbean, via the various banks and the Department for International Development, but Anguilla is very concerned about what will happen in the long term.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is one of a number of examples? A place such as Anguilla or an industry such as farming has no sense of certainty about how or whether the Government will replace funding that will be lost after—or if—we leave the European Union. Does he think that the Government are not being clear about the future because they have not yet worked it out, or because they fear that if people see what the situation will be after we leave the European Union, they may begin to wake up to the fact that what is on offer is very much deficient to what we have now?
I actually think, in the case of Anguilla, it is because the Government have never even thought about it. Only now are issues like this coming up to bite them. We could have had an impact assessment on Anguilla. It would be nice to know whether there was such a thing; I suspect not. The Government did not give any consideration to these issues when they triggered article 50, so they probably did not even consider that.
In “Anguilla & Brexit: Britain’s Forgotten EU Border”, which was published last summer, the Government of Anguilla call for four things. First, they want a
“Common travel area between Saint Martin and Anguilla”,
and state that
The same model is adopted for Ireland because of the historical relationships. A common travel area would be a way to prevent an economic and social disaster for Anguilla. In practice, it would mean free movement of nationals of the French and Dutch St Martin and Sint Maarten, and Anguilla, between those islands with a
“frictionless border without the need for passport control.”
It would also allow visitors flying into St Martin from any country in the world to go easily as tourists into Anguilla.
Secondly, the Government of Anguilla call for a customs union in the region
“with European countries, territories and municipalités in the eastern Caribbean.”
There has been a lot of talk about customs unions. I do not wish to repeat the debate that we have already had, as this issue will come back, but a customs union between the European Union territories in the region, the other countries in the region and the overseas territories of the United Kingdom could be really helpful in the Caribbean. Anguilla imports oil and other essential materials that it cannot exist without. It also exports fresh produce, which is predominantly sold to St Martin. There is therefore a real need for some kind of customs relationship that avoids tariffs and barriers.
Thirdly, the Government of Anguilla call for a
“Continued relationship between the UK and EU for the purposes of international development”,
as well as,
“Continued membership of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association of the European Union of Anguilla with full access to European Development Funds and support”.
Now, that may come at a cost. Are the British Government prepared to pay that cost in the negotiations? If they do not, as I have already suggested, there will be a major impact on the Anguillan economy and future development.
Fourthly and finally, the Government of Anguilla are looking to
“Stronger ties between Anguilla and Britain”.
This country has neglected our overseas territories for far too long. We do not give them the status that overseas territories have in France or the Netherlands. There is a wider issue that is not just about Anguilla and on which the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs may well comment after we have completed our current inquiry: we need a better ongoing relationship with these small communities of 15,000 people whose association with the United Kingdom goes back to the 17th century—longer, as I pointed out at the beginning, than the association of Gibraltar with the United Kingdom.
I strongly agree with Mike Gapes that the United Kingdom could strengthen her links and ties with Anguilla and could be very supportive as we go through Brexit. I trust that those on the Government Front Bench have listened carefully to what he has been saying. As far as I know, they have good will towards Anguilla. He mentioned some positive ideas about how the UK can help more and develop that relationship, which I welcome and which I suspect the Government may welcome.
I will respond briefly to the remarks of Joanna Cherry. In her remarks—we have heard this in the many SNP speeches during the debates on the Bill—she referred again to the way in which Scottish voters had a different view from UK voters as a whole on the referendum and she implied that that had great constitutional significance. I urge her to think again. I pointed out to her that, had Scotland voted to be independent in its referendum, I do not think it would have mattered at all if, in a subsequent election—I think that there would probably have been one quite quickly—a lot of people in England had voted the other way and said, “No, we’d like Scotland to stay in.”
If the hon. and learned Lady lets me finish my point, I will let her intervene. I would have thought that the result of the Scottish referendum was binding and, although I deeply want to keep the Union together, I would have felt that it was my duty to see the wishes of the Scottish people fully implemented because those were the terms of the referendum. She seems to be implying that it should have been otherwise.
The right hon. Gentleman has unfortunately forgotten that the Scottish referendum was preceded by the Edinburgh agreement between the British and Scottish Governments, which said that the outcome of the referendum would be respected by both sides. I think that he is rather trying to deflect attention from the issue in hand today by harking back to this.
I fear that it is very relevant, and probably even more relevant to what we are going on to debate in the next group of amendments—and the hon. and learned Lady did raise it as an important part of her case on how we handle EU law. I feel that SNP Members want to recreate the European Union in every way they can by amending this Bill, which is actually about us developing a new relationship—a very positive relationship—with the EU from outside the EU. That means changing some of the legal ties that currently bind us to the EU, while the many that we do not want to change come under our control so that future votes of the British people, and Parliaments, could make a difference if they so wished. That is the very important thing that we are debating. She has to accept that just as, had the Scottish people voted to leave, we would all have accepted the verdict and got on with it, against our wishes, now that the United Kingdom’s people have voted to leave the European Union, the whole Union has to accept that democratic judgment.
Is the right hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the outcome of the 2014 referendum means that henceforth in this Union the views of the Scottish people can be blithely ignored on all occasions? Is that his view? I am sure that Scottish voters watching the television would love to know that that is what he saying.
Absolutely not. Scottish voters’ views matter very much. They have a privileged constitutional position, which we are all happy with, such that in many areas Scotland makes her own decisions through her own Parliament. However, when it comes to a Union matter, I thought we all agreed that where we had a Union-wide referendum, the Union made the decision and the Union’s Parliament needs to implement the wishes expressed in the referendum. That is why Members from every party in the House of Commons, apart from her party and a few Liberal Democrats, decided, against their own judgments in many cases, that we needed to get on with it, send the article 50 letter and give this Bill a good passage. We are bound by the wishes of the British people as expressed in the referendum.
Does my right hon. Friend detect, as I do, a tendency in SNP Members, which reaches its pinnacle in Joanna Cherry, not to accept the results of any referendum held in this country? They reject the alternative vote referendum result, they will not accept and respect the Scottish referendum result, and now they are trying to countermand the European referendum result. I really think it is high time that they accepted the decisions made in referendums in this country.
That is extremely good advice. I find myself in a rather different position from the hon. and learned Lady. She finds herself in a position where every time there is a referendum in Scotland or the UK, she is on the losing side, whereas I have found that I am usually on the winning side. I seem to be much more in tune with the people. I agreed with the people’s judgment on grammar schools when we had a referendum on that, I agreed with their view on the voting system, I agreed with the Scottish people’s judgment on staying in the Union, and I very much agree with the United Kingdom electors’ judgment that we should leave the European Union. The people are often much more sensible than their Parliament wishes them to be, and it is great when Parliament then has to listen to the people and get on with doing the job.
The main point that I wish to make is in response to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, who tried to tackle the scholarship-level question that underlies our debates on this group of amendments—whether we can transfer all EU law into good British law, or do we, in practice, end up having to accept some European law because of the complexities involved. In my brief exchange with him by way of intervention, I pointed out that the rights of the British people have their best defence in the common sense and voting strength of the British people, that that will be reflected in their elected Parliament, and that if their elected Parliament gets out of line with the will of the United Kingdom voters, then the voters will, at the first opportunity, change the composition of the Parliament until it reflects the wishes of the United Kingdom voters on the matter of rights.
My right hon. and learned Friend countered by saying that taking my view would mean that we only ever had common law and Parliament would never need to legislate. That is a silly caricature of the true position. We all know, I think, that it is very difficult to define eternal, immortal rights. Some rights last for longer and are more important than others, but people find it very difficult to define that. Looking back over past statements of rights over the centuries, one sees that some of them now grate or are clearly very much against our view of what a right should be, whereas others may last for rather longer. Quite a lot of statements of rights have a big component related to what is topical or socially acceptable at the time. We are largely pleased that what is socially acceptable evolves, so there are many bad practices of the past that we have come to see were bad practices, and that has been reflected in new legislation. We always need to legislate to reflect changing perceptions about what is a right and which rights we should give most cognisance to.
Of course, the charter is an excellent example of these rights. It incorporates rights on data protection and other issues, as has been described in the debate. Would it not make sense to incorporate it into UK law and allow it to be changed at a later date through the kind of evolution that my right hon. Friend is describing?
These rights have been incorporated into UK law because we have shared quite a lot of them before they were codified in the way they are codified and because, subsequent to their codification, they have helped to inform our debates about amending, improving and strengthening the law. No, I do not think it is a good idea to incorporate the charter of rights as though it had some special significance. Interestingly, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke stated that when the charter first came forward in the Lisbon treaty, he tended to the “Beano” view of it—that it was not very significant. He did not think it was a strong part of the treaty and was not very keen on it, and was therefore quite happy with the Labour Government treating it differently and exempting us from parts of it as being inappropriate. Now, he gives it greater significance and implies that it is dreadful that we will not be incorporating it, as though it has been transformed between the date when we first considered it as part of the treaty and its current presence.
My view is that the British people and their Parliament will adopt all these good rules, and have done so, informing many of our laws. If there are other laws that need strengthening or improving, that is exactly what this Parliament is here to do, and if we are negligent in that matter, the British people and their lobby groups will make sure that our attention is drawn to whatever may be missing or could be improved. I would say to the House of Commons, let us remember what we are doing. We are taking back control. Where we need to strengthen or highlight rights by legislation, that is something that any of us can initiate, and if we can build a majority we can do it. There are many good examples of rights and laws emanating from Back Benchers or Opposition parties as well as from Governments.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said, wrongly, that I was trusting the Executive too much. That is not usually a criticism that has been made of me. Whereas I often find myself in agreement with the people in votes in referendums, I have often found myself in disagreement with parties in this House, including my own party, on matters of some substance, and I have not usually been shy—but I hope polite—in pointing out where I have those disagreements. I therefore reject his idea that I am trusting the Executive. I said very clearly in my intervention that I was trusting the United Kingdom electorate and their successive Parliaments. If one Parliament does not please or suit, or does not do the right thing on the rights that the public want, a new Parliament will be elected that will definitely do so.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe reminded us that we have had a lot of debates about Henry VIII powers, which are relevant to this group of amendments on how much European law we incorporate. I find this argument one of the most odd brought forward by those who are nervous about Brexit. One of my main problems with our prolonged membership of the European Union was that large amounts of legislation had to go through this House unscathed, and often little remarked on or debated, because once they had been agreed around the European Union table in private, they were “good law” in Britain. If those laws were regulations, they acted directly, so we could not even comment on them. If they were directives, we had a very marginal ability to influence the way in which they were implemented and the main points of the law went through without any debate or right to vote them down. That was the ultimate Henry VIII approach. In the case of this legislation, after extensive dialogue and discussion, we are talking about very narrow powers for Ministers to make technical adjustments and improvements. All of it is of course in the context of the right for Parliament to call anything in, debate it and vote on it.
I am interested in the issue my right hon. Friend raises about our not being able to scrutinise European law in this Chamber before it was approved over there. In other Parliaments, such as the Dutch Parliament, specialist committees scrutinised proposals before they reached the European Parliament; for example, the telecoms committee in the Dutch Parliament would scrutinise telecoms law before it got to the European Parliament. As we take our own law, would it not be helpful to use the specialist committees more on the detail?
We had 45 years to get that right, and I think my hon. Friend would probably agree with me that it did not happen in the way she now says she wished it had. When I was the single market Minister, I tried to do this. I brought draft proposals to the House to try to get comment before I went off to negotiate. I felt that that was the only time it was worth hearing Parliament’s view because there was still the chance of trying to change things. If Parliament agreed with me that the draft was very unsatisfactory, it was marginally helpful to be able to say to the EU, “By the way, the United Kingdom Parliament does not like this proposal”, although the EU did not take that as seriously as I would have liked it to have done. The truth was that we could then be outvoted, under a qualified majority voting system, and we often were if we pushed our disagreement, so the views of Parliament mattered not a jot, even if we did the decent thing and invited Parliament to comment before the draft was agreed.
As my hon. Friend must know, once a draft was agreed, if it was a regulation, that was immediately a directly acting law in the United Kingdom and this Parliament had no role whatsoever. If it was a directive—directives can be very substantial pieces of legislation—we could not practically change anything in that law. Whatever Parliament thought, it had gone through.
There is also the point that, if we are scrutinising that after it has happened, that is not a lot of use. That can alert Parliament and the public to problems that the new law might create, but if it has been agreed under the rules, it is law and we have to do the best we can and live with it.
Having sat through quite a few debates on the Floor of the House—in Committee, and on Second and Third Readings of Bills—while being a Member of Parliament, I do not think I have ever seen a Bill that has been so extensively debated, dissected, discussed, analysed and opposed. A huge amount of work has gone in to proposing a very large number of detailed and rather general amendments, discussing the philosophy, principles and technical matters in considerable detail.
Yes, I agree. I think the Report stage may even produce some agreement between my right hon. Friend, me and our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield that improvements have been made in that respect, with some powers for Ministers being narrowed and the House having an even bigger role. I am perfectly happy that that has happened.
The wider point I want to make is that this very extensive, forensic and thorough discussion could be a model for other legislation. It is interesting that MPs on the whole do not get as interested in other legislation as they have done in this Bill. The Lords should take into account the fact that, on this occasion, the Commons has done its work very extensively and thoroughly, and has considered a very wide range of issues in amendments. I am sure that the Lords will take that into account when it comes to have its important deliberations on this legislation.
After all, this Bill should not be that difficult or divisive. To remind everyone, what it does is to keep all the European laws that we currently have as they are, so that there is legal certainty. As someone who believes that Brexit will be very positive and good for this country, I wish us to go on and make major changes to our fishing laws, our farming financial system and our VAT system, which we are not allowed to do under European law—we are not allowed to take VAT off things that should not be charged VAT, for example. There are quite a few positive changes I want made to our law codes. We can do so once we have taken back control. On this Bill, however, everyone should be reassured because all the things they love about European law are simply being rolled over into British law.
Order. Several colleagues are now seeking to catch my eye, but I emphasise that the Minister must also have a decent amount of time in which to respond. I therefore urge colleagues to be brief in their contributions, while of course covering what is necessary.
I rise to speak to new clause 7, which is in my name and is supported by Opposition Members. I hope to push it to a vote. The new clause would transfer article 13 of the Lisbon treaty into UK law, so that the obligation on the Government and devolved Administrations to pay due regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings when formulating law and policy is not lost when the UK leaves the EU.
You will be glad to hear that I can be brief, Mr Speaker, because there is no need to set out again the case for transferring this obligation under EU law into domestic law. In Committee, the then Justice Minister, Dominic Raab, rejected my similar new clause and, I would suggest, inadvertently misspoke in the House in the process by stating that the sentience obligation
“is already recognised as a matter of domestic law, primarily in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 631, c. 499.]
That was simply incorrect, and there can be no disagreement about that because the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has since published a new draft Bill providing for the transfer into UK law of the obligation on animal sentience set out in article 13.
The Government therefore accept that they need to do what my new clause provides for, and the simplest thing would be for the Minister to accept it or, if the specific wording is considered deficient in some way, for him to bring forward a revised version as a Government amendment. As this has not yet happened—I will gladly give way to the Minister if he wants to say that the Government will accept the new clause—I can only assume he will say that the Bill is not the right legislative vehicle for the new clause: in other words, that a Bill to transfer the body of EU law into UK law is not the right legislative vehicle to transfer an important piece of EU law into UK law. To me, at least, that does not make sense.
I am very pleased to speak in support of the new clause brought forward, once again, by the hon. Lady. I am particularly pleased to see that it extends not just to Ministers in this Parliament, but to those in the devolved institutions. My one concern is that the wording could have been stronger by creating an obligation to uphold respect for animal sentience, rather than just having due regard to it.
Yes, in theory, I agree with the hon. Lady that the wording could be stronger. I was trying to be careful to avoid an accusation of gold-plating EU legislation, so I simply looked at the wording of article 13 and tried to bring that over from EU law into UK law. If we were starting again, I certainly agree that we could make the wording stronger.
Does the hon. Lady not agree that we can do better on animal welfare than the EU currently allows us to do? For example, making foie gras is prohibited in this country, but we cannot stop its being imported in from countries in the EU that make it, such as Belgium and France, because that would be against the free movement of goods. Does she not agree that the Conservatives are now putting in place tougher sentencing for animal welfare breaches, and we should focus on that, rather than looking at the past?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the new laws on sentencing are certainly to be welcomed, but I do not see why we need to see this as an either/or. I am trying to make sure that there is no legislative gap, because I do not have confidence—perhaps Conservative Members do—that the new Bill is likely to be on the statute books by the time that we leave the EU, if that is what happens. I want to make sure we have legislative certainty—belt and braces—by putting my new clause in the Bill.
We can have a big debate about the extent to which the EU has promoted animal welfare. I would argue that usually the reason animal welfare has not been promoted while we have been a member of the EU is the lack of political will here, rather than because the EU itself has prevented it. I take the point about the rules of the single market, but cases can always be made for exceptions—for example, on seal fur. If enough political energy is expended in the EU, such derogations can be achieved. We could have done the same on issues such as live animals, but we chose not to. Indeed, as Kerry McCarthy said, the Government have a record of not supporting tighter legislation on the live animal transport trade. So I will not stand here and listen to Conservative Members pretending that their new-found detoxification strategy for the Tory party is a reflection of a long-held belief in animal welfare.
Does the hon. Lady agree that a bird in the hand—her proposal —is much better than two in the bush? It would be cruel of me to remind the House that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a solemn pledge to support the Foreign Secretary in his bid to be leader, but then ended up stabbing him repeatedly in the front.
I am happy to agree with that intervention.
In case a Conservative Member is about to embarrass themselves by repeating the spectacularly stupid suggestion yesterday by the Guido Fawkes website—[Interruption.] Yes, I know that is not hard to believe. It suggested that new clause 7 would weaken animal sentience law because article 13 of the Lisbon treaty applies to only six policy areas, whereas the Secretary of State’s Bill would apply to all Government areas. Leaving aside that it is hard to imagine a Government policy relating to animal welfare that does not fall under one of those six policy areas, which are pretty broad, the point is that we have no domestic animal sentience law to weaken. We have a hastily cobbled together draft Bill that may, or may not, become a substantive Bill that reaches the statute book before
It is this Bill that will weaken our animal welfare law by failing to transfer into UK law the obligation on the Government set out in article 13 of the Lisbon treaty. As I said in reply to Lady Hermon, had I tabled an amendment that in some way added to or strengthened the obligations set out in article 13, Ministers would no doubt have rejected it on the grounds that I was trying to gold-plate EU law, which is not the purpose of the Bill. If new clause 7 were accepted, nothing would stop the Secretary of State’s draft Bill subsequently addressing any real or perceived weaknesses in the wording of article 13, and that would have my support. But let us not be left with a gap in the legislation. The real risk is that, because of the volume of legislation with which Whitehall and the civil service are having to grapple, a new Bill would not come forward in time to plug any gap after we leave the EU. That is why my belt-and-braces approach would make sure that we have this legislation safely included in UK law.
In the past, Sir Oliver Letwin has called this solution inelegant. Yes, it is a bit inelegant, but I would rather be inelegant and effective than elegant with a big gap in the legislation. Let us stop playing political games with a draft Bill that may, or may not, get anywhere near the statute book. Let us do what the Secretary of State clearly wished to do himself as recently as July last year, when he was asked whether he wanted to include article 13 in the Bill—he said of course he did. There can be no better legislative vehicle right now to transfer article 13 of the Lisbon treaty into UK law than the Bill, which exists to transfer EU law into UK law. I therefore commend new clause 7 to the House.
I also wish to put on record my support for amendment 57 and new clause 19, tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol East. The amendment would preserve more comprehensively than clause 4, which it would replace, the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law and incorporated into domestic law by the European Communities Act 1972. As the hon. Lady has already made clear, there are weaknesses in clause 4, as a result of which some provisions in EU law are at risk of being lost. She gave several examples, and I want to add one more. Unless amended, clause 4 could result in the loss from EU retained law of provisions that detail the aim and purpose of directives such as article 1 of the environmental liability directive, which includes reference to the polluter pays principle, and article 1 of the habitats directive, which specifies that the aim of the directive is to contribute towards biodiversity conservation.
New clause 19 would remove the risk of transposition gaps in retained EU law. It is simpler and more comprehensive than clause 4, and it would ensure that the rights arising from EU directives are preserved and a mechanism would be in place after exit day to deal with problems arising from the incorrect or incomplete transposition of EU law. I hope that Ministers will accept the amendment and new clause.
It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Lucas, although I will not support her amendments. In fact, I will not support any amendments other than those tabled by the Government. The Bill will leave this place in much better shape than when it was first introduced, but it is still not fit for purpose, frankly. As hon. Members said on Second Reading, we need a mechanism to move all our existing law into domestic law, but the many faults in the Bill have been well rehearsed by my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). I wholly agree with them; I endorse their arguments; and I do not intend to repeat them.
Many changes are still needed, but it will be the other place that will make good some of the faults that remain in the Bill. We are not trying to abdicate the responsibility for doing so, because that is simply the way it is, and has been, sadly, for some time. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House share our concerns, but given the nature of the political situation they have not quite gone the extra step to defy a three-line Whip or to be seen as disloyal to their leader. Many people do not want to undermine the Prime Minister as she enters the difficult next stage of negotiations with the European Union, but it will be important, when the Bill returns to this place, that we all have the courage of our convictions and put our country’s interests at the front of all that we do. We need to get the best piece of legislation because it is so important.
There is every chance that in the next few months the sands will begin to shift as people begin to understand and appreciate that we have made an error in taking options off the table—or never putting them on in the first place—notably in the speech that was made almost a year ago, when the Prime Minister said that the single market and the customs union were coming off the table. Those red lines have not helped, and they will not help us in the forthcoming negotiations. All options need to be placed back on the table—and I mean all options. That includes the ability of the people—it must be the people—of this country to determine the future of Brexit. It must remain with them, and they must drive it. That must be taken into consideration as the Bill moves up into the Lords and then comes back here.
Finally, this place voted, as we know, for amendment 7, and the Government lost that vote. If new clause 9, which many say has now become otiose, falls or is abandoned by the Government when the Bill passes into the other place, it must be made absolutely clear that, even in that event, this place wants a meaningful vote on the final deal and in good time—not some rubber stamp or some deal or no deal, but a proper, meaningful vote. That must be determined by elected representatives and by the people and in the interests of the people—in the interests of not just my generation but my children and my grandchildren, who I hope will come—so that we do this properly, putting the people in charge and doing the best thing for our country.
The new clause seeks to ensure that there is no regression in our equality protection as we leave the EU and following the repeal of the charter of fundamental rights. That principle has already been agreed by the Government, so there should be little controversy about supporting new clause 16. Hon. Members were promised that the Government would introduce an amendment that required Ministers, on the presentation of any Brexit-related primary or secondary legislation, to make a statement before the House on whether and how it was consistent with the Equality Act 2010. While the Government may try to make out that amendment 391 covers that point, I do not believe that it properly addresses the issue of primary legislation—a point eloquently made by Mr Grieve.
For that reason, I have tabled new clause 16. We cannot allow any regression in, or diminishing of, our equality protections and rights when we leave the EU. I totally disagree with hon. Members who have suggested that we should just trust the Government to get this right. The equality protections and human rights referred to in new clause 16 have been hard fought for, and we cannot allow them to be put at risk. I commend new clause 16 to the House.
I rise to support the speeches made by my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). The idea that three months is sufficient protection in terms of somebody launching a legal action, while a welcome concession from the Government, does not go far enough. I urge the Government to listen to the proposal to retain the Francovich right throughout the transition period or implementation period—however it is described.
I also support the points made on the charter of fundamental rights. When the charter was brought into effect, it said that it codified existing rights—rights that UK citizens already had. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend Suella Fernandes, takes a different view. I do not really care which view is right; the fact is that we have moved on as a society, and these protections have now become important in UK law. I would very much urge the Government to consider that when approaching this matter in the Lords.
Finally, it is eminently sensible that the Government look at new clause 13, which will not be moved to a vote today. It provides a very good mechanism for distinguishing between primary and secondary legislation in terms of the appropriate protections that will apply to UK citizens. I do not want my constituents to be in a worse position in a few years’ time than they are in now when it comes to their rights, so I urge the Government to listen to the debate today—I know they have their listening ear on.
I call Stuart C. McDonald—fairly briefly. The hon. Gentleman has amendments down and must be heard, but I know he will be sensitive to the importance of the Minister having adequate time to respond to all that has been said, so I am sure that he will be on his feet for only a small number of minutes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to speak briefly to amendments 55 and 56 and to probe one simple issue: in short, what happens if there is a failure to correct a deficiency in EU law, so that it cannot operate effectively after exit, and how can we maximise the chances that such a thing does not happen?
We have had plenty of debate on how we can restrict Government powers to correct deficiencies so that such powers cannot be used to undermine the incorporation of EU rules and so that we do not end up with some sort of watered-down or dysfunctional version of the original. However, perhaps the more realistic possibility, and just as much of a danger, is that we end up with a watered-down or dysfunctional version of EU rules not because of the inappropriate use of those powers of correction, but because of a failure to use them at all in appropriate circumstances, either by accident or design, or if various incorporated rules and regulations are simply allowed to fester away uncorrected and unable to operate effectively. So, I asked at Committee stage, “What happens if there is a citizen before a court in this country, seeking to establish rights under retained EU law when that retained EU law is actually riddled with deficiencies? Is the court supposed to try and make that work? Does the person simply lose their ability to exercise that right?”
My amendment 55 simply requires the court to interpret retained EU law—as far as possible—in such a way as to make it function effectively, borrowing shamelessly from the language of the Human Rights Act. I fully acknowledge that that in itself would not take us very far, but it is there to prompt a response from the Government. What should the court do in those circumstances? There are alternative courses of action that this Parliament could take, not just in amending clause 6 but in other parts of the Bill. We could expressly require EU law to be interpreted so as to be given effect “as if the UK were still a member state”, with further provisions about how that should be done. We could put in place a procedure to allow courts to flag up rules that they have found cannot operate effectively. We could put Ministers under an obligation or a duty to ensure that retained EU laws operate effectively; indeed, amendment 57 and new clause 19 are of that nature. Alternatively, as amendment 56 suggests, we could simply require the Government to publish a list of all the deficiencies they found in retained EU law that they are not seeking directly to rectify.
In short, the task of ensuring that we have a functioning rule book or statute book on exit day is twofold. Parliament must protect important rights, not only by preventing inappropriate use of Henry VIII powers, but by providing a means of ensuring that deficiencies are rectified where necessary, either by the Government, or by Parliament or by our courts, and I still think we have a long way to go in that regard.
I wish to speak in support of amendments 37 and 38 in the name of my colleagues in Government.
I will try and answer the question that was put to me by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, who has been getting frustrated in these debates about the somewhat technical nature of ministerial responses. Well, this is a very technical Bill. Like its illustrious predecessor, the European Communities Act 1972, it is a Bill of constitutional importance; it is a framework Bill. It is not—I stress this, because it is most important—it is not a Bill that seeks to convey a policy or a particular aspect of policy that we have discussed today. It is a framework that is designed to ensure that the law that is applied up to exit is downloaded in as clear and proper a way as possible because, to be consistent with the rule of law, the law needs to be accessible, it needs to be clear and it needs to be well understood. That is the fundamental basis of my concern about today’s amendments—that in seeking to retain the charter of fundamental rights in domestic law after exit, not only do we sow potential confusion but we fundamentally misunderstand what that charter means in the first place.
The Government have introduced welcome amendments to clause 7. While my hon. and learned Friend is talking about clarity, I just want to ask him to confirm, at this early stage in his remarks, that the Government will bring forward the amendments that we were hoping for, and that I think my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve and I were, if not promised, at least led to expect, when clause 6 is discussed in the other place.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. If he had sufficient time at his disposal, he might have seen the evidence that I gave to the Constitution Committee in the other place, in which the issues in clause 6 were discussed—the interpretive provisions that he and I and others debated in Committee.
May I come back to the fundamental point about the charter? It was never intended to create new rights. It was a document that reaffirmed rights that already existed in EU law.
I will not; I am developing my argument. It was a point that was made clear, not only in the charter itself but in protocol 30, which was signed by Poland and the UK at the time of the Lisbon treaty. In addition—this is important, and this, it seems to me, having listened carefully to the debate, is not understood—the charter does not apply to member states in everything they do. Although it applies to the EU and its institutions in all areas, it binds member states only in so far as they are acting within the scope of EU law. Therefore talking about the charter in a domestic context misunderstands its purpose and point: it was not drafted in that context. I am afraid that there has, I think, been a regrettable misunderstanding about that in this debate.
I do not think I have been under any misunderstanding at all. That is why I have kept pressing the Government to leave the charter to one side but look at the general principles of EU law necessary to bring challenges to retained EU law, brought into our own domestic law, that was not enacted by this Parliament—and without which, frankly, the coherence of EU law starts to disintegrate. That is the issue. Linked to that, of course, is the other issue of protecting some of those fundamental rights, perhaps in a different way, that matter to so many on both sides of the House.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I agree about general principles, which is why the general principles that underpin the recently drafted charter remain and, of course, do apply in respect of retained EU law. His second point about the means by which individuals challenge that is, of course, a matter of ongoing debate. I shall come back to the points raised in not only his amendment, but mine as well.
My hon. and learned Friend kindly said that he would try to answer my question. The question was: what harm has the charter of fundamental rights done and what evil is he trying to avert? It is true that, unexpectedly, new rights have been created under the charter and he is right that those rights have relevance to EU law. But the whole point of the Bill is to retain large amounts of EU law and its principles. What is the point of the change? This is policy in this Bill—it is a policy change. I fear that it is a signal to some sections of my party: the only part of the acquis communautaire that will be abolished mentions the wicked words “fundamental rights”, and that is why it is being removed.
The position that my right hon. and learned Friend took on the charter back in 2007 is the right one. As I was saying, it is in the interests of maintaining the rule of law that we maintain clarity, consistency and a clear authoritative source for those rights. My genuine concern about the importation of this particular charter into our domestic law is that we will sow confusion. That is not good for the maintenance of the rule of law, for the citizens of our country, for the future development of the law or for the position of this place vis-à-vis that development.
I entirely endorse what my hon. and learned Friend is saying, not least because of the acquis itself. Secondly, there are the adjudications under the European Court itself. Thirdly, the charter is like a legal ectoplasm: it seeps into everything. There is no way in which we would ever be able to extract ourselves from the entirety of the provisions in perpetuity.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who raises a genuine concern about the impact of protocol 30. Many Opposition Members were here 10 years ago; they were anxious then to make sure that the protocol was included in the Lisbon treaty. They are now happy to resile from that position and take an entirely different view. I take great issue with that: the legal principles were the same then as now. Nothing has really changed about the potential force of the charter, so I am rather bemused to hear about that volte-face on the part of many Opposition Members.
I am grateful to the Solicitor General for giving way, particularly given that from a sedentary position earlier he described an intervention of mine as rubbish—but let us slide away from that. As he will know very well, human rights were an essential component of the Belfast agreement, and the protection of human rights was at the core of the Patten reforms to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. For the people of Northern Ireland, therefore, the protection of human rights is essential. By repealing the charter of fundamental rights—not the convention, the charter—we are sending out an extremely negative message to the people of Northern Ireland. Can he offer reassurances on that point?
I certainly can. First, we are not repealing anything. Secondly, the dog that has not barked in this debate is the European convention on human rights, which is much supported by both sides of the House, very much part of our law and a fundamental part of the underpinning of many of the human rights—
Can the Solicitor General confirm once and for all that reports that the Prime Minister wants to run the next Tory party general election campaign on a pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the convention are incorrect? [Interruption.] Conservative Members roll their eyes and make a noise. I am giving him the opportunity to confirm that that is incorrect.
May I just calm the hon. and learned Lady? [Interruption.] Well, she is making a point that is frankly not the case. We have committed to supporting our membership of the European convention throughout this Parliament, and that is a position I entirely support.
The hon. and learned Lady seems to be very focused on future referendums and the desire to rerun arguments that were held some time ago. I want to do justice to her amendments as much as to anybody else’s, and I will say this about the amendments posited by her and the Labour party: they offer different visions of how challenge might be mounted by using the charter. Amendment 4, which stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, deals with a situation akin to that under the Human Rights Act, whereby a declaration of incompatibility can be given, but that does not guarantee full redress for individuals seeking it under the charter. I accept that the amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Lady goes further and would retain a power in effect to strike down legislation if it is incompatible with the charter. I simply say to both of them, with the greatest of respect, that their approaches work against the core aims of the Bill. We are leaving the EU, and there has to be certainty about the process; and certainty in the law lies at the heart of everything else we have to do. That is the simple reason why we cannot accept those amendments.
I was interested in the arguments of Kerry McCarthy about clause 4, when she moved her amendment 57 and spoke to her new clause 19. My argument about clause 4 is simply this: indeed, as the sweeper clause—the description she adopted—it has the important function of curing any loopholes that might exist in European law when we leave the EU and deals with the question of uncertainty that I know she is extremely concerned with. I will try to reassure her. She will remember that the explanatory notes contain a helpful and non-exhaustive list of the type of directly effective rights, such as equal pay—a very important right—that are designed to be covered by this important provision in clause 4. As I have said in evidence in another place, we are simply seeking to ensure the important principle of reciprocity in the enforcement of fundamental rights such as those of equality, which she referred to, and those pertaining to the environment, for which I know she also has a great passion.
In conjunction, I can deal with Bambos Charalambous, who succinctly and clearly made his argument on new clause 16, which deals fairly and squarely with equalities. We have already made our commitment clear that all the protections in and under the Equality Acts of 2006 and 2010 and the equivalent Northern Ireland legislation will continue to apply once we have left the EU. In Committee, we tabled an amendment which would secure transparency in that regard by requiring ministerial statements to be made about any amendments made to the Equality Act through secondary legislative powers under the Bill.
What concerns me about new clause 16 is that it would go further by creating new free-standing rights, perhaps even more than have been proposed in amendments relating to the charter. That is not the purpose of the Bill. The Bill is about maintaining the same levels of protection on the day after exit as on the day before. It is not a vehicle for substantive legislative changes such as those that have been proposed, and for that reason we cannot accept the new clause.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve for his qualified welcome for the Government amendments. The reason for a three-month time limit analogous to that which exists in domestic judicial review is the important policy consideration that there must be a degree of certainty when it comes to ongoing litigation and dispute about EU law as we enter the post-exit era. I think there must be some resolution of that by way of a limitation period. Retaining an open-ended right of action would create more uncertainty for businesses and individuals about rights and obligations.
After we cease to be a member of the European Union, it would not be right to allow “general principles” challenges to Acts of Parliament to continue, because that is not in line with the purposes of Brexit. To put it simply, outside the context of EU law, the ability of courts to disapply Acts of Parliament on “general principles” grounds is not consistent with the way in which our domestic legal system functions. That must be at the heart of our policy considerations.
My hon. and learned Friend’s argument would make more sense if the Government had not decided to retain the principle of the supremacy of EU law in the Bill. Once they have done that, removing the mechanism of a challenge on the basis of general principles creates something that I think is rather odd. I would not have pressed the issue if the Government had adopted an alternative approach, but that was their own decision. This has, I think, highlighted some of the oddities of the way in which the matter has been approached. It may well be that they can be sorted out in the other place, but I think my hon. and learned Friend must acknowledge that they are odd.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend is allowing me to intervene on his intervention. Let us not forget that we are dealing with the pre-exit situation. The EU acquis is being frozen, in the sense that its full effect in a pre-exit sense must be maintained so that we can maintain certainty. I agree that it is a strange and rather unusual concept, but I think it preserves that all-important certainty.
Time is short, and I want to ensure that I deal with further amendments.
I must press on, I am afraid.
The amendments tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield relating to the way in which we designate EU legislation make important contributions to the debate, but they are laden with problems. The sheer volume of what we are dealing with—well over 15,000 pieces of legislation—leads me to draw back from trying to create a convenient categorisation of retained EU law. With the greatest respect, I think it far wiser for the Government to approach each item on a case-by-case basis, not making glib assumptions and trying to downgrade EU law, but getting each particular measure right.
Amendments tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West and others deal with, again, the debate on clause 6 and the interpretation of retained EU law. I entirely understand why the amendments were tabled, because the debate is intense, but I would say to those Members, with respect, that I think less is more. The more we try to enshrine in law principles such as persuasive authority—which is in one of the amendments—the more I see the potential for judicial head-scratching and litigation of a type that I do not believe the judiciary would welcome. I have said it before and I say it again: I trust our judiciary to answer the question put before them rather than to survey like lions of the constitutional savannah and to run across the landscape. They answer the question that is put to them, and I trust them to do that and to use the discretion that quite naturally they should be given.
In relation to the new clause in the name of Caroline Lucas, it is clear that the Government regard animals as sentient and we of course support the sentiment behind the new clause, as we did on a previous occasion, but we could not support it then and the reasons for not supporting it have not changed. Article 13 places an obligation on the EU when developing certain policies, and on EU member states when developing and implementing those policies. That obligation, because animals are sentient beings, is to have full regard to their welfare requirements, but article 13 applies only to a limited number of EU policy areas, and frankly it also allows for practices that we would consider cruel.
I would be interested to know what policy area the Solicitor General thinks the EU provision does not cover: what does he want to cover that the EU does not? Secondly, would it not be safer just to have this amendment in the Bill to make sure we have legal certainty, because he cannot guarantee that the Government Bill will get on to the statute book before we leave the EU?
May I reassure the hon. Lady by pointing out that there are many areas on which we have heard debates, such as on live importation? I want to make sure the new domestic law we introduce is comprehensive in a way that I know she would fully support. Cross-referencing to the obligations in article 13 —which apply only to EU policies, not to UK policies—would, if anything, create more confusion once we have left the EU.
Frankly, article 13 has not delivered and its effect on domestic law is minimal, and as my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary has said, we can do better. We have made it clear that we intend to retain, and indeed enhance, our existing standards of animal welfare once we leave. This Bill will convert the existing body of EU animal welfare law into our law and will make sure the same protections are in place in the UK and that laws still function effectively after we leave.
The purpose of this Bill is not to improve EU laws; it is about providing a functioning statute book. That is why, as the hon. Lady has acknowledged, the Government have now published draft legislation—the Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill—which sets out why we can do it better. It is a significant improvement on article 13; it will impose a clear duty on the state to have regard for animal welfare when considering all policies, rather than just the six areas in article 13.
I also say to the hon. Lady that it is open to public consultation and we have to respect the views of thousands of members of the public who will be coming forward and making—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady believes in open and public consultation and democracy, and that is why we are doing what we are doing. [Interruption.] It ill behoves the hon. Lady to assume that my party somehow lies on a lower moral plain when it comes to issues of animal welfare. We share the passion and commitment to animal welfare that she professes and I know many other Members in this House do—I look to Kerry McCarthy as a shining example. We want to hear from the public and their view about it, and we want to get it right in domestic legislation, which is the right place for it.
There is much I could say about the wonderful, if small, British overseas territory of Anguilla. Having visited it myself in a ministerial capacity, I was very grateful to Mike Gapes for his description. We are very conscious not only of the importance of Anguilla, its people and its economy, but the need to make sure that the concerns of the Anguillan Government are considered and the rights people have in Anguilla, which are exactly the same as those of UK nationals, are preserved after we leave the EU. We will make sure that that situation will not change.
The debate on the charter has been an important one. It has been a further stage in the way in which we have looked carefully at the Bill. The Government remain open and we are listening to all views on how we can get this right. I am sure that, as the Bill makes its way into another place, the deliberations of this House will have done much to enhance the quality not only of the Bill but of our democracy itself.