Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
3 (1) In this Schedule—
“new EU workers’ rights” means any workers’ rights—
(a) which member States are obliged to confer by an EU directive published in the Official Journal of the European Union on or after IP completion day, or
(b) that are conferred by an EU regulation published in the Official Journal of the European Union on or after IP completion day;
“workers’ retained EU rights” means workers’ rights of the kinds which—
(a) immediately before IP completion day, the United Kingdom was obliged to confer by virtue of the EU directives listed in the table in paragraph 4, and
(b) on IP completion day, continued to have effect (by virtue of this Act and as modified by any provision made by or under this Act or otherwise) in the law of England and Wales or Scotland;
“workers’ rights” means rights of individuals, and classes of individuals, in the area of labour protection as regards—
(a) fundamental rights at work,
(b) fair working conditions and employment standards,
(c) information and consultation rights at company level,
(d) restructuring of undertakings, and
(e) health and safety at work.
(2) The reference in the definition of “workers’ retained EU rights” to rights which continued to have effect by virtue of this Act includes a reference to rights which form part of retained EU law by virtue of section 2 but which would have continued to have effect irrespective of that section.
(3) References in this Schedule to rights being of the same kind as new EU workers’ rights are to be read as references to rights being of the same kind so far as that is consistent with the United Kingdom’s domestic legal order following its withdrawal from the EU.
(4) For the purposes of this Schedule a right under the law of England and Wales or Scotland is conferred whether or not it is in force.
4 (1) The table referred to in the definition of “workers’ retained EU rights” is as follows:
(2) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make such modifications of the list of EU directives in that table as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in consequence of any changes before IP completion day in EU directives relating to workers’ rights.
(3) No regulations may be made under sub-paragraph (2) after the end of the period of one year beginning with IP completion day.”
As this is my first appearance at the Dispatch Box this year, I would like to thank my constituents for re-electing me and send all hon. and right hon. Members my very best wishes for 2020.
I draw attention to my relevant entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests regarding my support from trade unions.
We fully accept that, following the general election, we will be leaving the European Union on
New clause 2 is about protecting vital workers’ rights, and subsection (1)(a) would ensure that the Government cannot introduce measures that would, in any way, have the effect of reducing the protections provided on the day the transition period ends. We believe this must go further.
Subsection (1)(b) confirms that the Government, after our exit from the EU, will ensure that workers’ rights in the United Kingdom are, as a minimum, at the level they are in other EU member states. We also insist that the Government are held to account in Parliament on those objectives. The Government must never be allowed to sell out the workers of this country, and we will not let them off the hook. We will stand with those to whom this Government and the Prime Minister have made promises.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s tone and his acceptance of the result of the general election. In turn, will he accept that workers’ rights in the UK are greater than those enjoyed within the EU and that we do not need to be members of the EU in order to have them? Sick pay, maternity leave and the minimum wage are examples in this regard. Does he accept that those rights are already enhanced and that this sovereign Parliament guards them, not the EU?
I am delighted to see the hon. Gentleman giving credit to past Labour Governments and their achievements, and he is absolutely right in what he says about the national minimum wage. We can go back even further and talk about the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which was another fine achievement by a UK Labour Government. However, there are also rights whose genesis has been in European law, as we know if we talk to agency workers and think about the working time directive. We should be praising these things. Labour Members say they should be not only preserved but enhanced in future years, and that is what this new clause is all about.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that the Government’s record on workers’ rights is concerning to say the least. Let us consider the previous incarnation of this Bill, which was in October 2019. Schedule 4 to that Bill outlined that, first, a Minister would have to consult businesses and unions on the impact on workers’ rights of any new proposed legislation and then state formally how that would happen, and that, secondly, the Government would have to report regularly on any new EU directives. At the time, those proposals were described by the TUC general secretary as “meaningless procedural tricks”, which is why Labour Members tabled a similar amendment to the one before us today so that stronger protections would be in place. The position of the Government in October 2019 was weak on workers’ rights and now it is even weaker. If the Prime Minister cared so much, he would not have moved the provisions on this from the legally binding withdrawal agreement to the non-binding political declaration. Why bother to make that change if not to prepare the ground to make changes in the future? It was no surprise that the Government started off this Parliament indicating that they want to attack the right to strike in the transport sector.
None of those are the actions of a Government who want, as they claim, to
“protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU”.
They are not the actions of a Government who want to make Britain the
“best place in the world to work.”
Let us not forget that the Conservative party is the party of employment tribunal fees, which were a barrier to those whose rights at work had been infringed and were seeking justice. The Government now ask for trust on workers’ rights, but their record on this bears no reasonable scrutiny. The Home Secretary, in the EU referendum campaign, talked of the
“burdens of the EU social and employment legislation”.
Another member of the Government said:
“The weight of employment regulation is now back-breaking: the collective redundancies directive, the atypical workers directive, the working time directive and a thousand more”.
Who said that? It was the man who now claims to be the workers’ friend, the Prime Minister himself. This Government cannot and will not be trusted on workers’ rights—rights that have been hard won over generations by the labour movement. That is why this new clause is needed in the Bill, in order to safeguard the millions of workers in this country who deserve our continuous protections of their rights. That is why the Opposition will press that new clause to a vote when the time comes.
New clause 3 sets out details about our future relationship, putting the protection of jobs and livelihoods at the very top of our priorities as we depart the EU. It sets out the arguments that have been made by the Opposition for some years now, arguments for a UK-wide customs union, with a say in external trade deals, for strong, high-quality single market access, and for ensuring that rights and protections—for workers, as I have mentioned, but in other areas too—in the UK never fall behind those across Europe. I also think of our manufacturing sector, where our exporters are currently benefiting from tariff-free access to the single market. In all our constituencies, whether through direct employment or the many supply chains that exist, workers and businesses will rightly look to this House to protect their interests going forward, and that is what we should do.
In the course of this Parliament, we will hold the Government to account on their record on jobs and investment. The basis upon which they secure the new relationship with the EU will have consequences for now and for decades to come. Parliament has lost its right to set a negotiating mandate, so that task now falls squarely on the shoulders of the Government. They will be judged on what they do and the impact it has on employment prospects up and down the land.
Subsection (1)(d) refers to participation in EU agencies, many of which have been debated in the course of our deliberations on Brexit in recent years. I wish to focus on and make some remarks about the issue of security, because in a digital age, when crime knows no borders, there are extraordinary new challenges in the task of keeping the public safe. Nobody can doubt the value of working together, and continuing to work together, on security with the EU and other international partners, but the Government have not yet produced a credible plan on how the current advantages we have—the current set of tools—will continue in the post-Brexit age.
My hon. Friend is making a crucial point. Although I agree with the other parts of the new clause on the customs union and the single market, security is an aspect that was largely lost in many of the debates that we had in the House, yet we members of the Home Affairs Committee regularly heard evidence from experts—from law enforcement agencies, the Metropolitan police and others—of the risks to our security of not getting a comprehensive security arrangement in place. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should listen to those experts and the Government should listen to them, too?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall develop that point, because one issue is that the non-binding political declaration contains an aim for a broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership, but that is currently just words on a piece of paper. We urgently need a plan. When the former Prime Minister spoke at the Munich security conference in February 2018, she spoke about a security treaty with the EU27, but we are still waiting for the planned architecture of that co-operation.
Let me give some specific examples. Things such as the European arrest warrant, Eurojust and Europol are critical to the successful investigation and extradition of wanted suspects or criminals. National Crime Agency statistics show how important this is. In the period from 2010 to 2016, the UK made 1,773 requests to member states for extradition under the European arrest warrant and received 48,776 requests from member states for extradition. Not only can the UK currently bring people to these shores to face justice, but we can send dangerous people to other countries to face legal proceedings.
It seems the Government have accepted the importance of the European arrest warrant. Their July 2018 White Paper said that
That White Paper also showed the challenge that the Government face. It said:
“Existing extradition arrangements between the EU and third countries do not provide the same level of capability as the EAW.”
We cannot allow our capability to be diminished.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Before the general election I produced a report with the all-party group on deaths abroad and consular services and assistance, which I chair. He may be aware that there are already significant challenges when our citizens die, get into trouble or are incarcerated abroad. All the officers and the people I have spoken to have said that Brexit is only going to compound those issues and make it more difficult for our citizens to get proper representation and support from the Foreign Office after Brexit; does the hon. Gentleman agree?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the challenges, which are precisely what I wish to come on to and develop.
Yesterday, I heard the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union respond to an intervention by my hon. Friend Chris Bryant; my fear is that as yet the Government’s thinking just has not moved beyond the implementation period, which ends at the end of 2020. What happens after that is so important, because it will determine what our law enforcement agencies have in their armoury to deal with pan-European crime. It is an urgent task.
The issue of data sharing and continued data sharing is crucial. Were the UK ever to lose access to the EU’s security databases, information that today can be retrieved almost instantaneously could take days or weeks to access. That would create a significant hurdle to effective policing, to say the least.
On Europol, how do the Government see the future? Do they envisage full participation, or only observer status at board meetings? We just do not know. The fact that the situation is critical and the position wholly unsatisfactory is the fault of the Government and not of those who work in our security sector. After all, the UK makes a great contribution to European security. Through the Schengen information system—or SIS II as it is known—the UK is contributing to the sharing of real-time data on wanted criminals, missing persons and suspected terrorists, and that co-operation is beneficial to us all. The data shared in that database are used millions of times each year by UK police, and that surely must illustrate to all Members the profound risk of there being no long-term deal on security.
In conducting the negotiation, the Government must emphasise the UK’s contribution and the mutually beneficial nature of European co-operation in dealing with the most serious organised crime on our continent. I listened carefully to the new European Commission President today. She said that the threat of terrorism is real, and that we have to share the necessary information to stop terrorists crossing borders and attacking us. She is right. When we are fighting crime, we are better working to eradicate it collectively than working alone, and we need a formal legal basis to continue to do so. That is why new clause 3 is so important, and I commend it and new clause 2 to the House.
I rise to give the support of the Scottish National party to the official Opposition’s new clause 2 and to speak to new clause 8, in the name of my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford; new clauses 50 and 51 and new schedule 1 in my name and those of some of my colleagues; and new clauses 45 and 46, in the names of SDLP Members.
I want to turn first to the issue of workers’ rights. What is being done in this Bill is very serious, which is why new clause 51 and new schedule 1 seek to reinstate the missing clause and schedule that were in the October version of this Bill. The Government have suggested that the substance of the deleted clauses will be covered in a separate employment Bill, but, as it has yet to be laid before Parliament, we are understandably suspicious given the history of these matters. It is simply not true or accurate to suggest that the United Kingdom has done a better job than the European Union in protecting workers’ rights. There are some respects in which the United Kingdom has progressed matters, and it is true to say that those came under a Labour Government, and I congratulate Labour on that.
I want to develop my point before I take any interventions from the hon. Gentleman.
There are many other respects in which the European Union and our membership of it have advanced the cause of workers’ rights. Judgments of the European Court of Justice, expanding the law in the way that some hon. Members seem to find so objectionable, have also led to greater protections for workers in the United Kingdom. As well as the disappearance of what was clause 34 in the October Bill, this Bill also removes the provision that pre-Brexit judgments of the European Court of Justice will continue to be binding on UK courts until the UK Supreme Court departs from them. Instead, it has provision for Ministers of this Government to make regulations under clause 26—[Interruption.] I can see the Minister frowning at me, but we spoke about this in some detail earlier today. I am talking about regulations to enable certain courts and tribunals to depart from the CJEU case law. That, of course, underlines the concern that many trade unions feel in relation to this matter.
I have read very carefully what Unison, the TUC and the Scottish TUC say about this matter. I have also seen what has been said by Thompsons Solicitors, a well-known legal firm that many of us have had dealings with in the past, which has worked hard in the area of protection of workers’ rights. The fear is that the combination of the missing clause and the power that the Government are taking to themselves to interfere with the Supreme Court’s ability to overrule previous European Court of Justice decisions will create a chaotic free-for-all on workers’ rights in the United Kingdom, whereby the courts could potentially weaken existing workers’ rights and ignore past ECJ rulings from which trade unionists and workers across the United Kingdom have benefited. If that does not happen in the courts, it could well happen as a result of the unilateral action of Government Ministers through delegated legislation.
It is important to remember that working people in the United Kingdom have benefited from a number of recent landmark judgments by the Court of Justice, including the requirement for employers to keep records of all hours worked to comply with the working time directive, which is very important to many of our constituents, and the ruling that employers might not have to factor overtime into holiday pay calculations, which is also very important to many of our constituents, particularly to those who are not as well paid as Members of this House—even those who do not have a second job. We often hear from Government Members how much they care about the working man and woman, but if they really did, they would support the new clauses tabled me and by the Labour party, and would give us the guarantees we require that there will not be a regression from the rights that many of our constituents have enjoyed as a result of European Union law.
Many of those who advanced the leave cause during the referendum campaign said that one of the reasons they wanted to leave the European Union was to do away with workers’ rights and employment rights. Now that many of those people are on the Treasury Bench, the suspicions held by many of us are only going to intensify.
Not all, but many Members on the Government Benches have spoken about just the sort of free-for-all on rights that we fear. Of course, this partly comes from the conceit that somehow the United Kingdom—by which they normally mean England—has a monopoly on rights, which is not shared by other countries across the world, including the other countries in the European Union. Unfortunately, the lived experience of working men and women across the United Kingdom is not one of confidence in Governments of the UK to protect them, particularly when those Governments are of the Conservative and Unionist party. That is why they have been so reliant on the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice, and on directives and regulations passed by the European Union institutions, in which Britain has of course had significant input over the years. My new clauses and the Labour party’s seek to achieve some minimum guarantees in relation to the continued enjoyment of many rights that exist only because of the European Union.
Does the hon. and learned Lady agree that the European Court of Justice underpins our fundamental values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law? Does she also agree that, outside it, workers’ rights, the judiciary and the rule of law are under attack, and that our civil service, the BBC and all such institutions are now a free-for-all? It is not just workers’ rights; it is the judicial system itself.
As I said earlier, it is clear from the Conservative manifesto that the Government intend a rebalancing of power between the Executive, Parliament and the judiciary. I think this comes from a sense of hubris about the Prime Minister’s defeat in the Supreme Court at the tail end of last year. Of course, it is important to remember that that was not a political decision, but a legal one. The distinguished Scottish judge Lord Drummond Young said in the Scottish Supreme Court, “It is not for the judiciary to scrutinise the Government. That is the job of Parliament. But when the Government prevents Parliament from doing its job, then it is the job of the judiciary to step in to make sure that Parliament can fulfil its function.” I see that that comment from a distinguished member of the Scottish bench is going down like a lead balloon on the Government Benches, but it simply mirrors what Lady Hale was careful to do in the Supreme Court, which was to underline that these were legal judgments, not political ones.
Our memberships of international institutions such as the European Union and the European convention on human rights, separately, have given important guarantees that regardless of the complexion of government in the United Kingdom, there will be certain minimum standards. Withdrawal from the EU undermines that in a number of areas, particularly workers’ rights, and that is why these amendments are so important.
My second point relates to the charter of fundamental rights, which was of course removed by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and is not dealt with in this Bill. However, there remains widespread concern about the effect of the removal of the charter because, as we heard at length in the last Parliament, it guarantees certain rights that are not guaranteed by the convention on human rights or by the domestic legal systems of these islands. My SNP colleagues and I believe that this Parliament should ensure that the Bill does not lead to the diminishing of the rights of UK citizens or EU citizens living in the UK. One way of doing that would be for the Government to commit to conducting and publishing an impact assessment on the effect of the removal of the EU charter of fundamental rights later this year. That is what my new clause 50 seeks to achieve. I would respectfully suggest that, in the interests of certainty, no reasonable parliamentarian in this House who cares about the rights of his or her constituents could oppose an inquiry into the impact of the withdrawal of the charter on their constituents’ rights.
New clause 8, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and a number of other colleagues, sets out a requirement for the UK Government to negotiate a deal keeping the UK close to the single market and the customs union. I have no intention of pressing it, because I know that that ship has sailed. However, it is intended to remind the House of, and to put on record, the position of the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government in relation to membership of the single market and the customs union.
The Minister said earlier that the UK Government have engaged with the devolved Administrations throughout the negotiations to leave the European Union, but I am afraid that the evidence of the past three years shows that while engagement has taken place, it has been very much a superficial box-ticking exercise. That is not just the view of the SNP; I see others who represent seats in areas covered by other devolved Administrations nodding their heads.
In December 2016, the Scottish Government published a document called “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, which was the first comprehensive proposal from any Government in these islands to address the outcome of the EU referendum. It contained an evidence-based analysis showing that the least damaging option for leaving the European Union—the optimum case being to remain—was to continue membership of the single market and customs union. The document demonstrated how that could be done for the UK as a whole, notwithstanding other parts of the United Kingdom such as Northern Ireland and Scotland. The proposals represented a very considerable compromise by the Scottish Government, but despite cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament, they were almost instantly dismissed by the former Prime Minister. Indeed, they were read more carefully by Michel Barnier then by the British Government.
Thereafter, Scottish Government colleagues engaged fully in good faith with the process set up by the UK Government to apparently—I use the word “apparently” advisedly—involve and consult the devolved Administrations in formulating the UK position for withdrawal. The terms of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations, which was set up for that very purpose, were agreed in October 2016, saying that through the Committee the Governments would
“work collaboratively to…seek to agree a UK approach to, and objectives for, Article 50 negotiations;
and provide oversight of negotiations with the EU, to ensure, as far as possible, that outcomes agreed by all four governments are secured from these negotiations”.
Sadly, it was soon clear that the UK Government had no intention of honouring those commitments. There is more to engagement than simply turning up and speaking at people. Engagement involves listening, compromising and collaborating.
The hon. and learned Lady is making an important contribution, as she often does. This is not just about the withdrawal process. We cannot even get discussions about what is happening with the shared prosperity fund. It is 19 or 20 months since the consultation should have ended. I understand from Welsh Assembly Members and Welsh Government colleagues that they cannot even get a discussion with the Treasury, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Wales Office or the Scottish Office. If we cannot even get what happens to our funding right, there is little hope of genuine consultation with the devolved Administrations on the process of leaving.
That is very much the experience of my Scottish Government colleagues across the board in this engagement with the British Government. In fact, in a recent keynote speech to the Institute for Government, my friend and colleague Mike Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for the constitution in the Scottish Government, said that
“at no point have the views of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or Northern Irish representatives been addressed” in a way that has led them to believe that they have been listened to and would be taken account of in any meaningful way. Still less has there been any recognition of any need to accommodate the pro-EU majority in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, nor of the position of Scottish MPs or, indeed, the Scottish Parliament, which normally votes by more than two thirds to one third on substantive Brexit issues. Indeed, just this afternoon as we have been debating here, the Scottish Parliament has voted by 92 votes to 29 to withhold legislative consent to this Bill. I am afraid that the Government cannot just blame the bête noire of the Scottish National party for that. It has involved all parties in the House—the Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens, but not the Scottish Conservatives, who are not interested in what the majority of people living in Scotland want. They are more interested in doing the bidding of their Westminster-based masters.
The point is this: there has been no meaningful engagement with the Scottish Government. There has been no meaningful engagement with the Welsh Government. As we heard even from the DUP, which has a genuine right to be annoyed about recent developments, there has been no meaningful engagement with Northern Irish representatives.
While we hear a lot of rhetoric again and again today about how the British people have spoken, the will of the people and a suggestion that the Opposition are somehow an affront to democracy for turning up and scrutinising this Bill, it is important to remember that, far from being an affront to democracy, my hon. Friends and I speak for majority opinion in Scotland—the majority opinion in Scotland is to remain in the European Union. Every electoral opportunity that has been afforded to Scotland since the EU referendum, including the last general election, has resulted in a resounding majority of seats for parties that support remaining in the European Union. So can we tone down a wee bit the rhetoric about the will of the British people and acknowledge the reality of the degree to which engagement has taken place?
Members need not just take my word for it or that of my colleagues in the SNP Scottish Government. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Commons concluded in July 2018:
“It is clear from the evidence to this inquiry that Whitehall still operates extensively on the basis of a structure and culture which take little account of the realities of devolution in the UK. This is inimical to the principles of devolution and good governance in UK.”
That was the conclusion of a cross-party Committee of this House. I do not expect any support from Government Members for the SNP’s new clause 8, but it gives me the opportunity to correct some factual misunderstandings about the degree of engagement that has taken place over the last few years.
Before I conclude, I would like to express my support for new clauses 45 and 46, tabled by my colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party. New clause 45 would require each devolved legislature to give legislative consent to any trade deal affecting the NHS. It is very similar to the SNP’s new clause 68, which was not selected for debate. The SNP manifesto in Scotland contained a commitment to protect the NHS from a trade deal with the United States of America. We won the election in Scotland with 45% of the vote and 80% of the seats, and it would perhaps be a courtesy to take on board an amendment that reflects the will of the majority of people who bothered to vote in Scotland.
I am sure the hon. and learned Member would acknowledge that a similar pledge has also been made by the Welsh Health Minister, and my constituency colleague, Vaughan Gething. Welsh Labour’s commitment on this, and I am sure that of Plaid Cymru and others, is absolutely clear: we will defend the NHS in Wales in trade negotiations.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of the position in Wales. That of course reflects the fact that, again, this is a concern not just of nationalist parties, but of the parties that support the devolved settlements but perhaps do not wish to go as far as independence.
The SDLP’s new clause 46 requires regional equality, environmental and economic impact assessments of any proposed future relationship or free trade agreement. Again, that is eminently sensible. It is similar to Plaid Cymru’s new clause 16, which is looking for a UK-wide economic impact assessment. Again, those are matters that I would have thought any MP who cares about the outcome of these negotiations and the future of their constituents’ livelihoods would be well advised to support.
I will conclude by saying that we need to take account in these proceedings of the different positions of the devolved nations. What I say and will continue to say to the Government is that if they continue to act as if there is no difference between the wishes of the electorate in England and the wishes of the electorate in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, they will do so at their peril, and the Union that they say they care about so much will be further undermined by that behaviour.
I rise to support new clauses 10 and 29, on which we will be seeking a vote today. These should absolutely be no-brainers.
New clause 10 is about the Erasmus programme. For students, young people, those in training and staff who work in the education sector, the Erasmus scheme has been absolutely incredible. I wonder how many of us on these Benches have used that programme ourselves, or have had our children or others in our family do so. From 2014 to the end of this year alone, €1 billion has been allocated to support the UK as part of Erasmus+. New clause 10 would only require the Government to seek—to do what they say they want to do, but let us be sure—to negotiate continuing full membership of the future Erasmus education and youth programme.
We could secure access to the programme through negotiations, but we would be an associated third country and that would never be as good as the programme we are part of now. However, at least with new clause 10 this Parliament would be instructing the Government that, as part of the next phase, that is something we absolutely want.
Let us remind ourselves what Erasmus does. It allows our young people to go abroad to European universities, to learn new languages, to meet new people, to put down some roots abroad and to build the international understanding that, in my view, is a big part of what it means to be British.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this matter to the Committee for consideration. Today I had the opportunity to meet representatives from the Russell Group, which encompasses 24 universities across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Erasmus scheme was one of the schemes they mentioned. They intimated how good the scheme was and how important it was, and stressed the opportunity that it brings. I want to support the hon. Lady in what she has said. When we have universities with the capacity and strength of membership that we have across all four regions, it indicates to me that the Erasmus scheme is a good scheme and needs to be retained.
I thank the hon. Member very much for his intervention; he makes the point beautifully. It is such a no-brainer: this is something that we should want to keep.
When people who have used the scheme return and apply their skills, the economy is boosted. The scheme increases their chances of getting a job and increases their confidence and sense of independence—and Brexit puts all that under threat. If full access to the scheme is not negotiated, it is those from the poorer families who will suffer. Those from well-off families will be able to study abroad if they want; their parents could pay the fees. The Erasmus scheme gives those from poorer backgrounds the ability to do that in a way that simply was not available before it came to fruition.
The hon. Lady is making some excellent points on the reasons why we should keep Erasmus. Pollokshields Primary in my constituency is one of the very few state primary schools that participate in the exchange programme, and it broadens the horizons of children from a Scottish Pakistani background by twinning with a school, Colegio Hernández, in Spain. So horizons are being broadened in all kinds of different ways under the scheme. It would be such a shame to lose it.
That is another reason why we need to keep it, and I will simply say this: while Brexit suggests to those abroad that Britain might be not quite as international-facing as it was before, every time I meet a young person—particularly during the most recent election campaign—they point to things like Erasmus as the older generation pulling up the drawbridge to the opportunities that we had, and that they wish they had for their future. It would be such a shame for us to conclude this debate this week without a firm assurance from the Government that they want to keep that programme, and that there is nothing that they would love more than to see that written in the Bill itself; I do not understand why they would not want to do that.
The same goes for Horizon 2020, so I will broaden what I am saying slightly. As we know, the productivity gap is one of the biggest crises in our country and Horizon 2020 is another example of the best of European co-operation. Between 2007 and 2013 the UK received €8.8 billion on research and development and innovation from the EU. When, over the past few years, I have raised this in the House, I have heard Ministers say from the Dispatch Box, “We will replace the money.”
I will make the following point through the voice of a constituent who is a professor of chemistry at Oxford university, so I hope we will concede that he probably knows. It is not just about the money, he says:
“It’s important for Ministers to recognise that access to EU funding only plays a part and is certainly not the full sum of UK scientists’ concerns. Science is indeed Humboldt’s “country without borders”;
in 2018, over half of all scientific research papers published from the UK acknowledged international collaboration through author addresses, and well over 30% of all publications involved one or more EU countries.”
That says it all; I hear it over and over again. If we want to attract the best, a visa will not help; they need to know that they will be absolutely welcome in our country, and that they are welcome for those research opportunities. We are already seeing it in our institutions—not just Oxford university but Oxford Brookes as well, and in the number of professors and others who are coming to me and saying, “I tried to put in for a certain grant; it is not being accepted any more because of the uncertainty this is causing.” If new clause 10 were part of the Bill, it would give them the certainty they need to be part of that collaboration from now—and, believe me, when those people go and they go to the other European universities that will have them, that is where they will put down roots and that is where they are more likely to stay. We cannot afford to lose those people. I know the Government want to keep the best and the brightest; well, these are they, and they are saying that they are leaving.
Finally, I shall speak to new clause 29, which is about that level playing field. I shall obviously support the Labour Front Bench in the Division, when it comes, because that level playing field and its effect on workers’ rights is incredibly important, but I will continue to stress that it is not just about workers’ rights; it is also about environmental standards, and that is the bit that I am seriously concerned about.
The best feature of the election campaign we have just had was that the environment was, apparently, at the top of all political parties’ agenda; we kept hearing from the Government that they wanted to supersede the level playing field arrangements when it came to environmental standards, and that is brilliant. All the level playing field is actually is a minimum standard; why would we not want to keep it?
The same goes for workers’ rights. The same goes for anything else when it comes to that level playing field. The problem, as we have heard before, is that removing it and deregulating opens the door to lower standards. We talk about America. It is not just about America, but let’s face it, we know that that is where the Government are looking to their next trade deal.
I want to be clear about what the problem is. The environment Bill, which the Government say will replace EU legislation, does not operate on the stronger precautionary principle to which the EU’s environmental standards currently operate. We are in a climate emergency. We cannot help but be moved—I am sure we all are—by the images coming out of Australia. We need to ensure that those minimum standards are the absolute minimum. My worry is that in a post-Brexit world we will be looking for trade deals with other countries who would much prefer it if we lowered our standards. That would open the door to our compromising in this area, when I heard time and time again that there was no appetite across the country for any kind of compromise.
The hon. Lady is making a very powerful case. Does she agree that not only non-regression but dynamic alignment is vital? EU legislation is constantly modified. For example, the REACH legislation has been updated 38 times since it first came into law in 2006. If we are to avoid the risk of so-called zombie legislation—EU legislation brought across to the UK statute book but not updated—we need dynamic alignment, too.
Absolutely. I thank the hon. Lady for her point and commend her for her tireless work on this issue. I think the broad consensus across the House is that we must now take the environmental crisis seriously. As the science progresses and as we understand where the technologies are going, we must stay close to our nearest neighbours. That matters when it comes to the environment and to biodiversity. We have to make sure that we do that. I ask us all, as a sign to ensure we stay within that level playing field and within programmes such as Horizon and Erasmus, to vote for new clauses 10 and 29.
It is lovely to see you in the Chair, Sir George.
I rise to speak to my new clause 27, which seeks to ensure that there is no regression from EU standards on the environment; food; the substance of REACH regulations, which seek to protect human health and the environment from the use of chemicals; and animal welfare. It addresses the points that have just been made.
The UK currently enjoys high standards in areas such as habitat protection and product safety. Having developed those standards with our European neighbours, we now benefit from cleaner beaches, safer food and the best chemicals regulation in the world. The Government have committed to legislate to ensure high standards of environmental protection, but they have not yet delivered on that commitment. The 2018 withdrawal agreement contained a legally binding mutual commitment to non-regression in most areas of environmental law, if the transition period did not produce an agreement on the future relationship. That has been removed from the Bill and I wonder whether the Minister can explain why that is the case.
Climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. The world is now experiencing a climate emergency, and an urgent and rapid global response is now necessary. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding and the horrendous bush fires we currently see in Australia, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. After more than a century and a half of industrialisation, deforestation and large-scale agriculture, quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to record levels that have not been seen in 3 million years.
We know that as populations, economies and standards of living grow, so does the cumulative level of greenhouse gas emissions. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5° C, finding that limiting global warming to 1.5° C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. The IPCC said we must cut global emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The UK should be leading the way both nationally and internationally. The Government must play their role.
The hon. Lady will not be surprised that I completely agree with her. She will know that the Prime Minister has said that he wants to bring forward what he has called the most ambitious environmental programme of any country in the world. That being the case, does she share my bewilderment that Ministers could even conceive of not supporting the new clause? What would they have to fear from an amendment that simply seeks to ensure that we do not go backwards, if they are absolutely serious about delivering for the environment?
My hon. Friend makes the point that I am trying to make: if the Government are committed to this, why are they not putting it in the Bill?
Last September’s UN climate action summit delivered a boost in momentum, co-operation and ambition, but as the UN Secretary-General said:
“we have a long way to go…We need more concrete plans, more ambition from more countries and more businesses. We need all financial institutions, public and private, to choose, once and for all, the green economy.”
This year’s UN climate conference must see existing commitments renewed and increased, not least by the Government. The political declaration, agreed by the UK and EU in October 2019, proposed that the UK and EU should uphold “common high standards”. However, the declaration is only indicative and is not legally binding. Including an amendment on environmental non-regression in the Bill would help to ensure that standards are not weakened across the UK during the process of EU withdrawal. Given that the scope of the Bill is focused on actions in connection with EU withdrawal, further non-regression guarantees will be needed, both in domestic legislation, such as the environment Bill, and in the future relationship agreement with the EU.
The new clause is broken down into a number of different sections. Proposed new section 14A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 defines regressive and protected matters covered by the proposal, which include
“the environment…food safety and other standards…the substance of REACH regulations;
Proposed new section 14B adds a procedural check—similar to that already carried out on new legislation in relation to human rights—for primary legislation. This requires Government to either state that new legislation does not weaken environmental standards or, if it does, to explain why and require explicit parliamentary approval of that regression. The new office for environmental protection must be consulted during this process.
Proposed new section 14C prevents withdrawal from the EU being used as a route for lowering environmental standards by secondary legislation.
Proposed new section 14D prevents withdrawal from the EU being used as a route for lowering environmental standards by other public body action.
Proposed new section 14E requires the Secretary of State to publish guidance for Government Departments and other public authorities to support them in avoiding any regressive actions.
Finally, proposed new section 14F ensures that all new EU environmental law is reviewed by an expert independent body to track potential divergence. If any potential divergence is identified and not approved by Parliament, the Government must commit to taking steps to rectify that divergence.
An argument has been made that the new clause is not needed, as the UK will have better standards. However, Ministers have stated many times that environmental standards will not be weakened, so it should not be controversial to guarantee that in legislation, as my hon. Friend Caroline Lucas mentioned. What objection can the Government have to committing to the new clause? I would very much welcome the Minister’s comments on that. A meaningful commitment to non-regression is essential if the UK is to genuinely put itself forward as a world leader in environmental protection. I urge the Government to support the new clause; we need to ensure that their deeds match their words.
I was very disappointed that my new clause 9, with which I sought to prevent any Minister of the Crown from financially benefiting from any proposed trade deal, was not selected for debate. I was under no illusion that the Government would support it, but I wanted to highlight the issue. If anybody has not read the excellent book by Professor Danny Dorling on what is driving Brexit, I thoroughly recommend it. If national policy is being driven by the narrow interests of a few, and their interests are their own enrichment, our politics is not just damaged but broken. As I am sure many here would agree, politics is about public service, not what it can do for us personally.
I rise to speak to new clause 45, on the protection of the NHS from future trade deals, and new clause 59, on ensuring political representation for Northern Ireland in the European Parliament.
I suspect it goes without saying that I deeply regret the arrival of this point in the Brexit process. We still view Brexit as an extraordinary act of self-harm for Britain. We on our side of the Irish sea will suffer immense political, social and economic collateral damage. To protect ourselves, and indeed other regions of the UK, my hon. Friend Colum Eastwood and I have tabled amendments that would provide for impact assessments, prevent the diminution of rights, on which Stephen Farry has expanded very well, and give the Good Friday agreement institutions the flexibility they need to respond to the challenges that Brexit will bring. I do not need to remind Members that the Good Friday agreement is sovereign in Northern Ireland and has been endorsed overwhelmingly by the people—more so than anything else before or since. It is not just an ornament on the mantelpiece; it is a toolkit that can help us to weather the storm of Brexit, but it has to be given the powers, flexibility and opportunity to respond to the many challenges that we know are coming but the shape of which we do not yet know.
Ensuring European parliamentary representation for Northern Ireland is part of that. Thankfully, we will be within the regulatory orbit of the EU. Members will know that the Good Friday agreement mandates the Government to ensure no diminution of rights for people in Northern Ireland because of Brexit, but one of those rights, because they are Irish citizens and therefore will continue to be EU citizens, is the right to political representation in the European Parliament. There is therefore a duty on the Government to continue to provide that right for continuing EU and Irish citizens.
In many ways, the new clause merges amendments tabled by others around democratic oversight, transparency and parliamentary consent as this Brexit evolves. For the many reasons Members have laid out, if Brexit is to deliver even a fraction of what Government Members are promising, they should have no concerns about oversight and allowing people to see the process as it evolves. In matters of public policy, I have always found sunlight to be the best disinfectant. We must allow people to see how the processes are happening.
New clause 45 is self-explanatory. It seeks to protect the NHS from future trade deals and to ensure, if a future relationship affects the devolution settlement on health, that legislative consent is sought from the Northern Ireland Assembly—fingers crossed, it will exist again next week—and from the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.
We have tabled several other amendments—and support amendments that mirror them—around a level playing field, the maintenance of workers’ rights, Erasmus and Horizon 2020, which are so fundamental to Queen’s University in my constituency, and safeguards for EU nationals living here.
The hon. Lady is making some very pertinent points. In my constituency, the agri-food sector is important for jobs. We need workers’ rights enshrined so that those in the sector can have their jobs and immigration status retained. In some cases, people might fall through the cracks. If that is the case, we need to ensure that, even at this late stage, they can apply for and have the status they need. Does she think the Government should enshrine in legislation provisions that enable them to retain their immigration status in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland so they can help our agri-food sector to grow and provide more jobs?
I do agree. In fact, I have been surprised to find myself in the same Lobby as the hon. Member several times today. That is how important these issues are to protecting jobs, consumers and our economy. He and I come from a place that has an emigration problem, and that problem is young people feeling the need to leave for opportunities elsewhere. That we have EU workers making their homes and paying their taxes where we live contributes to and enriches our economy, our community and our cultural lives. Everything must be done to protect those already feeling the cost of Brexit.
We spoke about the economic impact earlier, but I have spoken to EU citizens in my constituency who are already feeling the chill. Perhaps they are already being passed over for jobs or promotion because their employers do not know whether they will even be allowed to work here next year, or are asking, “Will I have to fill in lots of forms in order to continue to employ you?”
As I have said, we have covered an array of issues which have been set out very well by a number of Members, including the issue of child refugees. I do not mean this as an insult, but in many ways Conservative Members are the dog that caught the car. They have been chasing Brexit for a very long time, and now they have it. They have the numbers to get it done, and with that comes a duty to protect people from it. I do not believe that there is any good way to do Brexit, but they have those numbers, and they have that duty to take the roughest edges off it for the most vulnerable people.
It is an honour to follow Claire Hanna. I agreed with much of what she said.
I refer Members to my new clause 56, entitled “Implementation period negotiating objectives: annual celebration of Europe Day”. Unfortunately it was not selected by the acting Chairman of Ways and Means—[Interruption.] The Minister is chuntering, which is unusual for him. Members of the European Research group, in their infinite wisdom, talk of Big Ben chiming away on
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way so early in his speech. He has made a good point. His new clause is about celebration and recognising what we had in Europe, as opposed to the triumphant attitude of the ERG and the Brexiteers who talk of Big Ben chiming on the 31st. I was contacted by a constituent, Paul from Kilmarnock, who requested the Government not to organise a triumphant celebration because of the fear felt by so many other people about what they are losing. Does my hon. Friend agree that those who want Big Ben to sound should recognise what EU citizens will feel like on that night when we exit Europe?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend’s constituent Paul has made a fair point. Brexit should not be about the narrow nationalism of the European research Group and inward-looking “little Britain” attitudes. My new clause suggests a way of expressing a more outward-looking view of the future relationship. I am sure that when the Bill goes to the other place, the Government will be able to table an amendment to that effect. However, I want to stay in order, so I shall now speak in favour of new clause 8, tabled by my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford, and new clauses 50 and 51 and new schedule 1, tabled by my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry.
I will not detain the House for too long, but will confine my remarks to amendments relating specifically to membership of the single market and the customs union and, subsequently, those relating to workers’ rights. First, however, let me say that it is important to reflect on the new reality of where we are following the general election. Like it or not, the Conservatives must accept that their Brexit message failed in Scotland. They lost more than half their seats, and the SNP now holds 80% of the Scottish seats in the House; but, in the most undemocratic manner possible, the Tories are choosing to ignore Scottish voters by pressing ahead with their hard Brexit plans. To put it simply, we are being dictated to by a minority party in Scotland. During the election campaign, one of the Prime Minister’s more bizarre media stunts saw him drive a JCB digger through a polystyrene wall to deliver his “Get Brexit Done” message. It is now very clear that that wall represents Scotland, and that this Tory Government intend to forge ahead with their “Bulldozer Brexit”.
Like so many people in Scotland, I distinctly remember leaflets being delivered during the Scottish independence referendum campaign, imploring people to accept that a No vote was a vote to protect our rights as EU citizens and to maintain our membership of the European Union. Understandably—although it was not how I voted—many of our fellow citizens voted No in good faith, believing that that truly was the best way of protecting our EU membership. Five years on, having voted to stay in the United Kingdom, the people of Scotland now face the harsh and sad reality of our country being dragged out of the European Union by a British Government we did not vote for and by an intransigent Prime Minister who has no mandate from Scotland for this utterly reckless move.
Early on, following the Brexit result, the Scottish Government sought to compromise with the British Government to ensure that if Brexit were to be pursued, it would be done in such a way that would cause as little economic damage as possible for our nation and its people. For those of us who closely followed the consequences of the 2014 referendum, an expectation of compromise and respect was perhaps not an unrealistic ask. We were promised that, if we voted no in 2014, Scotland would not just be treated equally and with respect; we were told that we would lead the United Kingdom. When the First Minister of Scotland outlined the compromise position that would see Scotland remain in the single market and customs union, many people thought, somewhat naively, that this would be considered in good faith by the British Government.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West has already referred to the document “Scotland’s Place in Europe” from 2016. We asked for that compromise to be considered with goodwill, but it was not. We were told that it was impossible. So imagine our surprise when this Prime Minister came to power and negotiated an amendment to the withdrawal agreement that gives Northern Ireland unfettered access to the single market and customs union, unquestionably putting Scotland at a competitive economic disadvantage. What we see in its starkest terms is an unequal and broken United Kingdom, with Scotland being left out in the cold. Every nation in the UK other than Scotland gets compromise or what it voted for: Northern Ireland, which voted to remain, gets access to the single market and the customs union; England, which voted for Brexit, gets Brexit; Wales, which voted for Brexit, gets Brexit; but Scotland, which voted to remain, gets economically trashed and utterly ignored.
New clause 8 is a last-ditch attempt from the SNP to make the British Government see sense and protect Scotland from the inevitable job losses after leaving the single market and customs union. The cost of leaving the single market and customs union is just too high to contemplate for Scotland. Put simply, it means up to 100,000 jobs being lost, including thousands in my own fragile constituency of Glasgow East, so I implore hon. Members on the Government Benches—particularly those from Scotland who claim to come here to stand up for Scotland—to support new clause 8. I am looking around the Chamber but I cannot actually see any Conservative Members from Scotland, but perhaps that will be no surprise.
I wish to turn now to new clause 51, which seeks to protect workers’ rights. Quite simply, the British Conservative Government cannot be trusted with workers’ rights. Let us never forget that theirs was the Government that brought forward the draconian anti-trade union legislation. Trusting the Tories with workers’ rights is akin to putting a lion in charge of an abattoir. We already know what they think: it is on public record. Take for example the current Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab. He has been attacking workers’ rights ever since he became an MP in 2010. Nine years ago, he wrote a research paper calling for
“a total opt-out from the working time directive”.
Even though the working time directive ensures that millions of workers have the right to paid holidays, time off work and guaranteed lunch and rest breaks, the current Foreign Secretary singled it out as one of 10 obstacles to British business. His paper, entitled “Escaping the Strait Jacket”, also urged the UK Government to ensure that this
“costly anti-jobs legislation cannot cause further damage to the economy”.
Is not the principle, though, whether it be on workers’ rights or anything else, that this House will be the place where the decisions on those issues will be legislated upon? Of course there are political differences on all sorts of issues. I happen to take issue with the way in which the hon. Gentleman characterises them, but that is beside the point. However, this House will decide what the workers’ rights for UK citizens should be. Surely that is the aim of this House?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but it is very much my concern that we have a Tory majority Government that will morph into Thatcherism on steroids over the course of the next five years. For me, the idea that we just sit back and let the Prime Minister and the current Foreign Secretary dictate what direction we take with employment rights is not a chance that I am willing to take.
Is it not the reality that in the last 20 years the advances in workers’ rights have come mainly from Europe? When we look at the fixed-term workers directive for those on temporary contracts or doing part-time and agency work, we see that it was not this place that was advancing the cause of those workers; it was the European Union and the European Parliament.
Absolutely. I think that was the very reason why 62% of people in Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. They did not want workers’ rights to be controlled somehow from London.
I want to go back to what I was saying about the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton and his remarks about the working time directive and some of the “obstacles” that he identified in relation to British businesses. The fact that he did so in an article calling for a renegotiation of the UK’s future relationship with the European Union does not bode well now that he is in one of the highest offices of Government. Our hard-won workers’ rights secured from 40 years of EU membership cannot be forgotten, diluted or abolished by this right-wing neo-liberal Government that Scotland did not vote for. I therefore urge hon. Members to support new clause 51.
Let us be honest: we know the results of tonight’s Divisions before they even take place. We need to face the truth that this majority Brexiteer Government thinks that Scottish voters will simply lie down while they steamroller over their interests. The choice for the people of Scotland could not be clearer, because Scotland has the unquestionable right to choose its own future. Do we stay shackled to Brexit Britain and failed Tory economics, or do we rejoin the family of European nations, which is outward-looking, progressive and treats its member states with respect, dignity and equality? Of course, the Tories often accuse the SNP of trying to break up Britain, but the reality is that it is the SNP who are driving the bulldozer. Make no mistake: the Scottish independence referendum is coming, and the passage of this legislation tomorrow will doubtless result in people taking a very different view from that in 2014.
I am grateful to be able to make a brief contribution this evening and to follow David Linden, who reminded me of the debates that we have been having over the past three and a half years since the referendum. There was an overwhelming sense of déjà vu in that some Members who supported the remain position at the 2016 referendum have still not properly recognised that time has moved on. I was one of those who voted remain in the referendum and I, in common with many Conservative colleagues, am reconciled to the fact that the British public voted to leave, as demonstrated forcefully in the general election. The déjà vu that I am experiencing is that many of the arguments that we have heard ad nauseam for hours, days and weeks in this Chamber are still being trotted out again in this debate today.
I want to make some progress. The reason why I stood to speak this evening is that I made my maiden speech in a debate on the EU in my first month in this House 14 and a half years ago. It is therefore fitting that I should say something in this debate just before we hopefully cease debating whether we are leaving the EU this month, because that matter has now been resolved.
I want to make a specific contribution in relation to new clause 27, which was tabled by Debbie Abrahams. I have considerable sympathy with the spirit and principles underlying the new clause, which she spoke eloquently on earlier, but the reason why I want to refer to it is to ask the Minister, in his summing up before the Committee ends this evening, how the Government intend to take account of that spirit and intent in future legislation. I recognise that it is not appropriate to adorn this Bill with commitments that have nothing to do with the withdrawal agreement per se, but they are none the less worthy in themselves.
I draw the House’s attention to the part in the Conservative manifesto, on which I was proud to stand recently, that says
“we will legislate to ensure high standards of workers’ rights, environmental protection and consumer rights.”
We have already heard from others this evening about the existing higher level of workers’ rights that apply in the UK over and above those that are applied across the EU, and we as a Government have an ambition to maintain environmental protections in many areas at a higher level than those that currently apply across the EU.
This is not meant to sound trite, but a number of different commitments were made in different manifestos. For example, the Conservatives party’s 2015 manifesto committed to halve the disability employment gap and to introduce new starter homes, neither of which was delivered. This is about backing up commitments. If the Government are seriously committed to this—I understand that the right hon. Gentleman certainly is—what is wrong with including it in the Bill?
I will give one example of what is wrong with the hon. Lady’s new clause, and that is its territorial jurisdiction. I remind her that environmental protection is primarily a devolved matter. The territorial jurisdiction of the environment Bill that was in the Queen’s Speech and that will be brought before this House will relates to England primarily and, to a small extent, Northern Ireland. I am rather surprised that hon. Members representing the Scottish National party, who are here in force this evening and who have spoken before me, did not choose to raise that point.
It is great to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is such a great defender of devolution. As a defender of devolution, does he respect the fact that the Scottish Parliament today rejected the UK Government’s legislative consent motion, and does he also respect the right of Scotland’s people to choose their future?
I am not going to take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because I know what he is going to say.
In conclusion, will the Minister, if he has the opportunity to do so, refer in his winding up speech to the environment Bill that will shortly be brought before this House and explain the extent to which the protections sought in new clause 27 are likely to be enshrined in it?
It is always a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne. I think I will be able to reassure him throughout my contribution, particularly on non-regression issues.
We have heard a number of good speeches. In the days since the general election, I have sensed a change in tone in Parliament, an acceptance of that which is happening, and a better debate across the House about what is actually going to happen. [Interruption.] There is a little bit of laughter, or chuntering, as David Linden would call it. I have been an offender in that sense, but I do sense a small change in tone.
I would like to speak to 21 new clauses, but I will focus my time because I understand that the House wants to make progress on the substantive new clauses, as opposed to those that are technically flawed. Some are probing new clauses—that point has been made a number of times—and I hope they are more in number than the substantive new clauses that will be pushed to a vote.
I will first speak to new clause 2, tabled by the official Opposition, and to new clause 51 and new schedule 1, tabled by Joanna Cherry, who has been omnipresent throughout the day. I am grateful to her for her contribution. The amendments relate to the protection of workers’ rights. As the Government have stated and the Prime Minister has confirmed, we are committed to ensuring that workers’ rights are protected as the UK leaves the EU. I want to reiterate that and add some detail. There is no suggestion that this Government would propose, or that this Parliament would allow, a change or regression in workers’ rights to make them lower than currently required by EU law. We have been clear, in fact, that we will protect and continue to improve workers’ rights. We do not need to be in the EU to do that; we can do it on our own.
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to chunter on the record. He is talking about workers’ rights and what the Government are going to do. If we are to believe the Government’s promises, we understand they will be coming by way of the employment Bill. When will that Bill be presented to the House and published?
Very soon after the Queen’s Speech, and the timetable will come through the normal channels in the normal way. I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any notice now, but if I get an inkling of when that Bill will be introduced, I will be sure to tell him as soon as I can. As he has pointed out, we announced in the Queen’s Speech that we would bring forward legislation to deliver on the good work plan and the Taylor review. It will give workers in the UK the protections that they need in a changing world; I think that there is an increasing recognition that the world of work is changing.
Is it not precisely the point that it is for this Chamber and this sovereign Parliament to pass laws? My hon. Friend has mentioned the forthcoming Bill, and this House of Commons will determine the appropriate rights. We already enjoy enhanced rights, and we do not need to be a member of the European Union to have those rights.
I thank my hon. Friend for his succinct contribution. He is entirely right to say that, on this issue, we will have the freedom to determine our future. New clause 2 would require the UK to negotiate to become, effectively, a rule-taker in perpetuity. We would be subject to EU employment rules with little or no influence over their development. The type of alignment envisaged in the new clause is not necessary to maintain high standards and protection for UK workers. This Parliament has set higher standards than those in many EU directives. For example, the UK’s race and sex discrimination protections and equal pay rights were decided before we entered the EU.
I want to clarify what the Minister said about dynamic alignment. Is he saying that if rights were to be enhanced by the European Union, it would not be the Government’s intention to follow?
No; that is not what I said, and our intention is not as the hon. Gentleman suggests. But it is for this Parliament to decide what it wants to do, rather than simply following what an outside body recommends.
The Minister mentions the Taylor review. The European Parliament and Commission are debating similar issues and will offer something stronger than what the Government have proposed with the Taylor review. If the European Parliament goes further, will it be the UK Government’s aim at least to match what comes from the European Union?
Later in my speech, I will highlight areas where we are going to go further. Perhaps I will give way to the hon. Gentleman again at that point if what I say does not give him sufficient reassurance. The Government are committed to delivering high standards, and I will provide a bit more detail when I come to talk about other clauses.
I turn to new clauses 3, 8 and 30, which relate to alignment with or continued membership of the EU single market and customs union. I am grateful for the confirmation that new clause 8 is a probing amendment. The Prime Minister has set out a deal, and the political declaration contains a framework for a comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement. The result of the general election shows that, across the whole United Kingdom, the public support that, notwithstanding the points that have been made in the Chamber today about different areas.
That mandate did not include negotiating a customs union or maintaining the UK’s place in the single market, as proposed in the new clauses. The public want us to move on to negotiating the future relationship without any unnecessary hurdles, and that is what the Government will do. Only by leaving the EU customs union and single market will the UK be able to pursue an ambitious free trade agreement and strike new trade deals with new and existing global partners. The political declaration provides a framework for all that.
The political declaration also provides a framework for security co-operation. That will include access to the European arrest warrant, which several colleagues have mentioned, as well as to Europol and SIS II. We have committed to being involved in them, and our European partners have committed to engaging in that through the political declaration.
We have also agreed to put in place a streamlined extradition arrangement, on which we continue to work with Europol and Eurojust. Beyond that, we have agreed to look at further areas of co-operation on the exchange of information. Beyond SIS II, on the broader point raised by the hon. Member for Torfaen, it will also include Icarus.
The detail, however, means this is best done in co-operation over the period. After all, the point of the level playing field is to do this in a paced way. As a cross-cutting Minister, I have engaged on this issue with a number of Ministers who are engaged much more directly. The hon. Gentleman will be reassured as this issue rolls out, but it is not for today’s Bill, although it is a perfectly acceptable placeholder for a probing amendment.
On new clause 29, I make it clear that we want an ambitious future economic partnership with the EU that allows us to control our own laws, with the benefits of trade with other countries around the world. Adopting this amendment would prevent that. Dynamic alignment with future EU rules is not in the best interests of this country. It is here, not in Brussels, where decisions should be made on the laws that govern our country. That point has been ably made by other hon. Members.
We will maintain and uphold high standards for workers, consumers and the environment. We do not have to follow EU rules to achieve that; we can do it on our own. We have made that clear in the revised political declaration and through our commitment to introduce legislation that will enshrine those high standards in our laws.
Forgive me if I am not definitive and if I have not ticked off every single point, but the underlying point is that there will be no regression. We have committed to environmental rights, and I will go into more detail on how we will move ahead of what the EU is currently doing and of what it proposes to do. The answer, in spirit, is yes, but I do not want to give a resounding yes, just in case there is one comma in one part of the hon. Lady’s amendment that deviates from what we are doing.
On the broader suggestions about participation in EU funding programmes, the political declaration envisages close co-operation across a range of areas, including science—I am coming on to that—and education. The declaration already provides a possibility for programmes, which will be done during the negotiation period.
The political declaration sets out that the parties will also explore co-operation between the United Kingdom and all the appropriate EU agencies. The nature of that co-operation will be subject to negotiation.
The Minister says we do not need to be in the EU to protect environmental standards. I know from my experience as a young civil engineer that the EU had to take a Tory Government to court to force action on cleaning up our bathing beaches across the UK. That happened purely because we were a member of the EU; otherwise we would still have raw sewage in the seas and waters around the UK.
I will come on to the environment. If I do not answer the hon. Gentleman’s underlying point, he should feel free to intervene again.
It is good to see Layla Moran in her place, as she tabled new clause 10. The Government secured agreement to participate in all elements of the Erasmus+ programme during the implementation period, and that will be done in the future relationship. We made it clear that we are open to maintaining and expanding co-operation in education. We strongly believe, as she does, in the value of international exchange, not just European exchange, and it is very much part of our vision for global Britain to extend that concept, rather than simply looking at the narrow area of the United Kingdom. We believe that the UK and European countries should continue to give young people and students opportunities around the world in universities and elsewhere—through other elements of Erasmus and support—post-Brexit. The political declaration envisages the possibility of UK participation in EU programmes, and we will negotiate the general terms of participation, where appropriate, throughout the implementation period. Ultimately, decisions about our participation will be a matter for wider negotiations, but we will look at all the available opportunities.
The Minister mentions EU funding programmes. Scotland has been benefiting from €872 million of EU funding over the past seven years. In the highlands and islands, this is a net contribution benefit and it has changed communities across our entire area. Does the Minister have any idea, and can he give us any inkling, as to when the shared prosperity fund is going to be launched and what it will cover? Can he give us any information about that?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. In the broader arena, we will be taking back control of our money and spending it as we choose. As for his specific point, those decisions will come after a cross-governmental spending review and I am more than happy to commit the Treasury to write to him with any more detail if it is available.
New clauses 16 and 46 are on economic assessments, with the latter standing in the name of Social Democratic and Labour party Members. These would require environmental and equality impact assessments. We have had a few calls for impact assessments across the board, and I have made the point about their cost a number of times. In some cases, we are already making commitments, and this would be bad government spend, for the sake of producing a report. This debate is about the Bill and exiting the EU, whereas a lot of these reports would be about the future relationship, so this Bill would be an inappropriate place to put provision for these reports, even if they were the right thing to do. It simply would not be possible to agree to publish a detailed analysis of something that has not yet been agreed. In November 2018, the Government published a detailed analysis covering a broad range of— [Interruption.]
Thank you, Sir George. I suspect that the Committee is encouraging me to make progress, and I will take the hint. I do ask Members to bear with me, because I am dealing with 21 new clauses and it is important to cover them, as they have all been tabled with seriousness and deserve the Government’s attention.
On new clause 38, the Government have been committed to publishing an objective spending analysis of the UK’s withdrawal ever since the people voted to leave the EU three and a half years ago.
On the economy, we have already spoken about the objective analysis, and I am not going to say any more on new clause 38. I will address human rights in more detail when dealing with a slightly later clause.
New clause 20 deals with mutual recognition and raises a number of important issues relating to adequacy and equivalence with the EU in a number of areas for the future relationship. The Government fully agree that in some areas it would be appropriate to agree arrangements of the sort that my right hon. Friend Mr Davis mentions. For instance, the political declaration envisages reciprocal adequacy decisions in the area of data protection. However, the Government do not believe that adequacy decisions, mutual recognition or equivalence arrangements are always in the best interests of the country, with one example being where they rely on alignment with future EU rules. Although I understand the thrust of his proposal, I do not think it is helpful to constrain the Prime Minister and his negotiating team by prescribing negotiating objectives too precisely. The Government will always listen to the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden and we are particularly grateful for his stewardship of a Department that is about to come to an end as a result of the success of his work and that of many other contributors, including some fantastic civil servants and a truly exceptional Secretary of State, in the shape of my right hon. Friend
New clause 27 addresses further environmental issues. Sadly, the Government cannot support the new clause; I shall go into some detail on why. The UK is an advanced modern economy with a long history of environmental protections supported by strong legal frameworks that in some cases predate the EU. We will shortly bring forward an environment Bill that will set ambitious new domestic frameworks for environmental governance, including—crucially—the establishment of the office for environmental protection. The legislation will build on the 25-year environmental plan, which we are part-way through—admittedly, it is early on in the 25-year plan—and provide the assurances that will be upheld.
On the new environment Bill and the Office for Environmental Protection, will the Minister guarantee that it really will have sharp teeth and the same enforcement powers that we have been used to seeing from the European Court of Justice? The previous environment Bill certainly did not have that kind of watchdog—it was much more of a poodle than a dog with a bark.
There ain’t no point in having one of these things if it does not have teeth and if it does not bark and have a bit of bite, so I can commit the Government on all those points. The Government are committed to remaining a world-leader in environmental protection once we have left the UK. Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to put the environment front and centre in our policy making.
New clause 31 relates to the European Medicines Agency and would require the appropriate authority to take the necessary steps to implement an international trade agreement that enables the UK fully to participate in the EMA after Brexit day. This is another issue that we need to consider during the implementation period; it is not for this Bill, which is plainly and simply for getting Brexit done. It is not a Bill on which to hang lots of other things. In its 21 clauses there are many areas of agreement. There are things that we support and things that were in the Queen’s Speech and the Conservative manifesto, but that does not mean that they need to be in this specific Bill.
I thank Sir Edward Davey for tabling new clause 32, on Euratom, but for a number of reasons it is neither practical nor desirable to maintain the UK’s membership when we leave the EU. I am conscious of the time, so as the right hon. Gentleman is not in the Chamber I am happy to write to him to detail the reasons.
I have already outlined a number of points on security, so I shall not detain the Committee with any further discussion of new clause 35.
Let me be very, very clear on new clause 45: the Government have been consistently clear that when we are negotiating trade deals, the NHS will not be on the table; the price that the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table; and the services that the NHS provides will not be on the table.
Let me turn to the associated points on Horizon 2020. I can write to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon with the detail. I have seen the value of Horizon 2020 and I understand that it is not quite as simple as just the money; it is also about participation, and I know the hon. Lady is passionate about that. There are similar points in relation to Erasmus and the other agencies, so I will not trouble the Committee too much.
The NHS is of course devolved in Scotland. May I make a personal appeal, with which I am sure my colleagues in the Scottish National party will agree? Will the Government work as closely as possible with the Scottish Government to ensure that the laudable position that the NHS should not be for sale applies to Scotland as much as it does to the UK?
I agree, and I am meeting with the Scottish Government tomorrow so will make that point in my first sentence.
I am conscious of the time and the fact that Members will hear from me again after two more speeches, so I shall not go into any more detail on new clause 49 because citizens’ rights have been covered quite extensively.
On observer status of the devolved Assemblies in the EU, it would be wrong, given that, as a country, we are leaving the European Union, to give special status to the devolved Assemblies. The devolved Assemblies will come out with us.
Finally, turning to new clause 50 on the charter of rights, there is no need for a report. We will maintain our human rights and liberties. They are fundamental to the European Union and nothing that we do in leaving the European Union changes that.
Sir George, I thank you and your team for standing in for this Bill. I think that there has been a change of tone in the House. I am looking forward to serving in this Parliament over the next period. I think that it is a better place, and a better place for delivering Brexit. It is now over to the House of Lords.