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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 23rd April 2018.

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Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Labour 6:00 pm, 23rd April 2018

My Lords, I will move Amendment 17A in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Finlay. The purpose of the amendment is to improve the legal protections of public health post Brexit. It does that by ensuring that those parts of Article 168 of the Lisbon treaty that are concerned with public health are part of retained EU law after exit day. I will try to explain briefly why this is an important matter of such concern to so many people involved with public health who have briefed your Lordships throughout proceedings on the Bill.

Clause 4 of the Bill includes within retained EU law directly enforceable provisions of the EU treaties. The legal advice that I have been given by three professors of European law at the Universities of Sheffield, Essex and Cambridge is that it is not clear whether it includes other provisions of the EU treaties, such as Article 168 of the Lisbon treaty. As far as I can see, the Government have been unwilling to say that it does cover those other provisions. So far on the Bill, Ministers have simply asserted that the amendment is unnecessary because our public health policies are excellent and often better than many in the EU. That, of course, fails to answer the exam question: is Article 168 part of retained EU law under the Bill? The latest letter to Peers from the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy—whom I am glad to see in his place—which incorporated Jeremy Hunt’s article, still fails to tackle the exam question.

Why am I making so much fuss over Article 168? I will not repeat all I said in Committee. However, I will remind the House of Mr Justice Green’s High Court judgment on 16 May 2016, on plain packaging of tobacco products, in which, at paragraph 441, he emphasised that Article 168 places public health,

“at the epicentre of policy making … and how ‘

This was a significant element in his finding in favour of the Government, and Mr Justice Green’s findings were further endorsed by the Court of Appeal, rejecting the tobacco industry’s appeal in its judgment dated 30 November 2016. At paragraph 201 of the Court of Appeal’s judgment it says:

“The judge was entitled to place the weight he did on the public health objectives of the Regulations: his approach was in line with the high level of human health protection provided for in EU law”.

It is one of life’s little ironies that this Government have benefited from these EU protections. Two clear and reasonable inferences can be drawn from the Court of Appeal judgment. First, the public health protections in Article 168 should be regarded as part of retained EU law after Brexit, and secondly, the EU legal public health protections may well be more robust than those in UK law.

I turn briefly to the level of public health support for this amendment. The uncertainty caused by the Government’s approach has united the Medical Royal Colleges and wider health community, all of whom have given consistent support to this amendment. To date, 52 organisations, including the Royal College of Physicians, the Faculty of Public Health and many major charities such as Cancer UK, Diabetes UK and the Alzheimer’s Society are backing the amendment. They do so, in my judgment, because they fear that after Brexit, hard-won legal protections for public health will be sacrificed in a rush to do trade deals. Given the speeches of some Ministers, who can blame them?

The simplest way to satisfy all these concerns is to put matters beyond legal doubt. We are well past the time for further warm words from the Minister. Matters need to be made clear in the Bill by an amendment along the lines of Amendment 17A. I provided the Minister with a little more time to think about this at our meeting last week by deferring consideration of the amendment until today. I hope that he has used the time wisely and that he can now agree to accept it. I beg to move.