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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:58 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 9:58 pm, 13th January 2020

There are clearly circumstances in which the implementation of the withdrawal agreement will impact on the scope of executive competence of the devolved Administrations, and they are well aware of that, but those are not the issues they have sought to address with the UK Government in this context. They have sought to address matters that are reserved. As I say, the fundamentals of the devolved settlement, going back to 1998, never intended that where the UK Government were exercising a reserved function they should be inhibited or prevented from doing so by the devolved Administrations. It is important to bear that in mind.

As I say, we consider that we are taking appropriate steps to engage with the devolved Administrations, and we will continue to do so. Indeed, we continue to hope that the Welsh Government in particular will reflect on this and revise their recommendations to the National Assembly on legislative consent. At the end of the day, what we are doing here is implementing an international treaty obligation; that is the role of the United Kingdom Parliament.

I will now touch on one or two additional points in the limited time remaining. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, raised a number of issues with regard to health. Clearly, nothing is going to change before the end of the implementation period, and thereafter it will be a matter for the negotiation on the future relationship. It is not a matter for this Bill, which is intended to implement the present withdrawal agreement. She also made reference to the clinical trials directive. I should observe that the new EU clinical trials directive has not yet been adopted, so we do not even know where the EU will be with regard to that. Of course, once we do know, it may form the subject of negotiations on the future relationship.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, made a powerful point that, after 46 years of being subject to EU law, women have still not secured equal pay. I certainly hope that we will do better after we leave the EU.

The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, referred to animal welfare. At the moment, we cannot prohibit the movement of live animals because of EU law. But when we leave, let us hope that we can address that, because we have expressed an intention to do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, referred to UK worker rights. I notice that, in many respects, UK worker rights are much higher than the norm within the other EU 27 states. One has only got to consider such issues as paternity and maternity leave, and other related issues, to appreciate that what we may hope for after exit is that the EU is able to catch up with us.

I look forward to tomorrow’s Committee stage, where we can enter into more detailed scrutiny and debate on the issues that have been raised today. This Bill ensures that we honour the result of the 2016 referendum and leave the EU on 31 January, on the terms of the withdrawal agreement. It ensures that the agreements have full effect in domestic law and that, accordingly, the Government can discharge their obligations in international law.

Once the Bill is passed and the withdrawal agreement ratified, we will proceed to the completion of a free trade agreement with the EU by the end of December 2020. We can then go on to focus on other national priorities, such as the National Health Service, education and skills, and ensuring that we make our country safe. I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 10.22 pm.