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Amendment 35

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 15th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 9:45 pm, 15th January 2020

My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for so ably moving his amendment on the issue of close and dynamic alignment on single market rules. I have a sense of déjà vu, because we have of course discussed this subject many times, both during the passage of the previous EU withdrawal Bill and in many debates and Questions in this House. I will probably not surprise him with my answer but I will nevertheless plough ahead with it anyway.

It will, I am sure, not come as a shock to the noble Lord to find that the Government cannot support his proposed new clause in Amendment 35, for the reasons that I will set out. I will say, before that, that we want an ambitious future economic partnership with the EU, one that allows us to be in control of our own laws and benefit from trade with other countries around the world. Adopting his amendment would prevent that. We do not believe that dynamic alignment with future EU rules is in the best interests of this country. It is here in this Parliament, not in Brussels, where decisions should be taken over the laws that govern our country. That is the very essence of taking back control. This view is supported by many of the leading experts in the field, including the Governor of the Bank of England, who recently said in the Financial Times:

“It is not desirable at all to align our approaches, to tie our hands and to outsource regulation and effectively supervision of the world’s leading complex financial system to another jurisdiction.”

This Government remain committed to upholding high standards for workers, consumers and the environment. As I have said on many occasions, we do not have to follow EU rules in order to achieve this. It has become something of an obsession for Labour and the Liberal Democrats that somehow we want to undermine EU standards. Let me again say, as I have said many times in this House before, that in most of these areas we already exceed EU minimum standards. I will give the same examples that I have given to the House many times before.

On environmental protections, the UK’s world-leading ban on single-use plastic items will come into force in April 2020, a year ahead of the EU’s timetable set out in the single-use plastics directive. On workers’ rights, the UK’s maternity system is one of the most generous in the world. Most mothers can take up to 39 weeks of guaranteed paid leave. This is nearly three times the EU minimum requirement of 14 weeks. On consumer rights, in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, consumers always have a six-year guarantee—five years in Scotland—that repair or replacement will be free of charge if a product is faulty or not as advertised. This, as in the other standards, goes well beyond the EU minimum requirement of a two-year legal guarantee. I am intrigued to find out why the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party are so obsessed with aligning with EU standards that are much lower than our own in this country.

We are also committed, as we set out, to introducing legislation that will further enhance many of these high standards. In the field of workers’ rights, I am sure the Labour Party will be very interested to know that this will result in the creation of a single enforcement body to crack down on breaches of employment law. This is on top of the implementation of the Good Work Plan, which is the largest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation. For the environment, we are introducing the landmark environment Bill, which will establish an independent office for environmental protection and will embed the UK’s ambition to build on our high levels of environmental protection.

The other subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, is participation in EU funding programmes. The political declaration, in paragraphs 11 to 12, clearly envisages close co-operation across a range of areas, including science, innovation and education. It already provides for the possibility of UK participation in specific EU programmes, including the negotiations of terms and conditions. If it is in the UK’s interests, we will seek to participate in EU programmes such as those related to science, research and innovation as a third country. However, this will be a matter for the upcoming negotiations, because these funding programmes have not yet been finalised. They are part of the EU’s 2020 MFF negotiations taking place at the moment. The Opposition are asking us to commit to programmes the details of which we do not yet know. But we are not ruling it out. We will take a long, hard look when the programmes are finalised and, if it is in the UK’s interests, we will seek to participate. For agencies, the political declaration sets out, in paragraph 23, that

The Parties will also explore the possibility of cooperation of United Kingdom authorities with Union agencies”.

Again, the nature of this co-operation will be subject to the ongoing negotiations.

We have been through these issues many times before, so I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for setting them out yet again. In the light of this and the information I have given him that the UK already exceeds EU minimum standards in virtually all these areas, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.