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EU and Domestic Law: Separation

Volume 613: debated on Thursday 21 July 2016

3. What his role is in assessing the steps that will be required to separate EU law from domestic law. (906001)

My role in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is the same as my role in relation to other areas of Government business: I act as the Government’s principal legal adviser. In terms of seeking Law Officer advice in relation to the UK’s exit, the standard rules in the Cabinet manual apply. The Law Officers must be consulted by Ministers or officials before the Government are committed to critical decisions involving legal considerations.

Have the Government made an estimate of the cost of the vast number of lawyers and trade negotiators that are going to have to be hired to deliver our disentanglement from the European Union? If such an estimate has not yet been made, will the Attorney General please confirm by when he will be able to furnish the House with that information?

We will undoubtedly need the best advice we can have and the best trade negotiators we can have. Of course, the Government already have some of that capacity, but the Department responsible is looking carefully at exactly what additional capacity we will need to gain, and as soon as it is in a position to give that information to the House, I am sure it will do so.

Our membership of the European Union has brought about substantial enhancements in our health and safety laws. Will the Attorney General guarantee that, with leaving the European Union, none of those health and safety laws will be weakened in any way?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are many of those regulations that we will wish to retain, but of course the exercise of looking at exactly which parts of the canon of European law we wish to transfer into UK law, which we wish to adapt and which we may not wish to continue with at all, is a very lengthy one that we will need to continue with. But I agree with him that it will not, in all likelihood, be the case that all of those rules and regulations will be dispensed with altogether, and both businesses and those who are employed by them benefit from some of those measures.

Leaving the European Union will involve repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, which means all secondary legislation made under the Act will automatically fail unless it is re-enacted. Can the Attorney General tell us what steps are being taken, or will be taken, to ensure we have the necessary legislation to guarantee protection on important employment rights, such as transfers of undertakings and paid holidays for employees?

May I first of all say that it is always nice to see anyone on the Labour Front Bench these days, but it is a particular pleasure to see that the hon. Lady retains her position?

I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds): it is clearly the case that the British Government will wish to retain in some form some of the regulations and pieces of legislation she refers to. Of course, the exercise of determining which pieces of legislation is going to be time-consuming and complex, but I have no doubt that what this Government will wish to do is persist with high-quality protection for those in employment in this country, whether that is European legislation or, in future, domestic legislation.

I listened to the answer that the Attorney General gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds). Prior to being elected to this House, I represented families of people killed or injured at work. Most health and safety legislation providing protection for UK workers derives from EU law, and in his answer the Attorney General did not satisfy me that he will provide equivalent or better protection. Does he agree that workers need to be protected against injury, illness and death at work, and that workplace health and safety legislation is essential and not red tape? Will he give this House and, in particular, the families of those killed at work a guarantee that, at the very least, equivalent legislation and workplace protections will be urgently re-enacted?

I agree that injury, illness and death at work must be prevented and dealt with through appropriate legislation and regulation. Of course, we had already sought to protect workers from those things prior to our membership of the European Union, and we will certainly seek to do so post-membership. I do not believe that it is beyond the capacity of this House to design legislation and regulation that will enable us to provide effective protection, and this Government are entirely committed to doing so.