With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about today’s publication of a White Paper on the great repeal Bill.
Yesterday, we took the historic step of notifying the European Council of the Government’s decision to invoke article 50; the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. That notification marks the beginning of our two-year negotiation period with the EU, and it reflects the result of last year’s instruction from the people of the United Kingdom. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, it is our fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person. Now is the time to come together to ensure that the UK as a whole is prepared for the challenges and opportunities presented by our exit from the EU.
We have been clear that we want a smooth and orderly exit, and the great repeal Bill is integral to that approach. It will provide clarity and certainty for businesses, workers and consumers across the United Kingdom on the day we leave the EU. It will mean that as we exit the EU and seek a new, deep and special partnership with the European Union, we will be doing so from a position where we have the same standards and rules. But it will also ensure that we deliver on our promise to end the supremacy of European Union law in the UK as we exit. Our laws will then be made in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and interpreted by judges not in Luxembourg, but across the United Kingdom. Some have been concerned that Parliament will not play enough of a role in shaping the future of the country once we have left the European Union. Today’s White Paper shows just how wrong that is. This publication makes it clear that there will be a series of Bills to debate and vote on, both before and after we leave, as well as many statutory instruments to consider.
Let me turn to the content of the White Paper. The paper we have published today sets out the three principal elements of the great repeal Bill. First, we will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and return power to the United Kingdom. Secondly, the Bill will convert EU law into United Kingdom law, allowing businesses to continue operating knowing that the rules have not changed overnight, and providing fairness to individuals, whose rights and obligations will not be subject to sudden change. Thirdly, the Bill will create the necessary powers to correct the laws that do not operate appropriately once we have left the EU, so that our legal system continues to function correctly outside the European Union. I will address each of these elements in turn before coming to the important issue of the interaction of the Bill with the devolution settlements.
Let me begin with the European Communities Act 1972. Repealing the ECA on the day we leave the EU enables the return to this Parliament of the sovereignty we ceded in 1972 and ends the supremacy of EU law in this country. It is entirely necessary in order to deliver on the result of the referendum. But repealing the ECA alone is not enough. A simple repeal of the ECA would leave holes in our statute book. The EU regulations that apply directly in the UK would no longer have any effect, and many of the domestic regulations we have made to implement our EU obligations would fall away. Therefore, to provide the maximum possible legal certainty, the great repeal Bill will convert EU law into domestic law on the day we leave the European Union. This means, for example, that the workers’ rights, environmental protection and consumer rights that are enjoyed under EU law in the UK will continue to be available in UK law after we have left the European Union. Once EU law has been converted into domestic law, Parliament will be able to pass legislation to amend, repeal or improve any piece of European Union law it chooses—as will the devolved legislatures, where they have power to do so.
However, further steps will be needed to provide a smooth and orderly exit. This is because a large number of laws—both existing domestic laws and those we convert into UK law—will not work properly if we leave the EU without taking further action. Some laws, for example, grant functions to an EU institution with which the UK will no longer have a relationship. To overcome this, the great repeal Bill will provide a power to correct the statute book, where necessary, to resolve the problems which will occur as a consequence of leaving the European Union. This will be done using secondary legislation, the flexibility of which will make sure we have put in place the necessary corrections before the day we leave the European Union. I can confirm that this power will be time-limited, and Parliament will need to be satisfied that the procedures in the Bill for making and approving the secondary legislation are appropriate.
Given the scale of the changes that will be necessary and the finite amount of time available to make them, there is a balance to be struck between the importance of scrutiny and correcting the statute book in time. As the Lords Constitution Committee recently put it:
“The challenge that Parliament will face is in balancing the need for speed, and thus for Governmental discretion, with the need for proper parliamentary control of the content of the UK’s statute book.”
Parliament of course can, and does, regularly debate and vote on secondary legislation; we are not considering some form of governmental Executive orders, but using a legislative process of long standing. I hope that today’s White Paper and this statement can be the start of a discussion between Parliament and Government about how best to achieve this balance. Similar corrections will be needed to the statute books of the three devolved Administrations, and so we propose that the Bill will also give Ministers in the devolved Administrations a power to amend devolved legislation to correct their law in line with the way that UK ministers will be able to correct UK law.
Let me turn to the European Court of Justice and its case law. I can confirm that the great repeal Bill will provide no future role for the European Court in the interpretation of our laws, and the Bill will not oblige our courts to consider cases decided by the European Court of Justice after we have left. However, for as long as EU-derived law remains on the UK statute book, it is essential that there is a common understanding of what that law means. The Government believe that this is best achieved by providing for continuity in how that law is interpreted before and after exit day. To maximise certainty, therefore, the Bill will provide that any question as to the meaning of EU law that has been converted into UK law will be determined in the UK courts by reference to the European Court of Justice’s case law as it exists on the day we leave the European Union. Any other starting point would be to change the law and create unnecessary uncertainty.
This approach maximises legal certainty at the point of departure, but our intention is not to fossilise the past decisions of the European Court of Justice. As such, we propose that the Bill will provide that European Court case law be given the same status in our courts as decisions of our own Supreme Court. The Supreme Court does not frequently depart from its own decisions, but it does so from time to time. We would expect the Supreme Court to take a similar, sparing approach to departing from European Court of Justice case law, but we believe it is right that it should have the power to do so. Of course Parliament will be free to change the law, and therefore overturn case law, where it decides it is right to do so.
Today’s White Paper also sets out the great repeal Bill’s approach to the charter of fundamental rights. Let me explain our approach. The charter of fundamental rights applies to member states only when they act within the scope of European Union law. That means that its relevance is removed by our withdrawal from the European Union. The Government have been clear that in leaving the EU, the UK’s leading role in protecting and advancing human rights will not change. The fact that the charter will fall away will not mean that the protection of rights in the UK will suffer as a result. The charter of fundamental rights was not designed to create new rights, but rather to catalogue rights already recognised as general principles in EU law. That was recognised by the Labour Government who brought it in, with a protocol attached to it, in 2007. Where cases have been decided by reference to those rights, that case law will continue to be used to interpret the underlying rights that will be preserved.
I would now like to turn to devolution. The United Kingdom’s domestic constitutional arrangements have evolved since the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973. The current devolution settlements were agreed after the UK joined and reflect that context. In areas where the devolved Administrations and legislatures have competence, such as agriculture, the environment and some areas of transport, that competence is exercised within the constraints set by European Union law. The existence of common EU frameworks had the effect of providing a common UK framework in many areas, safeguarding the functioning of the UK internal market.
As powers return from the EU, we have an opportunity to determine the level best placed to take decisions on those issues, ensuring that power sits closer to the people of the United Kingdom than ever before. It is the expectation of the Government that the outcome of that process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved Administration. However, we must also ensure that, as we leave the EU, no new barriers to living and doing business within our own Union are created. In some areas, that will require common UK frameworks. Decisions will be required about where a common framework is needed and, if it is, how it might be established. The devolved Administrations also acknowledge the importance of common UK frameworks. We will work closely with the devolved Administrations to deliver an approach that works for the whole of the United Kingdom and reflects the needs and individual circumstances of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Let me conclude by stressing the importance of the great repeal Bill. It will help to ensure certainty and stability across the board. It is vital to ensuring a smooth and orderly exit; it will stand us in good stead for the negotiations over our future relationship with the EU; and it will deliver greater control over our laws to this Parliament and, wherever appropriate, the devolved Administrations. Those steps are crucial to implementing the result of the referendum in the national interest. I hope that all sides will recognise that and work with us to achieve those aims. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement and the White Paper.
Nobody underestimates the task of converting EU law into domestic law. The question is: how is it done and what is to be done? On the question of how, the White Paper gives sweeping powers to the Executive. They are sweeping because it proposes a power to use delegated legislation to “correct”, and thus change, primary legislation and devolved legislation, and because of the sheer scale of the exercise.
In those circumstances, one might expect some pretty rigorous safeguards for the use of those sweeping powers, but there are none to be found in the White Paper. On the contrary, paragraph 3.20 states:
“Given the scale of the changes that will be necessary and the finite amount of time available to make them, there is a balance that will have to be struck between the importance of scrutiny and the speed of this process.”
The White Paper goes on to say:
“The Government proposes using existing types of statutory instrument procedure.”
There are no enhanced safeguards for that sweeping use of powers.
In those circumstances, we have to go back to first principles. There should be no change to rights and protections without primary legislation—that is a starting and basic principle—and the same goes for policy. I add this: when we see the Bill, it must give no power to change rights, obligations and protections by delegated legislation. Will the Secretary of State provide assurances on those basic principles and look again at safeguards for the proposed delegated legislation procedures?
Again, there have to be clear principles for converting EU law into domestic law. All rights and protections derived from EU law must be converted into domestic law, with no limitations, no qualifications and no sunset clauses. This morning we need an assurance from the Secretary of State that he will face down those on his own side who will not be able to resist the temptation to water down those rights and protections before they are even put into the Bill. I remind him that the International Development Secretary said during the referendum campaign that we should
“halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation”.
The International Trade Secretary has said:
“we must begin by deregulating the labour market.”
We need an assurance that those temptations will be faced down before the Bill is put before the House.
I turn to the charter of fundamental rights which, it is proposed, will be left out altogether. The charter codifies in modern form all EU rights. It is not directly enforceable —it is a codification—but it is none the less influential, and it is wrong simply to leave it out. I note what is said at paragraph 1.12 of the White Paper, but I seek an assurance from the Secretary of State that all relevant rights—I accept that some are not relevant, such as the right to vote in the European Parliament—and all substantial rights in the charter will be converted into domestic law through the Bill.
Finally, on devolved bodies, Brexit should not be an excuse to hoard powers in Whitehall. There has to be a heavy presumption that devolved matters will remain devolved as powers and responsibilities transfer from the EU to the UK, so I ask the Secretary of State to give us an assurance about that.
At the end of my statement, I said that I hoped the House would come together in making this task happen. I reiterate that point to the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), my opposite number. He says that no change should be made to rights through delegated legislation, but I would have thought that that almost goes without saying. [Hon. Members: “Then say it!”] While I say that it almost goes without saying, I actually said that in my statement, if hon. Members read it.
Let me reiterate that the use of delegated legislation will be for technical changes—the sort of alteration whereby, for example, a reference to a regulatory body in the European Union clearly has to be replaced with a reference to a body in the UK. Frankly, I think that that is as plain as a pikestaff. The hon. and learned Gentleman changed his wording slightly by talking about “all relevant rights”, and he is quite right to do so, because things such as the right to stand as an MEP, the right to elect an MEP and, indeed, the right to make a direct application to the European Court will go automatically. He is a reasonable man, so I take it that he accepts that.
On charter rights, let me remind the hon. and learned Gentleman of what happened with the Lisbon treaty in 2007. The Labour Government of the day negotiated that treaty and a protocol to it, about which the Prime Minister of the day said:
“It is absolutely clear that we have an opt-out from both the charter and judicial and home affairs.”—[Official Report, 25 June 2007; Vol. 462, c. 37.]
Actually, Mr Tony Blair was wrong to say that; he had misunderstood the Labour Government’s own protocol, which guaranteed that no new rights arose as a result of the charter of fundamental rights. That was reiterated later by the then Government in court and by their then Europe Minister, who said:
“The Protocol confirms that since the Charter creates no rights, or circumstances in which those rights can be relied on before the courts, it does not change the status quo.”
The 2007 White Paper said the same thing, and only last year—I think in December—the Joint Committee on Human Rights reiterated that understanding.
We looked at that matter very carefully because, as the hon. and learned Gentleman might appreciate, it is an area that I take very seriously indeed. Aside from the undertakings that he has asked for, I make this offer to him: if, in the next two years, we find something that we have missed, we will put it right. On that basis, I do not think that we have an argument. I do not think that that will happen either, because a clause-by-clause search through the whole charter did not throw up any significant issues, other than things such as the MEP matter.
On the treatment of the devolved Administrations, the first thing to say is that no powers currently exercised by them will be taken away. We have said that time and again. We also expect that there will be a significant increase in the powers exercised by the devolved Administrations. However, I say this to the hon. and learned Gentleman: we have to maintain the United Kingdom internal market, too. That market is four times as important to Scottish businesses, for example, as the European market, and it is incredibly important to Northern Irish and Welsh businesses as well. The Administrations understand that. We will be holding discussions with them at length—we have already started those discussions—about how we execute this. I will be happy to talk to the hon. and learned Gentleman about the matter as well, if that would be useful to him. I reiterate that this is a difficult task, but it is by no means beyond the ability of the House to achieve this properly, respecting our democracy and delivering for the British people.
Order. I gently remind hon. Members who arrived after the statement started that they certainly should not expect to be called. Although I am very keen to accommodate the extensive interest in this statement, there are two well-subscribed debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee to follow, to which I need to have regard, so we need short questions and short answers.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the clarity and thoughtful analysis that lie behind the White Paper. With the great repeal Bill, we will be returning sovereignty to this House so that decisions about our lawmaking are taken in this House by the representatives of the British people, in line with their wishes at general elections. That it is not—I advise the Opposition to bear this in mind—the situation at present. So often, as we find in the European Scrutiny Committee, such decisions are taken behind closed doors.
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments and for his work in this area over the years. Some of the ideas in this policy area have come from his past writings, so he is right. I make the point that although people complain about secondary legislation, nearly 8,000 statutory instruments were used to implement European law under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, so that attack is a little hypocritical. I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and commend him for his work in the past.
Scottish National party Members think that the triggering of article 50 made yesterday a sad day for everybody in Europe, including everyone in these islands. The EU has for years brought us peace, stability, security and prosperity. We are turning the clock back 40 years, and I am glad that the Minister reminded his own Front Benchers that devolution exists now in a way that it did not 40 years ago.
It has been suggested that the Government are looking at using Henry VIII clauses to take this through—so much for parliamentary sovereignty. Scotland’s aspiration to have a voice also seems to have been given the Henry VIII treatment; a rough wooing is clearly taking place. Will the Secretary of State tell us when legislative consent motions will be required, where responsibility
“will flow from Brussels to Edinburgh, hardly touching the sides…on the way”,
and who he means by the “democratically-elected representatives” mentioned in paragraph 4.2 of the White Paper? It strikes me that the Government have pushed the big red button marked “Brexit” with their fingers crossed and very little idea of what comes next.
The hon. Gentleman loves his Henry VIII clauses—he thinks the public at large will believe this is some Executive fiat dating from the middle ages—but we are of course talking about a procedure that has been used throughout the past century and over which this House has complete control. That is the first point.
The second point is that I have been in Joint Ministerial Committee meetings with the hon. Gentleman’s colleague from the Scottish Government and representatives of the other devolved Administrations during the past six months or more. I have raised these issues there, as well as bilaterally, and I have said that we will have serious discussions about them. My preference is for more devolution, rather than less—that is my simple viewpoint—but the restraint on that is when there is a direct effect on the interests of the whole United Kingdom. Those interests include: the United Kingdom market, because it would be very bad for Scottish farmers and producers if the United Kingdom market became separated from them; issues of national security, which we need to deal with; issues of international negotiation; and observing international obligations, such as under environmental law. There are therefore plenty of areas in which it is clear that we need a UK-wide framework. That is the sort of criterion we will apply, and we will discuss it with the devolved Administrations at every stage.
This measure should be called the continuity Bill, and it should be very reassuring for all remain voters because it is the means by which we will keep the rights and laws from Europe that they most like. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any MP who wants to keep EU employment rights, for example, must vote for the Bill?
I must tell my right hon. Friend that I lay some claim to the ideas behind the Bill, but not to its name. He is right that it is, to a very large extent, a continuity Bill, and it is the way in which we will protect a whole series of rights, including employment rights and environmental rights. He is also quite right that those who want to preserve those rights should vote, without any thought, for this Bill.
I commend the Secretary of State for ignoring some of the more over-excitable demands from parts of the Brexit press and some of his Back Benchers, and for confirming, as he has done today, that he will incorporate into British law some of the jewels in the crown of the EU—the habitats directive, the working time directive and the green renewable energy directive—that we can all agree on. He will know, however, that there will be a fork in the road: the Government will either have to keep those provisions in domestic legislation, in which case Conservative Members will reasonably say, “What on earth was the point of leaving the EU in the first place?”; or he will remove those provisions, in which case the EU will need exacting safeguards to ensure that we do not undercut EU standards.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is impossible to do what the Prime Minister said yesterday about participating fully in crime-fighting and anti-terrorism EU measures without access to the Schengen information system and other databases—I remember from my time in government that such databases are devastating crime-fighting tools—and without abiding by EU data protection directives overseen by the European Court of Justice?
After a commendation like the one with which the right hon. Gentleman started, I think my career is over.
The right hon. Gentleman is half right and half wrong. What the Prime Minister was referring to yesterday was, of course, the importance of either maintaining something very similar to, or putting in place a replacement for, the justice and home affairs strand of the European treaties. He is right in one respect: if we are to exchange data with not just the EU but other countries, such as the United States, we will undoubtedly need data protection, such as data laws and privacy protection, that meets their standards. The Bill will ensure that we get to that point on the day we leave the European Union and can therefore continue to exchange data. There is no doubt that there will be continuing discussions thereafter about how we maintain all our standards at the same level. However, that will be with not just the European Union, but all our allies, whether America, Canada, the “Five Eyes” —everybody.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the directives to which the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) referred are already in British law? We are talking here about what the Foreign Affairs Committee counted as the 6,987 regulations that must be applied in British law through the Bill. Will we have an opportunity to examine a number of the directives—the insolvency II directive, for example, which imposes significantly more costs on the equity release industry in the United Kingdom than a British law would—within the time limits that he will ask the House to apply to this legislation?
My hon. Friend’s general point about the directives is right, and his specific point is right, in the sense that the whole point of the process is to bring such matters back to the United Kingdom. We will not by any means change everything—indeed, we will not want to change everything; we might want, as our own national decision, to maintain some parallel standards—but those matters will be brought back to this House of Commons, and we will make the decision on what is best for this country.
The Government’s aim that EU law, with all its rights and protections, will remain in place is a pragmatic approach; we need to find a way of making that happen. However, the Secretary of State will be aware of concern that others might try to use the process to get rid of EU laws they have never liked, or use these powers to make changes beyond the minimum necessary. Will he therefore commit to consulting closely with the Exiting the European Union Committee on the scope of the Bill, and does he intend to publish a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny?
I happily undertake to consult the Select Committee on this very important issue. I have already told the right hon. Gentleman privately—I will now say it publicly—that we will not publish draft legislation. However, now that the White Paper has been published, we will undertake a great deal of consultation, including with his Select Committee.
May I commend the Secretary of State for his statement and assure him that I always listen very carefully to what he says? I heard him explain on the radio this morning that what I thought was an absolute guarantee—that the deal would, in his words, deliver the “exact same benefits” on trade and customs—is now apparently an aim, but I am sure he will be true to that aim. This is really a great transfer Bill, so will the Secretary of State give an unequivocal undertaking that workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer protections will in no way be changed as a result of the Bill—or, indeed, of anything else?
The Prime Minister has already given those undertakings.
May I commend the Secretary of State for his statement and the White Paper. This is the right approach to providing certainty once we leave the EU. In relation to the devolved Administrations and the greater powers thereto, will he engage intensively with the devolved Administrations during the two-year period that now lies ahead about where powers should lie—whether in London, or Belfast, Cardiff or Edinburgh?
The straight answer is yes. One of the reasons the White Paper has been published a little later than I would have preferred is of course that we do not have a Northern Ireland Executive at this stage. I waited for the three weeks in the hope that we would have one, but at this point we cannot wait any longer. We will continue to consult the devolved Administrations. In the run-up to the election in Northern Ireland, I invited the out-going Ministers to make sure we had such a mechanism. I will ensure that we have another mechanism for Northern Ireland. I am not yet quite sure what it will be—I would be happy to hear the right hon. Gentleman’s ideas—but I am sure we will have another mechanism, whether or not through the Executive, so that we can also consult with Northern Ireland.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for making it clear that two years from today our sovereign Parliament will indeed have the power to amend, repeal or improve all this ghastly EU legislation?
I will pass on my hon. Friend’s assessment of the legislation, but I will reinforce the point I have already made, which is that at the end of the day the aim of this Bill is to bring decisions back to this House.
The Secretary of State says that he wants the maximum scrutiny of legislation over the next few years, but given the sheer volume of particularly delegated legislation that he has outlined, does he think it is really feasible to reduce the number of MPs by 50?
That question is stratospherically above my pay grade, but let me pick up the underpinning point about the volume of legislation. We are bringing a large amount of the legislation straight into UK law without change. The reason for change and the use of statutory instruments is, as I said to the Labour spokesman earlier, that there will be technical amendments and issues that will come up. Separate to that there will be primary legislation—on immigration, customs and a variety of other areas. That is different, but the technical legislation will aim to make things practical, not to maintain great changes in policy, and this House should be well able to do that.
Leave campaigners will vote for the Bill as it is part of the process of withdrawal, but remain campaigners admire EU law and want its provisions to continue, so can the Secretary of State think of any good reason why the great repeal Bill should not be passed unanimously?
The Secretary of State needs to make it clear now that all those regulations and protocols relating to justice, home affairs, protection, security and terrorism will stay part of our laws with the co-operation requirements that we have upon us, because in their article 50 letter yesterday, shamefully, the Government suggested circumstances where we may consider withdrawing or weakening our co-operation. Does he not realise that that sort of squalid negotiation tactic will result in a less good deal rather than a better one?
The hon. Gentleman should know better. The Leader of the House, who was previously a Europe Minister, was here and he made it clear, in terms, that the Prime Minister was talking about the fact that existing treaty arrangements, which will end when we leave the European Union, will fall by the wayside, so we will have to find an alternative—not our internal legal rights and privileges, but the treaty arrangements. That is the important thing.
I very much welcome the pragmatic approach that the Secretary of State has adopted in this document, and particularly his emphasis on legal certainty and continuity, which we all know is vital for continued business confidence and is something the Select Committee on Justice report emphasised. Does he agree that it will be important to maintain the mechanism for ensuring continuing regulatory equivalents, not only in data protection but in important areas such as the financial and other service sectors? How might that be taken forward?
I am going to seek your protection, Mr Speaker. That is two people who have finished my career today—I am being called “pragmatic” as well. The simple truth is that when we come to do the trade and other deals, there will be relationships between us, as there are with other countries, to ensure that we maintain common standards—the point the ex-leader of the Liberal party, the ex-Deputy Prime Minister, made about data protection and so on. There will be things that we will negotiate, but my hon. Friend would be surprised if I talked those negotiations out in this place at this time.
I do worry, because the Secretary of State says in his White Paper:
“Existing parliamentary procedures allow for Parliament to scrutinise as many or as few statutory instruments as it sees fit.”
That is simply untrue. In 2014-15, nine negative statutory instruments were prayed against by the Leader of the Opposition; only one was allowed a debate, and that was not on the Floor of the House, so it could not be on a fatal motion. In 2015-16, 19 were prayed against by the Opposition and only five were allowed debates, again only in Committee. Not a single one was allowed a vote in the House. This is not bringing back control to this House, and we will be worried unless the Government change the process.
We of course start by obeying the conventions that apply to the House, and I am afraid that we do have an SI procedure, which is both affirmative and negative, which has effects and influence. If the hon. Gentleman wants to come and talk to us about how he thinks we can improve that, I will be happy to see him.
At half-past 2?
I am happy to see him, but not at half-past 2.
That UK judges will be less creative is an open question. The notion of incorporating EU regulation, and indeed case law, gives me the collywobbles, but I assure my right hon. Friend of my support in the Division Lobby because he has bigger fish to fry.
As the White Paper says, we made a very explicit decision that we would aim to make this a Supreme Court-level precedent—to reduce the number of courts that can deal with this to just the Supreme Court itself. The Supreme Court is fairly careful about changing its own precedent; indeed, it does so relatively rarely. We expect that to continue to be the case, but anything it does this House can change.
Plaid Cymru is demanding a continuity Bill in the National Assembly for Wales to enshrine appropriate European law in Welsh law. Will the Secretary of State confirm today that Westminster will not block or undermine our Parliament’s full right to legislate for Wales? My message to the British Government today from the people of Wales is this: hands off our Parliament.
I reiterate: no powers that are currently exercised by the devolved Administrations will be taken from them.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key point about the great repeal Bill is that the legal precedence of laws imposed on this country by the EU will end?
Well, the legal precedence will not necessarily end, but the laws will be susceptible to our change. We will be able to change them both in our courts and in our Parliament.
With reference to the criminal justice measures of which we are already a part and the Prime Minister’s article 50 letter yesterday, will the Secretary of State set out for the House how the safety and protection of the public would be enhanced by us reducing our co-operation on crime and terrorism?
As the Prime Minister made plain yesterday, she wants to see a comprehensive agreement. People have interpreted that as comprehensive trade agreement, but it does not just mean that; it means a comprehensive agreement across all the issues where we have a relationship with the European Union.
Many users of e-cigarettes voted leave in the referendum in the mistaken belief that doing so would prevent the EU tobacco products directive from being applied here. Taking that regulation as an example, what opportunity will this House have to change provisions of EU law that do not operate appropriately?
That is the point of bringing them back to the House for it to be able to deal with them. It will be right across the board. We are talking about 40 years of law, and it will take time to correct those that we do not agree with—of course, much of it we do agree with. That will take time, but the House will have its opportunity.
Paragraph 4.4 of the White Paper speaks of working closely with devolved Administrations for
“an approach that works for the whole and each part of the UK.”
I cannot help but feel that it is déjà vu all over again; so far, this Government have done nothing to demonstrate their intention to work with the devolved Administrations. If the Government continue their unsustainable approach of ignoring the will of the Scottish Parliament in relation to Brexit, and indeed on any other issue, why should the devolved Administrations trust the UK Government on anything?
Sometimes the Scottish National party seems to have one element in its ideology and one element only, and it is entitled “grievance”, and the maximisation of grievances. In the past six months, I have attended six meetings with the representatives of devolved Administrations. In a number of the policy areas that we have discussed and that made it into the previous White Paper—employment rights, environmental rights and a whole series of other areas like those—and on the agreement that we need to maintain the maximum possible access to trade for all parts of the kingdom, we have been in the same place. We have, of course, not been in the same place on every single element of policy. We said at the beginning that the DAs would not be given a veto, but would be very heavily consulted and involved in discussions, and that is precisely what we have done. The fact that the Scottish National party wants to claim that it is not happy about that is a matter for it, not for me or the facts.
Those who wish to remain in the EU bang on about EU rules and regulations. Surely the whole point of leaving the EU is that we in this place can live under our own rules and regulations, which are suitable for us and not necessarily for 28 countries, as things currently stand.
My hon. Friend is exactly right.
Notwithstanding the inevitable protest from the Secretary of State that he is always appearing before this House, the hallmark of his Government so far on this issue has been to avoid scrutiny and evade accountability. We now learn today that the great repeal Bill is actually going to be 1,000 statutory instruments, many of them not scrutinised properly in this place. How on earth can that be commensurate with taking back control and increasing the sovereignty of this Parliament?
The hon. Gentleman continues with his habit of reading half of what we say and ignoring the other half when it suits him. One of the things I have said from the beginning of this process is that we will bring into British law all European law, including case law, except where there are significant—[Interruption.] This is what the Bill will do. It will of course require statutory instruments to modify technical aspects—[Interruption.] Well, up to 1,000, but we are talking about 40 years of law. I would be very interested to hear what he proposes we do about a law that refers to a European regulatory authority. Would he leave it that way, or maybe have a major debate on the matter? That does not strike me as very sensible. Material policy changes will be carried through in primary legislation and there will be a number of such Bills in the coming Parliament.
I commend the Secretary of State for his approach to this complex matter, but any discussion of English devolution is absent from the White Paper. To what extent does he envisage an opening up of opportunities for further legal powers to be devolved to the English regions and how might that work?
It is not in the White Paper, but my hon. Friend will know that the Chancellor announced further devolution of powers to London, for example. I have been talking to a great extent with the Mayor of London about issues for London on this matter. It is not in the White Paper, but part of the Government’s overall strategy is to bring government as close as possible to the people.
Despite Government protestations to the contrary, leaving the EU does not automatically and necessarily mean leaving the single market. Equally, leaving the treaty of the European Union does not automatically and necessarily mean leaving the European Economic Area agreement. Will the right hon. Gentleman’s so-called repeal Bill repeal the European Economic Area Act 1993 and will every Member of this House get a specific vote on that specific issue?
Rarely have I heard a question based on so many false premises. The truth is that leaving the European Union does involve leaving the single market, because the single market requires the four freedoms. Whatever one thinks about the vote last year, it was clearly not a vote in favour of allowing the control of migration, the control of laws and the operation of the European Court of Justice to stay in Europe.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his mature and considered approach to the devolved nations. May I press him on the principle that if, when powers come back from the EU, they do not affect the UK internal market, which is so important to my constituency and our Welsh nation, they will they be given to the devolved nations as soon as possible?
As I said, I am not going to demur from the principles I already outlined. My hon. Friend is right. The UK single market is several times bigger for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland than the EU single market. The only difference in the case of Northern Ireland is that there is £1 billion a week of trade between it and Ireland. We will see a significant increase in the amount of powers given to the devolved institutions, but we will have to protect matters such as the single market in the UK, security, environmental agreements and so on.
The Government have already signalled their intention to withdraw from the common fisheries policy. However, paragraphs 4.2 and 4.4 of the White Paper seem to suggest not just that EU powers on fisheries will revert to the UK Government rather than the devolved institutions, but that the Government
“intends to replicate the current frameworks provided by EU rules through UK legislation.”
Are the Government seriously suggesting that we will have business as usual for the fishing industry under a CFP framework after Brexit? If not, will the right hon. Gentleman enlighten us on the Government’s plans?
Some of what the hon. Lady calls business as usual will be temporary and some of it will be permanent. That will depend entirely on the criteria I laid out earlier.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to ending the role of the European Court of Justice in our domestic courts. Does he agree that this is the only option if we are to truly restore control over our laws to the British people, and reverse an ever-intrusive influence by the ECJ on social and economic policy areas and its operation as a federal court—things that were never envisaged at its conception in 1957?
My hon. Friend is right and that is exactly why the Prime Minister made that a very important central piece of our policy.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister did not mention the customs union in her statement and nor is it referred to in her letter to President Tusk. Paragraph 1.22 says that
“we will introduce a customs bill to establish a framework to implement a UK customs regime.”
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he intends to take us out of the customs union?
Unusually for the hon. Gentleman, as an ex-Select Committee Chairman, he missed the fact that the Prime Minister made direct reference to the White Paper, which covers exactly that point.
I know we can rely on my right hon. Friend to be an extremely robust negotiator, but just for the sake of absolute clarity on the role of the European Court of Justice, can he confirm that it will have absolutely no authority in the UK and that he will not in any circumstances water down that commitment during the negotiations?
I was just going to say yes, but I will make very plain what we are saying: the European Court of Justice will have no reach into the UK. It is of course the case that when one sells a product in another country, one meets the rules of that country. If one does that in the United States, one meets the rules that reach up to the Supreme Court. The same will happen in Europe, but the ECJ will not reach here.
Yesterday, Mr Speaker, you invited me to behave as if I was in a court of law. May I extend your entirely appropriate invitation to the Secretary of State and suggest that he pretends he is in a court of law and answers the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins)? Will the Bill require legislative consent motions, yes or no?
I apologise. I forgot about the point the hon. Gentleman made when I was responding to his other points. At this stage we do not know, because we do not know the final format of the Bill. That is the simple truth.
I welcome the Bill and the certainty it provides for business as we undergo this process. Will the Secretary of State confirm that certainty for business will be at the forefront and a priority for him throughout?
Yes, and that is fundamental to the whole strategy behind the Bill.
The public are extremely worried about these Henry VIII clauses. In chapter 3 of the Secretary of State’s White Paper, he says that one area where he wants to use secondary legislation is on the change from EU institutions. There are 40 of these EU institutions, ranging over areas from medicines to aviation safety. If we lose, he will have a choice. He can either set up a new one, or abandon the regulation altogether. Does he really think it is appropriate to do that through statutory instruments?
The 40 are not in the UK; they are across the Union. It may be appropriate and it may not. It depends. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady stops heckling I will answer. If, for example, it is a question of adding to another regulatory body already in existence, a statutory instrument might well be appropriate. In other cases where a regulatory body is created, it might be appropriate to have rather heavier level of parliamentary debate and insight.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Procedure Committee is conducting an inquiry into how we get the great repeal Bill into law. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend has not been able to appear before the Committee. May I urge him to agree a date when we can help to facilitate the great repeal Bill process?
I am happy to say that, yes, I will be doing so. That was the intention in any event. I cannot remember the reason for deferral last time, but it will happen.
In the statement, the Secretary of State said that the Bill will convert EU law into UK law wherever practical and appropriate, allowing businesses to continue operating knowing the rules have not changed. However, companies such as Nissan and Hitachi in the north-east need to continue to expand if there is to be future prosperity in the region. What will he do to ensure that opportunities to grow exist and that workers’ rights are protected, too?
The hon. Lady will have noted that Nissan made an investment decision quite recently that was favourable to the north-east. The issue is a little wider than the White Paper. We said—indeed, the Prime Minister said in the article 50 letter yesterday—that it was important to establish transitional arrangements, or an “implementation phase”, and this relates exactly to that: the need to give a degree of certainty.
I am lucky to have part of the Peak District national park in my constituency. With that in mind, does the Secretary of State agree that the Bill is an important vehicle for helping to ensure the maintenance of environmental protections and the opportunity to enhance them, and that anyone who supports those aims should welcome it?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The Bill will ensure that those protections are maintained, and the only way that would not be the case is if the House made an explicit decision to change the position.
References to disabled people or disability have been scant, if at all apparent, in all the Government’s White Papers. Have the UK Government given any consideration at all to the impact on disabled people, who are among the most vulnerable, and will the Secretary of State confirm that there will be no erosion of their rights in the future?
As a result of this, that will certainly not happen. I can only talk about the White Paper, but throughout the process we have tried to maintain in British law rights that arise out of European law, and that is what we will do.
I have known the Secretary of State for a long time, and he will expect a rough, tough road ahead, because people like me fight for the retention of every right that our citizens of Europe have in this country. Is he aware that if he panders too much to the secret—or not so secret—agenda of the barmy army Eurosceptics who are prominent behind him, he will not receive the level of co-operation that he would otherwise receive when he talks about pragmatism?
The hon. Gentleman has indeed known me for a long time. On another occasion, I will tell Members how he got me into deep trouble in the House.
If the hon. Gentleman listened to my statement, he ought to realise that this is, to a large extent, about preserving rights that people have become used to, and expect to continue to have. I do not know who he was referring to with his rather strange allusions to armies of one sort of another, but he can be sure that the first thing that will cross my mind when I am dealing with this is my conscience.
Does the Secretary of State intend the great repeal Bill to devolve some matters that are currently reserved and reserve some matters that are currently devolved, or will he be presenting a new Scotland Bill, and if so, when?
I have made two points about that, which I will reiterate to the hon. Lady. First, no decisions that are currently exercised by devolved Administrations will be taken away from them. Secondly, there will be an increase in the number of powers exercised by those Administrations.
The Government seem to overlook the fact that we cannot simply incorporate in UK law matters that are based on a reciprocal arrangement with our European partners. How long does the Secretary of State think it will take, for example, to renegotiate all the trading arrangements that we have with them?
The White Paper does not relate to that, but the hon. Lady is right in saying that we have to negotiate reciprocal arrangements, and that is what we will do. That is why we have proposed a comprehensive negotiation and a comprehensive free trade arrangement. We believe that that is eminently achievable, because we already have common standards, which the Bill will maintain, and there are already outstanding levels of trade between us—£290 billion of trade from the European Union to us, which its members will want to preserve every bit as much as we do.
As we say in Glasgow, “Where’s your parliamentary sovereignty now?” This great power grab is taking power from Brussels bureaucrats and handing it to Whitehall mandarins. Given that statutory instruments are not currently subject to legislative consent from the devolved Assemblies, can the Secretary of State assure us that no statutory instruments will be used to legislate on devolved matters?
That returns us to the issue raised by the spokesman for the hon. Gentleman’s party, the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins). We shall be talking to the devolved Administrations about the extent to which this will have an impact, and ensuring that there are increases—not decreases—in the powers available to them.
The Secretary of State consistently ignores my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), who made a perfectly legitimate point about the European Economic Area Act 1993 and article 127 of the European Economic Area agreement, which states that the UK Government must give 12 months’ notice to remove itself from the EEA. How will that be dealt with in the great repeal Bill—or has the Secretary of State simply forgotten about it?
No, but it is not a matter for the great repeal Bill.
The great “download and save until delete” Bill will actually lead to a carnival of reaction, when, alongside the so-called bonfire of red tape, we will see Ministers competing in a demolition derby to reduce various rights and environmental protections. It is also a charter for dilution before devolution. Does the Secretary of State recognise that for some of us to trust Tory Ministers with the “holding and moulding” powers that he wants to give them would be like asking Attila the Hun to mind our horse?
I did not know that the hon. Gentleman had a horse, but let me say this to him: his entire approach—his entire assessment—is just plain wrong.
Paragraph 3.20 of the White Paper refers to the need to trade off scrutiny for speed, whereas paragraph 3.13 states that the Government do not want to their ability to adapt EU law to be unduly constrained. Are the Executive creating a democratic deficit by using secondary legislation? How can they justify that?
We are not going to create a democratic deficit. This is a White Paper, and that is what we are here to discuss, with Parliament.
I understand from what the Secretary of State has just said that the European economic area will not feature in the Bill. Can he confirm that there will be a separate vote in Parliament on the EEA?
It will depend on what the policy decision is, but I think that it is quite likely to come to Parliament.
How can trade and security co-operation be maximised if UK courts are interpreting parallel legal provisions in a completely different way from the European Court of Justice? Surely UK courts will have to continue to consider ECJ case law as it develops after Brexit, and not just as it exists at the point of Brexit, as the Secretary of State sought to suggest in his statement.
No, not at all. The whole point of this is to bring those laws back within the control of Parliament and our own courts, and our courts will continue to interpret them as they see fit. They may continue to obey precedent, or they may decide to change it. That will be a matter for them, and, ditto, it will be a matter for the House of Commons to decide whether it wants to change such matters as well. Let me add, as an aside, that the Supreme Court often looks at what is done by other courts around the world—not just the European Court of Justice but, for instance, the American courts—in order to make its decisions.
There was no mention of Gibraltar in the Prime Minister’s letter yesterday, and I am pleased to see that it does at least get a mention in today’s publication. Given that the overwhelming majority of Gibraltarians voted to remain in the EU, can the Secretary of State explain how the Bill will give certainty to businesses in Gibraltar?
As the hon. Lady will have seen, there is an entire section on overseas territories and the like. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has been engaging in continuous discussion with Gibraltar about these matters, and we will seek to defend its interests as best we can.
Will the Secretary of State be clearer, please? How many EU laws will become UK laws? I think he has denied that it could be up to 1,000, so what is his best estimate?
Well, all the EU laws will become UK laws as a result of the Bill. There will be subsequent changes—presumably through primary legislation—in, for example, immigration law.
The hon. Gentleman shouts out, in French, “How many?” I am not going to try and give him a sort of “never mind the quality, feel the width” answer. The simple truth is that all EU law will move into UK law.