House of Commons
Tuesday 16 January 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the hard work that he has put in to promote marriage and civil partnerships, and all the benefits thereof to families and wider society. I assure him that the design of the marriage allowance is such that it will indeed continue to rise as we raise the personal allowance, as we did in the recent Budget.
My hon. Friend is pushing in a direction in which we have already travelled. In the last Budget, we made provision for ensuring that those who have been married or in a civil partnership and have a deceased partner are able to claim the marriage allowance and backdate that claim some four years. I will, of course, be happy to meet him and his colleagues to discuss this matter further.
In April, the national living wage will rise to £7.83. That means an annual pay rise of over £2,000 for a full-time national living wage worker since the introduction in 2016 of the national living wage, which has helped reduce the proportion of full-time jobs that are low paid to the lowest level in at least 20 years.
Sustaining long-term pay growth relies on improving productivity. That is why we have increased the national productivity investment fund to over £31 billion, and it is why we are taking further action on skills, retraining and capital investment as we build a Britain fit for the future.
Income inequality is lower than it was in 2010. In fact, it remains lower than at any point under the last Labour Government. The Gini coefficient, which is an internationally recognised measure of income inequality, is now 3% lower than in 2010. Since my autumn statement in 2016, we have increased the tax contributions of the highest earners while those on the lowest incomes have gained overall.
The problem is in constituencies like mine, which is one of the most deprived in the country, where more and more people are having to go to food banks. What is the Chancellor doing, in terms of the economic development of the country, to ensure that we get better-paid jobs, especially in places that are severely deprived such as Halton?
The hon. Gentleman makes an absolutely correct point. In the long run, higher wages can be delivered only through increased productivity. That means investment in infrastructure, investment in skills and training, and investment in research and development—with both public funding and tax incentives for private funding—and it means ensuring that capital is available for businesses to invest in the equipment that will raise the productivity of their workers. The Government’s ambition is for a high-wage, high-skill economy, and we are investing to deliver that.
My hon. Friend is right. As I said, income inequality is lower than at any point under the Labour Government. People in full-time work on the national living wage have seen a £2,000 a year pay increase as a result of the national living wage and, of course, everybody in work has seen an improvement in their take-home pay as a result of the significant increases in the personal allowance that this Government committed to, and which this Government are delivering.
The Chancellor’s living wage is a pretendy living wage and is not actually available to those under the age of 25. Can he explain why the age gap in the minimum wage between 25-year-olds and 16 and 17-year olds actually increased in his Budget from £3.45 to £3.63? How can this be an economy that works for everybody if the youngest are not getting paid equally?
The rates for people under 25 were increased in the Budget by the biggest amount ever—[Interruption.] Look, of course we would all like to see high rates of employment and high rates of pay across all age groups in the economy, but for young people, the most important thing—the Low Pay Commission highlights this fact—is that they get into work, because if they are in work when they are young, they are more likely to remain in sustainable work throughout their lifetime, and that must be the priority.
Air Passenger Duty
Her Majesty’s Treasury regularly engages with the airline industry on air passenger duty. At the autumn Budget, we froze 2019-20 APD rates at 2018-19 levels for all short-haul passengers and for long-haul economy passengers. That provided a freeze for 95% of passengers.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment? He has done extremely well.
Airlines such as Flybe, which is based at Exeter airport in my constituency, undertake a disproportionate number of domestic flights. As my hon. Friend will be aware, domestic flights, unlike international ones, are currently hit twice by APD—at both take-off and landing. Treasury officials, of course, will tell a new Minister that any change is impossible and hide behind EU rules, but as we exit the EU, will my hon. Friend look at addressing that anomaly?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who was well regarded across the House.
As my right hon. Friend says, the Government are unable to exempt the return leg of a domestic flight. Of course, as we leave the European Union that could change, and the Treasury will keep the issue under consideration. We certainly recognise the economic significance of regional airports such as my right hon. Friend’s in Exeter. For that reason, we have kept short-haul rates frozen since 2012. In 2015, of course, we took the significant step of exempting children.
The Government’s own figures show that Newcastle airport will be most affected by any cuts to air passenger duty or air departure tax in Scotland. The continued uncertainty about this issue is also incredibly damaging. From his newly elevated position, will the Minister tell us what progress has been made on the issue? Is he in a position to confirm how English regional airports will be protected from the effects of any cuts?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, as Newcastle airport and others are very important to the economy of the north-east. As she heard during my response to the previous question, EU rules prevent us from changing the rules regarding the return leg of a domestic flight. We will keep the matter under consideration. We have, of course, taken other important steps, such as keeping the rates frozen and exempting children. It is worth saying that air passenger duty raises more than £3 billion a year, so it makes an important contribution to public services.
There would be substantial benefits from reducing or removing air passenger duty, including GDP growth, job creation, and an impact on trade, foreign direct investment and tourism. The duty particularly distorts trade between airports in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. There was a commitment in the Budget to have a review of air passenger duty. Will the Minister give us an update on where that review is?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As he knows, in the autumn statement we committed to a review of not just air passenger duty, but the impact of VAT on tourism in Northern Ireland. That review is under way and will report back in time for this year’s autumn Budget.
My hon. Friend will know that the inheritance tax exemption for donations to political parties does not exist for donations to referendum campaigns. However, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I have discussed the issues that my hon. Friend has raised in previous weeks, and we are sympathetic to looking carefully at how the law may be changed for future referendum campaigns.
In the past nine years, there have been 23 retroactive tax changes where there has been unfairness, error or unduly onerous taxation. When the law was drafted in 1994, there was no idea that there would be a succession of referendums. It is deeply unfair that people who have contributed to the alternative vote referendum, the referendum in Scotland and the Brexit referendum may find very large tax bills winging their way towards them, not least as Her Majesty’s Government spent £8 million of taxpayers’ money willy-nilly in the Brexit referendum.
Pursuant to that question, may I add one further caveat, given that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is beginning to look at all the other referendums that have taken place? Will it take into consideration those organisations that are not charities or political parties, but which do public good? They are beginning to be concerned that HMRC will pursue individuals who have made donations to them. Will my right hon. Friend take looking at that under his wing as well?
In 2010, we inherited the largest deficit since the second world war, standing at nearly 10% of GDP. We have successfully reduced it by three quarters, meaning that it stood at 2.3% at the end of last year, but our debt is still too high. High levels of debt leave us vulnerable to economic shocks and incur significant debt interest, which is why the Government have clear and detailed fiscal plans to reduce borrowing further and to ensure that debt falls.
Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that a policy of increasing borrowing simply means passing the cost of today’s consumption to future generations and wasting more taxpayers’ money on debt interest. Even Labour’s shadow Education spokesperson has acknowledged that this is an ultra high-risk strategy that would be a gamble with our economic future.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that uncontrolled debt is bad for the economy and bad for the young people who have to pay the debt off, and that we should avoid following the model preferred by the Opposition, which has all the qualities of the parliamentary sewage system?
Yes, I can agree with my hon. Friend on that. Any party that aspires to government and is serious about properly managing the public finances should be able to explain how it would fund the expenditure it is committing to—and to do so without consulting an iPad.
The Chancellor says that he does not want to incur more debt, but yesterday the Treasury approved a minute providing for a contingent liability on Carillion, for which we have had no estimate. Will he please explain to the House what sort of expenditure will be covered—I see that he has given an indemnity to the receiver—and how he will report to the House on how much money the Government will be liable for?
Yes, the Government have given an indemnity to the official receiver so that it can take on the role of special manager of Carillion’s assets to ensure the continuity of public services in the many schools, hospitals and local authorities that have contracts with Carillion. The Treasury has provided the official receiver with a line of credit that enables the official receiver’s office to operate the company’s public sector contracts, after which it will, in due course, recover the costs from the Department that would have paid fees for those services anyway. The official receiver can only step in and do this with the Treasury’s underwriting, and we deemed it appropriate to give that underwriting.
Clearly there is an element of risk in not just Government borrowing but companies’ borrowing against the UK Government. Will the Chancellor advise the House on what exposure his Government have from lending to Carillion via the likes of UK Export Finance or George Osborne’s direct lending scheme?
The Government have made good progress in cutting the deficit, but national debt as a percentage of GDP remains at a dangerously high level and will only start to fall next year—10 years after the crash. Will the Chancellor share with the House how our level of national debt to GDP compares with that of other major western economies?
My hon. Friend is right. Our level of debt is too high, and there is a reason why that matters. In response to the financial crisis in 2009, the then Government were able to allow debt to rise. If we had a similar crisis now—God forbid—we would be struggling to be able to do that, because debt is already very close to 90% of GDP. It is urgently necessary that we get our debt level down to create the headroom that will enable us to deal with any crisis that comes along in the future, whether internal or external.
It is amazing that the Government should want to plant questions about high levels of borrowing, given that they have missed every single one of their deficit reduction targets, and let us not forget that this Conservative Government have borrowed more than any Labour Government in history. Under Labour’s fiscal rules, we would close the deficit on day-to-day spending over five years, but exclude investment spending from that figure. Given the huge challenges that the country faces in relation to productivity, infrastructure and skills—challenges that he has already mentioned—does the Chancellor not recognise that that is a prudent and sensible way forward?
No, and neither do the Opposition. That is why they have already recognised that their plans would deliver the run on the pound for which they are wargaming. I will take no lectures from a party that oversaw a 165% increase in debt, and is proposing to add a further £500 billion to our debt level just when the Government are delivering a reduction in debt.
The household debt-to-income ratio has fallen from 152% at the start of 2010 to 138% in the third quarter of 2017. It has remained significantly below its pre-crisis peak of 160% in the first quarter of 2008. I also note today’s report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on the same subject.
I, too, have read the IFS report, which points out that debt is a real problem for a significant minority of low-income householders who are struggling to pay the bills and make debt repayments. Does the Minister accept that imposing a freeze on benefits when inflation is standing at 3% will make things even tougher for those families?
The report also points out that the percentage of households with financial liabilities in the four lowest wealth quintiles fell between June 2010 and June 2014. The Government are fully committed to helping the poorest households, and just last year the Money Advice Service spent £49 million on giving 440,000 free-to-client sessions to assist those in difficulty.
The UK has the second highest level of household debt in the G8. On our high streets, loan sharks are masquerading as household goods stores. Does the Minister agree that we have a rather unhealthy addiction to consumer debt in this country?
I am familiar with the hon. Gentleman’s situation and his correspondence with the Financial Conduct Authority. I believe that he has met FCA representatives. The FCA has strong powers to ban products. It has unlimited fines at its disposal and it can order repayments. As the hon. Gentleman knows, 51% of applicants for loans will receive the advertised rate, and those are the terms that the FCA works to.
Personal debt is the biggest worry for many people I meet. The figures released by the Institute for Fiscal Studies today show that a third of those on the lowest incomes are in net debt. This debt is persistent; it is a spiral that people get stuck in for years. What are the UK Government doing to improve the financial position of households with the lowest incomes?
We recognise that on occasions people find themselves in challenging debt situations. That is why we committed in our manifesto to a six-week breathing space, and we will bring that legislation forward in due course in the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill.
Over a third of people aged under 45 live in households with financial wealth of less than zero. For too many people there is not enough money at the end of each month or each week. From next year individuals earning less than £26,000 in England will pay more income tax than they would if they lived in Scotland; how can the Minister justify that?
Does the Minister acknowledge that the reasons why a quarter of people on low incomes are currently experiencing significant problems with arrears or debt repayment include, first, his Government not taking on board Labour’s programme to rein in credit card debt and, secondly, the fact that their changes to the tax threshold have been outweighed for the poorest people by alterations to social security?
The hon. Lady needs to acknowledge the transformation that the national living wage has brought to so many people and this Government’s willingness to increase it above inflation. It is also worth noting that interest payments as a proportion of income are currently at the lowest on record.
UK Internal Market
The UK internal market benefits all the nations of the UK. The Scottish Government’s own latest figures indicate that 63% of Scotland’s exports are to the rest of the UK, compared with 16% that go to the EU, and for Wales it is 80% compared with 12%. Stakeholders across Wales and Scotland have made it clear that it is vital that we continue to support the smooth working of the UK internal market, and it is therefore essential that no new barriers to living and doing business in the UK are created as we leave the EU.
Yes, it is absolutely true that for both Scotland and Wales leaving the UK single market would be far more economically damaging than leaving the European single market, which prompts the question why the Scottish National party has advocated so strongly remaining in the European single market and also advocated so strongly breaking up the UK single market.
Order. I am not very interested in hearing that, which has nothing to do with Government policy, but I am interested in hearing Wes Streeting. I hope the Chancellor will take note: put very briefly, Chancellor, “Stick to your last—your business, not theirs.”
Thank you, Mr Speaker; that is the nicest thing anyone is likely to say to me today.
The Chancellor rightly extols the benefits of the UK single market, but is not the rank hypocrisy of the Government exposed by listening to the comments of the chief executive of Airbus last night that leaving the European single market would be hugely damaging to the UK economy? We do not have to pick and choose: why will the Chancellor not put a jobs first Brexit at the heart of the Government Brexit strategy and commit to keeping us in the European single market?
The contribution of the UK internal market is of course important to the economy of Wales. Under Westminster rule, the economy of London and the south-east of England has steamed ahead while Wales remains one of the poorest nations in western Europe. Will the Chancellor commit to ending this rank inequality by rebalancing the UK internal market to ensure that it is not based on a set of Westminster diktats but is instead a partnership of the four nations of the UK?
Public Spending: Wales
Decisions announced by the Chancellor in the autumn Budget resulted in an increase of £1.2 billion to the Welsh Government’s budget. For the first time, this included more than £65 million thanks to the new Barnett boost agreed with the Welsh Government’s fiscal framework. This ensures that the Welsh Government’s block grant will increase in real terms over the spending review period.
The headline-grabbing announcement in the Budget was the alleged £1.2 billion uplift to the Welsh public finances, which the Minister has just repeated in his answer. It was an example of financial trickery best suited to the Foreign Secretary’s big red buses. Is it not the case that more than half that money will be in the form of repayable loans—in other words, financial transactions?
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis or with his slightly cavalier attitude to £650 million of taxpayers’ money. This money is at the disposal of the Welsh Government and can be used for important things such as helping to support businesses and helping people to get on to the property ladder through Help to Buy.
Given that the tolls on the Severn crossing went down last week for the first time ever, there is going to be greater demand for use of the M4. However, since 2012 the Labour Welsh Government have done nothing about using the public money available to them to extend the M4. Is it not the case that public money should be spent on that, and that it has been made available to Wales from this Government?
The unemployment rate is now the lowest since 1975, and 3 million more people are in jobs than in 2010. What that means is that they have the ability to use their talents to support their families and to get on in life.
Will my right hon. Friend and the Treasury team work with me and the Isle of Wight Council to explore how the Island could benefit from a Treasury-supported enterprise zone in the Medina valley or from other regeneration policies that would help to drive the jobs and wealth creation agenda on the Isle of Wight?
My hon. Friend has done a fantastic job of championing the Isle of Wight since 2010, and we have seen a 55% reduction in unemployment on the Island. There are many issues that we need to address to ensure that the economy on the Island is competitive and dynamic. The Isle of Wight ferry is a vital service, and we need to ensure that the Competition and Markets Authority has the tools to deal with that. I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about what more we can do to boost the Isle of Wight.
I am the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for youth employment, and each month we track the jobs figures. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the impact of this very welcome job creation on poverty levels and welfare dependency since 2010?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work. Since 2010, we have seen a 40% reduction in youth unemployment. Let us compare that with what happened under the Labour Government when, during an economic boom, youth unemployment rose and those young people were left on the scrapheap rather than joining apprenticeships and getting the training opportunities that they have under this Government.
Here is a reality check for the Minister. Limited well-paid jobs and record levels of in-work poverty coupled with this Government’s unflinching assault on the welfare safety net have contributed to the United Nations estimating that 8 million households in the UK are food insecure. My cost-neutral household Food Security Bill will robustly measure these factors and lead to policy development that will eradicate hunger. Why will her Government not back it?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This Government have cut red tape and taxes. We have cut basic rate tax by £1,000 for working people, which has encouraged more people to get jobs and more companies to take people on. That is why we are seeing economic success.
Transport for the North has today published its strategic plan, which forecasts 850,000 new jobs if the plan is delivered. Although the document is disappointing for Cleethorpes and northern Lincolnshire, broadly speaking more investment in transport in the north will provide those jobs. Will the Minister give an assurance that resources will be made available to deliver the plan?
I am pleased to say that we are investing a record amount in economic infrastructure, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that such investment would be at a 40-year high by the end of this Parliament. We are giving money to improve transport in towns and cities, allocating £1.7 billion for that purpose at the Budget.
Thousands of Carillion workers will turn up to work tomorrow unsure whether they have a job, and they may not appreciate Conservative boasts about employment today. The workers face cuts to their pensions, and hundreds of small firms along the supply chain are also uncertain about their futures. The traditional role of the Treasury is to protect our public finances, so will the Minister explain to the House what involvement the Treasury had in the billions of pounds of contracts held by Carillion at the time of its liquidation? We know that Treasury approval is required for PFI contracts, so will she tell the House how many PFI and PF2 contracts were signed by the Treasury during the current Chancellor’s time in office? What will happen to those projects and to the staff working on them? When there were loud and clear worrying signs about Carillion, why did Treasury Ministers, instead of intervening, collude in the strategy of drip-feeding more contracts to Carillion to buoy up an obviously failing company?
What has happened at Carillion is regrettable, which is why we are ensuring that the people employed by Carillion have support from jobcentres and why our No. 1 priority is ensuring that we continue to supply public services. However, it would be completely wrong for a company that got itself in such a state to be bailed out by the state, and we are not doing that. We are making sure that we continue to supply public services at the same time as helping the people who work for the company.
If we look at the record of contracting, a third of those contracts were signed under the previous Labour Government, and one of the most recent contracts was signed by the Labour-led Leeds City Council. The fact is that we have £60 billion of contracts with private sector companies that deliver public services across this country, which is an important way of delivering our public services. When there is an issue, as we have had with Carillion, we have made the preparations, and we are sorting out the situation.
We are asking questions about when it was obvious that this company was failing and what the Treasury’s role was. I put it no stronger than this: at this stage, there are real suspicions that the Government were too close to the company and too wedded to its privatisation role. We need full transparency on the meetings and discussions that took place between Ministers, civil servants and representatives of Carillion. What warnings were given to Ministers and what action was recommended, whether it was implemented or not? We need the Treasury to start playing its proper role and to provide an independent assessment of the potential costs and risks facing the taxpayer. As has already been mentioned, a Cabinet Office minute was published after the statement yesterday that established a contingent liability. We urgently need to know from the Treasury about the potential range of costs now facing the taxpayer.
We already publish all those minutes and details of meetings. We are a transparent Government, and we make decisions in an objective fashion. Those decisions are signed off by the Treasury, and they are signed off by the Cabinet Office. Recent decisions on Carillion contracts have been made on the basis of joint and several liability to make sure the taxpayer is protected. We always look for value for money in the way we set up our contracts. The Government are dealing with this in a responsible and measured way, rather than making cheap political shots at a time when people’s jobs are in question and when we are working to sort that out.
We are investing a record £41 billion in our schools this year. For the first time ever, we are putting in place a fair national funding formula. We are seeing standards rising. In the recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, we saw England gain its highest ever score in reading.
Thanks to the incredible hard work of staff, children and parents in Redditch, 92% of our secondary schools are currently rated outstanding. Receiving a great education in maths is critical to equipping children in Redditch for future jobs in the economy. What financial support is the Treasury giving to enable our children in Redditch to have that education?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that maths is vital for the future of our economy. We know there is huge demand for people with science, technology, engineering and maths skills, which is why at the Budget we allocated a £600 maths premium that schools will receive for every student who does maths from age 16 to 18.
Corporate Tax Evasion
The Government have an outstanding record on clamping down on tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance. We have brought in and protected £160 billion since 2010, and no less than £8 billion in 2016-17 alone, from the UK’s largest companies. Currently at 6%, the tax gap is one of the lowest in the world, and lower than any year during the last Labour Government.
Does the Minister agree that an international approach is needed to really tackle tax evasion by big multinational companies? Will he therefore say whether the interesting ideas on which he has consulted since the Budget have found favour in his discussions with the OECD and may be adopted on a more international basis?
As my hon. Friend will know, we are right at the forefront of the OECD’s base erosion and profit shifting project, and of the common reporting standards that are being rolled out at the moment. We have taken further measures in the Budget to consult on the taxation of digitally based companies, particularly in respect of withholding tax on royalties going to zero-tax or low-tax jurisdictions. That consultation will report back in February, and we will take an appropriate decision thereafter.
It is embarrassing for the Government that Carillion’s chairman is an adviser to the Prime Minister on corporate responsibility. Given the level of salaries and bonuses awarded to senior management at Carillion, as well as improving the response to corporate tax evasion what will the Government do to ensure better corporate governance in UK companies?
I say gently to the hon. Lady that she needs to check her facts, because the current head of Carillion is not an adviser to the Prime Minister. There was an appointment earlier that was terminated some months ago. As to her general points about corporate governance, this country has among the most robust corporate governance in the world, which is something this Government will continue.
Leaving the EEA
The Government have undertaken a significant amount of work to assess the economic impacts of leaving the EU, and that is part of our continuing programme of rigorous and extensive analytical work on a range of scenarios. The Government are committed to keeping Parliament informed, provided that doing so would not risk damaging our negotiating position.
The Chancellor has said that he wants a jobs-first Brexit. Given that 80% of the British economy is in the services sector, and given that the EEA-based model of Brexit is the only one that gives maximum access for our services industries, does the Minister agree that an EEA-based Brexit is the only viable option for our country?
First, I welcome the Minister to his place in the Treasury. I am sure he will do an excellent job.
Is it not impossible to assess the impact of leaving, whether we are talking about the European economic area or the European Union, without knowing where we are headed? It is time for the Government to be clear about the end state of negotiations on financial services. I would like to see them publishing a position paper on financial services, particularly one informed by the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor last week.
Academic assessments by the Treasury are crucial, but my constituents are reeling from hundreds of job losses at Vauxhall. Last night’s comments by the chief executive officer of Airbus that whatever Brexit we have will be net negative means we are talking again about hundreds of my constituents’ jobs on the line. I plead with the Minister to take this seriously, keep us in the single market and customs union, and keep my constituents in their jobs.
I assure the hon. Lady that I take this very seriously, and the Government’s intention certainly is to negotiate a deep and special partnership on economic and security matters. There is room for positivity; if we look at what GSK, Google and Apple have said, we see that that attitude of positivity and optimism as we look forward is necessary.
My principal responsibility is to ensure the stability and prosperity of the economy, which means building on the ambitious steps laid out in the autumn Budget to tackle the key challenges we face so that we can create an economy fit for the future. I look forward to doing so, ably supported by my excellent ministerial team. Our balanced approach to the public finances enables us to give households and businesses support in the near term, and to invest in the future of this country, while also being fair to the next generation by reducing a national debt that remains too large.
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Keeping business taxes competitive so that we can attract international investment to this country is essential, but there is a quid pro quo: if taxes are low, they must be paid. We are determined to ensure full compliance and to lead in international forums in looking at ways of improving corporate tax compliance.
The NHS is in crisis due to the tight-fisted approach the Chancellor takes to the public finances—unless a big corporation, a railway company or a failing construction firm needs a handout or a bail-out. During any discussions he has had with the Health Secretary, has he raised the issue of the funding crisis? If so, what solution has he arrived at to fund it properly, or will he be sending in the receiver?
The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed but we have put an extra £6 billion into the NHS. The first two weeks of the year are traditionally the highest pressure weeks in the NHS, and we have seen extreme pressure over the past two weeks. He may also not have noticed that we have a flu crisis going on, which inevitably takes its toll. In an ethically based health service, we treat the sickest patients first, and it is right that we prioritise those with urgent needs over those with routine needs in our hospitals.
That was an insouciant attitude, if ever there was one. The Chancellor’s local media report that the A&E department in St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey in his constituency had the highest number of 12-hour waits for patients in Surrey at the start of last year. What imaginative explanation does he have for his constituents, if not the whole House, as to why they, like many others, have to wait for so long to get emergency treatment? I ask again: what substantive funding will he provide to the NHS?
The answer to that is the £6 billion of additional money that we put in at the Budget. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised St Peter’s Hospital in my constituency, because that gives me the opportunity to make an important point. As other Members will know, whatever the media say about the NHS in general, when one speaks to one’s own constituents about their experience in their local hospital, it is invariably good and they invariably have nothing but praise for the service that they receive from our excellent national health service.
I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend’s assertion of the importance of our heritage, which was recognised when last year the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport gave grants of more than £140 million in that respect. On VAT relief for repairs to historic buildings, the situation that currently pertains to EU regulations is that if we were to make changes or reductions, we would have to apply them to all buildings in the UK, at onerous cost, but that is something we can look into as and when we leave the EU.
As the hon. Lady will know, we have committed to zero-rate tampons at the earliest opportunity. The fact that we are not doing that at the moment is due to our membership of the EU. She will also know that we are providing to women’s charities an amount equivalent to what we raise through taxing tampons.
The Chancellor will be aware that Government debt per household is around £65,000. Another name for that debt is deferred taxation. Does the Chancellor agree that the best way to increase tax revenue and reduce our debt is to grow the economy, which is exactly what we are doing?
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Late, Missing and Incorrect initiative is there to drive up the accuracy of the real-time information as it passes between employers and HMRC. As he stresses, it is important to ensuring that universal credit is rolled out effectively. On his specific question about statistics, we believe that the level is around 5% or 6% across those three areas. We are continuously driving down those figures, particularly in response to the post-implementation review.
The European Free Trade Association, of which the UK was a founder member, would provide an excellent framework from within which to exercise a deep and special partnership with the EU. Would Her Majesty’s Government consider that as a sound way forward?
Yes. We engage frequently with industry, and our No. 1 priority is obviously to ensure that we protect the UK economy as we exit the EU. In fact, as a manufacturer of aviation equipment, which has a zero EU tariff, Airbus should be relatively minimally affected. Nevertheless, I think the company’s particular concern is about the ability to bring EU nationals into the UK to work, and we have assured it that we will make sure that high-skilled individuals can continue to come.
I appreciate that the next stages of the negotiations with Europe are about to start, and what we want to see is a good deal for industry, business and the service sector. Does the Chancellor agree that membership of the European Free Trade Association could offer that opportunity for us?
We have very clear rules about managing public money. Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that we are not bailing out this company. It has gone into liquidation, and we are taking the proper steps to protect public services, which is the right approach to take.
Since 2010, unemployment in Cheltenham has fallen to just over 1%. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, to secure that jobs pipeline, the Government are right to continue backing Cheltenham’s GCHQ-supported cyber-innovation centre, which is creating opportunities for my constituents?
It is important to note that we have 2.9 million more people visiting A&E than we had in 2010. That is why, as well as making sure that we are putting in place a proper modernisation of the health service, we are also investing more money, and we allocated £6.3 billion more at the Budget.
There are many small and medium-sized enterprises in the Carillion supply chain, as both contractors and direct suppliers. What discussions will the Government have with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and other businesses to make sure that these companies are able to continue to pay the tax liabilities and their employees?
HMRC already has a scheme that can assist companies that are having cash-flow difficulties in meeting tax liabilities. We agreed last night that HMRC will specifically signpost, via the Carillion-specific websites that are operating, that that facility exists.
The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that, in the draft local government settlement, we have given police authorities the power to raise additional precept to be able to deal with those issues. Ultimately, it is a decision for Greater Manchester police.
My understanding is that the contracts that are strictly PFI contracts are actually in joint ventures. In that case, it is most likely that the joint venture partner will take over. There are outsourcing contracts that, in theory, could be sold on, but as the Government Department, as the contracting party, will invariably have a right to cancel the contract on the insolvency of the company, in practice it will not be able to be sold on by the official receiver without the agreement of the contracting Department.
British Indian Ocean Territory (Citizenship)
Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to allow persons descended from individuals born in the British Indian Ocean Territory to register as British overseas territories citizens; and for connected purposes.
This Bill will allow individuals descended from the Chagos Islands to register as British citizens in recognition of the fact that their parents and grandparents were forcibly exiled from that UK overseas territory. It seeks to ensure a measure of justice for those who lost their homeland and all it represented in the late 1960s.
The treatment of the Chagossian people has been raised many times in this House and in Westminster Hall, not only by me but by many colleagues on the all-party parliamentary group on the Chagos Islands; it is my privilege to serve as vice-chair. It is important for me to place on record my thanks to colleagues on both sides of the House for their support for the Bill, including those sponsoring the legislation. They represent seven parties in this place. The good wishes of Parliament for the Chagossian people continue not only to hold firm, but to grow in strength.
I am sure that I need not recap the tragic events that have led to this moment, but I believe it necessary in order to put the Bill in context and to grasp the gravity of Chagossian history. It was almost half a century ago that then Prime Minister Harold Wilson gave an Order in Council to remove the inhabitants of the British Indian Ocean Territory so that a UK-US military base could be established on the strategic main island of Diego Garcia. In the years that followed, a community that had lived peacefully found itself exiled and ignored with scant regard for its rights or wellbeing. We cannot change history, but we can support those removed from their homeland and their descendants who are not covered by the existing law and protections that, as Britons, they should enjoy.
The legislation currently assumes that just one generation of Chagossians will be born in exile and, although many members of the community born in exile have received British citizenship, their children have not. As such, when these families have come to the UK, as is their right, their children have been treated as immigrants like any others by the Home Office. Therefore, they are subject to the usual financial costs and administrative implications. At this time, we can ease the burden. We can provide assistance to those whose story is not recognised in the country that removed them from the place—a British territory—that they call home. Of course, had the population not been evicted half a century ago, all born on the islands would already have British citizenship status.
Crawley is home to perhaps the largest Chagossian population in the world, and it is my privilege to stand up for that community in Parliament and locally. Today I ask right hon. and hon. Members to allow this Bill to progress and allow those descended from individuals born in the British Indian Ocean Territory the ability to register as British citizens. The Bill would simplify nationality law so that anyone who can prove that they are of Chagossian descent becomes eligible to register as a British overseas territories citizen.
I continue to support the right of return of the Chagossian people. That would likely be a staggered process. I am in no way convinced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s objection to the pilot resettlement. In 2016, the Government announced that, rather than a right of return, there would be a support package of £40 million delivered over a 10-year period to go to the Chagossian community in Crawley, elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and in Mauritius and the Seychelles, where most were exiled to. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is continuing to engage with local authorities, including my own, with regard to that assistance. There is a real importance to ensuring that that support goes as far as it can and leaves a long-standing mark for the benefit of those who were exiled and their descendants.
This is an issue I have continued to raise on behalf of my constituents. As a result, I have received an apology from the Minister for Europe and the Americas for the UK’s historical treatment of the Chagossian people. I have also welcomed to 10 Downing Street constituents who have organised petitions in support of this community.
It is easy to talk about what happened half a century ago, to speak of a £40 million package, or to talk about justice for the Chagossian community, but behind each of these subjects is the knowledge that we are talking about people, a number of whom are here in Westminster today, and many more will be watching across the country and, indeed, around the world. On previous occasions when this issue has been debated in Parliament, there has been a strong Chagossian contingent watching in the Public Gallery, and I am pleased to see that we are again joined by members of the community. Their dignity and dedication in campaigning to have back what was taken from them is an inspiration. This community is at the forefront of our thoughts today.
I want to praise the Government’s wider work in the field of human rights—in particular, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s four main priorities of tackling modern slavery; defending freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression; ending inequality and discrimination; and promoting democracy. The work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, spearheaded by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, is vital and deserves our support. British work on these issues throughout the world—particularly with tomorrow’s launch in Parliament of the 2018 World Watch List in mind—represents what we stand for. I am sure that all in this House would agree with the salience of such values forming a vital part of our foreign policy. However, the treatment of the Chagossian people by successive British Governments remains a shameful aspect of our past and, indeed, the present.
I mentioned earlier the all-party parliamentary group, of which I am vice-chair. I pay tribute to the group’s chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), who has with steadfast vigour stood up for the rights of the Chagossian people. I am not questioning the issue of UK sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory. Indeed, I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his continued defence of UK sovereignty over this territory.
Around the world, our great nation is known for its values, including the traditional sense of British fair play. I am a patriot and I love my country. We do have a proud history and, I believe, a bright future. But our nation’s treatment of the Chagossian people is a blight on our country’s conscience—one that we can start to put right by helping these Britons all to become British overseas territories citizens. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Henry Smith, Andrew Rosindell, Catherine West, Martyn Day, Mike Kane, Sir Henry Bellingham, Kate Hoey, Caroline Lucas, Patrick Grady, Jim Shannon, Stephen Lloyd and Hywel Williams present the Bill.
Henry Smith accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March and to be printed (Bill 150).
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: (Programme) (No. 2)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Order of 11 September 2017 (European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:
1. Paragraphs 5 to 7 of the Order shall be omitted.
2. Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading shall be taken in two days in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.
3. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table and (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings Amendments to Clauses 1 to 5; amendments to Schedule 1; amendments to Clause 6; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to any of Clauses 1 to 6 or Schedule 1 4.00pm on the first day. Amendments to Clause 10; amendments to Schedule 2; amendments to Clause 11; amendments to Schedule 3; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Clause 10 or 11 or Schedule 2 or 3 7.00pm on the first day. Remaining proceedings on Consideration 4.30pm on the second day.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
Amendments to Clauses 1 to 5; amendments to Schedule 1; amendments to Clause 6; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to any of Clauses 1 to 6 or Schedule 1
4.00pm on the first day.
Amendments to Clause 10; amendments to Schedule 2; amendments to Clause 11; amendments to Schedule 3; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Clause 10 or 11 or Schedule 2 or 3
7.00pm on the first day.
Remaining proceedings on Consideration
4.30pm on the second day.
4. Any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 4.30pm on the second day.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00pm on the second day.—(Mr Baker.)
I just want to ensure that we do not simply pass the motion—I know it is a narrow procedural point—about the amount of time that the House will dedicate to debating the myriad issues covered in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The Committee stage was limited to only eight days. Noble Lords in the other place will have noted that on many occasions lots of amendments that had been tabled could not be fully debated. The view of the House could not be taken on some of them. We are not talking about frivolous amendments. The Government were defeated on some amendments, and they may well be defeated again—who knows?—on another occasion.
There are concerns that there may not be sufficient time on Report to air many very important issues. The usual channels will have talked about the nature of the programme motion. I see that today very much focuses on the questions that are of concern to the Government, where they want to make a concession, or focus on particular areas, but many Members feel that there are other important questions. Those questions include the customs union and the single market, whether we can reach a full trade deal in time, before falling over the cliff in March 2019, and whether there are choices and options available for the British people, other than the very narrow red lines set out by the Government in their policy. I am worried that the programme motion means we will only have a certain amount of time tomorrow—up to 4.30 pm—for the debate on a very wide range of questions.
I do not want to delay the proceedings because that would obviously go against the point I am making, but this needs to be put on the record so that those in the other place can see that there are concerns in this House of Commons about our not having had sufficient time to debate and fully to consider the full range of issues. I hope that the other place will be able to do justice to the Bill and to such other questions.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I voted against the timetable motion, and I support what the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) has said. Tomorrow is particularly crowded: it is probably the worst day we have had so far, with very limited time for debate on a large number of amendments, and of course Third Reading to follow. Will you confirm that it is still possible—we are not bound by a timetable motion throughout—for the Government, before tomorrow, to produce a motion at least to extend the time for debate so that we are able to give the Bill adequate scrutiny? I do not know of any particular reason why the Government wish to finish the whole of the debate at the precise time at which we will do so if we continue as we are at the moment.
The short answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that it is perfectly open to the Government to table such a motion and to do so today. Indeed, if it was to be tabled, it would have to be tabled today. If that happens, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be pleased; if it does not, he will not be. I can only reiterate that, within the constraints within which we have to operate, my objective is to ensure maximum debate, the greatest possible participation by Back Benchers and plentiful opportunities for Members who want to test their propositions in Divisions of the House to have the chance to do so.
Question put and agreed to.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
[1st Allocated Day]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Committee
Saving for rights etc. under section 2(1) of the ECA
I beg to move amendment 57, page 2, line 42, leave out clause 4.
This amendment is linked to NC19, which would aim to preserve, more comprehensively than the existing Clause 4, rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law and incorporated into domestic law via the European Communities Act 1972.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 4, in clause 5, page 3, line 23, leave out subsections (4) and (5) and insert—
“(4) Notwithstanding subsection (5), the Charter of Fundamental Rights continues to apply to retained EU law after exit day save as set out in subsections (5) and (5A) below and all references in the Charter to “the law of the Union” shall be deleted and replaced with “retained EU law”.
(5) The following provisions of the Charter shall not apply after exit day—
(a) the Preamble, and
(b) Title V.
(5A) Article 47 of the Charter shall apply after exit day as if it was drafted as follows—
“Right to a fair trial
“Everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by retained EU law are violated is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law. Everyone shall have the possibility of being advised, defended and represented.
“Legal aid shall be made available to those who lack sufficient resources insofar as such aid is necessary to ensure effective access to justice.”
(5B) With effect from exit day EU retained law, so far as it is possible to do so, must be interpreted consistently with the Charter.
(5C) With effect from exit day decisions, judgments, advisory opinions of the Court of Justice of the European Union must be taken into account when determining cases under the Charter.
(5D) With effect from exit day in relation to the rights conferred by the Charter with respect to retained EU law—
(a) section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply and the words “a Convention right” shall be replaced by “a Charter right” and all references to “primary legislation” shall be replaced by “retained EU law”,
(b) section 5 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply,
(c) section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply and the words “the Convention right to freedom of expression” shall be replaced by “the Charter right to freedom of expression and information”, and
(d) section 13 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply and the words “the Convention right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” shall be replaced by “the Charter right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.
(5E) With effect from exit day, any derogation or reservation made under sections 14 or 15 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply to rights under the Charter in the same manner as they apply to Convention rights.
(5F) With effect from exit day sections 16 or 17 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shall apply to rights under the Charter in the same manner as they apply to Convention rights.”
This amendment would retain the Charter Rights in UK law and afford them the same level as protection as the rights in the Human Rights Act.
Amendment 7, page 3, line 23, leave out subsections (4) and (5).
This amendment would allow the Charter of Fundamental Rights to continue to apply domestically in the interpretation and application of retained EU law.
Amendment 42, in clause 6, page 3, line 36, at end insert
“other than a matter referred to in paragraph 38 of the joint report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on progress during phase 1 of the negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom’s orderly withdrawal from the European Union dated 8 December 2017.”
This amendment would ensure that UK Courts and Tribunals can refer matters to the CJEU as agreed between the EU/UK negotiators in December 2017.
Amendment 55, page 3, line 36, at end insert—
“(1A) So far as it is possible to do so, retained EU law must be read and given effect in a way which allows it to operate effectively.”
This amendment (linked with Amendment 56) borrows language from the Human Rights Act 1998 to require courts and tribunals to interpret retained EU law, so far as possible, in order to overcome deficiencies in the operation of retained EU law which have not been dealt with using powers under clause 7.
Amendment 43, page 3, line 37, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) A court or tribunal may regard the decisions of the European Court made on or after exit day to be persuasive”
This amendment enables UK Courts and Tribunals to consider the decisions of the European Court to be persuasive.
New clause 7—EU Protocol on animal sentience—
“The obligation on Ministers of the Crown and the devolved administrations to pay regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings when formulating law and policy, contained within the EU Protocol on animal sentience as set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty, shall be recognised and available in domestic law on and after exit day.”
This new clause transfers the EU Protocol on animal sentience set out in Article 13 of Title II of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty into UK law, so that the obligation on the Government and the devolved administrations to pay due regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings when formulating law and policy is not lost when the UK leaves the EU.
New clause 9—Saving of acquired rights: Anguilla—
“(1) Nothing in this Act is to be construed as removing, replacing, altering or prejudicing the exercise of an acquired right.
(2) Any power, howsoever expressed, contained in this Act may not be exercised if the exercise of that power is likely to or will remove, replace or alter or prejudice the exercise of an acquired right.
(3) In subsection (2) a reference to a power includes a power to make regulations.
(4) In this section an acquired right means a right that existed immediately before exit day—
(a) whereby a person from or established in Anguilla could exercise that right (either absolutely or subject to any qualification) in the United Kingdom; and
(b) whereby the right arose in the context of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union and Anguilla’s status as a territory for whose external relations the United Kingdom is responsible.
(5) Nothing in this section prevents the use of the powers conferred by this Act to the extent that acquired rights are not altered or otherwise affected to the detriment of persons enjoying such rights.”
The intention of this new clause is to mitigate the impact of Brexit on the British territory of Anguilla which is dependent on frictionless movement between Anguilla and adjacent French and Dutch possessions of St Martin/Sint Maarten that are EU territories.
New clause 13—Classification of retained EU law (No. 2)—
“(1) Any retained EU law that was a legislative act or implements a legislative act enacted under Article 289 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is deemed to be primary legislation on or after exit day.
(2) Any retained EU law that was a delegated act or implements a delegated act under Article 290 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union or was an implementing act or implements an implementing act under Article 291 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is deemed to be a statutory instrument on or after exit day, unless that law is already enacted as an Act of Parliament.
(3) Any change to the preceding characterisation shall be by regulation which may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”
This new clause would provide greater legal certainty by classifying retained EU law as either primary or secondary legislation.
New clause 16—Consequences of leaving the European Union: equality—
“(1) This section comes into force when this Act is passed.
(2) The purpose of this section is to ensure that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union does not diminish protection for equality in the law of the United Kingdom.
(3) All individuals are equal before the law and have the right to the equal protection and benefit of the law.
(4) All individuals have a right not to be discriminated against by any public authority on any grounds including sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation.
(5) The following provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 apply in relation to the rights conferred by subsections (3) and (4) as they apply in relation to Convention rights within the meaning of that Act—
(a) section 3 (interpretation of legislation);
(b) section 4 (declaration of incompatibility);
(c) section 5 (right of Crown to intervene);
(d) section 6 (acts of public authorities);
(e) section 7 (proceedings);
(f) section 8 (judicial remedies);
(g) section 9 (judicial acts);
(h) section 10 (power to take remedial action);
(i) section 11 (safeguard for existing human rights); and
(j) section 19 (statements of compatibility).
(6) A court or tribunal must have regard to any relevant decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in considering—
(a) the application of this section generally, and
(b) in particular, the meaning of discrimination for the purposes of this section.”
This new clause would ensure that the rights of equality presently enjoyed in accordance with EU law are enshrined in free-standing domestic law after the UK leaves the EU.
New clause 19—Saving for rights etc. under section 2(1) of the ECA (No. 2)—
“(1) Any rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures which, immediately before exit day are part of domestic law by virtue of section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972 continue on and after exit day to be recognised and available in domestic law (and to be enforced, allowed and followed accordingly).
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to any rights, powers, liabilities, obligations restrictions, remedies or procedures so far as they form part of domestic law by virtue of section 3
(3) Where, following the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, retained EU law incorrectly or incompletely gives effect to any rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies or procedures created or required by EU law in force immediately before exit day, a Minister of the Crown shall make regulations for the purpose of giving effect to such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures.
(4) This section is subject to section 5 and Schedule 1 (exceptions to savings and incorporation).”
This new clause is linked to Amendment 57 to leave out Clause 4 and aims to preserve, more comprehensively than the existing clause 4, rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law and incorporated into domestic law via the European Communities Act 1972. Where such rights are incorrectly or incompletely transferred, it imposes a duty to make regulations to remedy the deficiency.
Amendment 40, in schedule 8, page 54, line 6, at end insert
“to which subsection (2) of section (Classification of retained EU law (Amendment2)) applies.”
This amendment is consequential on NC13.
Amendment 41, page 54, line 44, at end insert
“to which subsection (2) of section (Classification of retained EU law (Amendment2)) applies.”
This amendment is consequential on NC13.
Government amendments 37 and 38.
Amendment 57, which would leave out clause 4, is linked to new clauses 19 and 21. Many of the amendments I tabled in Committee have been proposed by Greener UK, a coalition of many environmental organisations that are concerned about the possible impact of Brexit on environmental protections. They see it as one of the biggest threats: I know other people see it as an opportunity, especially when it comes to rejigging how we subsidise agriculture once we leave the common agricultural policy. The concern is what protections would remain, given the importance of our membership of the EU for everything from cleaning up water pollution and protecting biodiversity to improving recycling and reducing waste. It is hard to believe that we used to allow untreated sewage to flow into our seas before the EU’s bathing water directive forced the UK Government to make our bathing waters fit for swimming and to test for bacteria such as E. coli. In 1990, only 27% of our bathing waters met minimum mandatory standards; by 2014, 99% complied.
When the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gave evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry on the natural environment after the EU referendum, she told the Committee that approximately a third of the more than 800 pieces of EU environmental legislation will be difficult to transpose into UK law. The Committee also identified a considerable governance gap, which the Government have acknowledged, and I support new clause 18, which would enshrine what the Government have said they want in relation to carrying over environmental principles and establishing a new environmental regulatory body.
My amendment addresses the substantial flaws, gaps and democratic deficit in the Bill that were not addressed in Committee, in particular to fully transpose current EU environmental legislation in all areas effectively into UK law to avoid any weakening or loss of existing environmental protection during Brexit. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been encouraging in saying that:
“We must not only maintain but enhance environmental standards as we leave the EU. And that means making sure we secure the environmental gains we have made while in the EU even as we use our new independence to aim even higher”.
Opposition Members share the same aspirations and visions, but we cannot just take his word for it. We need those promises written into the Bill and concrete measures to deliver on those aspirations. This has to last longer than he is in post.
Amendment 57 would leave out clause 4, with a view to replacing it with new clause 19 which would preserve—more comprehensively than clause 4—rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law. The new clause seeks only to properly realise the Government’s stated ambition for the Bill—they have repeatedly assured us of this during the process—that the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as before.
In their White Paper, the Government sought to reassure us that this Bill will mean that
“the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law”.
The Prime Minister has promised:
“The same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before”,
but that is simply not the case. As drafted, the Bill will not properly capture and convert all EU environmental law into stand-alone domestic law.
Clause 4 appears to deal with full transposition. In Committee, the then Minister of State for Courts and Justice described it as a sweeper provision that
“picks up the other obligations, rights and remedies that would currently have the force of UK law under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.”—[Official Report, 15 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 498.]
But it fails to do its sweeping properly, because some inexplicable and unnecessary restrictions in clause 4(l)(b) and (2)(b) mean that important aspects of environmental law will be lost. Those exceptions include rights that have not been recognised by a court before exit day. Effectively, the basic rights that everyone accepts but that have not been litigated on are at risk. Those rights have been hardwired into EU law and do not need enforcing, but once we no longer have the safety net of the EU, they could fall.
The Government’s defence of the limitations in these subsections in Committee was far from convincing. The Minister essentially argued that they were necessary because directives do not produce directly effective rights until they have been recognised as such by courts. However, if a provision in legislation creates directly effective law, it does not need a court to confirm that that is the case. If a piece of legislation creates a legal position, it does not need a judge to verify that that is the case. In fact, the Government have often not transposed certain provisions of directives on the basis that they function adequately directly from the directives without any need to transpose them into national law. That clearly demonstrates that there are parts of directives that currently form part of UK law that will be removed by subsection (2)(b).
Clause 4 does not adequately engage with failures to properly transpose EU law. An obligation should be placed on the Government to remedy incorrect and incomplete transposition. The powers to do so are contained in clause 7(2)(f), but there is a significant difference between a power to do something and a duty to use that power.
To summarise, amendment 57, in getting rid of clause 4 and replacing the linked new clause 19, seeks to rectify those errors. New clause 19 is simpler and more comprehensive than the existing clause 4. It would ensure that rights arising under EU directives are preserved and that a mechanism is in place after exit day to deal with problems arising from the incomplete or incorrect transposition of EU law before exit day.
If clause 4 is not amended, we could lose vital EU law provisions, including requirements to review and report on the adequacy and implementation of laws that are crucial to ensure the law is complied with and up to date. That includes the requirements contained in article 20 of the marine strategy framework directive, article 17 of the habitats directive and article 32 of the air quality directive. Without reported data under the latter, ClientEarth would not have been able to hold the Government to account through the courts on air pollution.
We will also lose obligations on the Government to report and send information to the European Commission, which is then able to aggregate it and use it for considering the appropriateness of laws and their implementation. On day 6 in Committee, I gave an example of how losing reporting requirements under article 10 of the birds directive could, for example, present a barrier to future investment in, and the roll-out of, marine renewable energy and other developments. The Government still have not said whether they intend these reporting requirements to disappear.
Without amendment, we will also see a loss of environmental standards and conditions. Some obligations on member states have not been transposed into UK law, such as article 9 of the water framework directive, which requires water pricing policies to provide adequate incentives for users to use water efficiently, or article 5 of the energy efficiency directive on energy performance requirements for publicly owned buildings. We have been promised a green Brexit, and we are told that leaving the EU will not threaten the health of people or nature, so why is there opposition to amending the Bill to make those promises legally binding?
Let me turn briefly to the other new clause tabled in my name. New clause 21 would ensure oversight of the transfer of functions from EU institutions to domestic institutions. It would do that by requiring the Government to establish a publicly accessible register of environmental governance functions and powers exercised by EU institutions and to make regulations that ensure that all relevant environmental powers and functions are continued. The register would allow the public to monitor and hold the Government to account on their plans for robust arrangements to be in place on exit day to deliver their ambition for a world-leading environmental justice system. The new clause also reflects strong public concern that the environmental governance gap that would arise on leaving the EU is filled as quickly as possible.
To conclude, I am simply saying that if the Government want the Bill to match their stated intentions, they need to accept these provisions.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) in respect of her provisions and to have the opportunity this afternoon to talk about the schedule of amendments in front of us, which we have to consider as a block between now and 4 pm.
The hon. Lady’s concern is about the fate of environmental law, as provided to us by the EU, once we leave, and about what provision we will make to provide it with adequate protection. However, the whole list of amendments, including those tabled by the official Opposition, goes to the issue of what happens to areas of entrenched law that have developed during our EU membership after we have gone. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench keep on repeating insistently that it is not the intention, as a result of our removal from the EU, that any of these protections should be diminished in any way at all.
It is true that one or two of my right hon. and hon. Friends have made hinting noises at various times that there are areas that they might like to alter in future, in a way that suggests a possible diminution, but in fairness to the Government, that has never been the Government’s position. Indeed, as we have spent time looking at issues such as equality law or children’s rights, the message has come back over and again that the disappearance of the charter of fundamental rights or environmental law issues, for example, will not be used as an excuse for diminishing the existing legal framework.
The difficulty—it is the one that exercised me in Committee—is that it is all very well Ministers coming to the House and making very pleasant statements that that is what they intend to do, but it must be the responsibility of this House to ask the Government how, in practice, that is to be done, when such a powerful mechanism as our EU membership is about to be removed.
That raises a second and more fundamental problem, where I have considerable sympathy with the Government. I understand why, for many in this House—I think that I count myself as one of them, as a good Conservative—the idea of entrenched rights that override the sovereign power of Parliament is something with which we are not comfortable. Indeed, the official Opposition, when in government post-1997 and when seeking to enact the Human Rights Act 1998, recognised that, in that they did not seek to provide entrenched laws; they sought to provide a mechanism through the Human Rights Act whereby rights under the European convention on human rights might be protected in a special way through declarations of incompatibility. That was not sufficient to override primary legislation of this House, but, of course, it did provide a mechanism by which it could be overridden and struck down in the case of secondary legislation. That has always been a way of doing things that has commended itself to me.
I have always accepted that one of the consequences and problems of EU membership is that it has provided entrenched laws that ultimately override by virtue of our international obligations and the direct effect of the European Court of Justice. So I can understand that there should be reluctance on the Government side of the House, as we leave the EU, to simply take this category of laws and say that we are going to give it a special status that overrides the ordinary way in which this House does its business.
If we do that, however, it raises the question of what the Government propose to do to provide, for example, at least as much protection for these categories of rights as is currently enjoyed under the Human Rights Act. One possibility—we canvassed it in Committee—was that the Government might wish to enact primary legislation to add clauses to the Human Rights Act to provide such a mechanism. Indeed, if the Government were to come up with such a proposal, I would be enthusiastic about it, and it is a matter to which we have to give careful consideration.
I am also aware that some of the rights provided in the charter, for example, clearly pertain to EU citizenship, so they are irrelevant to this country once we leave. I also accept that some of the rights may be said to have a socioeconomic aspect, which makes it debatable whether they should be categorised as rights at all. However, that still leaves a very big area indeed of matters that, as I understand it from listening to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, Ministers acknowledge are of such importance that they are now seen as being equivalent to rights, yet they do not enjoy the protection of the convention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), who is now a Minister—she is busy, I think, in the Department for Exiting the European Union—characterised the inability to get one’s head around the problem with this issue, if I may gently point it out, by first saying that these rights would be wholly protected after we left—they are plainly not—and then actually suggesting that the argument against the Opposition’s proposal was that there were multiple layers of rights. Those two statements cannot both be correct. The fact is that areas such as equality law will no longer enjoy any protection at all. Indeed, that will be capable of being changed by statutory instrument, by virtue of other changes that the Government are introducing in the Bill, so these areas do raise serious issues.
I listen very carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister says about modernising the Conservative party, giving it a broad appeal to younger people, and trying to ensure that we reflect current norms and standards in our country and give effect to them in the policies we develop. I am sorry to have to say this to my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, but it does seem to me that in simply batting this issue away and saying, “Don’t worry; it’s all going to be perfectly all right,” without even coming up with a plan for the future about, say, possibly adding a Bill of Rights clause or rights clauses to the Human Rights Act, we are sending out a very strange message about Conservative Members’ attitude to matters that I believe many in this country now see as rights of a fundamental character, particularly on such issues as LGBT rights.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the best guarantee of the fundamental rights of the British people is the will of the British people as expressed through the Parliaments they elect? That is the system I thought we all believed in. I know of no threats to these important rights coming from this Parliament. There are not people proposing that they are watered down, and there would be no majority to do so. The guarantee to the British people is that their Parliament will look after their rights.
May I gently say to my right hon. Friend that if his analysis were accurate, no statute would ever have been enacted by Parliament, at any stage in its history, providing additional protections to people’s rights over and above the common law? That must be the end point, because the whole point about the Human Rights Act was that it added to protections enjoyed under the common law and did so in a way that was compatible with this House’s sovereignty. All I am saying to Ministers is that given that, for 40 years-plus, we have been involved in an international organisation that in practice has entrenched certain rights, it must now be for Ministers to come forward with a sensible proposal as to how those rights, in so far as the Government consider that they are in fact rights, will be protected in the future.
I am afraid that I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood). Nice as it is to rely upon the Executive’s good will, 21 years in this House—heaven knows, my right hon. Friend has been here far longer—persuades me that that good will is not something that we should always rely on. I am afraid that I have seen a number of instances—particularly when I was in opposition, I might add—where it did not seem very wise to do so.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) that in the end, because we are a sovereign Parliament, we are the only guarantor of our people’s rights. However, I am interested in what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) is saying about this matter, because the other danger that is lurking here is the fact that our courts may well decide that they have an obligation to maintain EU law even in the face of an Act of Parliament, and might strike down an Act of Parliament because, from reading the Bill, they see it as their obligation to retain certain principles of EU law. I like the declaration of incompatibility that my right hon. and learned Friend is suggesting as a very suitable compromise that enshrines what we have.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly good point, which reinforces my impression that it is inadequate simply to say, “Because we are leaving we shall leave this to a later date.” I will return to that later.
We did actually, Mr Speaker, talk about this at some length in Committee. In Committee, as hon. Members may recall, I emphasised that one way out of this difficulty might be to move away from the charter and look at the general principles of EU law. We could allow them to continue to be invoked, in respect of retained EU law, which would include issues such as the laws which we have under the charter, until they were replaced. That seemed to me to be a stopgap. I emphasise that I put it forward as a stopgap—not as a long-term solution, but as a way of getting the Government off the hook of having to accept any part of the charter, because I know that one or two of my hon. Friends choke when they even mention that word. I have never shared that view—I think they should actually go and read the charter, because then they would realise it is rather a reasonable document. My suggestion provided a way forward, and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General very kindly said that he would go away and give the matter some thought, the consequence of which was Government amendments 37 and 38.
I am sorry to start this Report stage with a bit of carping, because later I shall say some very nice things about the response of my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to some of the representations that I made to them in Committee. Some very good things indeed have been done, for which I am grateful—I will talk about those when we come to the right point—but I think that the response on this matter is, frankly, rather paltry. They have provided a mechanism by which for three months—the period in which it is possible to carry out judicial review—after the exit date it will be possible to invoke these rights, but not in a way that challenges any primary legislation. It is a minuscule change, but minuscule though it may be, it is actually a little wedge in the door, because it represents quite a major surrender or change of principle on the part of the Government towards this issue, and to that extent I am delighted to welcome it. Nevertheless, as I think the Solicitor General knows very well, the proposal is not what I was asking for. The problem is that although it starts to remedy the situation, it does not go anything like far enough, particularly when it is not linked to a wider statement from the Government about how they want to go ahead and deal with this.
I had to make a decision about whether to table a further amendment to put to the House on Report. Having rebelled—there is no other way to describe it— against the Government, because that was what I undoubtedly did on clause 9, and indeed incited some of my colleagues to join me in doing so, because I thought that clause 9 was so deficient, it is not my desire to cause further stir, in the harmonious atmosphere of early January, by doing that again if I can possibly avoid it. It crossed my mind that two things appeared to me to militate against doing it. The first is this.
I have to say to the Solicitor General that I do not think that the Bill will pass through the upper House without this issue being considered. It has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Brexit takes place; it has to do with the state of certainty of law in this country, which is a matter to which plenty in the other place are capable of applying their minds. I very much hope that when the Bill goes to the Lords, they will look at the amendment that the Government have tabled and understand its spirit—it is well-intentioned, so I must welcome it—but perhaps decide that it might be capable of a little bit of development. Or, indeed, they may apply their legal minds to this matter and come up with an alternative that does respect—I want to emphasise this—some of the reasons, which I understand, why the Government do not wish to entrench these laws after we have gone.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a point that gets to the heart of the purpose of the Bill, as stated by the Government: this is a technical transfer exercise—it is technically transferring the acquis communautaire into British law to facilitate Brexit. Does not the decision not to transpose the charter of fundamental rights make a mockery of that claim? Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making very valid points about some of the technical alternatives, do we not need to keep returning the Government to their stated fundamental purpose in the Bill?
The hon. Gentleman makes a totally legitimate point, especially as the Government themselves have emphasised how important these issues are to them. We are not turning the clock back to the 1950s—at least, I do not think we are—since when this country has moved on in respect of rights. The challenge to Ministers is that they have to come up with some solution to the problem. As I said, I do not want to put spanners in the works of how they do it.
Another factor influenced my decision not to table another amendment and divide the House on this matter. Realistically, although I realise that some may not like this, in leaving the European Union, we are about to embark on a lengthy period of transitional arrangements during which, in my view—I might be wrong—every jot and tittle of EU law will continue to apply to this country in every conceivable respect, except that we will no longer share in its making in the institutions of the European Union. I am afraid that I think that is where we are going; the alternative, of course, is that we are jumping off the cliff.
If that is where we are going, I accept that there is a little more time for the Government to start to reflect on how they will deal with issues of entrenched law before anybody’s remedy disappears. That is something else that influences me in not wishing to divide my own party or the House. I am always aware that quiet persuasion may be better than speeches from the Back Benches, and for those reasons, a bit more quiet persuasion might get us to where we need to be on this issue, but it will not go away.
My right hon. and learned Friend says that he does not wish to divide the House. However, if he had tabled an amendment and divided the House, and then that vote had been lost, it would have sent a powerful message to their lordships not to mess with the Bill and that the will of the House had been firmly expressed. There would have been an advantage in his position, if he had maintained it.
There might have been, but as a loyal member of the Conservative party over many years, I have always been of the opinion that the best way to try to influence one’s party’s policy is in the quietest way possible. As this issue has the merit of being able to succeed in that way, I shall stick to my strategy. Of course, if and when I think it necessary for me to do something else, I could, very reluctantly, be forced to do so. On this matter, however, I prefer to leave it.
I turn to a related matter about which I did table an amendment, which I do not wish to press to a vote. It goes to the other issues about the certainty of retained EU law. There is an inevitable internal incoherence about how retained EU law is being handled in the Bill. In reality, retained EU law has a primary quality, because in all likelihood most of it is supreme over our own laws. Oddly enough, that situation is going, at least in part, to be retained, but the Government have dealt with that by allowing it all to be altered through statutory instruments.
In Committee, we tried to find a way out—I tried quite hard. That is why I have tabled new clause 13, which provides a way of identifying what EU legislation is in reality primary and what is secondary. I thought that the House might be interested—if it is not, the other place might be—in how one might go about making that separation, which would then provide a sensible measure of greater certainty. At the moment, the Government’s proposal, as I understand it, is that each measure will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. That seems a rather extraordinary way in which to proceed.
For that reason, I have put the new clause and a couple of consequential amendments forward for the consideration of the House. If the proposal were to be accepted, or taken away and thought about further, it would allow for what I think would be a credible mechanism by which we could identify primary and secondary legislation that had been retained and had come to us from the EU. I will say no more about that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) is not in the Chamber this afternoon, but she also put forward the issue, which comes into this bracket, of whether after exit day people would be able to litigate on matters that arose pre exit day exactly as if we had remained in the EU. That raises a fundamental issue of legal propriety that as yet remains unresolved. I note that the Government have not responded, although I understood that there would be a response. Perhaps it will come in the other place, in which case I will greatly welcome it.
I am conscious that I do not want to take up more of the House’s time. We have a problem that ought, in fact, to unite both sides of the House about how best to go about retaining what is best of EU law. Although we have made some steps in the right direction, I regret that I do not think we have yet got anywhere near enough to the point at which I can feel really comfortable that we have done things as well as we should.
Fortunately—or unfortunately, because in many ways I would love to get the process of Brexit out of the way as quickly as possible—we will have ample time over a considerable period to reflect on this matter before we finally achieve some longer-term stability. That encourages me to allow the Government to reflect, rather than challenging them on this issue.
Order. Forgive me. Before the hon. Gentleman gets under way—I think the Minister is keen to follow—I want to say that a number of Back Benchers wish to contribute. I am very keen that they be fully heard; I do not want the debate to be dominated by the Front Benchers, who I am sure will make succinct contributions.
I will seek to live up to that expectation, Mr Speaker; I do not intend to speak for long.
Amendment 4 addresses one of the six key tests that we set out for the Bill before we could support it. Those tests were not set out simply on Second Reading or in Committee, but 10 months ago, when the White Paper outlining the Government’s approach was first published.
The tests drew support across the House, but sadly the Government have made no significant concessions. In Committee, a meaningful vote for Parliament on the final deal was secured, of course—but against the wishes of the Government and only by decision of the House. Our five amendments at this stage address those other tests: facilitating a transitional period; protecting the devolution settlement; protecting workers’ rights; reining in the Henry VIII powers; and, in amendment 4, retaining the EU charter of fundamental rights in UK law.
The objective of amendment 4, which would retain charter rights in UK law and afford them the same level of protection as those in the Human Rights Act, has wide support on both sides of the House. It is part of a sensible and responsible approach to Brexit that respects the referendum decision but does not sacrifice jobs and the economy or rights and protections on the altar of ideology. It is a sensible approach for which I believe there is a majority across the House—one that goes well beyond those who voted for amendment 7 in Committee. It is also a consensus that I think is reflected in the other place, from which I suspect we might see the Bill return with some improvements, as the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield indicated.
The Opposition support amendments 42 and 43, which would enable UK courts to continue to refer matters to the Court of Justice and to consider CJEU decision to be persuasive. As well as amendment 55, we also support new clause 13, amendments 40 and 41, on clarifying the status of retained law, and new clause 16 on enshrining equality rights, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous). We also support new clause 7 on animal sentience and new clause 9 on the acquired rights of Anguillans—an indication of the enormous complexity and range of the issues we face with Brexit. We accept that Government amendments 37 and 38 improve the Bill, but we fear that they do not go anywhere near far enough on legal challenges based on the general principles of EU law, which is why we prefer and support amendment 57, which was moved so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy).
Amendment 4 addresses the concerns we raised in Committee around the charter of fundamental rights and provides an opportunity for the Government to think again. Human rights should not be a dividing line between parties in this House, so even at this stage we hope that the Government, either here or in the Lords, might accept our approach in the amendment and perhaps even accept the amendment today and avoid the vote that we will otherwise be seeking. As we said in Committee, the charter has been critical in developing, strengthening and modernising human rights in the UK. To abandon it risks reducing protections for UK citizens and leaving a gaping hole in our statute book.
The Government claim that the Bill is about legal continuity and certainty in what will become the new category of EU retained law, but all of that EU law is interpreted through the charter, so excluding it would leave our legal system inconsistent and incoherent. To avoid defeat on this issue in Committee the former Justice Minister, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), committed to publishing a memorandum that he claimed would confirm the Government’s case that the charter was unnecessary by identifying where all of these rights could be found in EU retained law or existing domestic law.
Obviously that argument overlooked the main point of the charter, which was to bring all of these rights together in one codifying document, but as an Opposition we were willing to be helpful and awaited the memorandum with interest. We wanted to see a comprehensive document that identified not only the source of each right in the charter but—crucially—how the existing level of effective recourse would be guaranteed. The memorandum was published on 5 December, and it acknowledged that the Government envisaged all these rights being scattered back to their original sources. They are removing the material source of the rights, in the form of the charter, and leaving citizens with the formal source. Now that is a legal way of describing the problem, but I am not a lawyer. It means in effect that it will become more difficult for any UK citizen to assert their rights post-Brexit.
In their defence, the Government insisted that nothing would be lost if we dropped the charter because it created no new rights.
I see the Solicitor General nodding. On this crucial issue, however, the Government’s cover has been blown. For this, I would like to thank the new Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) —I am sorry she is not in her place today—because in an article in The Daily Telegraph on 18 November last year she made our case clearly. She expressed her concern about the charter precisely because it provided new rights. She wrote that it went beyond the European convention on human rights by creating “extra layers of rights”, and she went on to bemoan the fact that these extra rights covered
“everything from biomedicine and eugenics to personal data and collective bargaining”.
I appreciate that her thinking on this will probably be in line with that of her new boss, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, because he relied of course on the extra rights provided by the charter when he brought his own court case against the now Prime Minister asserting his right to personal data.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. In addition to the points he has just made, the Exiting the European Union Committee heard evidence from witnesses who said that something would be lost if the charter was not transferred. Given that the whole purpose of the Bill is to take the law as it is now and make sure it is still there the day after, does he agree that the Government have thus far failed to persuade the House that the one thing that should be left out is the charter of fundamental rights?
I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend, and I hope even at this stage that Members across the House might join us in supporting amendment 4.
I do not often agree with the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham, but I am delighted to say that in this case I do. She is right that the charter does indeed go beyond the European convention on human rights and that EU retained law will be incoherent without it. Our amendment is necessary, therefore, if we are to achieve the Government’s own stated objective of protecting the rights of UK citizens. This is a crucial issue. The chair of the Government’s own Equality and Human Rights Commission, David Isaac, has said:
“The government has promised there will be no rowing back on people’s rights after Brexit. If we lose the charter protections, that promise will be broken. It will cause legal confusion and there will be gaps in the law.”
These are serious concerns. Human rights should not be a dividing line across the House but should be seen as a British value, and I urge all Members who do not want Brexit hijacked and the rights of UK citizens diluted and reduced to support the amendment.
I want to speak briefly to several of the amendments in this group. In particular, I want to encourage the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) to elaborate on his rather carefully crafted new clause 13, which sets out quite a clever solution to the vexed question of EU retained law. He slightly rushed through his explanation of the new clause towards the end of his speech, but as I understand it, he is suggesting that, rather than treating as a new category of law the whole corpus of 40 years of accrued EU legislation, rights and duties that we all enjoy—or not, depending on how they apply—for the purposes of future amendment or reform of those rights and retained law, certain aspects should be treated as primary legislation and others as secondary legislation.
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman was saying that issues that fell under article 289 should be treated as primary legislation because they were of greater import, and that if we wanted to amend them again in the future we should do so by Act of Parliament, whereas aspects of retained EU law that related to delegated instruments under article 290 should be treated as secondary legislation, and if there were future reforms of those aspects, Parliament could use the secondary procedure. It would be most helpful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could give us a little more detail about why he felt that those were the right categories to pursue.
I am certainly not going to make a mini-speech; I said what I felt was sufficient. I offer the new clause not as a perfect solution, but as an alternative to what I consider to be the rather incoherent approach that the Government have adopted. The new clause seemed to me to have some merit, especially because it includes a provision allowing the status of retained EU law to be altered by statutory instrument, so the House could be done with the process quite quickly. I thought that it was a way of trying to resolve what I saw as a practical problem. Let me emphasise that it was not intended to be a weapon with which to beat Ministers on the head. I saw it merely as a sensible way of trying to take things forward, and I present it to the Committee in that spirit. It is not perfect, but represents another way in which we might approach the issue.
This may seem a dry and technical question, but from time to time Parliament does reflect on the nature of legislation that has been passed. We all assume that it has been accrued through Acts of Parliament or through secondary legislation, but we are now importing a third category, that of retained EU law, into our legal context, and we need to know how to treat it in the future. I do not think that the Government have addressed that question adequately, which is why I think that new clause 13 is of particular interest.
One of the perplexing aspects of Brexit is the lack of certainty. Many external advisers have come to see us, both in our capacity as constituency MPs and as people who are concerned about the economy and the legal picture and who are asking for certainty. The new clause would assist that process.
These issues are very much to do with legal clarity. They are to do with ensuring that the body of our law can operate smoothly and with stability, and that the courts can properly interpret the way in which various rights will apply in the circumstances that our individual constituents may encounter.
You were not in the Chair during the Committee stage, Mr Speaker, but you may recall that we had some discussion about aspects of the charter of fundamental rights. Amendment 4, and amendment 7 tabled by members of the Scottish National party, makes the important point that, as we heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), this is not a simple “copy and paste” piece of legislation. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn): it seems very peculiar that the charter has been explicitly excluded from the carrying forward of rights. Ministers say, “Do not worry: all those matters are already covered”, or “Common law can deal with them adequately”, but I do not think that such verbal assurances are good enough, and evidence given to the Exiting the European Union Committee bears that out.
The Select Committee consists of Members in all parts of the House. Far be it from me to interfere with the way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central manages—heaven knows how—to steer through a report compiled by a Committee that is not only august but enormous. Evidence was submitted, however, and I do not think that it can be swept away.
Let me remind the Committee what we are talking about when we refer to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. We are talking about rights that relate to
“dignity, the right to life, to freedom from torture, slavery, the death penalty, eugenic practices and human cloning”.
We are talking about
“freedoms, the right to liberty, personal integrity, privacy, protection of personal data”—
which will be a massive issue when it arises later in our proceedings—
“marriage, thought, religion, expression, assembly, education, work, property and asylum”.
We are talking about
“equality, the right to equality before the law, prohibition of all discrimination including on the basis of disability, age and sexual orientation, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, the rights of children and the elderly”.
Again, some of those rights are not necessarily enshrined in primary legislation, but have accrued because of our membership of the European Union over several decades. We are talking about
“solidarity, the right to fair working conditions, protection against unjustified dismissal, and access to health care, social and housing assistance…citizens’ rights, the rights of citizens such as the right to vote in elections and to move freely, the right to good administration, to access documents and to petition Parliament”.
We are also talking about justiciable rights:
“the right to an effective remedy, a fair trial, to the presumption of innocence, the principle of legality, non-retrospectivity and double jeopardy.”
We can all point to parts of existing UK law where many of those rights may be covered adequately, but other rights—particularly those relating to children and families and to social policy—are connected very much with EU law.
The catalogue of rights that the hon. Gentleman has just read out is impressive, without a shadow of a doubt. Will he concede, however, that throughout the glorious history of this place, Governments of all political persuasions have enshrined, in primary legislation and elsewhere, rights that include almost all of those? Indeed, in continental Europe, when many of those rights were being stripped down and attacked, this place had a fantastic track record of defending them both in the UK and in other parts of the world, spilling the blood of our young people in order to do so. How on earth can the hon. Gentleman think that we would strip them away?
No one is more proud of being a member of this fine body than I am. Parliament is a great institution: I would say that it is one of the greatest democratic institutions in the world. We are perfectly capable of dealing with many of these issues, but the hon. Gentleman unwittingly went against his own argument when he said “almost” all the rights in the charter were covered or duplicated in primary legislation. Not all of them are covered, as was made clear in some of the evidence that the Select Committee heard.
Is there not a fundamental inconsistency here? The Government’s reason for not including the charter is that those rights are covered in domestic law, so it would not add anything, but they propose to include thousands of other directives and rules, many of which we would also be unlikely to change in domestic law. The very same argument could be applied to those thousands of other rules that the Bill goes out of its way to incorporate. The Government say, “We do not want to change the labour laws; we do not want to change the environmental rules; we do not want to change the consumer rights.” However, they apply a different logic to the charter. Why does my hon. Friend think that is?
The logic of the Government is a mystery sometimes, and I wonder whether the Solicitor General actually secretly agrees that these are important rights that need to be defended and that the Government have got themselves into a bit of a pickle, possibly because they drafted this Bill before the general election and therefore before they saw some of the consequences of these things.
Those of us who are gay, who went to school in the 1980s and who remember very well the impact of section 28 might baulk at the idea that every Government have given rights and not taken them away. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a fundamental reason why we need to share and stay within the European Union and the fundamental rights system it provides?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That right of protection for freedoms and liberties on the grounds of sexual orientation is enshrined in the charter of fundamental rights. One of the examples given was civil partnerships where in the future pension rights might be divided but at the time when the partnerships took place certain UK laws were not in place; the charter provides protections against discrimination in a way that existing UK law does not.
My hon. Friend is making a strong point and I strongly support what he is saying and Labour Front-Bench amendment 4. I accept that many Conservative Members would strongly defend the rights in the charter and other provisions we have agreed to, but does my hon. Friend agree that the public have reason to be deeply suspicious, because they hear many Conservative Members talk about a race to the bottom in regulation, particularly in employment rights, and about wanting to scrap the Human Rights Act and pull us out of the European convention on human rights? That is why keeping such rights is so crucial.
That is right, and my hon. Friend will also remember that, before becoming Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) cited many of the rights in the charter in his own legal case against the then Home Secretary, who is now the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman took a case against her and cited many of the provisions in the charter; how strange it is that he now introduces a Bill that does not necessarily carry forward those provisions.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that the issue at hand is not whether those of us in this Chamber now might want to change the rights and protections we currently have, but the process by which those laws and rights could be changed and the ease and lack of accountability and transparency that could put them at risk in future?
I can certainly imagine cases where our constituents, feeling the need to assert some of those rights in the charter in future, find themselves falling foul of the provision in clause 5 that says, all of a sudden, that the charter of fundamental rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day. They enjoyed those rights hitherto; where would that situation leave them?
The Government, when being sued by the tobacco companies which did not like plain packaging and thought it was against their rights of expression, cited the right to public health in the charter of fundamental rights and managed to defeat those tobacco companies. The charter of fundamental rights proved important not just for our constituents, but for the Government themselves in upholding what was a good piece of public policy at the time.
I think I played a small part in that, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Does he agree that all political parties are very keen to appeal to younger voters and that things such as rights really matter to young people, so it could be seen as somewhat ironic that a party that wants to get more young people to vote for it seems to be turning its back on provision for these very important rights?
I am sure that advice will have been heard in senior quarters. Indeed a vice-chair of the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), is sitting on the row in front of the right hon. Lady. He is a very senior and eminent individual now, who has great responsibility for digging the Conservative party out of quite a deep hole.