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.
Given the £48 billion of costs to the Exchequer from family breakdown, will my hon. Friend meet me and a delegation to discuss how we can further strengthen marriage through the tax system and help people to keep more of what they earn?
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.
Could the Chancellor tell the House whether income inequality has gone up or down since 2010? How does income inequality today compare with levels under the last Labour Government?
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.
Will the Chancellor confirm that the lowest-paid have in fact seen a 7% real- terms wage increase since 2015, and that income inequality is now at its lowest level for 30 years?
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.
As a matter of principle, it is not the position of Her Majesty’s Treasury to apply tax changes retrospectively but, as I have indicated, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I will be looking carefully at the issues that my hon. Friend has raised.
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?
My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. He might like to make specific representations to me on the matters he has raised. Indeed, if he wishes to meet me to discuss them, I would be very happy to do so.
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.
Does the Chancellor agree it is essential that our policies continue to show that we are living within our means, because the alternative—a failure to do so—simply passes on our bills to the next generation?
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?
I am not aware of any direct exposure of Her Majesty’s Government as a creditor of Carillion, but I will check, write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
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?
My right hon. Friend makes a sensible point. The Government have empowered the independent Financial Policy Committee to advise them on these matters, and to keep a close watch on the level of debt.
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.
When will incentives to save exceed those to borrow?
Obviously I do not have a crystal ball, and as the economy grows, different patterns of behaviour will ensue. It is not for the Government to tell people what to do; we are trying to secure a growing economy in which people have the choice.
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?
The Government recognise the challenges facing those on lower salaries, which is why we have increased the tax-free allowance, have had the eighth successive fuel duty freeze, and have increased the national living wage above the inflation rate.
Will the Minister confirm that the lowest paid have had a real-terms pay increase of 7% since 2015, showing that this Government’s policies are targeted to help the lowest paid?
My hon. Friend is right. The Government do not take anything for granted and will look very closely at what is happening with the poorest in our society.
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.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for his answer, and does he agree that leaving the UK single market would pose a far greater risk to the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland economies than leaving the EU single market?
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 hon. Gentleman will know that I have been arguing for the last year for a jobs-first, prosperity-first Brexit, which means negotiating the closest possible relationship with the EU after we leave that union, and that is what we intend to do.
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?
Yes, we have identified regional disparity as one of the drivers of low productivity in the UK. Raising the productivity performance, particularly that of our great cities outside London, is key to raising UK’s performance overall.
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?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I said in my answer to the previous question, we have increased the budget for the Welsh Government. How they choose to spend that money, and how wisely they do that, is another question.
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?
I am surprised that the hon. Lady is not interested in the news we heard earlier, which is that those on the lowest incomes have seen a 7% real-terms pay rise since 2015, enabling them to support their families.
Does the Chief Secretary agree that one of the best ways of creating employment is to simplify tax structures to help small and medium-sized enterprises to create employment right across the United Kingdom?
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?
What we can agree is that the Government are united in working to secure the best and most ambitious Brexit deal. That will mean a bespoke deal that will not damage the long-term interests of the economy.
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.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee, for that. I am aware of her previous exchanges with the Chancellor, who has undertaken to look at this issue. I will be working with him and we will respond in due course.
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.
Does my hon. Friend agree that since deciding to leave the EU this Government have overseen record jobs, with quarter 4 figures for 2017 showing improved productivity? Does he agree that Britain’s best years lie ahead?
The negotiations that this country faces are complex, but I will take an optimistic approach to all the discussions that I undertake at the Treasury and elsewhere going forward.
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.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that lowering business taxes, as this Government have done, is not a race to the bottom but is vital in building and maintaining the strong economy on which we all depend?
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?
Yes. There are two ways to get our debt falling as a percentage of GDP. By far the easiest way, and the most agreeable way for our constituents, is to grow the economy so that the denominator shrinks.
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?
As my hon. Friend knows, we are seeking a bespoke vehicle for a deep and special partnership, and we are certainly prepared to look into any constructive suggestion from any part of the House.
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?
Membership of the European economic area, which EFTA would entail, involves under current rules compliance with the four freedoms, and that means free movement of people, which the British people rejected in the referendum in 2016.
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?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I am shortly due to visit the centre in Cheltenham and I look forward to seeing him there.
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.
The current funding formula for local government is opaque, historical and disadvantages Leicestershire. Does the Minister agree that it would be attractive to move to a transparent formula based on the real drivers of costs?
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are committed to introducing a fair funding formula, and my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, has committed to move forward with that programme this year.
I can assure the hon. Lady that I am in regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Scotland about the growth deals across Scotland. We have already committed to a number of growth deals and are certainly looking at further ones.
We are very time constrained today. One sentence—Alex Burghart.
Will the Minister welcome the fact that UK manufacturing is at an eight-year high?
Councils such as Gedling Borough Council and Nottinghamshire County Council are setting their budgets now, and they face a funding crisis. What are the Government going to do about it?
We have given councils the power to raise more funds in the draft local government finance settlement, but councils also need to look at how they can become more efficient, share back offices and use modern technology.
Unemployment in my constituency is down by over 50%, but will my right hon. Friend consider a new round of enterprise zone bidding opportunities to help further that success story?
We will give consideration to my hon. Friend’s suggestion.
Will the Chancellor clarify whether the terms of the public sector private finance initiative contracts with Carillion allow for those contracts to be sold on to other private companies in the event of liquidation?
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.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I shall do my best in the Chair to facilitate full debate and such votes as there is an appetite to have.
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.
Order. This, if I may say so to the hon. Gentleman, is a mini-speech, with more emphasis on the speech than on the mini.
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.
As ever, it is a genuine privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), whose integrity and honesty have shone through every day we have been debating this Bill.
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.
I read what the report said about the issue of the charter of fundamental rights, and I must say that I thought it very inconclusive. I do not think that the Committee took a strong position on either side of the debate.
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.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to show us his spade, I will give way to him.
I am not trying to scrape over the point I made earlier, but I am very proud of the history of this place in enacting and protecting rights whether they are in primary legislation or not. The implication of what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that, upon our departure from the EU, unless we bind the hands of Governments of the future in some way, we can no longer trust this place to enhance and protect human rights. Can he reassure me that in no way is he implying that this place will in any way in the foreseeable future row back from its commitment to extending human rights?
Who knows what will happen in terms of future majorities in this place. The hon. Gentleman is still not explaining to me why this issue of all the issues should not be carried forward into legislation. He says he is in favour of almost all or all, of the rights in the charter, but we know there are examples where problems arise.
The Government boast about their protection of human rights, and of course they sign up to UN conventions on the protection of rights of women and children, but they do not then incorporate those rights into our domestic legislation, and because we have a dualist system in terms of international law the rights in UN conventions are not directly applicable in the UK. That is why it is so important that we retain the charter of fundamental rights, and that the Government give a commitment today that they will do so.
The hon. Lady’s legal experience speaks volumes about the issue. Simply explaining that one is in favour of these rights, having Members on the Conservative Benches say “They are all really important”, saying that in leaflets and posting them through letterboxes at elections, and having Ministers at the Dispatch Box saying, “Trust us, it’s all fine” cannot provide the solid protections that our constituents need in a court of law, whereas the charter of fundamental rights can currently do that.
They have never been in any of my leaflets. I may be in danger of repeating myself now, but when did that ever stop anyone? The reality is that I remember sitting where the hon. Gentleman is sitting now and being told from the Dispatch Box on this side of the Chamber by his party colleague the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) that the charter would never apply in the United Kingdom and indeed that it would have no more force than a copy of The Beano.
As it happens, since that time we have learned that the charter provides extremely important protections for many citizens. I do not think the Government would have cited it in legal actions against the tobacco companies if it were such an unimportant protection.
Does not the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) make our point for us? So many on the Tory Benches disregard the importance of the charter.
I am worried. The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) was saying to her hon. Friends, “Be careful because our constituents do care about rights.” She said in particular that younger people care about rights. They really do matter. They may not matter to them in their daily lives today, but they may matter to them or their family or relatives or the environment tomorrow. Those are all things our constituents care about.
The hon. Gentleman has been incredibly generous in taking interventions throughout his speech. When this matter was debated at the previous stage, we had a long discussion on the charter of fundamental rights and it was clear that it divides into three sections. One section is already covered by the Human Rights Act, another section will be meaningless when we leave Europe—it includes rights such as the right to petition the European Parliament—and there is a middle section where there are rights that we should look at carefully. The right way to deal with that is through a constitutional Bill in due course to reset our own rights settlement in this country for all citizens, not just for European law.
If that were the right way, the Government would have introduced a Bill to provide such certainty, instead of saying, “Mañana. Maybe at some point in the future we will try to close this loophole.” We have the Trade Bill now, as well as the Nuclear Safeguards Bill and a customs Bill. We are supposed to have an immigration Bill at some point, although I suspect that the Government are having a few difficulties figuring out how to bring it forward. These Bills are supposed to be the fundamental underpinnings of the copy-and-paste process that the Government are pursuing. They are supposed to be taking aspects of European Union rules and regulations and ensuring that they will still be here after March 2019, but no Bill relating to the charter of fundamental rights has been brought forward.
The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of some of these rights, but may I suggest that incorporating the charter would create complete legal confusion? Under the convention, there is purely a power to make a declaration of incompatibility. Under the charter, however, UK law can actually be trumped. The extraordinary situation could arise in which, if a prohibition against slavery were breached, the courts could merely say that it was incompatible, but if there were a breach relating to data protection, UK law could be trumped. That would create confusion and chaos, which is not what we need in this country.
Personally, I believe that Parliament does and should value the provisions of the charter of fundamental human rights. I trust our legal system to be able to reconcile textual difficulties between different Acts. I would rather operate on the precautionary principle and have those rights covered within our law than see the protections that are offered to our constituents expunged at this point, only to unwittingly discover later that the rights we used to have under the charter are no longer provided for because the Government of the day did not want to transpose them.
While talking about rights, but in a completely different context, I want to talk about new clause 7, which has been tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). It relates to animal sentience and the welfare of animals—not human rights but animal rights. If there is one issue that can be guaranteed to fill all our inboxes, it is the protection of animal rights. Our constituents really do care about this issue. The Government have already got into a tremendous pickle over this, and it would have been funny if it were not so tragic to see the Secretary of State for the Environment scrabbling around trying to pretend that, all of a sudden, the Government really cared about these matters.
Brexit will affect this area quite considerably. On the International Trade Committee, we heard evidence from various animal rights organisations and others involved in the agricultural trade sector, including the National Farmers Union and those involved with what are known as the sanitary and phytosanitary regulations relating to the import and export of animal products. There is a reason that the Americans dip their chickens in chlorine, Mr Speaker. I do not know whether you have had chlorinated chicken recently. I am not that fussy myself, but perhaps we will be invited to a tasting session at the new American embassy at some point. The reason they dip their chickens in chlorine is that the welfare standards that cover their abattoirs and the way in which their animals are looked after before slaughter are far worse than ours. Before the animals reach the consumer, they need to be cleaned up in a way that is not necessary here in the UK because we have higher welfare standards, not least by virtue of our membership of the European Union. Across all the European Union, we take a precautionary principle when it comes to this kind of regulation. We do not have to dip our chickens in chlorine, because they are already subject to certain health and safety standards.
Animal welfare issues matter in relation to trade as well. I find it perplexing when Conservative Members say that our salvation will be a trade deal with President Trump and the United States. We all know that the primary goal of the United States will be to have a treaty in respect of agriculture. If we do such a deal, the Americans will want to sell us animal products that have been produced under lower welfare and regulatory standards. That will be the deal they will seek. However, if the Secretary of State for the Environment says that we are going to have exactly the same regulatory standards as we have now, he will effectively be telling the Americans that there can be no trade deal. That would be the outcome—[Interruption.] It would certainly be a very big sticking point.
In Dover and Ramsgate in east Kent, we have to put up with the evil and wicked trade of live animal exports, and we have to do that because of European law. We now see an opportunity to stop that evil trade, for the sake of our communities and for animal welfare, by leaving the European Union and taking back control. Does the hon. Gentleman not welcome that?
There are ways of mending, improving and reforming animal safety standards within the European Union. We should be making the case to do that. We do not want to throw away the benefits that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents enjoy, such as being free from traffic jams—not all the time but on many occasions. If Dover has to institute all the necessary sanitary and phytosanitary checking and inspections, with all the warehousing arrangements and other obstacles and regulations that will be needed at the border because we have left the European Union, his constituents will be mightily annoyed by the bureaucracy that they will encounter.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the Government had had the political will to do this, they could have ended live animal exports by now? There are already references in the EU treaties to public morals, so they could have done it if they had had the political will to do so. Also, if the Government really want to persuade us that they care as much about animal welfare as they claim to do, why on earth would they oppose the new clause? It will simply ensure that we do not have a gap when we leave the EU and before the new Bill, if it happens, comes in?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. In relation to specific issues relating to Brexit, the Government are finding, when the rubber hits the road, not only that there are potential problems such as the one relating to an American trade deal but that an awful lot of their constituents are saying, “Hang on a minute, what exactly are you doing about animal rights issues? Where will we be when we exit from these particular provisions?”
My hon. Friend knows that we do not agree on many issues relating to the EU, but we were both elected on the same glorious day in May 1997, and he will remember that our postbags then were full of campaigns to stop the export of live animals to Europe. The reason that that did not happen was not a lack of political will. The reason that the Labour Government, the coalition Government and the Conservative Government did not change the law is that it is a fundamental part of the treaty of Rome. That gives the lie to the argument that the EU can be reformed from inside. The treaty of Rome is not going to be reformed.
Treaties are reformed every time there are adaptations to them, whether it is Maastricht, Nice or Lisbon. The body of European rules and regulations is adapted and reformed all the time. It is all part of working together in co-operation. Sometimes we get our way on particular issues; sometimes we have to continue to argue our case. That is the nature of pooling some of our rules and sharing sovereignty in some respects with our wider neighbours. That is the nature of agriculture and of the environment in which we live.
It is an absolute fallacy to suggest that this Government have been dying to ban live animal exports and that it is only the EU that has held them back. I think it was Germany and the Netherlands that tried in the past few years to put a limit of eight hours, transit time on live exports. The UK went along to those negotiations and argued against those proposals. This is definitely a question of political will.
My hon. Friend absolutely nails the point and brings it home. She knows a great deal more about such issues than I do. The Government of the day do have a say on the rules and can sometimes effect reforms or block them.
I do have to conclude my speech, but I will give way to the hon. Lady first.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but this country is a leader in animal welfare legislation, having introduced the concept of unnecessary suffering in 1915 and, in effect, the first protections for animal welfare, and we have continued that process. Indeed, this Government have reformed animal welfare and this country has high animal welfare protection standards.
We do have high animal welfare standards. I do not deny that there could always be improvements, but I want to retain what our constituents want, which is high standards. By leaving the European Union in this particular way, I worry that we will be forcing ourselves to chase after trade deals with other jurisdictions that have a totally different approach to regulation. The world effectively has three regulatory philosophies: the Chinese have a particular view of regulation; the European Union has a precautionary principle; and the Americans have a different cost-benefit analysis view of the world. If we depart from the precautionary principle ambit, that will affect agriculture, animal rights and many other issues. It would lead to wholly different and lower regulatory standards, which in some ways is the backdrop to this whole question.
I will take one last intervention, but then I must conclude.
No, I have to conclude.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being very generous. Does he recognise that people are suspicious given that, for example, the new Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), who has just joined us in the Chamber, said that the Government were right not to copy the charter of fundamental rights into UK law because lawyers will love the extra rights that it gives? That shows the real intention behind what some Ministers want, which is to bring down the rights that have protected so many people and workers, the environment, and safety.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) on her appointment, but I am very much looking forward to her speech, which will perhaps wind up one of the sections of this debate, because Parliament will want to scrutinise her views, past and present. I will conclude with that because I have taken up more than half an hour and other Members will want to contribute.
Order. I will take Joanna Cherry next and then Mr Kenneth Clarke.
I rise to discuss amendment 7, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends and other Members and relates to the charter of fundamental rights, and amendments 42 and 43, which are in my name, and to give support to amendment 55, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who will be addressing it in due course. The amendments raise issues relating to the protection of fundamental rights, about which we have already had quite a degree of discussion today, and to the justiciability of those rights and their legal certainty in this country and its jurisdictions after Brexit. The amendments tabled by the Scottish National party have the support of the Law Society of Scotland, and those that relate to the charter have widespread support, including from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I am also interested in the wording of amendment 4, which was tabled by the official Opposition, and if I do not press my amendment, they can count on the SNP’s support should they press amendment 4 to a vote.
The questions raised by the amendments have all yet to be answered adequately by the Government. As the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) alluded to earlier in his erudite contribution, the Government’s approach to the detailed and widely held concerns about aspects of the Bill tends to be rather dismissive or deals with them airily and in generalities. At this stage, before the Bill goes to the other place, which is unaccountable and undemocratically elected, it is incumbent on the Government to address the questions about clauses 5 and 6 that were directed to them in Committee, rather than to continue to deal in the generalities that they have used so far.
The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), who is no longer in his place, made a valid point earlier. When we hear constant reassurances from Government Members that this Parliament could not possibly do anything to contravene fundamental rights, we do not need to look back very far into our history, or into the lifetimes of many in this House, to see a prolonged period when the rights of gay people were denigrated by a Conservative Government through the use of section 28.
That was a long time ago.
It was not that long ago. Some of us were at school or were students at the time and fought very hard against it. Some of us still find it rather irksome to see the modern Conservative party presented as a great defender of gay rights, because we remember the years when it was not. It has seen the light since then and that is a good thing, but the contravention of human rights is something that Governments do from time to time, which is why it is necessary to have protections that go over and above the whims of the party in power.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because I think it needs to be put on the record that, as a Conservative, I could not be prouder of what we achieved between 2010 and 2015, when we introduced equal marriage. I also pay tribute to the fact that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives happens to be gay. We just need to move on from all this. We should not talk about the past, but look to the future. We are very proud of our history as it now is in the Conservative party.
I am sorry that the right hon. Lady has failed to take my point, which is that this is not about what has happened over the past five years, when there has been cross-party support across the United Kingdom—apart from the Democratic Unionist party—for things such as equal marriage. I am talking about recent history and my lifetime as a gay woman. When I was at school and when I was a student, the Conservative party had a policy of completely quashing the aspirations of gay people. We were not even allowed to hear about what our lives might be like when we grew up. That is an example of why we need protections that go over and above the Government and the majority of the day.
Conservative Members do not like to hear it, but there are other similar examples from our recent history. Try telling the members of the nationalist and Catholic community in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and ’70s, whose civil liberties and human rights were routinely undermined, that they were defended by this House. They are now, and it is wonderful that we have moved on, but those rights were not protected in the past—in our lifetime—and that is why we need independent support for fundamental rights. It simply will not do for the Government to say that we can get rid of the charter and that all the rights in it will be protected in United Kingdom law, because they are not. I gave an example in Committee of where such rights were not protected—namely, the loophole in the Walker case in the Supreme Court, but we have yet to hear how the Government propose to close the loophole—and there are other examples.
The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), the Opposition spokesman, made the point that the cat was rather let out of the bag when the new Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), wrote an article for The Daily Telegraph last year—I mentioned this in Committee—saying that it was right to get rid of the charter because it contained many rights that she would like to see the back of. I wonder whether that isolated attack on the charter, as the one bit of European law that the Government do not want to bring into UK law, is connected to their previous antipathy to the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights. We have been hearing conflicting noises from Government Members about their attitude to the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, and I would be interested to hear the Government’s long-term proposals. We have a new Justice Secretary; what is his view on the matter?
In any event, it is important for us to bear in mind that there are many voices from different parts of British society who want to keep the charter, including all the Opposition parties, the devolved Governments in Scotland and in Wales, large parts of the legal profession, significant parts of the judiciary, respected think-tanks and respected non-governmental organisations. It is time for the Government to take note of views held beyond the House and beyond their own party. This is similar to the attitude the Government take towards the views of the people of Scotland, 62% of whom voted to remain. We will debate what passes for the Government’s amendments on devolved issues later today, but the distinguished Scottish political commentator Gerry Hassan wrote in the newspaper earlier this week that:
“British politics as currently conducted cannot go on indefinitely, with the will of the people interpreted on the basis of just one June 2016 vote, but ignored in everything else…public opinion north of the border cannot be permanently ignored without profound consequences.”
Do not just take that from Mr Hassan, or indeed from the Opposition. The Conservative party’s spokesperson on constitutional affairs in Scotland, Professor Adam Tomkins, said at the weekend that
“the political price of enacting legislation without consent”—
from the Scottish Parliament—
“might be quite significant indeed.”
The wilful ignoring of the will of the Scottish people highlights a democratic deficit at the heart of the United Kingdom, which is why I and other Scottish National party Members would like to see an independent Scotland. The irony is that those who push so strongly for Brexit complain about a democratic deficit in the European Union, and many of them hold that view sincerely, but they seem not to care a jot for the democratic deficit in this Union, the United Kingdom.
Many of the amendments being considered today are about defending democracy, and it is right they should be debated and determined by this House, not by the undemocratic and unaccountable House of Lords. The House of Lords contains a significant number of able people—indeed, I look forward to hearing what they have to say about aspects of this Bill—but they are not accountable in the way that Members of this House are. We should be debating these issues, which is why it is so disgraceful that the Government have not tabled their substantive amendments on devolution. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) will speak about that in more detail later.
The SNP’s amendments, and indeed Labour’s amendment, on the charter are supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and many hon. Members will have had the benefit of reading the EHRC’s briefing and the opinion it commissioned from distinguished senior counsel Jason Coppel on the Government’s right-by-right analysis, which was published back in December 2017. The analysis repeats the Government’s assurance that the rights provided by the charter will not be weakened following Brexit, which we already know is not the view of the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham; nor is it the view of Mr Coppel, who has produced a detailed opinion showing that the loss of the charter will result in a loss of rights in a number of ways.
As I and others said in Committee, there are gaps and, most importantly, this Bill will remove remedies that are currently available in UK law in cases of a breach of charter rights. As the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield said, there is also the very real possibility that charter rights could be repealed or overridden in UK law by the use of secondary legislation.
If the Scottish referendum had gone the other way, would not the hon. and learned Lady have regarded the result as completely binding on the whole United Kingdom, even though large parts of England might have voted against her view?
I will not be drawn into a discussion about that today. I can see why the right hon. Gentleman might want to take attention away from the matter at hand, but we are not here today to debate Scottish independence. That will come later, and I very much look forward to it.
We are here today to consider the Bill. Rather than shuffling off our responsibilities to another place, we should be looking at the provisions here. The “assurance” published by the Government is not worth the paper it is written on. One of their Ministers will tell us otherwise, but, perhaps more importantly, the independent legal opinion of a senior English silk commissioned by the EHRC tells us so, and his view is widely held.
I do not intend to press amendments 42 and 43 to a vote today, as I see them as probing amendments. Amendment 43 arises from matters raised in Committee, and amendment 42 arises from the terms of the agreement reached between EU and UK negotiators in December 2017. Amendment 42 would ensure that UK courts and tribunals can refer matters to the Court of Justice of the European Union, as was agreed between negotiators in December 2017 in relation to citizens’ rights.
Paragraph 38 of the joint report from the negotiators confirms that
“the Agreement establishes rights for citizens following on from those established in Union law during the UK’s membership of the European Union; the CJEU is the ultimate arbiter of the interpretation of Union law. In the context of the application or interpretation of those rights, UK courts shall therefore have due regard to relevant decisions of the CJEU after the specified date. The Agreement should also establish a mechanism enabling UK courts or tribunals to decide, having had due regard to whether relevant case-law exists, to ask the CJEU questions of interpretation of those rights where they consider that a CJEU ruling on the question is necessary for the UK court or tribunal to be able to give judgment... This mechanism should be available for UK courts or tribunals for litigation brought within 8 years from the date of application of the citizens’ rights Part.”
That shows that the agreement reached back in December fundamentally threw away one of the Prime Minister’s red lines, because the Court of Justice of the European Union will have continuing jurisdiction in relation to citizens’ rights for a lengthy period. I am gratified that the words “due regard”, which were in my original amendment 137 in Committee—the amendment was only narrowly defeated—were used in the agreement.
The purpose of amendment 42 is to ensure that the agreement reached last December is reflected in the Bill, and the amendment has the objective of continuing the Court of Justice’s jurisdiction on citizens’ rights in this country up to a point. Of course that does not deal with the thorny problem of clause 6(2), which I attempted to amend in Committee without success. Amendment 42 was suggested by the Law Society of Scotland and is very much a probing amendment.
It needs to be borne in mind that it is not just politicians who are concerned about clause 6(2), as the judiciary are also concerned—there is a real issue here. The Government seem to acknowledge that there might be an issue, but they are unwilling to say what they are going to do about it. The briefing from the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law says:
“The interpretive principles of Clause 6 must be clarified, especially so that courts and tribunals have clear guidance regarding the treatment of retained EU case law by the Supreme Court and”—
“the High Court of Justiciary to enhance legal certainty and individuals’ access to justice.”
Lord Neuberger, the former President of the UK Supreme Court, has raised this issue on a number of occasions, including in interviews with the BBC and in evidence to Committees of the other place.
I agree entirely with what the hon. and learned Lady is saying, but it is my understanding, and I hope the Minister will say it again—he said it in Committee—that this will be dealt with in the other place. I am sorry that it could not be dealt with here, because that would have been rather better, but if the Government need more time, I expect them to address this issue.
That is what I have heard, too. What I would like to hear from the Government today—this is why I tabled this probing amendment—is some indication that they recognise the gravity of the issue. This is not a political football, and it is not about stopping Brexit; it is about addressing issues of legal certainty.
As a courtesy to this House, I would like to hear some indication of how the Government propose to address the issues of legal certainty, particularly so that Members of my party, which is not represented in the other place, can have some input and give our view. Of course Scotland has a separate legal system. Clause 6(2) will apply to the High Court of Justiciary, and we need to be reassured not just on behalf of judges in the UK Supreme Court but on behalf of judges in the Supreme Courts of Scotland. I very much hope amendments 42 and 43 will draw from the Solicitor General some colourable reassurance that the Government are taking these concerns seriously and that they have them in hand, as well as some indication of the route the Government intend to go down in the other place to address these concerns.
Finally, on the charter of fundamental rights, I will wait to see what the official Opposition do, as we each have an amendment down. Given the spirit in which we have worked together on other aspects of this Bill, I am sure we can come to an agreement on that. The Scottish National party will be happy to support new clause 7, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). Many of our constituents feel strongly about the issue it raises, as do those of other MPs, and we are grateful to her for persevering with it.
The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) began his speech by saying that it was going to be very short but he then generously gave way to dozens of interventions from Members from all around the House and spoke for half an hour. He was expressing views with which I largely agreed, but I will try not to follow his precedent. I was not trying to catch your eye at all, Mr Speaker; I was waiting for the Solicitor General to reply to these points, as I was waiting for Ministers to reply to them in Committee, when I made speeches on one or two of them. However, I decided to make a short speech to save myself and the House from the long interventions that I am prone to make and would otherwise make on the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General.
This speech concerns the three points that have dominated throughout, where I am in great sympathy with what many people have said. First, why are the Government singling out the charter of fundamental rights to be the only piece of EU legislation that they wish to repeal? Secondly, on retained EU rights, why are those people who have existing rights of action able to get only this strange concession that for three months they might be able to pursue those rights, otherwise retrospectively they will lose them if their solicitors do not act quickly enough or they do not realise in time that they might have an action? Thirdly, and finally, we have this strange question of how in future a sovereign Parliament will amend EU law if it wishes to do so and why we have this confusion about what is, in effect, primary legislation and will require an Act of Parliament to change it, and what is secondary legislation and will require regulations. I will not repeat the arguments on any of those points at any length, because I addressed some of them in Committee and they have been well put today. But I am astonished that we have got to Report without, as yet, having had an adequate response to any of them.
I was rather doubtful about the charter of fundamental rights when it came before the House originally. I was a supporter of the treaty of Lisbon and I voted against my own party, with the then Government, quite frequently throughout those proceedings, as I thought the treaty was highly desirable. I am glad to say that when we came to power we showed not the slightest sign of wishing to undo any of it. The charter of fundamental rights was the bit I was least keen on, thinking it on the whole unnecessary, as it largely duplicated the European convention on human rights, and thinking that it was not going to make any difference; I did not use The Beano quote, but I could not see that it mattered very much and I went along with it reluctantly. I was wrong, as the charter has led to some extensions of rights in important areas. I cannot see why we should wish to halt that process. We have not yet got the Government’s proposals as to what they are going to do to fill the gap on things such as equalities law, which will emerge if we just repeal this.
The point I wish to make in a short speech is about what kind of answer I want from my hon. and learned Friend. He is genuinely a personal friend of mine. He is an extremely eloquent and valuable member of the Government. Obviously, as all lawyers do from time to time, he follows a brief, but I am sure he makes a considerable contribution to that brief and gives very valuable advice to those who seek to instruct him to temper what they would otherwise wish to do. So this is not at all aimed at him personally. But the Government’s approach throughout these unsatisfactory proceedings so far has been not to debate the main issues; we get raised with us all kinds of technical, drafting or slightly irrelevant reasons why the proposals coming from the Front Benchers on all sides cannot be accepted. So far, as far as I am aware, the Government’s case on the charter of fundamental rights is, “Well, it would not make any difference to repeal it. It hasn’t added anything. This is just unnecessary. We have singled it out, uniquely among all other EU law, simply because our tidiness of mind makes us wish to remove something that is perfectly adequately reflected in other areas.” That is not good enough.
On all three points that I have set out, the Government today, on Report, have the last chance in this House to say why they are repealing the charter, what evil it has done, what danger they think we are being protected from by its repeal and so on. I have yet to hear an example from anybody of a case where the charter of fundamental rights has been invoked in a way that anybody in this House would wish to reverse. We have not been given an example of an area of law that we have been taken into despite the bitter opposition of either the Government or this House. The advances that have been made, in some cases invoking the charter, seem to me perfectly worth while, so I hope the Solicitor General’s speech will specify those areas where the Government see that damage has been to our approach to rights and to law, and what hazards they are going to prevent us from falling into by reversing the charter.
I will give way in a second; before I finish, I will give way if people insist.
Secondly, what on earth is the advantage we gain by putting in a three-month limit? The Government have taken weeks to come back with their alleged response to the points raised on the Floor of the House on acquired legal rights, and it seems we can have a concession for three months. That is utterly ludicrous. Thirdly, what is wrong here? My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) is much more of a gentleman than I, and he is much more likely to adhere to party political loyalties. There is no more stout mainstream Conservative than me, and I would say that I am sticking to the Conservative principles that I have followed throughout my life until 18 months ago, but I do think some of these things, certainly on questions of rights, are not party issues. They usually do not have a whip applied. They are matters of conscience and cut across both sides. Going back to the future powers of this Parliament, which it must have of course, to amend retained EU law as and when the political will of the House wishes to do so, what is wrong with new clause 13 and its specification of what is primary legislation and what is secondary legislation? What alternative are the Government going to come up with, other than just saying, “The Government of the day will decide as each issues arises”? They must have a better alternative than that.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that this is the sort of amendment that the other place might just take to heart and bounce back, so it might be more sensible to have that difficult pain now and get it out of the way, and the other House will not have to return it?
I hope and believe that the other place will make an enormous number of changes to this Bill. The idea that a Bill with all these Henry VIII clauses is going to have an untroubled passage through the House of Lords is an illusion. This House just lets every extension of the Henry VIII clause principle through. The Opposition of the day object like mad but then that party takes office, cites the precedents of its predecessor and defends them as the way of proceeding, and the previous Government then start denouncing them. I hope the House of Lords will throw back some of the bizarre extension of the Henry VIII principle in this Bill and some of the European things.
The whole Bill has gone through under a self-denying ordinance—not all the time; the hon. Member for Nottingham East and I have not always stuck to it—that we are not talking about substance. The House has said, “We’re not going to bother very much with the future trade relationship and whether we are still in the single market or the customs union.” Well, they had better not take that view in the House of Lords. The other place is particularly full of highly distinguished lawyers. So is this place—there is no better lawyer in the other place than my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield—but some of the lawyers there will not put up with some of this nonsense. The danger is that if the Government continue with the Bill as they have so far, they will simply take the view that, “Well, the House of Commons can reverse that. We are putting out a three-line Whip on Tuesday. We will all have a debate, solemnly nod, explain why the House of Lords has got the technicalities wrong and throw it back again.” So far, this is a pathetic Parliament in the way in which it has handled this extraordinary Bill.
Let me return to where we are now. We have debated for some time now—over many weeks—all three of the issues I raised, but I have yet to hear an argument of substance on any one of them. I trust that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General will not get up and raise technicalities or say that we need more time, but actually say why we are either taking the step we are taking in the one case or, in the other, resisting the obvious improvements that have been proposed. If we do not do that, this whole Committee and Report stage will have been one of the most curious and ritual parliamentary processes that I have seen for a very long time.
I support amendment 57, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), along with several others, but I wish to speak specifically to new clause 9, which I have tabled and which is on the saving of acquired rights in Anguilla. I do not think there has been any discussion at all of Anguilla in any of the proceedings on the Bill so far.
Before Christmas, I tabled a written question to
“ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, whether the implementation phase of the UK leaving the EU will be the same for Anguilla as the rest of the UK; and if he will make a statement.”
On 22 December, I received the following answer:
“Both the EU and the UK have been clear that the Implementation Period will be agreed under Article 50 and be part of the Withdrawal Agreement. Both sides have also been clear that the Overseas Territories, including Anguilla, are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement and our Article 50 exit negotiations…In these negotiations, we are seeking a deal that works for the whole UK family, including Anguilla.”
So, there was no clarity there. It is not yet clear what is going to happen with respect to Anguilla.
Why is Anguilla important? We have debated at some length Gibraltar, which has around 32,000 residents. It is a British overseas territory that has been in the possession of the United Kingdom since the treaty of Utrecht in the beginnings of the 18th century. [Interruption.] Yes, indeed, it was 1713. According to the figures I have seen, Anguilla has a population of 15,263, and it has been a British possession since 1650. Just as Gibraltar has a border with an EU country—Spain—so Anguilla has a border with the EU, but with not just one but two EU countries.
Anguilla is in the north of the Leeward Islands, and 8 miles to its south is Saint Martin or, to use the Dutch, Sint Maarten. That island is part of two EU states: the northern 60% of the island has been French territory since an agreement in 1648, and since that same agreement the Kingdom of the Netherlands has possessed the southern 40% of the island. The island of Saint Martin has a complicated history that I do not intend to go into at length, but it is important to discuss its relationship with Anguilla.
Anguilla is one of five British overseas territories in the Caribbean, but it is very much more dependent on its relations with the European Union and with France and the Netherlands than any other British overseas territory. There is an international airport—Princess Juliana—on Saint Martin, but there is no international airport on Anguilla.
You could go by road.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could walk on water.
Anguilla is economically dependent on Saint Martin. The relationship is essential for Anguilla. The northern part of the island of Saint Martin, which has been since 2007 a French overseas collectivity, has a population of 38,286. The southern part of the island is one of the four kingdoms that make up the Netherlands, the others being Aruba, Curaçao and the Netherlands proper. France and the Netherlands have a different relationship with their overseas territories than the UK has with ours, and that has changed the dynamics. For example, in September the massive, terrible Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean and wiped out whole communities and destroyed whole towns. President Macron flew very quickly to visit this integral part of France, where there is a tight, close relationship with the Netherlands.
This afternoon, the Foreign Affairs Committee, on which I serve, is discussing the overseas territories and the response to hurricanes. I hope to get to the Committee in time to hear a representative of the Government of Anguilla’s London office give evidence, but I cannot be in two places at the same time. I hope I will be able to speak in advance and ask questions later.
The population of Sint Maarten, the Netherlands part, is around 33,000, so the total population of the island to the south of Anguilla is around 75,000. It is much larger and much more important, so there are fundamental economic questions to be answered about what will happen when—if—the UK leaves the EU.
The hon. Gentleman will know that my colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union have been engaging with Britain’s overseas territories, including Anguilla, through the Joint Ministerial Council and other mechanisms. Does he agree that that is a perfectly adequate mechanism that should continue, and that that means his new clause is not necessary?
No, I do not agree that it is a perfectly adequate mechanism. The report published by the Government of Anguilla’s London office last summer, “Anguilla and Brexit: Britain’s Forgotten EU Border”, points out how we do not give sufficient attention to the needs and requirements of our overseas territories. Let me quote just one example: the position with regard to overseas development assistance. Since 2014, we have virtually stopped giving Anguilla any overseas development assistance through the Department for International Development budget, in contrast to some other overseas territories such as Montserrat and elsewhere, and yet it is receiving assistance from the European Union. There is a big concern, which I will come to later, about what will happen to the continued assistance that goes to Anguilla once we leave the EU. That assistance accounts for about 36% of the capital expenditure of the Anguillan Government. That huge amount comes as a result of assistance from the European Union, and it goes to Anguilla by virtue of UK membership of the EU, but once we stop paying into EU development assistance, does anybody think that the EU will continue to finance a British overseas territory when there is no longer any relationship between the UK and the European Union? These are very complicated questions.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for treating us to the shorter version of his speech. Does he welcome the communiqué signed by the Government and the territories, which said that the UK acknowledged
“the importance of EU funding for sustainable economic development in some Overseas Territories and committed to ensuring that these interests were fully reflected in the UK’s negotiating position”?
Does he not think that that will be of great assistance to Anguilla and other overseas territories?
No, I do not; it is just words. It is all about what will happen in the negotiations. How much money are we prepared to put in? Will there be a payment into the EU budget in order to continue EU assistance to Anguilla, which does not come directly from DFID at this time? Those are interesting and complicated questions.
Like the UK, Anguilla lies outside the Schengen area, which also does not apply to French St Martin. Under EU Council articles 349 and 355 of the Treaty of Lisbon, French St Martin is classified as an outermost region of France, while Dutch Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Anguilla are classified as overseas countries and territories of the EU. In 2017, in a factsheet entitled “Outermost regions”, the European Union’s Parliament stated:
“Regardless of the great distance separating them from the European continent, the outermost regions are an integral part of the European Union, and the acquis communautaire is fully applicable in their territory. However, owing to their specific geographical location and the related difficulties, EU policies have had to be adjusted to their special situation.
The relevant measures concern, in particular, areas such as customs and trade policies, fiscal policy, free zones, agriculture and fisheries policies, and conditions for supply of raw materials and essential consumer goods.”
The outermost regions of the EU are specifically mandated by the EU and, as such, will require specific negotiation in the context of Brexit to take account of their needs. The problem that I face is that the Government have not given us any detail either in the written answer that I have secured or on any other basis as to what they will do to protect the interests of Anguilla. Unlike Gibraltar, Anguilla does not have an effective big lobbying operation, because it does not have a relationship with City financial institutions in the same way. It is very much dependent on tourism. One of its problems is that, because it does not have an international airport, flights go into St Martin, and, at present, at 10 o’clock at night, there is no means of transit from Anguilla to St Martin. Consequently, people have to stay in St Martin and not go across to Anguilla because of those difficulties in communication.
We need to be able to help Anguilla help its tourist industry, and the best way to do that would be within the framework of the European Union, but of course the referendum decision and the way that it is being implemented by the Government mean that that will not be possible. As a result, Anguilla faces some real difficulties and dilemmas: 95% of its access for tourism and other economic measures will be subject to deliberations between EU member states during the course of the Brexit negotiations. Its fuel and desalination capacity will be exposed to negotiations on whether tariffs are to be added to oil imports from the Dutch island of Sint Eustatius.
There is a whole question about essential goods and services such as medical diagnostics, mail and the vast majority of international trade and tourism. Tourism accounts for 21% of the gross value added of Anguilla. So much about Anguilla is dependent on the relationship it has with the island to its south, and that is with the European Union. The Government have said nothing about this.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I do not want to interrupt his most eloquent speech, but does he not agree that the irony is that Anguilla reflects the position that we will find ourselves in at the edge of Europe should we leave? Indeed, it is a concern that the Government have not given any sensible or sufficient answers to his queries, and it bodes ill.
Actually, I do not agree. The UK has far bigger clout in the world than a small island with a population of just 15,000. My hon. Friend is right that we will be damaged—there is no doubt about it—by self-inflicted harm, but, as President Donald Tusk pointed out today, we can of course change our minds, and if we do so he would be delighted.
The position with regard to Anguilla is potentially one of a country with a problematic border. I have referred already to that closure at 10 o’clock at night. If, once we leave the EU, relations between the UK and France become worse than they are now, how do Ministers and Government Members think that we will be able to speak for the interests of this British overseas territory when we are not able to succeed today in getting everything that it needs? We would have less influence and no seat at the table. We would not be in the room and we would not be able to say anything to help it.
I do not wish to take too long, but there are important points about peoples whose voice has not been heard in this Chamber. Between 2012 and 2014, Anguilla did receive some UK official development assistance, but it was a very small sum, amounting to only £141 per person. Since then, there has not been such support. However, Montserrat received £14,000 per person and St Helena, which is even more remote, received £66,000 per person in ODA.
Anguilla is worried that after the UK has left—if we leave—the European Union, EU initiatives that currently occur within the overseas territories will no longer continue. Anguilla understands that ODA will be vital, but that support has steadily declined and its people are worried about the threat to the European Union funds. As part of the UK Caribbean Infrastructure Fund, a £300 million programme was announced in September 2015, in order to fund infrastructure such as roads, bridges and ports across the Caribbean, via the various banks and the Department for International Development, but Anguilla is very concerned about what will happen in the long term.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is one of a number of examples? A place such as Anguilla or an industry such as farming has no sense of certainty about how or whether the Government will replace funding that will be lost after—or if—we leave the European Union. Does he think that the Government are not being clear about the future because they have not yet worked it out, or because they fear that if people see what the situation will be after we leave the European Union, they may begin to wake up to the fact that what is on offer is very much inferior to what we have now?
I actually think, in the case of Anguilla, it is because the Government have never even thought about it. Only now are issues like this coming up to bite them. We could have had an impact assessment on Anguilla. It would be nice to know whether there was such a thing; I suspect not. The Government did not give any consideration to these issues when they triggered article 50, so they probably did not even consider that.
In “Anguilla & Brexit: Britain’s Forgotten EU Border”, which was published last summer, the Government of Anguilla call for four things. First, they want a
“Common travel area between Saint Martin and Anguilla”,
and state that
“protocol 22 of the EU Treaties…provides that the UK and another EU member state…may continue to make arrangements between themselves for the free movement of people within the CTA.”
The same model is adopted for Ireland because of the historical relationships. A common travel area would be a way to prevent an economic and social disaster for Anguilla. In practice, it would mean free movement of nationals of the French and Dutch St Martin and Sint Maarten, and Anguilla, between those islands with a
“frictionless border without the need for passport control.”
It would also allow visitors flying into St Martin from any country in the world to go to Anguilla easily as tourists.
Secondly, the Government of Anguilla call for a customs union in the region
“with European countries, territories and municipalités in the eastern Caribbean.”
There has been a lot of talk about customs unions. I do not wish to repeat the debate that we have already had, as this issue will come back, but a customs union between the European Union territories in the region, the other countries in the region and the overseas territories of the United Kingdom could be really helpful in the Caribbean. Anguilla imports oil and other essential materials that it cannot exist without. It also exports fresh produce, which is predominantly sold to St Martin. There is therefore a real need for some kind of customs relationship that avoids tariffs and barriers.
Thirdly, the Government of Anguilla call for a
“Continued relationship between the UK and EU for the purposes of international development”,
as well as,
“Continued membership of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association of the European Union of Anguilla with full access to European Development Funds and support”.
Now, that may come at a cost. Are the British Government prepared to pay that cost in the negotiations? If they do not there will, as I have already suggested, be a major impact on the Anguillan economy and future development.
Fourthly and finally, the Government of Anguilla are looking to
“Stronger ties between Anguilla and Britain”.
This country has neglected our overseas territories for far too long. We do not give them the status that overseas territories have in France or the Netherlands. There is a wider issue that is not just about Anguilla and on which the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs may well comment after we have completed our current inquiry: we need a better ongoing relationship with these small communities of 15,000 people whose association with the United Kingdom goes back to the 17th century—longer, as I pointed out at the beginning, than the association of Gibraltar with the United Kingdom.
I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) that the United Kingdom could strengthen her links and ties with Anguilla and could be very supportive as we go through Brexit. I trust that those on the Government Front Bench have listened carefully to what he has been saying. As far as I know, they have good will towards Anguilla. He mentioned some positive ideas about how the UK can help more and develop that relationship, which I welcome and which I suspect the Government may welcome.
I will respond briefly to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). In her remarks—we have heard this in the many SNP speeches during the debates on the Bill—she referred again to the way in which Scottish voters had a different view from UK voters as a whole on the referendum and she implied that that had great constitutional significance. I urge her to think again. I pointed out to her that, had Scotland voted to be independent in its referendum, I do not think it would have mattered at all if, in a subsequent election—I think that there would probably have been one quite quickly—a lot of people in England had voted the other way and said, “No, we’d like Scotland to stay in.”
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
If the hon. and learned Lady lets me finish my point, I will let her intervene. I would have thought that the result of the Scottish referendum was binding and, although I deeply want to keep the Union together, I would have felt that it was my duty to see the wishes of the Scottish people fully implemented because those were the terms of the referendum. She seems to be implying that it should have been otherwise.
The right hon. Gentleman has unfortunately forgotten that the Scottish referendum was preceded by the Edinburgh agreement between the British and Scottish Governments, which said that the outcome of the referendum would be respected by both sides. I think that he is rather trying to deflect attention from the issue at hand today by harking back to this.
I fear that it is very relevant, and probably even more relevant to what we are going on to debate in the next group of amendments—and the hon. and learned Lady did raise it as an important part of her case on how we handle EU law. I feel that SNP Members want to recreate the European Union in every way they can by amending this Bill, which is actually about us developing a new relationship—a very positive relationship—with the EU from outside the EU. That means changing some of the legal ties that currently bind us to the EU, while the many that we do not want to change come under our control so that future votes of the British people, and Parliaments, could make a difference if they so wished. That is the very important thing that we are debating. She has to accept that just as, had the Scottish people voted to leave, we would all have accepted the verdict and got on with it, against our wishes, now that the United Kingdom’s people have voted to leave the European Union, the whole Union has to accept that democratic judgment.
Is the right hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the outcome of the 2014 referendum means that henceforth in this Union the views of the Scottish people can be blithely ignored on all occasions? Is that his view? I am sure that Scottish voters watching the television would love to know that that is what he saying.
Absolutely not. Scottish voters’ views matter very much. They have a privileged constitutional position, which we are all happy with, such that in many areas Scotland makes her own decisions through her own Parliament. However, when it comes to a Union matter, I thought we all agreed that where we had a Union-wide referendum, the Union made the decision and the Union’s Parliament needs to implement the wishes expressed in the referendum. That is why Members from every party in the House of Commons, apart from her party and a few Liberal Democrats, decided, against their own judgments in many cases, that we needed to get on with it, send the article 50 letter and give this Bill a good passage. We are bound by the wishes of the British people as expressed in the referendum.
Does my right hon. Friend detect, as I do, a tendency in SNP Members, which reaches its pinnacle in the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), not to accept the results of any referendum held in this country? They reject the alternative vote referendum result, they will not accept and respect the Scottish referendum result, and now they are trying to countermand the European referendum result. I really think it is high time that they accepted the decisions made in referendums in this country.
That is extremely good advice. I find myself in a rather different position from the hon. and learned Lady. She finds herself in a position where every time there is a referendum in Scotland or the UK, she is on the losing side, whereas I have found that I am usually on the winning side. I seem to be much more in tune with the people. I agreed with the people’s judgment on grammar schools when we had a referendum on that, I agreed with their view on the voting system, I agreed with the Scottish people’s judgment on staying in the Union, and I very much agree with the United Kingdom electors’ judgment that we should leave the European Union. The people are often much more sensible than their Parliament wishes them to be, and it is great when Parliament then has to listen to the people and get on with doing the job.
The main point that I wish to make is in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who tried to tackle the scholarship-level question that underlies our debates on this group of amendments—whether we can transfer all EU law into good British law, or, in practice, end up having to accept some European law because of the complexities involved. In my brief exchange with him by way of intervention, I pointed out that the rights of the British people have their best defence in the common sense and voting strength of the British people, that that will be reflected in their elected Parliament, and that if their elected Parliament gets out of line with the will of the United Kingdom voters, then the voters will, at the first opportunity, change the composition of the Parliament until it reflects the wishes of the United Kingdom voters on the matter of rights.
My right hon. and learned Friend countered by saying that taking my view would mean that we only ever had common law and Parliament would never need to legislate. That is a silly caricature of the true position. We all know, I think, that it is very difficult to define eternal, immortal rights. Some rights last for longer and are more important than others, but people find it very difficult to define that. Looking back over past statements of rights over the centuries, one sees that some of them now grate or are clearly very much against our view of what a right should be, whereas others may last for rather longer. Quite a lot of statements of rights have a big component related to what is topical or socially acceptable at the time. We are largely pleased that what is socially acceptable evolves, so there are many bad practices of the past that we have come to see were bad practices, and that has been reflected in new legislation. We always need to legislate to reflect changing perceptions about what is a right and which rights we should give most cognisance to.
Of course, the charter is an excellent example of these rights. It incorporates rights on data protection and other issues, as has been described in the debate. Would it not make sense to incorporate it into UK law and allow it to be changed at a later date through the kind of evolution that my right hon. Friend is describing?
These rights have been incorporated into UK law because we have shared quite a lot of them before they were codified in the way they are codified and because, subsequent to their codification, they have helped to inform our debates about amending, improving and strengthening the law. No, I do not think it is a good idea to incorporate the charter of rights as though it had some special significance. Interestingly, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) stated that when the charter first came forward in the Lisbon treaty, he tended to the “Beano” view of it—that it was not very significant. He did not think it was a strong part of the treaty and was not very keen on it, and was therefore quite happy with the Labour Government treating it differently and exempting us from parts of it deemed inappropriate. Now, he gives it greater significance and implies that it is dreadful that we will not be incorporating it, as though it has been transformed between the date when we first considered it as part of the treaty and its current presence.
My view is that the British people and their Parliament will adopt all these good rules, and have done so, informing many of our laws. If there are other laws that need strengthening or improving, that is exactly what this Parliament is here to do, and if we are negligent in that matter, the British people and their lobby groups will make sure that our attention is drawn to whatever may be missing or could be improved. I would say to the House of Commons, let us remember what we are doing. We are taking back control. Where we need to strengthen or highlight rights by legislation, that is something that any of us can initiate, and if we can build a majority we can do it. There are many good examples of rights and laws emanating from Back Benchers or Opposition parties as well as from Governments.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said, wrongly, that I was trusting the Executive too much. That is not usually a criticism that has been made of me. Whereas I often find myself in agreement with the people in votes in referendums, I have often found myself in disagreement with parties in this House, including my own party, on matters of some substance, and I have not usually been shy—but I hope polite—in pointing out where I have those disagreements. I therefore reject his idea that I am trusting the Executive. I said very clearly in my intervention that I was trusting the United Kingdom electorate and their successive Parliaments. If one Parliament does not please or suit, or does not do the right thing on the rights that the public want, a new Parliament will be elected that will definitely do so.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe reminded us that we have had a lot of debates about Henry VIII powers, which are relevant to this group of amendments on how much European law we incorporate. I find this argument one of the most odd brought forward by those who are nervous about Brexit. One of my main problems with our prolonged membership of the European Union was that large amounts of legislation had to go through this House unscathed, and often little remarked on or debated, because once they had been agreed around the European Union table in private, they were “good law” in Britain. If those laws were regulations, they acted directly, so we could not even comment on them. If they were directives, we had a very marginal ability to influence the way in which they were implemented, and the main points of the law went through without any debate or right to vote them down. That was the ultimate Henry VIII approach. In the case of this legislation, after extensive dialogue and discussion, we are talking about very narrow powers for Ministers to make technical adjustments and improvements. All of it is of course in the context of the right for Parliament to call anything in, debate it and vote on it.
I am interested in the issue my right hon. Friend raises about our not being able to scrutinise European law in this Chamber before it was approved over there. In other Parliaments, such as the Dutch Parliament, specialist committees scrutinised proposals before they reached the European Parliament; for example, the telecoms committee in the Dutch Parliament would scrutinise telecoms law before it got to the European Parliament. As we take our own law, would it not be helpful to use the specialist committees more on the detail?
We had 45 years to get that right, and I think my hon. Friend would probably agree with me that it did not happen in the way she now says she wished it had. When I was the single market Minister, I tried to do this. I brought draft proposals to the House to try to get comment before I went off to negotiate. I felt that that was the only time it was worth hearing Parliament’s view because there was still the chance of trying to change things. If Parliament agreed with me that the draft was very unsatisfactory, it was marginally helpful to be able to say to the EU, “By the way, the United Kingdom Parliament does not like this proposal”, although the EU did not take that as seriously as I would have liked it to. The truth was that we could then be outvoted, under a qualified majority voting system, and we often were if we pushed our disagreement, so the views of Parliament mattered not a jot, even if we did the decent thing and invited Parliament to comment before the draft was agreed.
As my hon. Friend must know, once a draft was agreed, if it was a regulation, that was immediately a directly acting law in the United Kingdom and this Parliament had no role whatsoever. If it was a directive—directives can be very substantial pieces of legislation—we could not practically change anything in that law. Whatever Parliament thought, it had gone through.
I sit on the European Scrutiny Committee and have done so for some time. I can confirm that, although we briefly look at all the laws coming into this country, we certainly do not have the time to scrutinise them. I can assure the House that the House does not have the time to do so either.
There is also the point that, if we are scrutinising that after it has happened, that is not a lot of use. That can alert Parliament and the public to problems that the new law might create, but if it has been agreed under the rules, it is law and we have to do the best we can and live with it.
Having sat through quite a few debates on the Floor of the House—in Committee, and on Second and Third Readings of Bills—while being a Member of Parliament, I do not think I have ever seen a Bill that has been so extensively debated, dissected, discussed, analysed and opposed. A huge amount of work has gone in to proposing a very large number of detailed and rather general amendments, discussing the philosophy, principles and technical matters in considerable detail.
Before he moves on to another point, does my right hon. Friend agree that the narrowness of the Henry VIII clauses has actually been very considerably intensified by the amendments tabled on Report to clause 7(1) and 7(2)?
Yes, I agree. I think the Report stage may even produce some agreement between my right hon. Friend, me and our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield that improvements have been made in that respect, with some powers for Ministers being narrowed and the House having an even bigger role. I am perfectly happy that that has happened.
The wider point I want to make is that this very extensive, forensic and thorough discussion could be a model for other legislation. It is interesting that MPs on the whole do not get as interested in other legislation as they have done in this Bill. The Lords should take into account the fact that, on this occasion, the Commons has done its work very extensively and thoroughly, and has considered a very wide range of issues in amendments. I am sure that the Lords will take that into account when it comes to have its important deliberations on this legislation.
After all, this Bill should not be that difficult or divisive. To remind everyone, what it does is to keep all the European laws that we currently have as they are, so that there is legal certainty. As someone who believes that Brexit will be very positive and good for this country, I wish us to go on and make major changes to our fishing laws, our farming financial system and our VAT system, which we are not allowed to do under European law—we are not allowed to take VAT off things that should not be charged VAT, for example. There are quite a few positive changes I want made to our law codes. We can do so once we have taken back control. On this Bill, however, everyone should be reassured because all the things they love about European law are simply being rolled over into British law.
Order. Several colleagues are now seeking to catch my eye, but I emphasise that the Minister must also have a decent amount of time in which to respond. I therefore urge colleagues to be brief in their contributions, while of course covering what is necessary.
I rise to speak to new clause 7, which is in my name and is supported by Opposition Members. I hope to push it to a vote. The new clause would transfer article 13 of the Lisbon treaty into UK law, so that the obligation on the Government and 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.
You will be glad to hear that I can be brief, Mr Speaker, because there is no need to set out again the case for transferring this obligation under EU law into domestic law. In Committee, the then Justice Minister, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), rejected my similar new clause and, I would suggest, inadvertently misspoke in the House in the process by stating that the sentience obligation
“is already recognised as a matter of domestic law, primarily in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.”—[Official Report, 15 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 499.]
That was simply incorrect, and there can be no disagreement about that because the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has since published a new draft Bill providing for the transfer into UK law of the obligation on animal sentience set out in article 13.
The Government therefore accept that they need to do what my new clause provides for, and the simplest thing would be for the Minister to accept it or, if the specific wording is considered deficient in some way, for him to bring forward a revised version as a Government amendment. As this has not yet happened—I will gladly give way to the Minister if he wants to say that the Government will accept the new clause—I can only assume he will say that the Bill is not the right legislative vehicle for the new clause: in other words, that a Bill to transfer the body of EU law into UK law is not the right legislative vehicle to transfer an important piece of EU law into UK law. To me, at least, that does not make sense.