House of Lords
Tuesday 12 December 2017
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.
Introduction: Lord Houghton of Richmond
General Sir John Nicholas Reynolds Houghton, GCB, CBE, having been created Baron Houghton of Richmond, of Richmond in the County of North Yorkshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Harris of Richmond and Lord Hague of Richmond, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Health: Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many people with a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation who were admitted to hospital with a stroke in 2016-17 were not on an appropriate anti-coagulation therapy prior to admission.
My Lords, audit data shows that around half of patients with known atrial fibrillation who have a stroke have not received anti-coagulation treatment before their stroke. Figures for last year show that this varies from 25% in some clinical commissioning group areas to almost 100% in others. More than 300,000 people in England have undiagnosed atrial fibrillation.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer. As he knows, atrial fibrillation is a significant cause of stroke but it is also avoidable, because it is easily diagnosable and easily treatable with anti-coagulant medication. Yet as the figures he just gave us show, more than 7,000 people in England who were admitted to hospital with a stroke last year were known to have AF but were not receiving proper therapy. Is my noble friend aware that the National Clinical Directors for cardiovascular disease prevention and stroke recently stated:
“Failure to prescribe an important treatment”,
such as this,
“needs to be seen as an error that is equally as serious as prescribing the wrong treatment”?
What action can the Government take to ensure that all eligible patients with AF are prescribed anti-coagulation to help protect them from stroke and the devastating consequences that flow from that for them and their families?
I thank my noble friend for making that point. He is quite right that atrial fibrillation is easily diagnosable and treatable. In the end, it has to be a clinical judgment on what kind of medicine is appropriate for any given patient, but the variation in the prescription of anti-coagulants demonstrates that there is not uniform understanding of the options. There are a number of things I could point my noble friend to, such as the NICE guideline which promotes not only self-monitoring systems, which are typically what we have had, but encourage patient choice for the new types of anti-coagulants which have a lower risk of bleeding and are much more popular with patients.
My Lords, will the Minister say why the national stroke strategy has not been updated or renewed? We had outstanding success in London in concentrating hyperacute services in a small number of centres, which improved outcomes and mortality rates. Why on earth has the NHS been allowed to stop proposals in other parts of the country taking that forward so that outcomes there are higher?
On the stroke strategy, a follow-on plan is being developed by NHS England and its partners, including the Stroke Association, which will take forward that approach. The noble Lord will also be pleased to know that it is an integrated-service approach including ambulances, community care and secondary care. On the point about reorganisation, he is quite right that London has seen excellent success through the specialisation and concentration of services, and we certainly encourage the rest of the country to do that too.
My Lords, during the House of Lords Select Committee inquiry on the long-term sustainability of the NHS we heard a great deal of evidence demonstrating the great variations in care, in the treatment not only of atrial fibrillation but of other conditions. Is it not time that we made the NICE guidelines, which are very clear about the management of patients with atrial fibrillation, mandatory to reduce the variation in care and improve outcomes?
As the noble Lord will know better than anyone, making them mandatory is a challenge because of the importance of clinical autonomy. What we can make mandatory is an understanding of those guidelines and that they inform every treatment pathway. That is part of what the NHS RightCare programme, which is now rolled out across the country, is doing. It is introducing new things such as stroke pathways so that there is clarity about the options available. Patient choice is at the centre of that decision.
My Lords, I have this condition but I had never heard of it until I was diagnosed about seven years ago. I urge my noble friend to try to ensure that greater publicity is given to it. Could we start by making sure that every Member of your Lordships’ House has the opportunity to be tested for it?
I like my noble friend’s idea of putting on a special clinic. I hope he is getting excellent care with his own AF. The idea of publicity is an important one, and I draw attention again to the role that the Stroke Association is playing within the development of the new plan, because clearly it has fantastic reach to patients and is a trusted voice. It has a key role in making sure that there is that understanding among both patients and the clinical community.
My Lords, regular checks of the pulse rate can help indicate whether someone has atrial fibrillation. These should be carried out at the five-yearly general health check that GPs offer to those aged between 40 and 74. Could the Minister tell the House how many GP practices routinely call patients for this health check, whether they are paid to do so and how many patients take up the opportunity? I declare an interest as I am in this age range and have never been offered a health check.
I too am in that age range. I am afraid I cannot tell the noble Baroness what the global figures are, but I shall write to her to do so.
My Lords, a couple of years ago I attended a clinic in this House where there was a device, on which you placed your hand, which diagnosed whether you had atrial fibrillation. The idea was that these would be rolled out into doctors’ surgeries, where people could test themselves while in the waiting rooms. How is that progressing?
The noble Lord is quite right that this is a very easily diagnosable condition through checking pulses. The device that he described and other ones are doing that. They are in every GP surgery and form part of the health checks that the noble Baroness talked about. As I said, I do not have the figures for just how many of those are taking place, but we know that 300,000 people are undiagnosed with this condition. Many of them will be in regular contact with the health service, and this is about making sure that GPs use the opportunity to carry out those tests, which will inform the treatment that follows.
My Lords, could the Government undertake to ascertain from NHS England why the commissioning of day-case ablation for the treatment of atrial fibrillation is way below the European average, given that it is shown to be safe and effective, and to improve symptoms and the rate of return to work? It also almost certainly, although this is not yet completely proven, decreases the incidence of strokes, so it can be a preventive measure.
Yes, I shall certainly write to NHS England to find that out, and I will write to the noble Baroness with that information.
My Lords, it is quite clear that many people do not receive the anti-coagulants that they need, and my noble friend has reminded us of the figures relating to those suffering from this problem. Since 2012, four novel oral anti-coagulants—NOACs—have been recommended by NICE as both clinically and cost effective for the prevention of stroke in patients with AF. Their use is increasing but is lower than expected. Can my noble friend explain why access to the full range of anti-coagulation therapies is not acceptable to many GPs, who appear to lack confidence in their use of NOACs, and why some patients are still being given aspirin to prevent AF-related stroke? I should declare my interest as an officer of both the Arrhythmia Alliance and the Atrial Fibrillation Association.
My noble friend is quite right to highlight the benefits that come from new treatments. We clearly have a long way to go, as half the people presenting with strokes have not had those anti-coagulants, but there has been an increase in the number of pre-stroke patients receiving anti-coagulants, up from 38% to 53%, so it is an improving picture. The NICE guideline recommends the use of anti-coagulants and, critically, encourages patient choice for the new breed of NOACs and DOACs. There is very clear guidance within the system. It is getting better, but there is some way to go.
NHS: EEA Doctors
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of doctors from European Economic Area states working in the United Kingdom who may be planning to leave the NHS after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.
My Lords, the Government value the contribution of all European Union staff working across the NHS and social care systems immensely. We have set out a clear pathway to permanent residency for these EU citizens. According to the latest NHS digital data, there are now more non-UK EU doctors working in the NHS than ever before, with almost 500 more since 30 June 2016.
My Lords, according to the BMA, almost half of EEA doctors are considering leaving the UK and one in five has already made plans to do so. Given that it takes 13 years to train a consultant, what is the Minister doing to fill these gaps in the short term? Is he aware that there are numerous doctors from around the world already resident in the UK but whose qualifications fall short of what is required by the NHS? They would dearly love to be able to upgrade their qualifications and help us to fill the gap that is going to be left by the Tory Brexit, but there is no organisation that will advise and support them to improve their qualifications. What will the Minister do about that?
I recognise that, as the noble Baroness pointed out, there has been uncertainty. That is why I am sure that the entire House will welcome the agreement reached last Friday to provide that certainty, and I encourage all noble Lords to look at and circulate the letter written by the Prime Minister to EU citizens explaining how much we value them, how much we want them to stay and how we have now agreed with the EU a process for doing that. The noble Baroness will be interested to know, as I am sure will other noble Lords, that there were 470 more EU doctors working in the NHS in June 2017 compared to June the year before—so, happily, we have not seen the exodus that so many people have warned about. We need to grow more of our own in the future, of course, and there are 1,500 training places for doctors coming on stream in September 2019, but I shall certainly look at the issue that she raises about providing opportunities for doctors—not least refugees; that issue has been raised with me—to upgrade their qualifications so that they can serve in the NHS.
My Lords, can the Minister guarantee, if the Government sort out the immigration status of EU medical staff in a timely fashion, that this will be with the retention of existing workers’ legal rights such as the working time regulations and related employment directives in UK law for the current and future workforce?
I think I may have detected a qualified welcome from the noble Baroness for the achievements of last year in providing that reassurance. Clearly, we want to make sure that there is the best possible working environment for our medical staff, wherever they come from, and that involves, as the Prime Minister has set out, having world-leading employment rights.
My Lords, is the Minister as concerned as I am that this Question refers to the EEA as well as the EU? I am mystified about why any Norwegian or Icelandic doctor should be concerned about Brexit. In addition to that, is my noble friend not absolutely correct? I went to Bedford Hospital a week ago on a Sunday with an EU doctor. That doctor made it quite clear to me that the reassurance that had been given by Her Majesty’s Government was sufficient for her—and, I believe, her husband—to continue to work in the NHS.
I thank my noble friend for pointing that out. It is extremely reassuring to know that the message is getting through. We as a department and as a Government have a job to do in making sure that everybody hears that message of reassurance, because we want those EU workers to stay and contribute to our NHS.
My Lords, what work has been done by the Department of Health to identify what impact leaving the European Union is going to have on the health service, and what is it doing about it?
The noble and learned Lord will know that a variety of reports have been published. I am sure that he has taken the opportunity to sign in and read them, which is very welcome, and I encourage all noble Lords to do that. One of the greatest things that we have to do is look at workforce issues. I come back to the point about being able to provide reassurance to people who are thinking of leaving but have not yet done so. I stress that we have more EU and EEA people working in the NHS, which is a very welcome thing and I hope they take comfort from that.
My Lords, over the weekend a number of Ministers, including the Secretary of State for DExEU, said that these agreements are fine but that nothing is settled until everything is settled. That seems to be not quite the reassurance that everyone would want. Is it possible for the Government to go further and say that they will offer a guarantee to all EU citizens working in the National Health Service that, whatever else happens, they will continue to be welcome? I am conscious that the figures on nurses and midwives are not as good as those for doctors at present and that we are in severe danger of having a short-term gap in the number of nurses and midwives, which would be very serious.
I point the noble Lord to the Prime Minister’s letter, in which she talks about the fact that the rights will be written into law as we leave the EU. He is right to point out the position of nurses and midwives; that is the only category where fewer EU staff are working in the National Health Service year on year. However, as we have talked about many times in the House, new language tests may have had a critical role in that and that is something we are reviewing it to make sure that we can continue to welcome nurses from abroad.
Given the current vacancy factor, and the fact that we have some refugees who are doctors and some who are nurses with an enormous amount of clinical experience but whose English language skills need to be improved, what are the Government doing to provide targeted English language training and apprenticeship attachments so that these refugees can enter the workforce and become economic contributors?
This is an excellent idea that the noble Baroness has shared it with me before. We are looking at it and we have a workforce strategy coming out, so I will do my best to ensure that it includes something on this.
European Structural and Investment Funds
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that the £8.4 billion of European Structural Investment Funds allocated to local government for the 2014-20 period is made available for the support of businesses and infrastructure improvements and that an equivalent value of funding is available for the period after 2020.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw Members’ attention to my relevant interests in the register.
My Lords, over 50% of the United Kingdom’s structural fund allocation supports businesses, infrastructure and infrastructure development. Under the proposed financial settlement with the EU, the UK will retain its full funding allocation for 2014-2020 structural funds, and will continue to benefit from structural fund programmes until their closure. In the longer term, the United Kingdom shared prosperity fund will be introduced domestically to reduce inequalities and raise productivity in line with the industrial strategy.
I thank the Minister for his response. As he will be aware, the structural fund supports the poorer regions of our country. I draw his attention to Cornwall, where one of the programmes is a £10 million fund to support small business growth, which is vital for Cornwall. That will end in 2020, if we leave the EU. Will the Minister make a commitment that the funding promised in the Conservative Party manifesto, to which he has just referred, will provide the same level of funding for such programmes after 2020?
My Lords, the noble Baroness will not expect me to give commitments of that sort, but she will know that the shared prosperity fund will aim to improve the United Kingdom’s productivity and reduce economic inequalities across the entire United Kingdom. Therefore, some of it will presumably be directed at Cornwall. The important matter that the noble Baroness should be aware of is the fresh opportunity to spend money according to our own priorities rather than those set by the EU. I think that even the noble Baroness would agree with that.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in the past Conservative Governments have reduced funding to areas that have been in receipt of structural funds. Can he guarantee that in any new scheme there will be no reduction this time and it will be additional? Those reductions are one of the reasons our regions are not as prosperous as they should be.
My Lords, again the noble Lord will not expect me to give any specific guarantees at this stage. He knows why we have introduced the shared prosperity fund and that we also have the Industrial Strategy White Paper. In that White Paper, we refer to the inequalities between the regions, particularly in relation to productivity but also in other respects. It seems to me obvious, therefore, that we would want to devote the shared prosperity fund—the name of which gives some indication of what it is supposed to do—to doing just that.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Wales has been a significant beneficiary of these funds over the past 17 years. The Government have given an undertaking that they will replace money lost from European sources if we suffer Brexit. Will the Minister enlighten the House as to the criteria that will be used to ensure that the money goes to those areas that need it most?
My Lords, the way that the Welsh voted in the referendum probably gives some indication of what they think we are likely to do with things such as the shared prosperity fund. The Welsh have considerable faith in how this Conservative Government will direct resources from the fund. Again, the noble Lord will not expect me to give any guarantees at this stage.
My Lords, if the Minister thinks the people in Wales have confidence in this Government, I suggest he thinks again. Several times today, he has said that he can give no guarantees. The European structural and investment funds have brought enormous benefit to the areas in receipt of them. So many times in this Chamber, we have heard about the cost of the EU as if all the funding has gone in one direction from this country to the EU, and that we have had no benefit. This is an indication of benefit that has been received by the UK. Will the Minister reconsider his answer? What guarantees can he give that these areas will not lose out by this country leaving the EU?
My Lords, the noble Baroness should listen very carefully to my answers. The guarantees I was giving were about the future of the shared prosperity fund. I can give categorical guarantees about European structural funds for 2014-20. Those guarantees will continue to stand, as has been made clear by my right honourable friends in another place. They will stand in a no-deal scenario, and all projects that were signed up to before the Autumn Statement of 2016 will be guaranteed by the Government after the United Kingdom leaves the EU.
My Lords, my noble friend has said that in the future these decisions will be made by Britain, not the European Union. Can he explain precisely the difference in criteria between those used by the European Union at the moment, and those that he will use, and how, if he uses different criteria, he will also meet the promise that all those places that now receive money will continue to do so?
My Lords, I did not say there would necessarily be different criteria. I said—and I am sure my noble friend would agree with this—that the decisions would be made by us and not by the EU.
My Lords, perhaps a fifth time might get the right answer. Will the Minister confirm whether the £21 million investment in the Greater Manchester low carbon and innovation fund will be funded if we leave Europe, following a hard Conservative Brexit? There are 2.8 million people relying on the answer, so for brevity, perhaps “yes” would suffice.
My Lords, again I ask the noble Lord to listen to what I have to say. I gave a categorical guarantee about the financial settlement and structural funds that have been agreed as part of the 2014-20 funding. I do not know about the specific project to which the noble Lord referred, but if it is included, it will be guaranteed. We have also made a guarantee about a no-deal scenario that all projects that were signed up to before the Autumn Statement 2016 will be guaranteed by the Government after the United Kingdom leaves the EU.
My Lords, are we not talking about only £1.2 billion per annum in this Question? Surely we can go on paying that if we want to from the £20 billion per annum we will be saving by leaving the EU.
My Lords, the noble Lord thinks that a billion pounds is a small amount of money. I think someone did once say, “A billion here, a billion there, and we are soon talking real money”. We are talking about considerable funds—some £8.6 billion over that period, which is a considerable amount.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of increases in train fares due to be introduced in January 2018.
The Government understand the concern about the increase in the cost of rail fares and the impact this can have on people’s budgets. Our railways need substantial investment to ensure they are fit for purpose for the 21st century. Despite record levels of investment, the Government have ensured that, since 2014, regulated rail fares have risen no faster than retail prices. We of course continue to monitor our rail fares policies closely and keep them under review.
My Lords, in January rail fares will go up by 3.4%, at a time when wages are already failing to keep pace with rising inflation because of the impact of the falling pound following the Brexit vote. For instance, an annual season ticket from Swindon to London will increase by £304. For many years now, the Government have frozen fuel duty to help motorists, so will the Minister agree that the Government should now freeze rail fares for the coming year to help rail passengers?
The noble Baroness mentions the freezing of fuel duty, which is obviously widely welcomed by motorists, following the Budget. I am afraid that we cannot freeze rail fares because by doing so, we would have to decrease investment in our railways, which is sorely needed.
Can the Minister explain why, exceptionally, rail fare increases are tied to RPI, when every other cost of living increase is tied to CPI?
My Lords, the retail prices index is widely used across government and is the consistent general indexation approach adopted across the rail industry. Franchise payments, network grants and franchise financial models are all indexed at RPI. Of course, we are all very aware of the pressures on people’s incomes and we carefully monitor how rail fares and earnings change and keep reviewing how fares are increased.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the extraordinary decision to bail out the Stagecoach/Virgin Trains East Coast franchise could cost the taxpayer more than £1 billion? Could she estimate for the House what impact that might have on rail fares after 2020?
My Lords, VTEC has paid all its premiums in full to date, and we expect it to continue to do so as long as the contract continues. As with all recent franchise contracts, when entering into the east coast contract Stagecoach committed to inject additional funds into the business at its own expense, and we will hold it to that commitment in full. From 2020, there will be a new east coast partnership, one of the first of a new generation of integrated regional rail operations. That will include appropriate contributions from the private partner under a long-term competitively priced procured contract. I do not recognise the figures that the noble Lord uses.
My Lords, can my noble friend explain to me why, in economic terms, the cost of travel appears to be inelastic, and we have seen many trains overcrowded in recent years?
My Lords, passenger use of the rail network has doubled since privatisation, which is to be welcomed. As I said, the Government’s use of the RPI is consistent with general indexation on rail industry costs. We are trying to keep fares as low as practically possible, while maintaining the level of investment that our railways need to deal with the overcrowding my noble friend mentions.
Is the Minister aware of the fares that are charged to commuters in France, Germany and the Netherlands, and the proportion of those met by public funds as opposed to making the customer pay more?
My Lords, I have indeed been looking at the comparison between the UK and Europe. I understand that it very much depends on which rail fare you are looking at; many fares are similar or even cheaper in the UK. Britain has seen the biggest shift to rail from other transport of any railway in Europe since 2009. We have comparable punctuality and higher than average customer satisfaction, and we are investing more in rail than any country in Europe. We are currently delivering the biggest upgrades to our network since the Victorian era.
Could the Minister confirm that the Government have locked themselves and rail passengers into the yearly increase in regulated fares being related to the normally higher retail prices index figure for at least the number of years that each existing franchise is due to continue, since that is part of the franchise agreements with train operating companies? What amount of compensation in total would have to have been paid to train operating companies for lower than expected fare revenue if the Government had decided to agree to this coming January’s increase in regulated fares being related to the increase in the widely used—not least by government—consumer prices index, rather than the higher retail prices index?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point out that our current franchise agreements are negotiated on the RPI increase. I say again that we recognise the effect that has on people’s incomes and keep it under review. We welcome the fact that we were able to reduce this from RPI plus 1 in 2014. I am afraid I do not have the figures to hand, and I am not sure they would be available, on the compensation that would need to be given if we used CPI rather than RPI.
My Lords, not only is the whole area of train fares very complicated, it is actually discriminatory. Many people in this country do not have access to the internet or computers and they find trying to get deals on train fares almost impossible. They also find—as do I—that the stations are not always accessible. Staff are training, or sick, and we stand there in the rain waiting for the train. It is not a good picture.
My Lords, I recognise that the fare system can sometimes be complicated and illogical. Many tickets are now bought online, but for those who do not use the internet the Rail Minister is working with the industry on a fares and ticketing action plan. Among other things, they are working on reducing jargon and improving the vending machines at stations. They have extended the availability of advance purchase fares, which you can now buy at the station on the day of travel. For those who do use the internet, we are working with online retailers to ensure that they provide the best information online. We are also introducing smart ticketing to make it easier and more convenient to purchase cheaper tickets.
Small Business Commissioner (Scope and Scheme) Regulations 2017
Unified Patent Court (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2017
Designs (International Registration of Industrial Designs) Order 2017
Motions to Approve
That the draft Orders and Regulations laid before the House on 1 November be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 6 December
Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]
Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 7th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 8th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 45: Parliamentary procedure for regulations
73: Clause 45, page 30, line 21, leave out paragraph (a)
My Lords, I will wait a moment while the Minister gets into his listening mode. This amendment picks up points which have already been addressed in Committee relating to the principles of parliamentary scrutiny. Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee said that,
“given that the purpose of the Bill is to address the need for domestic powers to impose, amend and revoke sanctions after Brexit, it is important to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards and there is adequate parliamentary scrutiny to make the delegated powers constitutionally acceptable”.
I know that the Minister will say: “We are doing precisely that. We are using the affirmative procedures”. This probing amendment seeks to increase the level of parliamentary scrutiny so that powers cannot be used until there is a positive vote by Parliament. It is important that we do not walk blindly into a situation whereby we give the Executive powers that cannot be amended, considered or changed. The Minister may say that the necessary scrutiny powers will be used and that they are in the Bill, but why does he not accept that we need the highest possible level of scrutiny? Therefore, I seek from him an assurance that these new powers will not be used and that draft orders will not come into force until there is a vote of Parliament at the highest level.
I certainly accept that there is a need for speed and for delegated powers, but I hope that the Minister will tell us the specific circumstances in which the existing arrangements are not sufficient, and why there needs to be a speeded-up process that does not rely on primary legislation. We have tabled other amendments that we shall discuss later in Committee but I hope that the Minister will explain exactly why he thinks these new powers are necessary without these improved levels of scrutiny. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I wish to speak also to Amendment 75A, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sheehan.
We clearly have an international obligation to agree UN sanctions, which, of course, we play a part in agreeing at the UN. It is when we come to sanctions that do not fall under that heading that we must be especially careful about what we leave simply in the hands of Ministers to decide. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, has made that case. Our Amendment 75A would add Clause 16 to those which must be covered by the affirmative procedure. That surely should be the least that should happen. The noble Lord will have heard the debate on Clause 16. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, described this clause as “lamentable”. It gives the power to a single Minister, by regulation, to create criminal offences for conduct that contravenes laws made by secondary legislation. I am sure that we will come back to this on Report. Our Amendment 75A would place a small check on this power, and I therefore commend it to the Minister.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 75A, which is also in my name. I agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said. The Bill allows such sweeping powers to future Ministers that we on this side of the House seek to put in place safeguards which will enable Parliament greater scrutiny over the regulations made under Clause 16—namely, that they are made by the affirmative procedure.
Clause 16 is the enforcement clause which includes not only the creation of criminal offences punishable by up to 10 years in prison but makes provision for matters in relation to those offences, including defences and evidentiary matters. The Constitution Select Committee has recommended that Clause 16 should not remain part of the Bill, stating its opinion that such regulation-making powers are constitutionally unacceptable. Indeed, we heard arguments to that effect from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my noble friend Lady Bowles on the first day of Committee. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, that this clause should not disfigure our statute book, as he said. Therefore, this amendment is purely an attempt to create a safety net should Clause 16 remain part of the Bill.
My Lords, I added my name to this group of amendments and I support my noble friend Lord Collins in pressing for greater safeguards and extra parliamentary scrutiny, not least because, as I detailed last week in Committee, the banks and London have an appalling record on money laundering—it gives me no great pleasure to say that. We pride ourselves on having one of the best centres of finance in the world, and it is a tremendous source of employment, which is important. However, there is a record of money laundering that simply requires extra parliamentary scrutiny, which is why this group of amendments is so important. That gives me the opportunity briefly, as noble Lords will be relieved to know, to comment on today’s news that HSBC has been relinquished of the penalties that could have applied in the United States of America for similar allegations. That is good news for a British bank that has a global footprint, and for its many employees here in Britain.
I will make two points on this. I caution all our banks which face allegations of money laundering—the Minister may care to comment on this point. Usually, their initial response is to deny it. Then, for example, HSBC, discovered several accounts held by the Gupta brothers, who are South African associates of President Zuma’s family, and it has closed them down, which is welcome. However, we have had a steady stream of allegations against mainly British companies: Bell Pottinger and KPMG, and then McKinsey, which is an American-based company with a presence here. Their initial stance is to deny, then admit, and then apologise. I caution them that with this disease of money laundering it is better not to deny in the first instance.
My second point is to thank the Financial Conduct Authority for the way it has engaged on this issue. I can report to the House that at least one whistleblower who has been supplying me with information from South Africa has engaged directly with the FCA—it has been a positive experience. I say to the financial institutions involved that I named in your Lordships’ House, including HSBC, Standard Chartered and the Bank of Baroda, that if I find that there is any witch-hunting of those responsible, or of the brave, courageous people in the South African governmental system who have also been supplying me with information, I will name the institutions involved and identify the individuals as having suffered that persecution. I say this before your Lordships because it is important that as we take the Bill through we arm it with the instruments necessary to stop this kind of practice.
My Lords, I will not say anything that would diminish what we just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and I do not believe in repetition. However, if I have to repeat it at the next stage of this process, I shall be as vehement as I was before. I support this amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and other noble Lords who spoke in this brief debate. In addition—to depart from my notes—for the first time I welcome the new Deputy Chairman of Committees to his position. It is certainly the first time for me stand at the Dispatch Box with him in his place.
From the outset I agree—I made this point clear in various debates at both Second Reading and in Committee—on the need for proper parliamentary oversight of sanctions regimes and I recognise the importance that noble Lords attach to this. That has been made very clear to me during Committee. Amendments 73 and 74 would require the draft affirmative procedure to be used for any non-UN sanctions regimes. As noble Lords know, the UK, through the European Union, imposes a number of sanctions regimes and measures that do not derive from the United Nations. These include, for example, sanctions against Russia over its illegal annexation of Crimea, and sanctions against the Assad regime in Syria.
In the future, it is likely—indeed, highly probable—that the UK would want to join its allies in imposing sanctions in circumstances where UN agreement is not possible. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, talked about Ministers deciding. No, it would be Parliament deciding, requiring that these sanctions regimes come into effect only after the approval of both Houses of Parliament. In that way it would significantly undermine their effectiveness and make it harder for the UK to impose sanctions at the same time as international partners. Future targets of sanctions would be given forewarning of their designation, which would enable them to move their assets out of the UK and take other steps to nullify the effect of sanctions. This would undermine the credibility of sanctions as a foreign policy tool.
The Bill provides instead that the made-affirmative procedure, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, acknowledged, should be used for non-UN sanctions to ensure that measures have immediate effect, while still requiring the approval of both Houses within 28 days. This strikes the right balance between enabling the Government to act decisively and ensuring accountability to Parliament.
Amendment 75 would require the draft affirmative procedure for any regulations that suspend, revoke or amend existing sanctions. As the Bill stands, regulations that suspend sanctions are subject to the negative procedure. This is to ensure that they can be used flexibly to recognise an improvement in behaviour while maintaining a credible threat that sanctions would immediately be re-imposed in the event of backsliding. This approach has been used to good effect as part of international diplomacy—for example, in the context of the Iran nuclear deal. If the Government were unable to suspend sanctions without waiting for the express approval of Parliament, it would reduce our ability to swiftly deploy these options in support of foreign policy goals.
In addition, as suspension of sanctions has the effect of reducing restrictions on individuals, we do not consider that it requires the higher level of scrutiny required to introduce such restrictions by imposing non-UN sanctions.
As regards regulations to revoke or amend sanctions, the Bill provides that this may be done using the same procedure as was used to create the regulations in the first place. Regimes containing UN-mandated sanctions would be revoked or amended by the negative procedure, and UK-autonomous sanctions by the made-affirmative procedure. I do not see a reason why the revocation or amendment of sanctions regimes should require greater scrutiny than their creation.
Amendment 75A intends to require the draft affirmative procedure for all sanctions regulations that contain enforcement provisions as set out in Clause 16. I acknowledge that we debated Clause 16 on the first day in Committee. I listened carefully to the concerns expressed about the creation of criminal offences through secondary legislation. We are looking at and reflecting on these concerns.
Let me may say a word or two about the process we currently follow as an EU member state and what we envisage following the enactment of the Bill. For each of the current UN and EU sanctions regimes we currently implement through EU law, the UK has created the relevant criminal penalties through statutory instruments made under the negative procedure. Similarly, we expect that all the sanctions regulations created under this Bill will include enforcement provisions of some kind. We envisage one regulation for each country, setting out the purpose of the sanctions, the specific measures being imposed, and the corresponding prohibitions and offences.
This approach allows a degree of nuance when determining penalties. For example, a breach of sanctions that results in nuclear material being made available to North Korea is obviously very serious, whereas failing to supply information to the relevant authority might attract a less severe penalty. Each regime is different, meaning different offences and penalties might be appropriate. This principle was accepted by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.
Given that all sanctions regulations will include enforcement provisions, this amendment would require the use of the draft affirmative procedure in all cases, both UN and non-UN. For the reasons I have set out, we believe the correct approach is negative procedures for regulations containing UN sanctions and made-affirmative for UK-autonomous sanctions.
The use of the draft affirmative procedure for UN sanctions regulations would mean that we would routinely breach our obligation to implement the relevant asset freezes “without delay”. Noble Lords may be aware that Part 8 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017—approved by this House—contains specific powers designed to bridge the sometimes lengthy gap between the adoption of measures by the UN Security Council and the entry into force of the corresponding EU legal Acts. The amendment would undo our recent efforts to accelerate our domestic implementation of UN sanctions. Given my explanation to the Committee, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is minded to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response. The words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, come to mind: he said that we are not simply bringing EU law into domestic law and preserving it, but extending it—a lot. That is the key issue of concern to noble Lords in this House. I hear what the Minister is saying but we will keep coming back to this issue in other groupings. On Report, we will certainly make the voices of all noble Lords heard on this subject. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 73 withdrawn.
Amendments 74 to 75A not moved.
75B: Clause 45, page 30, line 41, leave out paragraph (d)
My Lords, we may get the same response from the Minister to this amendment, but Clause 41 deals with more than simply bringing EU law into domestic law. We have a clause on anti-money laundering that basically says that we already have primary legislation, so we have no need for more and will deal with all this through regulation. I want to hear clearly from the Minister why that is the case. These probing amendments are about the Minister having to make the case. What is deficient in our existing legislative framework? Why is it not sufficient to deal with the problems that have already been identified or may be around the corner? It is up to the Minister to say why existing primary legislation is not sufficient.
If it is not sufficient, why are the Government not bringing forward primary legislation to deal with it, or making the case for primary legislation? I am tempted to use the terms “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”. What are we leading ourselves into? We have tabled this amendment to ask, if the Government have the powers of the super-affirmative procedure, what is the bare minimum? If we will not have scrutiny through primary legislation, let us ensure that on this clause the Government have to say what they intend to do, are required to consult on it and are required to respond to that consultation before any regulations are brought into force. That is the bare minimum.
So far, in all the Committee days, I have not heard that there is a case to be made on this anti-money laundering. By the way, I think it was on the last Committee day that I raised the question of the anti-corruption strategy. I am really pleased that that was published yesterday; I brought it with me and I hope, if we go on for long enough this afternoon, that I will have the opportunity to read it. One of the things about the strategy that concerns me is: who is leading on it? I understand that John Penrose has been given the responsibility, but when the then Prime Minister David Cameron talked about that need at the anti-corruption strategy summit, we were talking about a Cabinet Minister having responsibility. We were talking about the Government taking these issues seriously. We know that money laundering is the key element in most corruption in the world, where people secretly get money out, get it all cleaned up and buy property et cetera.
I hope the Minister will explain why we seem to have had a downgrade on corruption—and not only that. If it is a priority, why are we not getting primary legislation to address these issues? Why are we seeing this being done, in effect, through the back door? I strongly believe that if the clause remains as it is we must have the super-affirmative procedure to ensure not only that we have only proper parliamentary scrutiny but that the people who put the House of Commons there can see and comment on what is being proposed so that there is proper accountability. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the comments that have just been made on this group of amendments on the super-affirmative procedure. When I went to bed last night I was thinking of commenting only that this enhanced procedure was interesting and worth exploring further, particularly to see whether it goes far enough. We are entering new territory. If a procedure such as this gives sufficient consultative and amendment power to Parliament, it might work—but it is still, as has been emphasised, a big downgrade from participating in an Act of Parliament and therefore should not in any way be a “new normal” to replace what could, or should, be done more fully. Having said that, coupled with the sunset clause that noble Lords have proposed in the last group this evening, it is perhaps even more interesting as a backstop and a temporary measure.
However, this morning—I did not have an inspirational dream and I do not want to retract anything that I have just said—I replied to an email from a lobbyist seeking amendments to the withdrawal Bill to change some things in EU financial services legislation while it is being transposed. As part of my reply I explained that the issue concentrating my mind was far more the division of power between government and Parliament—how changes such as the one they sought to address by lobbying me might be addressed in future—and that there would be legislation following on from the withdrawal Bill. We could say that the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill is an advance guard of that follow-on legislation. I ended up by saying that if the Government got their way on the division of power then the lobbyist need never lobby Parliament again. What a statement that is about lack of power and the place of Parliament, yet that is what the Government seek to do to what we proudly call the mother of Parliaments.
Now, “need never lobby Parliament again” is not entirely true. Lobbying would become concentrated solely on getting regulations voted down—in full. I wonder whether the Government have thought through how that would play out. For example, divide and rule—a tactic well used when lobbying and suggestions are varied—would no longer apply. Everyone would be as one, even if for different reasons. I have seen concerted naysaying on issues in the European Parliament—and it is both powerful and very unpleasant.
It is important that Parliament has not just negative but positive power to seek amendments, including to make additions that are significant, not just tweaks. That is what I am looking to preserve, even for any interim measure.
My Lords, perhaps I may just add a word on this occasion. I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the speech of my noble friend Lady Bowles, but I would be far less concerned about trying to change the regulatory procedures we are considering today if we had in Clause 41 an appropriate policy framework under which regulations were to be placed—that is, the safeguards, the range of powers and the proper kind of scope that I think every noble Lord has considered normal in primary legislation. That layer is completely missing. The whole range of safeguards, including policy safeguards, rests with the Executive, while Parliament will have an opportunity to express itself only through its response to statutory instruments. If that were the end state at which we arrived then I think that anything other than provision for the super-affirmative procedure would be so undemocratic as to be offensive to this House.
I still think that the better solution is for the Government to accept that this is an area of genuine policy which requires genuine safeguards and genuine scope, and they should take on the responsibility of putting those safeguards in primary legislation. I do not understand why they have chosen not to do so. The reasons they have given are, first, that some things need to be done fast, though I think we have agreed across the House that it could be done through a carve-out; and, secondly, that there will need to be a transposition from EU law, although that too can be handled on a mere technical basis.
The issue is the absence of primary legislation as the framework for this process. There is no sunset clause on this provision; that is almost a side issue. The fact that the Government are seeking to manage this entire process without bringing crucial issues back to be dealt with by Parliament, in the proper and democratic way, troubles me hugely. I do not think we have heard any explanation from the Government as to why it is crucial to change the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive or why they are using this Bill as an instrument to do so.
My Lords, there is always a temptation in these processes, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, to make the same speech over and over again, but perhaps this speech will suffice for the other issues we will cover today and in the course of this Bill and other Bills.
Of course one of the big worries about the process on which the Government are embarked is—as has been said before, and has just been remarked on—this movement of sovereignty from Parliament to the Executive. I think that this House is doing its job by being very aware of that, but there is another issue in the background to this. I welcome the publication of the anti-corruption strategy. It is keeping faith with a process that has gone on over the past number of years, with all three parties that have been in government, to try to get our house in order regarding our reputation in dealing with corruption, money laundering and associated crimes.
The truth is that we must not be complacent about this. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, was quite right: there is a taint about the behaviour of some in the City. There is a taint about some of the operations of overseas territories, which we will be looking at later. When I was the Minister responsible for the Crown dependencies, my one piece of advice to them was to make sure that they were as transparent as possible in meeting the highest national and international standards. One of the things that the Government and both Houses have to think about as we go through this process that the Government are embarked on is that there are still those who see our future as the buccaneers of world trade, and believe that London and the UK will become a haven for practices that we do not approve of.
That is why it is important that what we put in place during this period will be the base and foundation of our reputation. Those of us who want to see that reputation based on upholding the highest standards—and I fully accept that the Minister shares this—have to understand that each piece of legislation we put forward will be tested against the questions: what do they mean by this, are they going to slip from previous commitments, and are they going to be as tough as they were? Those are the tests that are going to be put to us. Both Houses, and this House in particular, will have to be on their guard to make sure that those highest standards are maintained.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for again raising the issue of parliamentary oversight, and to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I start with a confession: unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, I did not go to bed last night thinking about the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. I had a three year-old to contend with at that time, so I did not share that experience, nor did I dream about the Bill. Nevertheless, let me say at the outset that I accept the importance of scrutiny, as I have said, and before I come to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I shall address the point just made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who spoke about his ministerial responsibilities when he was Minister for the Crown dependencies. His advice is something that I have continued to say to our overseas territories. I was his Whip at that time and I recall those conversations well. Equally, although the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is not in his place, in addressing these amendments I totally acknowledge the important points made in Committee about anti-money laundering and raised again in relation to the previous groups.
I shall address Amendments 75B, 76A and 76B together, as they have a single effect of changing the procedure for regulations made under Clause 41 of the Bill, which concerns anti-money laundering, to the so-called super-affirmative procedure. As we have discussed previously, the Government are committed to ensuring robust scrutiny of regulations made under the Bill. Any regulations made under this clause already have to be made under the draft affirmative procedure and require Parliament’s consent before they take effect. The sole exception to this is when regulations are made to add or remove countries from a list of high-risk jurisdictions in connection to which enhanced due diligence measures must be undertaken. Both the Financial Action Task Force and the European Union currently publish such lists. After the United Kingdom ceases to be a member of the EU, we will seek to align our list of high-risk jurisdictions with that published by the FATF. Part 3 of the Bill provides that regulations updating this list will be made through the made affirmative procedure. This will ensure effective parliamentary scrutiny of such changes, while ensuring that we can align promptly with international standards around which jurisdictions present high risks of money laundering or terrorist financing.
However, this amendment would go further. It seeks to impose the so-called super-affirmative procedure. This would require the Government to publish a draft statutory instrument, with a detailed explanation of its contents, and have due regard to any representations made within a 40-day or 60-day period, including any resolutions of Parliament, before seeking the consent of Parliament to the original or an amended version. I totally appreciate the need for parliamentary oversight, but I believe that this amendment is unnecessary. I assure noble Lords that the Government take parliamentary scrutiny seriously, reflected in the fact that regulations under this clause are already under the draft affirmative procedure.
The Bill will already increase levels of parliamentary scrutiny above and beyond the status quo. We—and other Governments, regardless of party—typically make anti-money laundering regulations through the negative procedure. The Labour Government did this when transposing the third EU money laundering directive through the Money Laundering Regulations 2007. A similar approach was taken earlier this year when we transposed the fourth EU money laundering directive through the money laundering regulations 2017. As noble Lords will be aware, the implementation of the 2017 regulations followed a 12-week policy consultation, followed by a four-week consultation on the draft regulations. Consultations of this type are usual practice for significant changes to regulatory regimes, such as those relating to anti-money laundering.
The Government always pay close attention to the views of parliamentarians, and of noble Lords in particular, on anti-money laundering. In last week’s debate on the Bill we talked about the anti-corruption strategy, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, acknowledged, we published yesterday. In it we reaffirmed our commitment to establishing a public register of the beneficial ownership of overseas companies which own UK property. The Government will publish a draft Bill to this effect in this parliamentary Session, allowing an opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the strategy. I assure him that the Home Secretary, as a senior member of the Cabinet, will personally chair a new economic crime strategic board to drive forward action in this regard.
When changing the UK’s anti-money laundering framework after leaving the EU, the laying of regulations through the draft affirmative procedure will allow Parliament and the relevant committees sufficient time to look at the draft before it is debated or comes into effect. I also remind noble Lords that the regulations will be subject to an affirmative resolution in both Houses before they come into force. These measures, along with changes to the Government’s processes for bringing forward secondary legislation, will go further to addressing the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, raised earlier this year in relation to the process by which the money laundering regulations 2017 were brought into force.
On the point of broader consultation, I reassure noble Lords that the Government regularly speak to interested stakeholders when considering changes to policy or process. I am confident that this will remain the standard practice in matters of this kind, where the Government are dependent on banks, businesses and other stakeholders to ensure effective compliance. With that explanation, I hope the noble Lord is minded to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments, but I think all noble Lords will be concerned. We are moving from one type of regime to another. The fact of the matter is that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, has said on numerous occasions, EU directives go through a very detailed process of democratic scrutiny—at European level and, of course, at domestic level. We know in advance what those directives contain and we debate them fully, and we have the opportunity, through our representation in Europe, to challenge elements of them. All that is going to disappear when we leave the EU. We want to know that we are not giving up that democratic accountability to simply place everything in the hands of the Executive. I am rather disappointed, to put it mildly, with the Minister’s response. I assure him that we will be tabling amendments on Report, particularly with regard to Clause 41, which will ensure that there is proper accountability and scrutiny.
I assure the noble Lord that I am listening very carefully. I did the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, an injustice when flicking through my notes. As noble Lords can probably hear, my voice is deeper. That is the result of telling your children to wrap up warmly on Wimbledon Common but not following that advice yourself. Nevertheless, I listened to the points made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, very carefully. I will consider carefully the points the noble Baroness has raised in Committee, particularly on having a framework, and I recognise the importance of the points raised by the noble Lord—I hear his strength of feeling. I will respond to these issues, as I have said. Some of these concerns have been raised in the Delegated Powers Committee’s report, which we will respond to shortly as well.
I thank the Minister for those additional comments but they still do not change my concerns. I would welcome whatever further consideration he gives them and ask that we have what he has to say in plenty of time before Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 75B withdrawn.
76: Clause 45, page 30, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) A statutory instrument containing regulations under section 1 that repeals, revokes or amends—(a) an Act of the Scottish Parliament,(b) a Measure or Act of the National Assembly for Wales, or(c) Northern Ireland legislation,must receive the consent of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, respectively.”
My Lords, Amendment 76 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sheehan. It states that where a statutory instrument that contains regulations under Section 1 repeals, revokes or amends an Act of the Scottish Parliament, a Measure or Act of the National Assembly for Wales, or Northern Ireland legislation, that instrument must have received the consent of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Irish Assembly. I am sure that the Minister will argue that the Sewel convention provides that the Parliament of the United Kingdom,
“would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”,—[Official Report, 21/7/1998; col. 791.]
but that it does not apply to UK subordinate legislation.
Nevertheless, the new regulation-making powers in the Bill are, as we have heard throughout the Committee stage, very significant. The regulations detailed in Clause 45(5) will enable the Government to amend any Act of the Scottish Parliament and any legislation passed by the Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland. I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for flagging this up. Once again, this is a wide-ranging power that requires further justification and checks, which is why we have put this amendment forward. When the Minister replies, it would be helpful if he indicated which devolved legislation the Government would envisage amending under regulations made under Clause 1 and, for that matter and perhaps more importantly, which they would not. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 76, to which my name is attached. It would amend Clause 45, which lays out the “Parliamentary procedure for regulations”. The amendment gives substance to the recommendation in the eighth report of the Constitution Select Committee which, at the end of paragraph 6, said:
“If it is the Government’s intention that it would, in practice, liaise with the devolved administrations prior to the exercise of this power, such a requirement could be written into the Bill”.
The Government have argued that this power reflects a reciprocity with that which enables Welsh or Scottish Ministers to amend Acts of Parliament. However, reciprocity can be said to operate only where one is comparing similar powers; this is not the case here. Welsh and Scottish legislation can authorise devolved Ministers to amend UK legislation only within devolved competence, whereas UK legislation can authorise UK Ministers to amend enactments of the devolved legislatures irrespective of devolved competence.
I believe this to be a common-sense amendment, one that seeks the consent of the devolved nations before amending any Act passed by the Scottish Parliament and any legislation passed by the Assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland. Dare I say it, consultation with the devolved nations may save the Government from further embarrassments such as the fiasco with the DUP that we witnessed, open-mouthed, just last week.
My Lords, I add to my noble friend’s wise reference to the Constitution Committee the fact that the committee also pointed out that there is ample precedent for the sort of amendment that is being discussed here. For example, certain statutory instruments made under the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 and the Public Bodies Act 2011 have comparable provisions, and there seems no reason why the committee’s advice should not be taken in this case.
My Lords, this amendment is a useful reminder that the Brexit process needs to reflect the devolved nature of the United Kingdom. I take this opportunity of looking at this amendment to make certain observations more broadly and, indeed, to go back to the previous group where the Minister referred to a UK property register. He will be aware—and if he is not aware, he will no doubt be told by those sitting beside him—that the United Kingdom property register covers the whole United Kingdom via three separate registers. Indeed, two of those registers come from jurisdictions which voted by a majority to remain in the EU. Plainly the Minister does not intend to give ammunition to those who wish to withdraw from the UK. This Bill, and this part, are aimed at enabling withdrawal from the EU. That is one objective. There is a body of people who will find ground for complaint in more or less anything that in some way does not take account of the separate nature of various bits of the United Kingdom. With that small warning, I commend this amendment, and leave it at that.
My Lords, the Bill provides powers to be used in pursuit of the UK’s foreign policy and to ensure our national security. Under the UK’s constitutional settlement, these matters are reserved to Westminster. This Bill is accordingly one that is so reserved.
The amendment would, in effect, give the devolved Administrations the right to veto legislation related to UK foreign and security policy. This is contrary to the devolution settlement between Westminster and the devolved legislatures. Devolved legislatures do not have any right to veto measures where they relate to matters of foreign and security policy, including decisions of the UN Security Council. Any such amendments can arise only as the consequence of the sanctions themselves. Their primary purposes will always be a reserved matter.
I reassure noble Lords that during the preparation of the Bill the devolved Administrations were fully consulted on this point and they have not disagreed with our assessment that the Bill is reserved. The amendment would rewrite the devolution settlement, and I am sure that was not the intention behind it.
On the observation and implementation of international obligations within the competence of the devolved Administrations, while they have the power to legislate to implement measures required as a result of international obligations entered into by the UK, that does not provide them with any right to veto UK measures for the purposes of foreign and security policy, including measures negotiated and agreed by the UK in the UN. As I have already said, we have consulted extensively with the devolved Administrations on this very point and they have not disagreed with the Government’s assessment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response which was along the lines that I anticipated. Yet again, it is an argument for generally limiting the powers in the Bill so that the concerns that I have expressed would be lessened. I thank noble Lords for their support. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 76 withdrawn.
Amendment 76A not moved.
Clause 45 agreed.
Amendment 76B not moved.
Clause 46 agreed.
Clause 47: Consequential amendments and repeals
77: Clause 47, page 32, line 13, leave out subsections (1) to (3)
My Lords, Amendment 77, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Kramer, takes your Lordships again to the issues of the Ahmed case. The amendment would delete the first three subsections of Clause 47, which repeal the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc Act 2010, so would stop that Act being revoked. We do not agree with the repeal of that Act and its replacement by a general power to do anything, which is what the Bill does.
There have already been significant contributions from noble Lords, and especially noble and learned Lords, in respect of powers in Clauses 10, 11, 16 and 32 which reach into the same issues. If anything, the amendments proposed already have not gone far enough. The rights of appeal as well as review that are contained in the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc Act 2010 should not be dispensed with.
The Supreme Court struck down the Treasury’s previous regime as an oppressive one that had devastating effects on families, which led to the 2010 Act. It looks like the Government are giving themselves power to do that again. We come back to worthy intentions, but the safeguards must be there. Under the current law, the court hears appeals against designation decisions, not just reviews. That should be maintained.
This amendment revisits issues debated at the time of the 2010 Act, such as who decides questions of fact and the scope of error allowed to the administrative decision-maker. There will be noble and learned Lords who have a better grasp of the issues than me, and as I mentioned, we have already been around that loop in previous debates on other clauses. However, to me, it is a question of principle: to seek to increase power and simultaneously reduce defences is not acceptable, all the more so when there is no relevant change in circumstances or threats brought about by Brexit. It is no excuse to ravage what have previously been just defences. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak briefly. I am no expert on the relevant legislation that is being repealed under this clause, but I have spoken to those who are, and the response I have had is one of shock. Legislation that went through both Houses of Parliament, with great care, debate, consideration and amendment, is now being swept away, to be replaced by a regulatory power, which, again, is not bounded in any way. It could be identical or it could be completely different, but it is not discussed or laid out anywhere in this legislation.
In the past we have talked primarily of powers that have come through a democratic process in Brussels: through the European Parliament’s scrutiny, consultation and voting processes, and through votes of the Council. In this case, we are talking about sweeping away, to be replaced by regulation, significant legislation that came through this Parliament in a democratic process. I do not understand, nor have I heard any explanation, why the Government are choosing to take this route.
My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the White Paper that preceded the Bill, in which we noted that the terrorist threat has evolved since the enactment in 2010 of the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc Act—TAFA—which the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, just referred to. We need to ensure that UK counterterrorist sanctions powers remain a useful tool for law enforcement and intelligence agencies. We therefore propose to use the Bill to establish a common approach to designations under counter- terrorism and country sanctions regimes, including the asset-freezing powers set out in Clause 2.
The threshold for designations under TAFA is high and the powers have not been used since February 2015. Under the Bill, a designation could be made where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the person or group is or has been involved in a defined terrorist activity and that designation is appropriate. As I have previously argued from the Dispatch Box, this is totally line with our current approach under UN and EU sanctions and would be balanced by procedural protections such as the ability of designated persons to challenge the Government in court.
The Bill would enable us to make counterterrorism sanctions regulations and designations such that the powers in TAFA would no longer be required. All the current TAFA designations would then be reassessed under the criteria set by the Bill. If the criteria were met, we would revoke the TAFA designations and create new designations under the Bill. If we are unable to repeal TAFA through the Bill, we will not only be maintaining redundant legislation but risking creating legal confusion by having two very similar pieces of legislation on the statute books.
Furthermore, maintaining TAFA could expose the Government to legal challenge, as designated persons would have grounds to question why they were not instead listed under the Bill, and vice versa. That could mean using taxpayers’ money to deal with legal challenges against the Government that were a result of our failure to repeal redundant legislation.
I draw noble Lords’ attention to paragraph 1.8 of David Anderson’s recent report on the Manchester and London attacks, which noted that,
“the modus operandi (MO) of terrorist attacks has diversified and simplified over the years, as Daesh has”,
inspired rather than directed,
“acts of terrorism in the west. The attacks under review were typical in style for their time and place … Unlike the large, directed Islamist plots characteristic of the last decade, all four attacks were committed”,
as noble Lords will recall,
“by lone actors or small groups, with little evidence of detailed planning or precise targeting”.
In summary, we believe this clause is necessary for the effective operation of the Bill. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response. I am sure he appreciates that this is, if I may use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, a backstop amendment. The point is that satisfaction has to be achieved somewhere in the Bill in respect of the clauses I named, particularly Clauses 10, 11, 16 and 32, and so far we do not appear to have that. This is of a package with that. Something has to be done, so while for the moment I am prepared to withdraw the amendment, I expect this whole issue to be revisited with considerable force on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 77 withdrawn.
Clause 47 agreed.
Schedule 3: Consequential amendments
Amendment 78 not moved.
Schedule 3 agreed.
Clauses 48 and 49 agreed.
Clause 50: Interpretation
Amendments 79 to 81 not moved.
Clause 50 agreed.
Clause 51: Extent
82: Clause 51, page 35, line 24, at end insert “, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the British overseas territories”
My Lords, in this group of amendments we are trying to address an issue that we have discussed before but in a way that improves not only accountability but responsibility. Amendment 84 states that the Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament on the adequacy of the implementation and enforcement of current legislation on sanctions, money laundering and terrorist financing in the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. It requires also that the Secretary of State must consult on whether any further legislative changes or enforcement powers are needed in connection with these territories. Amendments 82 and 83 are also probing, designed purely to raise a debate on the adequacy of the implementation and enforcement of current legislation on sanctions, money laundering and terrorist financing in the overseas territories, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
The Minister has, on previous occasions in Committee, stated that the overseas territories are separate jurisdictions with their own democratically elected Governments. They are not represented in this Parliament and so it has been only in exceptional circumstances that we have legislated for the OTs without their consent. These amendments are of course not about imposing legislation. They are about questioning whether we are meeting our responsibilities and whether we are satisfied with our collective responsibility. The one area in which the overseas territories do comply is foreign policy, and in particular UN sanctions. They do not have a choice about that; they have to meet the obligations that the United Kingdom does.
I want to focus on collective responsibility. I promised the Minister that while I was sitting here I would try to start reading the anti-corruption strategy, and it is worth reading some of it out. Tackling corruption is in the United Kingdom’s national interest. It helps to keep us safe from threats to our safety and security from organised crime, terrorism and illegal migration, and from insiders who exploit their position to access assets for malign purposes. It is our global reputation and global responsibilities that are at stake. These amendments seek to ask whether we are taking those responsibilities seriously in respect of the overseas territories, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
These are not domestic issues. They are not about local finance arrangements. I did say previously in Committee that if the financial services are to thrive, they need to have public confidence. That is what has been stated and why we want to take the lead globally. We know that our reputation as an international financial centre is dependent on people having confidence in it. That responsibility is particularly important in relation to anti-money laundering and the threat from international terrorism. If illegal activities take place in respect of one form of activity, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will be taking place in respect of other activities. That is the real threat that we face.
These amendments are a reasonable request in terms of the overseas territories. They are not necessarily abrogating the other demands that we have been making but seek to ensure that in our global responsibility in the fight against international crime, we have taken all the necessary measures to ensure that we can defend not only our security but that of the overseas territories. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendments 82 and 83 ensure that the Act extends to the overseas territories and Crown dependencies, as we have heard, and that regulations in the Bill may be extended to those areas. Amendment 84 makes it clear that the provisions relate not only to sanctions but to money laundering. We had an extensive discussion about this in the previous sitting. These amendments would certainly move us forward, but my question to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is this: is this strong enough when he states that he seeks to ensure that, “applicable legal frameworks” are,
“sufficiently robust to achieve the objectives of the relevant legislation across the United Kingdom, the Crown Dependencies and the British overseas territories”?
It strikes me that we are not yet in a position where the Crown dependencies and the British Overseas Territories are in the same place as the UK.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and others made a strong case in our previous sitting that it is time to move the matter forward and align the Crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories with the stronger position that we have in recent years secured in the UK. In new subsections (8)(b) and (8)(c), in Amendment 84, we would wish to see that strengthened. Certainly, it is useful to have a report, but we would wish the provisions here to be stronger on the anti-money laundering front. That said, this is clearly an improvement on the current Bill, which is permissive in regard to these areas rather than stating the changes we wish to see.
I just want to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that simply tabling these amendments does not diminish our support for other necessary changes, particularly in relation to the overseas territories. We want the Minister to say why these bare minimums are not necessary. It is about moving the debate forward; it is not back-tracking. As I said in my opening remarks, we are not saying that this is somehow preferable to some of the other amendments we have moved, but it is a way of holding the Minister to account. He has to explain why he thinks the current arrangements are satisfactory, and say why such a report would not be appropriate, so that we can operate a policy in line with the strategy published yesterday.
I thank the noble Lord for that clarification, which is very helpful.
My Lords, I am bound, which will be no surprise to my noble friend or to the Labour Front Bench, to express some reservation about conclusions that might be drawn from this amendment but which were perhaps not intended in the way in which it is framed. In doing so, I am speaking purely about the Crown dependencies and not about the overseas territories. My interest in the Crown dependencies is minor, and recorded in the register, but my real interest is having been involved in the production of reports which helped to set the framework for the relationship between the Crown dependencies and the United Kingdom. My thanks go particularly to my noble friend Lord McNally, when he was the Minister responsible, for implementing those reports.
It is partly a matter of tone and partly a matter of phraseology, but our relationship with the Crown dependencies recognises that these are democratic jurisdictions that are fully open to media scrutiny—not just local media, but national and international media as well. They have both legislative and administrative autonomy to a significant degree. In the case of their legislative autonomy, it is recognised by this Parliament that it is for the authorities in the Crown dependencies to pass their own legislation. However, the process by which they secure Royal Assent for it, involving the Privy Council, is one that gives Ministers a full opportunity to raise any issues they might need to raise that touch on UK Ministers’ responsibility for the international relations of Crown dependencies. That responsibility is exercised by Ministers who will look at legislation in that light.
What we discouraged at the time I was chairman of the Justice Committee is Ministers merely marking the homework of Crown dependencies, and saying, “If we were legislating in this way about dogs, or whatever, we would not phrase the legislation like this”—a wholly time-wasting and pointless exercise. But where a UK responsibility arises, as it does in the case of international treaties, for example, it is entirely appropriate that Ministers seek to ensure that there is proper compliance on the part of dependencies. Of course, the autonomy that dependencies enjoy also applies to the administration and enforcement of law; that administration is something for which they are democratically accountable and is open to any scrutiny and international criticism that media and non-governmental organisations can produce.
I mention those points because a reasonably satisfactory model has developed which works to the satisfaction of both sides, and I would not like that to be thrown out with the bathwater, with such phraseology as demanding to know,
“whether the applicable legal frameworks are sufficiently robust”,
“whether the existing enforcement mechanisms are sufficiently robust”,
or whether the mechanisms that the UK Government use for oversight of the Crown dependencies are adequate. The first two are matters for which the legislatures of the dependencies should be, and are, held to account; the third is one that we have sought to address in recent years, and which we have addressed reasonably successfully. I would be reluctant to see us develop a new and paternalistic model for a relationship that seems in many respects to be working well and which is fully open to all the issues that the media and NGOs have raised about money laundering and transparency—issues on which the dependencies can in some respects demonstrate they are ahead of the United Kingdom itself.
Does the noble Lord not acknowledge that not all overseas territories are compliant in terms of public registers, which this Government have said is a necessary prerequisite, or thing to have, to ensure increased public confidence? Does he not think that that is something we should expect from all our territories?
I am grateful to the noble Lord. At the beginning of my remarks, I said that I was referring specifically to the Crown dependencies and not to the overseas territories, on which a different speech might have to be made. I would also have to say that registers of ownership are only as good as the quality of the information contained in them. The decision of Crown dependencies not to have publicly open registers but to have registers fully open to law enforcement and tax authorities, so long as those registers are of a high quality, is what is most important. It can reasonably be argued—and was argued with a noble Lord with responsibilities in this area during our previous debate—that the registers now in existence in the dependencies are actually better enforced than that of Companies House.
Is the noble Lord aware that, for the first time, the European Union has published a list of those countries that are countries “of note” in respect of money laundering? It is sad to say that, of those, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man appear, which is a matter of concern.
The noble Lord bears out my point. The process of challenging anything found to be unsatisfactory is one to which the dependencies are open. That may come from European Union sources or non-governmental organisations, but these are open and democratic societies, in which those challenges can be made. The UK Government have responsibilities and have the means of exercising them already at their disposal.
My Lords, these exchanges show some of the dilemma of dealing with this issue. I ask a fairly simple question when I look at these things. Why should a financial services organisation decide to base itself on some microdot in the Caribbean to provide its services? Once you ask that question, you begin to wonder whether it is to avoid the kind of rigour and inspection that they get in more well-established centres. As I said in my earlier intervention, I worked for three years with the Crown dependencies, ably aided by the Minister, in his then capacity as a Whip. I made two points. One, which I mentioned earlier, was my advice to them to make sure they answered the various questions put to them with full candour and transparency. I pay tribute to the Justice Committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend, who put forward a range of suggestions. Another point was that the British Government should get their act in better order. Sometimes, the job was to make sure that, when getting this dealt with, Whitehall departments were sufficiently accessible and aware of the particular status of the Crown dependencies.
During those three years of experience, I was impressed by the qualities of the Civil Service and the representatives of the Crown dependencies in dealing with these issues. That does not take away the fact that they, and we, have to face the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, it is our reputation that is at stake. I had nothing to do with the overseas territories, but there is a qualitative difference which needs to be looked at between their standards of supervision of financial services and those of the Crown dependencies. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about the Isle of Man and Jersey. I hope they are both addressing what it is that has landed them on that list. That is something for their processes, because this is damaging to them, although there may be other jurisdictions within the EU which could not bear too close examination.
This is in our national interest. It is not us playing the neo-colonial or trying to order them about. We are defending our national interest when jurisdictions are seen as British Overseas Territories. When I had to learn that very peculiar lesson, the first thing I was told was that we joined them; they did not join us. The difference in constitutional relationship is because they were part of the Duchy of Normandy that conquered us. Nevertheless, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have to understand that their meeting the highest standards is going to be a legitimate interest of the British Parliament and British Government, in defence of Britain’s reputation.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate. As we have heard, the UK is responsible for the foreign affairs and security of both the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. That is the constitutional position. Our long-standing practice is that we do not generally legislate for these jurisdictions without their consent. This point was well made, in the context of the Crown dependencies, by the noble Lord, Lord Beith. Sanctions are tools of foreign policy, or are used to protect our national security. It is clear that the overseas territories and Crown dependencies must follow the UK Government’s foreign policy, including the sanctions we apply. I assure noble Lords that the Foreign Office has discussed this with the overseas territories and Crown dependencies and they also accept this central point of principle.
There are currently two ways in which sanctions are implemented by the overseas territories and Crown dependencies. The UK legislates directly for the majority of these jurisdictions through Orders in Council. Other jurisdictions legislate for themselves, but follow precisely the sanctions implemented in the UK. This model is well established and respects the rights of these jurisdictions.
The Bill is drafted in a way that reflects this reality. It is consistent with the current implementation model for UN and EU sanctions as well as measures under the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010. It allows those jurisdictions that wish to follow UK sanctions through their own legislation to continue to do so. It also allows the UK to legislate directly for certain overseas territories as appropriate.
With regard to anti-money laundering laws, all the Crown dependencies, and each of the overseas territories with a significant financial centre, subscribe to the international standards for anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing set by the Financial Action Task Force. They are assessed in their own right for compliance with these standards and have responsibility for implementing them within their own domestic frameworks.
The Government, of course, retain an interest in ensuring that the Crown dependencies and overseas territories have robust anti-money laundering regimes. As noble Lords are aware, and as I stated in a previous debate—this point was raised with the overseas territories at the recent joint ministerial council—we are already working very closely with those jurisdictions which do not already have national company beneficial ownership registers on establishing such registers or similarly effective mechanisms, and ensuring that information held on these can be shared in near real time with UK law enforcement authorities.
I remind noble Lords that we legislated earlier this year, through the Criminal Finances Act, to establish a statutory review of how these arrangements have been implemented. This will take place before 1 July 2019 and will inform any further debate about the effectiveness of measures relating to beneficial ownership in place in individual Crown dependencies or overseas territories. We should also recall that full implementation of these arrangements will put these jurisdictions ahead of the international standards in this area, and ahead of the approach taken by many G20 countries and individual states of the United States.
This demonstrates the benefits of the co-operative relationship that we have established with the Crown dependencies and overseas territories in combating money laundering and terrorist financing. These jurisdictions are self-governing and take their compliance with the FATF standards very seriously. The anti-money laundering regimes of each of the Crown dependencies have been evaluated since 2015, with overseas territories, including the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, both scheduled to be evaluated in the coming year. The commitment of these jurisdictions to international standards in this area is the best way to ensure that they continue to have robust anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regimes. As I said in the previous debate in Committee, this is a point we have once again emphasised in all our communications, and it was emphasised by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in her recent meeting with the overseas territories. These are long-standing arrangements.
The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about progress and moving forward. We are moving forward positively and I have already talked about the results. In this regard, I do not believe that these amendments are needed. I am sure noble Lords would not wish to jeopardise the achievements that we have seen thus far, which have come from direct co-operation and working with these jurisdictions, and the progress that has already been made. With that, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response. However, I am a little disappointed. We should not apologise for taking the lead in trying to build confidence globally in financial standards. We should not be in any way apologetic about leading the way because London is a global financial centre—
My Lords, I do not think I apologised in any sense, and nor should we—I agree with the noble Lord. We are leading the way and we are proud of that. We have to put this into context. The noble Lord, Lord Beith, talked about the important relationship with Crown dependencies. I have talked about the relationship with our overseas territories. They legislate in many areas. The relationship does not just work; the strength of relationship allows us to make the progress we are making. Britain is leading the way and our overseas territories and Crown dependencies have shown substantial progress in this respect. Perhaps other G20 countries have a lot of catching up to do. We are leading in this respect.
I thank the Minister for that intervention. However, I still come back to the point that the Government’s own strategy, published yesterday, is about building public and international confidence in our systems and maintaining our global reputation. I am disappointed because these amendments do not seek to impose but to ensure effective transparency and that we meet our international obligations. I am sure we will return to the subject when we discuss other amendments on Report, and in the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 82 withdrawn.
Amendments 83 and 84 not moved.
Clause 51 agreed.
Clause 52 agreed.
85: After Clause 52, insert the following new Clause—
“Expiry of Act
This Act expires at the end of five years beginning with the date on which this Act is passed.”
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to try to reflect a lot of the debates and discussions we have had in Committee. At Second Reading many noble Lords, myself among them, said that the Bill was necessary. In the event of Brexit we need to ensure that we can meet our international obligations and treaty obligations; it is a necessary Bill in the event of Brexit and we certainly would not oppose it. I will repeat the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge—although I do not want to stop him intervening and making this point—who described the Bill as,
“a bonanza of regulations”.—[Official Report, 1/11/17; col. 1400.]
In Committee he suggested that it should be renamed the,
“Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering (Regulation Bulk Buy) Bill”.—[Official Report, 21/11/17; col. 107.]
That sums up many of the concerns expressed by noble Lords across the Chamber.
This is and should be necessary in terms of meeting our obligations. However, we need to be able to be in a position to assess just what sort of impact leaving the European Union will have. We are giving the Executive substantial powers; we are not sure quite how those powers will be used, and I hope that the Minister will come back with proposals on a number of suggested amendments. However, in light of all the concerns that have been expressed, the Bill should be revisited—and revisited after a period of time. The time we suggest of five years is adequate to ensure that we meet our international and treaty obligations. However, we do not know—this comes back to the point I made earlier—about the “known unknowns”. The known is that we will leave the EU; the unknown is precisely what the consequences will be—what we need to do.
At Second Reading and in Committee we addressed the issue of mechanisms to ensure co-operation with our European partners and allies. The Minister has repeatedly said, “We will do this, we will be that; we’re not leaving Europe, we’re only leaving the EU”. How do we assess that? How do we know? The important element of the Bill, which is why this clause and this amendment are so important, is that the known unknowns can be properly addressed after a due period of time so that we can come back and say, “Yes, this is adequate”, or, if it is not, the Government—of whatever complexion, whoever is in power in five years’ time—will be required to revisit these issues properly in the light of all the consequences of leaving the European Union. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, indicated, we have heard enough during the debate on the Bill to know that much needs to change in it. The noble Lord proposes a sunset clause for the Bill—in that way it will not be on the statute books in perpetuity—and I like the notion that it breathes its last in five years and simply expires.
Meanwhile, the Government can work out their relationship with the EU—and where, in the light of that, legislation is required—and develop appropriate primary legislation both on the UK’s sanctions regime and anti-money laundering measures, which can be properly scrutinised in Parliament.
I note that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, “in the event that we leave the EU”. There is indeed a question mark about this and what our relationship with the EU will be if we do. So it is no wonder that drafting the Bill was a difficult challenge.
A sunset clause is a useful backstop. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others made clear, it still leaves in place a flawed Bill that we will need to address further on Report.
My Lords, it is the responsibility of this House and the other place to ensure that any legislation that leaves our hands is properly drafted, with the necessary clauses and relevant safeguards and instructions. That is our responsibility. I look at sunset clauses as an absolute last resort. They can be appropriate where legislation is, by definition, short term and deals with an event that will disappear. However, neither sanctions nor money laundering fall into that category. Therefore, although I believe we are talking about “when” not “if” we will withdraw from the EU, I would hate to see that become the rationale for legislation that we do not feel is as good as it could be in delivering the purposes of the two Houses.
I support the amendment as a backstop. However, in a sense, it is incredibly sad that we are having to contemplate such a clause because the Bill itself is so inherently flawed. The House will know from the many comments I have made that I think that there are many flaws in it. However, the most fundamental is that, through a back door, in effect—the Bill does not state this and nor have Ministers been willing to state it—it shifts significantly the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive. We have generations of history in battling to prevent that change—whether through front doors or back doors—and I hope that the Bill can be amended on Report or at Third Reading so that it no longer engineers that shift in power and will not still be an example of a Bill that requires a sunset clause because it is so inherently inappropriate.
I am going to say much the same as the noble Baroness. I am ever an optimist about this. I think that when the Minister has had time to reflect on the wisdom of some of the amendments that have been proposed that will eradicate some of the less desirable features of this Bill, and make it a much better Act in consequence, we will not need a sunset clause. Oh dear—I have reflected that I may be being optimistic, but I think that I am also being utterly naïve.
I shall not support the amendment at this stage—but if when we come the next stage we have had no improvements in the Bill, then I shall.
I want to underline what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. I speak as somebody who has been in the Executive; I have made that point throughout the Committee’s proceedings. I have no doubt that the Bill is necessary, because the nation needs this power. I have no doubt that the noble Minister presenting it is completely—
He is not a noble Minister.
I am sure he is noble.
He is a noble Lord who is a Minister.
I apologise to him. The noble Lord who is also a Minister—I of all people should know that—means well in his intentions and assurances. From experience in the Executive, we reach for the legislation and read it as it is. My anxiety is that unless we get it right in the Bill, we will give the Executive huge powers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said, when we voted to leave the European Union, we never intended to do anything other than leave the European Union. We did not intend to change completely the balance of the constitution and give the Executive that degree of extra power. I am talking not only about this Bill, but the whole balance of the constitution. This is happening because everything is necessarily having to be done in a hurry. The oddity about this Bill is that it is an early stage Brexit consequential. It is not adequate in the balance it has struck between the Executive and the legislature. If this Bill has got it wrong, then things will get worse as the pressure builds on parliamentary draftsmen, Ministers and policymakers. We must stand firm as a House to send a message that future Bills must be more accurate than this one in terms of the balance between the Executive and the legislature.
I support the amendment of my noble and learned friend Lord Davidson and my noble friend Lord Collins because it is inconceivable to me, in the light of the number of changes that we have sought, that everything will be put right on Report. The Bill should be time-limited for five years so that the Government have to come back with a further shot at it. We will need this sort of Bill indefinitely, but the balance in this one is so badly wrong that I think a separate clause is appropriate.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords—indeed, noble and learned Lords—who have taken part in the debate. I acknowledge the points that have been raised on this amendment.
Turning to Amendment 85, it will not surprise the noble Lord that we do not believe that there should be a sunset clause in the Bill. Whatever the nature of our future relationship with the EU—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, meant when, not if, we leave the EU; he may choose to clarify otherwise—the powers in the Bill will be necessary. We will need them to comply with UN obligations and we will need autonomous powers to be able to create, amend or lift sanctions to address a wide variety of national security and foreign policy challenges. It is true that the design and scope of sanctions has changed over the years, but we need the power to implement sanctions as part of our diplomatic toolkit, which will not go away.
I also acknowledge and appreciate the point of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, that all noble Lords, irrespective of the approach and mechanisms, agree with the principle that this Bill is required. I also acknowledge, as I have done in Committee, the important role of this House in the scrutiny of legislation. In the responses I have given on which we are not agreed, I hope it is clear that there are areas that the Government will reflect on and return to. In that respect, I hope to meet with noble Lords in the intervening period before Report to see how we can bridge some of the challenges and differences that have been raised.
Further, I assure noble Lords that we are committed as a Government to getting this legislation right. The Bill is designed to ensure that we can continue to use sanctions appropriately—I know that is a principle accepted by all noble Lords—in response to future global developments and challenges, and to provide that the right safeguards are in place for the use of those powers, which I also respect. I am immensely grateful for the active contributions of noble Lords in helping us to do this.
I make the point again that every sanctions regime made under the Bill will go before Parliament. Specifically on the sunset clause, we should remember that no one Parliament can bind another. Every Parliament is sovereign, so any future Parliament will be free to revisit this legislation if it so chooses. I therefore do not believe that it necessary or appropriate effectively to put into the Bill a requirement that a future Parliament would need to revisit the primary legislation in 2023. If the Government at that time choose to do so that is their prerogative and Parliament will remain sovereign, as it is now.
I once again thank all noble Lords for the constructive way they have engaged during Committee. I have appreciated it. As I said, the Government are looking at a number of areas. I assure noble Lords—notwithstanding some of the questions, points and observations made—that the ultimate objective behind this Bill is that the Government remain committed to ensuring that the opportunities and challenges Brexit presents to the Government and Parliament are discussed constructively, and that any legislation, including the Bill, is passed in a way that best reflects the opinions of the people of the United Kingdom. We will continue to work constructively with noble Lords to see where we can move forward. I will write to noble Lords in this respect over the coming days. Based on that, I hope that the noble Lord is minded to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for that. I am tempted to paraphrase that notable historical figure, Mandy Rice-Davies: “You would say that, wouldn’t you?” The fact is that we have substantial concerns that need to be addressed as we move to the next stage. To pick up the concerns of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, this is not a probing amendment or a principled amendment, but a give notice amendment. It is about making sure that the Minister, who has been in listening mode, comes back with some possible, positive proposals to address the numerous concerns we have regarding the Bill. In the light of it being a give notice amendment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 85 withdrawn.
Clause 53 agreed.
Bill reported without amendment.
Brexit: Human Rights
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their human rights priorities in the light of Brexit.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests.
Divisions have grown deeper since the referendum to leave the European Union. There is growing uncertainty as people fear for their future, their families and their right to remain, despite the joint paper on citizens’ rights. If Brexit is to happen, this debate is a chance to begin to articulate what we expect from the Government and to start asking the challenging questions. Who do we want to be as a country? How can we live up to our history, and defend and build on it; and what stands in the way of our achieving that vision? Two days ago, on 10 December, we marked Human Rights Day—the 79th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—a day of global focus but a reminder that human rights are a matter of national as well as international standards. That is why I am particularly pleased that we have this opportunity to debate human rights in the United Kingdom, a debate that I believe should be an annual event and opportunity to hold ourselves accountable on human rights.
As many will know, Britain was instrumental in creating the post-war international human rights consensus through the universal declaration and, in particular, the European Convention on Human Rights, which is now incorporated into domestic law through the Human Rights Act. Human rights in the United Kingdom go back, of course, much further: Magna Carta was 800 years old in 2015. These rights transcend political parties and individuals—they are universal. Yet there has often been resistance from Governments, and these rights have been hard-won. Women’s suffrage is merely 100 years old next year. Minorities, misrepresented and defamed, were equally denied. I know this human rights landscape not from an academic perspective but as a member of a much-maligned and misrepresented minority that was denied equality for a very long time, like so many other misrepresented minorities.
What has been achieved has been achieved across a thousand generations. That is why I celebrate organisations in this field but particularly the courageous individuals across the generations who have given so much—their liberty and their lives—to achieve what we have today. Rights have come gradually, with the Disability Discrimination and Race Relations Acts; the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality with the 1967 Act; the Equality Act 2010; civil partnerships and equal marriage. But although we have equal marriage here, it is still, shamefully, denied in Northern Ireland, as is abortion. Those anomalies must not be allowed to continue. Our ground-breaking Gender Recognition Act has now been overtaken by Malta’s, and we now need to face down the attacks on and objections to the rights of trans women and trans men. So the history of human rights in the UK has been one of steady progress, with legal protections improved over time, but often after hard-fought litigation. We must not allow standards to regress.
Where we have led, others have followed and improved. Our global position means that we are rightly held to a high standard. NGOs are watching and so are our peers in the international community. The UN’s universal periodic review—our peer review by other UN member states—took place earlier this year. The results do not place us in the top flight. Only 42% of the recommendations were accepted by the Government, compared to a global average of 73%, so arguably the UK’s status as a human rights leader is at risk.
In this very short debate we have a chance to set the tone for scrutiny of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which we will undertake next year. The process of Brexit, as I said before, has created division and doubts. There are doubts about what rights will exist after Brexit; whether standards will improve or get worse; how laws will be interpreted and whether we will keep pace with international best practice. There are doubts too for those for whom essential services are at risk, from the loss of access to EU funding or EU workers. Therefore, the Government’s human rights priority should be to put those doubts to rest and ensure that protections are preserved and enhanced. Brexit must not reduce our rights but must be an opportunity to enhance them, keeping the protections of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as well as the application of the charter’s general principles. Indeed, the general principles provide a complementary and important tool for individuals to enforce their rights, as seen this year when John Walker successfully used them in the Supreme Court to close a loophole in domestic law denying same-sex couples the same pension rights as heterosexual ones. To remove the right of action based on the general principles is to deprive these rights of any real force.
So I ask the Minister, will the Government uphold the principle of non-regression in equality and human rights laws and ensure continued parliamentary scrutiny of any changes to our equality and human rights laws by restricting the use of delegated powers? Will they commit to remaining in the European Convention on Human Rights and not diminishing the protections in the Human Rights Act? Will they ensure that our courts can keep pace with relevant EU case law, post Brexit? On the latter, I share the concerns expressed to your Lordships’ EU Justice Sub-Committee by senior Law Lords on the current wording of Clause 6 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which creates legal uncertainty and has the potential to politicise the judiciary.
If we want to achieve progress the Government should consider the following—to quote Gilbert and Sullivan, “I’ve got a little list”. It includes giving enhanced status to UN treaties, for example the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as ratifying the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. It includes establishing a national action plan on human rights as a sensible framework for the implementation of UN human rights recommendations. It includes undertaking an equality impact assessment of new arrangements to replace EU funding—assessing, for example, the impact that Brexit will have on disabled people, older people and carers, and services available to groups vulnerable to violence, including children, women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The Government should also consider undertaking a cumulative impact assessment of the 2018 Budget and reconsidering existing policies that are contributing to negative financial impacts for the most disadvantaged. Finally, they should follow up their race disparity audit with genuine action: for example, taking forward the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s recommendations in A Roadmap to Race Equality and responding to the Lammy review with innovative options. There is much to do to retain the rights we have and to improve upon them.
There is so much I have not mentioned: homelessness; the doubling of the number of rough sleepers in just seven years; and increasing poverty. That is why I believe firmly that we need an annual human rights debate. I know that this House will perform its duty diligently in scrutinising Brexit legislation, never more so than in the defence of rights and freedoms. Therefore, I now look forward to the contributions of noble Lords.
My Lords, your Lordships may be aware that the time limit for Back-Bench speeches has been relaxed from two minutes to four minutes, but I must ask that remarks are concluded at the point the clock reaches four minutes to allow the Minister his maximum allocated speaking time.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who is a well-known champion of the protection of human rights. I share with him—and, I am sure, all other noble Lords—a sense of the importance of their continued protection following Brexit. I also, I suspect, share with him a disappointment with the decision taken by the British public to leave the European Union. I am extremely concerned about some of the economic consequences of our so doing, but this evening we are concerned with the human rights consequences and the need to keep them ever at the forefront of our considerations. Although complacency is not appropriate, nevertheless I feel confident that we can protect human rights adequately in the future without being involved in the European Union.
The final shape of any deal—and I profoundly hope that there is a deal—will, I hope, deal adequately with citizens’ rights and the security and criminal justice arrangements that have been the bedrock of our relationship with other European Union countries. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, spoke about the Charter of Fundamental Rights. His party was not very enthusiastic about that when it was first brought in. Although I think it is a fine statement of general principle, I fear that I am one of those who do not feel that actionable rights per se are necessarily the answer. I have read the government review of the withdrawal Bill in connection with the charter and it does not seem that we are likely to lose any substantial protection if Clause 6(5) becomes law.
As to the Human Rights Act, we still have it. There has been talk—of which I am aware—of a British Bill of Rights. Together with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, I was on the commission that considered whether that should be the case. The majority thought that it should, although nobody thought that that would result in a diminution of protection; it was a question simply of recalibrating our relationship with the Strasbourg court.
Why am I not unduly concerned about our future protection of human rights post Brexit? It is simply because I believe that our courts, with their historic tradition of respecting human rights, and our Parliament, should be, and have proved, capable of responding to the challenges that human rights issues sometimes pose. I will give two examples. The first is modern slavery. All human rights documents and conventions, quite rightly, outlaw slavery in all its manifestations—but what we needed was a piece of bespoke legislation to deal with the precise problems, subtle yet profound, thrown up by modern slavery. That is what Parliament could do, rather than a broadly based rights instrument.
The second example was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman: the very important equal marriage legislation. That is something that Parliament achieved, notwithstanding opposition within Parliament and considerable opposition outside. It was one of those occasions when Parliament was ahead, I think, of most of the general public, and now we can turn round and say that Parliament should be proud of what it achieved in that respect. It is an irony that many of those who were concerned about it thought that it might offend the Strasbourg court in some way—hence the clever drafting of that piece of legislation to make it proof from any such challenge.
So what are the Government’s priorities post Brexit? I hope and believe that they are to maintain our reputation for protecting and honouring human rights. We belong to innumerable treaties, conventions and the like which do just that. We have an excellent reputation for our protection of human rights. I believe that we will be able to continue to do so. We should not rest on our laurels, of course, but should be active in identifying any potential weaknesses—but human rights are safe with our Parliament and our courts.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Cashman on securing this debate on human rights priorities this evening.
The human rights and equality concerns arising from the EU withdrawal Bill, heightened by the exclusion of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, relate both to what is captured in domestic law on exit and the intention of government after departure. The Government’s rights-by-rights analysis, published on 5 December, of how everything of legal value in the charter will remain protected by preserving in the Bill the sources which underlie that charter, such as the Human Rights Act and Equality Acts, will require some scrutiny.
The Government have given an undertaking to require a ministerial Statement for any Brexit-related primary or secondary legislation on whether and how it is consistent with the Equality Act 2010. There is no such requirement, however, for consistency with the provision of rights underpinning the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, yet the adequacy of the proposed protection of rights will be of particular significance in Northern Ireland. Human rights, equality and employment rights are a central and essential ingredient of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. In the absence of a functioning Executive at Stormont, the legislature in Northern Ireland is unable to consider the implications of the Bill for those rights. The people do not have a voice in the way that the Northern Ireland Act is intended to work. It would be a travesty if Brexit were achieved at the price of loss of confidence in the rights of the people in Northern Ireland. The narrative must not be defined only by the perceived needs of English voters. As to the future, the amendment or repeal of the Human Rights Act may well be regarded by some as a breach of the Good Friday agreement itself.
More generally, the Government’s proposed manner of protecting equality and human rights on exit from the EU is weakened by a lack of confidence in their longer-term intention. The recent Conservative manifesto stated that the human rights legal framework may be reviewed post Brexit. Not so long ago, the Government’s Red Tape Challenge reviewed the Equality Act 2010 and canvassed views on repealing the Act itself. The Government need to demonstrate that we will not be walking back to our future after Brexit by setting out a clear vision on how the UK will remain a global leader on equality and human rights once we have left the EU and, as my noble friend Lord Cashman has urged, to commit to the principle that there will no dilution of equality and human rights law in this country.
My Lords, the United Kingdom has a strong and proud record in upholding human rights. This is in large part due to our common law tradition and parliamentary democracy. Fundamental human rights, which so many Members of your Lordships’ House champion tirelessly—in season and out, at home and abroad—arise from irreducible moral truths about who we are, what we share and why our shared human dignity matters. Parliament and our courts are well equipped to deliberate and determine such matters. What the Government must make clear is that, in or out of the European Union, they have no intention of emasculating our obligations to uphold those fundamental rights.
The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights is a good starting point but it is not the perfect paradigm. Commonwealth jurisdictions such as Australia and New Zealand protect rights at least as well as some European Union member states, and in some cases even better. The research of Professor John Finnis, Richard Ekins, Graham Gee and others in various papers published by Policy Exchange set out some helpful examples of best practice. I wonder whether the Minister has had the opportunity to read and reflect upon these in preparation for this debate. Can he also tell us what additional support the Government will give to the courts during the transitional period, to ensure that they are adequately enabled to adjudicate contested questions previously determined by European courts?
There is one area of law that neither we nor the EU have right, and that is the way in which we deal with the crime above all crimes: genocide and the associated crimes against humanity and war crimes. The noble and learned Lord will recall that I moved an amendment seeking a determination of the crimes by ISIS against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria as a genocide. He will recall that in April 2016 the House of Commons passed a resolution declaring that a genocide was under way. Similar resolutions were passed by the European Parliament, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, the American Congress and others, yet such is the inadequacy of how we give effect to our duties under the 1948 genocide convention to prevent, protect and punish that, even now, no one has been brought before any court to stand trial for executions, rape, enslavement and a litany of other obscenities. Perhaps our failure to provide a proper mechanism to hold perpetrators to account is why we see the same ethnic cleansing being repeated against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma.
Earlier today, I met officials from the War Crimes Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The UK deserves credit for securing United Nations Security Council Resolution 2379 to bring Daesh to justice, but as this is to be implemented via Iraqi courts I would like to hear what resources and assistance we are going to give to ensure that that approach is effective.
I have laid the Genocide Determination Bill before your Lordships’ House. It provides for the High Court of England and Wales to make a preliminary finding on cases of alleged genocide and for the subsequent referral of such findings to the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal. It spells out how the instruments that deliver justice need to be changed. I hope the Minister may give time and will agree to study the Bill and give it proper consideration, and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, might do the same.
The 30 rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, from the right to life to the right to free speech, were born in the ashes of Auschwitz. They should continue to be the bedrock of our country’s principled approach to the upholding of human rights, and that is why today’s debate is of such importance.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, for enabling us to acknowledge the crucial contribution that your Lordships’ House and Parliament as a whole have made, and must continue to make, to advancing equality. As he so effectively argued, it is vital that that continues beyond Brexit because there is so much still to be done to empower disabled people, in particular, so that we can enjoy the equality that is ours by virtue of our common humanity.
I take this opportunity to put on record my heartfelt thanks to all noble Lords and Members of the other place who have expressed support since my speech in your Lordships’ House on 24 November, reported in Hansard at cols. 414-17. I also want to put something else on the record. When I accepted the Equalities Minister’s offer to join the board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, I did so in good faith that the offer was for the disability commissioner role for which I had applied and been interviewed. I subsequently discovered that that faith was misplaced because, unbeknown to me, she had already colluded with the commission to help get rid of the role when she decided to appoint me as a general commissioner instead. Needless to say, she did not make that point clear to me at the time she wrote to offer me the role of a commissioner on the board. Had the Minister bothered to ask me, I would have told her straight that disabled people desperately need a dedicated disability commissioner to champion our equality. That need cannot simply be abolished.
Noble Lords will know that I have respectfully requested that the Prime Minister dissociates the Government from this downgrading of disability. However, if that is what I am asking of the Prime Minister, then the very least I can do is dissociate myself as well. With immediate effect, I am therefore withdrawing my acceptance of the Equalities Minister’s offer to join the board of the commission, an offer which was made under false pretences. I will not collude in this shameful downgrading of disability, which Written Answers in the other place now show was taken by an Equalities Minister who informed No. 10 of the change to the commissioner role only 24 hours before my appointment. Even worse, the Equalities Minister did not even inform the then Minister for Disabled People that there was to be no disability commissioner.
In conclusion, I ask nothing of my noble and learned friend the Minister this evening, but I respectfully reiterate my request to the Prime Minister that she ensures the release of all the relevant communications, so that Parliament can understand how on earth the Equalities Minister could possibly think that agreeing to help get rid of the disability commissioner role would somehow help disabled people in our fight for equality.
My Lords, I am sure the whole House will want to treat with great respect and deep consideration the very important points that the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, has just made. I thank my noble friend Lord Cashman for giving us the opportunity for this debate and for the brilliant speech he made in introducing it, which brought a lot home to me. In my politically formative years, when I was very young—in my teens—I took human rights very seriously indeed with others. I was at a conference in Geneva where I was privileged to meet Eleanor Roosevelt and talk with her. What I have never been in any doubt about since is that human rights are not just an optional asset to have in a nice society. They are not a vicarage tea party affair but a fundamental cornerstone of a decent society and, more importantly, of stability and peace throughout the world. If we really secure human rights, extremism will be marginalised. I am doubtful it will be eliminated—although I wish it would be—but it will be marginalised. We have to give people a stake in a society that they believe is worth defending and in which they have full confidence. Human rights should be a central priority in all that government is doing.
There is absolutely no doubt that the decision to leave the European Union has caused a great deal of anxiety, which my noble friend referred to. What we need from the Minister is a very specific list of those rights—not generalisations—which the Government are determined to include in whatever arrangements are made, and what rights they are not going to include, because it is quite clear there are some that they will not include. We will need the specifics so that people know where they are. My noble friend was also right to emphasise the importance of a national action plan. If human rights are going to be properly implemented, we must have a plan to which we work and have the authority of that plan behind us. He was also certainly right to talk about the impact assessment. We need to know exactly what these changes will mean for the lives of ordinary people.
I shall conclude on a point about citizenship. A lot of us were appalled by the significance of the referendum result for people from Europe living in Britain and British people living in the European Union. We were given categorical assurances from the Bench opposite that this was going to be a priority of the Government— yet here we are, 18 months later, and all that surrounds the issue is uncertainty. We are not talking about statistics; we are talking about families, mothers, fathers, children, sick relatives, elderly people, vulnerable people—real people who have thrown their lives into creating job opportunities for themselves and others, and have committed themselves to another society in doing so—but we are still dithering about, trying to work out what the specific arrangements should be.
If we get nothing else tonight, we must get from the Minister an absolute assurance—even though I have already referred to the categorical assurances we were given 18 months ago—that this is going to happen without delay, and that we are not going to break the promise that this will not become a negotiating counter to be played in the game of leaving the EU.
My Lords, human rights are really about how we treat one another as human beings. They are about fairness and respect for all. Such principles must therefore be uppermost in our minds as we negotiate our departure from the EU. I am truly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, for this debate tonight.
I worry for the future of the one in five UK citizens who are disabled. Arguably, they have benefited from the best equality and human rights legislation in the world. The UK has both influenced and been influenced by EU law on disability rights. Under EU law, international treaties have a stronger impact than they do under UK law. For instance, EU law must be interpreted consistently with the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. This has provided a significant baseline for progressing disability rights in the UK. The Government must ensure that there is no regression, so that disabled people continue to benefit from the convention and see progress in the UK.
One of my major areas of concern is disabled people’s right to independent living, on which I have campaigned passionately for many years. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which I appreciate is being hotly debated in the other place, is particularly relevant to this. Article 26 on the integration of persons with disabilities helps to give effect to their independence and participation in the community, but it is not expressly addressed by the European Convention on Human Rights or the Human Rights Act. How will this protection be continued if the charter is not retained in UK law?
Our success in advancing independent living has also been helped by the European structural funds. Billions of EU money has stimulated a significant shift from institutional to independent living across Europe. What are the Government’s plans if we are no longer going to be part of the fund? Where will we obtain such funds to progress independent living in this country when that comes to an end?
Another vital issue concerning disabled people is the possible effect of new immigration rules on EU employees. Many of us require personal assistants or carers to live independently and to be included in the community. This workforce enables people like myself the freedom to enjoy a private family life, to work, to be here debating in the House tonight, to socialise and to actively participate as equal citizens. Thousands of us employ between two and six EU nationals. I urge the Government to carry out a rigorous equality impact assessment of disabled people’s rights to live independently and ensure that the impact of Brexit on this vital workforce is central to debates on freedom of movement between Europe and the UK.
If human rights are realised for disabled people, they are secured for all of us and will strengthen the fabric of our society.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, for giving us the opportunity to debate the important question of what the Government’s human rights priorities are post Brexit. I hope he will not be too disappointed if I try to address the closely linked question of whether human rights are a priority for this Government.
“Britain has a long history of protecting human rights at home and standing up for those values abroad … However, the present position under the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act is not acceptable”.
These are not my words but words from my party’s paper, Protecting Human Rights in the United Kingdom. However, all grand statements have to be underpinned. If the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act are not acceptable, as that statement says, and the European Union and the human rights framework it provides—despite its shortcomings—is no longer part of the structure of human rights, what will underpin our commitment?
I accept the Government’s assurances, given in the repeal Bill White Paper and subsequently, that,
“legal rights and obligations … should … be the same after we have left the EU as they were immediately before we left”.
I particularly welcome assurances that the Government will not amend or repeal the Human Rights Act or alter the UK’s relationship with the European Convention on Human Rights during the Article 50 period. However, I am afraid that I am not as optimistic as my noble friend Lord Faulks.
I have concerns premised on a number of factors. These include the potential for future legislation that could seek to roll back the current level of protection; political rhetoric feeding the tabloids and the tabloids emboldening the Government on a general attitude of dismissing our strong tradition of commitment to human rights; a disdain for the judiciary; and attacks on the rule of law. I am concerned also by the worrying but honest admission from Sir Simon McDonald, the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said that human rights are not a “top priority” for the Government.
Our approach at the Human Rights Council is another concern, where too often we abstain rather than stand by the values that we espouse. My most recent concern is the approach to the UK’s third universal periodic review, which is, as the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, said, a form of peer review where all nations’ human rights records are put under a spotlight. This year, the UK received 227 official recommendations and, whereas the world average of adoption of recommendations is 73% and other western European states supported an average of 67% of recommendations, the UK supported only 42%. That is less than in previous years, and specifically it did not support recommendations that related to securing the future status of the Human Rights Act.
Each of the concerns I list could be the subject of a debate. Sadly, with only four minutes allocated, I simply raise them and ask my noble friend the Minister to reassure the House that this Government remain committed to the human rights landscape as it currently stands and do not intend to remove protections afforded to British citizens as we remove some of the underpinning that enables these very protections.
Finally, Britain has a strong record in promoting human rights both domestically and internationally. We played a leading role in establishing the post-war international human rights framework. We are right to be proud of our record. But the legacy this Government should strive for is that, at this moment of significant constitutional change, we should set out a positive vision of the kind of country we want to be after we have left the European Union and ensure that the UK remains a global leader on equality and human rights once we have left. The EU may no longer be a priority, but we must all work to ensure that the values that used to bind us as a nation, including human rights, remain a priority.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, for tabling the debate. I declare that I am a trustee of the British Institute of Human Rights, which is listed in the register of interests. The British Institute of Human Rights, along with 31 other organisations, has submitted evidence to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, expressing concerns about the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. They also co-ordinated a letter signed by 145 civil society groups with a strong message to the Prime Minister on human rights now and, importantly, post Brexit.
In the debate on Brexit, it appears that the impact on disabled people has barely been discussed in the public arena. It was not particularly discussed in the referendum debate or election manifestos; it seems that we have been forgotten, so I ask the Minister what guarantees will be given that disabled people’s rights will be protected as we go forward?
Disability Rights UK, in the manifesto which was published in June this year, made some very sensible recommendations about priorities for disabled people. We should not even have to be articulating these, but it shows where we are in our attitudes towards disabled people. It said that EU-based disability rights existing at the time the UK leaves the EU have to be maintained, including those in relation to air and ship travel, web accessibility, accessible goods and services, public procurement and manufactured goods. Disability rights, which are incorporated in domestic law at the time of exit, including primary legislation, must remain unchanged without there being proper scrutiny. We cannot inadvertently discard, for example, disability equality rules and regulations and just call them “red tape” as a reason to get rid of them.
There has to be continued government commitment to the UK being ahead of the curve on disability rights—fully committing to implementing standards equivalent to the new European Accessibility Act, once that is passed—and at least matching current funding for disabled people’s organisations. In recent days we have heard a lot about equality impact assessments around Brexit—or perhaps the lack of them. It is essential to ensure that there is no detrimental impact on disabled people’s independence through reducing the PA workforce, as covered by my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton. There are other recommendations in Disability Rights UK’s manifesto, which are worth exploring, but perhaps at another time.
There are challenging times for disabled people: whether that is how they are portrayed in the media as victims or vulnerable, whether it is the impact of welfare reforms, or the fact that disability hate crime figures are too high, or that the reporting of hate crime against disabled children is on the rise. In the last year, there were 450 incidents of hate crime towards disabled children—up from 181 in 2014-15. Disabled children and their parents are being targeted online and they get verbal abuse in the streets. Amanda Batten from the Disabled Children’s Partnership said from a survey of 2,700 parents that abuse is commonplace. So it is easy to understand that in this attitude towards disabled people, their rights may be eroded.
Finally, according to recent comments, disabled people do not particularly contribute to British society, and it is our fault that UK productivity has fallen. Of course, I strongly disagree with that. Disabled people have a significant amount to contribute, but for this to happen their rights need to be discussed and protected. I look forward to further debates on this matter in the future.
My Lords, in the unfortunately short time available, I draw attention to our EU nationals from the Roma community, many of whom fled from extreme discrimination—their children sent to special schools and not allowed to speak their own language, their villages burnt down like the pogroms of old, mistreatment at the hands of the police, and even murders committed and condoned by the rest of the population.
The reforms to EU migrants’ access to welfare benefits have had a disproportionate impact on Roma well-being and the conditions for assuring their residence in the UK are discriminatory. Five years’ continuous residence does not work for family units who go backwards and forwards over the channel for family events and contacts. Family is of particular importance to people who have little confidence in the state, and of course contributes significantly to its members’ well-being. It is not clear what will be adduced for the assessment of conduct and criminality. Will it be local resentment, no matter how prejudiced, or permanent exclusion from school, of which there is now a disproportionate and worrying amount? Will it be civil penalties, such as driving offences, or all criminal offences, no matter how petty? The use of income records as evidence tends to exclude anyone in the informal economy or a family enterprise, and the online stipulation is another barrier to many. Can the Minister specify exactly which documents will be accepted?
Since the referendum, border force police have deported over 5,000 EU migrants, one-third of whom were Romanians, including many Roma rough sleepers, although a legal challenge is ongoing. Some of these problems also affect Irish Travellers, and indeed Irish citizens in general. Have the issues of Roma rights and safety been raised at all in Brexit discussions? The UK Government set their face against adopting the national Roma integration strategy for 2015 to 2020, as requested by the European Commission. Will they now set out their policy for dealing equitably and justly with the human rights of the Roma people, and their eligibility to remain here?
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, on securing this important debate. I want to raise just a few of the major human rights concerns highlighted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in relation to Brexit. The Government have given assurances that they will respect parliamentary sovereignty in dealing with changes to the law on equality and human rights. However, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill as drafted does not honour those assurances. Much has been said in debates in your Lordships’ House about the wholesale use of delegated powers under the Bill to amend or repeal retained EU law and other domestic law, including primary legislation. The Bill prohibits the use of delegated powers in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998. Why, then, does it not hold to that standard for other legislation that protects equality and human rights? Do the Government have plans to water down the Equality Acts of 2006 and 2010, or other primary legislation that protects employment and other rights? Perhaps the Minister could explain.
The Government say in their White Paper that the use of delegated powers will be used only to deal with deficiencies in preserved EU-derived law arising out of our exit from the EU. It will be government Ministers who decide what those deficiencies are, will it not? Maybe Ministers will regard some individual rights as a deficiency in the system. Clearly, Parliament needs some clear principles in the Bill to prevent a dilution in our human rights and equalities framework. The Equality and Human Rights Commission recommends that an amendment to the Bill explicitly rules out the use of delegated powers to make any changes to equality and human rights laws. I entirely agree with the need for that safeguard. Again, I shall be grateful for the Minister’s comment.
The House will pick up all the equality and human rights issues when we come to debate the Bill. I just want to pick one other that has already been mentioned—my mystification that the Bill removes the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights from domestic law. Why does it do that? The charter provides important protections for rights that fall within the scope of EU law, such as non-discrimination rights in employment. The Government have said that,
“the removal of the Charter from UK law will not affect the substantive rights from which individuals already benefit in the UK”.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, made that point. However, rights enshrined in the charter do not have equivalence in UK law. Those rights will surely be lost.
The charter also provides remedies for individuals and the right to challenge laws that breach fundamental rights. Am I right that the Government would like to see the back of these remedies and rights? Maybe that is the explanation. The Government argue that many of the rights protected in the charter are also found in UN and other international treaties the UK has ratified. However, the UK has not incorporated UN human rights treaties in every case. Does this dilution of citizens’ rights reflect the Government’s failure to address important issues? My worry is that the watering down of individual rights is intentional. I hope the Minister will explain which of these assumptions is correct.
With the consent of both Front Benches, I shall speak briefly in the gap. I chair the European Union Justice Sub-Committee. Matters of justice and rights have been crossing our tables over the last few months. I share the expressions of concern that have been heard, particularly those of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about our leaving the European Charter of Fundamental Rights behind.
The question posed by my noble friend Lord Cashman asks Her Majesty’s Government what are their human rights priorities in the light of Brexit. The answer should be simple: the priorities are to hold tight to our commitment to human rights. That must, inevitably, mean holding tight to the European Convention on Human Rights; to our international commitments on human rights in the many conventions and treaties we have signed; and, most particularly, to the Human Rights Act. I am not as sanguine as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. I share the position of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi: the Conservative Party has run hot and cold on this over the years and has not been very good on protecting human rights. The repeal of the Human Rights Act was taken off the table recently because there was not time in the timetable and it might muddy the waters during Brexit. It might confuse people even more that the European Court of Human Rights is quite distinct from the European Court of Justice. The Conservative Party was quite happy to live with this muddle for many years.
The people who want a hard Brexit are the same people who do not like human rights, and who want to leave the European Court of Human Rights. The people who want to completely turn their backs on the European Union are the same as those who want to leave human rights values behind. I am not optimistic. Only this morning, I took part in a debate on the “Today” programme in which one of the right-wing think tanks was, yet again, pulling out stuff about us having our own human rights rules and not being part of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is an agenda which a part of the Conservative Party will run with again and again.
The priority today should be to say that human rights will be even more needed in this period of disruption, when we are seeing pain in the lives of many people, particularly the poorest in our communities or those who belong to minorities. They will need the reassurance of human rights. If the Government want to set their priorities at the heart of Brexit, human rights should be their major one—protecting the human rights of individuals and those who will be most vulnerable in this process of change.
This is really important. Human rights matter; they are the set of values that we have clung to and created. Indeed, Conservative lawyers were the great creators of the European Convention on Human Rights. Such rights have to be living and breathing and must adapt to the world as it changes. That is what is wonderful about human rights. I say to the Government: please, cling to them, and to the Human Rights Act. See them as being the Government’s staff in helping to get the change that is going through now. They will protect many people and give them reassurance.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. Many of my colleagues wanted to speak, but because there was so little time they gave their time to the rest of us.
In preparing for tonight’s debate, I remembered that next year it will be 30 years since people abseiled into this place to oppose the hateful and hated Section 28. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has more faith in our courts than I do, but, as a member of a minority group, I have to say that over the last 30 years many of the rights that I have come to enjoy have come from decisions of European courts that were fought tooth and nail by Parliament and courts in this country. I am afraid that I agree rather more with the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, in her somewhat downbeat assessment of what the position is likely to be post the abandonment of the international standards of human rights to which we have subscribed for so long.
I have very little time available to me but I, too, have a list. I want to ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, a number of questions. He may not be able to answer them now but I hope that he will do so in writing. Is equality before the law, as guaranteed in Article 20 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, an enforceable right in UK law? If it is guaranteed by common law, does it apply across the entire United Kingdom and can that right be removed or limited by statute? How will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that the same level of protection is available in the light of Brexit?
Article 21(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights expressly protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation in UK law. Will the Government identify where protection against discrimination is recognised as a human right in the UK and where that right is expressly recognised in UK law as an enforceable right? Again, how will the Government ensure the same level of protection in the event of Brexit?
In international law, the UK is bound by its human rights treaty obligations at the UN and the Council of Europe. Do these treaty obligations expressly protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? Are the other protected grounds in Article 21(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights fully covered by the UK’s wider international human rights treaty obligations? If so, how? The EU charter provides extensive protection from discrimination on the grounds of sex, including in its Articles 21, 23 and 33. In the absence of the charter, can the Government confirm that these rights are fully protected under UK law and, if they are, how does UK law give effect to those rights? How will there be the same level of protection in the event of Brexit? Can the noble and learned Lord also confirm that all references to sex in the Charter of Fundamental Rights include people who are trans?
That is a long list of very dry, boring and technical questions. However, they are of the utmost importance to every member of a minority population in this country. Until such time as the Government come forward with detailed answers to those questions, they have to understand that some of us live in fear that the rights that were so hard won over the last 30 years are going to disappear. I say to the young people I meet in my community, “Talk of human rights is very boring and very dry, but it is absolutely the bedrock of our right to live with decency and equality alongside everybody else in society”. So I look forward very much to hearing some dry and technical answers.
My Lords, it has been an absolute privilege to listen to this important debate instigated by my noble friend Lord Cashman and to listen to so many eminent speakers from all sides of this House. It is wonderful that we have marked Human Rights Day in this way, and I agree that we should do so every year as one small contribution to our commitment to human rights in this House. I am also delighted that more than half the speakers in this all too short debate have been women. Women’s rights are human rights, as I am sure we will discuss much more next year as we mark 100 years of the Representation of the People Act. That was achieved through struggle, including very serious struggle and trips to prison, force feeding, torture and so on—not just gradualism but very hard won rights indeed.
Last week, I had the pleasure of accompanying the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, to Geneva, to hear him address the UN there. In that address, he outlined his plans for a new approach to foreign policy based on solidarity, international co-operation and human rights. He said clearly:
“The survival of our common humanity requires nothing less”.
This approach will place human rights at the centre of Labour policy, at home as well as globally, and it also categorises our Brexit position. Labour has been consistent in calling for retaining workers’ rights protections, environmental and animal welfare standards, and on the incorporation of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into British law. Under a Labour Government, that is the vision for a post-Brexit Britain, based on our values of co-operation and internationalism.
In stark contrast we heard the Prime Minister’s conference speech in September, in which she laid out her party’s philosophy and vision for a post-Brexit Britain, beginning with the now infamous quote, “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means”. That negative view of internationalism speaks to a creeping xenophobia that was not sated by the EU referendum result and continues, I am afraid, to colour too much thinking from the party opposite on Brexit negotiations. I therefore ask noble Lords on all sides of this House to look at the use by the Government of the rights of EU nationals resident here as a bargaining chip in the talks, leaving them in limbo for the last 18 months. I agree with my noble friend Lady Whitaker that the Roma people are perhaps one of the most demonised minorities in Europe, and we should give particular care to their treatment in the months and years ahead.
I am afraid that Mrs May and her Government have consistently demonstrated a lack of support for European human rights law—the same laws, as my noble friend Lady Kennedy said, that we Britons were so instrumental in creating and which set the historic status of the UK as a global leader on equality and human rights on the world stage. That status is now in grave peril.
More worrying still is the lack of will and a culture of disregard for the importance of human rights and sometimes even for the rule of law. I talk in particular about the recent statement made by the Defence Secretary that terrorists should be “eliminated”, with no reference to due process, and of course refer also to other Ministers’ intention, repeated over many years, to scrap the Human Rights Act in favour—no question—of a lesser instrument that would protect people differentially, not least on grounds of nationality or other badges of worthiness.
More worrying still, the Government are now tasked with the complex negotiations for the UK’s exit from the European Union, and have given us no reason to believe that they have a true commitment to human rights. In spite of repeated assurances that the withdrawal Bill will maintain the status quo, various rights and protections have been explicitly excluded, in particular the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which the Government maintain creates no new rights. That is simply not the case; if it were, the Brexit Secretary, Mr Davis, would not have needed to rely on it in his own ultimately successful challenge to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act.
It is simple: losing the charter means losing rights. I agree with others who said that, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. The charter created new rights; for example, Article 8 on data protection, Article 13 on academic freedom, Article 24 on the rights of the child, Article 26 on disabled people’s rights, Article 21 on sex discrimination, and so on. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the British Institute of Human Rights and the Law Society and so many other vital civil society stakeholders have expressed concerns about the loss of the charter. Moreover, the Human Rights Act is still in jeopardy, as is, potentially, our continued support and signatory status to the European Convention on Human Rights itself. We heard from my noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, about our poor response to the UN Human Rights Council’s periodic review of human rights compliance in this country.
Fundamentally, it is a question of what kind of Britain we want to build post Brexit. Some want a race to the bottom and we want a race to the top. We want to champion the rule of law and progressive values and not allow a bargain-basement Britain, where you pay no tax and low wages and have no standards for employment protection, human rights, workers’ and disabled people’s rights, environmental rights, equalities and ethical business. We want to match European and international standards. No, we do not want to match them—that is not enough. We want to raise them.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, on securing this important debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said that human rights matter. I would go further: human rights are central to the way we live now and to the way we wish to live in the future. They are an integral part of the society of which we wish to be a part. It is not only that they matter but that they are there and will be retained.
Protection of human rights remains a priority for this Government. The principles that underpin our legal and justice framework have developed over many centuries, with the evolution of human rights at its heart. As the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, pointed out, history is important because it has taken time for these rights to develop, emerge, be recognised and upheld without qualification. We look back upon a long-standing tradition of liberty and human rights.
The noble Lord mentioned Magna Carta, which was rediscovered in the 17th century but nevertheless is a critical foundation of the rights we enjoy today. The 1689 Bill of Rights and the common law underpin much of what we have, including—as was pointed out in the recent Unison decision of the Supreme Court—the right of access to justice, which is essential to the maintenance of human rights. We also have the Human Rights Act 1998, which this Government are committed to retaining in the present Parliament.
Reference was made to the role that the United Kingdom has played in developing the international human rights framework—including in the Council of Europe—the European convention and the United Nations. We have recently been re-elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council and will be a part of that until at least 2019. That is an important step and position for the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom’s human rights framework is multi-layered and has developed over many years. Our departure from the European Union does not change our commitment to human rights, nor is there any reason why it should. The European Union began to recognise what it termed fundamental rights many decades ago. This initially occurred through the case law of the European Court of Justice and subsequently through EU legislation. The EU decided to reaffirm the rights and principles that it recognised in what became the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights—the charter, as it has been referred to by noble Lords. That was first proclaimed in 2000 and became legally binding in 2009 with the introduction of the Lisbon treaty.
It is important to stress that the charter did not create rights. It brought existing European Union and international rights and principles together into a single document—the charter—but it did not create them. EU fundamental rights in the charter then applied to member states only when they were acting within the scope of EU law. Now the United Kingdom has, despite the misgivings of many in this House and elsewhere, voted to leave the European Union, and the withdrawal Bill currently being discussed in the other place is designed to ensure that the United Kingdom exits the European Union with certainty, control and continuity. That is essential in the national interest. The Bill will save EU-derived domestic legislation, including UK legislation that has been passed to implement EU directives, and incorporate direct EU legislation and directly effective rights that arise from treaty articles into domestic law.
The substantive rights that provide the source law of the charter will be retained or converted into domestic law. Although the charter will not be retained after exit, non-incorporation of the charter into domestic law will not in itself affect the substantive rights that individuals already benefit from in the United Kingdom, as the charter was never the source of those rights. The Government remain fully committed to ensuring that there are strong human rights protections once we leave the European Union; we do not consider that those are in any way undermined by our decision not to incorporate the charter into domestic law.
The Government are committed to furthering the United Kingdom’s status as a global, outward-looking nation, contrary to the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. We are playing an active, leading role in the world in that regard; I mentioned our position on the UN Human Rights Council. We will continue to support an international order in which rules govern state conduct, and be champions of British values of freedom, tolerance, democracy and the rule of law. We will continue to comply with our international human rights obligations and take action to tackle any abuse of those rights where we can.
Of course, as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the principal international treaty in this regard is the European Convention on Human Rights, which is given further effect domestically by the Human Rights Act. The Government have made clear their commitment to respecting and remaining a party to the convention. We will also continue to work with our European partners to improve the functioning and efficiency of the Strasbourg Court—particularly in the light of its enormous backlog of pending cases, which disrupts its ability to maintain the jurisprudence of the convention. Our commitment to European co-operation in this area and pan-European standards is as firm as ever. Of course, we remain members of the Council of Europe. In addition, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, noted in his opening speech, we are signatories to the Council of Europe Convention On Preventing And Combating Violence Against Women And Domestic Violence—the Istanbul convention—and we are working towards meeting our commitment to ratifying it.
I turn to some other specific areas of rights where the UK is taking action. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, would agree that the United Kingdom is now recognised as a world leader on LGBT rights. We can take some comfort from our record but we cannot be complacent. We have made significant progress over the past 50 years, tackling some of the historic prejudices that existed in our laws and ensuring that LGBT people are involved in the issues that affect them. We are also seeking to tackle discrimination in wider society. Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools is clearly unacceptable, as is the disability-based bullying that was alluded to by the noble Baroness. We have invested some £3 million in a programme to tackle this bullying in primary and secondary schools in England. The programme is aimed at schools that currently have no or few effective measures in place to address the issue.
We are also looking to the future. In July this year, we launched a national online survey to gain the views of LGBT people living in the United Kingdom on what they think about public services. There are questions on health, education, safety, the workplace and more general questions about what it is to be an LGBT person in the United Kingdom. The survey received quite unprecedented feedback, with over 100,000 responses, making it the largest LGBT survey in the world. We will analyse those results closely and set out further steps to promote LGBT equality next year.
We are also committed to achieving gender equality—I noted, as has been mentioned, that more than half of the contributions in this important debate were from women; I certainly welcome that. We will be doing that through the 2015 UN sustainable development goals, which consist of 17 goals, one of which specifically focuses on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. Indeed, our Foreign Secretary wants our foreign policy consciously and consistently to deliver for women and girls, and he appointed the first FCO special envoy for gender equality in February. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office works closely with other departments to achieve our gender equality goals.
If I stray a little beyond my time I hope noble Lords will forgive me. Defending the right to freedom of religion or belief—a point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Alton—remains a high priority for the Government. Freedom of religion or belief is a human right enshrined under the universal declaration and one that we respect. Indeed, in February the Prime Minister reiterated her commitment to,
“stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to practise their beliefs in peace and safety”.
Domestic violence again is a matter that has to be addressed in this context. We are committed to introducing a draft domestic violence and abuse Bill to demonstrate our commitment to, among other things, ratifying the Istanbul convention, which I mentioned before. There is a further ambitious package of non-legislative measures to be funded in that regard.
I turn to the particular comments made by noble Lords. Much was said by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, that I hope I have touched on already. I hope that I have, in a sense, been able to put some of his doubts to rest. While the general principles underpinning the charter are of critical importance, the law we retain after Brexit will ensure that the rights of individuals will be respected. In so far as the charter distinguishes between rights and principles—a point touched on by a noble Lord—we can of course enforce the rights, but we cannot enforce principles. However, they will remain relevant and material to the interpretation of the jurisprudence going forward in so far as it applies to the construction and applicability of rights relating to equality and other human rights. There was also the issue of EU case law post Brexit, which is addressed by Clause 6 of the Brexit Bill.
My noble friend Lord Faulks observed that the charter contains a fine statement of general principle. I hope I have addressed that point. Those principles of course are important, but they do not operate in the same way as rights.
The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, referred to concern about a lack of confidence and a need for the Government to set out a clear vision that there will be no dilution of human rights post Brexit. There is no intention that there should be a dilution of human rights post Brexit. The intention is that those rights that we enjoy and which underpin the charter—they are not created by the charter—should continue and be maintained.
On the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I noticed that he proposes to put forward the genocide Bill. I will of course look at it and consider its terms. We have debated this on previous occasions. I understand his concern and his deep interest in this area.
My noble friend Lord Shinkwin had very particular points to make about the position of a commissioner in the context of disability. He added that he would ask me nothing. I am obliged to him for that, because it is beyond my brief to address the points that he raised, but I noted what he had to say.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, opined that human rights are not an option and I hope that what I have said will reassure him that this Government do not regard them as anything like an option. We certainly do not regard them as a form of negotiating point. I wish to make that clear.
The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, indicated that there should be no regression. Again, I emphasise that there is no intention that there should be. She touched on some specific questions about how we will maintain protections post Brexit if there is no charter. Again I emphasise that the charter itself is not the source of rights; it is an expression of principles and rights that already exists, and already existed, in our domestic law. As to the issue of how one vindicates those rights, as the Solicitor-General observed in the other place, in so far as there is a question about that, the Government will consider and address it, if there are issues about whether certain rights have to be implemented in a different way after Brexit.
On the matter of immigration, one has to emphasise that there will not be an absolute bar on immigration. They are talking about free movement, and the two things are quite distinct. The immigration process is yet to be worked out and, as noble Lords are aware, there will be an immigration Bill which will address some of these issues.
My noble friend Lady Warsi suggested that human rights are not a priority for this Government, but I would dispute that. They remain central to this Government’s vision of a society. Whether it is the society that exists within the European Union or without it, it is a society that exists in Europe and exists internationally, and that has as one of its motivations a respect for the rule of law and respect for human rights, and in particular for equality.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, spoke about the issue of disabled people’s rights. Again, I simply underline that those rights will be retained and protected. As regards hate crime, of course it is an important issue. I hope that I have been able to give some reassurance about the Government’s recognition of it as an issue and the steps we are attempting to take to deal with it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, alluded to the position of the Roma population in the United Kingdom. This Government are concerned about the inequalities experienced by the Roma and Traveller communities, particularly in the context of health and education, but there are other areas as well where issues arise. There has been a race disparity audit showing that these communities are among the most disadvantaged in British society and we agree that more needs to be done to ensure that these people are not excluded and not left behind.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked whether there are plans to water down employment and other rights by means of the powers given to Ministers under the EU Bill. That is not the intention. It is quite clear what the purpose of these powers is—it is to ensure that there is a smooth transition at the point when we leave the European Union with regard to the workability of our existing legislation. That is the aim of those particular powers.
I think I have touched on the observations from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and I hope I have responded to her concerns. But I would make one observation. She suggested—I might have misheard her—that people who want to leave the European Union, people who want a hard Brexit, do not have human rights values. I would dispute that, and I would reject it.
I was referring to the sections of the Minister’s own party, the Conservative Party, that are driving for a hard Brexit and have led on it. They are not people who have been proud exponents of human rights. They have been great critics of the Human Rights Act and wanted to see its abolition. They have often spoken of withdrawing us from the European Convention on Human Rights. It is reasonable to make the connection between the desire to rid ourselves of Europe and the desire to rid ourselves of the human rights connections that we have with Europe. I think that is regrettable.
I am not going to debate this at length, but I wholly reject the proposition that the noble Baroness advances. I simply do not accept it at all.
A series of questions were posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. Is equality before the law part of the United Kingdom’s law? Yes, of course; it is fundamental to our law. Is equality protected by United Kingdom law? Yes, of course it is. We do not have to rely on the EU charter for these rights; they already exist. The charter is an expression of rights and principles that already exist. I noted some specific questions and if the noble Baroness wishes, I will write to her to respond to those questions—I shall not attempt to address them now.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, sought to turn this into a party-political broadcast rather than a debate. I am not sure that is the way forward for a determination of these issues. I believe that we have fundamental beliefs in common on equality and human rights, and I reject the suggestions of xenophobia, or that there will be any loss of rights because we are losing the charter.
The Minister suggests that my noble friend was turning this into a party-political broadcast. Does he recall that only yesterday afternoon at Question Time we were challenged from that side of the House on what our policy was? This afternoon my noble friend was giving it.
I was not here yesterday afternoon but I am obliged to the noble Lord for his intervention.
I was very happy to allow the noble Baroness to speak in the gap and to take her earlier intervention, but there is a question of time and I am not going to take a further intervention. I have to come back to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and say that I am pleased that the Labour Party has decided to put human rights at the centre of its policies—I thought they were always there. I certainly hope so. Human rights have always been at the centre of our policies. It is important that we recognise that and that we reject those intrusions on human rights that can come from any number of directions, be it on the grounds of disability, nationality or religion, including anti-Semitism.
I thank noble Lords for contributing to this debate and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, for raising this issue in the House.
House adjourned at 7.28 pm.