House of Lords
Wednesday 31 January 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Second Reading (2nd Day)
Moved on Tuesday 30 January by
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Amendment moved on Tuesday 30 January by
At end to insert “but that this House regrets that the bill makes no provision for the opinion of the people to be secured on the terms on which Her Majesty’s Government propose that the United Kingdom withdraw from the European Union”.
Relevant document: 9th Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, I begin today’s debate following on from my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton. I agree with her that we must push ahead with this Bill and give it a Second Reading. Preserving existing EU law as it currently applies to the UK is essential in providing continuity and legal certainty on the day of, and in the days after, exit. This does not mean that I am totally without concerns about the Bill as it currently stands, but it will be up to noble Lords to engage in discussions in Committee and during the following stages of the Bill.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for restating the Government’s proposal to create a sifting committee or committees. Perhaps in winding up the debate the Minister will be able to update us on this matter. Could he also give us more details as to the timetable envisaged, because I believe that we have a very tight timetable, not only for primary legislation but for the handling of negative instruments and for the necessary robust scrutiny by the various committees? Is the Minister able to tell us exactly what proportion of the 800-plus—some say 1,000-plus—statutory instruments that it will be necessary to lay will follow the negative procedure and how many might follow the affirmative procedure? I am not clear on that point. Can he also comment on the safeguards that will ensure that these are made by the dates laid down in law?
My concerns with this Bill fall mainly in three parts: first, the role of Parliament and the Henry VIII powers in the Bill as it currently stands; secondly, devolution; and, thirdly, the timetable for and the importance of proper scrutiny. My noble friend Lord Hill described the Bill as boring, but I do not agree. For me, this is probably one of the most important Bills we shall be dealing with for a long time. It is an opportunity to ensure that we have the right—I was going to say “appropriate”, but after yesterday’s discussion on that word, I will say “right”—clauses and detail when the Bill leaves this House. My right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith said that he supported the principle of the Bill and the need for it, but recognised that,
“in Committee there will be need to review how some of those checks and balances are introduced, and I hope that is done properly and powerfully”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/9/17; col. 378.]
I can think of no better Chamber to do that, and I look forward to noble Lords taking part in it.
Many noble Lords know my interest in agriculture, the countryside and the environment. A high proportion of the necessary legislative changes fall within the agriculture and environment arena, for which Defra has responsibility. I particularly welcome the Government’s recognition of the importance of maintaining standards of animal welfare and for bringing forward the draft animal welfare and recognition of sentience Bill. I know too that there is to be a consultation on fishing and fish stocks. Crucially, this must directly consult with the devolved Administrations.
An agriculture Bill is proposed, as is the creation of a stand-alone, non-government statutory body to oversee, scrutinise and hold the Government to account. I do not share the gloom of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, but I know that this new body needs to be robust if it is to succeed in protecting the environment for future generations. Yesterday, in his contribution the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, spoke about the need to preserve the things that affect us all: air quality, fresh water, habitats and tackling pollution. All of these are currently EU based, so it is crucial that this new body is in place in time before we exit the EU.
Many noble Lords have made excellent contributions to this debate, expressing many different views, but I hope all of us believe that we must move this Bill forward whatever our views are, whether we were for leaving or remaining within the EU. There is a great urgency in getting this Bill on the legislative path. Whatever our views, we must join together and make sure that this important Bill is on the statute book sooner rather than later.
My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said yesterday: this Bill is a dagger to my heart. I am overcome by three emotions. The first is a sense of shame, which I feel many Members in this House must share, that over decades our political leadership failed to make the case for Europe. The referendum should never have been called, and the leave vote should never have won.
The second is a personal sadness. I am proud to represent on Cumbria County Council a town called Wigton. Its most famous son is my noble friend Lord Bragg, who has just been awarded the companion of honour. Wigton voted strongly leave. I love my leave constituents—I really do. Yes, they voted to take back control. They are no fans of EU remoteness or bureaucracy, and nor am I. But their revolt was against an economy that is grossly out of balance, a world of work that no longer offers self-respect and a lack of opportunity that means that more than half their children leave their home area after school and never come back. Their grievances have, for too long, been allowed to fester. The seeds of anti-immigration populism were sown for the unscrupulous to exploit. Where now is the modern regional policy, the New Deal for the north and Midlands, the Marshall plan for the left behind that England needs? It is nowhere under this Government. They are suffocated by a pursuit of Brexit that can only make Wigton’s problems worse.
My third emotion is a determination that the bunch of scoundrels who propagated their Brexit lies are not going to get away with it. As a citizen and Labour activist, I will fight Brexit to the last. Yet as a Member of this House I understand our role. Yes, I will work for amendments to this Bill that soften the impact of Brexit, safeguard essential rights, weaken the extraordinary powers the Bill grants to the Executive to override the legislature, protect our devolution settlement and give Parliament a meaningful vote on no deal as well as any deal.
But does this response to a highly technical Bill measure up to the scale of events and our constitutional responsibilities? This clueless Government are pursuing a “I haven’t got a clue” Brexit. The only basis on which the Prime Minister can unite her party is pursuing a Brexit that knows not where it leads. In December, to keep the Irish quiet, the Prime Minister signed up to full alignment. Last week, to hang on to her job, she attacked her Chancellor for having the temerity to suggest that Brexit would lead only to very modest changes. In Brussels, the Prime Minister pleads with our EU partners for a deep and special partnership. Back home, she assures the Brexiteers it will be deep only for as long as they want it to be, and Britain will have the freedom to diverge whenever it wants—in Michael Gove’s case, probably before the ink is dry on the treaty. Is it deep and special? I call it shallow and perfidious, and as a negotiating strategy it is a totally unrealistic fantasy.
What has been striking about this debate so far is the lack of any positive vision for Brexit. How can Britain proceed with the most momentous decision on its future since the Second World War when no one is seemingly capable of explaining what our Brexit future will be? “Ah,” people say, “the people have decided, and the will of the people must be obeyed”. This is, frankly, thin gruel. In a democracy, the public are entitled to change their mind, and the rest of Europe keeps telling us that Article 50 can be reversed at any time. The leave option that seemed so simple when people voted in June 2016 is now so complex, and the only question before us is how big the Brexit damage will be.
The job of Parliament is to challenge the vacuum into which at present the Government are leading us. How can we make a real difference? The first way is to press the Commons relentlessly to vote to stay in the single market and customs union—better to be a rule-taker of European laws that have a progressive European vocation at their heart than a theoretically sovereign rule-maker that in practice will be driven to use its new freedoms only to break free of decent European standards in pursuit of some deregulated mid-Atlantic tax haven. I say to Jacob Rees-Mogg that what he derides as a vassal state would be a failed state.
Secondly, if we cannot win the single market, let us help bring on the storm—which the noble Lord, Lord Patten, talked about in his brilliant speech—that could reverse Brexit by forcing a general election or another referendum. I agree so much with the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, in his magnificent defence of representative democracy, but if it comes to it and a referendum is the only way of reversing this historic mistake, we must accept it and, indeed, advocate it.
In conclusion, this brings me to Labour. Europe is in a category of its own in terms of its impact on future generations. It transcends any party manifesto or Whip, I say to my noble friend. I do not want to be a rebel; I want our party to lead, to seize this opportunity to demonstrate that, in contrast to this wretched Government, we can live up to our national responsibilities and our internationalist heritage. I say to my colleagues on these Benches: let us do our bit to make it happen.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the powerful contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, every word of which I agree with. I fear that my contribution will be more like “Just a Minute”—there is no hesitation but definitely quite a lot of repetition and a certain amount of deviation.
I would like to believe the Government when they say that everything will be all right, everything will be transferred into UK law, the Government will maintain our environmental standards, I need not worry about the precautionary principle and it is not a problem if retained law is not quite the same. Of course, with the best of intentions all the EU directives that have kept us on the straight and narrow will still be underpinned. Of course, Ministers will not under any circumstances misuse statutory instruments. I would love to believe the Government. I almost believe that they have good intentions, but you know what they say: “The path to hell is paved with good intentions”. Good intentions are not adequate. The Government could give no assurances of good intentions that would satisfy me. The law, the face of the Bill, is the only place where doubts, concerns and worries can be laid to rest.
There is a governance gap in environmental standards. While the Government can say that standards will be maintained, where is the equivalent legal last resort to replace the force of the ECJ? Judicial review is not an answer. Fear of infraction concentrated ministerial minds on meeting legal obligations, but there is no enforcement in the Bill or even reporting obligations. We cannot and must not have a diminution of environmental rights. Without the protection of primary legislation, we cannot accept words alone. It is no wonder that so many Members of the other House expressed so much concern over the Bill giving Ministers the power to change primary legislation with a test that is as flimsy as whether Ministers think it appropriate. There has to be a legal test as to whether it is necessary, at the very least.
One of the key principles under EU law has been the precautionary principle, which forces those whose actions might harm the environment to prove in law to the contrary. The Bill rules this out. It also rules out the polluter pays principle. These are protections that have stood us in good stead. The precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle have kept us on the straight and narrow. They have forced us in the right direction, but they are explicitly ruled out in Schedule 1, so where are those protections to come from in future? The Government continually reiterate that there will be legal continuity, but that is not in fact the case. The Government must enshrine EU environmental principles in domestic law.
Alongside the principles, there is also a need to carry across provisions from EU directives that are not transposed into UK law. Some parts of EU law did not need transposition while we were a member state, but they need it now. We have to have the ability—nay, we have the obligation—to put right any deficiency in terms of failure to transpose EU law: it must be a duty and not simply a power. If Brexit comes to pass—and I still hang on to my “if”—we must be sure that laws that are currently EU regulations and laws that implement EU directives are transposed into UK law with the same force and intent as when we were a member state. On Report in the other place, there was cross-party support for new Clause 13 on the certainty of retained EU law.
The Government are trying to assuage the many concerns that we have in this regard by proposing that each measure will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. That gives no comfort to those of us who suspect that the Government wish to find a way of moving away from these strictures. As energy and climate change spokesperson, I have huge concerns about a whole range of threats in that regard related to our departure from the EU.
I want to touch on our membership of the internal energy market. If we continue to participate—and of course we must—we will be obliged to comply with the relevant EU legislation. We need to continue to be as influential over EU energy post Brexit if we are to ensure that energy trading works to the benefit of UK consumers. The Government claim that they want to hold consumer energy bills down, so this is vital. Unless we adopt the energy acquis, we will not be able to maintain membership of the relevant bodies. Without proper management, this could lead to higher energy prices and energy supply shortages.
There is still no certainty about our continued membership of the internal energy market. If we leave it, what will happen if we have a gas security incident? Currently, there is an obligation on all members to meet the essential energy needs of any member state before the non-essential needs of their own. That is there to prevent a country from having a total power failure. If we leave the energy market and we have an issue with our gas supply, member states will no longer have an obligation to help us. We will be at the back of the queue and I do not think that Europe will be very kind to us.
Equally, with interconnectors, we could, if things get bad, be unable to export gas to the continent. Northern Ireland and Ireland have a single energy market and have interconnectors between them and the UK mainland. As Ireland will remain a member of the energy market and will obviously want to go on trading energy with mainland Europe, it will have to pass through the UK, a non-member.
There is no economic upside to Brexit in the case of energy—or actually anything—only possible downsides, and the positive pan-European climate efforts about which we have all been so enthusiastic and which are so necessary to our commitments to the Paris Agreement and our own Climate Change Act may be undermined.
My Lords, I admit at the outset that the referendum result was a very bad, sad day for me, but that is democracy for you and I am not reneging on it. I wrote an article during the campaign for a national newspaper urging my side of the argument to campaign with greater passion and vigour, but it had little effect and we lost. It is not the first time that I have been on the losing side.
So I am all the more bemused now to find that it is the winning side that is blowing a fuse because of the confusion that its victory has created—confusion inside government, in industry and commerce, in the City of London, in the European Union and across the wider world. I do not recall a comparable crisis of such prolonged intensity and danger to the national interest and the country’s future as a United Kingdom.
Regardless of how we voted in the referendum or what we think of the Government’s squabbling factions now, the duty of your Lordships’ House is very clear. That, I submit, is to assert our rights to scrutinise, amend and, if needs be, to reject unacceptable parts of this Bill and to use the entire arsenal of our powers and prerogatives to limit the damage that threatens the sovereignty of Parliament and the national interest. Let us put aside partisan allegiances on this issue. Nothing less than the nation’s future is now at stake and that is surely more important than veiled threats to the leadership of a divided party and a possible change of government that would start the process all over again. This is no time for self-indulgence.
If this House can help the Government to contribute some sense to this important Bill, it should do so. The report from the Constitution Committee shows what needs to be done. Similarly, if some of the arguments tabled by opposition parties or independent groups improve the legislation, we should give them a proper, fair hearing.
In my book, parliamentary democracy has always meant that parties that win elections or referendums do not take all the spoils of victory. They may call the tune, but they are not in the divine position of writing every note of the score. In a democracy, winners do not take all. In my experience, reflection and well-considered second thoughts oil the wheels of a liberal state and a free society.
Accusations by ill-informed pundits—mainly in the media—against this House and our alleged irrelevance belie the facts. If Parliament does its job in making this Bill and the legislation that follows in the coming months fit for purpose, I see no reason for a second referendum, but we must end the pretence that the referendum was the last word on Britain’s future in Europe. We are no longer debating a slogan on the side of a bus; that is long gone. Legally and constitutionally, this Bill must be made copper-bottomed, iron-clad and storm-proof before our statutes can revert to their made-in-UK format and we can examine the decades of made-in-Brussels directives. I believe that the Constitution Committee of this House has shown the way. Its findings should not be ignored.
Unless the Bill is made fit for purpose, the Prime Minister’s call for frictionless access to the European market, on which our economy depends and which future generations seek to enjoy, will remain a pipe dream and we, as parliamentarians, will have failed in our duty.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the powerful speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. In preparing for this debate, I looked up the Hansard debates on joining the European Union in 1972. Two things stood out. First, how few Members of this House spoke then—19, as opposed to 190 today. Secondly, how the warnings from Lord George-Brown, then dismissed as scaremongering, seem to have come true. I am not entirely sure what lessons we must learn from those debates except, perhaps, one. Whatever one says in this House will probably turn out to be true at some point, even if it takes 45 years.
I spoke in this House and campaigned in the referendum in favour of staying in the European Union. We lost the argument. The British people wanted their sovereignty back. We addressed lots of economic arguments and offered a good deal, with substantial reforms, to stay in. It was difficult, if not almost impossible, to explain. We did not deal with the basic concerns about sovereignty—the control which the British people wanted returned from the unelected in Brussels to their elected representatives here in Westminster.
I want to take issue with those who say that the British people did not understand what they were voting for. I think they did; they had a greater understanding than some of their elected representatives. Some were surprised by the result but, after all, the referendum result just reflected the view of a majority of the British people which has been growing for the last decade.
I have never been elected, but I have campaigned in every general election since 1974. I cannot think of a general election result when we won but did not deserve to win, or when we lost but did not deserve to lose. When it comes to politics, the British people usually get it right. As we know from Ken Clarke, you do not have to have read every detail of the EU treaty to be either for or against.
We have 10 days in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading where there will be plenty of opportunity for this House to act as it should. If necessary it can revise, or ask the Commons to think again, but not wreck nor block this Bill. There are those who want to destroy the Bill and force a constitutional impasse that might result in the Bill being lost. That would be a disaster for this House. Their outcome, of course, is Brexit denied, but the result would be a constitutional uproar, which would lead either to the reform of this House or, probably, to the abolition of a second Chamber.
I want this Government to get the best deal they can for our future relationship with the EU. Our future is not bleak; it may be different, but we will continue to trade with Europe and with the rest of the world. My noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford was absolutely right when he said yesterday that,
“we must surely place a greater priority on being able to shape our own future than on preserving the status quo”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1389.]
Staying in the single market and the customs union for ever would be the worst of both worlds: we would be unable to influence the rules of the single market and unable to negotiate our own free trade agreements. Of course, there are still difficult issues to be dealt with, including Northern Ireland and our relationships with the other devolved Administrations, and, not least, the Henry VIII powers in the Bill.
The process of leaving the European Union is one of unprecedented scale and complexity. As well as giving effect to the will of the people to take back control of our laws, the Government must be able to deliver Brexit while ensuring certainty for people and for businesses. As many noble Lords have said during the debate, we need more clarity from the Government on how they see our future outside the European Union. A chaotic Brexit, without a solid legal foundation, would not be in the national interest. The Government need to be able to adapt the laws we are repatriating to the new situation of being outside the European Union.
While I understand the concerns raised about the scope of the Henry VIII powers, I am concerned that Parliament will not have the time it would need to make all those changes before we leave. I agree, however, that Henry VIII powers should, if possible, be brought in by the affirmative rather than the negative procedure. Perhaps we should not be afraid in this House of rejecting affirmative instruments if we feel they are wrong and that we should ask the other place to think again.
The Government have chosen an extraordinary approach, but these are extraordinary times. We all have the right to hold different views, to argue our case and to persuade others to change their mind, but we should not thwart the will of the people as expressed in the referendum and in the recent general election. It is worth reminding those who complain about the referendum that it was a manifesto commitment by the party that won the subsequent general election, and it was then passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 554 for and only 53 against—a majority by all the main parties except the Scots nats.
This Bill is not about the terms of our exit but about the mechanism of how it will happen. We should not be distracted by debates on the merits or detriments of leaving the European Union. The Government themselves have made a commitment to ensure that Parliament will have the opportunity to consider the deal and approve what they have negotiated. We do not need another referendum, and this Bill is not the place for a referendum clause. As my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom pointed out, if there were to be a referendum, no one could agree when it would happen or what the question would be. But we do need parliamentary scrutiny, and that started yesterday in this House. Therefore, I welcome the Bill and look forward to the subsequent stages of Committee, Report and Third Reading.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, on his speech. I particularly noted his warning about the dangers of a chaotic Brexit, to which I will return in a few moments. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Liddle and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, on their magnificent speeches.
I have not spoken on Europe since the immediate post-referendum debate. Some noble Lords may think that a very good thing, but, to other colleagues, I would like to explain the reason. It certainly has not been a question of my changing my mind on Europe.
My personal Damascus came when I was 18. It was 10 years after the end of the war, in the summer of 1955. I was between leaving school and my national service, and I set out to bicycle from Rotterdam to Rome—I admit that I took one or two trains. As the Foreign Ministers of the six prepared for the momentous Messina Conference, which launched the common market, I mostly pedalled along the roads and lanes of northern Europe. At night I stayed at youth hostels, where I discussed with my continental contemporaries hopes of building a new and better Europe in which war would be ended for ever and prosperity for all would be assured. It became clear to me that not only was it right that Europeans, or continentals, should unite together, but Britain should not stand aside from such a constructive and imaginative project. I still strongly believe that a medium-sized European power such as Britain should join with its neighbours for the good of its own citizens and of our continental friends.
Turning to the present and the referendum, even though it was a narrow victory for the leavers and it has divided the country almost in half, all the same I accept the result, if with a very heavy heart. I also thought that the Cabinet and the Prime Minister ought to be given a chance to negotiate our departure, which I suspected would be extremely complex. But even I, a dyed-in-the-wool pro-European, did not think the Government would make such an awful mess of things. The first phase has taken far too long—so much so that we now face the pressure of what Mr Barnier calls the ticking clock; you can almost hear it now.
One might have hoped that things would get better from now on, but I am afraid that has not been the case. One problem is that the Prime Minister has made a whole lot of unfortunate soundbites designed not to help the negotiations, but to appease the Eurosceptics. “Brexit means Brexit”—she clearly thought that that was a clever remark to make. On the contrary, it is deeply confusing and ambivalent. What kind Brexit does she mean: a hard or a soft one? Then there was, “No deal is better than a bad deal”. The Select Committee has dealt with that, pointing out that a bad deal would be a disaster for the whole country. Then there is, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. That is a fine sort of thing to encourage one’s negotiating partner.
The worst mistake of all is that the Government have announced their red lines without deciding on their objectives. The truth, as we all know, is that the Cabinet is deeply divided between the “Get out whatever the cost” group and those who think that the UK’s economic future should be taken into account. Sadly, the Prime Minister has so far proved undecided, if that is the right word, between those two factions.
There are many speakers who are far more expert than me on the legal and other parts of the Bill and the need to improve it, including the very excellent chairman of the Select Committee on the Constitution. During the passage of the Bill I will concentrate on Clauses 9 and 14, because these need strengthening to give the essential strength to Parliament to make its role meaningful in deciding whether the Government have achieved a successful outcome to the negotiations—in my view, that is key to the Bill—one that takes into account the economic and strategic interests of this great nation of ours.
My final point is a more comforting one in what I believe is a sad situation. Both the referendum and the more recent general election have made me draw the conclusion that if our generation lets the country down, the next generation—that of our children and our grandchildren—will not stand for a botched result that divides this country artificially from its natural partners. I hope it does not happen.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Radice, as it is to act as warm-up man for the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
I refer the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, to the excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, in which he explained very clearly why many of us cannot follow her advice simply to get the Bill through as a technical Bill. The problem we have had right from the start—from the consultative referendum, to the Article 50 vote to this vote—is that as soon as the vote is over the Government put on the ratchet and say, “Well, you can’t go back now; we had a 500 majority for this”. Parliament must continue to keep its eye on what is happening and make decisions that are relevant.
Just over a week ago, Juliet Samuel wrote in the Daily Telegraph:
“This year, the Government has to conduct one of the most difficult negotiations in our history. It is not up to the job”.
Nothing that has happened in the last 10 days has weakened the strength of that criticism, and many of the speeches from the Conservative Benches yesterday reflected that unease. We have a deeply flawed Bill presented by a dysfunctional and leaderless Government. Any attempt at leadership by the Prime Minister, and there is a tug on the choke chain by the hard-line Brexiteers in her Cabinet and her party to drag her back from anything that does not fit with their ideological obsessions. Then, we have the absurd spectacle of those twin titans, Sir Bill Cash and Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, delivering their warnings from the Back Benches and the TV studios, while that amiable chancer, David Davis, busks his way through meeting after meeting with the laconic assurance that it will be all right on the night. Meanwhile the Cabinet plots, jostles and manoeuvres for position like players in a TV soap opera. It would be farcical if it were not the future of our country at stake while the Conservative Party plays out its own tragicomic version of “Game of Thrones”.
Such a situation puts a heavy responsibility on this House to amend the Bill before us. We must address its flaws and propose remedies, as the mantra of “Brexit means Brexit” becomes ever more trite and meaningless. The first responsibility of this House is to defend our constitutional settlement against what the late Viscount Hailsham described as an elective dictatorship.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, reminded us yesterday, it is one of the deepest ironies that a Brexit campaign that promised a return of sovereignty to this Parliament ends in the biggest switch of power from the Legislature to the Executive that we have seen in modern times. I am in no doubt that the House of Lords has not only the right but the duty to resist such a power grab. To do otherwise would have long-term consequences for the powers and authority of this Parliament that go far beyond the immediate issue of Brexit. I ask noble Lords to read the magnificent speech just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. In passing, I note that when she describes our objective as to make the Bill “copper-bottomed, iron-clad and storm-proof”, that description also applies to the noble Baroness. I will get my ears boxed for that when we are outside.
On the economic consequences, I have never seen Brexit in Captain Oates terms: Britain leaving the European tent to inevitably perish as we try to go it alone. We will be poorer than we would otherwise be—even the Government’s own assessments tell us that—but we will get by. We will be able to earn a crust. However, I see no evidence at all that “global Britain” will find better deals free from the supposed encumbrances of our membership of a 500 million-plus single market. I wish the Prime Minister every success on her visit to China and in her desire to drive up our trade with that country. I shall give her a benchmark to aim for: let us try to reach the level of German trade with China, which is four times our own—and all from the security of that single market.
As we have heard time and again during this debate, the clock is ticking while every sector of the economy cries out for clarity and certainty. The Prime Minister and her Cabinet have to make clear the terms of our departure that they are seeking. When we know where we are going and how we intend to get there, it defies logic that a decision taken nearly two years ago without the facts should be the last word on a decision that will set the course for our country for decades to come. Both Parliament and the people must be consulted on this endgame. Without a vote on the reality of Brexit, we will be left with a raw and open wound, not least among the millions of young people who did not vote for Brexit yet will have to live with the consequences. To tell them that their ship has sailed is a cynical betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of a generation.
There is always an element of doubt about speaking in a debate with so many speakers. I do so for two reasons. The first is my three children, all in their 20s and all proud citizens of Europe. I want to be able to look them in the eye and say, “I did everything that I could to avoid this disaster”. The second is that I want to put on record my pride in a European project that has set an example to the world of how old enmities can be buried and a new era of peace and prosperity can be delivered and underpinned by civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law.
Yesterday I was much moved by the reminder from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, of the realities for his family at the end of the Second World War. I always recall the famous Zec cartoon of the battle-weary Tommy holding a victory wreath on Victory in Europe Day with the caption, “Here you are! Don’t lose it again!”. I believe profoundly that we are in the process of losing influence in creating a better Britain, a better Europe and a better world that was passed on to us by the generation who came back from the Second World War—the Heaths, the Whitelaws, the Healeys, the Callaghans. They came back saying, “Never again”. I think we are throwing away a great deal. Until that deal is finalised, I will fight it.
My Lords, that was not a warm-up act; it was a very moving and powerful speech, and I echo much of what the noble Lord said. I too felt obliged to speak today for similar reasons. I have two sons who are much older than his children—they are in their late 40s—but they were passionately in favour of staying in, while my two elder grandchildren, undergraduates now, were totally bereft.
I do not like this Bill and I did not want it, but it is before us. I hope there will not be a Division on it this evening. I also hope the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who moved his amendment yesterday with great passion and force, will not test the opinion of the House tonight. His own Front Bench have made it plain that they could not support him, and the result could be misinterpreted because he would not get the votes that he might otherwise obtain. That is not to say that I would vote for a second referendum—I find it very difficult to think of that—but I just make the point.
The Bill must pass, but the Act that it becomes and that emerges from your Lordships’ House must be an assertion of parliamentary democracy and not an abdication of it. The Bill needs significant amendment, as our own Constitution Committee so graphically and splendidly demonstrated.
I am one of those who believes that referendums are inimical to parliamentary democracy, but they are part of our system now and we have had a number of them. But we must also recognise that we are where we are, and I was on the losing side. As a loser, I must try to be gracious. But those who won should try to be magnanimous. They should recognise that their margin of victory is no cause for triumphalism. They should consider our union—the United Kingdom. They should consider that in Scotland, Northern Ireland and London significant majorities voted to remain. I hope that during the passage of this Bill we will hear from Ministers on our Front Bench a clearly articulated sense of direction and destination.
Before I was turfed off the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee for having the temerity to vote against the Government on amendments almost a year ago, I heard witness after witness come to our committee to indicate that the success of negotiations would be judged by how close the agreement in question came to replicating what was being replaced. That is a bit odd, is it not? That is why I am one of those who feel that it was not a good negotiating ploy, before the negotiations even started, to draw red lines that outlawed certain important things, such as contemplating membership of the customs union. As a true Conservative, I was brought up to believe that one should advocate change only if one is convinced that the latter state would be better than the first.
Yesterday, I sat in this Chamber for almost the whole debate and I listened to 67 very interesting speeches. Much was made by the Leavers about the predictions of what might happen straight after a vote to leave. But as I tried to indicate to my eloquent and alliterative noble friend Lord Ridley, we are still in the European Union. Predictions that we read about today are the ones we should perhaps view a little more carefully.
It was a bad campaign. There was hyperbole on one side and mendacity on the other. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds indicated in a fine speech yesterday, there was too much emphasis on economics. There was no vision. I hope that he does not have the modern prelates’ aversion to the King James Bible, but I thought that he might have said:
“Without vision, the people perish”.
The visionary element was lacking. Of course, vision and nostalgia are very different things. Brexit is not about recreating a country that exists only in the imagination. We are at a crossroads without a compass and with squabbling back-seat drivers. It is important that the Government indicate what they see as the preferred outcome. The Prime Minister must not be cowed and prevented from making speeches by some of her squabbling Cabinet colleagues.
We can all recognise what we are, whether we come from England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales. I always say that my identity is English, my nationality is British but my civilisation is European, and I am immensely proud of that. I hope that when we come to the end of negotiations, after this Bill is long on the statute book, there will be a coming together, because I fear an implosion within my own party. I am sorry he is not here at the moment, but my oldest, longest friend in politics—and a very dear friend he is too—is my noble friend Lord Lamont of Lerwick. He has a reputation for singing in the bath. I cannot challenge him on that, but I hope that when the dust has settled, he and I can sing in unison—it will not be a pretty sound but it might be an agreeable conclusion—the song he made so famous, “Je ne regrette rien”.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. When I saw where I was placed in the order, I was confident that I would be following a speech that contained a robust defence of parliamentary democracy. My noble friend Lord Foulkes reminded me that he once described the noble Lord as being a man who was made for this place. Having watched the noble Lord here and in the other place and having been privileged to hear him speak, my observation is that he thinks that this place was made for him.
Only yesterday, we witnessed another indefensible and probably ultimately futile attempt by the Government to deny Parliament access to the information that it needs to hold them properly to account and simply to do its job. We all already know what the economic analyses of the consequences of the only feasible Brexit deals say and few of us are at all surprised. The Government will not be able to defend their position against the will of the majority in the other place for long. Eventually these documents will be published—although they already are.
For months now, every time that they have been faced with a reasonable request for explanation or clarification of the Government’s Brexit objectives, Ministers or government spokespeople have refused to give an answer, because apparently that would somehow undermine the Government’s negotiating position. I have been bemused and questioning of my own substantial negotiating experience and instinctive belief that there is no such negotiating advantage to be had. I feared that I might be alone in thinking this, because it never seemed to be challenged. That was until yesterday, when the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, in a few sentences exposed that the emperor has no clothes—the fallacy of that argument—to the amusement of many Members.
Throughout the negotiations, the EU 27 have clearly shown their collective hand—we are told that a decision was made in two minutes the other day—and because of that have maintained a position of dominance over the UK in the negotiations. As has become obvious, the truth is—there are many ways of explaining this—that a deeply divided party in government simply cannot answer these important questions because they have been unable to formulate a clear, common position. If you want specific evidence of that, Mrs Merkel revealed in a recent informal press conference, to the amusement of everyone, that every time she meets the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister asks her to formulate that position for us, saying, “Make me an offer”. No wonder we are in such a desperate state.
I am content to adopt the opening words of many noble Lords that this Bill is necessary. While it is complex, difficult to interpret and lacking in clarity, it is necessary that we have a Bill of this nature for exactly the reasons set out in the opening speech from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. The Bill should never have come to this House in this state, but it is clear from the debate so far that the problems with it cannot be addressed other than by the most detailed and robust scrutiny and significant amendment and, to get to that point, the Bill requires a Second Reading.
I also agree that, when we see the terms of the final agreement, a concluding democratic process is required. My noble friend Lord Adonis argues that that should be a further referendum. I, too, should like to see a further referendum but, for reasons others have expanded on, I am able, and I thank the noble Lord for this, to adopt the position of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who, in agreeing with my noble friends Lady Smith and Lord Mandelson, accepted that this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle to require a further referendum—by the way, I fear the interpretation of any failed vote that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, described—while undertaking to support any amendments that propose a further referendum among the options if Parliament is given a meaningful vote after the conclusion of the negotiations.
As a relevant aside, what is “a meaningful vote”? The proposed withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill may provide a vote on the agreement but, given Article 50, can it be meaningful? If Parliament likes the deal and votes for it, the deal is implemented and the UK leaves. If Parliament does not like the deal and votes against it, Article 50 operates and on 29 March, two years after the notification of our intention to leave, unless there is an agreed extension, the treaties cease to apply and the UK leaves. Does a meaningful vote depend on the flexibility or the reversibility of Article 50? Perhaps the Minister will address that point in winding up. If that is the Government’s position, we should know.
I am sure that by now the Minister is clear about the issues that will be demanding his attention in the later stages of our deliberations. Paramount among them is the imperative that there must never, ever be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. To achieve that, Northern Ireland and the Republic must be in the same customs union. The stakes could not be higher. I trust that the Minister will address this issue and make clear that that will never happen.
In the limited time available, I want to engage just one aspect of an issue that has already been discussed at some length, the devolution provisions. The political deficiencies of these provisions were accurately highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, who said that they would be a recruiting sergeant for those in Scotland who seek to advance their independence agenda by blaming London for everything. At a time when the Scottish electorate are minded to make the nationalists accountable for their failures, this is an unnecessary and self-inflicted wound. The constitutional and legal deficiencies were exposed forensically in an important contribution by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. In her opening speech, the Leader of the House promised that the Government would publish an analysis shortly to show the specific policy areas where EU law intersects with devolved competence and where the Government will require a UK-wide legislative framework. In addition, she reiterated the Government’s commitment to bring forward amendments to Clause 11.
In an earlier debate in this House on these issues, my noble friend Lord McConnell proposed a practical solution to this problem based on good faith negotiations. Negotiations are apparently ongoing, but the poker game continues. Yesterday, in a meeting with Michael Clancy, the Law Society of Scotland’s law reform director, he told me that he had analysed, over three months, the 111 powers in the list prepared by the Government to inform discussion between the Scottish and UK Governments about where it may be necessary to agree common frameworks. This list must exist. If it does, will the Minister undertake to let us see it before we debate these issues? It is the secret to a practical solution to this problem.
My Lords, it is intimidating, frankly, to hear the breadth of experience that has been brought to this debate, but I will do my best to speak from my much narrower experience. I spent the last couple of weeks heavily engaged in the anti-money laundering part of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. That has very much shaped my whole approach to this Bill, because the premise of that anti-money laundering part was the powers that currently go through a democratic process at European level: the fourth anti-money laundering directive was subject to consultation, scrutiny, debates within the European Parliament and votes in Council. The whole thrust of that Bill was that those powers should be repatriated to the UK, transferred not to this Parliament to treat in a similar democratic manner with primary legislation but directly to Ministers to make their decisions and enact them simply through regulation. That was an extraordinary shift.
This House negotiated with the Government. There were people anxious about the issue, led by the Law Lords—or rather our specialists in constitutional law, such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge—but it was much broader than that. The Government made significant amendments, but it took two votes in this House to take out of that Bill the clauses that gave Ministers the power to create criminal offences and sentences—in one part of the Bill with imprisonment for up to 10 years, in the other with imprisonment for up to two years—by regulation alone.
I do not know how the Government will deal with those issues when that Bill goes to the other place, but when we read the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and we hear the Government say that they will use their Henry VIII powers in very narrow ways, largely for technicalities, we recognise exactly the language that we heard during the debates on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which in practice, in the eyes of almost everyone in this House, had a dramatically wide scope. In the case of that Bill, and I think this is illustrative, it was not just to achieve some immediate transposition of powers from Europe to the UK; the new system for exercising powers over anti-money laundering policy and frameworks was to be in perpetuity.
You can imagine that I take very seriously that part of Clause 9 in which the Government seek powers to change any piece of primary legislation, including the EU withdrawal Bill itself, and any of the limitations and constraints within it. It is with that hat on and with that concern that I will come to the Committee stage. I will be fighting particularly the Henry VIII powers to levy taxes, fees and charges, but I am sure that this House will tackle the issue far more broadly and recognise the significance of doing so.
In her opening speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, talked about the importance of giving certainty. Who could disagree with that? It is critical. To me, though, certainty would mean that we knew what the Government’s plans were for the outcome of Brexit. The financial services sector, with which I am extensively engaged, has been denied even a position paper to outline what the Government’s preferred end position would be and to provide some sort of structure. That industry is part of the backbone of our economy.
We understand that there will be a transition period, largely a standstill, and that is welcome, but it is vital that individuals and businesses know now what it is meant to be a transition to. I talked last week to an inshore fisherman in Northern Ireland. He has to decide now whether to sell his boat because, following Brexit, all the good inshore fishing territories will be in southern Ireland and, if he does not sell his boat now, in a year or two it may be worth nothing. I talked to an architect, who told me that a Dutch client would like to engage him in a long-term development in the Netherlands. Will his qualifications be recognised? Will he be able to deliver his services from a UK base? He does not know, but he must decide now. A US company is seeking to do a five-year interest rate swap that it would normally clear through the London Clearing House, but will that be a valid swap in five years’ time or will the CCP with LCH be an unauthorised body, and will the company be in significant trouble with the regulatory authorities in the US? These are real decisions. Little companies, individuals and big companies alike have to be able to make decisions and act on contingency plans. For that, they must have clarity from the Government.
I realise that in a politically riven Government fudge is seen to have a great advantage, but we are at the point where that can be sustained no longer. I hope that the Government will see that certainty should apply not just to the measures in the Bill but to those broader issues as well. We must take the opportunity to use the Bill to make sure that people will be able to look at that final deal. The possible impacts on individuals, companies and people’s daily lives are across such a broad spectrum that surely, in a democracy, the people should have the final say.
My Lords, en principe I am against repealing the 1972 Act. I have a personal reason for this. My father was the 1960s equivalent of a UKIP leader. He campaigned against Europe and it irritates me that he has somehow posthumously won by means of an advisory referendum—referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins—that not did not even express the will of the majority of registered voters.
Apart from that—I will get over it—I am unashamedly European. I have lived and worked in Europe and my degree was in European languages. I have Italian in-laws. I want to preserve peace in Europe. I support enlargement of Europe. I refuse to go into choppy, uncharted waters with a salt-caked smoke stack. I do not think that the Government have got it right.
However, I am also an independent. I sympathise with the Lib Dems, but I also understand some of the fears of Brexiteers about regulation, the eurozone, closer union and immigration. Those are genuine fears. But I would prefer that these vast issues were tackled inside Europe in some form or other. As the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and others made clear, this major decision is all about one party and not about the whole country. I see Brexit as a costly and desperate scramble to retain all of the undoubted advantages of the EU without having to sit around the table talking about them. Monsieur Macron was right: we are having our cake and eating it, but we are also getting bad indigestion.
The country now divides into three: the Remainers, the Brexiteers and those, like me, who are still asking, “How do we get out of this mess?”. The human cost of Brexit is undeniable: just look at the loss of NHS staff besides all the forecast effects on education, culture and the economy. But there may yet be a way out, short of complete withdrawal and without a second referendum.
Few of us want to sabotage the Bill. It is a necessary Bill and the debate is not about the Government’s plans—since on many things they have no plans. We must, and I am sure that we will, vote to retain all of our current EU-derived legislation. But along the way a few things stand out so starkly that they have to be mentioned, and they have been. We still do not know where we are going. Worse than that, on some issues we are going into a chasm or void—words used by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, last week. But he also quoted Burns:
“Oh let us not, like snarling curs,
In wrangling be divided”.
The darkest hole is in the sea between Ireland and the United Kingdom, something equivalent to the Corryvrechan. The Government’s position on the border issue is muddy because they are trying to reconcile the irreconcilable between the Irish and Northern Irish positions. I urge the Government to show their hand soon and to be guided, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, said, by the Belfast principles, since as my noble friend Lord Eames and others said last week, they cannot leave the people in such uncertainty.
The people of Gibraltar share some of the uncertainty felt in Northern Ireland. How could the Government get so close to the cliff edge as to cause anxiety and even worse, if the people of Gibraltar are not given proper guarantees? Then, there is devolution. Last week’s debate showed clearly that the devolved Administrations were not properly consulted and that amendments in the Commons were never discussed. There are still many UK issues to resolve in the UK before we go back to the EU negotiating table.
Constitutional experts are still worried about the exceptional use of delegated powers and whether the Government should assign a single status to retained EU direct legislation. My noble friend Lord Kakkar showed how much damage there will be to science from any uncertainties that continue through the transition. Children’s charities and lawyers are concerned about the exclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Other people are in considerable doubt about future references to rulings of the ECJ. The Greens and many others say that environmental law is not being fully translated into UK law. We heard about that from the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone. I shall be supporting amendments on all these issues unless the Government put down their own to meet these concerns.
I feel confident that this Parliament will now have a say on the final deal although, if it rejects the deal, there will have to be further renegotiation. The EU knows this and would like us to remain in Europe. I believe it is not impossible that, in the event of rejection, we shall have the opportunity to remain as a member under Article 50, but on new terms. If not, then the Government will have to look for some intermediate status, alongside the single market. No one seems able to forecast what that might be or even whether such a status exists.
In short, we have got ourselves into a mess. I doubt if any party, or any organisation outside Brussels, can pull us out of it but I hope and am confident that this debate will have made a contribution.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in what has been described as a historic debate on a technical Bill. In the time I have, I will constrain myself to addressing just a few points.
The first concerns the referendum vote. I noted with interest the passage of the Bill in the other place and the remarks by the shadow Brexit Secretary, repeating demands for a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. I simply draw attention to the meaningful vote we had already in June 2016. It is now the job of Parliament to scrutinise, not to oppose this necessary legislation. Whether one voted to leave or remain, reconciling the result with a position that leaves the UK not in control of its borders, courts and fiscal contributions to the EU would feel very jarring. This applies as much to Parliament seeking to thwart Brexit by voting down the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, as it does to those siren voices now calling for a second referendum. As my noble friend Lord Astor said, the people have spoken and it is the job of this House and the other place to make it work as smoothly as possible. If the shadow Brexit Secretary wishes to continue his search for meaning, then he should look no further than improving this Bill.
I commend some of what the chairman of the Brexit committee has to say, particularly as he reminds us that this legislation is necessary. We must pay heed to the Constitution Committee, which describes the Bill as deeply flawed. We must seek to improve it to the committee’s satisfaction where we can.
As this is a technical Bill, I offer some technical observations. In the other place, MPs raised the uncomfortable question of pre-exit disputes, many of which arose several years ago and which may now not go to the ECJ. In my opinion, they clearly ought to, as they arose under the old regime. The Francovich principle, which has been raised in this House before, has been removed from the Bill. I hope my noble friend the Minister will reconsider this. I am aware of instances where it would lead to a very unfair result and deprive genuine claimants of going to the EU court. I am happy to brief the Minister on this if required.
I turn to a particular area of interest of mine—financial services. In the other place much of the debate was about the use, or overuse, of delegated powers—the so-called Henry VIII clause. I must take issue with much of what was said. Lamenting the use of delegated powers is a common tool in all opposition toolboxes. When they have run out of points of principle, they resort to points of process. Leaving that aside, much of the criticism was largely fallacious. As the EU committee set out, in financial services in particular, EU laws follow the Lamfalussy framework. Reading the debate in the other place, it is almost as if many want even the lowest level of content included in UK primary legislation. Yet, as the Investment Association has pointed out, in financial services, at least, much of EU law is better handled here by the regulator, not to circumvent democracy but for reasons of efficacy and practicality. It is simply about appropriate levels of detail. As the renowned EU legal expert Simon Gleeson pointed out to the EU Committee,
“the Bill will perpetuate one of the main defects of the current EU position, namely that too much detail is in legislation and is difficult to update”.
There may well be much to be improved in this Bill, but cramming it full of regulatory issues better handled in secondary legislation and regulatory guidance and enforcement should not be part of that process.
I add my voice to those who have warned against a second referendum. I appreciate that its advocates are saying “not now” but they are pushing us down a very dangerous road. If the EU detected that there would be a second referendum, can your Lordships imagine its negotiating position? It would make an agreement that much harder. Is that the agenda of those calling for a second referendum? I hope not, and that those who might be talking down our negotiating position recognise that. There is no real prospect of holding a referendum without causing huge anguish and pain all over again between friends, parties and even families up and down the country in what would inevitably be a difficult campaign full of bias and hate. As Brenda of Bristol famously said: “What? Not another one!”.
My Lords, there is much in the Bill that merits deep and extensive scrutiny, but at this stage I simply want to signal alarm at the treatment of human rights. “Human rights” is a legal term for what we might otherwise think of as respect for individuals and recognition of their human dignity. We have acknowledged its importance in devising the powers of the state since our earliest times, and we have pursued it more or less consistently in our long participation in international and European law-making.
So it is disturbing to see that, despite valiant efforts in the other place on all sides to retain the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Government have insisted that it be discarded from our law. It is true that when the Labour Government, in the person of my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith, negotiated this important instrument, it did not at that time confer any new rights. What it did was codify existing fights and provide for actual remedies against breaches. Our Human Rights Act provides only for a declaration of incompatibility if our law breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. Under the charter, damages may be awarded. How much more useful is this to the wronged citizen than a declaration, even if eventually, that results in a change in the law? What are the Government going to do to put this right?
At least as important is the development of the usefulness of the charter since we helped to bring it into being. There are too many areas where the charter now goes beyond the convention, and thus our own Human Rights Act, to enumerate in the time available. The free-standing right to equality, a right to vocational education and some of the protections for children are among the most telling. Case law has brought new safeguards in respect of data protection, for instance, including the basis for the right to be forgotten. These too would be lost under the Bill. There are also general principles under the charter which we would lose as a basis for challenging injustice under retained EU law, such as proportionality—unless, the Government now say, the challenge was brought within three months of exit, which is surely a paltry concession.
We should also be very concerned about the vulnerability of our rights to the regulation-making power in the Bill. Is it not manifestly unjust and unparliamentary to subject fundamental rights to secondary legislation? How can we accept the prospect of a Government easily dismantling the enhanced protection given to the environment, consumers, health and safety and the rights of workers not to be exploited? We need a strengthened scrutiny procedure beyond the Government’s new add-on of an EU SI Committee, and stronger than the concession of declarations concerning equality.
It is notable that the Government’s impact statement omits any consideration of the impact of the diminution of rights and redress for their breach that follows from discarding the charter and from the use of secondary legislation. Will the Minister commission a fresh study to remedy this deficiency? Of course, if we had a written constitution many of these fears could be allayed. The Supreme Court would then have a basis to put a stop to any future legislation curtailing the freedoms we have achieved, for instance in equality and working conditions. This is quite apart from the other advantage that it would be taught in schools so that all citizens and, for that matter, would-be citizens could know exactly what our values concerning justice, rights and responsibilities meant for them.
The Government have recognised the anxiety expressed on all sides about their treatment of human rights in this Bill in their Right by Right Analysis. I welcome the undertaking to,
“look again at some of the technical detail about how the Bill deals with the general principles of EU law … and how some challenges based on the general principles might continue after exit”.
This confirms, however, that all the charter rights will not be carried over after Brexit. That is what we need to fight for.
Finally, there are many amendments we ought to discuss in Committee. I hope that among them will be a provision that the Charter of Fundamental Rights will still apply to EU-derived law and that the right to damages which result from the Government breaching EU law will be protected. If the Government set their face against entrenched law, this could be done through adding provisions to the Human Rights Act 1998.
My Lords, like many other noble Lords I am disappointed that the EU withdrawal Bill has come to this House almost unamended by the House of Commons and that the legislative attempts to retain and even increase the power of the Executive, which will affect Wales so significantly, have shamefully failed to be successfully challenged by Members in the other place.
The inclusion of Clause 11 in this Bill by the Government was surely a case of imperial arrogance—or incompetence. Having listened to the Minister say at the end of last Thursday’s devolution debate that the Government were working on, but struggling to find, the correct wording for their amendments, I suspect the latter is nearer the mark. I look forward to seeing these amendments in Committee and taking part in the debates that will follow.
The Prime Minister’s decision to announce, so soon after the referendum and so early in the withdrawal process, that we would also be leaving the single market and customs union was, in my view, a mistake—a red line that will have a real impact on Wales. The rejection in the other place of the amendments to include them in the Bill is disappointing. If a similar amendment is proposed in Committee, I will support it.
Noble Lords already understand the advantages of the single market and customs union to Wales. We trade with our nearest neighbours. We have access to a market of 500 million people. That trade is tariff free and the market accepts over two-thirds of our exports. Its importance to the Welsh economy has been recognised by the Welsh Labour Government, who have called for “free and unfettered access” to both the single market and customs union, a call that unfortunately seems to be unheeded by the Labour leadership in Westminster. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, every bit of luck in trying to persuade his colleagues.
The much maligned—by those who support Brexit—free movement of people and goods has been a boon to companies such as Airbus, which employs 7,000 people in Broughton in north-east Wales. A new customs bureaucracy and reduced employee mobility could damage long-term investment there and accelerate a shift to Asia where China, according to representatives of the company, is already,
“knocking at the door as a result of the situation that we’re in in this country”.
Our situation is characterised by a deep uncertainty about the future direction of the UK which is fuelled almost daily by the contradictory and confusing messages coming from around the Cabinet table. Farmers seek certainty that they will not be priced out of their European markets and that the funding that they need to plan for their farms’ future will be available. Manufacturers need confidence to invest to grow their businesses, and communities are beginning to understand and lament the end of structural funding.
Workers in Holyhead on Anglesey would be grateful for certainty on the question of the Irish border. The fact that talks with Michel Barnier have moved onto the second phase has fooled none of us; the fudge over the border seems to have been a charitable device by Mr Barnier’s team to give the Prime Minister some credibility. This most difficult question seems to have been placed in the “too mind-blowing for now” box and shelved.
Our place in Europe and our place within the single market and customs union have led to Holyhead developing into the large port that it is today. However, the recent announcement that from April, Brittany Ferries will be running a ferry service for cars and freight from Cork directly to the north of Spain, so “avoiding the land bridge” between Ireland and Europe, rings alarms in North Wales. Potential job losses in one of the poorest areas of the UK will be devastating.
Finally, on a personal note, I want to say a few words about the referendum result and introduce some facts and figures about the influence of identity on people’s voting choices in that referendum. It has been claimed, in one national newspaper in particular, that the vote to leave the EU was an English national revolt achieved with the acquiescence of the Welsh. Research carried out by the British electoral survey points to another possible scenario.
To begin with, an important factor to note is that about one-third of the population of Wales were born in England. The survey data shows that 60% of those living in Wales who identified as both strongly English and strongly British voted to leave. On the other hand, of those who felt strongly Welsh but not strongly British 71% voted to remain. Of those fluent Welsh speakers who strongly identified as Welsh, not British, a massive 84% voted to remain. So as a Welsh-speaking, strongly Welsh-identifying Member of your Lordships’ House, I make the gentle request that in future these factors are taken into consideration when apportioning blame or even credit for Brexit. The Leave vote may have been won with the help of the majority of those who live in Wales, but certainly not with the aid or acquiescence of the majority of the Welsh.
My Lords, it is humbling to speak in this debate after so many excellent speeches. I want to focus on a somewhat different issue from those raised by most people here, the issue of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum campaign, and to reinforce the argument for a meaningful vote or votes in Parliament. The Dominic Grieve amendment is indeed a valuable start and it must not be lost, but it is essential that there are additional amendments to ensure that parliamentary sovereignty really rules in this process. Clearly, Parliament cannot seek to interfere with the referendum result unless the British people can put the misinformation behind them and come to understand, as they are beginning to, the reality of the risks to their jobs and standard of living presented by Brexit.
I will talk about Russian involvement in the Brexit referendum campaign as someone who lived in Moscow and worked within a Russian ministry—funded, I should say, by the British Government; I do not want people to get the idea that I am some sort of Russian spy. During my three-year period in Moscow I developed a deep affection and respect for the Russian people with whom I lived and worked. I am not anti-Russian. At the same time, we should not be naive about interference by other countries in our precious democratic processes. Governments need to take steps to protect the British people from those influences in the future. Whatever Government we have in place, it is vital that work is done to interfere with this process. What is the point of another referendum, or an election, if Russia may determine the outcome?
We know that Russia has put massive resources into developing social media infiltration tools. As your Lordships know, my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox is on the Twitter board and knows a thing or two about these matters. She is aware of such Russian investments. Russia would make these investments only in order to use the tools against the West. Of course, Brexit will damage Britain and the rest of Europe: it is a pretty brilliant stroke by Mr Putin. We know for a fact that in the Trump presidential campaign, 126 million Americans received personally tailored Facebook fake news. Someone closely involved in the digital economy—not my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox—takes the view that it is almost certain that Russia used similar social media methods to influence the result of the Brexit campaign. This is, however, very difficult to prove. When I contacted the Electoral Commission last summer, it was investigating Russian involvement in the Brexit referendum. At that time I was told by an investigator working closely with the FBI that Russian money funded the Brexit campaign—not totally, but substantially—and that it was the link between the Brexit and Trump campaigns. In fact, I have been told rather more than I feel able to say today.
Suffice it to say that already, more people are against Brexit than support it, as other noble Lords have said. If sufficient information comes to light about Russian distribution through Facebook of misinformation tailored to local communities during our referendum, we can expect that a growing number of the British people will want Parliament to intervene. There is a risk that this information may not come to light in time for 2018. For a start, Facebook is a closed dataset. As your Lordships will know, the information on a Facebook page is available only to “friends” of the user. Also, Facebook has 2 billion monthly users; imagine the task of going through that material, albeit electronically, to find the information. It may, therefore, not be possible for Facebook to get hold of the information in time. It has, however, employed thousands of staff to do just this job. The question is whether they can find out what happened and, if so, when.
I have two questions for the Minister; one that I hope he or she can answer, but the other may be more difficult. First, is the Minister aware whether or not MI6 is investigating Russian involvement in the Brexit campaign using social media infiltration tools and funding? Secondly, has MI6 commissioned work to develop tools to combat the Russian equipment to prevent interference in our referenda and elections in future? The British people and Parliament need this information.
As well as amendments on a meaningful vote for Parliament, I will want to support amendments that relate to the charter of human rights. However, I cannot overemphasise the importance of parliamentary sovereignty and meaningful votes for Parliament.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I remember well partnering her late husband in tennis in West Virginia when we played against the American Senate. He was, certainly in private, a very charming man. I also agree with her about the dangers of Russia, but I am not going to talk about that now.
It is clear from this debate that your Lordships’ House is not exactly rabidly Eurosceptic. I am, though, and perhaps I owe the House some explanation of that. I start with what has become the customary homage to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. He is of course right that economics is not the only matter affecting this debate, although it is not completely unimportant or irrelevant. When you are dealing with a protectionist trade bloc, which the European Union is, it is bound to have ultimately a negative effect on your trade and economy. There is certainly a read-across there.
Much more important, and the reason why I think we should get out of the European Union, is democracy. The European Union is undemocratic for two reasons. It does not have a mechanism for true democracy, which requires a direct relationship between the electorate and the Government. The electorate chooses a party, preferably in private, and votes it in. There is such a connection between the electorate and the Government that the electors, having elected their Government, are willing to pay allegiance to them. There is a synergy about the whole thing. In Europe, the matter is aggravated by the fact that the laws are made on the whole by the European court, which is undemocratic and relies on the acquis communautaire for its inspiration. The acquis is quite clear that it requires the court to make judgments in one direction, towards a federal state of Europe, that is irreversible.
Some people say that this process can be reformed. In the foreseeable future at least, that is highly unlikely. Take, for example, Britain. If we were to go back into the European Union, it is absolutely unimaginable that the court would not insist that sterling would be joined to the single currency, and quite rightly so. You cannot have a single market for ever without a single currency. That would be the loss of Britain’s freedom, which is involved in the sovereignty of Parliament and in no one Parliament binding another. That would just go. The trend in that case would be anti-democratic so far as this country is concerned.
I would like to refer to a speech made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. It is something that has troubled me quite a lot about the attack that is made on people who think, like I do, that the nation state is the best unit of democracy. I will read one paragraph from it. He said that,
“Andrea Sella talks about a maternal ancestor. He is not Jewish but his ancestor was. Apparently she called him early in the morning when the result of the referendum became clear. She said, her voice choking with emotion:
‘How can these people forget so soon where nationalism leads you?’”—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1521.]
The innuendo is clear. I could turn the whole thing on its head and say that World War II, for instance, was brought to a halt and peace was established by the nation state against the pan-European movement led by Germany. That absolutely turns on its head an argument that is constantly used against people such as myself and Eurosceptics, and quite wrongly so.
My Lords, in common with just under 70% of those who voted in the area from which I come, in the referendum I voted to leave the EU. It appeared to me, for many of the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, has just given, that political power had moved into the hands of an unelected, over-regulatory bureaucracy, which was out of political control and had no willingness or ability to reform. Further, it was heading in the direction of a single state for which it has no mandate and, in this country at least, very little support. I therefore support the Bill. But I am acutely aware that the referendum divided members of the same political parties, close friends and, as I know personally, family members, some of whom cannot or will not accept the result, like some Members of this House.
I have either listened to or read every speech that has been made in this debate so far, and I have heard powerful speeches from noble Lords with far greater knowledge and experience of the EU and its workings of government, law, finance and industry than I have. I have heard powerful speeches from powerful people. But, for me, louder than all of their arguments is the voice of Colonel Rainsborough, one of the Levellers, speaking for one man, one vote, in 1647. He said:
“the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he”.
How often have I listened in this House to noble Lords speaking of the need to encourage people to register and vote. The usual response from those who do not is, “My vote doesn’t count”, and they are usually right, especially in constituencies with large majorities. In the referendum, every vote did count. People voted in all-time record numbers. They were told, among others by the Prime Minister of the day, that that vote was a binding one and that it would be acted on. So, for me, the Bill is about giving effect to democracy. Being in Berlin recently made me reflect, as other noble Lords have during the course of this debate, on the political history of the last world war. When the governing elite stop listening to the people, the people are drawn to and eventually turn to extremism. That is a lesson that we must not forget.
The Bill, passed by the elected House is, as most noble Lords have said, far from perfect. The law-making powers of Ministers need to be defined and restricted on the face of the Bill. There needs to be clarification of the status of EU legislation to create legal certainty, and there needs to be much clearer devolution of powers to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. I will support the amendments that seek to improve the Bill, but not those designed to put a spanner in the works. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will not press his amendment. We always knew that the negotiations for our exit would be difficult. Without our contribution to the budget, the EU is insolvent and there are other member states with at least very strong reservations about membership. The Commission was always going to make life difficult, even at its own expense, and I am afraid it is further encouraged by those who tell them, hopefully, that Brexit may not happen.
I think that we can all agree that the biggest threat to our economy is uncertainty and to be plunged once again into another divisive contest of a second referendum, with all the acrimonious campaigning again, would be bad for our economy, our national unity, and democracy. As I recall, we had a general election only a short time ago. The party that campaigned to stay in was as good as annihilated, except of course in this House. My party, which did a great deal better than expected, campaigned on a manifesto to leave both the single market and the customs union and, I am glad to say, no repeat referendum. I am particularly grateful for the restrained and reasonable way in which my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon opened on behalf of these Benches. The prevailing message that I get from people who voted on both sides of the referendum from outside this House is, “Just get on with it”. Let us do just that.
My Lords, I am grateful that I have not yet been annihilated. It is disappointing that those who lost in the referendum are still demanding another one. It does not help for a government Minister to describe certain Eurosceptics as “swivel-eyed”. I had hoped that we had got past that level of debate.
In a high turnout, the people voted to leave by a majority of 1.5 million—huge in electoral terms. In the last election, if 40,000 voters in the most marginal Labour seats had, instead of voting Labour, voted for the runner-up, Labour would have lost 40 seats. It was that close. Let us suppose that the leavers were to lose another referendum—unlikely, in my view—then we would have every right to demand a further, deciding referendum. Let us respect the people’s wishes. We are not the EU, which asks members to vote again when it does not like the result.
We cannot argue that the remainers did not fire every barrel, from Mr Cameron’s “World War Three” to Mr Obama’s “back of the queue”. He was sadly so ill informed that he did not know that there was a queue of one—the EU. President Hollande, Madame Lagarde and every other leader you can think of all warned of economic disaster. Even the poor old CBI, which opposed the ERM, was in favour of joining the euro and is partly financed by the EU, is still at it. The Bank of England has got it wrong yet again. The governor is still muttering that the GNP would be 1% higher if there had been no vote to leave. How on earth he works that out is quite beyond me. As for the latest leaked economic forecast, it must have been leaked by remainers. In 2005, UK trade with the EU was 55% of the total. It is now 45%. If present trends continue, it will be 35% in 10 years’ time, or 10% of GDP. Are these forecasters seriously suggesting that EU trade would halve if their 5% reduction in GDP occurs if we choose the EFTA route? It is simply not realistic.
The case for remaining was set out. The Government even spent £9 million of our money doing just that. Everything we have seen since the referendum has justified our decision. There is general dissatisfaction throughout the EU with the present arrangements. Incentives are given to big businesses to locate in Luxembourg, contrary to the rules. Then there is the situation in Poland; no stable government in Germany; upcoming elections in Italy; the state of the European banking system; and even President Macron says that the French—how wise—might vote to leave if given a referendum.
Quite why the EU is so desperate for our cash, I do not know. With a budget of some €150 billion, surely it can be cut by 10% or 15%? One has to ask how the proposed sum we are thinking of paying the EU is arrived at. Yes, we should pay for commitments entered into when we are a member, but why should we pay for access? Surely it should be paying us. It has the trade surplus, not the UK.
I am somewhat nervous about how the Government will use the so-called Henry VIII powers. For many years, we have had to accept all regulations and laws from Brussels with no possibility of rejection. I hope we can trust our Government more than the unelected bureaucrats in the EU. As was mentioned yesterday, let us be careful of having a Corbyn Government.
I wish our negotiators well, but the signs are not auspicious. We are allowing the EU to dictate the agenda. Normally, an agenda is agreed between the parties. One gets the impression that we are going into these meetings with no clear objective other than to listen to the other side and to try to compromise. Negotiations are better if both sides feel that they have won the argument. So far, we have been the givers. We need to get back our territorial waters and our ability to do trade deals, spend our own money and make our own laws, and we need to keep Gibraltar and keep an open border in Ireland. However, how one can get 27 countries, all with their own agendas, to agree to this I do not know, unless we give a lot away. We must adopt a harder line in the negotiations. The EU has much more to lose than we do. We have the world to expand into.
Any implementation period must be as short as possible. Two years is more than enough; otherwise, it will be dragged out for ever. We must not be subject to any more EU laws or regulations during this period. Financial services should be included in any deal if possible, but let us not panic if they are not. We are the world’s financial centre, and the EU business through us is a small percentage and not that critical. Already many of those threatening to move staff away are scaling down their estimates—Deutsche Bank, for example—and the governor of the Bank of France has stated that the numbers leaving are exaggerated. Even the chief executive of Barclays is telling us to be prepared to sacrifice access to the single European market after Brexit if it means gaining control of our own financial rules.
The more that we argue here, the weaker we make the Government’s negotiating position. Should we not be implementing the people’s vote, unelected as we are, pulling together and presenting a united front? By all means improve the Bill before us, but let us not frustrate it.
My Lords, I think plenty of your Lordships will share the view that the one country we would not wish to be disadvantaged as a result of Brexit is Ireland. However, Ireland is already suffering: beef exports have fallen as a result of the collapse of sterling. Sadly, it is Ireland that is most likely to suffer in the coming negotiations.
Had there been no progress with Ireland and Northern Ireland, we could well not be having this debate at all, or at least in this context. Noble Lords will appreciate that in the early stages of the negotiations last year the EU adopted an inflexible approach: no deal between individual members and the UK. It was described dismissively by Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph as Euro-theology. Talks were indeed in danger of stalling and stage two was in danger. With the determination on all sides to have a soft border, how could regulatory bodies be shared with the EU on the one hand while Northern Ireland was placed apart from the rest of the UK on the other? This has been stated by many speakers but I refer particularly to the speech yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes.
Thanks to the constructive efforts by UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland officials and the Barnier team, a form of words was agreed that I suggest is a drafting masterpiece. I am going to take the opportunity of reading it:
“In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market”.
If it is not entirely clear, perhaps that is intended. Naturally, the type of confectionery beginning with “f” shall not pass my lips; I would call it constructive vagueness.
The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach have both made statesmanlike speeches, the Taoiseach in particular emphasising the bonds between the two countries. It has become known as the 8 December agreement and my right honourable friend Karen Bradley, the new Secretary of State, called it pragmatic, which is a very good description. I take this opportunity to wish James Brokenshire a speedy return to health; he has contributed so much to this early debate. So the logjam has been broken and we can move to stage two.
I am a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, formed as a meeting group for Back Benchers of both jurisdictions, and we have come a long way since the troubled times of the 1990s. Now it is a constructive and friendly group where we can agree to differ on Brexit, with frankness, without rancour or confrontation. It is particularly important at this time, when there is no devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. But I must emphasise that, with all the friendliness and mutual understanding in this group, Ireland is totally committed to the European Union. In the United Kingdom’s future dealings with Ireland over Brexit, friendly and constructive though we hope they will be, it is vital that this is borne in mind.
My Lords, I greatly regret the fact that we are debating this Bill, as I believe that we should remain as a member of the European Union. I did not think it was right to have a referendum about an issue of such complexity. Indeed, in a parliamentary democracy most referenda are inappropriate.
For many years we sought to be a member of the EEC, as it then was. Having joined, it brought us many benefits, the greatest of which has been our membership of the single market. Our economy has flourished so that we have enjoyed higher growth than before and a strong position relative to other OECD countries. The decision to leave the EU is already jeopardising this, as the Governor of the Bank of England and many others have made clear. Yet a former senior Minister who supports Brexit was heard on the “Today” programme yesterday in denial about Government projections of an economic downturn under each of the three models of possible outcomes. What he said was shockingly misleading. I hope that when the Minister replies he will confirm that impact assessments will be made available to Parliament. I hope too that there will be no more disgraceful attacks on civil servants like the one we heard in another place from the Minister in the Brexit department. If these go on we will have to start a defence league for officials.
It is not only because of the economic consequences of leaving the EU that the UK would be better off inside than outside. There are many advantages in being part of a political bloc whose members share our commitment to the rule of law, democratic institutions, freedom of speech and human rights. In a troubled world where there are powerful countries that respect none of these, there is great benefit in working together in Europe to secure peace and justice in the world. We should not forget the views of young people: they voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU. They are now puzzled about what constitutes government policy. This is hardly surprising since the Government themselves have no vision or clarity about where they are going. Above all, young people fear a hard Brexit and that we are abandoning the values of tolerance and openness that they hold dear. Old people, who voted in large numbers to leave, have most of their lives behind them. Young people have most of their lives before them: we must not let them down. To pass the Bill unamended would let them down.
We must ensure the sovereignty of Parliament and prevent a constitutional outrage. The House can play a crucial role in protecting our constitution by seeking to prevent an over-powerful Executive bypassing proper parliamentary scrutiny. Legal expertise in amending the Bill’s Henry VIII clauses will be invaluable. The Government’s decision not to convert the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law means the protection of human rights will be weakened. More than 20 human rights organisations, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, recently published a letter stating that losing the charter creates a human rights hole. The protection of the charter should be retained. Without it, there are risks to employment rights, consumer protection, the protection of the environment and the rights of children.
I also want to comment on the absurd decision, forced by the hard Brexit faction in the Government and the Conservative Party, to have a precise date for leaving the EU next March. This comes before many of the vital decisions that need to be made about the consequences of Brexit have been properly discussed and negotiated. I hope the Government will think again and consider leaving only after the transitional period, rather than before it.
The calamitous decision to leave the EU has distorted the work of Whitehall and Westminster, leaving insufficient time to address many urgent issues where change and reform are needed, whether in health and social care, education, housing and the environment, or the reduction of poverty. Moreover, this displacement of effort is magnified by the loss of many benefits brought to us in all these policy areas by our membership of the European Union. Leaving will make it exceedingly difficult to retain many—if not any—of these benefits. However, I end by saying that our greatest priority must be to fight against a hard Brexit and the horrors of renegotiating all our trade agreements. We must stay in the single market and the customs union for the sake of the Good Friday agreement, and above all for the sake of the prosperity of our nation.
My Lords, even if I was not a culturally pro-European Londoner who considers that Brexit will damage the future of my children and grandchildren, I would regard the Bill as seriously flawed. I accept totally that EU withdrawal requires legislation that ensures legal certainty and continuity the day after we exit. My problem with the Bill is not its purpose but its cack-handed approach to executing that purpose, as the Constitution Committee has forensically exposed.
The Bill neither achieves legal certainty nor upholds the sovereignty of the UK Parliament. Indeed, in its present form it diminishes that sovereignty. The Government have chosen to ignore the warning they were given last September by the Constitution Committee about the unsatisfactory nature of the Bill’s approach, when in an interim report it said:
“The executive powers conferred by the Bill are unprecedented and extraordinary and raise fundamental constitutional questions about the separation of powers between Parliament and Government”.
The Government simply did not deal with these matters during the passage of the Bill in the Commons, despite the valiant efforts of a former Conservative Attorney-General and others. The Bill remains a constitutional mess despite all the discussions in the Commons recorded in the pages of Hansard, which are now said to exceed the length of War and Peace. Yet a dozen or so crisp paragraphs in the Constitution Committee’s Report—paragraphs 40 to 52—explain the fundamental flaw at the heart of this Bill: the failure to attribute a single legal status to all retained EU law. It is that failure that produces many of the ambiguities and confusions and the convoluted legal drafting running through the Bill.
But that flaw is not the only problem. If we leave this confused and confusing Bill in anything like its present state it represents a clear and present danger to parliamentary sovereignty, to the entrenched rights and protections that UK citizens have under the existing blend of EU and UK law, and to the devolution settlements with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as so many speakers have identified. Clause 6 creates obscurity and uncertainty around how the courts are to use EU case law after Brexit. The Bill casually dumps the European Charter of Fundamental Rights with no clear justification, as the Constitution Committee points out. The scrutiny arrangements for delegated powers remain inadequate, without a proper role for this House. As others, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hain, have made clear, the Good Friday agreement remains in jeopardy from the Government’s fantasy that you can have a frictionless border in Ireland without a common customs union.
Fortunately, the Constitution Committee’s report provides analysis and solutions. Paragraph 52 proposes a straightforward solution to the fundamental flaw, namely that the legal status that should be applied to all retained direct EU law for all purposes should be the status of domestic primary legislation. This approach would secure legal certainty and continuity post Brexit, remove swathes of Henry VIII provisions and simplify the Bill significantly. The report’s summary of conclusions and recommendations are, I suggest, 65 paragraphs of good sense that the Government would be wise to embrace. But will they?
During the passage in this House of what became the ill-conceived Health and Social Care Act 2012, David Cameron paused the Bill to try to sort out the mess that the Government had got themselves into. This Government would do well to consider doing something similar with this Bill, drawing on the Constitution Committee’s report and using all-party talks. Perhaps the Minister could indicate whether the Government have any appetite for such an approach. If, however, they choose to dig in for minimal change, it will fall to this House to tackle robustly the many constitutional problems posed by this Bill. We should not be deterred from doing so by any internal or external threats and rants about thwarting Brexit or the will of the Commons. After all, many Members of the House of Commons expect and want this House, with its knowledge and expertise, to sort out the Bill’s defects. It is in the national interest that we do so.
My Lords, sport and sport-related activity contribute some £20 billion of GVA and 400,000 full-time equivalent jobs. It therefore makes a greater contribution than such sectors as the sale and repair of motor vehicles and accounting. Yet a great deal of the sports policy framework under which the EU operates is based on a global lex sportiva, to which sport has to have due regard. This requires agreement with international and national federations that govern the rules of sport and approve government-to-sport relationships. The proposal to move existing legislation from the European Union into the framework of this Bill will be fraught with difficulty because it does not take into account lex sportiva or the international and national federations.
Let me give noble Lords some examples. Take the Kolpak rule, the loss of which would mean that players from countries which have an associate trade agreement with the EU would no longer have the same rights as UK players. Currently, the Kolpak rule applies to those players who hold an EU passport, who are married to an EU or EEA national, or who come under the Kolpak ruling. These players are not currently classified as foreign, and that is recognised in the quota system used by professional sports in the United Kingdom. Governing bodies such as the RFU, which has the responsibility for issuing endorsements to rugby union players outside the EU and EEA, have stated that they cannot even look at their regulations regarding overseas players until the terms of Brexit have been confirmed. This causes uncertainty for clubs signing multiyear contracts, and currently affects 72 eligible players. Another example is the Cotonou agreement, a treaty between the EU and a group of states including South Africa, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, whose rugby players could, at present, play for a British-based team and not count towards the foreign player quota.
Without membership of the EU, the Kolpak rule goes. Saracens, which has 14 such players, could be particularly hard hit. Cricket, through the ECB, has also said that it is waiting to hear from the Home Office. Have the Government reached agreement with the relevant governing bodies of sport as well as with the EU? Uncertainty destabilises the market. Cricketers are working under the assumption that any deal signed before the end of 2017 will not be affected by Brexit, but will they?
Article 19 of the FIFA regulations on the status and transfer of players internationally is currently limited by FIFA to those over the age of 18. However, there is an exception within the territory of the European Union for players aged between 16 and 18. Post Brexit, this exemption would no longer be available for British clubs. We have 70 players in this category and who would be ineligible, thus denying us an important pipeline of young talent and putting us at a disadvantage to European clubs. Yet as part of lex sportiva, it is FIFA and the EU that must decide. What discussions have the Government had with FIFA to secure the continuation of the exemption, the loss of which would hit the lower league clubs particularly hard?
Will the Government clarify the impact of EU state aid legislation, which prohibits member states from favouring one market participant over another? Do the Government intend to transfer these restrictions into UK law or, as I hope, allow for new rules to open up the potential for public bodies to subsidise stadium developments and other major sporting infrastructure projects? That would be far reaching.
Finally, given that the free movement directive would no longer apply and migration of EU nationals would become subject to UK law, do the Government intend to subject the same rules that currently apply to individuals outside the EU and the EEA to football clubs throughout the United Kingdom? If so, 332 players would not meet the current requirements that non-EU and non-EEA players must meet. Will every athlete with current citizenship in one of the EU or EEA membership states require a work permit? The Chancellor, Philip Hammond—whose view on Brexit, incidentally, I totally endorse—stated that there was no likelihood that new immigration controls would apply to highly skilled and highly paid workers. Will the Minister confirm that all professional footballers, including in the lower leagues, would fit into that category? Will the Government confirm that post-Brexit the Bosman ruling will no longer apply in the United Kingdom?
The consequences for professional sport flow through to the amateur ranks. The House has an excellent record of influencing sports policy. Only yesterday—and I thank them—the Government had clearly listened to the close vote on the future role of the UK anti-doping agency during the GDPR votes shortly before Christmas, giving UKAD a welcome extra £6 million over two years and promising to revise its powers by September. Delegated powers to modify retained EU law—not just to correct it, but to make substantial new provisions and remedy changes to our international obligations—will be urgently required if we are to protect the competitive position and the future success of the sports sector in this country, which I believe is critical.
My Lords, since the referendum this nation has been on a rather incredible journey. Our learning curve has been huge; at least for most of us in Parliament, certainly for me. There are ideologues who do not want to listen to the fine detail about anything, but there cannot be many of us who have not discovered through debate, conversation or the media that the strata of connections and collaborations between the nations of Europe run very deep and to the benefit of us all.
I find myself repeating, “if only”. If only the national debate before the referendum had been as rich in information. If only people had known just how much poorer this rupture will make them and their children. If only they had seen how it would diminish us as a nation and reduce our power in the world. If only people had known about the damage to our constitution that the referendum would unleash, with all the talk of “the will of the people”, forgetting that we live in a representative democracy and that that will is expressed through having representatives in Parliament, precisely because they immerse themselves in the complexity of issues.
If only there had been a proper debate about cross-border trading always requiring an overarching international court of some kind. All the bluster about wanting our own courts to decide everything that affects us did not deal with the fact that if you trade with Poland the Poles are not going to settle for a UK court deciding the outcome of a dispute. The World Trade Organisation, out there in the great blue yonder to which Brexiteers aspire, also has its own court to deal with disputes. Norway and its little grouping in their semi-detached relationship with Europe had to invent the EFTA Court for precisely that reason.
If only people had been truly informed about the high level of medical and scientific advances—the creation of medicines and cancer remedies—that are made because of experts working closely together. There are the benefits to our universities in advancing knowledge and understanding. Defence and security collaborations prevent conflict and crime. There is consumer protection. There is the risk now to peace in Ireland. Was it ever fully explained that the customs union was key to a borderless Ireland?
If only we had not had a slanging match but instead had grown to understand the extent and benefits of the financial and trading relationships that flowed from our membership. If only we had spoken softly about how important it is to work with our closest neighbours because it stops wars and that together we can keep a check on the rise of extremism. With neighbours, there are inevitably aspects of the connection that grate on us and which we would like to change, but that should never be the reason for pulling up the drawbridge.
I am a lawyer, and because of the nature of my practice I am all too aware of the incredible advantages of Europe, Eurojust and a European arrest warrant. The underbelly of markets is black markets, and today they cross borders. We have trafficking in drugs, arms, fissile material, body parts, human eggs, babies, and women and children for sex and domestic servitude. You cannot deal with that kind of crime without close collaboration and developed mechanisms, and these require reciprocity and a level of legal harmony.
A few weeks ago, the House of Lords Committee European Union sub-committee on justice issues, which I chair, heard from a very distinguished judge on the EFTA Court. He had been its president for 12 years and had sat on it for years beforehand. I asked him whether we could be part of the Euro-warrant system—EFTA is not part of that system—without the European Court of Justice. His answer was no.
So how are we going to collaborate on all these issues of crime? Legal processes affecting families, individuals and businesses are reliant on essential regulations that have been very successful and to whose creation we have been party: Brussels 1, Brussels 2 and the maintenance regulation. A woman married to an Italian can go to her local court and get an order if he shoves off back to Italy and is not paying maintenance for his children. A company that suddenly has a default from its trading partner in Poland can go to a court in Middlesbrough and get an order that will be effective over there. That is done because of mutuality, and it is reciprocal. I fear that bringing law in here, nailing it down and saying, “We are introducing it”, does not deal with that reciprocity. We are going to have to have 27 separate relationships in order to make it happen.
The Henry VIII powers still have not been adequately constrained in the amendments that passed in the Commons, and I am very concerned about what the implications will be for the rights of individuals in this country. We have been given an account that employment rights will not be eroded. I am afraid I do not have much confidence in those promises because we know that a section of the Conservative Party is very keen to deregulate and remove employment protections around the working time directive, the agency work directive, pregnancy protections and so on. Across the whole of Europe there is a European protection order to deal with violence against women and girls. Did your Lordships know that? Of course not; most people do not.
What about the promise of meaningful debate at the end of all this? There has to be a clarification about the options that will be available, because one of the options has to be to remain. I hope the amendments will nail down some of these problems. I am most concerned about the excision of the Charter of Fundamental Rights from the Bill. That should set alarm bells ringing because it is telling us that rights are not a high priority for this Government.
It is hard for people to change their minds, but with more complete information people do so. We do it in our daily lives. I will deeply regret it if we do not put information clearly in front of people. I am not going to settle for a bad deal, and if that means a second referendum then noble Lords can count on me being behind it.
I heartily endorse everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said about the reciprocity of the law across Europe, particularly in the field of crime and the pursuit of criminals, but I wish to focus on the devolution provisions in the Bill.
Clause 11 is agreed on all sides to be defective and in need of amendment. The Government promised to bring forward an amendment on Report in the Commons but failed. I think we all assumed that negotiations were going on backstage with the devolved Administrations, but that was not the case. We were told in a meeting on Monday with Mark Drakeford of the Welsh Government and Michael Russell of the Scottish Government, in the presence of the relevant government Ministers, that they had not been consulted on the proposed amendment to Clause 11 at all. We do not want to be presented at some stage in Committee with a government amendment that has been drafted without even consultation with, let alone the agreement of, Cardiff and Edinburgh. What would we do with it? The whole point of the exception taken to Clause 11 is the lack of consultation and the evident incomprehension of the principles of devolution by Ministers. Both Cardiff and Edinburgh, with the full support of every elected member of every political party, rightly conclude that, as currently drafted, Clause 11 and Schedules 2 and 3 put all the cards in the hands of Westminster.
The proposal in the Bill is that the UK Government will dictate, with no requirement for consultation or agreement, how the powers repatriated under retained EU law should or should not be parcelled out to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, even in areas of policy where the devolved Administrations have full and exclusive competence. Not only that, but UK Ministers are given power to alter not merely the Scotland Act and the Government of Wales Act but the existing legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—and by ministerial decree, through statutory instruments and Orders in Council. Welsh and Scottish Ministers have no such powers.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, described the architecture of the Bill as misguided and ill-informed, and my noble friend Lord Newby described the Government’s approach as a combination of arrogance and incompetence. Nowhere are these descriptions truer than in this mishmash of the devolution settlements.
The powers repatriated from Brussels will include funding and policy-making in many fields. For example, take the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund. Brussels has parcelled these out across 28 member states on the basis of need. In the 2014-20 European budget; Wales benefits by over £2 billion. With matched funding; a total investment of £3 billion is available to the Welsh Government to support people into work and training, on youth employment, research and innovation, business competitiveness, renewable energy and energy efficiency, and connectivity and urban development. All these are fully devolved competences for the Welsh Government.
But the much-criticised and hoary old Barnett formula, which is the current Westminster vehicle for funding Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast from UK Government sources, is divided not on the basis of need but on a simple population head count. Under the provisions of the Bill, there would be nothing to prevent Ministers, by statutory instrument and without the consent of the devolved Administrations, departing from the Brussels basis of need to the Barnett model of population count. English politics and English interests are bound to be engaged in funding decisions. After all, in the policy areas devolved to the devolved Administrations, Westminster and its Ministers act as an English Parliament. English interests are going to intrude.
All are agreed that there will be a need for new UK frameworks, but the Bill hands all the power to UK government Ministers. They will be able to dictate to the suppliant and powerless devolved Administrations whatever frameworks they think “appropriate” in whatever fields they choose.
The Bill cannot be chuckled through this House as David Davies is trying to chuckle his way through European negotiations. Someone in this Government has to take a grip, to make decisions and determine both a destination and a course to get there.
Step 1: the devolution proposals in the Bill have already failed the test and there is no time while the Bill is in this House to go through with it. They should be extracted from the Bill forthwith. Clause 11, Schedules 2 and 3 and any other related provisions should be taken out of the Bill.
Step 2: the Government should demand from their DUP supporters that in return for the £1 billion bung they have been given, they should make the compromises necessary to revive the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. If Paisley could sit down with McGuinness, the current DUP leadership owes it to their countrymen to do the same.
Step 3: the Government should negotiate with the devolved Administrations on the basis of parity of esteem and respect for the devolution principles. They should agree the areas for the new frameworks that will be required.
Step 4: they should bring forward a new Bill on an agreed basis, with legislative consent orders ready to go. These current provisions are not fit for purpose.
My Lords, many Peers here and many Members in the other place have referred to this as a technical Bill. In its current state, it is anything but a technical Bill, because it has serious implications for our constitution and for our system of democracy. We should recognise this.
Since the referendum, we have heard a great deal of the need to respect the democratic mandate which the result provided. The people voted, albeit by a narrow majority, to leave the EU, and it must therefore be right that their decision is implemented. This is a moment for us to reflect on and respect the foundations on which our democratic system has been built, not to ignore them. For example, our system has within it a series of checks and balances which ensure that political leaders, once elected, cannot do as they wish without challenge, or without the need to transparently justify their actions and to be accountable in the long term. These checks and balances are never more important than when a policy is controversial or is the subject of the kind of passionate feelings that many politicians demonstrate for Brexit.
Theses checks mean that departmental accounting officers have the right to seek directions; that this House has the right to scrutinise and challenge; that the National Audit Office, which I chair, has the right not just to audit public bodies but to investigate and report on value for money and propriety; and, of course, that the judiciary has the responsibility to judge whether or not the law is being respected. These checks are not, as some seem to believe, irritating evidence of a determination to undermine democracy, but central tenets of our democratic model. We should treat them as such, cherishing and embracing them, because true democracy recognises that the best decisions derive from an exchange of opinion. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said yesterday, some decisions are too important to be left to those who have no doubt.
As many Peers have said, our particular democracy has also placed limitations on the power of the Executive to make substantive changes to law by way of secondary legislation. However, the Bill before us specifically gives Ministers the right, via the correcting powers in Clauses 7, 8 and 9, to amend primary legislation by statutory instrument. For example, Clause 7 sets out the powers for Ministers using secondary legislation to amend or undo any EU laws they claim are not operating effectively or are suffering from any other deficiency arising from the withdrawal. The vagueness of these definitions gives Ministers unprecedented discretion, which strikes at the heart of our democracy.
Many people who voted for Brexit did so because they felt ignored and that they had lost control of their destinies. They did not vote for Brexit in order to give Ministers unbridled powers to take away their fundamental rights. The Government belatedly seem prepared to make concessions on this issue, but I am by no means yet convinced that these go far enough. The way in which these concessions have been offered—with apparent reluctance and so late in the day—does little to reassure me that the importance of this issue for the sovereignty of Parliament has been understood. This view was reinforced earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.
Our particular democracy is also defined by the way in which we provide access to fundamental human rights—the right to education; the right of older people to lead lives of dignity and independence; the right to protect personal data, and the right to conscientiously object. But by excluding the European Charter of Fundamental Rights from retained EU law, the Government have called into question our commitment to those rights. They have created confusion at the very time when clarity is needed and they have diluted the domestic protection available to those who feel that they have been denied access. Our determination to create a society that recognises and values these fundamental rights, and that genuinely strives to turn the aspirations into reality, is what has given our democracy its meaning and purpose. We should never dilute our commitment to those rights or even give the impression that we are doing so.
Our future is not just about whether we remain part of the EU, as some seem to believe. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said yesterday in what I thought was a wonderful speech, we need to ask ourselves what sort of Britain we want to inhabit. Who do we think we are? What do we live for and what are we prepared to die for? For me, and I suspect for many others in this House, the answer lies in the democratic system we have built down the years and in the fundamental human rights that many of us have sought to enhance and protect during our lives. The withdrawal process must never be achieved at the expense of those core values. There is not now, and I hope that there never will be, a mandate for that. We in this House need to have the courage to amend and improve this flawed Bill, not to frustrate democracy, but to protect it.
My Lords, that is a difficult speech to follow. It was powerful. I am very glad that the noble Lord concentrated on what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said yesterday, because that was a very challenging intervention as well. He talked about the issue of who we are, what kind of Britain we want to be and what kind of world we want to try to play our part in creating. I will add only one other issue alongside those. For me, it is an absolutely inescapable truth that from the moment we are born we are locked into an interdependent global community. The way we shall be judged by history is by the success we make of finding ways to meet that reality and to build institutions and methods of intergovernmental co-operation that enable us to face it. Climate change is a great example; security is another.
We have heard a great deal about the importance of the constitution. It is quite clear from this debate, if in no other way, that referenda and representative parliamentary democracy are not easy companions. I have always held that we in Parliament are the practitioners as well as the representatives, but that the constitution belongs to the people. From my experience of what we have been through in recent years I have come to the conclusion that the rare case for constitutional change to be proposed is in the context of a general election. That is a way to bring the whole system together, but we seem to have been busy building dual systems and then telling Parliament that its function is to deliver what comes through a referendum. That makes a nonsense of the concept of dynamic representative democracy. That is why the debate, discussion and search that goes on in processing the Bill—not the Bill itself; we have heard too much about how the Bill is important—is vital to our parliamentary heritage. It really will not do for Ministers to keep lecturing us on how our job is simply to get it through. It is not. It is to make sure that what it is doing is compatible with everything that this country has stood for.
Human rights are, of course, central to that. I have the joy—I think that is the right word to use—of serving on the EU justice sub-committee, which my noble friend Lady Kennedy chairs. She spoke very powerfully about those issues today.
There are two issues that I would take above all others. The first is that the concept of citizenship matters deeply. By our referendum, we have removed European citizenship from countless numbers of people who thought they were enjoying what citizenship meant. That is a very grave thing to have happened. Therefore, one of the things that we must do in our deliberations in this House is make absolutely certain, if it can be done, that we have arrangements in place that will meet the challenge of restoring the rights that people thought they had.
The other issue is the European court. I have been horrified and dismayed in the work of the justice committee to hear and see more and more evidence of the gap between myths, rhetoric and populism on one side and reality on the other. Almost without exception, witness after witness to whom we have listened has said how indispensable the European court is. Over and over again we have been given examples of the key part played by British lawyers in developing and strengthening European law—it is a tragedy that the British people do not understand this and have not been led to understand it. We are living in an interdependent world and we wanted to be part of an interdependent Europe. That required strong law in Europe and the British have been playing a huge part in that, so what are we doing walking away from it?
Whatever happens on the Bill, and I hope we will have some very demanding and searching debates, I hope we remember—to come back to the intervention yesterday by the right reverend Prelate—that we cannot escape from being members of an interdependent world. Our children and grandchildren will ask what we did towards devising the policies and arrangements to meet the challenges of an interdependent world or whether we walked away in the opposite direction with a preoccupation with what was immediately popular.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is right to comment and demand that citizenship is vital. I say that with some feeling because my grandparents came from Germany in 1913. They were about to get British citizenship but they did not achieve it. They were sent back to Germany but, thankfully, reappeared after the First World War, so I guess a quarter of my blood is German.
I have been pro-European all my political life. I joined the Young European Managers’ Association, along with my noble friends Lord Wakeham and Lord Vinson. We campaigned as young professionals to encourage the country to join Europe, and of course success was achieved. Just after that success, we had the 1974 election.
I campaigned in that election in Northampton, a marginal seat that had been Labour all its life, where I won by the princely majority of 179, thanks, I think, to the Europeans in that constituency who supported me. When I got to Parliament it was in the period when we had dual-mandate Members of the European Parliament; in other words, they were elected to our Parliament and also sat in the European Parliament. Then we had elected MEPs. Somehow, somewhere in that period, from 1974 through the years, there was the beginning of disillusionment. Then we had the 1997 election. I had been in the seat 23 years, in a marginal seat, and I had a Referendum Party candidate purposely put up against me. At that point I was Chairman of Ways and Means and not able to campaign very much and I lost by a few hundred. So Europe has been very important to me.
If you sit in a marginal seat you have to learn to listen. In this case I suggest to your Lordships that we now have to listen and accept the practicality of what has happened in the referendum. I voted to remain—that does not surprise anybody—but I do now listen deeply to industry, commerce, trade and, above all, the City, to ensure that we look after their interests. We have to accommodate both what the majority of people wanted and these key dimensions of our society. I do not need to explain the Bill to anybody here, but as I understand it we are transferring European law into UK law. I am not a lawyer, but it needs to be done in a stable and orderly way.
I had the privilege of handling the Maastricht Bill in the other place. I had a good team that worked with me and the first decision we took was to call in all the sides that had strong views about Maastricht, listen to them and decide what could be agreed before it got on to the Floor of the House and what could not be agreed. One of the problems, I suggest to your Lordships, is that we do not have a similar procedure here. We have a very good Constitution Committee, no doubt, but I believe, having read its report, that it leaves an area of confusion. Certainly, not all of its proposals are terribly practical. That is where we come to the problem of Henry VIII clauses. I do not think it is practical to have all these challenges in primary legislation: it is just not practical and if it is not practical, we need to ensure that there are safeguards. That, I believe, is vital.
There are three large areas of discussion. Should the Executive have power to accept the final deal without Parliament having a vote or, indeed, the people having another vote, or should there be further votes for Parliament en route? We must recognise that any Government has to govern and give the leadership that we, the people, want. I share the view that it is a great pity that the Cabinet today seems to be riven by various factions: that is not what I want to see in my Government. Secondly, everybody that has contributed has made it clear that this is all about the future of our nation. I, for one, am not in favour of a second referendum.
The challenge, though, is not just a constitutional one. We have to accommodate trade, industry, commerce and the City because they are so vital to our economy, to employment and to standards of living. There are trade deals out there. I know quite a lot about Asia. I have visited many parts of Asia, both as an executive and as a politician. Frankly, it is not good enough at the moment to be appointing MPs as trade envoys. That is second-hand. We need experienced negotiators out there with specific experience of those markets to produce future trade deals that will enable us, a single country, to trade extensively and successfully.
I finish with two quick points. I want to say on the record thank you to those who are doing the negotiating for us. To all those civil servants and politicians, I say a big thank you. At this point, frankly, our nation wants inspirational leadership and a goal that we can all sign up to. This is a time for a united Cabinet to decide what we really want, what we think we can get from Europe and what we can offer in return—not just in EU terms, but to defence, culture and so on. Do this, and the country will respond.
My Lords, the Bill before us is a dog’s breakfast. In my view, it is inevitably so, for the reasons touched on only a few minutes ago, first by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and then by my noble friend Lord Judd; namely, it was obliged to spatchcock parliamentary sovereignty and procedure with plebiscitary democracy. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, the two do not fit. That is why there are several examples of where we are struggling, such as the Henry VIII powers and the interface with the devolved Administrations.
There is, however, one novel feature in the Bill, which came in a late amendment in the House of Commons that was, I think, carried by four votes: Clause 9 provides that Parliament shall consider the outcome of the negotiations. I wish to develop a point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, concerning whether there needs to be a mandate at the start or at the finish. As a TUC official for many years—the TUC is accountable in innumerable ways—it strikes me that one does not go into a negotiation without first determining some basics about what one wishes to achieve; in other words, the remit or the mandate. If you do not have a mandate, the union executive will, when you get back, say that you did not achieve what you were asked to do. So, first of all, you have to define something about your priorities and, secondly, you have to make them less than extravagant or else you will come back looking foolish. HMG have done none of that.
We saw an example of that at Lancaster House. Not only was that speech not a parliamentary presentation, it was simply a glorified press conference, where the fourth estate replaced Parliament. It is not just that it was not adopted and ratified by Parliament; it was not even put to Parliament—I do not think any parliamentarians were invited. What was said at Lancaster House was certainly not a road map that Monsieur Barnier or anyone else across the channel finds helpful at all to the negotiations.
Taking my trade union analogy one stage further, I want to talk about a parliamentary mandate, which we need to include. That will be the essence of an amendment on the remit—namely, having a mandate at the outset of the negotiation and not just a vote at the end—which will complement the Commons amendment. Some of us hope to table that amendment with the Public Bill Office tomorrow, and later we will put some flesh on its bones. Whether this is helpful to the Government depends on whether Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond can be joined at the waist like Siamese twins—we will have to wait for the results of that little exercise.
When it comes to the negotiations, something is very clear. If you look around at all the think tanks within two or three miles of here, you will find they all acknowledge that there are five options. The first is full divorce; the second is free trade with no express alignment and some trade-offs; the third is pick-and-mix on free trade with greater alignment in particular areas; the fourth is associate membership, which roughly means the EEA—I will come back to that; and the fifth is adjusted membership, with EU law directly applicable. I think we will probably come down on number four, but I thought I would simply set out the menu.
The last three of those options involve free movement, give or take specific tests of different types that can be defined. Number four would tie in with a deal done on the island of Ireland. I noticed the other day that the EU Council is now insisting in public that the 8 December agreement is signed and sealed before the totality of negotiation is set in motion. Perhaps the Minister could confirm in his reply that that is the position.
There is no point in disguising the fact that I am for the European Economic Area, which is the only option outside the EU that enables us to retain participation in the single market, the four freedoms and so forth. However, that means something like a beefed-up co-ordinating committee within the EEA twin-pillar structure between the two sets of Councils of Ministers.
In my concluding sentence, I want to say a word about workers’ rights and the TUC. Frances O’Grady made the point the other day that, if we are not careful, the Bill could open Pandora’s box and that workers’ rights are at risk. If we are talking about workers’ disillusionment with the whole of this exercise, then it is very important that we get a guarantee that that cannot happen.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Hansard Society, whose briefing has been very helpful in considering the Bill, as has the excellent report from the Constitution Committee. I very much look forward to seeing the imminent report of the DPRR Committee later this week. The Bill represents a massive transfer of authority away from Parliament to the Executive, and such a transfer requires proper constraint via proper parliamentary scrutiny. The question is how Parliament might best secure reasonable oversight and scrutiny of this flood of delegated legislation without frustrating the purpose of the Bill.
Previously, Parliament has insisted that a strengthened scrutiny procedure be inserted into Bills that grant Ministers wide delegated powers: the super-affirmative procedure in the case of LROs; the enhanced affirmative procedure in the case of the Public Bodies Act. There is no such procedure in the Bill, and that is a very serious defect. The Bill adds a novel procedural element to the SI process. It sets up in the Commons a sifting committee to examine all negative SIs, and it will have the power to recommend an upgrade to the affirmative procedure. It can only recommend, though, and that is not sufficient; the committee should be able to require an upgrade. We will want to address this as the Bill proceeds. The Bill contains nothing about how the sifting committee is to arrive at its decisions, and we will want to make good that lack. The Bill proposes a sifting committee only in the Commons. I was glad to hear the noble Baroness the Leader of the House promise to correct that and deliver an equivalent for this House. If a sifting committee in either House decided to upgrade an SI, that should be binding upon the Minister.
I think it is generally acknowledged that Commons scrutiny of SIs leaves much to be desired, but that scrutiny process is left unchanged by the Bill. Sifting is not scrutiny. As usual, detailed and thorough scrutiny will take place in our House, where existing procedures require us to say yes or no—we cannot amend. We will of course be reluctant to invite more visits from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, by exercising frequently, or at all, what may be called the nuclear option. But we should not allow unsatisfactory SIs to grant unsatisfactory powers to the Executive. It would be better to introduce a new power to return an SI to the Commons for reconsideration—a proposal recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde in his report.
It is not just the scrutiny procedures in the Bill that are inadequate, but their scope as well. For example, SIs generated by Clause 17 are not subject to the sifting mechanism, and they should be. There is also the Solicitor-General’s declared intention to use SIs deriving from existing non-Brexit-related Acts to make changes to retained EU law. These SIs need to be brought within the strengthened SI procedures in this Bill. There will be SIs generated by other Brexit Bills. We want all of them to be scrutinised as though they were generated by this Bill. For example, Clause 2 of the Trade Bill contains a negative procedure power to amend retained EU law where that law has the status of primary legislation. The safeguards in the EU withdrawal Bill are absent from the Trade Bill. We will want to change that.
We will also want to look at the urgency provisions in this Bill. As things stand, there are no constraints on the exercise of the “urgent case” power in Schedule 7. Under this power, Ministers can lay a made affirmative instrument which will remain in force unless annulled within a month. We understand why the urgent case power may be needed, but we will also want to understand why in each case. We will require the Minister to explain and justify the use of the urgency power. We will also need to provide safeguards on the use of this power, including defining limits on its use and perhaps involving the sifting committees.
The Bill at least contains sunset provisions. These are for the SIs themselves, not for whatever is enacted via them. It would be impractical to impose a sunset provision on these enactments, but that does not mean that they should not be reviewed. For primary legislation, the Government have to produce a report for Parliament within three to five years of royal assent. We see the case for a similar provision for legislation enacted by withdrawal-related SIs.
This Bill grants Ministers exceptional powers but does not provide for effective scrutiny. That is very dangerous for the quality of the legislation and for the authority of Parliament. I hope we will be able to reduce these dangers as the Bill progresses.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and so many other colleagues across the House in this monumentally important debate. I have always been proud to be British and believe the UK’s amazing achievements have been magnified by being a gateway to the rest of Europe. Free markets across the Channel and our integrated industrial operations have enhanced our performance on the global stage. One-fifth of the UK supply chain is located inside the EU. I firmly believe our multicultural diversity has made Britain a vibrant beacon of tolerance, decency and mutual respect, harnessing home-grown and overseas expertise to the benefit of ourselves and the wider world. We must not throw this away.
Churchill spoke in his 1951 speech of the disadvantages and even dangers to us in standing aloof. He understood the perils of obsession with national sovereignty. It is a troubling sign of our times that anyone suggesting amending this Bill may be accused of wanting to frustrate the will of the people. That is nonsense. Parliament has respected the result of the referendum. It has triggered Article 50—albeit perhaps before we were ready—and is now trying to negotiate a good outcome for the whole United Kingdom from a new UK-EU relationship.
This Bill is supposed to be about providing certainty for the future and, most particularly, about our constitutional arrangements and legal framework after we transfer all EU-derived law into UK law as a result of Parliament’s respect for the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.
Some key issues of concern with the Bill have already been brilliantly exposed by previous speakers. It is our duty to scrutinise the legislation before us, which raises fundamental issues that go to the heart of our constitutional framework and parliamentary sovereignty. I do hope that my noble friend will listen carefully and relay these concerns back to his department, so that they can be addressed in government amendments.
First, on the Henry VIII powers, this House cannot rubber stamp giving authority to the Executive that would normally be the role of Parliament as a whole. The amendments to Clause 7 introduced in the other place are insufficient to prevent parliamentary democracy being subverted by Ministers. As my noble friend Lord Balfe rightly said, how would we on these Benches—or indeed many on the Benches opposite—feel about handing such sweeping powers to Jeremy Corbyn? We must not allow the Bill to water down hard-won rights, for women, workers, the disabled and minorities that people in this country have relied on.
I share the concerns expressed by so many noble Lords about Northern Ireland. The Government have promised a frictionless border, but have not actually come up with concrete proposals on how this will work. Paragraph 49 of the 8 December agreement promises regulatory alignment if no other way of protecting existing border freedoms can be found. That must mean staying in the customs union, single market and the EEA, with EFTA-style arrangements. There is no other way. Yet the Government, apart perhaps from my right honourable friend the Chancellor, have tried to skirt over such fundamental issues with soundbites.
Ideological fixations or fantasies must not undermine the Good Friday agreement that has brought peace to Northern Ireland. The British people did not vote to break up the United Kingdom. In the words of Abraham Lincoln:
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today”.
That brings me to one of the Bill’s most serious flaws. Parliament, not Ministers, must have a meaningful vote on the terms of our withdrawal. The Government have offered a vote on a potentially very damaging deal, and the potentially even more damaging no deal. That is a meaningless, not meaningful vote. Why is it so important? Because we need to respect the will of the people. This is not about undermining our democracy; it is about upholding it.
Many noble Lords have insisted that democracy requires that the 2016 vote is sacrosanct. They say that this is the will of the British people. They insist that those who voted to leave knew what they were voting for. Indeed they did. They voted to be better off; to have the exact same benefits as we have in the EU single market and customs union; for an extra £350 million a week that could go to the NHS; for easily agreed new free trade deals; for no change to the Northern Ireland border—and for having our cake and eating it. I could go on, but which of these elements promoted to the British people by the Leave campaign is being achieved? So far, it seems, not one.
If these promises cannot be delivered, what should a democracy do? Triggering Article 50 has respected the democratic vote of 2016. But we are now in 2018 and things may have changed. Democracy does not happen at only one moment in time. This is about the ordinary people of this country who are trusting us to look after their future. The Bill needs to allow flexibility to cater for alternative scenarios that reflect new realities.
That brings me, finally, to the Bill’s provisions for a so-called transition or implementation period. How has Parliament allowed itself to be enticed into this trap? We keep hearing about wanting to “take back control”. I say to noble Lords on all sides of the House who are sanguine about the direction of travel so far: please, open your eyes. Transition is the opposite of taking back control. It is about losing control. Once we are in a transition, we are trapped, with no way back. Our only ammunition may be a suicide bomb. We have surrendered our future and entered the unknown.
If what the British people were promised turns out to be fantasy—nearly one year on from triggering Article 50, we are still unsure what lies ahead—we cannot rely on meaningless slogans such as “Brexit means Brexit”, and referring to “deep and special” partnerships. We cannot hand the Executive a form with plenty of headings and no detail, and just leave them to fill in the blanks. We must have a better idea of where we are heading. Without a realistic vision of the future we want—one that is achievable—we must not continue on the current path without any alternatives. Perhaps an extension, as suggested by my honourable friend Mr Rees-Mogg, would be more honest, rather than a transition with no say over the rules. There are signs that the EU might agree to this. My honourable friend has also pointed out that entering such a transition would be the first time since 1066 that our laws could be made without our having a say. Does that not mean that Europe has not been a dictatorship? We have had, and still have, the freedom to make our own rules and laws inside the EU.
The necessary changes to the Bill need to be passed. That is not about undermining the will of the people; it is about upholding democracy.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who has always been a steadfast pro-European. I refer noble Lords to my entry in the register of interests as a former MEP.
So, Brexit—how do we think it is going? No unparliamentary language, please, from my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock in answering that question. According to the Government’s own economic impact report this week, we have to hold up our hands as the political establishment in this country and admit that we have probably scuppered people’s economic prospects for the next 15 to 20 years. This Bill, which our own Constitution Committee described as “constitutionally unacceptable”, comes to us at a time of unique instability in modern British politics. Half of Ministers and Conservative MPs want what my noble friend Lady Smith, the Leader of the Opposition, called a “buccaneering Brexit” that hauls us out into the mid-Atlantic, as far away from Europe as possible, and they want it to happen now, today, and with no transition. The other half, the Hammond half, want to shadow the economic and trade benefits of the European Union as closely as possible. My own party is not exactly free from criticism either. How can we answer Mr Barnier’s question—what does Britain want?—when we do not know ourselves?
The Trade Secretary, meanwhile, fresh from the Derek Trotter school of international trade negotiations —its strapline being, “This time next year we’ll all be millionaires”—is touring the globe to drum up trade with deals that “could”, “might”, “possibly”, “maybe”, “sometime in the future”, come to fruition. On top of that we hear the business chorus, the cacophony coming from Davos, demanding certainty—a certainty, of course, that an embattled Prime Minister just cannot give.
Meanwhile, the money men and women in the City of London are packing their bags and will probably head for Frankfurt, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, suggested yesterday in his quite powerful speech. They have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleepwalk out of the European Union—with apologies to Robert Frost. British businesses and their workforces cannot wait for the Government to decide what they want: equivalence or passporting; customs union-lite or not at all; regulatory alignment or compatibility; transition or implementation or maybe both; transition or implementation or maybe both. Then, of course, we have what 19th-century Peers in your Lordships’ House used to call “the Irish question”. Here I declare my Irish nationality. The new Irish question is of course: “How can you have virtually no border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, and not be in the customs union and the single market?”. Paragraph 49 of the 8 December agreement, which supposedly answers this question, is written so ambiguously that Malcolm Tucker from “The Thick of It” would have been proud.
The purpose of the Bill before us is, as we know, to provide a functioning statute book on the day after we leave the European Union. But this Bill is not just a procedural device: it is not a cut-and-paste, drag-and-drop, pull-across-and-slap-it-down technical exercise to convert EU law as it stands at the moment of exit into domestic law. It is, in the words of our own House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, a Bill that,
“contains unacceptably wide Henry VIII powers”,
or, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said in his excellent speech yesterday, “Oliver Cromwell” powers.
Chris Bryant MP suggested at Second Reading in another place that in the history of the 20th century, and I understand that he looked into this, no Bill has ever attempted to do this, even in times of war or civil emergency. The Fawcett Society said in its briefing to us that, notwithstanding the gains from the equality Bill in the other place, it fears Ministers’ excessive powers to be able to amend and repeal all manner of employment and equalities legislation through this Bill. It should never be forgotten that our EU membership has brought enormous protection to the women of this country—their working rights, family rights and equal rights—much of it to do with the legal underpinning from the European Union.
Our EU membership has brought great protections that now seem to be at risk, because those rights do not continue under the Bill with the enhanced status that the legal underpinning from the European Union has given them for the last 40-odd years. They survive in the Bill only in delegated form, as do the equally important environmental and consumer rights that the British people take for granted as part of a safe, civilised life. The Government can expect no let-up in our efforts to make this Bill somehow, against all odds, work in the interests of the British people as we leave Europe, but leaving Europe is an act of extraordinary political self-harm for which our grandchildren and their children will not forgive us.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and indeed a panoply of excellent speakers over the past two days. It is a well-worn opening sentence of after-dinner speakers to say: “As Henry VIII said to his wives, I shall not be keeping you long”. I hope indeed that I will not be keeping your Lordships for long but, more to the point, as the 129th speaker in this debate, I will only focus on the Henry VIII powers in the Bill.
Like many others, I have serious concerns about the powers being taken by Ministers. I have seen forecasts that more than 1,100 SIs could be used in this process. In my field, which is the environment and our countryside, some 80% of our laws are shaped by, and in some instances controlled by, Brussels, so our countryside and environment, more than any other aspect of our lives, could be gravely affected by Clauses 7 and 9. It is to be hoped that some of the necessary changes to that body of EU controls, judgments and laws concerning the environment can be dealt with in the four Defra Bills that should come before us before Brexit on animal welfare, fisheries, agriculture and, most importantly, environmental protection.
In this way, we can deal properly with many of the issues involved on the Floor of the House, but we must get it right. Post-Brexit, we must create a new “brand UK” that exudes quality in every aspect of our lives—our beaches, habitats, rivers, air, soil and, indeed, the rights of our workers and of our children. There must be no opportunity for the Executive to water down this quality agenda. We must think long term and not rely only on the promises of the current Executive. As sure as eggs is eggs, they will change, and who knows what we will get in their place—of whatever party.
I believe that a democracy is only as safe as its institutions are strong. Having Ministers able to bypass our institutions and processes is not a good sign. The unprecedented powers granted to Ministers could be dangerous.
I am extremely dubious about the current sifting arrangements proposed by the Leader of the House yesterday. One committee for the Commons; another for the Lords—what a waste of everyone’s time. What happens if they disagree? How can any such committee, of whichever House, contain all the necessary expertise in the various fields involved—fields as diverse as the licensing of drugs; changes to scientific research, employment law or the Equality Act; alterations to the birds and habitats directives vis-à-vis raptors, squirrels or seabirds, or changes to our nuclear industry? Etcetera, etcetera. How will one group of Peers know whether every SI involved is a mere technical adjustment or is instead—surreptitiously or inadvertently—a complete game-changer?
Then there is the likely number of SIs—supposedly more than 1,100. How can one group of Peers or MPs deal with them all? SIs will be flying at them like snowflakes on to a car at night. You focus on one which immediately melts on the windscreen. Meanwhile, another 50 have flown in unnoticed. You are driving your institutional car into the black of night and probably into a snowdrift. This is not good enough. In my humble view, what is needed in the Bill, as well as changing the word “appropriate” to “necessary”, is a scrutiny committee with the power to appoint expert sub-committees—like our EU Sub-Committees, but made up of Members of both Houses. The committee should have the power to propose that some negative instruments become positive and even recommend, in a few rare cases, that primary legislation is required. Because time is likely to be of the essence in this process—hence the need to use secondary legislation—I suggest that they should be able to recommend that such and such an SI should have a sunset clause. I have checked with the clerks, who tell me that this is entirely possible. This way, before the sun sets, as it were, there can be time—in certain crucial areas—for primary legislation to be properly debated in both Houses.
We need to aim for the very best of Britain in our new independence. We all know that Governments cut corners and we must ensure that, for our environment at least, in the Bill this is made too difficult to contemplate.
My Lords, in a debate full of marvellous speeches, I apologise in advance that mine is going to be boring. It is possible to be boring and very important at the same time—I know: I used to work in the Treasury. I am going to look at a specific area but, by the end, this may be a lens through which we can look at the Bill as a whole.
I want to look at family law and the law affecting families with kids. In doing so, I have been grateful for some wise and thoughtful briefing from various quarters, including the Children’s Society and the Brexit family law group. Family law has a major international dimension. There are about 140,000 international divorces and 1,800 cases of child abduction within the EU every year. The matters at stake cover divorce and maintenance, child contact and child protection, child abduction and the protection of victims of domestic violence and harassment.
Brexit and the way this Bill is crafted pose some real problems for this area. By importing EU family provisions into our law, this Bill does not change substantive law, but it maintains our obligations without any guarantee of the reciprocity necessary to make them work. The result is that the Bill shunts us into a one-way street where the UK is obliged to apply the current provisions, but the EU 27 will not have to do the same for us because we will have left.
Although there is no effect on our substantive law, EU family provisions affect our lives in various ways. Imagine a German man, Andreas, married to an English woman, Jane, living in Germany with their son, Thomas. They are affected in various ways. First, there is jurisdiction. Imagine that Andreas and Jane separate and Jane comes back to England and petitions for divorce in Birmingham, while Andreas petitions in Berlin. Thankfully, there is a mechanism to decide which court takes precedence, avoiding expensive parallel proceedings.
Secondly, there is enforcement. If Jane gets an order from an English court for maintenance and Andreas will not pay up, Jane can enforce the English order by applying directly to the court in Germany using her English court paperwork, or via the central authorities. If Jane also has a contact order from an English court when Andreas fails to return Thomas after a summer visit, the EU family law provisions provide enhanced and quicker mechanisms to get him back. England also gets the final say if, for any reason, Germany will not return Thomas. If Andreas then gets cross and starts harassing Jane, she can get an injunction against him in England which is automatically enforceable in Germany.
Thirdly, there is co-operation. The stress means Jane starts neglecting Thomas and a neighbour gets worried and alerts social services, at which point Jane disappears to Ireland. Fortunately, the rules on co-operation mean the two countries can readily share information.
What will happen to this admittedly rather unhappy family post Brexit? We will lose the rules that stop parallel divorce proceedings, so with Andreas and Jane both petitioning for divorce, if Andreas files first in Germany, under this Bill we have to stop proceedings here. But if Jane files first, Germany does not have to stop its proceedings. We could end up with simultaneous cases running in Birmingham and Berlin at vast expense, reaching contradictory decisions on maintenance and contact with no certainty about enforcement. Jane loses the enhanced provisions that would ensure the speedy return of Thomas if his dad keeps him in Germany, and our courts lose their final say but would have to respect it the other way round. Jane would have no ability to enforce any domestic violence injunction in Germany. She would have to raise separate litigation there, by herself if she cannot afford lawyers.
On the rare occasions this has even been touched on, Ministers like to say that there are alternatives. They cannot point to common law as here, we are talking procedural not substantive law. They might cite existing conventions but there is no guarantee that they will apply. There is nothing in place of the domestic violence protection measures. There are no practical alternatives on divorce. With regard to maintenance and children cases, the relevant Hague conventions offer much weaker protection and narrower provision than we have now.
In short, our citizens would be disadvantaged by lesser provisions. We would have to apply the EU provisions in our law while the EU 27 would have to give our citizens only the secondary protection under the Hague conventions, if they are applicable at all. The Bill will create confusion as to which laws apply and when. Families will not know whether or when their orders can be enforced and disputes will be slower and more expensive.
What are the alternatives to the options in this Bill? There are not many. The first is to retain full reciprocity. That would almost certainly mean being bound by the CJEU and its decisions, which Ministers currently reject. It is worth noting that unlike other areas of law, here the CJEU is dealing only with procedural questions, not with substantive law. Every EU state keeps its own family law. The court can rule on questions of interpretation of laws, such as which country decides a case or the wording of enforcement orders. It does not change the law by which a country decides who gets divorced, what maintenance will be granted or how much contact there will be.
Secondly, we could seek a bespoke arrangement. We could try to make a deal with the EU for a new framework for family law co-operation. That would be slow and difficult and certainly not possible by 2019. Even if we end up with no deal and even if we can get rid of the asymmetry, there is still no guarantee that the Hague conventions would apply, leaving us with an unacceptable void.
I am very worried that Ministers appear to have given no attention to what they will do about this area. I have heard not a single thing telling us what they will do. By the time we get to Committee—where I intend to return to this—I very much hope that the Government are in a better position.
I have a final word on children. Children’s charities are deeply concerned about whether our law will be sufficiently robust and comprehensive to protect vulnerable children post Brexit. For example, not all the provisions of the EU anti-trafficking directive 2011 were brought into domestic law, which will leave real gaps in safeguards, for example for unaccompanied minors.
It is not just trafficking. Noble Lords may remember the awful case of Northern Irish teenager Ronan Hughes—just one example of the international nature of many crimes against children. He killed himself when images he was lured into sharing online were sent to his friends when he would not pay a ransom. Last year his blackmailer was finally put away thanks to Europol.
These issues do not make headlines, but perhaps they should. Whatever the high politics of Brexit, children in the UK deserve protection and our citizens should be able to enforce our family law in Berlin as well as in Birmingham. That is what is at stake. I very much hope that the Minister will attend to it.
My Lords, that was a speech of concentrated expertise, which I certainly will not try to follow. For those of us who seek to be in the reasonable middle of this very polarised debate, and who anyway believe we should have fought for serious and fundamental EU reform before rushing into bilateral negotiations of any kind, space is rather tight, narrow and limited. It is difficult to decide which side is the more unappetising: the extreme Europhiles who believe, in rather a quaint, old-fashioned way, that it is the UK’s destiny to remain totally tied into the obviously outdated EU integrationist model, fed by daily doses of gloom from the Financial Times, or the extreme Brexiteers in their nirvana of taking control and sovereign independence, regardless of the world’s colossal and growing interdependence and connectivity and their “dancing on a head of a pin” arguments about hard and soft Brexit.
What seems not to be very well understood is that the Bill is part of a vast and elaborate process, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said yesterday. It is one course in the long menu of taking powers back from the EU Commission after all these years, handing them first to the Government and then back to Parliament and the people. We are trying to transfer four decades of law, influenced by its Roman and Napoleonic code antecedents, into common law, the law of Britain and the Commonwealth. We are taking it, so to speak, from Napoleon via Henry VIII—neither of them exactly models of democracy—as much as we can to Parliament and the people.
I do not fully understand how the legal experts, whose voices we have heard, imagine that this colossal enterprise can all be done in one Bill plus a sheaf of amendments. I do not understand their ambition. This is going to be a task and a continuing struggle for years to come; in fact, in the age of popular empowerment it may well intensify. We will certainly need the sort of new instruments that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was talking about a few minutes ago. Yet we seem to hear impatient voices, and even some constitutional experts, calling for every course in the menu to be served and devoured at once—for every stage to be done and sorted.
We always want to see, and will have to fight for, a better balance of powers between the Executive and Parliament. However, as some in this House will remember, it took 20 years to get into the old EU—the European Community, as it was—and, frankly, it is bound to take quite a few years to disengage and correct the balance again. Meanwhile, we have a great army of lawyers, judges, academics and, I am afraid, some of your Lordships all calling for more legal certainty and more clarity for judges. Of course they would say that. We all want certainty, but a bit of patience would be welcome all round, as well as a little more reading of the works of Karl Popper. I would like to hear the word “gradual” coming from the legal authorities a bit more often. What is the phrase? “A broadening down from precedent to precedent”—is that not the tradition on which we have been educated over hundreds of years? Businessmen are always calling for more certainty but I have to say that there has always been uncertainty and always will be. The judges will just have to do their best, as I am sure they always do.
As for the idea that we transfer back into British law the whole EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, memories seem to be pitifully short here. Do your Lordships not recall how, in our long debates on the Lisbon treaty, we showed up clearly all of the charter’s inadequacies? I can remember a decade ago standing at the Dispatch Box night after night trying—and obviously failing—to explain some of the sillinesses in this overloaded document, which is far inferior to our own protection of rights and our own commitments to the human rights of the citizens of this nation. Excitable legal experts seem to have forgotten all of that.
The case for the old 20th century EU integrated bloc idea grows weaker every day and the case for a new, more flexible and intelligent kind of European co-operation and co-ordination, in the completely transformed digital and big data age we are now in, grows stronger. Nothing is static. Patterns and networks of trade are being revolutionised even while we speak. The Bill is just one stage in preparing us for these totally transformed conditions and the sooner that we allow it through, modestly improved, the better for all.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have a policy goal to reduce income inequality; and if so, what is their strategy for achieving that goal.
My Lords, income inequality is lower than it was in 2010. The best way to reduce inequality is by getting people into work, and since 2010 we have seen 3 million more people find work as a result. The national living wage has helped to reduce the proportion of full-time jobs that are low paid to the lowest level in at least 20 years. In the long term, this is the best way to improve living standards and reduce inequality, as well as to boost our productivity as a nation.
My Lords, if the Minister had used the measure of income inequality recommended by the ONS rather than the ONS’s own less accurate measure, he would not have been able to paint nearly such a rosy picture, especially if housing costs were taken into account. As it is, inequality is starting to rise again and is predicted to increase massively by 2020 as a result of government policy. Could the Minister explain how a policy of freezing benefits for the worst-off in work, as well as out of work, to their disadvantage, while cutting taxes to the advantage of the better-off, will help to reduce inequality?
My Lords, to improve the living standards of squeezed households in the short term, the Government will boost incomes for the low-paid, increasing the national living wage and the personal allowance. To help to reduce the cost of living, we are freezing fuel duty and childcare and tackling housing costs. The core of the problem lies in our low productivity as a country, and we have to try to tackle this problem in both ways.
I welcome the noble Lord to his new role. Given that food-bank use is set to hit a record high this year, and that a quarter of parents with children under 18 sees someone in their household skip a meal, does the Minister agree that we need a national measure of household food insecurity to address the hunger crisis? Will the Government this week support the Food Insecurity Bill, which is due to have its Second Reading this Friday in another place?
I welcome the development of food banks; I believe that they have provided a very useful service to the community. They are widely supported on all sides of the House, I would have thought. I do not know what our attitude will be to the legislation that has been suggested but, none the less, the truth of the matter is that good eating is often in the control of the people who buy the food; too many people eat convenience food. Indeed, there was an article only the other day about the number of people who have obesity problems because they are not eating the right sort of food.
My Lords, there are 6 million adults in the lowest socioeconomic groups without access to the internet or the skills to use it. Yet we know that, on average, the lowest-income households can save over £170 a year by being connected. I am so happy to hear the Minister mention jobs because we also know that 90% of new jobs are now advertised only online. What specific actions are the Government taking to help the most vulnerable communities get access to the internet?
Perhaps it would help the noble Baroness to know that we had record tech investment in the UK last year.
My Lords, on another aspect of income inequality, can my noble friend confirm that, in an effort to reduce that inequality, he will have discussions with the BBC?
It is as a result of our publishing the salaries of above £150,000 in the public domain that this whole business has come out. The Government deserve some credit for having done that.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with Wilkinson and Pickett in The Spirit Level that equal societies, in terms of income, are much happier societies and that income inequality leads people not to be happy? Does he further agree that being in work does not mean that you have income equality? We have a lot of hard-pressed families on poverty wages, hence the food banks. What are the Government going to do to create this income equality, where we can all become happier people?
I am a bit of an old-fashioned person. I believe that the path to happiness is being able to create some security for yourself and your family, having a job and being in work. We have record employment in this country at the moment.
My Lords, the Minister invites us to look into his crystal ball, but we can look at the book. How does he explain the fact that, over the last 10 years, wages have not risen for the average worker—something which has not happened since Napoleonic times? How does he explain that the Social Mobility Commission, with the valuable work that it was doing, has resigned en bloc because of government failure to implement its proposals? The Minister has a case to respond to.
My Lords, we are advertising for replacements for the Social Mobility Commission, but I come back to what I said earlier: wages for the lowest-paid have risen by 7% in real terms since 2015. That is the way to deal with poverty and, indeed, with social mobility.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that we, along with Lithuania, are the most unequal country in Europe? Is he also aware that, as a result, only Serbia, Romania and Hungary have a higher proportion of children in raw poverty than this country? Both of these are driven by the Government’s reluctance to tackle inequality.
No, that is not the case. I am afraid I must argue with the figures the noble Baroness has presented to the House. This country is the fifth-worst.
NHS: Clinical Negligence
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in reducing (1) the amount set aside in NHS budgets for clinical negligence claims, and (2) the annual level of payment for such claims.
My Lords, the Government are committed to tackling clinical negligence costs. To do so, we have proposed to fix the amount that legal firms can recover from clinical negligence claims, proposed a scheme so that families whose babies experience severe, avoidable birth injuries have an alternative to lengthy court proceedings, and brought forward our ambition to halve maternal and neonatal deaths, brain injuries and stillbirths from 2030 to 2025.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Last year, the NHS paid out £1.7 billion in settlements for negligence claims—a 15% increase on the year before. A substantial part of that enormous amount was intended for the provision of private sector care. That is because Section 2(4) of the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act 1948 requires claims to be calculated on the basis of private healthcare, not the NHS. Allowing claims to be made on the basis of costs to the NHS would dramatically reduce costs. Does the Minister agree that repealing Section 2(4) would save the NHS an enormous amount of money?
I recognise the issue the noble Lord has raised; it has been raised by a number of people who are concerned about and interested in this issue, as we all are. The problems are significant. The annual costs of dealing with these injuries and other issues has quadrupled over the last 10 years. That is the scale of what we are dealing with. We have to act—indeed, the National Audit Office has implored us to act. It is one of the issues we are considering as part of a cross-government strategy that will report in September. I am not in a position to give more detail at this stage, but it is an area we are looking at.
My Lords, I have acted for the NHS and the MDU on a number of occasions. However, perhaps the Minister will help me. One of the reasons why these claims have increased in value is because of the rather mysterious decision by the Government to alter the discount rate, which has often resulted in the doubling of the size of claims. Can he tell the House whether the Government are seriously considering placing a cap or tariff on damages, as is often done in other jurisdictions? That would not only clarify the amount of damages obtained, but significantly reduce the legal costs involved in such disputes.
The noble Lord knows more about this issue than anyone in the House, I think. The issue of reform to tort law is difficult. We have to be very careful when stepping across the idea of full compensation. It is one of the issues we are looking at. Other countries, such as Australia, have looked at this and we are considering it as part of the cross-government strategy. As I said, we will report by September this year on our plans in this area.
My Lords, it is estimated that a relatively small number of clinical negligence cases end up as claims filed with the NHS. Has the NHS undertaken additional efforts to understand what factors cause certain cases to be escalated, in particular the attitude of lawyers in the NHS and trusts? How can escalation be prevented and, if so, when might the results be published?
I point the noble Baroness in the direction of a five-year strategy that was published by NHS Resolution, the body that acts on behalf of what used to be the NHS Litigation Authority. The strategy looked at many issues, not only how we can prevent escalation. One of the drivers of cost is unsuccessful claims; more of those are going on. It also looked at how we can reduce incidents in the first place and learn from deaths and injury throughout the system, so that we can start to reduce the burden overall.
My Lords, it is telling that if you google “clinical negligence”, the first four or five pages that come up are companies offering their services to support people making claims. According to the Medical Protection Society report last year, the annual costs to the NHS in England of settling clinical negligence claims was equivalent to training 6,500 doctors. That is expected to double by 2023, so the noble Lord is quite right that this is a terrible drain. I am very pleased to hear that the Government have plans to reduce the number of claims. Have they included taking into account the recommendations in the PAC report published at the end of last year?
We absolutely have. Indeed, the PAC investigation and the National Audit Office report on this issue are very thorough and looked at the causes and drivers behind it. One is increased NHS activity—not worse safety but the fact that the NHS is doing more. The investigation also looked at the legal environment and some of the changes that have occurred. The noble Baroness is right: a number of firms offer these services. That is important for access to justice but we also need to fix the costs that they can claim so that we get this budget under control.
My Lords, the statistics show that 46% of the litigation cases involve misdiagnosis and 34% involve surgical errors. However, the largest settlements are for obstetric cases, particularly those related to babies who have suffered brain damage at birth. The important thing is to prevent these accidents occurring. The key issue here is better and continuous training in interpreting foetal heartrate patterns during labour. That is what we should focus on—preventing these cases happening.
I completely agree with the noble Lord and make two points in response. He will know of the Secretary of State’s great passion for this area and of the maternity safety training funding and other training funding. From April, we will introduce the healthcare safety investigation branch, which will investigate each of the 1,000 incidents noted by the Each baby Counts project which occur at birth, whether brain damage or neonatal death, precisely so that we can learn from that experience and make sure that those who provide these services are properly trained to avoid these incidents wherever humanly possible.
My Lords, we need to do something to tackle this issue much more urgently as the total cost of the litigation in the pipeline is some £65 billion—half the NHS budget. Until and unless we do something about changing Section 2(4) of the relevant Act we will have a continuing problem with patients claiming for private care when they should have their care provided by the NHS.
I agree with my noble friend; this is an issue, not least because, when that Act was brought in, the NHS was a very different creature and did not offer the extensive range of care that it does now. We need to make sure that we are not effectively paying twice. However, this is a difficult and complex legal issue. It is important that we take our time to investigate how we tackle it properly so that those who are unfortunately affected by poor care are not put at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives.
Brexit: Transition Period
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their objectives for the Brexit transition period.
My Lords, both the UK and the EU are in agreement that a strictly time-limited period would be mutually beneficial. An implementation period forms a key part of a smooth and orderly exit from the EU. It would provide time for government, people and businesses to adjust to the new arrangements and prevent businesses in both the UK and Europe having to make decisions before they know the shape of our future partnerships.
This not a bridge to a clear destination but a gangplank to thin air—I think that was the quote. Secretary of State David Davis said in evidence to the Lords European Union Committee this week that during transition things would not be exactly the same but very, very similar to what they are now. Will the Minister explain to the House what the very, very similar differences are that we can expect during the transition period?
The two main differences, and the reason that we need to construct an implementation period are, first, the ability for us to sign and agree trade deals with third countries, and, secondly, to agree and sign a trade deal with the EU, which is legally impossible as long as we are a member.
My Lords, I hate to say it but my noble friend continues to refer to this period as an “implementation period”. For there to be an implementation period there needs to be a treaty to implement. Under my reading of Article 50, it is impossible for us to negotiate a treaty during the process of Article 50. We can conclude that only after March 2019. Does my noble friend agree that that is the case and that we should stop using the phrase “implementation period”? It is a transition during which we will negotiate the final treaty.
I thank my noble friend for his helpful question. As he well knows, Article 50 makes it clear that the withdrawal agreement needs to take account of the future relationship so that we will know the terms of our new partnership with the EU by the time of our exit. This is the basis on which we have to work.
My Lords, given that the Government do not have a clue where they are going, would it not be a lot less dangerous to seek to extend Article 50 and stay longer in the EU instead of sticking to a dogmatic target exit date? That would allow both Parliament and the people to take control and shape all stages of Brexit negotiations, including withdrawal, transition, implementation and any future relationships—giving them, of course, the choice of remain, which is the best.
The Liberals have obviously forgotten all about the referendum, but we will put that to one side. As an ex-member of the European Parliament, the noble Baroness will know that it is obviously illegal for the EU to sign trade deals with a country that is still a member. We need to be a third-party country, and we need also during the period to have the ability to agree and sign trade deals with other countries. That is why we need an implementation period. Article 50 says that we will leave the EU on 29 March next year. That is what will happen.
My Lords, will the Minister say what will happen if the period chosen by the EU and ourselves for the standstill period turns out to be insufficient for the negotiation of all the details and the implementation of the new partnership? Will that not simply postpone the cliff edge by 19 months or two years, and will it not then subject business to two wrenching changes, where one is the maximum that should be even thought about?
The reason that we are doing this is to have one set of changes. I totally agree with the noble Lord. It is very important that this period is strictly time limited, and both we and the EU agree that roughly two years is the appropriate period.
My Lords, what part of the Question, “What are their objectives?”, does the Minister not understand? He has signally failed to answer the Question about the objectives of the Government. Would he agree with me that deliberately to continue not to give an account to Parliament of the objectives that we are supposed to be supporting the Government in is in fact a breach of the House’s right and amounts to a gross contempt of Parliament?
The Question was about the objectives of the implementation period, which I think I answered fully. If the noble Lord is referring to the objectives of the renegotiation, the Prime Minister set those out very clearly in her Florence speech and in her Lancaster House speech.
My Lords, I do have to press the Minister on this point. He referred again to the implementation period. The Question is more accurately about the transition period. I think that is understood by noble Lords. What are the Government’s objectives? The Prime Minister was quite clear previously when she said that access to one another’s markets will continue on the current terms, maintaining on current terms the customs union and single market, and that we will also continue to take part in existing security measures. Can he confirm that those are still the Government’s intentions and objectives for the transition period?
Yes. The Question was, “What are their objectives for the Brexit transition period?”. I answered what our objectives for the Brexit transition period were. The noble Lord then asked me about the wider renegotiation objectives, and I answered that—but of course the policy remains as set out by the Prime Minister.
If we are leaving the single market and the customs union, as we have been consistently told by the Prime Minister that we are, at 11 pm on 29 March, how can we carry on trading on the same conditions as we currently do?
We are leaving the single market and the customs union on 29 March last year—I mean next year; I will have to do better in my speech later. That remains the position, but we have said that if we can negotiate an implementation period, then in the withdrawal agreement which will be put before your Lordships later this year, we will replicate the provisions of our current membership. So we will be out of it but we will replicate the provisions in an identical way for a strictly time-limited implementation period.
Prisons: Careers Guidance
To ask Her Majesty’s Government why they have cancelled the contract of the National Careers Service to provide careers guidance in prisons.
My Lords, the custodial element of the National Careers Service contract has not been cancelled; it will reach its expiry date on 31 March 2018. We are reviewing options for alternative provision as part of wider employment services. We are committed to providing training and advice to deliver effective rehabilitation for the needs of offenders.
My Lords, job coaches, who are likely to replace the present people who deal with prisoners, are not people who visit just before release. Others coming into this position will not provide as good a service as the career advisers, who work with prisoners over a considerable time. Can the Minister say what consultations have taken place on this decision and whether the results will be published in due course? Why have the Government refused to provide information as to the likely number of advisers who will no longer be employed?
My Lords, the contract for the in-custody National Careers Service element could have been extended by a further period of six months maximum from 31 March 2018. A decision was made not to extend it because an internal review of the service being provided indicated that custody contract performance showed significant inconsistencies of service between institutions. As regards its replacement going forward, I note, for example, that community rehabilitation companies already work with every prisoner 12 weeks prior to release to ensure a personalised plan with respect to employment, and Department for Work and Pensions prison work coaches also work in this field. Indeed, it has been noted, particularly in 2016 by Dame Sally Coates in her review of prison education, that there is overlap and duplication within the current arrangements for supporting prisoners.
My Lords, I declare an interest as in the register. A number of organisations provide services which assist in the rehabilitation of offenders. Does the Minister agree that to remove the National Careers Service will add to the overcrowding problem, thus increasing reoffending rates, which are now at as much as 70% in young offender institutions?
My Lords, we do not consider that this will contribute to reoffending rates. One of the issues we wish to address with regard to future education contracts is the development of greater autonomy and governor empowerment, which will lead to local commissioning of these services and which we believe will lead to an improvement in them.
My Lords, will the internal review that the Minister has just mentioned include looking at organisations which offer the ability to search for jobs online? There is an organisation called Prosper 4, which at the moment has 3,000 jobs on offer to ex-prisoners but only 200 prisoner takers, because the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS seem to refuse to use online job-seeking.
My Lords, perhaps I should clarify. I referred to an internal review that had been carried out to determine the standard of service being provided under the National Careers Service in-custody contract, and it was that which led to the decision to let the contract terminate at its natural point in March 2018. On the provision of alternative services, and indeed online services, we are of course open to submissions about such a matter, and it will be an aspect of the governor empowerment proposals that we are taking forward.
My Lords, can the Government indicate how many people they believe who were released from prison will be in full-time employment 12 months after release?
I do not have those figures immediately to hand, but I am content to write to the noble Lord, outlining such figures as we have in that regard, and I will place a copy of the letter in the Library.
Would the Minister agree with me that one of the encouraging features about jobs and careers for prisoners is the number of times employers from the private sector engage prisoners, while they are still in prison, who turn out to be satisfactory employees who then continue that employment when they leave?
My Lords, in response to the question from my noble friend, I agree that there have been notable successes in this area, and we should appreciate the work done by some particular employers in this regard. There is one in particular where present indications are that something like 10% of their workforce are former inmates. If we can encourage other employers to take this step forward, we can help to reduce recidivism in the prison population.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the biggest barriers to employment is poor literacy skills? Can he say how many people going into prison are functionally illiterate, and how many fewer are not when they come out?
My Lords, it is unfortunate but true that a very large proportion of those going into prison suffer mental health problems or literacy issues. We attempt to address those during their period in prison. Some improvement is achieved; it is not as great, perhaps, as we would hope, but within our prisons there is a difficult cohort as far as education and literacy are concerned.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I offer my sincere apologies to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for my discourtesy in not being in my place to answer her Question on a very important matter at the beginning of Questions.
During the five years in which it has been privilege to answer Questions from this Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government, I have always believed that we should rise to the highest possible standards of courtesy and respect in responding to the legitimate questions of the legislature. I am thoroughly ashamed at not having been in my place, and therefore I shall be offering my resignation to the Prime Minister with immediate effect.
I hope the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and the noble Lord the Chief Whip will have heard the House. An apology from the noble Lord, Lord Bates, is perfectly sufficient.
It was a minor discourtesy, of which any of us can be guilty on occasion.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Second Reading (2nd Day) (Continued)
My Lords, I was going to say it was a pleasure to open this debate again, but I hope my noble friend Lord Bates, who has given 20 years of strong public service, will resume his place on the Front Bench.
I am the 132nd speaker in this debate. I declare my relevant interests as the chair of a think tank that receives EU grants, and as an adviser to businesses on international affairs. It is my ambition in the next six minutes to make two fresh arguments about the Bill. I am not sure if it is possible to do so at this stage, but each arises from the two areas of broad consensus—reluctant consensus—that exist in this debate. The first is that so many agree, however reluctantly, that it is necessary to pass a Bill that provides for withdrawing from the EU and the continuity and amendment of law, and that such a Bill should have its Second Reading. The other is that the Bill has not arrived in this House in a perfect, finished form, as Ministers themselves are ready to admit, and are quite right to do so.
On the first point, it has always been my position, as someone who voted to remain, that the best posture after the disappointment of the referendum, is for the Government, Parliament and country to make a success of it, or limit the damage, depending on your point of view. That therefore brings me into immediate conflict with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who is in his place and for whom I have enormous respect. He made a speech that could have been—and maybe was—delivered in the referendum campaign, putting the democratic argument for another referendum. Of course, there is always a democratic argument for another say about a controversial matter, but that has to be weighed against the democratic force of the argument that people were told in June 2016 by all sides that their vote would be decisive. They turned out in numbers unusual even for a general election. More people voted to leave the European Union than have ever voted for any Government in the history of the United Kingdom.
Therefore, we have to subject the case for another referendum at the conclusion of negotiations to a critical test and think of the consequences. What would happen if the people of the country, having voted with that democratic force to leave the EU, then voted not to approve an agreement on how to leave the European Union? Would it mean that we would leave anyway with no deal under Article 50 or would it mean that the Government would have to go back and negotiate another deal? Would there not then be a very valid case to put that to, yes, another referendum—a third referendum—or would such a referendum cancel the result of the earlier referendum? Would there then not be an overwhelming case for people to campaign to reinstate the result of the June 2016 referendum? They would have a lot of justification in fighting such a campaign.
I cannot believe that it is in the national interest to get on to such a referendum merry-go-round, whatever point of view we fought for in the referendum campaign. We could have made a success of the United Kingdom in the European Union and we can make a success, with some cost and upheaval, of being outside the European Union, but we cannot possibly make a success of being in a national state of bewilderment about when we are going to have another referendum and which direction we are going in.
Therefore, I believe that the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, put—very well, of course—must be weighed against consideration of the risks involved in putting forward such a proposition and of the extra difficulty that would be placed on negotiating an agreement to leave if another referendum were to be held. Article 50 is not designed for a change of the decision towards the end of the process, and it would plunge the country into a long and bitter dispute and division greater than anything we have seen so far.
My second point relates to the unfinished nature of the Bill. Here, I have my only note of criticism of my colleagues in Her Majesty’s Government, who I think are doing a good job in trying to implement the referendum outcome. In December, they achieved an entirely reasonable agreement at the interim stage in very difficult circumstances. However, straight after the referendum some of us argued for—shall I say?—a warmer embrace of parliamentary scrutiny than the Government have sometimes shown, including a vote on Article 50 at an early stage. Had they done so, they would not have ended up being overruled in the Supreme Court. Therefore, I hope that it will be possible to maintain a new enthusiasm for that scrutiny, as shown in amendments made in the other place.
In my determination to come up with a fresh point, I wish to add to the list of reasonable points that have been made about the legislation. Clause 9 now states, against the Government’s objections, that regulations made for implementing the withdrawal agreement must be,
“subject to the prior enactment of a statute … approving the final terms of withdrawal”.
However, 10 lines later it says:
“No regulations may be made … after exit day”.
Given the tendency of EU regulations to go over the time allotted and for parliamentary proceedings to fill the time allotted, the gap between those two events might be measured in days. Therefore that is another piece of legislation, along with others that have been mentioned in this debate, to which further thought should be given. So I hope Ministers will continue the robust implementation of the outcome of the referendum, will set forth the arguments against a referendum merry-go-round that might never end and is not in the national interest, and will embrace the parliamentary scrutiny and sovereignty that was surely meant to be one of the upsides of leaving the European Union in the first place.
My Lords, we need a Bill to maintain within law the protections and the continuity that we have. The decision to leave the European Union having been made—whatever one thinks of it—the consequence will be that many laws on which we presently depend will fall away unless steps are taken to keep them in place. But that does not mean just any Bill. This legislation is so serious and so important—for ourselves, for our citizens, for our children—that we have to get it right, and getting a complicated and important piece of legislation right is one of the things that this House does particularly well. We need to make it fit for purpose, as my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon said, or—in the rather more graphic terms of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd—copper-bottomed, ironclad and storm-proof. She is absolutely right, because when the Bill becomes an Act it will have to withstand many storms from citizens hoping that it still delivers protections for their rights, and we must not disappoint them; and from lawyers, and I speak as one, hoping to thwart them or to provide even more.
I have never before heard a debate in which so many Lords from all parties and from none have criticised a Bill for its technical deficiencies, its assault on our constitution, its assault on parliamentary sovereignty, its extraordinary switch of power to Ministers, the jeopardy it creates to our devolution settlement and the legal uncertainty it creates, not to mention the risk it poses to the peace in Ireland and the Good Friday agreement. Whatever the differences on other matters—leave or remain, a second referendum or not—there seems to be a wide measure of agreement that the Bill, as it stands, does not do what is required to make it fit for purpose. Wanting to make it fit for purpose is not putting a spanner in the works. It is not frustrating the Bill or the people’s will. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, was right to make that point. So there will be many amendments that we will have to consider, such as dropping the word “appropriate” in many places for something much tighter. I hope the Government heard the powerful challenge to it from the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton—who as a former Cabinet Secretary and, indeed, Permanent Secretary of the most legislating department of all, the Home Office, knows a thing or two about legislation—and his comments on what Ministers might do and delegated powers. Indeed, I hope they heard the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, with his experience in local and central government.
It has been a privilege to hear so many excellent speeches and outstanding contributions, such as those from the noble Lords, Lord Higgins and Lord Patten of Barnes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, not to mention those from this side, such as the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Judd—as well as some unforgettable images, such as the gangplank into thin air of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges; the nervous maiden aunts of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, settling down to a Quentin Tarantino movie; or the rather worrying image conjured up by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, of somebody—and I am not quite sure how many people—getting into a bath to sing. But to make this Bill fit for purpose requires in my mind at least three objectives: to make sure there is legal certainty after the Bill is passed; to ensure that protections for the people, workers and women of this country, and everyone else, are not diminished—I pay tribute here to my noble friend Lady Crawley for rightly pointing out how European law has protected women; and, thirdly, to do so in a way which maintains the critical elements of our constitution, including devolution and, above all, the sovereignty of Parliament.
The damage this Bill will do to our constitution, if not significantly amended, has been powerfully described by a number of noble Lords and in the brilliant report of our Constitution Committee. They are right to say that this Bill, as it stands, is constitutionally unacceptable, including the largest transfer of power, as the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, said. They are right to say that it risks undermining legal certainty in a number of ways.
I want to say, in the short time I have, a word or two about the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. I declare an interest in that I was, as many Members of the House will know, the representative of the Prime Minister—in fact, the United Kingdom Government representative—in the negotiation of the charter, so I had a very close involvement in its drafting. A number of other Members of your Lordships’ House were also involved. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was a representative of the House with my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids as his alternate. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, was a Member of the European Parliament delegation, while the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, was at the time an alternate Member representing the House of Commons. I mention those noble Lords not to share with them any of the criticisms that have been made of the charter, but to illustrate something that is not often recalled about it. It was drawn up by a wide body representing Parliaments, the European Union institutions and Governments.
I need also to declare that I have spoken and written many times on the charter because of my close involvement with its drafting. I have no doubt that during the coming debates, some of what I said or have written will be pushed back to me, because it is the case that we in the United Kingdom were anxious to avoid confusion with other rights, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights, and so emphasised the limited role of the charter. But that was then and a lot has happened since. The charter has been relied on in national and supranational courts, it has been talked about a great deal, and in Committee we will have to look at some of this. We need to remember that the rights in the charter do not derive only from the ECHR, as is sometimes thought, but from a number of sources, including EU law as well as general principles of law which have no other individual legislative base. It also adds important remedies which do not otherwise exist.
That brings me to a point made by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, my noble friends Lady Whitaker and Lady Blackstone, and by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. Why are the Government so determined that the one element of protection that will not be kept in place after the Bill has been passed is the Charter of Fundamental Rights? They say that there is no need because all the rights are protected in any event. If that is so, what is the harm in keeping it in place? If it is not the case and removing the charter will come, as many people believe, to diminish the protections they currently have, that would be a bad turn. In fact there are a number of good reasons why we need to keep the charter—reasons enumerated by, for example, the Joint Committee on Human Rights in the commentary in its report, Legislative Scrutiny: The EU (Withdrawal) Bill: A Right by Right Analysis. I respectfully commend that to noble Lords. Six powerful reasons are given why we need to keep the charter.
According to the Guardian, one of the new Brexit Ministers, Suella Fernandes, has said that exiting the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights would “avoid” extra protections. If that is what is happening, that is not maintaining the protections which currently exist in this country. Even if it were right that the protections add nothing, why remove them? It will mean that the rights in the charter from which we and our fellow citizens should benefit will be less accessible and less visible. That is because making rights visible and accessible was one of the key purposes of the charter. It would be mean-spirited to remove it. To make a change in this Bill to reduce the visibility and accessibility of rights, even if eventually they can all be found somewhere else is—I say it again—mean-spirited. Having and celebrating rights, not hiding them but being proud of them, is the mark of a good, decent culture. That is the sort of culture and country in which I want my children and grandchildren to grow up.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond. Although I do not agree with the picture he painted of the multiple referendum scenario, I am inclined to think that we would all be better off if the Prime Minister had persuaded him to return to the Foreign Office.
The purpose of this Bill is to provide the legal mechanism to ensure that if we leave the European Union, we do so without leaving a huge hole in our law. However, we are having to consider it when we have no idea of what our future relationship with the rest of Europe will be and we have a Cabinet that cannot agree on what that relationship should be. Moreover, the Bill as drafted is incapable of carrying out its purpose without leaving a mess of legal uncertainty for the courts to sort out, without giving sweeping powers to Ministers, without undermining the sovereignty of Parliament and without undermining the devolution settlement, the Good Friday agreement and the future integrity of the United Kingdom. All that is in addition to the damage that Brexit will do to the UK economy and to European common endeavour on issues such as security, judicial co-operation and the environment. That is also in addition to the damage that leaving the customs union and the single market will do to my own region, the north-east of England, with its strengths in the motor industry, train building, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and its universities.
As this process staggers on, the demand for the eventual terms to be put to the British people will grow. In the meantime, however, let us get the Bill right; let us try to make sure that it does not further embed undemocratic practices, ambiguous laws and overcentralised government.
My priorities for the task are those of the Constitution Committee, on which I have the honour to serve in the company of some of the most expert and diligent Members of this House. There is a very convenient set of potted biographies of us all in Monday’s Daily Mail, in which we are named not as “enemies of the people” but as “The peers trying to slam the brakes on Brexit”. In this task, however, that is not what we are doing: we are trying to fix the steering and get the Bill through its MOT test.
We should first be getting the task of the courts manageable and the sovereignty of Parliament clearer by treating retained European law as primary legislation. Why a Brexit Government want to confuse the issue by retaining the concept of the supremacy of EU law in the Bill puzzles me.
Secondly, we must secure effective parliamentary control over the mass of delegated legislation which will flow from this Bill, by more narrowly defining its scope and by giving the House the power to determine, not merely to advise on, what level of scrutiny it requires. This is not just about Henry VIII powers. It extends to other statutory instruments, which can, for instance, set up new public bodies. Such an instrument would not be open to amendment, so the House could be presented with a new health or environment regulator and be unable to insist that it was more independent or had a better defined remit.
My third objective is to see that Clause 11 is amended so that it conforms to the devolution settlement. As drafted, the Bill allows the UK Government to hold on to powers which should be passing directly to the devolved Governments. There may indeed be a need for common frameworks in some fields, but as it stands these would not be discussed on an equal basis. UK Ministers could say, “We will devolve the powers, but only if you accept our view on what the common framework should include”. The power of UK Ministers to change the content of legislation previously enacted by devolved Parliaments is an offence against the principles of devolution. I have no idea why Ministers have not so far delivered on their promise to amend this clause, but we need to see whether what they propose is adequate and whether they have got the message that this House has delivered loud and clear.
Finally, I remain puzzled—or should I say mistrustful —about the position of Brexit hardliners. They say that they want to bring power back to this Parliament—this sovereign Parliament. This sovereign Parliament, however, is entitled to insist that Brexit, if it happens, does not become an accretion of power by Ministers without adequate parliamentary control. Furthermore, this sovereign Parliament is entitled, if it chooses, to insist that if we do leave the European Union we nevertheless seek to remain in the customs union and the single market, for the sake of British business and British jobs. Moreover, this sovereign Parliament, once the terms of any British exit are known and the reality of it becomes clear, is entitled—if it wants to—to seek the opinion of the British people as to whether this is what they want.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for allowing me to go before the end of the debate, which allows me to participate in this really important discussion. This is a vast area, so I have chosen to confine my comments to the implications of this Bill for Britain’s 12 million disabled people.
Disabled people in Britain have benefited from some of the best equality and human rights legislation in the world. Indeed, Britain is a world leader. A significant part of that is grounded in EU law, and the EU has been at the forefront of measures to enhance accessibility for disabled people, such as special assistance at airports, web accessibility, accessible goods and services and manufactured goods.
Disabled people are right to be concerned that those benefits should not be lost or watered down when the UK leaves the EU, as countless organisations, such as Scope, Disability Rights UK, Mencap and others have impressed on me. They have fought very hard to gain some measure of equality, and there are still too many instances of human rights violations against disabled people in Britain in the 21st century.
As so many noble Lords do, I too have deep concerns about the sweeping powers the Bill gives Ministers to amend or repeal legislation, with inadequate safeguards and scrutiny by Parliament. The Government have said that delegated powers will not be used to make significant policy changes and that equality rights protections will be maintained. But this is not reflected in the Bill so far and it needs an explicit commitment to non-regression. I strongly caution against measures which allow delegated powers to change any equality or human rights laws. Having been personally involved in developing advice, information and detail on disability equality laws in this country for decades, I would be extremely alarmed if they could be changed other than by primary legislation. When delegated powers are used in other cases, the Minister should specifically confirm that they will not affect equality or human rights.
My second concern is, I am afraid, one which many others have: with the exclusion of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Government claim it adds nothing that is not covered elsewhere but an independent QC, instructed by the EHRC, has said that its exclusion would lead to a “significant weakening” of human rights protection in the UK. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has just published its report, as others have also said, commenting on the Government’s analysis of the charter’s provisions. It shows all too clearly that exclusion of the charter will result in legal uncertainty, which is likely to undermine human rights protection.
The charter contains some rights that are not replicated elsewhere, such as Article 26, which helps give effect to disabled people’s independence and participation in community life. It helps me to speak in this debate. Many charter rights, which are based on general principles of EU law, will no longer be enforceable: for instance, Article 1 on “Human dignity”. I find this deeply worrying. The charter has helped to interpret how the principles of EU law operate. It provides a really important framework for protecting equality, fairness and human dignity, which I believe will be weakened if it is excluded. Given that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is still not incorporated into UK law, this is no time to risk erosion of our rights. Excluding the charter is not only about the loss of rights. Victims of abuses have stronger remedies under the charter than under the Human Rights Act. At best the demise of the charter will create uncertainty and confusion, contrary to the Bill’s intention. It must be retained.
Equality and rights for everyone are of paramount importance to building a fair and just society—a society that works for all. I intend to do my utmost to help the Government ensure that these essential rights are not lost under the Bill, and I will support amendments to achieve that aim.
My Lords, I do not intend to detain your Lordships very long by my remarks. Like many others in your Lordships’ House, I voted to remain. One of my key reasons for doing so was my fear that any leave vote would undermine the integrity of our United Kingdom. I should have had more faith in my fellow Scots because, more than a year on, it is now clear that the union has not been undermined in Scotland by the vote of the United Kingdom to leave the EU but that, in fact, the entire United Kingdom will leave the EU next year.
My issue is how this Bill can be improved in respect of Clause 11 and the devolution settlement in our United Kingdom. I can fully understand why, in Clause 11, there was an intention when the Bill was drafted to ensure the integrity of the single UK market, which is so important for our whole United Kingdom and especially for Scotland. For Scotland, it is four times larger than the EU market, something that is often underestimated. As my noble friend the Leader of the House said yesterday, maintaining that UK market is absolutely essential to the future of the United Kingdom.
However, it is clear that perception is reality. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, said in last week’s debate on Brexit and devolution, there is a clear perception that the devolution settlement is being undermined by the current Clause 11, which the Government have thankfully committed to seeing righted through amendment. It is very important, as we move through the stages of the Bill, that we ensure that any such amendment is one agreed by all three Governments: Her Majesty’s Government, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government as well. It is clearly disappointing that there is not currently a Northern Ireland Executive to support and work on that amendment because, at the moment, Clause 11 undermines our constitutional settlement. As the Constitution Committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, has made clear, this is a very important and fundamental weakness in the Bill that we must address.
As I said last week in the Brexit and devolution debate, we have an opportunity through Brexit to strengthen our United Kingdom by demonstrating that Her Majesty’s Government recognise and fully support the devolution settlement and that the devolved Administrations are fully involved in the Brexit negotiations and process as we go on. It is important that we give a clear signal that that is going to happen by seeking and securing agreement between all parties involved on this fundamental amendment. We have an opportunity to do so: I know that Her Majesty’s Government are working very hard to do this. I was also very encouraged by the briefing for Peers from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, which showed that they were fully engaged and optimistic about the outcome’s framework agreements between themselves and the UK Government. This withdrawal Bill—with the necessary amendment—offers us an opportunity as a House and as a Government to ensure that people understand that the devolution settlement is safe in a Brexit UK, and that the devolved Governments will be fully involved in the process of leaving the EU.
My Lords, one thing on which we are all agreed is that this is a hugely important and necessary Bill if we are to avoid any kind of legal cliff edge. For me, it possesses a very important characteristic that is sadly all too rare in most of the legislation that comes before this House. The test that it passes is that, for all its complexity and weaknesses, it is crystal clear in its central purpose and objective. It is designed to ensure that this Parliament, of which we are privileged to be Members, will restore to itself the full authority to make the laws which the British public are obliged to observe. If the people do not like the laws passed by MPs, then they can remove them in a general election. That is at the heart of our parliamentary system: a Government accountable to the people through a directly elected House of Commons. For me, the sovereignty of Parliament is a golden principle which was severely compromised by the European Communities Act and about which we have been careless for far too long.
Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing very much with the noble Lord, Lord Beith, in his view that parliamentary sovereignty in the passage of this legislation towards our exiting is very important indeed. I welcome the many people who are expressing the need to see that that is involved in all stages of the process. I have to say that it is some contrast to the fact that many of these people are strong supporters of the European Communities Act, which was about removing or diminishing parliamentary sovereignty in this country. I welcome this Bill, which removes legislative powers from the EU institutions, where Bills are passed by people over whom we have little control and who we cannot remove, and brings them back to the British Parliament which is democratically accountable to the British people. As they say these days, “What’s not to like about that?”
There are many who say, and I have heard it many times, that the Bill is restoring powers not to Parliament but to Ministers, and I agree with much of that. There will be important discussions on Henry VIII powers and various forms of delegated legislation and the like, but what I find weak about the power grab argument is that it implies that Parliament—the House of Commons—is powerless in respect of Ministers. Ministers are answerable day in, day out to MPs. Ministers’ reputations, often their careers, are made and broken in Parliament. Most important of all, if the House of Commons does not like the way that Ministers are running the country, it can defeat them all in a vote of no confidence in the Government and let the people decide, as happened in 1979. I know because, like many other noble Lords, I was there.
The Bill arrives in our House as part of a process which began with the referendum result and the 17.4 million people, a record poll, who voted to leave the EU. That falls off the tongue as a glib phrase, but we should reflect for a moment on the significance of that vote. Leave votes were cast despite advice coming from virtually everyone in authority—let us call them “the great and the good”—telling people to vote remain: the Tory Government, the Labour Opposition, virtually all the other political parties—the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, the Green Party and the Welsh nationalists—the captains of industry, trade union leaders, the universities, the IMF, the Bank of England and leaders of sundry countries throughout the world. Yet despite all this warning of the perils of voting leave, amazingly, astonishingly, the people said, “Thanks very much for your advice, which we usually dutifully follow, but this time no thanks”.
There is no polite or popular way for me to say this, but there is an elephant in this room. It is the colossal mismatch between the balance of opinion here, judging by the contributions in debates over the months, and the balance of opinion in the country at large. When I go home at weekends, people do not say, “I made a dreadful mistake, I voted leave”; they say, “Why aren’t you getting on with it?” Given that the most often quoted reason for leave voters voting the way they did was that they were not being listened to in Parliament, let us not confirm that impression, particularly not in an unelected House, by appearing to delay or, at worst, block Brexit. Above all, let us avoid saying to 17.4 million voters, as some speeches have seemed to, that we know what is good for them better than they know themselves.
Since the referendum we have had a general election in which nearly 85% of the electorate voted for parties committed to leaving the European Union. My party manifesto stated clearly:
“Labour accepts the referendum result”,
“We will build a close co-operative future relationship with the EU, not as members but as partners”.
The Conservative manifesto stated:
“Following the historic referendum on 23rd June 2016, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union”.
Parties which were most hostile to us leaving the EU, notably the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Greens, all lost vote share. The Liberal Democrats, who have been quite clear that they want the referendum result reversed, who voted against the implementation of Article 50 and who called for a second referendum to cancel out the first, saw their vote share drop from 7.9% to 7.4% or, to put it another way, the party which inaugurated its general election campaign by aiming and claiming to be the party of the 48% concluded its campaign as the party of the 7.4%.
In conclusion, our responsibility in respect of the Bill is clear. It is to examine the Bill in detail, as we always do; to ensure that it is fit for purpose; and in so doing, to respect the referendum, which we established in this House, and its result, which it is now our duty to implement.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. He is an accomplished parliamentarian who has the benefit of consistency. The line that he has just been peddling, with which I profoundly disagree politically, has been held by him consistently since 1972, which is quite a claim to fame.
However, there was a glimmer of hope in the remarks he made, as he said that he agreed with some of the things that my noble friend Lord Beith said. I think that the House will look to him and all his political stagecraft and experience to make sure that scrutiny procedures are maintained, because we will need all the help we can get to make sure that the Government do not just give Ministers blank cheques.
The standout moment for me yesterday was when the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said, tellingly, that keeping every option open was no option at all. That is the message that I hope this debate will carry to the Government, because it crystallises the problem politically as I see it. The standout moment for today, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, referred to, is the graphic image from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, of two noble Lords in a bath singing “Je ne regrette rien”. I apologise to the noble Lord, but I have to say this, because it is true. A mental image appeared in my brain of the noble Lords, Lord Lamont and Lord Cormack, in a hot tub singing it. That is an Instagram image to kill for. This is meant with due respect to both noble Lords.
This has been a very constructive debate—and worth listening to, because the points have all been apposite. It is not yet boring, although that might be different by 9.30 pm. I hope the Government have clearly understood that there is no attempt on anybody’s part to wreck the Bill. There was never any attempt to do that, and no appetite for it on any side. If there was, I would know about it—and there is not. I can tell the Minister with some authority that he need have no fears about the Bill not getting a Second Reading. However, in a political context, the Government are clearly the author of their own misfortune. As the noble Lord, Lord Radice, and some other colleagues have said, self-imposed red lines and deadlines with no end game in sight are a recipe for incoherence and incompetence—which is the position that we are in at the moment.
We are all anxious to burnish our credentials. I arrived in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster in 1971, and one of the first acts I witnessed was the Liberal parliamentary party of its day assisting the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, as he took the country into the EEC. Among other things, that means that I am actually older than I look, which is a cross I have to bear. I have been here for 47 years one way or another, in different roles. I was my party’s Chief Whip in the Maastricht debate. Then there was a defined treaty, in plain sight and in hard copy. People knew what they were arguing about, and it was still difficult. There were no deadlines—but, again, the Liberal Democrats came to the rescue. I learned more new bad language in the Conservative Whips’ Office during the Maastricht debate than I ever had in any earlier parts of my life. It was all quite tense, but John Major won because we helped him.
Recently during the coalition we helped David Cameron by co-authoring a Bill which put a lock on the ceding of any further powers to Brussels, subject to a referendum. I do not usually say this, but the Liberal Democrat parliamentary group in the House of Lords deserves some credit for 47 years of solid, unwavering support—some might even say strong and stable support—for the position that the United Kingdom should stay at the heart of Europe.
I am a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and, for me, the battle lines will be drawn on the content of Clause 7, Schedule 7 and, to a lesser extent, Clause 11. I pay tribute to yesterday’s magnificent short speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craig head on Clause 11, and I, too, will be speaking about it, for obvious reasons.
Cross-Bench votes—not just voices—are very important. I know that there are sometimes challenges among our Cross-Bench colleagues, but they are non-aligned and have a special value in this debate. They are excellent contributors to the scrutiny process and if they do not hold their end up and give their support we may lose votes—so I hope they will think about that really carefully.
The Leader of the House made some helpful comments at the beginning of the debate about how she was going to bring forward some new proposals in March. The new system has to be operational by April or May and that is too tight a timetable for this to be done sensibly. The Constitution Committee’s ninth report has done the House a signal service, and the battleground it maps out is the one on which I will seek to attack Clause 7 and Schedule 7. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee needs further and better particulars and basic things like early access to drafts—if that is possible, it would help. We also need to smooth out the peaks and the troughs in the flow of the delegated legislation we consider, and resources to staff up the committees. I hope that these will be put in place meaningfully, otherwise the quality of the scrutiny—because of the volume of legislation—is bound to suffer, and that is not in our interests.
I also hope that the usual channels will start to look again at the Cunningham doctrine, which colleagues may remember suggests that in very limited circumstances the possibility exists for this House to reject statutory instruments. If the Government do not get this Bill right, Members such as I will be driven to thinking in these terms. We do not want that, so I hope that the Government will get on with this and make sure that the Bill is amended—particularly Clause 7 and Schedule 7 —in a way that guarantees a scrutiny role for this House, because that is what we are here to do.
My Lords, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, to which I hope we are going to give an unopposed Second Reading tonight, is a pretty different animal to the one tabled some six or more months ago. It has been amended, against the will of the Government, to provide for a meaningful statutory process before any deal is approved by Parliament—a provision originally put forward by your Lordships’ House last March in the context of the Article 50 Bill. That is very welcome. The Government have also brought forward amendments on the handling of Henry VIII powers, which, while they certainly need further improvement and strengthening, at least show that the Government are aware that the original approach was excessively tilted towards the Executive. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House made a good move when she said that she was listening and would probably bring forward further amendments soon.
But this Bill remains, I fear, a serious case of putting the cart before the horse. We are, in fact, being asked to legislate before we know the outcome of the negotiations in Brussels with respect to the divorce settlement, the transition or standstill phase and the framework for a new partnership, all of which will alter—and probably in many cases override—much of what is in this Bill. Moreover, the Bill stands in the heavy shadow of a further piece of primary legislation, the implementation Bill, which will need to complete its course through Parliament before we leave, because it will need to give effect in our domestic law to any provisions to which we have agreed in the negotiations in Brussels. That implementation Bill had not even been thought of at the time when this withdrawal Bill was originally tabled, when it was then called the great repeal Bill. That is a bit of a sign of the Government’s remarkably haphazard and rather chaotic approach to Brexit.
Nevertheless, for all its defects, this Bill is clearly a necessity. The gaps in our statute book need to be plugged if, and when, we actually leave. That is why it is right to give the Bill a Second Reading. However deeply those like myself believe that leaving the European Union is a fundamental error of judgment, which will be damaging to our economy and to our influence in the world, we are absolutely required to put this Bill on the statute book without undue delay.
The Minister who will reply to this debate is particularly fond of dwelling on the democratic legitimacy of the June 2016 referendum vote and of the whole Brexit process. I have no intention of beginning a debate here today about the relative merits of plebiscitary and representative parliamentary democracy, but I would just say that people who live in glass houses should be a bit careful about throwing stones. The Minister’s presence at the Dispatch Box is largely due to the support in the other place for the Government’s Brexit policies by the 10 Members of the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, but that party has no democratic legitimacy as far as Brexit is concerned at all, because the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain.
I shall mention just one or two of the matters that will certainly need more careful scrutiny. The first of these is the provision that would have the effect of extinguishing the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in this country on the day we leave. Whatever one’s views of the Government’s rather mindless demonisation of the European Court of Justice—and, in my view, it is both mystifying and self-defeating—the Government have already conceded the point in Brussels, since individuals will be able to take their cases on status issues and have them referred to the European Court of Justice for the next eight years after we leave. The standstill, transitional arrangements, which are currently under negotiation, are inevitably going to drive an even larger coach and horses across that red line. So why on earth should we be marched up to the top of the hill to eliminate the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice on the day we leave, only to be marched back down again in the implementation Bill?
Then there is the whole business of the exclusion from the scope of this Bill of just one piece of many thousands of pages of the acquis communautaire, the Charter of Fundamental Rights. How on earth can that be justified? The fundamental rights enshrined in the EU charter and the Council of Europe convention are values that we need to uphold, whether we are inside or outside the European Union. They surely need to be part of the new partnership, for example, which the Prime Minister, rightly in my view, is trying to negotiate as her ultimate objective.
Committee stage debates are all too often in this House treated as Second Reading debates, but I shall try to avoid falling into the opposite trap—so I shall stop talking about specifics. The complexity of the overall package of legislative instruments, not just in this Bill but in the others that will follow it, is pretty daunting. It is a reminder of the extent to which our economy has become integrated with that of our European neighbours over the past 40 years. It is shameful that those who campaigned to take us out of the European Union were so unaware of that or, if they were aware of it, were so unwilling to share that with the voters. I think that the voters are now becoming aware of what is in store for them; the chickens are coming home to roost, and it is going to be a pretty painful experience.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. He and I co-operated as closely as we could on the original attempt to keep us in the European Union. Today, however, we are faced with leaving the European Union and I make no comment on that except to accept it as a fact and to refrain from any prophecy as to what will happen next.
The Constitution Committee of this House has done a very good job, and most of the amendments it proposed would improve the Bill. I just want to mention one or two general points raised by these amendments. The Bill is to bring into the United Kingdom’s statute book legislation passed by Europe but not presently on the statute book. It also provides that this legislation would have priority or supremacy over UK legislation in the same area. This problem is one that the Constitution Committee has solved with great elegance. First, it has said that the direct EU legislation should be treated as primary legislation; that is, as legislation passed by Parliament not under the authority of Parliament. Secondly, it should be deemed to have a date of our leaving date. Because of our system, that will automatically give it priority over any Act with which it conflicts and which preceded it. I regard this as an extremely clever—indeed, wise—suggestion for dealing with this matter. The Government had thought to have a case-by-case decision about this, but I think this is much better and I commend it to the Government strongly.
The second point relates to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and to references by our courts to that court. The idea of the statutory reference is being swept away, but that still leaves the question of whether our courts should have regard to decisions of the European court. My experience, such as it is, of this is that our courts are free to look at any court decision they want—from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, or even Scotland. They are absolutely free to do that. Originally, I was therefore rather minded that this should continue as far as the European Court of Justice is concerned. If something helpful was said in that court, there is no reason why our courts should not take that into account. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, as President of the Supreme Court, pointed out that such was the political heat of that sort of suggestion, it would be very unwise to subject judges to that kind of conflict. Therefore, it would be right for Parliament to take responsibility for saying when they could refer to the European Court of Justice. The Constitution Committee has recommended a very sensible way of dealing with that: where a court here, considering a piece of pre-Brexit legislation from Europe, finds that the European Court of Justice has later made a decision relevant to that sort of case, it is entitled to turn to it.
My final point relates to the devolution settlement. I regard this as absolutely fundamental but also as extremely difficult, because there are various levels of power in Europe that may be in, for example, the area of fisheries. First of all, there are international powers in relation to that. Our current international relationships in relation to fisheries are with the European Union. If that power is returned here, it should belong to the state of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, detailed provisions about what happens to fisheries are made at a more local level, under the present devolution settlement. Therefore, there is a problem with how this should be done, which I regard as very much a matter for negotiation between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Governments—where they exist—of the devolved Administrations. I very strongly support the view that it would be most unfortunate if Northern Ireland continued without an Administration. I hope that will not continue and that the new Secretary of State—I am saddened by the health difficulties of the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—will, perhaps with the Prime Minister’s help, be able to restore the Administration. Anyhow, it is a matter for negotiation between the devolved legislatures—the Ministers of the devolved Governments —and the Government of the United Kingdom. I certainly hope and believe that the best solution to the Clause 11 amendment is for the Government to come forward with an amendment agreed by those parties. I have great confidence that they all seek a solution to what I regard as a very difficult problem. I hope they will succeed. If they do, I am sure it will be with the greatest pleasure that we will give effect to that agreement.
The last point I want to make—just after the last one, as it were—is that the European Charter of Fundamental Rights is a big subject. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said a good deal about that. I will not take time on it now, since my time is up anyway.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I could not agree with him more on what he said about the Constitution Committee. It has done a lot of the Government’s thinking for them. I hope that the Minister may be inclined to bring forward his own amendments on that basis.
Like so many noble Lords, I deeply regret the necessity of this Bill, but I feel we have no choice but to do what only we in this House can do. I believe we are engaged in an historic act of self-harm, but by amending the Bill we may be able to mitigate some damage and make the future a little more predictable. We are awash in a sea of legal and political uncertainties, about which many noble Lords have already spoken brilliantly. They make a nonsense of the constant mantra we hear from the Government about the need for certainty and control. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, who is not in his place, made a most powerful speech yesterday when he spoke about the “normalisation of lies”, to which I would add the normalisation of delusion. The greatest delusion of all is that, after a year characterised by denial and bluster, the Government can magically achieve a deal that has never been on offer that will enable us to retain all the benefits of being in the EU with none of the obligations. We need to get rid of the culture of infantilisation—the fear of reality—that has so reduced the debate we should have had on Brexit.
We have an opportunity to reassert the constitutional balances of power that are so dislodged by Clauses 7 to 9 and 17. They give unprecedented delegated powers to Ministers and Whitehall—justified, as they always would have been, by the need for speed and flexibility. The transposition of EU law into UK law presents unique challenges but does not require draconian powers never before seen in peacetime. These clauses are, frankly, opportunistic. The first task is obviously to take control back from Ministers and put it back into the hands of Parliament, where it belongs.
The second task, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and many others in this House have alluded, is to prevent the constitutional car crash that is heading towards the United Kingdom in the potential failure of the devolution settlement and the deferred model. The challenge is technically complicated but politically extremely simple. If Clause 11 is not amended, the constitutional equalities will disappear as the devolved Governments are locked down, subject to a new set of restrictions and required to wait for their partial release while Westminster and Whitehall fix up the post-Brexit world.
After seven months in which little urgency has been shown, little regard for consultation with the devolved Administrations and no sniff of amendments, can the Minister give a guarantee that the amendments to Clause 11, which are badly needed, will be presented before we debate it in Committee and after consultation with the devolved Administrations? That is the least that they could expect.
The third task is, of course, to ensure that Parliament has the decisive vote, not just simply on the terms of exit but including on the real possibility of no deal, on the nature of the transition and on the framework of our future relationships.
The parties in the other place have shown us how to proceed by example. They made common cause to win a number of very welcome concessions around scrutiny and the notion of deficiency in retained law. I know that we can work together across this House to build on that to ensure not least that Ministers do not have the carte blanche to decide on the use of regulations to prevent, remedy or mitigate the failure of, or deficiency in, the retained law as they see appropriate—for which read “desirable”. Those powers are as wide as the definitions are boundless. Rather, as my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith said so powerfully, Ministers should be required to justify this as of necessity to achieve the limited object in question. This is not just a constitutional point; it goes to the heart of what our country will look and feel like after Brexit. The way those powers are used brings the possibility of greater risk, lower standards and the loss of opportunities. Anyone who is concerned about the fate of public and health services, the science base, the safety of the environment, the prospects of our children, and whether our inequalities continue to grow or shrink has a huge amount to lose by the winning or losing of that debate.
The Government constantly ask us to trust them not only to know what they are doing—I will be glad to park that—but to use their powers to change laws that they do not like. No Government could be trusted with these powers; they are irresistible. Time and again this Government have tried to take more power and diminish scrutiny. Remember our battles over the then Public Bodies Bill and the then Deregulation Bill; and the creeping use of secondary legislation to make policy and not merely correct technical errors? We should add that to a whole year spent trying to exclude Parliament, even in the courts, from having a say in the decision to leave, and a toxic obsession with secrecy that has kept under wraps any evidence of impacts which might inform, let alone change, public opinion. We end up with a Government who do not trust the people with evidence, let alone truth, and who have, I believe, forfeited the right to be trusted themselves.
We are already being bullied and we will go on being bullied, but the enemies of the people are those for whom all evidence is rubbish and all argument treason. I am sure that, just as has been done in the other place, we can work together in this House not just to make this Bill constitutionally acceptable but to restore trust in the democratic and parliamentary process itself. I believe that will be possible because, no matter where we stand on Europe, we all stand together in defence of parliamentary sovereignty.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my erstwhile political friend but I hope still personal friend the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. Of the cornucopia of questions that have come up so far in this debate I will to address only one: namely, does the result of the referendum in June 2016 effectively compel Parliament to agree to Brexit, of which this Bill is part?
I express no view as to whether Brexit is a good thing or a bad thing, for the simple reason that, perhaps uniquely in this House, I hold no strong view. Of those eligible to vote in 2016, 37% said yes. That is 51.9% yes on a 72.2% turnout. Given the flaws in the electoral register and the exclusion of 16 to 18 year-olds from the poll, it must be doubtful if even a third of those who should have had a say voted to exit. But never mind—one is enough in an election, and it seems moany to question whether, in light of the result, the Government have a right to pursue Brexit. They do.
But we have a sovereign Parliament. Indeed, the sovereignty of Parliament was the absolute core of their argument for getting out of the European Union. It trumped by far silly scrawlings on buses about national health spending. To restore sovereignty from Brussels’s depredations is why we are leaving. To argue, on the one hand, that the sovereignty of Parliament is the supreme virtue and then, on the other, that sovereignty should not apply in this one case is surely a paradox too far.
Let us be clear. Parliament under our constitution is entitled to overrule the referendum result if that, in the considered opinion of its Members, is the right thing to do. No Parliament can bind its successor, and no election result remains the result for ever. In this case there is a clear and important difference, I think, between the remain side and the leave side in the referendum. The remain side was for remaining on the terms renegotiated by David Cameron. The leave side was for—what? Soft or hard? Single market or not? Customs union or not? Irish border or not? What movement of labour? There are as many answers as there are Brexiteers, as the current debate in the Cabinet illustrates.
Following the negotiation, there will be a single alternative to membership. Some who were remainers might then say, “Well, that is a good result. I think I should have voted leave after all”. Some who were Brexiteers might say, “That’s not what I really voted for. I want another go. I don’t like this”. It is between remain and that single alternative that the choice will then lie, and the sovereign Parliament, as I think the Government have now conceded, must ultimately make that choice.
I am very sympathetic to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that it would be best if we made the choice ourselves, with a strong eye, of course, to public opinion but also bringing to the question the epistocratic virtues of our parliamentary democracy. That is not practicable. Having asked the people once, and having said wrongly that we would abide by their verdict, we cannot, without damaging national unity in the long term, simply overrule them.
The only answer, therefore, is a second referendum, where the terms are known. Judging by the poll in the Guardian this week, it is a choice which the people of this country would by a substantial majority welcome. Let us hope it would be the referendum to end all referendums.
My Lords, I want to make clear my overall support for this Bill and its purpose. Technically, it seeks to sever our links with the European Union by removing the supremacy of European law and the competence of the European Court and its interpretation of that law. I support that aim. I do support Brexit.
I do not support a second referendum. It seems odd to me that those who objected to the first referendum on the grounds that it offended the principle of parliamentary democracy—in fact, I think yesterday it was called a sin against parliamentary democracy—now argue that it is an appropriate way to allow the electorate to express a view.
For a while, I—like, I suspect, others in this House—was conflicted on how to vote in the European referendum. For me it was a heart and mind decision, and of course they were not entirely in agreement. I could see that there were risks involved in exiting the EU. It was the status quo, and therefore there would be costs associated with the change and disruption to our governance—as we will probably see here over the next few weeks. There was the potential effect on economic trade. The European Union, including its currency, has not been an economic miracle. In fact, it has enhanced bureaucracy and reduced free enterprise. The European procurement process alone is a disincentive to innovation. In the Metropolitan Police, where I served, the dreaded words “EU procurement in public service” usually means 18 months of little progress. The contradiction is that it takes longer to make a worse decision than in commerce.
The Union is said to have better protected human rights against the infringements of the state. However, the more intrusive the European Union became, the more that protection was needed from a Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers that lacked democratic accountability.
Concerns have been expressed about our future security, but our security is built on a strong military, intelligence and policing infrastructure. However, I argue that maintaining all these does not require the UK to be a member of the EU. In defence, our military strength depends on our own investments and innovation, together with those of our allies. Our major military bulwark is NATO. It does not rely on Europe but it does rely on America.
In the sphere of intelligence, our intelligence effectiveness is built on our partnership with the “Five Eyes” intelligence community of America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK—yet they are not in Europe. No country in the world shares all its intelligence and sources with any other country. Europe does not have an intelligence hub where the French tell the UK and Germany tells Holland everything they know about each other—it is not in their national interest to do so. The reports that the US had listened to the German Chancellor’s telephone can have surprised no one. However, we have been very effective at bilateral sharing of information on terrorism. Does anyone seriously suggest that on leaving Europe we would not share information about attacks on Paris or Brussels, should we have it?
On policing, we have been effective at sharing criminal intelligence, wanted lists and extradition warrants through Europol, which is not an enforcement agency. We have also co-ordinated enforcement through Eurojust and MLATs, which have enabled efficient investigations. However, our European experience has not been perfect. When we voted to leave Europe we were still not a member of Prüm, the European database of DNA, fingerprints and facial images that is shared across Europe. The European extradition warrant was efficient and consistent across Europe, but it required a sufficiency of evidence to charge in the requesting country before such a warrant could be issued. This meant that, on return to this country, the suspect could not be interviewed and had to be charged immediately. This is a high bar which interrupted some very good investigations.
The benefits of Europol are enjoyed by Norway, which is not a member of the European Union—so why not the UK? There is great mutual benefit to Europe and the UK in not providing a safe haven to criminals from each set of countries. No one wishes to see French rapists roaming free in the UK, and I am sure that this will be one of the issues to be resolved in the present negotiations, with new extradition agreements based on the existing model.
I resolved my heart and mind dilemma by realising that what mattered most of all was sovereignty. In fact, the Bill might better have been called the “Sovereignty Bill”. The ability to influence the Parliament of which we are Members is a democratic principle that our people have fought and died for in the past. I could have disavowed that principle if I had been convinced unequivocally that we would suffer disastrous economic damage, but for me that was not proved.
I understand why people feel so passionately about being part of Europe. However, it appears to be changing from a common market to a federation. It has declared in its treaties an intention to become closer, and its leaders have declared in speeches and policies an intention to become a federation. Ironically, I believe that federations have been shown around the world to be a force for good, and rarely fail. It may even save the UK constitution one day. But they must be argued for openly and transparently to allow for the separation of powers, the rule of law, and checks and balances to be agreed.
The majority of speeches in this House supporting remain have highlighted the risks of change as we implement the new order. However, there is no no-risk option on the table. An unreformed EU from which we were diverging would be a significant threat to our future. Even under the threat of Brexit, EU leaders resisted the narrow proposals for change put forward by our then Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Finally, in terms of our own role, I really believe that we need to be careful in how we exercise our significant power in coming days. Political elites believing that they can discreetly manage constitutional change among themselves will rarely succeed. People are not fools and their representatives are not kings. We would do well to listen to their voice in the referendum and implement its result as best we can. The alternative for our constitutional democracy is, I believe, too unfortunate to consider.
My Lords, with so much already having been said, I shall limit myself to addressing the concern expressed by some of your Lordships about Henry VIII powers and statutory instruments.
There have been squeals of dismay from remainers, who claim that the use of these powers is an erosion of parliamentary sovereignty. I am bewildered by this sudden concern for parliamentary sovereignty. Being part of the European Union means that very sovereignty has already been surrendered, with our Parliament being subservient to an outside body. Regaining parliamentary sovereignty and independence is one of the main arguments for leaving the European Union.
It is not correct to say that Parliament will be bypassed by the use of secondary legislation. Change by statutory instrument is a parliamentary process. As such, Parliament, if it so wishes, can reject a statutory instrument. There is the further safeguard of a two-year sunset clause. There will also be a sifting committee in the Commons, with the ability to change a negative statutory instrument into an affirmative one. This underlines the ability of Parliament to call Ministers to account.
During the last 40 years, 8,000 pieces of law were passed using secondary legislation. Did any of today’s complainers about the use of secondary legislation complain then? What is even more astounding and shocking is that 12,000 pieces of European Union legislation were introduced into this country without parliamentary involvement, including such items as forbidding drinks manufacturers saying that drinking water cures dehydration. That might have raised the odd eyebrow had it been put before parliamentarians.
How can it be argued that the Bill erodes parliamentary supremacy when we lost it over 40 years ago? Leaving the European Union means regaining parliamentary independence. Only in the world of Alice in Wonderland could there be comprehension of the upside-down thinking where those complaining about an erosion of the power of Parliament are the very people trying hard to prevent sovereignty returning to Westminster.
It cannot be preferable to have laws made by an unelected European Union bureaucracy rather than our own Parliament. I join the many other noble Lords who have expressed this in hoping that we, in this House, are not so blinkered as to ignore the principle that this unelected Chamber should not oppose the express wishes of the electorate. These were clearly demonstrated in the referendum and in the last election, when both main parties included leaving the European Union in their manifestos.
My Lords, having stood on Hove beach with a cross-party group of MPs and campaigners in May 2016 to highlight the dangers to the environment of a leave vote in the referendum, sadly I find it necessary this afternoon to continue the argument I made then. Despite the Government’s rhetoric on the environment, there is a great deal more that this Bill will need to do to make those promises a reality. It is pertinent that that very beach was one that helped to earn the UK the nickname “the dirty man of Europe” when it joined the EU in 1970. Fast forward to 2018 and the beach is now one of 97% of UK bathing waters which have passed the EU quality test, thanks in no small part to the strict standards put in place at EU level.
We have to ask ourselves why, over the years, we have had to rely on EU directives to clean up our water, our waste, our air and our soil, and why we have had to rely on the 527 EU regulations that set standards for the environment and health protection, not to mention the 922 affecting agriculture and the 1,122 shaping a sustainable fishing policy. These have all played their part in transforming our environment, with the result that something like 80% of UK environmental legislation is derived from the EU. Therefore, it is no wonder that environmental and animal charities are concerned about what the future holds, and why we are keen to pin down the detail of the legislative transfer to UK law.
So we have to be concerned when, in the Commons, the Government voted against amendments that would have entrenched all the EU regulations in UK law, free from ministerial interference via their Henry VIII powers. Equally, their rejection of the precautionary principle and the “polluter pays” principle in managing our natural assets showed a disregard for the fundamental protections that have made the EU a global environmental leader. As we know, they rejected the animal sentience amendments, which have now been superseded by a separate draft Bill. Many would argue that that would have been completely unnecessary if only the Government had heeded our advice in the first place.
The Government would have us believe that they are now converted to the cause and that the environment is safe in their hands. Forgive us for being rather sceptical, because evidence is in rather short supply. Although of course we are pleased to have seen Michael Gove carrying his reusable coffee cup, I would rather have seen him wielding a comprehensive list of amendments guaranteeing that the environmental protections will be at least as good as those delivered by the EU in the past. So we will be supporting amendments that address that deficit.
In the debate yesterday it was argued that we now have three categories of legislation: primary, secondary and EU retained. I would add a fourth: the environmental principles currently set out in the introduction to EU law but not due to be transposed. For example, I have already referred to the precautionary principle, which is crucial in its application to pesticides. As we know, bee species and other pollinators are in decline, and evidence mounts that neonicotinoids are to blame. We need to heed the scientific advice and take urgent steps to protect our ecosystems before the damage becomes irreversible. Similarly, the “polluter pays” principle has been crucial in cleaning up our water supply, with water companies given large fines for polluting rivers and killing fish. This principle is an important deterrent for those who would otherwise be cavalier about their impact on the environment and put profit before people.
We will also be seeking guarantees regarding our continued involvement in the European institutions which have provided effective monitoring and enforcement of environmental standards. Organisations such as the European Food Safety Authority have been crucial in clamping down on misleading labelling and tackling salmonella and the horsemeat scandal. Another example is the REACH chemical regulation, which sets safety standards for trading and usage across the EU and stops toxic dumping.
Finally, and crucially, we will want to ensure that any new UK green watchdog is up and running by exit day, is placed on a statutory footing, is truly independent, and has the powers to fine Ministers when environmental rules are broken.
Organisations such as ClientEarth, which act on behalf of citizens, have been able to tackle illegal air pollution because they can take government to court. We have to ensure that access to justice, without prohibitive cost, remains in the new legislative framework. The Government have said that they are consulting on the composition of this new body but, like many other outstanding issues, it is vital that this is resolved and brought into legislation before exit day.
Many other environmental challenges arising from Brexit are not covered by this withdrawal Bill. We await details of the agriculture Bill, the fisheries Bill and even a separate environment Bill. It will be a real challenge to meet the timescales to deliver these before exit day and we need to be clear on what will happen if that deadline is not met. Therefore, we will seek guarantees that, on exit day, the whole package of environmental reforms is underpinned by the same protective principles that have provided such effective protection throughout our membership of the EU.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and to hear about the environmental protections she is concerned to protect. There have been very many eloquent speeches, and insightful remarks over the last couple of days. Many see the Bill as a technical process: a legal pathway, albeit complex and fraught with constitutional threats and dilemmas. But, to many, it is as much about the country we want to be, the values we hold, the beliefs we fight for and, not least, the people we serve. Omitting the European Charter of Fundamental Rights is seen by many as not preserving the rights of the people we serve and rejecting the values of fairness, justice and freedom. The provisions of the charter are wide-reaching: dignity, the right to life, right to care and rights of the elderly; freedoms, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion; equality, non-discrimination on race, religion and sexual orientation; rights of minorities; solidarity, employment rights, rights of association; and citizens’ rights and justice rights—rights to representation and advice.
The charter, as other noble Lords have said, also offers remedies when human rights are violated which are not available if the charter is to be excluded from the Bill. The Government’s explanation is that the substantive rights included in the charter are protected in different places in EU and UK law. However, legal opinion published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission is that failure to preserve relevant parts of the charter after Brexit will lead to the weakening of the current system of human rights protection in the UK.
In its recently published report that many Members have referred to, the Constitution Committee said:
“If, as the Government suggest, the Charter of Fundamental Rights adds nothing to the content of EU law … we do not understand why an exception needs to be made for it”.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights says that,
“the exclusion of the charter from domestic law results in a complex human rights landscape which is uncertain. Legal uncertainty is likely to undermine … rights”.
All of this should set alarm bells ringing for the future of human rights. For example, the National Union of Students is greatly concerned with any negative implications that removing the charter could have on students and on citizens across the country. Article 14 of the charter gives the right to an education for every individual, including “vocational and continued training”. With the removal of the charter there is a worry that new wording may mean that this no longer applies in the UK. Furthermore, the charter includes a number of vital protections for the most marginalised students, particularly LGBT, women, disabled and black students, who typically face barriers to engaging and succeeding in education.
Following the referendum, we saw a huge increase in hate crimes, with some parts of the country suffering more than a 50% increase in racial and religious persecution. There were also large increases in the persecution of people with disabilities and those in the LGBT community. We really need to ask how any diminution of human rights can be acceptable in the light of this. Yesterday evening I was struck by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman. He asked who will suffer if all of this goes wrong. Who will be blamed? Who will be scapegoated? That is what we need to ask ourselves. The exclusion of the charter sends a powerful message that the poorest and most vulnerable citizens can expect things to change for the worse, certainly as far as the protection of their rights is concerned.
If ever there was a time that human rights needed full protection under the law, it is now, particularly in light of the cuts in local services. Minimal support is now being provided for the most vulnerable. Refuges for victims of violence are in crisis, advice on debt has been drastically cut, and the number of homeless and rough sleepers is soaring. All in all, the services that support basic rights are struggling for existence. The Government have pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a less robust British Bill of Rights and have been consistently sceptical about and resistant to attempts to extend human rights, so any weakening in this Bill of the legal framework to enforce human rights must be opposed and the charter needs to be incorporated with the rest of European law. We must not permit the weakening of human rights through the back door, rather we must retain the charter and its protections against violations of human rights. This is all the more important as the country faces a time of massive and unpredictable change.
I hope that this is not a matter of too much difference between Members of parties or of no party and I hope, given that many noble Lords have spoken about this issue, that we can work across the House to make sure that these values are upheld and the charter is retained in the treaty.
My Lords, my views on Brexit have not changed since our debate on 5 July 2016, after the referendum. I cannot rid myself of the feeling that we are making a great mistake for which our children and our children’s children will pay the price. In preparation for this debate I have been rereading what I said in July 2016 and I wondered whether simply to repeat it today. It would have been interesting to see whether anybody noticed.
In short, I remain of the view that while we have been members of the European Union we have fared better and the country has been more prosperous at home, although there is room for improvement in the distribution of the benefits of that prosperity. Our country has been stronger in its standing and influence in international affairs. That would continue to be the case if we remained in the European Union, but it will not if we do not. I cannot simply dismiss and ignore all the analyses and forecasts which support this view. I do not have much confidence in sunny uplands. We live in a global and competitive world, and we should be favouring multilateral institutions and solutions, not pursuing unilateral, nationalist courses where we isolate ourselves. I fear too that leaving the European Union will prove to be a threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom as well as to the peace process in Northern Ireland and our relations with the Republic of Ireland.
When we come to consider the final proposals on Brexit, we shall need to consider how far the mandate of the referendum in 2016 still has authority. The campaign that led up to it was full of half-truths and fake information, and we now have much clearer knowledge and better information about the probable costs and consequences of leaving the EU than we had in June 2016. That, however, is not the issue for debate today. This Bill is about process, not policy: it is about how, not whether, we set about leaving the European Union. We shall have to come back to the existential decision of policy when we come to approve the deal that the Government will have negotiated with the European Union.
As this debate is showing, there will be plenty of important and difficult issues to be considered in Committee and on Report. I will concentrate on the proliferation of secondary legislation. For years, we have become accustomed to being asked to consider very large Bills, some with 200 or more clauses. It is impossible for Parliament, particularly the House of Commons, to give these mammoth Bills the scrutiny they deserve and that it is our constitutional duty to provide. Many of them contain many proposals for authorising the preparation by government of statutory instruments that convey delegated legislative powers to Ministers, with no opportunities for Parliament to amend them. Some of these instruments contain powers—the so-called Henry VIII powers—to vary or amend primary legislation. I suspect that we should call them the Cromwell powers, really, because Thomas Cromwell started it and it was gleefully taken up by Oliver Cromwell.
The steadily increasing resort to these statutory instruments has led to the steady creep of legislative powers being transferred from Parliament to the Executive. There are now several thousand new statutory instruments every year. Some of them do not require parliamentary approval at all. Many pass without being scrutinised by Parliament. Only some require parliamentary approval before they come into force, and then Parliament can only approve or reject them: it cannot amend them.
Section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 provided for the incorporation of EU legislation into British law, much of it by statutory instrument. The Bill goes further than that, in that it would allow the Executive not only to confirm the incorporation of European law into British law by statutory instrument, but to vary it in doing so. This implies a large extension of the Executive’s power to make law without adequate parliamentary authority.
As a former civil servant I can understand the Executive thinking that Parliament has neither the capacity nor the resources to scrutinise all these statutory instruments meaningfully. As a parliamentarian now, I think that we have to consider very carefully whether, and if so, how, these instruments can be made subject to more effective parliamentary scrutiny and approval.
If we are to leave the European Union, this Bill is necessary to provide for the process of doing so. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, I hope that it will be passed. It is an important Bill, to which we should give a Second Reading today. It will require—as we have seen in this debate—long and detailed examination in Committee and on Report. It also demonstrates some of the consequences which will follow the decision to leave the European Union, a decision which we shall have to review when we have agreement on the terms of our leaving and the conditions, costs and consequences of leaving are clearly established.
My Lords, there have been some excellent speeches from both sides of the House and on both sides of the issue. To be fair, as the 148th speaker I think that there is probably little I can add to today’s debate and that the best I can do as a contribution is to give your Lordships a gift. Do not worry—you will not have to put it on a form, as the gift will purely be of time. Please enjoy the six minutes that I am going to give back to your lives.
My Lords, I am particularly pleased to follow the previous speaker. Perhaps that six minutes should be in my entry in the register of interests.
It has, for many reasons, been with mixed emotions that I have sat through this debate. One reason is that I wish the debate was not taking place. I wish that we were not preparing to leave the European Union, and not leaving on the whims, prejudices, and architecture of the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party, aided and abetted by the right-wing press. But politics is not about wishing; it is about having the courage to take difficult decisions—not necessarily to follow public opinion, but to lead and fashion it, to challenge it and to offer other options. I believe that politics is about having the courage to be unpopular and to do what is in the long-term interests of your country. It is to put country before party or personal advancement.
Yet, sadly, the debate has barely moved on. The lack of knowledge about how the EU functions, and the role of member state Governments within it, is as shocking as it is depressing. Some would have us believe that Governments are dragged against their will into the European Union and the Council of Ministers, where they make their democratic decisions. Neither is there understanding of the role and duties of the European Commission, given to it by the treaties, or the directly elected European Parliament, in which I proudly served for 15 years. This is either ignorance or, perhaps, wilful misrepresentation.
The EU was born out of the ashes of the Second World War: the ashes of people’s hopes and dreams, and yes, the ashes from crematoria that were dotted across Europe. A group of countries came together to ensure that history would not repeat itself—that we would never turn away again. It is a European Union that has at its root and core fundamental human rights and freedoms that are non-negotiable, even on accession into it. It is a union of countries and peoples joined by common principles and a united purpose: never to look away again and allow countries or peoples to be scapegoated or sacrificed. It is this European Union that we now turn away from, as we seek isolation while fooling ourselves and our citizens that it makes us stronger.
I say to my own Front Bench in another place that out of the European Union was constructed the single market, which has equality and fairness at its root and core, and that we should maintain our membership of that single market. But we are where we are. The country is divided and people feel left out, isolated and unwanted. EU citizens living here feel under threat, their futures and their children’s futures insecure in a country that they thought they could call home and where they could play by the same rules, abide by the same laws, and remain safe and welcome. How shamefully we have treated them and our citizens who live in other parts of the European Union.
Where once we served as a beacon of hope, fairness and decency, we are now viewed in a very different light. The glow has gone and this sceptred isle fumes with a narrow nationalism, promoted and stoked by the right-wing press—particularly the Daily Mail, with its threats and attacks upon any who dare in a democracy to think or vote other than the way that the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph believe that we should. Is it traitorous to pursue what you believe to be in the best interests of your country? Or is it traitorous to abandon your principles and your country, and surrender to threats from those who wield power without responsibility or accountability? Where is parliamentary sovereignty, when attacks are heaped on parliamentarians for exercising their democratic rights in Parliament? We live in strange times.
Many noble and learned Lords have spoken of the deficiencies in the Bill. Organisations such as Liberty, Amnesty, the Fawcett Society and so many more have given their recommendations and shared their concerns, especially around the issues of equalities, human rights and the dilution of democracy. I share their views. In the debate in my name in your Lordships’ House on 12 December, I posed questions to the Minister on human rights post Brexit. I was not reassured by the replies, either during the debate or in subsequent correspondence.
I want now to refer particularly to the recommendations that came from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. On the withdrawal Bill, it advises that we retain the UK’s equality and human rights legal framework as we leave the EU by including within the Bill the following. First, we should rule out the use of delegated powers to reduce equality and human rights protections. Secondly, we should include a principle of non-regression of equality and human rights law. Thirdly, we should retain the protections of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Fourthly, we should introduce a domestic right to equality. Fifthly, we should ensure that the United Kingdom keeps pace with developments in equality and human rights law by ensuring that our courts have regard to relevant EU case law after exit day.
In light of the Bill's twin aims of ensuring legal certainty and continuity, removing the charter and the right of action based on the general principles is wholly inappropriate. The charter secures important rights, as others have said: education, protection of the elderly, and equality rights—including, I say as a gay man, LGBT rights—which could be seriously undermined, as well as the principle of non-discrimination. The Bill must be improved, especially with regard to the charter and the equalities that currently exist. If the Government’s intentions are honourable then they should put the protections I have outlined on the face of the Bill, and not in worthless reassurances or in a committee which, to quote a Minister in correspondence, is merely advisory. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, spoke earlier about ambitions. My ambition is simple: the protection of rights that have been fought for across generations—and fought against—and which define a civilised country.
My Lords, I suspect that I am not alone in your Lordships’ House in having spent the last year being asked what I was going to do about Brexit. People who would be described as leavers have been asking why we are not getting on with it; remainers like me have been asking what I am going to do to stop it. With more than 180 speakers—as the noble Lord, Lord Porter of Spalding, has indicated—it is probably the case that everything has already been said. Unfortunately for noble Lords, however, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Porter, I still want to say it.
Of course, this is not an Act of Parliament to determine whether we leave the EU. Article 50 notice has already been given. However, this is probably the first opportunity that this House has had to try to influence negotiations: in my case, I hope, away from a disastrous hard Brexit. From the remain side, we clearly know what business wants. Banks and financial services companies want their ability to sell their services across Europe to remain unchanged.
I speak for the Liberal Democrats on manufacturing. It is also clear what the overwhelming majority of manufacturing companies want. First, they want a continuation of tariff-free access to Europe. It has been suggested that this is less necessary in the light of the drop in sterling against the euro. While it is true that the drop in the exchange rate, together with the uplift in world trade, has given a boost to our export sales in Europe, it is not the whole story. As noble Lords will be aware, many manufacturing companies import their components from the European Union, so the drop in currency has increased their costs. As yesterday’s figures from the car manufacturers demonstrate, there has been a significant drop in investment in the motor car industry since the referendum. What is clear to those of us on this side of the argument is that the so-called hard Brexit, with us moving to WTO rules, would be a disaster for our manufacturing industry.
Secondly, manufacturers want frictionless borders. Clearly, this is an essential requirement in Ireland, but it is also critical for the many manufacturing companies that employ just-in-time systems for the use of imported components, where pieces of equipment often pass several times across the border with Europe. Any system that involves hold-ups at the border would be disastrous, and industry has no real confidence that any proposed electronic border provisions would work. As we know, the introduction of IT systems by all Governments is not good.
Thirdly, manufacturers want continued immigration from Europe. Other speakers have mentioned the need for nurses, carers and workers in the leisure industry, but industry requires a continuous input of skilled workers. As my noble friend Lord Stunell would say, the construction industry will collapse without skilled workers continuing to come from Europe and there will be no chance of the Government meeting their housing targets. The so-called tech cities springing up throughout Britain require the continued import of skilled workers from Europe. The Government will say that we will soon develop our own skills base, but there is no chance that it will happen on any reasonable timescale. In any event, some skills are no longer taught in the United Kingdom. For example, many engineering SMEs need analogue engineers, but we now teach only digital engineering in our universities.
Fourthly, there must be certainty about how regulatory agencies will continue or be replaced. There are myriad European agencies whose regulations exporters will still have to comply with. Will we be setting up our own agencies at huge cost or will we retain general compliance with European regulations? The standard answer from the Government is of course that we anticipate agreeing continued arrangements, but will Europe agree?
Clearly amendments will be tabled in Committee from across the House to reflect the wishes of business that I have just expressed. Manufacturing industry would certainly support an amendment that said we should stay in the single market and the customs union. I will support an amendment to provide for a further referendum on the terms of any deal, for which a number of noble Lords have indicated their support. As noble Lords have indicated, the ICM poll for the Guardian last week showed that well over 60% of the public now want a further referendum on the terms of leaving. It was noticeable that the only age group against the idea of this referendum is the retired—that is, people who no longer play a role in the business life of the country and have the smallest stake in our future. I hope the Government will now agree to give the electorate what they clearly want.
My Lords, I voted remain in the referendum not for any great love of the European Union and its institutions but for the reason described by my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: our future is about being connected with others in this very connected world and we will be stronger for it. Indeed, I recall the Select Committee on soft power’s report, which described the positive future for the UK as the best networked country in the world. In many ways, we could be the best connected country in the world and that would be a strong place for us to be, so it is sad to see that we are stepping back from the European Union and Europe at the same time as we seem to be stepping back from other areas of our international role, including international development. We are doing it just at the point when, it seems to me, the people we have been aiding and working with in low and middle-income countries are beginning to gain some political power that may help us in future.
Like other people who voted remain, I wish to move on, and the aim is to get the best deal we can in every sector in the negotiations that are under way to ensure that we can have as positive a result from Brexit as possible. Like other noble Lords, I have interests in some specific areas that need to be given detailed scrutiny. In my area of health, I have a number of concerns, some of which have already been mentioned. I shall list a few. There is the big question of securing continuity of staffing for health and social care, research and the scientific community. This is the greatest vulnerability facing the health system in this country and one that we need to make sure is protected. In addition, there is access to research funds and to research collaborations with our partners in Europe, which are so important. There is reciprocal healthcare between ourselves and our fellow citizens of Europe, as we now are. We need to understand how all these issues are affected by the provisions of the Bill in detail and in practical terms. I am sure we will come to that.
One specific area is the importance of public health safeguards and provisions. Before going further, I note that I am indebted for advice on this matter to the Faculty of Public Health—I declare an interest as an honorary fellow. Public health in the broadest sense encompasses everything from pollution to health services: everything that affects the health of the population. It is vital to our health and well-being, critical for the sustainability of the NHS and social care, and will of course contribute to the long-term productivity and prosperity of our nation, not least by ensuring that we have a healthy workforce but also by ensuring that we are able to compete on a global stage by providing the support for the country’s vital biomedical and life sciences sector, which will be so important in the future. It is good to see that the Government are supporting this sector in a positive way.
As we all know, diseases know no boundaries, and I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Health has outlined his commitment that the Government will aim to maintain UK participation in European co-operation on areas such as disease prevention and public health. Although this assurance is welcome, we will need more specific commitments. I hope the Minister will offer reassurance to the public and professionals that the Bill will “do no harm” to the public’s health and that no provision introduced as a result of it will widen inequalities or increase pressure on the NHS and social care. This is important, and I believe other noble Lords will table an amendment to the Bill seeking a commitment to maintain a high level of protection for public health through all their legislation. Providing this reassurance in the Bill would be consistent with the Government’s intention to provide certainty and with their commitment to improve the population’s health.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular as a partner in the global commercial law firm DAC Beachcroft and as chair of the British Insurance Brokers’ Association.
As we all know, the purpose of a debate at Second Reading is to discuss the principles underlying a piece of proposed legislation. Rarely in my experience as a parliamentarian has it been more important for us to be clear in our minds about what a Bill is and what a Bill is not. This Bill is not designed to initiate Brexit, as my noble friend Lord Ridley so forcefully pointed out yesterday. It is a vehicle for dealing with the consequences of Brexit, and for maximising the opportunities we derive, while minimising the risks and potential collateral damage. As my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford said:
“In some ways, it is quite a boring Bill”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1388.]
But as my noble friend the Leader of the House stressed at the start of this debate:
“It is vital to a smooth and orderly exit from the EU… to honour the referendum result”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1373.]
In the absence of the Bill, legal rights would inevitably be affected overnight, in a disorderly fashion, which would critically undermine the rule of law and almost certainly overwhelm our courts. Of course, much so-called EU law does not need the assistance of the Bill to remain in force. It has been passed in primary or secondary domestic legislation and does not, or does not exclusively, derive force from the EU treaties or the European Communities Act 1972.
I commend to the House last week’s report by the Constitution Committee, of which I have the privilege to be a member, and welcome the comments that have been made at various stages of this lengthy debate about our recommendations. In contrast to the hyperbole attendant on the release of our report, the possibly less exciting reality is that it provides helpful and positive suggestions to ensure the Bill does the job for which it is intended: helping to ensure Brexit can be made as smooth and painless as possible. It also potentially creates the basis for a consensus on how to make the best of Brexit. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde was right to advise:
“If the Bill is to be amended, then let it be done with co-operation and consultation between Back-Benchers and Ministers”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1408.]
Such a consensus would greatly enhance our negotiating position.
In dealing with retained EU law, this Bill is necessarily origin-focused and content blind, which could have arbitrary, unforeseeable and, sometimes, undesirable effects. There must be a significant body of EU-derived law which the UK would have adopted in any event, in the same or very similar form. Obvious examples that have been mentioned are to be found in the equalities field and financial services regulation. The practical need for at least some so-called retained EU law post-Brexit does not, of itself, justify creating an executive correction power, still less prescribe the precise scope or form of any such power. We must ensure that any correction power is compatible with the vital principle that the Executive must be genuinely accountable to the legislature.
Many fear that one unintended consequence of Brexit could be the emasculation of the UK financial services sector. It is vital that the UK, in negotiating a new free trade agreement with the EU, ensures the unbroken maintenance of mutual market access for financial services, ensuring continuity of cover and protection. A suitable transition period will be vital, and so too will mutual recognition of prudential regulatory regimes. Both motor and travel insurance require special attention too. I hope we shall maintain a free circulation zone without reintroducing an onerous green card requirement. Like the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, I also very much hope this Bill will help enable the UK to maintain a reciprocal emergency health agreement with our friends in the European Union.
This Bill is but one part of a testing and complex process—a vital part, but one of many. The road ahead is uncertain and it will be challenging to us all. I believe, however, that our debates here in the next few weeks will show this House at its serious, erudite and constructive best.
My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond, who brought two new items to the debate, I do not anticipate that I will add anything new. There have been some outstanding contributions and I particularly commend the outstanding speech from my noble friend that we have just heard.
Yesterday I was particularly moved by two speeches. The first was the speech from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. We have heard much in these debates about the will of the people, and it behoves us to listen to what he said about trying to know and follow the will of God, rather than focusing so much on humanity. He suggested that we should know what Brexit is about, where it is taking us, what kind of society we are seeking and how to get out of this confused and divided country in which we now find ourselves. He gave us much food for thought and I am most grateful for what he had to say. I, too, originate from the north—I come from Wakefield, which is part of the right reverend Prelate’s diocese. I was born working class in a council house, and now, a bit like the noble Lord who will be replying, I am living down in London after quite a journey.
The Brexit vote laid bare divisions in society which many of us had not fully appreciated. In Wakefield, 66.3% of the people who voted opted to leave the European Union—similar demographics to the people who voted elsewhere for Brexit. Some of the strongest support for Brexit was in struggling areas, where average incomes, and average education and skills levels, are low and there are few opportunities to get ahead. Working class communities in Britain have been left behind by rapid economic change, and feel cut adrift from the mainstream and marginalised in many places. Their types of opportunities and life experiences contrast sharply with those in areas that are filled with more affluent, highly educated and diverse populations, as we find here in London, which gave some of the strongest support to remaining in the EU.
People move to cities such as London, as I did, to get jobs and leave communities behind; they are involved in a brain drain, which increasingly creates further inequalities in those communities. Those communities also have health inequalities. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, talked about the necessity of maintaining equality of standards of health, and further improving it. My fear is that Brexit, if anything, will undermine the standards that we presently have and make matters worse. I hear, too, that we have a deal with the Americans, and that the one thing they are particularly waiting to do is to move into the NHS and get their hands on many of the operations there—which in turn is not likely to improve the lives of the disadvantaged of whom I speak.
The reality is that these communities will probably be the worst hit by the economic consequences of Brexit if we end up with a bad deal or, even worse, no deal at all. I would like the Minister to say what he thinks the future looks like in the area from whence he comes—whether it is going to look better than it has been in the past, and when it is likely to look better as a consequence of Brexit, which he so strongly supports.
The other speech that hit me very strongly indeed, and I believe is in the newspapers, too, was that of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley. He had previously been involved in government negotiations and yesterday he strikingly described the dangers to the country of drift, indecision and weak leadership. He reminded the House that there are choices and that early decisions need to be made on them, that time is running out and that, without clarity on direction in the negotiations and within government, there is a risk that the UK might crash out of the EU with a very poor deal or no deal. When we listened to the debate a couple of weeks ago, so many contributors from the opposite Benches actually favoured that prospect. I believe that that is of great concern to those who are worried about inequalities and divisions in the country. It would be a disastrous outcome for us. We need to be as close as we can to being in Europe—or, as some might prefer, in Europe.
A bad deal would bear down very heavily indeed on the disadvantaged areas around the country, and it is time that the Government prepared themselves for giving an explanation to those parts of the country which voted leave of just what the consequences might be if we found ourselves in such a position. That is a question that I put to the Minister a couple of weeks ago during Oral Questions. A bad deal or no deal cannot simply be accepted by us. We have to have a look at how we would handle it, and I believe that we are moving bit by bit towards trying to find a mechanism whereby the people will have another say. It may be in another referendum—and that leads me to the third speaker who greatly influenced me yesterday, my noble friend Lord Adonis. If he pushes his amendment to a vote, I shall support it, even though it is in conflict with what my noble friends on the Front Bench want.
Another alternative course is that we may find ourselves, with all the divisions in the Government, moving towards a general election. If that is the case, this will again provide the opportunity for the people to have a second view on whether the terms for coming out of Europe are acceptable—or, in turn, whether they wish to remain in Europe.
So there is nothing new from me today, just an expression of worries—increasing worries since I last spoke on the European issue because matters have got worse, not better. The country has become diminished and looks worse in the eyes of others. For those who are thinking and worried about it, it looks worse from inside, too. I hope that we can get back on track and find a way through, and we must ensure that the people are involved in whatever the final outturn is.
My Lords, I deem it appropriate that I am speaking in the presence of my noble friend Lord Pannick and noble and learned friends Lord Judge and Lord Hope, because I am going to confine myself to Clause 5(4) and (5), which state that the European Charter of Fundamental Rights is not a part of domestic law on or after exit day.
The charter is a novelty, which has only been seen to apply directly in this country since 2013, as the UK, under Prime Minister Blair, signed up to Protocol 30 —an opt out. This opt out was ignored by the European Court of Justice, a warning of things to come. It started as a political declaration designed to give common values to the states of the EU and build a platform for more integration. It morphed into a document with legal status, as explained by the House of Commons European Security Committee report in 2014, The application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the UK: a State of Confusion. It recommended primary legislation to disapply the charter from the UK by way of an amendment to the European Communities Act 1972. When one reads the Commons report, explaining how the charter would broaden the ambit of EU law, its uncertain distinction between rights and principles, the hazy scope of its application and the effect of having parallel rights in the charter and the European Convention on Human Rights, it becomes clear in the end that the inclusion of the charter after Brexit would cause more confusion and less certainty for business, impinge on the sovereignty of Parliament in an unprecedented way, and could open the door to eternal subjection to the ECJ and EU legal supremacy. Maybe that is what the movers of amendments to keep the charter in place intend.
The charter was also intended to protect the citizen against overmighty EU institutions, not necessarily against his or her own state, for states have their own democratically enacted rights laws. This was explained by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, in his evidence to the aforementioned committee. The then Lord Chancellor, Mr Kenneth Clarke, was equally dismissive in his evidence to European Sub-Committee B in 2011, when he said,
“the charter … is of more political and public presentation … than it is of deep significance, because it does not actually change anything”.
It is odd that those who are now so determined to preserve it were once so clear-sighted about its insignificance. Yes, it has changed, but it has changed for the worse.
The charter is insignificant in another way, too. What a failure it has been in upholding—let alone extending—democracy and freedom in great swathes of Europe. Poland is undermining human rights and the rule of law. The latest Freedom House report slates many EU states for turning back from civil liberties and political rights. In Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Romania and other European states, judicial corruption, intolerance, xenophobia, racism, domestic violence and crime are on the rise. Extreme right-wing parties are on the march in Germany and Greece, and France has extended its state of emergency for the fifth time. So much for the efficacy of the charter. And it has happened on our watch.
This debate should be about our values. The EU puts a price on everything, but I do not discern its values. We have heard in this House that the Government do not know their destination. But what is the EU destination, save “more Europe” on the sat-nav and taking every road to the extreme right? No positive case could have been made for it during the referendum, because its failures in, inter alia, the euro and management of migrants demonstrate its lack of political virtue.
The most radical and dangerous element of retaining the charter is that it would uniquely give judges the power to disapply Acts of Parliament, not just declare them incompatible with human rights law, as is their remit under our Human Rights Act. If the charter is not removed from our law, our courts will be invited to limit or ignore existing law or EU incorporated law by reference to the list of rights—many of them vague, many of them simply aspirational, such as the independence of the elderly. I am pleased to note that my noble and learned friend Lord Brown supported this view.
We ought to be proud of our commitment to and long history of human rights and the rule of law in this country. Lord Reed explained in his famous judgment in the UNISON case in 2017 that the rule of law means that this Parliament makes our laws, its members are chosen and accountable to the people, and the courts enforce those laws. Brexit means that we return to that position and to our leadership in human rights.
We should ask ourselves whether each one of us feels that his or her rights are better protected by European law or by the Supreme Court. The core of the argument against inclusion of the charter is that it would bring into our law a set of rights and principles not enacted by Parliament—not subject to the usual debate and testing of public opinion—and its scope and meaning would change as it was interpreted by the European courts after Brexit, so we would be bound for all time by a set of norms over which we had no control and no part in shaping—a charter designed for an institution we had left. Those who are so determined to uphold parliamentary scrutiny by limiting Henry VIII powers ought also to appreciate that the inclusion of the charter keeps that king’s approach for ever.
My Lords, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who I am delighted to follow, I will be general with my comments, although I hope that my arguments will be focused.
Now that Article 50 has been served in response to the outcome of the referendum, we are thereby tearing up our agreement with the other EU member states. As a result, both sides are looking beyond Brexit—through exit, to the world beyond. Naturally, everyone is trying to secure advantage for themselves. No matter what we do next, be it wise or foolish, it is always better to try to do things sensibly. I entirely agree with those who argue that the right starting point is to aim to parachute the acquis into the post-Brexit UK legal system—into which it will morph—and that that has to be done seamlessly but at the same time entirely in line with our constitutional settlement and traditions. It sounds easy, but it is not, as the Select Committee on the Constitution so helpfully pointed out in its serious strictures about the Bill. Parliament must handle these matters in accordance with the customary democratic practices of this country. There is simply no scope for exceptions. I do not want to comment further in any detail at this stage; much has already been said, and a great deal more will be, in Committee and on Report and I will be inclined to support a number of amendments.
We all know this is happening in the midst of political turmoil. In a more aggressive age or country, I dare say there might be civil war or violence on the streets. Society is split down the middle. When all this is over, the nation will need to coalesce again. In the meantime, there are real worries among all categories of opinion. It seems to me that the manner of the future of the conduct of public business may be of equal importance as its substance, because the eventual outcome must be seen as legitimate, not least by those who disagree with its merits. Rules of procedure, which sometimes seem—and in reality often are—pedantic and dull, are put in place not least to protect the weak and minorities. If they are ignored or rolled over roughshod, longer term disconsent is embedded, to the disadvantage of these groups.
Ironically, it only occurred to me during this debate, because it was a point made by others, that if the European Communities Act is a kind of Henry VIII clause writ large, then so, perhaps, is the referendum Act. In both cases, Parliament remains the guardian of the constitution, the process and its outcomes.
One of the characteristics of the referendum on whether we should leave the European Union was that it was a binary choice. Leaving the EU may be a binary choice, but the consequential negotiation of a deep and special relationship is not. The two are intimately and irrevocably connected despite being clearly distinct. At the time of the referendum, advocates of leaving were—and still are—irreconcilably divided about what comes next. It seems to me that what happens next is, by any constitutional analysis, a matter for a sovereign Parliament, which must not loosen its control over how things may develop. I have no idea at all what will happen, but I suspect that anybody who says they do is deluding themselves or trying to delude others.
As I said, Parliament is sovereign in this country. It must impose its control over the politics of what happens next; it must be unshackled in doing so and be allowed and enabled to decide how matters move forward in whatever way it deems best at the time those decisions must be taken. That seems to be the only acceptable and meaningful effect of the words “meaningful vote”. That, however you look at it, is called taking back control.
My Lords, we are in the final straight and much has been said already. Inevitably, our debate today and yesterday has not been strictly limited to the terms of the Bill, which has been described—correctly—as a technical process Bill, necessary to ensure a smooth and orderly transition out of the EU. I entirely accept the need for such a Bill, but it was not supposed to cause a rerun of the referendum debates, nor the Article 50 process. However, that debate has proved irresistible to some, including me.
Like many Members of your Lordships’ House, I voted remain in the referendum. I did this for a variety of reasons: most authoritative economic forecasts predicted higher growth if we stayed—a matter seemingly confirmed currently if press reports are to be believed—but principally because I am comfortable with the deep and special relationship that exists at the moment between the UK and other member states. It is a relationship where we work together to improve the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of some 740 million people—a relationship that, by and large, has fostered peace and prosperity.
I have not changed my mind since June 2016 and I have looked on with sadness and increasing anger as we stumble through the consequences of the decision to withdraw, undermining our standing in Europe and the world, with Ministers squabbling—making a nonsense of strong and stable government—and the internal wrangling of the Conservative Party failing to offer a vision for what they see as a post-Brexit world. With the benefit of hindsight, I consider that the referendum was an inappropriate mechanism to determine such a complex issue as our future relationship with the EU—certainly without thresholds and detailed impact assessments. Neither remainers nor Brexiteers could seriously have predicted the full range of consequences from and the complexity of leaving. I certainly did not.
Although we can lay this fateful approach at the feet of David Cameron, do we not bear some collective responsibility for not bringing greater challenge to this process? But we are where we are. A referendum was the decision mechanism offered to the voters and they are entitled to see it respected. However, this should not preclude them from having a chance for second thoughts when they have the detail of the negotiation outcome. How and when that second chance should be available, for how long we can assume Article 50 can be reversed, and whether the second chance should be by way of a further referendum or a general election will not be settled by this Bill. But either deserves at least consideration.
I support the approach to this Bill, which my party has argued should be an enabling measure and which should reinforce the Prime Minister’s commitment to hold a vote in Parliament before the European Parliament considers the agreement. I also support it seeking a temporary extension to participation in the single market and customs union on current terms—indeed, the longer, the better. Further, for myself, I hope that somewhere along the line we may find a way to offer the British public an opportunity to determine whether they wish to change their mind and remain in the EU, or at least the single market and the customs union.
So far as the Bill is concerned, as others have said, it is complex and dense and unconstitutional in parts. We should be grateful to the Select Committee on the Constitution for its formidable analysis which will better enable us to carry out our role to scrutinise and revise.
On points of detail, other noble Lords have already expressed concerns over what the future may hold for workers’ rights. In Committee, I propose in particular to pursue related matters of health and safety and enhanced protection for EU-derived rights. It is true that most EU-derived health and safety laws are already transposed and will therefore be retained, although the REACH provisions will need an equivalent UK version. But the change in the status of the health and safety provisions is that under these proposed arrangements they can in future be changed just by secondary legislation. Currently, they are underpinned by the European Communities Act 1972.
We can be proud of our health and safety record. As our briefing from the TUC records, EU standards have led to the introduction of broad duties on employers to evaluate, avoid and reduce workplace risk. EU directives have also led to safeguards in high-risk sectors such as construction. The health and safety system in the UK has been separately reviewed and broadly supported by a number of reports: the review of the noble Lord, Lord Young, Professor Löfstedt’s review and the HSE’s triennial review. We should acknowledge that the Government are on record as committing the UK to continue to guarantee health and safety regulations but, of course, we do not know who will be pulling the strings in the future. We do know from prior experience that some in the Conservative hierarchy have a deep antipathy to aspects of health and safety. We must keep a watchful eye on this and seek enhanced protections.
I conclude with a final observation. The project to withdraw from the EU and untangling more than 40 years of shared history is engaging a substantial national effort. Apparently, the brightest and best of the Civil Service are engaged on it, cross-government activity is enhanced, new legislation is kept to a minimum, the routine business of government is pushed to one side, parliamentary time is almost unlimited and, as we have seen over the last couple of days, record numbers of Peers are participating in our debates. This is as it should be in my view, but why on earth can we never seem to manage the same national effort and focus when we are dealing with the desperate needs of the homeless and the poor in our country?
My Lords, in opening what many of us believe to be the most important debate in any of our lifetimes, the Lord Privy Seal the noble Baroness, Lady Evans of Bowes Park, spoke of this Bill as ensuring that,
“we have a functioning statute book on the day we leave. It is about providing certainty and continuity for people and businesses. It is about ensuring that people’s rights are upheld and legal protections are maintained”.
She went on to say that,
“as far as practical, the same laws will apply the day after exit as the day before”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1373.]
I want to talk about a group of people living in our country—namely, children—and about people not yet born. If the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Evans of Bowes Park, are to mean anything, we must ensure that laws are also in place to protect the rights of the child the day after exit—children’s rights. Much of the hype about what withdrawing from the European Union will mean for the United Kingdom is about taking back control of our future. A critical part of our future depends on our children, who will have to live with the consequences of our actions.
While a large number of us in this place are not supporters of withdrawing from the European Union—if, indeed, we do take that final step—we must, and would surely want to, protect and enhance the rights of every single child. Currently, three mechanisms operate together to ensure that children’s rights are protected: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Domestically, as far as I understand it, no explicit commitment to children’s rights exists at government level. While the Human Rights Act 1998 offers some protection for our children’s political and civil rights, its provisions do not reflect the full scope of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was so important that the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, talked about the rights of the child in yesterday’s debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds spoke of the Brexit debate being clothed in purely economic terms, as set out on the now infamous battle bus with its livery of £350 million. We have also heard much before and after the referendum about the need to protect borders, trade and British values. But, as a country, the UK must also protect children and their rights.
Young people very much regard themselves as European. As a matter of fact, 71% of 18 to 24 year- olds voted to stay in the EU. That is perhaps why the Government were reluctant to give the right to vote to 16 to 17 year-olds. Under the Erasmus programme, thousands of EU students annually go to study in another European country for up to a year funded by the EU. In 2015, for example, 30,000 young people came to study in Britain and 40,000 Britons travelled to learn in other European countries. Although we are in the programme until 2020, what happens after that date is anybody’s guess.
Of course, young people in Northern Island will be able to study, work and play in Europe unrestricted after Brexit by virtue of the Good Friday peace agreement, which allows them all to have dual nationality. Do noble Lords remember the high drama over the frictionless Irish border issue, with the Prime Minister flying to Brussels early in the morning, having secured a fudge—sorry, agreement—from the DUP, the same DUP which wants Northern Ireland to be treated in exactly the same way as the rest of the UK? How does that work, when Northern Irish residents will be able to travel to the rest of Europe unhindered, while citizens in England, Scotland and Wales will not be afforded the same rights? Perhaps the Minister, who avoided the question asked by my noble friend Lady Walmsley the other day, might answer that directly at the end of this debate.
I end where I started. I very much hope that the Minister will agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, who said in yesterday’s debate:
“We should expect from Ministers a commitment to have due regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and this should be incorporated in law”—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1438.]
that is, UK law.
My Lords, I hope that I will not annoy any Members by deliberately putting myself out of order, particularly with the Treasury Front Bench, but I hope that the unusual incident at Question Time will none the less result in the noble Lord, Lord Bates, reconsidering his decision and remaining on the Front Bench. Apart from his invaluable merits, he is such a rare example of a popular Conservative Minister. Therefore, it is even more important for him to be retained on the Front Bench. I should not have made those remarks and apologise for having done so.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Storey, very much for placing an emphasis on children—that is the first time that has occurred in this debate—rather than on the 16 and 17 year-olds who we always think about. It is such an important issue for the future of this country.
The issue we are discussing is not just a nightmare, it is the greatest tragedy to have faced our country in the whole post-war period. The Bill itself is yet another detailed reminder of the great tragedy unfolding before our very eyes. Like Ian McEwan, I find it hard to believe that we are not dreaming a nightmare—that it is not happening. But it is happening before our very eyes. While I defer to the huge assemblage of constitutional and procedural experts in our House, who I hope will guide us into safer territory on this truly miserable, but unfortunately necessary, Bill, I have no enthusiasm even for seeing its passage sustained and returned to the Commons, for it is part and parcel of the incompetent and selfish Government we have to endure for at least a bit longer, alas, under our clumsy system, where defiance of wisdom and common sense is now the daily government routine.
Our colleagues in other EU countries cannot believe that this is happening either. They think we have gone mad, and after the PM’s catastrophic blunder with “Brexit means Brexit,” for which she still has to ask forgiveness, the Government have no authority whatsoever for pursuing this insane course of action simply because she is scared to death of Boris Johnson and even—would you believe?—Jacob Rees-Mogg. She might have had a mandate before the last election, but the 8 June 2017 election result killed that stone dead. Above all, the Government’s main sin has been to ignore the needs and wishes of our precious younger generation, all for keeping a reactionary minority in their own parliamentary party in unstable nagging for a new order which is 100 years out of date. What a total, utter shambles.
The PM now goes off to China to avoid scrutiny at a bad time, when sensitive documents have been falsified and concealed, but more and more people in Britain now, at long last, realise that the whole farce is coming to a head in certain, painful inevitability. Meanwhile crushing, pressing domestic problems are ignored: a huge housing crisis, a crisis of poverty and inequality, a crisis of rough sleeping in unprecedented numbers, a crisis in our National Health Service—all ignored by this Prime Minister obsessed with only one subject, Brexit. This will be revealed when the trade part of negotiations resume after the European Council takes place in March.
In my recent PQ on trade deals to the Minister on the Front Bench, I asked if the exercise in total insanity of having to negotiate now up to 70 new agreements with countries which already have agreements with the EU will take place after 19 March. The answer was confirmed: “Yes, that is what will happen”. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine that the talks will eventually just peter out. It is actually possible that that will happen. In his excellent speech yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, reminded us chillingly that 19 months had already elapsed since the PM took over, and that only 13 months remained to the target date.
There is no need at all for the exasperated EU negotiator and his colleagues in the EC and the Council to seek to help us out of a crisis of our own creation, thanks to the handiwork of the most maladroit Prime Minister in the whole of post-war history. Meanwhile, the long-suffering British people are enduring the derision of the rest of the world, with the dodgy exception of the worst President in US history. Eyebrows are still raised here and in the EU about the artificial and pork-barrel opportunism of the immoral agreement, after a £1 billion bribe of taxpayers’ money, to the Northern Ireland DUP, an unsavoury bunch of extreme right-wing Protestant enforcers, led by an equally questionable First Minister.
I live in France as well, and in countries like that with a sensible framework for good governance and a written constitution, such a deal would probably have been deemed out of order by the council of state and maybe even the constitutional court.
I do not really want to give way, if my noble friend will forgive me, because of time. It would be unfair. I am concluding my remarks now. Oh, I give way.
Well, he is an old friend, but I just want to know where he picked up his very moderate vocabulary.
It is a circumstance of the urgency and the emergency in this country of this great and unfolding tragedy.
I appeal today, therefore, to the cowed bunch of pro-EU Tory MPs, for whom I have great respect, to find the strength to put country before party and save Britain, especially for the younger generation of our citizens, who are also citizens of the EU under Maastricht. They and others too, who are older, deserve better. They understand, like all the other member states, that individual sovereignty within the union goes hand in hand with collective sovereignty. They are proud of the collective power that this gives each member state. Even small member states are proud of that combination of national and group sovereignty.
There is still time to reverse this utter madness. The Lords needs today to send out the crucial message of modernity and the future together. I came into politics as a humble helper of Edward Heath, who bravely took us into membership with the critical help of 68 Labour and other MPs. I pray that this time, too, the Labour Party from now on, led by Jeremy Corbyn and others, will rise to the occasion to save Britain when the time comes.
My Lords, I should start by confessing my membership of the Constitution Committee. I say “confess” because, as the noble Lord, Lord Beith, mentioned, Monday’s Daily Mail took the committee to task to some degree, describing it as a committee filled with “Remoaners”. As noble Lords may imagine, this came as something of a shock to me. I had not before realised this until I read it in the Daily Mail—and I must say that it has shaken my faith in the Daily Mail as a paper of record.
This debate has been conducted in a generally constructive way. That is the spirit in which the Constitution Committee approached its task. Our report proposes,
“a number of practical measures to address the flaws in this Bill without jeopardising the achievement of its objectives”.
No matter how you voted in the referendum, “taking back control” is a powerful idea, so we should use this moment to strengthen our democracy and the sovereignty of this Parliament. Our report, I think, points the way. For example, it recommends that the Bill clarify—as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, explained yesterday, and to which my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern gave his benediction today—the status of retained EU law as primary legislation replacing what the report describes as,
“the ill-fitting ‘supremacy principle’—a European legal concept”,
with the UK domestic principle of the primacy of the most recent Act of this Parliament. Where we can safely replace in this Bill the risk of confusion with greater clarity and European legal concepts with British ones, we should do so.
I will focus the rest of my remarks on the Bill’s devolution implications, which many other noble Lords have touched on. Like every unionist I want to ensure that, as we leave the EU, we do not inadvertently jeopardise our union of four home nations. Indeed, handled carefully and sensitively, the process of exiting the EU can strengthen intergovernmental relations within the UK and give our union a renewed sense of purpose.
In the case of Scotland, it is notable that, contrary to expectations, not least of the SNP Government, Scottish opinion has, if anything, swung against Scottish independence as the exit process has continued. The Bill confers on the devolved Administrations powers parallel to those of UK Ministers to correct deficiencies in devolved areas. Clause 11, however, amends the devolution statutes to restrict competence in relation to retained EU law.
Clause 11 has been criticised as a UK Government power grab and as offending a fundamental principle of devolution, where what is not explicitly reserved by the UK Parliament is devolved, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, noted yesterday. The Government have explained Clause 11 as being transitional, to provide an orderly process for agreeing with the devolved Administrations where powers repatriated from Brussels are best exercised and what common UK frameworks are needed, and to do so in a way that both respects devolution and protects the integrity of the UK single market—a market which, in the case of Scotland, accounts for 63% of its trade.
As a former Minister with some recent involvement in these matters, I accept that I am perhaps more inclined than others to accept the Government’s assurances at face value. Certainly, the UK Government’s recent devolution record is not the behaviour of power-hungry centrists—quite the opposite. However, I also accept, like many others on all sides of the House, that Clause 11 needs amending. As one of the witnesses who gave evidence to the Constitution Committee put it,
“Clause 11 stacks the cards in favour of the centre”.
Clause 11 unamended would mean that if common frameworks cannot be agreed, the default will be that power remains at Westminster, and what is intended to be transitional will become permanent. We need a clause that is more balanced and which gives the UK Government and the devolved Administrations similar incentives to reach agreement. So I welcome the Government’s commitment to amend Clause 11, and to do so with the support of the devolved Administrations.
But in considering Clause 11, I hope the House will bear in mind two things. First, the 1998 devolution settlements were drawn up on the assumption of EU membership. As such, devolved Administrations are already constrained within their areas of competence. They cannot make law that is incompatible with EU law. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, noted in a debate last Thursday, removal of this constraint will leave a void, providing, as he put it,
“a wonderful opportunity to create something new”,—[Official Report, 25/1/18; col. 1102.]
in place of it. I agree very much with what he said. The need to replace the void should be interpreted not as rowing back on devolution but as a sensible step to ensure that the UK continues to work effectively as a whole outside the EU.
Secondly, just as we should avoid stacking the cards in favour of the centre, so we should also avoid stacking the cards in the opposite direction. If absence of agreement means that all powers flow, come what may, to the devolved Administrations, their incentive to reach consensus going forward will be weaker. Moreover, I do not believe that one part of the UK should have an effective veto over essential measures to protect the interests of the UK as a whole—interests that this Parliament exists to uphold.
I conclude on an optimistic note. The devolved Administrations accept that common UK frameworks are needed, and the UK Government recognise the importance of obtaining their legislative consent for the Bill. That is a good foundation on which to build agreement. I hope that it can be built quickly; I believe it can.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a remainer and I will focus on the deficiencies of the withdrawal Bill in respect of environmental issues and how they must be addressed. But, to be honest, it grieves me considerably that we are going to spend months of effort simply to ensure that we get back to where we started on EU legislation—all this just to keep the laws we worked hard to shape and develop in the past 40 years. It reminds me of that bit in Winnie the Pooh where Pooh and Piglet wander round in circles, lost in the woods, before they finally come back to exactly the same point. Pooh says—as only he can:
“I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost”.
This could be a good motto for the Government in their dealings with Brexit.
Proponents of Brexit will of course say that the benefit is taking back control of legislation. But the reality is that, with every trade deal we strike in the post-Brexit world, we will be agreeing to surrender some sovereignty over standards of many kinds. That is the nature of collaborative international agreements.
So the people have spoken—well, just over half of them have—and they may well speak again. In the meantime, the task in hand with the Bill is to bring safely across into UK law the 80% of our legislation on the environment that is European. We have taken a major role in the past in developing these laws within Europe and shaping them over the last 40 years, and they have considerably raised environmental standards so that people can enjoy cleaner beaches, cleaner air and water, better safeguarding from chemical hazards, and improved protection for wildlife and habitats. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House says that the Bill is simply technical and transfers all that effectively—but it does not. It will need considerable amendment.
On environmental legislation, the Bill fails to transfer across important environmental principles that have informed policy, law and judgments over the years. That includes principles such as “the polluter pays”, the precautionary principle and the principle that environmental damage should be rectified at source. The Government have indicated that they will come out with a new policy statement on these principles. But policy statements do not have the force of law, as is currently the case.
Then there is the status of this law when it has been transferred over. I much commend the position taken by the Constitution Committee that the retained law should be regarded as primary legislation. This law was originally agreed by a high-level democratic process and must not be able to be changed at the whim of a Minister by secondary legislation at any time in the future.
The Bill also fails to provide common frameworks, as the noble Lord said, to enable England and the devolved Administrations to work together on environmental standards which will underpin future international trade and future internal co-operation. Strangely, the environment does not recognise national boundaries. Most importantly, however, the Bill fails to provide a substitute for the powers to hold government and public bodies to account for failing to meet environmental standards, which the current EU monitoring, reporting and infraction processes provide. Nor does it transfer across access to environmental justice for citizens.
In the 25-year environment plan the Government have undertaken to consult on a new, independent body to hold government to account on environmental performance. Can the Minister assure us that this consultation will take place before the final passage of the Bill and that it will clarify the roles, powers and sanctions that the new body will have so that we can all judge whether it will be sufficiently independent and effective to take the place of the European provisions? Can he also assure us that the new body will be up and running before the demise of the European Court of Justice’s provenance so as to leave no gap into which environmental remedies can fall?
So a lot of amendments to the Bill will be required. We will have hours and hours of happy fun in the woods. However, even once the Bill has passed, more than 800 environmental provisions will have to be amended by statutory instrument to remain operable. The Government tell us that these will be minor tweaks, but we cannot judge whether they are really just tweaks, inadvertent changes or—dare I say it?—deliberate, more substantial changes. Personally, I believe in the cock-up theory of history and therefore that they may be inadvertent, but we could all help to keep the Government honest on these if they were published, open and consulted on before the final passage of the Bill—otherwise we are buying a pig in a poke.
It breaks my heart that Brexit is happening and that therefore we need the Bill. But we do need it and it needs to be much amended if precious environmental law is to come safely across—simply, alas, to maintain standards where they already are. I therefore encourage Pooh, Piglet and perhaps even Eeyore to come back into the woods.
My Lords, we are in the twilight zone of this long debate. I am speaker No. 161, and I have been positioned as the filling in a rich Young-Judge sandwich of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I will direct my comments to three general points, the first of which is referenda.
I have no doubt that referenda sit very uneasily with our long-established system of parliamentary democracy, which for many years appears to have worked in the least bad way you can expect government to work. I have no desire to see referenda on extremely complex decisions become the norm, and I believe that a referendum on the terms of our exit from the EU—which would give a second bite of the cherry to a minority who did not like the result they got in 2016—would weaken our constitution. I say that as somebody who both voted and campaigned to remain in the EU. My noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom, in an enthusiastic speech yesterday which included a confession of possible future civil disobedience, raised some practical and strong objections to the details of when, what and how any referendum would be conducted. My objection is more fundamental, and I can do no better than to refer to the impassioned, tub-thumping words of my noble friend Lord Patten yesterday when he spoke so eloquently against referenda. This was echoed today by my noble friend Lord Hague.
Secondly, coming from the world of business and commerce, I find it perplexing to read demands for the democratically elected Government’s detailed negotiating position to be published. What an absurd notion, and how damaging to the nation’s interests such a demand is. The electorate usually shows itself to be more discerning than we parliamentarians, colourfully described by my noble friend Lord Ridley yesterday as, “popinjays” and “panjandrums”. The electorate will see through any theoretical or intellectualised argument to the contrary, since the truth is so obvious
Poker players—or bridge players if you prefer something more genteel—do not disclose their hands until the bidding is done, and nor should our Government in the Brexit negotiations. Yes, it is reasonable to expect the Government to define the broad parameters of the negotiation, but this notion that we must receive a blow-by-blow account of the detailed talks is for the birds. I think, however, we can expect the Government to comfort us that they know, when entering the room, whether they are about to play bridge or poker.
Finally, I find it interesting that we are now in a world where spokespersons from both sides of the Brexit debate demand this and that from our political leaders in the certain knowledge that their demands are unachievable. I caution all sides, in the national interest, to exercise some responsibility in their public posturing. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said so eloquently yesterday, politicians should engage in respectful discussions and be less tribal—sentiments also expressed by my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Hunt of Wirral today.
We have to accept that each member of the EU 27 has its own agenda for the discussions, and we need an understanding of those agendas to be able to negotiate a practicable solution. Take Germany as an example. In 2017 Germany is estimated to have enjoyed a substantial budget surplus of some €28 billion—an enviable position—and in the 11 months to November 2017, a trade surplus of a staggering €225 billion. Meanwhile—this number is difficult to extract from the public documentation—it is believed that Germany has lent over €500 billion to the European Central Bank, and the ECB has lent €590 billion to Spain, Italy and Portugal. Notably, this number does not include Greece. You could argue, therefore, that Germany has a huge interest in discouraging other possibly wavering nations from leaving the EU, and in maintaining the stability of Europe—especially the eurozone—as it is effectively propping up a relatively weak currency with loans to the struggling south, funnelled through the ECB to spread its credit risk. No wonder then that many believe that even the main German industrial lobbies support taking a relatively hard line with the UK, reasoning that the sanctity of the single market is more important than losing some BMW or Mercedes car sales to the UK.
This is absolutely not the time to play partisan politics; this is a time to show statesmanship and work towards an achievable result that works best for the nation, and which complies with the result of a referendum that this House and the other place approved in 2015. However naive it sounds in today’s Alice in Wonderland political environment, what I ask for—and believe the nation should, and does, expect—is that we find a common purpose around which the national interest can coalesce. I very much hope that our debates on the Bill over next few weeks will seek to do that.
My Lords, without this Bill exit day will be an Armageddon of legal chaos. Governments, public authorities and every single citizen will be in a complete mess; he or she will simply not know where they stand. I welcome the Bill. The result, of course, will be that parliamentary sovereignty will be restored. Parliament will no longer be subject to the supremacy of European law. The Bill itself speaks about this, but I do not understand why. It is a concept known in Europe, not a concept known in this country. When we leave Europe, the concept of European supremacy will simply be ridiculous.
This means that all the laws sent to us by Europe for the last 40 years or so will have legal force, not because they come from Europe but because, and only because, our Parliament has in effect re-enacted them for as long as it wishes them to stay in place and made them part of our constitutional arrangements. That, indeed, is parliamentary sovereignty. The summary, in the end, is this: the supremacy of European law will be at an end and the ultimate law-making power will have returned home.
This Bill duly honours the result of the referendum. I shall not spend time arguing the merits or demerits of the decisions that have been made by this country—we have heard quite a lot of them. I just want to draw attention to this: a little scrutiny reveals the flaws in this Bill, and we must rectify them. The Constitution Committee has identified a whole series of problems with it, and I shall not repeat them. I want to make a much broader point arising from the Constitution Committee’s report, but also from any reading of this Bill. Looking at the Bill as a whole, with the excitement of sovereignty returning home, I ask rhetorically: does the Bill as presently drafted, simultaneously serve to reduce sovereignty, not in constitutional theory, but in constitutional practice?
For the last 40 years parliamentary authority over the Executive has steadily diminished. It is no good fooling ourselves: that is what has been happening whichever party has been in power, and even in the time of a coalition. Perhaps this is because, under our obligations under the European Communities Act 1972, we had to accept laws. Perhaps it is because time is shorter than it was. However it has occurred, Parliament has acquiesced and perhaps been blind to the problem. Regulation-making powers have been strewn around Ministers like confetti at a happy wedding. Not a single Bill comes before this House in which there are not regulation-making powers. The last Bill we looked at, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, was nothing but regulation-making powers. There was nothing in it except for regulations or regulation-making powers.
I take these figures from The Devil is in the Detail, a marvellous book by the Hansard Society. Do we appreciate that every year 12,000 pages—12,000 small-typed pages—of laws are made by regulation? I wonder who reads them all—nobody. That is the result of vesting power in the Executive. So if parliamentary sovereignty is to mean what it says, law-making by Ministers should be reduced. We should look very closely when we decide that we are going to give these law-making powers.
This Bill as drafted, undoubtedly enhances ministerial law-making. In theory, that is all fine—there is parliamentary scrutiny. In the Commons, the Government accepted an amendment saying that there would be a sifting committee, and the Leader of the House suggested that she would have the same arrangement here. That is fine—till when? Do your Lordships realise what the sifting committee’s power actually is? It is the power to require an affirmative rather than a negative resolution procedure.
Again, I am taking my figures from the book that I have recommended, and I do recommend it—the summary is very easy. The whole book is pretty well written but when noble Lords have read the summary, they will not need to go much further. It tells us that since 1950 170,000 statutory instruments have been made. Of those, 17 have been rejected—that is, 0.01%. That has happened in the Commons 11 times, the last occasion being 1979. In this House, it has happened six times. On the last occasion, we were nearly drummed out of existence for having the nerve to take on the Government over one of their regulations, which was to do with the £4.5 billion arising from tax credits. Incidentally, I hope everybody realises that Mr Osborne was using powers given to him by a Labour Government. That is the problem.
My time is nearly up. When we come to look at the Bill, can we please examine whether it gives more powers to the Minister than he or she should ever have and whether we should control the Executive better than we do? If we do not do that now with this Bill, we will never ever recover the opportunity to do so again.
My Lords, I want to follow the line of argument developed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. In fact, a number of speakers in this debate have called for a meaningful role for Parliament in the Brexit process. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hague, was characteristically eloquent on this subject, and tonight I want to address the role of Parliament in the withdrawal process.
At the moment, Clause 9 gives Parliament one meaningful vote on any deal at the end of the talks. That is fine and I congratulate those who promoted it, but some of us suspect that the context for such a vote will be “vote for the deal or face the cliff edge”. There will not be too many other options around at that time. That will be being said not just by our government negotiators but by EU 27 Governments as well.
My key point in this debate is: what about a say and a vote for Parliament at an earlier stage, specifically on the mandate that the Government should follow in the talks about the future of UK-EU relations? At the moment, we have the Prime Minister’s red lines in the Lancaster House press conference speech. She rules out membership of the single market and the customs union and a continuing role for the ECJ. We had warmer words from her in her Florence speech and we have had a mixture of incompatible objectives and wishful thinking from individual Ministers, but none of that carries the authority of Parliament at this stage.
The EU, on the other hand, is currently developing clear mandates on the transitional arrangements, as we saw earlier this week, and in March it will develop one on the future relationship with the UK. But when do the UK Parliament—especially the other place, to which I certainly cede superiority in this matter—and the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies, which will also need to be engaged, get to debate the UK’s approach and give the government negotiators a clearer mandate than they have at the moment? Sure, we will get to commentate in our own committees and in various debates in this House, but we will not play a central role in the process, and that is not good enough.
As many people have said, the Cabinet is in a muddle over how to take this forward, yet Parliament is exerting no pressure on it to get its act together and come up with coherent and practicable positions for negotiating with the EU. As an old trade union negotiator, I am, like the noble Lord, Lord Lupton, all for giving flexibility to negotiators, certainly once the talks start, but starting the talks without clear, practicable objectives is inviting disaster. We need to know whether we are playing bridge or poker when we go into these talks.
At this crucial stage in our island’s story, to progress these negotiations without a parliamentary mandate is careless and undemocratic. It is the opposite of taking back control. It certainly repeats many of the earlier mistakes to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, referred in terms of the relationship between Parliament and the Executive.
Therefore, we need to amend the Bill to provide for a second meaningful vote in Parliament—this time on the mandate for the talks about the future relationship. This, if adopted, would force the Government, and others, to take a position before setting off to see Monsieur Barnier. It is time for Parliament to exert some control over the withdrawal process, and in due course there will be an amendment drawing on all corners of the House to this effect. My preference—I will be frank and lay my cards face up on the table—is for a mandate that prioritises jobs, rights and trade, as called for in an excellent briefing from the TUC, which I commend to all noble Lords.
I have always been comfortable with the shared sovereignty concept of the EU. I have never found it restrictive; the EU has given us extra scope, extra reach and extra power. It has not restricted anything at all in just about every single case. However, I accept that if Parliament votes on a mandate, the vote might go the other way. To some extent, that would settle the direction of travel, because that direction is not settled at the moment. I will be looking for support from all sides of the House for an amendment along those lines to be moved in Committee and on Report, making that crucial point and returning power to Parliament—which I think was one of the objectives of the leave argument in the referendum.
My Lords, this Bill started life as an oxymoron—let us be honest. The great repeal Bill repeals some EU law but transposes it back into UK legislation, and what we have heard today has made it clear that it is not that great either. As many have already pointed out, it has numerous technical and constitutional defects. As a former head of the Treasury, I salivate at the prospect of raising tax via statutory instruments, but that is probably best avoided, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, pointed out.
The Constitution Committee’s points seem broadly sensible and I hope that the Government can accept them. The treatment of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the Bill leaves me very puzzled. It is indefensible. I assume that we will be coming up with a new version of Clause 11 and that that will be cleared with the devolved authorities; otherwise, we will be completely stuck on that.
The Bill’s origin dates back to then Prime Minister Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum, which, in my opinion and to misquote him, was a disaster, not a mistake. I am a believer in parliamentary democracy, not government by referendum. However, given where we are now, the only question, to which I will return, is whether two wrongs would make a right. Today, I want to make some points in my role as a former Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, and in other roles as an economist. I declare various economic affiliations as listed in the register of interests.
I admire, but do not envy, my successor, who is trying to implement the Government’s policy on Brexit, whatever that is. Although there has been an inevitable and much-needed increase in the number of civil servants working on Brexit, Civil Service numbers overall continue to fall as efficiency improvements are delivered. But Brexit is inevitably squeezing out almost everything else.
Despite these challenges, morale in the Civil Service, as measured by the annual engagement surveys—and I like evidence—is at an all-time high. So it is particularly disappointing—I was very grateful to hear the support expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone—to see a divided Cabinet resorting to attacking the civil servants who simply want to implement whatever policy Cabinet finally decides upon. The progress made to date and the fact that we have successfully moved on to the next stage of talks is witness to the hard work that is going on behind the scenes. Civil servants across a range of departments are delivering detailed analysis. Businesses, trade unions—as the noble Lord, Lord Monks pointed out—and think tanks have provided their input. The bickering and blaming of servants needs to stop. Cabinet needs to formulate a policy for the next crucial stage. The EU 27, and we should learn from them, have been strengthened by having a clear, public negotiating position—we need one as well.
For the next stage, I would say, now is the time for experts. We need Ministers to stay in the post for long enough to master their briefs. Listening to the noble Lords, Lord Hill and Lord Bridges, makes me realise how much expertise has been lost. Cabinet should abide by the principle—that very old principle—of collective responsibility. By all means argue in private, but please present a united front in negotiations.
On the economic aspects, I hope that Ministers and civil servants will study the wealth of analyses that are now being undertaken by a number of groups, such as the Trade Knowledge Exchange, which I am involved in, which are all committed to helping us get the best deal possible. Their analysis highlights that the benefits of a good trade deal with the EU are worth far more than the amounts discussed in the first stage talks and, I would argue, far more than deals with third countries. As Pascal Lamy, the former head of the WTO, has pointed out, the big costs in trade terms come from regulatory divergence. Yet the ability to diverge from EU rules is regarded as a big benefit by some. It is also true that trade deals with third countries will require similar regulations. Such deals will be governed by what I would call the tug of regulatory gravity, meaning that the bigger partners, such as the US, China or India, have the biggest say in determining the rules.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds reminded us that there is more to a good life than just prosperity. It is very interesting that those parts of the country with the greatest inequality in self-reported levels of well-being were the areas where the leave vote was strongest, and we should really analyse why this vote took place. We do not have the time to go into that here, but it is a very important point.
Jobs matter for well-being and the recently leaked document on various scenarios backs up most of the public research that has been available for months. It is not new; it has been around for a long time. It has shown that growth will be significantly lower outside the EU than it would otherwise have been. I know counterfactuals do not make for slick soundbites, but the time for those has gone, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has said. Fortunately, the world is going through a period of strong growth, including in our number one trading partner, the EU, so our headline growth figures will not look bad—unless, of course, you compare them with the rest of the world. Lower growth means lower tax revenue and lower public spending, and that has implications for the NHS.
So, assuming this Bill is amended sensibly, I will hold my nose and join my esteemed predecessors, including the noble Lords, Lord Butler, Lord Armstrong and Lord Wilson, who have spoken in this debate, in supporting it. By the autumn we should know more about the kind of deal that is on offer. The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, gave us that brilliant analogy last night. Will it be more “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” or “Reservoir Dogs”? We do not know yet.
For me, the issue of how Northern Ireland is treated will be a determining factor. I have absolutely no idea how you reconcile regulatory alignment and no hard border with leaving the single market and the customs union. Whatever is decided, peace must be preserved. When we have all the details of that proposed deal—in the autumn I hope, but I am not really expecting that—then, and only then, should Parliament consider whether the result of the negotiations is so far away from what was promised that the people should be consulted again. But this time we must give the people a clear choice between the terms on which we should remain and leave so that they know exactly what the terms are in both cases.
To conclude, this is, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, pointed out, an essential Bill—there is chaos without it. But this House can improve it substantially. That will take time, which is running out for the Government, the country and me, so I will sit down.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord. I would like to dedicate my speech, if this is within the conventions of your Lordships’ House, to another Member of the House—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds—for exactly the same reason as the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, mentioned him. The right reverend Prelate reminded us that there is more to life than trade deals and that human beings possess the power of imagination, and can conjure up in their minds a vision of a better world and a better life.
So far in this debate, we have certainly been presented with many nightmare scenarios. So now, as we approach the end, perhaps I may paint your Lordships a picture, if you will allow me, of the dream scenario: a happy ending to the story.
So I bring your Lordships joyous news. It is a photo opportunity to be shared in social media and across all TVs, all platforms, all devices all over the world. It immediately goes viral and is downloaded 1.2 billion times in 43 seconds—a global media sensation. There are three people in the picture: German Chancellor Merkel, French President Macron and, standing between them and slightly in front of them, British Prime Minister Theresa May. The backdrop is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Chancellor Merkel speaks first. She says: “Today, every citizen of Europe gives thanks to British Prime Minister May for this historic agreement, signed by us, which guarantees the peace, prosperity and security of all the people of Europe”. A spectacular fireworks display then illuminates the Eiffel Tower and the whole of the sky above Paris is dazzling red, white and blue.
The Prime Minister comes home in a special plane of the Queen’s Flight. She is driven to Buckingham Palace to inform Her Majesty the Queen of her progress. Returning to Downing Street through crowd-lined streets under a pale May sun, the Prime Minister speaks—a lone figure, standing at the now familiar lectern outside the door of No. 10. She announces: “We are no longer a member of the European Union. We are now a partner of the European Union”. The crowd roars its approval as she reports: “All our red lines have been achieved. We are no longer a member of the single market. We are now a member of the single platform. We are no longer a member of the customs union. We are now a member of the customs group. We are no longer under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. We will not ‘take account of or have regard to’ the decisions of the ECJ. We will only have ‘due regard’ to its rulings, and we will no longer submit to free movement of persons. We will now only accept free movement of workers”.
Turning from the world’s cameras to speak directly to the British people, she says: “I have carried out the task you gave me. I have delivered the will of the British people. I now await your further instructions”. As she turns to enter No. 10, some reporters shout out: “Prime Minister, Prime Minister! Nothing has changed!”. But their voices are drowned out by the spontaneous burst into singing of the citizens outside the gates of No. 10 as the sound reverberates along Whitehall: “For she’s a jolly good fellow and so say all of us!”.
She is voted one of the greatest Prime Ministers of all time, and a grateful nation erects a bronze statue of her in Parliament Square.
In the years that followed, the Prime Minister provided the British people, free at last, with an inspiring vision and sense of purpose. She saw that the most effective political statement of our time was, “I have a dream”. She had a dream too, and she made it come true: an “end state” where Britain takes its rightful place as the national leader of Europe. How did she do it? Every day she noted the statue of General Slim opposite Downing Street and remembered his lesson about the power of words to change the world. As he said:
“You cannot win a war unless your troops believe they are fighting for a noble object”.
She carefully studied how Germany had risen from ashes to ascendancy, dust to dominance, by changing just one word: “democracy”. As so many noble Lords know much better than I, in the original European Coal and Steel Community made up of six countries, democracy meant one country, one vote. German diplomats brilliantly changed it to one citizen, one vote, which is much more democratic. The moves that followed—reunification of the biggest population in Europe; the treaty of Nice, so that Germany outvoted Britain for the first time; and the treaty of Lisbon, so that the majority required to change EU law was reduced—were three simple steps to effective control of Europe. The Prime Minister thought, “They did it. Why can’t we?”. She saw the opportunity. Britain would soon have the largest working-age population in Europe, and according to the most recent estimates, faster economic growth than Germany for the next 20 years.
So the Prime Minister called the Foreign Secretary to No. 10 and asked to see the Foreign Office plan for Britain as the leading nation of Europe. She was told, “Britain at the head of Europe? It’s impossible. Pie in the sky. Head in the clouds. We must keep our feet on the ground”. But she thought that that would not do. She resolved to mobilise the English language and send it into battle; we know that. The Prime Minister understood that this would be the work of a generation or even two generations, as it was for Germany, but she recognised that the movie we are in—further to the choices made by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane—is not “The Great Escape”. The film needs a better title—“The Promised Land”—and a new script written by a fresh team of screenwriters. The Prime Minister held fast to her dream because she knew that a map of the world which does not include Utopia is not worth looking at.
My Lords, on this very day, 31 January, in 1606, Guy Fawkes was executed following the failed Gunpowder Plot—but it is vital that this Bill does not also expire. The Bill must be passed into law to allow Her Majesty’s Government to implement the will of the people in the referendum result and to respect the judgment of the Supreme Court.
A recent Thomson Reuters report identified 52,741 pieces of legislation that have been passed in Parliament since 1990, many of which came from Europe. Transferring European law into British law is the quickest way to ensure continuity, and of course that is the purpose of the Bill. So I see the rationale for the so-called Henry VIII clauses allowing Ministers to streamline the procedures, but I put it to the Minister that these powers should be limited to technical issues only and that there should be a sunset clause. But in so doing, surely we have to learn from the past. Such a complexity of constitutional laws may not have served Britain well. Let us not forget that, after 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai, in the presence of Almighty God, the prophet Moses finally emerged with only 10 commandments to help humanity. If God had given Moses 52,741 laws, I suspect that he would have needed more than two tablets.
I spent some years as a barrister in what was known as “Rumpole of the Bailey’s chambers”. I stress that I am in favour of this Bill and I want it to pass, but there are some matters that I would ask the Minister to comment on when he winds up. There is concern that the Bill as drafted fails to fully assign a legal status to retained EU law. Will he also address the concern that Ministers are due to determine legal status only on a case-by-case basis, considering the fundamental nature of such a power?
The Bill seeks also not to retain the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Will the Minister address concerns that this may lead to a rather scattered landscape of rights, resulting in less protection for people? I am sure that all of these matters can be resolved, but I ask him to consider them.
Much has been said about Clause 11 on devolution, and I urge the Government to rethink it. Can the Minister also assure your Lordships that the House of Lords will play an equal role in scrutinising any secondary legislation, as I believe was promised by the Leader of the House of Lords in evidence to the Constitution Committee on 13 December? Might that even be written into the Bill?
This is an exciting time for our nation. No longer will we be shackled by the EU single market or burdened by paying huge sums into the EU budget. Britain will become a truly global trading nation, making trade agreements all around the world. On this very day the Prime Minister is in China with many of our businessmen, hoping to make trade agreements with the enormous Chinese trading bloc.
Much has also been said about the nature of this country post Brexit, and this is where I will refer to the Commonwealth family. My father came to Britain from Jamaica in the 1940s to do perhaps the most noble job known to mankind—to play cricket for Warwickshire. Although he was born and raised in Jamaica, he felt that he was coming home because he was part of the Commonwealth family. Let us remember that that family comprises 52 nations with one-third of the world’s population. It has an immensely rich and enduring history and culture, with English as a common language, as well as great admiration for our sovereign. The timing of the Bill is excellent since Britain is due to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in just a few weeks’ time.
This Bill is not a leap into the dark. When fear knocks at the door, we must answer it with faith. It is illuminating that throughout the Bible there is a clear theme of one empire after another eventually overreaching itself and gradually collapsing. In the Old Testament it was the Egyptian empire, followed by the Assyrian empire, the Babylonian empire and finally the Persian empire. They all collapsed. In the New Testament were the powerful rulers of the Roman empire such as Nero—but they all eventually fell. So the Bible and history demonstrate how national sovereignty always proves more durable than the politics of imposed empire.
For 10 years I was vice-president of the British Board of Film Classification. Currently there is a British film which will probably win several Oscars for the British film industry. It is called “The Darkest Hour” and it is about the Second World War. We are privileged to be part of the most important season in British history since 1945. As we engage with our European counterparts, we must revive the winning spirit of Sir Winston Churchill. In the film, Churchill declares that, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth”.
My Lords, it is hard to follow the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, and it is hard to follow Warwickshire cricket. I was going to say that the speech which has made the most impact on me so far in the debate was that of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, yesterday. He spoke of the need for us to decide what kind of country we want, because only when we know what we want to be will we know what relationship with Europe is right for us. Not for the first time, he called on the Government to be,
“honest with themselves and the public about the choices we face. Then, the Prime Minister and her Cabinet must make those choices … to govern is to choose. As we face the biggest challenge this country has faced since the Second World War, keeping every option open is no longer an option”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1423.]
I could not agree more. I could not put it better. I am very uneasy about the silence of the sphinx. I am very uneasy when I see free-market wolves in cuddly sheep’s clothing promising undiminished farm support. I am very uneasy about fierce critics of the working time regulations promising that there will be no change to labour rights, employment rights, social rights and equality rights, and that we do not need to worry about giving Ministers the power to make changes to such rights by statutory instrument.
More generally, the Government need to come clean on whether taking back control means a bonfire of controls, and whether we are going to change our socioeconomic model, as in autumn 2015 the Chancellor said we might have to do. We need to know for two reasons. First, the Bill asks us to give them the matches to light the bonfire if they want to. Secondly, our partners across the Channel need to know. They will decide what access we can have to their markets depending on how far we will stick to the model of how their economies—most western European economies—work.
It will not do any longer just to say that we want something deep, special, unique and bespoke: we have to define what it is. It is not enough to say—as we said, far too soon—what we do not want. Mrs Merkel is quite right: we have now to say what we do want. When the 27 say that the British red lines mean that the British can have no more than a “Canadian” deal, we must stop putting our fingers in our ears and chanting “la la la—I can’t hear you”. It is their call: they will say what deal we will get. There are red lines, but it is their call. Getting a Cabinet to agree and stick to a line is always difficult, but that is the job. A sphinx- like silence will not do any more.
Of course we must pass this Bill, for all the reasons mentioned by so many noble Lords. If in the end we leave the EU, EU law has to be instantly repatriated to ensure legal continuity. We must, therefore, pass the Bill, and I am confident that we will improve it. I would like to see improvements in four areas.
The first is the area that the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, among others, drew attention to: I do not see any need for such a massive transfer of power from legislature to Executive, and on that I very much agree with the warning from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. For me, the lightbulb moment was spotting Clause 9(2), where Ministers take the power to change—by delegated regulation—this Act. So we spend the next three months working day and night to improve the Bill and when it is on the statute book the Minister, with a flick of his pen, can cross out our work. That cannot be right. In the words of the Constitution Committee, it gives Ministers,
“far greater latitude than is constitutionally acceptable”.
Secondly, as a Scotsman I of course listened very carefully to the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope, Lord Wallace of Tankerness and Lord Mackay, and it seems to me that they are right: there is no need to attack and overturn the central principle of the devolution settlement—and there will be a huge price to be paid if we do. I do not understand the sphinx-like disdain for consultation with the devolved Administrations. It is exactly a year since the Prime Minister last met her devolved Administration colleagues in the JMC, the top-level committee set up for consultation with the devolved Administrations—a whole year. That cannot be right. I very much hope that the Minister will bring forward an agreed amendment to Clause 11 very soon, but we may need to nudge the process a bit and perhaps also make sure that the Belfast principles, as set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, cannot be undercut by powers taken in this Bill.
Thirdly, like the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I have difficulty understanding the link between this Bill and the stand-still transition period that, it seems, we want. The 27 reminded us in the mandate that they agreed on Monday that in the transition period the ECJ’s jurisdiction will rule. The Prime Minister acknowledged that in her Florence speech. Why, therefore, does the Bill strike out the ECJ’s jurisdiction? We will only have to put it back again if we get a transition period.
Lastly, I am uneasy that Ministers may try to duck out of the meaningful vote that we have been promised when the outcome of the negotiations is clear. Suppose that there is no deal. Suppose also that by then we have a different Prime Minister—the sphinx sits on shifting sands. Suppose that we have a Prime Minister who believes that Brussels should whistle for the money. Suppose that the negotiations break down. Will we get the meaningful vote to ensure that Parliament cannot be bypassed? This Bill has to guarantee that in all circumstances the moment of truth will definitely come—and come at a time when we still have the options of extending withdrawal negotiations, taking back the Article 50 notification letter or consulting the country about doing so.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, as I seem to have done for the past 20 years. I refer to my current interests on the register.
In 1972, during Second Reading on the then European Communities Bill in the other place, Sir Geoffrey Rippon said:
“I believe that we shall walk tall into Europe on 1st January 1973. We shall take our rightful place in the counsels of Europe. We shall compete and we shall contribute”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/72; col. 1984.]
In leaving the European Union, we shall undoubtedly diminish our standing and influence in the world. It was Europe that brought me into politics. I was born of a Danish mother and Scottish father. Denmark was occupied during the Second World War, severely restricting the freedoms and liberty my mother could enjoy while growing up with occupying troops and tanks on the streets of Copenhagen.
I fervently believe that bringing our trading relations closer together across Europe, as our membership of the European Union has facilitated, has made the prospect of future conflicts in Europe much less likely. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall—I was there in November 1989, a day I shall remember all my life—we have seen an influx of countries and peoples from the former Soviet bloc, strengthening our defence against a potential foe. That same year, 1973, when we joined the European Union, I left Harrogate Ladies’ College to embark on my legal studies at Edinburgh University. I had high hopes of following a career in the European Community as it then was, and I did. I undertook a “stage”—an internship—in the Commission. I worked for the Conservatives in the European Parliament. I practised European law and I then became a Member of the European Parliament.
My overwhelming feeling in debating this Bill is one of sadness at the fact that many of the opportunities that I had in my 20s and 30s will not be available to future generations—namely, the right to live, study and work in another EU country.
I will set out why, in my view, the Bill is defective. In transposing into UK law those instruments such as regulations and decisions—instruments other than EU directives—the Bill seeks to introduce a new category of retained direct EU law, whose status seems far from clear, as was put most eloquently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and other noble Lords. The provisions of the Bill lack clarity and legal certainty, and if I was a law student today I would find it impossible to understand its provisions. They do not entirely reflect the well-established principles of direct effect and direct applicability, and the relationship between the supremacy of EU law and retained EU law is simply not clear.
The Bill is further flawed by the huge power given to the Executive to pass secondary legislation through so-called Henry VIII clauses. While there is agreement across Parliament that new procedures are needed to ensure proper scrutiny—to hold the Government to account—I query whether new committees are required or this is best dealt with by beefed-up versions of the existing committees on delegated legislation.
If there is one unique contribution I can bring to the debate today, it is this: I argue—and have long argued in the other place and here—that there should be the opportunity to amend the content of those draft statutory instruments which come before both Houses, not just to vote for or against them. This is especially relevant as the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill states that these laws, once transposed, can then be further revised and amended by Parliament post Brexit. But this would be a new power: a power to amend not just the title but the actual content of each and every statutory instrument. Clauses 2 to 9 are therefore ripe for amendment. I have a word of caution for my noble friends Lord Astor and Lord Ridley, and fervent readers of the Daily Mail: those of us who wish to improve the Bill stand prepared to perform our statutory and parliamentary duty of making it better.
We are faced with inconvenient truths: the UK simply cannot replicate the free trade agreements with the 70-plus countries with which the EU has a formal trade agreement, including Commonwealth countries. Although there are countries such as Vietnam outside these arrangements, in effect the potential market is very small compared to the existing single market of 505 million consumers. It surprises me that the Government took the key tools in their negotiating pack off the table even before negotiations began—namely, our membership of the single market and customs union. Considering the remaining options available, applying to join the European Free Trade Association would seem the next best thing to membership of the EU; and leaving with no deal, on World Trade Organization most-favoured nation terms, the worst. Being in EFTA would minimise the potential economic damage, solve the question of the Irish border and maintain our sovereignty. Were we to be outside the single market and EFTA, a dispute resolution mechanism must be agreed in regard to cross-border issues involving British goods entering the EU post Brexit.
In terms of agriculture and the environment, I believe that the common agricultural policy has made the EU supply chain more sustainable and kept prices stable. Since the referendum and the collapse in the value of the pound, food prices have risen sharply. The higher environmental standards have turned Britain from the dirty man of Europe to the clean and green land that we are.
I am proud that our history, cultures and destinies are shared with our European partners. The question today is what exactly the nature of our deep and special relationship, going forward, will be and whether that will be in the best interests of this place, of our country, of the British people, of British business and, especially, of the younger generation.
I welcome this Second Reading to consider the continuing role of the UK Parliament in the future of Europe although, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, the devolved parliaments are also a vital element. Having visited and collaborated with friends and scientific colleagues in countries all over the world, it became ever clearer to me that as the EU has welcomed new member countries and led the world in living standards, science and culture, it has become the greatest union of countries and confederations in the world—and that our small country off the north-west of Europe has been incredibly fortunate to be a leading country in that Union, as well as being a member of the looser network of the Commonwealth.
I suppose that all organisations need reviewing from time to time so, in the light of this general philosophy, it was perhaps reasonable for our Parliament, led by Prime Minister Cameron, to announce in 2013 a review of the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU. This led to the in/out referendum in 2016 that resulted in 52% of voters recommending that the UK should leave the EU. But extraordinarily, following the decision in the referendum, our Parliament did not then insist on moving a Bill to establish the legal framework and government policies for leaving the EU. It took the Supreme Court to tell Parliament to take charge of every aspect of leaving the EU and establishing procedures for the UK to work with the EU. Most importantly, these procedures must be relevant in helping people to move and work across Europe.
The woolly and uncertain government statements about wishing to work with the EU in future have not been enough so now, as other noble Lords have explained, we have hundreds of legal measures in this Bill. The Government apparently want to avoid these procedures and just control the leaving process by autocratic Henry VIII measures, as other noble Lords have emphasised. There is now much to be done to establish myriad measures to ensure that Brexit operates smoothly and openly for the thousands of organisations and millions of people who will be affected. But it has become progressively clear that the terms and conditions for the UK to function in relation to the EU will be quite onerous.
As a scientist, I have had many conversations during the past year with researchers, industry and government agencies. We have already seen the departure of important EU science centres that are in the UK and the movement of leading scientists away from the UK. Many European projects will certainly go ahead with significant UK participation, including Euratom, which will be debated in the House of Lords next month. But the UK may no longer take the leading position and UK industry may lose contracts in these new arrangements.
Other centres which the UK takes a lead on include the European Space Agency and the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts—a major centre here at Reading which, if I may say so, leads to such extraordinarily improved weather forecasts that in the United States they now talk about the European weather. There is currently also funding from the European Commission for these organisations. The tricky and important question, which is not well understood, is whether the UK will make special financial contributions in place of the funding that comes from the European Commission. If not, we will find that many of the guiding strategies and actions of these European agencies in which we are involved will no longer have a UK lead. Norway and Switzerland see this at present; they participate but do not have the leadership role.
The facilities in the UK may also not continue, which would greatly affect UK science, technology and universities. Perhaps even more important is how high-tech manufacturing industry will grow when it no longer receives development funding from the European Commission. These companies are well distributed across the UK, more so perhaps than financial organisations, and many of them work with UK universities. Some of them are already discussing moving some of their operations on to the continent. This is extremely serious for many important industrial communities in the UK. The companies will do this to participate in the most exciting future projects with EU funding.
As we look forward to the next decade, Parliament and the young voters who will then become the majority will realise that there will be progressive disadvantages in the UK’s quasi-independence from the EU. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Mandelson put it, plans may emerge eventually for a second opportunity for UK voters to express their opinions about the possibility of the UK rejoining the EU politically, which might be an element in the interesting play that we heard of from the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow so many excellent speeches on this historic Bill, but it is a Bill that I nevertheless wholeheartedly wish was not before us. But it is, and it is our duty to play our part in ensuring that withdrawal from the EU is as orderly as possible.
I agree with most noble Lords that the Bill is flawed. I have reservations about several aspects, including on the scope of ministerial power and the appropriateness of empowering the Executive to such a degree, particularly in the light of devolution. Moreover, I share some concerns about the level of parliamentary scrutiny needed, and at what level. Speaking as chair of this House’s EU Sub- Committee on Financial Affairs, I will seek clarification from the Government as to how they envisage different levels of EU law and regulatory guidance being implemented in the UK. In this area, detailed parliamentary scrutiny may or may not be appropriate, depending on the level of decision we seek to transpose in our quest for regulatory alignment—something that we should surely seek to do where it is appropriate.
However, it is the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Adonis that I wish to address. I think of him as my noble friend because some 25 years ago, I delivered leaflets on his behalf when he was a candidate for the Liberal Democrats, so we go back a long time. I have enormous respect for him as a historian, a senior member of this House and a thought leader on many of the thorniest issues that our country faces. I admire the passion with which he has engaged his campaign for a third referendum, but I wonder to what extent he has reflected on developments on the other side of the English Channel.
For the EU, while Brexit may have been a distraction, it is continuing a business-as-usual model, which is why we have seen such unity. Its priority is rightly to secure the financial stability of the eurozone, and work is continuing apace in that regard. The completion of the eurozone project, the banking union and the capital markets union has significant implications for the UK’s financial services sector. Moreover, ambitions for an EU Finance Minister and a eurozone monetary fund, and Mr Macron’s vision for a separate eurozone parliamentary caucus, present different challenges for our sovereignty and clout in the EU were we to remain.
The EU budget is also undergoing change. The High Level Group on Own Resources, led by Mr Mario Monti, to whom my committee spoke during his deliberations, has now reported. Among its recommendations are new ways to raise direct EU resources, such as a:
“Reformed VAT-own resource … corporate income tax-based own resource, financial transaction tax or other financial activities’ tax”.
It suggested measures relating to the energy union, and to environment, climate and transport policies, including a CO2 levy, proceeds from the European emission trade system, and an electricity tax, a motor fuel levy and other measures. I set this scene just to remind ourselves that the EU we think we might stay in will not be the EU we were in prior to 23 June 2016. Crucially, the important decisions on the budget, the future of rebates, the future of the eurozone and changes to parliamentary accountability are taking place now and will do so in the period before mid- 2019, when a new Commission and Parliament will commence. Therefore, leaving aside the question of whether we should have another referendum, to which I am opposed, I argue that the opportunity for one is now behind us.
If I correctly understand the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, he seeks a referendum on the terms of the withdrawal agreement. I have two principal thoughts regarding that, as other noble Lords have also supported the view that we need a referendum on the withdrawal agreement. The first is that, if the withdrawal agreement is negotiated by October or November this year—as we have been told by Mr David Davis—the referendum presumably would be after that option is agreed or rejected by both Houses of Parliament, or rejected or agreed by the Commons, which has supremacy. In effect, therefore, the decision to hold a referendum will be legislated for in late 2018 or early 2019, with a referendum impossible till late spring 2019. The Electoral Commission requires six months from a decision till polling day. On that time line, the proposed referendum will be held after we have legally left, or are in transition under a different status, and we would have to reapply to join the EU.
If so, even if the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, then secures a yes vote—and I am pleased to see him back in his place now—we will almost certainly re-enter on different terms than those that pertained before 29 March, 2016, when we triggered Article 50. The UK rebate, the Schengen opt-out, the 35 or so JHA opt-outs and opt-ins, and, most importantly, the hard-fought renegotiation will all be off the table. The only other basis for us to remain in during the referendum period in 2020 would be if we did not withdraw and negotiated an extension to the Article 50 period, as permissible under Article 50. This would prevent the UK from striking any trade deals during the extended period, which is material.
While this is a possibility, we would only prolong uncertainty, and the change in Europe that I have described in 2019 would surely mean that there would be no final decision on the UK’s status for a further two, three or four years. All this while, businesses will have made decisions to relocate, investment will have fallen further and legal uncertainty will have been prolonged even further. The result would be a prolonged period of drip-drip decisions being made by businesses and institutions, which could only achieve a very diminished result for the UK, whether it were in or out. On that basis, I have come to the conclusion that we have to do the best that we can with withdrawal. I will expend my energy in making it a success to whatever extent I can, starting with this Bill.
My Lords, many have spoken in the context of the tripartite relationship between the Executive, Parliament and the judiciary, of the balance to be struck in this Bill between Parliament and the Executive, and, of course, of the flawed nature of this Bill. I wish to speak solely in relation to the position of the judiciary as affected by this Bill and of maintaining its independence. Noble Lords may at once think that it is quite unnecessary for me to speak about the independence of the judiciary in this context, but it has become clear, not only from what has happened in this country but also from what has happened elsewhere, that the independence of the judiciary depends to a material extent on the legislature and the Executive doing what they can to keep the judges out of political decisions and the judges, of course, doing what they can to keep themselves out of such decisions.
The present draft of Clause 6 requires the judges within the United Kingdom to make decisions that could well be, or certainly be seen to be, political in nature. It is essential that Clause 6 be amended to that effect. This is not the time to develop the arguments, for in any event, they are set out in the excellent—or should I say brilliant? I echo the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith—report of the Constitution Committee. There is a solution suggested; it needs discussion, and I hope that by the time the Bill comes back to this House, there is a properly thought-through amendment to that clause.
Although it is Clause 6 that directly affects the position of the judiciary in our constitution, it is important also to appreciate the potential effects on the judiciary and its independence of the present clause on devolution—Clause 11—and of Clauses 7 to 9. Those clauses have been referred to by my noble and learned friend Lord Hope as the Cromwellian clauses. I prefer the title Henry VIII. That is not merely because of loyalty to my predecessor, my noble and learned friend Lord Judge, who has done so much under that name to describe the real problems in the extensive use of those clauses and the dilution of parliamentary sovereignty that has resulted, but also because it was Henry VIII who abolished the separate laws of Wales.
It is clear from legal developments in the past decades that recourse to the courts will be used in any attempt to seek resolution of issues that had not been subject to decision by Parliament. That is a good enough reason in itself for decisions to be taken here. There is, as is well known, a ready route to challenge legislative powers exercised by Ministers, but probably not so well appreciated, to review issues in the devolution legislation which are not contained in well-thought-through—I underline those words—and clear provisions. The Welsh devolution cases are a pointer to the problems that can occur.
I have sympathy for the Government and their highly professional legal service when they have to bring about changes to a vast volume of legislation faced with the pressure of time and the uncertainty caused by the absence of agreement with the European Union. In those circumstances, I very much hope that this House and the Government will be prepared to explore alternatives in the legislative process, which have been mentioned by many noble Lords, and the use of expert bodies, such as the Law Commission, to assist by their advice in the process of scrutiny, which is difficult, and avoid unintended consequences.
It is the position of the judiciary that I wish to emphasise. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, forcefully pointed out that these issues are a matter of real concern to the judiciary as they affect it. So far, the judiciary has been one of the institutions that has remained largely unaffected by the issues relating to Brexit. However, the events of November 2016 arising out of the first decision in the Article 50 case, in which I participated, demonstrated the importance of the role of the judiciary in our constitution and social order, the relative fragility of its independence and the necessity of Parliament doing, as it did then, all it can to safeguard the independence and position of the judiciary.
There is a further factor which until recently may have been overlooked: the significant contribution our legal system makes to our economic prosperity. We should not ignore the fact that the events of November 2016 were publicised worldwide and commented on. I therefore hope that Parliament will do what it can so that the judiciary’s independence and reputation are not put in issue again.
My Lords, I remember the enthusiasm with which I voted for the 1972 Act and how I campaigned vigorously in the 1976 referendum on the Common Market. In the succeeding 40 years I moved the other way and I voted leave. I remember the Third Reading of the 1972 Bill. The debate was mainly about Commonwealth trade, not the great issues of Europe and all the rest of it. It was about Australian lamb and New Zealand butter. There were two Back-Benchers in that debate who forecast that if we were to join the Common Market there would be a substantial and irreversible transfer of sovereignty and power. They were Michael Foot and Enoch Powell. Over the following 30 years, their forecasts were correct: there was a substantial transfer of sovereignty.
Later in my political career I was involved in one such case. I was Home Secretary during the Maastricht negotiations and I was very keen to ensure that the responsibility of the Home Office for immigration, prisons and the criminal justice system should remain under British control. I had assurances from Douglas Hurd and John Major, given in great good faith, that that would happen. They had agreed with Europe that those issues should be put into a separate pillar. There were going to be three pillars. One would cover all the issues of the Home Office and they would be reserved to nation states. The night before the treaty was signed, I was rung up again and that pledge was reconfirmed. In all fairness, the European authority did set up a separate pillar, but it disappeared within 15 years. One should not be surprised at that because the very powerful institutions that the European Community had established, particularly the Commission, were not really interested in dispersing power from the centre. They believed in centripetal policies drawing powers into the centre. They were not very concerned about the periphery. Analysis of the British referendum shows that the periphery of the forgotten, the overlooked and the not-asked voted against the centralising powers of Europe.
When, as Home Secretary, I met the other Ministers of Justice, we were supposed to form a committee to be a check on the Commission because the Commission was always there. The trouble with the other Ministers was that they kept disappearing. Some were promoted, some were sacked and some were arrested. They were not about and they were not an effective control. They would always chide me on not being a good European. They were the last lot to do that because the Italian Minister went to jail for a huge financial fraud in Naples, the Irish Minister of Justice was sacked for fiddling his election expenses and the Spanish Minister for Justice won the booby prize as he went to jail for murder.
I voted leave for political reasons. I found that our institutions, such as the House of Commons, the courts and the judicial system, were much closer to the British electorate than their European counterparts. When qualified majority voting was introduced, our position at the table in negotiation was reduced very significantly. We lost far more votes than we won, so our position was diminished.
The decision to leave has been taken and I think it will not be changed. Jeremy Corbyn will not support a second referendum, and he is wise not to do that. I would not. I believe it is quite possible that in a second referendum the leave vote would go up, not down, because the way we have been treated by Europe over the past 18 months has been a pretty humiliating experience. Mr Barnier acts rather like a headmaster with a reluctant pupil. Parliamentary democracy should now prevail over plebiscitary democracy. Those who still want to be in the European Union, or to rejoin it if we leave, would be joining a very different body because already the centralising power has increased. Macron, Schulz and the former Italian Prime Minister want one fiscal policy and one Fiscal Minister, and if a Fiscal Minister is appointed one day, our Chancellor of the Exchequer would have to bow to him.
Before I sit down, I shall say something about the political situation and the position of the Prime Minister. I cannot recall any Prime Minister being subject to such vicious attacks, scornful dismissals, offensive vituperation and personally wounding comments on an almost daily basis. She is held in contempt by many people. She is not alone in that. Our last three Prime Ministers—Blair, Brown and Cameron—are also held in contempt, some of them in utter contempt. It seems to go with the job. The Prime Minister has been written off a hundred times yet could she form a Government? Yes. Could she get a Queen’s Speech? Yes. Could she get Article 50 through? Yes. Could she survive the Tory party conference? Yes. Could she restart the stalled negotiations before Christmas? Yes. These are not inconsiderable achievements. They are quite considerable. Faced with this avalanche of disdain, many people would have resigned, and she had an easy exit through her illness, but she has stayed on the bridge, I think from a sense of duty—that may be something to do with being a vicar’s daughter—to ensure that the electoral decision in the referendum, the largest democratic engagement ever in our history, is implemented.
She is the only Tory leader capable of carrying through the Government over the next year. The Conservatives are split, and the Labour Party is split. The Liberal Democrats are not split, yet gained no electoral advantage at all. Perhaps they have missed something. The Prime Minister has set herself one very simple target, namely that Britain will leave the European Union on 29 March next year, an act that for the last 50 years was not thought possible. That will be her moment of history, just as Ted Heath’s moment of history was joining the Common Market. It will be a major turning point in our history that will determine the path that our country will take. I know that some Conservative Eurosceptic MPs want to have all the freedoms on 29 March. I say to them, because we share some agreement, that they should perhaps remember the words of Oliver Goldsmith in the 18th century. They should not be,
“too fond of the right to pursue the expedient”.
It is not often in our history that our two Houses have to make a momentous decision, and that decision should be a parliamentary one, not a referendum one. It will affect which path exactly is to be taken. We have been doing this as an institution for more than 700 years. We have to decide which path to take. We have great sense of history in this House, and I think we recognise that the European Union is a form of empire. In the great roll call of history, it is the empires that collapse and disappear, and it is the nation states that survive.
My Lords, when the Leader of the House opened this debate, she implied that this was a narrow and technical Bill and made it sound like she thought the House was in danger of overestimating the importance of the Bill. However, as we have the largest number of speakers in a Second Reading debate in our history—169 speakers so far and 20 more to come—I suggest to the noble Baroness that we in this House believe this is one of the most important Bills the House will consider for some time.
Almost every speaker I have listened to has been united in agreeing that this Bill is badly put together and will need substantial amendment. Despite the plaudits of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for the Prime Minister, I believe the Prime Minister and the Cabinet should hold their heads in shame for delivering up a Bill in such bad shape and for trying to intimidate this House and the other place out of amending it. It is pathetic to do so.
I am not without sympathy for the Government’s Front Bench in this House. Those on it will have to put forward arguments in Committee that almost no one, including them, believes credible. They will be asked to get powers that no one in their right minds would give to individuals and will be asked to attack anyone who wants answers on what the Government intend to do post Brexit as potential saboteurs of the Bill.
The Government have continually tried to bypass Parliament and parliamentary scrutiny in this process. We have a role, alongside the House of Commons, to ensure they do not do that. We see with the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill their attempt to insert any discussion of the customs union into that Bill. Here is the sneaky bit: they are then going to try to designate it a finance Bill, to avoid the scrutiny of this House. Can the Minister reassure us, at the end of this debate, that no such ploy will be used?
A flawed process and a flawed negotiation were inevitably going to lead to a flawed Bill. We have a duty to amend it, and to deal with some of the issues raised by the Select Committee on the Constitution and highlighted by my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton, the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, to name a few: the relationship between Parliament and government, including the broad range of dangerous delegated powers the Bill would like to take; Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales; the customs union and the single market; and the issues of disability as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton. A host of other issues have also been raised by noble Lords.
We have a duty to ensure that the House of Commons can revisit some of these issues, which it may not have had time or information to fully consider in its deliberations. We have always challenged the wisdom that once a decision is taken by the democratically elected House of Commons, it is somehow sacrosanct and cannot be changed or challenged. We are the place that says, “We know you took a decision, and we understand the democratic legitimacy of taking it, but we believe you should reflect on it and think again”. Some of that wisdom may be needed by the House of Commons when it comes to the referendum. It should be confident that a referendum is not sacred and sacrosanct but can be changed, and that people can be asked to think again. The public are not stupid: they understand that events change and that it may be necessary to consult them again if, and only if, the circumstances warrant it.
The question is: who decides what circumstances warrant it? For me, that is a matter for the House of Commons and not for your Lordships’ House. What we have to ensure is that this Bill does not block the House of Commons from exercising its judgment on whether that is necessary or not. We have to build flexibility into the Bill for the House of Commons, to allow it to do its job.
I end with a quote, from 19 November 2012, in a speech about Europe:
“If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”.
The author and speaker of those words was David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. I hope he still believes them to be true, but then again I respect his right to change his mind.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. As he said, more or less everyone agrees that the Bill in its present state requires substantial improvement. The objective must be maximum clarity, to take a phrase from the Constitution Committee’s very powerful report, and minimum legal uncertainty. I think that is the right phrase, as legal certainty is just not achievable here. UK judges will be grappling with issues thrown up by this Bill and related legislation for many years. Your Lordships’ duty, it seems to me, is to make their job manageable. Personal views about the merits or demerits of Brexit seem to be largely irrelevant to the performance of that duty.
It is a bit late in the day for legal stuff, so I apologise, but I want to say something about the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which I think is likely to take up a bit of time as the Bill goes through the House. On this point, the Government are probably right to exclude the charter from the body of EU law which is to pass into post-Brexit UK law. I agree with what has been said about that by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but will add a few observations of my own.
The Government seek to justify the exclusion of the charter on the ground that it adds nothing to existing rights, and therefore its exclusion is of no consequence. This is most unpersuasive, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, has said, because it invites the response, “Why bother to exclude it then?”. It is also incorrect as a matter of law. The retention of the charter as part of UK law would, in fact, make some difference. I recognise that it would provide litigants with a few additional arguments, but it would also lead to considerable legal uncertainty. In particular, it would lead to unnecessary complications regarding its interaction with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which, as the House knows, is a very similar foundational document.
The convention was drafted in 1949. As is well known, a large part of it was brought into domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998. Some parts were left out, advisedly. That Act was very carefully drafted, under no pressure of time—unlike this Bill—and struck a balance between the protection of human rights and the constitutional principle of the sovereignty of Parliament. It achieved that by means of the Section 3 obligation to construe legislation in a way that is compatible with human rights, and by means of the Section 4 power to make a declaration that primary legislation is incompatible with a convention right. It does not give the court a power to strike down legislation on the basis of such incompatibility. Almost every practising lawyer and judge would agree that the Human Rights Act and the convention behind it have worked very well. The scope of the Section 3 presumption has been defined in the case law, and Governments have respected declarations of incompatibility.
The charter was drawn up in 2001, but had no legal force until the Lisbon treaty of 2009, which provided that it,
“shall have the same legal value as the Treaties”.
The UK and Poland negotiated what they thought was an opt-out—at least that is what the politicians said—but in December 2011, the CJEU said that in fact it was a document whose purpose was to remind the British and the Poles that they had opted in. At this point, it began to dawn on UK litigants and their lawyers that the charter could be invoked. It is a pleasing irony that one of the first litigants who took the road to Luxembourg was David Davis, who was then on the Back Benches. The point of reciting this history is that throughout the period from 1998 to around summer 2016, so far as I can tell, almost no one said, “Look, hang on—the convention isn’t working. The Human Rights Act isn’t working. We need more. We need the charter”. No one was saying that. What has changed? I am not sure.
The charter differs from the convention in two important general respects. First, its scope is limited by Article 51 to the actions of member states,
“when they are implementing Union law”.
The precise scope and meaning of that phrase is debatable. In any event, no such limitation applies to convention rights, so the scope of the convention is broader than that of the charter. On the other hand, the powers of the domestic court pursuant to the charter go well beyond any power conferred by the Human Rights Act 1998 in relation to the convention. If legislation is incompatible with charter rights, the court must disapply it. If legislation is incompatible with convention rights—which will often be identical—the court cannot disapply it but may grant a declaration of incompatibility.
These distinctions can have odd results. In the Benkharbouche case decided a few months ago by the Supreme Court, employees at the Sudanese and Libyan embassies made various claims which were, on the face of things, barred by the State Immunity Act. The Supreme Court held that the Act was incompatible with both Article 6 of the convention and Article 47 of the charter—which resembles the former but is not quite the same. Some of the claims were EU claims within the charter, some were not, but they were all claims about working conditions and pay. The Supreme Court found that the EU claims within the charter could proceed since the Act had to be disapplied, but the latter could not. It was a strange and, noble Lords may think, unprincipled outcome.
Is there harmonious co-operation between the ECHR in Strasbourg and the CJEU in Luxembourg? One might have that there would be, given that Article 6(3) of the Lisbon treaty provides that the EU should itself accede to the convention—and if there were such harmonious co-operation, the potential for conflict and legal uncertainty would be much reduced. But there is not. In December 2014, I think to general surprise, the CJEU issued an opinion which explained why accession to the convention by the EU was not permissible. It is an interesting document that can be summarised, not unfairly, in one sentence: “The continent is not big enough for two supreme courts”—delivered in the manner of the film that the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, took his maiden aunts to.
The problematic nature of the relationship between the charter and the convention—and between Luxembourg and Strasbourg—is illustrated by the proceedings I mentioned brought by Mr Davis in relation to data retention legislation. Mr Davis relied on Article 8 of the charter and the Digital Rights Ireland case in the CJEU. In that case, the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal expressed perplexity and concern that the CJEU had not dealt with a competing and diverging sequence of cases in the Strasbourg court. So the Court of Appeal made a reference to the CJEU and said, “Help us, please—tell us what you mean. Do you mean to expand the charter beyond the convention?”. The CJEU’s response, which came about a year ago, was imperious. It said, in what is again not an entirely unfair paraphrase: “The convention is not an EU text. The charter can reach parts which other conventions cannot, so the UK court’s request for clarification is inadmissible. We are telling you nothing more”.
Allowing human rights law to flow from two separate and, frankly, warring sources is a recipe for legal chaos. The convention works well, and the common law’s protection of human rights is alive and kicking, as the Supreme Court’s judgment in the UNISON case showed. A proliferation of foundational texts is unnecessary and damaging. We do not have time to waste in Committee, and for my part, I think the charter can safely be left in Luxembourg.
My Lords, I respect and support the principle of the Bill as a key piece of legislation which will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 but, at the same time, copy EU laws on to the UK statute book to ensure a smooth transition. At this stage, I am not going to rehearse the problems that many other noble Lords have identified with the Henry VIII powers, which are equivalent to the Statute of Proclamations of 1539, contained in Clauses 7 to 9 and Clause 17. Nor am I going to go into detail about my concerns with Clause 11 and the effect of the Bill on the devolved Administrations. I will only point out—as many other noble Lords have done—the criticism in the cross-party Constitution Committee’s recent report on these clauses, as well as the Hansard Society’s concerns.
I will instead focus on the Bill’s proposed use of legislation via statutory instruments, as has already been analysed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. As many noble Lords have stated, between 800 and 1,200 separate items will be made in this way, according to MPs in the other place. I welcome the sifting committee that has been proposed by the other place, but it needs to go further. At the moment, the Bill’s proposed way for parliamentary discussion of these items will be the automatic negative procedure. In this House, such items are put on the Order Paper and there are 40 days to pray against them—if this happens, they are then discussed on the Floor of the House. Of course, if noble Lords do not read the House’s business papers in detail every day, they will be blissfully unaware that secondary legislation is sailing through by default—especially on an Order Paper such as today’s, on which noble Lords may not have got as far as page 18. No negative procedure statutory instruments have been turned down in the other place for 38 years, and only 17 have been turned down since 1950 according to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge.
If, on the other hand, the proposed statutory instruments are to be discussed by way of an affirmative procedure, they will automatically be taken on the Floor of the House. This is much more satisfactory. To support my argument, I pray in aid the recent report of our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Summary point 5 states:
“In the absence of a convincing explanation to the contrary, the affirmative procedure should apply to Henry VIII powers under clauses 7 to 9 and 17 that allow Acts of Parliament to be amended or repealed”.
In summary point 6, the report continues:
“Ministers should not have an unfettered choice to apply the negative or the affirmative procedure for statutory instruments under those clauses”.
As an alternative, the committee proposed a sifting mechanism and that all instruments should be laid in draft before Parliament, and that either the affirmative or negative procedure should be proposed. It recommends that where the Minister proposes an affirmative procedure it should apply, but suggests a different process where the Minister proposes a negative procedure. It states:
“a parliamentary committee has 10 sitting days in which to recommend the affirmative procedure instead. If no such recommendation is made, the negative procedure applies”.
Finally, the committee believes:
“Where the committee recommends the affirmative procedure, it applies unless the relevant House rejects the committee’s recommendation within a further period of five sitting days”.
Continuing in the same area, I highlight two more changes recommended by our Delegated Powers Committee. Summary point 3 says:
“Regulations under clause 14 stipulating exit day(s) should be subject to the affirmative procedure”.
At the moment, exit days means such days as a Minister of the Crown shall appoint. This would be solely in the power of the Minister. Thus anyone passing this Bill must be prepared to be a spectator to what the transitional measures will be and how they will operate. This is not satisfactory. As an aside, my personal preference would be to stay in the single market and customs union at least for the transitional period.
The committee also criticises Schedule 4 with regard to taxation. The report says:
“All regulations made under Schedule 4 which introduce or increase fees should be subject to the affirmative procedure”.
I do not have the time to go into the Delegated Powers Committee’s concerns on sub-delegation powers leading to tertiary legislation, as set out in the UCL and Bingham Centre briefing on the Bill.
Like others, I ask the Minister whether he will put down amendments to satisfy the concerns of our constitution and delegated powers committees. I feel that these are really necessary to make this a better Bill. Could he also answer my and many other noble Lords’ concerns on the devolved Administrations issue?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend. I am consoled in the thought that I am not alone in living a life of blissful ignorance. Although it may seem like a century ago, I refer back to the beginning of this debate and thank and congratulate my noble friend the Leader of the House for and on her clear, authoritative and altogether excellent speech. Again, it is a distant memory, but I thought that the speech of the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition had some very interesting and constructive ideas as to how the Bill could be improved, and the House is indebted to her for the tone and content of her opening speech.
Having listened to many hours of debate and read Hansard extensively, I am in no doubt that I am in a minority in your Lordships’ House in believing that we should leave the European Union, and even more in a minority in thinking that no deal is better than a bad deal. In fact, I find myself saddened, not that some speakers disagree with me, but that they appear to think that a bad deal is acceptable. I do not see it that way.
Speakers have fallen into distinct groups, and I belong to the smallest. The second group is represented by the majority of the party opposite, and others, who accept that a Bill is needed and whose opposition will have regard to the constitution and conventions of your Lordships’ House. If I am right about this, we have a lot to be grateful for. Then there are the Liberal Democrats, whose was the only party at the last election that wanted by one means or another to reverse the referendum—and look what happened to their vote. They are quite unabashed, rather admirably so, I suppose, by their numbers being so grossly disproportionate to their representation in the country. They lecture the rest of us on the merits of democracy and then threaten to defy the will of the people, manifesto commitments and votes in the other place. I sometimes wonder whether they place less value on your Lordships’ House than many of the rest of us.
Finally, there is the group that appears to be gathering under the flag of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, which quite simply wants to ignore the referendum result, as I see it, and sabotage the Brexit process. I have a copy of the noble Lord’s resignation letter here. It is a very long-winded, petulant and self-serving document. I keep a copy on my desktop so that I can show it to my grandchildren as a masterclass as to how not to resign and keep some vestige of dignity. He characterises those who voted for Brexit as “populist” and undergoing a,
“nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump”.
So he joins fellow aspiring wreckers who insult us leavers as being stupid, ignorant, bigoted, racist or simply, as the mealy mouthed Mr Tony Blair would have it, having “imperfect knowledge”. The noble Lord describes the Bill rather mysteriously as the,
“worst legislation in my lifetime”,
and promises to oppose it relentlessly, and so he begins to do today—or did yesterday.
Perhaps he will be joined by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who last week foretold gleefully that Britain could be made to come to heel. Apparently, he enjoyed the prospect of our country being humiliated so much that he actually said it twice. His tone today was, happily, rather more moderate. Having spoken to other retired mandarins, and I know a few, I am left wondering whether it is legacy that these people worry about. If so, this is a dangerous trend. Surely all of us who have seen policies to which we have devoted time and effort be changed have to live with that without throwing the toys out of the bath.
As has been pointed out, there is something surreal about remainers from all parts of the House affecting to be concerned about parliamentary scrutiny, when you consider that membership of the EU has, over the last 40 years, eroded to vanishing point such scrutiny. That has been raised by others. Since they want to enshrine in perpetuity this grotesque state of affairs, their virtue-signalling pretence at outrage rings pretty hollow.
Time does not allow me to talk of trade beyond saying I have worked in the SME sector for most of my working life, and my personal interests appear in the register. Brexit will indeed mean change, but who is afraid of that? It has been a feature of my life every day for the last 40 years or so. Of course, fat corporatists and their CBI mouthpiece tell you otherwise, because they want to go on buying favours from Brussels so as to disadvantage their smaller competitors.
What has attracted rather little attention is the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said yesterday, the EU institutions appear to have no appetite for change. This is what seems to embed our position. They continue on the fateful road towards a federal European state; they want to hobble the City, which by my calculation produces revenues enough to pay for the NHS. The EU has become a brutal and amoral protectionist fortress, devoid of humanity, and inflicting pain and suffering on the poorest, not only in the developing world but also among our own EU citizens.
Again to draw attention to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, we can all find lovely quotes from Burke, I think for almost any occasion, but perhaps he might like this one:
“Free trade is not based on utility but on justice”.
The EU wants armies and harmonised taxation regimes, and it wants oversight of national budgets—there is very little that it does not want to control. It is simply beyond me to understand what is attractive about this construct, which is doomed anyway through its total want of accountability.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds quite early in the debate asked,
“what sort of Britain, or indeed Europe, do we want to inhabit?”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1386.]
His close proximity to me should not make him worry, but I am not confident that he will entirely happy with my answer to his question. He is right to point out that the question is not solely about economic issues. Of course no one voted to be poorer, and no one will be. Having campaigned daily for a Brexit outcome, it was perfectly clear to me that people put other things ahead of economic concerns. People understood, in ways that the metropolitan elite did not, and will not give them credit for, that this country’s historic embracing of the rule of law is the foundation of freedom.
Since the dawn of time, far earlier than the Magna Carta, in these soggy islands—places of such beauty and enduring romance—it was established that we would be governed by consent and not by diktat. The settlement has at intervals been challenged by the Norman invasion, by the Stuarts and, dare I say it, by families like my own, who from time to time got out of control and had to be reined in. These same people I met on the campaign trail also understood why their parents and grandparents suffered and gave their lives so that we, their successors, could enjoy the golden benefits of the rule of law and breathe the sweet air of freedom. I have inherited their passion and, in consequence, ask for this Bill to be given safe passage.
My Lords, if the Whips arranged the speaking order for tonight’s debate in order that I might be provoked into responding to some of the more outlandish comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, I am afraid that I shall disappoint them and try to stick to my script. I might be in a minority in your Lordships’ House in that I was not old enough to vote in the 1970s European referendum, so I cannot start my speech by saying how I voted back then—but I can start by saying that my whole adult life I have always believed strongly in the European Union and its predecessors. I would probably go further than most Members of your Lordships’ House by saying that I believe strongly in the concept of shared sovereignty at the European level. I believe it is consistent with a belief in shared sovereignty between the four nations of the United Kingdom. I do not see any discrepancy between a belief that that works in the UK and a belief that it works in the European Union as well.
I voted remain. I was dismayed by the campaign that promoted that cause—but I did vote remain. However, I accept the result, and it would be very wrong if this unelected House chose to try in any way to obstruct the will of the people as expressed in June 2016. I shall not support moves designed to do that.
I also wish we had more opportunity now—a year from exit day—for discussion of the immediate implications of the Brexit vote. This is not the time or the place to debate the future of, for example, our development aid relationship with the European Union, or the nature of those trading relationships that should, in my view, be based as much on fair trade as free trade. But it is the time and place to discuss this Bill. I will highlight two points of particular concern to me.
First, there have been many fabulous contributions from noble Lords across the House over these two days about fundamental rights, highlighting in particular employment rights and so on, but I raise the issue of children’s rights. If the issue of consistency of rights and consistency of application of European law in UK law is not handled correctly, if we do not couple that with an appropriate approach to the consistency of the justice mechanisms that exist across Europe just now to protect children, and if we do not take an appropriate approach in the forthcoming immigration Bill to child migrants, it will be the most vulnerable children who fall through the net that is created. We need to be very aware of that. There are many interests that will be promoted in your Lordships’ House in the coming weeks—employment rights and other rights mentioned in the charter—but issues around children’s rights could lead to the worst impact falling on the most vulnerable. We need to be very careful to protect the consistency and application of rights in relation to children in our forthcoming debates.
My second point relates to devolution. While I am sure that there are faults on both sides—I think the Scottish Government need to be a bit more practical and positive in their approach to this issue, as do the UK Government—I cannot believe the situation that the UK Government have got themselves into over devolved responsibilities. The initial devolution settlement was based not just on 20 years of debate, national consensus and a settled will, but on a rigorous application of political and intellectual thought to make sure that the settlement created in 1999 would stand the test of time. Through all the ups and downs of politics in the last 18 or 19 years, the legal responsibilities of the devolved Administrations have very rarely been subject to a successful challenge. That rigour, applied particularly by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine but also by other colleagues in the Cabinet back in 1997 and 1998, has stood the test of time. To try to overturn that in any way at the moment is either really incompetent or very sleekit indeed. The Government need to respond to this, not by springing amendments on your Lordships’ House at the last minute, but through proper, open and transparent discussion that raises the common frameworks and perhaps, at times, common legislation required at the UK level in some of these areas, but which is firm and clear that, where responsibilities were devolved in 1999 or subsequently, they will continue to be devolved after 2019.
It is a matter of real regret that the Government have not used this opportunity to try to refresh or regenerate the Government of the United Kingdom. If we are to take back control—however much some of us regret the decision and the implications for our interdependent world of this move back towards the nation state—we should do so on the basis that we reinvigorate our democracy at the same time. There is an opportunity here to change the relationship between the UK Government and the three devolved Governments of the United Kingdom. It is not yet too late to take that opportunity, either in the next 12 months or in the two-year transition period, for a combination of common frameworks, with Ministers sharing decision-making at a UK level between the devolved Governments and the UK Government on an equal, respectful basis in certain areas, and for the further devolution of powers to allow the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to have full control where that is appropriate. The opportunity still exists and the Government should take it.
My Lords, as several noble Lords have mentioned, and as the Constitution Committee report said, lessons can be learned from the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. That is a sectoral Brexit Bill, not saving legislation and not aimed at policy change. It was explained, variously, as a technical bill, as dealing with deficiencies and as not changing policy—just the same vocabulary used to describe the withdrawal Bill and operations within it.
I will elaborate more fully on some of the lessons. First, all creation of new criminal offences by regulation was taken out, not just those over the threshold defined as “relevant” in the withdrawal Bill, which means sentences greater than two years. When voting on this constitutional point for the second time, there was a massive vote to remove from the anti-money laundering part, where sentences were indeed limited to two years, any new criminal offences. If anything, the case is clearer for the withdrawal Bill: why should “saving” legislation create any new offences?
Secondly, in the anti-money laundering part of that Bill, it was frightening to compare the unlimited, policy-free, mechanistic list of delegated powers with the far richer policy context and predictability of the EU money laundering directive that it replaced as the source legislation. Until amended, this proposed primary legislation gave absolutely no substantive foundation against which to test future secondary regulation. It was without constraints or policy now, empowerment for total policy change by regulation later. I call that a constitutional-level policy change. We have a similar wolf in sheep’s clothing prowling parts of the withdrawal Bill.
Thirdly, with its amendments, the anti-money laundering part is much improved. Nevertheless, businesses are in a more uncertain place because the Bill is no longer set in the richer EU format. Uncertainty is not a good direction of travel for our home-made laws and we should not be inured to it—we can do something about it.
The good news is that the withdrawal Bill aims, so we are told, to save policy context—the idea is right. The bad news is that the legal status is confused; it certainly cannot be case-by-case at ministerial convenience. There are “panic button” clauses giving delegated powers without objective definition and stretchy schedules that expand, sometimes for ever, what you thought had been limited in clauses. The Explanatory Notes say the law is not deficient merely because a Minister considers that EU law was flawed. Such clarification must surely be in the Bill; so must objective qualification of the much overused “appropriate”—that is definitely an alpha wolf, not a sheep.
Businesses have been promised policy continuity. So, in considering amendments around status, legal clarity and interpretation, my test is that, however legislation is saved, it should not mean sacrificing policy. Policy continuity means keeping all relevant factors to assist interpretation or challenge; keeping them after modification, because that has been stated as being only to clean up language; and keeping them for EU-derived legislation, such as directives, under Clause 2. Just as Ministers quote rules and precedents to justify their words in legislation, similar happens when negotiating directives. A great deal is contained in recitals, which are relevant for interpretation by the EU court and regulatory authorities, even though they are not transposed and their content is needed.
In that context, my final point is to ask how EU constraints on delegation of power will be retained. My goodness, we need to get some constraints from somewhere. This has relevance to financial services, where the European supervisory authorities are bound by the Meroni principle. Will the FCA and the PRA be so bound when taking over—and if not, why not? At present, it is the EU that implements international standards, such as Basel rules, via co-decision and providing policy guidance for tertiary legislation. Where will the implementation and policy guidance come from in future against which to measure secondary and tertiary legislation? Will this Parliament have any role, or will the UK be run by delegation and deference—delegation to regulators and deference to the same regulators sitting in international regulatory bodies? Will this Parliament be given comparable time and opportunity for consultation and scrutiny of regulatory proposals? I say to the noble Lord opposite that I should like an opportunity to do here one fraction of what I did in the European Parliament.
Before coming to the Bill itself, I must say something very briefly about where I come from in relation to it.
The overriding reality of our time is globalisation—the ability not only to move goods and manufacturing around the world and communicate across the globe in an instant, but to shift money at the press of a button. This is a world in which multinational corporations have unprecedented leverage and an international financial elite has extraordinary influence. In the past, a sovereign state could to some extent control the power of capital in the interests of the country as a whole. In a globalised world it is simply not possible for one nation on its own to do this. It is only through close co-operation with other countries and building shared institutions that we can build the kind of society we all want.
In his thoughtful and sombre speech, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Oareford, said:
“Europe is already moving in directions that we have traditionally resisted”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1389.]
In particular, he mentioned more screening of overseas investments. For some of us, that is one of the reasons why, in a globalised world, the European Union is of such crucial importance. However, the Bill is about much more than that. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, stressed, what about defence and security? What about the essential co-operation necessary in the struggle against terrorism, international crime and cyberattacks? For many of us, this issue is about a great deal more than markets. The European Union is not a guarantee of close co-operation in these areas, but it makes it much more likely. When will we hear about these issues and how they will be achieved if we leave the Union?
Closely linked with the concept of co-operation is the notion of drawing on a larger perspective and a wider wisdom. This country is not the sole repository of wisdom. Here, I turn to the Bill before us, and in particular to the fact that in the transfer of European law into UK law there is no mention of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Government have repeated their claim that all the rights safeguarded by the charter are in fact contained in individual laws and that it is not therefore necessary to include it. However, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has done a detailed clause-by-clause analysis of the issue and shown that this is simply not the case. It points out:
“Firstly, some of the rights will inevitably be lost as they derive from membership of the EU … Secondly, Charter rights which are based wholly or largely on ‘general principles of EU law’ will no longer confer an enforceable right. This means a loss of enforceable rights such as Article 1 (human dignity) … Thirdly, a number of the Charter rights derive from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which are incorporated into domestic law by virtue of the Human Rights Act … Whilst these rights will continue to exist and confer an enforceable right on individuals, the standing is narrower and the remedies are weaker under the HRA compared to the Charter … Fourthly, some of the Charter rights may be reflected in domestic statutes, but may not be as comprehensive as the Charter … for example, the rights to data protection in the Data Protection Bill … Fifthly, some of the Charter rights that are based on EU treaties may be retained by virtue of Clause 4 of the Bill if they are directly effective, but it is not always clear whether these provisions are directly effective. The Government itself appears unsure … Sixthly, some of the Charter rights are based wholly or in part on provisions of the ECHR or other international treaties that have not been incorporated into domestic law, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
Liberty and Amnesty International agree with this analysis. They point out, for example, an issue that is of interest to some of us in your Lordships’ House: that Article 25, on the rights of the elderly and the right of older people to lead a life of dignity and independence and participate in social and cultural life, will be lost. This right is unique and has no equivalent under the ECHR or any justiciable international treaty or convention to which the UK is a party.
I was a Member of your Lordships’ House when the ECHR was incorporated into UK law. I cannot help wondering if the opposition to this that came from some quarters at that time has become refocused to exclude the Charter of Fundamental Rights from this transfer of European Law. I believe that we need it. It acts as a benchmark—an interpretive principle in the light of which human rights as a whole have to be seen and understood. Without it, as the JCR has shown, we are losing rights and remedies that we now enjoy. As the right honourable Kenneth Clarke questioned in the other place, why has the charter been singled out,
“uniquely among all other … law”,
not to be saved in domestic law? He asked,
“what evil it has done, what danger they think we are being protected from by its repeal”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/1/18; col. 759.]
That question has yet to be answered.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble and right reverend Lord with his customary thoughtful speech. I must admit that I agreed with some of it, but not as much as I agreed with the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech.
Some noble Lords have suggested that people voted to leave the EU but did not vote to leave the customs union or the single market. I am sorry but that is nonsense. The government-funded propaganda leaflet, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the whole remain machine and the global elite stressed over and over again that a vote to leave would mean leaving the single market and customs union, with all the dire consequences that would entail. Of course, the Treasury in its May 2016 dodgy dossier also said that there would be an immediate loss of 500,000 jobs and the economy would crash into recession.
As John Longworth, writing in the paper on Monday, said, either the Treasury economic experts got their model hopelessly wrong or they were deliberately lying. I thought at the time that it was just sloppy modelling for them to be so wrong by as much as 400%. Now it seems the Treasury is at it again with the leaked Project Fear forecasts. I admire its astonishing accuracy. It forecasts a 0.3% reduction in growth every year for the next 15 years. That is amazingly accurate considering that over the last 12 months it has been 400% out. Producing that dodgy dossier once may have been a mistake but its latest leaked analysis by the same discredited economists is clearly a deliberate attempt to foist more ludicrous forecasts on the British public. I find it a very sad day when reports by Her Majesty’s Treasury have less credibility than the Zinoviev letter.
We have this Bill before us because the electorate wanted back control of our money, laws and trade policy, and they knew that by voting leave we would leave the single market and the customs union. When the Bill goes into Committee, I understand that there will be amendments seeking to ensure that no British Government can diverge from EU rules and regulations, and that is what I want to concentrate on. I believe that is foolish and it shows little faith in our Parliament, which will once again be free to properly hold the Government to account. The whole point of Brexit is to give the UK Government and Parliament the right to make our own laws and diverge from EU bureaucracy, bad law, Luddite regulations and the concept of a socialist Europe, which is making us more and more uncompetitive in comparison to the Far East and the USA. I do not want us stuck at the bottom of the regulatory scrapheap making analogue laws for a digital world. We are a great country and we need the freedom to make better regulations.
I ask noble Lords to cast their minds back to Monday of this week, when we debated the 25-year environment plan. What an inspiring document that is—inspiring because it shows how much better our land and marine environment will be when we do not have EU law destroying our fishing stocks, damaging our wildlife and ruining our soil. We can get rid of the wicked CAP, which the EU still boasts is a marvellous achievement. We can ban any plastic products we like without having to wait for EU approval. We can restore our fish stocks. We can impose proper biosecurity regimes to stop our plants and trees being decimated by imported diseases we are currently unable to stop because of the free movement of goods. And of prime importance, we can impose our own much higher animal welfare standards to replace the cruelty of live animal exports, which the EU happily endorses.
We will have the freedom to set our own VAT rates on any products we choose. German car companies paid out billions to US consumers within months of the diesel car scandal breaking. Not one single EU consumer has had a penny compensation because of the cosy, corrupt cartel between EU policymakers and German car firms. I would hope that an independent UK could impose our own air quality standards and ban dangerous polluting vehicles.
On financial regulations, there are those who say that we must not do a Singapore and have a race to the bottom. I agree entirely: we must not race to the bottom, but Singapore has a GDP per capita of $53,000 and ours is $40,000. The cost of living in Singapore is 14% cheaper than London. It is the third in the world for life expectancy and we are the 20th. If that is the bottom, I want to race to it as soon as possible. Singapore has risen to be one of the most successful economies in the world, with an exceptionally high quality of life, because its people embrace free trade and cutting regulation.
When we read yesterday about the head of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, who is a remain supporter, complaining about onerous EU red tape and looking for opportunities outside Europe, we got a snapshot in that tiny area of the dead hand of EU regulation holding back not just our productive industries but our creative ones also.
I have just rushed through a few examples, but in every sector of our economic and public life we are being constrained by poor, bad EU regulation. As the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Oareford, said yesterday, we will need the freedom to move very quickly to regulate for technological change, which the Luddite EU cannot do. We will need the freedom to regulate quickly on artificial intelligence, genetic modification, innovative medicines and treatments to name but three. We need better regulation. We need British regulation. We need this withdrawal Bill, with some technical amendments, passed as soon as possible.
My Lords, that was quite a contribution from the noble Lord. I must say, when I hear Singapore promoted as the vision that we should aim for, I think it gives the lie to where we are going if this Government continue: a country where deregulation abounds and protections are limited. That is where some noble Lords in your Lordships’ Chamber wish to take us.
I will make three points but, first, I must comment on the remarkable speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. He challenged us to show good ways of disagreeing well. I think, on the whole, we have met that challenge.
My first point concerns the appropriateness of this House’s making changes to the Bill before us. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House described it as a technical measure, but, of course, it is much more than that. Why else would she implicitly warn the House not to thwart the will of the people expressed through the referendum? Why else would the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, suggest we are on the brink of disaster, repeating the error made by your Lordships’ House more than 100 years ago in rejecting Lloyd George’s budget? Even the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, felt the need to warn us off using our extensive powers.
I am mindful of convention. I know of no threat to the progress of this Bill. Of course it will pass but, equally, we have every right to make substantive changes to the Bill and to send it back to the Commons to allow them to think again. I hope we do. I hope we will ensure a meaningful role for Parliament at the end of the negotiations; that we will make sure that delegated powers cannot weaken environmental, consumer, health and work protections; that the devolution settlement will be respected and the charter of fundamental human rights retained as part of UK law; and that membership of the single market and customs union will continue.
I come now to the negotiations, because we cannot look at the Bill without looking at the negotiations. The Minister ducked this at Oral Questions today. He has another chance. Whatever else he does in responding to this debate, I hope he will spell out what the Government are seeking in negotiations with the EU. What a sorry state those negotiations are in. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, put his finger on it yesterday: how can you possibly negotiate effectively with the EU when you will not declare what you want? The noble Lord, Lord Baker, valiantly defended the Prime Minister this evening, but it was she who laid down the red lines right at the beginning that have so constrained the negotiation. Subsequently she has given us no vision and made no attempt to reach out to the 48% who did not vote to leave. Not one effort has she made to speak to the nation as a whole; she has given us no strategy and precious little hope. Whatever her virtues, she is simply not leading at a time when the country is crying out for leadership and to be brought together.
As the chairman of the Commons Brexit Select Committee put it this week, after 19 months no one is any the wiser as to what the Government want from the Brexit negotiations. The Cabinet has not reviewed, evaluated or decided on the desired outcome. The gap between Mr Hammond’s aim of a modest change in the UK’s relationship with the EU and Mr Rees-Mogg’s assertion that close association with the EU is unacceptable is utterly unbridgeable.
That of course brings me to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Adonis. I know some noble Lords feel it is premature. My noble friend Lady Smith, the Leader of the Opposition, was clear on that point, and we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, about some practical issues concerned with the second referendum. If, however, the terms of the deal in the end are seen by many as unacceptable, surely we should not close the prospect of the public’s having a final say.
If the rush to trade agreements with third countries is detrimental to our environmental health and food protection, if we cannot achieve a frictionless border for Northern Ireland satisfactorily outside the customs union or the single market, if the economy looks very risky in terms of our trade with the EU in the future, or the dawning reality finally breaks that there is no middle way—or, as the noble Lord, Lord Hill, said yesterday, that you cannot have your cake and eat it—it seems to me, though I am no expert, that it is becoming clearer and clearer that there we face only two options. One is a hard Brexit, on WTO rules, with high tariffs, huge economic risks and a desperate attempt to agree free trade agreements with the US and other powerful countries, where, as a middle-ranking economic power, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, we will be subject to their extraterritorial reach. Alternatively, we could have some kind of close alignment with the EU, but on EU terms and rules, with little or no influence on those rules, which may well change over time to the UK’s detriment. Neither of those options appears very palatable to me. I certainly say to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra: none of that was available at the time of the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said that the referendum was full of half-truths, or at least, as he might have said, the protagonists were economical with the truth. But at some point, the consequences will become very clear. Surely we as a country deserve some say in the outcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Hague, attempted to frighten us this afternoon with the nightmare of a referendum merry-go-round. But what if the voting had gone the other way in the referendum? Does anyone think that passionate Brexiteers would have shut up shop and walked away quietly into the night? As Vernon Bogdanor argued this week:
“If the country is willing to pay the price, a referendum would legitimise Brexit in the only way possible. If it is not, the people have a perfect right to change their mind”.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—I will finish here—said that the Lords is at its best when opposing the Government but on the side of the people. I thought we were doing that when we challenged Mr Osborne’s working family tax credit cuts, but the noble Lord did not quite take that view then. In the end, surely we have to do what is right. To give the public a chance to decide on the terms of the deal is not anti-democratic. They should be given that right.
My Lords, we are coming towards the end of a passionate two days of debate, during which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, suggested that Clause 1 struck a dagger to his soul. I have always thought that the soul is a little more intangible, so a dagger to my heart would be somewhere closer to what I feel—and where the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, started off this morning.
We have heard some hyperbole and passion on both sides of the Chamber. We heard the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and the noble Lords, Lord Dobbs and Lord Cavendish of Furness, suggest that somehow there may be Members of your Lordships’ House who are seeking to wreck the Bill or derail it, and who will cause untold damage to your Lordships’ House because we are not taking the 2016 vote or the elected Chamber seriously. With the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who has obviously spoken for himself, I do not believe that anyone in your Lordships’ House is seeking to wreck this piece of legislation.
My noble friend Lord Newby in his opening speech yesterday pointed out that,
“we on these Benches have no intention of derailing it or unnecessarily spinning out debate”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1382.]
The vote in 2016 was to leave the European Union. The EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Act triggered the legislation necessary for that. This piece of legislation is obviously required to ensure that on the day the United Kingdom leaves the European Union there is a full statute book in place. So far, so good, so necessary. But it is not necessarily a good piece of legislation, and we have heard from right across your Lordships’ House that perhaps amendment is necessary.
We also heard Members of your Lordships’ House talking about 1972 and voting passionately to join the Common Market. We heard one Member say that they were not quite old enough to vote in the 1975 referendum. I do not remember life before we joined the Common Market. Therefore I will look back not to 1972 or 1975 but just five short years—or at least I would have said they were short years, but the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley, pointed out that Brexit years appear to be rather like dog years. In January 2013, the then Prime Minister gave his Bloomberg speech in which he promised reform, renegotiation and a referendum. Why? Was the country divided over Europe? Were people clamouring for a referendum? No. Most ordinary citizens were not saying that the European Union and membership of it were at the top of their list—but the Back-Bench Conservative MPs were. The Prime Minister was throwing a bone to his Back-Benchers; he played a gamble and he lost it. He offered a referendum and said that he would campaign heart and soul to remain—the soul comes in again—and, obviously, he lost that gamble.
After the Conservative Party won the election of 2015, perhaps unexpectedly, we ended up with a piece of legislation that allowed the referendum. Some Members of your Lordships’ House spent day after day, hour after hour debating the EU Referendum Bill—rather fewer than are here talking about the legislation that will ensure we have a full statute book on the day we leave the EU.
One of the things that those of us who were debating the EU Referendum Bill did was listen to the other side. Some of us spent so long listening to the leave side that we could have stood in for them in a debate and been able to rehearse all their arguments for them. Indeed, if the Prime Minister had listened to the leavers, he would have understood that a piece of propaganda—as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, called it—would have gone down extremely badly with the leave campaign and that an intervention from a foreign leader would have gone down really badly. But the former Prime Minister did not listen, and the cost of that was a failed referendum and the decision to leave the European Union.
So this piece of legislation is necessary, and no one is going to seek to avoid the legislation entirely—even if many of us hope that the will of the people could lead to an uprising to say, “Give us another referendum, let us free ourselves from Brexit”. In the absence of that, we need this piece of legislation—but it needs amending. It needs amending in terms of the powers of the devolved Administrations—the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said yesterday that power would be returned to London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast—but this piece of legislation does not do that.
If noble Lords think that this is merely a Liberal Democrat saying that, I suggest that they look at Hansard from last week’s debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, about the role of devolved Administrations, in which the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, said that the legislation for Clause 11 needed amendment. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government will bring forward amendments in that area? If not, he can certainly expect several amendments to be brought forward—and the same is true of many aspects of the legislation.
In opening the debate a mere 36 hours ago, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House suggested that the Government were going to be in “listening mode”. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, suggested earlier that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, had been one of the few Conservative Ministers who was popular. Could I suggest to the Minister that he and the Government Front Bench might court some popularity if they do as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House suggested and listen to members of your Lordships’ House, and to amendments brought forward in good faith, to ensure that the legislation is better and returns power to this sovereign Parliament instead of being an executive power grab. There is an opportunity for us to make this legislation much better, and I hope that the Government will listen.
My Lords, when I asked the Government Whips’ Office if I could speak late today, it never crossed my mind that I would be followed by four such very distinguished speakers, who have now filled the Chamber with those waiting to hear their pearls of wisdom—therefore my plan has totally backfired. When I saw such a long and distinguished list of speakers, I hesitated to put my name down, but since then the list has trebled.
I am speaking today because I lived and worked in Brussels for a year, and also in Wallonia for three years. On my return to Scotland, I was appointed the Scottish representative of the European Landowners’ Organisation, and had the occasion to address the European Parliament in Strasbourg. There I first met my childhood hero, Lord Plumb, when he was president of the European Parliament. It is particularly sad that he is now retired from the House, as he would have made so many useful contributions as we face this long and complicated Bill. As other noble Lords have said, this is probably the most important legislation that any of us have had to debate in our lifetime, let alone our children’s, or indeed, in my case, my grandchildren’s lifetimes.
The fact that Brussels decamps once a month and goes to Strasbourg is a complete scandal. That decamp costs a mere €114 million. Nor must it be forgotten how much time it takes to close it down one operation and restart the whole thing, particularly from the staffing aspect and their downtime. I have also done several stints on what was then European Union Sub-Committee D, which in those days covered agriculture and the environment, and I served under three distinguished chairmen. We made several trips to Brussels —although to not much avail, if I am completely honest.
We really are in the most terrible muddle and mess. Every day a different worm pops out of the can and only goes to emphasise the hiatus that the United Kingdom is in. The mind really does boggle as to how things will eventually turn out—and indeed, more frighteningly, when. It is the dreadful uncertainty that is terribly worrying to businesses and institutions across the board, as my noble kinsman Lord Hunt of Chesterton mentioned in his strong contribution earlier today.
Having been involved in the food business all my walking life, I know that food today is incredibly cheap. Forty years ago, 47% of the weekly wage went on food, but today it is in single figures. I remember that 25 years ago during harvest the telephone rang non-stop at lunchtime, with merchants offering me £165 a tonne for good-quality, low-nitrogen malting barley. Oh to be offered that today, especially when one realises what a huge increase in wages and all other farm inputs there has been in those 25 years. If European Commissioners, officials and staff earned the same today as they did 25 years ago, I am not altogether sure that we would have a European Union at all. I declare an interest as I receive a single farm payment, which keeps me roughly sane and solvent.
During my time in Belgium I saw at first hand the gravy train that pulls along the Commissioners, who are unelected and unaccountable to anyone or anything. If they are British, they retire on a nearly six-figure pension and a seat in your Lordships’ House. Currently we have seven ex-Commissioners. In no way do I blame them, but the system really is crazy.
If two countries within the United Kingdom cannot agree on a policy, how on earth can 27 countries do so? And how can you make laws that affect the Greek islands and the Outer Hebrides? Surely it is nothing short of farcical. I believe strongly that the United Kingdom ought to have remained within the European Union and fought long and hard to disband this corrupt and expensive organisation altogether.
My Lords, that is rather like suggesting that one ought to remain inside a burning house in the hope of putting out the fire. I am not sure that I follow the logic of the noble Lord’s argument.
I am in a minority in this House with my views on Brexit—I have noticed that. I am very proud of the way that we in the House of Lords have conducted ourselves over the last 36 hours. I read in the newspapers that we were going to reverse the decisions of the House of Commons and wreck the Bill but, instead, we have had a typically incisive debate. We should be particularly proud of the report produced by the Constitution Committee.
I do not know where I come in the speakers list— 194th or something like that—but I thought that I needed to find something new to say, so I would like to tell the House that there is a blue moon tonight. For those who do not know what a blue moon is, it is not a reference to the Tory party; it is a reference to the fact that there has been a full moon twice in the same calendar month—a very rare thing.
When I got an email from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—who I hold in very high regard—asking me to support an amendment that we should spend four days on Second Reading, which would mean that we would now be only halfway through, I thought that perhaps the lunar effect was having an effect upon him. Then, when I read that he wanted to suggest that we have a second referendum, I just reflected that we voted on this last year in this House and voted with a majority of more than 200 against that, so I admire his courage and his consistency.
The best speech of many speeches, I think by far, was the one given from the Cross Benches by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. He set it out absolutely clearly, and I feel guilty that I took the advice from the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House and went through the Lobby the other evening, adding to the burden of these Henry VIII clauses. I am impressed that perhaps this is an opportunity for us to take a stand while looking at this Bill. But I have to say that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, disappointed me. He actually compared this Bill to Cromwell. He suggested that it was Cromwellian that we were taking powers away from Parliament in the way that Cromwell had done.
Ah, Thomas Cromwell.
In which case I withdraw entirely my criticism. But some people drew the parallel between taking powers away from Parliament and this Bill, whereas actually, if there is a historical parallel, it is the Restoration, because it is returning powers that were given away in the 1972 Act, which this Bill will repeal. Some 20,000 EU laws were brought into British law over which Parliament had no say whatever. So I take with a pinch of salt those who suggest that this is a terrible Bill because it is denying Parliament the ability to decide matters. It is returning to Parliament the ability, once this Bill is passed and we are out of the European Union, to alter the Bills as we see fit.
I voted to join the European Community, and in my youth—I have to confess—I was once a member of the Young European Federalists—
But I grew out of it.
We are keen on Edmund Burke quotes. The one I would suggest the House might look at is this one:
“The people never gave up their liberties but under some delusion”.
I was under a delusion that the Common Market would be a free trade area. Instead, it has turned into a European Union which has been a tyranny for many of the countries of Europe. The noble Lord looks quizzical. Go to Greece and see what the European Union has done to the people in Greece.
Could the noble Lord inform the House what proportion of the Greek population wishes to remain in the European Union?
I have no idea what the proportion is, but if the noble Lord is suggesting that they have a referendum then I think he has enough on his plate with trying to persuade the British people that they should have another referendum. This Bill is a major first start in a process which is about taking back control, making our own laws, and being able to police our own borders and spend our own money.
On the devolution issue, as far as Scotland is concerned, because I have nothing to say about Wales, I have to say that it is absolutely hilarious to watch members of the SNP say that there is a major constitutional crisis because they might not have the powers over agriculture, fisheries and other matters which are exercised in Brussels while at the same time arguing vehemently that Brussels should continue to exercise those powers. It is this Government who are going to create the opportunity for those powers to be exercised in the Scottish Parliament. Many noble Lords have made speeches saying that the Bill is defective because there is no amendment to achieve that purpose. It does not require an amendment; it requires people to sit down in a constructive manner to talk about the arrangements that need to be in place in order to ensure that the various nations of the United Kingdom work together. What the SNP is doing is once again turning everything into a constitutional crisis in its efforts to break up the United Kingdom. We should not give it any quarter on that matter, a point which was made very effectively by my noble friend Lord Dunlop.
This Bill is not a vote to leave or remain, it is not a vote on future policy, it is not a vote on whether we have a free trade agreement and it is not a vote on the devolution of EU policy. Let us just think of the volume of legislation that would be required if we did not have some Henry VIII clauses. I looked at the Open Europe 2005 estimate of EU law passed since 1957 and it amounted to 666,879 pages. I have worked out that if Parliament sat for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we did that for a year, we would be able to look at each page for 47 seconds. The practical reality is that we need a Bill of this kind to deliver what the people voted for in the referendum. There are people in the Scottish Parliament who say that they will refuse legislative consent. I wish them well if they are going to try to go through all that legislation and legislate for themselves.
I appreciate that I am running out of time, but leaving aside Thomas Cromwell, perhaps I may give a quote from Oliver Cromwell to those in the House who are so firm in their opposition to responding to what the people voted for:
“I beseech you … Think it possible you may be mistaken”.
My Lords, I have never heard the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, quote someone as left as Cromwell before. In my darkest moments during the referendum I would try to persuade myself that at least one of the benefits was the increasing awareness, familiarity with and affection for their European colleagues that would be engendered in the British people through the discussion. I was prompted in that by an incident that took place 25 years earlier during the 1992 general election, in which I was a candidate. A week before the election it looked as though Labour was going to storm to victory, but in the days leading up to election day our votes, according to the opinion polls, decreased. I was walking through Bellshill in my constituency when a chap came up and said to me, “John, how do you think it’s going?” I replied, “Well, to be truthful, I’m a bit worried about the polls”, at which he said, “Don’t worry about the Poles. Some of us have lived here all our lives and we’ll be voting for you”.
I am not sure that the referendum debate had the desired effect, but in the midst of it, because of the commonplace now of declaring our positions, I have to say that I was anguished at times. I was not decisive on one side or the other. I did not gravitate towards Europhiles or Europhobes. I was what was called a reluctant remainer. I can tell the House that, having watched the course of the negotiations, I have changed my opinion. I am no longer reluctant; I am now a very strong remainer. That is because I believe that we are heading towards a disaster—a halfway house. I think it was my noble friend Lord Hunt who asked earlier why the Government do not outline their objectives. I will tell you why. It is partly because it is a bad negotiating ploy and partly because it would split the governing party. By renaming some of the objectives they are hoping—I believe, and we will see it in a year or two—to get to a position where in all but name we remain in the customs union and the single market.
I say in all fraternity to my colleagues on the Government Benches: all they have to do is look at the Irish border question. It has been mentioned several times, for very good reasons and very emotionally. I, too, feel a degree of emotion but I want to look at it very simply. We all know about the border: 300 miles, more than 200 crossings, 30,000 people a day crossing for work alone and 400,000 commercial vehicles a month. The Government have said, “We pledge to plug that gap, but there will be no hard border”. So they contrive to do it by two promises. It is the implication of putting them together that the Government Benches should examine closely every day.
First, they promised in the framework agreement that there would be “complete regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Secondly, they publicly responded to the DUP—whom I do not blame—that there would be complete regulatory alignment between the British mainland and Northern Ireland. Let us follow the daisy chain of logic in this. It does not take a genius: my heavens, Jacob Rees-Mogg worked it out. If the British mainland is aligned with regulations in Northern Ireland, which is aligned with regulations in the Republic of Ireland, which is aligned with the rest of Europe—Ireland remains an EU member, noble Lords may remember—then Britain must be aligned with the rest of Europe. The only way to do that is by remaining in the customs union or in the single market. You cannot square the circle in any other way. That is why, within 24 hours of making the declaration, David Davis went on television to row back, saying “We didn’t really mean it”. By the way, David Davis does not think that anyone in Europe watches British television. He guaranteed that it would be written in blood legally when we get to that discussion.
I mention that because it is symptomatic of all the other discussions that are going on. We will end up in the worst of all worlds, because there is a difference between Ireland and Britain in that scenario: Ireland and Europe are making the decisions on the regulations, while Northern Ireland and Britain will be taking them. It is a classic example of the change in our status: everywhere we are free and yet in shackles. We will be shackled by regulations that we have no power to manufacture in the first place.
We all know the phrase, “power without responsibility”. This Government are contriving to give the United Kingdom responsibility without power. We will be, as near as you can get in the trade arena, a vassal state. This Bill can do nothing about that. But there are three things that we can do in the Bill that can shape the ability of the House of Commons to do it. The first is to make absolutely sure that the House of Commons has the ability not just to reject or accept but to shape, compromise, amend and exert the very sovereignty which, it is claimed, we are withdrawing from Europe to accomplish.
Secondly, we must involve the devolved Governments of the United Kingdom in that decision. Thirdly, we must not preclude the chance of going back to the people. I am not asking for a vote. I am not saying that that will be necessary. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, who said last night that we have got into this mess via a referendum. I do not believe that we can get out of it by precluding the legitimacy of another referendum. There is no constitutional reason why we should not do it. Those three elements will greatly assist the elected Chamber in this Parliament to accomplish what is necessary.
Those elements, I remind the House, do not undermine our parliamentary sovereignty. The first represents the exercise of parliamentary sovereignty by enabling the Commons; the second will involve all the democratically elected organisations and institutions in this country; and the third, in the last instance, will give the people of this country the chance when there are new facts and information—new attitudes and explanations—to exercise their ultimate sovereignty. That is what this House can do, and if it does it, it will do a service to the country.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow two noble Lords from Scotland—the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Reid. I warm more to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Reid, at the end of his speech, which point a way forward. We have also heard a number of valuable contributions from Wales in the debate. In this long debate the most poignant moment for me, as for the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. He said:
“Clause 1 of the Bill … strikes a dagger to my soul”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1411.]
That touched a nerve for many of us and I often wonder, as did the noble Lord, Lord McNally, how I should look into the eyes of my grandchildren when they ask, “How could we have allowed the tragedy of Brexit to occur?”.
There is some merit in coming 186th on the list if one is a Plaid Cymru Peer. There is just the possibility of a few things not having been said, so perhaps I may put forward Plaid’s viewpoint on some of these matters. We regard Brexit as a political disaster for both Wales and the United Kingdom but as democrats we accept that the voters of Wales, for diverse reasons, chose to leave the EU. While there may be a mandate to leave the EU, there is no mandate whatever for any specific new relationship with Europe or the world. So while I accept that the Bill should have a Second Reading I reserve judgment on its Third Reading, depending on how it is amended between now and then.
I accept the need for continuity legislation to avoid uncertainty about the fundamental rights of citizens, employees and consumers; and what trade rules apply when Britain leaves the EU. As all existing EU regulations will automatically carry over on 30 March next year, the Bill in fact accommodates an ongoing relationship with the customs union as a possibility. The Prime Minister, in her Lancaster House and Florence speeches, spelled out four considerations to which several noble Lords have drawn attention. What was spelled out is, first, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed; secondly, that the Government are hell-bent on quitting the EU on 29 March next year, deal or no deal; thirdly, that no deal is better than a bad deal, however defined; and the fourth consideration is the irrevocability of Article 50 and a precise exit time, regardless of negotiations and whether Parliament has had time to approve any last-minute deal. If there is no deal because of last- minute complications, chaos would reign. We must consider the Bill’s robustness for such circumstances.
Other legislation may deal with the transition period or what practical difficulties might arise, although there are also implications for this Bill. The real dangers arise from giving Ministers Henry VIII-type powers. If the Bill goes through in its present form, can we adjust our order-making procedures to allow both Chambers to amend statutory instruments, and have the devolved Administrations agreed how they would handle these matters?
In that context, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, observed, Clause 11 is wholly unsatisfactory. Political parties in all three devolved territories have stated that it is not acceptable. The Government recognised this during Commons debates but failed to bring forward amendments on Report. Why was there the delay? Clearly, there must be mechanisms to avoid market distortion within the UK unitary market. Some have proposed a statutory UK council of Ministers. If that were to transpire it must be a council of equals, not a consultative fig-leaf. The lack of progress on this matter is causing immense frustration in Cardiff, as in Edinburgh. It is feared there that the UK Government are using Brexit to roll back areas of devolved responsibility. Two weeks ago, the National Assembly in Cardiff voted unanimously for Wales to have its own continuity Bill, so that all powers returning from Brussels which relate to devolved matters will automatically transfer to devolved competence. Every party, including the Conservatives and even UKIP, supported that resolution.
Another question is how the final deal will be ratified. Both Houses of Parliament and the devolved Assemblies should be required to ratify it. It is essential that the deal includes some new type of relationship that allows ongoing trade between the UK and the European mainland, particularly for manufacturers and agricultural products.
An EEA-type customs union relationship might be an acceptable compromise. It would probably resolve the difficulties in respect of Gibraltar as well as Ireland, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, spoke so forcefully yesterday. If, however, by the Government’s self-imposed deadline, negotiations fail to reach a deal and we look over that horrible cliff edge, the consequences will be devastating. In those circumstances, the people must surely be asked if that is really what they voted for in June 2016. The people have the right to change their mind. They should have the final word on any hard Brexit, by way of a confirmatory referendum. If the voters then rush over that cliff edge, so be it; but if, in that new dawn of stark reality,