Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 12th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 9th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 6: Interpretation of retained EU law
49: Clause 6, page 3, line 33, after “cannot” insert “, subject to paragraph (c),”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 49 I shall speak also to Amendment 52. I read the other day that the two most disbelieved statements are, “The cheque is in the post” and, “I am from the Government and I am here to help you”. Here is another one: this amendment is designed to be helpful to the Government, and I hope they will genuinely believe that. It seeks to formalise the agreement reached in December 2017 in the UK/EU joint report in relation to EU citizens and their ability to refer cases to the CJEU.
Clause 6(1)(b) states that, “A court or tribunal”,
“cannot refer any matter to the European Court on or after exit day”.
However, paragraph 38 of the joint report agreed by the UK Government last December states:
“This Part of the Agreement establishes rights for citizens following on from those established in Union law during the UK’s membership of the European Union; the CJEU is the ultimate arbiter of the interpretation of Union law. In the context of the application or interpretation of those rights, UK courts shall therefore have due regard to relevant decisions of the CJEU after the specified date. The Agreement should also establish a mechanism enabling UK courts or tribunals to decide, having had due regard to whether relevant case-law exists, to ask the CJEU questions of interpretation of those rights where they consider that a CJEU ruling on the question is necessary for the UK court or tribunal to be able to give judgment in a case before it. This mechanism should be available for UK courts or tribunals for litigation brought within 8 years from the date of application of the citizens’ rights Part”.
We are not taking away any powers from the courts or tribunals. They decide whether to seek advice, and when they get it they then decide whether to take account of it. It does not in any way undermine the principles the Government have adduced for withdrawal. I hope, therefore, that this is helpful. All I am suggesting is that the joint agreement the UK Government have put their name to should be incorporated into the Bill, and I have helpfully provided an amendment to enable them to do that.
I also draw the Minister’s attention to the draft withdrawal agreement presented on 28 February by Michel Barnier to the Brexit Steering Group. I refer specifically to Article 83, which states:
“Where in a case before a court or tribunal in the United Kingdom a question is raised concerning the interpretation of the Treaties or the validity or interpretation of acts of the institutions, bodies, offices or agencies of the Union relating to facts that occurred before the end of the transition period and where that court or tribunal considers that a decision on that question is necessary to enable it to give judgment in that case, it may request the Court of Justice of the European Union to give a preliminary ruling on that question in accordance with the procedural requirements laid down in Article 267 TFEU. The Court of Justice of the European Union shall have jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings on such requests”.
Do Her Majesty’s Government agree to that proposal by Monsieur Barnier in the draft withdrawal agreement and do they plan to amend the Bill accordingly?
My Lords, I fully support my noble friend’s decision to raise these questions, which are very important. I suspect the Minister will say that the Government have given a commitment that, when the withdrawal agreement is concluded, it will become before this House an Act of Parliament and we will therefore have the opportunity to debate it then. However, there are two powerful reasons why citizens’ rights should be incorporated in this Bill now.
The first is the high level of anxiety that EU citizens have about their position. I am sure there is relief that, in principle, an agreement was reached in December, but there could still be many a slip between cup and lip in its ratification. Those citizens’ rights should be guaranteed now to provide reassurance.
Secondly, I listened hard to an earlier contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, in which he said that the main utility of this Bill is to make sure there is legal certainty if we crash out of the EU—because, assuming that negotiations work, there will be a transition period during which EU citizens’ rights will not be affected. The problem we are dealing with particularly in this Bill is the risk of a crash-out. Of course, the Government will say to us, “Well, we’re very determined there won’t be a crash-out”, but they will not exclude that possibility. It was clear from the intervention at the end of my noble friend Lord Foulkes’ speech that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, actually relishes the possibility of a crash-out because he thinks, wrongly, that this is some bargaining leverage we have over the EU.
I will give way in a moment.
The question is whether we want the rights of EU citizens to be used by the likes of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, as a bargaining chip in these negotiations. If we do not, then we should support amendments along the lines of that in the name of my noble friends Lord Foulkes and Lord Adonis, to give people the security to which they are entitled.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, but he must not put words into my mouth. I simply asked a straightforward question as to what the position would be if this amendment were carried in the event of no deal. Clearly, it would create enormous confusion. There is the separate issue of why we should allow extraterritorial jurisdiction on the part of a foreign court, but I was not embarking on that particular argument. If this is the best the noble Lord can do to support the amendment, I am sure he will support the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in withdrawing it in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is clearly saying that he thinks there is a real possibility we are going to crash out of the EU. We have heard that from him on other occasions and from people who agree with him. David Davis wrote to Conservative MPs to say that it was a possibility that we would not pay up the money unless we got a good free trade agreement. The fact is that any deal is better than no deal: no deal would be an absolute disaster for this country. But if there is a serious risk of no deal from Members of the governing party—I am sure the Government do not want that but there is pressure in that quarter—I believe we would be right in this Bill to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in this country.
My Lords, I deeply regret and resent the fact that we are having to discuss this and waste the House’s time. We had an opportunity at the beginning of the day to make an unequivocal declaration that we would grant these rights to EU citizens. We voted in that sense, a number of us spoke in that sense and we had a large majority in that sense. Yet here we are, arguing. Frankly, I agree that the amendment is necessary, but we are now arguing unnecessarily about something we could have taken the moral high ground over and dealt with immediately after we had activated Article 50. It is indicative of the mess into which we have got ourselves, and we are taking up so much parliamentary time that should be devoted to other things. I bitterly resent it and wanted to get that on the record.
My Lords, as someone who is a co-signatory of the amendment that was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, I support what he said and also endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said. This should be a no-brainer.
The United Kingdom Government have agreed with the European Union; the terms of that agreement were set out in paragraph 38 of the document of 8 December 2017, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has spoken them into the record. If one goes back to paragraph 33 of the same document, it is interesting to read that:
“It is of paramount importance to both Parties to give as much certainty as possible to UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK about their future rights. The Parties have therefore reached agreement on the following specific set of arrangements to implement and enforce the citizens’ rights Part of the agreement”.
Admittedly, a later paragraph suggests that the bestowing of or guarantee of rights will come in the withdrawal agreement implementation Bill, but if one reads the paragraph on the consistent interpretation of citizens’ rights, one will see that there is no such commitment there with regard to a future Bill. It would not be right for this Parliament to pass a Bill which cuts off recourse to the Court of Justice of the European Union when we have already agreed that that avenue should be open in this specific case of ensuring consistency in determining the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom and UK citizens living in the European Union.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that if at the end of the day there is no agreement and we go crashing out, surely he is not suggesting that we would not honour our commitment. We have made that commitment to European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom and United Kingdom citizens living in the European Union. It must send some very alarming signs to UK citizens living abroad if it is suggested that, should we go crashing out, nothing will be done to establish or secure the rights of those citizens—
Did the noble and learned Lord notice that in the Prime Minister’s Statement on Monday, she specifically mentioned that the United Kingdom might seek to achieve associate membership of certain European agencies? She said that,
“the UK would also have to respect the remit of the ECJ in that regard”.—[Official Report, Commons, 05/3/18; col. 26.]
Now that the Government themselves have recognised that there will be a continuing role for the European Court of Justice, is this not an absolutely appropriate further role that it should play?
It is not only appropriate as a further role but one we have already agreed to. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, on many occasions noble Lords from all sides of the House have spoken about securing the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and UK citizens in the European Union. This amendment fleshes that out and it would be wrong to pass a Bill which denied something we have already agreed.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Foulkes and I will speak to Amendment 54, which stands in my name. I will not detain noble Lords for long because much of what I intended to say has already been said and covered. Agreement on the wording of this amendment has been expressed by various Benches in this House, so this is not simply a one-sided argument. It seems to me that this country’s reputation globally will simply go down the Suwannee if we are prepared, at one moment, to say that we agree to certain protections for people who have become embroiled in this dreadful situation in which we find ourselves and then, a moment later, decide that, no, we do not agree with that and will not give those protections. What will people think of us as a nation if that is how the leadership of this country behaves?
My amendment would extend the requirement for certain persons to be able to refer their legal matters back to the European Court of Justice to a period of eight years. I trust that noble Lords will understand the need for such an extension. There is a statute of limitations existing for six years; if we do not include a period of coverage, people whose claims may well start quite late after the leaving date may well find themselves without that coverage, which I hope will be agreed.
My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 52, which was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and I support his comments and those made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a moment ago. I wish to place the amendment within its context, which is EU citizenship—the citizenship of people resident in the United Kingdom, and on the European mainland. These comments are particularly relevant in the context of the interventions of the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Liddle, a moment ago.
I am a European; that is my identity. I am Welsh; that is my nationality and, as noted on my European passport, I am a citizen of the United Kingdom. I have rights and obligations under each of these three headings. Some of those rights are protected by international law, some by European law, some by UK law and some by Welsh law. Taking established rights away from a citizen is a very serious matter. Citizens are protected in generality against any negative impact upon them that may arise from taking some of these rights away from them.
There is clearly a wide range of such rights but I shall refer to only one. Page 32 of my passport states that if you need consular assistance when you are outside the EU in a country where there is no British embassy or consulate, you can get help from the embassy or consulate of another member state of the EU. That is a right that I have today but which I may lose as a result of the UK leaving the EU. In other words, Brexit may be taking away from me a right that I currently have by virtue of being a European citizen. This is one of many rights that we have as citizens living within the EU. For those rights to be meaningful, there clearly has to be a process of redress whereby a citizen can seek to protect his or her rights through the courts, and in this context Amendment 52 is highly relevant as it would allow citizens to pursue their rights in the European courts after exit day, where that is relevant.
The noble Lord is making an extremely good speech with which I agree, so I am sorry to break in. He referred to being a citizen of the UK. Under Maastricht, he is also a citizen of the EU. Is he aware that the ECJ is beginning to receive many messages from British citizens, both here and living in other EU countries, asking for the ECJ to consider giving protection to them even post-Brexit if necessary?
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for his helpful intervention. We are all European citizens; it is a European passport that we carry at the moment. Some of our rights are enshrined in the context of Europe, some in the context of the UK and some—in my case, as I mentioned a moment ago—in the context of Wales.
I am not going to speak at length to this amendment because there are several noble Lords who will speak with greater authority on the legal positions involved. However, I want to use the principles underpinning the rights of citizens in the EU to say a brief word about EU citizenship in a broader context: the rights afforded to us at present as citizens of the EU and the status of those rights once we leave. These matters are highly germane to the amendments before us—and they will not go away.
I want to present to the Committee an observation: according to the December agreement reached by the Prime Minister, citizens of Northern Ireland will still be EU citizens after we leave. I am not sure where that leaves the rights of everyone else in the UK.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing that point; I was going to move on to it a little later but I shall do so now. Northern Ireland creates a precedent, if the undertakings that have been reported are indeed carried out. It is a part of a union of countries that may be retaining its rights after the other parts of the UK may lose theirs. Of course, there is a precedent in the context of Ireland: people in the Irish Republic maintained many of the rights relating to the UK that they previously enjoyed after the Republic was formed, and for many people those rights continue up to today. As the noble Baroness has said, many of the rights relating to the EU of citizens of Northern Ireland may well continue after Brexit. If it is possible to negotiate such rights for some of the citizens of the UK, why cannot such rights be ongoing for all its citizens?
I am sure we shall come on to the position of Gibraltar in greater detail at another time. In many ways this parallels the issues that arise in the context of Northern Ireland. If a solution to Northern Ireland were enshrined which allowed the free movement of people and goods across the border, that might well solve the problem of Gibraltar as well. We need to bear in mind our responsibilities to Gibraltar and to get an amicable settlement which would be acceptable in the European context, and therefore acceptable to Spain as well as to the people of Gibraltar. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for raising this.
I want to use the principles underpinning the rights of citizens in the UK to say a brief word about citizenship in the broader context and about the rights afforded to us at present as citizens of the EU, as well as the status of these rights once we leave. These matters are highly germane to the amendments before us. Incidentally, there is an Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons this afternoon, initiated by my Plaid Cymru colleagues, on this precise topic.
By pursuing what may become a no-deal Brexit, the UK Government would, in effect, strip—at least potentially—our citizens of some of their rights. Our rights to travel, live and work across Europe will be curtailed. Our children’s rights—
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Currently, a British lawyer, dentist or doctor can practise in any other European country. There is a reciprocal right for nationals of other EU countries to practise here. We are losing dentists and doctors because of the certification process which will be subject to negotiation on the basis of mutual recognition. Is this right, which could be curtailed, justiciable under his amendment?
Of course, this amendment provides a mechanism to create a redress for people who feel that they are losing these rights. It may not be the only mechanism available. There may be provisions under international law, which I shall mention before I close. It is not only our rights that are being curtailed but the rights of our children—the right to study in any of the other 27 countries across the EU may well be lost. It is questionable whether, in the context of these rights, we shall thereafter be able to call ourselves European in the full meaning of the word. I am a European. I am a Welsh European and no Government should be able to take away from me or from any citizen of these islands their right to their European identity, nor any of the practical rights they currently hold by virtue of that identity.
It is by virtue of their de facto European citizenship that the citizens of these islands currently have recourse to the European court. Stripping people of their citizenship against their will is illegal under international law. I have tabled another amendment which explores the retention of EU citizenship. I hope this will be debated at a later stage. Suffice it to say, at this stage we need these amendments to safeguard the position of people facing such a serious threat after Brexit. I am delighted to support the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.
My Lords, of particular interest to me in this Bill is the way in which ordinary people would be most directly affected by leaving the EU. I have tabled Amendment 210, which asks the Government to support retention of European citizenship where the individual British citizen wishes to do so. Although not explicitly stated in the amendment, it would also cover those who had not yet acquired European citizenship at the time of Brexit. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Davies of Stamford.
The importance of European citizenship and the effect of its loss at the individual level has not been sufficiently considered or explored, either before or in the 20 months since the referendum. Nevertheless, its retention has been consistently advocated by Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative on Brexit. Last year, it was the subject of a paper by Volker Roeben, then professor of international law at Swansea University, for Plaid Cymru MEP, Jill Evans. From the Government’s point of view, a useful conclusion of this paper was a belief in the feasibility of an associate citizenship, if citizenship rights were to be extinguished after Brexit. Roeben’s belief that this should be so was given some traction following the submission last month of a request to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling in the case brought by British residents of Amsterdam. It is early days yet, but it is worth noting, in the context of my amendment, this statement from the judgment:
“Once legally acquired, EU citizenship is an independent source of rights and obligations that cannot be simply reduced or affected by actions of a national government”.
The loss of European citizenship would not just adversely affect the British abroad and, indeed, European citizens in the UK, but every British person living in the UK. Following the referral to the ECJ, QC Jolyon Maugham, supporter of those who brought the case in the Netherlands, made a particular point of saying that the final outcome of this case would have implications for residents of the UK as much as those abroad. The loss would be of all those rights that EU citizenship embodies, both in terms of the principle of that citizenship—the loss of identity that many would feel deeply, and which cannot be overestimated—and the very real practical concerns about rights and opportunities that would be lost or compromised, including being able to freely travel, work, study and raise a family abroad.
This is likely to have the greatest effect on young people living in the UK—an effect with no silver lining and which can only register negatively, as a loss. At the level of the individual citizen, it is not replaced by anything. European citizenship is additional to British citizenship, and that is the reality, whatever the outcome of the case begun in Amsterdam. As Sunday’s Observer editorial responding to Theresa May’s speech, but which might just as well have been referring to the potential loss of citizenship, put it:
“It was a defeat for young people, British and European, who, more so than older generations, will perforce inhabit an ugly new world of harder borders, work permits, bureaucracy and pervasive state intrusion”.
The referendum notwithstanding, many British people, both abroad and in this country, are angry that they should be stripped of their European citizenship without their own individual consent. For all these reasons, a Brexit that does not allow the retention of individual European citizenship for those who wish to retain that citizenship is a hard Brexit—more than that, it is a brutal Brexit, whatever the outcome on the wider national scale in terms of any trade deals.
What is being asked for in this amendment is very simple, and the precedent already exists, as this is no different from the dual citizenships that some in this House possess. The amendment asks only for the continuing acknowledgement of that additional citizenship. Do we now wish to start stripping people of all citizenships that are not British—for example, Australian, Canadian, American, Indian, Chinese? The list goes on.
At the level of the individual, the only solution that would be realistic or fair is that the 52%—or whatever the figure is now—may hand in their European passports and renounce their European citizenship, and the 48% retain theirs. The reality, of course, would be quite different. We have heard in the news about noted leavers who have bought, or are buying, EU citizenship as we speak. As I am sure others in this House do, I know of those who voted leave who, in circumstances where they are lucky enough to do so, are applying for European citizenship for themselves and/or their children, sometimes through having a husband or wife who is an EU citizen. Hypocritical? Of course it is, but it is also testament to the significance and desirability of retaining that citizenship and the real loss involved, with those who are lucky or rich enough becoming the first-class citizens of tomorrow, when previously it was an entirely equal arrangement for all of us.
The loss of European citizenship will in itself create an unequal society within the UK. Look too at Northern Ireland, as has been remarked upon: all those born there—about 89% of that country—will retain European citizenship, further turning the rest of us in the UK, in effect, into second-class citizens. Of course, I am not suggesting that Irish citizenship be given up. Late last year, Theresa May gave her agreement to an understanding that goes back to 1917 and that was rightly confirmed in the Good Friday agreement. Better, surely, that all of us who wish to should be able to retain our individual European citizenship. The Minister may say that that offer is not on the table, but a Government and a Parliament that really want to bring this country back together and heal the divisions would take the initiative and put it on the table. That is the right course of action, and I hope that the Government accept this amendment.
I will stay away from the law on this, but when it comes to travel and so on to the EU, is there not a discussion to be had, the likelihood being that most people—unless they are going to work there—will be able to move around Europe without a visa? If I may say so, it is therefore not quite as disastrous as the noble Earl suggests.
It may well be that we benefit from a visa waiver but it is also likely that we will have to apply for what is often called a “visa lite”, which similar to the United States’ ESTA. The EU is bringing in something called ETIAS and for most people it will not amount to a big difference: you have to go online, pay a fee and answer lots of questions about health, criminal background and so on. We may not require a visa but we will need a “visa lite”, so it will not be hassle-free.
My Lords, I support the amendment. When this whole matter originally came before the House, we had the firm assurance from the Front Bench opposite and the strong assurance from the Prime Minister that this was to be a top-priority issue in their considerations of our future. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said so powerfully, here we are, way down the road, and we have made no progress whatever.
The reason why I feel so strongly and passionately about this issue is that I fear that we are demeaning and undermining the whole concept of citizenship. Citizenship is something that people have fought for and struggled for centuries to establish. There are thousands and thousands of people from Britain in Europe. I declare an interest: in my extended family I have family members living in Europe and family members living in this country who are married to Poles, Czechs and so on, and it is a very rich experience. Such people have gone to Europe in the confidence of citizenship and all it has meant historically—to make new lives and build their future in the knowledge that they have citizenship of Europe.
Do we or do we not stand by the concept of citizenship? If we do, how can we contemplate any future in which we have not absolutely guaranteed that people have their rights of citizenship? My noble friend referred to anxiety being out there, and it certainly is. We are talking about men, women and children; about the futures of people who are working; about vulnerable people who have reached old age in the context of what they believed was European security—about real human situations. We need firm, unequivocal assurances from the Government that we believe not just in the right of citizenship, but in the whole concept of citizenship that has been established across Europe in our history. We want cast-iron guarantees that, in one way or another, that is going to be fulfilled.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 211, which is in my name and deals with our rights but in a slightly different way. It would ensure that after withdrawal, our rights and protections remain intact by maintaining the standards at home and at work that we have come to expect in our daily life as part of our normal existence, and that those standards would not be sacrificed or lowered in any future negotiations.
I tabled this amendment some weeks ago and was pleased to see it reflected in the Prime Minister’s speech last Friday and in her Statement on Monday, when she spoke of maintaining current standards in some sectors. My amendment calls for them to be maintained in all sectors, because we cannot pick and choose where our quality of life is concerned. Even Monsieur Barnier seems to agree, and in his recent draft document he speaks of equivalent standards.
Like my noble friend Lord Foulkes, I think this amendment is helpful to the Government, because it accords precisely with their own industrial strategy of building on our strengths by racing to the top. Lowering our standards, on the other hand, implies a race to the bottom. Rightly or wrongly, trade agreements are negotiated in secret. Yes, trade deals involve plenty of give and take and bending of the rules, but this amendment ensures that, whatever the outcome, these negotiations will not damage our normal way of life.
On Monday, the Prime Minister spoke of the EU Chemicals Agency, and she was right to do so. Through REACH—the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—we ensure that 9,000 chemicals are proven safe before they are made available to the general public. This is the precautionary principle at work. In some countries, products and services are withdrawn only after they have been shown to do harm. This amendment ensures that we do not give up the precautionary principle and allow ourselves to become a dumping ground for untested products and services.
Some say that these standards are just red tape and nannying, and that if consumers do not want to buy products that are made to lower standards, they will see it on the label and choose not to buy it. I put it to the Minister that this is totally unacceptable. Some say that all this can be delayed to a later stage. I say that it has to be included in this withdrawal Bill, so that from day one, Whitehall, local government and public institutions all know that they cannot make decisions that lower our standards.
We also know that non-tariff barriers are the biggest barriers to trade. Most of these non-tariff barriers relate to standards. Maintaining our standards will ensure the least disruption to trade and the maximum continuing inward investment in technical development. Indeed, it is important that we continue to sit at the table setting these standards—standards which are acceptable in many other countries, including Asia, Africa and elsewhere, not only because they facilitate trade but because they illustrate a shared vision.
Where we do not accept EU standards, this amendment, and my amendment that we will come to later, calls for the Government to set up the institutions to enforce them. These institutions must be independent of government. The importance of independence is illustrated by the fact—
I am most grateful to the noble Lord and I understand the point he is making about international standards and international bodies. However, the effect of his amendment is, surely, that the British Parliament would be tied, in future, to decisions made by the European Union and the European court. Why does he not trust this Parliament to set regulations that are appropriate for the standards for our own people?
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that in her speech last week, the Prime Minister said that she wished us to retain an association with the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency, specifically to mirror 100% every standard that they set? The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, says that we still have a choice. No—if we are associate members of those bodies, not only do we not have a choice but we agree that we are bound by the decisions of the European Court. The Prime Minister set out very clearly how damaging it would be were we not to be members of those bodies, and therefore why we should retain membership of them.
The noble Lord is absolutely right and in a later amendment, I will call on the Government to set up institutions which would not accept the European standard but enforce our standards—institutions that are independent of the Government. The importance of independence is illustrated by the fact that the main reason why Ministers are doing something about poor air quality in some of our cities is the risk of fines or legal action from the EU, possibly through the European Court of Justice.
As other noble Lords have observed, we are now being less doctrinaire about the European Court of Justice. Being doctrinaire is the reason why we do not want EU standards because of the possibilities of disputes being settled by the European Court of Justice. But many institutions which enforce these standards have their own systems of settling disputes, and these systems have stood the test of time. So whatever the outcome of our withdrawal negotiations, a major concern for Ministers must be the disruption to our way of life and to trade. This amendment would go some way towards helping Ministers to deal with this concern and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 202, which is in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham, who is unfortunately unable to attend because of illness. It is also in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno and the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Before going on, I fully agree with what has been said in this debate about the need to retain EU citizenship for us all, and about the hypocrisy of some of those who supported and continue to support leave, but who have somehow managed to acquire a passport of an EU member state, such as Malta. That enables them to continue enjoying the benefits which they are quite happy to deprive the rest of us of.
Amendment 202 calls on the Government,
“to maintain, preserve and protect the rights of”,
EU citizens in the UK. I therefore very much agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about the fact that that has not been done. We are seeking a guarantee that existing rights will remain unchanged. The Government have had the opportunity in the last 21 months to give a unilateral guarantee that existing rights would be retained. They were invited to do so by the EU Select Committee, in a report produced under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws—I had the pleasure to serve on that sub-committee—but have not done so. They also had the opportunity to try to ring-fence the discussion about citizens’ rights from all the other matters being discussed within the withdrawal agreements but, unfortunately, they have not done that.
EU citizens resident in this country and British citizens resident in the EU 27 have indeed been used as bargaining chips. That has led to great distress for many of the 5 million affected citizens, who live in a state of anxiety and limbo that was not helped by the words of the Prime Minister in her speech to the Conservative Party in October 2016 about “citizens of nowhere”. She has now resiled from that kind of terminology, but unfortunately the damage has been done in that the tone is somehow one of, “You do not belong here if you have multiple allegiances. It is not good enough to be a contributing and responsible person in this country”. The Government still have a chance to offer unilateral guarantees and I invite the Minister to tell us today that he is going to ignore the mire into which all of this has become embroiled and just give a straightforward guarantee.
Many ambiguities and gaps still exist in the current state of play over the discussions about settled status. Some of the issues are being taken up in correspondence with Home Office Ministers on the part of the EU Select Committee. The problem is that settled status is not the retention of the same rights and protections that EU law currently confers on people; it is based on UK immigration law and has all the features of that law, including the hostile environment that is currently being created. People will have to apply for settled status. It will not just be a question of carryover or cut and paste—they will have to apply. Apparently, the Home Office expects the vast majority of cases to be granted, although that begs the question of which ones will not be granted to people who are currently resident here.
There could be a simple declaratory process. If any parliamentarians in this Chamber have ever had to deal with the Home Office on behalf of one of their constituents, as I did when I was an MEP, they will know what a happy—or otherwise—process that is. Something simple and declaratory such as going to the local town hall could be worked out. It should be light touch: a declaration of existing residence. That is quite different from having to apply to the Home Office.
The fear has been expressed on behalf of the group, the 3 million, that perhaps around 10% of people might fall through the cracks because their application is rejected or because they do not apply. Some people are not very aware of what is going on in the law or they do not have access to computers and so on. There is no legal presumption in favour of granting settled status to all residents who are legally living here before exit day, which begs another question. Perhaps the Minister could explain to us what exactly is going to happen to those people who arrive during the transition period. That, of course, is something the Prime Minister has conceded, in that they will have a status, but it is slightly unclear how it is going to work.
There has also been no clarification of the continuation of all the individual economic rights and recognition of qualifications that EU citizens currently enjoy and, as I have said, no guarantee that the registration will be simple and light touch. There is supposed to be a digital application system. Can the Minister tell us exactly where we are in the construction of that system? We all know that IT projects, in particular Home Office IT projects, have a habit of becoming problematic. Moreover, the backstop to all this is that the European Parliament will have to approve the withdrawal agreement, including the conditions for EU citizens. I note that Mr Verhofstadt tweeted yesterday,
“the European Parliament expects a cost free and burden free registration process”.
It wants to ensure that there is no discrimination between EU citizens and British citizens, which of course raises the question: are the Government planning to introduce ID cards by the back door in order to say that we are all being treated the same?
There are many holes and gaps that the Home Office is still unable to answer questions on. I do not have time to cover them all but I would like to ask about comprehensive sickness insurance—the requirement that people have private medical insurance—because very mixed messages are being given about it. The position of the European Commission has always been that if people are allowed to use the NHS, that amounts to comprehensive sickness insurance under the directive. It started legal action but that has apparently not progressed.
Home Office guidance seems to confirm that comprehensive sickness insurance is not a requirement for acquiring settled status, but I will read out a reply to a freedom of information request that appears to make little sense. It remains the Government’s intention not to require evidence that economically inactive EU citizens have previously held comprehensive sickness insurance in applications for settled status, but it also remains the case that:
“In some circumstances, comprehensive sickness insurance is still required for the purposes of accessing the healthcare system in the UK”.
So you do not need to show evidence that you have it—but you will need it in order to access the healthcare system. Could the Minister kindly explain the apparent contradiction between those two statements? This is causing people a lot of anxiety, as the Minister is well aware. A lot of stay-at-home parents, spouses who have been economically inactive, carers, disabled people, pensioners and so on are extremely anxious about what is going to happen on this subject. Yes, it is technical—
I am very puzzled as to how any of this is relevant to the Bill we are discussing. Does the noble Baroness not understand that this kind of stuff, which is being repeated time and again, is actually doing more harm than good? It is raising issues for people who do not face them. It is quite clear that the maximum is being done to help people qualify for residence in the UK. We could not do more than we have done. Frankly, this is just making trouble.
It is highly relevant to whether people are being guaranteed their existing rights to legally reside in this country. I am quite surprised that the noble Lord thinks it is not relevant to an amendment that is about maintaining and guaranteeing the existing rights of EU citizens. The confusion is caused by the Home Office’s lack of clarity, not by me.
I end on that note. I would like some answers from the Minister to these detailed questions and many others.
My Lords, I want to make two short points. The first is that the precedent of giving rights in other countries when there is a separation is set up very well by the arrangements between ourselves and the Republic of Ireland in relation to Irish citizens and their rights in our country, which are guaranteed by statute in a number of cases.
Secondly, on the idea that we have to refer all these matters to the European court, anyone who reads the judgments of our courts from day to day will realise that the fairness they exhibit towards foreign citizens is of the highest possible standard. I know of no country in the world and no court in the world that succeeds in getting a higher standard; there are others that have an equally high standard, but I know of none that has a higher one. It would be a most retrograde step for this House to do anything that suggested to people in Europe that they could not get justice from the courts of this country.
Just to clarify, my amendment does not suggest that—quite the reverse. It would be the British court or the British tribunal that took the decision whether or not to refer such matters to the CJEU. It would still be the decision of a UK court.
I think that is meant to be an intervention, because I have not quite finished. The situation is that the British courts, the Supreme Court in particular, have discretion to look at any judgment that they wish, and to raise any question they wish in these judgments. There is nothing in the present Bill that impedes that, except in respect of questions of European law, because the courts themselves, and the members of the Supreme Court, have been anxious that if they paid too much attention to the European court after Brexit, they might be accused of being involved in politics. They have sought a direction from Parliament on this matter, and that has been attempted, and I hope it is successful.
I personally do not share the animosity that exists in some quarters towards the European Court of Justice. It is over 30 years now since I often appeared before them, and I have nothing but praise for the way in which they do things. They do things very differently to us. There are far fewer oral hearings—at least, there were when I did it, which was a long time ago. There is much less oral pleading than there is in our courts. Actually, our courts have moved slightly in that direction in recent years, since I was last involved with them—and in some cases quite far in that direction.
The respect I have for the European Court is of the highest order, but I do think there is a difficulty because, after Brexit, no judges or advocates-general of the British Bar will be members of the court or advocates-general in the court. That is an important factor to be taken into account in the arrangements. I am not part of the negotiations—I have nothing to do with them—but I do believe that that point has to be taken into account. There is a usual rule that the people administering justice are the people who are in accordance with the arrangements between states. International courts, for example, may not have representatives from all the states that appear before them, but there is a question to be considered in that connection, because the Court of Justice referred to in the amendment will not be the Court of Justice as it is now.
My Lords, I would like to intervene, following what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has said, and referring to the amendment that was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock. One of the problems I have faced since looking at this Bill, is trying to find hard examples of situations in which the Supreme Court would wish to refer a matter to the European Court of Justice.
There is a very good example reported in Monday’s Times of a case called SM (Algeria) (Appellant) v Entry Clearance Officer. I will take a moment to explain what the case is about, because it is a good example of citizens’ rights. SM was a little girl, who was placed into the legal guardianship of EU citizens, who happened to be in Algeria. The question concerned her position in coming to the United Kingdom as a member of that family under the Immigration (European Economic Area Regulations) 2006. Merely referring to those regulations reminds us that they would become, as I understand the position, retained EU law under Clause 2 of the Bill.
The problem arose because the court saw that the regulation had been transposing wording from a directive, which is the normal way in which these things work, but the transposition was inaccurate. This is a situation I have encountered before—it happens from time to time. The question is how to deal with the inaccuracy. The inaccuracy was that while our regulation talked about “family member”—somebody who was put into the legal guardianship of a couple, would normally be regarded as a member of the family—the directive was talking about “direct descendants”, and she was not a direct descendant, because she was not actually related, in that sense, to the people who had become her guardians. In order to resolve that problem, the court found it necessary to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice—which it did on Monday. That was under the existing position.
In resolving the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, it may help to ask how that matter would be handled after exit day. I may be wrong, but my understanding is that it would be for the Supreme Court to resolve the issue itself. The directive would come into EU retained law under Clause 3, so we would have both pieces of legislation to look at. I think that the court, having regard particularly to the way in which we had translated the directive, would give great weight to our own language and regard this little girl as part of the family and therefore entitled to take the benefit of the regulation.
In explaining the situation, I hope I have not made it too complicated, but it is a good example of citizens’ rights, accorded by our own regulations, giving effect to EU law. There must be very many in the corpus of regulations which forms part of EU law. It comes back to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. The Supreme Court looks very carefully at the interests of children and would accord every weight to the normal rules about the priority given to the interests of the child in construing the regulation in a sense that fits with our own language. I should have thought that, after exit day, the question of referring the matter to the European Court of Justice simply would not arise because the court would be capable of resolving the issue itself without being bound by the problem of having to refer something which was not that clear. If I may use the English expression, it was not crystal clear; therefore they were bound to refer. Under the situation after exit day, any superior court will be fully able to resolve the problems of interpretation that arise. Will the Minister confirm that, in this situation, there would be no need for a reference because our courts would be able to deal with it perfectly properly, looking at the language of our own regulations, despite the problem that might have arisen in translating them from the directive into English?
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in moving this amendment— I referred to it myself—was that, as part of the agreement that was struck between the United Kingdom and the European institutions in December, provision was made to,
“establish a mechanism enabling UK courts or tribunals to decide, having had due regard to whether relevant case-law exists, to ask the CJEU questions of interpretation of those rights where they consider that a CJEU ruling on the question is necessary for the UK court or tribunal to be able to give judgment in a case before it”.
So it is not a case of questioning the ability of the Supreme Court. We have entered into an agreement which says that there must be an opportunity or a mechanism to refer to the Court of Justice of the European Union. How does the noble and learned Lord see the mechanism for giving effect to what the United Kingdom Government have agreed?
I have listened with great care to what the noble and learned Lord has said but I cannot look into the future. I do not know what is going to happen as a result. We just have to look at the present situation. There are two factors to bear in mind. As far as the UK is concerned, for people looking to come here, an immense amount of citizens’ rights are guaranteed already under the regulations which implement directives. We ought not to lose sight of that. Secondly, problems of interpretation because of conflicts between the wording of the directive and our transposition of it, give rise to some doubt. Under the existing position, there is an obligation to refer which will not be present after exit day. This is a different situation with which I believe our courts will be able to cope perfectly well.
With great respect, I would not put it in that way. It has given me an opportunity to bring forward an example which I am hoping the Minister will be able to comment on. The noble Lord has raised an important point. We all care about citizens’ rights. I hope I have drawn attention to the context in which one looks at the amendment. It is a well-crafted amendment to which the Minister may have an answer along the lines I have suggested.
My Lords, I speak not as a lawyer—I find it difficult to follow some of these legal arguments—but as a grandfather to seven grandchildren, each of whom was born into European citizenship after the treaty of Maastricht. They are just representative of the more than 18 million others who were born since that treaty was signed. If the Bill were to go through unamended, we would withdraw rights and hopes given to them during the past 25 years. What moral right do we have to do this?
If I spoke today in favour of this Bill, what would I say to Haf, Osian, Manon, Megan, Reuben—I am trying to remember their names—Ianto and Aiden? They would say, “Taid”—which is Welsh for grandfather—“why did you not oppose this? Why did you not oppose the loss of all these freedoms and the availability we had in the previous time? You didn’t do a thing”. I am not the only grandfather in this room; I am not the only grandparent in this room. If a grandparent can vote to withdraw rights that have been cherished by their grandchildren, they are doing a tremendous disservice. To the various concessions in travel, in education and in so many other ways that we get as members of the European Union there will now be barriers, and it will be because we went along with the Bill—I would nearly call it an insane Bill—to withdraw these rights from those who have cherished them and used them during the past 25 years. We were able to choose to be members of the European Union; they were not. They were born into British citizenship; they were born into European citizenship, and, as my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, they were born into Welsh citizenship. We cannot withdraw these things. It is a blind way of treating the future generation.
That is all that I will say at this point. Seriously, we have no right. How will the Minister defend the withdrawal of such rights from 18 million citizens? We should remember that only 17 million people voted to leave; we are talking here about 18 million. How on earth can the Minister defend such a move?
My Lords, I support the amendments. I speak not as a grandmother, although I am one, but as somebody who not only voted for Brexit but campaigned for it. Therefore, I carry quite a heavy burden to help ensure that we get the best outcomes for people living in our country.
When voting to leave, no one voted to lose their rights. The amendments would ensure that the Government safeguarded the rights and protections of people as we negotiate leaving the EU. It has been hard to get much sense out of the Government about their plans for Brexit. The default message is to refer to the Prime Minister's Florence speech or Lancaster House speech, but platitudes about “getting the best deal” or “making Brexit a success” simply are not enough to guarantee that our Government do not risk undermining our basic rights and protections during the Brexit negotiations.
The Government seem unable to agree on many of the big issues and it is unclear who is in charge. In the absence of principled, clear leadership, Parliament must take the reins and do what is right for the majority of people. The amendments would protect both British citizens and EU citizens, people who have built their lives around the opportunities given to them by EU membership. They would force the Government to stop abusing our rights as a political bargaining chip. There should never have been any question over the rights of EU citizens living in this country, but our Government insisted on using our basic rights as part of their struggle to gain bargaining power in negotiations.
It is often conceived by supporters of remaining in the EU that the main motivation for Brexit is a narrow-minded, nasty little racist attitude which blames all our country’s problems on foreigners. I could not be further away from that world view, although I believe that some of the Brexiteers—I have some names here but will not read them out—and others have a lot to answer for in the way that they used migrants as scapegoats for the very real destruction that our own Government have cast upon our society with their slash-and-burn austerity measures. The Government sowed the seeds for a lot of the division and anger that prevail in our country.
I celebrate migrants and migration. Humans have always moved around as we seek opportunities and form new communities. It is an essential part of what it means to be human and without migration we would probably be stuck in isolated little groups, still using flint tools and eating with our fingers. Instead, humans have done the most astonishing things and we have all gained enormously from the massive cultural and technological growth that results from humans meeting humans and sharing ideas, cultures, stories and lifestyles. These amendments would do what is absolutely right and fair. They are about breaking Brexit away from those who espouse anti-immigrant views and saying that Brexit is about being more open, tolerant and diverse than ever before. A Brexit that cannot achieve that is not a Brexit worth having and not one that I will support.
My Lords, if there is to be a commitment to the highest standards of protection of citizens’ rights—I go back to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel—this would presumably include the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. But the Bill suggests that we omit that charter, so can the Minister say what would be the mechanism by which those charter rights would be guaranteed for EU citizens who remain resident in the UK?
My Lords, Amendments 160 and 170 are in my name and they would prevent regulations being made under Clause 9 if they,
“remove, reduce or … amend the rights of”,
an EU citizen,
“lawfully resident in the United Kingdom on any day before 30 March 2019”,
or until such time as Her Majesty’s Government have signed a reciprocal agreement with the European Union on the rights of citizens post-March 2019.
The issue here is simple. It is about giving legal effect to the assurance, which the Prime Minister has repeatedly given since Article 50 was invoked, that the rights of European citizens who are currently resident in the United Kingdom will be respected. The Prime Minister said in her October 2017 email to EU citizens not only, “I couldn’t be clearer”—actually, most of the Prime Minister’s statements which are not clear begin with “I want to be clear that”. She said she could not be clearer that,
“EU citizens … lawfully in the UK … will be able to stay”.
She also said:
“When we started this process, some accused us of treating EU nationals as bargaining chips. Nothing could have been further from the truth”.
If nothing could be further from the truth, why has Parliament not been invited by the Government immediately to give legal effect to the rights of EU citizens resident in this country? It is a very simple issue. The reason why it has not happened is precisely that the Government do want to use EU citizens as bargaining chips. Saying that they do not, when all the evidence is that they do, does not, I am afraid, cut the mustard at all.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, also raised a crucial issue, which I hope the Minister will address. What is to happen to EU citizens who come here during the transition? We all know what the Minister will say: that it all depends upon the agreement. When the Prime Minister brings that agreement down with her tablets of stone, whether that happens in October, November, December or January, it will have to include a precise set of legal commitments on what is to happen in the transition. The only point I make in respect of that, which I hope the Minister might address in his remarks, draws very much on what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, said: that this is a really shabby way of presenting this country abroad.
Let us be clear. People across the world, including people whom we want to work in our National Health Service and make a big contribution to this country, are having to make decisions as we deliberate on whether they can come to this country from the end of March next year. Quite soon, that will be a matter not of months but of days in which they will have to make these decisions.
I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will claim that we are open and that we welcome them coming here. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, made what I thought was an excellent speech in favour of remaining in the European Union because we would embrace all the rights set out in the treaties. How is it that we can look at people straight and say to them, “This is a great place to come and live. We are going to maintain your rights, but even now, we are not prepared to tell you what those rights will be in a year’s time”? This country is presenting a terrible face to the world. Frankly, I am ashamed of the position our Parliament is adopting towards the rights of existing EU citizens, who still do not have those rights enshrined in law, and of those we are seeking to attract to this country from the end of next March.
As the whole Brexit project starts to disintegrate, nothing is undermining its moral foundations more than our inability as a Parliament—and, indeed, the noble and learned Lord’s Government—to give firm legal undertakings in respect of people who are resident in this country and came here in good faith.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the issue is important not only to those who might be thinking of coming here, but to the people living here now? It is perfectly clear that their confidence has been undermined and they are showing that by voting with their feet. They are leaving jobs which are important to the whole of our society. The longer this debate goes on, having started from a position of, “Let us be clear: no rights will be taken away”, the less confident many people feel about their future.
Before I finish, perhaps I may say that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who also got off my chest a lot of the things I feel about this issue.
Perhaps I may respond to the noble Baroness and make one further brief point. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said that we should be proud of our courts and the work they do. I entirely agree with him; however, we are told time and again—indeed, it is part of the argument for Brexit—that our courts are of course subservient to Parliament. They implement and give judgments on the laws that are passed by Parliament, which has still not guaranteed the rights of European Union citizens resident in this country. Moreover, because it is not being invited to do so by the Government, at the moment it will not make any declaration about those rights after the end of March next year. That, I believe, is shameful.
My Lords, I want to concentrate on the last point made by my noble friend Lord Adonis and on the arguments made, particularly on Amendments 49 and 52, by my noble friend Lord Foulkes and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. I do so because the bit that is so critical is implementing what in December the Prime Minister said would be on offer to EU citizens already living here and which we need to put into law. That is an absolute priority and a priority for this Committee.
As we have heard, there is a particular need, because of what the Prime Minister agreed to in December, for the Government to rethink their blanket refusal to allow access to or take heed of the Court of Justice of the European Union within this Bill. It has been written out of the Bill precisely because of the draft withdrawal agreement—it is called a report, not an agreement—produced in December. As drafted, that document will allow access to what I still call the ECJ for EU citizens resident here for another eight years, which is why that is mentioned in the amendment. It would fulfil the undertaking written into the report last December with regard to their rights.
It was suggested in one of the meetings I had with a Minister—I cannot remember who—that everything is fine: we should not worry because it will be put into law by repealing parts of the Bill before us more or less as soon as Her Majesty’s ink is dry on Royal Assent. That is one way of dealing with it, and I gather the idea is that we pass this Bill and then start amending it. But to me, that seems a little weird, given that this Bill is before us now and can be amended in the way required by the December agreement so that we get it correct now. That would provide certainty and would ensure that it is in the correct form—I am sure that if the wording is not quite right, the noble and learned Lord can correct it. It would mean that it is done in good time and not at a rush after October or whenever everything else is settled.
As has been said, dealing with this now would also bed down the assurances that have been offered to these residents, some of whom have lived here for 20 or 30 years and to whom, as has been said by others, we owe a higher degree of comfort than they currently have. The future of these citizens is in our hands. Do we want to give them that security now? As my noble friend Lord Liddle said, some of them are living with high levels of anxiety. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Green, that most of this will be all right, come the day, but these people are worried because it is not in the Bill that they see going through Parliament. I cannot see why we have wait until Christmas to put it on the statute book, which is when it would happen. We can make a move now. The undertaking on paper is that they could have access for eight years to the ECJ, and I think we should do that.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, said that this is a “no-brainer”. I have to confess that, at that moment, my noble friend Lord Beecham said to me that he thought the noble and learned Lord was describing the Government. However, I hope the Government do have brains and will find a way to amend this Bill so that we do not have to amend it once it is an Act, in order to make in law an assurance that has already been given.
My Lords, I am pleased to be able—I use that term advisedly—to respond to the issues raised in the context of these amendments. Given the scope of the contributions, I will perhaps begin by touching on one or two points that have been made by noble Lords in the debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, referred to the content of the joint report and quoted, among other things, the phrase,
“the Agreement should also establish”.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, did likewise, and referred to the passage about the bestowal of rights that will come with the conclusion of the withdrawal agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, referred to Michel Barnier’s recent draft—quite accurately, if I may say so. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, pointed out that the European Parliament will have to agree to the terms of any withdrawal agreement. That is self-evident.
In other words, these matters are prospective. Why are they prospective? I do not want to be overly technical, and I do not believe that I will be, but we begin with the duality principle of our law. That means that we enter into international obligations at the level of international law and they have no direct impact on our domestic law. For example, the withdrawal agreement will be an international treaty entered into by the Executive. We then implement or bring the rights and obligations of that international treaty into domestic law by way of domestic legislation of this Parliament. That is the duality principle: you have international law and you have domestic law, and you can only have the domestic law once you have the international treaty, because it is from the international treaty rights and obligations that you allow the domestic rights and obligations to be brought into our domestic law. What we have at the present time is a joint report from December of last year. We acknowledge that.
It is not yet a treaty, if I can anticipate the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, because the position of the EU has been, quite rightly, that there is no agreement until everything is agreed. This has been a staged process. We believe that it is important that we were able to achieve the first stage and that we were able to achieve consensus. It is perhaps better to use the word “consensus” here rather than “agreement”, which can be confusing and sometimes misleading. We have achieved consensus in a number of important areas and, as we carry that forward, we proceed into the negotiation of what will be an international treaty.
As we have said before, once we have that international treaty, we can then draw down from the rights and obligations of that international treaty into domestic law by virtue of the fact that we will bring forward a withdrawal agreement Bill for scrutiny by this Parliament.
One has to be careful in the matter of language. We are at one with regard to the first part of what we want to do in the context of withdrawal, but we do not yet have an agreement that is binding in law with the other EU 27. For example, going forward, and during the subsequent negotiations, the EU may come and go as to the terms of the joint report. Indeed, we saw some indications of that when it came out with its draft recently, where issue was taken with the way in which it expressed some aspects of the joint report, particularly with regard to Northern Ireland. I appreciate that, if you want to construe the term “consensus” in that way, it involves “agreement”. The reason why I am trying to move away from “agreement” is that some see the word and infer that there is some legally binding concept. That is not yet what we have. We have a joint report and, therefore, we have consensus. We are moving on to the overall negotiations on what will ultimately be an international treaty.
We all hope that this agreement, or whatever word it is, is fixed soon, but it could be quite late. We may not have the withdrawal Bill until sometime next year and it could be that we are due to leave a month or so afterwards. This part of the Bill affects individuals more than businesses and they will not know whether they can go to court until it is fixed—we may not get Royal Assent until a month or two before we leave. Is that really a good way to treat individuals?
With respect to the noble Baroness, businesses affect individuals, so it is not appropriate to try to draw a distinction between citizens’ rights and businesses in that context. The right to work involves the right to maintain a business in various countries; you cannot simply draw them apart in that way. As regards regards timing, of course we are concerned to ensure that we achieve a withdrawal agreement sooner rather than later. That is why these negotiations are under way. If perchance no agreement is achieved—and I am not aware of anyone who wishes this, although others will perhaps assert the contrary—we will have to look at how we then deal with matters in the absence of that international agreement.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord and I hear what he is saying about the duality principle. Can he conceive of any circumstances in which the consensus reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union on the way in which we should treat EU citizens in the United Kingdom and United Kingdom citizens in the EU would not be taken forward or would fall apart? Can he see any circumstances where that might happen?
At the present time, no, but we are only now undertaking the detailed negotiation of the withdrawal agreement. It may be, for example, that the situation of UK citizens in Europe will alter during the course of those negotiations. It may be that the European Parliament will take a different view on how the rights and interests of those UK citizens in Europe should be approached. The noble and learned Lord will recall that, at an earlier stage, there were some suggestions that the rights of UK citizens in Europe would be limited to the member state in which they were resident at the time of exit. There are all sorts of possibilities and I am not going to indulge in an analysis of those possibilities—we are concerned with achieving certainty. We have achieved, by way of the joint report in December, an expression of joint opinion about where we are going, with regard not only to the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom but also to the rights of UK citizens in the EU. Of course we want to bring that in to the final withdrawal agreement, in order that we can then draw it down and implement it in domestic law.
My noble and learned friend is being very honest with the Committee, but in a way that gives me some cause for alarm. He has made it absolutely plain that, at the moment, there is no guarantee. Would it still be possible—I believe that it would—for this Government to give and enact in Parliament a guarantee such as this House voted for at the time of the debates on the Article 50 Bill?
With respect, no, my Lords, because we are not in a position to guarantee that which has been arrived at in terms of the joint report. For example, we cannot by ourselves guarantee the rights of UK citizens in Europe. To try to dissect the joint report and say, “We’ll take one piece out and leave another piece in”, is not a way forward in the context of an ongoing international-level negotiation. It is not the way in which this Government would proceed in that context.
My noble and learned friend is talking in the context of this being an international treaty that has to be transposed into UK law, but surely the amendment addresses the issue of the supremacy of European Union law, which citizens of the EU currently rely on when they live in this country. I thought that the purpose of the amendment was to make sure that those rights continued to exist and would be clarified. That is all that we asking in the Committee today.
With great respect to the noble Baroness, I think that I must respond to my noble friend Lady McIntosh.
Again, that argument rather misses the point, because what we have at the moment is a belief on the basis of the joint report that rights of EU citizens in the UK may be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union after Brexit, but that is not finalised; it is not yet contained in an international treaty agreement.
We have always understood that we cannot unilaterally guarantee in the context of what is now happening an agreement of two parties. What was said from the very beginning, immediately after the referendum, was, “Give a unilateral guarantee and then we can with almost 100% certainty expect full reciprocity”. That was always what was suggested.
Perhaps I may make a little progress.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, also raised the question of settled status. We are intent on putting in place provision for settled status, which can be done pursuant to regulations made under the immigration legislation, in particular the Immigration Act 1971. We plan to open that application process on a voluntary basis in late 2018 in order that people may begin on it. The noble Baroness suggested that it was inappropriate to have an application process and went on to suggest a light-touch process. I suggest that we have an efficient and effective process from the perspective both of the applicant and of those who have to process it.
The noble Baroness also raised the question of arrivals during the implementation period and the need during the implementation period for those arrivals to register. Again, the final outcome as to the rights and obligations of those who arrive during the implementation period will be the subject of negotiation. We hope to take that forward in due course.
Perhaps I may move on for a moment to a number of points that were raised about the Court of Justice of the European Union. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, referred to the recent decision of the Supreme Court in SM (Algeria). I have not seen the decision in the case, but he helpfully outlined the background to it. It involved a situation in which an EU directive had been transposed into domestic law, perhaps inelegantly or inaccurately, or perhaps both. The position is that the Supreme Court was of course bound to refer to the Court of Justice of the European Union; it had no option. Going forward, however, our Supreme Court would be perfectly capable of addressing the interpretation of the relevant domestic legislation and dealing with that itself. I would add one further point. The directive would not be incorporated into retained EU law by virtue of Clause 3, so if there was a post-Brexit decision, the Supreme Court would be construing the domestic legislation, not the terms of the original directive, so there you could have a potential difference of outcome. We acknowledge that and I believe that I addressed the point the other evening.
The question of Irish citizens has been raised. I want to be a little clearer about that point. This is something that predates the Belfast agreement but, to put it into context, the position is not that Northern Ireland citizens will remain citizens of the European Union. The position is this: since 1921, although I may be corrected on that, but certainly since the Belfast agreement, certain residents of Northern Ireland are entitled to apply for and be granted citizenship of the Irish Republic and therefore to hold a passport from the Irish Republic, although not all do, for reasons that we do not need to go into in any detail. Where a citizen or resident of Northern Ireland also holds a passport of the Republic of Ireland, post Brexit, in their capacity as a citizen of the Republic of Ireland they will retain their EU citizenship. Let us be clear that EU citizenship is linked directly to citizenship of a member state.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord and I am following what he is saying. Is he in fact confirming that there will be two classes of citizen in Northern Ireland: those who hold Irish citizenship as well and will be able, if there is a border, to cross it totally freely and thus into the rest of Europe, and a second class of UK citizens in Northern Ireland who will not be able to do so?
No, my Lords, there will not be two classes of citizens. Let us take a simple example. If I hold USA citizenship and UK citizenship, I can pass between the UK and the USA because I am a citizen of both countries. If I am a citizen of the UK and a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, I can pass between the two countries because I am a citizen of each state. It is not a case of classification; it is simply a matter of status.
This seems to confuse a number of different issues because the parallels are the same as those in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. If you are a UK citizen in Gibraltar and you are also entitled to apply for and be granted citizenship of Spain, you will then hold dual nationality or dual citizenship, and as a citizen of Spain, for as long as it remains a member state of the EU, you will enjoy the right to EU citizenship. It is no different from the position in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In the same way, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford—perhaps referring to something she may have read in the Daily Mail—talked about people applying for citizenship of Malta in order to ensure they can maintain EU citizenship. This is how it happens, but the fundamental point is that you cannot be a citizen of the EU unless you are a citizen of a member state. That is written into the treaties.
It may appear—and it will almost certainly appear to the Chief Whip—that I have digressed slightly from some of the amendments; he will be watching. I just seek to touch on some of them. I hope I covered in my opening remarks some of the points made. Amendments 160 and 170 were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and Amendment 202 by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. Unfortunately, she was not here to speak to it, but it was referred to. As I have indicated, at the end of the day, we will have to conclude the negotiations in respect of the withdrawal agreement treaty and then draw it down into our domestic law. Tying Clause 9 to a particular outcome is not going to assist that.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, moved Amendment 210. Again, I hope I have set out the Government’s position on this. We appreciate what we have achieved by way of the joint report, and we go on to the detailed negotiations in the hope it will effectively mean that we can confirm in domestic law not only the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom, but the right of UK citizens in the EU.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, moved Amendment 211, which details a requirement to keep equivalence with the EU on rights and protections. Again, this is prospective. We are addressing it in the course of negotiations and we hope to achieve it in many respects. In my view and in the view of the Government, it would not be appropriate to bring this into our domestic law.
Finally, we have Amendments 49 and 52, which I hope I have gone some way to addressing so far. The Bill aims to provide a stable and certain domestic statute book on exit day. That is its point, irrespective of the result of the negotiations and of any final agreement with the EU. Of course, once we achieve a final agreement, we fully appreciate that we are going to have to draw it down into our domestic law. Parliament will have an opportunity to scrutinise it.
With respect, if there were no agreement, then it would be for this sovereign Parliament to decide what it was going to do about that in domestic law. We have already made clear expressions of intent as regards their status. There is an issue here of time and place. While I understand the expressions of concern that we have heard from across the House, this is not the time and this Bill is not the place for these amendments. In these circumstances, I invite noble Lords not to press them.
I wonder if I could put one point to the noble and learned Lord before he sits down. As ever, what he said was intellectually lucid and stimulating. I just want to jog back to what he said about consensus and agreement. It is a very important distinction and I am sure it will be interesting to all his ministerial colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to diplomats around the world. How does this distinction translate into other languages? Does he think that our interlocutors in Brussels regard what we appeared to accept in December as a consensus or as an agreement? Does he think that they will now be quite relaxed if we walk away from some of what was a consensus because it was not an agreement? I should like to be a little clearer on this. It is going to be very important as we go through this debate when we are told that things are part of a consensus and not part of an agreement. If, with his usual intellectual authority, he could explain that to naive, one-time make-believe diplomats like me, I should be grateful.
I am most obliged to the noble Lord, if only for the compliment. As I sought to explain, we have the joint report and we have embraced it. We go on now to the next stage of negotiation. I used the term “consensus”, perhaps ill advisedly, to underline the point that we have not yet signed a binding agreement in international law—we have not yet achieved a treaty. We strive to achieve a treaty, and in striving to achieve that treaty we have in mind what we have already achieved in the joint report. But we acknowledge, as the EU itself has noted, that we have not yet placed that in the form of a treaty that is binding in international law. Until we do that, we do not draw it down into domestic law.
My Lords, one of my comrades, if I may use that word in this place, commented that I was unduly brief in my introduction—or perhaps it was unusually brief; it was one or the other. That was because I stuck precisely to the terms of my amendment. The debate, however, has gone much wider than that. We have heard some powerful, passionate pleas on behalf of the rights of European Union citizens. We have heard them from colleagues on all sides of the House, and it is important to note that it is not just the opposition parties arguing this: support has come from the Cross Benches and from the Conservative Benches.
One of the ironies is that if European Union citizens has been given the right to vote in the referendum—they are taxpayers: “no taxation without representation”—as they were in the Scottish referendum, we would not now be going through this tortuous procedure. We would be getting on with running the country, looking after education, health, justice and all the things we should be doing as the sovereign Parliament.
My noble friend Lady Prosser put it very well: the reputation of the United Kingdom is at stake in all the matters that we are looking at today. The arguments put forward by my colleagues on behalf of all the amendments in the group were very powerful.
Indeed, and as I understand it, if I read the Evening Standard right, they are going to send a very strong message as far as London is concerned about what they think of this Government.
I conclude by saying that I wish I was learned as well as noble, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, because I would then be able to understand some of the detail rather more precisely.
Before my noble friend concludes, does he share my concern about what the Minister said about the difference between “consensus” and “agreement”? Does he agree that that is quite a significant statement on the part of the Government in the course of this debate? The only point in making the distinction, as I understand it, is that the Government do not regard themselves as fully committed to the terms of the “agreement” of last December.
It is unusual for me to intervene, but I feel that if the noble Lord is going to make statements, he should make them accurately. If he is going to represent what a Minister has said, he should do so accurately. The distinction I drew was between an agreement that was now binding in international law and an agreement that was not now binding in international law. I hope the noble Lord’s recollection coincides with mine. If it does not, could he perhaps consult Hansard?
It is a very interesting point, and the noble Lord, Lord Patten, highlighted it in his intervention. I wish that while he was speaking I had been able to translate “consensus” and “agreement” into Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Welsh and so on to see whether there is a coincidence between one and the other. No doubt that is something that we can return to.
The Minister finished by saying that there is a time and a place, and that this is not the right time and not the right place for these amendments. There will be many more times and this will be the right place, and I look forward to speaking to the rights of European—
Does the noble Lord agree that although on the legalities we have heard an extremely lucid explanation that in my view nobody could disagree with, delivered with all the noble and learned Lord’s customary charm, what we have not heard is any indication that anybody is aware of the reality in the outside world: that these people are choosing to go home? The people we need are going back because the Government are not giving them an assurance. These people believe that we agreed something in November. What we are seeing now in this intellectually fascinating legal debate is a total betrayal of their belief that we had agreed something. The pace at which people move away from this country—people who we need—will speed up if we do not get this right.
I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, for pointing out that although the Minister has all the legality behind him, perhaps his argument is lacking in humanity. It is humanity that the European Union citizens deserve, not the legality that we have heard.
I was about to conclude by saying that this may not be the right time but it is certainly the right place. I look forward to returning to this, and I know that many noble Lords who have spoken do also, to argue and to fight for the rights of not just UK citizens on the continent, who matter as well, but the European Union citizens who have given so much to this country over the years and continue to do so.
The noble and learned Lord is a distinguished lawyer and had great distinction as the Lord Chancellor. Perhaps he can explain to the European Union citizens in Scotland, where he and I both live, why they were allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum but not in the European Union referendum. Many of them have asked me but I do not have the intellect or ability to answer them; perhaps the noble and learned Lord can.
Amendment 49 withdrawn.
Amendment 50 not moved.
51: Clause 6, page 3, line 33, at end insert “subject to any agreement under subsection (6C)”
My Lords, I rather hope that the modest amendments in my name do not take the House two hours to deliberate over. They focus on a narrow set of issues relating to pending cases.
Amendment 62 would allow our domestic courts, subject to the terms of the withdrawal or transitional agreement, to refer cases to the CJEU after exit day if the course of action arose before exit day. Amendment 61 would require the Government to obtain from the CJEU and then publish a list of pending cases referred to domestic courts before exit day. Amendment 64 changes the definition of retained EU case law to include case law relating to pending cases referred to the CJEU before exit day.
These amendments were drawn from the Constitution Committee’s excellent report on the Bill and essentially aim to deal with two issues: first, pending cases in domestic courts that might have been referred to the CJEU and, secondly, pending cases already lodged with the CJEU before exit day. In the first instance I am really asking for the Government’s assurance that, in any withdrawal or transition agreement, they will seek to clarify whether domestic courts can continue to make reference to the CJEU in relation to cases that began before exit day. I can see that there has to be a cut-off point for references but it is the timing of that point which concerns me. What criteria will Ministers apply and how will these be written into the agreement in such a way as to guarantee, and not undermine, procedural fairness and access to justice?
It may seem that this is a small or insignificant matter but, given the wide range of issues that the court considers, I think not. After all, it looks at everything from trademarks to intellectual property rights, workplace rights and even the distribution of EU funds. Given that cases started before the Prime Minister triggered Article 50 are likely to be treated differently from those which followed it, it is surely important that principles of fairness and consistency enter into any agreement which the Government can sign.
The second type of pending cases, dealt with in Amendment 64, will be those that are already with the CJEU. In another place, the Solicitor-General argued that these cases would simply continue. That is fine as far as it goes but, as the Constitution Committee pointed out, the Government intend to provide for these pending cases to be covered in the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill. But what happens to those cases if there is no deal? Would it not make sense to have a saving provision in the Bill saying simply that any case that is with the CJEU is determined to be treated as contributing to pre-exit case law, and in turn forms part of retained EU case law?
The Constitution Committee’s proposal that the Government should produce a list of cases on exit day that would be treated in this way made very good sense. To my way of thinking, that is a logical way of handling quite a complex set of legal issues, which are obviously well beyond my sort of competence as a non-lawyer. However, I hope that the Minister can satisfy my curiosity and set out how the Government intend to proceed. I also hope that he can satisfy the Constitution Committee, which I thought had a rather neat solution to the problem. Pending cases are of great value and will be of great interest to colleagues. I am hopeful that the Government can satisfy my simple concerns and provide us with an explanation that works. I fear that we will otherwise end up with something of a case law muddle. I beg to move.
My noble friend is absolutely right that this is not a small or insignificant matter. It is an important one with rule-of-law implications. The starting point, as he explained, is his proposed Amendment 62 which, if agreed, would add a new paragraph (6C), the purpose of which would be to encourage the negotiation of an agreement that cases can continue to be referred to the CJEU by our own courts after exit day. That would relate to new cases where the cause of action arose prior to exit day. This is logical because the important point is about whether the full remedies currently available to litigants, potential litigants and, importantly, our courts remain until we leave, while the law of the EU remains in place.
Of course, being able to refer such cases depends on an agreement, the very agreement that my noble friend’s amendment would make it an objective to negotiate. We will not be able to refer cases to the court in Luxembourg after exit day, except by agreement with the EU in such an agreement. But he is also right that there is a risk—although we hope very much that it will not happen—that if we end up without a withdrawal agreement, there would need to be legislation enabling this to continue to take place. So the principle of the amendments seems entirely right, and he is right to say that this was dealt with by the Constitution Committee at paragraphs 150 and 153 of its excellent report.
Perhaps I may refer to what the committee said in paragraph 153, having made the point that my noble friend has identified:
“We recommend that, irrespective of any implementation bill, pending cases are dealt with in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. We further recommend that rulings on cases that have been referred to the CJEU before exit day are treated as pre-exit case law—such that they form part of ‘retained EU case law’—and that the Government publishes, on exit day, a list of all such cases”.
The middle part of that, on what the significance is of,
“rulings on cases that have been referred … before exit day”,
is dealt with in a later amendment. But, as he has said, the requirement that the Government should publish a list of all such cases is dealt with in these amendments. He is right to say that the Solicitor-General in another place referred to the importance of knowing, at least as I read his remarks, what those cases are.
It seems that there has to be a justification, although I can see none, for depriving litigants and our courts of the ability to refer cases to the CJEU. It is important that noble Lords are clear on the fact that that does not mean sending cases to the CJEU for it to decide; it is for that court to determine questions of interpretation, as the treaty currently provides, although the interpretation given may in fact then decide the case. Our own courts would then take the interpretation provided by the European court and apply it to the case before them.
I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness or the noble and learned Lord, depending on who will respond to the debate—forgive me, of course it is the noble Baroness the Minister—will say to my noble friend.
My Lords, this may have been a short debate but it concerns a significant issue, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, for their contributions. I am aware that a key issue of interest in this Committee is how pending cases before the European courts will be resolved, and I hope that I can respond relatively briefly to these amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam.
As was acknowledged in their contributions, the Government have been clear regarding their approach to cases which have been referred to the European courts before exit day and we have made good progress in achieving this outcome in our negotiations with the EU. As such, I applaud the similar concern expressed by the noble Lord that there should be legal certainty in this area. However, as I have said previously, and indeed as my ministerial colleagues have also said, the purpose of this Bill is to provide a functioning statute book on the day we leave the EU, irrespective of the result of the negotiations on any final agreement with the EU.
The Government have been clear throughout the passage of the Bill through this House and the other place that it is not intended in any way to prejudge the negotiations or to predict an agreement between the UK and the EU on their future relationship. For that reason, I would submit that the Bill is not a suitable vehicle for such amendments to take effect. Future legislation will be needed to implement the withdrawal agreement, including the treatment of cases that are pending before the European Court of Justice. That legislation will need to be informed by the precise terms of the agreement. The Government have already committed to introducing a withdrawal agreement and an implementation Bill, but let me try to clarify a couple of the specific points raised.
I think it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who in effect asked about the status of a case that has been referred to the European court before exit, but does not proceed to a judgment until after then. The intention is that a case which starts and has been referred to that court before exit would proceed to a judgment, which our courts would be bound by. That is the intention but—let me make this clear—this is pending an agreement with the EU about these issues. In relation to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for a list my understanding is that, at the moment, cases registered at the Court of Justice of the European Union are made available online, so after our withdrawal we will have certainty as to how many pending UK cases have been referred to the court.
I apologise to the noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord if I have not specifically addressed some of their concerns. The difficulty, as was made clear in December, is that there is a clear statement of intention made in good faith by the Government, surrounding heads of agreement that have been achieved between the United Kingdom and the EU. But we need to continue with our negotiations to fine tune that, and hopefully then reduce it all to the final agreement. But I cannot pre-empt what may be in the final agreement and I hope that, in these circumstances, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I apologise for not having properly identified the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, as the Minister responding to this debate. I wonder whether she will allow me to just press one question. She has very helpfully identified the position in relation to pending cases that have started but for which rulings have not been given at the date of exit. These amendments include an additional category of cases, as I understand it, such as cases where the cause of action has arisen prior to exit: for example, where EU law is in place and there is an issue of EU law that a litigant wants to raise but they have not actually started the case at the moment we leave; or where the case has started but a reference has not been made at that stage, because the court does not make a reference until it comes to a particular point in the proceedings. In line with her helpful answer in relation to the category of cases that are pending in the CJEU at the date of exit, does she think the same principle ought to apply, subject to agreement, to cases where the cause of action has arisen before exit or the case has started but not got any further than that? Could she help on that point?
I thank the noble and learned Lord for his point, but I am afraid my response is going to be slightly less encouraging for him. The position of the Government is that we do not agree that new cases should be initiated post exit, even when these refer to pre-exit causes of action, because it would lead to an uncertain environment. It would be impossible to predict for how long the European Court of Justice would continue to issue judgments in respect of the UK. That, in the opinion of the Government, would strike at the underlying purpose of this Bill, which is to try to achieve a snapshot—to use that phrase again—as at the date of exit.
I am grateful to the Minister for her response. She partly satisfied my concern, but not wholly. I do not really think it is satisfactory that the cases that will be floating around in the ether will be left with the degree of uncertainty that she has suggested may be the case. The fact that the legislation that is going to cover this point will be left until the final Bill—the transition and withdrawal Bill or whatever it is finally called—does not satisfy me greatly. I think that will leave uncertainty for litigants in cases that could be incredibly complicated. I am rather worried that this issue is going to get caught up in the Government’s general dislike for the CJEU. My recollection is that this is one of Theresa May’s red lines: she does not like the CJEU and therefore part of taking back control is getting rid of it. We have got news for the Minister dealing with this: it is going to take the UK some time to extract itself from CJEU processes. The quicker the Government wake up to that fact, the easier it will be for us all to deal with it. In becoming more realistic in their approach to the court, the Government will give some greater certainty as to how we intend to proceed in future.
While I am happy to withdraw my amendment for the moment, I may come back to this at a later stage, because our legal system and litigants require greater certainty. This is not necessarily the small issue I dreamed it might be when I came across it in the Constitution Committee’s excellent report. I am grateful for the debate we have had, but I am not so grateful for the answer. We will probably require a bit more from the Minister at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 51 withdrawn.
Amendments 52 to 54 not moved.
55: Clause 6, page 3, line 34, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) A court or tribunal may regard the decisions of the European Court made on or after exit day to be persuasive.”
My Lords, the two amendments in this group address the important question of the weight, if any, to be given to the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union which are delivered after exit day. Amendment 55 is in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Adonis. Amendment 56 is in my name and those of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Goldsmith and Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham.
Amendment 56 would implement the recommendation of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee at paragraph 142 of our report on the Bill. After exit day, there is no dispute that our courts will make their own judgments on retained EU law. They will not be bound by judgments given by the court of justice after exit day. While judgments given before exit day will bind our courts up to the level of the Supreme Court, those given after exit day will not be binding. But our judges will wish to look at the judgments of the court of justice in Luxembourg delivered after exit day. That is not just because our judges are always interested, and rightly so, in seeing how courts in other jurisdictions address the same or similar issues. The connection here is much stronger. The retained EU law, which our courts will be interpreting, owes its origins to the institutions of the EU and there may be very good reasons for our courts looking carefully at how the court of justice has interpreted after exit day the same or a similar provision.
There are three problems with Clause 6(2) as currently drafted. First, it begins in a negative way by stating that a domestic court “need not have regard” to judgments delivered by the court of justice after exit day. That default position is unhelpful because it may be understood to suggest that our judges should not normally have any regard to post-exit day judgments of the court of justice.
Secondly, the end of Clause 6(2) allows the courts here to have regard to post-exit day judgments of the European court only if our courts consider it “appropriate to do so”. But judges do not look at foreign judgments because it is appropriate to do so; they look abroad for assistance because the foreign judgment is relevant to the issue that they are deciding. The terminology matters here. The use of “appropriate” wrongly suggests that our court will be making a policy choice to have regard to a post-exit day judgment from Luxembourg. Senior members of the judiciary have understandably expressed concern that if Clause 6(2) is left in its current form, the courts will inevitably be criticised for making a policy choice in this context.
I should make it clear that of course I do not speak for the judiciary, but I do speak to them. I can tell the Committee that many senior judges are very concerned about the content of Clause 6(2). Paragraphs 134 and 135 of the report of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee record the evidence that was given by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, the President of the Supreme Court, and her predecessor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, who I am pleased to see in his place today. The concern of the senior judiciary is not that judges should be shielded from criticism or that they are not tough enough to withstand it. The point is that confidence in the rule of law is undermined if judges are seen to be taking sensitive policy decisions that are for Parliament to make. Clause 6 therefore needs to make it much clearer that although our judges are certainly not going to be bound by Luxembourg judgments handed down after exit day, Parliament does intend our judges to have regard to judgments of that court given after exit day where they consider that those judgments are relevant to the issues before our courts.
The third defect of Clause 6(2) as currently drafted is that it suggests that the same principles apply to decisions of “another EU entity or the EU” itself. I am doubtful that there is any need to mention other EU entities or the EU itself, or certainly to compare them with the European court itself.
Amendment 56 seeks to address the issues in a manner which gives much clearer guidance to our courts. It would make it clear that our judges must have regard to a post-exit day judgment of the European court if the domestic court considers it relevant to do so. It would also add that in deciding the significance of any such post-exit day European court judgment, the domestic court should have regard to the terms of any agreement that is reached between the UK and the EU which it considers to be relevant. The terms of the withdrawal agreement, if and when approved by Parliament, will identify the relationship between the UK and the EU post exit day, and that will give considerable guidance to the courts.
I emphasise, however, that at all times under Amendment 56 and indeed under Amendment 55, it will be for the domestic court to decide on the significance, if any, of the Luxembourg judgment. There is no dispute over the fact that our judges will remain in charge in relation to post-exit day judgments. However, Amendment 56 would provide the guidance that they are seeking and which, I suggest, they are entitled to expect. I beg to move.
My Lords, there is little to add to the excellent introduction made to these amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, except to say that decisions of the other courts which currently have persuasive authority include those of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, decisions of higher-level foreign courts, especially in the Commonwealth and other similar jurisdictions, and one that I have a particular interest in, being a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; namely, decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, which under the Human Rights Act 1998 must be taken into account by UK courts. It is right that the European Court of Justice should have a similar role and persuasive powers.
My Lords, Clause 6 is concerned with the issue of how the large body of retained EU law is to be interpreted by judges. It is an important issue because it is a fundamental principle that the law should be clear and consistent, but also because the topic could lead to ill-informed political and media attacks on the judges, to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has referred, which would undermine the rule of law at home, the reputation of English law abroad and the consequential attraction of London as a global dispute resolution centre. Your Lordships will no doubt recall one such Brexit-related attack on the judiciary that received worldwide publicity. Clause 6 should be worded with a view to clarifying the law and minimising the risk of such attacks. Quite apart from that, I suggest that we need to think through the implications for the UK legal system and its attraction to others when it comes to developing our own system of retained EU law. I cannot pretend that this issue is easy to resolve but it is an appropriate opportunity to explain the context from a judicial perspective.
At the moment, at any rate, the Government envisage that post-Brexit the UK courts will, at least in general, no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ and so will be free to interpret EU law as they see fit. This gives rise to two closely related problems. The first is: what principles of interpretation are to be applied to that retained EU law? Secondly, what use can be made of ECJ case law when carrying out that interpretation exercise?
On the first problem, unlike normal UK legislation, which is generally tightly drawn, EU legislation is relatively loosely drafted, leaving the judges to resolve ambiguities and fill gaps. Some EU legislation is of course drafted on the basis that it will be interpreted to give effect to fundamental EU aims, such as ever closer union and the strengthening of the internal market, which may well be no longer relevant to the UK after Brexit. In providing that general principles of interpretation set out in pre-Brexit ECJ decisions will be applied by UK judges after Brexit, Clause 6(3) in its present form none the less has the effect of maintaining all those interpretive principles, although by virtue of Clause 6(5) it would be open to the Supreme Court to depart from such decisions.
The second, related problem is the use of ECJ case law. In her speech last week, the Prime Minister said that,
“where appropriate, our courts will continue to look at the ECJ’s judgments, as they do for the appropriate jurisprudence of other countries’ courts”,
and added that,
“if, as part of our future partnership, Parliament passes an identical law to an EU law, it may make sense for our courts to look at the appropriate ECJ judgments so that we both interpret those laws consistently”.
That sounds fine but things are not quite so straightforward. The Bill sensibly provides that the UK courts must follow the pre-Brexit decisions of the ECJ although, as I have said, Clause 6(4) states that the Supreme Court can depart from those decisions in the same circumstances as it can depart from its own decisions. By contrast, where there is a post-Brexit ECJ decision, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has explained, Clause 6(2) provides that a court,
“need not have regard to”,
such a decision,
“but may do so if it considers it appropriate”.
That gives precious little guidance to a judge—indeed, as I will mention later, possibly unhelpful guidance from the point of view of the judiciary’s reputation—as to how to approach post-Brexit ECJ decisions.
It has been suggested that a judge could be assisted by the approach that courts have taken when looking for guidance from decisions of courts in other jurisdictions. However, courts in this country normally do this when looking for general principles or when considering the scope of human rights conventions. That is not really a sound analogy because Clause 6(2) would normally apply to a case where a judge was looking at an ECJ decision on the interpretation of specific legislation. It has also been suggested that a judge could get help from cases that have stressed the desirability of UK courts taking account of decisions of overseas courts so as to reach a uniform interpretation, but that does not provide a real analogy either because EU law is unlike those conventions: it is a law of a union from which the UK will have departed because it does not want to have such uniformity, although accepting that it may be desirable in some cases.
As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has said, Clause 6(2) in its present form appears to indicate that there is a presumption against following decisions of the ECJ but that judges can follow such judgments in this country if they think it appropriate. That would suggest, as again he says, that judges would be expected to make decisions that were essentially political—in particular, whether to align the UK with an ECJ interpretation against the statutory presumption for policy-type reasons, or to depart from the ECJ interpretation.
Given that pre-Brexit decisions of the ECJ are, sensibly, to be determinative on questions of interpretation, both consistency of approach and the experience of the ECJ as interpreters of EU law support the notion that post-Brexit ECJ decisions should be given the same effect, at least where the retained legislation has not been changed. However, if this is not to be the policy, rather than leaving any new policy to be worked out by the courts, which is the effect of Clause 6(2), there is obvious force in the notion that Parliament should clearly state what the new policy is. Similarly, Clause 6(4) is questionable in providing that the Supreme Court should decide whether to adhere to pre-Brexit ECJ decisions or whether new principles of interpretation should apply, because principles to sustain ever closer union or single market freedoms are no longer relevant interpretative considerations in the UK.
There are various possible solutions that need careful consideration, given that this issue is so important, and I shall present some examples. First, the interpretative approach should follow a policy decision set out either in the amendments to be made to EU legislation under powers granted in the Bill or in the final agreement reached between the UK and the EU, and given formal parliamentary approval. In relation to issues not covered by such arrangements, it could be provided that retained EU law was to be interpreted without any departure from existing principles of interpretation. If that were not an acceptable solution, the courts could be given more specific assistance as to how to interpret legislation, in particular whether or not to continue alignment.
Secondly, as some amendments before your Lordships’ House today indicate, including those that were moved just now, post-Brexit decisions of the ECJ could be regarded as persuasive or it could be provided that UK courts must have regard to them if relevant, and that in determining relevance the court should have regard to any relevant agreement between the EU and the UK. Such formulations would probably be better than the present Clause 6(2) but they do not address all the perceived problems.
Thirdly, Clause 6(2) could be omitted altogether. At the moment, it seems to me that, with respect, the present clause is worse than nothing from the judicial perspective. First, it creates the presumption to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has referred, and secondly it uses the word “appropriate”, which suggests a policy role for the judges. That would leave them more exposed in both what they do and what they may be perceived to be doing.
Fourthly, more specific interpretative guidance could be given, bearing in mind the particular circumstances of Brexit and the particular way in which EU legislation is crafted, so that decisions on differing political issues are not left to the judges. The argument that telling judges how to interpret the law could be a precedent for ordinary parliamentary legislation can arguably at least be met by the point that this is a unique circumstance. It would also have the advantage of providing clarity for the UK’s relationship, including its trading relationship, with the other states of Europe and elsewhere.
I hope these issues and the choices they reflect will be subject to proper scrutiny and discussion. The right solution will not only protect the independence of the judiciary but will demonstrate that decisions of a political nature should not be left to judges, and it will help to achieve the legal clarity that is so important to the rule of law and to the future of this country’s trading and other relationships with the EU and other states.
As I hope I have indicated, I accept that there are no perfect answers. That is unsurprising. The incorporation of pre-Brexit—but only pre-Brexit—EU law into UK law requires a sort of multidimensional Procrustean solution. In so far as the Bill requires the judges to perform the role of Procrustes, Parliament should do all that it can to ensure that the judges do not suffer the fate of Procrustes.
The noble and learned Lord has made a number of strong statements to the Committee about the impact, as he regards it, of Clause 6(2) on judicial independence and the reputation of the judiciary. In particular he objects, as did the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to giving the courts the discretion to reach a judgment on whether it is appropriate to have regard to the European court. Proposed subsection (2B) in Amendment 56 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, states:
“In determining the significance of any judgment … the court or tribunal must have regard to the terms of any agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU which it considers relevant”.
To a layman, this clearly involves an exercise of judicial discretion. So why is the judicial discretion in subsection (2B) set out in Amendment 56 potentially any less damaging and likely to be conducive to controversy than the existing Clause 6(2)?
I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, whose amendment it is, is better placed to answer. My answer would be twofold. First, it specifically tells the judge what to have regard to; it does not leave it completely open. Secondly, it uses a rather more familiar expression, “relevant”. A judge will be able to say, “When construing this, I have looked at the document”—namely, the agreement referred to in subsection (2B)—“to which I am required to have regard. In my view, it tells me to do this or that”. It is specific guidance, albeit indirect specific guidance, through the agreement referred to in subsection (2B), whereas the term “appropriate” leaves it completely open for the judge to decide whether it is appropriate, if I may use that word, to consider matters that he or she is not specifically told to take into account. The judge has to make the decision, “Do I think about x; do I take that into account?” Here, the judge knows what he or she has to take into account because it is spelled out; namely, the agreement.
My Lords, I hesitate to follow the very careful analysis of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, but perhaps I can add a few words. We are all trying to find the best way of expressing in clear and simple language, in statutory form, the guidance that the courts and tribunals will need about the interpretation of retained EU law. In particular, Clause 3 is about direct EU legislation which we will be receiving in the language of the directives and regulations to which this clause refers.
The position is fairly clear about judgments or decisions of the CJEU before exit day. That is retained EU case law which is referred to in Clause 6(3) and we are not in any difficulty on that; rather, it is what to do about the future. Had it not been for the concerns expressed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, about the risk of being criticised for being drawn into areas of policy, I would have been content to see Clause 6(2) deleted and to rely simply on the normal, traditional way in which comparative law is applied by courts up and down the country. I have been doing this ever since I started sitting as a judge. Of course, there are examples outside the particular area we are dealing with here of conventions to which we are a party and which need to be interpreted. One looks at other jurisdictions to see how the language of a convention is interpreted and applied. This is a normal part of our jurisprudence and it would have been enough. However, I recognise the force of the points made in their evidence to the Constitution Committee and today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, and I think that we have to do something to give the guidance for which they are looking.
One should also bear in mind that it will be some time before the Supreme Court handles cases of this kind. We are talking about tribunals as well as courts at every level. I am sure that when the Supreme Court gets hold of the thing, it will be astute enough to give the kind of guidance that one normally gets from the higher courts, but we have to look at the beginning of the process.
On the table at the moment we have Clause 6(2) as it stands and Amendment 56 from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me when I say that I think his amendment is like the curate’s egg. There are bits of it which I rather like and bits which I would prefer to drop, and the same goes for Clause 6(2). I suggest an amalgamation of the best bits of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the best bits of Clause 6(2).
No, this is analysis. Let me explain what I would like to do.
I quite like the words of Clause 6(2) as it stands:
“A court or tribunal need not have regard to”,
a judgment or decision given by the European Court on or after the exit day because that fits very well with the way we are looking at the position before exit day. It is certainly true that it is a negative way of putting it, but I regard it as a helpful transition to the new situation. However, I do not like the remainder of Clause 6(2) for the very reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, explained. That is where I would like to bring in the passages from the latter part of his formula, which are that a court or tribunal may have regard to such judgments or decisions where it considers them relevant for the proper interpretation of retained EU law.
I would take out “appropriate” from Clause 6(2), for reasons that have been referred to already, and would leave out the early part of proposed new subsection (2A) in Amendment 56 where “must” is used. I would prefer “may” to “must”, leaving it to the court to make its own decision regarding whether the matter is relevant.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord and I apologise for not having paid due regard to that formula because the wording is exactly what I am looking for, but I am trying to fit it into the opening words of Clause 6(2). However, it is certainly right; I respectfully suggest that “may” is the right word to use. It is better to add in the bit about,
“where it considers it relevant”,
which is what comes from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. So one is putting together bits and pieces of thought from various attempts to produce a formula.
Perhaps I may read out again for Hansard’s benefit how I suggest the provision might run: “A court or tribunal need not have regard to a judgment or decision given by the European Court on or after exit day, but it may have regard to it where it considers this relevant for the proper interpretation of retained EU law”. If “may” is used—although the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, will correct me—proposed new subsection (2C) in Amendment 56 will no longer be relevant. I say nothing about subsection (2B) which may have force and value if the court requires guidance as to what to do with the agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU.
I hope that that contribution will give the Minister something else to think about. I think that we all hope that on Report he may be able to come back with a formula which we can all endorse.
My Lords, perhaps I may add a few words, simply because of the devoted affection in the Bill for the word “appropriate”. It is larded through the document. Its inappropriateness in this particular context needs to be underlined—I shall come back to it at a later stage under different clauses. It is terribly simple: if something is relevant to a court’s decision, it is likely to be appropriate that the court should look at it. If something is irrelevant to the court’s decision, it cannot possibly be appropriate for the court to look at it. So the term “appropriate” should go.
My Lords, I rather agree that “appropriate” is not particularly desirable. I wonder whether putting “helpful” in Clause 6(2) would more accurately reflect the way that courts generally consider law from other jurisdictions in developing the law—one always invites courts if they find a particular decision to be helpful—whereas I understand that “appropriate” is considered perhaps to have too much of a political charge. However, I do not wholly understand why the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, finds the initial words of Clause 6(2) rather offensive, where it says:
“A court or tribunal need not have regard”.
All that is saying is that they are not obliged to have regard—I do not think it says any more. I personally read no particular charge in it, and I think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would agree.
There is something of an irony about these amendments, in that the only way to have real certainty would be to tell the court either to disregard it or to follow it. In a sense, we are dealing with an imperfect situation. We are trying, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, said, to craft something which helps judges by reducing any political element in their decision-making but which—I am sorry to use a political expression—allows our courts to take back control. In order to take back control, I am happy that they should have a great deal of freedom to do so without in any sense involving them in a political decision.
Amendment 56 from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and others is of course much longer than the original wording, with three subsections as opposed to one. Respectfully, I say that using words such as “relevant” is only quite helpful, because in any event a court will ignore matters that are irrelevant. I feel similarly about the word “significance”: a court will itself have to decide significance. That of course may offend the political element but, if something is insignificant, the court will disregard it in any event. Although I understand what lies behind this amendment, I am not sure that it really does the trick.
It is not just out of nominative loyalty that I turn to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, but because he may be on to something. I agree with the use of “may”, which was endorsed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. I am not quite so sure about “persuasive”, but I will listen to what the noble and learned Lord says. However, I like the succinct nature of the amendment and it seems to me to allow our courts the freedom that we have, as it were, granted them by the decision that the country has made in the referendum, but nevertheless not to compromise them.
Does the noble Lord have any reaction to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, about the reference to,
“another EU entity or the EU”,
in Clause 6(2) as it stands? Section 3(1) of the European Communities Act 1972 does not mention these and refers only to the European Court of Justice, so it may be that there is no need to refer to these entities and we can confine it to the European Court of Justice.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Foulkes and I are basking in the judicial praise we have received this afternoon for Amendment 55. We put our pen to paper on it with no legal training whatever. Perhaps we should offer advice, which no doubt will be very expensively provided after this Bill becomes law, because we are able to cut through the issues with such great clarity. I note also that Amendment 55 is by far the shorter of those we are currently debating, so clearly we were able to summarise these matters succinctly.
I have listened to the debate and I am still none the wiser about the real difference, in plain English, between “relevant” and “appropriate”. I simply cannot understand it. I was astonished at the vehemence of the statement from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, about the impact that this would have on the judiciary where a court is expected to decide that something is relevant rather than appropriate. It seems to me that in plain English these words have precisely the same meaning. They both require a court to exercise discretion and, to me, they look to require it to exercise precisely the same discretion. Unless the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, can lay out for us some compelling arguments, as he always does with such lucidity, it looks as if it does not matter one way or the other what we do here. It is a straightforward matter of whether or not courts are prepared to be robust in reaching their decisions.
There is no doubt that there has to be judicial discretion, the question is the extent to which guidance is given to the court. To suggest to the court that it should exercise its discretion by reference to whether something is appropriate suggests, does it not, that it is to make a policy decision? The question is whether something is relevant, meaning legally relevant by reference to the particular issue that arises before the court in its legal context.
My Lords, can I make a confession before we go further? I cannot claim credit for the wording of this amendment. The credit must go to Michael Clancy of the Law Society of Scotland—that is why it is better than I would have done. The Law Society of Scotland says that,
“‘persuasive authority’ is a recognised aspect of the doctrine of stare decisis or precedent. Persuasive decisions are not technically binding but the courts can pay special attention to them”.
I mentioned the three courts earlier: the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the Court of Human Rights and the supreme courts of Commonwealth countries. It seems to me to be a very good amendment, but I do not want to take credit for it, as that must go to someone else.
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is wondering why the word “appropriate” does not fit into the context of trying to limit judicial discretion, he should look at how many times it is used in this and other Bills to give Ministers the opportunity to decide one way or the other, in what are quite clearly different kinds of decisions from those you would expect judges to make.
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick said in reply is in my experience absolutely right. To a judge, the word “relevant” requires him to look at the issues that need to be decided. It is a much tighter word than “appropriate”, and is used frequently. In case law, one searches for the point that is directly relevant to the point at issue. It may be that legal terminology is best adopted because that is what judges understand. It is a different kind of word from “appropriate”, which judges do not normally use. Therefore, I suggest it is a better word to use in this context.
My Lords, given the time, it may be relevant, appropriate or even helpful to try to wind up this particular debate, although not in such a way that undermines the very real importance of the amendment.
I want to underline two aspects. The first aspect is legal certainty, which was referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. It is very important, for example, that in considering cases where retained EU law is in question, people and businesses are able to recognise that if there are decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union that are relevant, then it is likely—though not an obligation—that the courts will take them into account. They can order their affairs on that basis, and that is a critical part of legal certainty. It seems right, therefore, that this amendment, to which I have added my name, gives direction or guidance that where such decisions are relevant to the interpretation of retained EU law they should be paid regard.
The second principle is the independence of our judiciary. It is right in this context to refer to the shocking instance of the attack on our judiciary that took place at the time of the Article 50 decision. It was shocking not just that our judiciary was referred to in such terms by a popular newspaper but that it was not immediately defended and the accusation rejected by the Government, including Ministers whose job it was to do so. In dealing with this particular amendment we have to be alive to the risk that if after exit day a judge chooses—because he or she believes it right or relevant to do so; whatever word you want to use—to make reference to a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union, that judge is not then subjected to a barrage of criticism and the accusation, “How dare you take refuge in decisions of this hated institution, one which we have left, in making decisions on this law?” It is important that we should look at this carefully and make sure that judges are protected.
In those circumstances, the amendment does two important things. First, if the Bill is passed in this way, it gives Parliament direction to say to judges that if something is relevant—which is an objective fact, though it requires appreciation; it is not a matter of subjective discretion as to whether it is relevant—they should take it into account. No one could then criticise a judge later by saying, “Why did you take into account that European decision? You should not have done so”.
Secondly, it makes clear to judges that if they do not regard the decision to be relevant, it is then open to them—indeed, it may be their duty to do so—not to have regard to that decision. That is why proposed new paragraph (2C) in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and others makes it clear that a court may determine that any judgment or decision taken into account has no significance in relation to its proceedings. That, in the language of Brexit, is giving control back to the courts; taking it back and not leaving it to someone else. That is very important.
Perhaps I may underline that the House should take great heed of the advice given by the noble and learned Lords who have spoken, in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, in his position as a former President of the Supreme Court, and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I am not sure that at the moment I agree with him completely about the right wording, but on the importance of the principle I did not understand there to be any difference between what he said and what others, including the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, have said.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord who is to respond—if I have correctly identified who is to speak this time—will be able to say that the Government accept that it is right to make amendments in this way. Whether he is able to accept quite what the formulation would be is another matter, but he may wish to consider, between now and Report, whether discussions should take place to arrive at a formulation that those in the House who are concerned about this issue find to be a happy and helpful way of setting it out. That is for him to say. I would suggest that that would be most helpful, but in the meantime, I hope that on this occasion he will be able to say that in the light of what has been said about the importance of the principles of legal certainty and doing everything we can to uphold the independence of our judges, upon which principle we all depend, the Government accept it and will do something to make it right.
I am grateful for that unexpected intervention from my own Front Bench, but I am happy to take the opportunity to say that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, was one of the few to say the right thing and uphold the independence of the judiciary at the time of that attack. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Beecham for making the point because it deserves to be made.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for making that point. I would add only that I spoke as a Minister of this Government in expressing that view, because I spoke from the Dispatch Box when I made it clear. I can refer the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, to Hansard in regard to that point. Of course, the origins of the remark may not have had quite the impact that it could otherwise have had if coming from another source—I do not seek to elaborate on that point.
Sometimes it comes ill to counsel to listen rather than to speak, but this is an occasion when it is entirely appropriate for me and for the Government to listen to what has been said. I am extremely grateful for the contributions of all noble Lords and noble and learned Lords with regard to the formulation of Clause 6(2). I refer to the formulation of the clause because I believe we have a common desire to ensure that we give appropriate, effective and clear guidance, in so far as it is required, to the judiciary regarding what is a relatively complex issue. Of course the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, pointed out that in the normal way one might delete Clause 6(2) and allow the courts to deal with this as they deal with other matters of comparative law, but he went on to point out—quite correctly, I submit—that here we are dealing with a very particular situation where guidance may be needed. I am conscious of the way in which the various amendments have evolved.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, also referred to Clause 6(4) and the issue of whether and when the Supreme Court might decide whether to adhere to precedents in this context. I bow to the far greater experience of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Neuberger and Lord Hope, who sat in the UK Supreme Court. My limited experience is that, where I attempted to persuade them to adhere or not to adhere to a particular precedent, they had no difficulty in making their own minds up.
Be that as it may, I recognise the force of the points that have been made. They have come from beyond this House as well because, as noble Lords will be aware, the Constitution Committee also made some recommendations about this. Indeed, its early recommendation in March 2017 was,
“the Government may wish to consider whether the Bill should provide that, as a general rule, UK courts ‘may have regard to’ the case law of the Court of Justice (and we stress that it should be optional)”.
Indeed, we were having regard to that as we looked at Clause 6(2).
A point was made about the distinction between “may” and “must” in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. It occurs to me that, where he uses “must”, he goes on in his amendment at (2C) to qualify the context in which that word is used, and there may not be a vast gulf between “may” and “must” in the context of the two amendments that have been tabled. Of course, that which was recommended by the Law Society of Scotland has the merit of some simplicity and embraces the same point.
At this stage I would add only that the Bingham Centre looked at the current recommendations of the Constitution Committee that lie behind the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and raised concerns about a number of aspects of the formulation put forward by the committee. However, I make it clear that we greatly appreciate the contributions that have been made to this part of the Committee’s debate. We will go away and consider the various formulations, and I believe it would be sensible for the Government to engage with various interested parties once we have come to a view about how we can properly express what we all understand is necessary policy guidance in the context of this exceptional step. Against that background, I invite noble Lords to consider not pressing their amendments at this stage.
I know I will not be popular by holding things up, but the Minister was specifically asked if he could explain the reference to,
“another EU entity or the EU”,
in Clause 6(2). I do not know whether he feels he could do that. Does it have any reference to the European Commission? The Prime Minister said we would have a binding commitment to follow EU state aid and competition law, and I wondered if it had any relevance in that context.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that encouraging response, and I am grateful to the noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have spoken in this debate.
On a matter of detail, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, asked about new subsection (2B) in Amendment 56, giving guidance to the judges to look to the relevance of an EU agreement. The noble Lord asked how that would work. I shall give him an example. If the judge is seeking to interpret a provision of retained EU law, relating to, say, medicinal products; if the Court of Justice after exit day pronounces on a regulation which has become part of retained EU law, and if the withdrawal agreement has said that there will be close regulatory alignment between the EU and the United Kingdom in that particular area, then the judge would be encouraged to pay close regard to what the Court of Justice had said about the meaning of the regulation. Our court would still be in control but it would pay particular regard—that is the whole point of new subsection (2B).
There is widespread agreement around the House that the wording of Clause 6(2) is unsatisfactory and that Parliament needs to give as much guidance as possible to judges in this context to protect them from being seen to be required to take policy decisions, which would undermine confidence in the rule of law. The Government and Parliament would be very unwise to reject, in particular, the concerns expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury. It is much more difficult to identify precisely what should be put in place of Clause 6(2). I am encouraged by what the Minister said—that the Government are listening and considering this matter. I am sure that all noble Lords who have spoken would be happy to contribute to the discussions that will take place before Report. I hope that, on Report, the Government will bring forward amendments to Clause 6(2).
Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, as I suspect he is going to do, can I ask him to clarify one point? He talked a moment ago about the need to protect the judges. Would he agree that it is a question not of protecting the judges from attack, but of protecting the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law?
I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord. I think I said in opening this debate that it is not that the judges cannot withstand criticism of their judgments, it is rather that we are all concerned about confidence in the rule of law. As the noble and learned Lord said, if the judges are left to take policy decisions in a very sensitive context, where a decision will have to be made as to the weight—if any—to give to Court of Justice judgments handed down after Brexit, there is no doubt that they will be exposed. They will be the subject of criticism which will undermine the rule of law unless we do our job and give very clear guidance on what Parliament thinks should be the appropriate approach.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
Amendment 56 not moved.