Department for Exiting the European Union
I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a second time.
Mr Speaker, when I introduced the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill earlier this year, I said that Bill was just the beginning the beginning of a process to ensure that the decision made by the people in June last year is honoured.
And today we begin the next step in the historic process of honouring that decision.
Put simply, this Bill is an essential step. Whilst it does not take us out of the EU that is a matter for the Article 50 process it does ensure that on the day we leave, businesses know where they stand, workers rights are upheld and consumers remain protected.
This Bill is vital to ensuring that as we leave, we do so in an orderly manner.
Summary of the Bill
Let me start with a brief summary of the Bill, before going on to set out its key provisions in more depth.
The Bill is designed to provide maximum possible legal certainty and continuity, whilst restoring control to the UK. It does so in three broad steps.
First, it removes from the statute book the key legislation passed by this Parliament in 1972 the European Communities Act.
That Act gave EU law supreme status over law made in this country. It is therefore right that it be removed from our statute book on the day the UK leaves the EU, bringing to an end to the supremacy of EU law over laws made here in the UK.
Second, the Bill takes a snapshot of the body of EU law which currently forms part of the UK legal system, and ensures it will continue to apply in the UK after we leave.
This is to ensure that, wherever possible, the same rules and laws will apply the day after exit as they did before. Without this step, a large part of our law would fall away when the European Communities Act is repealed.
But simply preserving EU law is not enough. There will be many areas where the preserved law does not work as it should.
So, as its third key element, the Bill provides ministers in this Parliament and in the devolved legislatures, with powers to make statutory instruments to address the problems that would arise when we leave the EU.
These powers allow ministers to make those changes to ensure the statute book works on day one. This will be a major, shared undertaking across the UK.
Following this, it will be for UK legislators to pass laws and for UK courts to adjudicate those laws.Mr Speaker, the Bill enables us to leave the EU in the smoothest and most orderly way possible.
It is the most significant piece of legislation to be considered by this House for some time, and it will rightly be scrutinised clause by clause, line by line, on the floor of this House.
I stand ready to listen to those who offer improvements to the Bill, in the spirit of preparing our statute book for our withdrawal from the EU.
The right hon. member for Holborn and St Pancras likes to remind me of my past incarnation as a backbenchers champion and my dedication to holding the Government to account.
Mr Speaker, I have not changed my views one jot. Let me be clear, this Bill does only what is necessary for a smooth exit and to provide stability.
Those who approach this critical Bill in a spirit of cynicism and look for conspiracies in it simply fuel popular mistrust of those of us who serve in this place.
However, as I have repeatedly said, I welcome and encourage contributions from those who approach the task in good faith and in the spirit of collaboration.
All of us as legislators have a shared interest in making this Bill a success for the national interest.
The key point of this Bill is to avoid significant and serious gaps in our statute book.
The Bill ensures consumers can be clear about their protections, employees can be clear about their rights, and businesses can be clear about the rules that regulate their trade.
Workers rights, consumer and environmental protections will be enforceable through the UK courts, which are renowned the world over.
The Bill provides certainty as to how the law applies after we leave the EU, and ensures individuals and businesses can continue to find redress when problems arise. And of course, without this Bill, all of these things are put at risk.
The Bill must be on the statute book in good time ahead of our withdrawal, so that the statutory instruments that will flow from the Bill can be made in time for exit day, and so we are in a position to take control of our laws from day one.
The Bill provides a clear basis for our negotiation with the European Union by ensuring continuity and clarity in our laws, without prejudice to the ongoing negotiations. Without this legislation, a smooth and orderly exit is impossible.
The shape of any interim period would need to be determined by negotiations, but we cannot await the completion of negotiations before ensuring that there is legal certainty and continuity at the point of our exit. To do so would be reckless.
Repeal of the ECA
Mr Speaker, let me now talk the House through the Bills main provisions.
The first clause of the Bill repeals the European Communities Act on the day we leave the EU, ending the supremacy of EU law in the UK and preventing new EU law from automatically flowing into UK law after that point.
When the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, led a debate here in May 1967 on the question of the UKs entry into the European Communities, he said:
It is important to realise that Community law is mainly concerned with industrial and commercial activities, with corporate bodies rather than private individuals. By far the greater part of our domestic law would remain unchanged after entry. [Official Report, 8 May 1967; Vol. 746, c. 1088.]
I think the passage of time has shown he was mistaken. European Union law touches on all aspects of our lives, in a far wider way than the drafters of the European Communities Act could have envisaged.
This means that the Bill we have before us today has a difficult task: it must rebuild UK law in a way that makes sense outside the EU.
Preservation and conversion of EU law
To do this, the first step the Bill takes is to preserve all the domestic law we have made to implement our EU obligations.
This mainly means preserving the thousands of statutory instruments that have been made under the European Communities Act, with subjects ranging from aeroplane noise to zoo licensing. It also extends to preserving any other domestic law that fulfils our EU obligations or otherwise relates to the EU.
Equally, the Bill converts EU law principally EU regulations, all 12,000 of them into domestic law on exit day.
It also ensures that rights in the EU treaties that are directly effective that is, rights that are sufficiently clear, precise and unconditional that they can be relied on in court by an individual continue to be available in UK law under the Bill.
I have no doubt that there is much about EU law that could be improved and I know this Parliament will over time look to improve it.
But that is not the purpose of this Bill. This Bill simply brings EU law into UK law, ensuring that, wherever possible, the rules and laws are the same after exit as before.
Just as important as the text of EU law is the interpretation of that law.
For that reason, the Bill ensures that any question as to the meaning of retained EU law is to be decided in the UK courts in accordance with the CJEUs case law and retained general principles of EU law as they stood on exit day.
This approach maximises stability by ensuring that the meaning of the law does not change overnight, and only the Supreme Court and the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland will be able to depart from retained EU case law.
They will do so on the same basis that they depart from their own case law. Any other approach would either actively cause uncertainty, or fossilise CJEU case law forever.
Future decisions of the CJEU will not bind our courts, but our courts will have discretion to have regard to such decisions if they consider it relevant and appropriate to do so in just the same way that our courts might at the moment refer to cases in other common law jurisdictions, such as Australia or Canada.
Exceptions to preservation and conversion
Overall, then, the Bill provides for very significant continuity in the law.
But there are some elements that would simply not make sense if they remained on the UK statute book once we have left the EU and in the years and decades to come.
It would not make sense, for example, for the Bill to preserve the supremacy of EU law, or to make the preserved EU law supreme over future legislation passed by this Parliament.
Laws passed in these two Houses after exit day will take precedence over retained EU law.
Mr Speaker, we also do not believe it would make sense to retain the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter only applies to member states when acting within the scope of EU law.
We will not be a member state, nor will we be acting within the scope of EU law, once we leave the EU.
As I said to the House when I published the White Paper on the Bill, the Charter catalogues the rights found under EU law, which will be brought into UK law by the Bill.
It is not, and never was, the source of those rights. Those rights have their origins elsewhere in domestic law. Or relate to international treaties or obligations which the UK remains