During the first day of the Committee Stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Commons, Sir William Cash made the following speech and interventions:
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the House of Lords, which is of course unelected and which itself decided to pass the European Union Referendum Act 2015, really has no justification whatsoever for attempting to obstruct, delay or undermine this Bill?
Frank Field: A very important lesson needs to be learned by some of those in the House of Lords who think they can wreck the Bill and wear us down so that Brexit never takes place. There is a very important convention—the Salisbury convention—and there is a very important difference between a referendum and a party’s manifesto. The Salisbury convention allows us to give and take on the important parts of a manifesto—the parts to which Governments rightly feel committed, and which they wish to pursue in Parliament so that when they stand for re-election they can say they have done the job they promised to do.
This is a different ball game. As I tried to say at the beginning, it is difficult for us all to come to terms with the role we have as MPs and the role we have in a post-referendum debate. I think their lordships should know that if they try to wreck the Bill, many of us will push the nuclear button. Labour wants to see the House of Lords go—I am surprised there was not a cheer at this point—but their lordships will sound their own death knell. Not one of them is elected, and none of them has any standing whatsoever in preventing the Government from inviting the House of Commons to implement the referendum decision, as we are doing today.
Sir William Cash: Does my hon. Friend recall that the official Opposition voted against the Bill on Second Reading and therefore the repeal of the 1972 Act? They still claim that this Bill is not fit for purpose and that it usurps parliamentary sovereignty, when in fact it does exactly the opposite.
Mr Baker: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and I look forward to seeing whether Opposition Members support clause 1 stand part.
If we were to not repeal the European Communities Act, we would still, from the perspective of EU law, exit the European Union at the end of the article 50 process, but there would be confusion and uncertainty about the law on our own statute book. For example, it would be unclear whether UK or EU law would take precedence if there was a conflict between them. The status of new EU law would also be unclear once the UK left the EU.
I intend first to set out briefly the effect of the European Communities Act on our legal system and the implications of its repeal. The UK is a “dualist” state, meaning that a treaty, even when ratified, does not alter our laws unless it is incorporated into domestic law by legislation. Parliament must pass legislation before the rights and obligations in a treaty have effect in our law. The European Communities Act gave EU law supremacy over UK law. Without it, EU law would not apply in the UK. The 1972 Act has two main provisions. Section 2(1) ensures rights and obligations in the EU treaties and regulations are directly applicable in the UK legal system. They apply directly without the need for Parliament to pass specific domestic implementing legislation. This bears repeating in the context of the clauses to follow.
EU regulations and certain EU treaty provisions have effect in the UK without further parliamentary intervention, thanks to the European Communities Act. Section 2(2) provides a delegated power for the implementation of EU obligations, such as those in directives. Over 12,000 EU regulations flow into our law through section 2(1) of the Act, none of which could be refused by this House or the other place. These range from chemical classification rules to rules about the rights of passengers travelling by sea.
Sir William Cash: In response, vicariously to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), may I point out that most decisions taken by the Council of Ministers are effectively made by consensus behind closed doors, with no record of who said what, how the decision was arrived at, or, unlike this House, with no record of any of the proceedings either?
Mr Baker: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I thoroughly recommend the report of his Committee relating to that subject.
I think what has been established in this sequence of interventions is that clause 1 could scarcely be of greater constitutional significance. It will repeal the 1972 Act on exit day, removing the mechanism that allows EU law to flow automatically into UK law, and remove one of the widest-ranging powers ever placed on the statute book of the United Kingdom. The repeal makes it clear and unarguable that sovereignty lies here in this Parliament.
Sir William Cash: The rather mysterious explanation that the hon. Gentleman gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) needs some elucidation. Would he be good enough to explain whether leaving the European Union means repealing the European Communities Act 1972, and why Labour voted against the Bill on Second Reading?
Paul Blomfield: I would have thought that it would be as clear to the hon. Gentleman as it is to me that leaving the European Union does involve revoking the European Communities Act. I will go on to explain why we have concerns about the Government’s amendments and the different decisions within them.
Sir William Cash: Indeed. I wish to challenge my right hon. and learned Friend on his assertion that the manner in which the Council of Ministers has been operating has been adequately democratic and transparent. Can he please explain to us, from his own extensive experience, how it works and will he deny that, for the most part, it is done behind closed doors and that it is done by consensus, so nobody knows who decides what, how and when?
Mr Clarke: Under the Major Government, we introduced a process whereby parts of the European Council meetings were held in public. The Council of Ministers do hold public sessions, and an attempt was made to reach decisions in public sessions. It probably still goes on. [Interruption.] It does not amount to very much.
I urge Members to reconsider and I urge the Government to press the reset button. There is far more at stake than the future of this Government or, indeed, that of any Member of this House.
Sir William Cash: I want to start by simply outlining that, contrary to what the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) has just suggested about there being weak arguments for why we should leave the EU and repeal the European Communities Act 1972, it is absolutely essential that we do so if we are going to have a self-respecting, self-governing democratic country. The Bill and this whole issue are about one main question, namely democracy, which is what everything else necessarily flows from. All the economic arguments and questions relating to trade and other matters are ultimately dependent on the question of whether we have the right to govern ourselves in this sacred House of Commons. That is the basis on which the people of this country make decisions, of their own free choice, in general elections—whether it is to vote for the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP or the Conservative party—and then a decision is made in this House as to how they will be governed.
I repeat what I have said: we have just had Remembrance Day. I simply want people to reflect for one moment on the fact that those millions of people who died in both world wars died for a reason. It was to do with sustaining the freedom and democracy of this House.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): But does not democracy presume that a Government would listen to the will of the House of Commons, whose Members are individually elected by their constituencies? Would it not be slightly odd, therefore, to proceed with the Bill without taking out the Henry VIII powers?
Sir William Cash: Put simply, on the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which was a sovereign Act of this House—the point that the hon. Gentleman has just made—the House of Commons agreed, by six to one, that it would deliberately transfer to the people the decision whether to leave or remain in the European Union. Unless that Act is repealed, I do not believe that that decision should be returned to by the House.
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman has referred to the millions of people who died in two world wars. Those two world wars took place before the existence of the European Union and we in Europe, including this country, Germany and France, have lived in peace for decades. Is not it the case that France, Germany and other countries will now never, ever go to war because of the European Union?
Sir William Cash: The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that no two democracies have ever gone to war with one another. I declare a personal interest in this issue because my father was killed in Normandy, fighting for this country, and I am proud that he got the Military Cross for that reason. This is something that many people in this country really understand and believe. It is not easy to explain, but it is to do with the fact that people understand the real reasons that self-government is so important.
The proposal in the European Communities Act 1972, which we are now repealing, was the greatest power grab since Oliver Cromwell. It was done in 1972 with good intentions. I voted yes in 1975 and I did it for the reason the hon. Gentleman mentions: I believed it would create stability in Europe. The problem is that it has done exactly the opposite. Look, throughout the countries of the European Union, at the grassroots movements and the rise of the far right, which I deeply abhor and have opposed ever since I set about the Maastricht rebellion in 1990. I set out then why I was so opposed to the Maastricht treaty: it was creating European Government and making this country ever more subservient to the rulemaking of the European Union. As I said in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), that has been conducted behind closed doors. We have been shackled by European laws. He asked at one point if we could give one example. The ports regulation is a very good example. We fought that in the European Scrutiny Committee and in the House of Commons, but we were not allowed to make any difference to it. It was opposed by the Government, it was opposed by the Opposition, it was opposed by all the port employers and it was opposed by the trade unions. What could we do about it? Absolutely nothing!
John Redwood: Does my hon. Friend agree that once Parliament has passed the repeal of the 1972 Act, Ministers will only be able to do things that this Parliament permits them to do? Today, Ministers have to do many things that the European Union insists on, which this Parliament cannot discuss or overturn.
Sir William Cash: There are at least 12,000 regulations, every one of which would have required a whole Act of Parliament, with amendments and stages in both Houses. A transcript would have been available. People would have known who voted which way and why, and known the outcome of what was a democratic process. Instead, as I said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe—even he conceded that I was right on this—the process is conducted, over bibulous lunches and in the Council of Ministers, in a manner completely lacking in democratic legitimacy, yet, because of consensus arrangements behind closed doors, it becomes part of our law through section 2 of the 1972 Act. It is imposed on us by our voluntary consent. It is therefore up to us and the people of this country to decide, by their voluntary consent and their freedom of choice, to get out of this, just as it was brought in by an Act of Parliament, without a referendum, in 1972.
Wera Hobhouse: Has the hon. Gentleman not shown a deep misunderstanding of how the European Union works through consensus and participatory democracy? Rather than one country dictating to another, that is the whole spirit of the European Union. No one country is sovereign, but decisions are taken in the round.
Sir William Cash: I am sorry to disillusion the hon. Lady. I have been in this House for 33 years and I have been on the European Scrutiny Committee for 32 of them. I can absolutely assure her that what she says is simply not reflected by the practice of the European Union. The system is essentially undemocratic.
Antoinette Sandbach: Does my hon. Friend not feel that it is ironic that all 12,000 EU regulations will be imported into UK law under a process that will not have the detailed scrutiny of the House, because Henry VIII powers will be used to do it?
Sir William Cash: My hon. Friend might just reflect on the fact that there is no other way of transposing the legislation. I drafted the original repeal Bill, so I understand it very well. I did so before the referendum, in fact, because—I say this to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe—I believed we would win. In reality, once we have brought this into UK law, we will be able to have our own Bills—on agriculture, fisheries, customs, immigration, and various other parts of our constitutional arrangements—that can be properly discussed and amended.
Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that every single one of the regulations coming into UK law is already abided by in this country and in this Parliament and are to its satisfaction at the moment?
Sir William Cash: Yes, the reality is that the Bill, if and when it goes through—and I believe it will—will incorporate into UK law EU legislation already consented to in the way that my hon. Friend mentions. We have agreed to them, but unfortunately they have not had the democratic legitimacy that will be conferred upon them when the Bill goes through.
I proceed now to the important question of the European Court of Justice. I made this point to the Prime Minister about 10 days ago and again to the Brexit Secretary last week. I wish to mention three pieces of case law that we inherited when the treaties that had accumulated after 1956 came upon us through section 2 of the 1972 Act. The first two are Van Gend en Loos in 1963 and Costa v. ENEL in 1964. In its judgment in the first case, the European Court asserted that
“the Community constitutes a new legal order in international law for whose benefit the states have limited their sovereign rights”.
In Costa v. ENEL, the Court ruled:
“The transfer by the States from their domestic legal system to the Community legal system of rights and obligations arising under the Treaty carries with it a permanent limitation of their sovereign rights”.
In 1970, in the Handelsgesellschaft case, the Court said that community law should take precedence even over the constitutional laws of member states, including basic entrenched laws relating to fundamental rights. It does not get more profound than that. Those decisions are mere assertions by the Court, yet under section 3 of the 1972 Act, we agree to abide by them.
Mr Kenneth Clarke: Will my hon. Friend agree that all treaties involve a pooling of sovereignty? We gave up immense sovereignty when we joined the United Nations and NATO, membership of which we would never dream of renouncing. The European Court exists to enforce treaty rights, including obligations on members. Does he recall probably the most important case there of modern times, when the British Government took the European Central Bank there to assert our treaty rights so that the City of London and our financial services industry could have a passport to financial services in the eurozone? It was worth thousands of jobs and showed the benefit of the Court in upholding treaty rights, including the most important treaty rights of the UK.
Sir William Cash: I also remember the case of Factortame, when Lord Bridge made it clear that by Parliament’s voluntary consent, given by virtue of the 1972 Act, an Act of Parliament—namely, the Merchant Shipping Act 1988—could be struck down. I am not trying to be disingenuous. The fact is that the 1972 Act empowers the European Court to strike down UK Acts of Parliament. That is what sovereignty is all about.
Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman talks about sovereignty and the pooling of sovereignty. Building on the point from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), how does the hon. Gentleman think we will achieve new trade deals without ceding sovereignty, given that all trade deals—like EU membership, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman just pointed out—require the ceding of sovereignty?
Sir William Cash: I must say to the hon. Gentleman, and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, that there is a world of difference between that and having agreements by virtue of treaties in international law, which are actually matters on which it is possible to make decisions without being absorbed into and entangled in a legal order. That is the difference. It is the acquis communautaire and its principles that completely undermine the sovereignty of this House. I am prepared to concede that some people—
Sir William Cash: I am sure that my hon. Friend will be making this point, but I will try to anticipate it. There are circumstances in which the pooling of sovereignty by virtue of, for example, NATO is claimed to be a genuine pooling, but it is not, because it is possible to withdraw from it. The whole point about the European Communities Act is that it is not possible to withdraw from it except by repealing it in this manner. That is what we are doing now.
Robert Neill: My hon. Friend has strongly emphasised the importance of the sovereignty of the House, and I agree with him. Is it not all the more important that, as we leave, this sovereign House should have a meaningful vote on the terms on which we leave, rather than there being a “take it or leave it” vote at the end of the process? Is that not the ultimate expression of sovereignty, and will my hon. Friend therefore support it?
Sir William Cash: The answer is that I am supporting the outcome of the referendum, which, by virtue of our sovereign Acts of Parliament, we decided that we would pass over—
Mr Howarth: On a point of order, Dame Rosie. Delightful though it is to sit listening to the hon. Gentleman expatiate on all manner of things, I am struggling to discover what this can possibly have to do with new clause 49—or, for that matter, any of the amendments and new clauses linked to it.
The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Rosie Winterton): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. We are also debating clause 1, which is fairly wide-ranging, so the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) is in order.
Sir William Cash: I had actually spotted that, Dame Rosie, and I am most grateful to you for confirming that I am in order.
Let me now touch on some of the issues that arise from this continuous emphasis on the virtues of the European Court of Justice. There is the constitutional principle, which I have already explained, and there is the case law, which I have also already explained. But it goes further than that. The very great Lord Justice Bingham, in chapter 12 of his book “The Rule of Law”, describes the relationship between the courts and Parliament. He comes down unequivocally in favour of Parliament. He makes it clear that when Parliament passes a Bill such as the one that we are to enact, it will override all the laws in the European system that have shackled us so far, and also all the Court judgments, save only that we have agreed, by virtue of the retained law, to transpose some aspects of the process to which we have become used, and which we can decide what to do with at a future date.
Mr Grieve: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Sir William Cash: I certainly will; I should be only too delighted. I have been waiting to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend, whom I happen to know very well, and for whom I have great respect. I shall listen to him with interest.
Mr Grieve: I do not think my hon. Friend can have it both ways. A moment ago, he was talking about direct effect. There is no doubt that if we leave the European Union, direct effect will cease on the day we go; but, as I am sure he knows, we are signed up to about 800 treaties with arbitral mechanisms that can lead to judgments affecting the United Kingdom, which we then undertake to implement, sometimes by changing our own laws. I do not quite understand why my hon. Friend has such an obsession with the Court of Justice of the European Union if its direct effect will be removed, although we will have to be subject to it during the transitional period as we are leaving.
Sir William Cash: I do not think that matter has been entirely settled, by any means. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) earlier referred to a lunch she was at, where it appears that she was told we were going to be subject to the European Court of Justice, and my right hon. and learned Friend has made exactly the same point.
I have to say that there are serious questions about the nature of the European Court. The problem is that the European Court is essentially not an impartial court at all. It has never discharged the function impartially, and from the early 1960s it developed a range of principles, such as those of the uniform application and effectiveness of EU law, that it then expanded of its own volition into the general principles of the supremacy and direct effect of EU law over national law. These judge-made principles had no basis in the EU treaties until the Lisbon treaty, which my right hon. and learned Friend, who was then Attorney General, opposed. The fact is that until Lisbon—
None of these judge-made principles had any basis in the EU treaties, and the principle of the primacy of EU law is a judicial creation recently codified, and no more than that. However, because we have accepted judgments of the European Court under section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972, which we are going to repeal, we are saddled with this, and that is one of the things we are going to unshackle.
Interpretation is done in the European Court by what is known as the purposive approach. In fact, as has been well said, there are many different purposes that can be in conflict with one another, and the methods of interpretation applied are anything but satisfactory. I therefore say to those who want to advocate the European Court, whether in the transitional period or in general, “Beware of what you wish for,” because the European Court can create havoc in relation to our trading arrangements.
Angus Brendan MacNeil: If the hon. Gentleman is so opposed to the European Court of Justice, what is his dispute resolution mechanism going to be? Independent states need a dispute resolution mechanism where they cede sovereignty; they give some of their sovereignty and get some of somebody else’s sovereignty. What is that going to be?
Sir William Cash: I shall conclude my remarks on this point. The European Court is seriously deficient in a whole range of matters. On the question put by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), the idea has been put forward by Martin Howe QC, and I have put it forward myself in the House, of a system of jurisdiction that would be more in the nature of an arbitration, where there might be, for example, retired European Court judges or whoever, who would adjudicate—but on a bilateral basis, not on the basis of a decision taken by the European Court. It is possible to come up with a solution, therefore, but I do recognise the problem.
We are now embarked upon a massive restoration of self-government in this country. This Bill is essential to achieve that, and should be passed without any of the obstacles and frustrating tactics being put in its way.
Sir William Cash: I mentioned to the Prime Minister during her statement a few days ago the bear trap that I can see coming up during the transitional period if we are not careful because of the manner in which the European Court operates by the purposive rule; I know my hon. Friend will understand. During the transitional period, when we are faced with a court operating under that rule and not by precedent, we could end up with the European Court dictating to us the basis upon which we would be operating during that period. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Dominic Raab: The Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee eloquently makes his powerful point. We need to avoid bear traps, cliff edges and potholes, and that is what this Bill does. That is a common goal that we all ought to be trying to pursue, on both sides of the House—whether we voted to leave or remain. I am not convinced that the amendment of the Chair of the Justice Committee would achieve that aim. Despite his best intentions and his rather ingenious drafting, I fear that the amendment would, in practice, create considerably more legal uncertainty, not less.
Sir William Cash: I just wanted to refer to chapter 12 of the book by Lord Bingham, entitled “The Rule of Law”, which I am sure the hon. and learned Lady is aware of, in which he criticises Lady Hale for her view on the relationship between Parliament and the judges. Is she aware of that?
Joanna Cherry: I am familiar with that book, but I do not think that it has any relevance to what I am saying at the moment. I remind the hon. Gentleman the Lady Hale is the President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, and she has made the point that what she and her fellow judges require from the Government and the House is clarity in the directions as to how they are to treat the future jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union, because if the guidance is not clear, they will come under the sort of political attack that I am sure the hon. Gentleman, who is a great supporter of the British constitution, would abhor, as I do—although I might actually prefer a Scottish constitution.
As I said earlier, this amendment is not a Trojan horse. It is the result of careful consideration by the organisation Justice and by the Institute for Government. It also has the support of the TUC and, I am delighted to say, the Labour party, as well as the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Fawcett Society. One reason the Equality and Human Rights Commission is so keen on this amendment is because it is also important for rights protections. It is important to remember that EU law is largely about the rights of individuals. The Government’s position paper, published in the summer, seemed to imagine that EU law was all about disputes between the United Kingdom and the EU, but it is not. Most people who make references to the Court of Justice do so in the determination of their individual rights or their rights as a business.
Sir William Cash: My right hon. Friend is asking some very interesting questions, but that does not necessarily mean—he, or indeed any of us in this Chamber, not being a judge—that he is drawing the right conclusions. He is pointing to several questions that need to be raised, however, although he has not mentioned that clause 5(1) states:
“The principle of the supremacy of EU law does not apply to any enactment or rule of law passed or made on or after exit day,”
and that must include this Bill.
Furthermore, my right hon. Friend has not quite taken on board what the Solicitor General said with respect to our application of the stare decisis method of interpretation, which the Supreme Court will be obliged to apply after exit day. So he is asking some interesting questions, but I do not think we can necessarily draw conclusions from them.