The Second Reading debate of the United Kingdon Parliamentary Sovereignty Bill ( Download The United Kingdom Parliamentary Sovereignty Bill) took place on 18 March 2011.
Bill Cash made the following interventions:
Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move,
That the Bill be now read a Second time. I am delighted to see in the Chamber distinguished colleagues who are members of the European Scrutiny Committee and others who have kindly agreed to support the Bill. My hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) are two such Members.
I am delighted that, pursuant to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, at 11 o'clock the Prime Minister is going to come along and tell Parliament about the implications of the European Security Council resolution last night.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Under my hon. Friend's splendid Bill, would we also be able to overturn the vote against reaffirming the sovereignty of the UK that the House took during the debates on the European Union Bill? Would it effectively put us back where we really belong?
Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and indebted to him for the work that he has done on this subject. This is but the latest in a series of Bills, many of which he has drafted. Of course, he knows the answer to his question, which is that if the Bill were passed, it would have the effect that he has described. I think the House and the country would be a better place as a result.
Mr Cash: May I refer vicariously, through my hon. Friend, to the book written by Jeffrey Goldsworthy, which would give my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) an opportunity to catch up with the meaning that should be given to the words "parliamentary sovereignty"? It points out that the necessity to reaffirm that is becoming acute, for the reason that the European Scrutiny Committee's report published the other day stated clearly. Certain judges in the Supreme Court are strongly suggesting that parliamentary sovereignty has been qualified, and that they hold ultimate authority. That is a recent and extremely dangerous move.
Mr Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Mr Cash: I do not know whether it is any consolation to my hon. Friend, but under the arrangements, the European Parliament has a right only to be consulted in that respect. However, it is pressing hard and I doubt that he has missed the fact that it deliberately moved consideration of the question to the date-24 and 25 March-when the European Council meets to exert pressure on it. Its ambition to get control and to insist on the Community method knows no bounds.
Mr Cash: Both the charter of fundamental rights and the European convention on human rights, in their differing judicial aspects-the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights-impinge on UK sovereignty. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Lord Chancellor himself took part in a European Committee two or three days ago? He and I had an interesting altercation on his assertion that the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights does not change anything very much. However, for all the reasons that my hon. Friend is giving, to which I referred in that debate, the incorporation makes a substantial difference because it concentrates a mass of precedence from the European Court of Human Rights in the charter, and is thereby adjudicated by the ECJ.
Mr Chope: I am grateful, as always, to my hon. Friend-he is absolutely right.
Mr Cash: Given that the Prime Minister is coming to the House in about 40 minutes, will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that in the context of the matters to which he has referred-foreign and security policy and so on-it is woefully apparent that the EU had absolutely nothing to offer other than obstacles in dealing with the question of a no-fly zone, or indeed any other matter relating to Libya?
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): So far, my hon. Friend has concentrated his speech largely on the EU and the ECHR. However, I would like to pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). Does my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) intend to address clause 3(b), which talks not only about European institutions, but about international law and all of Britain's other treaty and international obligations, which would be affected quite dramatically by the Bill?
Mr Chope: Frankly, I was not going to, but if my hon. Friend is going to use clause 3(b) as a justification for not supporting my Bill, and if he thinks that it should be excluded and that the ambit of the Bill is too wide, I will allow him to dilate on that at length, if need be, during his remarks. I am a perfectly reasonable person, and if he thinks that clause 3(b) goes too far, I might be amenable to an amendment to delete it.
Mr Cash: I think that the Minister might be in grave danger of misunderstanding the Bill's provisions. It does not say that it will override any international law; all it says is that, under clause 2, if there is any question of an increase in the functions of the EU affecting the UK or if a legal instrument is inconsistent with the Bill, the judiciary would not be able to invoke any rule of international law in order to frustrate that provision. However, we could discuss all this in Committee, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) has rightly said.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am little surprised to be called so early in the debate, not least because I have dilated on this subject on many occasions. [Hon. Members: "No!"] Protests will not put me off doing so again. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on introducing the Bill, not only because this is such an auspicious time, given that we are now in the midst of debating the European Union Bill, which is still in the other place, but because of the continuing flow of, I have to say, clearly deliberate attempts by the coalition Government to throw doubt on the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, some of which have been diverted by the European Scrutiny Committee report. I am extremely glad to note that the explanatory notes to the European Union Bill have been changed, something that has not been mentioned publicly by the Government or the media.
The explanatory notes on clause 18, or the so-called sovereignty clause, which we were able to demonstrate it was not, have been revised in the light of the European Scrutiny Committee report. I am glad that they have been changed to get rid of some of the Committee's gravest objections to how the Government were seeking to apply what is known as the common law principle. I do not need to go into all the detail because we debated it at great length.
Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman has referred to clause 18 of the European Union Bill, the so-called sovereignty clause. He will recall that amendments not passed in this House would have gone in the direction of this Bill. Would it not be bizarre if this House were to send two Bills to the House of Lords at the same time that were mutually contradictory?
Mr Cash: It would be highly desirable. This Bill would in fact succeed the European Union Bill in order. We know that any Act of Parliament that is subsequent to a previous Act and is inconsistent with it, particularly in the context of sovereignty issues, overrides the previous Act. Therefore, if this Bill were enacted-if it followed the European Union Bill-it would supersede it. It would thereby also have the great advantage of overriding the manifestly absurd and, I believe, completely unlawful motion-unlawful in constitutional terms-that was passed, which said that this House did not reaffirm the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. When I use the word "unlawful" in this context, I simply mean that the European Union Bill is still under consideration by both Houses. I am using that expression with regard to the constitutionality of the matter, but it is a very important question and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, because it is important that we get it straightened out.
I come back to the explanatory notes. The report that the European Scrutiny Committee produced, which was unanimous, particularly on clause 18, was based on evidence from pretty well all the pre-eminent constitutional experts on what sovereignty meant in the context of the European Union Bill and in general. There was complete unanimity that the Bill did not contain what was on the tin, that it did not confer sovereignty and that the provision was not needed. However, read in the context of the explanatory notes, the invocation of the common law principle, which is a very profound question that has been raging in academic circles and the establishment for a long time, has the effect of reinforcing the view expressed in certain quarters, particularly in certain parts of the Supreme Court, that the sovereignty of Parliament is qualified by the ultimate authority of the courts, which is not something that the public at large would agree with, to say the least, or, for that matter, that they even knew was happening. The expression "common-law principle" has now been taken out of the explanatory notes, which is a great victory for the European Scrutiny Committee and will help substantially to alter the position in the right direction.
I am not convinced that the argument has been completely resolved, but the discussions of the kind that we are having today are helpful in further removing any doubt about the question of the sovereignty of Parliament. That is because the sovereignty of Parliament is not a purely theoretical abstraction; it is to do with the practical application of law passed in this House and in the other place for the purpose of implementing legislative proposals emanating from the Government or other sources to reflect the views of the electorate. In other words, this is essentially a democratic question.
In cases in which European Union law, European Court of Human Rights law and European convention law contradict the wishes of the electorate, it must be made clear that the sovereignty of Parliament will override such provisions in a way that ensures that the wishes of the electorate are complied with, consistently with general election and manifesto pledges, irrespective of coalition agreements, and in a manner that guarantees that the electorate's views are not only understood but put into effect.
Mr Jenkin: I took part in the debates on the European Union Bill, and the European Scrutiny Committee is to be commended for what it achieved in setting the record straight that sovereignty was not a common law principle but a fact of history. However, what we proposed in that Bill, and what is being proposed here, is to put the word "sovereignty" into statute. My hon. Friend's Committee never took advice on that question, but we rather assumed that this would be a good thing to do. What does he say to those who are concerned that it would actually make the concept of sovereignty justiciable if we placed it in statute, and that we are in danger of drawing the courts into a dispute with Parliament about what sovereignty is?
Mr Cash: I accept that that is an important point, but we have been put in this position, historically and legally, by the manner in which the European Communities Act 1972 has increasingly been eating away at the way in we legislate in this House.
This is a difficult question, and I do not want to get too historical about it, but similar considerations arose at the time of the passing of the Bill of Rights, and also in the proposed constitutional settlement around 1648. At that time, the sovereignty of the monarch was regarded by the Crown as absolute, and there was a question of how to deal with that. Unfortunately, it was dealt with, in the words of Oliver Cromwell, as a matter of "cruel necessity". Despite the fact that many people did not want it to happen, he took off the King's head as a symbolic demonstration that the King was no longer sovereign.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am afraid that I would dispute my hon. Friend's interpretation of what led to the execution of Charles I. I think it was much more complicated than that.
Mr Cash: I am prepared to accept that it was more complicated than that. I am making a point, but I defer to my hon. Friend. The real point is that the word "sovereignty" in this context has a practical, legal and factual base. We need to assert our sovereignty when it is under invasion, which is exactly what is going on now. I think that that is the simplest way to put it.
Mr Jenkin: One of the most important points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) was that there is no substitute for Parliament exercising its sovereignty. In that respect, our amendment to the European Union Bill and the Bill before us are a cry of despair. They are not a substitute for Parliament exercising its sovereignty. No amount of legislating for parliamentary sovereignty will match the exercise of our sovereignty. As one of my hon. Friends said to me this morning, it is a bit like the parish council beating the bounds of the parish. It is a long time since we exercised our sovereignty in that way here, but sooner or later we are going to have to do so, to prove that we still have it.
Mr Cash: The question also arises in the context of assertions by the courts. It is important that we respect the independence of the judiciary, but the judiciary in turn must respect the rights and privileges of the elected House of Commons and, indeed, Parliament as a whole. The claims that have been made, which are set out in the European Scrutiny Committee report, clearly demonstrate that moves are not only afoot but under way to qualify the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament and Acts of Parliament. Such moves fall back on an assertion that they are relying on the rule of law. I have asked questions about this repeatedly, not least in a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday on the Bill of Rights, and suggested that we ask these questions: whose law, which law, and how has it arisen?
Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): This country has an evolving constitution that is not written down in any one place. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a danger of authority slipping away from Parliament unless we restate that?
Mr Cash: That is completely right, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for not only his intervention but his notable contribution to the European Scrutiny Committee, of which he is a member.
The question of amending the Bill gives me an opportunity to set out another short clause that might be added to it.
Chris Bryant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr Cash: I would just like to get this out of the way, if I may, because it is quite a useful and explicit affirmation of what we could do in practice to ensure that there is no doubt about what is being done. The new clause in question could be phrased in this way:
"Any Act of Parliament or legal instrument expressly stating that that Act or instrument shall be 'notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972'
'notwithstanding the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998'
shall be construed by the courts of the United Kingdom as having the effect of disapplying and overriding any Act or legal instrument to which it refers."
That would put the position completely on all fours with the evidence that we have received from the constitutional experts.
For many years, I have said that we need a way to get round the problem of provisions emanating from the European Communities Act 1972, and the treaties and legal instruments made under it, being inconsistent with our national interests. To achieve that-in line with cases such as Macarthys v. Smith under Lord Denning and Garland v. British Rail Engineering under Lord Diplock, which remain good law despite what the Supreme Court has said recently-we need, precedent to an Act of Parliament and in relation to European Union legislation, to use the expression "notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972" to make it clear that we are legislating subsequent to an existing enactment and expressly inconsistently with it. That would oblige the courts to give effect to the later legislation. There are occasions when it is clear that the Government would want to do that but cannot do it, or do not want to do it, or would prefer the whole subject to go away. I am looking closely at the Minister at this point. There is nobody who wants this subject to go away more than the Prime Minister does.
It is a problem. I recognise the dilemma, and I have to say, in all fairness, that I have absolutely no doubt about the need for the remedy. I understand that there are inconveniences in having the European Union producing legislation that this country does not want, which might have been thought to be a good idea in the past. Some thought that the working time directive was a good idea, but it has turned out to have all kinds of unfortunate consequences. The same could be said of other matters such as the over-regulation of business.
When we were in opposition in 2006, I tabled an amendment to the then Government's Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, based on the "notwithstanding" formula, in order to improve the opportunities for British business, helping it to grow and get away from unnecessary burdens imposed by the European Union. During the afternoon that I proposed that amendment, a series of Whips' meetings took place. The Whips came to me and said, "Bill, would you be good enough to allow us to adopt your amendment and to put in Tellers?" When the vote took place on the words
"notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972",
teams of the present Government walked through the Lobbies to support my amendment, which they had adopted-and six weeks later on a whipped vote in the House of Lords, they reconfirmed it. There was no doubt about the intention there. The principle is thus established by the European Scrutiny Committee report, by the evidence we received and by the conduct of the Prime Minister who was then the Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is generous. Could the whole problem be solved by putting those magic words on the front of every Act of Parliament, thus forcing the courts to interpret the Act of Parliament as the supreme law, not the one from the European Union?
Mr Cash: We could do that, although it might not be desirable or necessary to do it for every Act of Parliament. I shall come on to some cases later, but we are about to go into an adjournment, if that is the right expression, when the Prime Minister will make an important statement on Libya and the UN resolution. I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) made an important point, which clearly summarises the position. It would not need to apply to every Act of Parliament, but only where it was necessary in respect of European Union law or the European convention on human rights-on issues like votes for prisoners, for example.
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): May I ask for a little more clarity? If my hon. Friend gets his way, will it mean that we would no longer have to beat the bounds, so to speak?
Mr Cash: We would not have to beat the European bounds, that's for sure, but my hon. Friend makes a valid point. The problem has overtaken the history of this Parliament, so it is important that we get back to first principles-that we should legislate in accordance with the wishes of the electorate. My hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough and for Christchurch, I and many other Members here today have argued for a full and effective referendum to deal with this question in line with the wishes of the electorate, but in between times, we are being affected in our daily lives by a stream-a tsunami-of legislation emanating from the European Union, much of which is an obstruction and an obstacle to the generation of economic growth in this country at a time of austerity when the deficit requires us to improve our legislation in a manner consistent with creating growth and business opportunities. All that shows that this is not just a theoretical question; it is about the practical impact of the European Union on the daily lives of the electorate. [ Interruption .]
I am delighted to see that the House is filling up with Members, but I have a feeling that it has to do with something other than the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. However, it provides an opportunity for us to get our case across to the more exalted Members of this House-at any rate, members of the Executive-so that they can benefit of knowing that we are engaged in these difficult times in ensuring that we reaffirm the sovereignty of the UK Parliament.
I also see the Deputy Prime Minister, so I point out to him as he assumes his place that his suggestion that we will not repatriate our laws, despite the Conservative manifesto which said that we would, is in the minds of many people in the Conservative part of the coalition and it is still absolutely on the agenda. We repudiate his suggestion that there will be no "backward step", as he puts it; we will repatriate, because we will insist on doing so. We will do so through the aegis of the sovereignty of this Parliament when there is a clear threat from European legislation or legislation emanating from the European convention on human rights or the European Court of Human Rights-whether it is on votes for prisoners, or whatever. We will insist that the legislation we pass in this House reflects the wishes of the electorate, not just those of the cognoscenti, the elite, the establishment or those who form part of the present coalition. We respect the Executive, but we beg to differ, and we insist that under no circumstances whatever will we allow the sovereignty of the UK Parliament to be overridden by assertions from the Deputy Prime Minister or anybody else.
Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend heard from many experts when he chaired the investigation of the European Scrutiny Committee into clause 18 of the European Union Bill. Will he clarify that the matters of concern expressed this morning about this House's loss of sovereignty were confirmed by many of the experts from whom he heard?
Mr Cash: They certainly were; most of the experts took this view. Now that the Prime Minister has come into the Chamber, may I take the opportunity to congratulate him on the manner in which he asserted in his own way the sovereignty of this country in his determination to ensure there is to be a no-fly zone over Libya? The very fact that he was able to do that, notwithstanding the impediments put in place by the European Union and others, demonstrates precisely what we are saying in this debate-that it is the sovereignty of the UK Parliament that lies at the heart of how we conduct our affairs in this country. In respect of the no-fly zone and related matters, the Prime Minister has done this country a great service. He has demonstrated that, notwithstanding the obstacles put forward by other members of the European Union, we still have residual powers, although I wish they were much greater.
If this Bill were to go through, we would override the amendment that was, unfortunately, passed a few weeks ago, which did not reaffirm the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, and we would put it right. I am extremely glad for the opportunity to debate this matter at this auspicious time.
There are many practical aspects to the Bill, which I shall come on to later. I understand that the Prime Minister has an important statement to make to bring us up to date about Libya. I shall move on to the more practical issues afterwards. I shall seek to demonstrate why we must insist that the European Union does not ride roughshod over the wishes of the electorate, as it has done so frequently in the past. We must reassert the supremacy of this House, whether it be on issues like prisoners' votes or- Proceedings interrupted (Standing Order No. 11(4)).
Mr Cash: Having had that ample demonstration of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom-the Prime Minister deserves our congratulations on that statement, given the opposition from within the European Union, for example-I can now resume the previous debate.
As I said, I want to cover a number of practical examples. It would be fair to say that 60% or 70% of all our legislation now comes from the European Union. When Members are debating Bills, there is frequently-almost invariably-no way for them to know whether the legislation emanates from EU law. When I was a member of the Statutory Instruments Committee many years ago, I managed to instigate a system to ensure that legislation emanating from the European Union was denoted by an asterisk to show where it came from. It would be extremely helpful for MPs to have that included in all Bills-for convenience, perhaps it could be in the explanatory notes-because if we are not entitled to legislate inconsistently with European law, MPs should know that. As for the proposals in this Bill and the clause that I suggested might be added to it-we come back to the "notwithstanding" formula, which has been brought up about half a dozen times in the last hour and a half-it is important that people should know the extent to which we are trammelled in our legislation. Indeed, many Acts of Parliament would be better understood by the public at large if they knew where the obligations came from.
That is one practical point. The other practical questions relate to the diversity, magnitude and volume of such legislation. We hear a great deal about better deregulation and attempts within the European Union to regulate better, but the statistics are incredibly bad. There is virtually no deregulation going on in the European Union, despite the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has placed a great deal of faith in renegotiating legislation, some of which has a very damaging effect on our potential for growth. In fact, I have recently quoted Lord Mandelson, who said when he was Trade Commissioner that over-regulation from the European Union amounts to 4% of GDP, and Mr Verheugen has demonstrated that over-regulation costs many billions of pounds. The most recent calculation I have seen is that since 1999 European over-regulation has cost the British economy and British business alone £124 billion. This is absolute madness. We are talking about over-regulation and unnecessary regulation, the manner in which it is passed and whether, on the basis of what the Government say-I would be fascinated to know how the Minister will respond to this-there is any intention whatever of following the precept that the Prime Minister- [ Interruption. ] If I can detach the Minister from his colleague, I would like to draw his attention to a point to which I would like him to respond. [ Interruption. ]
Mr Speaker: Order. It is courteous for Members on the Treasury Bench to pay attention. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) is referring directly to Ministers, so it would be a courtesy if they were listening.
Mr Cash: I am referring directly to the Minister to ask whether he will respond to a specific point made by the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition, in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies in 2005 on the repatriation of powers. He stated that it was imperative to ensure British competitiveness by repatriating social and employment legislation. That has now apparently been directly contradicted by his boss, the Deputy Prime Minister, who has said that we will not take any so-called backward steps by repatriating powers. The measures involved include the working time directive and other matters that are absolutely essential to the growth that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be addressing next week in the Budget.
I know that the Minister has a job to do, and I have no doubt that there are moments when that is somewhat unpalatable, but the bottom line is that we are far more interested in the jobs of the British people than in whether a few lines in the coalition agreement override the commitment that was made not only in our manifesto but in statements by the then Leader of the Opposition that we would repatriate social and employment legislation. There is no getting round this, and I want an answer to my question. I am sure that the House does, too.
Mr Harper: I can give my hon. Friend that answer now. We did indeed put a number of proposals before the British people, and we did seek a mandate for them. It will not have escaped his notice, however, that we did not win the general election outright, and that we therefore formed a coalition- [ Interruption. ] He raises his eyebrows, but that is a fact. Earlier, he specifically said that we had sought a mandate for certain things. We did indeed seek such a mandate, but I must draw his attention to the fact that we did not get that mandate. The coalition then set out its policies very clearly in its programme for government.
Mr Cash: I hear what the Minister says, but I am afraid I remain unconvinced, not least because the first priority must be to ensure that we achieve growth. Reducing the deficit is supposed to be the fulcrum of the coalition Government's proposals, but we cannot do that without increasing growth, and we cannot increase growth without reducing the burden of over-regulation, much of which comes from the European Union and has the effect of strangulating British business.
This is not exactly rocket science; it is completely obvious. I understand the Government's dilemma, but I am certain that, in the national interest, we need to tackle the problem. That is why the formula to which I have referred remains embedded in the Bill. I stress the necessity for Government policy to shift the burden on British business to give it the oxygen it needs. We cannot trade with the European Union when most of its member states, apart from Germany, are in a parlous state of low growth. Many of the countries are virtually bankrupt. It would be completely self-defeating to continue to make all these treaties and pacts on European economic governance and competitiveness in defiance of the fact that Europe is suffering from very low growth.
We need to relieve the burden on small and medium-sized businesses in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe to ensure that we can achieve the growth that we need. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition, and it should not get in the way of the overall objectives of the coalition. Unfortunately, however, it appears that it does, because the Government keep on saying that they will not repatriate these powers. I find it astonishing that we are working against the national interest in this way, rather than working for it. Statements by the Deputy Prime Minister in this context have been extremely unhelpful, but I gather that the Minister is going to associate himself with those remarks and not attempt to give any sustenance to those of us who want the repatriation of powers through this Bill.
My arguments apply not only on the business front- [ Interruption. ] I see some hon. Members shaking their heads, but this country is in a parlous condition at the moment, and common sense ought to prevail. It is not asking a huge amount to ensure that we have a thriving business community. The situation would be emphatically improved if we were to adopt the policy that I am proposing, and have been proposing for many years. As I said before the interruption for the Prime Minister's statement, that policy was formally agreed by us in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill in 2006 when we were in opposition.
Mr Harper: I would like to ask my hon. Friend a question. He drew attention to the repatriation of powers and spoke of using the mechanisms of the Bill to achieve that. Although I do not agree with it, I could understand the argument that the Bill would stop us giving away more powers to the European Union, but what mechanism in it would enable us to get back powers that have already been given away?
Mr Cash: The use of the sovereignty of Parliament to pass an Act notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972, which is inherent in the Bill. The Minister might recall that in opening my remarks, I specifically stated that I had a clause in mind that would put it beyond any doubt that the courts would be obliged to give effect to, for example, what the then Opposition properly did when they voted for my amendment to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.
We should not be arguing about this. I find it astonishing that I should have to raise the matter in a debate. For a Minister to question whether my remarks are valid in one respect or another is again astonishing. I cannot believe it: I know the Minister's business background; I know he understands the issues; I know perfectly well that he is caught on the horns of a dilemma. I believe that he would personally love to see the repatriation of powers-and I am sure his constituents would, as well. I am afraid, however, that it will do no good if he offers resistance to my simple, straightforward and common-sense proposals. This involves making adjustments to European Community law and requiring the judiciary to give effect to the latest inconsistent Act. I should not have to repeat myself; it is terribly obvious. It is all so simple that I cannot believe that the Minister would want to offer any kind of resistance to the proposition.
Let me provide a few examples-some from the business environment, some from elsewhere-from the massive tsunami of European law. I have already mentioned the working time directive, which is coming up for consideration by the European Scrutiny Committee. We recommended that proposals relating to it should be debated in the House, so we do not need to debate it immediately. I will say unequivocally, however, that the working time directive is causing a great deal of damage to small businesses. There are also questions in the pipeline relating to waste electrical and electronic equipment, which is a matter of concern to a number of manufacturers and to people in the waste disposal business.
Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is generous in giving way. Does he agree that one problem now is that we have lost so much time for debate as a result of the important statement on Libya? I, for one, will withdraw from speaking so that we can reach a conclusion and vote on the Bill. I know that other hon. Members want to speak, so I wonder whether my hon. Friend would reflect on that?
Mr Cash: Very much so. I am delighted to say that I have come to the end of my remarks, which were to include a reference to the European arrest warrant and powers of entry, as both those matters are causing problems for the citizens and people of this country. Fair Trials International has written an excellent brief on the necessary amendments, but as it knows all too well, only by using the sort of mechanism I have proposed-the "notwithstanding" formula-would we be able to deal with the problem.
Further difficulties relate to rulings on pensions, the insurance question for women and so forth. In a nutshell, this is a problem crying out for a solution. This Bill will provide it. Other measures are necessary to ensure that we retain the sovereignty of this House while at the same time dealing with the difficulties arising for the people of this country in a wide area of business and other legislation. ….
Mr Cash: I merely add that the most distinguished authority on the question of parliamentary sovereignty, Professor Jeffrey Goldsworthy, has indicated that clause 1 is the best way to deal with the situation with which we are faced. I have no idea where the legal advice that the Minister is getting comes from. If his advice comes from the same source as that of those who wrote the explanatory notes for the European Union Bill, the fact they have had to go into a steep reverse on this issue as a result of our Committee's report indicates that the quality of the advice is appalling, and, I am glad to say, that the Minister's comments are unnecessary and wrong.
Mr Harper: My remarks are clearly not unnecessary, because it is necessary to set out the Government's view. I suspect that my hon. Friend and I will not see eye to eye on everything; indeed, on quite a lot, particularly regarding these issues. Of course, he is entitled to his view, but I happen to disagree with him.
It is worth saying that in the debate in Committee of the whole House on clause 18 of the European Union Bill-my hon. Friend has referred to the evidence given in the European Scrutiny Committee, which he chairs-it was specifically made clear that it was not intended to be a general clause setting out the origin of parliamentary sovereignty; rather, it sets out how EU law gets its place in the UK legal order, which is by Acts of this Parliament. That was the purpose of the clause, and it did it very well. The EU Bill makes it very clear that directly applicable or directly effective EU law had status in the UK only because it was granted that status by an Act of the UK Parliament. I think that that was a helpful thing to do. As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) pointed out, that was agreed to by this House. Those arguments will be had at the other end of the building, and I hope that in due course that Bill will be passed by this sovereign Parliament.
Mr Cash: The fact that the Government have changed the explanatory notes is self-evident. Will the Minister put it on the record that he at least agrees that they were changed, even if he is not prepared to make any other admission?
Mr Harper: I believe that my hon. Friend is correct in saying that the explanatory notes have changed, so I am of course happy to agree on that fact. There are still matters of debate, but you will be pleased to know that I will not repeat those, Mr Deputy Speaker, because this is not a debate on the European Union Bill. I want to touch on issues other than the European Union because the Bill before us goes much wider, and there are other reasons why it should be opposed by Members. …
Mr Cash: The problem for this Minister and the Minister for Europe is that the Bill is not in law and we are already being affected by the assertions of certain members of the Supreme Court that the sovereignty of Parliament is not absolute. If it were not for that, there would not be a problem. This is a recent development. It is precisely because of the Court's assertions of judicial supremacy that we are required to retaliate and to make our position clear through a simple declaration such as that in clause 1, just to make it absolutely certain.
Mr Harper: The flaw in that argument is that to put into an Act of Parliament the language in clause 1 would invite exactly the problem that my hon. Friend is concerned about. Because it would be in a statute that judges would have to interpret, it would invite them to start defining "sovereignty" and interpreting what Parliament meant by the words in the Bill. I do not think that is very helpful.
Mr Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is highly significant that the Government have rewritten-I am glad to say-the explanatory notes to make it quite clear that the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament is understood in those terms by the Government?
Mr Chope: My hon. Friend made a good point on that, to which the Minister did not really respond. I tried earlier in the debate to give examples of where our sovereignty is under continued threat of erosion, not least of which was how we are left powerless when international courts make rulings against us. We are told that we cannot, as a sovereign Parliament, correct those rulings and redress the balance in a way that our constituents wish us to do. I am disappointed that my hon. Friend the Minister did not respond to any of those issues, so the best thing to do would be to press the Bill to a Division.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House divided: Ayes 6, Noes 42.