John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) that the United Kingdom could strengthen her links and ties with Anguilla and could be very supportive as we go through Brexit. I trust that those on the Government Front Bench have listened carefully to what he has been saying. As far as I know, they have good will towards Anguilla. He mentioned some positive ideas about how the UK can help more and develop that relationship, which I welcome and which I suspect the Government may welcome.
I will respond briefly to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). In her remarks—we have heard this in the many SNP speeches during the debates on the Bill—she referred again to the way in which Scottish voters had a different view from UK voters as a whole on the referendum and she implied that that had great constitutional significance. I urge her to think again. I pointed out to her that, had Scotland voted to be independent in its referendum, I do not think it would have mattered at all if, in a subsequent election—I think that there would probably have been one quite quickly—a lot of people in England had voted the other way and said, “No, we’d like Scotland to stay in.”
Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
John Redwood: If the hon. and learned Lady lets me finish my point, I will let her intervene. I would have thought that the result of the Scottish referendum was binding and, although I deeply want to keep the Union together, I would have felt that it was my duty to see the wishes of the Scottish people fully implemented because those were the terms of the referendum. She seems to be implying that it should have been otherwise.
Joanna Cherry: The right hon. Gentleman has unfortunately forgotten that the Scottish referendum was preceded by the Edinburgh agreement between the British and Scottish Governments, which said that the outcome of the referendum would be respected by both sides. I think that he is rather trying to deflect attention from the issue in hand today by harking back to this.
John Redwood: I fear that it is very relevant, and probably even more relevant to what we are going on to debate in the next group of amendments—and the hon. and learned Lady did raise it as an important part of her case on how we handle EU law. I feel that SNP Members want to recreate the European Union in every way they can by amending this Bill, which is actually about us developing a new relationship—a very positive relationship—with the EU from outside the EU. That means changing some of the legal ties that currently bind us to the EU, while the many that we do not want to change come under our control so that future votes of the British people, and Parliaments, could make a difference if they so wished. That is the very important thing that we are debating. She has to accept that just as, had the Scottish people voted to leave, we would all have accepted the verdict and got on with it, against our wishes, now that the United Kingdom’s people have voted to leave the European Union, the whole Union has to accept that democratic judgment.
Joanna Cherry: Is the right hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the outcome of the 2014 referendum means that henceforth in this Union the views of the Scottish people can be blithely ignored on all occasions? Is that his view? I am sure that Scottish voters watching the television would love to know that that is what he saying.
John Redwood: Absolutely not. Scottish voters’ views matter very much. They have a privileged constitutional position, which we are all happy with, such that in many areas Scotland makes her own decisions through her own Parliament. However, when it comes to a Union matter, I thought we all agreed that where we had a Union-wide referendum, the Union made the decision and the Union’s Parliament needs to implement the wishes expressed in the referendum. That is why Members from every party in the House of Commons, apart from her party and a few Liberal Democrats, decided, against their own judgments in many cases, that we needed to get on with it, send the article 50 letter and give this Bill a good passage. We are bound by the wishes of the British people as expressed in the referendum.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Ind): Does my right hon. Friend detect, as I do, a tendency in SNP Members, which reaches its pinnacle in the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), not to accept the results of any referendum held in this country? They reject the alternative vote referendum result, they will not accept and respect the Scottish referendum result, and now they are trying to countermand the European referendum result. I really think it is high time that they accepted the decisions made in referendums in this country.
John Redwood: That is extremely good advice. I find myself in a rather different position from the hon. and learned Lady. She finds herself in a position where every time there is a referendum in Scotland or the UK, she is on the losing side, whereas I have found that I am usually on the winning side. I seem to be much more in tune with the people. I agreed with the people’s judgment on grammar schools when we had a referendum on that, I agreed with their view on the voting system, I agreed with the Scottish people’s judgment on staying in the Union, and I very much agree with the United Kingdom electors’ judgment that we should leave the European Union. The people are often much more sensible than their Parliament wishes them to be, and it is great when Parliament then has to listen to the people and get on with doing the job.
The main point that I wish to make is in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who tried to tackle the scholarship-level question that underlies our debates on this group of amendments—whether we can transfer all EU law into good British law, or do we, in practice, end up having to accept some European law because of the complexities involved. In my brief exchange with him by way of intervention, I pointed out that the rights of the British people have their best defence in the common sense and voting strength of the British people, that that will be reflected in their elected Parliament, and that if their elected Parliament gets out of line with the will of the United Kingdom voters, then the voters will, at the first opportunity, change the composition of the Parliament until it reflects the wishes of the United Kingdom voters on the matter of rights.
My right hon. and learned Friend countered by saying that taking my view would mean that we only ever had common law and Parliament would never need to legislate. That is a silly caricature of the true position. We all know, I think, that it is very difficult to define eternal, immortal rights. Some rights last for longer and are more important than others, but people find it very difficult to define that. Looking back over past statements of rights over the centuries, one sees that some of them now grate or are clearly very much against our view of what a right should be, whereas others may last for rather longer. Quite a lot of statements of rights have a big component related to what is topical or socially acceptable at the time. We are largely pleased that what is socially acceptable evolves, so there are many bad practices of the past that we have come to see were bad practices, and that has been reflected in new legislation. We always need to legislate to reflect changing perceptions about what is a right and which rights we should give most cognisance to.
Antoinette Sandbach (Congleton) (Con): Of course, the charter is an excellent example of these rights. It incorporates rights on data protection and other issues, as has been described in the debate. Would it not make sense to incorporate it into UK law and allow it to be changed at a later date through the kind of evolution that my right hon. Friend is describing?
John Redwood: These rights have been incorporated into UK law because we have shared quite a lot of them before they were codified in the way they are codified and because, subsequent to their codification, they have helped to inform our debates about amending, improving and strengthening the law. No, I do not think it is a good idea to incorporate the charter of rights as though it had some special significance. Interestingly, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) stated that when the charter first came forward in the Lisbon treaty, he tended to the “Beano” view of it—that it was not very significant. He did not think it was a strong part of the treaty and was not very keen on it, and was therefore quite happy with the Labour Government treating it differently and exempting us from parts of it as being inappropriate. Now, he gives it greater significance and implies that it is dreadful that we will not be incorporating it, as though it has been transformed between the date when we first considered it as part of the treaty and its current presence.
My view is that the British people and their Parliament will adopt all these good rules, and have done so, informing many of our laws. If there are other laws that need strengthening or improving, that is exactly what this Parliament is here to do, and if we are negligent in that matter, the British people and their lobby groups will make sure that our attention is drawn to whatever may be missing or could be improved. I would say to the House of Commons, let us remember what we are doing. We are taking back control. Where we need to strengthen or highlight rights by legislation, that is something that any of us can initiate, and if we can build a majority we can do it. There are many good examples of rights and laws emanating from Back Benchers or Opposition parties as well as from Governments.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said, wrongly, that I was trusting the Executive too much. That is not usually a criticism that has been made of me. Whereas I often find myself in agreement with the people in votes in referendums, I have often found myself in disagreement with parties in this House, including my own party, on matters of some substance, and I have not usually been shy—but I hope polite—in pointing out where I have those disagreements. I therefore reject his idea that I am trusting the Executive. I said very clearly in my intervention that I was trusting the United Kingdom electorate and their successive Parliaments. If one Parliament does not please or suit, or does not do the right thing on the rights that the public want, a new Parliament will be elected that will definitely do so.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe reminded us that we have had a lot of debates about Henry VIII powers, which are relevant to this group of amendments on how much European law we incorporate. I find this argument one of the most odd brought forward by those who are nervous about Brexit. One of my main problems with our prolonged membership of the European Union was that large amounts of legislation had to go through this House unscathed, and often little remarked on or debated, because once they had been agreed around the European Union table in private, they were “good law” in Britain. If those laws were regulations, they acted directly, so we could not even comment on them. If they were directives, we had a very marginal ability to influence the way in which they were implemented and the main points of the law went through without any debate or right to vote them down. That was the ultimate Henry VIII approach. In the case of this legislation, after extensive dialogue and discussion, we are talking about very narrow powers for Ministers to make technical adjustments and improvements. All of it is of course in the context of the right for Parliament to call anything in, debate it and vote on it.
Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con): I am interested in the issue my right hon. Friend raises about our not being able to scrutinise European law in this Chamber before it was approved over there. In other Parliaments, such as the Dutch Parliament, specialist committees scrutinised proposals before they reached the European Parliament; for example, the telecoms committee in the Dutch Parliament would scrutinise telecoms law before it got to the European Parliament. As we take our own law, would it not be helpful to use the specialist committees more on the detail?
John Redwood: We had 45 years to get that right, and I think my hon. Friend would probably agree with me that it did not happen in the way she now says she wished it had. When I was the single market Minister, I tried to do this. I brought draft proposals to the House to try to get comment before I went off to negotiate. I felt that that was the only time it was worth hearing Parliament’s view because there was still the chance of trying to change things. If Parliament agreed with me that the draft was very unsatisfactory, it was marginally helpful to be able to say to the EU, “By the way, the United Kingdom Parliament does not like this proposal”, although the EU did not take that as seriously as I would have liked it to have done. The truth was that we could then be outvoted, under a qualified majority voting system, and we often were if we pushed our disagreement, so the views of Parliament mattered not a jot, even if we did the decent thing and invited Parliament to comment before the draft was agreed.
As my hon. Friend must know, once a draft was agreed, if it was a regulation, that was immediately a directly acting law in the United Kingdom and this Parliament had no role whatsoever. If it was a directive—directives can be very substantial pieces of legislation—we could not practically change anything in that law. Whatever Parliament thought, it had gone through.
Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I sit on the European Scrutiny Committee and have done so for some time. I can confirm that, although we briefly look at all the laws coming into country, we certainly do not have the time to scrutinise them. I can assure the House that the House does not have the time to do so either.
John Redwood: There is also the point that, if we are scrutinising that after it has happened, that is not a lot of use. That can alert Parliament and the public to problems that the new law might create, but if it has been agreed under the rules, it is law and we have to do the best we can and live with it. Having sat through quite a few debates on the Floor of the House—in Committee, and on Second and Third Readings of Bills—while being a Member of Parliament, I do not think I have ever seen a Bill that has been so extensively debated, dissected, discussed, analysed and opposed. A huge amount of work has gone in to proposing a very large number of detailed and rather general amendments, discussing the philosophy, principles and technical matters in considerable detail.
Sir Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): Before he moves on to another point, does my right hon. Friend agree that the narrowness of the Henry VIII clauses has actually been very considerably intensified by the amendments tabled on Report to clause 7(1) and 7(2)?
John Redwood: Yes, I agree. I think the Report stage may even produce some agreement between my right hon. Friend, me and our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield that improvements have been made in that respect, with some powers for Ministers being narrowed and the House having an even bigger role. I am perfectly happy that that has happened.The wider point I want to make is that this very extensive, forensic and thorough discussion could be a model for other legislation. It is interesting that MPs on the whole do not get as interested in other legislation as they have done in this Bill. The Lords should take into account the fact that, on this occasion, the Commons has done its work very extensively and thoroughly, and has considered a very wide range of issues in amendments. I am sure that the Lords will take that into account when it comes to have its important deliberations on this legislation.
After all, this Bill should not be that difficult or divisive. To remind everyone, what it does is to keep all the European laws that we currently have as they are, so that there is legal certainty. As someone who believes that Brexit will be very positive and good for this country, I wish us to go on and make major changes to our fishing laws, our farming financial system and our VAT system, which we are not allowed to do under European law—we are not allowed to take VAT off things that should not be charged VAT, for example. There are quite a few positive changes I want made to our law codes. We can do so once we have taken back control. On this Bill, however, everyone should be reassured because all the things they love about European law are simply being rolled over into British law.