Debates between Lord Krebs and Baroness Goldie during the 2017-2019 Parliament

Wed 28th Feb 2018
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Baroness Goldie
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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My Lords, I rise to respond to these amendments with one very clear thought in my mind: I wish my noble and learned friend Lord Keen were standing at this Dispatch Box. We are dealing with issues that are clearly perplexing much greater intellects than mine, but I shall do my best. These amendments, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Pannick, concern the operation of Clause 4 and I am grateful for the opportunity to further explain and discuss the Bill’s approach to directly effective provisions arising from EU directives, one of the issues raised by these amendments.

As the Committee is aware, one part of EU law that the Bill is not converting into our domestic law is EU directives. The reason for this is clear: as they are not a part of our domestic law now, they should not be after we leave the EU. Indeed, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern made this point very succinctly in the earlier debate. Instead, the Bill is saving the domestic measures that implement the directives under Clause 2, so it is not necessary to convert the directives themselves. My noble and learned friend Lord Keen clarified that in the earlier debate. This is not only a pragmatic approach but one that reflects the reality of our departure from the EU. As an EU member state, we were obligated to implement those directives. When we leave the EU, those obligations will cease and it makes no sense to retain the direct effect of this category of law within our domestic law.

However, the Bill recognises one important exception to this approach: where, in a case decided or commenced before exit day, a domestic or European court has recognised a particular right, power, liability, obligation, restriction, remedy or procedure provided for in a directive as having direct effect in domestic law, Clause 4 will provide for that right, power, et cetera, to continue to have effect in domestic law.

The debate seemed to centre around the nub of phrasing in Clause 4(2)(b). In the earlier debate the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, raised the interesting question of what “kind” means in the phrase “of a kind”. That question was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. In Clause 4(2)(b) “of a kind” is to be read in the context of a right recognised in a decided case. Rights recognised in particular cases are often described in specific terms particular to that case and to the individual who has brought the action. The phrase “of a kind” is designed to ensure that comparable rights particular to other cases and individuals are also retained by Clause 4 but in respect only of decisions pertaining to that same directive. It is the opinion of the Government that this strikes the right balance, ensuring in respect of directives that individuals and businesses will still be able to rely on directly effective rights that are available to them in UK law before exit day, while also providing clarity and certainty in our statute book about what will be retained in UK law at the point of exit. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, encapsulated that point very neatly.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which is similar to the one tabled by Lord Pannick, would instead remove this balance. These amendments could have the effect that pre-exit directives would give rise to a directly effective right that has not previously been identified, for an unspecified period after our exit. Such rights would therefore become part of our law. The Government have always conscientiously implemented EU legislation, in accordance with our obligations as a member state, but once we are no longer in the EU, we should have no enduring obligations in relation to the implementation of EU directives. To accept these amendments would be to undermine the certainty that this Bill seeks to achieve. Businesses and individuals will be placed in the difficult position of not knowing when their rights might change, and our courts could face practical difficulties.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, goes even further. It would place Ministers under a continuing duty and obligation to make regulations where there has been incorrect implementation of any of the EU law that is retained through Clause 4. I would argue that this provision is harmful for several reasons, and it would not be consistent with the principle that we are separating our domestic statute book from that of the EU.

First, binding Ministers to legislate to give effect to any incomplete or incorrect directly effective EU law retained through Clause 4 would effectively require the UK to act on obligations of implementation relative to the EU framework that it was no longer under—a situation that would be simply inappropriate following exit day. Such an approach would impact on the certainty that the Bill aims to provide in our domestic statute book. By potentially allowing developments in the EU to continue to flow into UK law past the point of exit day, the clear snapshot—I know some Members do not care for the term but I think it is the best term we can come up with—taken by the Bill will be distorted, giving rise to confusion about what our law actually is and where it comes from.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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The Minister has just said that it would be inappropriate to rectify omissions or incorrect translations. But if the overall aim of the Bill is to move what is currently governed by the EU into UK law and, as it happens, maybe by accident or some other reason, we have made a mistake in the past, surely it would be right within the overall aims of the Bill to rectify errors in the translation, rather than to say, “We made a mistake in the past so we will persist with the mistake”. I just do not understand the logic of not wanting to rectify mistakes.