European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: 16th January 2018

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I think I played a small part in that, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Does he agree that all political parties are very keen to appeal to younger voters and that things such as rights really matter to young people, so it could be seen as somewhat ironic that a party that wants to get more young people to vote for it seems to be turning its back on provision for these very important rights?

Mr Leslie
I am sure that advice will have been heard in senior quarters. Indeed a vice-chair of the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), is sitting on the row in front of the right hon. Lady. He is a very senior and eminent individual now, who has great responsibility for digging the Conservative party out of quite a deep hole.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
I rise to discuss amendment 7, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends and other Members and relates to the charter of fundamental rights, and amendments 42 and 43, which are in my name, and to give support to amendment 55, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who will be addressing it in due course. The amendments raise issues relating to the ​protection of fundamental rights, about which we have already had quite a degree of discussion today, and to the justiciability of those rights and their legal certainty in this country and its jurisdictions after Brexit. The amendments tabled by the Scottish National party have the support of the Law Society of Scotland, and those that relate to the charter have widespread support, including from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I am also interested in the wording of amendment 4, which was tabled by the official Opposition, and if I do not press my amendment, they can count on the SNP’s support should they press amendment 4 to a vote.

The questions raised by the amendments have all yet to be answered adequately by the Government. As the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) alluded to earlier in his erudite contribution, the Government’s approach to the detailed and widely held concerns about aspects of the Bill tends to be rather dismissive or deals with them airily and in generalities. At this stage, before the Bill goes to the other place, which is unaccountable and undemocratically elected, it is incumbent on the Government to address the questions about clauses 5 and 6 that were directed to them in Committee, rather than to continue to deal in the generalities that they have used so far.

The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), who is no longer in his place, made a valid point earlier. When we hear constant reassurances from Government Members that this Parliament could not possibly do anything to contravene fundamental rights, we do not need to look back very far into our history, or into the lifetimes of many in this House, to see a prolonged period when the rights of gay people were denigrated by a Conservative Government through the use of section 28.

Anna Soubry
That was a long time ago.

Joanna Cherry
It was not that long ago. Some of us were at school or were students at the time and fought very hard against it. Some of us still find it rather irksome to see the modern Conservative party presented as a great defender of gay rights, because we remember the years when it was not. It has seen the light since then and that is a good thing, but the contravention of human rights is something that Governments do from time to time, which is why it is necessary to have protections that go over and above the whims of the party in power.
Anna Soubry
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because I think it needs to be put on the record that, as a Conservative, I could not be prouder of what we achieved between 2010 and 2015, when we introduced equal marriage. I also pay tribute to the fact that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives happens to be gay. We just need to move on from all this. We should not talk about the past, but look to the future. We are very proud of our history as it now is in the Conservative party.

Anna Soubry
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), although I will not support her amendments. In fact, I will not support any amendments other than those tabled by the Government. The Bill will leave this place in much better shape than when it was first introduced, but it is still not fit for purpose, frankly. As hon. Members said on Second Reading, we need a mechanism to move all our existing law into domestic law, but the many faults in the Bill have been well rehearsed by my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). I wholly agree with them; I endorse their arguments; and I do not intend to repeat them.

Many changes are still needed, but it will be the other place that will make good some of the faults that remain in the Bill. We are not trying to abdicate the responsibility for doing so, because that is simply the way it is, and has been, sadly, for some time. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House share our concerns, but given the nature of the political situation they have not quite gone the extra step to defy a three-line Whip or to be seen as disloyal to their leader. Many people do not want to undermine the Prime Minister as she enters the difficult next stage of negotiations with the European Union, but it will be important, when the Bill returns to this place, that we all have the courage of our convictions and put our country’s interests at the front of all that we do. We need to get the best piece of legislation because it is so important.

There is every chance that in the next few months the sands will begin to shift as people begin to understand and appreciate that we have made an error in taking options off the table—or never putting them on in the first place—notably in the speech that was made almost a year ago, when the Prime Minister said that the single market and the customs union were coming off the table. Those red lines have not helped, and they will not ​help us in the forthcoming negotiations. All options need to be placed back on the table—and I mean all options. That includes the ability of the people—it must be the people—of this country to determine the future of Brexit. It must remain with them, and they must drive it. That must be taken into consideration as the Bill moves up into the Lords and then comes back here.

Finally, this place voted, as we know, for amendment 7, and the Government lost that vote. If new clause 9, which many say has now become otiose, falls or is abandoned by the Government when the Bill passes into the other place, it must be made absolutely clear that, even in that event, this place wants a meaningful vote on the final deal and in good time—not some rubber stamp or some deal or no deal, but a proper, meaningful vote. That must be determined by elected representatives and by the people and in the interests of the people—in the interests of not just my generation but my children and my grandchildren, who I hope will come—so that we do this properly, putting the people in charge and doing the best thing for our country.