My Lords, on this very day, 31 January, in 1606, Guy Fawkes was executed following the failed Gunpowder Plot—but it is vital that this Bill does not also expire. The European Union Bill must be passed into law to allow Her Majesty’s Government to implement the will of the people in the referendum result and to respect the judgment of the Supreme Court.
A recent Thomson Reuters report identified 52,741 pieces of legislation that have been passed in Parliament since 1990, many of which came from Europe. Transferring European law into British law is the quickest way to ensure continuity, and of course that is the purpose of the Bill. So I see the rationale for the so-called Henry VIII clauses allowing Ministers to streamline the procedures, but I put it to the Minister that these powers should be limited to technical issues only and that there should be a sunset clause. But in so doing, surely we have to learn from the past. Such a complexity of constitutional laws may not have served Britain well. Let us not forget that, after 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai, in the presence of Almighty God, the prophet Moses finally emerged with only 10 Commandments to help humanity. If God had given Moses 52,741 laws, I suspect that he would have needed more than two tablets.
I spent some years as a barrister in what was known as “Rumpole of the Bailey’s chambers”. I stress that I am in favour of the European Union Bill and I want it to pass, but there are some matters that I would ask the Minister to comment on when he winds up. There is concern that the Bill as drafted fails to fully assign a legal status to retained EU law. Will he also address the concern that Ministers are due to determine legal status only on a case-by-case basis, considering the fundamental nature of such a power?
The European Union Bill seeks also not to retain the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Will the Minister address concerns that this may lead to a rather scattered landscape of rights, resulting in less protection for people? I am sure that all of these matters can be resolved, but I ask him to consider them.
Much has been said about Clause 11 on devolution, and I urge the Government to rethink it. Can the Minister also assure your Lordships that the House of Lords will play an equal role in scrutinising any secondary legislation, as I believe was promised by the Leader of the House of Lords in evidence to the Constitution Committee on 13 December? Might that even be written into the Bill?
This is an exciting time for our nation. No longer will we be shackled by the EU single market or burdened by paying huge sums into the EU budget. Britain will become a truly global trading nation, making trade agreements all around the world. On this very day the Prime Minister is in China with many of our businessmen, hoping to make trade agreements with the enormous Chinese trading bloc.
Much has also been said about the nature of this country post Brexit, and this is where I will refer to the Commonwealth family. My father came to Britain from Jamaica in the 1940s to do perhaps the most noble job known to mankind—to play cricket for Warwickshire. Although he was born and raised in Jamaica, he felt that he was coming home because he was part of the Commonwealth family. Let us remember that that family comprises 52 nations with one-third of the world’s population. It has an immensely rich and enduring history and culture, with English as a common language, as well as great admiration for our sovereign. The timing of the Bill is excellent since Britain is due to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in just a few weeks’ time.
This Bill is not a leap into the dark. When fear knocks at the door, we must answer it with faith. It is illuminating that throughout the Bible there is a clear theme of one empire after another eventually overreaching itself and gradually collapsing. In the Old Testament, it was the Egyptian empire, followed by the Assyrian empire, the Babylonian empire and finally the Persian empire. They all collapsed. In the New Testament were the powerful rulers of the Roman empire such as Nero—but they all eventually fell. So the Bible and history demonstrate how national sovereignty always proves more durable than the politics of imposed empire.
For 10 years I was vice-president of the British Board of Film Classification. Currently, there is a British film which will probably win several Oscars for the British film industry. It is called the “Darkest Hour” and it is about the Second World War. We are privileged to be part of the most important season in British history since 1945. As we engage with our European counterparts, we must revive the winning spirit of Sir Winston Churchill. In the film, Churchill declares that “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth”.