I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
When I introduced the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill earlier this year, I said that that Bill was just the beginning—it was the beginning of a process to ensure that the decision made by the people in June last year is honoured. Today we begin the next step in the historic process of honouring that decision. Put simply, this Bill is an essential step. Although it does not take us out of the European Union—that is a matter for the article 50 process—it does ensure that, on the day we leave, businesses will know where they stand, workers’ rights will be upheld and consumers will remain protected. The Bill is vital to ensuring that, as we leave, we do so in an orderly manner.
Let me start with a brief summary of the Bill before going on to set out its key provisions in more depth. The Bill is designed to provide maximum possible legal certainty and continuity while restoring control to the United Kingdom. It does so in three broad steps. First, it removes from the statute book the key legislation passed by this Parliament in 1972—the European Communities Act 1972. That Act gave European Union law supreme status over law made in this country. It is therefore right that it be removed from our statute book on the day the UK leaves the European Union, bringing to an end the supremacy of European law over laws made in the United Kingdom.
Secondly, the Bill takes a snapshot of the body of EU law that currently forms part of the United Kingdom legal system and ensures that it will continue to apply in the United Kingdom after we leave. This is to ensure that, wherever possible, the same rules and laws will apply the day after exit as they did before. Without that step, a large part of our law would fall away when the European Communities Act is repealed.
But simply preserving European Union law is not enough. There will be many areas where the preserved law does not work as it should. So, as its third key element, the Bill provides Ministers in this Parliament and in the devolved legislatures with powers to make statutory instruments to address the problems that would arise when we leave the European Union.
In a moment.
These powers allow Ministers to make those changes to ensure that the statute book works on day one. This will be a major shared undertaking across the United Kingdom.
I will give way to both right hon. Gentlemen in a few minutes.
Following this, it will be for United Kingdom legislators to pass laws, and for the United Kingdom courts to adjudicate those laws.
The Bill enables us to leave the European Union in the smoothest and most orderly way possible. It is the most significant piece of legislation to be considered by this House for some time, and it will rightly be scrutinised clause by clause, line by line on the Floor of the House.
I will give way in a moment.
I stand ready to listen to those who offer improvements to the Bill in the spirit of preparing our statute book for withdrawal from the European Union.
Keir Starmer likes to remind me of my past incarnation as a Back Benchers’ champion and my dedication to holding the Government to account. I have not changed my views one jot. Let me be clear: this Bill does only what is necessary for a smooth exit and to provide stability. However, as I have repeatedly said, I welcome and encourage contributions from those who approach the task in good faith and in a spirit of collaboration. All of us, as legislators, have a shared interest in making the Bill a success and in the national interest.
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to confirm that the Government will not use this Bill to make policy changes?
Again, I will go into that in some detail. There is one exception to this, but the primary aim behind the Bill is to maintain policy as it is now. The only exception to that is under the withdrawal arrangements, and that will be time-determined and limited. I will detail that in a second.
I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I do not read the Evening Standard—it sounds like with good reason. I have to tell him that if I am going to take lectures on rule by decree, it will not be from the editor of the Evening Standard.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if the Government wish to make a change by statutory instrument, that is a parliamentary process? It would be entirely in Parliament’s control. It is a synthetic nonsense to suggest that Ministers are bypassing Parliament.
My right hon. Friend is entirely right—it is a point I will elaborate on later—and the editor of the Evening Standard should know that from his own experience.
The key point of this Bill is to avoid significant and serious gaps in our statute book. It ensures that consumers can be clear about their protection, employees can be clear about their rights, and businesses can be clear about the rules that regulate their trade. Workers’ rights and consumer and environmental protections will be enforceable through the UK courts, which are renowned the world over. The Bill provides certainty as to how the law will apply after we leave the European Union, and ensures that individuals and businesses will continue to be able to find redress when problems arise. Without this Bill, all those things would be put at risk.
The Bill must be on the statute book in good time ahead of our withdrawal so that the statutory instruments my right hon. Friend John Redwood referred to, which will flow from the Bill, can be made in time for exit day—the House will have time to look at them—and so that we are in a position to take control of our laws from day one.
The Bill provides a clear basis for our negotiation with the European Union by ensuring continuity and clarity in our laws without prejudice to the ongoing negotiations. Without this legislation, a smooth and orderly exit would be impossible. The shape of any interim period will need to be determined by the negotiations, but we cannot await the completion of negotiations before ensuring that there is legal certainty and continuity at the point of our exit. To do so would be reckless.
Will the Secretary of State confirm his view that not transposing the EU charter of fundamental rights will have no impact on the actual rights of the British people, their interpretation or their enforcement in the courts?
Again, I will come to that later, but if the hon. Lady remembers, when the White Paper was presented to this House I said to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras, my opposite number, that if any powers were missing, people should come to the Government, tell me and tell the House, and we would put that right. I have not had a single comment since on that.
If my right hon. and learned Friend will forgive me, I will not for the moment.
Let me now talk the House through the Bill’s main provisions. The first clause repeals the European Communities Act on the day we leave the European Union, ending the supremacy of EU law in the UK and preventing new EU law from automatically flowing into UK law after that point. When the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson led the debate here in May 1967 on the question of the United Kingdom’s entry into the European Communities, he said:
“It is important to realise that Community law is mainly concerned with industrial and commercial activities, with corporate bodies rather than private individuals. By far the greater part of our domestic law would remain unchanged after entry.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 746, c. 1088.]
I think the passage of time has shown that he was mistaken. European Union law touches on all aspects of our lives, in a far wider way than the drafters of the European Communities Act could have envisaged. That means the Bill we have before us today has a difficult task: it must rebuild United Kingdom law in a way that makes sense outside the European Union.
In a moment.
To do that, the first step the Bill takes is to preserve all the domestic law we have made to implement our EU obligations. That mainly means preserving thousands of statutory instruments that have been made under the European Communities Act, with subjects ranging from aeroplane noise to zoo licensing. It also extends to preserving any other domestic law that fulfils our European Union obligations or otherwise relates to the European Union.
Equally, the Bill converts European Union law—principally EU regulations, all 12,000 of them—into domestic law on exit day. It also ensures that rights in the EU treaties that are directly effective—that is, rights that are sufficiently clear, precise and unconditional that they can be relied on in court by an individual—continue to be available in UK law.
I have no doubt that there is much about EU law that could be improved, and I know that this Parliament will, over time, look to improve it. [Interruption.] Including Wayne David, who laughed just then. But that is not the purpose of this Bill. It simply brings European Union law into UK law, ensuring that, wherever possible, the rules and laws are the same after exit as before.
Just as important as the text of EU law is the interpretation of that law.
In a moment.
For that reason, the Bill ensures that any question as to the meaning of retained law is to be decided on in UK courts in accordance with the Court of Justice’s case law and retained general principles of European Union law as they stood on exit day. That approach maximises stability by ensuring that the meaning of the law does not change overnight and that only the Supreme Court, and the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland, will be able to depart from retained EU case law. They will do so on the same basis on which they depart from their own case law. Any other approach would either actively cause uncertainty or fossilise EU case law for ever.
I will make this point and then give way. Future decisions of the Court of Justice will not bind our courts, but our courts will have discretion to have regard to such decisions if they consider it relevant and appropriate to do so, in just the same way that our courts might at the moment refer to cases in other common law jurisdictions such as Australia and Canada. I give way to Stephen Doughty, who has been patient.
Given the scale of the task that the Secretary of State is setting out in his introduction to the Bill, and the huge impact that our relationship with the EU has on every aspect of our lives—our economy, our workers’ rights, our environmental rights, and our security and law relationships—can he explain why we are only getting eight days to discuss the Bill in Committee when the Bill that took us into Europe had 22 and the Maastricht treaty had 20?
The first thing I would say is that eight days is quite a long time for this sort of thing. Perhaps the most relevant comparison is with the Lisbon treaty, which recreated—[Interruption.] Yes, it is, because it recreated the European law on a major basis. This Bill does not do that. It does not aim to change law, with a tiny exception that I will come back to; it aims to maintain the laws that we currently have—it is primarily technical in that respect. If the hon. Gentleman sees it as being any different, then I will give way to him again.
The trouble with relying on secondary legislation is that it is unamendable and gets only one and a half hours of debate. Would it not be sensible, particularly in relation to any secondary legislation brought through under clause 9, to allow a new form of secondary legislation where we can amend it and have substantial debate?
In essence, remember, the aim of the Bill is to translate European Union into UK law and to make sure that no problems arise, whether that means references to bodies that we are no longer subordinate to, whether it means that the language is different, or whether it applies to reciprocal rights. Much of this will be very straightforward and relatively simple. The point that the hon. Gentleman should look at is that the Bill seeks to make the type of secondary legislation, whether under affirmative or negative resolution, proportionate to that. If he wants to talk about the issue further, I am happy to talk to him. As I have said before, I am not going to reinvent the constitution at the Dispatch Box.
I am not going to presume ill intent from the start. I say to everybody in the House that the electorate will draw their own judgment as to whether people are addressing this in a sensible way to maintain the rights of British citizens and to maintain the continuity of British law in good time for our departure from the European Union—which is, after all, a fixed date—or whether they are simply using it as a cynical political exercise. That is not a decision for me to make; it is a decision for the electorate to make, and make it they will.
I will make some progress now.
Overall, then, the Bill provides for very significant continuity in the law, but there are some elements that simply—
In a moment.
There are some elements that simply will not make sense if they remain on the UK statute book once we have left the EU and in the years and decades to come. It would not make sense, for example, for the Bill to preserve the supremacy of EU law or to make the preserved EU law supreme over future legislation passed by this Parliament. Laws passed in these two Houses after exit day will take precedence over retained EU law.
We also do not believe that it would make sense to retain the charter of fundamental rights. The charter applies only to member states when acting within the scope of EU law. We will not be a member state, nor will we be acting within the scope of EU law, once we leave the European Union. As I said to the House when I published the White Paper on the Bill, the charter catalogues the rights found under EU law that will be brought into UK law by the Bill. It is not, and never was, the source of those rights. Those rights have their origins elsewhere in domestic law or relate to international treaties or obligations that the UK remains party to—for example, the European convention on human rights.
Let me clear: the absence of the charter will not affect the substantive rights available in the UK. As I have said before at the Dispatch Box, if an Opposition Member or anyone in the House—I am thinking of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve; I will come to him in a minute—finds a substantive right that is not carried forward into UK law, they should say so and we will deal with it.
The Secretary of State will know that the key issue is not what Ministers say the aim of the Bill is, but what are the actual powers that are contained in it. So can he tell the House what safeguards there are anywhere in the Bill—in statute—that would prevent Ministers from using clause 7, clause 9 or clause 17 to completely rewrite extradition policy in future, in relation to the demise of the European arrest warrant, without coming back to Parliament with primary legislation?
I will come to the details in a moment, but there are a number of limitations, one of which is that we cannot impinge on the Human Rights Act 1998. That goes straight to the point that the right hon. Lady raises.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s point about the charter, because I agree with him that general principles and the charter should be identical—although that does raise the question of why, in those circumstances, the charter should go—but schedule 1 says quite clearly that after we have done this:
“There is no right of action in domestic law on or after exit day based on a failure to comply with any of the general principles of EU law.”
He must agree that that means that the right of the individual to challenge on the basis of the principle of EU law—the law that will be imported into our law by the Bill—will no longer be possible. That is in our own courts—forget about the European Court of Justice. That seems to me a marked diminution in the rights of the individual and of corporate entities.
I am afraid that my old and dear right hon. and learned Friend and I are going to have a difference of opinion. We will put in the Library a letter on this specific issue, as we have already said. [Hon. Members: “When?”] Today. But the simple truth is that these rights, as he should know as well as anybody, have a whole series of origins. Some are from British common law, some are from EU law that we will bring in ourselves, and some are from the European convention on human rights—which, he will note, we are continuing with. All these things will provide those undertakings. Why on earth we need an extra layer of declaratory law I do not know. It was brought in under the Blair Government—perhaps that explains it.
Not for a moment. I will make some progress and come back to the hon. and learned Lady.
The conversion of EU law into UK law is an essential measure to ensure that the UK leaves the EU in the smoothest way possible. However, that action alone is not enough to ensure that the statute book continues to function. Many laws will no longer make sense outside the EU. If we were only to convert EU law into UK law, our statute book would still be broken. Many laws would oblige UK individuals, firms or public authorities to continue to engage with the European Union in a way that would be both absurd and impossible for a country that is not within the European Union. Other laws would leave the European Union institutions as key public authorities in the UK—a role they would not be able to perform or fulfil.
The problems that would arise without our making these changes would range from minor inconveniences to the disruption of vital services we all rely on every day. In practical terms, they would range from a public authority being required to submit reports on water quality to the European Union, to disruption being caused to the City by the removal of the supervision of the credit rating agencies entirely. It is essential that these issues are addressed before we leave the European Union, or we will be in breach of our duty as legislators to provide a functioning and clear set of laws for our citizens.
That is why the Bill provides a power to correct problems that arise in retained EU law as a result of our withdrawal from the European Union. This is clause 7, the so-called correcting power. Unlike section 2(2) of the European Communities Act—this goes straight to the point that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford raised—which can be used to do almost anything to the statute book to implement EU law, the correcting power is a limited power. It can be used only to correct problems with the statute book arising directly from our withdrawal from the European Union. Ministers cannot use it simply to replace European Union laws that they do not like. It is designed to allow us to replicate as closely as possible existing European Union laws and regimes in a domestic context. It is also restricted. It cannot be used, for example, to create serious criminal offences, amend the Human Rights Act, or impose or increase taxation. We have ensured that it will expire two years after exit day so that nobody can suggest that it is a permanent attempt to transfer power to the Executive.
I accept that proposing a delegated power of this breadth is unusual, but leaving the European Union presents us with a unique set of challenges that need a pragmatic solution. Using secondary legislation to tackle such challenges is not unusual. Secondary legislation is a process of long standing with clear and established roles for Parliament.
Following on from the point made by Mr Grieve, the Secretary of State has asked for concrete examples of rights that will be lost to UK citizens as a result of the Act, so I would like to give him one and ask for his undertaking that he will amend the Act to make sure that this right will not be lost.
Earlier this summer, a man called John Walker relied on EU equality law to bring his successful challenge to a loophole in UK law whereby employers could refuse to pay same-sex partners the same pension benefits as those paid to heterosexual couples if the funds were paid in before December 2005. The Supreme Court—our Supreme Court, not the European Court of Justice—agreed that there was a loophole in UK law that was a violation of the general principles of non-discrimination in EU law. Mr Walker was able to use his right of action under the general principles of EU law to close that loophole, so that he and his husband could enjoy the same rights as a heterosexual couple. That would not be possible under this Bill, because, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said—
Order. This is a very lawyerly intervention, which is not altogether surprising in view of its genesis, but I am looking for the question mark.
I am coming to the question, Mr Speaker, but the Secretary of State asked for examples. A challenge such as the one I have described would not be possible under this Bill, because there will be no right to sue. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that he will close this loophole in the Bill if we bring forward an appropriate amendment?
I think that that will be brought forward in the course of the Bill’s translation, but if not—[Interruption.] No, I am standing exactly by my undertaking. If not, the hon. and learned Lady should come to me and we will find a way of correcting that problem.
With respect, we have had one lengthy intervention, and I have to make some progress.
Our current estimate is that the UK Government will need to make between 800 and 1,000 statutory instruments to make exit a reality in UK law. That may seem, in some ways, like a large number—it is a little less than one year’s quota, as it were—and I understand that Members have concerns about scrutiny of that volume of legislation, but let me contrast that with the 12,000 European Union regulations and 8,000 domestic regulations—20,000 pieces of law—that have brought forward new policies while we have been members of the European Union.
This one-off task is very different from the flow of new law from the European Union in the last 40 years, and it is ultimately about ensuring that power returns to this House. The people who complain about using secondary legislation should remember that of those 20,000 pieces of law, 8,000 went through under secondary legislation and the remaining 12,000 went through without any involvement from this House at all, because they came as regulations. They changed the law rather than maintaining it.
No. All these changes must happen quickly to maintain stability as we leave the European Union. Many of the changes will be minor and technical, replacing, for example, references to European Union law or to other member states. It would not make sense, nor would it be possible, to make these numerous changes in primary legislation. Some of the changes will, by nature, be more substantial and demand more scrutiny. An example would be a proposal to transfer a function currently exercised by the Commission to a new domestic body that needs to be set up from scratch. We hope to minimise the need for such bodies, but where they are needed I readily accept that such changes require fuller parliamentary scrutiny. That is why the Bill sets clear criteria that will trigger the use of the affirmative procedure, ensuring a debate and vote on the statutory instrument in both Houses. Over the course of the two days we spend debating this Bill, I am sure that we will hear calls for the secondary legislation to receive greater scrutiny—
In a moment.
I am sure that we will hear calls for secondary legislation to receive greater scrutiny—Chris Bryant has already made such a request—along the lines of that given to primary legislation. I am clear that the way to make significant changes is through primary legislation. That is why the Queen’s Speech set out plans for several further Bills to follow this one, including Bills on immigration, trade and sanctions. Bringing in significant new policy changes is not the task at hand. With this power, we are making corrections to the statute book rather than bringing in new policies to take advantage of the opportunities offered by our withdrawal from the EU.
I will give way in a second.
These corrections need to be made to ensure that we have a functioning statute book. As far as we can see, the power we have proposed is the only logical and feasible way to make those corrections. Our approach remains the only viable plan—we considered others—put forward in this House. Although we have heard complaints from the Opposition, we have not heard any alternatives from them.
The central premise of the Secretary of State’s argument is that in order to ensure a smooth exit we need to maintain as much of the status quo as possible on the way out. But this Bill goes much further, because the changes contained in clauses 5 and 6 would effectively rule out being within the customs union and the single market for a transitional period. That represents the single biggest risk to our economy, and that is what is contained in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right in one respect: that is clear Government policy. That is, in fact, the decision that was taken by the British people last year. They wanted to leave the European Union, which means leaving the single market and leaving the customs union. That point is clear. I know it is confusing for Labour Members, because their deputy leader appears to have a different view from the rest of the party.
Let me make some further progress after that rather silly intervention. The Bill also contains a limited power to implement the withdrawal agreement by statutory instrument if that proves necessary.
In a moment.
The Government’s aspiration is to agree a new deep and special partnership with the European Union. Under the article 50 process, we are negotiating a withdrawal agreement with the European Union. Provisions of that agreement will need to be implemented in domestic law, and some of that will need to be done before exit day. Given the timetable set by article 50, it is prudent to take this power now so that we are ready, if necessary, to move quickly to implement aspects of an agreement in domestic law. That will be particularly important if the negotiations conclude late in the two-year period. This power will help to ensure that the UK Government and devolved Administrations can implement the outcome of the negotiations. The power is limited; it will be available only until exit day, at which point it will expire. It is aimed at making the legislative changes that absolutely need to be in place for day one of exit to enable an orderly withdrawal from the European Union.
I have listened patiently to the Secretary of State, who has waxed lyrical about these regulations and delegated legislation being just standard. They are not just standard. I would like him to say something about the status of the delegated legislation made under clause 7, which gives it the status of an Act of Parliament. This is an attempt by the Government to oust review. I would like him to elaborate on that very important issue.
I am afraid that that is not correct. The point was made by another Member—it may even have been what Mr Leslie wanted to say—about the ability to change bits of primary legislation. The simple truth is that that is a fairly standard set of words used in such legislation. The Enterprise Act 2002 and the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 2010—both Labour Acts—contain such wording. It is the normal routine, because we want to make sure that nothing in the Bill prevents us from entering a transition phase, for example, or going into the next phase of negotiations.
Forgive me; I will make some progress. The exact use of the power will, of course, depend on the contents of the withdrawal agreement. For example, a power could, depending on what the withdrawal agreement says, be used to clarify the status of UK cases at the CJEU that started before exit but will not yet be concluded on exit day. It could also be used, for example, to enable regulatory approval for UK products that was pending at the point of exit. It will align with the proposals set out this summer in the UK’s position paper on continuity in the availability of goods in the EU and the UK. Those sorts of fairly technical but important issues need to be capable of being changed.
I will give way in one second to my right hon. Friend.
We have already committed to bringing forward a motion on the final agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. That vote is in addition to Parliament’s scrutiny of any statutory instruments that we propose under these powers. It is also in addition to the enormous amount of debate and scrutiny that will be applied to the primary legislation, which will cover each and every major policy change relating to our exit from the European Union. Parliament will therefore be fully involved in taking forward a withdrawal agreement.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way.
Those are not my words, but the very wise ones of my hon. Friend Sir William Cash in 2013. Long-standing, real concerns about statutory instruments have been expressed for many years by Members on the Government Benches.
To allay those concerns, will the Secretary of State look at what is called the triaging of the proposed statutory instruments? Many thousands of them will be completely uncontroversial and could be dealt with very quickly and efficiently, but those that really must be considered fully in this Chamber—in this place—could be so considered if we had triaging. Will my right hon. Friend please agree to look at that principle? It will solve many of the difficulties with the Bill across all these Benches.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her suggestion. There will not be many thousands of statutory instruments, but between 800 and 1,000. The estimate has come down from several thousand because we have taken out much of the most serious legislation to put into other primary legislation. I will happily talk to her about mechanisms for making sure this is a fully democratic and open process. I will talk to her about it, and let us come back to that.
No. If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, I am trying to hold back from taking too many interventions. I will discuss that with her, and we will look at possible amendments.
I am just thinking through the logic of that. It seems to me to be logical, in truth. Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me a few moments to review the matter? It seems to me to be perfectly possible that I could give such an undertaking, but I will not just do it on the fly in case I have missed something. [Interruption.] No, no. He is right. Let me say to the House that he is right about one thing in that the two issues—the overall judgment on the outcome and any withdrawal arrangements—run together. The withdrawal arrangements are most likely to come up if it arrives late, and that is why I will have to think through the possible timetable. He will remember that when we talked about how the House will be able to review the negotiated agreement, we said we would use our best endeavours and that we intend and expect to get it to the House before anybody else. That is what we intend, and we had to use that form of words because we were not sure about the timing. However, I will talk to him and come back to him on that matter.
I want to move on to another subject, if I may, which is the subject of devolution. This relates directly to some of the things Opposition Members have been saying, so let me now deal with the Bill’s approach to devolution.
As I have set out, the overall approach of this Bill is to provide for continuity wherever possible at the point of exit, not to seek to initiate reforms immediately. That is the approach that guides the devolution provisions as well. Let me be clear: this Government have a strong track record on devolution. Our commitment to strengthening devolution settlements is clear from the statute book—most recently, the Wales Act 2017 and the Scotland Act 2016. If I remember correctly, the Scotland Act gave tax-raising powers of about £12 billion to the Scottish Parliament, which is not such a small thing. Leaving the European Union allows us to make sure that decision making sits closer to the people than ever before, and we expect a significant increase in the decision-making power of the devolved institutions.
The current devolution settlements have always created common frameworks within the United Kingdom by reflecting the context of the UK’s EU membership, so in areas subject to European Union law all parts of the United Kingdom currently follow common rules and principles, even where matters are otherwise devolved. For example, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each pass their own laws relating to food policy, but each nation has to ensure it complies with European Union rules on food hygiene.
When we leave the European Union, it is not in the interests of people and businesses—those living and working across the UK—for all those arrangements to disappear, or for there to be new barriers to living and doing business in our own country. The Bill therefore provides certainty and continuity for people across the UK by recreating in UK law the common frameworks currently provided by EU law, and providing that the devolved institutions cannot generally modify them.
The Bill also ensures that every decision that the devolved Administrations and legislatures could take before exit day, they can still take after exit day. This is a transitional arrangement. It is an arrangement that ensures certainty and continuity while the United Kingdom undertakes negotiations with the European Union on its future relationship and the UK Government and devolved Administrations discuss precisely where we need to retain common frameworks in the UK in the future.
What the right hon. Gentleman is therefore describing is not devolution but reserving powers to this Parliament. It is a fundamental breach of the principles of the original Scotland Act. Will he tell us whether any statutory instruments affecting the devolved Administrations that go through this House as a result of the Bill will be subject to legislative consent in those institutions?
I have said already that we will put our overall negotiation through legislative consent motions; I have made that point previously. Let us come back to the core of the argument. The argument being put is that everything that belongs to the European Union now belongs to the devolved Administrations, but that clearly does not work, as I will come on to say in a minute.
The common frameworks will be important as they will enable us to manage shared resources such as the sea, rivers and the air, and they will enable the continued functioning of the UK’s internal market. They will allow us to strike ambitious trade deals, administer and provide access to justice in cases with a cross-border element and enter into new international treaties, including on our future relationship with the European Union.
I will not give way for the moment.
For example, the common frameworks will mean that a business in Wales knows that it needs to comply only with one set of rules on food labelling and safety to sell to the rest of the United Kingdom, or that a farmer in Scotland is able to sell her livestock in other parts of Great Britain, safe in the knowledge that the same animal health rules apply across that geographical area. Certainty on common approaches will be critical for the day-to-day life of people in the United Kingdom on the day we exit the European Union and on into the future.
If this is a smooth transition, I am not sure how much worse it is going to get. On the points that the Secretary of State is raising—he is making a very good case for the European Union—I do not see in the Bill any reference to the immigration powers that Scotland was promised during the referendum process. Will he explain?
I do not remember any such promise. When I was going through the list of practical things that apply to the citizens that SNP Members are supposed to represent, what did we hear? Wow! They do not care; what they are interested in is devolution and political power for themselves, not the interests of their own constituents.
Just as important are the areas where we do not need to keep common approaches in the future. We do not expect that we will need to maintain a framework in every single area the EU has mandated. We can ensure that our common approaches are better suited to the UK and our devolution settlements. The Bill therefore provides a mechanism to release policy areas where no frameworks are needed.
No, I will not give way at the moment.
The Bill gives time for us to work with the devolved Administrations to determine where we will continue to need common frameworks in the future. Crucially, it will not create unnecessary short-term change that negatively affects people or businesses. Before the summer recess, my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State wrote to the Scottish and Welsh Governments to begin intensive discussions about where common frameworks are and are not needed. In the current absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, equivalent engagement has taken place at official level with the Northern Ireland civil service. We will bring forward further detail on the process underpinning these discussions in due course for Parliament to decide on.
Certainty in devolved legislation affected by EU exit is also vital. The key delegated powers in this Bill are conferred on the devolved Administrations so that the task of preparing the devolved statute books for exit can rightly be led from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Government are committed to ensuring the powers work for the Administrations and legislatures. For instance, I have already confirmed that we will always consult the Administrations on corrections made to direct EU law relating to otherwise devolved areas of competence. I firmly believe that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making powers of each devolved Administration and legislature. It will mean that decisions and powers sit in the right place and closer to people than ever before. Crucially, the Bill means that our UK businesses and citizens have confidence and certainty that the laws will allow them to live and operate across the UK as we exit the EU.
As the Prime Minister said in January, the historic decision taken by the British people in June last year was not a rejection of the common values and history we share with the EU but a reflection of the desire of British people to control our own laws and ensure that they reflect the country and the people we want to be. The Bill is an essential building block. It lays the foundation for a functioning statute book on the basis of which future policies and laws can be debated and altered. The Bill itself is not the place for those substantive changes to the frameworks we will inherit from the EU—we will have many more opportunities to debate those, both before and after we leave.
I hope that all Members on both sides of the House will recognise that we are acting responsibly in leaving the EU by prioritising, first and foremost, a functioning statute book. In bringing forward the Bill, we are ensuring the smoothest possible exit from the EU—an exit that enables the continued stability of the UK’s legal system and maximises certainty for businesses, consumers and individuals across the UK. As we exit the EU and seek a new deep and special partnership with the EU, the Bill will ensure that we do so with the same standards and rules. In the Bill, we are not rejecting EU law but embracing the work done between member states over 40 years of membership so that we might build on that solid foundation once we return to being masters of our own laws. I hope that everyone in the House recognises the Bill’s essential nature: it is the foundation on which we will legislate for years to come.
We have seen this morning the Opposition’s reasoned amendment. I have just emphasised the critical nature of the Bill. A vote for the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment is a vote against the Bill, a vote for a chaotic exit from the EU. It suggests that the Bill provides a blank cheque to Ministers. That is a fundamental misrepresentation of Parliament and our democratic process. Using the Bill’s powers does not mean avoiding parliamentary scrutiny. Secondary legislation is still subject to parliamentary oversight and well established procedures. In no way does it provide unchecked unilateral powers to the Government.
The Government agree that EU exit cannot, and will not, lead to weaker rights and protections in the UK, as I have just said to hon. Members. We have been clear that we want to ensure that workers’ rights are protected and enhanced as we leave the EU. The Bill provides for existing legislation in this area to be retained. After we leave the EU, it will be for Parliament to determine the proper level of rights protection. On devolution, I have just explained in detail the approach we will take.
Finally, the argument that the Bill undermines any particular approach to the interim or transitional period for the implementation of our new arrangements with the EU is completely wrong. It will provide a clear basis for our negotiations by ensuring continuity and clarity in our laws without prejudicing those ongoing negotiations. Without the Bill, a smooth and orderly exit is impossible. We cannot await the completion of negotiations before ensuring this legal certainty and continuity at the point of our exit. To do so, or to delay or oppose the Bill, would be reckless in the extreme.
I have in the past witnessed the Labour party on European business take the most cynical and unprincipled approach to legislation I have ever seen. It is now attempting to do the same today. The British people will not forgive Labour if its end is to delay or destroy the process by which we leave the EU.
I must inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I remind the House that Front-Bench speakers can speak without a time limit but must be sensitive to the number of people who wish to intervene on them. I merely note—colleagues can make their own assessment—that on current progress probably somewhat fewer than half of those who wish to speak today will be able to do so. Colleagues obviously need to help each other.
I beg to move, to leave out from ‘That’
to the end of the Question and add ‘this House respects the EU referendum result and recognises that the UK will leave the EU, believes that insisting on proper scrutiny of this Bill and its proposed powers is the responsibility of this sovereign Parliament, recognises the need for considered and effective legislation to preserve EU-derived rights, protections and regulations in UK law as the UK leaves the EU but declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill because the Bill fails to protect and reassert the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty by handing sweeping powers to Government Ministers allowing them to bypass Parliament on key decisions, without any meaningful or guaranteed Parliamentary scrutiny, fails to include a presumption of devolution which would allow effective transfer of devolved competencies coming back from the EU to the devolved administrations and makes unnecessary and unjustified alterations to the devolution settlements, fails to provide certainty that rights and protections will be enforced as effectively in the future as they are at present, risks weakening human rights protections by failing to transpose the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law, provides no mechanism for ensuring that the UK does not lag behind the EU in workplace protections and environmental standards in the future and prevents the UK implementing strong transitional arrangements on the same basic terms we currently enjoy, including remaining within a customs union and within the Single Market.’.
The Secretary of State is keen to portray the Bill as a technical exercise converting EU law into our own law without raising any serious constitutional issues about the role of Parliament. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I will start with clause 9. As the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister know, the article 50 negotiations are among the most difficult and significant in recent history. Under article 50, the agreement will cover all the withdrawal arrangements and take account of the future relationship between the UK and the EU—a backwards look and a forwards look on something that might last for decades. We know that phase 1 will have to cover EU citizens, Northern Ireland, UK citizens in the Europe and the money, and that phase 2 will cover security, cross-border crime, civil justice, enforcement of judgments, fisheries, farming, Gibraltar—you name it, we hope it will be in the article 50 agreement. We want it to succeed; we need an agreement. It will also include our future trading arrangements—hugely important—including any transitional arrangements, if there are any, and much more.
Arguably, the arrangements will extend to every facet of national life—not my words, but I will come back to them. The article 50 agreement will be voted on, but it will then have to be implemented. It is a colossal task likely to involve a host of policy choices and to require widespread changes to our law—on any view. So how will that be done? Enter clause 9:
“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provisions should be in force on or before exit day.”
It is very likely to have to be in force before exit day, because otherwise there will be a gap, so that means the whole of the agreement, including transitional measures, being implemented under clause 9. It cannot be implemented after exit day, otherwise there will be a gap.
Let us be clear about how widely clause 9 is drawn. We have had some discussion about Henry VIII. Subsection (2) states:
“(including modifying this Act).”
The delegated legislation can amend the primary Act itself. That is as wide as any provision I have ever seen.
What are the limits and safeguards? Under clause 9(3), the regulations may not impose taxation, make retrospective provisions—they are usually a very bad idea—create a criminal offence or amend the Human Rights Act. Everything else is on limits under clause 9.
I will make this point and then give way to several hon. Members.
What are the procedures? Are they enhanced? No. The opposite. Part 2 of schedule 7 deals with clause 9. It makes it clear that unless the delegated legislation creates a public authority, or the function of a public authority, affects a criminal offence or affects a power to make legislation, it is to be dealt with by—what? The negative procedure for statutory instruments, which means the least possible scrutiny: it means that the widest possible power, with no safeguards, will be channelled into the level of least scrutiny.
That is absolutely extraordinary. Let us be clear about what it means, because I am sure that the Secretary of State and others will say that notwithstanding the number of statutory instruments for which the schedule provides, they can be called up and annulled, and Parliament will have its say. I looked up the last time a negative-procedure statutory instrument had been annulled in the House, and it was 38 years ago. I do not know how many Members have been in the House for 38 years, but many of us will not have had that opportunity. So much for “taking back control”.
There is no point in the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister saying, “We would not use these powers: take our assurance.” If they would not use them, they are unnecessary, and if they are unnecessary they should not be put before the House for approval today.
The case that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making is for an amendment to clause 9. He is not making a case against the principle of the Bill, which is what Second Reading debates are about, and as he and his party are determined to vote against the principle of the Bill, he ought to make that case.
The Secretary of State made great play of the claim that the Bill was necessary for certainty. Given the legal situation that my right hon. and learned Friend has just excellently elucidated, does he agree that the powers that the Bill gives Secretaries of State to regulate every aspect of our lives mean that it is a charter for uncertainty for ordinary British people?
I will press on. I know that Members want to intervene, but I heard what you said, Mr Speaker, about the number of Members who want to make speeches. I will take interventions at intervals, if that is satisfactory to the House.
Clause 7, “Dealing with deficiencies arising from withdrawal”, takes the same approach as clause 9, as does clause 8, “Complying with international obligations”. All those provisions are channelled into the negative procedure with the least possible scrutiny: they constitute a giant sidestep from parliamentary scrutiny on the most important issues of our day. But let me top it off. If you think that is bad—and I do—try clause 17. Subsection (1) states:
“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate in consequence of this Act.”
So anything in consequence of the Act can be done under clause 17. Again, this is a proper, robust Henry VIII provision. Let us look at subsection (2). It states:
“The power to make regulations under subsection (1) may…be exercised by modifying any provision made by or under an enactment.”
That means amending primary legislation. In case anyone is in doubt, subsection (3) states:
“In subsection (2) “enactment”
does not include primary legislation passed or made after the end of the Session in which this Act is passed.”
So the Government can amend any legislation whatsoever—primary legislation—including legislation in this Session. Everything in the Queen’s Speech that is coming down the track could be amended by delegated legislation under clause 17. I have never come across such a wide power, although I have come across consequential powers. The Secretary of State will no doubt point to other statutes that provide for not dissimilar powers; I have looked at them, but I have never seen one as wide as this.
Members should not just take my word for it. A minute ago, the Secretary of State said that no one could suggest that this was a legislative blank cheque for the Government. Let me read out what has been said by the Hansard Society—not a political body, not the Opposition, but the Hansard Society—about clause 17.
“Such an extensive power is hedged in by the fact that any provision must somehow relate to withdrawal from the EU, but given that this will arguably extend to every facet of national life, if granted it would, in effect, hand the government a legislative blank cheque.”
Those are the words of the Hansard Society.
I will complete this part of my presentation, if I may.
What is the scope and extent of that legislative blank cheque? How many pieces of delegated legislation are we concerned with? As the Secretary of State said, the White Paper suggested that there would be between 800 and 1,000, the vast majority of which would be dealt with via the negative procedure route. I do not think that the White Paper could, or did, take into account the further instruments necessary to implement the withdrawal agreement, but there could be very many more—well over 1,000 pieces of delegated legislation, given the least possible scrutiny.
I will complete this point, and then I will give way.
I read the report again last night, and I have doubts about that endorsement.
When I have finished this point.
“The executive powers conferred by the Bill are unprecedented and extraordinary and raise fundamental constitutional questions about the separation of powers between Parliament and Government.”
The report—published by the Committee that the Prime Minister prayed in aid yesterday—went on to say:
“The number, range and overlapping nature of the broad delegated powers…would fundamentally challenge the constitutional balance of powers between Parliament and Government and would represent a significant—and unacceptable—transfer of legal competence.”
Far from being an endorsement, that is an explicit and damning criticism of the Government’s approach.
I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, who has pointed out what a joke the Bill is. It sets out all those supposed safeguards, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend correctly pointed out, Ministers can make regulations to modify it. We are disappearing down an Alice in Wonderland rabbit-hole of legislation. Is it not also true that it does not matter when Ministers—the Prime Minister, or the Secretary of State—say, “Trust us: we will not use these regulations”? They could be here today and gone tomorrow, and Mr Rees-Mogg—could be Prime Minister. We could be totally in his hands, and there would be all these powers.
Order. I think we can short-circuit this. The hon. Member for North East Somerset has often been noted to observe that the 18th century is altogether too recent for him.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman believe that under clause 9, what is being called “the divorce bill”—the amount of money that we may have to pay to the European Union when we leave—could be agreed by a Minister, or by the Government, without this place having any say in the amount that was paid?
As a new Member, I also looked at advice on how Parliament has looked at statutory instruments, and I, too, saw that the last time such instruments were annulled by this House was back in 1979. The issue then was the cost of paraffin, and I remember 1979 and the high cost of fuel; it was a significant issue. However, given that the Secretary of State has said in response to the intervention of my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry that he is prepared to consider a sifting process, which means serious issues do come back to this House, what is the right hon. and learned hon. Gentleman’s alternative—what is he proposing?
It is not as if this point is being made for the first time today: these are the points that have been made since the White Paper was published—the moment we dealt with it. That was in March, the Bill was published in July, and there have been numerous reports since then, and I raised at the time the significant issues I am raising now, and there has been no move from the Government.
The key point about clause 9 is that the Government have asked Parliament to allow them to alter the Bill themselves by secondary legislation once it has been enacted. If we look through the history of the 20th century, we will not find a single Bill that has ever sought to do that—not in time of war and not in time of civil emergency. In fact, every single emergency powers Act has expressed said that there shall not be a power for Ministers to alter primary legislation.
I am on my feet answering the last intervention, which powerfully makes the point that this Bill is unprecedented in its scope. That is significant because the Secretary of State will point to some of the safeguards under the Bill for the exercise of some of these powers, but if delegated legislation can amend the Bill’s powers once enacted then notions of exit day, how far the delegated legislation goes and which procedures are used could be amended by the delegated legislation. So it is a very real point.
I am going to press on.
Let me turn from parliamentary involvement to the protection of rights. Many rights and protections derived from the EU are protected in delegated legislation under the European Communities Act 1972. Because they are underpinned by EU provisions, they have enjoyed enhanced protection—44 years’ worth. They include some very important rights: the working time rights of people at work; the rights of part-time and fixed-term workers; the transfer of undertakings provision, which affects everybody who is at work if their company is taken over, so that their contracts are preserved, which is something we all believe in; and all health and safety provisions have been handled by delegated legislation under the 1972 Act, too. It did not matter that it was just delegated legislation, because they had enhanced protection because of the 1972 Act and our membership of the EU. The same is equally true of important environmental rights and protections for consumers. Under this Bill, the Secretary of State says they survive, and I accept that, and he does have a commitment to rights at work, but they do not survive with their enhanced status; they survive only in delegated form. From the date of this Bill, they are amendable by delegated legislation. All of those rights at work, environmental provisions and consumer rights are unprotected from delegated legislation.
On health and safety protections, the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, of course, that there is a 1974 statute—the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974—which gives not just employees safety protections, but members of the public who are affected by conditions in the workplace. Surely that in itself acts as the primary protection to workers in this country under health and safety provisions?
No, I am afraid it does not. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 all post-date that, and in any event that does not deal with all the other rights I have mentioned.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making an excellent speech. On environmental standards, does he agree that there is another problem—a governance gap? With the lack of the ECJ and the Commission, there is nothing to enforce those environmental standards, and therefore we need a new legal architecture; judicial review is not enough.
I am very grateful for that intervention, because one thing that is not on the face of the Bill is any enforcement provision for rights currently enforced in one or other way through EU institutions, or even reporting obligations. It is fair to say that there is the provision in the Bill for the creation of public authorities—by, guess what, delegated legislation—and maybe that could be used for remedies, but it is by no means clear on the face of the Bill, and that is an important deficiency.
Let me complete this point: does it matter that these rights have lost their enhanced protection? Yes, it does. Taking back control obviously carries with it that this Parliament can change those rights, as the Secretary of State rightly set out, but this is to change them by delegated legislation, not primary legislation; that is an important distinction.
Does it matter? Would anybody have a go—surely not in the 21st century? Well, in June 2014 the current Foreign Secretary called for an end to “back-breaking” employment regulations, specifically the collective redundancies directive. The current International Development Secretary during the referendum campaign called for the Government to halve the amount of protection given to British workers after Brexit. And the International Trade Secretary—[Interruption.] I am addressing the question of whether it is conceivable that a Conservative Government might change this; I am reading out the statements of three Cabinet members. In February 2012 the International Trade Secretary—I know the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has heard about this quote already this morning—wrote:
“To restore Britain’s competitiveness we must begin by deregulating the labour market. Political objections must be overridden. It is too difficult to hire and fire and too expensive to take on new employees. It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable while output and employment are clearly cyclical.”
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has a proud record on human rights and protections of people at work, but these are the statements of Cabinet colleagues, and this power in this Bill allows these rights to be overridden by delegated legislation.
Is there not a fundamental contradiction in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been saying? A moment ago he was worrying that power would be lost from this House; now he is saying that power should in fact be with the European Union. Is not the fundamental point of this Bill that it is better that laws should be made by our Government and our Parliament than by an unelected EU bureaucracy?
I am obviously a very bad communicator: I thought I was suggesting that workplace rights, environmental rights and consumer rights should only be capable of being taken away by primary legislation. If there is any doubt, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that when I say primary legislation I mean legislation in this House; I thought that was taken as read.
Does not the last intervention point to the fundamental misunderstanding that some have about this Bill—and I am afraid the Secretary of State mentioned it earlier? The point is whether the UK is going to become a rule-taker rather than a rule-maker. Our membership of the European Union has allowed us to influence the directives and regulations which have then been taken on board in this House and through our laws. What we are doing in this Bill—I will expand on this in my remarks—is not repealing, but reintroducing European legislation into this country, contrary to the intentions of those who wanted to leave the European Union.
I am grateful for that intervention and agree with it.
May I move on to other rights, because they are dealt with more severely? Clause 5(4) singles out the charter of fundamental rights for extinction. There are thousands of provisions that are being converted into our law and will have to be modified in some cases to arrive in our law, but only one provision in the thousands and thousands has been singled out for extinction—the charter of fundamental rights. As Mr Grieve argued in an article published yesterday, the principles of the charter provide
“essential safeguards for individuals and businesses”.
That has been particularly important in the fields of LGBT rights, children’s rights and the rights of the elderly.
The Secretary of State asks why this matters. I have here the High Court judgment in the case of David Davis MP, Tom Watson MP and others v. the Secretary of State for the Home Department. This was in 2015, when the present Prime Minister was Home Secretary. David Davis the Back Bencher was bringing to court the now Prime Minister. He will recall that he was challenging the provisions of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014. He was concerned that they would impinge on the ability of MPs to have confidential communications from their constituents. He continued to make that point in debates that we were having a year or two ago. In his argument, he cited the charter. His lawyers made the argument that the charter was important because it went further than the European convention on human rights and therefore provided added protection.
I will not read out paragraph 80 of the judgment, although I am sure that the Secretary of State is familiar with it. As he knows, the Court found in his favour—he was right: the charter did enhance his rights—and rejected the arguments of Mr Eadie, the distinguished QC representing the then Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister. So when the Secretary of State asks whether this move will make any difference, the answer is yes. We can see that from his case. I suspect that if he were still on the Back Benches, he would now be talking to me and others over a cup of coffee about how we should fiercely oppose clause 5(4) and ensure that it came out of the Bill.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an important point. Reading the mind of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I think he asked why this mattered because he would insist that the general principles of EU law being preserved would replace the charter. However, if they are not justiciable because we do not found a cause of action in our courts, the ability to assert those rights would evaporate.
That is exactly the point that was made earlier. To say that the changes do not matter because we can find that right elsewhere, but then to remove the right to do anything about an effective remedy, would mean that the exercise had achieved absolutely nothing.
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman be good enough to explain why other distinguished gentlemen—namely, Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith—fought so resolutely to exclude the charter of fundamental rights from the Lisbon treaty and, furthermore, failed because their protocol did not actually work?
No. I spent 20-plus years as a human rights lawyer interpreting and applying provisions such as the charter and acting for many people to whose lives it made a real difference, as the Secretary of State will know.
I want to move on the question of devolved powers. At the moment, EU law limits the powers of the devolved institutions. On withdrawal, the default position ought to be that the devolved institutions would have power over matters falling within the devolved fields, but clause 11 prevents that and diverts powers that ought to go to Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast to London, where they are to be hoarded. That is fundamentally the wrong approach, but it is totally consistent with the Government’s approach of grabbing powers and avoiding scrutiny.
On that topic, let me deal with exit day, a crucially important day in the Bill. It is the day on which the European Communities Act will be repealed. It is also the day on which the role of the European Court of Justice will be extinguished in our law, and that matters hugely, whatever anyone’s long-term view, particularly for transitional arrangements. I heard the Secretary of State say this morning that he wanted transitional arrangements that were as close as possible to the current arrangements. I think he knows, in his heart of hearts, that that will almost certainly involve a role for the European Court of Justice—although he will say that it would be temporary.
Exit day, the day on which the role of the Court is extinguished, is crucial. Without it, we might not be able to transition on the terms that the Secretary of State was suggesting this morning. He knows that. Control over exit day is therefore hugely important. Who will have that control? People talk about bringing back control, and they might think that Parliament would have control over this important issue. But no. Enter clause 14, which states that
means such day as a Minister of the Crown may by regulations appoint”.
This will be in the sole power of a Minister. Anyone simply passing this Bill must be prepared to be a spectator on the question of what the transitional measures should be and how they operate. That is a huge risk to our national interests.
The Secretary of State said earlier that it was “silly” of me to raise the transitional arrangements in relation to our continuing to be in the single market and the customs union. If the Bill is enacted and we are outside the purview of the ECJ and not subject to EU law, we will effectively be ruling out membership of the single market and the customs union during the transition. How will that bring stability and certainty to British businesses? Why is this provision in the Bill?
This is the conundrum that the Secretary of State and the Bill have created. If exit day is in March 2019, it is difficult to see how we could transition on terms similar to those we are now on. What could we do? We could choose to push exit day two years down the line. [Interruption.] No? Well, if we did not do that, but we recognised that the ECJ was necessary to the process, we would end up repealing what was once this repeal Bill, only to have to bring it back in again. That is the extent of the absurdity of the powers in the Bill.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making an outstandingly concise and forensic speech dissecting the difficulties in the Bill. He has drawn our attention to the problem with the definition of “exit day”. Does not that problem also feed into the delegated legislative powers? Clause 7(7) states that Ministers cannot make regulations
“after the end of the period of two years beginning with exit day.”
If exit day is going to disappear down the line, as the shadow Secretary of State has suggested, would not the power to make delegated legislation continue for even longer than the Government are now proposing?
It certainly could. The only way out of that would be to have multiple exit days. Members might think I am joking, but someone who drafted the Bill has thought of that, and it is conceivable that there could be multiple exit days, all chosen by a Minister and not by Parliament.
The combined effect of the Bill’s provisions would be to reduce MPs to spectators as power pours into the hands of Ministers and the Executive. This is an unprecedented power-grab—“rule by decree” is not a mis-description—and an affront to Parliament and to accountability. The name of the Bill was changed from the great repeal Bill to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The word “great” should have been preserved, however. The title should have been changed to the great power grab Bill. Labour voted for the article 50 legislation, because we accept the referendum result. As a result, the UK is leaving the EU. That we are leaving is settled. How we leave is not. This Bill invites us to surrender all power and influence over that question to the Government and to Ministers. That would betray everything that we are sent here to do. Unless the Government make very significant concessions before we vote on Monday, Labour has tabled a reasoned amendment and will vote against the Bill.
The Opposition spokesman has just reminded us that this Bill was trailed for a long time as the “great repeal Bill”, which is a very unlikely title. Fortunately, it repeals hardly anything at all, which is one blessing. One thing that it does repeal, however, is the European Communities Act 1972, which is a particular irony for myself and, no doubt, for Mr Skinner, as we well remember that Act. I was then a Government Whip and engineering, mainly by co-operating with the Jenkinsite faction of the Labour party, how we were to get the vote through against the rebellious, imperialist Eurosceptics who were then on our Back Benches. It is therefore an irony that a complete mirror-image debate now presents itself to me rather many years later.
My starting point is where Keir Starmer finished. I have to accept that we are going to leave the European Union. I accept that because this House passed the legislation to enact article 50 by a large majority. I argued and voted against it, but it went through, and it is idle to pretend that it is politically possible for that to be reversed. The question now is how we leave. I quite accept my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s basic premise that technical legislation is required to ensure that it is practicable to get a smooth legal transition, but I do not think that the Bill confines itself to that aim, as has just been said. A Bill of this kind is necessary, and we will have to vote for it, but the question is whether this particular form of the Bill is remotely acceptable.
I studied the amendments tabled by the official Opposition, and indeed those tabled by large numbers of other Members, and my conclusion was that I found myself agreeing with the overall majority of the sentiments and opinions in all of them. The one thing that gave me a problem was that they all suggest that the House
“declines to give a Second Reading” to the Bill, which would stop any possibility of our making the required changes. However, minded as I am to contemplate voting for Second Reading, I will need some assurances before we get there, in particular that there will be sufficient movement on some of the unanswerable points being made about parliamentary democracy and a smooth transition to whatever the alternative is, so that the Bill becomes something other than wrecking legislation if it proceeds. I have not decided yet—I am actually going to listen to the debate, which is a rare feature in this House, because if we were to defeat the Second Reading, the Government would be obliged to bring back another Bill to try to achieve the same purpose. If the Government will not move in the next two days of debate, we may have to force them to go back to the drawing board and try again to produce a Bill that is consistent with our parliamentary traditions and that gives this House the control that leaders of the leave campaign kept telling the British public during the referendum campaign they were anxious to see.
I will not, because large numbers of people want to speak and I want to touch briefly on the time constraints. During the proceedings on the 1972 Act, I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Bolsover, like me, sat through days and days and weeks and weeks of very high-quality debate. It was a historic moment and it was not constrained by these Blairite notions of family-friendly hours, timetables and so on. I do not want to go back to the all-night filibustering and some of the nonsense that led to those practices being discredited—that is not suitable in the 21st century—but this Government began this process by trying to argue that the royal prerogative enabled them not even to bring article 50 before the House. They have been trying to reduce parliamentary scrutiny and votes ever since the whole thing started.
As a simple example, I raised with you a few moments ago, Mr Speaker, the question of the 5 o’clock rule. Apparently we all have to stop at 5 o’clock this afternoon. It would reassure me about the Government’s intentions if the opportunity were taken to lift that limit now. The Leader of the House only has to rise at some time in the next hour or so and say that the 5 o’clock will not be invoked today, and all the time constraints that we face will not be a problem. I hope that the Bill’s programme motion will not confine debate to a comic number of days. The speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras showed how complex some of the debates will be, and we do not want to be told that we have to give legal analysis in five minutes flat or be cut out by some quite unnecessary timetable. We have at least until the end of 2019 to get these procedures right.
There are two broad issues. One of them I will leave alone because the concerns have been dealt with brilliantly and will dominate a lot of today: the Henry VII clause, the sweeping powers and the extraordinary nature of the legislation. I will not try to compete with what I think, with respect, was a brilliant speech from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I hope that we will hear some reply to it over the next two days of debate—I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve will touch on it.
My own analysis of clauses 7 and 17 is probably not up to the standards that have already been demonstrated, and there is no point in repeating the case, so I will just say one thing to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues about what I expect in response. We are told that conversations will be held with my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry, and I am delighted to hear that. We are told that we will have assurances about how Ministers are going to use the powers, but at every stage in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s speech he actually defended the wording in the Bill, as he had to, and did not make the faintest concession either to the justifiable concerns about the impact on devolution or to the even bigger concerns about whether we are going to fritter away parliamentary democracy in this House by passing the Bill in its present form.
I know that my right hon. Friend is sincere in his assurances. He is one of the people in this House whom I would trust to seek to deliver what he is offering to us, but the reality, as someone has already said, is that we are all transient in politics. He will come under pressure from some of his colleagues, and we have no idea who will be in any particular post in 18 months’ time. The letter of the law will determine the scope for parliamentary scrutiny. I do not want more assurances or charm; I want positive amendments and changes. The Government will salvage their reputation if they take the lead and produce amendments that answer the points made by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras, and if they reassure us that the drafting was a misunderstanding. Better drafting can make it the no-policy-change, technically necessary Bill that I would quite happily support.
The second issue, very briefly, is the question of staying in the single market and customs union during the transitional period. Of course we will have a transitional period, of course it has to be a smooth transition and of course by the end of 2019 we will negotiate a basis for future free trading arrangements, but the Government have to move, just as the Opposition have moved. I made a speech in the Queen’s Speech debate explaining why I am in favour of staying in the single market and customs union at least for the transitional period, and I then answered the various arguments that are routinely thrown out, so I will not repeat any of that now.
There is now only a whisker of difference between us. I do not deceive myself that I converted the Labour party, which has tabled an amendment identical to my arguments in the Queen’s Speech debate, with which it did not then agree, but its proposals are remarkably near the Government’s proposals.
We all know, and British business knows, that we need a smooth transition. We do not need change until we are certain that we have some acceptable new arrangements. The Government’s position paper on customs arrangements—I will not read it all—says:
“This could involve a new and time-limited customs union between the UK and the EU Customs Union, based on a shared external tariff and without customs processes”.
I will not go on, but there is an absolute whisker of difference between the Government’s paper and what the Opposition are now saying, and what everybody of the slightest common sense, in my opinion, is saying—that we should stay in the single market and the customs union until we know that we can smoothly transfer to some new and equally beneficial arrangement. Again, I would like some reassurances on that.
I detect in the wording of the Bill and the Opposition’s amendment that we are crawling towards the cross-party approach that will obviously be required to settle this in the national interest. It is absurd for the Labour party to say that it is all agreed on the new policy it has adopted, and it is absurd for the Conservative party to say, “We’re all agreed on whatever it is the Secretary of State is trying to negotiate in Brussels.” The public are not idiots; they know that both parties are completely and fundamentally divided on many of these issues, with extreme opinions on both sides represented in the Cabinet and shadow Cabinet, let alone on the Back Benches.
Let us therefore resolve this matter. Let us make sure this Bill does not make it impossible to stay in the single market and customs union, and let us have a grown-up debate on the whole practical problem we face and produce a much better Act of Parliament than the Bill represents at the moment.
This Bill, and the whole Brexit process, not only gives us an opportunity but requires us to go right back and think fundamentally about what Parliament is for and what democracy is about. The Scottish National party supports as a fundamental principle the ancient and honoured tradition that sovereignty over the land of Scotland is inalienably vested in the people of Scotland. That principle is not for sale now, or at any time, to anybody.
This Bill seeks to usurp and undermine that sovereignty in a number of ways, which I will mention later. That fact alone compels me to vote against the Bill on Monday night, and it compels anybody who believes in the sovereignty of the people of Scotland, and anybody who purports to be here on their behalf, to oppose the Bill on Monday night, regardless of the party that is trying to get them to do something different.
As it is Labour’s reasoned amendment that has been selected, we will be supporting it on Monday night with some reservations. First, given that 62% of our citizens voted to remain in the European Union, I am certainly not ready to give up on that for the people I represent. I fully understand and respect the fact that two nations of the United Kingdom voted to leave, but I ask the Members of Parliament from those two nations to respect the fact that the other two nations voted to remain and that their votes cannot simply be cast aside.
Secondly, the reasoned amendment refers to parliamentary sovereignty. I respect that that is an important principle for some people, but it does not apply universally across the nations of these islands.
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware of the question that was on the ballot paper? It was a United Kingdom question and a United Kingdom vote, and we voted as a United Kingdom to leave the European Union. That is what we decided. Does he not understand that?
I do not know which part of “the people of Scotland are sovereign” the hon. Gentleman does not understand. The people of Scotland are sovereign, and I will defend their sovereignty. I urge all Members of Parliament from Scotland to respect that sovereignty when the time comes.
My final concern with Labour’s reasoned amendment is on the transitional period.
I need to make some progress.
I welcome that we now have a lot more clarity from Labour on the benefits of membership of the single market and customs union, and I welcome that it mentioned those benefits in its reasoned amendment. I am disappointed, given that everybody now knows—the Norwegians certainly know—there is absolutely no reason why being out of the European Union means we have to be out of the single market, that Labour has not yet come round to a position of saying that we should attempt to stay in the single market permanently after the UK leaves the European Union. Having said that, Labour’s reasoned amendment is a vast improvement on allowing the Bill to go ahead unchallenged, so we will support it on Monday evening.
I will not give way just now.
In all the reasoned amendments that have been tabled, MPs from different parties have come up with a huge number of powerful reasons for rejecting the Bill at this stage, which tells us that it has a huge number of serious and sometimes fundamental flaws that mean it cannot be allowed to proceed in its present format. If that is a problem for Government timetablers, tough. The interests of my constituents are far more important than the interests of Government business managers.
I will address four particular weaknesses in the Bill, some of which have already been ably covered. First, the Bill proposes an act of constitutional betrayal. It gives a Tory Government in London the right to claw back any powers it fancies from the elected Parliaments of the three devolved nations of the United Kingdom. That is not just a betrayal of those who campaigned for so long for the establishment of those Parliaments, it is a betrayal of the great parliamentarians of all parties and none who have worked so hard to make those Parliaments succeed.
The hon. Gentleman talks about representing Scotland, but let us remember that 1 million Scots voted to leave. In fact, a third of SNP voters voted to leave. [Interruption.] Those are public stats. What he is actually saying is that, if he truly wants to represent his constituents, he should respect the democratic will of the United Kingdom, which is what he, like all of us, is in this Parliament to do. If SNP Members want to be stronger for Scotland, I suggest that they engage by tabling detailed amendments rather than trying to create a wedge between the nations of the United Kingdom.
I will happily see the hon. Gentleman’s 1 million Scottish votes to leave the European Union and raise him 1.6 million Scottish votes to leave the United Kingdom, not to mention the 2 million or so who voted to remain in the United Kingdom, because he and his colleagues promised unconditionally that that was the way to protect our membership of the European Union.
I will take no more interventions from people whose position on the European Union has changed so radically over the past couple of years.
Returning to the attempt to grab power back from the devolved Parliaments that so many of us worked so hard to establish, many of those who take the greatest credit for their establishment, such as the great Donald Dewar, are not here to see the success of what they created, and I shudder to think what they would have thought of these attempts completely to emasculate all three devolved Parliaments.
We are seeing a betrayal of the promises—one could almost say the “vow”—that certain people made to the people of Scotland just three years ago: the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world, they said; Scotland should lead the Union, they said; parity of esteem and an equal partnership of nations, they said. What definition are they using if the Prime Minister, who takes her authority from this Parliament, decides it is beneath her status even to meet the First Ministers, who take their authority from their respective national Parliaments? What definition of “equality” or “parity of esteem” are the Government using? Where is the parity of esteem if the Joint Ministerial Committee, trumpeted by the Tories less than a year ago as the epitome of good relations between our four national Governments, has not met for seven months. I note, however, that, completely coincidental to an attempt by my hon. Friend Ian Blackford to have an urgent debate on the matter, the Government have now decided they are going to reconvene the JMC at some time in the autumn. I hope they will not fall back on the claim that autumn finishes on
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be simple and straightforward for the Government to accept the reality of devolution and that where there is the repatriation of powers from Brussels in devolved areas they should go directly to the devolved institutions?
Absolutely—that is what devolution means; if the powers are currently devolved, they should remain devolved.
If we cannot trust the Tories to keep their word on something as simple as arranging a joint meeting of Ministers, nobody in any of the devolved nations can trust their assurances that the draconian new powers in this Bill will not be abused. Our experience of promises from the Tories suggests we cannot take them at their word unless the legislation is nailed down so tightly that they have no wriggle room to go back on their word.
We have heard a lot of rhetoric about some issues needing a “UK-wide approach”. I wonder how the UK-wide approach to agriculture, animal welfare and food standards is going to work in Northern Ireland, because regardless of what the legislative or constitutional position will be, the matter of business survival means that the food industry in Northern Ireland will follow the same standards as are followed in the Republic of Ireland—the same standards as apply in the EU will be followed. So we are talking about different animal welfare standards in Northern Ireland from those in the rest of the UK, and I cannot really see how that is working.
What a UK-wide approach has been shown to mean in practice is that the Prime Minister and a few hand-picked colleagues get the right to dictate to the peoples of these islands and to our elected Governments. For example, the need for a “UK-wide approach” led to Scotland’s fishing industry being sold out by the British Government when we first joined the EU and there is a serious danger that it will lead to those fishermen being sold out yet again as part of the process of leaving.
My second concern is about the all-encompassing powers set out in clause 9, which was superbly torn to shreds by the shadow Secretary of State a few minutes ago. One of the Prime Minister’s own Back Benchers, Anna Soubry, described this on Wednesday as an “unprecedented power grab”, and there is no other way it can be described; 649 elected MPs will be expected to stand by and watch while a single Minister, with a single signature, can make new legislation. This includes the right to make legislation that should require an Act of this Parliament. The only requirement there will be on the Minister is that she or he thinks the legislation is a good idea. When we have Ministers who think that welching on the Dubs amendment and introducing the rape clause were good ideas, I am looking for a slightly harder test than a Tory Minister thinking that something is a good idea.
These new powers are often referred to as Henry VIII powers. Henry VIII was a despot with no interest in democracy, who thought Scotland and Wales were just places to be conquered and trampled on, so perhaps this is not such a bad name for something this Government are doing, but using that nickname hides the danger of these proposed powers. Despite his murderous deeds, a lot of people see Henry VIII as a figure of fun and pantomime villain—someone who even got to star in a “Carry On” film. But the fact is that the powers in this Bill are more “Nineteen Eighty-Four” than “Carry On Henry”. The powers that bear his name are anything but funny. They represent a significant erosion of parliamentary democracy; indeed to those Members here who believe in the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, I say that the powers in this Bill are utterly incompatible with that idea. This is not about taking back control to Parliament and resuming parliamentary sovereignty for those nations of the UK where parliamentary sovereignty exists. This Bill threatens to destroy it, once and for all. The powers are designed to allow Ministers to bypass all pretexts of parliamentary scrutiny. It is even possible that we could see an Act of Parliament receive Royal Assent one day and then be repealed by a Minister the next, simply because they thought it was a good idea.
The Government will argue that delegated powers are an essential part of modern government, and I agree. We do not have an issue with the principle of using delegated legislation. We do have an issue with allowing delegated legislation to be abused in order to bypass proper scrutiny. The only way this House can be satisfied that the powers will not be abused is if the Bill is reworded to make it impossible for them to be abused in that way.
The third significant weakness in the Bill has been touched on and it relates to our membership of the biggest trade agreement in the world. We are going to throw that away. We are talking about the loss of 80,000 jobs in Scotland and the loss of £11 billion per year coming into our economy as a result. The figures for the rest of the UK will be proportionate to that. This is being done simply to pacify the extreme right wing of the Conservative party and their allies, whose obsession with the number of immigrants has blinded them to the massive social and economic benefits that these EU nationals have brought to my constituency and, I suspect, to every constituency in the UK. The sheer immorality of the isolationist, xenophobic approach that the Conservatives are trying to drag us down is there for all to see, but it is not just immoral—it is daft. It threatens to destroy our economy. Already we are seeing key sectors in industry and key public sector providers struggling to recruit the staff they need. It was reported a week or two ago that a private recruitment firm is being offered £200 million just to go to persuade workers to come to the UK to work in our health service. I have a hospital in my constituency that we could rebuild for £200 million quite comfortably, yet this money is going to be handed to a private firm to try to undo some of the damage that has been done by the Government’s obsession with the immigration numbers. With the collapsing pound making British wages are worth a lot less to European workers than they were before, with the anti-European rhetoric and hysteria that we still get from Government Members and with the Government still refusing to give European nationals the absolute, unconditional and permanent guarantees that they deserve if they choose to come and live here, those recruitment difficulties are going to become much, much worse before they get any better. The Secretary of State wants our EU partners to be innovative, imaginative and flexible. I urge him to apply these same qualities to his Government’s attitude to membership of the single market.
I have mentioned the plight of EU nationals, and another major concern, which again has been raised, particularly by the shadow Secretary of State, is that this Bill threatens to undermine the rights of not only EU nationals but of everyone, regardless of their nationality or citizenship, who lives on these islands. I hear the promises from the Government, but we have had promises from this Government before. They are not worth the paper they are written on, even if they are not written down on paper at all.
At yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions we had the usual charade of a Tory Back Bencher asking a planted question so that the Prime Minister could confirm how successful the Government have been in bringing down unemployment. She went so far as to say that unemployment in the UK is at its lowest for more than four decades, so let us just think about that. The Prime Minister is telling us that unemployment is lower now than it was when we went into the European Union and the single market. How can the Conservative party boast about having almost done away with unemployment altogether and then say that immigrants are to blame for the huge unemployment problem? The fact is that the free movement of people—free movement of workers—and membership of the single market has not caused unemployment; it has caused employment. It has benefited our economy and helped our businesses to thrive. It keeps schools open in places where they would otherwise have closed. All the evidence suggests that the most successful, wealthiest and happiest countries in the world—those with the highest standard of living, whether material or in the things that really matter, are countries that are open and inclusive. The Government are trying to move us away from that to become one of the most isolationist and isolated economies in the world. Only five countries are not part of a trade agreement, but none of them is a country we would want to see as an example.
The Government’s mantra on Brexit has been about taking back control, but that will not happen—at least not in the way that the people who voted to leave hoped it would happen—because it is not about taking back control to the 650 people who collectively hold a democratic mandate from our constituents to represent them; it is about taking back control from this Parliament and putting it into the hands of a few Ministers. It is about taking back control from the devolved and elected national Parliaments and Assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and putting it into the hands of a few chosen Members of a political party that cannot get elected into government in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The Bill allows Ministers to usurp the authority of Parliament and gives them absolute power to override the will of Parliament.
A lot has been said about the UK Government’s red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and I will give the Minister one red line from the sovereign people of Scotland: our sovereignty is not for sale today and will not be for sale at any future time—not to anyone and not at any price. The Bill seeks to take sovereignty from us, probably more than any Bill presented to this Parliament since we were dragged into it more than 300 years ago. That is why I urge every MP who claims to act on behalf of the people of Scotland, who believes in the sovereignty of the people and who believes in the sovereignty of democratic institutions to vote with us and against the Bill on Monday night.
Order. A 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches will now apply.
Exactly. I wonder whether, through my right hon. Friend’s good offices, the powers that be might make it possible to have a further extension on Monday to give more Back-Benchers an opportunity to speak. I say that because I remember the Maastricht debates, where we went through the night on the first day and ended the second day at 10 o’clock. Everyone got to speak—as many people wanted to speak then as now—and there was no time limit, as I recall, Mr Speaker, although I make no criticism of your imposing a time limit on me, as I am sure I will manage to fit within it. I just gently urge that there might be some scope for such an extension, even by Monday.
I support the Bill because it is clearly necessary. Let us start from the simple principle of how necessary it is. We have to get all that European law and regulation and so on transposed into UK law so that it is applicable, actionable and properly justiciable in UK law, and that requires a huge amount of action. There are very many pages of laws. I was looking at them the other day and I said, “If we were to vote on everything in that, we would have to have something in the order of 20,000 different votes.” There is no way on earth that that can possibly happen.
I listened with great care to the arguments of Keir Starmer. I thought he made a very well-balanced speech and made his case for the need for change within the Bill rather well, but I would argue that the Labour party’s position does not fit with his speech. I go back to Maastricht, when John Smith led the Labour party. Because he was a strong believer in the European Union, the Labour party voted to support the legislation, but it then acted separately in Committee, where it opposed elements of the legislation that it did not agree with or thought needed changing. That is the position that the Labour party should adopt.
In other words, the reasoned way that the Labour party should behave is to reserve its position on Second Reading and then, subject to whatever changes it thinks necessary in Committee to the detail of the Bill, make a decision about what to do on Third Reading. To vote against the principle of the Bill is to vote against the idea that it is necessary to make changes to European law in order to transpose it into UK law. That is the absurdity that the Opposition have got into.
I know what it is like; we have been in opposition. There is a temptation to say behind the scenes, “I tell you what: we could cause a little bit of mayhem in the Government ranks by trying to attract some of their colleagues over to vote with us against Second Reading.” Fine—they fell for that, but the British public will look at this debate in due course and recognise that the Labour party ultimately is not fit for government.
In a sense, the detail of the Bill is not the issue; it becomes the issue once we have got through Second Reading. I accept and recognise that the Government have talked about possibly making major changes to the Bill. I observe that we are therefore not in disagreement about the need for the Bill. That is why the House should support the Bill’s passage, but there may be elements in it that need some change.
I note also that paragraph 48 of the report by the Select Committee on the Constitution, published this morning, which the right hon. and learned Member mentioned, states:
“We accept that the Government will require some Henry VIII powers in order to amend primary legislation to facilitate the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union”.
However, the report goes on to say that there also need to be
“commensurate safeguards and levels of scrutiny”.
So the debate is not about the need—
I am grateful for that intervention by my hon. Friend. I know he will be able to make a powerful case in support of the Bill, and he is right, but I will come back to that point.
The basis on which people are arguing—that there has never been a great sweep of powers coming through Henry VIII procedures—is completely and utterly wrong. The reason why I became so concerned about what was happening under the European Union treaties is that section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 clearly states that all the rules and regulations coming through treaties
“are without further enactment to be given” immediate legal effect and
“shall be recognised and available in law”.
It goes on to say that
Order in Council, which is not the procedure in this Bill—
“and any designated Minister or department may by order, rules, regulations or scheme, make provision”.
We have sat with that for 40 years, and we have been content to let rules and regulations be made in that way.
To those who talk about rule-takers and rule-makers, such as my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan, I say yes, that was the case up until the Maastricht treaty, when qualified majority voting came in. We became rule-takers under that provision, and there has never been a more powerful one in British legislative history. I just sound a cautionary note to some of my colleagues on either side of the House who go on about this being the first time; it is not so.
I have great sympathy with my right hon. Friend’s critique of European Union law. It is one of the reasons why the Brexit referendum ended up in the way it did, but that cannot be a justification for two wrongs making a right. The fact is that we do not need to legislate in this fashion in order to carry out the technical task of leaving the EU, and I remain utterly bemused as to why the legislation has been drafted in this form.
I am not asking for two wrongs to make a right; I support the principle of the Bill and the need for it, but I recognise that in Committee there will be need to review how some of those checks and balances are introduced, and I hope that is done properly and powerfully. What my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden said at the Dispatch Box gave indication to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve that there is scope to look at that. So the argument is not about the powers in the Bill; the debate is about how we reassure ourselves as a parliamentary democracy that the checks and balances exist such that, given the very profound nature of what is happening, we can achieve a balance and not delay the necessary changes.
The Opposition are in a peculiar position, but the Scottish nationalists are in a ridiculous position. For years and years they have sat by, content to see all the powers exercised in Brussels exercised there without their having any say. The moment we talk about leaving the European Union and bringing those powers back to the UK, they are up in arms because they feel betrayed that they do not exercise those powers. Where were they over the last 40 years when those powers were given away?
I am not going to give way; I do not want the hon. and learned Lady to embarrass herself any more with the ridiculous argument that her party colleagues make. The truth is that they will leap on any excuse. My response to them is that those powers are not being stolen away; they are being reassured that what the Government then devolve back down to them will be more than they have ever had before. That reassurance has been granted and given.
The Constitution Committee paper is rather good. It makes another important point, which relates to the three closing recommendations I wish to make. I hope the Government will look at three areas. The first is the application of statutory instruments. The Government have accepted that we should have an explanatory memorandum that tells us what was in place before and what will happen afterwards, but they should also accept the recommendation that the Government should provide an explanation as to why an instrument is necessary. It is important that people can recognise quickly what the Government intend. I hope the Government will think about that.
When I was at the Department for Work and Pensions, a statutory body called the Social Security Advisory Committee had the role of looking at legislation as it was about to be introduced. Sometimes that is awkward when one is the Secretary of State, but none the less it makes recommendations. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State look again at such a process? It may offer the Government a way to reassure people that the things they are about to do may well be absolutely necessary.
Here is the deal. We are asking that whatever is done under the purposes and powers of the Bill is done for one simple reason: to transpose existing law with existing effect, so that that effect does not change. If the single exam question is asked of a body like the Social Security Advisory Committee, “Is this instrument doing that?”, that might help to reassure Parliament. I urge the Government to consider that because it works in one area of detailed and consequential legislation, so I wonder if it might work in this area, too.
I am not going to go into a lot of detail, but my final recommendation is on the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras about the exit day. I am one of those who think we ought really to have that in the Bill, because he is right that on it hinges just about everything. For example, the Government have moved a long way on the sunset clauses, for which I thank them, because it is important to put an end date on the powers that exist in the Bill. The question is about the two years, but the real question is: when does the two years start and thus when does it end? That would answer a lot of the questions that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised about how far the Government might go in changing future legislation and everything else. As a strong supporter of the Bill, a strong supporter of the Government and a strong supporter of the principle, and as a big supporter of the idea of leaving the European Union, I urge the Government to think very carefully about what they do about that date.
In conclusion, I simply say that I absolutely support the Government on the principle of the Bill, as well as on the vast majority of the practicality and how it will be implemented, but I recognise that, in Committee, the Government will look again carefully at some of the need to provide some checks and balances as assurances to the House. We all want that, because none of us wants to defy the will of the British people, which is to leave smoothly, in a manner that does not bother business or upset individuals over their rights and their accepted ways of working.
I urge the Government to listen, but I congratulate them on getting to this point and getting us out of the European Union.
First, I just say to Mr Duncan Smith that this is not about defying the will of the British people; it is about how sensibly we are going to give effect to it. The referendum campaign seems a long time ago now, but during it we heard endless assertions that the process of leaving the European Union would be easy, straightforward and all those things. Anyone who looks at the Bill will see with their own eyes just how wrong the people who said that were. Despite the brave face that the Secretary of State habitually puts on things, it must now be dawning on Ministers that their assertion that they would be able to negotiate the whole thing—a comprehensive agreement covering all the things we need and all the benefits we want—by the end of the article 50 process is not now going to be possible. The reason why both those assertions have failed to survive contact with reality is not for want of effort, but because of fundamental disagreements in the Government about what the policy should be, which has resulted in delay, and because the task is Byzantine in its complexity. I do not envy civil servants, who are working hard, or indeed Ministers, and I do not envy the House the task that confronts us, but we have a duty to be honest with each other and with the British people about the choices that we face, their consequences and the fact that we have to do all this against the ticking clock.
Apart from the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, the Bill is not about whether we leave the European Union—a point the Secretary of State made in his opening speech—because that decision was taken in the referendum and given effect by the triggering of article 50, and we will leave at the end of March 2019. The Bill is about trying to ensure that our law is in shape when we leave. We all accept that there is a need to do that, and we all therefore accept that a Bill is necessary. But that does not mean that Parliament should accept this Bill, which is the 2017 equivalent of the Statute of Proclamations of 1539. I gently remind the Secretary of State that the Exiting the European Union Committee did urge him to publish the Bill in draft. Had he done so, he would be having fewer difficulties now, because its flaws and weaknesses are fundamental—they were brilliantly exposed in the speech by my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer. The Bill is not about taking back control. If Ministers continue to fail to take Parliament’s role seriously, we will have to continue to prod, push and persuade or, in the case of Mr Clarke, to gently threaten, so that Ministers understand that in this Parliament—this is a new Parliament; it has been christened the Back Benchers’ Parliament, and rightly so—they are going to have no choice but to listen to what Parliament has to say.
On the detail of the Bill, if they remain unamended, clauses 7, 8 and 9 would grant Ministers new and unprecedented powers. Ministers are asking us to give them a legislative blank cheque; we should not do so. How can we accept a Bill if on the one hand Ministers get up and say, “Look at the safeguards; they are in the legislation,” and on the other they propose in another part of the Bill to give themselves the power to remove every one of those safeguards, if they are so inclined? How does that build a sense of confidence and reassurance? I accept that there is a balance to be struck between giving Ministers the latitude and flexibility to do what needs to be done and Parliament having control to scrutinise and decide, but as they stand, the delegated powers do not achieve that balance, which is why the Secretary of State is going to have a very long queue of Members outside his office wanting to have a conversation. If he wants to save himself some time, he should come forward with his own amendments.
It sounds as though the right hon. Gentleman agrees with the principle and thrust of what is being attempted here but has some comments on the detail and the mechanics. Will he therefore vote for the Bill on Second Reading and seek to address some of his concerns by amending it in Committee?
No, I will not—unless the Government move on this—because the flaws are so fundamental that they should go away and do their homework again. Not a single person in this Chamber does not accept that legislation is required to undertake the task; we are just saying that it is not the legislation before us.
There is a huge difference between a statutory instrument that proposes in some regulation to delete the words “the Commission” and insert the words “the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs” and a statutory instrument that will, for example, give responsibility for the oversight and enforcement air-quality legislation, which derives from an EU directive, to an existing public body. What assurance can Ministers give us that whichever body is given that responsibility will have the same effective enforcement powers as the Commission has had, including ultimately taking case to the European Court of Justice, and will give the public the same power to hold that body and the Government to account if there is a continuing lack of progress in making sure that our air is pure enough to breathe? If that is not provided for, Government cannot argue that the Bill’s aim is to produce exactly the same situation the day after we leave as existed the day before. Therefore, as many people have said, the Bill will have to produce a mechanism for sifting. We need to sift the proposals that come forward, so that we can distinguish the absolutely straightforward and non-controversial and those that raise really quite important issues of policy, so that we as Parliament can do our job.
It was an interesting proposal, but, personally, I think that others can give advice, but in the end the sifting must be done by Parliament or a body established by Parliament and made up of parliamentarians. That is my clear view.
That would be one possibility. I hope that the Government will listen to all these suggestions and come forward with a proposal. I welcome what the Secretary of State said in response to my point about the relationship between Parliament voting on the withdrawal agreement and the exercise of the powers under clause 9. He was kind enough to say it was a logical point, so will he reflect on putting it in the Bill?
On how EU principles will be incorporated into our law and interpreted, I agree absolutely with the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer about the charter of fundamental rights: it needs to be brought across into our law not least because, as we have heard, the Secretary of State relied on it in the case that he brought. The same argument applies to the environmental principles that were set out in the Lisbon treaty. If Members look at the explanatory memorandum, they will see that it has an illustrative list of directly effective rights that derive from EU treaties that the Government say they intend to bring across under clause 4. However, it does not include the provisions of article 191 of the Lisbon treaty, which cover environmental principles and protection, and that will need to be remedied.
“the most complex negotiation probably ever, but certainly in modern times.”
He is of course right, which raises the question: why do ministers, I am sorry to say, still pretend that a comprehensive relationship can now be negotiated in the 10 and a half months that now remain. Here we are, 15 months after the referendum and six months on from the triggering of article 50, and, as we know from the Secretary of State’s statement on Tuesday, the Government have not yet sorted out the money, citizens’ rights or Northern Ireland.
Michel Barnier has been absolutely clear that the negotiations must be completed in 10 and a bit months’ time, so that everyone involved can look at the deal. We have to take a view, as do other bodies such as the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The Government must now have realised that it was never going to be possible to negotiate a special bespoke deal that will cover all the issues that need to be addressed. Given that there will inevitably be many outstanding issues come the end of the talks in October 2018, and given that leaving without a deal would mean falling off a cliff edge, with all the disastrous consequences for the British economy, surely it is now plain that we must have transitional arrangements and that they will have to involve staying in the customs union and the single market for a period if we want to avoid the kind of disruption that businesses have repeatedly warned the Government about.
I realise that this self-evident truth will come as a shock and a bitter disappointment to some people. I do not know how Ministers will break it to them—presumably, gently bit by bit—but it will have to happen because only by doing this will we as a nation have the chance and the time to negotiate a comprehensive free trade and market access agreement that our businesses want and on which our economic future depends.
In British constitutional history, there are few examples of Bills of such historic significance as this. Since the mid-1980s, I have been arguing for our legislative sovereignty in respect of EU legislation, even under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, as was seen in my amendment of
Today, at last, we have the withdrawal and repeal Bill, an original draft of which, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows, I circulated in the House of Commons even before the referendum. It said two very simple things: we need to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and transpose EU law into UK law when the treaties cease to apply to the United Kingdom under article 50. However, contrary to the reasoned amendment tabled by the official Opposition, this Bill—the Government’s Bill—will emphatically protect and reassert the principle of parliamentary sovereignty precisely because it is an Act of Parliament, or will be if it goes through. It will repeal the European Communities Act, sections 2 and 3 of which asserted the supremacy of EU law over UK law. That is the central point.
Indeed, the referendum Bill itself was authorised by an Act of Parliament, by no less than six to one in the House of Commons, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, the article 50 withdrawal Act was another reassertion of sovereignty, which was passed by 498 to 114 votes in this House. All or most Members of the Opposition voted for it. That result was reinforced in the general election, when 86% of the votes for all political parties effectively endorsed the outcome of the referendum. This is democracy and sovereignty merged in its fullest sense and acquiesced in by the official Opposition, who are now putting up a reasoned amendment against endorsing the very decision that they themselves have already not merely participated in but agreed on. We should therefore be deeply disturbed that they should now seek to decline to give this Bill a Second Reading, cynically claiming that they respect the EU referendum result. In fact, their amendment defies belief. As the snail asserts in “Alice in Wonderland”, they
“would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.”
This is a serious dance. This is not Alice in Wonderland, but a real dance implementing the democratic decision of the British people—the United Kingdom as a whole.
The Opposition’s reasoned amendment fails to comprehend the simplest fact, which is that parliamentary sovereignty is no less embedded in this Bill than in the European Communities Act itself, which, in the very pursuance of parliamentary sovereignty, repealed our then voluntary acceptance under sections 2 and 3 of the 1972 Act. Indeed, Lord Bridge in the Factortame case made the basis of that Act crystal clear even to the point of the House of Lords striking down an Act of Parliament—namely the Merchant Shipping Act 1988—because of its inconsistency with the 1972 Act.
In 1972, therefore, by virtue of the historic invasion of our constitutional arrangements, we acquiesced in the subversion to the European Union of this House—and all without a referendum, which we did have this time when we got the endorsement of the British people under an Act of Parliament passed by six to one in this House.
Furthermore, the 1972 Act absorbed into our jurisprudence not only a vast swath of treaties and laws but the dogmatic assertions made by the European Court of the supremacy of EU law over our constitutional status. I would mention Van Gend en Loos, Handels- gesellschaft and so on—a whole list of cases asserting, through the European Court, EU constitutional primacy over Parliaments, including our Parliament and its sovereignty. That was made even worse by the White Paper that preceded the 1972 Act and pretended—I almost say by deceit—that it would be essential to our national interest to retain the veto and never give it up, because without it the fabric of the European Community would be impaired. The then Government understood what it was all about; they knew that it would destroy the European Union if a restriction was imposed on our ability to veto legislation. Since then, the EU’s competencies have been vastly extended.
As for the Henry VIII procedures in the Bill, I hear what my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry said about what I said in 2013, but I am talking about the EU-specific legal jurisdiction and the context in which we are discussing the subject, which is the 1972 Act. Yes, we could have reservations about elements of Henry VIII procedures, but the biggest power grab of all time in British constitutional history has been the 1972 Act itself. It incorporated all the EU laws made and accumulated from 1956 right through to 1972, and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke was running around as a young Whip cajoling people to move down the route of subverting our entire history and constitutional arrangements through these new arrangements. They subverted the constitutional supremacy of this House.
May I remind my hon. Friend of his contribution to the debates on the Maastricht treaty? He made most of the arguments then that he is making now, but I do not recall him being so enthusiastic for legislation to be speedily passed through this House with no proper powers retained over any of the detail. When did his conversion to this new prompt procedure take place?
I am so glad that my right hon. and learned Friend has made that point, because I would like to endorse what he was saying earlier—I would like to see proceedings extended beyond 5 o’clock tonight. I will not have the opportunity to make a speech as long as that which I made on Second Reading of the Maastricht Bill—I think it lasted something like two hours—but for the reasons that have already been given, I think that this Bill is quite different in character. Then, we were dealing with extensions of competencies and here we are dealing with the principles of repeal, sovereignty and democracy.
I hesitate to ask my hon. Friend to give way, but simply want to make the point that as he will recall, during Maastricht we were told time and time again that although we had long procedures for debate the outcome could not be in doubt, because to be a member of the European Union meant that all of what was agreed in the Maastricht treaty would come straight into UK law regardless of what this Parliament decided it was against.
Absolutely. That is the cardinal principle.
The Henry VIII arrangement in this Bill is a mirror image in reverse of what was done in 1972 to absorb all the European legislation into our own law and apply it so that it could never be changed. It cannot be amended—there is the acquis communitaire, and it cannot be repealed until we have this Bill. That is the point. I ought to add that it would be impossible for us to translate all the European legislation through primary legislation, although, as has already been said, we will have important primary legislation on subjects such as immigration and fisheries. The Government have already promised that.
Section 2(2) of the 1972 Act allows EU law to have legal effect in UK domestic law by secondary or delegated legislation. Read with section 2(4) and schedule 2 to that Act, that secondary legislation, by sovereign Act of Parliament, is expressly given the power to make such provision as may be made by the Act of Parliament itself. There are hosts of examples—including, if I may say so to the Opposition and the shadow Secretary of State, section 75 of the Freedom of Information Act, where the amendment was made within the Act and passed by the Labour party. Let us not get hypocritical about this under any circumstances; this procedure is not as unusual as it is made out to be.
“As I conceive it, the power afforded by Clause 2(4) would be used only in exceptional circumstances”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 831, c. 285.]
We now know that, according to the EU legal database, at least 12,000 regulations have been brought in since ’73, with 7,900 instruments derived from EU law. It is a wild assertion that the Henry VIII provisions contained in this Bill are an infringement of parliamentary sovereignty, and for that reason the Opposition amendment should be completely disregarded.
Furthermore, Henry VIII powers have been used in enactment after enactment. Indeed, we had them in the recent Energy Bill and Immigration Bill, which contained 22 separate Henry VII powers. There is, however, another important point to be made. The European Scrutiny Committee report “Transparency of decision-making in the Council of the European Union”, published in May 2016, goes to the heart of the manner in which the policies and laws of the UK have increasingly been invaded, not merely in process but in practice, which we will reverse—abolish—through this Bill. The Committee established that although majority voting prevails by virtue of the treaties, the decisions are taken by consensus behind closed doors without any proper record, proper speeches or transparency. No votes are recorded, as they are in Hansard. That is the fundamental difference. It is a travesty of a democratic decision-making process and a reason why the Bill is so necessary. The people of this country have had legislation inflicted and imposed on them that is made behind closed doors without anyone knowing who has made it, for what reason and how.
There are political undercurrents that need to be brought out, because the question of who makes those decisions behind closed doors in the Council of Ministers is incredibly important, as Professor Vaubel, professor of economics at Mannheim University, made clear in his work “Regulatory Collusion”. Another report, by VoteWatch, demonstrates the extent to which the UK has been on the losing side an ever increasing proportion of times leading up to 2015. I am bound to say that the UK has been on the losing side more than any other state over that time.
I have made my point on the charter. The Opposition have no credibility on that question whatsoever.
Finally, let me say that this is an historic moment and I am glad to be part of it at last.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir William Cash, who has spent more time scrutinising EU legislation and directives than all of us. I am pleased to have been a member of the European Scrutiny Committee for some years now, although we have often felt very alone. We have been up in the Committee Rooms going through documents after documents, realising that we could change very little. The public watching us today will see all this interest. They will look at the time we are spending discussing intense scrutiny and worrying about Henry VIII clauses and statutory instruments, and they may well think, “If only a quarter of that time had been spent by Parliament examining some of the thousands of EU directives and regulations that have simply been imposed on the country.” We have had very little say. As the hon. Member for Stone said, much of what happened in the European Union was behind closed doors. As just one of 28 countries, we were always being outvoted. We had to take those decisions on board many times without being able to change them.
There is genuine concern among many of my colleagues and some Conservative Members about the scrutiny process, including the use of some Henry VIII clauses and statutory instruments. I agree very much with Mr Duncan Smith that there are mechanisms by which we could bring people together. One problem is that those of us who voted to leave and were pleased with the result genuinely feel that, although a lot of people are saying, “Oh yes, we accept the result of the referendum”, they are doing every little bit of work they can behind the scenes not necessarily to prevent us from leaving, but to make it as difficult and tedious as possible. They want the public to think, “Oh dear. Have we done the right thing?” That comes through from the media and all the people who were strongly in the remain camp, and it does a disservice to our country because, when we are negotiating with the EU, we need to show that both this country and this Parliament are united.
Whatever happens and whatever people in my party say, we will be leaving in March 2019. We want to leave in a way that will maximise certainty and confidence in business. We want to maximise the confidence of the people, many of whom voted remain but who have now decided that they want to get on with it and are saying, “Let’s just do it.” Let us speak up for all the positive things that are happening. We should now recognise that all the dire warnings about the things that would go wrong were, in fact, wrong themselves. We need to be as positive as possible.
I look back on the last Labour Government in which many current Members of Parliament served. In that time, we actually doubled the number of statutory instruments to introduce new laws, so Labour Members are being a little hypocritical. I know there are people in the Labour party who are genuinely so upset that we are leaving the EU, but we should be putting the country’s interests first at this time. We should be deciding that we want to work with the Government, which means that the Government also need to want to work with us. That requires a positive attitude from the Opposition Front Bench. I have been pleased to say that there have been positive attitudes over the past few months, but I now worry about us going against the principle by voting against Second Reading. No matter whether some people genuinely feel that it is the right thing to do, it will be seen by Labour voters in the public—many of whom came back and voted for us, having fraternised with the UK Independence party for some time—as though we are not really serious about leaving the European Union.
I am very disappointed that we will not be supporting the Bill on Monday night. During the course of the debate, I hope that some of my colleagues will actually feel that they should support the Bill, even if they are going to support the reasoned amendment because this Second Reading is the principle. We can then probe with our amendments and new clauses some of the problems—undoubtedly, there are some—with the scrutiny process.
Michel Barnier goes on about the clock ticking, and many people have mentioned that today. It is ticking. But it is actually ticking for the European Union just as much as it is ticking for us in the United Kingdom. It now seems that the only thing at the top of the European Union negotiators’ minds at this moment is money. That is not necessarily true of the individual countries. Over the next few months, I think we will see changes in some European Union countries that really want to get a good deal with us because they know it is in their interests. But the European Union negotiators know how much they will miss our money, and that tells us something about what the European Union has been all about. They want to keep our money coming in for as long as possible. I will accept any kind of transition period only if we stop paying any more money from day one that we leave the EU. That is not to say that there might not be some really legal things, but I would like to see the detail—I would like the European Union to come up with every dot and comma of why it thinks we should pay something back. We need to be clear that we are not going to pay anything more after we leave the European Union.
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. Does she agree that the EU probably does not want to talk about trade, because, in practice, it will want tariff-free, barrier-free trade if it is at all sensible, and it thinks it can get money out of us for that, when it has to have it for itself?
The right hon. Gentleman is right: money seems to be the crucial thing it is using in the negotiation. I hope our negotiators will stand up to that and stop allowing the media and others to make every little bit of negotiation into some kind of conflict, saying that it is always the EU negotiators who are doing the right thing and that we are somehow not doing the right thing. I want it to be the other way round: I want us to be positive about our negotiations, because, in the end, we can get a good deal by just proclaiming how strong the United Kingdom is, how well respected we are, how strong our City of London is and how, despite the fact that we are leaving in 2019, companies are still coming to invest here. There is a very positive message, but it is not getting out.
I know that lots of people want to speak, so I will end by saying one thing. I am not a lawyer, although there are a lot of lawyers in here who are loving every minute of this, because it is the kind of thing they love. However, I am not a lawyer, and the vast majority of the public are not lawyers. They will be watching today, and they will be judging all of us, whatever our party politics, on whether we are doing what is in the long-term, best interests of our country. I do not believe we should be playing some kind of political game about not voting for the Bill because it might make it look to some people in our party as if we are standing up to the Government. This is about the future of our country. Labour Members should vote for the Second Reading of this Bill on Monday night, and then challenge and change things, if we can, in Committee.
I entirely agree with Kate Hoey: we have no legal obligation to pay more money, and there is no moral obligation. There is also no diplomatic advantage in offering money; indeed, if the EU gets the idea that we might pay it a bit of money, it will be even more unreasonable, because that would be the way to try to force more money out of us.
What I wish to say in this very important debate is that the Bill should satisfy most remain voters and most leave voters. I understand that it does not satisfy some MPs, who have their political agendas and political games to play, but they should listen to their constituents, and they should think about the mood of the country—the mood of business and those we represent.
We have had crocodile tears shed for myself and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who wanted leave and who are very pleased with leave by those who tell us that we must surely understand that we are not getting the parliamentary democracy we wanted as a result of this piece of legislation. I would like to reassure all colleagues in the House that I am getting exactly the piece of legislation I wanted, and it does restore parliamentary democracy.
What is in the Bill for leave voters is that, once the Bill has gone through and we have left the European Union, the British people will have their elected Parliament making all their laws for them. We will be able to amend any law we do not like any more, and we will be able to improve any law. We were not able to do that.
What we like about the Bill is that it gets rid of the 1972 Act, which was an outrage against democracy, because, as we have heard, it led to 20,000 different laws being visited upon our country, whether the people and Parliament wanted them or not, and whether their Government voted for them or against them—the Government often voted for them reluctantly because they did not want the embarrassment of voting against them and losing. This is a great day for United Kingdom democracy. A piece of legislation is being presented that will give the people and their Parliament control back over their laws.
Let me just explain why this is good for remain voters and then I will give way to someone who is probably of that faith. It is good for remain voters because during the campaign a lot of them were not fully convinced either for or against the European Union, but on balance thought we should stay in. They quite often liked some elements of European legislation, standards or requirements. In particular, the Labour party and its supporters liked the employment guarantees that were offered by European employment law, and other parties and interests liked the environmental standards. This Bill guarantees that all the things that remain voters like about European legislation will continue and will be good British law, so they will still have the benefits of them, with the added advantage that we might want to improve them, as well as full assurances from the Government that we do not wish to repeal them.
I am very surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is saying how delighted he is that so many rights and responsibilities will now come under delegated legislation. I am not sure if he recalls that on
Order. Forgive me, but colleagues must have some regard to each other’s interests. There are a lot of people wanting to speak. Interventions must be brief; they should not be mini-speeches.
Let us come to the secondary legislation point. First, all statutory instruments are subject to a parliamentary process. I am quite happy that there is parliamentary control. If Ministers seek to abuse the power under the legislation that they are offering to the House, then all the House has to do is to vote down the statutory instrument. If it is a so-called negative resolution instrument, surely the Opposition are up to being able to say, “We intend to debate and vote on this issue.” I remember doing that as a shadow Cabinet member. I called in things that the then Government were trying to smuggle through and made sure that there was a debate and a vote. If it is the view of Parliament that Ministers have misbehaved, then they will lose the vote and have to come forward with something else.
That is parliamentary democracy, and I do not understand why my colleagues find it so difficult to understand. Ministers will be bringing forward bits of secondary legislation in areas where they are fairly sure that it is the will of the House that they go through because they are technical, or sensible, or obvious. They will all be in pursuit of the fundamental aim, which is to guarantee all these rights and laws, which are often more admired by Opposition Members than Conservative Members, but which we have all agreed should be transferred lock, stock and barrel, and which in certain cases are protected by pledges in manifestos. For example, my party, as well as the Labour party, has promised to keep all the employment protections and improve on them, because that is something we believe in. We offered that to the British people as part of our manifesto for the last election.
The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that those who voted for remain, as I did, should be happy with this Bill because it brings over all EU legislation. Yes and no. On the stroke of midnight on exit day, we lose the general principles of EU law such as proportionality, non-discrimination, and respect for human rights. [Interruption.] No, with respect—the general principles go. Does he agree that we should lose those very sound, good, valuable general principles?
I think that those excellent principles are already reflected in both European law and British law and will therefore be built into our statutes. They will be inherited from European law through this Bill, and they will often inform the judgment of our judges. I am very happy to trust our Supreme Court rather than the European Court of Justice.
The Supreme Court has not always made judgments I like. I did not like one of its judgments quite recently, but we accepted it and lived with it. We are now in a stronger position as a result, as it happens, because we had a nine-month referendum debate in this House after the country had made its decision. I am pleased to say that after a very long and extensive rerun of the referendum—day after day we were talking about the same subject, having been told we never did so—Parliament wisely came to the decision, by an overwhelming majority, that it did have to endorse the decision of the British people and get on with implementing it.
I am afraid that time is now rather limited.
I am very much in favour of our Parliament making these decisions. The admirable principles we are discussing will often be reflected in British law. They are already reflected in many of the bits of legislation that are the subject of this Bill, and our judges will often be informed by them. If the judges start to use a principle that we do not like very much, it is in the hands of those of us who are in Parliament to issue new guidance to those judges— to say that we are creating more primary legislation to ensure that we have a bit more of this principle and a bit less of that—on our area of disagreement with them. In a democracy, it is most important that we have independent courts, but also that, ultimately, the sovereign people through their elected representatives can move the judges on by proper instruction; in our case, that takes the form of primary legislation.
Much has been made of how we implement whatever agreement we get, if we have an agreement, at the end of the now 19-month process in the run-up to our exit on
There are two off-the-shelf models, either of which would work. In one, the EU decides, in the end, that it does not want tariffs on all its food products and cars coming into the UK market, and it does not want us creating new barriers against its very successful exports, so it agrees that we should register our existing arrangements as a free trade agreement at the World Trade Organisation. That would be a ready-made free trade agreement.
I do not think that there is time to make a special free trade agreement that is not as good as the one we have at the moment. Either we will have the current arrangements, as modified for WTO purposes, when we are outside the Union, or we will not. If we do not, we will trade on WTO terms when we are on the other side of the EU’s customs and tariff arrangements. We know exactly what that looks like, because that is how we trade with the rest of the world at the moment as an EU member.
The EU imposes very high tariff barriers on what would otherwise be cheaper food from the rest of the world, but if it decided on that option, its food would, of course, be on the wrong side of that barrier as well. We would have to decide how much we wanted to negotiate tariffs down for food from other countries around the world, which may offer us a better deal. It would be quite manageable; food is the only sector that would be badly affected by the tariff proposals under the WTO. More than half our trade would not be tariffable under WTO rules, and services obviously attract no tariffs. I have yet to hear any of the other member states recommend imposing tariffs on their trade with us, or recommend a series of new barriers to get in the way of other aspects of our trade. We will have to wait and see how that develops.
Is my right hon. Friend saying that one of the largest and most basic amounts of its income that any household spends—the part that it spends on food—could be affected by these proposals, but that that is okay?
I am saying that either way, we could get a good deal. If the EU decides that it wants to impose tariffs on its food exports to us, we will be able take tariffs off food that comes from other parts of the world. Under WTO rules, it is always possible to take tariffs off. We could start getting from the rest of the world food that is cheaper than that which we currently get from the EU, even though it does not attract tariffs. I want to look after customers.
The other thing is that if we just accepted the full WTO tariff rules, we would have about £12 billion of tariffs, and I would recommend that all of that £12 billion be given back to our consumers. They would be no worse off at all, because we would return the money to them. They might even be better off, if we did free trade deals that brought down the price of food from other parts of the world.
My final point to the Government is that there is an issue about how we decide the date of our departure. I think it is clear that our date of departure will be
People are always telling me that we need to reduce uncertainty. If we told them not only that all the laws would remain in place—getting rid of any uncertainty about the law—but that the date of our exit would definitely be
Order. Immediately after the next speaker, the time limit on Back-Bench speeches will be reduced to five minutes.
This has been a very thoughtful debate, and I hope that the Government are in no doubt about the scale of parliamentary concern about the way in which the Bill concentrates powers in the hands of Ministers.
In his opening speech, the Secretary of State recognised that the Bill is not what will take us out of the EU; Parliament has already voted for article 50, which will take us out of the EU—and rightly voted for it, as well. However, Parliament also has a job to do to hold Ministers to account and the Bill, as drafted, stops us doing that. It stops us standing up for democracy in this House, and it stops us making sure, frankly, that the Government do not screw up Brexit in the process they put it through and the decisions they take.
Many of the purposes behind the Bill are right. Parliament will need to repeal the 1972 Act, and Parliament will also need to transfer EU-derived law into UK law. As the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, has already said, we will have to have a Bill, but not this Bill. There is a choice about the way in which we do this, and we do not have to do it in a way that concentrates so much power in the hands of a small group of Ministers.
Let me run through some of our concerns. The shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, set out a very forensic and powerful account of the Bill and the detailed powers that it will give Ministers, with no safeguards in place. There are the powers in clauses 7 and 17, as well as those in clause 9, and there is the fact that it will reduce British citizens’ rights. Far from allowing Brits to take back control, the Bill weakens protection for employment rights, equality and environmental standards; it weakens remedies and enforcement; and, crucially, it reduces the right of redress. It is both sad and telling that Ministers have chosen to exempt the charter of fundamental rights. I hope that that will be reversed, and that they will change their position.
The greatest concern—I want to focus on this point—is the concentration of powers in a way that, frankly, is not British. Parliament will not be able to do its job to stand up for citizens’ rights against a powerful Executive if the Bill goes through in the way that it has been drafted. The unprecedented powers given to Ministers in certain clauses—clause 7 and, in particular, clause 17 —are powers that would make a Tudor monarch proud. Everyone realises that the sheer extent of the provisions means that we will need both primary and secondary legislation as part of the process, but not to this scale, not with this lack of safeguards and not with this concentration of power in Ministers’ hands.
The Bill will give Ministers the power to change primary legislation for an incredibly broad range of reasons, and the test will simply be whether they think it is appropriate. The test is not whether a change is needed, proportionate or essential, but only whether Ministers consider it to be appropriate. The Bill also includes the power—the Secretary of State made slightly disingenuous remarks in the way he presented this—to create new criminal offences so long as sentences are not more than two years. That is a serious power to give Ministers on such a broad area without parliamentary scrutiny.
Let me give some examples of the things that the Bill would do. I raised the European arrest warrant with the Secretary of State, and his response to my question about what safeguards there would be was simply to point to the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act—by the way, Conservative Front Benchers have pledged to get rid of it—is not a sufficient safeguard. We know that we should not rely on the courts to have all the safeguards, and that we in Parliament should provide some of them as well. We also know that within the scope of the Human Rights Act there is a huge range of potential policies on extradition on which Parliament should have a say.
On my past record, I suspect that I am probably closer to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary on what the extradition policy should be than many of their Back Benchers. I still do not think, however, that they should have unlimited powers to decide extradition policy without having to come back to Parliament.
We debated the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 forensically—in fact, it was an example of Parliament at its best. We gave that Act detailed consideration that balanced security and liberty and changed it as it went through. Given, however, that some of the Act’s genesis depended on ECJ judgments and its relationship with EU legislation, the Bill today could give Ministers the power to reopen the Act and change the primary legislation that we put forward with great care, and—again—to do so through secondary legislation only, without there being proper safeguards and checks in place. Ministers will have the power to rip up the working time directive, too, if it does not fit with what they think should happen under the appropriate arrangements after Brexit.
I do not trust the Prime Minister and the Cabinet with these immense powers. One would expect me not to do so, but no parliamentarian should trust them with these powers. None of us knows who the next Prime Minister will be or who will be in the next Cabinet. This is about the powers in principle, not who is doing the job right now. Clause 9 is particularly disturbing; it should not even be in the Bill. We should be legislating separately for the withdrawal agreement. We should have a separate Bill—and, yes, it would need to provide for secondary legislation; we should not be doing it now, when we have no clue what the withdrawal agreement will be, when we have not had a vote to endorse the Government’s negotiating strategy—we do not even know what it is on a whole series of different areas—and when there is not even a statutory commitment to a vote on the withdrawal agreement.
We could start legislating later, in the summer perhaps when we have a bit more of a clue where on earth this is all going, or perhaps in the autumn when the withdrawal agreement supposedly will have been signed. Then we could put the exit date, which some Government Members are concerned about, into primary legislation and legislate without giving Ministers any more powers than is strictly necessary, rather than hand them unrestricted power to do the job.
Does the right hon. Lady not accept that the Government are conducting the negotiations? Parliament can say, “We like the result,” or “We don’t like the result,” but we cannot amend it; it is what the negotiation is.
I am not comfortable with the right hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for giving the Government blank cheques. Even if he is happy to support the Government and let them do whatever they want on the negotiations, he should be deeply uneasy about giving Ministers unrestricted powers to implement the withdrawal agreement in whatever way they so choose.
The Prime Minister has no mandate to do it this way. To be fair, she asked for one—that is what the election was all about; it was about subverting the Cabinet, her party and this Parliament—but she did not get one. In fact, the Conservative party lost seats. We now have a hung Parliament, and it would be even more irresponsible for a hung Parliament to hand over such huge powers to the Executive than it would be in any other circumstances.
We do not need to legislate like this. This is about more than just Brexit. It is about the precedents we set. Many hon. Members have quoted precedents about different kinds of secondary legislation, but that only strengthens the argument: we should not be setting a precedent in Parliament that hands this stonking great lump of powers into Ministers’ hands without any safeguards. This is about who we are. It is about what kind of democracy Britain should be.
Even before the Brexit legislation, the former Lord Chief Justice warned about the steady diminishing of Parliament, about the handing over of power and control, year after year, to the Executive—to be fair, that includes previous Governments, not just this one—and about the number of statutory instruments and the fact that since 1950 Parliament has said no to only one in 10,000 of those laid before it.
Henry VIII’s Parliament had an excuse. The man had a habit of chopping off people’s heads. What is the excuse for this Parliament? How can we possibly, in this generation, allow ourselves to become the most supine Parliament in history by handing over powers on this scale? We sit in the Chamber and listen to maiden speeches with great respect because we all still think that there is something special about being sent here by our constituents—sent with the power of democracy; sent on the wings of all those many thousands of ballot papers folded up with the crosses by our names. We think that we have a responsibility to hold the Executive to account, and not to hand over to Ministers, in an unrestricted way, all the power given to us by our constituents to do what they like with. Yet that is what the Bill is doing.
History will judge us for the decisions that we make now, for the precedents that we set and the choices that we make. Six months ago, I voted for article 50 because I believe in democracy, but now it is that same faith in democracy that means I cannot vote for the Bill. Let us not choose to be the most supine Parliament in history. Let us be the parliamentary generation that stands up for Parliament: the generation that pursues the article 50 process, but does so in a way that holds Ministers to account.
Order. The five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches will now apply.
This has been a fascinating debate so far, and I am delighted that a little bird tells me that the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House are conspiring to try to make arrangements for it to be extended to midnight on the second day.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the debate has been the appearance of logic in what was said by not only Yvette Cooper, but the Chair of the Select Committee, Hilary Benn, and the shadow Secretary of State, Keir Starmer. What they said sounded forensic and logical. The structure of their argument, as I think other Members will recognise, is as follows: “We do not like clause 9, we do not like clause 17 and we do not like schedule 7, and therefore, instead of waiting to see whether they will change in Committee before voting on Third Reading, we will reject the Bill on Second Reading.”
That is not what logicians call logic; it is what they call a non sequitur, which prompts the question, “Why the non sequitur?” The answer is that the three people whom I have just mentioned are among the cleverest people in Parliament. They understand logic perfectly well, and they understand what a non sequitur is. The reason they are engaging in such an argument is that they hope to make some combination of trouble for the Government, or for the Brexit process. Conservative Members should pay not the slightest attention to such “un-arguments” and should get on with the business of examining the Bill as it is.
Having said that, I rather agree—in fact, I strongly agree—with what was said by my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith, and, indeed, with some of what was said by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, and my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry. There is a lacuna here, and we do need to look at those clauses again. I suspect that much of the remedy will lie in the use of a combination of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments as the ultimate body and, for instance, the Social Security Advisory Committee to do the detailed work on what will probably be near on 1,000 technical statutory instruments before the House comes to consider the really serious matters that will need to be dealt with in one way or another.
There is, however, one point that I want to make in advance of the Committee stage in the hope that the Government will consider it between now and then. One fundamental issue has not been addressed in the debate so far. It relates to what we used to call the European Court of Justice or the Court of Justice of the European Union. Members who have read clause 6 will have noticed that, as the Secretary of State pointed out, subsection (4) states that
“the Supreme Court is not bound by any retained EU case law”.
That seems to be a fairly important statement, but it is not quite as important as one might think, because the Supreme Court is not bound by itself either: it is the kind of court that can always depart. So I think that it is more of a ritual utterance than anything else.
According to clause 6(3),
“Any question as to the validity, meaning or effect of any retained EU law is to be decided…in accordance with any retained case law and any retained general principles of EU law”.
In case anyone has any doubt about whether that might be just a drafting error, I should point out that the Government’s own document describing the Bill states:
“Questions on the meaning of retained EU law will be determined by domestic courts in accordance with preexit CJEU case law.”
In other words, those parts of the Bill, as currently drafted, enshrine the CJEU, with its expansionist teleological jurisprudence, as the basis for deciding what the law of the land is.
I am sorry, but I will not. I do not have much time. I do not believe that that is a very good way to do it, but if it were a good way to do it, we should certainly remove the reference to the Supreme Court not being bound by it, because it is not one solo parliamentarian who has no legal expertise, but is, rather, the retiring president of the Supreme Court, whom we do have to pay some attention to, who has pointed out that there is an ambiguity here.
It is by no means the only ambiguity in this Bill, but I agree entirely that to ask the judiciary to carry out an interpretation of something that is so oddly and, I have to say, vaguely worded is a recipe for disaster and is something this House should avoid doing.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend about that and hope that in Committee we will be able to address that head on. My personal belief is that we should address it in the form of changing clause 6(3), to ensure that it is open to—indeed, that we give an inducement to—our courts to move back to the plain words of the texts of the treaties and directives, so far as they judge that can be done without injustice to individuals. That is the principle that most people who voted for leave, and indeed many of us who voted on balance to remain but have been extremely sceptical about the activities of the ECJ and the Court of Justice of the European Union for many years, would wish to see enshrined in this legislation. I suspect that I might even carry my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe on that point, because he was, somewhat surprisingly, very sceptical about the ECJ on many occasions—I say surprisingly, because, despite his enthusiasm for the EU, which I never quite managed to share, actually he is a very good parliamentarian and a very good lawyer and recognises that we do not want a court that makes its own law. So I think we have a way forward that we can seek to follow in Committee.
None of that should obscure the fact that this is a good and necessary Bill. Nothing that the Opposition have said has suggested that there is any structural deficiency. Therefore, I will vote for it, and I hope all my friends and colleagues on the Conservative Benches and, indeed, many on the Opposition Benches will do the same.
It is a great privilege to make my maiden speech as part of this special and important debate. Many people—especially me—were completely stunned on the morning of
Before I speak a little more about my constituency, I want to mention the so-called “trolling” of my, mostly female, colleagues over the summer. I have already experienced a fair amount of trolling myself. This ranges from ill-informed, badly researched articles published as fact to unpleasant personal messages late at night, and vile, vitriolic insults from a small, but persistent, handful of activists from other parties posted online.
I acknowledge the efforts being made by the inspirational women in Parliament who are working hard to raise this issue and are fighting against it even though that usually results in much more abuse being thrown their way. I want to make special mention of my friend, the Newham councillor Seyi Akiwowo, who has endured, fought back against and now campaigns against the lowest form of racial abuse; and, of course, Labour’s shadow Home Secretary, who has shown incredible dignity and remarkable strength in the face of the most unacceptable and disgusting abuse over her decades in this House.
Groups such as Glitch UK and Reclaim the Internet, led by my colleague my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper and many of my other friends and colleagues in this House, are deserving of our support. We must continue to fight against this and highlight the problem; it is entirely possible to engage in passionate political debate without resorting to name-calling, death threats and abusive language. Let us restore respect and manners to our online behaviour.
As the first woman ever to have been elected in Canterbury and as a single mother, I want to be a champion for equality not only for women, but for the disabled, people of every ethnic and racial background, the young and the old, the LGBT community and people of all faiths and none. It is a scandal that in this day and age there is still inequality in pay and discrimination in many forms. All such prejudice has no place in our society; I will challenge and fight it wherever I find it.
My constituency, Canterbury, is famous as a place of pilgrimage. It is also known as part of the garden of England. Today, as we sit here in the Palace of Westminster, the farms surrounding my constituency are filled with apples, hops and plum trees. In some ways, nothing has changed since Chaucer and his pilgrims went walking through those same fields, but in many ways, everything has. In those fields today, many of the fruit pickers are European. Every day, in the streets of my city and the nearby seaside town of Whitstable, we hear European languages being spoken by schoolchildren visiting from France, Spain, Germany and Belgium.
At the top of the hill that overlooks Canterbury city lies the University of Kent, which prides itself on being the UK’s European university, and standing outside the nave doors of Canterbury cathedral, you are closer to Paris than you are to Sheffield. This is just my way of emphasising how much the Canterbury constituency has benefited, and continues to benefit, from economic and cultural exchange with our European neighbours. It is undoubtedly true that the Kent economy has benefited from immigration and tourism from across the channel, and we hope to continue to do so well into the future.
If there must be a Brexit, I want only the sort of Brexit that protects the rights of EU nationals to work in the UK, that promotes trade across borders and that is proud of our many students and academics who come here to study from across the world. For example, we want to continue to welcome the foreign doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who have worked in our hospitals. There is real anxiety in the constituency I now represent about the future of our local NHS and, in particular, the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. Over the past decade, it has lost vital services. We now have absolutely no A&E, and the maternity unit, which gave me such wonderful care when I had my two boys, has gone. Only a few months ago, the K and C lost three major services—those covering heart attacks, stroke and pneumonia.
But let us remember that the threat to our hospital is not happening in isolation. The problems facing our NHS arise from Government policies affecting the whole of England. The first of these is budget cuts. Our local hospital trust does not have a deficit of £40 million because of overspending; it is caused by underfunding. Putting the shackles of austerity on to an already weakened NHS is a deliberate political choice made by this Government.
I must speak up to save our nation’s sickest patient, because that is what the NHS is. Our NHS is the nation’s sickest patient, and the Government must be careful that, while burying their heads in Brexit, they do not leave her to die. Yesterday, I was out in Parliament Square supporting NHS staff and other public sector workers who are having to resort to protest in the face of the ongoing pay cap. Some nurses I speak to regularly are having to rely on food banks. What sort of country is this, when we cannot look after the very people who look after us?
In around 1370, long before he wrote “The Canterbury Tales”, Geoffrey Chaucer was sent to Italy by the King to negotiate a trade agreement between Genoa and England. Historical documents show that it was a very successful trade agreement indeed. I can only wish that our current Brexit negotiations with the EU will be as successful. You would think that after nearly 650 years, we would have picked up a tip or two! I hope the current Government are listening to the whispers of history, and indeed to today’s shouts from up and down the United Kingdom. People want a good deal. They do not want no deal; this is not a television game show with a snappy title. We must come out with a deal that does not send us back into the economic dark ages.
As is the tradition in maiden speeches, I would like to thank my predecessor, Sir Julian Brazier, who served the people of Canterbury well as their Member of Parliament for 30 years—some 10,955 days. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will acknowledge what a remarkable act of dedication and service that was. He and I fundamentally disagreed on many issues, such as equal marriage, Brexit and a woman’s right to choose, but I sincerely wish Sir Julian well for the future.
I love Canterbury. I love her surrounding villages such as Littlebourne, Chartham, Blean and Bridge. I love the working harbour of Whitstable and the pebbles of the surrounding Kent coast. I am humbled by the people of my constituency putting their trust in me, and I want to work hard for all the people in my area. I believe in unity and togetherness, and that love and trust can transcend borders. I believe in progressive and thoughtful socialism in which we work for and think of our neighbours without prejudice. Thank you for listening, Mr. Speaker, and for allowing me to have my first moments fighting for the people who elected me. I will not let them down.
Thank you; many congratulations to the hon. Lady. The five-minute time limit is now restored.
I congratulate Rosie Duffield on an excellent and confident maiden speech. I was sorry to hear about the online abuse that she has already experienced but pleased to hear about the support she has received. She talked about unity and togetherness, and she might have found the House at a challenging time for such things, but we will hopefully find a way through these debates. Her predecessor was a doughty champion of the armed forces, about which he spoke often in this House.
So it starts—the real process for getting us out of the European Union. The Bill is needed. It is needed legally to disentangle us and to make many people really believe that we are actually going to leave the European Union, something that I have not had difficulty believing. Like many colleagues who share my views, I have been clear since
In the limited time available, I want to draw attention to two parts of the Bill that have already been discussed. It is worth putting them on the record again so that Ministers are in no doubt about the parts of the Bill that they are going to have to discuss with colleagues throughout the House and agree amendments to if they want the Bill to pass. The first is the Henry VIII powers in clause 9, which could theoretically bite on the Bill itself and allow Ministers to amend the very legislation that the House is now debating and being asked to assent to. We might ask why we are going through the troublesome and time-consuming business of getting the Bill into shape when Ministers can use clause 9 to reverse the changes they dislike with speed, efficiency and a minimum of parliamentary oversight. The Secretary of State’s response to Hilary Benn, the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee, about the fact that the withdrawal agreement should not be implemented until this House has had its say, is incredibly important.
Will my right hon. Friend advise ardent leavers, possibly those on the Government Benches, that there is a real danger that the amount of money that might be paid to the European Union by way of what we call this divorce bill could be decided by the Government without report or redress in this place by virtue of clause 9?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. She is absolutely right. As a former EU budget Minister, I can say that money will be paid to the European Union, and I disagree fundamentally with the remarks of my right hon. Friend John Redwood. As one of our MEPs, Dan Hannan, said, this country pays what it owes. We have made financial commitments to the European Union until 2020, and we should pay what we owe. As the Secretary of State has said previously, we may well even decide to pay more towards some elements in order to have access to them, in particular Horizon 2020 and so on.
The second issue is the power for the Ministers to specify the date of the exit day, which will be subject to no parliamentary scrutiny procedure whatsoever. Interestingly, the Secretary of State started his remarks by saying that the Bill does not take us out of the European Union. I did think about intervening, but it was very early in his remarks and I thought that he might clarify things. The difficulty with what he says is that clause 1 baldly states:
“The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.”
If the 1972 Act is repealed, the UK leaves the European Union, so if this Bill is passed and its provisions are enacted, we will leave the European Union. Article 50 is a process for giving notice to start the discussions. I am afraid that the Secretary of State was not correct about that.
Why does scrutiny of statutory instruments matter so much? I suspect that Members have been having discussions with businesses and others who rely on EU law to go about what they do, and they are telling us very clearly that what will make their life easier and a transition possible is regulatory convergence, which means sticking to the regulations and rules we have been following for years, whether we are talking about pharmaceutical companies, financial services companies, food exporters, farmers, universities or many other different sectors.
To those who seek to say that we have been rule takers, not rule makers, I say that successive Ministers, including me, have sat at the European Council table and had those debates. The point is that if we want to have regulatory convergence after March 2019, which is what we are hearing, we will have to take the rules without having had any influence on them.
Finally, I am a proud parliamentarian, and the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Canterbury has just reminded me of how special it is to be elected to this place. Parliamentary scrutiny is not an affront to democracy; it is its very essence. The true saboteurs of Brexit are those who would sanction the exclusion of Parliament from this process. The debate on this Bill has only just started.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield on a speech that was fluent, forceful and, at the same time, generous to her predecessor. Her speech has also made me determined me to visit Canterbury, which sounds such a delightful place.
I have a few points: on why people voted to leave in the referendum; on where the Bill stands in relation to why people voted to leave; and on how all the other aspects of Brexit are going, and how they relate back to why people voted as they did. There may be other areas, but there are three that I think are most relevant. First, people voted to restore the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. However they define that sovereignty, the issue was certainly debated forcefully, and it was occasionally raised on the doorstep—I use the word “occasionally” advisedly.
Secondly, people voted to restore some kind of economic independence. People felt that we were spending too much money in Europe and that we would be better off outside, where we could negotiate better trade arrangements with the rest of the world—everything in the garden would be rosy. Thirdly, the issue most commonly raised with me on the doorstep was immigration.
I will briefly address those three points. On the first issue of sovereignty, Sir William Cash and John Redwood can dance on the head of a pin all they want about what the Bill actually does but, as my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer so forensically demonstrated, the Bill is a transfer of power from Parliament and towards the Executive. That certainly is not what the people in my constituency voted for.
Secondly, on economic independence, apart from the fact that it will potentially cost us £70 billion just to walk away, people did not vote for a worse trade deal and for worse economic relationships within the European community. Okay, I accept that the Prime Minister says, “You can’t leave and, at the same time, be a member of the single market. You cannot leave and, at the same time, be a member of the customs union.” I am sure she is right, but let us be honest about what we know the Government are seeking to do.
Please will the right hon. Gentleman explain Norway’s arrangement? Norway has never been in the European Union but is a full member of the customs union and single market, as are Iceland and Liechtenstein. It is a complete fallacy to suggest that being outside the EU has to mean a country is outside the single market—unless it chooses to be.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The one I was going to make is that if we are being brutally honest, we all know what is going to happen. The Government, through the negotiations, are going to find a set of arrangements as close as possible to being part of the single market but without being a member of it and something approximating the customs union. If they do not do that, they will not be looking after the best interests of this country. That much we know, which leads me on to the question about immigration.
If the Government are going to achieve anything approximating the customs union and some sort of relationship with the single market, the price they are going to have to pay is to agree some sort of approximate arrangements about the free movement of labour between the UK and the EU. Ministers might say, “Well, we can do that.” No, you can’t. The reality is that if the people negotiating on behalf of the EU were to say, “Okay UK, you can have something that approximates the single market and customs union, and you don’t need to worry about any free movement of labour”, they would soon be removed from their negotiating positions. This idea is not realistic.
Where are we in this audit of what we have achieved since the referendum? First, we have a set of arrangements in this Bill that are less democratic, and that give less power to Parliament and more power to the Executive. That is hardly what was promised in the referendum. Secondly, we are likely to be paying £70 billion for the privilege of leaving—not getting £350 million a week to put back into the health service. Finally, if we get anything like reasonable arrangements on our economic relationship with the EU, we are going to have to accept some level of free movement of labour. Everything people voted for is going to be betrayed.
I join Mr Howarth in congratulating Rosie Duffield on her excellent maiden speech. We were all thoroughly in tune with her on the abuse she has suffered and I hope she will work with other Members on that. She paid a generous tribute to her predecessor, Sir Julian Brazier, who was a fine parliamentarian for many years.
Some 17.4 million people voted in the referendum to leave the European Union and 16 million voted to remain. Polls show clearly that a large percentage of the 16 million now want us to get on with it. If we do not, catastrophic damage will be done to confidence in the integrity of all of us and the UK political establishment. We must progress taking back control to our democratic institutions of our laws, borders and money. In February, 494 Members voted to trigger article 50, and we will exit at midnight on
“Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
That requires us to repeal the European Communities Act 1972—good riddance to it; we will be a better country without that Act.
Today, we have seen a strange mixture of “Project Fear” morphing into “Project Humbug”. I had the pleasure and honour of serving as a junior member on the European Scrutiny Committee for several years. I clearly recall being shocked by the piles of papers imposing burdens on our citizens, which we could not debate or amend. One day, a couple of Labour members were ill and a Lib Dem member got stuck in the lift, so we were able to vote for a most pernicious measure affecting the dairy industry in my constituency to be debated on the Floor of this House. We could not have amended it, but we could at least have debated it. However, the then Leader of the House, Margaret Beckett, stood up in business questions and cancelled the debate. All that will stop; from now on, we will have the power to debate these measures. We will not impose law on our benighted citizens that we have not debated.
There is all this talk about “Project Fear”. As a founder member of Vote Leave—I was one of the first three MPs to join—I remember discussing changes to employment rights with the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who is in her place, and for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I reassured them that at absolutely no stage had any Tory Member considered changing employment rights. I cannot remember any discussion, private or public, where it was raised. It is pure “Project Fear”. Employment rights will be brought back into the control of democratically elected politicians in this House.
I thought the Opposition spokesman, Keir Starmer, made a very interesting argument, taking the very worst case. I hope that the Government will listen to concerns about how some of the so-called Henry VIII clauses might be amended. I suggest that clause 7(7) brings in a sunset clause of two years. I think more judicious use of sunset clauses might be valid, but we must press on, because we need a smooth transfer of power. According to EUR-Lex, 3,055 agriculture measures may need transposing. In fisheries, one of my previous responsibilities, there are 786 measures. In total, there are 20,319 measures. Businesses need smooth continuity.
Some years ago I looked at the history, having had a private Member’s Bill on the disapplication of EU law, the European Communities Act 1972 (Disapplication) Bill, and there are many historical precedents. The colonies of Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina and Massachusetts all took the then English and Welsh common law into their corpus of law. When Australia and New Zealand left our jurisdiction, they also did that. Interestingly, India did exactly the same in 1947, and it is still amending its law. Only in 2016 did it pass an Act amending 90 Raj-era Acts, including the Elephants Preservation Act 1879.
What we are doing is setting up a continuous process, and Labour’s position is wholly ludicrous. Some 162 Labour Members voted for article 50. Labour’s manifesto said:
“Labour accepts the referendum result.”
That manifesto also said that Labour wanted to leave the internal market and the customs union. The Labour leader has to be the most contumacious leader of any party.
This intervention is not about the Elephants Preservation Act 1879. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the most complex area here is within the remit of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because so much of it was run by the European Union? Many of those laws will need to be changed and added to, and that is why some of the powers in the Bill are necessary.
My right hon. Friend is spot on. That is why the Government sensibly are going to bring forward primary legislation in this House on agriculture, fisheries and the environment.
I ask the Labour party to look at its position. It is ludicrous. It has a leader who has rebelled against his party 617 times and has to be the most contumacious leader in this country’s political history. It accepted the referendum in its manifesto and voted for article 50. The sensible measure is for the Labour party to vote for Second Reading and then see reasoned amendments put through in Committee. Many of us would agree that the Bill can be improved, but the public will not forgive Labour if it is seen to be monkeying around with the political process, playing cheap political games when 17.4 million people voted to leave and take back control of our laws, our money and our borders. I will be voting for Second Reading on Monday.
Mr Paterson talks about promises made, but I think we all remember the promises made by those campaigning to vote leave in the referendum, resulting in the Bill we have before us. They promised £350 million a week for the national health service, and I am still waiting to see that clause in the Bill. The Secretary of State for International Trade said that it would be the easiest thing in the world for us to have all these fantastic trade deals and that by now we would be halfway towards trade deals 10 times the size of the European Union. And yes, as Mr Paterson helpfully repeated, they promised that if we held that referendum and got that result, we could take back control. Well, here we are, with this Bill before us, and it is indeed the case that some are taking back control, but it is not Parliament; it is the Prime Minister and the Executive—those on the Crown payroll.
As my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper said earlier, it is unacceptable with respect to the British constitution that we should be asked almost to create one of the most supine Parliaments that has existed around the world, as we are in the shape of the provisions set out in the Bill, particularly clauses 9 and 17, which will gift such wide-ranging powers to Ministers. As I indicated when the Secretary of State opened the debate, it is all very well for Ministers to promise, “Don’t worry, I give you an undertaking that we won’t misuse this power in this particular way. Just because it says that we can take any order-making power if we deem it appropriate, we won’t abuse it in any way,” and it is all very well that the legislation says the Government will use the super order-making power, which will allow them to make an order for a month without reference to Parliament even through a negative statutory instrument, only if it is urgent, but that definition is entirely in the hands of Ministers, and of course Ministers are here today, gone tomorrow.
Ministers can come and they can go. Members from all parties need to imagine their worst-possible scenario for who could be Prime Minister. Stranger things have happened. They should think about whether they want to vest in the hands of that individual—he or she—those massive and sweeping powers, perhaps for a prolonged period. It is true that clause 9 says there might be a two-year limit for some of these powers, but of course that clause will allow a Minister to reform this Bill itself when it is an Act. The Minister can simply say, “Two years—no, I have changed my mind, let’s go for three. Let’s go for five years.” It is a completely ridiculous open-ended measure.
We will not have much time to debate the Bill. We have a ridiculous programme motion that gives only eight days for scrutiny in Committee. The Bill gives carte blanche in so many ways. By the way, the Ways and Means and money resolutions on which we will vote on Monday grant powers for “any expenditure” under the withdrawal agreement, possibly including that £30 billion, £40 billion or £50 billion—who knows?—divorce alimony settlement. It is ridiculous that Parliament would take away its own powers in this way. We have to be able to see the withdrawal agreement and the seven pieces of Brexit legislation before we hand to Ministers such sweeping order-making powers.
The Bill is not just about process and processology in this place. I sometimes wonder whether the public look at us and think, “Why are you officiously checking the air pressure on the tyres before you get in a vehicle and drive it over the cliff edge?” The debate is very much about whether Britain leaves or stays in the single market, because the Bill will delete the European Economic Area Act 1993. It is very much about whether we have a good free trade arrangement without tariffs and customs barriers, because the Bill will take away many of the arrangements we have for a common commercial alliance with our European partners. It is about jobs, business and austerity, because the Treasury needs the revenues from a decent economy to pay for public services. That is what we are fighting for, so the Bill needs to be opposed.
First, I congratulate Rosie Duffield on her maiden speech, which I greatly enjoyed. Canterbury is a city I know well: it is where I spent many of my early years at the Bar, cutting my teeth as an advocate. I hope I can remind myself of some of the lessons I learned there in contributing briefly to this debate.
I shall support the Government in the vote on Second Reading. The Bill is vital: we cannot leave the European Union sensibly without such a Bill on the statute book. The Government need support, and they will have it from me. Nevertheless, I regret to have to say to my right hon. and hon. Friends that unless the Bill is substantially improved in Committee, I will be in no position to support it in its current form on Third Reading.
In many respects, it is an astonishing monstrosity of a Bill. Its first failing is its entreatment of EU law itself. I do not much care for EU law—I did not much enjoy practising it, although I had outings to the European Court of Justice when I was Attorney General—but it is a different form of law from our own, which we imported, and which, in many ways, has filled vast areas that otherwise we would have developed in our own domestic law. So we need to nurture it, because we cannot get rid of it overnight without leaving enormous gaps. In addition, there are safeguards within EU law that do not exist within our law and need to be retained, because otherwise EU law will act unfairly. Again, they are different from our own.
I have a number of areas of concern. The Bill does not deliver clarity. Its importation of EU law is hedged around with ambiguities that undermine one of the key pillars of the rule of law, which is certainty about what the law is. One example is given by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, but there are numerous others. For example, Clause 2(1) is so widely drawn that retained EU law will include domestic law that was implemented entirely domestically but has a link to the EU. That would then make something like the Equality Act 2010 susceptible to change by statutory instrument in clause 7—something which I suspect everybody in this House would regard as completely unacceptable.
Absolutely. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. These are all curable, and readily curable, with just a little bit of will.
There is another example on which we have already touched. EU law never used to be divided between primary and secondary legislation. Interestingly, it is all being treated as primary, which has the nice merit—I am sure that someone in Whitehall dreamed this up—that none of it would be susceptible to be quashed by a challenge under the Human Rights Act. That may not matter, but it is capable of causing unfairness when it is linked to the fact that the other area of challenge that would normally be available, which is a challenge because something is in breach of the general principles of EU law, has been delicately removed along with the charter of fundamental rights.
I hope that I may be forgiven for saying this about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I have had some wonderful times with him—journalists once said of him that he used to stand up and club Labour Home Secretaries over the head and then I would come along and dissect them in public with a legal scalpel—but I just slightly detect that he was looking a bit like a fugitive as the legal scalpel started to move in on him. I do not know where that idea came from, but somebody will have to sort it out. We will have to do it at the Committee stage of the Bill. There are other examples that I could give, but I do not have the time to do so right now, so I shall leave them for the Committee stage in which I intend to participate actively.
Let me move to the Henry VIII clauses. The current situation is ridiculous. I recognise that there will have to be Henry VIII clauses. Of course we cannot carry out this massive revolutionary transformation by primary legislation alone, but we can ensure that we have the necessary safeguards in place. The most obvious one is to have an established parliamentary system of scrutiny to ensure that the different types of statutory instruments that will be needed are correctly farmed out. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend is right that the vast majority of them will be technical and of very little account, but some will be extremely important and will need to be taken on the Floor of the House. We need to have a system in place to do that.
No, I must make progress. There is another issue with Henry VIII clauses. We need to look at the ones we have, as some are much too widely drawn. For example, clause 7 talks about “any deficiency” in an EU measure. It is one thing to say that it is inoperable, but quite another to say that it is deficient. Frankly, I could find arguments to suggest that every single law in this country is deficient. I am afraid that these will have to be changed.
Finally, let me turn to the question of the programme motion. I have no objection to programme motions; they are very important and, in my view, a properly structured programme motion can work well. I am prepared to support the Government on such a motion as long as I have an assurance that, so long as it is not because of filibustering, if we run out of time we will get more. That is vital. With that, I wish the Bill well. I hope that I might be able to improve it and I look forward to being able to support the Government on Third Reading and bring this important constitutional measure to completion.
There were some excellent speeches after the Secretary of State’s. Things went slight downhill after that but things started to look up with the maiden speech by Rosie Duffield. I have just one slight criticism: she did not mention Barham in her list of villages, which is one I know very well. I thank Mr Grieve for his speech and his reference to the monstrosity that is this Bill.
The Liberal Democrats believe that Parliament must be given comprehensive sovereignty and scrutiny over this process. This opinion is widely supported, not just by many Members on both sides of this House but organisations such as the Law Society, which states that the Bill
“must respect parliament’s role in making and approving changes to UK law”.
Parliament must drive the future of the United Kingdom and of Brexit, not Ministers using executive—indeed dictatorial—powers to exercise total control over the legislative process. The Government’s decision to provide just two days for Second Reading means that Members will have just five minutes in which to make their points and eight days in Committee for a Bill that unravels 40 years of closer EU co-operation, shows the extent to which Parliament is held in contempt by Ministers.
The Secretary of State and other Ministers might be quick to dismiss Lib Dem criticism of the Bill, but before they do I would encourage them to think back to 2008 and the by-election triggered by the Secretary of State, the catalyst for which was Labour’s highly illiberal plan to increase pre-charge detention from 28 to 42 days. A build-up of attacks on our civil liberties led him along that by-election path and there is a widely held view, which I share, that this Bill represents a major attack on parliamentary sovereignty and therefore a present and future risk to our civil liberties. I am not alone. A legal expert at Bryan Cave, commenting on the Bill, said that it will give
“powers allowing ministers to fast-track the implementation of certain EU laws into domestic law through regulations without parliamentary debate.”
Liberty’s analysis is that the Bill
“could be used by Ministers to ride roughshod over UK citizens’
human rights” leaving
“gaping holes where our rights should be.”
There are similar concerns from the Fawcett Society that the Bill could be used to alter UK laws on equality and human rights without parliamentary scrutiny.
Indeed, some Government Members, if they pride themselves on holding consistent views, should also be alarmed. Thirteen Government Members and five from these Benches, some of whom are here today, wrote to The Daily Telegraph in January 2016, stating:
“Whatever one’s views on the EU debate, many will agree that parliamentary sovereignty should be the key focus in any renegotiations.”
They now have an opportunity to demonstrate by their actions rather than their words that they value parliamentary sovereignty more highly than ministerial expediency. Will any of them have the courage of their convictions, or did their commitment to parliamentary scrutiny have an expiry date of
The truth is that the Bill was always going to be a sow’s ear, because the Government started the negotiations without clear objectives or outcomes in mind so the Bill had to cater for any eventuality or scenario, deal or no deal. What started with democracy must not end with a stitch-up by Ministers. The Liberal Democrats believe that the people, as well as politicians, must have a meaningful vote on the final deal. If they do not accept the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister and her Cabinet, they should have the option to remain a member of the European Union. The Bill must provide for this, but instead it denies Members of Parliament our right and duty to scrutinise and takes powers away from devolved Governments. It gives unbridled power to Ministers and makes a mockery of Brexiteers’ rallying cry of “Take back control of our laws.” It must be resisted at every turn.
“The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.”
But beyond that, it is possibly not such a dramatic piece of legislation.
I was quite pleased when the original working title of the “great repeal Bill” was abandoned because it is not, beyond clause 1, a repeal Bill. In fact, it is the great preservation Bill. It carries out a workaday, almost prosaic function but, nevertheless, an important one: to preserve in United Kingdom law the European law we have absorbed over the past 44 years to ensure that there will be a working statute book in this country on the day of exit, which will very probably be the stroke of midnight on
I really wonder whether the Opposition have given any consideration to the impact that their decision may well have on the interests of business and commerce in this country. We have to ensure that the statute book works on the day of exit. Frankly, the only way that we can achieve that in the timescale by which we are constrained, and which is set out in article 50, is to have a flexible and pragmatic system such as the one laid out in the Bill. That does not mean that the Opposition supinely have to accept everything without possibly considering amendment, but it really is quite reprehensible simply to go along a course of trying to wreck the Bill.
We certainly have to consider the mechanisms that are to be employed. Listening to the speeches of Keir Starmer and other Opposition Members, the overall impression I get is that the concern is not so much about the methodology of ensuring continuity of legislation. It is rather the issue of scrutiny of the measures that will have to be brought forward under secondary legislation. Some measures will certainly be prosaic and straightforward. For example, I cannot think that anyone would object to a measure that would replace a European institution with a British institution as needing anything more than a piece of secondary legislation under the negative procedure. Other measures will certainly be of greater moment.
The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras mentioned today’s report by the House of Lords Constitution Committee. An earlier report of that Committee in March this year came up with certain sensible suggestions for scrutiny. One example was setting up a Joint Committee of both Houses, an idea that my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry also touched on. I would have thought that, rather than seeking to destroy the Bill—with all the adverse consequences that would have on the national interest—Opposition Members should possibly give consideration in Committee to putting forward some enhanced form of scrutiny of the sort that was contemplated by the Constitution Committee in its report. That is the proper way forward.
Simply to seek to destroy and wreck the Bill does nothing for the reputation of this House, and we have heard so many speeches this afternoon about preserving that reputation. I, for one, am happy to support the Bill on Second Reading and I urge other hon. Members to vote for it.
I will support the Bill on Second Reading for two reasons—one relatively small and personal, and the other to do with the general principles of democracy.
The first is that, when I joined the Labour party as a very young man, my Labour MP, Paul Rose, who was the youngest Member of Parliament elected in the 1964 Parliament, was one of the 69 Labour rebels who voted with Ted Heath to implement the 1972 Act. I have been smouldering with quiet anger over the 45 years since that happened, so it is a personal delight to be able to vote to repeal that Act—Paul Rose certainly made his constituents and constituency party very angry at the time.
The much more substantial reason, however, is that we had a referendum last year, and people voted by a majority to leave the European Union. Although this is not the Bill that takes us out of the European Union—that is done under article 50—it is absolutely fundamental to leaving the European Union. Having made their decision, and many of the people who voted remain having come to the conclusion that we should get on with it, I do not think people will understand the Labour party’s tactical position of voting against the Bill, having said in the general election only three months ago that we would implement our manifesto. That is not a principled position, and I do not think the electorate like it. I think the Labour party has made a serious mistake in coming to the conclusion it has, and I hope it can reverse it between now and the vote on Monday evening.
Having said that, I think my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, who led for the Labour party, made some substantial points about flaws in the Bill, as did other speakers. While I will vote for Second Reading, I hope Ministers are listening carefully to what has been said and will come forward with compromises. It is not healthy to have so many Henry VIII clauses. Every Government has had Henry VIII clauses, but not of this substantial nature.
I have never liked self-amending regulation, which was one reason I went through the Lobby against the Lisbon treaty with the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor. The Lisbon treaty contained passerelle clauses, which effectively allowed bureaucrats in Brussels to change our laws without any response from Parliament. To respond to what the previous Attorney General said earlier, I do not believe that two wrongs make a right, but I do believe in consistency: it was certainly wrong to have passerelle clauses and huge Henry VIII clauses before, and it is wrong now. I hope the Government will listen to the reasonable points that have been made.
A great many points have been made, and one cannot, in the short period of five minutes, cover all the positions that have been set out. I would make one point, because there has been genuine concern on the Labour side about the loss of protection from environmental laws and changes to trade union laws. What lies underneath that is a belief that everything that has come out of the European Union has been good for trade unions and the environment. That simply is not true. If one looks at the Laval judgment from the European Court of Justice or the Viking judgment, one sees that they undermine minimum wage legislation and the definition of what constitutes a trade dispute. If one looks at the width of environmental legislation, one sees that there is a lot in the history of the EU that has done serious damage to the environment. The issue that comes to mind most is the fisheries policy, which nearly denuded the North sea of cod and other fish.
I hope that the Government are listening and will come forward with some compromises, and if it is necessary to give us more than eight days, I hope that that time will be given.
I will curtail my remarks to focus on the parts of the Bill that deal with the transposing of EU laws and regulations as they concern environmental protection.
I have every faith in the Government’s determination to transpose the full suite of regulations that have been successful in protecting many aspects of our environment and in Ministers’ frequently stated wish that we will leave the environment in a better state than we found it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for DEFRA has made a superb start, and what he says about the environment warms the cockles of my heart. However, what we are talking about here is for ever—certainly for the foreseeable future decades ahead, and it can be amended by future Governments. Who knows what forces will be pulling on Governments of the future that could result in much-valued environmental protections being dumped?
We therefore need to implement measures that are backed by a new architecture of governance. I find myself attracted to some of the remarks being made by Caroline Lucas. That is probably to the consternation of some of my colleagues, but I think her sentiments are right. We might disagree on what that architecture is, but she is right to raise the matter. We want to prevent future Governments from playing fast and loose with protections that have cleaned up our beaches and our rivers, started to clean our air, and could and should be extended to our soils, our seas and other fundamentals of our very existence and the future of our economy.
One measure that is, on the face of it, impossible to replicate in the Bill is the process of infraction—fines with lots of noughts on the end that are imposed on a member state’s Government for failure to comply with a directive. I can assure hon. Members that this is something that keeps Ministers awake at night. For example, the potential failure of the UK to comply with the urban waste water treatment directive has resulted in a £4 billion-plus scheme to build a new sewer a few yards from where we sit to clean up one of the greatest rivers in the world running through one of the greatest cities in the world. When I was a Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2010, infraction hung over me and the Government. It ensured that every action the Department took was compliant with the directives of the EU. If it was not, we would face the risk of a huge fine.
While I am glad that the Government intend to transpose all EU law into UK law, as set out in clause 2, the question then emerges of how we can properly enforce those changes. The water framework directive is the only show in town in terms of cleaning up our rivers. Only one fifth of the chalk streams in this country are fully functioning eco-systems—a national disgrace, to my mind. But we are on a glide path to correcting that through the clear and unequivocal measures set out in that directive. A supra-national body like the EU is obviously able to fine a member state for failure to comply, but it is hard to imagine circumstances where a Government could, or would, fine themselves. It concerns me that judicial review seems to be seen in the Bill as sufficient on its own. In fact, to ensure that the environment is protected, a proper body with the ability to audit the Government, working with non-governmental organisations, needs to be put in place.
As I have said, I have great faith in people like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and others to protect the directives, but I fear that future Governments may not be so rigorous. Our constituents need to have the reassurance that we are protecting the protections. We need assurances that we can fill the gap that the loss of measures such as infraction would create. I have no silver bullet to solve that, but I am looking to achieve it through the progress of the Bill and possibly future pieces of primary legislation.
I believe that it is our absolute duty to scrutinise the Bill. I utterly reject some bizarre comments I have seen in the press saying that scrutiny somehow undermines the will of the people. I intend to vote for the Bill on Second Reading. I believe it can be improved in Committee. It is absolutely vital that we assist the Government in trying to make something that is workable not just now but for the very long term.
I agree with a number of the points that Richard Benyon has just made. George Osborne was right in his headline in the Evening Standard yesterday to describe the effect of the Bill as “rule by decree”. That headline was prompted by an article written by Mr Grieve, and I pay tribute to him for his article and his interventions in this debate. I agree, in particular, that this is
“an astonishing monstrosity of a Bill.”
Unlike him, however, I do not intend to vote in favour of it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to raise concerns about the explicit intention in the Bill not to put into our law the charter of fundamental rights. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper was right to tackle that earlier. Ministers have told us that they do not intend the Bill to dilute employment rights, environmental protections or other things that we have, but there is no assurance at all in the Bill that those dilutions will not go ahead. We need much more reassurance than we have been given.
I want to raise with the House a very practical example of a problem with not putting the charter of fundamental rights into UK law. Article 8 deals with the protection of personal data. It says:
“Everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her…
Such data must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law.”
That article underpins data protection law, and it underpins the legal frameworks permitting the free flow of data across European borders. It is absolutely essential that the Government secure an adequacy agreement from the Commission, confirming that data protection in the UK is adequate from a European standpoint, so that UK businesses can continue to exchange personal data with EU countries.
If Ministers do not achieve such an agreement, they will have removed the basis for the lawful operation of countless British businesses. TechUK has pointed out the extent of UK leadership in this field: 11% of global data flows pass through the UK and 75% of that traffic is with the EU. But Ministers will not get an adequacy agreement if this commitment is not contained in UK law. We need article 8, or an equivalent affirmation of the same principles. I see no justification whatever for not taking that article or, indeed, the rest of the charter into UK law.
It is a real mystery to me why Conservative Ministers have become so impervious to the basic needs of British businesses in their handling of Brexit. My right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer was absolutely right to point out in his response to the Secretary of State at the start of the debate that we have to stay in the single market and customs union for at least the duration of the transition phase. On taking office, the Secretary of State told us that his negotiation would secure “barrier-free access” for UK businesses and consumers to the EU single market. He does not say that any more.
The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr Baker, who is in his place on the Front Bench, said at Brexit questions earlier today that we will have the “minimum of frictions” in our trade with the European Union. The reality is that we need barrier-free access. We need access to the single market for UK businesses and consumers that does not involve tariffs or non-tariff barriers, and the only way that we will get that before the conclusion of the negotiations is if we stay in the single market and in the customs union. I very much regret that Ministers have rejected that idea—the Secretary of State told us that they did think about it—and I think that that is one of the reasons why we need to reject the Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow Stephen Timms, but let me also say how much I agree with so many of the comments in Conservative Members’ speeches about the folly of the Opposition’s decision to oppose the Bill at this stage. Opposition Members will vote against it without seeing that it actually has to be done. They say it has to be done, and indeed, it does have to be done: we must transfer all the regulations, directives, laws and so on. There are, as we all agree, many faults in the Bill, but Opposition Members will be letting down many of the people in their own constituencies who voted leave, and who will see this for the playing politics that it undoubtedly is.
I fully endorse and totally adopt all the contents of the speeches of my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Newbury (Richard Benyon). I very much note the outbreak of unity on the Government Benches, and indeed across the House as well. There have been some excellent speeches, and some very good points have been made by right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. Notably, I have also taken into account the wise words of my right hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and for Clwyd West (Mr Jones).
There is growing concern about the Bill, and my biggest concern is the power grab, as I would put it, by Ministers—the transfer of powers to Ministers with very little, if any, influence for debate in the Chamber and decision making in this place.
I will in a moment.
I want to thank my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, who have clearly already listened to the many concerns expressed by Government Members. I and others will be having a meeting with the Prime Minister, and I look forward to that. I also look forward, in due course, to some serious Government amendments being tabled, or perhaps the adoption of amendments that will no doubt be tabled by right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches.
As the House will know, I share the real concerns about clause 9. Frankly, I think it should simply be withdrawn. Clause 17 is certainly open, if not to withdrawal, at least to some serious, considerable and fundamental amendments. I am concerned about the delegated legislation for the reasons I have outlined in interventions and for those given in other Members’ excellent speeches. As I have said, I think we can find other mechanisms for delivering the delegated legislation while making sure that we scrutinise it properly. We have existing Committees that we can either strengthen or increase in size so that we can filter consideration out through so-called triaging. That is probably an appalling abuse of the word, but we all know what it means. It is a good idea, and it is gaining much support among Government Members as well as Opposition Members.
May I just say something that I think needs to be said? I say this to all the perfectly reasonable and sensible people, not just those in my constituency of Broxtowe, but the many millions throughout this country who voted leave on
I would say to the millions who voted leave: you should not just question the motives of those who tell you that people like me want to thwart your decision, but look at the other things they promised you before
Leaving the EU means that we need to convert decades of EU law into our domestic legislation. A Bill that can do that in a timely and effective manner is essential. That is not what this debate is about. The real question is whether the Bill is fit for purpose, and I am afraid that it is not. The Government claim it will restore sovereignty to Parliament and secure certainty post-Brexit, but that is not the case. It transfers huge powers to Ministers, not to Members of the House, over issues vital to people’s lives, such as maternity and paternity leave, holidays, environmental standards and a range of other issues. I fear that the Bill could increase uncertainty, including the likelihood of legal challenge and judicial review, because the powers in it are so broadly drawn.
My right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer and Mr Grieve have forensically exposed the reality of the key clauses in the Bill. Clause 7 gives Ministers the power to change EU-derived law that has failed or is deficient, without any definition of what that means; clause 9 could be used to amend the powers in the Bill after it is enacted; and clause 17 gives Ministers sweeping powers to make changes that they consider appropriate in consequence of the Act.
The Brexit Secretary claims, of course, that the Government will not use the powers to make major policy changes, which raises the question: why include them in the first place? Many people, myself included, fear that the powers will indeed be used to water down or remove workers’ rights and environmental standards. Some Government Members have tried to brush these concerns aside. Often they are the very same Members who have railed against the use of delegated powers in the past. For years, the Brexit Secretary argued vociferously against the
“trend from representative democracy to presidential oligarchy”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 333, c. 932.]
“It is the perpetual, almost the eternal, job of this House to try to keep the Executive, Her Majesty’s Government, under check” and urged Members to take
“tough decisions to hold the Government to account” even
“when it is a Government whom we support”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 537, cc. 57-60.]
I think that consistency in one’s political values and beliefs is vital, however difficult the circumstances, and I urge Government Members to remember the courage of their previous convictions.
As I said, a Bill is necessary to achieve Brexit, and as always I want to be constructive. I urge Ministers to bring forward measures to circumscribe more tightly the powers that the Bill delegates and to strengthen the scrutiny procedures for the most widely delegated powers. If they bring forward amendments along those lines, they will have support across the House.
Brexit presents us with a Herculean task. It encompasses not just transferring half a century of EU law into UK legislation or even agreeing the initial article 50 deal, but finances, the rights of EU and UK citizens, and Northern Ireland, which is already proving a huge challenge for the Government. It is about defining the future relationship between the UK and the EU for years to come.
Yesterday, the Brexit Secretary said that no one pretended this would be easy, but that is precisely what they did. Before the referendum, the Environment Secretary claimed:
“The day after we vote to leave we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.”
Just last month, the International Trade Secretary said that a free trade agreement
“should be one of the easiest in human history” to agree. Such comments are not just misleading but deeply misguided. They will not build respect or trust with our negotiating partners, and they will not bring Britain together. I fear that we are as divided now as we were at the referendum. Remain voters are angry that their views are being ignored; leave voters are frustrated at progress and worried that we could be tied up in knots for years. We need more honesty about the challenges we face and the inevitable trade-offs and compromises that will have to come. That is the leadership Britain now needs. The Government should step up to the mark.
Thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not used to being called so early in a debate.
Like many other Members, or perhaps all of them, I have received numerous e-mails and letters from constituents who have heard the comments and read the articles. They have heard that the Bill is about creating ministerial decree—fiat—as a result of Henry VIII clauses, and that it is an unnecessary power grab which jeopardises their rights and undermines their Parliament. I take those concerns seriously, as all of us should.
The shadow Secretary of State, Keir Starmer, who made a superb speech today, highlighted the complexity of the Bill and some of the many questions that I should like to be addressed during its passage, but it needs to be given a Second Reading because, in my view and on the basis of what I have heard this afternoon, the principle is unquestionable. As my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin pointed out, the Bill itself is not so egregious or deficient that it does not provide a clear basis for its future stages—far from it.
The hon. Gentleman says that the principle of the Bill is good. What we have been discussing today is the principle of undermining parliamentary democracy. Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that that is the principle that is at stake, and that is why we are against the Bill in its present form?
I hope that the hon. Lady will be reassured by the comments that I shall go on to make.
Let us not get ahead of ourselves. Speaker Lenthall is not in the Chair, although we have a perfectly good successor in you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Charles I is not on his way with a warrant for the arrest of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve and my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry, although some might like to see that. Statutory instruments are a parliamentary procedure. They are not fiat; they are not Orders in Council. They can be debated. We can go and speak about them, and we can vote on them. Parliament may treat them as a Cinderella whose job is to read emails or sign paperwork, but that is our choice. It reflects on the recent history of this place rather than on the procedure itself, or how it should be in the future.
The purpose of the Bill is explicitly to replicate what we have in European law, not to change it. I understand that at least 50% of the statutory instruments will make immaterial technical changes about which no Member in his or her right mind—I know that some Members may not be—would have any concern. There needs to be a mechanism to sift based on materiality, and that point has been made eloquently by many Members today. I hope that such a mechanism will be created in Committee. There will be some material issues—issues on which I have some expertise, or issues that my constituents care about—and I should like to speak about them and ensure that we make the right decisions, but they will not be the majority. I am sure that the whole House can and will find a sensible mechanism during the Committee stage.
Constituents have also emailed me to ask, “Is this necessary?” Of course it is necessary. This is an unprecedented challenge. As we heard from the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, Hilary Benn, it is byzantine. However much some of those who campaigned in favour of leave would like to hide the fact, it is undoubtedly the most complex challenge that has faced the country in my lifetime, if not before. We therefore need a step like this to move the vast majority of European law, if not all of it, on to the UK statute book before we leave.
Let us be honest: there is no easy way to do this. Although the shadow Secretary of State made an excellent speech, highlighting details, deficiencies and concerns, he did not really set out an alternative way of doing it. In fact, no one has done that today: no one has set out an alternative to the Bill that would require any of us to vote against it. The deficiencies and concerns that have been highlighted must and will be ironed out in Committee. That is the truth, and beyond that, I am afraid, it is all party political activity. The Bill, or something extremely similar to it, is necessary, so let us move forward together.
When I explain this Bill in principle to my businessmen constituents and others back in Newark, and appear before the Newark business club, as all of us have—well, many Members will have been to Newark, but not necessarily to visit the business club—they nod, because it is obvious that we need a Bill of this nature so that on the day we leave the EU they can have confidence that nothing substantial will have changed. That is why we need to proceed.
In closing, and perhaps as a rebuke to Wera Hobhouse, I say that we can love Parliament and want to jealously guard its rights and privileges created by our predecessors but still show pragmatism in the national interest when the times demand it, because that is politics. That is life; that is the job we are sent here to do. That is poetry and prose, romance and reality; that is what we are sent here to achieve. So every Member who wants a smooth transition and to give our constituents the certainty they are crying out for, and everyone who may have concerns about the deficiencies of this Bill but wants to work together in the national interest to iron them out in Committee and on Third Reading, should vote for this Bill on Second Reading.
I do not want to repeat many of the excellent points made from the shadow Front Bench and elsewhere, but I do want to make one observation and two points—one legal and technical on clause 6, and one that is more substantial on clause 9.
First, I want to make an observation. I am sorry, but I disagree with Robert Jenrick, who has just spoken: what is proposed in this Bill is unprecedented, as we see from the reaction on both sides of the House.
There is an absurdity in this debate. I spent much of the time during the EU referendum debating against Conservative Members campaigning to leave. More often than not, the core of their argument was about a Brussels elite exercising power, yet I have sat in the Chamber for most of today and listened to them become arch-advocates of transferring power to another elite in this country.
It is a shame that Mr Duncan Smith is no longer in the Chamber. He talked about his participation in the Maastricht debates of the 1990s, and the hon. Members for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and for Stone (Sir William Cash) were also involved. The Prime Minister of the time had a word to describe them all, which I will not repeat today. They were constantly invoking parliamentary sovereignty and the importance of this House determining the future of our nation. It is funny how silent they are on upholding that argument now, and have been over the last few hours of this debate.
Let us be honest about the reason for this and for the absurdity of their position in this debate: they promised Brexit in terms that simply cannot be delivered in the timeframe the Government envisage. That is why we see these unprecedented, extraordinary powers envisaged in this Bill for the Executive. It is entirely right for us to keep reminding people of what the promises were and whether they are being delivered.
My technical point on clause 6—
I will not give way, I am afraid, because of the time. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says he is not silent; he is certainly not silent.
The Secretary of State today said that the Government wish the transitional arrangements to be as close as possible to the existing arrangements. The EU27 are really only going to entertain membership of the single market and a form of customs union, if that is what the Secretary of State means, but they will also expect the rules on the transitional arrangements to be uniform and similar to those we have at present. The problem with clause 6 as drafted is that it does not give a clear enough instruction that after the exit date the judiciary should interpret UK law in a way that complies with EU law. The Institute for Government states that the ambiguity on this point risks leaving judges stranded on the frontline of a fierce political battle. I can say, as someone who practised as a lawyer for the best part of a decade before coming here, that that must be addressed.
The Bill cannot be allowed to come into force unless this House has approved the deal that is envisaged. The Bill does not state whether any withdrawal agreement will need the consent of both Houses before the powers can be used. The Government have said that we will get a vote on a final deal, but that does not appear to be within the Bill. Rather, it will take place by means of a motion, which would of course not be legally binding. So we have a promise of a vote, but it will have no teeth. That will deprive this House of its proper say not only on the withdrawal agreement but on a situation that the Prime Minister has described in which an affirmative decision could be made to walk away without any deal at all. We are somehow supposed to be passive spectators in that situation. It must be written on the face of the Bill that Parliament will have a part to play in all those scenarios, and that no powers in the Bill will be exercised until Parliament has had its say through a debate written in statute. We have been given many guarantees and assurances by those on the Government Front Bench, but these measures have to be put on the face of the Bill. We are asking for these assurances and scrutinising the Bill in the national interest, and we are entitled to do so without our motives being questioned.
I echo many of the sentiments expressed by the hon. and right hon. Members who support the Bill, and I support many of the points that they have made. I voted to leave the EU, as did 67% of voters in North Warwickshire and Bedworth. During the campaign, it became quite clear that there was disillusionment with what the EU had become. The message I got loud and clear from constituents on the doorstep was that, yes, there was a degree of concern over uncontrolled immigration, but the overriding frustration was around our sovereignty and the consequent ability to control our own laws. The Bill will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 from the day we leave, bringing a welcome end to the supremacy of EU law in the UK, and I support its main purpose of ensuring that the UK has a functioning statute book once we leave the EU. That is obviously in the national interest.
I saw at first hand the negative impacts that EU laws and regulations can have on our local economy during the 20 years I spent running my own small business. Many of the regulations and laws that affected my firm stemmed from Brussels, yet I was unable to trade with its markets. To put this into context, only 5% of our businesses export to the EU, yet 100% are caught by its red tape, with small businesses usually disproportionately affected. During the referendum campaign, research across west midlands small businesses showed that they represented 99% of employers, employing 58% of local people. By a ratio of 4:1, they thought that EU laws made it harder to take on staff. By a ratio of 2:1, they believed that EU regulation hindered them, rather than helping them. A massive 70% of them thought that the UK, rather than the EU, should be in charge of negotiating trade agreements.
I am mindful, however, of the fact that we need to create an environment that works for everyone, not just those of us who voted leave, so I ask the Government to take into account the following two points as the Bill moves forward. First, businesses are already making decisions in preparation for March 2019 and they require legal certainty in order to meet their commitments to customers once we have left the European Union. Given that much of the detail of the new legal framework will be brought forward through secondary legislation, it is vital that the process of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the programme of statutory instruments be prepared well in advance of March 2019, to provide them with the confidence they need.
Secondly, in order to avoid a legal vacuum on leaving the European Union, it is important that any inconsistencies within existing EU legislation are addressed prior to its transposition into UK law. I therefore stress the need for the Government to consult fully with stakeholders throughout the process of drafting and laying statutory instruments, to ensure that any inconsistencies between EU and UK legislation—especially in relation to their practical implications—are fully addressed by these measures. I firmly believe that there are exciting times ahead for the UK outside the EU, and that if due consideration is given to the issues I have mentioned, the Bill will provide the pathway to the smooth exit that we all want to see. I will be backing it in the Lobby on Monday, supporting the democratic decision of my constituents and the UK to leave the EU.
I want to focus briefly on the Government’s wilful misinterpretation of what Brexit means and the constitutional car crash that this Bill entails. Article 50 has been triggered and we are leaving the European Union, but sense can prevail if the Government guarantee our future within the single market, customs unions and the pan-European agencies that are the foundation of Wales’s economy. Stating that we can have those advantages by another name is self-deluding. The benefits of continuing our membership of the customs union and single market are well rehearsed, but they warrant an abridged version, because they guide my party’s principles.
Wales’s export-led economy is reliant on European markets, where 67% of our products find their final destination. Wales is a net beneficiary of European funding to the tune of £245 million. All in all, 200,000 Welsh jobs are inextricably, crucially and vulnerably linked with the great institutions of European economic co-operation. For the sake of argument, let us assume that the dozens of economists, exports and I are scaremongering and that it is not 200,000 jobs that will disappear from the Welsh economy, but perhaps only half of that or a quarter. Will Ministers please be precise and quantify how many Welsh jobs they are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of the UK’s brave new role at the vanguard of some globalist utopia?
My right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, the shadow Secretary of State, was eloquent today and concentrated on the Government’s attempted constitutional sleight of hand. Despite the various contradictory push-me, pull-you position of numerous shadow Cabinet members, I believe that their official position is evidently simply to delay the pain and pull us out of the customs union and single market following a period of transition.
Beyond the single market and customs union, there are upward of 40 pan-European agencies that form the basis of our international relations across a range of policy areas. Whether ensuring that planes can safely take off and land, the regulation of life-saving medicines or the safety and security of nuclear material, it seems as though the Government are willing to sacrifice all the advances made by our membership of those agencies, but for what? We are now staring down the barrel of an extreme Brexit gun, and the truth is that the two Westminster parties have their fingers on the trigger. My party exists to serve the people of Wales and that is why I felt it important to re-emphasise what the consequences will be for Wales in particular.
My hon. Friend Hywel Williams will discuss this in greater detail, but we are seeing a constitutional power grab not just here with the Henry VIII powers, but in the powers that have been handed to our devolved nations. The way in which they will be handled in future is frankly shameful. I will not apologise for defending my country from the disastrous dystopia that will be created by this Government’s Brexit strategy, and I will be voting against this Bill’s Second Reading.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Debate to be resumed on Monday