European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:18 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 12:18 pm, 7th September 2017

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.