European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:05 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 1:05 pm, 7th September 2017

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.