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 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.