European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:11 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green 2:11 pm, 7th September 2017

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—