European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:09 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West 4:09 pm, 7th September 2017

As my hon. Friend Sir William Cash pointed out, this is an historic Bill by any standards. In fact, it is hard to think of a clause 1 of any Bill more momentous than:

“The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.”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 30 March 2019, Brussels time. This should not be a contentious matter. All Members of this honourable House should be anxious that we have that certainty for business and the citizens of the country when we leave the European Union. I am surprised, therefore, that the Opposition have decided to table a reasoned amendment in which they make it quite clear that they intend to wreck the Bill.

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.