European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:14 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 4:14 pm, 7th September 2017

I will support the Bill on Second Reading for two reasons—one relatively small and personal, and the other to do with the general principles of democracy.

The first is that, when I joined the Labour party as a very young man, my Labour MP, Paul Rose, who was the youngest Member of Parliament elected in the 1964 Parliament, was one of the 69 Labour rebels who voted with Ted Heath to implement the 1972 Act. I have been smouldering with quiet anger over the 45 years since that happened, so it is a personal delight to be able to vote to repeal that Act—Paul Rose certainly made his constituents and constituency party very angry at the time.

The much more substantial reason, however, is that we had a referendum last year, and people voted by a majority to leave the European Union. Although this is not the Bill that takes us out of the European Union—that is done under article 50—it is absolutely fundamental to leaving the European Union. Having made their decision, and many of the people who voted remain having come to the conclusion that we should get on with it, I do not think people will understand the Labour party’s tactical position of voting against the Bill, having said in the general election only three months ago that we would implement our manifesto. That is not a principled position, and I do not think the electorate like it. I think the Labour party has made a serious mistake in coming to the conclusion it has, and I hope it can reverse it between now and the vote on Monday evening.

Having said that, I think my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, who led for the Labour party, made some substantial points about flaws in the Bill, as did other speakers. While I will vote for Second Reading, I hope Ministers are listening carefully to what has been said and will come forward with compromises. It is not healthy to have so many Henry VIII clauses. Every Government has had Henry VIII clauses, but not of this substantial nature.

I have never liked self-amending regulation, which was one reason I went through the Lobby against the Lisbon treaty with the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor. The Lisbon treaty contained passerelle clauses, which effectively allowed bureaucrats in Brussels to change our laws without any response from Parliament. To respond to what the previous Attorney General said earlier, I do not believe that two wrongs make a right, but I do believe in consistency: it was certainly wrong to have passerelle clauses and huge Henry VIII clauses before, and it is wrong now. I hope the Government will listen to the reasonable points that have been made.

A great many points have been made, and one cannot, in the short period of five minutes, cover all the positions that have been set out. I would make one point, because there has been genuine concern on the Labour side about the loss of protection from environmental laws and changes to trade union laws. What lies underneath that is a belief that everything that has come out of the European Union has been good for trade unions and the environment. That simply is not true. If one looks at the Laval judgment from the European Court of Justice or the Viking judgment, one sees that they undermine minimum wage legislation and the definition of what constitutes a trade dispute. If one looks at the width of environmental legislation, one sees that there is a lot in the history of the EU that has done serious damage to the environment. The issue that comes to mind most is the fisheries policy, which nearly denuded the North sea of cod and other fish.

I hope that the Government are listening and will come forward with some compromises, and if it is necessary to give us more than eight days, I hope that that time will be given.