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2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:02 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 4:02 pm, 11th September 2017

I agree with Frank Field that this Bill is merely an enabling piece of legislation—a process whereby we can achieve what the country asked us to do. As I understand it, the Government are willing to consider changes in Committee. I hope that they will look at his amendments, and also perhaps mine.

I am sure that all my colleagues here, like me, have been on the receiving end of various emails about this Bill urging us to vote for it, against it or against the programme motion, or complaining about the arrangements for devolution. Voting against it certainly does not make any sense, particularly after the House passed the article 50 legislation. The Bill is the vehicle for the Government and this House to deal with a unique and extraordinary situation and ensure a functioning statute book as we leave the EU. Unless they are trying to rerun the referendum or create chaos in the process, voting against it should not be an option for any Member tonight.

Ministers have indicated that they will be flexible wherever possible. On the programme motion, however, I think, having lived through the Maastricht debates, that there is little to be gained and much to be lost by prolonging any debate unnecessarily, and eight days seems a reasonable length of time. Our businesses and organisations will not thrive with ongoing uncertainty, and this Bill increases the progress being made to provide the stability and certainty they require for a smooth transition and continuity of business post Brexit.

On devolved matters, our membership of the EU predates devolution to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. It was the UK Government who gave away these powers to the EU, and it is UK Government who will reclaim them. As far as I am aware, the Government have not resiled in any way from devolution; instead, they have recently increased the powers transferred to Wales and Scotland. The Secretary of State has reconfirmed that the current powers will remain exactly the same throughout the process, and the devolved Administrations will, in fact, prepare the devolved statute books for a smooth exit in Cardiff and Edinburgh, with appropriate arrangements for Northern Ireland. Further, he has indicated that in the interim period, if any adjustments need to be made in the areas that are being repatriated, the relevant Administrations will be consulted.

On delegated powers, I see the Bill not as a power grab, which is how it has been painted, but as a pragmatic approach to ensuring that no unnecessary complex disadvantages further burden business in the devolved countries. I hope that an accommodation will be reached on other differences in that area, and I know that the Front-Bench team is listening carefully.

I want to raise one subject on which I would like clarification. The repeal Bill, as it stands, does not prevent the continued application by UK courts after Brexit of EU law to cases in which the facts occurred at a time when EU law, including the law relating to remedies, was in force. So although, if I understand it correctly, there is provision for a Francovich case to be heard if it is lodged before exit day, and there is provision for the consideration of EU legal principles, the repeal Bill does not provide for a transitional reference—one that is made before the exit date but does not come back until after the exit date, or one that is made after the exit date. I hope that Ministers will consider a new clause that allows references on cases that are under way, and that they will look into the matter to ensure that the Government do not abuse their position or evade their responsibilities as a by-product of Brexit.

The Ministers on the Front Bench will be particularly aware of my battles against HS2, which are well documented, and it is worth noting that even former very senior civil servants now virtually acknowledge that the Government went ahead with that monstrous project against advice. What the project has done is throw into sharp relief the need for environmental protections to be effective and maintained, so that we do not take any backward steps. Where the EU has done some good work, it has been on environmental safeguards. I think it is right to remind Ministers on Second Reading that any changes to these areas must be thought through so as not to dilute the protections and the promotion of environmental law, and I seek assurances on those matters.

In conclusion, we have all heard the rather simplistic attempts to give this process a prejudicial descriptor—hard or soft Brexit—which are a product of polarised viewpoints. I prefer a practical approach and, with perhaps a few modifications, the Bill will do what it says on the tin. It provides a method of facilitating a very complex legal and constitutional extrication, the need for which has resulted from a democratic vote to leave the European Union. I will therefore support the Government in the Lobby tonight, and I hope that many of my Opposition colleagues, as well as my friends on the Government Benches, will do the same.