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2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 5:44 pm, 11th September 2017

I am not giving way to the right hon. Gentleman again. I am sure he will manage to catch your eye, Mr Speaker.

It is not as if the Government do not accept that they will have to introduce hundreds and hundreds of statutory instruments. What they should have done, before introducing the Bill, was suggest an alternative way of dealing with this process over the next two years, so that there can be proper triaging of genuinely technical and minor consequential amendments to legislation that need to happen, and significant measures where the whole House would want to take a view.

Since 1950, Parliament has rejected only 11 statutory instruments, so we know that this is an autocratic process, but let me get to a much bigger worry for me: clause 9. I am sure that hon. Members have read it. It states very clearly:

“Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament (including modifying this Act).”

When I said last week in the House that this was truly exceptional, all sorts of Government Members, including Ministers, came up to me and said, “Oh no, there are hundreds of examples. I’ll give you examples by the weekend.” The first example I was given was the Scotland Act 1998, but it does not apply. Section 113(6)—I am sure Sir Oliver Letwin will know this subsection—states:

“But a power to modify enactments does not…extend to making modifications of this Act or subordinate legislation under it.”

In other words, the Minister who told me that had missed out the word “not”, rather conveniently.

Then Sir William Cash came up to me and said, “No, you’re completely and utterly wrong. The greatest constitutional expert in this country”—I think he might have meant himself—“tells me that section 75 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives the Government the right to change the Act itself by statutory instrument”. Unfortunately, he was wrong as well. It actually states:

“If…it appears to the Secretary of State…that…the enactment is capable of preventing the disclosure of information”— in other words, gives the Government too much power to prevent disclosure—

“he may by order repeal or amend the enactment for the purpose of removing or relaxing the prohibition.”

It is a measure that gives the Government not more but less power. Even the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which applies to circumstances when by universal accord—probably—the Government would need emergency powers, and which builds on previous Acts of Parliament, states categorically, in section 23(5):

“Emergency regulations may not amend…this Part of this Act”— in other words, all the major elements of the Act.

If hon. Members who are trying to cover their tracks by saying, “We think all this secondary legislation business is terribly worrying, and obviously we’ll change that in Committee”, really care about those matters, they should consider the Government’s track record. What have they done recently? They engaged in what I would call jiggery-pokery with the DUP to ensure a majority—and let us hope we have a vote on Estimates Day on the £1 billion for the DUP; they delayed setting up Select Committees until now to make it impossible for us to scrutinise many of the measures going through during the summer months; and tomorrow, they are trying to make sure that, for the first time in our history, a Government without a majority in the House have a majority on every single Committee. If that does not make one question the bona fides of this Government, nothing will, and that is why I say to hon. Members: do not sell your birthright for a mess of pottage; vote against this Bill!