Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:04 pm on 11th September 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 6:04 pm, 11th September 2017

The House voted six to one, with its eyes wide open, for a referendum. Implicit in that result was the determination that the British people would decide what their destiny was to be, and they did so, clearly, in June last year. The House accepted that decision when we triggered article 50. What we are discussing today is giving the Government the means to deal with what I believe to be the most complex legislation with which any Government have had to deal for generations.

The Government are very sensibly trying to put all EU law into British law so that the day after we leave there will not be chaos, there will not be lawyers running around suing various people, and we will have legal certainty. If this were a really vicious, horrible, right-wing Government, they would be going through the lot deciding what they were going to get rid of, but they are not doing that. They are putting legislation on workers’ rights, welfare, the environment and a range of other issues into UK law so that future Governments—probably not this Government—can decide at their leisure what they will keep, what they will improve, and what they will change in the traditional British way: by producing a Green Paper and a White Paper, and presenting legislation to the House. Future Governments will have more scope for policy change and adjustments than any since the 1970s. We are gifting to future Parliaments, whoever will control them, the ability to control the destiny of our nation.

This is all that we are trying to do in the third part of the Bill. We know that, inevitably, there will be holes in the legislation. We will try to dam them up so that the legislation works and the legal system has certainty. There is nothing wicked about that; it is actually very sensible. Anyone who talks to most business people, local authorities and individuals will find that what they want is for change—if there is to be change—to be gradual and managed change, not chaos.

I have been in the House long enough to know that when legal cases arise and events occur, Governments sometimes come up with rushed legislation to fill a gap. They do so in a day, sometimes with manuscript amendments. We know that when we leave the EU at the end of March 2019, there will be holes in legislation that will need to be plugged, either before we leave or just afterwards. That is extraordinary, and I think it is a one-off, but I also think it is necessary. There may well be nuances in what we can do with the legislation. Statutory instruments themselves are not ideal. One of the reasons why many cannot be amended is that they often deal with European directives that cannot themselves be amended.

Perhaps, in the course of the eight-day Committee stage on the Floor of the House, there will be means of improving parliamentary scrutiny. When I look at the Secretary of State and other Ministers, I get the feeling that they are listening mode. If someone comes up with a perfectly sensible suggestion for dealing with what will be a terrible problem, they will adopt it. If that means our not having an Easter holiday next year or the year after next, and spending more hours dealing with legislation, that will have to be the way. My suspicion is that more of the legislation will end up on the Floor of the House than people expect. Much will be small and much will be technical, but I am entirely sure that when there are principles and when there are concerns, the Government will want to air them, because that is how our Parliament works, and I think that it does so with the best of intentions.

If there is a rush, it is because the article 50 process involves a timetable, and that timetable was determined by Tony Blair when he negotiated the Lisbon treaty. Incidentally, according to the 2005 Labour party manifesto, the treaty was to be put to the people in a referendum, which was reneged on by the then Government. At the moment we are trying to deal with legislation that was pushed through by Tony Blair, in order to carry out the will of the British people.

We have heard today about an unprecedented “biggest power grab in 100 years”. Well, I am old enough to have been in the House when the Blair Government introduced programming. I agree that it has pluses and minuses, but what it did was to transfer power from the Opposition to the Government, and that has been a very substantial change over the past 20 years. The reality is that the Government are doing their best to secure a sensible, measured movement out of the EU, and to allow future Governments, at their leisure, to legislate for change, if that is what they wish to do. There is going to be great opportunity for this House, although probably not in this Parliament. In the future, it will be able to deal with a much wider range of policy.

I do not hold that there is anything evil or pernicious about what the Government are trying to do. They have been given a problem by the British people, and they have to try and solve it. Members might well improve the procedure for achieving that over the eight days in Committee, but the Government’s objectives are to carry out the will of the people and ensure that we have a steady, careful transition so that, the day after we leave the EU, people do not notice any difference, and Members of Parliament will be the people who make a difference.