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2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:10 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield 6:10 pm, 11th September 2017

The majority of my constituents who voted in the referendum voted to leave the European Union. Out of respect for them, I also voted to trigger article 50 earlier this year, but neither the people of Birmingham, Northfield, nor those anyone anywhere else in this country, were ever asked about, or voted for, the kind of ministerial power grab that the contents of the Bill represent.

On Thursday, my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, together with Mr Grieve and many others, forensically and cogently outlined why the powers Ministers are seeking to take, particularly in clauses 7, 9 and 17, are so widely drawn that they have left what the right hon. and learned Gentleman memorably described as “an astonishing monstrosity” of a Bill. Like them, I do not believe it is acceptable for Ministers to have the power to sweep away protections for employees and the environment or laws to guarantee equality by statutory instrument, or, indeed, for them to vary the enforcement mechanisms for those laws by statutory instrument, simply by asserting that they are doing so to rectify what they perceive to be deficiencies not only in EU laws that are transposed into UK law, but even in UK laws themselves that they say are somehow linked to the EU. This Bill goes so far as to give Ministers the power to amend primary legislation by statutory instrument, and even the power to extend the provisions of the very measure—this Bill—that gives them that power in the first place. Professor Mark Elliott, professor of public law at the University of Cambridge, has rightly described this as delegated legislation on stilts, so I will be supporting the reasoned amendment that declines to give this Bill a Second Reading.

Of course, we need legislation to ensure that EU rights and protections are incorporated into UK law so that we avoid gaps being opened up in the spectrum of rules and regulations at the point of Brexit. There is consensus in the House about that, so why have Ministers brought forward a Bill that undermines rather than builds on that consensus? It is not as if they have not had time to do this properly. When they published their White Paper back in March, we warned them then against using the Bill that would follow to unreasonably increase the powers of Ministers so that they could sidestep full scrutiny of their proposals by elected MPs. We warned them again at the election—our manifesto commitment to replace what at that time was being called the great repeal Bill with an EU rights and protections Bill was precisely that warning. In the past months, many bodies, ranging from the Hansard Society to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the Local Government Association, have warned the Government about the dangers of the Bill in its current form. The Women and Equalities Committee and many others have warned about problems with the Bill.

On Thursday, in answer to an intervention from Anna Soubry, the Brexit Secretary hinted that he was prepared to talk about ideas for a triage system to give MPs and peers some kind of say over the limits of where and how delegated legislation should be used, perhaps taking up some of the ideas of the House of Lords Constitution Committee. I welcome that, but I have to say that Ministers’ track record since March underlines that what we need from them is more than generalised offers to talk. We need some demonstration that they are prepared to act on what they are being told, but so far there is no indication at all that that is going to happen. Rather, the thrust of the Brexit Secretary’s argument on Thursday was that there is really nothing to worry about in this Bill and that Ministers should be trusted to use the powers they are given only sparingly, and not for matters for which they are not appropriate. I am afraid that that just is not good enough. If the Government want to reassure us that the powers conferred by the Bill will not be used to do something that those powers expressly permit, it is legitimate for us to ask: why grant those powers in first place unless we can also have a say in practice over the circumstances in which they can be used? This Bill does not give Parliament that say. Until it does, I cannot support it.