2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:03 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 7:03 pm, 11th September 2017

Had the hon. Gentleman listened to my hon. Friend Stephen Gethins earlier, he would have heard him mention agriculture, the environment and fishing. If he bears with me, I shall come to that point in just a moment.

The Länder and the individual states of the United States are lucky that they are protected by a proper constitution; it seems that all our devolved nations are protected by is the Government’s mood and political pressure. It is a salient reminder that power devolved is power retained and of just how fragile the devolution settlement is.

On the point made by Stephen Kerr, can we imagine the response if the Bill sought to do to this Parliament what it would do to the devolved legislatures? If the Bill’s purpose was to take back control, but then to prevent Parliament from changing retained EU law, it would have been laughed at and considered utterly unacceptable, but that is exactly what it will do to the devolved legislatures. It is completely unacceptable for the exact same reasons. We have heard some patronising arguments from Government Members, one of whom essentially argued that the UK Government need to take control of the powers for now to protect citizens in the devolved countries from their democratically elected Governments. We are more than capable of handling powers; we have done so since devolution, and we will continue to do so after Brexit.

If anything good has come of the Bill, it is its highlighting of the significant failings in the House’s procedures for the scrutiny of the ever-increasing number of Executive powers to which successive Governments have helped themselves. It also highlights the utterly centralised nature of the British constitution, which is as far away from a mature federal model as it could ever be. There are almost no proper constraints to rein in Executive power, or proper legal safeguards for important rights. The idea that the Bill is part of a restoration of Parliamentary sovereignty is nonsense; it will simply mean that parliamentary sovereignty and, more significantly, Executive power are more unfettered than ever.

Perhaps membership of the EU, and the protections that that has provided through the charter of fundamental rights and other provisions, has led to complacency about the dangers of untrammelled parliamentary sovereignty, and the problems of the elective dictatorship once identified by Lord Hailsham. Now that the EU’s safety nets are being removed, all of us who believe in constitutionalism need to look again at where the UK goes from here. This Bill is certainly not the answer, which is why I will vote against Second Reading tonight.