2nd Day

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

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Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 10:10 pm, 11th September 2017

It is a pleasure to follow Stephen Kerr.

Let me make it clear at the outset that since the referendum of 23 June last year, I have always respected the outcome of the vote, both in my constituency and throughout the United Kingdom. That is why I have spent the last 15 months arguing for the best possible Brexit deal, which will secure jobs and prosperity in my constituency. This Bill, however, is not about the principle of withdrawal from the EU. It is about constitutional arrangements, and, as a Welsh Member of Parliament, I note in particular that the Welsh Government does not have the power to amend retained EU law—in other words, the law that is brought back via the Bill. This is about the kind of democracy that we are, and it is about the rights of our citizens. As I said in an earlier intervention, citizens currently have the right to take the Government to the European Court when they are found wanting in respect of certain matters, including environmental matters. Where is that remedy, or its replacement, in the Bill? It is not there.

Above all, there is the argument—I have heard it on a number of occasions, and I respect it—about bringing powers back to the House of Commons. The Bill does not achieve that. It is not so much a Bill to take back control to Parliament as a Bill to take control away from to the legislature and give it to the Executive. I am deeply concerned about the Henry VIII powers in clauses 7, 8, 9 and 17; to put it simply, I do not trust Tory Ministers with those powers.

At the weekend, I was very interested to read a leaked letter signed by, apparently, up to 40 Tory MPs. It set out various red lines in respect of the transition deal that they want to see. What did it say about Henry VIII powers? It said:

“There can be no Henry VIII laws which automatically add EU/EEA laws onto our statute books”.

How are we, as Opposition Members, supposed to trust Ministers with Henry VIII powers when their own MPs will not?

I looked back at the past to see whether there is any precedent for handing over such powers to the Government. I had to go back as far as the Rating and Valuation Act 1925, would you believe, to find an Act that allowed Ministers to change the provisions of that Act. It states that

“any such order may modify the provisions of this Act so far as may appear to the Minister necessary or expedient for carrying the order into effect”.

That led the Lord Chief Justice of the day, Lord Hewart, to write a book called “The New Despotism” in 1929—I recommend it to Ministers—about what he called “the departmental despot”, who would be in a position to carry out law making away from proper accountability, away from scrutiny, and away from the reach of ordinary law.