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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (7th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 14th March 2018.

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Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 5:15 pm, 14th March 2018

My Lords, I support Amendments 153 and 154—so eloquently introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane—particularly on the issue of providing Ministers with those broad-ranging Henry VIII powers. As the noble Lord pointed out, the range of the powers covered, includes repealing Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments, and extends to most areas of law—the whole caboodle, basically, will be under the control of Ministers. It really shows why these powers go to the heart of the sovereignty of Parliament. We have heard some amazing speeches today about the importance of retaining the integrity of Parliament. If we really want to take back control for Parliament, we have to concentrate on making sure that we do not give Ministers unlimited powers.

Noble Lords will know that I spend a lot of time working overseas and consequently it is quite uncommon for me to find myself discussing amendments to Bills going through the House. I am not here often enough to be so involved. However, in this House and the other place, I, like many other noble Lords, have escorted constituents, visiting parliamentarians and guests on tours of the Palace of Westminster. Like many other noble Lords, I found that invariably, one of the party will say how important it is to them to visit the mother of Parliaments, by which they mean the heart of democracy and the modern democratic process: the Westminster model where the Executive is accountable to Parliament through a transparent balance.

I spent well over a decade here, in the other place and in dozens of foreign locations working with parliamentarians in or from developing countries. I worked with counterparts, often in the process of discovering the power of parliaments to hold their Executives to account and what transparency and accountability in a parliamentary process should mean. As we debate this Brexit Bill, the world is watching. The nations of the Commonwealth are watching. Only this morning, a group of Kenyan MPs on a Select Committee in their Parliament came to have coffee with me to talk about what Brexit would mean for them as well as for us.

These amendments help to ensure that, in passing this Bill, Henry VIII powers to bypass parliamentary scrutiny are not introduced and the principles of transparency and democracy, on which this mother of Parliaments was founded—and is therefore admired and imitated throughout the world—are protected.

Another issue that comes to mind straightaway is that we are on the verge of holding a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London, for the first time in around 20 years. The United Kingdom Parliament will be fundamental to that process. After that finishes in a week or so, the United Kingdom will become the chair in office of the Commonwealth for the next two years. It will be a tremendous opportunity for us to reinforce—perhaps to absorb completely into the Commonwealth process—the principles and ideals on which we believe our democracy is founded. The world is watching the way we deal with Brexit.

Finally, the term “mother of Parliaments” is often misapplied. Many noble Lords will know that it was first coined by John Bright MP in the 19th century during his fight for the repeal of the corn laws, which has already been mentioned today. One of the great orators of his day, Bright was referring to England and its people as the mother of Parliaments, not Westminster. If we truly want to take back control, we must ensure that the power of Parliament remains in the hands of the people’s representatives: their MPs, not Ministers. I confirm my support for these amendments.