Baroness Morgan of Cotes contributions to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

Tue 12th December 2017 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Commons Chamber)
Committee: 6th sitting: House of Commons
9 interactions (2,218 words)

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

(Committee: 6th sitting: House of Commons)
Baroness Morgan of Cotes Excerpts
Tuesday 12th December 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Exiting the European Union
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Dec 2017, 7:14 p.m.

This is exactly the point, is it not? Under this form of legislation Ministers will not be as accountable to this House. I am also of the view that environmental legislation, for example, has been well served by the European Parliament, so I have to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman.

Parliamentary scrutiny would be severely limited by the form of statutory instrument being proposed, but the sheer volume of secondary legislation that is likely to be washing through the system will render effective parliamentary scrutiny almost impossible. We need checks and balances inserted into the system to ensure that there is not legislation made in haste for which we all repent at leisure. I welcome the fact that at least a sifting committee has been accepted by the Government, but it does not go far enough. It would be a sensible argument for this secondary legislation, where it is necessary, to be subject to the super-affirmative procedure. I would like to hear from Ministers why that has not been considered or, if it has, why it has been rejected. Such an approach would not solve the problem, but it would, at least, nod in the direction of solving it.

We also have to recognise that other Administrations have a substantial interest in these decisions, and a degree of co-operation and respect is required. Therefore, “taking back control” has to have an element of that good, old-fashioned, EU principle of subsidiarity. Decisions that have large impacts on the devolved Administrations should be co-decisions. That is why the Joint Ministerial Committee should be involved in making them; it is why there should be proper consultation across the Administrations before changes are made to social security provisions; and it is why there should be consent from the Welsh and Scottish Administrations for any changes to the law that affect provisions within devolved competences.

We have heard the opinions of parliamentary Committees and of outside bodies. I know that experts are not viewed particularly favourably on the Government Benches, but they do have an important role to play, and many experts, including the Law Society of Scotland and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have expressed serious concerns. Those concerns should be heeded in this place and heard by Ministers. It is clear that the furious Brexiteers who drove on when sensible voices were urging caution have ignored this advice:

“Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot

That it do singe yourself.”

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Dec 2017, 7:15 p.m.

I rise to speak to new clauses 53 and 77 and to amendments 385, 1, 2, 3, 5, 48 and 49. In view of all the speeches we have heard so far and the long speech from the Minister, I hope to deal with these matters quite briefly because many of the issues have already been discussed and, in some ways, addressed from the Dispatch Box.

Today, we are debating the rectifying of deficiencies that would result from bringing EU law into UK law. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) said, whatever we might think about the process of leaving the European Union, it is happening and we need to bring EU law into UK law if our withdrawal is to work successfully. I have always said that Brexit is good news for lawyers, and I say that with respect to my former profession.

New clause 53 was spoken to so impressively by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), and through it he seeks to address the potential loss of family reunion aspects of the Dublin III regulation and to propose alterations to the UK’s system by taking the key definition of “family” from the Dublin III convention and applying it to the UK’s refugee family reunion rules. Earlier this year, as my hon. Friend said, we went to Greece as guests of UNICEF to visit and talk to those who had travelled and were seeking refuge and looking to join family members in other parts of Europe. It was a moving and rather depressing but also ultimately inspirational visit that showed the power of the human spirit, particularly in younger people in search of a better life.

Parents and families often send their young people off to look for a better life here in Europe. Many of the young people we saw had made the dangerous journey to access family reunion under the Dublin III rules. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, Dublin III allows children to join their extended family once they reach Europe. Under the regulation, the definition of extended family includes uncles, aunts, grandparents and older siblings. If, after Brexit, children fleeing war and persecution will be able to rely only on the UK’s immigration rules, they will have a right to be reunited only with their parents, as the existing UK immigration rules provide only for the right of parents with refugee status or humanitarian protection to sponsor their under 18-year-old dependent children to join them in the UK. The UK rules do not provide the same right to other family members.

We have to recognise that in many of these circumstances, it is because a young person’s parents have perhaps been killed or are unable to look after them that wider family members might offer protection and the chance of a new life. Ministers were clear, right from the White Paper onward to the way the Bill was presented on Second Reading, and in speeches on this subject, that no rights would be changed or policy changes made in the Bill. It is about making sure that EU law that is brought back to the UK works and that deficiencies are corrected if necessary.

Sir Oliver Letwin Hansard
12 Dec 2017, 7:18 p.m.

Did my right hon. Friend share my puzzlement at the answer that the Minister gave to that point at the Dispatch Box? It seemed an argument was being made that Dublin III requires co-operation that would be impossible to guarantee. As I understood it, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and my right hon. Friend herself are both recommending a change in our immigration law to ensure that we parallel the situation that currently obtains under Dublin III.

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Nicky Morgan - Hansard
12 Dec 2017, 7:19 p.m.

My right hon. Friend puts it extremely well. I was going to say that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), was one of the most ardent campaigners for the UK to leave the European Union, presumably—I think I have heard him and others say this—on the basis that the UK would then be able to do what was right for us and what we judged to be in the national interest and the right thing to do for our place in the world, so there was irony in his saying that we would not be able to do that because of restrictions and because it would not be allowed under the rules. That seemed to drive a coach and horses through what has been sold to me sometimes as the benefits of Brexit. I might remain unconcerned, but on this, I think that there might well be an opportunity for us to improve the current situation. I hope very much that the UK Government will take up such an opportunity.

If leaving the European Union gives us a chance to provide more clarity to our immigration rules, it has to be a good thing. From what the Minister said, I understand that there may be another piece of legislation, namely the forthcoming immigration Bill, that might be more suitable for tackling the issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, we have spoken to the Minister for Immigration. I hope that we can take advantage of this opportunity to look again at the rules to clarify the fact that we want to mirror the Dublin III rules as we go forward. Ministers can be assured that, if this is not picked up when we get to that immigration Bill, my hon. Friend and I will be tabling a similar amendment in order to probe further and to hold the Government to account.

It is important that the United Kingdom remains committed to helping the most vulnerable both here and abroad. Surely that must be partly what a global Britain—by which I mean Britain taking its place on the world stage and making a difference—has to be about. This is the sort of amendment that says much about our values as a Government, as a party and also as a country. We do not want to make it even harder for young people to come to this country to build a new life and to make the most of themselves. I view this issue through the inspirational work of the Baca charity in my constituency.

Let me turn now to new clause 77 and amendment 385, which were spoken to so well by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). She knows a lot about these sorts of issues so I will keep my remarks very brief. Again the point is that the protections for those at risk of violence or worse must surely be maintained as we leave the European Union. I cannot honestly believe that any Member in this House would want Brexit to stop the current protections for those at such risk.

The hon. Lady’s amendment picks up on the European protection orders that allow a person who is protected against a perpetrator in a member state to retain that protection when they travel or move within the European Union. I heard what the Under-Secretary said at the Dispatch Box. I take the point that this is a detailed amendment and that, perhaps, it is better dealt with by the relevant Ministers from the relevant Department—the Home Office. I think that the Minister, who is back in the Chamber, did agree that this point would be, and should be, on the negotiation agenda. The desire for UK courts to continue to recognise European protection orders after exit date must surely be right, and I will support the hon. Lady in her amendment. There are a number of other Members—I cannot remember the exact number—who have signed this amendment to make sure that these issues are on the negotiation agenda. When talking about leaving the European Union, it is very easy to boil it all down to trade, to numbers and to statistics, but there are people whose lives will be affected, as we have also seen with EU citizens living here and UK citizens living abroad.

Finally, the Prime Minister has been committed throughout her political career to ending human trafficking, fighting female genital mutilation and having a strong strategy to fight violence against women and girls. She has been very clear on this, so I cannot believe that she would not want these protections to be upheld after the exit date.

Finally, let me turn to the Henry VIII powers and the amendments laid by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) who was particularly concerned about the concentration of powers in the hands of Ministers. I think she is right. I am a former lawyer, and one of the legal tendencies is continually to try to draft against what can go wrong when a client is about to embark on something—whether they have been advised to do it or not to do it. A lawyer’s task then is to try to find them protections. Although we can have confidence in current Ministers with regard to the powers that they might want to exercise, we never know what might happen in the future. If this Parliament does not ask why Ministers want all these powers and what they are going to do with them, the next generation of MPs, and the ones after that, will want to know why; they will want to know why we did not seek to apply some limitations on the exercise of those powers.

I am pleased that the Government have listened to the concerns about Henry VIII powers and are going to accept the amendments tabled by the Chair of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). He has secured an important concession—that Ministers will keep Members of Parliament informed of the forthcoming statutory instruments. I hope that Ministers will take that on board. Parliament must be involved in scrutinising powers that are exercised by the Executive. It is a fundamental tenet of this country’s unwritten constitution. I have set out two examples: the protection of the rights of vulnerable children and of those at risk of violence or worse. We should be asking how the statutory instruments needed to bring those laws back from Europe will be exercised and drafted, and we should be checking it all.

Sir Oliver Letwin Hansard
12 Dec 2017, 11:30 a.m.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposed changes to the standing orders are particularly welcome in that they provide specifically for the new committee, as I understand it—I am looking for approval from the Chair of the Procedure Committee —to use the Select Committees that deal with each Department to look in detail at the departmental statutory instruments, so we will have real expertise available?

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Nicky Morgan - Hansard
12 Dec 2017, 11:30 a.m.

That is an excellent point and a very good idea. There has always been a wider call for the Treasury Committee, which I am privileged to chair, to look more broadly at finance legislation.

The Minister had a difficult job this afternoon. There were a lot of amendments for him to deal with, many of which were very detailed and some of which were clearly not within his departmental remit. This proves the point that we do need Members of Parliament who have an expertise in their background, sit on a Select Committee or have held a particular ministerial brief. This is the time for them to offer their expertise to the House and the country in order to ensure that we get the law that we are bringing back from the EU correct.

Sir Charles Walker Portrait Mr Charles Walker - Hansard
12 Dec 2017, 11:30 a.m.

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that although time is short and there is a great deal of urgency to get this done, it seems that the House is up for it, and that we will find the time and the sense of vim and vigour to really exercise our scrutiny function?

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Nicky Morgan - Hansard
12 Dec 2017, 7:28 p.m.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that those listening get the impression that, whatever our views about the wisdom or otherwise of leaving the European Union, the fact is that the decision has been made. We need to make it work in order to set things up for the next generation of people in this country and for the next generation of Members of Parliament, who at some point we will hand the batons on to in our constituencies. If we are to do that, we have to ensure that the legal system we put in place works, the details are right and adequate scrutiny has been given.

The appetite of Members to debate this Bill—I am sure that this will happen on other consequential Bills needed to implement our withdrawal from the EU—shows that we are prepared to put in the hours and want to help. It also helps to build a consensus in this House. I hope that that will show the country a leadership that is about Members of Parliament taking responsibility for getting it right for the country and acting in the national interest. On this critical issue of EU withdrawal, which will affect the country for decades to come, we must absolutely show that leadership as a House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) talked about Parliament being here to improve legislation. Amendments should not be an affront to the Government. They will obviously disagree with some. They might agree with the principle of others, but would want to reword them in a way that finds approval with the parliamentary draftsmen. There will also be some that they will initially want to resist, but if they test the will of the House, they will find that Members want to make those amendments. In fact, such amendments may very well improve legislation and help with parliamentary handling. As the Minister said, we are dealing with 40 years of law and there are hundreds of issues, but there is an opportunity to do things in the UK’s way.

I am very persuaded by amendment 49, which talks about the limitation of powers and having no concentration of powers. There are perhaps improvements that can be made to it, and the amendment the Government have said they will accept on the work of the new sifting committee is very welcome. However, the amendment sends an important signal about the way the constitution in this country works, and for that reason, if the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford presses it, I will support it this evening.

Angela Smith Hansard
12 Dec 2017, 7:30 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. It is a real privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan). I rise to speak primarily to new clause 18 and to new clauses 24 and 27 and amendment 124. I will also speak more broadly to a range of amendments that have been selected for today’s debate.

Clause 7, which today’s proceedings are primarily concerned with, stands as a significant extension of the powers available to Ministers of the Crown. The speech by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) went to the heart of the debate we have had today in relation to what he called the principle of necessity. His test for whether clause 7 stands worthy to pass through to the next stage of the legislative process is, “Does it meet the principle of necessity or go beyond the test necessary to meet the principle of necessity?” I would suggest that, as it stands, the clause does not meet that test.

The right hon. Member for Loughborough made a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) made at the beginning of today’s proceedings: one of the key questions relating to that test is whether Members of Parliament in the future will look back at what we do today and over the next few months and determine that we gave Ministers too much power in this Bill. For me, that is one of the real questions at the heart of the principle the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare outlined earlier.

As it stands, the only pieces of legislation safeguarded in the clause are the Human Rights Act 1998 and some aspects of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. As has been pointed out many times this afternoon, not even the Bill is safe from the hands of Ministers once enacted. As drafted, the Bill will give Ministers flexibility way above and beyond what is necessary, allowing them to create or amend any legislation on the UK statute book to mitigate any failure or deficiency in retained EU law.

I am not convinced that my constituents—even those who voted to leave the European Union—possess the sort of blind faith the Government seem to be asking for, and I certainly do not have that blind faith at the moment. Indeed, a number of parliamentarians on both sides of the Chamber clearly have significant reservations. Further, of course, I am not persuaded that such sweeping powers are necessary.

I understand that the time constraints associated with the article 50 process and the volume of legislative amendments required to implement Brexit put pressures on the Government—I totally acknowledge that. I also understand that putting all the corrections into the Bill at this stage would be entirely impractical and that the Government do require flexibility to respond to all eventualities as negotiations with the European Union take place. In that sense, the spirit of the debate today has been very helpful, and the Government have to concede that most of the contributions have been made with the intention of improving the Bill and ensuring that it works in protecting the legislation we want to transpose into UK law.

Even so, as I have said already, the powers the Bill asks for are too broadly defined and risk undermining the sovereignty of Parliament. There is a balance to be struck between giving the Government the necessary tools to implement Brexit and not forgoing parliamentary scrutiny. What the Bill proposes does not strike that balance, which is why I support new clause 24 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), which stands as a really serious attempt to define properly the principle of necessity.

Just last year, the Brexit Secretary told the Commons Select Committee that he did not foresee any major or material changes being made by delegated legislation. If that is not necessary, what possible justification can he have for including such sweeping powers in the Bill?

In its recent report, the Lords Constitution Committee outlined a number of requirements of Bills granting Henry VIII powers. In essence, it recommended that the breadth of any powers given should be as narrow as possible, which is clearly not so in this case. This point is furthered by the Supreme Court justice, Lord Neuberger, who says that

“the more general the words used by Parliament to delegate a power, the more likely it is that an exercise within the literal meaning of the words will nevertheless be outside the legislature’s contemplation.”

In other words, the broader the powers given, the more likely that, if exercised, litigation will follow. That point was made very powerfully by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and the Government do need to respond to it.

In their March 2017 White Paper, the Government said that their proposed procedures represented

“the beginning of a discussion between Government and Parliament as to the most pragmatic and effective approach to take in this area.”

I am afraid that so far, despite the concessions made, we have not got there. There are issues relating to the scope of the Bill that have been very clearly articulated today. Amendment 392, accepted by the Government, represents progress, but it does not go far enough because it deals only with part of the problem.

Triage is fine, but at the end of the day the scrutiny process does not allow Parliament to amend or send back a statutory instrument for further consideration by the Government. That is a real weakness in the scrutiny system that must be addressed, as the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield said. That is why I support new clause 18, which gives Parliament the chance to look properly and in depth at what is needed to ensure that Parliament has proper powers of scrutiny over the delegated legislation process in relation to this Bill. The Hansard Society report gives us a really good start in that process. The Government have no need to be alarmed about new clause 18. This can be done reasonably quickly, and Parliament has the right to expect it.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) is not here to speak to her new clause 27, which is a shame, because the environment is at the very heart of the Brexit process, yet so far it has been fairly peripheral to the debate. If we are going to get Brexit right, the Government need to understand that environmental standards are the one thing that matters to every citizen in this country. Everybody who voted in the referendum, whether leave or remain, will expect the Government to maintain environmental standards at least to the level where they are now.