European Union (Withdrawal) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
John BercowMP Main Page: John Bercow (Speaker - Buckingham)
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(2 years, 5 months ago)Commons Chamber
This is a necessary Bill; 52% of the population voted to leave the EU, and each of us who have been voted here by our communities to represent them in this debate need to respect democracy, which is why we need to get on with the job of ensuring a smooth exit from the EU. This Bill is a necessary part of that overall process. For the Labour party to vote against the Bill at this early stage—[Interruption.]
The Labour party voting against this Bill at such an early stage could easily be seen as a blatant attempt to frustrate the Brexit process. I urge its right hon. and hon. Members to consider their position on that. I listened carefully to the hours of debate on Thursday, and I have yet to hear a single Opposition Member say that this measure is unnecessary; if it is not unnecessary, they should vote for it. There are strong arguments to say that this Bill needs amending, but none that says that it is unnecessary. I shall vote for the Bill on Second Reading, but it is clear that a number of issues need to be addressed during Committee.
The Secretary of State made very compelling arguments in his opening address on Thursday, and from what he said, his intention is crystal clear: he wants this Bill to deliver maximum certainty. He was also clear about his openness to hearing of improvements and making changes to achieve them. I can understand his clear frustration that the Opposition’s concerns have not been coupled with specific solutions. I hope that he and the Minister on the Front Bench today can, in their summing up, respond to the specific recommendations that the Women and Equalities Committee made seven months ago to the Government on how to handle the charter of fundamental rights. My Committee is still awaiting a response from Ministers to that report.
The Select Committee did a detailed analysis of how to make sure that, when it comes to equality laws, the same rules apply after exit as do today; that is exactly what the Secretary of State has said that he wants to do. When it comes to equality laws, we need certainty. We need not only to transpose the laws, but to acknowledge the effect and the impact of EU institutions and the framework currently provided by the charter of fundamental rights. People voted last June to take back control of our laws and how they are interpreted, and for the UK Parliament and the UK courts to be the final arbiter, but they did not vote for a diminution of their rights.
It may not be possible or even desirable to preserve the charter of fundamental rights, and that we should retain the charter is certainly not the case that I am making, as it is so clearly dependent on EU law and institutions. I am saying that we need to ensure that its effect is captured; otherwise the backstop on equality rights would be removed, and that would not be the status quo that the Secretary of State is demanding.
There are many examples that I could use to demonstrate the importance of protecting this absolute right, and if I had more time, I would talk about its importance to pregnant workers. If we do not have a clear statement in the Bill on what basis exactly the courts and the law will be on, we need to ensure that we know on what basis the Supreme Court will be able to stop future Acts of Parliament from reducing individuals’ equality rights that are protected under the Equality Act 2010.
In effect, the current structures act as a free-standing right that cannot be overridden by domestic legislation. I am arguing not for the retention of the EU Court of Justice’s role, but for an acknowledgement that the removal of its jurisdiction needs to be addressed. The Women and Equalities Committee has put forward three recommendations, which could be easily accommodated in the Bill: first, that a clause be added to the Bill that explicitly commits us to maintaining current levels of equality protection when EU law is transposed into UK law; secondly, that the Government commit to an amendment to the Equality Act, mirroring provisions in the Human Rights Act, to make it clear that public authorities must act in a way that does not contravene the Equality Act; and last but by no means least, that when presenting a new Bill to Parliament, Ministers must make a declaration of compatibility with the Equality Act in exactly the way that they do for the Human Rights Act; that would give the courts a clear direction about the importance of safeguarding equality rights.
In summary, it is imperative that the Bill be given a Second Reading tonight to allow those important changes to progress. It is regrettable that some of the matters being debated, particularly those raised in Select Committee reports, have not been addressed before now. I am simply holding the Government to their own intent of ensuring that
“the same rules…apply after exit”
as do today. I am absolutely sure that this Government, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, have only the intention of safeguarding and strengthening equality rights, and particularly workers’ rights. As a nation, we have a proud track record on equality—it is part of our DNA—but to keep the status quo, as the Secretary of State says he wishes to, we need to indelibly embed equality in our approach to law, and in the interpretation of that law by the courts.
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Ah, there we go! I give way.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned several times now that this Bill represents a power grab; that is the new in-fashion statement from the Scottish National party. Can the hon. Gentleman name one power that the UK Government will grab back from Holyrood?
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I am so sorry, but I will not give way.
That body would provide the necessary oversight that Members on both sides of the House, but particularly Opposition Members, are looking for to try to ensure that the right checks and balances are in place—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) mentioned—and we have the right use of statutory instruments—
I will vote against the Bill tonight, for the slightly quaint reason that that is what I told my constituents I would do back in June —that is partly why I have been sent here—and for other reasons, some of which we have heard from Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) mentioned the House of Lords Constitution Committee. Coming from Cambridge, I had the privilege on Friday of spending an hour talking to the highly respected Professor Mark Elliott, who advises that Committee. He said:
“The fact that the central aim of the Bill—that is preserving EU law post exit—is a necessary one does not place the Bill beyond criticism.”
He went on:
“The Bill in its present form is profoundly problematic in legal and constitutional terms. It is an affront to parliamentary sovereignty. It eviscerates the separation of powers principle and it risks destabilising the UK’s increasingly fragile territorial constitution.”
He says an “affront to parliamentary sovereignty”, but what does he know? He is just the leading expert on the issue.
I will also vote against the Bill for another reason, which has not been stated loudly enough in this debate, except by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). It is increasingly said in parts of the country that we should not withdraw from the European Union at all, because it is not in our national interest to do so. I fully understand that opprobrium will probably be heaped on me for saying that, but, actually, I am only stating the obvious. As the farcical non-negotiations continue to fail to proceed, it is clearer and clearer that the most likely outcome is a last-minute fudge that will satisfy no one. It is also clear that, at the end, the choices open to us must include the possibility that all the alternatives on offer are worse than staying in, and that is putting it at its most negative. We should negotiate on the key issue that we all know is at the heart of this, which is migration, and securing the changes that would satisfy the concerns of many who voted leave, without doing the undoubted economic damage that we risk by continuing on this path.
To those who say that the decision was made more than a year ago, I say that the world has changed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) so powerfully said, we have all been through a general election. The Prime Minister went to the country, demanding a mandate, and we know what happened—she did not get it.
The wider world has changed as well. A year ago, it could have been plausibly argued that we could negotiate reliable, mutually beneficial trade deals with the United States in a way that now seems wholly unlikely when that country is governed by such an unpredictable and difficult President. In the rest of the world, we see China becoming more authoritarian, Russia hardly more helpful and North Korea a real threat. In a world that seems so increasingly volatile, whom should we look to in times of need? Our wisest option would be our European neighbours, who increasingly look like the most sensible major players. What a foolish path to be embarking on in such dangerous times.
I will not support the Bill, but I would like to make one comment about one of the more detailed provisions that profoundly concerns me. On Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) explained very eloquently the danger of leaving the charter of fundamental rights. In particular, he mentioned the consequences of not including the clause relating to the protection of personal data. As he rightly said, there is a danger that we will struggle to achieve a data adequacy agreement, which in turn would have severe consequences for UK businesses and data users. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), speaking from the Government Benches, made a similar point this afternoon. But it goes further than that, because securing an adequacy agreement depends not just on the ability to use article 8, but on the perception on the part of our neighbours that the UK is not prepared to diminish data privacy, because in the end this will be a political decision, and it will give others the opportunity to say that we are weakening our position, making it easier for them to deny us that vital adequacy agreement.
That is one of the many detailed points that could be made. I fear that we are in danger of sleepwalking into a calamity. Our task as Members of this Parliament is to look into our consciences and reflect on the best way forward for our country. I suspect that there are many in this Chamber who will vote for the Bill tonight who know in their heart of hearts that we are on the wrong path. Let us try and find a way back.
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I shall be brief and to the point, as we are about to reach a critical stage in proceedings.
Like many hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members, I voted to remain in the European Union. Like many others, I was active in my constituency and throughout the west midlands in arguing that case, particularly to the manufacturers and traders for which the region is well known. I was disappointed, like many people, that the referendum turned out the other way. A result of 48:52 is pretty close, but in Coventry it was 40:60—60% of people voted to leave and 40% to remain.
When it came to the triggering of article 50 in the House, I had little doubt in my mind—indeed, I would never think of going against a clearly democratic vote—that we would have to do so, and we duly did. However, I also set out a couple of points that I thought would be essential if we were to avoid the worst aspects of what Brexit could mean: we needed a transitional period to the new arrangements, and those arrangements should be as soft as possible. I believe that both those points are as valid today as they were then. I agreed to sit back and watch how far the Government could get on achieving them. Unfortunately, they have not made much progress that anyone in this country or in Europe has noticed.
On the transitional arrangements, which would imply a period during which we would be in the single market and in the customs union, we have seen a remarkable performance. On the single market, half of the Cabinet is in and the other half is out; and another day the other half is in and the other half is out. The same goes for the customs union. What sort of negotiating activity that is I do not know. I cannot imagine what other kind of activity it is, but it is not skilful negotiation. We have not made any progress at all—if anything we have gone backwards on both those important considerations on which I was particularly looking for progress so that I could continue to give my unqualified support by recognising the vote in my Coventry constituency and happily supporting my constituents.
The simple fact is that the Government, having made a dog’s breakfast of the negotiations, have asked us to trust them to go ahead and change the laws of this land with a Bill that has been roundly criticised—I will not try to rise to the heights of hyperbole reached by colleagues on both sides of the House—as a travesty of good government and good legislation. The Bill is clearly full of faults, defects and inadequacies that have to be put right. The Government say, “Trust us, we will put them right.” They say that at the end of the process we will have a Bill that meets the needs and has the guaranteed support of the House. I say no to that; it will not do. Given their record in the negotiations, they are neither competent nor honest enough to deliver what is possible, and there is insufficient determination in the Executive or civil service to do so.
I would, very briefly, like to conclude. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The pause, if anything, has given me new breath and I shall seek to expend it.
I was saying that the Government have introduced the Bill with the words, “Trust us, we’ll put it right.” Nowhere has the Bill been more eruditely or expertly criticised than on their own Benches by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who unfortunately is not here for these latter stages. He has exposed it as being a shoddy Bill that should never have been brought forward.
We say very clearly to the Government tonight that, as far as the negotiation goes, a transitional arrangement is vital. Soft terms are equally important for our manufacturers, traders and financial companies—everybody on whose livelihood the wellbeing of this country depends. If we go for the mess the Government are currently promising us, I regret to say that we will have a very hard Brexit and the citizens of the whole country will take a very hard economic knock to their wellbeing. I want to avoid that, so I say take the Bill away. Bring back a corrected Bill that is decently presented and does not try to wrench power away from Parliament for ends that we cannot yet even specify. Bring it back in a shape fit enough that we could be justified in voting for it.
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I merely ask for guidance on the relevance of the hon. Gentleman’s speech on greenbelt and the Scottish Government to the topic of debate.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Many of my constituents in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan are rightly angry at this power grab by the SNP. That is one of many such examples.
I have no hesitation in telling the Government, whom I am proud to support, that I want them to get on with Brexit. It will bring opportunities, and we must make the best of them. I want to get on with those free-trade deals across the world. We already know that customers globally have an insatiable appetite for Scottish food and drink, including Scottish salmon, and since Stirling is now the UK’s centre of excellence and innovation in salmon, and finfish aquaculture in general, I declare a vested interest. Those in the House who gleefully seize on every statement by EU negotiators, at the supposed expense of Her Majesty’s Ministers, should consider how their antics appear to the voting public. We must work together across parties to get the best deal for the British people, and I have the utmost faith and confidence in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and his ministerial team to do just that. We must be, among ourselves, united.
The Bill represents the best kind of pragmatism, for which this country is rightly renowned around the world. It will efficiently allow us to leave the European Union, it will allow our devolved Administrations to make more decisions about the lives and livelihoods of the people whom they serve, and it will allow us to have a statute book that functions on the day we leave the European Union. I celebrate its British pragmatism.
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It is an honour to contribute to this historic debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), who made an impassioned contribution.
I would like to start with a sober analysis of what the Bill is really about. It is about an overall approach. It is essential for a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union and provides the continuity that is needed for businesses and individuals alike. It is badly named, too—in the early stages of its progress it was called a repeal Bill, and the press call it that, but is much better seen as a continuity Bill. It is more notable for what it does not do than for what it does.
I suggest that it is incumbent on those who propose to vote against the Bill—rather than those who feel that it needs amending—to say what they would do instead to transfer EU law into British law. We have heard nothing from Labour Members about how they would achieve that. There are, of course, options. We could in theory simply ignore EU law, but that would lead to chaos, and I am sure no hon. Member would want that. Or we could vote on every measure that we need to transpose from EU to British law. But as we have heard, if we spoke 24/7 on such matters from this day onward, we would need 200 days of parliamentary time. That is not a practical option. That is why we need the Bill.
This is a necessary Bill that will perform the sensible task of providing continuity by moving the acquis of EU law into British law on the date of leaving. Essentially, it will turn off the tap on further EU regulations, but will not pull the plug and drain away any of the existing regulations.
We need some sober analysis of the Bill’s purpose, because it is not intended to give the Government sweeping new powers. It will not give the Government powers to pick and choose which regulations to keep or dispose of. That will be a matter for this sovereign Parliament in the years that follow. The Bill simply seeks to change, on a technical basis, references to EU bodies that will no longer be relevant into references to the relevant British bodies. As the Secretary of State said, it is not for Ministers to change laws because they do not like them. The Bill is also—this is a crucial point—strictly limited by the sunset clause to two years after the exit date.
We have heard about scrutiny, and parliamentary scrutiny is essential. The Government have said that all substantive policy changes will be strictly the preserve of the Bills to follow on trade, agriculture and immigration. As we all know, statutory instruments have been used for many years to deal with less contentious regulations. They are a parliamentary procedure. Members will be able to pray against them, and it is not true to say that that will bypass Parliament. Every regulation will be subject to parliamentary procedure, particularly in cases where the affirmative procedure is used.
The Secretary of State has made it clear, and I welcome this approach, that when constructive suggestions are made on drafting and scrutiny, the Government will listen, but the appropriate time for such observations is in Committee. None of those points, many of which have been very constructive, are any reason to vote against the Bill tonight. That would lead to chaos and induce exactly the hard Brexit that so many Opposition Members have mentioned.
This is an important Bill and I urge the House to support it. We will look at constructive suggestions in Committee, but now is not the time.
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First, let me make it clear that people in my constituency voted leave in the referendum, but they did not vote to risk the regulations and protections that they have to safeguard them. I want to talk about not clauses and regulations, but practicalities. My constituency has suffered serious problems arising from two landfill sites. Last year, we had three months of—not to put too fine a point on it—stench from one of the sites. The year before, we had a serious litter escape that blighted the local rural landscape.
The House will not be surprised to hear that many of us want greater environmental controls, not only on landfill sites, but to protect our rivers, air and natural environment. My constituents are worried about and want to retain all the employment and health and safety rights that they have under European regulations. It is crucial that Members of this House have the opportunity to examine the process of bringing those regulations into domestic legislation and how they are to be carried forward. In its reliance on secondary legislation, the Bill takes away the House’s ability—the ability of all us Members—to ensure that existing protections remain. I want to make sure that not only environmental but other protections from European legislation remain; if they will not, I want to be able to raise those issues with the Government and in the Chamber.
Government statements have said that they are going to transfer all regulations—everything is going to be okay, and it is all going to be incorporated into UK law—but as more than one Member has said today, the devil is in the detail. It is that detail that we need the opportunity to deal with. To use another well-known phrase, fine words butter no parsnips. The Government have come forward with fine words, but we need them to come forward with practical mechanisms to allow the proper scrutiny of regulations in this House, and they must do so.
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will you tell the House what powers will be taken away from Scotland with this Bill? Will you detail the powers that we are taking away—
I find it incredible—Members on the Government Benches have had the answer to this question on three occasions. The point is that there is an opportunity in this place, in this month, in this debate to transfer powers from Brussels to Holyrood, and it is not being taken. Government Members invite us to trust them, but I fear that we cannot do so; if we could, they would have made clear their intention in the Bill. That is one reason why I will vote to decline giving this Bill a Second Reading tonight.
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). It was interesting to hear him say that he does not wish to give the Government carte blanche; I think he omitted the phrase, “Unless they give us £1 billion.”
My constituents voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, and I have been clear in my commitment to continue to speak up for their views. In Dulwich and West Norwood, we are deeply concerned about the impact of Brexit on the economy, on our public services, on our rights and protections at work, on our justice system, on our environment, and on our local communities. We are concerned about the practical impact of Brexit on the number of nurses in our NHS, on the number of construction workers building the homes we so desperately need, and on rising inflation as a consequence of the fall in the value of the pound. We are also concerned about the impact of Brexit on our British values of tolerance, diversity and internationalism.
Over the past year, this Government have done nothing at all to reach out to the 48% of voters who voted to remain—nothing to reassure us that our legitimate concerns are being listened to and will be addressed. The Prime Minister sought to strengthen her mandate to implement Brexit on her terms at the general election, but her mandate was weakened. If one thing is absolutely clear from the general election result, it is that the Government absolutely do not have a mandate to implement Brexit on any terms. They do not have a mandate to implement a harmful Brexit. They do not have a mandate to be dishonest with the British people about the impact that Brexit will have, or to skirt over the detail of important constitutional change, yet the Government persist in running scared of parliamentary scrutiny, and have responded to criticism and the clear feedback of the UK electorate not by engaging, reaching out and reassuring, but by closing down debate. The Bill as drafted would put huge and unaccountable power into the hands of Government Ministers and put crucial rights and protections at risk. It is nothing less than a power grab for Tory Ministers, and it fundamentally undermines parliamentary democracy.
The single biggest commitment made by the leave campaign was to spend an additional £350 million a week on our NHS. There is no sign whatsoever that the Government are even close to being able to fulfil this commitment. The longer the negotiations progress, the less confidence many people will have that the Government are capable of negotiating a Brexit deal that will protect our national interests. Yet in the EU withdrawal Bill, this minority Conservative Government are seeking permission to implement Brexit on any terms, at any cost, and that is simply not acceptable.
The article 50 process has already eroded Parliament’s role in relation to the Brexit negotiations, denying a meaningful vote on the Government’s proposed final deal, and we are now being asked to surrender control over the future direction of legislation that derives from the EU. This EU withdrawal Bill is designed to set a baseline of legislation for erosion and dismantling, with no mechanism for keeping pace with future developments in EU law, rather than a foundation for further development and a strengthening of rights and protections. The Government cannot expect the British people to have confidence that they will still be able to rely on the protections and regulations we currently receive from the EU when the EU withdrawal Bill, as currently drafted, would give the Government the power to vary regulations at will.
The promises made by the leave campaign and the Government in relation to Brexit are fast proving to be the emperor’s new clothes, and I, for one, am not afraid to say that I cannot see them. My constituents did not vote for Brexit, and they certainly do not accept it on any terms. The Brexit negotiations must take place in an open and transparent way, and they must be accountable to Parliament. If, as I suspect, these promises cannot be delivered by Brexit, we must have the opportunity to reject the Government’s deal and go back to the drawing board. I urge Members across the House, whether they are in favour of Brexit or not, to reject this Bill because it places too much power in the hands of too few Ministers, it compromises the sovereignty of Parliament, and, in doing so, it works—
“We will scrap the Conservatives’…White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on…the Single Market”
and putting “the economy first”. That was the manifesto on which Labour Members stood only a few months ago. We said that we would scrap this Bill and send it back. I beg Labour colleagues who are thinking about voting with the Government to consider that they stood, only a few months ago, on scrapping the White Paper, and I urge them to stand by the manifesto they stood for.
Some Conservative Members would, like ostriches, like to shove their heads into the sand—they want Brexit on any terms—but they are a minority. I believe that the majority of Conservative Members genuinely want a decent Bill that will aid the transition between our being in the European Union and being out of it.
I am a remainer. Just like most of my constituents, I would love to remain in the European Union—we will make that case—but I am also a democrat. However, being a democrat is not about just handing all powers to the Executive; it is about holding them to account each step of the way.
I have listened to lots of the arguments from Members on both sides of the House about how the Bill could be improved. There is a strategy—a legitimate strategy—of saying, “Let us pass it tonight and amend it in Committee.” However, I think that that is incorrect, because the flaws in the Bill are so huge and fundamental that if we followed that strategy, we would be fiddling with the deckchairs on a sinking ship. Unfortunately, what we must do is to send this Bill back.
I will outline a few areas in which the Bill fundamentally fails to live up to decent democratic principles and restricts the rights of our people. It removes the charter of fundamental rights from UK law. Let us be very clear that that charter provides digital rights, asylum rights, pension rights for LGBT people and safeguards for maternity rights. At the moment, for example, it ensures that a gay couple who marry here in the UK have their marriage recognised elsewhere in Europe.
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Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not trust the party that refused to implement the social chapter at all, with all its rights at work that come from Europe?
I agree. The Bill also—[Laughter.] I wanted to move on quickly.
The Bill also fails completely to mention or touch on how some of the soft-law mechanisms will be brought into the UK framework, such as the open method of co-ordination. It does not even mention that area of EU co-ordination. We will clearly want to adopt significant parts of it, but the Bill is completely quiet about it.
Of course there is a need to give Ministers certain powers, but even the emergency powers provided during the second world war were not powers for Ministers to spend unfettered amounts. This Bill gives Ministers the power to spend such amounts and gives them unheard-of powers. It is not a democratic Bill, and it cannot be classed as bringing power back to this country or to this Parliament. Clearly what we need to do tonight is to vote against this Bill. We need to send it back and get the Government to give us a decent Bill that will preserve our democratic rights for our people and for our Parliament.
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I join the House only 48 hours after the birth of my son, Bobby James. Dads on this side of the House proudly change nappies before coming to Parliament; we do not get out of changing nappies because we are in Parliament.
Having considered how we exit the baby, I am now considering how we exit the European Union. As many Members have said, this is not about whether we leave but how. For me, opposing the Bill is scrutiny, not mutiny, on Brexit. I maintain a commitment that I made to the people of Bury North in my election victory to fight for a practical Brexit. I do not trust the Government to show Britain the best exit, let alone set it out with vision and aplomb. Bombastic swagger, yes; vision, zero. It was going to be easy, we were told, but I ask for more grace in negotiation. Perhaps Ministers could remember the 48% as well as the 52% when handling Brexit. The referendum result was clear, fair and decisive, but in exiting we need a deal that works for the 48 and the 52, not the 1922.
I stood at the election with a clear view on Brexit that, as a remainer, I would fight for a Brexit that worked for everyone in Bury North. Whether people were leavers or remainers, it was time for unity—a practical Brexit that kept uppermost in people’s minds jobs, skills and opportunities for all. The result of the election did not change the Government’s instincts overnight. They have not changed their position on workers’ rights, on access to justice, on working time, or on security and safety at work. Those measures were bombarded on their way into law, and they will be picked apart by Government Members in the transition. The repeal Bill should be a copy and paste exercise, but instead the Government seek measures that would allow them not to copy and paste but to copy and cut. Decades of social progress, enshrined in law, are at the mercy of the pick-and-choose brigade who run the Tories. If foxhunting and grammar schools are back on the agenda, what of workers’ rights? I urge Members to vote against the motion. They should accept Brexit, but how we leave matters: they should not support the Government on the Bill.
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Those principles of human rights and non-discrimination are embodied in United Kingdom legislation and given effect by our courts. That was the situation 40 years ago, before we entered the European Union, it has remained the situation throughout our membership, and it will continue to be the position, unaffected by this Bill.
As for devolution, every single decision taken by the devolved Administrations will continue to be taken by them. The only question is how we best allocate to the UK Government and to the devolved Administrations the competencies and powers that will return to this country, because the devolution Acts were drafted in the context of this country’s membership of the European Union and the lists of devolved and reserved powers were drawn up against that background. For example, the common fisheries policy includes matters relating to the detailed management and regulation of fisheries, but it also covers EU agreements with third countries, such as the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement, and includes such matters as the UN convention relating to migratory fish stocks—international agreements that one might think should fall naturally to the United Kingdom Government. That will be a matter for continuing discussion between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations.
We shall need to come forward with some common frameworks to ensure, for example, that a Scottish farmer can sell some of his produce to customers in England or Northern Ireland without having to worry about two different sets of hygiene and food safety regulations, or that a Welsh paint manufacturer can sell freely anywhere in the United Kingdom without having to be concerned about different rules on the regulation of the chemicals in that paint. I am confident that the outcome of negotiations and continuing discussions with the devolved Administrations will be a significant increase in the powers being exercised by those devolved Administrations. That remains the Government’s intention. I can also say to my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) that, yes, Ministers in the Department for Exiting the European Union and across Government will continue to talk to and listen carefully both to the views of Ministers in the devolved Administrations and to parliamentarians in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and soon, I hope, in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Above all, the debate has centred on delegated powers, and I emphasise that the Bill already contains significant safeguards, which the debate has sometimes tended to overlook. Each of the four clauses that authorise secondary legislation has a defined purpose, and a statutory instrument made under such a clause cannot be made to do something else. It has to deliver something that is within the purpose defined in that clause. If we look at clause 7, for example, the power to make a statutory instrument is limited to something that will put right a failure or deficiency in retained EU law
“arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU.”
That power cannot be exercised for any other purpose. A Minister cannot make regulations because he dislikes the underlying policy or indeed because he dislikes the underlying EU law, but only when there is a problem with the operability of a piece of EU law that has been brought about by this country’s departure from the EU.
A similar condition applies to clause 8, which deals with our international obligations. There has been a lot of debate about clause 9, but its powers can be used only for the purpose of implementing the withdrawal agreement. The powers in clause 17 are limited to consequential amendments, and “consequential” has a long-established, tightly defined meaning in parliamentary practice and in law. The idea that there is some sweeping power in the Bill to rewrite the law of the United Kingdom is simply wrong. The statutory instruments may be used only for the purposes set out in the Bill.
In addition, the Government have included sunset clauses. The powers in clauses 7 and 8 lapse two years after exit day, and those in clause 9 lapse on exit day itself. The Bill also includes further safeguards in a list of exclusions from the scope of any delegated legislation, so none of the powers that grant secondary legislation can be used to make retrospective provision, to increase taxation, to create criminal offences or to affect the scope and application of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Despite the assurances incorporated in the wording of the Bill, very genuine, sincere concerns have been expressed on both sides of the House about whether there is sufficient parliamentary control over and scrutiny of how the powers will be used. [Interruption.]
It strikes me that there have been constructive comments and suggestions from a range of Members, including my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Rushcliffe and for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer). Between Second Reading and Committee, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and his team intend to discuss those suggestions further with colleagues on both sides of the House.
We accept that we need to get the balance right—for example, between negative and affirmative procedure and between debates in Committee and debates on the Floor of the House—and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has already pledged, we wish to discuss further the issue first raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) about linking the timing of SIs under clause 9 to the date of debates on the withdrawal agreement, although we will have to bear in mind the possibility that that agreement might be concluded only very shortly before the date of exit.