European Union (Withdrawal) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Baroness Morgan of CotesMain Page: Baroness Morgan of Cotes (Conservative) - Loughborough)
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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.”
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.
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?
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?
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.