House of Commons
Monday 11 September 2017
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What steps the Government are taking to increase core schools funding and introduce a fairer funding formula. 
Core funding for schools with high needs will rise by an additional £1.3 billion across 2018-19 and 2019-20, in addition to previous spending plans. We will implement new funding formulas from April 2018, meaning that funding will finally be allocated on a fair and transparent basis. Together, these reforms will give schools a firm foundation that will enable them to continue to raise standards, promote social mobility, and give every child the best possible education.
My right hon. Friend recently met Shropshire teachers to learn of some of the financial constraints they are under. The new funding formula will go some way to addressing the huge disparity in funding that Shropshire schools get in comparison with inner-city areas, but can she give me an assurance that no school in Shropshire will see its budget cut as a result of this new funding formula?
I can. The £1.3 billion we are investing in schools will ensure that the formula provides a cash increase of at least 1% per pupil by 2019-20 for every single school, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, with gains of up to 3% per pupil per year for the most underfunded schools that need to catch up. For the time being, local authorities will still be responsible for finalising the distribution of funding to individual schools in their area, in consultation with those schools, but the money will be provided for all schools to gain from the new national funding formula.
In Liverpool and other cities, there is a real concern that the new formula could mean that schools lose out. Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that issues such as deprivation, prior attainment and mobility will be significant factors in any new formula?
I recognise the points that the hon. Gentleman makes. I was committed to making sure that we protected the funding for children with additional needs under this formula, and that is what I hope we will be able to do. It is, indeed, particularly important for communities such as his own.
I very much welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement before the recess of the £4,800 floor for secondary pupils. When might we expect the announcement in respect of primary school funding?
The final part of the process is to set out the Government’s response to the second stage of the consultation. We will do that very shortly. It will include a number of further final steps in relation to the formula, including for primary schools. I will set that out at the time.
Several hon. Members rose—
The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) can come in now if she wants.
14. Thank you, Mr Speaker. In Oxford West and Abingdon, many schools are struggling to meet the needs of pupil premium students in particular. The funding formula has historically been especially low in my constituency. What will the Secretary of State do to address this issue? 
We are bringing forward the funding formula because there is a long-standing inequity in our schools funding that many Governments have dodged tackling. We cannot expect all schools to achieve the same high standards when so many of them are funded on a very different basis from one another. I believe that we are doing the right thing in bringing forward this fair funding formula. I will set out the final terms of that formula shortly. I am very proud that we have finally been able to take this step. I thank the many Members of this House who have given their input and feedback to the consultation.
Schools in rural areas have been underfunded for many years under the current formula. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the matter of sparsity will be given due consideration in the revised formula and that schools in places like Cornwall will start to close the gap on the national average?
Sparsity was part of the consultation on the funding formula. It is important that we make sure that rural schools, which often face unique challenges, are protected through the formula, and that is what I am seeking to do.
The Secretary of State should be coming to the Dispatch Box first and foremost today to apologise for the collapse of the multi-academy trust in the city of Wakefield. Part of the problem is that schools are waking up to the fact that they have lost £2.8 billion since 2015. Despite another funding consultation, will she confirm or deny the figures from the National Audit Office and, while she is on her feet, apologise to the people of Wakefield?
Schools will do better out of the funding formula than they would have done had the Labour party won the last election. The Labour party only guaranteed a cash freeze, but we are going beyond that. Schools will do better under this Government than they would have done under a disastrous Corbyn Government. We are proud of the raising of standards in schools during our term in office. Nine out of 10 schools are good or outstanding, and that is something that we should be talking up, not talking down.
Education and Training: Access
2. What steps her Department is taking to help older adults from low-income backgrounds to access further education and training. 
People of all ages, backgrounds and incomes must have the opportunity to get the skills that they need. Last year, more than 655,000 people aged 45-plus participated in further education. To help older adults from low-income backgrounds, we provide full funding for English and maths, and courses for unemployed people, support through community learning and advanced learner loans for those with specific financial hardship. Loans to help remove cost barriers associated with upskilling are important, because they enable those on lower incomes to acquire the skills that they need.
Since 2015, the number of part-time students aged over 30 has dropped—by 10% in the first year alone. Funding for the adult education sector will remain frozen for five years after 2020. That real-terms cut has led to a drop-off of almost 16,000 in the number of people aged 30 and over being able to afford access to further education. Will the Secretary of State confirm what actions her Department is taking to halt this nosedive in the number of older part-time students seeking to improve their education opportunities, or have she and the Government already written those people off?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his doctoral thesis on the subject, but subsequent questions should, frankly, be shorter. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced hand, and he ought to know better.
There is absolutely no question of this Government writing anybody off. In fact, social mobility is at the heart of everything that is driving our policy. I would point out other areas where the Government are putting in substantial amounts of money. The Government are spending up to £5 million on the returner programmes to enable people to retrain and upskill, particularly in social work and our allied health professions. This is important for people who have taken a career break because of caring responsibilities. We set an ambition in our document “Building on the Industrial Strategy” to make sure that we have a proactive approach for people to learn throughout their lives.
Will the Minister ensure that the Government’s apprenticeships programme has a very strong emphasis on supporting older people from lower-income backgrounds, particularly older women?
I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that assurance. There were more than 3,000 apprenticeship starts in the over-60 age group. As somebody who belongs to that age group, I welcome opportunities to make sure that apprenticeships are available for absolutely everybody, whatever their background and whatever their age.
25. Last month, following the unprecedented and, thankfully, unsuccessful legal action to prevent publication, Ofsted was able to publish its damning report on learndirect. Given that other FE providers in a similar situation might have had their contracts terminated, is the Minister really comfortable with handing over £45 million of public money to a training provider that has been deemed inadequate in outcomes for learners? What message is she going to send to learners, and when is she going to get her eye on the ball? 
I take exception to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that I do not have my eye on the ball; I most certainly do. In addressing this issue, we have been focused on precisely what he mentions: the needs of learners. It is essential that learning provision and apprenticeship training are of the highest quality for both learners and employers. If any provision is judged to be inadequate, we will take action to protect learners. In this case, the provision judged to be inadequate by Ofsted—apprenticeships—is no longer offered by learndirect.
As the Minister is aware—I thank her for her swift involvement—Somerset Skills and Learning is experiencing a severe shortfall in funding. It provides invaluable services for adult learning, especially for people with low incomes, as well as providing grants for a range of other organisations, such as Compass Disability and Neroche Woodlanders—the latter is running a mental health project—in my constituency. Could I have the Minister’s assurance that the situation will, in some way, be ameliorated so that the courses can continue?
I praise my hon. Friend and her colleagues from Somerset for promptly bringing this to my attention. We met last week, and we have a meeting with the Education and Skills Funding Agency later today. I should mention, although it is not pertinent to this particular issue in Somerset, that procurement in transitional arrangements represents only 13% of the budget. My hon. Friend and other colleagues have made strong representations about the work that is done in Somerset.
University Technical Colleges
3. What steps have been taken to increase the number of university technical colleges. 
There are currently 49 university technical colleges open or opening this month, and one is planning to open in 2018. We will publish information on new application arrangements in the coming weeks.
The Minister and the Secretary of State are both aware of our great ambition in Gloucester to create a new UTC for pathways into health and care —the two biggest sectors of employment in Gloucestershire —but since the cancellation of the last bidding round, the question is how and when we can take this forward. The Minister has suggested it will be soon, but can he give us any further idea?
We are committed to ensuring that many more young people have access to high-quality technical education, and UTCs have an important role to play in this. However, the experience of the UTC programme has been mixed to date. Our priority is to support existing UTCs, so that they are able to offer good education. We are learning lessons from those that are open at the moment, and we will publish application arrangements for new UTCs in the coming weeks.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Alan Johnson, the former MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, who fought for many years to get the Ron Dearing UTC opened in Hull? It has actually opened its doors this morning for the very first time, and one of its priorities is to encourage more young women to study engineering and technical subjects.
I certainly add the Department’s and my congratulations to the hon. Lady’s. That is an important achievement, and we are strongly committed to the UTCs, which will help the Government in our ambition of creating parity of esteem between technical education and more academic routes.
4. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the roll-out of the Government’s policy on 30 hours of free childcare. 
Our assessment has seen great success in the 12 early delivery areas: more than 15,000 children were able to benefit from the 30 hours entitlement ahead of the offer rolling out in full, taking huge pressures off families’ lives and budgets.
Last week, 29% of families with eligibility codes for this term had not yet secured a funded childcare place. Will the Minister update the House on what progress has been made, and will he say whether there are specific parts of the country where securing a place is proving particularly problematic?
I was very pleased that by the third day of term last week—Wednesday, when we had the urgent question—71% of parents had found a place for their child. We are looking at the picture up and down the country, and where there are situations of insufficiency, we have made available £100 million of capital funding, which will fund an additional 16,000 places where we need them.
Parents in Dudley South will welcome the offer of 30 hours of free childcare. With the scheme being rolled out across the country, will the Minister confirm how many applications for places have now been made?
Certainly, 216,384 parents have secured a code. Of those, as I have said, 71% have already found a place, and no doubt more are finding additional places this week.
16. Back in 2015, David Cameron promised that the 30 hours would, in his words, be “completely free”. Every nursery I speak to in Cambridge tells me that it is having to cross-subsidise and often charge for extras, including lunch. Will the Minister tell us in what sense that is completely free? 
May I make it clear yet again that the 30 hours entitlement is free? Additional hours, lunch and other add-ons can be charged for, but they must not be a prerequisite for taking up the 30 hours.
When it is fully up and running, how many working families will be able to take advantage of the 30 hours of free childcare, and on average, how much will it be worth per year per child to each of those families?
We saw some—I think, deliberately—inaccurate reporting this week in the Sunday Mirror, which forgot completely that we are going to have three intakes in the year. As I have said, we have had more than 200,000 this time, and we will have a new intake in January and another one after Easter. This offer is worth £5,000 per child, a great fillip for families who want to get more hours at work.
In their manifesto, the Government said that they would deliver high-quality childcare for working families, supported by thousands of new nursery places every year. However, as they roll out their policy of 30 hours of free childcare, Ministers have admitted that 110,000 children of working parents will not be eligible for the extended childcare entitlement simply because their parents do not earn enough, shutting out families who most need the additional support. That strikes me not as high-quality childcare but as another broken manifesto commitment, akin to the Government’s betrayal on working tax credits in 2015. Does the Minister have any plans to deliver for the lowest-earning and hardest-pressed parents?
The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that during the roll-out in the pilot areas 23% of mothers and 9% of fathers could take additional hours. More importantly, people who could not get work at all because of the cost of childcare can now be in work, earn money and supply a better lifestyle for their families.
5. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on the financial contribution of overseas students to English universities and the classification of such students in Government immigration statistics. 
We regularly engage with the Home Office on international students, who make a great contribution to our higher education system, providing 13% of its income in 2015-16.
In light of recent exit check data, which show that the number of students who have overstayed is very low, will the Government introduce measures to grow the number of international students coming to UK universities?
We recognise the value of international students in our system, which is why we have recently asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review in full the contribution that they make to our university system. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are no limits to the number of international students who can come at present. We are second in the world in our market share of international students, and we want that to continue.
As my hon. Friend has said, international students provide a wealth of benefits to our universities. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the UK higher education sector remains a welcoming place for students from foreign countries?
It is a welcoming place, as attested to by the fact that this year, for the sixth year in a row, we have 170,000 international students coming into our system, which is a record number. We want that to continue. The work of the British Council contributes to that, as does the work of the GREAT campaign. I will be in India in November drumming up business for our universities, and I expect that other Ministers will do so too.
What action is the Minister taking in respect of overseas students on vocational courses who need to do work experience, which is regarded as illegal working by the Home Office, leading to unnecessary and heartbreaking deportations?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important question. We must ensure that our offer for international students is competitive in all respects and that they feel they will get the kind of provision that suits their needs and opportunities to learn in a workplace environment. We will study his comments with interest.
The Minister is quite right that we are doing well with international students, particularly from China and India, but universities across the UK are losing out in the recruitment of students from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, because the UK has one of the least competitive policies on post-study work in the English-speaking world. Will he commit to work with the Home Secretary to reinstate the post-study work visa?
The hon. Lady will be encouraged, I hope, by the pilots that the Home Office has recently undertaken with a number of institutions—four, I believe —to enable a more liberal post-study work regime. The Home Office and the Department for Education are examining that pilot carefully, and it is our ambition that when circumstances allow, it can be extended more broadly across the sector.
The pilot provides only a narrow range of courses that are eligible for participation in the scheme, so it needs to be widened. The Scottish National party has consistently called on the UK Government to remove international students from the net migration figures. Now that the Government figures on net migration among those students have been utterly discredited, will the Minister join us in calling for those students to be removed permanently from net migration figures?
As I said a minute ago, that would not limit numbers. The fact that they are in the migration cap does not limit the ability of institutions to recruit as many international students as they wish, provided that they meet the requisite academic standards. There is no cap and no plan to introduce a cap, and that applies to Scottish institutions as much as it does to English ones.
It is a sad fact that it actually does have an impact on the number of international students coming to the UK. For years, the Prime Minister told us that we need to clamp down on international students who overstay their visas, using figures to suggest that as many as 100,000 people are remaining in the UK illegally. In fact, we know the figure is now 4,600 students—the Government were out by 95%. Does the Minister fully support the Prime Minister’s desire to keep international students in the net migration target?
We welcome strongly the work the Office for National Statistics is now doing to improve the quality of statistics relating to international students. Like the hon. Member, we noted its preliminary conclusion that the International Passenger Survey might be systematically undercounting emigration after study. I was very pleased that the Home Office report on exit checks data, published on 24 August, showed that students are very largely compliant with immigration rules. That is an important bit of information and it underscores our intent to continue the situation whereby there is no cap on the number of students who can come and study in this country.
Social Mobility: Disadvantaged Areas
6. What steps the Government are taking to improve social mobility in disadvantaged areas. 
We are committed to supporting social mobility across the country, including in those areas that face the greatest challenges and have the fewest opportunities. At the vanguard of this approach, we are investing £72 million in 12 opportunity areas based in social mobility cold spots. We are working in these areas with local partners to improve educational attainment, to build opportunity and to broaden horizons for children and young people across early years, schools, and further and higher education.
One of the best gifts we can give young people is a job with prospects for a decent career. It helps with mental health challenges and gives them a sense of belonging to society. When we look at this part of our history, I think we will discover that one of the greatest achievements has been the reduction in unemployment among young people. Does the Secretary of State agree we must continue to do all we can to help people to transition, at the appropriate point, from full-time education to work?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend’s question sets out how important it is to have a strong economy producing jobs and opportunity for young people. We are working with the Careers & Enterprise Company to build a national network, which will connect schools and colleges with employers. Over half of schools and colleges in England are already supported by an enterprise adviser, who helps them to build strong careers and strong enterprise plans for their young people. In opportunity areas, dozens of key employers, including Rolls-Royce, NatWest and KPMG, have committed to providing tailored careers support to young people.
Pupils at the 21 schools managed by Wakefield City Academies Trust are among the most disadvantaged in the country. The collapse of the trust on Friday came as a bolt from the blue to them, their parents and their teachers. A leaked report in November found: that the trust was predicted to be £16 million in deficit; that hundreds of thousands of pounds had been spent on an interim educational consultant; and that Wakefield City high school did not even know which pupils were in receipt of pupil premium. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to make sure disadvantaged children do not miss out as a result of financial mismanagement and her Department’s incompetence?
I was agreeing with all the points the hon. Lady was making on how important it is to tackle low education standards in those schools and to make sure we take swift action to have the schools rebrokered so that standards can go up, but I fundamentally disagree with her that standards are falling. Standards are going up. In fact, the place in our United Kingdom where standards are the worst and falling is Wales, where Labour is in control. I really think that before pointing the finger at England the Labour party should be apologising to Welsh children, who are missing out because of a flawed and failing education policy.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. The erudition of contributions is equalled at the moment only by their length, but we can hope for an improvement erelong because we have the Chair of the Select Committee, Mr Robert Halfon.
In terms of social mobility, students in alternative schools are significantly disadvantaged, as a minuscule proportion get good GCSEs. What more can the Government do to give students in alternative provision the chance to climb the educational ladder of opportunity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this area. We have sought to raise standards more broadly across schools in England, and it is now important that we take those learnings—on what works and best practice—and see them spread around the alternative provision approach and system. I am determined to make sure that no child misses out on an excellent education because of the school they happen to be in, whether in Wakefield or any other part of our country.
The answer from the Secretary of State on Wakefield City Academies Trust was just not good enough, and not fair on parents, pupils—most importantly—and teachers at Freeston Academy in my constituency and many other academies. They had this announcement in the first week of the new school year—out of the blue—yet it turns out that there have been huge problems with the trust for a long time, on governance, finance, accountability and performance. Her Department has been pushing all of these schools into this model. Is it not time she had a full review of the complete failure of local accountability in these multi-academy trusts, and made sure there is enough finance and support in place for the pupils in my constituency so that they do not lose out as a result of this failed management?
We are taking swift action in Wakefield to make sure that we rebroker those schools, but, more broadly, I have to say I wish the Labour party had been as passionate about raising standards when it was in government. What children across our country actually got under Labour was falling standards and grade inflation, and what employers got was young people coming into work without the basic skills. Do you know where we still see that, Mr Speaker? It is in Wales. We will continue to raise standards in England, but perhaps Labour would be better placed to look to the area where it is in control.
22. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential that our young people have different routes open to them through which to succeed? In that spirit, what vision does she have for the future of technical education in this country? 
We have been passionate about making sure that children who post-16 and post-18 want to pursue a route that is not purely academic have every bit as gold standard an education as their peers who want to follow more academic routes. That is why we are introducing T-levels. They were announced earlier this year in the Budget, which the CBI called a “breakthrough” Budget for skills. It will not just be good for raising attainment among and developing the potential of those young people; it is critical for our businesses that they have these skills. This is a win-win situation.
7. What assessment she has made of the effect of the Government's policy on 30 hours of free childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. 
20. What assessment she has made of the effect of the Government's policy on 30 hours of free childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. 
The provision of 30 hours of free childcare is already working across the country. A recently published independent evaluation of the early roll-out programme shows that more than 80% of providers are willing and able to offer the extended hours. The Department will be investing an additional £1 billion per year by 2019-20 into the free entitlement, including more than £300 million per year to increase the national average funding rates paid to local authorities.
Given that 38% of nurseries have told the Pre-School Learning Alliance that they are unlikely to be financially viable in a year’s time, what urgent action is the Minister taking to help these providers?
As I have pointed out, we carried out a pilot to show that this could work. We also got a review of childcare costs done that was described as “thorough” and “wide-ranging” by the National Audit Office. We have increased the minimum funding rate to £4.30 per hour, which means that £4.41 is paid for three and four-year-olds in Ipswich and £5.20 for two-year-olds.
In Liverpool, Walton, 36% of children are growing up in poverty, and unemployment is twice the national average. Did Ministers give any thought to how this policy would only further entrench the development gap between those most disadvantaged children still just getting the 15 hours a week and those with parents in secure employment getting the 30 hours a week?
The most-disadvantaged children get 15 hours at age two, and we have the early-years pupil premium to help with those children as well. We are closing the attainment gap. The hon. Gentleman talks about worklessness. This funding for working parents means more people getting into work and taking the jobs that this successful economy is creating.
Reception: Starting Age
8. What progress her Department has made on giving summer-born and premature children the right to start reception at the age of five. 
We remain concerned that some summer-born children, particularly those born prematurely, are missing the reception year when the essential teaching of early reading and arithmetic takes place. However, it is important for us not to cause any unintended consequences elsewhere in the system, and we are therefore giving careful consideration to how we might make any changes. Further information will be available in due course.
As my right hon. Friend will recognise, it is two years since we had an Adjournment debate on this subject, and there is increasing frustration about the fact that the code of conduct has not yet been published. Will he agree to provide a timetable showing when he might publish it, and will he also agree to meet me to discuss the unintended consequences?
My hon. Friend has been a champion of summer-born and prematurely born children, and I pay tribute to him for that. He and I share the view that when the parents of such children exercise their right to delay their entry to school until they turn five, the children should be able to start school in reception if that is in their best interests. However, the issue is complex, and it is important for us to consider carefully the impact of changes on the earliest sector in particular. I should be delighted to continue our conversation and discussion about these matters.
Surely the Minister realises that, while it is true that the summer-born question is difficult and complex, it must be linked with a terrible stain on our education policy: the fact that little children who have been identified as bright up to the age of 11 are lost to the education system post-11. What is going on with the failed policies of a Government who cannot help kids who are bright at 11 and who disappear afterwards?
I thought that the hon. Gentleman had been born in August. He has done all right.
I wrote an open letter to all local authorities about the issue, urging them to take the wishes of parents very seriously, to act in the best interests of children when considering which age group they should start with, and to enable them to start school outside their own age group if their parents have elected not to allow them to start in the year in which they turn five. I believe that local and admission authorities are taking notice of that letter.
As my summer-born son starts his first day in reception today, I am all too well aware that the big gaps in attainment among his classmates are related not to the time of year when they were born, but to whether they come from advantaged or disadvantaged backgrounds. That is still the biggest problem facing our education system. Does the Minister agree that it needs to be tackled? If so, how does he square that with findings that I published last week with the Social Market Foundation, showing that 75% of the extra money that the Government are pumping into the early years will go to better-off families and less than 3% will go to those who are disadvantaged?
We take the issue of social mobility very seriously. The attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children has narrowed by 7% in key stage 4 and by 9.3% in key stage 2, in primary schools. However, we continue to work hard to ensure, and believe passionately in ensuring, that all children, regardless of background and regardless of where they live, are able to fulfil their potential in our education system, which is why the pupil premium provides an extra £2.5 billion a year for children with disadvantaged backgrounds.
9. What assessment she has made of the effect on children's nutrition of the absence of free primary school meals in the school holidays. 
The Government actively support the provision of nutritious food in schools. Free school meals are provided for the most disadvantaged pupils, and for every pupil in reception years 1 and 2. We have also committed £26 million to expand breakfast clubs in up to 1,600 schools. More broadly, we believe that helping households to raise their incomes by allowing them to be in work is the best way to lift families out of poverty and help children to lead healthy lives.
May I commend to the Secretary of State the private Member’s Bill tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), which will tackle the problem properly by ensuring that children who receive free school meals in term time also receive nutritious meals outside term time? If she feels that she cannot offer Government support for the Bill, may I also commend to her a charity in my constituency, Make Lunch, which is now providing meals in 50 locations —entrepreneurially, off its own bat—to tackle the problem, and will she arrange a short meeting with a Minister to discuss it?
As the hon. Gentleman sets out, there is a lot of good work happening in this area, and from my perspective, aside from what happens in schools during term-time, there are two key elements: having a strong economy that is providing people with jobs and employment, and, secondly, making sure people get to keep as much of their pay packet as possible, which is why we have not only introduced the national living wage but have increased the personal allowance. If we take those two things together, we see that somebody working 35 hours on the national minimum wage, now the national living wage, will have gained by £3,300 more through those two policies.
Will the Secretary of State take her lead from the Prime Minister, and welcome the Bill to abolish school hunger for millions of children, and might she follow the Prime Minister’s lead in bringing together the relevant Ministers, and then give us the parliamentary time so that Back Benchers on both sides of the House can finish the job for her?
The point I am trying to make is that the best way to tackle these issues is through families themselves being empowered and able to take the decisions and steps they want. What I am saying is we are doing that as a Government through having a strong economy, but also by making sure people can keep more of what they earn in the first place.
University Education: Access
10. What steps the Government are taking to make university education more accessible to young people from poorer backgrounds. 
Our student finance system is enabling record numbers of disadvantaged young people to benefit from higher education. This year, 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas in England were 43% more likely to go into higher education than in 2009-10, and, in addition, through the latest round of access agreements for 2018-19, universities have committed no less than £860 million to continue improving access and success for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I warmly welcome the fact that there are more poorer children going to university than ever before. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the initiative taken by University College, Oxford—now officially the greatest university in the world—which has reserved places every year for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that more of them have access to world-class education?
I certainly welcome that initiative by University College, Oxford, and I am pleased to say that it is not just that disadvantaged students are accessing higher education in general; they are 53% more likely now to be going to our super-selective institutions than in 2009-10, which is an extraordinary turnaround.
Disadvantaged children cannot get to university if they do not get the grades in the first place, so will the Minister ask the schools Minister to meet us in the Furness area who are looking at a major new initiative to get the private-sector local employees involved in closing the generations-long gap in GCSE numeracy and literacy attainment?
I believe my right hon. Friend the schools Minister is confirming that he would be keen to take such a meeting.
Unaccompanied Asylum-seeking and Refugee Children
11. When she plans to publish the Government’s strategy on the safeguarding of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children. 
23. When she plans to publish the Government’s strategy on the safeguarding of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children. 
The safeguarding strategy, bringing together all work in this area and setting out further detail, will be published later this autumn.
This strategy was due on 1 May, so I am keen that we see it as soon as possible. I would like to understand the reasons for the delay and to know whether the Minister has looked at whether independent guardians might work. I was struck when I visited Lesbos and Calais that there is no admin support or signposting at all for unaccompanied children seeking to make asylum claims, so having somebody with them would definitely help.
We had a general election this year, which derailed some of the timetables for these things, but it is certainly absolutely vital that all unaccompanied children seeking asylum have access to independent legal advice and are referred to the Children’s Panel.
Statistics from the organisation Every Child Protected Against Trafficking show that just in 2015, 593 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children went missing from care. Charities such as the Refugee Council and the Children’s Society have recommended that independent guardians be appointed for such children, to protect them in future. Will the Minister consider this in the safeguarding strategy?
I was the immigration Minister until just recently and worked in this area. We were well aware of the fact that some of the relatives who took children in under the Dublin regulation had not had much contact with the families beforehand and that that might not have worked out very well, but I am certainly happy to look at what the hon. Lady is saying, particularly in the light of her experience with Amnesty and Save the Children.
PE and Sport Premium
12. What steps her Department is taking to measure the effect of the PE and sport premium on childhood inactivity over the 2017-18 academic year. 
The Government want all pupils to be healthy and active, which is why since 2013 we have provided £600 million to primary schools through the primary PE and sport premium, and why we are doubling the funding to £320 million a year from this September. An evaluation in 2015 found that the premium was making a big difference and we are considering how to assess the impact of the newly doubled funding in future years.
Yes, it is making a big difference during school term time, but ukactive’s research shows that children lose a significant level of fitness in the school holidays. Using funds from the premium and the sugar tax, what can be done to open up school sports facilities for local clubs and community groups to provide sporting opportunities outside the traditional school day?
Certainly, it is important to look at every opportunity. I pay tribute to the teachers who work with children outside school hours and to the clubs and other organisations that provide fantastic sporting opportunities for our children.
The Government’s plans to address childhood inactivity should include healthy pupils capital funding. In February, the Secretary of State was clear that the amount schools would receive would not fall below £415 million, but just last week the Minister admitted that more than £300 million has been cut from that very programme, in a desperate attempt to prop up a falling schools budget—another broken promise to pupils across the country. How many projects will not go ahead because of those cuts, and how many children will lose out?
The hon. Lady needs to check her facts, as much of what she said is not borne out in fact. Under the new funding formula, a school will receive £1,000 per pupil for the first 16 and then £10 after that, which means that a school with 250 eligible pupils will receive £18,340.
13. What recent estimate she has made of the level of teacher shortages. 
There are more teachers in England’s schools than ever before. The vacancy rate remains low at 0.3% of all teachers and secondary post-graduate recruitment is at its highest level since 2011. However, we recognise that some schools face challenges, which is why we continue to invest in teacher recruitment—more than £1.3 billion up to 2020. In addition, our work in the 12 opportunity areas will ensure teacher recruitment and retention challenges are addressed.
That is a very complacent answer. The Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), said that the public sector pay cap is having a clear impact on recruitment and retention. Does the Minister agree with his right hon. Friend that the policy makes it harder to recruit the teachers we need?
We rely on the expertise of the School Teachers Review Body. It reported in July and we responded to that review. It has recommended increasing the pay bands in the main pay range by 2%, and by 1% for the remaining pay bands. Pay is of course important, but it is not the only factor that drives teachers in or out of the profession. Others include workload and pupil behaviour, and we also take those issues seriously.
Can more creative use be made of the price mechanism in those subjects with shortages?
We have generous tax-free bursaries, which we use imaginatively, and we reflect the challenges of recruiting the best graduates into teaching. Bursaries of up to £25,000 are available for graduates in those priority subjects.
I have previously exhorted the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) to circulate his textbook on succinct questions. It is now timely that he should do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) made a very good point, and the School Teachers Review Body, the Education Select Committee and the Secretary of State’s predecessor have all said that pay has contributed to the crisis in teacher recruitment, but—notably—not the Prime Minister. Last week, our research showed that the Government’s freeze and cap on public sector pay has left the average teacher more than £5,000 a year worse off. Will the Secretary of State get the cap lifted for schools or is she telling us that nothing has changed?
We rely on the expertise of the School Teachers Review Body and the extensive and thorough review carried out by it. It has made recommendations, which we have accepted, that the main pay bands should increase by 2%—the minimum and maximum—and that the bands for more senior teachers should increase by 1%.
There are 15,500 more teachers today than when Labour left office in 2010. We are meeting 93% of the target of recruiting graduates into teacher training. More returners are coming back into teaching in 2016 than in 2011, and more people came into teaching than left last year.
Teaching Assistants: Recruitment and Retention
15. What plans she has to help recruit and retain teaching assistants in schools; and if she will make a statement. 
Responsibility for the recruitment and retention of teaching assistants rests at the local level with headteachers and school employers, who are best placed to use their professional judgment to recruit and retain teaching assistants to best meet the needs of their schools and pupils.
That answer is simply not good enough. Low pay is a barrier to the recruitment and retention of teaching assistants. Figures from the GMB’s pay pinch report, taking the consumer prices index into consideration, show that a higher level teaching assistant has lost £9,200 over the past seven years and that that will rise to over £12,000 by 2020 unless something is done about the public sector pay cap. Is it not time that we stopped hearing weasel words from the Government about how much they value those staff and that they started to pay them the rate for the job?
We do value teachers and teaching assistants. They do a good job of phenomenally challenging work in our schools, which is why we have 1.5 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools today than we did in 2010. The hon. Gentleman is wrong about the number of teaching assistants, which has been increasing year on year. Today, there are 265,600 full-time equivalent teaching assistants in state-funded schools.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. 
Nine out of 10 schools in England are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, which is testament to our relentless pursuit of high standards through education reforms. This summer, our students took their first three reformed GCSE subjects and received their results, and there were also successes in improved A-levels, too, with a record number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds securing a place at university. We are extending high standards into further and technical education by introducing T-levels to deliver choice and build a world-class skills system. Of course, 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds is now live nationally in England for the first time, saving families up to £5,000 a year per child. All those reforms have a common theme of social mobility, and I am proud that this Government are tackling disadvantage through the education system.
I had the great pleasure of attending the apprentice graduation ceremony in Dounreay in my constituency, and it is great to see young people being equipped with skills for their careers. What can we do to make it easier for small companies in my constituency to engage with and take up the apprenticeship scheme?
One of the things that we have pushed in England through the apprenticeship levy is to ensure that large firms will be able to pass some of that levy down to smaller firms for them to use. It is critical that we reach our target of getting 3 million apprentices by 2020. This is about having a strong economy, producing strong opportunities and ensuring that SMEs can help to connect young people with apprenticeships.
T2. As the Secretary of State is aware, apprentices and technical education are an important part of our educational offering, and I am fortunate in my constituency to have an excellent-rated apprenticeship provider called In-Comm. What more are the Government doing to increase the number of high-quality apprenticeships for young people? 
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have introduced the levy, which is an important part of encouraging sustained employer investment in high-quality apprenticeships. The Institute for Apprenticeships, which was set up in April, has developed standards to replace frameworks, ensuring consistency of achievement, and we have enshrined the term “apprenticeship” in legislation, which is important for raising their prestige. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to praise the work done in her constituency; I recently visited an employer that has 54 apprentices on the go at any one time.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. The emphasis in topical questions is supposed to be on quick-fire questions and quick-fire responses. I am not sure that that has been altogether grasped either by those who advise Ministers and tend to write out long and tedious screeds or even by Ministers themselves, but it would help if it was.
Last week’s stunning National Audit Office report said that the Department for Education could not show that £200 million from LIBOR funds pledged by the Government for 50,000 apprenticeships for unemployed 22 to 24-year-olds had actually been used for that purpose. Eighteen months ago, when I tabled four parliamentary questions on the issue, Ministers ducked and dodged answering. Was the £200 million shoved down a Treasury sofa, or was it just pocketed by DFE? What is the Secretary of State going to do now that the NAO has found the Government out?
Nobody, neither the Treasury nor the Department for Education, is shoving money down the sofa—£200 million was given to the Department as part of the apprenticeship budget, and that was allocated in the 2015 spending review. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman cared to listen, he might find out the answer. I am satisfied that the money is being spent on those who need it.
T3. I recently visited two excellent primary schools in my constituency, West Wimbledon and Joseph Hood, both of which want to know when the Secretary of State will publish the full details of the national funding formula and whether she will confirm that no school will see a reduction in its funding as a result. 
We will be publishing it very shortly. As I have said to other hon. Friends and colleagues, we will ensure that no school loses as a result of the national funding formula. In fact, schools will gain, unlike what would have happened had Labour won the election.
T4. This House should be commended for legislating for relationship education for all primary schoolchildren, which will create a more tolerant society and benefit child protection. Will the Secretary of State outline the introduction of that relationship education and tell us the additional resources she will be giving to schools? 
I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s support for the steps the Government are taking, and I welcome her role in supporting relationship education in her previous role on the Opposition Front Bench. We will set out the details of the engagement process that will be getting under way to make sure that we get the next proposals right. It is important that we are sensitive to this particular topic and, given her interest in this area, I hope she will continue to stay involved.
In answer to the first topical question today, the Secretary of State identified how a company can use its apprenticeship levy down the supply chain. Does she agree it is a good idea to allow companies to go even further down the supply chain to support science, technology, engineering and maths teachers? That will not only encourage links between businesses, schools and teaching but will encourage more bright graduates to go into STEM and other subjects.
The relationship between employers and schools has never been more important, particularly in the STEM subjects, which are so crucial to British business. Whether we are raising standards in maths and science or whether the university technical college programme is formally connecting employers and education, the Government are looking across the board to ensure that that relationship is strong.
T5. I very much welcome what the Universities Minister had to say last week about excessive pay packages for university vice-chancellors and the measures he is taking to try to get vice-chancellors to justify those packages to their university courts. Does he really think that that will make a difference given that vice-chancellors are paid so much more than the £150,000 talked about? 
I thank the hon. Lady for her words of support for our intervention. It is important that there is transparency and accountability on how funds are used, and I am confident that the Office for Students will use its powers effectively to achieve that.
The Secretary of State will know that West Somerset is an opportunity area, and we have a big reskilling requirement to take full advantage of the construction of Hinkley Point C. Does she share my concern, therefore, about the reduction of funding for Somerset Skills & Learning? And will she encourage her Department to do all that is necessary to restore the funding as quickly as possible?
I met my hon. Friend last week, and he raises an important point about the skills that will be needed at Hinkley Point. I look forward to having a meeting, which I think he will attend, on the future steps we can take.
T6. Nottingham faces at least a decade of growing demand for secondary school places. Although the local authority has a duty to provide places, it has no power to direct the city’s 16 secondary schools, all of which will soon be academies, to expand provision or even to admit to their full capacity. Will she act now and require all publicly funded providers to engage and work with their local authority on place planning, or is she simply determined to put her ideological faith in free schools before the needs of our city’s young people? 
It is important to see local authorities working with schools effectively and working with them to expand if they are popular. The bottom line is that through the free schools programme we have brought forward thousands of badly needed school places and extra choice for parents, and overwhelmingly these schools are doing a great job at educating our children.
Given that fractured family relationships can be such a driver of disadvantage for many young people, will Ministers consider how relationships education can equip young people with the skills to help them strengthen their family relationships, particularly as they mature? Will the Minister meet a group of concerned Members about this issue?
We have said that we are making relationships education in primary school mandatory, because we feel that children need to go into secondary on a firm footing, understanding this area, and they can then build on that with sex education. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and other colleagues; obviously, this is an important topic for the House.
T7. The Minister will know how many summer-born children needlessly end up on the special needs register because of the lack of specific targets and support to help them close the gap on their older classmates. What guidance and resources is the Minister giving to schools so that children get the help they need? 
As I have said, we have written to local authorities to say that they should take the best interests of children into account when determining which year group summer-born children go into. It is important that children who start school immature or with other special educational needs get the support they need, and our schools are providing that support.
Broadfield House in my constituency was, sadly, the site of the first free school to be closed by the Department for Education, and the building has remained empty for far too long. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the building will be brought back into educational or at least community use in the near future?
That is an example of our taking swift action when an academy or free school is not working—that was why it was closed swiftly. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the future of that site.
T8. Lewisham has the highest level of hospital admissions in London for self-harm among 10 to 14-year-olds. With an average of three children in each classroom currently suffering from a mental health condition, how long will it be before we see the publication of the promised Green Paper on children’s mental health? When we will see real action backed up by proper funding? 
We will be publishing that paper later in the year. In the meantime, we have already committed to expanding the single point of contact plan, which is making sure schools have an identified point of contact within the NHS. We can learn and build on that excellent initiative.
The number of children being schooled at home has almost doubled over the past six years; we have 441 in Warwickshire, including children of my constituents. Is the Secretary of State convinced that each of these children is receiving an education suitable for their age, aptitude and ability?
Very many children who are educated at home are educated to an extremely high standard, and many parents want this freedom for their children. Local authorities have a duty to ensure that children who are not in school are receiving an adequate education.
T9. It cannot be right—can it?—that sixth formers are given 21% less funding than 11 to 16-year-olds, so will the Government respond to the constructive campaign by the Association of School and College Leaders, the Association of Colleges and the Sixth Form Colleges Association by fundamentally reviewing post-16 funding? 
The hon. Gentleman had a Westminster Hall debate last week where we discussed this issue at length. Although he does not like me going on about this, I would direct him to what we are doing with apprenticeships and T-levels, which also has an impact and will produce funding in those colleges.
Personal finance education in schools is a key way of skilling up young people, so will the Minister meet me soon to discuss further plans to make available to schools a textbook on personal finance education through the all-party group on financial education for young people?
Financial education is important. It is in the national curriculum and in the maths curriculum, which is an essential way of children becoming financially literate. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and I am particularly keen to discuss textbooks.
T10. At a time when 16-to-19 education is in dire need of additional investment, does the Minister agree that schools and colleges should at least receive all the Government funding set aside to educate sixth-form students? 
Record funding is going into schools and, overall, we are scaling up our technical-education funding. That is accompanied by more steps to raise standards in further education colleges.
Will the Minister confirm whether the Government agree with local government-controlled multi-academy trusts?
There are limits to the influence and voting proportion that local authorities can have in multi-academy trusts. This is about a new independence for academies. I have been discussing with my hon. Friend the particular multi-academy trust about which he is concerned, and I am happy to continue to have those discussions with him and with my noble Friend Lord Nash.
Flammable cladding has been found on university halls of residence and privately provided student accommodation throughout the country. With students returning to that accommodation in the coming weeks, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure their safety?
The higher education sector has taken this issue very seriously indeed. The Department has had a positive and comprehensive response from all 238 HEFCE-funded providers and designated alternative providers. When issues have been identified, providers have been quick to respond to protect student safety. Officials will continue to work closely with those in the Department for Communities and Local Government who are reviewing private student accommodation.
Michaela Community School, a free school that I have the honour of chairing and having co-founded, was recently graded outstanding in its first Ofsted report. My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards has visited the school; will the ministerial team join me in congratulating the staff, teachers and pupils at Michaela—led by the inspirational Katharine Birbalsingh—who are transforming young people’s lives?
I congratulate the Michaela school, all its staff and its headteacher. They have done an outstanding job which has now been reflected in the Ofsted report. Most important is the impact that has had on those young people’s futures, which are significantly enhanced by their going to that school.
Earlier, the Secretary of State announced more funding for schools. Will she acknowledge that schools are undergoing a £3 billion reduction in funding because of efficiency savings? That is nearly double what she is offering instead. Does she agree that she is giving with one hand while taking away more with the other? For schools such as those in Hackney to remain excellent, we need decent funding so that they do not have to lose teaching staff.
I am not sure that I do agree with the hon. Lady. Following my £1.3 billion funding announcement, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that we were going to see real-terms protected per-pupil funding across the remainder of this spending-review period.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am sorry, but time is against us and we must move on. Approximately 90 Members wish to speak in today’s debate.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Debate resumed (Order, 7 September).
Question proposed (7 September), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Amendment proposed (7 September): to leave out from ‘That’ to the end of the Question and add
‘That this House respects the EU referendum result and recognises that the UK will leave the EU, believes that insisting on proper scrutiny of this Bill and its proposed powers is the responsibility of this sovereign Parliament, recognises the need for considered and effective legislation to preserve EU-derived rights, protections and regulations in UK law as the UK leaves the EU but declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill because the Bill fails to protect and reassert the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty by handing sweeping powers to Government Ministers allowing them to bypass Parliament on key decisions, without any meaningful or guaranteed Parliamentary scrutiny, fails to include a presumption of devolution which would allow effective transfer of devolved competencies coming back from the EU to the devolved administrations and makes unnecessary and unjustified alterations to the devolution settlements, fails to provide certainty that rights and protections will be enforced as effectively in the future as they are at present, risks weakening human rights protections by failing to transpose the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law, provides no mechanism for ensuring that the UK does not lag behind the EU in workplace protections and environmental standards in the future and prevents the UK implementing strong transitional arrangements on the same basic terms we currently enjoy, including remaining within a customs union and within the Single Market.’.—(Keir Starmer.)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
Before I call the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who will open the debate and be subject to a six-minute limit, may I please make a plea? I ask colleagues not to come to the Chair, or cause someone to come to the Chair on their behalf, with any of the following inquiries. “Am I on your list?”—if you applied, you are. “Am I going to be called?”—you might be, or you might not. “If so, when will it be?”, “May I repair to the Tea Room for a cup of tea and a biscuit?”, or “Is it in order for me to go to the loo?”—for which I read, “Am I about to be called?”. Please, colleagues, I will do my best, but there are approximately 90 people wanting to speak. Some might be disappointed; I am afraid that is parliamentary life. I will make my best endeavours. Please exercise the patience, stoicism and fortitude for which you all are, or hope to become, universally renowned throughout your constituencies.
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.]
Order. This is very unfair on the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). This is an extremely important debate, and she has been called to speak, but there is a considerable hubbub of private conversations, which is unfair and, dare I say it, a tad discourteous. Let us give her a fair hearing, which should then be extended to every other contributor to the debate.
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.
The Bill represents not just a step along the way towards departure from the European Union, but an unacceptable attempt by the Government to strengthen their hand when it comes to exercising legislative power—and this at a time when the general belief is that we should be going in the opposite direction, in effect giving a bigger role to Parliament.
Only three years ago, the Hansard Society published its robust critique of the system in its report, “The Devil is in the Detail”, yet this Bill confers a breathtaking range of delegated powers on Ministers. For example, the Bill, if given Royal Assent unamended, will give Ministers the power to start implementing the withdrawal agreement before this House has even had a chance to debate and vote on it. The Bill will also allow for its own amendment under delegated powers. There are instances, of course, of that happening in the past, but this is different, because the power is drawn so broadly that it could be used to amend all parts of the Act. The Bill also allows for the amendment, under delegated powers, of primary legislation already on the statute book.
Surely, if the Government were genuinely committed to a smooth Brexit that restored total sovereignty to Westminster, they would not have taken such a cavalier approach to this critically important piece of legislation. One can only conclude that the incorporation of significant delegated powers in the Bill, combined with the scope for extensive use of statutory instruments under the negative procedure, demonstrates that the Government are running scared of parliamentary democracy; or rather, that they are so arrogant that they believe that they can impose their will regardless of the opinion of the House.
I would go further and argue that the Government’s approach to the Bill threatens a chaotic Brexit, because they refuse to recognise that their use of delegated powers in the Bill pushes our democracy beyond breaking point. That attitude threatens nothing but discord if the Bill goes on the statute book unamended, and in that context, it will do little to deliver a smooth Brexit. Let me be clear: I accept that an efficient and businesslike approach is needed if we are to prepare ourselves successfully for exit from the European Union, but the Government seem incapable of accepting that this approach can be secured while according Parliament its proper and democratic role in scrutinising the powers in the Bill, and the statutory instruments that will emerge over time if it gains Royal Assent.
The Hansard Society has shown us the way, providing us with a framework for scrutiny that removes unnecessary and time-consuming procedures for uncontested SIs, while giving the Commons a more meaningful voice in the process leading to the enactment of the more complex and challenging instruments. I hope that the Government will change their mind; there is a way forward on the table. I hope that those on the Government Front Bench will indicate today that they are prepared to amend the Bill in Committee to allow for meaningful reform of the way in which Parliament scrutinises delegated powers and their use by Ministers, but so far we have had only a weak indication from the Government that they will bend on this all-important principle, and that is just not good enough. That is why I will vote against Second Reading tonight unless things change during the debate.
If I do vote against Second Reading tonight, it is not because I am voting against Brexit. That would be a huge misrepresentation of the nature of this debate and the nature of the decisions involved if we agree to Second Reading. Rather, I will be voting against a Brexit badly handled, which threatens to weaken further our long-established and hard-won democratic traditions.
This Bill is, fundamentally, not a decision-making Bill; it is an enabling Bill—it is an administrative measure. I spent many years on the Opposition Benches—on the Front Bench and on the Back Benches—practising the professional outrage we saw practised very effectively in the Chamber last Thursday and, if I may so, just now by the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith). Of course, there are scintillas of truth in the points being made, but we should remember that the big decisions have been made—on 23 June last year and in the article 50 Act. We are leaving the European Union, and a vote against the Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) pointed out, is just a vote for chaos and a chaotic Brexit, rather than a smooth transition.
Much of the debate is actually not about sovereignty, but about scrutiny and the proper role of Parliament, as the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge just said. There is huge complexity to deal with, and a quantity of legislative changes need to be made, but we need to keep this in proportion. If the official Opposition are really serious about having a sensible discussion about how to improve the scrutiny of secondary legislation, and particularly of the so-called Henry VIII provisions, let us have that conversation, and I would be delighted to talk about how we do those things. However, the Hansard Society proposals are far more about the procedures we adopt in this House and in the other place than about making fundamental changes to the Bill, albeit that some changes may be necessary.
My hon. Friend and I rarely agree totally on European matters, but I actually agree with him that we need a practical Bill, not a policy Bill, that enables us to have a smooth transition. Would he therefore not agree that the whole issue under debate could be solved if the Government agreed to amend the Bill so that they gave themselves only the powers the Secretary of State explained to us yesterday that he requires, and so that it achieves only the ambitions that his letter to all MPs set out? Surely no one would miss the rather sweeping powers in clauses 7, 9 and so on if they were removed, because the Government express no intention of using them in the way everybody fears.
My right hon. and learned Friend sets out the common ground we should all be on. However, the debate was not assisted by Tony Blair, who was on the television yesterday speaking about how to deal with this issue. He said:
“Paradoxically, we have to respect the referendum vote to change it.”
There is an understandable suspicion among Conservative Members that some people have not really accepted that we are leaving the European Union. The fact that the official Opposition have chosen to vote against the whole Bill underlines that they are rather reluctant to accept the decision the British people have made.
Before I move on, I should re-emphasise that the Hansard Society proposals have a lot to them, and we should be able to discuss them. I hope that, behind the scenes, colleagues will talk across parties on these matters, as one or two of us have already suggested we should.
However, let me put this in the much wider context, because we are getting rather lost in the detail of the Bill. We are forgetting what the Bill is for and the context it is being discussed in: we are leaving on 28 March—or whichever date it actually is—next year. It might be helpful to have the exit date on the face of the Bill at the outset, to provide additional clarity that negotiations are in progress, or should be.
I think everyone is getting a bit disappointed that there has not been more substantive discussion about the issues that really matter. The European Union’s position is beginning to look more and more unreasonable as it refuses to discuss the end state of the relationship that we all want to see, insisting on an up-front payment, or promise of payment, before it will discuss those matters. I have absolutely no doubt that the EU is playing for time for some reason, possibly because of the German elections, and is likely to crumble on that, and to start to talk seriously about the issues that we need to discuss.
We can talk too much and too glibly about cliff edges; I notice that even the Government have put the term “cliff edge” into their documents. Let us face it—the United Kingdom does not want a cliff edge. We are offering the rest of the European Union seamless trade, as far as possible, no tariff barriers and mutual recognition for products and services.
My hon. Friend sets out the very essence of the Bill. This is not about a sudden change, but about transposing EU law into British law and evolving as we move forward as a sovereign nation.
Absolutely right. The point is that we want that smooth transition; the only reason there is a possibility that there will not be one is the intransigence so far of the European Union. The paradox is that there are people who were very much in favour of Britain’s membership of the European Union who clearly think that the European Union will inflict the most ghastly cliff edge on our country. I think better of the EU. There are sensible people in the European Union who will not want tariffs, or tariff barriers, or new and unnecessary restrictions on trade between our two countries. They will not want to de-recognise so many of the mutual recognitions we already have. They will want to secure the jobs of their people and their countries just as much as we want to secure ours.
Even if we leave without an agreement, I think the biggest challenge is being ready in time. My biggest concern is that there are still parts of Government that do not seem to be preparing quickly enough. On the question of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the customs arrangements, are those at HMRC spending money on what we need in place in case there is no deal? I keep hearing that they are waiting for instructions, as though there will be something much clearer for them to work against, but we have to face the fact that we might well leave without a comprehensive settlement of some kind, and that our customs arrangements and all the other arrangements will have to be ready in time. This Bill enables us to do that.
I will end my speech a little early by emphasising that a vote against this Bill would be a terrible disappointment, and I would not take such a vote at face value, as I do not think that the vast majority of hon. Members in this House want to create a chaotic Brexit. They will be voting for a tactical defeat, because they know that they cannot succeed in this debate.
We should concentrate on the fact that we have far more in common with our European partners than divides us. That will be the same after we have left the European Union as it is now. I look across the Chamber at the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin); we stood together in one of the glorious Suffolk churches of East Anglia last night and sang Beethoven’s ninth symphony and the words of Schiller’s great poem, the “Ode to Joy”. Incidentally, it was composed more than 100 years before the European Union was invented and has absolutely nothing to do with political and monetary union under the European Union. We are leaving the European Union; we are not leaving Europe.
I can be mercifully brief. I wish to make two points. First, I will vote tonight for the only option that implements the referendum result. That was the wish of my constituents and that was the wish of the country. I do not wish any different view to be put forward about whose side I am on—I am on the side of the majority of people who voted to come out.
Secondly, I want to address those on the Government Benches. When we started this process, many people bravely went against their lifetime views to implement the views of their constituents, but given the frailty of human nature we have had one or two recidivists who are now thinking, having read Thursday’s debate, that there may be reasons for not doing this or not doing the other. When we come back in Committee, I will table a four-clause Bill, because the Government, by having this mega-Bill, are storing up no end of trouble from Members who are wolves in sheep’s clothing and who will try to undo the measure.
We need four crucial things from that Bill. First, we need a leave date. Secondly, we need to incorporate all European Union law and regulations. The third clause will give us the means by which the House of Commons and then their lordships review which laws we want to keep, which we want to improve, and which we want to do away with. We are voting from midnight tonight, and there is talk that it will be 3 o’clock on Wednesday morning before we vote on tomorrow’s business. With regard to the idea that this place is equipped to review all that legislation, there is shedloads upon shedloads upon shedloads, and it would fill up the House of Commons on several occasions. We therefore need a means whereby we review which legislation we will keep and which we will not. Fourthly, in case there are problems with people with their little hands on our windpipes who think, “If we can hold them to the two years, we will get what we want”, we need a safe haven.
That is what we need from this exit Bill: first, the date; secondly, the incorporation of everything; thirdly, a method of review; and fourthly, for a limited period, a safe haven. I hope that when we go into Committee, the Government will adopt those four proposals as clause 1 so that we can very quickly implement this Bill. We can then bring forward small Bills to implement other parts of the mega-Bill they are putting before us, should we need them. I hope that when the whole House of Commons is in Committee, we will carry that amendment.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) that this Bill is merely an enabling piece of legislation—a process whereby we can achieve what the country asked us to do. As I understand it, the Government are willing to consider changes in Committee. I hope that they will look at his amendments, and also perhaps mine.
I am sure that all my colleagues here, like me, have been on the receiving end of various emails about this Bill urging us to vote for it, against it or against the programme motion, or complaining about the arrangements for devolution. Voting against it certainly does not make any sense, particularly after the House passed the article 50 legislation. The Bill is the vehicle for the Government and this House to deal with a unique and extraordinary situation and ensure a functioning statute book as we leave the EU. Unless they are trying to rerun the referendum or create chaos in the process, voting against it should not be an option for any Member tonight.
Ministers have indicated that they will be flexible wherever possible. On the programme motion, however, I think, having lived through the Maastricht debates, that there is little to be gained and much to be lost by prolonging any debate unnecessarily, and eight days seems a reasonable length of time. Our businesses and organisations will not thrive with ongoing uncertainty, and this Bill increases the progress being made to provide the stability and certainty they require for a smooth transition and continuity of business post Brexit.
On devolved matters, our membership of the EU predates devolution to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. It was the UK Government who gave away these powers to the EU, and it is UK Government who will reclaim them. As far as I am aware, the Government have not resiled in any way from devolution; instead, they have recently increased the powers transferred to Wales and Scotland. The Secretary of State has reconfirmed that the current powers will remain exactly the same throughout the process, and the devolved Administrations will, in fact, prepare the devolved statute books for a smooth exit in Cardiff and Edinburgh, with appropriate arrangements for Northern Ireland. Further, he has indicated that in the interim period, if any adjustments need to be made in the areas that are being repatriated, the relevant Administrations will be consulted.
On delegated powers, I see the Bill not as a power grab, which is how it has been painted, but as a pragmatic approach to ensuring that no unnecessary complex disadvantages further burden business in the devolved countries. I hope that an accommodation will be reached on other differences in that area, and I know that the Front-Bench team is listening carefully.
I want to raise one subject on which I would like clarification. The repeal Bill, as it stands, does not prevent the continued application by UK courts after Brexit of EU law to cases in which the facts occurred at a time when EU law, including the law relating to remedies, was in force. So although, if I understand it correctly, there is provision for a Francovich case to be heard if it is lodged before exit day, and there is provision for the consideration of EU legal principles, the repeal Bill does not provide for a transitional reference—one that is made before the exit date but does not come back until after the exit date, or one that is made after the exit date. I hope that Ministers will consider a new clause that allows references on cases that are under way, and that they will look into the matter to ensure that the Government do not abuse their position or evade their responsibilities as a by-product of Brexit.
The Ministers on the Front Bench will be particularly aware of my battles against HS2, which are well documented, and it is worth noting that even former very senior civil servants now virtually acknowledge that the Government went ahead with that monstrous project against advice. What the project has done is throw into sharp relief the need for environmental protections to be effective and maintained, so that we do not take any backward steps. Where the EU has done some good work, it has been on environmental safeguards. I think it is right to remind Ministers on Second Reading that any changes to these areas must be thought through so as not to dilute the protections and the promotion of environmental law, and I seek assurances on those matters.
In conclusion, we have all heard the rather simplistic attempts to give this process a prejudicial descriptor—hard or soft Brexit—which are a product of polarised viewpoints. I prefer a practical approach and, with perhaps a few modifications, the Bill will do what it says on the tin. It provides a method of facilitating a very complex legal and constitutional extrication, the need for which has resulted from a democratic vote to leave the European Union. I will therefore support the Government in the Lobby tonight, and I hope that many of my Opposition colleagues, as well as my friends on the Government Benches, will do the same.
Although I campaigned and argued for this country to remain a part of the European Union, I fully accept that that is not the majority view of the country. But I would argue that this is the wrong way to leave the European Union. This is not a general enabling Bill; it is a poorly thought-out, complex and undemocratic piece of legislation. One of the most fundamental problems with the Bill is that it amounts to—yes—a power grab by this Government. That power grab takes several forms, but I want to focus on just two aspects.
First, there is the widespread use of Henry VIII powers, allowing the Government effectively to bypass Parliament and change primary legislation through secondary legislation. That has, of course, happened in the past, but not on such a huge scale as is planned now. As a result of this Bill, we will see extensive use of those undemocratic powers, because some 12,000 EU regulations will be brought into UK law. Some of them will make changes for technical reasons, but, as the most recent paper from the House of Commons Library states, it is anticipated that others will enable “substantive policy changes” to be made by the Government. So changes are likely to be introduced through Committees, which is why the Government are doing their best to pack those Committees with their own MPs, against the established procedure of the House.
We are also seeing an unprecedented power grab with regard to devolution. As a Welsh Member of Parliament and a former Wales Office Minister, I have followed devolution very closely. Many of us expected, as did the devolved institutions themselves, that this Bill would make real the promises the Government set out in their White Paper.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
There are many speakers, as we have heard, and I am sorry, but I would rather press on.
In the White Paper of March 2017, it was stated that there would be a significant increase in the decision-making powers of the devolved institutions. That was there in black and white. It also intimated that former EU frameworks would be subject to decisions involving the devolved Governments, but such is not the case. The Bill before us does not return powers from the EU to the devolved institutions, as promised. Instead, in devolved areas, such as agriculture and the environment, power is going from Brussels to London, bypassing and therefore undermining devolution. Moreover, this Bill in effect imposes a freeze on the legislative competences of the devolved institutions. As a report by the Welsh Assembly research department points out, the devolved institutions will not be able to modify so-called retained EU law for Wales and Scotland, but a Conservative British Government will be able to do so for England, and may even be able to do so for the devolved nations.
In the last Parliament, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee took evidence on this matter from the same academic who advised the Scottish Parliament, and he was very clear that the powers being reserved under these proposals were only ever notionally devolved, because they were of course reserved by virtue of our membership of the European Union. This is not a power grab; the Government’s objective is to make sure that the devolved Administrations finish up with more powers than they had before.
We are not talking about notional, theoretical powers; we are talking about actual powers on the statute book, and about whether one institution or another is able to enact laws according to that legislation.
There is a big difference between what was in the White Paper and what is in the legislation before us. What is more, undemocratic changes have been introduced without even a modicum of prior discussion, let alone negotiation, with the devolved institutions. This power grab by the Conservative Government is an affront to the devolved institutions, but it is also a slap in the face of the people of Scotland and of Wales. As Carwyn Jones, the First Minister, said in the Welsh Assembly in July, there is a popular mandate for what the Welsh Government are arguing. To quote him exactly:
“The 2011 referendum…saw a large majority vote in favour of giving this National Assembly primary legislative powers”,
but the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is
“an attempt to take back control over devolved policies…not just from Brussels, but from Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.”
In his letter to Members of Parliament, dated 7 September, the First Secretary of State said that the arrangement I have described was a “transitional arrangement”. My question is: how long is this transitional arrangement for? How long is the period to which we are referring? How long is the rapid period mentioned in the explanatory memorandum? Is it one month, one year, 10 years, 20 years—how long? This Bill is an undemocratic blank cheque that, if passed, will give unprecedented powers to this Government.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Bill has as its prime objective not so much withdrawing Britain from the European Union as concentrating as much power as possible in the hands of a feeble minority Government, headed by a caretaker Prime Minister. Under the cloak of leaving the European Union, the Government seek to emasculate this House and centralise power in their own hands. If the Government were solely concerned about leaving the European Union, there are other ways that it could have been done—other measures could have been put forward—but, no, they chose this particular route. Rather than looking forward to a new and positive relationship with the European Union, this Bill takes us back to the days when the UK was totally London-orientated and inward-looking. That is why I will vote against it, and why I believe that is the right thing to do.
Our greatest parliamentary exponent of parliamentary democracy coined the phrase, “In Victory: Magnanimity.” Although, as one or two of my friends know, I am a leaver and my constituency voted 60% to leave, I think that that should be the Government’s approach, both to Parliament in the Chamber and to our European partners and allies. I do not think that it is enough just to allow time on a rainy Thursday on a one-line Whip. The Government should be as generous as possible with time, to allow the House to consider these matters. Personally, I do not see why we could not have three or four days on the Bill, as many people have put in a request to speak. After all, we spend a lot of our time discussing not very much. I would be open-hearted and generous with Parliament.
Before I refer specifically to the Bill, may I say by way of introduction that it would be useful to improve the atmosphere around the process? The truth is that this is a democratic process. Those of us who asked to leave the European Union made our arguments on the basis that we wanted to improve parliamentary democracy and put our people back in charge. That should be our whole approach, and it should be the Government’s approach.
To put that in context, I would be open-hearted and generous in the negotiations between Monsieur Barnier and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The important thing is that we are leaving, but I do not see why we should not be generous with the financial settlement. We should be as generous as the law dictates, but there is also the spirit of the law. As we have been in an organisation for 42 years, and as we have decided to leave—it has its own spending plans—I do not see why we should not assist it with some of its spending plans until 2021. After all, if we pay less, others will have to pay more. Some of my closest friends do not agree with that. We have the law on our side, but precisely because of that we can be generous.
On the rights of citizens, I have just spent time with Italian Senators who are visiting the building, and with the Italian ambassador. We need to be open-hearted and generous towards European citizens who live here, and proclaim now that we are absolutely committed to preserving their rights and those of every EU citizen, on benefits—[Interruption.] I know that we have done it, but we should keep repeating that we are determined to protect those rights. We should be open-hearted and generous in dealing with the House of Commons, in dealing with money, and in dealing with the rights of EU citizens. If we approach life and these negotiations in that spirit, doors might begin to open.
I listened to the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—a brilliant lawyer. We are both lawyers. I am just a jobbing barrister doing criminal law in London. That is what I did when I was a young man. I cannot possibly match his debating skills. He does have a point, and we Conservatives should recognise that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) has a point; the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) has a point; my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has a point. I will, of course, vote for the Bill, because that is what the people want me to do, and it is what my constituents want me to do. There is no alternative, but amendments will be tabled when we are sitting in a Committee of the whole House. I serve on the Panel of Chairs, and I know the Government’s position is always to reject all amendments. This time, they should be positive if something improves parliamentary scrutiny. We are going to get our way; the Government have a majority, supported by the Democratic Unionist party. We should be generous with our Scottish friends. If they have a genuine desire to ensure that powers from the EU do not come to the Westminster Parliament but go to the Scottish Parliament, we should be generous towards them.
There is a lot of false anger. I have sat through many debates in which shadow Secretaries of State puffed themselves up. We have heard a lot about Henry VIII. When I was a rebel I used to care about these things. Now I am a loyalist I let the Government get away with it in many ways. Henry VIII is a bastard, but he is my kind of bastard.
I have made my point. Listen to the House, accept some amendments and ensure that this process is time limited. The key thing for our constituents is this: that we leave the EU at the end of March 2019; that any implementation period lasts only two years; and that we then become an open, free-trading nation with the whole world, with a free trade agreement with the EU. Stick to the essentials, be confident, be generous with the House and we will win this battle.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and his constructive and positive contribution.
There is no doubt that Brexit poses a great number of challenges to the Government and to MPs of all parties, not least the challenge of replacing European Union laws and jurisdiction with equivalent UK laws and regulations under UK jurisdiction. That is the purpose of the Bill. It is not really a repeal Bill; rather it is the “great adoption” Bill, as it incorporates a huge swathe of EU laws that the UK signed up to into UK law. That is needed so that there will be a legal basis for a whole range of economic, environmental and social activity on the day after we leave the EU in March 2019. For that reason, I do not regard the Bill as hugely controversial—it would be different if it were to abolish workers’ rights, abandon paid holidays and end pollution controls, but it does not. However, it is undoubtedly the case that the Bill needs amending for many of the reasons outlined by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer).
First, on the Henry VIII clauses, transferring all EU laws and regulations into UK law is an unenviable task. It would also be impossible to put every change or updated regulation before Parliament as primary legislation. This House, as we know, passes many statutory instruments, but in this case the Government need to back a mechanism for providing a filter to separate the routine, or the modest, from the more important changes that Governments may wish to make in the coming years. If a mechanism—a scrutiny Committee, for example—could provide a path for Members by ensuring that important measures would be brought before the House for debate and a vote, the Government could remove any suspicion that they seek a ministerial power grab.
Secondly, the Government should be open to suggestions about how they can guarantee redress for individuals who feel that their transferred rights are not met by companies or government. Clarification about the provision of redress would, again, remove suspicion during the process.
The truth is that whomever was in government would have to pass a Bill of this kind to prepare for leaving the EU in March 2019. There can be little disagreement about that, unless the ambition is to thwart the result of the EU referendum and to prevent or delay the UK leaving the EU. I believe that Labour’s job is to improve the Bill by amending it, not to kill the Bill at the beginning of its passage through Parliament. Labour’s reasoned amendment
“declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill”.
If that amendment is successful, it will kill the Bill. According to the Public Bill Office, if this Bill is defeated today, a new Bill would have to be introduced in a new Session, or the measure would need to reintroduced in a sufficiently different form as to not fall foul of the same-question rule. Either way we look at it, defeat for the Bill implies a substantial delay in transferring EU law into UK law, thereby increasing the uncertainties while the Brexit clock ticks towards midnight.
I voted and campaigned for the UK to remain—not in a metropolitan city or university town, but in a seat where I knew a leave vote was the likely outcome. I invite colleagues who were not campaigning in such seats to visit mine. Since the result, I have argued that leave and remain supporters should bury our differences and get on with it. Complex issues such as trade will require more time, hence the need for a transitional period of minimum change while future arrangements are put in place. Some leavers say, “We don’t need any transitional plans,” while some remainers say, “Any deal must be worse than staying in.” To them I say this: life post-Brexit is not a choice between nirvana and a living hell. Some changes will be better and some will be worse, and much will pass unnoticed. We either work to make the best of it, or simply damn it for not being perfect. This calls for honest endeavour and compromise on all sides.
Whatever side of the debate Members fall on, if they honestly accept the will of the British people, they are honour bound to see this through and make the best of it. Some suggest that the general election on 8 June changed everything. Like it or not, it led to the second coalition of sorts in seven years—a confidence and supply agreement between two parties that both promised to deliver Brexit. In that general election, I told Don Valley voters:
“When Britain leaves the European Union—I will work for a deal that works for Doncaster. That means easy trade, protecting workers’ rights and tough immigration controls with strong borders”.
“I don’t support a second referendum. We need to bring people together, whether they voted Leave or Remain and make a success of Brexit.”
I repeat those words today because I have no intention of breaking my word to the voters who have returned me to this House on six occasions.
I hope that Ministers will listen to concerns about the Bill. Their lack of openness, collaboration and foresight to produce a better Bill has not helped. To the Government I say: treat Parliament with respect and be open to constructive suggestions to improve the Bill. I will work with others to improve the Bill, but tonight I cannot vote to block it; I shall be abstaining to allow it to be further discussed and amended. We have a job to do to ensure a smooth, orderly Brexit—for the British people, for British businesses, and for our continuing friendship and partnership with the EU.
It is an honour and a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who gave an extraordinarily compelling and principled speech.
This is a critical Bill. We cannot logically leave the EU if we continue to subject ourselves to EU law, courts and regulators. It is for exactly that reason, however, that some Members will use the Bill as an opportunity to scupper the process and prevent us from leaving the EU. And that worries me. In perhaps the most important—certainly the biggest—democratic exercise the country has ever seen, people voted to leave. I believe that 80% of electors in the general election voted for parties that pledged to honour the result of the referendum. If that promise was broken, the resulting anger would give rise to extreme political movements right across the UK that would change our politics forever. We can improve the Bill in Committee and on Report, but to stop it on principle is to play with fire.
I want to comment briefly on one area impacted by our leaving the EU: the natural environment. The opportunity to do great things here is almost incalculable. We have a chance not only to right some wrongs, but to make historic progress. Under the common agricultural policy, for example, vast amounts of public money are handed to wealthy landowners simply because they own land. The policy supports perverse incentives to harm the environment and shuts off the UK market to developing countries through higher tariffs. For years, environmentalists, farmers’ organisations and a whole succession of farming Ministers have dreamt of changing and profoundly reforming the CAP. Well, we now can—and we must. We will be able to ensure that the subsidies regime that replaces the CAP supports food production and improves and protects the natural environment, with a system whereby public money is genuinely a return for public good. We have an opportunity to raise standards and boost our rural economy at the same time, and that opportunity extends beyond the CAP. As a country, we have led the way on animal welfare, but we have been limited in what we can do due to our membership of the EU.
One animal welfare benefit is that on leaving the EU, we could ban the live export of animals from our ports, which causes such great suffering.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, which is one that I was just about to make. CAP funds have even been used to subsidise bullfighting in Spain.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not take any more interventions.
Most critically, even though we apply high animal welfare standards to production in this country, we cannot apply those standards to the food we import, which means that instead of preventing cruelty, which is what we are trying to do, we are simply exporting that cruelty to other countries while disadvantaging our own farmers. We could address that as well.
Clearly, in other areas, the EU has been a good thing for the environment—I would not pretend otherwise. The EU has undoubtedly been instrumental in forcing us to clean up our act. For instance, our rivers and beaches are cleaner today because of the EU than they would have been.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not.
That is why a core responsibility of this Parliament and this Government is to ensure that those key EU regulations—the habitats directive, the birds directive and the sewage sludge directive—have absolute, meaningful, proper, full protection in British law. We have had that commitment, but I should like to hear it a few more times from Ministers during this debate.
There are legitimate concerns about this process that need to be addressed in the Minister’s wind-up.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not, because I am running out of time.
First, when a state fails to implement EU law today, there are penalties, but that will no longer be the case—for obvious and appropriate reasons. However, an alternative system does need to be introduced. If the present or a future Government fail, for example, to stay within air pollution limits, it must be possible for sanctions to be applied and for that Government to be held to account—that is a core ingredient in any healthy democracy.
Secondly, it is not clear that important principles, such as the “polluter pays” principle or the precautionary principle, will be fully and meaningfully absorbed into UK law. If the individual regulations are to have meaning, those principles must be embedded in UK law. Finally, the Bill enables the Government to transfer regulatory functions from the EU to domestic bodies, but it does not make that obligatory, which seems to me to be an obvious weakness. I hope that the Minister will respond to my concerns, as well as the other issues that are raised today, and provide reassurances that they will be addressed either during the Bill’s later stages, or in subsequent environmental legislation.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the referendum on re-establishing the Scottish Parliament—not just “notionally” re-establishing it, I should point out to the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). I voted in that referendum having just returned from the Erasmus programme. The re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament was backed by most of Scotland’s parties—certainly by its progressive parties. Today we are about to see the biggest devolution power grab since that re-establishment, and it that will have an impact on the devolution process the likes of which we have never seen before. As someone who returned from Erasmus to vote in the referendum 20 years ago, I have been reflecting on the impact that this process will have on opportunities for young people, among others.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) rightly highlighted the benefits of European Union membership. It has benefited our rights; it has enabled us to build a broad consensus on the need to tackle environmental problems such as climate change; it has benefited universities; and it has torn down trade barriers. Tonight we will vote on a Bill that will take powers away from Holyrood and undermine the devolution process, and that is something that we cannot thole.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I shall come to both hon. Members shortly—they will have ample opportunity.
The Government’s approach was rejected in June, and we should all be mindful of the fact that what has been delivered in its place is a Parliament of minorities. That is commonplace at Holyrood. It is something that we had to get used to, and it is something that we shall all have to get used to. A Parliament of minorities is clearly a challenge for the Government, but it is a challenge for the Opposition as well, because we must all show that we are willing to work in a constructive way if the Government are willing to listen. That is not easy for us. The SNP remains committed to Scotland’s membership of the European Union. I want to see Scotland as an EU member state, and I am proud that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to support that. However, given the devastating impact of the Government's lack of strategy, it is up to this Parliament, and all parliamentarians, to step up to the mark.
The mess that we are in is not entirely the Government’s fault. I think that Vote Leave bequeathed that mess by presenting a blank piece of paper, which means that it is up to us to try to fill in those many, many blanks. Having said that, the Government have had five months since they triggered article 50 and 15 months since the EU referendum. Ministers bear culpability for the present situation, but Ministers who were part of Vote Leave bear particular culpability. For instance, there is the Secretary of State’s own yardstick:
“I would expect the new Prime Minister on September 9th to immediately trigger a…round of trade deals”.
Where are they? In the face of such chaos, all Members have a responsibility—each and every one of us. We need to put our differences to one side.
There is scope to do that, as we have put together a compromise. On this anniversary of devolution, I want to pay tribute to the Labour party and Plaid Cymru, which were able to put aside their differences and to try to come up with a common position. I know it was not easy for Members of both parties to do it, but they did, and full credit to them both for doing so. The Scottish Government put together a committee of experts to come up with a compromise, and I note that in the aftermath of the referendum—here is the cue for Conservative Members—Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives called for retaining membership of the single market. In fact, the Scottish Conservative leader—who knows, maybe the future Westminster Conservative leader—said:
“Retaining our place in the single market should be the overriding priority.”
I would certainly hope that Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives will do the right thing and stand by their leader. I wonder if they are Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives or Theresa May’s Conservatives when it comes to this—they are staying seated, saying nothing whatsoever.
The Bill also represents one of the biggest power grabs that we have seen. I note that one MP said—
Ah, there we go! I give way.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is in a state of uncontrolled excitement, but he is auditioning to be a statesman; he must calm himself.
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?
I will give the hon. Gentleman his due: at least he had the courage of his convictions and stood up; the rest of them took their time over that. On fishing, on agriculture and on energy, we were told that these powers would come back to the Scottish Parliament without touching the sides, so where are the full powers over fishing, agriculture, energy and education? They are being retained by this Parliament on the 20th anniversary of the devolution process.
To return to my point, the MP I mentioned earlier said this:
“The balance of advantage between Parliament and Government is so weighted in favour of the Government that it is inimical to the proper working of our parliamentary democracy.”—[Official Report, 22 June 1999; Vol. 333, c. 930.]
That warning about powers such as Henry VIII powers was made in 1999 by the Secretary of State himself when he tried to introduce a Bill to deal with them.
This is a hung Parliament. The Scottish Parliament was designed for a new kind of politics, and one thing I will say to Conservative Members—I hope they are listening—is that even when the SNP was elected with 47 seats out of 129, we had ground-breaking, world-leading action on climate change, free education was reintroduced, and the number of police officers was increased. Action can be taken in a Parliament of minorities, but for that to happen, Members must be willing to listen to those on the other side of the House.
Excellent points have been made from the Conservative and Labour Benches, as well as by other colleagues. The challenge is whether this Government are prepared to listen. What we have seen so far is a Tory Government who want to turn their back on the EU and happily talk about a no-deal situation that would be devastating for jobs and the economy. This approach of ourselves alone against the world is not one that I can possibly endorse, and nor can my colleagues. We must reject this Bill. A new approach is needed, and that is why we will be voting against the Bill tonight.
I shall support the Bill on its Second Reading for the simple reason that it is necessary. I do not do so with relish, because I would rather that we were not leaving the European Union, but, as a democrat, I accept the outcome of the referendum. And if we are to leave, we must do so in an orderly fashion, and it is therefore particularly important that we have legal certainty and continuity. The objective behind the Bill, of incorporating EU laws under the acquis into our law, is perfectly sensible, and that is why I shall support it, but we must also have a Bill that is fit for purpose and actually achieves that effectively. Although I shall support the Bill on Second Reading, as will become apparent, I do so on the basis that it needs improvement in a number of areas in Committee.
I had the chance to read in detail the impressive speeches of my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who I am glad to see are both in the Chamber. I agree with their analysis, and I will not seek to repeat it all. I adopt what they said about the areas where improvement is needed. It has already been pointed out that there are difficulties with the Henry VIII powers. It seems to me that clauses 7 and 9 go beyond what is acceptable or necessary, and I hope that the Government will approach that matter in a sensible and constructive spirit. Equally, delaying the Bill would do no favours to the good governance of the country, to citizens or to businesses and business confidence, so I certainly have no truck with the Opposition’s approach of seeking to undermine the Bill.
We need to make clear the areas of the Bill that need improvement. There is of course a use for so-called Henry VIII powers for making secondary legislation in appropriate cases, but in some areas we are dealing with matters of the most profound significance for individuals and businesses. I hope that the Ministers, who are reasonable people, will listen to constructive amendments that would provide reassurance and safeguards against inappropriate use of those powers and would improve the Bill by bringing greater clarity to the way they can be applied.
I shall touch briefly on a couple of other matters. I hope that we can look at the opportunity to assist the judiciary with how they interpret the EU acquis, which will be incorporated in our domestic law once we have left. The recently retired President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, made this point powerfully, and he did not do so lightly. It is frankly not fair to leave judges to fish in the dark when they come to interpret some of the legislation.
A particularly important issue in this respect is that once we leave the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the opportunity to seek preliminary rulings on issues will no longer exist and we have to find alternative means for dealing with that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) referred to the Francovich situation. She is right about that issue, which should be addressed. Similarly, we have to bear in mind that we will incorporate EU law, which in some cases is based on the treaties. Will the UK courts be able to take the treaties into account in assessing how incorporated law should be applied post our leaving? Those are important areas where greater clarity is needed. What is to be done about situations where incorporated law grants a right to a UK citizen or business but our leaving will, at the moment, leave a gap as to whether that UK citizen or business has a remedy?
One of the issues is that with environmental law, for example, there is currently a remedy of going to the European Court of Justice, but there is no replacement in the Bill as it stands.
That is entirely right, and it cannot be rational or coherent to give UK citizens a right under UK law by incorporating European law but give them no ability to exercise that right. That applies whether a case is against another individual, against a business, or indeed against the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) pointed out that that also raises the issue of infraction proceedings: what is the remedy if the Government breach incorporated law?
Those important issues need to be dealt with in Committee, so I turn briefly to the programme motion. We must have time to deal with these matters properly. I want the Bill to be successful. I want it to end up as a good Bill, and that will require changes to the Bill. With good will, that can be achieved—and it can be achieved timeously, to ensure that what we need is in place at the time when we leave the European Union. I have no truck with those who seek to filibuster and needlessly delay the Bill. If I am to be able to support the Government on the programme motion, I hope that they will assure us that we can have some flexibility if more time is required for genuine, serious consideration of important amendments, but I hope that it is not needed—there is a distinction between proper consideration of serious points of amendments and the sort of filibustering that I am sure we will see. On that basis, I am prepared to give the Government a fair wind, but it is important that we get that assurance so that our important scrutiny work can be done properly.
Finally, I have just returned from Gibraltar, where I was with several other colleagues for its national day celebrations. Gibraltar will be affected by our departure from the European Union, but I am glad to say that Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar and the business and civil communities there are satisfied with their level of engagement in the negotiations so far. However, can I have an assurance that when we come to deal with secondary legislation that may affect Gibraltar, its Government will be fully involved in the drafting of any secondary legislation that may have an impact on them?
The Bill attempts to incorporate into domestic legislation the body of European Union law that has built up in the 44 years since we joined the EU. The stated purpose is to provide the country with continuity and certainty on what our statute book will contain on the day when we leave. Yet the purpose of leaving the EU is to depart from the laws incorporated by the Bill, otherwise there would be no point. So the legal certainty that the Bill aims for can last no longer than day one itself.
Leading leave campaigners have attempted to assuage such fears by pretending that they want to change nothing—not labour laws, not environmental protections, and not consumer protections. Those who have been the most vociferous opponents of any regulation that has stemmed from the EU, including members of the Cabinet who have attacked its laws and protections, such as those for people at work, now profess to agree to all the regulation that they previously detested. As we have come to expect in the pattern since the referendum, any attempt to ask questions about the Bill has been met with the usual accusations of betraying the public and denying the referendum result. Our democracy deserves better than that. If the proposals cannot stand scrutiny and questioning, the proposals are at fault, not those doing the questioning and trying to apply scrutiny.
Let us look at the content of the Bill. Most attention has been focused on the delegated powers provisions set out in clauses 7, 8, 9 and 17, and on the scrutiny provisions set out in schedule 7. In simple terms, those are the powers to amend the law without the usual legislative process of full debate. For example, clause 7 states that a Minister
“may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate”,
and clause 9 states:
“Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament (including modifying this Act).”
Up until last week, the cornerstone of the Government’s defence of those proposed powers was the claim they were supported by the House of Lords Constitution Committee. Indeed, last Wednesday, the day before this debate began, the Prime Minister told the House that the Government’s approach
“has been endorsed by the House of Lords Constitution Committee.”—[Official Report, 6 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 148.]
Let us look at what the Committee actually said in last week’s report. It stated:
“The executive powers conferred by the Bill are unprecedented and extraordinary and raise fundamental constitutional questions about the separation of powers between Parliament and Government.”
It continued by saying that
“the Bill weaves a tapestry of delegated powers that are breath-taking in terms of both their scope and potency”
and that the
“number, range and overlapping nature of the broad delegated powers would create what is, in effect, an unprecedented and extraordinary portmanteau of effectively unlimited powers upon which the Government could draw. They would fundamentally challenge the constitutional balance of powers between Parliament and Government and would represent a significant—and unacceptable—transfer of legal competence.”
If that is the Government’s case for the defence, I would not like to see the case for the prosecution.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there have been a lot of arguments in the past about Henry VIII powers and about the Executive taking power away from Parliament, and that it has all steadily gone in one direction? The danger now is not only the consequences of this Bill and of the details of Brexit, but that if the House does not challenge this Bill and change it, it will be quoted as a precedent for years to come. I have no doubt that if the Labour party ever gets back into power, a future Labour Government will start lecturing a Conservative Opposition that there are clear precedents for taking powers of this kind.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is, of course, correct that we have had some of these debates before.
The criticism does not stop with the House of Lords Committee. The Hansard Society says that
“the Bill will strengthen the…executive, not Parliament”.
Its report on the Bill says:
“the broad scope of its…powers, the inadequate constraints…on them, and shortcomings in the proposed parliamentary control…will be…a toxic mix”.
We have had regulatory Bills before, and many years ago, when I was first elected, I was involved in taking the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 through the House. There was huge controversy about the powers contained in that legislation, and many Conservative Members who most vociferously defend the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill attacked that Act as a huge power grab.
The response to the 2006 Act led to the setting up of a special scrutiny process for deregulatory measures, and the Hansard Society says:
“Previous legislation, such as the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, provides examples of ways in which”
“could introduce safeguards into the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to tighten the scope and application of the powers.”
But there are no special scrutiny measures proposed in the Bill, even though its scope is far, far broader than the 2006 Act.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
With consideration for other speakers, I will press on.
In fact, most of the orders made under the proposed powers, far from being elevated into some kind of special sifting and debate procedure, will go through on the negative resolution procedure, with little or no debate.
On one level, I sympathise with Ministers. The outcome of the Brexit negotiations is so uncertain—in fact, getting an agreement at all is not certain—that they want to confer on themselves the maximum possible leeway in legislating, but Parliament cannot take that view. It has been argued that the best way to raise the issue of executive authority is in Committee and not now, but we already know that the Government propose to give themselves a majority on all Committees even though they did not win a majority at the general election. There is no indication—in fact, the very opposite—that the Government are more likely to listen in Committee than they are now. Parliament’s maximum moment of leverage to call on the Government to think again is not in Committee but now.
We have been told that a vote against the Bill is a vote for a chaotic Brexit, which is a bit rich. There only has to be more than two Cabinet Ministers in a room to produce versions of a chaotic Brexit. When Ministers are pushing against one another, and when letters supported by junior Ministers are being circulated attacking the policy of the Government in which they serve, the Tory party is well capable of producing chaos on its own. We have a legitimate job to do in scrutinising the Government. To further that end, I will vote against the Bill tonight.
In last year’s referendum I and many others warned of the risk of uncertainty. That risk has not gone away, but we can work together to reduce it, which is why the Bill is needed. Businesses need legal certainty to trade, create jobs and generate taxes, and the laws that govern our businesses are important. For the past 40 years or so, many of those laws have been agreed at European level. In my time in the European Parliament, I saw how those laws often cover important areas: consumer rights, copyright, product safety, even counterfeit medicines and data protection.
In my constituency of Chelmsford there are about 2,000 jobs in the insurance sector. The UK is home to the world’s largest insurance market, and we provide insurance for airline crashes, cyber-attacks and even to clear up after the horrific hurricane that is raging across the Atlantic today. Our insurance companies can offset such risks by re-insuring with others in the industry, and the industry is governed by the European regulations. Our companies do not want to scrap their rulebook, and the Bill will enable those rules to be moved into UK law; it will help avoid a legal vacuum, which is important. Many laws cannot be directly copied across; technical changes are needed, and Ministers need the powers to make those technical decisions.
The Bill is not perfect; there are many areas where decisions are not technical and policy decisions will need to be made. In the insurance sector we see that the devil is in the detail. Article 16 of the insurance distribution directive says that European insurers can only redistribute their risk to others that are regulated in the EU. We cannot just cut and paste that into our rulebook, as it would cut us out of our own market. Dealing with such examples is not straightforward; policy decisions are needed, and they could affect real jobs. The companies concerned want to be consulted, as will regulators in other countries, and such decisions deserve proper scrutiny.
Other sectors also have concerns. The Bill exempts the charter of fundamental rights, but the tech sector points out that article 8 of the charter is crucial because it underpins data protection laws, which enable the free flow of data. TheCityUK asks what is happening to the level 2 decisions, which are important in implementing much of our financial services law and many of which will arrive only after the date of exit. The consumer organisation Which? points out that EU directives provide not only consumer protection, but product standards and the networks for sharing information on things such as dangerous toys and dodgy electrical goods. What is to happen to those after Brexit?
It is important that stakeholders can raise their concerns, and significant decisions deserve to be properly debated. The statutory instrument mechanism does not give confidence to stakeholders or future trading partners that issues will be properly scrutinised. Some 3,500 statutory instruments are laid before this House every year, yet only eight have been annulled since world war two. The rest of the world is watching us. As a British Conservative, I have spent years working with Ministers, championing the cause of better regulation; we have told legislators all across the EU that before they change laws they should consult those who will be affected, address the impact and make sure that decisions are not just taken behind closed doors. Now is not the time to drop the ball on that at home, because if we are to get deep trading partnerships with Europe and other parts of the world, we need to retain their trust. Where decisions have an impact on other countries, our future trading partners need to know that we are open to listening to their suggestions.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful point. When I was a Business Minister in the coalition Government, I negotiated with the EU Council on competitiveness to ensure that the EU undertook proper regulatory impact assessments of its regulations. That was a considered approach to make sure that stakeholders were consulted. Under the regulations proposed in the Bill no such consultation will take place, which is far worse and far more damaging than the situation under the EU.
I wish the EU had followed that mechanism all the time, then we might not be where we are now. The right hon. Gentleman’s point shows precisely why we need amendments, which I was coming to. Last Thursday, the Secretary of State suggested that he would be prepared to agree to a sifting or triage process, so that technical decisions could be made swiftly but more important policy decisions can have proper scrutiny. The Opposition have not offered any alternative drafting, but that is the sort of amendment we need to see. I will be supporting the Bill tonight, because it is necessary and it needs to move to Committee. We need to make sure we put in place many amendments so that we provide for scrutiny, but this is not a time to just throw out the Bill, because history will not thank those who treat this as another game of political football.
On Thursday, the Secretary of State said in this House that this debate and the Bill are not about whether the United Kingdom leaves the European Union; I wish he could convince some of his colleagues of that, as they continue to make that argument even when it is totally inaccurate. The people made that decision in the referendum a year ago and this House endorsed it by triggering the article 50 process this year.
Today, we are not discussing whether but how we leave the EU and, in particular, how this House makes its decisions—not least, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said a few moments ago, with respect to the precedent we will set for the future. In recent days, I have heard a number of people, including the Foreign Secretary, claim that a vote against the Bill would be a vote to obstruct the will of the people. That is arrant nonsense, as I think most of those who make that claim are well aware. To me, it is in fact this Bill that negates the declared purpose of the referendum, which was, as I understood it, to take back to UK legislatures the powers that in recent years we have shared with others through our membership of the EU.
The second thing the Secretary of State said the other day that I found particularly relevant was that no one said this was going to be easy. If only that were so. Actually, as he knows, many Government Members have been claiming that it would all be easy since before the referendum, and indeed ever since. I shall go rather further than he did. Apologies to those present and elsewhere who were not born in 1983, but in that year’s general election, my party made the case that after 10 years’ experience of being in the common market, we ought to leave. We said, explicitly, that unless we left then, our economies and societies would be so enmeshed that in future it would be impossible to leave without inflicting enormous, unsustainable damage on ourselves. That contention was supported by someone I would not normally cite, the late Enoch Powell, who urged people to vote Labour in that election for precisely that reason. Yet it is that task to which the Bill turns us, and which we are now trying to accomplish through the Bill.
In the dialogue during and following this debate, just as in the negotiations themselves, it is vital to establish, if at all possible, a degree of trust and mutual understanding. Yet it seems to me that the Government’s behaviour is almost calculated to undermine any such trust. The short amount of time that has been allowed for the debate does not remotely bear comparison with anything one could call a comparable debate, Bill or set of negotiations. I shall not repeat all the things everybody else has already said and no doubt will say right up until midnight about how the detail of the Bill is in itself so sweeping and so damaging, but there is no doubt that that is the nature of the Bill.
As was said a few moments ago by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), in Thursday’s debate the Secretary of State sounded sympathetic to some of the points that were made about the restricted nature of the Bill’s proposals on the scrutiny of the statutory instruments that would be introduced under it. He asked, as did the hon. Lady, that those expressing concern should make suggestions as to the remedy for the problems that the Bill creates, so I shall make three observations to the Minister and, through him, to the Secretary of State.
First, as was mentioned on Thursday, the idea of making use of amendable statutory instruments has been discussed in this House forever. It has never been accepted, for obvious reasons—there are many flaws in such a procedure—but none the less it might be better than the proposals in the Bill. Whether by that means or by others, there are and will be ways to expand the scope of whatever procedures we follow, even if such special procedures were attached to a specific time, or were time-limited. That would be possible particularly if those procedures were linked to any similar limits on the powers that the Government are seeking to take and their duration. It seems by no means to be beyond the wit of man to find much better systems of scrutiny than the Government are putting forward today.
My second observation is that, in searching for such potential procedure, the Government should cast their net wide. As Leader of the House, I proposed, for the first time, the introduction of the programme motion. In giving effect to a previous recommendation of the then Procedure Committee to facilitate the examination of the whole of a Bill, we also addressed the serious drafting problems that existed. We worked with the Clerks, who were, as ever, brilliant in their expertise and helpful in their advice and also with others. The drafts for the procedures, which we were ultimately able to adopt and which the House uses to this day, came through the involvement not just of our Clerks, but of Parliamentary Counsel. Therefore, there are others, across Government, across Whitehall and across the organs of the state, who could contribute to such discussions as to what procedures might work better than what the Government now propose.
The right hon. Lady is making a very thoughtful speech, but does she think that programme motions have been of benefit to the House?
I have a slight advantage over the hon. Gentleman in that I was in the House before programme motions existed. All I can say is that I part company with him if he thinks that it is better for people to spend hours, indeed days—I mean literally days—discussing whether a Committee should sit on a Tuesday or a Thursday, or whether we should sit until half-past 5 on a Wednesday night, than to spend that time discussing the substance of legislation.
My third point to the Secretary of State is perhaps the most important—I say this also to the hon. Member for Chelmsford. It is not merely the prerogative of the Government to make proposals to this House to remedy the defects in the legislation, but the duty of the Government —particularly in this case—to do so because it is their legislation. My right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State advised the Government to withdraw this Bill and produce a more satisfactory set of proposals. I never imagined that I would find myself giving such advice to any Government, but I think that he is probably right.
That brings me to my final point. In essence, this Bill was drafted for a Parliament in which the Prime Minister had a massive mandate. I am talking about a Parliament in which she had been given the free hand for which she had asked the British people—a free hand to make and implement decisions without any serious let or hindrance. Everybody in this House, and those beyond it, know that she did not get that mandate. She did not get that free hand. This Bill is drafted for a reality that no longer exists, and yet the Government are continuing as if—to coin a phrase—nothing has changed. Well, as we saw during the general election, the Prime Minister may feel that nothing has changed, but hardly anyone else shares that view. This is a Bill of enormous consequence. It sets the most dangerous precedents of any Bill I can imagine for this House or any other. My party is right to vote against it. It is those who vote for it who are at risk of rejecting the view that the British people expressed in the general election.
It is a great honour to follow the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). She made a very thoughtful speech. One point on which I entirely agree is that, as this Bill passes through the House, we can look at better ways to scrutinise secondary legislation in particular. It seems that the Government are right that they will have to use secondary legislation, but it does not mean that all Delegated Legislation Committees must look the same. We do not have to have a one-and-a-half-hour DL on a technical matter of no importance whatsoever. However, if there is a Committee of some importance, why not extend the hours? Any Member can speak in a DL Committee, so there are ways we can improve scrutiny. That is what the Committee of the whole House should do when it considers the Bill.
I would be very surprised if the Bill finishes up in exactly the same format at the end as at the start. The Government would be well advised to accept reasonable amendments that improve the situation, but the principle of this Bill is quite simple.
On delegated legislation, the hon. Gentleman seems to think that it is okay if something is debated in Committee, but the truth of the matter is that the only motion that can be considered in a delegated legislation Committee is whether the Committee has or has not considered the matter in hand. In other words, if every member of the Committee voted against, the legislation would none the less come into law. That is the danger of relying on secondary legislation.
I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that if the affirmative mechanism were used, the whole House would vote on the matter, so I do not accept his argument.
This Bill is about a principle: I think it is called the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and I think I introduced—
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Not for a moment, because on this particular point I think I am right: it is called the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I remember introducing a number of such Bills, or certainly speaking in favour of a lot of them. At that time, they were rather dismissed by the Government and we did not make much progress, so if I have an opportunity to support a Government Bill called the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, as I do tonight, then I am going to take it, and I hope other Members do too. What the Bill primarily does is end European Union legislation and control over this House when we leave, while the second bit incorporates all EU laws into our laws—“retained EU law”, it is called. It is quite right that in future we should look at all those laws and decide whether to improve, reject or keep them, but there has to be a mechanism when we come out to have all those laws in place or chaos will occur.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) raised a very important point in his intervention that has to be dealt with clearly on the Floor of the House. Personally, I am in favour of any compromise—any triage process, as suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and others—but on this point my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) must be wrong. The House has a right and the powers, and historically it has been able to reject delegated legislation—otherwise what sort of Parliament are we in?—so he is making a wrong point.
I thought that was the point I made: that this House could ultimately reject a DL. That is clearly what happened: we vote on it. I remember, and we vote on them all the time—my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) mentioned at least eight times that they had been annulled.
Under the negative procedure, which is referred to regularly in the Bill, it is entirely up to the Government whether to allow a debate and a vote at all, and in the last 12 instances where the House has demanded a debate and a vote, including on very important issues, they have granted them on only four occasions.
I entirely accept that point about the negative procedure. I want to move on to—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I do not have time to take any more interventions. I must press on. There are so many—
Basically, this Bill is about the principle of ending EU control over this House and incorporating those laws. That is fine, and that is why every Member of the House should vote for it tonight. What they should then do is look in Committee, clause by clause, at how we are proposing to scrutinise, change and incorporate laws. I wholly accept that the negative SI procedure is probably not the best way of proceeding.
Another thing that has been mentioned—the right hon. Member for Derby South brought it up, and it is probably what I wanted to talk about most—is programme motions. As a principle, I am against programme motions. I accept entirely the answer she gave me, which is that it was a lot worse before. However, she did not go on to say that it is great now, and I do not think it has been. There have been a lot of problems with the Government deciding programming and the timing of scrutiny.
Now, this particular programme motion is one of the better ones, because the debate is eight days long, with eight hours’ protected time each day. I am fed up of sitting here waiting for a debate, only to find that there is statement after statement, which reduces the time we have for that debate. Thankfully, we are not doing that this time, and if there is a need for extra time, the Leader of the House would be well advised to grant it.
I was here at business questions on Thursday, and the shadow Leader of the House did not complain about the timetabling. [Interruption.] Well, I must have been deaf, because I was listening out for it. She moaned about a lot of things, but she did not complain about the length of time.
Well, I will stand corrected if that is the case.
Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that it should not be up to the Government to timetable business in this House. By fortune, I have a ten-minute rule Bill tomorrow that introduces a business of the House commission. If that Bill was law, we would not be worrying about all of this now, because timetabling would be decided by the House, with a commission putting its recommendations to the House once a week to vote on. So we are having a row about something when we do not need to.
If only we had listened to David Cameron, the former Prime Minister, when he said in his “Fixing Broken Politics” speech—one of his best speeches ever—that we should have this House commission. It was, of course, also in the coalition Bible, and we guaranteed that we would have that House commission within three years of the coalition’s coming into power. I do not know why that did not happen; I assume it just got overlooked. It would be quite wrong of me to say that the two Whips Offices were absolutely opposed to losing their power—it could not possibly have been that.
All that I am doing tomorrow is, hopefully, reintroducing something that was the policy of the former Prime Minister, the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats and the Wright reforms. If we had had that commission, all the arguments and worries on the Opposition side would have disappeared.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak this afternoon. Let me start by saying that it is possible for parties to work together to find consensus and bipartisan moments. I see the Secretary of State for Justice in his seat; we have been working together on the review his predecessors asked me to do on the over-representation of black and ethnic minority people in the criminal justice system, and I am grateful for his support and that of his civil servants over the last 18 months.
I wish that I could be speaking in a spirit of co-operation on this subject, but when I think about the Prime Minister taking the position she did and talking about bringing the country back together, I think how far we are from that. Those who wanted to leave talked about giving the British people control—taking back control. Why, then, are we producing a Bill that will, effectively, give that control to the Government of the day, to make decisions behind closed doors, and not to this Parliament, which represents the democratic will of the people? If the Government are genuine about bringing the country back together, surely they allow serious time for reflection, debate and serious amendments to a Bill of this magnitude. Surely they should also come to this House with a degree of humility, having recognised that their proposition at the general election failed spectacularly, and that the context today is very different from the context three or four months ago. None of that has happened.
Then we look at the beginning of the negotiations. We hear a lot about the bill the EU is asking us to pay, but I have to say to those who campaigned to leave, and who are adamant that we should leave, that we are taking 12% of the EU budget out by exiting. We are asking others to pick up that bill. Of course there is a serious bill to pay, and of course it will take months to negotiate it.
We have heard so much from the Secretaries of State for Brexit and for International Trade about how easy this will be. When they go to negotiate with Donald Trump, who is one of the most protectionist Presidents the United States has seen, he will surely want access to our pharmaceuticals and will demand access to our agriculture. It will not be easy; it will take months and years to reach that trade deal. As for those who spend so much time on free movement of people and immigration, when we go to negotiate with the Indians, will they not demand visas for people to come to this country?
I worry, as I am sure hon. Members will understand, about what we have unleashed in this country, about the increase in race hate, and about the nastiness that surrounds this debate. No party is the font of all ideas, but I worry hugely about how the Conservative party has moved to the right to pick up ground ceded by the UK Independence party—[Interruption.] I do. We are in times in which the Anglo-American world is looking inward, in which we are moving back from human rights and in which we are waving goodbye to battles that we fought in decades gone by. This is not the time for this House to spend months and years wrangling about exiting a European Union that has given us so much.
For all those reasons, with very little to be gained—and when the articulation of what is to be gained has been so poor in the past four months—how could we possibly be about to set off on this path? In a constituency such as mine, where people are struggling to make ends meet and the economy is very fragile, as sure as night follows day, as we exit a customs union that the British Retail Consortium—
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I share his views, and would have campaigned with him to remain, but the simple truth is that the majority of those who voted—52%—voted to leave the European Union. On that basis, we must begin the process of doing so and must see it through, even if he and I do not agree with it.
I hesitate, because the right hon. Lady and I have agreed on much, particularly free movement. Her bark has been loud, particularly on the “Today” programme, but her actions in the days that followed those contributions have been far less loud.
Would the right hon. Gentleman like to take that back? Things such as getting a White Paper, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said she would not give—that is what people like me achieve. The real opposition to much of this comes from those on the Government Benches, not on his.
I am not sure that the right hon. Lady really wants me to respond.
The point is whether we can get beyond the partisan. I represent a constituency where many people are struggling. Our economy is likely to take a real hit as a result of this move. Trade deals are an aberration and are some years in the future. If we exit under World Trade Organisation rules, we are in for huge rises in tariffs, consumer prices and, potentially, inflation. For that reason alone, in the best interests of my constituents and many people across the country who do not have the privileges of most people in this House, I shall absolutely vote against the Bill.
When we talk about the will of the people, let us remember the 48% who voted against this. Let us think about what they deserve: a Bill that does not grab powers from them; a Bill through which we have ample time to discuss all these issues; and a Department that actually understands the position of the 27 European countries, and faces up to the fact that we are going to have to pay. They do not want to be told that this is going to be easy—that the whole of the European Union cannot wait to do a deal with us. That is not what they recognise. For that reason, it is important that this House does not let this Bill go forward.
I shall raise just one issue in the short time available: the living marine resource that under international law is bestowed on the United Kingdom.
The great repeal Bill has changed its name to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the second half of which, which brings virtually all the EU’s acquis into domestic legislation, causes me a few concerns. The reason for most of that is completely understandable. It is entirely necessary, because when the termination date of article 50 of the treaty on European Union is reached and EU treaties cease to apply in this country, along with the EU regulations that take their authority from the EU treaties, vast swathes of domestic legislation will simply disappear. Bringing the acquis across will fill that void, which can be sorted out at a later date.
The method by which that will be sorted out has caused a great deal of debate in this House. In my opinion, the method that has been proposed is entirely necessary and desirable. I support it completely for legislation that is applicable only to the United Kingdom, but when dealing with legislation that involves relationships outside the United Kingdom, such as the common fisheries policy, I have a few concerns, because the body of legislation—the acquis—that is the CFP is made up almost entirely of regulations. The only way we can achieve compatibility is through a legally binding withdrawal agreement, and that in itself brings some problems. First, at this stage, we do not know what that agreement will contain. Indeed, we do not even know if we will be getting an agreement at all, such has been the appalling behaviour, sadly, of our EU partners.
Secondly, taking the common fisheries policy as an example, article 50 takes us out cleanly, so there is no possibility of future legal challenges that we would have to try to avoid. Regulation 1380/2013, which will be brought across by the Bill, will re-establish the common fisheries policy in all but name, possibly paving the way for a legal challenge, perhaps via the Vienna convention on international treaties, through the withdrawal agreement. The evidence of that is the acquis that we have accepted and transposed into UK law, thereby creating a continuation of rights thereon.
I would like to see the proposed fisheries Bill, which is due before us at some stage, and which could solve the problem. We have no idea what that Bill will contain. Will it continue to give away the nation’s wealth that is its fish? Will it continue the disastrous CFP policy of quota allocation, which puts the resource in the hands of a few, and is the cause of the completely immoral discarding of prime fish that we have seen all these years? We simply do not know. Why are we going down this tortuous route when the easiest route would be to exempt the entire fisheries acquis from the withdrawal Bill, and produce a fisheries Bill, coming into force on 30 March 2019, that confirmed what international law bestows on this nation? That is not unusual, because the withdrawal Bill already exempts parts of the charter of fundamental rights.
Fishing is the area in which the British people demand a clean Brexit, and I think they will accept nothing less. Fishing must not be used as part of a trade-off, and availability must not form part of a deal elsewhere. Control of our exclusive economic zone extending to 200 nautical miles or the median line will regenerate our coastal communities, but if we follow current fisheries policy, we will certainly fail to do that. It is quite odd that we commit vast amounts of cash to communities such as mine in Ramsgate, Broadstairs and parts of Margate through the coastal communities fund—I am thankful that we do—but we seem to have no clear commitment to the one thing that could provide great rejuvenation for our coastal communities, which are recognised as having lower rates of employment, and which are in need of restructuring and infrastructure.
On this subject, the electorate are very wary of shenanigans. We cannot afford to create failure, and it is our responsibility to make this a success. I am happy to trust the Government by supporting Second Reading tonight, but I would very much like to hear more about their proposals for restoring one of this nation’s finest treasures—our very positive fishing grounds, which have the potential to benefit our communities and should never have been taken away.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to have rejected the proposition of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) that we should carry on fighting on arguments that were decided in this House some time ago, and is right to want to get on with making arrangements for the future. Does he agree, however, that elements in clauses 7, 8 and 9 need looking at in more detail, particularly when it comes to the use of statutory instruments?
I agree with my hon. Friend entirely, but today is not the day for those arguments. Arguments about technical matters—how things will be changed in the House, and whether that will be done using statutory instruments and the exercise of ministerial powers—are for Committee and subsequent stages of the Bill. The broad thrust of my argument on Second Reading is that this Bill is the only means by which we can deliver the result of last year’s historic referendum, which was delivered by 52% of people. I know that some in this House would rather we ignored the voice of those people, but we do so at our peril.
The whole issue of our fishing policy encompasses a lot of what was wrong with our membership of the European Union, which would not listen to us. The Bill represents a great opportunity for our coastal communities. I intend to deliver a good fishing policy for our under-10 metre fleet, which is particularly prevalent in Ramsgate, so I will support this Bill tonight.
The Bill has been described as “not fit for purpose”, and as a “monstrosity of a Bill”. I agree with both those descriptions, and that is one of the reasons why I will not support it on Second Reading. I believe that it undermines this sovereign Parliament—and, indeed, other Parliaments and devolved Assemblies in the United Kingdom.
I respect the result of the EU referendum. My constituency voted narrowly to leave—very narrowly, by some 700 votes—so I understand both sides of the argument. My constituency mirrored the UK and Wales in voting to leave. In the EU referendum campaign, I said that I would vote for article 50, and I did so, because I accepted and respected the referendum. In the general election campaign of 2017, I said I would support a “sensible Brexit”, and I will, but not by bypassing Parliament.
I told the electorate that I would respect the devolution settlement in our country, and I will. The Bill will be enacted to replace the European Communities Act 1972. A lot has happened since 1972, not least the setting up of devolved Administrations by referendums and by Acts of this sovereign Parliament. When we talk about the legislators taking back control, we mean just that—legislators, in the plural. The competence of those Assemblies and of Parliament needs to be protected, and the Bill does not do that. It talks about consultation and discussion, but it does not talk about respecting the devolved Administrations.
Although I am unhappy with the replies I have received from the Government about the Irish border issue and the Irish dimension, and how that will have an impact on Welsh ports, as well as about Euratom—I led a debate on it, and we will need an associate or alternative membership with our colleagues on it—it is not for those reasons that I will vote against the Bill tonight, but because the Bill undermines parliamentary democracy. I will take no lectures from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union or the Government on delays, a cliff edge or creating chaos, because as colleagues have said, they have already done that. They spent months—months—denying the referendum result, and trying through the courts to prevent this House from enacting article 50, which was a costly process. They spent months this year having a general election, which cost millions of pounds and delayed this process by many months. This PM went to the country and said she wanted to increase her majority to increase her mandate. She did not achieve that: she lost her mandate, and she lost the moral authority to carry on as normal.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that the Prime Minister, having been denied the mandate for the hard Brexit that she wanted, is using the Bill as another method of achieving that objective?
Yes, I agree. As I have said, the Prime Minister just thinks it is business as usual, but she is now leading a minority in the House. In her words, she wanted to increase her majority to increase her mandate, but she does not have the moral authority or, indeed, the numbers in the House of Commons. It shows the Government’s arrogance that she now wants to rip up the result of the general election and ignore the will of the people who have taken away the Tory majority.
The other item I want to raise is the timetable—the programme motion—because I do not think that eight days are enough to debate the issues properly; when we have very complicated hybrid Bills in the House, we are given far longer to scrutinise them, so it is wrong. I think, tomorrow, the Government want actually to rig the Committees. Transferring powers from the European Union to the hands of those involved in delegated legislation is a very dangerous step for us to take: the Government are grabbing powers and putting them into the hands of Ministers. As I have said, they are not respecting the devolved Administrations, which were set up following referendums and have been given powers by the House of Commons.
The Opposition’s reasoned amendment is sensible. It amounts to what I would describe as a sensible Brexit. For instance, it respects the charter of fundamental rights, which we would put into UK law, and we would propose sensible transition arrangements. Again, the Government are now talking about a cliff edge and a timetable, but if we had sensible transition arrangements—this is mentioned in the reasoned amendment—that would be avoided. For those reasons, I will support the amendment tonight.
The will of the people in the 2017 election must be respected, and the will of the devolved Administrations must also be respected. It is time for this Government to go back to the drawing board. For those reasons, I will vote against the Second Reading. I do not think that the Bill can be amended to the satisfaction of many Government Members in Committee, and they know it. It is time for this House of Commons and this sovereign Parliament to stand up and be counted on behalf of the people who sent us here.
We are here today debating this Bill as a direct consequence of the free vote of the British people in the referendum last year, when they gave us their explicit instruction that we were to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union. There was an extraordinary article in The Mail on Sunday yesterday by a Member of the other place, who said the Government were rushing this decision because they were afraid that the people would get their hands on the decision, but it is because the people did get their hands on the decision and decided to leave that we are here today.
Many of us who campaigned in the referendum to leave did not do so out of any sense of flippancy. I came to the conclusion over a long period. I came to it disappointed, after decades of listening to successive Governments and Prime Ministers talking about how we were going to reform the European Union from the inside, with subsidiarity and all the rest of it. That body gradually acquired all the attributes of statehood and citizenship: a flag, an anthem, a currency, a Parliament and a supreme court. For me, it became the antithesis of what an independent nation state was all about. Those of us who campaigned to leave were clear in our objectives: we wanted to make our own laws in this country; we wanted to sign our own trade deals; and we wanted to end the massive payments to the European Union and decide our own immigration policy.
That is what the Bill sets us on the road to do. Clause 1 makes it clear that the European Communities Act will cease to apply on the day we leave the European Union, and it provides that, the day after exit, the House and our courts will be supreme in making the decisions that affect us in this country. It is the mechanism to transpose the body of law under which we live, much of which emanated from the European Union over a period of almost 45 years, into United Kingdom law. It rightly makes little mention of some of the fundamental things that affect us as a country. Correctly and properly, the Government have committed to introduce legislation on the Floor of the House on some of the big matters. Bills that will be put before Parliament include a customs Bill, a trade Bill, an immigration Bill, a fisheries Bill, an agriculture Bill, a nuclear safeguards Bill, and an international sanctions Bill, all of which were announced in the Gracious Speech after the general election this year.
The Bill also puts specific limits on the powers that are laid down. The Government cannot make regulations to impose or increase taxation; to make retrospective provisions; to create relevant criminal offences; or to make regulations to implement the withdrawal agreement. Crucially, there is a sunset clause, so that two years after we leave the European Union the measure will cease to apply. I will be 45 in two weeks’ time. Her Majesty gave Royal Assent to the European Union Communities Act 1972 just a month after I was born. Although I gained political awareness reasonably early, I have not been politically aware throughout that entire period of nearly 45 years. I do not recall, in the period in which I was politically aware, great complaints emanating from every part of the House about the constant stream of legislation from the European Union that was implemented unscrutinised and which we had to obey.
The Government are putting that sunset clause in place. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) said that there was confusion among Government Members, and a difference of opinion about our policy on leaving the European Union. He could easily, and perhaps more effectively, direct that at his own Front-Bench team. The shadow Home Secretary supports free movement. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union say that it must end. The deputy leader of the Labour party says that we would stay in the single market forever. The shadow Chancellor says that we should leave the single market to respect the referendum. The shadow Secretary of State for International Trade has said that staying in the customs union would be a disaster; the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union supports the UK staying in a customs union; while the deputy leader of the Labour party says that we could stay in the customs union indefinitely. One could be forgiven for thinking that Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople are getting their inspiration from Heinz, with 57 varieties of Brexit on offer. While the Government have introduced a sunset clause in the Bill to make sure that its provisions cannot last for more two years, Labour policy on Brexit can barely last two days. If it lasts two weeks it appears to be a long-term policy indeed.
Before the general election, the House voted overwhelmingly in favour of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. Tonight, it should do the same on Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. In the words of one of my more succinct correspondents, who wrote to me yesterday and urged me to tell the House:
“For goodness’ sake just get on with it”.
This Bill is utterly pernicious. It is dangerous, it is fundamentally un-British and it has at its heart a lie. It pretends to bring back power to this country, but it actually represents the biggest peacetime power grab by the Executive over the legislature, by the Government over Parliament, in 100 years. It allows the Government to drive through changes to any law by the simple fiat of a Minister. That includes the powers of the House of Lords, the date of the next general election, the composition of the House of Commons and the number of Ministers. In the most extreme instance of all, it allows Ministers to alter the very Bill itself. That is a dangerous spiral of autocracy. Some Members seem to think it is a compliment to refer to them as Henry VIII powers. I know that Henry VIII, in 1536, legislated to allow two MPs to come here from Calais, but on the whole the Tudor exercise was not a proud demonstration of democracy. These are clauses of which Erdoğan, Maduro and Putin would be proud.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I am sorry to interrupt his flow of eloquence. Is he conscious of schedule 7, in particular part 2, and especially paragraph 6, sub-paragraph 2, sub-sub-section (g), in which it is made perfectly clear that it is only by affirmative resolution, and not the fiat of Ministers, that amendments to Acts can be made?
I am perfectly aware of all the measures in schedule 7, but I merely point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, since the Bill itself can be changed by the Government, that is one of the elements the Government can change. What happens, even under the affirmative process—this is the problem with secondary legislation—is that, because there is no opportunity to amend, the Government will say, “Take it or leave it”. They will then suddenly say, “There is a real emergency and you’ve got to take it, because otherwise there will be chaos.” That is the sword of Damocles that Governments always hold over Parliament when a clause hands matters over to secondary legislation.
I am doubly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he withdraw his remark that it is by ministerial fiat, and resort instead to the argument that the drafting would enable the Government to exert some pressure on Parliament, which presumably he and his colleagues would resist?
No, I am not withdrawing it. The Bill, at several points, makes it quite clear that the Government will hold powers to bring in regulations under secondary legislation through the negative process. The whole point about the negative process is that the statutory instrument comes into law unless it has been annulled, and the only process by which it can be annulled is if the Government themselves allow time for us to debate the matter and to have a vote. I would be happy to trust the Government if in recent years—I do not know why the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) is looking up at that point; he never used to trust the Government until he became a Minister—they had been happy, since 2010 or 2015, to honour the traditional doctrine of the House, which is that if the Leader of the Opposition demands a vote and a debate in this Chamber there will be one. They have, however, consistently refused to do that. Enormous changes to our law, affecting student nurses and every student in the land, and affecting benefits for all our constituents, have been driven through via secondary legislation. It should never have been used for such measures, without us ever being able to insist on having a debate or a vote. The worst of it, to which I have already referred, is that when we do have a debate, the Government get to decide whether it should be in Committee or on the Floor of the House. If it is in Committee, all we get is a motion stating whether or not we have debated the matter in hand.
I am not giving way to the right hon. Gentleman again. I am sure he will manage to catch your eye, Mr Speaker.
It is not as if the Government do not accept that they will have to introduce hundreds and hundreds of statutory instruments. What they should have done, before introducing the Bill, was suggest an alternative way of dealing with this process over the next two years, so that there can be proper triaging of genuinely technical and minor consequential amendments to legislation that need to happen, and significant measures where the whole House would want to take a view.
Since 1950, Parliament has rejected only 11 statutory instruments, so we know that this is an autocratic process, but let me get to a much bigger worry for me: clause 9. I am sure that hon. Members have read it. It states very clearly:
“Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament (including modifying this Act).”
When I said last week in the House that this was truly exceptional, all sorts of Government Members, including Ministers, came up to me and said, “Oh no, there are hundreds of examples. I’ll give you examples by the weekend.” The first example I was given was the Scotland Act 1998, but it does not apply. Section 113(6)—I am sure the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) will know this subsection—states:
“But a power to modify enactments does not…extend to making modifications of this Act or subordinate legislation under it.”
In other words, the Minister who told me that had missed out the word “not”, rather conveniently.
Then the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) came up to me and said, “No, you’re completely and utterly wrong. The greatest constitutional expert in this country”—I think he might have meant himself—“tells me that section 75 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives the Government the right to change the Act itself by statutory instrument”. Unfortunately, he was wrong as well. It actually states:
“If…it appears to the Secretary of State…that…the enactment is capable of preventing the disclosure of information”—
in other words, gives the Government too much power to prevent disclosure—
“he may by order repeal or amend the enactment for the purpose of removing or relaxing the prohibition.”
It is a measure that gives the Government not more but less power. Even the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which applies to circumstances when by universal accord—probably—the Government would need emergency powers, and which builds on previous Acts of Parliament, states categorically, in section 23(5):
“Emergency regulations may not amend…this Part of this Act”—
in other words, all the major elements of the Act.
If hon. Members who are trying to cover their tracks by saying, “We think all this secondary legislation business is terribly worrying, and obviously we’ll change that in Committee”, really care about those matters, they should consider the Government’s track record. What have they done recently? They engaged in what I would call jiggery-pokery with the DUP to ensure a majority—and let us hope we have a vote on Estimates Day on the £1 billion for the DUP; they delayed setting up Select Committees until now to make it impossible for us to scrutinise many of the measures going through during the summer months; and tomorrow, they are trying to make sure that, for the first time in our history, a Government without a majority in the House have a majority on every single Committee. If that does not make one question the bona fides of this Government, nothing will, and that is why I say to hon. Members: do not sell your birthright for a mess of pottage; vote against this Bill!
Twenty years ago, almost to the day, I was involved in another bitterly fought referendum campaign in which both sides accused the other of exaggerations and even outright lies. The result was extremely finely balanced, our nation was divided and many were of the opinion that the Government of the day had absolutely no right to proceed with such a profound constitutional change on the basis of a tiny majority. I refer not to the EU but to the Welsh devolution referendum.
There the similarities end. The day after the Welsh Assembly referendum, I did not see BBC reporters trawling the streets of Cardiff or Swansea for anecdotes about people who had allegedly voted one way and then changed their minds—I can well remember in fact that BBC reporters from Wales could hardly contain their delight—and we did not see business representative groups and trade unions whipping up fears about the future of the economy; instead, they embraced the opportunities. Those of us who had been actively involved in the campaign against the Welsh Assembly realised that, whatever we thought of the result, the people had spoken. Even though it was a narrow margin—much narrower than in the EU referendum—and on a much smaller turnout, we did not try to stop the process. We did not try to take the Government to court. In fact, we got involved in the shaping of Welsh Assembly standing orders through a body called the National Assembly Advisory Group.
The First Minister of Wales and some of his colleagues in Parliament would do well to remember that. He and others have been complaining about a power grab and making accusations about undermining the Assembly—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way in a moment. I am coming to something the SNP said earlier.
The only powers being grabbed are those being grabbed from Brussels and taken back to London. There is absolutely no grabbing of powers from Cardiff. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) asked the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) whether he could name a single power being taken from Edinburgh, and he could not name any.
I am happy to give way to his colleague to see if he can come up with a few.
The hon. Gentleman is keen to draw parallels between the EU referendum and that which established the Welsh Assembly. The result of the EU referendum casts great doubt over the continuing human rights of 3 million people living in these islands. Can he name a single person whose human rights were threatened as a result of the Welsh referendum 20 years ago today?
It was about the same number of EU nationals whose human rights are being threatened by the latest referendum. One of those 3 million is my wife. Not a single Government Member has ever suggested stripping EU nationals of their rights. We are totally opposed to that idea. I am happy once again to say on behalf of all my colleagues that none of us wants to do anything to take away the human rights of the hard-working, law-abiding EU citizens in this country. We welcome them as much today as we always have.
We are not taking powers away from Cardiff, Edinburgh or anywhere else. In fact, over the last few years, Conservative MPs have voted several times to give significant extra powers to the Welsh Assembly—and, I believe, to the Scottish Parliament. To be honest, if I am going to criticise my own colleagues, I would criticise the number of extra powers we have given to the Welsh Assembly and will do again. I probably will not be quite as enthusiastic about that, but there we are. The Bill will actually strengthen devolution. It will mean more powers for the Welsh Assembly in the not-too-distant future, and it will be much easier to transfer powers from the Westminster Parliament back down the M4 than it would be if those powers stayed in Brussels. Let us be frank about that. If those powers were to stay in Brussels, they would not come to the Welsh Assembly at all.
It is time for Opposition Members to do what those of us who opposed the Welsh Assembly did 20 years and recognise that it is the will of the people, including in Wales, which voted for devolution and to leave the EU. It voted mainly for Conservative and Labour MPs in the last election who stood on a manifesto commitment to respect the referendum decision and bring Britain out of the EU. The people having made their voices heard over and over again, it would be an outrage if we did what Commissioners in Brussels have done many times in the past few years and went against the stated will of the people. The Bill represents a great day for democracy in Britain, including in Wales, and I look forward to joining my colleagues in the Lobby to support it tonight.
In view of the limited time, I will focus on just three aspects of this deeply dangerous and undemocratic Bill. First, I wish to add my voice to the many on both sides of the House expressing enormous concern about how the Bill allows the Government an unprecedented power grab. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on his masterclass about how this undermines our sovereignty and represents a wholesale shift of power from elected representatives in Parliament to Ministers and civil servants acting without the encumbrance of accountability or democratic scrutiny.
Regardless of one’s views about Brexit, the Bill is a constitutional outrage. The rank hypocrisy that these proposals to undermine parliamentary sovereignty are being led by precisely those Members who sold the leave argument last year on the supposedly noble ideal of restoring exactly that sovereignty is breathtaking, even by the standards of Government Members. That is why measures to circumscribe those powers are so vital, including measures based on proposals, such as those of the Hansard Society, to establish a sift and scrutiny system for delegated legislation in general. The current processes are already manifestly failing.
Secondly, I want to highlight concerns about the Bill’s impact on environmental protection, and, in particular, about the governance gap—the Bill’s failure to provide for the proper enforcement of environmental laws and standards post-Brexit. So far, there has been no evidence that Ministers recognise the scale of the challenge. Research conducted by the House of Commons has identified more than 1,100 pieces of EU environmental legislation that are the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, yet the issue did not appear in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, has not appeared in the Secretary of State’s statements so far, and certainly does not appear in the Bill.
Cutting and pasting laws from the EU’s statute book into the UK’s is simply not enough, because laws are only as effective as the mechanisms that implement and enforce them in practice. In the absence of mechanisms to replace the monitoring and enforcement roles of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, we will effectively be left with zombie legislation—it may be on the statute book, but it will not be enforceable. There needs to be positive action to create a new Government system including proper implementation, compliance and enforcement. When the Government argue that judicial review can adequately provide the sole mechanism for civil society to challenge the application of environmental law, it shows how little they understand the limitations of JR. It is far too limited in scope and remit, and in terms of access, remedies and sanctions.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will keep on for a little bit longer.
We need to transfer explicitly into UK law the key general environmental principles that are enshrined in the EU treaties: the precautionary principle, for example, and the “polluter pays” principle. A further regrettable omission from the Bill relates to animal welfare. The protocol on animal sentience which is so vital to our animal legislation was incorporated into article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, but the text of that treaty is not itself covered by the Bill, so the wording of that article is not replicated. I intend to table amendments on that issue.
Thirdly, and more substantively, I am deeply concerned that schedule 8 effectively ends the UK’s membership of the single market and the customs union. That is yet another masochistic red line from Ministers who are intent on leaving the EU whatever the cost to the UK’s economy, and regardless of the damage to the country’s long-term prosperity. Analysis indicates that leaving the customs union would result in a £25 billion-a-year hit to the UK economy and a Brexit bureaucracy bombshell for UK firms. So much for Brexit’s leading to a bonfire of red tape.
Ministers seem to think that they can just conjure up, in a few months, a customs union that is not “the” customs union, but which will deliver exactly the same benefits as those that we have now, and all that without paying for membership of the EU. I look forward to seeing how they plan to achieve that amazing feat, as I am sure that quite a few of my constituents would like to enjoy the benefits of institutions in Brighton without having to bother to pay the membership fee.
Far from transferring all EU law into UK law, the Bill fails to preserve the right to freedom of movement. Let me be very clear: my party’s policy on freedom of movement is unequivocal—we believe that it not only benefits our economy but, crucially, benefits our communities as well. Being able to work, study, live and love in 27 other member states is a precious gift. It is one that we should be extending to an increasing number of our own young people, not shrinking—not closing down their horizons; not denying. I also believe that we should say loudly and proudly that we celebrate the contribution of EU nationals who come to make a life here: they enrich our society.
I believe that, as people become increasingly aware of the human and financial costs of Brexit over the coming months—those costs were never made clear during the referendum campaign—they should have the right and the opportunity to change their minds, if they choose. When people take out phone contracts, for heaven’s sake, they have a chance to look again and to revisit their decisions. Why would we deny them that possibility when it comes to the biggest decision that this country has made in generations? That is why my party is committed to the proposal of a ratification referendum: a chance for people to judge the final deal that comes back from Brussels in the light of all that we are learning now about the costs of leaving, which were never apparent during the referendum campaign.
People who voted leave did not vote for falling wages, lower living standards and rising inflation. I do not believe that they voted to trash environmental protection, to create massive staff shortages in our hospitals and care homes, or to see food rotting in the fields because of the lack of workers to cultivate it. I do not believe that they voted to slam the door shut on our centuries-old tradition of proudly welcoming people from overseas. The very real consequences of Brexit were never spelt out in what was surely the most mendacious, toxic and cynical referendum campaign that we have ever seen, and that is why I shall vote against the Bill’s Second Reading.
The House voted six to one, with its eyes wide open, for a referendum. Implicit in that result was the determination that the British people would decide what their destiny was to be, and they did so, clearly, in June last year. The House accepted that decision when we triggered article 50. What we are discussing today is giving the Government the means to deal with what I believe to be the most complex legislation with which any Government have had to deal for generations.
The Government are very sensibly trying to put all EU law into British law so that the day after we leave there will not be chaos, there will not be lawyers running around suing various people, and we will have legal certainty. If this were a really vicious, horrible, right-wing Government, they would be going through the lot deciding what they were going to get rid of, but they are not doing that. They are putting legislation on workers’ rights, welfare, the environment and a range of other issues into UK law so that future Governments—probably not this Government—can decide at their leisure what they will keep, what they will improve, and what they will change in the traditional British way: by producing a Green Paper and a White Paper, and presenting legislation to the House. Future Governments will have more scope for policy change and adjustments than any since the 1970s. We are gifting to future Parliaments, whoever will control them, the ability to control the destiny of our nation.
This is all that we are trying to do in the third part of the Bill. We know that, inevitably, there will be holes in the legislation. We will try to dam them up so that the legislation works and the legal system has certainty. There is nothing wicked about that; it is actually very sensible. Anyone who talks to most business people, local authorities and individuals will find that what they want is for change—if there is to be change—to be gradual and managed change, not chaos.
I have been in the House long enough to know that when legal cases arise and events occur, Governments sometimes come up with rushed legislation to fill a gap. They do so in a day, sometimes with manuscript amendments. We know that when we leave the EU at the end of March 2019, there will be holes in legislation that will need to be plugged, either before we leave or just afterwards. That is extraordinary, and I think it is a one-off, but I also think it is necessary. There may well be nuances in what we can do with the legislation. Statutory instruments themselves are not ideal. One of the reasons why many cannot be amended is that they often deal with European directives that cannot themselves be amended.
Perhaps, in the course of the eight-day Committee stage on the Floor of the House, there will be means of improving parliamentary scrutiny. When I look at the Secretary of State and other Ministers, I get the feeling that they are in listening mode. If someone comes up with a perfectly sensible suggestion for dealing with what will be a terrible problem, they will adopt it. If that means our not having an Easter holiday next year or the year after next, and spending more hours dealing with legislation, that will have to be the way. My suspicion is that more of the legislation will end up on the Floor of the House than people expect. Much will be small and much will be technical, but I am entirely sure that when there are principles and when there are concerns, the Government will want to air them, because that is how our Parliament works, and I think that it does so with the best of intentions.
If there is a rush, it is because the article 50 process involves a timetable, and that timetable was determined by Tony Blair when he negotiated the Lisbon treaty. Incidentally, according to the 2005 Labour party manifesto, the treaty was to be put to the people in a referendum, which was reneged on by the then Government. At the moment we are trying to deal with legislation that was pushed through by Tony Blair, in order to carry out the will of the British people.
We have heard today about an unprecedented “biggest power grab in 100 years”. Well, I am old enough to have been in the House when the Blair Government introduced programming. I agree that it has pluses and minuses, but what it did was to transfer power from the Opposition to the Government, and that has been a very substantial change over the past 20 years. The reality is that the Government are doing their best to secure a sensible, measured movement out of the EU, and to allow future Governments, at their leisure, to legislate for change, if that is what they wish to do. There is going to be great opportunity for this House, although probably not in this Parliament. In the future, it will be able to deal with a much wider range of policy.
I do not hold that there is anything evil or pernicious about what the Government are trying to do. They have been given a problem by the British people, and they have to try and solve it. Members might well improve the procedure for achieving that over the eight days in Committee, but the Government’s objectives are to carry out the will of the people and ensure that we have a steady, careful transition so that, the day after we leave the EU, people do not notice any difference, and Members of Parliament will be the people who make a difference.
The majority of my constituents who voted in the referendum voted to leave the European Union. Out of respect for them, I also voted to trigger article 50 earlier this year, but neither the people of Birmingham, Northfield, nor those anywhere else in this country, were ever asked about, or voted for, the kind of ministerial power grab that the contents of the Bill represent.
On Thursday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), together with the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and many others, forensically and cogently outlined why the powers Ministers are seeking to take, particularly in clauses 7, 9 and 17, are so widely drawn that they have left what the right hon. and learned Gentleman memorably described as “an astonishing monstrosity” of a Bill. Like them, I do not believe it is acceptable for Ministers to have the power to sweep away protections for employees and the environment or laws to guarantee equality by statutory instrument, or, indeed, for them to vary the enforcement mechanisms for those laws by statutory instrument, simply by asserting that they are doing so to rectify what they perceive to be deficiencies not only in EU laws that are transposed into UK law, but even in UK laws themselves that they say are somehow linked to the EU. This Bill goes so far as to give Ministers the power to amend primary legislation by statutory instrument, and even the power to extend the provisions of the very measure—this Bill—that gives them that power in the first place. Professor Mark Elliott, professor of public law at the University of Cambridge, has rightly described this as delegated legislation on stilts, so I will be supporting the reasoned amendment that declines to give this Bill a Second Reading.
Of course, we need legislation to ensure that EU rights and protections are incorporated into UK law so that we avoid gaps being opened up in the spectrum of rules and regulations at the point of Brexit. There is consensus in the House about that, so why have Ministers brought forward a Bill that undermines rather than builds on that? It is not as if they have not had time to do this properly. When they published their White Paper back in March, we warned them then against using the Bill that would follow to unreasonably increase the powers of Ministers so that they could sidestep full scrutiny of their proposals by elected MPs. We warned them again at the election—our manifesto commitment to replace what at that time was being called the great repeal Bill with an EU rights and protections Bill was precisely that warning. In the past months, many bodies, ranging from the Hansard Society to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the Local Government Association, have warned the Government about the dangers of the Bill in its current form. The Women and Equalities Committee and many others have warned about problems with the Bill.
On Thursday, in answer to an intervention from the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), the Brexit Secretary hinted that he was prepared to talk about ideas for a triage system to give MPs and peers some kind of say over the limits of where and how delegated legislation should be used, perhaps taking up some of the ideas of the House of Lords Constitution Committee. I welcome that, but I have to say that Ministers’ track record since March underlines that what we need from them is more than generalised offers to talk. We need some demonstration that they are prepared to act on what they are being told, but so far there is no indication at all that that is going to happen. Rather, the thrust of the Brexit Secretary’s argument on Thursday was that there is really nothing to worry about in this Bill and that Ministers should be trusted to use the powers they are given only sparingly, and not for matters for which they are not appropriate. I am afraid that that just is not good enough. If the Government want to reassure us that the powers conferred by the Bill will not be used to do something that those powers expressly permit, it is legitimate for us to ask: why grant those powers in first place unless we can also have a say in practice over the circumstances in which they can be used? This Bill does not give Parliament that say. Until it does, I cannot support it.
In an excellent speech on Thursday, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) referred to the fact that we are sent here on the wings of ballot papers sent in by our constituents. That is a precious right, and I agree with her that it is one that we should observe and uphold. I was sent here with a very clear message from my constituents, who on 23 June 2016 voted decisively to leave the European Union. They did so, contrary to what the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) says, in full knowledge of what that entailed: self-government over federalism, democracy over bureaucracy, and economic liberalism over protectionism. It is important to note, of course, that the third of my voters who voted to remain have accepted the result, and now simply wish for our departure from the EU to be as smooth and orderly as possible. That is why we need this Bill. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that we cannot have that without this Bill.
So let us be clear about the Bill’s function. This is not a Bill about whether we stay in or leave the EU; that decision was taken by our bosses, the British people, last year. Likewise, it is not a Bill about the substance of the withdrawal agreement; that is a matter for ongoing negotiation between Ministers and Brussels. The primary purpose of the Bill is simply to provide the legal continuity and certainty on exit day that I think all of us want.
To be clear, we have to do this. The House of Commons Library states that once the European Communities Act is repealed on exit day, without the legislative measures proposed in this Bill,
“huge holes would open up within the statute book”.
The Opposition talk a good game about Henry VIII and power grabs, but the Secretary of State was crystal clear on Thursday that the Bill will not be used to make material changes, and he made welcome commitments that he will consider sensible suggestions at Committee stage, and that is the point—this will happen in Committee.
If we vote down this Bill this evening, as Opposition Members want to do, we will be torpedoing the whole principle of the Bill, not the substance of the individual suggestions in it. We will be preventing the very chance of making the amendments that people want to see. It is hard to avoid the feeling that for some Members this is less about parliamentary scrutiny and more about parliamentary sophistry—that is to say, frustrating our best chance of making a success of Brexit. That is something I passionately believe in, although I accept some do not. The point is that we are all in this together, so we need to make this work. I put it to Members who represent seats that voted heavily to leave that they should reflect, as I have, on what message we would send out if we set about obfuscating their clearly expressed will in any way.
The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) made a powerful speech earlier, joining those given by the hon. Members for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field). They understand the nature of the mandate we have been given. This is an extraordinary, once-in-a-generation moment, and I think it crosses party lines. People on Teesside, every single constituency of which voted to leave the EU, will be astonished that I am the only Member from that region who is going to be voting tonight for what they asked for.
I want to conclude by re-emphasising the calamitous consequences of our exiting the EU without the necessary legal provisions in place. Without this Bill, we will wake on the morning of exit day to find that thousands of our laws have changed or been rendered inoperative. The fallout from that scenario will make “cliff edge” sound euphemistic. With that in mind, voting against the Bill tonight will be interpreted by many as a vote to punish the British people for having had the audacity to vote for Brexit, for that is exactly what it will do.
I am grateful for the chance to contribute to this debate. I look forward to re-joining the Exiting the European Union Committee, whose important work will finally recommence this week.
I will vote tonight for Labour’s reasoned amendment and against the Second Reading of the Bill, not to frustrate Brexit, but because I believe that Parliament and the country must not be side-lined in how we move forward. The Bill has clearly been written without thought to its implications. As it stands, it sets a precedent that our democracy, or any other, should not allow. Ministers would be able to amend primary legislation—the Bill and other Acts—without needing a debate or vote in this House. Ministers could remove rights and protections through secondary legislation without any meaningful or guaranteed parliamentary scrutiny.
Many excellent points on the scope, scrutiny, transparency and accountability of the powers in the Bill have already been made, especially by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). I want to focus the detail of my remarks on one specific issue of concern, on which I would be grateful for the Minister’s response.
Once upon a time, before the general election, there was a lot of stirring rhetoric from the Prime Minister about how no deal would be better than a bad deal. These days, we hear less public talk of no deal, but the Bill nurses one hangover from when the Prime Minister could still pretend she had a mandate for her vision of what Brexit means. We do not have to look very far to find it. It is in clause 1, which states:
“The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.”
“Exit day” is defined as
“such day as a Minister of the Crown may by regulations appoint”.
Now stand back. What clause 1 proposes is that any Minister can decide when our membership of the EU ends.
On any day, if the Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary decided, the Executive could withdraw from talks and decide to make hard Brexit a reality by repealing the European Communities Act, without a proper debate and without a full vote of this House. Clause 1 appears to put perhaps the most important power in the Bill—the power to repeal the European Communities Act—entirely into the hands of any Minister at a time of their choosing and whether or not there is continuity of our laws at that time.
Exit day is not even defined as being, at the earliest, 29 March 2019. There appears to be no parliamentary supervision over that power. It would appear that Parliament does not need to approve the regulations. Parliament does not even get to see them in advance. Hon. Members will have their own views about the wisdom of Ministers having that power. For my own part, I find it hard to see how giving an unfettered power to any Minister—especially a Conservative Minister—is what Parliament taking back control looks like.
There is no need for Parliament to be cut out of that decision. If our talks with the EU produce a deal, it will need to be approved by the other member states and the European Parliament before the cut-off date of March 2019. So there will be ample time for Parliament to choose to accept it, and consequently for the UK to see the repeal of the 1972 Act on what most assume will be exit day—29 March 2019. But if our talks with the EU break down, it must be for Parliament and not Ministers to determine our response. Parliament may decide to repeal the 1972 Act anyway, or it may say that no deal will have calamitous consequences—crashing over the cliff is a long way from the sunlit uplands promised to the electorate.
Either way, what is important is that it is Parliament, not a Minister, who chooses how to respond. That is why Labour’s manifesto promised voters a meaningful choice. The question of what action we should take if talks break down is for Parliament to answer. The power for Ministers to exit with no deal should not be in the Bill. I will vote against a Bill containing this unfettered clause 1, and I hope for some words of reassurance from the Government on that today.
The vote tonight is not about whether we leave the European Union, it is about how we do so. For want of a better phrase, the Bill is little short of a dog’s Brexit. Parliament and the country deserve better.
Without the Bill we cannot respect the will of the British people, as expressed in the referendum, and repeal the European Communities Act 1972. Without the Bill, as many Members have pointed out, we will see legal chaos. Given the sheer volume and complexity of the EU law that will have to be converted into UK law, I accept that the Government will need relatively wide delegated powers to amend legislation, but there is a distinction between necessary amendments as a consequence of our leaving the EU, many of which will be technical and minor, and those that implement entirely new policies.
The delegated powers in the Bill will touch every aspect of our lives, as many colleagues have said—their use could be unprecedented in scale, scope and constitutional significance—so I am glad to hear that Ministers are in listening mode. I will support the Bill tonight in the expectation that it will be amended in Committee and that there will be support for reforming the way delegated legislation is handled, so that Parliament, rather than the Government, can decide the appropriate level of scrutiny. Without that, we simply will not be able to bring control back to Parliament.
It may be useful to those who are following the debate from outside this place if I explain how delegated legislation works and why it is important that we amend it. I was first introduced to Delegated Legislation Committees when I was appointed to one dealing with draft double taxation relief and international tax enforcement orders. I thought there must have been a horrible mistake, so I sent a note to the Whip to ask about my duties. I received the following three instructions: “Turn up on time, say nothing and vote with the Government.”
People might argue that no one died as a result of my ignorance of international law on double taxation relief in Oman and Singapore, but what makes the system so absurd is that the very next Committee due to sit was a Delegated Legislation Committee examining the draft Medical Profession (Responsible Officers) Regulations 2010. It might be argued that, as someone who had just come to the House having been teaching junior doctors and medical students and having been an examiner for the Royal College of General Practitioners with an interest in doctors who were failing, I was better placed to be on the second Committee. It seems to me that there is an expectation that Members should not have any expertise at all. I think the general public would find that absolutely extraordinary; they expect Members to be able genuinely to scrutinise legislation.
There are many other reasons why the procedures should change. It is a great concern to people outside this place that many statutory instruments are subject to the negative procedure rather than the affirmative procedure and do not get any scrutiny at all—not even the current defective scrutiny. The power to change that does not necessarily need to come from legislation; we could use the Standing Orders. I commend the Hansard Society for the excellent work it did in advance of the Bill to set out how the procedures could be amended. Even though it is in our power as a House to put in place Standing Orders, for example to set up a Delegated Legislation Committee with the powers of sift and scrutiny that we have discussed today, it would help if Ministers indicated that they are in listening mode about that, too, and that they would support it happening over time.
I genuinely feel that the Government do not want to obstruct sensible debate. All Members from across the House should work with Ministers to put in place something that genuinely works. We know that delegated legislation needs reform even without this Bill, so let use this as an opportunity. As we have heard, up to a thousand statutory instruments will be coming before the House, and we need the House to decide whether the procedure will be negative or affirmative. We need reform so that we can genuinely develop expertise along the lines suggested by the Hansard Society and so that MPs with a genuine interest scrutinise the proposals.
The point is that a delegated legislation Select Committee could have the power to send a statutory instrument to a Committee of the whole House—not just a small Delegated Legislation Committee in a Committee Room, but with all of us here, similar to what we are doing today. It could also have the power to suggest sensible amendments that the Government would have to take away and consider. I have said that I will support the Government tonight, but I do so only in the expectation that they will support sensible amendments.
“Democracy” and “the will of the people” are terms often used and—dare I say it—abused in connection with leaving the European Union. I have been listening to this debate for many hours now, and I am puzzled by the arguments of those who support the Bill’s progress. As has already been said this afternoon, we are here to debate not whether we leave the EU but how we do it. Over the past two days of debate, it has been eloquently proven by Members from both sides of the House that what is in front of us is deeply flawed, because it threatens to write into law a substantial loss of our parliamentary democracy and set an alarming precedent. It is therefore frustrating to be accused of undermining the will of the people if I do not support the Bill’s progress. I will not support the Bill, because it threatens a fundamental principle of British democracy—the supremacy of Parliament and the division of powers—and gives sweeping powers to Minsters and bureaucrats. The right to make laws in this country was given to Parliament after many hard-fought battles.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Will the hon. Gentleman hear me out?
The supremacy of Parliament is a proud tradition that all of us should defend. I find it perplexing that, for example, the hon. Members for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), both of whom I know to be thinking people, are so eager to see us leave the EU that they forget everything else in its path. Democracy matters, and whoever tries to suspend democracy to enact the will of the people should think again.
The will of the people is of course a pretty mixed bag and is not fixed forever. On 23 June last year, almost 70% of my constituents voted to remain in the EU. In June this year, I was elected on the basis of my opposition to the Government’s Brexit line. That was the will of the people in my constituency at that point. True to form, Bath had one of the highest voter turnouts, and active engagement in Bath is not limited to election time; it is evident every day. Protest groups, demonstrations and lively debates are testament to how much people in Bath care about how our country is run. Another principle of democracy that they want to see practised is that I can speak on their behalf about their concerns about when and how we leave the EU without being labelled as a remoaner, a reverser, unpatriotic or undemocratic. Democracy is about the right to debate freely and voice an opinion without being labelled or bullied. If we truly want to achieve the best for our country, we need to be able to discuss all outcomes freely, including that people—leavers or remainers—can change their mind.
The Bill adds another level of madness to the Brexit process, betraying not only those who voted remain, but those who chose to leave. One of the leave campaign’s strongest arguments was about taking back control here in Westminster, but instead of giving control back to this Parliament, which the leave campaign championed, the Bill is a power grab by Ministers. One of my constituents said to me:
“When people voted to leave the European Union, they didn’t vote to swap backroom deals in Brussels for more of the same in Whitehall. They voted for Parliament and the British people to have more of a say.”
As the MP for Bath, I will fight this attack on our democracy. I will not sit idly by as this Government try to erode our rights and change our laws behind closed doors. How can anybody support this Bill? My only conclusion is that those who support it want their version of Brexit at any cost, including democracy. Come on, let us stand up for democracy and stop this flawed Bill in its tracks. I dare say that the will of the people will be right behind us.
I have been in the House since 2001 and have, I dare say, manufactured a fair amount of indignation about the legislation of previous Governments, but things are different today. I respect the Opposition’s arguments—they are absolutely right to raise them, and their concerns are valid and should be considered—but we are in the middle of a negotiation and my constituents constantly ask me, “What is going to happen?” We, as a country, are