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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Volume 628: debated on Thursday 7 September 2017

2. What assessment the Government have made of the potential effect of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill on (a) workers’ rights and (b) environmental protection. (900640)

The UK already goes beyond EU minimum standards in a number of employment areas, and similarly we have a long history of environmental protection. We are committed to safeguarding and improving both. The EU Withdrawal Bill will ensure that EU-derived workers’ rights and environmental protections that currently apply will continue to be in place in domestic law on exit, and will enable those laws to continue to function effectively. It will then be for Parliament and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures to make any future changes to EU-derived law.

Britain already has one of the most competition-friendly economies in the world, according to the OECD, but some Conservative Members want to use Brexit to dismantle workers’ rights and erode environmental protections. [Interruption.] The EU brought us—[Interruption.]

Order. I am sorry, but there is huge pressure of time today, and we do not have time for descriptions. What we need is short, pithy questions, preferably not heckled extensively, so that we can get down the Order Paper.

Order. I am sorry, but I explained that what I need is a single-sentence question, not a series of descriptions.

Will the Minister assure the residents of Stockton South that their rights will not be eroded and that workers and the environment will not end up paying the price of Brexit?

Yes, I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman and his residents. I can reassert the Government’s commitment not to roll back workers’ rights. As I have said, the UK already goes beyond EU minima, and it will be for Parliament in future to determine the future course of the law.

First, may I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box? In the course of the debates about the so-called Henry VIII powers, will he remind everybody that section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 actually, for 40 years, gave a British Government the kind of Executive authority that was never granted before, and that in leaving the European Union we will be giving Parliament back its power to scrutinise?

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend; of course I agree with him. I am invigorated and excited to find that Parliament is reawakening to the need for full and proper scrutiny of secondary legislation.

Does the Minister recognise the risk of an impending governance gap with regard to environmental legislation? At present, the Commission and the European Court of Justice perform the vital role of both monitoring and enforcing laws. Domestic mechanisms like judicial review simply do not go far enough. What new institutional mechanisms is he going to look at to make sure that he leaves the environment in a better state than he found it?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding the House that we are committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it.

She asks how we will do it. The Bill makes provision for Ministers to bring forward statutory instruments that will correct deficiencies that would otherwise arise as we bring EU law into UK law. I very much look forward to the debate on the particular instruments.

May I also welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench? I welcome his comments to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is completely wrong, because leaving the European Union will enable us to take our full role on international bodies such as the International Plant Protection Convention, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Codex Alimentarius Commission. We will be able to adapt the world conventions Ramsar and Bern to our own environment, our own landscape, our own flora and our own fauna. Does my hon. Friend agree?

I do agree with my right hon. Friend, and I am most grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to put on the record again that we will uphold all our commitments to international law in relation to the environment.

Despite the Minister’s assurances a few minutes ago, clause 9 as it stands will give the Minister the almost unlimited right, with minimal parliamentary scrutiny, to wipe out any workers’ protection that he chooses. Given that they are promising not to do that, will the Government commit today to amending that clause at Committee stage so that the erosion of workers’ rights is explicitly excluded from the powers that that clause will bring?

The powers in the Bill have been drawn widely in order that this country and this Parliament can meet the imperative of delivering a working statute book on the day we leave the European Union, to deliver certainty, continuity and control and, on the area that the hon. Gentleman raises, in order to implement the withdrawal agreement in a way that allows us to leave the European Union smoothly and successfully.

I will not give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he is looking for today, but I will say to him that as the junior Minister responsible for the Bill on behalf of the Secretary of State, I will look with the utmost seriousness at the amendments that are tabled. What we will not do is accept any amendment that compromises the fundamental purpose of the Bill, which is to deliver certainty, continuity and control as we leave and to allow us to make the necessary changes to UK law to implement the necessary withdrawal agreement.

The Government believe that clause 9 is necessary because of the huge volume of legislation that will have to go through simply to tidy up potential anomalies in legislation. I am offering them a way out. Why are they so determined to bring in legislation that they do not intend to use, when they will have their work cut out for them to bring in the legislation that they do need? Why will the Minister not commit to putting into legislation the promise that he has just given to the House at the Dispatch Box?

With respect, the hon. Gentleman may be confusing clauses 7 and 9. I look forward to the fullest debate on these matters on the Floor of the House when we come—I hope, Parliament willing—to Committee stage.

May I add my congratulations to my colleague on his appointment to the Front Bench? It is very well deserved. Is not the right way for the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) to secure the rights of workers, and to secure the environmental protections that he wants, to vote for the EU (Withdrawal) Bill? If the Labour party succeeds in blocking the Bill, those protections will no longer exist.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations and his support, and I look forward to his support in future. He is absolutely right: the best way for Members of this House to ensure that they serve their constituents by delivering a working statute book, and delivering the continuity of the rights and protections currently in EU law and applying to the UK, is to vote for this Bill and to support its passage through the House.