Iain Duncan Smith speaks in support of the principle of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

7th September 2017

Iain Duncan Smith speaks in support of the principle of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill highlighting the necessity that the large amount of European law and regulation is transferred into UK law, but recognises that the Government should look again carefully at some of the need to provide some checks and balances as assurances to the House.

I will endeavour to be brief. In rising to support the Bill in principle and in many cases in fact, I also offer my support to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). He remembers that in the lead-up to the Maastricht debate, we had quite a long Second Reading.

I organised that.

Exactly. I wonder whether, through my right hon. Friend’s good offices, the powers that be might make it possible to have a further extension on Monday to give more Back-Benchers an opportunity to speak. I say that because I remember the Maastricht debates, where we went through the night on the first day and ended the second day at 10 o’clock. Everyone got to speak—as many people wanted to speak then as now—and there was no time limit, as I recall, Mr Speaker, although I make no criticism of your imposing a time limit on me, as I am sure I will manage to fit within it. I just gently urge that there might be some scope for such an extension, even by Monday.

I support the Bill because it is clearly necessary. Let us start from the simple principle of how necessary it is. We have to get all that European law and regulation and so on transposed into UK law so that it is applicable, actionable and properly justiciable in UK law, and that requires a huge amount of action. There are very many pages of laws. I was looking at them the other day and I said, “If we were to vote on everything in that, we would have to have something in the order of 20,000 different votes.” There is no way on earth that that can possibly happen.

I listened with great care to the arguments of the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). I thought he made a very well-balanced speech and made his case for the need for change within the Bill rather well, but I would argue that the Labour party’s position does not fit with his speech. I go back to Maastricht, when John Smith led the Labour party. Because he was a strong believer in the European Union, the Labour party voted to support the legislation, but it then acted separately in Committee, where it opposed elements of the legislation that it did not agree with or thought needed changing. That is the position that the Labour party should adopt.

In other words, the reasoned way that the Labour party should behave is to reserve its position on Second Reading and then, subject to whatever changes it thinks necessary in Committee to the detail of the Bill, make a decision about what to do on Third Reading. To vote against the principle of the Bill is to vote against the idea that it is necessary to make changes to European law in order to transpose it into UK law. That is the absurdity that the Opposition have got into.

I know what it is like; we have been in opposition. There is a temptation to say behind the scenes, “I tell you what: we could cause a little bit of mayhem in the Government ranks by trying to attract some of their colleagues over to vote with us against Second Reading.” Fine—they fell for that, but the British public will look at this debate in due course and recognise that the Labour party ultimately is not fit for government.

In a sense, the detail of the Bill is not the issue; it becomes the issue once we have got through Second Reading. I accept and recognise that the Government have talked about possibly making major changes to the Bill. I observe that we are therefore not in disagreement about the need for the Bill. That is why the House should support the Bill’s passage, but there may be elements in it that need some change.

I note also that paragraph 48 of the report by the Select Committee on the Constitution, published this morning, which the right hon. and learned Member mentioned, states:

“We accept that the Government will require some Henry VIII powers in order to amend primary legislation to facilitate the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union”.

However, the report goes on to say that there also need to be

“commensurate safeguards and levels of scrutiny”.

So the debate is not about the need—

I would just like to mention, if my right hon. Friend will allow me, that it would not be unuseful to look at the names of the members of the Constitution Committee and make a judgment about their enthusiasm for leaving the European Union.

I am grateful for that intervention by my hon. Friend. I know he will be able to make a powerful case in support of the Bill, and he is right, but I will come back to that point.

The basis on which people are arguing—that there has never been a great sweep of powers coming through Henry VIII procedures—is completely and utterly wrong. The reason why I became so concerned about what was happening under the European Union treaties is that section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 clearly states that all the rules and regulations coming through treaties

“are without further enactment to be given”

immediate legal effect and

“shall be recognised and available in law”.

It goes on to say that

“Her Majesty may by Order in Council”—

Order in Council, which is not the procedure in this Bill—

“and any designated Minister or department may by order, rules, regulations or scheme, make provision”.

We have sat with that for 40 years, and we have been content to let rules and regulations be made in that way.

To those who talk about rule-takers and rule-makers, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), I say yes, that was the case up until the Maastricht treaty, when qualified majority voting came in. We became rule-takers under that provision, and there has never been a more powerful one in British legislative history. I just sound a cautionary note to some of my colleagues on either side of the House who go on about this being the first time; it is not so.

I have great sympathy with my right hon. Friend’s critique of European Union law. It is one of the reasons why the Brexit referendum ended up in the way it did, but that cannot be a justification for two wrongs making a right. The fact is that we do not need to legislate in this fashion in order to carry out the technical task of leaving the EU, and I remain utterly bemused as to why the legislation has been drafted in this form.

I am not asking for two wrongs to make a right; I support the principle of the Bill and the need for it, but I recognise that in Committee there will be need to review how some of those checks and balances are introduced, and I hope that is done properly and powerfully. What my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden said at the Dispatch Box gave indication to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) that there is scope to look at that. So the argument is not about the powers in the Bill; the debate is about how we reassure ourselves as a parliamentary democracy that the checks and balances exist such that, given the very profound nature of what is happening, we can achieve a balance and not delay the necessary changes.

The Opposition are in a peculiar position, but the Scottish nationalists are in a ridiculous position. For years and years they have sat by, content to see all the powers exercised in Brussels exercised there without their having any say. The moment we talk about leaving the European Union and bringing those powers back to the UK, they are up in arms because they feel betrayed that they do not exercise those powers. Where were they over the last 40 years when those powers were given away?

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

I am not going to give way; I do not want the hon. and learned Lady to embarrass herself any more with the ridiculous argument that her party colleagues make. The truth is that they will leap on any excuse. My response to them is that those powers are not being stolen away; they are being reassured that what the Government then devolve back down to them will be more than they have ever had before. That reassurance has been granted and given.

The Constitution Committee paper is rather good. It makes another important point, which relates to the three closing recommendations I wish to make. I hope the Government will look at three areas. The first is the application of statutory instruments. The Government have accepted that we should have an explanatory memorandum that tells us what was in place before and what will happen afterwards, but they should also accept the recommendation that the Government should provide an explanation as to why an instrument is necessary. It is important that people can recognise quickly what the Government intend. I hope the Government will think about that.

When I was at the Department for Work and Pensions, a statutory body called the Social Security Advisory Committee had the role of looking at legislation as it was about to be introduced. Sometimes that is awkward when one is the Secretary of State, but none the less it makes recommendations. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State look again at such a process? It may offer the Government a way to reassure people that the things they are about to do may well be absolutely necessary.

Here is the deal. We are asking that whatever is done under the purposes and powers of the Bill is done for one simple reason: to transpose existing law with existing effect, so that that effect does not change. If the single exam question is asked of a body like the Social Security Advisory Committee, “Is this instrument doing that?”, that might help to reassure Parliament. I urge the Government to consider that because it works in one area of detailed and consequential legislation, so I wonder if it might work in this area, too.

I am not going to go into a lot of detail, but my final recommendation is on the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras about the exit day. I am one of those who think we ought really to have that in the Bill, because he is right that on it hinges just about everything. For example, the Government have moved a long way on the sunset clauses, for which I thank them, because it is important to put an end date on the powers that exist in the Bill. The question is about the two years, but the real question is: when does the two years start and thus when does it end? That would answer a lot of the questions that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised about how far the Government might go in changing future legislation and everything else. As a strong supporter of the Bill, a strong supporter of the Government and a strong supporter of the principle, and as a big supporter of the idea of leaving the European Union, I urge the Government to think very carefully about what they do about that date.

In conclusion, I simply say that I absolutely support the Government on the principle of the Bill, as well as on the vast majority of the practicality and how it will be implemented, but I recognise that, in Committee, the Government will look again carefully at some of the need to provide some checks and balances as assurances to the House. We all want that, because none of us wants to defy the will of the British people, which is to leave smoothly, in a manner that does not bother business or upset individuals over their rights and their accepted ways of working.

I urge the Government to listen, but I congratulate them on getting to this point and getting us out of the European Union.

Earlier during Parliamentary Questions

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.

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