European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: 13th December 2017

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Yvette Cooper
I will, but then I want to make some more progress.

Anna Soubry
I assume that the right hon. Lady has read clause 9. Does she share my concern about the fact that some people seem not to have done so? Am I right to conclude that the clause means that the Government negotiate a withdrawal agreement—arguably one of the most important things that have happened for decades—which will not come to us here, but will be implemented by Ministers? As the Bill stands, that is it: apparently there will be no further involvement of this sovereign Parliament.

Yvette Cooper
I do agree, and I think that goes to the heart of our concern.

It ought to be possible for the Government to agree to my new clause 3, or to amendment 7. Let us think about the points that they have already made. First, they have recognised that there is a problem if too much power is concentrated in the hands of the Executive. They said so yesterday during the debate on clause 7, and I think that they recognise the importance of safeguards on the use of Executive powers. Secondly, they have said that there will be a meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement. I welcome that, but I think there is still a difference between us on what counts as a meaningful vote. Thirdly, they have said that there will now be primary legislation on the withdrawal agreement, and I welcome that as well. If we put all those three things together in the right way—the commitment to primary legislation, the commitment to a proper vote and say for ​Parliament, and concern about the concentration of powers—we get amendment 7 or new clause 3. It is the same thing.

Anna Soubry
Can the right hon. Lady confirm that it is Government policy that this place will be given, to use their expression, a meaningful vote? For example, as the talks progress, some hon. Members might say, “Well, hang on a moment; my pharmaceutical industry is being excluded from this arrangement on trade under this particular head of agreement.” That is an example of doing something “meaningful”—the ability of those of us in this place, acting on behalf of our constituents, to change some of the drift of the negotiations, to get a deal that suits everybody in our country.
 
Yvette Cooper
I agree: it is hugely important that this vote has the proper status in Parliament, as well as our being able to debate the detail.

Anna Soubry
The Father of the House is right that there will be a qualified majority vote on the withdrawal agreement. That agreement will not go to each individual Parliament in the same way that the actual trade agreement will. Does he share the concerns of many people, as that now dawns upon them? They had thought that this place would have some sort of say on the trade deal—the actual final relationship that we will have with the European Union—but, actually, we will have no such say because the deal will not be finalised until after we have left the European Union. Does he agree that that is now concerning many citizens across the length and breadth of this land who did indeed apparently vote to take back control?

Mr Clarke
I agree entirely. My right hon. Friend eloquently underlines the point that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford raised and that I am trying to make. We must have a meaningful vote before the final trade deal—indeed, the whole deal—is agreed by the Government.

Let me try to lower the temperature by going back, as I rarely do, to reminisce for a moment.

Anna Soubry
Has it come to the hon. Gentleman’s attention that, were the Bill passed without either amendment 7 or amendment 4 being made, and were there then a change of Government to one who believe in a hard Brexit, we could leave the European Union on absolutely no agreement, with no deal and no recourse whatever to this Parliament to have any say in that, because the Bill is completely silent about what would happen in the event of no deal?

Matthew Pennycook
The right hon. Lady makes a very important point. Although I concede that amendment 7 provides for an additional check because it requires primary legislation, our new clause 66 highlights an important point: we would wish to bind the Government so that Parliament would get a say even in the event of a no-deal scenario. I shall return to that point later.

Anna Soubry
Has my right hon. and learned Friend also looked at this issue: does he think that, should the Government decide that the best deal is the European Free Trade Association—we would effectively be Norway—some right hon. and hon. Government Members have worked out that, without his amendment or the new clause moved by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), this country would become like Norway and go straight into EFTA, without this Parliament having a say on whether that is what leave meant?

Mr Grieve
It would indeed be a remarkable outcome. Certainly, I think that Parliament ought to have a say. Those reasons highlight the difficulty of clause 9. There are other difficulties with the Bill, but clause 9 really has it.

I want to bring my remarks to an end, and I simply say that I do want the Government to listen. The opportunity is here for them to accept the amendment and then to come back on Report and explain themselves further or to tidy the amendment up, and I will listen and try constructively to help them if, indeed, any of this power is needed, but I am not prepared to sign clause 9 off in its present form.

The one merit of amendment 7—I tailored it very carefully and I tried quite deliberately to avoid the no-deal scenario, which is a very legitimate issue, but it is not what I went for—is that I wanted to make sure that these powers could not be used to pre-empt a statute that we should probably be considering this time next year. It is plainly wrong, and if it is to be departed from, the Government have to provide a credible reason for it.

Anna Soubry
May I suggest another way forward, which is that we agree to the amendment and then, given that this is Committee stage, the Government can go away and fine-tune it, which is what they thought it needed? They had the opportunity to the table their own amendment, but they did not see that commitment through and table one by 3 o’clock on Friday. There is another way. Let us vote on and accept the amendment today and put a meaningful vote in the Bill; and if it needs a twiddle and a tweak, we can come back on Report and I am sure we will all agree to that.

Sir Oliver Letwin
But if my right hon. Friend agrees with me that our purpose in this case is not to create a so-called meaningful vote but simply to ensure that clause 9 is not used to create parallel proceedings or to give carte blanche, it would clearly make sense for the Government to make that undertaking rather than to accept an amendment that has an unnecessary effect.

Anna Soubry
Is not that the whole point about what happened last week? After what happened on the Monday, when things all fell apart and were ghastly, we saw an absolute desire and it was clear that everybody, including the EU, came together to make sure that our Prime Minister got a deal. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when we talk to people, we hear that it is now absolutely clear that the leaders and all the various other people from the other EU countries accept that we are leaving? They have heavy hearts about it, but they know that we are leaving and it is now simply a question of sorting out the deal. Of course, it is not as simple as all that, but they have accepted that we are leaving. People really have to stop the conspiracy stories and the myths.

Chris Bryant
I agree. As I have said before, I also believe that there is a significant degree of agreement among all parties in this House, and probably in the House of Lords as well, about what the final agreement should look like. If the Government abandoned the strategy that they have so far adopted and decided to search for that consensus—“We’re going to try to get 650 MPs through the Division Lobby in favour of the final deal”—they would stand a better chance of getting the best deal for Parliament.

Anna Soubry
Will my hon. Friend give way?
 
Dominic Raab
No, I am going to make some progress.

I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield is engaging with this very seriously and constructively and that he is frustrated, but there is no getting around the timing issue that we have.

Yvette Cooper
Will the Minister give way?

Dominic Raab
No, I am going to make some progress.

Nor is there any getting around the long tail of technical, regulatory secondary legislation that we will need to get through if we want to provide the legal certainty that will make for a smooth Brexit.

Anna Soubry
Will my hon. Friend give way?
 
Dominic Raab
I am going to make a little progress.

Anna Soubry
Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dominic Raab
I will give way to my right hon. Friend later. If she will just be patient, I want to make a bit of progress, given the time available.

It is worth looking very carefully at the limitations and parameters constraining the exercise of clause 9. It can only be used to implement the withdrawal agreement, and even then subsection (3) makes it clear that it cannot be used to levy taxation, to make retrospective provision, to create relevant criminal offences, or to repeal or amend the Human Rights Act 1998. Paragraph 6 of schedule 7 further requires the affirmative procedure in a whole range of scenarios, from the establishment of new public authority functions to the imposition of any fee exercised by any such authority. Critically—I am not sure that all hon. Members have picked this up—the power endures only until exit day. Its operation is shorter than that under clause 7. On the Government’s current expected timetable, it would, in practice, be used for only about six months, so it is not the open-ended power that some have suggested.

In addition, the Government have accepted the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) to establish a sifting committee to advise on the scrutiny procedures used for secondary legislation under the Bill. That will apply to this clause. That is on top of the Government amendment tabled last week that mandates Ministers to provide explanatory material for all the statutory instruments made under the principal powers of the Bill. We are listening. We are committed to making sure that Parliament plays a crucial role—a fully transparent scrutiny role—in the exercise of clause 9.

In sum, the power under clause 9 is required to legislate domestically for the large number of more technical separation issues that must be settled in time for exit day if we are to have the smooth Brexit that, whether we voted leave or remain, we all agree is crucial from here on in. The regulations—

Anna Soubry
Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dominic Raab
I will just finish this point before I finally give way to my right hon. Friend, who has been very patient.

The regulations will be subject to the established methods of parliamentary scrutiny, with additional scrutiny provided by the new sifting committee. This is a time-limited and constrained power, but it is also an important power to help us to prepare for a smooth Brexit.

Anna Soubry
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Bill was drafted before the general election on 8 June? If I am wrong about that, could he please tell us when the Bill was drafted?

Dominic Raab
As someone who was brought into government reasonably recently and on to the Committee even more recently, I would have to check. I am happy to provide that clarity by the end of proceedings. I suspect that the process has been an iterative one, but let me see whether I can come back to my right hon. Friend on that.

Clause 9 is not just an important part of the procedural toolkit; it serves a much bigger function that we must not overlook. It sends a message of clarity and confidence to our EU partners that we are ready, willing and able to conclude and implement a deal. By the same virtue, it sends an equally important message to our citizens and businesses that we are equipped to secure a smooth legal transition. I understand the concerns raised through the various amendments, and we should debate them. I will come on to them, and I hope that I will be able to give hon. Members some further reassurance.

Let us be in no doubt: if we want a deal with our EU partners—I think the vast majority, if not all, do—we need to be ready, able and willing to deliver it on time. There are some perfectly reasonable critics of this clause who also passionately extol the need to strike and secure a deal with our EU friends. We need to reconcile that tension and those concerns, because it is no good willing the diplomatic ends if we are not willing to support the legislative means.

Anna Soubry
Does my hon. Friend agree that, to be meaningful, there has to be some time between that vote and such time as we leave the European Union? That is the whole point. A meaningful vote comes before something that is basically to be rubber-stamped. That is the whole point of “meaningful”. When does he anticipate that we will have that vote?

Mr Jenkin
The right hon. Lady knows as well as I do that the intention is to try to conclude an agreement by October 2018, but, again, there is no guarantee of that fact, in which case the resolution will be tabled soon after 2018. May I just point out that amendment 7, proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, is trying to create a meaningful vote by turning this resolution of both Houses into a statute?

Mr Jenkin
This is not the moment to try to defeat the Government, when there is another opportunity to amend the Bill at a later date, if a satisfactory discussion cannot be held. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield has been very conciliatory.

Anna Soubry
We have been speaking for months.

Mr Jenkin
Well, continue the discussions.

Anna Soubry
Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Jenkin
No, I will not give way. I keep hearing my right hon. Friend saying, “It’s too late.”

Anna Soubry
I did not say that; I have never said that.

Mr Jenkin
I have heard my right hon. Friend saying that.

Anna Soubry
On a point of order, Mrs Laing. I will put up with all sorts of things, but I will not have an hon. Member saying that I have said things that I have not said. Will my hon. Friend retract what he said, because I have not said, “It’s too late.” What I have said is that we have been speaking to the Government for months. This matter was first raised in this place in February and we are still waiting for a resolution.

Anna Soubry
My hon. Friend is probably right, but my understanding is that the definition of withdrawal agreement clearly says “whether ratified or not”, so we do not have to follow the European Parliament. However, unless we get a meaningful vote, it may well end up being able to vote on something that, frankly, we will not be able to vote on.

Mr Rees-Mogg
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but the Government have already said that we will have a chance to vote on the withdrawal agreement before the European Parliament.

Anna Soubry
A meaningful vote.

Mr Rees-Mogg
Well, that vote must by its nature be meaningful. As we know, it is very easy to have a meaningful vote: we just table an Humble Address, and then it is binding on Her Majesty’s Government, as is quite clear from all previous parliamentary and constitutional procedure. We can engineer a meaningful vote even if the Government are trying to be a bit slippery, which I happen to doubt very much, because I think Her Majesty’s Government would never dream of being slippery—they would not know how to be slippery. It is hard to think of a Government in the whole of history being slippery.

In the whole schedule leading to the ratification and approval of the withdrawal agreement, there is a requirement for a vote in this House. There is also a requirement, now agreed with the European Union, that there will be a withdrawal and implementation Bill—[Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) is getting impatient, but this is a very important matter. The rights of Parliament will absolutely and clearly be preserved, and I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will listen to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, because his is a solution with which I think everybody can be happy.

Anna Soubry
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a moment comes in one’s life when, on the most important issue that this nation has faced in decades, we have to set aside party differences and even party loyalty and be true to our principles and to what we believe in? It could be that that moment is now.

Stephen Kinnock
I agree absolutely with the right hon. Lady. I pay tribute to her and to a range of other right hon. and hon. Members across the House. This is not an easy choice to make. It is always difficult in these circumstances when there is a huge amount of interest and focus on what we are about to do in this House. It is essential that hon. Members stick with their principles, and sometimes that means putting country before party. I pay tribute to every right hon. and hon. Member who will do that this evening. This is indeed a matter of trust. The challenge that we face is that if this provision is not put on the face of the Bill, we will not have the confidence and the assurance that we in this place can indeed take back control and reassert the sovereignty of this place, which is what 17 million people voted for on 23 June 2016.