Mary's speech in the debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill:
I will be joining my colleagues in the Lobby tonight to vote against this Bill, because of the unprecedented Henry VIII powers that will transfer power away from Parliament and give it to Ministers. In some ways, these powers will turn the Prime Minister into a female version of Louis XIV, the sun king, who, as he lay on his deathbed in the palace of Versailles, said, “L’état, c’est moi.” That is what she is doing with the Bill, but as representatives of the British people, sent here with a democratic mandate, we say, “L’état, c’est nous.” We are the legislative force in this country; no sun king or sun queen will be created on our watch, and we will not give up our parliamentary democracy without a fight.
It is perfectly possible to recognise and respect the result of the referendum without sacrificing hard-won economic, social and environmental rights and freedoms. As we have heard, at the general election the people declined to give the Prime Minister the majority she sought. Through the general election, the people have already rejected a hard Brexit, so the question before us tonight is: who governs Britain—this Parliament, or a Prime Minister reliant on some hard-liners in her party and on the Democratic Unionist party, which she is paying whatever it demands to get her laws through?
Clause 9 would allow Ministers to introduce regulations to make any provision that can be made by an Act of Parliament, including modifying this legislation, a huge power that will last right up to exit day. It is therefore the great power grab Bill, which will create an infinite legislative loop: the powers can be extended infinitely to amend laws, through delegated legislation, with no scrutiny. The fact that the power to amend this Act lies within it means that the Bill can eat itself; it is like a constantly regenerating loop in some science fiction nightmare, providing new powers ad infinitum at the whim of whichever Government are in place at any given moment.
We have seen this before, because the Government have form. They did not want to give this place a vote on article 50, or on the final deal. They fought at every turn to frustrate this House in overseeing what they are doing, and frustrate us in our duties and responsibilities to our electors. The powers in clause 9 will end on exit day, but the Bill allows exit day to be set by Ministers, so those powers could continue for many years—indeed, there could be several exit days. That is not how we make laws in this country. We also have money and Ways and Means motions before us tonight that mean that Ministers can spend any sum or raise any tax as a result of this Bill. As well as being a legislative blank cheque, the Bill is therefore a literal blank cheque for the Government. That is not how we make laws in this country.
All these new laws made by delegated legislation can be amended by delegated legislation. The Government say that there will be opportunities for scrutiny, but they want a majority of one on all Delegated Legislation Committees, so that they can rubber-stamp the delegated legislation, despite failing to win a majority at the general election. That is not how we make laws in this country. The Bill can create new criminal offences under the negative resolution procedure of things such as food adulteration or trading illegal chemicals. New criminal offences will be made with no parliamentary scrutiny. That is not how we make laws in this country.
This Bill should protect our hard-won social, environmental, political and economic rights. In fact, it guarantees nothing of the sort. Even if those rights are somehow replicated in the future, the Bill is silent about remedies, and it is the remedies, not the rights, that are the spur to action. The threat of EU fines led to us taxing waste that goes to landfill, which kick-started the recycling industry in this country. The threat of massive fines for filthy air pollution has led to the Government publishing not one, not two, but three clean air plans. The threat of fines under the water framework directive has led to UK water companies cleaning up our filthy beaches and rivers. Those environmental improvements and industries were created because the threat of financial penalties focused the minds of Ministers and civil servants. If there is no remedy for the citizen, the right that the law confers is toothless.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said on Second Reading that the Government would introduce proposals. Why are they not in the Bill? How many rights that we currently enjoy are threatened by the Bill? Francovich will not apply to the individual, so future rights will be removed from citizens. The acquis communautaire, which we have adopted, refers to the environment, but a third of it cannot be neatly cut and pasted into UK law.
We will not simply be able to cut and paste chemicals measures. REACH is the big regulation on registering, evaluating and authorising chemicals. It protects the public and the environment from hazardous substances and it is vital to British jobs, growth and investment. Our chemical industry is the second largest exporter to the EU after cars, selling £15 billion of chemical exports to the EU every year. Leaving REACH could cause market freeze and supply chain disruption to the industry. The Environmental Audit Committee heard from techUK and the defence industries how incredibly concerned they were about that. One in five UK chemicals companies represented by the Chemical Business Association are not waiting for regulatory certainty from the Government, and are already investigating opportunities to set up shop in other EU countries, harming jobs, investment and growth in this country.
The Bill does not protect the citizen and it does not incorporate either the principle of EU law that the polluter pays or the precautionary principle. For those reasons, for the vast destruction of our environmental and social rights, I shall vote against the Bill.