I spoke in yesterday's debate on amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. I spoke about new clauses 29 and 33 tabled in my name.
You can watch my speech here.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
It is as pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I should like to speak to new clauses 29 and 33, tabled in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. colleagues.
The Secretary of State—who is not here for this debate—said with his usual braggadocio that he would produce a Bill that was unamendable. Today, we have a list of amendments that is 145 pages long. The ratio of lines in the amendments to lines in the Bill 580:1, which must be an all-time record. It is certainly a tribute to the productivity of hon. Members on this side of the House. However, the chutzpah of the Secretary of State was exceeded by the civil servant who wrote paragraph 14 of the Bill’s explanatory notes, which states:
“The impact of the Bill itself will be both clear and limited”.
No. The effect of the Bill is not clear and it is certainly not limited. The fact that hon. Members have tabled so many new clauses and amendments demonstrates why this debate on parliamentary scrutiny is so important.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), whose constituents voted leave in the referendum. Mine did too, and his speech was the perfect introduction to my own. I want to describe why it is also in the interests of those who voted leave that we should have proper parliamentary scrutiny. The referendum campaign was won on the slogan of taking back control and bringing back parliamentary sovereignty. We cannot do that without having proper parliamentary scrutiny.
New clause 29 is perfectly simple and straightforward: it proposes a quarterly reporting system during the negotiations. That would give the House a structured approach. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) complained about new clause 3—which was ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook)—saying that it would create problems of justiciability. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the requirement to produce a report once a quarter is not such a high or complex legal bar, and that it would not lead to extremely long litigation. It is a simple, practical measure.
Sir Oliver Letwin
Does the hon. Lady imagine that there would be no court cases about whether such quarterly reports conformed with the appropriate procedure? Is she aware of the chain of jurisprudence in judicial review that leads to the possibility of that kind of contest? What does she think would happen if the courts started intervening in the matter of whether the reports met the requirements of her new clause?
First, it is not clear that such cases would get leave of hearing. Secondly, any such case would be dismissed straight away, so long as the Government had abided by the requirement to produce quarterly reports. There simply would not be a case to answer. This is a simple and straightforward proposal.
Sir Oliver Letwin
So does the hon. Lady think that the Government would satisfy the conditions of her new clause if they simply produced one line saying, “This is our report”? Or does she believe that it would have to be an appropriate report? If that were the case, could not a court decide whether it was appropriate or not?
As the Chairman of the Select Committee said earlier, when we got into a discussion about the requests from the Opposition Front Bench, the nature of the report would be a matter for the Government. I am sure that the Government would behave in a reasonable manner if this provision were in the legislation.
As I was saying to the hon. Member for Colchester, my constituency voted leave. I voted for the Bill on Second Reading so that the Prime Minister would have the power to trigger our intention to withdraw from the European Union under article 50. However, the political legitimacy stemming from the result of last summer’s referendum does not extend to giving the Government a blank cheque for their negotiating objectives or for the way in which they conduct the negotiations. Everyone is clear that this will have major constitutional, political, economic and social implications for our relations with other countries and for the domestic framework of our legislation.
Given the lack of clarity, and the fact that there was no plan, I have consulted my constituents on their expectations and hopes, and on how they want these decisions to be taken. I wrote to 5,500 of them, and I held six public meetings. They felt strongly that they wanted Parliament to be involved. In fact, some of them thought that the negotiations should be conducted by a cross-party team. I said that I did not think that was terribly likely—
Given the quality of your Front Bench.
Let me tell the right hon. Lady about the views that were expressed in my constituency, even though they might be different from those being expressed in her own. When we discussed the social chapter and people’s employment rights, my constituents said, in terms, “You can’t trust the Tories.” It is because of that feeling—[Interruption.] Those were their words, not mine. It is because of that feeling that we need to have parliamentary involvement in the way this process is carried forward.
The Government have reluctantly come to the House with this Bill. I first requested that Parliament be involved on 11 July in an urgent question on article 50. The Government resisted, as everybody knows, and only came to the House because they were forced to by the Supreme Court. Some Government Back Benchers say that the negotiations are far too complex to do openly—the right hon. Member for West Dorset talked about 3D chess, for example—but I take the opposite view: it is precisely because the negotiations are complicated and multifaceted that lots of people should be involved.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
The vast majority of the amendments—I think I counted 30—tabled by members of the Opposition basically call for a report within 30 days of the Bill coming into force setting out the Government’s approach in the negotiations. Does the hon. Lady imagine that Europe will publish reports on every one of these issues, setting out its approach in the negotiations? That would surely be giving away too much.
Had the hon. Gentleman been in his place to hear the fantastic speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), he would understand why my hon. Friend was proposing all those reports. I am speaking to new clause 29, which is about quarterly reporting by the Government once the negotiations get under way.
Another slight misconception among Government Members is that there is some best deal, but there is clearly no objective technical standard test. What is best in the constituency of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) might be different from what is best in my constituency. I am not casting aspersions on the motivations of Government Members; I am being realistic. When the Prime Minister talks about building a better Britain and doing what is best for the country, I am sure that she is being completely sincere, but she stood in a general election in Durham in 1992 and received half as many votes as the Labour candidate. The truth of the matter is that the process is complicated and there are different interests. Parliament, which is the sovereign body of the country, should be able to participate fully in that process, and scrutiny is the basic first brick of it.
Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)
The net effect of the hon. Lady’s new clause is that the High Court, not Parliament, would decide on the adequacy or otherwise of the reporting. She would be ceding authority not to this place but to the independent High Court, which is contrary to what she is trying to achieve.
Look, I am sorry that Government Members feel so bad about losing the Supreme Court case last month. It is a shame. The Government were foolish to appeal after the High Court judgment. However, the fact that they have lost one case does not mean that they should become obsessed with the risk. It is as absurd as saying, “Well, we should stop having parliamentary questions for every Department once a month because they somehow undermine the Government.” Take Defence Question Time, for example. It happens every single month, but it does not undermine our security; it holds the Government to account. It is because the negotiations are so important that the Government should report back. I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here. Unlike some Government Back Benchers, I think he understands that this is not a technical issue; it is a political process. Involving Parliament and having proper parliamentary scrutiny is the right thing to do to build a national consensus, which the Government state is their aim in the White Paper.
New clause 29 is simple and straightforward and would require a quarterly reporting system during the negotiations. While the Select Committees are doing fantastic work in considering particular issues in great detail, it is extremely important that the whole House gets a regular opportunity to see how things are going and to provide the perspective of the different communities we represent. Out of necessity, I drafted new clause 29 without having seen new clause 3, which is obviously tougher than new clause 29, so some people will prefer one over the other.
New clause 33 would require the Prime Minister to set out how the UK will have control over its immigration system. I tabled it because that is the major concern of many people, leave voters in particular, so it seems right to refer to it in the draft framework and negotiating objectives that we must prepare for our future relationship with the EU. However, I want to make it clear that while that was a factor for some constituents in how they voted, they were equally committed to providing security for EU citizens in this country. I added my name to new clause 57, tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), because those things are completely consistent. I would like to say more on that, but we have only a short amount of time.
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con)
The hon. Lady refers to guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who is not in his place, stated the legal position. The Government could make that guarantee tonight, saying that my hon. Friend was correct, by stating that those rights would be grandfathered straight into the Immigration Act 2016. That may not be the preferred method for many in this House, but it would effectively guarantee EU citizens what they want. Does the hon. Lady agree?
I have not thought about that in as much detail as the hon. Gentleman, but it will be interesting to see what the Minister says when he responds to the debate from the Dispatch Box tonight.
As I was saying, we should have proper, structured scrutiny, and I am disappointed that we do not have slightly longer to consider all these matters in more detail.