It's that back to school and back to Parliament time of year, and so I have been engaged in a frenzy of school kit sorting (and offering up prayers of thanks to the inventors of iron-on nametapes) while getting my House of Commons uniform (bright jackets and no trainers) ready. We are starting the session with the Great Repeal Bill, which will be up for debating in the House of Commons from this Thursday, with many more sessions to come. As there has been a lot of comment about the contents and passage of the Bill, this seems like a good time to try and clarify exactly what it is and why is needed.
First, the Bill will provide the UK with a functioning set of laws once we have left the technical constraints of the EU so that there is certainty and continuity for businesses and individuals. Second, it will achieve this by repealing the European Communities Act 1972, transposing all EU laws (as far as practical) onto the UK statute book and giving Parliament time-limited powers to correct any technical deficiencies. We can then, in our own time, and using our own Parliament, debate, improve, repeal or amend any aspect of these laws in the future. Third, it does NOT provide Ministers with the power to make any major policy changes at this point in time – and it is simply scaremongering to see that the process of enacting the Great Repeal Bill in any way threatens existing and important legislation such as that protecting workers’ rights, environmental safeguards or consumer protections. There is, of course, a pressing need to balance speed with scrutiny given the timetable for exiting the EU, and I have heard of concerns that the Bill will grant too much power to the Government to make changes without proper scrutiny. I am confident however, that Government can assume relatively wide powers to make these technical changes, as was confirmed in a report by the House of Lords Select Committee. The Government can then spread the load of scrutinising, confirming and correcting the thousands of pieces of underlying legislation through the usual Parliamentary methods of “Statutory Instruments” – many of which require full cross party committees of MPs to debate and vote on them. SI Committees as they are known are like mini House of Commons debates and take place all the time in the committee rooms above the Chamber. They are open to the public too, so if you find yourself with time on your hands and want to see our democracy in action, then come along!