Philip Dunne backs the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill and calls on the Government to outline plans for separate legislation on workers’ rights, environmental protection and consumer rights which, whilst important, have nothing to do with the withdrawal agreement per se.
I am grateful to be able to make a brief contribution this evening and to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), who reminded me of the debates that we have been having over the past three and a half years since the referendum. There was an overwhelming sense of déjà vu in that some Members who supported the remain position at the 2016 referendum have still not properly recognised that time has moved on. I was one of those who voted remain in the referendum and I, in common with many Conservative colleagues, am reconciled to the fact that the British public voted to leave, as demonstrated forcefully in the general election. The déjà vu that I am experiencing is that many of the arguments that we have heard ad nauseam for hours, days and weeks in this Chamber are still being trotted out again in this debate today.
I want to make some progress. The reason why I stood to speak this evening is that I made my maiden speech in a debate on the EU in my first month in this House 14 and a half years ago. It is therefore fitting that I should say something in this debate just before we hopefully cease debating whether we are leaving the EU this month, because that matter has now been resolved.
I want to make a specific contribution in relation to new clause 27, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams). I have considerable sympathy with the spirit and principles underlying the new clause, which she spoke eloquently on earlier, but the reason why I want to refer to it is to ask the Minister, in his summing up before the Committee ends this evening, how the Government intend to take account of that spirit and intent in future legislation. I recognise that it is not appropriate to adorn this Bill with commitments that have nothing to do with the withdrawal agreement per se, but they are none the less worthy in themselves.
I draw the House’s attention to the part in the Conservative manifesto, on which I was proud to stand recently, that says
“we will legislate to ensure high standards of workers’ rights, environmental protection and consumer rights.”
We have already heard from others this evening about the existing higher level of workers’ rights that apply in the UK over and above those that are applied across the EU, and we as a Government have an ambition to maintain environmental protections in many areas at a higher level than those that currently apply across the EU.
This is not meant to sound trite, but a number of different commitments were made in different manifestos. For example, the Conservatives party’s 2015 manifesto committed to halve the disability employment gap and to introduce new starter homes, neither of which was delivered. This is about backing up commitments. If the Government are seriously committed to this—I understand that the right hon. Gentleman certainly is—what is wrong with including it in the Bill?
I will give one example of what is wrong with the hon. Lady’s new clause, and that is its territorial jurisdiction. I remind her that environmental protection is primarily a devolved matter. The territorial jurisdiction of the environment Bill that was in the Queen’s Speech and that will be brought before this House will relates to England primarily and, to a small extent, Northern Ireland. I am rather surprised that hon. Members representing the Scottish National party, who are here in force this evening and who have spoken before me, did not choose to raise that point.
It is great to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is such a great defender of devolution. As a defender of devolution, does he respect the fact that the Scottish Parliament today rejected the UK Government’s legislative consent motion, and does he also respect the right of Scotland’s people to choose their future?
As the Prime Minister said, far more eloquently than I could, during Prime Minister’s questions earlier today, the Scottish people did decide in 2014 and that is the vote that should be respected by this House. [Interruption.] I am going to move back to my point rather than engage—
I am not going to take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because I know what he is going to say.
In conclusion, will the Minister, if he has the opportunity to do so, refer in his winding up speech to the environment Bill that will shortly be brought before this House and explain the extent to which the protections sought in new clause 7 are likely to be enshrined in it?