My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the very witty speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. Whenever I negotiated laws in Brussels, my ministerial brief usually began, “We don’t want this measure, Minister, but we cannot stop it. The best we can hope is to negotiate one or two amendments from the long list we have proposed to you”. I therefore fully support the need to revise, retain or repeal EU law and I urge Ministers to rake out these old negotiating briefs, which will reduce the burden of work on departments when deciding what revisions to propose.
That said, I largely share the concerns expressed by noble Lords about the constraints on parliamentary scrutiny and the limited time to complete this process. I understand their fears that this could result in poor revision, and even wholesale repeal of necessary legislation. However, I also understand the fears that led the Government to adopt this tight timetable, and I think the latter fears negate and should dispel the former. Let me explain why. As parliamentarians, especially in this Chamber, whose only power is to make the other House consider our amendments and arguments, we are bound to want the maximum time and strongest procedures to fulfil that function. It is true that almost all these 4,000 laws went through Parliament under the biggest Henry VIII clause of all time—the European Communities Act 1972—with little debate and without a vote, and they would have become law even if every Member of this and the other House had voted against them.
Many noble Lords now calling for more scrutiny never complained about that lack of scrutiny in the past. I rejoice in their damascene conversion to the supremacy of Parliament—there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repenteth than 99 just men who need no repentance—but when they suggest that taking back control is meaningless without maximal parliamentary scrutiny, they are exaggerating the purpose of Brexit with the zeal of converts. Brexit was, above all, about the British people getting back control. As my referendum leaflet put it:
“In a democracy, if the Government does not deliver … the people can throw them out.”
The Government will be accountable to the British people at the next election, not least for how they handle these 4,000 laws, and that is the accountability that lies behind the timetable the Government have set for getting this done. I was surprised by the timetable and when I asked Ministers to take it at a more leisurely pace, they explained that it is essential to complete this process before the next election, not because we promised to get Brexit done but, above all, because this is the only way we can prove to the electorate that the scare stories about the process that we heard today are false. Completing the process will show that the Bill was not about removing workers’ rights or demolishing environmental protection or safety standards; nor will it result in huge gaps in our law book. The fact that the Government intend to complete this process in time to face up to their accountability to the electorate makes most of the scare stories ring hollow.
If we had world enough and time, we would undertake this process in a more leisurely fashion, but we do not, so I entirely support my noble friend’s wish to get it done as speedily as possible by processes that are as rigorous as those by which the legislation was introduced, and thereby demonstrate that all the scare stories are untrue.