It Is Our Duty As Parliamentarians To Express The Mind Of The People On All Matters

European_Union_(Withdrawal)_Bill_Debate_20122017_002.png

In one of the last debates before Christmas, I spoke in favour of Amendment 43 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill which would give Parliament the power to control the length and basic terms of transitional arrangements, and would allow Parliament to start the clock on the sunset clauses within the Bill.

Stephen Kinnock: I raise to support amendment 43. Hon. Members will know that this year marks the 150th anniversary of Walter Bagehot’s “The English Constitution”. At the heart of Bagehot’s masterpiece is the definition of the expressive function of this place, meaning that it is our duty as parliamentarians to express the mind of the people on all matters that come before it.

Amendments 381 and 400 are a betrayal of the expressive function of this House. They are a silent coup d’état masquerading as a technical necessity, so before we go through the Division Lobby this evening, let us reflect on what Bagehot would think of them, and of the Government’s behaviour throughout this process. The fact is that he would be appalled. He would be appalled at the attempt to sideline Parliament on the most important issue that has faced our country since the second world war, and he would be appalled by the direct assault on the expressive function of this place.

There is, however, a broader point that goes to the heart of our political culture. Bagehot always believed, and I have always agreed with him, that Britain is a land of common sense, compromise and realism, but the Brexit referendum has replaced moderation with division and realism with dogma. I say that the wild men of Brexit have been allowed to drive this debate for too long. I say that amendment 43 represents an opportunity for us in this House this evening to take back control and to return moderation, compromise, realism and pragmatism to their rightful place at the heart of our political system and culture.

I therefore urge hon. Members across the House to think carefully and deeply about the fundamental democratic and constitutional role and functions of this House before they walk through the Division Lobbies this evening. I urge them to think carefully about the spirit and purpose of Walter Bagehot’s work. It is 150 years since the publication of his words about the expressive function of this House, but they are as relevant today as they were then—perhaps even more so, because the principles of our parliamentary democracy are at stake. Give the populists and ideologues an inch and they will take a mile, and when the Government are prepared to collude with them, that is a potent force indeed. That is why amendment 43 is so important and why I urge hon. Members to vote for it this evening.