Skip to main content

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2023

1. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill on Scotland. (903683)

11. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill on Scotland. (903693)

14. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill on Scotland. (903696)

I realise that many colleagues on the Benches diagonally opposite are somewhat preoccupied with the contest to become the leader of the Scottish National party and Scotland’s First Minister. In my view, this is a real opportunity for a new First Minister to reset the relationship with the United Kingdom Government, to work constructively with us and to make life better for the people of Scotland. We need a First Minister who puts Scotland’s interests above the nationalists’ interests. My offer to all those running in the contest is this: the United Kingdom Government stand ready to work with you, and that will be the real win for improving the lives of people in Scotland.

My assessment is that retained EU law reform will have a positive impact on Scotland by boosting the competitiveness of the economy while respecting devolution and maintaining high standards. Reform will ensure that regulations meet the needs of the United Kingdom, and will provide the opportunity for us to become the best regulated economy in the world, encouraging prosperity, business innovation and—

Order. May I just say to the Secretary of State that Scottish questions are short enough without his taking up all the time?

I thank the governor-general for that long-winded response.

According to a report by the Economics for the Environment Consultancy, lower standards just in chemical regulation, water pollution, air quality and the protection of habitats will cost the British Government £83 billion over the next three decades. Does the Secretary of State believe it is right for Scotland to face yet another billion-pound price tag for a Brexit that it did not vote for?

I do not recognise that analysis. We are respecting and raising environmental standards. Where matters are devolved we respect that, and the Scottish Government are able to deal with those matters under retained EU law as they see fit. Where there is overlap, we have frameworks and we will work together.

“What utter drivel” is, I think, the parliamentary terminology.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has warned not only that the Bill threatens economic harm, but that weakened safety standards on construction and other work sites risk the loss of life and limb. It states that that we might as well adopt the motto, “Saving time and costing lives”, for the Bill. How many Scottish workers’ lives does the Secretary of State believe are a worthwhile price to pay for the Brexit race to the bottom?

When it comes to utter drivel, it should not be a competition, but the hon. Member has taken it to a new height. What utter drivel that was! Workers’ rights are entirely protected; in fact, they are being enhanced by this Government, and they are not dependent on EU membership.

The negative impacts of Brexit are already visible, with food prices up 6% and a third of the companies that formerly exported to the EU giving up, owing to customs paperwork—and that includes companies in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that it is Brexit that is causing more red tape for businesses, and that diverging from EU standards further under this much-criticised Bill will further exacerbate trade friction between the UK and the continent?

No, because I believe that we have a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU, and we are working out and ironing out the problems. We have been very successful in doing that, particularly for the fishing industry. We also have before us huge opportunities: not just the trade deals with Australia, New Zealand and others, but the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which will cover almost half the world’s trade and will provide a huge opportunity for Scotland’s food and drink industry.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be ideal if the new First Minister put as much focus on the powers that the Scottish Government already have as on retained EU law? Was he as disappointed as I was to find that, once again, the Scottish Government were unable to take over the devolved powers on welfare that they were given in 2016, and that it now seems that those powers will not come into place until 2026—10 years after the Scotland Act 2016?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I know that he was in the Scotland Office when those powers were devolved in 2016. Some of them will not come into operation until 2026. That is because, while we want to work with the Scottish Government—we are working with them—and we hope we will deliver those programmes at the Scottish Government’s pace, the pace could be moved up if they spent more time focusing on the day job and less time on their obsession with separation.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs alone has identified more than 1,700 pieces of retained EU law, with the majority in devolved areas such as agriculture, forestry and fishing. What happens if the Scottish Government want to maintain some of the EU standards that the Secretary of State’s party wants to ditch? Does he think it would be right for UK Ministers to change regulations in devolved matters without consent? How does that respect devolution?

We are working constructively and collaboratively with the Scottish Government on those retained EU laws. Where we have agreement on a cross-UK piece of policy, we will legislate on behalf of the devolved Administrations. Where it is in a devolved area, we will respect that and allow the Scottish Government to do as they see fit. If they want to remain in line with EU regulations, they can. There is a retained EU law—REUL—working group for the Bill and their officials have been on that since March 2022. We are making good and steady progress.

Because of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2022, goods made in the rest of the UK cannot be kept out of Scotland, even if they do not meet future Scottish standards on quality, safety or environmental impact. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that the combined effect of both pieces of legislation will drastically increase the degree of direct rule by Westminster and drive a coach and horses through devolution?

That is not true. We are respecting the devolved settlement. If we look at precision breeding and gene editing, for instance, the Scottish farming industry, the National Farmers Union of Scotland and all the other farming unions in the UK want to be part of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, but we have respected the Scottish Government saying that they do not want to be part of it. Their dogma desires them to carry on with the EU rules and we respect that. As regards the UK internal market, it is absolutely right that trade can continue seamlessly across the United Kingdom, because 60% of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the United Kingdom.