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European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2018

Volume 793: debated on Wednesday 24 October 2018

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2018.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to be here today to discuss the regulations before the Committee, which form one small part of the Government’s wider programme of secondary legislation that is being brought forward before exit day to ensure that the UK’s legal system continues to function effectively once we leave the EU.

So far my department, the Department for Exiting the European Union, has laid three statutory instruments using the consequential powers granted to us under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. This is the first of those SIs to be debated under the affirmative procedure. These three statutory instruments made using the consequential powers are of an essentially technical nature, as will become apparent. To be fair, during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, some concern was raised in this place and the other place about the scope of those powers. The Government were clear at the time that these consequential powers would be used for changes of a small and technical nature. I hope noble Lords will see that this statutory instrument is indeed extremely technical, with the purpose of ensuring a functioning statute book upon exit from the EU.

Specifically, these draft regulations make technical consequential repeals and amendments to certain pieces of legislation using the consequential power in Section 23(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, for two main purposes. First, they repeal legislation that has become redundant in consequence of the repeal of Sections 1 to 13 of the European Union Act 2011 and Section 5 of the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008—I hope noble Lords are following this—which provided mechanisms for the approval or ratification of certain EU decisions or treaty changes that would result in the transfer of power from the UK Government to the EU.

Sections 1 to 13 of the 2011 Act and Section 5 of the 2008 Act were repealed on 4 July this year, following the acceptance by this House and the other place that these were redundant in the context of our exit from the EU. This matter was pursued particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, during the passage of the Act, and the Government set out on Report that the repeal of this legislation would be effected shortly after Royal Assent, and indeed that is what we did.

In consequence of those repeals, legislation that approved matters in accordance with those Acts has become redundant. That includes Sections 1 and 2 of the European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Act 2013, which approved the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the EU and the protocol on the concerns of the Irish people on the Treaty of Lisbon. It also includes the European Union (Approvals) Act 2017, which approved decisions that allowed Albania and Serbia to participate as observers in the work of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and an agreement between the EU and the Government of Canada regarding the application of their competition laws.

Also now redundant is Section 23(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which created an exemption from the normal procedures on scrutiny of treaties under that Act where a treaty was approved following the procedures in the 2008 or 2011 Acts instead.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

This legislation is being repealed in consequence of the repeal of the 2008 and 2011 Acts, which has rendered them redundant and no longer necessary. Removing this legislation from our statute book is consistent with our goals of ensuring an effective, functioning statute book on exit day by providing clarity and avoiding confusion by making reference to legislation that no longer exists within our statute book. For reassurance, I make it clear that the repeal of the legislation that approved matters in accordance with the 2008 and 2011 Acts does not have any effect on the validity of anything done in relation to those decisions or treaty changes approved by them.

Secondly, these regulations also make consequential amendments to the Statutory Instruments Act 1946, the Laying of Documents before Parliament (Interpretation) Act 1948, and the Statutory Rules (Northern Ireland) Order 1979, to reflect the introduction of a new category of law, called “retained direct EU law”, into the UK’s legal system. Retained direct EU law is the directly applicable EU law that existed immediately before exit day that will be converted into UK law on exit day by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act.

The Statutory Instruments Act established a number of rules that apply when making SIs, and similarly, the Statutory Rules (Northern Ireland) Order applies when making statutory rules—the Northern Irish equivalent—under powers in primary legislation. To provide certainty, it is important that we ensure that these same rules apply to instruments made under powers in retained direct EU legislation so that it is clear what procedures must be followed to ensure that instruments made under powers in retained direct EU legislation are properly made.

These regulations therefore make consequential amendments to the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 and the Statutory Rules (Northern Ireland) Order 1979 to make it clear that the normal rules apply to making statutory instruments and statutory rules under powers in retained direct EU law. This will create certainty about the proper procedures to be followed where such powers are used in the future and will assist Parliament in considering the use of such powers.

Similar provision has already been made to deal with Scottish statutory instruments made under retained direct EU legislation through the amendments to the Interpretation and Legislative Reform (Scotland) Act in Schedule 8 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. Therefore, these regulations take an approach consistent for the purposes of England, Wales and Northern Ireland with that taken for Scotland by the Act itself.

The Laying of Documents before Parliament (Interpretation) Act established the rules for laying documents before Parliament where an Act or piece of secondary legislation required that documents be laid before Parliament. Similarly, therefore, the consequential amendments made to the Laying of Documents before Parliament (Interpretation) Act will ensure that the same rules on laying documents before Parliament apply where retained direct EU legislation requires those documents to be laid before Parliament.

Given that these regulations amend primary legislation that is of constitutional importance, we thought it would be appropriate to allow Parliament the opportunity to debate these regulations through the use of an affirmative instrument. However, I hope that after my explanation noble Lords will agree that this is a sensible use of the consequential power, and that what we are seeking is appropriate to ensure continuity as a new category of law is introduced into our legal system on exit.

I thank the Minister for his explanation, which, in so far as is possible on the subject, was admirably straightforward. He is quite right, as he said at the beginning, that there was—and will continue to be—a lot of controversy over the ministerial powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. This one is perhaps not yet of mountainous dimensions in terms of controversy, but I have some questions.

First, no doubt simply because of my unfamiliarity with the field of secondary legislation, can the Minister remind me whether there are any limits on the ability of SIs to amend primary legislation under the Act? I have entirely forgotten—perhaps mercifully—a lot of the debates on the Bill. The regulations amend primary legislation. I would welcome a reminder of whether there are any limits on that.

My second question is about the European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Act 2013. I appreciate that the implementation of those measures—the accession of Croatia and the Irish protocol to the Lisbon treaty—is not affected by these regulations, but what will happen to their implementation when and if the ECA is repealed? How will they continue to be implemented? They have been implemented through the European Communities Act by making them EU treaties for the purposes of that Act. Paragraph 2.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum rightly states that their,

“implementation is unaffected by these regulations”,

but that prompted me to wonder what happens when and if the ECA is repealed. I would be grateful to learn how they carry on being in force, or will that matter be dealt with during the standstill transition by repealing a lot of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act in the EU withdrawal agreement Bill? I hope that I do not stray too far, but this subject is quite complicated.

Similar issues arise in relation to the decisions mentioned in paragraph 2.11. I remember spending time during the passage of the European Union (Approvals) Act 2017 speaking about Albania and Serbia being observers in the work of the fundamental rights agency—I cannot remember whether I referred also to the Canada competition laws; it was in the same Act, so I must have done. These approvals are no longer necessary if Sections 1 to 13 of the European Union Act 2011 are being abolished, so the 2017 Act becomes redundant. The Explanatory Memorandum states:

“The repeal of the Act approving those decisions has no effect on the validity of those decisions or anything done in relation to those decisions”.

So if we repeal the European Union (Approvals) Act 2017, paragraph 2.11 of the memorandum states that such repeal,

“has no effect on the validity of those decisions”,

which is interesting. How are they still valid? The Government are repealing the Act which approved the decisions about Albania and Serbia being observers in the fundamental rights agency, et cetera, but they state that it has no effect on the validity of the decisions. On what basis, then, do those decisions approving Albania and Serbia continue to be valid?

That takes me back to my previous point. That statement implies that we want those decisions to continue to be valid. If we want to continue the validity of the Serbian and Albanian observership in the fundamental rights agency, I presume that we want to continue the validity of the recognition of Croatian accession and the Irish protocol. I am wondering whether my question about how they get knocked out by the repeal of the ECA is correct, because presumably they are on a similar level. If the Albania and Serbia observerships are to remain valid—which they would be in a standstill transition anyway—presumably that also applies to the Croatian accession, et cetera. So how do they continue being valid, and if they do, will they still be valid after 29 March? I apologise if I am just being dense.

Then there is the question about the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 applying. Obviously, that is welcome. It is interesting that it is being done now. Perhaps the Minister could remind me why the Government did not agree to incorporate this in the EU withdrawal Act. Our attention is drawn to the 12th report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, published last February. One of the things it objected to was tertiary legislation—the ability for Ministers or other bodies to make further subordinate legislation without there having to be any parliamentary procedure or any requirement for it to be made by statutory instrument. The committee wanted all tertiary legislation to be subject to the same parliamentary control and time limits as are applicable to secondary legislation. If I understand this correctly, it talks about the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 applying to SIs. Does it apply? The DPRRC report also referred to tertiary legislation which is not made in statutory instruments. Is this extension of the 1946 Act limited to what is made under statutory instruments or does it meet the entire objection in the DPRRC report of last February? I hope the question is clear, because I am confused about why the Government are doing this now and did not do it in the Bill.

I am also trying to understand the scope of this welcome reform—whether further transparency and normal rules of scrutiny should apply. The answer would appear to be only where that secondary legislation is in statutory instruments, and not if it was made by some new agency, for instance. In paragraph 2.12, the Explanatory Memorandum talks about the ability to subdelegate regulations made under certain withdrawal Act powers—tertiary legislation made by an agency, for instance. It says that,

“it is important that the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 is amended to cover these scenarios”,

so you would think that meant all tertiary legislation, but then it goes on to say,

“so that there is certainty about the proper procedure for making SIs under such powers”.

I am dependent on the report from last February to understand that not all tertiary legislation is made in SIs. I suppose it makes sense, but I am a novice in secondary legislation. What is the extent of the concession—the welcome reform—that the Government are proposing for the extension of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946? Does it apply to all tertiary legislation, including that not made under SIs or by Ministers but by other bodies?

I think that covers all my questions. I hope that I have not been too confusing and that the Minister is able to answer my questions.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the first of what I hope is going to be a very small and select group of DExEU orders. Indeed, luckily for myself, for the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and for the Minister, I think the vast majority of these Brexit orders will be handled by other departments. However, I do wonder how on earth our colleagues covering those departments will cope, given the near 800 they will have to handle between now and March. They have not exactly got off to a great start: since the Act received Royal Assent on 26 June this year, a mere 71 have been laid, and only two have completed their passage through Parliament.

The delay is slightly hard to understand if the bulk are indeed to make relatively simple, perhaps technical amendments. Why then have we only seen such a tiny proportion of them so far? I assume that the pace will quicken in the coming months, but the tardiness to date means that while 45% of the time between Royal Assent and the supposed exit day has passed, only 9% of the likely total number of orders have so far been laid. Can the Minister therefore confirm that proper time will be allocated to those of our colleagues who will have to handle this to do the necessary scrutiny, that full consultation will take place with all outside stakeholders—this was something we discussed a lot during the passage of the Bill—and that feedback from those stakeholders will be available to our colleagues as they go through the various statutory instruments?

The sheer number of orders exposes the sheer scale of the legislative challenge facing Parliament. It also puts into perspective the Prime Minister’s claim that Brexit is 95% complete. As far as our work is concerned, that is clearly not the case. I have a slight problem with the 95% figure anyway. I am reminded of the man falling from the 10th floor of a building. After going past the first nine floors, he said, “So far, so good”. I hope that we are not facing the same crash that he did after the 10th floor. Aside from this particular order, I know that work is now gathering pace in the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee: I can say only good luck to the committee.

Turning to the order in front of us, while it may be what the Minister calls “technical in nature”—which I think means “hard to understand”—it gives effect to decisions taken by both Houses during the passage of the withdrawal Act. As has just been mentioned, during debates on that Act, there was quite a bit of confusion over the new category of “retained direct EU legislation”. The provisions in Schedule 2, which respond to our Delegated Powers Committee, will, we hope, provide some certainty about the exercise of the relevant powers, particularly for our learned friends: I trust that they are clearer now about the significance of how those powers will be used. We certainly welcome the confirmation that the withdrawal Act powers to make secondary legislation will be exercised under the normal rules for SIs, with which we are familiar.

I want to raise one other point, absolutely unrelated to this one but within the broad remit of Brexit. Yesterday we read that Sir Bernard Jenkin said:

“While some SIs may need to be rushed through with less consideration, they can always be amended later”.

First, we simply must not rush these through. I am sure that is not the intention of the Government. On our Benches and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, it is not something we would want to happen. Secondly, and perhaps more substantially, given how important some of the SIs will be to maintaining standards on environmental, consumer and workers’ protection, and that they will include some quite important decisions about the supervision and enforcement of those standards, that comment from Sir Bernard Jenkin—I recognise that he is not a Minister—seems to fly in the face of the government assurances we received many times during the passage of the Bill that any such change to any of these standards or anything else would be by primary and not secondary legislation. We were very clear, I think, that secondary powers were going to be used for a lift and shift so the existing rules could be brought across but not for changes. Perhaps the Minister could confirm what I know he has said before—but now that we are into the SIs it is important for him to say it again—that from the point of view of the Government there is absolutely no intention to allow any backdoor changes to legislation in the way suggested by his honourable friend in the other place.

Of course, the order is based on the assumption that we will have a deal. Given the wishes of some of the Minister’s close friends that we should not have a deal and the inability of the Government so far to strike a deal, the risk of no deal looks alarmingly likely. All of us in this Room, because we are a bit sad, have read all the technical notices about what would happen in the event of no deal, but it is not clear what the task facing this House would be in those circumstances in relation to statutory instruments that would need to be got through very quickly. If the Minister has any information on that, perhaps he could share it with the Committee.

As your Lordships will have gathered, the order itself presents us with no problems. I hope that that will be the case for all the others that will come our way.

I thank the noble Baronesses for their comments and questions. I will try to deal with as many as possible and then write to them on any that I have not answered.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked: are there limits to the ability of SIs to amend primary legislation? The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, touched on this point as well. The consequential power is a standard power to make consequential amendments as appropriate—that famous word again, about which there was much debate during the passage of the legislation. These amendments may repeal or revoke but of course the use of that power will be strictly constrained. Provisions in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act speak about the scope of that power.

The noble Baroness’s second question concerned protocols to do with Croatia and Ireland. The answer is that even though the power to make the regulations is going, the regulations that were made under that power will carry on as appropriate. She also asked about the 1946 Act and why the SI applies only to powers conferred on Ministers and not to powers conferred on regulators. The SI makes consequential amendments to the Statutory Instruments Act 1946. The Act applies only to SIs made by Ministers, government departments, Welsh Ministers or the Privy Council. It is less common for legislative powers to be delegated to other individuals or bodies such as regulators, and where legislation confers on a regulator the power to make legislation it also makes special provisions as to how the power is to be exercised and scrutinised. In this case, the SI does not address those particular powers.

On the question of the consequential amendments made in the withdrawal Act for Scotland but not for England, Wales or Northern Ireland, the Act addresses a wide range of issues and impacts on the application of a large number of existing pieces of legislation. As far as possible at the time, those were addressed in the Act. However, it was also recognised that it would be impossible for the Act to identify and address every single amendment that was needed to existing legislation, and that is why at the time the Act conferred on Ministers the limited power to make regulations containing those amendments that are appropriate as a consequence of that Act.

The noble Baroness asked me what happens to the implementation of the Croatian and Irish protocols when the ECA is repealed. The protocol/treaty will still apply until exit day and in a no-deal scenario since those protocols/treaties presuppose EU membership and the protocol will become retained EU law unless repealed, which goes back to the point that I made earlier. So even though the power to make those regulations is being repealed, the regulations and Acts that were originally made under them still apply.

I turn to the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I totally accept her point about the considerable number of SIs that are required. I shall give her some numbers if that is helpful. As the drafting, legislation and negotiations have progressed, departments have had a clearer picture of what legislative requirements are needed by exit day. This has meant that we currently anticipate that the number of SIs might actually be fewer than the figure of 800 to 1,000 that was quoted and that I used many times during the passage of the Act. However, the exact number of SIs needed will depend on a number of factors and the total number is fluctuating; some are able to be combined into one while others will require a number of different individual SIs. Departments began laying Brexit SIs straight after Royal Assent and over 70 have already been laid. Our aim continues to be to be prepared for all scenarios. Again, without harming the negotiations, some SIs would be applicable in both deal and no-deal scenarios, some are applicable only to a deal and some are applicable only in a no-deal scenario.

We expect that the number of SIs being laid will significantly increase from this month onwards, and we are working closely with departments to try to ensure a manageable flow throughout so that Parliament has the proper time to scrutinise them and we have the critical legislation that is required in place by exit day. The secondary legislation programme is on track and we remain confident of the passage of the required number of exit-related SIs before exit day. I said there had been about 70; the exact number as of Friday 19 October is that 72 SIs have been laid or made, with 38 in July, 34 before the Recess, four in August, 10 in September and 19 so far in October. That includes the 43 proposed draft negatives that have been submitted to the sifting committee for consideration.

The noble Baroness referred to comments made by Bernard Jenkin in the House of Commons. I have not seen those particular remarks but I assure her that we have no intention of tabling SIs and then altering them later. We are doing a considerable amount of work to improve the quality of statutory instruments and to ensure that Parliament is appropriately informed and that the appropriate back-up documents, briefing documents and statements are provided along with the SIs. There is no question of back-door changes to legislation. Actually, we would have had the power to propose this particular SI as a negative procedure—it would have been legally possible—but we thought that as it potentially alters legislation of constitutional significance, it would be appropriate to be up-front and take it as an affirmative statutory instrument, so this is legislation by the front door. I hope she will accept that.

Once again I thank both noble Baronesses for this good debate and for their contributions. This statutory instrument aims to make consequential amendments to legislation in order to clarify how new powers and duties in retained direct EU legislation and new powers in regulations made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act will work within our existing legal frameworks. The instrument will also repeal some provisions of primary legislation that are redundant due to the commencement of provisions in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act that were brought into force by commencement regulations made on 3 July 2018. The instrument will also make some transitional and savings provisions in relation to those repeals. With that, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.