Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, the overarching objective of this Bill is a timely and important opportunity to review, rationalise and update a wide-ranging tranche of legislation, and that I warmly welcome and strongly support. However, I have grave reservations about how the Bill proposes that it is done. My concerns are therefore about process, not purpose, and fall into two broad areas. The first is the role allotted to Parliament; the second is the uncertainties for, and potential impact on, consumers and businesses.
I will cover the first area with brevity. Having been a member of the SLSC when it signed off its report on this Bill and having become a member of DPRRC before it signed off its report, I fully endorse the concerns and recommendations set out in both those reports. They deal largely with concerns about parliamentary sovereignty, the need for greater parliamentary oversight, and the extent to which it is intended that secondary legislation will be used. I will not repeat those important concerns in detail, as they have been well articulated by others and not least by my noble friends Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord McLoughlin, respectively the former and current chairs of those two committees.
I turn to a range of more practical concerns. In doing so, I declare my interest as president of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, the CTSI, which is the professional body for trading standards. In expressing its concerns, I am raising concerns that have equally been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, who was my predecessor as president of the CTSI.
CTSI and the coalition of partner organisations see considerable merit in the opportunity to reappraise and update the legislation and regulations that underpin trading standards and consumer safety. However, they are deeply concerned about the practicability of doing this comprehensively, with due process and to good effect, across such a vast swathe of legislation, given the proposed sunset deadline at the end of the year and the minimalist approach to consultation and parliamentary scrutiny.
CTSI, alongside organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Child Accident Prevention Trust and Electrical Safety First, are therefore calling for the proposed sunset deadline of 31 December 2023 to be revisited. Their understandable fear is that, with thousands of pieces of vitally important but often complex legislation needing to be reviewed, rewritten or sunsetted, mistakes, omissions and contradictions are inevitable. This in turn could result in key protections for consumers and businesses being undermined or lost.
More specifically, CTSI and its partners are concerned that the Bill creates a lack of clarity around trading standards’ duties to enforce laws vital to ensuring the safety of products such as toys, electrical appliances and cosmetics; could weaken fair trading rules that protect consumers and law-abiding businesses; could undermine rules that ensure the welfare of animals and the UK’s ability to export animal products to EU member states; could result in diminished information requirements for food provenance, allergens and use-by dates; could make convictions for consumer rights offences unsafe if the laws that underpin them are not clear and coherent; and poses a threat to life due to differences in technical metrology definitions in the healthcare sector on the road and at sea. These are very real uncertainties and concerns, as are those that relate to the role of Parliament and parliamentary procedure.
I said at the start that the Bill is a rare and, I believe, welcome opportunity to review and update a lot of important legislation. We therefore need to ensure that the processes that the Bill is proposing are made fit for purpose and command greater confidence inside and outside Parliament.
My Lords, the arguments against this undemocratic Bill are well understood by both Houses and, indeed, beyond. Unfortunately, there is not enough time today for me to do justice to these arguments, so I will attempt to highlight only my gravest concerns with the Bill—as many others have, in fairness.
Most of the most important employment rights, such as the protection of pregnant workers, maternity and parental leave, guaranteed rest breaks, equal treatment for part-time works, and especially TUPE protections, are derived from EU law, as the Minister knows. All these rights are now under serious threat, despite the Tory manifesto promising to
“legislate to ensure high standards of workers’ rights”.
I have asked the Minister twice, as the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, said earlier, to confirm that no existing employment rights would be weakened or scrapped, but he point-blank refused to answer. When I asked him specifically whether he would allow TUPE protections to fall off the statute books, the Minister would only say that he
“will look at that and see whether it is appropriate for the UK economy”.—[Official Report, 1/2/23; col. 658.]
I find this answer totally unacceptable. How on earth can there be any debate about whether these vital protections are appropriate for our economy? What kind of economy do this Government want? One where workers see their pay and conditions slashed after takeovers; a race to the bottom? That is what we are left with without these protections. It is a far cry from the high standards we were promised.
Last week, my noble friend Lord Watts made the excellent point that Ministers were well fond of rolling over trade deals, and he asked why we could not roll over the protections that workers have now, to stop them worrying about their futures. Unfortunately—but, once again, not surprisingly—the Minister did not answer. Perhaps he might like to address this point today.
As parliamentarians, it is our duty to stand up for our constitutional role of holding the Government to account. It was highlighted by various committees of this House, including the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, that this Bill would lead to a “significant shift of power”—not to Parliament, but to Ministers. This Bill, therefore, runs counter to the principles of parliamentary democracy and is a blank cheque placed in the hands of Ministers, according to these committees. Is that what the Government really meant by “taking back control”? It certainly looks like it to me. Is it really what people voted for in 2019? I do not think so: they did not vote for that.
In its report, the delegated powers committee said:
“The Bill is sufficiently lacking in substance not even to be described as ‘skeletal’.”
It is outrageous; it is an abuse of the democratic process.
This Bill, and the Minister’s refusal to rule out a bonfire of employment rights, is completely the opposite of what the Government promised voters. It is therefore nothing less than the duty of this House to defeat it or, at the very least, to delay it until the next election, when the voters can decide for themselves whether workers’ rights are worth defending after all. I think I know what the voters will say.
My Lords, last week I hosted a meeting with Zsuzsanna Szelényi, the brave Hungarian former MP, a member of Fidesz and the author of Tainted Democracy: Viktor Orbán and the Subversion of Hungary. I reflected that this Bill, especially in the light of the reports from the DPRRC and the SLSC, is a government land grab of powers over Parliament, fully worthy of Viktor Orbán himself and his cronies. This is no less than an attempt to achieve a tawdry version of Singapore-on-Thames in the UK without proper democratic scrutiny, to the vast detriment of consumers, workers and creatives. It is no surprise that the Regulatory Policy Committee has stated that the Bill’s impact assessment is not fit for purpose.
It is not only important regulations that are being potentially swept away, but principles of interpretation and case law, built up over nearly 50 years of membership of the EU. This Government are knocking down the pillars of certainty of application of our laws. My noble friend Lord Fox rightly quoted the Bar Council in this respect. Clause 5 would rip out the fundamental right to the protection of personal data from the UK GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018. This is a direct threat to the UK’s data adequacy, with all the consequences that that entails. Is that really the Government’s intention?
As regards consumers, Which? has demonstrated the threat to basic food hygiene requirements for all types of food businesses: controls over meat safety, maximum pesticide levels, food additive regulations, controls over allergens in foods and requirements for baby foods. Product safety rights at risk include those affecting child safety and regulations surrounding transport safety. Civil aviation services could be sunsetted, along with airlines’ liability requirements in the event of airline accidents. Consumer rights on cancellation and information, protection against aggressive selling practices and redress for consumer law breaches across many sectors could all be impacted. Are any of these rights dispensable—mere parking tickets?
Many noble Lords—in particular the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, in her excellent maiden speech—the TUC and many others have pointed out the employment rights that could be lost, and health and safety requirements too. Without so much as a by-your-leave, the Government could damage the employment conditions of every single employee in this country.
For creative workers in particular, the outlook as a result of this Bill is bleak. The impact of any change on the protection of part-time and fixed-term workers is particularly important for freelance workers in the creative industries. Fixed-term workers currently have the right to be treated no less favourably than a comparable permanent employee unless the employer can justify the different treatment. Are these rights dispensable? Are they mere parking tickets?
Then there is potentially the massive change to intellectual property rights, including CJEU case law on which rights holders rely. If these fall away, it creates huge uncertainty and incentive for litigation. The IP regulations and case law on the dashboard which could be sunsetted encompass a whole range, from databases, computer programs and performing rights to protections for medicines. At particular risk are artists’ resale rights, which give visual artists and their heirs a right to a royalty on secondary sales of the artist’s original works when sold on the art market. Visual artists are some of the lowest-earning creators, earning between £5,000 and £10,000 a year. Are these rights dispensable? Have the Government formed any view at all yet?
This Bill has created a fog of uncertainty over all these areas—a blank sheet of paper, per my noble friend Lord Beith; a giant question mark, per the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine—and the impact could be disastrous. I hope this House ensures it does not see the light of day in its current form.
My Lords, we recently celebrated the third anniversary of Brexit and it is indeed the gift that keeps on taking: taking control and scrutiny away from Parliament, effectively passing it to unelected officials in the Civil Service, and taking certainty, confidence and competitiveness away from businesses. The whole thrust of the debate today is what assurance is there that key protections that we have achieved will remain on the statute book and that there will be no gold-plating. I play tribute to my noble friend Lord Heseltine, who single-handedly eradicated gold-plating from the transposition of a very innocuous directive, such as the toy directive, into the home-spun rules of our home civil servants.
The dashboard is very difficult to navigate. It is a moving feast, but we know that there are some 1,780 Defra proposals. I pay tribute to the Defra officials who spent the best part of two years transposing farming, environment and other regulations into UK law at some considerable speed and therefore had to return with corrections. I do not blame them for that, but that shows us what the expectations will be with an even more limited timetable before us in the Bill.
As others have mentioned in the debate, the dashboard does not cover all retained EU laws agreed by the devolved Administrations, so it is no wonder that the Welsh and Scottish Administrations have withheld their consent from the Bill. Now, with a sweep of the pen, all that we have achieved over years of transposing and passing into UK law these protections is going to be rolled away purely as a result of a political decision to achieve this arbitrary timetable before the next election.
I would like to judge the Bill before us this evening by the extent to which at the end of this process we will still be able to export and import, which we were told would not be jeopardised as we would have frictionless trade through the trade and co-operation agreement. I have been contacted by businesses I worked with 30 years ago and longer as a Member of the European Parliament in the food and drink sector, chemicals and, in particular, the cars and vehicle sector. We have identified a change in policy direction moving away from a functioning statute book to a period of tremendous uncertainty. No one in the debate this evening disagrees that the statute book should be kept under constant review. I think that all who have spoken expressing caution about the Bill are concerned about the manner in which the statute book is to be maintained. Parliament will not be in the driving seat; it will nominally be Ministers, but I would say unelected officials. What evidence is there that there has even been a proper consultation of all the interested parties affected, many of whom have been represented in their concerns being voiced today? I urge my noble friend and the Government to be prudent, drop any arbitrary deadline and seek to give a measured response where we can pay tribute to those who have expressed their concerns.
To the extent that we can still export and import, I have been contacted by those in the car sector who are concerned that we have only recently agreed type approval regulations. For chemicals, we have only recently agreed the UK REACH regime, and for the food and farming sector, animal health safety and welfare have featured largely this evening.
In conclusion, while my noble friend and I are on different sides of the argument regarding Brexit, throughout our careers we have held business dear to our hearts. Will he say which part of the Bill promotes business and will help to facilitate exports and imports?
Doctrinaire, ideological, subversive of Parliament, a headlong rush, an arbitrary timetable, a blank cheque for government by diktat—this Bill is coming in for a bit of criticism from Conservatives. I am not surprised, because the presumption that change is needed and the proposed method of change do not strike me as terribly Conservative. Lord Salisbury in 1892 defined Conservatism as delaying changes until they become harmless. I have always believed that he also said: “Change? Why should we change? Things are bad enough as they are.” I can get away with that as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, the real expert on this, is not here; he says it is apocryphal. Here are Lord Salisbury’s successors running a rushed, in-house review of some 4,000 laws with a presumption that change is required because of the laws’ origins, not their effects.
I was there in Brussels during a period of peak legislation with the single market programme. I was there when the European Union was dancing to the tune of a British Conservative initiative, inspired by Margaret Thatcher, prescribed by Arthur Cockfield, pressed by John Major, driven through by Commissioner Leon Brittan. Were they all wrong? Is their legacy now suspect simply because they succeeded in getting the EU to buy their prescriptions for appropriate regulation?
Of course, some of the 4,000 laws could well be overtaken; I do not know. There could be sense in a sift done bottom-up, sector by sector, consulting those affected, balancing the consumer interest with the interests of producers and traders—but not this way; not top-down, in-house, with no consultation, minimal scrutiny, an end-year guillotine and new rules by decree cutting out Parliament.
Business hates this Bill. Business likes certainty. Business wants regulatory predictability. The perception of change for change’s sake is anathema to business. The chemical industry and Defra confirm that the cost of replacing the EU REACH regulations will be about £2 billion. That is just one industry. This Bill and the uncertainty that it creates will affect them all. No wonder the CBI opposes it so strongly.
Lord Salisbury also said in 1879:
“Whatever happens will be for the worse, and therefore it is in our interest that as little should happen as possible”.
As regards this Bill, that seems to be exactly right. It is malign, misconceived, damaging, undemocratic, un-Conservative—and we should throw it out.
My Lords, people watching these proceedings will be astonished that this House seems minded to obstruct this Bill and to fail to fully engage with the difficult and messy process of self-government as an independent, sovereign parliamentary democracy, arising from the largest plebiscite in British history in 2016.
The Bill should be seen in the wider context of what went before and what is proposed, a wider historical context—what I might call the Benn challenge. In his valedictory speech to the House of Commons in March 2001, Tony Benn asked of those tasked with exercising power:
“What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/01; col. 510.]
Is that not the fundamental question at hand in considering the Bill today? The fact that the EU failed to answer that question is why Brexit happened.
The Bill’s opponents are mostly well-meaning and sincere, and I accept that, but many observers will see an effort to thwart Brexit and render it a failure. Some noble Lords pray in aid the need for scrutiny and oversight, but they were silent when 265,490 EU laws, judgments, directives, regulations and decisions—the mythical EU acquis—mostly taken behind closed doors and rubber-stamped by the European Council of Ministers, were forced on our sovereign Parliament between 1973 and 2020 by virtue of one Act of Parliament: the European Communities Act 1972, Section 2. No one voted for that, unlike Brexit and the Conservative Party manifesto in 2019, and the elected House just last month, which gave this Bill a healthy Third Reading majority.
The withdrawal Act 2020 specifically and formally recognises in Section 38 the right of the UK to exercise—in its own way, within its autonomy and independence through a sovereign Parliament—its own legal regime. It was also well understood in 2018 that the withdrawal Act was iterative and transitional legislation, so a sunset clause is both logical and inevitable, although perhaps arbitrary, and any attempt to extend it beyond either 2023 or 2026 will be viewed as lacking democratic legitimacy.
There is no evidence—this is the Chicken Licken argument—that the Bill will inevitably lead to a weakening of our own domestic legal rights and protections. In any case, no Government can bind the hands of their successors. Any policy development that is against the interests of working people in this country will be judged harshly, and the efficacy of those policies will be judged at a general election. That is the basis of democracy. It is not our place to second-guess the views of the electorate at a forthcoming general election.
We now have opportunities to develop new policies and make our own laws on animal welfare, on vaccine rollout, on freeports and on diverging from EU solvency rules. The Bill honours the commitment made to the British people in 2016 and 2019. I regret that I have not been able to rebut the findings of the committee report published last Thursday, but in due course we will do that in Committee and on Report. Essentially, EU legal and political supremacy has no place in a mature, independent, self-governing democracy.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough and to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, and my noble friend Lady Bray on their impressive maiden speeches.
I am sure I am not the only one in this Chamber who longs for the day when we are united in holding the Executive to account for decisions and policies made here at home. But I cannot see how we can get to that point unless and until retained EU legislation no longer takes priority over domestic UK legislation. Surely that is a prerequisite for parliamentary sovereignty to be restored—and with it the fate of the people in Parliament and the Government’s ability to deliver—and indeed for the opportunities and benefits of Brexit to be realised. It is, as my noble friend Lord Frost said, the logic of delivering Brexit.
Now I recognise that some noble Lords are absolutely determined that this should not happen, and that the consideration of this Bill should be used as a chance to delay, in the hope that Brexit will never be enacted. I completely respect their right to hold such a position and to articulate it—if only they would. But I fear that instead we are in for another bout of Brexit-bashing amid the familiar and disdainful refrain that “they”—the people who voted leave—did not know what they were doing. As someone who knew exactly what he was doing when he voted leave, I fear that continued skirmishing simply delays the healing we so desperately need.
Like my noble friend Lady Bray, I have faith in our parliamentary democracy and in the people—as my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough just reminded us—to ensure that, once accountability is brought home, as this Bill provides for in the medium to longer term, “they”, the voters, will decide at a general election whom to hire and fire on the basis of policies decided and delivered in the UK for the UK. They will have the final word. But for that to happen, this Bill—however uncomfortable we may find it—must pass first. I thank my noble friend the Minister for his tireless tenacity in ensuring that it does. He deserves our support.
My Lords, noble Lords have already heard from my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, a former Brexiteer who has seen the chaos we have already, before this Bill is enacted, and has said that she has had enough and wants to rejoin the EU, as the whole Green Party does. I was initially going to have a list—a chart—of all the practical problems but so many people have done such a great job on that already: the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, on labour rights, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, on all the Defra issues and Defra’s incapacity to deal with them, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, on the issues being raised for the devolved Administrations, whom the Government so often seem to ignore.
That the Government lack the capacity to deliver the fantasy they are setting out in any kind of orderly way is clearly not stopping them, or perhaps not being orderly is the intention of at least some parts of the Government. In the financial sector there is a lot of money to be made from chaos, as Naomi Klein showed us so clearly two decades ago in her explanation of the shock doctrine of disaster capitalism.
It is very clear that this Bill, should your Lordships’ House not oppose it, will be a complete working out of the hashtag #ToryChaos. I urge all sides of your Lordships’ House to oppose the Bill—to vote it down. We have heard from a barrage of Cross Benchers and more than a few Conservatives how dreadful it is. The responsibility is in our hands. How bad does a swathe of Henry VIII clauses have to be before your Lordships’ House takes responsibility? I direct that remark particularly to the Benches to my right.
As I am speaker number 46, much has already been covered and I aim not to go over old ground. Instead, I am going to take a different approach and interrogate the Government’s own stated intentions with the Bill and see how lacking a base in realism they are. In the Government’s own words on the retained EU law dashboard, the justification is:
“This will allow us to create a new pro-growth, high standards regulatory framework that gives businesses the confidence to innovate, invest and create jobs.”
I want to unpack that. They say they want to remove outdated regulation that may be hampering growth. What does “outdated” mean? Is a protection for nature, for workers’ rights, for consumer rights outdated? Who is going to judge? What kind of growth? Surely your Lordships’ House will agree that we do not want growth in water pollution, air pollution or exploitation of workers. All-out growth, of course, is the ideology of the cancer cell.
On creating a high standards framework, I go back to our earlier discussion of the environmental improvement plan and the issue of plastics, highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. We do not have a bottle deposit scheme in England, but many EU countries have one, so it is not EU rules that have stopped that. The French are racing towards getting rid of single-use containers in fast food stores—that is within EU rules.
On confidence to invest, I will quote an Institute for Government report from last year on business investment:
“The UK has persistently lagged other comparable countries.”
It is well behind Germany, France and Italy; it is not EU rules that are holding them back.
The Minister used the phrase “create … jobs” again. That is curious, when the lack of people for jobs is currently one of the UK’s great problems. We have 47,000 nurse vacancies, an 11% vacancy rate in the care sector and an overall vacancy rate of 1.3 million. Do we not need to find a way to use the human resources that we have now? EU rules are not stopping us doing that.
Finally, in introducing the Bill, the Minister spoke of “countless opportunities”. I assume he meant that rhetorically, but of course it is literally true: the Government are still trying to count the number of regulations and rules that the Bill covers—
I suggest that the noble Baroness brings her comments to a close.
How can you make a law when you do not know what it covers?
My Lords, in opening, my noble friend the Minister stated that the Bill will “benefit people and businesses”, but workers’ and employers’ organisations are united in their opposition to it: neither businesses nor consumers want the Bill. It would leave our country and its framework of rules, laws and protections in a state of prolonged uncertainty.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and a report from the Delegated Powers Committee offer their concerns in stark terms, with the Regulatory Policy Committee giving the impact assessment a red rating—namely, “not fit for purpose”. The Government admit that they do not even know which laws will be lost. I find this truly shocking. I have been in Parliament since 2015 and have watched in horror the stripping away of previous norms in the last couple of years. The idea that we should just throw all of our laws into a big hat, pull out a few, change a few and throw the rest away—without even knowing which ones are which—cannot be the way to run any country, let alone a serious parliamentary democracy. I ask my noble friend a simple question: how is this Bill in the national interest? Are we a parliamentary democracy? Does Parliament have the power to make, change and decide on laws, or has it been surrendered, or are we being asked to surrender it, to a group of Ministers, who may change very frequently? We do not know which Ministers will be in place at any one time.
I believe we have a duty to oppose this. Removing Clause 7’s mandatory directions to courts, removing Clauses 15 and 16’s excessive powers—never tightening regulations—and extending the irresponsible deadline of the end of 2023 would all be improvements, but they are not enough. Where is the comprehensive dashboard of all the laws and regulations that will be removed? Members of Parliament have no idea who will lose out and who will gain. Which laws will be deleted, which will be changed and how far can Parliament assess any of it?
This is not about Brexit; Brexit has happened. My noble friend Lord Frost said that it is part of the logic of Brexit, but I fear that Brexit is being used here as a smokescreen for a deregulatory power grab, the results of which are impossible to gauge—it is recklessly irresponsible. My noble friend insisted that this is not a power grab, but how else do we describe the Government asking Parliament to give up its power of scrutiny over the laws of the land and all its regulations by handing powers to Ministers to tear up regulations just because they may have an EU-related origin?
The overarching soundbite seems to be “regulations must be bad, so we have to get rid of them”, but “regulations” is basically another word for protections. Indeed, regulations can be drivers of growth in themselves; for example, environmental regulations can drive investment in skills, innovation and job creation. They protect every facet of our lives. In the words of the song,
“you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone”.
It is not too late for my noble friends and other noble Lords to pull us back from this brink.
My Lords, the Minister will remember that, about four years ago, we were discussing the EU withdrawal Bill. It was flawed in many ways—it took a long time, and we were raising all sorts of points —but we all recognised at that point that we needed something such as that, because we needed some degree of continuity, stability and time to consider whether we wanted the EU regulations or whether we wished to change them. We agreed, in principle, that we needed a Bill. The opposite is true of this: 80% of speakers in your Lordships’ House today have been fundamentally opposed to the Bill. A larger proportion of representations from civic society, industry and business—almost everybody; not just the usual wussy bugbears of the Government, such as human rights lawyers, trade unionists and environmentalists—is opposed to the basic precept of the Bill. So I will scrap the rest of my speech, except to pose the key question: what is your Lordships’ House going to do about it, with this unanimity of view?
If they were put to the vote tonight, I would vote for the amendments to the Motion. While I would have preferred to try to block the Bill at Second Reading, the House of Lords does not do that. So what shall we do if we follow our normal course? We need to make some fundamental amendments to the Bill, and I will suggest five. We should establish, before we go any further, a proper parliamentary process for considering the remains of the EU regulations, which probably needs to be a body of both Houses. We should delete the arbitrary sunset deadline of December this year, which is less than 11 months away. We should delete the provisions in Clause 15(5), which mean that we can alter the regulations only in a deregulatory way, with a very narrow definition of deregulation. We should put in the Bill the declarations made by Ministers that workers’ rights and environmental protections will not diminish. We should also move back the ultimate sunset clause of the end of 2026, as we need more time. Frankly, the reindeer in Lapland can wait a bit; there is, after all, still a statute on our book that says that you are allowed to kill a Scotsman in Carlisle if he is carrying a bow and arrow, but not on a Sunday—we have never deleted that one. While we need to delete some laws in due course, let us take proper consideration under parliamentary procedure and not under ministerial fiat.
There is such unanimity of view that the House of Lords needs to get out of its pram and assert itself. If necessary, we should do so more than once. If the Government do their usual job of rejecting all Lords amendments, let us send it back again; then the Government will have to decide whether to use the Parliament Act, by which time we will be in a general election and, hopefully, the world will change.
I would like to add that I am very keen to get out of the pram with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—I think it is a very good idea. I want to make a few remarks about food. The regulations that we have about food, most of which have happened in Europe, are about protection. In fact, we do not get enough of it. So I am completely dismayed that everything in this Bill says that there can be no further strengthening of regulations.
At the moment, the food companies are allowed to kill us slowly. They cannot kill us quickly. In other words, if you walk into a high-street fast-food restaurant, you are not going to drop dead. But, if you lived on food from that high-street fast-food restaurant, you would probably drop dead, or at least have diabetes, or be in ill health by the time you were 50 or 60 and living a bad life because of bad food. So we need more regulation.
I agree with so much of what has been said tonight, but in my few minutes, I want to give your Lordships an idea of how much relates to food, farming and public health that we are possibly going to throw out of the window. This is about antibiotic use on farms; it is about harmonised testing; it is about the banning of the use of hormone growth promoters; it is about the import of meat from animals which have been treated with hormone growth promoters. People are now beginning to understand what this does to the human body—it ain’t pretty.
All food safety laws, including the maximum containment for BSE monitoring; setting maximum residue levels for pesticides; lists of countries allowed to import meat; health marks on meat; labelling of beef; country of origin labelling on food—remember the horse meat scandal—preventing river pollution from agricultural activity; training staff to perform these checks at borders; increasing border controls and emergency measures for the entry of certain goods; as well as the huge one about the transportation of animals, which has been something we have worked on with the EU and we have done well here. Any suggestion that we would lower our animal welfare standards in the pursuit of capitalism and a quick buck is, quite frankly, disgusting. Rules on the production and labelling of organic produce are also possibly going to be sunsetted. And, by the way, who came up with the idea that sunset was a verb?
I will quote the Food Standards Agency, because it has an extremely brilliant new chair, Susan Jebb. She said:
“In the FSA, we are clear that we cannot simply sunset”—
she used it—
“the laws on food safety and authenticity without a decline in UK food standards and a significant risk to public health”.
The task ahead of us to go through these rules is very challenging and it inevitably means that we will have to deprioritise other important work. Is this what we want? We do not have a great food system at the moment; I have banged on about it long enough. We now stand looking at an even worse one and making good people, such as Susan Jebb, go through basic laws. Please, let us find a way, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, to get out of the pram and stand up to this outrageous business.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register and congratulate my noble friend Lady Bray and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, on joining us. I have known them both for some years and know they will make a distinguished contribution.
The points I have to make are about transport and somewhat technical, so the Minister may need to write to me rather than answer. They have so far identified 424 transport instruments that will be affected by the Bill, but no one is actually sure that that is the correct final number.
My first point is about safety legislation and regulation, which have developed to support the incredibly high levels of safety enjoyed by passengers and crew aboard UK-registered commercial aircraft. I remind noble Lords that the last fatal crash in the United Kingdom involving a passenger plane on the UK register was in 1990. There is a threat to the cohesiveness of this complex web of aviation regulations if some parts are inadvertently or thoughtlessly removed, possibly just because they are overlooked or forgotten. Safety regulation should always be amended in an evolutionary way, not by this slash and burn approach.
My second point concerns legislation which is relied on by the aviation industry in a secondary sense. Passengers with reduced mobility, environmental problems, security and consumer protections are all covered by mature and complex, often overlapping, regulation, and they are at risk should the Bill become law, with the supporting jurisprudence falling. There are also fatigue-related parts of the specific mobile worker working time directive which could be lost inadvertently.
Thirdly, there is a matter of confidence in the legislative process. People live in the confidence of a mature and effective safety system, which means that the hazard they face is near zero. Much of this legislation is secured by international agreement, some of it under EU law and some of it under other parts of the law. But, with this sunset clause approach, there is a danger that some of it will be discarded without thought, and the work to generate new legislation is, frankly, a distraction. We ought to leave this legislation where it is.
Finally, I draw attention to the fact that, in November 2022, the DfT briefed the DfT industry engagement forum on aviation safety on the Bill. At this cross-industry safety body, even the DfT made clear that its preference was for the maintenance of the sitting arrangements. It emphasised that it was finding it impossible to impress on people higher up in government that this was the officials’ policy: so officials in charge of safety are apparently being ignored. At an appropriate time, I will be looking for support to amend the Bill to look after the safeguarding provisions of safety legislation. I hope the Minister will make that unnecessary by bringing forward an amendment to exempt them.
If the Minister does not and my noble friend does, I will be glad to give him my support.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating our two new Members, my noble friend Lady Bray and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady. I want just to say to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, that everyone in this country has reason to be grateful to her because, at a time when her party did not have its most responsible leadership, she was a model of temperance, pragmatism and good leadership, and we are all in her debt for that.
I am afraid I share the misgivings of those who do not like the Bill. That will not come as a great surprise to many people. Government by diktat and by deadline is never a good idea. It is particularly not a good idea when it marginalises Parliament in the process. What we face is a marginalisation of Parliament and an accretion of power to the Executive. Yes, individual Ministers may exercise that with discretion and good sense, but they should not have that power, which will be vested in them if the Bill goes through on this ridiculous deadline when there is no need for a deadline. We would have escaped the Irish protocol had there been a good acceptance that a deadline was not the best way to govern. We would have avoided many other disasters in recent years if we had adopted a similar process.
I say to my friends and colleagues who take a different view of the Bill, please, tomorrow, read the speeches of my noble friends Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord McLoughlin; one a self-proclaimed Brexiteer, who sees the constitutional difficulties in the Bill, and the other a former Government Chief Whip and a very good friend of mine who has done a wonderful job in his career in Parliament—I was proud that he came from my constituency. These are not ciphers; these are people who have strong, coherent views based on real facts.
Although my noble friend Lord Hamilton—I listened to him; he might just give me the benefit—tried to dismiss this Bill, it should not be dismissed. It is a constitutional monstrosity. That point was also made by my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lord Young of Cookham and many others around your Lordships’ House. We have a duty to parliamentary democracy. We do not have the final word, and nor should we; we are not the elected House. However, we have a constitutional duty.
Although people talked of great majorities in the other place, they were more or less on party lines—majorities of around 50 or a little more. They were not sweeping majorities, such as we have had with certain Bills before us, but majorities on party lines with people obeying the party Whip. As far as I am concerned—I have always adopted this stance throughout my 53 years in Parliament—a Whip is a guide. It is a request, not an instruction or order. I ask all my noble friends to remember that.
My Lords, setting out on a journey when you do not know where you are going seems somewhat unwise. Politicians sometimes have to pursue careers without certainty as to the outcome, but as legislators we really should have some idea of where we are going.
Here we are considering a rare situation: a complex Bill that sets out to abolish many regulations and accepted and important rules, without the foggiest idea of what may or may not replace them. The Government do not intend to replace some at all, but others are vital to businesses big and small and critical to other processes. They are to be abandoned without proper scrutiny or thought-through replacements. How many pieces of EU-derived legislation are we talking about? The Government do not know.
However, my concerns with this Bill are not about the principle but about the process. The scale of the task in the proposed timescale is enormous, and I am yet to hear a convincing argument as to why the end of 2023 has been chosen as a date for disposal in all cases. This creates significant resource issues and there is insufficient capacity in our Civil Service to deal with this effectively. Surely, it is also a distraction at a time when the Government’s focus should be on matters of much greater importance.
A danger presented by the sunset clause is that, as the default position, swathes of retained EU law could expire without our knowing it, leading to many unintended consequences such as gaps in the law and important protections inadvertently dropping out of regulation. Provisions in the Bill will also allow the Government to amend or revoke retained EU law by means of secondary legislation, much spoken of today, effectively sidelining Parliament and removing any form of scrutiny. We have spoken up about this “executive grab” on many occasions before, but this would be a stage too far. Maybe the other place has lost its appetite for proper scrutiny, but this House has not and must not. As my noble friend Lord Young said earlier, it is also noteworthy that its own independent Regulatory Policy Committee has called an impact assessment conducted by the Department for Business “not fit for purpose”.
The breadth of legislation affected is well reflected by the groups that have expressed deep concerns: the National Farmers’ Union, the Bar Council, the Institute of Directors—I could go on. We know that British business needs certainty, continuity and transparent regulatory processes. This Bill kills that concept. There is also the impact on the UK to consider. Given that the Bill will confer powers on both the UK Government and, where applicable, the devolved Administrations, there is concern that different approaches may be taken, producing uncertainty and divergence between our constituent nations.
The vast majority of retained EU law, which the UK—and I as an MEP—played a key role in shaping as part of a democratic process, is vital in many spheres. It would be better to look at the small proportion of retained EU law that the Government believe is not working and rewrite it under primary legislation once the impact of such changes is fully considered by Parliament.
Of course, those who are promoting this legislation claim that removing the influence of the ECJ and replacing it with the British courts in relation to derived laws is justification itself. Lawyers here will hardly—for once—be grateful for the confusion and uncertainty created by these new powers. Some areas of the law do need improving, but this must be done in a considered manner. The Government must extend the 2023 deadline, or at least allow Parliament the opportunity to consider what laws need replacement and what alternatives are to be put in place to maintain stability.
My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with the furious frustration expressed today at being asked to grant an Executive a licence to legislate on thousands of legal instruments, all without accountability to Parliament or the public. I empathise because that anger at a democratic deficit was exactly what prompted me to vote to leave the EU. These very EU retained laws started life as secondary legislation impositions on the UK Parliament: they were directions from and obligations to the EU Executive. They were products of a supranational institution whose very design is to ring-fence swathes of lawmaking from national electorates and to delegate sovereign powers to unaccountable European Commissioners, the European bank, et cetera.
Do not get me wrong: there are problems with this Bill. The Government may have missed an opportunity to use the retained law issue as a spur for democratic renewal. They could have launched nationwide town-hall meetings and debates to guide decisions on what laws to keep or delete. But, to note, whatever the anti-democratic dangers of this skeleton Bill, there is a popular mandate behind the Bill’s intent: to fulfil a promise of taking back control of our legal system by abolishing EU supremacy. We do indeed need to give domestic courts more discretion to depart from retained EU case law—they can take it into account but should not be required to follow it. Also, the real constitutional outrage before us is not the Bill so much as the fact that some domestic primary legislation remains subordinate to EU law. I am not sure that complaints that the sunset clause means changes are rushed will cut it with the public. For many millions who voted to leave in the largest democratic vote in UK history, the impression is of sloth, prevarication and obstruction. They deserve a sense of urgency to finish what voters started in 2016.
Many of the core objections we have heard today seem to be driven by a failure of imagination. Many noble Lords have cited professional bodies, NGOs, employers organisations, trade union leaders and lawyers—all who appear unable to imagine social and economic progress happening without retained EU laws. Nowhere is this more gallingly illustrated than in accusations that the Bill will create a bonfire of workers’ rights. Surely this legalistic presumption is insulting to decades of self-organisation by working-class people who fought tooth and nail to win those gains. Maybe tell the RMT rank and file members—many of whom I campaigned alongside for Brexit—that their rights are safer in EU retained law than on their picket lines. Do I trust the Tory Government with workers’ rights? Of course not. But I do not trust EU law either. The first time I heard of the model strike-breaking legislation in the form of minimum service requirements was when it was being eulogised in the European Parliament. And, yes, I will be opposing it when it comes to this House.
The TUC briefing warns that this Bill jeopardises the agency workers directive, but we might note that this very directive is a device used to avoid paying agency staff at the same rate as employed staff. It has been used by the ECJ to break collective bargaining agreements via the 2007 rulings in the Viking Line and Laval cases. Other briefings warn us this Bill will drive a wrecking ball through women’s employment rights and equality legislation. Actually, a far greater threat to equality law in 2023 is not this Bill but the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Act. How disappointing that all those condemning this so-called dodgy legislation today have not been clamouring to oppose this material assault on women’s sex-based rights that threatens the UK-wide Equality Act.
The 4,000 retained EU laws were put on the UK statute books without Members of this unelected House crying democracy. Earlier, we were assured that it was all okay because, as one noble Lord explained, there were special behind-closed-door committees that scrutinised them. There was no mind that, no matter how many British voters might object to any one of those laws, there was nothing—zilch—they could do. The lack of outrage at that democratic deficit—
The noble Baroness has exceeded her time limit. Perhaps she could bring her comments to an end.
Well, noble Lords get the gist.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, and my noble friend Lady Bray and to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fox—so you have four noble Baronesses tonight on different sides.
I welcome this Bill to remove and reform EU law. It honours the country’s decisions in the 2016 referendum and the 2019 general election leave the EU, its legal orbit and its corpus of law. The voters’ mandate was clear—to restore sovereignty so that the laws under which we are governed reflect their wishes and the Parliament they send to Westminster honours their mandate. The Bill honours that mandate in two principal ways. First, it accords supremacy to UK law, ending that of the EU where there is incompatibility. Secondly, retained EU secondary legislation will, unless otherwise decided, lapse at the end of 2023—the sunset clause about which we have heard so much today.
Others have spoken about the economic potential of this measure. I shall touch on the concerns, which I do not share, practical and constitutional. The practical concerns relate to timing and uncertainty—what is thought to be too short a timeframe and possible uncertainty in so rapid a switch to a new system, which could, it is thought, be bad for business. But not only should the deadline be achieved quickly and smoothly if individual departments get down to the task—a task with which they will already be familiar through the laws for which they are responsible—but the more rapidly this corpus of secondary legislation is removed or adapted for UK law, and the sooner the two systems of law end, the greater the certainty for all. The constitutional concerns relate to what is seen as the Executive overlooking Parliament—or what others have called, in more colloquial language, a power grab.
We are speaking here about secondary legislation, which was introduced under the EU, much of it without proper parliamentary scrutiny. It did not reflect the wishes of the people of this country but was the result of a Byzantine system of laws under an unelected European commission and handed down from on high to Parliament. Moreover, there are good reasons for acting as proposed. Unlike the UK system of law, EU legislation is based on the continental system of law. It is a different form of law. It enshrines the precautionary principle covering every possible situation, but often does so too late for innovators and entrepreneurs. Four thousand is the number of regulations we have heard mentioned today, but more laws do not necessarily mean better law.
Moreover, Ministers are and will be accountable, but to Parliament, and more accountable and more important to the people of this country, who, at a general election, send Parliament to Westminster. It is from the people that the authority of Parliament derives, not from itself. Governments listen to the voice of the people and have acted decisively and rapidly throughout the centuries: workmen’s compensation in the 1890s; national insurance and pensions in the 1910s; widows’, orphans’ and old age pensions in the 1920s; holidays with pay in the 1930s; family allowances, national insurance, maternity allowance and legal aid in the 1940s. I therefore welcome this measure. I have no doubt that the Government will move ahead rapidly and I shall do nothing to delay the passing of the Bill.
My Lords, I think it is time I brought a bit of consensus—a bit of unanimity—to this House: I am a rotten politician.
You see? I got the House’s agreement straightaway. The reason is that I have been listening to these speeches, including the two excellent maiden speeches from my noble friend Lady Bray and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady—I congratulate them on speaking on a non-controversial Bill, as per the tradition—and I can see merit in many of the arguments. I do not want this to be about dogma, though. I can see that there is a polarisation between those for Brexit and those opposed to it—but not among everyone.
But the Bill is not about this. As many have said, and as my noble friends Lord McLoughlin and Lord Hodgson have pointed out in their committees, that is not the way forward with this Bill at this particular moment. My noble friend Lord Young made an extremely good point when he said that those people who thought that powers were coming home found that they had been delivered to the wrong address; they were not delivered to Parliament. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Hamilton, who made a very good point: why were some of these laws that we are talking about and are worried about not enshrined in law previously? They have had time to work on this.
I will speak briefly; it has all been said, and there is no point in overdoing it. I declare my interests in conservation as in the register. I want to concentrate on one aspect that I have concerns about, which I hope the Government will be able to reassure me on at some stage: the habitats directive. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, also mentioned this. This was not brought in by the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels—well, it was, except it was actually UK-originated. We in this country pushed that forward, probably reluctantly, on a lot of the European Union. We cannot afford for that to go. You might say—as I am sure my noble friend will, in his customary agreeable manner—that there is no intention to do so at all, but I heard, not so long ago, that in the push for growth some of these regulations were potentially at risk. I do not want that.
All I would say is that I have been told over the years that with great age comes wisdom—well, not in my case. I think Voltaire said that with great age comes responsibility. I hope so, but I have to say to noble Lords that, in my case, with great age comes great cynicism, and I am afraid that I will need a lot more reassurance before I can allow the Bill to go forward in its current state.
My Lords, having spent too much of my working life in the innards of EU law, I am as conscious as anyone of its inadequacies, particularly for a country that is no longer able to shape the content and development of that law, as I think we once did rather successfully through our participation in its Commission—where I had the honour to work for Lord Cockfield—its Council of Ministers, its Parliament and its courts. So, it is right that we should engage forward gear, address the issue of supremacy and review the EU laws retained in our system, weighing in each case the advantages of continued alignment against the opportunities for striking out on our own.
Need this take what the Minister described as “decades of parliamentary time”? Not if we follow the model that literally stared us in the face for the first three hours of this debate: the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which students of the annunciator will know was being debated in Grand Committee. Hundreds of items of retained EU law, identified after a painstaking review, are listed in that Bill for revocation—a list which is, of course, amendable by Parliament. Powers are provided for new rules to be made, after consultation and engagement with parliamentary committees. That is a process which could and should be adapted to other fields in which the view is taken that it is time to move on. Yet this Bill takes another course: it asks us to sign away both the authority of Parliament and what remains of this country’s reputation for considered and responsible lawmaking.
What is to be done? Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I offer a few ideas to start us off. First, on revocation, if the sunset clause cannot be moved, the Commons should at least have a veto over decisions to revoke, as provided by the cross-party Creasy-Davis amendment in the other place. This would place a guard-rail on the edge of the cliff.
Secondly, replacement: the astonishing Clause 15 should be removed, as recommended by our Delegated Powers Committee. If it must remain, as our Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has said, we must contemplate what it described in carefully chosen words as
“a procedure by which the Houses can modify an instrument.”
Clause 16, its powers not time-limited like the others, also needs attention.
Thirdly, there should be a guarantee that powers in the Bill will not be used in a way that contravenes the Northern Ireland protocol or the level playing field provisions in the trade and co-operation agreement.
We should also address a point not much touched on today: the legal certainty issues in Clauses 4 to 7 noted by the Bar Council—commendably on its part, since we barristers thrive on uncertainty and, unamended, the Bill will provide rich pickings indeed.
Last May, in the debate on the gracious Speech, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, asked,
“what is the point of us being here if, when we identify a serious constitutional problem, we never do anything about it except talk?”—[Official Report, 12/5/22; col. 130.]
He was right. The Bill is an attack on the constitutional role of Parliament, a view expressed eloquently across this House from the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom. The analogy of powers under the European Communities Act 1972 is a false one, as the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, explained with authority, and even if it were otherwise, two wrongs would not make a right. The powers of this House are modest, and properly so, but if the views so firmly expressed today are not heeded by government, we will be justified in using every one of them.
My Lords, I think I detect a certain limp and enervated air in the Chamber, largely as a result of the length of this debate—I am the 57th and last of the scheduled Back-Bench speakers. However, I fancy that it is also perhaps a little because of, in the wider sense, the length of the debate. We have been arguing these points for six and a half years now, and one sometimes feels that it is as though we were in the trenches in Flanders, with every clause—every legislative proposal—fought over as fiercely as a clod of dirt in no man’s land.
The battle lines were drawn this afternoon in the early speeches, and very little advance was made. My noble friend the Minister—and my noble friend Lord Frost, who I suppose is the ultimate author of these proposals—set out the case for the Bill, which is that you cannot have a special category of law in perpetuity on the statute books and that this was always intended to be a contingent and transitional arrangement; and then the case on the other side was made eloquently from all sides, from people in every party and on the Cross Benches, namely that we should be careful about transferring powers from the legislature to the Executive, and that this constitutes a Henry VIII clause.
I have a lot of sympathy with that view. In a perfect world, we would not need to do this. However, the world we inhabit is not perfect: it is gross, sublunary and very much imperfect. I wish that we had gone ahead and deregulated at some point over at least the last three years since Brexit came into effect, if not the last six years since the referendum. We have been very slow to seize the regulatory and competitive opportunities afforded to us by independence. However, as I say, we live in an imperfect world. The real reason for the haste was given—with the frankness that a Back-Bencher is allowed and Front-Benchers are not—by my noble friend Lord Lilley: if this corpus of law is left untouched, people will make all sorts of claims about the likely impact of its abolition, and we will be left with this image of some kind of Dickensian workshop at the end of the day. The only way of anticipating and disproving that is to go ahead and show that it was not the case.
I had not heard much mention of Henry VIII before I came here but I have been hearing it a lot recently. It is worth remembering that every law here that is being scrapped is itself a piece of secondary legislation that came before your Lordships’ House out of a system which really does involve a massively powerful Executive and a very weak legislature. I was in the European Parliament for 21 years. As many of my former colleagues on all sides here will recall, the European Commission, extraordinarily, is both a legislative and an executive body, despite being unelected. It has a monopoly on the right to initiate legislation. Yet very few of the people who are complaining now about these Henry VIII clauses complained then, and nor did they complain about the mother of all Henry VIII clauses, Sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act 1972—whoever the mother of Henry VIII was. Oh, it was Elizabeth of York, the luckless lady who lost so many of her kin in the Wars of the Roses.
I suppose that it is a very good thing that we do now care so much about the supremacy of our Parliament. It would have been nice if more voices had been raised when we had this torrent of law imposed from abroad, but better late than never. It would have been nice, as recently as the lockdown legislation, if there had been a little more concern about the powers being granted to the Executive, but joy shall be in heaven more over one sinner that repenteth. If one of the great advantages of Brexit was that it would restore Parliament to its centrality in our national story, then it is already working.
My Lords, I have been given permission to speak in the gap, which I will do very briefly. I will start with how I come into this issue. When I first arrived in the House of Lords in 1972, there was the European Communities Act. I served on the European Community Committee, which later changed its name to the European Union Committee. Your Lordships will remember the brief intervention at the beginning of this debate by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, when the Minister was speaking. He might find it more awkward, now that he is on the Woolsack, to intervene when the Minister speaks again. However, his intervention drew attention to the work of the European committees, in this place and the other place.
What did we do? We were given drafts from the European Union of directives and regulations. We were then given the opportunity to comment. We called evidence, we wrote a report, we sent it back to the Commission in Brussels and surprisingly, you may think, a lot of our recommendations were accepted. Therefore, when the Minister said that the European committees had no power to veto the drafting—I have forgotten his exact words—that got missed out, because we did have a good opportunity to do so in looking at the drafts.
Where are we now? I have heard every speech except one. I begin by giving the score. Only 10 speakers have spoken permanently pro Bill. One or two others have hesitantly spoken pro Bill, out of a total of 58 speakers. That gives a message, does it not? My noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone said that we should not pass this Bill. I suggested to my Front Bench that we should oppose the Bill—that we should not allow it to go any further. I am afraid that I was told that this was not the policy. I then moved towards the Liberal Democrat Benches. I got more favourable noises but certainly not “We should not pass this Bill”.
The noble Lord did not talk to the Front Bench.
I am sorry. I was tempted then to move over to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and his flock, the Cross Benches. He did not say that to me, but I am a former Cross-Bencher and I think that his answer was, “I have no control over the Cross Benches”. I even thought that, under the generalship of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, there might be a cohort from the Government Benches to move that this Bill do not pass. I am afraid that I failed in all those endeavours, but that is clearly my wish.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, might understand that there are lots of things that the Liberal Democrat Benches might want to achieve, but, unfortunately, we cannot do things on our own and we need rather considerable support from other Benches.
We have heard some very eloquent and forceful criticisms of the Bill. I commend all those speeches, not only but especially from my own Benches. I am sorry that I lack time to react to most of the speeches I appreciated, though that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has to be a witty exception. I will nick the terms used by the noble Lords, Lord McLoughlin, Lord Hannay and Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, respectively: “all powers, no policy”, “scrappage scheme”, “constitutional monstrosity” and “the gift that keeps on taking”.
I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady of Upper Holloway—we come from the same borough—on her maiden speech. She adequately and expertly refuted the assertion, made by the Minister a couple of times in this Chamber in the past fortnight, that UK employment law owes nothing to EU law. She is a very valuable addition to this House. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Bray of Coln. I hope that she did not learn the wrong things from Ken Livingstone.
The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, reminded us how un-Conservative, and certainly un-Thatcherite, the Bill is, with its revolutionary approach to eradicating at a stroke EU laws crucial to business, as well as to unions and many other aspects of life. He rightly warned that any potential investor would be deterred by “a giant question mark”.
Only a few voices—was it 10? I did not count quite that many—were raised in fervent support of the Government. Otherwise, we heard from across the House, as we are hearing from commentators and interested parties outside, that the Bill is extremely unwise, ill considered and reckless. I do not know of anyone outside a rarefied circle of cheerleaders—that is, anyone sensible and reasonable, even for a Conservative—who thinks the Bill is a good idea. Can the Minister cite anyone?
Stephen Kon, competition lawyer at law firm Macfarlanes, said that it is hard to think of a piece of legislation that has been so broadly and deeply criticised. The Hansard Society says that the Bill’s approach to REUL is “fundamentally and irresponsibly flawed”. Journalist Peter Foster—from that woke, left-wing rag, the Financial Times—has said that this Bill
“is a reminder that the outwardly sensible Sunak government still comes with some pretty crazy baggage”.
The distinguished legal commentator, Joshua Rozenberg, has called the Bill “dangerous”. The experienced George Peretz KC says:
“Fiddling around with the law when you don’t know what the consequences of the fiddle are is not obviously a good idea”
and suggests that
“if you don’t know what the effect is of what you are doing, don’t do it”.
Sir Jonathan Jones KC, former head of the Government Legal Service, says
“it’s a very bad way to legislate”.
The Bar Council, as others have quoted, says that the Bill
“will damage the UK’s reputation for regulatory stability, predictability, and competence on which growth-promoting investment in critical sectors of our economy depends”.
As has been much quoted, the independent Regulatory Policy Committee of experts red-rated the impact assessment for the Bill as “not fit for purpose”. The chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link said that scrapping environmental laws would be “legislative vandalism”.
Noble Lords get the picture. But after director-general of the CBI, Tony Danker, said the Bill risked uncertainty and chaos, the Minister last week breezily brushed aside the fears of the boss of UK’s top business organisation as wrong. We are well beyond the era when the Tory party even claims to be the party of business. It has just gone rogue. This Bill is not some arcane or obscure exercise. It will affect substantive law and thus businesses and all kinds of organisations in the many fields already cited in this debate.
I will say a word to those complaining that this Parliament had no ability to block or amend legislation once it was agreed in Brussels. It was a supranational organisation, as has been said. Please remember that democratically elected MEPs and the UK Government made the decisions on the legislation, not in fact the European Commission, apart from some regulations about sheep meat prices or something. Of course, many of us in this Chamber are former MEPs.
The UK was rarely outvoted in the Council, and if there was a gap in UK parliamentary scrutiny, that was a failing of Westminster, since other national Parliaments, such as the Danish one, insisted on full accountability from their Governments on what they were agreeing to in Brussels. Indeed, they had a veto on what their Government did. I am sorry: do not blame Brussels, blame Westminster.
These are just some of the objections to the Bill. The huge legal uncertainty created will be very damaging. Businesses, workers, consumers and citizens are in the dark. Even lawyers, who might be expected to relish all the work coming their way, are quaking in their boots. The Government have no idea of how many instruments the Bill will affect; there is indeed no guarantee that all retained law subject to its provisions will be identified.
There will be very considerable legal confusion. For instance, no one knows what removing the supremacy, direct effect or general principles of EU law will mean. The meaning not only of regulations but of primary legislation, such as of the Equality Act 2010—already the subject of huge controversy—will not be the same next year as this. As our Delegated Powers Committee says, the Government
“need to explain what is behind the headlong rush and the impending and arbitrary end-of-year deadline”.
Can the Minister give the committee, me and others who have quoted this a coherent reply?
Where regulations are restated, previous judgments relating to these instruments would no longer be binding; workers and employers would be back at square one, and issues will have to go through the judicial system again, with all the length and expense of that process. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, confirmed this in his opening speech, though he seemed to think it was a good idea. If lower courts are able to reject ECJ decisions, this may precipitate more—even opportunistic —litigation by some less reputable companies.
What happens if there are errors, either because the hard-pressed Civil Service, with its high turnover of staff, has perhaps lost its institutional memory and misses something, or if a regulation is accidentally switched off at the end of 2023? Is the Civil Service adequately resourced for this exercise? BEIS has said it needs 400 extra staff: what a waste when Whitehall faces so many other pressing issues.
The Government’s proposed wholesale deregulation—a slash and burn exercise—gives stakeholders no chance to say what should be kept. This is sweeping away the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 settlement which took a long-term approach, allowing departure from EU law over time and after consultation. The Government made a political commitment during the passage of that Act that, aside from technical tidying-up, primary legislation would be needed to make significant policy changes. This Bill breaks that pledge. It is simply anti-democratic and authoritarian in conferring massive powers instead on the Government. The Delegated Powers Committee called it
“a blank cheque placed in the hands of Ministers”,
as others have quoted.
The unexpected consequences of kicking out the EU undergirding of UK law could be very perverse and damaging, with what is left lacking legal coherence. In the field of construction, the Building Safety Act 2022 is premised on definitions in a set of 2015 regulations—the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations —implementing an EU directive and creating a framework for health and safety in construction. Unless these regulations are kept switched on, the 2022 Act of Parliament will have its underpinning yanked away. What then exists?
In employment rights, despite what the Minister has recently claimed, there are many topics for which EU law is the bedrock, even if added to—or gold-plated—in UK law, since, after all, EU law always only provided for minimum, not maximum, standards. Parental leave had no basis in UK law before the EU legislated, and it could be entirely removed or drastically altered by the Bill.
Many of the regulations affected are in areas of devolved competence. My noble friend Lady Randerson and others eloquently explained the harmful effect of this Bill on the devolved Administrations. Others have talked about the consequences for Northern Ireland and for the level playing field provisions in the trade and co-operation agreement—which, if we break it, could lead to trade retaliation. Will the Minister tell us about that?
To conclude, if, as the Government claim, there are real regulatory gains from altering retained EU law which could be agreed with or not, there are much better ways of doing that that have already been identified by this very Government, as others have said. The Financial Services and Markets Bill, which was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, makes provision for an extensive new regime which has already been subject to considerable consultation. The Procurement Bill brings in new rules on that topic, and then there is the review led by Professor Sir Patrick Vallance to examine EU regulation in high-growth sectors. However, primary legislation and expert reviews require real, careful work, not a simplistic, arbitrary and ideological presumption that EU law must be slashed. They need Bills to be brought forward asking Parliament to legislate with democratic input from MPs, but also input from affected stakeholders of all kinds.
In short, this is a very bad Bill that does not deserve a place on the statute book—certainly not in the form in which it is now before us. The Minister referred in his opening speech to good governance. I think we would like to see some.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady O’Grady on her maiden speech. She showed what a real champion for equality and fairness she is. I must admit that little did I know when I interviewed her for her first job in the trade union movement in the 1980s, working with my noble friend Lady Prosser, that she would go on to break the glass ceiling and become the first woman general secretary of the TUC. I am immensely proud of her. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bray of Coln, and certainly I found her speech inspiring. I like the idea that she values debate and respects all sides of that debate, and I look forward to her future contributions in the Chamber.
The theme of this debate is clearly about ensuring certainty that avoids chaos. I must admit that reading the Sunday Telegraph this week, we have all had recent experience of how uncertainty can create chaos, and that is something that we certainly want to avoid. Of course, EU law which applied to the UK was turned into domestic law to provide the maximum certainty after Brexit—as we have heard in this debate, laws related to farming, food standards, the environment, employment, financial services, privacy and much more. Reference has been made to CBI director-general Tony Danker, who said that this Bill is creating huge uncertainty for UK firms and risks throwing industry into some chaos. The Law Society said it could see a devastating impact on legal certainty in the UK and a negative impact on its status as an internationally competitive business environment.
Where did we start? Where was the policy? In the Explanatory Note to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as the DPRRC report reminds us, the Government’s policy on repealing and replacing retained EU law was that it would be for democratically elected representatives in the UK to decide on changes after full scrutiny and proper debate. No one disputes the need to consider the status of those laws whose placed on our statute book depended on our EU membership.
Noble Lords in this debate have made it very clear: this should not be an ideological debate. This is not about Brexiteers and remainers; it is about how we make our laws. That should be something that unites us all. This rushed and chaotic process, putting power over huge swathes of law in the hands of Ministers without parliamentary oversight, is simply not right.
As we have heard, this Bill seeks to: sunset most retained EU law by the end of 2023; change the way in which any retained EU law that Ministers decide to keep is interpreted; and provide Ministers with wide-ranging powers to restate, revoke or replace retained EU law. If Ministers want retained EU law to fall away—the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made the point so effectively—all they need to do is nothing: take no action. The decision to take no action is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
The 28th report of the SLSC draws attention to the risk of “inadvertent omission” because departments have failed to identify key laws, and to the absence of parliamentary scrutiny of retained EU law that Ministers have decided should be sunsetted. Far from creating new, high standards of regulatory framework, the replacement legislation cannot increase standards; as we have heard in the debate, it can only keep them the same or make them lower. Reducing standards or allowing key pieces of legislation to simply lapse risks the UK’s trading relationship with the EU at a time when we can ill afford it.
As we have heard, the uncertainty is: what are we talking about? The Explanatory Notes first cited 3,200 bits of REUL legislation. The dashboard refers to 3,745 bits. It grows each week as we examine it. We do not know what we are leading ourselves towards.
The Minister constantly states that he is proud of the UK’s record on employment standards, which, he says, were never dependent on us mirroring the same rules as the EU. Well, what is at risk? Why do workers and their representatives remain concerned? The TUC lists examples of rights that could be lost, and we have heard noble Lords refer to them today: holiday pay; agency workers’ rights; data protection rights; protection of pregnant workers, and rights to maternity and parental leave; protection of part-time and fixed-term workers; rights relating to working time, including rights to daily and weekly rest; maximum weekly working time; paid annual leave and measures to protect night workers; protection of workers’ rights on the insolvency of their employer; rights to a written statement of terms and conditions; collective consultation with workers’ representatives when redundancies are proposed; and protections of terms and conditions for workers whose employment is transferred to another employer.
I remind noble Lords that, last week, my noble friend Lord Woodley raised this matter, and he raised it again today: the protection known as TUPE. He asked the Minister a straightforward question: will he guarantee that TUPE protections will not be scrapped? The response he got was what all government Ministers across Whitehall appear to be saying, which is, “We will look at that and see whether it is appropriate for the UK economy and, if necessary, we will modernise, update or replace it”.
That is why workers are concerned. Statements such as that raise uncertainty and concern. I hope the Minister will answer that direct question tonight: will he keep that protection for workers who are threatened because, through no fault of their own, somebody has bought their company or it has been transferred? We need to have those guarantees. On part-time workers, the prevention of less favourable treatment regulations was raised by noble friend Lord Prentis last week—and he got absolutely no response on that either.
Perversely, the Minister argues that the sunset date provides certainty—a target by which departments can look at their body of retained EU law and decide whether it needs replacing, retaining or updating. A sunset clause is arbitrary. It leads to all kinds of errors and mistakes. The Minister argues that Parliament is not being refused the opportunity to discuss these issues, and that regulations that are updated or changed will come back to Parliament for approval. He forgets to mention that retained EU laws will simply fall away by being sunsetted.
We have heard in this debate from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. I echo the remarks that he made on 12 January in the debate on the Select Committee report Democracy Denied? By the way, those reports are excellent reading. I also recommend that people look at that debate on 12 January. The noble Lord said:
“Nobody … could reasonably argue that secondary legislation is as effectively scrutinised as primary. … Secondary legislation is unamendable: it can be passed or rejected but it cannot be amended.”
In that same debate, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, a former Government Whip and Minister, said that
“when laws are passed without proper parliamentary scrutiny, they cease to be just technical, as they threaten the rights and freedoms of the individual.”
He also reminded us that:
“The excuse that excessive delegated powers are needed because Parliament cannot move quickly enough has been proved false on many occasions, not least by Parliament’s reaction to Covid legislation.”—[Official Report, 12/12/23; cols. 1532-37.]
We have heard Covid mentioned a lot in today’s debate, but it was Parliament that made those decisions and reviewed those instruments. We should not forget that.
The DPRRC’s clause-by-clause examination of the Bill is devastating. I have never read a report like it. The committee recommends that, of the six most important delegated powers contained in the Bill, five should be removed from it altogether. It argues that the shortcomings of this hyper-skeletal Bill justify its approach. I am sure that in the coming weeks we will see noble Lords from across the House speaking up for democracy by seeking legal certainty regarding all the rights and protections that this legislation will impact, and for the restoration of direct parliamentary oversight and accountability.
The overwhelming view expressed in this debate is that a reasonable balance can be struck between an efficient process for managing the transposition of legislation and ensuring democratic accountability where changes to rights are intended. None of the changes argued for today would prevent the Government from reviewing, reconsidering and, where necessary, replacing retained law, but Members from across this House want to ensure that the process used to do so is transparent, accountable and, above all, driven by the will of Parliament. We are here not to frustrate this legislation but to fix it together so that we can take back control to our democratic institutions.
My Lords, this has been a characteristically excellent debate which I think reflects the importance of the Bill. Before I get on to the substance of the issues raised, I will congratulate our two maidens, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, and my noble friend Lady Bray, on their fine maiden speeches. I hope that the House is a similarly engaged audience to the one that my noble friend Lady Bray had when she was presenting for the British Forces Broadcasting Service in Gibraltar. I noted with interest that she studied medieval history at St Andrews. I am also told that she was fired as a PPS in the other place in 2012 for voting against the coalition Government’s plans to reform this House. With those two bits of excellent experience, she will clearly make an excellent Member of this House.
Then we come on to excellent contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady. I profoundly disagreed with all of it, of course, but she put it extremely well. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who referred to her choice of “A Change Is Gonna Come” on “Desert Island Discs”. I was slightly more concerned by two of her other music choices on that programme—“Pieces of a Man” and “Burn It Down”. I hope neither of them is an omen for me or the House on some of our future debates. I congratulate both maiden speakers; I thought they did extremely well.
As we have had 60 speakers today, I am afraid noble Lords will understand that I cannot answer every Peer directly. I am sure that many of the points will come up again in Committee. I seem to have heard an awful lot of them in the Brexit withdrawal debates from essentially the same people, but I am sure we will raise the points again.
Before I turn to the wider contributions, let me first address the regret amendments tabled today by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. I am sure it will come as no surprise to either noble Lord that I disagree with the amendments on all points. I do not accept the characterisation that these powers are unprecedented or weaken the scrutiny of Parliament. Indeed, as has been said many times, many of these laws were brought into force with no scrutiny of any kind by this Parliament and were merely directly imposed by Brussels. I noted with interest my noble friend Lord Lilley’s remarks on how this process really worked in practice from the point of view of a UK Cabinet Minister.
Furthermore, the sifting committee for the more substantial powers will ensure that Parliament can debate and vote where it deems appropriate. The scrutiny role of Parliament is not reduced but rather enhanced through this Bill. Of course, we respect the role of the devolved Administrations, which is why the majority of the powers contained in the Bill are conferred on devolved Ministers. It will be up to the devolved Ministers and Administrations to decide which direction they take their stock of retained EU law.
On the final two points of the regret amendments, we should of course aim to complete these reforms as quickly as practically possible. They are necessary to seize the benefits of Brexit and I do not accept that this will cause significant uncertainty nor that, if it did, uncertainty alone is a reason not to make these legislative changes. With regard to environmental law, workers’ rights and the other areas that noble Lords have referred to, I refer all noble Lords to the commitments that have been made by me in this House so far—and I will no doubt do so many times in the Committee debates to come—and by Government Ministers in the other place.
I move now to the substantive points raised in the debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Frost for setting into motion the two reviews into retained EU law that have culminated in the Bill—he has a lot to be proud of—and for explaining the importance of removing REUL from the statute book.
I also pay tribute to the remarks of my noble friends Lord Hannan, Lord Lilley and Lord Jackson for making the obvious point that Parliament will have much more say over this legislation than it did during our time in the EU, when direct EU legislation did not receive full parliamentary scrutiny before it became law in the UK. Had we not left the EU, much of this legislation would be amendable by the EU as if it were secondary legislation, without any direct input from this Parliament at all. By treating this legislation in the same way as domestic secondary legislation for amendment purposes, it can be amended much more easily by delegated powers. It is therefore appropriate that the changes to this body of legislation can be done via secondary legislation. Requiring REUL reform to be subject to primary legislation would take decades in many cases and would see a marked reduction in the UK’s dynamism. My noble friend Lord Dobbs amplified this point, emphasising that the Bill has come through the elected Chamber of this Parliament with only government amendments. It is only right and proper that we view the Bill in light of that majority.
I also commend the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Jackson, who was right to note the majority that the Bill received at Third Reading in the other place and the lack of concern that this House often showed to powers that were exercised under the European Communities Act—another point also made by my noble friend Lord Hannan.
My noble friend Lord Howard of Rising made it clear that there are many opportunities for us to seize as part of Brexit. He is right to laud the success of our vaccine programme and to note, in the same vein as my noble friend Lord Lilley, that Parliament will have much more of a say in regulation that works on behalf of the UK.
I was disappointed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about parliamentary counsel and their work and approach. He is correct that parliamentary counsel are civil servants working for, and delivering the priorities of, the Government of the day. However, although I acknowledge the strength of the noble Lord’s views, it is not in keeping with the customary courtesy of Members to criticise those who cannot defend themselves in this Chamber.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom raised questions about why we are changing the EU withdrawal Act only five years after its passage. It was a bridging measure and was never intended to be on the statute book indefinitely; we discussed it at length at the time. Now that our future relationship with the EU is known and we have established a sense of legal certainty, it is right for us to review retained EU law. The Bill ensures that only retained EU law that we judge is right for the UK is assimilated into our statute book.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and many others are concerned that the sunset could be a regulatory cliff edge. In our judgment, a sunset is the quickest and most effective way to accelerate the review of the majority of retained EU law. A major cross-government programme is already under way to identify retained EU law that can be reformed, repealed or replaced. When the Bill receives Royal Assent, a cross-government legislative programme will commence to sensibly manage change ahead of that sunset date. Without the sunset as a default for retained EU law, we risk unsuitable or obsolete EU laws still being on our statute book in 10, 15 or even 20 years’ time, which should not be acceptable to anyone in this House. We do not need regulations on the issuing of a certificate for the export of cheeses that the UK has never exported. Nor do we need regulations that grant additional aid for the consumption of butter, or hundreds of other obsolete EU regulations. A sunset ensures that we can quickly and easily remove outdated legislation of this nature.
Many noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, made claims that the Government will need to pass nearly 4,000 SIs before the end of this year. That is absolutely not the case. Our work to date has indicated that the number of SIs would be in the hundreds, not the thousands. Of course, this is still a significant task, but it is certainly not the impossible one that has been portrayed today. My noble friend Lord Udny-Lister is right that our first-rate Civil Service and legal service are more than capable of delivering the work required.
A number of noble Lords raised environmental concerns, as they often do, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Bennett, who all claimed that this will somehow remove environmental protections. I can absolutely provide the reassurance that my rightly cynical noble friend Lord Randall was looking for. The Government will ensure that we continue to improve environmental outcomes for this country. The UK has a long record of environmental protection, most of which was never dependent on the EU. The Bill will not change that, nor will it change the world-leading Environment Act that this Conservative Government are proud to have passed.
The noble Lord, Lord Trees, questioned whether this means that we are resiling from our commitment to food standards, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, questioned what this means for the FSA. The Government remain committed to promoting robust food standards, both nationally and internationally, to protect consumer interests, to facilitate international trade and to ensure that consumers can have confidence in the food they buy.
The trade unionists, the noble Lords, Lord Monks, Lord Hendy and Lord Woodley, have claimed that the Bill will lead to a downgrading of UK workers’ rights. We have had similar debates a number of times across this Chamber, and I have no doubt that we will continue to have them on issues such as TUPE. As I have said many times before, their claim could not be further from the case. We are proud of the UK’s excellent record on labour standards. We have one of the best workers’ rights records in the world, one of the lowest rates of unemployment and one of the highest minimum wages. As I have repeated many times, our high standards were never dependent on our membership of the European Union; indeed, in many areas, the UK provides for stronger protections for workers than are required by minimum EU standards.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Andrews, raised the important issue of the impacts of the Bill on devolution. The provisions in the Bill do not affect the devolution settlements, and they are not intended to restrict the competence of either the devolved legislatures or the devolved Governments. Rather, the majority of the powers will be conferred concurrently on the devolved Governments, enabling devolved Ministers to make active decisions on retained EU law in their respective areas of devolved competence. The UK Government are committed to respect the devolution settlements to safeguard the union and to ensure that the provisions in the Bill work for all parts of the UK, and we will continue our discussions with the devolved Administrations with that in mind. When using the powers in the Bill, we will use the appropriate mechanisms, such as the common frameworks, to engage with the devolved Governments to allow for proper joined-up decision-making across this United Kingdom.
Speaking of devolution, the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Hoey, raised concerns about the specific impacts of the Bill on Northern Ireland. The territorial scope of the Bill will be UK-wide. It is constitutionally appropriate that the core measures in the Bill apply across all parts of the United Kingdom. As my honourable colleagues in the other place have committed, the UK Government will ensure that the necessary legislation is in place to uphold the UK’s international obligations, including the Northern Ireland protocol and the trade and co-operation agreement, after the sunset date.
To answer the specific question from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, on case law, the REUL Bill does not require the creation of brand-new case law across the piece. The Bill’s measures facilitate UK courts to treat retained case law in a similar way to judgments of other foreign jurisdictions by encouraging departure from retained case law in a careful and managed way to allow for the proper development of UK law.
Many noble Lords and noble Baronesses, including the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, have expressed concern about Clause 15(5) through the somewhat misplaced fear that it means that standards can only be lowered. Let me be clear: that is not a correct interpretation. By removing unnecessary or unsuitable regulations, or by consolidating multiple regulations into one, it will be perfectly possible to add new regulations with higher standards under the powers to revoke, provided that the overall regulatory burden is not increased. My noble friends Lady Bray and Lady Lea recognised that point in their speeches, noting that we can keep our high standards with the Bill. I can confirm that the Government share their ambition to ensure that the body of legislation is better suited to the UK. The review of legislation will enable us to improve regulation for business and the economy, which I also hope addresses the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, although I suspect that it will not.
On business and trade, my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised the issue of imports and exports. I can confirm that we have already modified EU legislation covering the use of export restrictions to manage short supply, to make it effective in the UK following our exit from the European Union.
My noble friends Lord McLoughlin and Lord Hodgson spoke eloquently about their respective committee reports. The Government welcome the publication of the reports and I look forward to engaging with the recommendations that have been made. I hope my noble friends will understand that, given the reports’ recent publications, I cannot yet comment on what position the Government will take on the recommendations, but I will carefully study them and a formal response will be made in the usual manner.
Turning to the many comments on impact assessments and post-implementation reviews made by many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Hodgson, we recognise their importance and departments will be expected to take a proportionate approach to analysing the impact of SIs. For smaller-impact measures, this could include the completion of the impact section in an Explanatory Memorandum, a de minimis assessment or a fuller impact assessment, dependent on the regulation in question. Where expected business impacts exceed the current threshold of £5 million of annual business impacts, in the usual way departments will need to submit a full impact assessment for independent scrutiny if their change is a regulatory provision, as defined in the current better regulation framework, to which we are fully committed.
I am, of course, grateful for the recent recommendations of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee on impact assessments and will ensure that my officials make clear to departments the expectations for providing enough information to Parliament when studying new regulations. Departments will be expected to conduct proportionate monitoring and evaluation of their measures up to and including full post-implementation review. My officials will be providing more guidance on this to departments shortly.
I would like to reassure my noble friend Lord Balfe that the Government are committed to maintaining comprehensive safety standards, as he would expect, including in civil aviation and all manner of transport. Similarly, I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford—although again I suspect she will not accept the reassurance—that, while I do not agree with her assessment of the level of scrutiny that laws received within the EU institutions, I can confirm that the Government will not, of course, weaken building safety standards.
This Bill will ensure that we can end retained EU law as a legal category, simplifying and bringing certainty to our statute book. It will also ensure that we can bring forward genuine reform, now ensuring that the UK’s regulatory system is suited to our needs. The Government are determined to see the opportunities of Brexit and I know that the Bill delivers that result.
My Lords, it has been an absorbing and long debate and I will not extend it more than a few seconds. I did not expect the Minister to embrace my regret amendment and I am pretty sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, did not expect him to embrace hers either; however, noble Lords around the House picked up on all the issues set out in both amendments and amplified them in a very strong way. The scale of the disquiet over the Bill has really been emphasised in this debate, and if the Minister was in any doubt as to the level of disquiet the Bill is generating, then that has been dispelled. But the extent of this concern is itself an opportunity for all of us to work across the Chamber to produce the amendments and the changes that the Bill needs to make it fit for purpose. We on these Benches undertake to work with everybody, across parties and across Benches, to try to make sure that in Committee and particularly on Report, those changes are brought forward to your Lordships’ House. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Lord Fox’s amendment to the Motion withdrawn.
Amendment to the Motion
At end insert “but regrets that this Bill threatens workers’ rights, environmental standards and consumer protections; that it has been introduced without a complete understanding of its scope or impact or what will replace the laws it revokes; that it creates damaging confusion and disruption in the economy during a cost of living crisis; is opposed by both business and workers representatives, including the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress; that its legislative ‘sunset’ is arbitrary and will create a regulatory cliff-edge; that it ignores the concerns and lacks the consent of the devolved administrations; and that it undermines democratic scrutiny and accountability, providing ministers with unnecessary and unjustifiable powers.”.
My Lords, I do not wish to move my amendment.
Baroness Chapman of Darlington’s amendment to the Motion not moved.
Bill read a second time.
Commitment and Order of Consideration Motion
That the bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House, and that it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House that they consider the bill in the following order: Clauses 1 to 6, Schedule 1, Clauses 7 to 10, Schedule 2, Clauses 11 to 20, Schedules 3 and 4, Clauses 21 to 23, Title.
House adjourned at 10.39 pm.