House of Lords
Monday 6 February 2023
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.
Carrier Strike Group
To ask His Majesty’s Government how they intend to achieve Full Operating Capability for the Carrier Strike Group operating within a Maritime Task Group configuration by December 2023, given the requirement for 36 F-35B Lightning aircraft.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a serving Army reservist. However, I am today responding in my capacity as His Majesty’s Government’s spokesperson for defence. The definition of “full operating capability” for the carrier strike group includes 24 UK Lightnings or 36 Lightnings with partner nations when operating within a maritime task group. The programme is designed for the flexible usage necessary in a modern defence capability, including transporting a mix of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, but the composition and size of an embarked air group in a deploying carrier will be tailored to meet the operational requirements.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the Answer, but it just adds to the confusion. When on 8 September I talked about 36 aircraft being required for an FOC, I was told that the MoD did not recognise the figure of 36— which surprised me because I had written it into the requirement for the aircraft carrier when it was built. On 23 December I was told, “Ah, for a full FOC, we do need 36 of these aircraft”, so there is a certain amount of confusion. I am confused and I am meant to know about aircraft—as well as ships, I hasten to add—so I imagine the House is very confused. I will ask the Minister a couple of questions, and if he does not know, maybe he could write to me. First, is the full operating capability of the carrier strike group to be reached by December 2023, as I was told by the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, on 12 December? The other day somebody said, “No, it has changed to 2025”, and I would like to know whether it has not. Secondly, if yes, how is it possible, because we will have only 33 F35s in our inventory in this country, so we cannot possibly put 36 of them to sea? Lastly, will 809 Squadron—
I will stop there: I think that is enough questions. For an Army officer, the Minister has made a great start.
My Lords, there are currently 29 UK F35Bs in service. The complement of assets deployed on the carriers will be flexible. The air wing will be configured to meet defence needs for each operation or deployment.
Could my noble friend arrange with his colleagues for us to have a full report of the lessons from the last carrier strike group deployment, which I think ended in December, in the Indo-Pacific and the Far East, including the unfortunate loss of one F35B? What lessons arose from working with the Japanese navy? Once we had that report, we would be able to judge more effectively how things were going to go with the next deployment, which will of course involve the “Prince of Wales” when it is ready.
My Lords, we welcome the findings of the interim report into the loss of the F35B aircraft in 2021. While it would be inappropriate to comment fully until the final report is published, we can confirm that immediate steps are being taken after the crash to ensure the safety of earmarked flying operations.
My Lords, I will add to the list of things on which the noble Lord will write to the House, or perhaps he can tell us today. Can he say when HMS “Prince of Wales” is likely to be operational again? Are we likely to have two ships in the Queen Elizabeth class that are both seaworthy?
HMS “Prince of Wales” is expected to commence her operational programme as planned in autumn 2023. However, an issue has been identified with her port shaft. To prevent a similar defect occurring, rectification of this issue is expected to be completed prior to her planned departure. The defects with the shafts of HMS “Prince of Wales” are not believed to be a class issue, and HMS “Queen Elizabeth” will continue to undertake strike carrier duties until 2024, when HMS “Prince of Wales” will take over as strike carrier at very high readiness.
My Lords, I did not quite catch the Minister’s Answer on the date of full operating capability. Can he reassure the House that, when it is declared, the F35B Lightning force will be fully supported by all the logistics and the depth and quantity of weapons supplies necessary for high-intensity conflict, which is certainly not the case for most of our force structure at the moment?
I understand the point that the noble and gallant Lord is making. In 2022, the number of UK F35Bs available for embarked operations to support routine carrier deployments was a squadron of up to 12 jets. This number will increase to the full operating capability for F35Bs, currently scheduled for 2025, which is up to two UK squadrons. The Royal Air Force intends to continue upgrading these aircraft in line with the wider programme and to equip them with UK weapons, including the UK-developed SPEAR Cap 3 and Meteor.
My Lords, what is the present size of the Royal Navy and is it sufficient for the purposes referred to in this Question?
My Lords, I will have to write to my noble friend on the exact size.
Will my noble friend clarify the numbers on F35Bs? The noble Lord, Lord West, clearly could not tell from the authorities whether the date was December 2023 or 2025, so will my noble friend clarify when we will be fully up to complement? Given the tense situation because of Ukraine and our role as a maritime nation, should we consider some form of lend-lease in the short term so that we are up to full complement as quickly as possible?
I understand what my noble friend is saying, but the CSG21 deployment saw the US Marine Corps F35 squadron integrated throughout, which is a tangible demonstration of the UK-US special relationship and our united efforts to ensure stability, security and freedom of the seas. A further tranche of additional F35 aircraft has been announced; once complete, it will bring the total UK fleet up to 74 aircraft.
My Lords, the original intention was that the United Kingdom should take 138 of the Lightnings. Is that still the Government’s intention?
On current plans, by the end of 2025 the UK will have procured 48 F35B Lightning aircraft, which are capable of operating from both land and the UK’s Queen Elizabeth-class carriers. As I said, the intention to buy a further tranche of additional F35B aircraft has been announced; when complete, this will bring the total UK fleet up to 74.
My Lords, the UK and France are the two European nations with more than carrier strike capability, along with Indo-Pacific nations. We have a UK-France summit coming up on 10 March. Is there any intention to announce co-ordinated deployments of our carrier strike capabilities towards the Far East?
I would not wish to comment on specific locations of operations for reasons that I am sure the noble Lord would understand. I can say that we are always training and working with NATO and other allied partners.
When will the refit of HMS “Vanguard” that has been going on since 2015 be finished? It was recently discovered—just before the engines were about to be fired up, as it were—that Babcock’s workers had superglued bolts on it instead of replacing them. How much has that put back the deployment of this ship?
The noble Lord is correct that, as part of a planned inspection, a defect was found. It was promptly reported and fixed. In light of this issue, my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary spoke directly with the chief executive office of Babcock to seek assurances about future work. It is UK policy that we do not comment on specific details of submarine activity or operations; however, I can confirm that there were no nuclear safety implications or risks associated with the identified defect at any point.
My Lords, it has been reported this morning that the expected update of the integrated review—which may address the concerns around the carrier strike group—may now be delayed because the initial draft failed to reflect the transformed security environment in Europe. Was that not the main reason for it being updated or are these reports wrong?
As your Lordships are aware, the integrated review refresh is an ongoing process and it would not be appropriate for me to prejudge the outcome.
Children: Bereavement Support in Schools
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the adequacy of support for bereaved children in schools.
My Lords, losing a loved one is a devastating loss for any child. Schools can play an essential role in supporting a pupil through grief and preventing longer-term emotional distress by providing effective pastoral support and ensuring there is a supportive school culture. It is for individual schools to decide what pastoral support each pupil needs. We have invested £10 million in senior mental health leads training to help schools put informed support in place, drawing on specialists and working with families as needed.
I thank the Minister for that helpful and sympathetic reply. There is clearly a lot of good practice. But recent research has found that bereavement support in primary schools is varied and inconsistent. My own family experience reinforces that. There are long waiting times for counselling, and how schools deal with anticipatory grief is particularly neglected. One in every 29 children will be bereaved of a parent: that is one in every classroom. The research shows that teachers and schools are crying out for guidance and training. Is it not time for DfE to have national bereavement policy, including a mandatory requirement for each school to have such a policy? Will the Minister agree to meet the Ruth Strauss Foundation and other charities who are doing such formative work on this issue?
The noble Baroness will be aware that there is a cross-government bereavement working group. This issue, as the noble Baroness understands well, cuts across both education and health, as well as other government departments—hence our cross-government group. I would be delighted to meet with the Ruth Strauss Foundation and hear about its work. This is something we take extremely seriously, hence our focus on ensuring that schools provide a truly compassionate culture for whatever is going on for the children within them.
One hundred children every day are bereaved of a parent. From my own experience, I remember my two nephews losing their dad when they were seven and nine. There was little to no support from their primary school, and that is quite endemic to the problem we now face. Would the Minister agree that we need, as we have heard, every school to have a policy on bereavement, staff to have training on bereavement and, thirdly, a commitment to every school having full-time or part-time professional mental health support in the school?
I am sorry to hear of the noble Lord’s nephews’ personal experience of this. Of course, many of us in this House have been touched in different ways by the issues raised by the noble Baroness’s Question. The Government are doing many of the things the noble Lord points to. I mentioned training; every state school is being offered a grant, as are colleges, to train a senior mental health lead so that we have an effective response to these issues. Of course, education staff are not mental health staff in general, and nor are they bereavement or trauma specialists, but they are very well placed to observe the behaviour of children day to day and respond to that.
Are the improvements to training to which my noble friend referred being overseen by officials at the highest level, with just the right kind of approach to these deeply sensitive and important matters?
I am happy to share with my noble friend in a letter more detail of the training, but it is something the department takes extremely seriously.
My Lords, when I was still teaching, I was privileged to be able to attend bereavement training in order to be able to deal with that in primary schools—although I was part of a peripatetic team rather than attached to an individual school. Can the Minister say whether she believes that, actually, there is a need for peripatetic teams? Not all teachers will be able to be trained to the same level and, increasingly, they are trained in schools where the training might be of a variable standard.
I do not think we would want to be prescriptive about peripatetic teams. The point the noble Baroness makes is that schools need to be aware of what resources are available in their communities to support a range of issues, including bereavement. Your Lordships have focused a lot, rightly, on primary school, but I should add that the department is extending the early years professional development programme, with the aim of reaching up to 10,000 early years practitioners. That includes a module developed in partnership with the Anna Freud Centre, which allows them to identify acute stress and trauma in the children in their care.
My Lords, would my noble friend agree that every case will be different as to how this comes about? While certain guidelines from the centre would be useful, it is absolutely essential that there is no straitjacket for how schools feel they should act on this particular subject, and that there is discretion allowed, so that head teachers and teachers can best judge how to approach each individual case, which will not be identical.
My noble friend is spot on and has probably put the Government’s position rather more eloquently than I have. It is critical that the school creates a culture where children feel able to talk about what has happened to them and what their feelings are, and that it can use its discretion and judgment in responding to that and accessing specialist resources. The Government are supporting this through our work, and signposting to the Childhood Bereavement Network, Hope Again and a wide range of other resources.
My Lords, the Church of England educates over 1 million children in its schools and has produced highly accessible guidance and training for its school leaders on supporting students and families through grief, bereavement and loss. Recognising in particular the barriers to learning and flourishing that trauma may cause, would the Minister meet with the Church of England’s education team to see whether these outstanding resources could in fact help other students, teachers and families across the country?
I thank the right reverend Prelate for the invitation; I would be delighted to meet with them.
My Lords, as the Minister will know, the Government’s £8 million Wellbeing for Education Return training programme was launched in 2020, with the aim of helping children to process the impacts of the pandemic. What is the Government’s assessment of equality of access to this programme between deprived and affluent areas across the United Kingdom?
I do not have the breakdown that the noble Baroness refers to. She referred to the 2020 return programme, which was followed by the recovery programme in 2021. Looking at those two years, I am aware that 14,000 schools and colleges, out of roughly 22,000 nationally, got those resources.
My Lords, the Minister well understands that teachers are faced with a range of very human situations. Could she use her good offices to ensure that Ofsted inspections place an emphasis not just on learning but on the pastoral responsibilities that schools have, particularly in these very emotionally disturbing situations?
I hear what the noble Lord says. I am slightly surprised, because I think there has been a real focus by Ofsted on safeguarding in its broadest sense and the important pastoral role that schools provide—but I will, of course, take what he says back.
My Lords, the noble Baroness’s answers, and indeed the questions, have focused, understandably, on the impact on individual bereaved children. What is the Government’s view of the impact on the classes of which those children are part? Very often, the distress exhibited by one child can be transmitted to others, who often do not fully understand what they are witnessing and sometimes have great difficulty in managing it.
The noble Baroness makes a good point. Indeed, in thinking about this, I was also thinking about situations which affect the whole class—for example, where a member of the class tragically is killed. The very valid point she raised also affects teachers, not just pupils. I come back to the fact that schools need to implement a strong, pastoral approach across their school community, balancing their own insight and the relationships and trust they have with pupils and colleagues with the resources in their local community and the national resources that we signpost and provide.
Police Misconduct Cases
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the work of legally qualified chairs in police misconduct cases.
My Lords, the Government have launched a review into the process of police officer dismissals to ensure that the system is fair and effective and removes those who are not fit to serve. This will include an assessment of the composition of misconduct panels, including the impact of the role of legally qualified chairs.
My Lords, is it not astonishing and deeply disturbing that in Cleveland, a legally qualified chair whose name is unknown to the public is holding up a gross misconduct hearing, announced in August 2021, at which Mike Veale, the discredited policeman who besmirched the reputation of Sir Edward Heath, will finally be called to account? When asked about this, Ministers say that an anonymous chair may delay proceedings when it is in the interests of justice to do so. They also say that it would be inappropriate to comment further since proceedings are ongoing. Proceedings are not ongoing—they have not even started. How can it possibly be in the interests of justice to delay indefinitely this hearing while giving no explanation at all as to the reasons? The Home Office will surely have made full inquiries about this matter since I have raised it several times. What does my noble friend have to say about the extraordinary state of affairs in Cleveland?
My Lords, I am afraid that I will have to go over old ground. The arrangements for the misconduct hearing of the former chief constable Mike Veale are a matter for the Cleveland police and crime commissioner, and the management of the hearing itself is the responsibility of the independent legally qualified chair appointed to it. My noble friend is right that legally qualified chairs must commence a hearing within 100 days of an officer being provided with a notice referring them to proceedings, but this period may be extended when a legally qualified chair considers that it is in the interests of justice to do so. I am afraid that I will have to repeat the old mantra that it would be inappropriate to comment further while these proceedings remain ongoing.
My Lords, given that the Leicestershire PCC, Mr Matthews, refused the chair of the panel’s request for Mr Veale to be interviewed by the panel, as the law demands he should be, what is HMG’s view of Mr Veale’s resignation last week from his post as interim chief executive officer of the OPCC?
My Lords, the appointment of staff is a matter for police and crime commissioners but, as the noble Lord is right to point out, they are required by legislation to seek the views of their police and crime panel when appointing to senior positions within their office. I note Mr Veale’s resignation but the Home Office has no role in such appointments and it would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment on this matter directly.
My Lords, in matters of police misconduct, there is a delicate balance to be drawn between local accountability and local flexibility on the one hand and consistency in dealing with these cases on the other. Does the Minister agree with the inspectorate that there is a need to standardise decision-making processes when dealing with misconduct, and do the Government accept all the recommendations contained in the An Inspection of Vetting, Misconduct, and Misogyny in the Police Service report?
My Lords, on the latter point, I think the police forces have accepted all the recommendations. As regards the consistency of decision-making, that is one of the things that the dismissal review panel is going to consider. The first term of reference is to:
“Understand the consistency of decision-making at both hearings and accelerated hearings”,
so the answer is yes.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a legal assessor for regulatory panels. My noble friend will know that Parliament has established an independent regulatory panel in respect of almost every profession that exists. Those regulatory panels have the power to make interim orders of conditions and suspension when appropriate, and they can very often make their interim order within a few days of the referral of the complaint. Should the police not consider that model?
My Lords, again, I refer my noble friend back to the fact that the dismissal review is ongoing. It would be foolish of me to pre-empt the outcome of the review’s findings.
My Lords, in the circumstances of the case raised by the noble Lord, is the Minister saying, in effect, that there are absolutely no circumstances under which the Home Office will intervene, even though this case is continuing not to be dealt with, month after month? He will know that under Section 40 of the Police Act 1996, the Home Secretary can intervene if a PCC is not being effective. Why will the Home Secretary not intervene?
My Lords, as I say, I am unable to comment on ongoing cases. I know that irritates the House and I apologise for doing so, but there are specific circumstances which make me unable to comment.
My Lords, it is now almost two and a half years since the Independent Office for Police Conduct found sufficient evidence for there to be a misconduct hearing. I see that the Government cannot intervene in police conduct itself but will they encourage the police to speed up the handling of these misconduct hearings, which have now drifted on for so long and so inadequately?
My noble friend makes an extremely good point. I certainly encourage them to speed this up. Having said that, this is a particular case. It is considered to be in the interests of justice for the legally qualified chair to go beyond the normal 100 days. Beyond that, I cannot go.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, twice said that the legally qualified chair in this case was anonymous. That is not universally the case. In many other forces, legally qualified chairs are named. Indeed, proceedings describe who is on the panel. Why is Cleveland different?
My Lords, I do not know.
My Lords, can my noble friend find out and tell the House? Does he not realise that every answer that he has given in this stonewalling performance has been utterly unsatisfactory? He has made the Home Office seem completely impotent. At the very least, we need to know who this anonymous man or woman is.
I thank my noble friend for not accusing me this week of being incompetent, at least. I will do my very best to find out the answer to that question.
My Lords, would the Minister like to address the question asked by my noble friend Lord Hunt? It was not about an ongoing investigation. It was a point of principle. Does he accept that there are circumstances under which the Home Secretary can carry out an investigation under the statutory powers already available? As a matter of principle, does he accept that?
As a matter of principle, yes, I do.
Do the Government agree that the chairmen and members of police misconduct panels should never be open to any suggestion of conflict of interest arising from their previous careers?
Yes, of course I accept that.
My Lords, is it not possible for the Secretary of State to carry out the implementation of what is being delayed? Why is it not being done now?
My Lords, I am unable to comment on ongoing cases.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, particularly as past chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation. None of this would have happened if the disgraced policeman, Mike Veale, had faced an independent inquiry into his witch hunt against the late Sir Edward Heath, as this House has repeatedly demanded. The Home Office keeps referring to all these inquiries, but they were all carried out by the police themselves, marking their own homework, and are no substitute for a judge-led review of how the good name of a distinguished former Prime Minister was deliberately besmirched—at great cost to the taxpayer.
I thank my noble friend. He makes some extremely good points, which I will take back.
Cancer Therapies Access
To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase the access to minimally invasive cancer therapies.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I declare my registered interest as a trustee of the UK Focused Ultrasound Foundation.
NHS England’s specialised commissioning team has been undertaking work to expand the number of providers offering minimally invasive cancer therapies such as selective internal radiation therapy. The market engagement and prior information notice aspects of this have now been completed, with regional teams now putting in place the necessary contractual arrangements with NHS trusts.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and welcome him to the Dispatch Box. Minimally invasive cancer therapies such as focused ultrasound, SIRT, which he mentioned, cryoablation and radioligand therapy, offer significant benefits both to patients to the NHS: faster recovery times; reduced pain; fewer side effects; and less pressure on NHS facilities and staff. How will the 10-year cancer plan reflect the need to increase awareness of these therapies among patients and clinicians and increase access to them? Will the Government’s proposed workforce plan ensure the availability of enough interventional radiologists to deliver MICTs at the scale needed?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord and the work that he has done on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Minimally Invasive Cancer Therapies. In 2022-23, Health Education England is continuing to take forward priorities identified in the cancer workforce plan phase 1 and is investing an additional £50 million in 2022-23 to further expand the cancer and diagnosis workforce. Spending plans for individual budgets in 2023-24 to 2024-25 inclusive are subject to a detailed financial planning exercise and will be finalised in due course.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has already pointed out, interventional radiologists are essential to being able to provide minimally invasive cancer therapies. What is the Minister’s response to the Royal College of Radiologists’ 2021 census report, which painted a picture of growing concerns about the availability of interventional radiologists, as supply is not keeping up with demand? Will this particular shortage also be covered in the workforce plan? We will keep going on about the plan until we see it.
My Lords, NHS England commissions selective internal radiation therapy as a treatment of choice for patients with unresectable advanced hepatocellular carcinoma in accordance with technology appraisals and metastatic colorectal cancer in accordance with the NHS England clinical commissioning policy. It should be noted that the market engagement and prior information notice process permitted any NHS trust that hosts a specialist liver service and multidisciplinary team to put themselves forward, either independently or in partnership with other NHS trusts.
My Lords, Cancer Research UK published a report last week that shows that, by 2040, we will have half a million new cases of cancer. Considering that the UK has the worst record on cancer outcomes in western Europe and that we are not likely to meet the Government’s target of diagnosing 75% of new cancers at stage 1 or 2, why did the Minister in the other place state that the Government are to abandon the 10-year cancer plan, particularly when the previous Secretary of State wanted a new plan which was more challenging and robust?
My Lords, improving early diagnosis of cancer is a priority for the NHS. That is why one of the core ambitions of the NHS’s long-term plan is to diagnose 75% of cancers at stage 1 or 2 by 2028. November 2022 saw the highest number of urgent GP referrals for cancer ever, with nearly 265,000 patients referred, representing 125% of November 2019 levels on a per working day basis, compared to the pandemic low of 80,000 in April 2020. It is a priority of this Government for the NHS.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of Genomics England. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the announcement of the UK cancer vaccine launchpad? It aims to rapidly identify large numbers of cancer patients who could be eligible for trials and to explore the potential of cancer vaccines among multiple types of cancer. This is vital research if we want to have any hope of identifying and tackling the challenges mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Patel.
My noble friend raises a very good point. One in two of us will develop cancer in the future, so we need to explore all therapies or vaccines wherever possible.
My Lords, Cancer Research UK has shown that the annual rate of cancer diagnosis will increase by one-third over the next two decades, rising to nearly half a million. It takes 15 years to train an oncologist, pathologist or surgeon. In the light of previous questions, will the Minister assure the House that the long-awaited NHS workforce plan, when it is finally published, will address these particular shortages? How will the workforce plan dovetail with the also promised major conditions strategy, which the Government have announced that they are now putting in place of the 10-year cancer strategy, as we previously heard, which itself was long overdue?
My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that the new major conditions strategy will set out a strong and coherent policy agenda that sets out a shift to integrate whole-person care. Interventions set out in the strategy will aim to alleviate pressure on the health system as well as support the Government’s objective of increasing healthy-life expectancy and reducing ill-health-related labour market inactivity. We will cover the patient pathway from prevention to treatment and set out the standards patients should expect in the short term and over a five-year lifetime. Many stakeholders have already responded to the Government’s call for evidence on cancer.
My Lords, we now know that there are drugs that attack cancer cells directly, without damaging the surrounding tissue. These literally non-invasive treatments are available to some, but can the Minister assure the House that these drugs are now available to every trust throughout the country?
My Lords, I do not have a specific answer to that question, but I can certainly respond in writing.
My Lords, behind this Question lies an even more worrying fact, which is that the NHS is very, very slow to adopt new medicines and new treatments. Does the Minister accept that our very poor outcomes for cancer in relation to many OECD countries are partly down to this lack of adoption of proven new treatments? What are the Government doing to turn this around?
My Lords, looking ahead, a number of specialised services will be delegated to integrated care boards, which in turn will want to work with and through local cancer alliances to plan and organise access to cancer services, including specialised services such as SIRT and non-specialised services such as highly intensive focused ultrasound. Following delegation, NHS England will remain the accountable commissioner for all prescribed specialised services and will continue to determine national standards, including new treatments.
My Lords, I am sorry to come back, but the Minister did not answer my question, which was: why are the Government abandoning the 10-year cancer plan? Is it to be replaced with a new plan, or is it totally abandoned?
My Lords, we have not abandoned anything. It is all part of the Government’s strategy to improve cancer outcomes.
Turkey: Earthquake Relief
Private Notice Question
To ask His Majesty’s Government what immediate assistance with lifesaving, recovery and long term rebuilding and reconstruction efforts they are offering to the Government of Turkey and non-governmental organisations following recent earthquakes.
My Lords, I am sure that I speak for all in your Lordships’ House in offering condolences to all those impacted and affected by this tragedy in Turkey and Syria. Our thoughts and prayers are with all. Our embassy in Ankara is in direct contact with Turkish authorities and is supporting British nationals. We are also in contact with British humanitarian workers in Syria. I can share with your Lordships that the United Kingdom is sending immediate support to Turkey, including a team of 76 search and rescue specialists as part of our international search and rescue team. They are being dispatched to Turkey as I speak. They will have equipment and rescue dogs. In Syria, the UK aid-funded White Helmets have also been mobilised, and we are working closely with our UN partners to understand the direct impact and options.
My Lords, I am grateful, as always, to the Minister for his helpful response. I am sure we all share in sending condolences to those who have lost their lives and their relatives. However, this is not just one but two of the strongest earthquakes ever in an area that is already coping with hundreds of thousands of refugees, so we need to do a great deal. I am glad to hear that the immediate rescue effort has been mobilised. Can the Minister tell us which NGOs are involved with that? When will they leave the United Kingdom for Turkey? What kind of help are they going to give? Will there be specialised equipment as well as men? Will we provide dogs or other assistance? Can he say what skills and equipment we are able to provide?
This is going to be a huge effort. It needs international support from every organisation and every country. Everything that we can do we should be doing. We cannot overestimate the devastation that has taken place, the death and destruction in Turkey. I hope that we will get a clear assurance that the United Kingdom Government, irrespective of the cuts we have sadly seen in the development budget, will make sure that as much money and help are available to Turkey as we can give.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. He asked some specific questions. We are working directly with the United Nations. I hope to speak to the UN co-ordinator, Mohamed Haji, later today within the context of Syria, but communications are quite challenging, certainly in Syria. The noble Lord is right to ask what we have deployed immediately. A UK international search and rescue team will be deployed today and commence life-saving activity within the critical 72 hours. They will depart on a charter flight from Birmingham at 1800 today and will arrive in Turkey by 2300 UK time tonight. They are working in a co-ordinated fashion with the co-ordinating agency in Turkey. I am sure all noble Lords appreciate that it is an evolving situation. Even as I was leaving the Foreign Office to answer this Question, tragically we saw the reported casualty figure reach 2,000—or a tad just under—and this is after just a few hours. The noble Lord is correct that there were two earthquakes, one of 7.8 magnitude followed by one of 7.5 magnitude, impacting not just Syria and Turkey but further afield, including in Israel and the OPTs.
I assure the noble Lord that, as my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said, we stand with Turkey and the agencies working on the ground, and, importantly, with the UN within the context of Syria, to make sure that what is required immediately and in the medium and long term can be addressed directly. I assure the noble Lord that, as more details evolve, I shall be happy to update your Lordships’ House accordingly.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned one concern, which is the efforts to get humanitarian aid across the Turkish border to Syria. Syria obviously is in a particularly difficult situation. Will he tell us what steps the Government are taking to support the safe delivery of aid into Syria over the next few days and how they will support the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2672 during recovery, which facilitates cross-border aid going into Syria?
My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, within the context of the United Nations, first and foremost we have been working to broaden the scope of humanitarian corridors into Syria. It is regrettable that because of Russia’s actions that has not been possible. However, we will continue to work within the parameters and restrictions that apply. I assure the noble Lord that, for example, with the White Helmets, we are already mobilising additional funding and we are in direct contact with them. Notwithstanding the issues and challenges posed, I hope to speak with their representative, Raed Al Saleh’s deputy, in the coming hours to be updated on what is required. The noble Lord will also be aware that within north-west Syria we are working with key NGOs. For example, we have been equipping key NGOs on the ground to ensure that volunteers are already trained to deal with the kind of tragedy that has unfolded. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, pointed out, this tragedy took place where plates meet. It is a one-in-100-year event, and it happened this morning.
My Lords, the reports and pictures of this earthquake show it to be truly apocalyptic, on a scale that is probably unprecedented in our lifetime. I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the response we have made. In the past, the UK had the capacity to provide a very fast, comprehensive response and to co-ordinate international action. Do we still have that capacity, and are we able to provide leadership to get to people quickly so that we can save lives and ensure that needless, endless suffering can be relieved before it is too late?
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord—and our response reflects this—that we have the specialists required and they have been mobilised very quickly. The noble Lord has raised the importance of co-ordination on the ground. We are working directly with the Turkish authorities, the co-ordinating body and our international partners to ensure that we identify and address what is required immediately. As I am sure the noble Lord has picked up, we were the first of seven or eight countries to respond directly; messages have also been relayed to the Turkish Government at the highest level.
My Lords, having travelled in the areas around south-east Turkey that have been affected, to the east of Diyarbakır into Mardin and Tur Abdin, where the ancient Assyrian and Chaldean communities are, I would ask the Minister not to lose sight of those very vulnerable people who are not in the towns and cities but are also deeply affected by the appalling events that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has described. Can the Minister tell us two things? First, in such circumstances, the UK Disasters Emergency Committee usually co-ordinates the giving of donations. Is that happening at the moment, and will the UK Government provide match funding for every penny and pound generously given by UK citizens? Secondly, given the sanctions that have been imposed on Syria, to which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded, will we ensure that humanitarian needs are met regardless of any sanctions?
My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, of course, any sanction applied has provision for humanitarian support; we will certainly ensure that continues to happen. On the noble Lord’s earlier point about vulnerable communities, the challenges are of course immense. As we look at the situation in Turkey as pointed out by the noble Lord, and towards Syria—Aleppo has been impacted in a devastating way notwithstanding the devastation it had already suffered—we will seek to prioritise the distribution of support accordingly. However, it needs a level of co-ordination; that is why I have alluded to what we are doing both with the aid agencies on the ground in Turkey and with the White Helmets. On the DEC, I assure the noble Lord that one of the last actions I left for the team as I departed the Foreign Office was a full submission on the very points that the noble Lord has raised. I do not have those details with me, as this has been a very fast-evolving situation, but that is high up my agenda; I will update the House accordingly.
My Lords, it is very good news that the Minister has responded as he has so far. Do I take it for granted that the Royal Auxiliary reserves, who are wonderful people trained specifically for operations like this, are totally involved? Also, do we intend to send out a field hospital, set up with highly trained people, which would be of great use?
My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we are looking to ensure a whole-of-government response, so that every asset will be provided to the Turkish Government, as well as to assist on the ground in Syria. As to additional support, those details are being finalised. As the requirements are made clear to us, we will deploy what is necessary to ensure that the objectives of the relief efforts can be met.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving us an update. He will appreciate that the magnitude of this earthquake is truly devastating and terrifying. Many in the Turkish diaspora in this country—I include myself—are personally affected by this tragedy. What support can the Government give to the diaspora here, who are desperately trying to find out what has happened to their family and friends in Turkey? Communications are hampered by the sheer scale of this disaster and the terrible weather. People are under many feet of snow; 10 densely populated cities have been affected. The diaspora here are desperate for news. What support can the Government give to the communities here trying to get more information?
My Lords, I am sure I speak for all noble Lords when I extend my condolences to the British-Turkish diaspora here, of which the noble Baroness is an exemplary part. She is using her good offices, and I welcome her direct advice and input on what more can be done. I will get back to her with further details as they evolve. My understanding is that in Turkey itself, certainly in the 10 cities impacted, the communications are still stood up and we are able to get information both in and out, but we will look at how we can strengthen some of the communication channels. If the noble Baroness can identify particular problems being encountered, and if they are in the scope of the FCDO or other government departments, we will look to assist.
My Lords, what are we doing about aerial damage assessments? Now that we are not in the EU, I presume that we do not have access to the Copernicus satellite. How are we coping with that? Are we co-ordinating with European neighbours?
My Lords, the EU has also mobilised to this effect. I assure the noble Earl that, as I said earlier, we are co-ordinating with all our international partners and, importantly, that includes members of the EU.
My Lords, the damage has been considerable in Diyarbakır in Turkey, which I have previously visited. It is right on the border with Iran. Have there been any reports of damage in Iran? If so, are we helping them?
My Lords, specifically on Iran, I will have to update the noble Lord. I am aware that the impacts have been felt further afield, particularly in parts of the Middle East. Thankfully, even in places such as Lebanon, which is a very fragile country at the moment, the impact has been limited, but we are continuing to monitor the situation. Tragically, the earthquake hit at 4 am, which was probably the worst time. I have been updated on the net effect on buildings and how they folded—what I believe is called the pancake effect, where they just collapse on each other. If that impact were felt further afield in places such as Lebanon, which is extremely fragile, it would be devastating. I will update noble Lords as details emerge on what is an evolving situation.
My Lords, some years ago, I worked in a refugee camp along the Euphrates, very close to the epicentre. It is impossible not to be moved by the brisk, unfussy and uncomplaining way in which Turkey has handled the arrival of millions of Syrian refugees into its territory. The United Kingdom is perhaps the most engaged supporter of Syrian refugees on the borders of Syria. Can we leverage that status and transfer our aid to the Syrians who are now fleeing this second devastation?
My Lords, my noble friend is correct that the UK has been and is the third-largest bilateral donor to the Syrian crisis, having committed over £3.8 billion to date, our largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis. We are supporting Turkey, Lebanon and indeed Jordan when it comes to the issue of Syrian refugees. The impact of those seeking to leave Syria from this devastation is not yet clear, but we stand ready to help those within Syria and Turkey with the support that they need. As I said, and I am sure noble Lords appreciate this, it is a situation that occurred this morning. We have responded immediately—as required—and in a co-ordinated fashion to the information that we have received, and we will continue to do so.
Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill
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Carer’s Leave Bill
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Business of the House
Motion to Agree
That Standing Order 73 (Affirmative Instruments) be dispensed with on Monday 6 February to enable a motion to approve the Energy Bills Support Scheme and Alternative Fuel Payment Pass-through Requirement (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023 to be moved, notwithstanding that no report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the instrument has been laid before the House.
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Code H) Order 2023
Motion to Approve
That the draft Order laid before the House on 12 December 2022 be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 31 January
Energy Bills Support Scheme and Alternative Fuel Payment Pass-through Requirement (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023
Motion to Approve
That the Regulations laid before the House on 11 January be approved.
Relevant document: 26th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Instrument not yet reported by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Considered in Grand Committee on 30 January
Environmental Improvement Plan 2023
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 1 February.
“I would like to update the House on the next steps that the Government are taking to help nature recover through our new environmental improvement plan. It is a delivery plan setting out how we will achieve our ambitious, stretching environmental targets, the most critical of which is to halt the decline of nature by the end of this decade. We can and must achieve that, both here in the UK and globally.
We are already under way. In this Government’s first 100 days, we have already delivered: legally binding targets to halt nature’s decline, clean up our air and rivers and support a circular economy; playing an instrumental role in a new global agreement for nature at the UN nature summit, COP 15; enacting the legal duty on government, national and local, to consider biodiversity; publishing our environment principles policy statement; setting out in detail our transformational farming schemes with the full range of actions we will pay farmers and land managers to do to restore nature; announcing that we will ban the most commonly littered single-use plastic items from October 2023; agreeing to enact mandatory sustainable urban drainage systems for new development, which will reduce the risk of surface water flooding and pollution; putting in place the plant biosecurity strategy for Great Britain, a five-year vision for plant health to protect native species, with plants providing an annual value of £15.7 billion to the UK; and agreeing with the devolved Administrations our approach to managing fisheries. There is much more I could add.
Nature is a crucial part of our islands’ story and our shared future. We know what is special with our rare habitats and our iconic species, and we also know the pressures it is under. We rely on our natural capital for a secure supply of food, for clean air, and for clean water, as well as for leisure and genuine joy. However, nature has been taken for granted for too long and used freely as a resource with little thought for the consequences. We have to reverse that and respect nature.
Seventy years ago, people were waking up to the devastation of the great flood of 1953, in which more than 300 people died, reminding us that the full force of nature can bring us challenges. We took action then and it is why we have continued to invest billions of pounds in protecting people’s homes and in better protecting more than 100,000 local businesses to safeguard around 100,000 jobs. However, nature can also help us to tackle some of our great challenges, so we need to help protect nature too. Undoubtedly and understandably, the pandemic set us back in some areas, as we responded to the emergency at hand. A silver lining to that experience, if any is to be had, was the opportunity for us to reconnect with nature, and I am particularly pleased by our pledge in this plan to bring access to a green or blue space within a 15-minute walk of everyone’s home, be that parks, canals, rivers, countryside or coast.
Our focus is on picking up the pace and scaling up at home, and around the world, and that is why we are putting nature top of the international agenda as well. We brought nature into the heart of our collective response to climate change under our presidency of COP 26 in Glasgow. At COP 27 the Prime Minister said that
‘there is no solution to climate change without protecting and restoring nature’.
The House may have heard me extol the marvel of mangroves as the ultimate example of how investing in nature is an essential, effective and cost-effective way to take on a multitude of challenges. The key achievement of 2022 was the agreement reached at the UN nature summit, the Convention on Biological Diversity, COP 15, in Montreal.
I will level with the House: there is much, much more to do to restore the natural world. Some of the challenges are not always so easy or so quick to fix as we might all hope, yet I assure honourable Members that with our new legal duty to consider biodiversity, guided by our environmental principles policy, we are embedding nature in the heart of every decision that government will take for the long haul. We have a plan for the whole of government to support this national endeavour and we have already started the journey with a great many improvements.
We are replacing the EU’s bureaucratic common agricultural policy, which did so little for farmers or nature, and rewarding our farmers for taking action to help nature retain and regain good health, reduce emissions and produce food sustainably. Those things are absolutely symbiotic and we are leading the way in making this essential transition. We have cleaner air, with major decreases in all five major pollutants. Emissions of fine particulate matter, PM2.5, the most damaging pollutant to human health, decreased by 18% between 2010 and 2020. I want our air to be even cleaner. That is why we are working with farmers to tackle ammonia emissions.
Councils ask for a lot of powers, but I need them to use the powers they already have, including on tackling litter and fly-tipping, rather than just asking for more. I will be publishing what they are doing and seeking to share best practice across the country.
We are accelerating the rate of tree planting. The Forestry Commission will start growing its estate and increase planting, fulfilling its original statutory obligation to help to rejuvenate the forestry and timber industry. We have strengthened the financial support through our environmental land management schemes, and we will continue to promote urban tree planting so that children everywhere can enjoy their local woods.
On the chemical status of our water bodies, the science and modelling are clear that it will take decades to recover and heal completely, but we are keeping a spotlight on water quality and getting industry to clean up its act. We are restoring 400 miles of river through the first round of landscape recovery projects and establishing 3,000 hectares of new woodlands along England’s rivers, as well as doubling funding available for the catchment-sensitive farming programme to £30 million in each of the next three years, to cover all farmland in England. We have already seen a huge improvement in our bathing waters. Last year, nearly three in four beaches were deemed excellent—only about half of them were back in 2010—but I share people’s concern about sewage in our waters. That is why we, a Conservative Government, turned on the monitoring, and why we are holding industry to account on fixing this issue. Through our storm overflows discharge reduction plan, we are requiring water companies to deliver their largest ever environmental infrastructure investment: an estimated £56 billion of capital investment over 25 years. We have set clear expectations on improvements, on which we will track performance. The next formal review will be in 2027, so if we can go further and faster, that is exactly what we will do.
This issue remains an international endeavour as well. We have a globally recognised track record of action, helping communities protect and restore their national treasures. Reinforced by our science expertise and financial support, we are helping nature around the world. That is the right thing to do and it is absolutely in our interests as well. Having committed to doubling UK international climate finance to £11.6 billion, and to spending at least £3 billion of that on nature, we are building on decades of action, backing efforts to take on the whole host of threats that now face the world’s flora and fauna well beyond climate change alone. We are doing that through the Blue Belt programme, protecting an area of ocean larger than India around our biodiverse overseas territories; through our world-renowned £39 million Darwin Initiative; and through the illegal wildlife trade challenge fund. We are ploughing all that expertise and experience into our newly established £500 million blue planet fund, and our £100 million biodiverse landscapes fund, to help some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities restore, protect and connect globally important but fragile habitats.
I am so proud that the UK is leading, co-leading and actively supporting the global coalitions that are committed to securing the maximum possible ambition and achieving the greatest possible impact on everything from taking on the scourge of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, to persuading countries to agree a new, legally binding global treaty to end plastic pollution by 2040, to supporting efforts to establish a global gold standard for taking nature into account across our economies.
I could spend hours talking about nature, about our mission, about what we have already achieved. As the Member of Parliament for Suffolk Coastal, I am blessed to represent a very special part of our country, with many precious habitats and protected sites, on land and offshore. I always said it felt like I had had six years of a perfect apprenticeship before I became the Environment Minister in 2016. There are many more parts to the plan that we published yesterday. I recognise that we have work to do, and our aim is to catalyse action across government, across the economy and across the country, with the whole Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs family—our agencies, including Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, our delivery partners and our regulators—the whole of government, and individuals, communities and businesses, from farms to finance, all working together to bring this to life.
Nature needs us to accelerate and scale up our help if we want to enjoy nature and have its help for generations to come. Together, we can achieve it. Whether someone lives in a city or town, in the countryside or on the coast, we all have a part to play in the truly national endeavour and the decade of global action that we need now to see this through. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, last month the Office for Environmental Protection warned of a serious failure to deliver on every one of the goals set out in the Government’s own 25-year environment plan. The body said:
“The situation is poor across the board, with adverse trends across marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments.”
It added that progress towards 14 of the 23 targets was “off track”, while a lack of available evidence meant that progress could not even be measured for the remaining nine.
Against this backdrop, we welcome Defra publishing its environmental improvement plan, and actually managing to publish it on time. There are some promising-looking targets in the document. However, the Government have generally been pretty good at setting themselves targets; for example, at COP 26. The problem is that Ministers have not been so good at taking the action needed to actually achieve them.
Dame Glenys Stacey, chair of the OEP, has welcomed the environmental improvement plan but also warned that:
“It’s all about delivery now.”
So I ask the Minister: what are the Government going to do differently this time around to actually deliver on their commitments? Members of this House have expressed concern regarding the long-term environmental targets contained in recent SIs we have debated, and we are concerned that some of the interim targets may not be ambitious enough.
I ask the Minister: does Defra accept the observation of Philip Dunne MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee in another place, that
“the targets are only worthwhile if they are met and have the backing of all departments across Government”?
This has also been stressed by the Office for Environmental Protection in its recent report, where it stressed the need for better
“alignment and co-ordination at all levels—
“local and national, and actions that extend beyond Defra”.
I have a number of other questions for the Minister and am happy for him to write, if he is unable to address some of them this afternoon. What did the Secretary of State, Thérèse Coffey, mean when she said in a recent letter to Mr Dunne that, after publication of the EIP, she intends
“to undertake a series of deep dives on priority issues so we can get on and deliver”?
Can the Minister outline the areas that she will be focusing on and what form these “deep dives” will take? Will they just be reviews of the current situation or are they likely to lead to policy change and/or actual legislation? How does Defra intend to work with local government and other departments across government to ensure a commitment to deliver?
The Secretary of State’s letter also says that Defra is on track to legislate for an alternative transition registration model for UK REACH in 2024. Can the Minister provide any information on what that will look like? Is it likely to be primary or secondary legislation, for example? If primary, is there not a case for bringing forward a broader piece of environmental legislation?
Concerns have also been raised about the lack of new money to assist with delivery of the EIP. The Secretary of State herself confirmed that there will be no major new funding, beyond a dedicated pot to protect some species including hedgehogs and red squirrels. Although, of course, we welcome this increased protection, some farming leaders have said that new sources of funds are needed to encourage farmers to take up environmental land management schemes.
The Public Accounts Committee made a series of recommendations to Defra in its report on ELMS, which said:
“The Department is over-optimistic about what it will be able to achieve by when”.
The report went so far as to question the Government’s readiness to deliver their policies—sadly, not a new occurrence for Defra. So what action is the department taking in response to these concerns? Has Defra made any bids for extra funds from the Treasury in advance of March’s Spring Budget?
As well as considering what is in the plan, we must also acknowledge what is missing. For example, although it contains stipulations for fitting dual-flush toilets, it does little to force water companies to deal with other issues, such as stopping pouring sewage into our rivers. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, recently asked what happened to the dedicated soil health strategy, which was a promise made by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, during the progress of the Environment Act. Despite that pledge, it appears that soil-related issues have simply been wrapped up into the EIP. Can the Minister explain why the target of bringing 40% of agricultural soil into sustainable management by 2028, and 60% by 2030, is now tied into “new farming schemes” and nothing else?
Finally, with the Second Reading of the retained EU law Bill later today, what guarantees can the Minister give that Defra’s existing environmental regulations will be maintained and not ditched or watered down? I hope he can understand our scepticism about this, when he says that the Government will keep green regulations by default and yet there is no final figure for how many actually exist.
My Lords, the nine actions listed in the Government’s statement of achievements and implementations in the first 100 days of this Government appear to be impressive on paper, but a little digging into the reality reveals a very different picture. Much is made of the ban on single-use plastics from October 2023. Two years have passed since the statutory instrument to bring this into effect was agreed in this Chamber. At the time, those of us involved in the debate pressed for a much earlier implementation date but were unsuccessful. Even now, with so much notice, industry is complaining about the cost. It was widely publicised at the time, so there was plenty of time to plan and even to implement before the cut-off date this year. However, I welcome the Government’s co-operation in persuading other countries to agree a new legally binding global treaty to end plastic pollution by 2040. Does this apply to all plastic in consumer items only, or will it include plastics used in manufacturing industries as well?
I read with interest the environmental principles policy statement when it was first released, but I fear I found the principles underwhelming in the extreme. If government departments choose to ignore them, there appears to be absolutely no redress to bring them into line to consider and protect our dwindling biodiversity. How will Defra ensure that all government departments fully embrace the environmental principles?
Of course, it is important that children and adults have access to green spaces and coastal areas for leisure activities. I look forward to the implementation plan for ensuring that everyone in the country can be within 15 minutes’ walking distance of blue or green spaces for relaxation and enjoyment. How will this be achieved? What is the exact timeframe for the delivery? In what form are the Government engaging with landowners, local authorities and other agencies to ensure that this happens in the most built-up areas?
I turn to the thorny issue of fly-tipping. I see from the Statement that the intention is to ask local authorities to deal with the problem. During the passage of the Agriculture Act, the debate demonstrated across the Chamber that fly-tipping on agricultural land costs the farming community dearly. Affected farms have to pay to clear up the waste tipped, regardless of what it is—garden waste, retail and industrial waste, building waste—costing farmers thousands of pounds. However, the then Minister rejected the suggestion that CCTV on farms would be extremely helpful, despite much of the support for CCTV coming from his own Benches. Can the Minister say when the Government will publish what they intend to do to tackle that scourge and what they consider to be best practice?
I turn briefly to the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. The Statement indicates that £39 million has been invested in the project. Can the Minister say exactly when the £39 million was released and how much of it has been allocated so far? Does the fund have a time limit for applications? As the fund is focused on the illegal trade in wildlife, can the Minister also say whether any of that money is allocated to tackling and imposing heavy sanctions on the importation of ivory? It is illegal to import ivory products into this country, but that has not made a significant difference to the African elephant. Can the Minister please give an update on the effect of the Ivory Act?
I agree with the Statement from the Minister in the other place that Defra will have to work across the whole of government, Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, communities and businesses to achieve the measures set out in the Statement. Given the huge loss in biodiversity and the levels of plastic and chemical pollution in our landscapes, coastal areas and waterways, does the Minister believe that this is achievable in a realistic timeframe?
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. I am very grateful to the two noble Baronesses for their questions on the environmental improvement plan. As they know, it was published last Tuesday 31 January and sets out the action we are taking to implement the 25-year environment plan, leading on from the work your Lordships did in this House to make that ground-breaking legislation law. Each chapter of the EIP describes the progress we have made in realising the 10 goals of the 25-year environment plan. It also sets out our plans to continue to deliver those goals and to achieve legally binding targets that support them.
Our most critical goal is to achieve thriving plants and wildlife by halting the decline of nature by the end of this decade. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, rightly asked whether there is any real prospect of achieving that, and we think that it is achievable. It is difficult, but we can achieve it if we work really hard. We said that we will create and restore habitats the size of Dorset, we will invest more than £750 million in tree planting and peatland restoration, and we will protect 30% of our land and sea for nature by 2030. The EIP sets out how we will achieve clean air by cutting emissions from domestic burning appliances and by reducing ammonia emissions through farming incentives and investments in slurry storage. Our goal of clean and plentiful water is vital for a healthy natural environment, and we will deliver that by upgrading 160 wastewater treatment plants by 2027 and promoting sustainable agriculture, restoring 400 miles of rivers and reducing water company leakages by 50% by 2050.
Addressing one of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, we will continue to manage exposure to chemicals and pesticides. We will develop a chemical strategy and prioritise the sustainable use of chemicals through UK REACH legislation. We will achieve the goal of minimising waste by implementing the extended producer responsibility, introducing a deposit return scheme for plastic and metal drinks containers, and banning single-use plastics; similar schemes have been extremely successful in other countries. The EIP sets out how we will achieve the goal of using natural resources more sustainably and efficiently by growing the long-term UK timber supply, bringing 40% of our soils into sustainable management by 2028, and tackling illegal deforestation in our supply chains.
In delivering our goal to mitigate and adapt to climate change, we recognise the two-way relationship between climate and nature, and we will prioritise the use of nature-based solutions. This embeds changes that were made at COP 26, and underpinned at COP 27 and CBD 15 in Montreal just before Christmas, which have hard-wired nature into the whole climate piece. It is absolutely vital that we reflect that in the United Kingdom as much as we are globally.
This approach is at the forefront of our goal to reduce the risk of harm from environmental hazards by investing in flood defences, rewarding our farmers for actions to reduce the risk of floods, droughts and wildfires. To restore our biodiversity, we will continue to deliver the goal of enhanced biosecurity. We will implement the five-year action plan of the 2023 Plant Biosecurity Strategy for Great Britain and seize the opportunity of Brexit to tailor our border import controls with a new risk-based target operating model.
Our final goal, woven through all the others, is to enhance the beauty and heritage of, and engagement with, the natural environment. The key point that everyone should live within 15 minutes of green or blue space is really important to Ministers. To address the point made by the noble Baroness, an enormous amount of data is held by Natural England and others. We are using it to identify the communities that are most economically challenged with the highest levels of deprivation, which are often the hardest ones to connect to nature. There are good examples right across the country of how that is being achieved, and we want to see that rolled out nationally.
To address the other points that have been made, I think the targets are achievable. I entirely agree with my colleague in the other place, Philip Dunne, that they must be met and that nature underpins everything right across government, be it the NHS, our defence forces, how we educate our children, heal our sick or support our vulnerable. Nature is at the heart of it, whether in the provision of drugs, through the health and well-being that can be created, how we can divert people away from our health service—nature is the deliverer of that. If we are not supporting nature, nothing else fits in.
The Secretary of State is determined on delivery. We spend a lot of time holding ourselves to account, but also those delivery agencies that we need to work properly to make sure that this plan is delivered. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that this is not a matter only for Defra; it is a matter for all aspects of government, including local government. We are putting huge burdens on a variety of different agencies, professions and individuals to make sure that this is successful, and we are determined to work with them to make sure that that is achievable.
On environmental land management schemes, we have ring-fenced the £2.4 billion a year that goes into supporting farmers in England, and that is a commitment up to the end of this Parliament. Of course, parties will be discussing among themselves how we take that forward, but every major economy in the world supports agriculture in different ways. What we have done in recent decades has caused huge problems for our environment and for the well-being of precisely those businesses we want to see flourish. Now there is an opportunity to pivot and to make sure that we are supporting farmers who are doing the right things for the environment—investing in soils and in the natural capital for which they are responsible, and which will underpin the long-term benefit of their businesses.
The noble Baroness asked about soils. This is absolutely fundamental to turning round our environment so that we can reverse the decline of species by 2030 and increase the potential of the farmed environment. So yes, tied into the targets is improving and protecting soil health. It is a key part of this document. By 2028, we will bring at least 40% of England’s agricultural soil into sustainable management through our new farming schemes, increasing this to 60% by 2030. We will do this in a variety of ways, which I probably do not have time to go through today. However, I am happy to take the noble Baroness through it, along with my noble friend the Earl of Caithness, who is rightly concerned about this.
I will make just one further point to the noble Baroness: there is no way we could achieve what we have tied into law, and into our targets through the Environment Act, if we were to somehow, as has been suggested, be about to trash our environmental protections. We cannot do it. It is absolutely vital that we use the sensible ones that are relevant to our natural environment, that we can discard ones that have nothing to do with these islands at all, and that we can work with people to do that. I implore the noble Baroness to join me, if she wants to, in the process part, but it is the outcomes that matter, and the outcomes are set out very clearly in this document. We have to achieve them, and we will not do that by somehow getting rid, as has been suggested, of all these protections.
On the key point to the noble Baroness made on fly tipping, I would add litter. I live the distance away from a McDonald’s drive-thru that it takes to eat a McDonald’s drive-thru, and what people then do with the rest of their McDonald’s drive-thru causes me to fulminate in a way that alarms those around me. I think the state of some of our highways and roads is absolutely disgraceful. We can talk about government and their responsibility for this, but we still have to talk about a culture, where people have so little regard for the natural environment and where they seem to have lost a sense of place, that allows this to happen.
We have given powers; powers are available to local authorities to deal with this. We want to make sure that they are using them, that we are encouraging people not to throw litter and that we are able to support those authorities that need to clear it up. Yes, CCTV is absolutely available. The Environment Agency has the means to record what is happening at key hotspots and it has taken forward prosecutions; but we, as Ministers in Defra, really want to get behind those efforts of society and those who share our views that the state of some of our countryside through litter is unacceptable.
On the illegal wildlife trade, the Ivory Act is an exemplary piece of legislation. It became law in all its measures relatively recently, and of course we are not a range state. We have to accept that we can only do our bit to stop the importation of ivory, but we are putting huge resources into assisting range-state countries to make sure they have the means to prevent poaching—with some success, I have to say. I agree with the noble Baronesses that it does require a whole-government approach to implement these targets, and that determination exists very clearly within Defra.
Will my noble friend reassure this House that the UK production of foodstuffs—preferably an expansion in the UK production of foodstuffs—remains a priority for this Government?
I can assure my noble friend that it does remain a priority for this Government. If he looks at the very first few lines of the Agriculture Act, he will see that it is beholden on the Secretary of State of the day to make sure that farmers are able to produce food sustainably. That remains an absolutely determined view right across government, but we also want to make sure that we are accepting that, if you deplete your natural capital, you are destroying the life chances of farmers of the future and you are not allowing the industry to produce the kind of food that the public want to eat. So we want to assist farmers, where they need it, to go on that journey to produce food sustainably; it is absolutely at the heart of our agricultural policy.
My Lords, the Statement refers to the fact that, 70 years ago, people were waking up to the great flood of 1953, which caused great loss of life and great damage in Millbank, outside this House. One of the consequences of that great flood was to begin the planning that eventually led to the Thames Barrier. Will the Minister share with the House the current thinking about the need to look ahead for an additional protection for London with a second barrier? Given the time involved in planning such a thing, can he give us any indication of what the department’s thinking is about the need for it and how long it might take to bring about?
The noble Viscount is absolutely right to raise this. That storm flood, which was a perfect storm in every sense of the word, combined a tidal surge with very high water levels. It led to some visionary thinking right across government and saw that measure put in. There is work going on to factor in long-term rises in sea levels, as have been predicted by a number of different organisations. I am not up to date on where those are, but they are very real and we want to make sure that we protect one of the great cities of the world from all future risks. If I can get back to the noble Viscount with more details on precisely where the Environment Agency, Defra and other parts of government are working on that, I will.
My Lords, I urge my noble friend to look at outcomes in the water efficiency of new developments. Undoubtedly, building 300,000 houses a year is contributing to sewage outfall from inadequate pipes. Can I instil in my noble friend a degree of urgency in ensuring that the very welcome mandatory requirement to fit all new developments to sustainable sewage systems is brought forward, so that we can have a consultation and implementation before December?
I share my noble friend’s delight that we are taking forward this part of the Flood and Water Management Act. I know that it has been a long time coming. There are a lot of different players in this and we want to get it right, but we are now on the home run. I will be able to give her more details on timings in the very near future.
My Lords, can the Minister explain why the Government have decided to relicense neonicotinoids for this year? They were banned here and are banned across other countries that have similar soil structures to ours. As I understand it, this was brought in a few years ago only as an emergency, yet now they have been relicensed again. That slightly goes in the face of what the Minister was saying about banning chemicals.
We have certainly not gone back on the commitment to ban neonicotinoids. As has happened in the last two years, we have given an indication that we might be in favour of the application of something called Cruiser SB, a plant protection product containing the active substance thiamethoxam, for the sugar beet industry. It will be allowed to be applied only if winter data shows that there will be a considerable loss of crop. If there is a considerable loss of crop, the sugar that would have been produced would have to come from other parts of the world at a higher carbon cost, and probably grown in circumstances where neonicotinoids are allowed. We will not allow spraying when the plant is in flower, so it will not be as damaging as the seed dressing that caused such a problem. It is a very rare circumstance; in the years in which this derogation has been allowed, on many occasions it has not actually been used because the threshold of potential crop loss was not reached.
I make my regular plea to the Minister—I think he took this point once before—that the term “storm overflows” of raw sewage should be discouraged. It does not happen in storm conditions or even in heavy rainfall; moderate rainfall causes these overflows, which exist because of a lack of investment in sewage treatment capacity. I learned that from a tip-off from someone in the Environment Agency 18 years ago when I was campaigning for what became the Tideway Tunnel.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. It takes just a few millimetres of rain to fall on London for sewage outflows to start pushing sewage straight into the Thames. That is why, two decades ago, we were taken to court by the European Union for failure to comply with the urban wastewater treatment directive. That led to the investment of £1.4 billion in the sewer currently under construction. There are other storm overflows—or whatever they should be called; perhaps just “overflows”—where it takes a similarly small amount of rainfall to cause a problem. That is the low-hanging fruit that we want to see targeted, where we would see the quickest results from the £56 billion investment we will see made in our sewerage network—the largest since privatisation.
My Lords, in responding to the Front Benches, the Minister said that soil is absolutely fundamental to the Government’s environment plans. It is therefore a bit of a pity that the word “soil” does not appear anywhere in the Statement to the other place introducing the environmental improvement plans. None the less, I refer—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, did—to the Government’s former promise and quote a Defra blog from 9 September 2021, which announced:
“Soil Health Action Plan to be launched”.
We are told that the soil health action plan has been rolled into this plan. There is, as the Minister said, a target of 40% of soils being in sustainable management by 2028. The only action I can see in the plan is to create a baseline map of soil health by 2028. Do the Government not plan to take any actual action on soil health until after that map has been created?
As the noble Baroness will know, the Government—whether Ministers or civil servants—do not save soil; farmers do. We want, first, to incentivise them to do the right thing where possible. Secondly, we want to mandate doing the right thing. In our 300-page document on improving and protecting soil—it is not possible to mention everything in it in a Statement—we say that we will
“monitor soil health as part of the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment”
“on top of this Defra will … Establish a soil health indicator under the 25 Year Environment Plan Outcome Indicator Framework … Publish a baseline map of soil health for England by 2028 … Support farmers and land managers to establish their own soil health baseline, so they can best manage the health of their soil … Provide a methodology and tools to collect consistent information about the health of the soil under all land uses … Share current guidance and best practice with farmers and land managers to improve their knowledge and work with them on how to improve soil health.”
We will also prevent
“valuable soil resources from being sent to landfill”
“the integrity of future soil carbon codes”
so that we can unlock the trillions of dollars of ESG money sloshing about in investment in the City and other investment centres to make sure that we are focusing it on our natural environment. Soil health will be fundamental to that. We want to increase organic matter to make soil function as an ecosystem, so that it does not leach what we do not want to see going into our rivers, along with soil itself. Soil is finite natural capital and, after a heavy rain storm, you can often see plumes of soil going into our seas. We want to stop that happening.
My Lords, the Minister will be pleased that I am not going to ask a question about sewage. One of the targets in this lengthy document—which strikes me as remarkably unambitious—is for water companies to cut leaks by 50% by 2050. Surely we can do better than that.
I refute the idea from the noble Duke that this is not ambitious. I urge him to read all 250 to 300 pages of the document and see the lengths that it goes to to put our natural environment first in a way that we have not done for decades. This really is a moment when we can do this. The noble Duke will remember from the debate on the Environment Act that a crucial part of it says that the targets we have must be achievable. The Secretary of State of the day must believe that they are possible. To an extent, we cannot do more than what the scientists say is achievable and we have set out how we can do this.
On the data on leakage, I assure the noble Duke that it is not just this target that is pushing that goal. We are giving direction and encouragement to Ofwat and our water companies to invest more in preventing leakage. Of course, it is not a single line going to 2050; there will be a dramatic increase in improvements from the investment we are putting in—in the easier-to-target areas first. We will then see that target of 2050 being met, we hope, before that date.
Will the Minister commit to providing continuing assistance to South West Water? In the south-west, we have a disproportionate amount of the country’s beaches and there has been support from the Government in the past. Will they continue that support?
I was the Minister responsible for delivering on the coalition Government’s clear commitment to reduce bills for water charge payers in the south-west because of the extra effort they had to make to protect their bathing waters and waterways. I do not know what plans there are for the future but it has certainly been extremely successful, particularly for those on low incomes. We still have measures to provide for those who are very challenged economically, so that they can have a social tariff. We will continue to work with South West Water and all MPs in that area, who are lobbying hard on this issue.
My Lords, given the importance of putting the environment right across government thinking, it is welcome that the environmental principles policy statement was published. But the Minister said “defence” and, as I am sure he well knows, the MoD is exempt from the provisions of the EPPS and it is unclear how it will take forward the environment in its future provisions. Why, if the Government have produced the EPPS now, will it not come into force for another ten months? If the Minister is going to say it is about process, I have two further questions. First, the Office for Environmental Protection offered to advise the Government on creating the processes for the training of Ministers and civil servants. Have they asked the OEP for advice? Secondly, following the question that got no reply for the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, there seem to be no means for this to be anything other than a box-ticking exercise, because we will not be able to see how these EPPSs are delivered. What is the process for Parliament and other people to see that these EPPSs are doing what they need to do?
The noble Baroness is right: the Ministry of Defence was carved out of the provisions in large areas. However, I urge her to look at what it is doing by way of tree-planting and moving to net zero where it can on its very large estate. We want to make sure that we assist the MoD in doing that.
On the noble Baroness’s other point, about measurement, I hope that throughout this the ideal work of Select Committees and more informed groups of your Lordships will be to delve into this and hold Ministers to account in future years. I entirely believe that these targets show where the Government can explain how it wants to hit those targets and achieve them in a way that holds them accountable throughout. The end date is not necessarily the date that will be of particular interest to the noble Baroness; she wants to know about progress towards it. That is why there are interim target dates throughout, some coming up very soon, which will show the path towards achieving what we set out in the provisions.
My Lords, goal 9 of the plan is “Enhancing biosecurity”. It mentions the grey squirrel action plan, which is as yet unpublished. Of course, grey squirrels are the number one threat to tree health in our country and the number one threat to our great desire to increase afforestation for sound, green reasons. Is the new grey squirrel action plan in final form, and when will it be published?
I am not sure of the exact date, but the noble Earl, who is very close to these issues, will be the first to know. He and others have taken forward so much work by producing this contraceptive and, further down the track, the possibility of a gene driver, which may or may not be a solution. That and a range of other issues will go to the eradication of this pest, which is damaging for biodiversity and tree health. You see people virtue signalling about what they are planting, but it will grow to have no effect on carbon sequestration or the delivery of biodiversity unless we deal with this pest. It is of massive concern to the Secretary of State and her Ministers.
My Lords, as part of the commitment to clean up our rivers, what checks will be undertaken on the levels of industrial toxins in silt in rivers in industrial areas, which can be disturbed in dredging and enter the sea in coastal areas? Is the Minister confident that there are enough regular checks on industrial toxins in silt in some of our older industrial areas?
The noble Lord raises an important point. First, it surprised a number of people that one of our targets on water quality was based around the release of toxic substances from old mine workings, but it had emerged that this is a serious problem in certain parts of the country. That is why we have a very clear target to deal with that difficult issue. I think the point the noble Lord is really raising is around port developments, possibly in the Tees area. This is a matter of great concern to us, and to everyone, because of the horrendous deaths of crustaceans on 70 miles of coastline in the north-east. As he knows, we have carried out a panel inquiry under the auspices of the chief scientific adviser at Defra, Professor Gideon Henderson, so some of the best people in the business are looking into this. It is of great regret that we have yet to pin down what caused this tragic occurrence in the ecosystem of the North Sea, but I assure him that all dredgings in that area—and indeed anywhere else—will be subject to the most rigorous inspections. We will do all we can to get to the bottom of what caused this, but the information we have is that there was not enough possibility of pyridine being released into the sea to cause deaths on this scale. We remain determined to find out what happened.
My Lords, the Government have ambitious and admirable targets for tree planting, but what assessment has Defra made of our nursery capacity here in the UK to provide all the native saplings we will need in order to avoid importing trees, with the risk of importing tree pathogens? Past experience has shown us that this can negate all the benefits of reforestation.
The noble Lord is entirely right. We are doing all we can to increase the capacity of our native tree nursery sector to produce what is needed for the very ambitious plans we have for tree planting. Our reliance on imports in past decades has contributed to some of the diseases we have seen come our way, with tragic consequences. We are doing a lot through a variety of different grant schemes, but we are also showing that the market is there for the sector to expand. Our requirement that trees planted on public estates through public procurement have to be from Plant Healthy-registered nurseries only will encourage a great many more nurseries to go into that scheme. That will ensure that only those plants we can guarantee the health of will be sold in those public procurement contracts.
Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Relevant documents: 28th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 25th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
My Lords, before I get into my speech, I note with great anticipation that we will be hearing not one but two maiden speeches today. We are indeed blessed. Let me first warmly welcome my noble friend Lady Bray of Coln and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady of Upper Holloway. I am delighted to note that Lady O’Grady has come from advocating for a people’s assembly in 2013 to joining us here today—quite the journey. I look forward to both their contributions to this debate.
First, I thank the Minister for Industry and Investment Security for ensuring that the Bill has been sent to us in this place following much reasoned and thorough debate in the other place. At all stages there were commitments made across a number of issues, including our international obligations, employment rights and environmental protections. I reiterate those commitments now and of course will continue to do so throughout the passage of the Bill.
The retained EU law Bill is the next step in reasserting the sovereignty of Parliament and untangling the United Kingdom from nearly 50 years of EU membership. Retained EU law was never intended to sit on our statute book indefinitely. Indeed, the time is now right to review retained EU law and end it as a special legal category. The Bill will achieve this by enabling the Government to more easily amend, revoke or replace retained EU law by the end of 2023. This will ensure that the Government are able to create legislation which better suits the UK without taking decades of parliamentary time to achieve.
The Bill enables the UK to fully grasp the myriad opportunities to create modern and agile regulation, to support the ambitions of our sovereign nation. There are countless opportunities for reform ahead of us, ranging from financial services to data, and from artificial intelligence to transport and energy. Through the Bill, the Government will work to develop a new, pro-growth, high-standards regulatory framework that gives businesses the confidence to innovate, invest, scale up and therefore to create more jobs.
Clause 1 lays the groundwork for an ambitious and efficient overhaul of all retained EU law. It establishes 31 December 2023 as the sunset date on which retained EU law will cease to exist, unless there is further action by government and Parliament to preserve it as “assimilated law” without its special EU law features. In this way, the sunset ensures that outdated and unnecessary laws are quickly and easily repealed. It will also provide government departments with a clear timeline to seize reform opportunities. Indeed, a sunset is the quickest and most effective way to accelerate reform across over 400 policy areas and deliver the rapid repeal of retained EU law.
It is only right to set the sunset of retained EU law as the default position. This ensures that we are proactively choosing to preserve laws inherited from our membership of the EU only where they work in the best interests of the United Kingdom. Some retained EU law is of course inoperable and removing it from the statute book is merely good democratic governance.
The sunset extension mechanism, found in Clause 2, will allow specified instruments or specified descriptions of retained EU law to continue in force beyond the sunset date where that is necessary and in our interests. The sunset date cannot be extended beyond the end of 23 June 2026. It is my hope that this clause proves unnecessary, but it would be irresponsible not to include a clause to allow for unforeseen circumstances. Together, these two clauses will facilitate reforms that will help to grow our economy, deliver the opportunities Brexit provides and support advances in technology and science.
From the end of 2023, the Bill will end the special status of retained EU law on our statute book. Clauses 3 to 5 will ensure that EU rights, obligations and remedies retained by Section 4 of the withdrawal Act will cease to apply and that the application of the principle of supremacy and general principles of EU law as rules of interpretation will end. The retention of these principles provided legal continuity at the end of the transition period, but it would be constitutionally inappropriate to leave these retained EU law principles on the UK statute book in perpetuity. In many cases, the principles and rights in question already overlap with well-established provisions in domestic law. This has the potential to undermine the clarity of our law. To reflect these changes, Clause 6 renames retained EU law which has not been sunset as “assimilated law” after the end of 2023. This is not, as some have said, a simple “rebranding” exercise but is a new body of law without the EU law rules of interpretation.
Where further provision is necessary, the Bill provides powers in Clause 8 and Clauses 12 to 14 to codify specific rights and interpretive effects clearly and accessibly in domestic statute. We are proud of the history of the UK legal system, in which common-law principles and legislation are well established. These reforms will continue that tradition and ensure that our law continues to develop as one best suited to the UK context.
Past judgments of the courts have set too high a bar for UK courts to depart from retained case law and the judgments of EU courts. Now that we have left the European Union, we must reassess when it is right to depart from retained case law and establish more UK-focused precedents. The retained EU law Bill will free our courts to develop case law on retained EU law in a way that is right for the United Kingdom. Clause 7 introduces new tests for higher courts to apply when considering departure from retained case law. The tests give higher courts greater clarity on the factors to consider, and greater freedom to decide when it is appropriate to depart from that retained case law. The clause will also facilitate more decisions on departure from retained case law. It empowers lower courts to refer points of law to higher courts for a decision on whether to depart. It also confers on the law officers of the UK and on the devolved Governments similar reference powers and gives them the right to join cases to argue with regard to departure from retained case law.
Clause 9 gives the judiciary powers in connection with the ending of the supremacy of EU law. Courts and tribunals will issue incompatibility orders and will be able to grant appropriate remedies in legal proceedings where retained direct EU legislation cannot be read consistently with other pieces of domestic legislation.
Retained direct EU legislation, composed mainly of EU regulations over which the UK Parliament had no real say, often does not reflect the UK’s priorities or objectives to drive growth. We are currently forced to treat some of this legislation as equivalent to an Act of Parliament when amending it. This limits our ability to make vital reforms and is constitutionally inappropriate.
In respect of the legislation that is to be revoked or re-enacted, is my noble friend going to tell the House what consultation there will be with the various stakeholders, who must run into the thousands?
When secondary law is implemented there is a well-established procedure for appropriate consultations, which of course will take place. All those stakeholders are able to have their say through many Members of both Houses of Parliament as well.
Clause 10 will therefore ensure that retained direct principal EU legislation and Section 4 EU withdrawal Act rights are downgraded, ensuring that they are treated as equivalent to secondary legislation for the purposes of amendment.
It is critical to ensure that this body of law can be updated, amended and reformed using appropriate delegated powers. Without these measures, thousands of regulations will become stagnant—unable to stay up to date, react to new information or implement new international agreements without requiring a new Act of Parliament. Clauses 10 and 11 support this Government’s commitment to taking the necessary steps to put the UK statute book on a sustainable footing, guaranteeing that we can seize all the opportunities that leaving the EU supplies.
The powers in the Bill, combined with the downgrading of retained direct principal legislation, will make it easier for Ministers to amend or repeal retained EU law without the need for primary legislation. The powers have also been designed to deal with matters arising in relation to the sunset and the ending of retained EU law as a legal category at the end of 2023. It has become increasingly clear that there is a lack of subordinate legislation-making powers to remove retained EU law from the statute book. It is appropriate to take powers in the Bill to address this.
The retained EU law dashboard has identified over 3,700 pieces of retained EU law across 16 departments. While some of these laws will be preserved, of course, many are outdated, some are unduly burdensome, and others are increasingly unsuited to the UK’s economic circumstances. Therefore, it is necessary to have powers in the Bill that are capable of acting on a wide range of retained EU law covering a variety of different policy areas. This is not a power grab by the Government.
Rather, the powers in the Bill will enable us to seize the opportunities of Brexit through reviewing the laws that were imposed on us by Brussels during our membership of the European Union. Sectoral-specific legislation simply cannot be passed in a timely enough manner to ensure that these regulations are made suitable for the United Kingdom.
The powers in the Bill will enable the Government to more easily replace retained EU law with domestic laws that are tailored to the UK and, importantly, work in the interests of the United Kingdom, while the power to update will ensure that the UK keeps pace with advances in science and technology over time.
The Government recognise the importance of ensuring that legislation undergoes the appropriate level of scrutiny.
Well, it is more than some of the EU legislation did. I did not mean to start a debate on this.
My Lords, while not forbidden, it is considered discourteous to interrupt the Minister in his opening speech. If the noble Lord wishes to speak, he should put his name down for the gap.
My name is on the list.
I will take the noble Lord’s point.
I merely want to ask the Minister: what proportion of the legislation was, as he described it, imposed? Presumably, it was only the laws that we voted against.
Given his direct experience, the noble Lord knows exactly how the procedures work in Brussels. The point I was making was that the vast majority was introduced into UK law directly, without any appropriate scrutiny from Parliament beforehand. Obviously, there were lots of discussions in Brussels. He took part in some on behalf of the Council, and I took part in many in the European Parliament as well. But there was no scrutiny in this Parliament for much of that legislation.
I do not mean to be discourteous; I really am not. But the European Union Committee of this House and the European Scrutiny Committee of the other place sat for nearly 50 years doing the scrutiny that the Minister is saying did not take place. It was very heavy: it used 72 Peers from this Chamber in its structure. There was quite a lot of scrutiny going on.
There was scrutiny but no ability for Parliament to amend any of it, of course.
We will have this debate as we progress with the legislation, I am sure.
As I was saying, the Government recognise the importance of ensuring that legislation undergoes the appropriate level of scrutiny. The Bill has been drafted to ensure there are robust scrutiny measures and safeguards in place. This includes a sifting procedure for regulations proposed to be made under the powers to restate and the powers to revoke or replace.
Now that we have left the EU and regained our sovereignty, it is important that the UK has a regulatory system designed to benefit UK consumers and businesses. To ensure that the UK makes the most of the opportunities outside the EU, and as outlined in the The Benefits of Brexit report published in January last year, the UK is reforming how it monitors and evaluates future regulation.
It is important that we repeal the business impact target, which has too narrow a focus on the impacts of regulation. Our new system will ensure earlier scrutiny of proposed regulation; a more holistic assessment of its impacts on UK households, businesses and consumers; and a regulatory framework that is therefore fit for purpose.
We have seen how our legislature has evolved since leaving the EU. It is right that we now take the next step and relinquish from our statute book retained EU laws that do not work in the interests of the United Kingdom. The Bill ensures that we can achieve that, by seizing the freedoms afforded to us by Brexit.
The Government have read with interest the reports from the DPRRC and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I look forward to hearing reasoned comments on these from many noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord McLoughlin and members of both of those committees.
The Bill will benefit people and businesses across our country, reassert our sovereign approach to law and regulation, and support the interests of our United Kingdom, rather than those of Brussels. I know that many noble Lords in this Chamber will agree with me when I say that, in this current climate, protecting the UK’s best interests is of the utmost importance. We must therefore continue to surge forward to ensure that our statute book is put on a sustainable footing for all four sovereign nations of the United Kingdom. I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
At end insert “but regrets that the Bill (1) weakens the scrutiny role of Parliament and proposes unparalleled delegated powers be given to Ministers of the Crown, (2) does not respect the constitutional role of the devolved administrations, (3) sets an arbitrary deadline for the revocation of many hundreds of laws protecting the United Kingdom’s high environmental standards, as well as employment and consumer rights and safety standards, with no indication of the rules that will replace them, and (4) imposes a cliff-edge at the end of 2023 that will create uncertainty for people and businesses”.
My Lords, I draw attention to my non-pecuniary interests as a vice-president of the German-British Chamber of Commerce and a director of the German British Forum. I associate my thoughts with the Minister in anticipation of the two maiden speeches by the noble Baronesses.
As we have heard, the Bill seeks to make major changes to the body of retained EU law in UK domestic law. It aims to automatically revoke, or sunset, most retained EU law at the end of 2023. Any retained EU law that still applies after the end of 2023 would be renamed as assimilated law. At this point, I stop agreeing with the Minister, because this Bill hands huge powers to Ministers at the expense of elected MPs.
Your Lordships might have become immune to the Henry VIII clauses that have been propagated by Bill after Bill coming before this House, but this Bill represents a new, unprecedented level of transfer of power from Parliament to the Executive. It gives Ministers powers to legislate in areas that affect every aspect of our daily lives without any meaningful democratic input. Far from creating new high standards, as has been promised by Minister after Minister, the replacement legislation cannot increase standards: it can only keep them the same or make them lower. Moreover, the impractical timetable imposed by the sunset clause indicates clearly that this Government know that their race is run.
The reaction across key communities and committees across Parliament is very clear—I have never received so much comment from civil society as I have on this Bill. It is not only anti-democratic; it is ill thought through and badly drafted. For example, the impact assessment was roundly criticised by the Regulatory Policy Committee. Then, just last week, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee issued its verdict, which is damning. I am sure your Lordships will refer to it in more detail, but crucially, to my mind, the DPRRC highlights the false dichotomy epitomised by the Bill.
As the committee explains, the Government create such a dichotomy by saying that replacing all retained EU law purely through sector-specific primary legislation would take decades. That might be so, but the committee also notes that this is a false choice between replacing all such legislation with primary legislation and replacing all of it with regulations made by Ministers. There is another way. The choice is not all primary legislation or all ministerial edict. The advice of the Bar Council is a useful suggestion for the way we should go forward. It says of the legislation under review
“the question should be whether it remains fit for purpose: would alternative UK regulation achieve different and preferable goals, be better or more cost-effective in achieving its goals, or more certain in its application?”
In other words, this approach is to improve legislation where appropriate, which reflects the thinking on these Benches.
The Bar Council also outlines two overarching concerns regarding the Bill. First, it says, as do many others, that it is anti-democratic, noting:
“Important changes to our law should be made by Parliament after proper consultation, public debate, and scrutiny.”
This echoes many of the comments that we have heard. Secondly, the Bar Council says:
“The Bill and the attendant legal uncertainty that will follow its adoption as currently drafted will damage the UK’s reputation for regulatory stability, predictability, and competence, on which growth-promoting investment in critical sectors of our economy depends.”
I will be interested to hear what the lawyers in your Lordships’ House have to say about the need to establish brand-new case law right across the piece. For my part, I note that the Bill also grabs back power from the devolved authorities. I am sure my noble friend Lady Randerson will expand on that theme later today.
However you look at it, this is an unprecedented upheaval of the nation’s laws, yet when I listen to the Minister and his colleagues across Parliament, somehow it is depicted as a sort of tidying-up process. Indeed, Jacob Rees-Mogg described it as a “technical tidying up operation”. I do not know what tidying up looks like in the Rees-Mogg household, but this is not light dusting. To stretch a metaphor, it is the equivalent of tidying up the family nursery by completely dismantling Casa Mogg brick by brick and then putting it back together again. That is quite a task, and there is no guarantee of what comes out at the end.
In this case, what is rebuilt is up to Secretaries of State and them alone, and we all know how such grand designs end: in cost overruns, changes, delays and unexpected problems, but, unlike with the TV programme, there is no guarantee that this real and present story has any pleasing outcome—none whatever.
The tidy-up story would perhaps have a shred of credibility if Ministers were not at the same time pandering to the likes of Sir Bill Cash, who expressed the views of the ultras very well when he said that retained EU law is
“a massive ball and chain”,—[Official Report, Commons, 18/1/23; col. 419.]
implying that the UK must remove this regulation. Only last month, we also heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer talking up the need to remove, reform and take away regulations. This Bill makes all that possible without Parliament and elected MPs getting in the way, which is music to the ears of Sir Bill and his deregulating colleagues.
Of course, this process also effectively does away with much of the legislation delivered by thousands of statutory instruments passing through your Lordships’ House. As your Lordships no doubt recall, these incorporated retained EU law into British law to avoid what was then described as a chaotic bonfire of regulation as we left the EU, but it seems we delayed that bonfire a few years because a bonfire is what is now proposed in this Bill. This fire will impact a vast range of areas, including consumer rights, safety regulations of all kinds, protecting the environment and, of course, employment rights. No doubt many noble Lords will have detailed examples of these issues as we debate the Bill today.
As well as a power grab and a deregulator’s paradise, this Bill is also likely to deliver something that this Government have excelled at, which is chaos. The Bill, say Ministers, is designed to support business interests—indeed, we heard the Minister say that just now—but we hear from business that it will create chaos and poor governance, rather than stability. This will undermine confidence and will be likely to have a negative impact on business investment in the economy, something I am sure the Minister would prefer to be going in the opposite direction.
Speaking last month, Tony Danker, the director-general of the CBI, argued that scrapping these 4,000 or so EU-derived laws by the end of 2023, as facilitated by the Bill, was
“creating huge uncertainty for UK firms”.
As he put it:
“Do we really want to subject the public—and industry—to another round of mass confusion and disruption, just when we’re trying to exit recession?”
In his view, and ours, EU laws should be reviewed and, where needed, repealed as part of a wider strategy to deliver smart and better regulation. He noted that the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, is currently reviewing how the UK can better regulate emerging technologies—for example, some of those that the Minister reeled off. The sensible thing, said Danker, would be to wait for that review and act on it systematically. We see the same attitude and response across business. The Federation of Small Businesses, the car makers and most of UK manufacturing do not want the confusion that this Bill will deliver.
Your Lordships’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has worked fast, and should be credited for that, to ensure that its extensive report is available to inform this debate. The committee focuses on the sunset provisions and the lack of effective scrutiny of secondary legislation, but in a broader sense, its view is important and something I would like your Lordships to take on board. It said:
“Amending the Bill so that the shift in power between Parliament and the executive is reversed will require a great deal of thought and creativity, and commitment to the overarching aim of redressing the current imbalance of power.”
In other words, there is a lot to do to this Bill to make it acceptable. We agree that this going to be a difficult job, but we commit to doing it, because we feel it is vital to ensure that MPs maintain a grip on the legislative process rather than, as the Bill commands, hand decisions solely to Ministers.
This amendment highlights why this Bill is wrong. It is wrong because it weakens the scrutiny role of Parliament and gives unparalleled delegated powers to Ministers. It is wrong because it does not respect the constitutional role of the devolved Administrations. It is wrong because it sets an arbitrary deadline for the repeal of numerous laws that protect the UK’s environmental standards, safety standards, employment rights and consumer rights, and it is wrong because it creates uncertainty for businesses and individuals. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Bray, and my noble friend Lady O’Grady; I look forward to their maiden speeches. I take this opportunity particularly to welcome my noble friend, who has been an inspiration to women throughout the labour movement for many years—especially since she spent time in the 1980s with my husband organising members to join the T&G, some of it spent hanging around outside the back of hotels and other such salubrious places. I know that she will never forget her roots; her being here today just goes to show what a great engine of social mobility the trade union movement can be. I very much look forward to her speech.
Six years ago, when the Government introduced the then European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which ensured that EU-derived law was incorporated into UK law, I sat in the other place and listened carefully to the Secretary of State as he laid out the Government’s case. That day, he told us:
“The key point of this Bill is to avoid significant and serious gaps in our statute book. It ensures that consumers can be clear about their protection, employees can be clear about their rights, and businesses can be clear about the rules that regulate their trade.”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/9/17; col. 334.]
Somehow, incredibly, the Government have come full circle. This new Bill does the exact opposite. Faced with no external pressure or deadline, the Government are willingly creating their own cliff edge: generating uncertainty rather than reducing it; creating gaps in our legal framework rather than filling them; bringing chaos to the structure of rights, protections and standards on which so much business, trade, employment and environmental protection depends. That is why the opposition to the Bill is so broad and has come from such diverse quarters. It is no mean feat to unify the CBI and the TUC, industry and environmentalists, farmers and factory owners, twitchers and anglers, doctors and lawyers, national parks and the National Trust, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd, and many, many more. All are united in opposition to this Government’s plans. The CBI says that the Government is subjecting
“the public—and industry—to another round of mass confusion and disruption, just when we’re trying to exit recession.”
The TUC has called the Bill a “recipe for chaos”. The Institute of Directors says that it
“will impose a major new burden on business”.
The Federation of Small Businesses wants the sunset provisions removed. The National Farmers’ Union fears that it could unintentionally remove important regulatory safeguards. The Marine Conservation Society says that it
“poses a huge threat to marine life and environmental protections”.
The RSPB says that it will put at risk thousands of crucial laws that protect the natural environment and public health. The Government’s own Regulatory Policy Committee has called the Bill “not fit for purpose”.
It would be hard to find a less popular proposal but, despite the warnings of this unprecedented coalition, the Government plough ahead regardless, closing their ears to warning and criticism, with a Bill that is reckless, unpopular and—worst of all—unnecessary. The Bill is not about Brexit. We have left the European Union; we have been out of the EU for three years and the referendum was the best part of a decade ago. These questions are nothing to do with leave or remain; they are not even principally about our future relationship with the EU, although that too, like so much else, could be affected by this legislation. Principally at issue are how we govern our own country, how we regulate our economy, how we ensure rights for workers, how we protect the environment, and the proper role of this Parliament in making those decisions.
No one could reasonably object to revisiting specific laws derived from the EU in a sensible, orderly fashion. It is right and reasonable to ask whether there are areas in which we can do things differently or better—that is the essence of competent government—but what is needed is a smart approach to regulatory change. Ensuring that workers’ rights, consumer protections and environmental standards are maintained or indeed enhanced; carefully considering where we might do things differently and what should stay the same, on a case-by-case basis; listening to stakeholders from business and civil society; respecting the proper role of the devolved Administrations; and promoting a race to the top, not to the bottom—that would be the approach taken by a Labour Government. Instead, we have this uniquely reckless and wrong-headed approach to legislative change.
The Bill is unlike any other that I have seen in my time in either House. There are multiple reasons why in its current form it does not deserve to be on the statute book, but I shall focus on four. The first is the dangerous presumption in the Bill to remove all law which is not specifically retained; the second is the legislative cliff edge created by the so-called sunset clause; the third is the risk that it poses to rights and protections in countless fields; and the fourth is the extraordinary and unjustifiable powers given to Ministers of the Crown, and the disrespect shown to Parliament. I will take each in turn.
First, the upshot of the intention to remove all EU-derived law by default is one simple and absurd fact: no one knows exactly what laws will be revoked at the end of the year. The Government certainly do not know. They are still merrily adding new legislation to their online dashboard, checking behind government sofas for some other scroll of vellum that they may have overlooked. Nothing illustrates this farcical process more than the fact that, between the Bill passing Third Reading in the Commons and arriving before noble Lords today, another 1,000 pieces of legislation were added to the pile. Some may still be removed without being identified first, with indeterminate consequences. This is legislative Jenga. Never before in my time in either House have a Government brought forth a piece of legislation whose legal scope they are unable to define. The Government’s proposal is that this House should give Ministers the power to remove laws without them being able to say which laws will be removed. That is a nonsensical way to govern.
The second objection is to the sunset clause. All EU law that is not specifically retained will be revoked by the end of the year. That creates a completely arbitrary and unnecessary regulatory cliff edge at a time when business is crying out for stability. In fact, the Bill in effect contains three sunset clauses—2023, 2026 and for ever—since, under Clause 1(2), Ministers can choose to retain EU law until they choose to change it. If you were trying to design a Bill to undermine business confidence and inward investment, it would be hard to do a better job than this one. The Bill says to business, “The current rules that you operate under—the rules that you understand, rely on and are compliant with—may cease to exist at the end of the year. We can’t say which rules for certain yet, we can’t say what they will be replaced with, and the decision will be made by the Business Secretary on a whim.” If the Minister disagrees, could he tell the CBI, the FSB, the British Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Directors why it is them who are wrong?
The cliff edge will generate an extraordinary volume of work for civil servants, especially in those departments with a large body of retained EU law, such as Defra. According to the Government’s own dashboard, Defra will have to assess, revise or amend more than 1,700 pieces of law—more than four pieces of law every day between now and the end of the year. That is not achievable. As the consumer watchdog Which? has said, this time pressure creates the risk of mistakes or errors that could have serious consequences. It is also a massive opportunity cost. That is why the RSPB says that the Bill will
“derail urgent action to tackle the nature and climate crisis”
by consuming the resources of departments. Amid a recession and a cost of living crisis, can frantically combing through a back catalogue of law against a self-imposed deadline really be the right use of Civil Service time? I know that many members of the Minister’s own party share these reservations about the sunset clause. It is not a partisan point; it is about competent government—and that brings me to my third principal objection.
This Bill puts at risk many crucial rights and standards and expects trust in the Secretary of State to be a substitute for legal protection. Let us just consider some of the areas covered by retained EU law, such as environmental protection, food safety, civil aviation codes, noise pollution, biosecurity, vehicle standards and employment law. Many of these protections were hard fought and hard won. They cannot be crudely dismissed as abstract red tape. Protections for pregnant women from workforce discrimination, paid annual leave, parental leave, protections for part-time employees, limits on weekly working hours—many of these rights and protections disproportionately affect women and the impact assessment recognises in three separate paragraphs that the Bill contains a threat to equality.
We cannot accept a situation in which these vital protections could be changed at the whim of the Business Secretary. This is made worse by Clause 15, which confirms that rights and protections can go in only one direction: down. The requirement to not increase burdens ensures there can be no race to the top on standards and rights. We must be clear that diminishing our standards could have serious implications for trade. It will complicate the issues created by the Northern Ireland protocol, make it harder to remove barriers in the Irish Sea and could create new difficulties in our trade with the EU.
Finally, I want to address the lack of scrutiny and accountability. This is another Bill brought forward in the name of Brexit that, rather than restoring parliamentary sovereignty, continues a trend of growing executive power. The Bill sidelines Parliament, minimises scrutiny, weakens accountability and hands Ministers unreasonable and unjustifiable powers. To do so in the name of democracy is double-speak.
The Bill contains no requirement for public consultation or impact assessments of proposed changes. Any parliamentarian who wishes to scrutinise or object to future legislation replacing retained law will be taking a gamble because, unless that legislation is passed in time, the current law in its entirety will simply fall away. The sunset clause puts a gun to Parliament’s head. This cannot be the right way to make law in our country.
While we acknowledge that the Bill has passed in the other place and will not frustrate it, we continue to have grave concerns about this legislation. It threatens workers’ rights, environmental standards and consumer protections. It puts our country on course to a self-imposed cliff edge. It undermines scrutiny and accountability and will weaken Parliament. We will seek to amend the legislation to address these issues.
This Bill rests on a fundamentally simplistic and inaccurate view of what regulation is and who it is for. The Government are trying to please some fantasy version of business, still fighting Brexit ghosts in their heads. But business does not want an uncontrolled bonfire of regulation. The truth is that good regulation enables business and trade. It creates stability and predictability. It raises standards. It protects companies as well as consumers, employers as well as workers. The truth is this Bill is a political hangover—the last promise of a Government who collapsed as they made contact with reality. While people are still paying the price in higher mortgage bills, the Government can still spare the public and business the disruption this Bill will generate. I urge them to change course now.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the chance at last to speak again on one of my favourite subjects: getting rid of retained EU law from our statute book and supporting the Bill. It is also a pleasure to speak straight after the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman; I very much enjoyed our discussions across the Dispatch Box in 2021, but I am also glad that her undoubted eloquence, of which we have just heard another sample, and her untiring efforts have not yet succeeded in slowing the progress towards getting rid of the effect of EU law in this country.
I make that point because the immediate origins of the Bill lie in decisions I took as a Minister in 2021. But the real origins obviously go much further back: they are part of the logic of delivering a meaningful Brexit in which we have extricated ourselves properly and fully from the EU legal framework, and of the vision on which this party won an election in 2019.
We know the situation: we have on our statute book virtually all the laws we took on in the period of EU membership, thanks to the 2018 withdrawal Act. This came with all the related interpretative concepts: the supremacy of EU law, ECJ jurisprudence and so on. We even upgraded those laws to the status of primary legislation and prevented British courts from reinterpreting EU law doctrines. The effect has been to create a defined body of law, with its own concepts and rules, within the UK statute book. Obviously, such an arrangement can only be provisional; it can only ever be a “short-term bridging measure”, as I described it in a Statement in December 2021.
When it passes, the Bill will bring that situation to an end. It is the product of the work that began in 2021, when I announced that the Government would conduct a review that would start the process of removing the special status of retained EU and reviewing its content comprehensively. That review is complete, and the corpus of law is known. The Bill gives Ministers the necessary powers not only to deal with law on the statute book but to remove interpretive principles, such as those in Clause 4 of the 2018 Act. It is worth dwelling on that point: it is not even clear what law was retained by that clause, as has been noted. It simply enables lawyers to say, “Whatever the law was before, it now is afterwards”—and we cannot live with that sort of uncertainty on our statute book.
Getting this right is necessary to make Brexit work properly. It may be that some noble Lords in this Chamber opposed Brexit and do not want it to work—
I know it is hard to believe. I would understand their opposition to the Bill. But noble Lords who profess to accept Brexit surely must accept the logic of the Bill. It makes no sense for this whole body of rules with special status to remain in place on our statute book for a prolonged period. Practically, our lawyers, judges and civil servants cannot deal with two separate statute books, with completely different interpretive principles and case law. We must find a way of changing this and assimilating these laws into our legal system, adjusting and redrafting as necessary.
I recognise that some critics of the Bill will say, “We accept that, but the pace and the process are the problem”. Responding to that, I point to the nature of the powers that will be granted, the criticism of which has been absurdly exaggerated. They are targeted at a specific set of laws, and they exclude any powers to deal with the fundamentals of primary legislation; they are about secondary legislation changing secondary legislation. I cannot see the difficulty with this. It is relevant that this legislation was passed by a body outside this country, often against the opposition of this Government.
To finish, these inherited EU laws have little real legitimacy now that we have left the system that created them. We cannot leave them there for decades while we get around to passing endless primary legislation to replace laws that never came in in that way in the first place.
The noble Lord really must draw his comments to a close.
I will do. We lived for 47 years under a system in which we did not control our own laws. The Bill is not only necessary and essential; it is unavoidable and part of the logic of Brexit. I look forward to supporting it now and in Committee.
Your Lordships’ House has been sent the Bill by the elected House of Commons to, in effect, snuff out the elected House of Commons from its role in primary legislation and to subordinate Parliament to Ministers in respect of nearly 4,000 items of legislation, in which the elected House will have no role. I was not sent to this House in 2001 to oversee the dismantling of the accountability of the Government to Parliament in order to make Parliament accountable to Government.
The Government’s delegated powers memorandum indicates in paragraph B that a key role of the Bill is
“restoring the primacy of Acts of Parliament in UK statute.”
That is not achieved by the Bill. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 made repeated references to Parliament making the changes to law after the exit from the EU. However, according to the Bill, Ministers alone will decide what happens to retained EU law, with no role for Parliament.
Members will have seen the delegated powers report on the Bill. Our approach is meticulous and concerned not with policy but with the use of delegated powers. These are constructed in a way to remove power from Parliament. In fact, the Bill is the concluding evidence that the Government have not intended, are not intending and do not intend to pay the slightest attention to the reports debated as recently as 12 January, Democracy Denied? and Government by Diktat. There is one group that ignores the reports at its peril and ours: the group drafting the legislation. Its members are clever and know what they are doing: they are following orders from Ministers in a way that their predecessors from a couple of decades ago would not recognise. Those who drafted Bills were a constraint on Ministers stepping over the line—not any more. Parliamentary counsel are wholly owned by the Government; they work for, and are accountable to, the Government and not Parliament. They are currently located in the heart of government departments, rather than in their own buildings. In July last year at a joint meeting of the Delegated Powers Committee and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, when I asked the First Parliamentary Counsel about the current process, Dame Elizabeth Gardiner said:
“I think things have changed a lot.”
Yes, they have; and the Bill is proof that government counsel are not fit for purpose as far as the primacy of Parliament and the House of Commons is concerned. I do not buy the “only following orders” defence given by Dame Elizabeth when she said that
“we have a key role in what the Bill looks like, but we do not decide on its contents”;
“a political and policy decision.”
If they had any professional self-respect, there would have been a resignation of counsel on a par with that of Sir Jonathan Jones, the former head of the Government Legal Service, in 2020. Anyone associated with drafting the Bill should not be welcome in a regime that believes that the Government are accountable to Parliament.
My Lords, the sheer number of speakers is an indication of just how concerned Members of this House are about this legislation. At the time of the Brexit vote, the Government promised that reforming the laws previously vested in Europe would rest solely with Parliament, giving both Houses the opportunity to review legislation suitable for the country. However, what we have before us is the exact opposite: the power to restate, revoke, replace or update retained EU legislation will rest entirely in the hands of Ministers. That is neither what the public voted for in 2016, nor what was contained in the Brexit Bill of 2018. The DPRRC is damming in its 25th report; other speakers will doubtless refer to it.
There is widespread concern that the Bill, in its current form, does not have the support of environmentalists across the country. Given the earlier short debate on the environmental improvement plan, which promises much, it is disappointing that the Bill makes little attempt to support the EIP.
The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 protect more than 50 native UK species, many residing in special protection areas and special areas of conservation. These habitats will need protection if the UK is to meet its obligations under the GBF’s 30 by 30. Revoking this piece of legislation will have a catastrophic effect on endangered species.
In four minutes, it is impossible to deal with how concerned those involved in animal welfare, biodiversity, farming and food production are about the loss of legislation which has helped to protect our health and countryside. Some 44 existing laws concerning animal welfare could all be deleted by this Bill in a single stroke.
The NFU, while welcoming a review of retained EU laws, is very concerned at the speed with which it is proposed this will be carried out and that any EU-originated law that exists beyond 2023 will be referred to as “assimilated law”. It has disquiet that legislation will be discarded without a proper assessment, including vital stakeholder consultation.
Will the Government give firm assurances that this process can be undertaken with due care and attention, while properly involving stakeholders, in the short timeframe proposed? Will the Government also ensure that sufficient parliamentary oversight will be provided, given the significant impact on farming businesses, so essential to food production?
The Government’s dashboard gives a rough indication of the number of pieces of legislation to be dealt with. This started at 2,500 and has risen to over 3,500. Of these, Defra has the largest group of all. Some of the briefs I have received set this figure at 1,700. If we assume that the process of sifting through begins the moment the Bill finishes its passage in approximately mid-March, taking every sitting day from Monday to Thursday until 23 December—approximately 107 sitting days, excluding Fridays—and if Defra has 1,700 pieces of legislation to review in under 300 days and MPs and Peers have 107 sitting days to oversee the legislation and make any corrections necessary, it is quite clear that this quart is not going to fit into the pint pot and there will be very considerable spillage.
My Lords, I think I am the only Member of the House who received this letter by special messenger. Having received it, I think I had better read it to your Lordships. It is from the Executive and it is called “Restoring Parliamentary control”. This is how it reads, ignoring the introductions:
“To achieve the object of restoring control back to Parliament, please would you surrender to the Executive powers to repeal or otherwise nullify or dispose of as we think fit some 4,000 or so statutory instruments of great public importance, such as employment laws, environment laws, food safety laws, et cetera (which covers existing laws of which we are still unaware)? These laws were imposed on us by the European Union, but we do have to admit that was with your consent in 1972 in primary legislation. In any event, that is a long time ago and we can reduce the troublesome processes of consent to a virtual formality which would save you all much time and work.
We shall exercise these new revocation powers by the end of the year, but we do not yet know what we shall replace them with. But if we do not manage to replace them or any of them, notwithstanding the urgency, we shall do so by June 2026 or whenever.
Now we must clarify the replacement process. Please would you also surrender to the Executive powers to decide which of three distinct processes may be used for the replacement process for each individual statutory instrument? These are: first, power to decide not to replace any of the relevant laws that we have revoked; secondly, on whatever basis that we think appropriate to replace such laws to achieve their or similar objectives; and, thirdly, to make fresh new laws to cover the topics addressed in the 4,000 or so statutory instruments which have been revoked and make alternative provisions, whether or not the provision achieves the same or similar objectives, as we think appropriate.
Finally, we ask you to surrender power to us to enable the use of secondary legislation to change any existing statute which may have any bearing on the exercise of any of the powers you have surrendered to us in relation to the 4,000 statutory instruments. PS Existing statute includes this very Act itself.
By agreeing to all these separate surrenders, Parliament will have taken back control. We trust you agree.”
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the very witty speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. Whenever I negotiated laws in Brussels, my ministerial brief usually began, “We don’t want this measure, Minister, but we cannot stop it. The best we can hope is to negotiate one or two amendments from the long list we have proposed to you”. I therefore fully support the need to revise, retain or repeal EU law and I urge Ministers to rake out these old negotiating briefs, which will reduce the burden of work on departments when deciding what revisions to propose.
That said, I largely share the concerns expressed by noble Lords about the constraints on parliamentary scrutiny and the limited time to complete this process. I understand their fears that this could result in poor revision, and even wholesale repeal of necessary legislation. However, I also understand the fears that led the Government to adopt this tight timetable, and I think the latter fears negate and should dispel the former. Let me explain why. As parliamentarians, especially in this Chamber, whose only power is to make the other House consider our amendments and arguments, we are bound to want the maximum time and strongest procedures to fulfil that function. It is true that almost all these 4,000 laws went through Parliament under the biggest Henry VIII clause of all time—the European Communities Act 1972—with little debate and without a vote, and they would have become law even if every Member of this and the other House had voted against them.
Many noble Lords now calling for more scrutiny never complained about that lack of scrutiny in the past. I rejoice in their damascene conversion to the supremacy of Parliament—there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repenteth than 99 just men who need no repentance—but when they suggest that taking back control is meaningless without maximal parliamentary scrutiny, they are exaggerating the purpose of Brexit with the zeal of converts. Brexit was, above all, about the British people getting back control. As my referendum leaflet put it:
“In a democracy, if the Government does not deliver ... the people can throw them out.”
The Government will be accountable to the British people at the next election, not least for how they handle these 4,000 laws, and that is the accountability that lies behind the timetable the Government have set for getting this done. I was surprised by the timetable and when I asked Ministers to take it at a more leisurely pace, they explained that it is essential to complete this process before the next election, not because we promised to get Brexit done but, above all, because this is the only way we can prove to the electorate that the scare stories about the process that we heard today are false. Completing the process will show that the Bill was not about removing workers’ rights or demolishing environmental protection or safety standards; nor will it result in huge gaps in our law book. The fact that the Government intend to complete this process in time to face up to their accountability to the electorate makes most of the scare stories ring hollow.
If we had world enough and time, we would undertake this process in a more leisurely fashion, but we do not, so I entirely support my noble friend’s wish to get it done as speedily as possible by processes that are as rigorous as those by which the legislation was introduced, and thereby demonstrate that all the scare stories are untrue.
My Lords, with the agreement of the usual channels, I have swapped places in the batting order with my noble friend Lady Andrews. I look forward with great pleasure to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Bray, and, in particular, my noble friend Lady O’Grady. She has done a lot for this country; the calm, decent way in which she has expressed common-sense views has raised the stature of the trade union movement in British society. That is one reason why, in the present wave of industrial unrest, the Government cannot pin the blame on the trade unions as they have so often successfully done in the past.
This must rank as one of the silliest pieces of legislation ever to come before Parliament. I was surprised to see the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, in his place to defend the Bill, because the strategy it sets out is completely different from what he advocated when he presented the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to us some time ago. I do not know quite how he justifies this change of position. This legislation is not necessary to get Brexit done. That legislation was. He put forward the withdrawal Bill and we retained in British law the legislative output of nearly 50 years of EU membership, the vast majority of which—with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—the British Government certainly agreed to. In some cases, such as that relating to the single market, they pioneered and promoted it.
The approach now being adopted is quite different. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said that we would incorporate EU law and take a rational, sectoral approach to trying to change it in the light of what we thought the main challenges of Brexit would be. That rational approach has been abandoned. I would have hoped that this sectoral approach would continue; I am glad that the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, is conducting these studies—that is fine—but to put an atomic bomb, totally irrationally, under what is in our statute is ridiculous.
When we debated Brexit, the Government told us that we would have higher standards in a lot of areas than we had enjoyed in the EU. Michael Gove was adamant on this in terms of environment and farming, and the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, was always telling us how we would have higher standards in employment. However, the fact is that this legislation does not permit higher standards; it allows only a lowering of standards. That is why it is so objectionable.
I am out of time but could go on about this for ever. It is a disgraceful piece of legislation and I hope that this House will tear it apart.
My Lords, “Take back control” was a tempting offer. EU processes are often slow and frustrating; Brexiteers call them undemocratic but, if anything, they suffer from democracy overload—layers of decision-making subject to repeated democratic checks and balances. On the plus side, so many cooks stirring the broth rarely get the recipe wrong. However, with this Bill, all pretence has been dropped. The DPRRC calls it a “hyper-skeletal” Bill giving “extraordinary powers” to Ministers and, importantly, says:
“Ministers, not Parliament, will be responsible for determining what stays, what goes and what, if anything, is to replace what goes.”
I wish to touch on two issues, the first of which is devolution. The Bill does not just take powers from Parliament; it also takes powers from the devolved Administrations. It un-devolves powers. Clause 2 allows UK Ministers to defer the guillotine until 2026, but Ministers in the DAs, which have previously held powers over many of these areas, are not able to defer the guillotine. I realise it will not worry the Government, but it is almost certain that the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament will not grant legislative consent.
On transport, this massive clearance sale of EU laws creates uncertainty. We do not know which will go and which will stay. The dashboard currently has 424 transport laws. When will the full list be published? Businesses must know where they stand: lack of democracy is compounded by a lack of transparency. How can we be debating a Bill which gives Ministers powers to change or repeal thousands of pieces of legislation, but we do not know how many and we do not know which ones. Clearly, the Department for Transport does not have the capacity to deal with this avalanche. This is the department that got 20 years behind in updating maritime legislation in line with our international treaty commitments. Rail cancellations and delays are at an all-time high, but the department does not have the time to introduce the Williams-Shapps reforms. It cannot find the time for long overdue legislation to regulate e-scooters. Our vehicle manufacturing industry risks terminal decline, but the Government cannot find time to update our vehicle standards legislation to bring it into line with the suite of EU vehicle safety regulations introduced last year. Those regulations save lives, and they help our manufacturers who need our standards to mirror those in the EU, which is their main export market. Over 4,000 pages of this legislation relate to aircraft safety, and I have yet to find anyone in the aviation sector who wants a comma of it changed. But the Government did find time last year to consult on their proposal to reduce our right to claim compensation for cancelled internal flights—an example, I think, of one of our Brexit freedoms.
Three years ago, the Government embarked on creating 32 common frameworks to regulate the way this legislation is dealt with alongside devolved Administrations. It was supposed to take a year; it has taken more three years. Finally, transposing EU law into UK law over a period of years is a reasonable aim; dealing with 4,000 pieces of legislation in 10 months by ministerial diktat is not. Either this Bill is a result of massive incompetence, or this is what totalitarianism looks like.
My Lords, like previous speakers, I welcome the maiden speeches we are going to hear and say that this is a very friendly gathering, and they will find they enjoy taking part in it.
I regret to say they have chosen to speak on what, in my view, is a bad Bill. There is no way you can get away from it. It is a bad Bill because it will create uncertainty in business and in our communities, and your Lordships have heard about the number of organisations which have made that clear. It is a bad Bill because it could do real harm in all sorts of areas by meddling very fast with things that matter to the community. Above all, it is a shocking Bill because it will undermine Parliament to a degree which, I think, is unprecedented by giving sweeping powers to the Executive. It will make important changes as a precedent to the way we do legislation. It is very important that Parliament asserts itself. If we are going to restore power and sovereignty to Parliament, this Bill is not restoring sovereignty to Parliament but taking it away.
What is the strategic objective that this Bill is meant to serve? I cannot see one. The only one is the wish to purge our statute book of EU-derived law and get rid of a ball and chain. That is an emotion. It is a strong emotion, but there is a policy void, and most good legislation comes in a context that makes sense. The body of EU-derived law that we have in this country, which is going to be abolished, has been built up and assimilated with the British legal system over 40 years or longer, in close consultation with businesses and communities affected, environmentally and otherwise. To throw it all out overnight will create a huge void in our legal system. There is not enough time for government to devise new measures to fill that void, let alone consult with business and others about them. This is a task for 10 years, not 10 months. It will take a huge amount of Civil Service time, which I would have thought, if I was head of the service still, was needed for other things that are also high priorities in our community.
Does all the law need to be replaced? Does it all need to be abolished in this time, aside from the law that is exempted? Let us be honest: some of the things the EU made us do over the years has been good. I am not going to embarrass my former Ministers, but I have had Ministers who have been delighted that the EU has pressed the British Government to do things they could not get their colleagues to do. That happened more than once. There are many examples where we have benefited from EU law, not least in facilitating trade. I find it very hard to understand. The EU is why we want to diverge from our largest trading partner. Why are we so intent on creating trade barriers? Why do we want our legal standards to diverge and make trade more difficult? Why are the Government so determined to make life difficult for British business, which is what this Bill is actually about?
If the EU-derived law is doing harm, let us identify that, have legislation and talk about it. Here, as so often, the hard work has not been done. Brexit is past; what we need to do now is find ways of exploiting the opportunities. Positive, hard work needs to be done: we need to go through the legal system to work out strategies for those industries that could benefit and bring legislation forward to Parliament, restore parliamentary sovereignty and work out ways to take advantage of Brexit—not just express emotion about Europe. I have learned through my career that there is such a thing as good government and there is such a thing as bad government. This Bill, I am sorry to say, is bad government.
My Lords, I must begin by welcoming the maiden speakers to this debate this afternoon. Thinking about the subject of our discussion, I cannot recall from my experience a more spurious case for legislation than the one advanced in support of this Bill. The reason I say that is that the legislation subject to the provisions of the Bill was put on the statute book by the British Parliament in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. That is how we do these things in this country. It is a British law, like any other, subject to all the usual, time-honoured mechanisms, procedures, safeguards and conventions. The Bill adds nothing to what can be done already. It merely threatens further weakening of the checks and balances of our constitutional arrangements, as has been pointed out from all around the House, including by the Minister.
I probably ought to sit down having said that. But there is a lot of contextual noise that has a bearing on our debate. As the noble Lord who spoke before me said, Brexit is done. Brexit is now the one of the “vanished pomps of yesterday”—
“one with Nineveh and Tyre!”
What matters is the future. A Government’s convenience matters—particularly to the Government—but it is not a reason in itself to change our nation’s constitutional equilibrium and balance. What I might describe as “shorthand” legislation on contentious issues undermines the workings of our democratic process, which provides political legitimacy to our Governments and, in particular, to the acceptance of legislation with which one disagrees.
As has been said already in this debate, the relationship between the Executive and Parliament has already moved too far away from Parliament and should not be allowed to go further. Speakers have commented that many businesses of all kinds are, in the face of very considerable adversity, trading into the single market, albeit considerably less than hitherto. Gratuitous divergence from single market standards threatens industry and commerce, particularly those involved in supply chains.
The country is in a mess of all kinds. Resolving that should be our national priority, not promoting this particular piece of self-indulgent and frivolous distraction, trying to build a New Jerusalem in a few months. In short, it is simple: as has been said, reasoned change, good; what is proposed, bad. In a form of words I never thought I would use in this House, the case for this legislation is collapsing under its own internal contradictions; it should not be resuscitated and should be allowed to die where it falls.
My Lords, I rise to speak with mixed emotions on this piece of legislation. On the one hand, I voted to leave, and I have had no reason in my mind to change that view. I think the world order based on the individual nation state, which emerged after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, has still some time to run. It may come to an end, but the nation state remains the basic building block, and that is why I voted to leave. As a result of that, my noble friend will be pleased to hear that I enthusiastically support the purposes behind this Bill—the “untangling” I think was the phrase he used in his opening remarks. But I am also a democrat, and I believe very strongly in maintaining an appropriate balance of power between the Government and Parliament.
Members of your Lordships’ House will be aware that, until Tuesday a week ago, I was for three and a half years chair of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and some of our work has been very kindly referred to already this afternoon. During that three-and-a-half-year period, I am afraid I saw the Government begin to accrete powers at the expense of Parliament in various ways, but specifically by the use of what I call framework or skeleton Bills, in which only the broadest sense of the direction of policy travel is given, and all the detail is given in secondary legislation. Of course, we know that secondary legislation has a much lower level of scrutiny and, in particular, that it cannot be amended. Over the past year, the SLSC has produced a number of reports detailing this. Government by Diktat has been referred to already. My last task as chairman was to sign off the report we made on this Bill, which we titled Losing Control?: The Implications for Parliament of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. From that, it will be seen that I am not entirely happy with the position we now find ourselves in.
There are three things my noble friend could usefully think about to try to bridge the gap with those who would wish to support the principle and yet have some difficulty with the practice. The first would be the establishment of a proper triaging process to distinguish what is serious from what is trivial. Of the 600 or 700 regulations the SLSC looks at every year, probably more than two-thirds are quite uncontroversial, and I dare say the same will be true when we come to consider the 4,000 or so EU regulations that will come before us. There is no need, in my view, to get the vapours about that. But we definitely need a better procedure to examine that small number of regulations that carry significant policy implications. The procedure should, in my view, at the very least carry the opportunity for Parliament to ask the Government to think again.
I have two further quick suggestions in my last 45 seconds. First, I hope the Government will undertake to produce impact assessments for all the regulations they intend to change. It is important, because good impact assessments are not just about the money; they are how we learn about the thinking that went on, how the Government reached the decision they did and why certain policy options were adopted and others were not. Finally, we need a statutory undertaking to undertake post-implementation reviews—PIRs—on all regulations. PIRs show what happens when hope meets reality, and it is an important part of good governance that Governments should learn from past mistakes. It will be exceptionally important that we do that as we enter this new phase in our way of governing ourselves. I hope my noble friend can consider those as a way of meeting some of the concerns around the House without losing his particular objective.
My Lords, I thank your Lordships for the warmth of your welcome. In particular, my thanks are due to my noble friends Lady Prosser and Lord Monks, who guided me through my introduction, which was no easy task. I am all too aware that I have a lot to learn. I also thank the House of Lords staff for their support. As a former TUC leader, it is good to know that so many brilliant staff here are proud trade unionists too.
Many of the rights and liberties we cherish as a country began with working people standing together. In 1968, Rose Boland and the Ford sewing machinists went on strike for equal pay, which was a catalyst for the introduction of the Equal Pay Act. Many years later, their story was made into a popular British film, “Made in Dagenham”, which opened to rave reviews right across the media. But back in 1968, some of those same newspapers were far from sympathetic to the women’s action—a reminder that those who demonise workers on strike for fair pay today may well find themselves on the wrong side of history. Of course, the UK’s Equal Pay Act proved limited. It took EU directives to introduce the much more ambitious principle of equal pay for work of equal value, so I am grateful for the chance to contribute to this important debate about a Bill which the RPC has deemed, in terms of its impact assessment, “not fit for purpose”.
So many of the rights we rely on as workers were derived from the EU—for example, maternity rights. It is true, as we have heard, that the UK now provides more weeks of paid maternity leave than the minimum the EU set back then, although, shamefully, UK maternity provision is still a lot less generous than in many other European countries. In any case, this is not the whole story. EU law introduced other vital protections, including paid time off for antenatal appointments; new health and safety rights; and, where reasonable for new mums, the right to return to the same job. For pregnant women and new mothers, these rights really matter too and should not be casually overlooked. There are many other examples where EU-derived law lifted standards here, such as protection for workers whose jobs are outsourced or whose company becomes insolvent; equal pay and pensions for part-time workers; and, of course, limits on dangerously long working hours.
Good law is rarely made within arbitrary deadlines, without proper parliamentary scrutiny, and without listening to organisations that have real-world experience, expertise and—if I dare say it—a bit of shop-floor wisdom. Instead, as parliamentary committees have warned, the Bill gives Ministers unprecedented powers to disappear vital laws from the statute book, or to replace them with something worse. Ministers promise that there is no intention to rip up or water down rights, but the Bill prohibits the inclusion of so-called burdens ordained to be an obstacle to “profitability”. If that is the test, it is no wonder that workers are worried.
There could be implications for Britain’s trade, and therefore jobs, too. No doubt this House will keep a close eye on the “level playing field” labour clauses enshrined in the agreement with the EU that the UK Government signed up to. Back in 2019, Ministers also promised a new employment Bill which many hoped would tackle the British disease of zero-hours contracts, bogus self-employment and fire and rehire, but we are still waiting. It seems that there is a difference between a promise and a guarantee.
From Carillion and Amazon to Sports Direct and P&O Ferries, many working people feel that the scales of workplace justice are rigged against them. Profits, boardroom pay and shareholder payouts are up, but real wages are down. Surely the priority should be stronger collective rights for workers—ensuring that the decent employer is not undercut by the bad—and growing a greener economy built on fair trade, fair taxes and fair shares of the wealth that workers create.
I am a girl from Oxford—town, but not gown. Early in my working life, I was employed serving tables in Oxford colleges, but thankfully not in the Bullingdon Club. Ever since, I have always believed that whatever our race, religion or background, everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work. I know that these are values which many across this House share, and I hope they will guide us when considering this bad Bill’s threat to rights which workers across generations and borders campaigned so hard to win.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to congratulate my noble friend on her marvellous maiden speech. It could not have been better. It was much anticipated, and she lived up to every expectation. It was inspirational, because that is the business she has been in all her life. Her speech told us as much about her character as her career and convictions and the way she lives her values. She spoke with huge authority about the long fight for fairness in the workplace and for equal rights, but she did not, because she is so modest, tell us about her own role over the years in achieving so much. She brings all that together with moderation and real-world knowledge, which is a winning combination in this House. Above all, as the first woman leader of the TUC, she knows what it takes to change things for the better, which is probably why her choice of discs on “Desert Island Discs” included Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”. I think we had a taste of that in her maiden speech, and I am sure that is what we can look forward to in her role in this House. We are proud not just on these Benches; she will be an asset to the whole House.
I turn after that moment of optimism to the grim realities of the Bill in front of us. In the words of one Minister in this House, the scale of the task it represents against a disingenuous and unachievable timeline is “herculean”. The deliberate risks that the Government are prepared to take in the face of huge public anxiety, with the rush to the cliff edge over which many vital laws will be thrown because they will be misjudged and misplaced—just lost in chaotic processes—are unconscionable.
The Bill tells us nothing. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has had to invent a special term for it: “hyper-skeletal”. It seems to be just a bundle of twitching nerve ends. As for being surprised that there are so few impacts, how can they be assessed? Nobody knows or can predict at this moment which laws will survive or not, or why, whether and how they will be replaced or amended. We are looking at a dystopian future when we will know how bad the damage is only when it is done and it is too late to put it right. The president of the Law Society describes this dislodging of the law as “devastating”.
Some things are certain: first, that the task of choosing the fate of SIs has been delegated to civil servants across Whitehall, who will in effect have the power to decide on behalf of Wales and Scotland as well. Secondly, of course, as many noble Lords have referred to, the Bill gives Ministers undreamed-of powers to abolish and make laws without accounting for how they will work, powers that are justified, frivolously, as being driven by urgency—the only urgency being ministerial ambition and, clearly, the electoral timetable. In its report, the DPRRC simply calls for the removal from the Bill of those clauses which give excessive powers to Ministers. I hope the House will support that; does the Minister intend to follow the recommendations of the DPRRC?
Further, the Bill attacks the devolution settlement in principle and practice. Ministers in Wales and Scotland have not been consulted and they cannot extend the sunset clause. The Bill fundamentally invites and accelerates divergence and, with it, the further fragmentation of the UK. It includes the possibility of a UK Minister making regulations that impact on policy areas that have been devolved, with no requirement to consult or consent. It is hardly surprising that Wales and Scotland may well withhold consent.
Common frameworks have already been touched on—I speak personally this afternoon and not as chair of that committee. They are the positive and practical expression of how the union is building co-operation as the four countries work together across the internal market, enabling each country to make different choices without disruption. They affect everyday life, for everything from environmental safety to public health. They are underpinned by a cat’s cradle of hundreds if not thousands of complicated, interrelated SIs. Ministers tell us that if anything should go wrong with the judgment afforded these SIs, the disputes process in the frameworks will resolve any future problems. That is nonsense. If common frameworks are destabilised, there will be greater threats to the internal market and the devolution settlement. Will the Minister answer my other question tonight? Does he intend to press ahead with the Bill without the consent of Wales and Scotland, and will he, for safety’s sake, exempt common frameworks from the Bill entirely?
The explanatory memorandum says that the Bill is intended to return lawmaking powers to Parliament—a travesty of language and logic. The Bill empowers Ministers to make laws while leaving Parliament powerless. It is indefensible and must be changed in this House.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, on her maiden speech. Her experience and knowledge of the world of industrial relations will be of genuine and timely value to this House in current circumstances.
When we left the EU, it was pretty obvious what we should do about European law. We should take a snapshot of it, which we now call retained European law, and amend it, as need and as changing circumstances dictated, much as we would other forms of existing law. We should bear in mind that this law had not been handed down like tablets of stone; it had been the subject of extensive processes of amendment and examination in the European Parliament in which British MEPs played a significant part—including, I trust, the Minister when he was in that role. Instead, however, we have a triumph of dogma over common sense, in which all this European law is supposed to be junked by Christmas, except perhaps for those laws that will appear on a list, which either exists and is not disclosed by Ministers or is a blank sheet of paper—which, in a way, is a little more worrying. However, their unwillingness to tell us what will be on the 2026 list illustrates the contempt with which Parliament is viewed in this whole process. This is not taking back control but is a massive surrender of parliamentary sovereignty and is augmented by numerous other provisions in the Bill allowing for statutory instruments to change the content of retained EU law.
What are the processes by which Parliament will make changes to retained European law? It will be via negative instruments, which are not even guaranteed a debate in the Commons, and affirmative instruments, which are subject to a vote in both Houses but cannot be amended in any way. In this House, there are those of our own Members who question whether we should reject a clearly and plainly defective statutory instrument because of the primacy that is supposed to attach to the elected House. If we accept that view, the process is null and void. If there are no circumstances in which the instrument can be rejected for lack of appropriate amendment, the power is not a real one. EU law covers areas where detailed discussion and assessment will be required—environmental standards, consumer protection and water quality—and the only real negotiations may be between the Government and the very interests we are trying to regulate, some of which have close links to this Government anyway.
I have described the process as a triumph of dogma over common sense. That is also illustrated by the name change, “assimilated”—of course, we have to describe it as that because there are those who cannot bear to admit that these laws were made in Europe. They were—it is a fact; it is history; get over it and accept that they are currently part of our system. The other weakness of the Government’s position is that they have set themselves an examination that they are bound to fail. The department simply does not have the qualified personnel to rewrite between 3,000 and 4,000 pieces of legislation, primary and secondary—it is not there. Week by week in the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, I have observed what effort is required to make secondary legislation compliant with the parent legislation and to make it good law capable of being used by those among whom it will be enforced. We saw during the Covid period that if the time pressure becomes severe, serious mistakes are made. We saw serious mistakes being made, with people being arrested who should not have been. That kind of consequence will follow if we rush this process through.
It is difficult to find anything favourable to say about the abandonment of a fairly sensible process of gradual modification of law where required for one which junks laws and has no adequate process for replacing them. I am afraid that the Executive have put their tanks on Parliament’s lawn, and they should be taken away.
My Lords, I too offer a warm welcome to our two maiden speakers in this debate this afternoon.
As the debate is undoubtedly demonstrating, there are many features in this deeply controversial Bill which will merit a lot of discussion in this House, not least the pressures of the sunset clauses and the interests of devolved Administrations. In the limited time available I want as a member of the Delegated Powers Committee to concentrate on the issues raised by its report on the Bill.
One of the more compelling political arguments deployed in favour of Brexit was that the European Union lacked democratic accountability. It is ironic therefore that the Bill gives, in the words of the Delegated Powers Committee report, “a blank cheque” to Ministers to revoke, replace or update retained EU law by statutory instrument—a form of legislation which is subject only to limited scrutiny by Parliament. The Delegated Powers Committee report sets out at some length why this blank cheque is unacceptable and why some of the key clauses in the Bill confer inappropriate powers on Ministers.
The House will no doubt explore these issues at length in Committee, but I want to make a wider point. Many of the concerns expressed in the Delegated Powers Committee report would not arise if secondary legislation was subject to a process of more effective scrutiny by Parliament, both by the Lords and the Commons. If ever there was a reason for updated procedures to empower Parliament—in particular including the Commons—to sift, scrutinise, debate and, where appropriate, amend secondary legislation, it is surely this Bill.
Effective scrutiny makes better law. This issue affects every citizen—all of us. We need a new approach and we need a new Statutory Instruments Act. We can perhaps discern something of a drumbeat in favour of reform in the recent reports from the two scrutiny committees and the debate we had on them last month in this Chamber. The Hansard Society will set out its ideas later this week.
Whatever else it does, the Bill highlights dramatically the need for effective scrutiny of secondary legislation. This issue goes to the very heart of the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive. It is ultimately about public trust in our democratic system, and we ignore it at our peril.
My Lords, for a number of years I was a member in the other House of the European Scrutiny Committee, under the formidable chairmanship of Sir William Cash—I expect that he will be a noble Lord eventually. I say “formidable” because he had a fervent eye for transparency and detail and a determination for scrutiny to be carried out with an attitude almost of zealotry. Sadly, the scrutiny that we had there did not mean that we could amend or stop the huge weekly package of new EU directives and regulations that came through. Occasionally, we would get a debate, if we or another Select Committee could manage it, but the result was always, as we know, that once the EU had agreed to something, it was difficult to change it. Therefore, I welcome a Bill that abolishes the supremacy of EU law.
I find it a little depressing that many in your Lordships’ House seem to have more faith in the European Union to deliver than in our own country’s ability to decide its own laws. There seems to be this misty-eyed view that the only institution that could really be trusted could never be our Government—of whatever political party—but could only be the European Union. Yet we know that so many of the rights that we got came originally from the campaigning of trade unions, which got Labour and Conservative Governments to bring into law some of our rights. It was not just about the EU.
rule of a foreign institution. Already we have seen dozens of changes to regulations brought in which have had no discussion or democratic consent in Northern Ireland. Even if the Assembly was sitting, it would make no difference. The EU makes changes which GB does not have to follow, but in Northern Ireland they do.
Noble Lords will be fed up with me saying this, but I reiterate that we in Northern Ireland had the same ballot paper on the referendum. Yes, there was a majority to remain, just as there was in Scotland, but at least Scotland is covered by this Bill under the arrangements for devolved Administrations, while Northern Ireland cannot benefit from any of it. The protocol carefully plotted by the EU, encouraged by the Irish Government and, sadly, agreed to by our Government, was not about trade; it is about trying to ensure that the divergence between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is reduced. By retaining Northern Ireland in the same single market as the Republic, under the same customs code and VAT regime, and being governed by the same laws, Northern Ireland is slowly being pushed away from Great Britain, our biggest market, and forced into an economic Ireland, which is, of course, a foreign country. This may have been a grave mistake by our negotiators, but it was certainly not a mistake by the Irish Government. It was an assault on Northern Ireland’s constitutional position and, sadly, our Government naively went along with it.
Obviously, in Committee there will be changes to this Bill, and it might get greater scrutiny. However, I say to those here who are concerned about the scrutiny of this Bill—and plead to noble Lords to remember—that, while we are talking about scrutiny of something that Ministers at least can get involved in, in Northern Ireland we are putting through more and more regulations from the European Union that nobody in this House, nobody in Northern Ireland and nobody in the Assembly, if it was sitting, has anything to do with. That is a disgrace for anyone who calls themselves pro-union.
My Lords, this Bill has come in for sustained criticism, not least from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which I have the privilege and honour of chairing. I would like to say a few words about the report that we published last week but also say that I hope that the Government are very much in listening mode. I very much welcome the fact that the Attorney-General has been at the Bar of the House for a very long time during this debate.
This Bill represents a significant departure from the line that the Government have taken since 2018. Once we had left the EU, they said that it would be for Parliament, rather than just Ministers, to decide which elements of EU law would be kept, amended or repealed. The Government have now backtracked on that, which I very much regret.
Secondly, we felt that the Bill was so lacking in detail that it was not possible to describe it as skeleton or skeletonian; it is basically just a framework for allowing Ministers to decide what happens to whole swathes of EU-retained law. The devil will be in the detail and, unfortunately, the detail does not appear in the Bill. It will be in unamendable statutory instruments later this year and possibly even up to 2026. From the Government’s point of view, all the scare stories that will arise during that period as to what changes may or may not take place will cause them a great deal of trouble.
Thirdly, Parliament is very much bypassed. The main constitutional argument for Brexit, for that utopia that was going to be reached, was that Parliament would take back control of making our laws from the EU. However, many of the changes to the EU-retained law foreshadowed in this Bill will not be for Parliament in primary legislation but for Ministers—and Ministers come and go, as we have seen. Civil servants and parliamentary counsel stay there for a very long time, able to apply the slant that they wish. There must be a way in which scrutiny takes a much stronger role in these matters.
Fourthly, talking of scrutiny, the delegated powers in this Bill are only subject to the negative procedures unless they amend an Act of Parliament, in which case affirmative procedure will apply. I am glad that the Government have been applying the affirmative procedure where statutory instruments amend Acts of Parliament, and I am glad that there is a sifting procedure enabling negative legislation to be upped to the affirmative procedure. However, there are likely to be many important and controversial changes in the pipeline that will not amend Acts of Parliament. In those cases, and only subject to sifting, will the negative procedure apply, meaning that changes will not be debated in Parliament at all.
There is talk of this Bill being extended to 2026. Obviously, a general election will fall in 2025 at the latest. The Government should think very carefully about what is already in the Bill. A lot has come forward from this debate so far which shows how very unsatisfactory this is. Everybody accepts that new procedures will now be necessary, but they should be procedures which enable Parliament to have some scrutiny. At the moment, this Bill is an “all powers, no policy” Bill. That is not acceptable and should not be acceptable to Parliament.
My Lords, I am delighted to welcome my noble friend Lady O’Grady, my close colleague and friend. She will continue to liven up our debates with her passion and commitment, as she has done this afternoon, and we look forward to many future contributions. We also look forward to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Bray, shortly.
As the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, said, the Government have produced a blank cheque for themselves to obliterate most of the 40 years of UK membership of the EU. Because of the skeletal nature of that Bill, we do not know what we are approving today except for some procedural issues which we will debate as this Bill goes through the House. A purge is going on: a purge of what the EU years did for this country. I happen to think that most of them did very well—plenty probably did not—but surely the resources that are going into this purge could be better deployed. By the way, perhaps we could be told how many civil servants have been transferred to work on this Bill, because it seems that a lot of people and resources are being thrown at a problem which is being totally exaggerated.
My focus today is on employment law, a topic that I am sure the Government have in their gun-sights—they have ever since the Maastricht treaty. In recent debates on EU employment law, the Minister has liked to downplay the EU influence on workers’ rights in the UK. He is right that many of the UK’s positive employment laws are homegrown: in fact, they were enacted by Labour Governments. But it is completely wrong to downplay the EU influence at the same time.
There are 60-odd laws on employment with an EU origin, but I will quickly pick out four areas that I want to focus and comment on. The first is TUPE, the regulations on transfer of undertakings. They protect workers’ terms and conditions on a change of employer; for example, under a privatisation. Is that really for the chop? Are the Government going to come forward on that issue?
The second is working time, which was a controversial issue in its day but is not any more. I draw particular attention to the provision on four weeks’ paid holiday. As the Minister has pointed out previously to the House, the average Brit might get more than that, but there are many who do not. By the way, before that was introduced, British workers were lucky to get three weeks’ paid holiday a year. Is that underpinning to be binned? It is not archaic or out of date.
The third is the requirement for a company to provide information and consult on changes in company strategy and key issues such as redundancy, and the related provisions for large multinational companies to have European works councils. When I left the European Trade Union Confederation in 2011, we had about 750 EWCs, with UK companies and workers playing a prominent part in 500. Are those very positive processes—European works councils, and information and consultation—to be consigned to the knacker’s yard in future?
Fourthly and finally, the EU took a particular interest in vulnerable workers: part-timers, fixed-term workers and agency workers. Are they now at risk?
The Government are very good at inventing problems, when they have enough problems of their own to deal with. Noble Lords will have a crucial part to play in combating that tendency, playing their part with vigour and commitment in getting a better outcome than this Bill will ever do.
My Lords, for those people who voted for Brexit to take back control and for sovereignty, this Bill shows what a threadbare bargain they received: it completely sidelines Parliament and gives power into the hands of the often nameless and faceless—not bureaucrats in Europe but equally unknown to the man and woman on the Clapham omnibus—Ministers. Others have made that case far better than I can. I want to concentrate on the environmental impacts of this legislation, which the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, so powerfully described as “bad government”.
As others have said, over half of all the pieces of legislation on the dashboard come down to Defra, a small department in the scheme of things. The opportunity costs are really far too high at a time when our environment here in the UK is so under threat and has been laid bare by the OEP to such a degree, particularly when you consider that environmental legislation is difficult, complex, interconnected and long-term.
Equally, we do not know what the process is. There is no guarantee that some of the very powerful protections that the EU has given us over the last 50 years will remain. We may see more people swimming in sewage on British beaches. The Minister may shake his head, but I pick up the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, who asked: why do we say that Europe has done so much for us? Before the EU, we were known as the dirty man of Europe when it came to beaches. We might be able to do better, but the Bill stops us getting better legislation. I will come on to that in a moment.
Our bees and pollinators may be subject to neonicotinoids, which kill them. We may get cattle-fed beef in British farming, let alone it being imported, if we get rid of the hormone regulations. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, rightly said, the regulations on habitats are critical pieces of legislation which fundamentally protect our wildlife. It is no good for the Government to set brilliant targets to reverse the effects of species decline—I applaud them for doing so—if we do not protect the habitats where those species live, breed and feed. It is absolutely critical.
As I have said, and as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, said so powerfully in her excellent maiden speech, the Bill says that we cannot make legislation better. That applies to workers’ rights and environmental rights, because of the fundamental point in Clause 15 about how profitability is the underlying element. Indeed, the Minister talked about profitability in his opening remarks. So we have no guarantee that we can improve our legislation in the future. I am delighted that the Minister is shaking his head. Perhaps he can give us in his summing-up some firm guarantees that we can find ways within the scope of the Bill to enhance legislation. That would be an important statement if he could make it.
Other noble Lords have made the point that businesses do not want this. I will not repeat the point, but I will add another person who has said that they do not want this legislation: Chris Skidmore, who was commissioned by this Government to look at how we will bring forward the net-zero targets. This Government desperately need to do this, and I know that the Minister is personally very committed to it. Chris Skidmore’s review said that the Government wants consistency in regulation, yet the Bill does exactly the opposite.
I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Bray of Coln. I am sure we may not always agree, but I look forward to speaking to and debating with her as she joins our Environment and Climate Change Committee.
The Bill is putting ideology above Parliament, people and our precious planet. This House must muster all its efforts to oppose it.
My Lords, I will address matters concerning devolution and the trade and co-operation agreement. I have noted before that the number of pieces of law concerned is a rapidly moving target. There were 2,400 in the Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill into the other place in September, 3,200 in the revised notes for us in January, and 3,745 as I speak today. But the explanation on the first web page of the dashboard notes that the dashboard
“is not intended to provide a comprehensive account of REUL … that sits with the competence of the Devolved Governments.”
So the dashboard will never be a complete catalogue of REUL and cannot be relied on by the devolved Governments.
The week before last, I visited the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments with the European Affairs Committee. In both places, we had detailed discussions about how the Bill affected them. It was clear that an unknown proportion of the unknown number of REUL pieces of legislation are wholly or partly devolved matters, and that at least a part of the unknown unknown pool of REUL yet to be discovered seems certain to include things that affect the devolved Governments.
For the partly devolved REUL, clearly and case by case, a careful discussion needs to take place among the Governments concerned. Can the Minister assure the House that this is taking place? Can the Minister tell us how that process works for wholly devolved REUL that was made before devolution? For wholly devolved REUL made after devolution by the devolved Governments, can the Minister describe how support to the devolved Governments is being given, to identify, analyse and, if need be, help to legislate?
In any event, like many here today, I am highly concerned about the capacity of Whitehall to deal with matters in the timescales. Following my visits to Cardiff and Holyrood, I am certain that the necessary capacity in the devolved nations is simply not there.
I finish on my home territory—and a point at least as important as the devolution one that I have just made. Clearly not all REULs are about reindeer movement, the example that the Minister wittily gave recently. I am very concerned that some of the REULs could be directly relevant to our treaty arrangements with our closest neighbours and biggest trading partners under the trade and co-operation agreement. Of especial concern is the potential to interact with the level playing field provisions, particularly those on employment and environmental standards. I feel that anything of that nature would naturally need to come before Parliament for scrutiny and agreement, and those REULs would need separate treatment under the Bill.
In the materials accompanying the Bill, we have no document detailing how the Government are ensuring that the Bill will not lead to any breach of the trade and co-operation agreement or describing the process that all the various UK Governments will go through to ensure that. I have asked my three questions already, but here I would urge the Minister to commission such a document forthwith.
My Lords, I salute the two excellent maiden speeches that we have heard today. I am one of the few surviving members of Margaret Thatcher’s first Government and I am amazed to find myself sitting here listening to the arguments from the Front Bench as to why her greatest achievement should be sacrificed. I remember Arthur Cockfield: he is not, perhaps, a household name today, but if you look him up in Wikipedia, you will see him described as the “father of the Common Market”, and that is right. Margaret—not a natural supporter of foreigners—saw very clearly that the mistakes of the common agricultural policy must not be made again, so she sent Arthur Cockfield to Brussels as a commissioner in order to make sure that British self-interests were dominant in the negotiation of the single market.
The single market was historically, perhaps, one of the most extraordinarily successful concepts ever developed by humankind. The implementation was difficult, against difficult economic circumstances and endless forms—small employers at night, having done all the work themselves, finding yet another form—and the flame was fanned by those two great arbiters of British self-interest, Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black. There was a growing resentment, and John Major inherited the problem. “Go to it, Tarzan”, he said to the Tory Party conference.
I was entrusted with the first serious attempt to look at the real effect of all these wealth-destroying, uncivilised, burdensome regulations. I went to it with all the enthusiasm that I hope noble Lords would expect of me. What did I do? I was entrusted with a Minister of State in every department to worm away, dig it all out. I set up public/private-sector committees for each field of activity, led by some of the most strident critics of the regulatory process. I actually published 3,000 of these regulations, so that nothing was hidden from anybody. “Let’s know what we’re all talking about in detail: here they are, great volumes of stuff”. I did something else: I wrote to every trade association and I said, “Look, I’m your man. All you’ve got to do is send me a regulation as drafted that is holding your members back and undermining the country, and send me an alternative draft”. I did not get any replies.
The issue is, of course, central to Brexit. Once the decision was taken—I was rather against it—it was important to get on and do something about the new world, because the uncertainty was bound to be burdensome and frustrating. I thought it was absolutely right that the principal Brexiteers were put in charge of the show: Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox. They, after all, presumably knew what the opportunities were, what needed to be done and what was holding us back, so they were in charge. Well, that did not last long. We had Jacob Rees-Mogg, with his Robespierrean fanaticism, and a whole new government department called Exiting the European Union. Let us not get carried away: the nameplate on the door changed. With Robespierrean fanaticism, he threw himself into the task. There was an uncharacteristic lack of history here, because of course Robespierre followed Louis XIV to the guillotine. Well, it is a more generous and kinder world that we live in today. Four Prime Ministers later, Jacob Rees-Mogg is back on the Back Benches. Dozens of Ministers have lost their jobs. I say to my noble friends on the Front Bench, “Beware: here today, gone tomorrow”. That has an ominous ring for anyone who becomes mired in this Brexit saga.