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Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Volume 828: debated on Thursday 2 March 2023

Committee (3rd Day)

Relevant documents: 28th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 25th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 13th Report from the Constitution Committee. Scottish Legislative Consent withheld, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought.

Clause 1: Sunset of EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained direct EU legislation

Amendment 29

Moved by

29: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to an instrument, or a provision of an instrument, that—(a) would be within the legislative competence of—(i) the Scottish Parliament if it were contained in an Act of the Scottish Parliament,(ii) Senedd Cymru if it were contained in an Act of Senedd Cymru, or(iii) the Northern Ireland Assembly if it were contained in an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly, or(b) could be made in subordinate legislation by—(i) the Scottish Ministers, the First Minister or the Lord Advocate acting alone,(ii) the Welsh Ministers acting alone, or(iii) Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment restricts the automatic revocation or “sunsetting” of EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained direct EU legislation under Clause 1 of the Bill so that it does not apply to legislation that is within the legislative competence of each of the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru or the Northern Ireland Assembly or Executive.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for adding their names to this amendment and for their support. I will also refer briefly to Amendment 49, tabled by the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord.

Amendment 29 is the first in a series of amendments which will enable your Lordships to explore the position of the devolved Governments on this Bill and to examine their response to it in detail. I will be speaking about the response of the Welsh Government, of course, but I recognise that other devolved Governments will have similar experiences and different problems.

The amendment restricts the sunsetting of EU legislation so that it does not apply to legislation that is within the legislative competence of the devolved Administrations—in essence, protecting the ability of the devolved Administrations to sunset their own retained EU laws. In general, I think it fair to say that the Welsh Government and the Senedd have very serious concerns about many aspects of the Bill, echoing those expressed by many of your Lordships at Second Reading. They have so many concerns that the Counsel General for Wales went so far as to say that the Welsh Government fundamentally oppose the whole intent of the Bill.

The Welsh Government’s position is that retained EU law works well for them in their areas of devolved competence and, again in the words of the Counsel General for Wales, that they had no intention of repealing, revoking or amending retained EU law to an arbitrary deadline, preferring gradually to amend the law as appropriate with evidence-gathering, public consultation and legislative scrutiny in the normal way over time, as with any body of law. Without the certainty that Amendment 29 gives and without an extension to the sunset, which we will debate in a later group, the Bill no longer gives them that option.

Amendment 29 addresses the concerns of the Welsh Government and Senedd Members who fear that the UK Government will attempt to take some responsibility—or just responsibility—for the sunsetting of laws in Wales. In January, the Senedd’s Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee was very concerned about the position of devolved retained EU law and asked whether the Welsh Government had received reassurance from the UK Government that they will not change or remove devolved retained EU law without the consent of the Senedd. The Counsel General had not received reassurances a month ago. Can the Minister give those reassurances today? Senedd Members are obviously concerned about the impact of the UK Government proposing legislation such as this. They believe that by default it could repeal essential economic, social and environmental protections—protections that the Welsh Government believe are essential for the operation of their policies on behalf of the people of Wales, and that this is unacceptable.

The Welsh Government have said that their prime focus is

“firstly to ensure that we analyse and retain our own EU retained law, that we focus on that law that’s been made within Wales”.

This is the primary reason for putting down this amendment. It is designed to ensure that the legislative competence of the Senedd is recognised and protected, and that responsibility for sunsetting EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained direct EU legislation lies with the Senedd.

My noble friend’s Amendment 49 asks for a progress report on the identification of EU legislation that has been incorporated into law by the devolved Administrations. I will leave my noble friend to deal with the details when she speaks to her amendment, but I will make a brief comment. I did expect this exercise to be a joint venture, with the UK Government assisting or even leading in the identification of the various pieces of legislation that fall under the Bill, but a few difficulties have arisen. This amendment has my full support and I hope the Minister will update the Committee on progress. I beg to move.

I have added my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, which has my full support, but I will also speak briefly to two other amendments in this group in my name—Amendments 34 and 55—which have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy.

Everything the noble Baroness said on Wales applies equally to the position in Scotland, which is just as acute and difficult. I will give some figures on the problem we face. If you examine the dashboard and look, for example, at entries that relate to the responsibilities of Defra, which cover a lot of the work done in Wales and Scotland, you will find 1,781 such entries. Mention is made in this clause of legislation relating to Wales and Scotland, but the numbers are tiny compared to those recorded for Defra itself: there are only 30 relating to Scotland and 15 to Wales, and they concern only agriculture among Defra’s much wider responsibilities. So, I detect that the no doubt authoritative information in the dashboard is incomplete, especially for the devolved Administrations, which illustrates the great problem to which these amendments direct our attention.

May I venture to suggest one other problem, which relates to the relationship with the devolved Administrations? In its report of some two years ago, the Constitution Committee indicated, with the support of the Government’s reply, that the watchwords in dealing with the devolved Administrations should be “respect” and “co-operation”, and that, indeed, is what the noble Baroness’s amendment is all about. One of the extraordinary things about the Bill is that there was no sign of any attempt to discuss the sunset date with the devolved Administrations before it was introduced last September. If I am wrong about this, I am sure I will be corrected by the Minister, but all the signs are that the work simply was not done before the sunset date was set. Indeed, before the Bill reached this House, I do not think much work was done otherwise.

I therefore have a particular question for the Minister on something to which this House is entitled to an answer anyway: what is the present state of discussions with these two devolved Administrations about the possibility of a legislative consent agreement? As the Bill stands, it is clear that neither Administration would give its consent, but the Government’s responsibility is to continue discussions with them. We need to know what work is being done, whether work is continuing to achieve agreement and what the disagreements, if any, relate to. We probably all know what they are, but the Minister needs to update the House at some point during Committee. When the matter comes back on Report, we will expect a complete account of the relationship with the devolved Administrations in relation to legislative consent.

The noble Baroness’s Amendment 29 seeks to remove all legislation that is within devolved competence from the automatic sunset. It will then be for the Government to find another date after discussion with the devolved Administrations. As I said when we discussed this on Tuesday, I believe in sunset dates to make sure there is some pressure to get the work done, but it must be a proper date that is discussed with the devolved Administrations so they can reasonably meet it.

Amendment 49, which is supported by my noble friend Lady Finlay of Llandaff, is a probing amendment seeking information that should have been in the Government’s hands long ago. It makes the same point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, on the lack of a clear and comprehensive statement. There is a real problem here of finding out what the legislation is dealing with. Direct EU legislation is not difficult to find and, from the work we do in the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, we can identify it readily. The difficulty arises with EU-derived subordinate legislation and UK legislation relating to the subject matter, which has to be sorted out and understood before one gets into identifying what EU-derived legislation needs to be dealt with. This suggests that each SI in these subject areas needs to be examined and studied very carefully to see what legislative power is being exercised.

Once again, I stress that the Committee needs to know what risks the devolved Administrations are being confronted with. We need a full, frank, detailed and honest assessment. We will come back to this matter when we discuss my noble and learned friend Lord Judge’s Amendment 32 in a later group. For these reasons, I support Amendment 29, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and Amendment 49, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.

I turn to an entirely different matter that is the subject of Amendments 34 and 55, which deal with sunsetting the common frameworks. Amendment 34 seeks to disapply the sunset to legislation relevant to the policy content of the common frameworks. Amendment 35, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, is similar. Amendment 55 suggests a different sunset for the common frameworks, at the end of 2026.

The problem that these amendments seek to address is that, as far as I can detect, the Bill seems to ignore and thus undermine the role of the common frameworks, which are designed to be guided by consensus across all four Governments. That is what “common” means in this rather strange formula; the frameworks are common to the four Administrations, which all have a share in this process, which proceeds with discussion and common understanding. They allow for divergence for reasons of policy, as Section 10 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act recognises, but only where there is agreement among them all. There is a dispute resolution process, but I do not believe that it was designed for the kinds of disagreements that may arise if the procedures in the Bill are applied to them. The Minister needs to consider the position of the common frameworks much more carefully regarding the work that is proposed.

I should give some indication of the ground that the common frameworks cover and their importance to the way in which the United Kingdom’s internal market is being developed, with the willing co-operation of the devolved Administrations. There are 32 common frameworks, extending over the work of seven government departments, ranging from what was BEIS to the Department for Transport. Fourteen of them relate to Defra, as I mentioned earlier, and its equivalents in the devolved Administrations. I will not set out the full list, but they include animal health and welfare, chemicals and pesticides, ozone-depleting substances and fluoridated gases, plant health, air quality, and food labelling and compositional standards. These are extremely important areas of our internal market, which are well settled in the frameworks and should not be disturbed.

There are also important equivalents in the Department of Health and Social Care. Its common frameworks relate to nutrition-related labelling, composition and standards, blood safety and quality, organ tissues and cells, and serious cross-border threats to health. These are extremely important matters, where the work that has been done through the common frameworks should not be disturbed.

It requires very little imagination to see that this is an area of our law where we cannot afford mistakes. Rushed work, which we are faced with, is dangerous. It invites mistakes. I am afraid that the ideology which is the driving force behind this legislation does not seem to care about that. Getting rid of EU-derived legislation by the end of this year is its priority; it should not be, given the importance of these common frameworks. I suggest to the Committee that we cannot let the Government get away with that. That is the basis for these amendments.

My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, I serve on the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee. We have met with a level of frustration about this Bill and the delay in some of those common frameworks coming forward. They are an important element of devolution and provide for that element of divergence.

I support Amendment 29. I have other amendments in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, in this group but, in relation to Amendment 29 and the issue of sunsetting, could the Minister indicate how the Government will protect the new Windsor agreement, which underpins devolution in Northern Ireland, from 1 January 2024, given the revocation of retained EU law from that date?

The purpose of Amendment 147 and, in particular, Amendment 33 is to ensure that Northern Ireland is removed from inclusion in this Bill—in fact, Amendment 147 states that—due to the influence and impact of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, because I believe that the Windsor agreement of this week is simply an implementation plan of the protocol with mitigations. In this regard, I refer to Article 2 as well as to environmental considerations. Amendment 33 would prevent the automatic revocation or sunsetting of EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained EU legislation that relates to human rights, equality and environmental protections as they affect Northern Ireland. This would include all such legislation that falls within the scope of Article 2 of the protocol.

I and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, have spoken to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which are tasked with statutory oversight of the UK Government’s commitment under Article 2 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to ensure no diminution of certain equality and human rights protections in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit. These equality and human rights protections relate back to the Good Friday agreement of 10 April 1998. Quite rightly—this is the purpose of these amendments—both commissions are concerned that this commitment has not been properly considered in the development of the Bill and that the proposed sunsetting of EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained direct EU legislation risks a breach of Article 2 unless all relevant legislation is identified and preserved by the set deadlines.

This pressure is exacerbated by the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland at the moment. Could the Minister provide us with some detail about any work that has been ongoing in relation to that? Both commissions believe that the Bill should be amended to include a clause confirming that the provisions of the Bill are without prejudice to Section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Amendment 142 in our names, which is in another group, refers to this. Both commissions have welcomed assurances by the UK Government of their commitment to Article 2 and their acknowledgment that the commitment is non-controversial. However, a number of concerns have been identified.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister. If cannot respond today, maybe he could come back to me in writing. Could he set out the steps that will be put in place to mitigate the risk of inadvertent failure on the part of the Government or devolved authorities to preserve or restate all relevant EU-derived subordinate legislation in Northern Ireland and retained EU legislation within the scope of Article 2, within the set deadlines in the Bill, in the absence of the Bill being amended to include measures that protect against this risk? Would the Minister also set out in detail—I would be grateful if he could do so in writing—what consideration was given to ensuring compliance with Article 2 in the development of the Bill, including in the identification of the specified legislation?

In relation to Amendment 142, there is a concern that the environment will not be properly protected. There is therefore a need for Northern Ireland to be removed from this. In an area of political instability, where the Executive and Assembly are currently not operating, we need full measures within the legislation to ensure that Northern Ireland is not covered and that it is removed in terms of the environment. Will the Minister specify the steps that he will take on behalf of the Government to do just that?

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 35 in my name. I thank Michael Clancy and everyone at the Law Society of Scotland for helping me prepare for this group of amendments and another group of amendments which will follow. A lot of what I will say echoes what has already been argued by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, with much of which I was in agreement.

The effect of Amendment 35 is to ensure that the sunset provision in Clause 1 will not apply to any common framework. I pay tribute to the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee and the work it does, not just in relation to this Bill but on other matters as well. One of the most successful methods to manage intra-UK divergence has been the creation of common frameworks, which are defined in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 as a

“consensus between a Minister of the Crown and one or more devolved administrations as to how devolved or transferred matters previously governed by EU law are to be regulated after IP completion day.”

The Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, in its report entitled Common Frameworks: An Unfulfilled Opportunity?, noted that

“the UK Government considers how legislation it brings forward might conflict with relevant common frameworks, impede their successful operation, and affect the health of the Union.”

The Government responded to that conclusion in the report by saying:

“The Retained EU Law … Bill”—

the Bill before us today—

“insofar as it introduces the date for the sunsetting of retained EU law … will impact upon most if not all of the Common Frameworks. The UK Government has committed to the proper use of Common Frameworks and will not seek to make changes to REUL falling within them without following the ministerial-agreed process in each Framework.”

That statement is welcome, but it does not go far enough and it does not welcome the current state of play.

Noble lords may be aware that, last week, the Scottish Parliament voted to withhold its consent for the UK Government’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill; it did so as a means of calling for the Bill to be withdrawn. Earlier, on 10 February, Angus Robertson, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, sent a letter to the incoming Secretary of State for Business and Trade setting out the concerns of the Scottish Government in this regard and noting that these concerns had been raised previously with the UK Government at the time that the Bill was before the House of Commons. The Government have had ample opportunity to listen to the concerns so eloquently expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, in relation to the Welsh Government, and those raised by the Culture Secretary in the Scottish Parliament, Angus Robertson, and have declined to act on those concerns.

I would like to give my noble friend the opportunity to comment on the amendments that the Scottish Government have set out, one of which closely echoes Amendment 27 which I moved on Tuesday this week. Their option one is to remove the sunset clause in Clause 1 from the Bill entirely. Their option two is to remove devolved areas from the sunset clause in Clause 1. Their option three is to keep the sunset but move it to a later date and enable Scottish Ministers to extend it. Their option four is to enable Scottish Ministers to extend the sunset date in Clause 1.

The UK Government cannot continue in this arbitrary fashion, overriding the wishes of two separate nations, having this week celebrated the very good news regarding the Northern Ireland protocol. This is an opportunity for my noble friend to make good the commitments in the common framework agreements, as echoed in the conclusions of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, and I urge him to choose one of the options. I argue that my Amendment 27 is the best, but one of these options must be agreed, otherwise we will simply not make any progress with this Bill.

I support Amendments 34 and 55 in the name of my noble friend Lord Murphy, who cannot be in his place, and Amendment 35, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I declare my interest as chair of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee.

I start by saying how much I support Amendment 29. The noble Baroness made a powerful and explicit speech about the real, practical concerns that are now so evident in the Welsh Senedd, the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, and the Welsh Government. The exam question for the Minister, and for the Front Bench as a whole, is whether they are prepared to legislate without the consent of the Welsh and Scottish Governments. I would very much like an answer to that question at the end of the debate—the Minister is nodding already.

I shall address some of the issues raised by the common frameworks, which have already been well described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who is also a member of the Select Committee. I will try not to repeat anything, but I want to make a couple of additional points.

At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said:

“When using the powers in the Bill, we will use the appropriate mechanisms, such as the common frameworks, to engage with the devolved Governments to allow for proper joined-up decision-making across this United Kingdom.”—[Official Report, 6/2/23; col. 1081.]

That is the whole purpose of common frameworks in many respects. I wish sincerely that that was borne out in the potential impact of this Bill. What engagement has the Minister had with the devolved Administrations, specifically on the common frameworks, which would have allowed them to raise their conviction that this is a positive way forward for the whole union and to raise their anxiety about the implications?

The irony is—and I hope this will appeal to the remaining Brexiteers in this House—that common frameworks are part of the more positive legacy of Brexit. They were created because there had to be some substitute for the complex legislation which governed the internal market. They are much better in many respects than what we had because they allow for full engagement at official and political level across the whole of the United Kingdom, and they have been very successful. In the Select Committee, we have had lots of complaints about the process, partly because Whitehall does not have the capacity to get it right and it is taking time. There have been issues about delays and the Northern Ireland protocol and much else besides, but essentially these are highly innovative and positive arrangements which, frankly, we have the opportunity to build on. They manage the divergent interests of this country, at the same time as guaranteeing the harmony of the union in practical ways.

We heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, about their operational capacity and the immense work that has gone into the 32 frameworks. What a bizarre collection. I think the ones he might have left out are professional services, public procurement, and the transport of radioactive substances and hazardous substances—things that are key to health and safety, environmental safety, and personal health and well-being across the United Kingdom. The common frameworks include careful dispute mechanisms which will kick in if there are particular issues, which can then be resolved at official or, ultimately, ministerial levels. It is a new infrastructure for the union, and a new dialogue with new scope.

More frameworks are being considered. They are dynamic. Despite their potential, they have already been imperilled by the internal market Act, and were salvaged in this House by an amendment laid by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, which means that there are exceptions whereby they can be removed from the basic processes of the Act. Now this Bill holds a more serious danger.

Let me explain very briefly. The common frameworks have been in place since 2017. They have been the subject of intense work across Whitehall—difficult, delicate work, because of the divergence issues involved, but they are settling down. They are underpinned by hundreds of statutory instruments. The food compositional standards and labelling common framework, the animal health and welfare common framework, and the plant varieties and seeds common framework each have 50 SIs attached to them. Those SIs have been the subject of scrutiny. They interact with a range of domestic legislation. Incidentally, Defra estimates that one-third of its SIs relate to common frameworks. The reform programme in the Bill is intrinsically linked to this process. The SIs have been painfully processed and scrutinised. With the sunset clause, an innovative and successful way of binding the union pragmatically, successfully and harmoniously together is put at unnecessary risk. All of those SIs will have to be examined.

Now I could make the opposite argument. It might be easier to take out common frameworks altogether, because these SIs have been the subject of such recent review. That would be my preference, but that is not in this amendment.

We need to be very careful, because the consequences of the Bill and the instability and uncertainty it generates send a signal to the devolved Administrations: if you want to diverge, why bother now with common frameworks? The acceleration of greater divergence is a real possibility, and I believe that is the fundamental risk of common frameworks in the Bill.

We have already heard about the sunset clause. I have nothing more to add, except to ask the Minister for the third time why the Welsh and Scottish Governments were not able to modify the sunset clause themselves.

I have one other question for the Minister before I sit down. He has said that the dispute processes in the common frameworks will work. I would very much like him to explain how that will be the case if in fact, as a result of this, there is greater dispute across the union. The dispute processes set out in the frameworks and the intergovernmental committee are very specific and tailored to do this particular job.

Nobody has thought this through, and the accidental collateral damage is potentially very serious. The Minister has already said that common frameworks will be used to make REUL reform a success. If he means that, the least he can do is accept these amendments today.

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 29 in the names of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope and others.

A couple of weeks ago your Lordships’ European Affairs Committee, on which I have the honour to serve, went to Cardiff and Edinburgh to take evidence in the context of our current inquiry into the future of UK-EU relations. During those visits, on which we talked to Members of the Senedd and the Parliament in Edinburgh, the points about this Bill, and above all the points covered by my noble and learned friend’s amendment, were raised forcefully with us by representatives of all parties, including the party that supports the Government, in both Cardiff and Edinburgh. They told us they were completely in the dark about the application of this Bill if it became an Act, and in particular about how it would impact on the areas that my noble and learned friend has drawn attention to, which are devolved and are the responsibility of the Scottish and Welsh Governments. They said they were really worried that this would lead to many unforeseen negative consequences.

They said there had been no contact or discussion at the political level between either the Welsh or Scottish Government and Whitehall about these measures. There had been contact at official level, of course, and in previous parts of the debate on the Bill here, Ministers have said, “Oh, well, there are some jolly good contacts going on at official level and civil servants are talking to each other”. That will not do; it is not enough. There must be a dialogue with the Welsh and Scottish Governments about this issue; it deeply concerns them.

I hope that the Minister, when he comes to reply to the debate on this amendment, will give certain undertakings in that respect. Above all, I hope he will commit and say categorically that if this amendment is not put to a decision today—it is of course axiomatic that it will not be—these contacts at political level with the Welsh and Scottish Governments will take place between today and Report and he will report back to this House what has passed in those contacts. Without that, we are just heading towards greater and completely unnecessary discord. I hope this point can be taken on board. I do not think it a great deal to ask the Minister to commit himself to. Frankly, it is astonishing that it has not happened already.

One of the things that was quite clear from our contacts in both Cardiff and Edinburgh was that this absence of certainty about what is covered by the sunset clause is itself extremely damaging. Nobody has been able to tell them the list of measures that would be affected by the sunset clause. So I hope the Minister can respond positively when he comes to reply to this debate.

My Lords, I rise to give a few words of support to the amendments in this group, particularly those led by my noble friends Lady Humphreys and Lady Randerson. To pick up the phrase just used by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, it is astonishing that the Government are proposing to create such discord with this Bill and by their failure to respect the devolved Administrations and include them in the processes of consideration.

As an Englishwoman, though with roots throughout these islands, I am no expert either on the devolution settlement or on common frameworks—very far from it—but our party is a unionist one, which surely means fostering, respecting and supporting the operation of the union.

In paragraph 60 of the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, there is a very clear statement:

“The Government also remains committed to respecting the devolution settlements and the Sewel Convention, and has ensured that the Bill will not alter the devolution settlements”—

that does not appear to be the case—

“and will not intrinsically create greater intra-UK divergence”.

Quite a lot of weight is put on “intrinsically” in that sentence, because it has great potential to create intra-UK divergence and thus seems very contrary to government policy. On Monday we heard the Prime Minister deliver a passionate statement of support for unionism. He passionately said, “I am a unionist”—he also said, “I am a Brexiter”, but I was not so keen on that bit. The Bill does not illustrate that passionate unionism from the Government.

Coming specifically to the effect on Northern Ireland, I fully agreed with the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. We on these Benches are also extremely concerned about the Bill’s impact on the Northern Ireland protocol, and in particular on Article 2 on the upholding of rights under EU law, including human rights. We hear with great concern the view of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which argues that the Bill risks the basis of the Good Friday agreement. That cannot be at all overlooked.

I have a few questions in reference to the Windsor Framework that I hope the Minister can answer. First, will the Stormont brake apply to any laws affected by the REUL Bill or only to new legislation? Has the Prime Minister agreed with the EU to retain all EU law affected by this Bill in Northern Ireland as part of the Windsor Framework? If not, will that not undermine the Windsor Framework? Have the Government agreed to amend this Bill as part of the deal done on Monday in the Windsor Framework on the Northern Ireland protocol?

Practically speaking—given that, sadly, there is no sign yet that the Northern Ireland Executive will be up and running soon—who will be making decisions on which EU law is protected from the sunset? The situation in Northern Ireland is of course very delicate. Given that either removing retained EU law or pulling the Stormont brake could trigger a breakdown in trade between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, will the Minister commit that that will happen only when there is cross-community support for doing so? That question is perhaps more on the framework.

With regard to the Bill, there are major concerns about the devolution settlements, the common frameworks and, not least arising from the Windsor Framework, the effect specifically on Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister can cover all those concerns in his response.

My Lords, I am going to return to a subject that I raised the other day with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and this follows on from what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said earlier today. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, cannot be in her place today, so I shall say something about Amendment 49. This goes to three questions that I want to ask and the extent of what we do and do not know.

The first issue that arises is the extent of our knowledge of what is EU retained law. Behind the very helpful dashboard there is a spreadsheet. Like most spreadsheets, it is searchable, so it is extremely helpful in that respect. Under column L, one can find the designation “Territorial application”. When you look down it, you find that some are UK-wide, some are GB-wide and some apply to the Isle of Man, but you also find that some instances are “Scotland only” or “Wales only”. I thought I would see which ones related to Wales only, and they are all Defra ones. I may have made a mistake, because I had to do this research on my own, as I do not have a band of civil servants to cross-check it, but one could see that each of those instruments apart from one had been made prior to 1999—that is to say, when Defra, as opposed to the territorial Secretaries of State, would probably have had responsibility. Some of them are very specialist, dealing with the designation of areas with the Llŷn peninsula, for example, or dealing with the Welsh language.

It seems plain to me from examining that schedule that the Government have gone through the Whitehall departments, department by department, and unearthed what they have. I would like to know if that is right, because I could not find anything in the list that dealt with the territorial offices. The first question that arises relates to pre-1999 legislation, prior to devolution coming into effect. Where is it? It must have been made by either the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, or departments in Whitehall. Where is all that material? Whose responsibility is it to find it out? That was work done in London by the UK Government at that stage. Of course, the further one goes back, the more difficult it is to find. If it has all been transferred to the respective devolved legislatures, one hopes that nothing got lost on the way, because one knows that the risk in moving papers around is that you lose them. It would be helpful to have some explanation of who is responsible for pre-1999 legislation.

The second part of that question probably arises more in respect of Wales than in the other two devolved nations. Because the Welsh settlement has moved more over the years, whose responsibility is it to find out things that were the responsibility of, say, a London department before it was moved, and where it is now?

The third part of that question is: who is looking at the post-1999 instruments made by the devolved nations? Obviously, that requires substantial resources. I hope that I have understood correctly, from looking at the spreadsheet, that there is nothing on that spreadsheet—and, in consequence, nothing on the screen that is more helpfully looked at by some—that deals with devolved instruments, but it would be very helpful to know that. The fact that the territorial Secretaries of State are not on the spreadsheet shows that there is a potentially very large lacuna. I will come to why that is so important in a moment.

The second question that arises is in relation to consequential amendments made by statutory instruments. We are all familiar with Bills, these days, and statutory instruments that have provision for consequential amendments. Sometimes whole Bills are made-up of consequentials. I looked through the spreadsheet to see whether I could find any statutory instruments where it was clear that there have to be consequential amendments. I could not find any, so I did the exercise the other way around: I put into one of the commercial search engines the number of a directive, and then tried to see what it threw up. I did this in relation to one of the instruments mentioned in the common frameworks—one of the waste directives—and the search engine threw up three categories of result. The first was the possibility of amendment to primary legislation. That is not a problem, because the Bill exempts that, wherever the legislation was made. Secondly, it threw up the instrument itself but, thirdly, it also threw up consequential amendments. I do not entirely understand how consequential amendments are to be dealt with, because they are not in the spreadsheet.

That is extremely important, because the instrument that I happened to pick on contained an awful lot of consequential amendments to other instruments that used the definition in the directive, by reference to the directive itself, of what waste was. If you miss one of those consequential amendments, what is the position? You have got rid of the EU retained law, and there does not seem to be a saving provision in the Act to save measures that people have overlooked. I will come to explain how that arises in a moment. It seems to me that it is only really this House that can look at what is involved and judge the practicality of doing all this by the end of the year, or even by 2026.

The question then turns to resources. What resources are being made available to the devolved Governments? I think it is a matter of common knowledge that Whitehall is pretty tight on resources—or so it is said, and I believe with truth, by many who work for our Civil Service—but one knows that the devolved Governments are in even greater difficulty. So what money and what number of lawyers, research assistants or whoever is being found to help the devolved Governments?

Why does this matter? I have been involved in what I call legal archaeology in a number of instances. The first related to latent damage policies. That is not entirely irrelevant since, when asbestosis came along, because of the way in which policies were written, one had to go and find what had happened prior to the war. There were all sorts of problems with that: floods, fires and—something that of course would not arise in relation to the EU—bomb damage. I have also been involved in this in various islands in the West Indies, where trying to find out what has happened in the period since their independence has actually been very difficult.

Thirdly, and most relevantly, I was personally involved in working on the legislation that resulted from the decision to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor. It is interesting to know that the legislation was first envisaged as abolishing it but was quickly changed to the reform of the office of the Lord Chancellor. Now, why was that? One is not, of course, concerned with the centuries since the creation of that office in pre-Norman, or at least in Norman, times—it is thought to go back over that span of time. However, it was an immense task to find out what the Lord Chancellor had accreted over the years.

In a way, I am sorry that the noble Lord the Leader of the House is not in his place. He would recall that I had a discussion with him in relation to one of the Boundary Commission Bills as to the fact that one piece that was overlooked, I am fairly certain from my own recollection, was about the person who appointed the office of the deputy chairman. It was thought inappropriate that the Lord Chancellor could have a selection over a judge. I raised this as an amendment and it went to ping-pong, but we did not get anywhere. What it shows is that you can overlook things, but of course in that case it did not matter because the now Sir Robert Buckland was there; he could take on the job and discharge the appointment with absolute impartiality.

In this case, once we have abolished something and taken it away, there is nothing there. If the Government really are insistent on any of this, why can we not have some sort of saving clause so that, if some mistake has been made, it can be rectified? It took a very long time—from 2005 to 2019, I think—for the mistake in relation to the appointment of the deputy chairman of the Boundary Commission to be appreciated.

I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer these very detailed questions on methods of search and what is there, which all needs setting out. However, I say three things. First, the House must have this information. We cannot go on in the dark any longer. We need to know the search methods, the limitations and what is excluded.

If something does not exist because it has been overlooked, how would case law which refers to it work? As I understand it, that case law is to be abolished, so we cannot actually use any of it. What would happen then?

We will probably come to the whole question of case law in the next set of amendments and I do not want to trespass on anyone else’s thunder. The real difficulty with this provision is, as regards the devolved and other legislatures, that if there is a reference in other legislation to something that someone has overlooked, what actually happens? I do not know the answer but, presumably, there is just a void in the statute. I am sorry that I am unable to answer the noble Lord.

To go back to my three points, we must have, first, a proper and detailed explanation of what the search methods do and do not cover, and how we are to address these problems. Secondly, we must have an assurance that there are enough bodies to do the work. When we know what the problem is and the number of bodies available, we can then judge more accurately—this is very important for the amendments to which we are coming—the amount of time that will be required. Thirdly, what do we do if there is a mistake? I do not believe that infallibility rests in any sense within, and never would be claimed by, any Government these days.

My Lords, follow that. Briefly, I seek a specific clarification on the sunset clauses. Can the Minister tell us how it is proposed to resolve an apparent conflict in powers between the Secretary of State and those of devolved Administrations contained in the Bill? The power to extend the sunset deadline in Clause 2(1) is reserved for UK Ministers only. In contrast, the power to remove the sunset entirely in Clause 1(2), and so to keep pieces of retained EU law indefinitely, is granted to both UK and devolved Ministers. UK Ministers and Ministers in the devolved Governments may well diverge on the application of sunset dates, as well as on policy decisions.

I also remind the Minister that the RPC ruled that the Government’s impact assessment cost-benefit analysis of the impact on devolved nations is “weak”. What plans are there to address this inadequacy? I also remind him that since the RPC published its opinion, a further thousand pieces of legislation have been added to the dashboard.

My Lords, briefly, within this important group introduced so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, I support in particular Amendments 34 and 55 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, with whom I am delighted to sit on the Common Frameworks Committee—noble Lords will be sick to death of hearing about the common frameworks by the end of this—which is under the marvellous chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Andrews.

As noble Lords will know, common frameworks are a voluntary way of bringing the nations of the UK together and being the building blocks for the new UK internal market post Brexit. The legal underpinning for these frameworks is EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained EU law, the very law threatened by the Bill and its insistence on sunsetting by the end of 2023. Along with other members of the committee, I do not wish to see a large part of our economic relationship with the devolved nations damaged or threatened by having a question mark, even if it is only a question mark and not definitive, hanging over these frameworks.

If we take as a quick example a snapshot of the framework law in the Department for Business and Trade, we do not know what is to become of the European Public Limited-Liability Companies Regulations, or the Statutory Auditors and Third Country Auditors (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, or the late payment of commercial debts regulations of 1998, 2002, 2015—and on and on. This is not exactly law to make your heart sing but it is vital to the smooth running of the UK’s new internal market.

If we take the framework law in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, we discover that we have signed up to international conventions through EU retained law, but we are not sure—as we heard in our tutorial from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas—whether the SIs for them are to be included on the now infamous dashboard. Just to make things more uncertain, if that is possible with this Bill, some of this retained law has Northern Ireland aligned directly with EU law and some has not.

In the Department of Health and Social Care, we have secondary legislation on nutrition and health claims, on vitamins and minerals and on foods intended for infants and young children. They are a brave Government, in the words of Sir Humphrey, who would bring uncertainty to such law. The food safety and hygiene provisional common framework is again based on retained EU law and it involves Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as many of them do. It deals with issues raised by noble Lords last week in Committee such as food labelling, food contaminants, flavourings, additives and, very importantly for farmers in the devolved nations, animal feed.

The consumer protection enforcement authorities across the UK need certainty. If they are going to be able to bring perpetrators to book in the future, they need to know that all the legal pages are still in the book. The stand-alone SIs in this framework include everything from EU regulations on curry leaves to the Fukushima power station disaster to rice from China. That is not even to go through all the SIs arising out of them on jam and honey. I will do so if noble Lords would like me to, but I think we do not have the time—there are a lot of them.

Like Mr Micawber, we are hoping, regarding common frameworks, that everything will turn out for the best and all this primary and secondary EU-derived law will, if needed, be retained. But here is the rub: we hope but, as the noble and learned Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Hope of Craighead, have said, we do not know. We do not know how law in scope is to be retained, reformed and revoked. We do not yet know all the law that is in scope. Perhaps at this very moment the National Archives is hunting for it down the back of the national sofa. We do not know where the DAs are in going through their devolved law to see what needs keeping and letting go. We do not know whether the devolved authorities have the time, the political inclination or the Civil Service resources, as noble Lords have said, for such a sifting exercise and to feed that data onto the dashboard. The Northern Ireland Assembly, as we know, is not even meeting at the moment.

We do not know whether the devolved authorities are mining the National Archives as the UK Government are. We do not know when the dashboard will be complete, or how we will know when it is. We do not know whether the upper limit of the National Archives search is every piece of legislation since the UK joined the EU. Maybe that is a department by department choice, in which case we do not know which departments are going back 40 years and which have decided not to.

Finally, as a Committee we were told in correspondence with Ministers that some retained EU law had been orphaned due to the machinery of government changes. I have no idea what that means—maybe the National Archives does, but we do not. No wonder we are getting urgent lobbying from across every possible UK sector. They want to know what is going on with this Bill and what it means for them. We can only tell them at this stage that we do not know. What a fine mess the right honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg has got us into.

And not for the first time. As the noble Baroness was talking about the dashboard, I could not help but just carry the analogy a little further. How much is hidden in the glove compartment?

This has been a very interesting debate. It was extremely well introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys. What I want, above all, is a period of stability for our country. I want to feel that the United Kingdom is more united after these turbulent years than it has been of late. I took great encouragement from that happy photograph of the Prime Minister with the President of the European Union on Monday. I want to feel that we really are beginning to build a proper relationship with our former partners, but our remaining friends and allies. If anything underlines the need for that, it is one word: Ukraine.

I do not know, any more than any of us do, precisely what we are dealing with. The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, made that plain in her speech with regard to the devolved Governments. I happened to be one of those who fought quite strongly against devolution, because I thought it would threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom.

My noble friend interjects that I was right. Well, I may have been right, but I lost. We all lost. The fact is that we have devolved Administrations. Two of them are active and I devoutly hope and pray that the third will be active again very soon. It is very important that we make this system work. All we are asking for is for my noble friend Lord Callanan to adopt as his motto “festina lente”—make haste slowly—and make real progress as one does so.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, made a very wise speech. He laid out just the sort of complexities that we face. I just hope that this Bill, which I believe to be unnecessary in its present form, and premature, can be paused. I hope it can go into the same compartment that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill has now gone into. That is what I hope for. I believe passionately—the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, underlines this—that this is going to do harm to our United Kingdom and to our relations with our European friends and former partners. Neither of those things is in the interest of our country or is going to contribute to a stable future for it.

My Lords, I am not sure I am wise to rise and speak, but I feel as a matter of honesty I must, in response to my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas, who spoke brilliantly.

Let me confess that I was Cabinet Secretary during devolution legislation and its implementation. I oversaw the implementation of devolution. I can confirm everything that my noble and learned friend said. It was messy behind the scenes. Noble Lords may not remember that the legislation went through Parliament amazingly easily and very fast. A lot of points that are being raised now should have been raised in different ways on that legislation. I was under instructions from the then Prime Minister Mr Blair that my misgivings about whether it would weaken the union—I shared them—should be set aside and we should use devolution as a way of strengthening the union, and implement it with harmony.

I had in place a structure with my colleagues in Wales and Scotland to oversee the effective implementation. There were endless points of the kind that my noble and learned friend raised from before 1999 and on the legislation, which we had to sort out. I had monthly meetings—these went on for years—with my Permanent Secretary colleagues from Wales and Scotland in particular to discuss and go through detailed issues which arose on the legislation on assets, personalities, quangos and everything, some of which were legal and some of which were not. I am pleased to tell noble Lords that I cannot remember them now. It is a blessing. I have tried to shed them, because they were difficult. But what I can say is that we dealt with them in the end with good will, good lawyers and great ingenuity. And we dealt with them—if I can confess it in the privacy of this Chamber—with a certain amount of fudge, because some of them were impossible to deal with without good will and pragmatism.

But I am certain that this Bill has overlooked a great deal. I am afraid that there will be more horrible loose ends for my successors to try to sort out. The amendments that the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, my noble and learned friend Lord Hope and others have put down are wise. The Government should allow themselves every scope for sorting things out for years to come, whatever the sunsetting clause says, because there will be awful problems to sort out.

My Lords, being a bear of rather little brain, it has taken me quite a long time to digest the extremely helpful and valuable contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. He approached the issue from the perspective of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but, given that the United Kingdom is a single market, which is a single integrated entity, what will the consequences be for England of the kind of overlooking that he described? We do not seem to have touched on that.

My Lords, I will share the deep concerns of Green parties around these islands about the issues that we have been discussing. Like Members from all corners of your Lordships’ House, Green parties would like to see the Bill thrown out altogether, although the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, of a pause and a chance to think and understand is, at least, a positive alternative that we should consider. We have heard lots of metaphors—the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, gave us one. I am imagining the fudge, which you have unwisely packed in your suitcase when flying back from a hot place, dripping out all over everything and making a mess everywhere. That is possibly a useful metaphor for where the Bill has put us.

I put on the record a highly unusual and important joint letter written to the Financial Times on 28 November by the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution from the Scottish Government and the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution from the Welsh Government. A small part of it said:

“This bill allows UK ministers to take decisions in policy areas that are devolved to the Welsh senedd and the Scottish parliament and to do so without consultation or the need for their consent.”

That is essentially what we have been talking about.

There has been an implicit point in our debate that has not been made explicitly. I will draw particularly on the work of Dr Viviane Gravey from Queen’s University Belfast, who points out that the laws have been transposed into the nations of these islands in different ways, so we have huge diversity. That means that the devolved nations cannot help each other out. A natural situation would be that, with the issues of resources that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, raised, ideally, people would help each other out and work co-operatively. In most cases, that will not work in this situation because each nation is different.

I will briefly highlight some of the ways in which the nations are different. On Wales, we have not discussed this much but there is a huge impact on the well-being of future generations Act, which has to be considered in the context of the Bill mentioning no increase in “regulatory burden”. That and the well-being of future generations Act are profoundly contradictory, and I do not see any way of resolving that contradiction.

Many people with vastly more knowledge than I—including the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and others—have commented on Northern Ireland. I saw some telling figures. Until autumn, when the caretaker Ministers ceased to hold office, the Department for Infrastructure had identified 500 rules and regulations and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development had identified 600 rules and regulations—experts describe that as the tip of the iceberg. Given all of the issues that Northern Ireland needs to deal with, dumping that on it as well is simply unacceptable. That is why, in the context of this group, Amendment 29 from the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and others at least takes us to the core of the issues that we need to address.

On Scotland, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, covered a great deal of this, but I will mention some conclusions from the Scottish Human Rights Commission, which said that this would create incredible legal uncertainty about human rights and the ability to deliver them, and it would make it difficult to enforce those rights if the Bill goes through in its current form.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made an important point about the tone and direction of travel here. The Windsor agreement is a significant reset in our approach to our relationship with Brussels. The tone and approach have changed in a positive manner. I suggest that we need to see a similar change in tone and approach at Westminster, where, under previous Prime Ministers, we saw an extremely aggressive and unco-operative approach towards the nations of these islands. We need a different tone and approach in this not very united kingdom. Dealing with the Bill—stopping it, pausing it or at least implementing something like Amendment 29—is absolutely essential.

I will refer specifically to Amendment 29, in the names of my noble friend Lady Humphreys and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The Welsh Government and the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee of the Senedd have both examined the Bill closely and they did not like what they saw. They agree with each other that the Senedd’s consent is required for all clauses and schedules, with the exception of Clause 18. However, given the background of a lack of consultation and dialogue, to which several noble Lords referred, we are not likely to get that consent.

The problem is that the Bill does not just infringe on devolved powers—it tramples all over them. The Welsh Government have called it a “power grab”. The injury to devolution throughout the Bill is compounded by the lack of preparation and background information provided by the Government. These issues have been well rehearsed here—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to them in detail. The Welsh Government and the Senedd committee agree that, for a start, Clause 2 needs to be amended to grant Welsh Ministers similar powers to those granted to UK Ministers to extend the sunset date in relation to devolved matters.

On sunsetting, June 2026—the fallback date—is of maximum practical inconvenience to the devolved Administrations because it coincides with elections. There are two possibilities for how the date was plucked out of the air: one is that it was chosen deliberately to make life difficult for the devolved Administrations, and the other—I agree that this is probably more likely—is that it is an example of the sort of poor, substandard legislation that you write when you do not consult the people affected. It would have been so easy to choose a different date.

The Senedd committee’s report reflects concerns already expressed about deficiencies in the dashboard and emphasises the need for it

“to identify how each piece of retained EU law falls across reserved and devolved competencies.”

Without doubt, it is essential that, when Welsh and Scottish REUL is added to the dashboard, it is clearly identified. So when will this happen? Can it be confirmed that this will happen? If it does not happen, that means that this truly is a Government just for England. It is essential that Wales and Scotland legislation is identified.

The committee’s report also emphasised the pressure of time, both on legislatures and the Governments in Scotland and Wales. It is essential that all REUL that the Government do not intend to save or reform is identified by the end of September and laid before all the legislatures of the UK.

Amendment 49, in my name and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is designed to probe these issues. The Welsh Government have made no secret of the pressure they are under—other noble Lords have referred to that—and the Minister acknowledged in her response to me last week that there was an issue of resources. The simple time pressure is compounded by the lack of coherent information from the Government. It is more difficult to get on and do what you are supposed to be doing if you do not know what that is. What will the Government’s policy be in relation to any failure by a devolved Administration to update their chosen items of REUL and obliterate as required references to EU law? They might choose not to do it, or they might just not have the time to do it. Does that mean that the UK Government will take over the role of the devolved Administrations and take things out of their hands if by mistake or due to lack of resources they cannot get round to it?

As I understand it, the devolved Administrations are also required to search for REUL made by Secretaries of State prior to devolution, which seems tantamount to having to do the job of the UK Government for them. Have I got that right? Can it be clarified, please?

As many noble Lords have said, the state of the dashboard is central to the pressures that I have referred to. The latest count of Welsh REUL on the dashboard is apparently in the teens. I am assured that when they have counted it all it will be in the many hundreds, and the Government have not yet been able to take account of that situation. What estimate do the Government have of how many hundreds of pieces of REUL both Scotland and Wales will have? It will be different numbers, obviously, because law has developed differently, and they have different powers. I noted in an earlier debate that the Government have failed to clarify when or even if we will get a final list, when or even if we will be told what legislation is to be dropped entirely, and when or even if we will be given a definitive list of legislation to be amended. All this is essential not just to us here doing our work but to both the Scottish and Welsh legislatures, and I hope that it will in time be relevant and important to the Northern Ireland Assembly as well when it is up and running.

On Northern Ireland, I do not want to repeat the vital questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and my noble friend Lady Ludford, but I emphasise the importance of them. In the past 36 hours or so, I have been trying to get my head around the implications for this Bill of the Windsor Framework by working through a couple of examples—not quite at the level of detail with which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, did so, but in my own humble way. I think that the Windsor Framework probably requires substantial rewriting of this Bill; it certainly requires substantial reinterpretation—I understand that because it is such a skeletal Bill it might be possible to bend it to the new circumstances, but we need a new interpretation. Please can we at the very least have a major ministerial Statement on the impact of Windsor Framework on REUL which has an impact on the Stormont brake? The three are intertwined. We need more than a letter; we need the opportunity to ask questions and to understand how it will work.

Finally, Amendment 36 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Bruce is designed to get some answers about the role of common frameworks. They have been addressed comprehensively by, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, as chair of the committee of which I am a member. The UK Government and the devolved Administrations have worked for nearly three years on developing the frameworks. They are designed as a mechanism for managing divergence within the UK internal market—that comes to the issue that the noble Lord opposite raised. They promote discussion and include a mechanism for dispute resolution. In one of the useful ministerial briefings we have had, we were told that the Government saw common frameworks as the main mechanism for managing changes resulting from the Bill, but their role is not specified. All changes made to retained EU law within one specific area covered by common frameworks should be taken through the full common frameworks process before it is either saved, sunsetted or revoked.

In Wales, the Senedd committee consulted stakeholders broadly. The people affected by this—everyone from NFU Cymru to the Food Standards Agency and the Food and Drink Federation—expressed concern at the lack of common frameworks in the Bill and the lack of reference to them and role for them. They noted that there was no trigger for the common frameworks committee process to be engaged and that the Bill threatens to undermine common frameworks as a result. In contrast to what was stated in the meeting that I have just referred to, they see this as something that is at risk rather than to be implemented. I urge the Government to table amendments to the Bill to clarify the situation. If they decide to allow a piece of REUL to lapse at sunset, when will the devolved Administrations and stakeholders be informed and consulted? How will the common frameworks process be implemented in that decision in order that they have some right to make comments?

There have been many excellent speeches. I urge Ministers to respond in detail, if necessary by letter, to the complex questions raised—it is invidious to pick out particular speeches, but the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Thomas, raised very important questions, as did the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Ritchie, and my noble friend Lady Ludford. There are issues of resources, a need for a saving clause, the problem of inadvertent errors and the role of common frameworks—a lot of homework for Ministers over the weekend, I fear.

My Lords, this is a complete mess. I have listened very carefully to everything that has been said, and I could not identify a speech with which I disagreed. There are two principal problems with the Government’s approach: first, a lack of respect for the devolved Administrations, and, secondly, a chronic case of overconfidence on the part of Ministers.

It is difficult to know exactly where to start; I have so many notes. Which of these particular criticisms is the most important? I will allow the Minister to decide when she responds. It is clear that the dashboard has not been getting updated properly in partnership with the devolved Administrations. The sunset cannot be extended by devolved Administrations on their own, even if they feel that they cannot deal with the burden of the work imposed on them in time. Can the Minister write to update us on the work being done with the devolved Administrations on the dashboard, because it seems that that really underlies some of the concerns we have? From Wales and Scotland, we are picking up a deep dissatisfaction with how this work has taken place.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, made the really important point that the Government have had time between the Bill being debated in the other place and arriving here today to finesse their approach, shall we say, but I do not think that much has changed. This is a particular concern, as noble Lords have said, given the commitment made earlier this week by the Prime Minister, when he revealed the Windsor Framework, which we were all very pleased to see. We are very glad that the agreement announced earlier in the week has taken place; we were very concerned about the approach that the Government had taken prior to that, so we welcome it very much. If the measures are not dealt with by the dashboard and they fall, we could end up in a situation where we have divergence, not through a matter of policy or intent by the Government, but as a consequence of inaction and, in effect, by mistake. There may be consequences of that, which perhaps could be more pronounced for Northern Ireland than for elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I was very taken by the way that the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, put this—as there being horrible loose ends. That is a very good way of describing it.

These are very practical concerns and a number of noble Lords, in particular my noble friend Lady Andrews, have highlighted them. Like her, I completely support common frameworks. I remember when we debated them at length as part of the Brexit process. We tabled amendments to strength them, to make sure we had good oversight of them, and that there was proper engagement by the Ministers in the devolved Administrations. I think we did okay on some of that. Obviously, this is still relatively young, and we had all hoped, I think, that that process would become smoother and a little more relaxed, and that there could be more shared decision-making. I am particularly concerned about this, given my ambition—which I think is shared by many Ministers on the Government side, too—to see more devolution in England. So we really want this approach to improve as the years go on; it is not a surprise that there are shaky moments in the early years.

The Bill, perhaps more than any other we have seen, shows a complete disrespect to the devolved Administrations, and this lack of trust and respect is becoming more and more pronounced. There have been some sharp examples in recent months, and we need to get away from them. With this process, there is an opportunity to change our approach and to demonstrate that we want to work differently—and there is a real benefit to be gained from that.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, drew our attention to the lack of political engagement, as he put it, with the devolved Administrations, which is deeply concerning. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, as is his habit, is shaking his head from a sedentary position. If what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said is not true—as the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has just suggested—perhaps the Minister could write to us to explain what form that political engagement is taking, what is being discussed and what progress has been made.

Trust matters, and I am afraid that it is in very short supply at the moment. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for his speech, because he developed a point that we were trying to make in the debates on previous groups about the risk of things being missed from the dashboard. There were points in our previous discussion where I felt that the Minister was almost saying, “Look, you are worrying unnecessarily—our civil servants know what they are doing, and we will have a very thorough look at this”. The noble and learned Lord described it as legal archaeology; I am a trained archaeologist, and I know very well how easy it is to miss things or to look at a site with a particular priority in mind. You can find very different conclusions looking at something today than you would have done looking at it 20 years ago, because your understanding develops all the time. That is one of the reasons that children are very good at archaeology: they spot absolutely everything.

The point that the noble and learned Lord was making is that things will be missed. Even the Government acknowledge that; they do not claim that the dashboard is comprehensive, or that it ever will be. That was clear from the letter that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, sent us before the last Committee debate. I would not be surprised if she would want to withdraw that letter but, as she has not done so yet, it is the basis for our discussions. It is very clear from that that the dashboard will not be a comprehensive assessment of all retained EU law.

The request from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for an explanation of the search methods is very good idea. We were told—with some pride—that one of the search methods was a key word search for “Europe” at the National Archives.

The Ministers are saying that it is one search method, but that was the example given to us when we probed this at the roundtable meeting. That was the choice made by Ministers’ officials as an example intended to reassure us—but we are not reassured. The suggestion from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for a fuller explanation is very good and helpful; it might provide the reassurance that Ministers were attempting to demonstrate earlier in the week.

While discussing the issue of devolution, I shall ask the Minister a question on something I do not quite follow—and Committee stage is about asking questions about things we do not quite follow. Perhaps she might write to me about it, but I draw her attention to paragraph 11(3) of Schedule 4, under Part 3, which describes the process that the Government want Welsh Ministers to undertake when they are tackling regulations. Can she explain this process? It says that Welsh Ministers will have to make a statement of their opinion on a particular measure; they will have to provide

“a draft of the instrument, and … a memorandum setting out the statement and the reasons for the Welsh Ministers’ opinion.”

That seems slightly different to the process we are undertaking here. In principle, there is nothing necessarily wrong with there being a difference, but I would like to understand what that is about and how the Government came to that. Was that something that came out of dialogue with the Welsh Government, or has it grown up through the department? Why is that happening?

There is no way that this will not come back on Report. I would be happy to support any of the amendments tabled in this group. We on these Benches would be very happy to work with noble Lords from across the House on arriving at an amendment that we think would achieve our aims most effectively. I look forward to doing that, but the preference would be that the Government had some further thought on this and brought back their own amendment, which would treat the devolved Administrations with far more respect and deal with the issues of overconfidence and the fact that measures are, likely if not certain, to be missed.

My Lords, this has been a very full and comprehensive debate—I did not expect anything less, given the subject matter. Amendments 29, 33, 34, 35, 36, 49, 55 and 147 seek to amend the sunset clause and the territorial scope of the Bill for the devolved Governments. I can but reiterate that the UK Government remain fully committed to the Sewel convention, committed to devolution and committed to working collaboratively and constructively with the devolved Governments. We have been proactively engaging with the devolved Governments, at both ministerial and official level, on the progress of the Bill and the wider retained EU law reform programme. The former Business Secretary engaged with the devolved Governments following the introduction of the Bill and, indeed, I have personally engaged with the Welsh Government to assure them of our respect and willingness to co-operate over legislative matters in general going forward.

In response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson, Lady Hayman and Lady Chapman, I reassure the Committee that we are committed to working with the devolved Governments as we update the dashboard. We have established regular intergovernmental meetings intended to support devolved Government counterparts with the identification of which REUL is devolved or reserved as part of the REUL reform programme. The majority of the powers in the Bill are conferred concurrently on the devolved Governments, including the power to preserve retained EU law. This will enable them to make active decisions about the REUL within the devolved competence and decide which REUL they wish to preserve and assimilate, and which retained EU law they wish to allow to sunset. We remain committed to continuing discussions with the devolved Governments throughout the Bill’s passage over the use of concurrent powers within the Bill to ensure that they work for all parts of the UK. It is our expectation that the department will follow standard procedures regarding consultation and engagement with the devolved Governments during policy development.

I turn to Amendments 34, 35 and 36. These would exempt legislation relating to common frameworks from the sunset, restricting the sunset and preventing it delivering its objective to incentivise genuine reform across the United Kingdom. Among the proposed conditions is a proposal for a process to be agreed between the UK and devolved Governments for retained EU law within the scope of the common frameworks. We believe that common frameworks are integral to managing regulatory divergence in the areas they cover and provide a flexible governance tool for both the UK and devolved Governments. REUL is in scope of the common frameworks. This includes not just REUL operating within devolved competence but that same REUL operating in England. In some cases, this REUL will be UK-wide.

We believe it is simply not necessary to carve out REUL in scope of common frameworks. These are designed to manage divergence, including that which may result from the sunset. Both the UK and devolved Governments agree that, where common frameworks are operating, they are the right mechanism for discussing REUL reform in the areas they cover. To reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who raised concerns about regulatory divergence, the Government will continue to work closely with the devolved Governments to manage intra-UK divergence, including through existing collaborative mechanisms, such as the common frameworks programme, which has been developed with the devolved Governments to enable joint working in devolved areas. The Government are committed to following common framework processes where they apply, to allow for a collaborative discussion of REUL reform.

Similar to previous amendments, Amendment 55 seeks to change the sunset date for legislation relating to the common frameworks to the end of 2026. That is likely to include devolved REUL, and also REUL in other UK jurisdictions corresponding to a devolved area. However, this amendment, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would amend the extension power in Clause 2, rather than just the sunset in Clause 1. While it is of course not appropriate to change the sunset date through Clause 2 alone, I reiterate that we simply do not believe there is a need to do so for retained EU law in scope of common frameworks. Moreover, pushing back the sunset for this legislation would remove the impetus for devolved Governments and relevant departments to review this legislation. Clause 2 already contains an extension mechanism capable of pushing the sunset back to 2026 for specified instruments or descriptions of legislation. We will work closely with the devolved authorities to ensure that selected legislation, including that within scope of common frameworks, is subject to an extended sunset where appropriate.

My Lords, what the Minister said about common frameworks is very encouraging and I absolutely understand what she has been saying in her description of the system. But is the procedure in Clause 2 capable of, let us say, exempting a particular common framework from the sunset in Clause 1? Does it fall within the formula set out in Clause 2, so that we could take, for example, the common framework on animal health, labelling or the ozone layer, and specify a common framework to be excluded? It would be encouraging if that were the case.

We can, indeed, exclude a specific category of law from the REUL exclusions if it relates to a specific area such as animal health, or a particular category of common framework.

If that is the case, the logic is that all the common frameworks could be exempt. Is that not the case? If we can exempt one SI on animal welfare, there are 50 SIs on animal welfare; what would stop us exempting the whole of that tranche of SIs?

While we will have the power to exempt, the whole point about the sunset date is to retain the rigour of going through the REUL legislation that we have—but we do still retain the ability, in Clause 2, to exempt certain categories from sunset.

I am asking whether there is the power to exempt a whole category, because we have not heard that before. Would not common frameworks, because they are discrete and have an integrity of their own, serving specific purposes, constitute a specific category?

I think the answer is, not in their entirety, but a specific category that falls within common frameworks could indeed be excluded.

I will have to send that sort of detail out in writing, along with the other letters we are going to be writing in response to other questions.

I apologise for intervening. I think what I heard is that Clause 2 gives the Government the power to do this; I did not hear from the noble Baroness that the Government have any inclination to actually use that power. Will she explain what criteria the Government would use to actually apply the power that she has just revealed to the Committee?

We will bear that in mind, but I cannot give specific criteria: we want to retain the ability to exclude specific pieces of legislation, as I have said, within a specific category.

I just make the point that, by definition, to be included in a common framework, the legislation concerned has been extensively examined by all the Governments concerned in the last couple of years. Therefore, it will not be subject to the sorts of anomalies that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, referred to in our last debate.

I have tried not to intervene so far, but I listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness has just said: does this mean that, if an application is made to a Minister to extend the sunset for a category or description of legislation, in accordance with Clause 2, and the Minister refuses, it will be “open sesame” for judicial review by those who regard such a decision as disproportionate and could render the whole of this legislation into something that will be litigated in the courts for years to come?

I acknowledge the noble Lord’s intervention but I cannot possibly respond at this stage. We must make progress.

Amendment 29 proposes exempting REUL within the competence of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from the sunset. This would remove the devolved Governments’ incentive to review legislation on their statute books and hinders the sunset’s intention to bring about genuine reform. A sunset is the quickest and most effective way to accelerate the review of REUL on the UK statute book by a specific date in the near future. This will incentivise genuine REUL reform in a way that will work best for all parts of the UK. The territorial scope of the Bill will be UK-wide, and it is constitutionally appropriate that the sunset applies across all parts of the UK. However, the sunset does not affect the devolution settlements, nor is it intended to restrict the competence of either the devolved legislatures or the devolved Governments. Rather, this will enable the devolved Governments to make active—

The noble Baroness may well be coming to this, and she should tell me if she is. If the sunset brings rigour, as she has said, to the devolved Administrations—and to us, of course—does that mean that the Government accept our arguments about the lack of resources for the devolved Administrations and the lack of capacity of civil servants, because there are so few of them going through all this retained EU law throughout the devolved Administrations?

We do not accept that. We know that there are capacity restraints within the devolved Governments, but the UK Government are also helping them go through the whole body of retained law. That work will progress and is an ongoing project as we go through this year. I may come on to more detail for the noble Baroness.

In relation to the noble Baroness’s specific comments on Northern Ireland, the Windsor Framework has no impact on the Bill. She can also rest assured that we have already committed to making sure that the necessary legislation is in place to uphold the UK’s international obligations—

I know, but we do need to make progress. This is the 10th intervention, and I am on paragraph 17. I think there is a limit to the number of interventions I need to take—but I will take the noble Baroness’s, because she is on the Front Bench.

I am sorry, but my understanding is that there is not a limit on the number of interventions the Minister can take. Progress would probably be better if we had a better Bill in front of us. She answered a question by saying that the Windsor agreement has no impact on the Bill, but my question was whether the Bill could have an impact on the Windsor agreement, which is a very different thing.

It has no impact on the Windsor agreement. I am assured by my colleagues and my briefing here that it has no impact.

Amendment 49, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, seeks to ensure that the UK Government have a complete understanding of their catalogue of REUL by allowing a Minister of the Crown to request that the devolved Governments identify REUL in areas of devolved competence within the scope of the sunset. While I concur with the sentiment of this amendment, again, the Government do not believe it is necessary but recognise the importance of having a shared and single understanding of reserved and devolved REUL across the UK Government and the devolved Governments.

We have established regular intergovernmental meetings intended to support devolved government counterparts with the identification of which REUL is devolved or reserved, as part of the REUL reform programme. Departments are also actively engaging directly with their devolved government counterparts as part of their business-as-usual engagement on the devolved status of REUL and their plans for REUL reform. On the point about pre-1999 legislation, where the legislation is devolved, the decision should be for devolved government Ministers, just like any other piece of devolved REUL. We will set out in writing the methodology for identifying REUL on the dashboard, as already committed by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe in the session on Tuesday.

Amendment 33, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, would exempt from the sunset legislation relating to human rights, equality or environmental protection to the extent that the legislation has effect in Northern Ireland, including legislation within scope of Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol. We fully intend to maintain the UK’s leading role in the promotion and protection of human rights, equality, the rule of law and environmental protections. We are proud of our long and diverse history of freedoms and are committed to ensuring that the necessary legislation is in place to uphold the UK’s international obligations, including the withdrawal agreement, the Northern Ireland protocol, and the trade and co-operation agreement after the sunset date.

The provisions within the Bill, including the sunset, are not intended to undermine our hard-won human rights or equality legislation. As I and Ministers in the other place have already stated, we have committed to take the necessary action to ensure that our international obligations continue to be met so that the terms of the withdrawal agreement—including our international human rights obligations—are upheld after the sunset date. This Government have also been clear that we will uphold our environmental protections. The UK is a world leader in environmental protection, and in reviewing our REUL we want to ensure that environmental law is fit for purpose and able to drive improved environmental outcomes.

Amendment 147 relates to exempting Northern Ireland from the territorial extent of the Bill. This Government’s mission is to deliver economic prosperity for citizens in every part of the UK, so that the whole of the UK can benefit from the ability to reform and amend their retained EU law. Furthermore, this amendment would mean that even laws in reserved areas would not be covered by the provisions of the Bill, insofar as those laws extended to Northern Ireland. I reiterate that the Government are committed to ensuring that the provisions within the Bill work for all parts of the UK, and we are committed to ongoing discussions with the devolved Governments throughout the Bill’s passage.

In response to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, on the extension power, I say that there are good arguments for a single sunset across the UK, and conferring the extension power on the devolved Governments would introduce additional legal complexity. Specifically, it might result in different pieces and descriptions of retained EU law expiring at different times in different Administrations in the UK, and those pieces of retained EU law may cover a mix of reserved and devolved policy areas, creating confusion. Therefore we remain committed to working collaboratively with devolved officials and are keen to continue discussing this policy as it progresses to ensure that this power works for all parts of the UK.

In response to concern from the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, about the choice of sunset date as June 2026—oh, I am not sure that was her.

I am sorry. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that there was no Machiavellian intent; rather, that date provides a ceiling for the presence of retained EU law on the UK’s statute book and gives adequate time to complete reform of the most ambitious nature in all areas. The 10th anniversary of the referendum vote served this purpose and offers a full-circle moment by which the UK can proudly proclaim that it has regained its sovereignty and has a fully independent domestic statute book—

My Lords, I am unfamiliar with modern parlance. Could the Minister please define a “full-circle moment”?

The process is finally complete, as my noble friend suggests.

On impact assessments, properly assessing the impact of government policy is an important principle of good governance, and the Government will continue to be committed to the appraisal of any regulatory changes relating to retained EU law. The nature of this appraisal will depend on the type of changes the departments make and the expected significance of the impacts. Where measures are being revoked, departments will be expected to undertake proportionate analytical appraisal, and we are exploring the appropriate steps we can take to appraise the resulting impacts.

I am fully conscious that a number of other specific points were raised, but I undertake that we will write back, particularly on methodology and definitions. However, for the reasons I have outlined, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, to withdraw her amendment.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and offered their support to the devolved Administrations and recognised their very legitimate concerns regarding their devolved settlements.

Many of us might not like the Bill, but in this Committee we have seen this House at its very best. We have heard a number of speeches today that could be described as masterclasses, and it has been a pleasure and an honour to listen to them.

I will not comment on the noble Baroness’s reply other than to say that I appreciated her statement that the Government are committed to the Sewel convention. However, over the last few years, actions have spoken louder than words, so she will forgive me if I do not hold my breath.

I also welcome the commitment from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, to work across the House on amendments on Report; we on these Benches commit to that process.

We have been debating this for two hours and five minutes, and if everybody else is like me, lunchtime is calling. Therefore I will just say that the noble Baroness’s response will have given food for thought to those of us in this Chamber today, and we will doubtless want to renew our deliberations on Report. In light of that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 29 withdrawn.

Amendment 30 not moved.

Amendment 31

Moved by

31: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out subsection (2)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes a power to except things from the sunset. The power is contained in new Clause (Exceptions to sunset under section 1).

Amendment 31 agreed.

House resumed.