Report (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 16: Powers to revoke or replace
40: Clause 16, page 19, line 19, at end insert—
“(3A) The power of a relevant national authority to make regulations under subsections (1), (2) and (3) is subject to the provisions of Part 3 of Schedule 4.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to enable Parliament and the devolved legislatures to overrule the Executive and express their own view as to the contents of regulations that are to be made under this section.
My Lords, this quite short group of amendments is concerned with Clause 16. It is a very worrying clause, for various reasons. My amendment seeks to tie the power of the relevant national authority to exercise the regulation-making power under this clause to the provisions of Part 3 of Schedule 4.
My Amendment 76, which we have already discussed, relates to Part 3 of Schedule 4. The point is to make sure that the regulation-making power is subject to parliamentary scrutiny. That is true not only of the UK Parliament; it applies also to the Senedd in Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Scottish decision has been that the power should remain with Ministers, and that is a matter that can be left to them.
The really important point is to make sure that the regulation power is subject to Amendment 76, which I am seeking to make on Wednesday. I do not think I need to say any more about this because the more important amendment is Clause 16 stand part. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, will make clear the position regarding the defects in the clause that gave rise to her amendment. She will do that far better than me so I shall simply leave it at that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendment 41A in this group. We discussed this issue in Committee. I said, “If the Government want to go down the route of keeping in Clause 16(5), why don’t they promise the same about the environment?” After all, the Government made the same set of promises regarding environmental legislation—that they would not do anything to damage the protection that the current regulations offered—while here in Clause 16(5) they are saying they will not do anything to increase the regulatory burden.
The Government wisely said they did not want to put in the Bill the promise that they would not damage environmental regulation. I had rather hoped that meant they would take out Clause 16(5), because to my mind that subsection offers nothing but uncertainty. How is it to be interpreted by the courts if the Government propose to use the clause and someone challenges its use in the courts, saying, “This subsection says ‘in relation to a particular subject area’. Has that been reasonably chosen and correctly defined? What is the overall effect of the changes?”? They will have to look at every piece of legislation that has passed in relation to that particular subject area. How are they to be weighed up? There is no mechanism here providing for them to be weighed.
The courts are going to be asked how one bit of legislation should be weighed against another with regard to the changes that it makes and the regulatory burden. How do you weigh one bit of regulatory burden against another if one bit of regulation imposes something on one group and the next regulation imposes something on another? How do you weigh those two things together? It seems to be asking the absolute impossible. It means that any bit of legislation passed under Clause 16 will be open to all sorts of challenges in the courts, and there will be no way of knowing what the outcome will be, because nothing in this subsection, or elsewhere in the clause, tells you how to parse it. So I hope the Government will see the good sense they had when they chose not to adopt my suggestion of doing this for environmental legislation and take Clause 16(5) and (6) out of the Bill.
My Lords, I agree with the entirety of Amendment 41A from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, while agreeing with only half his reasoning. I entirely agree that, as we discussed at length in Committee, this is essentially impossible to calculate and creates a great deal of legal uncertainty. Where I disagree with him is that I would very much like to have seen non-regression clauses for the environment, public health, workers’ rights and a whole range of other things in the Bill.
Practically, what we are doing with the clause at the moment, if it is implemented, is creating a guaranteed regression of workers’ rights, food standards and environmental standards. If we do not have regulation of business, we will certainly see at least some cowboy businesses taking advantage of a reduction in regulation. That of course will not be in the interests of businesses that want to do the right thing on the environment, public health or workers’ rights.
I spent a great deal of time during the passage of the Environment Act and the Agriculture Act arguing for non-regression clauses. What the Government are currently giving us is a guaranteed regression clause, and that really should not be acceptable.
My Lords, as the proposer of Amendment 45, which is also in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, I feel a terrible weight resting on my shoulders as a result of the preface from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, because this is the amendment that seeks to remove Clause 16 and I fear that I am not going to reach the billing that he gave us.
Over the course of this session, we have heard numerous arguments about the way in which the Bill more and more removes Parliament from the process of revocation and reform. I am not going to rehearse all those arguments again, because your Lordships have heard them both on Report and in Committee. Clause 16 is one of the key parts of the machinery in the Bill to govern how retained EU law can be reformed. There is an argument for removing the clause altogether, but I have bowed to the spirit of scrutiny rather than total oblivion and, as such, I do not intend to move the amendment.
As we have already heard in advance from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the provision that causes most concern is Clause 16(5), which mandates the nature of any reform of REUL to be deregulation—and deregulation only. The point the noble Lord made is about how we measure the sum of regulation. There was all sorts of debate in Committee. Is it the total of the changes across a group of amendments or a section of amendments? Is it each amendment by itself? These questions were never satisfactorily answered in Committee, so perhaps during Report the Minister can tell us how the amount of regulation will be measured. In other words, can one increase in regulation be balanced by two decreases in regulation through adjacent provisions, for example? We have not had answers to that.
Essentially, the spirit of the Bill is that there can be no increase in the “burden”—according to the Bill—caused by this reformed retained EU law. Clause 16(10) defines burden, with its paragraph (b) including “administrative inconvenience”, but one person’s administrative inconvenience is another’s life-saving safety measure. It depends on which direction you look at it. Clause 16(10)(d) includes
“an obstacle to efficiency, productivity or profitability”
as a burden. Again, what may seem an obstacle to one group may be existentially important to another.
As I said, I am not aiming to push this amendment to a vote. We are seeing amendments that are putting some safeguards in place. The noble Lord mentioned Amendment 76, which we anticipate. I am anticipating Amendment 48 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, where we will talk about non-regression, and Amendment 50, which will come up shortly. These are other important pieces to put in place to try to draw the majority of the sting from Clause 16.
Clause 16 has always been the most offensive clause in the Bill because it was giving excessive power to the Executive and no power to Parliament. But on the horse, if I may put it that way, of the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who really has provided enormous assistance to us during the passage of the Bill, and knowing therefore that the assimilated law to which we are now directed will also be subject to the provisions to which he has already succeeded—twice over now—in getting the acceptance of the House, we are protected. Because of our protection under the noble and learned Lord’s amendments, I am happy with this amendment not being moved. I joined the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and my noble friend Lady Chapman of Darlington in signing it but, on the basis only of the work that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has provided, I am prepared to join the noble Lord, Lord Fox, in not moving this amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the comments that have been made. It might make sense if I start with Amendment 45, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, which would remove this clause from the Bill altogether. I am very glad that he will not move it; I think that is the right approach.
The powers to revoke or replace are needed to enable the Government to overhaul EU laws in secondary legislation across different sectors of the economy. We know that some of them are outdated or unduly burdensome. Better and simpler regulation, perhaps with less complex bureaucracy, can increase productivity growth, which has been slow and a huge problem for our economy. It can also help enterprise and assist SMEs, which suffer more than anyone else from red tape.
We worked together in this House on the Procurement Bill, which was an important step in getting rid of retained EU law and helping small business. We can do so much more without losing necessary protections. I speak as someone who has worked in business; businesses are always being blamed for liking regulation, but there are changes that we can make.
The REUL dashboard has identified over 4,800 pieces of retained EU law across 16 departments. Some will be repealed by the revocation schedule, as we have heard today; others reflect—I think this is important—international obligations, which will remain in place. There are many areas where reform can be beneficial and bring about the post-Brexit boost that we have promised. However, the Government’s retained EU law substance review in 2021 highlighted a distinct lack of subordinate legislation-making powers to remove retained EU law from the UK statute book, because in the past we have relied on Brussels for regulatory powers to drive change. It is now vital that we have a power capable of acting on wide-ranging retained EU law across different policy areas.
Had the UK never been a member of the EU, many areas that the substance review identified would already have had similar powers, comparable to those that exist in non-EU policy areas. The lack of powers is an oddity resulting from our former EU membership, and it is essential that we take a power which plugs the gap. Without the necessary powers for retained EU law reform, this legislation risks becoming an immutable category of law on our statute book, adversely affecting the UK’s economy and competitiveness. Removing Clause 16 from the Bill would be irresponsible. It would significantly damage the UK’s legislative dynamism and potentially hinder the UK’s ability to regulate adequately.
I move on to Amendment 40, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who has, to add to comments made earlier, done so much to contribute to the debate on this Bill. This amendment would insert a new subsection into Clause 16, which, when read with the noble and learned Lord’s other amendments, would require Clause 16(1), (2) and (3) to be subject to novel scrutiny provisions under Part 3 of Schedule 4. These take the form, as we know, of an enhanced sifting procedure. That is not dissimilar to the super-affirmative procedure. We have already debated some of these issues in the first and third groups of amendments, but perhaps I could make a couple of brief points.
The sifting procedure has been drafted as a safe-guarding measure for these powers. It allows for additional scrutiny of the exercise of the powers within Clause 16 while retaining the flexibility of using the negative procedure where there are good reasons for doing so. There are a lot of SIs that can be negative. To confirm, the sifting procedure will apply to instruments that Ministers propose to make under the negative procedure and the draft affirmative procedure where regulations confer a power to make subordinate legislation or create a criminal offence—for example, under Clause 16(2) —or where alternate provision is being made under Clause 16(3).
The sifting procedure, I would say from recent experience, is a tried and tested method of parliamentary scrutiny which delivers good results for everyone and draws on the expertise of our parliamentary committees. The procedure will correspond with the sifting procedure under the EU withdrawal Act and the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020. Requiring that all such legislation be subject to novel and onerous scrutiny would not be a good use of parliamentary time and would result in delaying departments delivering their REUL reform plans. My noble friend Lady Noakes made a good point when she said that, whatever we do, we need to be careful about embarking on novel procedures, bearing in mind the position of the two Houses of Parliament.
Amendment 41 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas seeks to remove subsections (5) and (6) from Clause 16 altogether. We have sought to ensure that the powers to revoke or replace are appropriately limited and cannot be used to add to the overall regulatory burden for that particular area. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, how we define “regulatory burden”, and we had a discussion about this in Committee. In practice, this means that the replacement legislation cannot add additional regulation over and above that which is already imposed by legislation in that particular subject area.
The Bill contains a non-exhaustive list of what a regulatory burden is, and therefore the factors the Minister should consider, or have regard to, in judging whether regulations add to the overall regulatory burden. They include financial costs and administrative inconveniences. It will be for the relevant Minister or devolved Government to decide whether they are satisfied that the use of the power does not increase the overall burden. It may therefore be possible for additional regulation and higher standards to be introduced through the powers to revoke or replace, as long as the package of reforms does not increase the overall regulatory burden—remember what I said at the beginning about the benefits of better, simpler regulation. I think that this is also easier to enforce; I say that as someone who has worked in a number of sectors where that is very important.
Although removing the regulations that are deemed unnecessary or unsuitable, or consolidating multiple regulations into one, will make life simpler for those affected, it will also be possible, as I said, to add new regulations which are more appropriate to the circumstances of the current time.
My noble friend Lord Lucas said that regulations made under Clause 16(5) and 16(6), which his amendment questions, could be challenged by the courts. That is of course correct, and, like any delegated legislation, I think that it is an entirely appropriate check. We recognise that it will not always be a scientific test to establish precisely what the value of regulatory burdens is or to balance one burden against another. That is why we sought to ensure an appropriate level of discretion for Ministers in the interpretation of Clause 16(5) and 16(6). When doing so, the Minister is required to act reasonably and to take into account relevant factors. That strikes the right balance between limiting the scope of the powers and providing Ministers with a pragmatic degree of discretion in deciding whether the regulatory burden test has been met.
As has been set out in Clause 16(6), the creation of a voluntary scheme, which my noble friend’s amendment also queries, is not regarded as increasing the regulatory burden. The truth is that the restrictions to the powers to revoke or replace in subsections (5) and (6) will help the UK to establish a more nimble, innovative and UK-specific regulatory approach to get on and seize the opportunities of Brexit. Those of us, right across the House, who worked in Brussels were often frustrated; now is the time for us to look in a considered way at our legislative almanac, to make sure that we are moving forward sensibly. To get rid of those subsections would be to open us up to complex and burdensome changes, which might hamper growth and competitiveness and go against other comments that noble Lords have been making on Report. The whole debate has been good, but, for all those reasons, I ask that the amendments are not pressed.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, as I am sure are others who have spoken in this debate, for her careful reply to the points that have been made. There is no doubt that the wording of Clause 16 gives rise to concern, particularly the width of subsections (2) and (3), and, according to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, subsection (5). One cannot rule out the possibility of judicial challenge because, while primary legislation is not justiciable, delegated legislation is. I find it difficult to predict what a court would make of subsection (5) for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has given.
As for subsections (2) and (3), my Amendment 76 would remove much of the concerns. What I was offering was a package. In a way, Amendment 76 remains: it will still be there whatever happens to Amendment 40; the protection we are seeking to provide will be available there. Without taking up more of your Lordships’ time, I thank the Minister for her reply and seek leave to withdraw Amendment 40.
Amendment 40 withdrawn.
Amendments 41 to 45 not moved.
Clause 17: Power to update
Amendment 46 not moved.
47: Clause 17, page 20, line 34, at end insert—
“(3) In subsection (1)(b), developments in scientific understanding must be identified based upon regular reviews of the scientific evidence.(4) When undertaking a review of scientific evidence referred to in subsection (3), the relevant national authority must consider the methodological quality of the evidence, in terms of the extent to which all aspects of a study's design, data collection protocols and statistical analysis can be shown to protect against systematic bias, non-systematic bias, and inferential error.(5) Where regulations under subsection (1) constitute environmental law, the review of scientific evidence must also consider whether the evidence takes a sufficiently wide view of the ecological impacts.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to ensure that future regulations will be based on a proper assessment of the best science available.
My Lords, we move from powers to revoke or replace to powers to update. I am very grateful for the support that I have got from the noble Baronesses, Lady Willis of Summertown and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on this amendment. I express the apologies of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, who was in your Lordships’ House earlier this afternoon but has had to go back to Oxford. She did very well to come up here for the time that she did, given the timetabling of the debate today.
There has been increasing concern that aspects of environmental policy have been and are being formulated based on evidence that is questionable in its methodology and therefore reliability. Our amendment seeks to remedy that by ensuring that future regulations will be based on a proper assessment of the best scientific evidence—and not only that, but the evidence needs to be assessed using standardised approaches to ensure robust outcomes.
Our proposed new subsection (3) would require regular reviews of the scientific evidence. There has been a lot of specious talk about the Government resiling on European standards on environmental laws, as if they were an unimprovable factor as enacted. Much more worrying, surely, is the automatic adherence to what is law without question, setting more concrete rules that damage the environment.
Back in 2004, a Cabinet Office paper stated that
“policy-makers need to understand the value of evidence, become more informed as to what evidence is available … and critically be able to appraise it”.
Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who I am delighted to see in his place, in one of our debates on the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, stated that
“scientists do not absolutely agree on everything”.
He went on to say that
“when there is a centre of gravity of opinion, there are always outliers. Sometimes those outliers turn out to be right and there are transformations”.—[Official Report, 25/1/23; cols. 221-23.]
A good example of a recent transformation are the outcomes of interim results from a 20-year study by York University into moorland management, which the Government must take note of and study carefully. Policy must reflect broader approaches to conservation and be a living entity that can change as our knowledge of both ecological processes and individual contexts changes.
There is another point to make, which is that research must be allowed to continue. Recently, I read an example where the precautionary principle was being used as a reason to block research. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust wished to undertake research to provide more evidence but was refused permission to burn very tiny experimental plots on EU-designated sites because Natural England could not give consent, as the current habitat directive gives no exemption for experimental work or any sort of de minimis rules. In my view, the argument is both circular and not proportionate. Does my noble friend the Minister—I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Benyon answering this debate—believe that there should be a presumption that scientific research is permitted? If not, how do we reduce the scientific uncertainty about sites or issues in question, and how can the Government legislate properly?
Proposed new subsection (4) asks that the quality of the scientific evidence is considered and based on standard principles. Not all scientific evidence is the same in quality or validity, and therefore reliability, which is important if directly impacting on decision-making. A standardised protocol would give confidence to all stakeholders involved, including the authors, and prevent unreliable evidence being given due weight, resulting in unintended impacts and wasted effort. For example, Natural England guidance on how to systematically review evidence recommends categorising the different types of study from 1, the strongest scientific studies based on meta-analysis and randomised control trials, to 4—the weakest, as based on expert opinion. This and its evidence standard underpin its approach of putting the best available science at the core of its decision-making. Will that approach be followed throughout government?
The third part of our amendment is proposed new subsection (5), which requires that the review of scientific evidence takes a sufficiently wide view of ecological impacts. This will be frustrating for many well-meaning NGOs focused on one particular interest or objective, whose rationale for their relentless pursuit of that occasionally emotional objective risks upsetting the delicate balance in nature, with unintended consequences.
Research outcomes are rarely black and white. The complexity surrounding evidence-based conservation is emphasised by the Conservation Evidence database website, which states:
“We do not make recommendations. This is because it is difficult to give evidence-based conservation advice that is appropriate for every context”.
Consequently, policy that legislates for binary outcomes is likely to result in unintended consequences. This is particularly so for the environment, where underlying conditions can change within a few metres, if not centimetres. I ask noble Lords to think of when they last walked on moorland, woodland or farmland.
Wrapped up in our amendment is the well-recognised problem of keeping policymakers and their advisers up to date. It would be useful to have a mechanism that opened the influencing to a broader spectrum of research bodies. Would my noble friend consider whether there could be a process for academics or research institutions to provide, for example, synthesised papers rather than primary research, using a standard template to inform government? I appreciate that there are scientific advisory committees and external policy advisers, but, if you ask the same people, you get the same answers. That is an easy trap into which the Government and their advisers often fall.
These are three simple subsections to be added, hopefully, to Clause 17. I hope my noble friend will give them favourable consideration, because it is very important that we get any laws relating to the environment as right as possible. I beg to move.
My Lords, I must inform that House that, if Amendment 48 is agreed to, I will not be able to call Amendment 49 due to pre-emption.
My Lords, I will speak to the cross-party Amendment 48 in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank. As always, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness; he gave me a namecheck in his speech which I hope to add to my CV, so that for my next job application I can say, “As quoted by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness”.
I support in large part what he said about the importance of rigorous scientific evidence to underpin policy—he referred to the environment, but I would say more broadly. I will add a note of caution from my personal experience. As many noble Lords will know, I was responsible for instigating the randomised badger culling trials, the so-called “Krebs trials”, which were meant definitively to determine whether killing badgers was a good way of controlling bovine tuberculosis. The trial was probably the largest ecological experiment ever done in this country; it did produce results, but it did not settle the arguments or the policy. So science has an important role to play, and I support the noble Earl’s amendment, but we must recognise that political decisions come in as well.
I turn now to Amendment 48. I want to keep it brief so I will say what it is not and what it is. It is not an attempt to block any change. It is also not an alternative to the earlier proposals that came from my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead to involve Parliament in future decisions. It is not either of those. It supports the Government in their declared ambitions for the environment and for food. In doing so, it also ensures that the Government make good decisions rather than bad decisions. The amendment is about protecting the environment and consumer interests in relation to food.
These two areas—food and environment—are crucial to the REUL Bill, as between them they account for approximately half of the 4,900 regulations that come under REUL according to the current dashboard. At its board meeting in December 2022, the Food Standards Agency noted 800 items related to food and feed. The REUL dashboard reports about 1,700 items related to Defra, most of which concern environmental protection. These two areas are also crucial because of public concern. You have to think only of sewage in rivers, outbreaks of food-borne illness or GM foods to realise that these areas—environment and food—resonate with the public. These two areas also attracted a great deal of debate from your Lordships in Committee.
The amendment that I have proposed has three elements: first, non-regression—which we have already heard about from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Any future changes, according to Amendment 48, should not reduce or water down current levels of environmental protection or food safety standards. Nor should they contravene any international agreements to which the UK has committed.
My second point is expert input. This resonates with the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Regulations should not be changed without consulting the relevant experts. These should include the Office for Environmental Protection, the Food Standards Agency and their cognate bodies in Scotland.
The third element is transparency. The amendment would require the Government to publish a report showing how any changes do not reduce environmental or food protections and what advice was received from the experts consulted. As a further transparency measure, the amendment also requires the Food Standards Agency, together with Food Standards Scotland, to report on the impact of any changes resulting from the implementation of this Bill on food safety and other consumer interests in relation to food.
The proposals in these three areas—non-regression, expert advice and transparency—are totally in line with the Government’s own commitments. They have said over and over again that they do not want to weaken environmental protection or compromise food safety and standards. The noble Lord, Lord Benyon, who I am delighted to see is going to respond to this grouping, has himself said that on more than one occasion in your Lordships’ House. This amendment simply formalises these commitments in the Bill. As we heard earlier, Clauses 13, 14, 16 and 17 leave Ministers a great deal of discretionary power. While, of course, we totally trust current Ministers to keep their word, who knows who will be in charge in future? This amendment will ensure that, in the future, Governments will build on the good work that has been done up to now and the promises that have been made.
Outside this House, who supports this amendment? Let me give noble Lords some examples. I asked the Food and Drink Federation whether it supported the food parts of this amendment. The FDF, with more than 1,000 members ranging from global brands to innovative start-ups, represents the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. It says in writing that it is happy to be quoted as supporting this amendment. If the Government wish to be business friendly—and I have heard that said—here is a good place to start: accept an amendment that has the weight of nearly half a million jobs behind it.
Equally, non-regression of environmental protections is supported by the Government’s statutory advisers, the Office for Environmental Protection and the Climate Change Committee, which both said in recent written statements that it is important that the REUL Bill includes a non-regression clause.
The amendment applies to the whole of the UK, and in that context it is noteworthy that the Scottish Government have also written to express their support for Amendment 48.
I hope that in this brief introduction I have said enough to convince your Lordships that this amendment is sensible, proportionate and fully supportive of the Government’s declared commitments on the environment and food. Indeed, I cannot see why on earth the Government would not accept it, and I very much look forward to the Minister agreeing with me. However, if that agreement is not forthcoming, and recognising from Committee that there was widespread support from across the House for the areas of environmental and food protections, I will wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I have the third amendment in this group, Amendment 49. Colleagues will have detected that there is a considerable overlap with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and I was proposing to withdraw my amendment formally in favour of his. He has moved that very ably, and therefore I need not repeat most of the arguments he made.
It is very important, now we have the Joint Committee procedure and all the other changes that the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, have built into the Bill, that we give some guidance as to how they are to proceed. In relation to issues of the environment and food, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, would make it clear how in part they are to receive guidance on carrying out that function.
I will add just one point to the considerations your Lordships have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. These areas are very important for our trade agreements. Environmental standards increasingly appear in our trade agreements, particularly with the EU but with other countries as well. Therefore, any regression of those standards needs to be clear not just from an environmental but from a trade point of view. It is absolutely clear that this must be the case for food. We have an important food manufacturing and agricultural industry, which needs to ensure that the standards to which it produces are the same as or equivalent to those of our trading partners. If that is not the case, some of our best trade agreements will be precarious. The references to international standards and international bodies of advice are very important for the proposed Joint Committee to follow. I therefore hope that those considerations can be taken into account by the House and that the Government will accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.
My Lords, I am very uncertain how the wording of this amendment works. Is a regulation the whole package of regulations that is submitted to this House or each individual regulation? If a regulation makes changes so that an old provision is swept away and the new one replaces it, that sweeping away of an old provision is a diminution, but there does not appear to be a mechanism for balancing it with the better regulation that follows. If a regulation benefits one species but hurts another, how is that dealt with here? If we protect badgers more so that there are fewer hedgehogs, I do not see how the wording works. Most of all, it seems that if the Government want to keep Clause 16(5) they must want this too, so I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, because that is exactly the point I was going to begin on. If you are to keep Clause 16(5), you absolutely need to have this. As my noble friend Lord Fox says, the importance of this amendment is that it takes the sting out of Clause 16. If we want to protect the environment for the future, and our food standards, as was so well articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, this amendment is absolutely fundamental.
I do not want to add much more to what the noble Lord said, because he introduced it so expertly, but we on these Benches would add one other reason why we support it. It is critical that the public have confidence in environmental legislation, particularly at a time like now. If they see the Government not prepared to sign up to a non-regression clause—which is, as has been said, what the Minister says they want—they will be left with questions. We need them to be reassured that our environment is in the best possible hands, and the only way the Government can prove that in the Bill is to allow this non-regression clause.
The point about consumer confidence is vital, and it plays into the point mentioned in the amendment, which is that we need to maintain our international obligations, including the Aarhus convention, which guarantees people a fundamental right to environmental justice, and others, such as the Berne convention, and I am sure that other noble Lords, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will talk to those points. Keeping to our international agreements and reassuring the public that our environment is now in safe hands is more important than ever, and this amendment does that.
My Lords, I realise that the hour is late and I do not intend to detain your Lordships long. I speak to Amendment 48. It is a cross-party amendment and this morning, when I began to consider this, I typed up some notes, which I have—but I do not have my glasses and I typed in a font far too small. I feel I am now a speaking metaphor for what the amendment represents. We have to be careful that we are looking not just at the fuzziness of the whole issue but at the detail. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, ably set out why it is important.
This is a non-regression amendment. We are where we are right now, and we are content with that—if anything, we should be going further, but let there be no step backwards. The important statements in this amendment are very clear: let us accept what we are able to achieve, look at the international standards by which we must be judged and consider how to do that correctly.
I am pleased to see the Minister before us. It is not my intention or desire to vote against the Government, but these things occasionally happen. I think he can give us some words of comfort this evening about how we might help us to be able to understand the non-regression element of each of the matters we have touched on so far.
I will speak no further, other than simply to say that the amendment establishes and stabilises what we are about. We are a nation with clear ambition in this area, and we have done good work. Let us not let that be lost; let us not regress.
My Lords, having attached my name to Amendment 47 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, I shall make just a couple of points on that. I stress Amendment 48, to which the Green group would have attached our names had there been space, and the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that this is writing into the Bill what the Government tell us again and again, as they have for years, they want to achieve. It is simply delivering the Government’s expressed desire.
I want to make just three points on Amendment 47. There is some important terminology, with which I suspect the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, may have had something to do. That refers to the methodological quality of the evidence. There is increasing awareness in the scientific community of the need to look at the problem of publication bias: the probability that a scientific study is published is not independent of its results. That is just one way in which we have real problems with the methodology of what has been published and the Government have considered in the past, to which the amendment is to some degree addressed.
Proposed new subsection (5) mentions
“a sufficiently wide view of the ecological impacts”.
I will take a case study of this. Scientists are increasingly concerned about the combined cocktail impact of pesticides, plastics and pharmaceuticals together in the environment. I point the Minister to a European report by the CHEM Trust, Chemical Cocktails: The Neglected Threat of Toxic Mixtures and How to Fix It and, independently occurring, a launch this month in the UK of a report from the Wildlife and Countryside Link with the Rivers Trust and UK Youth for Nature, Chemical Cocktails: How Can We Reduce the Toxic Burden on Our Rivers? The scientific view taking that overall wide ecological view is increasingly being recognised as crucial, and massively understudied.
The final point I want to make is that Amendment 47 is reflective of something that I am increasingly finding: groups of scientists—including established scientists whom you might expect that have a very good route into the Government—are coming to me and saying, “Please advise us on how we can get through to the Government to make sure that our scientific advice and discoveries are acted on”. There is real feeling in the scientific community that there has been a breakdown in communication and consideration from the Government in terms of the current science. This amendment seeks to address those issues.
My Lords, I shall be very brief. I just want to give particular support to Amendment 48, to which I have added my name. We cannot allow the Bill to weaken environmental and food safety standards. We know that Defra has by far the largest share of affected regulations of any department, so the Bill really will have significant implications for environment and food safety law-making unless it is done well.
I will not repeat the reasons why we need these amendments, but what has come across very clearly is the fact that there is widespread and strong support for the environmental non-regression principle.
Importantly, Amendment 48 would give transparency but also legal substance to the warm words of the Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned. On day 2 of Committee, the Minister said that the Government are committed to maintaining high environmental standards and that he wanted
“to see … standards improve in future”.—[Official Report, 28/2/23; col. 208.]
I absolutely believe that is the case but, as a matter of law, the Bill provides no assurances or protections and cannot bind the hands of future Ministers. It is absolutely critical that these assurances and protections are in place in the Bill because, without a non-regression principle in law, they simply are not there.
On that basis, if the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, wishes to test the opinion of the House, he will have our support.
My Lords, I am grateful for a really interesting debate. Before I begin to address the amendments in this grouping, I say that I know that there was some discussion earlier today regarding Defra’s plans for water quality, particularly the Bathing Water Regulations and the water framework directive. I take this opportunity to reassure noble Lords that neither of these pieces of REUL is on the schedule to this Bill and Defra has no intention of repealing either of these pieces of important legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, raised this issue, and I absolutely give them that assurance.
Under this Government, we have only strengthened our legislation on water quality. In April, we published our new integrated plan for water, which marks a step change in how we manage our waters. It looks at both water quality and water resources together. We completely understand people’s concerns about our rivers, lakes and seas and the pressures that they face. This plan is our response. In the plan, we set out how we will streamline our water policy and legal framework; this includes the water framework directive 2017. We consider that there are opportunities to improve the regulatory system through reviewing the implementation of the water environment regulations 2017 in order to improve water outcomes on the ground while retaining our goal to restore 75% of water bodies to good ecological status.
I turn to Amendment 47, moved by my noble friend Lord Caithness. This amendment would introduce specific statutory requirements on Ministers when deciding what updates may be appropriate under the power to update in Clause 17 in the light of scientific developments. The amendment would also require that, where Ministers intend to exercise the power on legislation relating to environmental law, the review of scientific evidence must consider whether the evidence accounts for the ecological impacts. I say this to my noble friend: the power has purposely been drafted in this way both to allow for broad technical updates and to ensure that it captures the wide range of REUL across a variety of policy areas. We cannot predict the nature of scientific developments or technological changes to which REUL may be subject, nor the changes that might be appropriate in those instances in future.
I totally agree with my noble friend’s point about outliers. As he said, we had this debate during the passage of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill. I constantly challenge the scientific advice that I receive in Defra to make sure that we are not creating the opposite of diversity or a sort of monogamous view of scientific progress. Outliers are the best challenge to that occasional tendency to be too absorbed in one particular group of views. This has been very eloquently described by notable international conservationists such as Allan Savory. That ability to have only research that is peer-reviewed sometimes requires those commissioning science to look more broadly. That is what we try to do, and I assure my noble friend that his points are well received. However, I gently suggest that placing statutory requirements on Ministers in the use of this power, including the requirement for scientific updates to be based on the latest evidence, is simply not necessary.
First, public bodies are already under public law duties to act reasonably and to consider relevant factors in decision-making. Secondly, Ministers will need to be reasonable and consider the relevant scientific evidence when evaluating whether updates, and what updates, may be appropriate. Provided a Minister acts reasonably and considers the relevant factors, it is ultimately for them to decide what is considered an appropriate amendment in light of a change in technology or development in scientific understanding.
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. Furthermore, this Government have been clear throughout the passage of the Bill that we will uphold our environmental protections. We remain committed to our ambitious plans set out in the net zero strategy, the Environment Act and the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023, which sets out the comprehensive action we will take to reverse the tragic decline in species abundance, achieve our net-zero goals and deliver cleaner air and water. The provisions in the Bill will not alter that. I therefore suggest that the requirements of this amendment are not necessary.
The proposed new clauses in Amendments 48 and 49, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Whitty, respectively, establish a number of conditions relating to environmental protections and food standards that Ministers must meet when intending to use the powers under Clauses 13, 14, 16 and 17. They include satisfying a range of conditions in the amendments so that environmental and consumer protections relating to food safety and labelling will be maintained and that the proposed new regulations do not conflict with a specific list of existing international environmental agreements. They also introduce a new procedural requirement which Ministers must meet to be eligible to exercise the powers. This includes seeking advice from relevant stakeholders and publishing a report addressing specific points concerning environmental and consumer protections for the new regulations.
Amendment 48 seeks to insert a new subsection into Section 4 of the Food Standards Act 1999, introducing a requirement for the Food Standards Agency to include in its annual report an assessment of the impact of the delegated powers on areas of concern to consumers relating to food, under that section of that Act. These new and broad-ranging provisions would have a severe impact on the Government’s ability to use the Bill to legislate and deliver on our environmental and food goals, due to the resource-intensive nature of the conditions proposed.
Moreover, the list of relevant international obligations set out in the amendment is far from comprehensive and would become rapidly outdated in the context of ever-evolving international legislation. The delegated powers in the Bill are not intended to undermine the UK’s already high food standards, nor will they impact the UK’s status as a world leader in environmental protection. Indeed, this Government are committed to promoting robust food standards nationally and internationally, so we can continue to protect consumer interests, facilitate international trade—a very good point made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—and ensure that consumers can have confidence in the food they buy. The UK has world-leading standards of food safety and quality, backed by a rigorous and effective legislative framework.
Under the Food Standards Act 1999, the FSA already has as its core statutory function the objective of protecting public health from risks that may arise in connection with the consumption of food, including risks caused by the way it is produced or supplied, and protecting the interests of consumers in relation to food. The Bill and the powers in it do not change that. Accordingly, the FSA would already have to consider the effect on public health of any legislation that it would ask the relevant Minister in its sponsor department, the Department of Health and Social Care, to make in relation to food before that legislation would have effect. Alongside this, Defra maintains a well-established set of relationships with the agrifood sector, broadly aimed at upholding the sustainability, productivity and resilience of the sector. This includes representation, from farm to fork, of around 150 major food and drink companies and trade associations, as well as a range of industry CEOs and senior figures, to discuss strategic opportunities and challenges facing the agrifood chain.
We also want to ensure that, in reviewing our REUL, environment legislation is fit for purpose and able to drive our positive environmental outcomes. I take the point very eloquently made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, but this is much more than warm words: we have written into law our environmental protections, our ambitions for reversing the decline of species and, in very strict food legislation, on the health of food.
The REUL that we are revoking as part of the schedule to the Bill is obsolete, expired, duplicated or no longer relevant to the UK. It is not required to uphold environmental protection. For example, around half of fisheries REUL can be removed as it is no longer relevant, has expired or relates to areas we do not fish in. For example, I am sure all noble Lords will agree that REUL setting fishing opportunities for anchovy in the Bay of Biscay for the 2011-12 fishing season, which has now expired and is no longer applicable in the UK, is pointless to have on our statute book. Therefore, the proposed conditions on food standards and environmental protections are simply unnecessary. The reforms these powers will enable are vital to allow the UK to drive genuine reform and seize the opportunities our new status allows.
I enjoyed being on the same side as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on previous legislation. I hope that my attempt at honeyed words might have got him onside, but we will have to see how that goes. There are two reasons, by and large, why Governments resist these kinds of amendments: first, they are not necessary—there is already law to provide for the measures the amendments seek—and secondly, they are too burdensome. For these two amendments, I submit, both those factors come into effect: they are not necessary and they are too burdensome, so I ask that they not be pressed.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who took part on my amendment, and those from the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Whitty, because we have had a very useful debate. I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, that the public must have confidence in our environmental laws. That is the basis of how we should go forward, and I think the Minister tried hard to reassure us that that was the case. I need to read exactly what he said; he said some helpful things in reply to my amendment. I just wish that the other Ministers in Defra took exactly the same view as he did with regard not only to regulations but new legislation. However, I am grateful for what he said, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
My Lords, if Amendment 48 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 49 for reasons of pre-emption.
48: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—
“Environmental protection and food standards(1) Regulations may not be made by a relevant national authority under section 13, 14, 16 or 17 unless the relevant national authority is satisfied that the regulations do not—(a) reduce the level of environmental protection arising from the EU retained law to which the provision relates;(b) reduce the level of protection of consumers in relation to the safety, composition or labelling of food arising from the EU retained law to which the provision relates;(c) conflict with any relevant international environmental agreements to which the United Kingdom is party.(2) Prior to making any provision to which this section applies, the relevant national authority must—(a) seek advice from persons who are independent of the authority and have relevant expertise,(b) seek advice from, as appropriate, the Office for Environmental Protection, Environmental Standards Scotland, a devolved environmental governance body or another person exercising similar functions, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland, and(c) publish a report setting out—(i) how the provision does not reduce the level of environmental or consumer protection in accordance with subsection (1), and(ii) how the authority has taken into account the advice from the persons referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subsection.(3) In section 4 (annual and other reports) of the Food Standards Act 1999, after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) The report prepared under subsection (1) must include a detailed assessment, drawn up after seeking advice from such other persons or bodies with relevant expertise as the Agency considers appropriate, of the impact of the implementation of sections 13, 14, 16 and 17 of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 in the areas of food safety, composition, and labelling and other relevant areas of concern to consumers related to food.”(4) In this section “relevant international environmental agreements” means—(a) the UNECE Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters (Aarhus, 25 June 1998);(b) the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern, 1979);(c) the UN Convention on Biodiversity (Rio, 1992);(d) the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn, 1979);(e) the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (1992);(f) the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, 1971).”Member's explanatory statement
This new Clause creates additional conditions to be satisfied before the powers in Clauses 13, 14, 16 or 17 can be exercised where the subject matter of their exercise concerns law relating to environmental protection or food standards. It would also require the Government to seek the advice of the relevant independent expert statutory bodies, and the Food Standards Agency to include in its annual report to Parliament an assessment of the impact of the implementation of these provisions in areas of concern to consumers related to food.
Amendment 49 not moved.
50: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—
“Workers’ protection and employment rights(1) Regulations may not be made by a relevant national authority under section 13, 14, 16 or 17 unless the relevant national authority is satisfied that the regulations do not—(a) reduce the level of protection for workers arising from the EU retained law to which the provision relates;(b) conflict with any relevant international labour agreements to which the United Kingdom is party.(2) Prior to making any provision to which this section applies, the relevant national authority must—(a) seek advice from persons who are independent of the authority and have relevant expertise,(b) seek advice from, as appropriate, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and relevant trade unions, and(c) publish a report setting out—(i) how the provision does not reduce the level of protection for workers in accordance with subsection (1), and(ii) how the authority has taken into account the advice from the persons referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subsection.(3) In this section “relevant international labour agreements” means—(a) the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement,(b) any Convention of the International Labour Organization ratified by the United Kingdom, and(c) any provision of the European Social Charter 1961 accepted by the United Kingdom.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause creates additional conditions to be satisfied before the powers in Clauses 13, 14, 16 or 17 can be exercised where the subject matter of their exercise concerns law relating to protection of workers. It would also require the Government to seek the advice of the relevant independent expert statutory bodies.
My Lords, I will not detain the House too long. In this amendment we have tried to reflect the structure that we have just agreed in relation to the environment. This is not about blocking change. The Minister said that we are in danger of creating immutable legislation. That is not the case. We are in a unique situation here in terms of regulations that are going to be changed in a way that does not have the same sort of parliamentary scrutiny as primary legislation. That is the difference. It is unique, and therefore it needs a proper, unique response to it in terms of the three elements on which the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, focused.
The first of course is non-regression. We should understand the ambitions of this Government in relation to workers’ rights. I have heard from Ministers throughout this Bill and also in other debates that they are committed to defend and extend workers’ rights. I think we need that ambition to be translated into proper processes and procedures in relation to the unique circumstances where regulations can be removed, revoked or revised simply by Ministers producing statutory instruments.
The other element, which again the noble Lord, Lord Krebs pointed out in relation to the environment, is proper consultation. If changes are envisaged, how do we consult the appropriate bodies? We have a government agency that has huge experience in terms of regulations and codes of practice that ought to be properly consulted in relation to any changes, and of course we have stakeholders in terms of employers and unions. And by the way, this is not a debate about whether one should support workers or employers. Everyone wants proper standards. Employers themselves want proper standards. When we come to the international agreements that this Government have signed up to, in particular trade agreements, that level playing field is going to be a really important element in maintaining those agreements and extending them, so there is a very strong economic case for supporting this amendment.
We also need to ensure that trust and confidence are put back into the system. We hear Ministers suggesting that somehow regulations are a burden on employers, but sometimes those burdens are the thing that can provide and guarantee the level playing field that we have argued for and supported.
We talk about the ambition of this Government but we are still waiting for the long-awaited employment Bill, which I hope at some stage we will see brought forward. This is about ensuring that we do not turn the clock back—that we maintain the proper standards. As a shadow spokesman for foreign affairs, I work with government Ministers in defending and advancing the rights of workers across the globe. We are the strongest advocate of that, so the one thing that we should not do is turn our backs on workers at this moment in time. If Brexit is to mean anything, it should be about putting rights back into this Parliament and making sure that workers are not at the end of the queue but very much at the front. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 50, as well as Amendment 51, which bears my name. Amendment 51 is an elaboration of Amendment 50, so I will speak only to Amendment 50. I endorse everything that my noble friend Lord Collins has said. The object of Amendment 50 is, as it states in proposed new subsection (1)(a), to prevent the reduction of
“the level of protection for workers”.
As my noble friend said, this is not simply to protect workers but to protect good employers from being undercut by bad employers. It speaks of the level of protection for workers, in respect not just of employment rights but of health and safety at work rights.
In spite of the warm words of the Government and the promises of an employment Bill over the last three or four years, there is a suspicion that the Government will try to take advantage of Brexit to undermine and water down workers’ rights. That fear is not helped by the fact that, last week, on 10 May, as I mentioned earlier today, the Department for Business and Trade published its booklet, Smarter Regulation to Grow the Economy. This contains no less than four proposals to water down the Working Time Regulations and Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which guarantees the right of workers to be consulted when collective redundancies are proposed.
The proposals to water down those rights are not contained in the Bill, as they could have been among the 928 proposals in the schedule. They are yet to come, in the form of statutory instruments that we have not seen, cannot examine and, when it comes to it—notwithstanding the excellent amendments from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, earlier on—may have difficulty in seeking to amend. The purpose of Amendment 50, and indeed Amendment 51, is to ensure that workers’ rights are not watered down and that the obligations contained in Articles 387(2) and 399(5) of the trade and co-operation agreement, against regression, are honoured.
My Lords, my name is on both of these amendments and I am happy to support them both. The proposers will be pleased to know that I do not intend to speak for long, because I have heard two excellent speeches that set out the reasons why supporting these amendments is important.
The noble Lord, Lord Hendy, talked about the danger of back-door watering down of legislation. It may not be this Government; once this is in statute, it could be any Government going forward. We do not necessarily have to distrust the people we see before us—I personally do not—but we do not know who in future will be able to use these measures.
If the Government want to water down workers’ conditions, that should be done through primary legislation, straight up, and negotiated and scrutinised properly. It should not be put through the backdoor, which could happen here. Throughout the process of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has said over and over again that it is not the Government’s intention to water down workers’ rights. By supporting Amendment 50, the Government can make sure that they are absolutely as good as their word.
My Lords, one of the worst objections that I had when I was a Member of the European Parliament was to the doctrine of the occupied field—the idea that you could never withdraw from a field in which you had once legislated. So the acquis communautaire can only ever grow; it could go only in in one direction. You could call it a ratchet, a one-way street or, as its supporters did, a bicycle that has to go forward, but the objection was fundamentally the same: it lifted certain issues out of the democratic field and made them immune to the political process.
For what it is worth, I have never had much time for the idea that our workers’ rights come from the EU—the EU did not travel back in time and pass Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act 1970 or Neville Chamberlain’s Holidays with Pay Act 1938—but, whatever view you take of it, these are precisely the sorts of issues that ought to be determined by our national democratic mechanisms and procedures. You can take the view, as the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Hendy, did, that this is wonderful, helps employers and all the rest of it, which is a perfectly respectable position, or you can take the view that there comes a point where too many workers’ rights means fewer workers—but surely that is a debate that ought to be had here and in another place, not something that is effectively made invulnerable to the ballot box.
Then support the amendment!
It is nice to be popular so that we can all go home. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his Amendment 50, and I am glad to be debating with him again.
The amendment would place a number of conditions relating to workers’ rights that UK Ministers or devolved authorities would have to meet when intending to use the powers under Clauses 13, 14, 16 and 17 on retained EU law. That includes satisfying themselves that workers’ protections and employment rights would be maintained and that proposed new regulations would not conflict with existing international labour agreements.
The new clause would also introduce a new procedural requirement that Ministers would have to follow in order to be eligible to exercise the power. That includes seeking advice from relevant stakeholders, including ACAS and relevant trade unions, as well as publishing a report addressing specific points around workers’ rights and employment protections for the new regulations. The new clause would significantly delay and impact opportunities to review and reform any retained EU law, which might have an impact on working regulations.
I should say straightaway, as my noble friend Lord Callanan already has, that this Government have no intention of abandoning our strong record on workers’ rights, and nor are the delegated powers intended to undermine the UK’s high standards on workers’ rights.
Our high standards were never dependent on our membership of the EU. Indeed, the UK provides for stronger protections for workers. We have one of the highest minimum wages in Europe. Moreover, UK workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of annual leave compared with the EU requirement of four weeks, and we provide a year of maternity leave while the EU minimum maternity leave is just 14 weeks. Furthermore, on 10 May the Secretary of State committed to strengthening employment law, saving businesses around £1 billion a year from the reform of certain EU labour laws while safeguarding the rights of workers. These proposals do not remove rights or change entitlements but instead remove unnecessary bureaucracy in the way that these rights or entitlements operate, allowing business to benefit from the additional freedoms that we have through Brexit. The proposed conditions on workers’ rights in the amendment are unnecessary, frankly, and would lead to a parallel call for provisions in other important regulatory areas to be excluded from vital reforms, thus undermining the whole purpose of Clause 16, which I stress is time limited.
I turn to Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hendy. This amendment seeks to insert a new clause to exempt from the Bill any retained EU law which is within scope of the labour and social levels of protection commitments set out in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. It also seeks to exempt retained EU law which may implement other internationally recognised labour standards set out in the TCA, including any convention of the International Labour Organization and the European Social Charter of 1961. It was good to hear from my noble friend Lord Hannan about his view of how things happened in Brussels, and his confirmation that our standards are a British thing.
As I have said, this Government have no intention of abandoning our strong record on workers’ rights, having raised domestic standards over recent years. That is why the UK remains a coveted destination for thousands of high-skilled workers across the world to come to live, work and do business, and we are committed to maintaining high levels of protection. That is why we made the commitments in the TCA and reaffirmed our commitment to the likes of the International Labour Organization. Nothing in the Bill undermines that.
Departments continue to undertake a thorough assessment of their retained EU law where it relates to TCA obligations. The TCA affirms the right of both the UK and EU to set their own policies and priorities for labour and social standards, as well as to determine the appropriate levels of protection. The Bill will enable us to do just that while continuing to comply with international law.
The noble Lord, Lord Hendy, raised some detailed points, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, earlier. I will not delay the House by replying to them now, but I will set out the response, which is a powerful one, in writing. However, I will just talk about consultation.
There was a mention of consultation requirements for redundancies in SMEs. I assume that this relates to the TUPE regulations of 2006, which protect employees’ rights when the business or undertaking for which they work transfers to a new employer. Let me reassure the House that we will ensure that workers’ rights continue to be protected. That is why, on 12 May, we launched a consultation seeking views on reforms. We want to use this consultation, as part of an ongoing dialogue with business and workers, to set out an employment rights framework that will retain our global position as a dynamic, vibrant and flexible economy.
These reforms will be consulted on, as appropriate, as will future regulatory reform plans, in the course of normal policy development in this whole area. This is open consultation: ACAS, trade unions and others are all able to comment. I know that issues of worker protection are important to noble Lords. They know of my own background at Tesco; I am proud that it was a good employer and that our success over many years was helped by the union USDAW.
However, we must not hamper sensible reform, particularly where, as with working time, there are a lot of complex recording and administrative requirements. The laws we may or may not reform—of course we will be selective—were all created in Brussels or Luxembourg and with very little scrutiny. I urge a constructive approach in this area. Noble Lords have heard our promises and I ask that this amendment is withdrawn.
Amendment 51 not moved.
House adjourned at 9.59 pm.