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Brexit: Statutory Instruments

Volume 794: debated on Thursday 10 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the parliamentary time required for the consideration and approval of statutory instruments arising from the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

My Lords, the Government have a full understanding of the time required for the consideration and approval of EU exit-related statutory instruments. We remain confident that all EU exit-related SIs required to ensure a functioning statute book will be brought forward in good time for exit day and with the appropriate scrutiny.

My Lords, that is not very informative. In broad terms, there are at least 200 statutory instruments—new laws—under scrutiny and at least 300 still to be brought forward. More will arise, either from a withdrawal agreement Bill or a Bill to cope with the consequences of no deal. Does the Minister recognise that, even if this House devoted eight hours every working day up to 29 March to these new laws, they would not get an hour’s consideration each? Can he guarantee that the Government will not resort to emergency powers enabling them to legislate without prior parliamentary approval? If there is an emergency, it is one of the Government’s own making. Does he not see that this situation is making a mockery of the idea that we are bringing back control of our own laws?

As I said, we remain confident that we will be able to deliver the programme in time. We do not expect to have to use the urgent procedure under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, but we cannot rule anything out at this stage. We have no expectation of having to do so.

My Lords, I draw the Minister’s attention to a statutory instrument produced by BEIS. It runs to 636 pages, weighs 2.54 kilos and covers 11 disparate subjects addressed to this House as one statutory instrument. Regarding procedures, this is unprecedented. Can the Minister assure the House that this is not simply an underhand way to reduce the number of statutory instruments we need to scrutinise, thereby reducing delays? It would take days for this document alone to undergo proper scrutiny in this House.

I thank the noble Lord for drawing that to my attention. I have more regard for his scrutiny powers than he himself does. I am sure he will give the matter his full consideration. These are essential pieces of legislation. We will need to introduce them before exit day.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House what proportion of these statutory instruments contain Henry VIII powers? Does he agree that any growth in the number of Henry VIII powers creates a dangerous power imbalance between the Executive and Parliament and therefore should be resisted?

We are endeavouring to keep the number containing Henry VIII powers to a minimum. I will write to the noble Lord with the detailed numbers.

My Lords, the Business Secretary said this morning on the “Today” programme that no deal would be a disaster. This view is said to be shared by other Cabinet Ministers. Why do the Government not rule it out and withdraw the SIs that address a no-deal scenario, thus allowing more time for consideration of regular SIs?

We have said that we do not want or expect a no-deal situation to arise, but it is responsible to prepare for it.

My Lords, what parliamentary authority is there for expenditure, including on SIs, on a no-deal scenario, which has now been ruled out by the other place?

The no-deal scenario has not been ruled out by the other place. Parliament as a whole has legislated for leaving the European Union on 29 March this year. We hope to do so with a deal. If not, we will leave without one.

My Lords, do the Government have no concerns about the quality of the primary and secondary legislation that will need to be enacted by 29 March? One understands the political reasons for not seeking an extension of the Article 50 process, but the national interest surely requires it.

Of course we have concerns about quality. We are endeavouring to keep all the relevant committees informed of when SIs will be tabled. We wrote to them before Christmas to give details. We are publishing full explanatory statements with every SI as required under the legislation; we are endeavouring to work with Parliament as much as possible in this process.

My Lords, as has been touched on already, many of the SIs being laid are in preparation for a no-deal Brexit. Does the Minister agree that a huge amount of parliamentary and civil servants’ time, and money, would be far better spent and saved if the Government simply did not bring forward SIs that deal with a no-deal Brexit? Nobody wants it.

The Labour Party cannot have it both ways. It cannot on the one hand say, “We are voting against the best and only deal available”, and then say, “But we don’t want no deal”. No deal is the absence of a deal. If you want a deal, European Union leaders have made it very clear that this is the best and only deal available, the result of two years of negotiation. No alternative deal is available. If you do not want no deal, you need to vote for the deal.

Will the Minister explain the Government’s complete lack of urgency in dealing with statutory instruments? We will rise today by about 3 pm; we normally rise at 7 pm. We are not sitting tomorrow. The noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, has graphically demonstrated that, on current plans, there is no way that the Government are scheduling business so that we can deal with SIs in a professional manner. Why is this?

The organisation of business in the House is a matter for my noble friend the Chief Whip and for the usual channels. I am sure they will, as they always do, work collaboratively and co-operatively to ensure there is sufficient time for the proper scrutiny of all the appropriate legislation.

I have taken a lot of interest in the SI process and most of these SIs are needed, whether we have a deal or not, to bring EU law into UK law. We should support that process whatever our views in today’s bigger debate.

I thank my noble friend for her constructive comments. The reality is that we are leaving the European Union. That decision was made by the referendum and by Parliament. We happen to believe that we should do it with a functioning statute book.