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Brexit: Legislation

Volume 795: debated on Wednesday 20 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many bills and statutory instruments which have not yet completed their parliamentary process will require to be passed or approved before the United Kingdom leaves the European Union; and how many further bills and statutory instruments needed by the time the United Kingdom leaves the European Union they plan to introduce.

My Lords the progress of all Bills currently before Parliament can be tracked on We will need to introduce the withdrawal agreement Bill once a deal has been approved by Parliament. Similarly, the progress of all SIs laid by the Government to date can be found on Parliament’s dedicated SI tracker, again on We remain confident of ensuring a functioning statute book for when we leave the EU.

My Lords, perhaps I can help the Minister with the information that seems to be absent from her brief, which is that there are four major Bills, three of them still in the Commons, including the Agriculture Bill, and probably about 400 statutory instruments—all to be got through in 21 sitting days. Then, of course, if there is a deal at a very late stage there will have to be a withdrawal agreement Bill, which will, among other things, repeal most of the statutory instruments I have just referred to. When are the Government going to face the fact that they cannot do it this way? They will either have to seek an extension of Article 50 or they will be adopting the President Trump approach of bypassing Parliament by the use of emergency powers.

I have known the noble Lord for a long time but I have never known him to be so defeatist. The record to date may not suit him but it is impressive. If we look at primary legislation to date, we have passed the Nuclear Safeguards Act, the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act. These have all been properly enacted in both Houses, scrutinised and passed. On the matter of the SIs, again it may uplift his clearly wilting heart to learn that we have laid, to date, 458 exit SIs in total. We actually expect to lay fewer than 600, so we are well over three-quarters of the way there. I think that both our neighbours in the other quarter and we in this House have demonstrated a capacity to do a very good job under pressure and do it well, and I am sure that that will continue.

My Lords, since the Minister is so much wiser than the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, will she explain what he meant when he said that it is only the necessary legislation in this long list that needs to be passed by the end of March? What is that necessary legislation?

I would not dare to compare my wisdom with that of my noble friend Lord Callanan, particularly when the arbiter is the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. We are very clear that we are engaged upon a very serious legislative programme, in relation to both primary and secondary legislation, and I pay tribute to the work being done in this House in these respects. We do not want, when exit day arrives, our statute book to look like a Gruyère cheese. What we are doing, both next door and here, is all the necessary work to ensure that that does not happen.

My Lords, I am glad that the Minister has a sense of humour: I think she is going to need it. She says it was very easy to get the trailer Bill through. I think we have to be aware—I am looking at the Chief Whip—that the trailer Bill will be a tad easier than such Bills as the immigration Bill and, indeed, the withdrawal agreement Bill, which, if I understand the letter from David Lidington, will have to repeal large parts of the withdrawal Act we have already passed, because we are not now, as I understand it, going to have all those statutory instruments by exit day but by the end of the transition period. Will the Minister perhaps think a little more about how this House is going to deal with rather more complicated legislation than the trailer Bill, important though I am sure that is?

If I may correct the noble Baroness, I did not say that any of that legislation was easy; I merely pointed to examples of Bills that have been passed. Yes, the legislation is challenging and, yes, the timetable is challenging, but I am absolutely satisfied that this Chamber will continue to do its job well, as it has been doing. It has been a very impressive example of a scrutinising, revising Chamber. On the matter of what may happen, assuming that we agree the deal and we get an EU withdrawal agreement Bill through, the majority of SIs are relevant whether there is a deal or no deal. If there is a situation where SIs need to be deferred, the withdrawal agreement Bill can make provision to defer those SIs to the end of an implementation period if they are not actually needed on 29 March.

My Lords, if I understood the Minister, there are 150 SIs still to be tabled. If I also understand SIs, they need to be laid at least three or four weeks before they come into effect—so we have two weeks for 150 more SIs to be laid. Am I correct?

The House and the noble Lord are familiar with the mechanisms and procedures that attach to secondary legislation. No one is pretending that this is easy. It is challenging. What I am saying is that this Chamber has a marked sense of responsibility. If we agree a deal and come forward with a withdrawal Bill to enact, there will be a desire right across the Chamber to do everything necessary to ensure that we depart in an orderly fashion and that our statute book is not riddled with holes.

My Lords, the reality of the numbers is that more than 400 statutory instruments—as the Minister correctly said—have been tabled. Some 188 have been the subject of scrutiny to date, as of yesterday. There is a big difference—as I have said in this House before—between laying the instruments and getting them scrutinised. I emphasise that the reason for the delay is not the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, or the committee that I chair, but the failure of government departments to expedite the laying of the instruments in the first place. Next week 71 instruments will be considered by the two committees. More than 50% of them come from one government department—Defra. The point has already been made that the Government are running out of time. Laying instruments from now on will not meet the requirement of 40 days to pray against them, as we are fewer than 40 days from the leaving date. If the Government want to expedite this, will the Minister please insist that government departments get on with the job?

The noble Lord may be surprised to learn that I have a lot of sympathy with what he has said. All government departments are now on red alert to do just that. They realise that their feet are to the fire and there is an obligation on all departments to do whatever they can to facilitate the promulgation of properly drafted instruments and to ensure that the job of scrutiny is then as easily processed as it can be, not only by the other place but by this Chamber. I repeat the figures that I referred to. I think there is a very healthy indication that departments have been listening and have heard these messages.